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He should’ve known better than to trust Black. And indeed, a large part of him did not trust Sirius Black at all, insisted that he was walking straight into a trap. But a much larger part fueled the curiosity that gnawed at his innards until he found himself with a handful of stones several meters away from the reaches of the Whomping Willow. “ Wingardium leviosa ,” muttered Severus Snape. Promptly, the largest of the rocks followed the command and hovered a moment. He directed to the notch on the root of the great tree. The stone tapped the notch, and the tree went so still that it even stopped swaying in the breeze.

The scrawny fifth year dove under the hole and tumbled in a tangle of old robes and limbs before anyone could spot him. The setting sun cast little light into the tunnel where he found himself, and he promptly grappled for his wand. “ Lumos! ” Though faint, the pale white light offered him some direction. As he turned about, he determined that the musty-scented tunnel headed away from Hogwarts in the direction of Hogsmeade. “Hm.” He considered only a moment before he began to march in that direction.

Severus was no fool. He knew that Sirius Black had had it in for him for months since the beginning of term. It all started on the first day of classes when Potter sliced open his backpack and Black started to pour ink on one of his assignments. Lupin approached with narrowed eyes. Severus drew his wand; Lupin didn’t often involve himself in Potter’s escapades, preferring to remain on the sidelines, but when Lupin did join in, it turned nasty fast. But the Gryffindor prefect didn’t look at him. “Ten points from Gryffindor,” he said, voice flat, to his friends.

Potter’s eyes stretched wide in disbelief, and Black objected, “You can’t do that!” with a firm crossing of his arms. “Moony, c’mon, it’s Snivellus. He’s an exception.”

“There are no exceptions. Leave him alone. I’d be a shoddy prefect if I told you otherwise, wouldn’t I? Just lay off.”

Yes, the school year had started off oddly. It got only weirder, though, when Potter actually listened to Lupin. Black remained, of course, but Black had always had problems with authority. But when Black shot a stinging hex at his back, he whirled around only to find Potter between him and Black, muttering, “Padfoot, that’s enough.” Severus, naturally, responded with an antler-sprouting spell, but Potter dragged off his friend to the Hospital Wing before a duel could erupt.

Then he began encountering Lupin a lot more frequently than usual. For the most part, Severus spent his time in the Slytherin common room and in the back of the library, depending on where he could study in silence and without disruption. He always chose the same table back by the Divination section of the library because so few people researched Divination. If someone wanted to mess with him, he would hear them coming. One day, he found Lupin at his table eating a chocolate bar. He turned to walk away, but then Lupin called, “Severus?” and he whirled around to see the Gryffindor prefect offering him an unwrapped chocolate bar.

Through narrow eyes, he glared at the Gryffindor student. “What do you want?” he asked, and only the silence of the library kept a growl from entering his voice. It looked like a trap if he had ever seen one. Using Lupin as bait to draw him in… Not hardly, nope, it wouldn’t work.

Lupin smiled at him in return. “I want to give you a chocolate bar,” he offered. “Hurry, before Madam Pince sees. She gets her knickers in a twist over things like this.” Severus slipped one hand up his sleeve where he grasped as his wand by the hilt in case he needed to use it. He quietly settled his books on the round table across from Lupin and extended one thin hand to take the chocolate bar. “I’m not going to eat you. You can sit down.”

Every passing moment told him that he had made a bad decision by taking the chocolate bar, but he sat down across from Lupin anyway and slowly unfolded it before he took one bite out of it. He fixed both eyes on the prefect and waited, but Lupin returned to his text on the History of Magic. When he finished his own candy bar, he vanished the wrapper and began to take notes. After the third page turn, Severus opened his textbook. Occasionally, his eyes darted back up to Lupin, but over an hour passed before Lupin addressed him again. “Who invented the Pepperup Potion?”

“Glover Hipworth.”

“Thanks.” Lupin wrote that down. Then the silence steadily pressed on until the day’s end. From then on, he never knew when to expect company during his study hour, but he knew that if he saw the sandy-haired boy, he could expect a Honeydukes chocolate bar and a friendly smile.

Class became more friendly, as well. When Professor Flitwick asked them to get into pairs to practice Stunning one another, Lily pretended not to notice him and instead joined arms with Potter. Severus set his jaw as Black, frazzled by Potter’s abandonment, whirled around to join Lupin, and Pettigrew realized that he was out a partner and tugged on Lupin’s sleeve. Lupin put on an easy smile and said, “It’s alright, Wormtail. You can work with Padfoot, and I’ll go with Severus.”

Black scowled with intense displeasure. “You and Snivellus? Merlin, Moony, I think you’ve lost your bloody mind sometimes.” Lupin kept his back to the handsome  C’mon, Wormtail. You Stun me first. We might need the practice.” As he said that, he glowered back at Severus.

“Ignore him,” Lupin advised. He kicked the pillows into a stack. “Alright, you first. Hit me with your best shot.” He held out his hands in a surrender position, and Severus almost felt guilty about hitting him square in the chest with a Stunning Spell. Almost.

Then, the strangest event of all happened during the first Hogsmeade weekend of the year. He had taken shelter beneath the beech tree where he could look over the Black Lake and watch the giant squid. To his right, he had fanned out his mother’s old Potions textbook where he had started to write notes in the margins and create spells. Directly in front of him, he had a long branch shedding old bark. “ Sectum dirumpo! ” he hissed. The branch burst into splinters. He lifted his arm to shield his eyes from the blowback. Then, with a lash of his quill, he crossed out that particular incantation. He fished back for another branch, but his hand touched a smooth leather boot instead.

Severus jerked his head back to look at Lupin. “You’re inventing spells?” he asked as he sank down on the clover beside him. The autumn breeze ruffled his sandy hair. Lupin’s warm unsual amber eyes matched the hue of the newly drying leaves. “That one looked particularly volatile,” he remarked, crossing his legs in front of himself.

“Don’t you have some third years to shepherd around Hogsmeade?” Severus sneered, drawing back his text. He didn’t want Lupin to get any ideas about stealing his work. While Severus wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life yet, he thought that experimental Potions or spell invention sounded lucrative, and he didn’t want to risk anyone patenting something that he had created.

The prefect held up both hands. “Hey, take it easy. I don’t want to steal your notes.” He had dark marks under his eyes, and his hair had a rumpled texture to it, a grayness to his complexion. “I don’t feel well today. Lily agreed that she could handle the third years for me this once.” He stretched out and leaned his back against the trunk of the tree, and Severus felt a prickle of sympathy in his gut for the Gryffindor student.

Averting his eyes, Severus said, “It wasn’t supposed to explode. I want it to create deep gashes. Enough to incapacitate, but not so much that no one can heal the wounds. So far, I’ve only managed to create splinters. Not exactly useful in a fair duel.”

Soft laugh lines relaxed around Lupin’s face. “Try sectumsempra ,” he advised, voice somewhat lilting, like the wind carried it. He crossed his hands over his chest and let them rest there with a sigh. Severus gazed at him for a moment, the boy all stretched out. For the first time, he noticed the scars on one side of Lupin’s neck that led down into his shirt. But Lupin opened one eye. “Well?”

The Slytherin cleared his throat and summoned another branch. “ Sectumsempra ,” he said. Several long gashes etched into the wood. He narrowed his eyes and returned his suspicious gaze to Lupin. “How did you know that?”

“My mum’s a muggle. She took Latin in school. So every year, after I finish my summer homework, she looks over my spells with me and teaches me what some of them mean.” He said it in a very matter-of-fact manner, but after a moment, he licked his lips, allowing the silence to stretch between them. “Does—Does that bother you?”

Severus traced the tip of his wand over the bark with a hum under his breath. The wood mended slowly into small ripples. “Does what bother me?” he echoed when he lifted the branch to inspect it once more under his critical eye. But the marks had left no scars where he healed them. It was like his magic had never brushed the surface at all. Perfect.

As he lifted his gaze back to Lupin, regarding him with a new respect upon his face, the prefect repeated, “My mother. A muggle.”

Severus’s mouth quirked downward. “Why should it bother me who your mother is? She’s your mother, not mine.” Lupin blinked and took his head back in surprise. His round mouth gaped for a moment before it gasped for an answer, and Severus snorted in derision. “Not all Slytherins are the Malfoys or the Blacks, you know. Most of us are ordinary.” He lowered his voice a little. “And plenty of us have muggle blood,” he muttered afterward, like it was a curse.

One of Lupin’s thick, dark eyebrows arched in return to that mumbled statement. “Do you ?” he pressed, delicate but insistent.

He ground his teeth. “My father.”

