You are viewing a story from

They Couldn't Stop the Voices by ChoS_sista_gurl

Format: Novel
Chapters: 23
Word Count: 96,737
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse

Genres: Fluff, Humor, Young Adult
Characters: Lupin, Sirius, Lily, James, Pettigrew, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: James/Lily, Remus/OC, Sirius/OC

First Published: 01/19/2008
Last Chapter: 05/25/2012
Last Updated: 05/25/2012

Amazing banner by Phoenix Flame @ TDA. Over 22,000 reads! Thank you all!

The Marauders have a little problem. Botching an illegal spell on the first day back has set a new record, even for them. But there is a teeny after-effect…

Join our boys as they get out of detention creatively, face off in a House war with Ravenclaw, attempt to outrun Quidditch brooms, and pull off one of the greatest heists in history.

Chapter 1: They Couldn't Change for the Worse
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: Hmm...a brand new story. This could go anywhere. Lots of Marauder adventures to come!

EDIT (2/4/08): Thanks to Cressy for her advice on Lily/James. Just fyi, all of the characters you recognize are strictly MY interpretation of them. Or, they could just deviate from canon a bit to adhere to my plotline. I hope you guys don't mind too much! =]

          “Ow, stop pushing!” squealed Lily as Sirius “accidentally” bumped into her for the third time that morning. Each time, the impact had sent her flying, lurching, or stumbling in mortal peril, and always straight into the welcoming arms of Mr. James Potter.

          “Fancy running into you again like this, Evans,” James said to Lily, grinning across at Sirius over the top of her head. Sirius grinned back and saluted the tangled couple playfully. “You really must be more careful, Sirius, mate. One of these days I won’t be around to save Evans from you.”

          Lily rolled her eyes as she tried to straighten herself out. “Oh, but dearest,” she said sweetly, “it seems as though you are always around. Especially where you’re not particularly wanted.” James opened his mouth to protest but Lily plowed on. “We’re still only on the train and already you’ve been hounding me non-stop. I will not go out with you, James. Now, shall I just repeat that one hundred more times to take care of the rest of this year,” she said scathingly, “or will once suffice?”

          “Ouch,” James commented, trying to keep his voice light. Behind him, Sirius, Remus, and Peter all cringed. James tried again, “Baby, its fifth year. Surely you’ve begun to develop some interest in boys by now?” This time, all the Marauders collapsed in laughter.

          “It’s none of your business who I’ve developed an interest in,” Lily snapped, annoyed by how funny everyone but herself seemed to think James was. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find Rosie.” She turned on her heel and started to walk away.

          She had only gone a few steps before she realized that though her feet were moving, she wasn’t going anywhere. Whirling around, she found four boys, pathetically rolling around on the ground in front of her, shaking with silent laughter. Lily followed the hem of her robes, which miraculously led to nowhere other than the bottom of James’s foot. She blushed scarlet and whipped out her wand angrily.

          James’s eyes widened. He had seen—and felt—the horrible things Lily could do with that wand. Innocently, he glanced down at his right foot and the robes caught underneath it. With a look of surprise plastered on his face, he lifted his foot and swept a gallantly low bow to Lily.

          “I am so sorry for, um, impeding you, Your Majesty,” he murmured. “I promise I will do whatever I can to win back your favor.”

          Lily couldn’t help but crack a smile. She brushed James’s head of messy hair, still bowed, lightly with her fingers as she passed, continuing down the train in search of her best friend.

          “Gosh, Lily, he really likes you, doesn’t he?” a reverent Rosie said, still rapt with attention as Lily recounted her morning—with less annoyance than usual, she noted—with the Marauders. “You’re such a bitch for getting all the guys, you know that? You must be the luckiest girl in the world!”

          Lily snorted. “The attention I get from James Potter could hardly make me the luckiest girl in the world, Rosie.”

          Rosie sighed. They’d been through this a hundred times over, but she still didn’t get Lily sometimes. “But why do you hate him so much?”

          “Because he doesn’t really like me, Ro. To him I’m just the one who got away. The only girl he can’t get to drool at his feet.” Lily cocked an eyebrow pointedly at Rosie.

          “Hey!” Rosie bristled. “I don’t like him, okay? I just think you’re a little crazy for not going out with him already. I mean, he’s gorgeous. He’s the Gryffindor Quidditch Captain! And he adores you, Lily. Really. Just think about it: you’re the only girl who’s ever—and will ever—tame the James Potter. He’s a legend, and honey, you can be a legend too!”

          Lily rolled her eyes. Sometimes Rosie could be so overdramatic, although Lily was sure that the tendency came from something hidden deep inside her friend. Rosie was always so shy and well-behaved, there had to be some part of her that wanted to be wild and crazy.

          “What if I don’t want to be a legend? That’s precisely the kind of thing James Potter loves, and I hate!”

          Rosie sighed. “So I guess this is a bad time for me to beg you to come with me to the Marauders’ compartment, then.”

          “What?! Why would you want to go there???”

          “Well…you know…” Rosie was being really unhelpful. Finally she scrunched up her face like it was taking her a big effort and leaned over to whisper in Lily’s ear, “Remus.”

          Lily felt a grin spread across her face involuntarily. It was only so predictable that Rosie would get a crush on Remus Lupin, who was adventurous like the rest of the Marauders, yet smart (which was hard to say for the others). He wasn’t too bad looking, either. Remus and Rosie would make a cute couple, Lily thought.

          “Come on, Lily, please!” Rosie begged.

          She sighed. “Alright, let’s go.”

          They walked down the hall, passing compartments that held Hogwarts students of all ages and Houses. Rosie peered none too inconspicuously into each one, looking for the boys. Then suddenly, about fifty feet ahead of them, a bang issued from one of the compartments; its door slid open unaided, and out flew a blob of black robes and blonde hair.

          “That’ll teach you to get in my face, Malfoy!” a familiar voice called. Other familiar voices cheered jubilantly. Lily turned to Rosie with a small smirk on her face as they watched Lucius Malfoy pick himself up off the ground and limp away in the opposite direction.

          “Those would be our boys, Ro.”

          The Marauders were still congratulating Sirius on his latest triumph when Lily and Rosie stuck their heads in the door. Steeling herself, Rosie said casually, “Oh, I knew it was you guys when I heard a domestic disturbance.”

          Sirius grinned proudly. “Who else would it be, love?” Rosie flushed until she was nearly purple, and in her flustered state lost all her prepared confidence.

          Lily, stepping into the compartment, prepared to save her. Thank god Remus doesn’t talk like that, she thought. Rosie doesn’t even like Sirius and she’s a puddle around him.

          But Rosie didn’t need any saving because James noticed Lily and yelled “Evans!” As everyone’s heads whipped to the door again, Rosie took the opportunity to dive into the empty seat next to Remus, who had an open book on his lap. She shot him a shy smile tentatively, which he returned.

          Meanwhile, Lily had noticed that the only seat left was the one between James and Peter Pettigrew. She took it, shooting several unhappy glances at Rosie, who actually looked very happy, as did James. He seemed unable to believe his luck.

          “So, Evans, what brings you two here?” he asked, looking so eager and happy that once again Lily had to fight the urge to smile. James Potter thought he was such a big man, but right now he could’ve been five and presented with the biggest lollipop he had ever seen.

          Lily’s eyes narrowed in thought, her lips parted as she began to say something. Maybe Rosie was right. Maybe James really liked her, impossible though it seemed. Things more impossible had happened to Lily before. She was a witch, after all. So why not this? Why not humor the poor boy a little?

          It goes against all of your morals and convictions, part of her argued. He might begin to think you actually like him.

          James Potter will take whatever he can get from me, her more arrogant half remarked.

          In the corner, Rosie was frozen in nervousness just by being in the vicinity of Remus Lupin. She looked at Lily beseechingly for help, which made up Lily’s mind immediately. She would take the pressure off of them for a while, by drawing everyone’s attention elsewhere. She would show Rosie how the game was played. Lily grinned. This could even be fun.

          Her green eyes locking onto James’s hazel ones, she leaned forward. “Why do you think I came?” she asked softly. Behind her, she heard little gasps of shock from Sirius, Remus, Peter, and Rosie.

          James looked surprised. “Well—er—to yell at me, I guess. But if you’ve got other things in mind…”

          Lily laughed. “Oh, you’re such a kid, James. You remind me of a dog, you know, panting and drooling all over the place when I’m around.” Sirius let out his bark-laugh, which suddenly changed to a cry of protest as Lily, without further ado, slid onto James’s lap.

          “Hey, I’m more of a dog than he is, so why don’t I get that treatment from you?” Sirius whined. “I’m Padfoot, for god’s sake!” His gaze suddenly alighted on Rosie, toward whom he spread his arms and said, “Hey, Ro, come comfort a lonely old dog, huh?”

          Rosie seemed to have regained her composure because she rolled her eyes as everyone else laughed. “Sorry, Sirius,” she said remorsefully, “but I prefer my animals a little more intelligent than you.” She placed a hand on Remus’s arm meaningfully. Remus looked up, a bit startled, but recovered quickly. Soon he and Rosie were engaged in a quiet conversation in their corner of the compartment. Neither of them had eyes for anyone else.

          Convinced that she had done her job in helping Rosie, Lily turned back to the boy on whom she was sitting. James appeared to be staring straight ahead, at a point that was curiously close to Lily’s own chest. Several hours ago this would have bothered her to no end. Now, suppressing sudden giggles, she put her fingers under James’s jaw and raised his face until he was looking into hers.

          “I have no idea why I’m doing this,” she whispered to him truthfully. “But honey, this is a once in a lifetime chance, so you better make it good.”

          Feeling utterly strange and giddy, she took the hand of his that was not already around her and guided it toward where James had been staring with such fascination.

          Sirius looked around with disbelief at the two cuddly couples, and then said to Peter, “I think we might’ve missed the opening of the first stash of the year. They have got to be stoned out of their minds.”

          Peter shook his head. “Who would’ve thought Lily Evans would ever come around?”

          Sirius didn’t answer. He was too busy thinking about the girls that he had ever snogged. How many of them had meant as much to him as Lily meant to James? “The lucky bastard,” he muttered, getting up in search of the lady with the food cart.

          As the train approached Hogwarts, rain pattered down on the roof and slid in sheets off the windows. Peter had gone off to do god-knows-what, Sirius had sulkily returned to the Marauders’ compartment, and Lily, who had come back to her senses, was now sitting and chatting with Remus, while a dismayed James and Rosie looked on.

          “This is boring,” James complained to Sirius. “Evans just gave me the best train ride to Hogwarts ever and now no matter what happens nothing can compare to it.” He frowned, grumpy.

          “Oh, shut up, mate. Be happy with what you can get.”

          “If I had done that, Sirius, I never would’ve waited for Evans to come around, huh? You give the worst advice.”

          Sirius shrugged. “You’re stupider than I thought if you actually listen to me.”

          “Oh, won’t you two just give it a rest?” cried Rosie. She cast about in her mind for a suitable topic to distract the two grouchy boys. “Um….hey, I was reading this book—me and Remus were talking about it earlier—called Unconventional Spell-types and I found this Mind-Sharpening Spell that would really come in handy this year, you know, with the OWLs and all.”

          James and Sirius immediately sat up. “Mind-Sharpening Spell?” James asked. “I’ve never heard of it.”

          “I have.” Remus and Lily had stopped talking to listen to Rosie. Remus frowned as he said, “It’s not very well-known, for obvious reasons. But all the teachers know about it. It’s supposed to be dangerous because it’s hard to cast it exactly right, to get the right results.”

          There was a silence as everyone thought about the benefits and consequences. Sirius was the first one to pull out his wand and say, “Well, come on, let’s do it!”

          “It’s not that simple,” Rosie said, shaking her head. “You have to do it right before you go to sleep, to let it sink into your brain. Even if you do it right now, I think you’ll just end up falling asleep anyway.”

          “Plus, it’s really complicated wandwork. I’m not sure I want to do this. Who knows what might happen if it goes wrong?” Remus said.

          Lily, too, looked worried. “Is this legal? What’ll McGonagall and Dumbledore do to us if they find out?”

          Sirius snorted. “Of course it’s not legal, Evans. Otherwise everyone’s minds would be so sharp you could pop a balloon on ‘em. But it is OWL year this year, and nobody has to find out. Is there a way to weaken the effects a little so it doesn’t look suspicious?”

          James laughed. “Yeah, because Padfoot suddenly passing his classes would be very suspicious indeed.”

          Rosie, shrugging, said, “I guess there is. I’ll look it up for you. But there’s no way I’m letting you cast it on me,” she told Sirius pointedly. “It has to be someone who knows what they’re doing.” She smiled at Remus.

          Remus still looked hesitant, but nodded slowly. Rosie was cool; she seemed like she would be reasonable about his little problem, if they ever got close enough for him to tell her. Remus felt like his mates were always having all the fun…he wanted to be the one with the girl for a change. And if all he had to do was perform a little spell to get her to like him…who was he to say no?

          Nothing much could scare Lily Evans, but the idea of this Mind-Sharpening Spell terrified her. To tamper with the human mind was crazy, suicidal. The consequences of such a blunder would be more than just a detention or two.

          But strangely, as her eyes scanned the room and met with a certain hazel pair, she was reminded of how much fun life could really be. She felt calm, yet impulsive, and it felt like some of James Potter was rubbing off on her...

          Shaking her head to clear away these bizarre thoughts, Lily said, “So, it has to be at night, Ro? We need to be absolutely sure nobody will know about this. How about the common room at eleven tonight, after everyone has gone to sleep?”

          “Hey, that’s the spirit, Evans!” James cried, extending an arm out to yank Lily closer to him. Thoughtfully he said, “You know, you’re different this year. It’s really starting to scare me.”

          Lily smiled, considering him thoughtfully. “You know, we could be friends, James. It’s not that hard.”

         Rosie, Remus, Sirius, and James all groaned. “What’ve we been trying to tell you for the last four years?”

          After the first dinner feast of the year, the Marauders, Lily, and Rosie all piled onto a couch in front of the fire to wait for the Gryffindor common room to empty. Throughout the evening more than one curious glance was directed their way. After all, they were a most unlikely group: three of the most notorious troublemakers Hogwarts had ever seen, the sworn enemy (and hopeless crush) of one of the aforementioned, and her slightly less famous but equally out-of-place best friend. In fact, if the five had not been deep in conversation, they might have felt uncomfortable with the scrutiny of the other Gryffindors.

          Finally, Sirius rolled up the parchment lying on the table in front of him, stretched, and said, “I can’t do this anymore. Anyway, I got a good night’s work in.”

          Remus looked over, surprised. “You were working?” Then he caught sight of Sirius’s OWL application essay, which was comprised of only two words at the very top of the parchment: Sirius Black. Remus laughed.

          “What?” Sirius looked hurt. “I was. Or, I appeared to be working. That takes at least as much, if not more, effort than actually doing it. Don’t you think it would’ve looked suspicious for all of us to be sitting here all night without at least appearing to do some work?”

          Everyone laughed. Remus opened his mouth, paused, and then closed it. There was nothing he could say, because what Sirius had said made sense, in a twisted, nonsensical way. Rolling his eyes, Remus tossed his own OWL application essay at Sirius. “Only because I’m in a good mood,” he warned.

          Sirius grinned knowingly and snatched up the essay. He winked and said, “Thanks, love,” to Rosie, who didn’t blush this time. She was holding on to Remus’s arm, stomach churning as she grew more and more nervous about the spell they were about to perform on each other.

          “It’s eleven,” James said abruptly. He looked around and still saw a few seventh-years sitting in a far corner. One of them was a prefect. “I think they’re keeping an eye on us,” he whispered to Lily and Sirius, who were sitting on either side of him. “We are the Marauders. Let’s go up and come back down in…let’s say, twenty?”

          Lily relayed the message to Remus and Rosie while James stood up, yawning and saying loudly, “Well, I’m heading up. You coming, Padfoot?” He and Sirius leapt up and headed to the boys’ dormitories. The prefect in the corner relaxed considerably.

          “Thanks so much for helping me with my essay, Remus,” Rosie simpered after another few minutes, shooting a look at Remus, who caught on immediately. Rosie made a big show of rolling up the piece of parchment with Sirius’s name on it and she and Lily went up to the girls’ rooms while Remus went in the opposite direction. The older students followed them up the stairs and entered their own rooms.

          After the shuffling and the creaking of the floorboards in the dormitories above them had ceased, the Marauders and the girls snuck back down the stairs. They huddled in the corner next to the fire, as far away from the portrait hole as possible. That way, they could hide if McGonagall came in on one of her frequent common room checks, initiated a few years ago after a bunch of sixth and seventh-years were caught in a late-night, raging firewhiskey party. Needless to say, the perpetrators’ punishments had scared even the Marauders, who back then were only eleven years old.

          “Okay, I brought all the information I could find,” whispered Rosie, laying open two books. “This one, Advanced Charming Theory: Changing Human Configuration, just describes the effects of it without telling you how to cast the actual spell. Will you please read it before you go brandishing your wands at everyone?” She glared at Sirius, who, sure enough, already had his wand out.

          Everyone crouched over the small print of the book. Lily gasped, and James exclaimed, “It actually increases your memory capacity? That’s amazing! And it helps both the logical and creative parts of the brain…and causes faster reactions...” He continued to read silently, until he came to the bottom of the page. “‘…has now been extended to account for emotional and irrational complications, and so provides a soothing and logical voice in face of these problems.’”

          “What the hell does that mean?” Sirius asked, frowning.

          “I think it’s supposed to help you think clearly even when you’re angry or scared, or something. It probably had something to do with the ethical issues of the spell itself,” Remus said.

          “Ethical issues?” Lily whispered roughly. “Remus, that’s the point, this isn’t ethical! This book never meant for us to actually cast it, remember?”

          She was panicking. James laid a comforting hand on her shoulder until her breathing calmed of its own accord. Lily bit her lip confusedly, but said nothing.

          “Okay, now this one,” Rosie said, holding out Unconventional Spell-types. “You’re supposed to circle the person’s head clockwise once with your wand, saying ‘Intelligencio,’ then circle it again. The hard part is the knot you have to draw with your wand to tie together the two ends of the spell. You tie the knot differently depending on how much you want to increase your brainpower.”

          “And if you don’t do it correctly?” James asked, looking worried for the first time.

          “Then it doesn’t work,” Rosie said. “But the thing you have to watch out for is that nothing leaks out of your brain while it’s vulnerable from the spell. If you cast the spell right, but don’t tie the knot, you run the risk of losing the knowledge and thoughts you already have. The knot is what holds it all together.”

          “Shit,” whispered Remus. “How do you take it off then?”

          “Circle anti-clockwise, of course. And say ‘Intelligencio’ again. The knot should just fall off by itself.”

          “Well, what do you think?” whispered James. He was looking at Sirius, but Lily felt him squeeze her arm and knew he was asking her. She didn’t know what to say. “Should we go for it?”

          Sirius couldn’t think. Ever since he had come to Hogwarts, he had been brave, played pranks, spoken back to teachers, skipped countless detentions, and served even more. He had always been a risk-taker, but he honestly didn’t know whether he wanted to take such a big one. Finally he spoke. “Only if Moony will be the one to do it on me.”

          Remus felt his breath freeze inside his contracting chest. He had known all afternoon, of course, that it would come to this. He was always the one upon which the responsibility was shoved; he appreciated that his friends trusted him so much, but now that it was so real, he couldn’t stand the thought of this particular liability. What if he did something wrong? How could he ever forgive himself if he messed Sirius up for good?

          Rosie smiled at him. “I know he’ll do a good job, Sirius.” Such a simple statement. Such unyielding trust. Remus nodded slowly.

          “Let’s all practice the knot first, just in the air,” Lily said. And it was quiet for the next ten minutes or so as wands waved, drawing invisible knots; all five teenagers scrunched their brows and squinted in concentration. Rosie and Lily clenched their wands so tightly that their fingers turned white.

          Finally Remus stopped. “I’m ready,” he said, shaky but certain. He sat down in one of the squishy common room armchairs, and Sirius kneeled before him. It was such an absurd sight, James almost laughed before he caught sight of the slightly nauseous expression on Lily’s face.

          “Intelligencio,” Remus murmured. This time, as his wand waved through the air, a pearly line of mist remained, marking a circle around Sirius’s head. He circled again, and tied up the two ends with a motion like two consecutive figure-8s and a jab through the middle. Rosie held her breath as the mist faded away and Sirius’s eyes slid out of focus, like he had been Confunded. She had thought the knot was two figure-8s and a flick around the middle…

          But as suddenly as he had changed, Sirius came back to, and stood up quite normally. “Well?” asked Remus anxiously. “Do you feel smarter?”

          Sirius grinned. “No, but no thoughts fell out either. Nice one, Moony. Hey, since I’m smarter now, I’ll do the next person!”

          James bit his lip, but took his spot in front of Sirius. Padfoot, after all, was his best mate: if Sirius knew James didn’t trust him, it would hurt him. James closed his eyes and kept them closed, though he could still hear Sirius muttering, “Intelligencio.”

          Although she knew it was coming, Lily had to clamp her lips together to keep from screaming out as James swayed and collapsed onto Sirius’s lap. No! Her brain cried. She breathed so deep a sigh of relief when he came to that she was unable to draw breath again for several more seconds. Why did she care so much all of a sudden? Lily didn’t even know. It didn’t make sense…today, on the train, she had only been pretending…

          Sirius peered into his best friend’s eyes intently. James was still sprawled on his legs. “Prongs…you decent? You had a nasty fall there…”

          “What the…why the hell am I in your lap, Padfoot? Trying to take advantage of my momentary helplessness?”

          Remus, now sure that James was okay, was shaking with laughter. Rosie cracked a smile too, but Lily was still crouching on the ground tensely. Strangely enough, the thought of performing the spell on someone else scared her much more than being the recipient of it. “I’ll go next,” she said.

          “Want me to do it, Flower?” James asked. Flower…her breath caught in her throat and she couldn’t speak, but her eyes welled up with tears and she bowed her head, letting her eyes flow as James performed the spell, free hand clutching onto both of hers. The others attributed her tears to fright. She didn’t try to hold them back.

          James made the same knot as Remus, and got ready to catch Lily before she hit the ground. She was crying, but she had placed everything into his hands. She trusted him to do it…and that was really something.

          Rosie stepped forward expectantly as Lily rose from James’s arms, but Lily shook her head. “No. I can’t do it.” Tear tracks still sparkled on her cheeks. “I mean, I don’t know if I can. Remus will do it for you.”

          Remus took a deep breath and steadied his wand. He had done it once, and he could do it again. He cared for Rosie no differently than he cared for Sirius…Intelligencio…his wand twirled and jabbed, and it was done. When Rosie came to, she was smiling widely. Leaping up, she engulfed Remus in a tight, grateful hug, and Remus thought that the apprehension, the tightness in his gut that was now unraveling, had all been worth it.

          Sirius, who had been thinking to ask whether Rosie was up to casting the spell on Remus, kept his mouth shut. He already knew the answer, and asking the question would only cause him injury that could otherwise be avoided.

          Rosie cast the spell, and the last of the mist around Remus’s head was fading away when the portrait door suddenly banged open. Instinctively, all five drew their wands, but the only thing that crawled through the hole was a surprised and angry Professor McGonagall. She took one look at the five wands pointed at her and lost it.

          “Wands?!” she shrieked. “Wands out and performing spells in the common room? And what is all this fog?”

          “Shit,” muttered James. “Shit, shit, shit.”

          McGonagall seemed to have forgotten all about what time it was, which they could only be grateful for. Instead she said, voice shaking with anger, “Explain yourselves. Miss Evans?”

          Lily’s tears had dried, and she thought very quickly while putting on the expression of one who had been wrongly accused. “Professor, we didn’t mean anything! It’s just that…well, Peter’s birthday is coming up soon and we wanted to do something for him. He’s always wanted a party on a ship, so we thought maybe we could make some fog and water and sand…but it’s so hard! We’ve been practicing!”

          She held up Rosie’s books, which were too far away for McGonagall to read the titles. She pretended to be on the brink of bursting into tears.

          “Oh—but—Miss Evans, it is against school rules to perform unapproved magic,” McGonagall said, though her face softened. “Detention, all of you, Sunday afternoon to Professor Slughorn’s office. You’re lucky I’m only giving you one day. Good night.” And she marched out of the common room as quickly as she had come.

          The five looked around at each other, sighing with relief. “Hey, nice going, Evans,” Sirius said approvingly. “You just saved our necks.”

          “Slughorn…thank god. You couldn’t ask for an easier detention, especially since Lily’s with us,” Rosie said. James winked at Lily, who was blushing.

          “I’m just a good Potions student, that’s all,” she said loftily once she had pulled herself together. “Teachers always like good students.”

          “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Remus said, yawning. “I’m a good student, but he doesn’t like me like that, does he?”

          “Who would?” Sirius elbowed him and yawned, too.

          Rosie opened her mouth like she was about to say something to defend Remus, but instead was caught up by a yawn of her own.

          It was quite a sight, as all five began yawning helplessly while they staggered up to their respective dorms. They all felt inexplicably exhausted, as Rosie had warned they would. It wasn’t until the following morning that they would feel the effects of their late-night experiment.

A/N: Thoughts, criticisms, ideas, anything! Favorite quotes, perhaps? Please review, it means a lot!

Chapter 2: They Couldn't Stop the Voices
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: And the craziness continues…Please READ and REVIEW!!!

Don't remember if I edited this chapter's spacing I'm doing it now. I'm working faithfully on ch 3, so it'll be out early April if all goes well.

“Wake up!” someone shouted in Lily’s ear. “Rise and shine, sweetheart!”

          Lily groaned and rolled over, her face half-buried in her pillow. She had a throbbing headache, like she had taken half a dozen shots of firewhiskey the night before, although of course she knew she hadn’t.

          Whoever was shouting continued. “Shut up!” Lily yelled without opening her eyes. “Emma! I know it’s you! Would you just stop it?” Emma was a very peppy girl who was a Gryffindor fifth-year, like Lily and Rosie.

          When the shouting continued and Lily heard no response from Emma, she finally sat up. All four of her roommates had evidently just woken up and were now staring at her. “What?” she asked, feeling confused.

           “Um, Lily? Were you dreaming? Because you were just shouting…at nothing,” Emma said cautiously. “I wasn’t even awake when you yelled at me to shut up.” 

          Lily glanced at the clock. It was six-thirty. She felt guilty about waking the rest of the girls up early, but she could’ve sworn she had heard a peppy little voice right next to her ear.

 “Well, what are you waiting for? Apologize to them, dummy!” 

          Lily spun around while still sitting in her bed. Who the hell was saying that? “Did you guys just hear that?” All four girls continued staring at her like she had gone crazy.

           “Hear what?” Rosie finally asked. 

          “That…voice! The goddamn voice woke me up!”

          “Well, Lily, I’m not sure if hearing voices is normal for you, but there’s no need to wake the rest of us up,” snapped Rachel Bailey, the bitchiest of the Gryffindor fifths. Almost all of her friends were in Ravenclaw, which made her even more irritable than usual toward the Gryffindor girls.

           Lily rolled her eyes at Rachel and said, “Believe me, nobody wants to wake you up. We all like you way better when you’re sleeping anyway.” 

          Rosie snorted and Emma let out a little shriek of laughter. Irina, the quietest of them all, had already gone back to sleep after deciding that the commotion was nothing of importance. Rachel narrowed her eyes and half-smiled sarcastically before dropping back down onto her pillow, too.

           I was just imagining it, Lily thought. There’s no way I actually have a little voice in my head. Disturbed, she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and got up. Maybe a nice, hot shower would wash away her uneasiness.

           Across the room, Rosie dropped back down onto her pillow. It was highly unlikely that her best friend, who was usually levelheaded and practical (which was more than she could say for herself), was going insane. If it was anyone whom she expected to be hearing voices, it was Rosie herself.

“I like your self-esteem,” a voice said in her ear. “Now that’s really going to help you get Remus Lupin, isn’t it?”

          “Yikes!” Rosie shrieked, her head whipping around frantically. Emma sat bolt upright again, as did Rachel, and both had irritated expressions on their faces. Lily already had the water running in the bathroom and had not heard her.

          “What’s your problem?” Rachel Bailey snarled. “Between you and Miss Prefect over there I’m never going to get any sleep!”

           Rosie blushed, embarrassed. She and Rachel had never gotten along well, and she didn’t have the guts to stand up to her like Lily did.

“Come on, say something. She’ll never take you seriously if you don’t stoop to her level and bitch back.”

           “Umm…go to hell, Rachel.” The other girl looked surprised.

 “That’s a good start. Go on then, finish her off.”

           “What, trying to stock up on extra beauty sleep before the shagging season begins?” Rosie grinned in spite of herself, and Emma shrieked with laughter.

           “Hmph,” Rachel sniffed. But she had nothing to say to that, and instead flopped back down into her covers.

           “Nice one,” Emma whispered before laying back down herself.

           Rosie nodded.

 “See, you’ve got it. I think Lily’s starting to rub off on you,” the voice told her.

          Goddamn it, Rosie thought giddily. If I have to have voices in my head, why can’t they tell me something I don’t already know?

          The absurdity of the situation and the earliness of the hour were making her slightly loopy. The stress of last night and now today was just too much. Shaking her head, she closed her eyes again to wait for Lily to get out of the shower. Luckily her voice kept quiet for the next hour or so.

          Several hours later, James woke up to an icy dose of water down the neck of his shirt. Although it was nearing ten o’clock, it was still significantly earlier than the time he would usually wake up in the summer. Yelping angrily, he leapt out of bed in a hurry to inflict injury on the person who had woken him up.

          “Hey, whoa, mate,” Sirius said, his hands held up in the air guiltily. He still held his wand. “Before you kill me, I just want you to know that it’s important.”

           James squinted at him blearily. Sirius, up at this hour? It was Saturday, goddamn it! They were lucky enough this year to have September 2nd, usually the first day of classes, on a Saturday, so what could be so sodding important?

           “What, have an epiphany?” James asked sarcastically.

           “Actually…” Sirius looked uncomfortable, which was disconcerting. “If I tell you, don’t yell and wake up the others.”

           James rolled his eyes. “What? Have a long lost twin? Accidentally shagged McGonagall in your sleep? Found a strange lump on your rump?” He was not a good person to talk to in the mornings.

          Sirius did not smile. “No, Prongs,” he whispered gravely. “I’m hearing things. In my head.” His eyes looked so haunted that James had to laugh.

          “Oh yeah? And what’re they saying?” he asked patronizingly. He worked to sound patient but was really on the edge of hysteria at being woken up so early.

 “You can laugh, but you’ve got one too,” a voice said.

          James laughed at Sirius again. “How do you know I’ve got one?” he asked him. “Did your new friend tell you?”

           Sirius stared at him. “How do I know you’ve got what? What’re you talking about, mate?”

          “You just said,” James replied, “‘you can laugh, but you’ve got one too.’” He mocked Sirius’s deep voice.

           “I didn’t say anything,” Sirius said slowly, looking concerned. But his concern quickly turned into a look of pure glee as he said exultantly, “You do have one too! See, I’m not the only one who’s hearing things!” He began to dance a victory dance around James.

          “Congratulations, it just means we’re both crazy,” James said wryly. “Maybe it was just some trick of Dumbledore’s, to welcome everyone back to school.”

           Sirius shook his head. “My voice said things that Dumbledore definitely would not have approved of,” he said firmly.

          James fought to keep a straight face. “So you mean all this is actually…us?” he asked incredulously. “I still think its some spell, Dumbledore or not.”

           He walked across the room and poked the still-sleeping Peter in the head. “Pete! Hey Pete! Wake up.”

           “Huh? Hey…what?” Peter mumbled groggily.

           Sirius strode over. “Allow me,” he said generously, pointing his wand in Peter’s face and letting out a stream of water from its tip. The boy sat bolt upright in his bed and glared at Sirius, who only grinned back.

           James bent down until he was looking the sopping boy in the eye. “Are you hearing voices?” he asked him seriously.

           Sirius snorted. “Prongs, mate, you’re scaring him.”

          “Yeah, well, it’s scaring me!” James retorted. “How else am I supposed to find out?” He turned to Peter. “Well?”

          “Uh…no,” Peter said, confused. The other two looked at him, waiting. “Honestly! Why…have you?”

           “No,” James said quickly before Sirius could say anything. “Go back to bed, Pete.” Peter obeyed gladly.

          “Now what?” James whispered. “I wonder if Moony’s up yet.”

           “Of course he is,” Sirius replied, glancing at the only empty and neatly made bed across the dorm. “He’s Moony.”

           “Fancy some breakfast before we go looking for him?” James asked.

           Sirius grinned. “You know me too well to need to ask.”

“Keep eating like that and you won’t be able to move when Quidditch season arrives,” his voice said.

          “Oh, shut up, you,” he retorted as he and James made their way down the stairs. In answer to James’s quizzical look, he could only raise his hands in helplessness.

          With bellies full of toast and heads full of voices, the two Marauders made their way into the Library. Madame Pince, the stern librarian, glanced at them suspiciously. She, and most of their classmates, did not expect them to be up so early on a weekend, and at the Library of all places. They did not come here often.

          As expected, Remus was sitting in his favorite window alcove, the biggest one with the most comfortable seats. It went without saying that if one was occupying this niche and saw the Marauders approaching, one would abandon it immediately.

          Although classes had not even begun for the year, Remus was practically buried under the stacks of books surrounding him, and reading and muttering to himself with an unusual urgency. Sirius and James glanced at each other before going up to him.

           “Hey, Moony, why the heavy reading?” Sirius asked.

           “Um, nothing, it’s just that something strange happened this morning,” Remus said distractedly, flipping more pages. “There has to be an answer somewhere in these things…”

          “Something strange?” James raised an eyebrow. “This wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with us hearing things, would it?”

          Remus’s head shot up. “You too?” he asked eagerly. When Sirius nodded, he sighed in relief. “It was really starting to scare me,” he explained.

          “Have you found anything?” James asked.

          “Not much…there are a few spells that can do it, but it doesn’t explain how this just happened overnight. If someone had cast those spells on us while we were sleeping, the sensation would have woken us up.

          “Besides, those spells are NEWT-level at least, and banned from use on Hogwarts grounds, understandably. Maybe it was something that we ate.”

          “But then everyone would be going crazy right now,” Sirius pointed out. “We just asked Pete, and he said he was okay.”

           Remus looked up again, biting his lip. “It talks to me, like we talk to each other. It isn’t normal. And weirder still, it doesn’t even sound like what my own thoughts usually sound like. They say crazy things.”

          Sirius grinned. “Nah, Moony, you’re probably just spending too much time with us. We’re corrupting your thoughts.”

           Remus sighed. “Still, why would it only be us? Goddamn it, it’s only the second day, and we’ve already messed up!”

          “Well, what’ve we done wrong?” James asked.

          “Nothing so far,” Sirius said with a smile. “It’s actually turning out to be pretty nice. You’ve finally got Evans hooked, we don’t have classes for another two days, we’re all smarter than ever—”

           “Wait!” Remus interrupted. “The Mind-Sharpening Spell!” His eyes grew wide. “Oh shit…that’s not good…and it’s the only explanation!”

           “We need to get Lily and Rosie,” James said, turning on his heel and racing out of the Library amid protests from Madame Pince. But since he was already leaving, the old librarian couldn’t kick him out for being disruptive.

          “So…what do we do now?” Sirius asked Remus, feeling a little scared.

          “Wait to see if it’s happening to the girls too, I guess.”

           A few minutes later, James came back, leading the two girls. Rosie was clutching Unconventional Spell-types under her arm, hiding the title from everyone around them. They arranged themselves on various seats and laps until they could all see the book on the table in front of them.

          “You guys too?” Remus asked unnecessarily. The worry on both girls’ faces was enough to tell. Rosie looked so anxious, he thought she might puke. But he patted her hand and smiled reassuringly.

          “Let’s see what went wrong,” James said, flipping to the pages that they had read so haphazardly the night before.

          “Voices…voices…” Rosie muttered to herself as she scanned them. “Wait, here’s something…‘Basic knot technique number 3’—that’s the one we wanted—‘has now been extended to account for emotional and irrational complications, and so provides a soothing and logical voice in face of these problems!’

          “But it wasn’t supposed to give us a real voice, was it?” Lily said desperately. “It was just supposed to calm us down if we got freaked out…and it’s not helping!”

           “Besides, I don’t think my voice thinks like I do,” Remus said. “It’s too crazy for me.”

           “You know, come to think of it…mine doesn’t either,” Lily said. “It’s too”—she scrunched up her face distastefully—“bouncy.”

          Rosie laughed. “You’re the least bouncy person I know,” she said to her best friend. “You always keep two feet on the ground at all times.”

           “Oh, yeah?” Lily asked, grinning. “And I suppose your voice is just like you, meek and shy and embarrassed all the time.”

          “Actually, it’s kind of sarcastic,” Rosie said thoughtfully. “And that’s not like me, is it?” she challenged.

           Remus shook his head. “No, that’s Prongs you want.”

           “My voice is so annoying,” James chimed in to complain. “It’s not sarcastic at all…it reminds me of my mum.”

           Sirius roared with laughter, causing several girls in the vicinity to turn around to look at him, and blush and smile. It was commonly known that Sirius was the object of much secret affection.

          “Mine’s pretty observant,” he said. “It’s kind of a smartass. It tells me stuff about myself that I wouldn’t notice otherwise.”

           “Padfoot’s voice has a bad self-image?” James commented, smirking. “Well, that’ll be good for you. You’ve got to realize sometime that nobody’s perfect, mate.”

           Remus joined James in laughing at Sirius, who punched them both on the arm, hard. A couple of the nearby girls giggled, but Lily and Rosie rolled their eyes.

           “Hello?” Lily asked with a hint of panic in her voice. “Can we get back to the subject at hand, please?”

           James snapped to attention at once. He could imagine how bad this might seem to Lily. Her intelligence was important to her; it was what set her apart and made her special. She had risked everything in their little experiment, and even the tiniest mistake seemed to scare her beyond reason. He understood that because he understood her.

 “You know her so well you two could be married,” his voice commented.

           James felt the heat rise in his cheeks but pretended like he had heard nothing. “So any idea how it happened?” he asked Rosie.

          “Well, we could go over the process again, just to make sure. The spell is ‘Intelligencio.’ We’re sure everyone said that last night, right?”

          They all nodded. “And the knot…” Rosie continued, turning to Remus on her left. “Can you redo it so we can compare it to the one in the book?”

          Remus pulled out his wand, but Rosie shook her head. “Just in the air…I don’t want to mess up any more people than I already have,” she said guiltily.

          “Ro, it’s not your fault,” Lily protested.

          Rosie didn’t reply. Remus gave her hand a tight squeeze before letting go to draw an invisible knot in the air with his finger. Two circles around, two consecutive figure-8s and a jab through the middle…

           Remus felt his fingers being crushed again. “Shit, shit, shit,” Rosie whispered. Her eyes darted from Remus’s face to the book in front of her, back to his face and back to the book.

          “What?” Sirius asked her intently. His mind worked rapidly, running over random memories and facts to see if he was missing anything significant…but he found nothing.

          “It’s the knot,” Rosie said heavily. “It’s not a jab at the end, it’s a flick. We did the right version of the spell, but its not held together right.”

          “But I don’t think I’m missing any information,” Sirius said. “I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything since last night.” The others nodded in agreement. Apparently he had not been the only one examining the contents of his brain.

           “What does this mean then?” James asked. “It didn’t do any damage except for the voice thing?”

          Remus nodded. “Hey, sorry I messed up,” he said sheepishly to the entire group.

           “You’re Moony!” Sirius said, checking his wrist like there was a watch strapped there. “You were due for another mess-up right about now, anyway.” He turned to the girls. “They’re few and far-between, so it’s just your luck to be in on this one!”

           Rosie laughed, but Lily was not persuaded. “How do you know it didn’t do anything else?” she persisted.

           “Because none of us have felt anything so far,” James said gently. “Besides, Flower, even if you get a teeny bit stupid we’ll all still love you.” He hugged her tightly, and Lily smiled. James really was sweet, even if he had been annoying and arrogant before.

           “Wait, but that means I’ll have to walk around all my life with a voice in my head!” Sirius complained. “Everyone will think I’m crazy.”

          The others’ eyes grew wide when they realized how bad it would be. “There has to be something we can do,” Rosie said desperately.

           Remus thought fast. “Well, if it’s a side effect of the spell, it should go away when the spell is removed, right?”

          “Well then what are you waiting for?” Lily exclaimed. “Get rid of the damn things!”

           Remus drew his wand, and Lily bowed her head expectantly, but it was Sirius who stopped them, saying, “Wait!”

          Lily rolled her eyes. “What?”

          “If we get rid of the spells, we’ll never pass our OWLs!” he explained. “We can deal with some stupid voices for a year…it was just the thought of having them forever that sucked.” Sirius gulped as Lily’s eyes narrowed.

          James dove in to save the situation. “I don’t know about you guys, but I think I could learn a few things from my voice. You all said they were different from your personality anyway.” He looked pointedly at Lily. “I’m sure you guys will be glad to have me under some positive influences.”

           “I don’t need to be bouncy,” Lily hissed.

          “I don’t need to be crazy,” Remus put in.

          “And we don’t need you guys to get all contemptuous on us about your brilliant grades,” Sirius said darkly. “If you’re so smart, why did you agree to do the spell with us in the first place?”

          “Because we’re good friends!” Lily nearly screamed, getting flushed and angry. Rosie’s head turned to and fro, trying to absorb the argument. It was difficult, though, as her voice kept clamoring in the background.

           “If you were such good friends, you’d put up with the voices so we can pass our OWLs,” James said quietly. “Besides, it wouldn’t hurt for you guys to have some extra free time, would it? We could have fun.”

          He wrapped his arm around Lily’s shoulders, encouraging her to sit back down (Madame Pince was glaring at them already). “It’s already done. Can I ask you guys to keep it done, for us?”

           Lily’s expression softened. “What atrocious grammar,” she commented. Remus cracked a smile.

          “So we’re keeping them?” he asked softly. Lily nodded, and the others followed suit.

          “Shut up!” Rosie said randomly, looking aggravated at herself. Nobody really needed an explanation.

A/N: Reviews would be amazing. Any suggestions for how the plot should continue from here? Tell me what you like or didn't like, or favorite quotes. Reviews mean a lot to me!

Coming up next chapter: The Marauders get out of detention creatively. And believe me, this type of thing doesn’t work twice ;)

Chapter 3: They Couldn't Get Out of Detention the Normal Way
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N (4/27/08): I'm having a moment of self-doubt and insecurity, which may have something to do with my life issues right now. HPFF is my solace =]

So my question to you is: Is anyone enjoying this at all? Is this story just a pile of complete crap (or rubbish, have it your way). Should I continue it as an outlet for my insanity?? But if I delete it, I'm probably going to regret it. Thoughts?

          “I can’t believe we have detention the first weekend back,” Sirius groaned the next day at lunch. “What happened to my freedom?”

          “Not only is it the first weekend back,” Remus said, grinning, “but you got it the first day back. Not bad, Padfoot, even for you.”

          “Hey,” James protested, “don’t you think you should give credit where credit’s due?” They all turned to him and raised their eyebrows. “Not me,” James said, rolling his eyes. “Evans.”

          “It’s true.” Lily was smiling.

          James was not. “What, do you all think I’m that conceited?” The table fell silent. “Well, I’m not. If Lily hadn’t sucked up to McGonagall and lied so brilliantly, we probably would’ve been stuck in detention with her…for a month. Instead we just got Slughorn today.”

           “And you can take care of that for us too, right?” Sirius asked Lily, teasing. 

          “Oh, shut up. I still have to think up an excuse, because the usual whining about having too much homework won’t work.”

           “A headache?” Remus suggested. 

          “We can’t all have headaches,” Sirius pointed out. 

          “No,” said Lily slowly, “but we can all be suffering from various mysterious ailments.”

          Sirius looked confused. “What do you mean?” he asked.

          “I know Slughorn. He can’t concentrate on more than one thing at a time. Several small disasters start happening at once, and he won’t be able to do a thing. In the end, he’ll just send us all away to the Hospital Wing.” Lily had an unusually devious smile on her face.

          James was amazed. “You’re a genius.”

           “It must be the spell at work.” 

          Rosie looked up from her food. “Several small disasters? What exactly are you planning?”

           Lily shrugged. “That’s where my dear Marauders come in. This is their specialty, isn’t it? I think I’ve done enough.” The boys nodded and immediately put their heads together. Soon they were engaged in an intense discussion. 

          “So,” Rosie whispered to Lily, “do you think he likes me?”

           “Who, Remus? Of course he likes you! Haven’t you seen the way he always protects and supports you?” Lily picked up a roll and bit into it.

           “It’s only because I messed up the spell,” Rosie said heavily. “He doesn’t want me to feel bad.” 

          “Ro, how can you say that?” Lily whispered, swatting at the other girl’s nose with her bread. “He adores you. I don’t see him looking at other girls the way he looks at you.”

          Rosie raised an eyebrow. “Oh, you mean the way you’ve started looking at a certain Mr. Potter?”

          Lily’s jaw dropped open. How could Rosie have known? The escapade on the train…should have been just that, an escapade. A phenomenon. It wasn’t something that would happen again. She had to cover it up, quick. There was no way in hell that her real feelings would get around.

           “Don’t you try to make this about me and James!” she exclaimed. “It’s about you”—she pointed at Rosie—“and him.” She stabbed her roll in Remus’s direction. 

          “Ooh, Lily, don’t point!” Rosie squealed.

“Well, wasn’t Lily eager to avoid that subject,” her voice said. “Looks like someone has a secret.”

          “Thanks so much,” Rosie said sarcastically, “because I really wasn’t observant enough to know that before.”

           “What?” Lily asked. “And what’s with the sarcasm?” 

          “Oh, oops. I was, um, having a conversation with my voice,” Rosie admitted with a sheepish grin. 

          Lily laughed. “Oh, yeah? What was it saying?”

          “None of your business,” Rosie retorted.

           At that moment the boys broke apart, still whispering. Sirius, who was seated closest to the girls, turned to them and muttered, “Not enough time or materials to make us all fake sick. We’ll just have to wing it, but it’s Slughorn, so we should be fine.” He winked. “Time to test your creativity, ladies.”

          That afternoon at four, the girls and the three Marauders promptly reported to their designated spot, Slughorn’s office. They had never served detention there in all their five years, even with the hundreds of detentions that the boys had managed to rack up in that time. In fact, none of the current students, except Lily, had ever entered the room before.

           The room contained a large desk and bureau, and several squishy chairs lined up against the wall. Next to the window, near a steaming cauldron of shiny potion, a large man sat in a large chair. Professor Slughorn needed his space.

          “Hello, students,” Slughorn said cheerily. “Welcome to my office. Consider it an honor to spend your next three hours in here, because few children have ever stepped foot into this room.” He smiled at Lily. “And after these three hours, I doubt you will ever want to come here again.”

          James pretended to cast a nervous glance about the room to take in his surroundings. There was nothing out of the ordinary, aside from the tottering piles of paper perched randomly on chairs, and a dark wooden door at the back of the room, guarded by Slughorn’s desk. It seemed out of place against the light blue wallpaper that covered the walls. “Um, sir?” he asked Slughorn apprehensively. “Why are we in here today? Anything special?”

          Slughorn laughed. Apparently he thought he had succeeded in making the infamous James Potter uneasy. “Not to fear, Mr. Potter. You will come back in one piece, even if the brain-numbing work I’ll give you will bore you to tears.”

           He paused, biting his lip. “You see, we are only in here because…well, I out of my own folly have, um, yet to complete my paperwork for this upcoming school year,” he admitted uncomfortably.

           Lily saw her chance, and seized it. “Professor!” she exclaimed indignantly, the corners of her mouth twitching with amusement. “These papers should have been in months ago! How will you ever hope to finish your curriculum now?”

          James winked at her. Before Slughorn could reply, she gasped loudly. “Oh, no!” she cried urgently. “How far behind will I be in Potions? This is OWL year!”

           Slughorn grimaced guiltily. “Ms. Evans, please don’t worry. I will get it all done in time and we will not fall behind at all. But that is why I need your help, all of you.” He gestured to the piles of paper around the room. “I need these papers alphabetized desperately, but I cannot spare the time to do it myself. I left the door unlocked a few days ago, and Peeves had quite a bit of fun in here,” he said ruefully.

          Lily shook her head, frowning. “I don’t believe we should be aiding in the work that you are held accountable for, Professor.”

          “No, no!” Slughorn panicked. “Ms. Evans, this is important!” Lily raised an eyebrow.

           Remembering his dignity, he tried to collect himself. In a stern voice he continued, “This is your detention. You will do as I ask, because of the behavior by which you have earned this punishment. It doesn’t matter what kind of work you are doing, do you understand?”

           He searched the gaze of everyone in the room, to make sure they wouldn’t rat him out to Dumbledore. James, Sirius, Remus, Rosie, and Lily stared gravely back at him.

           “Good. Now, to make several things clear.” He raised his eyebrows significantly at the boys. “That cauldron near the window is under no circumstances to be touched or disturbed. It contains an oily substance that is very difficult to clean up.”

           Sirius nudged Remus and James in the gut. Slughorn was making it almost too easy for them.

           “Secondly, I’m sure you all have heard of this closet.” Slughorn pointed at the dark door behind him. “It was made for the first ever Hogwarts’ Potions Master by Salazar Slytherin himself, to safeguard his important ingredients and dangerous potions. Do not get ideas, because this door was designed to keep thieves out.”

           He reached over and yanked the door open easily. Bottles of potions glittered on the shelves lining the closet walls.

          “It’s easy enough to open when nobody is inside. However, whenever someone enters, it locks shut, and there are only two ways to then reopen it: to insert a key from the outside, or to voice the password from the inside. Rest assured there will be serious consequences if anyone is ever caught in here.”

          This time, Remus was the one who poked his friends. It was a well-hidden secret that the closet was a classic Slughorn bluff to keep kids out of his potion stocks. The Marauders had known it for ages. Yes, the door could only be opened from the outside, but it could be done with a simple Alohomora spell.

          Slughorn did not know anyone knew this.

          He returned to his seat behind his desk, leaving the door to the potions closet open to reveal all its bounty. He smiled at the boys, glorying in their helplessness. The boys smiled back.

           “Oh, and do keep quiet,” he told them smugly. “I have lots of work I need to get done.” The five headed to separate piles of paper meekly, casting occasional glances at the others.

           After about half an hour, when they felt that they could not alphabetize another page without going insane, Slughorn stood up to stretch.

           “I am going to the washroom,” he announced. “Please continue your work. And when I come back, if I don’t see the same five people in here as I do now, there will be trouble,” he threatened, glaring at them. The others did not even look up from their work as he turned on his heel and walked out.

           When his footsteps had faded down the hall, Remus leaped up from where he had been sitting. “So, we need small disasters, do we? Anything valuable you think we could toss into that closet?”

           The girls frowned. “But that doesn’t help,” Lily said. “He could open it in a second with his key.”

          Sirius grinned at her. “No, darling, there is no key. He’s bluffing about the contraption on the door. Alohomora will work, from the outside anyway.” At Rosie and Lily’s astonished faces, his grin widened. “But ol’ Sluggy can’t afford to have everyone finding out about that, can he?”

           Lily, about to ask how in the world Sirius knew the door was a fake, stopped herself. She was in league with the Marauders, after all.

          Rosie, thinking fast, looked at the cauldron of potion by the window. “How about we spill that on his paperwork?” she asked lightly.

          Remus’s smile commended her enthusiasm, but he argued, “We want to freak him out, not screw him over for good. He needs those papers. Besides, he’ll know we did it on purpose, and we’ll get more detentions. How about we get the papers locked in the closet and spill the potion?”

          “Gosh, Remus, I don’t know what they would do without you,” Lily commented, gesturing to the two other boys. “You really need brains to carry out this kind of stuff.”

          “Hey!” James protested, “that’s completely unfair! Me and Pad have done plenty of smart things without Moony’s help.”

          Lily raised an eyebrow. “I’m listening,” she said teasingly.

          Eager to impress, James said, “Actually, I have an idea right now. Since he left that damn door open to spite us, we can pull a Binns.” He looked to Sirius, obviously expecting him to get excited too. But Sirius was staring at the cauldron of potion, apparently with other things on his mind.

          “Hey, Pad! Remember what we did to Binns that one time?” He smacked Sirius, who came to, blinking.

          “Oh, yeah,” he said. “It was the first day of History of Magic finals. Nobody had broken a sweat studying, of course, but we didn’t want to take the test either. So while Binns was looking the other way, Prongs had his wand out and snatched some wind from outside, and blew the whole pile of tests out the window!”

           Remus, Rosie, and Lily burst out laughing. “How long did it take him to find them?” Rosie gasped.

          “Funny thing is, he complained it was cold and closed the window right after I did it. So when he tried to Accio the tests back, there was all this paper flapping against the windows and he didn’t notice!” James was shaking with laughter.

          “So we do the same thing to Slughorn?” Lily asked. The wild impulsiveness that had taken over the past few days had effectively squashed out her conscience. If she could seduce James Potter, mess with the human mind, lie to McGonagall, and deal with voices in her head, she could get out of detention. Besides, she didn’t want to alphabetize any more papers. She had a feeling Slughorn was only making them do it in lieu of other things that he would have to put more effort into arranging.

            “Sure,” Remus said. “I’ll do the wind. Someone should spill the potion to distract him. Padfoot, are you up for the job?”

          Sirius was eyeing the potion again. He raised his head to look from Lily to James, and back again. Shaking his head, he said, “That potion looks more like oil to me. Won’t someone slip on it?”

           Remus frowned. “Maybe. We’ll just be careful.”

          Sirius grinned. “Perfect.”

           Slughorn returned to his office, relieved to see that everything appeared exactly as he had left it. He was always concerned about his safety when he gave the Marauders detention. But oddly his detainees were still quietly alphabetizing papers.

           When Slughorn had gotten comfortably settled in his chair again, Sirius coughed. “Whew!” he exclaimed, loosening his tie. “It’s awfully hot in here, Professor. I feel so faint. Do you mind if I open the window?”

           Slughorn did not want to get up again. But he also knew Sirius would start pretending to swoon and crash all over the place if he didn’t let him open the window. “Sure, sure…do it yourself,” he said, not looking up from his papers. But before he could warn Sirius to mind the cauldron next to the window, the inevitable happened. Several yelps and a crash sounded, followed by the scrape of the window opening, and Slughorn’s heart nearly stopped.

          “Oh, no,” Sirius said, plastering a guilty look on his face. “I’m so sorry!” He rubbed his elbow, which now throbbed painfully. It hadn’t been easy to knock over that sodding heavy cauldron.

           “Mr. Black!” Slughorn cried, leaping up from his desk in panic. “I specifically reminded you all—”

          “It was an accident!” Sirius interrupted, sounding anguished. Slughorn stumbled out of his chair and around his desk, snatching up the tipped cauldron from where it was gushing oily yellow potion onto the floor.

          “It doesn’t matter if it was an accident,” Slughorn squealed, “clean it up!” The remaining four made a show of leaping up hurriedly and racing around the room, trying to find paper towels. A steadily growing puddle of potion spread near the chairs, under the desk, and toward the closet door.

           In the commotion, Remus sat quietly on the chair nearest the open window, with his wand behind his back. A strong breeze wound its way through the room and crashed upon the papers on the desk. Unnoticed by all, they were carried into the air, and floated into the only place they had left to go…straight into the potions closet.

          Lily snatched a roll of paper towels off of the cluttered top of the bureau, and tore some off, giving a handful to James. Together they lay the squares down over the puddle of potion, hoping to absorb some of it.

           “Oh…oh, my,” Slughorn groaned, grabbing Rosie and leaning heavily on her. “This can’t be good for my blood pressure…” Without complaining of his entire weight on her shoulder, Rosie guided him to the nearest chair. There, she placed herself between him and the spectacle behind her, and proceeded to inquire about his health.

          “Professor, if you have high blood pressure, you really shouldn’t stress yourself out like this,” she said pleasantly.

           Slughorn craned his neck, trying to see around Rosie. “Yes, yes, I try not to,” he muttered distractedly. “Um…do sit down; I can’t see what you godforsaken students are doing to my office.”

           “What?” Rosie asked, as if she had not heard him.

          “Please sit down! I can’t see past you,” Slughorn explained agitatedly.

          “Oh, don’t worry. They’re cleaning up the mess. Sirius didn’t mean to spill it,” she said soothingly, still not moving aside. “I think we actually saved some of the potion, too, in case you still need it.” She smiled at him.

           All of the papers were now successfully on their way into the closet. Remus had put his wand away and now started to close the closet door. But Sirius had another agenda. He snuck up behind the wiggling bottoms of Lily and James, still kneeling on the floor, trying to clean up the mess of slippery potion.

          Sirius pretended to slip, losing his balance, and came sliding across the floor to crash into Lily and James. Remus’s eyes widened in surprise and he strained to keep the closing door from smashing them as the two glided on the oily puddle, screaming and yelling and clutching each other. They flew past the chairs, past the desk, past Remus, past the door, and into the potions closet, courtesy of none other than a Mr. Black.

           Slughorn lurched to his feet. Screaming was always a bad sign. Rosie herself turned around to see the source of the commotion, and looked only in time to see the tails of two sets of robes whipping through the doorway, and the heavy door yanking itself out of Remus’s grip to slam shut.

           “No!” Slughorn yelled. He rounded on Sirius. “How did this happen?”

