Author's Note: I would like to dedicate this chapter in its entirety to the amazing Julia, who on this site goes by the name of Light Under My Skin. She knows why.
"Well," said Lily flatly. "This isn't what I would have expected from a Marauder."
She and Remus were sitting in the front of his car, a dusky blue, modest little Fiat. It was fairly old and befitted a student driver, not a wealthy young man, particularly not a man as famous as Remus Lupin. He had carried Brian to the car on his shoulder as if he weighed no more than a throw pillow, and left him propped up and belted in the back.
Brian's head lolled to the side as he snored, drooling. It brought back unwanted memories of Lily's previous relationship with him.
"It's probably not a fashionable opinion, but I do love this car," said Remus, and fastened his own seatbelt. "I bought her from a used car dealership when I first learned to drive. She's served me well and I've grown rather attached to her. I can't say I've got the heart to buy another."
"I can understand that." It was a nice car. It didn't have a funny smell like some old cars did, and she had spied a bag of sweets in the glove compartment. "If something's not broken, why replace it?"
"I feel the same, but Sirius refuses to be seen in it." Remus started the engine with a chuckle. "He claims it would be detrimental to his dark and mysterious image."
He pulled out of his space and drove towards the entrance of the parking area. It was meant to be for tenants only, but Lily supposed being a Marauder meant that one lived by one's own rules. Lily told him to turn left and racked her brains trying to think of a way to continue their current conversation for the next ten minutes. Anything, even talking about cars, would be better than discussing what she suspected Remus might want to discuss. Cars were Mary's thing, but Lily was willing to pretend she loved them if it meant not coming clean about her powers.
"Sirius prefers the flying motorcycle that can't actually fly, right?" She giggled nervously, a worrying sign because she never giggled, but Remus either didn't notice or was too polite to say anything.
"You know him so well already."
"He doesn't seem difficult to figure out, to be honest."
"Perhaps on the surface." Remus turned the car around at the intersection. "It might shock his devoted fans if there were to learn that he has a secret obsession with online roleplaying games, for example. Not that he does, of course," he added wryly. "Just don't mention
"On the surface, perhaps," Remus agreed, turning the car around at the intersection. "It might shock his devoted fans if they were to learn that he had a secret obsession with online roleplaying games, for example. Not that he does, of course," he added, with a wry smile. "Never mention the name Dramorion the Sexy to him."
"And what about Peter and James?" Lily asked. "Do they value their reputations as much as Sirius does his?"
"Peter owns very many impressive cars, all of which are big and obnoxious," Remus provided, grinning. "He looks ridiculous in all of them, especially the Range Rover. On the other hand, I'm not even sure if James has a car. He really likes flying, you see, flying and running. I think he might have a bicycle. He likes being active. He finds it difficult to sit still sometimes."
This description of James made Lily feel warm inside.
"I think I'd like this car a lot more than a Range Rover or a masquerading motorcycle," she said, being disinclined to take pleasure in anything that was overly flashy. "I suppose it's not going to last forever, though."
"Probably not," Remus admitted, and patted the car's spotlessly clean dashboard. "Hopefully, it'll continue to function for the next few years, because I can't afford to buy a new one at the moment."
"You can't?" Assuming that this was a joke, Lily forgot her manners and laughed outright, neglecting to consider that she might have been acting quite rudely. "You have to be joking. You can, surely?"
"I assure you, I definitely can't," said Remus solemnly, and Lily immediately felt guilty, and wondered if she hadn't just offended him somehow. Then he glanced at her, and it was clear that she had simply amused him with her incredulity. "You can't be blamed, of course, for assuming the opposite."
The knowledge that Remus was, apparently, not wealthy enough to purchase a new car came as a great shock to Lily. The night before, James had told her a little about each of their families and childhoods, and she knew for a fact that Lyall Lupin was the managing director of a large conglomerate which owned several successful manufacturing companies. Lily had also learned that James came from old money. His mother Dorea was an heiress whose wealth accounted for all of his family's fortune, and surprisingly, his father, Charlus, was a retired teacher of no real importance in high society. Peter's parents were senior partners at a multinational law firm. The four boys had met as children in an exclusive private school, and had grown up together. All four were very wealthy, but it had appeared to Lily as if Remus Lupin's family were the richest of all.
"I'm so sorry," she said, squirming like a worm on a hook. "You must think I'm vulgar. James told me about your families last night, and I just assumed without thinking."
