'This is all as true as it is strange:
Nay, it is ten times true; for truth is truth
To the end of reckoning.'

~ from Measure for Measure

The End of Reckoning

There was strength in numbers. James must have heard his father say that a hundred times over the summer, usually with grim disdain. Mum read The Daily Prophet religiously, not because she took it at face value but because she could not help but try to read between the lines, divining with uncanny accuracy the details that the press or the Ministry felt it best to keep quiet. The papers that summer had been filled with disturbing news. Every couple of weeks there was a new disappearance, and hardly a day went by without an article about some new demonstration for blood-purity or proposed sanctions against Muggles. And whenever Mum wondered aloud how people could be allowed to spread such hatred her husband would sigh and murmur There's strength in numbers, Marjorie.

Three was not an especially large number, but it was larger than one. And the three of them were certainly united: they had a plan, worked out in great detail and drilled like a battle strategy. The security of knowing that his allies were on precisely the same page gave James a great deal of courage. Together the three of them had come up with a plan. They had, in fact, spent hours working out exactly what they were going to do and what everyone was going to say. First: distract the matron with mayhem on the Quidditch pitch. That was easy, and doubly satisfying because Slytherin was on the pitch. Sirius had obviously taken great pleasure in unseating Lucius Malfoy, and the stubborn git was likely to keep the matron busy for a good long while – as long as he could have that silly blonde Black fawning over him, that was. But fifth year girls were almost as empty-headed as their heirs in fourth year, and they could be depended upon to behave like fools.

Second: make for the hospital wing with all haste. That was easier said than done, but only because Sirius and James had not quite got the hang of moving together under the Invisibility Cloak. Happily Peter was on lookout in the corridor outside the infirmary, because it would have been impossible to coordinate three bodies at this speed. James trotted along as quickly as he could, trying to keep the Cloak trailing over their shoes even as Sirius strained against it.

'Hurry it up, would you?' the taller boy hissed. 'We haven't all that much time.'

They passed the great front doors just as Narcissa Black came running for them. Her hair was flying in every direction, and there was a flush of anxiety on her cheeks. James wanted to make a smart remark, but Sirius was tugging on his arm again. He led the way around to the side of the castle, where there was a small door that led to a stairway near the hospital wing.

They reached the corridor and enveloped Peter in the Invisibility Cloak just in time. A moment later Narcissa came around the corner, flying past them as if she had a demon on her heels. She flung open the ward doors and as they slammed closed behind her the boys could hear her calling out for Pomfrey. There was some hurried explaining, and a moment later the two witches came out together, the matron striding behind the frantic Prefect and muttering about irresponsible Quidditch players. Like most adults, she didn't seem to understand that danger was part of the joy of the sport. James would have quite liked to give her a proper lecture on the appeal of Quidditch, but there were other matters to attend to.

Sirius had been the decoy during their early reconnaissance: James had remained hidden under the Cloak, and so had discovered that the matron had Remus in a little room off of the main ward. Remus Lupin, werewolf. The faintest of shudders ran up James's spine, but he disguised it by reaching to draw open the Cloak. 'Hang back a minute, and I'll make sure there's no one else in there,' he said.

Sirius nodded curtly, and Peter looked immensely relieved. He was struggling with the revelations of the last few hours, even more than James was. Not that James liked the idea that he had been sharing a room with a Dark creature for over a year, but at least he could see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit. Peter was still trying to convince himself that there was some awful mistake: patient, quiet Remus could not possibly be a werewolf, could he?

Appearances could be deceiving. That was something else that Dad always said. The bumbling politician might morph into a charismatic hero in wartime. The nice old lady next door might be brewing illegal potions to fence on the black market. The pleasant, bookish boy in the next bed might really be a slavering, bloodthirsty monster.

James drew open the hospital wing door very slowly, cringing a little as the hinges creaked. The ward beyond was immaculate and brightly lit. The beds in their long row were all made, crisp and ready lest they should be needed. There was no one else in the room.

