THE STRANGE AND MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCES OF REMUS LUPIN

--

It hadn't been hard in the beginning. They hadn't known each other very well and had been new to everything around them. It hadn't been incredibly unusual for them to lose each other for hours at a time and forget when exactly they had seen each other last. He would be able to disappear at night while the rest of them were in the common room discussing one class or another, exercising their arrogance, and testing their domination over the other first years. They would not miss him and in the morning would not remember that he had ever been gone at all.

Gradually, however, as things settled down and fell into casual routine, and as each of them better found their place among the others, it became more and more difficult for him to sneak away. They were quickly becoming brothers of sorts, something beyond roommates, housemates, classmates, and schoolmates. There was a bond forming that none of them quite understood yet but knew was there nonetheless. And he found that it was harder to lie to them, not that it had ever really been easy. He hated lying.

It had been out of necessity alone that Remus Lupin became a liar, and a relatively good one at that. He was able to steer conversation away from certain undesirable directions and constantly avoided answering questions he did not want to, and could not answer. Once a month he practiced the skill of making everyone around him forget exactly what they had approached him to ask and what exactly it was that they had wanted to know. By inserting jokes and reminders and prompting the discussion of such things as pixies, annoying hexes, and Chocolate Frogs, the boy was able to control conversation subtly, and no one really took notice.

Even so, they grew to spend far too much time together for that little peculiar something to go unnoticed forever and while Remus was able to skillfully evade answering the prying questions, they had eventually been thought up so many times that they did not disappear as quickly or easily as they had before. The question was stuck fast in his friends' minds now and though they allowed themselves to be distracted, would undoubtedly remember it later and wonder about it. Subconsciously, they realized that something was wrong and something was being hidden, but being the young, naïve eleven-year olds that they were, did not try too hard to find out what it was. After all, there were plenty of other things to worry about, teachers, those annoying moving staircases, Peeves, who really cared that one particular boy with light brown hair tended to disappear one night a month?

Most of the time, Remus left the common room of his own accord then went down to the hospital wing where Madam Pomfrey would then accompany him to the tree outside. Ironically enough, Madam Pomfrey leaving her post attracted far more attention than the Gryffindor boy ever did; after all, the good healer was rather dedicated to her post and spent night and day tending to her patients' various ailments, leaving rarely, even for meals.

This disturbance was covered up with a story about how Professor Kettleburn had a particularly sick animal that needed further medical assistance from Pomfrey every now and again. The werewolf boy who could actually be labeled as the 'sick animal' took to falling into step several feet in front of or behind Pomfrey so he did not really look as if he was accompanying anyone, or that anyone was accompanying him. Luckily, the majority of the school did not care to notice his presence always within ten feet of the nurse when she took these supposed trips to Kettleburn's animal. Remus wasn't a horribly noticeable or popular boy, after all.

Sometimes he would miss a portion of his morning classes because he would not regain consciousness until the first was over, or if after a particularly bad night, around noon. It was these instances that gave him the most trouble because it involved more teachers. Of course, the entire faculty knew about his less than fortunate condition, but the fact that they could not reveal this knowledge made excusing him from these absences rather difficult without arousing a substantial amount of suspicion, especially amongst the three that had taken it upon themselves to become his friend.

It was there that most of the lying took place. He had been away for the night visiting his mother who was wretchedly sick. He had accidentally jinxed himself and had spent the night in the hospital wing with a banana for a face. He had ended up on the bad side of someone's prank. The self-hexing excuses were, sadly, the most believable, and it was only thanks to Peter's demonstration of skill (or lack thereof) during classes that Remus did not end up with the reputation as an absolute klutz.

In March of their first year, Remus had spent most of the morning after the full moon in the hospital wing with various cuts and bruises. By then, both James Potter and Sirius Black had noticed a sort-of pattern in the Strange and Mysterious Disappearances of Remus Lupin (Peter Pettigrew claimed to have noticed as well after the former two explained their suspicions) and took it upon themselves to visit him to get some questions answered. The excuse this time had been falling down one of the staircases while it had been moving, which was a rather poor one, really, but after using seven other excuses since term started, the poor boy was running out of original (and dignity-preserving) ideas.

The closest they ever got was asking whether or not Remus had really fallen down the stairs and why he had missed Defense Against the Dark Arts for something as silly as that, especially since it was one of his favorite classes (not that there really seemed to be a class that the pale boy didn't like, the bookworm). Remus had started to answer when Madam Pomfrey burst in to his rescue, chastising the other boys for doubting his friend and some gibberish about how he would never recover if they didn't just leave him alone. The investigation team had no choice but to retreat and by the time Remus was released, a more elaborate and believable explanation of the staircase incident had been conceived and was told without falter.

While the suspicions remained in place, the rest of the year went by far too quickly for them to do any more investigating. Between their first set of finals, the Quidditch Cup, and a very close run for the House Cup, all four boys were plenty occupied. Then before anyone knew it, it was summer break and the friends parted ways for two months, effectively erasing many of the details that fed into the strange notion that maybe the quiet boy with his face usually in a book wasn't always telling the truth when he said he had fallen asleep in the library and no one had woken him up. In fact, the summer almost worked as a reset button and when they all met again on the Hogwarts Express two months later, the only thing they could remember was how horribly boring and awful the summer had been at home and how glad they were to be back at school amongst their friends.

However, like many things learned and forgotten, it only took a few hints and prods before that particular thing was remembered again, at least in part. The third week of September saw a very drained and tired Remus Lupin, who became increasingly fidgety and nervous as the week waned on. This was noticeable only because he chose to make himself a very pleasant and calm person under normal circumstances. Indeed, it might have been much easier to keep some things secret if he would just act like a complete imbecile or a complete prat all the time. But he didn't. Not that anyone said anything about it.

It fell on a Saturday, the twenty-third to be exact, which made things even worse because he didn't have classes all day to keep himself occupied. It agitated him that Professor Slughorn had assigned less homework than usual for the weekend. Remus had a suspicion that it was because he thought he was doing him a favor by giving him less to think about, but really, not having an excuse to be at the library or some other obscure part of the building for research did him no good at all. Just as unable to fight his own personality as the lunar cycles, the boy had already finished most of his homework by Friday night, leaving him with absolutely no good excuse when the time came.