          Sirius shrugged innocently. “I slipped on the potion, Sir. I fell and then I ran into them. Ouch.” He rubbed his right hip for emphasis.

           “And they slid across the floor, into Salazar Slytherin’s closet.” Slughorn slapped himself on the forehead disbelievingly.

           “But what’s the problem, Professor?” Remus asked, his eyes boring holes into the professor. “It was just an accident. You can get them out. You have the key, right?”

           Rosie smirked as Slughorn grew visibly more uncomfortable. “Yes, let’s get them out. They must be scared.”

           “Oh, yes, the key,” Slughorn said. “The key…” He went to his bureau and began to rummage around in the cabinets, although they knew he would find nothing. He knew also, for no key existed.

          “I…I seem to have misplaced my key,” he lied uneasily. “I’ll find it soon enough.”

           “But Professor,” Sirius protested, “what about Lily and James? Are they just to stay in there? Surely you can yell the password to them through the door so they can get out.”

          Slughorn’s face showed a multitude of internal moral battles. “I’m afraid, Mr. Black, that they cannot leave unless I find the key. I cannot just go telling the password to my potions to just anyone.”

           Rosie shook her head. “Oh, it must be terrible to be trapped in a closet,” she said tearfully. Sniffing, she pounded on the door. “Lily, James! Lily! James!” she wailed.

           Remus hurried to comfort her, wrapping her in a tight hug while whispering in her ear, “You’re not for real, are you?”

          “Of course not,” she whispered back with a smile, still sniffing.

           But Slughorn looked guilty of murder. “I’m…I’m sure I will find the key soon,” he said again, rummaging with an affected urgency while his brain tried to think of a way out of this mess.

          Lily and James careened across the floor of Slughorn’s office, sliding out of control on the oily mess of potion. Out of pure instinct, James reached to cover Lily’s head and shoulders in case they crashed into something. And out of pure instinct, she tucked into him.

           Clutching each other and screaming at the top of their lungs, they slid until the linoleum tiles abruptly ended, and they ground to a stop on the concrete floor of the potions closet.

           Lily opened her eyes. “No,” she whispered. “No!” she shrieked. But the door was already starting to creak, dragging Remus by his heels as he tried to keep it open. In the end, the magic was stronger and the door slammed shut in the shocked faces of Lily and James.

          James leaped up. “Padfoot!” he roared. “I’m gonna kill you!” He sighed. “Assuming I ever get out of here,” he muttered to himself.

          “Wait,” Lily’s voice came through the darkness. “Sirius pushed us? And you’re mad at him?” She sounded surprised.

           “Uh, yeah. We’re locked in a closet, Evans.” James’s voice was harsh from yelling. “And knowing Slughorn, it’ll be a while before he figures out we’ve got him trapped. He can’t let us out until he sends the others away.”

           “I know,” Lily said, a little hurt, “but I thought you’d be happy to get to spend some quality time with me. I thought you planned the whole thing.”

           James smiled in spite of his current situation. “Hey, it does sound like something I would’ve done,” he agreed. “Padfoot was on his own this time, though, unless Moony helped him. They had better be working Slughorn right now.” He shook his fist threateningly at the door.

          “It’s awfully dark in here, James,” Lily whispered suddenly.

           “Yeah…what about it?”

           “Lumos.” Lily’s wand tip lit, and James felt incredibly foolish. He looked across the small space to see her grinning back at him. “What, you expect something different?” she asked shrewdly.

           He swallowed nervously. What was he supposed to say to that? No, I know you too well? Yes, but I thought I was dreaming? Yes, but it was too much to hope for?

          “Uh…I don’t know.”

          “Good answer.”

          “Yeah? What about you, Lily? You expect something different?”

           She didn’t reply for a moment. What had she expected? As soon as she had seen the door start to close, she had known she would be trapped in a potions closet with James Potter. But had she really expected him to leap on her the second the door shut?

           She sighed. “Yeah…yeah, I guess I did expect something different.”

           James stood up in the wandlight and, hunched over, scuffled across the closet to sit by her. “Why?” he asked, shaking his head. “I know I have a reputation to uphold, but this is ridiculous! Everyone always thinks I only have one side to my personality, like I’m a storybook character or something.”

           “I know,” Lily whispered, squeezing his hand. “I’m always Miss Evans, the prefect. Miss Evans, who could be anything she wants after Hogwarts. Miss Evans, who everyone is counting on to save the world, because the other idiots can’t do it.”

           “It must be hard for people to expect something of you,” James said bitterly. “I guess I’ll play professional Quidditch, and retire early on all the money I’m going to make.” He couldn’t help but add, “See, Lily, that’s why it’ll pay off to marry me.”

           Lily grinned. That sounded more like the James she had grown accustomed to. Vulnerable, bitter James was beginning to scare her. She felt a surge of tenderness, of empathy, toward the boy, and reached out to run her fingers gently through his messy hair.

 “He’s a normal human being, you know,” her voice reprimanded her. “Underneath all that ego is someone just as insecure as the next guy.”

“I thought you were supposed to be bouncy,” Lily thought crabbily. “I don’t need life lessons on Potter from you.”

“Not life lessons,” her voice said thoughtfully. “Reminders.”

          “I wish my voice would tell me something I didn’t already know,” Lily said softly, releasing her fingers from James’s hair.

           “Why? What’s it saying?”

          Lily paused.

 “Go on, if you tell him, he won’t have to keep putting up that front for you…who knows, you both might get something out of that…”

          “It says that underneath your ego, you’re just as insecure as the next guy,” she whispered.

           “Hey, how did you already know that?” he asked, looping an arm around her shoulders. “I try so hard to keep it from showing.” He cupped his hand around the side of Lily’s face, under her hair. She was forced to look into his suddenly serious eyes. “Why does your voice know me so well?”

          Lily cast her eyes down. “I don’t know,” she whispered. “It has a mind of its own. And sometimes I think I know you too well to understand you…” She cut herself off, expecting and half-looking forward to a kiss at the moment. But James was evidently thinking otherwise.

          “You like me, Evans.”

           “I’d like you more if you didn’t call me Evans.”

          “Alright, fair enough. You like me, Lily.”

          Lily was silent.

           “You trusted me with your mind,” James said. “What more is there?”

           Realizing the overwhelming truth of these words, Lily closed her eyes. She could not afford to leak tears and show weakness now. Taking a deep breath, she said, “You called me Flower.” Her voice shook.

           “Is that supposed to make a difference?” he asked.

          “I don’t know…it’s pretty. It does something to make me hate you less,” she said.

          “I should use it more often then.”

           “I’m not sure you should. I think I’m changing my mind even without it…” Lily whispered seriously. “Leave the secret weapon for when you really need it.” She looked at him, smiling wanly.

          James regarded her with his head tipped sideways. “I never thought I’d see the day, huddled in a closet with my Flower, having a heart to heart conversation.”

          Lily looked pained. “I thought I told you to leave it for when you really need it.”

           “I really need it now. You’re on the verge of liking me. We’re having a heart to heart conversation.”

          “It’s because we’re stuck in a closet with each other for an immeasurable amount of time, Potter. What else would we be doing?”

          James kept his mouth shut.

           “Good answer.”

          James and Lily had been locked in the closet for over fifteen minutes, and Slughorn, now sweating profusely, had yet to produce his key. It was somewhat of a problem for him.

          Sirius had asked several times again why the professor refused to free his trapped students by simply giving them the password. Rosie, emitting the occasional sniff or sigh, was still wrapped in Remus’s comforting arms. But Slughorn noticed that Remus was beginning to look increasingly annoyed, and had a suspicion it was because of the professor’s own incompetence. He had to do something quick to save the situation, before his students lost respect for him.

           But he also could not free Lily and James without freeing the rest of his detention detainees.

          “In light of the…um, current situation, I will allow you to leave detention now. I have no need of you anymore. You all did a wonderful job of alphabetizing.” Slughorn tried his best to sound charitable.

          Sirius leapt up and was about to make a beeline for the door when Remus hurriedly protested (as Slughorn would expect them to), “Why should we go when we have no idea when you will find the key? Making us leave isn’t going to help you free them faster,” he said.

          “Er--no,” Slughorn said. “When you leave, I will tell them the password from outside so they may let themselves out. But afterwards, I will cast the most powerful Silencing Spell on them you can imagine. So don’t try to outsmart me.”

           Sirius’s mouth twitched. He scratched his nose in an attempt to hide his silent laughter behind his hand.

           “Alright,” he sighed when he had recovered, heaving himself up once more. “I guess we’ll go then.” With the air of one who has suffered much, he walked stiffly out of the door, with Remus and Rosie following him like the wounded veterans of a war.

           Slughorn bustled along behind them guiltily, closing his office door and sealing it off with Muffliato. Then he quickly shuffled over to the closet door, bent down near the knob, and whispered, “Alohomora.”

           Slughorn had half-expected the pair to have argued each other to the point of insanity in the last twenty minutes. But then again, he had also half-expected them to use the time for less platonic matters.

           Neither was the case. The door swung open easily, and an oddly composed, content, and smiling couple stood up to walk out.

          It could not have been said that nothing good but a few hours of extra free time had come of that afternoon. All students involved in the incident would get an “Outstanding” on every Potions assignment for the rest of the semester. And Lily and James had come to an understanding without a single kiss in that closet.

A/N:  I had to be almost as creative as the Marauders when thinking up this particular chapter, so please leave me a review! Express your thoughts! Next chapter: There are some bitches that just really need to be shut up once in a while. Who’s up for the job?

Chapter 4: They Couldn't Shut the Witches Up
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: After this chappie the Marauders are going to be busier than ever (if that’s even possible). The next five or so chapters are going to happen over the course of about three plot days, so be warned. I AM covering six characters at once, so it’s gonna be long. The plot is thickening!

EDIT (5/29): Spacing. Please please please review!!

          “So, Lily,” Rosie said, trying to sound nonchalant, “you never did tell me what happened when you and James were in that closet all that time last month.”

          Lily rolled her eyes. Would this girl ever stop badgering her about it? And for that matter, would anyone ever stop? The rumors had been running wild, this time even without the encouragement of the Marauders. They had kept as silent about it as she had.

          At the moment, Lily was trying to complete her first Arithmancy flowchart of the year, and was having a lot of trouble concentrating in the common room amid the whispers and not-so-secretive glances in her direction. Her lack of progress on the flowchart was invoking her fear of losing her intelligence to the botched Mind-Sharpening Spell. Although it had been more than a month ago and she had felt no different, she was still on the lookout for long-term damage. The stress was making her too irritable for gossiping.

          “I’m sorry that you have no life of your own, Ro, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to keep my private business private,” she snapped.

          Rosie gasped and drew back from her best friend, as if physically hurt. Lily never used to talk this way to her. She usually reserved the honor for Potter, but the two had actually been friendly of late.

“Why do you always have to go about gasping and cowering and such?” her voice asked her. “Is everything really all that scary?”

          Rosie shook her head and looked back at Lily, who had turned her attention back to her flowchart. Lily had heard her gasp, and didn’t want to look up into her face.

“Now, is that any way to talk to your best friend?” her voice scolded. “She’s got a tender heart, that Rosie. She’s not like you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lily thought harshly, abandoning her homework to try to frown at her voice.

“It means you should watch your sharp tongue, girlie.”

          Lily rolled her eyes and picked up her homework. “I’m going up to the dorm to work on this. It’s too nosy—I mean noisy—down here.” Lily turned on her heel and headed up the stairs, glancing apologetically back at Rosie.

          “Yeah, whatever,” Rosie said. She had suddenly spotted Remus coming down from the boys’ dorm, and now her attention had turned to him. “Hey, Remus!” she called, patting the empty couch beside her.

         Remus stumbled over, laden under several scrolls and textbooks. “Hey,” he said wearily, sinking down gratefully onto the couch.

          Rosie frowned. “What’s wrong?” she asked softly. “You can’t possibly have this much homework!”

          “No, no,” Remus mumbled. “I’m…um, attempting an independent project.” He tried to shove the textbooks into his bag, but Rosie picked one up and held it in her lap.

          “For what class?” Rosie looked at the cover of the book. “Oh, Potions? The Usages of Potions in Human Transfiguration…how interesting! What do you want to change yourself into?”

          Remus looked pained. “Oh…um…it’s more a question of the antidote than the actual potion.”

          “What, you mean one of you has already transformed yourself into an animal and you need an antidote to reverse it?” Rosie laughed. “Who was it? I bet it was Sirius! He’s always been such an animal anyway.”

          “Ha…yeah,” Remus said, trying to laugh. The truth was that he was already starting to feel a bit sick, though the night of the full moon was still almost 24 hours away. Maybe it was just having the girl he liked in such close proximity with his secret.

“You really should tell her, mate,” his voice said. “How much worse could it be than hiding it all the time? Besides, if you two are going to get close, she would probably be happier to know than not.”

          “You’re insane,” Remus muttered to himself. His voice was the one who had actually got him into the “project” that he was now pursuing: the brewing of an antidote to the full moon transformation. Rather, a potion that could allow him to spend the night in the Hospital Wing, a sleeping wolf, instead of a rabid werewolf roaming the grounds. That way, Padfoot and Prongs could get some sleep as well.

          It was official: his voice was crazy, and it was spreading to him.

         “So, who is it?” Rosie asked, amused and excited. “It’s Sirius, isn’t it?” She leaned in close to his shoulder so he could smell her peach shampoo. It was strangely calming.

“If she likes you as much as she acts like she does, you could be a troll in disguise and she would still stay with you. Stop worrying and tell her, mate.”

          “No, not Sirius,” he said, sighing. His shoulders drooped. “It’s me.”

          Rosie’s grin slid off her face like water as she met Remus’s serious, level gaze. He wasn’t kidding. “What do you mean?” she asked softly. “Don’t tell me someone cursed you with a pig’s tail or something.” She brushed Remus’s hair aside and peered at his perfectly normal ears.

          “No,” Remus said slowly. “It’s kind of…permanent. But it doesn’t change who I am,” he said hurriedly, voice low. “I was this way before you met me, and it’s never going to change. So…”—he grasped Rosie’s hands tightly—“promise me you won’t be scared or run away or something.”

          Rosie frowned. Remus wasn’t a dramatic type. What could be so seriously wrong with him? “Okay,” she whispered without really thinking about it. She loved secrets, anyhow.

         “When I was little I was bitten by a werewolf. Now I change into one the night of every full moon,” he whispered in her ear.

          She gasped and couldn’t help but leap away from him, off the couch. Hitting the table, she stumbled over it and crashed onto the floor. “What?

          Remus looked as old as Dumbledore in that moment. He had messed this up. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. “Yeah,” he sighed, resigning himself and cursing the voice in his head.

          Rosie’s eyes welled up in tears. This was the boy for her, and she didn’t want to believe that he couldn’t be with her, that he was…an animal, a freak of nature. It was almost unbelievable. It was unbelievable. He was so normal…A thought struck her.

          “No,” she cried, covering her face. “You think I’m that stupid? You don’t like me, so you say all this bullshit to make me stop liking you!”

          Had she looked up and uncovered her eyes, she would’ve seen the shocked look on Remus’s face. “But you know what? I don’t need you to lie to me, because I can help myself, thanks. Just say the word, and I’ll never talk to you again!”

          She made a valiant effort to sound strong as she looked up, but she could almost hear her own heart breaking.

          Remus was shaking his head sadly. “Please…nothing could be farther from the truth,” he pleaded. What Rosie had just said, it didn’t sound like something she would say. “You can’t listen to your voice.”

          “Why not?” she challenged. “It just might be right.”

          “But it’s not…I wanted you to know about my condition because I trust you, not because I want to scare you away.” He sighed. “It’s so hard for me to make real friends who’ll accept me once they know.”

         Remus looked so miserable that Rosie was ashamed. Here she was, projecting her own insecurities at the poor boy. His ordeal was one that was so great, it paled in comparison to her petty love problems. Besides, hadn’t he just said that he liked her too?

          Breathing heavily, she picked herself up off of the ground and sat back down next to Remus. She liked him enough to try to understand. She was willing to listen, at least. “So you’re a werewolf?” she asked softly, finding his hand with hers. “How is that possible?”

          “Well, I guess when I was a little boy my father took me camping in the woods. In the middle of the night, a werewolf—he probably caught our scent—tore down the tent and grabbed me. My dad…he couldn’t reach his wand fast enough…”

          “Did it hurt?” she asked, her eyes wide.

          “I don’t remember. It must have, but it was too long ago,” he said heavily. “But it was horrible for my parents to have to lock me up in a cage every month, and silence my howling. I was their only child, and this is what had become of me.” He sounded disgusted with himself.

          “When they finally sent me here to Hogwarts, they made Dumbledore promise to keep locking me up like they had, and he agreed. But after a few months, he felt sorry for me and began to let me loose on the grounds instead.”

          Rosie shook her head, swiping tears away. This was too much to bear. “Oh Remus, I’m so sorry…”

          Relieved, Remus sighed. “But I can trust you not to tell anyone else, right? It was my choice to tell you about me.”

          “Thanks,” Rosie whispered, leaning into him. She looked up at his face. “Don’t look so sad,” she told him softly. “It’s not so bad…I still like you.”

          Grinning, Remus bent to kiss her.

          The fifth-year kiss count…

          James/Lily: 1
          Remus/Rosie: 1
          Sirius/Peter: 0

          Lily yanked the door to her dormitory open and stormed inside. Stomping across the room and flinging herself onto her bed, she merited more than a few odd glances from the other girls in the room.

“Dear, what’s wrong? Why could you possibly be so miserable?” her voice asked kindly.

          “I’m not miserable,” Lily muttered to herself. “I’m angry. There’s a difference.”

          Her voice did the mental equivalent of a tut-tut. She hid her face in her pillow in an effort to shut it out.

          She did not notice the girls who were sitting on the bed across the room from her, Rachel’s bed, until one of them said none too quietly, “Hey, look, it’s the one and only, Gryffindor’s newest whore!”

          Lily raised her head to look her straight in the eye. The offending girl was not a Gryffindor, but one of Rachel’s bitchy Ravenclaw friends.

          “You’re not allowed up here, Melinda,” Lily said calmly, despite the angry flush that was creeping across her pale cheeks. How dare she call Lily a whore, or even interpret anything she had heard about her? Who the hell did she think she was? It was none of her business!

          “Who’s gonna stop me? You’re not exactly the world’s best prefect anymore,” Melinda said, smirking.

          “Locked up in a closet with Potter,” Rachel mused smugly, savoring every word. “Who knows what you did in there? The Virgin Lily isn’t so great anymore, is she?”

          If there was one thing that Lily hated more than anything else, it was when others spoke of her in the third person while she was present. It annoyed her past anger. It annoyed her to her full wrath. And she hadn’t exactly forgotten about James sodding Potter yet, either.

          “The Virgin Lily’s about to kick your ass if you don’t shut up,” Lily hissed, eyes ablaze.

          Normally this glare would have scared even Rachel to stopping in her tracks, but today was different. After all, bitches travel in packs for safety, and she had quite a few loaded up on her bedspread. And as Lily was so obviously distressed, the truth of the rumor revealed itself, and the Virgin Lily had definitely fallen from grace. What more could she ask for?

          “Oh my, my, you don’t have to get so upset. I’m sorry if this comes as a surprise to you, but shutting me up won’t do you any good. Everyone already knows, honey.” Rachel’s sweet tone dripped malice like poison-laced honey. The drones on her bed giggled shrilly.

          Lily shook her head resolutely. She hated being patronized, but decided to be tactful and mature about it, because ranting and raging wasn’t going to get back her respect.

          “I’m not listening to any of your bullshit, Rachel. It’s none of your business, anyway. You can even ask Potter. We didn’t do anything in that closet. We got locked in there by accident.”

          “The sad thing is,” the girl next to Melinda mourned, “Potter doesn’t even like you. You were just the only girl he couldn’t get too easily…” She smiled sweetly at Lily like it was a compliment.

          Rachel took over smoothly. “Only now…you’ve lost the only thing you had going for you. Potter’s had his prize catch: he’s shagged the impenetrable Virgin Lily. It’s too bad if you actually started to develop feelings for him, because I think I know who his next prize will be.”

          Lily clenched shaking fists. She opened her mouth, but couldn’t get any words out, for her brain had frozen over in the storm of whirling fury that was building up in her.

“Don’t listen to them! They’re just making stuff up to have a laugh,” her voice protested feebly. “James loves you!”

          The loud, angry thunder that roared in her ears drowned out her voice. Storming across the room, she headed for the bed crowded with laughing girls. But halfway there, she abruptly changed direction and instead turned toward the door to the stairs. It was no use staying and fighting, she realized suddenly. This time, she couldn’t win.

          But this realization did nothing to soothe her temper. Lily could not bring herself to admit defeat to a bunch of cackling pseudo-human females. This went against all her morals. She was Lily Evans, feared and revered by all. Why couldn’t she just shut the bitches up?

          She flung open the door for the second time, and launched herself down the stairs in search of someone, anyone, to vent her anger on. Barging into the common room, a right mess, Lily saw no one she knew, except Remus Lupin. He was sitting on a couch next to Rosie, whom she had just left in her last fit of anger…and they were snogging.

          “WHAT?!” Lily shrieked in her mind. She began to head over to them.

“Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” her voice screamed at her.

          She stopped, visibly seething. “And why the hell not?” she asked.

“They have nothing to do with this!” her voice protested. “You know how long Rosie’s wanted this? Don’t ruin it for her!”

          At the moment, the portrait door swung open, and the Marauders minus Remus (who was very obviously already in the common room) poured in, laughing and shoving in the usual ruckus that followed them wherever they went. The first thing James saw when he entered was a raving-mad Lily, standing near the door to the girls’ dormitory, and looking like she could murder a troll.

“Oh, no, that’s not good,” his voice told him. “You should go ask her what is wrong, you know, and try to calm her down.”

          Sirius followed his line of sight, lighting on the spectacle that was Lily. “Oh, no, that’s not good, mate,” he told James. “You should probably run away from here, as fast as you can, before she sees you.”

          James squinted at his best mate, then at Lily, utterly confused. What should he do?

          The decision was made for him as said girl under discussion noticed him considering this stupidly by the portrait hole, and started toward him.

          “Run, run, run,” Peter muttered under his breath. “Hurry, Prongs, you still got time.” He and Sirius furtively crept away from him and sat down in nearby armchairs.

          But James took one look at how sad and worn down Lily looked underneath the anger, and stood solid where he was. When she came up to him, her cheeks as red as her hair, he arranged his features into somewhat of a sympathetic expression, despite how afraid he was.

          What could have done this to her? This is bad…Lily’s never like this, he thought to himself. And I have no idea how to deal with her now or what to say to fix it. Oh, I’m not good at these things…but we’re finally okay with each other so I don’t want to mess up now! Oh, lord…

          Before she could object or pull away, James swept Lily up into a tight, enveloping, comforting hug. “Hey, what’s wrong, Flower?” he whispered into her ear.

          He felt her relax in his grip. The tension flowed out of her body at the mention of “Flower”. James supposed that he was allowed to use it, as he really needed it at the moment.

          When he released her, she kicked the leg of the nearest armchair, where Sirius was sitting, with all her strength. Biting her lip against the tears of pain, she muttered, “Rachel.”

          “Oh, Flower, you shouldn’t listen to her. Whatever she said, it’s not worth getting angry over,” James said, catching her hand. Smiling at her, he said, “Sometimes you’re too fiery for your own good.”

          Behind Lily’s back, Sirius and Peter stared at him in surprise. By now, James would usually have said something wrong. He was due to mess up already…but somehow, he hadn’t.

          Lily managed a shaky smile back at him. “Yeah…but still, is it okay if I sleep in the boys’ dorm tonight? I don’t think I can go back there,” she said, shivering with overspent energy and emotion.

          Sirius’s eyes widened. “You? In our dorm?” he interrupted.

          Lily turned to him as if noticing him for the first time. “What, is it a problem?” she asked, a tad too sweetly. “It’s not like the prefects are going to tell.”

         “No, no problem,” Sirius said hurriedly. “But I’m not sure I’ll have much room in my bed. You can sleep with Prongs, though.”

          Peter snorted, and quickly covered it up. James shot him a murderous glare before saying, “You can get my bed. I’ll sleep on the floor.”

          Sirius cocked his head to the side. “Speaking of prefects, where is old Moony anyway? Has anyone seen him?”

          Lily smirked slightly, the first happy expression on her face all evening. “Look behind you, and a little to the right.”

          All heads shot toward the direction in which Lily had indicated. All eyes widened in shock and all jaws dropped as they discovered Remus’s latest whereabouts.

          “Oh…wow…I guess Moony won’t have much room in his bed tonight either,” Sirius said, trying not to smile.

          The next morning, James tried to sort his tangled mess of feelings out on his way to Care of Magical Creatures. Tramping across the vast grounds with little care for any magical creatures he might’ve crushed in the grass, his mind worked furiously.

          Again, nothing had happened. It was almost ironic, James mused. The previous night, despite what Sirius had said, Lily was the only girl in the Marauders’ dorms. They had, out of pity, not teased her when she sank gratefully onto James’s bed, and exiled him to sleep on the floor with nothing but a blanket and a pillow. Had it been any other night, in any other circumstance, he knew she would’ve been taunted mercilessly.

          But as it was, they had never strayed, or even mentioned thoughts of straying, from their innocent intentions.

          Their relations that night had stayed strictly platonic, and James had been surprised to find that he actually felt he preferred it that way. He did not want to ruin their fragile, newly-born friendship by taking advantage of her while she was hurt.

          He suspected that Lily, however, had expected the opposite, and a nagging voice inside his head (that had nothing to do with the literal one) was telling him that he had disappointed her. Surely she had cried enough in the middle of the night when she had thought they were all asleep. But James had attributed it to the rumors.

          “You know that this tonight is just going to make the rumors worse,” Peter had commented to everyone once Lily was done venting out her anger and frustration. And considering the strange looks and floating whispers that James had yet to find a way to escape today, Peter had probably been right.

          James could shut Pete up. He could shut Sirius up. He couldn’t shut Remus up, because Remus was usually right. And James could definitely shut Rachel and the bitches up. But unfortunately, he could not do so to the entire population of Hogwarts.

          For although no one had known exactly where Lily had slept last night, they could all assume and assume correctly. Rachel had not wasted a moment’s breath in spreading the word that Lily Evans, star student and power prefect, had not returned to her bed to spend the night. James was sure that Lily was receiving the same treatment he was, or worse. And she probably appreciated it even less.

          Exactly what was bothering her so much, they never got out of her. She had complained of tiredness at around ten (the Marauders had been polite enough to accompany her to their dorms and not to talk about her once she pretended to be asleep). But James was sure there was more than she was telling them. The Lily he knew would never be so torn by only a little comment or two from Rachel and company. Maybe she had been ashamed to say the rest in front of the others.

          James resolved to find a way to talk to her alone, and soon. After all, this involved the two of them, and no one else.

          Across the lawn, so far away that she was unrecognizable to James, Lily Evans sat on the steps in deep discussion with Rosie. Or rather, Lily mused and mumbled to herself as Rosie acted her part as a dutiful best friend, and only nodded mechanically, with an occasional, “Oh my god!”

          Her thoughts were really on Remus, whom she had not seen at all since last night. Remus, who would turn into a werewolf on cue, tonight, at the rise of the full moon. How could this be?

          She glanced over at her raving friend. Lily didn’t know about this. It came as a surprise to Rosie that for once, she had something that her amazing best friend didn’t. She had expected her to know, considering her civilized, and even close, relationship with Remus. But it didn’t hurt that it made Rosie feel a touch more special.

          It was magic enough, even without the kiss.

          Lily, on the other hand, could have really used a kiss or two at the moment. Anything to reassure her that what Rachel and her cronies had said was untrue, that James still had the feelings for her that she thought he had all these years.

          After all, nothing had happened in that closet, despite what Lily herself may have expected/wanted/not wanted. And that fact defied what Rachel had been depending on.

          But even that raised the question of whether or not Lily should actually let James get that far. She was developing feelings for the boy: that was something she could not spare the energy to deny any further, even to herself.

          According to Rachel, if Lily ever let herself be “had” by James, he would have caught the ultimate prize, and that was all that mattered to him. She didn’t want to let him have her, for that reason alone.

          She was afraid that Rachel was right.

          Despite multiple reassurances from Rosie, Lily was not feeling any more self-confident as she heaved herself up from the steps and headed back into the building, for History of Magic on the first floor. It was a boring, pointless class, she thought, but it was required. She could spend the entire time racking her brains for a solution to her problem.

          James, however, actually liked Care of Magical Creatures. It was a way better class than Divination. He was glad he had it in the morning, because the warm sun and sharp wind woke him up better than the smoky incense and swirling, dizzy patterns that he had to face on mornings last year. He had jumped at the opportunity to cut Divination from his schedule this year.

          Professor March was standing in a field of what looked like orange pumpkins. But James, after nearing five years at Hogwarts, was not fooled. He knew at any time those seemingly normal pumpkins could leap up and do any number of strange things.

          He cringed as he caught sight of the blue and bronze-clad figures lounging at the other end of the fence. He had forgotten until this moment that his schedule put the Gryffindors with the Ravenclaws for CMC. Normally he wouldn’t have minded this (it was much better than any class with the Slytherins), but the recent events had reminded him that Ravenclaws weren’t exactly the nicest people either.

          It could have just been early morning crankiness, an overdose of sympathy toward Lily, or inherent bias, but James now realized that some Ravenclaw guys were just downright assholes.

          For example, that crowd over there was staring at him and whispering. Who did they think they were? They were talking about James Potter. And acting like a bunch of girls while they were at it.

          James marched over. “Excuse me,” he said coolly, “I couldn’t help but notice your sudden interest in me. I thought I should come closer so you wouldn’t have to squint and enjoy me from afar.”

“Oh, dear, don’t do that,” his voice said. “How is that going to do anything for you?”

          But the astonishment on the Ravenclaw boys’ faces was priceless. They had not noticed his approach until he was almost upon them, being so engrossed in their discussion.

          Now a sixth-year Ravenclaw, who had stopped to talk to some of his fifth-year friends on his way to Herbology, turned to James with a snarl. “Hey, now that you’ve finally gotten the coldest bitch around, you must think you’re hot stuff, eh?”

          James’s amiable gaze hardened to ice. “Don’t you dare call Lily a bitch. It’s none of your business what the hell I do. If you can’t find anything else worth your time to talk about, maybe you should just shut up for once.”

          “You know, I take that personally,” the sixth-year said dangerously.

          “Oh, yeah? You must be that witless harlot’s brother, then, right?” James’s tone was murderous. “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”

          “What’s that supposed to mean?” Rachel’s brother asked, staring James down.

          James smirked back at him. He was spiraling out of control, but he didn’t care. He didn’t try to control himself. It was all for Lily. “You’re a Ravenclaw, aren’t you supposed to be smart? Figure it out.”

          “You better hope it doesn’t mean you just called my baby sister a whore—”

          “I think I just did—”

          “You’re one to be talking, Potter. Evans just gave you a little party favor to get you off her back…she has all her real fun with guys who can please her.” The Ravenclaw boy’s face was as orange as the pumpkins.

          James didn’t stop to think. Before Professor March could even so much as take a step in their direction, he decked the guy right in the jaw. And there was nothing he could do but keep punching, and punching…

          The boy was curled up on the ground before he even knew what hit him. Well, he knew what hit him, alright. But James’s arms were like windmills propelled forward by the momentum of his last blow, exuding his rage with every hit. He couldn’t stop them.

          Lily wasn’t taking Care of Magical Creatures this year, but Emma, one of Lily’s roommates, was. While Professor March busied herself trying to control James, Emma ran off toward the building.

          Bursting into History of Magic, to the mild surprise of Professor Binns, she thought fast and gasped, “May I see Lily Evans for a second? Her prefect duties are needed.”

          Without a word Lily leapt from her seat and followed Emma into the hall. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

          “There’s a fight outside,” Emma breathed.

          “Between who?” Lily asked.

          Emma’s eyes were shining. “James Potter and Rachel’s Ravenclaw brother…And James is winning.”

A/N: And there you are, another long one...Reviews, please! Coming next chapter: Sirius Black is attending class…and Lily Evans is not? What scrapes are the two getting themselves (and each other) into now?

Chapter 5: They Couldn't Avoid the Consequences
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: Setting: Same day (Thursday), after the fight.

          A bullshit excuse to Professor Binns was all that was needed. Lily raced down the hall, out the doors, and down the steps with Emma trailing behind.

          A procession tramped across the lawn, headed off by a stern-looking Professor McGonagall, who was dragging James Potter along with her by the ear. Grimacing and protesting, he stumbled up the steps, past Lily, with his head turned the other way. She saw him, but he didn’t see her.

          After them a groaning boy drifted along in midair, courtesy of Madam Pomfrey, who was walking behind him with her wand raised. The boy’s Ravenclaw robes were muddy and his hair and face covered with dirt, but there was no mistaking his painful snarl as he caught sight of Lily.

          His eyes, shining with rage, met her dull, impassive gaze. It was Rachel’s brother all right. That expression probably ran in the family.

          He tried to sit up, to say something to her, but the effort was too much, and Madam Pomfrey pushed him back down. The door slammed shut behind them before he could get a word out. Lily, smirking slightly, returned to class with Emma and waited impatiently for the bell to ring.

          Fifteen minutes later, when it did, the halls were filled with news of the latest inter-House fight. Lily had thought the rumors were spreading fast about her before; now, the gawking first-years and the disdainful seventh-years in the halls didn’t even try to lower their voices as she raced past. Gritting her teeth, she headed for McGonagall’s office. She would allow nothing could ruin her day now.

          James Potter, of all people, had gotten her revenge for her. It was almost unbelievable. But then again…maybe it wasn’t so unexpected? Did this mean that he still liked her?

          She turned the corner at sixty miles an hour and almost barreled into her hero, who was coming out of McGonagall’s office. He turned around, and for once, Lily was speechless. She had sort of forgotten why she had run here.

          “Um, hi,” James said, smiling slightly.

          “Hi,” Lily breathed. Her voice clamored in her ears, squealing excitedly like she herself wanted to right about now. “Um…so…”

          “Minnie was pretty mad,” James said, sighing. “You know how she hates Muggle fighting, even more than dueling. I’ve got a whole week of night detentions, starting tomorrow. I had to beg pretty hard to get tonight off.”

          “Why? What’s tonight?” Lily asked hopefully. It was a crazy thought.

          James started. He had almost let the secret slip. “Oh…Moony’s sick,” he said casually. “It’s pretty bad. I thought I’d keep him company in the Hospital Wing.”

          “Oh,” Lily said. James noticed that she seemed a little down, despite the hilarious fact that Rachel’s brother was now incapacitated.

“Dear, would you just stop and think? You just did something amazing and wonderful for her, sure, but if you really want to seal the deal, you need something…romantic,” his voice said, sighing.

          James whirled around to face Lily, and reached down to grab her hands in his. “Hey, ever wonder what it’s like to be a Marauder?” he asked her, grinning impishly.

          “No,” Lily laughed. She was beginning to feel hopeful again. “Why?”

          James’s hazel eyes sparkled with excitement. “Because we’re going to do something special…Can you skip your next class?”

          “Charms…you have it with me next, remember?” Lily pretended to think about it, but of course she knew there was no question as to what she would do.

          “They’ll never suspect us. Come on, Flower, anything you want,” he coaxed. “You’re never going to have all of the Marauder resources at your disposal again. Besides, you owe me.”

          Lily grinned, absently twining her fingers with his. “That’s true…” she stalled. “But I can get all the liquor I want…I don’t have to go on a date with you for that.”

          “It’s not just liquor, baby…All those stories about where the Marauders have been? It’s all true.” Lily snorted. James made a hurt face at her before continuing, “Anywhere you want.”

          In a sudden burst of inspiration, James drew his wand and waved it, muttering under his breath. For a few seconds nothing happened. Then, a little ways down the hall (now nearly empty) there came a loud crash. James pulled Lily toward it.

          A giant pile of glittering tiaras sat serenely in the middle of the hallway. Lily was flabbergasted…she had never seen so many tiaras in her life. By James’s slightly uneasy expression, this wasn’t exactly what he had been aiming for. “Uhh…”

          He improvised. Plucking a tiara from the top of the pile, he set it carefully on Lily’s head and said, “Your wish is my command.”

          Lily couldn’t help but smile. It was all so cheesy, but as hard as it was to admit (or believe), she loved it. “You know, there is something I’ve always wanted to do…”


          “…Can we go out on the roof?”

          In the boys’ dorms, bedridden, Remus tossed and turned with a dull fever. No potion that they could think of had helped him. Rosie had skipped her first few classes to stay with him, but now she was beginning to get scared.

          “Remus…Are you sure this is okay? Maybe we should go see Madam Pomfrey.”

          Remus grinned weakly. “Love, if you think this is scary…don’t look out of your window tonight.”

          Shaking her head, Rosie wrung out another cold washcloth and wiped his forehead. Her brain had pretty much numbed out any thoughts and feelings she could have produced in the last 24 hours. The weight of the conflict inside her seemed so close to threatening her relationship with Remus.

          On the other hand, she felt like the two were on totally different levels of her life anyway…and that the two would never collide. Maybe she was the one who was making it that way. There was no way that she was letting this ruin it for her.

          “Are you always this sick, every month?” she asked sympathetically.

          “Yeah, it’s really no big deal. But…” Remus sounded troubled.

          “What? What?”

          “Don’t panic, love. It’s nothing, just that usually Pad and Prongs are in here with me…I wonder what happened to them.”

          Remus wasn’t really wondering. He was glad Rosie was here with him, and all the more grateful that there was no one here to disturb them. He just hoped that James and Sirius weren’t getting into too much trouble, because when those two disappeared for long hours, he knew from previous experience that the outcome could not be good. But they would be back before the sun set, that was for sure.

          She kissed him on the cheek. “I’m going to go down and get us some food, alright?”

          Remus sighed. It was nice to have someone taking care of him for a change. He was tired of running around trying to fix all the damage that seemed to follow wherever his friends went…

          Rosie thumped down the stairs in a daze. Don’t look out of your window tonight, he had said. What would she see? It was a sick, horrible curiosity, and she knew she would probably regret it if she couldn’t look Remus in the eyes the next day.

          But still, she thought she deserved to know…

          Climbing out of the portrait hole, she crashed into another Gryffindor who was trying to climb in. Sirius held his head and blinked the stars out of his vision before peering at Rosie.

          “Oh, it’s Moony’s girl…On your way to congratulate Prongs, are you?”

          Rosie stared at him blankly.

          “Don’t tell me you haven’t heard…” Sirius grinned. “Our old man Prongs has just beaten up none other than a certain Gryffindor bitch’s brother.”

          “Rachel’s brother?” Rosie gasped.

          “Oh, yes,” Sirius said happily. “I’m glad he’s finally learning. Nothing can go wrong now.”

          “Nothing can go wrong…” Rosie repeated dumbly. Then, in a sudden burst of romanticism, she cried, “He did it for Lily! Oh, how sweet! You guys have been plotting…”

          She raised her eyebrows at Sirius, who shrugged. “I didn’t do anything,” he said innocently.

          “But don’t you see, it’s perfect!” she exclaimed, jumping up and down. “There’s no way she can deny liking him now!”

          Sirius’s jaw dropped. But Rosie didn’t notice. Squealing and giggling, she gave him a tight hug before bouncing away happily down the hall.

          Shaking his head, Sirius headed for the stairs to the dormitory to check up on Moony. He doubted James had had time to do so, and with all the excitement of the morning, he himself had almost forgotten that Remus lay sick in bed.

          So Lily did like James, despite all the evidence over the years that had strongly proved the contrary. But Sirius was happy for them. At least Prongs was having some success in the girl department, he thought. Sirius himself had been a bit lacking in that area since fifth year started, as his voice had unfailingly often reminded him, but he was sure that opportunities would soon start to present themselves. After all, he was Padfoot.

          He grinned to himself, comforted, as he mounted the stairs.

          The Charms classroom was conveniently located on one side of the corridor in the smallest wing, which was really only a giant alcove that stuck out from the side of the Hogwarts’ castle, like an afterthought. The alcove housed only four classrooms on every floor, and Lily and James’s next class was to be held in the farthest right-side room.

          It was there that they settled, in the shelter of an immense gargoyle holding upright in its hands a silver sword. The statue personally gave Lily the creeps from up close, but when she turned her back to it all uneasy feelings were forgotten. The view was spectacular.

          A sliver of the gleaming lake was visible from this angle. The castle blocked most of the rest of it, but was unable to block the mountains towering from quite nearer to the lake’s edge than naturally possible. Mountains weren’t grey, Lily realized suddenly. They were pink, and green, and white and brown and colors that weren’t in the rainbow. She could’ve cried for the beauty that she saw.

          James chuckled quietly to himself. He had cut class numerous times, sometimes simply because he had not wanted to go. His grades did not suffer his impudence, for his genius saved him every time. But usually, the point of skipping class was to get as far away from it as possible.

          Today, he was but fifteen feet from his seat. He and Lily were sitting directly above the classroom.

          Professor Flitwick’s squeaky voice floated up through the window. “Mr. Black, kindly partner up with Miss Johnson…where is Mr. Potter, anyway? Oh, yes…the excitement of this morning. He must be in detention. And Miss Evans? Perhaps her prefect duties involve Mr. Potter’s punishment…”

          Lily tore her eyes from the view and glanced at James. He grinned, giving her the sudden uncontrollable urge to giggle. Punishment, she mouthed, pretending to think it over.

          “Hey,” James protested, whispering. He took both her hands to keep her from inflicting harm on him…as if she would ever want to again after this. He had brought her up here, something she had wanted to do forever. And she had seen everything from the roof.

          It was the way James Potter saw life, she thought.

“Ooh, honey, I think you’re in love!” her voice said excitedly. “But you don’t need me to tell you that…”

          Lily shook her head vigorously to get rid of these thoughts. It was nothing, really.

          Professor Flitwick spoke again as the class got settled. “Today, we will learn Summoning Charms! Everyone, wands out. Now, the objects you see on the table in front of you…”

          “Summoning Charms,” James scoffed. “Kids stuff. I learned to do them at the beginning of last year.”

          “I remember quite clearly,” Lily said dryly. “There was an incident, as I recall, of you trying to Summon me from across the castle. You must have thought of me quite fondly…the spell wouldn’t give up even after I had rammed into more than a few walls.”

          James went pale. “That’s why you were so mad after you found out?”

          “That’s why.” But Lily was smiling. “Well, I forgive you. You’ve done a few things right recently.” She reached up and touched her tiara.

          James grinned self-consciously and ran a hand through his hair. Last year and the years before, he would’ve killed to be in this position. But now that she actually liked him, he didn’t know where to go from there. Now that they were finally past the first step, things seemed so much more difficult.

“Dear,” his voice said, chuckling, “don’t be nervous. She’s only a girl.”

          James almost rolled his eyes at himself. His voice, of all things, was laughing at him. What had he become? There had been a time when a girl, even if she was Lily Evans, couldn’t make him nervous.

          So he did what any nervous Marauder sitting on the roof with the girl of his dreams would do: He stood up, walked over to the gargoyle on the farthest end of the roof, and plucked a half-full bottle of champagne from around its stone Unmentionables. Presenting it to his lady with a flourish, James sat back down and popped the bottle open.

          “Champagne?” Lily whispered. “I didn’t think you were that classy.” She looked back at the gargoyle from which the bottle had come. “Wow, you really do have it hidden everywhere.”

          James tipped the bottle toward her in a toast, and took a quick swig. “This was left over from a late night party on the roof.”

          Lily grinned and snatched the bottle away from him. “You guys are too exciting for me,” she sighed, shaking her head. “But…I love champagne.” Her eyes sparkled wickedly as she raised the bottle to her lips.

          The liquid slid down her throat like fire, and Lily felt herself suddenly explode with energy. Being this high up probably affected the atmosphere…that would explain why she was acting so lightheaded and daft. It couldn’t be her company, she decided.

          After passing the bottle each a few more times, James and Lily settled in next to each other, too giddy to go to class and too woozy to leap about on the roof. There was peaceful silence except the hiss of air still rising from the champagne.

          Far below, Flitwick tried to yell above the clamor of “Accio!” that the class was producing. “If both partners have succeeded in Summoning their objects, you may move on to various things around the room alone. Just remember, keep a strong image of the item in your mind, and if possible, an emotion you feel. Then it will be easy.”

          “If I feel hungry, can I Summon a sandwich?” yelled someone.

          Flitwick did not deign to answer, but upon hearing this Lily and James succumbed to giggles so violent they were in danger of falling off the roof. It didn’t help that they were already a bit tipsy from the champagne.

          “Hey…hey James,” Lily gasped when she had stopped laughing long enough to speak. “What did you think of last year when you Accio-ed me?”

          James didn’t know what she wanted to hear. “Well, it was you, Flower. You know I—”

          He broke off suddenly to listen to something going on below them. From near the window, Peter’s voice came floating upwards. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Pad…”

          “What’s wrong?” Lily asked, but James only squeezed her hand.

          “Shh…” he whispered. “World catastrophes have started with those words, ‘I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Pad.’”

          “Why not?” Sirius’s voice protested clearly through the window. James cringed as he recognized the excitement in it. Sirius sounded just like he did when they were about to pull a really great prank. “I, for one, am curious to see where he’s been all this time. Maybe he’s finally done it. It’s not a coincidence they’re both not in class, Pete.”

          James gulped. “Oh, shit!” He glanced at Lily, who shot him a look of pure confusion. There was no time for explanations. James barely had hold of one of the statue’s legs before Sirius could be heard below them.

          “Accio Prongs!”

          Lily gasped as James’s body lurched away from her, toward the edge of the roof. His legs had lifted from the ground, thrashing and kicking in the air as he strained to keep his hold on the leg of the statue. Lily could only imagine James falling off the roof and crashing through the window to land at Sirius’s feet, courtesy of the spell.

          This, of course, was enough to start both of them laughing again.

          “Lily,” James gasped painfully, laughing and groaning at once. “Lily, help me.”

          Helplessly clutching onto the statue herself to keep from rolling off the roof in laughter, Lily could only stare at him, absurdly suspended in midair. She gasped for breath and tried to control herself.

          “Lily, I’m…serious!” James cried. His hands were slipping.

          “Accio Prongs!!!” Sirius sounded frustrated. To him, the spell didn’t seem to be working. Unfortunately, James could feel its pull all too well.

          “Okay, oh no…” Lily cried frantically, sobering herself and wringing her hands. “What the hell am I supposed to do? Race into Charms and stop him? The bloody idiot!”


          Lily screamed as James’s left hand lost its grip. He was now hanging on by only his right.

          “Okay, okay, okay,” Lily muttered. She pulled out her wand. “Um…Protego!” A silvery shield sprung from her wand tip, solidifying a piece of the air in between the window and the roof.

          “It’s…not…working,” James grunted, snatching at the statue with his other hand. “Only blocks…physical stuff…”

          “Accio Prongs, damn it!” Sirius practically roared below them. Peter’s anxious squeaks could be heard near the window.

          The power of the new spell jerked James’s body violently out toward the edge of the roof. “Lily, I can’t hold on,” he yelled frantically before his hand slipped.

          She was ready. “No!” Wand forgotten beside her, she pitched herself across the roof with both hands outstretched. The ridges in the roof pressed painfully into her belly as she barely caught James’s right hand, and tried to drag him back up. The excess weight made both of them slide forward a few more feet until Lily herself felt her body shift toward the edge.

          “What…what do I do?” she gasped.

          James tried to balance his knees on the edge of the roof, and hoped to god that his feet hadn’t shown in the window of Flitwick’s classroom. How would it have seemed to Sirius if disembodied feet had suddenly appeared in the window?

          “Grab the statue,” he told her breathlessly.

          Not daring to release either of James’s hands, Lily scrabbled around behind her with her legs, and hit something solid. It was one of the other random statues situated on the middle of the roof. She hooked her legs around the statue and bent her knees. They were secure for the time being.

          “Face it, Pad, it doesn’t work,” Peter could be heard from below.

          James himself, the edge of the roof bruising his knees painfully, muttered horrible curse words at his best friend. This did not help Lily, whose knees were also in a considerable amount of pain.

“Think, honey, think,” her voice said, sounding too happy for the occasion. “Use Finite Incantatum!”

          Lily’s eyes widened. Of course! “You okay down there if I let go of one hand?” she asked James. “Hold on tight with the other one!” He nodded in agreement, still considering ways to best murder Sirius.

          Lily released James’s left hand and reached behind her for her wand. By some miracle of fate, she closed upon it almost immediately.

          “Finite Incantatum!” she cried desperately.

          Below her, the pull on James’s body slackened immensely. Sirius’s cry of frustration could be heard from inside as he, too, felt the spell break. Lily and James couldn’t help but collapse on the roof in relief for a few moments, although they were still in a compromising position. Slowly and carefully, James crawled his way up the roof (which wasn’t too steep or difficult to climb, if one hadn’t the pull of a spell impeding him) until Lily could sit up and gather the injured boy into her arms.

          “Bloody hell,” James gasped, breathing heavily. Lily leaned him gently up against the statue, which while not very comfortable, was at least stable.

          Lily looked around and lighted on the still more than half-full bottle of champagne. Reaching over, she grabbed it and shoved it toward him. “Here, drink some, it’ll help.”

          She had no idea whether or not it would, but at least it would be something to pass the time until they could both calm down. Almost being thrown off the roof had to have been an exhilarating experience, even for James. Of course, even more terrifying than that to Lily was the idea of being caught skipping class. On the roof. In the company of James Potter.

          James drank appreciatively. He closed his eyes and listened to his heartbeat begin to slow again. Lily reached over to hold his other hand and began to massage the palm, which she imagined would be horribly cramped.

          “Hmm…” James muttered. “That feels good…”

          Lily felt a smile tugging at her lips. The whole situation had really been quite hilarious a spectacle. Things like this always seem to happen to the Marauders, she thought.

          Eyes still closed, James set the bottle down and thrust his other hand at the girl. She jumped as he said, “Do the other one, please.”

          Lily felt another bout of giggles threatening to escape her. Swallowing them (and all the terrifying random thoughts shooting rapidly through her brain at the moment), she leaned over and touched her lips to his.

          This time was as good as any.

          The champagne bottle rolled down the edge of the roof and fell to crash in the bushes as James scooped Lily into his lap. The noise caused Sirius and Peter to stick their heads out the window and look around curiously, but they saw nothing.

          The fifth year kiss count…

          James/Lily: 2
          Remus/Rosie: 1
          Sirius/Peter: 0


A/N: Another adventure added to Lily’s repertoire. Honestly, she’s only been hanging out with the Marauders for a couple months! Reviews, please? 

Next chapter: A secret escapade, a secret kiss, a secret condition, and a secret half-revealed? Secrets can be fun, but the Marauders are just in over their heads trying to keep theirs straight.

Chapter 6: They Couldn't Eat Their Lies for Dinner
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: Setting: Same day (Thursday), the night of the full moon. Read on and as always, please PLEASE review!

          That night, Sirius and Peter, fresh out of Double Charms, were already seated in the Great Hall for dinner when an exhausted Rosie entered. She had skipped all of her afternoon classes to tend to the sick boy, who was still upstairs in bed. Heading toward the two at the Gryffindor table, she saw curiously that they were deep in conversation.

          “…Pad, would you just please let it go?” Peter was begging.

          “No, I will not,” Sirius said stubbornly. He crossed his arms, looking insulted. “This failure in no way represents my Charms skills…I don’t know what went wrong! It should’ve worked! Merlin, the first time I get an idea of pure ingenuity, and it doesn’t even work,” he grumbled. “Wasn’t I supposed to be smarter by now, damn it?”

          Rosie sat down at the table, so far unnoticed by the arguing boys. Peter was looking at Sirius curiously. “Why were you expecting to get smarter all of a sudden?” he asked him. “I don’t think that ever just…happens…” he trailed off, looking at the other boy uncertainly.

          Rosie frowned. She didn’t like where this was going. Peter wasn’t supposed to know about this. The less people who knew, the better.

          Sirius gulped. He had forgotten that Pete wasn’t in on this one. Well, when one had as many various scandalous on-goings as he did, he thought to himself, how could he be expected to keep track of them all?

          “I just thought fifth year was the magic year, that’s all,” he said casually, glancing at Pete. Was the secret out? But Pete didn’t seem to notice.

          “Ow! Holy—” Sirius suddenly felt a sharp kick in his left kneecap. His head shot up from his plate and his eyes widened as he saw who it had been caused by. “Wow…Moony’s girl…you look terrible!” he exclaimed.

Across the table, Rosie poised herself for another kick. Sirius cringed. “I mean, not terrible like that, just—er—tired and um, stressed out,” he stuttered, still rubbing his injured knee.

          Shooting another glance at Peter, who was now regarding the soup with some interest, Sirius leaned over across the table. “What was that for?” he hissed. “He didn’t figure it out! This is Pete we’re talking about…he can’t put two and two together, you know that.”

          Rosie sighed at Sirius skeptically. “With a tongue as active as yours, I would hate to tell you any more of my secrets,” she settled for saying. She had only been repeating what her voice had just told her, but Sirius looked offended anyway. He didn’t retaliate, however, because his attention had already turned to the arriving couple.

          Lily and James ambled up to the table, considerably late for dinner. Lily took a seat next to Rosie, and James the one on the other side of Lily. Both were rosy-cheeked with wind-blown hair, like they had just been outside. Both were smiling.

          This time, even Peter put two and two together. Happy glances were exchanged across the table to the obliviousness of the two new arrivals.

Sirius had not the patience even to wait until James had eaten his first bite before asking him, “So, where were you today? How could you skip class without telling me?”

          Strangely, Rosie saw James’s eyes glower at his best friend for an instant before they softened again and he grinned. “Took a nap in the common room,” he said casually, which Rosie immediately knew was a lie. She had been going back and forth through the portrait hole all day, up and down the stairs to the dorms a hundred times. Not once had she seen James in the common room. But she kept her mouth shut.

          She listened as James asked, “Well, you all have an exciting Charms class? What’d I miss?”

          Sirius and Peter exchanged a significant look. “Not much,” they replied almost simultaneously.

Rosie couldn’t let this one go. Enough secrets and lies for today, she thought. “Didn’t you say you failed at a spell in Charms today?” she asked Sirius innocently. “You sounded pretty upset. What spell was it?”

Sirius tugged at his necktie uncomfortably, while Peter picked at his food. “Um…Summoning Spells, you know, like Accio,” he muttered.

Rosie glanced over at James and Lily, quietly eating their dinners with small smiles on their faces. When Sirius said, ‘Accio’, James had almost snorted into his apple juice. What did they know that she didn’t?

Lily looked up from her plate to smile sweetly at Sirius. “Well, what did you try to Summon?” she asked kindly. “Maybe we can practice.” She suppressed a giggle. His discomfort was amusing her, and he had no idea that she already knew very well what he had failed to do that afternoon.

Sirius flushed slightly. Glancing at James, who was still serenely stuffing his face, he said, “Oh, nothing…um, a…a sandwich.”

This time, James and Lily both burst out laughing, while Sirius stared at them in confusion. But he didn’t press the matter. Eager to escape the table before he got into deeper trouble, Sirius changed the subject.

“Well, er, I’m already done eating. I think I’ll go, uh, polish my broomstick…” He stood up, arranging his robes and preparing to flee. “Yeah, it has gotten a bit dull lately…”

Rosie sighed. She didn’t know what was going on, but she knew that with the upcoming night, she only needed to concentrate on one thing. “Well, rest up, guys. It’s going to be a hell of a party tonight,” she said sarcastically, without thinking.

The heads of three boys whipped around to stare at her. “…What did you say?” James whispered incredulously.

Sirius narrowed his eyes. He was considering the possibility that Moony had told her, but wasn’t sure. After all, it was Moony’s problem and she was Moony’s girlfriend. But how much did she know about the Animaguses? There were some secrets that weren’t Remus’s to tell, he thought, starting to get angry.

“Um, why is tonight going to be a hell of a party?” he asked cautiously, in case he was jumping to conclusions like he was prone to doing. But his tone didn’t fool Rosie, who had seen the flash of anger in his eyes.

So. She wasn’t allowed to know, though she had no idea why. If Remus himself had told her, how could his friends be mad that she knew? Still…she looked around, and her eyes lighted on Lily, who was watching the scene unfold with interest. Lily didn’t know, she remembered. So she would pretend not to as well.

Rolling her eyes, Rosie plastered an indignant expression on her face and thought fast. Let them deal with the repercussions of whatever she said. After all, she knew nothing…supposedly. She said, “Well, in case you haven’t noticed, Remus is a bit sick today. None of you guys even went up to check on the poor boy! I think it’s the least I can do to keep him company a little tonight.”

Around her, the boys visibly relaxed. James and Sirius’s eyes connected in a relieved look that said, she doesn’t know, thank god.

          But Peter, for once, was the one who had his wits most about him, and realized something. Rosie wanted to come into the dorm tonight, to keep Remus company...but Remus wouldn’t be there. He was going to be out in the woods, savage and unrecognizable.

          Peter opened his mouth to say something. But what would he say?

          “No, don’t come!” he squeaked. Rosie looked at him, surprised. Peter tried to amend his mistake. “Remus…he…needs us. Yeah. We’ll stay with him,” he mumbled, looking meaningfully at James and Sirius, who caught on immediately.

