Severus leaned back in his armchair and brought up the large volume of Advanced Potion-Making to cover most of his face. Lupin had just entered the staffroom.

Severus was aware of him greeting everyone with his affected mildness, pretending not to notice Filch switching seats to be farther away from him. Lupin kept up the pretence on the surface, while all the while making a beeline for the armchair next to the one occupied by Minerva, closest to the bench filled almost entirely by Hagrid – his staunch supporters.

No, Severus had no doubt whatsoever that Lupin was well aware how much he was imposing himself, making most of his colleagues uncomfortable by his presence. Yet, he not only remained in his post, but kept imposing his presence on the people who had consented to have him around.

Severus was beginning to regret not having gone directly to one of the potions labs. He might have done something productive with the day, but had not wanted anyone to notice and comment on his absence, after spending most of the previous day dealing with the Wolfsbane potion. Not that his colleagues did not know about that particular task of his. No, what they did not know about was that he planned his work hours according to the availability of his assistants.

Speaking of which: Minerva had begun engaging Lupin in one of the most tedious conversations possible – Potter. She was trying to cheer him up, Severus supposed. It had not escaped his notice that Lupin's affected veneer of optimism had been thinner in recent days. Minerva was thus steering their conversation to a topic which she knew tended to engage Lupin's interest. This time, however, it looked like she would be in vain. Lupin gave perfunctory one-word answers with a wan smile, and Minerva appeared to be considering dropping the subject – perhaps even dropping the attempt at conversation altogether – and Severus would have some semblance of a tolerable atmosphere to read through the instructions in his older students' textbook to decide what needed to be altered. Altered did not mean simplified, Severus told himself firmly—

"Oh, look! That's them," Minerva exclaimed, pointing towards something outside the window right next to Severus, drawing Lupin's gaze in that direction as well.

The potions textbook climbed higher, to cover as much of their line of sight as possible, but Severus need not have bothered. They were not paying him any attention.

"What are they doing?" Lupin sounded mystified, his interest finally caught. "Are they—" He rose from his chair, to have a better look. "Are they fighting?"

Hagrid half-turned, following his line of sight. "Duellin' I reckon," he said. "Didn' think they were still doin' that this year."

Severus felt his curiosity rise. He was aware that Potter and his friends had been – not completely useless – in the Chamber of Secrets—

Minerva said something to that effect, before walking over to the window, her teacup in hand, to take a closer look. Hagrid joined her, talking about how Potter and his friends had taken up duelling practice the year before. Finally his curiosity roused, Lupin stepped closer to the window as well – and closer to Severus, much to the latter's annoyance.

It surprised Severus to realise that it bothered him that Hagrid seemed to know more about the three troublesome Gryffindors' extracurricular activities than he himself did. He told himself it was because of all the effort he had gone to, to keep an eye on them – which was necessary because of all the trouble they got into. And so what if he happened to have missed the fact that they had taken up duelling. Their attempts were probably hardly worth mentioning—

"That doesn't look like training, though." Concern coloured Lupin's tone. "This looks more like an actual fight to me. Maybe we best interfere before one of them gets hurt, Minerva—"

"Nah," Hagrid laughed. "They're just eager, is all. Always are."

"Eager? Look at them – Ron's been sending an unending stream of curses at Harry! And – and are those shield charms?"

"I told you, they're quite advanced for their age," came Minerva's smug rebuttal.

Now Severus really was becoming curious. Not that he thought it would take much to impress Lupin, but still. He was curious to know if Potter and his friends really had picked up a few useful ideas about duelling in the past years – considering the way defence against the dark arts had been taught.

Hagrid mentioned something to that effect to Lupin, before becoming aware of his tactless words. "Ah didn' mean yer classes o' course," he said loudly. "I meant Lockhart las' year, an' some years before that." Hagrid then began telling Lupin of the ill-fated duelling club of the year before.

