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Before They Fall by Jchrissy
Chapter 7 : Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 27


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Gorgeous chapter image made by pheonixn @ TDA
Chapter 7 - Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs

The last few leaves of the thinning elm tree tugged against the late September wind. They pulled and twisted until their stems weakened enough to be captured by the breeze and ushered away. The naked branches swayed through the evening air and scraped against the glass of a rectangular window. Back and forth - scrape, silence - back and forth - scrape, silence. It was an eerie sound, rhythmic in its own right, yet still not altogether comforting.

On the other side of the long window, the side safe from the battering nature of the autumn wind, stood a richly adorned room with the last few drops of an oil lamp giving life to a burning flame.

There were places of that room that were still touched by the fading sun rays, but there were also corners that stood absent of all light, so dark that neither sun nor flame could reach them.

In one of those blackened areas was a cluster of four people who created a semicircle around a tall, dragon hide chair. They anxiously waited for the fifth man, the one seated in the chair, to speak.

Lucius Malfoy stood with his eyes averted from his Master and his hands hidden behind his cloak to cover the nervous twitches that pulsated through them. Nerves were not something he was willing to show, especially not with his current companions. His pale blue eyes slid surreptitiously towards his sister-in-law, giving him a momentary opportunity to study her.

A heavy, deep purple cloak covered the majority of Bellatrix from the shoulders down, and the places that it neglected to conceal were veiled by her thick, crazed mass of black curls. It was her face that really caught his attention, though - the eagerness that it held was so obvious, she had an excitement that he wished he could possess. Her scarlet lips were parted ever so slightly. He could tell she wanted to speak, but she knew better than to utter a sound.

The two men on either side of him were thrilled, he could feel it, though their body language managed to remain calm. At least, as calm as anyone could muster in the presence of their Lord. Lucius hoped he would feel their sense of thrill coursing through his own veins soon; he was thrilled about this mission, about his chance to eliminate some of the filthy blood that littered their world. But the mission, it was dangerous.

“Lucius.” The slithering voice jerked him from his thoughts and direct his attention to his Master.

“Master?” Relief washed into him as he spoke, satisfied that his words sounded steady and confident.

“Is there something displeasing you about your orders, Lucius?” It wasn’t a real question, he knew that. It was a warning. His Lord knew all, and he had been stupid enough to let his fears float around the space of his head like a naive school boy.

“Nothing, my Lord.”

“My Lord, my Lord we are honoured to be at your service, I am honoured that you selected me,” Bellatrix interrupted in a whisper, finally getting the opening she desired to speak to her Master, to hear her own voice slip into his ears.

The smoky white skin stretched tightly over the fierce planes of his face creased with the movement of an emotionless smile.

“Yes, Bellatrix, this is an honour. One I would bestow upon only four of my most trusted servants.”

The last few words slipped out like a promise. But to Lucius, they felt more like a threat.

“Rodolphus - go over it again,” he instructed, turning his body slightly to face the man.

“Yes - Yes, my Lord. Rabastan will go tomorrow morning to get a layout,” he nodded his head toward the his brother standing on the other side of Lucius, “then he will arrive at the meeting place by four o’clock. I’ll join him ten minutes later, then Malfoy will follow after another ten. We’ll all enter together and Bellatrix will guard the rear door.”

Rodolphus was as still as the fixtures of the Manor as he spoke, but his nerves were betrayed by his tongue constantly darting out to lick his lips. Nerves, or excitement - Lucius couldn’t be sure.

“Yes,” hissed Voldemort. Shadows played in his eyes, they hinted that he was already envisioning the masterpiece that would occur tomorrow - his precisely planned Sunday massacre. “Tomorrow afternoon we will demonstrate just what happens to a blood traitor and his filthy muggle family.”


Dancing rays of the setting sun cut through a trail of clouds and flitted over the faces of seven students who were all making their way closer to an enormous castle. The stone walls belonging to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry seemed to glow against the light of the early evening; the fortress looked more alive than ever surrounded in the colourful autumn leaves.

Lily and Sirius walked a few paces behind most of their friends. Lily was positive neither she nor Sirius would admit it, but they were attempting to avoid being lectured by Belle.

Remus had injured his wrist, and Belle was the most capable at Healing spells. She also hated being hovered over and after sending Lily and Sirius a few glares, they finally got the hint and fell back.

