The Sugar Quill
Author: Scribe2 (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Marauder Chronicles: Level One: Unicorn Gambit  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

*Thanks to all of my readers, as well as Adryn and Raven, who were bored as I wrote the first half of this in Summer school (I took extra courses) instead of writing notes to them. A big hug for Rini and Angelle, because I feel like it, and Goddess status to both Scribbie (my lovable and honest editor) and Zsenya, my Beta-reader, who was the only one to spot my unashamed usage of a stock-epithet from The Odyssey.


The Marauder Chronicles

Level 1

Unicorn Gambit

                It was a motley-looking group that crept through the Forbidden Forest, moonlight shimmering between the branches and glistening off the flanks of the four animals, making them seem spirits of the forest as they passed among the trees. A dog, a wolf, a stag and a rat made their way deeply into the forest, heading for a familiar thicket among the game trails, a well-trampled circle of foliage in an empty creek bed at the base of a tree, whose roots cradled the tiny area like large protective arms. To each other side and above were dense bushes, intertwining until they formed a thatch of leaves.
                The large black dog played the leader, his huge front paws covering the frosted ground like snowshoes, muzzle pressed close to the ground as he sniffed for the familiar scent of his companions, who had trod the path many times before. The fat gray rat, unable to keep up with his larger friends' pace, was perched on his shoulders; tiny paws clinging to the fur of the big black dog. An agile, reddish brown wolf trailed the dog, beautiful, but with an air of foreboding that masked his presence with fear. Finally, in the rear of the entourage, a great, sleek stag picked his way gracefully along the trail, his magnificent pronged head towering above the others.
                It was late, and the full moon shone her face high in the sky by the time the four companions reached the thicket. Sirius Black, the great black dog, shook his head and sat, and the rat, his friend Peter Pettigrew, scrambled to hold on, but to no avail. Remus Lupin and James Potter appeared next, the wolf and the stag. The four friends gazed at each other, the same thought winding through their minds, the same feelings of friendship and mischievous excitement evident in their sparkling eyes.
                They could not speak while in their animal forms-for they were truly Animagi, wizards who could turn into animals-but it was important for at least three of them to remain animals at all times on outings such as these, because one of them was not an Animagus at all. Remus Lupin was, in fact, a werewolf, and though among beasts his mind was clear and in as much control as if he were a man, the second he smelled human flesh or human blood he would lose his dominance over the lupine mind and go berserk. Therefore, his three friends took on the forms of animals and kept him
               company though the wild and often painful nights of transformation, making the weight of the burden easier to bear with the knowledge that their love of him was stronger than fear.
                In the thicket, the bitter cold of midwinter ceded a bit, though the chilled air still gnawed through the animals' hides. The deer lay himself beside the great tree, folding his legs and curving against the arc of the roots. The dog and the wolf curled against the stag's warm side, Remus curled in a tight ball, and Sirius, who was much larger, lay alongside him with his great shaggy head resting on Remus' back. Peter Pettigrew scuttled over, settling between the two canine companions, beneath warm black and russet fur. James stretched out his long neck, laying it across his friends, coming to rest of the shaggy black shoulders of his best friend.
                Several minutes later, when all four were mostly consumed by sleep. Remus raised his head, ears cocked-he thought he'd heard…but it was to be expected. They were, after all, in the Forbidden Forest. However, Remus thought, there was something dark; something sad about that cry…had no one else heard?
                The black dog shifted slightly, uttering a quiet, questioning whine, apparently wondering what was wrong with his friends. Remus let out a dismissive grunt and settled his head back upon his forepaws to sleep, shuddering a bit at the memory of what he'd heard.
                Sirius, seeming contented by Remus' response, heaved a sigh and rolled onto his side, falling asleep with his head still resting on the werewolf's side, and Remus soon followed.

