Author's Note: This chapter is a longer than all the others, but I didn't want to split it in two.
Standard disclaimer applies.
James, Lily, and Sirius had been in a state of shock when they had first arrived at their new safe house. They hadn't quite known what they were feeling after the overwhelming night they had had. But by morning, their emotions had been clearer.
And Sirius' main emotion was anger.
Sirius had been completely committed to tracking Peter down and killing him. James had tried to reason with him, to hold him back. But the longer Sirius had ranted and raved, the more James had agreed with him.
They had trusted Peter with their lives, and he had betrayed them. Willingly. One of the strongest arguments for using the Fidelius Charm had been the fact that the Secret Keeper could not be forced to divulge his secret. It had to be freely told. They had been so sure that Peter would protect them, but he hadn't.
The more James had listened to Sirius, the more he had wanted to join his best mate in the rat hunt. But that wasn't the answer. They couldn't seek revenge. They had to stay safe, to protect Lily and Harry. James had had to put a full-body bind on Sirius before the latter had listened to reason, but eventually Sirius had agreed to stay put. They were by no means anger-free, but they had calmed down.
That is, until Remus uttered four words. The Aurors arrested Peter.
Sirius had always been explosive in his anger, and sitting in the kitchen of the safe house, he was true to form. He cursed so loudly and slammed his hand onto the kitchen table so hard that Harry, who had been sitting in the corner playing with some toys, started to cry.
Lily rushed over to her son and took him out of the room and away from Sirius' anger. James put his hand on his best friend's shoulder, and he begged him to calm down once again.
"You should've let me go after him, Prongs!" Sirius nearly shouted, jumping out of his seat. "What're the Aurors going to do with him, huh? Lock him up in a cell in the Ministry and let him go in a couple of days? You heard Dumbledore. If they don't have evidence against him, they won't send him to Azkaban! And what if he transforms and escapes? That little-" Sirius then proceeded to call Peter every vile name James knew and some that he didn't. The man could demonstrate quite an impressive vocabulary when he chose to.
"Pads, you know why you couldn't go after him," James said, now standing also. "It wouldn't have ended well. For either of you."
"Prongs is right, Padfoot," Remus said, coming to stand next to the other two. "There's… a bit more to the story."
James motioned for Remus to continue while Sirius took deep, calming breaths.
"Well, Moody told the Auror Department that Wormtail was a Death Eater, that he had betrayed us. So they were watching for him. Yesterday afternoon, someone saw him in Diagon Alley. When the Aurors went to confront him, he tried to escape. He was desperate, and… and he tried to distract them, divert their attention away from him. So he caused an explosion. Killed five people."
James and Sirius stared at Remus in shock. James would never have guessed that the small, unassuming man would be capable of such an atrocious act. But then I never thought that he would betray us, either.
"But they caught him?" Sirius asked, his voice dripping with anger.
Remus nodded. "They managed to stun him. They have him in a magic-restricted cell. He can't do magic, and that includes his Animagus transformation. I checked. He's going to be given a full trial in front of the Wizengamot. He'll be brought to justice."
As James looked at Remus, he saw the conflicting emotions on the werewolf's face that he was also feeling. There was sadness that their friend would be facing time in Azkaban. And confusion, trying to reconcile their memories of Peter with the man that he was now. And anger that their friend- former friend- had betrayed them.
"Has a date been set for the trial?" James asked.
"Not yet, but Dumbledore said he'd let us know," Remus replied.
"So… does this mean that you'll be staying here with us now?" James asked hopefully. When Remus nodded, James continued. "Moony, we need to talk about what happened. We need to-"
Remus held up a hand to stop him. The werewolf looked suddenly so much older than a few seconds before. "I know that we need to talk, but can it wait?"
"Moony-" Sirius was the one to start talking this time, but again, Remus stopped him.
"Please. You two have had time to think. To process. To rest. But I haven't. I've had to be focused on what was going on in the pack ever since that night, and right now, I just need some time."
James and Sirius exchanged a look before returning their gazes to Remus.
"We will talk about this, Moony. All right?" James responded softly. "But only when you are ready."
A few more days passed. Dumbledore contacted the remaining Marauders and Lily to let them know that Peter's trial had been set for November 11th. One of them would have to testify against Peter, and James had a feeling that it would be him.
James and Sirius had been practicing an amount of patience that neither had known they possessed. Remus had been doing a fairly good job of avoiding them; he was spending a lot of time by himself. And even though James and Sirius were dying to talk to their friend, they had been restraining themselves.
"How long do you think it's going to take before he'll talk to us?" Sirius asked one day. He and James were playing with Harry and a broomstick behind the safe house. They were still within the limits of the Fidelius Charm, and they were taking full advantage of the unseasonably warm weather.
James shrugged. "I think he'll come around soon. He's never been able to be mad at us for too long." He smiled at Sirius. The longest that Remus had ever been mad at any of them had been when Sirius had sent Snape down the tunnel underneath the Whomping Willow, and that had only been for a week. "Hey, Pads, can you watch Harry? I need a drink."
