Chapter 4 : Sunday Dinner
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The pitter-patter of rain filled what seemed to be all of England. It curtained London, dark and dreary with its concrete buildings and noisy streets, then stretched down to the Midlands where it continued, for six straight days, to fall upon a beautiful white house set on the outskirts of town. There it was captured by a sea of grass and countless happy-faced flowers. The leaves of a weeping willow that stood just near a pond shook with a gentle wind, and above it the sky become host to smokey, thick clouds. The rain hadn’t come paired with one of England’s famed thunderstorms as of yet, but that would soon change judging by the darkening of the sky outside that old white house. To Lily, it felt almost… cathartic. Like it was washing clean the wounds that had been gashed into them all, and letting a soft layer of comfort start building itself around them. And as Lily stared out the kitchen window of Olivia and William Potter’s home, she decided that was just what they needed.
It had been seven days since their last Order meeting, and only Lily and Remus had joined the Potters for Sunday dinner the week before. Peter had ended up spending the day with his mum to help get her finances under control — it seemed his dad was not only drinking himself dumb and deaf but doing so while refusing to pay the monthly dues for his mum’s flat and electricity. Lily hoped Peter’s new position interning at the Ministry was paying him well enough, because she was certain he was giving as much gold as possible to his mum so she could get by.
Then of course, there were those two. Lily cut her glance over to her boyfriend and Sirius, unable to hold back her eye roll. While she and Remus had been enjoying Sunday dinner, while Peter had been devoting some time to his mother… those two had been left in their own miserable state, groaning and moaning about how Lily should just kill them both and be done with it.
What was their ailment? Absolutely nothing that they hadn’t brought completely upon themselves. They’d enjoyed their night out at the pub bit too much after the Order meeting, and it was lucky for them that Lily, Remus and Peter had been able to haul both of them home. Lily wished she could say they’d gotten Sirius and James back in the same condition they’d left, but that wasn't the case. She saw their faces as they sat at the table, entertaining William with tales of their new mission for Dumbledore. James still had the remnants of a gash on his lip, and Sirius’s eye was a delightful shade of yellow. At least it was better than the angry purple and black it had been a few days before. Did they earn those injuries on Order business? Of course not.
It was all from the night that they’d gone to the pub. Sirius had, according to James, been spoiling for a fight and he hadn’t needed to wait long. After an hour or so in the Muggle pub, Lily had a very nice gentleman approach her and ask her to dance. She’d obviously refused, but he’d been rather insistent and Sirius had come over about the time that the gentleman was listing off the reasons on why she should agree. Frankly, he’d seemed so much like James courting her at Hogwarts that Lily had been far from offended. Amused, actually. Sirius, on the other hand, was not.
James had initially refused to get involved, stating that Lily was capable of making her own decisions about whom to dance with, but that ended when the man’s friend stood from a chair and walked over. At that point, it really had nothing to do with Lily and was a result of the entire group being as drunk as they were stupid. So, Lily had stepped back in a huff of annoyance as the offender grabbed Sirius by the front of his shirt and told him to mind his own bloody business, to which Sirius answered with a punch to the man’s face. That was of course followed by the man’s friend punching James, James punching him, and so on. This lasted until Remus stepped in and broke it up, an angry barkeep shouting in the background that fighting was not tolerated. As the owner of the establishment continued his lecture, Remus discreetly used his wand to conjure a round of shots. Then there’d been a bit more arguing as they tried to determine who was more of a wanker, but in the end the group had ended up taking shots together and Lily had been left to wonder what on earth was wrong with the male species.
Those shots had turned into more, which had eventually morphed into two very, very inebriated wizards that weren’t fit to Apparate home, and two equally drunk Muggles who piled themselves into a taxicab that Lily had insisted on. Once Peter, Remus and Lily got everyone back, James and Sirius dropped dead in their beds like, well, like the drunk idiots they were. It was nearly noon the next day when Lily finally decided to dip into her small supply of potions ingredients and fix them something to take the edge off. Just the edge, though. They very well deserved the lion’s share of the hangover they gave themselves.
Lily moved away for the kitchen window, the majority of Sunday Dinner dishes washed and dried. There were a few left, but she’d had enough of using her hands and pulled out her wand to let her magic see to the rest. She’d never stop being grateful for having magic to help attend to chores that she wasn’t in the mood for. Sometimes cleaning the Muggle way helped clear her mind, especially if she had too much trying to circle through it, but it was always nice to have the ability to use a few spells and have the whole mess seen to. She took a seat at the table next to Sirius, William standing across from them as James finished explaining their plans.
