It had been three weeks since what they were all calling "The Bad Moon". None of them thought that anything could shake the dynamic of the group the way Sirius' prank had last year, but it seemed they had thought wrong.
It was as if Remus had completely disappeared over night. Aside from classes, where he strategically sat as far off on the opposite side of the room from his friends with his eyes trained on the parchment or text in front of him, he was no where to be found. He was never at meals anymore, either and he wasn't even sleeping in the dorm room.
It was driving Sirius crazy.
He barely ate, and if he did sleep it was usually in dog form under Remus' bed, although twice James woke up in the middle of the night to find a big, furry black head beside his own on his pillow.
If he wasn't chain smoking cigarettes on the roof, he was out roaming the corridors hoping to run into Remus. He never did, so instead he took his frustration out anyone that so much as looked at him the wrong way. Needless to say he was back to his old detention schedule.
James had made the executive decision to withhold the map from Sirius.
"He clearly doesn't want to be found, Padfoot. Give him space."
"This is fucking ridiculous." Sirius snarled, pulling on his leather jacket and fishing his cigarettes from his pocket. "I've given him space! It's been weeks and I haven't so much as spoken a word to him! Not that I could, considering he's practically gone and moved out." He kicked his trunk closed with unnecessary force. "I mean, if he doesn't want to be with me anymore, bloody fine! But does he have to just up and leave all of us? We're suppose to be a family, the four of us, aren't we? Wasn't that the promise we made? No matter what?" He took a deep, shaking breath and ran a hand through his hair.
"He's probably trying to make the transition easier for you, mate." Peter suggested gently.
"Yeah," James agreed. "It won't be so simple for either of you to go back to being friends after-"
"No. Fuck no." Sirius snapped, crossing the room to the window and sliding it open to let the chilly December air in.
"We don't have to go back to being anything because this is fucking stupid and he's going to see that!" He climbed up onto the window sill and swung his legs over the side. He sat there for a few seconds and sighed. "We just need to figure out what's happening to him, and then we can work on fixing it, right?"
James and Peter exchanged a look. They wanted to believe that that was true. They wanted Sirius to believe it. But they also wanted to be realistic. There wasn't much in the Hogwarts library about werewolves in the first place that they hadn't already read front to back, and nothing they had read seemed comparable to Remus' behavior.
"Don't worry, Sirius." James said at last. "We'll figure this out, mate. We always do."
Sirius sat for another second without a word before sliding off the windowsill onto the roof.
James sat heavily on his bed and rubbed his temples. He hated seeing Sirius so upset after how far he had come from that downward spiral last year. And Remus' absence was taking quite a toll on all of them.
"I'm going to check the library again, want to come?" He stood and opened his trunk for the map and cloak.
Peter shook his head. "You're on your own this time. I promised Emmeline I'd study with her."
"Fuck," James groaned. "Oh fucking hell. I forgot I told Mary I'd take her out to Hogsmeade tonight."
Peter shrugged. "So go with Mary. The library will still be here later. You really should go and enjoy yourself. You can't put your life on hold because Padfoot and Moony can't go a school year without breaking up." He smirked, trying to lighten the mood a little.
James looked up at him and frowned. "It's not about Pads and Moony breaking up, Worm. Something is wrong with Remus. Aren't you worried?"
"Of course I'm worried," The humor in Peter's voice was gone as he took a more serious tone on the matter. "But we've been to the library a billion times and we still haven't found anything. Besides, there's a bunch of books on lycanthropy that are missing from the shelves. That means someone else took them out. Probably Remus! Think about it, Sirius never hides anything from you, but he didn't tell you about this. They wanted to figure this out on their own. It's between them." He slid off his bed and sat down beside James. "I know you don't like seeing Sirius so...bad...again, and you feel like you need to fix it for him. And Remus as well. But you are allowed to take a night off from being the hero, Prongs." He clapped James on the shoulder. "Go out with Mary."
The door to the sixth year girls' dorm shut just a little too loudly, making Lily jump. She threw her bookmark haphazardly into the library book she had been reading and stuck her head out from the bed curtains.
"Mary?" She frowned, having not expected to see the girl for a few more hours that night, let alone looking so disappointed.
