"There's got to be some reason that he's in Gryffindor!" I exclaimed, banging my fist on the table. Sirius lazily glanced up from his Quidditch magazine.
"James, mate," he said. "Who cares?"
"But he should be in Ravenclaw! He has every quality that they do, and face it: Have you ever seen Remus act brave?"
"Umm..." said Sirius, flipping through the magazine idly. "There was that one time... Remember when he sacrificed himself to get us out of detention with Filch? He took all the blame for the prank and left us scot-free."
"Hmm, that's true," I said thoughtfully. "That's definitely noble, but not brave."
"Speak for yourself," said Sirius. "It was cleaning the bathrooms with Filch and a toothbrush."
I grimaced. "Still, though" I persevered. "I think his so-called bravery has something to do with his mysterious disappearances."
"James," said Sirius, looking annoyed. "They're not mysterious. He goes home to visit his mother. He's lucky he has a mother to care for," he muttered. "Why can't you just believe him?"
"Because it's so unlikely!" I burst out. "If it's not his mother it's his dog dying, or his uncle having a heart-attack, or his cousin twice-removed getting married, or one of his other lame excuses!"
"They could be true," said Sirius mildly.
"But they're not. And I'm going to find out just what is wrong with his family, or him, or whatever it is. I'll get to the bottom of this if it's the last thing I do."
"And you're helping."
"What?!" Sirius looked outraged. "I am not. I refuse to waste valuable time sneaking around spying on our friend."
I felt wounded. "It's for his own good!" I insisted, but Sirius would have no more of it.
"Then why is he hiding it?" he yelled. "If you think he's making up excuses, why do you think he's doing it? It doesn't add up, James!"
I glowered at him angrily. "I'm going to bed," I said icily. As I passed him on my way to the staircase, I growled, "It does add up. Something's not right with him, and I won't give up until I find out what it is."
I stalked up the stairs and slammed the door to the dormitory, glancing at Remus's once-again-empty bed. Peter was already asleep, so I decided to fill him in on the mission the next day.
"This is it, guys!" I whispered excitedly as we lurked in the common room. It had been exactly twenty-nine days since Remus last left, and Professor McGonnagal had just come to collect him again. Remus came scurrying over to us, looking pale.
"I've got to go home again," he said solemnly. "McGonnagal says that my Grandfather fell down three flights of steps yesterday. He's in the hospital, and you know, at ninety-eight he's not rally expected to make it."
"I'm really sorry mate," said Sirius gravely. "But if he doesn't... er, make it, he had a good life, right?"
"Yeah," Remus sighed, but I noticed that he didn't quite meet our eyes.
"When will you be back?" I asked, hoping to change the subject before Peter started weeping. (He gets strangely emotional sometimes.)
"The day after tomorrow," said Remus.
"How do you know?" I asked, raising my eyebrows in surprise. "What if your Grandfather makes it past two days?"
Remus reddened, but at that moment Professor McGonnagal strode up to them. "Mr. Lupin, it's getting late," she said, for some reason glancing out the window. "Your family is waiting for you."
"Yes, yes, I'd better go." For some reason, he looked out the window too. I turned around to see what all the fuss was about, but just saw the darkening sky. "See you, guys," muttered Remus, and he followed McGonnagal out of the common room.
"Definitely strange," I remarked, nodding at Remus's retreating back. He turned back sharply and I wondered for a moment if he had heard me. He certainly had a worried look on his face, in any case. I raised my eyebrows again as he left. "We've got to follow him."
Sirius looked resigned (I had been pestering him for three weeks), but Peter looked excited.
"Oh, I can't wait!" he squealed. "I love being a detective, and solving mysteries!"
Sometimes I wonder why we let him hang out with us. I grabbed my invisibility cloak from my bag, and yanked on Sirius's arm. "Come on."
"Wait, James!" he pleaded, one last time. "Are you sure you want to do this? I really don't think he did anything suspicious just now."
I sighed in exasperation. "Didn't you notice when he blushed? Or when he couldn't meet our eyes? Or when he knew we were talking about him after he started to walk away?"
"No," said Sirius bluntly.