“So Dumbledore thinks that The Shadow might be of some help?” William’s voice sounded a little shakier than usual… but maybe it was just the subject matter. Lily glanced over to the couch where Olivia sat with Remus and Peter, eating pudding and drinking tea. She’d also seemed a bit weaker today…
“That’s the idea,” James said as he shoveled another bite of his own pudding in his mouth.
“He’s rather reclusive, though,” Sirius added. “Sounds like if we find him, we shouldn’t be surprised if he refuses to speak with us. Moody said when they met in Germany he was brilliant, but mad as a hatter. Then The Shadow left Germany’s Auror department on very bad terms. Moody’s betting that even if we get him to speak with us, he’ll refuse to help. Would rather watch people die than work with Auror’s again.”
“Could anyone actually can be that cruel?” Lily asked, half to herself.
“Lily, if there’s one thing we’ve learned…” James trailed off as he glanced at Sirius, who picked up the thread of thought.
“If there’s one thing we learned, I think it’s that we can’t predict how cruel people can be.”
“There’s a very sad truth to that,” William said with a solemn bow of his head. “I do recall hearing his name — The Shadow. Came up just as your mother and I had decided to resign. Alastor was still very new to the Department, and showing more promise than anyone had in years…” William’s voice faded, organizing the details in his head before speaking again.
“At the time, our Head of Department was trying to organize a training event with a few other countries, a way to keep us united, I suppose.”
“And that’s when Mad-Eye met The Shadow?”
“Well, he wasn’t Mad-Eye then,” William said with a chuckle. “But, yes. The Shadow was one of Germany’s lead Aurors and Alastor went to speak with him about the opportunity to train and duel together. I can’t seem to recall if I heard what happened in that conversation…”
“He went bonkers,” Sirius said. “At least, that’s how Mad-Eye tells the tale. He lost his mind yelling about leaving his Aurors alone, and they wanted nothing to do with London.”
“Ah, that would be due to Grindelwald,” Olivia said from her place on the sofa. “You see, Grindelwald had enough ties to England that when he began his rise to power, he used our country as his primary base. Despite Dumbledore defeating and imprisoning him to his own fortress, it took at least a decade — longer, really— for other countries to feel comfortable with trusting England. Grindelwald had made it appear to others as if the majority of the United Kingdom supported his ideals, his plans. Similar to Voldemort, in fact.”
“But The Shadow would be a loon to think Mad-Eye was working with Grindelwald…” James said, glancing between his parents.
“Not so mad,” Olivia countered with a sad smile. “As your father said, Alastor was new, had only a few years in the department. And young. Barely twenty-three… so this would have been eighteen years ago as that was when we retired—“
“Had to be home to take care of their precious James,” Sirius added to Lily with a smirk.
“Well of course,” Olivia agreed. “So, over eighteen years ago… let me think a moment… I suppose it was 1955 or 1956 that Alastor went to Germany. Only ten years after the height of Grindelwald. Really, it would make sense that The Shadow would be hesitant to work with an Auror from London, as there were a few that were discovered as traitors.”
“Just like now,” Lily added. She felt the drumming of anxiety beat in the very back of her mind. God, she hated thinking about how their world just couldn’t learn. If they’d all band together against a source of evil, so many lives could be saved…
“But he wasn’t just hesitant, not from the way Moody describes it,” Sirius added. “He went off his rocker, then a few years later apparently something happened between him and the Head of their Auror Department, and he left. Moody said that The Shadow is still spotted in a few of Germany’s wizard villages from time to time, but no one is sure just where he lives.”
“Is that where he got the name? Shadow?” Peter asked from his position near Olivia. Lily had been wondering the same thing.
“No, I don’t believe so.”
“Part of it is because of the way he hunts dark wizards,” James answered and Lily noticed his eyes meet Remus, their gaze intent as he spoke again. “He’s quiet and deadly, according to Moody. No one ever hears him coming. But it’s more than that. Once a month, it’s told that he takes down one dark wizard. Or used to. For a few days he’ll be sick and pale, and then he won’t be there at all. No one will see or hear from him. But on the days goes missing, they’ll find a criminal tied up and waiting on the steps of the Ministry. Moody says the man never claimed any of the captures, but there’s no doubt they belong to The Shadow. And what’s more, is at the end of those few days, he comes back and is a wreck. Looks worse than when he left, like he let a Giant pound on him. But he never says anything about his injuries or the person he captures, then a month goes by and the same thing happens again.”
