1. Souvenirs from the Forest.
The infirmary smelled of ether, although very faintly, and of broth, soap, freshly made beds and a hint of pain. Sometimes a whiff of a female scent, perfume, shampoo and filed nails blew through the room past his bed, and whenever it did the infirmary's only occupant twitched with his nose and tried to burrow deeper into his pillows. He was still asleep, and very human at the moment, but so shortly after the change his senses were still unusually keen, and his nose and ears were still busy filtering the scents and sounds out of the air, as they had done last night.
A soft swish: the soundless opening of the door, made his eyes flutter behind his closed eyelids, and as he breathed in two more personal scents painted figures on his mind.
Two males, but young, barely more than boys. One of them was wearing aftershave, the other smelled of soap and broom cleaning utensils.
"Hello James. Sirius." The boy in the bed spoke up without opening his eyes, and for one moment he heard a shocked silence. Remus smiled. As he opened his eyes he saw absolutely no one, then the bed beside him became blurry and James ripped the invisibility cloak away.
"Damn it, Moony," he said with mock anger and less than mock awe, "you just know how to spoil all surprises, don't you?" Sirius, appearing next to him, elbowed him in the side.
"You know the man's scary. But we," this to Remus, who had pushed himself up to a sitting position, "have been through much more scarier things this morning."
"O really?" Remus drawled. "Is that why Peter's missing?"
"Nah. Peter's just lusting after Cynthia Catterwall again." Both Remus and James chuckled. According to Sirius, Peter was 'having issues' and every few weeks those issues changed. The last month the issues concerned the stunning seventh year Cynthia Catterwall, who was about a foot taller than Peter and had once commented that he was such a sweet little boy when he'd helped her gather her things when her handbag tore. Sirius had called Peter 'my sweet little boy' for three weeks, until Peter seriously threatened to throttle Sirius and, more importantly, seemed quite capable of doing so. Sirius now left Peter alone, but whenever the smaller boy was missing, he was either lusting after, seducing or spying on Cynthia. According to Sirius.
"Right," Remus grinned. "So why aren't you recording his actions—as usual?"
"Tracking spell," Sirius replied without missing a beat, just as James said, "Never mind about Peter. Today the greatest thing happened." Sirius began to laugh, and James burst into giggles as well.
"So what happened? First you say it was scary, now you laugh about it. What happened?"
"Well," Sirius grinned widely. "You know we had History this morning?"
"So, we all went into the classroom and were all paying attention and carefully noting down all Binns said…"
"Nobody ever looks at the man—face it, he's boring AND ugly, so nobody actually noticed that anything was out of the ordinary until Wesley wondered why Binns was looking so white and transparent today…" Sirius whooped, then hastily covered his mouth with his hands. For a moment neither boy could say a word, and Remus was laughing too, now, already expecting what had happened but not quite believing it yet.
"So we were all, for once, looking at Binns," James continued, wiping his wet eyes, "when McGonagall literally burst into the room,"
"Saucy wench," Sirius growled.
"And looked at Binns, going all red and white in a matter of seconds…"
"Very fetching too," informed Sirius.
"Shut up! Stop interrupting me."
"Anyway," Sirius took over, ignoring his friend, "Class ended and McGonagall gathered us all around and…" He bit his lip, then blurted out, "She said she was delighted to tell us that Professor Binns had unfortunately died in his sleep but was still able to teach class, and that she would not have to change our curriculum." He guffawed, and Remus doubled up in his bed.
"He's…he's really teaching?" he chortled. James grinned broadly.
"He probably didn't even notice he died."
"Whereas you certainly would!" A stern feminine voice rang out. The three boys froze like rabbits caught in the headlights. Madam Pomfrey, even though she was quite young and, according to Sirius, had a figure like a well-tuned violin, ruled the infirmary with an iron fist. She could not take points from the houses or give the boys detention, but she could make one feel like a helpless three-year-old if she chose to, and her revenge consisted of administrating the most foul-tasting potions when one was ill and surrendered to her mercy. Remus, meeting the afore mentioned terms at least once a month, pulled up his thin shoulders and stopped laughing immediately. Sirius and James, wide-eyed with shock, suddenly broke down in chuckles again.
"I'm sorry, Madam Pomfrey," James apologised. "We meant to break the rules quietly, but…"
"Professor Binns…" Sirius added with a barely contained smile, "We though Remus could do with some good news." The witch's mouth quirked up briefly, but then her face was straight again.