          “You’ve been looking after him all day,” James said kindly. “You should get some rest…you look like you haven’t slept for days.”

          Rosie turned her gaze onto the biggest liar of them all, Mister Sirius Black. “Well?” she asked him, raising her eyebrows. “You think you can play nurse for one night without damaging that well-tended ego of yours?”

          Sirius was surprised. This wasn’t the girl he had thought she was…He rolled his eyes and turned to walk away, headed for the Hall’s exit.

          Rosie grinned. She had taken that one from her voice, too.

          As soon as he was calmly out the double doors, Sirius began to run up the marble stairs, his mind racing. As little as he wanted to admit so to his friends, his failed attempt of the afternoon had meant a lot to him.

          He rarely tried hard enough at school to have such ideas. It had been almost like an independent endeavor, a project, to Summon Prongs. He had felt ingenious for even thinking of it. Of course, the motivation was only to find out where the hell Prongs had been exactly.

          Which was another point of grievance for him, he thought. Wherever Prongs had gone with Lily, he could’ve at least invited Sirius to join in the fun. Sirius could have found another girl to come with them in a second. There had been a time when Padfoot and Prongs could not be separated, whether they were pranking, sleeping, eating, flirting, or (god forbid) studying. Now…Sirius was not so sure.

          The question was really staring him right in the face. Was he going to let the dynamic duo be separated by a mere girl?

          And another thing: the Mind-Sharpening Spell, which Sirius had expected to lighten the load for OWL year, had really only stressed him out more. In retrospect, Sirius thought, he should’ve seen it coming. He had never been one to dwell upon his limited academic achievements, but now the expectation that the spell had given him was making it worse. Juxtaposing it, if he would think about it in such a big word.

          For example, he had expected to master the Summoning Charm easily, as he had heard older students say it was nothing difficult. He had Summoned his object well enough in class, but maybe Summoning a person was different.

          In any case, it was a latent fear inside him, that the botched spell had made him even less intelligent than he had been before. Not that he would ever admit to anyone that he cared about such things.

          His voice, which had been so eager to interrupt his thoughts before, was now unhelpfully silent.

          Before he knew it, he had reached the seventh-floor landing. He wasn’t quite sure what he needed, but he knew what he was looking for.

          At the end of the corridor stretched a blank wall. No tapestry, no painting, nothing. He raced past it once, and thought, “I need a place to study where no one will find me and make fun of me.”

          He raced past it again, and ran the same statement through in his head. It was sounding a little bit more ridiculous now.

          The third time by, Sirius was ready to laugh at himself. He needed a place to study where no one would find him and make fun of him? What had happened to the Sirius that was too cool to care about anything, least of all what others thought of him? Maybe Prongs was right, he thought to himself as a door appeared on the wall. Maybe my voice is giving me bad self-esteem…I’ve sure been getting some weird thoughts lately.

          He yanked the door open, greatly perturbed at the thought. It was exactly these types of strange ideas that he needed to get his mind off of. So for the next hour in the Room of Requirement, he blew off steam by practicing the Summoning Charm. He Accioed everything he could find in the room, until he was surrounded by a cloud of floating objects, his corner filled with knick-knacks and the rest of the room barren.

          Rosie pulled Lily aside as they entered the portrait hole with James and Peter after dinner. Gesturing for the boys to keep going without them, she dragged Lily over to the couch by the fire and looked at her expectantly.

          “So…what did you two actually do this afternoon?” she asked excitedly.

          Lily was surprised, but refused to let her expression betray her. “You heard James, he said he was taking a nap in here. I was writing a letter to my mum in the Owlery.”

          Rosie laughed. “Lils, you did no such thing. You’d never skip class just to send an owl to your mum. And I was in the common room all afternoon,” she added matter-of-factly. “James was never here.”

          Grinning knowingly, she leaned toward Lily and dropped her voice down to a whisper. “Rumor is I heard they found a broken bottle of champagne in the bushes somewhere. Like someone was having a little too much fun hiding away.” She smirked, and shrugged. “It seems like it would be James’s style. But that’s just a rumor, dear.”

          Lily studied her friend intently. She thought of a million things to say to Rosie, who was being meddlesome again, but her voice was clamoring in her head and begging of her not to say them. She settled for, “You’ve really changed, Ro.”

          Rosie shrugged. “I don’t let people manipulate me. Is that such a bad thing?” Her expression was unreadable, but her eyes bore into Lily’s fiercely.

          It was disconcerting. There had been a time when you could’ve read that girl’s face like a book, Lily thought. Averting her eyes uncomfortably, Lily looked around to check for eavesdroppers.

          “What if I told you we had skipped class?” she asked Rosie lightly. “That hypothetically, we went onto the roof with a bottle of champagne…and that I had a hypothetically good time with James Potter?” She tried and failed to keep the excitement from rising in her voice. “Ro, what in the world would you say?!”

          I wouldn’t need to say anything, Rosie thought happily. You’ve said it all. Things were working out perfectly. Now, if she could just get through tonight…

          “Ro? Are you listening? What do you think?” Lily asked again.

          Rosie regarded her with mock skepticism. “Hypothetically?”

          Lily squealed and threw a pillow at her best friend, all strange feelings and secrets forgotten. “No, you ditz, for real! It really happened!”

          Rosie shook her head. “I don’t know why you’re so surprised, Lily. I saw it coming. You guys have chemistry.”

          Lily grinned. “Not like you and Remus do…Me and James are so different, we’d kill each other if we didn’t love each other so much.” The two girls laughed, but secretly Lily thought that it was a pretty good deal.

          “You go ahead upstairs, I’m going to go check on Remus,” Rosie said, leaping up from the couch. “I’m going to need your help on Charms later.”

          Lily smiled. She giggled. She couldn’t help but burst into laughter again. “I…I just hope it’s not Accio, Ro.”

          Shaking her head, Rosie left her hysterically giggling friend and headed up the stairs to the boys’ dormitory. Whatever the inside joke was, Rosie didn’t need to know. It would blow over soon. Besides, Remus was what was important at the moment.

          She opened the boys’ door to pure chaos and flying food.

          “Water?” Pete called from one side of the room, standing next to a big burlap sack.

          “Water!” James answered, and proceeded to toss bottle after bottle of water at Pete, who would put them in the sack. Sometimes his aim was a little off, and the bottles would skid across the floor, bounce off bedposts, or hit bureaus or trunks.

          “Granola bars?” Pete asked James.

          “Ew, granola bars? No!” James exclaimed. “Cookies are way better. We need to keep our energy up, Pete. Besides, who eats granola bars? You’re the only rodent here.” The two boys sniggered.

          “You boys going camping?” Rosie asked from her place on the threshold. Their heads whipped over to her, and James dropped the package of cookies he had been holding.

          “Um,” was all he could think of to say. Instinctively, Pete inched over to hide the giant sack of water and cookies.

          Rosie honestly didn’t know what was going on. How could they be going camping on the night that Remus couldn’t go with them? She decided to play it cool anyway. “So, how many third world countries are you going to feed with the stuff in that bag, Pete?” she asked teasingly.

          Pete gulped. “Er—just three. Three people, I mean.”

          “Well, how are you going to take care of Remus and go camping at the same time?” Rosie did her best not to sound accusing, but she was getting a little angry. These were supposed to be her boyfriend’s best mates, and this was the night he needed them most.

          James looked around desperately for help, but Sirius the master liar was not present. All he had was Pete, with whom he was lucky if he didn’t mess things up further. “We’re not going camping…we’re going to stay up all night with Moony,” he improvised. “Sirius should be here soon. I don’t know where he went to polish up his broomstick, but he’ll remember to come.”

          Rosie decided not to push her luck. If she stayed any longer, James might figure out that she knew about the werewolf thing. “Well, whatever you say,” she said casually. “I guess I’ll see you all tomorrow then. Have fun!” She turned to go. “Good night.”

          I know you all will be looking out of your windows tonight too, she added silently.

          James sighed with relief as Rosie’s footsteps faded away. That had been almost too close. He was now almost positive that she still didn’t know about Moony’s condition, but it was hard work on his part to keep her from finding out.

          Over in his bed, Remus groaned and started to toss and turn. The transformation was about to begin. A glance at the clock told James that it was nearly ten.

          Pete was standing by the window. “It’s windy tonight,” he commented as a cloud swept away, revealing the searing round brightness of the full moon. Remus’s body writhed more violently. “It’s going to be a hard one tonight…the moon seems so close.”

          James rolled his eyes. “It doesn’t matter. Stop worrying. We’ve been through dozens just like it, haven’t we?”

          He sat down on his own bed and heaved his Transfiguration textbook next to him. He had might as well finish some homework while they were waiting for Sirius. Pete remained at the window for some time before coming to join him with his own Transfiguration homework.

          Two chapters and one completed essay later, a particularly violent shudder from Remus made James look up from his homework. He had completely lost track of the time. It was now almost a quarter past eleven.

          “Hey, Pete…where the hell is Padfoot?” he asked of the other boy.

          Peter looked up from his roll of parchment. “Uh, I don’t know, Prongs. He’s never been late before. Reckon we should go look for him?”

          James cast a glance at the wracked body of his werewolf friend. Fur was already starting to sprout everywhere on him, and his limbs didn’t look quite right anymore. “Shit, Pete, we’re late!” he exclaimed, leaping up and dumping his book on the floor. “Grab the sack and help me lift him.”

          Peter did as he was told, with squeaks of panic. “What should we do? What should we do? Is there time to look for Sirius?”

          James yanked his Invisibility Cloak out of his trunk and slung it over himself and Peter. “No time,” he gasped, heaving Remus’s shoulders and torso carefully into the air. Peter carried his legs. They headed down towards the common room. “Maybe he’ll catch up with us outside.”

          Peter stopped walking abruptly. “What’s wrong now?” James asked him, exasperated. He turned his head to look at the other boy.

          “You really think we can do it without him?”

          “We won’t have to,” James said briskly, and continued walking. “He’ll be there.”

A/N: There are tons of reads, but nobody is reviewing! I have a special place in my heart for this story, and it's making me it that nobody likes it? If so, please tell me how to improve it! Feel free to ask any questions you might have. Keep in mind this is all in a day (and a night).

Next chapter: A missing Marauder on the night of the full moon? That’s unheard of…until now. The only problem is, who’s going to come to the rescue now?

Chapter 7: They Couldn't Deny the Attraction
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: Setting: The night of the full moon, right after last chapter. I'd love reviews!!!

         Sirius sighed, surveying the rubble that was the scattered remains of the Room of Requirement. He finally slacked his grip on his wand, rotating his abused wrist to rid it of an annoying cramp.

“Well, at least now you know you’ve got Accio down.”

          The turmoil in his brain eased up a little, but not by much. As he pocketed his wand and yanked the door open, he was swamped with the uncomfortable feeling that he had forgotten something important. The shock of what he saw next, however, totally obliterated it.

          Rachel Bailey, Gryffindor bitch extraordinaire, was leaning casually on the wall opposite the Room of Requirement. She smiled shyly as Sirius swung open the door, his mouth gaping unattractively.

          “I was wondering when the Room would be free again,” she commented quietly. “I’ve been waiting for ages.” She tried a timid half-smile.

          Sirius frowned, confused for too many reasons to give voice to. Rachel was not timid. She was not shy. For all Sirius knew, Rachel never went anywhere without her pack of friends. “And how did you know about the Room?” he blurted aloud on accident.

          Rachel’s grin widened. “What kind of Gryffindor do you take me for, Sirius? I’ve done a little exploring,” she said, and winked. Sirius found that he was smiling as well.

          Whoa mate, easy. This is Lily’s arch-nemesis, he reminded himself. And Lily’s your best mate’s new girlfriend. Which makes Rachel your new girlfriend’s best mate’s arch-nemesis…or something like that, he told himself. You would do well to walk away…now.

          Rachel steadied herself against the wall and walked slowly toward Sirius, whose nerves were screaming silently. She didn’t stop until they were standing almost nose to nose. Sirius felt his body tense up involuntarily and stared at the girl, trying to curb his enthusiasm.

          She stared right back, and cleared her throat pointedly. “Um…excuse me,” she said, looking over his shoulder into the Room.

          Sirius’s cheeks burned with humiliating realization. “Oops—um, sorry…go ahead,” he stammered, moving aside to let her pass and slamming a shoulder into the doorframe in the process. Blinking back tears of pain, he turned around and tried to skirt over the awkward patch. “So…what do you use the Room for?”

          Rachel raised an eyebrow and watched with amusement as Sirius hungrily observed the previously destroyed Room rearrange itself. A comfortable-looking couch and a television appeared, complete with pillow, blanket, and snack fridge.

          “Not much, as you can see,” Rachel sighed. “Just to relax, and think, you know? There’s too much going on, and sometimes I need a break.”

          “I…I know what you mean,” Sirius murmured honestly, considering Rachel with a little more understanding. He glanced at the television. “Muggle relaxation contraptions?” he asked.

          Rachel laughed. “You know it.” Absently she twirled a piece of hair around her finger as she contemplated him. “You know…would you like to hang out here for a while? You look like you’ve got a lot on your mind.”

          “I do…” Sirius hovered uncertainly between leaping onto the couch (which did look very inviting) and running away as fast as he could, before he wandered into more dangerous territory. He knew himself. And Rachel was not really a bad-looking girl…despite that she was his girlfriend’s new best mate’s arch-nemesis. Or whatever.

          Sensing his hesitation, she suddenly took it upon herself to grab his hand and lead him into the Room again. “Come on, a little TV never hurt anyone.”

          “Alright, alright,” Sirius said, shaking off another wave of uneasiness. Goddamn hormones, he cursed. Who knew paranoia was so horrible?

          Rachel concealed a gleeful grin. It was the hormones, and she knew it too. But unlike Sirius, she praised and embraced them. They make things so easy, she decided. And Sirius…well, he’s the easiest of them all.

          “We can talk, if you want,” she suggested sweetly as they settled onto the couch.

          Sirius shrugged. She may be the arch-nemesis of his new best mate’s girlfriend or whatever, but at least she seemed like she was someone who would actually listen to him. He couldn’t deny the attraction there.

          But since when has a talk with Sirius Black ever stayed, well, a talk?

          A few hours later, James turned and kicked a tree with both front hooves. Peter the rat squeaked in understanding of their code sign, and began to inflict sharp, painful bites onto the feet of the werewolf crouching between them. As the wolf looked down to see what the source of his pain was, James did his best to fade into the shadows. He was a stag, for god’s sake.

          The werewolf, who was not all too bright despite the intelligence of his human counterpart, finally noticed Peter. It bent down double in an effort to snap its jaws around the small rat, but Peter only darted easily away.

          He ran a few feet toward the edge of the clearing where the Shrieking Shack was situated, followed closely by the wolf. The rat squeaked tauntingly, jumping up and down. It took no more provocation, Peter knew, and suddenly the rat plunged into the bushes, into the forest, away from James. The wolf followed, less gracefully, crashing and ripping its way through the undergrowth. The chase was on.

          At long last, the sounds of the pursuit had faded far away, and James began to change back. Staggering with exhaustion, he collapsed at the door of the Shrieking Shack, next to his burlap sack.

“What would you do without the cookies?” his voice commented.

          James was too tired to be annoyed with it. Instead, he dug in, famished and thirsty.

          James hoped fervently that it would be some time before Moony returned to this part of the woods. All night he had been following the wolf, and had only been detected about an hour ago. But during that hour he had fought desperately against him, alone. Prongs the stag had only sustained minor injuries, amazingly. But James didn’t think he could do this for much longer…

          Rosie had waited for every girl in the dorm to go to bed and fall deeply asleep before she dared to tiptoe to the window and open it.

          It was almost 3 a.m. Lily was sleeping as contently as a baby, but Emma had still been getting over the excitement of the day and had only settled down at half past midnight. Rachel’s empty bed had made Rosie uneasy, but the missing girl had finally snuck in around 2 o’clock, and without noticing that Rosie was still awake, promptly collapsed with a sigh on her bed. She had not moved since.

          Don’t look out of your window tonight. The words seemed to travel over a great deal of time to reach her, although it had only been that morning. Well, now she was looking.

          At first nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. The wind gusted through the trees and whipped Rosie’s hair into her eyes. From her vantage point on the fifth floor of Gryffindor tower, she could see everything in the stretch between the castle and the edge of the Forbidden Forest, and it was all calm. But then, from deep in the forest, the sound reaching her only because it carried on the wind…came a piercing howl.

          Rosie shivered, and bit back the sobs fighting their way out of her.

“You can’t break down so easily!” Her voice offered her no consolation.

          “What if he needs my help?” Rosie whispered to herself. “What’s happening to him?”

          Though not much but an occasional faint howl disturbed the peaceful night, Rosie continued to gaze out of the open window, sitting on the floor with her arms propped on the sill. She did not even stop to wonder why Rachel had come in so late.

          Remus was closer than she thought.

          After allowing sufficient time for Pete and Moony to make a messy round through the forest, James groaned and stood up again. Looking up at the sky and hoping to see dawn, he only saw navy velvet sky and stars that winked contemptuously in the face of his predicament.

          His predicament. Where in the world was Sirius? James reached inside of himself for the worst word he could think of to use on him, something that would be appropriate for the situation. He drew a blank.

          The crashing sounds, which had started out faint, were getting louder. James sighed. Peter must be getting tired as well by now. After all, he had just led the werewolf on a wild-goose chase that must’ve lasted for miles. It had to be about 3 a.m.

          He shoved his anger into the back of his mind and began to transform again. After all, he could be angry at Sirius later (and believe him, he would be). But now he needed to take care of the problem at hand. As James felt his fingers meld into hooves and strange branches sprout from his head, right on cue a rat burst from a bunch of scraggly bushes to his left and practically collided with the stag. Pete collapsed, panting as hard as a scraggly rat could, at James’s hooves.

          Moony was not far behind. James knew he couldn’t hope to goad the wolf back into the Shrieking Shack again, and even if he could, one stag and one rat could not guard the door and windows.

          Instead, he let the wolf get his scent before scampering off onto a well-worn trail that led toward Hogsmeade. It was a great risk, he knew. If Moony caught scent of humans, there was no telling what disaster could result. But he had no other choice if he himself wanted to stay alive through the night.

          Prongs snorted angrily. He could hear Moony crashing through the undergrowth behind him in pursuit, and could only assume Pete had now changed back into a boy and was enjoying his cookies. Rest time was over for James, and now, as he came to a fork in the road, he had to make a decision. Left or right?

          Left led to the quiet, sleeping, innocent village of Hogsmeade. There, the witches and wizards could not hope to be protected against a werewolf if they were sleeping, unwary and unarmed.

          Right led back to the grounds between the castle of Hogwarts and the Groundskeepers’ Shack. The scent of humans tainted everything there, but was spread mostly evenly about by the flocks of students that crossed the grounds every day. James could only hope that Moony would not be able to pick up a trail in that mess of scent, and that he would not guess that its source was at the castle.

          The stag veered right and picked up speed to a canter. The trail was getting wider now, clearer, as it was used often by Care of Magical Creatures classes to greet some of the magical creatures in the forest.

          The wolf skidded past the fork in the path, heading down the right one without hesitation. James could imagine his vile, slobbering breath on his hindquarters as they burst out of the forest. Now out in the open, the wolf howled a piercing challenge at the stag.

          Oh, Merlin, if anyone at Hogwarts was awake, they would have heard that, James thought fleetingly. But instead of heading away from Hogwarts and towards the lake, James led the wolf at a trot nearer to the castle, towards Gryffindor tower, in the vain hope that Moony would make enough noise to rouse Sirius. It was a stupid idea, but it was the best that he had at the moment. After all, the most important thing was still staying alive for two more hours.

          Rosie did indeed hear Moony’s challenge. Her head shot up from where it had been resting on her knees, and she peered out of the window with bleary eyes. That howl had sounded way too close to the castle.

          Five stories below her, she could make out two gray shapes racing across the grounds, one slightly large and lumpy with two sticks protruding from its front, and the other unmistakably her Remus. The wolf loped forward with casual agility and grace, which made Rosie’s breath catch in her throat. They were so close. But who was the other?

          Rosie pushed the window up further and stuck her head out into the night. The air was brisk, if not too cold to be uncomfortable. She drew her fluffy robe tighter around herself.

          Her eyes strained as she tried to make out details of the two figures approaching the tower in the night. She was beginning to get nervous; did Remus know she was watching, when he had specifically told her not to? Would he get mad? Was he coming to prove his point? Rosie’s knuckles grew white as she clutched onto the window sill for dear life.

          James skidded to a halt almost directly underneath Gryffindor tower, and turned to face the wolf. Both animals were breathing hard, but the wolf had had no time to rest between the rat chase through the woods and now.

          Rosie gasped as she finally realized what the other figure was. A majestic stag, larger than she had known possible for such an animal, was facing Remus down underneath her window. He had antlers as long as broomsticks with lethal-looking prongs extending from each…

          Prongs. But Rosie did not make the connection. There was just too much going on.

          James backed up, gasping. He could not get himself cornered against the wall of the castle, or he would be done for. He glanced up at the various levels of windows on the tower, looking and hoping to see Sirius. But even the slightest deviation of attention from the wolf was dangerous, and that glance was all it took for Moony to catch his breath and prepare to pounce.

          Rosie saw the stag raise its great head and look up. It could have even been looking at her. She shivered at the thought.

          The stag backed up farther and farther away from the wolf. But Remus closed the gap easily again and again, until finally the stag was nearly cornered against the wall. And even then he did not yield. Rosie watched in horror as Remus leaned back onto his hind legs and prepared to pounce.

          The wolf’s low, menacing growl drifted up through the air, and Rosie realized her mistake. She had overlooked the stag as merely another animal, but Remus was not his friend. Remus was on the offensive; he was the attacker, the instigator. In the next few seconds, he would rip the stag to shreds.

          Yanking her head from the window, she flung herself blindly across the room toward her bed. It took all of her willpower not to scream.

          Her Remus was not a murderer, she knew. She had to keep him from becoming one.

          Breathing heavily, she scrabbled for her wand, found it in the pocket of her discarded robes, and ran back to the window. Outside, Remus was having fun with the desperately dodging stag.

          “No, Remus,” she whispered quietly, defeated. “You’re not like that.”

“You have to do something!” her voice cried urgently.

          But Remus was already in the air, leaping towards the cornered stag, his claws unsheathed and gleaming by the light of the full moon. “No!” Rosie cried in a sudden burst of defiance and rage, “you can’t! Protego!”

          James felt the power of the spell before he saw the silvery shield drop down through the air. Moony was knocked to the ground mid-pounce, and his claws scrabbled and scraped at the shield. James had been inches from death. Had it really been Sirius who had saved him? The voice that had squealed “Protego!” had been a little too effeminate.

          With Moony safely out of the way, James raised his head to look up at the tower once more. A pale, frightened-looking girl hung out of the fifth-floor window, clutching a bathrobe around her and brandishing her wand uncertainly. Not Sirius. But not Lily, either.

          Who was his savior then? He didn’t recognize her at first, although she was in his year, in the fifth-year dormitory. But when the wind picked up again, blowing her long blonde strands across her face, James knew.

          She was Moony’s girl. Rosie. She had been woken by the howling.

          And if she hadn’t known before, then she certainly knew now.

          James swallowed nervously. Moony, the moon, the wolf, Remus. Prongs, the antlers, the stag, James. No girl of Remus’s could ever be dense enough to overlook it.

          Rosie shivered as the intelligent eyes of the stag connected with hers. This was no ordinary animal, to know he had been saved and identify his savior with such gratefulness…or perhaps she was only imagining it.

          But without her there to keep the spell going, the shield would disappear in a few minutes. As it was, Remus was leaping about, exploring the boundaries of the shield and trying to find a way past. Soon, he would probably discover that if he went into the woods a little ways and circled back, he could get behind the shield. She would have to stay up all night, renewing the spells and casting new ones.

          Rosie smiled wryly. Even as a werewolf, her Remus could not be stupid.

          Midnight had already struck and passed, but there was no clock in the Room of Requirement.

          “I just…I just feel like nobody understands me,” Rachel sighed as Sirius nodded sympathetically. The TV was still on and droned monotonously in the background, but all of Rachel’s attention was fixed on Sirius. “If only everyone didn’t believe everything they hear about me,” she said mournfully, casting her eyes down.

          “Me, too,” Sirius agreed in all honesty. He had begun to regard Rachel with a new kind of understanding. “The things people say about me are so far from the truth sometimes. You know, you’re not at all like I heard.”

          “You are,” Rachel laughed softly. She reached a hand out to squeeze his knee. “Exactly like I heard. Kind and understanding, respectful, willing to listen…a gentleman.”

          She sighed sadly, but inside she could’ve squealed with joy. This was working out quite well for a plan she had only made up on the spot as she caught none other than Sirius Black, Lily Evans’s boyfriend’s best mate, coming out of the Room of Requirement with a heartbreakingly mournful expression on his face.

          She could fix that expression. She could make him smile tonight. And after they were through, she could make sure that bitch Lily Evans, who thought she ruled and commanded the world, would cry.

          And Sirius had no sense of commitment himself, she knew. It was perfect. It couldn’t fail.

          Sirius fought the urge to laugh. This was like a scene out of a bad romance novel (not that he had ever read one, per se). Who would’ve thought that he and his best mate’s new girlfriend’s arch-nemesis would be so uncannily alike and misunderstood? And her eyes sparkled wickedly, like she had a secret to tell him.

          She did have a secret. “A gentleman…you haven’t tried anything this whole time,” Rachel continued softly. “Somehow I expected…more of you.”

          Sirius was surprised. Apparently he couldn’t run away from his reputation. “You mean you want me to try something?”

          “I don’t know,” Rachel mumbled as shyly as she could muster. “Do you want to?”

          “Yeah, maybe,” Sirius muttered, his brain less a thing of intellect and more a pile of mush at the moment. He knew about Lily’s issues with Rachel. Hell, he had had to deal with a weeping female in his dorm all night because of it. But did it really matter? Was it really wrong? After all, Rachel had just proven that he really couldn’t believe everything he heard…

          Rachel was done waiting. They had said he wasn’t a hesitator; that he couldn’t wait; that he had no patience. They had all said he pushed them, and hurried through like it was a race, or maybe like he had another appointment to get to. So what was wrong with him tonight? What more did he want? She was done waiting. It was time to get down to business.

          She slipped a hand behind his head and without warning, touched her lips to his. Beginning with soft, tentative pecks, Rachel stroked his hair down to his neck, and slowly Sirius began to respond. She was met with no resistance as they began to move through the motions of the kiss and fell into a rhythm: two pairs of lips apart, two tongues twisting and twining, two bodies moving together as one.

          There was no resistance, but there was no spark, either. However, if he was as she had heard, he wouldn’t be able to keep it cold for long.

          “Hmm…Rachel, I don’t think we should,” Sirius mumbled, but it was so non-committal it meant nothing. He made no effort to stop her as she bore down on him, deepening the kiss until he had sunk into the couch and she was kneeling around him.

          She could feel his warm hands on her waist, shifting southward with every smooth movement of her own body against his, back and forth until they slid down to her bum and stayed there. Her own hand trailed down his chest, and back up slowly. Her stomach fluttered with a tickling feeling.

          She hummed in happiness. This might have been strictly a business matter, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy it.

          “You are exactly as I have heard,” she said again, smiling against his lips. Of course, the poor boy probably thought she meant he was a good kisser. Although that, he was, too.

          Sirius felt warm and comfortable, lying there, but decided Rachel needed to hear the truth. “Yeah, well, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t heard some pretty nasty things about you,” he muttered quietly, sucking on her bottom lip.

          He tucked his head underneath hers to reach her neck, but Rachel pulled away to smile down at him. It was time; he had even brought it up himself. “Oh, you’re such a sweetie,” she said, her lips hovering over his, “but don’t worry about it. Haven’t you learned by now that you can’t trust Lily Evans when it comes to these things? She’s such a jealous girl that barely a drop of truth ever passes her lips.”

          She dropped a short kiss on his nose and leaned down to whisper in his ear. “Just because your mate fancies her, Sirius, it doesn’t mean she’s what he says she is…she’s smart, so she manipulates people.” She laughed a little and returned to his lips.

          This set all the alarms in Sirius’s mind ringing. His voice, long absent from his mind, began to scold his stupidity. Lily Evans may have been a terrifying girl with a short fuse and anger problems, but one thing he knew for sure she was not, was a jealous girl who lied and manipulated people.

          That was Rachel’s true opinion of Lily. And Sirius thought without a doubt that, given a choice between Rachel’s or Lily’s friendship, Lily would still prevail in his eyes.

          After all, what in the world would Prongs say if his best mate had ditched his girl for her arch-nemesis?

          It ran even deeper than that, actually. If the rumors of this morning were true, Prongs now had his own new arch-nemesis: Rachel’s sixth-year Ravenclaw brother, Harvard Bailey. Would supporting Rachel seem like supporting Harvard to Prongs?

          No, Sirius decided straight away. Rachel was her own person, unconnected to anyone, as was Sirius. If they wanted to be friendly in the Room of Requirement, nothing was wrong with that to either of them.

          And anyway, another spin could be put on the situation in favor of Lily and Prongs: as seen by a Gryffindor, Sirius getting Rachel so easy could only prove them right about her. Prongs could rub it in Harvard’s face. So it worked either way, and Sirius could use it any time he was in trouble. Sirius was definitely getting the better end of the deal.

          Rachel could feel him grinning as they got back into the kiss. She couldn’t deny the attraction: he really was a handsome bloke, if a little slow. Even later, when all they did was lie next to each other and watch the telly, his face was a picture of satisfaction.

          She had done her job. She had gotten what she wanted. The telly droned on and she watched as Sirius’s eyes drooped with drowsiness. When he was finally asleep, she snuck quietly out of the Room and shut the door behind her. It was nearly 2 o’clock.

          He would sleep through the night on that couch, while not too far away, on the moon-lit grounds of Hogwarts, a mad wolf howled.

A/N: Well, there's some action for you =] Yeesh, three and a half chappies in one plot day…Although each character’s not doing much, together their actions make sagas. 

I'd love to hear what you liked/didn't like about this story so far. Please leave me a little comment and tell me how I'm doing! =]

Next chapter: Whenever there’s a big night, there’s always the morning after. It’s a rule of life. And our boys just can't shake the feeling that they're not in the clear yet.

Chapter 8: They Couldn't Shake the Feeling
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: Setting: the morning after. *cue ominous music* I know this is what you've all been waiting for, so I won't bore you with my blabbering. Read on!

James’s eyes popped open of their own accord, and he sat bolt upright in his bed. A glance at the sleeping bodies in the beds around his told him that it was not nearly a reasonable time to be awake yet. But from behind the canopy of one of the beds on the far wall, a pair of open eyes stared back at him. James squinted to see who it was, before gaining his wits and reaching for his glasses instead.

Remus Lupin sat stiffly within the shadows of his bed, looking exhausted and utterly miserable. His knees were drawn to his chest, and his arms wrapped around them. It looked like he hadn’t moved from that position for ages.

There were dark circles under his eyes. Before he could stop himself, James blurted, “Moony, did you even go to sleep?”

Remus turned his tired gaze in James’s general direction, but couldn’t bring himself to meet his eyes. Instead he stared at the trunk at the foot of his friend’s bed.

His voice was creaky and haunted. “I could’ve really hurt someone last night,” he murmured so quietly James almost didn’t hear him. He shuddered slowly, like he was cold.

James blinked. “Moony, what are you talking about? It’s like that every time, isn’t it? Last night was just another one.”

James wasn’t quite awake enough yet to remember what had happened last night. It wasn’t registering in his mind because, after all, he had stumbled into bed at dawn too tired to think about anything. He looked over at the clock. It was now seven-thirty. He had gotten less than three hours of sleep, and Remus had gotten none.

“It was almost real bad, wasn’t it?” Remus whispered again listlessly.

Now James remembered. “Almost, but it was a pretty damn close one, Moony.” James sounded murderous. “A certain git decided not to show up for duty last night, and it was me all alone against you. Well, me and a rat.” He laughed but the sound was empty.

James strained his neck to peer over at the empty bed that normally would have held Sirius. “He didn’t come back all night?” he asked.

Remus shook his head sadly. “Last night—”

“Moony, I told you, it’s not your fault. And besides, we should be glad nothing really happened, right? Although we would’ve been toast if Rosie—”

James broke off, trying to process the thought in his brain, which was still sluggish from lack of sleep. “Wait!” he cried when he finally got his thoughts straight. “But that means—this means—she knows now…”

Remus regarded him strangely. “She already knew before,” he said slowly. “I told her.”

“She knows…she knew?!” James whispered incredulously.

Remus frowned at him. “Why couldn’t I tell her? It’s about me.”

Moony, you told her! About us! It wasn’t your right!

Remus opened his mouth to explain, but at that moment the door opened with a creak, and James’s head whipped toward the source of the noise. Taking advantage of the fact that his roommates were supposedly still sleeping, the silhouette of Sirius Black crept furtively into the dormitory. He tiptoed in, eager to sneak into bed lest anyone figure out he had been gone for the night (although this was a highly delusional hope and only survived because Sirius had forgotten for the moment that last night had been the night of the full moon). Unfortunately, he was met with two angry boys who were very much awake. He squirmed under the scrutiny.

“You!” James rasped, grabbing his wand and pointing it furiously toward his best mate. “You—where…what the bloody hell—where were you last night?” he spluttered.

Sirius looked confused. “Calm down, mate. Don’t worry, I didn’t shag anyone…although what I did do is almost as good.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, eyes twinkling with excitement. “Just wait till you hear this, Prongs.”

“I don’t wanna hear anything from you, Pad!” James growled. “The nerve of you, out shagging people, while we were supposed to be—”

He jabbed his wand in the near direction of Remus, who had shrunken farther into the shadows like he felt he had been to blame for James’s wrath.

“What?” Sirius cocked his head, walking toward the bed James was pointing at. “I was in the Room of Requirement, Prongs. I didn’t hear anything about something we were supposed to…”

His eyes widened as Remus came into view. “Oh, shit…” he whispered. “Oh, shit! Oh, shit!” he yelped, slapping his forehead repeatedly and collapsing to the floor. The color drained from his face as he peeked up at James, who was showing no sign of relenting.

“Yeah, Pad,” James spat, “shit is right. What kind of shitty position did you put me in? I couldn’t leave Moony just because you didn’t feel like showing up, but did you honestly think I could take him by myself? He’s a bloody werewolf! Me and Pete could’ve died last night—”

At this, Remus twitched so violently that he almost fell off of the bed. James shot him a concerned look before amending, “Well, maybe not, but it was bad. What kind of shitty friend are you, Sirius? To me and to Moony?”

The accused party shrugged uncomfortably. Sirius was no good at apologies, even if they were sincere. “I have something to tell you that might make you feel better,” he offered cautiously.

“Not the best of things to say, hot shot,” his voice muttered.

James’s eyes narrowed. “Feel better?” he asked incredulously. “What could you tell me that could possibly make me feel any better? I feel great, Pad! I’ve had two hours of sleep, I fought off a werewolf by myself last night, and I feel wonderful!” he growled. “There’s also the insignificant fact that I might just now owe my life to Rosie—”

For a second time, he broke off. Sirius looked at him, confused. James felt confused as well, until for a second time the thought sunk in. James whipped his head around to face Remus again. “You told her?”

Remus cringed. “Prongs—”

“You told her!”

“You told her?” James and Remus both looked to Sirius, who immediately snapped his mouth shut. Apparently he was in enough trouble.

“Yes, I told her,” Remus began. James furiously started to interrupt again, but Remus pressed on, “but only about me. Not you guys. And if you want to keep your secret you’d better not go chasing after her today, thanking her for saving your life,” he said quietly.

James flushed. “I wouldn’t think of doing such a thing,” he said loftily.

Sirius grinned, but it immediately disappeared as James turned a frosty glare back to him. “Now that we’ve got that all sorted out…Pray tell, dear Pad, what kind of bullshit story you have for us today?” he asked Sirius sarcastically. “What hath prevented thy presence until now?”

Tentatively the grin returned. Sirius bowed low with a flourish. “My lord, I thought you’d never ask.” He straightened up and walked uninvited over to James’s bed, sitting down with a thump. “You see, yesterday as I was heading out of the Room of Requirement—”

“What were you doing in there in the first place?” James asked coldly.

Sirius blushed. “I…I wanted a smoke,” he lied casually. “Anyway,” he continued before James could interrupt again, “when I came out, guess who was waiting outside but Rachel Bailey.”

“Rachel Bailey?” James exclaimed in surprise. “Gryffindor Rachel—”

“Rachel Bailey?” Remus, who had dozed off partially, piped up.

Sirius nodded smugly. “Yes, it was she. So, like the gentleman I am, I invited her in—”

“Figures,” Remus grumbled, while James began to look angrier than ever, so angry he couldn’t speak.

Sirius pressed on to no avail. “And we got to talking and I realized—”

“You’re digging your own grave now, hot shot.” It was his voice’s new favorite nickname for him.

Remus snorted. As miserable as he felt, he had to admit that this was funny. Almost as funny as the shade of purple James’s face was turning. “So you snogged Rachel Bailey,” James forced out in a growl. “And this is supposed to make me happy why?!” he practically shouted.

“Shh!” Sirius hissed as a nearby boy rolled over in his sleep. “Just let me finish! Prongs, you know how brothers are about their sisters. And Rachel’s brother—”

Once again, Sirius was interrupted. But instead of yelling at his mates to stop interrupting, he smiled. James was finally getting it.

“That little bastard,” James grumbled, more to himself than to the others. “I could’ve finished him off, calling my Flower a whore, his sister is the real whore—”

“Exactly!” Sirius exclaimed, unable to contain his own excitement. “When he finds out his sister will get with just any old dog…”

James realized it, laughing. He couldn’t help himself. He wasn’t done being mad at Sirius, but this was just too great. Sirius had triumphed over the Ravenclaws once and for all. “Any old dog and a Gryffindor at that—”

“Not just any Gryffindor, but a Marauder—” Remus said proudly.

And James Potter’s best mate!” Sirius finished it off.

“Well, aren’t you a genius,” his voice said supportively.

But James sobered up almost immediately. “Whoa, Pad, I don’t know about that yet. I’m still hurting from last night. And…” he trailed off, realizing something.

“You’d better hope Lily doesn’t find out about this, darling,” his voice chimed.

Shaking his head, James dropped back down onto his pillow. “You’d better hope Lily doesn’t find out about this, Pad. I think we’ve finally hit the big time.”

Sirius got up and moved onto his own bed. “She won’t,” he said easily. “If she does, you won’t have to be the one to explain it to her.”

“Fat chance,” the voice muttered in James’s ear.

“Ro…Ro, wake up!” Lily practically shrieked in Rosie’s ear. Rosie mumbled something and rolled over so she faced away from Lily. It was past eight o’clock, the normal time to wake up on a weekday, as classes started at nine. But last night, Rosie had been up until dawn, giving her a total of three or so hours of sleep, although Lily didn’t know as much.

“Rosaline!” Lily hissed, grabbing Rosie’s shoulder and shaking it violently. It didn’t help that her hands were trembling already. To Rosie’s half-asleep, semi-functioning mind, she sounded on the brink of tears. Her voice clamored for her to get up despite all her efforts to shut it out.

“What? What?” She pried open her eyes and blinked rapidly, glancing around the room. It was empty of girls, except for the sad heap collapsed on the foot of her bed that was Lily. “Lils! What’s the matter?”

Lily’s eyes were glistening but she bit her lip. “It’s stupid to cry over it,” she mumbled, ashamed. “It’s just Rachel again.”

“That bitch. Why can’t she mind her own business and stay out of yours?” Rosie rolled her eyes. She had gotten up for this?

“This time, it is my business.” Lily sighed mournfully, but her tone was murderous. “I guess Sirius just couldn’t keep his hands out of her pants.”

Rosie gasped and leaped out of her bed. “Sirius?” Shivering in her thin camisole and shorts, she slid across the covers to envelop Lily in a hug. “Oh, Lils, I’m sure he didn’t mean it! He was drunk, or he was high, or he was asleep…or it never happened at all!”

Lily shook her head. “This is Sirius we’re talking about. I believe it.” She sniffed. “And James…he didn’t stop him.”

“He might not have known—”

“Oh, please, stop bullshitting, Ro. They’re best mates, remember? They tell each other everything…especially things like these,” she muttered, disgusted. “Sirius probably knows about everything we’ve—” She broke off, horrified at the thought.

Rosie was too worried about her to smile at this. “Lily, I don’t think you’re being fair to him,” she said seriously.

“Just give him a chance to explain!” Lily’s voice protested.

“Oh, but I think I’m being very fair,” Lily said. She wobbled between bursting into tears and screaming with anger.

“Lily…” Rosie sneezed.

“For god’s sake, put some clothes on!” Lily scolded. “This conversation is done! My relationship is done!” She leapt up from the bed. “Hurry or else you won’t get any breakfast—”

She squealed, flailing her arms as she slipped on something, lost her balance, and fell to the floor. “What the hell?” she exclaimed, picking a long round wooden object off of the ground. “Ro, what were you doing with your wand in the middle of the night?”

Rosie gulped. “Nothing, it must’ve fallen,” she said offhandedly. She couldn’t deal with this right now.

“One thing at a time, honey, or you’ll just end up driving yourself crazy.”

“I’m already crazy,” she muttered. But in a way, her voice was right. Last night was done, over with. She could ask Remus about the strange stag later…or not at all. If she could just let it all go, maybe they’d never have to talk about it again, ever. Or at least until the next full moon.

And for now… “Hey Lils?” she asked cautiously.

“Yeah?” Lily was already halfway to the door.

“You go ahead. I need to take a shower, and besides, I’m not hungry.”

Lily’s eyes narrowed. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with avoiding a certain potentially heartbreaking scene of hurt and anger, would it?”

“No, Lily,” Rosie sighed. She couldn’t help but add, “I still think you should give him a chance, though,” before scurrying into the bathroom and shutting the door.

A/N: I've crammed as many AP courses as I have room for this year, so I'm suffering in school (do they have APs in places other than the USA?). I'm working hard to get these chapters up, and I'd love some feedback, no matter good or bad. What do you think of the story so far? Thanks in advance for helping me out! =]

Coming next chapter: The shit finally hits the fan, and nobody is more dismayed than our boys. Well, maybe a certain Lily Evans. Do our boys know how fast they need to run to outrun a Quidditch broom?

Chapter 9: They Couldn't Outrun the Quidditch Broom
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: I'm so sorry for the slow updates on ALL my stories, but the server crash had me in a fit! I lost SO many great reviews. *sob* But I got this done, so please review!

          Whether it was the frantic suggestions of his voice, the sinking feeling in his gut, or the ominous sound of the usual morning stampede to breakfast, James would never know. All he could register was a sudden urge not to go into the Great Hall, and voila, he found himself standing stupidly at the bottom of the marble staircase.

          “Er—Prongs?” Remus asked slowly. “What are you doing? Let’s go to breakfast.”

          “I’m waiting.”

          “For what?”

          “Her. She’s coming, and I need to talk to her. I need to tell her before anyone else does.”

          “Mate, what if she wasn’t going to find out, and now because of your idiotic plan, we’re all gonna get screwed over?” Sirius said.

          “He makes a good point,” Remus said.

          “Not you, Sirius. Me. I’m the one who’s gonna get screwed over if she finds out.” James tore his gaze from the top landing of the staircase to look Sirius in the eye. “Lily doesn’t particularly care about you, Pad. Sorry. But I can’t afford to mess this up, and you should know that.”

          “Well, I’m going to breakfast,” Remus said. “I’m starving.”

          “You also haven’t slept all night,” James remarked. “You should take the morning off, mate.”

          “I did too sleep! We all slept after Padfoot came in…for like an hour. That’s still sleep. Besides, school isn’t like work. You can’t just ‘take the morning off.’”

          James grinned. “I am. And I’ll make Lily do it too. I’ll talk to her and it’ll all work out.”

          “I’m coming too, you know,” Sirius said. “Even if I am going to get a walloping for it. It’s all in the name of love.” He swooned, collapsing onto James’s shoulder to chuckles from Remus.

          James did not deign even to glance at the jabbering figure leaning against him. He would never admit it, but he would be glad for some support facing Lily right now, even if it was from Padfoot. Besides, he doubted he and Lily would be doing much this morning that required privacy.

          “Well, I’m gonna go eat. Good luck, Prongs.” Remus turned and walked into the Great Hall.

          “Thanks, Moony,” said James as Sirius erupted into another wave of swooning.

          “Ooh, ooh Prongs! Here comes your lady love! Here she comes!

“And you wonder why you don’t have a girlfriend,” Sirius’s voice remarked.

          James’s head shot up. He scanned the stairs for Lily’s red hair, and remarkably, Sirius shut up. James was too grateful to wonder why, and braced himself as Lily approached the bottom of the staircase. There was anger smoldering in her eyes.

          James gulped. “G’morning, Flower,” he said suavely, dropping a kiss on her forehead. “I was waiting for you. Are you hungry?”

          Lily, not quick enough to dodge the first kiss, easily escaped a second one. “Actually, no,” she said scathingly. “I feel incredibly nauseous due to the images of Rachel”—she ignored James’s dismay—“and Sirius”—she jabbed the other boy painfully in the stomach—“that keep sprouting in my mind.”

          “Hey, how’d you find out about that?” Sirius gasped, bent double.

          “Perhaps you don’t snog and tell, Sirius, but she certainly does,” Lily replied frostily. “She also took the liberty of rubbing in my face that you are my boyfriend’s best mate, and in case you have forgotten, she and I aren’t on the friendliest of terms.” She glared at the two boys, shaking her head. “Now, based on that, what am I supposed to think about you two?”

          “Lily, I can explain for him,” James said seriously. “Join us for breakfast?”

          “No!” Lily screamed at his unconcern. “I don’t want to do anything with you! Do you honestly think you did nothing wrong, James?”

          “Yes!” James exclaimed. Lily turned on him, eyes ablaze. Sirius turned away from the two uncomfortably. “I mean…no! I mean, I don’t know what you’re asking, Lily. What did I do wrong?”

          Lily lowered her voice to a contemptuous whisper. “Inconsiderate and stupid. Rude, selfish, clueless, inconsiderate AND STUPID! That must be a new record, even for you, James.”

          “But—but what…?” he stammered.

          Lily stormed down the stairs in a whirl of fury. “How could I have thought you had actually changed for me? You’re still a git, only maybe a little better at hiding it! Maybe you’ve learned a few things here and there about how to please a girl, but underneath that? You’re still James sodding Potter!”

          She dashed across the entrance hall, but not toward the Great Hall. “Lily, where are you going?” James called. “Why not to breakfast?” He hoped perhaps some food would calm her down.

          Lily whirled around. “You know who’s in there?” she hissed. “Do you know who’s in there?! That’s right. And the thought of seeing that bitch’s smug face has banished all my plans of eating in the same room as her!” Stalking over instead to the great double doors leading outside, she flung them open.

          James and Sirius chased after her as she ran down the stairs outside the door. At the foot of the stairs she paused and whirled back around to face the boys, who were only halfway down. They stopped as well, hoping for a sudden change of mood.

          No such luck. “Oh, and another thing,” Lily shouted. “STOP FOLLOWING ME!”

          “But Lily—”

          “But Flower, if you’ll just listen—”

          “I’ve done enough listening to you two to last a lifetime,” Lily informed them coldly. “I don’t care if you never speak to me again.” She began to storm away, across the grounds, but after only a hundred feet she turned around to find that the boys were still pursuing her cautiously, keeping their distance but nonetheless following her.

          “Do you think you can make it better by pretending like you care about me, Potter?” she called behind her, with less anger. It took a lot of energy to be as angry as she had been, and the whole Rachel debacle of this morning had left Lily with little energy to spare.

          “Yes!” James shouted. “I mean…I actually do care about you, Lily! It, it wasn’t my fault! Padfoot—”

          “Hey!” Sirius protested loudly, jogging toward the still fleeing Lily. “Lily, it was all in the name of Gryffindor, I swear to you. It’s not like I actually liked her or anything, I mean I know she’s a bitch…”

          Lily slowed down slightly. “All in the name of Gryffindor?” she turned her head to ask sarcastically. “How would it help Gryffindor House if you snogged a Gryffindor bitch?”

          James raced over, gasping, happy for a chance to finally explain himself to her. “You see, Sirius originally wasn’t trying anything. She was coming on to him—”

          “Prongs, you make it sound like it was my fault she was coming on to me!”

          “Padfoot,” James growled at Sirius, all out of patience, “wasn’t it?”

          “No! It just kind of happened! Anyway, don’t make it sound like such a bad thing. You were all happy about it this morning, weren’t you?”

          “You were happy about it?” Lily cried, throwing her hands up in the air and stalking away again. “I guess that just goes to show what different animals males are, then! When something like this happens, girls think, she was the biggest bitch to me, and my boyfriend’s best mate snogged her!

          “But what do the boys think?” she yelled, whirling around and walking backwards. “Congrats, Padfoot! Another one, mate? You’re on a roll this year!” Her voice escalated shrilly as she mimicked James.

          “No!” said James, running to catch up with her and leaving Sirius behind. “Oh, no, I wasn’t happy because of that. It was only because the whole thing would really get to the Ravenclaws. I really hate Rachel’s brother, you know. He hates me. And he’s gonna be real surprised to hear that his baby sister snogged Sirius, of all people. Sirius, who’s a Gryffindor and a Marauder and my best mate…”

          He realized something. “And I only started hating Rachel’s brother because of you,” he said softly, attempting to hug Lily and failing, closing on thin air as she dodged his arms. “Doesn’t that mean anything?”

          Lily struggled with her brain, trying to understand what he was saying. But she gave up fairly quickly, and instead gave in further to her anger. It was just too much to deal with, that James Potter had wanted her and liked her and changed for her, only to betray her in the worst way possible. All she had comprehended from those last few sentences of his was…

          “You were happy Sirius had that bitch because of a House War?” she whispered incredulously. “A House War is more important than me? What I think of her?” Unwillingly, she let the suppressed tears roll down her cheeks.

          “Oh, Lily…” James was speechless.

          Lily turned away ashamedly and said quietly, “Oh, Lily nothing. You don’t have to explain yourself to me. I already understand you all completely. You’re boys. You’re supposed to do these things.”

          James looked behind him for Sirius, who was approaching them silently. He was surprised to see how far away from the castle they were, how far Lily had stormed and how far they had chased her. They were almost to the Quidditch pitch.

          Lily could feel another rant coming on. This time, her anger was less at James and more at the entire male population and boys like Sirius in particular. Did he really have to snog anyone and anything on two legs? It was disgusting, the way he carried on!

          “Lily…” She turned around to see no one other than the repulsive creature himself, shrugging and looking sheepish.

“He wants to apologize, the poor boy. At least give him a chance, dear.”

          This was the first time her voice had spoken in a while. Perhaps it had sensed her wrath and shied away from it, like everyone else.

           “Oh, you don’t have to apologize to me,” she shouted at Sirius, swiping away random tears angrily. “There’s nothing to apologize for! You’re supposed to do these things! You’re supposed to want to shag every girl you see! You’re supposed to do it to anybody you can find who’s willing! I can’t stand it anymore…when are we ever going to get any respect? Don’t you think we deserve some?”

          Lily’s cheeks were flaming and her eyes spilling over once again. “I—I—”

          She didn’t know what she was crying for. She didn’t even know what she was angry at. There was too much overflow of emotions left over from her shame for being defeated by Rachel, her anger at Sirius and James, her anguish at being of lower priority to James than a House War, and her frustration with the way boys were in general. She didn’t know where to turn for an escape.

          If she had been practical Lily, rational Lily, logical, mature, and level-headed Lily, she would have taken a deep breath and walked back into the castle for morning classes.

          As it was, she began to walk again, with no great idea of where she was going. Looking around, all she saw was the damn Quidditch pitch.

          “Lily—” Sirius tried once more.

          “I said stop following me! Don’t you get it? I need to get away from all this…this snogging, this—and materialistic, shallow boys like you! I need to go somewhere away!” she screamed crazily, jumping up and down, feeling squashed, oppressed, and trapped. She was going to have to do something really drastic if she wanted to get the point through to these extremely thick-headed boys.

          “I—I…” She whipped her head around for an escape and her crazed gaze landed on a small building ten yards away. She drew her wand. “I know how to do the Summoning Charm, too, James!” she blurted. “Accio Broomstick!”

          The door to the nearby Quidditch storage shed slammed open with a bang, causing both James and Sirius to jump. “Wait!” James shouted as Lily hiked her robes up and threw a leg over the broom that had shot from the shed like a bullet. “You can’t ride a broom! You don’t know how!”

          “I can do whatever I bloody want,” Lily snarled. “Watch me.”

          She braced herself, grabbing tightly onto the handle of her broom. Then she kicked off of the ground, and was off.

          “Lily! Come back!” James bellowed.

          “You’re going to hurt yourself!” Sirius roared.

          The boys raced around the edge of the pitch, yelling and shouting at her, trying to keep Lily’s broomstick in sight as she bobbed uncertainly away. Never once did she look back.

          “Lily, I’m sorry!” Sirius yelled.

          “I’m sorry too! Stop!” James roared desperately, still running after her, although the gap between them grew larger and larger. She was headed toward the edge of the Forbidden Forest.

          She had never ridden before…her broom teetered and tottered dangerously on the wind, but no matter how loud the boys shouted they couldn’t outrun the Quidditch broom. Finally, robes tangled and out of breath, they collapsed in a heap halfway to the edge of the forest. The girl and the broomstick were gone.

A/N: So there you go. I hope you all liked it! After losing so many reviews, I've really come to appreciate every single one doubly, so I'd love some feedback. =]

Next chapter: Our two guilty boys get into a little argument, sending the innocent parties running for shelter. Meanwhile, how has the full moon affected a certain werewolf and his girlfriend?

Chapter 10: They Couldn't Believe Their Eyes
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: Setting: The morning after, at a more reasonable hour. The characters that had taken somewhat of a backseat in the last chapter return!

          In the boys’ dorm, Peter woke up, exhausted from the long night, at exactly 8:42. He was starving, as innocently carefree boys usually are (and by now he was the only one of our poor group of boys who was still innocent and carefree). Leaping out of his bed and racing downstairs without even bothering to change out of his pajamas, Pete had already practically forgotten to be mad at Sirius for his absence the night before and the difficulties it had caused for them. Frankly, Peter just did not want to miss breakfast. His head pounded from lack of sleep, as if he had the hangover of the century. He needed some coffee badly.

          Rosie was the only one Peter saw still at breakfast in the Great Hall. Remus was sitting quietly at the end of the Gryffindor table opposite from where the Marauders usually sat, noticed by neither Rosie nor Peter as he came in. He had only sat there to be hidden by the hoards of bustling first-years because he could not bear to be seen by Rosie after her involvement last night. But as it turned out, he had nothing to fear: he was so tired that he was now dozing serenely into a plate of scrambled eggs.

          Rosie looked up from the Daily Prophet as Peter sat down across from her. “Oh, hey,” she said. She had been hoping to see Remus with him, of course. But no such luck. “Where’s Remus?”

          “No idea, I just woke up,” Pete grumbled. “I feel like my head could explode right about now, though.”

          He grabbed the coffee pot from in front of some third-years and poured a generous amount into his mug, accidentally sloshing some into his empty cereal bowl. Rosie giggled as he looked at it in dismay before muttering, “Oh, what the hell,” and pouring himself a whole bowlful. He gulped that down as well as the coffee in his mug.

          Rosie chuckled. “Late night?” she asked casually, remembering the lie about staying up to take care of Remus.

          “Yeah,” Pete coughed, almost choking up his coffee. “We, uh, stayed up all night with Moony.”

          Moony, Rosie realized with a shock, and almost burst out laughing. She caught herself in the nick of time. “Oh, duh!” she exclaimed, slapping a hand on her forehead exaggeratedly. “Remus must still be sick in bed!”

          “Uh, actually he should be better today. He was, um, getting better when I fell asleep a few hours ago,” Peter improvised.

          Figures, Rosie thought. He would be getting better, now that the full moon has passed.

          Peter looked around uneasily for James, Sirius, or even Remus himself to save him from getting tangled in his own web of lies, but there was no one there. There wasn’t even Lily to distract Rosie while Peter smoothly changed the subject. But oh well, Pete would just have to make do and fend for himself, for a change.

          “So…uh…where are James and Sirius? And Lily?” he asked her.

          “I don’t know,” Rosie answered honestly. “I haven’t seen anyone but Lily all morning, and she was supposed to meet me down here a while ago. Maybe she just got tired of waiting.”

          “I’d sure like to know where Sirius has been,” Pete grumbled, feeling aches and sore body parts all over.

          Rosie glanced at him curiously. “Why? Wasn’t he with you guys all night? You just saw him, then!”

          Pete was about to say, no, I haven’t seen him since yesterday at dinner. Instead, he coughed again. “No, I fell asleep, remember? They were all gone already when I woke up.”

          Rosie looked around the room worriedly. She had had no experience with the whole werewolf thing, and she needed to make sure Remus was alright. And the only people who could tell her what she needed to know were the ones who couldn’t know she was involved.

“After last night, I’d say it was that stag who needed your help the most.”

          Rosie sighed, and turned back to her orange juice. She shoved her sudden fear to the back of her mind, where it belonged. It was unreasonable, it was irrational. He was still Remus, no matter how long she sat here in fear that he wasn’t.

