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AU. When Sirius and Remus go looking for Peter Pettigrew, they make a wrong turn and someone else finds him first. Eight years later, Sirius owns a book store and Remus manages it for him. When Harry stumbles into the store and they find out the truth, they decide it's time to be Stealing Harry. (SB/RL slash relationship in later chapters.)

Author Notes:

Warning: This chapter contains scenes of M/M sexual contact.

Dear Harry,

I apologise for being so late in writing to you, but Sirius wouldn't give me quill and ink any sooner. I'm afraid it wasn't easy this time around, but not to worry: I'm not hurt, just tired and sore. Your letter arrived on the 22nd and I saved it specifically so I'd have something to read in bed on the 24th; thank you for writing such a long letter to keep me entertained, it was very thoughtful of you as usual. Sirius and I both enjoy reading about your Quidditch practices and I think Sirius is almost ready to admit you're playing for Slytherin. He'll come round, Harry. Your story about Padma and the trick Gobstones game had us both laughing until we couldn't breathe; it was very wrong of Draco to charm them to all go off at once, and exactly the sort of thing a certain distant cousin named Sirius might have done when we were at school.

Life has been quiet the last few days. Nymphadora came to dinner last night, which was nice, and she told us she can't wait to see you and Neville at Christmas holiday. Andromeda keeps trying to get her to invite her trainer, Kingsley Shacklebolt, to dinner sometime, but apparently that's 'not professional', according to Dora, who still insists we call her Tonks. I can't imagine what Andromeda was thinking, naming her Nymphadora in the first place.

At any rate, I've spent most of my time in bed, and Sirius has been bringing me books to read, and buying shiny things he thinks will entertain me. I should be up and about again by the time you get this which, if Hedwig is her usual efficient self, should be four days before Hallowe'en. I hope you're looking forward to the feast -- it's quite spectacular. I'll be envying you as Sirius makes me choke down one more cup of beef broth in the hopes that somehow, if I only have enough protein in my system, I'll come to my senses and stop getting ill every four weeks. He's promised to allow me as much pumpkin pie as I like, however. Apparently vegetables are permitted so long as they're mixed with custard.

I'm sorry to hear you're not enjoying your Defence Against the Dark Arts classes; it used to be the most brilliant class in school, but I hear Quirrell's lost his nerve a bit. Go easy on him; he's a new teacher and I'm sure he's nervous about making a good impression. If you want some extra practice over the holiday, I'll do some work with you. I'm glad to hear you're enjoying your other classes, and that Professor Snape is keeping you properly challenged. I hear from Ted that Neville still complains he's a little shirty in class, but then we can't all be as even-tempered and cheerful as Neville, and what a world it would be if we could.

I'll write more later, but Hedwig is eager to stretch her wings and Sirius has returned from his food-foraging, so I'll let you go back to your studies, hopefully, and write again later.

Greetings from all of us here at Grimmauld Place,



Remus capped the ink-bottle and put his quill away just in time; the ink was barely dry on the address when Sirius landed on the bed, grinning, and nuzzled his neck. Remus, propped on his elbows with the folded letter in front of him, merely smiled and laid it aside before Sirius' exuberance could wrinkle it. Sirius pulled the loose blanket higher up over his back from where it had settled around his hips, and draped one arm across him affectionately.

"I'm not dying, Sirius," Remus said with a smile, as Sirius kissed his ear.

"You will be if you don't keep warm, Moony," Sirius answered.

"It's been a week since the full moon, I'm fine."

"It's been four days, and you're not fine," Sirius replied. "Look, I brought you curry."

Remus smiled as a paper carton was shoved in front of him, and a cheap disposable spoon placed in one hand.

"It's good for you."

"I know it's good for me, Pads," he said, opening the top of the carton and stirring up the thick, fragrant curry a little.

"That's not just off-the-cart curry you know, I went down to a real Indian restaurant and had them box some up."

Remus nuzzled Sirius back, just under the ear, and laughed against his cheek. "I'll eat it, Pads, I promise. What's got into you today?"