"Oi, Remus!" Sirius waved furious at the boy to whom the name belonged as he came down the stairs from the dormitories. "Come help me wallop James!" he demanded, gesturing to the chessboard between him and the other black-haired boy.

"No way!" The aforementioned James protested, "You always win when Remus helps. That's cheating."

"Since when were you concerned with the preservation of fairness?" Sirius asked, looking positively shocked and repulsed. "Besides, it can't be bad if I win," he added as an afterthought.

"You prat. You just can't do anything by yourself," the thus-far-winning chess player retorted coldly.

"So says the one with the hexed chess pieces," the thus-far-losing one responded easily. "Yes, I know they're hexed!"

After making a loud, derisive noise, James turned back to Remus and commanded clearly, "Don't help him."

Remus approached the lot of them warily (Peter was sitting between James and Sirius and had been watching their exchange of the usual banter as if he had been watching a tennis match). He was distinctly pale and the subtle shadows around his eyes were considerably darker than usual. It was already late – the sun was dangling on the horizon, ready to drop under at any moment and the clouds shifted around in a suspenseful manner, as if they were ready to reveal the moon at any second; he really needed to get going as quickly as possible.

"Can't help you, Sirius," the sickly looking boy said with a genuinely apologetic expression.

"What! Remus! Come on! You aren't going to listen to James, are you?" the taller, black-haired boy whined while the shorter one smirked.

"I'm not listening to you or James. It just so happens that his request was what I was going to decide anyway," was the reply as Remus moved towards the exit of the common room.

"Whaaat," Sirius continued to whine, "Well, where are you going?"

"Library," Remus replied promptly and simply. It was a reasonably convincing display, really. He had several schoolbooks tucked under his arm along with a few rolls of parchment and the ends of quills were sticking out of the pockets of his robes. But he had been convincing before, too.

"But you've already finished your homework!" Peter exclaimed.

"For the next two weeks!" Sirius added, rather seriously.

"What on earth are you going to the library for?" James finished.

Remus was right next to the portrait hole now and feeling more panicked by the moment. He needed to get out of there. "I've got some things I want to look up," he explained as normally as he could, but his voice felt rushed and a bit higher than it should have been, "Some people actually want to learn things, you know," he supplied, trying to tack on a bit of normalcy.

"You're such a nerd, Remus," Peter mused with the slightest hint of respect.

"So what if I am," the werewolf boy growled suddenly, surprising himself so much that he, for a moment, looked openly panicked. "I'll see you later then," he sighed heavily in recovery, then exited the portrait hole before anyone else could object. Once outside, he broke immediately into a run and promptly collided with Madam Pomfrey, who had been heading to Gryffindor Tower to retrieve him, as he had already been ten minutes late.

"Mr. Lupin! What happened! You need to hurry!" she cried as books and parchment spilled everywhere.

"I know! I'm sorry! I just—" the boy dropped the façade he forced on for his friends, fear now plainly visible on his features.

"Explain it to me later, let's just go!" Madam Pomfrey interjected quietly, picking up the books quickly and casting a nervous glance around the hall. She seemed equally frightened at the prospect of her sudden company transforming before they reached their destination. Without another word, the pair of them ran to the secret passage way that led to the Shrieking Shack, not bothering to leave the building and taking the way from the Willow to make things follow their story better.

--

Back in Gryffindor Tower, James had beaten Sirius at their game of chess and the trio had retired to a set of comfortable arm chairs by the fire. Sirius had a spare bit of parchment out on the armrest and was doodling on it with a semi-thoughtful expression. James was facing the other direction, watching as the other students slowly filtered out and retired back to their dorms for the night. Peter again sat between them, nibbling on a Chocolate Frog that was trying desperately to wriggle out of his pudgy fingers to no avail.

"You reckon Remus is really at the library?" James asked suddenly, without looking at either of his companions.

Sirius looked up from his doodle of a strange mechanical contraption that looked rather like a Muggle vehicle. "No," he answered promptly.

Peter looked surprised. "Where is he then?" he asked, as if the idea that Remus might have lied to them struck him as extremely unlikely, which would have been true, in most cases.

"I don't know. But I think there's something he isn't telling us," James muttered, expressing Sirius's thoughts exactly.

"Maybe he's got a girl," the elder son of the House of Black suggested, which caused the three of them to erupt into a fit of laughter. Peter thought the notion was just as ridiculous as the idea that maybe Remus had lied to them. James just had a hard time seeing any girl being wooed by books (though if he had said it aloud, Sirius might have retorted that his ideas of how one should woo a girl weren't much better). Sirius just couldn't imagine that Remus was that much of a rogue, though they continuously tried to turn him into one via pranking. Besides, the boys were still in that transition stage between thinking that girls were gross and thinking they were the reason for living (except James, who seemed to think that all girls were gross, except Lily Evans, who was the reason for living).

They stayed in the common room late that night, waiting for their friend to return. He never did. Around two in the morning, Peter retired to their dormitory and left the might-as-well-be-brothers alone to ponder the possible secrets of Remus Lupin. The possibility that he was in the library was definitely out by that point. Madam Pince would have chased him out much earlier than that and it was unlikely that she could have again missed him amongst the books like he had once previously claimed. Where else in the school could he hide all night without being caught?

There was the Astronomy Tower, but that was the choice place for snogging amongst the older years, and again, neither of them could imagine that Remus might be up there. They were as certain of this as they were of his non-presence in the library. There were other places, of course, but it was more of what their friend was up to, rather than where he was exactly. Hogwarts was ancient and huge, after all, and there were no doubt places they had yet to discover in their one short year there. When the clock struck four and there was still no sign of Remus, James and Sirius decided to go sleep, resolving to not let the mystery go unsolved for long.

--

The room was glowed a dim gold as the light of dawn flooded steadily through the tiny basement window. Remus woke slowly and was immediately in pain. He was lying on his side in the middle of the hard, wooden floor. There was a particularly nasty gash that ran from his jawbone to the base of his neck on his left side and an ugly bite mark in the shape of his own canine teeth on his right leg, amongst various other lesser, self-inflicted wounds. His whole body was tired and sore, and as consciousness gripped him fully, so did the mother of all migraines.

