Disclaimer: Everything here (besides the few things you don't know) belongs to JK Rowling, creator of the worlds of Harry Potter.
A/N: 299,445 words, 632 pages, 50 chapters, four years, two stories, one journey.
The Story of Four Friends was started back when I was still in high school, and a fanfiction newbie. The first version (I don't know if any of those reading it today, so many years later, have had the misfortune of having read it) was so bloody awful, that at long last it was pulled down and reconstructed – rewritten from top to bottom – three years ago (ironically, the way the Marauders met in my first version was much closer to JKR's version, but I had changed it since I thought it was rather ridiculous, seeing as Sirius was just eleven and constantly living under his mother's thumb).
The story survived over two or three hiatus periods, some intended, some not, and to those who had stuck through with it – thank you.
Though The Story of Four Friends (this was meant to be a temporary title, by the way) hadn't been my baby the same as Tale of a Time Long Gone had been, I'm still very proud of the result, and here's hoping you feel the same.
I hope you all enjoyed this work, and will be extremely grateful if you drop me a line and tell me how you feel about it.
This is the last chapter.
Chapter Fifty - Where Everything Ended
Remus' blood ran cold as he heard James' words. He had expected it, of course, but nothing had prepared him to actually hear it with his own ears. Sirius could not be allowed to be the Potters' Secret Keeper - not after everything Remus suspected he had done.
But how could he explain to James his reservations? He knew that Sirius had been systematically poisoning their friend's mind against Remus, telling him that he could not be trusted because of his affliction. After all, werewolves were dark - monsters that could not be controlled. And though Remus did not think James believed Sirius' accusations, that he still thought Remus a loyal friend, he could see the doubt sometimes creeping into James' eyes, before he would shake his head and smile again.
"I see," Dumbledore said gently, but Remus could hear the troubled tone in his voice. Apparently the young werewolf was not the only one to doubt the wisdom of that act. "Then I would suggest you would do so as soon as possible. Voldemort is already on your trail. His Death Eaters have spread far and wide, attempting to find you and lay their hands on you. I hear he offers great prizes for the one who captures you."
"We know that, Albus," Lily said bravely. "And we're not going to delay much longer. Just long enough to say goodbye and make our home ready for us to stay indoors for a long time. We are not rushing into it thoughtlessly."
"I know that, Lily," Dumbledore said heavily. "I only wish it could have been different."
"It was our choice," James said. "We took that risk when we decided to join. We knew it could happen. By Sunday, I promise you, we will be under the Fidelius. You won't hear from us until the threat is eliminated. He won't find us, Albus. Sirius is our most loyal friend. He would die before betraying us."
"It's true, Albus," Sirius' voice said reassuringly. "Even if they would torture me, I will not say a word. I will not reveal their location. They are my best friends, and I will not let harm reach them."
Oh, what hateful lies! Remus wanted to spit in Sirius' face and tell all those congregated in the room what a liar he was, what a spy, what a traitor. But he could not. It would only support Sirius' case against him. So he stayed silent and glared at Sirius as the bastard finished assuring Dumbledore of his loyalty. He glanced at Peter, the only person to believe his suspicions, and caught his eyes, hoping that perhaps he would come up with a way to convince Lily and James to change their minds and go with Dumbledore's suggestion.
Peter only shrugged helplessly, the expression on his face worried. Remus knew that salvation would not come from that direction, either. He wanted to punch something. Desperately.
"All right, then," Dumbledore said, getting up. "I suppose that my job here is done. Lily, James, I wish you the best of luck, and may we all meet together, in a few months, when it will be all over."
They all nodded gravely, the men shaking hands. Dumbledore turned to go, but before he could leave, Lily threw herself into his arms, tears on her face. The startled Headmaster of Hogwarts looked down at her. "Why, Lily, whatever is the matter?"
She sniffed, burying her face in his chest. "I just wanted to say goodbye properly. I'm afraid of what is to happen."
Her words chilled Remus to the bone. Did Lily fear the same thing he feared? Would she believe him if he told her his suspicions concerning Sirius?
But, no, for soon she continued, saying, "I know that Sirius would never betray us, but Voldemort has such horrible powers. What if he finds some Dark spell that will negate the Fidelius?"
