Notes: There is some use of Welsh; I did not provide translations because it is explained within context. All Welsh mythology is genuine in source, and only slightly twisted to suit my plot purposes. I was at some times rather free with JK Rowling's explantion of the pre-Harry world.
Disclaimer: The lovely and talented JK Rowling so far surpasses me that I hesitate to post; but one cannot help but imagine.
1976 : Fall
James was shocked awake as Sirius leapt onto his bed. ‘Happy Birthday!’ the other boy crowed. ‘Wake up, wake up, delivery!’
‘Birthday? Are you mad?’ He reached for his glasses and crammed them on, poking himself in the eye. ‘My birthday was months ago!’
‘Get off him,’ Remus said, pulling back the curtains. ‘Sorry, James. We couldn’t stop him.’
Peter grinned at him. ‘We couldn’t get it all together before your birthday,’ he apologised. ‘In fact it just came in.’
‘What are you on about?’ James sat up, and three sets of hands steered him out of his covers and down the stairs, shivering in his bare feet, into the common room. They halted him before a shipping crate.
‘Go on, go on!’ Sirius thumped him on the shoulder. ‘Come on, Jamie. I’m dying here.’
It was becoming surreal. James shuffled a step closer to the crate, and saw that the lid had already been pried up. He lifted it, and leaned over the side to peer in.
‘I can’t believe it!’ he gasped. ‘You didn’t!’
Sirius let out a whoop. ‘We did! Go on, take her out.’
His hands shook as he lifted the broom out of the crate. His friends clustered round him as he shucked off the brown wrapping paper and examined the handle and tail with awe. ‘How did you afford it?’ he demanded. ‘A Silver Arrow 200? It must have cost you a fortune!’
‘I hate to break it to you,’ Sirius said, grinning, ‘but you paid for most of it. I knew where you kept your stash. We wrote a letter to your parents and they gave us permission to steal it.’ He nudged Remus. ‘Give him the rest.’
Remus ran to the bookshelves in the back, and returned with a second large package. ‘This is all from us,’ he told James. He laid a small box on top of the larger one. ‘And that’s from your parents. Happy sixteenth.’
I must be in shock, James thought. He opened the boxes silently, revealing new soft leather boots, a care kit for the broom, a pair of scarlet goggles (‘Prescription,’ Peter proudly told him) so that he would no longer have to wear his glasses during the matches, and from his parents, a ring with a small ruby set in it and ‘Seeker’ etched on the inside of the band. It was overwhelming, but his friends didn’t seem to mind. He received an embrace from each of them.
‘This is too much,’ he repeated. ‘You shouldn’t have done this.’
‘We can’t have you looking bad up in the air,’ Sirius retorted. ‘Consider this image control.’
‘We wanted you to have it before the match on Saturday.’ Remus grinned. ‘You’re sure to win now. You’ll slaughter Slytherin.’
‘Traitor,’ Sirius joshed him. ‘You’re right, though.’ He clapped James on the back. ‘Shall we leave you and your broom to get acquainted?’
James had the presence of mind to swim up from gazing at his broom– *his* very own broom!-- and blushed. Then he grinned. ‘I probably won’t think of anything else for a week,’ he confessed.
‘Then we’ll go down to breakfast.’ His friends stood. ‘Want us to save you something?’
‘Thanks,’ he answered. ‘Guys– thanks.’
Remus smiled at him. ‘You’re welcome, James.’
It was as well that he had a free period in the morning, or James would have missed his first class. He spent the hour on the Pitch, trying out the paces of his new broom and relishing in the clean, smooth flight and razor-sharp turns. He only left the air when he noticed someone sitting in the stands. Lily, he saw. He met her at the bottom of the steps.
‘You look great up there,’ she said, brushing hair back from her face. ‘The boys told me where to find you.’
He realised he was still grinning foolishly, but decided immediately he didn’t care. ‘It’s amazing,’ he told her. ‘Like nothing else.’
