“Who wants to see me take off Snivelly’s pants?”
Remus stared hard at his book, doing his best to block out the spiteful laughter, his face burning with shame. He knew he should be doing something to stop this… The sun glinted off the gleaming badge on his chest as though trying to remind him of his responsibilities. But if he tried to assert even that nebulous authority over James and Sirius, in front of everyone, how angry would they be?
Ashamed and angry at himself, he gave up and crammed the book into his bag. Slinging it over his shoulder, he began pushing his way out of the crowd. As he broke free, the shrieks of laughter and jeering reached a crescendo, indicating that James had done exactly what he’d offered to do and thoroughly humiliated Snape.
Bitterly, Remus headed back up to the Gryffindor common room alone - briefly delayed by Peeves trying to tip a suit of armour over on him - and curled up in the darkest, most shadowed corner he could find.
Why couldn’t James just have knocked it off after Lily yelled at him? Why did he always have to lose his head and act up around her? It wasn’t the first time the bullying had got out of hand, either. He’d always done his best not to get drawn into participating, but standing by meekly and watching was hardly any better.
For one of the few times in his life, he wished he didn’t have to face his friends later, knowing what they’d done. Pulling out his Transfiguration textbook again, he buried himself in it and tried to forget about everything except the definition of a Vanishing Spell.
All too soon, however, the portrait hole opened and three loud, cheerful boys all but tumbled into the room. “Oi, Moony, where are you?” James called, peering around the empty room. Remus stayed still; if they missed him and assumed he was up in the dorm, maybe he’d be able to slip out while they were up there -
“Can’t hide that easily!” Sirius crowed as he attempted to steal the book. Used to this behaviour after five years, Remus simply slammed the book shut on the intruding fingers with a faint smile. While Sirius yelped and collapsed on the floor and and made a show of his mangled hand, Remus put the book away again and slumped back, resigned to the fact he wasn’t going to get what he’d been after.
“Can’t I have a bit of peace?”
“Who wants to spend all day in here?” James rolled his eyes and flung himself down next to Remus. “Come on, Moony, you know all of this, stop fretting. Anyway, it’s much more fun out there.”
“Got bored of Snape, then?” Remus said quietly.
James snickered. “He’s pathetic, you know that. Don’t tell me you feel sorry for him.”
Remus shrugged. “I wasn’t really watching. I actually wanted to read, that’s why I left.”
“You didn’t have to come all the way back up here,” Peter pointed out.
“It was the only place I was fairly sure would be quiet.”
Sirius sighed. “Look, if you want us to go away we will. We only came looking because you disappeared on us.”
“…Sorry. I really just couldn’t handle the noise.” Remus rubbed his forehead tiredly. “I guess things are getting on top of me, with exams and the moon in a few days…”
Immediately the other three boys’ expressions softened. “We’ll try to keep the public scenes to a minimum for a bit, then,” James promised. “It’s just, you know, when boredom strikes…”
“You feel a desperate need to make sure people are paying attention to you,” Remus finished dryly, and James gave him a lopsided grin. “And for what it’s worth, I really do want to do well in the OWLs.”
“How about you come back down to the grounds with us so we can all enjoy the sunshine, then?” Peter suggested. “And then after dinner we can revise for Transfiguration.”
“I’ll watch,” Sirius volunteered cheerfully.
“Well, we can always count on you to be functionally useless.” This earned Remus a light smack with a cushion, but overall he was feeling better. The incident was over, everyone had walked away, his friends still cared about him, and maybe it could all be put behind them.
When he saw Lily that evening, however, he knew it wouldn’t be that easy. Over dinner she was quiet and subdued - he could tell that even from halfway down the table - and when they went out to do their usual prefect duties patrolling the corridors, she barely acknowledged him, preferring to all but march along the corridors in stony silence.
Normally they’d got on fairly well, but he guessed the scene earlier had upset her more than she’d let on at the time; whatever her understanding with Snape, having him shout an insult like that at her had to have struck hard. And with him being so close to James, Sirius and Peter, he could understand why she wasn’t in the mood to be nice to him right now, but it still stung to have her giving him the cold shoulder.
By the time they got to the east wing, after half an hour of being icily ignored, he decided he’d have to try breaking the tension himself. With a little cough, he said, “Er - Lily?”
“What?” she snapped, not even looking at him.
“I, er…” And now he really couldn’t think of anything to actually say. “Nothing. Sorry.” Back to awkward silence it is.
She glanced up at him, and sighed, defrosting a little. “No, really, what is it?”