Severus had to agree with him. He himself had participated in Lockhart's idiotic duelling club for one reason alone – to demonstrate to the students who would bother to turn up what an actual duel entailed, to show them the very essential of spells needed, which he doubted had been taught properly to any of the years in the past decade. For the Troublesome Trio to have taken the hint, of all students—

No. Severus shifted uncomfortably. He had had to concede last spring that perhaps he had not been entirely correct in his assessment of Potter and his friends. They did work harder than he had given them credit for prior to that. The Polyjuice potion, as well as their comportment in the Chamber of Secrets had shown him that. There had been the spellcasting, and then there had been the level-headedness amidst the bravery – using their mirrors, neither trying to fight the basilisk, nor running away in fear. Not to mention the way Potter had defended his mother's sacrifice – giving Lily all the credit for his survival, as she deserved, rather than arrogantly making himself out to be that powerful—

"Ah, Severus demonstrated that spell on the defence teacher, did he?" Lupin surmised in his affected mild tone. He turned away from the window, glancing around the staffroom. His eyes rested with some surprise on the potions master, who sat surprisingly nearby, and who lowered the book he was holding to return the stare. "Well, they were bound to learn it, then, I'm sure."

There was something in Lupin's tone that Severus disliked. "Of course. Someone had to show the student body a useful spell or two. And considering our recent standard of defence teachers…"

He watched Lupin glance out the window, and could not resist turning around to follow his gaze. Potter ended his duel with Weasley just then, with a well-aimed disarming spell.

"That duelling club last year must have made quite an impression," said Lupin. "It was just the one session, did you say?"

Again, Lupin's tone did not sit well with Severus. There was something akin to jealousy there. Under other circumstances that would have pleased him, but even if Potter and his friends had picked up those spells because they had seen Severus demonstrate them, the implication that they would take advice especially well from him had to be shut down.

"It was the only useful lesson in defence they've had in all their years of schooling," he said with a sneer. "All they've learned in their proper defence lessons is a bit of theory – oh, and how to deal with vermin, of course. I suppose a lesson from a better qualified teacher made a bit of an impression."

Severus was instantly aware of the disapproving glances his colleagues shot him from around the staffroom. The reminder that he himself was a master in his field, while Lupin lacked formal qualifications had hit the mark. Petty? Perhaps. But Lupin's pinched expression told him the werewolf had been distracted away from his previous line of enquiry.

Severus tried to feel superior, tried to suppress the discomfort of remembering the days following the war, when he had been taken into custody like the Death Eater he had been. Even counting on Dumbledore to confirm that he had been a spy, his prospects had looked grim. He had felt his future slipping away, all the hard work that had led to his Master's title seeming to be of no use. For days he had thought his career over before it had begun, despairing at the thought of being a nobody again.

Lupin, who had been from a good – if mixed – family, and who at school had worked harder than any of the other Gryffindors, had seemed to have a bright future ahead of him at the time, but of course being a werewolf—

"Well, I believe in teaching my students how to defend themselves from the dark arts, Severus." Lupin kept his tone entirely even, as he let the implied 'rather than the actual dark arts' settle in the small pause he made. "And that includes dark creatures – which, I thought, we weren't covering fast enough for your standards?"

Another round of disapproving glances followed, once again directed at Severus, at the reminder of his substitute lessons, trying to get the student body to guess Lupin's condition.

Although it annoyed him to no end, Severus was aware that he was no match for Lupin when it came to being quick-witted, for all that he had much improved since his teenage years. Back then, the gaps that his neglectful parents had left in his general education had meant that his main response to teasing or taunting had been anger. Whereas Potter, Black and Lupin had been clever and eloquent, better educated in all areas of life than Severus – except for magic. Oh, and Pettigrew's straightforward insults had been annoying as well – because retaliating had always meant a response from his friends.

Severus sneered, but did not respond. He was aware that he was likely to come out the loser in any ensuing verbal sparring. More than that, he doubted his colleagues – now pretending to be otherwise engaged but clearly paying attention to what had become a common occurrence in the staffroom – would take his side. Lupin did have a habit of making himself popular.

