Author's Note: Chapter One covers a scene from Shifting Line Book Two Chapter Twenty-Four "My Illness, My Business". It is told from James's POV

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And everybody hurts sometimes
Sometimes everything is wrong

- Everybody Hurts, R.E.M.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

"I think I know what Remus has."

It had been a boring evening. Remus was off in study group while Peter was off doing some photography club stuff. James didn't mind it just being him and Sirius, but Sirius had shot down every single idea James tossed out there and now they were just hanging out in a secret corridor, James completely bored as he flipped through a magazine. But Sirius's words froze James to the core and the magazine slipped through his fingers, dropping to the floor.

"What?!"

James stared at Sirius in disbelief, certain he must have heard wrong.

Sirius stretched his legs out, tipping his head back. "I think I know."

"Wh... what does he have, then?" James reached for his magazine, figuring now that Sirius was just making stuff up. Sirius Black had, in James's opinion, an unhealthy obsession with Remus Lupin since the beginning. This included trying to dig in to whatever Remus's illness was. James was curious too, and Peter, but neither of them pushed as much as Sirius did. Honestly, thinking about it, Sirius's announcement wasn't too shocking. He probably cobbled together some theory and decided that was the truth.

"I... I don't think I should say quite yet," Sirius said.

James scoffed, not surprised one bit.

Sirius scowled. "Okay, okay, don't give me that. It's just not something I should throw out there without some..." He paused, narrowing his eyes slightly, "... major evidence."

"Riiiiight." James picked the magazine back up. "You know what it is but won't say."

"I don't think I should say yet!" Sirius protested. "It... okay... look... if I'm right then... he's going to be sick soon."

"Mmhmm."

"The twenty-second," Sirius continued.

James sighed. "That's a pretty specific date there, Siri."

"Don't call me that, and if I'm right about what Remus has it's a pretty specific illness." He splayed his hands out over his thighs, his pale fingers gleaming in the wandlight. "He's going to be sick. Or else pretend his mother is sick."

James's head snapped back up. "Pretend?"

"You told me yourself, Jimmy, you saw his mother during the Easter holidays and she looked healthy."

"Yeah..." James looked back down at the pictures. "That doesn't mean she's not sick."

"I... don't think she's sick," Sirius said, scooting closer to James. "I think Remus is just making it up—"

"What?!" James began laughing. "Lying and saying his mother is sick?! Man, you don't make that up."

Sirius just shrugged. "Remus is. Pretty sure he is."

"Why would he lie about that?"

"I think he's trying to make us think it's not as bad as it is for him," Sirius continued. James shook his head. "You've seen him. He says his mother is sick but he looks like he's dying."

James flinched back at those words, taking in a sharp breath. "Don't."

"Come on, it's true—"

"No, don't say it that way!"

He slammed the magazine down on the floor because he knew if he kept holding it Sirius would see how shaky he was getting. Whenever any of them mentioned Remus's illness James started to get this way. When Remus talked about needing blood work done, or that 'cure' he supposedly took (which, James did have to admit, was a load of hippogriff poop) James started getting upset. He knew it was ridiculous to tell his friends to stop mentioning it, and tried to be there for Remus, but it was so damn hard because every single time all he could think about was his grandfather.

"Remus is fine," he said, breathing steadily.

Sirius frowned. "I... guess..."

"You guess? No, he is. He's fine."

Remus had to be fine.

Sirius didn't say anything else, and James picked his magazine back up, determined to forget any of this happened.

/\/\/\/\/\

On the morning of the twenty-second, James cheerfully got out of bed. He had half-forgotten what Sirius told him the previous week until he saw Remus emerge from his bed. James stiffened, trying not to stare. Remus was pretty much white, and looking more drawn, and the dark circles under his eyes were like violent bruises. He stumbled getting out of bed and then gave a faint whimper, as if moving hurt him.

James got dressed, feeling kinda dizzy. He didn't want to look at Remus, didn't want to think about what was going on. Didn't want to think about Sirius being right. How did he know? James wondered as they headed down to breakfast. By the time the mail came James thought he might be able to pretend he wasn't seeing how awful Remus looked. Letters arrived for all four of them and James happily ripped into his, grinning as a couple of galleons slid out. They were going to go into Hogsmeade the next day to buy some important ingredients for a prank idea, and James had needed some money. Thank Merlin his parents never asked why he burned through his allowance so fast this month! Buying all the stuff the last time they snuck into Hogsmeade had eaten all his gold up, at least until October first. Maybe he'd ask for a raise next year, when they were legally allowed to go into Hogsmeade. He'd be thirteen by then anyway, and deserved more of an allowance—

Remus's voice broke into his thoughts. "Looks like it didn't work."

