Tonks scowled at Kingsley's complacent face as she accepted the file from him. He could talk. He had the option to stay out of the whole mess that Black and Pettigrew had created, could focus on his case – which was in no way related to those traitors – while she, as Black's cousin, constantly felt like she had something to prove.

"That's what you've been doing all morning? Negotiating with the goblins to have a look at Black's bank statement?" He really had to rub it in.

"It could be important." Tonks hated the note of defensiveness. She did not want to say too much, did not want to reveal her hunch. Much as she trusted Kingsley, a part of her was cautioning her to be delicate with her suspicions—

"You do remember your stealth and tracking lesson starts in a quarter of an hour, don't you?" Kingsley raised both eyebrows at her.

Tonks' scowl deepened at the reminder. She could not wait for the summer and the approaching auror exam, which would spell an end to the frustrating stealth and tracking lessons – assuming she passed it, of course.

Leaving Kingsley's cubicle, she saw Dawlish striding towards her. She immediately turned around, began walking, pretending she had not noticed him, hoping he had not noticed her—

"Tonks!"

No such luck, then. Reluctantly she stopped, turned around.

"I was looking for you. Where have you been all day?"

Not at your beck and call, Tonks did not say. She wished yet again that Mad-Eye, whom she was apprenticed to, had not announced his upcoming retirement – which would be happening after her graduation, but Dawlish was happy to ignore that minor detail when it suited him – when he wanted to treat her as his underling, all the while calling himself her 'unofficial mentor'. Ugh.

"I was in Wales, on one of the dragon reserves. There was an incident – someone got quite badly burnt and there's a case to be made for criminal negligence—"

"Really? You spent all day babysitting inept dragon handlers, while Black is still out there?"

In fact, she had not. It had taken her less than an hour to settle the situation and take the burnt apprentice to St Mungo's. She doubted there would be any charges brought up. She did not tell him that, of course, but remained silent, and let him fill in the blanks – however wrongly.

"So you haven't had a chance to look at Black's finances?" he asked after a pause.

Tonks scowled. "Apparently the goblins are only obliged to hand over that information on convicted criminals," she hedged. "And apparently Black never had an official trial and was never convicted. Officially."

That had been something of a surprise for her, she had to admit. Kingsley might be right in saying that things were done differently during the war, and that Black's auror questioning had been watertight. Nevertheless, it did not sit well with her that Black had never had the opportunity to face the Wizengamot, try to defend himself in his own words. After all, sometimes there were extenuating circumstances for the things people did—

"Well—" Dawlish glanced sideways. "Did you mention to them who you were? Moody thought you could manage, you see—"

Dawlish's attempt at being sly was so subpar that Tonks wished he would not try in the first place. She was well aware that she had only been given the task because as Black's relative, she had unofficial reasons to request his bank statement – reasons that the goblins had actually accepted. But she had no intention of making it that easy for Dawlish – who had only sent her to the goblins because he had no other leads. She would not give him the satisfaction of proving that it had been a useful idea just yet.

"I'll try my best to justify Mad-Eye's trust in me. It's just that the goblins aren't obliged to—"

"You need to mention to them that your mother is a Black," Dawlish cut across her impatiently, losing all semblance of subtlety. "They'll only be too happy to help then. Talk to them tomorrow. No, wait. Tomorrow's Christmas, isn't it?"

Tonks very nearly rolled her eyes. "Yes, Sir. And the day after is a Sunday."

"Monday morning, then," Dawlish grimaced. "And if they're still being stubborn – perhaps you could ask your mother to go along. I'm sure she wouldn't mind assisting the law enforcement."

Tonks, losing patience with him, agreed to do so, and extricated herself from that conversation. She then had to take the lift two floors down, to get to her lesson. On the way there, she ran across a large crowd of ministry employees, who were lucky enough to have the afternoon off and were headed home. Avoiding that many legs proved impossible for her, and she tripped, taking three other people with her – one of whom was carrying an opened ink pot.

By the time she had gone to the nearest loo and cleaned herself up somewhat sufficiently, she was at least ten minutes late. She cringed. Proudfoot was giving that lesson, and she tended to shout at latecomers. Would it hurt all that much to miss one teensy lesson, especially on Christmas Eve?

Besides, Tonks was itching to have a look at the records that had taken her several hours of negotiations to obtain – and with a little bit of luck, she would have until Monday to study them all by herself. To follow her hunch, she would need her notes for comparison, however. Most of them were official documents related to the case stored in her cubicle. Could she—

Tonks hesitated a little. If someone saw her, she would have to answer why she was not attending her lesson like a nice little trainee, and she most certainly would be prevented from taking the rest of the day off. She could just go home instead. Her father should definitely be there already, and her mother would join them soon—

The temptation won out. There was this unquenchable excitement simmering under her skin, as if before a really challenging transformation, as if before setting off a well-planned prank.

