Remus woke up blinking as the early morning resolved itself from a blur of pale yellow to a shaft of light across his middle like it was severing him and the hospital bed in two. There were motes of dust spinning in his vision, and there was James leaning over him, glasses fogged up and his face twisted into a concerned frown.
“Pomfrey’s about,” James interrupted. No codenames. “How’re—how’s the—?”
“About as good as usual,” Remus said grimly. He was still prone, arms stiff beside him, and he flexed his fingers experimentally. He couldn’t feel his legs, but that was normal.
If anything, James’ look of consternation worsened. “And you don’t remember anything from last night?”
“I never do,” Remus said. “You know that.”
James nodded, more to himself than to Remus. He seemed to be pondering his next words around before saying them, grimacing like he had just eaten an earwax-flavoured jellybean. Remus wondered what he could’ve done that was so bad even James didn’t want to say it, so it was a surprise when James spoke, and it wasn’t about Remus goring half the population of the Forbidden Forest to death.
“So, we’re not talking to Sirius anymore.”
“You and me,” James said. “For now.”
With some effort, Remus pulled himself up; James helped him by propping up his pillow behind him. “Is Sirius—”
“Oh, he’s alive,” James said, in a way which indicated he rather wished the opposite were true. “There’s no point putting off telling you. He told Snape about the passage to the Shack last night. About the knot.”
Remus did not respond. There was some sort of emotion tingling at his fingertips, working its way up his arms and building like heavy tension in his shoulders.
James continued: “Snape is… he’s fine, I stopped him before any harm could come to him. I couldn’t let you kill someone, Remus, not even a git like him. He ran off before I got the chance to talk to him about it, keep him off your case, but—”
“He knows.” Of course he knew. Of course there was still a trick up fortune’s sleeve, a way to make Remus’ life even worse. “I don’t know what I expected.”
“I expected better of Sirius,” James spat.
Remus managed to lift one heavy hand to rub the sleep from his eyes. It was too early, or he was too tired, for the consequences of this to fully sink in. Knowing Sirius, he’d probably thought it would be a great laugh to put Snape in mortal danger, not considering that mortal danger usually led to death, nor that if Snape knew there was a werewolf on school grounds—if he knew who that werewolf was—then it was over for Remus. Snape would tell everyone. Remus would be expelled.
“I doubt Sirius thought that far ahead,” Remus said. “He didn’t—he wouldn’t have meant to—”
“That’s just the problem. He didn’t think. He put your life in danger. I can’t—I can’t forgive that, Remus.”
Remus wanted to say that he was sure James would change his mind; as much as the four of them were the Marauders, they were also James and Sirius and two others, and no friends would be as close as those two were without a healthy amount of breaking up and making up every two weeks. But…
“How are we going to deal with Snape?” Remus asked. And then, darkly, “Maybe it would be better if I had killed him.”
“Don’t say that,” James snapped. “You’d never—”
“I would,” Remus said. “I’m not myself when I’m the wolf. I’m exactly what everybody says I am. Dangerous.”
James gave him a good, long look. “You’re only saying that because you don’t want it to be Sirius’ fault.” He paused only briefly to draw breath. “Remus, you always do this. You make it about you, when everyone who’s ever so much as opened a textbook knows that werewolves don’t retain human thought in wolf form. There’s no way you could’ve known what you were doing. And if idiots want to think you’re a cold-blooded killer, then—you mustn’t let it get to you.”
“That must be so easy for you to say,” Remus said coolly. “Let’s not argue about this, please. I’m tired.”
“Of course,” James said.
They were silent while Madam Pomfrey came by and fussed over Remus, but James didn’t leave. Remus was grateful for his company. From the first, James had never treated Remus any different because of who he was. James didn’t care that one of his friends was a werewolf—actually, he thought it was the neatest thing ever. Sometimes he went overboard in trying to prove how little he cared about Remus’ condition, but it made Remus feel like a millionaire every time. The sentiment was never false. It had been James’ idea for the three of them to become Animagi for Remus’ benefit.
And now it was James saying this, once Madam Pomfrey had gone: “I say we cut Sirius out of the equation.”
“What, you mean—”
“He can go be a dog in his own time,” James said, his voice frosty with contempt. “This has gone too far already. We don’t need someone around who’s going to compromise our operation. He’s reckless, and—we can have the Marauders without Black.”
Black, now, not Sirius. Black to one side, and to the other, Moony, Wormtail, and Prongs. Remus said, “But he’s your best friend.”
“Was,” James said.
But I care about him too, Remus did not say.
“Anyway, I’d better get going,” James said. “Class is starting soon. Ugh, we’ve got Herbology—maybe I can work with Evans—well, later, Remus.”
“Later,” Remus said, although his heart wasn’t in it.
James got up, slinging his bag over his shoulder, and Remus watched uselessly as Madam Pomfrey bustled him out of the Hospital Wing. A cloud passed over the sun and threw the long room momentarily into darkness, and when it was light again, a different, taller figure had replaced James in the doorway.
Dumbledore. Of course, it didn’t matter whether Remus went along with James’ plan never to speak to Sirius again, because Remus would not have that luxury—he had nearly killed a student, and now it would finally happen. He was going to be expelled.
“Good morning, Remus,” Professor Dumbledore said. “How are you recovering from last night’s outing?”
As if he had to use a euphemism. As if Madam Pomfrey didn’t already know; as if half the school wouldn’t know by sundown.
“Why don’t you get on with it and expel me already?” Remus said, although he could not bring himself to say it with any force.
Dumbledore only smiled down at him. It was hard to tell whether that smile extended to his eyes, with the light catching off his glasses. “You may rest easy. I do not plan to expel you—after all, who would be Prefect in your place?”
