"I've been thinking of having it in the afternoon so Severus can come, too," said Lily.
"What?" Remus looked up from the Potions essay he had been trying to focus on for the last hour. For a moment, he couldn't recall what she was talking about. "Oh, your birthday?"
Lily rolled her eyes. "Yes, Remus. My birthday. Sunday. The only way Severus can come is if it's before supper."
Remus tried and failed to imagine Severus Snape being at all comfortable in the inner sanctum of Gryffindor tower, regardless of the circumstances. "Yeah," he said sceptically. "That's -- er -- a good idea."
The two of them were spending their free Friday afternoon getting caught up on various assignments in the Gryffindor common room; Remus because the moon would be full the following night, and Lily so that she would have some extra free time on her birthday. The increasingly-rowdy game of Exploding Snap perpetrated by Remus's roommates and Matilda Hathersage in the far corner was not helping his frazzled state of mind. He wasn't sure how he was going to pull off a Potions essay, a full moon and a birthday party all in one weekend, but there was no help for it. With any luck, it would be an easy moon, and he would be recovered enough to at least sit quietly in the common room during the festivities.
"When's your birthday, Remus?" asked Lily.
"Oh. It's -- er --" Remus hadn't celebrated a birthday since his sixth, and didn't especially want to start commemorating that particular date now. Every time March tenth rolled around, he felt a little ill. Just tell her a day, he chided himself. It doesn't matter when. But it did matter, because once he told her, he would have to remember it, too. "September," he blurted out, giving the calendar-opposite date of his actual birthday. "September tenth."
She looked at him quizzically. "But -- aren't you eleven?"
"Oh. I just thought you had to be eleven already before you could start school."
Oops. No help for it now. He shrugged.
They worked -- or tried to, in Remus's case -- in silence for a few minutes longer, until, with a bang and a loud whoop, several scorched playing cards rained down on them.
"Will you lot please keep it down?" Lily snapped over the back of the sofa.
"If you're going to be boring, that's what the library's for, Evans," Potter called back without looking up.
"Maybe we should," Remus sighed as Lily scowled at his roommates' backs. "I can't focus on anything with that racket going on."
"Maybe." Lily pursed her lips disapprovingly.
Remus rolled up his barely-started essay and got up, casting a longing look at the sofa. "I just wish the library had better chairs. Those wooden ones make my arse go numb after half an hour."
"Yeah," said Lily, gathering up her things and shoving them into her bookbag. "C'mon, then."
They exited the portrait hole and descended the long staircase, but when Remus turned right as usual, Lily said, "This way," and headed in the opposite direction down a corridor Remus had never visited before.
"Aren't we going to the library, then?" Remus asked.
Lily glanced at him, an oddly-familiar twinkle in her eye. It was an expression he had seen many times before -- on the faces of James Potter and Sirius Black. Never from studious, rule-abiding Lily Evans. "I know somewhere better. But you have to promise not to tell anyone."
"Your secrets are safe with me," he assured her, intrigued.
After a few more twists and turns, they found themselves in a part of the school which had clearly been out of use for some time. Not even the house-elves could be bothered with it. Cobwebs heavy with dust clung to the stones, and the few windows that relieved the darkness were coated with grime. Lily paused at the fourth door on the left and tapped it lightly with her wand. It opened with a creak.
"Welcome to my refuge," she said with a grin.
The room was laid out like an old-fashioned parlour, with a fireplace, a plush Turkish carpet, and several comfortable-looking -- if dusty -- chairs. The walls were lined with shelves largely empty of books, but the few remaining tomes all bore titles in Latin and Greek.
"Where are we?" Remus asked in a hushed voice.
"I think these rooms used to belong to the professor of Magical Linguistics, back when Hogwarts offered it," said Lily smugly. "Sev and I found it just after Christmas. We thought it would be a brilliant place to study where no one could bother us."
He's going to love that you brought me here, thought Remus. "Are you sure we're allowed to be here?"
Lily's grin would have been much better suited to Black's wide mouth, Remus thought. "There's no rule against us being here," she said. "No one's using it, and it wasn't locked. At least, not very well."
"You're as bad as my roommates," he laughed. "Who are you and what have you done with Lily Evans?"
