‘Oh, when I get my hands on him again he’s going to-’
‘Marly,’ Sirius said placatingly, ‘it’s fine. And if he’s in the Hospital Wing with a broken nose, I think you’ve done enough.’ He was absolutely delighted by that, though he was trying not to show it.
‘It’s not fine!’ she said, throwing herself down on the couch. ‘He tried to kiss me, Sirius!’
‘What?’ he snapped. He dropped his quill. Ink soaked into his essay. ‘You forgot to mention that part! H-’
‘Jealous, are we?’ she asked sweetly before her face scrunched up and she launched herself up so that she could pace again. ‘It doesn’t even matter,’ she snarled. ‘There won’t be anything of him left for you to hurt because I’m going to kill him first!’ Several third years squeaked and moved to the other side of the common room.
Tempting as murdering “James” sounded, Sirius didn’t think that would help the real James much at all. ‘No, don’t.’
‘Shut up, I’m angry,’ she told him.
Sirius chuckled quietly. ‘Marly-’
‘It’s almost like he’s not him at all,’ she said, ignoring Sirius. ‘He’s been... off... for weeks! He’s rubbish at Quidditch, can’t stand Lily all of a sudden, is flirting with me, is struggling to scrape A’s in his schoolwork and is spending more time with Pettigrew than with you or Lupin!’
‘Oh, Godric,’ Sirius muttered.
Marlene’s eyes narrowed. ‘And you haven’t been spending much time with him,’ she said. ‘You’ve been with Lupin or Lily.’
‘Or you,’ Sirius said, trying to steer the conversation into safer topics.
‘Alice actually asked me if we were dating the other day,’ Marlene said, distracted, ‘since you’re around all the time... You’re avoiding him, aren’t you?’
She sat down and looked him straight in the eye. ‘This is affecting my friends and my Quidditch team,’ she said.
‘And you don’t think I deserve an explanation?’ Sirius stared at his hands. Marlene frowned at him. ‘Can you tell me anything?’
‘I can tell you we’re working on it.’ Sirius was quiet for a moment, trying out a number of phrases in his head. ‘And- and I can tell you when James is James again.’ She nodded. He wondered how much she’d understood from that, or if she’d understood at all. Her face was a mask, unreadable.
The portrait hole opened. Sirius glanced at “James” and then back to Marlene but she wasn’t looking at him. ‘I’ll see you later,’ she told Sirius. She stood. ‘James.’
“James” glanced at Marlene with trepedition. ‘What?’
‘You’re right about needing private training for Quidditch,’ she said, without so much as glancing in Sirius’ direction. Sirius’ mouth fell open.
“James” narrowed his eyes. ‘You didn’t seem so keen on that idea an hour ago.’
‘I’ve given it some more thought,’ she said.
‘Okay,’ “James” muttered. ‘When do we start?’
‘Four o’clock tomorrow morning. It’ll be the same time every morning until I decide you’ve improved enough. And we’ll do evenings too. Eight until ten every night, on top of usual trainings.’ “James” gaped at her. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow morning.’ She turned and met Sirius’ eyes with another unreadable expression and then went to sit with Alice and Frank on the other side of the common room.
‘Four,’ “James” breathed, looking furious. He sat down opposite Sirius who thought he might marry Marlene; not only had she understood more than he’d dared hope, but she’d also managed to ensure “James” would be elsewhere for the majority of the evening, and that he’d be so tired from the early morning trainings that he wouldn’t notice Lily, Sirius and Remus scheming behind his back.
* * *
‘I’m hungry,’ Sirius whined, scrunching up a scrap of parchment.
‘Then do something about it instead of complaining, you prat,’ Remus said, rolling his eyes.
‘Who’s up for a kitchen run?’ Sirius said, lobbing the parchment at the sandy haired boy. It hit the side of his head with a muffled thump.
‘I’ll pass, Padfoot,’ Remus said dryly, tossing the parchment back. ‘Lily should be coming down at any moment.’
‘Wormy? James?’ Sirius asked.
“James” appeared to be deep in thought. ‘Yeah, all right,’ he said after a bit. ‘Wormtail and I will go. Stretch our legs and all that. You stay, Padfoot.’
Sirius cocked his head. ‘You don’t want me to come?’ he said, pretending to sound hurt. ‘But what if the Slytherins-’
‘They won’t bother us,’ “James” said, waving a hand. Sirius had to agree; chances were that “James” was one of them.
‘At least take your mirror,’ Sirius said, playing the role of concerned friend.
“James” pulled it from his pocket. ‘Happy?’
Sirius shrugged as the two got up and left. It bothered him to see James’ mirror in the hands of that traitor, but he didn’t comment. ‘Get me the usual, please, Pete!’ he called after them. Peter turned and nodded. The portrait opened for them and as they left, Lily entered. Her eyes scanned the room and upon finding Sirius and Remus, brightened.
