Hermione heard of Harry's plans to sneak out at Hallowe'en during herbology the next morning, together with Ron, while they were working on the same puffapod. She scowled in response, but refrained from telling him not to, after his casual mention that he had never visited his parents' graves. She thought for a moment, as they stripped the fat pink pods from the plants and emptied the shining beans into a wooden pail.
"Maybe you should ask Professor McGonagall to let you come along to Hogsmeade after all," she finally said, earning her friends' surprised looks. She huffed. "At least, that way, you wouldn't be sneaking out of the school. You'd at least have permission to leave the castle."
Ron insisted that was nothing but a technicality, but Harry agreed to do so, saying it might make sneaking away easier. Hermione refrained from arguing with them further.
They had transfiguration next, and while waiting outside of the classroom to be let in, Hermione was wondering how Harry would be arguing his case after class, trying to come up with some helpful arguments herself. There was a disturbance at the front of the line, which distracted her. Lavender seemed to be crying, surrounded by Parvati, Seamus and Dean, all of them looking very serious.
Hermione, who shared her dorm with Lavender, asked anxiously what the matter was, and was sorry to hear that the other girl's pet rabbit, Binky, had been killed by a fox. She hesitated when Lavender, with a tragic voice, brought up Trelawney's prediction that what she dreaded most would happen on Friday the 15th of October. She was well aware that her opinion of Trelawney was not a popular one. Besides, Lavender had just received tragic news. And yet—
Hermione had been wrong in her opinions before. She knew this. There was Lockhart, as Ron liked to remind her. But could she really have been that wrong about Trelawney? That prediction seemed surprisingly accurate – it came with an exact date. And yet—
"You – you were dreading Binky being killed by a fox?" Hermione said, unable to hold back the words, despite the serious faces of her classmates – friends – surrounding Lavender.
"Well, not necessarily by a fox," said Lavender, looking up at Hermione with streaming eyes, "but I was obviously dreading him dying, wasn't I?"
Hermione felt vindicated, as well as angry all of a sudden. With a strong suspicion of what the answer would be, she asked if Binky had been old – he had only been a baby, came the teary reply. Then why would Lavender have dreaded his death? Parvati glared at her for pointing this out.
"Well, look at it logically," said Hermione, turning to the rest of the group. "I mean, Binky didn't even die today, did he? Lavender just got the news today—" Lavender wailed loudly. "—and she can't have been dreading it, because it's come as a real shock—"
"Don't mind Hermione, Lavender," said Ron loudly, "she just doesn't like being wrong about anything."
Hermione was suddenly incensed. Worse, she felt let down by her friend, even though she knew that Ron did not share her opinion of Trelawney. She was not sure if it was a good thing that Professor McGonagall opened the door at that moment to let them in.
"She just lost her pet, Hermione," Ron whispered on the way in, berating her.
Hermione wanted to shout at him that she had not been insensitive just so she could show herself to be right. It had been about Trelawney scaring them with her predictions, in order to impress them, to make herself look important – and it made her so angry that so many people were falling for it—
The sudden clarity the trance brought was so overwhelming, she almost stumbled into her seat and Ron had to grab her elbow to steady her. The anger was gone, like everything else, except for the one thing, deeper than all that, that the spell had focused on. "It's about honesty, Ron," she said, "and Trelawney's lack of it. I do feel sorry for Lavender, but she's letting herself be deceived. They all are. I wanted to find the honest truth."
Ron and Harry were both giving her odd looks – and shielding her from the glares of their classmates. Then their eyes widened, and they sent her questioning looks, not daring to ask about the animagus spell in Professor McGonagall's classroom. She nodded jerkily, before forcing herself to come back to herself and pay attention to the lesson. Inside, her mind was still buzzing, her hand itching to start calculating – barely deterred by the presence of the one professor she knew to be an animagus. She was pretty sure her newly found word was 'honesty'.
Despite his best attempts, McGonagall did not accept Harry's excuse that his aunt and uncle had merely missed the opportunity to sign his permission form because he had to stay at Diagon Alley. She refused his request to allow him to visit Hogsmeade.
This was in no way a deterrent. Despite the sombre reason for the trip, the planning involved was nothing short of exciting, brightening the monotony of lessons, homework and quidditch practice. Sirius had soon been won over, and was once again eager to help.
