Author's Note: Thanks to everyone who reviewed me and forced me to write this sequel, turning my series into a trilogy. This was fun to write, and you are the cause of that. Thanks also to my beta reader, Gretchy Stretchy, for her contribution, which was, as always, stunning. Without her help, none of my stories would be as good as they are. Finally, thanks to my father, Ardie Bea, who was forced to read this and liked it all the way through, even the first draft. I hope you like it just as much.
"Hey guys!" called James, ducking low to avoid a tree root. "What's the difference between us and a tornado?"
The others, also high on adrenaline, thought about it for a moment; then Lily, who was walking by James' side, shrugged and said, "I don't know. What's the difference between us and a tornado?"
"Tornadoes are less frequent," chuckles James, "and they leave less mess."
Sirius barked out a laugh and then called out, "Heads up! There it is; better change now."
He'd seen the end of the tunnel, where one walked around a twisted corner into a lower-story room of the Shrieking Shack. Remus was in there, but he wasn't his normal self; they didn't want to get hurt.
James, Sirius, Lily, and Peter all pulled out their wands and fix their minds on the animal of their choice. When the animal in their imaginations seemed almost real enough to touch, they performed a tricky wand motion and said the words.
Accidero Canis Lupus Familiaris!"
There were a few moments of confusion in which brilliant streaks of magic flashed around, targeting those who had said the spells. Suddenly, Lily – who had failed to become the beautiful brown-and-grey hawk she envisioned – was sharing the suddenly cramped passageway with an enormous bear-like dog; a huge dappled stag with a white underside, its antlers scraping clods of earth from the tunnel roof; and a small, white rat, unremarkable apart from the fact that it was climbing into the dog's heavy black fur. She shook her head in frustration and sad, "Still haven't quite got that wand motion, I think." She climbed onto the snowy-chested deer's back, and they started forward, Peter riding on Sirius and Lily on James. Lily leaned forward and whispered in James' ear, "Wait back a bit." Slightly confused, he obliged.
When the other two had rounded the corner, he changed back. "What..." he began, but was cut off by Lily's lips on his. After a kiss that ended as abruptly as it had started (and far too soon in his opinion), he finished his sentence. "What that about?"
Lily grinned. "I just wanted a kiss, that's all," she said. "And besides, who knows when I may get the next one?"
Still slightly confused, he changed back to a stag, waited for her to climb onto his back, and started off after the others, trotting to make up for the lost time.
Turning the corner, he immediately saw that Remus was having more trouble than usual – perhaps the moon was particularly full tonight. It couldn't be a blue moon again, he knew; Professor Sinistra had said that wouldn't happen again for three hundred years. Well, two hundred and ninety-nine now.
But he seemed to be under control, so he probably just had a particularly painful transformation. He was standing in the middle of the room, seemingly waiting for them. Sirius stood beside him, a slight gash on his muzzle; Remus must have still been in the throes of his transformation when he came in. He felt Lily slide off his back. She went over to Sirius, looked at the cut, and felt it.
"It's alright. When you change back, it'll heal in about twelve hours." She moved to Remus, reaching toward where he'd bitten his leg earlier. He shied away from her, trembling. Everyone knew what that meant.
When he didn't want to be touched, it meant he was unsure of himself – unsure of whether or not he'd be able to keep himself from attacking. James looked at his eyes and saw that yes, this was a werewolf holding himself in check from trying to kill everything in the room. Most nights when he was like this, they wouldn't go out. They'd abandon their plans until the next month, and since there was nothing else to do, they'd return to the common room and play cards all night.
But this time there wasn't going to be a next month – it was the last week of term, and for the first time, they wouldn't be coming back after the holidays. Hogsmeade needed one more night of Marauder-wreaked havoc. James turned from stag to human, Peter following his lead. Sirius stayed dog to protect them all, moving closer to Remus, who shot him a grateful look; without Sirius as instant firepower to take him down, he probably would have attacked.
"Well...what d'you think?" James asked the room at large. "Shall we go out for some fun tonight?" Lily looked shocked at the question.
"With Remus like this? I dunno, James...I mean, I know this is the last chance we'll ever have and everything, but do you honestly think it'd be safe?"
"A werewolf, a stag, a rat, a dog who can knock trees over, and the smartest girl in the school – counting the teachers?" Lily turned faintly pink at the compliment and smiled a little. "Of course it won't be safe. But nothing we've ever done has been safe; you know that. We've always stopped short of hurting anyone or anything. Well, except for the cat that Padfoot chased last month; it's probably still in a state of shock at the top of that tree." Peter smiled at that, but no one else did, although Sirius' eyes had a slightly amused, reminiscent look. "Point is, we've managed him before, and we can manage him again. It's possible! And like you said," he added, his voice taking on a slightly pleading tone, "it's our last chance."
"Of course it is James, and what you've said it true, but...just look at him." They all turned to look at their friend.
"He's scared out of his wits. He doesn't want to hurt anyone, but he thinks he might. Don't you see? No, it's not possible." She shook her head. "No. We're not going to Hogsmeade tonight. Come on, let's go back to the castle and play poker or something; I need to win ten Galleons back from you anyway."
She turned to go, apparently oblivious of the stares on her back. When she reached the tunnel entrance and saw that no one else had moved, she sighed and turned to face them. She folded her arms, a bad sign. "Okay, so how do you propose to keep him safe then? Hmm?" James smirked at the question.
"Remember last year? The blue moon, the night before our first date? He went berserk on us then, right? We managed that, and he's not quite that big tonight, is he? No worries, Lily!"
