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Remus makes a stand

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A/N: This takes place after Christmas of fourth year in the Marauders era. This means the mudblood incident and the whomping willow incident haven’t happened yet.
Also this story is AU!! Many things will be different. For example, I made Malfoy younger than canon so that he’d be in school around the same time.

 

“Lily!”

Severus Snape watched in disappointment as his best friend since they were nine swept by him without so much as a glance, surrounded by a gaggle of Gryffindor girls on their way to Herbology. As they turned a corner, he thought he saw the bright red head turn slightly, thought he saw a flash of regret in those luminous green eyes. Then she was gone and his heart with her.

He sighed, trying to squash the hurt that rose inside him at her rejection. He had known it was coming. She’d been slowly drifting away from him for years now. Golden Gryffindors and slimy Slytherins don’t mix after all. Even during the summers it was becoming awkward. House rivalries seeping in too deep, infecting the time when it was supposed to be just them. Not a Gryffindor and a Slytherin, just Lily and Severus.

“Hey Snape, come on! We’re going to be late!”

He looked up to see Mulcibier and Avery waiting impatiently at the end of the hall as the last few students made their way to class. Shoving down his troublesome emotions, he started towards them. At least he had some friends, even if he had lost Lily.

oOo

Remus Lupin stood in the shadow of the Defence classroom and watched the scene unfold. He knew that Lily’s dorm-mates, along with every other Gryffindor, had been piling on the pressure for her to cut all ties with Snape. No-one believed that anything good could come from associating with a Slytherin and never lost an opportunity to tell her so. Everyone knew they were on the fast track to joining that new Death Eater group that despised muggleborns. They couldn’t wait to become You-Know-Who’s servants and fully fledged Dark Wizards. And Snape had never hidden his fascination with that particular branch of magic.

Until two seconds ago, Remus would have agreed with all of that. He also assumed that Snape was no good and would undoubtedly come to a sticky end. His own hypocrisy sickened him. Who was he of all people to judge anyone?

He’d seen it, the flash of pain and raw hurt that flickered in Snape’s eyes before he could conceal it. That too-familiar expression that he himself used to wear whenever another ‘friend’ discovered his secret and spat on him for something he had no control over. That one expression was all it took to remind him that Severus Snape was human.

Unlike him.

And with far less reason to be so reviled. His life was made miserable simply for being in the ‘wrong’ House. While he, a bona fida monster was welcomed in every circle.

He was startled out of his epiphany by Mulcibier’s impatient call. He saw Snape’s face assume its usual sneering mask as he headed towards them and Remus felt a sudden fierce flicker of unease. He put it down to the Wolf’s intuition later since it was so close to the full moon, but at that moment all he knew was that it would be bad, very bad, if Snape left with them.

Before he could analyse the situation to death as was his habit, he found himself in the hall holding Snape’s arm and faced with a wand pointed right between his eyes.

oOo

“Get off me, Lupin!” he spat, jerking his arm from Remus’ grasp. As he made to retreat, Remus closed his eyes for a second offering a brief plea to whoever might be listening and jumped in with both feet.

“Severus!” he called.

Ahead of him Snape stopped dead and slowly turned to stare at him in something like shock. It took Remus a minute to realize that he wasn’t used to anyone calling him anything other than his last name or the ignoble moniker of ‘Snivellus’. He felt a scalding burst of shame but instead of slinking away as he normally did, he stiffened his spine and looked his classmate in the eye.

Or tried to, but it was difficult as they were flicking everywhere, checking for any hidden alcoves or suspicious shadows in the empty hallway. He had lowered his wand, seeming deceptively relaxed but Remus caught a glimpse of the whitened knuckles.

“They aren’t here, Severus” he said gently, knowing Snape was seeking his friends, the rest of the Marauders. “They went ahead to Herbology, I stayed back to ask Professor Lackburn a question about Vampires.”

“Fascinating Lupin,” Snape drawled looking bored. “And this would interest me how?” Remus cringed a little at his acidic tone.

“I need to talk to you.” He gave the impatient Slytherins behind them a meaningful look. “Alone.”

Snape snorted. “Well, I have absolutely no desire to speak to you, Lupin so if you don’t mind...” He stepped back, and Mulcibier snapped, “Come on Snape, Lucius isn’t going to wait forever. Hurry up!”

“I’m coming,” he growled in reply. But Remus’ gut had turned to ice at the mention of Lucius Malfoy. Maybe he didn’t want to judge people, but there were some dark rumours about the Malfoys, not least the fact that they were allies of Sirius’ family (these kind of people weren’t the sort to have friends) and Remus had the inside story on the Blacks from him. They were a Dark family and ardent supporters of You-Know-Who. Remus had no idea how Sirius had managed to be the person he was with such a family. And James’ father was an Auror and he had mentioned the Malfoys a few times, always disgusted at the mysteriously vanishing evidence...or witnesses...that saved them from a conviction.

“It’s really, really important!” he called to Snape’s back.

He wasn’t sure why he suddenly cared so much. Maybe because of ‘that’ look. He’d worn it himself often enough. If it wasn’t for James, Sirius and Peter and their unequivocal, if mindboggling acceptance, it was entirely possible that he would be poised on the same dark path that Snape was heading for. And if he, a Dark Creature could be saved, didn’t he owe it to Snape to extend the same chance that had been given to him?

“Severus, please! Just two minutes!”

To his utmost delight Snape stopped and looked back, wariness battling with curiosity in his eyes. Remus immediately adopted his patented kicked puppy expression that James assured him someone would have to be dead to resist. Snape, for all that he might look like a Vampire, still had a pulse and as such was no exception. “Alright then, two minutes,” he sighed, rolling his eyes.

“Snape, you can’t keep Malfoy waiting!” Mucibier said angrily. “Do you really want to blow—” Avery’s elbow to the ribs cut him off and he glared at his friend.

“Relax, Mulcibier,” Snape snapped, sounding a little irritated now. “I’ll just be two minutes.”

“We won’t wait for you Snape,” Avery growled threateningly.

“I never asked you to!” he responded angrily. “It’s not a big deal; I’ll be along in a minute.”

“Whatever,” Avery muttered raking a sneer over Remus before grabbing a protesting Mulcibier and dragging him away.

oOo

Snape watched them go, his eyes glittering dangerously. He hated being told what to do. He got enough of being ordered around at home. He didn’t need it from his friends as well.

Angrily, he turned on Lupin. “Well? What the hell is so important that it just couldn’t wait?” he demanded.

Lupin cast a nervous look around, as if he expected Avery and Mulcibier to come back at any moment.

“Not here,” he muttered distractedly, grabbing Snape’s arm again and dragging him off in the opposite direction.

Snape tried to control his shock. This was the second time Lupin had touched him in as many minutes. Something was going on. Nobody voluntarily touched him. Except Lily.
And his father. He flinched instinctively at the thought but thankfully Lupin didn’t seem to notice. He brought them to a stop at a door beside the statue of Boris the Bewildered, muttered a password under his breath and pulled Snape into the most ostentatious bathroom he’d ever seen.

oOo

Remus watched Snape’s night black eyes widen at the majestic sight of the Prefect’s bathroom. His own reaction when his friends had managed to wrangle the password out of Sirius’ girl du jour had been somewhat similar. He’d been transfixed at the giant tub that resembled a pool more than anything else, unable to resist the mysterious allure of the various strange taps that lined its sides and fascinated yet highly embarrassed at the mermaid mosaic on the wall that flicked her hair and batted her eyelashes suggestively at them. He half hoped to have a legitimate claim to this bathroom someday; though that was an ambition he’d never shared. But unlike him, Snape didn’t allow himself to be distracted by these wonders for more than a minute before settling himself on one of the many sinks, crossing his arms and arching an expectant black brow.

“Right,” Remus began unsteadily, “thanks for coming. It’s just...that is I...well....I...” He trailed off with the unhappy realization that he had no idea what to say.

Please don’t join the Death Eaters would NOT go down well.

I want to be your friend would just be met with derision.

I understand what it’s like to be hated...then he’d have to explain why he understood. Not an option.

And if he kept dawdling like he was, he was liable to get hexed for time wasting. However Snape surprised him. “We’re missing Herbology, you know,” he said drily. “I would have thought the mere notion of skipping would bring you out in hives, Lupin.” Remus stared at him for a moment. Did Snape just make a joke? There was an insult in there, it wouldn’t be Snape if there wasn’t, but it was so toned down from his normal vitriol that it could almost be ignored. And he hadn’t even hexed him yet! Remus began to get slightly more confident. He had no idea of course, that Snape was as off-balance as he was. He just hid it better.

“I didn’t think you were going to Herbology,” Remus said casually. “A sixth year like Malfoy would hardly be hanging around in a fourth year class, would he?”

Snape stiffened slightly. “I’m in a hurry Lupin,” he spat. “You said two minutes. You’ve about thirty seconds left. What do you want?”

“I want to apologise.”

Snape’s eyes widened.

“And I want to be friends.”

It took all of his Slytherin self-possession to keep himself from gaping at the blond boy before him. “You what?”

Remus sighed. “Listen Severus, you might not believe me but we actually have a lot in common.”

“You’re right, I don’t believe you.”

“Well, we don’t know each other very well,” Remus said doggedly, “but we’re both studious, we both would pretty much live in the library if we could get away with it...”

“I like the dark arts,” Snape stated baldly. He lifted his chin defiantly and waited for the inevitable cries of horror.

Remus simply replied, “They’re very compelling. I’ve studied some of the theory myself.”

Snape stared at Lupin waiting for the punch-line. When it didn’t come, he cocked his head to the side, intrigued. “You’re telling me that you, Remus Lupin, one quarter of the Marauders and golden Gryffindor, actually study the dark arts? Do you really expect me to believe that?”

Lupin gazed back at him calmly. “Yes.” He watched Severus blink in surprise. “I have no intention to actually use it,” he continued, “but in my opinion to put up an effective defence, you must have some idea of what you are defending against.” He realized that Severus had intended to run him off with such a blunt statement; some would see it as a confession of guilt. But he had to fight a smile. He was better acquainted with the darkness than most, he was a Werewolf after all, and would not be scared off by his classmate’s rather unconventional hobby. “I always thought knowledge was power myself,” he said absently, “and if you want to have any chance of standing up to a Dark Wizard, you should know what he’s going to hit you with.”

Severus’ lips twitched upwards into a quick smile. “You sound like a Ravenclaw there. Are you sure you were Sorted into the right House?”

Remus grinned, encouraged by that fleeting smile. “Well I’m talking to you in an abandoned bathroom with no witnesses; I think that’s proof enough of my Gryffindor courage don’t you?” For a moment he wondered if he’d gone too far, broken this strange, tentative truce but then Snape grinned back. A true, real smile, the first one Remus had ever seen from him. It transformed his face from a brooding potential Death Eater to just another fourteen year old, a boy in his year, a possible friend.

“You’re more interesting than I gave you credit for Lupin,” Severus said almost lightly.

“Remus,” he commanded. “All my friends call me Remus.”

The smile vanished from Severus’ face like it had never been, leaving a blank, neutral mask. Remus mourned its loss and resolved to see it again as soon as possible.

“Lupin,” Snape stressed. “You seriously expect me to believe that you want to be friends...with me? I’m Snivellus the slimy Slytherin, remember?” he sneered. “Did you just suddenly wake up this morning and decide...what?” He hopped off the sink and stalked menacingly towards him. “You and your real friends torment me constantly. You can’t seriously expect me to just trust you? This is probably some bizarre form of prank designed to humiliate me!” His lips twisted into an ugly sneer and his black eyes snapped with anger.

Remus fought the urge to grab his wand. Severus hadn’t made a move to hex him yet. Not that it would matter, years of fighting four-to-one odds had honed the Slytherin’s reflexes to give him remarkable speed. Well, usually three-to-one, not that that was much better. “I am sorry for what my friends and I have done,” he admitted softly, “and I am sorrier still that I did nothing to stop it. But better late than never right?” He could see the apology had taken him off guard. The sneer faded slightly. Taking advantage of Severus’ momentary silence, Remus pressed on.

“This isn’t a prank. And I don’t expect you to trust me, I don’t deserve it.” He watched Severus’ reaction carefully. All these admissions were throwing him off-balance. Certainly nothing about this conversation had gone the way he’d expected it. “I will earn your trust, Severus, if you’ll let me.” Remus watched him hopefully. “Let me be your friend.”

oOo

“And the marauders?” Severus looked at him searchingly, searching for any hint of deception.

“I’ll take care of it,” Lupin promised. “They’ll understand.” I hope...

“They’ll say I imperio’ed you,” he muttered darkly. “I’m not entirely sure you haven’t been.”

Remus laughed at that. “I’ll handle it.”

“Don’t bother.” Severus threw him a cautious glance. “There’s no point arguing over something that hasn’t happened yet.”

Remus scented victory. “But you agree to try?”

Severus looked at him oddly as if he was a puzzle he just couldn’t figure out. “You may try if you wish,” he said offhandedly as he walked towards the door. “I’ll be in the library after dinner.” Remus watched the door swing shut behind him and couldn’t restrain a triumphant smile.

He’d said ‘hasn’t happened yet.’

 

***************************************************************************

 

Severus gave it a week. Two weeks, tops. So it came as something of a surprise to find himself sitting in the library over a month later waiting for Lupin to join him. Worse, that he found himself looking forward to his company. Maybe it was time to start calling him Remus.

He frowned down at his potions book, not really seeing it. Once it had become apparent that this wasn’t some sort of elaborate prank (Black and Potter had neither the patience nor the self-restraint), he’d assumed that the whole friendship proposition was some kind of salve for the Gryffindor’s conscience or perhaps some sort of project to make Lupin feel good about himself and as such had been determined not to make it easy for him. Therefore he’d been absolutely 100% himself, not curbing his sarcastic tongue like he did for Lily or deferring to Lupin’s opinions like he did with his dorm-mates. The result was liberating if a little frightening to any innocent bystander. He was argumentative, cutting, sarcastic and...happy. Because Lupin didn’t run away. If anything, the crazy fool seemed to genuinely enjoy his company. He could always tell when someone was faking; he was a Slytherin after all. And they never lasted this long without letting him know what they wanted in return. But Lupin didn’t need him to write his essays or brew complex, sometimes illegal potions. It made him nervous.

No-one except Lily had ever liked being around him for no other reason than his personality. Privately he wondered if Lupin and Lily weren’t closet masochists. Not that he could really count Lily anymore. She’d finally seen the light and realized how much better than him she was. He only got to speak to her in potions class now and only then because they were partners. Truthfully, he was surprised it had taken her so long. He’d been expecting this since he was nine. But it still hurt.

Sighing he slumped back in his chair and listened to the comforting scratching of quills on parchment, the soft sounds of pages being turned and the almost imperceptible murmur of voices. He loved the library, it was quiet and it was safe, a maze of books watched over by Madam Pince’s gimlet eye. Catching sight of the clock, he grimaced. Lupin was late.

Grumbling to himself about useless Gryffindors he checked his book and pulled out his Potions essay. It was already two inches too long but he wanted to add a paragraph about how crushing the dandelion roots gave more potent results than slicing. He was immersed in his argument (the paragraph was getting longer and longer) when a bark-like laugh broke the peaceful silence. Head jerking up he had his wand out before he even consciously identified the problem.

He knew that laugh.

Sirius Black laughed again but stifled it hastily when Madam Pince glared. He was tall, broad and ridiculously handsome, with shoulder length wavy black hair and flashing grey eyes. Unfortunately, Nature had exhausted herself with his face and had nothing left to fill the howling gap behind it. Or at least that was Severus’ opinion.

Beside him was James Potter, not that he expected anything else seeing as how they were practically joined at the hip. He was about the same height as Black with hazel eyes hidden behind his glasses and short messy dark hair that stuck out in all directions. As he watched, Black nudged Potter and whispered something, drawing his eyes to a lovestruck third year sitting across from the entrance. Potter immediately ruffled up his hair and sent the girl a charming grin, resulting in a flurry of giggles from the friends of the blushing girl and an irritated Madam Pince swooping down on them. Potter and Black quickly made themselves scarce, disappearing into the stacks.

As they vanished, he caught sight of that simpering little sycophant Peter Pettigrew scurrying after them. Small and pudgy with mousey brown hair, watery blue eyes and a sharp nose, something about him always set Severus’ teeth on edge. Though Pettigrew was negligible in the scheme of things. His hatred for Black and Potter eclipsed their pathetic little fanboy.

Those idiots made up the infamous Marauders. The only one missing was Remus Lupin with his honey blond hair, intelligent amber eyes and seemingly infinite stores of patience. Though it certainly answered the question of how he was able to put up with Severus. Hanging out with those imbeciles for four years straight had probably warped his sense of self-preservation beyond all recognition.

Carefully, he began to gather up his work. His Potions essay was finished and while he had other homework, he could do that in the Slytherin common room. The Marauders hadn’t noticed him yet but he didn’t want to push his luck. Lupin had kept quiet about their newfound friendship at his request but had somehow also managed to keep them off his back for a solid month. The boy had to have a little Slytherin in him to pull that off! Probably part of the reason they got on so well.

Smirking slightly at that he put the last of his books in his bag, but before he could get up a shadow fell across him and he glanced up to see the three Marauders standing before him trying to look sinister. Black managed not to look completely ridiculous. The other two...

He rolled his eyes and froze. Standing directly behind them was Remus Lupin, his amber eyes wide with a trapped expression on his face. It looked like this was the end of their fledgling friendship.

oOo

Remus was late.

Bloody Peeves...

He knew that Severus would be less than pleased to be kept waiting but any fear he’d had of being hexed was long gone. They had settled into, while not exactly an easy friendship, certainly a comfortable one. Granted Severus was as snarky and cutting as ever, but Remus had found that he actually did have a sense of humour despite everything Sirius said to the contrary. It was a sardonic and extremely dry sense of humour but it was there. He could be quite funny if you just listened to some of his insults.

And he was fiercely intelligent, especially in Potions and Defence. He was a veritable genius at times, coming up with improvements to existing potions or experimenting with completely new ideas. Remus’ potions knowledge was passable but he’d improved recently. Apparently some of Severus’ impatient snappy ‘help’ had sunk in. However Remus was excellent at Defence, and Ancient Runes which Severus didn’t take. But they could happily argue—debate—about which Defensive spells were better in a pinch or what was really the best way to protect against Vampires or even if the Defence professor was really a Hag in disguise.

Remus got to see an unexpectedly mischievous side to Severus during the latter conversations, or at least mischievous for him, which really meant his humour was slightly more obvious though his dry delivery never changed and he had a glint in his black eyes that Remus had learned to check for to be sure he was teasing. So far, he had been able to steer these conversations away from Werewolves. But he knew he couldn’t do it forever without seeming suspicious and both longed for and dreaded to hear his friend’s opinion on the subject.

He couldn’t tell him of course. Remus hated keeping secrets but he’d learned long ago that a little deception will save a lot of pain in the long run. James, Sirius and Peter were the exceptions not the rule. He could hardly hope for the same miracle twice. It was a pity really since he was sure that Severus and his other friends would get on well if they just gave each other a chance.

As he finally entered the library, his legs burning from walking so fast, he looked around for Severus and froze. He was sitting at an empty table half hidden behind a bookshelf with James, Sirius and Peter standing opposite him. They all had their wands out.

oOo

He had to choose. Pick a side. Choose between his friends who knew and accepted everything about him or their sworn enemy. Never mind the fact that said enemy was smart, funny and strangely relaxing to be around. Even with his three friends he normally tried to appear as timid and unthreatening as possible. Just in case. With Severus however, being timid is tantamount to suicide. He made it quite clear that he had no intention of associating with a spineless drip. Which led to their first ‘debate’. It was rather liberating to just let go and for once give as good as he got without worrying about the consequences. Severus wasn’t the type to shun him over hurt feelings. Indeed, words, arguments and even insults just seemed to bounce off him.

They hadn’t seen him yet. He could just leave and keep all of them.

But for how long?

Remus ignored the little voice of reason trying valiantly to chip through his panic. He was a Werewolf—he was good at denial. For years he’d needed it just to get up in the morning.
Right. He would just slip away quietly...

Then Severus looked at him and he hesitated, trapped.

It was just for a second; then his attention was focused on the problem in front of him. But it had been long enough to see the resignation in his eyes. Severus did not expect him to help. Remus glanced at the door. Even leaving would be choosing now.

Before things at the table could get any more explosive, Remus dodged around his friends and slipped into the seat opposite Severus hoping to defuse the situation.

“Severus!” he said cheerfully, setting his bag on the table. “Sorry I’m late but Peeves was on the second floor—I swear he is such a nuisance sometimes.”

Out of the corner of his eye he could see his friends lowering their wands in confusion. Severus just stared, his obsidian eyes widening.

Remus flashed him a manic grin, fighting panic. See, I’m a bloody Gryffindor too you know!

Adrenaline was crashing through his body and his hands were trembling but he was relentless. If he had to pick two of his most obvious character traits he would say he that had a tendency towards denial and that he was nice.

Sometimes aggressively so.

Continuing to ignore the other Marauders, he looked at Severus’ bag. “Were you leaving?” he asked sorrowfully. “I’m not that late am I?”

“Uh...”

“Because I wanted to ask you about that Potions essay. I know it’s due tomorrow and I think I’m done, but I was wondering if you’d mind looking over it for me? If you do, I’ll tell you how to keep your Venomous Tentacula alive,” he wheedled. “I know you said it’s been giving you problems.”

He drew a breath to continue the prattle, smiling so hard his cheeks hurt but Severus interrupted him.

“Remus?”

Remus paused and saw that the shock had worn off and that Severus was looking at him in something akin to...concern??

And he finally called him by his first name! Finally!!

“Remus...”

“Yes?” he responded happily, momentarily forgetting their audience.

“Are you Confunded?”

“What?”

Severus gave him a cautious once-over. “Did anyone strange come up to you? Did you eat anythi—”

“What the hell did you do him Snivellous?” Sirius spat, recovering enough to pull Remus out of his chair away from the Slytherin.

“I didn’t do anything, Black,” continuing over James’ disbelieving snort. “I have an alibi not even you can get around.”

“It would have pretty damn spectacular to convince us, Snivelly,” James growled levelling his wand at Severus’ face.

Severus gave him a look heavy with disbelief. “You and your idiot friends were staring right at me the entire time!”

Sirius rolled his eyes and held tighter as Remus tried futilely to extract himself from the larger boy’s protective grip.

“Sirius...” he managed.

“You could have cursed him any time, Snape,” he hissed.

“Probably the Imperious curse,” Peter chimed in.

“I knew it,” Severus muttered under his breath, then louder, “So original of you, Pettigrew,” he sneered, “such imagination. Never mind the fact that Hogwarts is warded to alert the Headmaster if any Unforgivables are used within the grounds. Or has what’s left of your brain finally dribbled out your ears?”

“Leave Peter alone!” James snarled.

“Sirius!” Remus gasped.

“Your friend is turning blue,” Severus remarked dispassionately.

“Wha—oh shit! Sorry Moony!” Sirius yelped releasing him. “Don’t know my own strength sometimes.”

“Its fine, Padfoot,” Remus said rubbing his sore throat. “Next time just ask me what’s going on before impersonating a boa constrictor.”

Sirius gave him a sheepish look and Remus sat down and waved the rest of them to do the same. “Sit before Madam Pince tosses us out.” Severus hesitated and Remus shot him a pleading look. For a moment he thought he would leave anyway but after a moment he sat, his face impassive.

“Right,” Remus said. The three marauders were sitting around him, closing ranks and glaring at the Slytherin sitting across the table. “I’m not under a spell, potion or curse and you can take me to Madam Pomfrey later if you don’t believe me.”

“We might just do that,” James snapped staring suspiciously at Severus who rolled his eyes.

“Go right ahead, Potter,” he drawled, “I have far better things to do with my time than run around getting Gryffindors to study with me. I’m not trying to lower my IQ.”

James opened his mouth but Remus just sighed. “Guys, apart from the fact that he’s a Slytherin, do you have any problem with him at all?”

“YES!” James and Sirius yelled in unison.

“He’s Snivellous!”

“He’s a slimy, greasy git!”

“He’s a Dark Wizard!”

“He’s a Death Eater in training!”

“He’ll curse you as soon as look at you!”

Severus face had darkened and his hand clenched around his wand but Remus jumped in before he could curse his friends into oblivion.

“He’s my friend, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t call him that name.” James and Sirius made to protest but he silenced them with a steely glare that reminded Sirius a little of McGonagall. They reluctantly bit back their objections and let him speak, a bit surprised by the sudden change in his temperament. He’d never disagreed with them so fiercely before.

“Severus and I have been friends for over a month now and he hasn’t cursed me yet. You can’t just judge someone when you don’t know the first thing about them!” Remus looked at them hoping his words had some impact. He was disappointed. James remained obviously unconvinced and Sirius looked highly sceptical. Peter just looked confused.

He sighed. If he wanted to keep them all, he’d have to gamble. Take a risk. His trump card was a true double-edged sword. It would either make them see his point of view or make them turn on him.

He took a deep breath. He’d have to word this carefully since Severus was sitting right there. “What about me?” he demanded.

James and Sirius exchanged confused glances. “What about you Moony?” James asked perplexed.

“If you judge Severus just for being in Slytherin and not being the...easiest...person to get along with,” he glanced nervously at Severus who had calmed down and was now watching him with well-concealed amusement. He just snorted slightly and jerked his head telling him to get on with it.

“Well, isn’t that the same as people judging me?”

He saw Severus’ amusement fade into bewilderment but he saw his other friends stiffen. They got his reference.

“People judge me all the time,” he told them, trying to keep down the bitterness. “They think they know exactly wha—who I am.” He hoped Severus hadn’t noticed his slip.

“We’d never judge you Moony!” Sirius said sounding shocked. “Never!” James nodded violently in assent and Peter dutifully followed suit. “We’re not like that Remus, you know that,” James added, sounding a little hurt. Remus blew out a tiny breath in relief. He’d been half afraid that defying them and then reminding them that he was a monster would have unpleasant consequences. He should have known better.

