James Potter was a much more complex person than he appeared at first glance.
Outwardly, he was happy, self-assured, usually kind (if a little bit arrogant), and generally popular with everybody. He got a lot of detentions, yes, but on the whole he got good marks, and most of the teachers were still quite fond of him. He made the most of being on the quidditch team - messing up his hair deliberately so that he looked like he had just finished flying, wearing his red robes at every opportunity. But no one could say that he hadn’t earned the right - you only had to see him play to know that his big-headedness was not misplaced.
Above all, James Potter was loved. His parents spoilt him and instilled in him the notion that there was nothing he couldn’t do; that no door would ever be closed to him. Sirius, Peter and Remus all looked up to him, appointing him leader in almost every venture, and all in all, he was admired throughout the school by everyone who mattered, and envied by everyone else.
Except for Lily Evans, of course. She was the thread that seemed to unravel everything else in James’s life. Having grown up surrounded by love - freely given and carelessly accepted - James found it very troubling that someone he liked might not like him back. It was the reason he acted like an idiot whenever Lily was present, and the reason that he stopped talking to Remus for a week during the early spring of 1975.
He wasn’t being nasty, or doing it deliberately - Remus knew James well enough to understand that. It was just that his feelings had been hurt and - as someone who had rarely experienced hurt feelings - wasn’t sure how to handle it. At least Sirius blew up at you when you annoyed him, so that it could be quickly solved. Peter would sulk, and Remus would probably try to throw a punch. But James just went quiet .
“He’s not angry with you,” Sirius explained, when James went to bed one night as soon as Remus arrived in the common room. “He’s just feeling sorry for himself.”
“He does believe me, though, doesn’t he?” Remus asked, anxiously, “I really didn’t know it was a date, I don’t like Lily in that way!”
“Well… I don’t think he thinks you’re lying, exactly, but… you are pretty close to Evans, aren’t you? Always going around together.”
“She’s my friend .” Remus said, exasperated, “I go ‘round with Marlene and Mary too, no one thinks I’m going out with them!”
“Actually,” Sirius smirked, “There was a rumour last term…”
“Oh for god’s sake!”
It was impossible.
As for Lily, she was being reliably mature about the whole thing. Remus assumed Marlene had filled her in on the situation, but she didn’t press it, and they were able to continue as Potions partners as normal. James and Sirius, however, had moved their workstation to the back of the room.
By Friday dinner time, Remus was truly miserable. Unlike James, he had not grown up surrounded by love, and he found that his friendship with the marauders had become so important that he suffered deeply from the loss of it. He still sat with them for meals, but there was an uneasy quiet instead of their usual raucous banter. Sirius kept trying to turn the conversation towards the upcoming Gryffindor vs. Slytherin match, but that only seemed to darken the mood.
Making matters worse, Lily, Mary and Marlene had sat themselves close to Remus - they were feeling sorry for him, and, being girls, were trying to cheer him up by doing exactly the wrong thing.
“I’m looking forward to the match,” Mary smiled, cheerfully, “All of the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws I’ve spoken to are supporting Gryffindor too.”
Lily sighed, heavily,
“Why does it always have to be so black and white? No one’s good all over or bad all over, not even Slytherins.”
“You can’t blame us, Lily,” Marlene replied, “Even if it’s not all of them, most of the Slytherins have been utterly foul this year.”
“Speak of the devil…” Mary lowered her voice, suddenly, shooting a filthy look over Lily’s shoulder.
Lily and Remus turned around to see Severus Snape standing there, with an odd smile on his face that was anything but joyful.
“Hello, Lily,” he said, softly.
“Hi Sev,” Lily replied, with a forced sort of politeness, “What’s up?”
“I just thought I’d check to see if you wanted any extra help with the Potions assignment. It’s very complex,”
“I know .” She replied, irritated, “But I’m sure I’ll manage--”
Everyone at the table jumped and spun around to stare at the end of the hall, where Mulciber had just let off a firecracker at the far end of the Slytherin table. He was laughing heartily as the whole school looked on, terrified.
“Five points from Slytherin!” McGonagall shouted, marching up the aisle between the tables, “And you’ll clean that mess up at once…”
Dinner returned to normal. Snape was still standing there. Lily looked up at him,
“As I said, Remus and I will manage.” She said, “I’m not stupid, you know, Severus.”