Hermione, once having agreed that Harry should go, had thrown herself into the preparation. Her planning reached new levels of seriousness after Sirius mentioned that Pettigrew might know – or guess – that he would be going to Godric's Hollow on Hallowe'en, having successfully guessed the same the year before. Hermione shrilly asked question after question, not hiding her disapproval.
Harry thought she sounded more critical of Sirius than she usually did, but Sirius did not seem to mind, responding with his usual bark-like laugh.
"Oh, Harry, you'll need to be so well-prepared," she said, looking away from the two-sided mirror showing Sirius' amused face. "And that'll require planning. Knowing that there is going to be danger, and heading towards it is – is—" She huffed out an annoyed breath.
"Pettigrew can't do anything, Hermione," said Sirius reasonably. "Not in broad daylight, not with all the muggles who'll be there. It's a functioning church, and on a Sunday morning there'll be a few muggles around – enough that he won't risk doing anything. Speaking of, we'll need to blend in, pretend to be muggles, Harry. You'll need to dress, er—"
"Like I usually dress when not in class?" Harry deadpanned.
Sirius grimaced. "I guess that's mostly something I need to keep in mind. Well, that's that, then—"
"Is that it!" Hermione interrupted. "Is that all the preparing you're going to do? Harry'll just meet you in the Shrieking Shack – dressed in muggle clothes – and you'll just – go—"
"With the surprise transport I organised for us," Sirius added calmly.
He had so far refused to tell them what that was supposed to be, which was another thing that greatly annoyed Hermione.
"All your plans are like that. No wonder Lockhart almost led you into a trap and made you reveal yourself," she groused somewhat uncharitably. "You went after him without preparation, without considering all the consequences—"
"What are you talking about, Hermione?" Sirius' lips were twitching suspiciously, barely keeping from breaking out into a grin. "I went to the sacrifice of reading all of Lockhart's books in preparation—" Before Hermione could do more than scoff in response, he held up his hands. "I have taken precautions and I really do think Harry and I will be quite safe during the entire trip there and back."
Hermione decided to believe him – somewhat. This did not mean that she stopped her own preparations, however. Every chance she got, she would tell Harry and Ron about every spell she had read about in Bill's notes – or elsewhere – that Pettigrew might use against Harry and Sirius.
"There's all sorts of spells to check for things. Spells to detect concealments, spells to detect any use of recent magic, spells to trace people by magic they've used—"
"That one was Appare something-or-other, wasn't it?" said Harry, sounding pleased to have remembered it, rather than worried.
"Appare Vestigium," came Hermione's exasperated reply. "That one will show up any magic recently used in an area – a fairly large area, if the caster is powerful. There's also Incantatio Revelio – another spell that shows recently used magic – this time for a specific person. And it tracks that magic user for quite a long distance."
"Alright… Well, is there a counter for it?" said Ron.
"Not one Harry could learn."
"Well, Sirius might know it." said Harry.
Hermione sniffed. "He probably does. But is he thinking of all the things that could go wrong? What if Pettigrew's put an intruder charm around the graves? It'd go off, alert the muggles, which would set off the Trace—"
"Well, I can remind Sirius to check for that—"
"Did I tell you about this little tracking spell, Avenseguim? It can turn any object into a tracking device that'll follow you wherever you go. It's like the homing spell, but the object is not itself dark magic, and protective spells don't work on it so well—"
"And it could follow me from the churchyard all the way back to Hogwarts. If I fail to spot it. Yes, you've mentioned," said Harry.
"Or follow Sirius, until he's not around other people any more, and has become an easy target—"
"For Pettigrew?" said Ron. "Not a chance. Hermione, I keep telling you, you read too much. And the more you read, the more you worry. So do like me – don't read."
Hermione came back with a scathing reply, and the ensuing bickering managed to distract her away from her worries.
Slowly, over the following days she resigned herself to the fact that Harry would be breaking the rules again. A few days later, during charms on Tuesday, while they were supposed to be quietly working on the disillusionment charm – not that either of them needed to, having learned it in first year – she gasped, then grabbed Harry's arm to draw his attention.
"Flowers," she said to him out of the blue.
"You should bring flowers," she whispered urgently. Impatient with his lack of understanding, she dramatically rolled her eyes. "On Hallowe'en!" she hissed as loudly as she dared.
Harry looked stricken. "Oh, I didn't think of that."
"Well, I keep telling you, planning is—"
She stopped when Ron, sitting on Harry's other side, loudly cleared his throat to alert them that Flitwick was nearby.