Despite everything, Remus laughed. For all the late nights he’d spent staring at his silver badge, trying to convince himself it was a mistake, he was always going to be the most suited to being a Prefect of the lot of them. Then he remembered that he was abusing his power to cover for his friends, everything from harmless pranks to downright illegal activity, and his smile faded fast. Dumbledore would be right to take his badge away—Remus almost asked him to reconsider.
“Your actions as a wolf are beyond your control,” Dumbledore continued. “You have done nothing to cause concern. I will not ask you to search your memories, as I know you will have none, but I do not doubt you have heard from Mr. Potter, who I saw on his way out, what happened last night, in far more detail than he will ever tell me.”
Dumbledore frowned. “I need not remind you again that you are a Prefect. If there is anything you know about how Severus came to be in your shack last night, please tell me now.”
“Nothing,” Remus said, reflexively, without hesitation. “I don’t—like you said, I don’t even remember him being there.”
“As I thought.” Dumbledore nodded to himself. “Well, if you discover anything, you will tell me, won’t you?”
There was, in theory, nothing stopping Remus from throwing Sirius to the proverbial wolves. If James wasn’t speaking to him, it would only be a matter of time before Peter followed, and then Sirius would have no friends at all. It might be better for him to be expelled, in that case. But to do that, Remus would have to ignore the rush of adrenaline he got every time Sirius took him by the hand and dragged him careening around a corner, noisily avoiding trouble, and that look that passed between them, the look that Remus had analysed to death and concluded was ever only directed at him, and how Sirius would crawl into his bed at night with no explanation, and just lie there, because he knew and Sirius knew that no-one else could offer that same quiet acceptance, solace for whenever they were at their lowest.
“I will,” Remus said, although he had no intention of ever doing so.
It wasn’t until late in the evening that Remus was allowed out of the Hospital Wing, all of his cuts healed to Madam Pomfrey’s satisfaction. He felt steadier on his feet but his head was no less of a mess. Small mercies—dinner in the Great Hall was still in full swing, so Remus made himself as unobtrusive as possible and snuck down the side of the Gryffindor table to where—greater mercies—his three roommates were sitting together.
An outsider wouldn’t have seen anything wrong with this picture. After all, those four Gryffindor fifth year boys were never seen without each other, always getting in and out of trouble and laughing their way down the corridors. If anything, it was the sickly-looking one who wasn’t around; he was away visiting his mum, who was also sick, or these days he was more likely to be busy with Prefect duties. Still, they were all sitting together at dinner—it was normal. But to Remus’ trained eye, James was sitting across from Peter with his arms folded, Sirius was by Peter’s side looking somewhere between furious and confused, and the scene was all wrong.
Remus tentatively took a seat by James’ side, across from Sirius. “Evening,” he said. “What’d I miss?”
“Why don’t you ask Potter?” said Sirius, jabbing at his mashed potato.
“Tell Black you already know what happened,” James hissed.
“Er, I don’t,” Peter said.
Poor Peter—James and Sirius so often left him out of the loop. “Sorry about all this, Wormtail,” Remus said. “You heard what happened last night with—” Here, he lowered his voice. “—Snape?”
Peter shook his head. “But if there’s some gossip with that toerag you’d better tell me. Can’t believe neither of these two told me already, but they’ve just spent all day glaring at each other.”
Well, at least Snape hadn’t spread it to the entire school yet.
“It’s Padfoot’s fault,” Remus said. Sirius jerked his head up, looking like he might be about to argue the point, so Remus added, “I’m not judging you. It’s objectively your fault.”
Sirius wrinkled his nose. “Not my fault he was stupid enough to fall for it.”
“Tell Black there wasn’t anything to fall for,” James said, “since he told Snape the truth.”
“Don’t be petty,” Remus said, nudging James. He turned back to Peter. “Padfoot told Snape about the knot in the Willow and that he should go there last night. So he did, and—”
Peter let out a snort; Remus paused, shocked.
“And Snape would’ve died in the Shack, if James hadn’t found him halfway down the passage and fished him out—”
Remus tried to go on, but it was no use, because Peter was still chuckling, covering his mouth with his hand and snickering into his palm. Sirius elbowed him, but he was smirking too, and that only made Peter laugh harder.
“Tell Black and Pettigrew to shut the fuck up,” James snapped. “This isn’t funny!”
“Easy, mate,” Peter said, wiping at the corners of his eyes. “It’s only Snivellus.”
“That’s not the point,” Remus said. He could feel his patience fraying at the edges, and lifted up one hand to touch his Prefect badge, remind himself that he was the responsible one here. “It doesn’t matter who Sirius told—or even why—just that a student could’ve been killed—”
“Stop it,” James said.
To Remus’ surprise, James was looking at him. “I thought you were on my side.”
James grimaced. “You—stop talking in the passive voice.” He turned back to Sirius and Peter. “Don’t you get it? This isn’t about Snape. Black—you—”
“I thought you weren’t talking to me,” Sirius said, raising one eyebrow and the corners of his mouth to match.
Remus understood now what James was trying to say. It was the same thing they’d discussed in the Hospital Wing that morning, the heart of the matter. He wondered if it had got through Sirius’ thick skull, or if he was playing dumb on purpose because he didn’t want to think about how badly he’d fucked up. Either way, Remus wouldn’t let him get away with ignorance.
“You put me in a position,” Remus said again, barely above a whisper.
“Dumbledore didn’t expel you though, did he?” Peter asked. Sirius had gone deathly quiet.
Fighting against the urge to raise his voice, Remus said, “I could’ve killed him.”
