AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is my second HP fic and was started before I read 'Order of the Phoenix' but wasn't finished until after JKR had blown my image of the Gryffindor Four out of the water. I finished this story and will probably write its sequel, but another fanfic idea has come of the depiction of the Gryffindor Four from 'OotP' and I've got notes down for that.
Marauding: Night Moves
The evening air bit deeply into the three young men under the cover of the Invisibility Cloak.
It was both the easiest and hardest to come out and play on these crisp winter nights. On one hand, the urge to warmly slumber in one's own bed was a powerful incentive to stay inside. On the other, for James Potter, there was nothing like the exhilarating joy of running through the cold night, the chill air brushing by his flanks as he galloped through the Forbidden Forest with his friends by his side.
As they hurried along the northern edge of the school building, Sirius and James shortening their steps so Peter could keep up with them, James tried to control the frisson of excitement that gathered in his belly at the prospect of another night out on the prowl.
It had only been six months since they'd all mastered the Animagus spell and the excitement of having mastered such powerful magic – and being able to accompany Remus on nights like these – was still stronger in his mind than the fear of the possible consequences of being caught out. There might be a time in the future when the part of him that reminded him to be responsible would triumph the part of him that enjoyed the thrill of these nights out; but it would not be tonight.
On cue, when they reached the western corner, they hesitated a moment to listen out for anything unusual. Although it was unlikely that they'd meet other students out here, it had nearly happened once before and the Invisibility Cloak was no proof against someone bumping into you. However, they'd done this often enough to know how to get to their destination without a whispered conference about who was going which way.
Admittedly, it was slightly harder now than it used to be. Both James and Sirius had experienced growth spurts in the last few months and they towered above tiny Peter. There were moments when Peter despaired of ever growing taller than he already was. His friends usually pointed out that some boys didn't get their growth spurt until they were seventeen or eighteen – and then it usually made up for what they'd lacked all those years.
Frankly, it didn't matter to James how small Peter was – Pete was a friend and that was what counted.
So both Sirius and James adjusted their gaits to match Peter's and they managed.
The wind hissed around them, a sibilant whispering that filtered through the cloak like the muted voices of the dead.
They paused at the corner of the building, listening for anything other than the regular sounds of the night. In spite of the Invisibility Cloak, James felt there was no reason to risk taking the most open route unless they were in a significant hurry. Since it was his Invisibility Cloak, he prevailed.
A nod from James in the middle and they stepped away from the covering shelter of the ancient school buildings and down across the snow, trying hard not to leave deep footprints behind them. Invisibility was not the same as intangibility and while they couldn't avoid the traces of their passage, they could minimise the evidence. While Assistant Groundskeeper Hagrid might be willing to overlook students wandering around (unless they were putting themselves in danger), Groundskeeper Velcher wouldn't.
They reached the fringes of the Forbidden Forest, halting amidst the scrubby brush that denoted the edge of the woods. Then, as one, they turned and began their movement towards the Whomping Willow.
It was harder to keep silent here in the forest, but it was also less necessary to maintain silence. Nobody expected students to be out in the Forbidden Forest.
And then they reached the clearing with the Whomping Willow.
It creaked out in the bitter wind, frosty branches hanging limply down. At this distance it was innocuous, ordinary, nothing more than a tree.
The trio knew better.
Here, the Invisibility Cloak was flung off and neatly folded up and tucked under a skeletal bush. They'd need it when their marauding was done and they had to get back to the castle, but there would be nobody to see them out here when the moon was full – especially not when the inhabitants of the forest knew there was a werewolf around.
They glanced at each other, prepared to become their animal alter egos.
"So this is what you do with yourselves when the moon is full."
The voice was coolly amused and distinctly feminine.
They whirled towards the voice, James and Sirius fluidly pulling their wands out to point at the girl who stood, slender and motionless against the nearby tree. Peter fumbled momentarily with his, but finally got it out and aimed at her.
She made no movement at all, the oval of her face pale beneath the cloak and hood she wore. "Good evening, gentlemen." If she was in any way alarmed by the fact that three wizards had their wands pointed at directly at her, there was no sign of it in her demeanour. Instead, dark humour gleamed in shadowy eyes as her gaze flickered from boy to boy.
"What are you doing out here tonight?" Sirius grated.
"What are you?" Lily Evans responded, tilting her head to one side. Beneath the shadow of her hood, red hair glinted. A faint smile played on her lips as she shifted with casual indifference to the implicit threat of spell casting. "James Potter, Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew... Yet no sign of the fourth member of the Gryffindor four?"