His brain was on fire and there was a loud buzzing in his skull like the static of Muggle television sets when they flipped it onto the wrong settings. He felt sick and weak, like he wanted to vomit but there was nothing in his stomach to throw up; not to mention he was utterly exhausted, and he knew that he had probably only changed back and collapsed an hour or so before. The room seemed uneven and strange, as if someone had cast a dizzying charm on him and everything was distorted like a Picasso painting. At least he didn't have classes today.

After a few moments of just lying there trying not to throw up, Remus pulled himself up and limped over into the other room where his clothes lay discarded in a heap in the corner. The only thing he really wanted to do was to crawl back up to the dorm rooms and sleep all day, but he knew somehow that it wasn't going to happen. He didn't want to go back and face his friends. He knew that they had to suspect something by now and lying to them further just wasn't going to help. But the truth had been out of the question from the very beginning and he just didn't know what to do about it anymore.

The boy dressed and headed back through the long, lonely passageway. Of course, the Hogwarts side of the tunnel was extremely close to the hospital wing so he could at least go there without incident. Today, however, that just wasn't the case. James and Sirius stood on either side of the ward entrance, both with arms folded and a rather stern expression that looked odd on their features.

"Where've you been, Remus?" Sirius asked in a tone that mocked casualness. The person addressed just stared at him in utter horror. The collar of his shirt was turned up so the fresh cut there wasn't immediately visible, but there was a bit of blood soaking through already.

"Y'look like you were beat up by the Whomping Willow. And what happened to you?" James added in a similar manner.

"I…" Remus had been caught completely unguarded. He was used to being able to make up his excuses and lies while Madam Pomfrey tended to his various injuries. While he had expected a confrontation, he had not imagined that it would be so soon. He wasn't prepared at all and could not think of a single thing to say.

"What's the matter, Remus? Can't think of a lie?" Sirius demanded. The werewolf flinched. It was true, and the fact that it was true stung. He felt sick, more sick than he had felt all morning. Without offering a another word, Remus pushed past the other two boys and into the hospital wing, where he rushed towards the nearest sink and immediately threw up. James and Sirius looked at each other, unforgiving faces faltering slightly.

Madam Pomfrey burst out of no where just then. Bustling to Remus's side, she thrust a bottle of sickly green potion into his hands before whirling on the unexpected visitors. "What are you two doing here so early in the morning! Giving your poor friend a hard time, no doubt! He's got enough troubles without you two stressing him out over every little thing!"

"But Madam Pomfrey—" Sirius started.

"We just wanted to know—" James tried as well.

"Whatever it is you want can certainly wait! You'll just have to come back later, I'm afraid! Mr. Lupin is in no condition to see anyone!" And with that, she all but threw the two black-haired boys out of the room and slammed the door behind her.

Remus, meanwhile, had drained the potion and was now changing out of his dirty robes and into a spare set he kept in the hospital wing. He wished Madam Pomfrey hadn't said all of those things. It only made everything that much more difficult. He knew she meant well, but most of the time, she was so concerned with his health that she forgot that it was supposed to be a secret. He imagined that if she had things her way, he would be in bed a week every month and the teachers would just have to come visit to give him his lessons, never mind how horribly suspicious that would look.

When he was done, Madam Pomfrey cornered him and cleaned the wound down his neck, muttering something about blood stains. "Here, dear," she sighed softly and put some salve on the wound down his neck. It stung and he flinched; he would never get used to it, as many times as he had gone through it now. He would never get used to it. "Do you need anything else? Any other bad cuts?"

He merely shook his head. It wasn't true, as he did have a few other injuries, but he just didn't care to have them tended to right then. He wanted to sleep. And maybe never wake up. It would be easier that way. Madam Pomfrey nodded apologetically and left him alone. Remus crawled into his usual bed in the far corner of the room and drew the bed hangings tightly shut around him so that all he could see were the too-familiar, brownish yellow curtains. The headache was still aching quietly in the back of his skull and his throat felt dry and parched despite the potion he had just had. James and Sirius's faces were trapped in his mind and he couldn't make them go away. He would have to face them again soon. With those uneasy images in floating in his mind, Remus drifted off into an uncomfortable sleep.

--

"What do you reckon is wrong with him?" Peter wondered aloud after James and Sirius relayed to him their brief encounter with Remus.

"Whatever it is, Pomfrey knows about it. She was obviously expecting him," James said.

"Yeah, and have you noticed? Half those random nights he's gone, he ends up in the hospital wing afterwards. I don't think they're just random accidents like he always said they were," Sirius expanded.

"D'you think he's got some sort of disease?" Peter asked.

"Shouldn't he be in St. Mungo's then? He really did look horrible," James mused.

"Maybe he really wanted to come to school – he's in love with books, after all," Sirius guessed.

"Why won't he just tell us what he's got then? It's not like anyone'd make fun of him for it, right? Not his fault he's sick," Peter reasoned.

"Maybe it's a really embarrassing disease. Maybe he's got warts on his behind or something," laughed James, "My great-uncle had that once."

"You made that up, remember?" Sirius pointed out.

"Alright, so I did. But Peter's right. What's his problem anyway? I thought we were friends," the boy that didn't really have a great-uncle retorted.

"Hell if I know. Why don't we ask him again when he gets back," his grey-eyed friend suggested sarcastically.

"What makes you think he'd tell us now?"

"Nothing. I don't think he will. I think we have to figure it out ourselves," Sirius said with a mischievous grin. James nodded and after seeing that, Peter followed suit.

When Remus walked into the Great Hall for lunch that afternoon, none of the other boys showed any sign that they had ever suspected anything. Indeed, the three of them were working very hard to remain collected and casual, refusing all the little urges to comment on Remus's earlier absence, not to mention the swollen red cut that was only half-hidden behind his white collar and the limp he was trying too hard to hide. While nervous and insecure, the fourth boy consented to ignore completely the fact that he knew that they knew that something wasn't quite normal about him. They carried on a relatively normal conversation that eventually led to the begging of homework aid and maybe some copying of notes.

The few weeks following passed in very much the same manner. To their classmates, everything seemed perfectly fine and normal. They acted ordinary enough. But there was an unspoken tension between the four of them that transcended words. Each knew what the other was thinking about. And Remus was utterly helpless to redirect trains of thought because no one was talking about it. He couldn't force them to think about something else like he could force them to talk about something else.

He knew it would come out again eventually. It was only a matter of time and he worried endlessly about when it would finally come out in the open. He had a sickly feeling that said he wouldn't be able to find his condition from them forever, that they were an extremely intelligent bunch and would be able to figure it out sooner or later (and he was betting on sooner).