          She needed to get back to the dormitory, to find him and tell him what she saw, if he didn’t already know. They needed to get it out into the open, if their relationship was ever to survive.

          Knowing this didn’t make it any easier for her to do.

          They lay there on the ground, tangled in a heap, gasping for a long time. They could hardly believe what had just happened.

          Sirius was the first to get up, and immediately he scoured earth and sky for a redheaded girl riding a state-of-the-art Comet 220. He saw nothing.

          “Sorry, Prongs,” he said to the lump of robes at his feet that was James, sounding sincerely apologetic indeed. After all, this whole mess kind of was his fault…a little. “I think she’s gone, mate,” he sighed, and braced himself. James had already scared the living stuffing out of him when he had been mad about Moony this morning. Sirius didn’t particularly want to go through it again.

          James rolled over to eye Sirius from the ground. “Gone where?” he asked vehemently. “She can’t just run away from Hogwarts! Where else could she go?” He shoved himself up off of the ground angrily. “And how’re we going to explain to McGonagall why her star pupil and House prefect has suddenly decided to fly the coop?”

          Sirius cringed as James’s voice rose to the edge of hysteria, then fell into indiscernible mumbling, and back again. Students that were beginning to descend the steps outside and come across the grounds for class stared at them curiously.

          “Prongs…” Sirius began cautiously.

          James had been in a mumbling phase. Now his head snapped up at the sound of Sirius’s voice, and his eyes widened as if he had was seeing Sirius in a whole new light.

          “You!” he exclaimed. His eyes burned as he advanced on him. “It’s all your fault! Lily was running away from you!”

          “That’s not true, we were both chasing her—” Sirius began to protest but was almost literally bowled over by a crazed James.

          “It was you who started this whole thing, Padfoot, everything would’ve been fine if you hadn’t gone after Rachel, if you had just done—done what, er, what you were supposed to be doing last night!” James was talking himself into a frenzy.

          “Er—” Sirius couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

          “If it weren’t for you, me and Lily would still be fine. Actually, we would still be great! I was doing wonderful for myself until you just had to do something to mess it up. What, you couldn’t stand my happiness without causing a little or a lot of trouble? Thanks a lot, Pad!”

          “Hey!” Sirius finally roared over his friend’s incessant ranting. “Don’t pretend like you were the innocent victim in this! I didn’t do anything on purpose to mess things up for you!”

          “Oh, really?” James snorted in disbelief. “Well, then it’s an awful odd coincidence that that’s exactly what’s happened, once again! It’s always like this, have you noticed that? You never do anything on purpose. You never mean to mess things up for me. But somehow, it always happens. It always happens to me, Pad!”

          “That is totally unfair and you know it,” Sirius yelled, indignant for the first time. “You were as happy as any one of us when I told you this morning! You can’t deny it. It was only after Lily, oh, your precious Lily, disagreed did you suddenly have a miraculous change of heart as well!”

          His voice was sarcastic, clipped, and yet he meant every word he said. It was such a change from how earnestly he usually spoke, and always with a touch of humor in his words. No such sense of humor now.

          James bristled. “You of all people should know how I am about my ‘precious Lily,’” he grumbled. “She’s right, you know. Has it never occurred to you how she might see things differently than you or me? Or have you just not understood the concept of working at a relationship?”

          It was Sirius’s turn to bristle. “If a relationship needs sorting out it just means it was never meant to be,” he said loftily. He looked James in the eye, no longer afraid but just angry. “It just means it’ll never work.”

          James opened his mouth to respond, eyes narrowed at Sirius. “Now what’s that supposed to—”

          Sirius cut him off briskly. “Nothing. Only that you should rethink how big a deal this really is before you go around yelling at random best mates about such little things.”

          “How big a deal?” James asked incredulously. “Such little things?”

          He waved an arm above his head wildly, indicating the sky and the forest and beyond. “She’s gone, Padfoot. We made her go insane, and she ran away, and now she’s Accio-ed herself a broom and is riding rampant in the English countryside!” he exclaimed dramatically. “How is that NOT a big deal?!”

          James turned on his heel and began to walk back to the castle, the curious eyes of nosy students following his movement. They wanted to know what the gossip of the moment was, why the famous Potter/Black duo was having a row. James himself could feel the heat of their gazes upon his back, and wished for nothing more than to escape them and plop himself down in front of the common room fire. After all, the fatigue was really getting to him now. He started to head towards the castle with that goal in mind.

          Sirius hurried to catch up. “Okay, so it’s a bit of a problem,” he admitted. “But it’s not your fault, Prongs, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So just stop beating yourself up about it!”

          Without looking back, James shouted over his shoulder to him with finality, “You’re right, it’s not my fault. It’s yours!”

“Wake up…wake up! Look at what you’re doing, this is disgusting!”

          Remus jerked awake as a boisterous second-year elbowed him in the ribs. He blinked the crumbs out of his eyelashes and raised his head slightly off of the table to examine, with crossed eyes, exactly what he had been sleeping face-down in.

          A plateful of scrambled eggs, with the remains of an English muffin on the side. Lucky for him it wasn’t hot cereal.

          Wiping his entire face in a napkin, much to the amusement of the younger students seated next to him, Remus yawned before a slight movement in the corner of his eye yanked him back to full attention. He twisted his head around to see Rosie rising from her seat at the other end of the Gryffindor table. Quickly ducking his head back into his plate, he avoided her eye but had no way of telling whether or not she had seen him.

          After a painful twenty seconds he raised his head a fraction of an inch. She was nowhere to be seen, and the Great Hall’s double doors were swinging. She hadn’t seen him.

“You can’t hide from her forever, you know,” his voice scolded again.

          Remus groaned. He knew. But it didn’t make it any easier for him to face up to her today.

          She would probably be heading back to the dormitory to get her books and supplies together for class. Remus stood up, a fifteen-year-old boy towering ridiculously above his first-year neighbors, and wiped his face again with his napkin before bolting out of the Hall and up the marble staircase toward Gryffindor tower.

          “Gobbledegook,” he told the Fat Lady, and she swung open for her. As he reached the Gryffindor common room, Remus remembered for the first time what had already happened that morning.

          He wondered fleetingly how much success James and Sirius were having with Lily. If he had half as much success with Rosie, he hoped, he would be grateful.

          He should’ve known Lily better.

          But the only girl who was important at the moment, Rosie, was spotted halfway across the common room, headed toward the entrance to the boys’ dormitory. A warm surge of hope washed through Remus as he realized that she was going to look for him. She still cared enough to try. She still wanted to work at their relationship.

          This gave him the confidence he needed. Covering the distance between them in four long, confident bounds, he confidently snuck up behind Rosie and confidently slipped his arms around her. He supposed (quite confidently) that if she was still okay with him, they should pretend last night had never happened.

          “Guess who?” he whispered.

          Rosie could sense the warmth of his calming presence before she even felt it. Her nerves, still forced to heightened alertness by the sudden rush of yesterday’s events, screamed in yearning and yet she was not totally surprised by it. “Guess who?” he whispered in her ear.

          She wriggled in his grip as a shiver tingled down her spine. “Moony…?” The word was as quiet as a breath, but his arms tightened and his touch burned like a brand into her waist.

          “Yeah, Moony, that’s me,” Remus sighed. “But I guess you already know that now.” Rosie turned her head to look at him inquisitively, surprised and a little hurt at his weary tone.

          It took all of Remus’s self-control to restrain himself from kissing her, standing there, safe in his arms but so vulnerable at the same time. She was looking to him with dependence. It was their time, and it seemed like the whole world was watching through her eyes. What would he do?

          “Come on, we have to talk,” he muttered, pulling her over to the couch nearest the fire, roaring even while the autumn leaves had barely begun to fall outside. He cringed at the lameness of his own response but Rosie didn’t notice.

          If anything, she was relieved that he had brought it up first. It meant he felt the same way she did. They needed to talk about it, so that life could go on as normal afterwards.

          Or at least until the next full moon, Remus thought bitterly. Then we’ll have to do this all over again, and again, and again, every month. This girl had better be worth spending a lifetime with, because I doubt I’ll ever find another one willing to accept my secret.

          It was like Rosie could hear his thoughts without him even having to articulate them. The way he had tightened his grip when he needed her to understand him, without question, said everything. But in turn, did he understand her?

          “I want to thank you for…last night,” he began seriously, drawing a deep and painful breath. “What you did—you don’t know how much it means to me, and to everyone else. To people you don’t even know about. That stag…he was very important to me.”

          Rosie placed a small hand on his chest to stop him. “You don’t have to thank me,” she whispered, tears springing to her eyes. “I just did what I had to. You—you don’t mean to…to do the things you do, do you?”

          Remus shook his head sadly. “No, when I change, I, I can’t think like a normal person. Bloodlust is something no human can understand without experiencing it as an animal, Ro. Although I always feel really bad the morning after, but today’s been the worst. Usually James and Sirius—”

          He coughed, and awkward silence descended for the first time. “James and Sirius?” Rosie prodded.

          “They’re there to support me,” he finished lamely.

          When her face contorted in anger, he was afraid. Why was she angry? “So why were they not there to support you this time, then?” she asked vehemently. “That’s what good mates do, isn’t it?”

          “I guess,” Remus mumbled in a non-committal way. “But don’t blame them. This is my problem, and in the end I’m the one who’s got to face it.”

          The tears that had been welling up in Rosie’s eyes finally spilled over. “Oh, Remus…” She was at a loss for words. “I’ll…I’ll do anything I can, to help you!” She swallowed the lump of emotion in her throat, and her expression grew serious despite the tears still wet on her cheeks. “But you need to tell me everything.”

          “Everything? What is there to tell?” Remus asked, with an uneasy feeling growing steadily in the pit of his stomach.

          “Well, who is the stag? Why is he so important to you? I saved him from you last night, Remus! I think I deserve to know…”

          Remus swallowed nervously. “I can’t tell you that, Ro…the stag would get really mad if I did. Although I can assure you that he’s grateful beyond expression at the favor you did him last night.” He brushed some stray hair off of Rosie’s forehead and smiled wryly. “He told me so himself.”

          Rosie laughed despite her dismay. What could be so important about the stag that Remus, who had told her his deepest darkest secret, could not reveal it? “You talked to a stag, Remus?”

          “He’s not a stag most of the time, Ro. He’s a human, like me. I talk to him when he’s human.”

          “Do I know him?” Rosie asked.

          “You’ll know when he chooses to tell you. I’ll try to convince him as quick as I can,” Remus answered, shrugging. “Meanwhile…are you planning on going to class?”

          Rosie laughed. “Why should I? It’s Friday. I’ve just had the most tiring 24 hours of my life, and I haven’t gone to class in just that long. Let’s stay in here. You don’t look like you’re up for class, anyhow. And with a night like the one you had last night, who could blame you?”

          She didn’t feel like dwelling on the mysterious stag when she could be doing and thinking of happier things. The night of the full moon was over, the stress was behind them, and finally, everything seemed to be settling down.

          Remus chuckled. He was exhausted, and his voice urged him to agree. “Sounds good to me,” he finally declared as he dropped down to the floor, stretching out on the rug in front of the fire with his back leaning against the couch. Rosie absentmindedly did the same to end up seated next to him.

          Everything seemed to be settling down, except…Lily. And Rachel. But that thought was shoved far back into the deep dark corners of her mind as Remus reached out and cupped the side of her face with his hand. He leaned forward, a werewolf by night but as normal as you could please by day. Rosie twined her own fingers into his sand-colored hair as his tired eyes closed, and their tentative lips met in a kiss that rivaled Sirius’s best ones in passion. What they lacked in confidence, the two could certainly make up in love. And that was all that mattered.

          “I think I like you a lot,” Remus whispered.

          Rosie laughed. “I know,” she informed him with a kiss on the nose. “But I like you more.”

          “No, I’m pretty sure I like you more than you like me,” Remus sighed.

          “I’ll like you however much you want me to like you, Moony. But one thing’s for sure…” Rosie whispered matter-of-factly, “I like you a lot more than you like yourself.”

          “That just might be true.”

          Rosie had always been somewhat of a romantic, but as she sat on Remus Lupin’s lap on the rug in front of the fire and evaluated what the hell was happening to her, even she had to suppress the urge to laugh. The hero and the heroine had succeeded in getting together in the sappiest way imaginable, under the most trying of circumstances. Did that mean this was the end of the story?

          Surely not, she thought as they came up for breath and she relaxed. Remus’s hand was meandering its way up her leg, and she could feel its large warmth through her jeans.

          She shivered again, and Remus wrapped her tighter in his arms. “Are you cold?” he mumbled onto her lips, trying to scoot closer to the fire but succeeding only to displace Rosie painfully on his lap.

          He blushed as Rosie squealed in surprise and toppled over, her head missing the corner of the couch by only a few inches. “Oh my god! Are you alright?”

          Laughing, she righted herself and pulled her entire body over so that she was once again sitting next to him. He gave her a small apologetic peck on the lips, and once again, where his skin touched hers a fire leapt forth through her blood, coursing down her veins and heating up all of her body parts unbearably. There was no outlet for this new zeal but to latch lips once more.

          There was no aggression, and no hurry. Remus and Rosie had all the time in the world, and they were supposed to be with each other. Sirius and Rachel might’ve been damned and forbidden, Remus thought, but we're perfect.

          As if she had heard his thoughts yet again, Rosie stopped for a moment. “Hey, where are James and Sirius?”

          Remus laughed. “Why? You want them sitting here next to us, cheering us on? Because I’m sure they’d be happy to do it.”

          “No, silly, I just thought of something I should warn them about before Lily finds them—particularly James. I think their relationship might be facing some hard times soon.”

          Remus was not alarmed. It was not a thing of concern for Lily and James’s relationship to be facing hard times. After all, it had been that way for five years, minus the last two months.

          “She hasn’t been having the best morning,” Rosie explained. “See, there’s been a rumor about Sirius…having a brief relationship with someone Lily doesn’t really care for.” Rosie tried to choose her words carefully but cringed as Remus’s eyes widened in understanding.

          “Wait, Sirius and Rachel?” Remus gasped as Rosie nodded, bemused. “How did Lily find out about that already?”

          Rosie frowned. “How could she not, what with Rachel bragging and rubbing it in her face every which way?” Remus smacked his forehead in despair as Rosie’s frown deepened. “But how do you know about this?”

          “Sirius broke the news to James and me this morning. They went before breakfast to look for Lily so they could explain themselves.”

          “She was really upset,” Rosie said apprehensively.

          “My mates don’t do well with upset girls,” Remus groaned.

          They looked at each other, all thoughts of snogging forgotten. Then, from far off on the other side of the portrait hole, a racket of raised voices was heard. “Uh oh,” Remus and Rosie said simultaneously as the portrait door slammed open, admitting two figures. Everyone was supposed to be in class by now, so who else could it be? The two were still arguing so loud that Remus thought Dumbledore, up in his office, could probably hear them.

          “How many times do I have to tell you that this isn’t about us, Padfoot! Why do you keep thinking that everything is about you?” James shouted, stomping his foot in frustration. “This is about Lily!”

          “This is about me. You’re just trying to make it all my fault so it’ll divert her attention away from the fact that you were on my side this morning!” Sirius returned just as angrily. “You have to work so hard to bring yourself to believe your best mate’s good intentions, but the word of Lily Evans is holy?” he scoffed. “What’s happened to you, Prongs? What’s happened to us?”

          Rosie and Remus were still cowering in the corner, where neither boy seemed to have noticed them. Remus gripped her tight, unnerved. Padfoot and Prongs having a row? Never in the history of the Marauders was there such a thing. It shook at the very foundations of life.

          “Nothing’s happened to me,” James huffed. “Nothing’s happened to us. The only thing I’m concerned about at the moment is Lily, and I can’t think of anything to do to help this damn situation because you’re hindering my train of thought! Just shut up about ‘us’, please!”

          “This is exactly my point,” Sirius replied coldly. “If you’re so concerned about Lily, if you think getting your girl is more important than keeping your best mate, that’s fine. Lily will always come first in your eyes, is that it?”

          Rosie realized that there was something wrong with this. She leaned over to whisper in Remus’s ear. “Where is Lily?” Remus frowned as he, too, realized that Lily was nowhere to be seen.

          “That’s right,” said James matter-of-factly. Sirius, who had not been expecting such a reply, looked more hurt than Rosie had ever seen him before. “She’s my girl now, Pad…or she was before you messed things up, once again! And you wonder why I’m so angry,” he grumbled.

          “She’s just a girl, Prongs!” Sirius exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air. “I know what’s more important, a girl or a best mate. I act upon this knowledge. I have my priorities straight. Do you?” he spat.

          “What kind of priorities are those, Sirius? Snog and run? Having a go in the Room of Requirement for the sake of a House war while your best mates need you?”

          Sirius shook his head. “I already said I was sorry for that, Prongs. You forgave me this morning, when I explained that I did it for you.” It wasn’t entirely true, but it gave Sirius the satisfaction to see his words cut James. He decided to leave while he still had the upper hand.

          “Wait, Padfoot—”

          “I think this friendship is pretty much done for, mate,” Sirius said coldly. And with a swirl of robes, he was out through the portrait hole again. His steps echoed through the halls to the beat of his own frantic thoughts.

          James stood helplessly in the common room, alone. If he had looked more closely at the corner by the fire, he would’ve seen two bodies crouched, hiding, underneath the table. But he had no patience for things like sight. He had just lost his girl, and his best mate. What would he do now? He headed up the stairs to the boys’ dormitory.

          Cautiously, Remus and Rosie crept out from their hiding place, still gaping. They couldn’t believe their eyes. While they had been too preoccupied with their own endeavors, the world had changed.

          Where was Lily? What had happened to James and Sirius? Why were they fighting? Some of the Gryffindor fifths had a lot of explaining to do, but just now there was no one who was willing to explain.

A/N: Sorry for the long wait. What did you all think? Poor James. And if this isn't enough, next chapter holds a good old duel in the corridors, two major injuries, and a spat in the Hospital Wing. 

Please leave a little something to feed my review box, it's been ravenous since the server crash. I'll be eternally grateful if you do. Thanks in advance!

Chapter 11: They Couldn't Kick the Hero While He was Down
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: Setting: The first bit is still Friday morning, but then it becomes Saturday.

EDITED (12/23/08): Thanks to CrazyForYou for pointing out a bunch of stuff. I'm going to be on vacation for the next few weeks, so no updates until then. Expect a new chapter when I get back, though!

Read on and please review! =]

          With the wind whipping her hair into her face, the forest flying past far below her and the clouds close enough to touch, Lily felt freer than she had for a long time. Finally being liberated from so much pent-up stress had felt even better than previously imagined. It still made Lily burst periodically into hysterical, exhilarated laughter atop the broomstick, even after she had been flying for a while.

          I should really try Quidditch sometime, she thought. But it was really all she could do to keep from toppling off or pitching over the broom as it raced over the treetops, so she quickly dismissed that idea.

          Lily Evans had never left the ground, except for when she had taken airplanes as a Muggle girl. Even then, the experience had been completely different. There had been barely any scenery to see out of the tiny windows, and anything that was in sight seemed too far away to be real. Instead of feeling free high up in the air, the stuffy compartment had made her feel trapped, as always, and now in some metal contraption that sometimes rumbled disconcertingly.

          The broom had no compartments or tiny windows. Lily was out in the open, unencumbered by frivolities. The peaceful silence that descended was uninterrupted by anything but Lily’s thoughts. Thankfully, her voice had decided to shut up for once and enjoy the ride.

“Why should you be so bitter about this? Let's try a smile, shall we?”

          Damn. She spoke too soon.

“You know, your horrid prickly attitude is what makes everyone afraid of getting to know you. Don't keep the real Lily bottled up inside that cold heart, protected by layers and layers of armor,” her voice said mournfully. "Let her out! Set her free!"

          “You are the most idiotic ditz of a voice I have ever met,” Lily snarled, gripping her broomstick handle until her knuckles turned white. “How do you know how I am?”

“I'm your voice, of course I know you!" it giggled. "And I know you really like that Potter bloke. He's pretty cute, isn't he? You were just disappointed in him today, but I’m sure an apology will make it better.”

          “Apologize? Why should I apologize?” Lily cried, almost releasing her broomstick and catching herself, in a most dignified manner, just in time. “He’s the one who should apologize to me, not to mention that animal Sirius Black!”

Her voice sighed with a knowing air. “Oh, honey, you run away from him over and over again. You take him for granted. But you never know. Just look at the scene you caused today! After all this, it might be Potter who’s going to be doing the running.” And then it was silent.

          “No, wait!” Lily gasped, willing the voice to return and explain that cryptic comment. Oh, the irony of it all! But her voice said no more.

          “Damn it, just when you were getting helpful,” Lily grumbled to nobody in particular. But although what her voice was saying seemed important, it wasn’t at all what she wanted to hear. In fact, it was almost making out the situation to be her fault. And that, it most certainly was not.

          Now that she thought about it, all parties that were involved were firmly convinced that it was not their fault. James, Sirius, and herself: none of them were willing to shoulder the blame.

          She herself was not to blame, for good reason. She had had nothing to do with this whole thing until this morning, when Rachel had pretty much insulted her past tolerance. But James? Sirius? What was the reasoning behind their claims?

          Sirius was beyond forgiving. Lily didn’t care how innocent he pretended to be, how victimized and apologetic and sorry. Because the fact was, he was the one in the Room of Requirement last night. He was the one who should’ve known the circumstances, after the previous night, when Lily had hid in his very dorm to escape from Rachel. And despite all that, he still let his fifteen-year-old male hormones get the best of him.

          “Boys,” she grumbled. “Absolutely nothing between their ears. It's a wonder how Black's head stays so large, with nothing inside it.”

          And James? James had said something that Lily had ignored for all her anger at him, but now it was coming back and bothering her immensely. “I really hate Rachel’s brother, you know. He hates me…And I only started hating Rachel’s brother because of you. Doesn’t that mean anything?”

          James hated Rachel’s brother because she, Lily Evans, hated Rachel. Only a day ago did he defend her in a fight against Harvard Bailey and won. Why, then, would he throw it all away when his best mate proclaimed that he had taken a trip to the Room of Requirement with Rachel? Why had he been happy, again?

          It had been a House War. That had been his explanation for betraying her, and giving Rachel ammunition against her. Lily expected another wave of oncoming anger at this thought, but soaring this high above the trees without a care in the world, it was nearly impossible to hold a temper, even to think. The view from her broom reminded her of the events of yesterday afternoon, when she had actually enjoyed some downtime with James Potter. The view had been amazing then, too. And the company was not so bad.

          Maybe the boy has his heart in the right place, Lily thought, sighing. If only he could learn a few things about how girls work…there he’s an idiot.

          I should go apologize, I really should, Lily told herself. My voice is right. It’s time to bite back my pride and just do it, because, unlikely as it seems, he might just move on after today. And this time, I don’t think I want him to.

“See, you knew it all along, hon,” her voice chirped.

          Lily was too nervous to be annoyed.

          Firmly gripping her broomstick, she swerved to the left in a great arc and managed to turn herself so she was going relatively in the direction back from where she had come. She could still see the Hogwarts castle vaguely in the distance, veiled by clouds and mist. The entire ride back, she tried to work up the nerve to do what she had to. She didn’t even know if it was the right thing to do, but it was too late now. She was on her way back to Hogwarts.

          She would be slightly sorry to leave the air. Flying really was exhilarating. Now she understood why boys, and James in particular, had such a love and addiction for Quidditch. She supposed she could share James's attentions with the sky, for now.

          The castle was less than a hundred meters away, and had grown significantly bigger in her line of sight when Lily realized that she didn’t know how to stop. Kicking off was one thing, but how could she kick back down to the ground?

          She was in trouble now, she knew, as the castle grew larger and larger, looming ominously above her head. If she didn’t do something, in an instant she would be going headfirst into Professor McGonagall’s Transfiguration classroom window.

          She pulled up on the broomstick handle hard, thinking fast. Almost immediately she could feel herself rising further in the air, and just in time, too. The broom skimmed over the tallest part of the roof with Lily holding on for dear life.

          When she dared to open her eyes, she was now on the other side of the castle, traveling away from it again. Cursing, she maneuvered the broom into another great arc to the right. Maybe she could just drive the broom into the lawn in front of the great doors…the less steep the angle, the softer the impact would be.

          She had no better plan, so Lily angled the broom downward and hoped for the best. Looking back later, Lily realized just how stupid her reasoning had been.

          But for now, still ten feet in the air, she abruptly ran out of lawn and smashed, with her right hip taking most of the blow, straight into the great doors of the castle.

          When James opened his eyes, it was completely dark. Not the dark like the fuzzy outlines of blurry figures that he saw without his glasses, but black like night. Besides, he could feel the painful throb on the bridge of his nose where his specs were pushing into his face.

“Good morning, you poor, tired thing. Did you have a nice sleep?” the voice fussed.

An overwhelming feeling of dread and grief fogged his groggy mind. His body was stiff and sore, as if he had tossed and turned in a restless, turbulent sleep for a long time. He also had the fleeting trickle of guilt that maybe he had missed classes.

It was seriously dark. Was it really night-time already? Had he slept through the entire afternoon? He had certainly felt emotionally torn enough to do so, he thought to himself wryly.

“Of course it's dark. The pillow, dear. Lift the pillow.”

          It was only now that James realized the difficulty of his breathing, and reached up to pull his pillow off of his head. As he took the cold air into his lungs, he saw that there was an imprint of his face in his mattress.

          James groaned as he saw the sun still streaming cheerily through the windows. Ravenously hungry, he checked the clock, which read 10:53. When he had come up to the dormitory by himself, it had barely been 10. Yet his robes were rumpled and his hair felt disgusting and his mouth was as dry as cotton. This wasn’t right.

          Suddenly the door to the dormitory slammed open, and in walked Remus, alone. He did a double take before recognizing James, but looked relieved to see James awake and out of bed.

          “Merlin, Prongs, we thought you were dead!” he exclaimed, exhaling and clutching his chest as he got over his surprise.

          James’s eyes narrowed. “We? And just who’s we?” he asked suspiciously.

          Remus looked visibly uncomfortable. “Um, me and Pete. Why? Are you alright?”

          “I’m fine,” James snapped. “Although--wait, what day is it today?”

          Remus laughed nervously. “Saturday, mate. You slept through yesterday and last night. You must’ve been real tired from the full moon, huh?”

          “Yeah. But what’re you doing here anyway, Moony?” James changed the subject tactlessly. “Shouldn’t you be outside doing something with your girl before it starts snowing or something?”

          Remus stared at him, uncomprehending but understanding way too much at the same time. He had never even considered deceiving his best friends before, because it simply didn’t work. He had enough trouble as it was keeping his secret from everyone else. Plus, he hated the awkward feeling that came from avoiding a sensitive subject. As always, Remus’s intuitiveness now foiled his ability to do so. He sighed.

          “Prongs, it’s still October. It's not gonna snow anytime soon. Now, what’s really bothering you?”

          “I’m just hungry,” James shrugged casually just as his stomach let out an audible rumble. Remus laughed more sincerely.

          “Well, I guess you haven’t eaten in the last two days, Prongs. An absolute calamity. Let’s get down to the kitchens, shall we?”

          James seemed keen on the idea, immediately yanking the door open and leaping down the stairs without even bothering to put shoes on. Remus had no choice but to follow silently, shaking his head. He supposed the truth would come out in due time. And he could wait until then. It would be good for his mates if he left them to sort out their lives on their own from time to time. After all, his own life was really starting to take a turn for the better.

          Sirius was only just heading out of the kitchens himself, having woken too late for Saturday breakfast. Stuffed contentedly with cereal and pastries, he had not taken one step out of the door before he was bowled over by the heavy momentum of an object moving as fast as it possibly could. The only thing he saw before he fell to the ground was an unlikely shock of messy black hair. Racing to the kitchens at this speed? It could be no one else.

          He hadn’t really seen Prongs in two days, and that was okay with him. It would take time before this whole thing blew over…or at least, that’s what Sirius hoped. They were venturing into uncharted ground with this little tiff. Sirius had really never experienced anything of the sort with James.

          But the other thing was that he hadn’t seen Lily either in these last two days. He was worried about her. Would James hold it against him if Lily really had run away?

          What am I thinking? Sirius thought as he picked himself up from the floor and dusted himself off. He’s already so angry at me that it wouldn’t make a difference.

          James didn’t stop to apologize to Sirius after he had knocked him down. Turning away coolly, he took barely another step toward the door before Remus came racing up after him. A nauseous expression floated across his face as he noticed his two best mates standing not ten feet away from each other, each with an expression like granite carved into his features.

          “Erm…” Remus struggled to keep the atmosphere in the hall cheerful, though it grew colder by the second. “Good morning, Pad.”

          “Morning, Moony,” Sirius said willingly enough, although his tone was sharper than normal.

          “Prongs?” Remus asked tentatively.

          James did not look at either of the other boys. His eyes were focused on something in the hall behind Remus’s back. His expression turned downright nasty as he scoffed. “Well, look what the hippogriff dragged in,” he sneered to Remus.

          Remus’s head whipped around, as did Sirius’s. Filling the entire hallway behind them was a band of teenage boys, all wearing robes edged with bronze and royal blue. Leading the pack of Ravenclaws was Harvard Bailey, wand drawn, with eyes fixed on James. Instinctively, the Gryffindor boys backed up slightly, but they were met with a wall. The door to the kitchens had closed behind James and there was now nowhere to run.

          Harvard looked around mockingly. “Naturally, I knew they would be at the kitchens,” he told his group. “Pigs,” he spat.

          “What do you want, Bailey?” Remus asked tersely. “We don’t want any more trouble…especially since you just got out of the Hospital Wing,” he couldn’t help but add.

          Harvard’s eyes glinted as his grip on his wand tightened. “Muggle fighting. How worthless. I’m here to settle this properly, Potter. Let’s see you come out of hiding and go down with some honor…or aren’t you a Gryffindor?” he taunted.

          James drew his wand angrily, albeit with a slight tremble in his hands due to his lack of food.

          “How is it a proper fight if you’ve got ten blokes you paid off to tear James into a million pieces? Muggle fighting might be worthless but you fight like a coward, Bailey,” Remus declared.

          The sixth-year flanking Harvard’s right side stepped forward. “You’d like to back that up, Lupin?” he growled, wand also raised.

          “Hey!” Sirius protested, leaping to Remus’s defense. “You have no reason to be here now. It’s over, Bailey. Obviously Rachel isn't who you thought she was. We won.” He smiled infuriatingly.

          James was silent. But with all of the Ravenclaws watching him, he couldn’t move a muscle without hoping to have ten curses simultaneously unleashed upon him. It was a death wish, and so he kept completely still. Remus was looking uncertainly at the burly sixth-year, who alone still had his eye on him.

          Harvard’s gaze had snapped immediately from James to Sirius, and now his upper lip curled in disgust as he recognized Sirius. “I wouldn’t be so quick to judge, Black,” he spat. “There is that story of you practically forcing yourself on her two nights ago.” He looked back at James, visibly basking in his fury with a smug smile on his face. “I suppose our dear Lily couldn’t be too happy about that, now could she?”

          “Don't you dare bring her into this, you bloody hypocrite—” James snarled.

          “I’ll take it from here,” Sirius interrupted him briskly, to the surprise of all the Ravenclaws and James himself. Waving his wand lazily in the air, four Ravenclaws were down before they could even lift a finger. Sirius always had been the best dueler of the lot.

          Remus, snapping to attention, took down two more as they were busy dodging Sirius’s bat bogeys. James shot his signature Levicorpus spell at Harvard in hopes of dangling him upside down for the world to humiliate. Unfortunately, he missed by an inch and ended up sending one of the already incapacitated Ravenclaws flying into the air and crashing back down as James abandoned control on the spell. With six down, the Marauders were still outnumbered by one.

          “Oi! Your sister’s a whore!” James shot at Harvard, who sneered.

          “Tell it to Black, why don’t you.”

          James was silent. Sirius took this as a bad sign and decided to intervene. His own feelings about the whole situation were still foggy at best, but after two days of constant reflection, he had decided that he wanted nothing more to do with Rachel Bailey. Although she had offered a sympathetic ear just when he needed one the most, Sirius couldn't help but wonder if she had only tried to take advantage of him. After all, Rachel had bullied Lily with it at the very first opportunity she had.

"Well?" the Ravenclaw snarled.

“If I were you, I'd leave your sister out of this," Sirius replied calmly. “You can't control her actions, and she doesn't help your case one bit. Like I said, you were wrong about her. She threw herself at a Marauder. Now, that's not what you would expect of a Bailey, is it?

"I did have some respect for Rachel before,” he continued, "which is more than I can say for you, scum. At least she doesn't need her brother to fight for her. She's a Gryffindor."

          Harvard’s mouth gaped in surprise. Sirius Black was sticking up for his sister, all while insulting him and his House? It made no sense. What was this boy thinking? Where exactly were his loyalties?

          Taking advantage of Harvard’s momentary inability to move, Sirius hurled a Stunning Spell at his opponent and sent him flying down the hall a few feet back. His body landed with a thump, but they could hear no bones break. Remus sighed audibly in relief.

          “That should teach you lot to mind your own business,” Sirius spat. “When the big baby wakes up, you can tell him that he owes Lily Evans an apology, and that Sirius Black is done with the likes of his sister!”

          With their leader and their motive lying in a heap behind them, the remaining Ravenclaws hesitated. They began to turn and hoist Harvard up.

          “We can’t take him to the Hospital Wing,” one of them murmured to another one. “The Gryffindor gits will tell Pomfrey we started it.”

          One Ravenclaw, the boyfriend of a particularly good friend of Rachel’s, was still glaring at Sirius with murder in his eyes. It wasn’t so much about Harvard’s revenge on James anymore. This was a serious House war. Then an idea fitting for the occasion sprang to his mind.

          “If I were you, Black, I’d watch out,” he said dangerously. Sirius whipped his head around to face him, eyebrows raised. “If that nose of yours gets any bigger it might swallow up your beautiful face,” the other boy mocked. “Engorgio!

          His wand whipped up out of nowhere. “Nooo!” Sirius wailed, shielding himself instinctively with his hands as the remaining Ravenclaws cackled. The spell was deflected.

          “That’s it,” Sirius snarled, recovering from his fear quickly and grabbing his wand with hands that were growing larger and heavier by the second. “Nobody messes with my face, you bastard!”

          The Ravenclaws fled in terror as Sirius chased them down the hall, yelling obscenities and firing curses. Only when his hands were all but dragging on the ground did McGonagall catch him and send him to the Hospital Wing with one week’s worth of detention.

          Remus looked to James incredulously. Both boys’ lips were quivering with suppressed laughter. “After that show, I don’t suppose you’re still angry at him?” Remus asked quietly. “I’m feeling a bit sorry for his troll hands.”

          “Well, that’s Pad for you,” James sighed. He didn’t have the heart to kick the hero while he was down.

          That same morning, Lily lay on a bed in a corner of the blindingly white and nauseatingly clean Hospital Wing, her right leg with the swollen hip propped up on some fluffy pillows. Madam Pomfrey had been able to heal the hip at least partway, of course. But Lily had been confined to bed and ordered to rest for the better part of a month or until it healed completely.

          “That was a stupid thing to do for such a smart girl,” the young Healer commented mournfully as she passed her bed, for the fifth time since Lily had been found on the steps of the castle.

          Which had been more than a whole 24 hours ago. She had slept for a while after taking the healing potion, which had been vile to say the least. But it didn’t excuse the other some 15-odd hours that she had lain awake in this Hospital Wing, suffering from a severe case of boredom, and not one person had come to visit. Not even Rosie.

          She didn’t suppose they didn’t know about her landing herself here. The whole school must’ve heard her crash. And honestly, how could James not notice if Lily went missing for an entire 24 hours?

          James. She had meant to apologize to him. In fact, that’s what she had been hurrying back for.

          Did the fact that he hadn’t come to visit her in all this time mean that he had finally given up on her? Was he running away, like her voice said?

          Lily groaned as dull pain shot through her right hip. She had never been one for pain, but being an invalid was even worse. This meant that for three weeks, she would have to lie here, wishing for a chance to apologize to James Potter and not getting it…because she had to lie here. Was there ever a worse fate?

          “Oh, my lord! Dear, we’re going to have to fix this up immediately. How…how c-could…?”

          Lily glanced curiously in the direction of Madam Pomfrey’s outburst near the door. She couldn’t see anything at the moment, but as the newest patient came into view, herded along to a bed near hers by the clucking Healer, Lily wished she had not looked. There was, indeed, a worse fate.

          It was Sirius Black, wielding hands as large as frying pans.

          And from the looks of it, she would now not only have to be stuck in the Hospital Wing, but she would have to do it with the charming company of Sirius Black.

          “Shit!” Sirius exclaimed by accident as he almost knocked a beaker of potion off of the nightstand next to his hospital bed. His hands had swelled to a size that rendered them uncontrollable. He was now even more incapable of fine motor skills than he had been before.

          A laugh tore from Lily’s throat before she could silence herself, and he looked her way. Damn it! she thought as he grinned at her.

          “Evans! Just the girl I was looking for!” he exclaimed happily. He looked over her bandaged hip and propped-up leg. “What happened to you?” he asked, though he could give a pretty good guess.

          Lily raised an eyebrow. “I think the more fitting question would be what happened to you, Black,” she said coldly.

          Sirius sighed. “As cold and unforgiving as always, I suppose. Well, if you really would like to know, I just saved your boyfriend from a most unpleasant fate. Ten curses from the Ravenclaws and it would’ve been him in here instead of me.”

          “You mean to tell me,” Lily asked incredulously, “that I could’ve been in here with James instead of you? Oh, Black, why did you do this to me?”

          “Um, maybe you don’t get it,” Sirius said. “Rachel’s brother and a bunch of Ravenclaw idiots cornered us in the corridor this morning, wanting to hex him into the next century.”

          “James is a good dueler. He could have handled the himself,” Lily said, unconcerned. “You don’t have to act the hero, Sirius. It won’t work.”

          “But—but I was the one who Stunned Harvard!” Sirius protested, still trying to win back her good graces. “And chased the rest of them away! I won it for Gryffindor!”

          “Gryffindor?” Lily scoffed. “You mean you won it for Rachel.” She tried to turn away from Sirius but her leg made it impossible.

          Sirius sighed again. “It isn’t really about her, you know. It never was. It’s about Gryffindor versus Ravenclaw.”

          Lily rolled her eyes. “Of course. A Gryffindor/Ravenclaw showdown. How could we expect anything less? You never think of how others might feel, Black, and at the expense of anything and everything, you have to show your superiority over your peers,” she said sarcastically, eyeing Sirius’s frying pan hands. “But how the hell did that happen?”

          Sirius flushed pink. “They tried to Engorgio my nose,” he mumbled softly, but Lily heard and could not control her laughter for a good five minutes after, despite the pain shooting up her leg.

          “Hey, it’s not funny!” Sirius was offended. “How would you like it if your nose was as big as my hands?” he snapped.

          “You deserved it,” Lily gasped. “And you took this bullet for James, you claim?”

          “Yeah, but Prongs isn’t exactly happy with me right now,” Sirius said mournfully. “Any chance you’ll help me get him back?”

          Lily’s expression hardened immediately. “I think you're forgetting who you owe the apology to,” she said coldly as Madam Pomfrey came over to attend to Sirius with a large jar of anti-swelling cream. “I don’t want to hear anymore about this, Black.”

          With an air of finality, she reached over painfully and drew the curtains around her bed. Despite Sirius’s periodical protests across the next few days, Lily refused to reply. James might not have kicked the hero while he was down, but she certainly could.

A/N: Well, I don’t think our poor hero could expect any more of an apology from Lily Evans. Ladies and gentleman, we have finally wrapped up saga #2, a whopping four chappies for 2 plot days. I accept congratulations in the form of reviews ;)

Next chapter: It’s Halloween! But the boys are just not in the spirit this year. Besides, even if they were, they couldn’t party with the children…that would just be out of the question.

Chapter 12: They Couldn't Party with the Children
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“Great job! That’s it! You’re doing great, Lily! Just one more step!”

          Lily limped across the Hospital Wing, face scrunched in concentration and pain every time her right foot hit the ground. She nearly fell over as a loud whoop came from across the room, scaring her out of her carefully kept balance.

          “Yes!” Sirius shouted triumphantly, leaping off of his own bed and racing past Lily toward Madam Pomfrey’s office. Halfway there, he changed his mind, skidded to a stop, and turned around to face Lily.

          “Black!” she snarled at him, backing up as he began to approach her. “You almost knocked me over! Come one step closer to me, and I’ll—”

          Unheeding her warning, Sirius closed the gap between himself and the increasingly frightened invalid, his arms outstretched. “Lily, look! Look!”

          “Stop it!” Lily shrieked, backed up against a nightstand. “Get those things away from me!” Sirius had shoved his hands directly under her nose, an inch away from her face, for her to examine. “Ugh, what are you so happy about?”

          “They’re normal again!” Sirius squealed, waving the hands in question around in Lily’s face, making her feel like sneezing. “They’re the same size and they’re both normal!”

          Lily ducked underneath Sirius’s waving arms and made her slow and painful escape. A real grin played on her lips for the first time in the few days she had been trapped here with Sirius. The first day he had come, the magic anti-swelling cream that Madam Pomfrey had applied to his hands had not made much difference in his condition. Sirius had been very disappointed. The next day, Lily had deduced from Sirius’s hoarse screaming on the second morning, his palms had returned to close to their normal size, but his fingers had not. Madam Pomfrey had been at wit’s end trying to find out why, but Lily had been more at her wit’s end trying to shut the wailing boy up. The third day, only the fingers on his left hand had shrunk to become vaguely proportional with the rest of his body. His right hand remained as it had been. By this time, even Madam Pomfrey was having a hard time controlling her laughter at Sirius’s plight. Lily laughed only because it was no more than he deserved.

          Today was the fourth day, and Sirius’s hands were both indeed the same size and the right size. Lily could not help but be happy for him, if only because it meant he would be leaving the Hospital Wing and going far, far away from her.

          “Congratulations,” she told him dryly from a safe distance away.

          He only grinned. He had already resigned himself to the fact that Lily wasn’t about to accept his apology anytime soon. “It’s perfect,” he informed her happily. “Do you know what today is?”

          Lily frowned. “The day I finally get to be rid of you?”

          “No,” Sirius crowed, “tonight’s HALLOWEEN!” Without another word, he turned around and barged into Madam Pomfrey’s office, hands outstretched. Sighing, the Healer reluctantly released an ecstatic Sirius Black out upon the castle of Hogwarts.

          Lily rolled her eyes and sat back down on her own bed. Halloween was really no fun as an invalid.

          Across the castle the rest of the Marauders were toiling through McGonagall’s Transfiguration class. McGonagall, for sure, was doing her part to prepare them for the upcoming OWLs. The Marauders couldn’t remember a time when they had ever been assigned an eight-foot-long essay, and on minor human transfigurations, no less.

          “For the next few classes, you will be working with a partner to perfect your control and understanding of minor human transfiguration spells,” McGonagall was saying. Before she could even complete her sentence, there was a scurry in the classroom as students rushed to partner up with their friends.

          “Prongs, are you sure you don’t want to talk about it?” Remus had been asking in an unusually insistent whisper in James’s ear.

          James had begun to rue sitting next to Moony in this class because he really was incredibly sure he didn’t want to talk about it. After four days of excessive concern from his perceptive friend, James’s anger for the absent Sirius had waned slightly, against his own will.

          “Yeah, I’m fine,” James sighed for the third time. Reaching over to tap Pete, who sat in front of him, he said, “I think your skills would be better used when Pad comes back, Moony. Mind if I partner with Pete this time?”

          Remus cast a glance at the empty seat beside Pete and shrugged. He would be content just relaxing in class.

          “Remember, you are to do only the spells I have taught!” McGonagall called out above the ruckus, alarmed by her students’ enthusiasm.

          Remus watched with amusement as Pete waved his wand and turned James’s eyebrows a searing magenta. Even James, whose face had become accustomed to the sullen expression it had been carrying, cracked a smile at the sight of his face in the small mirror that stood on the table in front of him. Remus took the opportunity to cheer him up further.

          “You know what tonight is, Prongs?”

          “Nah…” James muttered, magenta eyebrows crinkled, twirling his wand about Pete’s head to stripe his hair a zebra-like black-and-white. “What’s tonight, Moony?”

          “Halloween, of course!” Pete squealed in excitement.

          “Come on, James,” Remus prodded, “what do the Marauders do every Halloween?”

          James shrugged. “Party?”

          Remus sighed. This was going to be harder than he thought. But then again, he thought, a plan quickly formulating in his head, he had never known either James or Sirius to ever turn down a good time. Maybe a good old Halloween party, Marauder style, was just what they needed.

“It’s time for some hardcore Marauder bonding!” his voice yelled excitedly.

          Remus rubbed at his abused ears before turning back to the other boys. “Maybe we shouldn’t go to the Gryffindor party this year,” he suggested. Pete glanced at him incredulously, but Remus only shrugged. “I’m kind of tired anyway.”

          James looked absolutely relieved. “You’re right, Moony.”

          Pete wasn’t about to enter the fray that was the Gryffindor common room on Halloween night alone, so he shrugged his agreement, his black-and-white head bobbing. “But what about Sirius?” he asked. James whipped his head around, eyes blazing underneath his magenta eyebrows. Remus twitched. But neither boy said anything, and Pete decided to drop it, frowning. Things had been weird around here lately.

          The bell rang, saving the Marauders from the strained silence that had descended following the awkward moment. All three boys leapt up, anxiously looking forward to the Halloween feast. They left, racing out of the classroom before McGonagall could object.

          “Where is it…where is it?” Sirius mumbled absently to himself as he pawed through the boxes and bags after the Halloween feast. It had been grand, as always, with chicken and steak and lamb chops and warm bread and mashed potatoes, and nary a vegetable in sight. Sirius grinned. He hated those smashed peas and boiled carrots that Remus and James ate so willingly, Moony because he was health-conscious and Prongs because he thought it was becoming of a great athlete like himself to eat nutritiously.

          But this year, the comfort of the Halloween feast had been somewhat subdued by the cold silence that reigned at the Marauder end of the Gryffindor table. Everyone but Pete attributed it to Sirius’s return from the Hospital Wing. Because it had been almost a week since the night of the full moon, Pete thought that Sirius had been forgiven for that particular blunder. Only he didn’t know the entirety of the story.

          “So how is Lily?” Rosie asked him quietly as the others shoveled down their food without speaking.

          Sirius glanced at her, startled. “How did you know?”

          “After Remus visited you, he told us all about her,” she whispered. “I can’t believe it. I mean, our Lily Evans…on a broomstick?” A smile hovered over her lips, but it didn’t dare form in its entirety, and her eyes were somber as she looked at Sirius. “I hope you haven’t been frustrating her to the point of stunting her recovery.”

          Sirius chuckled dryly, looking forlorn. “She hates me now, didn’t you hear? I doubt I could so much as take a breath in front of her without aggravating her.”

          “I’m sure it’s not all that bad,” Rosie assured him, but knowing her friend’s flammable temper, she didn’t quite believe her own words.

          “Why didn’t you come visit her yourself?” Sirius asked curiously. “Remus dropped in, of course, and Pete snuck some chocolate in to me late at night while she was asleep. But I could tell she was wondering why no one would come see her.”

          Rosie looked nervous. “I—I just thought I’d let her sort her feelings out before I bothered her.”

          “You mean before you would brave being attacked by her,” Sirius laughed. “She near bit my head off that first day, and every time I tried to talk to her afterward. But she’s getting better. She’ll be out soon. She was walking this morning.”

          “James was asking about her, you know, whether or not she's okay,” Rosie said tentatively. Sirius made an honorable effort to control his expression, but Rosie noticed the shadow crossing his face. “He asked about you, too,” she lied quickly.

          Sirius nodded stiffly before calling out loudly for Moony to pass the butter. This conversation was over.

          And now he was half-submerged inside the cavernous opening of the one-eyed witch’s backside, looking through all sorts of Marauder utilities and supplies that were kept safe here, near the opening of the passageway. Every time the Marauders wanted to sneak off into Hogsmeade, they had to make their way through this mess first. It was a wonder how any of them could climb out without breaking their necks, Sirius thought, given the amount of coordination (or lack thereof) that the boys had.

          “I know it’s here somewhere,” he muttered again with increased urgency, extracting his head from the witch to make sure the hallway was still empty. His hand closed over bags of Dungbombs and firecrackers and fake wands until finally, his fingers brushed cool glass.

          “Yes,” Sirius whispered as he pulled out his bounty. It came in the shape of a clear glass bottle. He had gone through a lot of trouble to get this baby, and had been saving it for a disaster, or a rainy day. This was as close a situation to both as he had ever seen, but James would definitely have to forgive him after this.

          “A party fitting for Halloween,” Sirius toasted the empty corridor excitedly before racing off towards Gryffindor tower, bottle hidden underneath his robes.

          In the Gryffindor common room, Remus was faced with an intense moral battle.

          Around him, the older Gryffindors were already itching to start the party. Across the room, catching his eye every few minutes and gesturing toward the dormitory stairs, was James. Next to Prongs stood Pete, begging with his eyes for him to stay so he could as well. Sirius was nowhere to be seen, which worried Remus. But most important was Rosie, who was on the couch next to him, leaning into his shoulder and looking forward to a nice night together.

His voice offered no opinion, for once. “You’ve got a hell of a choice there, mate.”

          The queasy expression on Remus’s face did not bypass Rosie’s close inspection. One look across the room, and she understood.

          “Are you feeling okay?” she asked, concerned. “You don’t look too well. Maybe you should go to bed early tonight.”

          Remus frowned, squeezing her hand. “Are you sure? You’ll be alright?”

          “Of course,” Rosie smiled, though she did not feel it. It was Halloween, and she was without her best friend or her boyfriend. More than half of the Gryffindor fifths would be absent from the party tonight, if she read James and Peter’s expressions correctly.

          She sighed. She could always spend the night with Emma and Irina, she supposed. “Don’t worry about me,” she told Remus. “I'll see you soon.”

          Remus grinned and stood up to go. He really did have the best girlfriend in the world. “If you see Sirius, tell him we’ll be upstairs, alright?”

          Rosie frowned, the tempest of a few days before unforgotten, but said nothing about it. Instead, she stood as well and headed over to the couch where Emma and Irina were sitting.

          As the Marauders left, the Gryffindor sevenths leapt onto the couch, clutching cartons of butterbeer in their arms. Several wands waved, and cookies and punch sailed in through the open portrait door. “Let the party begin, kids!” the older Gryffindors shouted.

A/N: This was a bit of a filler to set up for the next chapter. Please leave a tiny review (or a long one, if you prefer) letting me know what you thought! I do appreciate every one.

Next chapter: While the children party downstairs, the Marauders share a little bonding time up in the dormitory. What happens when James decides to take his revenge? Our boys do need a little break from the tension, but they’re going to feel sorry when they can’t air the room out.

Chapter 13: They Couldn't Air the Room Out
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: Hey, readers, I'm updating to celebrate. Happy 1-year story anniversary, Marauders! Also, exactly 5000 reads at the moment. Let's up that count, shall we? ;)

Setting: Halloween night. What kind of drunk is James? Sirius? Remus? Peter? They better have some hangover draught ready. Cheers!

          Upstairs, Remus had just proposed his idea to an excited Peter and dull-eyed James, and it seemed that though neither boy was particularly opposed to the private party, both had just drafted Remus into going back downstairs to get the necessary supplies.

          “What? That’s not fair!” Remus protested futilely, ready to pass the job on to James. But he cast a quick glance at the listless boy and took pity on him. “I nominate Peter,” he said instead.

          “You can’t nominate someone to do the dirty work that’s rightfully yours!” Pete exclaimed. “Besides, if you already had this idea, why didn’t you get it on the way up?”

          This was an unusually smart observation from Peter. The truth was that Remus thought it might be easier to convince James to go along once they were all back in the quiet dorm, by themselves. He said nothing.

          “Fine,” Peter sulked, leaping dramatically off of his bed and stalking over to the door, meaning to throw it open. Instead, it flew open of its own accord, almost smacking Pete flat to the ground. His mouth dropped open and all anger drained away as he saw who stood in the doorway. “Sirius!” he squealed happily. “There you are!”

          James set his mouth back into an unhappy line.

          Sirius’s voice held only a fraction of its normal cheeriness, even as he made the effort. “Guess what I’ve brought!” he prodded, before drawing the bottle out from his robes and brandishing it like a trophy. “Where are your special glasses, boys?” he exclaimed. “Bring them out!”

          With various degrees of willingness the Marauders bounced, walked, or dragged themselves to their trunks. Remus rummaged through his belongings and found the small glass tumbler (which had been tucked into a tube sock) without much difficulty. Peter, who was more of a neurotic organizer than expected, kept his in a small drawer built into his trunk. Sirius had had his glass in his bag since after dinner. James, as messy as he was, knew immediately where his prized glass was. He always kept everything important under his bed, out of harm’s way.

          Four boys clonked their glasses onto the floor in the middle of the room and gathered around. They hadn’t done this very often, of course, being only fifteen going on sixteen and all, but they still liked to encourage their slightly exaggerated public image. The real novelty of the bottle and its contents only added to the fun, and even James was losing his stubborn sullenness.

          Remus grinned, satisfied. So, he’d had the right idea. He couldn’t really mind that Sirius had stolen it from him.

          Sirius had to smirk at the ridiculously decorated glasses even as he was filling them, about two inches of liquid in each. Frosted, cutesy images of teddy bears, hearts, and flowers graced the outside surfaces of the distasteful glasses, with large swirling print near the bottom: Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop. The first (and last) time they had ever been in that place, James had been following Lily and her date, and dragged all the Marauders along. Of course, the glasses had been so hilarious that they just had to nick a few, one for each of them. Now they were used only for special occasions.

          “Ooh, it’s vodka!” Pete exclaimed, squirming excitedly. “Very classy, Padfoot. What flavor is it? It just wouldn’t be Halloween without the vodka, now would it?”

          “Aw, shut up Pete, just how many Halloweens have you had with vodka anyway?” James grumbled. “Stop trying so hard.”

          “Come on guys, let’s toast,” Sirius said hurriedly, raising his glass and looking around. “To my bestest mates in the whole wide world! Cheers!”

          Three glasses clinked together, but James was already drinking without regard to the toast. Apparently he thought he needed to get drunk more than any of them, although the expression on Sirius’s face was so stricken that it hurt Remus just to look at him.

          “I’ll go next,” Pete, oblivious, volunteered. “To fifth year, the best year yet, and lots of fun stuff to come!”

          This time both James and Sirius hesitated, but Remus drank down the flavored liquid again with enthusiasm. Even with all this stupid drama, for him personally fifth year had been pretty great so far. Because of the spell, he had to exert even less effort in order to pass his classes than he had before. That left plenty of time to relax with Rosie.

          He knew what he wanted to toast now. “Me next,” he said, raising his glass again.

          “Wait, I need a refill,” James mumbled, grabbing the vodka bottle before Sirius could hand it to him. Sirius stared at him for a second before his expression turned slightly menacing.

          “So do I,” Sirius declared, taking the bottle and pouring himself a little more than was in James’s glass. “It’s been a bit of a hard week.”

“Slow down, dear,” James’s voice said disapprovingly as he reached for the bottle again. “The last thing you need is to get into a drinking contest with him.”

          Remus cleared his throat. “Everyone ready?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he continued, the words tumbling out, “To how awesome girlfriends are, how happy love is, and how amazing life is! Cheers!” He grinned loopily, the slightest bit off-balance with what he’d already drunk.

          Sirius stared at him, dumbstruck. “Moony?” he said incredulously, peering at him with his head tipped sideways. “Are you okay?”

          James was brooding again. “Life’s not that amazing,” he muttered.

          Pete just drank.

          Remus looked around at his mates and sighed. This was supposed to be fun. What was he doing, worrying about them and their silly little problems? He wasn’t going to let them ruin his good mood. “Cheers,” he muttered to himself, content to celebrate alone, and poured a little more into his glass. And a little more.

          Sirius felt the room spinning a little, the ground that he sat on not as solid as it was before. Instead of life slowing down around him, as it was for Remus, everything was speeding up. Sirius suddenly got the urge to jump on his bed, and a host of other random impulses. The question was, which of those should he act on first?

“How about fixing things with your best mate? How’s that for an idea?” his voice asked. Sirius nodded.

          “Hey, Prongs,” Sirius said, getting unsteadily to his feet. “Prongs!”

          James looked up, and the sight of Sirius’s face seemed to snap him out of his brooding. “What do you want?” he sighed gustily. “Can’t you all stop talking for even a minute? Silence is golden, Pad.”

          “Don’t be so hard on Padfoot, you’ll lower his self-esteem,” Pete mumbled, grinning at the hilarity of his own joke.

          “Relax, Prongs,” Remus drawled, leaning back contentedly on James. “Sit back and enjoy the flowers.”

          Sirius raised an eyebrow at him, put it down, then raised the other one, and waggled them both suggestively. “What flowers, Moony?”

          “Yes, what flowers, Moony?” James grumbled.

          Remus raised his glass again. “You know, flowers, like love,” he crooned, laughing slightly. “Love is like chocolate, Halloween, and vodka. It makes everything better. Don't you know what love is, Prongs?”

          James snorted. “Waxing poetic, there, are we?” He saluted the sacred bottle in front of him ironically before downing another gulp. “I did have love, Moony. I did. But let me tell you…it hurts a hell of a lot more when it’s taken away than chocolate, Halloween, or vodka.”

