Everything is so odd when Remus is home for the summer.
Take breakfast: No James to steal the waffles from his plate. No Sirius to replace the coffee in his mug with whatever he finds amusing that day. No Peter to quietly warn him. Just an entire stack of his mother's waffles that he doesn't have to fight over, coffee that remains coffee for the entire morning, the Daily Prophet on the table in front of him, and his mother in the chair opposite, flipping idly through the pages of Witch Weekly.
Peace and quiet.
Later today, there will be a cage in the cellar for him, rather than the entirety of the Forbidden Forest, and that is probably the reason his mother has made waffles for breakfast. But other than the soft hum in his brain that slows his thoughts and muddles his reasoning, there's no sign of that yet. He feels, for now, content to be home.
Then his mother turns a page in her magazine and his other life unexpectedly bleeds through.
"Narcissa Black," says Hope Lupin, and the name is so incongruent coming from his Muggle mother that he can't help but startle.
"What about her?" he says.
His mother holds up her magazine to show him the cover, where, between 100 ways to bewitch your beau and Most Charming Smile Award 1976 goes to LUDO BAGMAN, he sees the words Wedding of the Decade! Day 1 exclusive photo spread! Behind the scenes interview with the bridesmaids!
"She related to your friend?" says Hope. "The posh one. His name's Black, isn't it?"
"They're cousins, I think," says Remus. At least, that's his best guess; the Black family tree is not so much a tree as it is a maze. Some flavour of cousin is usually a safe bet, though.
"Gosh, he's even posher than I thought," says Hope. She's appraising Narcissa's pearly white wedding robes, worth more than the Lupin household's net income in a year.
She tries, his mother does. She even gets Witch Weekly to keep up with this strange, fascinating world that she married into. Sometimes it gives her the wrong ideas.
"Oh god, are they serious? This is just day one?" says Hope, now flipping through the rest of the photo spread. "Don't think I could have endured a three-day wedding. Your father and I were quite ready to strangle everyone by midday."
"So are the Blacks," says Remus. "They're just better at hiding the bodies."
His mother snickers.
"Oh, I bet your friend's in one of these photos," she says. "Let's see if I can find him."
"Knowing him, probably not," says Remus. "He usually doesn't stand still long enough."
He pours them both some more coffee and turns the page of the Daily Prophet, while his mother mutters, "Oh, drat! Can't they just stay put for a moment… is that him?"
Remus squints at the upside-down image. "That's his younger brother," he says, and she turns another page. "They look really alike, though," he adds, "we've all fallen for it before but we can never let Sirius know."
"Got him," she says.
Remus is surprised. "Can I see?" She hands him the magazine.
They rarely catch glimpses of Sirius during the summer, from the moment he is marched off King's Cross by his haughty parents, to the first of September, when he plonks down into his seat on the Hogwarts Express, laughing and relieved and happy. Sometimes Sirius writes. More often, he doesn't. He is in a different world, and fights different battles.
But sure enough, that's Sirius looking back at him from the official wedding photograph. Even though it's a wizarding photograph, everyone in it is so solemn and still it might as well not be. But something is odd, and it takes Remus a moment to figure out what: There's nothing obviously wrong.
Sirius is standing next to his mother, an open and not even particularly miserable expression on his face. His hair, always a reliable source of arguments with his mother, has been elaborately cut, a dashing undercut that accentuates the shape of his face, and there's not a ruffle nor cufflink out of place on his dress robes. His mother's hand is resting lightly on his arm, and she looks different, too: Content. Even, he hesitates to think, sane.
"Looks like he's having fun," he says.
Hope laughs. "If there is one demographic that does not enjoy elaborate family gatherings," she says, "it's probably teenage boys. Remember Auntie Beth's wedding?"
"Reluctantly," says Remus.
Later, Remus will wonder how everyone got it before he did. James got it. Peter got it. Even his Muggle mother got it, just from a group photo.
He takes a closer look at the photograph and decides he doesn't like the triumphant glint in Mrs Black's eyes. Though maybe that's her normal face, when she's not shouting abuse at her teenage son. He realises he can't remember seeing her in a mood other than livid.
Remus flips through the magazine. It has everything a reader of Witch Weekly could ask of the wedding of the decade. The dress. The bridesmaids. The vows. The garden reception. The cutting of the cake (and what a gemstone-encrusted monstrosity of a cake!). The ballroom of Malfoy Manor.
As it turns out, it also has portraits of the most important wedding guests, and there is another of Sirius that his mother has missed: This time he is actually smiling, a friendly, open smile that is usually reserved for his friends. His face is lit up by the occasional spark occurring outside the image, and next to him stands Regulus, who is looking at his brother with carefully hidden scepticism.