“It’s just…” He stopped and turned to face her properly. “Look, I - I’m sorry about… what happened today. James was completely out of order and -”
“Did he ask you to apologise?” she interrupted, folding her arms and glaring at him. “Because if he did, you can tell him from me he can tie it to his broom and shove that where the -”
“No!” he said hastily. “No, he doesn’t know I’m even talking to you about it. This is all me. I wanted to say that I know he was wrong, and I’m sorry for not trying to stop him.”
Those vivid eyes regarded him suspiciously for a few moments, and then Lily relaxed, apparently deciding to take him at his word. “As long as you aren’t trying to defend him for it, fine,” she said finally. “Sometimes I really don’t understand you, Remus.”
“What d’you mean?”
“I mean you’re a nice person. You study hard, you’re always ready to help out, and you’ve never said a horrible thing about anyone, ever. So why do you let them get away with things like that?”
He reddened. “I… Lily, they’re my friends.”
“Friends don’t let each other go around doing things they disapprove of,” she said firmly. “You should tell them to stop if they’re acting like that.”
“And make them angry with me?”
“If Potter’s going to get angry at you for telling him to stop acting like a spoiled pig, he’s not much of a friend.”
“They’re the only friends I’ve got.”
She stared at him, and he felt his cheeks darken. Ashamed once again, he folded his arms and stared at a fascinatingly blank bit of wall off to the left above her head.
“You seriously think they’d dump you,” she said, almost shocked.
“No - it’s not that I think they would,” he replied quickly. “I just… I don’t like the possibility. If they did, and I still had to share a dorm with them…”
“You can’t let them scare you like that. If you roll over and just let them carry on like this they’re going to get someone really badly hurt. Maybe even killed.”
“They wouldn’t do that!”
“Really?” She gave him a cold look. “Don’t tell me you never heard about what happened with Severus and the Whomping Willow.”
It was like a punch to the gut. He actually shrank back against the wall, all the colour draining from his face. “Y-you know James would never - he’d never -”
“No, that was Black, wasn’t it? He’s just as bad.” Lily was too caught up in her temper to notice his reaction. “And whatever is down there, it could’ve killed Severus, or Potter wouldn’t have gone running after him. You think that’s not serious enough to start reining them in?”
He couldn’t stand any more. With a choked sob, he jerked away and fled for the nearest bathroom, ignoring her startled shout. He’d spent so long trying to forget about that night - or the morning after, the day he’d screamed and shouted at Sirius for his stupidity, the only time he’d ever got so angry in his life - that having Lily bring it up and throw it in his face, even without knowing, was all the worse.
Barrelling into the bathroom, he stopped at the first sink he came to and clutched at the sides, trying to hold himself up as he cried so hard it made his head hurt, as all the guilt and shame and fear and self-loathing he usually kept bottled up broke loose and swamped him. He wanted to be sick, or to just crawl into a hole and never have to face anyone again.
Of course, Lily wasn’t having any of that.
When he felt her hand on his shoulder, he flinched away; he didn’t want her seeing him like this. But she wasn’t that easily put off, and after a moment her grip tightened slightly. “Remus,” she began, her tone much gentler than before, and he tried to choke down his sobs so he could hear her. “I’m sorry. I lost my temper a bit there. Whatever I said, I didn’t mean to upset you, I promise.”
He tried to say it was fine, but all that came out of his mouth was an incomprehensible half-croaked noise. She tugged gently until he gave in and turned to her, and immediately handed him a crumpled but clean handkerchief. “Come here,” she said, sitting down with her back against the wall, and held out her hand. Reluctantly he joined her, mopping at his face hastily, and they sat quietly until he’d got himself mostly under control again.
“You weren’t supposed to see that, you know,” he mumbled.
“What, like I was going to walk away and leave you in tears? Don’t be stupid.”
“‘s the boys’ bathroom.”
“Just -” He gave up and leaned back, feeling the thumping headache slowly recede.
“Will you tell me what got you so upset?” she asked tentatively. “You don’t have to, but I’ve been racking my brains trying to figure it out. I don’t want to say it again, whatever it was.”
He hesitated, twisting the damp handkerchief so hard it nearly frayed. “I - I don’t know. Not - I mean - I know what upset me, I just… I don’t know if I can… tell you.”
“Is it about Potter?”
“…Sort of. And Snape. And… things.”
“The Shrieking Shack?”
He flinched again. “Yes.”
“I thought so. It wasn’t till I brought that up that you went all - well, anyway. What do you know about it? Severus never said a word about it, but all the rumours…”
“James told me what happened.” His voice shook, and his hands were so tightly clenched the knuckles were white.
“Will you tell me? I swear I won’t tell anyone else, not if you don’t want me to. I won’t even tell anyone you told me. Not even a teacher.”