"It's more comfortable than the library and quieter than the common room," she pointed out. "And it'll stay that way so long as no one else knows about it."
Remus flopped onto the sofa, raising a puff of dust. "Know any good cleaning charms?" he sneezed.
"I looked up one especially for dust yesterday," she said, pointing her wand at the sofa. "Detergeo."
With a soft ffup, the sofa turned from a dingy shade of olive to a rich emerald green plush.
"Oh, that's better!" said Remus, as Lily applied the charm to the rest of the furniture.
He dragged a low table over to the sofa and laid out parchment, quill, ink and his Potions book.
Lily sat down beside him. "Maybe now we can get some real work done."
But it was no good. At least, not for Remus. He could hear Lily breathing. The crackle of turning pages and the scratch of quill on parchment grated on his frayed nerves. His pulse throbbed in his ears and behind his eyes, and the words on the page in front of him ran together into nonsensical jumbles of letters. He tried sounding out the words of the text one by one in his head, but by the time he got to the end of a sentence, he couldn't recall where it had begun. He wrote a few words of his own, and then scratched them out, shaking his head.
At last, he sighed, slamming the book shut. "It's no bloody use!" he declared.
Lily paused in the act of reaching for another sheet of parchment, startled. "What's the matter?"
"Dunno," he lied. "I just can't concentrate right now."
She cocked her head, looking at him. "Are you feeling all right, Remus? You look a bit flushed."
"I'm fine," he said shortly as she laid a cool hand against his forehead. "I just need to be doing something else right now."
"Like what?" she asked, brows lowering in concern.
The truth was that he had no idea what, but her hand felt good on his forehead, and her other hand rested lightly on his arm, and her mouth, with its pout of worry was very close to his, and without even realising what he was doing, he kissed her.
He counted three pulsebeats in his ears as they remained absolutely motionless and his brain struggled to catch up with what was happening. And then he jerked away.
"Oh," said Lily softly, green eyes wide.
"Sorry," he mumbled, turning away and fumbling with his essay. His face felt hot. "Dunno what I -- sorry."
Her hand was still resting on his arm. "I didn't mind."
He looked up at her, eyes troubled. "Lily, it's not -- I don't -- Oh, hell!" he said, scrubbing his hands through his hair. "Dad was right."
"Remus, what --?"
"No," he said, standing abruptly. "No. Sorry. I have to go." He fled, leaving books and writing implements behind with his bewildered friend.
When he was certain he wasn't followed, Remus paused to catch his breath. Where could he go? Gryffindor tower and the library were the first two places she would look for him. He considered going to the passage under the Whomping Willow, and staying in his safe house until the full moon had passed. He considered abandoning Hogwarts altogether and going home.
What had he been thinking, doing a thing like that? He had no business kissing Lily. She was a friend. He didn't even think about her that way. But she was soft and kind and so close! And he had this stupid animal living in his brain that made him do stupid things like kissing people he shouldn't.
Remus pressed his heated forehead against the cool, rough stone of the wall, feeling more like bashing his brains out against it. It was his bloody father's fault, putting those thoughts in his head with that humiliating talk over the holidays. He'd never been like this before. Or if he had, there hadn't been anyone close enough at the right -- or wrong -- moment. His father's fumbled explanation of feelings and their consequences certainly seemed to describe the problem. Unfortunately, Marcellus Lupin hadn't given his son any clue as to what he ought to do about it. He needed answers, and he needed them quickly, before he wrecked one of the only good things that had ever happened to him.
He made himself take several deep, calming breaths. Answers. Answers to questions about werewolves. Remus needed books. He trusted books. They had never failed him. Books were full of answers. Books like the ones in Madam Pomfrey's office. Like the one with the really embarrassing chapter.
Remus stumbled blearily back to Gryffindor tower at lunchtime on Sunday feeling exhausted, sore, sick and utterly mortified. He had managed to avoid Lily for the remainder of Friday and most of Saturday, sitting with his roommates at meals, and disappearing behind his bedcurtains with his Potions essay and A Treatise on Growth and Development in Juvenile Werewolves the rest of the time.
