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Another One Goes By by Elphaba and Boyfriends
Chapter 17 : I Smell A Rat
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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Spring transitioned to summer as another full moon came and went.

The final weeks of school leading up to exams were blissful ones. Clio and Remus spent their weekends together, their discussions turning frequently to summer plans. They would spend the first two weeks of break in the Mediterranean, and return to Hogwarts a few days before the full moon.

“After visiting my family, I may make a few other stops before coming back,” Clio said.

“I understand. You should see your friends,” he quietly responded.

“You could meet me, if not in Chicago then in Boston or New York.”

“America's too far, I'm afraid. I wouldn't feel safe there.”

“Safe?”

“I need to feel safe, Clio. I don't expect you to understand. There's no way you could.”

“I want to.”

“I know,” he said, smiling sadly. It baffled her that he could look sad while smiling. “That's enough for me.”

“I'm going to miss you,” she said, cocking an eyebrow suggestively. “I'll dream about you every night.”

He flushed, “You won't be having so much fun that you'll forget about me?”

“Of course not! Why would you think that?”

He smiled, still looking sad. “I was only kidding,” he said, not admitting that he lived with the small but nagging fear that, eventually, she would grow tired of him.

“So, do you have anyone to visit, other than the Ministry people you mentioned. Any relatives?”

“No. None who I care to see, at least.” Their eyes met for a moment, and hers begged him to go on. He sighed. “The Wizarding War was hard on everyone.”

Clio nodded, feeling suddenly that her quest was selfish and pointless. Lots of people had lost family and friends to the war, and they got on with their lives.

She still wanted to introduce him to her friends from Salem, and a compromise presented itself when her friend Jenn sent a letter saying that they might all be coming to visit in August to watch the Quiddtich World Cup. Another of the Mugbloods, Bernie, covered sports for the American wizarding paper The Sorcerers' Times and had scored press credentials. He thought he might be able to get tickets for the rest of them at a discount. Clio wrote back with an offer to pay for everyone's tickets, since they had pitched in for her guitar. Jenn responded with a quick note that said simply:

Your boyfriend already paid us back. We have to meet him, now. It would be lovely if you could arrange for a tent.

Clio confronted Remus with Jenn's note just before dinner that evening.

"So when were you planning to tell me that you paid for the entire guitar?" she asked.

He set the parchment he'd been looking at down on his desk and stood up. "Well, minus the twenty percent you put down originally," he said lightly. "Henry promised not to say anything about it."

"Jenn didn't promise anything, although she only told me because I offered to buy her tickets to the World Cup," she replied, walking up to him and staring at him intently.

"Ahh."

"So, I'll buy your ticket, instead," she said, sliding her arms up his shoulders and around his neck.

"You don't have to do that," he said, leaning down to kiss her.

"Yes, yes I do," she said, kissing him back. Her sly, crooked smile made an appearance, "Will you come with me?"

He smiled, wrapping his arms around her waist. "I guess I could." Dinner was almost over by the time they finally made it down to the great hall.

It was still up in the air as to whether he'd be able to get the wolfsbane potion over the summer or not. Dumbledore had already talked to Snape about it, and said that he was mulling it over. Clio rolled her eyes when she heard this, but tried to be nice to Snape, just in case it might help.

He had begun periodically stopping by the photo lab again to insult her taste in music and men, clearly trying to bait her into an argument. She knew from the way he smirked at her that he suspected her motives for remaining cordial. She was never quite sure whether he was disappointed or pleased whenever she resisted his attempts to rile her up.

The one time she decided to strike back had more to do with his comment at the quidditch match than anything else. She'd happened to throw on her red hoodie to keep out the dungeon chill that day, and when he showed up to trash the new Merlin's Beard album she was listening to, decided to call him out.

"So, why would a half-blood want to join the Death Eaters?" she asked, watching with satisfaction as his sneer twisted into a scowl.

"What?" he said flatly.