"Nothing, just glad you're getting better," Sirius said, unwrapping some naan as well, and breaking off a piece to give to Remus.

"I wasn't that sick," Remus grumbled. Sirius caught his wrist, spoon halfway to his mouth.

"You were that sick," he said gravely. "And I was that worried. I don't know why the last moon was so bad for you, but it was, and it worries me."

Remus gently tugged his wrist free, and ate the spoonful of curry before replying.

"It comes and goes, you know that," he said, glancing away. "I haven't had one that bad in a long time, and doubt I will again anytime soon. And I had Padfoot there -- you did everything right. It was just a hard Change. They happen."

"They never happened in Wales."

"Wales was different."

"We could move back there."

"Sirius, there's absolutely no need for that."

Sirius' arm tightened around his waist, and the dark-haired man rested his chin on Remus' shoulder.

"Eat," he said, kissing his neck. Remus ate quietly, finishing every bite; he'd found his appetite again, and the spicy food helped clear his head a little. When he was finished, Sirius rose and took the empty food boxes into their kitchen, returning as Remus slid down until he was lying fully on the bed, head pillowed on his arms. The springs of the bed creaked slightly as Sirius sat next to him and rested his hand between Remus' shoulderblades.

"You're dreaming again," he said quietly, and Remus closed his eyes. He didn't think he'd had that many, but if Sirius had noticed, he must not be remembering them all. "Dreams like you used to have. Aren't you?"

"Am I waking you up at night?"

"No, but sometimes I wake up to get some water and when I come back, I can see..." Sirius sighed. "You move a bit, and you mutter sometimes. Nothing I can understand, but I can see how tired you look some mornings. Do they wake you up?"

"Once in a while. It's nothing, Sirius."

"It's not nothing." Sirius slid down next to him, and Remus curled into his arms, taking comfort in the warm, broad mass of Sirius' body, the scent of him.

He inhaled deeply. For nine years he'd wanted this, and even after two and a half years of having it, having Sirius -- having everything Sirius wanted to give him, plus a home and a share in raising Harry -- he was still afraid that one day it would simply end. Not because he didn't trust Sirius, or had no faith in him, but because he didn't know why Sirius loved him, or what precisely he'd done to deserve getting everything he wanted.

"What happens in this one?" Sirius asked, after a while. Remus felt his heart beat faster, and deliberately calmed himself.

"I don't know. It's not clear, like the others. I can see Harry looking at me, and I've done something wrong, and I'm packing to go somewhere..."

"Away from us?"

"I can't tell."

"I won't let you," Sirius said petulantly.

Remus sighed into his neck. "It's not the leaving that's the problem. It's that I've done something, let Harry down somehow."

"You never would."

"Not on purpose."

Sirius' fingers worked their way up his neck, into his hair, rubbing his scalp soothingly. "You can tell me these things, you know."

"I didn't think it was that important."

"All right."

Remus felt a kiss on his cheek, and turned his head slightly so that their lips met; Sirius might think he was still ill and delicate, but his body was responding to Sirius' closeness, and he wanted the assurance anyway, that Sirius was really there, was really his. His fingers tightened possessively on Sirius' shoulders.

"Moony -- " Sirius said cautiously, and Remus smiled wickedly.

"Padfoot," he replied, voice low, pressing closer. Sirius' lips opened, deepening the kiss almost involuntarily. "Good boy..."

Sirius laughed against his mouth. "Are you sure you're up to..." he paused, as Remus hooked a leg over his hip, brushing their bodies together tantalisingly. "Oh. You are sure."

"Very sure," Remus murmured. "I think you're sure too."

"Oh, yes..." Sirius caught his breath as Remus nuzzled against his shirt, finding the nylon dog collar and kissing the sensitive skin underneath. They rolled until Remus was on his back, grinning up at him and fumbling with his belt. Sirius put a hand on his, stopping him as he leaned back.

"Let me," Sirius said, and Remus paused. "You're still sick."