The Treatise had been even worse than he had imagined, in terms of embarrassing detail, and had unfortunately offered only two practical solutions to his problem. The first he was already intimately familiar with, but clearly that was not doing the trick, no matter how vigorously he applied himself. The second was meditation, but with the roiling mess his thoughts were already in, he had found clearing his mind nearly impossible. If he was going to master the discipline required, he would have to start after he had recovered from the full moon.
It had been one of Remus's worst nights in a long time. He had been disgracefully sick when he first woke up in the old house, and had spent the morning in the hospital wing, shivering uncontrollably. A claw had gouged deep into the muscle of his left thigh, and one of his toes had had to be reattached. He wouldn't have any feeling in it for months.
To make matters worse, when Madam Pomfrey had come to check on him at noon and found him awake, she delicately mentioned that she had "noticed a little chafing" when she was fixing him up that morning, and presented him with a jar of some slippery potion and the instructions -- thankfully simple and out of common ingredients -- for making more.
"I don't mean to embarrass you, Mr Lupin," she had said matter-of-factly. "It's perfectly normal for a boy of your age, but I think you'll find that a little lubrication is -- helpful."
He had mumbled some sort of thanks -- all the while wondering what god could be so cruel as to make him live through such a moment after everything else that had happened in his lifetime -- and had insisted that he was well enough to return to his own bed. The matron had eyed his shaking hands dubiously as he pulled on his robes, but had allowed him to go.
I just need a couple of hours sleep before the party, he told himself. After that, I can think about the bloody essay. And then maybe, if I have time, I can die of humiliation.
If it hadn't been held in the Gryffindor common room, and if there hadn't been cake and punch, Sirius probably would not have bothered with Lily Evans's birthday party. It wasn't a grand affair, since most of the older students hardly bothered learning the names of their first and second year Housemates. The first year girls, including snobby Venice Corbet and her best friend Elswith More, were engaged in a game of Gobstones with the birthday girl, as was round-faced second year Alice Finch. Severus Snape huddled sulkily in a chair by the fire, black eyes flicking mistrustfully from face to face.
James and Peter, too, had been lured in by the promise of food, and had stayed to hear the latest gossip from the Prewetts.
"Amelia Bones thinks there's something going on between Madam Pomfrey and Professor Tynedale," said Gideon, raising his eyebrows significantly.
"Like what?" asked James, half-listening as he motioned his knight to take Peter's rook.
"Like that they're involved," said Fabian.
Sirius wrinkled his nose. "Involved? You mean, with each other?"
The twins nodded.
James and Peter looked up in surprise, chess game forgotten.
"Oh, Merlin!" breathed Peter, eyes glowing. "Do you really think so?"
"Amelia said that she saw Tynedale leaving Pomfrey's private office when she went up to make a delivery the other day, and that both of them looked really pleased about something," Gideon informed them.
"Right," said Fabian. "Who ever looks happy about visiting the hospital wing? I don't think I've seen Pomfrey crack a smile since she started here."
"So you think they're --?" James said, searching for the word.
"Lesbians," confirmed Fabian. "It's a popular theory."
"Wow," Peter said dreamily. "That'd be brilliant."
James snorted. "Maybe if Pomfrey weren't so dumpy and Tynedale wasn't terminally boring."
"There's no accounting for taste," sniggered Sirius as Peter blushed.
"So we're going to keep an eye on both of them for a bit," continued Gideon. "See if the rumour warrants further investigation."
"You lads should be on the lookout, too," Fabian added. "If you see anything odd, let us know."
"Like Tynedale being in the village on New Years, when she knicked us?" Sirius asked.
Fabian shrugged. "Maybe. Dunno how that ties in to the theory, but it's definitely unusual."
"They were -- at the Christmas feast --" James began, brow furrowing as he tried to remember.
"Yeah?" said Gideon, leaning forwards interestedly.
"I think they were -- flirting. With each other. They were -- sort of giggly, and then Pomfrey touched Tynedale's arm, and said something about her stopping by for a visit."
The Prewetts exchanged a look, eyebrows raised. "That's definitely evidence, Potter. Well spotted."
Sirius frankly found all this speculation about the private lives of the Hogwarts staff boring, even if it was about two birds together, an eventuality which would certainly have scandalised his parents.
"I'm gonna see if there's anymore cake," he announced, getting up.