After class, as they walked to the great hall to have lunch, they tried to figure out what to do. There was not much time left – Hallowe'en was at the end of that week. Hermione finally promised she would think of a way.
If all else failed, Harry supposed he could just ask Sirius. He knew though that he did not want to do that. He had not even guessed what Sirius would be doing on Hallowe'en, had not been thinking of that horrible, ruinous event twelve years ago, until his godfather had told him of his plans. Harry could at least manage to bring the flowers on his own, he thought – even if Hermione had had to tell him to do so.
They did not discuss the topic further in their next class – or rather classes. Hermione did not allow any distractions during arithmancy, and as for divination, it was still more unpleasant than usual for Hermione. Even a week and a half after her little outburst following Lavender's rabbit's death, Lavender and Parvati still got a bit weird around her during divination class.
Afterwards, they had defence, and even though they usually did their best to pay attention to Lupin's teaching, this issue was distracting Harry enough that he brought it up again. Hermione quietly suggested having them delivered by owl post – but then shot down the idea herself. Owl post deliveries took too long, and they were out of time. Ron suggested asking his mother for some flowers from their garden, but he was clearly reluctant. It would not be easy to justify such a request.
Then Harry thought of something else. "What about Pettigrew? What if he sees them there?"
His friends did not understand immediately, looking at him with confusion.
"What if he goes to Godric's Hollow tomorrow—" He stopped when he noticed Lupin was uncomfortably close and looking their way, but he had said enough. His friends had understood.
Lupin must have heard something – enough that he gave them strange looks for the rest of the class.
"Never mind Pettigrew," Ron said as soon as the class was over. "So what if he finds the flowers there? Even if he can figure out that you left them – so what?"
Even Hermione agreed that it was important enough to be worth the risk, and Harry agreed.
Hermione had muggle studies and ancient runes right after lunch the following day, before she and Ron rejoined Harry for history of magic afterwards. Hermione, for once, was not arguing against talking in Binns' class. It was she, who quietly told Harry she had talked to Neville just before ancient runes.
"I was trying to distract him. He looks forward to that class almost as much as potions." She grimaced in sympathy. "Anyway, I asked him if there were any nice flowers on the Hogwarts grounds – the sort students are allowed to pick, obviously. He was surprised, of course, because I wouldn't explain what it was about, but…"
"But he's known us a while now," supplied Ron from Harry's other side.
"Yes. Well." Hermione rolled her eyes, but could not suppress a tiny, snorting laugh. "He said it's the wrong time of the year. If we want flowers now, it'll have to be ones from one of the greenhouses."
"We have herbology after this," Harry said at once, eagerly.
Hermione gave a long-suffering sigh. "You realise we're talking about stealing, don't you?"
"Nah, come on, Hermione," said Ron. "No one'll miss a few flowers. Most of them'll be cut down by the end of the week anyway, for the Hallowe'en feast."
All throughout herbology, Neville kept following their glances suspiciously, clearly trying to determine what they were looking at – and drawing others' attention to them. That would not do. Ron thought fast, and turned to him, to distract him, asking questions about the puffapods they were working on. This did not quite go according to plan, and a few moments later, the arrangement of the students had shifted subtly so that Neville was standing next to Harry and Hermione.
"I might come to regret this," he began with a quiet sigh. "But if you told me what sorts of flowers you need – I won't even ask for what – then maybe I could help you."
Harry debated his answer. It would mean admitting they were up to something. It would mean involving Neville in yet more rule-breaking. But he had been their friend for some time now. Harry trusted him, and also trusted that he would be able to live with the consequences if they were caught. With a nod at Hermione, he gave permission for her to answer.
"Uh, I'm not even sure how to describe it," said Hermione, keeping her tone whisper-quiet. "Something that'll fit in a flower arrangement – preferably non-magical – and in sombre colours, maybe?"
Neville frowned. "Are you going to a funeral?"
Harry grimaced. "Not exactly."
"One of your pets didn't die, did they?"
"No!" came the shocked denials from both Harry and Hermione, drawing a bit too much attention.
"Well, there's some common white flowers in this greenhouse. Lilies and daffodils, and… Actually, would you even recognise which ones I'm talking about? Uh, are you planning to steal them?" He said the last part especially quietly.
Harry imperceptibly nodded his head. "Er, if you, er, describe them to me? I guess any white flowers will do—"
"N-no, some of them might be magical," said Neville. "If you want mundane flowers, you should only pick ones I tell you to."
"Right—" Harry grimaced.
