Book Four and Three Quarters
by Maeve "Mab" Roberts

~

< >"A fight," replied the Selkie, and it grinned. This was possibly one of the nastier things Harry had seen before: the Selkie's mouth was full of long, yellow fangs, and its breath smelt of decaying fish. He winced, and took a step back. Around him, his other friends were regaining their consciousness.

< >"I want…" repeated the Selkie, apparently enjoying their confusion, "… a fight." He grinned, again. "Underwater," he added.

< >Harry looked at the resigned faces of everyone else, and had to admit that there was no other way they could cross the stream without first eliminating this strange creature in front of them.

< >"If only we had some gillyweed," sighed Sirius. "Well, there's nothing we can do - I'll have to transform, and - "

< >"No!" shouted Ron suddenly. "Wait! I've got it…" He fumbled in his pockets, as the others watched on in fascination, and then produced a pack of chewing gum triumphantly.

< >"Ron - " said Lupin, starting forwards, and looking worried.

< >"Chewing gum…?" said Hermione, staring at Ron as though suddenly unsure of his sanity.

< >"No!" said Ron. "Hubble gum. Remember, Harry - I told you about it in my owl. It makes a bubble round your head - go on! Go!" And, before anyone could stop him, he'd shoved the whole lot into his mouth and was blowing with all his might.

< >"Ron - no!" shouted Hermione. She stared around her helplessly. "Do something!" she screamed. A huge, bulbous sphere was growing around Ron's head like a three-dimensional halo. Harry sprung forwards, but the Selkie was quicker.

< >"Do you accept my challenge?" it asked Ron. Ron, who couldn't make his voice heard through the bubble, nodded. The Selkie grinned maniacally, and began to revolve again - this time, though, taking Ron with it. The water sprayed the others, bursting out at them in huge waves, but Harry ignored it and tried to tug Ron away from the Selkie's grip. Suddenly there was a burning pain searing down his right forearm. The Selkie's teeth were imbedded in it. He heard someone scream, and with a dull shock realized that it had been him.

< >"Harry! Get out - that can be lethal!" came Sirius's voice.

< >"What about Ron?" Harry could hear himself say. He was becoming detached, separated… he knew he was losing his conscious, fast. He caught another glimpse of his best friend as the whirlpool continued, dragging him down with the Selkie into the depths of the innocent-looking stream. Someone caught hold of him, and made a grab for Ron as well. But all of a sudden - there was nothing. The stream was back to normal, and there they all stood - all except for Ron. Harry blinked.

< >"Ron!" he shouted, finding his voice again. "Ron! Ron, no!"

< >"Remus!" cried Sirius. "There's a hut up here - look! Quick - bring Harry."

< >Harry tried to tear away from Lupin in an attempt to rush after his friend, kicking and striking out with all his force. Ron couldn't be dead… he couldn't…

< >"Harry we can't. It's not safe. I'll - I'll go and look for him in a minute - we have to get to that hut now." Harry couldn't fathom the sudden degree of urgency in his voice before he looked down at his right arm. It was swollen to twice its normal size, where the Selkie had bitten it, and turning white.

< >"Ron," he whispered, catching sight of Hermione's ashen face. She looked too stunned even to cry.

< >He barely noticed the horrible howling noise that started again: he heard Snape say, as if through a mist to Lupin - "I'll take Potter. Granger - you come with me. Go and look for the Weasley boy." And Harry was dragged off. The last thing he saw was Sirius and Snape standing over him looking desperately worried, and then everything went black.

~

< >The Selkie was closing in on Ron, whose head looked strangely distorted inside the bubble. Harry remembered what it reminded him of: last year, when he and Cedric Diggory had competed in the Triwizard Tournament, they had had to rescue four hostages from underwater, and it was just the same now… Ron had turned into Cedric, he was fighting the Selkie… the monster closed its jaws around Ron's neck and turned into Lord Voldemort, then smiled, pointing his wand at Harry… and -

< > "Noooo!" yelled Harry, suddenly sitting bolt upright in bed, the sweat pouring from his forehead and soaking his pillows. He looked about him into the darkness, panic only slightly decreasing.