They exchanged quick, furtive glances with each other. "He's gone to see his grandmother," James said shortly.
Silently, he was cursing himself for becoming complacent. They'd gotten so used to sneaking out and never being caught that they'd stopped taking the map with them once they got outside the school.
"Ah," her tone of voice made it fairly clear she wasn't buying it for an instant. "So you three thought you'd come out for some fun on a clear winter's night...?"
"We're obviously not the only ones who thought of the idea," James said pointedly. He didn't know Lily Evans all that well in all of their four years at Hogwarts, but he'd never envisioned her as the actively rule-breaking type.
"What are you going to do, Evans?" Trust Sirius to take the offensive.
"What do you expect me to do?" Lily countered. "We're all in breach of school rules..."
"As if a Slytherin cared about rules," Sirius spat.
"Sirius," James said warningly. As Slytherins went, Lily was one of the better ones – at least from James' point of view. It probably helped that in spite of repeated attempts by Snape and the kids he hung about with to draw her into their midst, she'd stayed aloof and apart from any 'gangs', Slytherin or otherwise.
"No, he's quite right, James. We Slytherins tend to care for the rules about as much as Gryffindors." Green eyes slanted wickedly towards the bristling Sirius.
"You could say that we have more to lose," James pointed out. "Three Gryffindors out of their dorms after dark will involve a greater penalty than one Slytherin."
"That's assuming I want to be caught at all," she countered. "Or that I want to play 'tattletale'. Neither is to my liking."
"So...what? We forget we saw you and you forget you saw us?"
A quirk of the lips indicated that she had no intention of forgetting. "Not quite. Fabicini gave me extra homework in Arithmancy and I need help with it." Her head tilted just a little. "Fabicini raves about the great James Potter's skill in Arithmancy, so if you help me with my homework, Potter, I'll forget I ever saw you and out here." She lifted her chin a little, giving him a very direct and open gaze. "I expect you to do the same, of course."
It was a fair deal, James decided. Arithmancy was hardly his worst subject and while it might be a chore to help Lily out with her homework, the plus side was that they all got to keep their secrets.
He glanced at Peter who looked slightly worried but indicated it was James' decision. Sirius rolled his eyes and shrugged.
"Okay," James told her.
She smiled. "Thank you." There was the slightest hint of relief about her – as if she hadn't been sure whether they would choose to tell or not. While Gryffindor had more to lose from their tattling, James guessed that she'd lose something more precious to her than mere House points. Exactly what, he wasn't sure. Freedom, maybe?
He was given no time to muse on her motives. She inclined her head to the three boys and pulled her cloak around her. "Have a good evening, Potter, Black, Pettigrew..."
And she vanished into the darkness of the forest.
Peter expelled a breath. "I don't like this," he said, worriedly. "We've been taking too many risks lately..."
"Wormtail, risks are what make life interesting," Sirius declared. "Although I'm with you on the first point: I don't like this." He narrowed his eyes at James. "Was it just me or was that too easy?"
"It was too easy." James was staring at the patch of wood where Lily Evans had disappeared, as if his human vision would suddenly become stag vision – filled with not only the sights of the world around him, but also the scents.
"Maybe we should cancel tonight..." Pete looked nervous and James didn't blame him. It would be too easy for Lily to hang around here, watch them take their Animagus forms and have something else to use against them. And it was one thing to be leaving the castle at night, quite another to be attempting complex wizardries such as the Animagus spells – and that to frolic with a werewolf. The first was only against school rules – the second was against wizarding rules.
Sirius' eyes narrowed as he looked from Peter's worried face to James' more cautious one. "Are you chickening out on us, Peter?"
"No, but...but it doesn't seem like such a good idea now that she knows we're out here..."
"And I don't think it's such a good idea for us to just go back to bed," Sirius argued. "We've come all the way out here, Moony is waiting for us, it's a perfect winter's night..."
"But if we get caught..." Peter's hands were twisting around each other, clutching nervously at his sleeves.
"James?" Sirius didn't even look at him.
"I see no problem with playing," James said after a moment. "But I do agree with Peter: how do we know she's not spying on us?"
Sirius scowled, before his face cleared and he held up one hand. "Wait." And in the blink of an eye, he took on his Animagus form.
It never ceased to amaze James how smoothly Sirius transformed – as neat a transition from boy to animal as he'd ever seen – even by their Transfiguration professors. Padfoot sat back on his haunches for a moment and glanced around, sniffing the air. He tilted his head slightly, listening for something in the sounds of the night.
Then he loped off in the direction Lily had taken.
"Do you think he'll find anything?" Peter asked.
