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Chapter 26: A lot to learn
Battered and bruised, with torn dress robes and a barely conscious James held between them, Sirius, Lily and Remus rapped on the solid wood of the door to the great hall for over ten minutes before they were heard. When it finally swung open, Professor Mcgonagall stood before them, nostrils flaring.
“Now Proffessor,” Sirius began.
“We were outside for a perfectly legitimate reason...” continued James.
Mcgonagall ignored them.
“Lily Evans,” she breathed. “You. Are. A. Prefect! What made you think that it was a good idea, to run out of that door instead of sending for help? To give your friends and teachers something else to worry about when we were in here, fighting an ambush!”
“I was told you were pre-informed of the ambush? In any case you told Miss Hayes. She says you were dancing with Mr. Snape, before – oh goodness, you’re bleeding.”
On noticing James’s very real injury, his head of house broke off scolding Lily to urgently entreat that he should be in the hospital wing. Sirius said he would take him, and with a backwards glance at Lily, James was led from the hall, cutting a path through awed students, many of whom didn’t look much better themselves. Lily looked around for her friends, but could see no-one.
“We’ve sent the sixth and seventh years out to take the younger children to bed.” Macgonagall said, in answer to Lily’s pending question. “Could I ask you to perform the same service?”
“Yes Proffessor,” Lily began. “But what happened here? The death eaters, where...”
“When they discovered they were largely out of their depth, they fled. I doubt they meant to do much damage, their aim was to spread panic and that, at least, they achieved.” She said. “There are very few injuries tonight that Madame Pomfrey will not have been able to heal by the morning, however security breaches and so forth must be dealt with. Have you any idea, Miss Evans, how the enemy may have infiltrated this security? You seemed so sure that there was to be an attack.”
Her eyes bored into Lily’s, who’s brain suddenly went into overdrive, wondering what to reveal and what to hide – Severus... she surely couldn’t give him up? And what about the whole shrieking shack debacle?
“Proffessor,” interrupted Remus, and Lily was surprised at the levelness of his tone, in light of recent events. “We met death eaters in the woods. Lily ran into them before James and myself – I think she may have been confounded.”
Remus turned to Lily with an almost pitying look.
“I’m sorry Lily, but you haven’t been yourself the last hour or so. Or can you remember who told you of the attack? I may be wrong.”
“...No. No I don’t remember.”
Remus turned back to Mcgonagall, who continued to look suspicious.
“Very well,” she answered, finally. “Mr. Lupin and Miss Evans, I would however like to speak with both of you tomorrow. The headmaster may also have some questions.”
They consented to this, before being assigned a group of students which between them, they led up to Gryffindor common room. The younger students were a mixed bag, some had clearly been terrified by the ambush, while others were frothing over with excitement at being involved in such a scene. All, however, were exceedingly noisy, giving Lily a chance to confront Lupin, as they walked.
“Why,” she whispered to him, as they ushered the line of children ahead of them up a staircase, “did you tell Mcgonagall I had been confounded?”
“We shouldn’t discuss this now.” He answered her.
“Look, let’s just get the younger ones to the common room. We can talk about it then.”
When they reached the common room, the younger students were supposed to be ushered up to their dormitories, yet they were all too excitable. After a couple of fruitless attempts, the prefects gave up, and Lily was able to corner Lupin.
“Right,” she began, as she sat down beside him, leaning against the far wall of the Gryffindor common room, near the staircase to the girls’ dormitories. “Explanation time. First of all,” her voice softened slightly. “Thank you, by the way. You saved me back there with Mcgonagall.”
“It’s just, I’d like to know... why?”
“Why did I help you out?”
“No, why did... well how did you know that I needed helping.”
“ I guessed who you were trying to protect. Only one person – other than my three friends – knows where the entrance to the shrieking shack is. Only one person, that I know of, could have known my secret, and how to make use of it.”
Lily stared. Was he talking about Severus? He was the person she was really protecting. But Lupin’s explanation didn’t seem to fit – why would he want to protect Snape?
“It wasn’t... do you mean Regulus?” she asked. Lupin turned to her, surveying her carefully. His face appeared thin and drawn, but his eyes were sharp.
“No Lily,” he said. “Severus. Severus knows what I am. He knows about the Shrieking shack – the secret passageway into the grounds which was built for my benefit, when I transform there, once a month. You were seen talking to him, just before the ambush. It all adds up.”
“But why would Severus...?”
“Why would he know?” Lupin stopped. He looked down at the floor. Lily put a hand on his shoulder. There was a mystery here that she needed to unravel, but she didn’t want to be insensitive. She realised that his lycanthropy, and anything connected with it must be a painful subject for him.
“I’m sorry Remus.” She answered him, still burning with curiosity. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want.”
He smiled up at her.
“You’re a kind person, Lily.” Lupin said. “But maybe – maybe it would be in your interests to tell you the full story.” He looked thoughtful. Suddenly he said
“Lily, how strongly do you feel about Sirius?”
“I’m sorry, I overstepped the line.”
Where did that come from, Lily thought. She took a breath.
“No, no Remus you didn’t. I was just surprised that’s all, I didn’t know that you...” she looked awkward. “Well that anyone knew about all that.”
“I’m sorry, he’s only told me.” Lupin assured her. Lily nodded.
“Well, in answer to your question, I don’t really know. I do like him... a lot. But I don’t know if that’s just... well, and then there’s James. To be honest I’m confused. But please don’t tell him that I am. I don’t want to hurt his feelings.”
Lupin laughed, not unkindly.
“I hate to tell you this Lily, but he knows you’re confused. I think he is a little, too.”
Lily nodded. There was something about Remus – he was almost a calming presence, someone you wanted to tell your secrets to.
