The rising sun above Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry sent patches of glowing light over the Forbidden Forest. The Whomping Willow arched her back gracefully in the rays, gentle as she swayed, her branches glistening with morning dew. The grounds were silent, and the castle and all within its walls seemed still with slumber. With the darkness of the Forbidden Forest behind it, the tree was haunting in constant motion.
The sharp sound of crackling leaves filled the air as a tiny sliver of brown emerged from a black hole near her roots. With tufts of hair, miniscule wrinkled toes, and black beady eyes of a rat, it placed its wrinkled toes on a thick outgrowth of root coiled in the soil. All at once, the Whomping Willow stopped her swaying.
In contrast to the foot-sized rodent, three young men emerged from the black hole. Eyes puffy and tired, Remus Lupin had an arm around James for support as he stepped onto the dew-filled grass. Beside them, stroking his long black hair into shape, Sirius Black was roaring with laughter. While the werewolf in between them looked too out-of-shape to even crack a smile, James Potter looked abashed, choosing to focus on the ground in front of him.
“Are you done?” asked James, glaring.
“I think,” said Remus, his hand patting James on the back reassuringly, “What Sirius is trying to say, is that it’s not his fault you chose to spring that on us.”
“Really, Moony?” demanded James, raising his eyebrows as the rat at his feet suddenly transformed into a fully-grown boy. Scratching his nose as he scurried to follow the others’ loping strides across the grass, Peter Pettigrew listened attentively. “And at exactly what point between last night and this morning could you have discussed that with me?”
“Well, I didn’t say it was a conversation for a full moon, did I?” said Remus defensively, straightening his robes.
“A conversation for a full moon? We’re not at graduation yet and this one’s on about little James and Lily’s running around Hogwarts!”
“I didn’t say that,” said James, hissing between his teeth. “All I said was that in the event of Lily and I ever –”
Sirius, who was attempting to feign a good listening face, quickly composed his features into a welcoming smile.
“Good morning, Professor!”
James, Remus, and Peter spun around. Walking leisurely along like he had been there all the while, Albus Dumbledore was dressed in periwinkle blue robes, starkly contrasting with the damp green of the grounds.
“Rather early to be out on an adventure, isn’t it, boys?” he asked, peering at them. “Or should I say, late?”
James looked sheepish. In his fatigue, Remus could think of nothing to say- that is, after he realized he must have looked a sight hanging off Sirius’s torso.
“Yes,” said Dumbledore, sounding like he fully agreed with himself. He eyed James with a twinkle in his eye. “I do find I can think better when I walk as well. And there is much to think about.”
Just as he arrived, Dumbledore turned and strode away into the grounds. He might have not spoken to them at all. It was only when the Headmaster’s blue robes dipped out of sight that James felt his composure break, and he laughed so hard his sides ached. Peter still looked puzzled, trying to make sense of Dumbledore’s odd conversational skills as he followed the boys. Remus was still shaking his head in relief.
“If that had been any other teacher-”
“Oh, come on, Remus, lighten up a bit,” exclaimed Sirius, shaking his head so his black hair fell out of his eyes. “It’s only time for breakfast on a weekend- who else do you think would be walking around like a maniac?”
“Yeah,” said James, nodding seriously. “No one else.”
“And the term’s done, Moony, no more exams, no more classes-”
“Done?” asked Remus, raising an eyebrow. “Did you two even study for your NEWTs?”
“What can I say? Sometimes I surprise even myself. My papers were spotless.”
Peter frowned, his small eyes becoming smaller as he tried to decode whether Sirius was being serious or not.
“In heavy contrast to Snivellus’s-” began Sirius most seriously.
“Oh, don’t start that again,” said James at once, pushing the castle doors open.
Sirius, looking affronted, didn’t have time to retort before the throng of students heading to breakfast intercepted them. Lily caught James’ eye, and instantly, the remaining three Marauders fell back, their feet shuffling as they allowed the pair some distance. On cue, Emmeline Vance and Hestia Jones sped up, leaving Lily behind. As they stepped through the doors of the Great Hall, Sirius, Remus, and Peter made their way to the Gryffindor table. His eyes narrowing greedily, Peter tugged a plate of sausages towards him, and Remus looked up just in time for the morning paper. Gliding towards them from the ceiling was a flock of owls, copies of The Daily Prophet hanging from their talons.