"Oh, never mind." Exasperated, Hermione looked away from his pathetic expression, facing Neville. "I'll do it. So, which ones should I avoid?"
Relieved, Harry tried to thank her, but she brushed it off, saying he should save it for after she had successfully returned with the loot.
It was easy enough for Hermione to slip away from the work benches unobserved – she was not one of those students teachers usually needed to pay attention to in that regard. It helped also that she had become quite adept at disillusionment charms. Harry, Ron and Neville kept busy, tried their best to act normally, and waited in suspense for her to get back.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief when she turned up next to him again quite a few long minutes later. He frowned though, when he saw that she was as empty-handed as she had been when she had left.
"I put them in my bag," she explained, rolling her eyes. She subtly pointed towards the entrance to the greenhouse, where they had all stowed their bags. "I had to unpack some of my books, though. But you can carry those."
"Er, yeah, sure—"
"That wasn't a question. I stuffed as many as I could fit in your bag. Yours, too, Ron. The rest you can carry by hand."
Once the class was over, Harry and Ron could barely wait to leave the greenhouse until the sniggers had overtaken them. Even Neville joined in the hilarity. Hermione rolled her eyes, and went along with it – as long as Neville was around.
"I had to use the time-turner, did you realise?" she hissed at the boys, her face set into a deep scowl. "I was barely gone a few minutes. Who knows, maybe Neville could tell I wasn't telling the truth—"
"Nah. I didn't. So why would he?" said Ron.
"Because he has a better idea what I actually had to do! And I tried, without the time-turner. But there were locking charms everywhere! It'd have taken forever to undo them – not to mention putting them back without Professor Sprout noticing the difference—"
"So how did you do it?" said Ron eagerly.
This only darkened Hermione's scowl, but after a beat she answered. "I waited until the class was over and everyone had left. The locking charms inside lifted once the entire greenhouse was locked from the outside. Then I could grab some flowers, go back by an hour and – Well, you know the rest."
"Good thinking, Hermione," said Harry.
"Yeah, Hermione. Excellent. Very creative use of the time-turner," added Ron.
The boys ducked under her flashing eyes, letting the giggles overtake them once again.
Saturday morning, Harry felt too keyed up to stay in the common room. Everyone else was discussing their plans for the Hogsmeade trip the following morning, while his own mind kept drifting to his trip to Godric's Hollow. The sneaking out of school and past the dementors part of it worried him somewhat, and he thought he probably would be having an emotional reaction to Godric's Hollow once he got there, but that afternoon, all he could think was that he would not be going to Hogsmeade after all. He would likely be the only third year after Hallowe'en who had never – properly – been there. (There had been that trip to London the year before, which had begun by going to Hogsmeade and taking the Knight Bus from there. But still.)
His aimless wandering had brought him to the defence against the dark arts office, he realised with a start, when he spotted Lupin inside the open door, trying to direct a very large tank of water to one corner of the office. This was made more difficult by the presence of a sickly green creature with sharp little horns, visible among a tangle of weeds, which had its face pressed against the glass, pulling faces and flexing its long, spindly fingers.
Lupin gave a start when he finally noticed Harry. He righted the water tank, which had tilted precariously at his slip of focus. "Harry? What are you doing here?" He sounded somewhat flustered.
Harry might have been surprised by this under other circumstances, but he knew that Lupin would be transforming into a wolf in a short few hours – the full moon was that night, and the sun set quite early at the end of October, after all.
"I was just, er, walking past – and saw that creature in your office."
"Ah, the grindylow for our next lesson. It was delivered this morning." While he invited Harry into his office, he went on to explain that the way to deal with them was to break their grip, as their abnormally long fingers were strong but very brittle.
"Are you looking forward to the Hogsmeade trip—" Lupin stopped talking midway through the sentence. "I mean—" he backtracked with a little grimace.
He knew Harry was supposed to be in danger, of course, and was made to stay inside Hogwarts grounds.
"No, I won't be going to Hogsmeade tomorrow," Harry said. "Everyone keeps saying it's because my aunt and uncle didn't get around to signing my permission form. But of course it's because Pettigrew was sighted not too far from there a few weeks ago."
"Ah, I see. An opportunity to be idle, then. Have you and Ron and Hermione thought of other fun ways to fill the day?"
Once again, Lupin had avoided the topic of his former friends.