And not just with his colleagues, came the treacherous thought. Considering how fond of him Potter and his friends were, Lupin's jealousy made little to no sense. But of course he may be unaware of it, came the sudden thought – as he was unaware that they knew of his lycanthropy.

"Ah, well done, Miss Granger! Just the sort of faint I was suggesting." Filius' high-pitched exclamation caught Severus unaware. The tiny professor was almost by the window, his approach having been obscured by Severus' book. He stepped all the way to the window, almost grazing Severus' arm while he passed. "I only gave her my notes yesterday, and already she's begun to go through them—"

Only too eager to answer his colleagues' questions, Filius began telling them what Granger had told him of her duelling practice with her friends and the problems she had been having. Minerva picked up the thread, beginning an argument with Lupin about whether Granger was more capable than Potter. Lupin was staunchly defending his late friend's son's abilities, arguing against people who had known those children for much longer than him.

Severus – hesitated, finding himself considering the same question, ignoring the part of him that kept telling him to turn back around, go back to his book. Potter had so very recently – only the previous evening – demonstrated again that he could be surprisingly capable, prompting Severus to praise him. In so many words! The memory still made him uneasy. And yet, after saying what he had… Necessary as it had been, it had still bothered him that he had been so unfair to them. What a stupid Hufflepuff sentiment!

Yet, Granger, especially, did not deserve to be so unfavourably compared to Draco, who had been privately educated in magic from an early age. Ever since Severus had been teaching her in private, she had improved to the point where he had had to admit to himself that rather than pedantic as he had first thought her, she was as bright as she was diligent. Her over-eagerness stemmed from a lack of arrogance – she was well aware of the gaps in her knowledge, but with typical Gryffindor confidence she was sure she could improve – with enough work.

And, after all, did he not know perfectly well how much work it took to outdo those purebloods who did put in the effort. Ambitious he might have been, but…

Severus was unsurprised to be witnessing Granger's display of cleanly executed spells – certainly advanced for her age. Her duelling tactic – a standard combination of simple defensive spells, often used in show duelling – was that what Filius had advised her to do? Severus could have given her better advice, if only she'd asked—

"Yes, I can see how well she's doing," Lupin was saying. "But I've seen Harry in class, against a fair number of unpredictable dark creatures. He has a way of reacting – faster than his classmates even realise what's happening—"

Potter was doing his best to prove Lupin right. By what seemed to be an astonishing amount of luck, he kept dodging his friend's attacks, kept holding on to his wand.

"He does tend ter win a fair bit," said Hagrid.

Weasley was shouting something, giving instructions, but it was not clear to which of his friends – until Granger began arguing back. Did he also think she would lose to Potter? A disappointing assessment, when it was so very clear that—

"Granger's overestimating Potter's abilities – just as you are – and is far too defensive. But she's in control, and will win as soon as he tires—"

Which happened just then. Potter landed in the snow, petrified. His friends ran to him, to revive him, but Severus did not witness him getting back up, his vision obstructed by his colleagues, who had turned around, and were now facing him, looking surprised to say the least.

He sneered, facing Lupin's scowl straight-on. "What, didn't think you'd see Potter knocked down that quickly?"

"I…" Lupin smoothed out his face. "I remember hearing that it was you who allowed Harry to go along to the Chamber of Secrets last spring—"

Severus' sneer deepened. "Because he happens to be a Parselmouth – the only one we know about. It was a bit of a surprise when I discovered it – during the one duelling class I gave. I do wonder where he got it from. Don't you?"

"Purely a coincidence, I'm sure," Lupin said, drawing himself up. A show of staunch loyalty. "In no way does it imply anything about Harry's character—"

"Of course. How could an innate ability – a… physical characteristic, if you will – imply something about one's character?"

A direct attack. Once again, everyone's eyes were on Severus, including the headmaster's, piercing and displeased, from the farthest corner of the room. Albus' disapproving gaze told him he had overstepped a line. But then Filius was there, at Lupin's elbow.