'All right,' James said, beckoning to Sirius and Peter; 'she's gone.'

'Indeed she is,' said Sirius smugly, cramming the Cloak into his pocket. 'And it was a nice bit of spellwork, if I do say so myself.'

It had been, too. It took a lot to unseat an accomplished flyer and as much as James disliked him and everything his sort of people stood for, Lucius Malfoy was certainly an accomplished flyer. Sirius had chosen his moment with enviable precision, and he had discharged the hex flawlessly. In spite of the fluttering bundle of nerves beneath his floating ribs, James grinned. Sirius was a worthy ally.

'You realize you probably could have killed him?' James said, by way of good-natured conversation. It was easier, somehow, to behave as if the whole thing was just part of an ordinary day. Third: stay calm. Sirius had said diplomatically that they didn't want Remus to feel trapped. James had snorted and agreed that no one wanted to go up against a cornered werewolf. Then Peter had made a frightened noise that sent Sirius off into an angry lecture about how Remus Lupin wasn't going to hurt them.

'No one has died yet from a fall of fifteen feet,' Sirius argued. 'I chose my moment perfectly. Now, you assured me you knew where she's got him.'

The morning had been nothing but a blur. James wasn't one of those stuffy people who needed to coach themselves before every remotely risky encounter. He enjoyed risk. He lived for danger. He loved the hammering of his heart in his chest at the moment when he seemed as likely to tear himself to pieces as he did to emerge triumphant. That was why he loved flying, why he had tried – unsuccessfully – to Apparate on the day before school reconvened, why he helped to lead expeditions into the Forbidden Forest in defiance of the Headmaster's warnings and the dirty great murderous spiders that apparently inhabited the woods. Yet this, somehow, was different. After months of trying to work his way through increasingly improbable explanations it was exhilarating and terrifying to realize that he had the answer after all. And the nature of that answer only heightened the stakes.

'Through there,' James said, pointing to the little door on the left-hand wall. 'You were right. The moment you'd gone she went to check on him.'

'What did they say?' asked Sirius.

Damn. James had been so wrapped up in his own shocked musings that it had not even occurred to him to listen. He could hardly admit that to Sirius, though: it was bad enough that the other boy was taking all of this so much more in stride than James was, without confessing that his competence was suffering as a result. 'You expect me to listen at keyholes?' James said with a playfully scorning toss of his head. 'What do you take me for? I took the chance to slip out unnoticed, like a good little spy.'

'This isn't a joke, James,' Peter said softly, plucking at the elbow of James's robes. 'We… I don't think it's a good idea. We should go for a teacher. He could be…'

'How many times, Pettigrew?' Sirius snapped, whirling on the plump little boy. He seemed determined to shout until Peter came around to his way of thinking, and James had to admit that the tactic was usually effective. 'We've decided this. We're doing it together, and we're not going for a teacher. It's none of their business. We're the ones who have been living with him for a year. We're the ones he's been telling tales to.'

Four: go into his room and confront him. Ask him why he had been lying all this time. Demand to know how he had been allowed to come to school. That last point Sirius had tried to veto, but James was not as easy to sway as Peter. He had his own set of questions for Mr Remus Lupin, and he was bloody well going to ask them whether Sirius liked it or not. He had said as much, back in the sanctum of the dormitory, and eventually Sirius had conceded. Well, all right, he had said at last. But just don't be too hard on him. He's bound to be scared.

'That's right,' said James heavily. 'It's been agreed. Just as we discussed.' Really he didn't want to be doing this at all. It was easier just to avoid situations like this. He almost chuckled to himself. He couldn't think of anyone who had ever been in a situation like this. After all, how many werewolves attended respectable wizarding schools? But if it was going to be done, he wasn't going to let Sirius cheat him out of his fair say. 'Just as we discussed,' he repeated pointedly.