"The Wizard of Oz, Little Red Riding Hood," she said, tugging at her sweatshirt. "Those are both muggle stories. I can't imagine that many purebloods would be familiar with either one."

"Really? You imagination much be quite limited then. I can imagine many likely scenarios, such as attending a muggle studies class."

"Hmm, okay," she said lightly. "I suppose that if I really wanted to know I could just look it up," she added, then returned her full attention to the developing potion she was brewing, ignoring the holes he burned into the back of her head with his eyes.

"You wouldn't waste so much time cleaning this laboratory if you weren't so sloppy with your potions," he said icily, then turned and walked out.

When she wasn't occupied with preparing her own exams, Clio accompanied Remus as he assembled an obstacle course complete with monsters for his. On their very last free weekend before finals began, he took her to Culloden to snare redcaps. He regaled her with a millennium's worth of local history as they meandered through the eerily beautiful moorland.

“It's been nearly 250 years since the battle, but a healthy population of the bloodthirsty little demons still remain, living off of the hapless tourists who come to gawk at the site where more than 1500 Jacobites were slaughtered in an hour--” he cut himself off upon realizing that he'd been talking about the Jacobites for nearly fifteen minutes. “Sorry to bore you,” he added.

“No! It's fascinating! I was just thinking that you'd be a much better History of Magic teacher than Professor Binns,” she said, and meant it.

“Well,” he said, flushing and looking toward his feet, “Making it through one of Binns' classes without falling asleep is sort of a right of passage.”

“You've taught before, haven't you?” she said. He'd never really talked about his life between leaving Hogwarts and returning the previous fall, and her curiosity had finally overcome her reluctance to upset him.

His startled eyes darted up to hers, then down again. He nodded. “Here and there, on and off,” he murmured.

“I knew it! You're a real teacher,” she said. “I mean, not like me. I can only teach runes because I know them so well. You could teach anything because you're really good at teaching.”

The only sounds for the next minute were the wind whistling trough the thick stalks of grass, and their own footsteps. Remus concentrated on the ground stretching out before him as Clio waited patiently for him to speak.

“I was going to tutor Harry,” he said at last. “James asked me before he was even born. Neville Longbottom, too. His grandmother isn't so open-minded as Frank and Alice were – are. It's hard not to think of them in the past tense,” his voice trailed off, his eyes staring off into the distance.

“Oh, Remus--”

“There they are!” he whispered excitedly, grabbing her arm and turning her to face several red-eyed, weather-beaten little men. She thought they slightly resembled gnomes, but with larger teeth. Much larger.

“Wands at the ready!” he said, already striding toward them.

“Got it,” she said, searching her pockets for the crate they'd brought to transport the redcaps in. She'd shrunk to a convenient carrying size, and now she couldn't remember where she'd put it.

The redcaps were easily subdued with simple charms, and Remus was already holding three by the ankles by the time she'd found the crate in her left front pocket.

“Got the crate?” he asked, eyes darting over the scrub brush, looking for more. The first redcap he'd caught was beginning to stir within his grip.

“Almost,” she said, pressing the top of the crate where several rune symbols converged, triggering the spell to return it to full size.

The redcaps dropped into the crate and the lid slammed shut. Two remained stunned, but that first one had opened its eyes.

Clio pressed a second rune mark on the front of the crate to lock it, just as the first redcap lunged forward, teeth bared. When she pulled her hand away, a few drops of blood fell from it. It was a tiny bite, just on the tip of her index finger, but it revived the other two redcaps almost instantly and all three flew into a rage inside the crate.

"How did you manage to get bitten again?" Remus asked, sounding exasperated. When her eyelids flickered, hurt by his tone, he softened and said half-jokingly, "One day you're going to lose a finger."

"Then I guess I'll just have retire in order to spend more quality time with my remaining limbs," she said grimly, then pulled her flask out and poured a drop of dittany from it onto the wound.

"That's handy," he said.

