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The Other Side of Sorrow

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4 February, 1977 - 11 February, 1977

 

Something wasn’t right.

The first thing Remus knew, as his mind haltingly returned to him, was pain. So much bloody pain. Every joint seared with arthritic fire, the throbbing in his head pounded out each heartbeat, and his skin was riddled with the telltale prickle of flesh wounds recently treated by Pomfrey’s wand and salves. It had been a long time since a moon had left him in such a state, with the company of his packmates he usually didn’t get anything worse than a few shallow cuts or bruises from their races and play-fighting.

Remus’ sluggishly thudding heart dropped into the pit of his stomach with the realization. They didn’t come. It was the only explanation. If the Marauders had been there, even one of them, he would not be in such agony. The disappointment spread out from his chest like a drop of ink on wet parchment, bleeding into every corner of his being. Why hadn’t they come? Had they finally come to their senses, realized what a foolish waste it was to keep company with a Dark Creature like himself? No, don’t be a git, a voice in his head that sounded a little like Sirius told him. Of course not. They’d proven their loyalty many times over, of course. They probably just did something stupid and landed themselves in detention.

Yes, that had to be it. The Marauders weren’t notorious for getting into trouble by accident, after all. Remus willed himself to believe it, willed himself to relax and quit feeling sorry for himself as the pull of the moon lessened with the climbing sun. The haze of pain did not lessen, but the wolf-mind continued to recede, making room for his more reasonable, albeit weary, human mind to take over. It was a gradual shift with which Remus had grown very familiar in the past eleven years, and he ticked off the boxes of an internal checklist with each small change. His mind was already more rational, check. His stomach grumbled, check. Internal reminders about Prefect shifts and assignments began to crop up, check. The taste in his mouth was growing more and more objectionable, check.

His attention snagged on the last. It was not uncommon for him to come to the morning after a full moon with a foul taste in his mouth. Usually it was the dry-mouthed, stale taste of a tongue that had been lolling out as the wolf panted and ran. Sometimes it was the earthy taste and unwelcome texture of fur from Padfoot or Prongs. Occasionally, it was the pungent taste of animal droppings or some dead thing that had caught Moony’s attention on the forest floor. It had never been this, this salt-bitter taste that coated every tastebud, tickling inside his nose with its metallic tang. A terrific bolt of adrenaline shot through him like fire, as the wolf and the boy together identified the taste of blood.

It was then, as he made to bolt upright, that he realized he was under the effect of a full body-bind jinx.

His eyes shot open, but the rest of his body refused to move, as if weighed down by an impossibly heavy burden. The only part of him other than his eyes that responded was his tongue, sweeping impatiently against his teeth, repulsed by the feeling of gristle caught between them. The Hospital Wing was the same as always, for all he could tell with the starched curtain pulled around his bed. His eyes lingered longingly on the stoneware jug and cup on the bedside table that he knew would be full of cool, clean water, torturously out of reach of his frozen limbs. Instead he forced his throat to swallow, desperate to wash the taste from his mouth even as his stomach twisted, threatening to retch up its mysterious and grisly contents. His mind, so orderly only moments before was a panic of questions now, a discordant crescendo with the one word cutting through it like a metronome, who? Who? WHO? WHO?

And then, beyond the cacophony in his head, Remus heard the sound of the Hospital Wing door opening and shutting and the sound of hushed, solemn voices. He strained his ears to hear, “...put him down, Albus,” his heart lurched, “or at least lock him up.”

“I have no intention of letting that happen, Poppy, I assure you,” said Dumbledore, in a measured tone.

“But, Albus, surely the Ministry will--” Madam Pomfrey sounded almost frantic, and that scared Remus as much as anything. He had never before heard her sound anything but stern or calm or kindly.

“The Ministry will have to wait, at least for a moment longer, I’m afraid,” Dumbledore interrupted, his tone authoritative, “At least long enough for us to speak first with Mr Lupin. It concerns him a great deal, I’m sure you’ll agree.”

“Well, of course it does,” Madam Pomfrey said and Remus was almost relieved to hear some of the medi-witch’s usual stern tone, “But I must insist that we let the boy sleep.”

