A/N Again, thanks and praise to all my reviewers...this chapter's a little more dark. The Wizarding World is on the brink of war, and reality hits home for Lily and her friends. Lily grows up, a lot, and finally finds out Remus' secret. If only it were as simple as all that...
Disclaimer: I don't own them, JK does.
The bit at the beginning is taken from Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Enjoy.
"How happy some o'er other some can be!
Through Athens I am thought as fair as she.
But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so;
He will not know what all but he do know:
And as he errs, doting on Hermia's eyes,
So I, admiring of his qualities:
Things base and vile, folding no quantity,
Love can transpose to form and dignity."
She paused, and turned to face the audience, tears shining in her eyes. The next words were wistful.
"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind:
Nor hath Love's mind of any judgement taste;
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste:
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled."
The girl trailed off, and paused for a moment, collecting herself.
"As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,
So the boy Love is perjured every where:
For ere Demetrius look'd on Hermia's eyne,
He hail'd down oaths that he was only mine...
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt,
So he dissolved, and showers of oaths did melt."
Now she seemed resolved, purposeful.
"I will go tell him of fair Hermia's flight:
Then to the wood will he to-morrow night
Pursue her; and for this intelligence
If I have thanks, it is a dear expense:
But herein mean I to enrich my pain,
To have his sight thither and back again."
Everyone clapped as she froze on-stage and the curtain fell. Lily's hands in particular hurt from clapping so much, and she felt fit to pop with pride. Charlotte was sitting next to her, and the blonde haired girl squeezed her friend's arm. "She's ever so good, isn't she?" whispered Charlotte.
"I knew she would be," Lily said firmly, kicking the seat in front of her. James Potter turned around slowly, and she could hear Sirius snorting with laughter.
"What is it, my lovely Lily?"
"Right around, so I can see you."
James sighed, and carried on turning. In their seventh year at Hogwarts, the Gryffindors were all in attendance at Arabella's morning dress rehearsal for the play she was in tonight. She'd been given special permission by Dumbledore to take part in the production (This Saturday Night at Hogsmeade, 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', by William Shakespeare) and as it was a Hogsmeade weekend she'd asked her friends to come and watch the dress rehearsal.
Lily had read some Shakespeare out of interest, and found it beautiful. She loved the old-fashioned, poetic language, the way it was written to be spoken, how each word needed life breathed into it before the true beauty of each phrase could be captured.
She also loved James Potter.
James Potter, who at the moment had Transfigured half of his face into a flower. A sunflower, nonetheless, in a rather obvious attempt to make Arabella laugh in the middle of her speech. Lily wasn't impressed.
"You could've at least done a lily!" she hissed, mindful that some of the other actors were glaring in their direction. "What made you even think of doing a flower in the first place, you nut?"
"I just thought it would look funny," said James, rather mournfully. One of his petals fell to the floor, and Lily couldn't stop the smile ruining her annoyed expression.
"Just...just turn it back to how it was before."
"Harsh words, Lilliput," said Sirius, passing some Chocolate Frogs back to Charlotte, Lily and Peter. "Are you sure you want it back to how it was before? Maybe you should just leave him like that and buy him a nice vase to stand in."
"Can someone prune him?" Peter piped up, slumped in a seat next to Charlotte. "I can't see anything."
"You aren't missing much," replied James. "It's just Arabella sighing and moaning a lot."
"And no-one wants to miss that," Sirius said, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
Charlotte and Lily both hit him at the same time, and said "Pig!" in loud unison. Everyone else in the small theatre turned to stare at them, and the group dissolved into muffled laughter. All in all, it was just another weekend in early March.
Except, of course, Remus was ill. He got ill on a regular basis, and Lily worried about him. He always looked somewhat sickly, and though she assumed he had some sort of illness, they'd never spoken about it. Lily accepted this – Remus had probably shared it with James or one of the other boys, and he seemed to be fine. She just wished that he trusted her enough to talk to her about it.
"I might go and see Remus," Lily said lightly, as they waited for Arabella outside the changing room. She was holding James' hand, and felt it tighten a little around her own.
"I went to see him this morning, Lils, he's fine," Sirius replied, turning away from an in-depth conversation he was having with Peter. Perhaps she was being paranoid, reading too many trashy novels, but Lily thought she heard something of a warning in Sirius' tone. She decided to push it.
"Still, won't he want to hear about the play?"
"Arabella can go and tell him herself." Sirius turned back to Peter, and Charlotte gave Lily an annoyed sort of glance. Oh, she knew that Charlotte was very annoyed. The black haired boy was almost viciously protective of Remus, then did something entirely contradictory like letting Arabella, of all people, visit him. And Arabella wasn't the one who liked Remus. Lily was also starting to get annoyed, and wondered exactly when this blatant favouritism had reared its ugly head.
"I'll go with her then," Lily countered, unable to keep the smugness from her tone. To her immense surprise, James made a tutting noise.
"It's just...I don't think he wants many visitors...and it was Arabella's play..." James trailed off lamely, failing to meet her eyes.
Lily put her hands on her hips.
"What's going on?" she exclaimed. "Why the sudden ban on Charlotte and I ever seeing Remus? He's our friend, he's ill, and we'd like to go and see him. Sirius doesn't seem to have a problem with the wonderful Arabella going to..."
"Hi," Arabella said, emerging from the door, looking a little puzzled. "What's with all the shouting?"
"Nothing," Peter squeaked, producing a bouquet of flowers and diffusing the situation admirably. "Well done, we got these for you."
All of a sudden everyone was laughing and hugging and congratulating – although Lily saw Sirius whisper something to James when he thought no-one was looking. She put everything that she wanted to say to the back of her mind once more, and her little outburst was forgotten, or ignored.
Lily was eating her lunch with James, in the Great Hall, on a Saturday. There was nothing particularly unusual about it, apart from the fact that this lunchtime she was bored. She was never bored around James.
Today was obviously the exception to the rule.
He was stirring his tea morosely, not even looking up when some young Quidditch fans asked him for an autograph or four. James managed a weak grin, and signed the pro-offered parchment scraps quickly, before descending once more into his gloomy mood. Two years of a relationship so close it sometimes felt like marriage had given Lily the ability to almost read James' mind.
No special mind-reading skills were needed today. Anyone could tell that James Potter was
completely miserable, and Lily felt a little insulted that even she couldn't bring him out of it. Oh, no, of course you can't, a sarcastic little voice reminded her, it's Arabella they're all fixated with today. Almost laughing at her own pettiness, Lily poked James.
"Come on, Potter, perk up. You're no fun like this –if it continues I'm seriously thinking of taking dear Severus up on his offer..."
