Chapter 15, Behold, A Vision

‘Look, Padfoot, we need to talk to him; we can’t just show up.’ James said urgently.

‘Yeah, we can.’ Sirius replied, he was draped across a sofa and had his head in Lizzy Townley’s lap. She was somewhat enamoured with him, James thought; wondering how long it might be before Sirius chucked the poor girl. She was stroking his hair and pretending she knew what they were talking about; Sirius had told her he refused to discuss Marauder business with her and apparently she was fine with that.

‘Look, Padfoot, if we just show up he might snap and you know what happened last time he lost control.’ James said, glancing at the pretty girl Sirius was leaning on.

‘Yeah, this whole thing started.’ He replied unconcernedly, staring up into Lizzy’s eyes.

‘Padfoot, I need your attention.’ James commanded; Sirius obviously wasn’t listening, ‘Sorry about this, Lizzy.’ He apologised and dragged Sirius away a little, cast a muffling charm and said, ‘Look, Padfoot; we made a promise to help him, and I don’t care what he’s done; I’m not giving up on that. But we need to warn him we’re going to be there, or someone could get hurt.’

‘Alright, fine.’ Sirius grumbled grudgingly, not meeting James’ eyes.

‘Ok. Merlin, Padfoot, it’s been over two weeks; I can’t believe we’ve abandoned him. This ends tonight.’ James said, guilt rippling through him.

‘He still hasn’t apologised.’ Sirius growled balefully.

‘And he shouldn’t need to.’ James finished the conversation, ‘Now go and play with your toys like a good dog,’ he grinned.

Sirius tried to slap him, but James fended it off and pushed him back towards Lizzy, ‘Look, I’ll sort him out,’ he said as he dismissed the charm surrounding them. He turned towards the Portrait Hole and decided to head to the library to find Remus; even if it took him all afternoon, no matter that he had scheduled a team practice. He was going to find his mate, tell him everything was fine and that they would sort out where they had all gone wrong.

Sirius’ slap had told him a lot though; it was just too hard to be playful, and James knew Sirius was still angry.

Lily was in the library, it was Saturday afternoon, but the weather outside looked like it was gathering for a storm and even in the library it was humid and hot. She was uncomfortable, despite only wearing a light blouse and her Transfiguration essay wasn’t going well; methods and half remembered theories kept slipping in and out of her mind.

She heard soft footsteps and James Potter walked straight past her as she looked up; he didn’t even notice her apparently. She frowned after him, wondering what he could be doing; the Marauders had been acting oddly lately. She hadn’t seen Remus with them in ages, and she remembered Alice’s boyfriend saying something about them having a fight. They hadn’t even been blamed for any of the curious incidents that always seemed to happen around Hogwarts; a Fifth year Hufflepuff had ended up in the Hospital Wing in hysterics after a Divination lesson where her crystal ball had lit up with visions of dragons, hellfire and world ruin. Peeves had been up to his usual ‘jokes’; lacking subtlety and precision as always.

Indeed, she couldn’t think of anything she could pin on the Marauders; Potter hadn’t even asked her out since the Hogwarts Express, not that she wasn’t happy about that. Life had been relatively quiet recently, almost… Lily hesitated to use the word, dull.

Dorcas wasn’t really talking to her much lately; Alice said she was concentrating on Quidditch and work this year as she hadn’t done as well as she hoped in her summer exams. Alice was working hard on everything she could; she wanted to apply to the Auror Academy after school. Laura was swanning about, doing her usual; just getting by on what work she could do and wondering when she might meet a rich boy so she could marry and not have to work. Mary seemed to share Lily’s view; not that Lily had said anything, but Mary had complained last night that life was boring recently.

“The Quidditch season hasn’t started yet; the Marauders don’t seem to be doing anything, and we have far too much work!” Mary complained, “Why can’t something interesting happen? Even the Slytherins aren’t doing anything. This school is just so boring!”

Lily had hummed a non-committal reply, keeping an eye on the Marauders in the corner; they were crouched over something again. But she didn’t want to go over after what had happened last time, when they had actually been doing Charms work.

Maybe they had just matured somehow over the summer; or maybe Remus’ absence was affecting them.