Mary managed a small smile, sheepishly tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
"Sorry, Lil. I didn't mean to slam the door like that. Were you studying?"
Lily shook her head, eyeing the other girl with concern. "Oh, no not at all. I was just reading." Without looking she quickly shoved the old book under her pillow.
"Are you alright? I thought you had plans with Potter?"
Mary nodded, humming and rubbing the back of her neck, eyes downcast. She bounced on her heels awkwardly a few times before sighing and plopping down on the side of her bed, facing Lily.
"He canceled again." Her eyes stared down at her lap as she began to twist that permanently loose strand of hair around her forefinger. "I know you didn't approve of me dating him in the first place, so I don't want you to think he's just some jerk - well, I mean, no more than you already think that of course - because he really is very sweet and funny when we do spend time together, really Lily."
Lily opened her curtain the rest of the way and shifted to sit on the edge of her mattress as she listened to Mary, smiling and nodding encouragingly.
"Of course, Mary." She said. "Look, I don't...I don't hate Potter...Er...anymore," she laughed. "I just know that he can be a bit of a prat and I didn't want to see you get hurt, that's all. It's not that I don't approve."
Mary's shoulders slumped forward in relief. "Good. I...I admit, for a while I thought you were really upset with me over it."
Lily blushed guiltily. Her behavior had been rather embarrassing at first, but she had begun to get use to the idea. Mary seemed happy when she would spend time with Potter, and that's all Lily could want. "I'm sorry I made you feel that way, Mary."
"No, that's alright...I mean, here I am, right? Hurting, just like you said I would." Mary huffed, resting her elbows on her knees and her chin on her hands.
"Well," Lily pressed on. "What was his reason for canceling?"
Mary sighed, laughing softly. "Oh it's always the same. His friends need him for one thing or another." She rolled her eyes. "Well, not that I can blame him this time around. Everyone knows that Sirius hasn't been doing well since Remus broke it off-"
"Remus broke up with Sirius!" Lily gasped, her eyes going wide.
Mary frowned. "You didn't know? It happened weeks ago. No one knows why, the four of them have kept it all pretty hush. But the rumor is that Remus isn't even sleeping in the dorm anymore. I thought you and Remus were close?"
"W-we are," Lily said softly, still shocked. "I just haven't seen him much..."
She hadn't. Even during rounds, he only said a quick hello to her before going off on his own. Lily was trying to give him space, knowing what she did about what had happened on Halloween between him and Sirius. But if the situation had actually gotten so bad that Remus had ended the relationship, it must be worse than she thought.
Lily stood abruptly, grabbing her bag and throwing several books from her bedside table in, along with the one she had hidden beneath her pillow. "Sorry, Mary! I've just remembered I...prefect thing...very important. I'll be back later!" She slung her bag over her shoulder and darted from the room, leaving a very confused Mary behind.
Lily sped down the stairs into the common room, skipping several steps at a time and for possibly the first time in her life, she was relieved to see the messy back of James Potter's head, just as he was about to leave through the portrait.
"Potter!" She called, running towards him. "Potter, wait!"
James paused and looked over his shoulder at her. One eyebrow quirked up and frowning in confusion. "Evans?"
"I need to talk to you." Lily said breathlessly.
James' hazel eyes narrowed. "Look, Evans, if it's about me ditching Mary tonight, I apologize. I didn't mean to hurt her feelings, but I-"
"It's not about Mary." Lily cut him off, opening her bag and pulling out a book. "It's about Remus and Sirius."
She shoved a battered, dusty copy of Hairy Snout, Human Heart into his hands.
James' jaw dropped and he quickly looked around to make sure no one else was within earshot. He leaned in closer to her. "How do you know about-?"
"Remus? I figured it out last year." She explained hurriedly, waving it off. She held her head a littler higher. "I know more than you think, Potter."
James stared at her for a moment, mouth pressed into a thin line. He held the book up. "You're the one taking out books on Lycanthropy from the library?"
She nodded. "Yes. Sirius asked me for help hiding the..." She gestured at her throat and James nodded his head, understanding. "After that I started reading up on it as much as I could. I wanted to help."