“I never said you were…” Snape looked genuinely upset by this, “I just… oh, never mind.” With that, he cast an unpleasant glance at Remus, then swept away, back to his own table.
“Weirdo.” Mary muttered.
“Leave him alone.” Lily snapped. She looked so fierce that Mary didn’t even have a comeback.
“Er… have any of you had any luck with that hinkypunk essay?” Marlene asked quickly, trying to keep the peace. “Mine’s crap.”
“I’ll lend you my notes, if you want,” Remus offered, taking a gulp of pumpkin juice. “Once Sirius gives them back…”
Sirius looked up, hearing his name spoken,
“Oh yeah, sorry Moony, hang on, they’re in my bag…” He began digging around in the junkyard that was his book bag, pulling out scrunched up balls of parchment, dungbombs, sweets and broken quills.
“How do you find anything in there?” Remus sighed, sipping some more pumpkin juice, “You’re the messiest person I’ve ever met.”
Sirius shrugged and winked at him, withdrawing the notes and handing them to Marlene.
“Oooh, Remus,” Mary said, “Did I tell you I had another letter from Darren this week?”
“Yes.” He whined, “And it was just as boring as the last five hundred letters you’ve made me read.”
Sirius snorted. Marlene dropped her fork. Mary looked horrified, and opened and closed her mouth a few times. Remus frowned - why on earth had he said that? Of course, it was true, but it was horribly thoughtless and mean.
“Sorry,” he said, looking down. He felt strange. Maybe the James thing was getting to him even more than he thought.
“No, I’m sorry.” Mary said, standing up, her lower lip trembling, “I won’t bore you anymore, then!” She turned quickly and left the room, her plate of food half eaten.
“Mary!” Marlene got up, running to follow her. Lily looked at Remus,
“Did you mean that?”
“Yes.” He said promptly, “Actually I find all of this boyfriend-girlfriend stuff boring, I wish you’d all just leave me alone.” Once he’d stopped talking, he blinked, surprised at himself. Why was he saying these things?!
“Remus!” Lily said, looking shocked - though made of sterner stuff than Mary, she didn’t leave, “There’s nothing wrong with Mary wanting to talk about her boyfriend or… um… or teenagers having crushes, it’s normal, isn’t it?”
“I don’t care if it’s normal.” He shrugged, “I think you’re all acting like idiots. Even you - why on earth would you want to go out with me, when the most popular boy in the school is madly in love with you? He’s ten times nicer than me, too, you’re just too arrogant to see it.”
“Remus!” Lily said again, turning red.
“Well it’s true!” He said, helplessly.
“Moony,” Sirius said, finally, “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine, still a bit hungry, though. Think Mary will mind if I finish her potatoes?”
“Seriously, Remus,” James piped up, unexpectedly, “This isn’t like you at all.”
“I’m just being honest.”
“Yeah, brutally hone-- oh Merlin!” Sirius slapped his forehead, “Evans, did Snape put something in his drink? When the firework went off, maybe?”
“He would never do something like that, it’s illegal!”
“Pffft.” Remus snorted, mouth full of mashed potato, “As if Snivellus gives a toss! He’s been trying to get back at me ever since I hit him on the train.”
“You what?!” Lily stared at him,
“Yeah,” Remus swallowed, “Nutted him right in the head, it was great.” He knew there was definitely something wrong now, but he couldn’t seem to help it. The truth just came spilling out of him.
“Right,” Sirius stood up, “Stop talking, Moony, before you say something you’ll really regret.”
Those words dislodged a memory in Remus’s mind,
“Y’know,” he grinned, “That’s exactly what Snape said on the stairs the other day…”
“SEVERUS!” Lily shouted, at the top of her voice. She got up and stormed over to the Slytherin table, Sirius, James, Remus and Peter in tow. “What have you done to Remus?!” She demanded, stamping her foot angrily on the flagstone floor.
“Why do you ask?” Severus smirked, cruelly,
“You tell me how to fix him right now!”
“There’s nothing wrong with him,” Severus replied calmly, “Is there, Remus?”