“And I would agree you with you, Poppy,” Dumbledore said amenably, “If he were not already awake, and no doubt rather cross with me for having left him restrained.” No sooner had the words been spoken than Remus felt the body-bind lift, and he shot upright, leaning over the side of the bed, retching on the floor with an undignified splat.

He heard the curtains being pulled aside behind him but he did not turn to look. His eyes were glued to the luridly red stain of his sick on the otherwise spotless marble floor. He was distantly aware that he was trembling but before he could even consider being embarrassed about it, he vomited violently once more, knowing from the sound that Madam Pomfrey or the Headmaster had summoned a basin to catch it. When his insides felt like they had been turned inside out and wrung thoroughly, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve and drew his knees to his chest, indifferent to the pain that screamed through his aching body. He stared at the pinkish stain his mouth had left on his sleeve for a long moment before he forced himself to meet the light blue gaze that he felt resting upon him.

“Hello, Remus,” Dumbledore said, in a kind, even tone, “I’m sorry to find you so unwell.”

Remus blinked at him, dumbfounded. Unwell? What kind of word was that for his present state? Who gives a damn if I’m unwell, I’m a… a… he cringed at the thought, and said tremulously, “...P-professor?”

Dumbledore smiled wanly, “Ah. But of course, I shall refrain from offering sympathies that are unwanted, however much I might feel that they are deserved.”

Remus glanced at Madam Pomfrey, finding a look of something like pity upon her face. He felt angry tears prickle his eyes. Where was the retribution? The fear, the blame... even just disappointment would make more sense than this! He was not a sick or injured student in need of sympathy, he was a… a… He shut his eyes tight, trying to will away the tears but instead forcing them to roll down his cheeks, “Who?” he managed to force out through gritted teeth, “Who did I--?”

“I would remind you, Remus, that you did nothing wrong,” Dumbledore interrupted gently, and Remus opened his eyes but knew from the look on his headmaster’s weary old face that it would be a mistake to feel relief, “You know better than any that you are not your own master on the night of the full moon.”

“Oh, Albus, he’s going to find out,” Madam Pomfrey said impatiently, “You might as well tell him, and then you can lecture him on how to take it.”

Dumbledore almost smiled, but instead he sighed, a sigh that was very heavy with regret, “Very well,” Remus’ eyes darted back and forth between Madam Pomfrey and Dumbledore, before Dumbledore finally spoke, “Your classmate, a Slytherin sixth-year by the name of Severus Snape, entered the Shrieking Shack last night sometime after moonrise.”

The first thing Remus felt was a wash of relief that the name had not been Sirius Black, James Potter, or Peter Pettigrew but a millisecond later he berated himself for his selfishness. He glanced around as if to check the other beds in the Hospital Wing for the sight of that familiar greasy head on any of the pillows, but could not see past the curtain that still enclosed his bed most of the way, “He… is he…?”

Remus knew the answer instantly from the expression on Dumbledore’s face even before he spoke, “Mr Snape did not survive.”

Remus covered his face in his hands, his nails biting slightly into his forehead and cheeks as he tried in vain to un-hear this information, to un-know it, to un-know what he had done, what he was. This was it. He’d always feared that it was just a matter of time and now it had happened. He knew what the Ministry did to werewolves who didn’t mind their manners on the full moon. I deserve it. He was only grateful that the Marauders weren’t here to deny it, to decry his monsterhood, or defy his fate. That would have been too painful to bear. He swallowed thickly, lowering his legs and folding his hands in his lap to keep them from shaking, setting his shoulders back and raising his gaze back to Dumbledore’s almost defiantly. He may be a monster, and he may be doomed, but he was still a Gryffindor and he was going to meet his end with his head held high, “When is it?” he asked, in a brittle voice.

Dumbledore’s silvery eyebrows lifted ever-so-slightly, asking gently, “Pardon me, Remus, when is what exactly?”

The bravery in his own voice surprised even Remus, “My execution, sir.”

Madam Pomfrey gasped and grabbed the basin of viscera by Remus’ bedside, disappearing out the small gap in the curtain to dispose of it. Dumbledore’s face was not shocked, but weary, and Remus once again heard the hint of determination he had overheard when the headmaster first entered the Hospital Wing, “I don’t intend for there to be an execution at all, Mr Lupin.”

“Alright, then, my trial,” Remus amended, but Dumbledore shook his head, “Well, then, at least when am I leaving?”

