Notes: There is some use of Welsh; I did not provide translations because it is explained within context. All Welsh mythology is genuine in source, and only slightly twisted to suit my plot purposes. I was at some times rather free with JK Rowling's explantion of the pre-Harry world.
Disclaimer: The lovely and talented JK Rowling so far surpasses me that I hesitate to post; but one cannot help but imagine.
1973 : Autumn
The hand that came down on his shoulder could only belong to James; the fingernails were all bit down to the quick. Remus grinned as the Gryffindor threw his arm about Remus’s shoulders, and walked with him toward the Great Hall.
‘How you holding up, Remus?’ James asked lightly. ‘You’re all settled in now?’
‘I’m good. I am.’ He was. The first week had been so awful he still wasn’t sure how he had gotten through it. His first real day at Hogwarts had passed in a miserable blur. He had even drummed up the courage to go to the Head of his House– the pale and disinterested Professor Asper– and had begged to be sent home.
‘Arrangements can be made,’ Asper had said, barely looking up from his lesson plans. ‘Remind me tomorrow after your Transfiguration class.’
But that night, James had found him and been so cheerful, and Remus thought his fears seemed childish and silly. Sirius had even offered him a grudging smile at dinner, and the two Gryffindors had offered advice on his homework and told him funny stories about the strange little ghost who taught Magic history. And Severus had stayed in his room again that night, and had talked about asking if they could be room mates, and he had gone to sleep thinking he might make it after all.
But then there had been the meeting with the Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. It had not been at all what Remus had expected– or perhaps hoped– it had been... edifying.
‘The Hat, I’m afraid, is always right,’ the tall man had said, pushing a plate of chocolate biscuits toward Remus. Remus had sat staring into his lap, wretched in the knowledge that he was most certainly stuck with his lot. ‘Surely it isn’t so bad.’
But it was only his third day, and Remus did not yet have the vision to see beyond his current gloom.
‘As to certain other extant circumstances.’ Dumbledore folded his hands across his lovely desk. ‘It is perhaps fortunate that the school is underpopulated this year. We were able to spare you a single room, young Lupin.’
‘Underpopulated,’ snorted the ruddy-faced Professor Turbute, the Potions teacher. He liked to haul his great paunch about and thrust it at the students like a weapon. He terrified Remus, who, as Turbute came stomping over to the desk, squirmed to the other side of his chair and nearly fell out. ‘Underpopulated indeed! Withdrawing the students ‘in caution.’ Ha! Seeing the lay of the land, those pansies, those ingrates! Seeing how you handle yourself, they are, Albus, and make no mistake– they’re whispering their slanders in the ears of the Ministry as we waste time here!’
The gleaming leather bindings of the rows of books behind the Headmaster stretched like a proclamation of his many years. The skull of a rat and a human finger bone weighed down a stack of papers. A portrait of a medieval scholar blew his nose at Remus, then tucked his chin to his chest and went to sleep.
Remus could find nothing safe to look at. He remembered sitting in this same room across from Headmaster Dippet, who had instructed Remus to remain silent unless spoken to, and who had ignored him thereafter. He could imagine James and Sirius sneaking in past the ornate fire grate to plant stinkbombs behind the shelving. He couldn’t imagine wanting to spend any more time than absolutely necessary in this room.
‘Calm, my dear fellow,’ Dumbledore was saying, unruffled and mild. He picked up his half-circle spectacles, and perched them on his long nose to gaze at Remus. ‘Politics,’ he confided sagely.
Remus started to be addressed again. ‘Yes, sir.’
‘Do you know anything of politics, Mr Lupin?’
Remus knew then that Hogwarts was no school, but some kind of insane asylum. ‘No, sir,’ he whispered.
Turbute growled into his second chin and tugged his belly up with one fat hand.
‘As to your room.’ Dumbledore abruptly became serious– which was to say he stopped being serious at all and reached for a biscuit. ‘I had hoped we might discuss that.’
The single room, then, because of his sickness, and it would stay that way, no matter what promises or pleas Remus made in hopes of having Severus join him. And arrangements had been made, and Dumbledore himself took Remus walking off the grounds to show him the new tree that had been planted especially for him.
‘It is not the best solution,’ Dumbledore said, making use of the open air to enjoy a pipe. ‘I assure you we are working toward a better one.’ He released a puff of smoke in a perfect “o” shape. ‘You understand how this will proceed?’
The only thing that would have made that first week a completely unmitigated hell would have been having to test the shack.
But that was not to be, and the next day hadn’t been so bad, nor the day after that, and by the end of the week Remus held his tongue and did not remind Professor Asper to inquire about going home. Even being Slytherin wasn’t so awful anymore; Lucius sometimes said hello and sometimes didn’t, but some of the other first years had started to stick together and the first pranks had not even been played on Remus, but on another boy with buck teeth.
