Chapter 4 : Strange Happenings
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"Are you alright, Remus?"
"I'm OK. Just feeling a bit, you know..." Why did they always ask the same question?
"You look pretty rough. Maybe just go to bed a bit earlier tonight?" Lily's suggestion was a good idea - they tended to stay up rather later than they should, especially when they waited for James and Sirius to catch up on their homework. The teachers weren't setting much now, but the boys had a habit of putting it off.
"Actually, I got a letter this morning." He was already pale, but he looked worried too. "It's mother," he explained in response to the concerned expressions of his friends. "She's not too well. I was going to say earlier, but - you know..." He was referring to Severus' situation. They didn't probe further, sensing that he didn't want questions.
He left shortly after that, saying that he was going home to visit his mother. They all told him they sent their best wishes, and he wouldn't let them accompany him. They didn't bring up the subject at dinner or in the common room that evening. Severus left immediately after dinner to work in the library and didn't return until just after eight.
"Is he back yet?"
"Not yet." Lily answered his question. They didn't mention Remus otherwise, although the longer he stayed away the more worried they became about his mother. Homework done and a couple of games of exploding snap later, they decided to go to bed. "He must be staying the night." The dormitory was strange with the empty bed.
They lay in silence for once. It was still hot, so the window was wide open. Suddenly Sirius sat up in bed. "Did you hear that?"
The other two nodded. Faint screaming sounds could be heard in the distance, travelling through the clear night. They sounded strange, inhuman. James got up and closed the window. "Probably the Shrieking Shack. Apparently it's haunted, though I never heard that it was this loud." They agreed that the spirits were probably extra active tonight as it was so warm. Or they just hadn't heard all the tales.
Remus still wasn't there when they got up, and they didn't see him at breakfast either. In fact, he didn't appear until the following day. He looked terrible, like he hadn't slept at all, and he walked with a slight limp. He told them that his mother had started to recover - he had stayed with at home for two nights. As for the limp... "What limp? I'm fine, just a bit tired. I'm just dragging my leg a bit, I guess - I was too worried to get much sleep." They felt bad for asking.
A few days later he had more colour and looked rather healthier. The limp seemed to have disappeared, which was unsurprising seeing as it had been caused by exhaustion. They settled back into normal life. Severus spent much of his free time working around the school, assisting the teachers. And James and Sirius decided to pay a visit to the library.
"What are you doing?" Severus asked suspiciously.
"Reading." The pair spoke simultaneously, a suspiciously innocent expression on their faces. Severus turned round and left them to it, looking for the right section to shelve the books he was holding. Job done, he found something interesting to read and settled down behind the librarian's desk. This was his favourite job - he got to sit in peace and read unless someone asked him for help.
He glanced round the room occasionally, especially when he heard a noise. James and Sirius had found a desk and were bent over the book whispering. He watched them until Sirius glanced up and pressed his finger to his lips. Just because they were his friends didn't mean they could get away with anything.
Sirius nudged James and they got up, bringing the book up to his desk. They wanted to borrow it, so he signed it out and told them when it was due back. They left in silence, which was very suspicious. He glanced at the title of the book, but it seemed to be normal enough. Although it was very strange for them to be reading something they didn't have to. He decided that he was making a lot of fuss about nothing and dug his homework out of his bag.
When his shift in the library finished, he returned to the common room and looked around. Lily was sitting with the other first year girls, and Remus was alone in the corner looking out of the window. Lily seemed happy enough so, much as he would have liked to go to her, he joined Remus instead.
"Alright, Remus?" An annoyed expression seemed to flick across the boy's face but disappeared so quickly that he might have been mistaken.
"'m OK, Sev." He tore his eyes away from the Whomping Willow to look at Severus. "James and Sirius not with you, then?"
"Saw them in the library earlier, but-"
"Uh-huh. Looking at a book. Wouldn't say reading - do they know how? They checked the book out and left when I stopped them whispering. Thought they came back here."
"Nah, haven't seen them. Was doing homework with Lily but the girls asked her to join them. They haven't been back. Strange for them."
"Yeah. The reading and the disappearance. Oh well, I'm sure they'll be fine."
"I'm more worried about everyone else, actually." They lapsed into silence for a moment.
"How's your mum?"