"Dunno." James waited, listening for the sound of Padfoot's tread on the icy ground. If Padfoot came back with the all clear, then they'd go out to play. If not, then they'd have to disappoint Moony tonight.
Crunch. There it was. Crunch. A moment later, the black canine slunk into the clearing. It trotted up to the two boys and looked up at them, tilting its head in a thoughtful manner and scratching behind his ears with one paw in a show of doggy nonchalance.
James raised an eyebrow at Peter. "Guess we're good to go."
Peter looked less than happy, but he wasn't about to head back up to the castle by himself – and he wasn't about to miss out on a night of freedom.
Sirius was the risk-taker out of the lot of them. James was a step or two behind him, but he knew the difference between a calculated risk and a foolish one – a distinction that Sirius seemed to frequently miss. Remus was the reasonable one of the quartet, advising caution more often then chaos – although he loved a good fight as much as anything else; and Pete tended to bring up the rear with tentative enthusiasm for the Marauder's more risky escapades.
James didn't blame Pete for being cautious. Without Sirius' or James' swift-thinking, sweet-talking, and general charming abilities to extricate him from trouble, risk-taking usually ended up with Peter Pettigrew in over his head.
Of course that had all changed since Pete became part of their gang.
He waited for Pete to transform, ready to help out if something went wrong. Pete's transformation was nowhere near as fluid as Sirius'. It was slower, more obvious. Sometimes James fancied that he could actually see the hair growing on Pete's skin as the transformation took place. That was slow.
This time, at least, Peter made the transition with no trouble. He was getting better after six months of practise, but he had a while to go before he reached Sirius' degree of skill. Training and practise were the key things.
Once Peter had safely changed, James took a deep breath and concentrated...
The world around him swirled in a second's worth of light and sound and sensation, all mixed together in bizarre melange before settling down to a single view of the world, strangely bulbous, and with a lot more periphery than human vision.
There was always a moment of uncertainty in the change. A moment when James' brain told him he was human while his body screamed that he was stag. The first time, it had been nearly a minute before his mind accepted that his body was no longer human and he felt like he dared move. As time went on and he grew more practised at the change, the new form settled upon him more swiftly. Now the uncertainty was nothing more than a moment's discomfort as the last remnants of the change settled around him - the adjustment to being a stag and knowing what to do with all these new muscles and organs.
He moved experimentally, checking that everything was in working order – and it was. A moment later, he saw Wormtail streaking out across the frozen ground to touch the knob on the Whomping Willow – the knob that would render the tree inert.
Prongs couldn't fit in the tunnel under the Whomping Willow, so he usually waited for Wormtail and Padfoot to get Moony out of the Shrieking Shack before they'd set out on their nightly romps.
Tonight was no different.
Within minutes, Moony was collected, the lean, shabby lines of his body emerging from beneath the Whomping Willow's roots. He slunk out from under the trailing canopy of willow withies and, a moment later, Padfoot and Wormtail joined him, Wormtail clinging to the shaggy mane at Padfoot's nape.
And then the run began.
There were nights where they split up into pairs, competing against each other to gain points, and there were nights where they ran together as a pack.
Tonight was just the running.
As they galloped, loped, and scuttled through the forest, there were no signs of centaurs or other arcane creatures. There weren't many beasts – magical or otherwise - that were willing to tangle with a werewolf and its companions, and the centaurs kept out of this stretch of the woods.
Which was, Prongs thought as he leapt over a fallen tree, just as well.
Under his hooves, he could feel the crisp crystals of snow, hard-packed over the soft leaf mulch of the forest floor. The wind rushed past his flanks, stirring the short hairs on his pelt. He felt the stretch of his neck muscles as he leaned forward, the better to see what was coming ahead of him...
There was a freedom in their monthly mauraudings, a delight in the chase and in the wild run through the Forbidden Forest. They were running in out-of-bounds areas, roaming through the forest, yet still they carried the knowledge and awareness that they were more – that there was a life beyond the hunt and the chase, a life of things that animals had no need of and didn't care for.
Sometimes James envied the freedom of 'Prongs' – not that he felt all that trapped in his life. He was young, generally considered good-looking, he could have his pick of the girls from Gryffindor – and most of the girls in the other Houses besides and he was the Gryffindor Quidditch team's star Seeker. His life was good.
It was simply that 'Prongs' could forget about the troubles of the world for a while and just run without thinking, with the night as a cloak and his friends as companions.
Another clearing gave them a moment to pause, to scent and feel and sense the world about them...
And then Moony howled.
And was gone.
