The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.
It began with four boys and one compartment.
The first boy had messy black hair, tanned skin, glasses, his wand out, and detention before he ever stepped foot inside Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The second boy had long black hair, piercing grey eyes, a bloody nose, and bruised knuckles.
The third boy with tawny hair, amber eyes, and a smattering of scars was holding together a torn robe.
And the fourth boy with mousy coloured hair and a round face was emptying his robe pockets of the chocolate frogs he’d purchased as soon as he found the trolley.
“Well you’re a Black. You’re sure to be in Slytherin,” said the boy in glasses.
The one holding the sleeve of his robe to his nose scoffed. “Oh that’ll be well good, mate. End up like this every night. I’m going to bribe the hat. Or charm it.”
“Can’t be charmed,” said the boy in the torn robe. He had his wand out now, trying and failing to fix the torn seam. “Who were they, anyway?”
“My cousins. The Noble and most sodding-shitting-arse-faced Ancient House of Black.” Dramatic as he was, the three other boys felt something for him as he collapsed against the window. “I’m well fucked.”
“I’m Remus,” said the tawny-haired boy. “You swear a lot.”
“What of it.” Black’s eyes narrowed. “What happened to your face?”
Remus turned pink but said nothing.
“Well I’m James. Potter. You’ve probably heard of me already.”
Three yes’s and one no—that one from Remus.
“No.” Remus picked at his hem.
“Half-blood?” James’ eyes were narrow.
Remus lifted his chin. “Does it matter?”
Black groaned and rolled onto his back. “Doesn’t sodding matter. He’s probably going to be better at everything than all of us Pure Bloods. Toujours Pur.” He swiped his robe again under his nose but the bleeding stopped. “Fucking rubbish.”
James sat back and his face softened. “What’s your name then?”
The mousy-haired boy shrugged. “Peter. Pettigrew.” He flicked the edge of his chocolate frog card, seemingly uncomfortable none of the other boys had opened theirs. “Half-blood.”
“So we’re half and half, then,” Black said. He rolled onto his stomach and let his legs fall onto Remus’ lap. “I’m Sirius. Bet I’m in Hufflepuff. That’ll really get me a sound beating.”
All three boys seemed uncomfortable over that, and eventually James rose. “I’m going to raid the trolley. Come on, Peter,” he snapped.
The other boy couldn’t seem to help himself as he scrambled off the seat and followed. Sirius rolled onto his back again. “What parent’s magical?”
Remus chewed on his cheek before he answered. “Dad. He met Mum when he was travelling in Wales.”
“Live there, then?”
Remus shrugged, picking at his torn robes. “Yeah.”
“Why d’you sound Scottish, then?”
“I am. Dad is. Lived there until a few months ago. We…moved a lot.” Remus turned his face away.
“You going to tell us about the scars?” Sirius kicked off his shoes and kneaded the balls of his feet into Remus’ thigh.
“No.” Remus thought he should be annoyed by this boy but he wasn’t. “What house are you going to ask the hat for?”
Sirius frowned. “What d’you mean?”
“Dad says you can ask. If you’re quick enough.” Remus stared at his fingernails like they were the most interesting thing in the world. “I think I’m just…I mean, you know. Happy to be in any house, really. Though maybe not Slytherin.”
Sirius worried his bottom lip between his teeth. “Maybe not Slytherin.”
Remus felt a twisting in his gut, and his hand closed round Sirius’ ankle. “I mean if you do get in Slytherin, it won’t be so bad.”
Sirius laughed, sounding a bit like a puppy’s bark. “Oh right, mate. Not so bad. Soon we’ll be hexing each other in the corridors.”
Remus swallowed. “I won’t hex you.”
“This lot won’t talk to me again.”
Remus took a breath. “I would.” When Sirius scoffed, Remus squared his shoulders. “I would. You’ll get sorted before me. I’ll ask the hat for whatever house you get. Then you won’t have to worry about it.”
Five minutes later, before Sirius could even begin to form a reply, James and Peter came in and banged armloads of sweets and pasties on the seats. “Tuck in, boys.” James then shrugged off his robes and thrust them at Remus. “Swap.”
Remus’ eyebrows shot up. “Sorry?”
