“Don’t worry about it, Moony,” James said. “Evans already hates me. In fact, I think she’s reached the limit of hatred so she can’t possibly hate me anymore.”
“James, you should go,” Remus groaned. He was pathetic, really, lying there in a heap of blankets in the corner of a back room of the hospital wing where Madam Pomfrey had set up an extra bed and table among storage boxes of potions ingredients. It had originally been intended to accommodate students with more embarrassing afflictions, but now it occasionally housed a nauseated and battered teenage werewolf.
“No way,” James protested, popping another sour candy in his mouth. He held one out for Remus but got only a groan in reply. James shrugged and ate it himself before continuing. “Sirius had to go do his detention and then homework,” James said, “and yours, as you’re quite indisposed.”
“I’m going to fail potions, then,” Remus mumbled into his pillow. His pale hair was in disarray and deep scratches stood out against the skin on his neck beneath his pajamas. It was so pitiful that James couldn’t help reaching out and giving his friend’s shoulder a supportive squeeze. He’d never seen Remus this destroyed after the full moon.
It had been two nights since he’d they’d been romping through the Forbidden Forest on all fours when Remus’ had suddenly turned irritable in wolf form. In a rage, he’d tried to eat Peter, leaving James and Sirius to defend their friend. James felt particularly bad about a spectacular hoof-shaped bruise on Remus’ side.
“It’s not his fault. Sirius is brilliant at potions but you know Slughorn is grading us unfairly. He thinks everything is a competition and as much as I loathe the slimy git, Snape is bloody brilliant in that class and he’s always going to make us look inferior.” James considered his words. “Don’t tell anyone I said that aloud.”
Remus chuckled, but his amusement was short lived. He cringed and raised a hand to his ribs, curling in on himself under the dusty blanket.
“Still. You should go to the Halloween party. You love Halloween and Lily’s expecting you to help supervise the kids.”
“Lily’s probably expecting me to bail,” James shrugged. “If I showed up it would probably disappoint her more. You know how she hates being wrong.”
Lily folded her arms, watching like a hawk as the first and second years engaged in a rather rambunctious game of Exploding Snap while a cluster of fifth years used an empty Butterbeer bottle to play a kissing game. A few third years in poorly-made costumes had eaten themselves into near sugar-comas and had passed out in the corner, and Lily was certain she’d seen Sirius sneaking up the stairs to the boy’s dormitory with a blonde. It was probably Marlene (again), but it could have been the Fawley boy. Who knew anymore?
Lily scanned the room from a perch atop a large armchair, dressed in a mock-Holyhead Harpies uniform for the occasion. It would have been easier with two people to reign this lot in, but as usual, the Head Boy was nowhere to be seen and Lily was left to do the work of two people with only the Prefects for backup. For once, she’d hoped to enjoy herself with her peers, but instead she was left feeling like the sole babysitter with a room full of oversurgared children.
I will never understand the faculty’s decision to make James of all people my counterpart. James! He’s smart but he’s the most unreliable, arrogant, self-centered –
“Something on your mind, Evans?”
Lily didn’t have to turn around to know the smooth voice behind her was Sirius. She turned and rolled her eyes at him anyway and caught Marlene rejoining the party with mussed hair and a wrinkled shirt. The dark, floppy dog ears that had accompanied Sirius’ costume were askew on his head and the triangle of black makeup on his nose was smeared to one side.
“That was brief,” Lily said, raising an accusing eyebrow. Sirius looked over his shoulder and exchanged a grin with Marlene.
“Efficient,” Sirius corrected, looking back at her.
“Where’s your boyfriend?” Lily inquired.
“Which one?” Sirius asked, leaning on the chair beside her. “You’ll have to be more specific. I have several.”
Against her better judgment, Lily had grown quite fond of Sirius. He was like a cousin who showed up at the strangest moments, told inappropriate jokes, and couldn’t be relied upon to keep his pants on. He was a menace to every girl above fifteen in the school except for Lily. She was never sure if she should be offended or not. She was sure it had something to do with James.
“Yes, you do get around,” Lily grumbled. She’d disapprove if she didn’t know for a fact that Sirius never coerced anyone into dark corners with him. She’d never heard tales of him leading her friends on, so she couldn’t bring herself to be angry. “I meant your one true love.”
“Where is James?” Lily asked, her irritation breaking through. “He was supposed to be here to help. Not that I expected him to show. He’s a terribly unreliable Head Boy. I have no idea why they chose him.”
Sirius pursed his lips at her, pausing for a moment to draw his hair back into a ponytail.
“Did it ever occur to you, Evans, that you don’t know everything?”
Lily wrinkled her nose at him, confused.
“Did it ever cross your brilliant little mind that maybe, just maybe, the teachers know things about James Fleamont Potter that you’re simply not privy to?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Maybe,” Sirius said, getting to his feet and facing her. “Just maybe, they know why James isn’t reliable all the time. Maybe he’s got problems you don’t even know about.”
“Or maybe,” Lily mocked, “he’s drunk in the third floor corridor again.”