Prongs was after him in a flash – his friend had scented something on the breeze – something that had brought him to the hunt. When around other animals in his werewolf form, Moony was like any wolf – prudent, playful, cautious, and definite. While among humans when in his werewolf form, Moony was a savage beast – the kind of wolf of which nightmares were made.
And there was a human out in the Forbidden Forest tonight.
The part of Prongs that was still James Potter cursed as dappled moonlight glinted brightly over someone's hair as the human standing on the far hill turned to look across at the two creatures galloping towards her.
Her judgement wasn't impaired by the night – she saw and understood her danger almost instantly. And then she ran.
There was no time for thought, no time to do anything but run harder, knowing as he did so that a life hung in the balance – one way or the other.
Remus had no security, no safety. He was what he was – what he'd been since he was bitten by a werewolf when he was five. It was a horrible thing to happen to any person – not merely because of the transformation that came every month, but also because it meant that you would never be trusted anywhere – that your behaviour and actions would never be fully accepted by most people merely because you were a werewolf.
And if Lily Evans didn't end up dead, she'd become a werewolf – with all the attendant horror that Remus endured.
James wouldn't wish that on anyone.
So he raced Moony, gaining on the werewolf on the flat open stretch through the forest, knowing that his advantage would be lost when they reached the hill. The thunder of his hooves across the frozen ground reverberated up his legs and into his body. Prongs felt the earth like a living thing, undulating beneath him as he traversed it.
He reached Moony just before the hill and passed the wolf, taking the slope all the way up to the ridge where he turned and met the wolf coming up the hill – just behind him.
Prongs was in no danger from Moony – but he recognised the danger of the werewolf – and how to neutralise it. He and Padfoot had discussed this possibility many times – how they would react, what they would do, how they could prevent anyone else from being injured by Moony's madness.
As he bent down, using his horns to drive the enraged werewolf away from his quarry, Prongs saw the black shape of Padfoot loping up the hill, a small grey-brown rodent clinging desperately to the long fur. In your own sweet time, Padfoot!
As the huge dog reached the wolf, he grabbed the beast by the scruff of the neck, dragging him away from the direction in which the girl had run. The rat perched precariously on his neck squeaked as the movement dislodged him to the ground and he scuttled away from them to avoid being trampled under wolf, dog, and stag.
Moony was furious at being deprived of his quarry. He snapped and snarled at the stag standing between him and his prey, and growled when Padfoot tried to herd him away.
Slowly, and not without some effort, the two larger creatures drove Moony back down the slope, following his dodges, blocking his attempts to get by them. Inch by inch, they pushed him back, snarling, poking, squeaking.
Then Padfoot leapt, taking Moony down. He pinned the werewolf with his larger, heavier frame, and a moment later, Wormtail leapt onto Moony's back and climbed up between the pointed ears, squeaking madly.
If Prongs could have smiled, he would. With the girl out of the picture and Wormtail perched in Moony's fur, Moony was losing the werewolf madness. As long as they didn't run across the girl again, he'd be fine.
The only question was whether they would run across her again. She was somewhere out in the Forbidden Forest – a place that was hardly safe for normal animals, let alone humans.
Padfoot was looking at him and Prongs tossed his head in the rough direction of the Whomping Willow. Fun's over for the night. Take him home.
The long pink tongue flipped back up into the muzzle and the giant dog rolled off the werewolf with a sequence of barks and yips. A slow growl from the werewolf resulted in a squeak from the rat and an answering growl from Padfoot.
Prongs just watched, waiting to see that the other two Animagi had Moony under control. When he was satisfied they did and the trio were heading back to the willow, he turned and headed back to look for the human.
Her scent was quite clear in the evening air, the stain of terror marking it loudly in his olfactory senses. Prongs galloped along, following it, even as he revelled in the freedom of the run.
There was a point where Prongs was so involved in the run that he didn't even notice that the scent was no longer there. Slowly, he retraced his footsteps until he found the scent again – ending at a tree - no other sign of her. Puzzled, he walked around for a moment. People didn't just vanish into thin air. Then he looked up and found himself being scrutinised by wary green eyes.
She had somehow climbed into a tree, although how she'd managed to reach the first branch up, Prongs didn't know. Wedged into the joint between trunk and branch, she stared down at him.
As he stepped back from the tree, Prongs considered that climbing the tree wasn't a bad move. If Moony had continued to chase her and she'd managed to get up the tree in time, then the werewolf would have slavered and snarled, but wouldn't have been able to reach her.
Now, how to convince her he was safe and that she was in no danger?