“Leaving?” Dumbledore repeated politely.

“Leaving Hogwarts,” Remus explained, feeling frustration warring with the guilt and confusion and fear already rampant within him, “Surely I’m to be expelled!”

“Not while I hold my present authority as headmaster, Mr Lupin,” Dumbledore shook his head once sharply, “Hogwarts has already lost one student too many today.”

Remus’ stomach lurched and his anger suddenly flared, “But I killed him, Professor! I’ve never tried my hand at your job but I think that ought to warrant more than a bloody slap on the wrist!”

“I suggest you leave my job to me, then, Mr Lupin,” Dumbledore said sternly, and Remus’ anger faltered, “And I would remind you that you did not kill anyone. A dark creature merely did what is regrettably in its nature to do--”

“A dark creature who is me, Professor--”

“That’s quite enough, Mr Lupin,” Dumbledore held up one long hand and Remus’ protests died in his throat, “You--”

“Moony?” James’ groggy voice from outside the curtain silenced Dumbledore, who closed his eyes slowly as if wincing.

“J-James?” all of the anger and bravado went out of Remus at the sound of his friend’s voice sounding much too frail, “Professor, is that James?” Remus threw back his blankets and made to jump out of bed, halting as his stomach and joints complained, “What did I do to James, tell me?!” he demanded urgently, even if he couldn’t stand up just yet.

“‘M’alright, Moons,” James said in an unconvincing tone from the other side of the curtain.

“Mr Potter tried to follow Mr Snape,” Dumbledore explained, without opening his eyes, “But as you know, the Willow does not take very kindly to being approached.”

Normally, this understatement about the Whomping Willow’s temperament might have earned a wry smile from Remus, but he was too busy trying to piece together the events of the full moon. Why hadn’t James been able to get past the Willow when he knew about the secret knot in the roots and had gone past it loads of times?

“Daft o’ me, really,” James grumbled from the next bed, “Sending Wormy to fetch Dumbledore…”

Just then, Madam Pomfrey reappeared, twitching open the curtain that lay between James’ bed and Remus’. Dumbledore opened his eyes and regarded her and she said, a bit sharply, “It concerns them both and as Mr Potter is joining the conversation as it is…”

“As you say, Poppy,” Dumbledore said.

James looked horrible. His face was mottled with dark bruises, looking especially gruesome in contrast to the crisp white of his pillow. His spectacles lay on the bedside table between them but Remus could already see curved white line of a scar on his left temple where the Willow had no doubt driven the side of them into his skin. His left eye was swollen shut and his lip was busted but he still managed a weak smile at the sight of Remus, though it vanished so quickly, it was hard to say if it had been there at all. Remus felt a new bud of unease blossoming in his gut. That had not been pain that flashed across James’ features ever so quickly, it had been shame, “Prongs…?” Remus said faintly.

James’ good eye shot to Dumbledore, who sighed and the long fingers of one hand stroked his beard distractedly for a second before falling again to his side, “Remus, I have been made to understand that Mr Snape’s unfortunate arrival at the Shrieking Shack was more than a tragic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Remus’ blood turned to ice in his veins and his eyes sprang back to James, then back to Dumbledore, “He…” Remus ran his hand through his hair, uneasily, “I should have told you, headmaster, he’s been suspicious of my disappearances--”

“No one can say how much about your circumstances Mr Snape may have deduced,” the old wizard’s light blue eyes rested on Remus’ face again, melting with sympathy, “It pains me to tell you that Severus was told to go to the Shrieking Shack.”

“Told?” Remus blinked at the Headmaster, “That’s impossible, Professor. I mean, with all due respect, my--”

“Sirius,” James’ growl from the bed beside Remus’ was so fierce it very nearly didn’t register as a word. And then, suddenly, it did. Sirius, who sometimes took their pranks just a little too far. Sirius, who had nicknamed Remus ‘Moony’ and mentioned his ‘furry little problem’ a little too much to be safe. Sirius, whose shrew of a mother had finally burned him from the family tree when he got too mouthy at Christmas, electing his brother heir. Sirius, who had been a powderkeg all term, quicker than ever to hex anyone who looked at him wrong, who for the first time had been maybe living up to the infamous madness of the family that had rejected him. The ice in Remus’ veins turned recklessly to fire, anger storming through him frantically, fast as it could, desperate to drown out the heartbreak with which it competed. He couldn’t think of him as the Sirius who had come up with the plan to become Animagi, the Sirius who always had a joke or a chocolate frog at the ready, the Sirius who loved Muggle music even when the lyrics perplexed him, who moved through Remus’ thoughts with tempting, regal, animal grace. He clung to the anger, the anger that erased that Sirius in favor of the other, the anger that said “of course, he betrayed you, he’s always been a bit mad, a bit selfish, a bit cruel”.