Lily had no idea why the Marauders were acting oddly, but they had even been nice recently; she had caught Potter holding the Portrait Hole open for a particularly small First Year to scramble through. Black had a new girlfriend, and surprise of all surprises; it had lasted more than a week, Laura and Alice were constantly talking about them and Laura had said wistfully, “Maybe he actually likes her…”

Lily stared at her barely started essay and decided that something was changing around the school. Maybe they were all just growing up. Maybe it was the stuff going on outside; political extremists seemed to be gathering, some kind of rally had apparently been held in the Quadrangle in Edinburgh and another in Diagon Alley.

She sighed and wondered where it was all leading; only yesterday morning she had read in the Daily Prophet that a member of the Wizengamot had died of a heart attack at his home in Kent. There was supposed to be some kind of memorial service over the weekend and then someone would be invited to take their place on the Wizengamot.

She suddenly realised that Potter; James Potter had just walked past her; in the library. She knew he had a practice scheduled now; Dorcas had said. Curiosity got the better of her and she got up to follow him, to find out what he was doing.

Remus was worried; it was Full Moon tonight, and he hadn’t spoken to James and Sirius; Peter had promised to help, but Peter was, well… Peter. That wasn’t the only problem though; he had a suspicion that Snape had been following him. Snape wasn’t stupid, no matter what James and Sirius said in public; even they admitted he had a formidable array of curses and was obviously intelligent enough to beat Slughorn’s high standards.

Remus worried that Snape had found out. If he had… it was too cruel to imagine what could happen.

James suddenly appeared beside him and sat down at the table, Remus froze, ‘Herbology, Moony? On a Saturday afternoon? That’s a bit low isn’t it?’

Remus didn’t know what to say, but James had a smile in his eyes.

‘Look, Moony; we’ve all got our problems, and I apologise. I shouldn’t have expected you to just turn around and smile and say it’s all great. It’s been shit without you; Sirius keeps sneaking off with Lizzy and Peter’s, well… he’s Peter.’

James grinned at him, ‘So, how about you chuck the Herbology, come and review our Quidditch Practice; then we’ll all potter down to the Shack later and have a riot.’

Remus couldn’t help but grin back; James always had that effect on people. He felt horribly guilty though; James shouldn’t be apologising to anyone.

‘No, Prongs; it’s my fault,’ he said, ‘I shouldn’t have blown up at you and I shouldn’t have said those things to Sirius. And I’ve been regretting it ever since; it’s bloody lonely without you guys, I guess I was just jealous. Sirius has all his girls; Peter’s great but can be a bit dull; and you suddenly wanted to grow up. I just thought; where does that leave me…’ he trailed off.

‘Moony; we’re never going to desert each other; you should know that by now.’ James said seriously.

‘Alright, am I forgiven?’ Remus asked.

‘Course you are; Marauders always come first.’ James’ whole face lit up with a smile this time and Remus suddenly knew he had his friend back, ‘Padfoot’s still on his high horse though, so give him a good bite later; that’ll sort him out.’

Remus laughed and stashed away his essay; it would keep till tomorrow, ‘Come on then, I heard Quigley worrying over some new move he’d seen you guys practising. Besides; you’re late.’

Two people watched them leave and two people drew completely different conclusions.

Lily understood what had been happening over the last few weeks; Padfoot, no, Black, was angry with Remus about something. Potter had just shown an extraordinary amount of maturity and sorted it out; though they were obviously planning something later at the ‘Shack’. The only shack Lily could think of was the Shrieking Shack in Hogsmeade; but that was outside the school, and they couldn’t possibly be going there.

What in God’s name had Potter been talking about when he said, “give him a good bite”; it was obviously some kind of slang they had. They were always talking in code about their stupid pranks. What intrigued her most was Remus’ mention that James was going to “grow up” and that Remus had implied that he didn’t want him to. That bit was perplexing, then she realised what she had just been doing and blushed, embarrassed at herself; she had just listened in on someone else’s private conversation. She was supposed to be a Prefect.

Snape walked away; obviously he had been completely wrong. Potter wouldn’t go and meet up with his friend tonight; not if…

What he had heard though gave him power; he would wait outside the Gryffindor Common Room, in the shadows until he saw them head off to wherever they were going and he would tell Slughorn or someone. That would serve them right; especially if he saw them going out of bounds. He’d heard something about a “shack”; knowing the Marauders, they were probably sneaking off to Hogsmeade.