Remus looked confused for a second. "Oh, yeah. She's much better now." The way he said it sounded strange, but Severus decided that Remus probably didn't want to think about it.
"Good, glad to hear it." The silence dragged on this time, until eventually it was broken by -
"Hey Remus! Sevvy! Wazzup?" Severus rolled his eyes slightly as he turned around. James and Sirius were, unsurprisingly, fine. They still had their school uniforms on as they had in the library, and they were carrying their bags. Sirius ruffled Remus' hair as he went past, the boy flinching at the contact and pulling a face.
They ran up the stairs, disappearing into the dormitory, and a couple of minutes they were back. They 'd taken off their robes and dumped their bags. Their shirts were always at least partially untucked (unless a teacher had just told them to tuck them in) but now they were completely out. They loosened their ties and undid a few buttons of their shirts, James flinging himself down on the couch carelessly and Sirius sitting next to him.
"So what was up with that book thing in the library?" Severus addressed his question to Sirius, as he'd be more likely to get a straight answer, but as always James replied.
"Thought we'd do some reading, didn't we Sirius? Find out what you lot see in it."
"Did you find out?" asked Remus.
"Nah, not really. Seriously overrated, but sometimes unavoidable."
"You checked that book out, and that wasn't essential reading. To be honest, I wasn't even sure you could read."
"Sevvy, you wound me!" Potter being all dramatic again. He had a short whispered conversation with Sirius before leaning in and continuing in an undertone: "The book's for an idea we had, but we can't do it yet, but you know Binns always comes in slowly through the blackboard?" They all nodded, interested in what this was going to lead to, but James sat back with a big grin on his face. "We're going to go early for History of Magic tomorrow. Make sure everyone's there before Binns."
"Night all!" added Sirius, jumping up
"Yeah, see you tomorrow!" and ignoring their questions the two disappeared to bed, laughing all the way. Remus shrugged.
The first years were always on time for History of Magic, so Severus and Remus didn't have to do anything. James and Sirius had disappeared early in break but hadn't let anyone follow them. When the rest came in they were already sitting on their places with anxious expressions. They'd made plenty of hints that something was going to happen, so everyone was eager to see what they were going to do.
The blackboard was covered with lines in a seemingly abstract pattern, and Severus though he could pick out something a bit like a top hat. He had a vague idea of what the pair might be doing. At the same time as always, the tip of the Professor's nose appeared through the board and the class sat up in eager anticipation.
There was a laugh, but nothing like the two pranksters had been hoping for. They looked at each other. There had been a brief moment when the ghost had been partway out and the hat had sat perfectly on his head. The lines had become like fairy wings. They'd judged the positioning perfectly, but they had to admit it wasn't the most amazing prank. It would be easier when they could do more magic. They made up their minds not to tell everyone in advance next time - it made it more embarrassing when something fell flat.
Professor Binns noticed nothing, launching straight back into his lecture where he had left off the previous lesson. There was a brief moment at the end of the lesson when he drifted back through the board and the drawing fitted around him again, and there were one or two giggles. But both felt it had been a let-down. While the other first-years left they cleaned the board. Severus, Remus, and Lily waited by the door for them to walk to their next lesson together.
"Don't say anything," muttered Sirius. He knew their first ever prank had fallen flat. They headed to Defense Against the Dark Arts in silence, joining the rest of the class waiting outside. No-one mentioned fairy-Binns, for which the two were rather grateful.
Picardy summoned them in coldly as always. They got out their quills and held them ready as he began his introduction. "Today we will begin to work on a Knockback Jinx, a most utilitarian spell." He started to pace around the room, watching them take notes. "It may be easily deflected by a disarming or shield charm, which will be covered later."
He walked behind them, continuing to speak. They did not turn so they could only guess where he was by the swish of his robes and the padding of his feet on the floor, together with his voice. "You may wonder why you should bother with such a weak spell. There is a stronger variation, which you will learn in second year. You cannot hope to cast more useful spells unless you have worked up from basic ones. And even minor jinxes such as this may be useful in certain situation - if your opponent is distracted, of if they are unable to cast a counter-curse. It would be effective on dark creatures which do not carry wands, including werewolves."