"I can't see where the death of a colleague could enhance the well-being of mister Lupin here." she said. Sirius quailed.
"But…he's still teaching."
"He isn't really dead—well, rather, actually, but…" Madam Pomfrey rolled her eyes.
"Lumuros." In a few paces she was next to Remus's bed, tipped his chin up and shone with the tip of her wand in his eyes. His pupils shrank to pinpoints, flaring out again as soon as she took the wand away.
"Are you well enough to return to your classes?" Remus nodded, blinking his eyes rapidly to get rid of the dancing spots in his vision. "Then off with you—all of you! And the next time I catch you two waking him up, mister Black and mister Potter, I will personally make sure that you won't be having any heart, liver or bowel worms this semester. Am I quite clear?"
"Very clear, ma'am." Sirius bowed and James pressed his hand to his heart.
"But she doesn't mean it," James said as they ran to the hall for lunch.
"No, she's actually very nice. You're lucky getting to be treated by her so often, Moony." Remus smirked. He still felt a little wobbly on his feet, and his head seemed a long distance from the ground.
"Ye-es," he said. "You cannot imagine the kind of bonding you do with the person who's stuffing sleeping potion down your throat while you try to bite her in the arms. I still have the taste of dragonhide in my mouth." James grinned.
"Dragonhide gloves eh? D'you recon she has dragonhide boots as well?" Sirius frowned.
"That's not the kind of thing you should want to know, James Potter. What if Lily found out you were snooping around in Pomfrey's closets?"
"I've done no such thing! Besides, with a little luck she'd want to have dragonhide boots as well."
"Why stop with boots? She'd look great in leather trousers."
"Yes, she would. But I can't get her into such clothing."
"Why the hell not?"
"She says she feels fat in tight jeans, let alone leather trousers."
"Fat? Lily isn't fat! She's got a lovely arse."
"And how would you know?"
"Well excuse me, mister Potter, but I happen to be the one who introduced her to you…"
"And before introducing her to me, knowing that I was literally…er…"
"Moping." Remus suggested, and pushed the door to the dining hall open.
"Moping," James picked up, "for her, you first decided to check out her arse."
"Of course," They wove through a throng of leaving first years and sat down at the Gryffindor table, "I couldn't introduce my best friend to a girl with an ugly arse, could I?" He made a grab for the rolls, obtained four, and distributed them among his friends and himself. "I could even…hi Peter!" this to the small stout boy pushing in between James and Sandie Montague, "I could even tell you tales about certain…situations…involving Lily…and Padfoot…and peanut butter…"
"No!" James looked aghast; Sirius's grin was pure evil.
"Prongs," Remus briefly looked up from his heaped plate, "Padfoot didn't even exist when you started dating Lily. Where is she, by the way? It's as if everybody's trying to avoid me."
"What?" Sirius whispered. "You can't remember that you…" But he stopped as his friend's grey-brown eyes grew large and fearful, and slapped him on the shoulder. "Calm down, Moony. You didn't do anything. As far as I know Lily's in the library. Where else, anyway? She's probably doing research on the mating habits of unicorns."
"Centaurs," James corrected. "And it's cultural habits, not mating habits. I swear, Sirius, do you ever think about anything…never mind, don't answer.
Ah, look, isn't that Goyle?" His voice had gone up a few decibels, and everybody at their table looked up and snickered when the heavy-set boy shuffled through the back of the hall towards the Slytherin table. "Isn't his hair a wonderful colour of purple?"
"Purple?" Emily Endale mused aloud a few seats onwards. "I rather think it's pink."
"No, no," Sirius protested, "definitely purple. At least, that was the idea. He paid so much attention to my purple sweater last week that I just couldn't leave him standing there empty-handed—or in this case, blond-headed."
"I still think it's pink." maintained Emily, and a short verbal fight broke out between her and Sirius, in which the latter said that it could not be pink because he did not wear pink, and the former claimed that he should get his sight checked for colour blindness, because Goyle's hair was as pink as pink possibly could be. Soon, the whole table was arguing about the colour of Goyle's hair, until Sirious declared that if nobody could make out what colour exactly Goyle's hair had, he would move over to the Slytherin table and ask what the subject of the matter thought of it himself. Both Peter and Remus grabbed him by his robes when he made to stand up.
