The bathroom door closed behind Remus Lupin. James Potter's hazel eyes met Sirius Black's grey ones, and then Peter Pettigrew's watery blue ones but none of them said a word until they heard the shower start running.
"I don't want to ask," Peter whined. "We should just do what I suggested..."
"For the last bloody time, Pete," Sirius hissed. "We are not going to try to get him to hold a sickle!"
"But then we'd know," Peter mumbled.
"Yes, but do you think he'd trust us after that? I certainly wouldn't, if it was me," James said, annoyed on Remus' behalf. "I'd hex you to London and back!"
"It was just a suggestion," Peter mumbled, playing with his pillowcase.
"A fairly insensitive one," Sirius told him bluntly. "Would you make Jamie or I hold hot coals?"
"Of course not!" Peter said.
"So why the bloody hell would you make Remus hold silver?"
"Fine," Peter said, shrilly. "Fine. But I'm not asking him." James was sad to see that Peter looked a little scared at the prospect; he hadn't reacted very well when James and Sirius had told him what they'd figured out. James hoped he'd come around, and soon.
"That was never the plan," James said, catching Sirius' eye.
Peter glared. "Well, in that case, I really don't need to be here."
"Sit your arse down, Pettigrew!" James and Sirius barked in unison. Peter squeaked and threw himself back onto his bad. "We're doing this together," James told him.
Sirius nodded vigorously. "Remmy's never been one for confrontation, or for sharing. Better that he only has to do it once, with all of us here to support him." James nodded in approval; they'd discussed all this earlier, though this was the first time they'd talked about it with Peter around.
"So I just have to sit here?" Peter whined.
"Well, yeah," James said, ruffling his messy hair. Peter folded his chubby arms looking sullen. Though I wouldn't put it past him to try to sneak out... Pete's not one for confrontations either... James caught Sirius' eye. Sirius frowned and then nodded.
"Good idea," he said. "Shall you, or shall I?"
"You shall," James said, hopping off his bed to remove Remus' wand from his bedside table.
Sirius lifted his own wand and said, "Colloportus." The door that led to the boy's staircase squelched shut. Sirius and James exchanged grins. The water in the bathroom shut off. James and Sirius looked at each other again, this time startled.
"Get the books!" James hissed. Sirius dove for his trunk and eventually pulled out a brown-paper parcel and a worn notebook. There were footsteps in the bathroom. James cast a quick locking charm on the window - just in case - and then waved his wand around the room. "Muffliato," he muttered, pointing at the door.
The bathroom doorknob rattled - it was sticky and often got stuck. On more than one occasion, Peter had missed breakfast because of it. Sirius looked up and launched himself - rather spectacularly, in James' opinion - onto his bed, where he sat cross-legged, looking expectantly at the bathroom; there was a low curse from inside as Remus struggled with the door. James, knowing he wouldn't get to his bed in time, seated himself on the edge of Sirius'.
The door opened. Remus stepped out in his pyjama pants, rubbing his damp hair with a towel. He looked up at Peter, who was chewing his fingernails in anticipation, and at James and Sirius who - upon reflection, James realised - must have been looking extremely guilty.
"All right," Remus said, dropping the towel on his closed trunk. "What did you do?"
"Do?" Sirius asked, sharing a slightly nervous look with James. "We didn't do anything."
"Not yet at least," James said. "And certainly not what you'd expect us to have done."
Remus sighed. "You two are barmy.' James and Sirius shared a grin. "Is my bed safe or not?" Remus asked, grinning.
"Your bed's fine," Sirius assured him. Remus sat down a little awkwardly, no doubt expecting the movement to trigger a prank.
James sniggered. "Remmy, if we'd wanted to prank you, you'd already be pranked."
"Probably," Remus conceded with a grin, leaning down to fish a shirt out of his trunk.
Sirius cleared his throat. "Jamie?"
"Sorry, Rem," James said.
Remus' head popped out of the neck-hole of his shirt. "Sorry for what?" he asked, suspiciously.
"Colloportus." The bathroom door squelched shut.
"Oh, I'm terrified," Remus said, laughing. "However am I supposed to put my towel back now?!" He chuckled to himself for a moment and then shook his head. "You two really are barmy."
James and Sirius shared a look. "Not as barmy as you might think, actually," Sirius said apologetically. James nodded.
"What's going on?" Remus asked, all traces of laughter vanishing from his face.
"We know," James said after another glance at Sirius.
Remus blinked and his expression cleared completely. "You know what?" he asked calmly.
"Everything," Sirius said, grinning. James elbowed him, rolling his eyes. The shaggy-haired boy scowled. "I was just trying to lighten the mood!" James sighed and Sirius gave him an apologetic look. "Fine. I'll be serious."