"Have you found anything?" Asked James, his voice remained stern but his eyes became hopeful, silently praying that Lily would say yes and the mystery would be solved.
Lily bit her lip. "Not exactly...but...I think I may have an idea that could point is in the right direction. I just need to get into the restricted section."
A slow smile creeped across James' face and Lily felt her stomach drop, though whether it was from fear or something completely different, she wasn't sure.
"You really want to help, Evans?" Asked James.
She swallowed. "Yes, of course."
"And you don't mind a little rule breaking in the process? No questions asked?"
"I think the situation outweighs the consequences, yes."
James smirked, a mischievous glint in his eyes. "Do you solemnly swear?"
Lily blinked at him, utterly confused. "Uh...yes?"
"Excellent." He said briskly, once again checking the room to make sure they were alone. Once he confirmed that there was no one around, he pulled something from his bag and before Lily could even question it, she felt herself and James being draped with a soft, flowing material.
"What is this?" She asked, feeling incredibly awkward standing in the common room with what seemed to be an impossibly soft blanket over her head.
James chuckled. "It's an invisibility cloak."
"A what!" Lily gasped in surprise, a little more loudly than she had meant to and James cringed.
"First rule of invisibility, Evans...be quiet. No point in being unseen if you can be heard across the castle, yeah?"
Lily frowned and made an indignant sound, earning a warning look from James. She rolled her eyes and gestured with her hand for him to lead the way.
It was a very strange feeling to walk through the dark, familiar corridors at an unnaturally slow pace in order to remain covered by James Potter's cloak. Several times a Professor or a fellow prefect would pass them, unbeknownst to their presence and Lily would take in a sharp breath, her heart pounding as she fought the urge to run and hide, reminding herself that she was in fact invisible.
James on the other hand, was totally and completely at ease. He practically glided through the halls as if this were his natural element. It was like he knew every nook and stone of the castle as well as he knew himself. Occasionally he would grab Lily by the elbow and pull her around behind a statue or into a dark corner to avoid Filch or a house Ghost.
Peaking around a suit of armor they had ducked behind, narrowly missing Mrs. Norris' curiously sniffing nose, James cocked his head to the left and waved Lily along.
Lily didn't move. She frowned and pointed in the opposite direction. What was he playing at? The library was the other way.
"Just trust me." The boy whispered with a cocky smile.
James tutted and shook his head. "No questions asked, Evans." He winked. "You swore."
She sighed in defeat. She had sworn, and she supposed Potter and his friends had spent enough of the last six years sneaking around the school to know what they were doing.
"Alright, your way then." She agreed.
James lead off to the left, staying close to the wall, running one hand along the stones. Lily watched with interest and curiosity as James' face became very focused. His brow furrowed, nose scrunched just slightly and the tip of his tongue peaked out the corner of his lips. She had never really taken a moment to look at him quite so closely, and she found the corner of her lip twitch upward as she observed him. She was so distracted that she didn't notice when James stopped short and she crashed right into him with a soft "oof!"
James snorted and looked down at her with a raised eyebrow. "Alright, Evans?"
Lily felt her face grow warm and she shook herself. "Er, yes. Of course. Sorry, I...tripped."
James' smirk widened. "If I didn't know any better I'd think you were just looking to grab my arse." He chuckled. "It's alright, Evans. I know the Quidditch pitch has done me some favors."
Lily rolled her eyes. "Oh yes. You've caught me. Prat." She was glad that it was so dark and James could not see how red her face must have been. "So why've we stopped then?" She folded her arms.
James' expression became more serious and focused once more as he turned his attention back to the wall. He scratched his chin thoughtfully, eyes narrowing as he gave the wall a once over. "Should be..." He muttered slowly, lifting both his hands. "This one." He placed both palms on one of the cold, gray stones and gave a small grunt as he pushed. Before Lily could ask what he was doing, she froze.
Her jaw dropped and she stared ahead in awe as part of the wall disappeared completely before her eyes, revealing a narrow, pitch black tunnel. "What the bloody fu-"
"Ooh, such language for little miss Prefect, eh?" James snickered, glancing over his shoulder at her.
