As the classroom door swung shut, Remus turned around to look at the professor.
Professor McGonagall looked back at him, her expression unreadable except for a tiny glimmer of... Was it pity? She pointed to the desk he'd just vacated. "Sit."
Remus obeyed immediately, perching on the chair with an awkward sort of grimace.
His teacher remained standing, although her expression had softened slightly. He did, after all, seem like a quiet, sensible boy with unfortunate circumstances beyond his control.
Nothing like him had ever been seen at Hogwarts before.
"I assume Professor Dumbledore has told you about the precautions we are taking to ensure the safety of both you and your fellow students?"
Silently, Remus nodded, preferring to stare at his hands rather than look McGonagall in the eye.
"And you understand that it would be unwise to broadcast your condition?" Professor McGonagall looked at him again, barely able to keep her voice professional.
The suffering that this boy had gone through... The suffering that this boy had yet to come...
The professor tapped her wand against her palm, looking uncharacteristically absent.
"In two weeks' time, at the full moon, Madam Pomfrey will escort you down to the Whomping Willow - you will remain there until morning," she continued. "Then, when the sun rises, she will take you back down to the hospital wing... You may have to stay there for a couple of days, depending on-on-"
At last, Remus glanced up from his lap, looking Professor McGonagall dead in the eye. "You don't have to let me burden you. I could just use Essence of Dittany and-"
McGonagall stared at him. "You will most certainly not," she snapped, her square spectacles flashing. "While you are at Hogwarts, you will receive the care and attention that you need. No exceptions. And don't you dare call yourself a burden!"
Remus went back to staring at his hands, trying to blink the tears of gratitude from his eyes without Professor McGonagall noticing.
Perhaps she did notice, however, for she took a couple of calming breaths and said, "Perhaps you should head to Herbology. I think I have kept you long enough and, if you need anything, you know where to find me. Madam Pomfrey, the matron, will also be around to support you."
"Thank you, Professor," whispered Remus gratefully, ashamed to find that his eyes were welling up again. He got up from his chair.
Professor McGonagall gave him a small smile as he turned to leave the classroom. "I'll tell Professor Sprout that it is entirely my fault that you are late. For the second lesson in one day, might I add," she said, her voice suddenly stern.
Remus went pink. "Sorry, Professor. We got lost. It won't happen again."
She sighed. "I hope not."
But Remus could've sworn she smiled again as she watched him leave the classroom.
By the time Remus had reached Greenhouse One, where his class were supposed to be having Herbology lessons, he was at least fifteen minutes late.
He hurried through the greenhouse door, muttered a hasty "Sorry, Professor," to Professor Sprout - who was mid-way through explaining how to pot a Spiky bush - and joined his friends around their bench.
James, Sirius and Peter immediately launched into a round of questioning.
"Are you okay?"
"Why did she keep you?"
"You haven't got detention, have you?"
Remus waved them off as best as he could. "No, no. I'm fine, Peter. And, no, Sirius. I haven't got a detention..."
James frowned. "Then why did she keep you?"
A split second into thinking up a lie, Remus was rescued from speaking by Professor Sprout.
Covered in dirt, her patched hat askew, Sprout looked up from the bush she was forcing into a pot and said, "Quiet over there, please, boys. You'll need to listen to this."
Very relieved, Remus turned away from his friends' inquisitive stares and immersed himself in Professor Sprout's long-winded talk.
Sirius, meanwhile, refused to give up. He tried tearing his friend's attention away from the lesson by tugging at Remus' sleeve and, once, poking him hard in the back.
Remus studiously ignored him and, after a long while of hissing Remus' name and getting no response, Sirius left him alone. He could, he supposed, ask Remus what McGonagall wanted later.
The lesson continued.
Professor Sprout handed out one large Spiky bush between four, telling them to put it into a pot and have it watered by the end of the lesson.
The bush was like a very large, prickly cactus.
James distinctly heard Lily Evans whisper to Severus Snape, "Oh, so wizards have cacti too, do they?".
"Of course," Snape replied, from where the pair stood - merely a few places down from James, Remus, Sirius and Peter.
James turned back to his friends.
Sirius had gone back to badgering Remus again. "So, what did McGonagall talk to you about?" he asked, the hint of steely determination in his voice too obvious to miss.