‘No one else has a Silver Arrow,’ she noted. She leaned back against a post, crossing her ankles and gazing up at the bright sky. ‘I suppose tomorrow will find you desperately revising strategy with the captain, to account for speed.’ She laughed.
James reluctantly laid his broom against the corduroy wall of the stands. ‘Probably.’ He flashed her a smile. ‘No point in having the best if you don’t use it to the best of your ability.’
‘That sounds dangerously close to a truism, Potter.’
‘Hadn’t you noticed? I’m wise that way.’
‘Mm.’ Her lips curved up in a sweet smile. A breeze kicked up and blew a strand of red hair, loose from her ponytail, across her cheek. She’s pretty, James thought. She really is pretty.
He cleared his throat. ‘All Hallows Ball is coming up,’ he said.
‘Is it?’ Her eyes never drifted from his face. ‘I hadn’t noticed.’
‘Yeah.’ He slipped the goggles off his head and played with the strap to tighten it. ‘You going?’
‘With anyone in particular?’
‘Shilpa,’ was the prompt reply. ‘Mary.’
It occurred to James, then, that Lily was making this hard on purpose. He met her pale green eyes squarely, and realised something else.
She wasn’t going to turn him down.
Suddenly he felt very relaxed. ‘Think they’ll miss you very much if you go with me instead?’
She grinned. ‘I can bear their pain,’ she teased, and linked her arm with his. They left the field together.
‘Grind it a little finer,’ Severus instructed. Remus sighed, but did as he was told, and dug the pestle into the ebony chips with renewed vigour. ‘Don’t mash.’
‘Sev, I’m tired.’ Remus dropped his hands. ‘It’s not going to get finished tonight. Can’t we call it a day?’
‘You wouldn’t have to do it if you hadn’t failed the last lab practical.’ Severus glanced up; Remus was pale and thin, but he was always pale and thin. ‘You need the credit,’ he added, with a little pity.
‘Not so bad as I need sleep.’ He tilted his head back and let his eyes fall closed. ‘Please?’
‘Fine.’ He grabbed the mortar away, and set to the ebony himself. ‘No one has a wand aimed at your heart.’
‘Oh, don’t be that way.’ Lupin sighed and crossed his arms on the desk. ‘I *do* want to finish the project. I said I would help you.’
Severus did not reply, but only to spare Remus an answer that would sound overly critical. Remus really wasn’t skilled enough to be of any help to him, and the past two days he’d been helping, Severus had actually had to use his study hour to repair whatever task he assigned his friend.
But it was worth it. They hadn’t been especially close since the beginning of third year, but when he had asked Remus to work with him on the extra-credit lab, it was as if the past year, and his betrayal, had been erased. He’d correct a thousand mistakes to have things easy and natural between them again.
‘Why don’t we just take a break,’ he said finally. ‘Rest your eyes.’
Remus gave him a smile of swift gratitude. ‘It’s just so gloomy down here,’ he replied, gesturing about him at the interior of the Potions classroom. ‘I don’t know how you can stand it. It’s bad enough we have to sleep in the dungeons.’
‘It’s not so bad.’ He tapped the now-powdered ebony into a large beaker, and watched it settle to the bottom of the oily liquid already inside. ‘Are you all right lately? You’re always tired.’
‘Dunno.’ Remus toyed with the high collar of his turtleneck shirt, then dropped his chin onto his hand. ‘Maybe I’m catching a cold. Under the weather.’
It had been on his mind for some time to confess what he knew; if only to smooth their friendship and prove that he could keep a secret. He wanted to tell Remus to be careful with the wolfsbane. That no matter what he turned into on the full moon, it was still a poison to humans. That chronic fatigue could be a sign of something going very wrong.
‘Best go to Madam Pomfrey for a Pepper Up,’ he muttered. ‘You’re right. We can work on this again tomorrow. Let’s go to bed.’
‘You want to spend the night in my room?’