That made him look up. It irked James no end that Lily had struck up a civil working friendship with Severus Snape (they both took Advanced Arithmancy). Ever since Sirius' mother had died, and there had been that fight – that fight no-one would ever talk about – relations between the Gryffindors and Slytherins had been frostier than ever.
She ignored his mocking tone, and laid her hand on his arm. Marvelling at how it made her heart race to touch him, even after all this time, Lily forced him to look up.
"Please tell me."
"Tell you what? I tell you everything..."
"No, you don't. Tell me why you're so upset...tell me what's wrong with Remus..."
There. Steel shutters had come down over those brown eyes, and he snapped at her.
There was no other word for it, and that was when Lily knew something was terribly wrong. James, above all, was easy-going. Peter was nervous, Remus was gentle, Sirius was passionate, and at some point in her seven years all three had snapped at Lily. She'd taken it at face value; all three had tempers. Some better hidden than others, but definitely there. James Potter never snapped, especially not at the girl he loved – something was very, very wrong.
"Fine, I will," she said, a little shocked. His face immediately changed expression, that flash of fire gone. He looked weary, and apologetic.
"No, really – I think you need to be alone, for a while," Lily said, softening her own tone, bending down to kiss him on the cheek. She meant it, as well. In the meantime, Lily Evans was going to answer her own questions. She needed to see Remus, and for that, it seemed she needed Arabella.
Just then, Charlotte waved at her from the entrance to the Great Hall, Crookshanks wrapped around her legs. Lily ran over, and scooped up the large, orange cat, fussing over him like a baby. "Crooky-Wooky, where have you been?" Turning to Charlotte, she gave her friend a hug. "Where did you find him?"
"He was in the Owlery, again. Snuggled up next to some of the barn owls – I'd swear he was talking to them, if I didn't know better," Charlotte replied, scratching the cat affectionately between the ears. Crookshanks was the undisputed pet of Gryffindor Tower. Friendly, clever and loving, he let everyone stroke him and rarely ever flashed his claws. Unlike the irrepressible Spag – Lily swore the scrawny grey thing waited for her at the top of the stairs so he could scratch at her ankles.
"Charlotte, I wanted to talk to you about something," Lily said, putting the cat down, and starting to walk back to the common room. "It's this thing with Remus – I'm really worried."
Lily studied Charlotte's pretty face carefully. Again, all she saw were shutters. This was how Charlotte got whenever the subject of Remus came up. It was well known (to Lily and Arabella, anyway) that Charlotte adored him, but for one reason or another, they weren't very close. This unrequited devotion was something Charlotte saw as an embarrassment, and, stubborn as ever, she refused to talk about it. Lily carried on regardless.
"I think he may have taken a turn for the worse," she said, trying to keep her voice calm. In all these years, all the times he'd been ill, Lily's inner pessimist had been repeatedly telling her that something would go wrong, that one day he wouldn't come back from the hospital wing. "I think that's why James is so upset, and –"
"It doesn't explain why we're the only two not permitted to see him, though, does it?" said Charlotte logically, as the two reached the portrait hole.
"True. Lovely Lily," Lily stated to a bored looking Fat Lady. James had chosen the password for this fortnight, to her immense embarrassment. Still, she was planning to get him back properly next week. Charlotte grinned.
"What're you changing it to again?" she enquired.
"Oh, I was thinking maybe James Is Unnaturally Fond Of His Broomstick, but it's probably too long."
Their giggles were the only sound in the Tower. It was empty and quiet as a morgue. Suddenly Lily realised that on the walk from the Great Hall she hadn't seen anyone. Now she wondered what could've happened.
"Lils...where is everyone?"
"Just what I was thinking. Come on, lets check the bedrooms."
Both girls knocked on various doors, calling out to people they knew. The last room was their own, and Charlotte collapsed on the bed. "No sign of anyone. Very strange."
Lily leaned against the door for a second, and was just about to suggest that they go back to the Great Hall when she heard voices.
"Shush!" Lily hissed, and beckoned to her friend. Through the door they could hear what was clearly two very annoyed people trying to speak in very quiet voices. Or what passed for quiet voices, when the two people in question were Arabella and Sirius.
"I can't do that!" Definitely Arabella.
"You have to! There's no other choice!"
"But I can't..."
"You aren't that bad at curses..."
"Oh, don't start that, I'm fine at curses, I just don't want to use them on my friends..."
"Only to save your other friend, who needs you right now, more than they do – how can you even think about it, you saw him earlier, you saw what that bastard did to him..."
There was a pause, and then Sirius spoke again, softer still.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Arry. Come here, come on...look, it'll be fine, but you have to stop them from finding out."
"Maybe...maybe they should find out. I did...and they'll hear about it anyway."
"Not the whole story. And the more people who know, the more dangerous it is. Bad enough that you're involved, never mind Lily and Charlotte..."
"Okay, fine, I'll do it. For him, not for you."
Lily exchanged a puzzled look with Charlotte, and then the blonde girl pulled her friend away from the door. Someone on the other side fumbled with the handle for several moments (muttering 'Blast, blast, blast!') before flinging the dormitory door wide open and leaping through. Arabella had a panicked gleam in her eye, and for a second or two Lily was actually worried.
"Er...you can't go out there," Arabella said, waving her wand frantically. "Or I'll hex-"
Charlotte leaned forward, an exasperated look on her face, snatched the wand neatly out of Arabella's hand and put in her pocket.
"Oh!" Arabella exclaimed, clamping her hand over her mouth.
Lily could be very scary at times. Now was one of those times. Narrowing those famous green eyes, she turned to Charlotte.
"Shut the door. Arabella, you'd better tell us what's going on right now."
The other girl was wringing her hands together, and tried to make a move for the door. Charlotte was already there, and scowling, Arabella sat down on the end of her bed, head in her hands. Crookshanks and Spag both leapt up with protesting yowls, and Crookshanks ran to Lily's feet. Without realising that she was echoing McGonagall at the Sorting, all those years ago, Lily crossed her arms.
"Explain," she said curtly.
For a long minute Arabella sat there, seeming to compose herself. At last, she leaned back, resting her head against the wall with a dull thud. Lily felt immediately sorry. Tears were making their slow tracks down Arabella's cheeks, and she started to speak.
"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind...did you listen to the play, earlier?"
"What?" queried Charlotte, obviously thrown.
"Yes," said Lily, in that same level tone. "We did. You were very good. I just don't think this is the time for dramatics –"
"Oh, this is the perfect time for dramatics," said Arabella with a hollow chuckle. "This, I promise you, is the stuff plays are made of. The confrontation scene," she said, flinging her arms apart. "One girl knows a secret, a terrible secret, and now must her companions somehow make her confess to it – despite her best efforts, the girl reveals the secret...and then...and then there'll be many more confrontations," she finished, miserably.