                It was an hour before dawn, as dark and cold as it had been yet that night. James Potter didn't know what had startled him awake, for the forest was quiet and frozen, like and unmoving picture. Then James realized that it hadn't been a sound that had awoken him, but an overbearing presence, a sixth sense that told him something was coming.
                The stag raised its head, a strange scent reaching its nose. Beside it, the sleeping companions stirred; there was a growing light, silver and unearthly, coming slowly toward them.
                James saw Remus stand, followed by a waking Sirius. Peter soon woke as well, and all four animals were staring into the forest, where the brightness was collecting like trapped starlight. The silvery glow swelled, rebounding off the trees, and grew brighter still until, at the center of the light, there appeared a shimmering, silver-white star-a figure both beautiful and frightening. Larger than the stag, more muscular and graceful, the creature appeared to be the most beautiful stallion on earth, clothed in a starlit cloak of white, with golden hooves and golden eyes, and upon its forehead was a beautiful, terrible horn.
                Moonlight seemed to be attracted to the creature, for it was veiled in brightness, like an impenetrable silver aura. However, James realized immediately that there was something horribly wrong with the unicorn. He could see through the gap between the bushes and the tree, which served as an entrance to the thicket, that the unicorn was faltering, staggering. Silvery blood coated its hind leg, pouring from a wound in its flank, and a series of deep cuts down its leg.
                James didn't realize what he had done until he was standing in the open, in full view of the unicorn, which was coming toward him like a glowing spirit. The unicorn reached his side and he was leading it back through the gap in the bushes before he even realized it. The unicorn followed him into the thicket, sliding weakly down the slight incline of the creek bed. Sirius, Remus, and Peter were waiting for them, and when the unicorn, needing no direction, lay among the roots of the tree, all four of them gazed upon it with the same though: How can we help?
                Even the werewolf was tamed by the magnificence of the creature's wounded beauty, the silvery blood flowing from its lacerated flank like a river of mercury over its snowy fur. Instead of throwing him into a starving frenzy, the smell of the unicorn's blood calmed and subdued the werewolf's ever-present urge to hunt and kill.
                As the large golden eyes turned to Remus, a look of understanding and elevated pity glistened past the pain. The unicorn knew; it knew that Remus was a werewolf, and probable knew that his friends were not natural animals, but Animagi. It understood the suffering he endured, the constant torment of the werewolf mind inside his own each time he transformed.
                It occurred to Remus that before them was a paragon, an ultimate being of purity; both the world's greatest healer and most coveted treasure. More beautiful and pure than the stars themselves were the unicorns.
                They had to do something.

                The friends sat in mute resolution, unable to speak in their animal forms, yet unwilling to leave the unicorn's side. So deep in thought were they, that when the first rays of golden dawn stretched its fingers over the horizon, Remus' sudden bark of pain took them by surprise. The reddish wolf collapsed, shaking and convulsing, to the ground, rolling onto its side in agony. The high, coarse howling of the wolf slowly began to sound more like human screams, and the figure began to twist, changing grotesquely, and shifting back into the form of a human.
                Even after he appeared to be completely human, even after his friends were positive that he was, Remus continued to scream in pain, his voice tearing into the night and the hearts of his friends. The unicorn looked on in serenity.
                Eventually the screaming stopped and Remus' body, which had been taut with anguish, went slack and limp. As he lay, breathing heavily, both Sirius and James regained their human forms and rushed to his side. Peter remained a rat, it was too much trouble for him to change back, because it took several minutes for him, and required excessive amounts of energy.
                Sirius and James grabbed Remus' shoulders and pulled him upright, leaning back against James. While James, Peter, and Sirius could control their transformations, transfiguring their clothes as well as their bodies, Remus was not, and could not transform with his clothing,
                "I didn't realize it was so late," Said Sirius, removing his cloak and throwing it over Remus. "We should have taken him back to Hogsmeade hours ago. Sirius' face was white, and as he crouched next to James, who looked equally pale, he muttered softly, "Now I understand why he never lets us stay for his transformations…I…didn't know they were that bad."
                "Neither did I," admitted James in a low voice, mopping Remus' damp face with a handkerchief. His brows were furrowed. "I'm worried though. We need to get him back to the Shrieking Shack before Madam Pomfrey gets there, but," James eyes strayed to the wounded, and now sleeping, unicorn.
                Sirius nodded, "I know. We can't leave him alone. We have to do something to take care of him, or heal him or something."
                "That won't be easy," James said, speaking softly over Remus' head. "We can't touch him, not even to heal him-we're men."
                "You're right," Sirius admitted. "So we're going to have to watch him, either until he heals on his own or we can…figure out some way to get someone out here who can touch him."
                James nodded. "At the moment our main concern is getting Remus back to Hogsmeade; if he stays out here much longer he'll freeze."
                Sirius nodded, looking grim. "I know. But either you or I need to stay here to protect the unicorn-we're the only ones large enough to protect it if it were to be attacked. Once there's full daylight, he should be okay without us; I'm just worried about now."
                James looked thoughtful. "Well…what then? How do we get Remus back to the shack? I suppose Peter will be going with whoever is going back, but I daresay he'll want to stay a rat until he's out of the forest."
                "I can carry Remus," Sirius said. "Thin little bloke, he can't bethat heavy, but I'd better leave now if I want to get him back before Madam Pomfrey gets there."
                James nodded, "I'll stay with the unicorn. It might be better if I miss classes for today, or at least half of them. I don't think we should leave him alone for very long." With that he helped lift a shivering Remus into Sirius' arms, and then set Peter on his shoulder.
                "You be careful," James ordered, unfastening his own cloak and throwing it around Sirius, and when he began to protest James grabbed his shoulders. "I'll be warm enough as a stag, but you won't be like this. Remember," he added sternly, fastening the cloak at his best friend's throat. "Keep your eyes and ears sharp, don't hesitate to transform if you think something's out there." Sirius nodded and James helped him out of their thicket, watching his best friend disappear into the forest with a bit of anxiousness. "And don't get lost!" He yelled as an afterthought.