          “Well, I don’t know, mate. If Halloween was gone I’d hurt pretty bad,” Peter remarked from where he lounged on the floor.

          “That’s because you’ve never been in love!” James declared loudly, leaping up and gesturing wildly. “She smiles at you and your heart pounds in your ears. She touches your arm and you think you’re going to collapse on the floor in a great big puddle. She kisses you and your entire life flashes before your eyes! And…and then…” He sighed, collapsing back to the floor.

          “And then what?” Sirius gasped, enthralled. He had never experienced such a feeling that James was describing.

          “And then it all gets whipped out from underneath you like a rug. You never want to be in love, Padfoot,” stated James flatly. He looked down his nose at Sirius with a patronizing air. “It hurts.”

          “I’m not afraid of a little hurt,” Sirius argued. “What if it turned out okay? Look at how happy Moony is.”

          Both boys turned to look at their friend, who had been silent for a while. Remus, too, lay on the floor, where he had slipped off James as the latter had risen to present his monologue on love. He was propped up on an elbow, gazing out of the Gryffindor Tower window at the star-studded night sky, muttering to himself.

          “Romeo, Romeo…” He sighed happily, composing sonnets in his head, and nearly upset his half-empty glass, which sat forgotten by his knee.

          “Oh, no, you got him started again,” Pete whispered to James. They had all read more Shakespeare than they would have liked, thanks to their childhood tutors.

          “Oh, let him be, the poor bloke. He almost never gets to be this happy,” Sirius said. “He’s got friends”—here Sirius drank—“grades”—here he drank again, thanks to the spell—“vodka”—and once more—“and a girl.”

          Here Sirius paused. “I wish I had a girl,” he sighed.

“I wonder why you don’t have one,” his voice remarked, making Sirius’s shoulders droop slightly. “Maybe you should try changing your tactics.”

          “Girls are crazy,” James groaned, refilling his cup with yet another inch of liquid and thinking of one girl in particular. For the first time in a while, he felt a little stab of anger piercing its way through his self-pity. “Anyway, you’re better off without them,” he advised gravely.

          “Amen,” Pete agreed. He had never had a real girlfriend, and figured this was a good time to justify the lack.

          Sirius shook his head. “But I like girls,” he protested, stamping his feet. The part of his brain censoring his words had shut down, and his mouth just kept on moving without consideration to what he was saying. The more upset he became—and the more he drank—the less he cared about the sentences that dropped from his tongue. He could barely even make sense of his own thoughts. “Prongs, you can’t tell me you think Lily’s crazy, and that you’re better off without her. Don’t you love her?”

          At the sound of Lily’s name, James suddenly felt his heart break open. Sirius watched, perplexed, as his mate retreated to a corner between his bed and the wall, and stayed there, crouched in the fetal position and brooding. He had also taken the entire bottle with him.

          “What’s wrong, James?” asked Pete, absorbed in tracing the white lacquer on his shot glass.

          Heaving himself up to a crouching position, Sirius scurried over to James in the corner. “Come on, mate,” he prodded the depressed boy on the shoulder, “why so stroppy? I want to help. You can tell us.”

          The reply was quiet. “You.”

          “What?” Sirius scrubbed at his ear. “What did you just say?” James’s mumble had been almost inaudible.

          “I said you!” James suddenly roared in Sirius’s face. “You’re my problem! You are what’s wrong with my life! You ruin everything for me.” Sticking his hand out, he stood up and ticked off fingers. “Everyone thinks you’re so brilliant, and all the girls think you’re just the most smashing thing around! You’re taller than me, you don’t need glasses, you have those fantastic green dress robes, plus no matter how hard I try, the teachers are always more afraid of you than me. You even got more detentions than me last year!”

          Taken aback, Sirius stared up at James. “But…we’re best mates,” he whispered, trembling slightly. “None of that matters, right?”

          James frowned. “Don’t interrupt me,” he sniffed, hands on his hips. “I wasn’t done. The only thing I ever had on you was Quidditch. And Lily. Whenever I felt jealous of you, all I had to do was tell myself, ‘At least you’re more mature than Pad when it comes to girls.’ If I waited long enough, eventually I knew Lily would see that I didn’t want to treat her like you treated the girls you liked.”

          James glared at Sirius, who was becoming shiftier by the second. Sirius never did take confrontation too well, and now, in this slightly drunk state, he was seriously considering any means of escape.

          “I waited for four years, Pad. Four years! And now that she finally gave me a chance, you and Rachel Bailey ruined it. You made me waste four years of my life, chasing after her like an idiot, acquiring various injuries…all for nothing!” James wailed.

          Sirius looked frantically for the other two boys. Remus was still sprawled near the window, halfway across the room. He didn’t even glance their way. Pete was listening with intent interest…or at least, he was trying, but he kept on dozing off.

          Sirius wasn’t about to get any help from them.

          Sirius’s brain churned and half-baked thoughts flew quickly in and out of his mind. Prongs, his best mate, had just accused him of ruining his life.

          The guilt was almost too much. He had violated the very core of the unspoken, unwritten, mostly ambiguous Marauder code, and that was simply unacceptable. Sirius Black was now shamed in the eyes of the Marauders. Now there was nothing to do but leave the Halloween celebration in disgrace.

          Scrambling away from James on his hands and knees, he headed toward the window where Moony was lying nearby. It wasn’t a door, but it would serve the same purpose of escape. He didn’t want to plow through the celebration downstairs, and if he knew where his broom was he would’ve taken that, but maybe he could just climb down the outside of the tower to the ground.

          Vaguely Remus registered that Sirius was blocking out his view of the starry nighttime sky. He opened his mouth to complain, but the next moment Sirius let out a yell of guilt and anguish…

          …Remus pushed himself up to a sitting position…

          …and Sirius disappeared through the window, his hands slipping off of the ledge as his feet scrambled awkwardly for a surface below.

          “Wait,” James shouted, racing toward the window as Remus fought to do the same. “Don’t jump!”

          In his minds’ eye Remus pictured Sirius plummeting to the ground and panicked. Scrambling around for his wand, Remus found it in his pocket and whipped it out. He stuck his head out of the window and roared the first thing that came to mind.

          “Wingardium leviosa!

          Three stories down, Sirius’s downward progression slowed, then lurched to a stop. Painfully, nauseatingly, he began to inch upward. All of his weight was suspended upon the spell that depended on Remus’s concentration to lift him back through the window.

          “Merlin, Moony, what happened?!” James exclaimed anxiously in Remus’s ear. “Did he fall? Oh, no, this is all my fault! Just think, Moony, I’ll have been responsible for Padfoot’s end.” He gasped. “What if it’s reported in the Daily Prophet?”

          Remus sighed, his good mood gone. James was being frighteningly distracting. “Stop being so dramatic,” he muttered. “I got him.”

          But James didn’t hear. “I can just see the headline now,” he said mournfully. “‘James Potter Sends Mate Sirius Black to Death by Grievously Long Fall from Gryffindor Tower.’” He sniffed.

          “I said I got him, Prongs,” Remus exclaimed crossly, trying to wave James out of the way to make room for Sirius in the window. “No need to start composing obituaries yet! Just calm down and we’ll all be okay.”

          There was no chance of that. “You got him?” James shrieked, fighting for window space to confirm that Sirius was indeed alive. “Can you get him? Do you need help? Here, let me help you!” he clamored. Grabbing at Remus’s arm, James tried to gain control of his wand hand.

          “Prongs, stop it,” Remus said through gritted teeth. His body was busy wrestling James and his mind busy with the spell. “Pete! Help me!”

          Peter cracked open a droopy eyelid. “Come on now, stop messing around,” he murmured blearily. “It’s Halloween.” With that, he promptly closed his eyes again.

          Remus groaned in defeat and gave the wand to James, another plan already brewing in his head. If he could just find James’s or Pete’s wand…

          As James turned his attention to Sirius’s crawling progress up three stories of the Gryffindor tower, Remus quickly searched the ground where James had been sitting. No wand. Frantically he poked and prodded Pete until he could get him to roll over. No wand. Scanning the bedspreads and bureau tops of both boys’ beds, Remus tried to shut out the tortured yelps that were coming from the window.

          …tortured yelps?

          Remus raced back over to the window, shoving James more or less haphazardly to the side. That didn’t stop the other boy from continuing to flick his wand to and fro and chuckling quietly to himself. The result was that outside, suspended in midair, Sirius was performing spectacular barrel rolls and somersaults. Flailing helplessly against the hold of the spell, he was beginning to look nauseous. His cries for mercy went unheeded. Apparently James Potter was now getting his revenge for every wrong his best mate had ever done him.

          “Prongs, what are you doing?” Remus cried. “I thought you wanted to save him!”

          James didn’t look even his way. “I changed my mind,” he stated simply.

          “Moony!” Sirius wailed desperately, his voice fluctuating as he spun in the air, “make him stop! Make him stop it! I think I’m getting sick—”

          “Never!” growled James, twirling Remus’s wand with concentrated ferocity. “You’re a relationship-ruining, werewolf-ditching, dishonorable Marauder! You deserve it!”

“Now, James, be reasonable—”

          Sirius called for help again, but everyone was in the common room at the Gryffindor Halloween party, and didn’t hear.

          “Please stop, Prongs,” Remus pleaded, running his hands through his blond hair helplessly. “Pad promises to be better about things, don’t you, Pad?” he asked Sirius pointedly.

          Sirius was never given the opportunity to answer, as James began to elevate him to a height past their fifth story dorm window, grinning maniacally. “Say you’re sorry,” he ordered the boy, who looked too nauseous to answer. “Say, ‘James, you’re my master and I’m sorry I ever made you feel insecure about yourself.’”

          Remus took this opportunity to dive back into his search for a wand. He opened James’s trunk, searched in his spare robes, and under his pillow. Still no wand.

          “Say it,” James said warningly, flipping Sirius a few more times.

          Apparently this was a few too many flips for Sirius to tolerate. Remus cringed as he heard all the contents of Sirius’s stomach, accompanied by the liquor he had just drank, upend to end up in the bushes at the foot of Gryffindor tower.

          Turning around, Remus finally spotted James’s wand, sticking out of the back pocket of his pants. He ran over, grumbling in exasperation, to finally levitate a pale and trembling Sirius through the window. The faint scent of vomit wafted up from the ground to fill the room, and Remus was guessing, all of the rooms below them as well.

          Once he took his own wand back, he went to see if he could Vanish the vomit, but most of it had ended up inside the clump of bushes. Remus had to content himself with an Aguamenti charm, which didn’t do much.

          “Well, everyone’s going to smell that when the morning sun hits,” James joked. He seemed to be in a better mood now that he had exacted his revenge successfully. Sirius, shamed into silence, was sulking in the bathroom.

          “We can already smell it,” Remus snapped, irritated that his peace had once again been ruined. “Let’s close the window before it gets worse.”

          James laughed with delight. “That is so weird! Usually when something smells bad you open the window. Except now, we have to close it because the smell is outside, under our window. We can’t even air the room out!”

          “I’m glad you’re beginning to understand the consequences of your actions,” Remus grumbled.

          He scooped up the mostly empty bottle, still lying in the middle of the room, and dumped it into Sirius’s trunk along with his glass. He kicked Pete awake and put away his own glass before collapsing on his bed.

          “I’m going to sleep now,” he announced crossly.

          “This has been the best Halloween ever,” James said contentedly before he too crawled into his bed. He sniffed the air and winced. “But maybe we should borrow some perfume from the girls tomorrow.”

A/N: Well, I suppose your answers are Dramatic Drunk, Manic Drunk, Romantic Drunk, and Lethargic Drunk, respectively. =]

I’d love, love, love some reviews with your thoughts on this one. It was a tangent off the main plot, but we will return shortly.

Next chapter: Sirius tries to hold a conversation with James while Rosie resolves to finally pay a visit to Lily. However, despite their best efforts, they just couldn’t bring themselves to vocalize their feelings.

Chapter 14: They Couldn't Vocalize Their Feelings
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

          “What do you mean, you fell out of the window?!” Rosie cried, feeling horrified at the thought, but laughing at it all the same. She cast an accusing glance at Sirius, who sat on the squishy armchair directly across from her. “You’ve gone too far, Sirius Black. Now I know you’re just making up these crazy tales.”

          “Not at all,” Sirius replied, grinning. “It’s a true story. Just ask Remus, he was there.”

          Rosie felt something in her stomach clench when Sirius spoke his name. Fleetingly she glanced at the Charms textbook and big bundle of Charms notes that sat on the low table separating her and Sirius. Remus was supposed to be helping her review for the exam Flitwick had planned for the following Monday, but he was running late. It had been two days since Halloween, yet Rosie had barely seen Remus since. Lately it seemed like he was always dashing about and playing the mediator between his two feuding best mates. Rosie was afraid that he would exhaust himself, but a little more selfish and a little more important was the fact that she was feeling neglected.

          Unwilling to voice her concerns to Sirius, Rosie changed the subject by rolling her eyes. “So, how are you not taking another trip to the Hospital Wing then, if you really did fall out of the window?”

          “I got saved,” Sirius said matter-of-factly, his grin fading the slightest bit. “Remus levitated me back up before I hit the ground.”

          “Wild night, then?” Rosie raised her eyebrows disapprovingly. “I’m surprised you lot could even sit up straight yesterday, never mind going to class. To be honest, I thought you would take it easy. James didn’t look at the top of his game that night.”

          Sirius frowned and his expression darkened. “He was perfectly fine.”

          “Really? That’s great! You all seemed so on edge, you needed to have some fun after you and Lily landed yourselves in the Hospital Wing,” Rosie said, her voice escalating up an octave as she tried to sound full of innocent enthusiasm. Her stomach sank a little from guilt at the mention of her best friend’s name. “Hey—that reminds me, I never got the chance to finish asking you at the Halloween feast. How did Lily seem when you got released?”

          “Like a fire-breathing dragon mum when faced with a hungry hippogriff who’s trying to eat her eggs,” Sirius said flatly, though the severe frown that knotted his eyebrows loosened up considerably. “I don’t know, though, maybe she’ll be different for you.”

          Rosie sighed. “Usually I’m pretty good at getting Lil to open up to me about things, but I’m afraid that maybe this time she’s too proud to tell me what’s wrong. But what if it’s too much for her to handle by herself without breaking down?”

          Sirius felt his insides swoop with genuine guilt. “Then go,” he urged. “It’s definitely worth a try.” And better for Rosie to help than me, because I definitely don’t stand a chance. Lily won’t listen to me, he consoled himself.

          Rosie wavered momentarily. “When Remus gets here, can you tell him I’m at the Hospital Wing and I’ll be back in a while?”

          Sirius shrugged. “Sure, I have detention with McGonagall in a little while anyway so you lovebirds will have the common room to yourselves.” He cast a glance behind him at the deserted couches and tables. “I swear, Ro, you and Moony are the only ones who would ever consider studying on a Friday night.”

          “Yeah, I know.” Rosie grinned as she left Sirius and headed out into the hall, but the smile wasn’t exactly whole-hearted. As much as she wanted to go see Lily, she was afraid that she might say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing, and bring the whole situation crashing down around her ears. She knew how volatile Lily was when she was angry, or worse, hurt.

          It used to be that Rosie could wait out the storm, but never had she faced any situation so complicated before. Rosie understood that Lily was only mad—and she had only let Rachel’s words hurt her pride—because she was beginning to value James, even if she hadn’t figured it out yet.

          In a way, Rosie knew that this was a step in the right direction. But all this involved Lily’s feelings about James, and that made it a horribly dangerous topic to broach.

          She passed a large vase of assorted flowers in one of the alcoves that always caught the sunlight from the east. Rosie picked out the prettiest blooms and tied them together with a flick of her wand. Then she wondered if she should go to the kitchens and gather up some sweets, too.

“I’m sure Lily will appreciate your visit more than any dessert you bring her. Now enough stalling, just get on with it. Time is a-ticking,” her voice reminded her dryly.

          “I know, I know,” Rosie muttered, and resumed her path towards the Hospital Wing without further deterrence. However, once she found herself standing outside of the doors, she suddenly felt very uncertain—more uncertain even than before. It had been only a week since she had seen her best friend and closest confidante. Could things really have become so awkward between them in such a short time? And if not, why was she even afraid that they would? Tense minutes passed.

“Oh, this is a wonderful way to spend a Friday night. Even better than studying!”

          Rosie rolled her eyes, feeling foolish. “You know what, you’re right. This is getting ridiculous!” She grasped the bouquet of flowers tightly and stepped forward. “Here I go,” she muttered before pushing the door open.

          The entire Wing was lit very dimly. Aside from the lamps inside Madam Pomfrey’s office and the last glimmers of twilight fading near the window, there was only one light among the rows of white beds. It came from behind a screen that had been set up around the bed in the far right corner.

          Rosie looked around and saw a young boy, maybe a first- or second-year, nursing bright red boils on his cheeks and ears. An older girl, who Rosie recognized as the seventh-year Hufflepuff Seeker, had a healing broken wrist propped up on top of bags of Ever-Frozen ice. She was napping. Aside from the bed behind the screen, there was nobody else in the Wing. Taking a deep breath, Rosie headed towards the far corner.

          Cautiously she peered around the screen, taking care not to startle Lily if she had not heard her coming—or if for some strange reason it was not Lily at all. But the lamp was set up conveniently by a stack of books, and its light reflected off of the head of red hair bent diligently over the reading. Rosie knew at once that it was her.

          “Hey,” Rosie whispered quietly. There was no response at first, but she saw Lily’s eyes freeze on the page she had been scanning.

          “Lil, look. I brought you some flowers.” Rosie edged over to the bedside to stick the flowers into a vase that was already set up next to the bed. She found herself feeling glad that she had taken the time to bring them, because the empty vase had looked pretty lonely.

          Lily raised her head and looked at the flowers. She, too, seemed to realize how much nicer the bedside table now looked. Then she finally dragged her gaze over to where Rosie stood, shuffling her feet nervously on the tiles of the floor. “Thanks.”

          Rosie reached over to give Lily a hug, but the other girl tensed in her grip until she finally gave up and let go. “So, how is your leg? How are you holding up here?”

          Lily let out a small sigh and fiddled with the edges of her sheets. She didn’t answer for a long time, and when she finally spoke, her voice was stretched with tension. “So now you finally come?”

          Flabbergasted, Rosie gaped. The silence grew louder as she searched for an answer. “I—I…”

          James voiced the password to the common room wearily and slogged through the portrait hole when the Fat Lady opened up. He dragged his broom and his winter Quidditch gear behind him.

          James groaned silently. His right shoulder hurt like hell whenever he lifted his arm, and he was afraid that perhaps he’d hurt his rotator cuff during Quidditch practice. Going to the Hospital Wing was out of the question, though, and unless James happened to see the nurse passing in the corridors, it looked like Madam Pomfrey wouldn’t be able to help him. He had sworn to himself to do the mature thing this time and to let Lily alone to give her some space. If he popped into the Hospital Wing now, complaining of a sore shoulder, she would think he was being annoying and arrogant by trying to win back her forgiveness. She would think he was back to his old ways again.

          He knew Lily Evans backwards and forwards, or so he had thought before the Incident. But this set of rules applied only to that other Lily, the fair and level-headed one who should have realized that blaming James was wrong. Now the more James thought about it, the more he wasn’t sure what to do with this new Lily.

          He so wanted to see her again. After such a long and horrible week, just a glimpse would make him happy. But he was afraid that the glimpse might cost him the chance to mend their newfound friendship, at the very least, so he stayed away.

          James plodded into the common room with these despairing thoughts swirling about his head, and Sirius turned around in his chair at the sound of his footsteps.

          “Padfoot,” James noted curtly, his voice sharp even though his body drooped with Quidditch pains and fatigue. He had made an effort, however weak, to mend things with Sirius since the fiasco on Halloween night. He greeted him whenever they crossed paths; he bid him goodnight every night along with the other Marauders and their dorm-mate, Sean Spinnet. Even though he usually received nothing in response but a grunt or a cold nod, it was better than ignoring his best mate’s existence altogether.

          Honestly, James did this only because he felt guilty for what had happened on Halloween, not because he thought Sirius was right about their previous arguments. It had been a low blow that night to accuse Sirius of betraying all the Marauders, when in actuality it was just his poor judgment and habits, not malicious intent, which had caused all of their troubles.

          And then flipping Sirius around in midair as revenge? James knew Lily would have disapproved. It was infantile behavior, or at least, those were the words that his voice had used to describe it.

          Sirius watched silently as James trudged past him towards the boys’ staircase. It seemed like he wasn’t going to offer a response at all. But right before James began the painful ascendance, he called out, “Prongs! Wait.”

          James turned around. Sirius sat alone near the fire in a worn armchair, with books and parchment spread out across the low table in front of him. James frowned when he noticed that Sirius looked pained and guilty. He couldn’t help but hope if perhaps his best mate had finally decided to take up James’s extended hand of apology.

          James waited expectantly for him to speak, but he didn’t. “Yeah?” he prodded.

          “Have you—have you gone to see Lily yet?”

          Blood pounded suddenly into James’s ears, and his hands felt icy cold. Just hearing Sirius speak her name was infuriating. James needed to repent for the embarrassment on Halloween night, sure, but in no way was talking to Sirius about Lily acceptable to him right now. “No,” he said sharply. And he turned to go again.

          “Rosie’s there now,” Sirius burst out.

          James froze in his tracks. “And why are you telling me this?”

          “I—I just think it would be better if you go soon, too, that’s all.” Sirius was starting to sound defensive again. “No need to get snappy.”

          “I’m snappy?” James asked incredulously, spinning around on his heels to face Sirius. “Really, you’re accusing me of being snappy?” Without waiting for an answer, James continued, “And besides, what’s it to you whether I go or not?”

          “I’m just saying, Lily probably needs to talk to someone, and since she won’t talk to me, I sent Rosie. And now I’m sending you.”

          “Oh, so now you’re looking out for Lily, is that it?” James cried, his anger flaring up when he thought of the hours and years he had spent chasing after her. Sirius was being patronizing. “Thanks mate, but I think I know how to handle this situation on my own. You’ve done enough to help already.”

          Sirius sighed, shook his head, and looked away. “Well, I tried. I really think you have a good chance at fixing things, but it’s your loss if you won’t listen to me,” he said, shrugging. “She only spoke to me once while I was in the Wing with her, and it was right when I got there. She said—”

          “Please, spare me,” James interrupted, annoyed. “I thought we had put everything behind us, now that you finally decided to speak to me again. But let me make this very clear to you, Padfoot. I don’t want you to interfere anymore with whatever’s going on—or not going on—with me and Lily. If we can’t carry on our normal lives without you poking your nose in, then…” He trailed off, not wanting to finish the sentence aloud.

          “Fine, have it your way,” Sirius stated coldly. “You obviously don’t care for your best mate anymore. Have fun scampering around with Lily then—if you can even get her to look at you. Otherwise, you can carry on your normal life alone, and I won’t poke my nose in any further!”

          James heaved an aggravated sigh. “You know that’s not what I meant,” he argued. “Why do you think I have to choose between you and Lily?”

          Sirius rolled his eyes. “Are you dense? Can’t you see that you’re the one who’s making it that way?”

          “I don’t know what the problem is here,” James grumbled. “All I said is that I don’t want your help in getting back with Lily. I never said I didn’t want my best mate anymore.”

          Sirius barked out a dry laugh. “You say that now, when you don’t have Lily and you don’t have me, either. But as soon as Lily-flower comes around, it’s back to the doghouse with ol’ Pad. This is getting ridiculous.”

          “I wouldn’t do that,” James protested uneasily.

          “You already did,” Sirius said.

          James struggled for a moment with this idea. Could there possibly be a grain of truth in it? In the end, he couldn’t bring himself to believe it. Sirius was just wallowing in self-pity again.

          “But you’re still conveniently overlooking the slight detail that ol’ Pad is the one who caused her to hate me in the first place,” he pointed out.

          “That’s not the point,” Sirius retorted.

          “Well, I’m done standing around waiting for you to get there,” James said, throwing his hands up into the air. A dull prickle of pain shot through his right shoulder. “We’re going around in circles. I have Transfiguration homework, a Potions essay, and a throbbing shoulder to take care of. You can talk to me again when you’re ready to stop being daft and wasting my time.”

          “Cheers,” Sirius harrumphed. He watched silently as James hobbled up the staircase to the dorms, dragging his Quidditch stuff with him. “You can talk to me again when you realize how bad life is without your best mate,” he whispered to the empty common room.

          Sirius was still trying to swallow the lump in his throat when the portrait door swung open again. This time it was Remus who entered, out of breath and panting from exertion. Sirius raised an eyebrow and determinedly forced an amused tone.

          “Something scary chasing after you, mate?”

          “Ha, ha, you’re funny, Pad. I was in the Library, researching for….”

          Remus hesitated, wanting to tell Sirius about his attempts to find a potion that would act as an antidote to his lycanthropic condition. The Mind-Sharpening Spell freed up some time for him, and after the last, near-catastrophic full moon, he had thrown himself even further into the task. From his knowledge of general magical theory, he knew that Charms, Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, Defense, or—god forbid—Divination wouldn’t be much help to him here. His best bets were Transfiguration, Herbology, and Potions. So far, he hadn’t found any promising plants, and nothing he learned about Transfiguration sounded helpful. He was still in the process of dredging up Potions books from the depths of the back Library shelves.

          Finally Remus decided against mentioning it. “I just lost track of the time, that’s all,” he explained. “I was supposed to meet Rosie here half an hour ago to study Charms, so I ran all the way here.”

          Sirius gestured in front of him, indicating the notes Rosie had left. “You just missed her, Moony. She went to pop by the Hospital Wing and see Lily. She said she’ll be back in a bit.”

          “Oh.” Remus felt unreasonably deflated. After all, it was he who had been late. But he had expected to spend a nice evening with Rosie, a luxury that he had not been able to afford since Sirius’s hospital stint had ended and ushered in a tense, solemn awkwardness between his best mates.

          Shaking the disappointment away, Remus took a seat across from Sirius. “So what’re you up to tonight?” he asked in an effort to break the uneasy silence.

          “Detention with Minnie.” Sirius and Remus shared a dry grin as they remembered the duel.

          “And Pete?”

          “No idea,” Sirius shook his head, “but I wouldn’t worry about it. He’s always off doing something or another without us these days. Probably homework. He doesn’t get it done as quickly as the rest of us, the poor sod. He doesn’t have the—you know…”

          “Yeah, the spell.” Remus nodded. “How’s your voice these days?”

          Sirius considered. “Quiet. For once.”

          Remus chuckled. “Mine, too. It’s a sodding miracle that thing ever shut up. It’s been putting the craziest ideas into my mind, you know.”

          “It’s like I’ve almost gotten used to it,” Sirius commented. He braced his hands on his knees and heaved himself to a standing position, groaning. “Well, I’ve got to head out now or Minnie will have my bollocks for bookends. I’m one big ache from head to toe. Mopping floors really takes it out of me.”

          Remus nodded and picked up the Charms textbook to flip through it. He pretended to seem nonchalant as he asked, “Hey, Pad, you wouldn’t happen to know where Prongs is, would you?”

          There was a short silence in which Remus didn’t dare look up from his book. Then Sirius said mildly, “He’s up in the dorms, nursing his Quidditch boo-boos. Send my regards, Moony.”

          Remus didn’t head up the stairs until the portrait door had closed safely behind him, and he was sure Sirius had gone.

          Lily listened to Rosie stammer for a few long seconds before she turned back to her book. Now that the other girl had successfully killed all hope that there was a valid explanation for her absence, there was nothing for Lily to do but sink further into apathetic depression.

          “Thanks for the flowers,” she cut Rosie off. “You can go now.”

          “What?” Rosie asked, aghast.

          “I have a lot of homework that I need to catch up on.”

          Rosie sat on the bed and took her book away from her. “Look at me, Lil.” Lily complied with a dull-eyed stare and took strange satisfaction from the way Rosie seemed obviously disconcerted. “Are you mad at me?”

          Lily shook her head with some level of honesty. Surprisingly, she felt no anger; it was like the usual energy that fueled her temper had been snuffed out like a flame. Actually, she didn’t feel much of anything towards Rosie—she was barely upset at her in all her loneliness. As contradictory as it was, now that Rosie had finally come, Lily wished she would go away.

          “Well, you have every right to be,” Rosie proclaimed, nobly laying herself out for repentance. “I’m sorry I didn’t come earlier. I thought maybe you needed some time to yourself.”

          Lily shrugged and turned to pick out another book from the stack on the bedside table. This one she held out of Rosie’s reach as she began to idly flip the pages.

          Rosie frowned when she realized that the normal procedure, admitting fault and begging forgiveness, would not work this time. “I know there’s something wrong aside from your hip, Lil,” she tried again. “Can I help you with it?”

          “Nope,” Lily replied flatly. “I’m fine.”

          “Are you sure?” Rosie pressed in a strangled voice, feeling the awkward atmosphere constrict her throat.

          “Yes.” This, of course, was an outright lie. Though Lily was neither particularly upset nor angry at Rosie, Lily felt terrible. It was nothing she wanted to discuss with her friend; she could barely describe it to herself. And even then, it sounded foolish.

“You never know until you try!” her voice reminded her.

          Lily frowned slightly, dismissing the idea. Instead, she tried to think of a way to ask Rosie about James without being overt.

          “How is…everyone?” she asked. So much for being discreet.

          Rosie coughed into her fist. “Well, Remus told me you two spoke when he came to visit Sirius earlier,” she began. “And Emma and Irina and I spent Halloween together at the party in the common room. It was quite nice. By the way, did you hear that Sean Spinnet asked Irina to Hogsmeade? It was adorable! Right in the middle of class he just waved his wand and the words appeared on the chalkboard—”

          Lily gave up. “Tell her congratulations from me, then.”

          “I will.”

          Then tense silence fell again. Lily could see Rosie scrunching her nose up in consternation as she tried to think of new conversation to make to fill the void. She wanted to tell Ro that it was useless to distract her, that nothing could make her feel better until she apologized to James, but she couldn’t bring herself to form the words. It was too painful.

          Instead, she said, “You really should get going. It’s late.”

          “No,” Rosie began to protest, looking supremely unsatisfied. But Lily set aside her book and waved her wand, extinguishing her bedside lamp and plunging both of them into darkness.

          “I’m going to bed. Good night.”

          Unable to do anything else, Rosie stood up and sighed. “I wish you’d let me in, Lil. I’m worried about you.”

          “Don’t be. It doesn’t concern you.” Lily shifted in her bed and said nothing more. A lead weight settled uneasily in Rosie’s stomach as she made her way out of the Hospital Wing and back towards Gryffindor Tower. Before she was even completely out of the Wing, she could see Lily’s reading light turn back on. It wasn’t even 9 o’clock yet, after all.

“Suddenly the prospect of studying looks so much better,” her voice commented.

A/N: Oh, teenagers. They never say what they mean or mean what they say. I'm not too sure myself what I think of this chapter, but please review and let me know whether or not you liked it.

Next chapter: A talk in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom seemed like a smart idea at the time. After all, nobody ever goes in there, right? But if two friends have the same idea, there’s no way they could avoid overhearing a top secret conversation.

Chapter 15: They Couldn't Avoid Overhearing a Top Secret Conversation
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

          The fifth-year Gryffindors had just endured yet another sleep-inducing OWL preparation lecture, courtesy of Professor Slughorn. Despite the fact that the OWLs were in May, which was still a good six months from now, the teachers were really laying it on thick. It would only be a matter of time before the first nervous breakdown would occur.

          In fact, if James and Sirius had been fully reconciled with each other, they would’ve already been laying down bets as to who would be the first in their House to break.

          But as it was, they existed in an awkward limbo between anger and reconciliation, exhausted from trying to apologize and end the suffering but too proud to admit fault. There had been no Marauder disruptions or distractions at all since the Incident almost a month ago, and Gryffindor Tower was unusually quiet with the Marauders skulking around unhappily, alone or in pairs—never all together since Halloween. Nobody complained; they simply used the silence to study. But Rosie, whose Sharpened mind eased her burden of schoolwork, had more important things to think about.

          There was Lily, for one. The redhead had finally emerged from her prolonged stay at the Hospital Wing a couple weeks ago, her hip fully healed, if a little stiff and sore.

          After that first, frankly disastrous, visit, Rosie had been shaken to the core by Lily’s strange behavior. And although she had prowled the corridors outside the Hospital Wing for nearly a week after, she had not once mustered up the courage to go inside again. She had ended up creeping into the Hospital Wing at the crack of dawn or the dead of night, leaving books, flowers, and boxes of chocolate on Lily’s bedside table, and always with a note and an excuse about why she couldn’t make it during the day.

          At first, Rosie had only wanted to give her some space to do some thinking. But as the days went by, Rosie found herself feeling guiltier and guiltier. It was not until the day Lily had been released that her voice had explained to her what she could not admit to herself.

The more time that passes, the more upset she’ll be that you haven’t returned. Of course, the more upset she’ll be, the less you want to go see her. I’m sorry to report that you’ve really shot yourself in the foot this time.”

          Needless to say, this had only made Rosie feel worse. So in the most non-cowardly and purposeful way possible she had marched up the stairs to her dorm to where Lily lay that day, resting from her laborious move back.

          Rosie had definitely expected Lily to yell. And maybe swear. And maybe even hex her. The mounting apprehension in her chest had tightened with every step up the stairs, and by the time Rosie had entered the room, she felt like vomiting. But surprisingly, before she could even say a word, Lily had only looked at her with dull eyes and then buried her face into her pillow.

          Without speaking, Rosie had picked her way across the floor and sat down on Lily’s bed beside her. Gently she had rubbed the other girl’s back until finally, Lily raised her head to look at her. Then, with a mutual sigh of relief, all had been forgiven.

          But the stay in the Hospital Wing had changed Lily for the worse. Far from being well-rested and in good spirits, Lily had become lethargic and indifferent to everything.

          This new Lily terrified Rosie more than anything else her friend had ever done. It was because of this new attitude that she had been let off the hook so easily. But far from being grateful, Rosie was seriously concerned. And this concern had recently eclipsed all of her other problems, including her nagging worries about Remus and the Marauders.

          At the present moment, the Gryffindor fifths were practically bowling each other over in their hurry to get out of the dungeons and out for some fresh air after that last lecture. It wasn’t until the crowd had raced out of the classroom that Rosie spotted Lily, still rummaging through her bag without really looking for anything. Her face was pulled down into a frown.

          Rosie walked over to the redhead. “Hey, Lil?” she asked softly, putting a hand on her arm. “Do you have a minute?”

          Lily raised her head to look at her friend questioningly. “Yeah…I guess,” she said. “Why?”

          “I need to talk to you.” Lily opened her mouth, presumably to utter some ridiculous excuse, but Rosie kept going. “Why do you keep on avoiding my questions all the time? You’re not acting like yourself. Don’t you know that you’ll feel better if you tell someone?”

          Lily’s severe expression fell a bit at Rosie’s stern tone. “Where did you get that attitude from? You sound like me,” she said, sighing.

          “Not anymore,” Rosie corrected. “Just look at yourself. The girl you were a month and a half ago would beat you about the head with a Transfiguration textbook if she could see you now!” She grabbed Lily’s hands imploringly. “Lily, I’m worried. Will you please just talk to me?”

          Rosie could tell by the way Lily’s brow was unknotting that she was caving slightly. It would just take a little more…and she knew precisely what would do it.

          Rosie zipped up Lily’s bag and handed it to her. “Lately I’ve really wanted the old Lily back,” she admitted quietly, dropping her eyes. It wasn’t exactly a lie. “I have a lot of stuff going on, too, and I need your advice on some things.”

          Lily was silent for a moment. She chewed her lower lip, thinking. “Like what?” she finally said.

          Rosie took her by the shoulder and steered her out of the classroom, trying to suppress a triumphant smile. “Hold on for just a second. Where can we go for some privacy?” she asked, looking up and down the corridor.

          Lily almost smiled. “Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. Nobody ever goes in there.”

          “Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom it is, then,” she announced, and the two girls began to walk down the hall side by side.

          Downstairs, Remus caught James by the arm as the dark-haired boy rushed past him, intent on reaching the double doors. “Wait, do you have a minute, Prongs? What’s your hurry?”

          James looked harried. “I’ve just been informed that we’re holding a Quidditch practice in half an hour and that it’s my responsibility to tell everyone, since the damned Captain can’t be bothered with it,” he said crossly.

          “Why you?” Remus asked, a frown on his pale, drawn face.

          “I’m the first one he saw in the halls,” James said simply. “That prat.” There was no love lost between Gryffindor’s star chaser and his captain Kyle Jonas, who was of a slightly arrogant and distant sort.

          “Well, pass the responsibility on to someone else, because what I have to tell you is important,” Remus declared with a pointed look over James’s shoulder at another member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team who was ambling by.

          James sighed gustily, but complied. After a brief exchange with the fourth-year Beater, he returned to Remus’s side and grumbled, “This had better be good, Moony.”

          Remus raised his eyebrows. “Have you forgotten what day of the month it is tomorrow?”

          James’s jaw dropped. Of course he hadn’t meant to forget, but this past month had positively flown by in a whirlwind of guilty and virtually depressing thoughts. There was hardly room for eating and sleeping with all the time spent on moping and half-apologetic conversations. Apparently the myth that time flies only when one is having fun had now been proven incorrect.

          James looked around the Entrance Hall for eavesdroppers. Feeling unsatisfied, he turned back to Remus. “Where can we talk?”

          “The Room of Requirement?” Remus suggested.

          James shook his head and snorted. “Occupied. Where do you think Jonas went in such a big hurry?”

          Remus’s lip twitched as he fought a smile and failed to contain it. “You can’t blame the poor bloke. After all, he’s only got half an hour,” Remus quipped.

          James only had time to throw one exaggeratedly scandalized look at him before Remus took him by the arm once more and began to drag him forcefully towards the stairs. “Moony, slow down,” he protested, rubbing his sore shoulder. Quidditch practice had been brutal of late and James was not exactly feeling quick on his feet. “Where are we going, anyway?”

          “Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom,” he said without looking back. “We can’t afford to have anyone hear us, right? This is important.”

          “So, what can I help you with, Ro?” Lily asked curiously as the two girls set their stuff down on the floor near the last stall in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. They dropped down, eyeing the slimy floor distastefully, to perch precariously on their schoolbags.

          “What?” Rosie asked, startled. She had already forgotten about her ruse to bring Lily back into her confidentiality.

          “You said something was bothering you,” the redhead said pointedly. There was a grumpy look on her face as she surveyed her friend. “And you better not say that it’s about me,” she added with a shrewd look.

          Surely enough, those words had been on the tip of Rosie’s tongue. Holding back a blush, she shrugged and said, “It’s about Remus. He hasn’t been feeling well lately, but he doesn’t really respond when I try to help him get better.” It was the truth, but she averted her gray eyes from Lily’s green ones. They were quickly straying into sensitive territory.

          “Why? He still likes you,” Lily said.

          Rosie swallowed. “I know, Lil. It has nothing to do with me. He’s just so torn up about James and Sirius fighting.”

          Lily’s expression hardened immediately, but her mouth trembled as she bit back a sob. “Well, it’s none of his business,” she remarked softly.

          “Oh, it’s not?” Rosie cried, more passionately than she had meant to. “They’re his best mates, Lily! And when they’re sore about something, they are intolerable. All they do all day is mope, sigh, grumble, and complain. Even I’ve had enough of it!” She paused, eyeing the redhead carefully to make sure she was listening. “It’s affecting me, too. And neither James nor Sirius is my best friend.”

          The point had hit home. Tears welled up in Lily’s eyes as she stared determinedly at the bricks on the wall opposite her. The entire wall was covered with a strange green growth that looked hazardous.

          “What do you suppose that stuff on the wall is?” Lily asked quietly.

          Rosie sighed. Maybe it had been too soon in the conversation to bring up a dangerous subject. “I don’t know.” She smiled slightly. “You’re the one who’s good at Herbology, you figure it out.” There was a short silence in which the two girls stared at the growth on the wall. Then the redhead turned back to face the other girl.

          “Oh, Ro,” Lily exhaled heavily, running her hands through her hair in defeat. “I wish you would get mad at me more often. I really need to pull myself together, don’t I?”

          Rosie could feel herself grinning in earnest now. She reached over to envelop Lily in a comforting hug. “Yeah, you do. And you can start by telling me exactly what you’re thinking about,” she ordered. “If you don’t get it out of your system, you’ll never feel better.”

          Lily smiled wanly. “You’ll make a good mum someday, you know?”

          The two girls laughed and settled themselves more comfortably on their bags. Rosie waited patiently in silence while Lily gathered her thoughts.

          “I—I’m not sure why this bothers me so much, but…if I want to be honest with myself, the problem is James,” Lily said after a while. She had adopted a grimace on her face, like it had pained her to admit such a preposterous thing. And Rosie knew that it probably had.

          “That makes sense. He and Sirius were being insensitive jerks. But that’s how boys are sometimes. You can’t stay mad at them forever, right?” Rosie prodded.

          “It wasn’t just that,” Lily sighed. “They were trying so hard to apologize for what they’d done, but it was only because they wanted me to stop being mad. I knew they hadn’t really understood the consequences of their actions. They weren’t sorry they made the mistake. They were sorry that I was mad because of it.”

          Rosie nodded as Lily fell silent, a conflicted look on her face. “And this relates to James because…” she encouraged.

          “Well, after thinking for a while, I kind of realized that—well, maybe James wasn’t as much to blame as I thought he was,” Lily admitted, looking uncomfortable. “It was just easier to get mad at him because—because I guess I’ve always been mad at him. Plus, I thought he’d always come back to beg forgiveness from me in the end.”

          Rosie continued to nod soothingly. Inside, though, her stomach was lurching with excitement. Could it be possible? Was stubborn, unmovable Lily Evans finally coming to terms with herself about James Potter?

          “I was so happy about the way things had been going with him that I guess I exaggerated his involvement in Black’s…mistake.” Lily’s voice still withered with disdain when she spoke the unfortunate boy’s name. “But, Ro, I really was so disappointed in him. I had built him up and built him up into something that I doubt even the most perfect boy on Earth could live up to.”

          Lily squeezed her eyes shut forcefully, but tears started to leak from the corners and streak down her flushed cheeks anyway. Rosie levered herself up to give her friend another hug. “Oh, Lily,” she said sadly.

          “And that’s not even the worst part,” the other girl said in a tremulous whisper, burying her face in her hands.

          Rosie sighed, her heart going out to Lily completely. She had no idea of the complete truth behind Lily’s depressed state. “What’s the worst part, then?” she asked.

          Lily took a deep, shaking breath. “When the accident happened, I was coming back to apologize to him,” she said between sobs. “I didn’t know how to land the broom. The whole school must’ve heard me crash. And”—here she sniffled violently—“when I woke up in the Hospital Wing, I had been so sure he would be there. If not immediately, then he’d come whenever he had a spare moment. I was so sure he’d be worried about me. And I thought that when he’d come to visit me, I would apologize for being such a bitch to him.”

          Rosie was quiet. She knew that Lily meant more than only the events of this year. She also knew that the implications of this apology would be huge in the eyes of James Potter. But of course it was devastating to Lily’s own pride, when she discovered that she was the one in the wrong.

          “The worst part was that he never came,” Lily continued softly, her body shivering with sobs. She refused to look at herself in the mirror on the wall for fear of seeing the pathetic state she had been reduced to.

          “I never got a chance to apologize, because he didn’t care enough about me anymore to come see me.” She leaned her head tiredly against the stall door behind her. “I only got stuck in the Hospital Wing with that sodding git Sirius Black for four days.”

          Rosie exhaled heavily. “I’m so sorry, Lil. Have you talked to him since you got discharged?”

          “What do you think?” Lily said sadly, shaking her head. “You know me, Rosie. I’m mad at him for not coming to see me. How can I simply walk up to him and strike up a conversation when I’m mad at him?”

          “But are you really mad at him anymore?” the blonde asked shrewdly.

          There was a short pause. “No,” Lily conceded. “I suppose he’s got more than enough on his plate with his problems with his best mates. And…do you think he might’ve been too scared to visit?” she asked. “He had driven me to hysterics the last time we’d spoken, anyway.”

          Rosie cleared her throat nervously before smiling as Lily. “I think it’s safe to say that fear is the reason he never came,” she said.

          “And you, also?” Lily asked, wiping her wet cheeks with the sleeve of her robes.


          There was a strange silence in which the girls couldn’t decide whether to laugh or apologize to each other. Finally, Lily cracked a small smile and asked, “So what do you think I should do now?”

          But before Rosie could answer, the two girls heard male voices in the hall approaching the bathroom. Panicking, Lily leaped up and seized her bag, getting ready to run and motioning for Rosie to do the same. The blonde girl rolled her eyes and put a finger to her lips to tell Lily to be quiet. The voices were undeniably coming closer.

          “Moony, for the last time, why are we going into a woman’s bathroom?” a deep voice complained. “What if there are girls in there?”

          Lily’s face grew pale in recognition of the voice, and a small whimper escaped her tightly compressed lips. She would have slumped right to the floor had Rosie not caught her.

          “Be quiet!” Rosie hissed. “We can still leave. Just act natural.”

          “No,” Lily moaned quietly as she glanced at her reflection in the mirror. “Are you crazy? I look like hell. He’ll know that I was crying!”

          “So, what? He won’t know you were crying over him,” Rosie said urgently in a near whisper. “What else can we do?”

          Outside, a second voice answered the first wearily. “I told you, Prongs, nobody ever goes into Myrtle’s bathroom. Sometimes Myrtle is hiding in a toilet and sometimes she’s not, but either way, who wants to run the risk? Don’t you remember what happened to us the time we hid in there while running from Filch? That’s not an experience you’d think other people would want to go through, is it?”

          The chuckle from the first boy echoed in the bathroom. They were quickly approaching.

          Lily’s gaze darted around the room, trying to find a place to hide or a means of escape. Finally she shoved on the door of the stall in front of her, and it opened with a creak. She hurried in and pulled Rosie in behind her, shutting the stall door just as James Potter and Remus Lupin entered the bathroom.

          “See, what did I tell you? No girls.”

          James grinned roguishly at Remus. “I don’t know, I guess it just feels odd being in a place where females changed clothes and lounged around in knickers decades ago. Can you imagine being here when this place was in its prime?”

          Remus suppressed a laugh, and inside the stall, Lily adopted an indignant expression. Rosie put a finger to her lips once more and motioned urgently at the floor. Lily’s eyes widened in horror as she realized that there was a gap of about a foot between the bottom of the stall and the floor, and that their feet were extremely visible to the Marauders who were now lounging against the old sinks. She could see their reflection in the large mirror through a crack in between the stall door and the wall. Luckily, they hadn’t spotted the disembodied feet just yet.

          “What do we do?” Rosie mouthed. They couldn’t be discovered now, or it would not look promising for either Lily or herself.

          Lily motioned hurriedly at the cracked porcelain toilet between them, and as Remus and James began to speak again, the girls each gingerly climbed onto its lid, careful not to make a sound. They clutched their bags tightly in their arms and leaned against the stall walls for balance.

          “I wanted to know what we’re going to do about tomorrow,” Remus was saying. “We can’t carry on like this out there, and you know that.”

          James sighed heavily. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Moony. You know we all care about you and would do anything to help you. But I’m not ready to let Padfoot think he's won just because tomorrow’s the full moon.”

          “I’m not asking you to let him win,” Remus interjected roughly, sounding agitated. “Nearly a month’s passed since your row and you both are still holding out—barely. I've seen you both sneaking sorry looks at each other. You're just too sodding proud to make a proper apology! Merlin knows I wasn’t expecting my condition to change any of that.”

          “Remus, you can’t blame—”

          “We’ve been through this already too many times, James!” Remus cried. “I never thought you and Sirius could be angry at each other for so long!” He lowered his voice when James raised his eyebrows at him. “I never thought it would come to this, and I’m scared.”

          The bathroom was quiet for a moment as both boys looked at each other in despair. In the stall, the girls shifted slightly to catch each other’s eye as well.

          “Condition?” Lily mouthed.

          Rosie had felt her stomach sinking as she processed what the boys were talking about. Now it gave one final, dying lurch. “Remus is sick,” she mouthed back.

          “Why does full moon matter?” Lily mouthed, her eyebrows knotted together in confusion.

          Rosie shrugged, crossing her fingers and hoping that Lily wouldn’t cotton on. She should’ve known that it was impossible.

          “What?” Lily mouthed in horror, practically toppling off of the toilet before she caught her balance with one hand on the stall wall. Her eyes bulged from her face as she turned even paler. She gestured frantically towards the boys. “Werewolf?”

          Rosie refused to meet her eye. She stared at the top of the toilet, nodding slowly. “Wasn’t my secret,” she mouthed apologetically.

          Lily’s face fell, but she nodded tersely to signal that she understood. It hurt her that her best friend hadn’t found it necessary to tell her something so important, but she realized that Remus probably wouldn’t appreciate it if she had.

          Lily had no time to reflect on this new discovery because James had begun to talk again. She closed her eyes, leaning her warm forehead against the cold stall wall and listening to his voice. She let herself get lost in the fluctuation and undulation of his speech, hearing less the words he said than the searing emotion that they conveyed. Vainly she wished that he would speak to her again so passionately.

          “What would you have me do, then?” James said hoarsely. He gripped the side of the cracked sink in desperation. “I know I have to help you…I want to! I would never live and see any of you get hurt.” His voice grew tight and strained. “I would never live and see Sirius get hurt, either.”

          Lily could feel tears welling up in her eyes again. Could it really be true? James sounded so sincere. The use of the Marauders’ real first names alone was enough to prove the significance of this conversation. And she knew that his friends meant more to him than anything else in the world. If Remus really was a…

          “Then promise me, James, promise me that you won’t let your fight get in the way tonight!” Remus said. “I need you to be mature about it. Not only because of me, but for Sirius and Pete, too.”

          “But what about him?” James asked harshly. “He’s just as much to blame as I am for this whole mess. Why aren’t you going after him to make him promise?”

          “I’m going to find him after this,” Remus said with a tone of great weariness. He tried a small smile that looked out of place with his sickly expression. “I thought maybe he’d give in easier if he knew you had agreed first.”

          James sighed again. “Okay, I promise.” He heaved himself upright and looked Remus right in the eye. “But that doesn’t mean anything. He still needs to realize that he’s being daft.”

          Remus shrugged. He couldn’t—and wouldn’t—expect anything more. “Well enough, Prongs. You’d better get to that Quidditch practice of yours. I’ll see you at dinner, then?”

          “Yeah.” And with that, the two boys made their exit.

          As the sound of their footsteps faded away, Lily stepped down haphazardly from the toilet and slumped down onto the seat, looking about as sickly as Remus did. Rosie, too, lowered herself onto the ground, but wisely said nothing.

          Finally Lily looked up at her. “I can’t believe I never realized it,” she whispered. “Out of all the Marauders, he was the one I was closest to, but I never took the time to really get to know him.”

          “Lil, it’s okay, really—”

          “No, it’s not!” the redhead cried, her eyes ablaze. “Can’t you see? That’s always been my problem. I never take the time to really look! Not with James, not with Remus, not with anybody!”

          Abruptly she stood up and shouldered open the stall door. Stalking over to the cracked sinks, she tugged at a rusty handle, which turned with an audible scrape. Water began to gush out of the faucet, and Lily washed the tear streaks off of her face. The water soothed her, but her body still trembled occasionally.

          When she finished she shut the water off with another grating scrape. “I need to fix things, Ro,” she said resolutely, looking at Rosie’s reflection in the mirror above the sinks.

          “You can’t!” Rosie cried urgently. “You can’t say you know about it, or he’ll think I told you! You have to keep quiet. I can’t betray his trust.”

          Lily raised her eyebrows. “I just meant James.”

          Rosie let out a breath, trying to release the tension that had tied her insides into knots. Perching on a toilet seat and hiding in a bathroom stall, eavesdropping while her boyfriend unintentionally divulged his innermost secret to her best friend, was really quite stressful. “Okay,” she said after a minute.

          “Okay.” Lily took up her bag and the girls began to leave the bathroom. She turned to Rosie as they headed down the corridor. “There’s one thing I don’t understand, though: he said he needed James’s help. How can he help him?”

          Rosie frowned. She hadn’t really comprehended the finer points of their conversation, but now she realized that Lily was right. What could James and Sirius do about it?

          “I don’t know,” she told her friend honestly. The two shared a bemused glance before shrugging and shaking their heads to clear them. There was already so much to think about.

A/N: So now the secret’s out, huh? But Lily’s a mature girl, so she can handle it. I’d really love feedback on this, so if you could find it in your heart to leave a teeny review, the box is below. =]

Next chapter: Lily’s promised herself to patch things up with James, but can she ever swallow the lump in her throat and calm baby hippogriffs in her stomach long enough to say a word to him? So far it’s been four swings and misses, and she hasn’t yet found the opportune moment to apologize.

Chapter 16: They Couldn't Find the Opportune Moment
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

          It was nearly dawn when Lily awoke from a dream. She couldn’t remember exactly what it was about, but it left a lasting impression of unease and restlessness. Dreams of that particular persuasion bothered Lily way more than one would expect from such a practical girl. They always made her feel irrationally uncomfortable, and today was no exception.

          She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and swung her legs over the side of the bed, knowing that she’d never be able to get back to sleep amongst such feelings. Glancing at her clock, she saw that it was almost six in the morning.

          Then she remembered that she had a Potions midterm that morning, and a Transfiguration midterm that afternoon, which put her in an even fouler mood. Transfiguration had never been her strong point.

          “Of all the nights for this to happen,” she muttered under her breath.

“I think you just have a lot on your mind,” her voice giggled. “Why don’t we go for a little walk?”

          Lily frowned at her voice. A part of her still couldn’t believe that any facet of her mind—even if it was just a voice—could encourage her to break rules and be so rash. In fact, her behavior so far this year could only be described as reckless and foolish. Even her normally clear mind, her sense of justice, had been muddled and turned inside-out. For nearly the first time in her life, she had placed the blame on the entirely wrong person.

          Lily chastised herself. That was a dangerous train of thought. It led to thoughts of…

“Oh my, still thinking about James Potter?”

          “No,” Lily snarled forcefully. She was finding that no matter where she was or what she was doing, the boy somehow fought his way into her thoughts. It was becoming increasingly annoying as she tried to study for midterms, and of course, prepare for the ever-ominous OWL tests at the end of the year.

          Truthfully, though, James wasn’t the irritating one. He had actually backed off and left her alone lately—he hadn’t spoken to her in the six weeks since the accident unless it was absolutely necessary.

          No, it was Lily herself who was irritating. Ever since that night of the full moon when she had promised to fix things, she had searched for the right place and moment to apologize to him. Unfortunately, she had found it difficult to even look the Marauders’ way for many days after her accidental discovery of Remus’s secret in Myrtle’s bathroom. It felt like she was intruding on something that she had no right to know—she did her best to talk to Remus normally, but James was a different story.

          Now almost another month had passed, and despite many foiled attempts, she still hadn’t found the opportune moment to voice her apology.

“Four disastrous attempts, to be exact,” her voice sighed.

          The first time had been in Herbology, over three weeks ago. James was getting pliers and gloves in the closet behind the greenhouse, and Lily had stepped in to collect supplies without first looking to see who was already inside.

          Even in the darkness of the supply closet, Lily had recognized the unmistakable mop of hair. Her heart had climbed up into her throat, and then she had immediately turned on her heel and walked out, empty-handed. Needless to say, she wasn’t exactly up for another dark closet fiasco with him at the moment.

          Then, three days after that, James and Peter had walked into the Great Hall twenty minutes late for dinner. Most of the seats at the Gryffindor table had been taken already, and there were only a pair of empty spaces near each other: one several seats down at a diagonal to Lily’s right, and the one across from that. Much to her chagrin, James and Peter had taken them without a glance in Lily’s direction.

          Before the meal, Lily had chosen her seat next to Emma purposely. The other two Marauders were talking and laughing loudly with Rosie at the other end of the table, and in a bout of idiocy and habit, Lily had assumed that James and Peter would be joining them. Therefore, she had strived to sit as far away from them as possible. Well, that plan hadn’t exactly worked out, had it?

          Remaining frozen in her chair for the rest of the meal, Lily had just managed to clear her plate when his unmistakable baritone sounded in her right ear.

          “Hey, Lily?”

          When she dragged her gaze up to look at him, it had taken all of her self-control not to show any signs of the nausea that wrenched her stomach. “Hmm?”

          James’s smile remained bland—kind, but expressionless. “Could you please pass the butter down here?”

          “Oh…of course.” And with a shaking hand, she had grabbed the tin of butter and shoved it to her right with more force than necessary. It had collided with his goblet of pumpkin juice and spilled it all over his History of Magic textbook.

          In the darkness of her dormitory, Lily buried her face into her pillow; her cheeks still burned at that memory.

          The next time had been a little over a week after that, in Double Potions. Professor Slughorn was having them make a very complicated emotion-altering potion in preparation for their OWL practical exam. Lily had been concentrating so fiercely on her concoction that she failed to notice that her bag was sticking a bit too far into the aisle between the tables.

          James and Remus finished their potion quickly; entire steps before anyone else, including Lily and Rosie. She had still been stirring her cauldron of liquid painstakingly when he strutted by towards Slughorn’s desk, carrying his own miniature pot of finished potion up to be bottled. But before she could turn her head the tiniest bit to admire the defined Quidditch muscles that flexed underneath his shirt, boy and cauldron disappeared with a yelp and a crash.