"Yeah," she answered sullenly, "I figure it makes more sense to carry this around than booze."

"Don't be angry," he said, looking at her with his head tilted down and eyes tilted up. It was impossible for her to feel anything but love whenever he looked at her that way. "Please, just be careful for me, so I don't have to worry so much."

Clio thought of the jagged scar on his belly. She supposed that someone who'd been hurt like he had, and then lost all his friends on top of that might worry more than most.

She took his hands in hers and squeezed. "I'll be careful, for you, I promise," she said, just to ease his mind.

*

It just so happened that the final day of exams, the full moon and Buckbeak's appeal all fell on the same day. Clio had made plans to visit Hagrid that evening, either to celebrate or commiserate. She wasn't able to attend the appeal herself, but submitted several pictures of Buckbeak behaving docilely and adorably along with written testimony vouching for his sweet nature. She feared that nothing short of a miracle could save Buckbeak, now. When she ran into Hagrid that afternoon she could tell by his red, puffy eyes that a miracle had not come.

The execution was scheduled for sunset. Thankfully, Hagrid didn't ask her to attend. She would have felt guilty in refusing if he'd asked her to be there, but also knew she couldn't bear to watch. She was relieved when he told her that Dumbledore himself had volunteered to keep him company throughout the ordeal, and promised to come down as soon as it was over. Hagrid had asked to bury Buckbeak on the school grounds; that was the one request that the Ministry granted.

Clio kissed Remus goodnight shortly after dinner. "I'll see you again after the moon rises, provided I'm not consoling Hagrid all night," she said.

"Don't rush," he replied, "I'm not going anywhere."

She returned to her office to work on grading the exams from that day, and set her work aside once she saw the sun settling on the horizon like a great flaming eye. She roused Nox, and the two of them went down first to the kitchens to fetch two bottles; one of wine and one of whiskey. They took their time walking down to Hagrid's cabin, so that the sun was well and truly down and the last streaks of magenta and orange fading from the sky when they arrived.

Buckbeak was gone from the pumpkin patch, but she could find no signs of blood or death. She knocked on Hagrid's door, and was almost bowled over when he swung it wide, tears streaming down his smiling face. Nox bounded inside and ran over to sniff Fang, who's tail thumped lazily on the floor. Hagrid grabbed Clio with one gigantic hand and reeled her into the cabin, crushing her against his belly in a bone-crushing hug.

"Clio! There's been a miracle! Beaky's escaped!" From the empty bottles on his table and the fumes on his breath, Clio guessed that he'd already been celebrating. He was only too glad to continue the party, so she uncorked the wine while he poured the entire bottle of whiskey into his pail-sized stein. She quickly lost track of time as she drank first one glass of wine, then another, then finally began drinking straight from the bottle.

The full moon was shining through the window when she finally staggered out of his cabin. Hagrid offered to walk her back to the castle, but she doubted that he was capable of walking that far without falling down, himself. At any rate, she hadn't seen the dementors on the school grounds in ages, and was feeling so good at the moment that she was confident she could cast the strongest patronus anyone had ever seen. She wished Hagrid a good night and then lurched out the door, stumbling down the stairs. She whistled for Nox, but no sound came out. Luckily, the dog was already running out ahead of her.

Nox ran in a winding pattern around the grounds, ears perked up, nose in the grass; snuffling eagerly at the trail of some animal. Clio followed behind, her mind back in Remus' bed, wrapped in his arms and sunk into the depths of his silvery eyes. The dog suddenly shot off like a rocket after a vaguely familiar gray rat, presumably the animal she'd been trailing.

"Nox!" Clio called irritably, swaying after her. The dog stopped at an abandoned rabbit burrow where the rat had just disappeared. It would take Nox a while to realize that the burrow had a back exit under a bush several yards away, so Clio reeled over herself. The rat flew out of the hole. Her normally quick reflexes were dulled by the wine, and so her waiting hand closed a split second too late, missing it's tail by an inch.