A part of him sighed. He'd given up one secret tonight already – their out-of-school jaunts. He didn't really want to give up this second secret – especially not to her. It was one thing to admit to being out of bed in the middle of the night. Admission of being an Animagus was a different league of secret.
But he stood under the tree, head raised to look at her skinny form amidst the cold wood of the bark, and she stared back at him, wary as any wild creature frightened.
James sighed and changed back to human form in the blink of an eye. His glasses had slipped down his nose and he pushed them back up as he looked into the tree, part of him pleased to see her jaw hanging wide open at his transformation. "Hey."
She didn't say anything, just stared at him as if he were some weird creature that Assistant Groundskeeper Hagrid had just brought in to show the Gryffindors during their Care for Magical Creatures lessons.
It was really quite awkward to stand on the ground and return her stare. Impatience followed swiftly on the heels of expectancy. "You can come down now."
"Is it gone?" She asked, warily. It took him a moment to realise that her wariness was not a general fear of the werewolf, but a fear of him – fear that he was leading her into a trap
Impatience fuelled anger. "What do you take me for, Evans?"
"That was a werewolf," she said, unnecessarily.
"You were with it."
"That's Remus Lupin, isn't it?"
He felt like he was facing a firing squad of sorts. She aimed the questions with remarkable accuracy and each one was a direct hit.
James tried evasion. "Look, you can't stay up there all night."
"It is, isn't it?"
It. James felt a burst of irritation with the girl. His friend was not an 'it' – even in werewolf form. "Yes," he snapped. "Remus is a werewolf."
"Then maybe I don't want to get down," she snapped back, refusing to take his attitude. "You were running around with it!"
This was not the time to hold an in-depth conversation about the dehumanisation of werewolves. Although he was sorely tempted just to turn around and walk away. She'd already caused enough trouble for them tonight – and yet that was nothing compared to the potential trouble she could cause if she let slip Remus' secret.
It was for his friend's sake that James held onto the shreds of his temper and just said, "Are you going to stay up there all night? Because if so, then I'll just head back..."
She looked at him for a long hard moment and there was an instant when he really thought she was just going to stay up there...
Then she took her wand out from beneath her cloak and waved it through the air, whispering something as she did so. James couldn't hear what she'd said, but he saw the results quite clearly. Lily hopped off the branch and into thin air and began to float down to the ground with all the elegance of old-fashioned gentry stepping down from a carriage.
Even as his mind registered that she must have used a Feather-Light charm, another part of him snorted in derision at her overdone elegance as her feet settled on the ground.
If she particularly cared that she had an audience, she dusted herself off with a complete lack of self-consciousness. "It's going to take a while to walk back." Then she looked at James, her tone of voice making it clear she expected him to do something about their situation.
A situation which she had brought upon herself. Creeping around outside the castle on the night of the full moon was just asking for trouble!
The fact that James and his friends also had been 'creeping around' outside the castle on the night of the full moon was easily dismissed in James' mind. They knew the dangers and concerns of the forest. This upstart Slytherin didn't!
"So what do you expect me to do?"
His defensiveness sparked something in her, "Nothing. I'm just noting that it's a long walk back to the school."
James did the mental calculations on how long they'd been out there and realised it would be a long walk back to the school – at least an hour.
It hadn't taken the boys quite as long – but then animals could always run faster than humans.
Animals can run faster...
He looked at her, judging the size and weight of her by sight alone. Then, dissatisfied with his estimates, he approached her cautiously, well aware that she was pretty good when it came to casting charms and could very well spell him with boils if she didn't like what he was about to do.
"Don't take this personally but..." He slipped one arm around her back and the other under her knees and hefted her in his arms. She inhaled sharply and her arm quickly slid over his shoulders for balance, but she didn't otherwise say anything.
Something in James registered that, as girls went, Lily Evans wasn't the worst.
Of course, considering how much trouble she'd caused him and his friends tonight, she wasn't exactly the best, either.
"Very romantic," she said briskly. Even in the dappled moonlight, James could see the dark flush staining her cheeks – a flush his own cheeks were matching. "Does this have a purpose?"
He put her down, wiping his hands on his jeans and wondering why his palms were sweaty. "Have you ever ridden a horse before?"
"Where are you going to get...?" Lily's eyes widened. "You want me to ride on your back?"
"Yeah. Look, you should be okay if you sit on my back between my front and back legs and hold onto my neck. It won't be the most comfortable ride you've ever had, but it'll be faster than walking."
She eyed him cautiously. "Are you sure?"
"It's either that or a long walk back."
Lily still didn't seem convinced and James scowled. "Look, you got us into this trouble by running around the forest..."