Remus was laughing with James as they recounted their very lucky win. They had just gotten the Quaffle through the hoop when Lily’s slender fingers closed over the Snitch - their final score had only beaten the other team’s by ten points.

It was even more impressive due to the handicap they weren’t aware they possessed until the game started. The moment the players kicked off from the ground one thing became obvious, Belle was quite possibly the worst Quidditch player in all of history. Combined with Alice’s talents as a Beater, it really was a bit miraculous that James, Remus, and Belle managed to come out ahead.

Not without payment, though. The second James sent the Quaffle racing towards Peter’s set of hoops, Sirius had done the same, shooting his team's directly at the open one Remus had left unguarded. Without thinking, Remus dived after it, forcing his broom ahead at an uncontrollable speed.

He caught the Quaffle, but was sent hurtling into the metal ring of the hoop and, surprisingly, only came out with a bruised and banged up wrist.

“It will ‘urt for sometime, but nothing is broken,” Belle commented after she finished poking and prodding Remus’s injury with the tip of her wand. “Maybe you should see ze nurse when we get back into ‘Ogwarts?”

Remus thought of the night ahead of him; this injury was the first of many

“Yeah, yeah that’s a good idea. But I think I’ll wait it out for a bit, see how it feels in a few hours,” he answered, shooting a pointed look towards James as he spoke.

“Lily, if you could’ve only waited a few seconds to catch that bloody thing,” Sirius mumbled, shuffling his feet against the cobblestone path.

“Think of it this way Sirius,” Alice interrupted, squeezing herself between Lily and Sirius and falling into step with them. “Now we get to be the first in the kitchens to get the ice cream. We may have to do the extra walking, but we’ll get to sample the goodies before anyone else.”

“James! James Potter.” The seven of them turned, nearly at the top step of the entrance, to see an elfin looking brunette running their way. “James,” she said again, pausing at the base of the stairs. Her eyes skimmed over the group, uncertainty glowing in them.

“I’m Polly Turner. Bain Turner’s younger sister.”

“Bain Turner? Bain the Beater?” James asked, stepping forward as he spoke with Sirius right behind him. “Bain the unstoppable? The same Bain who was the best Beater Gryffindor has ever seen?”

“Hell, best that Hogwarts has ever seen, I’d say,” Sirius interrupted.

Lily tried to stifle a chuckle, but watching two of her friends get so worked up over a Quidditch player was a bit humorous.

“Yeah, that Bain. Did you hear that he got picked up by the Chudley Canons?”

“Well, zis is all very nice, but I do not intend to starve because of zis stupid game,” Belle grumbled before turning with a snap and walking off through the large entrance.

“She’s just bent out of shape after learning what a terrible Quidditch player she is,” Lily said in response to the curious look James directed at her. “Anyway,” she continued, stepping down a lever closer to Polly. “You’re a second year, right Polly?”

“Yes, er... Miss Head Girl Evans.” Lily tried to change her laugh into a cough, but failed and immediately felt horrible as Polly’s face paled.

“Lily is fine, if you don’t mind. And that charming display you just witnessed was performed by our friend Isabelle Leclair. This is-”

“Alice Christopherson,” Polly interrupted as Lily turned and pointed to Alice. “My brother talked about you all last year, about how he couldn’t believe it was already his seventh year and he hadn’t been able to get you to fall for him and-”

“Alright then. Polly, these are our other friends, Peter Pettigrew and Remus Lupin,” Sirius interjected.

Lily stared at him, a bit shocked by his rude interruption, until the realization that he was obviously not comfortable hearing about another guy having a crush on Alice became clear. She felt a gentle warmth spread through her heart. These boys really are great friends.

It was nice to know that, even though Alice and Frank’s feelings for one another were clear, Sirius cared enough to not want Alice hearing about some other guy liking her.

Sirius continued as if he had never cut Polly off in the middle of her sentence. “I think I remember seeing you at a few of last year’s games, right? I’m Sirius Black, by the way.”

“I know who you lot are, the entire school knows the four of you.”

“We’re about to head into the Great Hall for dinner, do you want to join us, Polly?” Alice asked, her stomach rumbling.