Remus realized with a start that James had been talking, “...no sodding excuse, mind, I don’t give a rat’s arse what Sniv-- Severus said to him, he had no right--no bloody right--

“I do believe that will do, Mr Potter,” Dumbledore said evenly and James fell into a cross silence, his bruised brow still furrowed with passion.

“What about him?” Remus asked, his voice so quiet that for a second he doubted whether Dumbledore would have heard. He raised an eyebrow, “He… Sirius.... is… are you expelling him?”

The other eyebrow lifted to match the first, “I have told you already that I believe that Hogwarts has lost one student too many today,” Remus opened his mouth and James grumbled, but Dumbledore went on, in a tone that brooked no argument, “And I would remind you that we agreed that I am better suited to the post of Headmaster than you, and therefore it is up to me who is or is not expelled.”

“Headmaster--” was the only word Remus managed to get out before Dumbledore was again offering sympathies that Remus did not want or deserve, and excusing himself. Madame Pomfrey swooped in at once, asking both boys various questions about how they were feeling, administering a variety of potions, and finally watching them both swallow every drop of a sleeping draught before withdrawing to her office. The sun had only just cleared the horizon and brilliant morning sunlight bathed the Hospital Wing as a stifling silence gathered around the two sole occupants. Remus’ eyelids were beginning to grow heavy as James said, in a fractured voice, “I’m sorry, Remus. I-I tried to stop him, I…”

“Shut up, James,” Remus said flatly. Without looking at James, he knew the look he must have worn, as if he’d been slapped.

“Moony--”

“Don’t call me that,” Remus growled, hating the mark of the wolf in his voice. He couldn’t believe, in that moment, that he’d ever been so foolish to let them call him that. To make light of the thing that made him a monster. A killer, he thought, his mind gone too soft and sleepy to keep up holding the word at bay.

“Remus…” James mumbled, before a snore rose from his bed. His adrenaline gone, the strain of his transformations, and Pomfrey’s potent sleeping draught meant sleep was overcoming Remus quickly as well. Too quickly. He had so much to mull over, he wished he could lay here undisturbed and try to eke even a shred of sense from all of it, but he knew the medi-witch enough after six years in her care to know that she doled out those sleeping draughts as much to enforce mental rest as physical rest upon her charges. His mind brushed over the thought of Sirius again and flinched away from it as if burned, and he realized he was in no rush to think through any of it. Better not to think at all, he decided, and was asleep an instant later.

 

***

 

Sirius didn’t know the particulars of the story Dumbles had cooked up to explain the death of a student to the Ministry of Magic. Judging by the removal of the Whomping Willow from the Hogwarts grounds, he reckoned it was a safe assumption that he had pinned it on that bastard of a tree. The removal of the Willow was no small undertaking. On the contrary, it required the magic of several Hogwarts professors, Hagrid’s brawn, and the spellwork of several more Ministry personnel. It was quite the gorey spectacle, as a handful of witches and wizards repeatedly stunned the tree by prodding its Achilles heel of a root and while it was frozen, the other party of witches and wizards sawed and burned away as many boughs as they could before it began again to thrash and had to be stunned once more. It took hours, and drew quite a large audience, torn between relief and pity to see the violent tree reduced to an armless, gnarled trunk that swiveled and bent uselessly until it was torn up by its roots and carted away, still fighting.

