Notes: There is some use of Welsh; I did not provide translations because it is explained within context. All Welsh mythology is genuine in source, and only slightly twisted to suit my plot purposes. I was at some times rather free with JK Rowling's explantion of the pre-Harry world.
Disclaimer: The lovely and talented JK Rowling so far surpasses me that I hesitate to post; but one cannot help but imagine.
1976 : Fall
Asper carefully held the hem of his robe away from the design he and Remus had carefully drawn in white powder on the ground. He picked a leaf out of the way and tossed it behind him. ‘Finished with your end?’
Remus tamped the dirt with the palm of his hand, and then tapped the tube of powdered quartz he held, completing a swirl on the edge nearest him. ‘I think so, Professor. Could you look it over for me?’
‘I’m sure it’s fine.’ He glanced over their work anyway, checking for lines that weren’t quite long enough, or spaces that needed filling in. ‘I believe we’re ready.’
The boy wrapped his beakers and brushes in silk squares, and packed them into the velvet-lined carry box. He set it safely to one side, and joined Asper, facing east. He took his wand from his belt and let out a big breath.
‘Nervous?’ Asper asked, drawing up his cowl to cover his head. ‘You should trust in your research.’
‘I do trust it, sir.’ Remus looked up at him, and his mouth quirked into a smile. ‘It’s my spell casting I don’t bank on.’
Asper chortled. ‘You’re no Salazar Slytherin; but you’ll do fine. You’ve left nothing to chance. And I’m here to support you.’
‘Well.’ Asper folded his arms, and took a step back, out of range of the white design. ‘Begin.’
He watched Remus work through narrowed eyes. Drawing the intricate design in quartz had only been the first step. As an experiment, Remus had chosen a daring one. Gate designs were advanced magic; Remus wouldn’t have even seen one before he took his O.W.L.s, and possibly not after. Though Lupin was unaware of it, Asper had needed special permission from the Headmaster to even allow his student access to the books which discussed gate magic. Had the Ministry known what he was teaching on the sly, he, Dumbledore, and Remus Lupin would all have been in a great deal of trouble.
Which was why Asper had no intentions of ever informing them. Regular classes were wasted on Remus; he was no brilliant student, like some Asper had taught, but there was a hunger in him that Apser knew he could feed. Remus wouldn’t be a fantastic wizard, but he could be something rarer.
Remus began to chant. His accent added a lilt to the Latin. Pale gold light dripped from his wand and soaked into the lines of quartz; the ground began to glow. In the centre of the gate, the faerie mushrooms seemed to fall into shadow.
Asper was sure that Remus was unaware of his potential. Certainly, the Head of Slytherin House had never brought it up. It was too new, too unheard of– a werewolf? A werewolf who could write his own spells. It took an intuition that very few wizards were born with, and certainly none of the Ministers had ever displayed anything resembling intuition. The Ministers were a conservative bunch, fond of quiet and regulation and predictability. Dumbledore or no Dumbleodre, there would be so many close-minded morons to convince, too many loopholes to discover. It didn’t stop him from grooming Lupin toward certain possibilities, however. He could wait to retire until Remus was suitably prepared to take his position at Hogwarts. For that matter, so could Dumbledore. Lupin’s sheer incompetence with Potions and Herbology was a barrier, but Dippet had been so mediocre in all areas that Asper had only laughed away Dumbledore’s cautions. At the least, it might take a notch out of Turbute’s sense of self-importance, and Asper enjoyed a bit of trade warfare as much as the next man.
The glowing lines crystalized, and the sound of cracking filled the Forest. The gate disappeared.
Remus sighed. ‘Sir?’
‘Very good.’ Asper left his stance and paced slowly around the perimeter of the now invisible gate. ‘Ready for the completion? Need to check your notes?’
Remus straightened his spine. ‘No, Professor. I could recite it in my sleep.’
Asper smiled. ‘Then go ahead.’
Remus closed his eyes.
‘Keep them open.’
The boy gripped his wand anew, and forced his eyes open. He pointed the wand toward the faerie circle at his feet. He started out soft, but soon he regained his confidence, and spoke the spell he and Asper had written in a level voice. This time, the light from wand was white, and it only hovered over the mushrooms, coating them like a second skin but never touching.
It was working. Asper found himself leaning forward to watch. ‘End it,’ he called. ‘Carefully.’
‘So mote it be,’ Remus pronounced. His wand ejected a stream of bright light, which seemed to surprise him. ‘No,’ Asper said quickly. He stepped over the gate and gripped his student’s shoulders. ‘Don’t fight it. Give in to it.’
