"So, Lupin," Professor McGonagall said. She eyed him from behind her spectacles, and Remus became slightly more uneasy. "Well?"
Remus cleared his throat. "It's about Severus Snape."
"He was immobilized," Remus said quickly, "at eleven thirty last night." He paused. "I don't think he would have been able to get free without help."
"I see," said Professor McGonagall. She continued to gaze at him.
"And at eleven thirty," he added, belated, "the hallway with the latest, er. Prank. It was clear." They'd wandered past McGonagall's office not three minutes before they'd caught Snape out of bed; there was no way he could have done anything in those three minutes without Remus knowing.
"I see." She thought a moment. "Given your friendship with the Head Girl, may I assume it is from them that you acquired this information?" Remus stared at her. "About the latest - prank." Remus nodded, feeling uneasy. McGonagall was acting very strangely. "Very well," she said. "I trust this information will stay between the five of you," and here she allowed herself to smile a little. "Seeing as how there appear to be no secrets you can keep from each other."
Remus nodded. "We can stay quiet." He was still waiting for her to begin questioning him on his whereabouts, and how exactly Snape came to be jinxed at all.
Instead, McGonagall added, "This unnecessary confession shows maturity on your part, Remus. You risk detention in telling me this, and to keep a student you loathe out of trouble."
"We - we want to help," Remus blurted. "If we can."
McGonagall looked at him sharply, but not in anger. Remus got the uncomfortable feeling that she was sizing him up. "In time," she finally said quietly, "that offer may be accepted. Until then, do pass your N.E.W.T.S." She paused. "Especially your Defense exams."
Remus nodded; they fully intended to come out with top marks in those if nothing else. "You may find it useful," she added casually, "to learn how to create a true Patronus, if you can." Remus was taken aback - even most N.E.W.T. level students were unable.
"In fact," McGonagall added, as if something extremely important had just occurred to her, "if the five of you would like some extra lessons." She was frowning, thinking rapidly. "Yes. There's so little time, and it's not usually something I'd tutor in, given that it does not show up on the actual exam, but as Dumbledore is so busy," and her head suddenly snapped up to stare at him again. "Tomorrow night, my classroom."
Remus hesitated. "Why? Does it have anything to do with Frank Longbottom and what happened last--"
"You would like to help," she said gravely. "Part of that is, and always will be, not asking why." Remus nodded, head spinning wildly. She added, "Convince Lily and James, if you can."
"They'll be there," Remus told her.
"And do not," she added carefully, "mention this to anyone else."
Remus shook his head. He had no intention of doing anything of the sort.
"Extra tutoring?" Sirius said. "Are you mad?"
Remus sighed. "McGonagall was quite adamant."
"Sirius," Remus said, "you don't have to go if you don't want to, all right?" Remus opened his notes on the last jinxes they'd been learning. Their first N.E.W.T. was barely two weeks away.
Sirius sat down beside him and was uncharacteristically silent. Finally, he said, "you know, I've been thinking a lot about things - since, well. Since last term."
Remus knew exactly to what Sirius was referring; he thought he might never get those few moments of utter terror out of his memory. He still felt guilty every time he thought about it - James had taken charge immediately while he'd simply panicked about where Sirius might be.
"Yes," he said, going back to the jinxes.
"I think." Sirius started again. "I want us to come to some kind of agreement."
Remus looked at him blankly. It was true they'd been seeing each other for most of the year, off and on for ages. It was also true that this last year, they'd been closer than before, but -
"I just think," Sirius was saying, "that - it's just important. It is to me."
Remus was silent as he watched Sirius get up and go to bed.
The next morning the only thing people could talk about was the grotesque illusion the first years found near the greenhouses. Not one singular body this time, but severed limbs, heads, more. The reports differed. It was obvious however, that whoever had done it had gotten quite creative. The group of ten children were currently sitting drinking hot cocoa in their dorm room, being fussed over by the Madam. Three of them had thrown up.
"We have to do something," Lily said to Remus at breakfast, clenching the handle of her spoon so tightly her hands were going white. Everyone else - being James and Sirius, with Peter trailing along behind - had disappeared, probably to check the greenhouses out. "Theresa! Come over here."
Remus watched Theresa and Lily instructing the prefects for a schedule of subtle patrols through the halls. He didn't notice himself bending his own cutlery handle until he accidentally banged his knuckles on the tabletop. The sharp noise made Lily's head swing around instantly.
Remus would have bet his last ten Knuts he had she'd already gone for her wand.
"--nothing," Peter whispered in their study period.