Everyone knew that werewolves were murderers, hideous creatures without scruples who snuck into villages at night and killed the young, disturbed the peace, howled at the moon. Remus had never been like that, especially not now that he was at Hogwarts, where he’d made friends, where he always came near the top of his classes, where the headmaster trusted him enough to make him a Prefect. If he’d killed someone—if he had so much as drawn blood—it would’ve taken all that away in an instant. It would’ve made him no better than the werewolf who’d drawn his blood.
“But you didn’t,” Sirius said, almost hopefully.
That did it. Remus felt his cheeks grow hot and his eyes watery, and he was damned if he’d break down and cry in the middle of the Great Hall at dinnertime. “No thanks to you,” he said; before he had a chance to see the look on Sirius’ face, he got up and walked purposefully out of the Hall.
It was only once he was alone in an empty corridor, doubled over and crying into the worn fabric at the knees of his trousers, that he realised he’d forgotten to eat. That didn’t bother Remus as much as realising James was right. Sirius didn’t give a shit about Remus. He didn’t care that he’d nearly made a murderer out of one of his best friends. Clearly, he didn’t see Remus as that good a friend after all.
James, though—James had taken Remus’ side, and in many ways that was surprising, to see him going against Sirius. In many other ways, it wasn’t surprising at all, because James always stood up for his friends, and he had always stood up for Remus. James was their leader, and he set the precedent. Maybe Remus ought to have been more worried that the others weren’t with James this time. Peter had laughed about it.
The corridor echoed with a new sound, footsteps, and Remus shrunk further into himself, too exhausted to cast a Disillusionment charm or otherwise pretend he hadn’t been crying in a corner.
No, he wasn’t alright, but all the better for hearing James’ voice. “I’ll get there.”
James crouched down next to him. “I bought you some food. Figured you hadn’t eaten yet.”
“Thanks,” Remus said. He didn’t want to give away just how much the gesture meant to him. “Sorry for storming off.”
“It’s Black and Pettigrew who should be apologising,” James said. “We don’t need them. Marauders is plural, so as long as there’s two of us it still works as a name. And I came up with it, so I say we get to keep it.”
Remus tried to laugh, but his teeth were halfway into a lukewarm blue steak. He finished chewing before speaking: “That’s fine by me. I can’t believe I’m saying this, Prongs, but—let’s give ‘em hell.”
James grinned at him, so bright that it could’ve dried up all of Remus’ tears. This didn’t have to be daunting, the two of them against the other two against the rest of the world. Now, if anything, Remus felt more powerful than ever.
By the time Remus and James get back to their dorm, Sirius and Peter are already there, sat on the floor and bouncing a rubber Snitch toy back and forth between them. Sirius let the Snitch drop when Remus came in, and it rolled across the floor, stopping at his feet.
Peter was the first to speak. “You alright, Moony?”
Remus shared a look with James. They hadn’t discussed what would happen next, beyond cutting Sirius and Peter out of the Marauders, but Remus’ thoughts must’ve shown on his face, because James nodded.
“That’s Lupin to you, Pettigrew,” Remus said.
Sirius’ jaw dropped. The sight was unbelievably satisfying. Peter was probably shocked too, but Remus was completely taken with how ill the expression suited Sirius’ face. It was no less than he deserved.
“You’ve both made it very clear where you stand on this matter,” James said. “Pulling pranks is one thing, but nearly killing someone—tricking one of your best friends into nearly killing someone. That’s unforgivable. Remus and I have talked it through. Effective immediately, you’re out of the Marauders.”
“James—” Sirius got to his feet, panicked. “You can’t kick us out of our own gang!”
“And I still don’t see what Sirius did wrong,” Peter said, although not too loud.
“It’s not your gang anymore,” James said. “We’re claiming ownership of the Marauders. Call yourselves something else, I don’t give a fuck.”
Sirius looked over his shoulder and down, to where Peter was still sitting on the floor. “We can be—the Buccaneers! The Bandits!”
“I like the Bandits,” Peter said, getting up too. Hastily, he added, “But we don’t need to do this, do we? We can resolve this without breaking the group apart.”
Remus shook his head. “No, we can’t.”
How was it that Peter still didn’t get it? Remus was almost in awe of how little the severity of the situation seemed to have got through to him. One thing was clear, though: Peter was taking Sirius’ side, and he wasn’t questioning why. Well, that was fine. Remus could work with that.
James was already working with it. He strode in between Remus and Sirius’ beds, wand out. “I’m drawing a line. Marauders to one side, Bandits to the other. There will be no crossing the line, except to go in and out of the room—” because the entrance was on Sirius and Peter’s side, “—or to go to the bathroom,” which was on Remus and James’ side.
As he spoke, he walked the diameter of the room with his wand pointed at the floor, and a trail of glowing gold adhered itself to the floor. James took it all the way to the far wall, and then cut the spell off with a flick of his wrist. The line seemed to spark and fizzle with magic; Remus hopped over so that he was standing on the same side as James, next to their beds, because he knew instinctively that if he tried to cross to the wrong side for the wrong reason, something terrible and potentially socially mortifying would happen to him.
You had to hand it to James. Even if it was petty—which Remus wouldn’t say out loud, because he approved of it too—it was brilliant magic. That was James for you. Creative, and unforgiving.
“What am I supposed to do if I—” Sirius started.
“If you want to bug Remus for help with homework?” James rolled his eyes. “You’ll just have to study on your own.”
Remus knew that wasn’t what Sirius was going to say, and that Sirius wouldn’t have finished that sentence even if James hadn’t ostensibly cut him off. And maybe James knew too, because Sirius was perfectly capable of studying when he needed to, and he only went to Remus for help as an excuse to socialise.
Still, the message was unequivocal, and Remus hoped he was conveying it adequately in the look that passed between him and Sirius: I am not yours anymore.