< >

< >"It's OK, Harry," said a soothing voice to his left. He corkscrewed round violently towards the sound, and then breathed a deep sigh of relief.

< >Remus Lupin was sitting at his bedside with a tight, strained look on his face, holding out a cup of something hot. Harry took it, and sniffed at it suspiciously. To his surprise, it was hot chocolate.

< >"How are you feeling?" asked Lupin, still looking at him, concerned. He almost absently handed Harry a bar of chocolate.

< >"Mmm," said Harry, with his mouth full. "Nightmare."

< >"I can see that," replied Lupin wryly. "Quite a long one, it seems."

< >Harry frowned at him, puzzled. "What?" he asked. Or, at least, he made some attempt to: the chocolate was delicious, and he only managed a garbled half-grunt.

< >Lupin though it appeared understood. "You've been sleeping for seven hours, shouting your head off," he explained. "Snape's been boiling you up something to help but you weren't conscious to drink it and we didn't really think pinching your nose and pouring it down your throat was going to help much - Snape's suggestion, if you hadn't guessed."

< >Harry had.

< >"You had a fever of some kind," continued Lupin. "Sirius and I have been sat here - he'll be back soon; went to get some breakfast. He hasn't eaten since you started shouting."

< >Harry's mind was racing. Seven hours… all sorts of things could have happened since he fell asleep! Then he remembered: Ron.

< >"Have you - have you found Ron yet?" he asked groggily, trying to fling the bedcovers from him and get out of bed. Maybe the hot chocolate wasn't just hot chocolate after all. He put it down.

< >"Ron came back about an hour ago," said Lupin, smiling and pushing the cup back into Harry's hands. "Drink it. It'll help."

< >"What is it?" Harry could have cried in relief at the news of Ron's return. "And what happened with Ron? Where is he? Can I see him?"

< >Ignoring the last few questions, Lupin said, "I have no idea, but Professor Snape assured me it will make you feel better."

< >Harry let go of the cup at once and spat out his mouthful - unfortunately all over Lupin's robes. The professor stood up and shook the liquid off.

< >"Thank you, Harry," he said wryly. "I was joking. It's only hot chocolate."

< >"Oh," said Harry, feeling rather silly and eyeing the spilt drink sheepishly. "Sorry."

< >Lupin shook his head, and sat down again. "Don't worry," he said. "I'm sure I'd have had a very similar response. Are you feeling better now? I think Hermione would like to see you - and Sirius - "

< >At that moment, Harry's godfather and Hermione walked into the small, dark room and peered anxiously at him. Lupin got up again and disappeared; Sirius quickly occupied his vacated seat, and Hermione perched on the end of the bed.

< >"How are you?" they both asked at once. Harry laughed.

< >"Fine - I'm fine," he said. "Just a bad dream. Where's Ron? Is he OK?"

< >The sound of cautious footsteps and a muffled curse as something was tripped over heralded Ron's arrival, and Harry was able to let out a sigh of relief. For the first time since he could remember, he felt vaguely safe. Here he was, in bed, with no one lost or dying. What a change that makes, he thought to himself.

< >"'Lo, Ron," he murmured sleepily. "You're a funny colour." And with that, he fell fast asleep.

~

< >Harry was awoken the next morning by the pale morning sunlight stealing its way across his face. Blinking, he sat up and rubbed his eyes.

< >Ron was lying on a mattress on the floor by his bed, and Harry rubbed his eyes even harder as he stared at him. He had been right, the night before: Ron was a funny colour - he had gone blue.

< >"Ron?" hissed Harry incredulously, unsure as to whether he ought to wake his friend and inform him of this change in complexion, or whether he already knew about it.