It was easier than she could have anticipated. The auror offices were strangely cleared out when she got back. There was barely any shuffling to be heard from any of the cubicles, and she easily avoided running into anyone. Quickly, she withdrew all the newspaper clippings, handwritten notes, photographs, receipts and spread them out on her desk. Then she put the bank statement she had acquired that morning in the middle of the mess.

The dates lined up, just as she had remembered. Not surprising, considering she had studied the dates of the newspaper articles in such detail a mere few months earlier. On the days of each withdrawal, there had been an article published in the Daily Prophet drawing attention to Lockhart's shady past. There was only one exception—

Just then, she heard determined footsteps passing a few cubicles away. It was easy to stay out of sight, though, crouched under her table. She felt a bit silly, hiding from her colleagues, felt almost transported back to her schooldays of sneaking out after curfew, hiding from teachers and prefects alike—

"Come on, everyone's already gone ahead—" That was Robards, Scrimgeour's second-in-command.

Tonks became still as a statue.

"What about the trainees?" Dawlish's voice was unmistakeable.

"The trainees? This is hardly suitable for them—"

"But Tonks might be able to help – what with her family connections—"

That was all she heard, as the voices of the two men drifted farther away. She straightened, ever more annoyed at Dawlish. It seemed, he had found another tedious task for her in connection with Black's case, which he was leading – and which was still going nowhere. She would have been thrilled if it had involved her actual auror skills – the ones the auror department had spent almost three years teaching her. But she mostly got involved in the case because of what she was – a relative of Black's, or a metamorphmagus.

Once the fear of discovery had passed, her eyes were drawn back to the bank statements. Black had made a withdrawal a few weeks ago, and another a few weeks before the Christmas of the previous year. Both rather eye-watering sums. She wondered what presents he had treated himself to. She had no idea where the money had gone, however. She had only been given information about the money leaving the Black family vault. For all she knew, he could have bought something by mail order—

Besides those, he had not been using his money in the entire time he had been out of Azkaban. All other withdrawals were small sums that had been made during the period when the articles about Lockhart had been published.

That included the exceptional withdrawal. It was the only one that did not fit with any articles about Lockhart – Or did it? Tonks almost gave up, thinking she had not kept any copies of the Daily Prophet from that time frame, but then she remembered—

That odd little interview about the werewolf legislation – there had been a quick mention of Lockhart's book in it, though no accusations of fake authorship. Just a regular mention, like any reader of the book might have made. So she had dismissed it – almost. She dug around in her desk drawer, and found it. The dates matched up.

There was something else, niggling at the back of her mind – a strange sort of idea. A Christmas present and an interview—

No, no. Better not get distracted. She had found a very important piece in the puzzle, she was sure. One that needed to be considered carefully. She would first share her discovery with people she trusted to be careful with it – like Mad-Eye. And, perhaps, Remus Lupin, came the treacherous thought – despite the issues with him.

But—

No, the thought was, frankly, preposterous.

It would be so easy to dismiss it, though—

Just to have peace of mind.

~HP~

Remus was not expecting any post at lunchtime, in the great hall. He was not expecting any post whatsoever, in fact. Still, he had the presence of mind not to open the letter where someone like Sna-Sni-Severus might see it.

Barely out of the great hall, he opened it. It was from Tonks. Once again, she was requesting a meeting with him. He had not expected to hear from her again so soon – or at all, really. But the letter was official – written on ministry paper, even. Which meant he could grant the request without feeling guilty, came the treacherous thought.

A mere half hour later, he was walking towards Hogsmeade, barely aware of the dementors. Soon, the village came in sight, then the Three Broomsticks, and finally Tonks, waiting in front of the entrance.

Despite the cold, she had not gone in, had not already sat down. She was wearing official auror robes on top of barely ripped jeans, the auror trainee insignia visible at the shoulders. Her hair was short and a deep violet – and so were her eyes, he noticed once he was close enough. Even her greeting seemed more subdued to him. But there was reason for that, he told himself firmly. It was for the best.

She finally smiled when he stared at her order of butterbeer – same as his.

"It's almost Christmas after all. I'm off work after this," she said. The reminder of work seemed to undo the momentary levity and her face grew more sombre again.

"Have there been any developments in finding Black and Pettigrew?" By this point, the thought filled Remus with more nervousness than excitement.

Tonks slowly nodded. "In a way. And I think it might be—" She cast around for the right word, settling on, "—noteworty."

She produced a piece of folded parchment from her bag, carefully spreading it out on the – only mildly – grimy pub table. They were sitting in a corner, facing the room, which was already almost full of people beginning the Christmas celebrations early. No one else could see the writing on the parchment – even had they been paying any attention to them – but Tonks still held it in such a way that suggested she was shielding it from others' eyes.