“You don’t seem very happy with that.”

“You wouldn’t be either, if he was your father. He’s low-ranking on all accounts—lack of magic regardless.”

Lupin never looked at him with a face full of pity, and he appreciated that very much. But he stole a glance up to the afternoon sky where the sun dipped closer to the horizon, and he stood abruptly. “I’m sorry—I lost track of time. I was supposed to meet Madam Pomfrey twenty minutes ago.” He dusted off the back of his robes, trying to remove the wood shards and grass shreds left behind.

Severus rose to look him in the eye, and in spite of himself, “Do you want me to escort you?” He must be pretty sick. He surveyed the prefect’s bedraggled appearance and wondered why he had bothered leaving the castle at all. If Severus felt as bad as Lupin looked, no one could have convinced him to leave the bed.

The sandy-haired teen coughed into his elbow. “Uh, no. She doesn’t like when I get close to other people when I get like this. Makes her worry. I’ll be fine.” He sniffed a bit.

“Are you contagious?”

Lupin shook his head. “No—well, not exactly. Look, I’m not allowed to talk about it.” Severus pursed his lips, but then he shrugged it off and bent to gather up his books and wand that he had left on the ground. “But Severus, wait a moment. I just came out here to ask you if you would go to Hogsmeade with me on the next free weekend. Two weeks from today. Will you?”

He ogled at the prefect for a moment. An invitation to Hogsmeade? He had only gone to Hogsmeade once in his third year to live out the novelty of it, but without any money, there wasn’t much fun to be had in the village. He could watch the other kids buy their Honeydukes and sip tea in Madam Puddifoot’s, or he could stay in the Hogwarts library and study. He knew which he preferred. “Why me? You have friends.”

A frown twitched onto his lips. “Because I like you. I think you’re smart and funny. And I don’t have to constantly tell you to follow the rules, unlike some people.”

The P badge on his chest had twisted upside down, and out of reflex, Severus reached to twist it around. Remus ducked a step backward. His foot landed on one of the branches that Severus had gathered to practice on. It pitched forward and hurled Remus into the lake, Severus still clinging to the front of his robes. They tumbled into the water with a great splash. Severus wrenched his eyes open to gaze into the sea-green depths while flailing with his limbs in all directions. His books sprawled beneath him and floated. With one outstretched arm, he seized his mother’s copy of Advanced Potions Making. The others were out of reach.

Accio books! he thought desperately with his wand pointed. The textbooks and parchment rolled back to him under the water. He folded them all under his left arm and kicked desperately, but without his arms to aid him, he could do little more than tread water. Above, he spotted the silhouette of Lupin. The Gryffindor student had surfaced, but halfway out of the water, he paused. Severus heard his own name through the echo chamber created by the rippling water. He wriggled hard and started to float back to the surface. Then something snagged his ankle. Severus jerked hard and glared down at the grindylow that had wrapped its tentacles tightly around his foot.

He fumbled for his wand and squeezed the books tighter. Black spots hazed in his vision when another water demon seized his foot, and in unison, they plunged downward. Merlin, no. Severus pointed his wand. Stupefy! The first grindylow plummeted off of his foot and shot downward into the black depths beyond the reaches of the sunlight. Stupefy! The other grindylow dodged his spell and bit his ankle in punishment.

The pain made him suck in a deep breath. His lungs swelled with the sweet-tasting water of the lake. Sectum sempra! Fat gashes raked across the grindylow’s pasty green face. It sank. But so did Severus, face tilted upward to the sifting green sunlight that grew ever more distant. He could no longer see Lupin’s frame in the water above him. The Gryffindor prefect had probably run to get help. By the time he returned, it would be too late. Severus kicked his legs, but they felt heavier and heavier. A cold shudder passed through him. His arms sagged, and he had to fight to keep his grip on the books and his wand. Ascend… Ascendio… He didn’t have the strength to lift his arm.

Above, a great ripple passed through the water. The great Gryffindor hero dove toward him in shades of blotty gray with his wand in one hand. Lupin had stripped completely free of his robes down to a thin undershirt and his underwear. His mop of hair drifted elegantly beside his face as his arms outstretched toward Severus. One strong arm wrapped around Severus’s middle and tugged him upward. With his other hand, he paddled hard, reaching toward the surface of the water.

“Severus! Severus!” The ground hurt when Lupin dropped him on it. It hurt worse when Lupin pressed hard on his stomach and rolled him onto his side, where he promptly vomited a stomach full of water and gasped in between great coughs. Froth exhaled from his mouth. “Severus, oh Merlin, are you alright?” Remus pounced onto him, face to face. Severus shivered from head to toe. He had lost a shoe in the water. “Severus, talk to me.” He thought he would never feel warm again. Remus pressed his face nearer so that their noses almost touched. A hot feral gleam rippled through his dark amber eyes, almost yellow. “ Severus! ” he snarled.

At this, he jerked in surprise. “I—I’m fine!” he choked out, surprised by the strange scent that Lupin’s breath carried, mingled sweet chocolate and something much darker and ranker.

The heated glint flickered away as soon as it had come. Remus had tremors in his hands. Over the hill, a woman’s angry voice called, “Remus Lupin! You are late for your appointment with me! You know better—” Madam Pomfrey stopped when she saw Severus lying on his back by the shore of the lake. She picked up her skirt and ran to them. “What happened?”

“He nearly drowned,” Remus reported, washing the flat of one hand over his exhausted eyes. “For a bunch of books.”

“They’re library books,” Severus defended halfheartedly. He started to push himself up onto his elbows with a wheeze. The cool breeze pressed his sopping robes against his skin, and he couldn’t decide where to put his angry eyes. Remus steadied him with one warm hand. His warmth rivaled that of an electric blanket; he had only slept with one once before, when he had met his Grandmother Snape and she let him sleep in her bed. Part of him wanted to sag into the warm pressure of Remus’s body. The independent streak wanted to lash out. He did nothing but glare angrily at the ground.

The mediwitch tutted under her breath. “Nothing can be done now,” she said. “Mr. Snape, please go to the Hospital Wing and wait for me there. I’ll be back in twenty minutes. Mr. Lupin, we are already half an hour late to your appointment. It is imperative that we leave now. ” She eyed the pile of discarded clothing on the shore, and then she lifted her face to the near-setting sun. “I will have your clothes returned to you later. Come along.”

“Severus—”

Now , Mr. Lupin.”

He watched her seize the Gryffindor by the bicep, and she began to pull him away from the lake shore. He straightened abruptly. “Yes!” he called after them. Remus glanced back at him. “Yes—I’ll go to Hogsmeade with you.”

The shadow of a smile passed over Remus’s face as Severus staggered to his feet, trying to jog along with them for a few moments. It was difficult with only one shoe. “I won’t be in class on Monday or Tuesday,” Remus said softly. “Usually James or Sirius gets my notes, but they’re not exactly good at…”

“I’ll get them,” Severus promised.

“The Hospital Wing , Mr. Snape,” Madam Pomfrey ordered with a shooing gesture. He stopped, mostly because he had a splinter in his foot, and watched as their silhouettes grew fainter and fainter in the waning sunlight. He gathered up his books and summoned his shoe out of the Black Lake. By the time he reentered the building, the bright light of the full moon reflected silvery upon the grass.

Sirius Black had definitely never liked him, but when Black found out that Severus had collected Remus’s notes for him, it became a matter of most refined hatred. He overheard one conversation in the library between the four of them, pressed back between the shelves so that they wouldn’t spot him. Black insisted, “Moony, stop being the devil’s advocate. Snape has done nothing for you. He’s done nothing but make our lives a living hell ever since we got here. He’s a Death Eater in the making, and you’re off trying to befriend him!” The most handsome member of the Marauders had drawn up his stance and crossed his arms.

Remus sagged a little where he stood. “I think it’s the other way around, Padfoot. We’ve tortured him since we got here, or at least you and Prongs have.” He glanced back to Potter for support, but for once, the bushy-haired boy looked pensive and repentant. “Severus is a good friend of mine. I like him a lot.”

“You’ve been talking to him for three weeks,” scoffed Black. “What’s your problem, Moony? Do you need to scrape the grease off of his nose to slick back your hair?”

“Sirius!” snapped Potter abruptly. “Would you knock it off? Remus wants us to let Snape alone, so we can let Snape alone. We’re not children anymore, and Remus is the prefect.”

The dark-haired teen rolled his eyes and twisted a lock of hair around his finger. “Come off it, Prongs! You’re just relaxed because Lily is finally warming up to you. Since when do we listen to prefects? There’s no point in us laying off old Snivellus! We ought to show him exactly what he’s going to be up against when he chooses his side of the battle!”