"Well, too bad," I said. "I noticed. Now let's go!"
We left the common room and covered ourselves with the invisibility cloak. "I think they went that that way," I whispered, pointing in the direction of the great hall. When we reached the Great Hall, we noticed the front doors closing quietly, and we dashed forward, just in time to slip through. There were two solitary figures making their slow way across the grounds. Even from a distance, they were unmistakable. I saw McGonnagal glance up worriedly at the sky, (well, she looked worried, anyway) and suddenly Remus stumbled. She helped him up hurriedly and supported him as they continued across the grounds at an even faster pace. We hurried along after them and reached them just as they stopped walking and McGonnagal said, "Good luck, Remus. I'll come for you in the morning, if Madam Pomfrey is still busy with the Quidditch students." Earlier in the day there had been an outbreak of fights in the charms corridor involving some extremely nasty hexes used on the Quidditch players of Gryffindor and Slytherin. I was slightly surprised that McGonnagal called Remus by his first name, since I had never heard her speak so familiarly to a student before; it seemed they knew each other better than merely being student and teacher. As I watched in disbelief, McGonnagal took a long stick from the ground just as Remus collapsed, trembling violently. McGonnagal bent down next to him and spoke softly. "Come now, Remus," she said. "You have to go in now, it's almost time." She looked up at the sky yet again. Slowly, Remus lifted himself off the ground.
"I'm alright, Professor," he said hoarsely. "Could you open it now, please?"
She nodded. "Of course." She carefully walked toward the Whomping Willow, a violent tree that had been planted only the year before. I watched, puzzled, as she went closer and closer, and almost cried out a warning when a branch went whirring in the direction of her head, but to my amazement, the whole tree suddenly froze. I looked closer, holding my breath, and saw that she was touching a knot on the trunk with the long stick. The tree successfully incapacitated, McGonnagal beckoned to Remus, who stumbled towards it. I watched in increasing bafflement as he walked right up to the trunk (Why on Earth was he out here, in the middle of the night, with McGonnagal, standing in front of the Whomping Willow?), but then he turned, thanked the professor shakily, and slipped through the ground. I started, leaning forward in shock, and saw that there was an entrance to a very narrow tunnel concealed among the roots.
"Maybe it's a tunnel to his house," whispered Sirius beside me, but I could tell he didn't believe it himself. There was some mystery here, and it was about to be solved by three twelve-year-old boys. McGonnagal sighed quietly to herself as the tree began to move again and I leaned forward to hear her murmur, before going back up to the school,
"Poor boy. He shouldn't have to go through what he does. A true Gryffindor, that one."
I felt my heart beat faster with excitement and triumph. So Remus's disappearances did have to do with his being in Gryffindor. I waited a few moments to make sure she was gone, then said eagerly, "Come on, let's follow him!" Sirius agreed eagerly and I suppressed a smirk, knowing that he hated being wrong. I picked up the stick that McGonnagal had used and squinted at the tree roots. "Could you see exactly what she was touching?" I muttered.
"I did!" squeaked Peter, and I looked at him in surprise. "I did!" he insisted resentfully. "Here, give me the stick and I'll show you!"
I handed it to him doubtfully, but watched attentively as he strode forward confidently and, before the tree could hit him, prodded the tree in the exact spot that McGonnagal had. It froze and I cheered. "Well done, Peter! I didn't know you had it in you!" He scowled but flushed with mingled pleasure and pride when I clapped him on the back. We all moved forward, Peter carefully holding the stick in place, and then one by one, slipped through the tunnel. I went first, and felt the ground squish up around me, and mud cold beneath my hands as I crawled forward. Sirius came next and Peter brought up the rear. The farther we went, the more aware I became of a curious howling in the distance. After a while, it started to get on my nerves. "Do you hear that?" I asked. Sirius assented quietly and Peter thought for a moment before saying,
"The howling? Yeah."