His symptoms were plain and anyone who had read the introductory chapter on werewolves in any magical creatures book would surely spot him for what he was. They would find out. And when they did, they would scorn and hate him, fear him, and distance themselves from him. It wouldn't matter that they all shared a dormitory, or that they were in all of their classes together; he would be shunned and that would be that. It was understandable in any case; he was a monster and any reasonable witch or wizard would cut off all ties with him as soon as they knew.

Remus played their game of ignorance, trying his best to enjoy their company and acceptance while it was there, but it was hard when he knew that at any moment, any one of them could spring the questions that would lead to the inevitable answer. He had never had friends before. He would miss them when they were gone.

But on the contrary, Remus's symptoms really weren't as obvious as he thought they were, especially to a trio of second years. Of course Sirius and James were both incredibly smart and talented, and Peter was quick to remember things once he was told, but the subject was entirely new to them and thus was difficult to pinpoint. It wasn't as if werewolves were a common topic of conversation over the dinner table at home, so it wasn't as if their friend being a lycanthrope was one of the immediate possibilities that popped into their heads.

Several times during this period of mutual mock-ignorance of the situation, James or Sirius would excuse themselves from the group individually and go to the library (a place neither was very well acquainted with), and pour through the books of magical diseases in hopes of finding something (Madam Pince gawked at them for several minutes the first time either of them asked to check out a book). Fortunately, or unfortunately, there were hundreds among thousands of strange diseases that led them all over the place.

They compiled a list of what they suspected to be Remus's symptoms: the way he got horribly pale for a while before and after each of his strange disappearances, the way there would be visible rings under his eyes, darker even than when other people lost a night's sleep, the way he seemed incredibly tired and sluggish for the day after his disappearance, the way he sometimes had cuts and bruises of varying seriousness, how he sometimes limped, and the color of the booger-green potion Pomfrey had given him for the morning after.

These symptoms, mostly of high stress and sleep deprivation, did not serve to narrow down the possible list of diseases too much. There were dragon pox and gnome mumps, phoenix fever and Hawkfin's disease, and twenty pages of other things that just seemed unlikely. The injuries their friend would get were more narrowing, but as many remedies for other diseases often backfired and had side effects, it just wouldn't do to eliminate many of them completely.

The best clue that they had was that Remus Lupin only seemed to disappear once a month. The detective boys had tried very hard to remember all the instances where their friend had disappeared on them their first year and it had come down to roughly that. Of course, they had not immediately thought to consult the lunar charts, but could figure out that there must be something triggering the symptoms every so often, and it had to be something predictable so he knew when to leave. Curious. Very curious indeed.

Neither James or Sirius, and in turn Peter, suspected that what Remus had was anything more than an embarrassing disease. They imagined that once they found out and let Remus know that they knew and told him that they didn't really care if he sprouted another head every month, then everything would be okay. Whether this assumption was out of ignorance or kind-heartedness is certainly up to debate, but being only a bunch of twelve-year old boys, everything seemed very simple and the actual complex matter that was at hand eluded them for the while.

The next full moon fell on the twenty-second of October, which was a Sunday – not a very preferable date either; worse, in fact, than Saturday. Remus still didn't have classes to keep himself busy with all day and in the morning there would be classes he would be missing. The ideal date for the full moon (though, of course, it would be ideal to not have to keep track of dates and not have to transform at all) was Friday. He could go to his classes during the day and not worry about missing anything the day after. But there wouldn't be one of those for a while.

Just when it was starting to seem like everything was completely normal and the nervous vibes everyone was giving off was starting to fade, the nonverbal tension and excitement spiked. While his friends didn't realize which date it was going to be exactly, Remus knew they must have figured out that it was a monthly cycle by then. It was only a matter of time. They would probably try to follow him, but he just couldn't let that happen.

It was unavoidable that they ended up hating him, but Remus could not blame them for that and would not feel any bitterness towards them for it. If he were like them, he would probably do the same if he found out one of his friends was a werewolf, a monster, a potential killer. But he didn't want to be a killer, didn't want to be expelled from Hogwarts even if he wouldn't have any friends. Therefore, he couldn't let them follow him anywhere. They could find out, but they couldn't see that he was a monster. He wouldn't let them.

Anticipating their actions, Remus talked to Madam Pomfrey beforehand and told her that she need not escort him to the passageway anymore, told her that it was suspicious enough as it was without her having to leave her post so often, which was true enough anyway. Reluctantly, she consented, but told him that she would continue to go down to check on him if he didn't get into the hospital wing by nine o'clock the morning after.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Remus could feel James, Sirius, and Peter staring at him when they thought he wasn't looking, like they thought he was going to turn green or sprout wings and a tail. They were waiting, just waiting for him to announce that he had to go somewhere, had to be someplace away from them, like piranha circling around a dangling piece of meat. He hated that feeling, that someone was watching him when his back was turned. It made him feel uncomfortable, paranoid, and somewhere deep down, afraid. Was that what things would be like all the time after they found out? Would just they stare at him and talk about him behind his back?

It was actually pretty early in the evening, but Remus just couldn't stand it anymore. He excused himself directly after dinner, mumbled something about needing to talk to Professor McGonagall, then going in the completely opposite direction knowing full and well that it didn't matter anyway. He wandered around the school for a while, wondering if the others had gone directly back to the common room to fetch James's invisibility cloak or whether they already had it with them and had merely waiting for him to turn a corner before throwing it on and following him.

The hallways were still relatively full; people were wandering between classrooms, talking to teachers about assignments, wandering between the Great Hall and their common rooms, running away from Peeves, and taking advantage of the few hours they had left before the halls were locked down. He walked in the manner of someone who thought he was being followed, darting around corners unexpectedly and jumping onto staircases just as they started moving. If he found out later that they weren't right behind him, he'd probably feel extremely foolish. But very relieved too.

He ended up at the hospital wing at one point, where Pomfrey fretted over him and he repeatedly assured her he would be fine before leaving again. By then the hallways were clearing and he could see teachers ushering students back towards their common rooms. Professor Flitwick passed him on one of the staircases and looked like he was going to say something, but stopped himself, as if suddenly remembering something, and just nodded to him instead. It was started to get dark outside.