James hadn't been paying much attention and looked up to see Remus folding a piece of parchment up. "What didn't?" he asked.

"The, um, potion Mum and I took to hopefully help us." Remus's words twisted into James like a knife. On the surface it was completely expected, but the fact he was talking about this while looking like that... "Mum's gotten sick again, it's pretty bad. I—I think I might go after classes."

James looked at Sirius, and Sirius looked right back. He was right. James's lips parted as he nearly said something but then Sirius kicked him. James flinched a little and realized he couldn't say anything in front of Remus. "I'm sorry to hear that," he managed to get out, wishing he could instead say, is it really your mother?

Remus was looking at him a little suspiciously so James was relieved when Peter asked, "What happened? Did the medicine make it worse?"

"I don't th—think so."

James wanted to laugh. Did Remus think they were that stupid?! Did he think they were blind?!

"Are you getting sick too?" Sirius asked and of course Remus denied it. "You don't look too well. You look pretty awful, no offense."

"I'm fine." Remus was shutting them out, as always. Normally James dismissed this because he felt Remus was entitled to his privacy regarding his medical issues but this time it grated on him. He glanced at Sirius then back at Remus, wondering what on earth he could have. If his mother wasn't sick then he was getting sick all the time! He was sick pretty much every month! What could possibly do that? Well, whether his mother was or wasn't didn't change the fact Remus was obviously ill now.

On the twenty-second, just as Sirius somehow predicted.

"Yeah, you look super sick," Peter said and Remus's face pinched up.

"You look like you should go to a healer too," James said.

Sirius started to say something but that proved to be too much, and the tiny boy exploded. "I'm fine!" James, Sirius, and Peter all jerked back, staring wide-eyed at Remus who began panting slightly, drooping now. "S—sorry, I'm just… really worried about my mum," he whispered, shrinking down in his seat, obviously trying to disappear.

That ended the conversation. James went back to eating, trying his best not to continually give Remus glances. What is it? He bent his head in low, shoveling his breakfast into his mouth. What is wrong?

/\/\/\/\/\

James felt more miserable each passing hour. Every time he looked at Remus he just saw his grandfather in his last days. Thin, drawn, shaky, looking like his life was slowly easing its way out of his body. Remus... looked... horrifyingly similar. James kept resisting the urge to grab him and literally force him to see Madame Pomfrey. He just seemed to get worse and worse as the day drew on, sleeping through lunch and their free period after lunch. He could hardly walk to History, and in Transfiguration was barely able to perform a simple spell.

He looked ready to—

Well.

He looked bad.

After Transfiguration James decided to try to convince Remus to go see Pomfrey again. "What harm would it do?" he asked as they walked through the halls.

"I—want to get to my mother," Remus replied. He was messing with putting his Transfiguration book away, head bent a little so his hair covered some of his face. His hand was trembling as he worked the book in, and was so bad that it took him several tries to clasp the satchel shut.

"It will only take a few minutes, won't it?" Peter asked, eyes darting to James and back to Remus. Sirius was walking along, hands in his pockets, not as wildly concerned as the other two. James clenched his teeth, wishing Sirius would do something more. Say what he has! Maybe if Remus knew Sirius knew he wouldn't try to do idiotic crap like this, pushing himself...

"I d-d-don't want to!" Remus said, studiously watching his shoes instead of his friends as they walked. "I'm fine."

"You're not fine," James said. "You don't look fine."

Remus glared at James through his fringe. "I feel fine."

"You're not though," James said. He glanced past Remus at Sirius who shrugged. "You're not—

Remus snapped for the second time that day. "I am FINE! Stop telling me how I must feel because I know how I feel, and I am not SICK!"

"You look ready to collapse at any second!" James retorted.

To his surprise Remus continued arguing, not backing down at all. "I don't give a flying jarvey how I look," he growled out, eyes flashing with anger. "I know how I feel and it isn't sick!"

James grit his teeth, about to argue right back but Peter spoke up before he could. "So… are we not supposed to be concerned about you?"