We crawled through the tunnel for what seemed like ages, until finally it leveled out. We stood in a small open space, stretching our legs, when we heard a bone-chilling howl directly above us. For some reason, it suddenly sounded much more menacing. "What is that?" I asked in terror, embarrassed when my voice came out rather higher than usual. The others didn't laugh. Sirius was looking very pale, and Peter looked like he might wet himself. A loud bang broke through the silence like a gunshot and the earth around us trembled. I looked up and saw a small wooden door set into the low ceiling, easy enough to climb through. "Look," I whispered, pointing at it. "A trapdoor. That's where Remus went." Sirius followed where my finger was pointing and nodded, looking as though he were bracing himself.
"We'll have to go through then, won't we? We didn't come all this way for nothing."
"No," I agreed. Then another howl ripped apart the very air, it seemed, terrifyingly close, and I cowered. "But, what about... that?" I whimpered, pointing at the trap-door.
Sirius thought for a moment. "If Remus can face whatever's in there, then so can we."
I nodded, feeling scared but determined. We had come to find out what was wrong with our friend (the little spectacle outside with McGonnagal had only reenforced it), and that was what we do. I paused for a moment, listening, and when it seemed the noise had moved away a little bit (we could still hear it, but it was fainter), I opened the trapdoor. I pulled my self through and looked around, taking in the dusty and blood-stained surroundings. Sirius came next, and we pulled Peter up after us.
"Where are we?" whispered Sirius. "I've never been here before."
"Me neither," I breathed back.
We didn't move for a few moments, only looked around, straining our memories for the mention of a tiny dusty house near Hogwarts.
"We're in the Shrieking Shack," said Sirius suddenly. "Look at the windows, they're all boarded up."
I looked at the windows in astonishment and saw that he was right. "I wonder why they're boarded up," I murmured. "To keep people out, or to keep something in?"
Sirius shrugged, and I looked at Peter, who had so far said nothing. I found him staring at the far door, his eyes wide and a look of absolute terror etched all over his face. "Pete?" He whimpered, and I followed his gaze to the door. There, crouching low to the ground, ready to attack, was an enormous wolf. "Sirius," I muttered out of the corner of my mouth, not daring to take my eyes off the creature. "There's a werewolf standing a few yards away from us."
"What?" he looked at door. "Holy mackerel!" he shrieked.
As if awoken from a spell, the wolf lunged. "Argh!" I screamed, and drew my wand as Peter scurried for the trapdoor. Sirius and I scattered, confusing the wolf, who slammed into the wall. "Confuse it!" I yelled. "It doesn't seem very smart!"
As if angered by my rude comment, the beast spun around to face me. It ran at me, making the floor pound with its heavy footfalls and I raised my wand. "Impedimenta!" I screamed, very glad that my parents were aurors and had taught me a few defense spells. The wolf stopped and shook its head, as though shaking off an irksome fly, but recovered alarmingly fast, and lunged again, this time at Sirius. "Run!" I yelled. "Get down the trapdoor!" Sirius stood, frozen with fear, and I was forced to take action before the creature reached him. "Hey!" I yelled. "I'm right here! Come get me!" For good measure, I shot an aguamenti charm at it. The wolf felt the water hit it and whirled around again, as quick as thought. I saw Sirius out of the corner of my eye draw his wand, and ran towards him. The wolf followed, but I was already almost at the trapdoor, had almost reached Sirius. Then, suddenly, I tripped and fell sprawling on the ground. I braced myself for the inevitable attack, and felt hot, putrid breath on my face. I looked up, ready to meet death, but then the werewolf went flying backwards and landed on the floor with a loud thump. Sirius rushed over to me, holding his wand high.
"James!" he cried. "Are you alright?"
I nodded and he helped me up as the werewolf also stood, growling.
"Run!" I bellowed. "We're almost there!"
Together we ran straight for the trapdoor, and Sirius dropped through. A moment later, I too jumped down. I reached up immediately and slammed the door shut. The bang resonated around the small space, and then there was another crash as the werewolf jumped on the door, infuriated that its prey had gotten away. I looked up fearfully, ready to run again if the door collapsed, but it seemed to hold.
"Wow," said Sirius. I looked up to see him grinning. "We just escaped from a werewolf."
I, too, felt adrenaline coursing through my body, but couldn't help lean against the wall, trembling slightly.