‘Into what?’ Remus pried his eyes away from his wand, and looked up into Asper’s pale gaze.
The Professor smiled thinly. ‘The magic.’
Remus swallowed hard. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’
Asper moved behind him, guiding his hand in the graceful wave and light flick. The stream of white light twirled through the air and settled, feather-light, over the mushrooms. ‘Feel it in you,’ he whispered. ‘Call it. See it. Close your eyes and look for it.’
He closed his eyes, and let Asper’s touch on his shoulders guide him in relaxing his muscles. He moved his feet a little farther apart, and let his free hand dangle limply at his side. He tilted his head back little by little until he felt starlight on his eyelids.
Call it. How do I call it?
He readjusted his grip on his wand, cradling it in his palm and lax fingers. He spoke the spell, and for the first time he didn’t worry so much about pronouncing the words correctly, or speaking so clearly. He just spoke the spell.
Something uncurled inside him. He nudged it with his mind, prodded and studied it. Tingles began along his spine and crept outwards, until sweat broke out on his upper lip and at his temples, and he thought– he thought he would explode– no... it felt... He couldn’t breathe and he was dying and it was-- it was amazing. His whole body thrummed like a string on the greatest harp he had ever heard, clear and strong and toned to the magic--
Asper ordered, ‘Release it now, Remus.’
He felt an enormous reluctance to obey. His entire body crawled with the itching feeling, but the thing inside him was so *marvellous*--
‘I said release it.’
He did, and longing filled him. He sighed sadly, and let his wand lower. The outside world steeped in on him once again, and he was suddenly aware of being tired and weakened. And ravenous.
Asper rocked back on his heels, smiling an odd small smile. ‘You felt it,’ he said.
Remus looked to him. ‘Is it like that for you? All the time?’
One grey eyebrow raised. ‘Would you want that, all the time?’
He touched his chest. ‘Oh, yes, sir! It was– it was–‘
Asper laughed. ‘The magic.’
‘It was beautiful,’ he finished lamely, but he was smiling as well.
Asper clapped him on the shoulder. ‘No, it’s not always like that. There’s some who do feel it, but only in moments of a great excitement, and so they contribute it to the wrong thing and can never re-enact it. Then there are wizards who never feel it in all their years of spell casting, too.’
‘That’s awful,’ Remus cried. ‘Never feel that?’
Asper shrugged. ‘Then there’s some... Some who learn to acquaint themselves with the process, who learn to love the magic not for the craft of it, but for the *joy* of it. There’s some who make it their entire lives.’
Remus thought of how it had felt, and he understood perfectly how a wizard could do that.
‘Well.’ The Slytherin Head gestured to the ground. ‘See the results of your spell.’
Remus glanced down. The mushrooms were still there, innocently nestled in the dirt and loam. But now they glowed a pale pink. As he watched, the light flickered and died. Asper guided him out of the gate, and as soon as his foot crossed the threshold, he felt something change in the air. He sent out a searching hand, and then tried to cross the edge– only to find himself somehow facing the opposite direction and reeling dizzily.
He let out a whoop before he recalled himself. While Asper laughed, he grinned sheepishly. ‘It worked,’ he said unnecessarily.
‘So it did.’ Asper picked up the carry case, and threw back his hood. ‘Congratulations, Lupin. You have officially succeeded in hiding your faerie ring.’
He and the professor dined together that night. Remus brought up a tray from the kitchens, and served his teacher. He tried to pay attention to writing in the log book the results of their day’s experiment, but he could barely remember the data. Asper finally took away the quill, and Remus noted with embarrassment that he had been doodling in the margin of the parchment. He rose and fetched the blotter.
‘Sir?’ he asked. ‘Did...’
‘Ask.’ Asper poured more pumpkin juice for them both. ‘How bad can it be?’
He smiled, and wiped at the doodles he had drawn with the edge of his sleeve, smearing them. ‘Did Salazar Slytherin ever feel like that?’
Asper set his chin in his hand, and his eyes seemed to see things far beyond Remus and the small study. ‘I believe he did,’ he replied, softly. ‘He must have. Do you know, he created more spells than any living wizard has ever done? More than Hufflepuff, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw ever did *combined.* He left behind a hundred journals full of experiments, of thoughts and half-formed ideas. Those stumps he worked with, those puling students who pretended to learn from him, all of them called him tormented and disturbed. They didn’t understand. They never felt it. Never looked beyond the ability to the gift...’