“I can assure you, Lily, that’s not where he is.”
Lily scowled at him. She wasn’t in the mood for games and Sirius seemed to be enjoying himself far too much. Her ire seemed to reach him, and Sirius sighed.
“Listen, Lily. James has to deal with some things and sometimes he can’t plan around them.”
“If you’re talking about Remus, I’m pretty sure he can plan around a full moon.”
Sirius’ dark eyes widened more than Lily thought possible and she smirked with pride that she could elicit such a reaction. Nothing ever seemed to shock Sirius. She’d have to mark this down as a personal victory.
“You… you know?”
“Figured it ages ago,” Lily said. “I have to say – you lot covered it up for him pretty well.”
Sirius’ face fell quickly. “Lily, you can’t tell anyone.”
Lily had never seen Sirius so… well, serious. Even in the most awkward situations he normally had an underlying joviality that shone through. The fear in his eyes made her heart sink.
“Of course I won’t,” Lily said. “I wouldn't… Remus is my friend and I don’t have many of those.”
Sirius quirked a brow at her.
“It might have escaped your notice, but you’re quite popular.”
“There’s a difference between being well-liked and having real friends,” Lily said pointedly. It was a lesson she expected Sirius to have learned if the rumors were true and he had indeed been kicked out of his parents’ home.
“Too true,” Sirius said. He looked at her as if he were measuring something – sizing her up. Lily furrowed her brow at him.
“James isn’t as bad as you think he is,” Sirius said. “He’s a good friend. He’s a good man.”
“You’re supposed to say that. He’s your soulmate or whatever.”
“Lily, I’m being serious.”
Lily stared at him and watched the slow grin spread across Sirius’ face.
“I wasn’t even trying for the pun,” he admitted. “It just happened. I’m that good.”
“Sometimes I hate you,” Lily said, though she didn’t mean it one bit. “And your friend.” She tried to mean that part, but she didn’t.
“Well, if you hate him so much why don’t you give him a good scolding? I can tell you’re itching to,” Sirius said, plucking a piece of candy corn from a bowl on the coffee table. He threw himself onto the sofa no one liked because the cushions were uneven and some nearby first years scattered. Clearly his reputation had preceded him.
“I would, but in case you haven’t noticed, he’s nowhere to be found.”
“I know where he is,” Sirius said, crossing his ankles on the arm of the sofa and laying lazily over one of the pillows. “He’s up in the hospital wing.”
Lily’s stomach sank.
“Hospital wing?” she echoed. “Did he get hurt?”
“Why don’t you go find out? Let the prefects do their jobs for once. It’s not like you have a curfew, Miss Head Girl.”
Lily found the hospital wing decorated but deserted. There were lit jack-o-lanterns on each bedside table despite the beds being unoccupied and conjured phantom bats fluttered around the ceiling. It was a clever bit of charm work that cast dancing shadows and orange light all around the room, and she hoped she’d get to ask Madam Pomfrey about it in the morning.
As soon as she realized there really wasn’t anyone in the room, alarm bells went off in Lily’s head. Was this one of Sirius’ pranks? Was some irritating but humorous ill about to befall her? Lily drew her wand and looked around, determined to outsmart whatever trap Black and his friends had laid.
She walked amongst the beds, dodging shadows and trying to listen beyond the bats’ fluttering. She looked in each corner and nudged the door to Madam Pomfrey’s office open to find it empty. There had to be something she was missing, and she couldn’t risk leaving and walking into some charm or hex. She had to figure it out.
Lily pushed open the door to a storage room and froze in the threshold.
James was sitting on the floor beside a low cot, one leg drawn up to his chest with a quill between his teeth and an empty Honeydukes bag at his side. His eyes widened and he froze, still holding up his book (Lily couldn’t imagine why he could possibly need to read Quidditch Through the Ages again). Lily gave him an incredulous look – he’d bailed on her to study in a closet – until she saw what was beside him.
On the mattress at his eye level was Remus Lupin, pale and bruised, curled up into a tiny ball. His breathing was very slow and nearly unnoticeable and he had deep scratches visible on his skin as if he’d been in a fight. Lily had read about Death Eater attacks in some of the villages over the last few nights, and she had noticed Remus had been gone for a couple extra days over the full moon. Had he gone home and been in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or was this a side effect of a rough transformation? There was very little written about the experiences of werewolves. Most of the literature focused on the tactics and lives of successful werewolf hunters.
If she was going to ask any questions, she was going to have to wait. James seemed to be recovering from the shock of her sudden arrival and he caught the quill as it fell from his loose lips. He looked from his unconscious friend to Lily and back again before scrambling to his feet somewhat inelegantly.
Lily hissed at him. “What the hell are you –”
James shushed her quickly and made to usher her from the room. Lily stood still, entirely unwilling to budge just because James Potter told her to, until James sighed and let his hands drop.
