He notices her. Of course he notices her. How could he not? How could anyone not? But it. It doesn't have to mean anything.
He's always thought her pretty (and kind and brave and clever and funny and and and). But it's in fifth year when they're both made prefects that he really sees her. Sees her gathering her hair into a long ponytail, her fingers pale and quick. Sees the way her skirt moves against her thighs when she walks. Sees the warm smile that accompanies her greetings and her goodbyes. His heart beats faster when she's close and he can smell the clean smell of her. He finds himself smiling in response to her smiles and laughing too loudly at her jokes.
And then he gets back to the dorm, feeling like he's walking on air because she hugged him today (just briefly in the corridor outside the common room, because he's apparently looking a little peaky), and James asks him about her. Wants to know what they talked about, every word, every gesture, did she mention him? Sirius' eyes are knowing (accusing) when Remus can recall everything perfectly, but James is guileless, high on confidence, the knowledge that she can't turn him down forever.
Remus lies in his bed that night repeating the words a little peaky in his head over and over. Trying to remind himself that he is not like James, that she deserves so much better. But right before he goes to sleep he's thinking about how her hair tickled his neck when she hugged him and how warm her cheek was when it was pressed against his for those few seconds.
"Why don't you stop them?" she demands one day.
He's tired. The full moon is approaching and he's been quizzing Peter for their O. W. L.s when he should have been doing his own homework so he'll be up late doing that tonight and he really, really doesn't have time for James and Sirius to have put undiluted bubotuber pus in Snape's spot cream. He doesn't even know how they got hold of it.
"Have you ever tried to stop James and Sirius doing anything?"
It's the wrong question because of course, yes, she has. He tries a different tactic.
"They only did it because Avery cursed Mary yesterday, and Snape was a part of it."
"You don't know Sev was a part of that." She looks like she doesn't believe her own words, but carries on regardless. "Avery got a whole term of detention for that and lost fifty points. It's not up to them to punish him, or anyone else. Don't act like they're doling out justice. They're just bored."
He stares out of a window at the almost-full moon, bright as a penny in the sky. He's so tired.
Lily stands beside him, looking out too.
"Are you feeling alright, Remus?" she says in a much softer tone. Her hand goes to his elbow, just below where his sleeve is rolled up, and her fingers are soft and warm against his skin.
He thinks about pulling away. Then he remembers James' laughter, cruel and unlike himself truly, when he saw Snape's face at breakfast. He leans into her a little, and she smiles shyly up at him, expectant.
He remembers James' fierce determination to become an Animagus, the way he kept Sirius on task and helped Peter for hours. He takes a step away from her, and another. The moon glares down at him with deadly promise.
"We should get back to the common room, our round is over," he says.
They plan that month's escapades the night before. Sirius and James want to try going out into the grounds, but Peter is all for staying in the shack. So is Remus. He's insistent in fact.
The morning after the full moon he wakes with grass pricking his bare skin and the sun peeking over the edge of the trees. They're in the Forbidden Forest. James is poking him, telling him in a desperate whisper that they need to go before Madame Pomfrey goes to collect him and finds the shack empty.
When he gets back to the dormitory that afternoon he finds the others laughing over the close escape they had.
"I thought she was going to step on my feet!" Peter says, cheeks flushed with the excitement of it all.
"Who can blame her, with how big they are?" Sirius says.
"You're one to talk," says James. "I can't believe you sneezed, Padfoot."
"I can't help my nose."
But Sirius looks all too pleased with himself. Remus can't even be angry at them, because they were there all night, and what other friends would do that for him?
He and Lily are let off prefect duty for the three weeks they're doing their O. W. L.s, so he only sees her in passing. It's better this way, he tells himself. They haven't really talked properly since the night they almost... What? Remus isn't sure, but it makes guilt and regret twist unpleasantly in his stomach. He doesn't let himself think what might have happened if he hadn't stepped away.
They do their DADA O.W.L and Remus thinks it went okay, but then James and Sirius see Snape. And Remus lets it happen.
He finds Lily in the library later, curled up in the Divination section nobody uses, body shuddering with quiet sobs. He sits beside her and tries to put his arm around her, but she pulls away.