His heart was racing. Remus pressed fingers to the inside of his wrist, then clasped his hands together tightly in his lap. ‘I want to feel it again. The magic.’
Asper regarded him solemnly, rubbing the grey stubble on his cheeks. ‘What are your plans, Remus Lupin? After Hogwarts? Well– the Ministry? Perhaps research, or perhaps you think you’d make a librarian. A guarder of musty tomes and ancient writings. Or teaching?’
It was something he had thought about a great deal, an uncertainty that crept into his heart just when he thought he was happy. He pressed the length of his thumbs together. ‘No one.’ He cleared his throat. ‘No one is going to take me, Professor. I’ve always known that.’
Asper reached across the table corner and laid his large hand over Remus’s. ‘Those aren’t the only answers. You’re fourteen?’
He looked up. ‘Sir? Yes.’
‘I’ve had it in my head to retire for some time.’ He leaned back in his chair. ‘I want to work on a few things. I’ve often thought I should spend more time becoming conversant with the Dark Arts. In these times, it pays to know your enemy.’
‘I don’t understand.’ But as soon as he said it, he did. ‘You mean the one we’ve been hearing about? The one they think was behind those disappearances, and the two deaths, and–‘
‘Yes.’ Asper held up a hand. ‘I don’t know anything you don’t. But you read the papers, or you do if you know what’s beyond your own little universe in the dorms.’
‘You think he or she won’t stop,’ Remus guessed.
‘What I think, I keep to myself.’ Asper sighed, and waved his hand. ‘Finish this meal and take it back to the kitchen, would you? That’s enough for tonite.’
‘Yes, sir.’ He stood and gathered up the dishes, closing his data journal and tucking it back on the shelf.
‘Lupin.’ He turned back, tray in hands. ‘When you graduate, come see me. I don’t have any qualms about your work ethic.’
He grinned in sudden relief. ‘Yes, sir.’
‘Would you just be quiet?’
‘You stood on my foot,’ Lily retorted. ‘I don’t see why we have to sneak.’
‘Because we do!’ James shuffled them forward another few steps, then glanced down at his map again and squinted. All the little dots that Sirius had charmed the map to show– all the population of Hogwarts– were really annoying. The labels all crossed each other and formed big blobs of unreadable ink. Still, as far as he could tell, the one that represented Dumbledore was still safely in the teacher lounge.
‘Sorry,’ he whispered. ‘Look, anyway, we’re nearly there. Just reach out and tap the statue to get its attention, will you?’
Lily sighed, but stuck her hand out from the protection of the invisibility cloak willingly enough, and gripped the armguard of the stone knight guardian. ‘Hello?’ she hissed. ‘Hey– wake up!’
The knight creakily turned its helmet this way and that, and slowly shifted a hand to its marble sword. ‘Who’s there?’ it demanded suspiciously. ‘Intruders!’
‘Keep your voice down!’ James cried. ‘You shouldn’t have been sleeping on the job, anyway.’
Despite the full suit of armour and faceless headgear, the knight managed to look huffy. It was an interesting sight, and normally James would have spared it a longer look; but the threat of discovery, especially if the knight kept shouting, was too great a persuasion.
‘Since when does the Headmaster let people walk around invisible?’ the knight was asking. ‘Step out where I can see you. I want to get a good look for my report!’
‘We’re not intruding!’ Lily told it quickly. ‘We have permission from the Headmaster. Don’t we?’ She nudged James hard in the ribs with her elbow. ‘Say the password,’ she muttered.
James rubbed his side. ‘Ginger snap.’ He directed it at the knight, who seemed to jump a little and look astonished. An astonished statue was even more interesting than a huffy one, but according to the map, a student named Matthew Matterly was coming toward them, and it wouldn’t do for him to see a door opening to admit no-one. ‘Could you please let us in now?’ he added.
The statue straightened. ‘Move along.’ Behind his left elbow, the latch on Headmaster Dumbledore’s private office door unlocked, and Lily quickly reached out and pushed it open. The two of them hurried through, and shut it behind them securely.
James dropped the cloak to the floor. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Let’s hustle. It was on the top shelf.’
‘I’m still not sure exactly why you need a book from the Headmaster’s office,’ Lily grumbled. She followed him to the ladder leaning against the great wall of books. ‘How will this help Lupin?’
‘It just will, trust me.’ He set his foot on the lowest rung, but hesitated, struck by a moment’s doubt. What if the Headmaster had put it back somewhere else? It wasn’t as if he could climb the ladder, or he’d have done it himself without James in the first place. And if it had gone back in a different seat, then he wouldn’t have time to search hundreds of titles for it.