Remus looked like he was trying to reign in a temper. James knew Remus sometimes had a fiery little temper but usually he was just sweet and went along with the others. Oh, he lectured, rolled his eyes, made sarcastic comments, but to see him like this was a little nerve-wracking to James, especially since it was over his health. He wanted to echo Peter's words. Did Remus not want them to be concerned about him?

"I… appreciate the concern," he finally said, voice shaking, "I really do. It's just frustrating being told how other people think I'm doing, especially when I've clearly communicated I feel perfectly fine."

He's so stubborn, James thought grouchily. He looked at Remus's face then saw his grandfather's face. His grandfather, laying in bed, previously wrinkly, loose skin pulled tight against his skull, eyes sunken in. He could see Henry's dry, cracked lips trying to say James. Saw his grandfather's claw hand reaching for him. Then he could see Remus laying on a bed, skin drawn back, claw hand reaching as he tried to say James.

Was... Remus...?

He was jolted back to reality by Sirius hauling a squawking Remus off. James and Peter exchanged looks then followed, unsure what was going on. Then James knew what Sirius intended as they approached a bathroom. Sirius pushed him in front of one of the mirrors and James saw Remus visibly flinch at the sight of his own face. Except he didn't look surprised. He had expected to look this awful, which meant he was feeling awful. A fresh wave of irritation crashed through James.

"Again," Remus said, turning away, "I don't care how I look. I'm fine. Why can't you just listen to me?"

"Well, excuse me for being worried!" James grumbled. He'd be worried if it were Sirius or Peter! Why was Remus being like this?

"Why can't you just believe me?!" Remus demanded. James was dumbfounded by that remark and all he could do was point at the mirror. Remus pressed his lips thin. "Merlin. I am fine, I do not feel sick at all. My mum is sick, not me."

Sirius finally spoke up. "You can be sick at the same time your mum is."

James raised an eyebrow. Sirius had been the one to imply Remus's mother wasn't sick then he goes and says that? He swiveled his head to Remus, wondering what his response would be. Which was of course, more denials, agreeing he and his mother could be sick at the same time, but he wanted to drop the whole conversation. Remus's eyes got big and pleading, looking a lot like a little puppy.

A sick little puppy.

"Could you at least go see Pomfrey before you leave?" James asked, wondering why Remus was so determined to not go, so determined to insist he wasn't sick. He had to be sick. Nobody could look like that and not be sick! Well, maybe they could... but not Remus. He looked the same as he did whenever he said he was sick—no, worse. He looked worse than he usually did.

He thought Remus might be giving in.

Hoped.

Because he looked so awful.

Looked like he was—

"Please?"

Remus stared at him for a second then narrowed his eyes. "Why?" he asked hotly. "To ease your minds since you don't believe me?" Despite his pale face, his cheeks grew a little pink. "No. I'm not sick."

The flush worried James and he put his hand against Remus's forehead. "You might have a fever—"

Remus smacked James's hand away, eyes going huge, and James knew he had made a mistake. "Just DROP IT!" His breathing became raggedy and he sounded panicked. "Please," he added, much as James just did.

James held his hand to his chest. Remus's forceful removal had hurt James's hand more than he expected. It kinda felt like something a lot more solid than a tiny sick boy's tiny hand hit him. And despite the 'please', the look in Remus's eyes was definitely a mixture of fear and anger. He was even more flushed, and looked ready to fall to the floor.

Or worse.

"Right."

James was trying his best not to get angry but he lost it now. He was mad at Sirius for bringing this whole thing up acting like he knew what was going on, and very mad at Remus for just... pushing them away! And pushing, and pushing! He understood wanting privacy, he did. But he couldn't help but wonder why Remus kept so much of his barrier up even after they became friends. Why he needed so bad to lie so much. Like that stupid cure. James knew damn well that was a lie, it was one of the flimsiest things he ever heard in his life! Remus was using that as a cover for something, or a distraction.

Times like this he wondered if Remus even wanted to be friends with them or if he was just... going along for a ride.

"I'll just not be at all alarmed over the fact you look like you're so sick," James said, trying not to sound too angered, knowing he was coming across that way anyway. "It's not my business, is it?"

