"Maybe this isn't such a good idea..." Remus said quietly as his friends all dressed for class.
It was the morning of the full moon. He would be spending most of his day in the hospital wing getting rest as he normally did before Pomfrey assisted him in getting past the Whomping Willow in the early evening.
The plan was that once the other Marauders were done with their usual school schedule, they would sneak out under the cloak and meet Remus in the shack before the moon rose. Once they were there, they would transform and maybe, if everything they had calculated was true, Remus' own transformation wouldn't be as horrible while he had them for company.
Remus was suddenly having doubts.
"No way, we're not backing out now." Said Sirius, who had stopped tying his tie mid-knot and was looking at Remus as though he had sprouted another head. "Why would you-?"
"What if something goes wrong?" Remus muttered, staring down at his hands in his lap.
"What do you think could go wrong?" Asked James. They had been over the plan hundreds of times, they were well prepared and comfortable with changing into their animagus forms.
Remus worried his bottom lip between his teeth, refusing to meet his friends' eyes. "...what if I hurt one of you?"
"But that was the point," Said Peter. "You can't hurt us if we're in animal form."
"We don't know that for sure!" Remus argued, finally looking up. "Don't you understand? Nothing like this has been done before, there's no proof that I won't hurt you just because you're not human and I could never forgive myself if I did! I'm a monster, I could kil-"
"Stop right there." Sirius interjected. His eyes were hard and his lips pressed into a thin line as he stared Remus down. "Don't think things like that. And for the last time, don't bloody call yourself that!"
Remus stared back at him, startled slightly by his tone. "I...I just..."
James shook his head. "Sirius is right." His voice was much softer than Sirius', but just as stern. "You've got to trust us, Moony."
"I do trust you-"
"You've got to trust yourself, then."
That was easier said than done.
Classes seemed to drag on forever, and if anyone were to ask James, Sirius or Peter what they had learned that day, none of them would have been able to answer.
James kept glancing at the clock all through divination, not that that was much different than any other day in that particular class, which he still wasn't sure exactly why he continued to take. It must be broken, that clock, because he was relatively certain that it had been over an hour when the the hand had barely ticked over the five minute mark. It didn't help that Professor Astra's misty, breath of a voice just made him want to close his eyes and sleep. Especially as she droned on about the different meanings behind dreams that featured harmonized singing dung beetles...how many people dreamed of that sort of thing to have so many meanings anyway?
In Arithmancy, Peter, who had trouble keeping up in that class as it was but agreed upon keeping it to be of better assistance with map making, kept his eyes glued firmly to the desk in front of him. His mind kept going over the process of transforming, trying to assure himself that he was well practiced and prepared for the upcoming night. Occasionally he would mumble something to himself, be it a word of self motivation or a reminder of how to switch his thought process to that of his animal counterpart.
Sirius wasn't sure what class he was in all day, but he was sure to have a seat by the window if there was one. He spent nearly every class gazing at the sky, pondering the exact placement of the sun and moon and calculating exactly how much longer until nightfall they had left. He could see the Whomping Willow from...whichever class he was in...was is History of Magic, maybe? Ancient Runes? Wait...did he take Ancient Runes? When did he sign up for...?
Sirius nearly jumped when Professor McGonagall called his name. Transfiguration! That's where he was...shit.
"Sorry, Professor. What was that?"
Mcgonagall's nostrils flared and she pursed her lips, raising an eyebrow at him. "Was there something outside that was more important than my lesson on Switching spells?"
Sirius smiled charmingly. "More important than you, Minnie? Never." He leaned his chair back on its hind legs.
"Then perhaps you'd like to join us back here in the classroom?" She had chosen to ignore the boy's flirty tone, but the other students giggled.
"My darling, I will join you anywhere you need."
"How good of you."
"I certainly thought so."
She sighed and looked at him over the rim of her glasses. "Pay attention, please."
Sirius let his chair fall forward and looked up at her apologetically. "Sorry Professor."
At the end of class the three of them were up and out of the room so quickly they nearly knocked Lily over as the ran past her in the hall.
"What is with you three today?" She asked, almost sounding concerned.
James spun around, feigning confusion and innocence. "Who us? Whatever do you mean by that?"
Her eyebrow quirked and she shrugged. "You've been pleasantly silent in nearly every class, that's all. No snide remarks or your usual 'I know more than you' attitude." Her eyes narrowed slightly. "I know when you lot are up to no good. You're plotting something."
James' hand shot up to his hair and he grinned. "Aw, Evans...I didn't know you paid that close attention to me. I'm flattered. Absolutely spiffed, really."
Lily didn't look amused at all. James dropped the act and rolled his eyes. "For once, Evans, no. We're actually not planning or plotting anything. You may tell Dear Snivellus he can rest easy tonight, knowing that the big mean Marauders won't be bothering him, if that's what you're so worried about."
"Not specifically, but is that a confession that he's your usual target?" Lily folded her arms.
James cringed, taking his glasses off his face and pinching the bridge of his nose. "Honestly, Lily...I haven't the time nor the care at this particular moment to argue with you, again, over what a shit that slime ball is. Any other day, I would sit and tell you exactly why your pal Snivelly is the bane of my existence - perhaps over dinner sometime, my treat - but now is just...really not that moment." He turned his back on her before she could respond and walked away.
"Smooth invitation you slipped in there, Potter." Sirius laughed as they headed in the direction of Gryffindor tower.
James chuckled. "Impressive, I know."
"Staggering, one might even say." Sirius said, smirking at his own witty puns.
"Yeah," Peter grinned. "Too bad she keeps telling you to 'buck' off."