Sirius watched numbly from the roof of Gryffindor Tower. The others were not about, he didn’t know if they were avoiding looking on purpose or if they just had better things to do. For all he knew they were under Prongs’ cloak, right in the front row. Or swiping chocolates from Honeyduke’s. Or on the bloody moon. It didn’t matter. He’d mourn the blasted tree alone, of course, now that he was someone who did everything alone. He took a drag off his cigarette, as an uncertain cheer went up through the mass of students down on the grounds as the last chunk of roots was torn from the ground. Sirius was much too high up to see if the underground tunnel was discernible in the turned soil. Maybe Dumbledore had sealed it up before the Ministry had even sent their gaggle of tree-trimmers. As he stubbed out his butt on the cold roof tiles beside him and tapped another cigarette from the crumpled pack, the last of the Ministry folks began making their way to Hogsmeade to Disapparate and the crowd dispersed, and all that was left was a jagged, dark scar marring the white of the snow-blanketed grounds.

There was a kind of poetry to it, Sirius reckoned, a kind of dark irony and symbolism that Remus would have eaten up if he’d encountered it in the pages of one of those melodramatic old Muggle novels. The whole mess of it, really, would have tickled Remus if it had been set on some blasted moors a few hundred years before. Betrayal and treachery, made for good reading, that. But it didn’t matter. His literary observations, however astute, would remain unappreciated, though; he might as well shout them into that damn hole in the ground as tell them to Remus, for all the response he was likely to get.

He scowled, his hand twitching involuntarily and snapping his cigarette in half. He regarded it for a second, still smoldering pointlessly between his fingers, before hurling it off the roof and lying back hard, not caring when his skull collided painfully with the tiles. It was only February and the sullen grey of the sky mirrored his mood. Can you still call it a mood if it’s a constant state of being? The sky was cold, and the roof was cold, and even the way the voice in his head spoke to him was cold. It was hard to believe that a couple days ago he’d been brimming with reckless uncontainable sparks, ready to set anything ablaze. But he had, hadn’t he? Not just anything, but everything. He’d never been one for moderation, he supposed wryly, but burning down everything had been a bit much even for him. And now there was just ashes, and solitude, and the cold of silence that had no prospect of being broken.

His fists clenched at his sides, fingernails biting into his palms. What the fuck was he doing trying to rationalize, trying to find some humor in it? A bit much? Someone was dead and everyone was gone and there was no use minimizing it. Sirius Black was no stranger to fucking up, but this really went far beyond fucking up. And that was the worst part, really. He agreed with them. He’d hoped for another chance, he’d pleaded for forgiveness, but when push came to shove, he didn’t think he deserved it any more than they did. He’d killed someone. Someone shitty, mind, but someone as good as innocent. But if he was really honest with himself, it wasn’t Sniv-- Severus dying that made him sick. It was what he’d done to Moony. Remus. Not Moony anymore. Not ever again.

Sirius’ insides gave the familiar twist at the thought of how much worse it might’ve been, if Dumbles hadn’t chosen to lie for Remus. He hadn’t been put down like a beast, thank Merlin. But Sirius had still done the one thing they’d all sworn never to do. Worse than that. He hadn’t just betrayed Moon-- Remus’ secret, he’d made him a killer.

If Remus would listen to him say only one thing, he knew what it would be. You’re not the monster, I am. His heart thundered painfully with the truth of it for a moment, his own monster-ness and Remus’ enduring goodness. He brimmed momentarily with amazement at all that Remus was, patient, and courageous, and cool under pressure, brilliant, warm, humble. And beautiful. A breathtaking contradiction made flesh, at once calloused and soft, vulnerable and inscrutable, unbreakable and yet incredibly fragile. He stamped on the butterflies swarming uselessly in his belly, even more useless now than they had already been. But Merlin’s beard, there was nothing he was more sure of than how completely Remus was not a monster, anything but a monster. He wished with all his might that Remus would hear him, believe him, forgive himself. But it was a futile train of thought. They all were. Why come up with things to say when you had no one to say them to?

The urge to shift into Padfoot was strong, as it had been since the full moon. Padfoot was a brilliant bloody dog, mind, but he couldn’t brood. It simply wasn’t in canine nature to dwell on the past. He knew that there was a sort of tail-between-his-legs shame that would have remained, but it would have been a blissful respite from the darkness of his human mind. And that was exactly why he couldn’t permit himself to transform. He didn’t deserve solace, least of all from the form of the dog that he had found in himself as a means of protecting Moony. Remus, you sod. The dog was Remus’ friend, and no friend of Remus’ had any business comforting Sirius anymore.