"You assumed correctly, there's no need to apologise." The stopped at a set of traffic lights and he smiled at her. "There was a trust fund that was made available to me, had I been inclined to take it, but ultimately I decided against it."
Once again, Lily was shocked and ashamed of herself for having judged James and his friends so harshly and for such a long time. Lately, it seemed as if all the Marauders did was surprise her and she was discovering that all of the cruel and biased assumptions she had once held dear were one by one coming to nothing in rapid succession. It was nice to know that she was wrong, but it also forced the question of whether she needed to take a closer look at herself.
"Would it offend you if I asked why?"
"Not at all," said Remus. "Simply put, I'm not a great supporter of the way wealth is distributed in the world, and as I consider myself fit and able to earn my own keep I thought it best that the money in my trust fund be put to better use. I had eighteen years' worth of savings when I moved out of my parents' home, which was enough to cover my rent, bills and food for a handful of years. I'm not terribly extravagant, either, so I rub along quite nicely."
"Wow," said Lily. "That's very noble of you."
"That's a very kind thing to say, but you mustn't think too highly of me," said Remus. "I'm not completely insensible to the benefits of my family's fortune. I allowed my parents to pay for college."
"College?" She had never heard of any of the Marauders seeking any form of higher education, and James had certainly not mentioned it. "Are you in college now?"
"I was in college until this summer," Remus confirmed. "I decided to take a year off after I graduated, but I'll be starting medical school next September."
"Seriously?" Lily gaped. It was an unattractive look for her. "But you're always so busy with, well, being a Marauder. How will you find the time to study? How did you find the time to study?"
"Sometimes it's difficult." Brian's apartment complex loomed ahead of them. "We made the decision to do this with our lives as teenagers, when we really didn't know any better. None of us considered the possibility that we might want to lead lives of our own one day, so we had to start allowing ourselves to have time off as we got older. That's why we work to a schedule, although once I'm qualified as a doctor I might have to give it up entirely."
"That's incredible," Lily breathed, truly impressed. "And the other boys don't mind?"
"Nobody minded when James and I were in college and had to take large chunks of time off to study," said Remus reflectively. "Well, Izzie minded, but she's crazy. Balancing the work that we do along with school was a struggle, but I think the two of us managed quite well."
Lily stared at Remus as he parked the car in Brian's complex. She stared at him as he checked his mirrors. She stared at him until he looked at her again, and he laughed at the look on her face.
"I'll take your stunned silence to indicate that you didn't already know that James is also a college graduate," he said, and unbuckled his seatbelt. "I'm not surprised. We enrolled under pseudonyms and took a lot of classes online. It was never widely known. The last thing either of us wanted was a stampede of fans interrupting a class."
"No, I didn't." Lily felt as if someone had boxed her ears. "He didn't mention it to me last night. I wonder why he didn't."
"James is afraid to reveal the best of himself to you because he's afraid that you'll think he's conceited," said Remus flatly, but not unkindly. "You'll know that he's anything but after spending an evening with him, but he won't listen to reason at the moment. I blame Sirius for indulging him in his foolishness."
Shame was throwing a party in Lily's brain. She was suddenly struck by a new fear – that Remus might think her indifferent to his friend, or that she was leading him on with intent to hurt him later. She had spent three years in a relationship with someone she didn't much care for and she hated the idea that James might think she felt the same way about him, because she didn't, she most definitely didn't.
She silently resolved to let James know that she had come to think highly of him if he still wanted to speak to her. After Brian's antics this morning she wouldn't have blamed James if he went running for the hills. She probably would have in similar circumstances.
"I'll just get him upstairs," said Remus, interrupting her thoughts. "I won't be long, you can listen to the radio while you wait if you like."
Lily nodded, chewing on a strand of her own hair. It was only when Remus had removed Brian and the shabbily wrapped Christmas present from the back of the car that she came to her senses, leaned over the driver's seat and stuck her head out of the window.
"I don't think James is conceited," she said, blinking in the sunlight that shone on her face. "I think he's lovely. I think he's wonderful. He's the nicest man I've ever met, not even saving your presence, and I'd hate for him to think otherwise."
"Then you're clearly a very perceptive person," replied Remus, with a smile that was all warmth and goodness. "I'll be back in a flash."
"You didn't have any trouble getting him in, did you?"
"Not a bit." Remus slid into the driver's seat and shut the door behind him. "He's still asleep and likely to stay that way for a few hours."
"Peter did his job well."