                Sirius watched Peter scamper away towards the castle, the sky blue with a flush of pink still around the horizon. Shifting Remus awkwardly, he glanced up at the frozen Whomping Willow and crouched, sliding his friend into the tunnel heading for Hogsmeade first, and following. For a moment he stretched his aching arms-carrying Remus had been hard work, though the boy was fairly thin and light.
                Without the growing light of day to aid, the tunnel was dark, so Sirius whipped out his wand and muttered, "Lumos." Then, putting the wand in his mouth, dog style, he scooped up his friend, suddenly glad for the extra warmth of James' cloak as Remus' frigid cheek touched Sirius' own. He hurried down the tunnel as fast as he could manage, through the door to the Shrieking Shack, and up the stairs, where there was a bedroom.
                Remus grunted and cracked his gray eyes. "Are we there?" he croaked.
                "Yeah," said Sirius around his wand, painting from exertion, and kicking open the door of the bedroom. He spat his wand into a chair, set Remus down on the side of the bed, and tore back the covers, indicating that Remus should get in. "You're freezing," Sirius said, replacing the covers beneath Remus' chin. "I'll light a fire…"
                "Don't bother," Remus said. "Madam Pomfrey will be here soon and she knows I wouldn't be able to light a fire after that. I'll be warm enough like this."
                "You're sure?" Sirius asked in concern. "You might be ill if you don't get warm enough; you were our there for a long time in nothing but my cloak, and you were sweating…"
                "Sick," Remus said with a bitter laugh. "I am ill, Sirius." He sighed heavily and stared at the cracked, water-spotted ceiling. Sirius shifted uncomfortably, not really sure what to say to this. It wasn't often that Remus said anything bitter about being a werewolf, but when he did engage in a bout of self-pity, Sirius had no idea what to do, though he could hardly blame his friend. It would be hard to know, at sixteen, that you would never gaze at a full moon with human eyes, and that you would always be a danger to your friends and family. And the pain…
                Sirius shuddered, and turned his eyes back to his friend, only to find Remus staring back at him.
                "Sorry," Remus said softly. "I didn't mean to say that out loud, I know you hate it."
                "No, it's okay!" Sirius said quickly. "I understand. …Does it still hurt?"
                Remus grimaced, "No, the pain stopped a while ago." He paused and sighed again. "I'm just weak, and very…very tired."
                "Sleep," Sirius commanded. "And shut up. Madam Pomfrey will be here soon, and I have to get back into the castle and think of a good excuse for James to be missing classes, or at least a bad one."
                Sirius heard Remus chuckle as he turned to go, grabbing his wand. When he reached the door, he heard the boy mutter something that sounded vaguely like "thanks" in voice that suggested he was half asleep.
                "No problem," Sirius whispered back, shutting the bedroom door quietly, and headed back for the tunnel.