And now it was almost his fourth week, and the first Quidditch match of the term was day after tomorrow. James had been in a good mood all week, and Remus didn’t even mind that Sirius was ruder than ever. He let himself be led to the Gryffindor table, where he could hang around until the Hall filled up. Sirius was already there, talking to a pretty Gryffindor girl and ignoring them. James threw himself onto the bench, only to jump to his feet again.
‘Oh, hey, Reemy, you’ve got to meet someone. Where’s Peter?’ He searched the table, then leapt as high as he could, waving his arms above his head and whistling. ‘Peter! Peter! Come here.’
A very pudgy boy with a dough-like face looked up, and came scuttling toward them. James put a hand on his shoulder and the other on Remus’s, and said, ‘Peter Pettigrew, I’d like you to meet my mate Remus Lupin. Remus Lupin, meet my mate Peter Pettigrew.’
Remus held out his hand obligingly. ‘Hallo, Peter.’
Peter was as homely as Severus Snape, though in nearly opposite ways. Where Severus was tall for his age, Peter was short, and Severus was very thin while Peter was in danger of being fat. Thanks to his glasses, Severus’s eyes always seemed large, but Peter’s were small and watery and shifty, as if he were extremely paranoid. But he offered Remus a sickly sort of smile. ‘You’re new too?’ he asked hopefully.
Remus nodded with a confidence he wouldn’t have felt a mere ten days before. ‘I’ve seen you in Potions. You’re Gryffindor, then?’
‘Thank goodness! It’s the best House. My mother would have thrashed me if I’d landed anywhere else, I was petrified– I was so scared I’d be Slytherin, and then I’d never be able to go home... ‘ It slowly dawned on poor Peter that James was red with suppressed laughter, and Sirius wasn’t even bothering to hide his amusement. Remus, his cheeks unnaturally pink, brushed his fingers over the white and green Slytherin scarf he wore despite being indoors.
Peter made a squeaky sort of noise, and disappeared down the table.
‘He’s really quite nice,’ James half-apologised. ‘He’s even shyer than you were.’
‘You know Jamie and his pets,’ Sirius said, lazily. His eyes lingered on Remus. ‘He just can’t say “no” to anything pathetic and needy.’
Remus gazed down at his boots. ‘Shut up, Sirius,’ James sighed.
‘It’s alright.’ Remus re-arranged his armful of books. He could handle being hated-- at least as long as he had James and Severus. ‘I understand. Anyway, I’m headed to my own table. I have one more class. See you at dinner.’ He hesitated, looking at Sirius and unsure if he wanted to say anything else. But the brown Gryffindor had already gone back to talking to the girl, and so he left, once again, without pressing the older boy. He was unaware that Sirius watched him go.
‘Hey,’ Severus said, pushing himself away from the wall he leaned against. He had seen Remus coming from down the hall– the scarf gave him away in the midst of all the unrelenting black and grey of the school’s uniforms. He received a smile of unusually large proportions, and tried his best to return it.
Remus frowned as he halted before the taller boy. ‘What happened?’
It took a great deal of effort not to touch to already purpling swelling that was his left eye. ‘Nothing. Did you finish your essay?’
‘Yes.’ Remus hesitated. ‘We–‘ He was interrupted by Lucius Malfoy, who slammed into him from behind and scattered his books.
‘Didn’t see you there,’ Malfoy said breezily. ‘Here.’ He held out his hand. Severus glared uselessly, bending to pick up the History text that had landed on his foot as Remus took the offer and was pulled back to his feet. ‘Is that your essay? Can I see it?’
‘Class is in five minutes. That’s not enough time to copy.’ But Remus was already handing it to him, and Severus, about to protest, let the words die on his lips as Goyle and Crabbe suddenly wedged him between their considerable hulks, smirking down at him. He caught Lucius’s wink, and scowled. The news that, due to the small class sizes, First and Second Year History would be taught as one class had led to many a misfortune for the youngest and weakest of Hogwarts.
‘Just wanted to check my answer,’ Lucius said, rolling the parchment tightly and slipping it into Remus’s bag. ‘Sit with me today.’
Remus glanced at Severus. ‘Can he sit with us too?’
‘No room.’ Lucius didn’t even bother to pretend regret. ‘Come on. Mum sent me some sweets and I saved some for you.’ He threw his arm around the smaller first year and walked him to the door. Remus looked back over his shoulder at Severus helplessly, and mouthed “Sorry.”
Goyle sent a blast of foul breath into Severus’s face as he leaned in. ‘Sit with Sweeny today. Got it?’
Severus did not reply. He kept his chin up and his eyes level, gazing blindly at the statue of the goblin king Wort. His silence had not done him a kindness in the showers that morning– had, in fact, earned him the black eye he wore now as a badge for his insolence. But if he started grovelling now, he’d never be able to stop them picking on him. It wasn’t in his nature to give in.
Crabbe gave him a sharp elbow in the ribs as reminder, and the two giants left him. Severus followed at a safe distance, and stopped in the doorway.
The only seat left was next to Sweeny, who was sporting a split lip. Apparently they would be serving their punishments together. Remus sat in the back, between Lucius and another second year, Edward Nickens. He was watching for Severus.