Remus's expression softened slightly. "James—"

James ignored him, wanting to be heard, wanting to throw this at Remus. Wanting Remus to know just what was going on from their side of things. "Not like friends aren't suppose to care about each other. I mean, if I looked as bad off as you do—"

Remus wasn't going to let him finish. "You don't, though! Okay?" Remus took a step back, eyes glistening; he was going to cry. "None of you know what I'm going through!" He wasn't stammering but he was obviously trying not to stumble with his words. "You just don't get it!" James wanted to say, then explain it to us, but Remus kept going. "I'm glad you care about me enough to worry but you need to bloody take into account what I am SAYING! My illness is my business. Not yours. Any of yours." Remus shot these last words towards Sirius. Then continued with, "I don't care if I look like I'm on death's door—"

Henry, laying in his bed, fading out of this world, bony hand reaching towards James. Henry's last word, whispering James's name.

"—about to drop dead—"

Fleamont holding his father's other hand with both of his. Henry's hand dropping down, limp. A rattling breath escaping his mouth as he died.

"—it's my affair!"

James hadn't really been close to anyone who had died before his grandfather. That was the first time death really touched on him. And now Remus stood there looking like—looking like he might—... Having something that pulled him into a terrifying state of bad health practically every month. Sirius telling James he knew what Remus had but unable to say what because—

He's dying.

James turned and stormed out of the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind him. He began running immediately, running from Remus, running from the images of his dead grandfather.

No.

He let out a gasp and then pumped his legs harder. A tear dripped down onto his cheek and he furiously wiped it away.

"James!" He ducked down a side corridor then realized it was Peter coming after him. "Jaaaaames!" James took in a deep breath, wiping his face once more, then stepped back out, nearly running into Peter. "Oh, there you are," Pete said. "You all right?"

"No," he said without even meaning to. "Are you?"

"Um—"

"I mean, you heard all that, right?" James waved his hand towards the direction of the bathroom. "He doesn't trust us."

Pete's eyes got huge. "What? No. I don't think that's what he meant. Remus—you know him, he's a really... private person."

James frowned at those words. "You're right," he said slowly, thoughts whirling madly in his head. "He is." He stepped back, taking his glasses off so he could rub at the lens. They weren't dirty but he needed to think and this helped. "Pete... your parents are named, um, Susan and... Cuthbert, right?"

"Huh?!" Peter looked at him as if he were crazy. "Yeah? What's that—"

"And Sirius's parents are Walburga and Orion..."

"Yeah."

"What are Remus's parents' names?"

Pete opened his mouth to answer then slowly closed it. "Um." James raised his eyebrows, waiting. "Um. I—I don't know."

"Me either. Where does Sirius live?'

"London."

"And you've been to my house, and you live in kinda near Wakefield."

"Uh-huh."

James cocked his head. "Where does Remus live?"

Peter smiled. "Wales."

"Yeah. Where in Wales?"

"Um."

"Wales is a pretty big place."

Peter scrunched his face up. "Um, he lives near, um... I—I don't know."

James sighed and put his glasses back on. "Neither do I. Have you ever even seen his parents?" Peter shook his head. "I've only ever seen his mother once and she acted as if we breached some sort of etiquette by saying hello!" He could still remember pulling his parents over to Remus and the small, nervous woman hugging him. How her smile faded as soon as James introduced himself, how her face got pinched when Euphemia Potter shook her hand. James had wondered at the time if Mrs. Lupin was a little racist, getting all tense because of interacting with an Indian woman, but now... he wasn't so sure.

"James, what are you getting at?" Peter whined, shifting from foot to foot, getting upset over all of this.

"Remus isn't just keeping his illness from us, he's keeping a lot from us. He never talks much about himself, or his past. I mean, we know he didn't have friends before school but... I mean... okay, not knowing his parents' name isn't the hugest of things but I don't even know where he might live! He hardly talked about anything he was really doing this summer, besides homework and that trip to the beach he took. He's... really secretive..." He folded his arms and hunched his shoulders forward. "D'you think he even really wants to be friends?"

"James!" Peter looked absolutely appalled. "Don't say things like that! Of course he wants to be friends. He just... has a harder time than the rest of us. I mean, you know how he was last year."

"Yeah, a year, a year of friendship and we don't really know a whole lot about him," James grumbled.

"We know plenty. His birthday is March tenth and—and he loves chocolate and—"

"Okay." James turned away from him. "We know some but not a ton and... I dunno it just feels like he's keeping a lot from us."