‘Well?’ Lily asked.
James sighed, and scurried up the ladder. With his head brushing the ceiling, he scanned the spines facing him, his fingers stopping on every red binding. He was pretty sure the book had come from this spot near the middle– where was it? ‘Please be there,’ he muttered. ‘Please be there.’
Something pricked his finger. He let out a bit of a gasp, and stuck it in his mouth. It wasn’t bleeding, but it definitely felt as if it had been– bitten? James leaned forward and peered closely at the book that had done it.
Russet red, and bearing gold leaf lettering. The Animagi journal.
He touched it cautiously, but there was no attack this time. James frowned. It was almost as if the book had been trying to get his attention... No. He took it from its space, and tossed it down to Lily, and slid down the length of the ladder rather than climb. He grabbed up the cloak, and said, ‘Let’s get out of here. It’s a shame that Dumbledore moved the big cabinet in front of our old tapestry passage.’
‘Probably he knew about it.’ Lily huddled close to him as he draped the cloak over their heads. ‘After all, he was in charge of your detentions when you used to leave yucky dead things in here for the last Headmaster.’
‘Dippet could never prove how I got in,’ James retorted, with sudden cheer. They had the book, and soon they’d be back in the dorms without even a moment’s trouble. He consulted the map, but neither Matthew Matterly nor any other student was nearby. They opened the door, and once they were through it, Lily pointed her wand at it and cast a locking charm. The latch clicked with a domestic sort of satisfaction.
‘Managed all sorts of mischief, I’m sure,’ the statue said to the air. ‘The Headmaster will have me stuck in the back of a storage room for this. Probably put a sheet over my head, too.’
‘Only if you tell him,’ Lily soothed. ‘Honestly, we didn’t hurt anything. He’ll never know we were here unless you tell him, and really, why bother? It’s just a lot of explaining for nothing. You couldn’t even see us.’
James held his breath as the statue considered that. ‘You’re right,’ it said, and sounded surprised. ‘I don’t have to tell him, do I? Seeing as how you gave me your word you didn’t do any harm.’ It turned its helmeted head stiffly to glare.
‘Absolutely,’ Lily assured it hastily. ‘We swear on our honour as Hogwarts students.’
‘Don’t need to bother him with something unimportant, then.’ The statue settled back on its heels. ‘Not bad, at all.’
‘Have a good night, then,’ James said. ‘And it was a pleasure *not* to meet you.’
He had the eerie impression that the knight grinned, and a statue that could grin from behind a stone helmet was much more interesting than a huffy or astonished statue. James chuckled as he and Lily hurried back to the Gryffindor wing, and only took off the cloak once they were safely inside the common room.
Visible again, Lily smoothed her hair and then snatched the book from him so quickly that she took him by surprise. ‘Hey,’ he protested, but she held it behind her back, and no matter how he twisted, he couldn’t grab it back. She ducked under his arm, and sat on the couch closest to the fire.
‘I just want to see what it is that I snuck around the school for,’ she told him, opening the journal. ‘I was a good girl before I started committing theft for you, James Potter, so I deserve a look-see at the least.’
‘It’s not stealing,’ he said, and dropped onto the cushions beside her. ‘It’s borrowing. And besides. We’re supposed to learn here, aren’t we? I’m just... doing extra learning.’
‘Justify on your own time,’ she retorted. ‘I’m reading.’
He draped an arm over her shoulder, and leaned over to read with her. ‘Congratulations, gentle reader,’ began the opening page. The author had used big swirly letters to make it look fancy, and it took James a minute to get into the way of reading it. ‘Your interest is the First Step on the Path to greater Skill with transfiguration. By following the Twevle Easy Steps outlined within the Chapters of this journal, You will Soon be exploring the fantastical and Magical world of the Animagus!’
Lily looked up at him. ‘I’m not sure I want to know,’ she said, ‘why you want to become an Animagus.’
He wasn’t sure exactly why, either. ‘It’s an adventure,’ he answered finally, staring up at the arched ceiling. ‘It’s... well, and it’s more than that. Animals aren’t threatened by werewolves, as humans are. That’s third year Defence Against Dark Arts. That’s why when they’re hunting a werewolf they send out dogs to find it.’
‘You already know where he is, though,’ Lily pointed out. ‘You said he told you.’
He waved that away. ‘I know. What I mean is, maybe if we learn how to transform into animals, then we’ll have the power to be with him. We’re his friends. It’s our job to find a way to help him.’