“But the way you act around Severus is like that!” Remus insisted. “I’m not saying you have to like him, just lay off him alright?”

No-one answered. He could see Severus coiled and ready across the table but he was holding himself in check. Waiting, like Remus, for the verdict.

“We’re still taking you to Madam Pomfrey,” James said flatly. “If she says that you haven’t been...tampered with,” he shot a withering glare at Severus who glared masterfully back, completely immune, “...then I guess we’ll leave him alone.”

Before Remus could process that he might have just ended a four year feud, Sirius spoke up.

“But if he does anything, anything to you Moony,” he promised darkly, “if he even breathes funny at you, we’ll make him wish he’d never been born!”

Severus muttered something almost imperceptible even to his own Werewolf ears that sounded like “too late,” but he figured he must be mistaken.

Sirius grabbed Remus’ bag and Remus found himself being bundled out of the library by James as Peter trailed behind. “Same time tomorrow?” he called back, ignoring Madam Pince’s death glare. He had time to catch a glimpse of Severus’ curt nod before he was in the hall with his friends towing him towards the Hospital Wing.

oOo

Severus sat stunned at the table for a long time after they left. If they kept their word, he wouldn’t have to spend the next three years looking over his shoulder like a hunted animal. He could relax a bit. He smiled mirthlessly at that. No true Slytherin ever lowered their guard. Not to mention that this truce lasted only as long the word of the Marauders. He snorted. He’d believe it when he saw it. He was sure they’d find a loophole or some way to wriggle out of it. But in the mean time, he would enjoy the reprieve.

As he got up to leave he saw the book that they’d been returning to the library open on the floor, it’s spine cracked. Muttering insults about Pettigrew’s maternal line, he stooped and rescued it, unwilling to leave any book in such a state.

Curious he checked the title and felt himself go still. What were the Marauders doing with this book? He thought he had a very good idea and groaned to himself on the sorts of pranks he might suffer if this truce failed. He looked at the cover again.

How to become an Animagus in ten easy steps

He stood for a moment thinking furiously, before carefully slipping the book into his bag and quietly leaving the library.

 

**********************************************************************************

 

A few days later and Severus Snape was surprised to find that their tentative truce was holding. Of course it didn’t stop the Marauders muttering insults and shooting glares whenever he passed, but he knew that they had no hope of matching him in that department. They knew it too, though it didn’t stop them from trying. However, it happened less and less until eventually it tapered off altogether. The Marauders had no desire to pick a fight they couldn’t win. Especially if losing made them look stupid, and Severus gave them no quarter.

So it was on Friday that Severus walked into the Potions classroom feeling mildly content. It was the last class of term, just revision since their exams were starting next week and then school ended for the summer. Severus laid his bag on his usual bench and mechanically started cleaning up the mess the last dunderhead had left, feeling his good mood dissipate slightly and quickly shoved the thought of summer out of his head. It did no good to brood.

Other students began trickling in around him as he flicked his wand, banishing the last unidentifiable puddle, and surveyed his workbench with satisfaction. This was probably the cleanest it had been all year. He paused in a moment’s disgust for his Head of House. Slughorn cared more for grooming the alleged ‘stars of tomorrow’ than for preventing accidents in his own classroom. The imbecilic social climber was lucky the spill he’d just cleaned hadn’t been acidic, toxic, sentient or flammable. It wasn’t even that the man was stupid, just apathetic towards the things that didn’t interest him. Severus never thought he’d say it, but he’d rather that Slughorn was simply stupid.

So wrapped up was he in his mental tirade that he almost didn’t notice someone sit next to him. A small smile gracing his face, he looked up to greet Lily....only to see Remus smiling back at him.

“You looked far away,” he said seeming a trifle nervous. “Do you mind if I sit with you?”

Severus stared at him uncomprehending for a moment. Sure Remus had said they were friends but he’d never expected anything outside the fairly anonymous confines of the library, certainly nothing so public. He half wanted to say yes but...

“Sorry Remus,” he mumbled apologetically, “But I normally sit with Lily.”

“Ah,” Remus said looking uncomfortable, “well she’s sitting with Mary today, hadn’t you noticed?”

Severus spun around, scanning the surrounding students to find Lily laughing at a bench behind him on the other side of the room beside a tall blonde girl he recognised as one of her dorm-mates, Mary McDonald. In front of them sat James and Sirius. Sirius was staring thoughtfully back at him and Remus while James was gazing adoringly at Lily who, while studiously ignoring him, had turned suspiciously pink. She never once looked his way and Severus felt the bottom drop out of his stomach as he turned blindly to pull his potions book from his bag with trembling hands.

He laid it on the table and stared blankly at the battered cover without really seeing it. Suddenly he felt a touch on his arm and turned with a snarl as Remus jerked back in surprise. Severus bit his tongue hard, forcing back the harsh words. It wasn’t Remus he was mad at; indeed he’d forgotten the other boy was there at all. Scowling he turned back to his book, pretending to read. He wasn’t even sure why he was so angry, just that he wanted to lash out, spread the pain around.

“It’s her loss Severus.”

His head jerked up to stare at Remus who was now staring fixedly at his own book. Without meeting his gaze, Remus continued, “I mean it. If she can’t see what’s right in front of her, then you’re better off.” Severus couldn’t suppress a snort. His incredulity had overridden his anger and he found that he wasn’t sure whether to feel insulted that Remus would attempt to feed him such obvious lies or feel touched that someone would actually bother. It had been a long time since anyone had concerned themselves over how he felt. He stole a quick glance at his friend through the slightly greasy curtain of his black hair and noted the tense set of his shoulders and the white-knuckled grip he had on the desk.

Awkwardness settled over them. Severus wondered if he should say something to dispel it but was completely at a loss. This was why he shunned social interaction. At that moment Slughorn swept in, late as always, and all conversation dried up.

“You’re on the wrong chapter,” Severus hissed as the lesson started, swiping the book from Remus’ startled hands. He quickly flicked through it until he saw the correct page then offered it back. “Here,” he said gruffly.

Remus’ eyes lit up and he accepted the book back with a smile. “Thank you Severus,” he said graciously. Severus gave a jerky nod and focused on Slughorn, slightly embarrassed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Remus’ smile widen and growled something about idiot Gryffindors under his breath. And just like that, things were back on an even keel.

oOo

At the end of the day Severus stalked through the halls, fuming. Remus’ obvious overture during Potions hadn’t gone unnoticed amongst the Slytherins. For the rest of the day he’d been fending off spiteful comments and probing questions. He knew he’d have to answer to Malfoy later and explain what he was doing hanging around with another Gryffindor. The rest of the Slytherins had no idea that Lily’s distance wasn’t his doing but rather his failure. They thought he’d just listened when they told him she was trash and had no idea the lengths to which he’d gone to try and keep her. And they never would. It’d completely ruin his chances for one thing.

Hanging around with one of the Marauders wouldn’t do him any favours either but he was fairly confident that he could spin it so that it seemed he just wanted to keep the temporary truce in effect. It was beginning to chafe though, constantly having to explain himself to Malfoy and the others. At first, he been in awe of the more experienced sixth year and greedy for the respect and power he’d promised. Not to mention flattered by the fact that a Malfoy would stoop to offer a grubby little half-blood the secret to success and the introduction he’d need to achieve it.

He still wanted those things, the power, the prestige but it rankled that he had to kowtow to others to obtain it. It wasn’t in his nature. Briefly he wondered just when he’d started thinking like this before impatiently shaking those doubts away. He was on the right path. All he had to do was keep Lucius happy until he recommended him to the Dark Lord, then he’d be free to achieve his goals in his own way.

oOo

As he descended the stone steps to the dungeons, heading for the Slytherin common room, he thought about the Animagus book hidden under his bed. He’d skimmed through it and found it well-written with clear, concise instructions. At first he’d taken it as a means of self-defence, unwilling to let the Marauders get one over on him. And if they’d returned it because they couldn’t handle the transformation, then if he succeeded it would taste all the sweeter. Although he grudgingly admitted, at least to himself, that Potter had probably managed it. Though he’d die before saying it aloud, Potter was to Transfiguration what he was to Potions. But after reading through the introduction, he’d become genuinely interested. It was a challenge to his skill as a Wizard, and Severus could never walk away when his pride was at stake.

As he approached the entrance to the common room, by now amusing himself with what embarrassing forms the Marauders might have, a sudden clatter distracted him. Looking around he was greeted with the incongruous sight of what appeared to be a suit of armour dancing, its metal limbs flailing. With a bemused shrug, Severus turned away. This was Hogwarts after all.

Something hit his foot and spun away with a clang. The helmet. The rest of the armour was in a heap on the floor. Narrowing his eyes, Severus surveyed the empty hall. Just as he thought he was finally succumbing to paranoia, he heard a shuffling sound and caught sight of tiny regular clouds of displaced dust rising from the stone floor.

Someone was here.

Cautiously he followed, straining his ears while keeping a close eye on the disturbances in the dust. Filch only came down here when he absolutely had to. Not that Severus could blame him; purebloods were notoriously merciless to those they deemed inferior. For the squib to venture down here at all raised the dour man in Severus’ estimation. That and the fact that he was smart enough to always make sure Mrs. Norris never came with him. It was another example of Slughorn’s ineptitude. As their Head of House, he had the responsibility of keeping them in line. If he bothered, then maybe Slytherin wouldn’t be the main Death Eater recruitment ground. Severus smirked. Maybe there were some advantages to their Head’s indifference.

Ahead of him, the shuffling picked up its tempo as his quarry began to run, obviously having realized that someone was following. Severus picked up his pace as well, his mind whirring trying to figure things out.

Invisibility potion? They were extremely difficult and expensive to brew, harder still to make one as flawless as this.

Ahead of him, he could hear wheezing gasps as the sound of the footsteps faltered. Whoever this was, they were very unfit, they’d only been running a few minutes!

Bored with the chase, Severus drew his wand and snarled “Impedimenta!” There was a sudden cry and a crash as someone fell heavily to the ground. Severus sprang forward, catching sight of a disembodied arm and reached down into nothingness to feel the light almost gauzy material of a cloak.

“Invisibility cloak!” he gasped in shock as he pulled it free to reveal student robes, the edge of a House crest, straining to see the face.

So focused was he on uncovering the mystery, that he was unprepared for the weak Stupefy that came his way. Stumbling backward he managed to deflect it, but that was all it took for the person to yank the cloak back in place and take off with the renewed energy of one fuelled by desperation.

Spitting a curse, Severus followed, hardly needing to watch the dust rise now since his target had apparently given up on stealth. His curiosity was peaked. What on earth was a Gryffindor doing so deep in Slytherin territory, with something as rare as an Invisibility cloak no less?

The chase led deep into the forgotten parts of the dungeons that even Slytherins didn’t bother with. Another spell was shot his way and he raised a shield in response. Aiming his wand, Severus jerked to a stop, his heart racing as he realized he could no longer hear anything in front of him. Cursing quietly in frustration, he listened intently trying to pick up some trace. Voices echoed faintly back and he grinned. Say what you like about the dungeons but the acoustics were incredible.

He crept forward, wand at the ready until he came to a large wooden door. It was ajar and from behind it he heard a vaguely familiar voice whining and breathing hard after the unexpected exertion. A cold voice snapped out, silencing the other immediately. “Are you spying on me, Severus?” it drawled and Severus cautiously pushed open the door to reveal Lucius Malfoy, alone in the bare stone room.

Wait, alone?

He scanned the room again, his eyes finally coming to rest on Lucius’ imperious expression. “Looking for something?” he asked dangerously and Severus narrowed his eyes at the threat implied in the question.

“I thought I heard something,” he replied vaguely.

“Yes, me,” Malfoy responded, rolling his eyes. “Now if you don’t mind, you’re in my way Snape.”

Severus stepped aside automatically, and Lucius glided out the door, his white blond hair flowing behind him. Severus sent a last suspicious glance around the empty room, taking in the dusty floors, lichen growing on the walls, the rat cowering in the corner. No way out. Raising his wand, he sent a tempest into the room. Wind howled and whipped up the dust, tearing lichen away from the walls, sending the rat sliding along the floor. He frowned and ended the spell. No-one could have kept hold of a cloak during that.

“Severus!” Malfoy’s voice floated back to him. “Hurry up. I think it’s time we had a little chat about the company you’ve been keeping recently.”

Severus reluctantly left the room, all the time wondering just who it was that Malfoy had been keeping company with.

 

**********************************************************************************

 

Remus’ summer flew.
He spent almost all of it at the Potter’s after Sirius finally had enough and ran away from home. His parents subsequently disowned him with a callous disregard for their eldest son’s future, leaving him with absolutely nothing except the generosity of James’ parents, who had practically adopted him by this point anyway. For all that he said that he was glad he no longer had to see the ‘evil gits’ (his family), both James and Remus were perfectly aware of the pain he was trying to hide. For all their mutual hate, the Blacks were still family and to be so publically cast aside even if he had ran away first, left its mark. He needed his friends around him to help heal the wound before it began to fester. So the pair of them made it their mission to distract him by whatever means necessary. James took him flying around the Potter estate every day, playing one-on-one quidditch while Remus cheered from below. Quidditch wasn’t exactly his strong suit.

Remus shared his prized chocolate hoard, which caused Sirius to wonder loudly to James if they hadn’t actually had a terrible broom accident and were really lying in St. Mungo’s suffering from bizarre hallucinations. It was certainly an unprecedented event, Remus guarded his stash jealously. He also bullied them both into finishing their homework, reminding them that they were heading into their OWL year and couldn’t afford to be complacent.

It was a pity that Peter couldn’t be there (he sent an owl detailing a sick aunt), because this was definitely a bonding experience for the Marauders. Even if James and Sirius did turn Remus’ hair green for the OWLs comment. His response had them waddling around as they tried to get used to walking with donkey tails. Remus enjoyed these months immensely, not least because their illegal use of magic during the summer went unnoticed by the Ministry due to the fact that the Potter’s were a magical household. Though they almost had their wands confiscated by an irate Mr. Potter. Aurors, apparently, don’t ignore these sorts of things.

It was only some inspired arguments by James and Sirius’ doleful eyes that spared them, though the pranks were on hold until they got back to Hogwarts. But the close call highlighted one thing that settled Remus’ nerves; Sirius was getting back to his old carefree self again. And that was worth a thousand parental reprimands.

 

oOo

 

Severus’ summer crawled.
He finished his homework in the first two weeks and spent the rest either holed up in his room or out roaming the streets, anything to avoid his father’s wrath. Things hadn’t been going well for Tobias Snape. He’d found a job at the beginning of last year in the new meatpacking factory that opened on the other side of the river and for a time, things seemed to be going well. He’d found a bit of pride, working a steady job and his temper had seemed to abate a little. Unfortunately, after Christmas he’d hurt his back and was laid off, leaving him with nothing better to do than attempt to pickle himself in cheap beer and moan about his crappy life and why it was all Severus and his mother’s fault.

Severus recognised the signs. His father was working himself up to a massive blow-out; stewing in toxic silence some days whilst other times, going over and over ‘where it all went wrong.’ His mother did nothing to try and avert the coming storm, at times she almost seemed to egg him on with her contempt and scorn. Which was why Severus was out of the house and its oppressive atmosphere as much as possible.

He distracted himself with the animagus book, doing all the preparatory steps and mediation but he didn’t dare try his first partial transformation until he was safely back at Hogwarts. The last thing he needed was to be expelled for underage magic.

He only tried to visit Lily once. After that fiasco he stayed away. Her spiteful muggle sister he could just about tolerate but when Lily started on about his friends again, that was the last straw. He lived with them for Merlin’s sake! Just how did she expect him to avoid them? And why should he, when she would barely speak to him at school? Sure he had Remus, though she apparently hadn’t noticed that little detail, but he was a Gryffindor and the Marauders certainly wouldn’t take kindly to him hanging around with them all the time. It was unlikely Remus would want that in any case.

To pass the time, he brooded about the mystery Gryffindor skulking around the dungeons to meet Lucius Malfoy. It had taken him a while to place the voice he’d heard, but he was almost certain he was right. There was still major holes in his theory, questions he couldn’t answer, but he was confident that he had the bare bones of it right.

His latest dilemma: Should he tell Remus?

He didn’t have to think it over very long before the answer presented itself. It wasn’t his problem and Remus would never believe him anyway. The word of a former enemy he’d been on speaking terms with for only a few months against the word of one of his treasured best friends, a Marauder and fellow Gryffindor that he’d known for almost five years. No contest. And Severus wasn’t going to risk Remus hating him and breaking the truce over something he couldn’t even prove. The Gryffindor’s company had been surprisingly tolerable, a welcome respite from Slytherin politics and he found himself hoping that the summer hadn’t affected Remus’ memory.

 

oOo

 

September 1st dawned clear and bright. King’s Cross was heaving with muggles going about their daily lives and with older Witches and Wizards nonchalantly leaning against the division between Platform 9 and 10 and vanishing, while younger children took it at run, startling muggles and sending some to the nearby coffee vendor to procure a jolt of caffeine to wake themselves up.

On Platform 9 ¾, Remus took in the hussle and bussle around them and smiled fondly at the scarlet steam engine waiting patiently on the tracks. He loved going back to Hogwarts, it always felt like coming home.

Beside him, James stretched and looked over at Sirius. “Let’s go grab a compartment before the train starts to fill up,” he suggested.

“What about Peter?” Remus asked as they made their way across the platform, dodging tearful mothers and squirming first years.

“He’ll find us,” Sirius said carelessly, eying up a buxom sixth year. Seeing Remus’ expression he relented. “Well if he hasn’t found us by the time we’ve settled in, James can guard the compartment and we’ll go look for him, alright Moony?”

James and Sirius engaged in a good-natured argument about which end of the train was better resulting in Remus choosing a compartment in the middle while there was still some left to bicker over. They quickly loaded their trunks before leaving James to stand guard while they went hunting for Peter. If possible, the platform was even more crowded than before.

“We’ll never find him in all this, Remus,” Sirius said disgustedly after almost being mowed down for the third time. “Let’s head back to James. Peter will find us once he’s on the train.”

Remus looked around regretfully. “I suppose you’re right,” he agreed reluctantly. “Come on, let’s—” He was cut off by a sudden clamour nearby and looked up to see a group of Slytherins hooting and jeering two figures in the centre. One had long blond hair, while the other...

“Look, Moony, a snake fight!” Sirius joked seeing what had caught his friend’s attention. “Looks like Lucius Malfoy...and is that Snivellous?” Sirius looked faintly impressed. “Who’ve have thought he’d have it in him?”

“Don’t call him that,” Remus said automatically, watching the figure with long black, slightly greasy hair shove his way out from the group dragging his beat up trunk after him. Laughter followed him but he didn’t look back, stalking resolutely towards the train, rudely shoving people out of his way. Even though he couldn’t see his face, Remus could almost feel the anger boiling off him.

“I wonder,” he murmured and Sirius tore his gaze from his cousin’s smug, mocking face as he flipped his blond hair back over his shoulder and returned to holding court.

“Wonder what, Moony?” he asked cautiously, recognising that speculative look.

“I wonder if Severus would like to sit with us,” Remus replied absently before taking off after the Slytherin.

“What!” Sirius yelped. “Moony, hang on a second! Moony!”

 

oOo

 

“Severus!”

Remus dipped and twisted through the crowd, hopping over abandoned trunks and edging around distraught parents until he finally caught up.

“Severus,” he called again. “It’s Remus.”

Severus stopped and looked back, his face still hidden by his long hair. “What do you want?” he snapped. The hostility in his voice would have made lesser men quail, but Remus had grown accustomed to his friend’s strange moods.

“I was wondering if you’d like to sit with us,” Remus said pleasantly and thought he saw a dark eye widen slightly behind the veil of hair. His answer was interrupted by Sirius’s arrival.

“Moony, don’t!” he pleaded and Remus gave him a harsh look which he ignored with ease. “You can’t want that greasy git slicking up our compartment! It takes hours to get to Hogwarts—hours! You can’t seriously mean—”

“Sirius!” Remus growled warningly.

“Save it, Lupin,” Severus said abruptly. “Just piss off.”

With that he started walking again, and this close Remus could see how stiffly he was moving, taking careful measured steps. But he didn’t examine that too closely, instead focusing on what he’d been called.

“Since when is it Lupin, Severus?” he demanded. “I thought we were past all this nonsense!”

Ignoring Sirius’ muttered “Let’s go, Remus,” he stepped forward and grabbed Severus by the arm, causing him to drop his trunk, and spinning him around.

“I’m trying to be—Sweet Merlin!”

As he’d spun him around, Severus had let out a pained gasp as his knees buckled and his hair had flown back from his face to reveal heavy bruising and a split lip. All of a sudden Remus found himself supporting the Slytherin’s weight instead of demanding answers. He barely heard Sirius’ hiss of shock over the pounding of his own heart.

It was only a few seconds and then Severus was standing on his own feet and yanking his arm from Remus’ slack grip with a vicious curse. He bent to grab his trunk only to miss as Sirius hefted it up.

Severus’ glare could have curdled milk. “Black,” he hissed menacingly, “give me back my trunk or I swear I will hex you right here!” His wand was pointed right at Sirius’ nose. Remus hadn’t even seen him pull it out.

“You know what Moony?” Sirius proclaimed grandly, ignoring the wand in his face with aplomb despite the fact that it was starting to spit silver sparks. “I’ve changed my mind. I think it’d be a good idea to have Sni—Sna—Severus sit with us after all. It’s important to have variety in life, isn’t that what I’ve always said?” Ignoring the fact that Sirius was normally talking about girls when he used that maxim, Remus gave his friend a grateful look.

Seeing that Severus’ eyes had widened with rage, Sirius took off with the trunk calling back, “I’ll just stash this and warn—I mean tell James about our visitor.” Then he was gone, ducking into the crowd just as Severus let loose a hex that scored the pillar where he’d been standing.

Several people screamed and Remus immediately grabbed Severus’ wand hand, forcing it down. “Calm down Severus!” he commanded the shaking boy in front of him.

Severus turned rage-maddened eyes on him and Remus fought a flinch. He looked terrible and if the way he’d been moving earlier was any indication, then the damage was more extensive than just his face. He must be in horrible pain but he never gave any indication of it. He shook his hand free from Remus’.

“I won’t have it!” he spat. “I will NOT be mocked by you and your merry band of lackwits! I refuse to sit with you and I want my trunk returned intact!”

“Severus...” Remus gaped at him. “Severus, we’re not mocking you. Sirius isn’t going to do anything to your trunk except stow it in our compartment. And, well, you don’t have to sit with us, it’s just I saw you arguing with the Slytherins and figured you probably wouldn’t want to sit with them.”

Severus flinched at the mention of the Slytherins but controlled it quickly.

“I mean, when I asked you I hadn’t even seen...” he trailed off unable to continue.

“But Black only changed his tune afterwards,” Severus spat bitterly. “And if he’s not mocking me then it’s because he pities me. And I’m telling you Remus,” he hissed, suddenly looking him in the eyes, “that I will throw myself under this train before I accept pity from anyone, let alone Sirius-bloody-Black!”

The platform was slowly clearing around them but neither of them seemed to notice.

“Sirius would be the last person to pity you,” Remus said quietly, “because he, more than anyone, understands. His family—” Remus bit his tongue hard. These weren’t his secrets to tell. “If you never trust anything else I say, trust this” he said fiercely. “Sirius will not pity you. He will not judge you, not about this anyway,” he amended smiling slightly. “He may be a pain in the ass at times but he’s smarter than you give him credit for.”

Remus was speaking from personal experience on this, though he could hardly admit to it.

A whistle split the silence between them. “It’s the last call,” Remus said quietly. “Come on, unless you want to miss the train.” Severus followed, looking very tired all of a sudden. They barely made it through the door when the train started to move and Remus turned to face him.

“You don’t have to sit with us, Severus,” he told him sincerely, “but I for one would like it if you did.”

He seemed to hesitate and Remus was about to turn away when he mumbled, “Everywhere else is probably full anyway.”

Remus turned quickly to lead the way, so Severus wouldn’t see his smile.

 

oOo

 

Black had obviously spoken to Potter for neither acted like a Slytherin in their compartment was anything out of the ordinary. He was pathetically grateful for that. He saw his trunk as soon as he’d stepped through the door, stacked with the others. It seemed untouched as per Remus’ assurance but he wouldn’t trust it not to explode when he opened it. Precautions would have to be taken. But that could wait until he was back in his dorm. He slid into the empty seat opposite Gryffindor’s finest and Remus sat next to him. He was surrounded.

Trying to hide his discomfort, he sat back with a sigh, bowing his head slightly so that his hair hid his face, as the others made slightly strained conversation around him. He closed his eyes, exhausted. He’d evaded his father for so long this summer that he’d begun to selfishly hope that the inevitable explosion wouldn’t occur until after he’d left for school. Unfortunately, Lady Luck was a cruel bitch just like his father always said. In some ways it was worse that Tobias hadn’t snapped earlier in the summer, at least then he would’ve had time to heal up a bit like normal.

As things stood, he’d have to slip away before the feast to wait for Madam Pomfrey if he wanted to avoid the gossip. His stomach churned. As if Lucius Malfoy hadn’t put paid to that already. Bloody pureblood prat took one look at his face and just couldn’t resist poking his nose in a raw wound.

“How weak, Severus. Couldn’t you even stop your filthy muggle father from beating you?”

Severus flinched as he remembered. It’d be all over the school in a matter of hours. He felt a slow burn of anger ignite in his chest and wondered if it was just that the idiot came from a magical household or if too many peroxide fumes had addled his brain. Was Malfoy even aware of the Restriction of Underage Magic Act?

He wanted revenge, craved it but as much as it galled him to admit it, he still needed him. It went against the grain to let something like this go and he idly wondered if hitting Malfoy where it hurt might be worth losing the precious introduction. But what could someone like him do to someone like Malfoy? Not much, at least not right now. He wouldn’t forget though. Revenge was best served cold after all.