“Are there even enough dark wizards for him to capture one every single month?” Peter asked, and it had Lily wondering if he, or any of them, picked up on James’s implication. The Shadow, a werewolf? And one who could control his transformation enough to use it in his favor to track and detain a criminal every month? Unless she was completely incorrect about the look James had drilled into Remus. Or maybe Peter didn’t know…
“No, and that’s where it gets even spookier,” Sirius said, and Lily knew she wasn’t imagining what was written on his face as he shot Remus a look identical to James’s. “If there aren’t any dark wizards to capture, he’ll go after Muggles. But he wouldn’t kill them, never did more than put them into a temporarily paralyzed state. The Minster of Magic would always contact the Muggle Prime Minister immediately, and every time the Muggle would turn out to be an extremely wanted and dangerous person in their world..”
“Terrible stuff, too,” James added. “Murdering other Muggles, kidnapping and killing children…”
“So,” Remus began. “Usually, this man, this Shadow, is a talented Auror. Then, once a month, he becomes a freak of nature who can hunt anything and anyone, and detain them to be brought to justice?”
“Not a freak of nature,” Lily said, unable to keep her mouth shut. “More like a miracle, really.”
The statement brought complete silence to the room, and she watched as all four of her boys shared a glance. Yes, she thought, they all knew. And by the reddening of Peter’s cheeks, Lily assumed he hadn’t realized James had been hinting at The Shadow being a werewolf until that moment.
“Well, yours is probably a significantly less damning opinion than many others,” Remus responded. The sad light in his eyes cut through the chill of the words and straight into Lily’s core.
“The opinions of some are only that because they’re too stupid, too small minded and judgmental to understand—”
“Nevertheless, it isn’t the opinions of the public we’re discussing,” James said, coming to Remus’s rescue and shooting Lily a look. “It’s The Shadow, and the fact that we are now charged with finding an exceptionally skilled wizard, then popping in for tea to ask him if he’d care to give up his nice life of retirement to come to our aid.”
“It’s been years since anyone's heard from him,” Sirius added. “And when Dumbledore and Mad-Eye told us about our mission, I swear the bleeding Auror laughed.”
“Alastor doesn’t laugh,” Olivia said with a smile of her own. “You’ll keep us updated with the mission?”
“Course. Now, if you excuse us…” The look he gave to his friends was impossible to ignore. The group stood simultaneously. “We are going to walk down by the pond. Lovely evening for it.”
“James,” William glanced out the window before shaking his head at his son. “It’s been raining cats and dogs for days, and it’s starting to pick up into quite a storm…”
“All the better, dad.”
With that, they exited through the back, glass-pained door. Lily followed, leaving James’s parents to laugh about kids these days. In under thirty seconds, they were all half-drenched and Lily was sure she could be a drowned rat’s twin. William was right, the rain had picked up considerably.
“What the fuck,” James said, absolute confusion in his voice as he turned and faced his friends, his focus completely on Lily and Remus. They moved closer together, co-conspirators using the old age rule of safety in numbers.
“Yes?” Remus asked, an eyebrow raised as he kept his face bland.
“You weren’t going to tell us you told her?” Sirius asked now, moving to James’s side.
“You know,” Lily began. “If it wasn’t pouring rain and relatively cold, this may be an entertaining conversation.”
“Want me to get you an umbrella?” Peter asked, already taking a step to go back to the house.
Lily softened her tone as she glanced at Peter. “That’s okay, thanks though.”
“Well, if you’d enlighten James and I on exactly why neither of you ever mentioned that you’d discussed Remus’s furry little problem—”
“Furry little problem!” Lily said with a laugh as she interrupted Sirius. “That’s rich. Of course, you lot would come up with that sort of code name…”
“Lily, s’pose you try and stay focused, yeah?” She glared at James, not appreciating any part of the superior tone he took.
“I don’t believe there’s anything to focus on.”
“When did you tell her that you’re a bloody werewolf?” Sirius growled.
“I didn’t, not exactly,” Remus said, glancing down at her with an odd warmth in his eyes. “She’s just too smart for her own good.”
“Now that, I can agree with,” James muttered. “But evidently you did tell her.”
“Well, she guessed. Back in Hogwarts, a few months before the end of term.”
“Though we acted as if I hadn’t figured it out most of the time…”
“And neither of you thought to share that with us?” Sirius said, his arms folded over his chest.
Lily was wet, getting colder by the second, and stuffed from too much pudding. Still, she couldn’t help but laugh. The picture the two made was absurd. The rain forced Sirius’s wild hair to plaster itself to his head, and James’s messy thick mop was curling up at the ends. His glasses had water drops falling over them, and his cocky expression made it clear that he wasn't bothered by any of it.