'Right,' Sirius whispered. 'We'll go in together. I'll ask him how he's feeling; that way he won't feel we're there to attack him.'

'Attack?' Peter yelped. 'What if he fights back? What if he tries to bite us or something?'

'Oh, hush,' James hissed irately. Peter's constant fretting was irrational and absurd, but it was also profoundly disconcerting. When he started to prattle on about biting and claws and teeth, it called to mind every horrifying tale of werewolf brutality that James had ever heard. Some had been whispered among the adults when they thought James could not hear: his father and his uncles gossiping over their after-dinner port, or his mother and her friends shut up over tea and chess in the morning room. Others were the stories uttered in low, eerie voices when he spent a night at the McKinnons' estate or with his Smythe cousins. Those, of course, were more graphic and violent than the ones the adults shared… but they were also less likely to be true. 'Everyone knows a werewolf can't really hurt you in human form.'

'He could try, though, couldn't he?' Peter protested tremulously.

'Not half as quickly as I'll try, if you don't shut your sodding gob,' growled Sirius. 'I told you: Remus was obviously scared to tell us. We've got to go easy on him, or he'll bolt. He's more afraid of us than you are of him.'

'That's what my mum always says about gnomes,' argued Peter. 'They've still got nasty little teeth.'

'You're not afraid?' James asked quietly, locking eyes with Sirius.

'Not a bit of it,' the older boy said firmly. There was a flash of uncertainty in his eyes, however, that belied his brave words. He bit down on his lower lip so that the flesh beneath his teeth turned briefly, brilliantly white. 'Look, we can't bungle this up,' he said earnestly. 'We've got to be calm and we've got to be sensible.'

'Right,' said James, nodding as if to reassure the others – even though he knew that he could hardly reassure himself. 'Calm and sensible. Sounds easy enough.' He gestured again at the door and looked pointedly at Sirius. 'Go on.'

A frightening thing happened. Sirius balked. He shot an unsteady glance at the door and stared plaintively at James. 'W-why me?' he stammered.

This wasn't going to happen. James wasn't going to let it happen. They were in this together, and they ought to have done it together, but suddenly Sirius wasn't willing to do his fair share. James had opened the last door: it was Sirius's turn. Righteous irritation and anxiety that he never would have admitted to feeling made James's jaw clench. 'Because this whole thing was your idea,' he hissed.

'It's n-not too late,' said Peter. 'We could go and fetch Professor McGonagall. Or Professor Meyrigg. She's the D-Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, after all. She'd know what to do.'

'Damn it, Peter, we don't need Meyrigg!' cried Sirius. His exasperation seemed to shake off the moment's hesitation, for he squared his shoulders. 'I'll do it.' He drew in a breath to the very root of his lungs, screwing his eyes closed for a brief, bracing moment. His right hand patted his flank, where his wand was hidden in the fold of his robes. 'Just… just give me half a moment.'

Suddenly James regretted his uncharitable thoughts. Sirius was his friend, his very best friend, and this was no easier for him than it was for anyone else. Sirius was feeling everything that James did: horror, alarm, shock, betrayal. Someone they had taken for a comrade-in-arms had hidden a terrible secret from them. Someone they had trusted in work and play was a Dark creature. The boy whose home they had visited, with whom they had run in the ocean spray and shared fish and chips and jumped off of Muggle swings, was not a boy at all, but a part-human. A werewolf. A beast. It was appalling and it was frightening and Sirius was just as hurt and angry as James was.

James put out a hand to grip Sirius's shoulder: a gesture of repentance and solidarity. What kind of a friend would he be, if he pushed Sirius into doing this alone? 'We'll do it together,' he promised softly. 'You and I, on the count of three…'

'Count of five,' Sirius said, making an obvious effort to steel himself. 'Let's give it at least a count of five.'