“I said swap. Robes. I don’t know any repairing charms and yours aren’t working. You’ll get detention and I’ve already got one from that Slytherin Head Boy for hexing Sirius’ cousin. So swap.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” James said, and he stuffed half a pumpkin pasty into his mouth. “I have loads of robes. Mum went mad over making sure I was prepared.” He threw himself into the seat and held out his hand until Remus wriggled his way out of his torn robes and into James’ slightly larger, but very new and very untorn ones.
“Thanks,” he muttered.
James grinned and threw a packet of peppermint mice at him. “So, this is fun.”
There was a moment of pause, then all four boys erupted into giggles.
Remus threw up in the boat, Sirius nearly tipped it and was saved by James grabbing him by the back of the cloak. Peter let out a very undignified squeak when a giant tentacle poked out of the water and steadied the rocking.
A woman called Professor McGonagall was waiting for them at the entrance, and she gave a dry, casual speech about being welcomed and sorting and all that rubbish. Then they filed in.
Sirius was near his cousin Narcissa who was shooting daggers at him through her eyes, and he casually flipped two fingers up at her which made her turn away.
Sirius was the third boy to be sorted, and the hat needed almost no time at all. “GRYFFINDOR.”
He refused to look over at Bellatrix and Narcissa but he could feel their eyes on him. He had no idea when the howlers would arrive, but right now he didn’t care because he was at the Gryffindor table and it was a great big Sod-Off to his mum. And he wasn’t sorry.
Terrified, yes. But not sorry.
Remus was next. The hat took a little longer with him before it bellowed out the name to Gryffindor, and Sirius nudged the boy sitting next to him called Frank Longbottom who had just been sent over as well. “Budge up,” Sirius hissed. “Or I’ll hex you.”
“Sure you’re not supposed to be in Slytherin?” Frank muttered, but he did move and Remus plopped down next to Sirius with his cheeks gone all red and puffed out a little.
Sirius felt torn between pride and sick. “If James gets Slytherin I’m going to laugh for the rest of my natural life.”
Peter was before James though. And the hat took longest of all. Peter looked pale and shaking, but Sirius gave him a thumbs-up and suddenly the hat bellowed, “GRYFFINDOR,” and he raced over. Frank was shoved over once again.
Potter was after that. The hat barely touched his head before he was sent to the boys table and all four were reunited again. Under house unity and funny conversations from the train.
“What are the chances?” Remus asked as they tucked into the feast. Sirius wondered the same thing, but he couldn’t help noticing all four of them were smiling.
The howler arrived at breakfast two weeks after sorting. Just when Sirius was dropping his guard, because that’s when his mother liked to strike. When her boys least expected it. His great house Screech Owl let the red envelope flutter down to the table, and didn’t stop for a treat or nibble of breakfast.
Sirius stared at it so long, James panicked and grabbed it. “You have to.”
Sirius bowed his head and closed his eyes. Two words rang out in his mother’s harsh tones. “BLOOD TRAITOR.”
That was it.
But it was enough.
Not for the first time in his life—though for the first time since he set foot in the Hogwarts Castle—Sirius Black cried. Late at night when there was even breathing all round the dormitory. He sat knees to his chest, scrunched against his pillows and he tried to keep it quiet but within minutes he was sobbing behind his bed curtains.
James was the first to come in. He slipped through the opening and pulled back Sirius’ duvet and had his own pillow which he mashed up against the headboard. He didn’t say anything, just laid there.
Remus came in after. More hesitant without his pillow so he pulled Sirius’ over and laid down. There was just enough room for Sirius to stretch out and eventually he did.
“When I was four,” Remus said, very soft into the dark of the late night, “I hadn’t shown any magic yet. I think mum was relieved, dad a bit disappointed. We were in Edinburgh and mum found this little shop full of sweets. The lady at the cash till was really horrible though, and going on and on about how I’d be spoilt if I had anything. She had this horrible hair, like a giant pouf on top of her head, a sort of white blonde. And she was sneering at me so I sneered back and the next thing I knew, he hair had burst into this rainbow shower of colour. She screamed and screamed. Dad was petrified, mum…mum just kind of grabbed my by the wrist and yanked me out.”