< >"He'll be all right in an hour or so," came Sirius's voice from where he stood leaning against the door frame, his thin body silhouetted there. "That was just the, er, after-effects of Snape's potion. Come and have some breakfast?"

< >Harry couldn't tear his eyes away from Ron's blue face.

< >"Snape did this to him?" he said, finally looking at Sirius. "Funny sense of humour he's got, hasn't he?"

< >"If you call saving his life funny, then yes, I suppose so," said Harry's godfather, a slight note of warning in his voice. "Ron got badly bitten by a Selkie, Harry. As you know, that could have been life-threatening… I'm sure Ron will tell you he'd rather be blue than dead when he wakes up."

< >Harry wasn't so sure. The blue went horribly with Ron's ginger hair, and whilst he hurriedly reviewed his opinion of Snape's intentions, he couldn't help being slightly apprehensive about Ron's reaction.

< >"Does he - does he know?" he asked Sirius, who - rather unhelpfully, Harry thought - smirked.

< >"Not yet," he replied, winking. "There aren't any mirrors round here… none of us have told him yet, and Snape assures us it'll wear off sooner… or later."

< >"Oh God - it isn't permanent, is it?" exclaimed Harry, horrified at the possibility. He could just imagine the taunts Ron would have to put up with from Malfoy - and everyone else, for that matter.

< >"Oh, no," said Sirius - just a touch too quickly, Harry decided. He glared suspiciously at his godfather, but Sirius put a finger to his lips and nodded towards Ron. Obviously Harry's shout had woken him up.

< >"Morning… What's not permanent?" he mumbled, trying in vain to flatten his hair, which was sticking up in great ginger tufts. Harry was just grateful that it was dark enough inside for Ron not to see his hands.

< >"Er - nothing," he replied awkwardly. "How are you? OK? What happened?"

< >A shudder flickered over Ron's face, and the blue paled to a nice, pastel shade.

< >"I don't want to talk about it," he said darkly. He would have gone on to say more, if at that moment Hermione hadn't rushed in, almost crying, and bravely hugged him, ignoring the blue. Ron looked startled and not a little worried: he looked to Harry and Sirius for assistance. He didn't receive any, however. They were both too amused to do anything. Ron glared at them evilly.

< >"Oh, Ron!" sobbed Hermione. "You're awake. I didn't think - I thought you - "

< >It was very unlike Hermione to be at a loss for words, and Ron blushed a colour reminiscent of a midnight sky.

< >"I'm fine," he said, a little gruffly. "Thanks."

< >Hermione pulled herself together, and let go of Ron, choosing tactfully to ignore the look of sheer relief that spread over his face.

< >"Well," she said. "That's OK then. Snape and Professor Lupin are cooking breakfast."

< >"Great!" said Ron, leaping to his feet with an enthusiasm that made Harry dizzy. "I'm starving. Come on - let's go!" And he sped from the room like a hare. Harry got the impression that he was trying to escape Hermione. Shrugging at each other, he and Sirius followed.

< >Breakfast did not prove to be all that exciting, although Ron began to wolf his down readily enough. The bacon was like leather, and the toast was blacker than Snape's hair. No one was brave enough to comment on this fact, however, because Snape seemed to be daring everyone to do so, his eyes flashing dangerously. Harry guessed it was he who had done the cooking.

< >"That was… wonderful, Severus," said Lupin, bravely chewing the bacon and hiding a grimace. "I'll er - I'll make some coffee, shall I?"

< >"If you like." Snape appeared to be sulking.

< >"Um," said Ron suddenly, and everyone looked at him, curious. He was staring at his hands, and Harry felt his stomach lurch before he saw they were both, luckily, gloved.

< >"Why… why am I wearing gloves?"

< >"You hurt your hands when you were fighting the Selkie, Ron," said Lupin smoothly, as everyone else gulped nervously. "But you did the trick - fought it off, of course. We, er - we had to put the gloves on for you to keep them protected - Professor Snape made you a salve for them - we don't want it coming off…"

< >Ron tried hard not to look too pleased at the image of him fighting off a Selkie single-handedly, and failed. Snape sniggered, and was ignored.