“We’re terrible people,” Remus answered, his tone dry. “Lily, how do we live with ourselves?”
“Ashamed, is what we should be.” And with that, she couldn’t hold her smile back anymore. They were ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. “As if you two have even the slightest right to lecture a person on keeping secrets. You’re some of the sneakiest—“
“Ah, but that’s us. It’s you both we’re talking about,” Sirius said.
“And it’s my disease. I believe I have every right to tell whomever I please that I turn into a monster once a month.”
Whatever James was about to say, Lily cut off as she turned to face Remus. Her voice was soft as she whispered, “Please, please, don’t ever say that again, Remus. Don’t call yourself a monster. Or a freak of nature. You are an absolute miracle. A human being—“
“I’m barely that.” Remus’s eyes darkened as he spoke. “A human being roughly twenty-nine nights a month, but that other night places a very significant separation between me and everyone else, Lily. You can’t pretend this part of me isn't real, that it doesn’t exist just because you don’t want it—“
“I would never pretend any part of you doesn’t exist. You are one of the kindest men I know, probably one of the kindest I will ever know.” Lily couldn’t stop the hand that reached up to rest on his cheek. Pain rushed into his eyes like a violent wave, hell bent on destruction. And she just couldn’t handle that agony.
“You’re an incredible wizard, and an even better friend. A condition you have doesn’t make you any less of the person you are. But being the person you are, even living with what was done to you…it makes you a miracle.”
“I wasn’t given the choice on whether I wanted to live with it or not. Because trust me, I would have preferred he finished the job off and just killed me.”
The pain so obvious in his statement was all that kept Lily from letting the anger that bloomed through her lash out. She held her hand firmly to his face and waited for his eyes to connect with hers again before speaking.
“I’ll spend every day being thankful that he didn’t, being thankful that you were strong enough, are strong enough, to live what was done with you. Because having you as part of my life has given me more than I can ever explain, Remus.”
They stood just like that, silent and somber with her hand cupping his cheek as the rain lashed over their faces. Thunder boomed in the distance, but they barely noticed it. Lily felt her eyes fill with tears, not able to stop the rush of grief that came through her as she imagined the small boy, terrified and nearly dead after being attacked and changed forever.
“Thank you, Lily,” Remus whispered, his hand moving to grip the one still on his face and giving it a tight squeeze.
“Erm, should we go inside?” Peter interjected, obviously not particularly comfortable with the emotional scene. But his statement did have Lily noticing the thunder that boomed louder and louder as it roared on the horizon.
“Yeah, in just a minute,” James agreed. “Lily, mind if we talk for a second?” Lily was about to nod when she realized that he was gesturing to the boys.
“Oh, the four of you, of course. I’ll head into the house.” Remus gave their still intertwined hands one last squeeze before he let hers go.
“Actually, maybe wait by the pond?”
Lily raised a finger and pointed up as if to direct his attention to the not so lovely weather.
“Yes, I know I know… it’ll be quick.”
“Sure, then.” And with that, she walked away and left them talking. She needed that minute anyway, needed some time to get control of of the anger and sorrow still battering through her.
Her boots sunk into the spongy grass as she angled herself toward the pond. The music of rain hitting water filled the air like the soft shake of a tambourine. It melted into the drumming rumble of thunder, the orchestra filling her mind as she tried to shake the picture she had of Remus, young and terrified, from her head. Her hands ran over her hair, pushing it to one side as it fell in chunky, wet strands down her shoulder. She tried to blink away the mist of tears still coating her green eyes, but found she couldn’t. Nor did she care. She was allowed to feel pain for one of her best friends being forced to endure what had been done to him.
But she wasn’t sorry the conversation happened. She didn’t want to make him think of such an awful memory, but it wasn’t as if it was something he could forget. And in a way, it was like a block had been lifted from the wall he kept around himself.
She continued meandering around the pond and circled closer to the side where the little garden shed stood, mocking her with its cheery yellow color. As if to say the sunshine was just seconds away. Not likely, Lily mused. She glanced up at the grey clouds, a thick blanket over every part of the sky.
Even in the rain, William and Olivia’s home and the grounds it stood on where unspeakably beautiful. It seemed that the grass and gardens, the forest and rolling hills, went on for miles.
She was about to continue her circle when she glanced up to see James running toward her. The smile that flashed over her face was bright and hot, almost as if she’d found her own little piece of sun to pull from the heavens. God, he was beautiful. He’d probably be appalled at the word she used to describe him, but it was accurate. James had so much natural charisma that it was far from a surprise he’d been so popular at Hogwarts. But it was more than that, more than she’d realized for so many years. He truly was a good person. Sure, he’d acted like and had been an idiot on numerous occasions. He did things that she was sure he was still ashamed of, but those didn’t define him.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” he said as he finished his jog over to her, then used the palms of his hands to wipe the hair from his forehead and push it back out of the way.