"You let them do that to him," she says, and even weeping she's braver than he's ever been in his life. "You just sat there and let them humiliate him."
What's he supposed to say to that? He sits there silently until she's cried herself out, then he summons a tissue and hands it to her.
"I know you're a werewolf."
Out of everything she could have said right now, that's the thing he least expected. He's so shocked he can't even worry. He stares at her, her red face and eyes and hair and tie. She is Gryffindor through and through, he thinks, and then he starts to laugh. He can't stop. It's all so ridiculous. He is in love with a girl who's so far above him he might as well not even be human. He isn't really. And she knows. And she's telling him now, as she cries over her best friend and his. It's not really funny, but he doesn't want to cry.
She doesn't smile, but she does put her hand on his shoulder. That kills the laughter pretty quick.
He stands up and she does too.
"I'm sorry," she says, wiping her nose with the tissue again. "I shouldn't have sprung that on you. But I just figured it out today and I'm not very good with secrets."
It dawns on him and he can't help but laugh again.
"The exam," he says, when he can between laugher. "Oh, the exam. I bet half the class has figured it out." His eyes are watering and he's not sure if he's laughing or crying. He thinks this is what his mother would call hysterics.
"I don't think so," Lily says. "I've been suspicious for a while now. The exam just confirmed it. I can't believe I didn't figure it out ages ago I feel really stupid."
"You..." He has to double over for a minute, laugh himself out again. "You feel stupid. Lily, you are as far from stupid as can get."
He's not laughing anymore, and he wipes away the tears with the back of his hand, foolish and quiet.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I'm sorry I didn't stop them today."
She looks at him, considering. "Will you next time?"
His breath catches in his throat. "They're my best friends."
"They're hurting people."
If she were less sad he thinks she might actually stamp her foot, all helpless fury and frustration.
"Not everyone's as brave as you are."
"They should be."
She leaves him alone in the library. After some time, he realises he never thought to ask her if she minded him being a werewolf. But then he already knows. Every person in the world could call him a monster, a freak, dangerous, unfit to be around normal people, and Lily would still call him a friend.
The rest of the year passes without much incident. The summer is spent between his house and James'. His for the lake they can play Quidditch above and swim in after, James' for the food. Remus soaks up the sunlight, laughing with his best friends and wishing things would never change, that they could stay sixteen forever. Outside their little bubble, people are going missing, families torn apart. But it's hard to feel worried when he's trying to escape Sirius dunking him under. The lake bottom squishy under his bare feet. Peter a warm, wild shape beside him as they go two-against-two.
Wet and tired and happy they collapse onto Remus' bed, and it creaks threateningly under them but never breaks.
Remus achieves ten Os and one E in his O. W. L.s. His parents tell him they've never been prouder, but they don't talk about his future. Ever.
Lily writes to him once a week and he replies. He thinks about her a lot, but he doesn't say anything, and James doesn't know they're in contact.
He sees her as he boards the Hogwarts Express. The long line of her back, the shadow of her shoulder blades beneath her crisp white shirt, her red ponytail swinging as she hurries up to the prefect carriage. He calls out her name before he can stop himself, grinning, rushing towards her. They fall into a hug, and it does feel a little like falling because he's grown this summer and is so much taller than her now.
"You're so tan," she says, running a hand along his arm. A shiver runs through him and their eyes catch.
"I spent a lot of time outside," he says, surprised his voice is so steady. Her hand is still on his arm.
"So did I, but I'm not that tan."
She's smiling playfully, holding up her other arm to compare. Her hand is still on his arm.
"You're beautiful," he says without thinking, then blushes deeply. He feels too warm, unnerved by her closeness, his thoughts spinning out into places he doesn't let them go.
She's still smiling, still looking him right in the eye, still got a hand on his arm.
"Thanks. I'd like a bit more colour though. My parents are talking about going to Spain next summer, so maybe then."
"Spain would be nice."
He's thinking about her lying on the beach in a bikini, skin shiny with sun cream, maybe with her hair down for once.
"Yeah, I'd like to go. Though I'd probably have to share a room with Tuney." She makes a descriptive face and laughter bubbles up inside him, coming out breathy and not at all like usual.
