Remus Lupin was doing a very good job of feeling sorry for himself, an indulgence he only allowed once or twice a month. Being a werewolf wouldn't be so bad, he thought with his healthy sense of humor, if only you didn't have to deal with all the symptoms of the disease – like turning into a wolf, and all the stuff that happened before and after you transformed.
"Comfortable, dearie?" Poppy, as he'd come to think of her, asked. "Is there anything else I can get for you?"
Remus shook his head mutely. For some reason his transformation had been particularly hard the night before, and he was trying to limit actually talking because his voice was still hoarse, and he was trying to limit movement, because everything ached.
"Well, at least drink the rest of that lemon tea I set out for you. You know what good it does for your voice."
Smiling, Remus nodded. He had never met a more caring soul than Poppy Pomfrey, who was now bustling around his bed, making sure his sheets were tucked in and checking his forehead for any sign of a fever, which would mean infection, and the possibility of serious complications.
"Do you want to roll over for a bit? It'll give you a new wall to look at," Poppy teasingly suggested. A tired laugh was the only answer she got, and she took that for a yes, gently rolling him on his side with as little fuss as possible. "There you go, dear. Well, I'm going to run off now and grab a cup of tea in the staff room, but if you need me, you know how to get hold of me."
There was a quiet knock on the door, and Remus closed his eyes, too tired to be interested in who it was that disturbed the silence of the hospital wing.
"Remus, you have visitors." Remus opened one eye and looked at Madam Pomfrey with a disbelieving expression.
"Who?" he croaked, wincing as the sound of his own voice echoed in his head.
"James Potter and Lily Evans. Do you want to see them?" Madam Pomfrey was leaving the choice up to him, which made his head hurt even worse.
Remus shrugged. "All right."
Lily walked in first, her face carefully arranged in a cheerful expression that fell only slightly when she saw what sort of shape he was in. James followed behind her, unconsciously protecting her with his hand on the small of her back. Lily, of course, was carrying a textbook and several pages of notes.
"Hello, Remus," Lily whispered to him, and Remus was instantly grateful. James had moved his hand from Lily's back and had stuck it in his pocket.
"'Ello." James paused for a moment and then smiled. "You look terrible."
Despite himself, Remus laughed. "I imagine that I do."
"Shush, James," Lily said sternly and directed her gaze to Remus. "Do you feel as awful as you look?"
It was harder to think about how badly your head hurt when you were laughing with your friends. Remus knew this from experience, but sometimes it was nice to put that lovely bit of knowledge to work.
"It's likely that I actually feel worse than I look," Remus answered, being careful to whisper.
"Well," Madam Pomfrey said as she headed towards the door, "I'm going to go get my tea. If he's looking too tired then you two need to leave."
"Yes, of course Madam Pomfrey," Lily answered, gracing Poppy with a brilliant smile. "We'll keep an eye on him while you're out."
As the door shut, Remus closed his eyes.
"Do you want us to leave now?"
Remus shook his head at Lily. "No, I like the company. It gives me something to think about other than…"
"Feeling sorry for yourself?" James suggested. "When I'm ill, that's my favorite pastime."
Lily laughed. "That's your favorite pastime whether you're ill or not."
"She's got you there," Remus teased, and then closed his eyes again as a wave of pain washed over him.
"Are you all right?" The note of concern in Lily's voice was almost unbearable.
"No, actually, I'm not. I'm a werewolf. 'All right' is not a state I can achieve right now." Even as he said it, Remus winced at the harsh tone of his voice.
Lily's eyes filled with tears, although anyone could see she was trying to hold them back. "I'm sorry, Remus. That was a stupid question."
James laid a hand on Lily's shoulder. "Listen, Remus, we can go if you're too tired for this."
Though he sounded like a concerned friend, there was definitely a note of warning in James's voice.
Remus swallowed and shook his head. "I'm sorry. This headache… It's killing me."
"Did Madam Pomfrey leave any potion for it?" Lily asked, her voice now carefully quiet, compassionate, and overly polite.
"The ruddy potion won't work," Remus said wearily. "Nothing works. Everything hurts today."
James nodded and stuffed his hands in his pockets, instantly at ease. "Bloody awful transformation last night."