Remus curled his lip. “No one has chosen a side yet! Do you think tormenting anyone is going to make them join your side?” His hands drew up into fists. “And I’ve talked to Severus. He doesn’t hate muggles. His father is one.” Severus winced when the Gryffindor boy said that, but he didn’t draw out of his hiding place. “He’s wickedly smart. He’s inventing his own spells and potions. He’s exactly the kind of person you would want to fight for you if only you would leave behind your prejudices and see him for who he is instead of who you expect him to be.”

Black thrust his face close to Remus’s. “Do you know what this sounds like, Remus?” he drawled in a low projected whisper. Severus strained forward to hear. “It sounds like you’re wanting to make a good visit to your old friend, Greyback.”

As Severus furrowed his brow, Potter stepped between Black and Lupin. Pettigrew had begun to shiver, silent the whole time. “That’s enough, Sirius,” he instructed, face drawn. “Do you understand? Leave Remus alone, and leave Snape alone. That’s the final word. We’re all friends, and we’re going to respect one another’s decisions. There’s no point getting your knickers in a knot, okay?”

Heaving a breath, Black reluctantly agreed, “Fine,” after stealing a glance at Pettigrew. “Prongs, let’s go. I think Moony is late for his study date.”

Severus darted around to the table by the stack of Divination books and waited for Remus to join him. As usual, the Gryffindor brought a chocolate bar for him. “Sorry I’m late,” he apologized with a duck of his head. He sagged over his papers, sighing. His own bar of chocolate lay unopened. He supported his head in one hand.

“Do you feel well?” Severus ventured with narrowed eyes, his mouth twisted down into a frown of distaste. Madam Pomfrey had acted very urgently, after all. He was surprised that she hadn’t kept him longer, the way he yawned and shivered.

The prefect blinked a few times as if to clear the bleariness from his eyes. “Yes, Severus, I’m fine.” He flipped open his Potions textbook. “Do you mind helping me with the OWL level potions? I’m trash at them.”

He lifted his eyes to appraise him. “I can alter your recipes,” he said, “but if you intend to practice brewing, we can’t do that here, and you shouldn’t do it while you’re not feeling well. Each potion requires a certain measure of your magic. It releases differently when you’re ill, and it can botch up the potion.”

Remus rubbed his eyes with his fist. “No—the recipes are all I need.” Severus took his textbook and started to copy the notes onto a piece of parchment. He didn’t interrupt as the Gryffindor lowered his head onto the table and drifted off to sleep with his face beside the chocolate bar. A bit of drool pooled on the table beneath his face. Dark eyes darting up to Remus’s face, he tried to place exactly where he had heard the name Greyback before and what Remus could possibly have to do with him.

Over a week later, Severus found himself shadowing Remus to Hogsmeade. It was mid-October, and the day chilled him in spite of his heavy robes. “Where do you want to go?” Remus asked him. “I’ve never seen you at Hogsmeade before,” he said, “so you can go wherever you want.”

He had pooled all of his pocket change from the last five years and managed to produce twenty-four sickles and forty-two knuts. He had no galleons. The masses of people made him uncomfortable in their chatter and laughter, and he shivered. “Somewhere warm,” he finally said. The cold wind made him sniffle, but Remus looked chipper, skin plush and smile broad, his broad face as attractive as ever. He had a scarf wrapped around his neck, but he left his hands bare, and they didn’t turn pale from the chill.

“I suppose we could go to Honeydukes,” Remus said, “but it’s usually pretty crowded. Three Broomsticks is nice, and people say that the bartender is really good-looking. They sell butterbeer. Or Madam Puddifoot’s typically has fewer people, but a bunch of couples go there. And then there’s the Hog’s Head, if you don’t mind—”

Severus glowered at the prefect. “Lupin, I’m freezing! Just pick a place!” He didn’t know how Remus had suddenly become impervious to the weather, but he felt that Remus’s traipsing about in the chill wouldn’t contribute to his continued health.

“Sorry! Let’s go to Madam Puddifoot’s. C’mon, we’ll be able to hear ourselves think in there.” The Gryffindor boy pressed close up against him and shepherded him toward a small cafe with the name in all pink. He wanted to turn back, but Remus was warm, and today, his breath smelled purely of chocolate when it wafted across Severus’s ear. “Do you want to take that table in the corner?”

He nodded once and made a beeline for the small table against the windows. A flush touched the bit of his ear where Remus’s breath had brushed. As he sank into the bench, a somewhat dumpy witch approached them with a broad smile. She had stubby little hands. “What can I get for you boys today?” she asked kindly, glancing from one to the other.

“I’ll have a coffee,” Severus said with a curt nod, while Remus beamed back at her, replying, “I would like a tea, please.”

The witch made off, and Remus looked back at Severus. “So how is the spell-inventing going?” he asked, voice low after he appraised the company briefly to ensure that they weren’t overheard. “What else are you working on?”

Severus smirked and flicked his wand right at Remus’s face before the Gryffindor had the chance to duck away. “ Langlock ,” he uttered. Remus waited a moment for an effect, and when nothing happened, he opened his mouth to ask what the spell had done. But his tongue had latched itself to the roof of his mouth and refused to the move, resulting in a gnarled sound rising up from his throat. Severus inclined his eyebrows. “What was that?” he asked, head tilted to the left. Remus closed his mouth with a click, and Severus snorted, cancelling the spell. “I practiced that one on Peeves. The first time, I made him stop breathing.”

“Now that would’ve been a tragedy.” Remus chuckled, shaking his head. “Are you going to have them patented? I mean, you could make a career out of spell inventions once we’re out of school, and with the potions alterations, too.”

“I plan to. They don’t issue spell patents until you come of age, though.” Madam Puddifoot returned with the coffee and tea, and they thanked her. Remus promptly dumped sugar and milk into his tea, while Severus had his coffee black. It made the prefect wince when he took the first sip. “I don’t know if I’ll do it forever, but it’s an option. A start. Have you given any thoughts to after Hogwarts?”

Remus’s face shifted into a twist of distaste, and Severus knew that he had touched a nerve. “I—I’m afraid I don’t have many career prospects,” he muttered, stirring his tea intently. “I just get sick so often. Nobody would want me in a job where other people had to rely on me for much.”

He drew a quirk between his eyebrows. “You could always work out of home,” he said. “You know Latin. That’s a good step to becoming a spell inventor, or even a curse breaker. Or combine that with Ancient Runes, there’s a whole field of Runology that allows private work.”

The prefect’s expression brightened a bit, but before he could respond, the door banged open to allow in James and Lily with Sirius guiding Marlene McKinnon by the arm. Severus grabbed his wand in his sleeve. James and Lily picked a table, and they didn’t seem to have seen the two boys, but Sirius glowered at them from across the room. He left Marlene beside Lily and approached with his jaw locked. Severus stood to greet him, jaw tight. “Severus, don’t,” Remus whispered, and he scrambled to his feet as well.

Black had clenched fists, but he didn’t have his wand in his hand. “Look what we have here,” he purred. “Two young lovers.” He surveyed the scowls that each other boy wore, and then he continued, “Or maybe not.” Behind him, James called his name in a sharp beckoning. “Remus, I find it of utmost importance to inform you now that I have no intentions of withdrawing from our scheduled meeting with Prongs and Wormtail. Prongs seemed to express worry about that, and I assure you that it is not the case, if you had your doubts.”

“I didn’t,” Remus responded, lifting his head. His face had grown a little paler. “You are my friend , Sirius. I don’t know why that has suddenly come into question. We’ve been friends for five years.” He glanced over to Severus. “I believe that you have a date to return to, don’t you? Marlene is quite a catch.”

Sirius smirked. “Yes. We’ve each caught our fish now, haven’t we?” He winked at Remus in suggestion. “Tell me, Moony, if I’m your friend, then what is he to you?”

Inhaling patiently, Remus replied, “He is also my friend. This may surprise you, but a person can actually have more than one friend at a time. It doesn’t violate any codes of friendship.”

With a jerk of his head, the pureblood appraised the two others. “No, it doesn’t,” he growled with a curl to his mouth. “But befriending a Death Eater does.” Dark brown eyes grazed Severus the way one would observe an animal. “Tell me, Snivellus, did your Dark Lord already favor you with the Dark Mark? Or is that something reserved only for those closest to his almighty chest? Were you already appointed to his army?”

Severus snatched up the sleeve of his left arm. Remus sucked in a painful, bated breath at the crude action. But the pale flesh was barren. “I’m no more Death Eater than you, Black,” he growled. He balled his hands into fists. “But you’re awfully excited to project that onto someone else, aren’t you?” Sirius’s dark face twisted in confusion. “You know what the muggles say. Whoever smelt it, dealt it.”