"Hermione and Ron are going to Hogsmeade," said Harry. No, now was probably not the time to speak. His own mind was preoccupied, while Lupin was hardly in the best condition, only hours away from his monthly agony. There would be other opportunities— "They were the ones, really, who thwarted Pettigrew's plans, but apparently it's not too dangerous for them to go there." The words had streamed out of him without having consciously decided to speak. He certainly had not meant to sound so whiny.
"Are you worried for their safety?" said Lupin, his face radiating genuine concern.
"No." Harry hesitated, wanting suddenly to get away from the topic, already feeling a bit foolish for his attempt to make Lupin talk. "I just—" He stopped himself from saying he had wanted to go along as well. No more whining.
"I'm sorry he's – they're – complicating your life," said Lupin. "But I believe you're aware that they – mean you harm—"
"How do you know?" Harry cut across. "Why are you all so sure that Pettigrew's after me? That you can guess what he – or Black – might be after in the first place? You didn't exactly guess that he was a traitor, did you?"
For once, Lupin's face was easy to read. The stricken expression morphed into a bone-deep sadness over several long seconds before he could speak. "No. I never even suspected a thing. For so long, I had thought him a hero," he said in an hushed tone.
"What about Black?" Harry tentatively tried his luck. "Did you suspect him?"
"I—" Lupin hesitated. "I didn't want to. I wouldn't let myself. We knew there was a traitor among us, and we began to suspect everyone. I kept thinking that Black, as your dad's closest friend, was above suspicion, but there had been… red flags. "
"Like what?" Harry tried to keep his voice steady, but it did not come out sounding quite casual.
Lupin did not seem to have noticed. He had a far-away look. "He used to say some things that—" He hesitated. "He always used to have strong opinions, and he was never a stranger to conflict. Back when we were children, I used to admire his rebelliousness. Later, during the war, it caused many arguments…" He grimaced. "Peter, on the other hand… He became such a comfort to talk to." He fell silent, lost in his own memories.
Harry decided to take another little chance. "Willing to listen to all your worries and suspicions?" His voice was too flat, he noticed as soon as Lupin's face pulled into a tiny frown. He had not quite managed to keep his sarcasm in check.
Before Harry could think of a way to dispel the moment, there was a knock on the door. Lupin's face cleared at once, returning to the present. He answered, and in came Snape, carrying a goblet, which was smoking faintly. He stopped at the sight of Harry, his black eyes narrowing.
"Ah, Severus," said Lupin, smiling. "Thanks very much. Could you leave it here on the desk for me?"
Snape set down the smoking goblet, his eyes wandering between Harry and Lupin. Harry tried his best to appear unaware of the tension between the teachers. He wondered what Snape thought of Harry befriending Lupin, and whether or not Harry knew of Lupin's connection to his parents, as well as Snape himself. He could hardly ask, though. It was not like Harry could drop by Snape's office unannounced and start chatting with him.
"I was just showing Harry my grindylow," said Lupin pleasantly, pointing at the tank.
"Fascinating," said Snape, without looking at it. "You should drink that directly, Lupin."
"Yes. Yes, I will," said Lupin. "Thanks very much, Severus."
"Not at all," said Snape, but there was an unpleasant look in his eye. He backed out of the room, unsmiling and watchful.
Harry looked at the goblet curiously. It finally dawned on him that it must be Wolfsbane.
Lupin smiled, explained that Snape had agreed to brew the potion for him because he himself was not much of a potion brewer and the one he needed was particularly complex. He picked up the goblet, sniffing it. "Pity sugar makes it useless," he added, taking a sip and shuddering.
Harry wondered that Lupin trusted Snape with something as important as Wolfsbane, but he supposed there had been little other choice.
"I've been feeling a bit off-colour," Lupin explained, even though Harry had not asked anything. "This potion is the only thing that helps. I am very lucky to be working alongside Professor Snape; there aren't many wizards who are up to making it."
"And he agreed to help you?" Harry could not suppress the disbelief in his voice.
Lupin paused drinking, and regarded him curiously. "It is somewhat obvious that we're not exactly friends, isn't it?" he finally said. "But he mustn't have told you anything too horrible about me. You're still talking to me." He smiled.
Harry tried to suppress the alarmed look that threatened to overtake his face. "Er, I'm not – I don't—" He drew a breath, let his gaze wander lazily around the room, to avoid Lupin's gaze, until he had focused his thoughts.
Lupin blinked. An odd look passed over his face, but it was gone in an instant.