 

oOo

 

When he opened his eyes again, it was getting dark and the others were beginning to change into their robes so he did the same. Pettigrew was still missing. He paused for a moment before closing his trunk when he saw a vial holding a small amount of clear liquid. An inkling of a plan sparked in his mind and he grabbed the vial, stuffing into the pocket of his robes before closing the lid.

More alert now the pain had subsided a bit, he examined the others. Remus smiled at him over the top of his book. Black and Potter were playing exploding snap. By the amount of wrappers scattered on the floor, he concluded that the trolley had been and gone. Not that he could have afforded anything anyway.

His musings were cut off as a chocolate frog pack was stuck under his nose. He looked up to find Remus offering it, almost shyly. “I figured you’d be hungry.”

Severus wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially when said horse is offering food and he hadn’t eaten since sometime yesterday. Not to mention the fact he was going to have to miss the feast tonight. His stomach told his pride to stuff it, and he accepted the treat with a cool thank you.

Remus simply looked relieved that he hadn’t bitten his head off and returned to his book as Severus made short work of the frog. Across from them the game of snap came to an explosive conclusion with Sirius the roaring victor.

“Take that Prongs!” he gloated as Potter groaned and grabbed an open pack of Every Flavour Beans as his consolation prize.

“Is there anyone brave enough to challenge me?” Black demanded and Severus rolled his eyes, the only silent form of derision he could show at present since it was too painful to sneer. “Remus?” Black continued, “Do you dare?”

Remus shook his head, laughing. “Last time we ‘duelled’, Padfoot, my eyebrows caught fire.”

“Humph,” he snorted. “Coward. What about you Sev, you up for a game? I’d like a chance to kick your Slytherin butt without having Remus get pissy!”

Severus almost choked. “What did you call me?” he snapped hoarsely. He saw Potter sit up, interested while out of the corner of his eye, Remus looked nervous.

Black rolled his eyes. “Well you can’t expect me to call you Severus can you? For one thing it’s too long, for another thing, bleh!” He made a face.

Severus was ready to hex him when his Slytherin practicality kicked in. Don’t start a fight in the Gryffindor part of the train where you’re horribly outnumbered. Not to mention that anything was better than Snivellous.

So he sneered, which he immediately regretted and let it go. Potter seemed a little disappointed there would be nothing to break the monotony of the journey, Sirius looked satisfied that he’d won whatever argument he’d thought they were having, Severus knew he looked bored and Remus just looked anxious.

“So,” Remus began in an obvious attempt to break the silence, “has anyone seen Peter?”

Severus froze as the plan forming in the back of his mind suddenly became clear. He barely heard Potter explaining that Pettigrew had dropped his trunk off before they returned and stepped out to the bathroom. He knew how he could get Malfoy without him even knowing that he was behind it. If he was willing to take a risk, of course. His various wounds ached and burned, reminding him that the whole school would soon learn of his humiliation courtesy of Lucius.

He was aware of what a coup it would be for Lucius to bring any Gryffindor into the fold, but one of Dumbledore’s beloved Marauders... If he could destroy that Gryffindor’s usefulness however, well, turnabout’s fair trade. Severus smiled a vindictive smile. He bet Malfoy would lose a lot of pull with the Dark Lord if he were to bungle this. He had no doubt he’d already informed Him of his success. Malfoy loved to brag. And better yet, if he managed to plant the seed of doubt without getting hexed off the train, the Marauders would do all his work for him.

“It’s been a long time for a bathroom break,” Black said sounding concerned. “Maybe we should—”

Severus snorted loudly, drawing their attention. “Oh please. I know exactly where your little friend is.”

 

***************************************************************************

 

Severus snorted loudly, drawing their attention. “Oh please. I know exactly where your little friend is.”

oOo

“He’s probably holed up with Malfoy again. From what I interrupted last term, it seemed like a regular thing.”

Seeing he’d managed to shock the Marauders into silence, Severus continued. “I overheard them together in the deepest part of the Slytherin dungeons.” A snigger interrupted him.

“Oh please,” Potter managed as Sirius struggled to contain his mirth, “Stop. You’re embarrassing yourself. There’s no way that Wormtail would go within six feet of Lucius Malfoy and he’d certainly never descend into the snake pit! He can barely look a Slytherin in the eye without wetting himself!!”

Sirius finally lost control and barked with laughter, setting Potter off. Even Remus was chuckling at the absurdity of the idea. Severus sighed. He’d known this was going to be difficult.

“I realize that there are a few holes in my theory,” he admitted over their gales of derisive laughter, “not least the fact of how Pettigrew of all people could get his hands on something as rare as an invisibility cloak.” The hilarity around him cut off with eerie suddenness but he continued his musings without paying much attention, lost in the conundrum the cloak represented.

“I seriously doubt that Lucius would hand something so valuable to a Gryffindor even if he is trying to sweeten him up and I didn’t think Pettigrew’s family...” he trailed off finally noticing the leaden silence and looked at the frozen faces around him.

“Oh...”he breathed, “not his at all then. One of yours?”

“Peter would never go down to the dungeons alone,” Remus protested, “he’d be far too scared.”

“Oh well, it was obviously some Gryffindor who sounded just like him then!” Severus snapped impatiently.

“You obviously didn’t see him though!” Potter growled.

“You mean to tell me that Hogwarts is full of Gryffindors running around with priceless Invisibilty cloaks?” Severus inquired silkily.

That stumped them for the moment but Severus had no doubt they’d find a way around it. Say it had been stolen perhaps. What was worse was that he’d no other conclusive evidence to present. The cloak had been a lucky coincidence. Scowling, he realized that he’d allowed his fury at Lucius to propel him head-first into action without thinking it through, like some sort of—of Gyffindor! Thoroughly disgusted with himself, he attempted one last ditch effort to save the situation.

Black was shaking his head slowly while Potter was beginning to glare dangerously at him. Remus was sitting so still, he appeared frozen.

“I managed to knock him down so I saw the crest on his robes,” Severus explained trying to sound cool and confident, not entirely easy when the sound of his voice shook the three out of their stupor to gaze at him with marked dislike. Even Remus.

“He ran before I could get a look at his face but his height and build were consistent with Pettigrew’s and that’s without mentioning that he had your cloak.” He wasn’t sure who the last bit was directed at but was guessing either Black or Potter since both came from old Pureblood families. Probably Potter since his father was an Auror and they were known to use the cloaks from time to time.

“He knew the dungeons too well for it to have been his first time,” he went on mercilessly, “especially since we ended up in the older parts, it’s like a labyrinth down there. No-one bothers with it anymore. Except apparently, for Lucius Malfoy. I heard Pettigrew speaking to him before he figured out I was listening. There was absolutely no reason for Malfoy to be down in there at the same time, hell at any time, unless it was for a clandestine meeting.”

“That’s pretty goddamn thin, Snivellous!” Potter hissed, gripping his wand. “You think we’re going to believe you over our friend? Just because we felt sorry enough for you to let you sit with us doesn’t mean that anything has changed! Your still a slimy, greasy git and I won’t listen to you badmouth Peter any longer!”

“Fine then,” Severus snapped standing, fighting a wince as his body protested. Remus wouldn’t look at him. Black and Potter just glared hatefully. “You know what, maybe I’m wrong. I’ve no idea how whoever-it-was got out of the room anyway. After Lucius left there was nothing breathing in there but a scabby rat and some creepy lichen! Or maybe it’s just that you can’t stand the thought of that brainless oaf somehow outwitting you—”

“Wait, did you say rat?”

Remus was looking at him now, white as milk with an expression of dawning horror on his face.

“Yes a rat,” Severus retorted testily. “Or have your ears suffered the same fate as your brain?”

His insult was ignored as Sirius shook his head emphatically. “No way, Moony—the dungeons probably have a million rats, the Slytherins snack on them, remember?” He sounded faintly pleading. Potter looked as though he’d been punched in the gut.

Severus frowned. He was clearly missing something here. Tell them their best friend is a traitor and they barely bat an eyelid, the denial is so thick but mention a rat in the dungeons and they fall apart?

And people said he was weird.

“The rat on its own we could possibly ignore. Even if it was just the cloak...but both together?” Potter looked sick as he said it. “Especially as Sniv—Snape obviously had no clue of the significance of either.”

“NO!” Sirius sprang up, grabbing Severus’ robes and slamming his abused body into the sliding compartment door. “Was there more than one rat?” he demanded.

Severus glared at him through a haze of pain, his nerve endings screaming. “Why on earth do you care?” he gasped only to be slammed into the door again. This time he nearly blacked out, hanging on to consciousness only by his stubborn tenacity and instinctive horror at being so vulnerable among his enemies.

He heard Remus shouting and was released so suddenly that he nearly crumpled to the floor. Instead he found himself slumped back in his seat staring into the concerned amber eyes of Remus Lupin.

“Just tell us please, Severus,” he asked softly.

Severus blinked a moment until his vision swam back into focus. Black was standing just behind Remus, his expression a mix of remorse and defiance. Potter was standing beside him, a hard look on his face. Severus felt trapped and mentally scolded himself once again for being so stupid as to get himself into this situation. For now, he hadn’t much choice than to answer their ridiculous questions.

“What exactly do you want to know?” he asked watching Black warily.

“Was there more than one rat?” Sirius demanded eagerly. “I mean, there must have been right? Rats are practically part of the ambiance in any dungeon worth its salt right?”

Black, Severus reflected, sounded a little desperate. Clearly there was more to this rat obsession than met the eye. He had an idea by now of what was going on and if he was correct then it would be the final nail in Pettigrew’s coffin. And in Lucius’ ambitions.

“There was only one rat,” he responded truthfully, hoping that was the right answer. He saw Potter deflate slightly but Black wasn’t fazed.

“And what did it look like?” he pressed.

“Look like?” Severus demanded incredulously. “I was looking to see what happened to the Gryffindor traitor,” he enjoyed the flinches that one produced, “that Lucius had managed to bag. I wasn’t really paying attention to the local vermin!”

Seeing Black nod in satisfaction and mumble something about reasonable doubt, he hissed angrily. “It was grey, I think. And scruffy, though that isn’t really unusual for a rat. It just cowered in the corner and got blown around a bit when I performed Tempesta to try flush out whoever was hiding under the cloak.”

“That doesn’t prove anything!” Black said firmly but even he was looking uneasy now.

Deciding that he’d had enough, Severus sat up straighter and played his last card, one that would hopefully put him back in control of the situation.

“I never expected you to simply believe me you know,” he drawled, curling his fingers around the vial in his pocket. “If you’d given me a chance to finish, I would have offered you the chance to obtain irrefutable proof, one way or the other.”

“What do you mean?” Remus asked cautiously, moving to sit down again. Potter and Black followed suit, only more slowly.

“I mean that I never expected you to just take my word for it,” Severus said impatiently. “I knew you’d require proof beyond what I could provide.” He drew the vial from his pocket with a flourish and shook it slightly making the transparent liquid at the very bottom swirl.

“It contains three drops. That’s enough for one dose. Can you guess what it is?”

To his surprise, it was Sirius not Remus who answered.

“Veritaserum!”

“What?” Potter asked shocked, “The truth serum? Where on earth did you get that?”

Severus couldn’t suppress a smirk. “I brewed up a batch for...an acquaintance. He’s got money but not brains. I skimmed this off the top and he never even noticed.”

Black was eying him sceptically. “Veritaserum is OWL material,” he said flatly. “We won’t even be going over the method until this year. You expect us to believe—”

“I’ve being reading my mother’s old potions books since I was six,” Severus interrupted smugly. “You should listen to Slughorn when calls me a prodigy, he really isn’t joking.”

Potter snorted but Remus looked vaguely impressed. “One dose,” he murmured. “For Peter?”

“Get the truth straight from the source,” Severus said persuasively. “Settle your doubts one way or another.”

“Can we even believe you that the potion’s what you say it is?” Potter said suspiciously. “Maybe you want to poison Peter and get us blamed.”

By the alarmed expressions from Remus and Sirius, he could tell that this hadn’t even occurred to them.

Gryffindors.

“Get Slughorn to examine it if you want,” he offered generously. “He probably would confiscate it from anyone else, but I’ll bet the Marauders will get off scot free. As always.” He wondered if they’d noticed the bitterness that had crept into his voice at the end of the sentence. If they did they gave no sign of it, instead exchanging significant looks.

“Alright then,” Potter said finally. “Give us the potion.” He held his out hand but Severus deliberately turned and tossed the vial to Remus who nearly dropped it in surprise. He held the precious liquid close and gave Severus an inscrutable look.

Severus stood. “I think I’ve outstayed by welcome,” he said dryly.

“No shit,” spat Potter.

As he reached the door he was stopped by a hand on his arm. Expecting Remus he turned and was surprised to find Black.

“Peter doesn’t have the Dark Mark,” he said quietly but with a hint of triumph in his voice. “James’ Dad said that Death Eaters have a black skull tattoo on their left arm. We’ve seen Peter changing almost every day in the dorm. He doesn’t have it.

Severus rolled his eyes. “Merlin, but you’re naive Black,” he said pityingly. “As if the D—You-Know-Who would bother to Mark students who haven’t even got their OWLs yet. He only takes recruits who are of age.”

Absently he wondered if Lucius had taken the Mark. His birthday had been in August. Was he a fully fledged Death Eater now? He felt a shiver go down his spine but to his consternation he found that he was unsure whether it came from excitement or fear.

“Well then what’s Malfoy doing with P—doing in the dungeons?” Sirius asked curiously as Potter and Remus looked on, intrigued.

“Recruiting,” he answered shortly.

Seeing their fascination at this glimpse into the inner workings of the enemy, Severus clammed up, realizing that he’d said more than enough.

“Why, Severus?” Remus asked suddenly. “Why did you suddenly decide to warn us?”

“Good question, Moony,” Sirius said exchanging a speculative glance with Potter. “And don’t try bullshit us about friendship and the goodness of your heart.”

Severus gave him a thin smile. “Some of it was to do with Remus, but only a very small part,” he admitted. “I never would have risked it if I hadn’t suddenly developed a burning desire to see Lucius Malfoy cut down to size.”

“And what’s brought this on?” Remus asked shrewdly.

Severus shook his head in disgust. “No doubt you’ll hear all about it when you get off the train,” he said bitterly.

There was a jerk as the train began to slow and the compartment door suddenly crashed open to reveal a panting Peter Pettigrew.

oOo

“Prongs, Moony, Padfoot—you’ll never guess what I’ve just heard!” he gasped breathlessly. “Snivellous’ old man beats the shit out him! His own father hates him just as much as everyone else does! Isn’t that—”

He choked as he caught sight of Snape’s bruised face in the middle of their compartment as his friends looked on in a strange mixture of shock and chagrin.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, gaping.

“Leaving!” Snape snarled as he swept past him, causing Wormtail to survey his friends in surprise.

“Um...did I miss something?”

 

**********************************************************************************

 

It wasn’t true. Of course it wasn’t!

That was the conclusion the Marauders came to that night in the empty common room, as Peter slept upstairs, blissfully unaware of his friends betrayal. It had been a moment of collective insanity brought on by a sneaky Slytherin with a forked tongue. There was absolutely no way Peter would ever turn to Voldemort! The very idea was ludicrous. He was the fourth Marauder, their look out, who always managed to save them in a pinch with his quick cunning, whether by distracting teachers or luring their targets into place for pranks. The fact that they’d forgotten any of this was bad enough but worse was the realization that they had completely taken him for granted.

A solemn vow was taken that night and in the coming weeks, they made every effort to include their unappreciated friend more and heaped over-enthusiastic praise on the bemused boy for the smallest things.

Remus avoided Severus, finding it far too awkward to speak to him and unwilling to further his disloyalty by associating with Peter’s accuser. It had obviously been a mistake to get involved with him. While part of him did miss the Slytherin’s company, his guilt crushed those feelings ruthlessly. Snape had taken advantage of his friendship in a blatant attempt to destroy the Marauders, the first friends that had ever accepted Remus as something more than a monster. His pack. For threatening to rip that away, Remus found it easy to hate him.

 

And that should have been the end of it.

 

Indeed it would have been if it wasn’t for Peter’s strange behaviour.

He’d been a little hesitant at first about the abrupt change in his friends’ attitudes but instead of accepting and enjoying the sudden influx of attention, he became twitchy and nervous. Not understanding why he should be alarmed at his opinion being regularly sought after and being constantly praised, the three Marauders stepped up their efforts to show that they truly valued him. Which just exacerbated the problem.

With Peter so on edge, his unexplained absences became more pronounced and his excuses shakier each time he was questioned. An uneasy feeling hung in the air whenever they looked for Peter to plan some prank or to cajole him into studying (his grades had got worse recently) or to invite him to Hogsmeade to relax, only to find him missing once again with no clue or witnesses to his whereabouts.

Remus began exchanging troubled looks with James and Sirius, and though they never mentioned anything aloud, Remus could tell that they were all beginning to wonder. And that they all hated themselves for doing so. Over a month passed and Halloween was happily marked by mad decorations, a break from classes and an explosive party in the Gryffindor common room. Their Housemates remarked on the strangely subdued James and Sirius, joking that they were coming down with something severe to keep them acting like idiots at such a golden opportunity. Even Remus, who was never exactly the life and soul of the party, was unusually quiet.

Nobody else seemed to notice that Peter had slipped away again, probably figuring that he wouldn’t be missed among the revellers. Remus had to admit that he likely wouldn’t have been if they hadn’t invited a beat-up Slytherin to sit with them in September. He pulled the vial of Veritaserum from his pocket and gazed at it morosely. He’d taken to carrying it around with him like some sort of bizarre good luck charm. He stared at it as if it held all the answers. Well in a way, he supposed it did.

He immediately cut that thought off. He couldn’t believe he’d even considered it. He glanced up, startled as two bodies sat on the couch either side of him.

“So are we going to do it then?” Sirius asked uncharacteristically quiet, indicating the vial.

Remus stared at him aghast. “You can’t seriously believe—”

“Of course not!” Sirius said fiercely, “But he’s obviously hiding something, probably completely innocent while we’re tearing ourselves apart with paranoia.”

James nodded on Remus’ other side. “Exactly,” he said seriously. “We wouldn’t be acting so suspicious if Snivellous hadn’t dripped all that poison in our ears. But he did and now we’re seeing every little thing as...” He trailed off looking miserable.

Remus understood. He firmly believed in his heart that Peter was innocent, but there was that one solitary, nagging doubt in the back of his mind that was slowly eroding his faith and driving him crazy with guilt. Using the Veritaserum would kill that doubt once and for all. He felt a great relief at the mere thought and was actually able to summon a smile when a mousey third year boy keeled over in front of the fireplace somehow managing not to spill a drop of his drink and wearing an expression of transported delight.

Around him the party was getting raucous, with various spells flying left and right, one animating a tapestry which proceeded to get overly amorous with one of their fellow fifth years, almost throttling him until his friends intervened. Remus motioned for the others to lean in so they could hear themselves over the racket. “We’ll have to be careful about this,” he murmured, “Veritaserum forces the subject to tell the truth but it doesn’t erase the memory after the fact.”

He was James’ eyes widen behind his glasses. “Peter’ll never forgive us!”

Remus nodded grimly. “We need to find a way to make sure that he won’t remember.”

“Oblivate?” Sirius suggested flippantly gazing around the room with a speculative smile.

“Not funny Padfoot,” James said severely. “You know that’s a slippery charm at the best of times. We hardly want to give Peter amnesia.”

“Uh huh,” Sirius replied absently. “Hang on a sec, guys—I’ll be right back.”

Before either James or Remus could protest he vanished into the fray of twisting, sweaty bodies dancing around them.

“Dammit we need a plan!” James growled. “Of all the times—”

He was cut off as a sixth year girl staggered by and slid into the seat beside him, practically crawling into his lap. As he tried to pry her off she just giggled unsteadily and latched her arms around his neck cooing that she had a thing for Seekers. James barely heard her, looking around wildly to see if Lily Evans was in the vicinity.

Remus stifled a grin as he moved to help his friend. It took some doing but eventually they managed to peel her off and she pouted at them in disappointment before wobbling back into the crowd.

“What the hell was that?” asked James in bewilderment. “I mean, I’m used to girls throwing themselves at me,” Remus rolled his eyes as James’ smug expression, “but she was acting as if she was—”

“Drunk off her head?”

Remus swivelled round in his seat to see Sirius grinning cockily at them.

“That’s because she is, mate,” he informed them holding up a bottle. Remus gaped.

“Is that...?”

“Yep! Fabian and Gideon Prewitt smuggled in a crate for the party.” Sirius looked at the bottle in his hand. “Ogden’s Finest Firewhiskey,” he read, before eying them expectantly. “This should work just fine on Peter right?”

Remus was speechless but James leapt up and pounded him on the back. “Excellent work Padfoot!” he crowed.

Remus groaned, putting his head in his hands. “McGonagall’s going to have a fit!” he moaned. “I’m a Prefect, and I didn’t even notice the entire common room get roaring drunk.”

Sirius fell into the couch beside him. “Aw, relax Moony, you had things on your mind.”

Remus opened one eye. “I can hardly tell that to McGonagall though, can I?” he said miserably.

James sat also, looking around in amusement and chagrin. “Well it wasn’t just you Moony,” he said soothingly, “and you’ll be the only Gryffindor Prefect who isn’t hung over tomorrow, which has to count for something.”

Remus brightened slightly as Sirius nodded in agreement.

James shook his head ruefully. “The best party Gryffindor has ever seen and we missed it!”

 

oOo

Severus Snape was annoyed.

He had several reasons for this, not least the fact that he had to contend with helpful Hufflepuffs continuously hovering around him and speaking in low voices like they thought he was going to shatter at any moment. Lucius’ taunts had done their work. Despite skipping the feast and getting seen to by Madam Promfrey, everyone knew. Teachers gave him pitying looks and held him back after class to ask if he ‘was alright.’ As if he hadn’t been dealing just fine with the aftermath of his father’s ‘attention’ for years now. It was only the threat of expulsion that kept him from jinxing the lot them. As it was, he just gritted his teeth and told them that he was fine.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, his entourage of Hufflepuffs; despite being almost unbearable in their own right, simply gave his own Housemates and the Gryffindors more ammunition. At least the Marauders were too lost in their own world to make his life even worse. In the end, he couldn’t handle the near constant twittering or the understanding looks that grated on his nerves when he snapped at them to get lost and finally hexed two of his stalkers into the Hospital wing. That got rid of the rest quick enough.

Of course, there might be another reason for his terrible temper. Not that he’d ever admit to it of course. But hypothetically speaking, the fact that Remus blanked him in every class they had together and ignored him anytime he was in the Library, might have hurt a little. Which was completely illogical since he’d been quite aware that this would be the outcome if he chose to enlighten the Gryffindor of Pettigrew’s true allegiance.

He had known. He’d thought that he’d been prepared and yet... He hadn’t expected it to bother him quite as much as it did. It might have been worth it if he’d even managed to strike back at Lucius through Pettigrew but obviously those idiots hadn’t followed through with the Veritaserum, since Pettigrew was still tagging along after them. If anything, they were even more inseparable now than they were before. He tried not to examine the feelings that thought invoked.

Severus was completely alone as he’d been avoiding his Housemates as much as possible. He was sick to death of hearing their views on his skills as a Wizard; his heritage, or lack thereof and his general patheticness. Bloody Malfoy.

Though Lucius it seemed, had finally caught on to the fact that he’d alienated the best potions maker in Hogwarts (including the teachers, and they knew it) and had promptly set about luring him back. And despite his newfound loathing for the seventh year, Severus knew that he was close to succumbing.

It was a novel feeling, being wanted. He’d never be so obvious as to let it show but Severus had to admit that Lucius’ flattery fell on parched ground. He just soaked it up, even if at the back of his mind he knew perfectly well that Lucius was simply cultivating a promising recruit. The Dark Lord would be pleased to have a potions expert among his Death Eaters and Lucius would be rewarded for bringing him in. Severus found it difficult to care though. Certainly no-one else thought he was worth anything. He would enjoy proving just how wrong they all were. He decided to let Malfoy sweat a bit more, (he deserved it, the prat) before graciously accepting his repeated apologies and bribes.

He passed the time up to Halloween dodging his Housemates and studying obsessively for his OWLs. When he wasn’t in the Library, he was in the Room of Requirement practicing his animagus transformation. He’d had a couple of scares, the worst being when he managed a partial transformation, lost concentration half way through and then started panicking when he couldn’t change back. He began to understand why the book ordered that no attempt should be made without the supervision of an experienced Animagus.

It was nearly enough to make Severus give up on the idea; it was dangerous, advanced magic after all. Only his own pride and the suspicion that such a bumbling idiot as Pettigrew had somehow managed it, drove him on. He had a few more uncomfortable moments, but dealt with them without having to crawl to Madam Promfrey or worse, Professor McGonagall! But over these last few weeks, he began to relax. The transformations were becoming smoother and less painful, meaning that he was making significant progress.

The book said at this stage, how soon a complete transformation was achieved depended entirely on the individual Witch or Wizard. Despite transfiguration not being his best subject, Severus was confident that he would be a fully fledged animagus in no time. It certainly helped that he’d had all summer to go over the preparatory steps until the theory was practically burned into his mind.

Severus felt the same fierce burn of triumph that he normally felt when he’d just hit on a new potion or thought of slight tweak that would increase the effects of an existing one exponentially. That familiar feeling prior to success was how he knew that he was almost there.

 

oOo

 

Up in the Gryffindor dorm; James, Sirius and Remus were boisterously planning the next Gryffindor party (which they actually planned to participate in) when Peter returned. Sirius heard the slam of the portrait echo in the unnatural silence of Gryffindor tower and looked down the stairs to see Peter fastidiously picking his way through the maze of passed out and gently moaning bodies in the common room.

“Pete!” he called and noticed his friend’s shock at finding him awake this late. Or perhaps it was that he was actually sober. He glanced back at James and Remus to find them visibly steeling themselves. The Veritaserum was hidden up Remus’ sleeve. The plan was to get Peter a little tipsy, feed him the potion, put all doubts to rest and knock him out with a sleeping spell before the potion wore off so that he—hopefully—would never notice that his best friends had drugged him.