Dumbledore sighed. "I don't think that will be possible, my dear, but either way, I suggest that you and James always be on guard, ready for such eventuality. We will meet again, my friend."
And with that, the only man Voldemort feared walked out of James and Lily's house, leaving the Marauders and Lily alone to contemplate what had come to pass.
Remus felt bitterly cold. Despite his best efforts to convince James that he would be much better suited for the job of Secret Keeping, despite the fact that even Dumbledore was not happy with the Potters' decision, despite everything, Sirius would be their Secret Keeper. Remus hoped against hope that he was wrong all along, that Sirius was not the traitor, but he knew better than that. His instincts were correct. As he left the house that night, once again exchanging worried glances with Peter, he had a feeling that this would not end well.
It was the final day before that fateful moment was scheduled to occur, and Remus was coming to bid his friends good luck. He planned his arrival to be during the late afternoon or early evening. Early enough to play a little with Harry, for whom he could not have cared more had he been his own son. He also did not wish to keep Lily and James awake. He knew only too well that the two only rarely got a good night's sleep these days. These were troubled times - especially for that couple - which was why the Fidelius spell was so sorely needed.
He was not sure why his heart was beating so heavily in his chest as he strode up the three steps leading to the balcony at the front of the house at Godric's Hollow, or why his feet almost refused to move. He made that walk often enough, but this time was different. He may not have known why, but it scared him. It scared him so much that he was afraid of knocking on the familiar door.
He stood there, in the cold, for several minutes, his hand held inches away from the wooden surface, poised to knock, frozen in place. He just could not do it. Something inside told him that there was a sense of dread in the air - as though things would never be the same again for him and for his friends. Somewhere in the back of his mind he nursed some demented idea that he could stop it from happening if he just would not come in.
Finally, knowing that Lily and James were waiting for him, he swallowed with difficulty and did that final step. The rap of his fingers on the door was hollow and for a second he shivered. It reminded him so much of the sound made by a coffin's door, slamming on its only occupant.
As the door opened, however, he was welcomed with the warmth and cheeriness that was the Potters' home. It was such a huge contrast to the bleakness outside that for a moment he stood at the entrance, dazed and disoriented.
"Moony!" James greeted delightedly, pulling Remus into a rough hug, then closing the door firmly behind them. "Lily and I were beginning to wonder whether you would come in or continue standing there like a petrified statue! Come in, come in!"
In seconds the frozen Remus was pulled into the house, kissed on the cheek by Lily, pushed into a softly padded armchair by a roaring fire and given a cup of freshly brewed tea.
"What has gotten you hesitating, Remus?" Lily asked curiously as she took a seat next to James on the sofa in front of him. "We saw you from the kitchen window, standing there as though you were hit by the full body-bind."
"I…" he did not know what to tell them. "I don't know. I suppose I was afraid to come in and… find you gone."
Lily and James exchanged glances and in a moment, Remus could see how much his two friends had changed in the past few months, ever since they were forced to go into even more intense hiding and rapidly change locations. He internally cursed Sirius for doing that to them. How could that man do that? Was he not their friends? He was James' best of friends… how could he be the traitor?
But Remus knew what he saw and knew he was not imagining things. It could only be Sirius. And they were putting their lives in his hands. Tomorrow night, in fact, their lives, and Harry's life, would depend on that traitor's good faith.
"You're being ridiculous, Moony," James said softly, though his face drawn and troubled. "He hasn't located us again as yet, and with the Fidelius cast tomorrow… I think it's just your regular paranoia speaking."
But Remus knew better than that, as did James. They both knew he was not just being paranoid, and that the Potters were in grave danger. Every single moment they continued to draw breath was an affront to Lord Voldemort. He could clearly see the strain on his friends.
James, always lean and athletic, was now so thin that Remus was sure he was not eating properly. There were dark stains underneath his eyes and, if Remus looked very carefully, he was obviously on edge. He hated being confined. James loved the big outdoors, adoring more than anything to take on his animagus form and running wild for hours. He loved being in the air, flying as though he had no care in the world. It all came to an end when the Spy made it impossible for him and Lily to settle quietly in one place. Remus could not remember the last time his friend had been outside for more than five minutes. James was choking, and there was nothing any of them could do to help him.