Remus sighed and headed back towards the secret passageway telling himself that he may as well get it over with but deliberately walking slowly anyway. This tactic proved to do more than just delay his arrival at his inevitable destination though; with his own pace so slow, he could better hear others' footsteps. The hallway where the entrance was hidden seemed completely empty except for himself, but he could hear the soft shuffling of other multiple feet as he turned the corner.

Stopping suddenly, Remus caught a faint squeak and a soft sound that he was relatively familiar with – someone crashing into someone else and stepping on their foot. Peter did that a lot when all four of them were shuffling along down there and he could only imagine that he had done it again. Without turning around to look at the nothingness behind him, the now-very-pale boy spoke softly, "Stop following me."

Standing there, he was greeted by silence and for a moment he almost believed that he was just being paranoid. But upon taking a few steps forward, he heard the soft shuffling again and stopped again. He took a deep breath and said again, still quiet, "Stop following me, please."

"Then why don't you tell us where the hell you're going," Sirius demanded angrily, throwing off the cloak and revealing the three of them about a dozen feet behind him. James also looked a little annoyed and Peter looked embarrassed, like he didn't want to be there at all.

"I can't," Remus mumbled, turning around to face them.

"Don't you trust us, Remus?" James asked slowly.

The boy with light-brown hair looked pained. "It isn't that, James…" he whispered.

"Then what is it?" Sirius still did not look pleased.

"We know you've got some sort of disease," Peter chipped in, "We don't care; you can tell us."

The young werewolf flinched and shook his head. "You don't understand..."

"I wonder why that is!" Sirius exclaimed rather loudly.

"Shut up, Sirius, or a teacher'll hear," James muttered.

"I hate liars, that's all," the former growled.

"I'm sorry," Remus said softly, looking down at the ground. "It's okay if you decide to hate me for not telling you. You'd hate me more if I did."

"How can you possibly know that?" James asked incredulously.

Remus just shook his head again, not answering. He wished they would just go. Hate him and just go. He could feel the moon rising in the sky and it was making him uneasy. He wasn't safe. They needed to go and go soon. "Just go," he said urgently.

"I'm not going anywhere until you've been straight with us," Sirius answered immediately.

"No," Remus looked up, his expression a mixture of too many different emotions to be able to read properly. "You have to go. Please," the panic was creeping into his voice.

"No," Sirius said stubbornly. James didn't reply, but stood firmly beside his friend. Peter twitched his lip like he wanted to say something, but didn't, and stood there staring at the fourth boy like he wasn't quite certain what to think.

Remus closed his eyes for a moment, thinking desperately. Then suddenly, without warning, he whipped out his wand and said distinctly, "Petrificus totalus!" The three formerly invisible Gryffindors were instantly paralyzed and each fell to the floor with a soft thump. Remus looked rather horrified with himself, but quickly made his way to where his friends lay and dragged each of them, as gently as he could, around the corner (and stuffed the invisibility cloak back into James's robes so no teacher would see when they found them) so they couldn't see through which statue he proceeded behind. He tried not to look at all of their furious faces, but it didn't work. "I'm sorry," he muttered again as he left them, "I'm really sorry."

Turning the corner, he ran to the statue of the chimera, hissed the password, and bolted down the dark, unlit tunnel. It seemed like forever before he reached the other side; the whole mile that was between Hogwarts and Hogsmeade felt like five hundred laps around a World Cup sized Quidditch pitch. But when he finally did reach the end and threw open the doors to the filthy and unwelcoming house, he wished he could have just kept running forever. Maybe he would have reached the end of the world and could have just disappeared there, into nothingness.

Regrettably, he didn't have time to dwell on his probable loss of friends. His hairs were standing on end and he could feel the heat rising to the back of his neck and the cold, nauseating feeling rising in the pit of his stomach. After stripping hastily and throwing his clothes in their usual corner, he went into the other room, closed the door firmly, sat down on the ratty old mattress and waited.

As many times as he had gone through it by now, he could never anticipate the exact moment it would begin. It always took him by surprise and that night was no exception. His body froze suddenly, as if someone had performed the full-body bind on him; then everything fell out of his control – he couldn't wiggle his fingers if he wanted, couldn't blink or twitch or anything, and slowly control of his own mind was ceded too.

His hair grew and spread, rippling down the back of his neck and down his bare back. His lips curled backwards into an ugly sneer, revealing newly pointed teeth while his crinkled nose lengthened and stretched. His ears became pointed as the fur sprouted on his face and on the back of his hands and arms. He fell over sideways on the mattress and let out a horrible half-scream, half-howl as his body shook violently, contorting, changing. The noise echoed through the empty house and into the cold night air outside, giving the horrible place its horrible name.

He clawed at his face as his muzzle continued to grow, screaming, and reopening the wound on his neck as a result. He drew his legs up to his now-furry chest, but they had already become thinner, canine. A tail erupted from the base of his spine and he shrieked again, the cry more animalistic than ever. His hazel eyes shifted gold and he curled into a ball as a wolf, trembling.

--

"I can't believe he hexed us!" Sirius yelled angrily, punching his pillow. They were back in their dorm. Mr. Filch had found them after about ten minutes and after hearing a lot of protests about having been hexed by a bunch of Slytherins fifth years, he reluctantly let them off with a heavy warning and a demand that they get back to their Tower. "He won't even hex Snape, but he hexed us! I can't believe it!"

"What's he got to hide that's so important he'd rather lose the only friends he's got than tell us?" Peter wondered bluntly.

"I know!" James agreed, "And we're the coolest people in his year. You'd think he'd just tell already. We're going to figure it out eventually anyway."

"I still can't believe he hexed us," Sirius muttered.

James laughed, "You didn't think he had it in him, did you?"

"Of course not. He's got to be the most goody-good bastard in the whole school. He wouldn't jinx a fly! What does he think he's trying to pull, hexing us?" Sirius exclaimed, still in apparent shock.

"Man, that's gotta be some secret Remus has," Peter sighed, laying back on his bed.

James nodded and sighed, looking out the window. The full moon hung in the clear night sky, perfectly round and completely white with all the little craters clearly visible. He stared at it for a while, then blinked. "D'you reckon he's a werewolf?" he asked suddenly.

Sirius flopped over on his bed and looked at him, "What do you mean?"

"Exactly that – do you think he's a werewolf?" he repeated.