Severus turned his back and sat beside Sweeny.
Remus caught him up again right before dinner, barrelling through the crowded hall like a tiny magnet drawn to Severus’s lodestone. ‘Don’t be like that,’ Remus panted. ‘Come sit with me.’
Severus withdrew his arm from the boy’s hand and clutched his books more tightly to his chest. His eye and cheekbone ached sharply, but it was his ego that smarted more.
‘Lucius told me it was Goyle,’ Remus said. ‘I’m sorry, Sev. Please talk to me.’
‘Did he tell you why?’ Severus demanded, finally turning to face him. He took his glasses off with a hand that shook and folded them carefully into his pocket.
Remus shook his head. His white face was clouded and confused, hurt; his eyes were washed of all colour in his concern. For me, Severus thought, and felt a surge of strange satisfaction. It helped that Remus felt badly. There was no point, he decided, in telling Remus what had passed in the showers; how Malfoy had told him to back off, and the things Malfoy had threatened to do, or have his goons do. Remus wasn’t Malfoy’s friend. He was Severus’s. It helped.
‘I thought we could split the sweets,’ Remus said. ‘The ones Lucius gave me. It’s fish night, after all.’
Yes, it helped. Severus led the way into the Hall, and Remus even chose a seat far down the table from Malfoy.
James saw Remus and another Slytherin leaving Charms, and hurried down the corridor after them, Sirius and Peter trailing at a more sedate place. The five students met beneath an ivy-covered archway leading to the south quad. Strong sunlight dappled the brick walk and cast long shadows beneath the hedge maze at the centre of the quad. A Ravenclaw called hello, and Sirius lifted an arm in reply. Remus turned to look, and James caught him in a quick headlock. He rubbed his knuckles in Remus’s already dishevelled curls.
‘Let go, you bugger!’ Remus exclaimed, surprised into dropping his bag. He got a good elbow into James’s ribs, and the Seeker let him go with a grunt and a laugh. Instead he took Remus’s wrists and whirled the smaller boy about in a circle. ‘Wish me luck!’ he crowed. ‘You’re coming right? Right?’
‘Of course he’s coming,’ Peter Pettigrew said anxiously. He watched the roughhousing with an expression torn between envy and worry. ‘The whole school is coming.’
Sirius stared with a sneer on his mouth as James released Remus. The Slytherin stood panting, sweat standing out on his brow even though it was only warm. ‘Perhaps,’ Sirius muttered, ‘Loony Lupin is cheering for the other side.’
The other Slytherin, a tall dark-haired boy, said forcefully, ‘He’s not loopy.’ He moved to stand protectively beside Remus.
James blew a raspberry at Sirius, quite cheerfully dismissing the tension that sprung up like a summer wind. ‘Remus has no more in common with Hufflepuff than you do, you self-involved git. Of course he’s cheering for Gryffindor!’ He nodded politely to the sour-looking boy who had been walking with Remus. ‘Hi! What about you? Who you cheering for?’
‘Does it make a difference?’ The black-haired boy– what a honker he had, a truly unfortunate nose, James thought sympathetically– gazed at the arch as if they didn’t exist. Not the friendliest, but at least Remus had someone in his own House.
‘Sure it does,’ he replied, barely skipping a beat. ‘I’m James Potter. What’s your name? You a first year?’
Remus introduced them. ‘James, Severus.’ He interrupted himself with a wet-sounding cough. Peter offered him a handkerchief, but the fit left him grey-faced.
James didn’t notice. ‘I can barely sit still!’ he announced. ‘We’re going to beat the stuffing out of old Hufflepuff! Pinder Aujla, their Seeker, he hasn’t caught the Snitch in five games! Five games! It’s almost too easy.’
‘I heard their Beaters were excellent,’ Severus said.
‘They’re okay,’ Sirius told the air in front of himself. ‘Not up to our standard.’
James mimed a quick boxing step. ‘No challenge! Merlin’s beard, but I can’t wait til fifth period! I’m going to jump out of my skin! Come to the celebration tonight, Reemy?’
‘Getting ahead of yourself a bit, aren’t you?’ Severus mumbled. Only Peter heard him, and looked quite shocked.
‘Gryffindor common room, eight o’clock. Password’s “knickerbocker.”’
‘Jamie!’ Sirius growled. ‘Giving out the password to other Houses is against rules.’
‘Like you care,’ James shot back. He smiled at the Slytherins, putting in all the charm he could. ‘Remus, if you don’t come, I’ll be brokenhearted. You can come too, Severus. Merlin’s beard! We’d best be along. Old Kill-joy and I have Potions. Turbute will skin us if we’re late!’ Assuming his friends would be behind him, James left with a wave, forgetting them as soon as he saw George Sackman, the Gryffindor Keeper. ‘George! Hold up.’