"Shit," she muttered, as the rat disappeared into the night, Nox chasing after it. Clio's thoughts returned to Remus, feeling his gentle caresses and playful nips; and was only interrupted from her reverie by a high-pitched whine from Nox. The dog had abandoned the chase, and was cowering with her ears flattened against her skull.

Clio looked around (her eyes taking a while to catch up with her head), and spotted a giant bat floating in the air; a deeper shadow among shadows near the whomping willow. But that didn't appear to be the source of Nox's anxiety. An ill wind blew and the temperature dropped. The dog crouched low to the ground, tail tucked between her legs. With a sinking feeling in her stomach, Clio looked up. Dementors, dozens of them, maybe a hundred or more, glided high overhead.

"Nox, c'mre," Clio called to the dog, who was attempting to slink back to the castle, belly grazing the ground. Nox whined to her, but continued on. Clio took a step toward the batlike figure hanging in the air. What at first had looked like giant wings could be a black cloak.

"Nox, come," Clio commanded, taking a few shaky steps toward it. The dog stopped, but wouldn't follow. Clio reversed direction and picked the dog up, hugging her close to her chest to keep her from struggling out of her arms, and began walking resolutely toward what she was almost positive was a human figure cloaked in black.

She felt the wind settle as she approached, and Nox stopped struggling. She looked up, and saw that the dementors had disappeared for the moment. Where they had gone, she wasn't sure. It looked like they had been heading toward the lake. Clio set the dog down in the grass, and she trotted along behind her for the last few steps to where Snape hung suspended unconscious in midair. Clio laughed at the utter bizarreness of the scene.

"Demittocorpus," she said, then winced as he dropped to the ground a little harder than she'd intended.

She would have trod on his wand if Nox hadn't found it first and tried to pick it up in her teeth. Clio grabbed the wand from the dog, getting it from her on the third try. Like him it was dark and spare, and she couldn't resist making a guess at the wood before tucking it into a pocket of her robe and turning her attention to its incapacitated owner.

He lay slumped over on his side. She approached him las if he was an unpredictable dog; ready to jump back in case he turned on her, snarling. She knelt down by his head and tapped him lightly on the shoulder. Nothing happened and (giggling despite the fact that she was growing increasingly worried) she shook him, gently at first then harder when he didn't react.

"Sev'rus, get up," she said. Still nothing. She pressed her hand to his neck, feeling the steady, slow beating of his heart. "So, you do have a heart," she muttered to herself, giggling again. Nox, meanwhile, had moved on to another figure laying sprawled in the grass that Clio had missed. The dog busily licked his hand, tail wagging.

Clio, recognizing the ginger hair, moved to the unconscious side of Ron Weasley. His mouth and eyelids hung open slightly, and he drooled in his unnatural sleep, but he breathed normally. One leg was bandaged and looked painful. Leaving him stunned for now was probably kinder to him than trying to revive him would be.

"What the fuck happened here?" she muttered, her eyes sweeping the area as if it were a crime scene. They fell on Granger's squash-faced cat, collapsed in a heap but starting to move, yowling and hissing at Nox when her investigative nose got too close. Then she spotted another wand, this one coppery brown. She picked it up; it was Remus' wand. She tucked it into her belt next to her own. The moon was up; where was he? There weren't any other bodies laying around that she could see.

Head and heart pounding, she turned back to the still unconscious Snape. She started to turn him over onto his back when she noticed the blood clotting his hair on the back of his head.

"I didn't drop you that hard," she said.

She ran her hand lightly over his scalp and felt a large knot. Her fingers came away bloody. She had to bend close to see the series of scrapes and scratches on his scalp. It looked like he'd been run through a cheese grater. Fighting an alcoholic haze, Clio reached into her robe, looking for her flask of dittany. She found it in the second pocket she searched, and emptied half of it onto his head in an unsteady stream. She knelt to rub it in, making sure that it didn't just run off into the grass.