On the way to the refreshments table, he was intercepted by the birthday girl, and she didn't look pleased. Snape trailed behind her like a grim shadow.
"Where is he?" Evans demanded.
"Who?" said Sirius distractedly, peering past them in time to see the last piece of cake snapped up and devoured by a seventh year.
"Remus," she snapped, impatient. "Is he avoiding me? I've barely seen him in two days."
Sirius glanced at her, surprised. "He's not back yet, far as I know."
"Back?" Evans blinked. "From where?"
"He went home again last night. To see his mum."
She looked utterly dismayed. "But -- he would have told me if he was going to miss my birthday!"
Sirius shrugged. "When does he ever tell anyone anything?"
"Just goes to show what kind of friend he is," muttered Snape.
"Shut it, Sev!" Evans snapped, a dangerous glint in her eye. "I don't want to hear it right now. When you see him, Black, you tell him I want a word."
"Sure," said Sirius, wondering why girls had to make such a fuss over everything. "Is there anymore punch?"
At supper that evening, Sirius's roommates and the Prewetts were delighted to see Madam Pomfrey put in a rare appearance in the Great Hall, and, even better, sit beside the Defence mistress at the staff table. He listened to the others' speculation, and agreed that the two women looked companionable with their heads bent together, but his friends' fascination baffled him. He knew in an abstract sort of way that the day would come when he would go soft in the head over girls, too, but thankfully it hadn't happened yet. Until it did, he was just going to have to suffer through his friends' bouts of boringness.
When he had eaten his fill, and it was clear to him that the others had no intention of budging so long as their quarry was in sight, he left the table, disgusted, and headed back up to Gryffindor tower.
The dormitory was dark when he entered, but not silent. Sirius thought he heard a muffled sob from the bed nearest the door. Tugging back the hangings to peek inside, and found his missing roommate curled into a tight ball beneath the covers, his back to Sirius.
"Oh," he said. "You're back."
Lupin didn't uncurl or turn his head. "What time is it?" he asked hoarsely.
"About half seven," Sirius told him.
"Oh, bollocks!" moaned Lupin into his pillow. "I've missed it, haven't I?"
"Yeah." Sirius couldn't help being a little amused. "Don't think I've ever heard you swear before, Lupin."
Lupin ignored him. "Was she upset?"
"A bit," Sirius admitted. "Said she wanted a word when you got back. You all right, mate?"
"Fine. I've just got a headache."
There was a knock at the door. Sirius had the presence of mind to tug the bed hangings closed before he answered it.
"Is he back?" Evans asked without preamble.
"Shove off, Evans," Sirius said rudely. "He's ill and he doesn't want to talk to you right now."
"He'd better be," she snapped, voice shrill. "You tell him that -- that I don't think much of the way he treats his friends."
"I'll pass it along," Sirius told her. "Good night, Evans."
He shut the door in her startled face. A moment later, he heard her footsteps retreating down the spiral staircase.
"You shouldn't've done that," said a grumpy voice from behind the bed hangings.
Sirius pushed them aside again and sat down on the bed next to Lupin, leaning back against the headboard. "Why? Did you want to talk to her?"
There was a long pause from his tightly-curled roommate. "Maybe not just now."
"Lupin -- Remus," Sirius said tentatively, "are you OK?"
"Told you. I have a headache."
"That's not what I meant. Ever since I -- well, I just want to know that you're all right."
Dozens of times over the past several weeks, Sirius's mind had wandered back to Lupin's scars. He had no idea what sort of hex could inflict that kind of damage, and he wasn't sure he wanted to. His own parents had struck him more times than he cared to recall, and on a few occasions had locked him in the cellar overnight, but they had never left a mark on him. The only conclusion Sirius could reach was that someone, somewhere, was hurting his quiet roommate, and that was unacceptable.
"Shouldn't worry about me," Lupin mumbled into the pillow. "I'll be fine. Except for failing Potions because I haven't finished that bloody essay."
The other boy's shoulders tensed defensively. "What?"
Sirius took a deep breath. "I don't think -- I mean, we're not going to be best mates or anything, like me and James are. Not with you being such a moody tosser --"
A sound that might almost have been a snort emanated from the lump in the bed.