< >"I hope they don't hurt?" continued Lupin courteously.

< >"Oh - er - no, not too much," said Ron. "I'll live."

< >Harry exchanged a quick grin with Hermione, but Sirius and Lupin were, commendably, keeping extraordinarily straight faces. Nobody paid any attention to Snape's twisted grin.

< >"Inspired," Sirius complimented Lupin quietly, as Ron bent back over his plate to tackle his toast. Lupin shrugged modestly.

< >"I try," he replied in a whisper, aiming a quick smile at Harry and Hermione.

< >All of a sudden there was a loud clatter as Ron - who, with his gloves, seemed to be having difficulties holding his knife and fork - knocked his plate onto the floor, along with the remains of his indigestible breakfast.

< >"Oh," he said, not trying very hard to hide the relief in his voice, "Oh, dear. Look, I've spilt my breakfast."

< >"So you have," hissed Snape, as Sirius and Lupin picked up the broken china. "I wonder why?" He glared.

< >"I expect it was the gloves, wasn't it, Ron?" supplied Hermione.

< >"Well, yes," said Ron - and then added truthfully, albeit somewhat tactlessly, "But I don't mind. I've never seen toast that colour before."

< >"Just be grateful you got any," snarled Snape viciously. "It's a better colour than you, Weasley."

< >Harry lashed his foot out under the table, and from the howl of pain Snape let out he guessed he wasn't the only one.

< >"What's he talking about?" asked Ron, looking confused.

< >"You're looking - er - a mite peaky there," improvised Lupin quickly. Harry and the others, except Snape, flashed him three congratulatory smiles. Lupin winked.

< >"Oh," said Ron, obviously guessing there was more to it than that. "Oh, right. Um… did someone say something about coffee?"

~

< >Half an hour later, when tempers had cooled sufficiently enough for Snape, Sirius and Lupin to disappear off into a corner to discuss what would happen next, Harry sat down on the table and thought hard. He wasn't entirely sure what he was trying to think about, but he knew there was something in there somewhere, eluding him, and it was something to do with Ron.

< >Since fighting the Selkie, Ron had been acting remarkably strangely - for Ron. He had told no one about what had happened under the little stream with the monster; and, while Harry was tempted to put this unusual display of modesty down to Snape's potion, there was something else nagging away at his mind like a dog with a bone. Suddenly it clicked.

< >Ron was sitting down at the table. His elbows were splayed apart and his head was resting slumped in his hands, and he didn't appear to have realised that he was blue yet: he was gazing off into the distance, ignoring Harry and the others. Quietly, Harry slid down from his perch and crept over to Sirius.

< >"Did - did you give me the same potion as you gave Ron?" he asked, in a whisper. "When the Selkie bit me?" He noticed Sirius exchange a quick look with Lupin, who raised his eyebrows, before replying.

< >"Yes - we were just discussing that…"

< >"Then why haven't I turned blue?"

< >"It's his complexion," spat out Snape. He appeared to think that his potion-making ability was being called into question. "His ginger hair. And he had a far more concentrated dose than Potter. I told you: this is just the after-effect - it will wear off soon."

< >"Have you ever known it to have this effect before?"

< >"I've never given it to anyone before! How should I know? Why? Are you implying that my - "

< >Lupin shushed him with an impatient hand. "I'm not implying anything, Severus," he said. "I'm just trying to work out what's wrong."

< >They were, conveniently, stopped from further conversation by a small shriek from Hermione.

< >"Whatever's the matter?" exclaimed Sirius, turning round.

< >Hermione was pointing a shaking finger at Ron. Because he was clutching at his face with his hands, devoid now of gloves, his eyes widening in panic.

< >And from his mouth were growing long, yellow, fangs.