Snape stirred almost immediately, feeling a sympathetic hand on his head where the knot had begun to recede, and imagined for a moment that it was Lily's touch he felt. When his eyes opened and he looked up, it was with bitter disappointment that he registered Clio's slightly unfocused brown eyes looking down.

"Why are you staring at me that way?" he asked waspishly, then answered his own question, "You're intoxicated." He sat up, rubbing the back of his head.

"What happened to Ron Weasley?" she demanded, gesturing to the boy. Nox was now laying across his chest, rising and falling slightly with each breath. "Where's Remus?"

He scowled, suddenly realizing where he was and remembering what had occurred during the past hour. "Where's my wand?" he muttered, patting at the various pockets in his robes as he clambered to his feet. The world spun around him, and she instinctively grabbed his left arm when he reeled. He just shook her off and straightened himself.

"Here," she said, taking it from her pocket, "I found it in the grass."

He took it from her with an air of disdain, as if she were an especially sticky and clumsy child.

Just then, a mournful howl rose up from the forest. The fur on the Nox's back bristled and a growl welled from deep in her throat. Clio's spine tingled at the eerie, strangely human sound. She turned to Snape.

"Is that ...?" she didn't have to finish her question, though.

"He didn't take his potion tonight," he said silkily. "I was right about him, he's been helping Sirius Black."

"Bullshit," she said, turning toward the sound, taking one step, then another toward the trees. She was jerked to a halt by Snape's hand, wrapped around her arm. She whipped around, eyes flashing.

"Don't you dare," he said with deadly calm, his face draining of all color. She jerked her arm, but his grip on her held.

"He's out there alone–"

"Even if you're too stupid to believe me about Black, you must know there's nothing you can do for him," he snapped.

Clio blinked back tears, knowing he was right and not wanting to. His penetrating eyes roved over her face, taking in her clenched jaw, quivering mouth and tearful eyes. She felt naked under his scrutiny.

"Potter and Granger are out there, as well," he spat. “You're keeping me from finding them.”

"You're worried about Potter?" she said, then laughed bitterly.

"Take Weasley straight to the castle and fetch the Headmaster," he said. She stared at him defiantly. The dementors' cold, ill wind tossed their hair, and still they faced off. Nox whined and cowered between Clio's legs and, finally, she looked up. The dementors fled from the lake, heading toward the school boundaries once again.

"Fine. I'll go," Clio said at last. If they were out there with the dementors... He relinquished his grip on her arm. "What do I tell him?"

He'd already turned away from her, and was conjuring a stretcher to transport Weasley on.

"Tell him whatever you like," he muttered softly. Using her wand, she lifted the stretcher with Weasley on it and turned toward the castle. Snape strode off in the opposite direction.

"Where are you going?" she called after him.

"Down to the lake, to see who it is the dementors were so interested in."

Nox trotting at her heels and poor Ron Weasley floating just ahead of her, Clio trudged back up to the castle. She heard the werewolf's plaintive wail once more along the way, and this time let her tears pour freely. She took Weasley straight to the hospital wing, and was just telling Poppy that she needed to speak to Dumbledore when the Headmaster himself strode through the door. No longer quite so drunk but still a long way from sober, she described everything that she'd witnessed to the best of her ability.

"Thank you Clio," he said, smiling at her warmly. "There's no need for you to fret over Professor Lupin's safety. There's nothing in the forest that would care to tangle with a werewolf."

"Dumbledore, I need to know what's going on," she demanded.

"I believe we're both about to find out," he answered calmly.

That was when Fudge burst in. Clio had previously only seen the Minister in photographs. He was even shorter and pudgier in person, and his green bowler hat just looked ridiculous with those pointy purple boots.

"There you are Albus, I lost you for a moment--" Fudge was saying, and then Snape burst in, floating an unconscious Harry, Hermione and a disheveled, emaciated man who he claimed was Sirius Black. Poppy refused to let Black stay in the same room as her other patients, so Professor Flitwick was summoned to look after him in his office.