"Are you serious? Remus? A werewolf?" the other black-haired boy asked.

James had a rather violent urge to inform his friend that 'Sirius' was his name, but remembered that that joke had been used approximately five hundred thousand times the previous year. Sirius would probably hex him if he did it again. So instead he just answered normally, "Well isn't it possible? It's a full moon tonight."

Peter glanced over at the window and seemed incredibly surprised that this was indeed true. Sirius looked as well, but only raised an eyebrow in response. "Aren't werewolves supposed to be vicious though? Really mean people, yanno? Like that Fenrir Greyback – they're still trying to catch him for biting the Minister of Magic's son, aren't they? Remus isn't vicious, even if he hexed us and is a prat for not telling us anything."

James shrugged, "I don't know. I thought they only turned vicious when they transformed."

"Were all the other nights he was gone full moons?" Peter asked.

"Never checked," Sirius yawned.

"We can look tomorrow," James said, yawning as well. The other two both nodded before rolling over and turning off the lights. The room was still lit by moonlight.

--

Remus did not show up for their first class the following morning. Nor did he appear for the second. This had happened before though and no one besides James, Sirius, and Peter noticed because none of the teachers pointed out the absence. They expected him by noon and it was not until he didn't show up at lunch that the three of them began to get wonder (and worry). There weren't any afternoon classes that day, so after eating, they went up to the hospital wing, where Madam Pomfrey immediately turned them away.

"We just want to see Remus!" James insisted, "Just for a second?"

"We won't bother him or anything," Peter supplied.

"Mr. Lupin won't be seeing anyone!" Madam Pomfrey snapped, "So stop all your yelling and get out of here. You'll see him when you see him but it won't be right now!"

"But—" Sirius started.

"Get out!"

"What's wrong with—" James tried.

"Is it contagious?" Peter asked.

"GET OUT! Get out before I call the Headmaster on you!" Pomfrey shrieked at them, louder than the three of them combined. It was only then that they decided that maybe they should listen.

This setback did not deter our boys from their mission, however. They returned promptly to Gryffindor Tower and retrieved the invisibility cloak, then went back to the ward. The door was closed, but looking in through the window, they could see the back of Pomfrey's head in her little office within the room.

"Silencio," James murmured quietly, tapping his ward on the door before twisting the knob and opening it. The door-that-normally-squeaked eased open silently, remained there for a moment, then closed again without a sound. The three invisible second years shuffled quietly past a Ravenclaw girl with some sort of giant weed on her head and into the far corner of the room, where they had seen Remus several times before, after his "falling down the stairs" accident and "charming his arms into spaghetti" accident. They pulled back the yellowish curtains slowly and just knelt there for several seconds staring at the sight beyond it.

Remus was chalk white, so pale that he looked like a vampire. The gash on his neck that had been slowly healing had been reopened and added to – another two lines of dark red accompanied it now. His hair was ruffled and dirty and his face was full of smaller cuts, less obvious cuts, including what looked like animal scratch marks across his forehead. His bare right arm was visible over the sheets and another nasty cut ran from the inside of his elbow to the back of his hand. His breathing was shallow and slightly labored. All in all, it looked like the boy had been in a fight with a troll and come out on the losing end. He definitely hadn't just fallen down the stairs.

Without saying a word to each other, James, Sirius, and Peter snuck back out of the hospital wing. They ended up at the library, where they camped in a dark corner for the better of two hours reading everything they could find about werewolves. The words all seemed surreal. The books whispered to them in detail every symptom their brown-haired friend had ever provided and pointed out others that they had neglected to notice. They explained that a werewolf's vicious personality was only guaranteed during transformations, though many have been turned vicious by the wizarding world's incessant persecution and fear. The three pairs of anxious eyes blurred through the pages without pause; still, no one spoke.

Though the proof seemed plain and simple in the text, the doubt was still heavy on their minds. How could it be? It still seemed impossible. As they closed the last of the books on werewolves and other dangerous magical creatures, Sirius quietly suggested they go up to the Astronomy Tower to check the lunar charts like they had planned the night before. But of course, the charts had no choice but to confirmed that all the nights on which Remus J. Lupin chose to make his strange and highly suspicious disappearances were indeed full moons. And then they knew, without a doubt, that their friend was exactly what James had suggested he might be the night before, but even James didn't know what to say or think about this now apparent fact.

He was sure he hadn't been entirely serious when he suggested it then. It had been a half-joke, an coincidental observation that he had not thought twice about, honestly. He hadn't really thought that Remus was a werewolf. Werewolves were horrible and rare and the only thing anyone ever heard about them was when someone famous had gotten bitten and then after so-and-so was bitten, they were just never heard about again. There was no cure for lycanthropy and after someone was turned, they were just shunned from society forever. James hadn't thought to care much about it before.

The idea that Remus was a werewolf sat uncomfortably, and fidgeted, on the surface of his mind. It was extremely difficult for him to picture the bookworm-ish boy as anything more vicious than a drugged pixie (in fact, it was almost more difficult than picturing Remus with a girl). It just seemed so incredibly unlikely that he wouldn't have even joked about it if the signs weren't all flashing neon in his face. But at this point, to deny it would just be ignorance, and James Potter had never considered himself to be an ignorant person (quite the opposite, in fact; he thought he was very knowledgeable, though certainly not at the expense of coolness).

But as the three of them all heading back to the common room in a daze, he started poking at the question: why did he care, and why did it matter? Certainly their discovery hadn't changed who Remus was in reality. He had been exactly as he had always been as long as they had known each other (so it was all of a year and a month, but that was a fair amount of time!) and James had found the younger boy to be rather useful as far as homework and all that went – oh, he supposed he liked the fellow a good bit too.

All they had wanted to know was the truth about some peculiar things. Where did Remus go every month? Why? Why did he try to hide it? And what was so horrible that he would rather hex his friends than tell when normally he wouldn't even hex Snivellus, the most wretched kid in the school? Now that he had the answer, James was more or less satisfied. He didn't really think much differently of Remus for it; not like it was his fault he was what he was – really, the moony problem only made the boy more understandable and the Gryffindor Chaser could see where the werewolfism had had an affect on Remus's personality. He could accept that well enough.