Sirius Orion Black, Heir of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, and his younger brother Regulus Arcturus Black, enjoying the fireworks display, says the caption.
Absent-mindedly, Remus takes a sip of his coffee. They'd told him, Remus and James and Peter, all through the train ride from Hogwarts, they'd told Sirius to be careful this summer. To not provoke his parents, to stay safe, just for two more months. He'd turn seventeen in November and then he and his family could quietly rid themselves of each other without anyone losing face. It had been a good plan.
Looking down at the photographs, Remus realises he never in a million years expected Sirius to follow the plan so diligently.
"Handsome boys, both of them," says his mum, referring to the photograph.
Remus snickers. Privately, he thinks the Black brothers have passed handsome long ago and are now well on their way to pretty.
"Luck of the draw," he says. "Sirius has an uncle, and probably third cousin, who looks like an absolute troll. Lychen and all."
Deep in his stomach, something feels very, very wrong. But today is the day of the moon, and he attributes it to that.
Five hours later, Peter comes tumbling out of the Lupins' fireplace in a cloud of ash. Because it's the day of the moon, Remus's mother is not nearly as annoyed as she would usually be with an unannounced house guest. She merely tells Peter they're heading out to see Remus's grandma in Bristol later that day but he's welcome to stay for a slice of pie and some lemonade.
Remus wonders when his mother will pick up on the fact that at least one of his friends – usually James, but sometimes Peter - will always come unannounced on the day of the moon. James assures him it's mostly to see if Remus is okay, but they have clearly figured out that Hope Lupin bakes on moon days.
They know, he wants to tell her. My friends, they know, and they still want to be with me. His heart sings at the thought. But if there's one thing that is not going to fly in the Lupin household, it is moon nights roaming the wilderness with his animagus friends. The cage in the cellar is waiting for him and there's no way around that. He's glad Peter is here, if only for the afternoon.
Peter happily accepts a huge slice of apple pie with his lemonade while Remus, who is starting to feel jittery, declines both. They set off into the small orchard behind the cottage, where they settle in the shade underneath a pear tree.
"James says sorry, he couldn't make it," says Peter. "He's fretting."
"Really," says Remus. "What about?"
Peter is busy defending the pie from charging wasps. Remus watches him, knowing he should be eating, too. The wolf is always happier when he goes into the transformation sated. But the truth is he's fretting, too.
He really doesn't like the cage.
"Your mum gets Witch Weekly, doesn't she?" says Peter.
"Oh," says Remus. "Is this about Sirius?"
"He looks well, I thought," says Remus. "Haircut suits him, though don't let him know I said that."
"Looks a bit too well, James reckons," says Peter. "Quiet before the storm, sort of thing. James feels he must be on standby for a repeat performance of 1974."
"Prongsy is just lonely because the two of us are balls at Quidditch," observes Remus.
"…You're really shit at critical thinking on moon days, aren't you?" says Peter. "Have you seen Sirius's face? He's standing within ten feet of his brother and he's smiling."
"I noticed that," says Remus. "He's really gone all in this time, hasn't he?"
"Moony, pal," says Peter impatiently, and gesticulates at him with the pastry fork. With all the talking, he seems to have forgotten about the pie. "On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate our friend Padfoot's acting skills?"
Remus considers this from all sides. "Minus one," he says.
"Yeah, well, he's too busy playing himself."
"O.W.L. results came last weekend, too," says Peter.
"What about them?"
"Oh, I don't know, the Blacks finally found out Sirius has been taking Muggle Studies all this time?" says Peter. "Seriously, wolfie, think."
Remus winces. "I'll have my brain back tomorrow, I promise," he says. He vaguely remembers they'd talked about this on the train. "He got an Outstanding, too, I bet."
"Exactly. It's four weeks into the summer, so by all means they should be at each other's throats anyway. With this ridiculous wedding on top, they're all seeing even more of each other than usual. Now the Heir of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black goes and receives top marks in eckletricity and motorbikes," says Peter. "I'm telling you, Grimmauld Place should be a war zone. Something's wrong."
Remus tries to think, but comes up with very little. "So what's James' theory, that Mrs Black has Sirius under some sort of spell?" he asks tiredly.
"Dunno," says Peter. "Just that she must have seriously raised the stakes. James thinks blackmail."
"Yes, but James is a drama queen," says Remus. "Look, we told Sirius to behave. Why are we now so bloody surprised it worked?"
"You know how odd it is to be the thinker in a conversation with you?" says Peter irritably. "We're surprised because Sirius doesn't bloody listen. Ever. It's just not his thing."
He all but shoves his untouched pie at Remus. "Now eat this pie your mum made for you, you tit, we'll need your brain at full capacity tomorrow."