And Lily… the beautiful and fiery girl he had known since first year at Hogwarts was still there, but now she looked tired and drawn, just like her husband, her smile just a little strained. She, too, was too thin and pale, and looking as though she had not gotten a lot of sleep lately. Her smile brightened a little, however, when a small hand clutched at one of the legs of her worn jeans and a toothy smile greeted her, accompanied by bright green eyes that looked at her adoringly.
"Oh," she said, a little surprised. "Didn't I put you in the playpen, angel?"
James laughed - a true, pure sound that Remus missed terribly. "That boy's been able to get out of the playpen for the past six months. It's driving Lily crazy. And he's already tried flying the other day."
"Flying?" Remus asked, alarmed. Surely James was not as foolish as to leave his broom in the open!
"Yes," Lily said dryly, picking her son up and putting him on her knees as he giggled and tried reaching for one of her red locks. "From the top of the stairs. Luckily enough he somehow got to the bottom without a scratch on him and then had the nerve to glare at me when I scolded him."
"Did he tell you why he did it?" Remus asked curiously, knowing that despite the fact that Harry was only a year and several months old, he was extremely developed as far as speaking was concerned, and could convey with a few babbled, malformed words why he thought whatever mischief he had performed to be well-justified. A Marauder's son through and through.
"He said he wanted to see what it was like to be a bird," James grinned. "He's convinced that before he reached the floor he managed to fly several feet. He was really upset at his Mummy for not letting him try it again. She almost went berserk."
Remus could imagine that. "Can I hold him?" he asked plaintively. "You didn't really think I came all this way to visit you, now did you?"
His friends laughed at this, and Lily got up, handing Harry to him. The child giggled again. "Moo-y!" he cried.
"I missed you, Harry," he said in a very serious voice - right before he started tickling his sort-of nephew for all he was worth.
They spent almost an hour in that warm room, Remus lavishing Harry with attention while speaking to the boy's parents of everyday matters. None of them wanted to talk about the danger that surrounded their lives ever since leaving Hogwarts. None of them wanted to mention that every moment without the cover of the Fidelius, Lily and James' lives were in danger of ending quite abruptly.
Instead, they brought up memories of Hogwarts, of the rivalry between Lily and James that had turned into friendship and then into love, of pranks pulled and teachers stumped. For some reason, it made Remus ache even more. It sounded to much like a final goodbye to him. But it could not be goodbye. Goodbye was something that happened when you were old and wrinkly, when your friends came to bid you farewell because you were old and it was your time to go. They were only at the start of their twenties. They could not be saying goodbye.
When he had arrived, Remus had been reluctant to enter the house. Now he did not want to leave. He had the worst feeling about leaving his friends' house. He stalled that moment of leaving until he saw that Lily and James both had trouble to keep their eyes open and the conversation lively. It was then that he knew he had to go.
He sighed. "I suppose I'd better go soon. You both look like you need a good night's rest - and I'm sure that Harry would appreciate waking up in bed and not on the floor." He softly smiled in the direction of the tiny figure sleeping on the hearthrug in front of the merrily crackling fire, curled up around his stuffed hippogriff that looked about to protest violently.
He looked expectantly at his friends, searching for signs of nervousness or fear as they so clearly knew that they were trusting their lives into the hands of someone else in the most dangerous of ways. He found nothing. They appeared determined to go through with it, believing the Fidelius to be their last chance of giving their child an even semi-normal life for a little while. He so fervently wished there was something he could do to convince them to change their minds, but if even the great Albus Dumbledore could not do that…
"We'll see you in a little while, Remus," Lily said with a tired, but bright smile. "It can't last for much longer - this has to end at some point. We will be safe. Sirius would never fail us. You know that, don't you?"
"Of… of course," he muttered, battling with himself to say what he really wanted to say. That Sirius was the spy they all knew existed, that if they trust their lives into his hands, he will never see them again - not in a few months. Not ever. He just knew that the moment Sirius would have Lily, James and Harry under the Fidelius Charm he would go straight to Voldemort and hand the secret over. He just knew it, and the werewolf had learned long ago to trust his instincts.
