"Yíknow, James, I think Remus has a girlfriend," Sirius murmured, nudging the other boy in the side so that he could watch their friend leave the Gryffindor common room. "He keeps sneaking out at odd times, looking like he hopes we donít notice."
Peter looked up from his Transfiguration homework, his eyes wide. "Who do you think it could be?
Sirius shrugged and grinned. "No clue, but we could go find out, right?"
Remus slunk down the corridor, feeling utterly miserable. His friends were back there where he wanted to be, having fun and making plans, and he had to go lock himself in a shack so he wouldnít kill anyone. He cursed under his breath. It wasnít fair! It wasnít his fault that heíd been bitten by a werewolf, but there it was. He was a werewolf, and if he didnít want to kill his friends, which he didnít, or be ostracized by them and chased out of Hogwarts, he had to keep his secret.
And that meant that on nights when the moon was full, he had to leave before the sun set and lock himself away from normal people.
His shoulders slumped as he made his way outside and toward the Whomping Willow and his solitary cell.
"Whatís he doing?" Peter whispered, jostling Siriusí arm to get a better look at where Remus was going.
"If I knew that, we wouldnít have to be here, would we?" James asked acerbically.
Sirius tried to maneuver for a better look while staying under Jamesí invisibility cloak, not the easiest thing in the world considering he was sharing it with James and Peter. "Donít see anyone else about. This is ruddy strange, even for Remus."
Remus thought he heard something and looked around, not wanting anyone to see him. But there was no one there, so he took a deep breath and skirted past the tree into the long tunnel leading to the lonely shack where he spent the nights of the full moon. He reminded himself that no matter how bad it was, it meant that he got to spend the rest of his time here at Hogwarts with friends, and anything was worth that, even lying to those friends.
He smiled bitterly. "Some friend I am," he muttered, not realizing that heíd spoken aloud.
"What the blazes is he doing?" James muttered, catching Siriusí eye and sharing a grin.
"I think we need to go find out. I mean, how horrid can it be?"
Peter looked worried. "Are you sure we should? What if we get caught?"
"Oh, give it a rest, Peter," James scoffed. "Now stick close. Maybe being invisible will keep the tree from noticing us. Iíd like to know how Remus got past though."
"And where he got to," Sirius added as they crept closer.
"Maybe we should just wait out here for him to come out," Peter offered, ducking reflexively when a branch thrashed in their direction.
"I think... yes, look at that branch. Iím fairly certain I saw Remus poke the tree with it. Do you think thatís how he got past?" James eyed the discarded branch curiously, then edged closer to pick it up.
"Careful, James!" Sirius hissed as the tree branches writhed. "Merlin, the thingís possessed!"
"Itís a whomping willow," Peter said, correcting him. "I read about them in herbology."
"Donít worry, I donít want to be whomped," James whispered, peering through the tangle of roots, then jabbing with the stick. "Come on! Now!" He bolted forward, invisibility cloak streaming behind so different bits of him were visible with each step.
Sirius and Peter hurried behind James so as not to lose the camouflage of the invisibility cloak. The opening in the tree trunk led to a tunnel that immediately turned black when the willow slammed shut behind them. Sirius dug his wand out of his pocket and held it up. "Lumos," he whispered, peering around them and then shaking off the cloak. "He must be up ahead."
Peter murmured his own spell and held his wand up, looking around furtively. "It smells funny in here, almost like a big dog or something."
James wrinkled his nose. "Hope weíre not disturbing somethingís den, though I donít imagine Dumbledore would let anything dangerous stay this close to the school." He looked around. "I donít see Remus, so he must have gone along the tunnel. Come on. Letís find out what heís doing here."
The three trotted down the winding tunnel, stepping over roots and ducking others. "Look, thereís a light up ahead," Sirius whispered. "Weíre almost there."
"Wherever Ďthereí is," Peter added, freezing when a bone-chilling howl split the night air. ""Did - did you hear that?"
"Of course we did, weíre not deaf," James snapped, nerves making him a bit short. "What was that?" Whatever it was, he was sure he didnít want to meet it. But Remus was ahead of them, and what if he was in trouble and needed their help? James swallowed hard and started inching forward again, more slowly and cautiously now.
"Shite, what if Lupinís in trouble!" Sirius exclaimed, forgoing caution to race ahead, ignoring Peterís warning cry. He pounded along the tunnel to come up short at a door that was locked and refused to yield to his ĎAlohomoraí.
"Whatever that is, itís coming from in there. And Remus must be too since thereís nowhere else to go." James exchanged a horrified look with Sirius. "Weíre going to have to get through this door." He felt sick as he listened to the snarling and imagined what might have already happened to Remus... and what could happen to them.
On the other side of the door, the wolf smelt meat, and he redoubled his efforts, clawing at the door and howling his frustration at being kept away from his prey. The solid wood panels didnít yield to his frenzied attempts to break through, not even buckling slightly as he hurled himself at the barrier.