“Actually, I have to go meet my friends in the library,” she paused for a second, her golden eyes darted from Alice to James, her gaze remaining on the latter.

Polly took a slow breath before continuing, her voice more serious than before. “But, I saw the information sheet for Quidditch tryouts in the common room. You said that there isn’t much time to get a team in shape for November’s first game, so you’d rather if only people serious about it showed up.

"Well, I want to tryout. I know I’m a second year, but I’ve been playing with my brother for as long as I can remember,” Polly’s voice had quickened in her need to defend her statement. “I know I can outplay most of the Chasers I’ve seen,” she stopped at the sight of James raising an eyebrow, “except you, of course, Captain...”

“James,” Lily whispered, grabbing his hand and giving it a squeeze. “You’re making her nervous, just answer her question.” She smiled at Polly, almost as eager to hear James’s answer as the second year.

“Polly - If you’re serious about playing, I’d love to see you out there. Tomorrow morning at ten sharp, I’ll be dropping off a few forms in the common room this evening. Pick one up and bring it with you to tryouts.” Polly’s face lit up at his words.

Lily couldn't help but be happy with James's decision. It was widely known that the captain decided what would happen with first and second year tryouts. Many students simply wanted to be good enough but lacked all the necessary skills. Quidditch was the quickest way to get your name known at Hogwarts, therefore the go-to way for many of the newer students.

A captain was free to refuse tryouts to any of the younger years, therefore avoiding hours of sifting through players that barely knew how to mount their broom. They could also require Madam Hooch, who usually spotted the promising players during the first year’s flying lessons, to nominate first and second years.

“Wow, James - er, Captain - thanks! I’ll see you in the morning! Nice meeting you all. Oh Alice, my brother wanted to know if you’re still with Longbottom and-”

“Nice meeting you, Polly!” Sirius interrupted loudly, ushering the brunette past the group and through the entrance.

The comfort of the castle engulfed Lily the moment they made their way inside. One of the towering knights in armor flanking the entrance gave the students a small nod, which Lily promptly returned, despite the fact that she was almost certain the knight couldn’t see her.

“Good evening Gryffindors, good evening! And I daresay, it must be a fine one in fact, if the lovely young lady that came skipping by me only seconds ago was any indication!”

“Good evening Sir Nicholas,” the seven of them chorused at the jolly ghost floating by before heading towards the Great Hall.

The scent of herb crusted chicken and roasted lamb glided from the Hall to Lily’s nose and made her mouth water. It was the second most delicious thing she had smelt that day, the first being the intoxicating aroma James-

“There’s Belle, at the end,” James pointed out, interrupting Lily’s thoughts and causing her cheeks to redden.

The Hall was calmer than usual, probably because it was nearly six o'clock. Most students would have arrived an hour earlier when food first started popping up on the tables. Lily placed her broom under the bench of her seat before sitting down. She knew it wasn’t the safest place for it, but after flying James’s Starshooter 800 earlier, she was already considering dipping into her savings for a new one.

All the hours she had spent the last three summers working at St. Mungo’s as a clean up girl, following around Healers with a broom, making vacated beds, and all without magic - had really added up. She knew it was frivolous, especially considering she would need that money for supplies if she did end up enrolling in the Healing Academy of Magical Medicine. The large sum of money left to her by her parents wouldn’t go far in the wizarding world.

However, the witch that hired Lily every summer did always seem to mention something about funds being available to a select few...just like the position of cleanup girl was available. It wasn’t something that was necessary; cleaning up while they go was an easy task for the Healers. But they had given Lily the job because she needed the money and was willing to work her arse off for it.

Still, she didn’t think she was able to hand over such a large sum of money for a broomstick. Maybe one day, but for now she should continue to let it sit in Gringotts, waiting until it could serve an actual purpose.


She glanced at Remus to ask him about his wrist, but the words that had formed on the tip of her tongue were lost. He was concentrating so intensely on the greying night sky, so focused on the drifting clouds that, at first, Lily was sure he didn’t even register her stare. When he looked away from the bewitched ceiling his eyes met hers.

Something in them made Lily’s heart constrict -- a quick drumming of fear that the emptiness coating the dark eyes of her friend caused. But before she could even begin to wonder about the look, it was gone.