He hadn’t slept over with Remus in such a long time that it felt very strange. They were both bigger now, and didn’t fit in the bed with as much room as before. The dim orange glow from the banked stove revealed only a sliver of Remus’s face, slack in exhausted sleep. For a while, Severus stared, unthinking, at that white half-moon. At last he turned onto his side, and pushed one of Remus’s stockinged feet aside, and fell into a sort of lassitude.
He wasn’t sure what woke him. He waited tensely for his eyes to adjust to the darkness; the stove had gone out. The room was freezing. At the other end of the bed, Remus was shivering. When he could see, Severus sat up and retrieved the duvet that had slipped off the bed, and threw it over him. Then he left the bed and shuffled across the chilled stone floor to the stove, and relit it with a match.
As he replaced the matchbook, he saw the box sitting on the corner of the desk.
Curiosity warred with weariness. Curiosity won, and he picked up the box. Only cardboard, and very light. He slid the lid off, and held the contents to the light.
A bitter smell wafted up to him, and the soft whisper of dry, crumbling leaves. New shipment. For a long minute, Severus stood with the wolfsbane in his hands, warring with the desire to scatter it across the floor, to throw it into the fire, to hide it where Remus could never find it.
But he didn’t. He replaced the lid and laid the box down exactly where he had found it, and he crawled back beneath the sheets and closed his eyes.
But he couldn’t stop recalling the small column of script in the corner of page four-fifty-one of his Potions text. Yellowed eyes. Chronic fatigue. Weakness of limbs and shortness of breath. Weight loss. Sudden, violent sickness.
There was still time. Remus had always been sickly.
From the wolfsbane, he thought, and then didn’t allow himself to think that.
I’ll say something before he gets really ill, he decided, and felt a weight lift. Yes.
High above the pitch, straddling his broom and watching the game wear on past the first half-hour, James searched the stands once again for his friends. He was pretty sure he saw Sirius– jumping up onto his seat and waving his arms and shouting at the referee– and of course that would be Peter beside him. He thought Lily was with them, looking for him as he was looking for her. That thought made him smile.
The snitch streaked past, but James tracked it only lazily. They needed at least fifty points before he could score the game. Oliver Burkberger, the opposing Seeker, hadn’t even seen the snitch and trailed James from a hundred metres away.
There– Remus. In the Slytherin stands today, wearing his House colours and cheering. James didn’t mind; he knew whom Remus really wanted to win. He reached up and adjusted his goggles.
Poor Remus. James had been thinking about that Shrieking Shack. There had to be another way to do it. It was barbaric, locking him in that place with only a candle for company. Did Remus’s parents know?
Surely they must. Dumbledore wouldn’t hold back that kind of information. But then, the woman Remus called ‘mother’ had never seemed to give two shakes about her son.
Gryffindor scored again. They were up forty now. James called his attention back to the game, and began to swing a low circle of the field. Burkberger came in closer to him– James had figured out his tactic a long time ago, and the last time he’d played Slytherin, he’d been able to fake out Burkberger and ground him while James got the snitch. The other Seeker was stupid enough that it might work again; on the other hand, maybe it was better not to risk it.
His team scored twice in rapid succession, and James was looking now in earnest for the Snitch. Burkberger was parallel with him, mere inches away. Close enough for James to be sure that he hadn’t seen the snitch yet.
There! A flash of gold flitting between the Slytherin Keeper and the goal post. James leaned forward and shot toward the goal. Come on, Silver Arrow, he urged silently. He gripped the handle tightly, and swerved to follow the snitch as it flew toward the ground. Come on! And the Silver Arrow put on an extra boost of speed so suddenly that James had to throw himself forward along the line of the handle. If he’d been wearing his glasses still, they would have fallen during the jostling. For a moment, he lost sight of the snitch, but the speed advantage had left Oliver Burkberger eating his air. There, by the teachers’ stands. This time, he had more control over the broom, and dived smoothly.
