It was supposed to have been just the three of them this year. Not that there had been anything wrong with Abernathy. He had been all right in a middle-class sort of way. Nice to look at, too, though Sirius Black knew better than to say such things aloud about one's roommates. Abernathy's father's company had transferred him to America the previous spring, so this year, it was meant to be just Sirius and his friends, James Potter and Peter Pettigrew, sharing a room, which would have been ace.
Sirius eyed the case lying on the vacant fourth bed near the narrow dormitory room's only window with displeasure. It was scuffed, but had at one time been of decent quality. Of its owner, there was, as yet, no sign.
"What d'you think he'll be like?" wondered Peter.
James shrugged, disinterested. "Up himself." That was James's opinion of most of the boys who attended St Godric's boarding school.
"I thought it was just going to be the three of us," grumbled Sirius, subsiding onto his bed. "What are they playing at, putting someone new in our room?"
"Think they should've consulted you first, do you, Black?" laughed James, running a hand through his cloud of messy black curls. "Your parents' money may go a long way, but I doubt it's enough to stop the school filling vacancies. I've heard tell they like other people's money, too."
"Why's he starting now?" Sirius complained. "We're already two months in. He'll be well behind."
"Must've transferred," said James. "Like Abernathy. His father probably got a new job."
"I heard he was in some kind of trouble at his old school," volunteered Peter.
Sirius sat up. "What kind of trouble?"
Peter shook his head. "Dunno. Fighting or something, probably. I overheard McGonagall and Flitwick talking about it when I passed the staff room earlier. They shut up when they saw me, though."
That might make things interesting. Sirius and James were widely considered to be the biggest troublemakers at St Godric's, but their family connections kept the teachers from making too much fuss. James's parents considered their son's behaviour to be nothing more than youthful high spirits, and while Sirius received a sharp note of reprimand from home every now and then, his parents preferred ignoring their son to dealing with him. However, James and Sirius's troublemaking usually took the form of pranks and clownish behaviour. If the new boy was a bully, they might need to pound on him a little, to show him where he fell in the order of things.
"What exactly did McGonagall and Flitwick --?" Sirius started to ask, but was interrupted by the opening of the dormitory door.
The boy in the doorway froze, caught in the crosshairs of three narrowed gazes. He did not look like a bully; more like the sort of person bullies targeted. He was possibly a hair taller than James, but he was skinny and pale -- almost sickly-looking -- compared with James's dark skin and lean, athletic build. Honey-brown hair fell into large, wary brown eyes as he regarded his new roommates. His burgundy school blazer and navy blue trousers looked secondhand. Perhaps poverty had been the catalyst for the bullying that had necessitated his transfer. Sirius wondered how his family could afford St Godric's.
The boy dropped his eyes to the floor and moved across the room to the bed with his case on it.
"What's your name?" asked James sharply, bearing down on the new boy. A stranger entering their room unasked and without a proper introduction had no right to his usual friendly manner.
"Lupin," mumbled the boy, busying himself with the latch on his case to avoid James's eyes. "Remus Lupin."
"I'm James Potter," James informed him. "That's Peter Pettigrew, down the other end, and this is my best mate, Sirius Black."
"Nice to meet you." Lupin did not raise his eyes.
James was quiet for a moment, considering the stranger. "Black's queer," he said, voice rippling with challenge, "That's not going to be a problem for you, is it?"
Lupin glanced up at James, startled, then shifted a less readable look to Sirius, who scowled. He did not make a secret of his preferences, exactly, but he felt that it was his place to tell, not James's, even if James was the unspoken leader.
Wary brown eyes fixed on Sirius for a moment before dropping back to the open case. "No. No problem. So long as he keeps his hands to himself."
Sirius woke shivering. For once, it was not a nightmare that had awakened him. The room was dark and the flimsy privacy curtain that hung between his bed and Lupin's was drawn closed, but from the flutter of it, Sirius could tell that the window was open.
"Shut the bloody window, Lupin!" he hissed into the darkness. "It's October, for god's sake!"
When no answering word or movement came from the other side of the curtain, Sirius got up, cursing as his bare feet touched the cold floor, and stamped over to shut the window for himself. He fell back into bed, muttering under his breath about inconsiderate tossers, burrowed under the blankets, and tried to go back to sleep.
Lupin was a swot. Sirius had reached this conclusion long before the end of the new boy's first week at St Godric's. He made no attempt to speak to, or get to know, his roommates, and all of his time that was not taken up with lessons, meals, or sleep, was spent in the tiny, private study room he had been assigned, or lying on his bed with his nose in one of his textbooks. He was not even behind in his lessons, as Sirius had supposed. He rarely raised his hand, but when called upon, gave correct answers in the same flat, quiet voice in which he had introduced himself.
Sirius was annoyed. He and James frequently engaged in friendly competition to see who could get the best marks in their year -- usually without half trying -- and he did not like the idea of a swotty stranger beating them both, just because he had nothing better to do with his time than study.