"I wouldn't trust anything Snape said about you, anyway. He wasn't exactly fond of my Dad – or any of his friends," Harry then said.
The barest hint of a smirk pulled at Harry's lip, but he kept it firmly in check. He had been right. By the surprised expression on Lupin's face, he had been unaware just how much Harry knew about him. Lupin himself had never brought up his friendship with Harry's parents, and he clearly had not guessed that Harry had known much about it, despite having mentioned Mrs Figg. Harry was not sure why Lupin had not told him himself in the two months he had now known him. As he watched his teacher drown the last of the clearly disgusting-tasting Wolfsbane and pull a face, he said his goodbyes, his mind set on the topic of secrets.
Remus had to pull himself together after Harry's visit. His late friends' son had brought up all sorts of painful, wonderful memories – without meaning to, of course. He was surprisingly difficult to be around. Just looking at him at times was disorienting – the similarity to James, Lily's eyes, even some of his mannerisms. Then there had been his acknowledgement of Remus' friendship with his parents, when Remus himself had dragged his feet, had delayed bringing it up. What Harry must think of him—
He had a meeting to get to, and it would not do to be late, after he had been forced to reschedule it. The request to meet by the auror trainee had been entirely unexpected and he had agreed before giving the details much thought. Only after looking at the dates did he realise that she had scheduled their meeting for the morning after the full moon. It was on a Hogsmeade weekend, which meant it should have suited them both, especially as most teachers went along to Hogsmeade. Thankfully, the young trainee had agreed to meet the day before without asking too many questions.
Remus hurried along the familiar path to Hogsmeade, doing his best to ignore the twinges in his joints he was already beginning to feel – even though the full moon was still hours away. He saw some dementors floating in the vicinity of the path, but thankfully they kept their distance. Rosmerta greeted him with a friendly smile and pointed to a table towards the back of the pub. Tonks was already there.
"Wotcher," she greeted him as he sat down. She was informally dressed. Her Weird Sisters t-shirt and dragon hide jacket were clearly magical, yet left the impression of being from the muggle world. "Professor Lupin, now, isn't it?"
Remus glanced self-consciously down at himself, then quickly up again. He nodded. She complained a bit about the worsening weather until Rosmerta had brought Remus' butterbeer and had left again. Then Tonks inconspicuously waved her wand in a manner that Remus recognised as protection against being overheard.
"Thank you for meeting me," she said. "I wouldn't have bothered you, but Mad Eye thought our suspicion was worth looking into, so—"
"Of course I'm happy to help," said Remus at once. Internally, he felt his heart sink. He had suspected it of course, but now he was quite sure he knew what he was about to hear—
"It's a bit of a delicate matter, what I'm about to tell you. But we – Mad Eye and I – suspect one of your former friends might be involved," she said quietly.
Remus nodded resignedly. It was just as he had expected. If only Harry had not dropped by his office that morning. Their topic of conversation had left Remus in a strange mood.
"This isn't public knowledge yet, so please treat the matter confidentially," began Tonks. "There was a break-in at St. Mungo's on Thursday night – or very early Friday morning. I can't say much about the investigation – officially I'm not even working on it. But… Mad Eye immediately suspected Pettigrew or Black, but there's not enough evidence to say."
Remus frowned. "And how can I help?" he asked.
Tonks' hair lost a lot of its pink hue and faded to a dull, greyish purple. "The break-in was exact work. Very sophisticated warding. No trace to follow up, and no real clues." She grimaced. "Officially, the investigation is ongoing, but… The experts are sure of one thing, though – that there was only one person. Of course it's still possible that they're both involved. But if what Dumbledore said this summer is true, and they had a disagreement – Well, we're trying to figure out which of them it might've been."
"Just like that sighting of Pettigrew a few weeks ago," said Remus. Aware of the young auror's expectant gaze, he began to consider the question. His initial thought had been Black, who had had an undeniable talent for breaking in and out of well-warded places. He almost said so, but once again his thoughts returned to his conversation with Harry only an hour ago. Black, who had spoken unwise things in defence of his relatives, who had criticised the aurors, who had argued with Dumbledore – and Pettigrew, who had listened, commiserated, shared suspicions, agreed…
"Pettigrew always could keep a secret," he heard himself say. "Black's actions were always much more predictable. And I'm aware that clearly – clearly – I wasn't able to predict what either of them would do, but…"
Tonks grimaced. "Well, I'm just asking after your feeling – intuition, I suppose."