Lily didn't know quite what to say. Instead, she listened.
"It started...I can't believe that I'm telling you this..."
Arabella shook her head slowly, and a humourless smile stole over her lips. "I don't know if I can. I don't know if I should...understand, you have to understand, I'm not telling you this because you asked, or forced me to – I'm telling you because I think you need to know. I think you have a right."
She took a deep breath, and Charlotte slumped against the door. Lily hoped that last little outburst really had been the last – after all, they had lessons soon. For a moment, everything was clinging on to normal. The tower was deserted, she knew someone had a secret, but for all that she was normal. She felt normal. Lily was to reflect later that this was the moment everything changed, forever.
This moment. These words.
"I left that book I was reading downstairs, you know, 'Dedalus Diggle – An Autobiography'?" The others nodded, puzzled, and she continued. "Well, I wanted to read it – this was in fifth year, so it's been two years...two years, almost exactly to the day." She gave another empty laugh. "Bizarre timing. So, I went downstairs and I heard voices – I thought most people had gone to bed. But they hadn't. It was Sirius and James, and they were holding something, talking to it. When I say they, I mean James was holding it...I couldn't see very clearly, they had their backs to me. I called out, and they both moved so quickly – I knew they were up to something. It isn't so unusual, is it?"
"We had a short conversation, I grabbed the book, said goodnight, went back upstairs, and that should've been the end of it. But I was curious...remember, Charlotte, when you told me you thought they had something special, like an Invisibility Cloak, because they never got caught, never?"
Charlotte shrugged. "I...I suppose I might have, once."
"You did, the day before. I didn't go to bed. I waited round the corner, and when I looked back...they'd disappeared. I could hear them talking, though. Sirius said that it had been too close, and James didn't say anything...then the portrait hole opened."
The words seemed to be coming easier now, and Lily wondered what could be so secret, what could be so awful that involved her James?
"I waited until it shut again, then I ran downstairs, and opened it. They were still invisible, but I could hear their footsteps – it was really stupid. I mean, this was Sirius and James – but I didn't want them to see me. I listened, and I walked at the same time as they did – now I know they were preoccupied with something else, so they probably wouldn't have heard me anyway."
"Once we were outside, the cloak came off. I hid behind a bush – it was so cold, and wet, all drizzly. I was shivering, and I saw this little grey rat shoot off, towards the Whomping Willow. The other two set off after it, and I followed as best as I could, keeping to the shadows, running from bush to bush."
"Was it an Invisibility Cloak?" Charlotte interrupted.
"Yes, yes, it's so pretty...all silvery." Arabella took another deep breath. "I could stop talking now, and you wouldn't know. This is the last part. Are you sure you want to know? Nothing'll ever be the same again, I promise you that."
"We're sure," said Lily, hoping that she didn't look as white and drawn as Arabella.
"Alright then. The...the rat went underneath the Willow. And then...I was so scared, Lily...James turned into a stag, and Sirius turned into this enormous dog."
"Are you serious? You seriously expect us to believe..." Lily exclaimed, angry. Why wasn't Arabella telling the truth?
"I am, Lily. They're Animagi. They're so much more clever than we thought...and I couldn't help it, I screamed. Well, it was more of a yelp...and it all happened so quickly. I saw Sirius switch back, I saw the rat come running, I saw the stag rear up, I saw Sirius so angry, he was so angry, walking towards me, and he couldn't see...oh, he couldn't see the Willow....it had stopped moving."
Arabella's voice was thin with horror, and she fixed frightened, bleary eyes on Lily.
"And then I heard it howl. And I saw the stag run for the tree, antlers down, maybe James was shocked but he wasn't quick enough, and Sirius grabbed me, and he started shaking me, then he heard it too, and his face...he pushed me to the ground, and I saw it jump, and then James was back...he knocked into it, and suddenly there was this dog jumping away from me and they were fighting with it...I ran. God, I ran...I cut my face when I fell, and it could smell the blood, I was crying....I fell over at the door, I've never been so scared...I was so scared..."
Charlotte immediately moved to put her arms around Arabella, the other girl crying against her friend's shoulder. Lily was still stunned. She thought she shared everything with James...no secrets...not until this. And a growing dread was filling her stomach.
"Arabella. What was it? What was chasing you?"
The choked response made every hair on the back of her neck stand to attention.
"Remus. He's a werewolf."
It didn't register in Lily's brain. For a blissful minute everything logical and rational, and for that matter everything illogical, simply ceased to function. She just stood, a particular image of Remus emblazoned on her mind.
He was helping a stressed little gaggle of first-years with their Charms homework, showing them all how to make the correct wand movements and best of all doing it in his usual, patient, ever-so-gentle Remus way. Making them all laugh at the same time, of course – you had to have a sense of humour if you could stand to be around James and Sirius for any length of time.
Seventh-year Remus, using his free time to help others, to ease the burdens on their small hearts. Selfless, beautiful, caring Remus. With his golden eyes and his speckled hair and his monthly illness...
Then logic returned to run the Lily Show.
"Wha'?" Arabella sniffled.
"What happened today?" Lily said flatly. "Where is everyone?"
"This...this is the worst part. Someone...something came to Hogwarts...oh, Lily, it made him change! And he was in the hospital wing, and the thing forced him to change, and he attacked her...he didn't mean to, oh, he didn't..."
Lily had finally had enough of Arabella's incoherent babbling. She obviously wasn't a good person in a crisis. She needed someone who was level-headed (Remus) and who was clear (Remus) and failing that she needed James. She really needed James.
"Stay here, with her," she said in Charlotte's general direction. "I'm off to get those answers."
Charlotte sprang to her feet, indignant. "I want some answers too."
"I'll come," Arabella said quickly, drying her eyes. "I am a Gryffindor, you know, better to face the music head on...even if it's very angry music," she added, wincing.
Three witches left Gryffindor Tower, led by Lily. They moved quickly, and found the rest of the school in the Great Hall. Dumbledore was speaking, and Lily motioned to the other two to stand back.
"We'll listen at the back," she said.
"...all here to clarify something. Nobody is dead. Nobody is in danger. Madam Pomfrey has been taken to Mungo's and she's currently being treated for minor injuries. A student was also injured in the attack, Remus Lupin. He's currently resting in the hospital wing. Having said this, it would make me very happy if you'd all stay in the Great Hall until further notice. Prefects, Head Boy and Head Girl, I'd appreciate life even more if you'd all come over here and talk to me. Thank you."