“No need for apologies, I love standing around in the rain,” she said, her words dripping in sarcasm. “What was that about?” She watched as he glanced around, the other boys making their way across the grounds, where trees looped around and bordered the entire property. After a few steps they would be over one of the rolling hills and out of sight. There was no-one but the two of them.
“Let’s talk under the willow.”
“Or we could talk in the house like civilized—”
“What we’re talking about is not civilized,” he said in answer then grabbed her hand and pulled her over to the giant tree. At least the thickly intertwined branches and layered leaves would shield them from some of the rain.
“I was surprised to learn that you know about Remus,” James began, stopping to face her. “It’s not something… it’s a very difficult subject for him to discuss.”
“It wasn’t as if he came out and told me. In fact, it was quite the opposite and he initially come up with a very poor lie. But I figured it out, and made it obvious I’d figured it out. Then we brought it up once more after…”
She trailed off, thinking of the conversation they’d had when Lily found out Voldemort had killed Alrek. It was so easy for her to remember the inexplicable anger that had taken hold of her, and how terrible she’d felt because that anger.
Relief should have been her first reaction, relief that he was dead, unable to hurt anyone ever again. But she’d wanted him alive; Lily wanted him to have no choice but face his punishment for what he’d done to her. She wanted him to suffer, to rot away in a prison cell and remember that it was her who put him there, because she’d certainly never forget. The feeling of his hands around her throat choking the life from her would forever be engraved into her mind.
“We talked of it again after we’d found out Alrek had been killed,” Lily finally finished, and James stayed silent. “Remus told me about a beast that had done terrible things, and one he wanted very badly to watch pay for the crimes that monster committed. He helped me understand that I didn’t need to feel disgust at myself for being… disappointed that Alrek was dead.”
“I never knew you felt like that,” James said, his voice tender as he reached up and played with her soaked hair.
“It’s not something I’m proud of. But knowing Remus understood how I felt, despite the fact I was unable to explain it myself… it helped. A lot.”
“He’s good at that sort of thing. Understanding feelings, and all.”
“James, did you ask me to stay out here so we could talk about Remus?”
“No. But the reason does stem from that. He’d never let on to us that you knew about his condition. Not that it matters, but in a way it does matter. Quite a lot, actually. You see, there’s something I haven’t been honest with you about. I wasn’t sure how to be. And I needed to talk to the group, because when I tell you, it impacts them as well.”
The weight of his voice had fingers of nerves dancing up Lily’s neck. The biting rain that snaked under her jumper and over her skin was forgotten as she watched him struggle with what to say next, his hands alternating between fidgeting with his glasses and running through his hair.
“Have you ever noticed how Remus looks right after a full moon?”
“Er, I s’pose. He doesn’t look too dreadful, actually. There was an incident that resulted in his stay at the Hospital Wing, which is how I found out, but that’s the only time I’ve ever noticed anything like that.”
“And that doesn’t seem off to you?”
Lily wanted to shake him, tell him to just get on with it. Every second that ticked by seemed to magnify the sharp edged trepidation building within her.
“I don’t understand why it should seem off to me,” she finally answered.
“Think about it, Lily. Think over the facts you know about werewolves, about their transformation. What happens to them?”
“James, we could just as easily be talking about this—“
She sighed, frustrated with both of them.
“Alright. Well, when a wizard is bitten by a werewolf it’s the combination of blood and saliva that infects them. It usually kills Muggles because they can’t—“
“And what about right before the change and right after the moon is over?”
“Before? I remember reading that exhaustion is a significant symptom in the days ahead. After? Well, I suppose the same, exhaustion and weakness coupled with quite a lot of injuries sustained during…”
Lily trailed off, finally understanding where James was leading her.
“And Remus usually seems… well, fairly normal.”
“Exactly. But It hasn’t always been that way. It used to take days for him to recover. The amount and type of injuries he would be left with were, well, barbaric.”
The sky grew another shade darker as a piercing bolt of lightning shot through it, followed by the crash of thunder.
“Does it change as a werewolf ages?” Lily wondered aloud, trying to piece together the picture James was painting. “Is it because he’s older now, because he’s had it for so long that he’s able to control it?”
Another flash of light tore through the atmosphere, so hot and violent that it seemed to cleave the sky in two; Lily stood mesmerized as the light of it flared in James’s eyes.