                Once the morning had worn itself out, and Peter had scuttled into the forest to replace James as the Unicorn Sentinel, the three remaining boys sat in the hospital wing during lunch, trying to form a plan of how to save the unicorn.
                Sirius sat on a stool on Remus' bedside, fidgeting with the cuff of his robes, and James was sitting beside Remus on the bed. He was saying, "And I'm positive there's nothing we can do; he wouldn't even let me put a clotting spell on him. Doesn't like boys, not even 'male magic' I guess you could say."
                Remus took a sip of the potion Madam Pomfrey had forced on him and pulled a face. "Blegh!" He said. "This is new…" he took another sip and chocked. "Ugh, it's disgusting." He accepted the water James handed him.
                "Maybe she's trying to kill you," Sirius commented, sniffing the goblet of potion.
                "Nice of her to put me out of my misery," Remus commented lightly, taking the goblet back from Sirius. "Well, here goes," he said, and then, pinching his nose, drained the goblet. Slamming the empty vessel down on the nightstand, he tried not to retch. James and Sirius looked away, trying desperately not to laugh at Remus' face, but when Sirius made an odd, strangled sound, James snorted, and they both doubled over laughing.
                "Oh shut it, you two," He grumbled, finishing his glass of water. "Anyway--the unicorn."
                "Right," said James, who sobered first. "Right, right. The unicorn." He shrugged, "Basically, we need to get a girl."
                "What?" said Sirius, still giggling. "I think we'd need...more than one!" His last words came out high pitched as he started laughing again.
                "Oh, very clever, pea brain, now will you get serious?"
                "What do you meanget serious, I am Sirius." His face was the perfect expression of innocence.
                "Don't do that!" said James sternly. "I hate it when you do that. You know I hate it when you do that!"
                "What? What did I do?"
                "That-that thing with your name! Stop it!"
                "Okay. I stopped. I swear I'll be serious from now on."
                "GUYS," Remus interrupted loudly. "The U-NI-CORN..."
                "Right." said Sirius and James together.

                A glowing figure was prancing toward her across the placid lake, its golden hooves making no sound or impression in the water. In fact, there was no sound at all; everything was completely quiet, and as the beautifully shining creature stopped before her, its liquid gold eyes alight, Lily Evans found that she was completely breathless…
                Her eyes flew open as she realized that there was something keeping her from breathing-a hand covering her mouth and nose. For a moment she was frighteningly disoriented, but than her gaze anchored on a pair of spectacled eyes, and she recognized the face before her.
                Pushing his hand away from her mouth she started to speak, "James, wha…"
                He interrupted with a finger to his lips, and motioned for her to follow.
                Several minutes later, Lily sat in the common room with the three sixth-year boys, her eyebrows raised in disbelief. "A unicorn," she said, lowering her head a notch, and incredulous expression on her face. "In the Forbidden Forest?"
                The three boys nodded enthusiastically. "But it's hurt," Sirius continued. "And we can't touch it because we're men, so we need you to come with us."
                Lily laughed outright, "You expect me to follow you lot into the Forbidden Forest in the middle of the night?" The boys were looking at each other.
                "Well," James began. "Yes."
                Lily simply stared at him, searching for some trace of mischievousness in his expression, but could find none. Even if they were being serious, and there was a unicorn in danger, she couldn't possibly go into the Forbidden Forest with only James, Sirius and Remus for protection. They might be three of the most advanced and brilliant students in their year…but then again, they had gone into the Forbidden Forest, hadn't they…they couldn't be all that brilliant…
                "I amnot following the three of you into the Forbidden Forest! It's mad, what if we were to be attacked? Four humans make a very enticing target."
                Sirius grinned and looked at his two friends conspiratorially, "Who said anything about humans?"
                "What?" Lily said, confused.
                "Listen, Lily," Remus began. "Just follow us out to the edge of the forest. We can't tell you what we mean in here, but out there we can show you. Then you can decide whether or not to come." He said sensibly. "We won't force you to go if you still don't feel safe, you have my word."
                Lily could find no rebuttal to this, but as she looked around at the sincere faces of the three sixth years, she sighed. Leave it to Remus, she thought. But then, he seems to be the only one of them with common sense…usually.
                "Great," James exclaimed, looking relieved. "Well, let's go then." He lifted a silvery, shimmering cloak and swirled it over his shoulders. His body promptly disappeared, and Lily felt her jaw drop. As Remus and Sirius disappeared beneath it as well, James raised his eyebrows at Lily. "Well, you don't expect us to just waltz down the corridors and out the front door, do you? Come on, there's enough room for you." He ushered her under the invisibility cloak. "Oi!" He said, his head suddenly appearing beside Lily as he ducked completely into the cloak. "Which one of you has the Map?"
                "That's me," said Remus, and he withdrew a folded piece of parchment from his robes and unfolded it. Lily couldn't see how it was supposed to be a map; it looked like just a blank page to her. But when Remus tapped it with his wand, muttering something under his breath, she suddenly realized that it was a map-a magical map.
                "All clear," Remus said, and pushed the portrait hole open.