Lily closed the book, and held it against James’s chest. She gazed at him steadily. ‘Even if he doesn’t ask for your help?’
‘He wouldn’t ask. You know how modest he is.’ He lifted his thumb to his mouth to gnaw on his nail, but Lily knocked his hand away before he could get it there. He sighed. ‘He doesn’t have to know I’m trying it. If it doesn’t work, then it’s one less worry for him. But if it *does* work, then it’s one less night in his life he has to be alone and hurt.’
Lily dropped her eyes. ‘I don’t know, Jamie,’ she whispered. ‘I don’t know if you’re a saint for wanting to try, or a fool. A lot could go wrong.’ She looked back up, and James was startled by the expression in her agate eyes. ‘You could get hurt, yourself. You could transform into an animal and then not be able to turn back into a human. Or he could hurt you.’ She forestalled his protest. ‘I like Remus, you know I do. But one of us has to be realistic, Potter.’
James was silent for a while, and stuck his thumbnail back into his mouth to chew on it. At the last, all he could do was shrug.
‘He would do it for me,’ he said. ‘He’s already proven that to me. Look. Please don’t tell him you know, or that I’m going to do this. I promise I’ll take every precaution.’
‘I won’t tell.’ Lily sighed. ‘I’ll even help you, if only for my own peace of mind. But the minute– the *minute*, Jamie– that I think something is getting dangerous, I’m going straight to Professor Turbute.’
He smiled. ‘All right.’
She searched his face. ‘Angry?’ she asked.
He laughed. ‘No. Actually– I’m glad I told you about everything. Sirius would have leapt in with both feet and never looked back. It’s... kind of nice, thinking it through, beforehand.’
Lily burrowed under his arm and tucked her head against his chest. ‘I hate to think I’ll be the wrecking ball in the traditions of your marauding antics,’ she murmured.
Holding her felt very nice, indeed. James wrapped his arms around her and laid his chin against her hair. ‘Marauding,’ he mused. ‘I like that.’
‘You’re cutting it too short,’ Remus protested.
‘I am not. Keep your head straight.’
‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing?’
‘How hard can it be?’ Lucius gripped Remus by the jaw and turned his head back to face the bathroom mirror. ‘I’m joking. Will you keep still?’
‘Just be careful.’ But Remus obeyed, sitting on his hands and following the movement of the shears in the mirror’s surface.
‘Surprise, surprise; you have a face.’ Lucius frowned and carefully snipped at the boy’s fringe. ‘You never should have taken Potter’s grooming advice. You and he were starting to look like a pair of trees.’ He put down the scissors and reached for his hairbrush. ‘No true Malfoy could put up with it for long. Hand me the pomade.’
Remus passed it. ‘I look so different.’
‘You don’t look like you run wild anymore, you mean.’ Lucius was pleased with the smooth effect of the pomade. He used the brush to sweep Remus’s hair back from his forehead. ‘There. I could even pass you for a gentleman. I wish you’d stop wearing that mangy old scarf, though. It ruins the look.’
‘I’m fond of my mangy old scarf.’ Remus brushed loose bits of hair off his nose. ‘Thanks, Lucius.’ He smiled.
He swept aside the old towel he’d been using to catch the cut hairs, and laid his hands on Remus’s shoulders. Their eyes met in the mirror. ‘Yeah.’
Remus stood, turning to face him. ‘I want to go for a walk,’ he said. ‘Let’s go to the lake.’
But once they were out on the grounds and under the starlight, Remus seemed to change his mind. He took Lucius’s hand, and drew him out toward the north– toward the Quidditch pitch.
‘Where are we going?’ Lucius demanded. ‘You haven’t got some strange urge to fly, have you?’
‘You’ve seen me on a broomstick,’ Remus retorted. ‘Just be quiet, okay? I want to show you something.’
Lucius had little interest in Quidditch, himself, except as where it contributed to House points. As they crossed the field, chilled by November breezes, he wondered what it was that Remus could possibly have to do on the pitch. His confusion only grew when Remus halted before one of the tall tent-like columns that lined the pitch.
‘Sirius showed me this trick,’ the younger boy said. ‘But I figure you’d rather a Slytherin hide-out than a Gryffindor one.’ He reached out to the green corduroy, and lifted it up to reveal a line of dead grass. ‘If it doesn’t offend your sensibilities,’ he teased lightly, ‘then will your Majesty like to go first?’
Lucius sneered elegantly, and dropped to his hands and knees to crawl under the hanging wall. It was dark inside, and once Remus followed him and let the fabric fall back to the ground, it was impossible to see.