“I’ll meet you all at the ‘eads quarters, I ‘ave to return a library book.” Belle stifled a yawn at the last few words before dumping the remainder of her dinner onto Sirius’s plate.

“Okay, take your time. If the portrait won’t budge, that means we aren’t back yet. James or I have to be in there for it to open.” Belle nodded at Lily before grabbing the broom that Sirius had lent her and weaving her way towards the exit of the Great Hall.

“So, did you two get the Hogsmeade date figured out?” Alice asked, glancing at Lily as she spoke.

Lily tried to warn Alice about the tart she had left unprotected on her plate, but was too late and James managed to snake his hand across the table and steal the dessert.

Lily gave him her best reprimanding glare and reminded him that there was an entire plate of tarts.

After James finally picked up another tart from the pile and placed it on Alice’s plate, Lily was satisfied and turned to answer her friend’s question. “We voted with the Prefects and ended up with the 29th of October. It’s the Saturday before Halloween.”

“That’s brilliant timing! Zonko’s will be loaded with Halloween gags! We’re all going together, right?” Peter asked, looking up from his dinner.

Lily smiled as the group dived into their plans for the first day of freedom.

“Alrii if you gers don need my hel for anyfing I’m going to cach Belle in the tower,” Sirius commented through a mouthful of rice pudding.

Before waiting to see if anyone had actually managed to sift through the words and decipher what they were supposed to sound like, he was already up and running through the emptying Great Hall.


Sirius was so distracted on his way to the Gryffindor tower that he nearly took the wrong staircase, the pesky one that was sure to spin him halfway around the castle before letting him loose. But the distraction was merely the result of a busy day, at least that’s what Sirius told himself. It had nothing to do with wanting to catch Belle alone for just a second. And what would be so bad about wanting a minute alone with one of his friends, anyway?

He took the next few steps two at a time and tried to ignore the piece of dark hair that kept falling in his eyes. When he reached the top of the final set of stairs, he paused for a moment and took in a few deep breaths to hide the fact that he’d been running, then stuffed his hands in his robe pockets.

“Periwinkle Plimpy,” he said quickly, not giving the Fat Lady time to set into him for disturbing her nap. She let out an exaggerated sigh, then finally swung open.

Sirius climbed through the hole completely prepared to start teasing Belle, instead his entire body froze up.

What he was faced with wasn’t the French snob - who could be particularly sweet when she wanted to be - no, it was a bundle of blonde hair and cream skin that sat curled around herself, the unmistakable sound of tears coming from her. Part of Sirius wanted to back away, to turn and pretend he had never entered the common room. He was terrible with crying women, his tongue tied into knots and he usually ended up saying something stupid or making a joke, but he couldn’t just leave her.

He placed his broom against the bookshelf, hoping the sound of his movements would be enough to get her to look up at him.

He was sure that she did hear the noise, but instead of jumping up like any normal human being would, she slowly unfolded her body without the slightest bit of acknowledgment that someone else had entered.

For the first time he noticed a small first year standing at the staircase leading to the boys’ dormitory. Sirius guessed he had been down here when whatever upset Belle happened, and was now taking cover. Smart kid.

Sirius glanced at the first year and made a shooing motion with his hand, pleased that the boy cooperated and ran up the stairs.

He waited for her to do something, anything, but she just sat with her body facing the fireplace. The orange and yellow flames glowing in it licked at the oxygen and crackled with the pleasure of life. Those flickering bits of light quivered over Belle’s tear stained cheeks and made her skin seem as if it were also on fire.

“Belle?” Sirius finally whispered. She didn’t speak, but turned her head to him.

The image that she made, her mess of beauty lit from the flames, mixed with the fierce burn in her eyes, would be one that forever lived in the back of his mind, haunting him.

“Belle?” he said again with a touch more persistence as he moved across the common room, hoping no one would come through that portrait hole.

The grey sky, slowly relinquishing the sun, was visible behind her. It served as a reminder that they needed to head to the Whomping Willow in just under an hour and a half.

He crossed over the gold and red rug and let his body slip beside hers, careful to keep an inch or two between them. Belle’s tears seemed to be drying on her skin, but the ones weaved through her eyelashes still clung for dear life.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked, a bit impressed that all the words came out in the right order.