                Sweat crept along Remus' skin in cold sheets, emphasized by the chilling breeze that swept between the trees of the Forbidden Forest. He was still experiencing the effects of his transformation the evening before, and thankfully he had managed to conceal his feverish symptoms from both Madam Pomfrey as well as his companions. Although the exertion and the chill would most likely exacerbate his illness, Remus was unwilling to revoke his decision to help the unicorn, and he knew that Lily wouldn't have come without his persuasion.
                It was he who had suggested the girl to James and Sirius-Remus knew Lily as an acquaintance, and better than any of the other boys, because he had tutored her in Arithmancy in his fifth year, and had since remained a source of information and assistance, as well as a casual friend. During their Arithmancy study-sessions he had learned a lot about her; the fact that she was Muggle-born, that she and her sister were both named after their grandmothers, and that her favorite classes were Charms and Care of Magical Creatures. She was a gentle girl, and sensitive to the feelings of others, and the first person (other than James, Sirius and Peter) who had noticed his tendency toward sickliness, though he was fairly sure she did not suspect the truth.
                He leaned against a small tree and drew his patched cloak closer around himself in the semi-darkness. Moonlight glanced off of the light coat of newly-fallen snow, illuminating the outskirts of the forest more than they usually would have been, even with the clouds that flung themselves across the sky, thinning like veils of mist around the moon.
                They parted for an instant, and a shard of light illuminated the snow at Remus' feet. He looked up through the thatch of branches and let his gaze encompass the moon, which was waning, but so close to full that it looked almost perfectly round. Just the sight of it was enough to set Remus' blood on fire, and heat began to pump through his body, and a deep, insatiable thirst constricted his throat.
                He tore his gaze away, his expression studiously tranquil, and returned his attention to his friends. They had already explained to Lily that they were Animagi, and were now in the process of reassuring her.
                "As long as you're with us, nothing will attack you," Sirius said. "Remus and I walked back last night as humans and nothing attacked us." With the last, Sirius glanced at Remus, a look that told him to play along.
                Remus nodded, "That's right," he said. "And I'll be walking with you, so that you won't feel ostracized from the group, and so that you can ask me any questions that you have."
                Lily nodded, "I still haven't agreed to this you know." She began, pulling her red braid over her shoulder and toying with the end of it. "And anyway-what makes you think I won't go directly to Professor Dumbledore and tell him what you are?"
                "We thought of that." James said grimly. "But it's a chance we're willing to take-we have to."
                Sirius nodded, and equally grim expression on his face. "Yeah, this isn't just some silly prank that we want to play. We're not asking you to break rules for something like that. We're talking about a life, a life that we can't save without your help."
                "Besides," James said with a slight grimace. "I somehow get the feeling that Dumbledore already knows."
                The thought made Remus smile, but it also caused a tight, sick knot to form in his stomach, and he fervently hoped that Dumbledore did not know-he hated to think that Dumbledore knew he was betraying the trust the Headmaster had so expressly given him; perhaps the only trust he'd ever receive again. He couldn't hope for anyone as accepting or accommodating as Dumbledore, not even his parents were entirely accepting of him, and he couldn't imagine an employer wanting to hire a werewolf. And he would not lie.
                "Well…" Sirius said, looking at James. He shrugged, gave Lily a half-smile, and transformed into the big black dog. Lily stepped back in shock, and James, shaking his head at Sirius' abruptness, transformed as well.
                Remus stepped forward and placed a hand on Lily's shoulder, smiling to reassure her. "You'll get used to it."
                She nodded. "C-can they understand us when we're speaking?"
                Remus started, realizing that this was an answer he should know, but did not. As a werewolf, he would not likely leave anything alive long enough to speak to him, and the others had never really brought up the matter for discussion. "Erm…well," he trailed off.
                Thankfully, Sirius gave enough of an answer. He reared on his hind legs, his front paws landing on Lily's shoulders, and proved too heavy for the fifteen-year-old to withstand. She landed on her backside in the snow, pinned by the enormous front paws of the dog, which was now licking her face affectionately. "Cold!" she said, shoving Sirius off of her and springing up out of the snow. Remus blinked and then averted his eyes, noticing that the entire back of her nightgown was soaked through, glaring instead at Sirius, who was sitting a few meters away and grinning doggishly. "Sirius!" Remus reprimanded, "You idiot!"
                James transformed back into a human, and, for the second time in the past few days, removed his cloak. "Here," He said, placing it over her shoulders. "I guess we didn't give you time to get one of your own anyway. We can't very well have you getting sick as well." And Remus noticed James' eyes flicker to him, and grimaced, realizing that his symptoms had not gone unnoticed by his friends.
                "Besides," James added. "My friends seem to wear that thing more often than I do." He turned back into a stag before Lily could even thank him, and the group set off, Sirius in the lead, for the Marauders' thicket.