"Yeah," I panted. "Where's Peter?"
"Here," came a tiny voice from the shadows, and I looked over to see Peter crouching by the tunnel, looking terror-stricken. "What happened?" he asked, his voice shaking. "What was that thing? Was it really a werewolf?"
I nodded. My parents had shown me pictures and taught me to identify them when I was very little. "It was." There was a very long pause, in which the only sound that could be heard was the werewolf's howling, full of rage, and our own labored breathing. Then with a flash I remembered Remus.
"Well," I said, looking at Sirius. "You know what this means."
He looked confused, and I supposed that he still hadn't remembered why they had come in the first place. Peter, it seemed, though, had.
"A werewolf ate Remus!" he screamed.
Sirius started, as though awaking from a dream. "He comes here every month," he said hollowly. "It can't eat him every time he comes. The only possibility is that... is that..."
He looked at me, too shocked for words. I nodded. "It's the only thing that makes sense," I said.
"What are you on about?" said Peter.
"Peter," I said slowly, as though speaking to a very dim-witted child. "Remus comes here every month. Every month at the full moon." When he still looked blankly at me, I elaborated. "He came here today, and we just saw a werewolf where he was supposed to be visiting his Grandfather."
"Peter," Sirius said, obviously getting impatient. "What happens to werewolves on the full moon?"
"They transform, of course. What does that have to do with-" Suddenly his eyes grew very round. "Do you mean," he said breathlessly, "that Remus's Grandfather is a werewolf?"
"No, you twit!" I yelled. "Remus is a werewolf!"
There was complete silence. Even the werewolf seemed to have stopped howling. "Remus is a werewolf?" Peter repeated incredulously. "That's impossible. Werewolves are vicious, they're not bookworms, they're not... they're not nice. Remus can't be a... a werewolf. It's impossible."
It did seem impossible. Remus was the nicest boy I had ever met. He was quiet, shy, and kind to others. I had never seen him act wolfish, or even aggressive to anyone. He seemed to... pride himself in self-control, even, and that was when I knew it was true. He sometimes seemed impatient and moody, probably right before the full moon, and yet he always tried to control himself. There had been a time when we had all been assigned three essays by Slughorn and two by McGonnagal right before he had left, and he had seemed completely devastated and angry. He had stormed out of the classroom right when the bell rang, but we had found him standing outside, leaning against the wall and taking deep breaths. He was muttering to himself, saying over and over again "Control, Remus. Control. The worst that can happen is to lose it. Control." He had been completely oblivious to anyone around him, and jumped violently when I tapped him on the shoulder.
He had been afraid that his wolfish side would gain control. He didn't want to be ruled by the primitive, aggressive being that took over his body and mind every month. I didn't blame him.
I turned to Sirius. "What are you going to do?" I asked.
"What do you mean?" he asked stupidly. "About what?"
"About Remus! Are you going to keep being his friend?"
He looked offended. "Of course. Aren't you?"
"Yes, I am. He didn't choose to become a werewolf, and he's really lucky that he was let into Hogwarts at all. I didn't know they accepted werewolves. He probably didn't have any friends at all before us. We shouldn't abandon him for something like this."
Peter looked startled. "But... he just tried to kill us!" he squeaked. "You still want to be around him? Knowing that he would attack us in a heartbeat, given half the chance?"
"He wouldn't, Peter," I started, but Sirius rounded on the small boy.
"How dare you?" he growled. "Do you think that he wanted to attack us just now? Do you honestly think that he wants to kill us? How can you even say something like that?"
"I..." Peter looked around wildly. "I'm a pureblood! I was taught to fear werewolves! My mother told me that they love drinking blood! That they know exactly what they're doing on full moons!"
"You little fool," hissed Sirius. "I was taught the very same thing as you were, and did I swallow it all up? All the absolute load of tosh that my parents fed me?"
"You hate your parents!" said Peter frantically. "You'd do anything to anger them!"
