It had been a quiet weekend. Uneventful. But Peter never minded that quite as much as James and Sirius did. It was nice just to be at Hogwarts with his friends, and every now and then to have an afternoon, or even a whole day, to not think about homework.
Peter cast a guilty glance at his half-finished Transfiguration assignment, and wondered just how thin Professor McGonagall's lips would get if he failed to turn it in on time tomorrow. It hadn't seemed important that afternoon during the impromptu Exploding Snap tournament in the common room, but now, after supper on Sunday evening, with Transfiguration looming in the morning, Peter was not certain when he had thought he would have time to finish it.
At least they didn't have Defence Against the Dark Arts tomorrow; Professor Gandolfsson made him more nervous than the rest of the Hogwarts staff and the Slytherins combined. It was bad enough worrying that he might be hit with a random hex in the corridors between classes without worrying that it might happen in class, too. But for the most part, the prickly Auror ignored Peter, much as he did the girls in their class, and Peter was glad of that, even though he knew it meant Gandolfsson didn't think he was up to much. The Defence master had not said as much directly to Peter, but he clearly considered him to be in the category of those who would likely snuff it in their first real fight, and Peter privately agreed with that assessment. Better to avoid fighting altogether.
He shrugged off the gloomy thought and turned back to Constantine, his pet Puffskein, whom he was trying to tempt with a stale bread roll he had brought back with him from supper. Peter had considered smuggling up something more enticing, like a bit of treacle tart, but it had proved too great a temptation, and had not made it past the doors of the Great Hall. Constantine was sniffing the roll suspiciously -- or rather, Peter thought he was; he was not very clear on whether Puffskeins had noses -- when the dormitory door banged open and the ball of caramel-coloured fluff disappeared with an alarmed squeak into the dusty recesses beneath the bed.
James glanced up from his own Transfiguration homework as Sirius flopped down onto his bed with a sigh.
"Remus has gone home again, has he?" James asked casually.
Sirius gave his best friend an annoyed look. "He knows."
"What?" asked Peter blankly, as James, brow furrowed, echoed him.
"He knows," repeated Sirius, sitting up. "He knows we know. I told him last month."
"What?" said Peter again. Clearly he had missed something.
James frowned. "That was our secret. You should've told me you were going to tell him."
"It was his secret," scowled Sirius. "Don't need your permission to tell him, do I? You just said not to tell him last year because of exams; you didn't say anything about this year or about consulting you first."
"What?" Peter said, a small whine of irritation creeping into his voice. He was beginning to feel not only left out of the conversation, but invisible as well.
James sighed, ignoring him. "Fine," he said. "He know we know. And now you've told me so in front of Pete, which means --"
"Remus said it's OK to tell him," said Sirius. "He's going to find out eventually one way or another, isn't he?"
James and Sirius both turned to stare at him, matching looks of calculation in their eyes, and Peter suddenly wished that he was invisible. Perhaps Constantine had had the right idea, hiding under the bed. Peter was not so sure he wanted in on whatever the secret was after all. It didn't sound like the fun sort.
"What?" he said nervously, looking back and forth between the two of them.
When his friends crossed the room and sat down on either side of him, Peter felt suddenly trapped. He tried to smile. Maybe it was a joke of some kind.
"Lads? What's going on?"
The two dark-haired boys exchanged a silent look, and then Sirius nodded once, yielding to James, whose eyes shifted back to Peter for another long, considering look.
"Pete," he said at last, "you ought to know. Remus is a werewolf."
"I don't get it," Peter frowned. If it was a joke, it was either a poor one, or they hadn't reached the punchline yet. Either way, he wished his friends wouldn't mess him about like that.
Sirius snorted. "There's nothing to 'get', you prat. Remus is a sodding werewolf."
Peter's brows drew together as he looked back and forth between his two friends, searching for the first hint of a smile. "But that's not funny," he said.
"It's not meant to be funny," sighed James, running a hand through his hair and making it stick up even more than usual. "It's meant to be true."
"It can't be true," Peter said with almost complete confidence. He'd heard stories about werewolves, and even seen a couple of articles about werewolf atrocities in the Daily Prophet. "Werewolves are all hairy and they eat people and have red eyes and pointy teeth and -- and fingernails like claws. And anyway, Dumbledore would have to know. He'd never let one in the school."