"I was safe!"
"Safe?" James snapped, his temper getting the better of him, "In the Forbidden Forest?"
"Hey!" Lily objected, loudly, "I never encountered any problems before!"
"That was before there was a werewolf running around these parts!" James didn't know if he was more furious with her for putting herself in danger, or with him for being part of the reason she'd been in danger.
"Yes and who let the werewolf out in the first place?" Right now, she didn't seem too repulsed by the news that Remus was a werewolf. That would probably change. "Besides which, you're a blooming Animagus! And unregistered! Do you know the kind of trouble you could get into?"
"And I'm sure you're one to always follow the rules!" James gestured at the Forest around them, indicating that if she followed rules, then she certainly wasn't doing a very good job of it right now. And before they could get into another argument he held up his hands. "Look, I'm offering you a faster way to get back to the school. You can take it, or you can walk back – by yourself, I might add, because I'm not going to walk back with you."
For a moment, he really thought she might decide to walk rather than spend another moment in his presence.
Then she huffed, her breath condensing in the chill air before her face like dragon smoke. "All right. I just don't know how this is going to work..."
James didn't either.
It took them a few tries to get it right.
Transforming into a stag was easy. It was her actually climbing onto his back that caused trouble. And then, when she was on his back, her weight kept throwing him off. They couldn't get much further than a couple of steps before one or the other wobbled.
Finally, he transformed back. "This isn't going to work."
She frowned, looking for a solution. Then she glanced at him. "If it's my weight that's causing a problem, I can do the Feather-Light charm on myself again. The only thing is that it wears off after about twenty minutes. I haven't yet learned the longer-lasting version."
James considered it. "It might work. And if we have to stop every twenty minutes, that's still better than walking all the way back."
She pulled out her wand and began casting the Feather-Light spell as James transformed into a stag again.
This time, it worked. He could feel the pressure of her thighs on his back and her arms around his neck, but she weighed next to nothing.
Without her weight throwing him off balance, it was easy to walk first, then trot, and then canter.
And while he felt her body bouncing against him as they leaped over fallen trees and swerved around scrubby bushes, it was distant to the freedom and the joy of running.
They stopped once to renew the Feather-Light charm, then were up and running, dodging in and out of the trees.
Prongs could hear her laughter as they wove in and out of the Forest. It spurred him to perform a little better than usual. He took the swerves a little tighter, leaped bushes and fallen trunks that were higher than he might normally have attempted, and, along the open stretches, raced at a breakneck pace that would have left Sirius reprimanding him for his recklessness.
So he was showing off. What of it? The only people in the world who he'd ever been able to show this off to were his friends. And she might be a Slytherin, but she was also a girl and could still be impressed – and he might be a Gryffindor, but he was also a man and not above trying to make an impression.
All in all, Prongs enjoyed the ride – and from the breathless laughter of the girl on his back, so did she.
They cantered into the clearing with the Whomping Willow just as her weight began to reassert itself. Lily Evans slid from his back and began combing her fingers through her hair with calm unconcern as Prongs became James again and glanced around, looking for his friends.
The other boys would have taken Moony back into the Shrieking Shack as soon as they got here. They were probably waiting inside in the slight warmth of the shack rather than out here in the icy cold. A quick, surreptitious glance showed that the Invisibility Cloak was still tucked in a silvery pile behind its bush, so they hadn't left him to deal with the Slytherin.
A moment later, the rat and the dog slunk out from the hole among the roots of the Whomping Willow.
The rat paused at the edge of the Whomping Willow's range and shook itself, transforming into Peter's slight form.
The dog paced forward and, between one pace and the next, became Sirius.
James didn't realise what his friend was doing until Sirius' wand was out and pointed at the Slytherin. "Obliviate Mnemonicus!"
The gold light of the memory modification spell speared through the air, ruthless in its destination – Lily Evans.
But it dissipated against the shimmering blue shield that sprung up around her.
Even if James hadn't seen what was coming, Lily had, and had cast the 'Protego' protection spell against Sirius' intent. But she intended more than merely shielding herself.
"Accio wand!" She cried, her voice clear and strident in the quiet night. The next instant, Sirius' wand was in her hand.
She was furious, James saw, but she didn't retaliate.
Instead, her voice spat ice and fire as she snapped, "There was no need for that."
"No need?" Sirius asked in disbelief. "No need to protect a friend's reputation from the likes of you? No need to protect our secrets?"
"I'm not Severus Snape, so you can stop using that tone of voice," she snapped back, holding both wands firmly in her grip. "And what interest would I have in your ruddy secrets?"