"Sirius, I'm -- "

"Let me," Sirius repeated, fingers tracing the line of Remus' knuckles. They hooked around Remus' hand, undoing the belt beneath his palm, while Sirius' other hand untucked his shirt, pulling it up and over his head.

Remus released the now-undone belt, and ran his fingers over Sirius' skin, smooth and a little paler than his own, the contrast between them somehow pleasing. Sirius, even if he never craved work or stimulation the way Remus did, was nevertheless an active man, and though broadly built, he was still lean. He was pale, too, and Remus liked the way Sirius' skin made his own seem like rich gold by contrast.

Sirius, however, was not distracted from his purpose, and he bent over Remus to unbutton the pyjama shirt he wore, palms smoothing over his shoulders and neck as he pushed it off and tugged the sleeves up his arms. Remus obediently lifted his hands over his head, and laughed when Sirius held them there, after removing the offending shirt.

"Pinned you," Sirius said, kissing him gently.

"Wrestling is a lot more fun now than when we were at school," Remus agreed, and bucked his hips. Sirius swore, and let go of his wrists, so that he could brace himself on the bed. Remus smiled up at him and rolled his hips this time, and Sirius moaned.

"What you do to me, Moony," he growled, working his way out of his trousers, "oughtn't be allowed."

"I could stop," Remus offered. Sirius brushed a hand across the front of his thin pyjama pants, and he whined, high in the back of his throat. "Actually, no I couldn't -- "

Sirius swallowed the words with his mouth, and they arched together for a few minutes while Sirius tried to undress him, finally kicking the last of the clothing away.

"Much better," he muttered, as Remus reached up to stroke his face. He'd long ago memorised the curve of his cheekbones and the edge of his jaw, but Sirius seemed to like it when they touched like this, and Remus had fallen in love with him as much for his mind as for this line right here, that ridge of bone under skin, the small scar on the side of his nose where he'd cut himself during a school fight years ago. The perfections and the imperfections and oh, Sirius, the way Sirius knew just how to fit against him.

"Moony, do you want -- " Sirius gasped, as their hips pressed together in an increasingly fast rhythm, hot skin against hot skin, delightfully teasing sensations.

"Just this," Remus answered, eyes closing as he threw his head back against the blankets. Sirius saw his opportunity and buried his face in his neck, kissing and biting, the collar he wore rubbing against Remus' collarbone. He felt Sirius tense and the warm rush of the other man's orgasm on his stomach, but Sirius didn't stop moving, didn't stop thrusting and moaning as Remus saw white behind his eyelids and suddenly couldn't breathe. There -- once more -- such delicious touch -- and Remus felt the world, at least for a little while, fade into the feel of Sirius, sprawled boneless and satisfied on top of him.

When his breathing evened out again he felt Sirius move, rolling a little to one side so that Sirius wasn't crushing him and he wasn't a rather bony body pillow. Sirius kept him close, however, and spoke almost against his skin.

"You seem to be feeling better," he admitted. Remus laughed.

"I am, Padfoot."

"I'm glad."

"Me too."

"I stopped by Schaeffer's today," Sirius said, as Remus murmured a cleaning spell and curled closer. "They say you're welcome to pick up a shift tomorrow, if you want it."

Remus stroked the short black hair, rubbing his fingers across one of Sirius' ears. "You just like me working there because they let you wander around in the back room and play with the experimental products."

"And flirt with Madam Schaeffer, don't forget."

Remus yawned. "How could I. You're a cad to lead her on."

"Who says I'm leading her on? I'm a healthy, unwed man with a son who needs a mother," Sirius said, mockingly. "Who better than the proprietess of a store full of educational toys?"

"Well, in that case I suppose I ought to move out and make room for the Missus," Remus answered. Sirius laughed and closed his eyes sleepily.

"Smartarse," he muttered.

"A nap at three in the afternoon," Remus said, as Sirius' breathing slowed, and his muscles relaxed. "Such decadence."

"Naps're good for you," Sirius mumbled. Remus dropped a kiss into his hair, and closed his own eyes, settling comfortably into the tangle of blankets and pillows and Sirius. After a few minutes, Hedwig soared through the open window, landed indignantly on the bed, and pecked until a hand reached out from the confused pile and flung a letter her way. She clicked her beak, picked up the letter with one foot, and hopped to the edge of the bed, swooping back out again.