He tried to remember what he had done when Lily cried over the summer; he hadn’t had to do much of anything, really. Alice, Belle, James, or Olivia were always right there by her side. Even without them, he had been the reason for Lily’s tears - at least partially. And he wasn’t someone that left his mess for others to clean up, not when it could be avoided.

He risked a sideways glance at Belle, surprised to see that her darkened blue eyes were already focused on him.

Blue against grey. Steel against sky.

Her pale hand moved to the other side of her and pulled from somewhere under the blanket a piece of embroidered parchment. She handed it to Sirius.

He adjusted the letter to catch the light of the fire, and glanced at her one more time to see if she had changed her mind - with a single nod from Belle, he began to read.

Dear Isabelle,

I apologize that my response has been delayed. Elroy and myself have been on holiday in the United States - Louisville to be exact. Elroy enjoys to gamble now and again, the first of the Triple Crown races was the perfect opportunity to do so.

I am thankful now that mother was so insistent on us being skilled in the art of language. My English is nearly perfect, and this was a delightful opportunity to practice it!

Speaking of mother, it is because of her that I have held off on writing this letter. I spent many hours discussing with her my options regarding you, Belle. I know you feel that you are doing the right thing. I understand what you went through, that it was a stressful situation. But it’s been seven months - we both think (mother and I, that is) that it’s time you came home. Well, I think that it’s time for you to come home, and I have persuaded mother to allow it. It won’t be an easy transition, and it will take time for both of you to adjust to one another, but I think it’s for the best.

You need to realize the caliber of shame this entire situation is bringing our family. To have the youngest Leclair daughter gallivanting off in Scotland! It’s unheard of! It’s disgraceful and needs to be ended. Now that Elroy and myself will play a more active part in the Witches and Wizards Assembly, we will need to present a united front for our country - we will be looked to for guidance, looked up to by the entirety of France! What they can’t see is my younger sister, a member of the Leclair tree - disgraced by her family and running away like a spoilt child.

Now, I am sorry it’s being forced to come down to this. You are my sister and I will always care for you. But until you can come to your senses and rejoin our family as a proper young lady, I can’t be in contact with you.

Though this letter may not demonstrate it, I am pleased at the woman you’re becoming, independent with the strongest backbone that I’ve ever seen. Yes, those qualities can be thought of as admirable ones, but they are also the ones that are destroying layers of my reputation.

Great Britain has started their own war, we are stuck knowing there will come a time when we either choose to fight alongside our neighboring wizards, or watch them die. Do you see the trouble that lies ahead of us? Do you understand the vast amount of support our people will need to remain strong enough to endure this? With Elroy’s title as Duke and father’s influences - we will continually be in the public eye. I can’t be respected when my flesh and blood has forsaken everything we were raised on and disgraced our family.

The choice is yours.
Return home.
Return to us, to your family, or forfeit the right to call me your sister.

Sincerely,

Adeline


Sirius tightened his grip on the parchment and rubbed his thumbs over the edges while his mind formed the words bouncing through it into a sentence.

“Is it worth it? Is whatever happened to make you leave worth losing them for good?” he asked after a few more painfully long seconds of silence.

“Yes.”

Sirius would have understood if she needed to take a few seconds to think before answering, but he should have known that Belle was never unsure. Her answer held no hesitation.

“Yes, Sirius. I know ‘ow cold zat must sound-”

“No, not if you feel that strongly about it,” he interrupted, knowing perfectly well that there were things that could never be forgotten, even if it meant being disowned by your entire family. “Do you want to tell me about it?” he spoke the words softy, trying to make sure they sounded safe. But, he was partially hoping she would refuse. He needed time to adjust to seeing this more fragile side of Belle.

“No. Not now - maybe someday. Not now,” she answered, taking the letter from him while she spoke.

Sirius’s desire to tell Belle’s family what they were missing out on by excluding their daughter was overwhelming. But he knew that if his own vexation was released, it would fuel Belle’s. Anger wasn’t what either of them needed just now.

It was odd to know the turns and twists of someone's personality the way he understood Belle’s. He hadn’t even talked her into a date and she was already crawling around under his skin.

Women.

A sly smile that he tried to hide broke through his somber expression.“Well then, welcome to the orphaned life. Now, I claimed the Potters years ago for my new family. You can share them I suppose, though you’ll have to double check with James. Lily too, since I’m fairly certain she’ll end up with that last name someday.” Sirius smiled as he spoke, happy to see Belle laughing through the rest of her tears.