Peter cringed against the tunnelís far wall, obviously terrified. "But what if itís already done with Remus and goes after us?"
"Weíll give you to it first then," snarled Sirius as he paced back and forth, running through the unlocking charms he knew and growing more frustrated by the second. "When we get the door open, weíll just have to stun it, grab Remus and get him back to Madame Pomfrey."
James nodded. "And after heís healed, we can ask him what in Merlinís name he was doing here in the first place!" He took a deep breath. "Right then. If we all throw an unlocking charm at it at once, it should open. On the count of three..." He raised his wand and pointed it at the shuddering door, trying to ignore the howls and snarls coming through it.
"That would be most unwise, Mr. Potter." All three boys spun and stared at Headmaster Dumbledore, their mouths agape.
"But Remus is in there!" Sirius protested.
"And he could be hurt," Peter added, though he wished he could grab Jamesí cloak and hide.
"We canít just leave him," James said emphatically, though he shot a wary glance at the door as it shuddered under the increasingly frenzied impacts from the other side. "What is that?"
Dumbledore moved to stand between the boys and the door. "That, my dear boys, is for Remus to tell you in the morning if he chooses to. Now come with me; you really shouldnít be out here right now. Master Lupin will be back with you tomorrow, never you fret."
"But Remus..." Sirius protested, holding his ground when whatever was on the other side of the door thudded against it again, making it shake against the frame.
"Remus knows what that is?" James eyes widened as various possibilities occurred to him, but he could see that the headmaster wasnít going to tell them anything more. "Are you sure heíll be all right?" he asked with another anxious glance over his shoulder as the howling continued unabated.
"Heíll be fine, now come along. Would any of you care for a lemon drop?" Dumbledore offered the tin around. "No? Ah well, have no fear, boys, it will all be fine."
Sirius looked back at the door, trying to imagine what could be behind it and how it related to Remus, doubting the headmasterís words.
James slowly stepped away from the solid door, his feet dragging as he reluctantly left without his missing friend. He glanced back frequently as Dumbledore herded the three of them back to the castle, not leaving them alone until they entered the Gryffindor common room.
"Iím not going to sleep a wink," he announced.
"But we have double Transfiguration in the morning," Peter protested weakly.
Sirius silenced the smaller boy with a glare. "So what? This is our mate weíre talking about here, and I donít care what Dumbledore says, I donít like this one bit."
"I couldnít sleep if I wanted to. Those noises!" James shuddered. He glanced toward the window, his eyes drawn to the full moon. "You donít suppose..."
"Suppose what?" Sirius asked, following Jamesí gaze and frowning.
"Itís a full moon tonight," James said slowly. "And I think it has been every time Remus staged one of his mysterious disappearances."
Peter stared at James, wide-eyed. "You mean Remus is a..."
"No." Siriusí answer was sharp and curt. "No way, heís our friend, weíd know something like that, plus thereís no way Dumbledore would have allowed it."
"And yet Dumbledore was there tonight, and he heard that noise and said that Remus would be fine tomorrow. He wouldnít let us open the door, wouldnít answer our questions, yet seems to know everything. It fits, Sirius," James replied. "And if it is true, well... Heís still Remus. No different than he was yesterday or last month or last year. A Marauder." James was working it out for himself as he spoke, and he realized he meant every word he said.
"No," Sirius repeated, this time more strongly. "He isnít, he wouldnít lie to us for all this time about something like that."
"James does have a point, Sirius," Peter offered.
"He hasnít lied to us, not exactly," James pointed out. "Itís not as if heís ever said, ĎIím not a werewolf,í to us. And if he were, well, if I were, I wouldnít make a habit of announcing it to wizards. Werewolves arenít very popular, you know."
"The hell he hasnít! What do you call all those times it was Ďmy mumís illí, or ĎIíve got to do a special projectí? Every bloody month itís been something!" Hearing himself say that, Sirius paused in his rant, realizing that it had been every month that Remus vanished and just what that implied.
"I think it shows that he was afraid of how weíd react. How we are reacting," James replied, glancing from Siriusí obvious anger to Peterís fearful silence. "I think he just wanted to be like everyone else and have mates who werenít afraid of him or looking sideways at him. And I for one am not going to get upset before I can talk to him myself."
"Heís still Remus, Sirius," Peter said in a small voice, clearly not wanting to lose one of his friends.
"Heís a bloody werewolf, and he lied to us!" Sirius spat back, having more trouble dealing with the second issue than the first. Heíd grown up listening to his mother ranting about Mudbloods, half- breeds and Ďjumped up animalsí, and he didnít want to think he shared any of her prejudices, but this...
"Iím going to bed," he stated, suddenly unable to bear the looks James and Peter were giving him.