"Please, Remus swears nearly every other word and you know it."
"Ah yes, but Remus isn't just a prefect. He is a corrupt rogue playing both sides of the law." He heaved a heavy sigh. "He makes me proud, that boy. He's come so far." He wiped a mock tear from his eye and Lily found herself smiling fondly at him.
The hidden corridor was just wide enough for them to squeeze in, but they had to walk single file. It was so dark once the wall returned behind them that Lily couldn't see her own hand in front of her face. It was hard to follow Potter and stay hidden under the cloak when she felt as though she were blind. A hand on her wrist made her jump and gasp.
"Sorry," James muttered, lifting her arm and placing her hand on his shoulder. "Here. Contact makes it easier to stay together. I forgot how bloody hard it is to take this short cut with another person...especially when they've never been down here."
"How'd you find this?" Lily asked, speaking as quietly as she could manage.
She felt James shrug. "Second year, I think... Sirius found it while we were running from Filch." His shoulders shook in a silent laugh. "We had just hexed his cousin Narcissa's lipstick to make her kiss this the nearest bloke every time someone said the word 'mudblood'."
Lily actually grinned. "Clever. So the rumor that Narcissa Black kissed Slughorn is actually true?"
"One hundred percent true." James said proudly. "She had said some nasty thing to Sirius about being a blood traitor and associating with the wrong sorts. Called Remus a bunch of names... Sirius nearly knocked her out, probably would have if I hadn't stopped him and told him we could get her back in a much better way without getting detention for punching a girl in the face."
Lily hummed softly. "You're a good friend...the way you protect Sirius...it's nice."
James shrugged. "Someone has to look out for that git or he'd get himself killed or...I don't know...incarcerated or something." He laughed and she smiled.
"You do a pretty good job of watching out for your friends as well." Said James, though there was a slight edge to his voice.
"Er...I suppose?" She wasn't sure how she was meant to respond. It hadn't sounded like a compliment.
James cleared his throat awkwardly. "Sorry...that was..." He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "Nevermind."
"No," Lily insisted, stepping closer. "What is it?"
James took a second to think before he sighed again. "Do you hate that I've been seeing Mary?"
Again, Lily felt her face heat up and her heart leapt into her throat. She swallowed it down. "W-what? Of course not. Why would-"
"Because you think I'm some sort of jackass who doesn't care for anyone's feelings." James said bitterly. "What was it you called me that one time? An 'arrogant toerag'?"
Lily bit her lip, hanging her head in shame. "Look, James-"
"No, it's fine-"
"It's not fine," Lily argued. "I was-"
"No." James repeated firmly. "It is fine. I was an arrogant toerag." Their walking had slowed down and Lily wondered if they were nearing the end of the tunnel. "I was a jerk to certain people, and I was an annoying pain in your arse on top of it...but I wouldn't intentionally hurt a girl's feelings. I...I quite like Mary, actually."
Lily suddenly felt very uncomfortable, like the tunnel was getting smaller, forcing her and James Potter closer and closer together when they shouldn't be so close at all. It was hard to breathe. "D-do you?" She managed.
"Yeah." James said simply. "She's a nice girl. She's fun...doesn't hex my briefs to give me wedgies when I tell her she's got nice...assets..."
Even in the dark, Lily could tell that James was giving her a pointed look. She laughed.
"Sorry for that."
"What's done is done. I deserved it." James admit. Then after a moment he said, "can I ask you something?"
"Is she upset I canceled on her?" He asked earnestly. "I really didn't mean to, it's just with everything going on with Remus and the way it's making Sirius so crazy, I just...I forgot I had plans with her. I'm too worried about them...I do feel like a git for ditching her though."
Lily was slightly taken aback by how sorry James really did sound. He really did like Mary. She felt guilty for having accused him of only dating the other girl to make her jealous. She sighed. "I...I think she'll get over it. She likes you quite a bit as well."
James exhaled in relief. "Brilliant. Thanks." Then he stopped walking. "Almost there. Just have to..." She felt James reach behind himself and pull out what must have been his wand. Her thoughts were confirmed as he quietly whispered. "Lumos." And a soft glow sprouted from the tip.