Because for all that it was James who now put himself forward as Remus’ defender—which he would have done for any of them in a similar position, Remus was sure—it was always Sirius who monopolised Remus’ time.
Peter had grown tense, fists clenched at his sides and nose wrinkled in something close to disgust. “Understood, Marauders.”
“Bandits is bad,” Sirius said, pouting. “We should’ve taken more time to decide.”
It was Sirius who looked at Remus now, almost pleading, because Sirius knew it was always him who could appeal to Remus’ leniency with the best results.
So Remus said, “You made your choice. And, as a Prefect, I should warn you… if I see any Bandits stepping across the line, I won’t hesitate to report them to Professor McGonagall.”
James let out a sharp laugh, but he looked a bit disbelieving, too.
“I’d like to see you catch me,” Peter said angrily. “You’re forgetting I can make myself small enough to escape whenever I—”
“That’s right!” Sirius interrupted. “Moony—Remus—we broke the law for you! We could get thrown in Azkaban if anyone found out!”
“And I could’ve been thrown in Azkaban for murdering someone, if your prank had gone as you planned it,” Remus said. He was surprised by how vehement he sounded. “I guess you’ll just have to be careful who’s around when you transform, won’t you?”
There was something cathartic about it, making Sirius as angry as Remus felt. It would be easier this way, if everyone was angry and no-one was inclined to sympathy. Easier to sever their ties.
Sirius looked Remus dead in the eye, something nasty twisting across his face. “I guess I will.”
Remus slept soundly that night.
It was four to a bench in Potions. The bench at the back of the room was by design the bane of Professor Slughorn’s life, and even dear responsible Remus could not redeem it—James and Sirius always at one cauldron, Remus and Peter at the other, because those had always been their party lines. James and Sirius were the dream team, both of them effortlessly skilled at whatever they tried, and not above throwing dried lacewings in a Slytherin’s cauldron just to see what happened. Remus and Peter were both pants at it, but they worked hard enough that they scraped passing marks, and though they’d never acknowledged it, neither of them had the balls to ask James and Sirius to swap, just for one period, to see how it went. On Peter’s part, it was certainly cowardice, or a desire to keep the social order in balance. Remus was just content to have Sirius lean across the table on occasion and grab his knife, show him what he was doing wrong.
This was the first Potions class since the full moon. Sirius and Peter were already at a bench when Remus and James arrived. There was a spare cauldron across from them, and it would have been as easy as breathing for Remus to sit down at it, take out his textbook, and begin working.
He nudged James. “There’s a spare seat across from Lily and Snape. Maybe we should…”
“Evans!” James, as usual, was ten steps ahead of him. “Mind if Remus and I take a seat?”
“I mind,” Snape said, but James ignored him as usual. Lily was smiling at him—a rare sight, but she couldn’t have known what had happened—and James was already putting down his bag.
“Not working with Sirius today?” Lily asked. “That is a shock.”
“Black and Pettigrew are dead to us, effective yesterday,” James said. His delivery was so flippant that Remus almost laughed, but the shock on Lily’s, and more importantly, Snape’s, faces were enough to silence him. James continued: “It’s a long story, but let’s just say that they’ve chosen to be on the wrong side of history. From now on, it’s the dynamic duo all the way.”
It sounded so forced to Remus’ ears, when that duo had always been James and Sirius. He would get used to it.
Lily laughed nervously. “Alright, you’ve got me. What’s the twist?”
“Oh, there’s no twist,” Remus said. He tried to sound just as nonchalant as James had been. “We’re not talking to them. Or about them. How’s your History essay coming along, Lily?”
“Fine—” Lily began.
“By the way, Snape, I want to apologise,” James said.
Lily froze halfway through a word, her mouth hanging open. Remus didn’t blame her. James apologising to Snape—what next? The premature heat death of the Universe?
“I hardly think you have anything to apologise for,” Snape said icily.
“Yes and no.” James shrugged. “Mostly I wanted you to know that, whatever bad blood there’s been between us, what Black did to you was indefensible. I don’t put up with behaviour like that from my friends, and Remus—”
“If I’d known,” Remus said, “I wouldn’t have let it happen. I can assure you of that.”
It was a masterstroke on James’ part. They couldn’t speak in anything more than vagaries with Lily right there, and Snape would be well aware of that. He’d know that he couldn’t afford to get angry, because then he’d have to explain himself, and he couldn’t harp on particulars—he’d have to take their apology as word.
“I see,” was all Snape said.
“You can’t tell anyone what happened,” Remus said. He didn’t know if this was what James had planned, but he needed to say it, or he never would. “Our secret. Alright?”
“And what’s a secret between friends!” James reached across the bench and clapped Snape on the arm. “We’re getting old, lads, and there’s a war on outside the walls of this school. There’s no time to hold grudges.”
“Except against Black, apparently,” Lily said. “And Pettigrew.”
Remus might have said more—Snape certainly looked like he was itching to—but Slughorn arrived, and they no longer had the cover of background chatter. This, too, must have been part of James’ plan; a setting where no-one could speak the truth, and limited time in which to do it.
The tension did not dissipate. Remus was back to feeling shamed by the sheer degree to which everyone else was better than him at Potions, and James did most of the work as he fussed over the textbook. Worse, Lily and Snape were better than James, more diligent and with the occasional maverick touch that would send Slughorn into outpourings of rapturous praise. This was mostly directed at Lily, when it was clear that Snape was doing much the same amount of work. Snape sat there silently fuming; James backing him into a corner with an apology couldn’t have helped.
It had never been more of a relief for class to end. They had a free period next, so Remus lingered a while, putting his things away. He didn’t look up as Snape shoved his things in his bag, dropping a few papers and not pausing to pick them up, storming off with his head down. He didn’t turn around as Sirius walked past him to leave the classroom, and didn’t flinch when Sirius clipped his shoulder. Deliberate, of course. But Remus had a lot of practice reining in his anger.