"Sure, Prongs. Get me something too, will you?"
James nodded and went inside but stopped before entering the kitchen. He heard Lily and Remus, who had just gotten back from a meeting with Dumbledore.
"They're going crazy, you know, not being able to talk to you about what happened."
Remus chuckled. "I know. I've been pretty impressed with how well they've respected my need for time."
"Have you had enough time, Remus? Are you ready to talk to them?"
"I- I think so," Remus said cautiously.
James punched the air in a silent victory and went back outside. "Padfoot, Moony's back… and I think he's ready to talk to us."
Sirius stood still for a minute, his face showing his hesitation. But then he picked Harry and the broomstick up and followed James inside.
The broomstick stored by the door, the two Marauders and the mini Marauder entered the kitchen. Harry immediately reached for Lily, who stood to take him out of the room, seeming to know that the Marauders were about to have an important, private conversation.
"Actually, Lily, there's something you need to hear," Remus said.
"What is it? What's happened now?" Lily asked worriedly as everybody sat down at the table.
James noticed that Remus looked incredibly sad.
"Alice and Frank were attacked," Remus said quietly.
Lily gasped and reached for James' hand. Frank and Alice had been in Gryffindor with them, but they were a couple years older. When the Marauders and Lily had joined the Order, the Longbottoms had taken them under their wing. Lily and Alice were especially close, considering the fact that they both knew what it felt like to have a baby in the middle of a war.
"What happened?" James asked.
"They were Crucio'd. It- well, it was too much. They're at St. Mungo's right now. The Healers don't think they'll ever recover."
Tears ran down Lily's cheeks. "What about Neville?" Lily and James had been named Neville's godparents, and James knew that his wife would take the boy in without any hesitation.
"Frank's mum has him."
James nodded. It was probably better that Neville stay with family.
"Poor Alice. And Frank." Lily cried. James gathered her in his arms. "It could've been us, James. It could've so easily been us." James held onto his family more tightly.
Because Lily was right. The prophecy that had made them a target could have applied to either Harry or Neville. Voldemort had decided that it was talking about Harry, but if he had decided on Neville instead, it could have been James and Lily in St. Mungo's instead.
"Who… who did it?" Sirius asked, but his face showed that he already knew the answer.
Remus hesitated before meeting Sirius' gaze. "Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan. They think Barty Crouch's son was involved too."
Tension seemed to crackle in the air. A pained look shot across Sirius' face and he buried his head in his hands. He had always hated the fact that his cousin was a Death Eater, had always hated his family's involvement in the Dark Arts. Even though Sirius had had no contact with any of his relatives since being disowned, he still felt guilty.
Remus put his hand on Sirius' shoulder. "None of this is your fault. Nobody blames you, Padfoot."
By now, Lily's crying had stopped. She suddenly pulled away from James and stood. "You three should talk now. I'll leave you alone for a while. Remus, thanks for telling me about Alice and Frank." She looked like she was about to cry again, but she turned quickly and left the room with Harry.
The silence was deafening. But James wasn't sure who should start the talking. If it was supposed to be him, well, for once in his life, he didn't know what to say. Sirius, however, had no such qualms.
"Moony, I'm sorry," Sirius said. Which was enough to shock anyone into silence since Sirius Black rarely apologized. Remus opened his mouth, but Sirius stopped him. "No, Moony, listen. Please. It was my idea to switch Secret Keepers without telling you. It's just that you were distancing yourself from us. We knew you were keeping something from us, but we didn't know what. So I assumed that it meant that you were the traitor. But I was wrong, and I never should have thought that."
Remus stared at his hands on the table. "Did your suspicions have anything to do with me being a werewolf?" His words were quiet, but his voice was hard.
James looked at Sirius, wondering how he would answer.
Sirius took his time, but after a few moments, he did respond. "Honestly, it did. A bit." Remus flinched before Sirius continued quickly. "I had heard what Voldemort was offering the werewolves and that a large group of them had taken him up on his offer. But that wasn't really what made me suspicious. I've known you for so long, Moony, and I know how you act when you don't want us to know something. And that was what really made me suspicious.
"But I shouldn't have doubted you, Remus. Because you are one of the most loyal people I know. And you would never hurt us. So I'm sorry."
Remus' gaze didn't leave his hands. After a few moments, James knew that it was his turn to talk.
"Moony, I'm sorry, too," James said.
"You defended him, Prongs," Sirius said. "Even when I was trying to convince you, you defended him." Sirius looked a bit confused, and James realized that he had never talked to him about his conflicting feelings.
"Yes, I did, but towards the end, I began to doubt, too," James said, shame filling him. "I didn't want to believe anybody was the traitor, Moony, but some of what Padfoot said began to make sense. I don't think I was ever fully convinced that it was you, but I did suspect you, and I shouldn't have. And for that, I'm sorry."