< >"Another after-effect of your potion, Severus?" enquired Lupin, with a calm that made Harry blink. Here they were, in the middle of a deserted hut in the middle of an enchanted forest, with his best friend blue and developing serious dental problems. Now was possibly not, he thought wildly, the best time to be calm.

< >"Isn't anyone going to do anything?" he shouted. "Somebody! Help Ron!"

< >"Well - I would, Harry," said Lupin in the same calm voice, "Only that isn't Ron. I hadn't realized until a minute ago, but - well - I'm afraid we have a problem."

< >"I know we do!" squawked Harry, trying to pull Ron's hands away from his mouth and giving up as his blue head turned green and horse-shaped.

< >"A Selkie!" Hermione whimpered, backing into Sirius.

< >"Well, actually no," replied Lupin, as though he were taking a class of Defence Against Dark Arts at Hogwarts, talking Hermione through identifying a certain creature. "Not a Selkie. You see - this is, in actual fact, a Brollachan - a rare form of the Boggart. As you know, the Boggart takes on the form of whatever its victim is most scared of: the Brollachan adopts the shape and traits of its last… er… victim."

< >"'Victim,'" echoed Hermione.

< >Harry suddenly felt very faint round his knees.

< >"You mean - you mean that isn't Ron?" he asked in disbelief. "You mean - Ron's dead?"

< >Lupin shook his head. "No," he said. "The Selkie was the last thing the Brollachan killed, and so he took the form and characteristics of that. He must have damaged Ron, I suppose, which is why he looked like him for a while - but he's turning back into the Selkie, Harry, which must mean Ron is still alive. I wondered why he was blue. I - er - I think maybe we ought to sort this out now," he added, as the Brollachan made a dash for Snape. It stopped just short of the professor, however, and stared at him instead. Harry didn't envy Snape: the goat-like eyes were spinning horribly. There was a stifled pause, as no one dared even breathe, and the Potions master struggled to keep eye contact with it for a while.

< >Then, in a sudden movement that shocked them all, Snape had leapt behind Lupin with a surprising degree of athleticism, grabbing the startled man's arms and swinging him round in front of him like a shield. He gave him a push towards the Brollachan.

< >"You're the Defence Against Dark Arts expert," he hissed. "Nice - nice Brollachan." This was directed to the monster, who was still hungrily eyeing the Potions master.

< >"Er - fine," said Lupin. He was trying to extract himself away from Snape's painful-looking grip, without much success. "Do you think you could let go of me now, please, Severus?"

< >Suddenly realising who it was he was holding on to so tightly, Snape snatched his hands away as though they burnt him, and jumped back. If the situation hadn't been so terrible, Harry would have been tempted to laugh. But, as Lupin turned to face the Brollachan, wand in his hand, Harry did no such thing. Nothing on earth could at that moment have induced him even to smile: he was trying hard to come to terms with the other problem they now faced.

< >Because if that was a Brollachan in front of him trying to bite Lupin, where was Ron?

< >Lupin rolled up his sleeves, and looked at the others grimly. "You'd better go and find Ron," he suggested, "While I deal with this. I don't know where he'll be… but at least, I think, we can rest assured he isn't dead. But he might be hurt - Severus, could you brew something up for him? I haven't a clue what the symptoms of fighting with a Brollachan would be like… you'd know better than me…"

< >Snape muttered something under his breath that Harry thought sounded distinctly like 'flattery won't get you anywhere' but nodded curtly and left the room before anyone could say anything else to him. Harry looked at Hermione, and then at Sirius.

< >"I'm going to look for Ron," said Harry. He didn't know if Sirius would try and stop him, but he didn't care if he did: and, from the look of things, Hermione didn't either. As it was, she'd reached the door before either Harry or Sirius had moved.

< >Sirius suddenly sprung to life. "Yes," he said, following Hermione. Then he paused. "Moony - you'll be careful? Are you OK doing this by yourself?"

< >Harry didn't hear Lupin's response as he joined Hermione outside. All that was important now was finding Ron.