"It's every withdrawal Black has made from his vault since his escape," Tonks said as quietly as the room allowed. "As you can see, all but two were made in the spring and early summer of this year. A fairly short time window in the year and a half he's been on the run. And—" Here she hesitated once again.

"Yes?" Remus asked, almost holding his breath. His first impulse was to confuse her away from whatever trail she might have found leading to Sirius – without having any idea himself what that trail might be.

"There's this – weird – coincidence…" She told him about the connection to Lockhart's case. "It's so strange… Lockhart's was the first case I was assigned to, and I thought I'd done such a thorough job investigating him. But I completely dismissed what he told me early on – that someone had been sent – by Harry Potter, no less – to investigate him—"

"Harry?" Remus forced out, sounding more unnerved than intrigued as he had wanted. "And you think Lockhart might've had a point?"

"No, no." Tonks waved away that thought. "That's just what the memory in the diary told Lockhart to get him to cooperate—" She broke off, taking in his badly disguised worry. She grimaced. "The ministry… has it on good authority that Potter really isn't, um…"

"You mean all that surveillance on him?" Remus did not mind admitting that he had guessed which student's mail was being read by the ministry. It had been a fairly obvious guess, he thought.

Tonks' gaze was startled, nevertheless. "Yes… I don't even know why they keep doing that. The boy only ever writes to his cousin, and about fairly childish things – I've been asked a couple times to decipher some of their muggle references – children's shows and such."

Remus was wavering between feeling relieved that Harry was safe and feeling sorry for him for the invasion of his privacy – until he remembered that Harry had suspected he was under surveillance even before Remus had told him so. If Black really was in contact with his godson – and Remus was beginning to be pretty sure of his guess – then whatever method of communication they were using was enough to outsmart the ministry. A sort of nervous excitement gripped him as he tried to figure out how they might be doing it—

"Those bank withdrawals are all sums of money, aren't they? Did you ask about objects stored in his vault?" The question had left his mouth before he had fully considered the implications of giving an auror ideas

Tonks nodded slowly. "They wouldn't tell me." She explained how Black's lack of a trial complicated things. She noticed his lack of surprise. "You knew about this, then?"

Remus nodded.

Tonks sighed. "And my unofficial reason of asking after an account that might become mine – if Black gets caught and sentenced to the Kiss – and doesn't have a will – and if the Malfoys don't stake their claim first—" She snorted. "—wasn't enough for the goblins to give me any more information than this." She gestured at the parchment.

So Remus' idea might be right. Those mirrors James and Si-Black used to own had been put into Black's vault after the Potters went into hiding. So if Black had taken them out of his vault, then Harry might have one in his possession at that very moment, communicating safely with his godfather right under the ministry's overlarge nose.

Remus was feeling an odd sense of deja-vu. It was just like old times, him trying to figure out what prank his friends had played while he was being questioned by a teacher, so as not to incriminate them.

"What you found was enough, though, it seems." He smiled blandly. A little bit of flattery had always been helpful, he recalled.

Tonks nodded. "Black had been investigating Lockhart, I'm fairly sure now. I should've considered from the beginning that there needed to be a basis of truth for Lockhart to believe there was an investigator. All those articles about him appearing at the same time was too much of a coincidence."

Remus was somewhere between panicked and elated. Of course. If Sirius was innocent – and what a marvellous thought that still was! – then that was exactly how he would have spent the previous year – investigating any potential threats to Harry.

"He did turn up at a… crucial moment in the Chamber of Secrets," he said carefully. "Which suggests a certain – interest – in Lockhart."

Tonks' gaze was piercing. "Yes. He turned up at exactly the same time when Lockhart took the other teachers – and students – to the Chamber of Secrets. And then fought Pettigrew. A change of heart, is what Professor Dumbledore called it… And that was after spending weeks chasing down people Lockhart had harmed, talking to them, paying their expenses sometimes, and more often than not getting them to openly accuse Lockhart of the crimes he had committed – without any sort of coercion, magical or otherwise." For the first time that day, Tonks dropped her gaze, looking unsure. "It's – it's just… what he did was – most likely self-serving in some way I don't yet understand, but he—"

"He, er, unintentionally made your life a little easier," Remus finished for her, restraining himself from praising Sirius overmuch. It would not do to actually praise someone who was believed to be a mass-murderer.

Tonks regarded him ponderously. "You know, he might've talked to a journalist himself for one of the articles." She pointed at an entry on the parchment in front of her. "On this date, there was only one article published in the Daily Prophet with any mention of Lockhart, and I wasn't able to track down the interviewee this summer. Back then, I dismissed it as unrelated to my investigation, but—" Here, she produced a newspaper clipping from her bag, spreading it out.

