"Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home." J.K. Rowling
Harry, Ron, and Hermione went back to Hogwarts at the beginning of the New Year. It was a week before the wedding, and a month before Hermione's new book was supposed to come out. It was the story of the trio's second year at Hogwarts and Hermione had just told the men beside her the title.
"The Chamber of Secrets?" Ron repeated. "Well, I guess that works. Although I always remember second year as 'the year my wand wouldn't work.'"
"Only because you and Harry thought flying a car to Hogwarts was the most brilliant idea in the world," Hermione snapped, sounding for all the world as the bossy child she had been when they'd walked these halls as students. Hogwarts had a way of bringing that out in people.
"Where does Lee want these pictures done?" Harry asked, looking at the vaulted ceilings and remembering that this was the first place he'd ever called home, his only true home. Somehow, between wars and deaths and pregnancies, he'd forgotten how much Hogwarts meant to him.
"He gave me a list," Hermione extracted a piece of paper from her purse. Lee Jordan, who had been the first person to promote Hermione's book about the trio and the hunt for Horcruxes, had since fallen into the position of Hermione's agent and PR. Not that they needed to promote the books much – they flew off the shelves almost as soon as placed there. Everyone wanted to know the inside story of the Boy Who Lived Twice. "I don't know if we should go down into the Chamber, though."
"I don't really fancy that, no." Harry said, peeking over Hermione's shoulder. "But we can do the trophy room. My God, Ron, do you remember? We got awards for Special Services to the School that year."
"We should have gotten awards every year," Ron muttered, "Between Sorcerer's Stones and rescuing escaped prisoners and fighting against evil wizards...I don't think we got through a single year without causing a stir at the end…"
The trophy room was almost never visited, except by students doing detentions for Filch, so they had the space to themselves. Harry wandered up and down the rows, peering at this trophy or that one as he recognized names. Dumbledore had one, and so did Tom Riddle (that was ironic).
"Hey, Harry. Look at this." Hermione was pointing to a small curved trophy almost hidden behind the plaque of the 1989 winning Quidditch team, with Charlie Weasley grinning from the front, Seeker and Captain.
But what Hermione was pointing at was another award for special services to the school – this one awarded to James Potter.
Every time Harry found something about his parents buried in the depths of Hogwarts, he felt his stomach flip, felt his face burn red. Sometimes he thought of his parents as almost not real people at all, as stories he'd been told of fictional characters doing heroic deeds.
"Wonder how he got that?" Ron mused, looking at Harry carefully. Harry shrugged, moving one finger forward to trace the shape of his father's name.
James Potter looked at his best friend incredulously. "You didn't."
"You should have heard what he was saying to Remus. I swear he knows something, and if he gets proof he's not going to be quiet about it either."
"So you decided that the best way to take care of Severus was to send him down to the werewolf?" James was already digging in his trunk for the invisibility cloak. Sometimes he was sure that Sirius just didn't think. "And what will happen if he finds him?"
"He'll get the scare of his life, and good for him too." Sirius shrugged, unconcerned. James rolled his eyes. "What? I figure we'll come up behind Severus and tell him we'll make sure he would regret it if he tells anyone about Remus's furry little problem."
"Blackmail? Sirius, really…" He threw the cloak over the two of them, leaving a hasty note for Peter. Getting through the Whomping Willow would be harder without him, but this couldn't wait. "And what would happen if the wolf actually bit him?"
"Remus doesn't bite." Sirius scoffed, as if they were talking about a tame puppy and not a vicious magical creature.
"The wolf does." James said, hurrying down the stairs. "You know Remus can't control himself."
Sirius still couldn't admit he was in the wrong. "Snape would deserve it."
"And then they'd kill Remus. You know this, Sirius. You know that the law says no werewolf can bite a human."
"It wouldn't be Remus's fault! You just said -"
"Yes, and there's no such thing as prejudice in this world, Sirius! Really, you've seen the way people act whenever you mention werewolves."
"As if we don't have bigger things to worry about, with Voldemort attacking people left and right."
"You can't change the ways of the world just because you want to! If they put Remus to death for this it will be on your head."
That made Sirius speed up, nearly tripping over the cloak. It was ten minutes to the full moon.
Sirius didn't want to wait outside. "Moony needs us." Isn't that why they became animagi in the first place? So Mooney would have something to do at nights, so they could go on adventures together as animals and Remus wouldn't have to worry about turning one of them. So he wouldn't have to be alone.