He didn’t even see the bludger that hit him. Numbness exploded against the side of his head, and then the pain came immediately after. He fell nearly fifty metres before he even realised he was falling. The snitch– he hovered, clutching his head, and searched desperately for the snitch, or even Burkberger.
‘Slytherin scores!’ shouted Brandon Manderley, the commentator. As the roaring left his ears, the noise of the crowd replaced it. Everyone were on the feet now, screaming at the top of their lungs. ‘Potter seems dazed, Burkberger is circling, the snitch seems to have eluded them both–‘
James closed his eyes for a few precious moments, and drew a deep breath through his nose. The pain was making him queasy. I have to keep it together, he thought. Can’t let Slytherin score again.
He opened his eyes. The snitch was floating so close to his nose that he could feel the breeze created by its flapping wings.
He gasped. Then his arm went into motion without even a thought to guide it.
‘Potter has the snitch! Game over, Gryffindor 210, Slytherin 20! What a match! Gryffindor wins! Gryffindor wins!’
James stuffed the snitch into his jumper and landed with a jolt that made him turn green. He had no time to recover before his teammates surrounded him, and the jostle brought gorge rising up in his throat. He shoved someone out of the way, and bent double and retched up everything he’d had for lunch. Ammar held his shoulders and yelled at people to back away and give him room. ‘Sit down, Jamie,’ he ordered. ‘Keep your head down, that’s all right. Get it all up.’
‘What’s wrong with him?’ He knew that voice, he thought, as he sat and cradled his head between his knees. David Monforton, the Slytherin captain.
‘That bludger your Beater clobbered him with, that’s what’s wrong!’ Ammar sounded livid. ‘It should have been a foul! He could have been killed!’
‘That’s a lie!’ Everyone was shouting now. All around him feet stomped angrily and formed a wall of knees and looming bodies. ‘It barely clipped him– it was an accident!’
‘All of you, calm down.’
The Headmaster. James looked up, and immediately regretted it. But cool hands were there, moving through his hair and supporting him as his body heaved again. Nothing was left in his stomach, but he gagged and coughed as if there were. Finally it was over, and he fell back limp into waiting arms.
‘There now,’ a woman said soothingly. Through tearing eyes, he thought he recognised Madam Pomfrey. She took his arm over her shoulders. ‘I’m going to stand you up. Do you think you can walk?’
She held him tightly around the chest as he stood. His knees felt weak. ‘I think I can make it,’ he mumbled.
The Headmaster took his other arm, and laid a hand against the small of his back. ‘Move aside,’ he said politely to the now-silent Quidditch players. ‘Everything will be fine.’
The walk to the infirmary seemed to take a lot longer than James remembered. His friends were there– he smiled weakly for them– and then he was laying on one of the beds and Madam Pomfrey gave him something lemony-tasting, and then the worst of the headache disappeared. He sighed in relief.
Madam Pomfrey was probing his skull with gentle fingers, while Dumbledore stood silently watching. At last, she clucked her tongue.
‘You’re a lucky young man, Mr Potter,’ she announced. ‘Your skull is perfectly whole and hard as ever. That was a nasty knock you took, but I imagine you’ll be just fine by morning. Don’t do anything physical tonight, mind.’
‘Thank you, ma’am.’ He sat up slowly, taking his time and testing his head as he went.
‘A good game, though,’ Dumbledore commented. He sounded satisfied. ‘You should be proud of catching the snitch under such circumstances, Mr Potter.’
He grinned. ‘Oh, I’m sure I will be, sir. Once it all sinks in.’
Madam Pomfrey snorted. ‘All right, get out. You and your fan club are cluttering up my sick room.’
He knew she was pleased with him, too, and so he only smiled broadly and slid off the bed. The Headmaster patted his shoulder, and gestured him out the door.
Immediately his friends and teammates were surrounding him. The babble of their voices boiled down to ‘are you all right,’ to which he finally yelled ‘YES!’
They fell silent, all grinning sheepishly at him.