                Lily shivered as their party crept through the darkness, partly from the cold, though she couldn't deny the overwhelming uneasiness that sent sparks of frozen fear through her veins at every noise. She was glad for the warmth of the stag, alongside which she was walking, and glad that Remus' hand was so close to hers on the stag's back. She felt eyes all around her--though she could see none--staring like hundreds of needles on all exposed sides, and she pressed closer to the large, warm animal on her right.
                With every step she began to regret her decision, every step that brought her deeper into the forest of fears she abhorred, and only the sight of Remus, so sickly yet so determined, and the fear of retracing the terrible steps she had already taken, kept her from revoking her promise. A cold hand brushed hers, and she heard Remus say soothingly, "I think we're close; it shouldn't be too much farther."
                Lily nodded and, true to his word, she soon observed a brightness leaking, as if through a sieve, between the leaves of a stand of thick bushes. Sirius whined and disappeared through an entrance Lily could not see until she was right against it. There was a small opening, an area where the branches were less dense, alongside a massive tree. Remus indicated for her to step in before him.
                She pulled James' cloak close to protect her arms from the branches and edged through, her braid snagging as she went. Her feet faltered as she discovered too late a steep incline, and stumbled into the arms of Sirius, who had again become human.
                "I was just about to warn you of that," he stated. "But ah, well."
                Remus and James followed her in, James still in his previous form as a stag, but Lily had ceased to notice any of them--her entire consciousness was not focused on the majestic being before her.
                As she knelt next to the sleeping stallion's gracefully arched neck, of such a white luster that it made the snow look merely pearl, her heart gave a shuddering cry, tears filling her eyes. A rat scuttled past her knees but she didn't notice as she extended her arm, gently stroking its glistening coat with the backs of her knuckles. Its fur was softer than doeskin, and she could feel the warmth of its body as she flattened her palm against its sleek neck, stroking the length to its shoulder.
                Liquid gold eyes fluttered open as softly as the wings of a butterfly, and a gaze filled with emotion penetrated her, and she could not look away. It stared at her, reading her soul through her eyes, and inside she teemed with joy, sadness, contentment and desperation, hoping, wondering if there was anything she could do to save this pure spirit.
                The unicorn blinked serenely and looked away, focusing its eyes on something behind her before closing them and, with a sight, resting its head. Lily then diverted her attention to the unicorn's wound, to its lacerated flank, coated with silver blood that now pooled beneath it. How it could have lost so much blood and still be alive she did not know, but it was, and it was waiting for her to save it.
                She examined the wound, and found that it was a series of angry claw-marks, and two deep holes where something had punctured it, with fangs or something of the like. "Is there anything you can do?" asked a voice behind her.
                "I think so," Lily replied, throwing the cloak away form her arms to free them for movement. "You brought a bag of medical supplies, right?" A brown knapsack was handed over her right shoulder, and she began searching through it for something she could use. One of her hands still rested on the unicorn's side, monitoring it, feeling its belly rise and fall as the creature breathed.
                Finally Lily withdrew from the pouch a small vial she could use, followed by a jar of salve procured from the Care of Magical Creatures store cabinet. With a quick cleansing charm she removed the blood and dirt from the unicorn and prepared a swab of cotton, soaked with the contents of the vial. This she administered over the claw marks, and squeezed the remaining as gently as possible into the deep gauge in the stallion's flank. She felt the unicorn's body shudder beneath her hands and heard a series of gasps behind her as the wounds bean to mend themselves, months worth of healing occurring in mere seconds. Soon all that was left of the horrendous wound was a wide patchwork of angry scars, over which she applied salve, a thick gooey brand the same silvery hue as the unicorn's blood.
                "There," she said after a pause. "That's…all I can do--it lost a lot of blood, which will take a lot of time for it to regenerate, but I think he should be alright now."
                "That was fast," Exclaimed Sirius. "But not quite fast enough for some." He smiled and turned his head to indicate Remus, who had fallen asleep against the side of the stag, looking rather gray.
                "Is he alright?" Lily asked, concern for her friend piquing now that the unicorn was safely treated. "He looks ill."
                "Yeah," Sirius' expression was slightly pained. "He wasn't feeling too well, and the midnight stroll through the snow wasn't exactly what the doctor prescribed, but he's a stubborn lad for all his kindness. He wouldn't have listened to us if we'd tried to stop him coming, the mulish git."
                Lily had to smile at this evaluation of Remus, and with a yawn found herself suddenly leaning on Sirius' arm. He chuckled, "Tired?"
                She nodded, looking at her watch, and seeing that they only had a few hours before dawn looked back at the unicorn again. It was in a deep slumber, and she was glad that it would truly be alright now. Sirius moved away to wake Remus, who rose shakily and leaned on his arm rather more heavily than Lily had.
                Sirius sighed and made a sound of disapproval as he helped his friend gently out of the thicket, followed by a rat who, Lily now guessed was Peter.
                A warm nose pressed against her arm and she turned to see James, the stag, blinking large brown eyes at her. She was unable to resist the temptation to pet the velveteen fur on his nose, and said: "He's okay now. The unicorn should be back to normal soon. I just remembered that they generate blood almost five times faster than we do." The stag bowed his head in a nod, and Lily climbed up the bank and scrambled through the branches, followed by James.