It had always only been a matter of time, hadn’t it? Regulus had said as much once, back when they still felt like there was anything to gain from fighting about. Back when they’d been brothers. Now his list of lost brothers was a few longer and he was like the bloody Whomping Willow, just a destructive thing that had overstayed its usefulness, watching its branches be torn away one by one. And only melodramatic bloody metaphors to keep him company. Cheers.

 

*** 

 

Growing up, James had always wished for siblings. Warm and loving as his parents were (and he would learn not to take that for granted), the Potter Estate had been a bit lonely as an only child. He was friendly with the house-elves, Mimzy and Poppet, but they weren’t really proper playmates for a precocious, mischievous wizarding child. He’d exhibited magic early and came from a Pureblood background to boot, so there’d never been much doubt about whether he’d be heading to Hogwarts in his eleventh September, and he’d practically been on the edge of his broom for years, devastated that every day could drag so.

But the years had passed, the letter had come, the spellbooks and cauldron and wand had been bought, and by the time he’d stepped foot on the Hogwarts Express, he felt like it owed him something for making him wait so long. After years of being deprived of fellow mischief-makers, it was no wonder he and Sirius had got on like a house on fire. He cringed to think of it now, the streak of chaotic brilliance, the detestation of expectations and the status quo, that had made Sirius Black such an irresistible best friend to him. Wasn’t it that same bored, reckless chaos that had gotten a boy killed and darkened the circles beneath Remus’ eyes?

“C’mon, Moony, you didn’t touch dinner,” Peter was saying, dropping a few chocolate frogs onto the parchment on which Remus was transcribing a translation for Ancient Runes.

“I’ve told you not to call me that, Pete,” Remus said stiffly, brushing the chocolates aside with only the quickest possible pause between scratches of his quill.

“Er, sorry,” Peter said, shooting James a pleading look.

“Right, er, what Worm means is--” James started, ruffling his hair uncertainly.

“I heard him just fine, thanks,” Remus snipped, before catching himself and taking a steadying breath, “Sorry, I just… thanks, Peter.”

“‘S’nothing,” Pete shrugged, producing another frog from his pocket and opening it for himself, as if that might tempt Remus into having one too. James had noticed too, of course, Remus had done little more than pick at his meals since the incident, moving food around his plate with his fork as if to fool them. Peter bit into the frog and glanced at the card, reading automatically, “Malodora Grymm. Hm, she doesn’t look like a hag to me.”

“She’s the one mucked about with the Beautification Potion and the Magic Mirror, isn’t she?” James said, vaguely recalling the cautionary tale he’d grown up with, like most wizarding kids.

“Oh, she’s the last card of the Hags set Padf--” James and Peter’s heads both shot up to watch Remus’ face grow even more ashen at his slip-up. They were frozen for a second and then James snatched the little card from Peter’s hand and decisively ripped it in two. A look of annoyance flickered across Wormtail’s face for an instant before he covered it with a smile for Remus’ sake. Remus gave James a smile that didn’t reach his eyes and promptly returned to his homework. They sat in silence for a few minutes and then Pete cleared his throat nervously, “I reckon I’ll drop by chess club for a game. Catch you lads later, yeah?”

Remus gave a barely perceptible shrug, James said goodbye to Peter for both of them. He watched him leave the Common Room and listened to Remus’ quill scratch across his parchment for a moment before saying, half to himself, “Isn’t that chess club a bunch of Slytherins?”

Remus shrugged, not looking up from his schoolwork, “Reckon there’s some Ravenclaws, too. Pranav Patil and Agatha Edgecombe were just talking about it in Herbology the other week.” James shrugged too, unsure what to say to that and silence reigned for another couple minutes before Remus muttered, “Also reckon we might lay off the Slytherin-bashing, eh?”

James’ eyes had wandered over to Lily Evans, who was looking forlornly out a frosty window, but they were drawn back to Remus by this. It had been a week and this was the first time Remus had even obliquely referred to the events of the full moon without James or Peter bringing it up. He considered Remus’ features, the slight pinch that had become typical on his brow, the thin line of his lips pressed grimly together, “Oi,” James said, gently, and Remus reluctantly looked up from his parchment, his eyes meeting James’ only briefly before resting somewhere above his left shoulder, “What happ-- Well, it doesn’t change most Slytherins being prats.”