Sirius was on board with that plan. Especially the last part.

 

oOo

 

Their impromptu party at almost four in the morning consisted of one very potent bottle of Firewhiskey, all the chocolate that could be scrounged up at the last minute, three animagi and a Werewolf.

Peter’s glass was constantly topped up, both obviously and covertly. The result was that he never saw the bottom of it and, never a proficient drinker at the best of times, quickly set up shop on the wrong side of tipsy. With a conspiratorial glance, Remus leaned forward on the pretence of giving Peter more chocolate and upended the vial over his drink.

Nothing happened for a few minutes as Peter continued to drink and laugh shrilly; apparently unaware of the hawk-eyed stares he was receiving. Remus was beginning to wonder if Severus was quite the genius he thought he was when Peter’s chatter began to taper off and he went still, his eyes blank.

Discomforted, the remaining Marauders glanced at each other before Sirius shrugged.

“Let’s test it first,” he suggested wickedly.

“What is your name?” Remus asked ignoring Sirius rolling his eyes.

“My name is Peter Cornelius Pettigrew.” Sirius and James snickered but Peter didn’t blink. He didn’t seem to recognise them or be aware of his surroundings at all. Remus wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be this way or if the alcohol was having an effect. Although, knowing Severus, he would have brewed it strong enough to poleaxe a hippogriff.

He was snapped out of his reverie when Sirius leaned forward, his grey eyes glittering with mischief.

“So, Wormtail,” he whispered, “what is the thing that you’re most scared of?”

“Padfoot!” James hissed, “can we stick to the point ple—” But he was interrupted by Peter responding in a monotonous tone.

“The thing I am most scared of is that James, Sirius and Remus have discovered my secret.”

The three exchanged a look. Now they were getting to it.

“Why would you think we—they know?” Remus asked curiously.

“Because they have been keeping a closer eye on me recently,” Peter intoned dully, “questioning me about my movements and trying to bring me closer into the group.”

Remus opened his mouth to ask why the last bit was a bad thing but James shot him a look that said clearly, Get to the Point!

“Right,” he muttered, psyching himself up to invade his friend’s privacy. “And what is your secret, Peter?”

 

oOo

 

Remus wasn’t sure what exactly he’d been expecting, a secret girlfriend, hell with all the mystery maybe a secret boyfriend! But he certainly hadn’t been expecting this.

“My secret is that I intend on taking the Dark Mark when I come of age,” Peter responded listlessly.

Sirius choked on whatever he’d been about to say and just stared at Peter in total disbelief. Remus felt frozen, he could barely comprehend what he had just heard. His thoughts felt sluggish and slow.

“What?” he breathed. “What is your secret?”

“My secret is that I intend on taking the Dark Mark when I come of age,” Peter repeated.

Sirius barked out a harsh laugh and James just shook his head with an expression of such betrayal that Remus had to look away.

“Why?” It was James, his voice faint and shaking. Remus saw Sirius look up as well, his eyes narrowing.

“I’m sick of being a sidekick, of being the one everyone forgets, of being in the shadow of my so-called friends. The Dark Lord will give me power, power over those who have wronged me, who have overlooked me.”

“The Dark Lord?” Sirius spat in disgust. “That’s what my parents—”

James hushed him as Peter spoke again and they listened in a sort of disbelieving horror.

“The Dark Lord is powerful beyond belief,” he continued, “He will soon have dominion over the Wizarding World. I’ve chosen the winning side. All who stand before him will die. I don’t want to die. When I take the Mark I will be protected, and given my position I will be invaluable to the Dark Lord. I will be granted a position in his Inner Circle. It is madness to stand against him when he can give me everything that I’ve ever wanted.”

Peter fell silent and Remus saw the sick expressions on his friends’ faces. If he looked how he felt then his should be the same. They were all sitting bunched together on James’ bed, having moved closer unconsciously during Peter’s recital, seeking comfort.

“What do you mean, ‘given your position’?” Sirius demanded hoarsely.

“I am a Gryffindor,” he responded tonelessly. “Lucius Malfoy has assured me that I am perfectly placed to spy on Dumbledore in later years. He would never suspect me, especially as I am a Marauder and it is common knowledge that my friends would never join the Dark Lord.”

Remus felt nausea roll over him and swallowed hard. “Merlin,” he hissed, “Severus was telling us the truth all along!”

He felt his friends stiffen beside him at the reminder.

“Damn greasy git,” Sirius muttered. “I don’t know whether to hate him or thank him.”

“He really was telling the truth,” James said blankly, earning concerned looks from his friends. “What has the world come to when a Slytherin is more trustworthy than a Gryffindor?”

“He didn’t do it for us Prongs,” Sirius reminded him. “He did it because Malfoy couldn’t keep his fat mouth shut.”

“But he still told us,” Remus murmured. “He essentially betrayed the Death Eaters. That was a huge risk.” He looked at his friends. “And you don’t cross a Malfoy, Death Eater or not. Can you imagine what he’d do to him if he found out?”

James and Sirius exchanged looks. Thinking anything good about a Slytherin was a major strain for them but even they had to admit they were slightly impressed.

Just slightly, mind!

“Is Malfoy a Death Eater?” James asked enquiringly.

“Yes.”

“Shit,” Sirius muttered.

Remus thought of something, his curiosity breaking through his numbness. “How were you getting around?” he asked. “The Invisibility cloak hasn’t gone missing once this year.”

“I got around the castle unseen using my animagus form,” Peter replied flatly.

“Pity Mrs. Norris didn’t eat you,” Sirius muttered. Neither James nor Remus rebuked him.

“Why did you stop ‘borrowing’ my cloak?” James asked, obviously angry that his precious Invisibility cloak had been used as a Death Eater tool.

“I stopped using the cloak because I was scared.”

“Why?” Remus asked as Sirius checked to make sure the cloak was still safely in James’ trunk.

“I was in the Slytherin dungeons and Snape almost uncovered me. I was too nervous to use the cloak again so I transformed while Lucius distracted him. He didn’t find me then, even after performing a spell that would have revealed me if I’d been wearing the cloak. I decided I would be safer in my animagus form.”

“And that’s really all that bothers you isn’t it?” Sirius demanded suddenly, slamming James’ trunk with a bang and pulling his wand. “As long as you’re all right then to hell with the rest of the world!”

“Sirius!” Remus called in alarm, seeing the dangerous light in his friend’s eyes, “calm down!”

James intercepted him before he could harm Peter. “It isn’t worth it, Padfoot. He isn’t worth it! There’s no way I’m letting you go Azkaban over something like him.”

It was the right thing to say but Sirius still shook even as he lowered his wand. “Yeah,” he muttered, his voice quenched.

Remus stood up shakily. He felt like it was he who had drank half a bottle of Firewhisky, not Peter. Cautiously, he approached his former friend and drew his wand. He was joined by James and Sirius. “Dormus,” he whispered raggedly and watched as the spell took effect and Peter slumped over, fast asleep.

“What now?” Sirius asked. James shook his head unable to respond. None of them could look away from Peter’s slumbering form. He still looked exactly the same. Remus felt there should be some sign; some change to show his true nature but there was none. Remus could appreciate that in a way. There was no mark to show that he was a Werewolf after all.

But looking at Peter now, Remus found himself unsure just who the real monster was.

 

**********************************************************************************

 

Acting normal was difficult but they were managing....barely.

Finding out that one of your best friends wants to join up with a Dark Wizard whose sole ambition is to rule the world and torture as many muggleborns as possible on the way, wasn’t especially easy to take but letting said friend know you’re on to him would probably be worse.

Remus knew they should go to Dumbledore but honestly, what could he do? Peter hadn’t taken the Dark Mark yet and they only had a highly illegal Veritaserum-induced confession to back them up. You can’t throw someone into Azkaban for something they might do, even if they’re dead set on doing it and practically halfway there already.

Being the good guys sucked sometimes.

So James, Sirius and Remus were acting normal. Alright, so Sirius had a bitter, betrayed look in his eyes every time his gaze fell on Peter and James’ laughter was a little too loud, his usual exuberance unnaturally forced. Remus was well aware that his own strained smile and brittle voice were hardly helping the charade but at least Peter hadn’t seemed to notice.

Yet.

They should go to the Headmaster and tell him that there were Death Eaters in the school but even though they all agreed on this, it kept getting put off. Explaining to Dumbledore that Peter had betrayed them would make it real, irreversible. So they stalled, invented excuses and said nothing.

 

oOo

 

Two days after the revelation that changed everything, Remus skipped Sirius and James’ Quidditch practice leaving Peter to cheer them on alone and headed for the library. He had to find Severus and apologise. It had been swimming around in his head ever since that night, the chance that he had taken by telling them, even if he’d had his own motives for doing so.

Remus suspected that Severus could have easily found a form of revenge that was just as effective, but with a great deal less personal risk. If they hadn’t been friends perhaps he would have. But they were and for all that Severus had denied it, Remus firmly believed that he had, on some level, wanted to warn them about the viper in their midst.

And Remus had shunned him for it, through the vicious rumours circling about his home life and the cruel taunts that followed. He’d taken the easy way out again, ignoring the almost...gleeful way Severus had been tormented by both Gryffindors and Slytherins alike. At least the Ravenclaws fancied themselves above such petty squabbles and the Hufflepuffs were staying well out of it after some of their more overly sympathetic members had ended up in the Hospital wing with a variety of boils in creative places.

But he was a Prefect. Even if he’d resented Severus for what he assumed at the time were sadistic lies, he should have stepped in and put a stop to it. Especially since most of the perpetrators were simply following the recipe laid out by the Marauders.

Snape + Humiliation = Fun.

But Severus had been telling the truth after all and who knew how this knowledge would help them in the long run? Remus was sick with guilt even as his brain informed him that he’d had no reason to trust a Slytherin over one of his best friends. His conscience refused to let him rest.

Reaching his destination, Remus immediately headed towards the dimly lit Arithmancy section. It was almost always empty which explained why Severus preferred to sit there even though he didn’t take the subject. Steeling himself, Remus headed to the only occupied table, faltering slightly when he realized that Severus wasn’t alone.

Lucius Malfoy sat across from him saying something in a wheedling tone. Remus watched Severus as he rolled his eyes and began to agree, only for him to cut off, tensing as he locked eyes with Remus. Malfoy, curious to see what had startled his companion, turned in his seat to regard Remus with contempt. His scathing look barely lasted a few seconds before he turned back to the conversation, leaving Remus bristling at the obvious dismissal.

 

oOo

 

Lucius knew how to sell an idea. He was persuasive and charismatic but more importantly he knew how to read people. He could tell when to push and when to back off, when to flatter and when to twist the knife in their insecurities.

He had to hide his growing irritation behind his normal polite, affable mask. He’d been right on the cusp of tempting Severus back into the fold before that Gryffindor had shown up and set off all the fifth year’s internal alarms. His guard was back up and Lucius knew from experience that pushing at this point would only cause him to withdraw further.

Again he cursed himself for his short-sightedness at the station. He’d allowed his instinctive, almost predatory response to any vulnerability to overwhelm his common sense and leave him with this mess. He hadn’t expected Severus to be nearly this stubborn.

Realizing that he’d lost his chance for the moment, Lucius bade Severus a friendly farewell that was barely acknowledged and he had to tamp down the anger that rose up at that blatant disrespect, hiding it from view. He turned to leave, shooting the Gryffindor a suspicious look as the boy stood with his shoulders hunched, pretending to scan the bookcase in front of him. With a huff of annoyance he left with the intent of finding the delightful Narcissa Black. At least she, with her impeccable breeding, knew how to treat a Pureblood of his stature.

 

oOo

 

Severus watched Remus carefully, noting how his shoulders loosened as Lucius finally left. Seeing him just waltz up as if nothing had happened ignited an anger he hadn’t expected. He’d been right on the verge of accepting Lucius’ apologies, outrageous bribes of rare potions ingredients and a teasing mention of the possibility of an introduction to the Dark Lord in the near future. But then the damn Gryffindor had barged in and shoved all matters of importance right out of his mind. And he hadn’t left. He skulked around staring uneasily at the spines of various books that Severus knew he had no interest in, clearly waiting for Malfoy to leave.

And that awoke Severus’ thrice-damned curiosity, which is what got him into all this trouble in the first place, what prodded him to follow Remus into the Prefects bathroom and get subjected to the friendship spiel. The sudden mixture of emotions unnerved him. He hadn’t thought that he cared enough be upset. He’d been expecting apathy not rage. It made him uncomfortable and Severus contemplated simply leaving before the other had a chance to say anything.

But he was curious as to why the Gryffindor had apparently deigned to speak with him. He faced Remus with a bored, aloof expression and raised an inquiring eyebrow.

“Can I help you with something Lupin?” he asked detachedly and watched as the Gryffindor fidgeted nervously.

“Well, I...that is we, used the Veritaserum,” Remus said miserably, not meeting his eyes. “And you were right. Peter is, I mean he really is—”

“Yes, yes I know,” Severus snapped impatiently. “You hardly have to convince me. Now, what do you actually want?”

Remus took a deep breath and met Severus’ eyes determinedly. “I want to thank you...and to apologise.”

Severus felt his eyes widen and quickly controlled the expression but Remus seemed to see his shock anyway.

“You risked a lot to tell us,” he said sliding into the seat that Lucius had vacated, watching Severus intently. “Don’t think we haven’t realized that. The signs were there but we were completely blind to all of them. If you hadn’t told us, hadn’t prodded our paranoia into action we never would have seen it. Peter would have taken the Mark and we’d never have suspected him because he was our friend, we trusted him...”

Remus trailed off looking distraught. “Who knows what could’ve happened,” he said quietly. “So thank you for that.”

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Severus thought that he’d been prepared for anything, but Remus thanking him for decimating the close-knit Marauders? And an apology? Since when did people apologise to him? Why were conversations with Remus always so surreal? He always broke all the rules.

 

oOo

 

Severus said nothing, simply stared at him with an inscrutable expression, his dark eyes unreadable. The silence made Remus slightly uncomfortable but at least he was listening to him.

“And I wanted to apologise for the way I acted afterwards,” he continued nervously, “I didn’t believe you, well I couldn’t believe you but I could tell that you really believed what you were saying. And I still—”

“Save it, Lupin.”

Severus glared at him and Remus’ heart dropped. That familiar furious expression hurt as it never had before. He’d become accustomed to Severus’ quiet amusement, rare smiles and his fierce concentration as he tried to persuade him that he was right and whatever debate they were having was therefore pointless. It had been a long time since he’d seen that glare levelled at him.

“I knew exactly what I was getting into that day on the train,” Severus told him harshly. “Don’t act as if I’m heartbroken here. I was well aware that whatever association we had wouldn’t survive my accusation of Pettigrew. I did it for my own reasons.”

Remus flinched. “You don’t think much of me,” he accused.

“I was right, wasn’t I?” he shot back heatedly.

Remus sighed and slumped back in his chair. “That’s why I’m apologising,” he said wearily. “I know I wasn’t a very good friend—”

“Enough already!” His temper fraying, Severus stood and angrily started cramming books into his bag. “Quit whining at me,” he snapped before deliberately slowing his movements and methodically packing his notes and quills without looking at Remus.

“I never expected this friendship thing to last anyway. You’re a Gryffindor for Merlin’s sake! You’d never really trust a Slytherin no matter what you say.” He gave Remus a mocking look. “Birds of a feather and all that. Just remember when you go to Dumbledore to keep my name out it and we’ll call it even.”

As Remus stared in shock, Severus picked up his bag and departed without a backwards glance. And that, it seemed was the end of that.

Or it would have been if Remus was a quitter.

 

oOo

 

During Severus’ hasty departure, Remus had caught sight of a familiar book. It stood in stark contrast to the battered second-hand copies that filled most of the bag, drawing the eye. One quick glance was all he’d needed to recognise it; after all it had been thrown around their dorm room for most of last year.

Severus was trying to become an animagus.

And Remus suddenly had the beginnings of a plan. It was terrifying on levels he couldn’t even begin to articulate but it would prove to Severus that he trusted him beyond any doubt. The Slytherin obviously thought him fickle, someone who would turn on him at the first sign of trouble. Remus desperately wanted to prove him wrong but he found himself convinced that nothing less than his greatest secret would suffice.

Is it worth it?

Remus gripped the back of his chair so hard his knuckles whitened. He’d stopped voluntarily telling people after that disaster when he was seven. Even James and Sirius had figured it out for themselves. Could he really go through with it?

Remus hadn’t wanted to admit it to himself but he’d missed Severus. As much as he loved James and Sirius they didn’t find debating various intellectual subjects’ fun. The thought of reading books for pleasure was foreign to the pair of them. Not that they weren’t smart of course, they both got excellent grades when he could actually persuade them to study and the Marauders Map was nothing short of a work of art. They certainly hadn’t been slacking there. It was more that they hated to sit still when they could be doing something ‘interesting’. It had been nice to have a friend he could talk to without worrying constantly about boring them and thus scaring them off.

But despite that, he still hesitated. Even if he took the plunge, extended that fragile trust that had been broken so many times before, there was no guarantee that Severus would accept it. He might be disgusted, repulsed as so many others had been.

Remus recoiled violently from the mere thought. But he had broken Severus’ trust and he better than anyone knew how much that hurt, for all of the Slytherin’s bravado.

And Severus had taken a risk for him. What else could he do but return the favour?

 

oOo

 

Severus avoided the library for the rest of the day and studiously ignored Remus in class. If he’d been in a better mood he might have been amused at the sense of irony, when Remus had been ignoring him, he’d been angry but now that Remus wanted to make up, Severus wouldn’t even look at him.

It was just hard to see the point. Severus was under no delusions. He was more than aware that Lucius was only using him to further his own ends, but at least with him he knew where he stood. Unlike with certain Gryffindors.

After his last class, Severus decided against going to the Slytherin common room where Lucius would undoubtedly be waiting to pounce and headed instead to the Room of Requirement. He was close to achieving the final transformation and was dying to try out his new form. There was of course, a good reason why there were so few animagi running around. It wasn’t due to the run-of-the-mill dangers of getting stuck halfway, but because the final transformation was painful. The book clearly stated that during the first transformation, the student would feel every solitary change as their magic flexed and learnt their new shape. All subsequent transformations would be instantaneous and completely painless. However maintaining concentration through the torturous first shift was apparently exceedingly difficult and the true reason why so many Witches and Wizards failed.

Severus wasn’t afraid of pain. Whoever wrote the animagus book had obviously never met Tobias Snape.

He practiced for over an hour before he had to stop, breathing heavily, his body wracked with fine tremors. It was more difficult than he’d given it credit for but he could take it. The first time he’d barely gotten started before he caught a glimpse of the simultaneous changes bubbling across his skin and lost focus. The pain distracted him the next few times. It just figured his bones would have to break and shrink. It’d probably be easier if his animagus form was bigger. The last time he’d almost made it halfway through before he’d collapsed with exhaustion.

But despite the burning pain in his bones, he felt a fierce satisfaction. He was nearly there. He dozed off, the floor helpfully transforming into a mattress while he slept. He’d no idea of the time when he woke and didn’t even jump when a grandfather clock popped into existence across from him.

He loved this room.

Seeing that it was after curfew he stretched and grabbed his bag before slipping carefully out the door. He was about to sneak back to his dorm when a scuffle alerted him and the suddenly empty corridor was full of Marauders. Well, three anyway.

Severus tensed as Potter pocketed what was obviously his Invisibility cloak and saw that Black was fiddling with a piece of parchment. Looking awkward, Remus shot him what was probably supposed to be a reassuring smile but was closer to a grimace of pain.

“Well about time,” Potter said impatiently. “We were beginning to think you were going to spend the night in there.”

Severus’ eyes narrowed. “And just how on earth did you know where I was Potter?” he hissed. “Are you stalking me now?”

Potter looked disgusted but before he could say anything Sirius stepped up, slinging an arm around Remus’ shoulders.

“Who cares about that now?” he said dismissively. “Let’s just get into the Room before Filch shows up.”

 

oOo

 

Remus was not feeling good. It was mad, crazy, insane, and possibly suicidal but now that he’d finally convinced the others that he was doing this with or without them, it would probably look fairly cowardly to back out now.

Severus was regarding them all with the utmost suspicion, his black eyes dark and distrustful.

“And why would I go anywhere with you, Black?” he growled menacingly.

“Well, because Moony here has apparently gone crazy,” Sirius said wryly, “and decided that he wants to tell you his deepest, darkest secret and there’s absolutely no way we’re leaving him alone with a Slytherin.”

“And how about because where Mrs. Norris goes, Filch is never far behind?” James cut in, motioning to the dusty brown cat staring at them from the other end of the corridor. As they watched, she spun and bounded back the way she’d come.

“Severus please, I really need to talk to you,” Remus said earnestly. “Come on—it’s us or Filch!”

 

oOo

 

Severus’ inner turmoil only lasted a second, pushed aside by his Slytherin practicality. He followed them back into the Room of Requirement. It had changed from the simple functional space he’d been using to practice. Now it was a small, cozy room with a fireplace surrounded by four plush armchairs. James and Sirius quickly staked out a pair but Remus remained standing in front of the fire. Severus cautiously sat on the chair furthest away from them and watched Remus warily.

“What’s going on?” he demanded.

The Marauders exchanged a glance and Remus squared his shoulders. Severus had begun to recognise that stubborn set to his jaw. He couldn’t suppress a sigh. It usually meant that his well-ordered world was about to be turned upside down.

“You took a big risk telling us about Peter, Severus,” Remus began hesitantly, “You went against Malfoy and basically defied You-Know-Who.”

Severus’ stomach dipped at the reminder. He actually hadn’t given that much thought until afterwards. Sure, he’d been fine with throwing Malfoy to the dogs but if the Dark Lord were ever to discover his interference... He stifled a shiver.

“I know that you don’t trust me,” Remus continued. “You think that I’ll turn on you again in the future if we were to remain friends.” There was the slightest trace of hurt in his voice.

Severus raised a sceptical eyebrow but in truth that was exactly what he believed. Neither his pride nor his sense of self –preservation was interested in the inevitable outcome. Remus was watching him closely as were the other Marauders, though they were attempting to feign indifference.

After a moment Remus spoke again, obviously disappointed at the lack of reaction. “You took a risk for us,” he said nervously, “so I’m taking a risk—the biggest I can—to prove to you I’m serious. I don’t care what House you’re in, I don’t care what other people think of you,” here James and Sirius shifted uncomfortably, “because I consider us friends, and I want you to know that I trust you.”

Severus had to concentrate very hard to keep his expression unfazed. He didn’t want to let on how much those simple words affected him. He was a Slytherin not a Hufflepuff!

“So are you ever going to actually tell me this ‘big secret’ or are we just going to dance around it all night?” he asked with as much sarcasm as he could muster.

Black and Potter stiffened in their chairs, not-so-subtly gripping their wands. Remus looked positively ill with nerves, the firelight casting strange shadows on his face. Despite his desire to appear nonchalant Severus found himself leaning forward slightly, wondering just what Remus could possibly be hiding that would warrant such drama.

Remus shifted his weight uneasily, his breathing speeding up to the point of hyperventilation. “Severus, I- I’m a Werewolf.”

 

**********************************************************************************

 

“A Werewolf,” Severus stated flatly.

Remus squeezed his eyes shut, screwing up his face as if anticipating a blow.

“This has got to be one of your more pathetic pranks, Potter. At least make it believable.”

Remus’ eyes flew open to see Severus glaring at James with utter contempt as both he and Sirius gaped at him. It had never even occurred to any of them that Severus might not believe them.

“Remus Lupin as a bloodthirsty monster? What utter rubbish.” His words fell into the incredulous silence. “Now if you or Black had taken the lead role in this little charade I might have been more inclined to believe you.” Severus leaned back in his chair smirking. “Honestly Potter, you’re losing your touch.”

Remus blinked. He wasn’t sure how to feel. Apparently Severus didn’t think he had it in him to even play the part, let alone to be a monster for real. That...had never happened before. But as much as he wanted to bask in this acceptance, to laugh it all off as a prank gone wrong—he couldn’t. He just couldn’t let Severus continue to believe that he was something he wasn’t. He was quite sure his friend would call this self-destructive impulse his ‘moronic Gryffindor honour’.

“It’s...” he took a breath. Merlin this was difficult. “It’s not a joke, Severus. I really am a Werewolf.” Severus raised an eyebrow and looked at him cynically. Remus held that dark gaze, trembling with the need to look away, to run and cower in his dorm safe from the judgement that would follow. But he didn’t. Somehow he managed to maintain eye contact. He didn’t know exactly what Severus saw but slowly the blatant disbelief melted into outright shock and his eyes widened.

“I’m not falling for it!” Severus snapped jerking his gaze away but he sounded less certain. James and Sirius had been keeping silent but after exchanging a worried glance Sirius spoke up.

“Come on Snape,” he cajoled trying to hide his uneasiness, “you’re...,” he grimaced at the thought of complimenting a Slytherin, “...an intelligent guy. You must’ve noticed all the times Remus has been ‘sick’. Every month before and after the full moon to be precise.”

Severus stiffened, obviously beginning to put the pieces together. “It’s not possible,” he insisted stubbornly. “The Headmaster would never allow a Dark Creature into the school. He’d never endanger the students like that. He’d lose his job.”

“Only if something went wrong,” James said confidently, “which it won’t.”

“Or if someone can’t keep their mouth shut,” Sirius muttered gripping his wand a little tighter.

“Dumbledore wouldn’t let a Werewolf into the school,” Severus snapped clearly losing patience. “The very idea is absurd! A monster roaming around Hogwarts with the Headmaster’s blessing? It’s completely ridiculous!”

Remus had felt his nerves winding tighter and tighter as the conversation progressed but he couldn’t hide a flinch at Severus’ last volley. A monster... He really should be used to this by now. Trying to appear calm, he looked up to see Severus staring oddly at him.

 

oOo

 

He flinched.