"Hard not to be, isn't it?" James asked slyly. "It's your name."
"Now who's not focusing?" Sirius shot back.
"Oops." James gave Remus a guilty look. "Right, er... well... we know about where you go every month."
Remus' face was stone. "My mother's very sick," he said, gravely.
James smiled pityingly. "And so's your Aunt Catherine-"
"-your Grandmother Florence-" Sirius said.
"-and your Uncle Benjamin."
"My family are victims of a rare medical condition," Remus said curtly.
James and Sirius sighed in unison and shared another look. "Rem," James said gently, "your Grandmother's died three times this year."
"No, she hasn't," Remus said.
"And twice last year," Sirius added with a grimace.
"No," Remus said.
"Yes," James and Sirius said together. "She died over summer when you couldn't come to James place," Sirius said grimly. "And she also died last week."
"No, last week, my mother was ill," Remus said.
"Then why did you come back looking like you'd been hit by the Knight Bus? We saw your mum on the Platform two weeks ago and she was fine."
"It's a very inconsistent illness,' Remus said stiffly. His hands were white and clenched in his blankets.
"No, I don't think so,' James said. "I think it's very regular."
"Almost monthly," Sirius added, right on cue.
"It's not," Remus said, his voice shaking slightly. "It isn't at all. It's a very rare, very unpredictable medical condition and it affects my family and it's very, very inconsistent and-"
"Rem, shut up," James said. Remus shut up. "As we were saying, at first, we thought you just had the shittiest luck in the world."
"And then over Christmas last year," Sirius said, "your Aunt Catherine died for the second time."
"I had two Aunt Catherine's," Remus said stiffly. "It's a very common name."
"In the same family?" James asked doubtfully, not buying it for a second. "Your mum's an only child, Rem."
"No, she isn't. She has a sister. Katherine, with a 'K'. The other one - dad's sister - is Catherine with a 'C'."
"And they both died?" Sirius asked flatly. Remus nodded, assuming a stricken expression. "Dragon dung," he said. James knew they were right about Remus and his condition, but a small part of him realised that if they were somehow wrong, they were sounding extremely insensitive.
"I wouldn't expect you to understand, Sirius," Remus said curtly. "You've never liked your family, so I can't imagine you'd care much at all if any of them died. I on the other hand, care about-"
"Of course I'd care! I'm not like them!" James reached out and put a hand on Sirius' shoulder to stop him from launching across the room.
"Don't," he said. "We always knew this would be hard." The anger vanished from Sirius' expression and he nodded. "And, Rem, that was low. You know we don't insult Sirius about his family."
"Fine," Remus said. "Fine. If we're not going to talk about his, we aren't allowed to talk about mine either."
"All right," Sirius said. "How about we talk about your condition instead?"
Remus lost what little colour he had left. "My condition?" he said angrily. "So what, you're insulting me now? Now who's the 'low' one? Hmm?" He got up and stalked over to the dormitory door and wrenched on the handle. "Why's it locked?" he asked, turning on them. "Did you lock it?"
"No one's leaving this room until I say so," James said.
"Oh, so you're in charge now, are you, James?" Remus said coldly. "Should have figured... you're so used to having things your own way at home that you've decided things need to be that way at school, too, right? Well, I hate to break it to you, but I'm not Peter and I'm not just going to lie down and let you boss me around!" Peter huffed angrily in the corner.
He's trying to make us angry so we'll open the door, James realised. He took a closer look at Remus' face and saw the pain there. It's killing him to be mean to us, James thought sadly. But in his mind, what choice does he have? He caught Sirius' eye to see if he'd seen this too and realised he had. James didn't even bother looking over at Peter; Peter's telepathy skills were seriously lacking.
"Remus," James said. "Sit down."
"No," Remus said. "No, I've had enough of being bossed around by you, James." He crossed the room, no doubt looking for his wand. "Did you take my wand?" he asked a moment later, looking at the blank space on his bedside table.
"And if we did?" Sirius said.
"Then you're cowards," Remus spat. "Give it back. Now."
"No," James said, folding his arms.
"I'll tell Professor McGonagall," Remus said.
"You do that," Sirius said.
Remus crossed the room and tried the door again. When it refused to open, he kicked it. Repeatedly. After leaving a substantial dent in the door, but with no luck getting it to open, he sank to the ground and began to cry.
Immediately, James and Sirius hopped up and made their way over to him. As Sirius reached for his shoulder, Peter whispered, "Is that safe?"
It was very lucky he'd sealed the window, James reflected angrily. Otherwise, Peter would be on his way out of it. "Shut up, Pete," Sirius snapped, putting an arm around Remus.
"I was just asking," Peter said defensively.
"In the future, don't," James told him, hugging Remus who was still sobbing.