"Are you alright?" Remus looked at her with some concern. "That was a nasty scene this morning."
"I'm fine, don't worry about that, it's not a big deal. He'll be so embarrassed when he sobers up that he'll know better than to do something like that ever again."
That was a lie. Lily was fairly sure that it was a big deal, but Remus wasn't the person with whom she wanted to discuss it. Brian's behaviour was becoming increasingly erratic. Mary had muttered something about pressing charges before Lily and Remus left the apartment and Lily knew she was due for a battle later when she would try to convince her not to, because Brian was much too helpful in her secret life. But a small voice reminded her that Brian had never been a big drinker and he had certainly never been violent, and that Mary might have been on to something when she claimed that he was starting to lose it. If Lily was to report him he would lose this job, though, and she didn't want that on her conscience. She had hurt him enough already.
"An old boyfriend of yours?"
"Yes," Lily muttered shamefacedly, as if admitting to armed robbery. "We were together for three years before I ended it. It was the right decision because we weren't right for each other, but I'm not sure if I treated him as well as I should have." She sighed. Talking about Brian made her feel old. "I've apologised more times than I can count, but it still makes me feel like a terrible person."
"You're supposed to make those mistakes when you're young," said Remus wisely. "If you really were a terrible person, you wouldn't feel so badly about it now."
"Thank you for saying that."
"You're very welcome," he replied. "Have you been apart for long?"
"Too long for him to still be acting like this. I broke up with him over a year ago, in May. I really thought he'd have moved on by now, and met someone new."
"I see." Remus was drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, and it occurred to Lily at that moment that he had not yet started the car. "And may I ask, did this separation happen before or after you came to acquire superhuman abilities?"
It didn't matter that she'd been expecting it; the shock hit her like she'd been doused with ice water.
Her heart fluttered erratically, as if it were struggling to escape the situation. She felt dizzy.
"Lily?" Remus sounded far away, as if he were outside the car and the windows were closed.
She didn't answer because she would say the wrong thing, or cry, or shout at him, all three were possible.
Remus Lupin knew that she had powers, which meant that James would know or knew already, and if he knew already it meant that she had originally been right about him. She had been right to assume that he would expose her, laugh, jeer, and make it impossible for her to live her life without bearing the intolerable intrusion of constant public scrutiny.
As quick as the idea came, she rejected it. She couldn't believe that of James any longer. He must not have known and that was worse, for he would soon discover that Remus was keeping it secret, and he would be hurt and angry. She would be responsible for damaging their friendship and lose any chance she had of being with him, but then, what chance did she have anyway? She was the one who had lied from the beginning and allowed her ignorant hatred of his public persona to prevent her from trusting him with that information, as she should have done. Now she was to be branded a liar and public exposure would undoubtedly follow. People would know her name.
He would know her name. That man. That awful, terrifying man. He would finally know, and could find her if he wanted. Knowing that he didn't have her name had been her one consolation for a year. She had only just begun to feel sure that she would never see him again, and now…
Remus laid a hand on her arm and her reflexes must have abandoned her, because she jumped with fright. He was looking at her with great concern.
"You're white as a sheet. Please don't be upset." His tone was contrite and he looked as if he sincerely regretted his words, although she saw no reason for him to feel that way. "I only asked you because I wanted to offer you an apology."
"An apology?" Her own voice sounded so very strange. "What do you have to apologise for?"
"It doesn't give me pleasure to invade the minds of other people," Remus explained, his voice low and serious. "I can only imagine how pained and humiliated I would feel to know that someone had delved into my private thoughts, and I don't make a habit out of doing it. I've felt terribly about looking into yours for a very long time, but if you'll allow me to explain I'd like to tell you why I disregarded my own rule in your case, and again offer you a sincere apology, which you quite rightfully deserve."
Of all possible scenarios, she had not expected this. She felt as if she should have been begging him to forgive her, but her heart had calmed itself. She nodded to let him know his request was granted.
"You must understand," he began, looking straight at her with such frankness that she felt embarrassed. "When we met you for the first time we were astonished to discover that there were more like us in the world. These murders that have been – two new bodies were discovered as early as this morning, but I digress, they're not the work of a regular human being, and no animal in or near this city could inflict that kind of damage. The idea that there could be somebody else with abilities that match our own but who uses those abilities for such evil has been a constant worry since these murders came to light. When we met you for the first time I didn't believe anything ill of you, but the circumstances surrounding the deaths were unavoidable. I had to be sure."