Remus' heart gave a lurch. It was the interview about the werewolf legislation.

"His arguments sounded a little like yours…" she said, giving him a sideways glance. "Or – at least some of them. This guy – Black? – is arguing a lot for free Wolfsbane for werewolves – seems to think it'd solve all the security issues. But that's a controversial opinion to have, isn't it? Even for werewolves themselves?"

Remus gave a jerky nod. "Unfortunately, yes." He cleared his throat, not liking his voice. He sounded far from unaffected. "Some of them think that it's a way to make them dependent on the government."

The words left a bitter taste in his mouth. How he had hated that sort of paranoia back when he had still been trying to get in contact with his fellow werewolves, when he had tried to convince them to fight lawfully for the improvement of their conditions. Research into a cure for lycanthropy had gained ministry funding before the war, but as so many werewolves had sided with Voldemort afterwards, the ministry's endorsement had given it a bad name—

"But I heard there are some werewolves who think that Wolfsbane suppresses their, uh, true nature," she said with a grimace.

Remus looked away in shame. Unfortunately, she was not wrong. As soon as rumours had begun to circulate that someone was working on a cure for Wolfsbane – still during the war – the Death Eaters had circulated such ideas among the werewolves who were allied with them – and had found a great many werewolves agreeing with that sort of thinking.

Remus sunk his head. He was forced to nod, yet felt the need to somehow explain. "People can get embittered, I guess. And… and some people probably like the, uh, the justification lycanthropy gives them for their – aggression."

Something in Tonks' expression changed, but it happened too quickly for Remus to pinpoint its meaning. His opinions on the topic of werewolves were obviously biased – and very far from the norm. She might find them off-putting. And Remus, for all his resolve to keep a distance from her – and to speak up for himself – still had to admit to himself that he hated the thought of her having a negative opinion of him.

"I…" Tonks seemed hesitant, but then she gathered her resolve. "I've heard this theory about lycanthropy, being a curse that, er, progresses – and correct me if I'm wrong—"

Remus cut across her. "You mean that the longer someone's been infected, the less human they become?" His tone was combative, he was aware, but he could not restrain himself.

"Er, yes? It's supposed to be one of the reasons why Wolfsbane isn't freely distributed, isn't it?" she went on quickly, before he could interrupt. "Because it's thought that it'd hasten succumbing to the curse – by taking away the worst parts of the transformation."

Meaning the pain? Remus was never sure what people meant when they claimed that. Because to him, the worst part was the danger he posed to his fellow humans. But then he failed to see how ensuring that he did not harm anyone would make him less human.

"Oh, and never mind that it's very expensive and difficult to make." Remus was becoming irked. "Do you really believe that?" it then burst out of him. "Do you really think—"

"That being left to suffer by human society will encourage werewolves to not turn away from human society?" Tonks cut across him, far calmer than he sounded. As if she had given the topic a fair amount of thought – and arrived at the sensible conclusion.

As if her questions were testing him, somehow.

She went on before Remus had time to get uncomfortable, in a far lighter tone. "Then you agree with Black that free Wolfsbane would make things better – if only the ministry paid for it?"

Remus nodded.

"So you made good use of the Wolfsbane potion you were sent as a Christmas present last year, then?"

Her light, conversational tone was such that it took Remus a moment to understand what she had just told him. And when he did, he felt himself grow hot and cold at once.

~HP~

Remus was miffed and trying to convince himself that he was not. He was walking faster than was polite, and if not for Tonks' excellent transfiguration skills, she would have had to run to keep up with him. As it was, she had been forced to lengthen her legs to keep up with his stride. Despite this, he was not slowing down, keeping a half-step in front of her.

She had been regretful, hesitant, she had apologised – in so many words – when she had told him she would be following him back to the school to ask his employers if they knew of his lycanthropy. If he was obeying the law. But Remus was not satisfied with that. He was… disappointed. Even though she was just doing her job – and trying to do it better than the post office employee who had allowed Wormtail to be sent to Hogwarts. Even remembering that did not make her reaction more agreeable to him, even though he was used to a much harsher treatment from her fellow aurors. He supposed he had expected better from her.

"How did you guess?" he finally burst out, once the stifling silence got to him.

It had not been a difficult deduction after guessing that Black had given the interview. She only had to remember what he had told her and Mad-Eye in the summer and what he himself had told her of his views on werewolves. "Then I looked you up in the werewolf registry – mostly thinking I was imagining things. But there you were…" Tonks sounded a bit lost.

"Surprised, were you?" Remus could not help the bite in his tone. He saw her nod, then grimace, out of the corner of his eye. "Why, aren't I a likely candidate for it?"