Remus had been staring at his book, alternating between disgust at himself, and panic. In literally a month they were going to be done school, and before that he was going to have to get through one more full moon (two days), learn how to create a Patronus (six hours), figure out what to do about what Sirius had said (who knew when), and pass his exams. That wasn't even counting the very real attempt that someone was making to wreak havoc within the school itself.
"Not a trace?" Remus whispered back. It was no use; he'd never be able to concentrate on his notes. Sirius's question was the first thing pushed to the back of his mind; if he could get through the next month, then maybe he could give him an answer. Schoolwork, unfortunately, was a close second. The exams seemed impossibly far off; time was moving so very slowly, and the entirety of it was taken up by things other than notes and classes - things like danger. "Not even a spell remnant?"
"People are saying that it can't be amateur magic, that it has to be really powerful witches or wizards," Peter murmured, and then stared fixedly at his desk as the professor glared at them, as if she'd caught them out being naughty. Remus dismissed her from his mind nearly as swiftly as he'd dismissed the chance of studying.
"I heard they saw," but Remus was loath to say it out loud. Saying it out loud made it true, gave the nebulous rumour form. He didn't want to do anything of the sort.
"I heard goblins, trolls, a giant, marshmallows, and, well." Peter looked disgusted for a moment. "Severed heads on pikes."
"What was it, really?" Remus said quietly.
"Don't know," Peter told him as the class finally ended. Remus gathered his things up quickly, simply grateful that the class was over. Class was just one more thing that they had to get through before anything useful could be done. It used to be that 'useful' translated to 'mayhem'.
"James was supposed to meet us, he was going to fill us in," Remus started, but then ducked to the side as Rodolphus Lestrange and one of his friends pushed their way past him and Peter. They didn't even look at either of them, preferring to shove them out of the way as if they were completely invisible.
Remus gritted his teeth and was going to mutter to Peter, and then Snape slid past him, head bowed. His bag was torn, and he was hugging it to his chest protectively. "What's in the bag?" Remus muttered, falling into step just a little behind Snape. Peter trailed after Remus, looking worried. For the first time, Snape said nothing. "So here's my question," Remus said, making sure to keep at least a foot behind Snape in case he decided to try anything. "Do you have any idea what the best way to create an illusion would be?"
Remus followed Snape down the second floor staircase, keeping an eye on both the back of his robes as well as Lestrange, who was heading down the hall, apparently ignoring his tails. "Because," Remus added, "I'm considering trying my hand at one, and I've heard you're the person to talk to."
"Remus," Peter warned, looking more worried. They were heading through the entry hall and straight for the stairs that led down to the Dungeons.
Remus pulled his wand out casually, obviously. Snape still hadn't acknowledged their existence. "What would it take to create a flesh and blood illusion?" he asked. They were on the first step to the Dungeons. The light was getting a little lower, and the faint smell of lake water was already evident, air moist and a little humid. "Because that's a hell of a spell, getting someone to feel dead, as well as look dead."
"We shouldn't--" Peter started, but fell silent. They descended the stairs in silence. Remus was wary, of course he was, but he was fairly certain that he could handle Snape. There were more important things to consider, like the question of why Snape was following Lestrange, rather than walking with him, and where Lestrange was going in the first place.
And Snape might know something. He might let something slip.
"Or is it too tough for you?" Remus asked politely, as if it had just occurred to him. "Can you not manage it? It would be difficult, true, maybe you're not able--"
It worked. "You'd start with combining the Fallacis charm with a Novus spell," Snape hissed, and then swivelled around. They'd made it to the bottom of the stairs; Lestrange was visible at the end of the hallway, talking to two other students. Snape continued hugging his bag to his chest. "It's magic probably too advanced for a half-breed," he sneered, eyes narrowed.
"Remus," Peter all but moaned, "come *on*."
It was probably time to get the bloody hell out of there, it was true, before anyone did anything potentially damaging. Remus nodded to Peter, and then looked once more at Lestrange, who was standing in the doorway. It was impossible to see what he was doing, but Remus didn't need details to know he didn't like the look of it. As he was squinting, Lestrange finally looked back and saw their odd little group. He stared at them for a minute. Snape saw Remus looking behind him, whipped around, and saw Lestrange, too. After a moment, Lestrange very carefully closed the door to the Potions classroom.
Remus backed away from Snape a few steps. "Looks like you're late for class," he said. Peter was nearly halfway up the stairs. Remus waited for Snape to retaliate, draw his wand - half of him almost wanted him to. But Snape just stared at him with loathing, until Remus backed all the way up to the landing.
He still didn't put his wand away until he was safely in the Entrance Hall.
Of course, it was deserted, and any number of tricks could be let loose. Still.
Safer. Remus kept his fist closed around his wand, even in his pocket. It was
ingrained habit now, and Remus very much doubted he'd ever shake it.