Throughout the entire farce Remus had been tense, shoulders hunched, barely able to look anyone in the eye. When he reiterated that ridiculous proclamation from before, he’d fixed him with serious amber eyes and Severus had almost felt his determination. He’d had to look away first. He’d still believed it was some kind of twisted joke even when Black had pointed out Remus’ frequent absences and their rather damning timing. But that hadn’t been enough.

It had taken that involuntary flinch and look of sheer misery in Remus’ eyes when he’d said the word ‘monster’ to finally hammer it home.

They weren’t lying.

“Remus is not a monster, you jumped up piece of Slytherin scum!” Sirius growled.

Potter rose looking grim. “Let’s go, Remus,” he said softly, “you tried. It’s not like you need—”

“Why did Dumbledore allow it?” Severus asked ignoring the other two Gryffindors completely.

Remus’ wretched expression was replaced by a look of shock. Severus didn’t meet his questioning gaze, confused as to how he should react. He wasn’t sure it had entirely sunk in yet. Remus was a Werewolf. Remus Lupin, the Gryffindor’s Gryffindor, who was sickeningly fair and nauseatingly honest. Who couldn’t even swat a fly without feeling bad, preferring to waste ten minutes trying to herd it out a window. That Remus was a ravening beast one night a month, a mad creature who’s only thought was to rip apart anyone it could lay a claw on? It didn’t seem possible and yet...

“Severus?”

He jerked in his seat and looked at Remus.

“Are you all right?” he asked in concern and Severus nearly laughed. Slightly hysterical laughter true, but still. Remus had handed him the key to his destruction and he was asking if he was alright? He really was such a Gryffindor.

“I might be going into shock,” he informed them drily, “but then I’m apparently sitting three feet away from a Werewolf. I think I’ve got cause.”

Remus hid his reaction a little better this time but Severus still caught it. He didn’t retract his comment though. He wasn’t sure what his true reaction would be when the shock wore off.

“How did you persuade Dumbledore to let you attend Hogwarts?” he asked again, genuinely curious. However he or his parents had managed it, it must have been a machination worthy of Slytherin.

“I didn’t persuade him at all,” Remus said finally sitting down in the last chair, between his and Potter’s. Black watched the scene unfold with uncharacteristic silence, his hand gripping Potter’s arm to ensure that he did the same.

“Your parents then?” Severus queried.

Remus shook his head with a faint smile. “No. Dumbledore came to us. I don’t know how he knew; I think he might have worked with my father...before. He was the one to persuade my parents, they’re pretty protective of me and didn’t want to risk my being hurt.”

At Severus’ enquiring expression he continued haltingly, “Dumbledore told my parents that he’d been hoping to enrol me at Hogwarts, keeping my condition secret of course, to see if it was possible for Werewolves to eventually become officially accepted. He said he didn’t believe that society should condemn an entire group of people for something we couldn’t control. It’s not like we asked to be cursed.” The last sentence betrayed bitterness but it quickly faded. “He said I was an ideal candidate since I’d been bitten so young, children adapt better than adults. So I came and I’ve never regretted it.”

Severus’ eyes narrowed. “How young?” he asked and Remus winced.

 

oOo

 

He should’ve known that Severus would catch the most important part of that sentence. With a sigh he elaborated. “About three, I think. My father upset the wrong group of people and...well.” He fell silent. He hated discussing this.

Looking up, he saw Severus looking contemplative. Really it was going far better than he’d hoped. At least Severus hadn’t started throwing curses or run away screaming. Though such an undignified exit was hardly Severus’ style, he acknowledged to himself with a grin.

Glancing to his other side, he saw James and Sirius sitting bolt upright, both scanning the Slytherin for any hint of mockery.

“Why did you tell me this?” Severus asked suddenly, his voice hard.

Remus almost got whiplash he turned so fast. “What?” he asked stupidly.

“I could destroy you with this information,” Severus said silkily, “I doubt any parents would stand for a Werewolf among their children. One slip...that’s all it would take.”

Remus tensed and knew without looking that his friends were reacting the same way. Severus didn’t even glance at them. His attention was entirely focused on Remus.

Wondering if he hadn’t made the biggest mistake of his life, Remus acknowledged the truth of Severus’ statement with a jerky nod. He wasn’t quite up to speaking right now.

“Then why?” Severus burst out, frustration leaking into his previously emotionless voice.

“Why?” Remus had thought he’d made it perfectly clear why. “Because I want you to trust me,” Remus clarified. “I want us to be friends. Real friends.”

Severus shook his head in apparent bewilderment. “But you didn’t have to tell me this,” he said slowly sounding truly confused.

Remus snorted at that. “Would you have accepted anything less?” he demanded, already knowing the answer. “You told us about Peter—supposedly for revenge on Malfoy.”

Severus tensed. “It was for revenge!” he snapped.

“But you could’ve gotten your own back some other way,” Remus dared, “and don’t lie. You’re certainly inventive enough. But you did something potentially dangerous instead.”

Severus sneered. “Don’t get your hopes up Lupin,” he spat acidly, “I was too angry to see straight. The concussion didn’t exactly help either.”

Remus managed to hide his wince at the reminder of his friend’s condition on the train. “True,” he admitted, “but I doubt you would have done it so readily if you hadn’t been thinking about it at some level.” Severus’ eyes widened slightly but Remus rushed on before they could become bogged down in a useless argument.

James and Sirius were watching this exchange with poorly disguised fascination.

“So that’s why—”

“Alright, alright,” Severus snapped irritably. “Share and share alike or some such nonsense. And what, may I ask, do you expect to happen now?”

Remus swallowed hard. “That is completely up to you Severus,” he said nervously. “I’d like you to accept this and for us all,” he looked at James and Sirius here, “to become friends. But it’s ultimately your decision.”

Severus stared at them all as if they’d just announced they were moving to Slytherin. He actually gaped at them for several seconds until he pulled himself together. “I-I need to think about this,” he muttered not looking at any of them. An awkward silence stretched until Severus grabbed his bag and backed cautiously the door, his wand held oh-so-casually in his free hand. James shot Remus a questioning look and he shook his head slightly. He’d meant what he said. The ball was in Severus’ court now.

Though somehow, that didn’t make him feel as terrified as he thought it should.

 

oOo

 

Two days passed and Severus’ head was a mess.

Remus was a Werewolf.

Remus trusted him with a secret that could ruin his life.

The Marauders were leaving him alone.

Remus wanted him for a friend.

A Werewolf wanted him for a friend.

Remus was a Werewolf!

Remus wanted him to be friends with the Marauders.

He always laughed when he remembered that bit. It garnered him some strange looks but he was too distracted to care.

Somebody trusted him.

That was the kicker. That was what had him walking around in this haze of uncertainty. A Werewolf in Hogwarts? Naturally it should be kicked out before it killed someone—or worse, bit someone. Except...it was Remus. And he hadn’t found out by some unhappy accident, he’d been told. He’d been included. It meant more than he was willing to admit and he despised himself for it.

No-one had ever trusted him with their secrets before. Sure he and Lily had talked about magic and Hogwarts but that had been something that had affected both of them. Likewise with the Slytherins. Sure he knew about the Dark Lord but then so did everyone else. It was a very open secret. More like a discreet fact of life.

But no-one had ever trusted him with something so momentous. He literally held Remus’ future in his hands. It was a heady feeling. Part of him was tempted to smash it out of pure spite, for the envy that had burned him for years whenever he’d looked at the Marauders. But he hesitated. He wasn’t even sure why. He would have done it without a second thought before.

But...Remus had believed that his opinion was important enough to risk everything for. It was flattering in the extreme, especially for someone like him. But that’s why he was so on guard. He was self-aware enough to realize that he was embarrassingly susceptible to kindness. It was a novelty for him. He understood it in abstract but so very rarely was it aimed at him.

So forty-eight hours passed and he stumbled around, barely aware of his surroundings so caught up was he in his own internal debate. He didn’t notice Remus’ increasingly hopeless expression or the worried, searching glances shot his way by the other Marauders.

But someone else did.

 

oOo

 

Lucius Malfoy rarely bothered with anything outside his own sphere. (i.e. anything that didn’t affect him directly) However when his attempts to pin Severus down were either brushed off or ignored, he became angry. But that didn’t last long once he began to observe him. Severus was clearly in the midst of some intense introspection. Normally he would assume that he may be questioning his future, his path to the Dark Lord and act accordingly.

But that wouldn’t explain why the infamous Marauders were watching him as if he were an unstable potion on the verge of explosion. Lucius first demanded an explanation from his secret weapon, his little Gryffindor rat, only to be intensely disappointed. The useless lump hadn’t a clue anything was even going on. And what was worse, he’d had the temerity to imply that it was all in his head!

Pettigrew was clearly getting above himself but Lucius took the time to disabuse him of that notion before applying himself to this new puzzle. Eventually, he came to his own conclusion. He’d blackmailed enough people to recognise the Marauders’ jumpy, fearful expressions though they camouflaged well. Obviously Severus had got something juicy on the golden Gryffindors and was figuring out how to turn it to his advantage.

Pleased that the mystery was solved, Lucius decided to keep a close eye on the situation. Severus was always so creative. Whatever his protégé came up with was sure to amuse him.

 

oOo

 

Severus had finally made up his mind. He wasn’t by nature an indecisive person but the sheer magnitude of the situation had warranted a thorough examination before he chose which route to take.

He wasn’t sure that this was the right decision and though he knew he might regret it later, he was committed. Once he’d made up his mind, Severus Snape was practically unshakeable.

After his last class, he took off to the Ancient Runes classroom to confront Remus. Unfortunately he wasn’t the only one with this idea. All four Marauders were together, the other three clearly having come to meet Remus. Severus hesitated. Pettigrew was there and he couldn’t afford to make a scene.

However after only a few seconds of dithering, he marched over, ignoring the incredulous looks he was receiving from the surrounding students as he approached the Marauders. Pettigrew spotted him first and his pointed face took on a malicious cast.

“Oh look,” he crowed, “its Snivelly!”

The rest of the Marauders turned as one and Severus had to brace himself against one of his worst nightmares—the full attention of the Marauders.

“So what do you want Snive—hey Sirius!” Pettigrew complained as Sirius threw an arm around his shoulders and began to steer him away.

“Come on Peter,” he said cheerfully, “It’ll be dinner soon and I heard that the House Elves have been experimenting again!”

“All right Padfoot!” Potter grinned, overriding Pettigrew’s weak protests, “Experiments are always delicious even if they do look weird. Hurry up Moony!”

And with that they were gone, sweeping away through the diminishing crowd. Severus caught a couple of disappointed faces and fought the reflexive sneer. Together he and Remus walked in complete silence until they found an empty classroom. Seeing the apprehensive looks Remus kept stealing in his direction when he thought he wasn’t looking, Severus rolled his eyes.

Please don’t say he thinks he’s being subtle?

Quickly firing up a couple of silencing spells so they could talk in private, he turned and faced him.

Remus stared back in trepidation. “I take it you’ve decided then?” he asked shakily.

Severus gave a slow nod and Remus seemed to curl in on himself.

“I see,” he muttered. “Will you at least give me until summer? I-I’d like to get my OWLs at least.”

“Oh sweet Merlin,” Severus snapped thoroughly disgusted. “Did I say I was turning you in, you over-dramatic Gryffindor?!”

Startled amber eyes flew up to meet his own and he smirked at the pure unadulterated shock he saw there.

“I’ll keep your secret Remus,” he assured him bluntly. It wasn’t just a big deal for Remus after all. He was staring down a path he’d never even considered before and found his stomach twisting and his heart beating faster as he contemplated the unknown. This was completely new territory for him. To be perfectly honest, he wasn’t sure he could do it or that they’d be willing to put up with him very long. And yet...

The relief that swept over Remus’ face like sunlight somehow made it worth it. Other than Lily, Severus had never cared about another human being before in his life. But somehow Remus Lupin of all people, had made the list.

“Thank you Severus,” he breathed, “When you didn’t speak to us, I figured—”

“I thought Slytherins were supposed to be the pessimistic ones,” Severus interrupted wryly. He was uncomfortable dwelling on the subject.

Remus finally cracked a smile. “I thought you preferred the term realistic?”

“And I thought Gryffindors were all sickeningly optimistic?” he retorted enjoying the familiar banter.

“Well mostly,” Remus said quietly, “but in this case, it was more that I was expecting events to follow a certain trend.”

“Others haven’t taken it well then?” he asked, fighting the foreign sensation of guilt as he recalled how close he’d came to following that same trend.

At Remus’ mute nod, Severus pushed, “But Black and Potter have apparently stuck around.”

“I’ve been lucky,” Remus said, happiness leaking back into his voice. “Now I have three friends I can trust completely.”

“I thought you weren’t counting Pettigrew anymore,” Severus said accusingly only for Remus to stare at him blankly for a moment before rolling his eyes. “I was including you, you prat,” he said in exasperation.

Oh.

Severus didn’t care to examine the warm feeling that comment gave him. “Well,” he said awkwardly, “we’d better get going or we’ll miss dinner.”

Remus grinned at him. “Just—thank you, Severus, for seeing past the monster.”

Severus paused in the act of opening the door and regarded him steadily. Behind the smile, Remus’ eyes were serious. Feeling irritation rise in him, he decided to nip this in the bud for his sanity’s sake.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Remus,” he drawled. “I’ve seen real monsters and Werewolf or not, you don’t even come close. Now hurry up, I want to eat.”

Without looking back he left the room. He was halfway down the corridor before he heard running footsteps and Remus caught up with him. They made their way to the Great Hall talking lightly about inconsequential things; both secretly feeling as if an oppressive weight had been lifted.

 

oOo

 

Later that night he was halfway to the Room of Requirement when he was cornered. He glanced warily from Black to Potter.

“What do you want?” he asked trying to remind himself to act civil.

The two exchanged a glance before Sirius, obviously drawing the short straw said, “Well, Remus told us you’re trying to become an animagus.”

Severus tensed. How had he known...? “And what if I am?” he snapped.

“Well,” Potter said cautiously, “we were wondering if you wanted any help.”

Severus tried very hard to contain his incredulity but he was only human. “Help?” he repeated blankly.

Potter squirmed looking very uncomfortable. “Well, it’s just that we have some experience in this area,” he began delicately until Severus’ snort cut him off.

“Well I figured if Pettigrew managed it then you must have as well,” he said cuttingly. “After all, even you can’t be that pathetic.”

Potter’s face went red with impotent anger and Severus hid a smirk. Can’t go blasting Remus’ new friend can we, Potter...

“And just how far along are you, Sni—Snape?” he demanded.

“I’m doing quite well actually,” he said smoothly, “I’m hoping to achieve the final transformation within the next week or so.”

“And what are you going to be, a slimy snake?” he snapped.

“How original,” Severus responded rolling his eyes. “Haven’t you the wit to think up any new insults?”

“James, calm down,” he’s just trying to wind you up,” Black finally interjected. “Seriously Snape, do you have to be such a bastard? We were offering to help!”

“Well I’m delighted to say that I don’t need your help,” he snarled, “so can you kindly piss off?”

“I don’t know why we bothered,” James muttered, “Remus has obviously gone completely mad.”

Fed up with the useless conversation, Severus made to leave only to find Sirius blocking his way.

“Is there a problem Black?” he sneered.

“Remus said that you were going to keep quiet about his ‘furry little problem’,” Black said slowly. His tone implied that he didn’t believe it.

“That’s correct,” Severus replied in a clipped voice.

“Why?” James demanded. “How do we know you’re not going to change your mind?”

Severus stiffened. “That’s none of your business,” he hissed menacingly, wishing he could just hex them. Unfortunately the same restrictions that that bound Potter also applied to him. Damn. “And for future reference, Gryffindors don’t have the monopoly on honour. I don’t break my promises.” Truly incensed now, he pushed past them making for the Room.

“Oh, because you’re so honourable,” Potter taunted, “we come down here to make peace and you shove it in our faces!”

Severus spun. “You came to be condescending assholes as per usual!” he hissed. “You wouldn’t know peace if it jumped up and hexed you in the—”

A sudden bang froze the argument. Both swung around to stare at the smoke curling from the tip of Sirius’ wand in shock.

“You know how bad things have gotten when I have to be the sensible one,” he said sarcastically. “James, Remus asked us to make up with...Severus. We’d a brilliant, kick-ass plan remember?”

As James opened his mouth to defend himself, Sirius turned on Severus. “And you, stop being such an uptight, paranoid bastard. We actually did want to help you! Okay true, we’d an ulterior motive but it was a good one!”

“And that was?” Severus asked cautiously.

“Well, we became animagi to keep Remus company during the full moons,” Sirius said excitedly.

“What?!” Severus yelped in shock.

“Relax Snape,” Potter said looking slightly amused at his horror-struck expression. “Werewolves are no threat to animals. Even if he bit us we wouldn’t be infected because it only works on humans. As it is, the wolf considers us pack. He won’t hurt us.”

Severus stared at the two of them in alarm. “You’re insane. Even if it is ‘safe’, who decides to keep a Werewolf company? He won’t even remember it in the morning!”

“Because he needs it,” Sirius said grimly. “If he’s locked up alone, he tears himself up. The scars he’s got...” he shook his head. “We distract him, we make him chase us into the forbidden forest so he can lose himself in the wilderness and let loose with us without hurting anyone. And without hurting himself.”

Severus hissed out a breath. “That’s risky,” he breathed. “If he ever got away from you...”

“Its fine,” James said impatiently his attention focused on a piece of parchment, “the Whomping Willow hides the passage to the shrieking shack—it’s on the very edge of the grounds, right next to the forest. Once he’s in there, he doesn’t want to go anywhere else.”

“The shrieking shack?” Thinking of the rumoured haunting and screams of supposedly tortured spirits, Severus couldn’t conceal a grin. That’s pretty smart. “Typical Dumbledore,” he murmured, amused.

Sirius’ eyebrows flew up. “Sweet Merlin, Snape,” he joked, “you’re human after all. We always figured a smile would cause instantaneous death.”

Severus blanked his face on reflex before glowering at him. “And your plan was Black?”

“The plan was that if you’d managed the animagus transformation by the next full moon, you’d come with us,” James said grumpily.

“If you really are a snake, I’m not carrying you!” Sirius interjected, “That can be Prongs’ job.” Ignoring James outraged expression, he baited the trap. “But if you’re too scared...” Sirius trailed off, anticipating the blustering response.

Severus was speechless but affected an inquiring expression. “Is Remus okay with this?” he asked carefully when he’d recovered his faculties.

James and Sirius looked at him, then at each other as if the question had surprised them. “Yeah, he’s fine with it,” Potter said strangely.

“Do you think you’ll be ready on time?” Sirius asked.

“The next full moon’s not for three weeks right?” he asked looking for confirmation. They both nodded confidently.

“Well, two and half,” Potter corrected making an obvious effort to maintain a neutral expression.

Severus nodded slowly. “I think I should be ready by then,” he said cautiously.

The three stared at each other for a few seconds before the two Gryffindors started shuffling their feet, desperate to escape the growing awkwardness. Severus was eager to leave as well, but he hid his discomfort like a true Slytherin.

“Right well,” James said uncomfortably, “if you make it in time, meet us at the Whomping Willow at sunset. Make sure no-one sees you.”

Severus bit back a scathing retort at that blaringly obvious piece of advice. “What about Pettigrew?”he asked suddenly. “Won’t he have something to say if I turn up?”

“Peter won’t be there,” Sirius growled, his sudden vehemence making Severus reach for his wand.

“He’s made it clear where his loyalty lies,” James said tightly. “It’d be too easy for him to sabotage. We’re going to get him out of the way.”

He and Sirius shared feral grins and Severus swallowed one of his own. The idea of the Marauders going after someone else for a change, (not to mention someone who actually deserved it!), was rather novel.

“Good luck with that,” he said completely sincerely for once.

“Want to help?” James asked wickedly only remembering who he was talking to when Sirius gave him a sharp dig in the ribs.

Before anyone could say anything Severus surprised them all (including himself) by saying, “You know I wouldn’t be adverse to that.”

“Really?” Sirius blurted looking appalled.

“I pranked you lot enough times, didn’t I?” he reminded them coolly and felt a rather immature glee at their chagrined expressions.

“That’s true enough,” Sirius admitted reluctantly.

“Well, Remus will be pleased,” James said obviously trying to psych himself up. It wasn’t really working.

Severus and the Marauders regarded each other guardedly for another moment. Severus was beginning to regret his impulsive remark. Clearly consorting with Gryffindors was affecting his sanity.

“Nothing builds trust like pranking wannabe Death Eaters and running with Werewolves,” Sirius intoned solemnly, breaking the heavy atmosphere and making James laugh. Even Severus’ lips twitched.

“Yeah,” James said chuckling, “if we don’t kill each other first.”

 

**********************************************************************************

 

The full moon was this Thursday. The last two and a half weeks had flown by for Severus. With completing his animagus transformation, plotting with the Marauders (a surreal experience he still hadn’t gotten used to) on how to get Pettigrew detention for the night in question and dodging Lucius Malfoy, he was almost pleased that tomorrow he’d be looking into a Werewolf’s jaws.

Almost.

He couldn’t lie to himself. Slytherins may lie to everyone else but they were (almost) always scrupulously honest with themselves. He was scared. Only the fact that the other Marauders had been doing this most of last year and every full moon this year without getting ripped limb from limb stopped him from bolting.

If they could manage it then he shouldn’t have any problem. Especially now he was a fully fledged Animagus. It was difficult to conceal the smug pride he felt whenever he thought of it. He’d done something only a handful of Witches and Wizards managed in their lifetime, not to mention finally proved that he was just as good as the Marauders!

Not that that’d been a consideration. Much.

And as nervous as he was, he’d nothing on Remus, who’d tried to get him to change his mind on three separate occasions and constantly asked for updates on his animagus progress. However Severus had always responded badly to ‘suggestions’ so Remus’ nerves only strengthened his own determination. It still irritated him though, so he was delighted to finally shut him up when he told him he’d succeeded with the transformation.

One of the many worries preying on Severus’ mind though was Lucius. Or rather, his reaction to Lucius. He was going out of his way to avoid his mentor even though he’d already decided to accept his apology and rejoin the fold. And yet whenever Lucius brought up the subject, he felt a strange twisting in his stomach and begged off, citing homework or studying for his OWLs as an excuse.

But such flimsy excuses wouldn’t hold up much longer. The seventh year had taken to giving him looks of narrow-eyed suspicion when he thought the younger wasn’t watching. Little did he know that Severus was always watching. He was beginning to feel trapped, something he absolutely detested and so found himself hyper-alert whenever in the dorms or the Slytherin common room.

Joining the Dark Lord had seemed like the logical step. He would be valued for his talents, respected for his intelligence and part of something that would change the world. And when the Dark Lord took his rightful place, he would be given a position of power in the new order.

Nothing had changed. He could still see all of the advantages. But the increasing pressure made him defensive and perhaps highlighted things he hadn’t really noticed before. Or hadn’t wanted to notice, like how high-handed Malfoy was, expecting him to just fall into line on his say-so. And those whispers of unfortunate Death Eaters who had earned their master’s displeasure. Everybody made mistakes and Severus wasn’t arrogant enough to put himself above human nature. And yet their punishments seemed a little...excessive. It was a little disconcerting actually.

The Dark Lord didn’t sound so much like the firm-but-fair leader he’d been painted as when listening to those stories. More like a power-hungry tyrant. Severus knew enough history for this to make him nervous. And the raids on Muggleborns, muggle sympathisers and Ministry personnel. In the Slytherin common room they were lauded as necessary and those who carried them out were heaped with praise and glory. However, hanging out with Gryffindors gave him a drastically different perspective. The brutality and pure cruelty he’d overheard Remus, Sirius and James describing when talking among themselves about the latest attacks reminded him forcefully of his father’s spiteful vindictiveness and petty malice.

Was he seriously considering joining a group that praised pureblood Wizards for acting like the muggle he despised the most? It was like a blow to the gut, scattering his convictions. And so he was avoiding Lucius while trying to tame his confusion and regain control.

Luckily, setting Pettigrew up helped take his mind off things he didn’t want to contemplate.

 

oOo

 

Severus had completed the animagus transformation with a week to spare. It came as something of a relief to Remus that he’d have time to practice handling his new form before the full moon. He knew from James and Sirius that it was difficult to adjust to walking with an extra set of legs.

Not that he knew how many legs Severus had as an animagus. He was being frustratingly tight-lipped on the subject but despite his air of indifference, Remus could see the laughter in his black eyes at their reactions to his ‘wait-and-see’ attitude. What was really amazing was that he was fairly certain that James and Sirius could see it too.

Despite a few initial ‘misunderstandings’, it was remarkable how much progress they’d made. They’d taken to meeting in the Room of Requirement most days, to plot or to try weasel Severus’ animagus form out of him or just to relax. They still shot taunts and barbs back and forth but since sarcasm was Severus’ default mode of communication that was to be expected. But the insults lacked their former bite and increasingly caused laughter instead offense. Remus was delighted with how well everyone was getting along. He only had to hex the three of them twice!

One of the most important things to the Marauders was inventive pranks. They could lose themselves in involved planning for days. It always looked spontaneous and off-the-cuff but the truth is they put work into their delinquency. And Severus, with his Slytherin cunning and ability to think several moves ahead, fit right in despite their previous (and sometimes current) animosity. But if it was one thing that James and Sirius could respect it was ingenuity. And Slytherin or not, they were impressed.

And Remus was happy.

 

oOo

 

Thursday morning dawned clear and bright with a sharp wind that indicated winter was on its way.

The prank went off without a hitch. The only problem was that no-one outside their strange little circle would ever appreciate the genius of it. However another shared secret just seemed to bind the four a little tighter together.

It was Peter Pettigrew.

In the Library.

With his wand.

The hapless boy found himself surrounded by dripping, rapidly congealing goo covering everything in a four foot radius and confronted by the apoplectic, slime-saturated forms of Professor McGonagall and Madam Pince who was wailing at the state of her precious books. The faint pathetic cries of disgust from the students inside the impact zone were a background hum in comparison.