"That's a bit of an understatement." Without thinking, Remus started to move his head up so he could smile at James and cursed at the sharpness of the pain that assaulted him.
"James, why don't you go get Madam Pomfrey, please? He's in too much pain. There's got to be something she can do for him."
"All right. I'll bet I know where she is." After glancing at his friend one more time, he turned towards the door. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Hurry, James." That settled, Lily turned to Remus. "Can I get you a glass of water? Would that help?"
Remus sighed. "I don't know. I can't really think at the moment."
There was a long pause as Lily gazed around the room, seemingly aimlessly, but Remus could tell she was looking for something.
Suddenly, her eyes lit up. "Remus, what does your mother do when you're sick like this at home?"
Remus smiled and let his eyes drift shut. "She sits on the edge of my bed and hums this song…. I don't really know the name. It's about horses and waking up in the morning to find everything much better."
"Like a lullaby?"
"Exactly like. My mum's a terrific singer. At least, I think so. When I was younger… before I was this, she used to sing me to sleep every night."
"My mum couldn't sing very well," Lily confessed, moving to sit on the edge of the bed. "She would try… she loved all the old songs from the golden age of jazz, you know. It was atrocious. If she opened her mouth, we would all run for the hills in horror, but it always got a good laugh. Mum was great at making people laugh."
Remus noticed the move, but didn't say anything. It was good to have another warm body on the bed with him. Somehow, he felt more relaxed, at ease. "Mum had a really hard time dealing with my… illness," he said after a beat. "She's a Muggle, you know. Every once in a while Dad will tell the story of how she found out he was a wizard…."
"How did she find out?" Lily asked, leaning forward on her elbow and gazing at him with pure fascination. "It seemed insane enough to my family when I got the letter from Hogwarts."
Ah, Remus thought, so this is how James feels whenever she gives her full attention to him – like his opinion is all that matters in the world. "Well, the hardest thing to hide was the owl problem. You see, my dad works at an owl post office."
"Really?" Lily let out a delighted laugh. "I imagine that was a shock. What did your mum think he did before she knew what he was?"
"Well, she thought he worked with the Muggle post office. After all, that was what she did."
"However did they meet then?"
"They were at some sort of professional conference…. I don't know the details. All I really know is that Dad said he didn't find out a whole lot about the Muggle post he didn't already know, but he did find out a lot about my mum, and that was the important part."
"Perfect!" Lily exclaimed, mindful to keep her voice low. The sound of her voice washed over him like a soothing balm.
"Anyway, about the owls. Well, Mum and Dad were seeing each other. They had planned to go out to dinner or something. It doesn't matter, and it changes almost every time Dad tells the story. All right, so they're at my dad's house, having a drink before supper, when this man Apparates in."
"Oh no! I imagine the sound of it scared your poor mother to death!"
"She tried to ignore it, of all things," Remus said in a conspiratorial whisper. "She thought she'd gone insane."
Lily broke into laughter again, wiping a tear away from her eye. "Oh, this isn't really all that funny. In fact, it's awful!"
"Of course, Dad thought she'd lost her mind when she didn't even acknowledge the presence of this man, but he decided to let it go, and he tried to get the man out of the room. It was one of his coworkers, or something."
"What happened next?"
"Well, at that point, Mum says she had decided never to see Dad again, and Dad says that he was certain he was going to have to escort her to the loony bin."
"Oh dear! It sounds tragic."
"It almost was," Remus said, semi-seriously. "Fortunately, fate stepped in. My father had been keeping these owls with all sorts of injuries and exhaustion in his attic, because they'd run out of room for them in the office and my father just doesn't have the heart to turn away anything or anyone who might need a home, which was part of the reason why he was the employee in charge of all these birds. Anyway, the man had come to see if they couldn't bring one of the older birds out of retirement for the shorter flights because they were swamped at work. Well, Dad hadn't told anyone that he was going out with a Muggle, and he never bothered to have wards put around his house because he was never home, so the man had just Apparated in. The noise disturbed the birds, who came flying down from the attic…."
"Oh no!" Lily was gasping for breath at the scene she was imagining.
"Mum didn't have any experience with the birds, so she started to swat them with a broomstick, which, of course, upset Dad…. Anyway, it was one big, bloody, awful mess."
