‘Sirius! What’s happening?! Why are you acting-’ Lily didn’t have a word to describe how he was acting, ‘-like this?’ she finished lamely; Sirius had grabbed his wand and was dragging Lily to the door when there was a loud crack behind them.
He spun and the look on his face was one of complete shock. ‘Noddy?!’
‘Master Sirius,’ the little house elf squeaked through her tears. Sirius had already pushed past her to James. Lily’s hand flew to her mouth when she saw him. ‘Master is calling Noddy and telling her to be bringing him to this place.’
‘Clever boy,’ Sirius breathed as he knelt by his broken best-friend.
‘Paddy!’ James said, coughing blood. Sirius swore and wiped his mouth with a bed-sheet.
‘We have to get him to a teacher!’ Lily cried, finding her voice. There was one long gash across James face, going from just below his right eye to the bottom of the left side of his face. His neck was a bloody mess. It looked as if someone or something had tried to tear his throat out. His arms were mangled.
He was wearing the same pair of jeans he had left in several hours ago, and the same grey t-shirt, but they were unrecognisable from the blood.
‘No!’ Sirius half-sobbed. ‘No, we can’t. Lily, we can’t, please.’
She looked at his agonised face and at James’ pallid, pained one. ‘Don’t be stupid, Black!’ she shouted. ‘Look at him!’
‘I can see him, thank you!’ Sirius bellowed.
‘Not a teacher, please not,’ James choked, his terrified eyes meeting Sirius’ and then Lily’s.
‘Fix this, then,’ she said giving Sirius her Head Girl stare, though she seriously doubted he would be able to heal James. ‘If this gets any worse, I will get McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey.’ And then she started to cry.
Sirius nodded shakily and tapped James with his wand. His shirt vanished, revealing his bloodstained, torn chest. Sirius waved his wand and some of the smaller cuts vanished, as well as those on his arms. All that remained were some small, hardly noticeable scars.
‘Noddy, could you please go into the bathroom and get me the brown box?’ The Elf nodded and was back a moment later with a smaller version of a school trunk which she gave to Sirius. She stepped away from the boys to stand by Lily, and pat her hand, sobbing quietly.
Sirius unstoppered the stopper of a bottle of Dittany with a shaking hand and tipped most of it over James’ chest and neck. James groaned as Sirius waved his wand and the skin made a sizzling sound. Sirius’ lip trembled as he began to dig through the chest for medicines.
Over the next half hour, Sirius added several of the other potions and ointments and James’ condition improved. He was conscious the whole time, but extremely unresponsive, only groaning occasionally, and he never talked back when they asked questions.
‘Lily, Lily, look away.’
‘Why?’ she demanded.
‘I have to take off his jeans. He won’t be naked but-’
‘Right,’ she muttered. Despite the severity of the situation, she still flushed. She heard him mutter a few more spells and then summon his pyjama pants. After quiet rustling, she deemed it safe to turn around. Sirius then vanished the blood.
Lily stared. He was completely healed. There were a few scars, but he was fine. His breathing was a little fast, but he wasn’t spitting blood anymore.
‘Thanks, Padfoot.’ James’ eyes fluttered closed. Sirius’ drawn face managed a tiny smile before he started to cry. Lily – sure now that he was okay – wiped away her tears, siphoned the blood off his hands, both boys’ clothing, off the floor and lastly the bedclothes. She levitated James onto his four-poster bed. Sirius immediately got up to sit next to him.
‘Sirius,’ Lily said quietly, ‘w-what do you want me to do about the House-Elf?’ The little elf was peeking over the end of the bed at her sleeping Master, tears streaming out of her huge, blue eyes.
Sirius pulled his gaze away from James reluctantly, wiping his eyes. He slid off the bed and went to crouch by the Elf, pulling her into a tight, one-handed hug, whispering, ‘Thank you, Noddy,’ over and over, so fervently Lily’s heart almost broke. He whispered something else to her and she nodded, kissed his forehead and Disapparated. Sirius went to sit next to James again.
She and Sirius jumped when the door slammed. Sirius nodded in his general direction and Peter hurried over to sit on James’ other side.
‘Peter, you’re covered in blood too!’ Lily exclaimed. ‘Are you hurt?’
He shook his head. ‘It’s all Prongs’... how did he get here? Did he Apparate?’
‘You can’t Apparate into or out of the school grounds,’ Sirius said absently. Lily raised an eyebrow. She had been just about to say the same thing.
‘Tergeo,’ Lily muttered, pointing her wand at him.
‘Hey, thanks,’ Peter said with a forced grin. She didn’t quite manage a smile. He met Sirius’ eyes. ‘Did you heal him?’
Sirius nodded, running a hand through his hair. ‘It was bad... Did you see what happened?’