          And so it was that for a rare, blissful hour, her mind had been free of James Potter…until he was quite literally sprawled flat at her feet.

          “Oh my god, James! I’m so sorry!” she had cried, dashing hastily into the aisle to rescue his potion without the slightest regard to his bodily person. “All of your hard work…” She trailed off her apologies as his tall shadow suddenly loomed over her again.

          “Lily, relax.” She didn’t dare look up, but she felt his hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, really, Slughorn saw what happened. And there’s still enough for a vial or two.”

          As she side-stepped him to return to her own post, she saw through her eyelashes that he was still grinning in a slightly goofy way. She exhaled in relief. He wasn’t angry about it.

          And Slughorn had still complimented him on the one vial that was left over, Lily thought. She never thought James had a talent for Potions until that day. Of course, it could just as well have been Remus’s prowess, or Black’s, which might’ve rubbed off on James during their years of partnering in Potions.

          But Lily didn’t want to credit him. Black was still an inconsiderate, uncivilized, hooting, scratching animal, no matter how good he was at Potions.

          The last and most recent of Lily’s embarrassing attempts at interaction with James had come only yesterday. She was on her weekly check-up with Madam Pomfrey—the Healer wanted to make sure that the last stages of her recovery were coming along well. Unfortunately, that included examining her pelvis area for any signs of prolonged bruising.

          “You know the drill, dear, just climb up here and take off your jeans for me,” the young Healer had told her, patting one of the beds nearest to the door.

          Lily had grudgingly complied, but lacking forethought, failed to demand that Madam Pomfrey draw the curtains around the bed. There she sat in plain sight in her drawers, which were pink and blue striped, when who should storm in the doors of the Hospital Wing but James Potter and Remus Lupin.

          “Madam Pomfrey, have you gotten that new draught for us to try? It’s nearing—”

          The boys stopped cold as Lily and her drawers came into sight. Feeling a bit faint in the head, Lily peeked over Madam Pomfrey’s shoulder and saw that Remus looked terribly sick, so sick that James had apparently felt the need to escort him to the Hospital Wing. Not sick enough, however, for him to restrain his smirk at the sight of Lily’s pink and blue striped underwear.

          James ran his hand through his hair nervously, his eyes trying desperately to focus on anything but the girl in front of him.

          Madam Pomfrey turned around to glance at the boys. “This is really not the time, Mr. Potter…” she began, but changed her mind as she took in Remus’s haggard appearance. “Wait here, boys. I’ll get it for you right away. Just one second, dear,” she said to Lily, and belatedly drew the curtains around the bed.

          “Well,” Remus had said as the Healer’s footsteps faded toward her office. “I haven’t seen you around much lately, Lily. How are you?”

          Behind the shelter of the curtain, Lily had buried her face in her hands and refused to answer in an effort to save some of her pride.

          Several moments passed before James said in a strangled voice, “Not in the mood for light conversation? That’s alright.” Lily could hear the young Healer returning and presumably handing something to either James or Remus.

          “Well, we’ll be off then,” Remus said, sounding amused. Madam Pomfrey began to slide the curtains across again.

          “Lily,” James had nodded to her before turning to follow Remus out of the Hospital Wing.

          Lily had tried not to cry. “James.”

          It had taken all of her willpower to conduct herself normally at supper after that episode. But now that Lily could think about it more objectively, she realized that the boys had come to the Hospital Wing because yesterday had been the night of the full moon. That would explain Remus’s terrible appearance. And perhaps Madam Pomfrey had given them something to ease the transformation a bit.

          It was still slightly strange—and frightening—to think that Remus, the boy with whom she had shared the same dormitory for one night and a friendship for nearly five years, could possibly be a werewolf. Certainly Lily despised those who harbored malicious prejudices against humanoid species and half-breeds, but instinctive fear still won her over sometimes. It was one thing to fight for werewolf voting rights in theory, and quite another to come face-to-face with one in your Arithmancy class.

          “I wonder how last night went, then,” Lily mused to herself.

“Why not go down to the common room and see if anyone is up? Anything is better than sitting here and brooding about James.”

          Annoyed, she discovered that her voice was right. Shaking off the last bits of unease that still clung from her dreams, Lily pulled aside the curtains surrounding her bed and slipped into a pair of sweatpants. Quickly she went to the bathroom to retie her ponytail and splash some water on her face. Then she padded down the stairs in her bare feet towards the common room.

          The fire still burned at about half-strength. Lily figured that maybe the house elves had done their rounds early for some reason. Then she noticed the figures that lay asleep on the couches.

          Cautiously she shuffled towards the nearest one. It was Peter Pettigrew, his mousy dark blond hair covering half his face and flopping up and down with his every inhale and exhale. He was scrunched up into a ball in a t-shirt and pants.

          Raising her eyebrows, Lily moved on to the next couch. Here two other boys slept, their heads resting on opposite arms of the sofa. On one side lay Remus and Lily saw that his right arm, which was trailing gingerly on the floor, had a couple long, shallow scratches on it.

          Lily almost laughed out loud when she saw how angelic and innocent Sirius Black looked as he slept, the flames of the fireplace flickering lightly over his face and reflecting off of his dark mop of hair. Nobody would have guessed that this was the boy who played wicked tricks on the Slytherins and laughed when they cried for mercy. Nobody would have guessed that underneath the handsome interior, Black had a soul about as distasteful as Hagrid’s biscuits, Lily thought angrily. Black sported a light bruise on his cheekbone and some scrapes on his shoulder. Both of these boys, too, slept in their clothes.

          Her heart hammered in her chest as Lily realized that this was the result of the full moon. What in the world had these boys been doing?

          Lily looked around the room and for a moment a wave of fear rose in her gut when she didn’t see James. Then she spotted a tuft of hair poking out from behind the furthermost couch, the one nearest to the fire. For the second time she quenched the urge to burst out laughing. Quietly she snuck over to peek over the back of the couch…

          …and barely suppressed a gasp. It took a tremendous effort to continue to breathe as she gazed down at the sleeping boy. The light of the fire had a similar effect on his face as it did Black’s, but James’s glasses had slipped down the bridge of his nose, giving him a more endearing look. And his upper half was completely bare.

          As she continued to stare and marvel with a strange fascination, Lily vaguely wondered why James had been so exhausted that he had forgotten to take off his glasses before going to bed—and to put on some clothing.

          Then, closely examining the ridges that traced his abdomen, she saw for the first time the large scrapes that stretched across the skin on his chest. They were pretty shallow—barely bleeding, only rubbed raw—but very large in area, and Lily’s own skin began to tingle in sympathy for his pain. Without a second thought, she raced back upstairs to find some washcloths, rubbing alcohol, ointment, bandages, and her wand.

          But as she prepared everything and brought it downstairs, Lily suddenly felt terrified at the thought of waking James up in the state he was in. He would almost certainly get angry, if not because she was prying into his secrets, then because she had seen him in pain.

“But you’re Lily Evans, you always help people!” Lily rolled her eyes, but her voice persisted. “How is this any different just because it’s James Potter?”

          Shoving all insecurities aside, Lily once again decided that her voice was right and returned to the common room to sit at the foot of James’s couch. Was she imagining it, or was her voice actually becoming wiser as time went by?

          “James,” she whispered, extending her hand to shake his shoulder. When her fingers came in contact with his bare skin, she flinched slightly. The boy shifted in his sleep and flipped entirely onto his back, but didn’t wake.

          “Hey, wake up, you should take care of those scrapes,” Lily murmured again. She shifted her hand behind his neck, aiming to prop him up, but somehow her fingers slipped naturally into his hair and then she found herself smoothing the unruly strands. It felt odd, just a little, but Lily didn’t stop because a curious thing was happening. Slowly, a small smile was creeping onto James Potter’s sleeping face.

          Disconcerted but pleased with herself all at once, Lily reached to remove the precariously perched glasses from his face. Her fingers brushed his cheek, and almost immediately the bright hazel eyes popped open.

          “Oh!” Lily whispered hoarsely, startled. Quickly she drew away a step or two from the couch as James rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. “I was trying to—to, um, wake you up, but—”

          James peered at her curiously. He propped himself up onto his elbow, barely wincing as the skin of his open wound moved. “Lily?” he asked, blinking and sounding confused.

          Lily held up her self-made Healing kit in a despairing effort to explain. The way he looked at her was making her heart palpitate at an alarming rate. “I saw your injuries, and I thought I could help,” she muttered shyly when she finally found her voice again. She handed him his glasses and knelt again by his side, smiling nervously. “Just hold still, and try not to wake the others yet.”

          “Okay,” he mumbled sleepily, wrinkling his brow. With a tremendous effort, he held still like she asked, even when her small, pale hands trailed across his skin with the cloth.

          James grimaced when sharp prickles of pain spread across his wound. Still he remained completely motionless. Her light touch would’ve been enough to raise goosebumps all over his skin, except that the heat of the fireplace was only feet away. Suddenly the pain reached a peak, and he inhaled sharply.

          “Shh,” Lily whispered, smiling encouragingly at the boy with a motherly air. He complied. The sting of his wound was nothing now compared to the cramp of nervousness in his stomach.

          She waved her wand a few times, muttering various incantations under her breath. The pain dulled a bit, and James leaned back against the arm of the sofa, his eyelids drooping. Then she pulled out the bottle of rubbing alcohol. Immediately James popped up again, eyes wide and now fully awake. “What are you going to do with that?” he gasped. Earlier experiences in life had taught him that even James Potter the Great was no match for that innocent-looking clear substance.

          The corner of Lily’s mouth curled upwards as she doused a large cotton ball in the alcohol. James whimpered quietly.

          “Yes, it’s going to sting a little, but that’s hardly necessary,” Lily said, shaking her head. Then, with a sudden burst of inspiration, she placed her small left hand tentatively in his right. “Now if you feel like crying, concentrate on squeezing my hand instead,” she told him with a smile, like someone speaking to a tiny tot.

          James rewarded her with a lopsided grin, but it soon became distorted into an agonizing grimace as Lily spread the alcohol across his skin to disinfect the wound. Lily was surprised to notice that it was she who held on to his hand tightly when she saw his pained expression. And from the spark in those oddly bright hazel eyes that watched her face from behind wire-rimmed glasses, James had noticed, too.

          Disconcerted, Lily quickly pried her hand away from the boy’s as soon as the alcohol was done, and busied herself with the cap on the tube of ointment.

          “Here, apply that while I unroll these bandages,” she murmured, tossing the open tube to James. Once again, he complied, his eyes still watching her. The firelight reflected from his glasses, making it difficult for Lily to meet his gaze.

          “Why are you helping me?” he asked curiously. “I thought you still hated my pompous, arrogant, prat-like guts.”

          Lily took a deep breath, the roll of bandages falling out of her trembling hands and unraveling to the floor. Here it was: the chance she had been waiting for and agonizing over for weeks. She could finally apologize. But now that he sat there, waiting for an answer, it was so much harder for her to find one.

          He slid off the couch to sit gingerly on the floor. Reaching out, he took one of her arms and pulled her toward him. She recoiled from his touch, throwing him a frightened look. “Hey, you didn’t mind touching me a few seconds ago,” he said lightly with another crooked grin. “And you’ve never passed up any opportunity to beat me down into the ground. Why are you scared of me all of a sudden?” His eyes and his voice simultaneously became serious. “What’s happened to you, Flower?”

          “James,” she whispered, sounding upset, “I told you not to call me that!”

          “Au contraire, ma cherie, you said you liked it.”

          Lily smiled internally at his horrible French accent but refused to let it show. “Nothing’s happened to me,” she said firmly. “I’m not afraid of you.”

          James held out his hand. Her lips trembled, and James knew that she was caving. He couldn’t let this chance pass, or he’d regret it forever. “Then prove it,” he whispered. “Let me hold your hand.”

          Lily swallowed and tried to quench the anxious squirming of her stomach. She forced her mind back on track. “No, James. I don’t want to get distracted. I have something I need to say to you, and I’ve been…I’ve been trying to say it for a while.”

          James’s heart gave a flying leap even as he put his arm back down beside him. “What is it? Go ahead.”

          The heat from the fireplace was suddenly unbearable, and sweat broke out on her brow. “Wait,” Lily stalled desperately. She motioned for James to turn around and scooped the mess of bandages off of the floor. “It’ll be easier to say if you’re not looking at me. Help me bind these up while I talk.”

          “Okay,” James agreed. Lily began to wind bandages around his midsection, this time carefully avoiding contact with his skin.

          “I’ve been doing some thinking about the whole Rachel thing,” she began cautiously. Before he could interrupt, she said, “And no, she hasn’t been bothering me lately. I think after her brother was shamed in a certain showdown in the corridors, she’s decided to keep quiet for a while.” There was a small smile in her voice. “But regardless, I feel ashamed about the way I reacted. I mean, I had the right to be angry, but I think I might’ve…placed the blame on the wrong person.”

          Lily took a shaking breath and stopped to collect herself. It had taken a lot more than she expected to admit that, even if she was only talking to the back of his unruly head.

          “Usually I consider myself a pretty fair person. I don’t know why I blamed you then,” she continued. Then, uncomfortable with the outright lie, she amended, “Well, I’m not sure, at least. But the point is that I decided I was wrong about you. Sure, you might be a little arrogant sometimes, especially about Quidditch”—here James chuckled—“but I really admire your loyalty to your friends. You’d never live and see any of them get hurt.”

          Those had been his exact words in Myrtle’s bathroom, and for a moment after Lily realized her slip-up, she held her breath. But James was too busy marveling over the meaning in her words to realize that they were actually his own words.

          Lily sighed at his silence. “What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t give you enough credit. It wasn’t your fault that Black is easy to dupe. Rachel was just playing off of his insecurities, I think.”

          James had waited patiently for Lily to finish, and when she fell silent he turned around to face her. “I…I don’t know what to say to that,” he said honestly.

          “I don’t know if I expect you to forgive me,” Lily admitted. “I’m sorry I ruined your friendship with Black. I know you guys are fighting, and it just doesn’t seem natural.”

          James sighed sadly. “Tell me about it. It feels weird to wake up in the morning and remember that he’s mad at me.”

          Lily looked away from him, and when she spoke, her voice quavered. “I’m so sorry. You guys are like brothers—more than I could ever be with Petunia. It’s my fault for getting in between you.”

          “It’ll be okay, I promise,” James soothed, his voice earnest. “We’ve been talking a lot more lately, even if it’s just about stuff like Quidditch and sneaking off to the kitchens for a snack.” Lily sniffed disapprovingly and he grinned. “See, soon we’ll be back to Padfoot and Prongs, the same as ever.”

          “Oddly enough, I hope that’s true,” Lily said, smiling a little. “Even if I think he’s awful, you need him. And I hope you’ll keep that idiot out of trouble after you both make amends.”

          “Wait, so does that mean you think I’m becoming more mature?”

          “I guess,” Lily mumbled grudgingly.

          Now an all-out grin, the cheeky sort that Lily was used to seeing but had been sadly deprived-of lately, broke across James’s face. “And that means that you’re going to forgive me now, right?”

          Lily reached out to secure the last of the bandages, and her hand inevitably swiped across his skin. With lightning-fast Quidditch reflexes, James shot his hand out to grab hers and keep her from running away. His heart thumped hopefully. Flustered, Lily stammered out, “Well, I—I suppose, I mean, there’s nothing really to for-forgive. I was the one who was wrong…”

          “So, Ms. Evans, I take it that we’ll now be picking up where we left off?” James adopted a ridiculously pompous air, which would have made Lily frown, but she knew now that he was kidding.

          “Not so fast, Mr. Potter, I never said anything of the sort—” Lily laughed as James yanked her towards him. She landed with a muffled thump on the rug, her left leg dangling across his denim-clad ones. His arm circled around her, pressing them tightly together, but—far from protesting—Lily found that she rather liked it. Actually, she felt more comfortable with herself than she had for ages. She had finally relieved herself of the burden that she’d been carrying for way too long.

“Alright, dear, good job so far. Now, this is the part where you kiss him.”

          Lily smiled up at him with a confidence that she didn’t truly feel. Her voice had been right so far this morning, so she figured she’d take the leap.

          Heart pounding, she crawled onto her knees before edging around to place one small kiss on the boy’s cheek. Suddenly the peace between them had shattered; the little air that separated them was on fire. Lily froze momentarily. What in the world was going on? This never happened when she had kissed anyone else—or even the tipsy kiss with James on the roof. She had no idea what to do, so she leaned close to his ear. “Your move,” she whispered.

          James needed no further invitation. “Come here, love,” he breathed, and scooted Lily against the foot of the couch. Her shoulder blades pressed into the scarlet cushions as she edged backwards—and then his lips were on hers, light as a feather. Startled, Lily kissed back out of instinct. After a moment far too short for Lily’s liking, James lifted them away. He trailed gently across her cheek and down her jaw line, reaching over to brush her red ponytail out of the way. She reached shy hands around his shoulders to tangle her fingers carefully in his hair, and leaned forward to kiss him again briefly before he dipped his head underneath her jaw. The heat of his mouth on her sensitive neck was almost impossible to bear without gasping out loud. She buried her face in his messy black hair, pressing her lips to his scalp and drowning the sound.

          James braced one forearm on the couch; his other hand was left to wander. Lily squealed into his hair when he nipped playfully at her earlobe. With a shiver, she felt his warm fingers brush past the elastic waist of her sweatpants onto her bare back. Her white sleep shirt felt uncomfortably disheveled.

          Then, to Lily’s disappointment, James pulled away. “I’d better brush my teeth before anything else happens,” he said softly, hazel eyes sparkling with more life than Lily had seen since the Incident. Lily giggled, and James was amazed.

          “Let me come with you,” she whispered. “I’ll leave the healing stuff here so we can help them later when they wake up. We can’t make noise here, but we have a lot to catch up on.” Lily rolled her eyes as James smirked suggestively and gave her thigh a light squeeze. “I mean, stuff to talk about, Potter. What kind of girl do you take me for?”

          “A beautiful one?”

          Lily grinned, trailing her fingers bashfully down from his bare shoulders. “Good answer.”

          James reached up to fix his glasses; they had been knocked slightly askew. Then he looked down at his bandages, for the first time seeming to remember that he was hurt. “Wow, I can’t even feel it. You’re going to make a great Healer some day, Lil.”

          “That’s one of the things we need to talk about,” Lily said matter-of-factly. “Exactly how did you get yourself in this state, James Potter?”

          A flicker of discomfort flashed through his hazel eyes before James blinked. He got to his feet gingerly and squinted at his friends, who were still sleeping soundly despite various injuries. “Uh, we can’t talk about that here. Anyone can hear us.”

          Lily grinned smartly up at him. “But there’s nobody in your dorm to hear us right now.”

          “What about Sean Spinnet?” James was talking about the lone non-Marauder fifth-year male, a Chaser on the Gryffindor team who was currently in a relationship with Lily’s dormmate Irina.

          “He’s just one bugger. We’ll use Muffliato.” Lily rolled her eyes before saying sweetly, “Gosh, James, one could almost be led to think that you don’t want me in your dorm.”

          She didn’t have to say another word before James picked her up princess-style and marched toward the boys’ dorms with a goofy grin.

A/N: Rawr! For those of you that were just DYING for a little Lily/James action, there you are! I hope the wait wasn’t too excruciatingly long.

As always, reviews are very very VERY much appreciated. Bring on the Lily/James gushing…

Coming next chapter: The snow is falling and the silver bells ringing, but two Marauders just aren’t in the Christmas spirit this year. Will a perilous spy mission change all that?

Chapter 17: They Couldn't Solve the Mystery
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

          “Sod it, Moony, can those fairies giggle any louder?” James grumbled, stabbing his fork into a slice of apple pie moodily and glaring around at the Christmas decorations in the Great Hall. It was the day before students could go home for the Christmas holidays, usually one of his favorite times of the year, but James wasn’t in a festive mood in the least.

          Remus glanced up at the live miniature fairies that flew about the Great Hall, sprinkling gold glitter everywhere and indeed giggling in loud and high-pitched voices. Not to be outshined, the turtledoves that flocked to and fro around them with garlands of holly began to coo even louder to be heard above the fairies, causing a raucous din. Strings of colored lights, draped around gargantuan Christmas trees, winked with enough frantic urgency to cause a seizure for anyone who looked at them for too long. Hogwarts had really outdone itself this year with the Christmas decorations.

          Usually Remus would have enjoyed the cheery mood as he listened to students around them talk happily of the holidays, but now he glanced sympathetically at the bespectacled boy sitting at the Gryffindor table beside him.

          “I know what you mean, Prongs. This hasn’t exactly been the greatest Christmas season.” James’s shoulders slumped down even further after hearing Remus’s words, and the blond boy noticed this curiously. Things must be really serious if even the apple pie wasn’t helping his foul mood. “But what’s got your knickers in a twist? I thought everything was finally right with Lily again.”

          James gulped to himself. Things had been going well with Lily recently, but it wasn’t something that he wanted to discuss with Remus. He still felt slightly guilty about the conversation that he had with Lily in the boys’ dorm that first morning about two weeks ago, and he didn’t want Remus to find out about it.

          James waved his wand at the drawn curtains around Sean’s bed, then turned to face Lily apprehensively. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to tell you, love. It wouldn’t be fair to the others if they didn’t agree.”

          Lily had waited on the bed, fidgeting, while James pulled on a black t-shirt and brushed his teeth hurriedly. Now she made a valiant effort not to sound too whiny. “But that’s not fair to me, James! I’m worried about you! I think I have a right to know what in the world you lot were doing that got you scratched up so badly.”

          James had spent years studying Lily discreetly (or not so discreetly) from afar, and he knew her well enough to see that while she was concerned about him, she was also horribly curious. She had gotten a taste of a few Marauder secrets much earlier in the year, but the one that she had now stumbled across was much larger.

          He took a deep breath, praying to Merlin that she wouldn’t get angry. “Lily Flower, please be reasonable,” he pleaded.

          “I am reasonable,” she said dangerously. But just as James was getting ready to duck and cover, Lily’s voice changed tones abruptly. The redhead smiled sweetly, making James feel even more uneasy. “What if I swapped you a secret for a secret? You tell me, and then I’ll tell you something back.”

          “What kind of secret would you tell me?” James asked, intrigued.

          Lily smiled wickedly. “You have to spill first,” she commanded.

          James sighed, weighing his options. It was better to tell Lily a small part of the story to alleviate her suspicions, rather than tell her an outright lie, or refuse to tell her anything. “Okay,” he relented, “just watch this."

          He left her side and walked into the empty center of the dormitory, between all of the four-poster beds. Closing his eyes, he sorted through his brain until he found the part of his mind that he had trained to think like a stag. Recalling from there many memories of dark, dangerous nights in the woods, it wasn’t long before he could feel himself leaving his human body entirely.

          Lily gasped and her hands flew up to her mouth in surprise. The stag took a few steps towards her, navigating his majestic antlers around objects in the dormitory with easy skill. But though she had seen James Potter transform before her very eyes, she still could not believe that this stag could truly be him.

          “James?” she whispered, rising from the bed where she sat and reaching out to the animal with a shaking hand. Girl and stag met in the middle of the dormitory, and the stag rubbed Lily’s hand gently with its nose.

          Lily had a hard time meeting the animal’s eyes. When she finally gathered the courage to look up, she realized with a jolt that the eyes which peered out from underneath the grand crown of antlers sparkled with a pure, intelligent hazel. Lily’s knees wobbled with shock and she made it back to the bed with difficulty. By the time she had seated herself again, James had transformed back into himself.

          “An illegal Animagus,” Lily said quietly. “Merlin, James, of all the things in the world…”

          “You’re not mad, are you?” he asked anxiously, hurrying over to put an arm around the trembling redhead. Lily shook her head. “Are you scared?” Again, another head shake. “Then what is it?”

          “I just can’t believe it. All of you can do this?” James nodded. “But that’s such a complicated spell!” Lily burst out incredulously. “No one else in our year would even think of attempting such a thing. No wonder you’re so sodding good at Transfiguration!”

          “Well, it was a tad difficult to master,” James said modestly. “Transforming limbs and hair and such were easy, but it was longer before we developed the whole body, all of the core organs. And impressing our thought processes into our Animagi’ took the longest. We just recently learned to do that.”

          “So you transformed into Animagi last night, but what about the injuries?”

          James looked shamefaced. “Sometimes we sneak out at night, change, and then romp around in the Forbidden Forest. It’s a lot of fun, but we do get a scrape or a bruise now and then.”

          Lily clasped her hands tightly in her lap, feeling lightheaded. “So it’s really true, then. You’re not lying to try and impress me, are you?”

          “Flower,” James sighed, “didn’t you just meet Prongs? Didn’t he feel real enough to you?”

          “Prongs,” Lily laughed. She leaned against James, forcibly drowning out all of her doubts. The nicknames, the ones that had never made any sense to those who were not Marauders, struck Lily as really quite funny. “Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, huh? So what’s Padfoot mean, then?”

          “Sirius is a dog. A big, black dog.”

          “Fits him,” Lily mused, remembering Black’s friendly, bark-like laugh. “He wouldn’t leave me the bloody hell alone in the Hospital Wing, badgered me at all hours for forgiveness with that puppy-faced expression of his. And Peter?”

          “He’s a rat.”

          Now Lily laughed in earnest, thinking of Peter’s twitchy demeanor and small, red nose. “And Remus?” She wondered if perhaps his was a wolf, considering his condition.

          Lily felt James’s body stiffen as he said, “Enough questions, Lil. It’s time for you to reveal to me what your great secret was.”

          “Oh.” Lily froze, momentarily at a loss. She had only said that to goad James into telling her his secret. Of course, she did have something to tell him, but now it seemed trivial in the face of everything that he had just revealed to her. “It’s nothing important, James, really…”

          James touched her cheek hesitantly. “Everything you have to say is important to me,” he declared in a mock chivalrous tone. He had no experience being serious around girls, and the additional fact that this was Lily Evans wracked his nerves considerably. The only thing left to do was stick to what he knew, and hoped that it worked.

          But Lily grew even more uncomfortable, turning away to look at the bed’s intricately carved headboard. “Mmmmph…wolf,” she muttered.

          “What?” James asked, his heart-rate beginning to speed up. “I’m sorry, love, I didn’t hear you.”

          “I said I know Remus is a werewolf, okay?” Lily said a little louder. She held her breath, waiting to see if James would figure out that she had eavesdropped, and get mad at her and throw her out of his dorm room. Or maybe he would make her promise to keep quiet.

          “How?” he asked breathlessly. James was amazed. This was not at all what he had expected her to say.

          Lily hesitated for a moment before saying, “It wasn’t that hard to figure out. He’s sick every month and gets better immediately after the full moon. Sometimes you lot tell the rest of us that he’s gone to visit his sick mother, but no matter what, Remus is never here on the night of the full moon.” She sighed. “I’m not completely unobservant and self-absorbed.”

          “I never ever thought you were, Flower. But I wasn’t being completely honest with you, either.” Lily raised an eyebrow. “You’re absolutely right about the lycanthropy, of course. But Remus doesn’t have an Animagus. When he goes through the transformation, we change into our animals and go with him.”

          James had gotten quite an earful from Lily about the dangers of gallivanting around with a full-grown werewolf, but in the end she had relented to keeping his secret. He had not told the other Marauders that she now knew about them, and had managed to avoid conversation about it ever since.

          Now he looked back at Remus and replied, “Yeah, it’s not about Lily. We’ve been getting along swimmingly.”

          Remus sighed and hung his sandy head, gazing mournfully at the slices of rare Christmas roast on his plate. “I wish Rosie and I were still getting along swimmingly, but lately I get the feeling that she doesn’t even want to spend time with me.”

          “Well, what kind of things do you two do?” James asked. “Maybe you could use a bit of change to spice things up.”

“He’s right, you know,” the voice whispered conspiratorially into Remus’s ear. “Do something exciting. Parachuting off of the Astronomy Tower ought to get your blood moving faster.”

          Remus chuckled dryly. “I guess we used to play a lot of wizard’s chess, and talk while we played.” At James’s disbelieving expression, he relented, “Okay, we used to cuddle a lot, too, and talk while we cuddled.”

          James decided not to harp on Remus for his usage of the word cuddle. “And what kind of conversation do you two make?”

          “Oh, you know, the usual,” Remus said. He paused to take a bite while James waited for him to explain what the usual was. “Lycanthropy and the fight between you and Sirius.”

          James’s hazel eyes darkened suddenly behind his glasses at the mention of the other boy. He shot a dirty look down the Gryffindor table at the back of said boy’s head. Sirius sat with Peter near the other end, with Lily and Rosie a few seats away.

          “Has it ever occurred to you that maybe she’d like to talk about something else for a change?” James asked, rolling his eyes. “You must be trying to bore the pants off of her.”

          It was Remus’s turn to roll his eyes. “I’ll probably regret asking your advice on this, but what do you think I should do, then? When I can finally get her to sit down and have a talk with me again, that is.”

          “God, I don’t know, Moony,” James sighed heavily, exhaling some pie crumbs. His bad mood had returned ten-fold. “Girl stuff? The latest edition of Witch Weekly? Which color of nail polish would look best on her toes?”

          Remus looked crossly at James, who was shooting daggers at Sirius again. James was watching the other boy toss his dark head back and laugh obnoxiously at Peter’s imitation of Professor Slughorn. “You know, I’d be glad to listen to what’s really bothering you, if only it’ll make you quit brooding like an overworked hen.”

          “And if I do, will you remove that stick that’s lodged up your—”

          “James!” Remus exclaimed, throwing his hands into the air. “What the bloody hell is wrong with you today? I’m 93% sure it has to do with Padfoot, but what is it? I thought you two had worked things out. Don’t think I haven’t heard you sneaking down to the kitchens together in the dead of night.”

          James didn’t bother denying it. “Yeah, I thought so, too. Besides, we always get hungry at the same time,” he muttered. “But Pete caught me coming out of Quidditch practice yesterday—which wasn’t very enjoyable, sub-zero temperature out there—and told me that he had been discussing the holidays with him.” He shot another dirty look down the table, and Remus began to feel distinctly uneasy. But James dug viciously back into his piece of pie and didn’t say another word.

          Remus didn’t want to push the subject, but it was the only hope he had for helping the situation. He didn’t know whether or not it had come to the worst yet. “So what are his arrangements, then?” he prodded cautiously.

          James fixed Remus with a steely glare behind his glasses. “He’ll be going home,” he spat, “home to that hellhole he’s been trying to escape for five years. He’s decided that he would prefer it to the warm and hospitable company of my family.”

          Remus balked. “But surely you made it clear that your house was still an option, right?”

          “I may have dropped a note on his bed,” James admitted. “It said, ‘I hope you can get over your sodding pride in time to come over for the holidays.’ I even signed it, ‘Your best mate James.’”

          “And you thought that would help?” Remus cried, smacking his palm to his forehead. “Things between you two were almost normal, and now you go tell him to transcend his pride and accept your charity?!”

          “That’s not at all what I—”

          “But that’s what it’ll sound like to Padfoot,” Remus said.

          “He’s being ridiculous!” James argued vehemently. “I thought we were making good progress lately, and spending the holidays together like always would’ve helped even more. I don’t understand him. Why can’t he just be happy for me and Lily? Why does he have to hold a grudge?”

          “There’s probably an explanation. Maybe he just feels it would be awkward after all this to spend all day, every day, with you for two weeks without the rest of us around,” Remus reasoned.

          James snorted. “That’s preposterous! I need your help, since Lily refused to speak to him, even on my behalf. You have to get him to come around.”

          Remus hesitated. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said in a non-committal way. “I can’t promise any success.”

          “Please!” James pleaded. “I can’t see him go back to that place when I know how much he hates it there!” Remus raised an eyebrow, and immediately a flush began to spread across James’s cheeks. “But don’t tell him I begged at your feet,” he muttered grudgingly.

          “I won’t,” Remus promised, grinning in earnest. He shifted his gaze down the table to watch Rosie, who was sprinkling shavings of chocolate onto her ice cream. Unconsciously Remus reached for a handful of chocolate from the bowl at his own side, before he noticed Peter beside her, excusing himself and getting up from the table. Frowning, Remus saw that Pete looked nervous and twitchy, even more so than usual, and that Sirius didn’t rise to leave with him.

          “What are you looking at?” James asked curiously, craning his neck around to follow Remus’s line of sight. He caught only the tail end of Peter’s robes fluttering through the Great Hall’s double doors. “Who was that?”

          “Pete. Do you know what has him acting so jumpy lately? He’s always so on edge, he looks like he expects something to come up from behind and bite him. Sirius noticed it, too.”

          James knitted his eyebrows severely at this news, looking like a distant relative of Professor McGonagall. “Yeah, I’ve noticed that he’s never around this year, but too much other stuff has been going on and I haven’t gotten around to asking him why.” His frown subsided as an insane idea struck him, and he glanced at Remus mischievously. “You don’t suppose he has a girlfriend, do you?”

          Remus snorted. “If Wormtail had a girlfriend, he wouldn’t keep it a secret.”

          “Well, it’s no use simply sitting here and wondering,” James declared, leaping up from the table. An unusually bright and excited gleam, rarely seen nowadays, played in his hazel eyes. “Let’s go.”

          “Go where, exactly?” Remus asked him skeptically.

          James grinned, his bad mood and all thoughts of Sirius temporarily gone. The possibility that Peter Pettigrew might be holding a clandestine meeting with a secret girlfriend at that very moment—well, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Especially because he didn’t feel like sitting here and throwing irritated looks at Sirius for much longer.

          “On a mission of espionage, fraught with danger, intrigue, and impossible strife,” James told Remus mysteriously. “Step lightly. To be as furtive as a centaur and stealthy as a hippogriff is of utmost importance in this perilous task.”

          Remus batted away a fairy which had been buzzing and giggling in his ear for a while. Then he grinned. “Follow the Wormtail?”

          “Of course.” And the bespectacled boy set off towards the double doors, sweeping his robes along and waving grandly to the rest of the students, who were still eating. “Bon voyage! We may not come back alive!”

          Remus waited for some cutting remark from the Slytherins in response to James’s obnoxious behavior, but none came. Their table was emptier than usual, and the children there seemed smaller, like most of the older ones had decided not to show up to supper. Seeing that James had already exited, Remus hurried after him without dwelling on the oddity. He had forgotten quite how loud and unnecessary James could be, considering that Lily’s maturing influence had taken over him of late. But it was a sign that perhaps things were going back to normal, and Remus was grateful.

          “This is crazy, Prongs,” he whispered as they started off together, keeping an eye on the blond head that bobbed to and fro significantly farther down the hall.

          “The name is Potter,” James announced pompously in a whisper. “Agent James Potter.”

          Remus smirked. “Now why does that sound so familiar?” He rolled his eyes as James began to shuffle along against the stone walls in an effort to be more spy-like. His robes hampered him, causing him to stumble a few times. It was a miracle he didn’t bump into any portraits or suits of armor.

          “Come on, Agent Lupin,” he demanded breathlessly at one point, “we have to make up the lost ground!”

          Far up ahead, Remus saw Peter turn the corner. He signaled to James, and both boys began to bolt down the corridor. “Step lightly, step lightly!” Remus gasped, holding back laughter as he tried to keep his footsteps silent. James’s silliness was infectious, and it felt good to act like a Marauder again.

          They careened around the corner and into a slightly darker hallway. James recognized it as a passage that headed towards the dungeons. “What’s Pete doing near the dungeons?” James asked.

          Remus shrugged, and then remembered the missing Slytherins. “Maybe his girlfriend is a Slytherin.”

          James pulled a horrified face before diving behind a giant potted plant and pulling Remus after him. The two boys landed in a grunting tangle on the floor near the wall, hidden by the leaves of the plant. “Sorry, mate,” James apologized as he caught sight of Remus’s indignant expression. “I thought I saw him turn his head. I didn’t want him to see us.”

          They resumed their spy mission after James made sure it was absolutely safe to come out into the open. They scampered light-footed from behind grandfather clocks to suits of armor, hiding more frequently as they drew nearer to Pete, who was shuffling along in a rather nervous gait.

          “Agent Lupin, we are almost upon the target,” James proclaimed in a nearly inaudible murmur. “What are your orders?”

          “Do nothing for now,” Remus whispered back. “He has not yet reached his destination. We can’t give away our position until we’ve discovered his motive for this late-night rendezvous.” He waggled his eyebrows.

          James smirked and made to lead the way farther down the dimly lit hall towards Pete when he heard a low murmur of a voice, very near to their hiding place. It seemed to be coming from a tiny, isolated corridor that branched off of the hallway they were currently in; James did not often explore this part of the castle and could not remember where it led.

          “Moony, wait,” he breathed, throwing out an arm to keep Remus from shuffling past him. “Do you hear that?”

          Remus frowned, his ears pricking up. With his heightened werewolf senses, it was quite easy to decipher what the person in the corridor was saying. The voice was low and gravelly, distinctly male, with undercurrents of malice.

          “She’s a Mudblood,” the voice snarled. Remus recoiled at the word, smacking painfully into the stone wall behind him.

          “What?” James mouthed urgently, crawling over to the corner of the wall that formed a side of the corridor. He gestured for Remus to crouch down beside him, and then began to inch over closer to the intersection of the two hallways in an effort to hear more clearly. Remus held up his hand to tell him to wait.

          “Don’t be a bloody hypocrite,” another male chimed in. He had a whiny, nasal voice like someone with a perpetual cold.

          “That’s right,” Malicious Voice said. “You’re always telling us how loyal you are to him, how valuable of an asset he already considers you to be. He wouldn’t be too happy if he knew that you were still associating with her sort.”

          “Relax, Rosier,” a third male drawled, the words sliding off of his oily voice to pool in Remus’s ears. Startled, Remus glanced down at James, but the other boy was still listening intently, trying to make out the words, and showed no sign of recognition at Severus Snape’s voice. “This is what you’ve called us all here for? Usually our meetings are reserved for important matters. That is, after all, why that fool Dumbledore bugs our common room. I thought I’d be missing supper for something worthwhile.”

          Their meetings? Remus swallowed hard. Every wolf instinct he had in his body screamed for him to grab James and high-tail it back to the Great Hall, but his feet were glued to the floor.

          “Oh, this is important,” Rosier, the owner of the malicious voice, sniffed. “We all agree that it’s high time we take care of this Mudblood business once and for all. It’s her or us, Snape. There’s no compromise when you’re dealing with the—”

          “Don’t speak his name aloud, fool!” Snape snapped loudly.

          This time, James jerked his ear back from the wall quickly as echoes of Snape’s voice vibrated on the stone walls, and whipped around to face Remus. “Snivellus?” he whispered incredulously.

          Remus shrugged—this was Slytherin territory—and held a finger to his lips for James to be quiet, though it was hardly necessary. Nasal Voice was now practically yelling over the dull clamor of the other Slytherins as they each voiced their demand for proof of Snape’s loyalty. The thought of what sort of loyalty they were referring to made Remus’s stomach churn in anger.

          “This has gone on for far too long, Snape! I hope you have not forgotten who you are dealing with.”

          Nasal Voice was met with loud calls of assent from at least a half-dozen other Slytherins. To Remus, this sounded like it could get ugly, fast. James was beginning to rise from the ground slowly, looking as conflicted as Remus felt. He wondered if James was actually contemplating stepping in to save Snape. Certainly he himself was, especially if Rosier and Nasal were talking about who he thought they were—Lily Evans.

          “Lily Evans is none of your business,” Snape declared. Remus cringed as the name reverberated down the hallway towards them, and he felt every muscle in James’s body tense up beside him. Quickly he seized James’s upper arm to prevent him from launching himself into the corridor and inflicting bodily harm upon somebody.

          “Fucking hypocrite,” Rosier growled. As a seventh-year, he was clearly the ringleader of the group. “Is she or isn’t she a Mudblood, just answer me that, Snape.”

          There was a tense moment of silence down the corridor as James clenched his fists and turned his back to Remus so the other boy could not see the liquid anger sparkling behind his wire rims. Remus took this opportunity to draw his wand and murmur a Silencing Spell under his breath, just in case James lost control—which he was bound to do. It was already surprising, to say the least, that he had managed to listen to the Slytherins for this long without doing anything rash.

          After a long stretch of quiet, Snape acknowledged confidently, “She is.”

          “And you’ve soiled your name by consorting with her,” Rosier declared, equally confidently. “To regain our trust, you must reaffirm your loyalty to us by fixing your mistake.”

          “You want me never to speak to her again?” Snape asked, a strain revealing itself in his voice at the mere thought of it. Against his own will, Remus felt a stab of pity for him.

           “Not only that, Snape. Evans is out of line—she thinks she’s better than the rest of us. She must be taught what her place in the Wizarding world will be.” Rosier cackled, and was echoed by a few of his Slytherin cronies. James suddenly pounded on the wall with his fist, shouting angrily, but though his lips formed words, no sound escaped Remus’s spell. He had finally lost control of himself. “And coming from you, the point might finally hit home. You have to be the one to teach that Mudblood her place.”

          There was silence once more. Snape didn’t even protest Rosier’s assertion. Remus knew with a sickening certainty that there was now no way out for Snape, even if he had wanted an escape. He was hopeless.

          “Now that that’s settled, on to more enjoyable matters,” Rosier continued. “Our Lord will be visiting my uncle’s house over the holidays, and I was thinking that maybe…”

          Remus forced himself to stop listening and focus on James, who was still flailing about, gesturing wildly in fury. He didn’t even seem to notice that he had been silenced. It took all of Remus’s strength to drag the irate James a few feet farther away from the corner, so that they would not be seen if his rampaging limbs happened to stick out too far.

          “Calm down, mate,” Remus muttered, gripping James tightly by the arms again. “You don’t want them to find us, do you?”

          James shook his head vigorously, his hazel eyes still blazing in anger. He fucking called my Flower a Mudblood! he screamed silently in Remus’s face, trying to gouge out chunks of the mortar in the wall. Next time I see him, Snivellus is dead! They’re all dead!

          Remus exhaled in a shallow sigh. “I know, Prongs,” he whispered soothingly, “but you’re missing the point. They want to teach Lily a lesson, and I don’t like the idea of that.”

          James visibly paled and his arms fell quaking to his sides. What? he asked frantically, his worry for Lily’s safety immediately overtaking all other emotions. Like what? How can we stop them? What do we do?

          Remus shrugged hopelessly, his shoulders slumping. In the dim torchlight he looked nearly twice his age. He began to shuffle back down the hallway towards the corridor from which they came, all his high spirits from their game of espionage ruined, and beckoned for James to follow. Once they were safely out of earshot, Remus warned him, “I’m going to take the spell off. Can I trust you not to shout?”

          James nodded grudgingly. Remus waved his wand quickly and then said, “We have to protect her. I just don’t know how we’ll do it.”

          “Strike at them first.”

          Remus shook his head. “That won’t stop them from going for her. It’ll just make them madder.” He glanced at James, about to say something more, and then hesitated.

          “No, Moony, I don’t want to tell her about this,” James said with certainty, reading Remus’s mind. “It would break her heart, and then she’d be even less able to defend herself.” He ran his fingers through his hair absentmindedly until the strands stood on end. “Some friend to her Snivellus is, that bastard. I ought to string him up by his ankles to the Astronomy Tower and let him hang there for a few days,” he grumbled. “Maybe even steal his clothes and let his bitty bits flap in the—”

          “Prongs,” Remus interrupted, disgusted at the mental image, “we’re talking about Lily right now, not Snape.”

          James heaved a deep sigh. “Well, we’re all going home for the holidays, so she’ll be safe there,” he said. “And when we come back, I guess we’ll just have to always keep an eye on her, never let her out of our sight. I’ll never let any of those bastards come near her, ever.” He turned to look seriously at Remus. “You’ll help me, won’t you?”

          “Of course, Agent Potter.” Remus clapped James on the shoulder and grinned weakly. It was only then when he remembered that they had never found out where Pete was going. “Hey, sorry we couldn’t follow the Wormtail,” Remus added as they turned past the Entrance Hall and began to ascend the main staircase.

          James chuckled a little. “Eh, ‘salright, Moony. This was more important. I doubt we would’ve found him doing anything interesting, anyway.”

          Back near the dungeons, the Slytherin meeting was adjourning. “Just remember what we said, Snape,” Rosier warned. “The Dark Lord has no tolerance for anything but full loyalty to his cause. Any personal connections to filth have to be terminated before you are deemed worthy.”

          “I will do my best,” Snape said frostily, biting back a retort.

          As the older Slytherins disbanded and began to leave in pairs and threes, a large, misshapen shadow shifted from behind a huge ornamental vase standing in another intersecting corridor. Watery blue eyes stared hungrily as the boys and girls in green- and silver-trimmed robes stalked away from the meeting site, a sense of power and command conveyed in their steps. No matter how many times he risked life and limb to watch them, no matter how many horrible things he had heard about and witnessed, the novelty of their power never ceased to draw him in. They were the polar opposites of the Marauders in every way possible—the quiet cunning to their ostentatious bravado, the dark to their light. And yet he couldn’t help but admire it in much the same way he had admired them.

          Peter Pettigrew was done being overshadowed by figures of light far brighter than himself. He wanted greatness, too.

A/N: So I guess we should be glad that James and Remus didn’t follow him further, huh? They would not have liked what they saw. Anyway, please review if you have the time and let me know how I’m doing. It would make my day =]

Next chapter: The real reason behind Sirius’s trip home is revealed.

Chapter 18: They Couldn't Resist the Overpowering Holiday Cheer
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

          The Hogwarts Express train blew billows of steam cheerfully into the sky as it pulled into the station at Platform 9 and 3/4. The entire platform was teeming with parents and friends who had come out to meet the students, all chattering away happily to one another about holiday plans and general seasonal hoopla. An excited roar was added to the din when the children began to pour from the train, punctuated here and there by a loud cry as a second-year was bowled over or a cat was stepped on.

          Inside the train, James and Lily lingered, both unwilling to leave their compartment. Rosie and the other three Marauders had sat apart from them for most of the ride, coming in only for a short and awkward visit. It was the first real stretch of time that James and Lily had spent together without interruption, drunken antics, or arguments, and James found that despite his nervousness he quite enjoyed himself.

          “Please,” Lily was pleading, holding onto James’s hands with both of her own. “Promise me you won’t pop over for a bit of fun like you and Black did last year. You nearly gave my mum a heart attack, you know. And I was afraid to even look Petunia’s way for weeks after.”

          James pulled a sorrowful face. “I’m sorry about that, Lil, I really am. I promise it won’t happen again.” He squeezed the tiny hands he held gently, a worried look passing over his eyes. “But can’t I come over once, just to make sure you’re getting on alright and all? Only once—and there will be no fun.” Lily tried to protest, but he shook his head at her, frowning sternly. “No, Miss Evans, there will be no fun allowed at all.”

          Lily suppressed a giggle, clearly wavering. “I don’t know. I dread how my mum would squeal and carry on if she found out about you. Would probably scare you away in an instant,” she said, smiling.

          “Not at all!” James declared valiantly. “If Sniv—I mean, Snape—can’t scare me away from you, then your mum will be a piece of shepherd’s pie.” His face darkened as he again remembered Snape’s vow in the dungeons, and he resumed his plea. “I couldn’t stand to be away from you for such a horribly long time. Besides, how else can I give you your Christmas gift? Just once, Lily Flower, that’s all I’m asking. And if you’re perfectly and incandescently happy without me when I arrive, then I’ll just leave right back out the door again and meet you on the train when the hols are over. Do we have an accord?”

          Lily’s lower lip trembled, and James’s hopes rose. For once, had he possibly said the right thing?

          No such luck. Lily put her hands on her hips and glared at him. “Sod it, James Potter! You know that I’ll miss you too, but you just have to make me say it, don’t you?” she demanded quietly. “You want me to say that if you show up, it’ll make me ‘perfectly and incandescently happy’—but it’ll cause so many problems that you simply can’t! Don’t you understand that?”

          “Problems we can overcome,” James said, dismissing Lily’s worries with a wave of his hand. “I think you’ve missed the point.”

          “And what point would that be?” Lily huffed.

          He grinned at her, amused. “Flower, I think this is a new milestone for us. We’ve never had a row in which you’ve admitted to liking me. What was that phrase you just used? Oh, right. I make you perfectly and incandescently happy—me, James Potter!” he crowed loudly out of the window at the crowd below. “James Potter makes Lily Evans per—”

          Lily shushed him, blushing. “James! That was your phrase—”

          She was quieted when James suddenly gathered her into his arms. Lily tried to wriggle away, but he held fast. “Come on, Flower, we must part soon. Give us a kiss for the road, won’t you?”

          “Not until you promise me there will be no Marauder antics at my house this year,” Lily retorted.

          James shrugged, a smile glittering behind his glasses. “Well, it all depends on you. If you make this kiss good, I might not need another one for two weeks. But if not…” he trailed off.

          “You think you’re so clever, don’t you?” Lily scolded. She braced herself on James’s shoulders and planted a chaste kiss on his cheek. “That’s all you get for now, but if you behave over the hols and don’t disturb the peace, I’ll reward you when we get back.”

          James pouted. “I guess you’ve sealed your fate, then, Miss Evans,” he said staunchly, turning towards the door. “I will see you on Christmas Eve. Please ready the biscuits and firewhiskey—and keep in mind that I do like my Cuban cigars.”

          “Wait!” Lily squealed, practically tackling James as he slid open the compartment door and stepped out into the corridor. “You’re not—you can’t be serious—”

          “Oh, but I am!” James announced, laughing and dodging Lily’s blows. They struggled down the hallway toward the nearest exit; Lily was trying to give James a more proper goodbye kiss to remedy the situation, but James could not control his laughter long enough to receive it. Finally, they tripped and crashed in a breathless heap on top of a trunk that sat next to the train door. Lily was still consumed in a fit of giggles when the owner of the trunk cleared his throat.

          “Sorry to interrupt, but you’re sprawled on my trunk,” he said coldly.

          James looked up in surprise. “Padfoot!” he exclaimed. Lily swallowed the last of her laughter and faced the other boy in apprehension. “Black,” she noted shortly.

          “Prongs, Evans,” Sirius sighed, “if could you please get off my stuff?” At second look, Sirius appeared tired and drawn. He was too preoccupied to even to make a small attempt at civility with his two friends. “Like the two of you, I also have a family I need to be meeting.”

          There was a strained silence before, feeling a sick swoop in her stomach, Lily quickly scrambled to her feet. She smoothed down random strands of James’s wild hair and murmured, “I’ll see you boys after break. Have a good holiday.” Then she darted away down the hall to retrieve her trunk and make her escape.

          James did not move. He glared stubbornly at Sirius. “Last chance to come over for the hols,” he declared to his best friend.

          “No, thank you, Prongs,” Sirius said with an equally stubborn expression. “My mum’s already here to meet me and Reg. I shouldn’t keep her waiting any longer.”

          “But you don’t want to go! I already told you, I still want you to stay at mine. Why are you doing this to yourself?” James asked roughly.

          Sirius set his jaw and his eyes became stony. “It’s none of your business.” He moved to drag his suitcase out from underneath James, but the bespectacled boy gripped it firmly. “I need my trunk, Prongs, get off.”


          “What the bloody hell is your problem?” Sirius exclaimed. His fists clenched inside his pockets in anger and exasperation. “Get off my sodding trunk, now!”

          “No,” James said again. “You avoided me about it all last week, and Moony this morning, but now you can’t run away. You have to listen to me, and I’m gonna sit here until you do.” He crossed his arms stubbornly and waited until Sirius’s indignant spluttering died away. “Now I don’t know what you think you’re doing, or whatever daft reason you’re doing it for. But I do know that this can’t possibly be what you want to do, so you’re going to stay at my house over the break, as usual. Now go out there and tell your stroppy excuse for a mum so. If you don’t, I will.”

          Sirius shook his head again, this time his steely glare drooping to the ground.

          “Well, why the hell not?” James growled, sensing his victory near. “If you can give me one good reason, Padfoot, I’ll leave you alone.”

          Sirius mumbled something to the ground incoherently, refusing to look at James. James waited patiently and drummed his fingertips against the leather cover of Sirius’s trunk. After a few moments, Sirius burst out, “It’s just about Regulus, okay? Nothing important to you.”

          “What?” James tried not to let his immense worry show on his face. “Of course it is. What’s going on with him?”

          Sirius wavered, but he had nobody else, and he always told James everything anyway. “His official initiation is New Year’s Eve, and unless I convince him to run away with me before then, he’ll become one of them.” His voice shook as he babbled feverishly. “He can’t do it, Prongs! I won’t let him. As much as he wants to be, he’s just not like them! I need to go and convince him—”

          “Merlin, Pad, I’m sorry,” James murmured. “I didn’t know that they took them so young…I mean, Regulus is only 14, right?”

          “That’s the standard age to start the training process,” Sirius replied bitterly. “That’s why my mum started giving me so much shit last year in particular.” He barked out a sour laugh. “You know, even your mucker Snivellus got initiated last year. My mum is always going on about him, says he’s a genius with the Dark Arts.”

          “Snivellus can go rot in hell,” James said sharply. “I don’t give a damn about what he does or what kind of genius he is.”

          “Me, too,” Sirius sighed. “I don’t have much hope for Reg anymore, but I still have to try. I’d hate myself if something happened to him. But if it doesn’t…work out with him, at least you’ll always be on my side, right?”

          James nodded, swallowing back a lump of emotion and relief in his throat. He heaved himself up off of Sirius’s trunk and reached over to clap his best mate on the shoulder. “Good luck with Regulus, Pad. If you need anything—anything, I mean it—my house is open for you, mate.”

          Sirius tried a tiny smile, and found that it still felt good. “Thanks,” he said, before dragging his trunk out of the train and hopping out after it. He turned back to James quickly. “I’ll write you soon.” Then he disappeared into the crowd in search of Walburga Black.

          Alone on the train, James shuffled back along the corridor to get his own trunk. He felt fully warm on the inside for the first time since this whole thing had started. The holidays really could make miracles happen, he decided.

          Regulus Black lay on his back in bed with his arms behind his head, staring blankly at the ceiling. Several floors below, he could hear his mother bustling around and screeching at the house elves at a decibel she only reached when she was very, very excited. A small sigh escaped his lips, but the creaking of the door silenced him at once.

          He didn’t look up—or give any indication that he had even noticed—when the door to his room opened a tiny crack and his brother Sirius slipped carefully inside.

          For a long moment, Sirius stood frozen by the door. He was shocked at how small Reg looked, lying alone on the huge bed. As the seconds passed without confrontation, he became even more surprised that his little brother hadn’t yet hurled an insult at him, or snarled at him to go away. Then again, Regulus had always played up their animosity in front of his Slytherin friends. Sirius knew that the ten years of young friendship before Hogwarts were not as easily forgotten as Reg liked to let on to them.

          He crept slowly to the edge of the bed and sat down next to Reg’s still figure. The bed dipped, causing Regulus’ left shoulder to sink down a bit, but still he continued to stare listlessly into space.

          Sirius sighed, unable to broach the subject. Instead, he tried to catch his little brother’s eye. From such close range, he realized that despite the stony look of determination that Regulus had worn since the moment he heard Sirius would be coming home for break, Reg’s face was still painfully childish. The kid’s only fourteen, Sirius thought again, and a lump rose in his throat. He shouldn’t need to do anything for them yet—or make any choices he doesn’t understand.

          “I dunno what you think you’re doing,” Regulus suddenly said. Still he would not meet his brother’s eyes.

          “Hmm?” Sirius grunted, caught off guard.

          Regulus sighed and rubbed at his brow bone to ward off a headache. “I mean, what are you doing, coming back here now of all times? It’s too dangerous.”

          Sirius barked out a short, dry laugh, finally clearing his throat. “Dangerous? For me? You’re the one who needs to worry about danger, Reg,” he said.

          “No, I’m not going to talk about this with you,” Regulus stated, setting his jaw firmly. “That is none of your business. I’m only telling you that you should leave here right now, while you still can. Mum doesn’t care about what happens to you anymore.”

          “Oh, I’m heartbroken,” Sirius retorted. “I’ve always wanted Mum to care for me.”

          “You don’t see, do you?” Regulus snapped. “How long’s it going to take for you to cotton on? He is coming here on New Year’s Eve for the—the—well, he’ll be here, alright? And how do you think that’s gonna turn out, you and him staying in the same house? He hates you, Sirius. You think you’re too good for us,” he whispered.

          Sirius frowned. “What’s this ‘us’, Reg? I know you. You’re not part of them—you’re not like them at all.”

          “Are you even listening to me?” Regulus hissed with escalating urgency. He rolled over onto his stomach, away from Sirius, and propped himself up on his elbows. “If he sees you, he’ll make you another offer, I’m sure of it. He wants you on our side, Sirius. But you won’t do it, will you? You don’t have the balls.” Sirius began to fire back a retort, but Regulus plowed on. “I know you, brother. You’ll try to make him as angry you can—you think it’s all in good fun! But this isn’t a joke, Sirius. Whatever he wants to do in this house, Mum won’t lift a finger to stop him. You’ll be dead before you can even laugh.”

          “So that’s it?” Sirius said, incredulous. “That’s the danger? You’re afraid he’s going to kill me?”

          “He’ll do it, Sirius, you know he will, and Mum won’t protect you. After the row you had last summer, she’s all but blasted you off the family tapestry, like she did to ‘Dromeda.” Regulus finally looked at Sirius directly. “I bet the only thing that’s kept you alive and healthy here so far is that she thinks you might have finally changed your mind.”