‘I’m not sure about this,’ Lucius voiced. A hand came creeping out in the blackness and connected with his chest. Then a mouth touched his, and things got a lot more pleasant.
After a few minutes, he laid back on the straw-like grass, and pulled Remus down on top of him. It was uncomfortable; Remus was all bone and he thought he might be lying on a rock. Remus’s forehead leaned against his, and then the hard cheekbone was pressed into his shoulder. Lucius wrapped his arms around Remus’s waist, and they lay silently knocking knees and trying not to elbow each other.
‘There’s something I want to do with you,’ Remus whispered.
‘Have sex? Because I’m ready.’
He laughed. ‘No. I mean, yes, but not right now. Here, sit up.’ He moved to the left, and helped Lucius upright. ‘Professor Asper showed me this. It’s good. It’s like sex, only happier, I think.’
‘Professor Asper showed you something like sex?’ Lucius didn’t know whether to be suspicious or intrigued. Remus searched through Lucius’s vest for his wand, and presented it back to him handle-first. Lucius waved it about grandly, settling in when Remus stilled his hands.
‘Try it with “lumos,”’ Remus suggested. ‘Then do what I tell you to.’
With a mental shrug, Lucius swished his wand. ‘Lumos!’ Light ballooned outward from the tip of his wand, brightening the inside of their column almost to the strength of daylight.
Then Remus covered his hand along the wand with his own fingers. ‘Try to feel the magic,’ the other boy urged softly. ‘Look for it inside, it feels like– well, like a ball of something really wonderful and squirmy and hot.’
Baffled, Lucius shook his head. ‘You’re barmy.’
‘Just try it. Please.’ Remus squeezed his hand. ‘Look for it. Close your eyes.’
He did as he was told with a sigh. ‘Squirmy and hot,’ he muttered. ‘Squirmy. Hot. Squirmy.’ He made it look like he was trying, scowling and grunting. Remus jabbed him in the shoulder, and he gave up the ruse, opening his eyes. ‘I don’t have the foggiest what you want me to do.’
‘I want you to feel the way I did,’ Remus said, disappointment creeping in his expression. He gazed a little sadly at Lucius. ‘Maybe I’m doing it wrong. I don’t know. Damn it.’
‘No. Look, I wasn’t bloody trying. I’ll do it again.’ To prove it, he flicked his wand smartly, repeating ‘Lumos!’ loudly. Then he squeezed his eyes tightly shut, and was glad to feel Remus grip his hand tightly in return. He even looked for the squirmy hot feeling, because he’d said he would. He held his breath, and glared into the fuzzed darkness of his own eyelids, trying to picture a ball of magic hiding in the pit of his stomach.
Remus’s hand cupped his cheek, a warm thumb brushing over his ear. The unexpected touch made him shiver.
And then he felt it. It spread like liquid in his gut, oozing slowly up his chest, icy, not hot, heavy and tingling. He turned his mouth to touch Remus’s palm, the hairs on the back of his neck rising... and then it was gone, fading into a vague pulse in his abdomen.
He opened his eyes, unsure suddenly if he’d only imagined it. But Remus was smiling at him, his teeth just a little crooked and two lines branching out around his lips and the new haircut framing his face just right, and his hand on Lucius’s face, and he thought– real or not, he was glad.
He broke the silence finally, his voice feeling rusty. ‘You want to have sex now?’
Remus laughed brightly. ‘Are you going to ask that every time it starts to get good? Honestly, Malfoy.’
‘I have needs,’ he retorted loftily, the strangeness fading and the world tilting back to its normal axis. He let the light die from his wand, and tucked it back inside his vest as Remus made a rude noise and flopped down on his back beside Lucius. ‘Can I at least touch it?’ he added.
‘No!’ Remus started to laugh again. ‘Next time.’
‘And are *you* going to say *that* every time it starts to get good?’ He found himself grinning up at the endless dark above them.
‘You’re not as smart as you think you are, if you have to ask.’
Severus turned up the wick of his lantern, and set it on top of a box where it could best illuminate the cell. He shook open his blanket, and sat on it, leaning back against the cold iron wall. He opened his book, and laid it across his lap. It had been a long time since he’d read a book for pleasure.
But he found that he couldn’t concentrate.