If only they had warned him when they first befriended Sirius. But, then again, he should have known. Once a Black, always a Black - with his heart as dark as pitch.
"Come now, Moony," James said lightly from his seat by the fireplace. "You cannot possibly suggest that Sirius would reveal the secret under torture. He is stronger than that - we both know that."
"Not under torture," Remus muttered to himself so that neither James nor Lily could hear him. What he said, however, as firmly as he could, was, "Of course not, Prongs. I would never suggest such a thing. But now, the hour is getting late, and you must preserve your strength. And now, I should leave."
"Oh, but Remus…" Lily said uncertainly, though he could see she was on the verge of exhaustion, as was James.
"No," he said gently. "You are my friends, Lily. You don't have to pretend for my sake. I can see you are on the verge of collapsing, and Harry does need his parents, don't you think?"
She smiled and James nodded.
"Very well, Moony. Then we will allow you to escape our clutches," his messy-haired friend said lightly and got up to his feet.
They embraced warmly and then Remus bent to kiss Lily's cheek.
"Say goodbye to little Harry for me, eh?" he said softly and looked at the two of them fondly.
"Of course, Moo-y," James sniggered, imitating his son's way of calling his werewolf 'uncle'. "The little brat has the lot of you wrapped around his little finger."
"Naturally, with him being the first second generation Marauder," Remus said mischievously, glancing pointedly at Lily, who huffed.
"My son will not be the troublemaker his father and uncles are," she said decisively. "He will be a good boy, a Prefect and then Head Boy."
"Ah, but my darling Lily," James said, suddenly looking like his old self again, shedding tiredness off, "I was Head Boy and Moony here was Prefect. Don't you forget that!"
She looked mildly put-off, but then smiled again. "He will still be a good boy."
Remus laughed. "With you two as parents - how could he not be?"
And with that he waved them goodbye and left the house. However, his light-heartedness only lasted as far as the garden gate. As he closed it, he glanced behind his shoulder to see the light from the house's windows glowing like gems in the dark. And then, for just a moment, his imagination coloured those lights red, as though dipped in fire.
Deep in his heart, he felt as though he would never see his friends again.
It was the last time he saw Lily and James alive.
The next day James sent him an owl reporting that the Fidelius Charm had been cast and that if Sirius will manage pulling Voldemort and his minions away from them, then in a few months he would reveal to Remus the location of their hiding so that he would be able to see the house he knew was there, and they will all be able to meet again.
That was the last contact he had from his best of friends.
Late at night on Hollowe'en, a long time after the sounds of parties had faded, Remus Lupin finally managed to fall asleep after a long, exhausting week. Even though he knew that James, Lily and Harry were still safe under the Fidelius Charm, for he had not heard anything from them or about them, he could not help but be uneasy. They had never determined who was the spy, and since he knew it was not him, his suspicions, as unfounded as they may have been, were still pointed at Sirius, who, he was sure, was yet to show his true colours. Therefore, that night as he fell into deep slumber, his sleep was punctuated by bad dreams.
In his dreams Remus Lupin did not see his best friend's defiant last stand against Voldemort, did not hear James' last words as he attempted to block the Dark Lord, attempted to save his beloved wife and precious son, knowing they had been betrayed.
In his dreams Remus Lupin did not see the woman he had considered a great friend scream for mercy as the man who had just murdered her husband towered over her, did not hear Lily's pleas to be taken instead of her son, did not see her drop, still trying to shelter her child as the curse hit her.
In his dreams Remus Lupin did not see little Harry stare up at those monstrous eyes, crying for his mother to take the scary man away, did not see the ray of green light hit the child's little forehead.
In his dreams Remus Lupin saw none of that, but when he woke up to the sound of impatient knocking on his room's door early the next morning, he knew what had happened. He knew they had all been betrayed.
And so, on the next full moon, a lonely wolf howled for the moon, mourning Wormtail, mourning Padfoot and mourning Prongs, mourning that friendship, which was forever lost, brought to its swift end by an uncaring world.
On the night of Hollowe'en, October 31st, 1981, the fellowship of the Marauders was broken.