James appeared again, his face grim. He was silent as he poured himself a goblet of pumpkin juice, gulped it down, and promptly poured himself another. Remus spotted Lily taking a seat at the far end of the table, her face flushed, her eyebrows knit together. The first few owls touched down on the Gryffindor table, their talons clacking on the wooden surface. Looking at James fearfully, Remus untied a newspaper from one of the birds, dropping a few silver sickles into a brown sack hanging down from its foot.
“It’s not Firewhisky, mate,” said Sirius weakly as he watched James chug another glass of juice. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“We need to get our act together now that the year’s done,” said James suddenly. He stared directly into his goblet. “No more fooling around.”
“James, if this is about the motorcycle incident,” began Remus, looking like he finally understood the predicament.
“You and Sirius both suffered the consequences. What’s done is done,” he said, not unkindly, though he knew fully-well that the pair’s flight from Muggle policemen in downtown London created such a frenzy in the papers that Howlers were the least of anybody’s worries. The newspaper, which Remus was about to unfold and examine, was pressed down into the table. All shadow and light, the black and white face of Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge, looked at them dolefully. The bags under his eyes were distinct features on a man Remus had been used to seeing plump and full of mirth- until Lord Voldemort.
“Lily-” started James.
“Oh, I knew it, Lily said something,” declared Sirius, throwing up his hands, but Remus held up his own for silence.
“What did Lily say?”
“The Prewetts’ parents came to pick them up this morning. That’s the sixth, Remus,” said James softly.
Instinctively, Remus’ head turned towards the Hufflepuff table. Indeed, the usual spot occupied by the Prewett brothers was empty. Remus sighed. He wondered, once again, if he was wrong in how he indulged his friends. They had an uncanny ability to live life everyday like it was their last, and it didn’t always bode well. The Prewett brothers would be followed by more, as parents, fearing the wrath of Lord Voldemort, continued withdrawing their children from the school for safety. He had a certain suspicion of what the conversation between James and Lily was; his sessions in the library had long since become her relentless attempts to convince Remus to stop James and Sirius from doing something. But after the first few deaths reported in the Prophet, he had to admit that Sirius and James started taking things more seriously. That was, until the motorbike chase.
Remus found himself looking around the rest of the house tables again. Groups sat in huddles, picking at food wordlessly. Even the staff table was unusually quiet. None of the teachers failed to appear at breakfast, but Remus could tell Dumbledore had put them up to it. They stared stony-eyed, only moving to pass food between each other, and only owl-post could shake them out of this.
“We’re wasting time,” said James.
“If you count helping me transform every full-moon wasting time, then yes,” whispered Remus. “But I don’t think you should take Lily quite so seriously.”
James raised an eyebrow, and for a second that morning he seemed entirely normal. He had not once heard Remus say Lily Evans was wrong.
“I didn’t say she was wrong,” said Remus steadily, reading James like a book.
“We should be out there, fighting with the Order, instead of being cooped up in here, sneaking around the castle at night,” said James, gesturing around at the hall in general.
“We can’t join the Order until we graduate, James.”
“Dumbledore can’t believe that anymore. We’re of age, and none of that’s even going to matter once the Ministry’s overrun.”
Remus sat back in his chair, sipping on his pumpkin juice.
“I didn’t think there was any other course of action for us after we graduate, James. At least, for me, I don’t have a hope of getting a Ministry job or anything of the sort. Fighting in the resistance was always in the books.”
James nodded, but his expression was still pained, still hopeless.
“People are dying. Muggleborns. Witches and wizards. And we’re sitting here…” trailed off James, helplessly gesturing, his hands flopping over the table-top rather meaninglessly.
“Sitting here doing what, exactly, Head Boy?”
Sirius, who had been picking at his food and pretending not to listen all the while, had a stormy look across his face as he bent his head towards them. Even in the bright morning light, a shadow seemed to stare at them. James was reminded of the huge, loping canine he had grown used to running wild with. Swinging his legs off the bench, Sirius stalked out of the Great Hall all at once, locks of black hair falling untidily over his face as he strode away.
Eyes followed Sirius Black as the door to the Great Hall opened for a fraction of a second before he slipped out. He passed Lily like a roar of wind, and his vision, like a horse with blinders, was only for what was ahead of him. As whispers filled the Great Hall, the remaining Marauders sat in silence. From where she sat, Lily could not see James, but Remus looked as tired as he always looked; worse, in fact. Comprehension dawned on her all of a sudden.