"Yes, I would," said Sirius, grinning sinisterly. "But I'm not talking about them now. I'm talking about Remus, who's been our friend for almost two years, and who you said yourself is nice. He's not in control of himself during full moons, any more than he can control his body growing hair and a tail. James and I are staying with him. You can choose to as well, or go find other friends."
The threat was left hanging plainly in the air and Peter cowered. "Fine!" he said. "Fine! But, you'd better be right!"
"We are, Peter, don't worry," I said. "You can check in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, by Newt Scamander. He's the expert, I've met him a few times, and he says that werewolves can't control their actions on the full moon."
There was another very pregnant pause. Suddenly we heard the howling, which had been going on all this time, change subtly. It became louder, more piercing, and more full of pain. It sounded like someone was being killed, and suddenly I knew what was happening. I wrenched open the trapdoor. "You want final proof that it's Remus?" I said, hoisting myself up again. "Come on."
I stepped once more into the dusty little room, and immediately looked all around for the werewolf. I found it laying in a corner, screaming in agony. There was a tiny sliver of light filtering through a crack in the boarded-up window, as the sun rose. Sirius and I hurried over to the wolf, and before our very eyes, it began to change. The hair receded into the skin, the limbs rearranged themselves, and the howling became screaming and then crying, as the wolf transformed back into a human. Remus was curled up tightly in a ball, sobbing quietly. I felt a thrill of pity as I looked down at him. He had to go through this every month? I reached out and touched his bare shoulder gently. He stopped crying abruptly, and for a moment was completely still. "Madam Pomfrey?" he whispered. Then he looked up and saw me. "James?" he said, even more softly. Then his eyes rolled up into the back of his head and he lost consciousness.
I stared down at him in shock, only then realizing how much blood he had lost. The howling that we had been hearing must have been him attacking himself, scratching and biting his very own body. He must have been desperate for blood, driven by an insatiable thirst for violence. On closer inspection, his body was crisscrossed with old scars and new wounds, raw and bleeding. One eye was swollen shut, and it looked like he might have broken one of his arms.
"James!" hissed Sirius beside me. "James! Someone's coming up the tunnel!"
I whipped around and listened with all my might. Sure enough, soft footsteps could be heard echoing up the tunnel, coming closer. I grabbed my invisibility cloak and flung it over the three of us, just in time as the trap-door was opened slowly. We inched to the side as Madam Pomfrey stepped into the room and made her way over to where Remus was lying. She sighed and conjured up a thick blanket, which she wrapped carefully around him. Then she magicked a stretcher out of thin air and lifted him gently onto it. Keeping her wand trained on it, she walked slowly out of the room and through the tunnel, the stretcher floating in front of her. We followed at a prudent distance and saw her cast a powerful disillusionment charm on Remus and the stretcher, and proceed up to the castle, concealing her wand with her arm, and looking as if she was merely going for a stroll.
When we reached the Great Hall, we saw her turn right and knew she must be taking Remus to the Hospital Wing. "What should we do?" I muttered. "We can't just burst in there and demand to see Remus, she'd think we were insane."
"He's unconscious, anyway," said Sirius. "We wouldn't be able to talk to him for a while."
We thought for a moment, and I saw Peter yawn. "Look," I said. "We've been up all night. Why don't we go get some sleep and come back whenever we wake up? It's Saturday, so there are no classes."
Peter agreed eagerly, and Sirius nodded, smothering a yawn of his own. "Alright, then."
I woke up first. Sirius could still be heard snoring, and Peter was sprawled on the floor, whimpering. I guessed he had had a nightmare about the werewolf and fallen to the floor. When he started to cry softly, his legs thrashing desperately and his eyes moving restlessly beneath their lids, I took pity on him.
"Peter!" I whispered, kneeling beside him and shaking him softly. "Wake up, it's all right! You're just dreaming!"
"Huh?" he muttered sleepily, sitting up. "What- what happened? Where's the werewolf?"
"You were dreaming, Peter," I repeated soothingly. "We already escaped, remember? Remus is in the hospital wing."
"Huh? Oh yeah, that's right." He breathed a sigh of relief. "What time is it?"
I checked my alarm clock. "Three in the afternoon," I said. "We sure slept a long time."