"That's all you know," sneered Sirius.
James shushed him. "Look out the window, Pete. The moon's rising. It's full tonight. And Remus is gone. He's gone every month at this time. Dumbledore's got a place he can lock himself up so he won't hurt anyone when he changes."
The words, spoken so matter-of-factly sent a chill down Peter's spine. But it couldn't be true. It's just couldn't. "Remus can't be -- he's not like that!"
"No," said James quietly. "He's not. He's not a monster, Pete. It's not his fault, what happened to him. He's just got a -- a furry little problem." He flashed a brief smile at Sirius, who gave a huff of laughter.
Peter was silent for a moment. Remus was gone, and it was the full moon tonight. That much was fact. And then there was Constantine's irrational fear of their quiet roommate. It might all make sense if --
"No," said Peter quietly. Then louder, "No!"
He jumped off the bed and whirled to face them, fists balled up at his sides, ears and nose going pink. "You're having a laugh," he accused them. "But it's not funny. Werewolves are monsters! Everyone knows it! They kill people and -- and drink their blood, or else they turn them into monsters, too. Why are you being horrible to me? Why are you being horrible to Remus? What's he done?"
James and Sirius exchanged a look, but before either of them could speak, a faint howl drifted through the window on the night air.
Peter's eyes went wide, and he turned pale. "That -- that's not --" "Remus," said James impatiently. "It's Remus. And he'll be like that until dawn. And then he'll be just like he usually is again. Your friend. Your roommate."
"No." Peter almost stamped his foot. His arguments were running out and neither James nor Sirius had cracked a smile yet. They never let a joke run on this long. His voice was almost tearful as he pleaded with them. "You can't be friends with a werewolf. You can't trust them. You have to ring your bed in silver, or they'll kill you in your sleep. They're murderers! Freaks! Half-breeds! You know it's true!"
They moved so fast that Peter had no time to do more than take a step back before he found himself flat on his back on the bed, Sirius holding his arms, and James pointing a wand at his throat, twin looks of barely-suppressed rage on their faces.
"Are you quite finished?" James asked coldly.
Peter swallowed, nodding once, eyes crossing as he tried to look at the wand tip.
James's voice was soft and even as he continued. "Now that you've got all the stupid out of your system, I'm going to tell you how it is. Remus is a werewolf. Dumbledore knows. Pomfrey knows. We know. No one else, and that's how it stays. You're not to breathe a word of it to anyone. Ever. Because he's one of us, whatever he is."
"If you ever tell anyone," hissed Sirius, "or if you ever say 'freak' or 'monster' or any of that bollocks to him, you'll have to deal with us, and believe me, that conversation will make this one seem like a nice day at the Quidditch."
Peter looked up at the cold grey and hazel eyes above him and swallowed again, heart pounding. They weren't joking. But if they weren't, then that meant Remus really was a werewolf. The same Remus who had helped him with his homework and taught him to beat James at chess -- almost. The same Remus who took his side when the others ganged up on him, and who had once saved him from a giant spider in the Forbidden Forest.
"All right," he croaked. "He's a -- a werewolf. And I won't say anything."
"You swear it?" demanded James ruthlessly, prodding him in the chest with his wand. "On your father's grave?"
"I -- I swear!" squeaked Peter.
The wand was withdrawn, and a moment later, Sirius's tight grip on his arms relaxed.
Peter sat up, rubbing his arms. "But if he eats Constantine, I'm allowed to say 'I told you so'," he said irritably. "You promise he's not going to kill me in my sleep?"
"Wouldn't be such a loss," muttered Sirius, giving him a look that made Peter move quickly out of his reach.
But James only said, "He hasn't yet, has he? We've been living together more than a year now."
Peter knew he would have to be satisfied with that, though he didn't think he could ever sleep soundly with a werewolf breathing down his neck.
James turned to Sirius. "So now what?" he asked.
"I don't know," admitted Sirius, anger fading from his eyes. "I guess we start looking for ways to help him."