“Nothing really,” Remus shrugged, “I do keep saying things I shouldn’t, though, like--”
“SHUT UP.” Sirius kicked him, hard in the shin, distracting Remus from spilling his guts to Snape. Sirius now rounded on the Slytherin boy, “You bastard, it’s veritaserum , isn’t it?! Truth potion!”
“One way to find out,” Severus’s smile broadened, “What’s your deepest, darkest secret, Lupin?”
Oh god, where to start? Remus thought to himself. He knew he shouldn't say anything. Mustn’t say anything. He would be in such terrible danger if anyone found out… but he wanted to, he wanted to very badly - he had so many secrets, and they were all swimming to the surface of his mind, like lifebuoys.
I’m a werewolf. I’m planning to hunt down and murder Fenrir Greyback. I spent the whole summer stealing and drinking and fighting. I can’t read properly without help. I’m secretly running an illegal trade in muggle cigarettes. I don’t fancy girls at all, not any of them. I don’t think I ever will. He opened his mouth,
“Well, I’m a---”
“SILENCIO!” Sirius shouted, suddenly, aiming his wand at Remus, while James tackled him to the floor, clamping a hand over his mouth.
Everyone on the Slytherin table burst out laughing as James and Remus struggled together on the floor, Lily watching them, completely nonplussed. Remus’s mouth kept moving, desperate to divulge every one of his secrets, until he was completely free of them - but not a sound escaped his lips. Sirius was excellent at silencing charms.
Together, Peter, Sirius and James hoisted Remus to his feet, and dragged him bodily from the dining hall, amid a flurry of laughter and jeers from the Slytherins. Only once they were all upstairs and shut inside their dorm room did Sirius lift the charm, allowing Remus to speak. By then, fortunately, the urge to tell everyone everything had passed.
“Sorry, Remus,” Sirius said, “But I had to do it, you were going to--”
“I know.” Remus hung his head, sitting on his bed, “Bloody Snape! How long does it take to wear off?”
“Depends on how much you took, I think.” James said, flicking through his potions book, “Godric, how did he do it?! That’s NEWT level stuff, truth serum!”
“He’s the best in the year at Potions,” Remus supplied, unwillingly, “Lily said he’s already doing seventh year essays, just for fun.”
“What a boring old swot.” Sirius snorted, joining James in searching through the book, “Try not to say anything, Moony, ok?”
“I can’t help it.” Remus said, without meaning to.
“Ok, right, it says here you should be clear within twenty four hours, so… dinner time tomorrow, at the very latest.”
“What about lessons?!”
“We’ll say you’re sick. You can’t risk it, Moony! I could kill Snape, that filthy, dirty, underhanded…”
“I’m not missing any lessons for him.” Remus folded his arms, “There must be an antidote.”
“We could go and ask Slughorn?” James said, finally.
“Yeah, good idea, I think he’s still in the Great Hall,” Sirius nodded. He turned to Remus, and spoke very clearly and slowly, as if he was talking to a child, “Remus. Stay. Here.”
“Bugger off,” Remus turned away, pouting like a little boy.
“I’ll stay with him.” James said. “You two go.”
Sirius needed no more than that, and he was bounding down the stairs, calling back,
“Hang in there Moony! If I see a Slytherin on my way down, then I’ll…”
But they couldn’t hear the rest; Sirius had gone, and Peter with him. There was a long, awkward silence. Remus didn’t trust himself to speak. Finally, James did.
“Sorry I’ve been a bit of a prat, lately.”
Remus was taken aback, and shook his head fiercely,
“You haven’t been! I just wish I could prove to you that I… wait! Ask me!”
“Ask me now, while I’m under a truth serum; ask me how I feel about Lily. You’ll know it’s the truth.”
“Remus, I don’t want to,” James frowned. It didn’t mesh with his idea of good sportsmanship.
“Go on,” Remus encouraged, “I really don’t mind - it’s between you and me, right?” He got up and grabbed James by the shoulders, meeting his eyes with confidence, “Ask me.”
“Er… ok then. Remus, do you fancy Lily Evans?”
“No. Absolutely not.” Remus didn’t so much as blink.
“Ok, good... What about Marlene?”
“Nope. Never have, never will. They’re my friends, like you are.”
James looked at him very intently, then his face broke into a genuine smile. He slapped Remus on the back.