James put a hand on Remus’ shoulder as if to say, Forget about him. Remus earnestly wished he could—it was hard enough to keep a stiff upper lip, harder yet to entirely obliterate the feelings that were being repressed.
“Potter,” Lily said, almost like she couldn’t believe herself. “I don’t know what happened between you and Black, but… it was good of you to apologise to Severus.”
“Thanks,” James said—and he definitely couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Lily forced a smile. “Maybe you’ll even put your money where your mouth is, hmm?”
“Yeah, of course. You know me, Evans. Big fan of being nice to Sn… Snape.”
Remus covered his mouth. Inappropriate amusement was another of the many emotions he was not skilled at repressing.
“Er, alright, I’ll see you later,” Lily said, and as soon as she was gone James grabbed Remus’ hands, grinning.
“Did you see that, Moony? She was blushing! Didn’t you think she was blushing? I reckon I’m in with a chance now.”
“Well done,” Remus said, letting out that laugh at last. “Can you believe that all it takes is being a decent person to someone you’ve picked on for years?”
James’ expression darkened. “Snape isn’t off the hook yet. Sure, Evans trusts him, but otherwise he keeps consummately bad company. I say we keep an eye on him and—hey, what do you mean by that? I thought you had as much fun pranking Snape as the rest of us.”
“I don’t like him, that’s for sure,” Remus said, “but I don’t think he deserved half the things we always did to him.”
“If I’d known I’d been making an arse of myself in front of Evans… why didn’t you say anything?”
It was a stupid question. Remus liked being liked far more than he liked doing the right thing, and James was more than smart enough to work that out.
James might have expected an answer, whether he knew it would be stupid or not, but Slughorn came by their bench and shooed them away—“What are you boys still doing here? Out, out!”—and James distracted himself easily complaining about the lesson. If he wondered what had brought on Remus’ change of heart, he didn’t press. Remus could have told him that without any hesitation: he didn’t feel half as bad about speaking his mind without Sirius around.
The castle was emptying out, a funnel of uniforms flowing to the carriages, fumbling their suitcases down the staircases or levitating them through an obstacle course of students. Remus was in civvies and unencumbered; he would be staying at Hogwarts over Easter, as he always did. The full moon was that night, and Remus preferred not to put that burden on his parents.
“Really sorry I can’t stay,” James said, for perhaps the five hundredth time, “crushed, honestly. If it were any other holiday but this one—my mum’s birthday, you know—”
Remus consciously stopped leaning against James’ suitcase, which in turn was propped up against a wall in a quiet corner of the courtyard, away from eavesdropping ears. “It’s fine. What did I do every full moon before you lot could transform? I coped, Prongs.”
James ignored him. “I’m not happy about leaving you alone in there with Black, either. You sure you don’t want to come stay at mine? There’s still time. You could petition McGonagall to let you. She likes you.”
“I’m not going to impose a full moon on you. Forget it.”
“Then give Black hell from me.”
Remus gave him a sarcastic salute. “As ever. Marauders forever, Bandits never, and all that.”
“I’ll see you soon,” James said. “Write me once you’ve recovered from the moon.”
It would be a rough full moon without Prongs, Padfoot, and Wormtail—but a full moon by the books, which was what Remus was meant to be doing in the first place. At least he wouldn’t have lying to Dumbledore on his conscience this time. He hated how quickly he’d got used to having his friends by his side as the wolf. He didn’t even remember it, but the next morning, he would remember the difference it made.
Once James was on his way, Remus trudged back to his dorm, dragging like he had Bludgers strapped to his feet. He pushed the heavy door open to find Sirius lounging back on his bed, reading. Sirius hadn’t read much when he and James were running about pulling pranks all the time. He looked up sharply.
“Decided you want my company after all, Lupin?”
“Unfortunately, we live in the same room,” Remus said. “I’m just passing through.”
Sirius sat up, shifting uncertainly. “It’s the full moon tonight.”
“So?” Remus did his best to stay calm, detached. He could not afford to be invested in the outcome of this conversation. “You know you don’t need to keep track of those anymore, don’t you?”
“You don’t need to pretend now that the others aren’t around,” Sirius said. “I can still meet you outside tonight.”
“I’d really prefer that you didn’t.”
“You’re being stubborn.”
“I’m being principled.”
They stared at each other for a little too long before Sirius relented, turning away. “Fine. Do it on your own. It’s got nothing to do with me.”
“No,” Remus said, feeling able to relax at last, “it doesn’t.”
He spent the afternoon listless, reading through textbooks and getting some work done on his History essay with his back to the headboard and the four-poster’s curtains drawn around the bed so that Sirius could not see in; and mercifully, Remus could not see out. It worked well enough as a distraction until dinnertime, and by then the moon was just peeking through clouds and Remus was starting to get twitchy, sitting alone at dinner on a long, empty table in the drafty Great Hall.
Every full moon, Remus put together a care package of sorts for himself. A warm jacket, in any season, and folded up inside it a flask of cool water, some bread and cheese wrapped in wax paper, and a chocolate bar. He would leave it in the corner of his shack, under a loose floorboard so the wolf couldn’t get at it. The wolf wasn’t smart enough to lift floorboards.
Remus hid his clothes under the floor, too. When he had first started transforming around his friends, he had been shy about getting naked around them, even though every summer Sirius and James would strip off and dive into the lake. Peter would never take part, so neither did Remus, because he was content that he wasn’t the odd one out. And when a teacher inevitably came by and gave them detention for being indecent, Remus wasn’t the one who’d have to live with the fact that Flitwick had seen him in the buff.