The crack of Sirius’s hand against Severus’s jaw resounded through the small cafe. The skimpy Slytherin student hit his head on a table and spilled a pot of tea in an attempt to catch himself. It dumped into his lap. He cursed loudly and writhed under the sizzling hot liquid, palming his wand, and he limped with his wand thrust at Black’s chest. “That’s enough! ” howled Madam Puddifoot as she stamped over to the three boys. “Get out, the lot of you! Don’t come back! You bloody imbeciles!”

Remus whispered, “ Scourgify ,” and the hot tea funneled up out of Severus’s lap. Severus grimaced at Black, but Marlene burst into tears, and Lily had turned as red as her hair while James, flustered and humiliated, refused to make eye contact with anyone. “Let’s get out of here,” Remus encouraged, and limping from the burns down his front, Severus headed toward the front of the cafe and out into the cool autumn breeze. The crowd had died down a little; most students had evacuated into the shops to keep warm. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine.” Severus massaged the forming bruise on his jaw with a wince.

A crinkle of worry appeared between Remus’s eyebrows. “Are you sure? He hit you pretty hard—”

“I’m fine!” snapped Severus, and he fixed his baleful eyes upon Remus, who nodded aptly in agreement. He then scowled at the ground. “How did you become friends with such an outrageous arsehole?” He kept to the street, eyes ahead to the castle. Hogsmeade was no better now than it had been two years ago, but at least he had escaped with all of his money still intact. Madam Puddifoot had hurled them out before she collected their payment.

The Gryffindor sighed. “Sirius isn’t always so bad. He’s always been good to me, and his parents don’t exactly make it easy for him, being in Gryffindor.” His mouth twisted downward. “You’re everything that he has learned to hate. It’s a defense mechanism. If he could loosen up a little bit, he would see that you’re nothing like he has made you out in his mind, but he just—he clings too closely to his ideas, and beliefs, and he can’t stop to consider when he might be wrong…” Remus drifted off. “I feel like you don’t really care what I have to say about Sirius.”

Severus snorted. “You would be correct in that regard.” As they turned to leave the village, the gusty autumn wind dashed dried leaves all about them. He followed Remus’s gaze to the distant outline of the Shrieking Shack. “Did you want to go see that?” He wanted to get back to the Slytherin dormitories and put some burn salve on his thighs and bruise salve on his face. But Remus had invited him to Hogsmeade, and so far, the outing had decidedly underwhelmed both of them.

To his surprise, Remus shuddered. “ N-No! ” He cleared his throat. “Uh, no. Definitely not. We need to get back to Hogwarts, and I can take you to the Hospital Wing. Madam Pomfrey will want to look at your burns—”

“I have burn salve in the common room.” That didn’t make the limping easier now, but he could handle it. He could handle most things. He liked to consider himself resilient.

“Right. I guess Slughorn keeps you all stocked up on that stuff?”

Severus snorted. “Slughorn wouldn’t notice if some of us dropped off the face of the earth. He only cares about those who will amount to something. I’m hardly at the top of that list.” The pinch of his burned skin made him winced. “I brew my own remedies. They’re more effective than Slughorn’s swill, anyway.” He glanced over his shoulder to ensure that no one could overhear. “He follows the book exactly. Advanced Potion Making was published over a century ago, and it ignores all of the new discoveries in…” He looked back up to Remus. “I feel like you care as little about my potions as I do about Black.”

Remus chuckled. “Maybe so.”

The following weeks passed with ease, but Remus’s crest of health faded gradually until one day in the library, when he again dozed off over his textbook after sleepily reporting that he had to meet Madam Pomfrey at five. The Gryffindor student fidgeted and snorted in his sleep. His hands curled into claw-like forms, and once, he bared his teeth into a low snarl. Severus woke him at fifteen til five. “I finished copying the recipes you wanted. These are the ones you should use for your OWLs, not the ones in the book.”

“Oh, thanks, Severus.” Remus shivered once. As their hands brushed, Severus felt the flush of heat from his skin. “I have to go see Madam Pomfrey. Um, I’m not going to be in class again…”

“I’ll cover your notes,” Severus promised.

Relief leaked a bit of color back into the prefect’s gray face. “Thank you. You’re a lifesaver.” He stumbled a bit as he stood, and he leaned heavily onto the table. His hands quivered. His face twitched in places with strange muscular jerks. “I’ll—I’ll see you when I’m feeling better. In a few days.” Remus scrambled his things and made off toward the library exit. A strange stagger punctuated his step, but Severus didn’t pursue him, as he moved with haste. His mouth quirked downward, wondering what on earth afflicted Remus so badly, why it returned so often.

The waters quieted in regards to Black; the pureblood occasionally shot them looks in the library or when they partnered in class, but he had thrown no more punches. Remus attributed it to Marlene, as the two locked faces whenever they had a free moment. The next month, Severus and Remus skipped the Gryffindor versus Slytherin quidditch match to sit in the library. Madam Pince had gone to watch the game, so they were alone. Remus kept fidgeting with discomfort. “It’s time for your monthly appointment,” Severus observed as he made notes in his textbook.

Remus snatched upright. “You figured it out?” His Adam’s apple bobbed in a desperate gulp.

“No. I merely observed the pattern.” He lifted one black eye to Remus to gauge his reaction. The tremors in his hands had kept him from writing effectively, so he toyed with an old quill.

Pursing his lips, the Gryffindor student cleared his throat. “Oh.” He mopped a hand through his sandy-colored hair. “Were you researching?”

A heavy sigh flushed out of Severus’s nose. “No. It’s your business, not mine.” That was a lie. He had started looking for the name Greyback in the library books, but he hadn’t managed to place it yet. But so many magical ailments followed Remus’s particular set of symptoms that, medically, Severus didn’t know where to begin guessing. “You don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong, and I keep mine to myself. You can tell me when you’re ready, if you’re ready. Until then, I can wait.”

Exhaling a sigh of relief, Remus sank a little bit into his chair. “Thank you,” he murmured. His amber eyes lowered to the floor. “You would think differently of me if you knew,” he mumbled, “and I don’t want to risk that. I like being your friend.”

Severus narrowed his eyes. “You think me rather petty, don’t you?” He scrawled another spell onto his parchment with a grumble. “Hold still. I want to see if this works.”

The prefect sat upright and began to object, “Severus, maybe not—” but he had already thrust his wand in an upward flick and thought, Levicorpus! Remus flipped out of his chair and dangled upside down by his ankle. “Put me down!” He thrashed around in the air. His robes fell around his face, and he wriggled against them. “Put me down!” A heated flush rose to his face. His eyes tinted yellow like they had that day by the lake. “Put me down, Severus!” he snarled. The deep growl, fierce and inhuman, entered his voice again.

But it wasn’t the sharp demand that caused Severus to cancel his spell. He heard uneven, clumping footsteps in the hallway, and he flicked his wand to drop Remus back to the ground just as Peter Pettigrew raced into the library. The chubby Gryffindor boy dashed up to them, but when he reached them, he doubled over at the hips and rested his hands on his knees, panting heavily. “Remus!” he gasped. His tongue lolled out of the side of his mouth in a way that almost mirrored a hot dog. “It’s James—he took a bludger to the head! Madam Pomfrey can’t get him to wake up!” The boy wheezed and threatened to collapse. “Dunno—I dunno what we’re gonna do without him. I haven’t seen Sirius all day.” He looked up at Remus with desperate and fearful eyes. “He didn’t go to the game. I don’t think he saw what happened. I haven’t found him anywhere. It may just be me tonight…”

Remus waved him off. “No, Peter, it’s alright. You don’t have to do that.”

“But you—”

“I’ll be fine,” Remus confirmed in a tone that left no room for argument. “It’s too dangerous for you to go alone.” He stole a sideways glance to Severus, and Peter’s face became an ogle, like he feared he had said too much. “I need to go,” he said, “but I want you to tell me about that spell later.” He went to gather his stuff, but Peter intercepted.

The squat boy stammered, “No, no, Moony, you just go the Hospital Wing. I can take your stuff back for you. I know how you like it organized. Be safe, okay? I’ll try to find Sirius.”

They separated and made off, the dumpy Pettigrew organizing the notes while Remus left the library. Severus watched but didn’t interrupt as the boy counted the textbooks and alphabetized them before he scrambled off. The early sunset streaked through the window, and Severus took up his things and headed in the opposite direction toward the Slytherin dungeons. A perpetual chill rose up from the underground of the school, but he liked to stop at the windows that showed the underside of the lake. Sometimes, the merpeople would dart by and stare back at him. The deep of the Black Lake was much safer when he wasn’t submerged in it, trying to gather up all of his library books.