Tonks had to look away from his accusing glare. She shrugged. "I… guess I never thought you might be – before," she said miserably. "I—" She snorted. "I thought I'd never met a werewolf before. And from all I knew about werewolves – about the curse progressing and, well, changing them – er, you—" She drew in a sharp breath as he averted his face. "Or… is that not true, then?"

Remus did look back then, took in her hesitant, frowning face. Her hair had turned a rather dull brown colour. Her eyes, meanwhile, had faded to a very pale grey, the clarity of which gave her a strangely honest expression – and somehow reminded Remus of Sirius.

He slowed down and Tonks did likewise.

"So you didn't feel in any way changed, then, when you were, er, bitten?" she asked again, grimacing at the end.

Remus wanted to agree, he really did. Her whole demeanour suggested that she was ready to believe what he told her. It made Remus aware that he might be a bit unfair. In the months he had known her, he had found her to be willing to reassess her opinions. Tonks was always doing her best to be fair in her assessments – be it of werewolves or escaped criminals. And it was hardly her fault that her opinion of werewolves was what she had been taught by all of society.

The problem was that Remus could not in good conscience tell her the bite had not changed him – because he did not remember what he had been like as a barely five-year-old child. And he had unfortunately met other werewolves – several also bitten by Greyback – who had insisted the bite had changed them. Remus was – almost – sure that they were trying to justify their heinous behaviours by saying that, but—

This time, Remus could not hold Tonks' gaze and had to look away.

"Sorry, that's not a fair question, is it?" Tonks went on quickly. Her self-deprecating smile came out as a grimace. "Of course it changed you. And even if it changed your personality as well, that hardly means you're incapable of moral judgement. I… I guess I do know you well enough at least."

Remus shook his head in frustration. She was doing Hufflepuff, her old Hogwarts house, proud. But he could not fully agree with her. Things were not that simple. Suddenly, Remus felt a bone-deep longing for his lost friends – for James, who used to firmly believe that the curse had had no influence on Remus' character and for Lily, who had been ready to argue with anyone who dared to suggest otherwise. Even Black's comments, that he used to disagree with back then – that the curse held no sway over Remus – regardless of how it affected others—

"I… I don't know if it does—" he finally forced out. He turned back towards the road, began walking again, wanting an end of the topic.

"Oh."

Tonks' tone of surprised understanding was not what Remus had expected, prompting him to glance back.

"It was during the war, wasn't it? Compared to how much the war must've changed you—" Tonks caught up with him in a few strides, then overtook him until she could look him in the face. "Oh! It must've been during your apprenticeship, of course—"

"Er—" Remus found himself put on the spot. He did not want to admit that Dumbledore had let him attend Hogwarts as a lycanthrope, especially as Tonks would already be questioning the headmaster's wisdom in employing him currently.

"But of course!" she went on before the bitterness of that thought could linger. "That's what you were saying in the summer, about your friends becoming animagi in order to help you. That's why Mad-Eye knows, isn't it? Because of all that secret what-not that you were all involved in back then." She looked at him shrewdly. "He does know, doesn't he?"

Remus nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He was aware that he was letting her believe a falsehood – that he was lying by omission.

She frowned a bit. "How did they help you?"

That was easier to answer. Remus explained how they used to spend the full moon with him, to keep him from hurting himself – only realising Tonks had been unaware of that charming side-effect of his condition when he saw her horrified expression. Her eyes swept his scarred face before sliding away.

Remus felt his heart sink. For all that he had not wanted her interest in him before, it pained him to see her reaction to him change, become distanced.

Unexpectedly, Remus was reminded of what Sirius used to tell him in reference to his scars – that he bore the marks of his resistance to the lycanthropy curse. Back then, it used to annoy him to no end—

To distract himself from such thoughts, he sped up again. Hogwarts was looming in front of them. Better get the unpleasantness out of the way. "Shall we go to Albus' office, then? He was planning to be at the school all day today," he said, his tone as neutral as he could manage.

Tonks' reply was a suppressed interjection. His words had brought them back to the official business at hand, signalling an end to the conversation – such as it had been.

They had barely walked through the entrance hall, barely stepped foot on the marble staircase, when Remus drew up short. Just as he had begun to think the day could not have taken a worse turn. Snape was looking down on them from the top of the staircase. Tonks, having gone up a couple of steps, also halted, looking between the two men. Snape stopped, regarding them suspiciously. He was the one who started walking again first, like an overgrown bat floating down the staircase, stopping only once he had reached Tonks.

"Ah, Auror Trainee Tonks," he said, and there was an unmistakeable note of mockery in his voice. "How unexpected. I wouldn't have thought you'd willingly set foot into these halls again, considering your track record with discipline at Hogwarts—"

Tonks bristled. "I'm here on business," she said shortly, glancing back at Remus.