Sirius snorted and held his hand out for a high five from the shorter boy. "'Buck off'. That's a good one, Pete."
It was still early. Too early to head to the Whomping Willow, so they changed out of their school uniforms and decided to hit the kitchens for an early dinner since they would be long gone before the other students were served in the Great Hall. They were about to round the corner, just down the corridor from the portrait of the bowl of fruit that hid the kitchens when they heard voices that made them stop in their tracks.
"Honestly Regulus it's something you'd be smart to consider. I know you're not particularly a fan of how Mulciber runs things, but it would be in your favor to be on his good side. He's got connections that could-"
"You really think Mulciber's got better connections than I have, Severus?" Regulus' haughty voice made Sirius forget to breathe for a moment. "My cousin and her fiance have already to meet with-"
James felt Sirius tense up beside him and he grabbed his arm, forcing him to meet his eye. He shook his head. "Sirius, don't." He warned quietly.
"It's merely a suggestion." Snape continued. "Obviously you've got plenty of time to decide what you'll be doing after you've finished school-"
"So have you. You're only a year ahead of me." Regulus retorted. "Have you made that decision already?"
Severus was quiet for a second as he argued internally with his answer. "I've decided that it would be in my best interest to have friends in high places, that's all."
"That, Severus, is something I already have in abundance. You may need to kiss up to Mulciber in order to keep yourself on the right side of a hex, but if you ask me I think that oaf should be begging for my alliance."
Sirius' fists clenched and he made a move forward, only to have James tighten his grip on his arm. "Sirius!" He hissed. "You can't get into it with them now. You can't afford detention tonight."
Sirius was practically shaking. His breath hard and uneven and his jaw was tightly set. "Don't you know what they're talking about, Prongs?"
"Yes." James held his gaze. He knew exactly what they were talking about, and he knew exactly why Sirius wanted nothing more than to turn the corner and beat Snape unconscious. Truth be told, he wanted to as well. But not tonight.
"Sirius," Peter muttered, looking pleadingly at him. "Think of Remus. He needs you."
The look in Sirius' eyes softened and his body relaxed. He swallowed hard and turned away. "I'm not that hungry anymore. Let's go. It's getting late anyway..."
The sound of the rickety old door to the shack slamming shut nearly made Remus' heart jump out of his chest. He had been completely unable to calm his nerves all day and got hardly any sleep in the Hospital Wing. He wasn't sure he could do this. Perhaps he could still convince them to turn back?
He heard three pairs of feet climbing the stairs and seconds later there they were, standing in the doorway. Remus stared at them from where he sat on the dusty old bed. He couldn't do this.
"Don't look so excited to see us, Moony." James attempted to joke through the awkward, terrified silence. Remus forced himself to give them a weak smile.
"I'm...It's not that I'm not..." He couldn't even pretend he was happy to see them. This could be the start of his absolute worst nightmare. What was he thinking, letting them come here like this...
He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to meet Sirius' eyes. "Hey," the hand squeezed gently. "It's going to be alright. This is going to work, Remus. I promise you. You trust me, Moony?" The corner of Sirius' lips tugged up. Remus nodded.
"I trust you, Padfoot." He said shakily.
"It's going to be fine. We're here for you." The hand on his shoulder slid down his arm and covered his own hand. His breath hitched and he swallowed, nodding again. Then he stood and walked to the middle of the room.
"Um...I just..." He cleared his throat, trying to stop his voice from shaking. "When it...happens...maybe you lot shouldn't be in the room..."
James, Peter and Sirius exchanged looks and they shook their heads. "We talked about that-"
Remus couldn't tell if it was the restlessness from the rising moon that was making him feel so frantic, or the fact that he was terrified. He ran a hand through his hair, which was already damp with sweat despite the cold December air that blew through the shack. "You don't understand. It's really awful."
"We know." Insisted James, in a way that Remus knew he couldn't argue. "Remus, we know everything. We've been over this a million times. No one is backing out, no one is changing their minds. We're doing this and nothing you say is going to make us leave you now."
After a while Remus stopped arguing. They all sat down in a circle on the dirty floor and no one said much for a long while. Every few minutes Remus would get up and pace around as he started to feel his mind slowly losing control. He felt hot all over and he had already shucked off his shirt. He sat back down again and suddenly there were icy cold hands on the back of his neck. Oh that felt good. He closed his eyes and his head fell forward.
"It's alright, Moony." Sirius whispered from behind him.
After too short a time of feeling more relaxed than he ever had before transforming, he felt his body shudder.
"I...Y-you have to change..." He managed. "Go. Do it now." The hands on the back of his neck were gone and Sirius, James and Peter scrambled to the feet, stepping away from him. James and Peter were averting their eyes, unable to see their friend who was already in such pain but Sirius couldn't look away.
Remus was pacing again, his arms hugging himself tightly as his skin prickled and started to feel like it wasn't his own. His nails dug hard into his flesh.
Peter had already changed and was perched up on a grimy, ancient looking piano, feeling safer at a distance. James was backing away, but Sirius was frozen, his eyes wide.
"Sirius, come on..." James urged, sounding panicked. "Sirius! Now!" He grabbed the other boy by the shoulder, effectively bringing him back to his senses and they both changed as well.
Remus screamed in pain as his body began to change, bones breaking and shifting.
A piercing howl filled the shack.
In quite possibly the most horrifying moment of any of their lives, the wolf growled and turned, locking its eyes on the three other animals that were in his territory.
For the first time ever, and just barely there at all, Remus had a conscious thought in the back of the wolf's mind:
Friends. Pack. Family.