“Yes. But – how exactly does this connect to Severus?”
“It doesn’t really. I shouldn’t... well I was just meddling.”
Lily smiled sadly.
“It’s ok to wonder. They’re your best friends and I’ve – messed them around.”
“You haven’t, not too much. They do exaggerate you know Lily – though it’s true that they both love you.”
“I’m sorry, we’ve got off the topic a bit haven’t we?”
“Yes. Will you explain to me about Severus?”
They looked at each other, and, assuring that they would not be overheard, among the babble of the surrounding students voices, Lupin told Lily a story that opened her eyes just that bit wider. He told her how Severus had strived to find out his secret, how he had almost cracked it, and how, in a fit of cruel mischief Sirius had sent Snape down the tunnel to the shrieking shack, informing him that there he would find the answer.
“But you could have killed him!” Lily hissed Lily, in a shocked whisper. Lupin shrugged.
“I don’t think Sirius really thought it through properly. Sometimes I am quite tame as a wolf – I might just have roughed him up a bit.”
“But you would have had that on your conscience!”
“I would. But in fairness to Sirius, he is quite a different man now. I think you must take some credit for that.”
Lily shook her head dismissively, and urged Lupin on with his story.
He told her how when James had found out about the prank, he had gone after Snape and pulled him back, but not before Snape had seen the truth.
“He guessed it was me.” Lupin said. He sounded bitter. “And of course he hates us more than ever now – even James, as he feels in debt to him. He hates that.”
Lily rested her head back against the wall. There was a lot to think over – namely how Sirius could do something so stupid, and so cruel. She sat up suddenly.
“Remus – is that the reason they stopped picking on Severus so much? Because they were scared he would tell everyone the truth?” the thought horrified her. She had believed they had changed, but maybe they hadn’t. Lupin smiled.
“No. No Lily that’s not the reason. Dumbledore made sure it was all hushed up.”
“Lily,” Lupin assured her. “Really, that wasn’t the reason. James at least – well he changed because of you. He knew what you thought of him – and he didn’t really want to be like that. No-one wants to think they’re a bully, not really.”
Lily bit her lip. Remus must have been exaggerating, she couldn’t have had that kind of impact. But had James ever really been that bad? He did go after Severus, after all, risking his life. And Sirius? She couldn’t excuse Sirius’s behaviour. But then he, unlike James, had had a difficult childhood – maybe if his parents hadn’t been so horrible.... but now – had he changed now? It was all so confusing. Either way, she couldn’t face either of them tonight.
“Remus – I think I’m going to go to bed, really tired.”
“But – James will be fine, won’t he?”
“Of course.” Remus answered. “Madame Pompfrey will fix him up. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sirius stayed with him tonight though. They worry about each other, you know.”
“Yeah.” She said. “Well, night Remus.”
Sirius had been sat beside his friend, in the hospital wing, for the best part of an hour. James seemed quieter, more guarded than usual, but perhaps that was the blood loss, Sirius thought. With Sirius eagerly leading the conversation, they had talked over the ambush, and were currently debating the possibilities of Snape having let the death eaters in.
“I don’t think he can have.” James was saying, “And I only have one reason. Lily.”
“But she was pre-warned, wasn’t she?” Sirius replied. “Because she came to warn m- I mean you.”
James flinched visibly, and Sirius noticed. James couldn’t suspect could he? No more slip ups, he told himself. Especially not tonight.
“What I meant was,” James continued, “Even to protect Snape, Lily wouldn’t hide something that big. People’s lives are at stake here. He’s her friend but – if he was mixed up in all that, I can’t see that she’d not tell someone. She’s not that naive.”
Sirius laughed quietly.
“She hates prejudice. She’d tell Dumbledore, I’m sure of it.”
Sirius looked down at the floor.
“I think sometimes,” he muttered, “you have too much faith in her.”
There was a moment of silence. Sirius’s heartbeat had, for some reason, sped to a whirring pace. He was thinking about Lily, and himself. I should tell him. He suddenly thought. I should tell him now.
“Sirius.” said James softly. Sirius looked up, into his friend’s eyes. He looked sad, but sort of... resigned.
“In... in the forest earlier, I saw...”
Sirius closed his eyes briefly.
“I saw you and Lily, holding hands.”
Not kissing, Sirius thought. James looked earnestly at Sirius, and Sirius took a deep breath. He couldn’t do it.
“Yeah,” he said. He laughed, awkwardly. “I’m sorry Prongs – she was scared, it was just for reassurance. I felt a bit bad, since, you know. But I didn’t want her to be scared.”
“Ah, right.” James nodded. Sirius thought he could read relief in his friend’s eyes, but he couldn’t be sure. “I’m glad you did then. It’s good you looked after her.”
Silence fell between them, once more. Sirius peered over his shoulder, to see Madame Pomfrey trotting down the ward towards them, with a bottle of what looked like sleep solution.
“You need sleep Mr. Potter. Take some of this.”
Sirius watched James shrug, and take a long slow swig of the concoction. He fell back against the pillows, almost immediately.
“You be off now, dear.” The matron said. Sirius was all too happy to.
He didn’t enter Gryffindor tower that night. After leaving the hospital wing, he and his thoughts took a long, slow walk back to the common room, to find the Fat Lady waiting for him.
“How’s Potter?” she asked, immediately. Sirius shrugged.
“Come on, come on!” She demanded. “I want details!”
He shrugged again.
“Well how about that!” she huffed. “Un-communicative, un-friendly. Slytherin traits you know.”
“Well that’s me all over.” He replied, sullenly. When she laughed at him, he turned away, and began walking back down the corridor. He couldn’t sleep there tonight.
“Come back” she called. “I was only joking!”
But he was already out of sight.