No, no, no. Do not tell him what brought you here, Remus thought in near-panic. Was it not enough humiliation to have to inconvenience his employer because he needed to show he was obeying the law? He could not stomach the thought of Snape knowing about it – especially considering he was dependent on Snape for the Wolfsbane potion.

Snape followed Tonks' glance to Remus, his eyebrows going up. "Is that so? Anything the school needs to be made aware of?"

Tonks grimaced. "I, er, need to see the headmaster."

Snape's gaze went between her and Remus, who was aware that he had not managed to keep his face entirely neutral. "And what, pray tell, is your business with the headmaster? We wouldn't want to inconvenience him for no reason. Even if Lupin, here, wasn't able to help you further, I'm sure I do have the authority to help the law, as it were."

There was something unpleasant and knowing in his tone – the old sense that there was something Remus did not want him to know was clearly still there. It was all so familiar – recalling a myriad of incidents from their teenage years.

Tonks looked at Remus apologetically. "I, er, wanted to – ask the headmaster about…" Tonks looked around, searching for a euphemism. "…a law – being observed," she finally settled on.

That was enough of a hint for Snape, Remus could tell right away, as their eyes met.

Remus was trying to think of something to say, to get Snape to let them be on their way, when there was a shuffling sound right behind him. He saw Snape's eyes widen in surprise, focused on something behind Remus' back. When he turned around, there was Harry, looking curiously back at them.

"Er, hi." He waved his hand awkwardly in greeting.

"Wotcher." Tonks got over her surprise first.

Harry hesitantly stepped closer. "I… remember you. You're an auror, aren't you?"

"Auror trainee," Tonks corrected him automatically.

"Is – is something the matter?"

Remus wondered if the worry in Harry's tone was on Black's behalf. Despite thinking Black innocent, it made him uncomfortable.

"Nothing you need to concern yourself with," Snape said.

"Oh, I'm not chasing down any criminals today, not to worry." Tonks smiled at Harry in a reassuring manner.

Remus was once again feeling like a co-conspirator, when Harry's questioning gaze landed on him, waiting for him to smile as well before he relaxed.

"Well, okay, then." Harry made an aborted, turning motion, then remembered his manners. "Nice to see you again—" He was already turning around while speaking.

"Potter! Where are you off to?" said Snape before he had made his escape.

"Er, just… getting some fresh air."

Remus, who remembered James so well, was able to see the suggestion of a smirk in his son's expression. Only then did he pay attention to the fact that Harry was dressed as if he was intending to be outside. Snape had not missed that, but Remus doubted it was out of concern. More likely, it was an attempt to get Harry in trouble – and on Christmas Eve at that!

That was hardly surprising, considering the way Snape usually spoke about Harry. Most recently, he had accused Harry of dark magic for being a Parselmouth. At first, this had bothered Remus, because based on what he had overheard on the Hogwarts Express several months earlier, he had thought Harry valued Snape's opinion, but if the boy was in contact with Black, then it was more than possible that Harry was only pretending to get along with Snape.

"Have fun," Remus told Harry before Snape could say anything more. If nothing else, he really could do without Harry witnessing this particular confrontation. Perhaps he could use the distraction of Harry's appearance. "I… believe we were about to see the headmaster?" he spoke hastily, gesturing to Tonks to leave.

"About that – Are we being accused of breaking a law? That does sound rather serious. What law are we being accused of breaking, then?" drawled Snape, sounding not the least bit genuine.

The Bastard! He was clearly trying to get Tonks to say it in front of Harry! As if the debacle of his substitute lessons had not been enough! Worse, Harry had also noticed the odd tone of the conversation and was clearly lingering, trying to see what would follow.

"It's about me," Remus said shortly, just about refraining himself from raising his voice. He could not help it, though, that his scowling gaze landed on Harry as well, who had annoyingly refused to leave. "About – security issues regarding me, and – how well Albus is—" He stopped unwilling to go on, waiting to see what Snape would come back with.

"My! Do you pose a security risk, then? To our students, perhaps? That is indeed very serious, of course—"

Remus wanted to punch him. From the corner of his eyes, he could see Harry's frowning gaze had landed on him. He tried to tell himself he was being paranoid, Harry was unlikely to have any idea about the reason why he posed a security risk, but just thinking him a danger, for whatever reason—

"No, he doesn't!" Harry suddenly burst out, glaring at Snape. "And you know that perfectly well! Professor," he added at the end, mutinously.

"Er, what—" began a confused Tonks.