"Blackmail material, for one," Sirius spat back.
"I knew you were out in the grounds before..."
"Out on the grounds is one thing. This is quite another!"
James stepped between the two antagonists. Yes, he was worried about Remus' secret, too, but Lily Evans wasn't a blabbermouth – at least not as far as James knew.
Anyway, there were other ways to ensure she didn't tell other people, more subtle than eliminating her memory of this evening.
"Evans, give him his wand back." He figured that he had maybe a little weight with the girl.
She stared at him incredulously. "What? So he can obliviate my memories again? Not likely!"
Maybe a very little.
"He won't." James looked to Sirius who glared back defiantly. This was a delicate situation and would have to be handled with tact. Which meant no spelling each other into silence. "We're going to do something else."
"Something else such as...?" Lily stared at the open hand demanding the return of Sirius' wand and shook her head decidedly. "No. I am not giving you his wand until you tell me what you're going to do."
"We'll perform a charm that ensures that Remus' secret remains among the four of us."
Lily tilted her head scornfully at him, "You're not powerful enough to perform the Fidelius charm, yet, Potter!"
The 'yet' heartened him. "No, but there are other charms."
She eyed him, "Like what?"
"You're joking," Sirius said, biting off the ends of his words. "None of us are powerful enough to do the Dissimulari either!"
"Not individually," James acknowledged. "But Wrengler said that it's been successfully performed by groups before. That's its advantage over the Fidelius – that you don't have to be powerful enough to do it by yourself, you just have to have the combined power and will for it to work."
"And do we?" Sirius demanded.
Without needing it to be explained to him, James knew that Sirius was referring to the fact that Peter wasn't a very powerful wizard and they had no idea about Lily's capabilities. And then there was the added fact that any spells being performed in concert required a unity of purpose – and just how much could they trust Lily Evans?
"We can at least give it a go," James said firmly. He jerked his head at Lily, "Give him his wand back, Evans." When she continued to stare antagonistically at Sirius, he reached out and took it from her.
Of course the girl refused to let go of it.
"How do I know he's not just going to try to obliviate my memory again?"
Sirius bared his teeth and growled at her. James punched him lightly on the shoulder. "Easy, Padfoot." Of them all, Sirius was the most likely to carry over his Animagus traits into regular form. And Sirius was also the most likely to hold a grudge of the four – like a dog worrying at a bone.
James just hoped that the bone of contention this time was not going to be Lily Evans' knowledge of Remus' secret.
"I won't," Sirius said through gritted teeth. "But if this doesn't work and I ever think that there's even the faintest possibility of you spilling the secret..."
She let him take the wand, but her own wand was out before her and she watched Sirius like a hawk for any sign that he was going to spell her.
Lovely. Just blooming lovely.
Pete cleared his throat, "Uh...the Dissimulari, James?"
The Dissimulari turned out to be fairly easy in the end. Lily already knew the incantation and she seemed happy enough to perform the spell in concert with them if it kept her memory intact.
Still, this one would bear watching.
Unlike the Fidelius, the Dissimulari didn't require a lot of magic. Much of the power in the Dissimulari came from the intent of the spellcasters.
The variable in question here was definitely Lily's intent.
It was an uneven exchange and a very uncertain one. They had one small secret to hold over her head – she had several much larger secrets to hold over theirs.
Not a good situation.
Not a good situation at all.
But they weren't powerful enough to silence her and James wasn't willing to let Sirius obliviate her memories. Not yet, anyway.
James tucked his wand away in the back pocket of his jeans. "You'd better come up to the castle with us."
"Don't be stupid, James," Sirius snapped. "There's no way we're all going to fit under the cloak..."
Lily seemed to have much the same attitude as Sirius. "I'll be fine getting back up to the castle."
James set his teeth. "I thought," he said, slowly and deliberately, "Wormtail can ride on Sirius' shoulders – at least until we get into Gryffindor Tower. We can leave Lily at whatever point she wishes once we're actually inside the castle."
"What's the matter, Potter?" She asked, mocking his caution. "Prefer to make sure I don't run to Professor Dumbledore to tell tales?"
He threw up his hands. "Fine," he told her. "If that's the way you want to be. I thought you could use some help getting back up to the school – I'm sorry I bothered asking."
It was at this point that Pete spoke up, "I think you should come with us back up to the castle, Lily."
Lily looked at him, obviously skeptical of Pete's suggestion. "Oh, you do, do you?"
"It makes practical sense," he said, shrugging. "You won't have to worry about being seen up until the point where we split from you."