"You thought I might have been killing those men," she said, and a rock settled in her stomach. It made sense, but it didn't make her feel any better. "So you read my mind."
"And for that, I truly am sorry," said Remus. "I only wished to know your identity and your true intentions. They became clear to me immediately and as you clearly wished to keep your identity under wraps I didn't see reason to share that information with the others. I let them know that you were to be trusted and I left it at that."
She nodded, but didn't feel relief. She felt ill.
"I can promise you that I have not taken the liberty of prying into your mind since and I never will again, but I have known who you really are for a long time, before James had ever seen you, I believe."
"You mean, before he saw me outside Kenzie's office?"
"I was surprised, as you can imagine, when he met you a few weeks later and told me all about him, but I haven't told him what I know and I don't intend to."
"Even though we've been on a date?" This couldn't be true. "Even though he's your friend?"
"Your secrets are yours to keep, not mine to tell," Remus interrupted her, but the interruption was so kindly given that she couldn't think him rude. "While I do believe that James will need to be told the truth eventually if you and he are going to continue seeing one another, that's only my opinion, and in any case, that decision should be yours to make."
"Wouldn't he be angry if he discovered who I was and knew that you had kept it from him for such a long time?"
"James is a very understanding person," he said. "An understanding person who believes that you were sent to the world in order to provide it with sunshine. If needs be I'll beg his forgiveness, but I know him, and I know he wouldn't believe that I've done anything wrong. If anything, I think he'd thank me for looking out for your best interests. If you're worried that he will think badly of you, well, you obviously don't know him well enough yet."
"You think so highly of him."
"I do," Remus agreed. "As do you, I believe."
Lily nodded and looked at her hands. Her mind wasn't at ease. The matter of whether or not she should tell James her secret was still a big issue, regardless of what Remus may have said. Her secret was one that she wanted to share with as few people as possible. Even Eddie did not know, and she and James were still only getting to know one another. Now should not have been the time for such intimate confessions but the fact that Remus knew made the inevitability of the fact all the more real. And terrifying. She didn't know how she was meant to begin to tell him the truth.
"You can generate fire?" said Remus. When Lily looked up and nodded, only barely aware of what they were talking about, he shrugged. "Don't worry, I didn't read your thoughts. I guessed as much earlier when you were asking about it."
"I know," Lily reassured him. "It's okay."
"How did you discover that about yourself?"
"Completely by accident, and it was terrifying," she said, and gave a small, half-hearted laugh as the recollection came to her. "I was trying to light a scented candle and the match wouldn't light, and I got frustrated, and the next thing I knew the entire candle had burst into flames."
"It happens," said Remus, nodding as if he understood. "I discovered my talent for reading minds when I was trying to figure out if Sirius was lying about stealing one of my onion rings."
"And was he?"
"One thing you should know about Sirius, is that when it comes to stolen food, he's usually always lying."
"I'll have to remember that."
"I dare say you will."
Seemingly satisfied by the way in which their conversation had been conducted, Remus placed his key in the car's ignition and started the engine. It whirred into life and the bottom of the tiny car began to vibrate, but then he switched it off abruptly, and turned in his seat, regarding her with look of great curiosity.
"Would it trouble you, perhaps, if I was to ask you one more thing?"
"Whatever you like," said Lily, with a shrug. He knew practically everything there was to know already, so what point was there in keeping anything else a secret? "I don't mind."
"How did you come by your powers?"
Her father had offered to drive her home that night.
She remembered that night, a bitterly cold November Tuesday. The rain had been torrential for close to three days. Lily had just recovered from a bad dose of bronchitis and had come to work in spite of her father's protests. However she didn't feel at all well, and cancelled her creative writing class so she could go home early, run a hot bath, curl up in bed with a good book or watch a movie with Mary and Eddie.
That had been how she lived her life, back then. It was quiet and uneventful, but she enjoyed having the freedom to do as she pleased and live how she wanted. It had been so much better than being with Brian. She had been so unhappy with him, but things were finally getting better. She felt like she belonged to herself again.
She agreed to let her father drive her home, after a lot of badgering. Walking so far in the rain would have been a bad idea in her condition. She decided to take advantage of the car by getting some groceries from the store around the corner. While her father closed the shop, she took a banknote from her purse and slipped it into her pocket, flung her jacket over her head and promised to be back in five minutes. She slipped out into the rain and walked with her head bent.
She did not see the man who followed her, not until she awoke the next day.