Remus nodded, took another gulp of his butterbeer. "You said the break-in was exact work," he said, following a hunch. Exact enough that the aurors did not know who had done it. Black would not have spent so much effort into hiding his identity, Remus was – almost – sure. "How exact are we talking about? A very capable amateur, or a professional?"
Tonks regarded him for an extended moment, clearly weighing how much information to entrust him with.
"Or… was it exact enough to make you suspect inside knowledge?" he said, following his intuition as she had asked. He noted her surprise with grim satisfaction. "Because if so, then I'd suspect Pettigrew. He was clearly involved with – serious people – last summer." He carefully did not name Lucius Malfoy. Dumbledore had named him, but officially, he had not been connected to the basilisk attacks.
Tonks nodded slowly. "Serious – and recently connected to the hospital, perhaps."
Remus nodded as well, even smiled at the returning brightness of his companion's hair as she thanked him. He felt gratified that he had been able to help. It was a bizarrely normal – human – situation. He was helping an officer of the law, his understanding of the situation was requested, appreciated.
"Well, I better be going," Tonks said, finishing her drink – a colourful, fizzy liquid that Remus doubted contained any alcohol. "Gotta do some work on my official case." She grimaced.
"I suppose that's not something I can help with?" offered Remus.
"You know, actually…" Tonks leaned back, regarding him, weighing him up. "You used to apprentice in the study of dark creatures, didn't you?"
Remus drew back, surprised. "Yes, a long time ago, but I didn't finish."
"I'm sorry, I guess that's something you weren't aware of, but – uh – well, I questioned you officially, so I was given partial access to your ministry file."
"Right," Remus said faintly. How much had she read? he wondered. She could not possibly know that he was a werewolf. She would not be sitting here, chatting amiably with him if she knew—
"Well, you were an apprentice for six years, before you left – without ever presenting your journeyman's work to the guild—" She was frowning, the situation clearly not adding up for her.
"I reconsidered my life choices," said Remus. He did not want to explain.
His master had been a friend and colleague of his father's and had consented to take him on as an apprentice, despite knowing of his lycantrophy. But that had been before the war, when the werewolf rights had been steadily improving. After the werewolves had sided with Voldemort, and their side had lost, the situation had changed. Remus had also been left without his friends. His master had not outright told him to leave – out of respect for his father, but had refused to submit his journeyman's work to the guild and his assignments had become ever more dangerous, in hopes that Remus would leave himself. Remus had been feeling off-kilter and reckless enough in the beginning that he had tried to last the seven years – at which point his master would have been forced to submit his work – but after one too many near-death experiences, he had finally reconsidered.
"Right. Well," Tonks went on awkwardly. "I think that still makes you enough of an expert. I'm investigating your predecessor – I still haven't tracked down all the victims. At the moment, I'm trying to find the – oh, I guess you could call him the antagonist of Wanderings with Werewolves – a lycanthrope charmingly referred to as the Wagga Wagga Werewolf—"
Remus felt his face contort before he could stop himself. He felt cold wash over him, once again beset by the fear that she knew of his condition. Just once, he had thought he had been able to pretend to be normal—
"Well, victim mightn't be the right term there, I suppose," Tonks said soberly, carefully – clearly having noticed his reaction, though unsure as to the reason. "That's what I was wondering about, actually. I don't know as much about dark creatures as I perhaps should—" She frowned at the face he had pulled. "You're not very fond of werewolves, then?" she guessed.
Remus nearly laughed. She had no idea, then. She was genuinely asking his expert opinion – because he was a teacher at Hogwarts, because he used to be an apprentice. "Oh, no. On the contrary. I'm afraid I'm one of those werewolf rights people," he said lightly.
That was not the straightforward truth it used to be, he silently chided himself. Not since the war. Harry had asked him why he had begun distrusting Sirius, and the first thing Remus had thought of had been their argument about werewolf rights. Sirius – like James and Peter – used to support werewolf rights all throughout their teenage years. But after school, when Remus had actually begun campaigning, he had been discouraging, cautioning that it was the wrong time, that the situation with Voldemort was too important to get distracted from. And he had been right. Most werewolves, disappointed by the slow improvement of their rights, had fallen for Voldemort's promises and joined his side. Remus had not done that, but his arguments with Si– with Black had driven a wedge between him and the rest of the Marauders. James had clearly not trusted him enough in the end.
"Oh, really?" Tonks seemed intrigued by his pronouncement, rather than put off. "I've never even met a werewolf, to be honest. Have you?"