The story Snape spun of Black attacking and confunding everyone but him didn't sit well with Clio, especially the way he glossed over the fact that she'd found him unconscious. The element of his testimony that made her blood boil was when he again claimed that Remus had been assisting Black to get onto the school grounds.

"Bullshit!" she shouted, causing Snape to glower at her with narrowed eyes. Fudge just looked startled, as if he hadn't even noticed her presence until then.

"Who is this young lady, Albus?" he asked.

"This is Professor Clio Callimachus, Hogwarts' runemaster. I must say that I agree with her sentiments, however coarsely stated. I find it much more likely that Professor Lupin was attempting to protect the children."

"Well, where is he?" Fudge asked.

"Yes, where could he be?" Snape asked silkily. Clio glared at him, murder on her mind.

"He's taken ill at the moment, but I'm sure he'll be able to clear up some of this mess once he's feeling himself again," Dumbledore said. "In the meantime, I believe once Harry and Hermione have had a little time to recover they will be able to fill us in. Poor Ronald will be out for a while, I'm afraid."

"Surely you can't be serious," spat Snape.

Poppy was furious that so many people were filling her hospital with unnecessary chatter, and shooed everyone out into the corridor so she could look after her patients in peace. Dumbledore left to talk with Black himself. Clio stood silently with her arms crossed, rolling her eyes as she listened to Fudge fawn over Snape's heroics and Snape fawn over Fudge's authority.

"This whole nightmare will be over soon," Fudge said. "I've authorized the dementors to deliver their kiss to Black at midnight."

"I applaud your decisive action, Minister," Snape said. "Might I be allowed to witness it?"

"Why of course, you're the hero of the hour," Fudge replied.

Clio threw Snape dagger-filled glances any time Fudge wasn't looking. He resolutely ignored her, though she didn't think it was possible for him not to feel the barely contained rage that bubbled out of her. The heat from her wand burned her leg, and the calming ocean she imagined to quell it heaved and boiled.

When Dumbledore returned with a different account of events, it was Snape's turn to be outraged. Peter Pettigrew had been alive and in hiding for the past twelve years. Both Remus and Sirius Black had attempted to apprehend him that night, their efforts foiled by the dementors and Remus' illness. Dumbledore was careful to not mention the full moon. The one detail that caused Clio distress was the part about animagi.

"Did you say Pettigrew took the form of a rat?"

"Yes, he'd been hiding out with the Weasleys this whole time."

"Shit. Oh shit, oh fuck," she moaned, then began to cry again. "I saw that rat earlier and it got away. I let Pettigrew get away."

"It's all right, Clio. No one blames you," Dumbledore said gently.

"He could still be on the grounds. We have to go find him," she said, swiping tears from her eyes with her hands as she headed toward the stairs.

"I'm afraid he will be long gone by now," Dumbledore insisted. She wasn't listening though, and had already begun running. It was almost midnight, and she had no interest in sticking around to watch the dementors suck out Black's soul.

She took Nox back to the rabbit burrow where she'd last seen Pettigrew, lighting her way with her wand, hoping against reason that she would be able to see the rat's trail. Nox's sharp nose led her in a criss-cross pattern down to the school gates.

"Fuck," Clio muttered. He was gone. She looked at her watch. 12:01. It was too late for Black, anyway, he'd be nothing but an empty shell by now. She looked back toward the castle, listening for Remus' howl and scanning the sky for dementors but hearing and seeing nothing. The night was too still and quiet: storms would be much more fitting. She almost wished for a tornado to sweep everything away, herself included.

A dark shadow crossed the moonlight, and she looked up in time to catch a glimpse of what looked like a hippogriff. It was there for just an instant, then it was gone.

"Buckbeak?"

She started back toward the castle, not sure whether to believe her eyes or not. Halfway back, she spied a figure in black heading toward her. She bristled at his approach.

"What do you want?" she said.

"Black has escaped," Snape muttered.