“Thanks, Moony, you’re a real mate.”
* * *
Fortunately for Remus, Slughorn was able to provide an antidote almost immediately - though the marauders’ code of honour prevented them from telling him who had laced Remus’s drink in the first place.
“It’s better this way,” Remus assured them, “It’ll make him really nervous if he doesn’t get in trouble straight away - he’ll wonder how we’re going to get him back.”
“How are we going to get him back?” Sirius asked, eagerly, over breakfast on the morning of the Slytherin v Gryffindor game, “He nearly outed you, Moony, we have to teach him a lesson!”
“Let me think about it.” Remus replied. “Just thrash Slytherin at quidditch for me, first.”
“Easy,” Sirius winked. Remus grinned back. It was hard not to grin at Sirius when he was in such a good mood - resplendent in his scarlet and gold quidditch robes, hair pulled off his face, eyes sharp and full of determination. It was the best version of Sirius, and Remus’s heart pounded with pride and adrenaline.
The tension was palpable in the quidditch stands before the players had even appeared on the pitch. Two quarters of the stadium was covered in red, jeering and booing at the green section. Quidditch had become a way for the students of Hogwarts to truly show their emotions about the war - and it was extremely ugly.
“Tensions are high in this year’s semi-final,” the commentator, Tracey Darcy, spoke through her magical megaphone, “This match will of course determine which team goes through to the final against Ravenclaw, and by the looks of the players, it’ll be a close one… On Gryffindor we have Potter, of course, a legend in his own right with more than two hundred goals under his belt already… Marlene McKinnon there, a formidable beater - and so she should be, her brother Danny McKinnon of course plays professionally for the Chudley Cannons… and there’s Sirius Black, Gryffindor’s second beater, in his second game of the year… Black has already shown himself to be as competent as McKinnon, and I’m sure all the ladies will agree, doesn’t look half bad in his kit…”
“Ahem.” McGonagall’s disapproving cough could be heard over the megaphone. Remus noticed than almost every girl in the crowd was either giggling, or screaming Sirius’s name.
“Sorry, professor…” Tracey continued, “..and here comes Slytherin,” (deafening booing from the crowd, here), “They have their very own Black on the team, of course, Sirius’s younger brother, Regulus - seeker… and Mulciber, taken on as beater this term…”
The boos grew so loud now that Remus could barely hear Darcy over the noise. Peter wasn’t helping, and kept jumping up and down in his seat. Remus was staying seated as long as he could - his hip was causing him problems again, and he didn’t want to exacerbate it. ‘Limpy Lupin’ was worse than ‘Loony Lupin’, somehow.
Finally the game began, and the both teams shot into the air with incredible force. If the crowd was mean, the players were even worse - with the weight of their houses on their shoulders it felt like a matter of life or death. Remus had never seen James play so hard; rocketing up and down the pitch like a red bullet, catching and throwing the quaffle faster than the Slytherin keeper could keep track of.
Sirius and Marlene were equally fearsome, both working as much more of a team than they had last time, clearly communicating and watching the backs of their fellow teammates. And they really needed to - Slytherin was playing dirty. Twice Sirius had to fend off a bludger that had ‘accidentally’ flown right into James’s path, while Marlene became the Gryffindor seeker’s shadow, protecting him from some very nasty near-misses.
Remus was so busy watching his three friends - wincing when they came close to danger; cheering their victories - that he had quite forgotten the aim of the game. So had everyone else, it seemed, except for Regulus Black, who flew high above the pitch, and then around the outskirts, showing that infamous Slytherin cunning as he sought out the snitch.
No one was watching as Regulus Black, the smallest Slytherin team member, caught sight of the tiny golden ball and began to soar down towards it from his incredible height. No one was watching Regulus Black, because they were all watching Sirius swing his bat at a bludger that would have easily knocked him off his broom. He hit it back so hard that it shot straight back towards Mulciber’s face. Mulciber, though stupid, was not slow, and swooped down immediately, ducking out of the way - just as Regulus passed behind him.
Now Remus saw him - now everybody did, and a terrible shriek went up as the bludger connected with Regulus’s head and knocked him from his broom.
They watched in such horror that all house prejudice was forgotten, as the limp body of Regulus Black plummeted to the ground.