"Pettigrew the practical," Lily mocked. "I'm so glad someone's looking out for my well-being! What's next? Roses and champagne at breakfast?"
James decided that enough was enough. He'd saved her from being bitten by Remus, he'd defended her against Sirius. There were limits to a man's patience. He picked up the silvery cloak, holding the edges in his hands so it spilled to the ground. "Are you coming or not?"
She huffed mightily as Sirius took his place at James' shoulder and Pete transformed into Wormtail, neatly climbing up Sirius until he reached the shoulder, where he chittered noisily at Lily.
James flung the cloak around them and a moment later, felt her hand on the outside of the cloak. "Move over," she said as she ducked under the trailing edge of the cloak.
The Invisibility Cloak was not made for three tall people – not really. And the journey up to the castle wasn't made any easier by the fact that Sirius was in a right mood about Lily knowing Remus' secret. It probably would have been better if we'd just left her to make her own way back up here, James thought dryly as a muffled huff from Lily indicated that Sirius had jostled her again.
Up the slope to the castle, along the walls of huge sandstone and spelling open the doors leading into one of the lower corridors.
Their progress through the halls of the school was largely unhampered by anything else and on the second floor, Lily ducked out from under the cloak.
"Thanks for the lift, boys. Here's my stop."
James reached out and caught her cloak before she could go, peering out of the slit in the front of the cloak. "When did you want help with the homework?" No point in leaving himself indebted to her – never mind that he figured stopping Sirius from casting an Obliviate spell on her should have evened everything out. If you incurred a debt, you paid it. That was just how life went.
Green eyes studied him closely before she responded. "Tomorrow afternoon. In the library."
"I've got the Quidditch match tomorrow morning."
The look she gave him was mockingly innocent. "Then you'll be right for the afternoon, Potter!"
"As long as he's not in the hospital wing," Sirius mumbled under his breath, and, on Sirius' shoulder, Wormtail squeaked agreement.
James glared at them, then turned back. There was no way he was going to let this skinny Slytherin think he couldn't get through a game with Hufflepuff without being hospitalised. He nodded. "Okay then, tomorrow afternoon."
Her smile was faintly mocking, "See you then." And she fled, fleet as any deer, vanishing around the corner with the merest flutter of her cloak behind her.
Sirius heaved a sigh of relief. "We're well rid of her," he muttered as they made their way along the halls to Gryffindor Tower.
"You forget," James said, just a little nettled, "I still have to tutor her in Arithmancy."
"Okay, then. I'm well rid of her," Sirius responded, unrepentant in the face of his friend's annoyance.
They folded up the cloak and walked up to the Gryffindor portrait, where they whispered the password of 'bubotuber' to the elderly woman knitting away in the picture and slipped inside.
"That was a shocking night," Sirius announced as they pulled the cloak off and flung themselves into armchairs while Wormtail transformed and shook himself all over. "You should have let me obliviate her memories, James."
"And if you'd wiped all her memories and not just the ones from tonight?"
Sirius shrugged, "Small loss."
James rolled his eyes. "Look we knew that someone was going to find out about us sooner or later."
"But did it have to be her?"
This was going to be difficult. Of them all, Sirius was most protective of Remus' secret. As a member of the ancient and 'pure-blood' House of Black, he'd seen the kind of bigotry that could come from some of the narrower minds in the wizarding world about things like non-humans and bloodlines.
"Well, it's too late to worry about that now," Pete said, bluntly. "And even if Evans knows about Moony, she also knows about the kind of trouble that could cause."
"And she has to know that Dumbledore has approved Remus coming here," James added. "She won't tell about Moony."
"And about us?"
James shrugged. "Harder to tell. But if she rats on us..."
"Hey!" Pete protested.
"...if she tattles on us, then she'll have to reveal her own part in the escapade – and they'll come down on her, too. Besides which, they'll be rather more impressed that we could control the Animagus spell without actually being born Animagus. Any trouble we get into will be related to being out of the dorms and in the Forbidden Forest at night." He spoke more confidently than he felt, his mind already trying to work through the possibilities.
Beside them, Pete yawned. "I don't know about you guys, but I am going to get some sleep. Too much hubbub tonight. And you," he poked James' shoulder, "have to be bright and awake if you're going to get the Quaffle past Durrell."
"Durrell couldn't field a Quaffle with both hands and a map," James snorted. "I'm perfectly saaaaaaa..." His words vanished into a huge yawn and Sirius laughed as he got to his feet.
"We'd better get the Gryffindor Chaser to bed, Wormtail."
And they did.
- fin -