"Look, it's Mr Weasley against Miss Granger now. Now, I know he lost against Mr Potter just now, but I know from her that Mr Weasley can be very strategic and by no means easier to defeat – at least for her."

Minerva picked up the thread, began telling Lupin of Weasley defeating her chess set in his first year. They all turned around, facing the window once again.

Severus, well aware that Filius and Minerva had distracted Lupin away from starting an argument with him, still felt a stab of… something that his opinion was not considered – was not sought out, in fact. He had not wanted Lupin to notice how well acquainted he was with Potter and his friends, but suddenly it galled him that Lupin, for all that he went out of his way to claim that he would not single out students, not even Potter, would be expected to take interest in his late friend's son's education, extracurricular activities, progress in magical learning. He would have every opportunity to influence Potter – who already held a completely undeservedly high opinion of him.

Never mind that Lupin soon lost interest in Granger and Weasley's duel – that he had only been paying attention to Potter. He was already in a better mood, chatting with his colleagues.

Severus' mind jumped to Lupin's upcoming lessons with Potter. He knew Lupin's request to teach the boy the Patronus charm beginning the next term had been approved by Albus. Lupin was convinced that Potter would be capable of learning it. And it was not that Severus doubted it – much.

It was more that he doubted Lupin's character. Was there any conceivable reason why the werewolf would be the only remaining Marauder who had not become a traitor? What sort of werewolf would not side with his remaining 'pack'? It made perfect sense to Severus, at least. Pettigrew must have had inside help to get into Hogwarts twice. And then there was the decade he had spent hiding – supposedly as a rat. Surely, he would have had need of – ahem – 'human' company. To expose Potter to a potential traitor like that… But of course Albus would hear none of it.

There was another issue. Lupin would be singling out Potter, when Granger and Weasley had involved themselves just as much in the escalating fight against the Dark Lord. Severus knew it made sense at this stage, what with Potter's fainting spells around the dementors. And yet. After having given them private lessons himself – albeit clandestinely – he knew that Potter tended to learn best when Granger understood and explained things to him first, while Weasley managed to keep in mind when to take breaks, and generally settled the other two down when they got too stressed.

In short, they learned better together, in Severus' altogether not so humble opinion. But no one was going to be asking for his opinion on the matter – especially not Lupin, despite all his annoying comments earlier.

That was however only a small part of what actually bothered Severus. The thing was, it would not take much for Lupin to mention the animosity between himself and Severus during the Patronus lessons, and for Potter to see things his way—

Severus looked up, distracting himself away from the thought. Albus was still shooting him disapproving looks from the far corner of the staffroom. The headmaster would not interfere, of course, but Severus expected he would be hearing a reprimand at some later point.

He felt another annoyance rise within him. For days now, Albus had been trying to persuade him to let him have some of his memories of his school days, of his interactions with the late elder Potter and his gang. Albus thought it might help him guess Black's animagus form, of all things.

Severus tried to remember any references his school rivals might have made to their animal forms. He had a vague memory of them sometimes mentioning some odd nicknames or some such, but it had all been so many years ago, and back then, fanciful names had not been the sort of thing he had investigated them for. He had been looking for more direct ways to get them in trouble. He was only too keenly aware of the irony now.

He had tried to say that much to Albus, but they both knew that if Albus himself had more knowledge that he was not sharing with Severus – and of course he did – then he might discover something in Severus' memories viewed in a pensieve that Severus himself could not remember. Magical memories were strange like that.

There was one very obvious reason why Severus had been resisting – besides obviously not enjoying the idea of somebody else going through his memories. Lupin. Why did Albus have to ask Severus for his memories, when he could ask Lupin? In fact, was there any conceivable reason why Lupin had not already told Albus what Black's animagus form was? Other than the obvious – that Lupin was conspiring with his friends. No, Severus had no doubt that Lupin knew of his friends' animagus forms and was in fact in contact with them. Ever the loyal werewolf.