"Are you mad! Sit down!"
"If Dorkham finds out you nicked chameleon tongues again you'll be cleaning toilets till next week!" Sirius let himself be ushered back, although he made a show of pretending to pull himself free.
"But I can't live with this suspense! Is it purple or pink?"
"Live with it."
"Or ask him during Care of Magical Creatures," James suggested, still grinning. "We're still doing hogsloaths. They aren't bound to wake up anytime soon." He clacked his tongue. "Was that the bell? I swear, they want us to starve. How can you possibly eat enough to last you for the rest of the day and discuss the colour of other people's hair in half an hour?"
"Slave drivers, that's what they are," Peter muttered with a sad expression, and gathered his bag from beneath the table. "How're you doing, Remus? I couldn't come visit you because…" A blush of embarrassment coloured his round cheeks, and Remus smiled.
"It's alright. I'm fine now. And you'll all be late for CMC."
"Oh. Yes. Bye!" Peter set off at a trot, pulling James with him.
"Told you." Sirius hissed as he slung his satchel over his shoulder. "He's having issues. See you at Transfiguration."
Of the Marauders, Lupin was the only one who still took Divination. Sirius had quit because after the second lesson his mockery clouded professor Trelawney's inner eye. When she had told him so, Sirius had fallen to the ground in hysterics and James laughed so hard that he complained about torn belly muscles for a week. They both had been wise enough not to come back, because Trelawney at that point had stopped resembling an overlarge butterfly and looked remarkably like an angry wasp.
"She's been prophesising your death all week," Remus grinned the following Friday. "She's been telling everybody you'll meet a very nasty fate indeed."
"Did she?" asked Sirius, and James as well was curious how his life would end. At that point Lupin had felt inclined to inform his two friends that they would sadly perish the next week on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, killed by a fall off a broomstick (like hell, James snorted); choked on a chicken bone (I'll just eat beef, Sirius decided); drowned in the lake, pulled down by the Giant Squid (It's autumn! Why on earth would we go out to the lake and swim?); exploded during a spell going horribly awry (I'll buddy up with Snape, James chuckled. Take him with me when I go); clubbed to death by the Whomping Willow (well she obviously doesn't know what knot to push, said Sirius), and several other incidents. The fact that now, three years later, they were still alive, Sirius generously attributed to the fact that Trelawney's inner eye had been all clouded up.
Peter stopped attending class after Trelawney predicted a terrible accident that actually befell to him.
"It's bad enough making up the future without actually have it happening to you," he said morosely, when the others came to visit him in the infirmary. "She gives me the creeps with that misty voice of hers."
"I feel that she'll be very sad to see you go," James whispered mistily. Remus smiled.
"Yes, I think so too. You must be the first person in ages to actually fall through the stairs after she'd predicted it."
"I wouldn't have fallen, if she hadn't told me I would," Peter muttered. "I thought it would mean I'd fall down the stairs, not through them." After that, he decided that Muggle studies were less frightening than Divination, and disappeared.
Now, only a handful of sixth years sat in professor Trelawney's smoky abode, staring in spheres and tealeaves, drawing stellar maps and seeing figures in smoke. Trelawney had long ago sensed that the tall, lanky boy with the slow smile and the dreamy eyes was not like other children his age, and continually urged him to tell her what he saw in whirls of smoke and the mirroring surface of his crystal ball. Remus didn't know if he had 'the talent' as she called it, but he did indeed see things. Only it was the same thing again and again. The moon. Round and swollen; thin, like a knife's edge; half full, like a smile. He never told her what he actually saw, but somehow he was credible. That suited him just fine, for it meant that he did not have to do much to keep his marks high.
This lesson served as an hour to rest and recover from the enormous amount of food he had consumed at lunch. Changing always made him ravenous, and the heavy scent of incense combined with a full stomach rendered him as slow and lazy as a snail dipped in honey syrup.
I wonder, he thought as he stared through half-closed eyes at his thin, gauzy teacher, why she's wearing those glasses. She always takes them off when she wants to see something. In a fit of inventiveness he moved the piece of parchment he had used to take notes (moon in Venus—you'll be born with excessive hair-growth) and wrote Quiz of teachonal habits.
Q. 1. Why does Professor Trelawney wear glasses?She needs them to see clearly. She needs them to keep from seeing clearly. She likes to look like an insect.