On the afternoon of November 1st, Sirius Black was taken in by a special team of Aurors, who had later on said he had laughed like a lunatic the entire time.
On the morning of November 2nd, Sirius Black was thrown into Azkaban without trial under the charges of spying for Voldemort, and killing twelve Muggles and a wizard, Peter Pettigrew. Among the charges there was one secret paragraph, proclaiming him guilty of betraying Lily and James Potter to their deaths.
On December 9th, Keira Palmer's mangled, tortured body was found by Alice and Frank Longbottom, a short distance north of Bristol, where she had last been seen. She was hardly recognizable and post mortem report declared her dead for over two months, her time of death corresponding with the time Sirius had said to have left her. For years I had counted her death among the endless list of his sins. We never found out who had killed her.
A few months later, Frank and Alice were tortured into insanity, leaving their young son in the care of Frank's stern mother.
The old saying goes, 'The greater they are, the harder they fall.' And we fell. We fell long and hard. Of the nine young people who had left Hogwarts only three years before, four remained.
After the funerals I had lost contact with the twins and Haley, opting to repress all my memories of those days. Only almost eleven years later, a letter from one, Rubeus Hagrid, prompted me into bringing back those painful recollections. As I went through the box of Hogwarts photos that was hidden for all those years at the very back of my parents' dusty attic, thinking what pictures I should send back via owl to Hagrid, my memory fooled me with sights and sounds long since thought forgotten. I ended up sending a hefty package back to Hagrid, knowing Harry would find more use in them than I did. I had my memories. He had none.
Among the pictures I did not send, there was one taken late into our seventh year. I don't know why I did not send it. But then, I don't even know why I kept it. After all, I had destroyed so many of the pictures with his face on them long ago. It was a picture of the four of us. A picture of the Marauders. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs. So young and naïve. We were so innocent.
Before our great fall.
Now, as I watch the faces of Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione, I see little of that innocence we had. Though the two generations' circumstances are uncannily similar, Harry, being Harry, had lost all trace of his innocence long ago, and maybe never had any at all, and his friends, following faithfully in his footsteps, could not have retained it for much longer.
After winning her fight against the disease that had plagued most of her youth, Wren Carn had started her studies of healing. Today she is married with two children, of whom the first is about to enter Hogwarts. She is the Head Healer of the Spell Damage Department at St Mungo's. I see her every now and then these days, with all those mandatory visits to wounded Order members.
Rowena Carn, the beauty of our year, had left the Wizarding World following Lily and James' deaths and the finding of Keira's body, opting to search for places where not everything reminded her of the friends she had lost. I met her once, two years ago, while she was visiting Wren at the hospital. She is still as beautiful as I remembered, though older. She married a Muggle lawyer a few years back and now has a young child. She said that they don't know if he's magic or not yet, and that she dreaded to think what would happen if he is, what with the war and Voldemort on the rampage again.
Haley Banks is still out there. I have recently heard that she is in the running for the heading of her section in the Department of Magical Games and Sports at the Ministry, and though I have often been to the Ministry in recent years, I have yet to have seen her. She is, currently, unmarried.
And as for me? I'm still out there as well, still ready to continue the fight. Of late, I am constantly reminded of what James had told me all those years ago. "Always own up to your actions," he had said. And I do, James. Dear Merlin, I do.
I will not fail Harry as I have failed you, and Lily, and Sirius. I will be by his side for as long as I can. I will not repeat the mistakes of the past.
This is my promise to you all, my dearest friends, a promise I will not break.
This is Remus John Lupin, and here my story, their story, ends.
((Takes a deep breath)) wow. I can't believe it's really over. Three years ago, when I posted the first chapter of the new version, I was determined for it to be 50 chapters long (I'm a fan of round numbers – those of you who read Tale of a Time Long Gone will note that it was 30 chapters long, not including Prologue and Epilogue – as well as of symmetry). Over the past year there were times I was sure this was doomed to be a failure – like many abandoned stories in the fandom – but I did it! I succeeded in my self-bestowed mission!
Now, this may sound like a cliché, but I couldn't have done it without you – yes, all you readers who took your time and gave this story a chance. If it was well worth it for you – then this story succeeded in what I set out to do.
-Star of the North