Sirius watched James disappear through the doors. When his dormmate was out of sight, Sirius sent Peter scampering with a scornful brown-eyed glare. ‘Don’t come,’ he said shortly to the Slytherins. ‘I’m officially uninviting you. Got me?’
Remus bent his head down at the handkerchief he still held, folding it carefully into a small triangle. ‘James said it was okay,’ he answered softly.
‘Don’t make me repeat myself.’ Sirius stepped closer, grabbing the kerchief and looming over Lupin with his superior height and weight. ‘We don’t need you, Loopy.’
Remus finally looked at him. ‘I have study group,’ he said. ‘I guess I can’t come.’
Severus stared open-mouthed. That was not the Remus he knew.
Sirius mocked them with a smile. ‘Great timing.’ He dropped the kerchief to the walk, and turned smartly on his heel. His footsteps slapped derisively on the cold stone floors as he sauntered away.
‘Might as well lock yourself in your room as show your face to him again,’ Severus snapped, suddenly embarrassed for his friend. ‘You let him step all over you!’
‘And I suppose you sat with Sweeny for his conversation,’ Remus retorted hoarsely. Two spots of colour burned in his pale cheeks, making him look fevered. He tugged on the ends of his scarf. ‘And what got into you? You could at least have been polite.’
Severus let Remus flee him, knowing he had mis-stepped without knowing which step had been the bad one. Something was clearly wrong with Remus. And that third year! No better than Lucius Darling Malfoy. Why did Remus want Gryffindor so badly when they were no better, no better at all? He’d wanted to slug that brown-eyed boy for talking so to his friend.
Eight o’clock had rolled around and long passed when Severus timidly knocked on Remus’s door. He had sat with John Sweeny, of all people, at the match, and used his binoculars to search for Remus on the Gryffindor stands. It had been a swift game, and had gone much as James Potter had predicted it. Potter was more than a match for Pinder Aujla, who had not even been near the Snitch when it was captured, giving Gryffindor a victory of 150-10. At dinner, Severus had concentrated on his plate, secretly hoping Remus would forgive him and come sit with him; such had not happened. Remus did not come to dinner at all– and had not shown up at the nightly revision group.
Remus answered the door just as Severus was about to knock again. The colour had not left his face; bright red spots blazed amidst white skin, and his grey eyes could not seem to focus. ‘Hallo,’ Remus said.
Severus felt a prick of worry. ‘Can I come in?’
In answer Remus left the door open and went to his bed, where his suitcase lay open and he was packing it with clothing. ‘What’s this?’ Severus asked, staring.
‘My mother is ill,’ Remus replied to his hands, which were smoothing a jumper as he placed it on the top of the pile. ‘I’m going home for a few days.’
‘Oh.’ Severus rubbed his palms over his trousers. ‘I’m sorry. Is it bad?’
‘She lives alone. She needs someone with her.’
Remus was upset, then. They were new enough to each other that Severus could not read all the other boy’s moods, yet; but he had come to recognise that when Remus’s shoulders became hunched like that, and his spine seemed to shake with tension as though it were a guitar string that had been pulled too tight, that his mood was bad, indeed. ‘You’ll miss class,’ Severus said, to fill the silence.
‘The Headmaster said I can make up the work on special dispensation.’
The room was too hot. Severus had shed his robes after the game, but even without them he could feel perspiration forming where his collar rubbed. He fidgeted with the button on his left cuff, wondering if he could roll up his sleeves. Remus did not seem uncomfortable. He still wore his scarf. Severus had never seen him without it.
‘I came to ask if you went to the celebration,’ Severus explained finally. ‘Since you weren’t at... but I guess you were getting the news.’
Remus spoke to his suitcase, fitting the top and buckling it. ‘Suppose it’s just as well. We’ll never know if I’m a coward after all.’
Severus chewed his lower lip, unsure how to proceed. ‘No one called you a coward.’
The boy faced him. ‘You don’t think I am?’
No more than I am, Severus thought, for sitting with Sweeny that day. And Remus had ignored Lucius at dinner, and Lucius had pinched him viciously in the corridor outside Potions the next day for it. ‘No,’ Severus said.
Remus looked down at his bare feet. ‘It’s just a day or two. If you see him, please tell James that I wanted to congratulate him on the game.’
Like hell. ‘Sure,’ he replied.
James galloped into the cafeteria and bee-lined straight for the Slytherin table. ‘Oy, Malfoy! Where is he?’
Lucius looked as if ignoring James was a great temptation, but they had played this game before. James wouldn’t go away until he got an answer. Lucius gathered all twelve years of his bad temper and replied in a clipped tone, ‘He’s making up work in History.’
‘Thanks.’ James threw a hurried wave at the long-nosed boy– what was his name?-- whom Remus was friendly with, and took off out of the Hall. He was in such a rush he didn’t notice Remus until he ran into the first-year.
‘Careful there!’ He bent to gather Remus’s scattered books, and held them out apologetically. ‘Didn’t see you.’