Lily couldn't see James or the boys anywhere. Sirius was also a Prefect, as was Charlotte. James, of course, was Head Boy – at least she was here. The Prefects from the other houses congregated around Dumbledore. Lily nudged Charlotte and they walked towards him, followed by Arabella. All around them students were muttering, worried, and teachers were standing by the entrance doors, wands raised.
"Ah, Miss Figg. Is there something I can help you with?" Dumbledore ventured.
"I want to help you. It's Remus," she said, by way of explanation. Dumbledore seemed to accept this, and Lily reached over to squeeze her friend's hand. She hadn't stopped to think how hard it must've been for her, carrying that knowledge around for two years, worrying every full moon.
"Very well. Now, understand, for the moment I don't want this information to reach the ears of the other students. The attack was carried out by a person we believe to be a Death Eater."
At this, most people gasped, and Lily felt her breath catch. No. Not here, not now. The Death Eaters were a small cult, growing larger by the day. They left their killing mark wherever they went – many of the disappearances had been attributed to them. No-one knew who their leader was, though recently there had been talk of a name, of a Lord...
Lily couldn't help herself. She threw her arms around his waist and hugged him furiously. "I didn't know where you were."
He smiled, pleased at her reaction, and hugged her back. It was such a comfort to feel those familiar hands around her waist, to be able to smell that clean scent, a mixture of soap and grass and fresh air. Releasing him, she noticed that Sirius was standing just behind him, his face unreadable. He looked a little lost, like he didn't know how to react.
Lily did. She leaned over, and clasped his hand. "It's all right," she whispered. "He's still Remus."
She didn't miss the look of gratitude in Sirius' eyes before Dumbledore started talking again. "Perhaps, James. We can't rule out the possibility...whoever it was managed to get into Hogwarts. I haven't yet informed you all of the worst part. The Death Eater brought a werewolf into Hogwarts, forced it to transform and has set it loose in the school. The teachers are standing guard at the moment, but in a matter of seconds most must leave the Hall and try to track the werewolf down."
"Will you kill it?" asked a bright-eyed Ravenclaw.
"Of course not," Dumbledore said sternly. "At the moment the wolf is in control of an innocent human being, a person just like you or me."
Amen, thought Lily. Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind...her mind knew Remus was Remus. Extra hair and a pointed snout didn't change that one bit.
"I want you, my best students, to protect the others with the remaining teachers. You all know how to stun? Excellent."
He walked away. Sirius grabbed James and the two ran after him – Lily and Charlotte started to walk towards the doors. Arabella stood there for a moment, then followed.
"You two!" she called.
"What?" asked Lily, distracted.
"I think James..." she lowered her voice. "I think James and Sirius are going to ask Dumbledore if they can help search for Remus, and I think they'll ask for you two to help."
"Why?" said Charlotte, fingering her wand.
"Because as Animagi, they can control him, but they'll need a human wizard back-up to stun him or something – Dumbledore doesn't know that they're Animagi, you see..."
Lily had almost forgotten that part, but now it came rushing back. Three of her friends were illegal Animagi. Illegal. Dangerous, illegal, complicated magic – and her boyfriend, her lover, the person she trusted most in the world hadn't told her.
"Fine," she sighed, and the two started walking back towards Dumbledore, Arabella keeping her distance. Of course, Lily thought, she wasn't supposed to tell, was she? The look Sirius kept giving her was enough to make anyone jumpy. James turned around with a triumphant smile on his face, then spotted the girls. His turn to sigh.
"I don't know how much Arabella told you..."
"Everything," Arabella said promptly. Sirius glowered.
"Ah. Right then. So you two know why we need you..."
"To come with you, yes," Lily said, her voice cold. She nodded at Sirius. "I'll go with you. Charlotte, you go with James."
And that was that.
"Why did she tell you?" Sirius said shortly. They'd been walking in silence, both worried, both strained.
"She said because she thought we had a right to know."
Sirius shook his head, and a note of admiration crept into his voice. "For someone who's the epitome of dippiness, she can be a headstrong little thing. Still, it wasn't her place, Remus should've been the one to tell you."
"It's his business," Lily answered, with a shrug.
"Don't be like that." He sounded very tired, and she knew how awful he felt, because she felt it too. Hunting down your best friend. "He was always so careful...it'll kill him to know he hurt Poppy, it'll kill him to know he was running loose like this..."
"Careful?" she snapped. "I don't call running around in the grounds with your illegal Animagi best friends careful! And he nearly killed Arabella once, too. Did that upset him?"
Sirius fixed her with a flat stare. "Yes. It did. He ripped his stomach open that night, almost killed himself. Is that upset enough?"
They both carried on in an angry silence. The corridors were empty, and although it was near midday, the light was fading quickly. Lily shivered with the cold, and needed a few important gaps in her knowledge filling.
"So, Arabella said something about the Willow...he goes under there?"
"It leads to the Shrieking Shack. Place isn't haunted – not anymore – he scared the ghosts away."
"That's our boy," Sirius said grimly.
Lily wanted to be sick. She remembered when she and the girls had gone into Hogsmeade for Bonfire Night last year, and had heard the wails coming from the Shack. They'd all been laughing, pretending to be scared, even Arabella...and all the while, it had been Remus, ripping himself to pieces.
"She's a good actress. I couldn't've pulled it off," Lily said.
"Yeah. Look...couldn't tell you about this before, but I can now...you know that fight, with Severus? When he said those things about my mum...I flipped. Went mental. And on a full moon I told him how to get to the Shack..."
Lily froze. "So he knows? And you could've killed him, Sirius! How could you be so..."
"I know. And I regret it...but you didn't hear him, Lily."
"And you'd want Remus to live with that guilt."
"No! That's the last thing...look, it was all on the spur of the moment. I've been through it all with the others...they were so angry. Dumbledore was so quiet...I honestly thought the slimy git had found out...he was talking about how werewolves and vampires and all those Death Eaters had...with my mum...and it just slipped out." Sirius stopped for a moment, deep in reverie. Lily didn't look too closely at his eyes, in case she saw tears. "'You have no idea, Snape. You want to find out how it feels, touch that knot on the Willow. You wouldn't dare.' I thought he knew," Sirius repeated hollowly. "I told James, and he saved him. He saved both of them, Snape and Remus. It isn't something I'm proud of...but I'm not perfect. Nobody is."
"I'm not saying that you're..."
And she heard it. A snuffling, clicking noise. The click, click, click of claws on a stone floor.
All animosity forgotten, the two stopped moving. Lily knew what Sirius was about to do, and despite herself, she was interested. He inhaled deeply, then seemed to almost melt into the shape of a large, black dog. The dog thrust its nose into Lily's hand, and licked her palm.
"Padfoot," she breathed. Yes, now it all made sense. Moony was Remus, Padfoot was Sirius, James was Prongs and Peter, the rat, was Wormtail.