How dare Albus be that trusting of Lupin? And then to have the gall to tell Severus to be civil to the werewolf! Letting the anger carry him, Severus walked over to Albus' corner, holding the headmaster's gaze. When he left the room, he was aware of Albus following behind, having understood that Severus wanted to talk to him in private.

"I believe you wanted some of my memories," Severus came straight to the point. Without letting himself second-guess the decision, he handed over the misty tendrils of a fair number of his teenage memories, ones that were not coloured by much emotion.

Albus accepted the offering gratefully. "Am I to take it this is a move against Remus?" He did not wait for Severus' answer. "I wish you'd believe me that he's as trustworthy as can be. As trustworthy as you, Severus. And if I don't tell you exactly how I know that, please remember that I similarly don't tell him why I trust you—"

"Let it go, Albus. I've given you what you asked for."

Severus left without looking back. By then his anger had been partly redirected at Albus as well. For reminding him of his promises, of his failure in protecting Lily—

And to imply that anything Lupin might have told him could be of equal footing! Severus was already looking forward to the day in the not too distant future when Lupin would show his true face, his true allegiance. He wondered if anyone would see it coming other than he, himself.

Had the previous two years not played out in a similar way? Although Albus had certainly not been trusting of the previous iterations of the defence teachers, the way he was of Lupin.

Then Severus remembered that there had been another small group who had been suspicious of the defence teachers, one of whom would be spending a fair amount of time with the werewolf soon. Suddenly he was inordinately cheered by the thought that Potter, Weasley and Granger might end up disappointed in Lupin's character and might yet again seek Severus' help against him.

And that was when Severus finally realised that he was in trouble.

~HP~

Hermione finally conceded that it was time to go inside once it started to snow. She was still feeling jubilant, going over Flitwick's notes, finally feeling like she was making real progress with her duelling. They had braved the snow on the ground, valiantly ignored the cold seeping into their shoes in the heat of the battle, but once the falling snow started to freeze their fingers, and the lightest Expelliarmus forced their wands out of their hands, they called an end to duelling practice.

Hermione agreed that there was not enough time until lunch to do much about Buckbeak's trial, so instead they were left with their animagus spells. Hermione admitted she had already done the calculations the night before, eager to learn what she had found.

"It was something about following and chasing after justice, wasn't it?" said Ron. He was sprawled on their common room floor, in front of the lit fireplace, surrounded by their piles of books on various topics.

Harry, still working on his calculation, barely glanced up from his parchment, but was listening.

Hermione nodded. "It's 'I follow and pursue justice'. Sounds like a full sentence, doesn't it?"

Ron nodded, then sighed. "I'm still far away from a sentence. I've only got, what, three words now?"

"So that's 'chivalry', 'intercessor' and 'modest', right?"

"Yes." Ron groaned. "And I didn't even know what half of those words meant before all of this."

"Oh, really, Ron—"

"Yes, really! You can usually think of the word you might need. I've to go through the entire dictionary – or ask Sirius—"

"Speaking of," Harry scowled. "I might've to ask him as well. 'Harmony' wasn't it, either," he told his bushy-haired friend almost apologetically, for eliminating her word suggestion.

Hermione drew the dictionary closer with a frown.

Ron groaned again. "Good luck," he told her. "I'm hungry. You don't think it's time for lunch already, do you?"

Harry checked the time. "Very nearly."

With a huff, Hermione snapped the dictionary shut and they made their way to the great hall. She would not let go of the topic quite as easily, though, wanting Harry to explain yet again what the animagus spell had shown him. He tried. Throughout lunch, and later during the day, as soon as they were done working on the Wolfsbane potion, he tried to explain – to the point that he almost missed the strange looks Snape kept shooting them the entire time they were in the potions classroom – to no avail.

He had held out some hope that his godfather might be able to help, just as he had with Ron the day before. Once they had finally made themselves comfortable again in their common room that evening, he called Sirius and began to recount everything from the previous evening.