James nodded, drawing in a deep breath. He was just about to part his lips to begin the count when something extraordinary happened. The door whisked suddenly open and a ghostly figure in a faded nightshirt took three unsteady steps forward. Less than three yards from the other boys, the object of their expedition halted, gripping the railing for support.

For a moment James was certain that his heart had stopped. He had seen Remus pale and peaky before, with shadows under his eyes or a great black bruise ill-disguised by overgrown hair. Yet nothing that he had heretofore witnessed could have prepared him for this.

Remus's skin was a sickly pale grey, like the belly of a fish left dead for days. His ordinarily slender frame was positively skeletal, the bones of his face protruding horribly to cast shadows where his cheeks should have been. His lips were shrivelled and crusted with scabs, and there was a long, raw scratch running from his ear to his collarbone. Most terrible of all were his eyes, enormous in his shrunken face. They were glossy with fever and pain, wide and terrified and sunken into cavernous sockets rendered livid purple by shadows of exhaustion – almost the only colour to be seen. One thin hand held the bannister, knuckles white and rippling with the effort of keeping the fragile body upright. The other, trembling, gripped his wand. Beneath the hem of his nightshirt, bare and bony feet gripped the scrubbed stone floor.

Beside him Peter made a small, frightened sound deep in his throat, and James felt the plump little boy pressing up against him. James could not turn to look at him, nor in any way acknowledge his friend's distress. He could not turn to see whether Sirius was as horrified as the rest of them. He could only stare, dumbfounded, at the ghastly apparition before him and struggle to recognize the boy he thought he had known.

'Remus…' he croaked, unable to manage anything more. He could not even think anything more: just that this thing, this fragile, sickly creature, was the boy who had been his friend.

Then it spoke.

'Good afternoon.'

His voice was hoarse and faint, but calm. So calm. James felt a flutter of panic start up somewhere in his viscera. It was impossible, but the creature sounded just like Remus. Dignified, collected, perfectly polite. The sort of friend that Marjorie Potter would have been delighted to have her son bring home. The incongruity between what he saw and what he heard and what he knew rendered James mute and unable to answer the question when at last Remus uttered it.

'You found me,' he said. 'How?'

'I followed you.' Sirius's voice was hollow and strained. James wanted to turn his head in order to make eye contact with his friend, but he could not do it. He could not tear his eyes away from the spectre before him. Sirius went on. 'I knew… I mean, we guessed you'd be slipping away again and I was ready.'

Remus's lips moved soundlessly, his great frightened eyes narrowing a little as he worked through a puzzle of his own. 'The Invisibility Cloak,' he exhaled. 'You followed me on Friday…'

Out of the corner of his eye James caught a blur of motion: Sirius nodding. He waited breathlessly, hoping that his friend might go on. Silence seemed to drag on into eternity, though in truth it must have been less than six seconds.

'We had to do something,' James said, finding his voice at last. His words were feeble and ineffectual, and one hand wafted vaguely of its own accord. He didn't feel that he owed any explanation, but it came anyhow. 'We… if someone was hurting you, if someone was hiding you we had to help. We couldn't just let it go on…'

'No one hurts me,' said Remus in a tiny, tinny voice. He blinked once, spastically. 'No one else.'

James's eyes were drawn to the long, angry scratch. Then he realized that there were others: on his hands and his ankles and the bare, bruised feet. 'We know,' he breathed.

A shudder crossed Remus's face. It might have been terror, or resignation, or even pain, but James could not identify it. A muscle twitched and jumped along the harsh line of Remus's jaw, and the remarkable calm reasserted itself.

'Y-you were our friend,' Peter stammered. James felt a burst of gratitude for the other boy. The unsteady syllables captured so perfectly the shock and the sting of this betrayal. He wondered fleetingly whether it would have been any better if Remus had just told them the truth. He wasn't sure it would have been. A werewolf, after all, was a werewolf.

Wasn't it?