"He's right to ask, you know," Remus told them bitterly, sniffing.
"Nah, he's not," Sirius said. "He's just being a git."
"Hey!" Peter said.
James glared at him. "Peter, you can either get your arse over and join the hug, or you can shut up."
Peter thought about it, got up slowly and came to hug Remus, who looked surprised but pleased. "So," Remus said after a moment. "What do you know about my condition?"
"Well, James said, "it's called Lycanthropy." Remus tensed. Sirius and James exchanged a look over the top of the other boys' heads. "Isn't it?"
"When did you find out?" Remus asked heavily.
"Christmas last year," Sirius said, shrugging.
"WHAT?!" Remus shouted. "I thought I was being careful!"
"You were," James said. "It took us two whole months to get suspicious!"
Remus buried his face in his scarred hands. "How?"
"Dunno. Like we said, at first we thought you just had extremely bad luck, but then we wondered why you kept going home..."
"I'm not proud of it," Sirius admitted, "but once we were suspicious, we started writing a list."
"Dates, the weather, which excuses you were using, what you looked like, what lessons you had the next day... things like that," James said.
"The weather?" Remus asked flatly.
"Well, yeah," James said. "Like we said, we wrote everything."
"Even what you had for dinner," Sirius said, flushing.
James sniggered. "That was his idea, not mine."
Remus looked torn between being annoyed and amused. "You two must be the stupidest geniuses ever."
"Er..." Sirius said. "Thanks, I guess."
Remus snorted. "When did you realise I was only sick on full moons?"
Sirius sniggered and it was James' turn to flush. "He was talking to Evans," Sirius chortled. "He compared his love to her for the moon and she got all annoyed and started quoting some famous muggle."
"Skateseer," James muttered.
"I think you mean Shakespeare," Remus said, his lips twitching.
"Yes, him," James said. "Anyway, Sirius wrote that down as a joke and then the next time, when we were comparing factors, I stuck my head out the window and there it was..."
"The moon," Peter breathed.
James and Sirius shared an exasperated look. "You weren't even there, Pete."
Remus sighed loudly and stood; James rolled off him, shocked by the sudden movement and landed on Sirius, who shoved him onto Peter instead. Peter made a sound like a mouse being trodden on and James hurriedly got off him. "Can I have my wand now?" Remus asked, looking tired.
"You aren't going to hex us, are you?" James asked cautiously.
"No," Remus said. "Though I daresay you all deserve it."
Sirius shrugged. "Probably."
James handed him his wand. "Thank you," Remus said. He walked over to his trunk looking calm and began to toss his possessions into it.
"What are you doing?" Peter asked.
"My mother's sick," Remus said with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. Peter looked at him blankly, while James and Sirius exchanged looks. "It's scary how you two do that," Remus said.
"Why are you packing?" Sirius asked.
"I'm leaving," Remus said. "No one was ever supposed to find out."
James closed Remus' trunk and sat on it. "You can't leave!"
"I have to," Remus said.
"I'm a monster," he said.
James toppled off the trunk clutching his sides. "A-a m-monster?!" he roared, trying to breathe. "I think you're giving yourself way too much credit! A monster! Sirius, did you hear that?"
"I did," Sirius said, laughing at Remus. "I don't think I've ever really even heard you shout. Rem, you're about as tame as they come."
"I'm a monster," Remus insisted.
James snorted and clambered back onto his trunk. "Please. Mate, the most you've got is a Furry Little Problem."
"A-a Furry Little Problem?" Remus said faintly. "You're mad! I'm a monster. I could kill someone!"
"So could I," Sirius pointed out. "If I wanted to, anyway. I'm not that ways inclined."
"Stay that way," James told him. "Rem, you're fluffy for one night a month. That doesn't make you a monster."
"So's everyone. Dad's an Auror. He's seen people killed by littler things than a dog."
"Wolf," Sirius corrected.
"Whatever," James said. "You aren't really that dangerous, Rem."
"Unless you wake him up early," Peter said. "Remember the thing with the eggs?"
James, Sirius and Remus grinned at the memory. "That won't be a problem anymore," Remus said. "I'll pack, then I'll go talk to Dumbledore. I'll be home by morning."
"He really is thick," Sirius told James. "You aren't bloody leaving."
"I'm not safe!" Remus said.
"Then why were you here in the first place?" James asked. "Obviously Dumbledore trusted you."
"Dumbledore's mad," Peter pointed out. James glanced longingly at the window.
"Who's side are you on, Pete? Rem," he said, "why does us knowing change how safe you are?"
Remus frowned. "Because I know you. Now that I've confirmed it, it's only a matter of time before you sneak down and try to see me transform."
"Ah, yes, speaking of that..." James said, nodding at Sirius.
"We have something for you," Sirius said, tossing the notebook and the parcel at him.