Remus muttered something about unintelligible.
"What did you say?"
Remus ducked behind the Spiky bush and busied himself with attacking its roots with a trowel. The plant was surprisingly reluctant to move from its original home. "I said that- that-"
Trying to buy himself some more time, he pretended to be having difficulty. "Ouch! This plant - doesn't - seem to - want to - move!"
James bent down to help him, while Sirius hovered behind with Peter.
Remus hastily tried to think of a lie and, as the bush finally came free of the soil, he managed to find one. "I said that she...she wanted to talk to me about being late."
James, Peter and Sirius all looked at him.
"But... But you said," began Peter, helping James to stuff the bush into a new pot. It was putting up an enormous fight and kept sprouting spikes whenever it felt threatened. "You said that you weren't in trouble."
"I wasn't," Remus assured him, passing James a sackful of earth. Some of the soil spilt down his front. "Oops!" he brushed it off and glanced back at the others. "She just asked me why we were late and I said it was because we were lost. I think she wanted me to confirm what you lot told her."
James shook his head, pulling a spike out of his finger and wincing. "Why didn't she keep us all, though?" he asked, sucking his finger to try to stop it from bleeding. "It would've made much more sense to just ask us about it together. Why would she just hold you back?"
"Um..." Remus tried to think of a way around this question. "Maybe Professor McGonagall thought... that I looked like... like..."
"Like the most trustworthy one?" suggested Peter.
Full of relief, Remus took the opportunity. "Well... Yes, maybe."
"Fair enough," shrugged James. "I mean, she doesn't know us very well yet, so maybe it was just random chance that she picked you."
Peter nodded, but Sirius wasn't convinced.
He didn't think the Transfiguration professor would ask a student why they'd been late like that. Especially not when they'd done so already.
James nudged hum. "Come on, mate, it's not a big deal. Remus wouldn't lie to us about something that trivial. Don't be suspicious."
Remus squirmed guiltily and tried to hide behind the bush.
It wasn't that he liked lying. He just knew that his friends would reject him if he told them the truth. Like McGonagall said, broadcasting his condition was not a good idea.
Sirius finally gave in. "Oh, alright. I guess he wouldn't. Sorry, Remus. I knew you weren't lying really."
Remus winced behind the bush. And it wasn't because of the spikes.
The four of them worked in silence for the next couple of minutes, burying the Spiky bush in the soil until it finally stopped attacking them.
During this time, however, Peter tripped over and grabbed the bush to stop himself falling.
"Eeeee!" he squealed, toppling onto James and waving his hands in agony. "Ooh, ow! Ouch, that hurts!"
A large group of Slytherins, including Severus Snape, cackled with laughter at the sight of Peter hopping around.
Lily Evans, however, didn't. And nor did Sirius, James or Remus.
"Is everything alright, over there?" called Professor Sprout, hurrying over to the four boys.
Peter showed her his cut hands. "I tripped, Professor... And- and... They're bleeding!"
The Slytherins laughed harder than ever. "Ooh, ooh, Professor! I'm bleeding!" snickered one of them, doing a cruel but accurate impression of Peter's scrunched up face.
Snape smirked. "Mummy, Mummy! I think I'm going to die! The nasty cactus spiked me-"
Remus glared at him. "Don't talk about Peter like that!"
"Why not, Lupin?" sneered Snape. "What're you going to do?"
"What're you going to do?" Sirius interjected, stepping up beside Remus with his fists clenched. "Snivel all over us?"
Snape opened his mouth to retort, but Lily grabbed his arm.
"Don't, Sev. Just leave it, honestly. If they want to start a fight, they can start a fight... But don't join in with them or you'll get in trouble. And you mustn't imitate people like that, either. It's mean."
Looking like he very much wanted to argue with her, Severus made a tutting noise. But he said nothing else and turned away.
Peter looked a bit tearful.
Professor Sprout was so immersed in examining Peter's hands that she'd completely missed the Slytherins' behaviour. "They're not deep cuts..." she was muttering. "Just scratches. All the same, I think you'd better go up to the hospital wing, Mr Pettigrew. Get Madam Pomfrey to heal you."