< >He, Hermione and Sirius traced their way back down to the small stream where Ron had accepted the Selkie's challenge, and looked around for any signs of him. But they found nothing; Harry didn't know whether to be disappointed by this, or relieved that they hadn't found a corpse.

< >"What's this?" asked Hermione suddenly, stooping to the ground and picking something up. They were now a good one or two miles away from the stream: they'd been searching for at least three hours, and panic was deepening. Harry looked at the object in Hermione's hand, and gasped.

< >"It's the Hubble gum wrapper!" he exclaimed. "Ron - he must have dropped it here!" And he looked around everywhere - left, right, up, and down for anything else that might indicate Ron's whereabouts.

< >"The wind might have just blown it here," said Sirius doubtfully. But Harry shook his head.

< >"There is no wind," he said. "Ron must be here, somewhere…" He thumped his hand against a tree in annoyance.

< >A second later, Harry was lying flat on his back in a pit that hadn't been there a moment ago. Startled, he peered up at Sirius and Hermione's astonished faces: He didn't know quite how he'd done it, but he appeared to have activated some form of trap. He was getting remarkably good at that, he thought ruefully.

< >Sitting up stiffly, he began to call up to Sirius to help him out. But the words died in his throat.

< >Lying next to him, his face smudged with dirt and his eyes closed, was Ron.

~

< >Sirius and Hermione managed, with much difficulty and quite a lot of accidental acrobatics, to pull both Ron and Harry to the surface again. Ron hadn't spoken since Harry had found him: in fact, he'd barely even moved, and Harry was terrified that he might be dead. But Sirius assured him that he was breathing, and he shouldered Ron's weight as though he were nothing more than a sack of potatoes and set off back to the hut in silence, Harry and Hermione scampering alongside Sirius quickly in an effort to keep up.

< >It took them less than an hour to reach the wooden shack, and when they did so they halted at the small door. Snape was stood outside it, listening through the keyhole to the sounds from within - a series of crashes and small explosions - and he twisted round so violently when Harry and the others approached that he lost his balance and fell into the door. It swung open just as something appeared to blow up inside: great billows of smoke flew out towards them and Harry, Hermione and Sirius flew inside to see what was happening - treading on various bits of Snape that were draped over the threshold as they did so - and came face to face with Professor Lupin, sitting quietly in a chair.

< >Sirius put Ron down on the table.

< >"Well?" he demanded. "What happened?"

< >Lupin sighed. "It's gone," he said. "Though I'm not sure if I killed it… It disappeared just as you came in."

< >Snape had picked himself up and stood there, brushing himself down ineffectively with his hands and glaring at everyone.

< >"I'm afraid I put an end to our not using strong magic, though," went on Lupin. "If Voldemort can sense it then he'll be on to us in no time. How's Ron?"

< >Everyone's attention was switched to Ron as though somebody had flicked on a light. He had not changed since the last time they'd checked.

< >"I'm not sure," said Sirius, frowning. "He's been like that since we found him - I'm not sure if he's just unconscious, or if he's been hexed."

< >Lupin also frowned. "We'll have to see what we can do - and do it as quickly as possible," he said. "Let's get Ron to bed, and then work out what needs to be done."

< >"Ha!" exclaimed Snape. "And how do we know that you are Lupin? How do we know that you aren't the Brollachan - that you haven't killed him - and taken on his form?"

< >Harry paused, as did everyone else. Snape had a point. Lupin - or what looked like Lupin - smiled wryly.

< >"Well, there you have me, Severus. I honestly don't know. You'll have to just believe me - or not, I suppose… Would you imagine that a Brollachan takes on the form of its victims to the extent of becoming a werewolf?"

< >He had seemed to be musing, but Snape's eyes lit up. "I wouldn't have thought so," he said softly. "But you know… there are ways to find out whether or not you're a werewolf…"

< >Sirius stepped forwards, placing himself in between Snape and his friend.