‘It’s all right. It seems to be happening a lot lately.’ Remus shoved the books back into his satchel, already bursting at the seams with misuse. ‘Congratulations.’
‘Thanks! Where were you?’ He slung an arm around Remus’s shoulders and drew him in toward the Hall. ‘Blood pudding today. Yech. I looked for you all night. Minny finally said you’d gone home for a coupla’ day. Something wrong?’
‘Nothing. It was nothing.’ Remus hesitated at the great doors. ‘James? I’m not very hungry suddenly. I- I think I’ll just go back to my dorm.’
‘Are you all right?’ Now that he took the time to look, Remus did seem pale. Make it green, he thought, when the smell of the blood pudding hit them and Remus looked as if he’d lose whatever was in his stomach. ‘I’ll walk you. No, I know the way. Come on.’
The three flights were largely silent. As they neared the guardian of the dungeon entrance, Remus said, ‘You want to come in?’
James had never been inside the Slytherin dorms before; he had never been very curious about it before. But it was lunch hour and he had a free period coming. ‘Sure,’ he replied. ‘Do I get a tour or do you have to hide me?’
‘I can show you if you want.’ Remus did not pause before speaking the password clearly. ‘Come on.’ He stepped over the slightly uneven doorjamb and stopped in the approximate centre of the common room. ‘This is it, then.’ A lone student looked up from her book, then went back to its pages without any interest in them. It was a gloomy room, and the only light came from the ovens, resulting in a pitch darkness despite it being nearly noon.
‘This way,’ Remus reminded him, and led him down a low-ceilinged corridor to Room 5.
‘You don’t have roommates,’ James noticed, flopping down on the shag rug and glancing around. ‘That’s pretty cool.’
‘Severus stays over sometimes.’ Remus put his bag on his desk. ‘How was the party?’
‘It was fun. Sirius caught a Fizzer in the face and he won’t speak to Ned any more until Ned apologises, which won’t happen because Ned didn’t do it, it was Rhys, but Rhys always lets someone else take the fall and Sirius won’t believe it was him.’ He propped his arms behind his head and watched a spider wrap something in her web. ‘Cool,’ he whispered.
‘Lucius said the game was a pushover.’
‘Sure was. Didn’t even break a sweat.’ James sat up with a start as he remembered something. ‘Hey, want to see something really far out?’
The dubious look on Remus’s face no doubt came from association with the nastier of Sirius’s favourite pranks. But James only waved away the doubt and searched his vest for the paper he had pinned inside. ‘Look! This is really wicked. Sirius and I have been working on it.’ He jumped up onto the bed beside Remus, shaking out the parchment and smoothing it out over the green coverlet.
‘It’s a map,’ Remus said, leaning over it. ‘It’s Hogwarts!’
‘It’s the Hogwarts that no tour guide will ever show you,’ James corrected proudly. ‘In the course of my tenure here at this blessed hunk of rock, I have learned a great many secrets that not even the teachers know. I can get to a lot of places that I bet no one has been in for a hundred years. I can even get to Hogsmeade by a secret passage!’
‘Where did you grow up?’ James pointed to a corner of the map, and then to a spot on the coverlet a few fingerwidths from the edge of the paper. ‘It’s an all-Magical town near our own Hogwarts. When you reach third year, you’re allowed to visit on special weekends. They have amazing sweet shops, and the pub is terrific, and then of course there’s the joke shop.’ James found an Exploding Snap in his pocket, left over from the party, and gave it to Remus. ‘Some of it is really wild, but these are fourteen a bag and don’t cause too much ruckus. Keep that.’
‘This is all of Hogwarts then?’ Remus asked, examining the snap.
‘Certainly not.’ James sighed. ‘Someday it will be. Can you imagine what we can do with a map like that? Someday students– for a modest fee– will be able to sneak into the study of their most hated professor and leave dung bombs in the fireplace!’
‘Noble of you,’ Remus smiled.
‘Well, I have a broom to consider,’ James retorted, with great dignity. A moment later, however, he abandoned his pose. ‘Anyway, now you know the secret. You can get to the kitchens for a midnight snack, come to Hogsmeade with us, sneak up to the roof or to the Potions classroom. I could even get us into the Headmaster’s office. The last Headmaster, you wouldn’t know him, he was a real drag. Got more use out of that tapestry passage last year. But Dumbledore’s all right.’
‘If you ever get caught with that, you’ll be in trouble,’ Remus said.
James made a face. ‘I know. I haven’t quite thought of a way out of that little problem, except to keep it pinned inside me shirt, here. I had another one but Asper confiscated it after he caught me’n Sirius trying to lure his cat into a storeroom on the fifth floor.’ He patted his chest, just over his heart. ‘Well. You all right? Need to rest?’
‘I’ll be all right. Bit of a cold.’ Remus picked up the map and closely studied it. ‘There has to be a way to make it– invisible, or something. Seems you ought to protect it.’
‘You work on that, then. I’ll trust you to think of something.’ James grinned. ‘Your room is pretty cool. Can I come back some time?’