By the scuffing, shuffling footfalls and the clearing of a throat, Remus knew that, whoever his visitor might be, it was not Madam Pomfrey. Reluctantly, he blinked open his grainy eyelids. It took him a moment to realise what he was seeing, and what it meant, and then his eyes flew wide as he stared up into the faces of all three of his roommates. Sirius grinned guiltily. James looked solemn. Peter stared at the floor.
Remus opened his mouth, but it had gone suddenly dry, and in any case, he could think of nothing to say. Heart hammering painfully against his aching ribs, fingers clenched in the rough woollen blanket, he waited for one of them to speak.
Four weeks ago, when he had awoken to find Sirius sleeping peacefully beside him, Remus had had a hard time believing that the conversation of the previous night had been real. His brain had been muddled with exhaustion. Surely he had misunderstood something or Sirius had, or it had been a dream after all. James couldn't really know, could he?
Remus had spent almost a month covertly observing the others in light of this revelation, looking for subtle clues in their attitudes towards him, and towards Dark creatures in general, trying to fathom the impossible idea that James and Sirius knew his secret -- had known it for ages -- and they did not care. He had spent many restless nights trying to puzzle it out, wanting to believe, but unwilling to put much weight on something that seemed so unlikely.
If he told James he knew -- if he told Peter the truth -- as Sirius had urged him to do, it would all come out, and he would figure out where the mistake had been made, or what the misunderstanding had been, and then they would hate him after all. They would shun him and shout his secret from the towers of the school, and Remus would be sent home, never to call himself "wizard" again. He couldn't face it. It was too much.
The tension and sleepless nights had only worsened with the approach of the October full moon. When Sirius had intercepted him on his way to the hospital wing the night before and pestered him again about when he was planning to tell the others, Remus had snapped, shouting at Sirius that if he was so keen, why didn't he just tell them himself? The last he had seen of his friend was an openmouthed look of shock as Remus had whirled away and stormed down the corridor. Was Sirius angry about that? Would he decide that being friends with someone as unstable as Remus was too much trouble after all?
Apparently Sirius had taken him at his word, and had told the others. Remus wished he could have put this moment off a little longer, but he had known for a month now that it was coming. The night Sirius had confessed that they knew, there had been a kind of safety in the quiet darkness. Now, in the bright morning light of the hospital wing, there was nowhere to hide.
It was James who spoke first.
"I just wanted to make sure you knew that it's all out in the open now," he said. "There's no more secrets between us."
Remus nodded slowly, licking dry lips, eyes riveted on James's face.
"This doesn't change anything," James told him. "Anyone who knows you can see you're a decent bloke." He poked Peter, who jumped.
"It doesn't m-matter what you are. We're friends," the smaller boy said very fast, voice unusually high, but his eyes did not meet Remus's. His face was very pale and he had a ruffled look about him. Remus suspected that his attendance and declaration had been coerced by the others. That didn't matter, though. It was still more acceptance that Remus had ever thought to hope for.
"We've all sworn an oath," said James. "Last night. No one will ever know your secret from us. The Mau -- Mor --" He glanced at Sirius.
"Marauders," Sirius hissed.
"The Marauders look out for each other and keep each other's secrets," James finished, looking at Remus expectantly.
A painful tightness seized the back of Remus's throat, and his breath came in short, whimpery gasps. He knew that if he tried to speak, his voice would wobble and crack, advertising how dangerously close he was to tears. He had friends. They knew, and they were still here, still reaching out. He did not want to cry in front of them. He swallowed hard, forcing down the feeling.
"You -- you'd better go," he said hoarsely. "Shouldn't be -- late for class."
"Yeah," said James. He rested a hand on Remus's shoulder, squeezing gently. "Get some rest. We'll have your notes for you tonight."
The hangings fluttered closed behind them, and Remus turned on his side, curling himself around the wonderful ache of it, and fighting hard against the tears.
At the doors to the hospital wing, Sirius balked.
"I'm staying," he said.
James rolled his eyes. "Of course you are."
"You'll get detention from McGonagall for skiving off," Peter reminded him.
But that didn't matter. "Take good notes for me," he told them by way of farewell, turning back down the ward.