“James--”

“No, listen to me,” James insisted, “Half of them, more maybe, are still falling all over themselves for this bloody Dark Lord bloke, eating it up every time the Prophet reports more dead muggles.”

“Alright, sure,” Remus brushed it off, “They still just had one of them get killed by a monster, that’s got to--”

“You’re not a monster, Moo--Remus.” James insisted.

Remus snorted, “Right. Well, if you say so, I guess I’m not. No need for the Shack anymore, I’m bloody cured.” he dotted an ‘i’ so hard he made an unsightly blotch of ink and swore under his breath.

“I never said that, but--” James began patiently.

“Right, James, yeah, I’ve already been through all your thoughts on the subject,” Remus said with a dismissive flick of his hand, “By your estimation, I’m not guilty of anything, Severus had it coming, and Sirius--”

“Quit putting words in my mouth, Remus,” James interrupted, trying not to get angry, knowing nothing that followed Sirius’ name could keep him anywhere in the vicinity of calm,  “I sure as shit wasn’t trying to say Snape deserved it.”

Remus glared in his direction without meeting his eyes for a moment, his jaw working angrily, “Right, well,” he turned his attention back to his work, “Can’t blame Pete for seeking company other than ours.”

James willed himself to relax a little, glancing back at Lily just as she wiped her right eye, “We’re no picnic.” he agreed, a bit sheepishly.

“Why don’t you go talk to her?” Remus asked after a few minutes and James realized he’d resumed staring at Lily.

“Pfft, as if she wants to talk to me.” he said, in a defeated tone.

Remus’ head shot up and he pinned James with a measuring look, actually meeting his eye this time. He looked shocked, as if he’d just stirred from a nap, “W-what?” he spluttered.

James lifted one eyebrow, “Evans,” he said, by way of explanation, “She hates my guts. Reckon she’s got enough bugging her without me going over there.”

“That...” Remus rubbed his forehead, leaving a smear of ink. He shook his head and said decisively, “That’s not right. It’s Lily, James, if you let that torch sputter out then… then…” he groaned in frustration with trying to articulate and James saw a flash of pain peek through a crack in the stony facade he’d been careful to maintain for days now, “I… don’t you think enough has changed?”

James smiled sadly, considered it, and gave a shrug of concession as he stood, “Fair enough, but if she jinxs me, let it be on your head for encouraging me.” Remus returned his sad smile and hunched once more over his Ancient Runes text.

Thus dismissed, James made his way over towards Lily. The table Remus was occupying was pretty near to the fire that perpetually roared merrily in the common room hearth, but the nearer James got to the outer wall, the more he could feel the late winter chill. It was that sort of stubborn February cold that dug in its fingernails and clung to your bones, trying to keep any thoughts of the coming spring from touching you.

Lily was the only person in this part of the common room, sitting right up beside one of the leaded glass windows with her knees drawn up and some muggle novel open to a page about two thirds of the way through, but forgotten in her hand. Her lustrous red hair was a bit dull and tied into an indifferent knot at the base of her neck and her pretty, freckled face was blotched with pink and a bit puffy from crying and wiping. James’ heart gave a sick throb of sympathy for her, wishing he could just draw her into his arms and soothe her without getting hexed. He cleared his throat when he stood over her, as she showed no signs of knowing he was there.

“Wuh-?” she startled from her thoughts, her puffy green eyes settling on him and giving away a little bit of disappointment, “Oh. W-what do you want, Potter?”

“I, er,” James scratched the back of his neck, cursing himself for approaching her at all, “Just wanted to… er, see how you were doing.”

Lily blinked at him and her brows drew together the slightest bit before she made her face impassive, “Oh, yeah, never been better.”

James held up his hands as if in surrender, “Look, if you don’t want to talk, I’ll get lost. I just…” he let the sentence fizzle out lamely.

To his surprise, Lily simply sighed and shrugged one shoulder, “Suit yourself.” she inclined her head in front of her a bit, indicating that he could sit, and he took the invitation a titch warily.

She turned her gaze back out the window and James looked too, and his heart sank when he realized her eyes were glued to the unsightly scar where the Whomping Willow had been, the soil looking black against the snow in the gloaming, “I’m sorry,” he said, softly, honestly.