          Sirius snorted. “Alive and healthy here? Don’t hold your breath, we’ve only been here for twenty-four hours.” He crossed his arms. “And there’s no way I’m changing my mind, Reg, so you can just forget about it.”

          Regulus arched his eyebrow in an expression that Sirius was all too familiar with. “That’s what I’m telling you. I won’t change my mind, so just…leave and save yourself. That’s all I want from you.” He moved to flip back into his listless position but Sirius grabbed his arm in a wave of sudden, desperate fury.

          “Leave and save myself?” he snarled at his brother. “I’m the enemy now, didn’t they tell you? You should want me dead, shouldn’t you?” The younger Black struggled to get away, frightened, but Sirius pulled Regulus closer by his arm and hissed furiously, “No, scum, you should want to kill me, shouldn’t you?”

          Regulus glared at his brother in mutiny. “Can you even hear what the bloody hell you’re saying?”

          Sirius cleared his throat violently to get rid of the emotion lodged there. “But that’s what you’re signing up for, didn’t you know? Even if it’s not me you get, it’ll be my mates and their brothers and parents and friends. You go through with this, Reg, and we’re not on the same side anymore.” He shook Regulus’s arm in a feverish appeal. “You don’t want to do that, do you? You never really did. Just stop this, right now, and we’ll all be okay.”

          “No, we won’t,” Regulus argued and pulled away. “I’ll be worse off than ever. Mum will hate me, my mates will hate me, and he’ll be after us both. Then what am I supposed to do, Sirius? You never told me what I’m supposed to do then.”

          Sirius exhaled and shook the dark fringe out of his eyes. “I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out.” He sat back down onto the bedcovers, thinking of two little dark-haired boys in red shorts, licking Fortescue’s ice cream off of sticky fingers in the sun. That had been so long ago. “Come on, mucker, you know what’s right.”

          “It’s too dangerous, it’s not worth—”

          Suddenly, from downstairs, Walburga shrieked, “SIRIUS ORION BLACK!” Sirius grimaced, but willingly exited the room and stood on the landing.

          “Yes, Mum,” he called back down, bending over the railing.

          “If you’re going to be staying in my house, eating up my food and getting in my way, at least make yourself useful! Come downstairs and dust something!”

          Sirius hesitated. “I’ll be down in a minute,” he finally replied. Then he returned to Regulus’s room and said, “I can’t do this much longer—talk to her and prepare for it like nothing’s wrong. I’m about to puke up my breakfast.”

          “Then go to Potter’s. I know you want to.”

          Sirius clenched his fists. “I’m not going to run away again,” he said. “I’m not letting you do this.”

          “And what can you do about it?” Regulus asked him, with an expression not angry or belligerent, but sad. “What can anybody do about it now? It’s too late, and—and I wouldn’t want to change it anyway.”

          “That’s a lie,” Sirius accused. “You’re a coward.”

          “You don’t know anything,” Regulus retorted. “I don’t, either. Maybe you’re right—I’m too afraid to be rash like you. But maybe I just know how to stay alive in this bloody cesspool. We’ll just have to see how it turns out then, won’t we?”


          “If you’re not gone by the day after tomorrow, I’ll tell her you tried to kidnap me and take me away,” Regulus said firmly. “I’ll—I’ll tell her the only reason you came back was to try to turn me. You need to leave. I’ll make you leave.”

          “It’s not too late,” Sirius pleaded.

          “It is.”

          “Then fine, I’ll go,” Sirius said shortly. “I’ll go, but you better make the right choice.”

          Regulus stayed silent, and when Sirius left him to dust and to stay alive in the Black house, there were tears on his cheeks.



          I dunno if you want to hear from me, or if you’re too busy to write, but I need your help. Christmas is in a few days and I still have no idea what to do for Lily. Believe me, mate, you’re the last person I’d ask, but everything Moony told me was too boring and everything Pete told me was too strange. I even asked my mum for help, but you can imagine how that went. I think she’s started knitting her some mittens.

          Write me if you get any brilliant ideas. And let me know how you’re doing with your mission. Good luck.





          The mission failed. I’m a bloody idiot. If I have to clean the wax out of the ears on another house elf head I’m gonna hex something.

          I’m coming over. I’ll talk to you about Lily then.




          James rolled up the battered scrap of parchment, grinning despite how awful it made him feel. He couldn’t imagine the pain that his best mate was undoubtedly going through, even if Sirius would rather die than admit it to anyone. But there was something strange and contagious in the air that made James unreasonably happy to see him again, even under the miserable circumstances.

          James had never been particularly patient, and the next few hours ticked by with excruciating slowness. When Sirius finally arrived on the doorstep of the Potter Estate, a whole twenty-four hours after his owl had been delivered, James was distraught with worry.

          “Where the hell were you?” he demanded of Sirius before the other boy could even set a foot in the door. “I was afraid they’d changed their mind about letting you live.”

          Sirius shrugged. “I was making a last effort.”

          “Reg wasn’t all too receptive to you, was he?” James asked, clapping Sirius sympathetically on the shoulder.

          “Actually, it wasn’t like that, Prongs,” Sirius said softly. “For a while, it almost seemed like he was okay with me. We argued, but it wasn’t like we do at school. But the friendliness, and the—the fear; it just made things worse. He’s afraid.”

          Together the two dark-haired boys dragged Sirius’s trunk and other belongings into the hall, where the house elves immediately whisked it away into the depths of the house. “He doesn’t want to do it, does he?” James said gently. “But he’s going to anyway. There has to be a reason.”

          “I suppose he’s got his own reasons, stupid as they are,” Sirius admitted. “But he won’t listen to me.”

          James led the way into the kitchen, where a chocolate cake was sitting on the table, along with two plates and forks. “Listen, I’m really sorry, mate. Have some cake, it’ll cheer you up.”

          “I don’t need cheering up,” Sirius said emphatically, forcing a smile that turned into a genuine smirk when he noticed the plates and forks. “You told your mum I was coming over, then, did you? Lovely witch, your mum.”

          James just shrugged and motioned for Sirius to help himself, relieved that his best mate was feeling well enough for a smirk. He had been worried that after everything in the past few months—the spell, the full moon fiasco, the fight, and the voices—this business with his brother would’ve been the breaking point for Sirius. But it seemed that the generally cheery vibes of the Potter household were seeping into Sirius, and an alarming mischievous spark that James recognized all too well was growing in his grey eyes.

          Sirius eyed James over the table. “So,” he began cautiously, “just how crazy are you willing to get with Evans’s Christmas present-ation?”

          “Nothing too scary,” James warned. “Wouldn’t want to frighten her family again, remember?”

          Sirius raised an eyebrow with a hurt expression on his face. “Now, as I remember, that particular disaster was actually solely your idea—I just came along for moral support and backup in case the Evans’ set their dog on you or something.”

          “Yet you ended up shattering half the windows—”

          “I repaired them right away, didn’t I?”

          “—while the Christmas tree was trying to fly away—”

          “You never were too great at Charms, Prongs.”

          “—and the neighbors called the po-lease on us while we scaled the fence because they thought we were burglars! Don’t tell me that was all my fault.”

          Sirius put his fork down on his empty plate and frowned at James. “Well, do you want to hear my idea or not?” he asked. James hesitated. “Seeing as you’ve got no better offers coming in, you should take a listen before you dismiss this one. It’s perfect for daft, lovey-dovey couples like you and Evans.”

          Finally James grinned and sat back. “It’s good to have you back, Padfoot. Christmas just wouldn’t be as much fun without causing some sort of disturbance.”


Another chapter, faster than usual. And, IT'S THE ONE YOU'VE BEEN WAITING FOR!!! Padfoot and Prongs are back in the house. ;) If you're happy with the way they reconciled, let me know by dropping a line in the review box, please!

Next chapter: Find out what a stag, a pair of mittens, and a box of chocolates have in common. Also, how in the world did Padfoot get a hold of that lacy pink camisole?

Chapter 19: They Couldn't Resist the Overpowering Holiday Cheer, Part II
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

          Christmas Eve at the Evans’ household had never been a big affair. For as long as Lily could remember, their family tradition had simply consisted of mug after mug of hot chocolate and hours of playing goofy board games. Sometimes her father turned the radio on and sang along to the Christmas carols, until Petunia inevitably complained of a headache and went to bed. Then Lily and her parents would simply sit together and watch the log in the fire crumble to ashes.

          But the winter of Lily’s first year at Hogwarts was the year that everything fell apart. When Lily arrived home for the break, 13-year-old Tunie refused to even look at her. Whenever she did talk to Lily, it was always to say something mean.

          Mr. and Mrs. Evans tried their best to reconcile the two girls, but Lily was too proud to accept the forced apologies. And it had been the last straw when Tunie spilled her hot chocolate all over Lily’s nicest dress on purpose during the first game of Clue. Christmas Eve that year had not been pleasant.

          By winter of third year, after a few failed attempts, Mr. and Mrs. Evans had stopped dragging their two daughters into the sitting room on Christmas Eve. Instead, Petunia went ice-skating with Uncle Adrian and Mum while Lily went sledding with Aunt Gail and Dad.

          During Lily’s fourth year both Lily and Petunia decided to stay home on Christmas Eve, Lily to review her Transfiguration readings and Petunia to talk on the phone with Vernon, a boy she’d met over the summer. The bulk of the night passed uneventfully, and Mr. and Mrs. Evans had just breathed a deep sigh of relief when Lily—who was lying in front of the fire with her textbook in the living room—let out a bloodcurdling scream.

          Mr. and Mrs. Evans had looked at each other in consternation before rushing to her. That scream had sounded an awful lot like, “Potter!

          Sure enough, two strange boys had pried open a window in the living room. A box wrapped in shiny red foil and tied with bright green ribbon was slowly floating into the house through the opening. Lily was halfway to the window when the box burst apart into loud, colorful fireworks right in the middle of the room, making Mrs. Evans jump and scream (though not nearly as loud as Lily did).

          Mr. Evans stared at the display curiously. The little sparks from the fireworks were rearranging themselves to spell out something.

          Happy Christmas, Lily!

          He smiled at his redheaded daughter, who didn’t look happy at all. What a lovely gesture this was. And fireworks that could be set off in the middle of a room—how amazing! Those wizards could really come up with everything.

          Another round set off, and this time a scream emitted from Petunia, who had dropped her phone and ran in to see what the commotion was about. More sparks shifted themselves into words.

          With love from James Potter

          Mrs. Evans collapsed onto the couch, fanning herself. “How cute,” she exclaimed breathlessly. “Is that the boy you’re always telling me about?”

          “Mum!” Lily snapped, but luckily Mrs. Evans’s words had been drowned out by another chorus of bangs. A final round of fireworks exploded and its sparks gathered together into the longest message yet.

          PS. Now, will you please go out with me?

          “Potter,” Lily had cried, looking close to tears, “get out of my house!” While the spectacle had been distracting the Evans’, James and Sirius had crawled up through the window and into the house. Now they were levitating another box in behind them.

          “Careful there, Evans, this is fragile,” James warned as she approached them, fists clenched.

          “Almost done,” Sirius said, motioning for Lily to take a deep breath and calm herself. Lily grew steadily purpler with anger as James guided the box over towards the Christmas tree. Sirius was not fast enough to restrain her, and everyone looked on in dismay as Lily launched herself at James, smacking him repeatedly wherever she could reach.

          He yelped. “Hey, stop it! Mmph! You’re going to ruin it!”

          The box tilted and swung dangerously in midair. Sirius yelled out and Lily paused for a moment in her attack to see what was going on. James took the opportunity to hasten the box on its way to the tree, but Lily turned back almost immediately and tried to tug his wand away.

          Then a few things happened at once. The box crashed to the floor, revealing the squashed remains of a beautiful chocolate cake, probably the handiwork of James’s mum. James wrenched his wand arm away and waved it again in an attempt to save his present; instead of the doomed box, it was the Christmas tree which began to rise into the air; and as a horrified Sirius waved his wand frantically to try to bring the tree back to the ground, his spell rebounded and shattered two of the windows. Then, in the distance, the sounds of police sirens could be heard.

          Lily had run to her room, slammed the door, and had not appeared until the following morning, when she spitefully ate all that was left of the unfortunate cake.

          So, although there had been little harm done in the end—the tree was firmly re-anchored, the windows repaired, and the police lied to—Lily obviously did not want a repeat of last year’s fiasco. That’s why, when Christmas Eve of her fifth year passed completely quietly, she was relieved. It seemed that despite the protest he had put up on the train, James would be honoring her request after all.

          Christmas morning Lily awoke to a peaceful house and went downstairs to make herself a cup of tea. Mrs. Evans was sitting at the dining room table, absorbed in correcting papers—she was a teacher at the local secondary school.

          Lily was about to go join her when she heard a curious scratching at the back door off of the kitchen. Putting down her tea, she went to the door and opened it. A big black dog sat on the doormat, butting his head against her legs. He tried to push his way past her inside.

          Lily frowned, but let him in quickly when a gust of cold air blew in from the open door. The dog scurried away before Lily could even get a second glance at him.

          “Hey, Mum?”

          In the next room, Mrs. Evans shuffled her papers. She hadn’t seemed to notice anything strange. “What is it, dear?” she called back.

          “Why didn’t you tell me we got a dog?” Lily sipped her tea.

          “A dog,” Mrs. Evans repeated from the dining room. “What in the world are you talking about, Lil?”

          “A dog, Mum. You didn’t tell me you let Tunie get a dog.” Now Lily was beginning to sound hurt. “I’ve wanted one forever, but you’re always saying that you hate pets.”

          “Yes, dear, you know I hate them. Of course we didn’t get a dog! Why would you think we did?”

          “I—I don’t know.” Lily paused as she noticed a medium-sized package on the floor next to the door. She was almost certain it had not been there just a moment before. She bent down and picked it up. One corner of the package was damp with dog slobber.

          “Ew,” she muttered, quickly setting it on the table. There was a tag on the package that said, “To enjoy.” Curious, she ripped it open to reveal a variety box of her favorite Honeydukes chocolates.

          A small scrap of parchment fell out of the package. Quietly Lily read from it, “Go to bed.” Her eyebrows furrowed.

          “Lily?” Mrs. Evans called again. “Are you alright?”

          “Yes, Mum,” Lily replied uncertainly, still confused. Then, suddenly she remembered:

          “Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, huh? So what’s Padfoot mean, then?”

          “Sirius is a dog. A big, black dog.”

          The empty tea cup was dropped hurriedly into the sink. “Sirius Black!” Lily whispered in a snarl, whirling around. She had to get him out of her house now, before anyone else noticed he was here—or before he caused any trouble.

          Lily raced back up the stairs as quietly as she could manage so as not to alarm her mum or—Merlin forbid—wake Petunia.

          She stalked down the hall, but saw neither hide nor hair of the big black dog. “Black, you think this is funny?” she whispered desperately as she searched inside the bathtub. “My mum hates dogs, and my sister hates you. You’ll never make it out of here alive if they find you.”

          There was no answer, but very faintly down the hall Lily thought she heard a click, click of nails on the hardwood floor.

“I bet he’s in your bedroom. Boys are always curious about girls’ rooms,” her voice offered wisely.

          Without a second thought, Lily tore down the hallway towards her room. Her door, which she had left almost entirely closed, was indeed pushed ajar wide enough to admit a large dog.

          “There you are, you prat!” Lily burst into the room feeling triumphant, but after a thorough check underneath the bed, inside the closet, and behind the desk, she had to admit that there was still no sign of Sirius anywhere. Instead, perched on her bedcovers was another package. This one, Lily noted in dismay, had also been mildly slobbered upon. The tag read, “To warm your bed at night.”

          Now curious (and blushing fiercely), she tore the package open. Inside was an adorable plush animal—a caramel-colored stag with fuzzy, bendable antlers and sparkling hazel eyes.

          Lily’s blush increased ten-fold when she noticed that the stag was wearing a pair of noticeably familiar pink-and-blue-striped drawers.

          “I wonder whose idea that was,” she muttered to herself before turning her attention to another scrap of parchment pinned onto the stag’s back. “Listen to the wireless,” it said. Huffily she put the plush stag down and headed back down the stairs, still looking for Sirius. This had to end soon. How many items could he carry in his mouth at once, anyway?

          Lily hurried into the sitting room, hoping that her mum wouldn’t ask any questions. Again, Sirius had left already, but there was a third package waiting for her next to the radio.

          The tag said, “To put on right now. (From my mum)” Lily opened it to reveal a cute pair of knitted grey mittens and a matching grey hat. Smiling, Lily put the hat on over her ears. Despite the note, the image of James knitting kept on appearing in her head. Inside one of the mittens there was another piece of paper.

          “Do your laundry?!” she read incredulously, but could only shake her head before her curiosity got the best of her and she snuck quietly down to the laundry room.

          There, in the semi-darkness, Lily could make out a large shape that looked suspiciously like a big dog lounging in her family’s laundry. “Black, get out of there!” Lily scolded. She approached to shoo him away, but froze when she saw one of Petunia’s tasteless lacy pink camisoles looped around his snout. Sirius bared his fangs in a silent laugh.

          “What are you laughing at?” Lily demanded quietly. “That isn’t mine!” Sirius rolled onto his back, whimpering with mirth. He easily dodged the kick that Lily aimed at him. “You prat, I swear that it’s my sister’s!”

          Lily reached over to snatch the camisole away from Sirius, but she stepped onto another package that felt like clothing. She picked it up and read in the dim light, “To bring outside to the backyard. Meet you there. Dress warmly. Love, James.”

          Refusing to blush in front of Sirius, Lily instead ducked her head and tore open the last package. A shimmering cloak tumbled out and pooled into her hands. The material felt like silk, but caught the sparse light iridescently.

          “What is this?” she asked Sirius. “It’s beautiful.”

          The dog winked at her and pawed the scrap of parchment that had fallen out with the cloak. Lily picked it up. It said, “Please let Padfoot out when you leave. Sorry in advance for any trouble he might have gotten into. He’s potty-trained, but sometimes he likes to pretend he’s not.”

          Lily laughed out loud before grabbing the big, black dog by his scruff and hauling him up the stairs. Sirius flopped along at her feet affably.

          Hurriedly she put on her coat and scarf, as well as her new mittens and hat, and stuffed her feet into boots. “Mum, I’m going out to, er, build a snowman!” she called.

          There was a surprised silence. Lily Evans hadn’t built a snowman in about eight years. “Oh. Well, alright then, dear,” Mrs. Evans finally replied. “Have fun, and don’t forget to come in for lunch.”

          “I won’t,” Lily assured her mum before yanking open the door, shoving Sirius outside, and closing it again behind her with a relieved sigh.

          Almost immediately, there was no longer a dog on her porch. Instead, a tall, dark-haired young man lounged lazily on the steps. Even though she had expected it, Lily still jumped in surprise, and Sirius looked up at her with a wide grin. “Have a happy Christmas, Evans?”

          Lily took a deep breath to calm her racing heart. “Black, you scared me! Can’t you give a person some warning before you…er, do that?”

          “But it’s much more fun this way,” Sirius informed her.

          “I’m sure trespassing in other people’s homes disguised as an innocent stray is very fun,” Lily retorted. “Do you make it a point to do this often, or is such fun reserved just for Christmas Day?”

          Sirius’s grin never slipped. He pushed himself up to a standing position as Lily descended the stairs, and followed her as she headed around the house to the backyard. “I never take advantage of my abilities to trespass—as you so charmingly put it—unless I have a job to accomplish.”

          Lily raised an eyebrow. “So you actually did this of your own free will? James didn’t threaten, blackmail, or otherwise coerce you into helping?”

          Sirius shook his head mischievously. “No, it was my idea.”

          “Your idea?” Lily gaped. She ground to a halt and stared at Sirius in disbelief. “Merlin help us the day Sirius Black thinks of something romantic that doesn’t involve Zonko’s fireworks.”

          “Well, the presents are all his—I just came up with a way to deliver them that didn’t involve scaling your fence again and climbing through another window.” Sirius winked. “This way was much better, anyhow. The look on your face when I found that—”

          “Never mind,” Lily interrupted hurriedly. “James told you that I knew about you lot and your…special abilities?” Sirius nodded and shrugged. “You don’t mind? You don’t think I’m prying?”

          “Well, Prongs seems to trust you enough to bring out the big guns,” Sirius said, nodding to the cloak that Lily clutched in her arms. Curiously Lily began to run the strange material through her fingers, examining it, but Sirius stopped her. “Come on, let’s go out back. You’ll find out what that is soon.”

          Lily complied, and true to his word, James was standing just inside the gate to her backyard, clutching his Nimbus in one hand and an umbrella in the other. Upon catching sight of Lily, a huge grin broke out on his face. “Well, well, Flower. Where are those Cuban cigars you promised me?”

          “James!” Lily walked rather quickly over the snow drifts to give him a hug. “You must be frozen. Do you want me to sneak you inside?”

          “No, I’m fine.” He fiddled with the pom-pom on top of Lily’s new hat nervously. He wasn’t sure if she’d like his plan, and it was making him fidgety. Absently he beckoned to Sirius. “Nice work, Pad. Can you take my umbrella back to the house?”

          “Of course.” Sirius grabbed his own broom, which was propped up on the gate. “Have fun, you two.” He grinned at Lily, who smiled back to Sirius’s surprise, then kicked off from the ground.

          Lily turned back to James, who was now looking even more anxious than before. “Speaking of…how did you get here in the first place? You didn’t fly the whole way in the snow, did you?”

          “No, we Floo-ed,” he responded. “My mum knows a wizarding couple who lives a few miles from here.”

          “Oh.” Lily shrugged. “So, what are we going to do?”

          A tiny, delighted smirk crept onto James’s face, wiping away the nervousness instantly. “Well, have you ever ridden a horse, Lil?”

          Lily’s jaw dropped. “No.” She backed a few steps away from where James stood, still clutching his broom. “No way. No, no, no. James, there’s no way I’m going to—”

          James’s guffaw echoed down the snowy street, and when Lily blushed he practically doubled over with laughter. “No?” he gasped out. “No, are you sure? Okay, well—well, then, how about this?”

          He held up his broom, and almost immediately Lily’s horrified scowl turned into an excited grin. “Really?” she breathed. “Oh, James, that would be amazing!”

          “I know how much you like flying, Flower. I could tell from the moment you took off.” James smiled dryly. “You never looked back, even though Padfoot and I were both hollering ourselves hoarse trying to get you to turn around.”

          Lily bounced excitedly on the tips of her toes, exulting (not for the first time) about the wonders of magic. There was nothing—absolutely nothing—in the Muggle world that could compare to the feeling of flying on a broom.

          “You do know how to land properly, right?” she joked.

          James positioned himself on the broom and beckoned for Lily to settle herself in front of him. “Land properly? Of course I do,” he replied, insulted. “Why would you even need to ask? I am Gryffindor’s star Chaser.”

          The retort that hovered on the tip of Lily’s tongue was suddenly banished from her mind when James scooted up snugly against her back and rested his chin on her shoulder. His arms snaked around her and he covered her grey mittens, which held the broom handle with a deathly grip, with his own gloved hands.

          James was so close that Lily could smell him over her shoulder. He smelled like butterbeer and shampoo, and a little like hair gel (Sirius) and chocolate (Remus) and barbeque smoke (Peter). It was strange how James carried hints of the other Marauders on him even when they weren’t around. Lily leaned back into him and smiled in spite of herself when she thought of how close the boys had grown in only a few years.

          Then suddenly she remembered that if she was close enough to smell him, James could probably smell her, too. She hoped to Merlin that hauling Sirius the dog around hadn’t left too much of a scent.

          James had taken the cloak from her arms and now he pulled it over their heads. Lily was surprised to see that while the cloak looked solidly black from the outside, she could now still see almost perfectly through the material. “Here,” he said, “we should put this on. We’re in a Muggle area.”

          Lily laughed. “What difference does it make? It won’t hide us if Muggles see us. Instead of two people riding a broomstick, won’t they just see a big black lump flying through the air?”

          “It’s an Invisibility Cloak,” James explained. “Nobody will be able to see us. My dad gave it to me when I started at Hogwarts.”

          “It really works? It makes us invisible?” James nodded in affirmation, and Lily twisted around to gape at him. “Wow! But—how—wait, all those pranks!” she exclaimed indignantly, much to his amusement. “You led us to believe all this time that you lot never got caught because you were talented pranksters, when in reality you had this…?”

          “Well, we’re talented also.”

          Lily elbowed him. “I can’t believe this! You’re frauds!”

          “No way!” James adjusted the cloak. “Nobody said we aren’t allowed to keep a few secrets to ourselves. Are you ready?” he asked.

          Lily nodded and faced forward again. “An Invisibility Cloak, really!” she harrumphed. “Now I’m wondering what other amazing secrets you Marauders hide from me.”

          There was a jolt as James kicked off of the ground, and instinctively her hold on the broom handle stiffened. Lily looked up towards the sky, her heart racing so fast she was afraid she might faint. Around them the snowflakes floated lazily through the air. The ground was falling away below them into a beautiful patchwork of lights and rooftops.

          “I could show you what it’s like to do a barrel roll on a broom in midair,” James said, a wicked grin in his voice. He began to shift his weight to the right, and the broom swayed dangerously.

          “You wouldn’t dare!” Lily shrieked in terror.

          “Oh, but a Marauder always dares!”

          “No, no, stop it!” Hysterical, Lily began to lean to the left to steady the broom again, but upon realizing her true fright immediately James righted himself.

          “I’m sorry, Lil, I’ll stop.” He guided the broom up higher into the air and tucked the Invisibility Cloak underneath him to keep it from flapping around too much. “Don’t you think you should trust me, though? I’d never let us fall.”

          Lily looked down below and marveled again at the sight, trying to regain her breath. In a way, the town and the streetlights and the rows of tiny houses were even prettier from this height than the treetops of the Forbidden Forest had been. Everything looked delicate and surreal, like a miniature doll town.

          “I know,” she agreed shakily. “It’s just—it would be a long, long fall if we did accidentally slip.”

          James grinned and poked his nose into the fuzz of Lily’s grey hat. “Moony would never forgive me if I dropped you,” he told her softly.

          “And Sirius would never forgive me.” An image that popped into her mind suddenly made Lily giggle. “You know, if you fell off your broom, Sirius would never be the same again. I could just imagine him wandering around everywhere like a lost puppy.”

          Lily felt James shaking with laughter behind her and without his guidance the broom began to meander left and right.

          “Wait,” he cried happily, finally swallowing his laughter. “You said Sirius! You called him Sirius again!”

          “What?” Lily asked, taken aback. “I did? No, I didn’t!”

          “You did!” James cheered, and nearly squeezed the air out of Lily with an excited bear hug. “You like him again—admit it! Oh, this is the greatest Christmas present you two could ever give me. You were unbearable when you hated each other.”

          “Slow down, James, I didn’t say—” Lily began, but James let out a loud whoop, cutting her off. “I mean, it was considerate of him to help out with your gifts, but—”

          “You at least like his Animagus, don’t you?”

          Lily smiled against her own will. “Sure, Pad is cute, but I don’t know if Sirius—”

          “So it’s settled then,” James announced pompously, and whooped again in happiness. He guided the broom into arcing ascents and descents at breakneck speed with Lily holding onto the handle, squeezing her eyes shut in terror. Her voice took advantage of the opportunity to butt in.

“Sirius isn’t all that bad,” it prodded. “I’m sure it won’t kill you to be friends with him again, and just look how happy that makes James.”

          Lily sighed in resignation and elbowed James in the gut. Almost immediately the broom began to slow down and level out again. “What is it?” he asked.

          “Just because I’m friends with Sirius again doesn’t mean I approve of him.”

          James burst out laughing. “Padfoot’s not all that bad. I’m sure if he has a girl to rein him in, like I do, he could become a reformed man in no time,” he joked.

          "A girl, huh? That’s actually a good idea," Lily mused quietly.

          James, taken aback, brought the broom to a gentle hovering glide to hear her better over the wind. He wasn’t too sure it was a good idea for him to mess about in Padfoot’s affairs—especially these types of affairs. Then again, it wasn’t like that had ever stopped him before. And if Lily thought it was a good idea, who was he to contradict her?

          "What about Emma Watkins?" Lily suggested.

          "The one who lives in your dorm? She's too loud," James said with distaste. "Putting her and Sirius together would be like bringing a hippogriff into Ollivander's—a disaster waiting to happen. Not to mention they'd drive us crazy within minutes."

          Lily laughed. Admittedly, James had a point. "What about Gloria Chapman, then? She's nice and quiet, and doesn't she play Quidditch? They'd have something to talk about, at least."

          James sighed. "It’s a good thought, but she’s on the Ravenclaw team. Sirius wouldn't date someone on an opposing Quidditch team, Lil. Who would he cheer for if it was us against Ravenclaw for the Cup this year?"

          Lily rolled her eyes. Team rivalries were so unnecessary and counterproductive in her opinion—not that she'd ever dare mention that to James. "Fine, what about Sarah Bradshaw?"

          James furrowed his brow. "You mean that sixth-year blonde who looks like she never combs her hair?"

          "James, don't say that about people!” she exclaimed. “I think she's pretty! And you’re one to talk about that, you prat."

          "Flower, you know how much pride Sirius takes in maintaining his hair. He'd never go for a girl unless she was well-groomed."

          Lily huffed and leaned back into him. They both fell silent for a few minutes, James hard at work wracking his brains for ideas and Lily admiring the view.

          "I have a good one," James finally said smugly. "Lucy Vanderbilt."

          Lily made a rude noise. "Lucy Vanderbilt, really? Is that the best you can come up with? Between her and Rachel Bailey they've probably snogged about half the boys at Hogwarts!"

          "Well, I've heard she's got a nice, erm, personality," James protested. "And at least she and Rachel are already sworn enemies."

          Lily snorted and shook her head firmly. "She's too easy. We need someone who will keep Sirius occupied"—here James smirked to himself—"and not in the way that you're thinking, James Potter!"

          "Okay, okay," James relented. "How about Marlene McKinnon?"

          Lily risked letting go of the broomstick with one hand to adjust her hat, which was slipping down into her eyes. "She's a sweet girl, but didn't Sirius already date her last year? They had some sort of falling out, didn't they? I never see them talking anymore."

          "No, not a falling out. Marlene, she went through some nun-like epiphany and decided she wasn't going to let Pad snog her anymore because it was another form of female degradation or something like that. Padfoot thought it was because she thought he wasn't a good kisser. He was so embarrassed that he decided he wouldn't ever talk to her again."

          Lily giggled. "And I thought you were the dramatic one."

          James poked her lightly in the stomach. "Anyway, it's about time we get them back together. She’s over her anti-snogging phase, and Padfoot did really like her."

          "Are you sure he's ready to face her? It sounds like she really dealt him a blow to his ego," Lily joked.

          "Er," James hesitated as he remembered the temper tantrum Sirius had thrown last year after Marlene had made the announcement to him. "You’ve got a point. Maybe we should leave her as a last resort."

          They fell into thoughtful silence again, watching the cars meander along on the road below them before Lily thought of another girl. "What about Veronica Carlyle? I see you boys talking to her in the hallways sometimes."

          "Ronnie from Hufflepuff? Now there's an idea," James mused to himself. "She's nice, not bad to look at, and she's got a wicked sense of humor—helped us out with a prank once, actually. She was walking by once when she bumped into that giant pumpkin we were planting..." he trailed off for a moment, deep in thought. "Hmm, I think me, Pete, and Padfoot plotted to get her together with Moony for a while there. I wonder why we never did."

          Lily shook her head. "Most of your crazy plots never do work out, do they? That's why I should be in charge of this operation.” She laughed, feeling a bit lightheaded. She held the broom handle tighter to keep from pitching over. “We could be like double agents! Plus, Sirius would never suspect me. Agents Evans and Potter—that has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"

          James swallowed a laugh, reminded of the night when he and Remus played Follow the Wormtail. He always seemed to be getting himself into these types of things. "I'm not very good at espionage," he warned Lily. "We might want to enlist the help of Moony. We need some brains in this."

          "Remus? Won't he think we're being too silly?" Lily asked uncertainly.

          James grinned. "Of course not. You’d be surprised how much he likes being a spy."

          "Alright," Lily agreed. She shifted slightly on the broom, wincing. "But can you bring us back now? My bottom's beginning to get sore."

          James swung the broom around and reversed direction effortlessly. "Well, we can't have anything that'll bring discomfort upon your beautiful bottom,” he said smartly. “Back we go, then."

          Lily elbowed him in the ribs as hard as she dared to without losing her balance. James laughed and squeezed Lily closely to him before dipping the nose of the broom down into an easy descent. They hovered down Lily's street a few stories up in the air to admire the view, then dropped lightly into her backyard.

          Pulling the Invisibility Cloak off of them, Lily stumbled, disoriented from being back on her feet again. James quickly stuck out an arm to catch her before she fell. “That used to happen to me all the time in first year,” he said quietly. “You get used to it after a while.”

          He pulled her closer to him, and Lily could see the anxiousness returning to his hazel eyes. She thought it was endearing that the arrogant, all-powerful James Potter was nervous about pleasing her.

          A few seconds ticked by in silence and James looked fit to burst. “Did you have a good time?” he finally blurted out.

          “Of course.” Lily gave him a reassuring hug. “It was sweet—even if I did practically die when I realized Sirius was wandering around in my house as a dog.” James chuckled nervously. “Er—I’m sorry I didn’t get you anything,” Lily continued. “I wasn’t expecting you to do this.”

          James cleared his throat, bracing himself to make the speech he had rehearsed over and over the day before, with Sirius acting as a stand-in for Lily. They had reviewed all of Lily’s possible reactions—angry, teary, laughing, screaming, or kissing—and what James should do in each case, but he was still feeling unprepared.

“Here goes…” his voice whispered. “You can do it, dear.”

          Tilting Lily’s face up to his with one gloved hand, James took a deep breath and said, “You don’t have to get me anything. I guess I just really like spending time with you, Lil. You’re funny and you’re pretty—I mean, you’re beautiful, actually—and just, erm, brilliant, I mean…”

          He faltered, the momentum of his speech falling away, as Lily broke into a huge grin. “What’s so funny?” he asked, frowning.

          “I didn’t know you had that in you. If you’d only said all that to me instead of asking me out every day…” He continued to watch her in consternation. “Oh, don’t look so worried,” Lily told him with an eye roll. “You did everything right today.”

          James breathed a comic sigh of relief and bent down to kiss Lily carefully on her freckly nose. “Happy Christmas, Flower,” he muttered. He dropped tiny kisses on each of her cheeks and then finally touched her lips. They stood, bundled together in the cold, for a few warm minutes before James pulled away with a sigh. “You should probably go in soon or your parents will be suspicious.”

          “I told my mum I was going outside to build a snowman,” Lily said with a laugh. “She’ll really suspect something if there’s no snowman out here when I go in.” She lobbed a handful of snow at him in a mock challenge. “Are you up for the task, Potter?”

          He shook his head at her and grinned in disbelief. “There’s something strangely appealing about the way you say ‘Potter.’”

          Lily had already sat herself on the ground and started to craft a huge snowball. “Oh, stop it and come help me before I throw this at you.”

A/N: Long chapter & lots of Lily/James Christmas fluff. Did you like it? Happy that Lily has finally forgiven Sirius? As always, reviews are greatly appreciated. Please leave me some feedback; it would make my day! =]

Next chapter:  Lily has a plan, but the only way to get what she wants is to make a deal with the devil himself - Sirius Black. And, well, it goes without saying that Sirius also has a plan. Who will succeed, who will fail, and who will get embarassed in the process? Look out for Chapter 20! ;)

Chapter 20: They Couldn't Execute the Ultimate Plan of Vengance (Properly)
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

          Lily dropped down onto the couch next to Sirius. It was so late that the common room was nearly empty, save for a couple of older prefects discussing something in the corner. Ever since the students had returned to Hogwarts from winter break, Sirius had had trouble falling asleep and taken to staring into the fire far into the night. When Lily had inquired after James about it, the only thing he revealed was that it was about his brother Regulus. Lily knew that the Slytherin Black had a sharp tongue, so he’d probably said something to upset Sirius.

          She felt slightly guilty to be interrupting his thoughts, but it would be for a good cause. Lily had purposely picked this time to speak to him because none of the other Marauders were around. Phase One of Operation Sirius-and-Ronnie required her to engage him in a heart-to-heart chat, and there was no chance of that happening unless he was alone.

          Sirius looked over when he felt the cushions sink under her weight. His eyes widened in astonishment—or fear—when he saw who it was. “What’s going on, Lily?” he asked warily. “Why are you still up?”

          “Oh, nothing much, I just can’t sleep,” Lily replied, keeping her voice casual. She was surprised that pretending to engage her former foe in small talk now came so easily. “How was your break?”

          Sirius shrugged. “Not so good down at the old Black place, but much better once I got over to the Potters’. By the way, I heard you two had a fun Christmas Day ride.” He winked at Lily.

          “What?” Lily squawked indignantly. She couldn’t help but take the bait, even if it was just like Sirius Black to say such a thing. “Just what are you implying? I don’t know what he told you, but there was absolutely no—”

          “Relax, I was kidding. Prongs was being oddly quiet about the whole thing, actually. He didn’t tell me anything, no matter how much I badgered him for information.” He grinned across at the redhead. “But he came home very cheerful, and he even told me that there was hope for me. What did he mean by that, do you know?”

          “Not the foggiest idea,” Lily replied smoothly. “Well, I mean, he did convince me to start speaking to you again. Maybe he meant that there was hope for our friendship.”

          Sirius guffawed loudly, earning a glare from one of the prefects across the room. “You’re my best mate, Evans, everyone knows that. You always have been. And now that you’ve come to join me in my late-night common room vigils, nobody in the castle has a doubt.”

Lily rolled her eyes and reached over to smack him on the shoulder. “Don’t flatter yourself, Black. I only stopped being mad at you because life was unbearable for James when I was.”

“Of course, whatever you say.” Sirius rubbed his shoulder, grinning. “Actually, Lily, my best mate, my old pal, I’ve been meaning to ask you to do me a favor. Is that okay?”

          Lily’s eyes narrowed. She knew from past experience that whatever it was, a favor for a Marauder always called for caution. “It depends on what it’s for, and whether or not you’ll do a favor for me first.”

          “A favor for you?” Sirius raised his eyebrows. “Now you’ve got me intrigued. Do tell, what is this favor of yourn request?”

          Lily leaned forward conspiratorially, as if she were gossiping with one of the girls. It was all part of her scheme. Sirius had to believe that she was actually confiding in him with the truth. “Well, one of my friends—actually, just an acquaintance of mine—is somewhat interested in you,” she told him, making a face. “Why in the name of Merlin, I have no idea. She asked me to find out whether or not there could be a remote possibility that you fancy her back.”

          “Who is it?” Sirius asked, curious.

          “I’m under strict orders not to divulge any information that could lead you to her identity,” Lily said matter-of-factly, sitting back. “That means no House, no hair color, no eye color, no shoe size, nothing.”

          “What?” Sirius whined. “That’s not fair. How am I supposed to know if there’s a possibility that I fancy her if I don’t even know who she is?”

          “Easy. That’s the favor I’m asking of you. Write me up a list of every girl in our year—Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, and Slytherins included—that you could fancy if she fancied you back. I’ll see if she’s on that list, and then we go from there.”

“Don’t do it,” Sirius’s voice advised immediately. “You have an unfortunate penchant for women with boyfriends. A prime example: that tall Gryffindor sixth-year, the one who’s with the Quidditch captain.”

Sirius spluttered mentally. “What? She’s fit, that’s all! And how did you know…?”

His voice laughed dryly. “Don’t think I can’t hear your thoughts, hotshot. Although sometimes I really wish I couldn’t. But could you imagine what would happen if that list fell into the wrong hands? Don’t do it.”

          Lily held her breath while Sirius considered the proposition. Finally his curiosity won him over. He looked at her solemnly and said, “I trust that if I agree, the aforementioned list would stay under the utmost secrecy and protection. But we have an accord only if you agree to do my favor as well.”

          “You always do everything with strings attached, Black,” Lily slumped back, rolling her eyes. Sirius shrugged with a take-it-or-leave-it air, and she knew that her bargaining chips were running low. “Alright fine, let’s hear it, best mate. What do you want me to do?”

          “Well,” Sirius said, his face lighting up, “I’m going to play a tiny prank on Prongs to get him back for what he did to me on Halloween. Nothing nearly as painful—or humiliating—as all that, since he and I are best mates again and all, but I guarantee it’ll be funny. The thing is, I need your help to make it work.”

          Lily sighed. “Does it involve dressing me up in some sort of horrible disguise?”

          Sirius smirked. “Of sorts…”

          “And it probably involves me humiliating myself in front of a large audience, too, doesn’t it?”

          “Now, now, Lil, don’t look at it that way,” he coaxed. “It’s for a good cause, and aside from the favor I’ll be doing you and your friend, I have another reward for you.” Sirius reached into his pocket and pulled out a wrinkled pamphlet. “Look, it was practically made for you.”

          Lily snuck a look at the advertisement and gasped. “Oh, it’s beautiful! Can you really get one for me, Sirius?” The boy nodded. “Fine, then, I’ll do it,” she declared quickly. “Just give me the details.”

          Lily Evans hovered at the doorway of her dorm at the top of the stairs, prolonging the inevitable. She should've known that entering into any kind of accord with Sirius Black was a bad—even horrible—idea. She had made a deal with the devil, and now she was majorly regretting it.

          “I can't do this,” she whispered meekly to her voice, hoping for it to give her a much-needed confidence boost. It didn't disappoint—it was always very eager to inject its opinion and almost never failed to speak on command.

"You know James really likes you," it said, impatient with her lack of confidence. "There's nothing embarrassing about it. Besides, with this one little favor, if your plan works out, Sirius Black could be on his best behavior for the rest of the year!"

          Lily took a halting step down the first stair towards the common room. "I can't," she moaned quietly. "I want to keep my self-respect, thank you very much."

"It'll be fun, and you know it," her voice said pertly.

          "A lot of help you are," Lily grumbled, taking another few steps down the stairs and tugging at her skirt. The damn thing refused to stay where she wanted it—covering the majority of her upper leg. It was actually borrowed from one of her not-so-modest classmates for this particular purpose, at Sirius's insistence. "I don't know why I ever agreed to do this," she complained. "No pen is worth the shame."

Her voice giggled knowingly. "That fountain pen is gorgeous, and you know it. It's a Flourish and Blott's 270th anniversary special edition, for Merlin's sake! Only someone with Sirius Black’s resources—and surname—can get one."

          The mutinous skirt was once again disobeying. Lily considered putting a charm on it to keep the draft from blowing the hem higher than it already was. "This is ridiculous," she proclaimed, though she continued to descend the staircase slowly and painfully. After all, she had promised, and Lily Evans was never one to back out of a promise made.

"Stop complaining and just go! And remember the script Sirius taught you!"

          Lily could see that there was no way out now. "Fine, fine, I’m going!” she cried. “Merlin, this better be worth it, Black," she muttered under her breath.

          The common room was packed with students hunched over their textbooks, the majority of which were fifth and seventh years preparing feverishly for their end of the year tests. The four Marauders had arranged themselves on couches that they had dragged around a round table.

          Sirius checked his watch and jiggled his foot impatiently. It was time—he just needed to wait for Lily to appear. Where in the world was she? It wasn’t like her to be late.

          He forced himself to stop glancing at the staircase to the girls' dorms. If he kept it up, sooner or later James was bound to notice that something was up. Thirty seconds later, though, he gave into the urge again and finally caught a glimpse of Lily's red hair descending the stairs.

          Allowing himself an excited little bounce in his chair, Sirius turned back to the boy across from him. "Hey, Prongs, are you done with that?" He indicated James's Charms homework, which James had been scribbling furiously away at for the past hour.

          "Hmm?" James looked up briefly. "I need to get this done, Padfoot. What do you want?"

          "Oh, nothing." Sirius tried to play innocent. "I'm just bored, is all."

          "Well, you should do your work, mate. The OWLs are in four months or so, and you haven't even started reviewing," Remus lectured.

          “Five months,” Peter insisted, looking alarmed.

          Remus shook his head. “Four months and eleven days. If you estimate, that’s closer to four months than five, Pete.”

          Sirius rolled his eyes—Moony wasn't in on the joke. He probably would've called it unethical or some such thing. But once Sirius and Lily got the ball rolling, Remus would no doubt be on the floor, howling in laughter with the rest of them.

          "Come on, Prongs, you need a break from that anyway," Sirius coaxed. He reached under the table between them and brought up a set of wizard's chess pieces and a chessboard. "I challenge you to a high-stakes game of wizard's chess. Are you in, or are you a booky nerd who enjoys learning about Charms for fun in his free time?"

          James bristled. "I'm doing homework," he corrected. "That’s not the same thing. It's not in my free time, and it's definitely not for fun."

          "Then set up the board," Sirius replied. He turned to the other students in the room and announced loudly, “We are now open and taking bets. Moony will help you place your bets. Please keep in mind that while Prongs is the reigning Marauder wizard’s chess champion, this is a Marauders’ wager. And in a Marauders’ wager, the odds are always weighted for the underdog.”

          Sirius winked ostentatiously at James, who rolled his eyes and set his schoolwork aside. “Fine,” he conceded. “One game, but don’t get your hopes up, Padfoot. In the end, I’ll still be the Marauder champion, just you watch.”

          “We’ll see about that,” Sirius stated smugly. While James had his attention on setting the pieces on the board, he beckoned to Lily with a subtle movement of his hand. Lily began to walk towards them nervously while a good-sized crowd of students now abandoned their studying and gathered around to place bets (mostly in the form of Honeydukes chocolate bars and Zonko’s products) and watch the game.

          James arranged the last of the pieces on the board. "Since I'm the champion and all," he said smugly, "I'll let you have the first move. You know, to make the game more exciting for the audience."

          "How charitable of you," Sirius smirked, not looking in the least affected by James's show of arrogance. He had his attention, rather, on something just over his best mate's left shoulder. "Hey, Lily, come and watch us," he called out to the redhead. "You can help old Prongs out—he’s gonna need it."

          Lily shot Sirius an uneasy look before plastering a pained smile onto her face. She arranged herself stiffly onto the couch next to James, careful not to let her skirt ride up again. James squeezed her in a quick hug and kissed her head before turning back to the board. He seemed not to notice anything different about her.

          Sirius rolled his eyes internally and made his first move with a pawn. James could be so oblivious sometimes. "That's a nice skirt you've got on, Lils," he commented loudly. "What's the special occasion?" All eyes around them turned to look. Lily glared daggers at him, but Sirius only shook his head back with a small smile. "She should dress like that more often, don't you think, Prongs?"

          "Hmm?" James moved one of his own pawns and then looked over at Lily, who smiled faintly at him. He glanced down at her skirt just to humor her. He didn't really care what she wore. "You're beautiful,” he started to assure her, “no matter what you—"

          James's eyes widened behind his glasses, and he took in the inches of pale white skin exposed by the scanty hemline. James cleared his throat rather violently. Sirius made his next move, swallowing a laugh. "Your move, Prongs," he reminded James with a wink.

          With great difficulty, James returned his attention to the chessboard and pretended that he had noticed nothing. His hands hovered from knight to queen to pawn, distracted. Around them, the students who had recorded their bets inside Remus's Transfiguration notebook complained for him to hurry up. James ran restless hands through his hair absently, then finally picked up one of his knights and brought it out.

          "Good move," Lily said, rubbing his knee approvingly. Her fingertips traced little circles on his jeans leg, and the tickling feeling made James squirm in his seat. He was so distracted by her that he barely registered what piece Sirius had moved next.

          "Lily, can you please stop doing that?" James muttered, covering her meandering hand with his and making his next move.

          Lily hesitated, but Sirius raised a warning eyebrow, so she shrugged and said as coyly as she could muster, "Stop what?" While James held her hand still, she scooted her entire body closer to him and leaned completely against his left side.

          "Er—stop…you know, touching me," James mumbled, a faint blush beginning to rise on his cheeks. A few of the spectators noticed his predicament and smirked knowingly at him, amused at his obvious discomfort. "I'm playing chess."

          "I know you're playing chess, love. What does that have to do with anything?" Lily asked innocently. "Why am I not allowed to touch you while you're playing chess? I’m only trying to help."

          Sirius snorted, nearly upsetting his pieces with his shaking hand. James shot him a that's-not-funny look and said, "Because, Flower. You're—you're—" But one look at the five or ten smirking faces around him and he couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence. “Nothing, never mind,” he muttered.

          Lily decided to take a rest—she could only keep this act up for so long before she would wither away and die from humiliation. Instead, she nestled herself into James’s side and truly turned her attention to the chess game. She loved chess—her father had taught her how to play at a young age—and wizard’s chess was even more exhilarating. Lily still cringed whenever she heard the crunch of marble on marble as the pieces destroyed each other.

          The game went on. Despite his early disadvantage, James quickly gained the lead once more by taking down one of Sirius's rooks shortly after Lily had ceased her ministrations.

          “Evans,” Sirius muttered warningly out of the corner of his mouth as he watched James’s knight destroy his rook.

          Lily pretended not to notice him.

          After a few more moves, James’s queen slid across the board to bash one of Sirius’s bishops to small stone pieces.

          “Evans!” he hissed. Lily gasped in pain as the toe of a shiny loafer edged out from under the other side of the table and firmly stepped on her foot. Lily glared and Sirius glared back, frowning.

          Lily rolled her eyes at him, tore her gaze from the chessboard, and turned to James once more. "So, I’ve been thinking about the next Hogsmeade weekend," she told him. "You know, about what I’d like to do then and all." She made a face at Sirius very subtly and waited while James moved another piece.

          "Prongs, mate, Lily is talking to you," Sirius interjected, disgusted by his failing plan and the growing pile of mangled white marble pieces sitting next to the chessboard behind James's black king. "It’d be nice if you responded."

          James snapped to complete attention immediately—he hadn’t yet forgotten the times, not so long ago, when he couldn’t get Lily to speak to him even if he followed her around for hours. “I’m listening to her, Padfoot. Hogsmeade weekend in a week or two, right? We can do whatever you want, Lil.”

          Out of the corner of her eye, Lily could see Sirius contemplating his next move. As far as she could tell, a couple strategic moves could win him one of James’s bishops.

“Time to uphold your part of the deal,” her voice butted in. “Remember your lines!”

          “I don’t care much what we do, as long as you’re with me,” Lily recited from the script Sirius had taught her. She was trying her best to make the words sound cute, but it felt awkward and uncomfortable. “Some pretty candles would be nice, and maybe something involving chocolate sauce…”

          There was a clatter of stone as Sirius finally made his move and sat back, satisfied with the result. “There are a lot of fun things you can do with chocolate sauce, Prongs.”

He smirked at the crowd, and everyone laughed.

          “Candles and chocolate sauce, right…” James muttered to himself under his breath. It was hard to keep his attention on the game and remember what Lily was requesting at the same time. He moved a pawn, and then frowned, confused, as his bishop was crushed by Sirius’s queen. “…Candles and sauce, candles and sauce…I got it.”

          Lily rubbed her leg very subtly against his. She could feel James shifting absently beside her, responding to her touch. A blush blazed across his cheeks. Across the table, Sirius appeared to concentrate on the board, but he looked about fit to burst with suppressed laughter.

          “And Christmas Day was wonderful, but it was so…cold outside,” Lily continued, her voice strained. She leaned up to whisper into his ear, as she had been directed by Sirius to do. “Why don’t we find someplace warm to enjoy each other’s company?”

          Remus and Sirius shared a glance as Remus hid a snicker behind the back of his hand. The game continued on, with James making another blunder and Sirius quickly taking advantage of it.

          “S-someplace warm, chocolates, and candle sauce,” James stuttered, ruffling a hand through his hair and picking up a rook. “You got it, Flower.”

          Lily snuggled even closer against him, making sure every possible part of her body was welded to James. Her fingers trailed from his shoulder over near the collar of his shirt. “You know, that really sounds great. I can’t wait for Hogsmeade. I think you’re going to be glad you were good to me over the hols, James.” She smiled coyly, and someone in the audience let out a loud wolf-whistle, making Peter jump.

          The rook dropped from James’s hand and landed with a dull thump on the carpet at his feet.

          The bespectacled boy looked down at Lily, one eyebrow cocked and his eyes clouded with eagerness. With great hardship, he managed to shake his heavy head clear and ask, “Do you feel okay, Flower? You’re not acting yourself today. Are you sure you haven’t been studying too much lately?”

          “What do you mean? We’ve only just returned from break. I feel fine.”

          James was still suspicious. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was up. And the presence of Lily’s warm body against his was one that he could not just sit here and ignore for much longer.

          James wriggled uncomfortably in his seat when the spectators around him started to chuckle. His voice was strained as he said, “Er-what I mean is, Lil, why are you acting so…friendly all of a sudden?”

          “Friendly? I’ve always been friendly to you.” Lily let out a genuine laugh. Her voice and Sirius had both been right—after the initial trauma of humiliation, she was actually enjoying watching James sweat. She massaged circles on the nape of his neck with her fingertips, and James’s eyes nearly dropped closed. “Even when I yelled at you,” she murmured, “I was still being friendly to you in my mind.”

          Sirius winked at the crowd and elicited a burst of loud laughs. Remus was holding his shaking sides, and Peter hid uncontrollable giggles in the arm of his sweater.

          A slight frown began to grow on the bridge of James’s nose as he looked around at his laughing housemates. His face was as red as Lily’s hair. “No, Flower, you know that’s not—of course that’s not what I…what I meant,” he said hopelessly.

          Shaking his head in despair, James tried to turn his attention back to the chessboard to make his next move, but Lily stood up quickly. Just as she (or Sirius, rather) had planned, James looked back at her, crestfallen and confused. He shivered as cold wind hit the side of his body where she had sat against him—and then she walked away, the hem of her skirt bouncing softly against the backs of her pale thighs.

          Sirius looked knowingly at the crowd, holding up three fingers. He mouthed the words at them as he counted them down, grinning. “Three…two…one…”

          “Lily, wait!” James howled.

          Sirius, Remus, and Peter guffawed, rolling around on their couches and seats. Lily couldn’t help but smile from where she had walked over to a remote corner of the room and pulled out a book.

          James scrambled to his feet hurriedly. “We’re going to have to finish this later, Padfoot,” he told Sirius, the words tumbling out in a rush. “I have…I have to take care of something.”

          Sirius wiped tears of mirth from his eyes. “Oh?” he asked, dragging his words out in long and exaggerated syllables. “And what might that be, dear Prongs?”

          “Nothing, just—just some business I have to take care of.”

          Remus grinned, watching as James hopped impatiently from one foot to another, tearing at his hair. “Dire need to visit the loo, mate? That’s alright—it’s happened to everyone before. You’re playing wizards’ chess and you’re just so absorbed in the game…”

          “No! I have to go!” James cried in anguish, finally interrupting him. “Lily’s waiting!”

          The laughter grew to a dull roar as he raced around the couch and tore across the common room towards Lily. Eagerly he scooped Lily up and deposited her on the ground behind a particularly large armchair, then dropped down beside her. Good-natured catcalls and wolf-whistles resounded through the room.

As the two of them disappeared from sight, Remus heard Sirius say cheerfully, “Well, I guess he’s forfeited the game, then. Looks like I’m the new Marauders wizards’ chess champion!” Seeing Remus watching him, Sirius waved the pamphlet of the fountain pen at him and added, “And it didn’t come cheap either, Moony.”

          Remus looked over at the flailing limbs that protruded happily from behind the armchair, then back at Sirius. “Hmm. You know, I’m not quite sure your plan to humiliate Prongs worked out quite as well as you thought it would.”

“I’d say it was Prongs who got the better end of it, actually,” Peter chimed in.

          Sirius made a face as someone behind the chair (presumably Lily) emitted a high-pitched strangled noise. “It was the ultimate plan of vengeance,” he told the blond boys ruefully. “So perfectly planned. It’s just too bad we couldn’t execute it properly.”

A/N: So sorry for the long wait, everyone! This chapter gave me a little trouble. Anyway, it'd make me so happy if I recieved some feedback about this, so please review if you have time!

Chapter 21: They Couldn't Help the Hopeless Case
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Warning: Lots of pointless banter and shenanigans unessential to the plotline ahead. Gotta love the Marauders!

          “Padfoot, can you pass the butter?” James mumbled through a mouthful of bacon one Saturday morning at breakfast. He elbowed the boy sitting beside him. Sirius did as he was told and grinned at Lily, who was staring at James, her mouth agape with poorly-concealed dismay.


          “Merlin and Morgana, James,” she started, her lip curling, “don’t you ever eat a meal without—”


          “Ah-ah,” Sirius tutted playfully, “wasn’t it only a few days ago that you said you’d be nice to him forever and ever if I did you that favor…properly?” He winked at her and received a glower in return.


          “Yes, and you haven’t let me forget it since,” Lily muttered under her breath. Sirius raised his eyebrow pointedly at the stack of parchment on the table next to him and shuffled it around a bit. Lily heeded his warning and sighed. “Er, what I meant to say is, ah,” she amended weakly, “why so hungry, James dear?”


          James buttered his toast with a single deft, practiced swipe and took a large bite out of the slice. “Quidditch practice in an hour,” he replied as he chewed. “Gotta keep up the energy to stay warm out there.”


          “Right,” Lily mused with a smile. “Well, that settles things. We’re going to have to find someone else to teach Sirius here his table manners because evidently you won’t do the trick,” she remarked in a dry tone. “James dear.”