Remus nodded, not trusting himself to reply verbally.
"I suppose you've met all sorts during your travels." She sounded nothing short of envious.
Remus raised his eyebrows. "My travels?"
"For your employment. Didn't you used to procure dark creatures and potions ingredients from all over the world?"
"I, uh, suppose so," said Remus.
That ministry file about him clearly contained some very strange information, thought Remus. He used to do casual work, similar to what she described. To be more exact, he used to supply some of the more questionable shops in Knockturn Alley with difficult to procure magical beings and plants. Nothing that grossly violated his code of ethics, but certainly not something that warranted the sort of envy he could hear in her voice. It had simply been the sort of employment where his employers could not deduce that he was a lycanthrope – because he was not around for long enough. That had changed with the policy Umbridge had introduced, which obligated him to state that he was a werewolf for any sort of employment.
"You know, that's not all that different from what Lockhart claimed he used to do," said Tonks. "Except, he didn't actually do any of it, but still tried to make himself out to be such an expert – and even a hero." Now she sounded almost admiring – of him, Remus.
Remus felt like cringing. He wondered what she was imagining his life had been like. He doubted any of her imaginings included wading in ten inches of mud, constantly soaked feet, lack of cooked food and regular showers…
"Right. Lockhart." Remus went back to the topic she was asking about.
"I was wondering about a spell he wrote about, actually – Homorphus. It must be a real spell, I guess, considering how many people read those books, but I'd not have thought reversing the werewolf transformation would be that easy. Do you know of it?"
Remus could not suppress a grimace. "I've heard of it, yes."
"And does it work?"
Tonks was actually listening to him, looking for his expert opinion on the topic. Remus could have laughed. He certainly was an expert on the topic of werewolves – and not because of his failed apprenticeship. He tried not to let his turmoil show, tried to focus on the topic of Lockhart instead.
"It… does reverse a transformation. A single transformation, of course. If the werewolf survives, he or she will transform again the next full moon. There is no cure for lycantrophy, as you probably know."
"If the werewolf survives?"
"As I said, there's no cure for lycantrophy. If it were that easy to separate the wolf from the human – to think of the werewolf transformation as if it were any other transfiguration and reverse it – then even a cure might've been possible. The homorphus spell doesn't come with any safety features. It uses all force necessary to – to get rid of the wolf. And it's certainly not designed to actively harm the human, but, well, the wolf is the human…"
She looked horrified at his explanation. Remus felt oddly gratified.
"So that Wagga Wagga Werewolf… mightn't even be alive?" Tonks' hair lost some of its brightness again. "I've been trying to find him for weeks, now. All Lockhart told me was that he'd stolen the story from some Armenian warlock – an ugly warlock with no sense of style." She made a face. "He really seemed to think that justified what he'd done. Anyway, the warlock apparently saved a village—"
"I think I remember reading about it," said Remus, who did not particularly feel like hearing all the gory details of it again. "If what Lockhart wrote was the true version of events, then the warlock couldn't have done anything else – he had to protect all those muggles."
"But the thing is, I couldn't find any such reports in the news or to the local authorities in Armenia."
"But Wagga Wagga is in Australia. Are you sure Lockhart really meant an Armenian warlock? Did you check that he didn't confuse 'Armenian' for 'Australian'? It'd be such a silly mistake, but—"
"Wait, Wagga Wagga is a real place?"
Remus had to suppress a smile at her comically intrigued face. He nodded, accepted more enthusiastic thanks, and congratulated himself at his successful pretence of normality – at his deception.
Once again, as soon as he was alone, his mind jumped back to his former friends. He tried to remember their faces, tried to recognise – all those years later – what deception had looked like on them. As an adolescent, he had watched them lie to others constantly – to cover up for their incessant rule-breaking. And yet, he had not been able to see it, to recognise it for what it was when it had been directed at him. He had never spotted Pettigrew's nervous fidgeting – even though now he could recall it with absolute clarity. Neither had he ever noticed Black change topics the way he used to when he had something to hide. As an adolescent, Remus had always thought it such an obvious, distinct habit, too. He recalled it – a lazy, disinterested expression followed by a kind of counter-attack – a topic that was unpleasant for the other person. Not subtle at all.
Remus, who had been walking back to Hogwarts, came to a halt, his thoughts in a jumble all of a sudden. He had the very bizarre sensation of a déjà vu. Had he not seen that very thing a mere few hours ago?