James and Peter exchanged a glance, but there was nothing more to be said, at least not yet.
Remus returned to the room he shared with his friends just before lunchtime the following day, shoulders slumped and seeming totally miserable. Dumbledore had spoken to him that morning, and he knew that James, Sirius and Peter had followed him the night before. And knowing them as he did, he had a fair idea that they would have puzzled out the truth.
His feet dragged as he went up the steps and slowed to a halt when he stepped inside their room and found all three of his chums there. Unable to meet their eyes, he shut the door behind him and leaned back against it, eyes shut.
"You know," he said in abject misery.
James felt sorry for him, but they had to get past this.
"We... guessed from what we saw and heard last night, but we donít know anything."
Remus sighed heavily. "Iím a werewolf. Was bitten when I was little. Iíll speak to MacGonagall about getting another room. Iím sorry," he added in a small whisper.
"No!" Peter exclaimed, jumping up from his bed. "You canít!"
"Why not?" Sirius asked, finally looking up at the others. "Our friendship canít mean that much to him since heís been lying to us all this time. Let him leave."
Remus winced, pain clearly visible in the amber eyes that opened and briefly met Siriusí before focusing on the floor. "No, your friendship meant too much to me to lose it as I knew I would when you knew. I know it was selfish of me, but I wanted to keep your friendship as long as possible."
James opened his mouth to say something, then shut it again silently, shaking his head at Peter, who also seemed about to speak. The issue here was clearly between Remus and Sirius, and they were the ones who had to handle it.
"Why?" the dark-haired youth asked bluntly. "Why did you think youíd lose it? I thought we were mates, all of us; donít mates trust each other?"
Remus laughed harshly. "I hate myself for being this thing, so why should I think anyone else would like it any better? We all know how werewolves are thought of, and rightfully so. That night Iím nothing but an animal, and who would want to be around that? I donít!"
"Thatís one night a month; we live with you the other twenty-nine or thirty, and we think youíre all right! Merlin, what a load of shite!"
"And if youíd managed to open that door last night, I would have killed you!" Remus yelled at him, angry, sad and frustrated all at once. "Killed and eaten you! And you wonder why I donít want to tell people?!"
"Well, if youíd have told us what was going on, we wouldnít have followed you!" Sirius shouted back. "Or maybe we could find a way to help; weíre not stupid, you know!"
"I never said you were stupid, you bloody prat! But if Dumbledore and MacGonagall and all the wizarding healers Iíve seen in the last decade canít help me, I really donít think anything can!"
"Weíre the Marauders, we can do anything we bloody well put our minds to!" Sirius heard his own words and froze, his face contorting in a frown of concentration. Weíre the Marauders. That was what it all boiled down to, wasnít it? Theyíd taken a group of very different first years and forged themselves into a unit - a brotherhood, one that not even this could break.
"Weíre Marauders," he repeated, looking to James and Peter to back him up. "Brothers."
James only nodded, smiling faintly as he met Remusí befuddled gaze.
"But..." Remus sank to the floor where he stood, his eyes darting from one to the other, seeing smiles, if somewhat tentative, on all three faces. "You... still want to be my friends?"
"Why wouldnít we want to be?" Peter asked, honestly confused.
"Mates donít kick mates to the curb," Sirius said firmly, as if to convince himself as well as Remus. "Weíre the Marauders, thatís all that matters. Now we just need to find a way to be able to keep you company during the full moon."
Remus stared at them. "Youíre all mad," he announced. "Thatís the only possible explanation. I should have Madame Pomfrey check you all out." He shook his head. "You donít care?"
"No, we donít," James replied. "Sure, maybe if weíd known before we knew you, but youíre not a werewolf who happens to be a fellow student; youíre our friend Remus who happens to be a werewolf."
Peter nodded. "Exactly."
"Besides," Sirius said, giving a thin smile, "if Snape gets too annoying, we can always set you on him, right?"
Remus flinched. That particular topic was one he couldnít joke about, not after what had happened to him all those years ago.
"Of course we wouldnít do that," James said hastily, seeing Remusí reaction. "But at least now you wonít have to hide. Which reminds me, what was that place?"
Remus was grateful for the change of subject. "Headmaster Dumbledore built a shack for me thatís only accessible through that tunnel and planted the whomping willow over the entrance to protect it. That way I canít hurt anyone."
"Sorry about that, Remus," Sirius muttered, moving closer to lay a tentative hand on the shorter boyís shoulder. "You know me, talking without thinking most of the time."
Remus essayed a smile. "Itís when you do think that Iím surprised, Sirius."
"Prat," Sirius muttered, catching Remus by the shoulders and knuckling his head. James and Peter joined in the tussle, going easy on Remus as they could all see how gingerly he was moving. That was something else theyíd have to speak of, but for now it was enough to know they were still together: the Marauders, unbeatable and unbreakable.
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