“No,” he said again. “It’s because of me. Because of Sirius, and Peter.” His words melted into the sounds of the wind, and Lily was sure she’d heard him wrong.
“James, you can’t mean that you all stay with him during… during. It’s deadly. It’s idiotic.” As the picture flashed into her mind of Remus struggling with the wild instinct that took over him, James, Sirius and Peter all trying to hold him down, Lily felt her anger swell. “Do you have any idea what you’re risking? What it would do to Remus if he couldn’t control himself— and he can’t be expected to, that’s why it’s a disease — and he changed or even killed one of you?” She knew she was nearly shouting over the slapping of rain against water, but God, what could they be thinking? How could Remus live with himself if something terrible happened? How could they put him in that position?
James reached for her, a hand on each shoulder with just enough pressure to have her biting off the next sentence and allowing him to speak.
“Let me explain. We do stay with him. But not as ourselves.” She could see something in his eyes. Was it fear? He moved his hands down her shoulders and over her very wet hair.
“I don’t understand,” she finally said in a whisper. She was far from certain that she even wanted to. Not if the tension radiating off of James was any indication of what was yet to come.
“I’ll show you. But Lily, you have to swear to me that after I do, no matter how angry you are, you’ll hear me out.” She started shaking her head, not in disagreement but pure confusion. What the hell was going on? What was he so worried about?
“Promise me,” he repeated.
“Alright, I promise.” The words were barely audible, soft and broken as they fell into the storm.
James looked around again, as if to be sure no one was watching. And who would be? There was no one but them for acres, nothing but trees and grass, thunder and lightning.
She felt a quick sense of panic as he let her arms go and stepped back. What was he about to do? Could she keep the promise she made and hear him out, no matter what happened next? A shudder tore through her, and she had to fight to keep her breathing even. Why did she feel so utterly terrified?
She waited for him to pull out his wand, to do something, but he just stood there. His eyes closed, and she saw his lips moving ever so slightly. A nonverbal spell? His eyes flashed open again and arrowed into hers.
“Fuck,” he whispered. “It’s very difficult to do this with you standing here.”
“No, just don’t talk,” he ordered. “You're one of the best parts about my life. Ignoring that and focusing on the negative aspects gets more challenging with you so close.” He didn’t say it as a compliment, but more of a curse.
“Don’t talk,” he hissed again, then closed his eyes.
This time she could see something… different. His body was statue-still, seemingly frozen as the rain continued to assault him. A soft glow, like a flame that had been lit from within, began to pulsate through him. She felt her breath catch in her chest as she watched James’s skin begin to glow.
Another burst of electricity broke through the darkened clouds, so savage that Lily felt blinded by it. And in the next few heartbeats, that single second of blinding light would have her questioning if what she saw was real… because when her vision cleared it wasn’t James that stood before her. It was…power. It was power and grace…sheer beauty in the form of a stag.
Lily sucked in a gulp of air, her eyes wide as she stared at the animal. It stood, the picture of elegance with it’s head held high, antlers adorning the incredible face and hazel eyes steady on Lily’s. She didn’t know if she was breathing, didn’t know if she could breathe. The thunder that shook them, the rain that lashed over them, the storm that owned the world was nothing but a memory as Lily became completely entranced by the creature in front of her. It was… it had to be James. It had to be.
Animagus? But how?
The tightness in her chest reminded her to let out the gulp of air she held. It seemed that with every thump of her heart another blaze of light would dance through the sky; Lily watched the animal’s eyes glow as they reflected the storm and was utterly captivated. Her hair billowed behind her, flying on the gusts of wind, as the stag bent his front legs and lowered his head, bowing to the woman before him.
Unable to help herself, Lily reached out and placed trembling fingers on the soft patch of hair between the animal’s eyes, running them down to his nose and back up. She’d never in her life witnessed something so beautiful. It humbled her as the animal raised his bowed head just enough to allow her to run those fingers up and over his ears and along the antlers. They were… soft. She’d expected them to feel like bone, but they felt more like velvet.
The stag took a step forward and Lily did everything she could to control her breathing, her hand falling from him as he raised himself to full height. His chin was just above her head, his broad chest only a foot or so from her as he rubbed his nose playfully over her cheek.
“James,” she finally said in a half laugh, half sob. “How…how?”
The stag stepped back and Lily watched as he stretched his body. The muscles under his chestnut coat of fur rippled. He sent her a long look, and then he took off into the wind, running with a wild abandonment that Lily yearned to feel. A delirious laugh escaped her as she watched the animal fly on beating hooves around the pond and into the line of trees where the grass ended. He was out of sight for at the most thirty seconds, but it felt like ages until he came charging from the forest. God, he was so fast!