Remus flicked through the notebook. "Your observations," he said flatly.
"We thought you might find it funny," James said shrugging.
"Thanks," Remus said, smiling slightly at something one of them had written.
"Anyway, the other one's the important one," Sirius said.
"We figured you'd get all self-depreciating on us," James explained. "To make you feel better, we've decided to get our own Furry Little Problems."
"Level the playing field a bit," Sirius said as Remus stared at them in horror.
"I'm not biting you!" he said. "Any of you!"
"Er... that's not quite what we meant," James said. Peter had begun to tremble. "Oh, Peter, man up, you know he wouldn't bite you."
"So what...?" Remus asked.
"Just unwrap it," Sirius said.
Sirius rolled his eyes and snatched the parcel back. He tore the paper off it and tossed it back at him. "There."
"You were supposed to let him open it," James said, laughing.
"He was too slow."
Remus was looking at the cover of the book. "You're becoming Animagi?" he asked. "But that's supposed to be impossible!"
Sirius scoffed. "Please. Jamie's a natural at Transfiguration. It'll take us a year, maybe two."
"So you're going to become animals to give me some sort of moral support?"
"No, silly," James said. "We're going to become animals so we can chase your furry arse around on full moons."
Remus laughed. And then froze. "You're joking, right? Please, tell me you're joking!"
"No," Sirius said, rolling his eyes. "Werewolves can't hurt other animals. We'll be perfectly safe."
"From being infected," Remus said. "I can still bite you, though." He rolled up the leg of his pyjama pants to show them a long, thin scar on his shin. "This isn't from falling off my broomstick, you know."
"Better we get bitten than you," James said, shrugging.
"And we'll learn to Heal," Sirius said. "It'll be fine."
Remus shook his head. "I'm leaving. I'll be gone by tomorrow. You can forget about me, forget that this ever happened."
"It's too late for that, Rem," Sirius said. "We already bought the book."
Remus chuckled. "You honestly don't mind... that I'm... well, me?"
"Of course not," James said.
"Everyone else I've ever met has hated me once they found out," Remus admitted.
"Well it's not like you can help it," James said. "I mean, Sirius is a prat but we like him anyway."
"You're still you, Remus," Peter said tremulously.
"Yeah," James said. "You're still the pedantic kid who kept correcting me on the train when we were first years."
"Yeah, and you're still the same one that helps me with my homework," Peter chimed in. James gave the mousy boy a warm smile.
"And you're the one who hexed Snivellus when he knocked me on my arse when Jamie wasn't around," Sirius said.
"And besides, if you left, we'd be expelled within a week!" James said.
"You can't leave me alone with them," Peter said.
"I don't know whether to be flattered or pissed," Sirius said, throwing an arm around Peter's shoulders.
"Be flattered," James said. "I quite like Pete as he is."
"And I don't want an extra, Snivellus-shaped nose," Peter squeaked. "Or blue hair, or being glued to walls." Sirius laughed.
Remus stared at them. "You three are mad," he said, his voice shaking.
"And you're sane. You have to stay," James said. "It's only logical."
Remus shook his head. James looked at Sirius and then at Peter. Poor Remus was tackled a moment later, though when he began to cry, it wasn't because he was scared. James was fairly sure it was because he was happy. "And, given what you've just been through, I won't even call you a sap for ruining my shirt," Sirius said from somewhere in the huddle.
"Prat," Remus said, sniffling. "And thank you."
"No problem," James said happily. "Well, gentlemen, now that that's sorted, I think a prank is in order. Anyone have any ideas?"
"I think Snivellus has been looking far too happy of late," Sirius said.
"Excellent. Let's go!" James unlocked the doors and the windows and Peter went dashing out onto the stairwell.
"What are you going to do to Snape?" Remus asked wearily.
"Dunno," James said. "Something funny." He winked at Sirius and gestured to the dormitory door. "After you, Moony."
Remus turned to look at him, confused. "Moony?"
"It's your Marauder nickname," Sirius explained.
"You-you named me?" Remus asked quietly, a smile spreading across his face.
"Of course," James said. "You're one of us."
"One of you?" Remus murmured, beaming.
"Of course, there are conditions attached," Sirius said strictly. "You have to put up with us-"
"-help us with our homework-"
"-help us become Animagi-"
"-agree to make Snivvy's life hell-"
"-share your chocolate every now and then-"
"Done," Remus said, without letting them finish. "Whatever the other conditions are."
"Excellent," James and Sirius said, beaming as widely as Remus was. Sirius held out his hand and Remus shook it, and then James'.
"Last one out of the dorm's a Snivellus!" Sirius shouted and bolted.
James and Remus glanced at each other and both launched forward, laughing as they tried to shove the other out of the way.