"Professor Snape brews the Wolfsbane potion for Professor Lupin," said Harry, unheeding of how his words tilted Remus' world view, his face still turned towards Snape, wearing an unwavering scowl. As if that was not enough, he then turned to Tonks. "And really? Don't you aurors have anything better to do? It's bad enough that that law was passed last year, I wouldn't have thought anyone halfway sensible would be in favour of it—"

"Harry, that'll do," said Remus, as quickly as he managed, while still getting over his shock. If Harry really was in contact with Black – and obviously he was – then he had to be stopped before the sort of bluntness that Black favoured – and would have encouraged in him – got him in trouble. Comforting though his words had been.

But what had Black been thinking, telling Harry about his lycanthropy? All the while Remus had been keeping his secret – his animagus form. That had not been out of choice, of course, but still—

"Well, you see, this being a school and underage students being concerned—" Tonks actually began to explain to Harry, sounding put on the spot. More, she sounded genuinely regretful.

"Potter, do stay out of things that are none of your concern!" Snape spoke over Tonks, sounding annoyed.

Remus cringed internally. The last thing he wanted was for Harry to get in trouble for defending him.

"Now, Albus is a very busy man, and as such, I'll take it upon myself to answer any concerns you may have, Trainee Tonks," said Snape. "It is, after all, primarily an imposition on my skills as a potions master to guarantee the safety of this school—"

"What? That's not fair!" interjected Harry.

Remus had to act fast, before Harry landed himself in detention on his behalf – even if it meant humbling himself. "Well, unless you want to ask Professor Snape if you can help him with brewing the potion, I'm afraid he's right. He not only brews it, he even brings it to me, to see that I drink it." He grimaced, realising only then that Tonks had been asking him about his opinion of the potion to find out if he was willing to drink it – and almost missed the assessing way Snape was regarding him.

"I think you may be overestimating Potter's abilities once again. As well as my patience with Gryffindor dunderheads—"

"Ugh, I'm sure he'll manage without me," Harry said at exactly the same time. "And anyway, you're the one who has to drink the horrible thing – and you always do—"

"Potter! For the last time!" Snape really was becoming angry. "Now, Trainee Tonks—"

"Er, actually, I think that answers all my questions," said Tonks. Her face had cleared up, looking cheerful once again, and as Remus watched, her hair turned a vivid green, to match the décor around her.

Snape sneered, looking from her to Remus and Harry and back. "Is that so, Nymphadora? It wouldn't do to not be fair to the Gryffindors, would it?"

"But of course not, Professor," Tonks replied in a much cooler tone.

Snape only sneered more, muttered something about having his time wasted, and forced his way through their group, finally continuing on his way.

Tonks, to her audience's astonishment, began to look like the surly potions master in front of their eyes – at least her head did. Then she proceeded to repeat Snape's parting words in a mocking tone. Seeing Harry's openly wide-eyed stare, she dissolved into peals of laughter – a truly disturbing sight, coming from Snape's mouth, until she had turned back again.

"Oh, see, he was talking about an incident," she said conspiratorially, still barely holding in her giggles.

"What, about being fair to Gryffindors?" asked Harry.

Tonks nodded. "I… used to, er, not be the most rule-abiding of students, I'm afraid—" She did not look particularly regretful. "And, er, remember I told you about my ability to transfigure myself last summer?"

"You're a… metamorphmagus, right?" said Harry.

"Yes, exactly." Tonks beamed at him.

Remus was astonished. First, he had finally heard her first name – and from Snape, of all people. Then she had casually addressed her transfiguration skills. He would not have guessed she was a true metamorphmagus – it being such a rare gift – despite her outstanding abilities. But not only had she not mentioned it before, she had never even been willing to talk about her skill—

And now, here she was, telling Harry how she used to transform into her teachers in her school days, to make her classmates laugh.

"Did you try that with Snape as well?" Harry asked right away.

"Well… not a lot. He doesn't have a sense of humour. But this one time was a special matter. I used to be friends with a boy called Charlie Weasley, who was a Gryffindor—"

Harry knew of him, of course. Then Tonks proceeded to tell him a tale of quidditch finals with Gryffindor playing Slytherin, and Snape being his usual, unfair self and landing Charlie in detention on the day of the match. As Remus watched Tonks tell the punchline of her tale – of her and Charlie imprisoning Snape in his office, with Tonks masquerading as the potions master and then proceeding to take points from all the Slytherins they ran into on the way to the match – he felt a wild sort of urge overtake him, to remind Tonks of her attempt to ask him out, to explain that the reason for his rejection had been her ignorance of his condition, to ask her if she might be interested after all—

Then the madness passed, Remus remembered that his condition was still there, and all that had changed was that Tonks now knew why it was for the best to stay away from him.

"And Snape threatened me with everything – from expulsion, to Filch torturing me in the dungeons, but good old McGonagall wouldn't let him!" Tonks was finishing her tale, amid giggles from Harry. "She actually gave me points – for being fair on behalf of the Gryffindors and doing my house proud!"