James watched as Remus finally lifted his head to look at the other two Marauders. Tears were misting his eyes, which caused pain to shoot through James' chest. He had never seen Remus cry before. Even though the Marauders had watched him endure agony every month, his eyes had remained dry. James knew then how much their doubts had hurt Remus. He just prayed that it wasn't too late. That Remus would still forgive them and their friendship could be restored.
Remus took a few deep breaths before beginning to speak. His voice was quiet at first, so quiet that James and Sirius had to strain to hear it, but it got stronger as he went on. "Ever since I was bitten, my parents instilled in me this need for secrecy: no one could know what I was. If people found out, they would turn on me, hurt me. There was so much pressure when I started Hogwarts. My parents made it quite clear that if people found out, I wouldn't be allowed to continue. So I built this wall around me. It was safer that way. If I never let anyone in, I would never let my secret out.
"But then I met you two, and despite the wall, you wanted to be friends with me. I hadn't expected to make any friends, so I was surprised when I did. So I let the wall slip down a bit. Then when you found out what I was and still stood beside me, didn't treat me with the disgust and disdain that I thought I deserved, the wall slid down a bit more. And then you became Animagi for me. Even after you witnessed the side of me that I had never let anyone see before, you didn't abandon me. And the wall crumbled down. I have never let anyone in my life in as much as I have with you two.
"I can see why you thought I was the traitor. I am a Dark Creature, after all, and I did not tell you about my missions with the werewolves. But to know that you didn't trust me, to know that I let you in and you judged me poorly… it makes me want to curl inside myself and build up that wall so high that it never has the chance to crumble down again. But I can't do that. I was miserable until I met you two. And I can't be miserable again. I can't make myself do that. You two are the best friends that I have ever had, and I don't want to- I can't lose you. So I forgive you, as long as you forgive me for ever considering turning my back on our friendship."
It was the most James had heard Remus say since that fateful night a week ago. Maybe even the most James had ever heard him say at once.
He had always known that Remus' trust was hard-won. And for a good reason. He had never experienced the prejudiced behavior against werewolves firsthand, but after finding out about Remus' furry little problem, James had somewhat subtly asked his dad about it. He had claimed it was for a project at school, and while his dad had seemed hesitant to accept that reason, he had relented in sharing some of the less gruesome details.
But those details were still gruesome enough for James. It was not unheard of for magical communities to protest the presence of a werewolf. The best-case scenario was complete avoidance of the individual. The worst-case scenario was death. There was a wide range of in-between cases, most of which involved injury to the werewolf. At thirteen, James had found it hard to believe that anyone would want to hurt, let alone kill, his quiet, bookish roommate.
That one night a month, James' dad had explained, taints people's views of them. It doesn't matter what kind of person they are for the rest of the month. People base their opinions on the one night in which werewolves are dangerous.
But that's not fair! James had exclaimed, only to have his dad shake his head sadly.
No, it's not. But life is rarely fair, James.
Sitting in the kitchen of their safe house, the words of his dad came back to James. Life, indeed, was rarely fair. It wasn't fair that Voldemort had targeted Muggleborns. It wasn't fair that James and his friends had had to give up their young adulthood to fight in a war they weren't truly prepared for. It wasn't fair that they had doubted Remus who had always been so loyal to them. It wasn't fair that with one action, the sharing of one secret, Peter had ripped apart the Marauders. No, life was not fair.
But as James looked at two men that he had known since he was eleven, he realized that he didn't have to let the unfairness of life ruin his happiness.
"All right. So we all forgive each other. What happens now?" Sirius asked bluntly.
James shrugged, trying to think of something profoundly deep to say. Because that was what the moment seemed to call for.
But then the moment was shattered by Remus' stomach growling loudly. James tried to suppress the laugh that threatened to bubble out of him, but then he heard Sirius' loud guffaw. The three Marauders laughed until they were slumped down in their chairs, out of breath.
"I guess it's just the three of us now?" Remus asked when they had caught their breath a bit.
James nodded. It will be weird, he thought. For so long, they had been the four Marauders, scourge of teachers and Slytherins alike. Bane of the Death Eaters' existence. But now they were three.
Is it going to be hard to adjust? James thought for a moment. But then he smiled as he looked at his two friends, his brothers. No, I don't think it will be hard at all.
Author's Note 2.0: Thank you so much to everyone for reading, favoriting, following, or reviewing! It's very encouraging to read all of your comments.
To say that I'm obsessed with the Marauders is probably a bit of an understatement, and right now, I'm obsessed with the idea of what life would be like for the Marauders if James and Lily had survived that Halloween night. I have plans for several stories surrounding this idea.
So, up next is "The Trial of Peter Pettigrew."
"As much as Lily dreaded Peter's trial, she was also looking forward to it. Looking forward to getting some answers, some resolution, and putting this whole thing behind them. She hoped that, after today, life could return to normal for the Marauders."