          Sirius pricked his ears up in a hilariously dog-like way at his name followed by the words “table manners.” Without a word he raised an eyebrow at Lily, then looked to a shrugging James for help.


          “Hey, don’t look at me, mate.” James held his hands up innocently, still clutching to a butter knife in one paw and a wedge of toast in the other. “She’s on some sort of idea to fix you up to be a proper gentleman or something like that. My advice is, you better make a run for it fast, Padfoot, before she brings out the eyelash curlers.”


          “James!” Lily glared at him, exasperated.


“Doesn’t he remember that he’s in on this plan?” Lily complained to her voice. “He’s making me out to be the bad guy, and then when Sirius gets the girl he’ll say it was his plan all along!”


“Boys,” her voice agreed sympathetically, making Lily shake her head.


          Sirius cocked his head towards her. “Sorry, Lil, I don’t think I heard you properly. James what?”


          “James dear,” she replied grudgingly. “James darling. James pumpkin.”


          James Pumpkin looked infinitely thrilled at his new name.


          Sirius chortled. “Sarcasm doesn’t befit you, Evans; that’s Prongs’ bit. But you don’t honestly think you can reform me, do you? I think you should probably look to fix up what’s waiting for you at home every night before you start doing charity work abroad.” He waggled his eyebrows at Lily, who rolled her eyes.


          “James has other attributes which well compensate for his…animalistic eating habits,” she said primly. “You, on the other hand, Black, seem to lack some of those redeeming qualities.”


          “Ooh,” Sirius winced, rubbing his chest as if Lily had punctured him, but recovered a moment later. “You are too kind, Evans. Always ready to help a man in need.”


          There was less than a fraction of a second of silence in which huge goofy smirks began to spread across the boys’ faces before a muffled thud could be heard under the table and Sirius howled in real pain. “OWWW, SHE KICKED ME!” he cried, clutching his right leg. Heads all across the Great Hall turned around to look at the source of the noise. “HOLY HELL, THAT BLOODY HURT, YOU BANSHEE!”


          “I’ve had enough of your dirty jokes at my expense,” Lily proclaimed, her mouth set firmly. “It’s much too early in the morning for such distastefulness. Besides, just because we’re friends again doesn’t mean I won’t indulge myself in keeping you in line once in a while.” She shot a Cheshire Cat grin at Sirius, who whimpered and held his hurt leg.


          Peter, who had looked away from the table to watch something across the Great Hall, switched his attention back and shot Sirius a concerned look.


          James belched delicately into a napkin and rose from his seat. “Well, not that this witty banter isn’t socially engaging, intellectually stimulating, and many other adjectives of the productive nature, but I must be off to change for practice and polish my broom. I shall catch you, Aristotle”—he gave Lily a kiss—“and you, Plato”—Sirius puckered up hopefully but received only a clout on the side of the head for his trouble—“at lunch.”


          Sirius frowned, confused, as James whisked away. “Wait, what did he just call me? Play-doh?”


          “Plato,” Lily giggled, her eyes shining in admiration. “Hmm, I guess James knows his philosophers of the ancient civilizations, too.” She sighed dreamily then pulled a sad face at the boy sitting across from her. “Yet another attractive quality in a man that you have yet to obtain, Sirius.”


          “Hey, I know more about Muggles than Prongs does,” Sirius protested. “Led Zeppelin, Harley Davidson, all the famous ones!”


          Lily snorted into her orange juice.


          “You wound me, Lily,” Sirius sniffed. “So, now that the Great Anglo Philosopher James Pumpkin has departed, let’s get down to business, shall we? I have made you the list that you requested.”


          He reached over to the pile of parchment he had been shuffling earlier, and Lily stared, jaw slack, in dismay at the huge stack. Sirius smirked at her before reaching to the very bottom of the pile and extracting out a single sheet. His smile was smug. Lily was not amused. She snatched it huffily out of his hand before he could give it to her.


          “Everything is such a joke to you, Sirius,” she grumbled, but her heart wasn’t in it. She was too busy examining the (surprisingly short) list of names scrawled in Sirius’s elegant script, all fifth-years.


Elaine Kelly

Jennifer Deleon

Ronnie Carlyle

Darla Channing-Horst

Gloria Chapman

Irina van de Brouck


          Lily let out a surprised noise. Printed in large hasty letters at the bottom of the list, hanging there like an afterthought, was the name


Lily Evans Potter


          She struggled with herself for a few painful moments before a smile spread grudgingly across her face. “Very funny, Sirius,” she said, her voice dry but her mood rising with excitement. It seemed that she and James knew Sirius even better than she expected—two of their guesses had hit the mark. (Whatever James said, Lily was not about to give up on Gloria just because she played on an opposing Quidditch team. She’d simply hide this scheme away in the case that Ronnie did not work out.) Their plan would be moving along with a minimum amount of coercion involved, which was good considering that both she and James’s coercion skills needed some brushing-up.


          “So, what’s the verdict then?” Sirius did his best not to appear too interested. “Is your friend on there or isn’t she?”


          Lily giggled as Sirius peered subtly up at her through his eyelashes while pretending to examine his nails. “She is,” she acknowledged rather mysteriously, but before he could ask the burning question, Lily got up from the table. “I need to meet Rosie up to do some homework,” she said with an infuriating smile. “I’ll see you later, okay?”


          Sirius let out an all-suffering sigh. “That’s it? I do all that heavy thinking and that’s all I get?”


          “Don’t you worry; we’ll sit down with the rest of the team after lunch for a nice long chat.” Lily grabbed a last wedge of toast, spread it with jam, and headed out the doors of the Great Hall.


She hadn’t gotten more than three steps past the Entrance Hall when someone snagged her around the waist and pulled her into a small hole in the wall, away from the flow of students coming and going. A very warm body pressed her into the wall beside a shining suit of armor.


She squealed, “James, you scared me!”


James could feel her pounding heart against his chest. “Nonsense,” he scoffed, his eyes dancing. “You knew I’d be out here solemnly awaiting the news. I had to hide, because Padfoot would take the mickey out of me if he knew I had anything to do with you and your little list.” He noted Lily’s exultant smile. “Well?”


“Success!” Lily elbowed him. “I told you my suggestions were better than yours.”


“Why, you’re a certifiable Seer, Lily-Flower,” James sighed. He kissed her on the nose and extended an arm gallantly to let Lily exit the alcove first. “Let me walk you up to the common room, and then I really must be off to practice.”


“You don’t have to if it’s out of your way. I don’t want you to be late.”


“No, it’s no problem at all,” James insisted. His expression had suddenly turned grim and determined. “I have to make sure you get there alright, don’t I?”


Lily knew better than to protest when James got into such a mood. Even back before they were friends, he was always quick to jump to her defense. It had irritated her then, seeing as he had had no claim over her. But now that he did have a claim over her, she didn’t really half mind.


She supposed it was the stag in him that made him so protective of her, but still, his behavior of late was curious.


“What’s going on with you boys lately?” she asked as they began to walk up the stairs. “It seems that ever since we got back, I can’t leave Gryffindor Tower without stepping on one of you. You and Remus, especially. If I’m not with one of you, I’m with the other.”


Lily bit her lip and frowned. “It’s so strange. It’s like you pass me back and forth between you or something—like you’re afraid to leave me alone!”


“Heh-heh,” James chuckled, nervous. Lily was always too bright for her own good. “Well, er, we’re just watching out for you.”


When Lily looked at him strangely, he began to sweat under the collar. As eager as James was to show Lily how ugly a character Snape really was, he didn’t want to worry her or, worse, scare her. “Er—what I mean is, I’m still in awe that you’ll give me the time of day, Flower,” he amended with a grin. “Moony is just around to keep me from accidentally crushing you in case I faint from your overwhelming beauty and fall to the floor.”


Lily rolled her eyes, momentarily distracted from the conversation. Her mind snapped back to the matter at hand. “You’re going to talk to Ronnie after lunch, right? I’ll recruit Remus and Rosie to help us out with Sirius, too. I have a feeling he’s going to need as much persuasion as we can scrounge up.”


“Just leave it to me,” James said, pounding his chest stoutly and voicing the password. “Johnnycakes.”


The portrait of the Fat Lady swung open and Lily stepped in. “Have a good practice, Pumpkin,” she said with a grin. She gave James a tight hug and a healthy kiss before waving to Rosie by the fire.



          “So, team, the first order of business,” Lily said primly, “is the general evaluation.”


          Lily, Rosie, Sirius, and Remus were sitting in a circle in a quiet alcove at the end of an empty corridor on the fifth floor after a quick lunch. James had excused himself from the table and scurried off after whispering in Lily’s ear that the common room would be too noisy and he suggested going elsewhere for Sirius’s lessons. Remus and Rosie had complied with her plans, though with considerably less enthusiasm for the idea. They sat awkwardly side-by-side on a short couch across from Lily, as if they were the ones being evaluated and not Sirius. Now Remus raised a questioning eyebrow.


          “We have to see what Sirius already knows, and what we need to teach him,” Lily explained.


          Sirius glanced around doubtfully at the deserted hallway, looking for someone to come to his rescue. Unfortunately, his usual rescuer was nowhere in sight. “Where’s Prongs?” he asked. “Shouldn’t he be partaking in the torture and embarrassment as well?”


          “James has something he needs to take care of. Now, Ro, if you please.”


          Lily gestured for Rosie to move next to Sirius. She would be standing in for Ronnie - or simply “the girl,” as far as she and Remus knew. Rosie shot an uneasy glance in Remus’s direction before complying. (Their relationship still had not fully recovered from its shaky pre-holiday phase, despite the truth behind the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and Rosie was afraid this would make it terribly awkward.)


          Lily sat back with a roll of parchment and her new fountain pen, ready to take notes. “Alright, Sirius. Go ahead and make some conversation, then.”


“Make it as terrible as you can,” Sirius’s voice advised. “They’ll get tired of their own game soon enough.”


          Remus cringed as Sirius grinned. “So, Rosie, you’re looking a bit worn out lately. Are you tired?”


          Rosie frowned. She couldn’t help but smooth her hair self-consciously. “Er…I do? No, I’m not tired, not particularly.”


          “Really? That’s odd. You must have the endurance of a thousand-year-old hippogriff, then, because you’ve been running through my mind all day.”


          Remus, Rosie, and Lily froze in horror. “Oh,” Rosie murmured, aghast. She struggled for words. “Well, um, funny animals, hippogriffs are. Did I ever tell you about the time one almost ran away with my cousin Georgia?” Sirius shook his head. “No? We were at the Wales Magical Animal Preserve, and I guess the poor animal thought Georgia was one of her children because she simply swooped down and grabbed her.”


          Sirius shrugged. “Your poor cousin,” he said, his voice rueful. “Some people just have rotten luck in life. Does she really look like a baby hippogriff?”


          Lily was scrawling furiously on her parchment, her eyebrows furrowed, while Remus looked on over her shoulder, nodding gravely.


          “Ah, no, she doesn’t,” Rosie said. “But I’m beginning to feel like you’re making this difficult on purpose.”


          “What?” Sirius smiled innocently. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m being a perfect gentleman.”


          Lily shook her new fountain pen at him in aggravation. “Are you kidding?” She whipped the parchment about in front of Sirius’s face. “Look at all the things that we have to work on already, and we’ve only just begun!”


          Sirius rubbed his chin. “Isn’t that the pen I gave you?”


          “Yes. What about it?”


          He sniffed. “You’re using it to inflict emotional pain and suffering on me. My present has betrayed me.”


          “I’m beginning to think he’s hopeless,” Remus sighed. “What if we really just can’t help the hopeless case?”


          Lily shook her head. “You give up too easily,” she informed him. “Let’s try again.”



          Ronnie was wandering down a corridor looking at paintings and occasionally conversing with their occupants when James found her.


          “James!” Ronnie hugged him. She hadn’t talked to her friend in a while. “How are you, mate?”


          “Good, good.” James put on his best espionage-and-intrigue expression. “Listen, I have something to discuss with you. It’s a rather abrupt and out of nowhere sort of business, but it’s quite important.”


          Ronnie raised her eyebrows. “Oh? Can’t be good, if you boys are involved.”


          James laughed. “Actually, it has the potential of being very good or very bad, depending on your own personal feelings towards a certain man by the name of Sirius Orion Black.”


          “Hrm.” Ronnie made a surprised noise. “Sirius?”


          “Yes ma’am. The word on the street is, he’s looking to romance you, if you’ll have him.”


          “You have to stop talking like that, James, or I can’t take you seriously.”


          “…sorry. So, what do you think?”


          “Well,” Ronnie began, looking thoughtful, “he certainly is attractive. There’s no denying that. But I’m not fond of his past dating habits – he never takes his girlfriends seriously, does he? I don’t think he values them as friends.”


          “You’ll never know unless you try,” James advised.


          “I don’t know. He’s a fun guy, but he’d probably make a horrible boyfriend.”


          “Yeah, but that’s what Lily said about me since the first time I asked her out in third year. And look how happy we are now.”


          Ronnie cocked a skeptical eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure that’s not what Lily Evans said about you.”


          “Details,” James said airily. “Besides, Padfoot’s been working on behaving himself.”


Ronnie snorted. “That’ll be the day.” But despite her words, she seemed to become more and more pleased with the whole idea. It was quite flattering, after all. A thoughtful look crossed her face. “Maybe I’ll go talk to Evans.”


James grinned. “Ace idea!”


Ronnie turned to head down the hall in search of Lily. James eagerly tried to follow, but Ronnie grinned and said, “Alone. I don’t want you giving her any ideas. I’ll see you later, James.”


James shrugged and headed off in the other direction. Either way, the plan was in the bag.



          Ronnie hurried down the fifth floor corridor, looking for Lily Evans. Her heart was pounding in excitement – James’s news had exhilarated her more than she’d wanted to admit to the boy. As much as it went against her better judgment, she was happy about the rumor that she held Sirius’s affections.


          She rounded a corner and saw a flash of red near the windows. “Evans!” she said. “I’ve been looking for you. Someone told me you were about.” She looked more closely at Lily’s companions. “Oh. Hi, Remus.”


          “Hello,” Remus greeted her.


          “Coincidence,” Lily murmured to herself. “It must be. Unless…James…”


          “Hi.” Ronnie smiled at Rosie, who she only knew from brief exchanges in class. “And, oh, Sirius.” She blushed, suddenly feeling shy and awkward. There was no reason to be, of course, but…


          Sirius was rubbing his temples as if he had a headache.


          “Is something the matter?” she asked him politely.


Sirius’s voice had been speaking urgently in his ear. “Okay, time for Plan B. Show the whole meddling lot of them that you can take care of yourself, and maybe they’ll finally leave you the bloody hell alone! Here’s a girl you like. Work your charm.” Sirius nodded mentally and called upon his often-used Black charm.


          “Ah, Veronica.” He rose out of his seat smoothly, smiling. “Lovely to see you this evening. I’m glad you showed up. This little alcove was becoming cramped and I need to stretch my legs. Could I interest you in a walk?”


          Lily, Remus, and Rosie glanced at each other, confused. “What is he doing?” Rosie whispered.


          “Er, um,” Ronnie stammered. “Why?” As soon as the word left her tongue, she felt like mentally kicking herself.


          Sirius leaned very close to Ronnie and muttered, “Hey, gotta get rid of them somehow.”


          Ronnie blushed.


          “Merlin, it’s working,” Lily breathed.


          As the two wandered down the hallway away from the group, Remus discreetly tore up the parchment that held Lily’s list of future lessons for Sirius. Lily was still frowning. “Is it really that easy?”


          Remus shrugged. “I guess some blokes just have it.”


          Lily shook her head and sighed. It looked like the hopeless case had not needed their help after all.

A/N: Ahhh, yes! Your eyes do not decieve you. 9 mths later, I have FINALLY updated. So please, please, a review? To get me inspired for next chapter? I really hope I haven't lost my touch with this story. Thank you to any readers I might still have left. Are you out there?

Next chapter: The Gryffindor fifths know what they're supposed to do. So why can't they just do it?

Chapter 22: They Couldn't Do What They Were Supposed To
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

          The Gryffindor fifth-year boys’ dormitory was the quietest that it had been in a long time. James and Lily sat on James’s bed in the corner, idly flipping through textbooks and piles of notes. James and Sean Spinnet had been the only boys in the dormitory when Lily wandered in a few minutes ago, hoping to convince James to study. Sean had taken one look at the redhead, made a stammering excuse, and fled down the stairs. Doubtless he thought he was doing James a huge favor by leaving him alone with Lily.

James, however, knew better. With the month of March flying by and two very important Quidditch games coming up, Lily was getting more and more anxious about the state of James’s studies (as well as her own, of course). James suspected she kept a countdown to the start of the OWL exams, accurate to the exact day.

Luckily, almost as soon as Sean left the dormitory, Sirius entered with an armful of suspicious-looking knick-knacks, and James was spared Lily’s lectures.

“What are those for, mate?” he grinned at Sirius.

“I hope you’re not planning another one of your inane pranks,” Lily said, though without as much conviction as she usually had. Ever since she’d collaborated with Sirius in his attempt to prank James, she had trouble forgetting how much fun it was. “I doubt Ronnie would appreciate it if you missed your date tonight.”

To her amazement, Sirius blushed. “It’s not for a prank,” he replied gruffly. “It’s a present for her. I just need to – ah – assemble it.”

James raised an eyebrow. “Homemade present, huh?”

“Homemade presents are the best,” Sirius retorted. “Or at least, that’s what you kept on telling me while you were knitting those mittens for Lily last winter.” While James gasped indignantly and Lily burbled with laughter, Sirius snapped the curtains around his bed shut. “Now, give me some peace so I can figure this out.”

Lily swallowed the last of her giggles. “Sure. James and I were just going to look over some Herbology notes together anyway.”

But as they settled in and got down to business, the door to the dormitory opened again. This time it was Remus, carrying a large stack of books as usual. He dumped them onto his desk with a loud clatter, startling an indignant noise from behind the curtains of Sirius’s bed. Lily looked up, curious.

“Heavy reading, Remus?”

“Yep,” the blond boy replied shortly. “I’ve been in the library all day working on some stuff and I’m about to go crazy. I need a break. What’s the team up to this afternoon?”

James rubbed his nose to ward off a sneeze as dust from his rarely-used Herbology textbook floated up towards him. “Nothing much.” He jerked a thumb towards Sirius’s bed. “Padfoot’s on another lovesick mission, so we won’t see him for days.” Remus, now sorting his pile of books so that all the spines faced the same way, snorted. “This time it involves homemade presents,” James continued.

“And Pete?” Remus asked.

“No idea. Is he ever about anymore?” Without waiting for an answer, James shrugged. “Maybe he’s back on the Quidditch pitch again, trying to improve his flying.”

“He hasn’t done that since the beginning of third year,” Lily said. When both Remus and James shot her questioning looks, she smiled sadly. “I notice things, too, you know. It couldn’t have been easy on him, being cut in the first round for three years of tryouts, especially with you being the first first-year player on any House team in decades, James.”

“I was lucky that a seventh-year Chaser had just graduated and there was an open spot,” James said, looking a little uneasy, as if Peter’s disappointment had never truly occurred to him before.

Remus sighed and changed the subject. “And you two?”

“Studying,” Lily replied smoothly. “You’re welcome to join us if you aren’t too drained.”

Remus hesitated. He had literally gone straight to the library after breakfast this morning and hadn’t left except for a brief 40-minute break to eat lunch. He felt that he was slowly but surely making headway in the Hogwarts library’s huge collection of books on animal-related Transfiguration spells, potions, and magical plants. He hadn’t found anything concretely promising yet, but there were dog-eared pages in all of the books he had brought back to the dormitory for further reading. He knew that with every stack of books that he scoured through, he came closer to his goal.

And even if he didn’t, he kept on telling himself, it wasn’t a complete waste of time because, through flipping and skimming, he’d now acquired a wealth of random knowledge that no other student taking their OWLs would have. That ought to count for something.

Still, enough was enough. The last thing he wanted to do right now was study with Lily and James.

“Thanks, but I really do need a break,” Remus said graciously. He smiled, looking weary, and turned back toward the door. “I think I’ll go see what Rosie’s doing.”

“Ace idea!” Sirius’s voice rang out from behind his bed curtains.

James snorted. “You do look a bit wrung and hung out to dry, Moony. If you and Ro are up to it, you two can have the rest of what I left in the witch’s rump.” Lily shot him a startled glance, but James only smirked. All of the Marauders knew that the mouth of the passage in the statue of the humpbacked witch was where they stored their pranking supplies and banned goods.

“Hmm,” Remus mused. He was generally opposed to gallivanting around, except on special occasions, but as this was Saturday night and he didn’t have classes tomorrow, the proposition was tempting. He had been considering asking Rosie on a real date for awhile, but it was never the right time. “I’ll have to see if Rosie wants to, but maybe. Thanks, Prongs.”

He turned to go once more before Sirius spoke again from behind his bed curtains. “Wait, Moony. Take whatever Marauder property you wish, but I dropped my own provisions in there a few days ago. You’ll know it when you see it.”

This was common enough – all 4 of the boys used the witch as personal storage space and replenished community supplies as needed – that Remus didn’t think to question Sirius. “Sure thing, Pad,” he agreed, and headed out down the dormitory stairs.

Lily and James settled back down to study again, but Lily kept on glancing at the gigantic pile of books on Remus’s desk. After a few moments, her curiosity got the best of her and she got up to read the titles printed on the spines.

The Uses of Magical Plants in Transfiguration

Potions and Brews for Unusual Circumstances

Little Known Things about Magical Creatures

The Chemical Composition behind Animal Transfiguration

Special Effects of Magical Plants on Magical Creatures

A History of the Use of Potions to Solve Magical Enigmas

“What in the world is he doing?” Lily mused out loud. “None of the teachers have ever mentioned these books in class.”

“Maybe it’s for a class that you’re not taking,” James suggested from where he still sprawled across the bed.

“No, they’re all Potions, Transfiguration, Herbology, and Care of Magical Creatures books. The only classes where we are separated this year are Arithmancy and History of Magic.”

“I still don’t know why you didn’t drop that class,” James commented. “Sodding boring, if you ask me.”

Lily shrugged. “It has its moments – I take it for the same reason that Rosie and Emma take Muggle Studies. Wizards are fascinating.” She ran a finger down the row of spines, chewing on her bottom lip. “You don’t suppose – why, James, you don’t suppose…”

James sat up. “What is it, Lil?”

“It looks like Remus is trying to find a potion or a magical plant that will cure his condition,” she said. “All of these books have to do with magical creatures or Transfiguration of some sort.” She sat down on Remus’s bed, pulled the top book from the stack into her lap, and flipped it open. “James, if that’s what he’s doing, I have to help him!”

James, his hazel eyes startled behind the rims of his glasses, watched as his redheaded girlfriend skimmed the index expertly, found the page she was looking for, and began to read.

“So much for studying,” he muttered to himself with little regret. “We can’t ever do what we’re supposed to.” But Lily was already too far immersed in her reading to hear him.

Then a giant plume of smoke and a muffled shout from behind Sirius’s bed curtains announced the end of Sirius’s homemade present phase, and James, grinning like a hyena, went to help his best mate clean up.

“I’m glad you decided to take me up on my invitation,” Remus said, his voice sounding formal and somewhat awkward even to his own ears. This was the first time that he had asked Rosie on anything resembling a date, although they had technically been together since the beginning of the school year. First the voices, then the James and Sirius debacle, then the haphazard progression of James and Lily’s relationship, and finally Sirius’s latest obsession with winning over Ronnie, had taken center stage all year. Now Remus was finally realizing that if he never made time, he would never get to see her.

Things had been quite awkward in their little group since first James and Sirius, and then Lily and Rosie, had their fall-outs, and the awkwardness had somehow spread between Remus and Rosie as well. But with each of his mates occupied with a girl—James with Lily, Sirius with Ronnie, and Peter with some mystery girl (the Marauders had unanimously decided that that was the reason Pete kept disappearing into thin air)—Remus was ready to give it another try with Ro.

To her credit, she seemed just as willing to go with the flow. When Remus had asked her to join him under the Quidditch stands for a picnic and to watch the sunset, she was at first taken aback.

“Why?” she had asked, her eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Because I haven’t been treating you much like a girlfriend lately, and I’m sorry,” Remus had replied earnestly. “I realized you’re more important than those distractions. Please come with me.”

Surprisingly, it had taken only a few minutes of pleading before Rosie gave in. Now she sat on the blanket next to the basket of food Remus had begged from the house elves in the kitchen, idly nibbling at a potato chip.

“I hope you’re having a good time,” Remus said.

Rosie shrugged. “Sure. It’s nice out.” She continued to nibble and look out towards the setting sun, not shunning Remus but also not her usual bubbly, cheerful self.

Remus frowned. This was not exactly the warm reception he had hoped for. “Is something wrong?”

Still the girl did not meet his eyes. “No,” she said with a neutral voice. A few seconds of silence ticked by before she added, “This is just sort of weird, that’s all.”

Remus rubbed his face with his hand and flopped down onto the blanket on his back. All he could see was the sky, pink and bluish-purple streaked with white. “Sorry,” he said, but he couldn’t really disagree. “I wish it wasn’t.”

“Me too,” said Rosie. She sighed and bit her lip, thinking. Finally she said, “I really like you, Remus. I think I’ve liked you since I met you first year—I just didn’t realize it for awhile.”

“I think it goes without saying that I like you too,” Remus interjected.

Rosie gave him a wan smile. “I wasn’t finished. I was saying that I’m realizing now that I liked you because you’re not as overly dramatic in your doting as James or Sirius. You don’t try to duel people for me or swim oceans to get me a present or follow me around every minute of the day. I thought I wanted that, but I don’t. You’re…mellow. And I like that.”

Remus rolled over and rose up onto his elbows. “Is that why this is so weird? Because this picnic is a Padfoot-or-Prongs type of date? Whereas our type of date is...what, writing essays together in front of the common room fire?”

“No, no,” she assured him hurriedly. “Please, Remus. I only meant that this is weird because it feels like you’re courting me as a stranger when you should be courting me as a friend.”

She turned her head away from him again, but Remus felt the weight on his chest lift. Quickly he scrambled up and gathered her into a hug. “Is that all?” he asked, and felt her lean into his chest. “I’m sorry, Ro. Of course we should be friends first.” He held her for a moment before remembering the food. “Well, what do friends do when they court each other?” he said. “Let’s eat.”

Two chicken pot pies, two handfuls of potato chips, and three-and-a-half sugar cookies later, Remus and Rosie collapsed onto their backs and groaned.

“I’m so full,” Rosie said, chuckling. She held out half a sugar cookie to Remus. “Finish this for me, would you?”

“Well, if you insist…” Remus opened his mouth very wide but otherwise did not move.

“What, am I supposed to feed you?” Rosie demanded.

Remus only clacked his teeth in response. His spirits soared so high that he felt physically lightheaded. The weirdness was over—things were at last back to how they should be between them. Remus understood now that while Rosie did not want him to dote upon her like a lovesick dog (or stag), she did want him as a loving friend.

Rosie reached her arm over to feed the cookie to Remus. He chewed and swallowed each bite carefully, then took her fingers between his lips and playfully pulled on them.

Rosie squealed and snatched her hand back. “You’re silly.”

“I’m about to get sillier,” Remus informed her with a straight face. “Now tell me if this is too Padfoot-and-Prongs for a date, but I might have brought out the remainder of the Marauder stash for us to enjoy.”

“Stash?” Rosie asked, raising her eyebrows.

Remus reached into the basket and pulled out a small flask. “I figured that since I didn’t party with you on Halloween or New Year’s Eve, we were long overdue.” He looked into her face, and his drawn expression begged her not to get angry or take offense. “Please, Ro. I’m a fun Marauder, too.”

Rosie looked back at him for a long moment before she smiled wryly. “You know, the longer I know you lot, the more I’m convinced that all loud, obnoxious males are secretly just insecure little boys that want to be loved.”

Remus shrugged. “I’m neither loud nor obnoxious.”

“I know, but you’re still a male,” Rosie said, and her smile became genuine. “Of course I’ll have a little fun with you.” She passed her thermos of pumpkin juice to him. “Go ahead and spike my drink, you rogue Marauder.”

Remus did not remember a time when he had ever grinned so largely in his life.

“Okay, okay. Would you rather kiss Lily Evans or kiss a house elf?”

Even through the dark, Rosie could see Remus’s white teeth flash in laughter. “Why, Lily, of course,” she said loftily. “At least I know she brushes her teeth twice a day.”

“That was a quick decision! Prongs won’t be happy to hear that,” Remus warned teasingly.

          Rosie wasn’t exactly sure how much time had passed, but the sun had completely sunk below the hills. She felt dizzy in the best way possible. “I’ve got one! Would you rather wash Snape’s hair or…let Professor Flitwick ride around on your back until the end of term?” She collapsed into a fit of giggles.

Remus snorted. “Merlin, I don’t know. That is truly a tough decision, Ro. Why isn’t this part of the OWLs? This is the kind of stuff you really need to learn to get through life!”

“Oh, the OWLs.” Rosie groaned. “Don’t remind me—I should really be studying.”

“As should I,” he grumbled. “Lately it seems like I can never bring myself to do what I’m supposed to. I have been too distracted.” Remus rolled over onto his stomach. “Can I tell you something, Ro?”

“Of course.”

“Remember back in the beginning of the year, when I first told you about my…problem?” Rosie nodded. He continued, “Remember how I was reading those books, and you asked me about them, and that’s how you found out?”

“Of course,” she said again. Her head was clearing—she could sense that this was something serious.

“Well, I think I might be getting close. To, you know, discovering an antidote. At least in theory—I have no idea if it will actually work.”

Rosie felt her eyes widen. “How do you know you’re close?”

“There are a couple existing potions and charms I found in all those books. If I combine them in the right way—say, cast a charm on an existing potion to change its effects—it may be the answer that I’m looking for.”

“So you’re going to test it on yourself without knowing what it will do?” she asked, looking worried.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t come to that. What I really need is a Potions Master.”

“Slughorn,” Rosie said automatically, but she knew that was not the answer he was looking for. Remus had already thought of Slughorn as the obvious choice, and for some reason, he had discarded him.

Remus shook his head. “No, I don’t trust him.” When Rosie looked shocked, he amended, “I mean I don’t trust his advice, not that I think he’s a bad bloke. A good Potions Master knows how to extrapolate. A good Potions Master has an instinct for predicting what will happen when two known elements combine into an unknown mixture. I don’t know how Slughorn was when he was younger, but he has gotten too comfortable now. He doesn’t experiment much anymore. He never seems to look outside the box, you know?”

“Okay, but you don’t know any other Potions Masters,” Rosie pointed out.

“I know,” he sighed. “But I’ll find one somewhere, eventually. Maybe Dumbledore will help me.”

“Maybe the stag will help you,” Rosie said, and then clapped a hand over her mouth. “I don’t know why I said that,” she admitted, her face burning. “I was thinking it, but…I know I probably shouldn’t have said it. Merlin, I must be drunk!”

Remus stared at her, bemused, as she rambled on anxiously.

“I mean, it has been on my mind for so long, Remus. I keep wondering what exactly happened that night, and every explanation I could possibly come up with still makes no sense. I even asked Professor March if the Forbidden Forest had any animals that were almost as intelligent as humans, but there aren’t any. I…just don’t know what to make of it.”

Remus chuckled. “You know, Prongs would be awfully angry if he knew you said he was only almost as intelligent as a human.”

“Prongs?” Rosie asked. “But isn’t that James?”

“No,” he said immediately. “The stag is…named after James.”

Remus had suddenly grown as stiff as a board, but Rosie saw the horror in his eyes. “I don’t think so,” she said slowly, trying to urge her brain to work at its normal rate. “I think James is named after the stag.”

The boy said nothing.

She raised her eyebrows. “Right?”

Remus’s tongue suddenly leaped free of his mind. “No, I named him after James because he reminded me of him. You know, the way he kind of prances and walks around with his head held really high—”

“No. Remus, that makes no sense. Am I right?” Rosie pressed.

“Yes,” he admitted quietly.

“I can’t believe it,” she whispered, exhaling heavily. “James is an Animagus? He is the stag?”

There was pain in Remus’s expression as he looked down at his hands, clasped in his lap. Illuminated by the moonlight, his skin was a pale greenish color and just the sight made him sick. “Yes, okay? Yes, I almost killed my best friend,” he spat out in disgust. “Yes, you saved James from me that night. Yes, he is more grateful to you than you can imagine—but he hasn’t been able to thank you because you didn’t know.”

Rosie propped her aching head on her knees and thought back to the strange conversation between Remus and James that she and Lily had overheard in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. What had James said back then? “I know I have to help you…for Sirius and Peter too”? And the time she had walked in on the boys seemingly packing for a camping trip. Hadn’t Peter said that he was packing for three?

“Oh, Merlin,” she said. “All of them are. Sirius and Peter, too.”

Remus was silent, and Rosie was too shocked to look up to see if he was listening. Her brain and her heart were racing.

“Padfoot…” she mused. “What is that, a bear? Sirius is a bear?”

“A dog,” said Remus, his voice muffled. He had covered his face with his hands.

“And Peter…Wormtail. A mole of some sort?”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “A rat.”

“Oh, Merlin,” Rosie said again. Finally she brought her head up to look over at Remus. The boy still had his head in his hands, his back and shoulders hunched, looking so small and defeated that Rosie’s heart broke. Her face crumpled and she began to cry.

“It’s alright, Remus,” she sobbed as she crawled across the blanket towards him. She wrapped her arms around his entire form as far as she could reach and held on tight. “Please,” she whispered. “I don’t think any less of you. I still…I still love you.” She clung on to him for what seemed like forever in silence.

Remus’s voice was still muffled when he finally muttered, “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she said firmly. The more she saw, the more she was convinced that even the most capable men were sometimes simply boys, boys that needed to be protected and loved. So she knew it was her job to protect and love Remus, and she would do it well.

A/N: I know it has been a crazy amount of time since the last update, but I am determined to finish this story for my readers! Reviews are, as always, very appreciated. They inspire me to keep writing even when I am at my busiest. So please review =]

Chapter 23: They Couldn't Put It Off For Much Longer
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

         The Hogwarts fifths were strangely abuzz with delighted gossip, and Lily had an uneasy feeling that it had something to do with the fact that James had spent the night in her dormitory several days before. She and Rosie had been studying by the common room fire until late that evening, when James slogged in through the portrait hole in his practice robes, wet to the bone and dragging his broom along behind him. He was grinning.


         “Got dunked in the lake,” he said casually by way of explanation. “A few blokes from the team went on a night flight.”


         Lily was worn and irritated from hours of studying. “Brilliant. Is flying around at night like an owl going to help you pass the OWLs?” she asked sharply.


         James was in too good of a mood to mind her tone. Instead, he lifted her off of the couch in a sudden, sopping hug. Lily squawked in horror, but he simply nuzzled her with his dripping head. “Don’t worry, my sweet. I’ll come over after I shower and you can read me the list of key Herbology terms as my bedtime story. It will help me get to sleep, in any case.”


         “Come over?” Lily frowned. “But James, the stairs! You know you can’t—”


         “Hush. Of course I can visit you, whenever I like. It’s so obvious that I cannot believe I didn’t think of it before. I guess you could say the night flight cleared my head,” he said. “See you soon, Lil.” With an exaggeratedly mysterious wave, he glided away towards the boys’ staircase.


         Rosie rolled her eyes. “Clearly he’s going to use his broomstick,” she said. “He’s losing his creative edge—I heard Sirius does it all the time.”


         Lily tried to roll her eyes too, but inside she couldn’t help but feel excited that James was going to visit in her very own dormitory. And of course she would have to hide him from the other girls, so there was no place for him to stay but…behind her bed curtains.


         Abruptly she stood up. “I should go clean up. If he does make it upstairs, I don’t want everything to be a mess.” She scowled at Rosie’s raised eyebrows and knowing expression. “Besides, he got me all covered in lake water, that prat,” she added defensively.


         “Go on and pretty yourself up,” Rosie said, laughing. “Remus should be back from the library any moment now anyway.”


         “Oh!” Lily had started towards the girls’ dormitory stairs, but turned back at the mention of their werewolf friend. She reached into her bulging book bag and pulled out two volumes. Small orange tabs marking off certain pages for later reading were spattered up and down the sides. “Speaking of Remus, could you make sure he gets these? I was just doing some extra reading and came across some material that I think he will find interesting. Just tell him that it’s for his special project.”


         Rosie nodded in understanding and took the books from her. “Yeah, he told me about that. I’m glad you’re helping him—I couldn’t think of a better person for the job.”


“Your friends are lucky to have you,” Lily’s voice told her in a rare moment of thoughtfulness as she climbed the stairs. A warm feeling spread in Lily’s chest and she smiled. But the next moment, her voice added, “Those forbidden Potions look fantastic! Perhaps we should try brewing some?” and her smile quickly dropped into a scowl.


“Not yet—not without talking to a Potions Master first. But nice try,” she told it, shaking her head.


         Later that night, when all of the other girls were asleep with the curtains drawn around their beds, James had indeed flown up to her dormitory window on his broomstick, just as Rosie had predicted. Lily put a finger to her lips and eased his broom through the window as James clambered silently into the room. Without a word, she gestured to her bed and they crept in between the curtains and then drew them tightly shut. Lily cast a Silencing Spell around them, and then James cast one as well, just to be safe.


         In the morning, Rosie eagerly awaited her at the breakfast table in the Great Hall. “Well?” she asked before Lily could even put anything on her plate. “What happened?”


         “Calm down, Ro, it wasn’t that exciting. We just lay next to each other and talked about our day for a while. I did get the strange feeling like we were an old married couple talking before bedtime or something.”


         Rosie giggled. “Well, do it enough times and one day you’ll find that you are an old married couple. Did he stay the whole night?” Lily nodded. “But how did he leave this morning without us noticing?”


         “He used—” Lily stopped suddenly, disguising her alarm with a cough. She had almost forgotten that the Invisibility Cloak was still a Marauder secret. “Er—he left quite early, before any of you were awake. Or I kicked him out, rather. I wanted to make sure nobody suspected anything.”


         “I think you’re alright,” Rosie said, and winked. She couldn’t help teasing her friend a bit. “I didn’t hear a thing last night.”


         “Well, that’s because there was nothing to hear!” Lily yelped indignantly. She did not bother mentioning the double Muffliatos they had cast, because that would have only served to make them seem even guiltier. “All we did was cuddle and enjoy each other’s company. What did you think would happen anyway, Ro?” Her voice dropped to an urgent hiss. “Do I really come off as that type of girl? Did you really expect that I would—you know—”


         Rosie shook her head with a smile. “Don’t get your wand in a knot, of course you don’t come off as that type of girl! I was just messing about.”


         Lily’s cheeks had flushed to the color of beets. She leaned her head in closer across the table toward her best friend, looking distinctly uncomfortable. When she spoke again, it was in so tiny a whisper that Rosie could barely hear her. “Okay, because I have actually been wondering about this lately. I mean, we have been together since Christmas. We are going to have to talk about it sometime soon, right? I don’t think I can put it off for much longer.”


         A wrinkle appeared between Rosie’s eyebrows. “What, you mean shagging?”


         “Not so loud!” Lily hissed, looking tortured. “I don’t know, I’m just not sure what James expects of me! Last night was so nice, but I feel like we cannot just go around casually staying over all the time without getting closer and closer to—you know—”


“Oh, just say it,” her voice sighed. “Shagging.”


         “Sleeping together,” Lily murmured. She gave her voice a mutinous mental glare.


         “Well, do you want to?” Rosie asked gently. “I mean, you’re sixteen years old. It is totally a valid question—you don’t have to feel like a slag simply thinking about it.”


         Lily frowned. “I’m not sure, to be honest.” She took a bite of her eggs and felt her mind clear a bit. “I’m not entirely against the thought, but I just don’t see why it should be necessary,” she said slowly. “I think James and I could be happy together without it, and if we can’t, then I would not want to be in a relationship with him anyhow. I just want to wait until I’m sure.”


         Rosie smiled. “Ever the sensible Lily Evans. I agree, and besides, has he even brought it up? There is no use in worrying about it if he hasn’t.”


         Lily shook her head.


         “Remus either. Well then, it looks like we’ve bagged ourselves a couple gentlemen,” Rosie declared, looking pleased with herself for having calmed one of Lily’s infamous fits of anxiety.


         It was at that very moment that Sirius and Peter arrived at the breakfast table. “Did someone say gentlemen?” Sirius inquired, his mouth already full of English muffin. “I hope you aren’t trying to set up more of those manners lessons for me—I thought I already proved you lot wrong.”


         Lily rolled her eyes, and all notions of what she thought she couldn’t put off for much longer were forgotten.


         That is, until now. Eyes and whispers had been following her around the corridors for a few days, but Lily had been studying so furiously for the OWLs that it had taken her a while to suspect that she was, in fact, the subject of discussion. Strange rumors were abounding, and she tried her best to ignore what she heard. Almost everything overheard was either truly ridiculous, negligible, or both.


         “It has been confirmed. She has been sneaking a boy into her bed late at night. I heard it was Anthony Thomas—”


         “—Sean Spinnet—”


         “—Peter Pettigrew—”


         “—Paul Jameson—”


         “—Professor Slughorn—”


         “—Nicholas Allberg—”


         “—Sirius Black—”


         “—Regulus Black—”


         These last accusations were too much to ignore. “Merlin’s beard!” Lily cried out as she rounded the corner of a greenhouse during Herbology. Several Hufflepuff girls, whom she knew only in passing, were huddled around a giant flowerpot. They jumped guiltily when they saw who had spoken.


          “Do you lot even know what you’re saying? Why do you mindlessly repeat things you have no idea about?”


          Lily could feel her fury rising. Now that she and James had finally figured things out, the last thing she needed was for rumors of Sirius to get involved again. And she had heard Sirius talk about his Slytherin brother Regulus plenty in the past—more importantly, she had seen the raw pain that always rose in his eyes when he broached the subject. As far as Lily had seen, almost nothing else could incite such an emotional reaction in Sirius Black.


           “How dare you suggest that I would hop into bed with my boyfriend’s best friend or my boyfriend’s best friend’s worst enemy?” she spat. Glaring at the cowering Hufflepuffs, Lily minutely registered that her temper was flaring out of control again. The last time that happened, of course, it had also involved someone’s best friend’s worst enemy’s boyfriend, or something like that. “Had it not occurred to any of you twittering morons that I might actually happen to be faithful to James? Is that so hard to believe, given how qualified you lot obviously are to judge my character?”


          “We were just sharing what we heard,” one of the girls whispered. To her credit, she did look truly sorry. “I’m sorry, Lily—There have been so many speculations. I didn’t know that you were taking any of it seriously.”


          “I wasn’t, until names that could hurt people started popping up,” she retorted. “But now I’m curious—where exactly are you hearing these things from?”


          There was a moment of silence in which the Hufflepuffs hesitated. Lily stared at them, her hands on her hips and her eyebrows raised. Then one by one the girls began to throw out names.


          “Well, I heard it from Debbie Hansen, who heard it from Avery Rosenthal, who heard it from—”


          “I mean, Lola O’Malley said that she heard it at dinner at the Ravenclaw table in a conversation between Michelle Ryland and—”


          “Hunter Dodds and that one bloke on the Slytherin Quidditch team, you know, the really tall one—”


          “—Angela Farr, who is friends with—”


          “—said they heard it from some bloke who used to go with—”


          “—Rachel Bailey.”


          “—Rachel Bailey.”


          “—Rachel Bailey.”


          Lily staggered and had to catch herself on the edge of the giant flowerpot. Bright flashes of orange and green crowded her vision and she blinked furiously. Rachel, of course, was mere feet away, working with some Gryffindors on another giant flowerpot inside an adjacent greenhouse. But instead of charging around blindly like an angry Minotaur in search of her, Lily took a deep breath, spun around on her heel, and headed back towards the castle.

          James and Sirius were walking down an empty corridor after dinner when James turned his head and suddenly caught sight of something down another hallway.


          “Something has to be done,” he muttered gravely.


          Sirius followed his gaze. In the shadows of an alcove, he could barely make out a head of auburn hair. Clearly Lily was seeking refuge from the vicious rumors that she had told the others about when she had run in, distraught, from the greenhouses two days before. Now it was impossible in the shadows to tell whether or not she had seen them, but Lily did not greet them. The two boys continued walking.


          “I have barely been able to track her down since,” James continued. “I suppose she spends all day trying to find a peaceful place to study. But from what I have gathered, she is having a tough time concentrating.”


          Sirius bit his lip. He knew that his issues with his brother were a main reason why Lily had allowed all of this to get to her. He couldn’t help but feel a sense of responsibility. And Lily Evans loved to study. It was the most important thing to her, and if she did not do as well on her OWLs as she could, Sirius could never live with himself.


          James seemed to be thinking the same thing. “She has been fretting about the OWLs all year. I can’t just sit here and watch some vindictive shit-stirring bird ruin all of her hard work.”


          Sirius nodded. “Something has to be done,” he agreed.


          “And the OWLs are in ten days,” James pointed out. “We can’t put it off for much longer.”


          “Well, let’s brainstorm right now. What are we trying to accomplish in the big picture—squashing all the rumors and making sure everyone knows that they are not true?”


           “Yes, but we also need to make sure that we never have to deal with Rachel Bailey again.” James spat the name out in distaste. “We need something to hold over her head as insurance.”


          “Insurance,” Sirius mused.


          They had arrived at the portrait hole. Sirius gave the password and the two boys stepped through, still deep in thought. Then Sirius felt James grab his arm and he looked up, startled. James put his finger on his lips and gestured subtly towards two girls seated on one of the couches in front of the fireplace. One of them was Rachel Bailey, the other a tiny Gryffindor second-year.


          “Let’s go sit down and see if we can’t find any insurance,” James suggested, waggling his eyebrows.


          Casually the two boys crossed the common room and selected a couch that was near enough to overhear any conversation, but far enough away not to draw the girls’ attention to them. There were a few other people in the room, but it was quiet enough that the boys could easily listen in.


          “So, Rachel,” the second-year was saying. Her voice was hesitant, as if she was slightly afraid of speaking. “About that Charms homework you said you’d help me with…”


          “Later, Flora,” Rachel cut in. “I’m busy now, can’t you see?”


          “But it’s due tomorrow—”


          “Flora.” Rachel’s voice was cold. “Yesterday you got me a cinnamon apple muffin from the kitchens when I specifically asked for blueberry. If you can’t even do a simple favor like that for me, I don’t owe you anything.”


          “The house elves said they were out of blueberry,” Flora whispered. “I would have Transfigured it for you, but I was afraid that I would mess it up even worse.”


          Sirius and James exchanged glances, frowning. Certainly in their time at Hogwarts they had sometimes teased and pranked younger students, but it was all in good fun and they never targeted the same kid twice (Slytherins were exceptions). Rachel seemed like she was actually pretending to be Flora’s friend. It was quite unsettling.


          “Flora, be a dear and go upstairs to fetch something from my dormitory for me,” Rachel said, pretending as if she had not heard the younger girl’s last reply.


          “What is it?”


          There was a pause. Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius could see Rachel casting a quick glance around the common room. “Er, my notebook, the purple one with the velvet stars on the cover. You know which one I’m talking about. It is in its—ahem—usual place.”


          “What, you mean your diary?” Flora asked innocently.


           “Yes, yes, call it whatever you want,” Rachel snapped, clearly annoyed that Flora had spoken aloud the word that she had tried so hard to avoid saying in the common room.


           Sirius and James exchanged another glance, this time glee crossing their faces.


           Diary, Sirius mouthed in delight.


           Insurance, James replied and nodded decisively. A girl’s diary is guarded more heavily than some of the most valuable vaults at Gringotts. But they were going to do it. They were going to pull of one of the greatest heists in history.

          The four Marauders approached the portrait hole, their arms full with snacks and butterbeer begged from the house elves in the kitchens. Remus and Peter led the way, while James and Sirius hung back a little.


           “Phase Two: The Diversion,” Sirius whispered to James, grinning.


          James frowned. “All the pre-heist stress must be getting to your head, Padfoot. One generally comes before two in the ordinal system. Therefore, Phase One must come before Phase Two.”


          “Wow, you’re really starting to sound like Lily, mate,” Sirius replied with a snort. “For your information, you specky tosser, we’ve already gone through Phase One.”


           “Fine, if this is Phase Two, then what was Phase One?” James asked.


          Sirius sniffed. “Reconnaissance and Recruitment, obviously. You act like you have never done this before.”


           Remus spoke the password and the portrait door swung open.


          “STUDY BREAK PARTY!” James hollered into the silent common room, startling the studious Gryffindors there. The Marauders trooped through the portrait hole and dumped their bounty onto several tables. Remus waved his wand and deafening music poured into the common room out of nowhere.


           “Turn that down, it’s too loud!” someone complained.


          “Tell all your friends to come downstairs and help us eat this food,” Sirius proclaimed. “We won’t stop the music until every last sodding Gryffindor is in this common room!”


           There were a few grumbles, but people slowly began filtering down from the dormitories into the common room. After a few minutes of ear-splitting wizard rock blasting through Gryffindor Tower, Lily trooped down the stairs towards them with an exasperated look on her face. “Really?” she sighed. “Eight days before the OWLs?”


          “Yes,” James said firmly. “Now, go upstairs and get your fellow fifths down here for the celebration—even the ones that you don’t like. We won’t be long, I promise. Everyone could just use a quick study break.”


          “You Marauders are real givers, such Good Samaritans,” Lily said sarcastically. “Fine, but only for a little while. And then you have to turn the music off.”


          James blew her a kiss. “It’s a deal, Flower.”


          Several minutes later, he saw Sirius giving him the thumbs-up. Lily, Rosie, and the rest of the female fifths, including Rachel, had come down the stairs and melded into the rest of the crowd around the refreshments table. Rachel had a somewhat sour look on her face, but judging by the smug looks that she kept casting at Lily, she had arrived as much to experience first-hand the results of her gossip-spreading as to eat and drink and be merry.


          James looked around for Rosie and found her sitting near the fire next to Lily, a plate of pastries in her lap and a bottle of butterbeer in her hand. She caught his eye and nodded. He and Sirius had agreed to enlist their other friends in their heist, but not to make privy all the details and not to tell Lily at all. That way, if Rachel ever demanded that she admit her participation in the heist, Lily could honestly say that she was not guilty. Rosie knew only that she was to leave the window next to her bed open, presumably for James to sneak in to visit Lily. Remus and Peter knew only that the Marauders were to throw a study break party—a fairly standard Marauder operation. But the workings of this heist were anything but standard Marauder protocol. They were about to penetrate the deepest, most mysterious fortress known to man at Hogwarts—the girls’ dormitory. James’s heart beat quickly as he and Sirius snuck up the stairs to their own empty dormitory, where their broomsticks were waiting.


          “Phase Three: the Infiltration,” James whispered as they hovered in front of Rosie’s open window. He lifted the window open further until it was large enough for him to climb through. “Step lightly,” he cautioned Sirius, and then briefly wondered with a smile how he always managed to get himself into these types of situations.


          They leaned their brooms against Rosie’s bed. The pounding bass of the rock music downstairs could still be heard quite clearly. With a quick flick of his wand, Sirius locked the dormitory door. While a simple Alohamora from one of the girls would unlock it again, the extra few seconds it bought them could be the difference between a successful escape and capture.


          “Good thinking,” James said in approval. He pointed at one of the other four beds in the room. “That one is Lily’s.”


          The two boys split up to examine the three remaining beds. The first one was easily identified as Emma’s—there was a scarlet-and-gold pillow with her name embroidered on it sitting on the bedspread. Sirius had to flip through a few schoolbooks on the nightstand next to the second bed to figure out that it belonged to a girl named Irina. The final bed, then, must be Rachel’s. He crouched to fiddle with the lock of her trunk with his wand.


          “It won’t be there,” James said, thinking quickly. “Flora must have been able to get to it without unlocking anything.” He got on his knees and lifted the bed skirt to look under the bed, but it was such an obvious hiding spot that he was not surprised when his search turned up nothing but a couple dropped quills and a wayward sock. “Where could it possibly be?” he muttered.


          Sirius pushed on the wall panels around the bed’s headboard while James yanked at the ground for any loose floorboards. Nothing. He opened her dresser drawers and pawed hurriedly through them, trying not to shudder when he looked through the drawer of underthings. He even checked her book bag for a purple notebook with velvet stars, but came up without anything.


          Three minutes later, between him and Sirius, they had checked every nook and cranny of Rachel’s possessions.


          “It can’t be hidden in some other girl’s stuff, right?” James asked desperately. “I mean she couldn’t risk having anyone else find it. It must be here somewhere.”


          “Someone’s coming back up the stairs,” Sirius said abruptly, looking up from the Marauder’s Map clenched in his fist. He squinted at the small print. “It’s”—his face paled—“Rachel and Flora.”


          “Phase Four—Flee!” James pronounced as he galloped across the dormitory to where they had left their brooms. Sirius was so closely on his heels that he ran into him with a grunt when the other boy stopped suddenly. “Wait. Get under Rosie’s bed,” James ordered, wheeling back around. “The bed skirt will hide us—just get under, quick!”


           Sirius obeyed without losing a second. James shoved their broomsticks underneath the bed after him, shot a quick “Alohamora!” at the locked door, and dove underneath Irina’s bed just as the doorknob turned and Rachel and Flora walked in.


          “I didn’t get to eat anything,” Flora was asserting timidly. “Why did I have to come up here with you?”


          The boys could hear Rachel sigh impatiently. “I told you, I just need to use the bathroom and then you can get something to eat. I brought you up here because I have a task for you and I didn’t want other people to overhear what we were saying.”


          “What is it?”


          “When we get back downstairs, I want you to listen for anybody talking about Lily Evans. When you find someone who is, just casually tell them that you heard she was sleeping with Severus Snape.” With trepidation, Sirius held his breath both against the dust bunnies that roved past his nose and in fear of James’s reaction. Luckily, only the slightest strangled noise came from underneath Irina’s bed and it was covered up by Rachel’s voice as she continued, “That will give everyone a laugh. You can do that for me, can’t you, Flora? You are my best friend, after all. I wouldn’t trust a job this important to just anyone.”


          “All right, I guess,” Flora replied. “But I’m curious…why exactly do you want to ruin her reputation?”


          Rachel’s voice went cold. “Because seeing her around, being aces at just everything, ruins my life, sleep, and appetite. Everyone loves her, but she really isn’t all that great. I don’t know what Potter sees in her, truly.”


          Then there was the sound of the dormitory bathroom door shutting firmly behind her, and the room was quiet. Flora shuffled her feet and fiddled around with something before the sound of the toilet flushing and water running in the sink came from within the bathroom. Within mere seconds, Rachel was back out.


          “Okay, we can go,” she said with a relieved-sounding exhale. “You know, downstairs I had a weird feeling all of a sudden, like something wasn’t right. But everything is still there, I just checked.”


          Sirius and James made very sure that they heard the dormitory door close firmly behind the girls before they emerged from their hiding places. Sirius gasped for breath in the clean, dust-less air.


          “What a weirdo,” James muttered darkly, doubtless still upset over the latest rumor that Rachel had just cooked up. “‘Everything is still there, I just checked’? What could she possibly be checking for in the bathroom, missing a lady part or something?”


          Something seemed to click in Sirius’s mind. Without answering James, he bolted for the girls’ bathroom. James followed him and found him in the bathtub, pushing at all the tiles and pulling at the handles and nozzles. “It might be in here,” he panted by way of explanation. “Hurry, we haven’t much time before Lily and the others get tired of the party and return.”


          James laid the Marauder’s Map carefully on the toilet seat lid, where he could keep an eye on the movements of the small dots. Quickly he tugged at the handles on the sink and pushed at the wall around the mirror, then the mirror itself. Nothing felt remotely loose.


          “Some heist,” he grumbled in disgust, ready to give up. He looked down at Sirius, who was now on his knees with his arms around the toilet tank. “Look at us, Padfoot. We’re a couple of sodding fools, is what we are. And you’re hugging the toilet.”


          When he looked up, Sirius’s eyes were bright and dancing. “No, Prongs,” he said slowly, rising to his feet. “You’re hugging me.” He reached behind the toilet tank and tugged out a purple notebook with velvet stars. It had been adhered to the back of the toilet tank by some sort of sticky spell.


          “Merlin, you did it!” James whooped, sure enough engulfing Sirius in an energetic hug. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small slip of parchment that the boys had prepared earlier. “Phase Five: the Coercive Ultimatum.”


          “Yes, my favorite part! ‘We have taken your most prized possession in retribution for your horrid lies,’” Sirius recited in a deep and ominous voice. “‘If you ever attempt to continue to prevent the truth from prevailing, we will make sure that everyone knows the truth about you.’”


          James adhered the note to the back of the toilet tank and straightened up with a grin. “Alright, Pad. I would call this mission successful. Ready to wrap this up?”


          He scooped up the Marauder’s Map and followed Sirius back through Rosie’s window. The two boys did a couple joyous barrel rolls on their way back to their side of the Tower. “Congratulations, Prongs,” Sirius called. “We just pulled off one of the greatest heists in history. Phase Six: Escape Without a Trace!”

Author's Note: Hey all, I've yanked myself back into HPFF to finish this story for you! With only three chapters left, I just couldn't leave you hanging. Hope I haven't lost my touch! Reviews reviews REVIEWS to keep me going during this last home stretch? =] <3 Gabby