Her light skin had taken on a dark purple tint under her eyes and created large circles that made her look overly tired. He was pleased at the sight of her usually perfect appearance finally faltering.

She let out a quivering breath and took the letter from Sirius, then stood and brushed the wrinkles from her robes while she walked closer to the raging fire.

Sirius wanted to stand, to follow her and rip the paper from her hands. He wanted to tear it to shreds. Instead, he did something that was very new to him, something he often hated to do under any circumstance - he waited.

Her head slowly turned to him, her eyes focused on his. They kept their gaze linked as she reached forward and dropped the paper into the flames, letting the hungry heat ravish the ugly words.

While the insults turned to ash and the painful memories burnt away - Sirius Black and Isabelle Leclair smiled in understanding.

“Let’s go return your book then get some ice cream, Leclair.”


“That doesn’t make sense, Lily. Why would he need to add another dash of scales when it says one?” Peter asked while he skimmed his fingers down the page of the Potions book.

Lily smiled at his determination. Potions was one of those few subjects where sometimes the book just didn’t have all the correct answers. It would have been a bit easier to practice the brew in the Dungeons; the Heads’ Quarters just weren’t as properly equipped. However, the room did seem to find ways to cater to their needs.

Earlier they had spilt an entire vial of vinegar brewing base onto the rich fibers of the red rug, they all scattered to retrieve cleaning equipment. By the time they returned, which was only a minute or two at the most, the spill was nonexistent. Though, Lily supposed it could have been very efficient house elves that had taken care of the mess.

“We’re supposed to be celebrating, not studying! You three are making me nauseous,” James said in an exaggerated voice, looking up from his sprawled position on the couch.

“You aren’t the one who has to brew the perfect batch of Toxin Solution,” Sirius answered. “At least Lily and Peter care enough about me to try to help. I swear, the Auror that teaches us has no regard for human life. He’s going to deliver the toxins then make us drink a bit of our own potion to see if it does the trick.” He shook the hair out of his eyes while he glanced at the ingredient list Lily had made for him. “Bloody brilliant, he is,” Sirius added.

“I thought James attended the Saturday lesson with you? Doesn’t he need to brew it too?” Alice asked from across the room. She had her back against a chair with Belle sitting over her, twisting Alice’s dark waterfall of hair into a braid.

Lily made a mental note to corner Belle when she got a chance. Belle’s hands were never idle when something was upsetting her, and the way they were moving furiously through Alice’s hair was a dead giveaway that something had indeed gotten to her.

“I did, but I’m not actually part of the program - so I can’t do anything other than sit in,” James complained. Lily picked up a bit of resentment in his tone and wondered if he was regretting his decision not to enroll.

“My wrist is really starting to act up again,” Remus said from the corner chair, looking at James while he spoke.

“Is it? Do you want Belle to take another look at it or do you think we should head up to the Hospital Wing?” James asked, glancing towards Peter with the last few words.

“How did you get so good at understanding injuries, Belle?” Alice looked up at her friend as she spoke.

“Beauxbatons focus ‘eavily on ‘ealing, believing that knowing ‘ow to cope with an injury is as beneficial as knowing ‘ow to avoid it.”

“I think I may just go up to the Wing and have Pomfrey take a look. Not that I don’t trust you, Belle.” Remus stood and placed his book on the table as he spoke.

“You know, I haven’t seen Poppy much this year. I think I’ll come with you, see if there’s anything I can do to get her knickers in a bunch,” Sirius said with a sly smile. “James, do you want to come with us? That way you can hang up the forms for tomorrow’s tryouts in the common room.”

“Yeah that’d probably be best.” He stretched out his body while he spoke, a pile of tart crumbs fell from his shirt to the rug below. “You might as well come too, Peter. That way there will be someone Pomfrey likes in the room and she may be a bit gentler with our dear Remus,” he snickered as he walked to Remus and ruffled the top of his hair, then quickly dodged the hand that reached out to sock his arm.

“Do you want us to come?” Lily asked, already standing and removing her own Potions book from her lap.