James felt something squirming around behind him, and then Lily was there, and somehow she’d gotten his arm around her shoulder. Her sudden nearness made him feel a little warm and flustered, especially when she looked up at him through those cool green eyes. He swallowed, and said, ‘I won.’
Slowly, her mouth curved up in a smile. ‘So you did.’
It seemed like a year before someone cleared their throat loudly. ‘If you two lovebirds want to share a moment, have the grace not to embarrass the rest of us.’
Lily finally looked away. She laughed. ‘Shut it, Black. No one asked your opinion.’
‘Oh,’ James said. ‘I forgot this.’ He reached into his jumper, and pulled out the snitch. He held it up. ‘They’ll be looking for it.’
Ammar detached from the little group. ‘I’ll take it back. Great game, Potter, really smashing game. They’ll be talking forever!’ He pounded James on the back– then stopped as Lily glared him down. He winked at James as he turned back. ‘All right, team, showers.’
‘Bye, James,’ they chorused. He waved as they trooped off down the hall, already talking excitedly about various plays. A few of his other classmates left with them, and then it was just James, Lily, Sirius, Peter, and Remus.
‘Your first war wound,’ Sirius reflected. He slung his arm over James’s shoulders, ignoring Lily’s silent protest. ‘You can regale your children and grandchildren with the heroic tale.’
‘He won’t have to,’ Lily retorted, drily. ‘Getting his head bashed in is probably in his blood. Any child of his will probably follow Jamie’s footsteps and fall clear off his broom.’
‘But he’ll catch the snitch,’ Peter finished. He grinned shyly when the others laughed.
‘It was a foul,’ Remus said.
James looked up from his book. ‘What?’
Remus sat in the window, his knees drawn up to his chest. He turned his head to look at James, sprawled out on his bed. ‘The game last week. It was a foul. No one called it.’
He shrugged one shoulder. ‘It happens a lot. We’ve probably fouled someone along the way, too. Sometimes it’s in your favour, sometimes not.’
Remus sighed, and plucked at the front of his teeshirt. James’s tee shirt, actually, borrowed ages ago during a laundry week and never actually returned. Remus was much thinner than James, and the shirt hung large on him, not to mention that Remus avoided colour whenever possible. It was the lack of the customary scarf that James most noticed, though. The scars on his arms and neck were visible. Long and ropey, tracks of shiny pink that didn’t heal like normal scars. James was politely avoiding looking at them, aware that it made his younger friend uncomfortable.
‘You’ve been thinking about this all week?’ He left the bed, and joined Remus on the window seat. ‘Whoever did it probably just wasn’t thinking. Once the adrenaline gets going, you know...’ He shrugged again, and nudged Remus’s foot. ‘Thanks, though, for worrying.’
Remus didn’t smile. He looked back to the window, and lifted a finger to draw lines through the evening condensation. ‘It’s not just a one-time-thing,’ he muttered. ‘It’s the way Slytherin is.’
James measured his answer carefully against what he thought Remus needed to hear. ‘I guess,’ he said finally, ‘that they just want to win. It’s not a crime.’
‘Even when they take it too far?’
He was surprised by the sharpness of Remus’s tone. ‘Yes. What is this really about?’
Remus drew his mouth tight and pressed his lips together. ‘Lucius thought you were faking to get sympathy. Or for some evil plan involving fixing the game.’ He glanced to James. ‘I told him it sounded like something a Slytherin would do.’
‘Do you really hate it there?’ he asked.
‘No. Not usually. So what’s wrong with me?’
‘Do you think I faked it?’ James returned promptly. ‘Would it occur to you to try to fix a game? Do you sit in your room at night and plot ways to steal points from Gryffindor? Win at all costs?’
‘Of course not.’ Remus rubbed at the hair on his arms, gazing blindly out the window. ‘It’s just... ‘ His voice pitched low, so low that James leant in to hear him. ‘Jamie. Have you ever thought about magic? Power. I mean really thought about it.’