‘Maybe it’s time to make peace,’ he muttered. He stared blindly at the pages of his book. The thought of being friendly with Malfoy turned his stomach. But it was starting to be unbearable. His friendship with Remus aside, Malfoy had turned the rest of Slytherin against him long before Remus and the Gryffindors had even escaped Annwn. The only thing that had saved him was their return, when he’d begun to wonder if they ever would. But even with the incident long past and over, not a day went by that some Slytherin, even a first year, didn’t snub him, or trip him in the halls, or leave a frog under his sheets. He’d had to start locking anything precious in his trunk whenever it wasn’t in use, to protect it, but there was nothing he could do about the bullying. It was never obvious enough to point out to a teacher, and he could hardly tell Asper that the entire House was against him.
There was an alternative.
But as reluctant as he was to make nice with Lucius Darling Malfoy, he was even more wary of going over to the Gryffindors. It was one thing to betray a Slytherin. Betraying his House would be the worse offence. He had no illusions that he could be another Remus Lupin, and remain invisible while he trotted naively back and forth between Gryffindor wing and the dungeons. He didn’t have the protection of unimportance, of muddled family lines and destitution. His sister would be the first to turn her back. The rest of his family wouldn’t be far behind. And if he thought it was hard now, he was sure he’d find it worse. Three more years was a long time to be alone.
Severus found himself wishing that something would happen. Just– something, to give him a chance to break free. It had all been Tollery’s fault. So sure he was acting in the best interests of the House. Tollery had underestimated Malfoy. And Tollery hadn’t protected Severus at all. He couldn’t. Malfoy had been as good as his word, and forced Tollery to drop out. Severus wasn’t entirely sure what had saved him from a similar fate– possibly Remus’s return, or possibly that he was just more stubborn than Tollery had been. But if something would just happen, something to give him a chance to show he was a true Slytherin after all...
Wishful thinking got him no-where. ‘And I won’t come to a conclusion tonight,’ he murmured. He turned his eyes back to his book, and forced himself to read.
As Halloween descended into November, and November into December, it seemed to the students of Hogwarts as if a golden time had descended on them. Even the teachers appeared to feel it, because classes weren’t as hard as they could be and large assignments seemed fewer and farther between. The house elves had outdone themselves in the gardens, and a new variety of fall dishes began appearing at meals. Headmaster Dumbledore was seen whistling in the halls several times.
Peter had an unexpected triumph with the secret map of Hogwarts. During quiet moments in the term, he studied the ancient Charms textbook that they had kept from the faerie world, and discovered a way to track everyone in the castle. Now they could finally be absolutely sure of not being caught on their adventures. He even worked it out so that all the little dots that represented the people had labels that said their names (so they could know if it was a teacher coming). It only worked about sixty percent of the time, but Peter, thrilled with his success, said he would keep at it.
James and Lily had attended the All Hallows Ball together, and after that were generally acknowledged to be going steady. Peter got a girlfriend– a chubby girl with frizzy hair, but he was so proud that no-one said anything. Lily fixed Sirius up with a friend of hers in time for the Yule Party, and offered to find a date for Remus, should he want one. Though his friends urged him to accept, Remus seemed unruffled and only said he was fine as he was.
James continued to work, in private or with Lily, on the Animagus book. The ‘Twelve Easy Steps’ turned out not to be so easy, and the initial casting required a number of rare ingredients that couldn’t be stolen from the school. Several times in the weeks as Christmas approached, James used his cloak and the map to sneak off grounds to Hogsmeade, where he could buy or order things like hen’s root and frog’s milk. Every time it seemed like it might be impossible to find the right amount or the specific brand the book required, someone would miraculously come through or a new shipment would arrive. James was only glad to be compiling what had seemed like a ridiculous list, and so never thought too deeply on his good luck. By Christmas he had everything he needed; and he planned to use the holiday to perform the first casting, and to practice the transfiguration. If it worked, he’d bring Sirius and Peter in on it. Lily maintained that she didn’t want to participate. ‘You boys are doing this for each other,’ she said, and never anything more.
Remus had become something of a mystery, in the meanwhile. He had shown all of them the gate, but played down his role in its construction. Moreover, he claimed to be dissatisfied with it. He still disappeared on odd nights, or worked with Professor Asper. James in particular was pleased that Remus had found a mentor, and made a point of asking about it, for all that Remus told them very little. Severus Snape was more often at his side, again, or Lucius Malfoy. They were seeing him so rarely, in fact, that when he suddenly appeared with a new and handsome haircut, Peter actually walked right past him in the dining hall without recognising him.
Sirius had shot up another two inches, which put him far and away the tallest member of their social circle. Those who knew Sirius well were a little surprised at the change in him. Some days he seemed like himself, but then a cloud would come over his face, and he would fall quiet. It was anyone’s guess what he thought about. But then it would pass, and he would smile and ignore their questions.