Remus was speaking again, his rasping voice level and so uncannily rational. 'You mustn't tell,' he said firmly. 'Please. If that meant anything to you – if our friendship meant anything to you – you mustn't tell. I'll go away. I'll find somewhere else to sleep. But I have to stay at school. I must get my OWLs. Please. At least my OWLs.'

'OWLs?' Sirius croaked, giving voice to James's own incredulity. Of all the concerns that he had expected the four of them to raise, James had to admit that OWLs did not even rank. Yet here was Remus, looking like the walking undead, prattling on about exams that most fifth years had only just begun to think about. 'At a time like this, all you can think about are your sodding OWLs?'

The round, glittering eyes slid away from Sirius, and James fought the urge to squirm as Remus looked at him instead. There was a queer, vacant look upon his face as he stared, and in the moment before James had to look away he thought he saw the faintest bemused smile tug at the ravaged lips.

'I need them,' said Remus with a sort of hollow contentment. 'I can make do with loneliness, but I need an education.'

Loneliness. Suddenly James thought of the way that Remus always smiled when consulted on something: a sudden, startled smile as if he could not quite believe the others wanted his opinion. He remembered the first clumsy overtures of friendship that Remus had made in response to James's own rather bullheaded determination to be chummy with the quiet boy to spite Sirius Black. He recalled all at once a dozen little things that Remus did every day to set himself apart: hanging back on the fringe of the crowd, ducking his head at table whenever someone let out an unexpected roar of laughter, changing behind his bed curtains as if he was afraid to declare himself one of the group, refusing to paddle in the water or to engage in the justifiable mockery of Severus Snape. Hundreds of innocuous incongruities that made perfect sense when coupled with the empty assertion that he could make do with loneliness. It must have been a very lonely thing indeed, keeping such a terrible secret.

Sirius spoke again, bewildered. 'Make do… Remus, what do you think we're here for?'

Lonely. So frightfully lonely, surrounded by happy, normal children, trying to be one of them when all the while you knew that you weren't. That you could never be. That you were a part-human, a Dark creature, a…

'You've worked it out,' said Remus, very softly. 'I always knew you might. You know that I'm a…'

'Werewolf.'

James bit down on his tongue. He had not meant to speak the word aloud. He closed his eyes hurriedly, before Remus could turn on him. He didn't want to meet the gaze of the one who after a year of friendship was suddenly a stranger. But that was cowardice, he knew. A Potter never gave in to cowardice. He opened his eyes again, keeping them guarded and steady. Courage came not from the absence of fear, but from its conquering. He was certainly afraid now, but he was a Potter and a Gryffindor and he was determined to conquer.

'Werewolf…' Sirius said, parroting him. Although it was Sirius who spoke, Remus's eyes shifted again to James. He was very glad that he had made up his mind to look. He did not blink. He scarcely drew breath. His heart was hammering in his chest and he was certain that he could not maintain this façade for even a moment longer when suddenly Remus's left hand trembled and his wand fell from his fingers. The soft, clipped sound as it struck the floor seemed to fill the ward. The slender stave rolled over the smooth stones, and James found his gaze following it. It tumbled and slowed and finally halted just short of his right shoe.

Hypnotically he bent, plucking up the wand. It was lighter than his own, yet a thumbspan longer. His grip faltered and he raised his other hand so that the wand was spread across both palms. He stared at it, transfixed. He had seen it every day at Hogwarts, tucked into Remus's belt or sitting on his desk or dancing eagerly in his hands. Remus always held it with reverence, as if he could not quite believe that it belonged to him. James had always thought it rather endearing. Now he understood the other boy's wonder. Werewolves, after all, were not meant to have wands.

His fingers closed convulsively over the delicate length of wood. Anger and frustration and the sting of betrayal welled up anew, a hot spring of magma within his chest. Lies, all lies. So many awful lies.

'Don't.'