He tapped his quill against his teeth, studying the thin woman in front of the class as she waved her hands in mysterious patterns, and scribbled, d. She wears them solely to catch the light and reflect it back into your eyes.
Satisfied with his new pastime, he was busy for the rest of the hour writing down the names of all the other teachers and thinking up questions, until Sidh Patil gave him a push and Trelawney repeated, "Have you heard a single thing I've been saying, mister Lupin?"
"So sorry, Professor," he replied, "I was still writing." He flashed her an innocent, guilty smile and was acquitted with a forgiving beam. You're just too easy to fool, woman.
"As I was saying," his teacher went on, "next week we will try to see past the veil of the mind. I will provide the necessary ingredients to unveil the Outer World, but I want you to bring Past the Veil and Find your inner poise: unfogging yourself, both by Vablatsky." Remus grinned to himself, and next to him he heard Sidh chuckle as well.
"With all the books she's written about unfogging, she must be as unfogged as is humanly possible," the boy said softly, and swiped his crystal ball and his notes carelessly into his satchel.
"Quite." Remus replied in a whisper. "I wonder were she lives. Vablatsky sounds Russian, doesn't it? Maybe she lives up in the mountains where she never sees anything but clouds."
"Oh, and class?" Professor Trelawney sing-songed while they were all filing out of the room, "next week will be double Divination. For those who usually have Transfiguration after this class, sign your names on this piece of parchment so I can notify Professor McGonagall."
Sidh raised his eyebrows.
"Wow. This must be some serious unveiling we're going to do."
"I don't like it one bit," a Slytherin girl muttered beneath her breath. "McGonagall'll have a cow when she finds out that we're not wasting one but two hours next week and do it in her time as well." Remus completely agreed with her, but he didn't say anything, even though he was right behind her in line for the name list. However right she was, she was still Slytherin.
"Double Divination? You lucky guy!" James said, with feeling. "McGonagall won't have a cow, she'll have an elephant."
"Aw, it's not that bad. I'm actually kind of looking forward to it." Sirius sadly shook his head.
"You poor man, your head must be completely befuddled by all that incense she's burning."
"There's Lily! Hey Lily!" Lily Evans trotted up to where they were standing, her arms full of books, as usual, and the tip of her thick red braid wet and black with ink. Peter was close behind her.
"Hello! And hello to you to, Remus. Are you okay?"
"Never been better."
"Liar. Highly unappealing, those bags beneath your eyes."
"He's just had Divination, love," James said, grinning. "Cut him some slack."
"Cut him a whole box of it," interjected Sirius, gallantly holding the door. "He'll have a double portion of it next week."
"Oh, you poor baby!"
"Oh, you poor baby," a nasal voice whined from behind of them, and Severus Snape fluttered his hands in the air in maternal worry. "What is it this time, Lupin? Fleas again? Did they change the cutlery to silver again?"
"Shut your mouth, will you, Snape?" Remus requested with a feral smile. "Last time you threatened me you ended up in the Astronomy tower without any clothes on, so keep it down a bit." Snape's face fell, but the nasty smile climbed back within seconds.
"Just watch it, Lupin. And you too, Black. I'm not through with you yet."
"Bite me!" Sirius snapped, and turned his back on him. McGonagall strode into the class room, her high heels tapping sharply on the stones.
"Alright, settle down please," she said, and waited the fifteen seconds she always waited until everybody was seated, and took her place behind the large desk in front, where she almost disappeared behind a pile of small square cages.
"Now. Today we will discuss the last chapter of Animagi through the Ages. I hope you've all practiced diligently, and have found out whether you have any inclination towards animagism. For those who have, I will pass on a list. Write down your name, house and the animal form you want to practise. Those who write their names on the list can apply for personal coaching—although I can't make any promises as to whether you'll succeed or not. As I have told you many times, and as you've probably found out yourself, it requires a lot of mental strength and talent to pick an animal shape and hold it for longer periods.
Yes, mister Snape?" Snape lowered his hand.
"Professor, isn't it prohibited to become an animagus without proper coaching?" McGonagall's eyes flashed. She knew all about the accident last year, and it had cost James and Sirius a lot of her affection, but Snape's continual vindictiveness, his attempts at exposing Lupin and his general unpleasantness made her bristle like an angry cat.