Lily rested her forehead against the cold glass, “You’ve nothing to be sorry for.” James wished he could tell her that that wasn’t true. That, in actuality, he had loads to be sorry for. If he’d been just a little faster, if he’d been a little less careless, if he’d kept a closer eye on Sirius’ increasingly erratic behavior since Christmas, Severus might very well have been alive. Remus would still be Moony, still be grinning crookedly and balancing pranks with Prefect duties, still be casting furtive longing looks at Sirius when he thought no one was watching. Sirius and Remus wouldn’t both be killers, in one way or another, and James might be able to look forward to a future that consisted of more than walking on a tightrope made of eggshells, “No offense, Potter, but I never would have expected you to be so sorry to see Sev bite it.”

James jumped as if she’d struck him, as much because he hadn’t expected her to speak as because he was unused to Lily talking that way, “I, uh--”

“Sorry, sorry,” Lily said, sheepishly, running one hand down her face, “Of course, you didn’t want him dead, much as you disliked him.”

“I mean, no, I didn’t,” James said, not wanting to make her feel worse, wanting desperately to make her feel even the smallest bit better but with no idea how, “But can’t fault you for missing that, I certainly didn’t treat him like I was too happy to see him draw breath.”

Lily snorted, and to his surprise put on a not-all-that-bad impression of his voice, “ ‘It’s more the fact that he exiiiists, if you know what I mean,’ ” she plastered on an outrageous smirk and mimed mussing up her hair and James laughed despite himself.

“Alright, point taken, but I do not sound like that,” he protested.

“You actually really do,” she countered, as the imitative smirk faded into just the shadow of her own, natural smile before inverting into a frown, “And you did say that, you know.”

James nodded, ashamed, “I… yeah, I know I did. The day of our OWLs, yeah?” Lily nodded, and James took off his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose, “I always was a right prat to him, wasn’t I?”

“As I tried to tell you a couple million times, yes,” Lily agreed, a bit stiffly but then gave James a forgiving glance, “He was no angel, though. Least of all to you.”

“Nor to you, lately,” James pointed out tentatively. To his horror, tears welled up anew in Lily’s eyes.

“Th-that’s the thing, y’know,” she said tearfully, swiping at her eyes impatiently, “We were friends s-so long and even… even as bad as things got,” she gave another helpless shrug, “I always thought m-maybe, there was a… a possibility, however slim, mind, that… that he’d,” she threw up her hands, “Realize he was hanging ‘round a bunch of bleeding elitist twits and like… see the error of his ways or what-have-you and… and…”

That was it, she might hex him into next Tuesday, but he couldn’t take it anymore. James lurched forward and tugged her against his chest in a rather uncomfortable hug. To his surprise, she stiffened for only a second before going slack, burying her face against his shoulder and sobbing in earnest. He lifted a hand and cautiously patted her back, tempted to tell her it was all alright but resisting the easy, empty platitude, “There, there,” he managed, because it was what his mum always said, and then, “It… Lils, it’s perfectly natural to have… hoped for a chance to reconcile. You couldn’t have known time was… short.” she nodded against his chest and wailed softly. Gradually he became somewhat emboldened by the prolonged contact and wrapped his arms properly around her back. He felt Remus’ eyes on him and glanced his way, seeing a look that somewhat resembled the easy, crooked smile he’d seen a thousand times. He nodded and then returned to his work.

After a few minutes, Lily’s sobs gave way to hiccups and sniffles and she squirmed. James released her at once, not risking a second of unwanted contact when he knew how good she was with a wand. She gave him an apologetic watery smile and scrubbed at her eyes with her hands. She gave a small sad laugh that gave way to another fuller laugh. James quirked an eyebrow, “You called me Lils, you absolute prat. Long way from ‘OI EVANS’, eh?”

James felt his cheeks redden, “Surnames seemed a bit impersonal, yeah?” she laughed again, “Oi, lay off, I was trying to be sensitive.”

“Alright, alright,” she stood up a bit abruptly, grabbing her forgotten book from the floor, “Well, I think I’ve made quite enough of a fool of myself for one night. I’m to bed,” she smirked, “Ta, Jamie.” James’ cheeks grew hotter still, but he counted himself very fortunate to have somehow made it through that conversation without needing to head back to the Hospital Wing.