When he was little, Remus usually woke in his own bed after a transformation, a little dazed and confused but otherwise fine. The wolf was just a cub then, more interested in playing than fighting, almost a dream, except for the scars he left. He later realised that it was his mum who carried him upstairs right after the full moon set.
Now that he's sixteen and almost a head taller than Hope Lupin, he wakes curled up in a corner of the cage underneath a pile of worn blankets. As always, the cage is unlocked already and sunlight streams down from the open door at the top of the staircase, and he can smell the breakfast that his mum keeps warm in the oven. She doesn't watch over him anymore as he sleeps it off, or worse, inspects him for wounds unless it's very bad. As an adolescent boy, it's just one of those things.
The pain still burrowed deep in his bones tells him that he's woken earlier than usual, and now that he's reluctantly paying attention to his surroundings, he can hear flapping. A very sceptical brown owl is hovering outside the cage, unwilling to come closer.
When he finally manages to fix her with tired eyes, she drops a letter and flutters off.
Remus is not a morning person. The first thought that goes through his head is, Wonder if Witch Weekly is covering Day Three of the Wedding of the Decade, which even under the circumstances, he finds a bit odd.
Then he remembers.
Well, then, he thinks, mind over matter and all that. He throws the blankets off and struggles into a sitting position. When the inevitable light-headedness has settled, he inspects his hands and arms, gingerly feels his face. No immediately visible injuries, good, that will keep his mum happy. He stretches, but only gets halfway; something in his chest is definitely not where it's supposed to be. All right, then. Shallow breaths for now. His legs feel bruised. He'll walk like an old man today and fall asleep in an armchair at three in the afternoon, but other than that, the wolf has been kind.
He stands up and winces. What kind of idiot wolf drags his feet over the concrete floor? He collects his trousers and shirt from where he's folded them up the night before, and somehow wriggles into them with all the urgency of a slow-moving glacier, before bending down outside the cage (ouch) to pick up the letter.
Out fall a slip of paper - just a scrawl in Peter's untidy hand - Dogsitting. Quick as you can, Moony – and a little bag that contains what he assumes is Floo powder. His friends have long since picked up on the fact that the Lupins are kind of poor.
Remus has half a mind to ignore the note until a later time when he feels a little more human and a little less like something the cat dragged in. Then he remembers that these morons spent three years becoming Animagi for him. He probably should make an effort, he thinks, and all but crawls up the staircase.
Upstairs, in the hallway, there's a mirror. Here, he rights himself, checks his reflection for bruises, scratches, blood. There's nothing he can do about his complexion, which suggests corpse, but he drags two hands through his hair, making it lie marginally flatter. As upright as he can, he walks to the kitchen.
"Morning, mum," he says. His mother sits at the breakfast table, reading Witch Weekly again.
"Morning, love," she says, regarding him over the top of her magazine. "Didn't expect you yet. How are you feeling?"
"Okay," he lies, resisting the temptation to lean against the doorframe. Apart from everything else that's wrong, the idiot wolf hasn't slept all night.
"These vitamins really seem to make a difference," says Hope. "I was so sceptical!"
"Me, too," says Remus, making a mental note to let the vitamin C capsules on his nightstand vanish before Hope finds them.
"I need to go out today," he says.
Hope looks him up and down. She doesn't really forbid things anymore, now that he's sixteen and all, but today she seems to have to hold herself back. "Do you really think it can't wait a day?" she says.
"Your hunch was right, mum," he says. "Apparently Sirius got himself into some sort of trouble at that wedding. I need to go see if he's okay."
She nods slowly. "And you're sure he'd do the same for you?"
"He doesn't have to, does he?" says Remus with a tired smile. "Because I don't have a crazy person for a mother."
Hope is taken aback at this, and he regrets his honesty almost immediately. Whatever is going on in the Black household, it is not talked about, at least not in front of grown-ups. Not least because so far, they've proven absolutely useless.
"Your father is coming home today," says Hope.
"Say hello to him from me, will you," he says. "I might stay the night at James's."
He admonishes himself. He shouldn't be so angry, after all, they're all pretending they're a completely normal family. And for Lyall Lupin, that means frequent work expeditions. But as much as Remus strives to be a normal kid, he strongly believes that leaving his Muggle mother to deal with a werewolf on her own is just bloody careless, and he's told Lyall as much years ago.
"You'll have breakfast, though, will you?" says Hope. "It's still warm."
"Are you kidding?" he says. "Been looking forward to breakfast since I woke up. Let me just hop in the shower first."
It will be a cold day in hell, he thinks, should he ever leave the house after a full moon without at least a shower and a breakfast, in that order. Sirius Black in some sort of undefined trouble is unfortunately too common to disturb his routine.