Moony was angry.
Padfoot walked a little ahead of her, and Lily raised her wand, ready to stun. Although the dog was enormous, much larger than any she'd seen before, Lily was understandably nervous. She also thought that Dumbledore must have an idea about the whole Animagus thing, because he'd normally never let students, no matter how capable, chase after a fully-grown werewolf.
Remus, she reminded herself, this is Remus we're talking about. He's not a thing, not an it...he's just not in control at the moment, and we have to help him. She heard Padfoot snarl, and footsteps running away. Footsteps?
Then the wolf pounced.
He'd been crouching in a corner, behind them. They'd walked straight past him, too busy arguing...and now her back was exposed. Lily couldn't scream. Padfoot leapt in front of her, muscles rippling under the short, black coat and grappled the wolf. Moving almost automatically, Lily drew her wand arm into duelling position, and waited until the wolf had pinned Padfoot against the floor. Later, she was amazed at how coldly she'd waited until she could be sure of a clear line of attack, how she hadn't thought of Sirius' safety. Now, she simply acted. It was the right thing to do.
"Stupefy!" she cried, and the spell hit the wolf directly between the eyes, the best place to do it. The spell acted instantaneously; the werewolf fell on its side, leaving Padfoot rather dazed on the floor. Lily blinked away sudden tears that had formed in her eyes and ran to help Sirius.
"Sirius! Are you..."
The black dog's fur smoothly flowed into flesh, and Sirius stood up with Lily's help, a little shaky on his feet.
"He's never gone for me like that before. Must've been because you were here too...humans drive him mad."
"Sorry? You saved both of our lives. Remus would have killed himself if he'd seriously hurt anyone. Thank you," Sirius said, staring directly into her eyes. For all his wildness, the boy could speak straight from his heart. It was a gift, that, to always be heartfelt – Lily prayed he'd never lose it.
"That's fine," she heard herself saying. "We should take him to the hospital wing."
Sirius nodded curtly, and turned around, busying himself with Remus...or the wolf that used Remus' body. The way he tended to him was at once gentle and experienced, and she knew now that this probably hadn't been the first time the wolf had been hurt.
Lily made a promise to herself that she would never ask James, or any of the others, exactly what had happened to them on those long, moonlit nights. She didn't want to know. Then she remembered something, something very important.
"Did you hear earlier...the footsteps..."
Sirius shrugged, and tapped Remus with his wand. The werewolf lifted several feet into the air. "Probably a teacher, I was concentrating on Moony's scent, so I didn't pick anything up." He frowned. "You don't think that Death Eater stayed with him?"
"I don't know. Can a person control a werewolf?
"He made Remus change, we know that much. With enough Dark Magic, you can do anything...at a cost," Sirius added hurriedly.
"I think we should go and tell – Professor!"
Lily saw Professor Dumbledore turning round the end of the corridor, James, Charlotte and Peter in tow. Without stopping to wonder where Peter had come from, Lily ran towards them, Sirius following with the body of the werewolf. She saw the colour drain from three faces, and quickly reassured them.
"He's fine, just stupefied."
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow, and his beard quivered. "Ah. He. I presume that yourself and Miss Happleton are the latest to find out about Mr Lupin's secret?"
Lily wasn't really sure how to answer. "Er...what secret would that be, sir?" she tried.
Dumbledore smiled. "Exactly right, dear child, exactly. Now then, if you'll allow us to escort the werewolf to the Infirmary..."
"What will you tell everyone, Professor?" James interrupted.
"I shall tell them the truth, of course. That the werewolf was successfully intercepted by Mr Black and Miss Evans, and has been placed into the care of the Ministry. Madam Pomfrey and Mr Lupin shall recover from their injuries, and life will return to normal."
"But it won't, will it?" said Peter, in a very small voice. "A Death Eater got in. Hogwarts isn't safe."
"It is safe, Mr Pettigrew. I will see to that personally," replied Dumbledore, and his voice possessed a steel-like quality that Lily had never heard before.
"Did the werewolf bite Pop...Madam Pomfrey?" asked Sirius.
"No. It was the Death Eater who attacked her," said James suddenly. He'd obviously already asked Dumbledore, and Lily felt her heart warm again at deep concern they'd all shown for Remus. Then she remembered the footsteps, and chill crept back down her spine.
"Professor Dumbledore, just before Sirius and I encountered the werewolf, we heard footsteps running in the other direction," she said.
"Footsteps?" the Headmaster asked sharply. Lily nodded.
"Thank you, Miss Evans. If you would all take the werewolf to the hospital wing, and then return to the Great Hall, I would be very grateful. Inform Professor McGonagall that the students should return to their dormitories and stay there. Lessons are cancelled for the remainder of the day."
"You better tell her that part Lily, I'm not sure she'd believe me or James," said Sirius, in an attempt at levity. Dumbledore smiled.
"Very good, young people. Carry on."
And he disappeared around the end of the corridor. That left Lily standing with three of her friends and a floating werewolf. In different circumstances, it would've been funny.
"Peter, why aren't you in the Hall?" she said finally, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
"I...er...thought I could help. What with the er...you know," he said weakly. Lily fixed James with a gimlet stare.
"Yes, I do know, thanks to Arabella."
"I really think we should go straight to the hospital wing," said Charlotte in a high voice. Sirius nodded his agreement, and they started moving quickly, carefully. Looking sideways, Lily noticed James had a cut on his hand. She badly wanted to kiss him.
The atmosphere in Gryffindor Tower was unbearably charged and stuffy. It was rare for every Gryffindor to be in the common room at once, and Lily felt claustrophobic. There was a very definite divide between the seventh years – those who had known about Remus, those who had just found out, and Arabella.
Lily was sitting with Charlotte, near the fire. The boys were in their dormitory, and Arabella had skulked off to the bathroom to wash her hair when she realised that no-one was in the mood to talk to her. Both groups felt betrayed, and Lily the most of all.
Now she'd had time to sort it all out in her head, she was very hurt. Why hadn't James told her? How could he lie to her like that, not even mention that he had an Invisibility Cloak, never mind the fact that he was an Animagus? Didn't he trust her? Did he really think that she was too much of a prissy, goody-two-shoes Head Girl to know?
"I hope he's okay," Charlotte ventured. "It must hurt, having to change like that."
"D'you think that you and Sirius really did scare that Death Eater away?"
"I don't know. Maybe he or she realised that it was a good time to leave..." Something was starting to form in Lily's quick mind, a horrible something that she forced herself to think about. "Why bother setting the werewolf on us anyway?" she said out-loud.
"They're Death Eaters, Lily, they probably get their kicks seeing frightened children in mortal danger," said Charlotte, running her fingers through her hair.