"You just want to know what he has. Like Sirius."

James opened his mouth to say, Sirius does know, then closed his mouth. "I dunno. I just wish he'd stop pushing us away. It's like he doesn't want us to care about him. He just shuts us out and..."

And it hurts.

He wasn't stupid enough to think his friends would share everything with him. Even what Sirius told him was select. But the way Remus acted, it was different.

"And never mind," he said raking his fingers through his hair. "I don't want to talk about it. Let's go do something." He walked off without looking back, knowing Peter would be following him. He paused so Pete could catch up and flung his arm across Pete's shoulder, pushing aside his irritation with Remus for the time being.

/\/\/\/\/\

Henry's coffin was open but as James approached it he still couldn't see Henry's face. "Grandpa?" he asked, going closer. The coffin suddenly looked too small. "Grandpa?" He reached the coffin and looked in. It wasn't his grandfather but Remus, dead. James reached in. "No. Remy, no!"

Suddenly Remus's eyes opened but they were white, as if he were still dead. His arm jerked and he grabbed James's hand, and began pulling him into the coffin which was no longer on display in the Potter's living room but in a grave. Dirt began raining down around them.

James woke up with a gasp. His blanket was wrapped around his legs from where he had been thrashing. He wiped his slightly sweaty face off then got out of bed, staggering to the bathroom to splash cold water. When he returned to the dorm Sirius was sitting up in James's bed. James climbed back in, and Sirius shut the curtains.

"Are you mad at him?" Sirius asked.

"That's what you want to ask?" James hissed out, yanking at the blankets to straighten them out. "Not, 'hey James you all right'? No it's Remus, it's always Remus."

"James—"

"If that's what you want to talk about go wake Peter up."

Sirius groaned as James flopped down, curling up, pulling the blanket up over his head. "James, stop being a jerk. You're my best friend." He took the blanket and pulled it down so James's head was exposed.

"What does he have?" he asked and when Sirius remained silent he sat up to face him. "What does he have? You said you know, you said—you said he'd be sick today and he is."

Sirius averted his gaze, or at least James thought he did; it was hard to tell in the dark and without his glasses. "I don't think I should tell you right now."

"Of course—"

"Not while you're mad at him!" Sirius snapped. He looked at the curtains then bent in even closer, dropping his voice. "I will tell you. I promise I will. But I don't want to do it right now."

"What, you think I'll go telling people?"

Sirius grunted. "No! You might be a jerk but you're not evil. I trust you. But I want to make sure you and Remus trust each other again before I tell you."

James glowered at him then lay back down. "Remus doesn't trust us, that's the thing."

"James—"

"He doesn't. I don't know if he even wants to be our friend."

He felt Sirius's hand on his shoulder. "He does," Sirius said. "He's just... going through... a lot of things right now. It—it will... make sense when... I explain things..."

"But you won't now."

Sirius sighed and lay down next to James. "No." James huffed, but didn't say anything else. "Want me to go to my bed?"

James thought about that for a second or two. "You can stay here, if you want." He opted not to tell Sirius he'd prefer it if Sirius stayed in his bed. Sirius rarely purposely shared a bed with James.

Sirius adjusted his position then tugged the blanket until it covered him too. "G'nite, Jimmy."

"Night." He into the darkness, listening as Sirius's breathing started slowing. His nightmare played over again, and he shuddered, clamping his mouth tight, gritting his teeth to try to push the visuals of a dead Remus out of his brain. It didn't work. He squeezed his eyes shut and then slowly exhaled. He was pretty sure Sirius was almost asleep but he couldn't help but whisper, "Is he dying?"

"Whuh was dat?" Sirius mumbled.

James pressed his face into his pillow. "Nothing."

He lay there, trying to go to sleep but everything kept buzzing around his head. Remus's illness, James's nightmare, Henry's passing... the possibility that Remus didn't even want to be friends at all.

Fine, he thought as he rolled over, facing Sirius. If Remus doesn't want us to care then I won't care.

He knew it wasn't true.

Knew he wouldn't stop caring about Remus.

But the only two routes he could see were either Remus didn't want to be friends, or Remus was dying, and they were both so overwhelmingly painful that all James wanted to do was shut everything out.

Shut it out, just like Remus shut everyone out.

James let out a shaky breath and rubbed his damp face against his pillow before trying to get to sleep.