“Please, Lily?” James asked, his voice low and quiet. He gave her a tired, desperate look so intense Lily was sure she’d never seen it before. James was always so certain and confident, but he seemed quite unsure of whether or not she’d listen. “He just fell asleep. He’s exhausted. I don’t want to wake him.”
Lily looked back at Remus – sweet, smart Remus who seemed to always have dark circles under his eyes but who always stayed up late to help the first years with their homework at the start of the term.
“Okay,” Lily said. She backed from the room and James followed her into the main center of the hospital wing.
James closed the door carefully behind them before turning to look at Lily. He paused with a strange look on his face. Lily couldn’t place it for a moment until she realized it was worry, and she wasn’t used to seeing concern on James’ face.
Finally, when she couldn’t stand it anymore, she broke the silence.
“Is Remus okay?”
“He’ll be fine,” James said quickly. His lies were well-rehearsed. “He was at home and was caught in those attacks, you know? Just having a rough time getting back on his feet –”
“I know he’s a werewolf, James.”
James fell silent. For a moment, his mouth hung open until he came to his senses and closed it, shoving his hands into his pockets.
Lily folded her arms. “You didn’t show up for the party. You said you’d help supervise.”
James rubbed his face with his ink-covered hands, leaving a faint smear along his cheek.
“I know. Merlin, Lily, I’m so sorry. I just –”
“I’ve always wondered why McGonagall and Dumbledore give you so much latitude,” Lily interrupted again. James usually blabbered on and on and it was nice to silence him for once. “You’re always late for classes. You oversleep. You bail on your duties and yet you were still made Head Boy. I almost felt insulted when they made me Head Girl if the position didn’t require that much.”
James swallowed hard. She paused to give him time to defend himself. He didn’t take it.
“But you’ve been dealing with Remus, haven’t you? And they know.”
“I oversleep after helping him,” James said quietly. “During the full moon, we…”
He paused, his brow furrowed as he observed her. He was weighing something, and Lily brushed her long hair over her shoulder.
“Sirius, Peter and I became animagi - no one knows that part. We go out with Remus when he changes. It makes it easier. Some nights are harder than others, though. We get behind on our school work. By the time we’ve stopped scrambling to catch up, we’re planning for another full moon.”
“Sounds like a lot,” Lily admitted, and James, who never admitted defeat, nodded.
“It was fun and games until last year when the werewolf attacks ramped up. It's… well, it’s had an effect on him.”
Lily watched the jack-o-lantern shadows dance across his face. Even at a moderate distance, she could see that James had neglected to shave and his hair was more of a mess than usual. There were dark circles under his glasses which were bent and askew.
“It’s had an effect on you too, hasn’t it?”
“Me? Naw,” James said dismissively. Lily quirked a disbelieving brow at him and pursed her lips. He sighed. “Maybe just a bit.”
“I think being worried that your best friend might be murdered by Death Eaters is understandable,” Lily said.
“I’m still sorry I bailed on you,” James said, and he looked up at her over the top of his glasses. She tried very hard not to think about how cute it was.“ Truly. And all the times before this. I just didn’t know how to explain.”
“You couldn’t,” Lily said. “Not without explaining. But I figured out Remus was a werewolf ages ago. I should have realized that explained some of your absences. I just didn’t realize…” Lily felt her face heat up. She knew she should be honest, now that James was being honest with her, but she felt a wave of shame. “I didn’t realize you were actually such a good friend.”
James didn’t seem offended. He gave a very mature and solemn nod, looking down at his shoes.
“I can see that,” he admitted. “I’ve been kind of an ass.”
“That might be an understatement, but I’ll take it.”
James chuckled and stood up a bit straighter.
“How did you even find us?”
“Sirius.” Lily shrugged.
James nodded as if this should have been obvious. “I’ve got to stay here,” he said. “But you should get back to the party, shouldn’t you?”
Lily looked down the row of beds to at the massive hospital wing door. One of the jack-o-lanterns had gone out.
“No,” Lily said. “I’m sure the prefects have it under control. Or Sirius has convinced them to set the tower on fire by now. Either way, I don’t want to go back.”
James chuckled, looking down at his shoes. He shuffled his feet a bit in a distinctly boyish and vulnerable way that Lily found, much to her own chagrin, quite adorable.
“Well, there’s nothing going on here,” James said. “I’m just about to get back at deciphering Fawley’s notes from the Charms lesson we all missed.”
“Do you need help?” Lily asked.
James raised his brows in surprise, looking at her with widened eyes.
“Really? That would be great. You’re brilliant in Charms.”
Lily smiled and watched as James scrambled to grab Fawleys notes and his homework. They sat cross-legged on one of the creaky hospital beds, and Lily helped James work through the assignment, which he copied twice – once in his own handwriting, and once in a careful replica of Remus’ handwriting so his friend wouldn’t be behind.
Of all the things James had done over the years to try and impress her, this was the only one that had worked. His careful technique of recreating his friend’s letters was so painstaking and perfect, and when she told him so he grinned and the smear of ink on his face blended into the shifting jack-o-lantern shadows on his skin.
Maybe she’d been wrong about James Potter after all.