‘Like making someone do what I want with magic?’
‘Yeah. No. Like– like having the power to make anything at all the way you wanted it.’
‘Everything’s pretty much the way I’d want it now,’ he admitted. He wasn’t sure what to make of Remus’s expression. ‘Well, fine. Let’s think about it now. I guess there’s some things I’d change. I mean, I’d like to be able to go anywhere I wanted, anytime. Like having the invisibility cloak all time the time, without having to be invisible and sneak.’
‘I’d be human,’ Remus said flatly.
James could think of nothing to say that didn’t sound patronizing or worried. ‘Okay,’ he finally answered.
‘I’d make my brother be alive still. I’d make my father come back. I’d fix all the werewolves everywhere. I’d make people stop hating each other for stupid things like being born in the wrong family. I’d make myself the same as everyone else. As you. If I really had power, James, Jamie, I’d make myself like you.’
He squirmed. ‘I’m not special,’ he protested.
‘Yeah. Exactly.’ Remus looked at him then. ‘Sometimes I imagine what it was like, being one of the first four. Being Slytherin. He had power. And sometimes I think all he ever wanted was to be just like the others. You put Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff and Gryffindor in a room, and you can’t pick them apart. But you can always tell a Slytherin. I think that’s what drove him mad.’
They were silent for a while. James fought a sinking feeling in his stomach that said Remus was just depressed, was just acting out, was right in a way that scared him because he didn’t quite understand it.
Then Remus sighed, and his shoulders slumped. He dropped his legs over edge of the window seat and stood. ‘I’m tired, James. I’m going to go to bed.’
‘Remus?’ He didn’t know how to ask without sounding bloody pathetic, but once it was started he decided to finish. ‘Are you all right? I mean, really. Tell me if you aren’t.’
Remus paused as he shouldered his book bag. ‘I don’t know. I’m just... tired.’
He asked a question then that he had never asked before. ‘When is the next full moon?’
Remus blinked rapidly, startled. ‘It’s a week. Week and a day.’
‘Right now, if I had power– Remus, I’d share it with you. I swear.’
For a moment he thought he’d crossed an unspoken line. But then Remus let his bag fall, and he came back to the window seat.
‘I can feel it coming a few days before the moon,’ he said. ‘It’s like– it’s like being itchy all the time, only you can never scratch. It feels like my eyes don’t fit in my head and I get shaky. Things sound different. And I think about things like running. About killing things to eat them.’ He fell silent, but James didn’t speak. He sensed more was coming.
‘When it’s really starting,’ Remus said, ‘then I go to the Shack and I feel like I’m going to crawl of my skin or break into a million pieces. Sometimes I scream.’ His eyelashes came down to hide his irises. ‘Sometimes I try to hold it in, but it doesn’t matter. Then it’s morning and everything is– is screwed up. I’m a wolf but I’m not. It’s... you know what’s so strange? It’s the first bath afterward that’s the worst. I reach for the soap and I expect to see paws. I scrub so hard I turn red, but I still feel like I’m covered with fur. I can’t smell anything, as if my nose were stuffed up. When I was littler I needed help. Now I try to do it myself. Madam Pomfrey calls it “acclamation.” But she’s always there, watching.’ He looked away. ‘Sometimes she cries.’
James licked his lips. ‘How do you bear it?’
Remus shrugged. ‘You just do. It’s not as though there were another choice.’ He smiled, and as he smiled, something deepened in the look until it became a real smile, one that softened the tightness around his eyes and eased the lines on his forehead. ‘So now you’ve shared it,’ he said. ‘Guess you’ve got more power than you realised.’
Unnoticed by either of them in the intensity of their discussion, Sirius had entered the dorm. He joined them at the window seat, pushing Remus aside to make room for himself on the ledge. ‘Tally-ho, gents,’ he announced cheerfully.
Remus was still smiling as he vacated the bench, giving up his space to Sirius. ‘I’m off for bed. Good night, both of you.’ He waved two fingers at them, then left the room. He closed the door behind him.