"But we weren't in mortal danger – we caught him again easily enough, and I'm sure Dumbledore could've easily got him, Animagus or not. And it wasn't an ordinary attack – how, exactly, did he get into Hogwarts in the first place?"
"You think it was an inside job?"
"Maybe. More than that – I think it was a distraction. I think we were meant to hear those footsteps, and I think we need to go and help, now."
Lily stood up, and Charlotte rolled her eyes. "We can't. We have to stay in here."
"No. I think we should go to the Shrieking Shack."
"Don't you see? Whoever came here knew that Remus was a werewolf – doesn't it make sense that they'd also know about the Shack being an entrance into the grounds?" A sudden rush of adrenaline gave Lily the answer she needed. "Godric – it was Snape."
"You've lost me."
"Snape knew about the Shack, about Remus' condition. I'll tell you the rest later – he could've told anyone about it."
"But why would he do something like that?"
Lily faltered. "I have no idea. But I'll bet you any money we'll find some answers at the Shack. Come on."
In the dark the Whomping Willow was a Medusa's nest of writhing limbs and thrashing branches. Charlotte was shivering a little, and although she'd never admit to it (Lily Evans wasn't rash or forgetful) Lily wished she'd brought a cloak.
"So, Wonder Woman, what do we do now?" said Charlotte, with more sarcasm than was strictly needed.
"We find the knot, and we push it." Thanking Professor Flitwick for making them work so hard in last weeks lesson, Lily pointed her wand at her eyes. "Oculus lumen," she said, before turning to Charlotte and winking. Charlotte smiled, and raised her eyebrows.
"That's a new look."
Knowing her eyes were now a truly luminous green, Lily could see perfectly in the dark. She saw the knot, near the bottom of the trunk, and held out her hand. "Give me a stick, a long one...thanks again."
Kneeling on the floor, she leaned over and carefully poked the knot. It took her a couple of attempts – Lily wasn't noted for her physical strength – until finally the knot moved and the branches stopped. They just stopped, no creak of wood, no final lurching movements.
It was eerie.
Lily saw a passage open up in the trunk, and her breath caught in her throat. Did they really want to do this? Head Girl she may be, but Lily wasn't sure if she was any match for a Death Eater.
"I don't like it," Charlotte whispered. "Maybe we should get Dumbledore, or James..."
"If we go now, he could get away," Lily hissed back, her resolve stiffened. Picking her way towards the entrance, she heard Charlotte sigh and follow her. This was possibly the most stupid thing that she'd done in her entire life. "All part of being a Gryffindor," she muttered under her breath.
There was a short underground passage, that sloped up, then became a flight of stairs. Lily climbed them, and then stifled the urge to shout.
Nothing could have prepared her for what happened next.
"You," she breathed, knowing that Charlotte was gasping in shock and disbelief by her side.
"It isn't what you think," said Matthew calmly, fastening his cloak around his shoulders and combing his hair into place. "Now run along back to Hogwarts, before someone gets hurt."
"BEFORE SOMEONE GETS HURT!" yelled Charlotte, in an uncharacteristic outburst. "YOU JUST SET A WEREWOLF LOOSE IN THE SCHOOL! YOU HURT REMUS, YOU USED HIM YOU DISGUSTING SLYTHERIN SCUMBAG-"
Lily grabbed Charlotte by the wrist and squeezed. Hard. Matthew noticed, and smiled coldly.
"Good move, Evans. Don't make the Death Eater angry. As for Lupin, he was inconsequential. A pawn, nothing more, nothing less."
"You can't be," Lily said, shaking her head. "You can't be one. Arabella -"
"Arabella is a foolish little girl who only sees what she wants to, as do all of your silly friends, Lily Evans. You, on the other hand, are a little different, or you wouldn't be here now. At the moment you're in mortal danger, and it would be in your best interests to leave. Now."
"And let you escape?" said Lily, some of the Gryffindor bravado returning. How dare he insult her friends, how dare he? "I don't think so." She raised her wand. "Petrificus Totallus!"
The spell bounced harmlessly off Matthew and hit the wall, leaving a scorch mark three feet wide. "Did you really think you'd be able to stop me? The Dark Lord protects me." In his face Lily saw the icy facade shift minutely, and Matthew winced, touching his forearm. "Now get lost." There was something of the boy she'd known in his voice just then, and it made Lily bold.
"Why don't you just kill us?"
"Nice one, Lils, ask the Death Eater to kill us," Charlotte said, her voice barely audible. Lily ignored her, and stared at Matthew.
"Because it isn't necessary," he said loudly, then did something Lily didn't understand.
He rolled up one sleeve of his robes to reveal an ugly tattoo, and then raised his finger to his lips to indicate silence.
"Go," he said again. "Or maybe I'll find some other use for you," he added, voice lecherous. Again, he tapped his now pulsating tattoo, wincing in pain, and when he looked back up, he nodded frantically towards the exit. And Lily understood.
Arabella wasn't the only actor in the family.
"Matthew, Matthew, Matthew."
Unfortunately, she'd understood too late. The creature from her nightmares, the high-pitched voice she'd heard cackling on news reports from the wireless, the brittle bone fingers she'd seen only in her imagination were idly playing with a wand and drawing ever closer. Voldemort was here.
"My Lord," said Matthew, sneering. He was good, she'd give him that. "I was just trying to be rid of these two girls...unless, of course, you would like them for yourself."
Voldemort giggled. It was a foul noise, almost child-like in intonation, and completely surreal that it should come from those pinched, white lips. "You do amuse me, boy. I am Lord Voldemort." He paused for a moment. "Yes, I am Lord Voldemort, and I see everything. The Muggles, the Muggle-borns," he pointed almost lazily at charlotte and Lily. Lily clasped Charlotte's hand, very tightly. "And the Unspeakables." He prodded Matthew in the chest. "Oh, the Unspeakables – you know, girls," he said, turning to face them. "Matthew here may work for the Ministry, the so-called fighters of evil, but if you asked him what he'd done in the name of subterfuge you'd be shocked. Setting that werewolf loose on innocent children wouldn't have troubled his conscience..."
"It was a calculated risk," said Matthew in that same, level voice. Lily wondered at his lack of emotion, wondered if it was a part of his training or a result of his work. Voldemort carried on talking.
"...he tortures fellow Death Eaters for information, just like this...Crucio," said Voldemort. Matthew doubled over in silent agony. Lily's face blanched – Voldemort hadn't even used his wand.
"He's taken part in killing Muggle children, all to stay undetected, undercover, in the hope that one day I, the greatest wizard of our time, will fall."
"You aren't the greatest wizard," Lily said through gritted teeth. "Dumbledore is, and you're scared of him."