Looking at his friend -- who had come to mean so much to him, who had stood by him, who didn't hate him -- Remus felt something he had been quite sure he would never allow himself to feel during his lifetime.
As the tears of mirth slid down her cheeks, Lily looked up to smile at Remus and quieted almost immediately.
"What is it?"
Remus looked away. "It's nothing. I just hope Madam Pomfrey gets here soon. My head really hurts."
"I'm sorry I was making all that noise."
"No, I enjoyed it, really I did."
Slowly, Lily dabbed at her cheeks with the sleeve of her shirt to dry the remaining moisture from them. "I was hoping we were at a point now where you felt you didn't have to lie to me to protect my feelings, Remus."
The tone of her voice, the expression on her face… it was all that of a sister to a younger brother, or maybe a mother to a disappointing son. How could he tell her what he really thought?
When he decided to speak, the words came slowly and painfully. "I was just thinking that I can see what James sees in you. You're really something, Lily Evans. Not everyone can get my mind off the pain, but for some reason, you can."
Lily's smile was brilliant and immediate, but her tenacious nature shone through. "Was that all you were thinking?"
"No," Remus admitted after a few moments of thought. "But there are some things that are better left unsaid. Especially now."
"What do you mean, 'especially now'?"
"I mean that the world is coming apart at the seams. At least, mine is. I mean that James has finally stopped acting like a prat, and you're finally seeing him for the great bloke he is and the great man he's going to be, and I mean," he continued, his voice getting more croaky with every word, "that there's just no reason for me to tell you that I think you're the most attractive girl I've ever seen, and I mean that I wouldn't betray James in anyway, shape or form, and I mean that some things just won't ever happen, and I mean that I feel like shite."
As the last word slipped from his mouth, a tense, awkward, silence filled the space where all the world had come crashing down just moments before.
Lily's eyes filled with tears. "I'm sorry, Remus. I didn't know you felt that way, or…."
"Or what? You would have avoided me? You would have figured out some way to make it easier on me?" The sarcasm and condescension in his voice were scathingly sharp. "You would have pitied me? Tried to like me back?"
"No, Remus. Merlin, you make it all sound disgusting and wrong!"
Something inside Remus snapped. He had gone to far now to turn back. "That's because it is disgusting and wrong, all right? I'm a werewolf. No werewolf has lived long enough to reproduce. You want to have kids, Lily? You couldn't have them with me. No one can have them with me. You're my best mate's girl. You don't think so now? I've seen the way you two look at each other. Believe me, I've done a lot of looking. That's a sealed deal. It's stupid of me. Just let it go."
"Remus," Lily whispered, and reached down to touch his face. With eyes closed, he allowed. "When did we grow up? When did this all become so difficult?"
"It's not going to be difficult," Remus said, "if we both pretend it didn't happen. If you just forget what I said, then there won't be any difficulty at all."
"But I won't," Lily said, softly but firmly. "I do love you, Remus. I love you, and I ache for your pain, and when you're sad… I can't help but be sad, too. To see you angry like this… you really have no idea. It's infuriating. I want to love you the way you want me to, but I can't."
"I know," Remus said, and he smiled in such a way that it broke Lily's heart. "Now it's out in the open and I can't take it back."
"No, you can't, but we can still be friends. I know that what you're feeling for me will pass, Remus. You'll find somebody that you would be willing to fight over, even with one of your best mates, and then I'll truly be happy for you."
During the next pause in the conversation, the door to the room swung open, and Madam Pomfrey walked in with James close behind her.
The matron took one look at the situation and opened her mouth. "I think it's safe to say that it's time for your visit to be over. Say good-bye, now."
"I'll see you soon," Lily said. "I left the notes on your nightstand for you."
Remus nodded, his eyes deadly calm. "See you soon." Deliberately, he closed his eyes, shutting out the world. Especially Lily and James.
Tons of hugs, love and cookies go out to Carissa, Lizzie, Anne and KC for all the hard work they put into making this chapter what it is. Carissa and Lizzie assured me it wasn't crap (even if it wasn't what they thought was canonically true), and KC and Anne found all the stupid little grammatical errors that I make because I get into the zone.
Questions? Comments? Leave a review. I'll get back to you. Cross my heart.