The first time, he made them turn their backs. “It’s fine for you,” he’d said. When Animagi turned into animals, their clothes went with them. The wolf took no such care for modesty.
The second time, Sirius had said, “If you’re getting your kit off, I’ll do mine.”
“Me too,” James had said. “I believe in equality.”
Even Peter had taken his clothes off. It was October but they all shivered anyway, maybe out of nerves. When Remus felt his nerves abate, that was how he knew the wolf had arrived. The last thing he remembered before the searing pain took him completely was James saying, “Merlin, Pete, no need to be shy about it when you’ve got a cock like that.”
It was the only time Remus, halfway to becoming the wolf, had laughed on the evening of a full moon.
There was nothing to laugh about now. Remus was naked, alone, and cold. He closed his eyes and waited.
Remus couldn’t run the day after a full moon, and more was the pity. Gripping onto the banister and avoiding trick stairs all the way, he dragged himself from the Hospital Wing to his dorm. At least there were no spectators for his shame; the Easter break took care of that, with everyone either home for the holidays or enjoying the sun.
It was all for nothing—when Remus got back to the dorm, it was empty. He considered lying down, closing his curtains, and remaining there for as long as he fancied. But, no. He had to find Sirius. He had to find Sirius because he had woken up that morning with none of the scars he expected to find, and the ache of tension in his arms and legs that he had come to associate with running as the wolf. Something he wouldn’t have done alone.
He went straight out of the dorm again, his muscles twitching with every step he took; Remus was getting very good at ignoring it. It was getting close to lunchtime, but Sirius wouldn’t be in the Great Hall on his own. Sirius wouldn’t be in the castle at all, if Remus’ new guess was right. They’d been in enough arguments and Sirius had been in so many sulks that Remus knew his patterns of detachment a little too well. In fourth year, Sirius had started smoking. Muggle fags, and Merlin only knew where he got them from. He was far too young for it, which Remus supposed was part of the appeal. Sirius smoked behind the greenhouses. He’d offered Remus a cigarette once. Remus, in one of his worse moods, had accepted it, thinking bitterly that it might cut his miserable life short by a few years—but it had ended badly, the smoke intolerably harsh on his lungs, and Sirius had laughed at him for minutes on end. Remus wondered if the wolf would’ve been so weak.
And there was Sirius, leaning against the back of the greenhouse number three with a cloud of smoke obscuring his handsome face.
“I told you not to come out last night,” Remus said.
Sirius laughed. “Not even a thank you?”
“I wasn’t pretending, if that’s what you think. I asked you to stay away from me. I told you to—”
“We share a room. I’m not going to be able to stay away from you no matter how hard I might try.”
“Then try harder,” Remus said. “My business every month—the wolf—I don’t want you around.”
A gust of wind blew past the greenhouse and redirected Sirius’ smoke into Remus’ face—he had covered his mouth in time, but he still coughed. His body was recovering. Sirius showed no sympathy. He did put his cigarette out, though, letting it drop into the grass and stubbing it with the heel of his shoe.
“Don’t you remember why I did it? Why we all did it?” Sirius smiled cruelly. “It was worse for you before you had us. And now you’re punishing yourself by cutting it off. Don’t even try to deny it.”
Remus could not, because every word of it was true.
Sirius walked backwards, away from the greenhouses, with his arms out and palms facing forward, as if to say, Dare you to follow me. So Remus followed him.
“You’ve done this before,” Sirius said. “This is of those things where you convince yourself that you’re not worth any happiness, or kindness, and you’re better off without anyone around to make it even a little bit better. Is that it?”
“You can’t tell me I’m wrong, though can you?”
“You’re unbelievable,” Remus said. “You just decide that whatever you’re doing is the right thing to do and you don’t give a shit what anyone else might have to say about it.”
“Oh,” Sirius said, “did you have something to say about it?”
Sirius kept pacing backwards, out onto the grassy hill leading up to the lake and the castle. There were more students around than before, lounging on the grass and happily ignorant of the fight that was about to encroach on their pleasant day.
“Yes, and you heard me the first time, I think,” Remus said. He hissed it, not too keen on the idea of being overheard. “I want you to stay away from me. And from the wolf.”
“The wolf doesn’t know that. The wolf wants me around. We had a fine enough time last night—though I suppose you don’t remember.”
“You know full well it can’t make the decisions I can.”
“It’s you,” Sirius said, coming to a standstill. “You’re it.”
Remus kept walking, until he and Sirius were almost eye-to-eye. “And I’m telling you to leave me alone.”
“What are you doing to do?” Sirius spread his arms wider. “You can’t stop me.”
Can’t was a funny word for it. Remus shoved him. Sirius’ eyes widened for a split second before Remus lost them in the glare of the sun at just the wrong angle. He’d caught Sirius unaware and for his slow reaction Sirius had suffered, stumbling backwards before catching his footing. And because it was Sirius, Sirius pushed back.
If Remus didn’t know better, he would say the wolf had overcome him in the light of day. But in reality this was a month of pent-up anger; Sirius had nearly made him the murderous predator that everyone thought he was. Remus had tried everything. He’d tried snapping, he’d tried avoidance, and now he was trying violence. Sirius was still on the back foot. Remus threw a fist and hit Sirius—weakly—in the arm. Sirius laughed, and tried to brush it off, but Remus was properly furious now. Who did Sirius think he was? No, that was a stupid question. He knew who he was, and what the virtue of his birth dictated he ought to be. Sirius Black was made of the tension between who he was meant to be and what had ended up becoming of him.
Remus hit him again.