Severus saw Remus tense again and stop writing for a moment. "What's up, boy? Keep writing. Unless you consider a way to repel a werewolf unnecessary. Do you consider yourself safe against werewolves, then?" Remus had frozen. "Well, do you? Are you immune to the bite which would turn you into a savage, inhuman beast with no moral sense?"
"No sir." Remus' voice was quiet and Severus picked out a strange note in it. The boy wrote again, but slowly and reluctantly. His free hand clenched on the table, his fist turning white.
"Good! You are not! The werewolf is the darkest of creatures, a killing machine every full moon. Even in human form it is vicious, no human emotions remaining. It lives to bite and spread its condition. Now, all of you! The incantation is Flipendo." He returned to the front of the room, taking out his wand. "The incantation is performed like so." He demonstrated. "Now, if you would stand and return your writing equipment to your bags, you will only need your wands for the remainder of the lesson."
Once they were standing, he flicked his wand and the desks whizzed to the sides of the room. The large space created was lined with thick mats. "Split into pairs and practice, taking turns to cast the spell on each other. Don't worry, you will come to no harm." Severus turned to Remus, who was still shaking slightly.
"Ignore him," he whispered, then a little louder, "you and me, then?"
Remus swallowed. "Thanks, Sev." Severus didn't know why talk of werewolves affected Remus so much, but he wouldn't ask. Probably a family member killed, as he had thought before. They moved apart and he indicated for Remus to go first. Neither had any success - Severus got the impression Remus wasn't really trying.
Suddenly Remus was flying backwards. The mat absorbed the impact. A moment later Severus was there offering him a hand to get up. "Sorry about that - nothing personal. Your turn." They were already the last pair to master the jinx. Everyone else had been flying several times already. Remus raised his wand and half-heartedly tried to cast the incantation. Severus sent him flying again.
"Come on, I don't mind. It's only fair you should throw me around too." Remus acted like he hadn't heard. Severus cast it several more times, but Remus never succeeded. Professor Picardy came over in the end.
"If you are unable to cast this basic jinx, I have little hope for you. You would stand no chance against a werewolf, even in human form! Try again." Remus' face was white, his fists clenched. The hand holding his wand shook, but suddenly he steadied and raised it.
"Flipendo." His voice was so calm, but Severus could hear the anger underneath. He expected to go flying but instead the spell struck the teacher. Picardy flew through the air, crashing into the mats that covered the wall with a thump. Everyone stopped in shock, looking between Remus and Picardy. Remus was visibly shaking.
"I meant on your partner, but at least you managed it." Picardy had climbed slowly to his feet.
"My apologies, professor. I misunderstood you." Remus stuffed his wand in the pocket of his robes and went to pick up his bag. He was already at the door when Picardy called out dismissed the class. The first-years did not linger.
Remus was waiting in the grounds when they arrived for their flying lesson. He was still pale, but managed a small smile when they rushed up to him. "What happened?" James blurted, tactless as ever. Remus ignored him, and Madam Hooch arrived before any of them could say anything else. While not young, the flying teacher was well-kept and athletic. And very strict.
They took their places by the school brooms, a motley collection ranging from the old to the ancient. Severus and Lily shared a glance then positioned themselves one on each side of Remus. James stood on Lily's other side, to Severus' displeasure, and Sirius joined his friend.
It felt pretty stupid, saying "up" to a broom. James' leapt up immediately, while Severus' rolled over. Remus' didn't even do that. They had to try again until eventually the battered broomsticks responded. Which, especially in Remus' case, took a while.
They mounted the brooms and some of Severus' concerns were dissipated as he felt the cushioning charm. OK, it wasn't very strong - these were old brooms, after all - but it was better than sitting on a stick. On Madam Hooch's whistle they kicked off gently and hovered. James had clearly flown before, as had Sirius, and they immediately started showing off by balancing without using their hands.
Actually, now they were up, it looked like Remus had been on a broom before. He'd just been distracted. Severus quickly turned his attention back to his own broom as he felt himself slipping sideways. Balance recovered, he glanced around again. They were flying with the Hufflepuffs, and he recognised the little ratty boy from the train. Peter, wasn't it? None of his friends had mentioned him since the first night.
Peter was nervous. He wasn't built for flying. He clutched the broom tightly with arms and legs until he got used to the feeling and managed to relax. Maybe this wasn't so bad after all. He could see Greta out of the corner of his eye. She was a plump, friendly girl who was nice to everyone. Very down-to-earth, too. The Hufflepuffs all got on well together, actually - they worked hard and always helped each other out. What they lacked in intelligence they made up for in other ways.