Sirius couldn’t help his snort. “Your first accidental magic was turning a bird’s hair rainbow?”
“Everyone was so upset they didn’t realise I’d stuffed my pockets full of bubble gum,” Remus said. He turned to his side and hid his smirk into Sirius’ pillow. “I had enough to last me nearly a month. Mum found it but she was afraid to take it away because she didn’t know what might happen if I got upset again.”
Sirius howled. “Oh Merlin, you probably let her think it, too! Didn’t you?”
Remus huffed a laugh. “Maybe. Now that she knows I can get expelled for doing magic outside of school she’s less worried but…I might have used it to get my way a few times.”
“Listen to this, James. Our sweet little Remus here. He’s Slytherin as I am!”
“We’re Gryffindor,” James said, and he reached over, taking Sirius’ hand. “And that’s okay too. We can be cunning and brave.”
Sirius let himself feel comforted by these two people in his bed. People who were not his family. Who were not his kin. Who didn’t even really know him at all. But here they were trying to make him feel better like somehow they knew what was going on.
It didn’t stop the nightmares. But he felt a little less shattered by them come morning.
The first time Remus left to tend to his poorly mum, no one said a word about it. Not even Sirius who did notice fresh cuts on his arms, as hard as Remus tried to hide it. But he thought well, maybe Remus’ home life was a little too like his own and who wants to talk about that.
So they never did.
Instead when Remus would be returned feeling just dreadful and worn out, Sirius would lie on his bed and charm the ceiling to make funny constellations and spell out rude messages about the Slytherins and ask Remus to tell him about muggle things.
“What’s muggle school like?” he would say.
Remus would give a long-suffering sigh sounding ages older than the tender eleven years he’d lived. “Not like this. But not very different either. I went to a day school, so went home when lessons were over. And I studied maths and sciences and French.”
Sirius snorted into Remus’ pillow and nudged him with his elbow. “And you call me poncy.”
“You are poncy,” Remus argued. “But I dunno. It was just…muggle school. No magic. We read out of books and the professors wrote on chalkboards and we wrote on paper with biro and…”
“What’s a biro?”
When Remus attempted to explain it, Sirius demanded Remus bring some home next time he went to tend to his ill mum. And Remus did. And Sirius had great fun with them, writing all over himself and Remus and James and even poor Peter who was just trying to go unnoticed most of the time. He tried to charm them which never really worked and eventually McGonagall confiscated them all.
“Snape,” James ground out. “That greasy-haired Slytherin who’s mates with Evans.” They were at breakfast staring across the Great Hall and Sirius was under the table trying to undo an itching hex on James’ ankles. “I know it was him.”
“How?” Remus insisted. “How could you know?”
“Saw his wand move. The wanker.” He let out a sigh when the hex was off and Sirius popped back up.
“Revenge time,” Sirius said. “We could…”
“No,” Remus said, and when the other two looked affronted, Remus leant his head in. “We need to put something in his cauldron during potions. He’s always showing off.” Remus’ tone was irritated and low because though it had only been a few months into term, Remus was rubbish at Potions. And Snape knew it.
James and Sirius seemed to like the idea, though Peter groaned. “You’ll get detention. Slughorn always knows.”
“Tell us something we don’t know,” Sirius chastised.
“Tell us why we should care. He’ll probably give us detention with Hagrid anyway,” James said with a wave of his hand. “Thinks no one likes Hagrid.”
“Well he’s a bit…” Peter began.
“Shut up,” Remus said, and all three boys were a little surprised, but shouldn’t have been because Remus—though the others didn’t know it yet—knew what it was like to be othered. Like Hagrid. “Okay…so here’s the plan.”
They did get caught. Snape’s potion exploded and burnt off his eyebrows and not even Madam Pomfrey could fix them. They’d just have to wait to grow back. Course Slughorn found the beechnut oil in Sirius’ pocket and the four of them were given detention. Scrubbing out cauldrons, not with Hagrid.
But it was worth it to see Snape walking round.
“You could draw them on, Snivelly,” James called out as they walked in for dinner. “Or even paste them on with some grease from your hair.”