On the bed, the two men slept on, oblivious to the world.


Remus' letter arrived the following morning, at their usual early breakfast, and Draco fed Hedwig his toast crusts -- or tried to, while she stole his bacon -- as Harry read it aloud. The Great Hall was echoingly empty in the early morning, but the four of them found they liked it that way. It had become a regular occurrence for Padma, on her way down from the Ravenclaw eyrie in the west tower, to stop at Gryffindor tower and use a knocking charm Harry had installed to wake Neville. He usually tumbled out of bed and was, due to his previous tendency to oversleep, fit to be seen in five minutes or less. Harry met Draco at the Great Hall entrance, and they waited there, leaning against the wall and facing the staircase, for Padma and Neville to arrive.

Once in a while they were there even before the food had been laid out, and then the house-elves would usually pop up to bring them breakfast; Draco once asked if it wasn't a trouble for them, but Denbigh reassured him that they were already awake to start the fires in the common-room heating stoves, now that it was coming on winter, and he himself never left the kitchens at any rate. It wasn't unusual for Headmaster Dumbledore, who was apparently also an early riser, to arrive just as they were finishing their meal, sometimes accompanied by Professor Snape. More and more often they found that five or ten minutes after Denbigh brought their food, Professor Quirrell would appear and eat a solitary bowl of oatmeal before hurrying away again.

"Wonder where he's going off to," Neville said on Hallowe'en morning as Quirrell nearly ran into Snape -- one going, the other arriving. Harry, who saw the oddly disdainful sneer on Snape's face when Quirrell passed, thought perhaps he was unpopular amongst the other professors. He certainly spent a lot of time alone, and once or twice he'd been spotted on the edges of the Forbidden Forest; then again he was a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, after all, and if the Forest wasn't full of it, Harry didn't know what was.

"Getting ready for classes, probably," Draco said, rather generously Harry thought, as they were still a good hour away from the first class of the day. Draco finished his toast, and continued. "So what I want to know is if you three are up for a little entertainment after the Hallowe'en feast."

"Not this seance nonsense again," Padma sighed.

"Listen, if you want to chat with a ghost -- " Neville started.

"Oh, let him alone, it's all just for fun," Harry said, waving off their protests. "Isn't it, Malfoy?"

"Sure," Draco said, but he looked a bit cowed by Padma's skepticism.

"Go on then, tell us about it," Neville said, stirring his cereal.

"Well, I just thought it'd be sort of spooky, because it's Hallowe'en and all," Draco said, turning scarlet. "I thought we could sneak out after the Feast and find an empty classroom and do a sleep-over sort of a thing."

"I'm not allowed sleep-overs with boys," Padma said haughtily.

"We're not boys, we're us," Harry answered. Padma gave him a narrow look. "Go on, Draco."

"It was just a thought," Draco mumbled. "I've never had a proper sleep-over. Just...steal some blankets and camp out in an empty classroom and maybe do some charms. I got hold of our Prefect's Divination book and it's full of that kind of thing. It's not ghosts," he added, to Neville. "It's for seeing the future and all."

"You're sure to get caught," Padma threatened.

"You needn't worry then, need you?" Neville asked, automatically approving the plan if it meant Padma was against it. Neville would defy school rules on principle, given the proper opportunity. "As you won't be along."

"I didn't say that!" Padma protested.

"The fifth floor's got an empty storage room I bet we could hide in," Harry said, thoughtfully.

"How do you know that?" Neville and Padma demanded in unison. They tended to view anything above fourth floor as Gryffindor and Ravenclaw property, since there weren't any classrooms above the fourth floor except Divination and Astronomy.

Harry shrugged. "Whenever I get lost I start trying doors," he said. "It's a funny little room with some stairs in it down to another empty room below -- doesn't look like it's been used in years. Neville can lock the door -- "

"Neville's rubbish at locking charms," Padma flared. Harry grinned. Neville wasn't actually that bad at them, but Padma prided herself on her locks.