"I'll take him," James offered, thinking that Peter should leave before he suffered any more. He didn't think the Slytherins could hold back their taunts.
And if Peter cried in front of them, they would surely make his life worse.
"Off you go, then," said Professor Sprout, moving around the bench to open the greenhouse door. "I'll leave the classroom open for when you get back. You can collect your things before going to lunch." She nodded at Sirius and Remus, who were still glaring at the Slytherins. "You two can start clearing up if you like. The bell will ring any minute."
On cue, a loud ring sounded through the castle. The rest of the class began to pack away too.
"I want to get revenge on those Slytherins," Sirius snarled, looking darkly back over his shoulder as he and Remus made their way into the Entrance Hall.
"They shouldn't have made fun of Peter," agreed Remus. He strode on ahead of Sirius, heading towards a door that read 'Hospital Wing'. "But let's not make trouble just yet. There are other ways of getting our own back."
Sirius began to think he'd underestimated Remus. "Like what?" he asked.
They pushed open the hospital wing's doors. Peter and James could be seen at the other end of the ward, standing next to a matronly-looking witch with a white apron.
"You'll just have to wait and see." Remus slowed down a bit as he approached the other two. "Hi, Peter. How are your hands?"
Peter showed them his mended fingers. There wasn't a single scratch on them. "Much better, thanks!" he said happily. "Madam Pomfrey mended them in seconds."
"That's good." Sirius stooped to watch Madam Pomfrey turn and head back to her office. "Remus and I were just comparing our desire to attack the Slytherins."
James glared at the memory. "Yeah, I'd like revenge too. I don't like Snivellus Snape. I think he's a right git for hanging around with Lily. He doesn't deserve her."
They began the walk to the Great Hall, where lunch was being served.
James was still scowling about Snape, something that Remus was quick to notice. He smiled. "Are you in love with Lily, James?" he teased.
James blushed. "No! Of course not! I just think that she's much too good to be hanging around with... with..." Unfortunately for him, however, he couldn't seem to finish the sentence.
Remus abruptly stopped walking. He peered at James' flushed, embarrassed face. "You are!" he cried triumphantly. "You like her!"
"No, I- I don't-" James protested, but Sirius had already begun to laugh.
"James and Lily, sitting in a tree... K-I-S-S-I-N-G!"
James tried and failed to roll his eyes. He punched Sirius playfully on the arm. "Shut up, you immature idiot! How old are you? Six?"
Sirius laughed even harder, his bark-like laugh resounding off the Great Hall's walls.
They found seats at the Gryffindor table.
Peter pointed to a red-haired figure sitting with Frank Longbottom and his friend called Alice. "Hey, James, look! There's Lily!"
Sirius grinned and nudged his friend. "Yeah, James. You can tell her your feelings in person."
"Haven't I just told you to shut up?" said James, but he was grinning too. He turned to Remus. "I swear this is your fault. You were the one who shouted that I like her."
Remus raised an eyebrow. "Oh, so you do like her? Do we have a confession?"
James poked him. "Oi!" Then he smiled even more broadly. "I guess you do. You have to admit, she is pretty."
"Pretty what?" asked Sirius, swinging one leg over the bench to sit beside James.
Lily, Frank and Alice were a few places down from them.
James shrugged. "Just 'pretty', I guess... Pretty cool, pretty smart, pretty-"
"Pretty dumb to be associating with a slimy jerk like Severus Snape?" Sirius suggested lightly, dumping some food on his plate and beginning to eat.
James laughed. "Something like that."
"I don't really like the Slytherins," said Peter in a small voice, looking down at his hands. He remembered how much they'd hurt earlier when the Slytherins had been laughing at him.
"You know what, Pete?" said Sirius. "Neither do I."
"Me neither," added James. "They're all a load of gits."
Remus cleared his throat. "Er, isn't that a bit... prejudiced?"
Sirius shrugged. "So what?"
Remus said nothing, choosing to focus his gaze on his lunch.
I had a bit of trouble getting started with this chapter... Can you tell from the writing?
I'm trying to write fifty-thousand words in thirty days, this month, but I'm only on around twenty-one-thousand, so far! Help, I need encouragement XD
Thank you so much for all your support :)