Her hand is still on his arm.
"She might not want to go though. Tuney doesn't like holidays, no sense of adventure."
"Not like you then."
"No, not like me at all."
Someone is trying to get past them and she drops her hand as they move to the side.
"We should get going," Remus says, finally able to think clearly again. "We'll be late."
They're paired up again for rounds, and Remus considers asking the Head Boy or Girl if he can switch, but who's he kidding. He wouldn't give up the hours spent with her for anything. She tells him stories about growing up not knowing about magic, the things she could do but didn't understand.
"You must have been relieved when you got your letter, explaining it all," he says.
Her expression goes stiff. "I didn't find out then, Sev told me years before. He saw me doing magic."
He wonders if she notices she still calls Snape by that nickname. He wonders if they were really just friends or if the rumours are true.
"What about you? Your mother's Muggle, isn't she? Did you go to Muggle school?"
It's his turn to tense. "I didn't go to school," he says shortly.
He can feel her looking at him, but he doesn't meet her gaze. They've not talked about the werewolf thing since that day in the library.
"I don't care," she says abruptly. "I mean, about you being a werewolf. I know a lot of people are prejudice, but that's just as stupid as people hating me for being Muggle-born."
"Being a werewolf and being Muggle-born are very different. And I know you don't care, I've always known you're not like that."
"Not that different really."
She steps forward and in front of him, forcing him to stop and look at her. She's glaring, the same fierce glare she wears when she catches James and Sirius doing something she doesn't like.
"There's nothing wrong with you," she says, low and insistent. "If you believe that then you're letting them win. You shouldn't let them make you ashamed."
As if she could know the depth of his shame. As if she could understand what it is to know in every particle of you that you don't deserve to be standing where you are.
That Christmas they're enlisted to hang decorations, tinsel and little silver bells and mistletoe. She makes the boxes and ladders float along in front of them, and they bet on who can use magic to hang the tinsel in the prettiest patterns. He makes the mistake of watching her instead of the tinsel, the way she opens her mouth a little as she concentrates on a particularly difficult loop, and his tinsel ends up tangled around a suit of armour. The armour complains as they untangle it, Lily unable to stop giggling.
There's a weird buzzing under Remus' skin, he can't stop looking at her. And he keeps catching her looking at him too.
They don't look at each other when they're hanging the mistletoe.
Afterwards she invites him to go for a walk in the grounds, and he agrees even though it's getting dark and it's freezing. Their breaths cloud in the air and the tip of Lily's nose goes very red as they walk towards the lake.
"Sometimes," she says, breaking a long silence, "I think you're going to kiss me. But you never do."
He swallows. Examines the icicles hanging from a large oak. Thinks that the Whomping Willow would never allow that.
"Remus." She sounds annoyed. Good, maybe she'll leave without him having to say anything. But she wouldn't be Lily if she did that. "Remus, look at me."
"James is my best friend," he says, not looking at her. "My best friend. You have no idea what he's done for me."
"He accepted you." Her voice is hollow and when he finally looks at her, her eyes are shiny with tears. "He accepted you, and my best friend didn't accept me."
So maybe she has some idea.
"You know, he didn't even come and see me this summer." She blinks rapidly, like she doesn't want the tears to fall. "I thought he'd try to apologise again, but he didn't. I saw him around the village a few times and he walked straight past like I wasn't- Like he didn't even know me."
"Would you kiss someone he was in love with?" Remus asks.
"He's in love with me, Remus. That's not my fault, though, I never lead him on."
They're not talking about Snape anymore.
"I can't betray him," Remus says. "I just can't."
"It's not a betrayal. I'm not his."
"That's not what I meant."
She kisses him. Cold lips against cold lips. Just for a second.
"I'm not going to wait and I'm not going to push if you say no," she says quietly, still so close, her breath warm on his face.
It'd be that easy. All he has to do is say no, and he doesn't have to worry anymore. Of course, it's not easy at all.
She steps back and he follows, instinctive, thoughtless. His hand on her waist. She waits. And he does nothing.
She walks away.