Peter with his wand in hand, at ground zero, was the only thing unaffected.

It was going to get ugly.

Severus and the Marauders quietly slipped out during the resulting commotion. Madam Pince’s shrill outrage and Professor McGonagall’s stern displeasure echoed after them. They managed to hold in their laughter until they reached the Room of Requirement. Then it erupted in spectacular fashion. Even the ever-stoic Severus wasn’t immune.

It was the same room as the first time, the cozy fire and a comfy armchair for each of them. Sirius sprawled on the rug in front of the fire trying to remember how to breathe as the others collapsed into their chairs around him. For a couple of minutes there was no sound but breathy laughter. Every time they’d get close to calming down, someone would catch someone else’s eye and they’d all be off again.

After a while, their bodies asserted their claim that oxygen was important and the laughter quieted to chuckles which slowly faded to silence. The smiles remained though.

“That was brilliant,” Sirius gasped from his spot on the floor. “McGonagall’s face!”

“Forget that, Pince’s reaction was priceless,” James chuckled. “Her beloved books! As soon as she spells them clean she’s going to kill him!”

There was appreciative laughter and several suggested methods.

“No, Potter,” Severus said suddenly, “I’ll admit it was good but the memory I’ll treasure is the gaping, gormless disbelief on Pettigrew’s face.” He gave a sly smirk. “He didn’t even try to run.”

“Paralysed by shock probably,” Remus said in satisfaction. “I don’t think he could’ve moved if he wanted to.”

“Excellent prank, guys,” James said, practically glowing. “Here! Victory celebration!!” Pulling a pack of chocolate frogs from his bag he tossed one to everyone.

“Nice one Prongs!” Sirius praised him. “Wish we’d thought of bringing something to drink though—”

A table with a bottle of Butterbeer and four glasses popped into existence beside him.

“Merlin, I love this room,” Sirius muttered fervently, pushing himself up.

After the chocolate had been contained and eaten and the empty Butterbeer bottle abandoned at their feet, they reclined in the chairs and basked in the knowledge of a job well done.

 

oOo

 

“So are we all set for tonight?” Sirius asked lazily causing Remus to tense up slightly. He’d almost managed to forget why they needed Peter out of the way.

Severus rolled his eyes. “You do know you’ll need a more permanent solution to the Pettigrew problem, don’t you?” he asked in annoyance. “If he keeps getting set up for detention every month, even he’s going to figure out something’s up.”

“You mean we’ll need a more permanent solution, don’t you Sev?” Sirius cut in smoothly.

A sable eyebrow rose. “We?” he enunciated incredulously. “I didn’t sign up to get involved in Gryffindor politics...such as they are.” His tone clearly indicated that compared to Slytherin politics, Gryffindor’s attempts were both blatantly obvious and woefully inept.

James snorted as Remus looked on in fascination and some discomfort.

“Tough Snape,” James said lightly, “You’re one of us now whether you like it or not. Or whether we do,” he joked, half seriously.

Severus made a disgusted face but his eyes had a strange light in them.

“Sorry Severus,” Remus said mock-apologetically, “I’m afraid you’re stuck with us. Besides we need a Slytherin to temper our reckless suicidal streak.” That had actually been necessary once or twice when they got a little too enthusiastic planning Peter’s downfall.

The Slytherin glared. “Merlin help me then!” he snapped acerbically.

“Love you too, Sev,” Sirius said batting his eyelashes outrageously.

Severus kept up the glare for another few seconds before evidently deciding it wasn’t worth the energy and settled for an exaggerated roll of his eyes instead. But Remus caught the small smile on his face that actually lasted a few seconds before he banished it. Not wanting to be caught staring, Remus hurriedly looked away to see James raise an eyebrow at him. He wasn’t as accomplished at it as Severus but it was enough to indicate that he’d noticed Severus’ little ‘slip’ as well.

There’d been enough of those over the last couple of weeks to slowly convince him and Sirius that Severus was actually human after all, even if he was a Slytherin.

“Anyway, Severus does have a point,” Remus reminded them ignoring the Slytherin’s told-you-so expression. “We’ll have to do something eventually.”

Sirius shifted uncomfortably. “You mean go to Dumbledore? I thought we’d decided that he couldn’t really do anything. Peter hasn’t taken the Mark yet.”

There was silence for a moment as the three Marauders digested what had just been said. Even now it was like a kick in the stomach. Remus didn’t think any of them would ever really get over it.

“Well, what we really want to do is distance ourselves, right?” James clarified pensively.

“But without letting him know why,” Remus added, wracking his brains.

“Please,” Sirius said in disgust, “we’ve been friends for almost five years! Even if we have a fight, people will expect us to make up after a while. And Peter does pathetic so well; he’d have the whole tower on our case in a week!”

Silence greeted this statement. It was inarguably true.

Severus cleared his throat and they looked at him in surprise. “You could always get him expelled,” he offered cautiously.

It was a practical solution, yet Remus balked. Yes, he hated Peter for what he was doing and what he was planning to do, but he just couldn’t bring himself to ruin his life like that. Even if it was the answer to all their problems. Looking at James, Remus could see he felt the same. Sirius looked conflicted before slowly shaking his head.

“No,” James said decisively, speaking for all of them. “Even if we do hate him, he was our friend once. That’s going too far. Besides, he hasn’t technically done anything yet, he might change his mind.” Seeing Severus’ sceptical look he bristled. “It’s possible!” he growled.

Severus rolled his eyes and muttered something derogatory about Gryffindor sentimentality. “Fine,” he snapped, “Then if you can’t get rid of him completely, how about something to turn people against him.” Seeing their uneasy expressions, he continued. “If he gets caught in the act doing something serious, something that everyone will despise him for, then you’ll have a good reason for backing off. Not to mention that if he’s no longer trusted, Lucius will find him useless as a spy.”

Remus brightened at that. “That might work,” he said cautiously.

At James and Sirius’ careful nods, Severus relaxed slightly. “Well, we can wait to worry about that until tomorrow,” he said glancing surreptitiously at Remus, “Or maybe the day after.”

“True, we’ve got the full moon tonight right, Moony?” James grinned and Remus felt his stomach clench even as he forced a smile. He really, really hoped that everything went all right, that his Wolf would accept Severus as Pack like it had with the others. He didn’t want to end up hurting his friend.

“Aw, come on Snape,” Sirius wheedled, knocking Remus out of his dark thoughts and back to the present. “We told you what ours are!”

Severus smirked. “That’s your own fault. Though I must admit, the fact that you’re a mutt doesn’t really surprise me,” he drawled.

“I guess not, considering my pedigree,” Sirius retorted, grinning at Severus’ taken aback expression. Remus could see Severus dissecting that statement and the exact moment he remembered what little he’d been told about the Black family at the train station.

James interrupted the moment demanding to know Severus’ opinion of his own majestic form.

Severus snorted. “Only you Potter,” he said silkily, “could have a form both so ridiculously ostentatious and yet so overwhelmingly useless.”

Sirius went off into gales of laughter at the look on James’ face and Remus more tactfully disguised his own mirth as a rather unfortunate bout of coughing.

“Traitors!” James exclaimed in mock-outrage, “the lot of you!”

Severus looked immensely pleased with himself at the reactions he’d managed to elicit and his smug satisfaction just made Remus laugh harder.

“And a stag is not useless! I’m really fast in that form! And...I could take messages!”

“So could a dog,” Severus replied to Sirius’ delight, “and he’d be less noticeable.”

James growled in frustration. “Well, I could...I could carry people!”

“I don’t know if a stag is strong enough...” Severus began doubtfully.

“Well I’m not a real stag, am I?” James cut in, sensing victory. “I could carry someone in an emergency! Maybe even two someones!”

“Easy there Prongs,” Sirius butted in, looking a little alarmed.

Severus caught Remus’ eye and gave him a piercing look. Seemingly satisfied with what he saw, he turned back to the conversation and proceeded to shred what was left of James’ ego to ribbons.

Remus thoroughly enjoyed the rest of time they spent in the room before they went back to class, completely forgetting to worry. Only later did he wonder if that wasn’t exactly what Severus had intended.

 

oOo

 

Later that night when the moon rose, bathing everything beneath it in a silver glow, three animals waited downstairs in the shrieking shack as hoarse screams and the snap and crackle of bones breaking and shifting eased to silence and low growls. They were a strange group, creatures that would never congregate in nature. This was ironically true in their human forms as well but they were pulled together by a creature outside nature. Werewolves are purely magical beasts.

A black bear-like dog sat on its hunches staring up the stairs to the half-closed door in something akin to concern, if it was possible for a dog to display such an emotion. Beside the canine, a stag shifted uneasily as a black owl perched on its antlers. The stag pawed the scuffed wooden floor and shook its head in irritation but the owl simply spread its dark wings slightly for balance and remained in place. Beside them, the dog huffed and its tongue lolled out in doggish laughter.

A dragging sound overhead stopped the play and the animals tensed as the click of nails on wood sounded the approach of the last member of the group.

 

oOo

 

The Wolf shook itself before slinking out of the destroyed bedroom and down the stairs to where its Pack waited. It tensed at the bottom. There was a new scent present and an old one missing. Thinking of the old scent brought a confusing whirl of anger and hurt, emotions the Wolf wasn’t equipped to understand. Infuriated it swung around, attacking the banister, tearing free chunks of wood before a warm solid form bowled into it, knocking it off balance. The Wolf raised its head and snarled in anger as the familiar scent of almost-a-wolf-but-not danced around. The dog simply grinned at him. Its scent was comforting and Pack, and the Wolf felt itself calm slightly, the unfamiliar feelings from earlier subsiding. The other member of the Pack stepped forward, the one-who-is-not-prey, angling it antlers towards him and the strange scent hit the Wolf again and it pulled itself to its feet growling at the intruder as the dog continued to dance around its feet.

The black bird immediately took off, leaving the stag. The Wolf snapped at it as it passed but it spun suddenly landing on the ruined remains of the banister. The Wolf surged forwards almost tripping over the dog as the stag lunged across its path, preventing it from feasting on the blood of the interloper. The black bird didn’t attempt to escape. Slightly mollified, the Wolf examined the creature a hairs-breath away from its nose as the stag strained, keeping it from moving forward and the dog watched events unfold, its body tense and ready to intercept.

The Wolf snuffled, drinking in the strange almost-familiar scent of the black bird. It ruffled its feathers nervously but otherwise remained still. Cautiously the dog sidled up and licked the Wolf’s muzzle before reaching up on its hind legs to lick the black bird. It clacked its beak in annoyance and the dog gave a low growl. The Wolf moved suddenly, breaking the stag’s hold. Raising its head it howled impatiently. The Wolf wanted to run, wanted to hunt. Instinctively, it slid past the rest of the Pack and inhaled a lungful of the bird’s scent before either of them could move.

Almost-familiar. Almost...Pack. With a rumbling growl the Wolf inhaled again, learning the scent, fixing it in its mind.

Pack.

Spinning away, it growled in frustration, paws scraping the floor. The almost-a-wolf-but-not scent blew past and the Wolf followed the dog down a long tunnel, scenting the one-who-is-not-prey close behind. After a few moments, the scent of the bird-who-is-pack washed over it as the owl flew carefully over their heads.

There was a tense moment as the dog slipped out before a muffled yelp then a bark of welcome made the stag move back and the Wolf erupted out, determined to find who had threatened its Pack member. But there was nothing. The dog nipped its flank playfully before emitting a joyful bark, dodging still branches and tearing off into the forest. The Wolf moved to follow and found itself flanked, with the stag running along one side and the owl flying low on the other. With a howl of bloodthirsty delight, the Wolf plunged through the tree-line and into the forest where the dog was waiting.

The Wolf and its Pack ran (or flew) together that night. Hunting with the dog, running alongside the stag, following the bird as it flew ahead and swooped down to indicate prey. Once, the trees thinned out and the Wolf loped forward, scenting odd smells but the owl flew in its face with a harsh screech, swiping at its muzzle with razor talons causing it to jerk back to avoid them. The dog and the stag quickly herded the Wolf back into the depths of the forest. The Wolf didn’t fight; it had fed well and ran itself to the point of exhaustion. Its appetites sated, it had no interest in what lay beyond the trees.

Shortly after, the Wolf found itself back where they’d started in the dark room filled with damaged furniture. Its energy spent, the dog flopped to the floor, falling asleep where it lay. The Wolf cocked its head and watched for a moment before curling up around it. The stag lay down, a steady warmth on its other side. The bird watched imperiously from a demolished dresser before fluttering down to take its place in the pile, perching on the stag’s antlers.

The Wolf—satiated, secure and surrounded by its Pack—surrendered to sleep.

 

oOo

 

Remus awoke painfully, wincing at the early morning light. A cold nose nudged his cheek and he yelped pushing the intrusive form away. Padfoot whined pitifully until he rolled his eyes and scratched the canine behind his silky ears. Cautiously looking around, he spotted Prongs, lying down watching Padfoot assault him with his adorable doggishness. That pathetic ‘pet-me-I’m-cute’ look should be rated under lethal weapon status.

He started to turn his attention back to Padfoot when he did a double-take. “Prongs, is that an owl on your head?” he blurted incredulously. Padfoot stopped pestering him and huffed a laugh as Prongs shook his head mutinously and the owl simply rode it out until he made himself dizzy and had to stop.

“Severus?” Remus laughed incredulously. The owl hooted softly in confirmation. He looked like an eagle owl, only pure black instead of the usual brownish-gold. “Amazing,” Remus murmured. “Get over here and let me see you!”

The scandalised look he received made him crack up, the fact it came from an owl only made it funnier. Even Sirius grinned his doggy grin. Remus’ sudden hiss cut the levity. “Ow, shit—don’t make me laugh,” he pleaded.

He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and Severus landed soundlessly in front of him. Remus took in the regal stature and reflected on the silent flight of owls. With his colouring, he’d be practically invisible at night.

“It suits you,” he mused and smiled as the bird preened itself.

Padfoot scrambled to his feet and gently butted Remus’ arm demanding attention which he happily gave. A sudden groan made him turn to see Severus (human now) and James both stretching. Padfoot, his tail sweeping the dusty floor as he lay against Remus, seemed to be in no hurry to transform as Remus hit a good spot and his tail wagged faster.

“You know,” Remus said thoughtfully, “you need a name Severus. It’s too weird to think of that owl as you.”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “That owl is me,” he reminded him archly.

“I think Remus means that he can’t call you Severus when you’re in your animagus form,” James said rolling his neck to stretch out the kinks. “If anyone was to overhear...you haven’t registered with the Ministry.” He grinned. “Plus what’s the fun if everyone knows it’s you?”

“Well that and the fact that it’s easier to think that I’m petting Padfoot right now, than that this embarrassing dog is actually Sirius,” Remus said poking the puddle of canine at his feet who glared at him.

Severus shook his head, his eyes flashing dangerously. “You’re not giving me one of those pansy-ass nicknames!” he snapped emphatically.

Remus smothered a laugh at his offended indignation. Ow. He couldn’t wait until Madam Pomfrey showed up with her pain-killing potions. Speaking of which...

“You guys should be going soon,” he said reluctantly. “Madam Pomfrey should be here soon.”

“Probably,” James agreed, pulling the Invisibility cloak from the pocket of his robes. “We’ll come up to the Infirmary later, okay?”

Remus gave a grateful nod and watched as the three vanished under the cloak. A sudden insecurity hit then and he blurted out, hoping they hadn’t already left, “Did everything go all right last night?” he asked anxiously.

“Apparently so, as we’re all present with all limbs accounted for,” Severus’ sarcastic voice responded from the empty doorway.

“Shut up, Snape!” Sirius growled but Remus was already relaxing. The biting retort was like a slap in the face to snap him out of his fearful spiral.

“It was all fine Remus,” James reassured him soothingly.

“Though you did come close to eating a certain Slytherin,” Sirius quipped.

“And I got your saliva all over me, Black,” Severus grumbled. “I need a bath before I catch something.”

Sirius started to retort but James interrupted. “You guys can continue sniping at each other later, when we’re not out-of-bounds and in danger of being expelled. Come on! See you later Remus!”

Hearing their footsteps fade, Remus moved back until he was leaning against the wall, settling down to await Madam Pomfrey. Things might be far from perfect, what with Peter still sneaking around reporting to Death Eaters, but right now, at this very second, Remus Lupin had never felt more at peace.

**********************************************************************************

 

Standing in front of the Infirmary doors, Severus debated furiously with his self-preservation instincts. As they had trudged back to the castle this morning, James and Sirius had casually tossed out an invitation to join them visiting Remus at lunch and blithely disappeared before he could berate them for such rampant stupidity.

Of course, the fact that he was here didn’t say much for him either.

Visiting someone in the Infirmary was different from meeting under the academic umbrella provided by the library or the comforting anonymity the Room of Requirement offered. People would see a Slytherin visiting a Gryffindor. It would imply...a lot of different things to different people.

To be seen with the Marauders in public and not to be hurling hexes and slinging insults would be making a major statement. The Slytherins would take it as a betrayal. He found himself rather surprised at the lack of concern that thought evoked. Just over a year ago, he would have done anything to keep his status among his Housemates and by extension, the Death Eaters. But recently he had found himself questioning his decisions, re-examining old facts and finding them wanting.

He was no longer certain that taking the Mark was the right course for him.

Just what did he want?

 

oOo

 

“How about Beaky?” Sirius suggested innocently. “It suits him in either form.”

Severus gripped his wand and Remus could almost hear him cursing Pomfrey’s ‘no-magic’ rule in his head. Instead he reached over, grabbed the jug of water from the bedside table and calmly tipped it over Sirius’ head.

Remus shot them both quelling looks, trying desperately to hide his own amusement. James didn’t bother to hide his own grin, sitting back and regarding the show with interest. Before Sirius’ outraged splutters could translate into thoughts of revenge, Remus cast a quick drying charm and looked around anxiously to check if Madam Pomfrey had seen. Thankfully she was fussing over another student, a firstie by the size of him and hadn’t noticed his illegal spell.

“Thanks Moony,” Sirius said gratefully before glaring at Severus who ignored him.

“No problem, Padfoot,” Remus replied, “but try to be serious from now on. I’m not risking any more magic when Madam Pomfrey’s around.” James nodded his agreement though he did look a little disappointed.

“But I’m always Sirius, Moony!” he quipped flashing his trademark grin and they all groaned, even Severus.

“Let’s get back on topic shall we?” Remus said firmly.

There was silence for a while as everyone considered. Severus slumped in his chair looking sullen. He obviously wasn’t too eager to be awarded a patented Marauder nickname. Remus hid a smile as he remembered Sev’s disgusted expression at the few names they’d already come up with. Too bad for the Slytherin that in this case, majority ruled.

“Blackie?” James offered wickedly.

“Too vague,” Remus said absently. “It has to be something related to his animagus form.”

“Well its black,” James muttered but fell silent again, his face creasing with concentration.

“Maybe...Feathers?” Remus mused but discarded it at the low growl from Severus’ direction.

“Shadow?” Sirius asked, thinking hard. Severus looked interested but then Sirius rolled his eyes, dismissing his own idea as some kind of temporary insanity.

“How about Nightwing, Padfoot?” James proposed. “He is black after all and it describes an owl pretty well.”

Severus choked. “Nightwing?” he hissed incredulously. “Have you been sniffing some of Pomfrey’s potions, Potter?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Sirius said lightly but with a glint in his eye. “I think it suits you.”

The strangled noise that Severus made just caused the two to grin wider.

 

oOo

 

Severus had to forcefully remind himself that he couldn’t hex the inane grins off their faces. No matter how much he really, really wanted to. Black agreeing with Potter wasn’t unexpected but Severus had the sinking feeling that this was his revenge for the jug incident.

He looked to Remus sitting up in the bed. The only sane person, other than him, in the room. But to his horror, Remus was looking thoughtful instead of dismissive.

“It’s better than anything else we’ve come with,” he conceded.

James smiled, looking smug that his idea had been chosen. “Majority rules, Nightwing,” he said proudly and Severus tried not to gag. That nickname was just so...well to be honest none of them were exactly flattering when he thought about it. Padfoot? Prongs? And Moony was just so obvious.

That realization soothed his defensive anger somewhat. It was just a Gryffindor thing—no, a Marauder thing—to chose ridiculous names for each other. They weren’t mocking him in particular. Which made a pleasant change. And at least it was better than Snivellous. Or freak. Or half-blood scum. This was actually the first time that he’d been given an affectionate nickname.

Severus could at least admit to himself that was probably the reason why he wasn’t spitting and snarling his opinion of their stupid, juvenile, unimaginative.... He sighed in resignation.

“I suppose anything’s better than Prongs,” he said offhandedly in response to their questioning looks.

“Snape!”

Severus smirked at Potter’s predictable reaction. Both Sirius and Remus were laughing at James’ antics and he felt a strange warmth in his chest that he’d caused that. Suddenly uncomfortable, he pushed that thought away and distracted himself by dropping more snide remarks about Potter’s animagus form to fuel the fire.

Friends or not, Potter-baiting was just too satisfying to give up.

 

oOo

 

Lucius would never have believed the rumours if he hadn’t gone up to the hospital wing himself for a Pepper-up potion (NEWTs were worse than dodging Aurors) and seen the spectacle for himself. Snape, the epitome of all things anti-social, had been sitting with Black and Potter around Lupin’s bed. And if that hadn’t been damning enough—they’d been laughing and Snape; blank, emotionless Snape who never seemed to feel anything but hate or pride, was smiling! Not his usual smirk but a small, genuine smile. Hardly more than a quirk of the lips really and yet it transformed his whole face.

To say Lucius was shaken would be putting it mildly. He’d finally found the real reason for Snape’s avoidance and flimsy excuses. He was sure that rage would hit when the shock wore off but right now he had bigger things to worry about.

He’d promised the Dark Lord a potions genius and he wouldn’t be able to deliver.

True, he could roll out the threats or try to bribe him back but in his gut Lucius knew it was over. He absently wondered if Snape had even consciously realized yet but shook it off. If there was one thing that Lucius Malfoy was good at, it was reading people. And what he’d seen in the Infirmary told him that now Snape had gotten a taste of acceptance with no strings, he wasn’t going to settle for anything less.

Which left Lucius with a serious problem. He would get his vengeance on Snape for daring to betray him—after everything he’d done for the ungrateful little ingrate! (yes, the rage was starting to creep in now). Taking a deep breath, he pushed it away. He had to ensure his survival before he could indulge himself.

He still had his Gryffindor spy, though he’d noticed with some concern that Pettigrew hadn’t been present in the Infirmary. He needed something else, something to soothe the Dark Lord over the loss of a potential potions master. But what...?

Replaying the nauseating scene from the Infirmary again, the solution struck him suddenly. The Dark Lord was furious over the last Auror raid, led by one George Potter. They’d lost three Death Eaters and worse, five crates of various poisons imported from different countries at great expense. Another reason He would be displeased to lose Severus. But James Potter was George Potter’s son.

Lucius smiled a beautiful, beatific smile that made a gaggle of girls sigh as he passed. If they only knew what lay under his Malfoy good looks.

George Potter was head of the Auror division and the driving force behind all of the Dark Lord’s problems. Bringing the tenacious Auror’s son before his master would be better than having the man himself. The fool would have to live with the results. And it would serve as a warning to anyone else that would dare oppose them. There were many capable potions students. None quite as talented as Severus, but adequate enough. And the promise of vengeance should sate the Dark Lord’s temper.

Darkly satisfied with his plan, Lucius swept off to find Pettigrew. It was time for his Gryffindor rat to earn his keep.

 

oOo

 

Severus noticed the change almost immediately. His fellow Slytherins sneered and spat when he came too close. Eating in the Great Hall became an exercise in endurance as his food would vanish, explode or transfigure into maggots in his mouth. He took to sneaking into the kitchens for meals or eating in the Room of Requirement. He spent most of his free time there with the rest of the Marauders or in the sanctuary of the library under the watchful gimlet eyes of Madam Pince. The common room was unbearable and he’d had to spell his trunk with a variety of nasty, not-quite-legal spells to keep what little he possessed safe.

He was never so grateful to be an animagus. He often stayed in the Room studying after curfew and flew to the private entrance for Slytherin owls to use when their owners were expecting packages that couldn’t be opened in the Great Hall. That way, he was able to return to his dorm when the others were asleep to get a little rest himself and change out his books and clothes.

Despite his unceremonious ejection from the Slytherin fold and his new erratic style of living, he quickly fell into a routine. In all honesty, it wasn’t that different from being at home—he just had more than one person to avoid. In darker moments he would curse his impulsive actions that led him to the Infirmary that day. He knew that any hope of becoming a Death Eater and taking his place at the Dark Lord’s side was dead now. The power, status and prestige—the respect that would have been granted to him was irretrievably lost.

However, he had gained something unexpected in return. Though he kept as much of his problems from them as possible, it was impossible for Remus, Sirius and James not to notice the reactions of the Slytherins in class. To say that he was surprised when they defended him would be a gross understatement. No-one had ever stuck up for him before, apart from Lily and even that hadn’t lasted long once they’d got to Hogwarts. But to see the three Marauders join him in hexing his attackers—even the usually gentle Remus showed a hidden ferocity and entered the fray!

To his consternation, Severus found that even though he was practically at war with the rest of Slytherin House, for the first time since he’d entered Hogwarts, he was truly happy.

 

oOo

Christmas was rapidly approaching and everyone was getting ready to go home for the holiday. Severus was staying at Hogwarts as he did every year. Remus would be staying as well as the full moon fell within their allotted time off and it was safer for his parents if he stayed away. Both Sirius and James decided to forgo going to James’ family for Christmas, opting to keep him and Severus company instead.

Peter was staying as well, saying that he wouldn’t leave Remus to suffer alone. Remus would have been grateful before, now it just took everything he had not to knock the pudgy Gryffindor’s two-faced head off. It was getting more and more difficult for them to pretend. Peter’s presence grated on them constantly but it seemed that he was finally catching on to their avoidance tactics and had taken to following them doggedly everywhere.