‘What are you doing in here?’ she asked.
‘Apparently “James” is above the Gryffindor Common Room,’ Sirius said with a scowl. ‘He thinks he’s better suited to the Head’s Common Room, and that we, as his friends, should accompany him wherever he goes.’
‘Why aren’t you going with him now then?’ she asked in a voice laced with sarcasm.
‘He’s off to the kitchens. He’s bringing me food,’ Sirius said with a smile. His smile widened as a thought came to him. ‘You should change the password and not tell him.’ Lily smiled and shook her head, flopping down next to Sirius on the couch.
‘What have you been doing today?’ Lily asked. ‘Remus, I know you were in the library because I saw you there.’ Remus nodded. ‘Sirius?’
‘I had Quidditch practice,’ he said with a shrug. ‘McKinnon and I may have killed a bit of time in the change rooms afterward...’ He smiled proudly at Remus who hid a smile, and at Lily who looked nauseated. ‘How’s the baby?’ he asked with a smirk.
‘Baby?’ Lily asked distractedly, fishing through her bag for a book. ‘What baby?’
‘Your baby,’ Remus said, grinning.
Lily hissed something unintelligible, leaning across the table to smack him with Advanced Potion Making. Sirius sniggered, and upon reflection, he realised that was probably why she hit him too.
‘Did you learn anything while you were in the library?’ Sirius asked once she’d settled down.
Lily shook her head and pulled a piece of parchment out of the front of her Charms textbook. She passed it to Sirius. He read it quickly, though he knew the whole thing by heart; it was everything Remus remembered from the afternoon James was taken, down to the finest detail. ‘Are you sure they didn’t use names?’ Lily said.
Remus shook his head. ‘Like I’ve said before, I was midway through a transformation. I wasn’t paying attention to details.’
‘Will you take me there?’ Lily asked suddenly. ‘When we go to Hogsmeade tomorrow, will you show me the route you took?’
‘Erm... sure,’ Remus said, glancing at Sirius, confused. Sirius shrugged.
‘Magic leaves traces,’ Lily said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. ‘We might be able to pick up on something.’
‘You can try,’ Sirius said heavily.
‘You aren’t coming?’
‘No. “James” is meeting with Dumbledore about something and we’re not to be anywhere near him, apparently. That arse tried to make us swear on our honour as a Marauder!’ Sirius unclenched his fists. ‘Anyway, I’ll be able to get Peter alone...’ Peter and “James” had been inseparable. No doubt Peter was so happy to have been promoted to best friend status that he had overlooked the fact that James wasn’t James.
‘Of course.’ Remus hesitated. ‘But what if he doesn’t believe us? He hasn’t said anything about-’
‘Pete’s hardly known for his observation skills, is he?’
‘No,’ Remus admitted.
‘He needs to know,’ Sirius said firmly. ‘We need the help. And maybe “James” has said something. He certainly seems to like Peter better than the rest of us.’
‘That’s an understatement,’ Remus said with a sigh.
‘I suppose it’s not surprising though. His stay hasn’t been comfortable.’ The thought made Sirius smile.
‘What did you do?’ Lily asked grinning. ‘Aside from the ignoring him and dirty looks and all that.’
‘I’ve been experimenting with wake-up techniques,’ Sirius said with a shrug. His favourite so far involved wax-strips, though the one with ice-cubes was a close second. ‘And I managed to trick him into saying Snape’s name in the dormitory.’
‘You made his tube of toothpaste explode,’ Remus reminded him. ‘And there was the incident with the towel...’
‘I deny all knowledge of that,’ Sirius said. ‘If his towel gives him warts, that’s not my business.’
‘And the mirror...’
‘The mirror just doesn’t like him.’
‘You fixed his shoes to the floor.’
‘Marlene told me about Quidditch practice,’ Lily said when she had finally stopped laughing. Sirius noted it was the first time she had laughed properly, without it seeming forced, in three weeks. He’d rather missed the sound.
‘About her breaking his nose?’ Sirius asked happily.
‘Did she really?!’ Remus said, beaming, as Lily doubled over, clutching her sides.
‘She neglected to mention that. No, she said you hit a Bludger at him.’
‘That doesn’t sound like me,’ Sirius said doubtfully, making Lily laugh again.
‘So he flew into the Bludger?’ Remus asked.
‘The Bludger flew into him.’
‘I see. Did the Bludger have help?’
‘No, but the Quaffle did,’ Sirius said with a mischievous grin. Remus laughed too.
‘I thought you were pretending to be nice now that we’ve established it’s not James,’ Lily said, clutching her side.
‘Accidents happen,’ Sirius said with a shrug.
‘I can’t imagine why he doesn’t like you,’ Lily said dryly over Remus’ laughter.
‘Puzzling,’ Remus agreed, fighting to keep a straight face.
The three of them were quiet for a few minutes, Sirius and Lily scanning Remus’ list of details and Remus writing the conclusion on his essay about the three ways of blocking a hex.