And then Christmas was upon them. Snow, which had been conspicuously absent over a mild fall, dusted the grounds each morning but never more than the perfect amount for a snowball fight or a fort. Hagrid hung huge holly boughs over every archway he could find (one girl had an allergy attack and Dumbledore told him to limit the boughs to the dining hall behind the professors, and one or two outside). Gifts were exchanged. Bags were packed. The students of Hogwarts said good-bye to each other, and ate a hearty breakfast and filed out to the queue on the Express platform.
All except three Slytherins.
‘It’s getting better.’ Severus hovered nervously. ‘I think it’s stopped bleeding.’
Remus lifted his head, and Lucius cringed. He’d seen bloody noses before, but even by the scale of Crabbe and Goyle’s handiwork, this was an awful one. Remus’s hands were covered with blood, and he was paler than the castle ghosts. ‘I’m fine,’ the boy said, dimly. ‘Just a little problem.’
Lucius glanced around. It was time to leave. The train would be pulling out. He looked reluctantly to the open door. They were alone in the common room now; no-one else had been interested in staying to help with an unexplained medical emergency– especially as it was only Lupin, and Lupin’s medical emergencies were rather commonplace.
‘Tilt your head back,’ Snape directed.
Remus reached out, but stopped short of touching Lucius. ‘Go,’ he mumbled indistinctly. ‘I’m fine.’
Only another moment’s hesitation decided him. ‘Screw the train,’ Lucius said. ‘Snape, you have a handkerchief?’ He sat on the sofa beside Remus and rubbed soothing circles on his back. Snape cursed himself for not thinking of it faster, and whipped the square of material from his back pocket and held it gently to Remus’s upper lip. ‘Get water,’ Lucius ordered, and took over the kerchief. As far as he could tell, there was no new blood. He ignored the boy’s winces as he wiped away the worst of the mess, and then took his hands and began to clean them. Snape disappeared out the door, running toward the bathrooms.
‘I ruined the rug,’ Remus whispered.
Lucius glanced down. ‘Nonsense,’ he replied briskly. ‘That was always there.’ But he reached for a copy of the Daily Prophet someone had left on a nearby chair, and dropped it over the stain. When he looked back, Remus’s eyes were closed, and the lids were so translucent that Lucius could see the small blue veins beneath the skin. In fact he looked white and almost waxy; a thin sheen of sweat had broken out on his temples and forehead. Lucius swallowed reflexively, and concentrated only on the handkerchief and Remus’s nose.
‘Do you feel faint?’ he asked at last. ‘Do you think you ought to try putting your head between your knees again?’
‘Here now,’ a deep voice answered. ‘What’s this?’ He looked up quickly, and a wave of-- it wasn’t relief. In fact, it felt closer to anger. It was the Headmaster.
Remus opened his eyes. Dumbledore lay his hand across the Slytherin’s brow, and smiled a small smile. ‘Run along, Mr Malfoy; the train is leaving,’ he said. ‘I’ll escort Remus to the infirmary.’
‘I’d rather stay with him,’ Lucius said. ‘Sir.’
For a moment, just a moment, he received a look from Albus Dumbledore that kept him in stunned silence. He couldn’t decipher the look for the life of him, but it was sharp and blue and he felt suddenly as if the Headmaster had seen straight through him in that instant.
But then Dumbledore was just an old man again, kindly and vague and smiling that odd little half-smile. ‘I’m sure he appreciates your loyalty,’ the professor admonished him. ‘As do I. But given the options, I rather think your esteemed father will want you to greet him on the platform at King’s Cross, all the same.’
Severus Snape stood in the doorway, watching. He held the glass of water. When Lucius looked toward him, he stepped forward, and offered it to Remus without a word.
‘Run along, young men,’ Dumbledore repeated. ‘And enjoy your holiday break.’ He settled an arm under Remus’s shoulders, and Remus stood.
‘Thanks,’ he said. He sounded exhausted suddenly. ‘Please. Good-bye.’
Lucius and Snape watched them, their friend and the stooped old man, leave the dungeon.
‘You didn’t seem very surprised,’ Lucius said.
Snape turned to look at him. ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ he replied curtly.
‘I think you do.’ The tips of his fingers were red. Lucius rubbed them on his shirt, then bent and picked up his suitcase. ‘And if I can ever prove it, you’ll wish you were never born.’
Snape took care to stay several steps behind them as they left Hogwarts and boarded the Express.
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