Voldemort laughed again, and Lily heard Charlotte give a dry sob as they heard Matthew's bones pop from their sockets. She hoped he was unconscious, he had to be unconscious – an unwelcome picture Arabella kept on a frame on the windowsill came to mind. Matthew was about ten, Arabella several years younger, he was piggy-backing her around the garden. Both children were grinning, the same smile. She'd never noticed until now just how alike they were. It was all she could do not to burst into tears.
"I'm scared of no-one, Lily Evans," he hissed.
Just then, Lily heard muffled voices, heavy footsteps, people running to their rescue...they would be too late, far, far too late...
"Far, far too late," said James seriously, and Lily caught her own reflection in those big brown eyes.
She wanted James, she needed him so badly that her heart was beating wildly against her ribs, aching to be near him. Lily wanted to smell that soap and grass, wanted those arms that were strong they were almost a cliché to wrap around her waist. She needed him.
"Goodbye, children." He was going, he was leaving, and she couldn't let him. He had to pay. Without thinking, Lily lunged at him, and froze in mid-air. He chuckled.
"No." He appeared to be thinking. "I won't kill you, not today. They say it's worse for those who are left behind. Avada Kedavra!"
Lily knew what he was about to do. "Charlotte!" she screamed, and the other girl hit the floor, the green light bouncing from the mirror behind her. Before she knew what was happening, Lily had crumpled to the floor, weeping. Voldemort had gone.
Then it was James, the soap and grass joined by sweat, he was holding her so tightly that she couldn't draw breath and it was okay, everything was alright. "J-James," she sobbed. "I l-love you so much..."
"I love you too, I love you, I always have," he murmured into her hair. "Always will...shush, hush now, you're fine."
She heard other footsteps, other muffled voices, but didn't bother to look up. There would be too much explaining, and she was tired. Let Matthew and Charlotte handle it.
"...Charlotte, you're sure you're not hurt..."
"...Sirius, she's shaking..."
Then another hand was lightly resting on her back, and she felt James pull away. It was Dumbledore, his blue eyes a reassuring light. "Miss Evans? I think you're in shock, my dear. You've had quite an ordeal...was it Voldemort?"
Lily nodded dumbly.
"And what was Matthew Figg's part in all this?"
"He'll tell you later, he's been under the Cruicatus," she got out eventually, her voice strangely hoarse.
Then Dumbledore closed his eyes, and she pulled away from James, and she saw. Charlotte was crying uncontrollably, Peter and Sirius staring on, unable to speak.
Matthew's body, in a crumpled heap on the floor. The curse had reflected from the mirror, and she remembered something Professor Havers had said in DADA. The killing curse will always find a victim, always.
"Oh no," she whispered. "Oh no."
Before she fell once more into James' arms, she'd seen it all. The unnatural twisting of his broken limbs, where his arm had been ripped from its socket. How he'd bitten his tongue, and even now blood trickled from his ruined mouth.
"Excuse me," Peter muttered, and he disappeared down the tunnel.
As she cried softly, she heard him being sick.
Dumbledore had been joined almost instantly in the Shack by Havers and McGonagall, and Lily had told them all what had transpired. Funny how things turned out – Dumbledore and Havers had known all along that Matthew was an Unspeakable. If only she had. If only she and Charlotte had left. He might still be alive.
James had volunteered to stay and help the teachers – Charlotte said she'd stay with the body. It was strange how everyone except Dumbledore was calling it the body. Peter wasn't outside, he'd probably gone to the hospital wing. Lily and Sirius were going to go and break the news.
She didn't know what to say. Hey, Arabella, guess what? I killed your brother. I made Charlotte come to the Shack with me, I was rash, I killed your brother. I killed him.
The pair walked across the grounds quickly, then as soon as they stepped inside the school slowed down. Sirius suddenly put a hand on Lily's arm.
"Wait. We should work out what we want to say now. We can't just burst in and tell her, we should..." He went to run his fingers through his hair, then realised it was tied back and stopped, hand hovering above his head.
"We'll take her into the dormitory. Do you want to be there?" Lily asked, her voice getting more normal every second. She didn't know anyone who'd died. She'd never been to a funeral, even.
"Yes," Sirius said, and he sounded distracted.
They were at the portrait hole already. How did that happen?
"Password, dearies!" exclaimed the Fat Lady, jovially.
"I'd like to change it," said Lily. Lovely Lily wasn't appropriate for a murderer. She could feel Sirius staring at her.
"To what, my sweet?"
"I don't know...you choose."
"Daffodils," Sirius said suddenly. Lily looked at him. "Arabella likes them," he said with a shrug.
"Fine. Daffodils," she repeated. The portrait swung open, and Lily frowned. A large crowd of worried looking Gryffindors blocked their way, and in the almost reverent silence Lily could hear hysterical sobs. She and Sirius exchanged a look.
"Arabella," they both said at once.
Pushing their way through, the scene at the fireplace was one that made Lily feel completely useless for the first time in her life. One of her best friends in the entire world was almost screaming in grief, hanging desperately from a panicky Peter. The two were sprawled on the floor, Arabella laying nearly flat, her pretty new robes covered in dust and soot from the spitting fire.
Peter was patting her on the head awkwardly, obviously near to tears himself. He tried to stand, and the wailing rose in pitch. Lily felt rooted to the spot, and heard Sirius draw a quick breath beside her. "Tell them what happened," he said to Lily in a low voice. She started to protest – what would Dumbledore say – but he raised a hand. "They'll find out sooner or later, and it's better they find out the truth. Can you do that? Can you speak to them?"
Lily nodded dumbly. Her mind was racing, painting pictures in millions of different colours. Each was predominant with that terrible red, that vile green, and still she could see his mouth moving soundlessly as Voldemort tortured him. Was he asking for forgiveness? Had he said goodbye to his sister, his parents? A pawn, nothing more, nothing less – now Lily knew that even those working for the side of good weren't always right. She would have to draw her own line between light and dark, and God help her she'd never stray into the black.
A fresh wave of murmurs ran through the crowd, and Lily forced herself to focus on the situation. Sirius had left her side and man-handled Arabella away from Peter. She seemed so small, now, smaller than ever. Lily immediately wanted to hug her friend, comfort her, but as Sirius half-carried, half-walked a still inconsolable Arabella upstairs something in his eyes made her hold back.
Peter was shaking uncontrollably, and Lily snapped into action. Reaching out with her good hand, she pulled him to his feet, and on an impulse clambered on to the nearby table.
"P-please. All of you – all of you listen to me." A hundred faces turned in her direction, and they listened. Lily felt some strength return, and she spoke a little louder. "Good. You'll all hear this tomorrow – one way or another, and I feel it's better – better that you hear the truth. Some of you may know Matthew Figg – all of you know Arabella, his sister."