‘Most of it,’ Peter whispered. He began to tremble at the thought.
‘It was bad, Padfoot. We were there too early so he was still really aggressive from the pain of transforming.’ Lily listened with horrified interest. Transforming? What in Merlin’s name had they been doing?
‘I hid as usual,’ Peter admitted sheepishly, ‘but I saw the whole thing from under the bed. It was.... messy. Prongs slipped in his blood and got his... er... head tangled in the curtains.’ Sirius made a face that made Lily think he wanted to laugh.
‘That was when he...er...’ Peter clutched his throat. Sirius swallowed, hardly able to nod. ‘After that he tried to get to the door and started to... call me. I came out and he sort of toyed with me and then Jamie collapsed and we both went over to see him... it was like the monster died. He was whimpering and whining and just really upset and then he helped Prongs up and retreated to the far side of the room so he could get out.
‘Prongs made it out and then collapsed in the hallway. He told me to get you and then as I was leaving, he told me he loves us, and you, Lily, and he said it wasn’t Moony’s fault and then he said he would have come to the next f- would have come next month.’
‘He thought he was going to die,’ Sirius said softly. Peter nodded in such a grave way that Lily began to cry again; “He told me he loves us, and you, Lily,” echoed over and over in her head. She had always thought he was just stringing her along, that James wanted her because he couldn’t have her... but perhaps he really did care. He had thought he was going to die.
In a strange way, she couldn’t imagine life at Hogwarts without James, or even life at home; most holidays, she got letters from him that she chose to ignore. Now that she thought about it, James had always been a constant in her life, hardly changing from one year to the next and always there, whether she wanted him or not.
* * *
It was about four in the morning when Remus ran in. He looked pale and haggard and had several fresh grazes on his face, but that didn’t seem to worry him. He went straight to Sirius’ side and gazed down at James with an unreadable expression.
‘He’s not-?’ he choked, tears welling in his chocolate eyes.
‘He’s fine,’ Sirius assured him. “He was conscious when he got here and while I healed him.’
‘Ouch,’ Remus said, wincing.
‘He seemed beyond pain, to be honest,’ Sirius said grimly. Remus’ face shadowed over. Lily was sitting on Sirius’ bed, her eyes moving over James’ lifeless form.
James woke at five. He sat up, looking around in bemusement at the four sleepy, worried seventh years seated next to him and then Sirius forced a Blood-Replenishing Potion down his throat.
While James coughed and spluttered and made feeble comments about attempted murder and drowning in Sirius’ Potions, Sirius, who looked like he was trying not to cry, hugged him roughly, growling something unintelligible into his ear. Lily adjusted herself on the bed so Sirius could get two arms around his best friend’s neck.
Remus was letting his tears flow freely now that James was awake. He and and Peter hugged them and the four Marauders sat there huddled together for close to ten minutes. Things had been bad before, but they’d never come so close to losing one of their own, and that was more than a little scary. Remus couldn’t help but think it was his fault.
‘Moony?’ James’ weak and muffled voice asked from somewhere within the circle of their arms. ‘I can hear you thinking and I swear if you get all self-pitying I’ll never talk to you again.’
Remus grinned half-heartedly. ‘I’m sorry, Prongs, so, so sorry, but I won’t be selfish. If you decide to stop talking to me, I’ll respect your choice an-’
‘You prat!’ James growled and then coughed. He wormed his way out of the hug so he could glare at his friend. He was so pale and weary that it didn’t have the desired effect, but it was the thought behind it that made Remus recoil slightly.
‘Let me amend that,’ James mumbled. ‘If you get all self-pitying, I will personally seek out my broomstick and beat you over the head with it.’
Remus laughed. ‘Thanks, Prongs. But I’m still sorry...’
Sirius smacked the back of his head. ‘Weren’t you listening?’
‘I was, but I’m still-’
‘Say sorry one more time and I’ll beat you with my broomstick and then feed what’s left to the Giant Squid,’ James threatened as he sank back into his pillows. Sirius sniggered, more at the mention of the Giant Squid than the threat itself.
Remus’ eyes welled up as he looked around at the three best friends anyone could ever have. ‘Thanks,’ he croaked, more tears dribbling down his pale cheeks. He took a deep steadying breath and looked at the red-headed witch. She was one of them now, whether she realised it or not. There were just some things you couldn’t go through without becoming friends, and tonight was undoubtedly one of them. Sirius was clearly thinking the same.
Sirius glanced at Remus, who nodded. The shaggy haired Marauder met the gazes of the other two Marauders. Peter nodded reluctantly and James nodded, managing to look determined.
‘Lily, I think I-’ Remus began.
‘-I think we owe you an explanation,’ Sirius finished.
‘If you want one?’ James added, staring at her nervous face. Lily nodded slowly.