“No, I’d feel awful if we all wasted our night because of something that’s probably just a silly fracture.” Remus smiled easily while he spoke, but there was something behind the smile that made Lily wonder.

He's probably just in pain, Lily thought. She knew boys didn’t like to admit when something hurt, so it had most likely been bugging him all day. And now he had to worry about a crowd of girls wanting to watch as he was poked at- no wonder his smile didn’t seem genuine.

“Finally, now at least we can talk about ‘ow annoying zey are be’ind zeir backs,” Belle said with a wicked grin directed at Sirius as she spoke. “Because truthfully, I was close to just saying it in front of zem. Wait, I suppose I just did, didn’t I?”

“Ha ha, very funny blondie,” James said as he came bounding back down the stairs with a small binder shaped bag in hand. “Alright, got the forms,” he shook the bag to illustrate his words. “Try not to have too much fun without us,” he joked, winking at them before following the other three and exiting through the portrait hole.

“James, you have to go back in and grab the stuff!” Peter whispered as the four of them gathered on the other side of the James and Lily’s portrait.

“Undetectable Extension Charm?” Sirius asked James with a smile of approval.

“Right you are. And to think, Peter here doubted me,” he faked indignation while he carefully unzipped the rectangular bag and pulled a thin, glossy cloak from it.

“Okay," he continued. "I really do need to drop the forms off at the common room. Remus, you go ahead and meet Pomfrey to walk down to the Willow, we’ll catch up and meet you inside. Peter, why don’t you transform now so we don’t have to worry about more than our feet sticking out?”

James swore his antlers had grown since the last time he transformed. Which was all very good for keeping Remus under control, but not so beneficial when he forgot how far they stuck out and came very close to ramming into Sirius. And what was Peter doing? He was nearly under James’s hooves - was he trying to get stomped on?

The three of them gathered at the edge of the forest, cloak and map stowed away in the woodshed where Hagrid, the groundskeeper, kept his kindling. Thank god the man was a heavy sleeper.

James would have to remember to bring Boozer, Hagrid’s beast of a dog, a biscuit next time they visited. It was the least he could do after ordering the dog to stay silent while they poked around his owner’s property. That poor thing was almost too obedient for his own good.

He stood back and let Peter get a good ten yards ahead of him, that would give them enough time to head the other way if he saw anything out of the ordinary in their path. A rat was easy for a wandering student overlook. But a stag and a large, black dog walking side by side? Now, that was a bit more peculiar.

Once Peter came scampering back, then took off in the same direction, it was clear that they were all set to move closer. For the first time that evening James finally felt relaxed. The knowledge of an upcoming change was stressful for all of them, though nothing compared to Remus’s anxiety.

There were always those stray tangents of worry. What if one of them couldn’t change for some reason? What if Remus’s transformation started early? He knew that was impossible because it was the complete amount of light from a full moon that instigated the change, but the thought still sat dormant in the back of all their minds. What if for some reason they couldn’t get away and their friend had to start the change without the group being together?

But now, in the crisp and welcoming air, all those worries seemed to vanish. He turned his horned head to Sirius who let out a few playful barks, making it clear he was just as pleased to be back in Padfoot form as James was to be Prongs.

That was one of the most difficult things about spending so much time around their female friends, constantly calling each other by their proper names. The nicknames were their own thing, though. Something that was just for the four of them. They didn’t need to share those titles with anyone else.

James kicked his front hooves a few times, prancing them over the hardened dirt. The sensation of power tingled through him, the muscles of his four, large legs ached to run; the second Peter gave them the final go ahead he would-

His thoughts were cut off by the scurrying of his small friend, who flicked his long tail a few times. That was the second confirmation they needed, their path was clear. Sirius started sighing and whining, circling James like prey. James waited, using his ability to turn his ears in every direction, and listened for one last second before finally bowing his head in confirmation. Sirius gave another yelp of delight and took off as fast as his legs could carry him, becoming nothing but a blurring streak against the darkened air.

James waited a beat before finally letting his legs stretch to their full length. His front met the back, pushing off with all his brawn and sending his body torpedoing through the night. Apart and together, apart and together with the rhythm of his pounding heart; nothing could ever feel as free as this.

Past his excitement, something clicked. Lily.