She could see now that they were standing at a dead end, another brick wall just like the one that had disappeared to allow them into the secret passage. James pushed on the wall just as he had before, only this time the bricks did not disappear, they swung open like a door on a hinge. Lily snorted to herself, remembering the cliche mystery films she and Petunia watched when they were younger, which always involved castles with doors disguised as walls leading to secret laboratories or chambers. She did not, however, expect this particular wall-turned-door to lead them directly to where they wanted to go, and she gasped - for possibly the twentieth time that evening - as they stepped out of the dark tunnel and into the far back corner of the Library's restricted section.
"Wow." She uttered, thoroughly impressed.
James turned and grinned at her. "Told you to trust me."
"My apologies, Potter. I'll try not to doubt you again." She matched his grin with a smirk of her own.
"Nah," said James, shaking his head and closing the secret passage (a bookshelf from this side, of course) back up again.
"You'll find more reasons to doubt me I'm sure. Now then," he rubbed his hands together. "You said you had an idea that may point is in the right direction?"
Oh, Lily thought, suddenly remembering why they had gone on this strange adventure in the first place. "Yes. Right. Well...it's only a hunch, mind you..."
"Hey, a hunch is more than what Pete and Sirius and I have got." James reasoned.
"Well," Lily murmured thoughtfully, walking slowly along the aisle of books and carefully scanning their spines. "The thing is, there isn't much literature on adolescent lycanthropes..." As she walked, she dragged one long, thin finger along the shelves, waiting to grab the title once she found it.
James chuckled. "What? You mean like werewolf puberty? Yeah, I'm pretty sure they don't teach that in school."
Lily hummed and nodded. "That's exactly what I mean, actually." She plucked a book from the shelf and flipped through the pages. "The thing is, most werewolves weren't bitten until they were adults. And most children that are bitten, well..." She trailed off and James grimaced. They get put down. "So there just isn't much to go by about what happens when a young werewolf comes of age."
James frowned, blinking at her in confusion. "What do you mean?"
Lily continued to flip through the book she was holding. "Like I said, I can't say for certain...I'm mostly going off what I know of actual wolves and some mythology, however..."
"Myths are based on fact." James finished her thought exactly. "Facts that got twisted for years and years until they were merely used for entertainment or to teach kids a lesson."
Lily smiled up at him. "Exactly."
"So...what werewolf myth are we implying is real enough to have Remus losing his mind every time he's within ten feet of Sirius all of the sudden?" James frowned, craning his neck for a better view of what Lily was reading.
The redhead quickly flipped through a few more pages and her eyes lit up. "This one." She tilted the book for James to see. "Mating. Wolves have mates, James. And according to legends and myths, so do werewolves."
James sputtered and shifted awkwardly. "Er...well..." He coughed. "Th-that...um..."
Lily raised an eyebrow. "Are you alright?"
"Er..." James let out a nervous laugh and scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, it's just...I mean, we're talking about my two best friends and...their sex life."
Lily scoffed. "You expect me to believe you and Sirius don't talk about sex?"
"Of course we do! But...I mean, this...the whole mating thing...that's...it just seems a little...y'know...personal, I guess? Intimate..."
"Hmmm," Lily nodded, looking back down at the page. "I think it's actually quite sweet. You know, once you get past the aggression and possessiveness that comes with it at first..."
James stared at her, making a semi-disgusted face. "You are a strange bird, Evans." He looked over her shoulder.
"Er...so is Remus going to keep acting like a bloody maniac around Sirius forever or...?"
Lily sighed. "Dunno. I don't think so. But I don't even know if this is the real answer. It's just the closest thing we've got." She closed the book and slipped it into her bag along with two others that she grabbed off the shelf. "We'll have to read up on it as much as possible before we can make any conclusions of course."
"Yeah," James agreed. He didn't seem as excited as Lily felt. She bit her lip, watching the boy's anxious expression.
"I'm fine...I just wish we had more than just a hunch and some myths."
"We'll figure it out, James." Lily smiled reassuringly, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. "They'll be okay."
"I hope so."
"They will, James." Lily insisted. "They've got you, after all."