"All right then, we'll let you do it," he said graciously. Padma looked at once vindicated and suspicious.

"Harry can bring food, and I'll bring candles and the book, and Padma and Neville, you bring cushions," Draco said, triumphantly. "There's the Prefect, we'd better go," he added, gathering up his books and plate. Neville did likewise, departing for Gryffindor, but Padma lingered a moment.

"Are you sure this is wise, Harry?" she asked quietly.

"I think," Harry said, giving her his best Cheeky Sirius smile, "That not-being-wise is half the fun."

"It's just that it's Draco's idea, and well..." she looked indecisive. "He's Draco, you know..."

"Patil, how often do I have to tell you about loitering around the Slytherin table?" Percy Weasley demanded, as he passed on his way to Gryffindor. Padma let out a frightened "eep!" and ran to Ravenclaw, forgetting her plate, which Goyle brushed aside as he sat down.

"Morning Potter," he grunted, and Harry resigned himself to another forty minutes of scintillating breakfast conversation about how brilliant the sausages were and could he please pass the water pitcher.


If he was to be perfectly honest, Severus Snape rather enjoyed Hallowe'en. He felt it was the one holiday in the year that really suited him.

Christmas was trite, New Year's gaudy, and Valentine's downright revolting. Easter was redeemed from total uselessness only by coming attached to a week-long break from school. There was an interesting Muggle holiday called Guy Fawkes Day, something to do with blowing up the Muggle Government, which Severus was frankly in favour of; he thought it must also be pleasantly cathartic to build a giant bonfire and throw an effigy on it. Still, he always managed to miss that one somehow, and was left squarely with Hallowe'en.

A good old-fashioned celebration of death, now that was something a person could really sink his teeth into.

He was less irritable with the idiot students that particular day, and more inclined to praise the marginally intelligent ones. He refused on principle to consider any student of his brilliant, since then the ones who actually were brilliant had no excuse to slack off. He did occasionally stroke the egos of idiots who nevertheless had powerful families, because he was not himself an idiot; if the child in question was at least going to grasp the basics, they might as well feel they'd grasped much more, and go home to give glowing reports of the Potions Master to their parents.

Hogwarts made Hallowe'en safe, after all, charged it with floating pumpkins and the promise of an evening feast. Safe for a former Death Eater -- long since redeemed but still stained, he was safe at Hogwarts.

He would not think on that today, however, especially not as he was already ensconsed at the high table, between Quirrell's empty chair and Flitwick's high-seated one. He even tolerated Dumbledore's fearsomely annoying wink, and was pleased to see Harry -- yes, and Draco, though at separate tables -- enjoying the feast.

And he did, of course, turn a blind eye to Harry's exploding certain floating illuminated pumpkins, using a fork transfigured into a catapult and the boiled sweets in the dishes on the table. The third one had just gone off, right over Percy Weasley, when the door slammed and there were frantic footsteps running down the aisle.

Quirrell, pale as a ghost, skidded to a stop, slamming into the high table about two feet to Severus' right.

"TROLL!" he cried, "IN THE DUNGEONS!"

There was a moment of silence, and Quirrell seemed to collect himself.

"Thought you ought to know," he said, and passed out.

The Great Hall seemed to fill with noise, suddenly, and Severus found himself rising just as Dumbledore threw purple firecrackers from the end of his wand, silencing everyone.

"Prefects," he rumbled, "lead your Houses back to the dormitories immediately!"

Feet began to shuffle as the prefects called out to one another, trying to herd hundreds of frightened and quite possibly thrilled children back to the dormitories.

"I'm certain it was Peeves," McGonagall said off to his left somewhere, and Severus was inclined to agree with her, except that he never agreed with Gryffindors. "Either he's frightened poor Quirrell to death or he's let one of those troublesome creatures into the castle and we shall no doubt have a time getting rid of it," she continued, as she led the teachers towards the hallway outside, and the stairwell down to the dungeons.