He wanted Lily to feel this, he wanted to watch her face light up after experiencing the life changing sensation of complete freedom. Maybe someday, when everything was normal again, when there wasn’t this danger of war about lurking in every corner - maybe then Remus would allow him to share with her the secret of the full moon weekend. Of course, that would be years from now. And for tonight, it was just the four of them.

His sprinting legs quickly overtook Sirius, but the dog was never one to turn away from a challenge. Sirius yelped a few loud, demanding barks before putting all the force behind his lean body and flying light a bullet after the Stag. His determination was obvious as he started to close the distance between the two, but not before James reached the edge of the Whomping Willow. He danced around in pleasure, eager to use his voice and gloat properly.

James stopped and listened again for any out of place noises. Then, once he felt certain they were truly alone, he inhaled deeply. He closed his eyes and let the images of his family rush through his mind: the smile of his mother; the smell of his father’s tangy cigars; the faces of both of them as they congratulated him and Sirius when they got their O.W. L results, telling the boys that they had never been more proud. Yes, his family.

The love that existed in his human life began filling his pores, sinking into the depths of his soul and lighting him from the inside out. When there was enough of it all, enough reminders of why he wanted to transform back into a human, the change began. Four legs, then two. Fur, then naked flesh.

After the last antler dipped away, he gave Peter a nod. The vulnerability of being stark naked in the middle of Hogwarts grounds was overwhelming. Sometimes he wished he could hold off on transforming until they entered the shack to avoid the awkward exposed part of it, but it was too tempting to do it at Hagrid’s hut with his friends. Thankfully Peter caught the signal and went into action.

The rat scampered between them and raced to the willow, then quickly jammed his body against the knot closest to the base of the tree. The beating branches stilled; the three boys had just over eight seconds to get through the deadly trap and into the hole. James went first, needing to get undercover the quickest. Next in was Sirius, then Peter last.

After the three were nestled in a straight line, snug between the grimy walls of the tunnel, James turned to Sirius.

“Thought you could outrun a stag, did you?” Sirius bared his teeth at James’s taunts, causing James to laugh at his best friend before giving him a few pats on the head and scratching behind his years. No dog could resist a good petting, even a human-turned-dog.

They walked a few feet forward until the pitch black tunnel widened, giving James enough room to transform back into his animal form. He was the only one that couldn’t get through the entrance when he was changed, which did make for a few extra steps along the way.

This time he imagined the exact opposite of before: flashes of the war ran through his mind, the headlines of another family tortured and killed; the sound of Mrs. Black screaming at her son, telling Sirius he was a worthless excuse of a child; Peter’s fear of his father’s violent drinking binges; Remus’s scars - as deadly as they were hidden.

All of those things he despised about the life of a human, the pain that it brought, came crashing through him.

Then, he switched gears and remembered the sensation of flight when his four legs hit the ground, that did it.

The altering of cells was an odd experience - like you were turning your body in all sorts of directions it didn’t belong - but it was over quickly and he returned to the enormous, powerful stag.

All in all, the process took no longer than ten or fifteen seconds, and supposedly got easier with time. There were those few instances when one of them couldn’t remember why they wanted to reenter the life of a human, and the change would take a bit longer, but they always managed it. And they had all learned the Shifting Curse in case one of them couldn’t get out of their second body.

It was a frightening little spell that forced the cells to shift into their original form, but if performed incorrectly and it could do untold damage. Good thing they hadn’t yet needed a reason to test it out.

James stopped suddenly, causing the other two to do the same, and rotated ears to the face directly ahead. His heart hammered against his chest as a scream of pain entered into him. The sound of Remus’s body being ripped apart and slowly reforming vibrated through his ears. He took in a long breath, preparing himself for the struggle they would all face tonight. The September full moon, the largest of the year - elegant and beautiful to most people. To the four of them, it was a mixture of Hell and adrenaline.



AN:

Thank you to both Becky and Penny for their wonderful feedback on this chapter!

The use of italicized words during the 'animal' portion of this chapter was inspired by Rosie's use of it in His Pack of Four.

Thank you everyone that has taken the time to leave a review - you guys are amazing.

I also wanted to add that, as you can see, I use horns and antlers both in this. They're not the exact same, though they're often used interchangeably. So, any of you amazingly knowledgeable animal people - I hope you don't mind me taking a bit of liberation with that.






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