The thoughts of one Sirius Black did not quite take up the same direction however. His initial knowledge and opinion of werewolves had been quite a bit more 'influenced' than his best friend's. Being raised in the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black did that to some people. Werewolves and all those other dirty half-breeds had never been described in a particularly kind light to say the very least. They were wicked creatures, chosen by random as the subject for a dinnertime rant every now and again. They were described as the lowest of all magical creatures, lower even than full-breed magical nonhumans, right down there with those filthy Mudbloods. As a Black, the idea of befriending a werewolf was absolute ludicrous.

It was perhaps lucky then, that Sirius was quickly falling away from his family's values. That first year at Hogwarts had done much to open pry him away from the Black's traditional values. Being sorted into Gryffindor had been the first step; his parents had been absolutely aghast and openly ashamed and for the first time, Sirius had found himself disagreeing with them. What was so wrong about being sorted into Gryffindor anyway? He had found plenty of amusing and entertaining people to associate himself with there and he had not found the bunch from Slytherin, the bunch he was supposed to be associated with, pleasant in any way (Sirius was oh so very glad that one Lucius Malfoy had graduated now and that they only had to spend one year in the same school).

Indeed, he had not been able to find much evidence in the real world to support his parents' lunatic claims. While James was a purebred, both Peter and Remus were half-breeds with one Muggle parent. And he didn't have a problem with either of them (even if it sort of annoyed him when Peter stuffed his face and Remus didn't let them copy his homework; it wasn't like James was exempted from a list of undesirable qualities, the big-headed git). His parents were nutters, most definitely. But even so, it was a natural instinct to trust those that were like you, and at least his friends had all been human. Or so he had thought.

So Sirius's initial thoughts had not so kind. Werewolves were monsters and there was no disputing that. Furthermore, Remus had lied to all of them, and while he wasn't quite sure yet why, he was beginning to have a very strong aversion to liars. If he could lie once (and hex them!), who was to say he couldn't, and wouldn't do it again? It was a rather suspicious and paranoid way to look at things, but that might be one of the other side effects of having grown up in the Infamous House of Black. Sirius had once trusted Regulus too.

And yet, if his parents had been wrong about half-breeds and Muggle borns, then why couldn't they be wrong about werewolves too? After all, the books said plain and simple – werewolves were only dangerous under the full moon and were perfectly normal all the other days of the month (though they may look and act a little moody and sickly those few days before and after) and Remus had never given them any reason to dislike him except for this one little thing. Except it wasn't a little thing. There wasn't anything remotely little about turning into a monstrous beast every month. Sirius felt conflicted.

Peter Pettigrew did not know what to think either, but the way his thoughts ended up were not quite as reasonable and logical as James's, nor as complicated and confusing as Sirius's. The shortest boy simply did not know what he was supposed to think. He knew that most people would have undoubted freaked out and carried on if the notion that one of their best friends was a werewolf was brought up. But neither James or Sirius had done anything more than offer blank expressions and solemn faces since their discovery and Peter wanted very much to be like the two people he admired the most.

As they walked in silence back to the common room, he watched each of them carefully, trying to read their respective expressions. James simply looked thoughtful, something that didn't possess his face very often and Peter was rather pleased with even just recognizing it as a thoughtful expression. It was somewhat like the look he got when reading through Quidditch magazines and studying techniques and strategies – a hard, fine kind of concentration full of knowing.

Sirius's expression was a bit darker; there was a sort-of frown on his face, albeit a thoughtful frown. His look of concentration was rather different from James's in that it looked deeper, more serious (no pun intended), like he was thinking about something no one else could understand. And given that much of his background was still unknown to his friends, that was probably true. The differences in the two's expressions bothered Peter because the more different they were, the more likely they would get into an argument about something, and Peter hated it when they fought because it meant he (and often Remus) had to chose a side and no matter which side they picked, it was always the wrong side.

It was not that Peter was at a complete lack of his own opinion though. It was inevitable that he have his own thoughts about the apparent condition of Remus Lupin, regardless of what he eventually chose to display as his opinion. First off, to be rather frank, he was terrified of the prospect of a werewolf running around at Hogwarts. Nothing he had ever heard about werewolves had been good. Fenrir Greyback, the most infamous of the mongrels, was known for biting young children then stealing them away, and that scared the plump child. He would hate to think of what might happen if he ever had to face Remus as a werewolf. Peter was glad Remus had paralyzed them the night before; he knew James and Sirius would have followed him otherwise, and where would that have left them?

Dead, probably.

Yes, Peter was afraid of werewolves, but Remus? Remus wouldn't scare a fly, and probably couldn't if he tried. The problem was that the werewolf and Remus were one and the same, but not, and that was confusing. He didn't know how he was going to ever get used to the idea that the monster and the goody-good shared the same body; it would take time. And he'd really like to know what James and Sirius thought, but wasn't too keen on asking either of them and breaking their strict concentration.

When they finally got back to Gryffindor Tower, James headed directly for the dormitories, declining an invitation to play chess from a third year named Frank Longbottom; Sirius did likewise, ignoring the same request. Peter, who did not receive any gaming requests, followed the other two silently. In the dorm room, James collapsed heavily onto his bed and let out a great long sigh before springing back up like a Muggle jack-in-the-box.

"So Remus is a werewolf," he said, finally saying aloud what they had known for sure for all of seven or eight minutes (the time it took to get back to the dorm from the Astronomy Tower).

"Yeah," Sirius confirmed, his voice somewhat quiet and hollow, like he wasn't really sure.

"What are we going to do when he comes back?" Peter wondered uncertainly.

James had opened his mouth to speak when the door creaked open slowly. Three pairs of eyes turned to stare at the devil they had just been speaking about as he came in hesitantly and cast a quick glance at the bunch of them before averting it hurriedly and moving over to his bed. It was already past three in the afternoon, but Remus still looked like hell. His hair was tousled to the point of defeating James's hair in unruliness, something that no one would have ever thought possible; his face was still horribly pale, though not quite as white as it had been in the hospital wing. His eyes looked sullen and tired and the scars down his neck were only partially covered by his collar; the ones across his forehead were faded pink and almost invisible, but still noticable. The uncomfortable silence that had been initiated reigned on as he sat down on his bed.

"We know," Sirius announced suddenly whilst staring at his own feet on the opposite end of his own four-poster bed. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Remus cringe.

"I know you know," the lycanthrope mumbled quietly.