‘Sure, any time.’ Remus turned pink. ‘Thanks for wanting to.’
‘Sure.’ James smiled. ‘So, Hogsmeade next weekend. Come?’
‘Won’t I get in trouble?’
‘Only if you get caught.’ James pointed to the map. ‘Use that, and we’ll get you into Honeydukes. Have you ever had butterbeer?’
‘You’re in for a real treat. It’s settled. Bring a hood or something, though, in case a teacher decides to take a seriousness to chaperoning.’
And indeed the year’s first trip to Hogsmeade went off without a hitch. Remus emerged from the secret passageway that began behind a gauche, seven-foot mirror on the fourth floor a little dusty, but with a pleased grin peeking out from his hood, and none the worse for the wear. Sirius was his normal self– which was to say he ignored and needled Remus by turns, and once even wished it were Poor Peter with them and not a Slytherin– but the day was unspoilt by arguing and even Sirius settled down into a pleasant mood after his first butterbeer, and with his pockets bursting with sweets. It became a pattern for the three boys, and eventually Peter Pettigrew as well. Severus joined them once, but was so nervous he declined to return until his third year privilege arrived in the regular fashion.
‘Happy Christmas,’ Remus’s light voice said from far above his head.
James sat up grinning. It was only mid-day, and the Gryffindor common room was at a high point of traffic. Remus, so inconspicuous that few ever glanced twice at him, had no trouble sneaking in past the Fat Lady, as long as he stuck close to an unsuspecting elder year. The Slytherin was smiling an uncharacteristically large smile, and he was holding–
‘Gifts,’ Remus said, and sat beside him, kicking off his loafers to reveal mismatched socks. ‘Open it now, since you won’t be here for Christmas anyway.’
James had no arguments for that. Out of consideration for the excellent job the younger boy had done with stiff, sparkling silver paper, James did not do as he customarily did at home and shuck the paper halfway across the room. He used a bitten fingernail to slice through the sticky tape, and folded back the halves of the sheet.
‘Wicked!’ he shouted, lifting a pair of arm guards from the box. ‘Remus, these are terrific!’ Painstakingly stitched into the leather in Gryffindor red were his initials, and in gold-leafed press beneath the letters, the words ‘Seeker, 1972 - 1973'.
‘I didn’t do it all myself,’ Remus admitted, his cheeks coloured to match the stitches. ‘I had some help.’
‘I’m amazed.’ James was already slipping them on and wiggling his fingers and wrists. ‘Remus, thanks so much!’
The over-large smile returned. ‘Happy Christmas.’
James lowered his arms. ‘Are you sure you don’t want to come back with me over the holiday? It’s not to late to get permission.’ What kind of family did he have, anyway, telling him not to come home for Christmas? It was no wonder Remus was so painfully shy. ‘Mum’d be thrilled. You’re quieter than Sirius and you make less mess.’
The 1973 Gryffindor Seeker fully expected it when Remus lied through his teeth. ‘It’s alright. My mother’s just not doing so well right now and it’s best not to strain her. I don’t mind staying here.’
In an empty castle, in empty dungeons, four floors away from even the house elves, who would at least enjoy feeding him. James sighed. ‘Come up to the dorms so I can give you your present.’
Remus was an appreciative recipient of murder mystery by a famous Auror from the seventeenth century. On the front cover, a stuffy-looking man with a pinched face and foppish clothes smoked a pipe and ignored the knife sticking from his chest. Remus tucked it away into his satchel and promised to read it over the holiday.
‘Where’s Sirius?’ he asked, looking around. ‘I have something for him, too.’
‘He’s trying to get Cynthia Salander to go out with him. He’s probably hanging out by the Hufflepuff dorms trying to look like he belongs there. She might actually be impervious.’
‘Sirius would never chase anyone who wouldn’t give in,’ Remus said. ‘That’s the game.’
Calling it a game was dead-on. Sirius didn’t like real challenge any more than he liked change, which was why James was the Quidditch player, and not his otherwise more athletically inclined friend. Sirius only played games he knew he could win.
Remus was looking at James’s new action figure– Eamon Keller, the rising star of the Scottish team– tossing the thumb-sized bludger at the plastic man and watching it nail the little ball across the coverlet. The Slytherin first year was getting thin, and even James noticed how Remus had grown twitchier over the past week. He didn’t look eleven, or at least he didn’t look like the other first years. He looked like an old man, fussing with his ever-present scarf and coughing into his sleeve.
He’s sick, James thought, and realised suddenly that Remus was sick quite often. Pity stirred in his stomach. He had never given an especial lot of thought to what it must be like not to be healthy and strong, as he himself was. And Slytherins were such a snarky lot. Was Remus teased? Was that why he preferred the company of older Gryffindors to students in his own House? And he hadn’t thought anything of it when he’d glimpsed Remus cheering at the last match from the Gryffindor side.
He grinned crookedly to be caught staring. ‘You want that?’ he asked, motion to the Keller figurine. ‘You can have him.’