“I promise.” She took one of his hands in both of hers and squeezed gently. “Whatever it was, it’s bothering you, and you need to tell someone.”
He bit his lip so hard he tasted blood. He couldn’t help but trust her, but if she changed her mind… No, it was Lily - if there was one thing she never did it was break a promise.
“Sirius told Snape how to make the - the Whomping Willow safe to get near,” he began, his voice shaking. “And he got under it, nearly into the Shrieking Shack… and James came after him to get him away from what’s in there, and they both only just made it out safely.”
She winced. “So there is something dangerous in there. Everyone says it’s just ghosts.”
“How do you know so much about it? Did Potter see and tell you?”
He shook his head slightly, staring at his hands, which were beginning to shake under her grip. “You still promise you won’t tell anyone?”
“Yes.” There was a definite tremble in her voice now. “Remus, you’re terrified. What’s wrong? Is it really that bad?”
“There’s a monster in it. Sometimes. Not all the time.”
“In the Shack? How do you know?”
“…Because it - it’s… me.”
The only sound for several seconds was the dripping of water in the pipes.
“You’re not a monster, Remus. How can you even say that?”
“I am when I’m in there. That’s why I’m in there.”
“What are you on about?”
He gave her a desperate look, feeling just like he had three years ago when his friends confronted him about this. Only it was worse, because she had no real reason not to say anything, or be disgusted, and he didn’t think he could bear to see that in her eyes after the kindness she’d just shown. But she met his look with nothing but honest sympathy and concern, and he dropped his gaze to their linked hands as the words slipped from his mouth in little more than a whisper.
She remained motionless for several moments, and the silence stretched out agonisingly. He wanted to pull away and hide so he wouldn’t have to see her expression as she realised she was actually touching a monstrous freak.
“Is that why you’re ill so much?” she said finally. “And why you look like you’ve been in a fight half the time?”
He nodded miserably.
“And you’ve been using the Shack so you’ve somewhere safe to change?”
He nodded again.
“Does Dumbledore know?”
“He put it all in place so I could come to school,” he mumbled. “Mum and Dad weren’t going to let me.”
“If Dumbledore says you’re safe to come, then I think he’s right.” Her hands tightened a little, and then suddenly she was hugging him, gently, tenderly, and without flinching, her voice betraying the fact she was on the verge of tears. “Remus, I’m so sorry. I had no idea, I thought it was just stupid spiteful rumours, I never thought you were really going through all that all the time…”
Confused, but overwhelmed with relief, he rather cautiously hugged back. “It’s… not such a big deal any more,” he replied quietly. “It’s part of my life. I just don’t want everyone knowing, because they’d… they wouldn’t look at me the same way any more.”
“I won’t tell anyone, I promise,” she breathed, and hugged him tighter. “I didn’t mean to yell at you. I didn’t know you were still so upset about - wait. Does - did Severus see you?”
“I don’t know. I think he heard me, but Dumbledore made him swear not to tell, so don’t ask him about it. Please. Don’t even hint.”
“Okay.” She stayed where she was for a few more seconds before sitting back on her heels, regarding him with a mixture of sadness and fierce protectiveness. “What about Potter and the others? Do they know?”
“Yeah. Figured it out ages ago.” He smiled weakly. “That’s why James knew where to go.”
“No wonder you’re so scared of them not wanting to be friends with you any more,” she said quietly. “I get it now. I still think you could do more about their behaviour… but I can see why you don’t.”
“I guess,” he mumbled. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault, all right? Let’s get you tidied up and then head back, I think we’re just about finished for tonight anyway.”
“I was going to do some revising,” he admitted as she helped him up. “Transfiguration’s really worrying me.”
She snorted. “You’re friends with Potter and you’re worried about Transfiguration? He might be a swollen-headed, arrogant pain in the arse, but that’s one thing he can do right.”
He couldn’t help a brief laugh, rinsing his face carefully and drying it off with his sleeve. “I guess, but his expertise doesn’t necessarily help me in an exam, does it?”
“You’ll be fine,” she reassured him. “You always study hard.”
“Thanks. I’d offer to revise with you, but I already promised the others I’d do it with them, so…”
She shrugged. “It’s fine. I wasn’t expecting you to offer anyway, I made plans to work with the girls.”
“Convenient how it all works out, then.”
“Yeah.” She gave him one last hug and gestured towards the door. “Want to make sure the coast’s clear? You might not mind me being in here, but the teachers might.”
He did so willingly, and they made their way back up to Gryffindor Tower in a far more comfortable silence, parting ways at the common room entrance. As they settled down with their friends, he gave her a small smile across the room, and was sure he received one in return.