Sirius was distracted. Or something. He clearly was not paying attention to what Harry was telling him, much less suggesting any promising words to try. Harry thought for a bit that maybe Sirius was just not that interested in finding yet another word for Harry's spell – after a while, that sort of thing could get boring, he supposed. He was disappointed that his godfather had not congratulated him on doing so well that even Snape had praised him – but tried to tell himself that Sirius just did not much care for potions.

So he switched topics, to something he knew his godfather was looking forward to, and always liked talking about – their planned visit to Grimmauld Place on Christmas Eve. Sirius… tried to smile, but it looked more like a grimace. Once he started talking about the house itself, he seemed to become more engaged, telling Harry about the work he had done to get everything ready. It took Harry a moment to recognise it as another distraction.

"There's… there's something else," Sirius finally said. "There's something I've been meaning to show you, something I've been working on—"

He broke off and would not explain further when Harry asked, saying that it would be easier to show him once Harry got there.

Mystified and a little disappointed, Harry joined his friends by the fireplace, who had heard most of the exchange, but who had no explanation either.

Wednesday, just before lunchtime, they finished the second part of the Wolfsbane potion. Snape was once again being strange – not saying much, yet keeping his full attention on them. Then when they were about to leave, he held them back.

"I won't be needing your help for the third stage of the potion this month," he told them. "I don't have any teaching taking up my time, and you don't learn much of anything during the third stage."

That was true. The third stage was far too complicated for them to understand, and all they had done the month before was clean up and pass Snape this ingredient or that.

Harry, Ron and Hermione looked at each other, shrugged, thanked him. The extra time would be very welcome so close to Christmas Eve and their planned trip to London. Once again, they readied themselves to leave, and once again Snape stopped them.

"Before you go, there's something I've been meaning to talk to you about," he finally said. To his listeners' great surprise, he then told them that their duelling practice had been observed – and even talked about. "How often has the moment of surprise saved your lives in the past couple of years? You can't be arrogant enough to fail to realise that," he then said with his customary sternness. "It may be in your best interest not to let the whole world know your exact skill set."

Once again, all Harry, Ron and Hermione could do was thank him. But he was not done surprising them. Snape went on to give them advice on duelling.

They made the most of it that afternoon and the following day. Hermione even gave up the pretence of trying to catch up on her five electives, in favour of extra duelling sessions.

Harry went along, but was distracted by other worries. On Wednesday evening, Sirius had already been in his house, even though earlier he had told them he would only get there on Thursday night. He had seemed enthusiastic, but would not focus on any one topic of interest. After a while, it appeared to Harry that Sirius was full of some nervous excitement that he would not explain. Harry had also not been able to figure out the new word for his animagus spell.

As the sun set on Thursday and their trip to the Chamber of Secrets drew near, Hermione began to fidget, insisting they ought to duel some more.

"Hermione, it's Christmas Eve tomorrow. If we're doing it, we have to do it tonight," said Ron.

"No, we don't. We still have all day tomorrow. We won't get much training done, with everyone getting ready for the feast and paying closer attention to us—"

"Which'll make sneaking away more difficult as well. There're just so few people in the castle—"

"Harry's right," Ron spoke over more of Hermione's objections. "It all takes a lot of time, and we'll definitely need a shower when we get back. Let's go."

Hermione agreed with ill grace, going up to her room to get the vials they had bought in Hogsmeade. Harry had his invisibility cloak, while Ron held the copy of the Marauders' Map. It was all rather familiar. Even the Fat Lady barely batted an eye when they left, promising to be back 'soon'.

Thankfully, Moaning Myrtle was too busy howling in one of the stalls to notice them in time. They had already opened the entrance when she floated out to investigate, and Harry quickly spoke the command to close it. Then it was sliding down the dark tunnel again – wearing their oldest, dirtiest herbology robes.