She knew her face looked ridiculous, her smile impossibly large and her cheeks flush with the thrill of it all. And apparently the surprises weren't over, because as the stag — James — came out of the woods he was followed by a barking, midnight black dog. The barks were crazed and feral as he chased the stag.
Lily’s pleasure disappeared as a pang of fear tore into her — was James was in danger? But then the stag came to a screeching halt and turned to face the dog, running at him full speed. The dog gave a few playful barks then dashed away. They carried on like that for a few seconds before the dog turned on a dime and launched himself at the stag, the stag darting out of his path and running the opposite way.
What on earth… Was all Lily could think. Then she saw Remus walk from the same section of forest, and it all made sense.
The dog…Sirius. But what about Peter?
As the two Animagi kept their game up, Lily looked over to make sure no one was coming from over the hill. Not that either of James’s parents would venture out in this dreadful weather. Then she glanced down when she felt an odd weight plop onto her foot, and jolted at the sight of a fat rat sitting on the toe of her boot. She almost let out a squeal, but felt it die away as the rat just staring up at her.
“My God,” she laughed as she bent over and allowed the animal to scamper onto her hand.
“Peter!” The rat hopped up and down and Lily decided that was answer enough. She brought him to her chest for what she could only hope was a hug and not a crushing squeeze.
Remus closed the distance between them, his smile shy.
“Well then…” he said, shrugging as he held his hand out so Peter could scurry over to him and up onto his shoulder.
“Yes, well then is right,” Lily agreed, laughing again. The sound of it seemed to ease the embarrassment that was plastered over Remus’s face.
“You aren’t angry with us all for keeping it from you?”
A loud bark caught Lily’s attention just as the stag—James—used his antlers to push Sirius into the pond.
“Oh no, is he going to hurt him?”
Remus shook his head with a chuckle. “They’ll do this for a few more minutes before the rush of energy wears off,” he answered. Lily turned back, her own energy seeming to peak as she laughed yet again.
“Remus. It’s…incredible. No, I’m not angry with any of you. I should be angry with James. But I can’t be. I just…can’t. Will you tell me how they did it? When they did it?”
Peter ran from one of Remus’s shoulders to the other as a round of thunder tormented the world, and Lily wondered if he felt it differently due to his size. But it wasn’t just him, it seemed the sound also had the more… animalistic characteristics of James and Sirius on alert as they paused for a moment before continuing their games.
“I believe it would be best to leave that for James to explain,” Remus answered and Lily knew he was right. “But Lily, I need you to know that it was all for me. Everything they did to achieve one of the most challenging pieces of magic manageable, the risk it was to their own lives… they did it for me.”
Suddenly the subject of her and James’s conversation, before her entire reality had shifted, came back to Lily. It all made sense. A werewolf was only dangerous to humans.
“Because as animals they're able to be stay with you during your change without risking themselves?”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Remus argued, his eyes taking on a mirror image of the dark and brooding clouds behind him. “It’s still dangerous. The werewolf… he’s strong, angry. But with their combined strength, any damage I cause is typically…minimal.”
Lily only nodded, her mind struggling to put so many new things in their place. Remus must’ve picked up on the fact that she needed clarifications, that she craved clear explanations, because he lifted a hand and sent a wave toward Sirius and James. It was ignored, so he instead moved his fingers to his lips and whistled. Like a true dog, the whistle had Sirius’s ears perking instantly and he leapt up from the wet grass to dash to them.
Lily wasn’t prepared when the nearly hundred pounds of wet, muddy animal launched himself at her, paws on her shoulders as he knocked them both to the ground.
She didn’t know if she was giggling or shouting as her vision became completely impaired by the mop like fur clouding her. One paw was still on her shoulder, pinning her down as he covered her face in slobbery kisses.
“You know mate, I’m not sure it’s wise or necessary to test your luck, and James’s willpower, by snogging his girl in front of him,” Remus said from somewhere over Lily. As he did, the sloppy tongue left her cheek and the massive body was pulled from her, both of Remus’s hands firmly latched onto Sirius’s scruff.
“Now, be a good dog and sit.” And he did. Directly on Lily’s chest.
“Good lord, Sirius,” she heaved out, her back becoming positively soaked as he pinned her to the wet grass. “Bad dog, bad!”
Lily didn’t care that it was pouring rain, or that they probably should have been struck by lightning by now for being out in such a dramatic storm. She didn’t care that James, Sirius and Peter had done something very dangerous and very illegal. She just cared about the fact that for the first time in over a month, she was laughing in a way she hadn’t been sure she ever would again. They all were.