Remus shook his head. ‘He’s yours.’
‘Well, on loan then, for the holiday? I wasn’t planning on taking him home.’ But the other boy had already tucked the Beater back against James’s pillow, where he’d found it, and slipped back into his shoes.
‘I have class,’ he said. ‘I wanted to catch you and Sirius on lunch hour but then I didn’t see you in the Hall. Can you tell him I left his present on his bed?’
‘Sure.’ James pointed to the right bed, and Remus left a small package sitting in the exact centre of it. ‘You want I should walk you?’
‘No, I’m going to meet up with Severus and Malfoy. History.’ Remus made a face. ‘I try to pay attention, but it’s so easy to just take a quick nap. For the whole hour.’
‘You and every class he’s ever had, poor Professor Wort,’ James laughed. ‘I shouldn’t worry about it. I can help you study for the exam, if you like. He never bothers to change the tests and I did all right when I took first year. I was still noble-minded about paying attention,’ he teased.
Remus smiled. ‘Sure. See you later, James.’
James rolled onto his stomach and contemplated Eamon Keller, who was scowling in a very Scottish sort of way at him. ‘Oh, stop,’ he murmured, and turned Eamon onto his back. Maybe he could owl Remus’s mum secretly. Surely she wouldn’t object to Remus staying with him? That would be a nice surprise for Remus.
James hadn’t heard Sirius enter. ‘From Remus,’ he replied, and turned onto his side, propped up by an elbow, to look. Sirius had already stripped off his tie and vest, and he was looking well-kissed. Remus had been right. Cynthia had given in.
Sirius stared down at the package in his hands. ‘What the bloody hell for?’
‘Christmas,’ James said. ‘You know, with the big jolly saint who gives out gifts to needy children. Lots of trees with bright decorations. Sweets. Big feast.’
‘Shut it.’ Sirius sat on the edge of his bed, clutching Remus’s gift as if he thought it would explode. ‘Why’s he giving gifts? I thought he was poor.’
‘Well, they’re not expensive presents then.’ James had recognised the arm guards as school issue, though they were newer than the ones he currently used. ‘Isn’t it the thought that counts?’
Sirius tossed it away, and stood, rebelliously slouching and stuffing his hands into his pockets. ‘Well, I’m not getting him anything. Ridiculous.’
James sat up. ‘You’re a right prick sometimes. You could fucking open it.’
‘You’re taking his side?’
‘It’s not a fight! He gave you a gift, though who knows why! You treat him like a goblin and push him around worse than Malfoy does. You like Peter better and Peter couldn’t even get your name straight for weeks. The least you could do is see what it is.’
Sirius had turned a dull purple. ‘I might have known you’d stick up for your little charity case. Merlin’s beard, he’ll be dead before we graduate and you’re all attached! What happened to my best friend?’
James was on his feet with his fists clenched and his glasses hanging crooked before Sirius had even finished. ‘You take that back.’
‘What? That he’ll die?’ Sirius sneered. ‘You’ll probably be his bed nurse, too, and develop a guilt complex the size of France. He’ll cough his last sappy words to you and you’ll name your first child after him.’
‘You,’ James whispered. He had to keep his voice soft or he’d start shouting. ‘You are insufferable. It isn’t always about *you*, you know– and for your information, if he does die–‘ James thrust his chin in the air. ‘If he does, at least I would know I had treated him with a little humanity, as it’s obvious he’s had little enough of it and none from you, whom he only wants to please–‘
‘I hate you!’ Sirius flared. ‘I hate him and I hate how you moon after him! I’d sooner eat his stupid present than open it!’ He grabbed the little package from the bed and hurled it across the room. ‘Forget you.’ He stormed out, knocking over a chair on purpose and slamming the door.
It was very late when Sirius climbed out of the window onto the roof of the Astronomy Tower, shivering in the icy wind. ‘Jamie?’ His breath frosted the air.
‘I don’t believe I’m speaking to you yet,’ said the curled form at the lip of the ledge.
‘That’s what I’m here about.’ He held his arms out for balance, and walked heel to toe along the ancient tiling where James perched. A glance over the edge proved ill-considered; they were a long way from the ground. Sirius crouched, warming his hands beneath his armpits. ‘Can I apologise?’
‘I’ll think about it.’
He slid carefully onto his behind, and dangled his feet over the edge hundreds of feet in the air. ‘I didn’t mean it.’
James huffed, and pulled his coat tighter. ‘I believe that. You still said it.’
‘What part really got you angry?’ Sirius asked, burying his bare hands under his own shirt. He had not reckoned with the wind; it was freezing, and he wasn’t dressed for it. It had taken a while to work up the nerve to apologise, and he hadn’t wanted to spare time on fetching a jacket. Gazing out at the swaying black treetops, he said slowly, ‘I don’t hate you.’
‘You really think he’ll die?’ James wasn’t looking at him. His hat was crammed so low over his ears that Sirius couldn’t see his face.