Greta Catchlove. Actually, she was pretty intelligent. He guessed the reason she was in Hufflepuff was because she worked hard too. And she was nice. She wasn't ambitious, either. Nor was he. He liked Hufflepuff. On the train, he'd sat with three of the 'cool' boys. They were all Gryffindors, and hadn't really spoken to him since the sorting. But he didn't mind - he had new friends, in his own House. He'd never really fitted in with them, anyway.
They had to go forward, and stop, and land. Then they started to do more, getting the hang of controlling their broomsticks. Those who knew how to fly were picked out quickly and sent to the far end of the training ground, provided with a quaffle to amuse themselves. James soon organised a game of Niffler - there were only six good flyers so two would be 'nifflers' and try to catch the quaffle while the others passed it between them.
There was a short argument about whether it was 'niffler' or 'nogtail' - both were often used as the creature in the game - but Sirius sorted it. He said that he would be the niffler while James was the nogtail, then threw the ball to one of the Hufflepuffs so they could start the game. (James didn't like being a nogtail but the game had already started - it didn't take him long to catch the quaffle and make someone else take his place anyway.)
Remus stayed with the beginners. He could fly reasonably well, but he wasn't in the state to join the game. He was happy enough just circling slowly with his less able friends. Lily learned quickly, but she still found it strange to be supported high above the ground by nothing but a few twigs. Magic could be very disconcerting sometimes.
Severus wasn't sorry when the lesson came to an end. The cushioning charm on his broom wasn't particularly strong and he was starting to ache a bit. The first-years brought their brooms down and dismounted with varying levels of grace. James and Sirius led the good flyers back, chunking the quaffle between them casually while bickering about nifflers and nogtails. Severus had no idea what they were on about, and by the looks of it no-one else did either.
"Yes, Madam Hooch?"
"Could you give me a hand with these brooms?"
"Of course, professor." The teachers knew that he would help them out when needed to cover his school fees. He followed her as she levitated the brooms back to the shed, carrying the quaffle. She had him help her polish the brooms and put them back on the rack (he didn't really see the point in polishing brooms that old, but they must be looked after reasonably well to last this long). That job done, he had time to wash his hands before dinner.
The others were already sitting at Gryffindor table when he arrived. They were used to him being called to do odd jobs, so they hadn't waited and they didn't answer questions. The conversation was, inevitably, focussed on flying. James was entertaining everyone who would listen by talking about flying at home, on his Dad's old Comet 180. It was so unfair, first years not being allowed on the school teams or even to bring their own broomsticks. He'd was hoping to get the new Nimbus - apparently it was the best racing broom available. Although there was talk that they might be bringing out a new one.
Even Sirius got bored of the conversation in the end, and Lily and Remus eagerly volunteered to accompany Severus when he said he had to go and work in the library. They sat at the table closest to his desk, doing their homework then reading. At closing time, Severus made sure everyone was out before turning out the lights and shutting the door.
James was still holding a one-sided conversation about the Nimbus compared to the old Comets, and whether the Comets were better than the Cleansweeps or not. Severus yawned, he and Remus rolling their eyes to each other, and they decided to go to bed. Sirius looked after them longingly, but couldn't see how to get away. Lily had already gone to join the girls.
They didn't go to bed immediately, but sat looking out of the window. Remus's eyes were fixed on the Whomping Willow, and Severus followed his gaze. "Kind of stupid, putting something that dangerous in a school."
"Hmm." Severus gave up on attempting to make conversation. He knew that Remus hadn't got over the Defense lesson. He didn't know what had upset his friend so much. Picardy was unpleasant, but it only really bothered Remus when he mentioned werewolves. Oh well. If Remus didn't want to explain, he didn't have to. They'd only just met, after all.
A/N: What could Remus possibly be hiding? I can't think...
PLEASE review! One sentence is fine. Do you like Peter here? Or not? Or are you indifferent? I'm considering a little bit of Peter/Greta later on. Also, does anyone have any good prank ideas? Particularly ones that can be done with minimum magic by first/second years.
Finally: Niffler or Nogtail?
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