Sirius didn’t hesitate before retaliating. He aimed better and punched harder than Remus ever would, let alone Remus the morning after a full moon. Remus could feel that he was fighting a losing battle but he wouldn’t let himself give up. He was peripherally aware that they had gathered a crowd of spectators eager for a sight of blood, shouting, egging them on. Let them watch, Remus thought. Let them bear witness to Sirius finally getting what he deserved.
Later, sitting in the Headmaster’s office with blood caked to his knuckles and nostrils, Remus started to wonder if maybe it had been a bad idea all along. Then he looked at Sirius, a split lip and one eye blackened with bruising and Remus’ blood, and Remus thought that, actually, it was a little bit worth it.
“This will, of course, be a month of detentions for both of you,” Professor Dumbledore said. “This sort of behaviour is unacceptable at Hogwarts. You should perhaps consider my leniency in keeping your punishment to one month only.”
“Mulciber and Corner got a week for duelling,” Sirius said. “I guess it’s worse when we do it the Muggle way, isn’t it?”
Remus so hated to agree with him. He cleared his throat. “I apologise, Professor, for my behaviour. It won’t happen again.”
Dumbledore nodded. “Nevertheless… you have put me in a position such that the only course of action is to suspend you from the office of Prefect, effective immediately.”
“I understand,” Remus said. His voice would not waver, and he would not cry. It was no more than he deserved—Dumbledore had been kind enough by allowing Remus to attend Hogwarts in the first place. Giving the wolf a position of authority had been one mistake too far.
“Pathetic,” Sirius said.
Remus did not give him the satisfaction of reacting.
The Easter break couldn’t have ended soon enough. Remus spent its last nights in detention with Sirius, sweeping a series of corridors on the fourth floor. No magic allowed. There was something quite soothing about it, the repetitive motions, the determinedly frosty silence. Sirius was in a foul mood and that suited Remus just fine. He was sure his own mood would be worse if he weren’t so rehearsed in taming it.
Well, there were still three weeks of detentions to go. Anything could happen.
Remus wasn’t sure whether or not he was glad for James and Peter’s return. On the one hand, having a friend around meant that Sirius wasn’t moping in the dorm all day, and Remus could now spend time there without becoming a victim of one of Sirius’ stares. On the other, James was livid with him.
James barged into the dorm before the welcome back feast with one fist clenched and swinging. For a moment Remus really thought James was going to punch him. But James’ fist stopped short of Remus, and he unfurled his fingers to show a silver badge sitting in the palm of his hand.
“What the fuck is this?”
“Oh,” Remus said. He let out a breath. “Congratulations.”
“No, not congratulations,” James snapped. “What did you say? How did you convince him?”
Remus grimaced. Was that really what James thought of him? “I didn’t ask for it, James.”
“I got in a fight with Si—with Black. Punched each other’s lights out. We’ve got a month of detentions together every night, and I’ve had to forfeit my badge for the foreseeable future. It’s—don’t look at me like that—I’m not bothered.”
“Yeah, because you always harp on about how you don’t deserve that badge.” James looked properly annoyed. “Well, congratulations to you too. You’ve finally done something to prove yourself right.”
“Just be glad it’s you and not Pettigrew,” Remus said curtly.
James let his shoulders drop. “Yeah. I know. You’re going to kick me if I say I don’t think I deserve this, aren’t you?”
“All signs point to yes.”
“Fine, fine. But I’m not—you were always the most responsible. You shouldn’t have had your badge taken away for one fist fight. I mean, it’s just a fist fight! You can patch up those wounds, and you have, by the looks of it. It’s not as though you were duelling each other with Unforgiveables.”
Remus couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s exactly what Black tried to argue to Dumbledore.”
“Yuck,” James said, miming throwing up. “I take it back.”
“This’ll cheer you up,” Remus said. “Now you get to patrol with Lily. She might even be a little impressed by your newfound responsibility, hmm?”
“You know just what to say to a man.” James shook the dopey smile off his face, and clapped Remus on the shoulder. “And how was the full moon?”
“That’s why we fought. Padfoot made an appearance, even after I’d explicitly told Black he wasn’t welcome. I bet he thought I wouldn’t notice the difference. It was—better, of course it was. But not knowing that it was him. Not knowing what he really thinks of me.”
“Sounds like Black had it coming.”
“Speaking of which,” Remus said, “I have to get going to detention.”
James pouted. “Even on a Sunday?”
“Every night, James.”
Every night—Remus thought he would have tired of Sirius’ company by now, those endless stretches of silence. But he hadn’t, and he was determined that he wouldn’t. It wasn’t even company. They weren’t talking, and they certainly were not friends.
Tonight was a change of pace, mopping the boys’ toilets on the first floor. These toilets were located precisely between the Great Hall and the Quidditch pitch, and as a result saw more traffic than most classrooms in the castle. There was piss everywhere. Remus wrapped his scarf around his face, twice over, and tried to breathe through his mouth. None of it helped much. At the other end of the bathroom, Sirius did some wordless spell on his nose and seemed to be getting about it just fine. That was Sirius for you, always quick with the magic. Remus sometimes thought about how he’d been given the chance to attend Hogwarts against all odds and still hadn’t learnt a damn thing.
Remus lasted ten minutes before he gave in. “Could you do the bloody spell on me too, then?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Sirius said, winking.
As an afterthought, Remus added, “Teach me so I know for next time.”
“I call it Scentless,” Sirius said. “Not even Ja—Potter—not even Potter knows this one. Came up with it when we were sweeping those dusty corridors.”
“You’re so delicate,” Remus said, but he didn’t make too much fun, because Sirius at least had the good grace to show him the spell, and cast Finite over and again so Remus could try it a couple of times. He got the hang of it at last—it worked well.
Sirius looked almost eager for the results of Remus’ experimentation. “Well?”