At least they didn’t have to worry about ignoring Severus anymore. After the debacle in the hall a week ago when five seventh year Slytherins attacked him, subtlety went right out the window. Remus had to admit he’d been impressed with Sev’s duelling skills. He hadn’t even recognised some of the spells he’d been using. Obviously the Slytherins weren’t taking his friendship with a bunch of Gryffindors well.

He grimaced at the thought. He should have seen it coming. And now Peter knew they were friends with Severus Snape—Slytherin, former arch-nemesis of the Marauders and ex-git. He really hoped that Peter didn’t put this new information together with their attempts to avoid him and figure out that they knew his secret.

As soon as they were alone in the privacy of their dorm room, he cornered his friends. James and Sirius exchanged a worried glance when he mentioned his concerns while Peter was in the bathroom.

“I guess we’ll have to be nicer to him then,” James said grudgingly.

“I can’t take this much longer!” Sirius growled angrily, flopping back on his bed. “It’s driving me insane! We have to come up with something or I’m just going to snap and tell him to piss off.”

Remus sighed, feeling miserable. Peter was like a cancer eating away at them and they desperately needed to cut it out.

“We’ll have time over Christmas,” he reminded them with forced cheer. “The castle will be practically empty and we’ll have plenty of opportunities to slip away.”

“I hope so,” James said grimly. “I’m with Sirius on this. We have to come up with something soon or I’m going to do something desperate.”

“Who’s desperate?” piped Peter as he entered their dorm.

Forcing smiles, the Marauders changed the track of the conversation.

 

oOo

 

The Dark Lord had approved of his plan, informing Lucius that while it had been his incompetence that had lost them Snape and his potions skills, all would be forgiven if he presented Auror Potter’s only child. The Dark Lord’s plan both incorporated his short-sighted visions of vengeance and went far beyond them. It was times like this, catching a glimpse of his master’s complex mind and ingenuity that reassured Lucius that he had chosen the winning side.

Everything was in place.

He would wait until the castle emptied for Christmas, when the professors and few remaining students would be too busy enjoying the festivities to keep their guards up.

James Potter would be in the hands of the Dark Lord before anyone even noticed he was gone.

 

**********************************************************************************

 

Christmas at Hogwarts was always a lavish affair, especially in the years since Dumbledore had been appointed Headmaster. It was hard to say if the infectious festivity and over-abundance of decorations was due to the fact he didn’t want the children boarding over the holidays to feel as if they were missing out or if it was just that it was his favourite time of year. Most agreed that it was probably a little of both.

Twelve magnificent firs were dotted about the great hall, fat flakes of snow falling gently from the enchanted ceiling as Flitwick decorated the trees with artistic flicks of his wand. Holly and mistletoe hung from the walls and were strung in thick steamers above the tables, though due to the small numbers, only the head table would be used for the next two weeks, both professors and students mingling together.

Floating candles were visible through the soft fall of snow, blazing like small stars as the flakes vanished just before they hit the tables. Several students moved around, helping various professors set up the hall. The air was thick with magic. Glittering icicles hung at strategic points and certain bunches of mistletoe were charmed to follow anyone unfortunate enough to walk under them until said person found someone willing to kiss them. Filch had been walking around with one trailing after him for the last hour and a half. The look on his face didn’t encourage anyone to approach.

Laughter rang out around the hall from students and teachers alike as the decorating continued. Their combined efforts were a thing of beauty.

But Severus Snape felt sick.

He was one of only two Slytherins that had opted to stay over the Christmas break. That should have been a weight off his mind. He only had one person to avoid for the next two weeks and if they tried anything, it would be a fair fight. The thought of having access to the common room and not having to sneak into his dorm at night should have filled him with joy.

Maybe it would have if the person staying hadn’t been Lucius Malfoy.

It just didn’t make sense. Christmas was a gala event at Malfoy Manor and Lucius had made no secret of what he thought of those ‘unfortunates’ who had to stay in school over the holidays. But still, maybe he could’ve dismissed the uncharacteristic behaviour if it wasn’t for the fact that not one of Malfoy’s entourage was present. That realization sent a cold shiver down his spine.

Wherever a Malfoy was, the party was. It was simply a fact of life. He knew better than to believe that those simpering sycophants Lucius surrounded himself with hadn’t attempted to suck up to him by remaining as well. Hell, they probably would have taken it for granted that they’d be staying. Which could only mean that Lucius had sent them away.

And that set off all kinds of alarm bells in Severus’ head. Lucius Malfoy thrived on social interaction. If he wasn’t told at least five times a day how much better he was compared to everyone else, Severus had always thought he’d fall into a shock-induced coma. The only reason he’d stay, and stay alone, would be if he was planning something that he needed space for. Or something that he wanted all the credit for.

For one heart-stopping second, Severus thought that his time was up—that Lucius was ready to extract revenge for his betrayal. But his Slytherin mindset ruthlessly crushed the first stirrings of panic as his brain kicked into gear. If that was the case, Malfoy would want the other Slytherins present to witness his triumph and for his ‘punishment’ to serve as an example of what happened to those who turned their backs on the Cause. Severus exhaled softly in relief. A stay of execution then.

But that just made Lucius’ presence even more foreboding. What was he up to?

He caught a flash of blond hair and narrowed his eyes as Lucius stalked from the great hall with a superior sneer. Severus stood in the shadows a moment longer, his mind racing before he cautiously slipped out after him.

 

oOo

 

All four Marauders were helping to decorate the great hall. The rest of the students had left that morning and Dumbledore had decreed that the remaining children would assist in the preparations. To promote inter-House unity, he’d said. There were only five Gryffindors—the four of them and a firstie. Remus had tried to talk to her but she was painfully shy and blushed to the roots of her red hair whenever he approached.

Apart from the Gryffindors, there were two Hufflepuffs, four Ravenclaws and two Slytherins. Remus was glad of the last for Severus’ sake, even if the other Slytherin was Lucius Malfoy. It was quite unlike Malfoy to stay back for the holidays but it didn’t worry him unduly. He was far too preoccupied with keeping Peter entertained and distracted, to prevent him noticing the strain that his supposed best friends were trying to hide. The fact that he hadn’t detected anything wrong spoke volumes to Remus. Just when had Peter ever looked outside himself to notice his friends’ problems without one of them bringing it to his attention first?

Sighing, he watched James and Sirius mess about with the floating candles, getting them to spell out things that Remus felt sure Professor McGonagall wouldn’t approve of while Peter egged them on. He put in his token protest before returning to his own thoughts. He hadn’t seen Severus at all today. They’d have to meet up soon to discuss the Peter problem. It had already dragged on for far too long. He was leaning towards telling Dumbledore everything and letting him sort it out.

Just then a cheer went up, startling him out of his depressing contemplations. The hall was finished and they were all released to get ready for dinner. Malfoy was the first one out, not that it was any great surprise. He looked like he smelled something rotten. Stretching, Remus looked around the great hall and couldn’t prevent the smile from hijacking his lips. Christmas at Hogwarts was always amazing. Looking at James and Sirius, he saw the same wonder in their eyes. It was so easy to get used to all this, to start taking it for granted but there was something about Hogwarts that made it all fresh and new again.

That was real magic. Feeling his dreary mood lift slightly, Remus grinned at his friends. For now, he decided to focus on enjoying the holiday and not on things he couldn’t change. They’d figure something out eventually.

 

oOo

 

Lucius headed back to the Slytherin common room but he didn’t stay long. Instead he grabbed a bundle from his room and left quickly. His athletic gait quickly took him past the Whomping Willow (to which he gave a wide berth) and into the forest. He didn’t once notice his avian shadow. When he was past the tree-line, he unwrapped the bundle to reveal a heavy, hooded black cloak and a bone-white mask. The attire of a Death Eater.

Once that had been something Severus dreamt of.

Now all he felt was a shiver of disgust at the sight.

As he moved deeper into the forest, Severus followed as Nightwing and watched from a distance as Lucius reached a clearing that had obviously seen some use. The snow was churned up and there had been a clear trail through the trees. Lucius was completely unrecognisable swathed in the dark cloak with its hood pulled over his head, obscuring his distinctive silvery-blond hair. The flat white mask made a mockery of his features. He looked like a monster.

Severus shifted uneasily on the branch of an overhanging tree as a frigid wind whipped through the clearing. His talons sliced into the bark as he gripped it tighter.

Lucius had drawn his wand.

Severus’ heart was pounding so loudly that he thought Lucius must surely have heard it. He was glad that his feathers blended so seamlessly with the darkness. Holding himself absolutely still, he waited for his discovery with bated breath.

But it never came.

“Expecto Patronum!”

Slivery light lit the darkness for a brief moment before coalescing into a snake. An Ashwinder, to be precise. Lucius spoke to his Patronus in a cold, authoritive voice.

“Go to the Dark Lord and tell him that everything is in place. I will have Potter at the appointed location on schedule.”

With an impatient flick of his wand the Patronus took off to deliver the message. Lucius began to pace restlessly around the clearing but Severus barely noticed. He felt like his lungs had seized. Launching himself clumsily off his perch, he barely dodged the stunner Lucius sent out on reflex, shock making his wings feel heavy and unfamiliar. He heard Lucius mutter something about wildlife and mudbloods but then he was above the trees, flying hard towards the castle as the implications of what he’d just heard began to sink in.

Potter had never made a secret of the fact that his father was an important figure in the Ministry, head Auror or something. In fact, he took every opportunity to brag—loudly—about the Death Eaters his father caught, the You-Know-Who jokes his father told, the amount of Aurors his father could summon with a single Patronus. And of course, boasted constantly about how he was going to become an Auror himself one day and surpass him.

Of course the arrogant, pig-headed, loose-tongued idiot would talk himself into an early grave, Severus snarled to himself.

But despite the steady flow of insults (all featuring one James Potter) playing inside his head, Severus found himself straining to fly faster.

 

oOo

 

Remus was greatly enjoying the Christmas feast. They were all sitting around the head table; he had Sirius on one side and Professor McGonagall on the other. Professor Dumbledore was further up, pulling one of the explosive crackers with a wary Ravenclaw while Hagrid was making his way through the eggnog at the far end of the table, much to the consternation of the two Hufflepuffs across from him.

A stream of merry chatter and good food conspired to relax Remus. Beside him, Sirius was haggling with Professor Flitwick to trade his cracker prize (a bronze set of Wizard’s chess) for the mini pewter telescope that his Professor had received. He wasn’t having much luck, though Flitwick seemed amused at his creative attempts.

One thing that marred the celebration was the rather conspicuous absence of the two Slytherins. Remus hoped that Severus was simply lurking in the Room of Requirement as he normally did when he was feeling anti-social. Or at least, more anti-social than usual.

They’d just started dessert when a black owl swooped low over the table, knocking Dumbledore’s paper crown askew and fluttering to a stop in front of him, tipping Sirius’ goblet into the lap of the Ravenclaw sitting opposite. The bird was panting slightly and let loose an agitated screech.

“Se—” Remus cut himself off with a fake cough. “Nightwing!”

Beside him, he felt Sirius stiffen. Professor McGonagall hastily rescued her pudding as the owl fluttered its wings in distress.

“I wasn’t aware you had an owl, Remus,” she remarked, eying the bird appreciatively. “It’s a handsome creature.”

“Um yes, th-thanks,” Remus stammered scooping up the owl, quickly shifting it to his arm when he received a sharp nip. “He was a...an early Christmas present.”

“Probably not used to the Owlery yet,” Sirius added smoothly. “We’d better go settle him in or he’ll follow Remus around for the rest of the night.”

McGonagall nodded absently, her attention distracted by Hagrid who had consumed enough alcohol to start singing carols, loudly and horribly off-key.

Making their escape, Sirius and Remus bolted from the party, out into the empty entrance hall.

“Care to tell us what the hell that was?” Sirius demanded angrily as the owl landed on the stone floor. “We’re trying to keep the fact we’re animagi a secret, Snape and you practically danced in Dumbledore’s pudding cup!”

Human now, Severus completely ignored the gibe, focusing wide, haunted black eyes on Remus.

“Where’s James?”

Sirius stilled. “Shit,” he breathed before clutching the Slytherin’s arm. “What’s the matter? What happened?”

“Sirius calm down,” Remus said, a little alarmed by his friend’s sudden panic.

“No, Remus!” he snapped, “He called him ‘James’! He never—”

Severus let out a hiss of pure frustration. “We don’t have time for this! Where is he?”

“Peter wanted to talk.” Remus said slowly, his stomach sinking as he saw Severus’ expression. “James said he thought Peter wanted to confess...”

“Go get Dumbledore,” Severus ordered, overriding his explanation. “Malfoy’s trying to impress the D—You Know Who. Apparently he thinks presenting Him with an Auror’s son will raise his status.”

Remus’ breath caught and he heard Sirius curse viciously beside him.

“We’ve got to find them!” Sirius said his voice hard. “Where—”

“Malfoy’s waiting in the Forbidden Forest,” Severus said distractedly. “I don’t know where Pettigrew would bring James for their little ‘talk’.”

“The Whomping Willow,” Remus blurted. “It’s near the Forest and it’s got...sentimental value to us. James wouldn’t think anything of Peter suggesting a spot nearby.”

“When did they leave?” Severus asked forcefully, his mind running through all the different scenarios that might await them.

“About five minutes before you got here,” Sirius responded grimly.

“They’ll be halfway there by now!” Remus gasped in horror, spinning towards the great hall where Dumbledore waited. “We’ll never be able to catch up to them in time.”

Sirius and Severus exchanged a glance. “We can,” they said in unison.

Remus glanced back in surprise, just in time to see a large black dog and an owl disappear out of the castle doors.

“Please,” he murmured, whirling around and racing back into the great hall. “Please let them be in time!”

 

oOo

 

James hadn’t been expecting Peter’s sudden request. But when he’d awkwardly told him that he needed to talk about something important, something he was too ashamed to say in front of the others, James had known what it was about.

Truthfully he was relieved that Peter was going to come clean. He didn’t think he’d ever be able to look at his friend in quite the same way, but then again, he hadn’t actually done anything. He’d just let himself be brainwashed by Malfoy and his pure-blood supremacy crap. Everyone made bad decisions at some point in their lives and they were just fifteen, after all. They hadn’t even got their OWLs yet. The only thing that really mattered was that Peter had come to his senses before he’d done anything unforgivable.

Though why they couldn’t talk about it inside where it was warm, he didn’t know.

Although he knew it was a sensitive issue without Peter’s assurances that they didn’t want ‘this’ to be overheard. Like James needed to be told that! At least no-one went near the Whomping Willow except them. And Madam Pomfrey of course but that was only with Remus on full moons. Everyone else had learned the hard way that the willow liked its privacy.

Unless you knew what buttons to press...

Peter ploughed through the snow ahead of them holding his lit wand high, gasping and shivering even with his heavy cloak. He turned, giving James a bright smile, his watery blue eyes shining with something he couldn’t name.

“W-we’re almost there!” Peter chirped, trying to hide his shivers. James felt himself growing concerned.

“Hey, we can talk about this inside,” he said gently. “The Room of Requirement will make sure no-one can listen in.”

Peter’s eyes widened and he shook his head rapidly. “N-no! It-it’s got to be the Willow. I-I mean, we need...”

Seeing Peter’s increasing distress, James rolled his eyes behind his slowly freezing glasses. Pulling them off he rubbed the lenses clear of ice and replaced them as Peter watched anxiously.

“Fine,” he said in exasperation, “but if we catch pneumonia, I’m telling Pomfrey that this was all your idea!” He sighed before flashing the smaller boy a cocky grin. “Here let me lead, I’m bigger so I’ll break up the snow quicker. Besides, you look about ready to fall over!”

Moving forward, he missed the satisfied, triumphant light that flashed in Peter’s eyes. Seeing the autonomous waving of the Willow’s branches a few minutes later, he sped up, thankful that he wouldn’t have to go much further. Walking across the grounds didn’t normally feel like such a long trip but slogging through the snow in the dark added what felt like hours.

As they finally reached their destination, James found himself shivering as the cold finally seeped through his own cloak. Murmuring ‘nox’ to put out his wand-light, he performed a quick warming spell over his body and sighed in relief as the cold was driven out of his bones. Turning to do the same for Peter, he found himself knocked off his feet as someone yelled “I-Incarcerus!”

His wand flew out of his hand as thick ropes wrapped themselves tightly around his body and he fell heavily, face-first into the snow. The ropes were so tight that he could barely breathe let alone move. He felt a hand grip his shoulder and was turned over to see his attacker.

Peter’s face shone with dwindling terror and barely suppressed glee. “I did it...” he whispered before a broad grin swept his face. “I did it!” he yelped in delight. “James Potter, one of the best duellists in our year, taken down by me! Little Peter Pettigrew, don’t mind him, he’ll never amount to anything...” His grin of triumph curled into a malicious sneer. “Well, who’s laughing now, huh?”

James shut his eyes, unable to bear looking at that expression on his friend’s face. No, not his friend, not anymore. Maybe not for a long time. How could he have been so stupid as to believe that he’d suddenly decided to change his mind? This was what Peter had chosen, though he hid it so well that it was easy to forget sometimes... Even after the Veritaserum, a part of James still hadn’t accepted it. Sirius had been angry and betrayed, Remus had been hurt and disappointed and he’d...he’d been bewildered and disbelieving.

“Hey!” His shoulder was given a rough shake. “Don’t ignore me! I’m sick of being ignored!”

Knowing that he couldn’t hide from the truth, no matter how much he might want to, James slowly opened his eyes and looked up into Peter’s irritated face. Seeing that he had James’ attention, Peter’s ego almost visibly puffed up. There was an unbearable satisfaction in his eyes and James’ despair quickly began to burn off as the anger beneath it heated up.

“Yeah,” he gasped. The ropes made talking difficult but he persevered. “So sorry for ignoring you, oh mighty duellist who attacks from behind.” He infused the words with as much distain as his air-starved lungs would allow. “Obviously I should be telling you how great you are for luring me out here under false pretences, and... What exactly? Now you’ve got me Peter, just what do you intend to do with me? You can’t keep me tied up forever.” His glare promised what would be in store when he got out of this mess.

Strangely, Peter laughed shrilly and James was unsettled to find that it actually caused his stomach to clench. Throughout his little speech, Peter’s face had continuously darkened as he belittled his ‘achievement’ but as soon as he demanded to know what happened next, it was suddenly funny.

“What the hell’s the matter with you?” he rasped angrily. “Did you get an insanity boost for Christmas or something?”

Peter smirked. “Hardly,” he said walking around James’ prone body, obviously enjoying that he tried and failed to follow his progress. “You’re the Christmas present...” he paused dramatically, “...for the Dark Lord!”

He immediately edged forward, obviously anticipating a stricken look of shock and betrayal but receiving nothing but a stoic glare. Too bad that Severus had stolen his thunder months ago. That thought brought a smile to his face and he had the pleasure of seeing Peter reel backwards in astonishment. His uncharacteristic confidence started to wane and he darted a hunted look around as if just realizing that he was still in Hogwarts grounds, within reach of the professors.

“What’s the matter Peter?” James taunted him, “Don’t want to talk anymore?”

Peter gave him a weak snarl and hurried around, picking up James’ fallen wand and erasing their footprints from the snow. James started to get a little worried. Peter was acting surprisingly competent, not to mention the fact that he didn’t have his wand and was tied up so he couldn’t even try to run. He was tempted to transform into Prongs but knew from his father that Incarcerus’ ropes were unbreakable without a sharp knife or the counter-spell and he’d only end up throttling himself. A cold tendril of fear wrapped around his heart and he shivered. What had Peter said about You-Know-Who?

James mentally shook himself and tried to banish that fear. This was Peter and spy or not, there was no way he was going to be scared of Peter! Finally finishing whatever he’d been doing, Pettigrew scurried back and pointed his wand at him. Before James could even remind himself that he wasn’t afraid, Peter muttered “Mobilicorpus” and suddenly he was floating.

Or at least he was until his head dropped back into the snow even as his legs remained suspended. He was pretty sure he looked ridiculous. Peter cursed and James grinned. Now this was the Peter Pettigrew he remembered. All talk and biting comments but when it came to actually doing anything... well, Peter had never been the best at spellwork.

After a few more half-hearted attempts, Peter gave up and headed for the Forest with James trailing along after him, his head still dragging in the snow. James was just glad that there was snow and that it was relatively soft and thanked his lucky stars that he’d managed to cast a warming spell before this all went to hell.

 

oOo

 

“So just where are you taking me Peter?” James called spitting out snow, hoping to distract him from whatever path he was following. It was common knowledge that Pettigrew hadn’t the best sense of direction. “Or are you trying to tell me that You-Know-Who is frolicking in the woods?” he taunted.

“Malfoy is waiting to bring you to the Dark Lord,” Peter snapped. “And you can act tough all you want now, we’ll see just how you act when you’re our property.”

James went cold. “And just what do you mean by that?”

He mustn’t have hidden his fear very well this time because Peter trudged clumsily back to where his head was ploughing up snow and gave him a nasty smile.

“He’s going to Mark you,” he hissed, “and you should be honoured but you won’t be because you’re a fool! I have to wait until I’m of age but you...”

He trailed off, seeming to become aware of the sick horror on his captive’s face and relaxed slightly.

“But I guess it’s okay,” Peter continued petulantly, “because for you it’s the worst thing that can happen. It’s all to get back at your Dad anyway. It’s not like anyone wants you. Lucius thought the Dark Lord would just torture you to death but He decided that Marking you will destroy both your father’s credibility and any future you might have had as an Auror yourself.” His words took on an edge of resentment. “Let’s see how far you get when everything isn’t just handed to you,” he said spitefully.

James sucked in a shaky breath as the ramifications shattered him. He’d never be trusted again; people would only see the Mark and his father...even for the Auror with the best record, who’d trust him to continue bringing in Death Eaters when his own son was one?

“Peter—Pete, you can’t!” he burst out desperately, “we were friends for Merlin’s sake! You can’t just—”

“Actually, I can,” Peter interrupted smugly as he gazed at James’ terrified face down in the snow beside his shoes. “You’ll be amazed at the things I’ll be able to do,” he murmured before taking out his wand again and laying it flat on his palm.

“Point me,” he commanded and James closed his eyes, fighting despair. It didn’t look like they’d be getting lost anytime soon.

***************************************************************************

 

“Pettigrew!” Lucius stated coldly, watching as the chubby spy staggered from the towering trees and tangle of overgrowth dragging his fellow Gryffindor along in his wake.

“You’re late,” he remarked striding over to view the merchandise. “You know better than to keep the Dark Lord waiting. Be assured that He will be told who is to blame for the delay.”

Pettigrew’s stammered apologies and asinine explanations faded into the background as he bent over the prone body, feeling a rush of pleasure as Potter’s eyes widened behind his cracked glasses. Of course, this was the first time he’d allowed himself to be seen in his true aspect—as a Death Eater, a vassal of the Dark Lord. One who would share in His power when He succeeded in ridding the Wizarding world of the weak and eradicating those useless muggles.

A sick smile spilt his face but his mirth was hidden by the featureless mask.

“Enough,” he ordered absently and the irritating buzzing in his ears immediately ceased as Pettigrew’s mouth shut with a snap. His gaze drifted along the scrapes and scratches adorning his prisoner, evidence of his unorthodox trip through the forest. His lip curled. Pettigrew was truly a sorry excuse for a Wizard. If they didn’t need a spy so desperately, he’d kill this embarrassment himself. He glanced at the simpering smile the boy was wearing as he puffed himself up, clearly expecting praise of some sort.

But before he could cut the worm down to size, something moving through the trees caught his attention. Narrowing his eyes, he raised his wand ignoring Pettigrew as he blanched.

“Time to go, I think,” Lucius announced briskly. He was fairly confident that he wouldn’t have a problem defending himself—not with the spells the Dark Lord insisted his recruits should master. All the same, the forest was forbidden for good reason, even professors refused to venture in without good cause. With a flick of his wand, Potter was floating properly. Realizing that his time had all but run out, his prize began to struggle violently but being midair, merely succeeded in making himself look ridiculous.

“Wait, what about me?” Pettigrew suddenly demanded, shrinking back as Lucius turned to regard him. “Y-You c-can’t just leave me out he—”

Lucius barely had time to blink when a shadow flashing sharp teeth and claws erupted from the darkness, piling into Pettigrew’s side, its momentum driving them halfway across the clearing. Lucius had no desire to do battle with the forest’s native fauna, he knew only too well how deadly the creatures residing here could be, but as much as he wanted to just grab Potter and apparate directly to the Dark Lord’s side, he had no wish to displease Him with the news that they’d lost their best placed spy.

After checking that there were no more rabid animals skulking among the trees, he turned his attention to the snarling form rolling around with Pettigrew as he screamed and wildly shot off spells. Not one got within a foot of the beast. With a roll of his eyes and a resigned sigh, Lucius quickly brought his wand to bear on the—

Stars exploded in his vision as something slammed into the side of his head, sending him staggering. Before he could right himself, he was struck again in the exact same spot and pain burst behind his eyes. Disorientated he stumbled on the hem on his robe and fell heavily to his knees. He swayed for a moment, before gathering his scattered wits and attempting to push himself up. His mask had twisted out of position, blinding him and his heavy robe was suddenly awkward as he tried to find his balance, reaching up to rip the mask from his face.

The cool night air shocked him back to his senses and he blearily looked around for his attacker before he glimpsed movement from the corner of his eye. Clumsily bringing his wand up and ignoring the pounding in his head, Lucius turned to face it, only to get a face full of rock and feathers.

 

oOo

 

Nightwing collapsed beside the Death Eater, gratefully releasing the rock from his aching talons. It wasn’t too big but it was heavy enough for an already exhausted owl to feel the strain. However, it did its job well, battering through the subtle protection offered by the spelled mask and robes. A surprise attack was the only way he stood a chance against Lucius and he wasn’t ashamed to admit it. A fifth year, even a precocious one—against a seventh year Death Eater who’d trained at the feet of the Dark Lord...no contest. There was no way he was getting in a duel with Lucius—he wasn’t suicidal.