“Shut it, Potter,” Evans groused.
James smirked and Remus and Sirius hid their smiles behind their hands.
Christmas was good. All four boys went home but wrote letters and sent gifts. Mrs Lupin sent James, Peter, and Sirius homemade peanut butter fudge, and Remus included several sheets of muggle paper and a packet of biro for Sirius just because.
Sirius sent them all miniature quiditch figures flying round on brooms which Remus kept in his window sill for when he was at home and missing Hogwarts so much. James bought them all brooms. Nice ones. Nimbus’ which Remus’ mother attempted to force Remus to send back but James wrote saying his parents told him it was alright. They couldn’t bring them until the next year but Remus couldn’t get over how excited he was to have his very own broom. He got caught twice skimming the fields a few days after the moon.
Pete sent sweets—as usual, and he’d made a note of everyone’s favourite. Sirius was allergic to chocolate so he got candy floss and a lot of chewing gum. Remus was loaded up with chocolate frogs, and James with Bertie Bott’s Beans because he loved having them round for dares or pranks.
They returned happy to see each other, even though Remus had to leave again just weeks later. Yet again Sirius didn’t mention the new bruises and cuts, but he wondered how a mother who could make such wonderful muggle sweets could also hurt a boy like Remus who wanted nothing but to be kind and make friends.
When James returned from the hols, he showed his friends his own gift. “It’s an Invisibility Cloak,” he said proudly. “Dad said it always goes to the eldest son and since I’m the only—it’s mine.” He put it on to the delight of the other three boys.
Pranking became very different after James brought his cloak.
The professors all got to know them very well—mostly James, Sirius, and Remus though as Peter was very good at talking his way out of detentions. Though he was often scolded by McGonagall for his lack of paying attention during lessons.
And Remus went home once a month.
He came back with stories about muggle things for Sirius. And they all slept in each other’s beds during nightmares. And Sirius always kept Remus’ ceiling enchanted because Remus insisted it helped heal his wounds.
And the year was rapidly coming to a close and no one wanted to talk about it but James promised to have them all over for at least a week, and Remus said as long as his mum wasn’t ill he could go. And Sirius said he’d rather be anywhere than with his parents but not too long because he hated being away from his brother who was starting at Hogwarts the year after next.
Pete was just happy to be there, he said, and they all laughed a bit at him.
But Sirius was awfully quiet and eventually dragged James to go find the trolley not because he wanted more sweets, but because he had to talk to James. The prefect car was empty meaning they were on patrol, so Sirius ducked inside.
“What are you doing?” James demanded.
“He’s always gone at the full moon. I…” Sirius tugged on the sleeves of his robes. “I looked it up. I went to the library and I looked it up. I think he’s…” Sirius dropped his voice. “A werewolf.”
James stared at him. “Who?”
“Remus, you lunatic! Who the bloody hell do you think I’m talking about. Every full moon, James. And he’s always…hurt. And I don’t think it’s his mum or dad. They seem alright, don’t they?”
James swallowed. “But Dumbledore wouldn’t let…” He took a breath.
“Maybe he would. He’s dead weird.”
James licked his lips. “So?”
Sirius stuck out his chin. “So why wouldn’t he tell us? D’you think he’s evil?”
James snorted. “Remus? Who folds his pants and cleans our quills and sends you bloody muggle quill thingies for holiday presents?”
Sirius let out a breath. “Why wouldn’t he though? We’re his best friends.”
“Maybe because he’s afraid. Would you tell? If you were him?”
Sirius shrugged. “Dunno. Think my parents would have murdered me because it’s bad enough having a blood traitor in the house, can’t think what they’d do if I was a dark creature.”
James’ eyes went dark. “You could come home with me, you know. Mum and dad…”
“Can’t. Reg.” Sirius swallowed. “So how do we let him know it’s okay?”
James ruffled his hair. “We could talk about them. Werewolves. We could say we think they’re alright. You know. Do research over the summer. That sort of thing. Then…I dunno. Just tell him, I guess.”
James nodded solemnly. “Next year. We’ll sort it out over summer so he won’t be afraid.”
Sirius felt better, because the very last thing in the world he wanted was for Remus to be afraid.