There's Slughorn's Christmas party. There's music that makes its way into Remus' blood and there's Lily in a yellow dress with her hair down around her shoulders. He's not thinking about anything when he pulls her close except that her hair is soft and her lips are warm and she tastes like butterbeer.
Then there's James' stricken face. Remus shoving through the crowd, throwing out apologies James can't hear because he's already gone.
The hangings around James' bed are drawn when Remus gets back. They learned years ago to respect that, four teenage boys sharing one room. But if he doesn't get James to listen now, he never will. He'll request a transfer, and Sirius and Peter will go with him, of course, like they should, and Remus will lose everything.
"Please, James, it wasn't anything. It didn't mean anything. I was- It was the party, we were dancing. It won't happen again. I won't ever talk to her again. I'll do rounds with someone else. I'll tell McGonagall I can't be a prefect anymore."
He's run out of things to promise. Peter is sitting up in his bed, eyes wide and owlish as he tries to take in the scene. Sirius is leaning against the doorway, panting from running after Remus running after James. There will be talk tomorrow, Christmas drama makes the best gossip.
"Leave it, Moony," Sirius says eventually, not unkindly but not kindly either. "Leave him alone."
Remus looks at him desperately. Sirius knows James best, he's got to know how to fix this. Sirius shakes his head and makes his way into the bathroom.
"What happened?" Peter asks.
Remus doesn't want to tell him he's just ruined their friendship group forever.
James is gone when Remus gets up the next morning. Sirius says he's out flying and claps Remus on the shoulder.
"It'll all work out," Peter says, like he hopes it will rather than thinks it.
They go to breakfast without Remus.
Lily is waiting for him when he comes down to the common room, in muggle jeans with her hair back in its usual ponytail. She looks tired, like she didn't sleep well either.
"I'm sorry," Remus says, hands in his pockets, unable to meet her eyes.
"Me too," she says quietly.
"What are you sorry for?"
"Kissing you when I said I wouldn't."
"I kissed you back."
A few other sixth years are watching them, trying to pretend that they're not. Remus thinks with dread that this is all going to get back to James.
"I've got to go," he says, taking a deliberate step back.
She nods, but then catches his arm. "I get it," she says. "I wouldn't feel comfortable being with someone Alice or Mary liked. I'd have to talk to them about it first."
It's a question, a request, but Remus doesn't know that James is ever going to talk to him again.
"I saw you before."
Remus jumps, knocking his ink pot over the side of the table. It smashes on the floor, splattering over James' shoes.
"Sorry," James says before Remus can, mopping up the ink, fixing the ink pot and replacing it on the table with a thoughtless flick of his wand.
Remus has been in the library all day, working through homework he'd normally leave until the last week of the holidays. Nobody else has been in and he's been free to dwell on his ruined friendship (ruined life). But now James is here, with his hair in disarray and his eyes red.
"I'm sorry," Remus says, standing up and grabbing James' shoulder, though he's showing no signs of walking away. "I'm so sorry, James. It won't happen again, I promise, it didn't mean anything-"
"Don't," James snaps, pulling away. "Don't say that about her. Don't act like she means nothing."
Remus doesn't know what to say. They stand in silence. Then James sighs, deflates, sits down and runs a weary hand through his hair.
"I saw you before," he says again. "In the grounds. I was out flying and I saw her kiss you."
Remus sits down too. "I didn't kiss her back," he says.
"Not that time," James agrees.
"It won't happen again."
"But you want it to." It's not a question. "And I don't think I'd be a very good person if I stopped two people I loved from being happy."
Hope blooms in Remus' chest, tentative and light. "What are you saying?" he says cautiously.
James sighs again. "That you should go find her and invite her to Hogsmeade. Or to the library, if that's your idea of a good date."
The protest comes automatically to Remus' lips, I'm not boring, just because I like to do my homework on time, and James is laughing like he always does.
"You're so easy to work up, Moony," he says, knocking his shoulder against Remus'.
Remus rolls his eyes. Stares down at his half-finished essay. "We're okay?" he says finally.
"Yeah, we're good."
He meets Lily outside the common room for their rounds that night and kisses her until he forgets how to do anything else.