He saw another reflection approach his in the glass, and he whirled around. “Black,” he greeted, eyes narrow and voice curt. One hand wrapped around the hilt of his wand. Sirius smirked back at him. Severus set his jaw. “Your pet Pettigrew is looking for you. You might want to locate him before he distresses so much that he wets himself,” he sneered.

“Oh, don’t you worry about Wormtail.” Sirius leaned against the glass wall of the hallway. The lazy smirk danced on his lips. “Maybe you should worry about Remus, instead. Never know what he’s up to on these nights, do you?” Severus’s mouth curled downward at the edges. “Of course you don’t. He won’t tell you. He doesn’t trust you. Remus knows better than to trust a snake. He just wants to make up to be your friend because he feels sorry for you…”

“That’s a lie.” Severus bared his teeth. “Budge off, Black. Go kiss Potter’s boo-boo like you want to.”

A concerned shadow passed over Sirius’s face. “James?” he echoed stupidly, and Severus realized that Peter had spoken the truth—Black hadn’t attended the quidditch game at all.

With a sneer, he replied, “He took a bludger to the face. Maybe you didn’t notice because your head was shoved too far up your own stinking arse.”

Black gulped past a lump in his throat, and he shook it off. “If you want to know what’s up with Remus,” he said, face turning blank with seriousness that Severus had never seen him portray before, “then go to the underside of the Whomping Willow. There’s a knot on one of the roots. If you push it down, the tree won’t hurt you, and you can drop down into the tunnel beneath it. Follow that, and you’ll find out what’s up with Moony.” He uncrossed his arms and turned on his heel to strut away, and Severus squashed down the temptation to hex his back. Black had, after all, given him advice. And while Severus wanted Remus to trust him, he also wanted to know what had consumed his friend.

Yes, it was true that Severus Snape should never have trusted Sirius Black. If he had cared a little less about Remus, he wouldn’t have followed the bit of decidedly unfriendly advice. Black had almost certainly spent the day baiting this trap for him. But Severus had decided that he was prepared to face whatever Black had prepared on the off-chance that it allowed him to trace Remus. So with the dim light of his wand, he proceeded beneath the earth along a root-ridden path. Silence rang out for a long while as he plodded onward, but as the ground began to incline, he heard a low groaning in a familiar voice.

He hastened up the slope and climbed the wooden steps into the first level of a shanty-looking house. The Shrieking Shack, he acknowledged with a quick glance around. It was barren of all furniture and dusty with great gashes on the walls. Then that horrible groaning started again. “Remus!” he called. He jogged up the narrow staircase, taking them two at a time. “Remus!” he called again when he emerged into a thin hallway.

Then, weak, a voice called back to him, “Severus?”

He swung on the nearest door from which the voice had emerged and jiggled the handle, but it was locked from the inside. Alohomora, he thought, and the latch undid itself and swung open. Remus sat on the floor, blinking blearily up at him. Heavy chains bound both his arms and his ankles. “Severus—no! Go away! You can’t be here!” Remus tremored all over from head to toe. Even his jaw chattered. Sweat peeled off of him.

Severus dropped to his knees. “Who did this to you?” he demanded. With one tap of his wand, the cuffs fell free, and Remus collapsed in front of him into a seizing lump. “Was it Black? He sent me to find you! Is this is his idea of a joke? Remus!”

The Gryffindor wrenched his head upward to gaze at Severus with mingled horror and fear. “Run.” The feral glint filled his eyes, and his neck twisted backward, fingernails digging at the wood and leaving bloody streaks on the floor. “Sev-er-us,” he choked out. “Run.” His voice became more strangled. All amber affection abandoned Remus’s gray face. The cruel yellow replaced it. His hands gnarled and claws sprouted from his fingers. “I’m—a—werewolf!” The final word choked and shuddered when Remus’s back arched. His clothing ripped off of him and fell to the floor. When he lifted his head, the familiar face melted out into a snout. In place of the friendly voice, a whimper of pain sounded.

He stumbled backward, lifting his wand to defend himself, but he couldn’t rip his gaze away from the body of his friend melting and expanding, the teeth and claws sprouting, the wracking tremors overtaking him as flesh and bones twisted into a form not quite a wolf, but far from human. “Remus?” he whispered, disbelieving, as the wolf towered above him, perched on its hind legs.

The large snout wriggled and nosed toward him, fat and wet. Foul-smelling breath fanned across Severus’s face. Then the great lips twisted downward into a growl, and Remus pulled back a great paw in a swipe right at him. He needed no more incentive to run as he whirled around. With a great leap, he hurled himself over the side of the bannister and collapsed onto the floor below. He rolled through the landing and bounced back onto his feet. “ Reducto! ” he screamed to the wall. It exploded into splinters. The floor of the Shrieking Shack quaked when Remus landed just a few feet behind him, and Severus put his head down and raced into the blackness of the Forbidden Forest.

A peaceful, chilly mist rose off the dead forest. Fat flakes of snow drifted down from the black sky. The full moon gave him light, gray and mystical, but he couldn’t exert the effort to pull his robes tighter around himself in the mid-November temperatures. He plunged onward into the night with the wolf tearing at the undergrowth just beyond him. One tree shook and creaked as Remus scored his claws against it.

Severus pushed onward through the trees, totally blind to his direction. He didn’t dare look over his shoulder. But he could not outrun a werewolf indefinitely. A great paw forked up behind him and ripped through his clothes, flipping him onto his back. He pointed his wand to the wolf’s chest and howled, “ Stupefy! ” The blast sent the beast hurtling backward where it landed against a tree with a whimper and a moan. He remembered with a pang how he and Remus had practiced that spell against one another in Flitwick’s classroom.

But the spell hadn’t knocked Moony unconscious, as the wolf’s paws twitched, and it struggled to right itself again. Severus bolted back into the wind. This time, he did not stick around to confirm. The scratches in his back stung to the sharp winter air. The chill whistled up into his torn clothing. But he didn’t dare stop to try to examine the damage. He had open wounds now, and the scent of blood would surely attract the wolf. How many hours will he be like this? Severus thought desperately. Remus hadn’t changed until the last light had faded from the evening sky; Severus could only hope that would mean that he would shift back at the first touch of dawn.

Behind him, a tree began to crack. Severus paused in his step to search for the offending trunk and found Moony teeth-deep in a pine. As he retreated, yellow eyes spotting Severus, the tree leaned and twisted and crumbled between them. The gleaming, feral eyes peered over the bushy, needle-laden branches. “ Incendio! ” Severus howled. A string of flames erupted from the tip of his wand. The trunk ignited. Moony fell backward with a snarl.

With no pause for consideration, he allowed himself to run again, away from the smoke and into the thick of the forest. He could not afford to consider what other creatures lay in the leaves and darkness. He could not afford to consider his own pained chest and lungs or the stinging scratches in his skin. He could only afford to run with his head down and pine needles spraying up in his wake.

For a long while, he heard no sign of the wolf pursuing him, and he paused to catch his breath, back against a tree. The smoke curled, unforgiving, against the black of the night sky; it blotted out all of the stars and muted the silver rays of the moon. He could taste it on the air, but it hadn’t drawn near enough to smother him. Distantly, the orange embers spat and fumed. He had set the Forbidden Forest on fire, destroying all manner of things. “Remus,” he breathed. What if the wolf hadn’t escaped the blaze? What if he had just killed his friend? Eyes pressing closed, he tried to think of a plan. He couldn’t reenter the fire. The smoke would smother him before the flames touched his body, and he wasn’t strong enough to recover the wolf’s body alone. “Remus, please come out now.”

The tree behind him pitched forward with impact, and Severus rolled onto the ground and gazed upward into the great yellow eyes. The wolf’s lips peeled back over its ugly teeth. Saliva dripped to the ground and all over his face. A paw pinned each of his hands down. His wand twisted, but he couldn’t point it upward. “Remus!” he shouted. The wet snout touched his forehead. “Remus, don’t do this!” The claws drew back from his left arm and tore the robes off his front, leaving a stinging rake across his chest.

“Hey, big guy!” A hail of stones rained down upon the attacker. Remus jerked around and balanced on his hind legs. “That’s right, come get me!” Peter Pettigrew danced on the crest of a slope with his limbs splayed. “Wormtail’s ready—oh, shit.” The wolf leapt off of Severus and bowled over the other boy. They both rolled down the slope on the other side. Severus leapt back to his feet and discarded his torn outer robe. The November chill bit into his arms. Blood trickled out of the scratches in his chest and ran down his front.