Lupin persisted in falling asleep with the window open every night. He seemed to think that, just because it happened to be next to his bed, it was up to him whether it was closed or not. Sirius complained loudly and repeatedly, but Lupin ignored him, and every night, Sirius awoke to cold and darkness and an increasingly bad temper. Peter had begun laying a fire in their room's small hearth in the evenings, but it was at his and James's end of the long room. Sirius wondered if Lupin would continue in his stubborn refusal to see reason until a winter chill carried them all off. If this was how Lupin normally behaved, then it was no wonder if he had been beaten regularly at his old school. Sirius felt rather like punching the quiet boy himself.
The tension in the dormitory room reached a breaking point on the Saturday following Lupin's first week at the school.
"Halloween next weekend," James commented that afternoon.
His tone was casual, but Sirius grinned. The last weekend in October was traditionally one of three weekends of the year when a social was held between the boys of St Godric's and the girls of their sister school, St Helga's, in the next town. James was keenly interested in girls. Or one girl, at least.
"Going to try to get off with Evans again?" Sirius teased.
"Almost got off with her last time, didn't I?" said James, grinning and running a hand through his hair. "I expect she's gagging for it by now."
"Since when does getting slapped count as 'almost getting off'?" Sirius snorted. "You're lucky you're not banned from going this year, mate."
"No need to take that tone with me just because you won't be getting off with anyone, Black," said James, his dignity wounded.
Sirius smirked. "I was thinking of asking Pettigrew or Lupin to accompany me, but it didn't seem fair, having to choose between them, so I think I'll just go stag." He caught the eye of the boy lounging on the next bed, reading, and gave him a teasing wink.
Lupin quickly looked back down at his English text. "I won't be going," he mumbled.
"You should, Lupin!" Peter enthused. "There'll be girls and music and dancing. I'm going to ask Maddy Yaxley to dance with me."
James grinned at him. "You say that every time. I'll believe it when I see it. You should come, though, Lupin. It's a good laugh, and I know a bloke who can fix us up with some liquor."
Lupin only shook his head.
James shrugged and turned back to Peter. "Let's make a bet, Pettigrew. If you get off with Yaxley before I get off with Evans, I'll write your next English paper for you. But if I get off with Evans first, you have to sleep with my rugby shorts under your pillow for a week."
"I already got off with Maddy," Peter complained, making a face. "At the choir competition. We snuck into an empty practice room, and --"
"You're not going to tell that old story again?" groaned Sirius. "Pettigrew claims he almost had a shag once," he explained to Lupin. "But since he's too scared to speak to the bird he says it happened with, Potter and I aren't buying it." He turned back to James. "I'll take your bet. I could use one less paper to write. If I get off with any of the blokes there before you get off with Evans, I win."
"Not going to happen," James said flatly. "After last time, McGonagall will have her eye on you. If you even look twice at anyone, she'll march you straight out of there, and give you a month of detention."
"Last time, he snogged Dorian Gaveston," Peter told Lupin.
Lupin raised his eyebrows. "And he didn't punch him?"
"Nah; he was up for it," grinned Sirius. "Though of course he claimed afterwards that he was just too shocked to move. I've gotten off with lots of blokes at this school."
James snorted. "He thinks they're dazzled by his good looks and boyish charm, but having loads of money and a title might have something to do with it, too."
Sirius threw his pillow at his best friend, then asked, "What about you, Lupin? Done much snogging?"
"I'd say that's none of your business," said Lupin, eyes back on his English text.
"What's this?" Sirius pressed his hands theatrically to his heart. "Sweet sixteen and never been kissed? Is that how it is, Lupin?"
Lupin glanced up, something indecipherable lurking in the depths of his eyes. "Leave it, Black," he said very softly, face flushed.
His expression killed the laughter on Sirius's lips, but James and Peter had not noticed.
"Is that why you left your last school, Lupin?" James goaded. "Did they tease you for being an innocent flower? Don't worry; we can help you get your cock wet, if you like. There are lots of friendly girls at St Helga's. Yaxley would probably do you before she'd do Pettigrew. At least you're taller than she --"
Lupin, who had been growing steadily redder as James spoke, jerked himself upright and stood, teeth clenched, eyes flashing fire. His three roommates stared at him. For a moment it looked as if he might attack James.
"Shut up," he hissed. "I'm not going to your bloody social, all right?"
"Lupin," said Sirius warningly, moving to stand between the new boy and his best friend.
Very slowly, Lupin's eyes moved from James, still lounging on his bed, to Peter, blue eyes wide, mouth hanging open, to Sirius, standing in front of him, fists clenched. Sirius would not hit him if he did not have to; it was not his style. But that did not mean he would hesitate if Lupin tried to lay a hand on James.
"You know what?" said Lupin. "Fuck all of you." He turned on his heel and stormed out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him.
Sirius, James, and Peter stared at one another in bewilderment.
Lupin did not return to the dormitory until after lights out. Sirius considered pretending to be asleep as the other boy crept through the darkened room, but when Lupin stubbed his toes on the case at the foot of his bed and swore breathlessly, Sirius sat up.