Sirius said, ‘I’ll eat my gloves if that was normal. What’d he say?’
James hesitated, but not for long. It wasn’t something he thought he could keep to himself, if only because he felt more confused by what had just happened than– what the bloody hell had happened? He repeated the conversation to his best friend, trying to use Remus’s words whenever he could.
‘What the bloody hell,’ he finished.
‘That’s just the way he is. When he goes off into space like that, you just have to ignore him.’ Sirius brushed at a loose thread on his trousers. James frowned. Sirius had a very odd expression on his face; one he wasn’t sure he could read, entirely.
‘Are you angry with him?’ he questioned.
Sirius looked up. ‘No. Of course not.’
‘It’s just... you had that look like you did back when you didn’t like him.’ He paused. ‘You do like him, don’t you?’
‘Yes.’ Sirius frowned back. ‘He tries so damn hard to make us like him, it’d be a shame not to.’
James said, ‘When did you get so angry, Sirius?’
He had half expected a sarcastic answer, and found that he had steeled himself for it. But to his surprise, the hard look in Sirius Black’s brown eyes faded, and then the other boy glanced away.
‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘I think about it, sometimes.’ He let out a sharp breath. ‘I dream about things.’ His eyelashes fluttered and his eyes were moving restlessly. ‘Annwn. About something– bad. Coming, like Arawn said. Prophesied.’
James remembered. ‘Did you really believe him?’
Sirius slapped his palm down on the edge of the bed. ‘Of course I did! You don’t know, Jamie. You don’t know all the things he told me, before the three of you found us. He had me so drunk on this strange wine... we just sat in this dark room and he *talked.* About how his people were trusting him to make it right. How he was sorry for what he had to do to me, but that everything he knew was dying. That everything was going awry and he couldn’t even tell his own people the truth because it was so scary. How it hadn’t used to be a place like what we saw. It wasn’t an empty field. He said it was like a garden. That if you could think of a colour, any colour, it was there in a flower, or a bird, or the sky.’
‘You made the right decision,’ James returned. ‘You can’t think about that, Sirius. He was using you, and no reason he could give you can make that right. You saved our lives.’
‘I have nightmares,’ Sirius interrupted, his tone abrupt. ‘Where all of you are dead and I’m the only one left. And he’s there. He just looks at me. And I know it’s all my fault.’
Later that night, James gave up trying to sleep and crept out of the dorm, past Edward’s dank-smelling shoes and Peter’s half-eaten snack, and escaped down the stairs to the common room. He took a blanket off the back of a chair, and lay down on the couch closest to the fire.
He didn’t like the things his friends has told him today. It wasn’t easy to admit to it, and it made him feel deeply ashamed. He curled onto his side and tugged the blanket up to his chin.
Remus locked in dark rooms, Sirius stuck thinking about something James had considered over and done with. Am I that shallow? he wondered, staring into the low flames in the hearth. Suddenly he wished Lily were awake. She had a way of getting straight to the heart of things and then saying them in ways that made them seem simple.
But no. She didn’t know much about the faerie circle– they’d sworn not to tell anyone, to prevent someone as rash as them from running off to test it– and she certainly didn’t know about Remus.
‘I have to do something,’ he whispered. ‘I can’t just sit on my rump and let them be in pain.’
Figuring out what kept him occupied until sleep overwhelmed him.
‘So you see, sir,’ James finished. ‘We already know all about it. And I’m not asking just to get into trouble. I want to help him.’
Dumbledore gazed at him from behind his half-moon spectacles. The way the light hit the lenses, it was impossible for James to see his eyes. ‘Have you advised him that you were coming to talk to me?’
‘No.’ He hastened to explain. ‘If he knew I was going to ask you about it, he’d have stopped me. He hates that we know. And he doesn’t want anyone to think that he needs help.’ He hesitated. ‘But sir, he does. Anyone can see how hard it is for him. He’s just convinced that he has to do it all by himself, and he doesn’t. We’re his friends and we’d do anything to help him.’