Wand poised, he climbed the hill and held fast to the trunk of a tree, peering down at Remus. Peter Pettigrew had vanished, and in his place, the wolf dangled a fat rat by the tail. He tossed the rat upward and let him land hard on the forest floor. Then, a giant paw squished him to the ground. The Animagus squeaked in pain and terror. “ Avis! ” Severus cried. A stream of birds jetted from the tip of his wand. They stabbed at the werewolf and caused him to swipe distractedly at the flock. The wolf snatched one of the magical birds out of the air before he danced after them, stretching and pouncing on his hind legs in pursuit of the flock. Severus didn’t run down to the side of the rat until Remus had run out of sight.

Peter drew himself back up into a human. He had a gash leaking from his temple all the way down his face, and he had to blink the blood out of his eye. “Sirius told me about his plan!” he choked out, staggering over. “I came as soon as I could—” With a fist, he dashed the blood off of his face. A grimace covered his pale face. “Merlin, I hate blood.”

“You knew ? You knew that he was a werewolf?” Severus hated the shrill tone of his voice. “He told you?”

A nervous laugh flitted upward. “T-Told us? No, of course not!” Peter wiped the dirt off of his wand and dusted off his striped yellow and red sweater “We figured it out, or actually James did, third year. So we all became Animaguses to—to help out, and keep him under control.” He glanced over his shoulder at the sound of a cracking twig behind them. “Usually it’s all three of us, but I guess Sirius decided to bail on us, and with James in the Hospital Wing…”

Severus pressed the front of his shirt into his bleeding gash. The only thing standing between him and a fully transformed lycanthrope was Peter bloody Pettigrew. “Merlin help us,” he breathed. Sweat streamed into his eyes, and he dashed them hard from the stinging. “Those birds won’t distract him for long. We’re both bleeding.” He lifted his tired eyes back to Peter. “What time is it? How much longer is he going to be—like this? A wolf?”

“Until sunrise. Once dawn comes, he goes back to normal.” Peter whirled around when a tree trunk bent, and Remus prowled from between them. The Gryffindor boy scrambled backward with his wand proffered. He thumped into the front of Severus’s chest. Beyond, the crackling of the fueled fire drew ever nearer. Peter jabbed his wand in the air and cried, “ Alarte ascendare!

With a howl, Remus jetted upward into the air. Severus dove to the side. “What the hell was that for?”

“I don’t know! I’ve never had to fight him with magic before!”

The wolf crashed back down onto the ground and landed on its side. It gasped with pain, and its eyes lolled back in its head for a moment before it struggled back onto its four paws and prowled, lopsided, toward the offender. Severus raised his wand. “ Sectumsempra! ” A ripple of gashes slashed down Remus’s shoulder, and the wolf whirled on him with his lips peeled back over the fearsome teeth.

Remus pounced and tackled Severus to the ground again. He pointed his wand right at the wolf’s snout. “ Steleus! ” he cried, and promptly, a shower of wolf-snot showered over him. He grimaced. Remus lifted a paw to put it over his aching snout, and Severus jerked away.

Peter had righted himself, and he cast, “ Rictusempra! ” Severus flattened himself to the earth so the spell would miss him. The wolf doubled over and thrashed, sneezing and growling intermittently in frustration from the tickling jinx that Peter had placed on him. The squat Gryffindor grabbed Severus by the arm. “I didn’t expect that to work,” he admitted.

Severus opened his mouth to respond, but he found himself sucking in a deep breath of smoke. The fire had begun to blow in their direction. He grappled Peter by the elbow and made deeper into the forest. “Run,” he wheezed, and he didn’t know what he was running from anymore, from Remus, from the flames, from the giant trap that Black had laid out for him. He couldn’t believe this. He had thought many foul things of Sirius Black, but he never would have thought him capable of attempted murder.

As soon as they vacated the vicinity, their spells wore off of Remus, and the wolf barreled past them with the tip of his tail on fire. “ Aguamenti! ” Severus shouted to extinguish the flames. Remus’s gashes continued to leave drops of blood in his wake. But he didn’t swing around at the jet of water that touched him. “Follow him!” Severus yelled to Peter. He hoped that the wolf’s instincts would take them to higher, safer ground.

Branches snapped and crackled and fell to the forest floor, consuming the brush and dead leaves with fire. Severus could make out the silhouette of the wolf in the distance. They charged onward, away from the steady, consuming fire. Peter lost his footing and rolled down into the dip of a valley. Severus halted to wait for him, but when the boy’s round face turned in horror, he whirled face to face with the yellow-eyed wolf. Remus wasted none of his time on this occasion; his prey had escaped numerous times, and he had no intention of letting it sneak off again. Severus brandished his wand. But before he could consider an incantation, the claws dragged at the front of his chest and pinned him once again.

The sensation that followed when the fangs pierced his skin made him wonder for a moment if the fire had expanded so quickly to smother his entire body. His shoulder lit in frazzled nerves fighting the venom that pumped into his system. He cried out in pain and writhed. “Remus!” he howled. “Peter, help! ” He turned his head, but he could see nothing except for the gray smear of Remus’s fur. “Peter!” Had the other boy come all this way just to leave him to die now, when the moment was more opportune?

He heard Peter gasp in amazement, and then something heavy crashed straight into Remus’s injured shoulder, bowling the wolf off of him. Small cloven hooves danced right over Severus. The stag used his rack to gore the wolf in the side. Long swipes from the wolf barely grazed the deer’s flanks; he was far too agile and adept to fall victim to the clumsy ministrations of the wounded beast. “It’s James!” Peter called. He dragged himself to Severus’s side. “Can you get up?”

Severus blinked dizzily at the gray picture in front of him. He felt very distant, like he wasn’t real. The vague, floating sensation misted over his head, and he mumbled, “He bit me,” to Peter as his head tilted on his neck. Then, he couldn’t quite tell if he had said the words or thought them, so he said, “He bit me,” again.

“Oh, Merlin,” Peter hissed. He looped an arm underneath Severus’s. “C’mon, we’ve gotta get out of here.” His limbs staggered clumsily beneath him. Behind them, the wolf cried out when James kicked him hard with his hind legs. Remus grabbed the stag around the hind quarters, and James lost his footing and collapsed. “Oh no!”

The Slytherin held his wand out. The bleariness hadn’t faded from his mind; in fact, the cloudiness in his head guided his next words, because a sensible Severus never would have found the prospect of his next spell appealing in the midst of a fire and a duel with a werewolf. “Expecto patronum!” he called. His mind fell back to the day by the lake with Remus by his side before they both fell into the water. And a string of bright white light emerged from the tip of his wand, promptly taking form.

The spiky-furred wolf that he had created tilted its head back and howled to the moon, drawing Remus away from James. Then, the Patronus darted off into the trees with Remus hot on his heels. James sank back to his human form and spat up blood. A few of his teeth had gotten knocked out. He had a white bandage wrapped around his head. “Where in the hell is Sirius?” he gargled. “What is he doing here?” He thrust his thumb at Severus. “Peter?”

Peter gulped. “Sirius told Severus to come here to find out what was wrong with Remus. He told me that—that he thought Remus would take care of the problem for us.” He wiped his nose with the back of his blood-streaked hand. “I came as soon as he told me what he’d done, but by then, the fire already started—he was loose—”

James whirled on Severus. “You started the fire?”

In other circumstances, he would have had a sharp reply readied, but his brain felt fuzzy and his shoulder hurt like a bitch and he wanted to go home. “It was the first spell that separated me from him. I didn’t mean it to set the whole forest on fire.” He sagged against Peter. Nothing felt real. He blinked hard to try to keep himself from fainting.

Peter wiped his face. “James—Severus was bitten.”

The messy-haired boy covered his mouth with his hand. “Bloody hell, Moony is gonna kill us in the morning.”

“If he doesn’t kill us tonight,” Severus mumbled. He switched his wand to his other arm and squeezed it tightly. His shoulder ached and stung, and he tried to keep from moving it.

James’s face pressed into a thick scowl. “Yeah. That is a concern, isn’t it?” He surveyed the other two. “Head for the school,” he directed, “and I’ll keep him off of you as long as I can. Once you’re inside, go straight to Madam Pomfrey. She and Dumbledore are the only ones who know.”

“James,” Peter protested, “you’re by yourself! Moony could kill you!”