Harry laughed out loud, recalling Snape's words, and even Remus had to exhale a little laugh. Tonks shot him an uncertain look, her own animated face falling a bit. A moment of stillness, then she smiled, grinned at Harry, and proceeded to apologise to him.

"I do know you better than to think you'd break the law, or endanger your students," she said.

Remus, who had not expected that, was suddenly feeling elated. She now knew, and they were parting as friends!

There was one more surprise of the day to deal with after she had left. Remus turned to Harry, both to thank him for his help against Snape – and he was aware that Harry's words really had helped him, had not allowed Snape to twist the situation to Remus' detriment in Tonks' hearing – and to perhaps carefully ask him how he knew of his lycanthropy.

He did not quite get that far.

"What were you thinking, telling me to ask Snape to help with the Wolfsbane! What he must think – Obviously, he thinks I told you! But then to mention it infront of aurors of all things!"

"Er, what?"

"Well, I did say – imply – I'd never want to help. And at least Tonks didn't seem to think you'd been serious, I don't think. I guess I'll have to apologise to him when next I see him…" Harry was looking rather unhappy.

"To Snape?" Remus was entirely confused. "For what? Er, I mean, you did stand up for me, and I'm so very grateful—"

Harry scowled. "No! I mean, obviously, Snape was his usual awful self – and to say he's the only one responsible for the potion, when I'm right here! What did he think I'd say? But you really didn't need to add that I might help him. How did you even hear about that? Did Professor Dumbledore tell you as well?"

"The headmaster? What—"

"Because he told me about—" He gestured to Remus. "You know."

"Wait, he told you?"

"Yes? To explain why he was so sure that Black's also an animagus," said Harry, looking somewhat embarrassed.

"And – wait—" Remus' mind finally caught up with what had been said. "And you think he told me that – what – that you're helping Snape with making the Wolfsbane?!"

"Er, well, me and Ron and Hermione, yes." Harry drew back, looking a bit surprised.

"But – but Snape hates you!" Remus burst out. "How can you stand to be around him when you don't need to. Harry, I'd never expect you to do that for me—" Remus drew back at Harry's grimace. "He – doesn't hate you, then?"

"No… He just has to pretend he does. You do know about that, don't you?" Harry went on in a tone as if he was the teacher and Remus was the student. "You were in the Order, weren't you?"

"You – you mean because Snape was a spy during the war," Remus answered faintly. "But that was back then—"

Harry once again looked at him like he was the student – and a rather slow one, this time. "He's still needed as a spy. Obviously. So it wouldn't do for people to start thinking he – doesn't hate me." He grimaced. "So I had to say what I did – and he knows I had to, but…"

Harry was worried about Snape's reaction to his words! Everything Remus had assumed to be true was turning out to be completely wrong. All throughout that very confusing day he had not felt as wrong-footed as he was feeling just then.

"Is he different, then? In private?" he finally asked.

"Who, Snape?" Harry thought about it. "Yes," he then said, with some surprise. "It's not that he's not unpleasant. He is. But he's also – well, he's saved our lives a fair few times, and he listens to us when we discover something, and doesn't just tell us to go to our dorms and 'let the adults handle it' and he teaches us potions skills. He was impressed when he found out we'd brewed the Polyjuice potion last year," Harry said with some pride. "So this year, he trusted us to actually be able to help—"

"And you are?" Remus noticed how his sceptical tone made Harry frown. "I mean, I've heard how difficult Wolfsbane is to brew—"

"It is," Harry nodded. "But Snape's actually taught us the second stage – and we did pretty well." Again, there was pride in his words. "I mean… I know it might be a bit – surprising that I'd like potions, because my parents didn't – and it's not like it's my favourite subject, or anything, but it can be very useful—"

Remus frowned. "What makes you think your parents were bad at it? Did Snape say so?" At Harry's denial, he frowned even more. Maybe he had not been wrong about everything after all. Maybe, if Black had mentioned how atrocious he himself used to be, Harry had just assumed—

In fact, of the four of them, it had only been Remus and Sirius who had been hopeless. James had been fairly good at potions, and it had been Pettigrew's best subject. With an old suppressed annoyance, Remus recalled how Pettigrew used to insist James partner with him in potions, leaving Remus with the even more hopeless Sirius—

Remus told Harry of his mother's gift for potions, and that his father had been fairly good at it as well, clearly pleasing the boy.

After they parted ways – Harry rushing to where he had been headed to before he had run into the three adults – possibly up to something, though hopefully nothing too wild – Remus finally came to a resolve. He had to see the headmaster and ask him for the transcripts of Sirius' trial. He needed evidence. Otherwise, his flimsy assumptions had a habit of collapsing all around him.