"How'd you get past Filch?" he whispered. The doorman was legendarily strict about students being out of their beds after hours.
"Told him I had to see the matron," Lupin mumbled. He yanked the privacy curtain closed, signaling an end to the conversation.
When Sirius awoke on Sunday morning, Lupin was not there. As he, James, and Peter entered the dining hall for breakfast, he thought he caught sight of Lupin leaving, which suited Sirius perfectly. He had had to get up again in the night to close the window, and was not feeling very charitable towards his new roommate.
Lupin did not reappear all that day, though Sirius looked for him in chapel, at lunch, and then again at supper. He returned only just before lights out and drew the curtain without speaking to any of them.
That night, Sirius decided that he was not going to wake to chilly fingers and frozen toes again. He lay awake until the sound of Lupin's breathing had evened into sleep, then tiptoed over to the window.
His hand was on the sash when a quiet voice said, "Don't. Please."
"I'm getting tired of freezing my bollocks off every night, Lupin."
Lupin sat up, tugging at his bedclothes. "Here. Take my blanket if you're cold. I just need it open, all right?"
"You'll freeze," said Sirius.
"I'll be fine," Lupin assured him. "I wouldn't want you catching a chill on account of me."
"Thanks," Sirius said awkwardly, reaching for the woolen blanket. "I thought you hated us."
"No. I save my hate for things that matter."
Lying awake in his bed, curled up under the extra blanket, Sirius tried to make sense of Lupin's words. If he thought his roommates did not matter, then why had he almost attacked James for teasing him? Something about the exchange had clearly upset him. For the first time, Lupin's quietness struck Sirius not as boring, but as secretive and mysterious. He resolved to keep an eye on the new boy.
Sleeplessness was beginning to take its toll on Sirius. He had not had a full night's sleep since Lupin had arrived at the school. His weariness and short temper caused his better judgment to desert him when Professor Flitwick, the Maths master, reprimanded him for inattention in class. Sirius responded with a snide remark, and Flitwick, unamused, summoned him up to his desk at the end of the lesson.
"I won't abide unruliness in my classroom, Mr Black," he said grimly. "You will keep yourself in better order, henceforth. Don't think that just because your parents are who they are that you are exempt from all discipline. You will treat your professors with the proper respect, or a letter will be sent home. You will also shine your shoes and report to the matron after supper this evening for a haircut."
Sirius blanched. He liked how long his hair was getting, knowing that it would infuriate his parents over the winter holidays.
"Sir," he began, "I apologise. I know there's no excuse --"
"Be that as it may, Mr Black, the school dress code is clear on the matter of appropriate hair length for students. Haircut. End of discussion."
Sirius spent the rest of the day in an even more foul mood than before. He had only ever had one haircut from Madam Pomfrey, the school matron, in his second year, and she had made a truly appalling mess of it. James and Peter had mocked him mercilessly for weeks until it grew out. How could he show himself at the autumn social looking like a poorly-groomed hedgehog? James would win their bet for sure -- a distasteful thought, even though he and Sirius had agreed to alter the terms to exclude James's smelly rugby shorts.
After supper that night, Sirius dragged his feet to the infirmary. "Professor Flitwick says I'm to have a haircut, Ma'am," he mumbled.
"Tcha. As if I don't have enough to do!" said the matron impatiently. "Sit down, then."
Sirius sat, feeling dismal, as Pomfrey retrieved a blunt pair of shears from a drawer.
"Hold still," she instructed. "We'll try to get this over with as quickly as possible."
Resigning himself to his fate, Sirius closed his eyes. He tried to think pleasant thoughts to drown out the snick, snick of the shears performing their butchery on his wavy black locks, but very little sprang to mind.
"Oh. Sorry," said a quiet voice.
Sirius groaned inwardly. He was not even back in his dormitory yet, and already he would have to suffer the humiliation of being seen by one of his school fellows. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes. Remus Lupin stood in the doorway, looking uncertain.
"They're just there on the counter, Mr Lupin," the matron said briskly, nodding in the direction of a small paper cup. "Take them, and be off with you."
Lupin's eyes dropped to the floor as he mumbled something that might have been thanks, and picked up the cup, turning to go.
"Not so fast!" snapped the matron. "You'll take them where I can see you."
Lupin hesitated only a moment before bringing the cup to his mouth and tilting his head back. He swallowed visibly.
"There's a good lad." Pomfrey nodded her approval. "All right, I'm finished with you, Mr Black. You may go."
Sirius did not dare to glance in the mirror that hung on the infirmary wall. He hurried out the door after Lupin.
"I didn't know you were ill," he said when he had caught up with the other boy just past the chapel.
"I'm not," said Lupin shortly.
"Then what's the medicine you took for?"
"Nothing," said Lupin. He spat two round, white pills into the palm of his hand, and flung them away into the gathering dusk.
"What are --?" began Sirius.
"Forget it," said Lupin, turning away, the edge of steel back in his voice for the first time since he had shouted at James. "I need to go to the library before curfew."
He hurried off, leaving Sirius to stare after him, more puzzled than ever.