It was her speech which gave Severus pause, in fact, because if he himself was thinking it was Peeves then he clearly wasn't thinking hard enough. Peeves could never have wrangled a troll into the school, and if he was posing, well, Quirrell was a prat but he was certainly able to tell the difference between a poltergeist and a mountain troll.

Come to think of it...

Where was Quirrell?

He wasn't lying below the table where he'd fainted, but Severus was sure he hadn't seen him in the crowd of professors trailing McGonagall and Dumbledore.

Severus Snape had a sudden awful premonition, coupled with the regret he hadn't thought of the idea first, quickly quashed because he knew he could never have gone through with it, if only because it meant betraying Albus Dumbledore. Hard on the heels of that thought, even as he ran quickly in the opposite direction from the other professors, was a mild twinge of grudgingly respectful admiration for Quirrell.

He rounded the staircase that would have led him to the third floor and kept going, certain he heard footsteps on the stairs. Fortunately there was a faster way that a newcomer to the castle mightn't know about, especially since Quirrell hadn't been a Slytherin when he'd been at Hogwarts as a student....

He arrived in front of an apparently nondescript panel in the wall, only separated from its fellows by a small set of stairs, house-elf sized, leading up to it. He rapped smartly on the panel, twice, and a head emerged through it.

"Why if it isn't Severus," the ghost said, giving him a grin and doffing an extremely old-fashioned hat. "And what can I do for you this evening, fellow-me-lad? Leaving the Hallowe'en party already?"

"Mr. Howson, I have never been more satisfied to see you staunchly at your post," Severus said quickly, pushing the panel open and climbing into the small chamber on the other side. It had been a perfect fit when he was fourteen, but at thirty-one it was slightly snug, and he had to sit against the back of it, drawing his knees up under his chin. "Third floor, if you please."

"Third floor it is," the porter's ghost said, and reached through a wall. He stuck his tongue out in concentration -- it was hard for ghosts to become solid enough to move things, most of the time -- and Severus heard a slight click.

Then his stomach dropped out as the mechanism creaked to life and shot him up three floors in a matter of seconds, the goblin-forged machinery working along much the same lines as the vault-wagons at Gringotts. His head hit the ceiling when it screeched to a halt, and he thrust the door open, stumbling out into the third-floor corridor. With two or three seconds to get his bearings, he was off again, not quite sure if he could still beat Quirrell to the door.

He reached the entrance to the forbidden hallway and opened the lock without stopping to move, thrusting the door open and holding his wand out before him in case Fluffy -- god, what an idiot name for a three-headed-dog -- was feeling especially fierce.

Empty. No sign of Quirrell. No sign of Fluffy, for that matter, though the beast could concievably be hiding in the shadows.

He heard footsteps behind him, and turned just in time to meet Quirrell at the door, wand at the ready.

"Good evening," he said pleasantly. "I see you've recovered from your fainting spell, Professor."

"P-p-p-p -- "

"Yes, indeed," Severus agreed.

"J-j-j-j-just -- "

"Coming to make sure the troll hadn't magically ascended from the dungeon to the third floor? Peculiar that you'd choose to come here, halfway across the castle. Even a very bright troll has trouble finding his arse with both hands," Severus said, rejoicing in the opportunity to use his truly nastiest sneer. "I doubt very much he could find -- "

There was a snarl, and then a snap, and then fire raced up Severus' right leg. Quirrell fled as Severus shouted in surprise and turned to smack Fluffy across one of its snouts with his wand, keeping two heads at bay while the third tried to shake his leg where it had its teeth sunk firmly in his right calf.

"Quirrell, come back here -- bloody hellhound -- fucking Merlin up the arse," he swore, as he flailed at the three-headed dog. Finally he managed to keep the free heads away long enough to point his wand at the one attached to his leg, and gave it a nasty shock that sent it whining into the corner. He could feel blood trickling down his leg, and limped through the doorway, slamming and locking it. On the other side, he leaned against the wall and tried to examine the damage, but it's very difficult to study the back of one's own leg, and finally he gave in and limped off to the hospital wing to fetch some bandages. The trousers were ruined, and from the looks of it his boot had been punctured as well. Every step sent little sharp spikes of pain up his leg.