"Wuzgoinon?" said a sleepy voice from the right. Sirius sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes. "What time is it?" he yawned.
"Three o'clock. I bet Remus is up by now, we could go see him."
"Yeah. Yeah, that's a good idea. How are we going to do it, then? We can't just say we want to see Remus, he's supposed to be visiting his Grandfather, remember?"
"Hmm..." I thought for a moment. Finally I straightened up. "Alright, this is what we're going to do, then. One of will hex the other," I talked over the sounds of outrage and disbelief, "No, wait for it. One of us will get hexed and the others will take whoever it is to the Hospital Wing. Once we're there, it'll be a simple matter of finding Remus and talking to him. If we have to, we can use a diversion to ensure that we get to see him."
Sirius nodded, looking impressed, and bent over his trunk, looking for a pack of Filibuster's Fireworks. Peter, however, looked scared. "Wh-who's going to have to get jinxed?" he stuttered.
Sirius rolled his eyes. "I will, I don't mind. And James can cast the best hexes, anyway."
I shrugged. "If you want to," I said. He stood in front of me. "What do you want me to cast?" I asked, pulling out my wand.
"Anything," he said. "A combination would be best, I think. We want Madam Pomfrey to be busy for a while."
"Yeah, but then you won't get to talk to him!"
"That's what the fireworks are for, my friend. And you can cast the counter-curses, can't you?"
"Easily enough. Now hold still."
I quickly gave him boils, huge flapping ears, a red squishy nose like a tomato, and made his hair turn into green slime. He looked at himself in the mirror and groaned.
"James, really," he said. "Were the ears necessary? And the nose? And the hair?! What will the fan club say?"
I laughed. "Better hope they don't see you, then."
We had slept in our clothes, so we just left the dormitory as we were, Peter and I walking along visible, while Sirius hid under the Cloak. When we reached the corridor leading to the Hospital Wing, I yanked it off him. "That's enough hiding," I said sternly. "You could have been jinxed by a random Slytherin along the way here already."
Sirius whimpered, looking around. "The fan club?" When satisfied that there was no girls in sight, he turned back to me. "Some random Slytherin?" he repeated incredulously. "Can't we say it was Snivellus?"
"No. It's not fair, and it's easier to just say we didn't see who it was."
Sirius scowled. "Fine."
We opened the door to the Hospital Wing and peered in. I appeared to be holding Sirius up, though he could walk perfectly well on his own. "Madam Pomfrey?" I called. She cam bustling around from a bed surrounded by curtains. "That's where Remus is," I muttered. She approached us looking annoyed.
"What have you lot done this time?" she said, frowning. "Been fighting with the Slytherins?"
"They just attacked me!" said Sirius, bristling with fake indignation. "And look what they did to my hair! I was just walking along, innocently, when, all of a sudden, I was ambushed! They just leapt at me, and started cursing me! I couldn't see their faces, but I'm sure one of them was Sniv- I mean Snape! And then-"
"All right, all right, that's enough. Step this way, Mr. Black, and I'll see what I can do. The rest of you can lea-"
"Madam Pomfrey!" someone bellowed, running into the room. "Madam Pomfrey! Someone's been hurt! I think it was the Gryffindors, they wanted to ruin our team, and now Avery's been hurt! And Wilkes keeps saying he's dying-"
I narrowed my eyes with dislike at the skinny Slytherin boy standing in front of us. It was Rosier, a third year, and an infinitely unpleasant person. Madam Pomfrey gasped. "I'm sorry, boys, but this can't wait. I'll be back soon!" she called, already halfway to the door, Rosier not far behind her. "Settle yourself down, Mr. Black, I'll be back right away!"
"Quick, turn me back," said Sirius as soon as she had left. "A fan might come by..."
I looked at him in exasperation, but muttered the counter-curses. He immediately dashed to a cabinet and pulled out a mirror. After surveying himself, he nodded. "Good ones, James! Boy, were we lucky! We didn't even have to use the fireworks!"
"Yeah, that was lucky." I was already moving to the bed with the curtains around it. "Remus?" I called softly, pulling them aside. "Are you in here?"