"I would even say that it is impossible to become an animagi without proper coaching," she said curtly, and slapped the list down on the front most table. "Everybody who's interested can write down his or her name. And now I'd like you all to come forward and pick up one of these cages. In it, you'll find a field mouse. By the end of class, I want to have sixteen canaries. Yellow canaries, miss Oliver! Not grey ones. Now, carry on!"
A few minutes later James was idly prodding his canary with his wand and turning it all the colours of the rainbow. Sirius had left his bird ears and a thin pink tail, and Peter, who had surprisingly proved to be McGonagall's best student, had already placed his perfect canary on the side of his table and was now doing his Muggle studies homework. Lily wasn't as good at Transfiguration as the Marauders, and she was swearing softly as her songbird gazed up at her balefully with eyes the size of pinpricks, and attacked her wand with its toothy little beak.
Remus leaned his head on his hand, smiling as he looked at the unfortunate mouse-birds and bird-mice as they squeaked and twittered in their cages. His own canary was now singing joyfully, but it still had small claws instead of wings, and it looked rather comical.
Q. Why is McGonagall's animagus form a cat? He grinned, combed his bangs out of his face… and froze. Felt again. He hadn't been wrong: there was a little bump on his head. And right next to it, another. And another a bit more to the top. Small, round bumps, which he could move all around, like…
Ticks. A feeling like ice water running down his back made him shiver in his seat.
O my god. If Snape finds out, I'm dead. I'm dead! Trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, he rubbed his fingers all over his scalp, wincing as they connected with yet another small bulge, and counted seven ticks altogether. I must've gotten them yesterday, in the Forest. Madam Pomfrey must've overlooked them—why should she be checking my hair anyway…o damn! Now he had noticed them, it was impossible to ignore them. He wondered how he could not have felt the itching, stinging sensation before, it was almost unbearable. And I have to get them off. I have to! What if they fall off in class? In his mind's eye, he could already see one of those fat, grey, filled to bursting ticks fall out of his hair, and Snape picking it up, and showing it to everybody all around…Abruptly he stood up and pushed Peter, who was sitting next to him, aside.
"Let me through."
"What is it?"
"Let me through."
"Mister Lupin?" McGonagall asked. "Is something the matter? Have you transfigured your mouse?" The Slytherins looked up from their test object, snickering already, prepared to ridicule openly if possible.
"I have to go to the bathroom." Lupin said, and he was appalled at the quiver in his voice. The ticks felt as if they were as big as apples. Sirius's, Lily's, James's and Peter's eyes were in his back, worried and questioning, but the rest of the students suddenly felt like so many bombs, ready to go off.
"I'm fine! I just need to go to the bathroom!" And before she had opened her mouth to tell him that she would not have students interrupting class by going to bathrooms or other sanitary stops, he had bolted from the room and into the nearest toilet. Thankfully no one was there apart from a first year who was washing his hands in front of the mirror, and he quickly left when Remus pointed at the door.
"Solitus." A lock appeared on the door, and he shut it quickly. In the stark light, his face looked like a skull, the effects of the change lingering in the circles beneath his eyes, which were now wide with panic, and his skin a pasty white. He parted his hair in front of the mirror, searched until he found at tick and looked at it, revolted. It was not grey, as he had imagined, but black, and looked a lot smaller than it had felt.
So, how do you remove them? Twist them clockwise or counter clockwise?
He'd had ticks a few times before. Once, when he was small, he'd spent his night in the dunes, and the next morning he'd been literally covered with ticks. It had taken his mother more than an hour to pull them all out. The very memory of it made him feel sick.
It doesn't matter. They'll have to come out, it doesn't matter if it hurts. He took the small round arachnid between the nails of index finger and thumb, twisted and pulled. The tick held on for a second, then came off with a small snap. Remus threw it into the basin, rinsed it away and went on the next tick. This one took longer to remove, and when he looked at the thing in the basin, Remus wasn't quite sure it still had a head. Doesn't matter. Next one. It took him five minutes to remove all seven ticks, and apart from the second one, they came out whole. The tiny wounds they had left were hardly painful, and perfectly invisible in the shaggy mass of his hair. He sighed, relieved and suddenly very tired.
Sometimes I wonder why I even bother trying to be human, he thought, rubbing his forehead. But then he pulled himself together, straightened his robes and removed the lock. He had managed so far, and he would continue managing, thank you very much. If only to irritate Snape and co. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door, and ran back to the class room.
To be continued…