Quirrell, he decided, was going to pay dearly for this.

The hospital wing was empty and silent, and he helped himself to the bandages, and a bottle of healing salve he himself had brewed for Madam Pomfrey. There was a floo point in her office, and he let himself in, unwilling to walk all the way back to the dungeons when he could floo just as easily. Hopefully the troll had been coralled by now -- if indeed a troll there was, he thought, considering Quirrell's apparent plans to raid the third-floor corridor. He had half a mind to take it up with Dumbledore, but his pride had been injured, and he could handle this personally.

Quirrell was a stammering fool that couldn't out-think a barn owl. A greedy little pip who wanted to live forever, eh? They'd just see about that....

He found a knife in his desk drawer and carefully lifted his leg so that the heel of his boot hooked under the ledge of his desk, grimacing as this sent fresh blood oozing out of the wounds. Deep and vicious, but relatively clean; it could have been much worse. He began to slice the fabric away, exploring more with his fingers, though it hurt to do so.

He cleaned the leg with alcohol and a good solid scrubbing spell before salving it and bending to the difficult task of wrapping the bandage. He had just managed to get it started when he heard a soft gasp from the doorway, and glanced up.

Harry stood there, staring at him in surprise, looking guilty.

"Come in then," he said gruffly, continuing to wind the bandage. "Five points for being out while confined to House dormitories. Bring yourself over here and be useful."

"Professor Binns said he couldn't find you," Harry blurted. "But I heard noises in your office..."

"Professor Binns is an incompetent fool, and dead to boot," Severus replied. "He'd do better to go looking for that troll -- if there even is one."

"They found it," Harry said warily, standing on the other side of the desk.

"Did they now? You're not doing any good over there, come and help me with this," Severus said, and Harry circled the desk, taking the bandage out of his hands and deftly wrapping it around the injured muscle.

"Professor Binns came down to say they caught it in the girls' bathroom. He said Hermione Granger went looking for it and when she found it, it tried to eat her, but Ron and Neville and the other Gryffindor boys showed up and beat it unconscious," Harry said, in a very satisfied voice. He tucked the bandage through a loose loop and tied it at the top, then wrapped another layer back down towards the shredded ends of the boot. "Wish I'd been there."

"No you don't," Severus answered. "You're not completely incompetent at that," he added, as Harry finished.

"Once in a while after a full moon Remus is tired, but Sirius gets caught on brambles and I have to -- " Harry bit his lip, suddenly. He tied the end of the bandage off just above the ankle, and Severus pulled the torn edge of his trouser leg down as far as it would go.

"How'd you get hurt?" Harry asked, finally.

"None of your concern, Mr. Potter," Severus answered swiftly. "Ten points to Slytherin for having more common sense than all the Gryffindor first-years combined. Off with you to the common room."

Harry gave him a proud, quick smile, and scuttled away. Severus slipped his foot off the desk and considered whether he ought to change first, or find Dumbledore and get news of this troll. He tested the steadiness of the leg; the salve he'd used had a numbing element, and he thought it wasn't serious enough to warrant keeping the foot up. He could probably get as far as the Great Hall and back --

For the second time that day a sharp shock caught him off guard, and he clapped his hands to his head as searing pain welled up in his right temple. He hunched over, his own ragged breathing far too loud in his ears, pressing the heel of his right hand to the source of the agonising pain. His left arm began to throb as well.

As soon as it had come, it passed, and he shook his head to clear it, clenching his left fist. He ripped the sleeve up, staring at the faint shadow that never went away, his faded Dark Mark.

Phantom pain, he told himself. Displacement of the pain in his leg, that was all, or some side-effect of the salve. He'd have to brew a new supply; clearly this bottle was going bad.

He ought to put on new trousers, and make sure Quirrell was accounted for, and then as soon as he could gather his wits about him, he and the new Defence professor were going to have a nice long chat about school loyalty.

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