"Like you were thinking about Moony when you planned all this." James was nearly trembling with rage. He couldn't remember being ever being so mad at his best friend, but the thought of Moony biting Snape…of Remus being killed for something he couldn't control…
James watched the Whomping Willow carefully, trying to gauge the right time to go. Sirius nudged him and pointed to a long stick that pointed right at that knot in the tree. "He's already here."
"Damnit! We're out of time." James started creeping forward, then fell back as a branch cut into his cheek.
Sirius's whole body shook, and the next instant an enormous black dog was in his place. The dog stared at the branches for a heartbeat, two, then darted forward and pressed the knot with its snout. The last move the tree made was knocking Padfoot twenty feet into the air.
"Sirius!" James cried, looking at his friend, torn between going in and grabbing Snape and making sure Sirius was alive. The dog didn't stir…
His feet moved of their own volition and he clambered down between the roots of the tree, through the corridor. "Lumos," he muttered, running at a crouch, straining his eyes for a glimpse of that greasy-haired git he'd come to find. "Snape!" He called, and was that snuffling he heard, the first whimpers of a howl? Moony was changing tonight, and the werewolf couldn't control itself…
He rounded a corner and there Snape was, his own wand out, looking through the doorway with an expression of pure fascination. He didn't notice when James threw his arms around his waist and dragged him back, looking in the door himself in time to see the wolf rear its head.
"Potter!" Snape snarled, spinning out of James's grip. "Associating with monsters? What would the adoring fans think?"
"Get out of here, Snape!" James shouted, pushing his shoulder. "I mean it! Do you want to get bitten?"
"You will, too, Potter." Snape drawled, "And I don't see you moving."
"I know Remus." What James wanted to do was shift into a stag, but he didn't need a Slytherin finding out all their secrets tonight. He shoved Snape again, and maybe it was the howl of the wolf that finally got the boy moving. He ran out into the corridor and onto the lawn. He didn't notice the great black dog lying, unmoving, at the base of the tree.
Remus sat with James as dawn broke over the horizon. Madam Pomfrey would be coming with blankets and medicine, as she did every full moon. He'd tried to move James but couldn't – his friend was out cold. "You git," he muttered again and again, rubbing James's bare shoulders with his scarred hands. "You absolute git. Why'd you stick around, huh?"
After Moony had smelled human blood that was it. Usually the Marauders transformed into their animal forms before they were even near to the wolf, but tonight had been different. Remus could just remember seeing another figure fleeing down the corridor, could only be glad that when he pounced James had already had the presence of mind to change into his stag, filling the entire passageway and preventing the wolf from chasing after the smell of blood.
But he couldn't control the wolf's instinct to bite, to tear, to kill. He fought with the stag, left the animal bloody, whimpering softly, whole pieces of skin torn off. And he couldn't stop, not until daybreak came and the painful transformation happened again, and he found himself sitting next to one of his best friends, hovering on the edge of death.
A couple of charms had ensured that James would not pass into the next world, and now Remus could only sit with his friend's head on his lap, smoothing back the blood-soaked black hair, murmuring soft, meaningless words.
It would be a half hour until Madam Pomfrey found them. She would transport James up to the hospital wing where he'd stay for two weeks. Remus left his side only for class, feeling so guilty he wanted to tear his heart out.
It would be an hour before Sirius, who'd been knocked out cold all night, would be found by Hagrid and taken back to the giant's cottage to have his wounds looked after. He stayed as Padfoot most of the day, shivering next to the fire, wondering how everything turned out. He, too, would stay in the hospital with James, feeling his own guilt over what had happened.
It would be four hours until Dumbledore swept into the hospital wing, glad to find both James Potter and Remus Lupin there. He told them that he'd had a long conversation with Severus Snape, and that the Slytherin had sworn to keep the secret of the Shrieking Shack. Remus looked so relieved at this that Dumbledore felt a pang in his heart.
He told James that he would be commended quietly with an award for Special Services to the School. James shook his head, slipping back into sleep before he could explain to the Headmaster that he was just glad to have spared his friend from an execution rooted in old prejudice.
Ron let Harry stare at the trophy for a while, then clapped his friend on the shoulder. "Come on, mate. Let's take these picture for 'Mione and then go visit Hagrid. He might know something about your dad."
"Yeah," Harry said, forcing a small smile. "Yeah. It'd be nice to visit Hagrid again."
Hermione held up her camera, motioning for her two favorite men to stand beside their own award for Special Services to the School. Harry's smile was almost genuine, and when Ron looped an arm around his shoulder he did the same to the red-head.
And Hermione took the picture, preserving the moment in time. She couldn't stop staring at the award given to James Potter, though. Couldn't stop wondering what it was for.
And couldn't stop feeling so, so sad for Harry, who would never get to ask his father that question.