< >"No," he said firmly. "Remus has put up with enough from you… The way you've treated him… I thought you'd have grown out of your petty little games by now, Snape. First you beat him nearly unconscious as a wolf; you haven't had the decency to speak to him civilly the whole time we've been travelling - even though he's stopped me from punching your greasy face a good few times - and now this. Of course it's Remus. Isn't it, Moony?"

< >"Well yes, as it happens," replied Lupin. "But I don't expect anyone to bel- "

< >"Don't you dare threaten me," Snape interrupted, snarling at Sirius. "I'm acting on all our behalves here - does it even matter to you that by accepting his word that he isn't the Brollachan you're placing all our lives at risk? Or wouldn't you care? Just be exchanging one monster for another, I suppose."

< >Lupin winced. Sirius looked livid.

< >"How dare you!" he shouted at Snape. Harry tapped his fingers nervously against the table and looked at Ron: he hadn't moved since they'd brought him in, and Harry was desperately worried about him. How could he alert anyone's attention to him, though? Snape and Sirius looked just about ready to kill each other again: the tension which had, somehow, remarkably been contained the last two days was beginning to erupt again and Harry personally didn't think they could have chosen a worse time for it.

< >Sirius was still shouting at Snape. "How dare you - you - call him a monster?" he demanded. "Ever heard the expression 'the pot calling the kettle black'?"

< >Snape growled a feral growl, and lunged towards Sirius, who seemed to welcome him gladly.

< >"It was like this at school," sighed Lupin to the others as they rolled about on the floor, each taking every possible opportunity that presented itself to get in a good kick or punch, in what Harry decided was quite possibly the dirtiest fight he had ever witnessed. "I suggest that we leave them to their own devices for a while and see to Ron. I'm sure they'll wear each other out eventually - although maybe you don't believe it's me?" He took Harry and Hermione's doubtful faces, and grinned. "Quite understandable," he said, as Harry shrugged apologetically. "It seems we shall need Snape's evidence after all…"

< >And with that, he had waded into the fight and separated the two men, gripping each by their collar like a pair of dogs. As Snape snarled at him, Harry decided that analogy wasn't too far off. He wondered vaguely what kind of animal Snape might be if he ever took it into his head to become an Animagus. Probably a snake, he thought.

< >"If you could both kindly stop that for a moment," Lupin was saying, as Sirius and Snape hung from their collars, still trying to swing at each other, "Then we might be able to help Ron before something intractable happens to him. What were you going to suggest, Severus?"

< >The nasty-looking glint returned to Snape's eye. It was the kind of look Harry recognized from many of his Potions lessons: the kind of look he got just prior to giving out detentions.

< >"Just a brief experiment," he said smoothly. "I'm sure you know what I'm talking about."

< >Sirius attempted another punch in his direction, but unfortunately ended up hitting Lupin instead. Snape said nothing, and fiddled with the silver buttons on his robes darkly. Lupin nodded, and let go of the two men.

< >"Fine," he said. "Harry - why don't you and Hermione take Ron into the next room, and put him in the bed there? We'll be through in a moment."

< >Curious, but doing as Lupin suggested, Harry put an arm underneath Ron's shoulder, and Hermione did the same on the other side. Together, they hauled him upright off the table and into a standing position. His knees gave way; his head lolling onto Hermione's shoulder, Ron's limp body was carried off slowly into the next room. Harry and Hermione deposited him gently on the bed, and then sat down next to each other.

< >"What do you think all that was about?" asked Hermione.

< >Harry shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "But Sirius didn't look too happy, did he? I wonder how long they'll be…"

< >As it happened, they were not long at all. Harry had barely finished talking when they re-emerged from the kitchen, Snape in front, still playing with his silver buttons. Both Sirius and Lupin, Harry noticed, looked extremely pale.

< >"I hope your experiment convinced you?" Sirius was saying, bitterly.

< >To Harry's surprise, Snape merely nodded, and made no attempt to make one of his usual comments.

< >"Now," he said briskly. "Let's see to Weasley."


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