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          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 =]

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