It was scarcely more than a puff of air, a tiny and horrified noise of entreaty. Remus shuffled forward, one uncertain step. His left arm extended slowly, as if even the small motion gave rise to agony. His hand was outstretched, the veins showing blue beneath alarmingly translucent skin. 'D-don't break it. Please, don't break my wand.'

James felt his grip tightening. It would be such an easy thing to do. A flick of the wrists and the stave would snap. He wondered absurdly what sort of a core there was to the wand. It would be simple enough to find out…

But it was Remus's wand. His tool, his treasure. Even James, who had from infancy been certain of his place in the world and his future at Hogwarts, cherished the memory of the moment when his wand had chosen him. Remus would have stood there too, in Ollivander's shop, eager and joyful and nervous all at once. He would have tried half a dozen others – maybe less, maybe more – before he felt the surge of power shooting from the core of his being into his arm and through his fingers and into the wand that now and always belonged to him. James could imagine Remus at that moment: the same awed smile he so often wore lighting up his pale face, his dad smiling proudly and his mother wide-eyed with Muggle innocence. And Remus, no different from any other eleven-year-old wizard, even if he was a werewolf too.

Suddenly James felt ashamed of himself. The impulse was unworthy of a Potter. Unworthy of a Gryffindor. Unworthy of a decent human being. It wasn't his place to snap Remus Lupin's wand, whatever the lies. 'Break it?' he parroted, unable to quite deny his thoughts but anxious to distance himself from them. 'Why would you think I would…'

'You prat!' Sirius said, whirling around in irritation. 'You told him werewolves couldn't have wands. Give me that!'

He snatched it and marched across the gulf of empty floor that separated the three of them from the boy, the werewolf, the one who had until today been one of the people James trusted implicitly. Sirius seized Remus's hand and closed the spindly fingers over the wand.

'There you are,' he said gently, in the sort of voice one would use to comfort a hysterical child or a dying comrade. 'No one is going to break your wand. And no one is going to tell anyone,' he added, glaring back over his shoulder. The look was meant for both Peter and himself, but James felt as if the steely grey eyes were boring single-mindedly into his soul. He wondered whether Sirius could see the ugliness of his thoughts, and what he would do if he could.

Then, mercifully, Sirius turned back to the swaying ghost of their dormitory-mate. 'We – Remus? Remus, are you all right?'

His voice was abruptly tight with alarm, and as Remus blinked hazily at him James tried to follow Sirius's eyes to the source of the distress. His pulse skipped and quickened as he saw it: a bright blossom of scarlet on the baggy nightshirt, just below Remus's right hip. Blood. Remus was bleeding. It was staining his clothing, and it was trickling down his leg, and as James watched in mute horror it began to pool on the floor by his feet.

'R-Remus, are you all right?' Sirius cried again.

Remus swayed like a sapling in a hurricane, his head wobbling as if his neck could no longer support its weight. He raised his right hand, reaching for his brow. It was a natural gesture, but it necessitated releasing his death-grip on the railing. James wanted to cry out, to tell Remus to hold on or at least to warn Sirius that he was going to fall, but no sound issued from his lips. It was a waking nightmare: mute with horror, watching as the scene before him unfolded with exquisite slowness – and although he knew what was going to happen he was powerless to stop it.

Remus crumpled like a rag doll, and Sirius swooped down, seizing his shoulders just before his head could crash into the stone floor. 'Remus!' he screamed, his voice breaking and scaling up a discordant octave. His arms spasmed, shaking the limp body so that Remus's head flopped backward. His arms were flaccid and his legs both curled to one side in the spreading pool of blood. 'Remus!'

'Bleeding,' Peter stuttered. 'H-he's bleeding…'

Suddenly Sirius had released his hold on Remus. He was scrabbling with the hem of the nightshirt, struggling to peel back the sodden fabric. Carmine gore stained his fingers and his palms, and as he skittered forward his knees squelched unpleasantly in the blood upon the floor. 'Where's it coming from?' he muttered frantically, shaking his head. 'Got to find it, got to stop it.'