I heard a gasp as I pulled the curtains back. Remus was sitting in the bed, bandaged heavily, a look of horror on his face. "James!" he said. "What are you doing here? I thought I heard your voices, but..."
"We came to see you," I said uncomfortably. Suddenly it seemed much harder than I had anticipated to talk to him. How do you tell one of your best friends that you've just figured out they're a werewolf?
"How- how did you know I was here?" he asked, the panic clear in his voice.
"Umm..." I said. "We... we just... What happened to you?" I asked, not knowing what else to say. Remus looked down at his bandages self-consciously.
"I tripped," he said.
"Weren't you supposed to be at a hospital with your dying Grandfather?" asked Sirius, raising his eyebrows.
"I was," he said, squirming slightly. "I tripped at the hospital, and was brought back here."
"Even though you were in a hospital, where they could have easily treated you?"
Remus blushed. "I... I..." he struggled to fill in the holes of his lie.
"Look, Remus," I said gently, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "We know you weren't at a hospital last night."
His eyes bulged and he broke out in a cold sweat. "I was!" he said desperately. "I was! You can ask anybody you like! My- my mother! Or-"
"Remus," said Sirius quietly, sitting down as well. "We know where you really were last night."
He didn't try to deny where he had been anymore. "You do?" he whispered. "But you can't. Please... please...," he begged. "You weren't there-"
"We were," I said, and I saw a single tear roll down his cheek. "You saw me."
I could tell he knew this. "I thought I was hallucinating."
"You saw me, and said my name," I said. "Right after-"
"Right after I changed back." Having said it out loud he seemed to lose all self control and buried his face in his hands. "You were the only friends I ever had, you know," he whispered when he looked up again. "Thank you for everything you've done for me." He sniffed. "I knew it couldn't last, but I used to hope, pretend when I was little..."
"What are you talking about?" I interrupted.
Remus looked startled. "You guys, of course." Suddenly he jumped, as though suddenly remembering something. "I attacked you last night, didn't I?" he whispered, fear etched all over his face. "Did I hurt you? I... I was standing over you, James..." His eyes were wide with this sudden realization. "Please don't say I bit you."
"You didn't," I reassured him quickly. "I got away. You didn't even touch us, don't worry."
"How did you escape?" asked Remus. He seemed desperate for us to keep talking, and I knew he thought it was the last conversation we would ever have.
"Sirius threw you backwards," I said. "I don't know what spell he used. But seriously, Remus, we aren't going to stop being your friends because of something like this."
Remus looked up, disbelieving. "What did you just say?" he whispered, as if not daring to believe it.
"I said that we're not going to stop being your friends, Remus. It's not your fault that you turn hairy once a month, and we honestly don't blame you for it. What kind of friends would we be if we abandoned you for something completely out of your control?"
Remus opened his mouth several times, but closed it again, unable to think of anything to say. "Do you really mean it?" he breathed. "Are you joking, or... Are you serious?"
"Well, actually, I'm always Sirius, but this time we all are, Remus. We're not joking," said Sirius. "It would be a pretty lame joke, and anyway, it takes more than something like this to scare us off."
Remus laughed even as his eyes filled once more with tears. "You guys are the best friends anyone could ever wish for," he said.
"Don't say that, you'll make us cry," said Sirius lightly, whacking Remus playfully on the arm. "Besides, you'll probably regret it later. Oh! I'm sorry, did I hurt you?" Sirius said, looking concerned, for Remus had drawn his arm back, wincing in pain.
"No, no," he said, with a brave attempt at a smile. "It's okay. I broke it last night, but Madam Pomfrey fixed it up in no time, and it's alright now."
I inspected his face, which was cut up, and in one place had a whole square inch of skin missing. "That looks like it hurts," I said.
He waved his good arm, dismissing his injuries as if they were nothing. "They don't hurt that much, and I've had worse. Maybe Madam Pomfrey will let me out early this time, in fact. We can always hope! It's dead boring in here."
I watched in admiration as he laughed along with the rest, barely flinching when a cut on his nose opened and started bleeding. A true Gryffindor, indeed.