Dumbledore nodded slowly. ‘I believe you,’ he murmured, half to himself. ‘Yes.’ He sighed and adjusted his glasses; suddenly his pale blue eyes were visible. He gazed at James– sadly, the Gryffindor thought, and had a sinking feeling he’d lost his argument.
He was right. ‘But I cannot allow you to become involved in Mr Lupin’s predicament,’ Dumbledore finished. ‘The Ministry supplied me with a long list of very strict rules concerning this matter, and for good reason. My first duty cannot be to Mr Lupin’s comfort, but to the safety of the other hundreds of students in my care here at Hogwarts.’
‘But that’s not fair!’ His indignation overrode his determination to be grown-up. ‘Remus is barely his own person, and now they want to tell him he can’t even turn to his own friends for help? It’s– it’s barbaric!’
Dumbledore was frowning. ‘I share your outrage,’ he said quietly. ‘But it is not a simple situation. I cannot disobey the Ministry in this, for I cannot disagree with the results of their peculiar logic.’
James held his tongue. But it was bitter, very bitter. He stared down into his lap and for the first time, felt something very like hate for the closed-minded Ministry.
The Headmaster stood, gathering his heavy brocade robes in one strong hand. ‘If you will assist me, for a moment, before you leave, Mr Potter?’
He looked up. ‘Oh...’ He stood as well, and followed the Professor to the great bookshelves that lined the back wall. ‘Of course, sir.’
‘I’ve had it in mind to take down a few books for research,’ Dumbledore told him. James resented how cheerful he sounded now, as if their discussion had never happened. But he kept his mouth shut, and tried to listen as the man rambled on about some theory he was interested in. ‘The house-elves are, I am afraid, too small to be of service. But a strong boy like yourself ought to have no trouble climbing to the top of that ladder, for an old man?’
And so he was sent climbing up and down the twelve-foot ladder, retrieving books of every shape and size for the Headmaster. Some looked very old, others very new, and most looked very boring. At least this Headmaster had the sense not to let dust settle over everything, James thought. Dippet hadn’t seemed to care.
He had fetched a sizeable quantity of tomes before Dumbledore seemed to have completed his list. He was nearly at the bottom of the ladder when the Headmaster stopped him by touching his shoulder.
‘Forgive me, dear boy,’ he said. ‘I seem to have forgotten one. Top shelf. Volume three, the large russet journal.’
James sighed, and climbed back up. There were several books on the top shelf that qualified as ‘russet.’ ‘Sir?’ he asked.
‘The one with the gold leaf on the spine. Yes, that one.’ Dumbledore smiled up at him.
James found that it was wedged tightly between the surrounding books. As he struggled to work it free, his eyes skipped over the plain script on the spine. It didn’t register at first what he was seeing; then he read it again.
*Becoming Animagi: The Secret Spells of Self-Transfiguration.*
It came loose in his hand so abruptly that he nearly lost his hold on the ladder and tumbled backwards. He caught himself, his heart thumping.
‘Do be careful, Mr Potter.’
He climbed down with extra care, and held the book out to the Headmaster. Dumbledore reached up and adjusted his spectacles, then took them off and held them halfway between his face and the book to read through them. He sighed. ‘No, entirely the wrong volume. Forgive me. I mistook it for another.’
James held out his hand. ‘I’ll put it back up, then,’ he said neutrally.
‘No, no. I’ve kept you at this quite long enough.’ Dumbledore laid the journal on the edge of his desk. ‘I believe that supper will begin in a quarter-hour. Go wash up.’
‘Thank you, sir.’ He hesitated at the door. ‘Headmaster? About Remus...’
‘Be assured that I will do everything in power to find a way to ease his troubles,’ Dumbledore replied. Light flashed off his glasses as he replaced them on the bridge of his nose. ‘Dismissed, Mr Potter.’
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