Once they were on their feet and walking, Harry and Ron began to look around, take in the ancient structure, reminiscing about the previous time they had been there. Hermione was noticeably silent. When Harry asked her if everything was alright, she said yes, but once Ron dared her to speak up, she scoffed.

"Now you care. But with all that Professor Snape said about my duelling, you didn't think I'd want every chance to practice—"

"Why do you care what he said?" asked a surprised Harry. "He saw you wipe the floor with me in our duel, and he still thinks you need more practice. But he's always critical of you—"

"But I do!" Hermione burst out. "I do need more practice than either of you! And even then—" She broke off, shook her head, continued walking in silence. "I thought Professor Flitwick's notes would finally do it. The way he explained things in detail – the combinations of spells to use – and for each spell your opponent might have, there's a different response—"

"Yeah, those notes are great," agreed Ron. "I don't know why Snape thinks they're predictable. They were brilliant against both me and Harry. So we should definitely learn—"

"No." Hermione sighed. "Well, maybe, yes. But Professor Snape is right as well. It's – Well, I like it because it's so structured and – and everything is ordered. But he's right that real duels are too chaotic, too unpredictable. Those notes are useful for show duels, where everything is timed, and there's loads of rules—"

"But all Snape told us to do is what we'd been doing before anyway," said Harry, a little mystified at his friend's mood. "Practice more, learn the spells really well – which you're the best at anyway—"

Hermione finally told him then, told both her friends of the frustration she had been feeling at the speed her duelling was progressing. To her surprise, her friends were astonished.

"Hermione, what are you on about!" said Ron. "You're the one who teaches us all the new spells!"

"Yes, exactly," agreed Harry. "I don't get your worry. You're brilliant at every bit of magic you've ever come across—"

"I'm not good at loads of things! I'm rubbish at flying – any sorts of physical exercises, actually—"

"Not true. You're loads better than you used to be – because now it's something you actually want to learn – because you think it matters now!" said Ron, clearly sounding sincere.

Hermione hesitated, considering her friends' words. Clearly, her perception of her duelling skills did not align with theirs. She was unsure how to explain, how to tell them that for the first time there was something she was struggling to learn – an altogether uncommon event for her.

They walked on in silence, recognising that they were almost at the Chamber. Soon, the snakes appeared, encasing the entrance. Harry opened it, letting them in. The carcass was still there, visible in the eerie green half-light. It was mostly eaten by rats by that point, although it was also surrounded by a fair amount of rat carcasses – whenever they had come into contact with the venom.

Hermione drew the vials, passing one off to Harry, while she asked Ron to hold his lit up wand close to her – it would not do to be negligent and get any of the venom on her person.

"Hermione, I do get what you're saying…" Harry began hesitantly. "About pushing yourself to be the best. That's what I was trying to explain, about my word. It's not harmony – or, not about fitting in so as to keep the harmony—"

Hermione shook her head, but did not look up from her task of extracting the venom from the venom gland behind one of the fangs.

Ron frowned, looked at Harry. "I think he's right, Hermione. Trying to prove yourself isn't always a bad thing. Getting your voice heard – it doesn't have to mess up the, uh, the harmony—"

Hermione gasped, finally looking up. "Oh, I think I might've an idea what word Harry found." Then she grimaced, asked for the second vial, began filling it with the venom from the other fang. "That's not exactly what I was saying, though—" She broke off, let go of that topic. A moment later, she got back up, smiling. "All done."

Moaning Myrtle did not let them escape that easily the second time, but once they had extricated themselves from her wailing, and were safely back in their common room, Hermione dashed to their stack of books to drag out the hefty dictionary. For a few moments, she searched it rapidly, before triumphantly holding it out to Harry.

"Try this," she said, pointing at a word.

"Polyphony," Harry read out, carefully pronouncing the unknown word.

"Here, read the definition."

Harry did, and agreed to try. She was right.

Hermione stared at his calculation with her brows drawn together in thought. "You know, Sirius might be right about your animagus form."