“I know.” He faced the flame and smoke-ridden forest. From within, they could hear the wolf tearing at something. “Hurry!” he ordered. “Go! Now!” He transformed mid-step, and the stag jumped back into the bushes. Severus remained frozen in place until Peter began to drag him by the front of his shirt toward the place where the moonlight peered between the trees.

Severus grunted, “We shouldn’t leave him,” but his voice was weak, and Peter shouldn’t respond. He looked up at the sky. The stars had faded; the moon glowed in an ethereal way, uncaring and mystical, unaffected by the drama and pain below. “It’s nearly dawn,” he breathed, and Peter nodded quickly.

A high-pitched squeal caused them both to turn their heads as Remus hurled James with viciously strong paws. The deer scrambled, but one of his front legs caved. “We can’t leave him,” Severus repeated, and he shakily lifted his wand. It was the wrong hand. When Remus grabbed onto James again, he shouted, “ Sectumsempra! ” and another ripple of gashes appeared on the werewolf’s face, leaking into his eyes and blinding him. He released Peter’s support and approached the wolf. The heat of the roaring fire just beyond burnt into his face.

Remus flung James once more, behind the trees and out of sight. The deer did not emerge again. Peter ran to Severus’s side. “Don’t be a martyr!” He flailed his limbs as the wolf encroached upon them, reared up on its hind legs, forelegs dangling in front of it as it sniffed the air in an attempt to locate the prey. Peter melted down into a rat and skidded beneath Remus’s hind legs, seizing his tail with his teeth. It made Remus whirl around. Peter dropped back to the earth, only to have one of the hind legs scoop him up and toss him into the air.

The rat squeaked madly when the front paw seized him and sniffed the rat. Remus turned his back to Severus, and Severus could only see the shadow where the wolf parted its jaws to drop the rat inside. He raised his wand, shaking his head and blinking back tears. “Sectumsempra!” he repeated in a shout, and the bloody lines split across his back. Remus dropped Peter, and the rat skittered a few steps before he collapsed. Rearing around face to face with Severus, the boy kept his wand at the ready. With a snatch of his great paw, Severus found himself knocked free. Remus grabbed his calf, and he whimpered when the wolf bit down there and started to drag him toward the cover of the trees. “Remus,” he panted, “please…” But abruptly, the wolf choked on his blood and collapsed.

Severus wrenched his neck around to look at the sky. The sky had begun to gray with the dawn light. And beside him, the wolf writhed as the claws retracted into slender fingers and the gray fur melted back into the skin. The snout shrank back into an ordinary round face. The sandy hair shrank and shrouded Remus’s face. Severus rolled onto his back with a sigh and stared upward at the graying sky, chest heaving. He closed his eyes. He felt light-headed and woozy.

“Severus?” whimpered Remus. “No, no, no,” whispered the boy in a horrified voice. The grass whistled as Remus dragged himself over to his fallen friend. “No, please don’t be dead. Severus, no!” Big warm droplets of mingled blood and tears fell onto Severus’s face. “I’m so sorry.”

He stirred a bit. “Remus,” he grunted, “I‘m not dead.” He blinked upward to his friend, gray pallor pink as he cried through his screwed up eyelids. The gashes on his forehead dribbled down into his eyes. He wrapped Severus up tight in his arms and bent down. “It’s okay,” Severus whispered against his shoulder. “It’s okay. I’m okay.” He lifted one hand to Remus’s sweaty face and fumbled for his wand. “Let me—Let me heal you.” Remus pressed his bloody face into Severus’s hair and shook with the sobs. “Remus, I had to curse you. I’m the only one who knows the counter-curse. Let me heal you.” The cold bit into his bare limbs, and Severus shivered in spite of the warm lump of werewolf cradling him.

At the feeling of Severus shivering, Remus released him just long enough to shed his robe. “H-Here. You need it more than I do.” He wrapped it around Severus and lowered his head.

Severus caught his face and traced the tip of his wand against the entrance to the wounds. Then he sang softly, “ Vulnera sanentur .” With the flat of his hand, he wiped the tears off of Remus’s cheeks. “ Vulnera sanentur. ” He pushed back Remus’s bangs to check the hairline for additional gashes before he repeated once more, “ Vulnera sanentur .”

“S-Sounds almost like a lullaby,” whispered Remus, eyes slanted downward. He shuddered and wrapped his arms around himself. “I’m so sorry.” He shook his head rampantly, and the tears began to squeeze out again. “I should’ve told you what I was—I should’ve known that Sirius would do something like this… Severus, I’m so sorry.” He doubled over at the middle with a clutch at his stomach.

With shaking hands, Severus fumbled to roll up the sleeve of Remus’s shirt. “I’m going to mend your cuts,” he said, eliciting no response from the distraught boy in his lap. He traced the wounds on Remus’s back and shoulder. Then, he whispered, “We need to find James and Peter.” He shook Remus a little. “Hey. James and Peter. Find them.”

As though summoned, James Potter hauled up out of the burning woods with Peter slung halfheartedly over his shoulder. James clutched a broken arm close to his chest. Peter was pale and shivering from head to toe. “We’re alright,” said James, voice a little stuffy. His nose was twisted to the side, looking broken, and a trickle of blood came from one nostril. “We’re in one piece.”

From across the lawn, Hagrid and Fang emerged from the cabin just as Severus looked up to see Dumbledore hurrying toward the flames with a string of teachers following them. “Eliminate the flames!” he ordered to his staff members with a wave of his hand. The professors went to smother the flames, but Dumbledore stayed right above them, face pensive.

Remus gulped. He drew one arm around Severus, like he could protect him. “Headmaster,” he choked in a strangled voice. “I bit him. I bit him.” He lowered his head into the crevice of Severus’s shoulder and dissolved into inconsolable tears again.

James stumbled forward. “It—It was Sirius,” he said, tilting his head as he attempted to keep Peter upright. “He told Severus to come out here and see what Remus was up to.” He hoisted Peter up higher on his good shoulder. “He told Peter, and Peter came right out—and I came when I woke up—but it wasn’t enough. We couldn’t…” He paused to swallow blood. “We couldn’t hold him off without Sirius.”

The headmaster’s pensive expression did not shift as he nodded slowly. “Hagrid!” he summoned. The large man approached them with his hands wringing uncertainly. “I need you to escort these boys to the Hospital Wing. I believe they’ve all had a rather traumatizing night.” He regarded the four of them once more. “I will meet you once Madam Pomfrey has had a chance to see to all of your injuries. Severus, I need to Floo call your mother—”

No! ” Severus looked up at him, eyes stretching wide. “You can’t tell her—about any of this. She won’t let me come back home if she knows. Please, Professor, don’t tell her!” Remus’s face crumpled in dismay. He put one dirty hand to his face and shivered.

Pressing his lips together, Dumbledore said, “Then that is something else for us to discuss. Hagrid, if you will.”

“O’ course, Headmaster. Can everybody walk?”

Remus helped Severus to his feet and steadied him when he put weight on his bitten leg. “I’m okay,” he grunted through gritted teeth. James shot him a skeptical look, but he kept his eyes fixed on Remus, his arm draped across the werewolf’s shoulders.

In the Hospital Wing, Madam Pomfrey doused he and Remus both in dittany. “Nothing can be done about these bites, unfortunately, son,” she tutted in her usual manner. She might well have told him that he couldn’t help the rainy weather. “But maybe I can keep them from scarring—Mr. Potter, don’t you dare try to fix that nose on your own! I’ll get to you in a moment!”

After she finished massaging a thick green salve into Severus’s wounds, she whirled around and said, “ Episkey! ” to right Potter’s nose, and then she fixed his arm. “All better. Now you just have to wait for the headmaster. Go sit by Mr. Pettigrew.” She then turned the swollen slash-marks on Remus’s face, shoulder, and back. “I can’t fathom what you cut yourself on this time, Remus,” she reported, eyes narrowed. “You’ve never brought back slashes like this before. Do you remember what you cut?”

The werewolf set his jaw and glanced over to Severus before he shook his head, amber eyes on the tile floor of the Hospital Wing. She tutted more. “Of course not. I suppose it’s some sort of poisonous plant. You seem to already be healing from it. I’ll put some dittany on it, just for safe keeping.”

Sharp footsteps drew up on the party. Dumbledore had returned. Beside him, gaze cast low to the ground, stood Sirius Black. Remus averted his gaze, but James jumped to his feet. “ You! ” he snarled. “You idiot! You tried to kill all of us!” Sirius took a shuffling step back. “What is your bloody problem, Sirius?”