"James! I also remember that on the day of our first date, you came running all the way from the hospital wing after having been torn to pieces! Sirius too! I remember Hagrid replanting that grove that was ripped up in a 'freak tornado'!" she yelled, drawing punctuation marks in the air with her fingers. Then she took a deep breath, running her hands through her hair. "No, Potter, going out tonight would be an obscenely bad idea. If he goes berserk tonight, you may not be able to stop him!"
James almost visibly shrank and ran his fingers through his own, already messy hair, looking at the floor. "Potter," he muttered under his breath, almost sulkily. "I hate it when she calls me Potter." Regaining his ego, he looked up. "Finished?" Lily nodded wearily and placed her hands on her hips.
"Good. Now that that's out of the way..." He clapped his hands together and turned to the others. "Slight change in plans, people. We are no longer going to run around Hogsmeade and scare people out of their wits, nor are we going to sneak inside the castle to find Snivellus," he said, failing to keep the sneer out of his voice. "Which my lovely girlfriend may have allowed us to do, considering he called her a you-know-what again yesterday..." The pleading tone was back in James' voice, and he looked at Lily, who shook her head, smiling nevertheless. He turned back to the rest. "No, we're not going to do any of that. Instead, we're going to the forest; there are still a few parts we haven't seen yet."
Lily's smile disappeared, a fierce look replacing it as she stepped toward James. "Did you hear me?" she asked with ice in her voice. "It's too dangerous! Who knows what could happen in the forest?" The ice in her voice turned to fire, and James backed away from the fuming redhead advancing on him. "Sure, you've been in there before, but last time you went in without Remus being one hundred percent sure of himself, you ended up in the hospital wing! Or don't you remember the blue moon?" She shook a finger at James. "And on top of that, I –" James caught her wildly waving arm just before it swept his glasses off his face. "I'm not going to let you!" Lily shouted in his face, one hand held high in James' grasp, the other curled into a fist. James made a show of wiping his glasses on his shirt. He smiled down into a glare that could've frozen oxygen, but somehow, it was unbearably cute close up.
"We know what can happen in there," he told her in a soft voice. "The blue moon isn't happening now, is it? He's not that big tonight. And as for not letting us..." He stretched her arm higher before pulling it down behind her back, pushed her other hand down with it, and kissed her quickly. "Really? Come on, Lily. You know there's nothing he can hurt in the forest. Even if he could see the thestrals, they're too big for him to attack, as are centaurs. Everything else will just run away when they see us coming. We're not going to wreak havoc, we're just going to explore a little more. Okay?" He released her, and she stepped out of his encircling arms and sighed.
"I guess I can't really stop you...at least you're right about that. But just so you know, Potter," she added, almost as an afterthought, "your kisses won't always do that to me. I think. One day I'll be able to keep thinking all the way through one. Just so you know."
James grinned and grabbed her for another kiss. "That'll be the day we both die," he told her, "'cause I don't want to keep thinking."
"Hey...guys..." came a small, strained voice. "Could you stop with the PDA?" James and Lily suddenly became aware of the others still in the room. Sirius was grinning his huge shaggy head off; Remus was tactfully turned away and was probably not going to turn around until he was absolutely sure they were finished. Peter was watching avidly, as if he was hunting for tips, but he looked absolutely disgusted by what he saw. "I mean," he continued, "I'm glad you got it all sorted out and everything...but couldn't you have done it a little differently?" James laughed and dropped an arm around his shoulders, making him look distinctly disconcerted.
"No Wormy, we couldn't, because it's just so much more fun to kiss a girl who's mad at you...I don't know; it seems more sporting somehow. You'll find out when you first kiss a girl, because she'll definitely be mad at you for trying it."
Peter's face turned whiney. "I've kissed a girl..." he began, but James laughed, and, on a whim, dropped a kiss on Peter's cheek. He immediately twisted away, shrieking and rubbing his cheek fiercely. James turned to Sirius and Remus, who'd finally turned back around. Both were grinning. Quite a disconcerting effect, as all their large...sharp...very, very large and sharp...fangs were showing.
"Sorry we didn't include you in that," James said, after a quick glance at the teeth. "But that would be," he began ticking off on his fingers, "A: gay, B: pretty difficult looking at your sizes, and C: just plain weird. I mean, dog is man's best friend, and a werewolf is the next thing from a dog...but that's just going to extremes." Sirius' eyes turned doleful for a moment, but he couldn't keep it up and went back to grinning. "But we got a plan out of it anyway, even without your input. Think you could handle the forest, Moony?" Remus hesitated, reviewing himself, but then he nodded. Sirius nodded as well, for joint effect.
"Awesome," said James. "Then we're good to go. Have another try, Lily," he added. "It's more than a swish and flick, but it's easier by far than Gubraithian Fire, and we all know you can do that."
"Yeah," said Lily, pulling her wand out of her belt, "but that's only because on my very first day, I asked around about the hardest magic to do and then spent every moment of my spare time practicing it until it was perfect. Accidero Falconiformes!" Feathers appeared on her chest for a moment, but they quickly fell to the floor. She shook her head ruefully. "Nope. Oh well, I'll get it eventually."
James looked down at the feathers between his feet and bent down to pick one up. He tucked into Lily's hair. "Looks like you'll be riding then," he said, flashing a smile. He whipped his own want out of his belt. "Accidero Cervidae!"
"Show-off," muttered Lily. She climbed onto his back, a slightly more rat-like Peter climbed up Sirius' hairy leg to perch on his shoulder, and they set off. Sirius and Peter were leading, James and Lily bringing up the rear. The Whomping Willow successfully frozen, the strange zoo skulked across the grounds and into the forest.