‘Maybe,’ he said. ‘I don’t know.’
‘That’s not an answer.’
He didn’t have a reply for that. ‘He won’t die. I was just being a wank, like you said.’
He finally earned a look. ‘Do you really wish I weren’t friends with him?’
But James was stubborn as a mule. He repeated it insistently. ‘Do you want me to stop being friends with him?’
‘You couldn’t do it, and anyway you’d hate me if I asked that.’ Sirius sighed. ‘Do you want me to try harder?’
‘I want you all to like each other and get along.’
‘News flash.’ Sirius kicked lightly at James’s legs. ‘The world doesn’t operate like that.’
‘Doesn’t mean I can’t wish.’
Sirius said, ‘So, do I get another chance to make it all copasetic? Start fresh next term?’
A smile lightened James’s face grudgingly. ‘Yeah. If you get a lump of coal for Christmas, though, you’d better do a good job sweet-talking about your good intentions for next term.’
They sat in silence for a long time, watching clouds move across the stars. James abruptly offered Sirius a thermos. ‘Hot pumpkin juice,’ he said. ‘The kitchen elves had just made a batch when I went in.’
‘S’good.’ Sirius unscrewed the lid and sipped the juice, appreciating the burn that spread down his chest.
‘Did you ever open the gift Remus gave you?’
A cloud floated past, revealing the moon, nearly full now. Sirius gazed up at it. ‘Yeah. I even said thank you.’
‘What was it?’
It was sitting on his desk amid the worn tissue it had been wrapped in. ‘Gryffin feather,’ he answered.
‘Gryffin for the Gryffindor.’
Sirius remembered, though James did not, how he had needled Remus on the train to Hogwarts. ‘You always know a Gryffindor,’ he had said, knowing when he looked at Remus that the younger boy would never make their House. He hadn’t decided yet if the feather was a gesture of peace. He knew what he deserved, if he cared to admit it.
‘You know what? I’m cold.’ James heaved himself up. ‘Let’s go in.’
The noon bell echoing through the Great Hall announced the departure of the train. Students engaged in last-minute good-byes hurried to gather their things. The chatter rose in a sharp, excited pitch, and the house prefects appeared at the doors to herd the slowest students along.
James shouldered his pack and slid off his bench. Sirius reluctantly pushed aside his cup of eggnog and stood, and Remus, seated beside him with his nose in the murder mystery, shut the book and rose as well.
‘Have a good Christmas,’ the Slytherin said. James surprised him with an hug, and for a moment Remus looked exceedingly young and exceedingly inept at the business of affection. He was a dull red when James released him.
‘Here,’ James said, and pulled the Eamon Keller figurine out of his coat pocket. ‘Go on, then. It’s bad luck not to take a gift.’
‘Since when?’ Remus was even redder now, but he took it, and held it in both hands when it tried to kick him. ‘Thanks, James.’
James was grinning. ‘Sure thing. Enjoy the feast, okay? Eat a tart for me.’
‘I’d have to eat several, if I were eating for you,’ Remus retorted. ‘Go on. That was the last boarding call.’
James was looking at Sirius, obviously trying to communicate something from beneath frowning brows. He jerked his head toward Remus and then nudged Sirius in the ribs. Then he kicked his shoe.
‘See you later,’ Sirius told Remus, and hefted his bag over his shoulder and left the Hall.
James came hopping after him, dragging his suitcase and dodging a rush of Hufflepuffs. ‘Sirius!’
‘Someday the train really will leave you behind.’
James grabbed his arm. ‘Sirius.’
‘Damnit,’ he muttered, and dropped his bag. ‘All right then, hold on a minute.’ He left his friend with a question on his lips and sprinted back into the Hall. ‘Oy!’ he shouted, knocking the door open with a well-aimed shoulder. ‘Remus!’
The first year hadn’t moved from his table near one of the gigantic fireplaces. He sat with his chin in his hand, playing idly with the Eamon figure. He stood when Sirius called his name.
Sirius halted right before him. ‘Your scarf,’ he said, panting slightly.
Remus’s mouth fell open. ‘My scarf?’
‘It’s all old and nappy.’ He reached for it, and was surprised when Remus flinched away. He chewed the inside of his lip for a moment, and then reached again, determined. Remus stood with his head lowered and his hands twitching as Sirius unwound the frayed wool, and then reached up and removed his own scarf. ‘Here,’ he said, carefully draping it about the boy’s small shoulders. He tied a knot, and tucked the fringe into Remus’s robe. ‘Mine’s better.’
Remus’s forehead was furrowed when he looked up, and Sirius avoided his odd grey eyes. One small hand came up to stroke the soft weave. ‘Thank you,’ he said, subdued.
‘Happy Christmas,’ Sirius told him, and hesitated. ‘See you after holiday.’
Remus swallowed. ‘Good-bye, Sirius.’
James was foot-tapping when Sirius returned to him. ‘Well.’
‘I know,’ Sirius said, and grabbed his bag. ‘Come on.’
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