“You are positively horrid,” she said to the large dog, then unpinned her arm and rubbed the top of his head. He glanced over and down at her, ears flopping, and Lily was struck by the dog’s eyes. Grey. Of course they were grey, they were Sirius’s eyes… but it was so unsettlingly beautiful to see such human eyes in a dogs face.
“Can I see Peter again?” She couldn’t help herself, she wanted to figure out what human characteristic, if any, carried over from her friend in his animal form. The rat climbed down Remus’s arm and hopped from it to Sirius’s head. Sirius gave Lily enough room to sit up, though he kept half himself on her legs, and Peter darted to the top of the dog’s head which was now on level with Lily’s. They were eye to eye, and Lily forced herself not to utter the words, Aww, he’s so cute! as she was sure Sirius and James wouldn’t let him live it down.
As a rat, his eyes were a deep black, a contrast to his usual blue. His ears though, those were very distinctly Peter’s ears.
“You’re brilliant,” she told him, touching a finger gently to the tip of his nose. “All of you.”
At that, Sirius flipped Peter off his head and Remus caught him mid flight. It was obviously a move they were used to, as Peter landed gracefully on the palm of the boy’s hand then ran back to his position on Remus’s shoulder.
Sirius gave a bark, his entire body wiggling with the momentum of it. As if reading one another mind’s, he and James lined up and became perfectly still. The move must’ve signaled Peter to do the same, because he climbed down Remus and took his own position.
As quickly as James had gone from man to animal, he -- along with Peter and Sirius -- transitioned back. It was so over and done with in such a short moment that if you weren’t watching, if you looked away for just a moment, you would miss it entirely.
“I know you have a lot of questions,” James began. “I need to go tell mum and dad that we’re heading back home — they probably think we’ve gone mad being out here for so long — and then we can all sit down and explain it to you, yeah?”
“Not on your life, Prongs,” Sirius answered, his eyebrows raised. “No offense, Lils. In fact, we’ll go say our goodbyes, then the three of us are going to be spending the night in Remus and Peter’s flat. That way if she decides to start shouting at you once you tell her about the whole process, it won’t interfere with my beauty sleep.”
“Sirius,” Lily whispered, pain flashing over her features. “Are you sure you can do that?” Her words were gentle, and she wondered if she’d ruined everything by saying them. He’d been in the flat of course, but hadn’t spent a night since Belle had been murdered.
His smile for Lily was a sad one, his eyes losing enough of the easy humor they’d held to cause a vicious gash in her heart.
“It’s time, Lily. Yeah, I’ll be alright. She… God, she’s probably watching us right now from wherever you go when your time's up, and so bloody mad that she never knew I was an Animagus. Can you imagine all the insults she’d have come up with?”
“I have a feeling, ‘Get that mutt out of here,’ would’ve been said fairly often.” Lily smiled as she spoke, as did Sirius. It was a small thing, recovering from a dark moment that certainly had the potential to suck them back into a useless state of depression. But it didn’t, and the fact that it didn’t had Lily believing that they truly could get through this. Get through losing Belle… having their worlds irrevocably changed. They would all make it through together, and in the end they would be able to think of her with only happy memories and laughter.
“Let’s go tell my parents goodbye and then Disapparate to our flats,” James suggested, hands still combing through his wet hair. “Lily, I’ll answer every question you have when we get back.”
They all agreed, and Lily knew she saw a deep sense of relief in both Sirius and Remus’s expression that they wouldn’t need to be part of explaining it all. It must’ve been some spell, was all she could think.
As they walked, James slipped his arm around Lily and the two of them held back, falling a few yards away from the group.
“James,” she whispered as she glanced up at him. “You took my breath away. That was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.”
“Oh, I can show you a lot more incredible things,” he teased with cocky smile. She just shook her head and continued, ignoring his words completely.
“However you achieved it, and trust me I will dig every detail from you… it was worth it. And remind me I said that if I start lecturing later this evening. I have never witnessed something that beautiful.”.
“No?” James asked, staring down at her. “Because I certainly have.” He leaned over and brushed his lips to hers on what was probably supposed to be a light kiss, but Lily’s emotions were too strong, too frantic to let it end at that. She stopped walking and kept his mouth trapped on hers, deepening the kiss and coaxing a moan from the back of his throat.
“Let’s go home,” she said as she pulled away from him, her body tingling from the heat still left on her lips.
Thank you so much to CambAngst for beta reading! I hope you liked this chapter! I'm also posting updates on Harry Potter Fanfiction Talk archives, for those of you that follow that site as well :).
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