Sirius approached the curtained bed nervously as the echoing footsteps of James and Peter faded away. When last he and Remus had spoken, Remus had lashed out at him, and Sirius was no longer certain he had meant it when he said to tell the others himself. His chest felt tight as he worried that Remus might be angry with him.
Pushing the curtains aside, he found his friend lying curled on his side, facing away from him.
"Remus?" he whispered, wondering if the other boy had already gone back to sleep.
There was no response but a slight shuddering of the hunched shoulders. Sirius edged around the bed. Remus's eyes were open, but he seemed unable to stop blinking. One look at the tense, aching expression on his pale face, though, told Sirius he was anything but angry.
"Please go away, Sirius." The voice was little more than a tight whisper.
Sirius pulled up the chair that stood beside the bed. "Not a chance, mate." He hesitated, watching as Remus fought back tears. "Is there -- anything I can do?"
"You're not my mum," Remus said thickly.
"Why?" Sirius asked. "What would she do?"
"M-make tea. Sing. Dad tells stories." Remus sighed wistfully.
Sirius glanced at a gently-steaming mug on the bedside cabinet. "Well, you've already got tea, and I can't sing for toffee --"
"Doesn't matter," Remus mumbled. "They're just -- there." His voice cracked on the final word and a few tears slid free to drip from the end of his nose.
Something uncoiled inside Sirius. "Hey, don't do that," he said softly.
And as if the weeping boy were Regulus, waking from one of his nightmares, Sirius crawled onto the bed beside him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. A helpless sob shook Remus's chest, and Sirius pulled him closer. He could feel the hot tears slipping down the neck of his robes -- could feel Remus's hands clutched in their folds, wadding the fabric -- but he didn't care. He felt strangely warm all over.
Before his Sorting, Sirius had known his purpose in life: he was the heir, duty-bound to uphold the honour of his family and his name. Since the moment the Sorting Hat had cried "GRYFFINDOR!", Sirius had been lost and drifting. He had made friends and he had learned to have fun and to rely on his wits rather than his status, but there had been an empty space inside him where his purpose used to be. Until now. Because Remus needed him. He was necessary.
A glow of determination suffused him. I'm going to help him, he thought. There must be all kinds of ways. And he could do it, too, because he was Sirius bloody Black, wasn't he? There was nothing he couldn't do if he put his mind to it and was willing to try hard enough, and he was willing.
Gradually, Remus's grip on the front of his robes relaxed and the sobs tapered off into shaking sighs.
Sirius ran a hand down the other boy's back. "Better now?"
"Y-yeah," sniffed Remus. "A little. Sorry. I just -- never thought I'd have friends."
"Charming bloke like you?" teased Sirius. "How could you not?"
Remus gave a damp chuckle. He raised an arm to wipe his streaming eyes and nose on a bandaged wrist, and the breath caught in Sirius's throat. He sat up suddenly.
"Shit, Remus! You're bleeding! Here, let me --"
He made a grab for Remus's arm, where the dark red stain had soaked through the bandage, but Remus jerked away.
"No! You can't!" His voice was tinged with sudden panic.
Sirius drew back, confused. "What? Why not?"
Remus looked away, curling himself instinctively around his wounded wrist. "You could be tainted," he mumbled. "My blood might get into your system."
Sirius's brow furrowed. "You mean I could become a werewolf just from touching your blood?"
"Not -- not exactly," said Remus. "But -- your moods might be affected by the phase of the moon, and -- you might start liking different foods, or develop a really strong sense of smell or something."
All his life, Sirius had been told he must safeguard the purity of his blood, but he had never thought it could be altered as easily as that. He could only imagine what his parents would say if he told them he had been contaminated by the blood of a werewolf, or how guilty Remus would feel if he managed to taint Sirius by accident. But how was Sirius supposed to help him if he couldn't even touch him? He stared at Remus's bowed head in frustration, weighing his options.
Coming to a decision, he reaching into the pocket of his robes, fishing out the object he always carried with him. Before Remus understood what was happening, Sirius had drawn the blade of the pocketknife across the palm of his left hand, opening a shallow cut, and in the same motion, grasped Remus by the red-bandaged wrist.
Brown eyes, wide with shock, flew up to meet unrepentant grey ones.
"Oops," said Sirius. "Too late now."