And there followed another bit of silence before James gave an enormous sigh and stretched out, failing backwards on his bed. "Oh, enough of this nonsense. I don't give a damn what you are, Remus. You really ought to have just told us," he yawned, as if the fact that his friend was a werewolf wasn't anything more interesting than a four-leaf clover.

Remus looked up, thoroughly startled by this proclamation. He stared at James like he was a madman, then asked, "You don't hate me?" in a small, tentative voice.

"I just think you were a bit of a git to not have told us, but other than that, no, I don't hate you," he answered easily.

The boy with light brown hair kept staring at him in utter disbelief; he wanted to argue by couldn't think of anything to say. Well, he could, but everything seemed rather useless. He was a monster; he was uncontrollable, violent, horrible, bloodthirsty, and all those other horrible things that people said about werewolves that were, of course, true. But James had to know that already – he wasn't stupid; and if he could figure out that Remus was what he was, then certainly he knew of all the words that were attached to what he was. He looked sideways at Peter, then at Sirius, unwilling to get too hopeful too quickly, "What about you guys?" he asked slowly.

Peter gave a little jump at being addressed (though not directly) and looked quickly at both James and Sirius before he looked up at Remus. He still wasn't sure of what he was supposed to do or say. James had given his okay, but what about Sirius? He didn't want to be the second to say something, so he shifted his gaze again and looked helplessly at the Black boy.

Sirius slowly dragged his blue-grey eyes from the foot of his bed and over to Remus. His face was expressionless and no other boy in the room could deduce any of his thoughts, opinions, or feelings by looking at it. For a moment, Peter was more afraid of Sirius than he was of Remus. "You lied to us," he said slowly, as if he was only just talking to himself, reminding himself.

The sickly looking boy looked away, unwilling to hold Sirius's gaze. "Yeah," he said quietly. "I'm sorry. I just…didn't want…If you had know from the beginning, you would have always just hated me," he managed with some difficulty. "I've never had anyone meet me who didn't already know…No one's ever seen anything but the werewolf. …It was nice having friends. I didn't want to lose that."

"What do you mean 'was'?" James spoke up abruptly, "We're still friends, aren't we?"

Remus glanced at him again with the same startled expression, "If…if you want to be friends with a werewolf…" he emphasized, as if James didn't already know the facts because it certainly seemed like he didn't.

"I said I didn't care, didn't I?" the Chaser said with a bit of annoyance.

Remus looked at Sirius, who was still staring at him with an unreadable expression. James transferred his gaze similarly, then promptly threw a pillow at the other black-haired boy, whose face fell through and twisted into something like surprise. "Stop being all broody and cool-like and tell us what you think about all this already, dammit," James commanded. Remus, Peter and Sirius looked at James incredulously for a moment, then the darker expression returned to the latter's face.

"I don't know," he grumbled. And he really didn't. Hearing James say what he thought out loud put some sort of perspective on things. It wasn't as if Remus was a werewolf on purpose – all werewolf bites were either accidents or the doings of bastards like Greyback. And what Remus had said was just so pathetic and sad that Sirius couldn't help but feel sorry for him (hell, just look at the kid!). It made him feel guilty too, knowing that he was right: if Sirius had known that Remus was a werewolf from the beginning, he probably would have never bothered to look twice at him again, much less become friends with him.

He supposed he was glad then, that he hadn't known, because Remus wasn't a bad person (and he definitely would not be passing History of Magic without him) and it would have been a shame to write him off before getting to know him. And yet…a werewolf! He was a bloody werewolf! They were as violent as giants, as untamable as chimeras, and as horrible as his damn parents…according to his damn parents. Well, just damn it all!

The other three boys were still staring at Sirius, waiting for a more proper answer. Irritated and rather frustrated by everything by this point, he just threw up his arms and shouted, "Oh, bloody hell, I don't care! Whatever! So what if you're a werewolf, Remus? I'm a bloody Black! We know you're not dangerous – you haven't done anything bad in the whole time we've known you – a pity, really – so what's the point of anything changing now? No one cares about your moony problem, right Peter?" Sirius was just eager to get the spotlight away from himself. But really, it all made sense. Who really gave a damn that Remus was a werewolf when he obviously wasn't a vicious human being?

Peter was happy to finally have permission to agree (not that Sirius knew he was giving permission). "Yeah! We don't care, Remus! We still love you! You've been a werewolf all along, right? So us knowing now doesn't matter!" the chubby boy cheered.

"Exactly!" James exclaimed, looking extremely pleased.

Sirius's characteristically wry grin returned, the traces of inner confusion evaporating with the rising spirits of the other two, "We still love you, Remus; it's okay."

Remus had paled again, several shades, and looked as if he was going to pass out. His eyes were so wide that they looked rather like the full moons that tormented him so and he still couldn't think of anything to say. There was a strong swelling feeling that wanted to explode out of his chest and he wanted to hug everything and everyone in the room and call them all idiots at the same time. They didn't care! They really seemed like they didn't care! He just couldn't believe it. They still wanted to be his friends. A thousand pound weight had just been lifted off his shoulders. It was really quite overwhelming, the relief.

"Y'okay, Moony?" Sirius called in a sing-song voice.

"Don't look so surprised, why don't you? You didn't really think we would just up and ignore you, did you?" James laughed.

"You should give us more credit!" Peter agreed.

And for the first time in several days, Remus smiled. "Thanks guys...Really. Sorry for not believing in you."

"Damn right you should be! And for hexing us too!" Sirius accused loudly.

Remus grinned sheepishly, "You always did say I needed to get over my goody-good self."

"Well yeah, but I reckon you've got all that covered now that you're a werewolf!" James exclaimed.

"I've always been a werewolf," Remus said rather calmly, deciding that he really didn't need to explain exactly when and how and what happened right at that moment.

"You know we're going to have to call you Moony now, right? Moony, Moony, loony Moony!" Sirius snickered.

"Moony!" Peter approved.

"Moony!" James confirmed.

Remus just laughed, for once taking a werewolf joke in stride and accepting it wholeheartedly. He was grateful for it, really.

fIN.

A/N: Well. For a story whose plot is pretty much already known to all its readers, I thought it turned out pretty okay. I always feel dissatisfied with my endings because they always seemed rushed to me, but I think this one was better than the last one, at least. I was going to have them wait another month before confronting Remus about it, but that just seemed to make it too long-winded. I mean, the thing was already 10,000 words. :x