 

oOo

 

Human now, Severus stood and regarded Malfoy, spread-eagled in the snow with his silvery hair fanned out around his head. He looked delicate, almost ethereal, even with the blood matting his hair and the ugly bruise that was already making itself known. A wounded angel. Thoroughly unimpressed, Severus kicked the wand from his adversary’s limp hand before making his way toward James.

He hurriedly dissolved the ropes but gave in to temptation and allowed him to drop into the snow.

“Snape!”

At the familiar enraged yell, Severus couldn’t hold back a grin as the tight knot in his chest slowly loosened.

“Enough lying around Potter,” he said silkily, “some of us have better things to do than run around in the snow while you enact your bondage fantasies.”

James spluttered, sitting bolt upright. “Hey, don’t blame me for Peter’s weird fetishes,” he retorted, recovering quickly.

Severus raised a sceptical eyebrow but a sudden whimper interrupted their banter and they both spun around to see Padfoot crouched on Pettigrew’s chest, muscles straining as he lunged, obviously trying to go for the throat. Peter blocked clumsily with a much abused arm, shoving it between the teeth as they tried to descend. His small, watery eyes rolled wildly, mad with fear and pain, until his gaze fell on them.

“Please,” he whispered desperately, his voice no more than a thread of sound. “Please...help me!”

A guttural snarl bubbled up from Padfoot’s throat and he ground his teeth deeper into Pettigrew’s arm eliciting a piercing scream. Severus winced at the pitch but it was enough to galvanise James into action.

“Padfoot—Sirius, stop!” he yelled sliding over to the frozen tableau. An ear flicked back as he spoke, indicating that he was being listened to. “Sirius, calm down! I understand how you feel, trust me. But this isn’t the way to go. He’ll get his, Sirius but he’ll have to be alive to suffer it. Let him go,” he said soothingly. The dog cocked its head, eyes turning to regard him, scanning his body, checking for injury. Noting the collection of scrapes and bruises.

“I’m fine, I promise. Just let him go, Sirius,” James repeated gently.

A muffled sob burst from Peter as the teeth slowly disengaged. “Th-thank you James, thank you!” he hiccupped, “I-I knew you wouldn’t let him—”

Another snarl had James pulling Sirius bodily away while giving Peter a disgusted, incredulous look.

“Don’t think I’m doing this out of any concern for you!” he spat, hooking an arm around Padfoot’s trembling frame. “We’re taking you straight to Dumbledore to be expelled and if there’s any justice in the world you’ll end up in Azkaban with the Dementors!”

Severus noted that James was trembling himself now but where for Sirius it was clearly due to the effort of suppressing his rage... He supposed it could be shock, though seeing the haunted quality in those hazel eyes, Severus couldn’t help wondering if Pettigrew hadn’t been describing—in detail—just what the Dark Lord had been planning for him.

Coldly furious, he stalked forward cutting through Pettigrew’s stumbled apologies—complete with wild claims of coercion and misunderstandings—and shot a stunner at him. It was rather satisfying to silence the irritating babble and watch him crumple into the snow. Ignoring the way James was gaping at him; Severus quickly conjured ropes of his own and efficiently trussed up the pudgy Gryffindor and after only a small hesitation, added a gag as well.

Raising an eyebrow at James’ expression, he snorted. “If you’re going to be so nauseatingly Gryffindor as to insist on saving him, then you better not expect me to listen to his whining the whole way back to the castle,” he snapped caustically.

Sirius transformed under James’ arm, a grin briefly lighting his face as his friend reared back in surprise. “Nicely done!” he told Severus looking over Pettigrew’s restraints with approval. His expression darkened with undisguised revulsion as he continued to watch his former friend. “I hope he does get Azkaban—he deserves it!”

James placed a steadying hand on his shoulder but didn’t disagree. Severus sneered at Pettigrew’s limp form in disgust before turning to secure Lucius.

As such, he had a split second warning before the spell hit him, sending him careening across the clearing to crash painfully into a tree. He thought he felt something snap and was subsequently rewarded by a bright flare of pain, proving his suspicion. As he slumped to the ground, he could barely hear the others yelling over the ringing in his ears. He hazily saw James scrabbling at Pettigrew while Sirius shot a stunner at Lucius, who deflected it easily and focused on James as he finally managed to pull his wand from Pettigrew’s pocket.

Sirius launched a volley of spells and James joined him but Lucius evaded or deflected all comers and cast a spell that Severus had only read about. A concussive shockwave emanated from Lucius’ wand, slamming through the clearing, splintering branches and smashing into the Gryffindors, knocking them off their feet. That particular spell took a lot of power and focus but Lucius was obviously injured enough from earlier that his range wasn’t very large and the effects had almost dissipated by the time the spell reached Severus.

The ringing in his ears slowly began to subside, allowing him to hear what was going on. Sirius lay sprawled not too far from him while James had landed closer to Lucius. Severus felt his stomach lurch as the Death Eater reached for Potter, clearly intending to complete his task. They were outmatched. He could see Sirius stirring but not quickly enough.

Where the hell was Remus with Dumbledore?

Severus really didn’t want to duel Lucius Malfoy.

James who had evidently been feigning unconsciousness, weakly batted Malfoy’s hand away and unsteadily pointed his wand but whatever he cast was absorbed by the defensive spells woven into the Death Eater robes. With a mocking laugh, Lucius planted a vicious kick in his stomach and watched him curl up in agony.

Severus seriously did not want to duel Lucius Malfoy. Unfortunately, he’d learned from an early age that life rarely gave you what you wanted. But it wouldn’t be a true duel; he’d just be acting as a distraction, buying time until Remus brought Dumbledore. And he would. Severus had no doubts on that—just in his own ability to live long enough to get rescued.

 

oOo

 

Remus followed Dumbledore and Hagrid as they led the way into the forest. Hagrid was a little unsteady after his ‘sampling’ of the eggnog but no-one knew the forest better. Remus was just glad that they were finally moving. The Headmaster had grasped his panicked garbled tale almost immediately but Slughorn had gotten in the way, acting offended at the slur against his House and reminding everyone within hearing distance of the importance of the Malfoy family and their continuous generous donations to the school.

As Dumbledore mobilised the Professors and sent Madam Pomfrey to ready the Hospital Wing ‘just in case’, a move that had Remus shivering, Horace Slughorn had stuck to the Headmaster’s side, hampering his movements, his outraged complaints drowning out orders and reports. In the end, Dumbledore had snapped, telling his Potions professor in no uncertain terms that while he was not accusing the Malfoy family of anything and had no vendetta whatsoever against Slytherin House, something was clearly wrong and as Headmaster he had a duty to protect the students in his care—and considering the fact at least four, perhaps five, were currently roaming around the Forbidden Forest, he would very much appreciate the man’s silence and co-operation.

Only Dumbledore could make a polite explanation draw metaphorical blood and Slughorn rapidly deflated, mumbled something about making sure Madam Pomfrey had all the potions she required and hurried off. Everything went much smoother after that and within minutes, they were off. Remus had vehemently refused to be left behind and Professor McGonagall insisted on joining them, as this little adventure was composed mostly of Gryffindors. Slughorn didn’t reappear or show any concern for the Slytherins allegedly wandering around the forest—apart from how they might alienate the affluent Malfoy family. Remus suspected that he didn’t want to risk setting foot in the forest, which was absurd seeing as how Dumbledore was with them, but he wisely kept that suspicion to himself.

Hagrid was confident, even if he was slurring his words, that he knew the clearing that Severus had described. It was reasonably close to the forest edge, shouldn’t take too long to reach it—and of course, he knew a short-cut that would shave at least five minutes off the trek.

Remus just hoped that Sirius and Severus had managed to make it in time.

 

oOo

 

Severus learned several rules necessary for his continued survival quite quickly.

 

1.) Never goad a Malfoy.
They’re a proud, rigid bunch who don’t react well to implications of inbreeding, low intelligence and L’oreal.

2.) Never goad a Death Eater.
They’re a psychotic, fanatical bunch who don’t react well to slurs against the Cause, the Dark Lord’s origins (Severus honestly couldn’t believe he’d dared) and their overall dress sense.

3.) Never goad either/both of the above when they’ve a head injury that unhinges their reason.
It increases the likelihood of a painful death.

 

oOo

 

He broke them all—spectacularly.

Unfortunately, he hadn’t really had a choice. Lucius’ only interest had been in obtaining Potter; he’d simply brushed off Severus’ attempts to engage him. Which had elated his Slytherin sense of self-preservation, he’d tried after all—no-one could blame him for backing off now. Unfortunately Malfoy’s blasé dismissal also pricked his Slytherin pride and after that there was nothing for it. If there was one thing that Severus hated, it was being ignored.

Sirius and James were less than helpful, both groggy and disorientated, bleeding from the ears and nose from that shockwave spell. Not that Severus was worried about them or anything, it was just the fact that he hated having a slightly deranged Death Eater, with a personal reason to hate his guts, ignore him.

No, really.

So when Lucius pounced on the semi-conscious James, Severus reacted. No-one could use words like he could. He had obnoxious sarcasm down to a science.

He started talking; in sneering, cutting tones, syllables practically dripping poison, using words like knives.

And now Lucius’ remembered fury over his protégé’s betrayal was stoked higher by his contemptuous, irreverent statements and blatant disrespect.

Severus was in constant motion, aiming for his bare face, hands and neck, the only parts unprotected by the armour-like robes. They weren’t foolproof of course, if Severus was a bit older and more experienced they’d only be a minor annoyance but as things were, he had his hands full blocking and dodging Lucius’ unrelenting volleys.

They’d both gotten some decent hits in, Lucius’ hands were continuously burning, only without any obvious flames, his face was covered in weeping boils leaking acidic pus and Severus was fairly sure that he’d succeeded in temporarily blinding one eye. His opponent didn’t look like an angel anymore.

Severus, apart from an already broken rib, was bleeding heavily in various places, had a dislocated shoulder and suspected that his right leg was fractured. And he was slowing down. He couldn’t tell if it was exhaustion, blood loss or a mixture of the two but he was going to lose. Not that there had ever been a chance of winning. A quick glance told him that James and Sirius had recovered somewhat and had managed to drag themselves as far away from Lucius as they could manage. They were watching the battle with wide eyes and a stubborn set to their faces. He had a sinking feeling that they were planning something stupid, though at this point he was hardly in a position to throw stones. Severus found himself cursing Dumbledore’s arthritic joints and wishing fervently that he would hurry up. Parrying a slicing curse from Lucius that would have taken his arm, he felt the last of his strength leave him.

He fell to one knee, gritting his teeth as his leg screamed at him and raised his head to glare at his opponent. There was no way he’d allow himself to die with his head bowed. That is, if Lucius was merciful enough to simply kill him.

So it was a surprise to see, instead of Lucius’ triumphant sneer of victory, two Gryffindors, swaying and leaning against each other to remain on their feet, stagger between him and the reaper.

To say that he was a bit shocked would be like saying that the ocean is a bit wet. There was something else too, a rush of fierce deep emotion at the sight of those two voluntarily standing between him and death but it was quickly eclipsed by a white-hot anger. Ignoring the pain he pushed himself to his feet, gripping Sirius’ shoulder with his good arm to situate himself between them.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he hissed furiously. “You idiots!”

“What, you think we’d let you have all the fun?” Sirius responded cockily, obviously trying to hide the fact that he was on the point of collapse. On his other side, James flashed him a devil-may-care grin. The effect was somewhat muted by the blood smearing his teeth.

“Well yes, I suppose this has been fun,” Lucius drawled, attempting to sound nonchalant but his pinched expression told of the pain he was hiding. “However I’m afraid that my patience has run out. Potter, you’ll be coming with me.”

Both Sirius and Severus spat out incensed, incoherent denials.

Lucius’ ruined lips lifted in a horrible parody of a smile. “You two are surplus to requirements,” he stated flatly, raising his wand.

James, Severus and Sirius blasted him with three different curses simultaneously just as a booming voice echoed through the clearing and the night lit up, blinding them even as they fell, the wind knocked out of them. After that, it was simply too much effort to get up.

Severus heard snatches of talk, a sudden crack of apparition and a familiar soothing voice telling him that everything was going to be fine. As much as he wanted to snap at such an absurd assertion, he found that he didn’t have the energy.

“...shut up Remus.”

 

*****************************************

 

Remus slipped silently into the darkened Infirmary and cautiously removed the Invisibility cloak before settling into the seat he’d claimed earlier. His three friends were still asleep but despite Madam Pomfrey’s threats, he refused to let them out of his sight. It had been way too close. He felt a little guilty for not being there with them, but all he had to do to squash it was recall the position he’d found them in when he’d arrived with the cavalry. If Dumbledore hadn’t been there to chase off Malfoy... He shuddered, unwilling to follow that train of thought to its conclusion.

Sighing, he sat back in his chair rubbing his eyes. He was exhausted but he couldn’t bring himself to leave. When Madam Pomfrey kicked him out and ordered him to get some sleep before he keeled over, he’d simply gone up to the dorm, retrieved James’ cloak and came straight back down, loitering outside until she’d gone to bed. Filch had only passed by once and he’d absently noted that the floating mistletoe had gone. He tried not to dwell on that too much.

Even though he’d been assured numerous times that each would make a full recovery, he’d promised himself that he wouldn’t go until he’d seen them wake up for himself. Bundling the cloak on his lap, his eyes fell upon the empty bed that had until recently held a fourth patient. Auror Potter and his wife had responded immediately to the Headmaster’s owl, arriving via floo. They’d both descended on him, Mr. Potter pumping his hand and blinking rapidly before Mrs. Potter had enveloped him in a hug, tearfully thanking him for saving her son while Remus tried to explain that all he’d done was pass on a message and rally the troops—that Sirius and Severus were the ones that tracked him down and stalled until help arrived.

Dumbledore soon calmed everything down and swept them off to explain the situation. It wasn’t long until Mr. Potter arrived back in the Infirmary in full Auror mode, insisting on taking Peter Pettigrew into custody to be questioned on the depth of his knowledge into Death Eater activity. Mrs. Potter stayed by her son’s bedside, gripping his and Sirius’ hands as she sat between them, watching as Peter was roused and portkeyed to Auror Headquarters. She left for the night shortly after, still pale at the thought that ‘sweet little Peter’ could have hidden a murderer’s black heart.

Mr. Potter had been adamant that Lucius Malfoy should be arrested but he’d apparated away before any of the faculty had gotten a good look at him and they only had the word of three traumatised students to bring against him. Though Remus had found (well tripped over, really) a strange mask half-buried in the snow that at least proved the assailant was indeed a Death Eater. Just in case anyone tried to dispute that. James’ father had sworn to see justice done but Remus wasn’t holding his breath. The Malfoys were too powerful and had far too many influential friends to be brought down by the word of three teenagers. On the up-side, Dumbledore had promised not to allow Lucius back into the school. If he wanted to get his NEWTs, he’d have to either bare his left arm or finish out the year in Drumstrang or Beaubaxtons.

Remus stretched and yawned, trying to keep his eyes open. Peter, being underage would probably just be expelled—his wand snapped, though without even his OWLs, he might as well be a squib. His family wouldn’t be able to afford to send him to one of the foreign schools. Remus couldn’t find it in him to be too broken up about that. At least they wouldn’t have to keep up the constant charade anymore. That realization was like a weight lifting off his shoulders, allowing him to breathe easily for the first time in what felt like forever.

 

oOo

 

Severus awoke as the dawn light began to filter in through the windows. Without opening his eyes, he began to take stock of his body. After reassuring himself that he had all his limbs intact and the horrible tearing pains were now just a distant memory, he cautiously opened his eyes and blinked in the dim light. Turning his head he saw James and Sirius in beds opposite him and Remus slumped in an uncomfortable looking chair with his head tipped back, eyes closed and drool collecting at the corner of his mouth. Severus smirked at the scene and wished electronics worked in Hogwarts so he could take a picture.

“You awake?” a voice whispered and Severus looked over to see Sirius examining him. “You look like shit,” he observed bluntly.

Severus rolled his eyes. “At least we don’t have to worry about brain damage with you Black,” he remarked snidely, “since it would be impossible to tell the difference. Your grasp of stating the obvious hasn’t deserted you, I see.”

“Oh, so you were worried?” Sirius asked innocently, “Aw Sev, I didn’t know you cared!”

“If I had to worry about the state of your brain, you wouldn’t be able to get me out of bed in the morning.”

“Ouch,” Sirius gasped in mock horror. “Are you insulting my intelligence, Severus?”

Severus’ lips twitched but he managed to refrain from smiling. “The fact you even had to ask, Black,” he stated coolly, “just proves my point.”

Sirius opened his mouth to respond but a groan startled them both into silence.

“For Merlin’s sake, it’s six in the morning!” James growled, slitting his eyes open to glare at them. “I want to sleep, not listen to the two of you bitch at each other! What the hell’s the matter with you?”

Sirius gave this question deep, serious thought before responding gravely, “Boredom.”

“Well you can’t be bored if you’re unconscious,” James retorted grumpily, “so go to sleep and let me do the same.”

There was silence for several minutes and James sighed with relief, snuggling down into his pillow. Severus however, was counting down in his head.

Three, two, one—

“But I’m not sleepy!” Sirius whined, gingerly sitting up and resting back on his pillows.

James’ frustrated groan was loud enough to wake Remus who fell out of his chair in shock. “Madam Pomfrey, I can explain—” he blurted before he realized that he hadn’t been discovered.

Sirius laughed out loud as his friend picked himself up off the ground, wincing as he sat back down. Even James sniggered a bit, his ire at being woken at such an ungodly hour temporarily forgotten.

“Are you all right?” Remus demanded, looking them over anxiously.

“We’re fine,” James said soothingly, “right guys?”

Severus gave a curt nod while Sirius enthusiastically assured Remus that he was in the bloom of health—never felt better in his life, in fact.

Remus in the midst of this, started to relax, the iron going out of his shoulders as the tension finally began to fade.

“Good,” he murmured, “That’s good.”

There was a brief silence as they mulled over what could have happened, before Severus got irritated.

“So are you going to tell us what’s been going on or do we have to guess?” he enquired impatiently.

Remus perked up at that and began to detail Lucius’ escape, the visit of James’ parents and Pettigrew’s subsequent incarceration to his captive audience. Severus was slightly unnerved but not at all surprised to hear that Lucius had evaded capture. It was a Malfoy trait. Although he was relieved to hear that he wouldn’t be returning to Hogwarts—he could just imagine how that would have gone. It certainly gave him some breathing room. While he’d still have to avoid his fellow Slytherins, especially after this little adventure came out, Lucius’ departure would leave a vacuum in the Slytherin hierarchy that would have to be filled. That should distract his Housemates for quite a while. It would be vicious, he had no doubt.

“At least Peter has finally showed his true colours,” Sirius muttered, interrupting Severus’ musings on the machinations of Slytherin politics. “That’s the only good thing to come out of this mess.”

“And we didn’t even have to do anything,” Remus added, sounding a little disappointed.

“Except get kidnapped,” James muttered sulkily, missing the worried looks Remus and Sirius exchanged.

“But you did it so well,” Severus noted wickedly, his dark eyes flashing.

James responded by tossing a pillow at him only to have it explode in a shower of feathers over Sirius’ bed.

“Oi!” Sirius bellowed, spitting out bits of fluff and glaring as if trying to decide just who he should hex first. Severus just smiled smugly and slid his wand carefully back under his pillow.

 

oOo

 

Sirius coughed pathetically and Remus started laughing. He couldn’t help it! The state of him, sitting up covered in fluffy feathers and tattered remains of pillowcase, cursing and grumbling under his breath about ‘certain people’ with bad aim antagonising greasy Slytherin’s with hair triggers and destructive tendencies. James snorted and soon joined Remus in helpless laugher; even Severus couldn’t hold back a grin.

In the end though, Sirius got his revenge. The mumbling abruptly died down and then suddenly, while everyone was distracted making fun of his new look, Sirius struck—a pillow hitting James right in the face and Severus in the side of the head.

And of course, that meant war.

Not wanting to miss this rare chance to get his own back for all the Werewolf jokes, Remus pounced on Peter’s abandoned bed and armed himself.

The battle raged for about ten minutes with creative use of the accio spell, before Madam Pomfrey stormed in. Remus dived for the cloak amid a flurry of feathers and prayed he hadn’t been spotted.

However, luck seemed to be on his side as he watched his three friends get subjected to the sharp side of the matron’s tongue without any indication that she was aware of an extra vic—troublemaker.

After a couple of quick cleaning spells and a pain-killing potion for Severus who’d managed to strain his still tender ribs, she stalked off muttering darkly about students who refused to rest after they’d been half killed.

As she disappeared into her office and started rearranging her potions supplies with unnecessary force, indicating her displeasure, Remus emerged from under the cloak.

“Welcome back,” James said drily and Remus shrugged unapologetically.

“You would have done exactly the same thing in my position,” he accused. “I’ll gladly duel Death Eaters with you next time; just don’t ask me to face down Madam Pomfrey on a warpath!”

James sighed ruefully but couldn’t argue.

Sirius snorted. “If I thought I’d get away with it, I would’ve been under there with you mate,” he admitted wistfully.

All four of them looked warily at the office. Remus stretched and sat down again trying to get comfortable.

“Oh for—are you a Wizard or not?” Severus demanded acidly. “Quit squirming and just use a cushioning spell or something.”

“But Madam Pomfrey’s banned magic in the Infirmary,” Remus reminded him pointedly.

“Didn’t stop us a few minutes ago,” Sirius said unrepentantly.

“Quick, before she comes back,” James urged, his eyes lighting up with a familiar mischievous glint. “Save yourself, or you’re just going to have to explain how you managed to mangle your back when you were supposed to be sleeping in your own bed last night!”

Remus winced, acknowledging the point but before he could grab his wand the sharp pressure on his back eased and he looked up in time to see Severus shove something back under his pillow.

“Well, we’d have died of old age before you decided to stop crippling yourself,” he snapped defensively and Remus hid a smile, instead relaxing with exaggerated motions.

“Thanks Severus,” he said cheerfully and was rewarded with a sneer and just a hint of embarrassment. He grinned and skilfully changed the topic of conversation.

“So now that Peter’s gone, we can finally start to unwind,” he said gratefully. “I’m still getting used to the fact I don’t have to edit the conversation every time someone enters the room.”

James made a face. “Yeah but what are we going to do now?”

“I know!” Sirius moaned dejectedly. “We had so many amazing plans on how to get rid of him; it kind of leaves a hole in our schedule!”

“I don’t suppose you’d want to put together an intensive study plan for our OWLs?” Remus asked hopefully.

The twin looks of horror that graced James and Sirius’ faces answered that question and Remus sighed.

“Please Remus,” Severus said sarcastically, “don’t tell me you actually expected them to try and fill those echoing cranial spaces with anything relevant?”

Remus grinned at James and Sirius’ outraged expressions. “Well you know,” he sighed philosophically, “hope springs eternal and all that.”

“Hey!” James spluttered, “Just because we don’t want to get sucked into another of your black hole ‘study plans’...”

“And can you blame us after last time?” Sirius demanded looking a little traumatised.

Seeing Severus’ curious expression, Remus hurriedly brought them back to the matter at hand.

“So have you thought of anything interesting?” he asked ignoring James’ triumphant grin and Severus’ calculating glance.

“I don’t know...” Sirius muttered, before exclaiming, “Hey! What about planning a big end-of-year prank? You know; something to cheer everyone up after the exams!”

“Yeah!” James agreed enthusiastically, “the OWLs are going to suck us all dry this year—we need something to look forward to—something to perk everyone up afterwards!”

Severus and Remus exchanged an amused glance.

“So what are you thinking?” Remus asked cautiously.

 

oOo

 

Hearing the muffled laughter and low whispers drifting in from the Infirmary, Poppy Pomfrey shook her head in resignation as she continued making up a list of potions to give to Slughorn, that lazy walrus. She was running dangerously low on blood-replenishing potions and the Gryffindor-Slytherin match was scheduled right after the holidays. If he didn’t lower himself to do some actual physical work by the end of the week then she was going to Dumbledore, honestly enough was enough and that man—

A voice rose in excitement and was quickly hushed and Poppy found herself trying not to smile as snippets of their conversation seized her attention before the voices caught themselves and descended back into the realm of whispers.

Pausing in her work she tilted her head and listened more carefully. It sounded as though the Marauders were back to their old tricks, even after such a betrayal you still couldn’t keep them down. She was oddly comforted by that, though it seemed to her they may have picked up a new member almost without realizing—and definitely traded up in the intelligence department. They were going to be ten times worse and yet she couldn’t summon up the annoyance she’d generally felt before. She had a brief moment of sympathy for the professors expected to maintain order and control before she was distracted again. Lowering her quill, she let the disjointed scraps of conversation wash over her.

“How about.......”

“Please Black, you’ve got to think bigger! Maybe........”

“Hmm...that’s got potential, but perhaps if we add.........”

“James! McGonagall—”

“It’ll be fine Moony, we’re experts remember?”

“Well, I guess...alright but if they’re going to be that many people then..........”

“Genius!”

Poppy returned to her work. If she heard nothing of note then she had no responsibility to report it.

Besides, eavesdropping on students was unethical.

With this in mind, she focused on her list and on how she could pin that social butterfly down to fulfil his responsibilities. And if she had a brief fantasy of those four terrors outside plotting Slughorn’s downfall in their usual startlingly inventive way, then no-one would know but her.

Outside, Sirius’ jubilant voice broke the silence.

“Of course it’ll work! We’re the Marauders after all!”

 

The End.

A/N: And that’s a wrap folks! ^_^
Looks like everything is going back to normal, or at least as normal as it ever gets for the Marauders!
Hope you enjoyed the ride!!

Just want to point out that the reason canon Snape hated and feared Werewolves so much was because he had the rather traumatic memory of nearly being eaten by one. As this story is AU!!, this hasn’t happened, so my Snape is a little more open-minded.