"Let me guess," she said, an exhausted laugh escaping from her lungs. "He flew away on a hippogriff?"

He scowled at her, "I didn't see it happen. What do you know?"

"I thought I saw a hippogriff just now, and didn't know whether it was just my drunk imagination or not."

He glowered at her for a moment, then looked up at the sky. "Any sign of the rat?"

She sighed, "Nox followed its trail to the gate. He's gone. Why do you care?"

"Believe me, if that whole cock and bull story is true, than I want Pettigrew caught as much as anyone," he said icily.

"Why, so you can win some stupid medal?"

"The Order of Merlin–" he began, but she cut him off with an irritated chuff.

"I see how you operate. You roll over for anyone who's in power. It doesn't matter to you whether it's Dumbledore or Fudge or Voldemort. Just as long as you get what you want."

His face went completely white. "You have no idea..." he began, then cut himself off, face twisting in what, astonishingly, looked like pain.

She held his gaze until he dropped his eyes. For one shocking moment, Clio thought he might actually cry. Instead, he turned and began plodding back toward the castle. She followed a moment later, walking slowly to preserve a safe distance between them.

Clio paced back and forth across her room for much of that night, drinking water and waiting for the moon to set. It settled behind the treeline just as blue dawn was creeping into the eastern sky. She took Remus' wand and a bottle of mead down to the courtyard and sat on the stone balustrade to wait.

She was beginning to nod off when his head appeared, floating in the air just to her left. Startled, she was instantly wide awake.

"Clio! Have you been here all night?" His eyes were bloodshot, and he lowered a silvery hood just enough for her to make out the fresh scratches on his face.

"No," she said, "just since the moon set. Is that an invisibility cloak?"

"Yes,” he answered sheepishly. “It's a long story. I seem to have misplaced my robes, and without my wand I couldn't accio them."

"Here," she said, taking his wand from her belt and handing it toward the space where she thought his hand might be. "I found it last night on my way back from Hagrid's. That's a long story, as well."

One of his hands appeared in mid air to accept the wand from her, "Thank you," he said, eyes downcast. Their fingers brushed during the exchange, and he pulled his away as if stung. "I'm sorry you have to see me like this. Although, believe it or not, I've looked worse."

"I brought you this as well," she said, handing him the mead, which she'd already opened for him. He smiled ruefully as he took it from her and tipped his head back for a long swig. "I was really worried for you," she continued.

He laughed bitterly, "A werewolf is on the loose, and the werewolf is the one who you're worried about."

"You're not just any werewolf, I couldn't help it," she said.

"I didn't bite anyone. I just … I just want you to know that."

"Of course you didn't bite anyone."

They sat together in silence for a while. She had a dozen questions for him, but sensed that this was not the right time to ask. He took a few more swigs of mead and then stood up.

"I probably smell terrible, I should get cleaned up," he said.

"I know someone who has an awesome bathtub, if you're interested in a warm bath."

"That's very tempting, but I need to be alone for awhile," he said, head hung low.

"Okay," she said, trying not to sound disappointed. Then she remembered one of the things she wanted to tell him that might cheer him up. "Hey, Buckbeak escaped last night, did you know?"

His head lifted, and a bit of the worry melted from his features. "Escaped?"

"Yeah, him and Black. I know he's innocent, now. I thought maybe you had something to do with it?"

"Not with Buckbeak. I suspect I know who did, though."

"You mean the trio of third-years who are currently resting in the hospital wing?"

Worry creased his face again. "They're in the hospital?"

"Weasley's leg was banged up a bit; the other two are recovering from the dementors that got onto the grounds. They're fine," she quickly added. "Perhaps a very powerful stag-shaped patronus came to their rescue."

A slow smile crept over his face, and it was like a ray of sunlight breaking through a storm-filled sky. He leaned forward and kissed her once, gently, on the lips.

"I'll see you at breakfast," he said, throwing the hood back over his head and disappearing again.


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