Dumbledore cut in, “Please sit down, Mr. Potter. I need to have a proper account of last night’s events to gain clarity on what, exactly, led to the fiasco in the Forbidden Forest.” He appraised Remus, but the boy kept his eyes to the floor. His lips made a pressed, trembling line, like if he moved, he would start crying. “I understand that the three of you became Animagi to help Remus with his affliction. Is that true?”

“Yessir,” grunted Black. Dumbledore lifted his crystalline blue gaze to the attractive Gryffindor and heard his account—Remus was spending more and more time with Severus, and Sirius wanted to scare him off. He didn’t expect that Severus would release Remus from his chains, and he certainly hadn’t predicted that the forest would get set on fire.

When Dumbledore looked to him, Severus muttered, “I wouldn’t have unlocked the chains if I knew.” He folded one arm across his chest. “I thought Black had locked him up there for me to find as a sick joke. Remus was in pain. I wanted to help him.” With his fingers, he massaged his bitten calf. The bite marks were still swollen and angry and painful, if not bleeding. Werewolf, he thought as he traced the scars. He was a werewolf. He could never go home. “When a tree fell between us, I set it on fire to keep him from reaching me. I didn’t intend for the flames to spread.”

“But it didn’t work,” Dumbledore observed.

He scowled. “Not indefinitely, no. But I’m alive, aren’t I?”

Peter mumbled, “Snape was a genius.” His head lolled a little. “He used his Patronus to lead Remus away from us, and used the bird charm as a decoy, too.” He sniffled. He had cried on and off since arriving in the Hospital Wing. “Somebody else would’ve hurt him real bad, or killed him, but Snape kept distracting him so we could escape.” He dabbed at his face with a handkerchief. “It could’ve been a lot worse.”

Black growled, “I think you’re overlooking the obvious solution that Snivellus is too weak to use a really damaging spell.”

“Bollocks,” grunted Remus for the first time. He lifted his head. The yellow gleam had returned to his eyes, and he fixed Sirius beneath it. “Severus reduced the wall of the Shrieking Shack to smithereens to escape from me. He could’ve done the same thing to me. He chose not to hurt me.” He lowered his head once again, mouth a dejected line. “And now he’s cursed because of it,” he whispered. With his fist, he dashed away his angry tears.

Dumbledore regarded Black sharply. “Mr. Black, I find it alarming that, after you led another student nearly to his death, you still have the gall to call him a name in my presence.” Sirius sank a little into his chair. “If it were not a matter of complete and total secrecy, you would be expelled without question.” His blue eyes slid to the other students. “But it is vital that I protect the names of both Remus and Severus. I cannot risk their exposure to the Ministry and the wizarding community. So you are going to serve detention with Madam Pomfrey every evening for the rest of the year, and if you put another toe out of line, you can expect to find yourself with a snapped wand.”

He cleared his throat, and then he continued, “As for you two…” James and Peter straightened. “Pursuing a werewolf into a burning forest was incredibly foolish, but you both emerged relatively unscathed. Your actions to rescue another student and support a friend are commendable, and for that, I reward Gryffindor ten points each.”

Severus squirmed when the old wizard looked at him. “And Severus. You acted to save a friend when confronted with death itself, and still you chose ways to evade and redirect Remus without hurting him because you knew he was not in control of his actions. You could have seriously harmed him without worry, but you decided not to at great personal cost.” He lifted his head and stared down at him through his half-moon spectacles. “One hundred points to Slytherin,” he said. He paused a moment, and his thick, white brow crinkled with worry. “But I’m afraid I must contact your mother. I will not reveal the identity of the one who bit you. I will contact you later in the week to discuss it with you.”

He regarded the other three boys. “I trust that the three of you understand that this is a matter of complete secrecy. What happened last night must not be discussed with anyone outside of this room. Understood?” They all nodded. An easy, sad smile touched Dumbledore’s face. “Then listen to Madam Pomfrey’s orders. Good day, boys.” He left the Hospital Wing with a flourish.

The matron nurse regarded them. “Mr. Snape, I would like you stay here until tonight. I will need to reapply the dittany in a few hours. The rest of you can go.”

“Madam Pomfrey?” he pressed, voice delicate. “I—I really would prefer to rest in my dormitory right now. If I promise to come back before dinner, would it be okay if…”

She frowned hard enough to make him cut off his statement, but then she nodded slowly. “Fine. Before dinner. Don’t do anything difficult. Just rest.”

Severus stood and mumbled a thanks as he limped from the Hospital Wing. He gazed long after Remus, but the other boy had headed in the opposite direction, and Severus felt weariness eating at him. He swung around and lumbered toward the Slytherin dormitories. He passed through the glass hallway, but none of the merpeople waved at him. Back at his dorm room, he put an undetectable extension charm on one of his old socks, and he began to mechanically pack his things into it. The other boys paid him no heed. They never did. Once he had stuffed all of his clothing and books and money into the sock, he pocketed it, and with his burly limp, he stumbled back through the entrance to the Slytherin common room.

Just outside, James Potter waited, raking his hands through his messy hair. He had dark smears of exhaustion under his eyes. “Severus!” Severus blinked. He had never expected to hear James call him his real name. “You’ve gotta—please, please talk to Remus. He’s saying that he’s running away! He won’t listen to me or Peter or Sirius—he just keeps telling us that we don’t understand, that we don’t get it, and that we can’t stop him.” James paused to cough into his elbow. He sniffled hard. The night out in the cold air hadn’t helped any of them. “Please talk to him. I know you don’t owe us anything, but—please.”

Severus pressed his lips into a thin line. “Alright,” he whispered. He couldn’t muster much more than that, and as James plunged back up the steps, he wobbled each time he put down his bitten leg. James led him past the Great Hall; within, the sounds of eating students chattered. No one would notice their absence. Then James wound back down another flight of stairs to the front doors.

For a long time, they were alone. But then came the sound of Sirius Black begging, “Moony, please don’t do this! We’re best friends!”

“Best friends don’t set each other up to be murderers, Sirius,” growled Remus. He hovered his entire trunk behind him. “You’re not my friend. You never were. Not if you think killing someone via werewolf is a good idea.” Pettigrew lumbered after them, puffing hard from the effort of running. “Budge off. Leave me alone. I’m leaving.”

James interrupted, “Remus,” and the sandy-haired werewolf lifted his head to Severus.

Remus’s lips trembled. “Don’t try to stop me, Severus. I’m going somewhere far away, so I’ll never hurt anyone the way I hurt you. I’m never going to bite anyone ever again.” His voice lowered to a hoarse whisper, and his hands tremored so hard that they didn’t stop when he balled them up and shoved them in his pockets. “I am a monster, and I don’t deserve to be around ordinary people. This was a mistake. My parents never should’ve sent me here.” Another fat tear rolled down his cheek, and he didn’t try to wipe it away. Instead, he turned his face away from them, ashamed. “I can’t let myself stay where I’ll hurt someone again.”

“You’re not a monster, Moony,” James murmured. He looked desperately to Severus.

The wounded Slytherin limped over to him. “I’m going with you,” he said, voice flat. Remus yanked his head up to look him in the eye, mouth a small O of surprise. He appraised the other boys. He didn’t want to say any of it in front of them, especially not in front of Sirius Black. But their eyes had fixed upon him, and he had no choice. He leaned inward with his voice soft to marginalize what they heard. “I can’t go home. I know that. And I don’t know what it’s like, being a—a werewolf.”

He tripped over the word. It stung his tongue. “But there’s no point in me staying here. Not without you. You’re the only one who understands. And if you have decided to remove yourself from magical society, then that is a decision that I must make as well.”

Remus shook his head. “No! Severus, that’s for me, not for you. You belong here. You’re smart. You’re doing ridiculous things, editing potions and inventing spells. You’re going to be something great, something better than I ever could be—you’ve got to stay here at Hogwarts.” He leaned forward to Severus’s face. “I—I made a mistake in befriending you. But I know you now. You’re everything I ever hoped to become. I’m just a mistake.”

He grasped Remus’s hand. “You can leave with me or stay with me. That’s your choice. But I’m going with you, regardless.”

His hand shuddered as he reflexively made to pull it back against his body, but Severus did not relent. At the feeling of those warm fingers curling through his, he stilled. He rested the crest of his head against Severus’s. “I—I suppose we can go, then.” His voice was broken, and Severus tipped his head forward to briefly brush his lips against Remus’s. Remus’s eyes closed. “Severus, I’m sorry.”

Granting a small, sad smile in response, he flicked his wand to Remus’s trunk so that it shrank down to the side of a small stone. Then he stuffed it into his pocket. With a gentle tug to Remus’s arm, the two of them turned and strode out of the front doors of Hogwarts into the pale chill of the morning sunlight.