                The journey home was permeated by contented silence, and Remus, who had all but fallen asleep on Sirius' arm, was now being carried on his friend's back. Sirius didn't mind carrying him again as he walked alongside James, Lily, and Peter. Oddly enough, it felt right for the five of them to be together like this; quiet, calm, and contented, and though it was late, Sirius felt that he could go on for hours in the chill night air with such warm company.
                A soft voice sounded at his shoulder. "This is the second time you've carried me home," Remus said quietly, his cold, damp cheek close to Sirius' ear, his chin on Sirius' shoulder. The comment broke Sirius out of his reverie. He half-shrugged and said, "It's alright, I don't mind. You're not heavy."
                Remus shook his head, and Sirius slowed his pace a bit, sensing where the conversation was heading.
                "I can't help feeling like a burden to you all, the way you take care of me."
                "No," Sirius said, shaking his head. "No, you aren't a burden at all. We take care of you because we want to, because you're our friend."
                Remus chuckled, a low sound that Sirius could feel reverberate against his back. "Liar," he said. "I am a burden." When Sirius began to protest a second time, Remus interrupted. "No. I hate this stage of my--my Lycanthropy…almost more than I hate the transformations themselves; the times when I'm so helpless."
                "Helpless…heh, I wouldn't call you that. You're too stubborn, and too smart." "I'm not looking for reassurance, Sirius. I don't need actualization or for you to disagree with me on this. I guess…"
                Sirius halted and turned his head to look at his friend. Remus' eyes were shut, his hair specked with white from the powdered snow falling from the branches. "I guess what I really want to say is…is thanks. For everything."
                Sirius smiled slowly, feeling the warmth of friendship seep back into his atmosphere, and he started walking, though he did not draw close again to the stag. "Don't mention it, buddy." He began. "I have a feeling that, after a while, it's going to be you and me more and more."
                "What makes you say that?"
                "I think James is going to be getting kinda busy soon."
                "Just a hunch. Maybe the whole thing is just a feeling."
                "Hey, Sirius."
                "I'm glad I have you guys, but I don't know how I'd manage without you."
                "You'd be walking."

                That night Lily dreamed of gold-horned stallions, racing and rearing as the moon was washed out by their light, and she dreamed of stars, and of a man she could later not recall, who ran a hand through his untidy hair before taking her hand and leading her away from the prancing apparitions. He thanked her, she reached out for him, and he was gone, leaving behind him a heart she was determined to search for…in someone.

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