Maybe he could get them suspended or even expelled! He narrowed his eyes and hurried away; getting one or all of them expelled would raise his status in Slytherin through the roof.

At half past ten Sirius, muttered something about going to see Lizzy and left the Common Room. Remus ought to be heading down to the Whomping Willow about now; he looked out of a window but couldn’t see anything.

He’d head over to Ravenclaw Tower; see Lizzy for a good night kiss and meet up with James and Peter in the Entrance Hall, where they’d have the cloak. He strolled along the corridors, wondering if he had forgiven Remus, and if Remus had forgiven him; they hadn’t spoken yet. He decided he wait until he saw what Remus was like to tonight; he always showed his true emotions when he transformed, Sirius didn’t think he could help it.

He was on the fourth floor when he spotted someone looking out of a window; someone who looked suspiciously familiar and out of place. He inched quietly forward and realised it was Snape; and he was watching something.

Sirius glanced out of a window nearby, saw Remus and Miss Pomfrey walking across the lawns and almost cursed out loud; they were heading straight for the Whomping Willow.

Later he would make up excuses about how he was angry with Remus, angry at Snape; that he didn’t really know why he did it.

But he did.

Something ugly had surfaced in him; something that had been suppressed for years, something cruel, something Black.

He waited and watched as the swaying Willow suddenly froze and Remus disappeared from sight; Miss Pomfrey began walking back to the castle. He drew his wand, stepped forward into the moonlight shining across the corridor and said, ‘Alright, Snivelly?’

Snape spun round, but Sirius disarmed him before he could get anywhere near cursing him. Snape’s wand clattered to the floor near Sirius’ feet, but he didn’t bother to pick it up, ‘I’m going to tell you something, Snivelly, so pull your greasy hair out of your ears.’

Snape glared at him, his gaze flickering between the wand at Sirius’ feet and the wand in Sirius’ hand.

‘There’s a knot at the base of the Whomping Willow, just above the ground; if you press it the whole tree will freeze, not many people know that,’ Sirius said conversationally, ‘There’s also a concealed tunnel among the roots; it leads out of the grounds. Now, I know you’d love to get us for something, so there’s a free tip.’

Then his voice hardened, ‘But if you ever curse me again, I’ll kill you.’

Snape stared at him.

Sirius turned and walked away.

James was in the dorm with Peter; he was watching out the window and waiting. He saw Remus go into the tunnel.

He watched the moon for a few minutes, wondering how many other people were affected by its power. Then he froze as he saw a figure emerge from the castle and head towards the Willow; there was no mistaking the long black hair and when the Willow froze once more there was no mistaking the intention.

James turned and bolted for the door.

He didn’t know how, he didn’t care; he jumped halfway down the stairs into a surprised Common Room and shouldered open the Portrait Hole. He was halfway down the Entrance Hall stairs when he saw Sirius; his friend looked worried and James ran towards him.

James skidded to a halt.

‘I… I told…Snape.’ Sirius croaked through gritted teeth; he was as white as a sheet.

James’ flushed face went pale, ‘Padfoot?’ he whispered, ‘What have you done?’

Sheer terror coursed through his veins; Snape could be dead right now, Remus could be tearing him apart. Remus

James began to run once more; across the Entrance Hall, pushing the door open, across the lawn. His heart was racing, his mind empty of everything but fear; not for himself, but for his friends, for what could happen to all of them if Snape reached the end of that tunnel.

Air burning in his lungs, he ran as fast and hard as he could. He didn’t even stop to use his wand and press the knot at the base of the Whomping Willow; he simply ran on.

Adrenaline, instinct and Quidditch reactions carried him through; what they had tried several times as First Years; spending hours trying to touch the young tree, resulting in Davey Gudgeon nearly being blinded and leaving the school: he managed in seconds. He rolled into the base of the trunk and slammed his palm against the knot; the tree froze and dived into the tunnel, ignoring cuts, bruises and scrapes.

He raced along the uneven floor, praying to an unknown god; praying that Snape hadn’t reached the end of the tunnel. Suddenly he came around a bend and saw Snape at the very end, ‘SNAPE! SEVERUS! DON-’

A terrifying roar ripped through the rest of his words and something moved in the house beyond Snape.

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