In the shower, unwatched, he turns the water as hot as it goes, closes his eyes, and leans against the wall. Lets the water wash over him, a million pinpricks on his still sensitive skin. Lets the heat numb the dull burn in his limbs. Lets the soap take away the stink of the wolf, at least for another month. The skin on his back and shoulders stings, telling him the night has been rougher than he'd thought. It always is, when he's in the cage.
When he comes back down, he is marginally more awake and wearing clean clothes. His hair is still soaking wet, because he hasn't quite managed to lift his arms enough to towel it dry, but other than that, he feels vaguely human again. Hope is still in the kitchen and there's a steaming plate on the breakfast table. Full English. Nice.
He snatches up a piece of toast and butters it. He's more interested in meat this time of the month, and privately wishes it weren't fried quite so thoroughly, but he has long ago decided it's best to at least appear civilised at all times in front of his mum. Including two hours after moonset.
"About your friend Sirius," says Hope, when he's halfway through his breakfast and liberally applying coffee to his fatigued brain. It's not working.
"What about him?"
"His mum, really. I have never in my life heard you call someone crazy like you meant it," says Hope.
He swallows. "I suppose not," he says.
"Do you think Sirius should be living with his parents?" says Hope.
"How do you mean?" he says carefully.
"I mean," says Hope, just as delicately, "is there some sort of authority we need to alert?"
"Mum – " he says.
Remus wonders if there is a point in denying it, the thing that they never name, the goings-on at Grimmauld Place, if only because he has a feeling he himself shouldn't know about it.
Only years of living in close quarters have tipped him off to all the things the teachers don't notice, or don't put together. Sirius gets into fights like other people shake hands, and he has the bruises to prove it, but why would there be any on the back of his neck right after Christmas break? And then there's the talking in his sleep, the borderline junior delinquency, and now, the inexplicable will to smile on the Black family photographs. It's just fragments, it's -
"Abuse," says Hope quietly, "if it's that, is not something you kids need to sort out among yourselves. We're here to help."
For a moment, it seems so obvious. His mum is a social worker. This is her job. Let her take over, let her swoop in and fix this, this impossible, unnameable thing that she just named. Let Sirius never go back to Grimmauld Place in his life.
Yeah, well, he thinks bitterly. If the Blacks were a broken Muggle family living in a council estate, maybe. But imagining his Muggle social worker mum going up against one of the most powerful wizarding families in Great Britain… He wonders how to explain this so she understands: This bone-headed traditionalism. This family-knows-best. And worst: The lack of laws for this.
He's researched it all years ago.
"I don't think there's anything you can do," he says. "You said it. They're posh. It won't stick." Uncomfortably, he adds, "It might make them worse."
"What, being challenged?" she says.
"Yes," he says, despite himself. "Dad told you. I told you. They can be very –"
He doesn't complete the sentence when he sees her hand sink, the one that is still holding her copy of Witch Weekly. She tries, she really tries, he thinks. Despite the animosity, the condescension, the werewolf that got her son. She tries. And they don't. They don't try at all. It's not fair.
"I'll ask Lyall," she says. "And Remus – you know it's always a little difficult, having your friends over – but if he needs a place to stay..."
"Thank you, mum," says Remus, and means it. "I'll tell him. I'm sure he'll appreciate it."
He'll sure appreciate the irony, Remus thinks. That Hope Lupin, a woman who has met Sirius exactly twice, shows more motherly instincts towards him than the woman who birthed him.
Remus stumbles rather than steps out the Potters' fireplace. For a moment, he holds on tightly to the mantelpiece while he concentrates hard on not throwing up on the fancy hearthrug.
Somewhere in the house, he can hear muffled shouting, not an uncommon occurrence in the Potter household over summer. Then he notices James's father on the armchair in front of the fire, who regards him over the edge of his newspaper.
"Good morning, Mr Potter," he says politely, still clutching the edge of the mantelpiece.
The shouting is coming closer.
"Morning, Remus," says James' father. "Rough night?"
Remus has long suspected Mr Potter thinks of him as some sort of party fiend, the amount of times he's come in bleary-eyed and croaky-voiced. Fortunately, the old man seems to approve.
"I wish, Mr Potter," he says. "Just got over the flu."
"Ah, yes," says Mr Potter. "James mentioned you were taken ill."
Faintly, he can hear James' voice through the mansion's thick walls. "Sirius, you pillock, stop right where you are –"
James' father nods towards the door. "They're upstairs," he says, then holds a hand up to his ear. He doesn't hear so well anymore. "Well, I guess they're downstairs now."
A considerable amount of noise is now coming from the hall.
"Thank you, Mr Potter," says Remus, and considers letting go of the mantelpiece for a bit. He takes another shallow breath and collects himself.
Then the double door to the hall is flung open and before Remus knows it, he is knocked over by a maniac in a leather jacket.
To be continued.