"-- but we all have to live together, don't we?" Sirius continued. "Shouldn't we at least try to be friends?"
"Even though I'm a filthy half-blood who's as boring as Binns and everything I own is rubbish?" There was a wary note in Lupin's voice.
"Even if you're secretly a Muggle and a Slytherin."
"You do realise that makes no sense, don't you, Black?" Lupin's voice held a definite hint of amusement now.
Sirius looked down at the tightly curled form and wondered if he was about to get himself blasted halfway across the room again. "I'm 'Sirius' to my friends," he said quietly, laying a hand on Lupin's shoulder.
There was a pause, and then an answering hand burrowed its way out of the bedclothes to rest on top of Sirius's, giving it a small squeeze. "Thanks -- Sirius. I'll remember that."
Settling himself more comfortably onto the bed, Sirius asked, "So now that we're friends, do you want to tell me what's going on with you and Evans?"
"What makes you think there's anything going on?" Lupin's voice was suddenly a little sharper.
Sirius snorted. "She comes by here Friday to return your bookbag with the oddest look on her face, asks where you are, and says you scarpered from the library like you'd just seen a Grim. You hide out up here half the weekend, and then you ditch her birthday party without telling her. Either there's something going on, or you're the weirdest bloke alive."
Lupin sighed. "I -- sort of -- kissed her."
Sirius groaned. "Not you, too, mate! Seems like every bloke I know has gone completely mental over girls this week."
"'M not mental," objected Lupin. "Dunno why I did it. Don't even like her that way."
"Have fun explaining that to her," Sirius smirked. "I'll do a lot for a friend, but you're on your own there, mate, and I don't think 'sorry' is going to cut it."
"Probably not," Lupin said glumly.
When he awoke the following morning, Remus felt much better. Aside from the lump of icy dread in the pit of his stomach, that is. Pleased as he was that Sirius thought highly enough of him to seek out his friendship -- and stunned as he was to discover that that new friendship extended to finishing his Potions essay for him while he slept -- it didn't make up for the fact that he might lose the first and best friend he had made at Hogwarts.
At breakfast, Lily turned up her nose, refusing to speak to him, and went to sit with the other girls from their year, leaving Remus in more masculine company. She refused to partner with him in Defence Against the Dark Arts or Charms, and his performance suffered, not because he was working with Sirius, who was fed up with his friends' absurd speculations about Professor Tynedale and Madam Pomfrey, but because he could think of nothing but what he would say to Lily, if she ever gave him the chance.
Lunch was much the same as breakfast, and Transfiguration that afternoon was no better than his morning classes.
"Go talk to her, mate," hissed Sirius, beginning to get annoyed at his distraction. "Before you transfigure your hand into a bludger and accidentally beat yourself to death."
"Five points from Gryffindor for talking in class, Mr Black," said Professor McGonagall as Remus glanced over at Lily for the thousandth time that day.
Part of him wondered if he shouldn't just let Lily go. Friendship meant caring and emotions and reactions. What if he couldn't have that, and have control, too? But the way she had reached out to a lonely, homesick boy, and had cared about what he thought and felt had been one of the sweetest experiences of Remus's young life, and he couldn't give that up -- not without a fight.
The only problem was that there was only one way he could think of to fix things, and that was to tell her the truth.
The thought of spilling his secret to another person made him break out in a cold sweat. He had to tell her, he knew, but every moment until he did so, he had to make that choice again and again.
She's clever, he kept telling himself, and she's Muggleborn. She doesn't have werewolf prejudice.
After class, he didn't bother to go looking for her in Gryffindor tower or the library; he knew where she would be.
The fourth door on the left in the dusty, abandoned corridor was locked. He knocked.
"Lily, can I talk to you?"
There was a click and the door opened a crack.
"I'm busy, Remus." Her voice was sharp-edged with anger. "I took yesterday off. Because it was my birthday."
He winced at the cut of her tone. "I know, Lily. I'm sorry. Will you at least let me explain?"
"I'm listening," she said shortly.
He sighed. "Let me in, at least. I don't want to talk about it out here."
With a huff of impatience, she swung the door open to reveal Snape occupying a chair by the fireplace.