With a contented sigh, Remus finished his last sentence and set his quill down. ‘Done,’ he said happily.
‘Good for you,’ Sirius said absently. ‘What are you done with?’
‘My essay. The one due on Monday.’
‘For Defence?’ Remus nodded. ‘I finished that on Tuesday.’
‘We got it on Tuesday!’ Remus said, shocked.
‘I know,’ Sirius said with a grin that didn’t quite make it to his eyes. ‘But without Jamie around to be persuaded to hex Snivellus or help me plan a prank-’ The looks he got from Lily and Remus were so understanding that Sirius’ stomach twisted and he had to look away from them both until he could be sure he wouldn’t cry.
Remus noticed his fragile emotional state and shot him a small smile. ‘Are you ready, Lily?’ Sirius was grateful to his fellow Marauder for diverting the attention. Lily got to her feet and flicked her wand, helping Remus move the couches out of the way. ‘Now, remember, it’s “Expecto Patronum”,’ he told her as he crossed the room to retrieve a large briefcase. It contained the Boggart that had pretended to be James.
‘I know, Remus,’ Lily said irritably. ‘I’ve done this before.’
Sirius could see Remus thinking over how best to respond. He prayed he would choose the way that didn’t result in an angry Lily. ‘Who’s the teacher here?’ Remus said, plastering on a very forced smile.
Lily pressed her lips together. At first Sirius thought it was to bite back a retort, but then he saw the guilt building up in her eyes, and the muscles working in her jaw to stop it from trembling. ‘I’m sorry, Remus,’ she wailed. He looked as shocked as Sirius felt about her sudden change of attitude. Next thing either of them knew, Lily, strong, in-control, Head Girl Lily, had flung herself at Remus. Even more shocking were the tears that were streaking down her cheeks.
‘Merlin, Lils,’ Sirius said, jumping up to pull her off his friend and guide her to the couch.
‘Three weeks, Sirius,’ she sobbed.
‘Twenty-three days, five hours, seven minutes, actually,’ Sirius muttered, too low for either of the other two to hear. Instead he just rubbed Lily’s back until she calmed down. It took far less time than he’d expected – only another few seconds. He couldn’t help but be awed by her self-control.
‘Sorry,’ she said, wiping her eyes.
‘Sorry?’ Remus repeated, sinking down next to her. He looked a little apprehensive about the tears, but otherwise curious. ‘Why are you sorry?’
‘Firstly because I snapped at you,’ she said, sounding more like her normal self, ‘and then because I burst in to tears.’
‘You’re allowed to cry,’ Remus muttered, though he looked extremely uncomfortable with the idea. Sirius hid a laugh, deciding his timing would be a little inappropriate.
‘Crying doesn’t help anyone,’ Lily said briskly, brushing the last traces of tears off her pretty face. It went unsaid that James was “anyone”. She got to her feet. ‘Come one. I want to try.’
‘Are you sure?’ Sirius asked.
‘It might not work very well,’ Remus said. ‘You’re obviously stressed, Lils, and worried about James. We can’t so this if it doesn’t materialise into a Dementor.’
Lily scowled. ‘Open the briefcase, Remus.’ Her tone left no room for negotiation. Remus waved his wand and the case flew open. James staggered out and collapsed. Sirius looked away, squeezing his eyes shut. Just because it wasn’t real didn’t mean he needed to see it.
‘No!’ Lily said, glowering at the Boggart. Sirius’ eyes flicked open. ‘I’m not dealing with this right now!’ To Sirius’ complete surprise, the Boggart-James sat up and looked at Lily with what could only be described as curiosity. ‘I need a Dementor,’ she said firmly. The Boggart appeared to think about this and collapsed again, blood dribbling out of its mouth. ‘I said no!’ Lily growled. An expression of intense concentration passed over her face and with a loud crack, the Boggart changed.
‘Expecto Patronum,’ Remus prompted as the huge cloaked Dementor drifted forward.
Lily shot him a dirty look. ‘Expecto Patronum!’ she said firmly. A huge silvery shield formed in the air between her and the Dementor. Lily frowned. ‘Expecto Patronum!’ she said, her voice stronger than before. The results were startling. Sirius actually had to look away from the light and watch the Dementor-Boggart be charged by a large creature out of his peripheral vision instead.
‘Riddikulus,’ Remus said. The light immediately faded. Sirius grinned at the sight of the Dementor in lacy pick robes before it retreated into the briefcase. ‘Well done, Lily.’
‘I did it,’ Lily said, stunned. She sank into the couch, accepting a block of chocolate from Remus.
‘What was it?’ Sirius asked. ‘I know it was big but I couldn’t make any clear features out-’
‘-A doe,’ she whispered. ‘It was a doe.’ James’ absence seemed more pronounced than ever.
Twenty-three days, five hours, twenty-one minutes.