At this Lily caught some frantically whispered snatches of conversation. Arabella's brother...a Slytherin, he used to be in Slytherin...probably another prank, that James Potter, it'll all be a practical joke, but then...didn't he leave, two years ago, three years ago, I remember because he was so good at...Transfiguration homework to do, this better be...important, I think so, I think he was a Prefect. She took a moment to compose herself.
"Matthew Figg is dead." She ignored the horrified gasps, the squeals from the first-years, the little groups of people pushing to the front, shouting out questions. Lily suddenly felt as though she were made of ice. She couldn't have cried if she'd wanted to. If this was what being strong was like, she wasn't sure that she liked it. Surely it wasn't natural for a human to be so cold? Lily stopped her train of thought short. Selfish, selfish girl – this wasn't about her. This was about Matthew, and – and -
"Voldemort," she said at last. Someone started to cry, softly. "Voldemort killed him. We don't know why – I don't know why. Maybe Professor Dumbledore will be able to tell us all more in the morning. Until then I think everybody should go to bed, and try to stay calm. Arabella needs for everyone to be calm."
"What about You-Know-Who?" squeaked a terrified looking second year. "What's happening? Will there be a war?"
"Yes, yes, will there be a war?" cried the congregation, and Lily resisted the urge to bite her lip. She was the Head Girl, she ought to know these things. Better to know the truth...
"I don't know. All of you go to sleep – James and Peter will keep watch by the portrait hole tonight, if it helps. Will that help?" she asked, almost pleaded. People nodded, and gradually they drifted away, dormitory doors closing. There was none of the usual after-lights-out banter, no-one slipping on the bathroom floor – the wooden tables in the Common Room were empty. The concerned Transfiguration student had forgotten about his homework.
"Where are they?" ventured Peter. Lily suddenly realised that she was still standing on the chair, staring vacantly into space. Feeling foolish, she allowed Peter to help her down, and answered his question.
"They're with Dumbledore, trying to find some answers. Charlotte's with Ma- with the body. Thankyou," she said, squeezing his arm. "Thankyou for sitting with Arabella."
"Typical Arabella – she always draws crowds," said Peter, smiling sadly. Lily knew she was smiling back, and felt like vomiting as another thought pushed to the fore of her heart. James. Was he alright? If anything ever happened to him...if that disgusting creature ever laid a finger on him...she'd been too shocked to even wish him good luck.
"I'm sure he'll be fine," Peter said gently, and she shot him a grateful smile. A distant door creaked open, and Lily heard footsteps. Sirius came into view, and promptly collapsed into the nearest armchair. She thought he might have been crying.
"How is she?"
"Asleep, or at least pretending to be. She's got her eyes shut and she won't say anything. Did she say anything to you?" he almost snapped, not even bothering to look at Peter.
"N-no. I told her, and she – well, you saw..."
"You should have waited."
The unspoken 'for me' hung heavy in the silence, and Lily's head started to hurt.
"I just thought she had a right to know..."
"You just thought," said Sirius sarcastically. "You didn't think, Peter, you didn't think at all. You just saw an opportunity for you to be the big man, the one who everyone listened to for a change. You just loved that you were so bloody important - you're selfish. You are unbelievably selfish."
She wanted to slap him.
Peter's face went whiter than parchment, and he stood up. "I'm going to bed. I'll see you in the morning," he told Lily, hands thrust deep into his pockets.
Lily hated that she was going through all the cliched reactions – for some reason she'd always imagined herself to be different when dealing with a death. But no, here came anger, predictable and all-consuming. She had the good grace to wait until Peter had gone before she exploded.
"You're unbelievable! I cannot believe what you just said to him! Why do you always have to make Peter feel so stupid? He was trying to help –"
"And he messed it up, as usual."
"And you're so perfect –"
"She didn't need that! She needed me, and I wasn't..." he faltered, and sunk further into the chair.
"She needed you? How d'you think I feel? Charlotte feels? The others feel? We're all friends with her, Peter's her friend too..."
"Not like me."
"I'm saying he doesn't know her like I know her."
"Don't be so pathetic, Sirius. This isn't about you..."
"Look, Lily, get off your high horse and stop preaching! Someone I love is in so much pain that she won't even talk to me, and I can't stand it..."
"I love her too, we all do," said Lily soothingly, the anger dissipating into sympathy. Sirius laughed suddenly, and kept on laughing. It was a strange sound in this serious stillness, and Lily frowned.
He was breathless, and every time he looked at her puzzled face he started laughing anew.
"What is it? What's so funny?"
"Oh, Lils...you're the cleverest person I know. Scrap that, you're the cleverest person, and you're normally...so...so observant...I hate to use this word again, but it's unbelievable...."
"Stop stalling, and get to the point," Lily said impatiently. Now the tears were rolling down his face, and his words were shaking. Still he laughed, then shook his head.
"Two weeks ago. Two weeks, one day and about twelve hours, I think. What happened?"
"Okay, two Tuesday mornings ago. Anything unusual happen?"
"I don't think...oh, Arabella had fallen asleep downstairs. Charlotte and I thought for a second that she'd actually got up early, which was, of course, out of the question." She remembered now. Arabella had tried to sneak in, and upon finding them already awake had, after much poking and questioning, admitted that she'd committed the cardinal sin of working through the night to finish her Astronomy project. "She'd been doing Astronomy. What's so odd about that? She loves Astronomy..."
"Yeah, that's pretty accurate," said Sirius, grinning. "Actually, that's very clever of her. You see, in a sense, she had been doing Astronomy. You know, the study of stars..." he trailed off, and Lily gave him a blank stare. "Studying one star in particular...come on, Head Girl. Put that big brain to work, it really isn't all that..."
"Oh. Oh!" she exclaimed. "Oh."
"Couldn't've put it better myself."
Lily willed herself not to blush at the implied meaning, and raised her eyebrows. "So...is it serious?"
"I think so." There was a pause, and Lily could sense a trademark Sirius Black impassioned outburst looming on the horizon. "I think I love her, actually." Score one to Lily Evans. "Despite the tantrums, the forgetfulness, the annoying habit of always having the last word, the even more annoying cat, the occasional vanity...alright, now I'm not so sure..."
They both smiled, although Sirius' was a little strained, and Lily took his hand. "Go and sit with her. I'll be fine here."
For a little time, she'd almost forgotten. Today she'd been judged, and found wanting. Tomorrow she would have to tell someone how it was all her fault, and pray for forgiveness. She stayed there until past midnight, waiting for the dawn to come. This had been the longest day, this judgement day.
James found her asleep in the chair. He sat with her until she woke.