"It's getting to be like Diagon Alley in here," he commented drily. "What with people who aren't even friends enough to come to your birthday being allowed in now."
Remus made a valiant effort at civility. "I need to talk to Lily alone, Severus. Please."
"I'm not leaving unless she tells me to," said Snape flatly.
"Go, Sev," Lily ordered, eyes never leaving Remus. "And if I catch you listening at the keyhole, I'll hex your ears so full of earwax, you'll be able to taste it."
Scowling, Snape slammed his book shut and shoved it into his bag, pushing rudely past Remus on his way out. Lily closed the door behind him and leaned back against it, arms folded, glaring at him.
"I think -- maybe we should sit down," said Remus.
They moved to the plush green sofa and sat before Remus realised his mistake. They were back in the exact spot where they had kissed, three days before. Remus suddenly felt extremely awkward.
"So what are you going to explain?" asked Lily belligerently. "Why you kissed me? Why you ran off? Why you decided to skip my birthday?"
"All of that." He was having a very hard time meeting her eyes. Deep breaths, Lupin. "Lily -- I -- I'm a werewolf."
He counted five seconds of total silence before she said, "Bollocks."
"No, I am. I --"
"I cannot believe you came down here just to mess me about!" she burst out, leaping up from the sofa to glare at him. "To act like that, and then make a joke of it -- that's low, Lupin. That's the kind of thing I'd expect from your roommates, but not from you."
He set his jaw, willing himself to hold her gaze. "Does that sound like the sort of thing I'd make up, Lily? Look --"
Kicking off his trainers, he peeled his socks off and yanked his trousers up to his knees, exposing the mangled and scarred flesh of his shins and calves, and the bruised, raw mess of his reattached toe. His hands shook. He had never felt so exposed and vulnerable as he did under that blank green stare.
"Remus," she said, shocked, "what --?"
"I did that." His tone was sharper and more bitter than he had intended. "Every full moon, I have to lock myself up and tear myself half to pieces to keep from hurting anyone else."
She was shaking her head, denying, disbelieving, still staring at his ruined flesh.
"Which days did I miss class?" he demanded. "What day was yesterday? Do you want me to get you a lunar calendar?"
Her eyes rose to his, and she slowly lowered herself into the chair across from him. "How long --?" she asked softly.
"Since I was six," he said, letting go of the cuffs of his trousers so that they fell back down to cover his legs once more. "I've had to lie and hide from everyone. They hate werewolves -- wizards do. Dumbledore fixed it so I could go to school, but Lily, you can't tell anyone. Not ever. If they found out, I'd be sent home, and it would be the end of me being a wizard or having any kind of a normal life. Promise me, Lily --"
A lump in his throat choked off the rest of his words and hot tears slid down his cheeks.
"Oh, Remus," cried Lily, sliding back onto the sofa and gathering him into her arms. "I promise. Of course I promise. Hush, now. You're safe. I won't let them hurt you. Not ever."
She was weeping, too, her cheek resting against the crown of his head, his face pressed against her shoulder as they shook and clung to one another, and Remus didn't think he had ever been so happy or loved anyone so much in his entire life.
That feeling lasted approximately five minutes before Lily sniffled and said, "But, Remus, that doesn't explain -- why did you kiss me? Do you --?"
He pulled away from her, sniffing and wiping his face on his sleeve. "No, it's -- God, this is embarrassing."
"Tell me," she said, taking his hand between hers.
He had thought his face couldn't get any redder, but he was wrong. "Werewolves -- we -- right before the full moon -- there are all these hormones and things, and it's really hard to focus. And you're really nice and pretty and I've been so grateful to have you for a friend, and I think I just -- got confused for a minute."
"So you don't -- like me."
"Not like that, no." He shook his head, squeezing her hand. "But there are all kinds of other ways that I absolutely love you, Lily. You're brilliant."
She went pink at that. "I love you, too, Remus," she said. "But -- don't kiss me again unless you mean it."
"I won't," he promised. "There's meditation and stuff I can do for control and focus. I was hoping -- maybe you wouldn't mind if I did that here sometimes? It's nice to have quiet."
"If you promise to keep your socks on," she said with a slow, teasing smile. "You have the ugliest feet I've ever seen."