Sirius was operating with single-minded determination, but his hands were clumsy and James realized that for all his friend's resolve Sirius had no idea what he was doing. 'Damn it,' he cried, finally hiking up the nightshirt far enough to reveal skinny, scarred knees and a cocoon of bandages wrapped around Remus's thigh and hip and groin. The bandages were soaked with blood, and there was a place at the top of the leg where the dressing was a terrifying, glossy black.

'Pressure,' Sirius mumbled, brushing away an enormous spray of blood. 'Pressure.' He extended his hands, palms flexed, and threw the weight of his torso against the dark spot, driving against the wound that was the source of the bleeding. It must have been excruciatingly painful, but Remus did not stir an inch.

Peter shrieked, covering his face with his hands. Strangely, it was that sound that roused James from his stupor. The paralysis lifted and he was suddenly able to think again.

'Pomfrey,' he said. 'I've got to go and get Pomfrey.'

Sirius couldn't hear him. He was sobbing now, hands scrabbling and digging as he tried to stem the bleeding. Over and over again he kept calling out to the unconscious boy. 'Remus! Remus! S-sod it, REMUS!'

'I… I've got to… I've got to get Pomfrey…' James repeated, backing away from the spectacle in horror. Sirius was bloodied almost to the elbows now, the sleeves of his robes clinging wetly to his arms. Remus's skin was an unearthly bluish shade now, and the shallow rise and fall of his ribs beneath the nightshirt seemed increasingly unpredictable. In a stark contrast to the panic gripping Sirius, Remus's face was serenely calm, as if he had fallen into a deep and restful slumber. James tried to look away, but he couldn't. He was almost to the door now, and still he could not look away.

Suddenly a weight struck him in the chest and he leapt aside as Peter scrabbled for the door. 'Let me out!' he hollered shrilly, fumbling with the handle and failing to work it. 'P-please! Please! Let me out of here!'

The distraction was all that James needed. He wrenched away from the ghastly scene behind him and hauled the door open. Peter shoved past him, stumbling out into the hallway. He slipped, landing with a crack on his rump. With agility belying his stoutness, he scrambled to his feet and tore off down the corridor. He was running in the wrong direction, but James could not stop to worry about that. He had to find the matron.

The next twenty minutes were a blur. He found Pomfrey, miraculously, on her way back from the Quidditch pitch – unaccompanied by Lucius Malfoy. James knew that his explanation was disjointed at best, but the frantic tone he took seemed to be enough for the matron. Unquestioningly she herded him back towards the castle. The one lasting memory of the encounter was the realization that the witch could actually outrun him. By the time James reached the ward doors, Madam Pomfrey was already on her knees beside Remus, prying Sirius's hands away so that she could attend to her patient.

James could not bring himself to cross the threshold into the hospital wing. He leaned against the door, holding it ajar and staring. Bandages vanished and the matron's wand flew. It was impossible to tell what was an incantation and what was a murmured expression of dismay. Sirius was still on his knees, hovering just out of the way and sobbing out frantic questions that Pomfrey seemed to studiously ignore. And through it all, lifeless and peaceful, Remus lay in a river of blood with his eyes closed and his lips slightly parted. Above the shoulders he was a pallid and rather sickly looking twelve-year-old boy with a sweet, placid expression on his face. But below he was a monstrous mess of blood and gore and torn sinews.

It was the surreal contrast between the two – the boy and the beast – that at last turned James Potter's stomach. He did not remember staggering away from the scene, and he did not know how he found his way to the third floor boys' loo. When he came to himself again he was cold and clammy, huddled on the floor of one of the stalls with the sharp stink of his own sick in his nose. His face was wet with tears, but he did not know and hardly dared to wonder whether he had been weeping out of fear for his friend or in mourning for his friendship.