“It’s alright,” Remus said. “You can stop pretending to be civil now.”
“And you can get that wand out of your arse.”
“You misunderstand. I’m just wasting as little time on you as possible.”
“Is that it?” Sirius leant in. “Or are you just desperate to get your badge back? All this goody-two-shoes behaviour, you can’t fool me. Scrubbing up filth to atone for your crimes.”
Right now, getting into a fight with Sirius didn’t feel like much of a crime, but Remus wasn’t going to fall for it a second time. He ignored Sirius and got back to work. It was tiresome, filthy work, and the novelty had long since worn off.
At least Sirius had shown him the Scentless spell. Remus was still getting his head around that one. For a moment, it was like they were the same friends they’d always been. If Sirius wanted to be friends again—fine, and maybe Remus would even entertain that—he ought to apologise. Acting like nothing had changed was not an apology. It was a diversion.
Until Sirius stopped changing the subject, Remus would not have the conversation.
A lot could change in two months. Remus’ life was different without Sirius and Peter in it, there was no mistaking that. He knew that, strictly, based on the people they had proved to be, his life was better, but it was a different thing to convince himself of that fact.
With a shiny new badge and no pranks to pull, James was hell bent on one thing only: making Lily Evans his girlfriend. As James told it to Remus, their joint patrols as prefects were deeply romantic and every day he came one step closer to asking for hand in marriage. As Lily told it, she missed Remus terribly, and counted every day until his detentions were over and Dumbledore might considering giving him back the badge.
He’d tried to apologise her, and Lily had said, “No, don’t worry about it, James is just…”
“Overbearing,” Remus had guessed.
Lily nodded. “That’s one word for it.”
Another upshot of James’ zealous campaign to get in Lily’s good graces was that Remus had to spend a lot of time around Snape. This was torturous, at first. Snape was the only person outside the fifth year Gryffindor boys’ dorm who knew Remus’ greatest secret, and that was all Sirius’ fault. Remus couldn’t be around Snape without thinking of Sirius. It was bad enough that he had to spend his evenings in bad company; it felt like his days were spent in worse. Snape had the decency to keep Remus’ secret to himself, but that was where it ended. He had a sneer reserved for Remus which never left his face so long as they were in the same room.
But, slowly, Remus began to make sense of that sneer. Snape didn’t hate him, or if he did, it was nothing personal and nothing to do with the werewolf thing—he was jealous. Remus was a monster and yet he had James, who cared for him unconditionally. Not despite of the wolf. The wolf didn’t matter to James at all unless it was hurting Remus.
Snape had no-one. He had Lily, up to a point, but they were childhood friends who’d drifted as they got older. He had people he sat with at the Slytherin table—observing them, Remus didn’t think they counted as friends.
This realisation made Remus feel a lot better about offering an olive branch to Snape. He would get over it eventually, when he got a taste of proper friendship.
It was a Saturday morning, and James was on the way to the Quidditch pitch. Remus didn’t usually tag along, but that was because he and the others—the Bandits—always used to keep each other company while James was busy with Quidditch. These days Remus had nothing better to do except go to detention. And besides, James was distracted and therefore malleable, which meant it was the perfect time to have the Snape conversation.
“I was thinking,” Remus began.
“Oh, no!” James laughed. “Come on then, out with it.”
“We should let Snape pull a prank with us.”
James didn’t respond. He twisted his mouth into a curious expression; Remus could sense his mind working at a mile a minute, weighing up the pros and cons before Remus could even begin to lay them out for him.
Remus took advantage of his silence to keep talking: “Look, I know he hangs out with a bad crowd, but that’s precisely why we need to make him our friend. Can you imagine how much it would hurt Lily if he turned into a bigot? But right now he’s ripe for radicalisation. We could radicalise him, James. We could make him a Marauder.”
“No,” James said.
“No? So you’re going to throw him to the Willow too?”
“I’ll play nice with him,” James said, ignoring the jibe, “but he can’t be a Marauder. He hates you.”
“He doesn’t hate me,” Remus said, rolling his eyes. “He’s just jealous of me because we’re both ugly and unpopular, but I’m the one with close friends.” Well, one close friend, at least. “If he had friends too, the kind of friends who’d—”
“Remus!” James stopped walking, and put a hand to his heart. “You think you’re ugly?”
“You’ve been voted sexiest Marauder three years running,” James said. He looked wistful. They would never award that title ever again, nor the other ones: bravest Marauder (Sirius), sneakiest Marauder (Peter), and the Marauder with the biggest hair (James).
“That was Black’s joke,” Remus reminded him. “You know he just liked the disconnect: ugly creature, sexy Marauder. Anyway that, that isn’t the point. The point is that maybe if Snape got voted, I don’t know, the Marauder best at Potions, he’d be less likely to graduate Hogwarts and run off to join the Death Eaters.”
“I’m better at Potions than him,” James whined.
“You’re not, and stop changing the subject.”
“Moony, he can’t be a Marauder,” James said, his tone serious. “He hates you. Evans may not talk to you about this, but she’s told me some of the stuff he’s said about… that night.”
Remus went cold. “Tell me.”
James looked away, clearly uncomfortable. “He said—he said that everyone knows werewolves are the lowest of the low. That you shouldn’t have been let into Hogwarts in the first place.”
It was like a punch to the chest, and it hurt more than any of the hits Sirius had landed on him. Remus shouldn’t have been surprised. Snape was—well, he was a Wizard. Very few of them were as progressive as James, especially when it came to the rights of magical creatures. But that wasn’t really why it hurt. It hurt because Remus really thought he’d worked it out. Because he’d thought, against all odds, that he had something special; that his friends’ affections made him better than what he really was.
An outsider. An interloper.
“Sorry.” James grimaced. “I suppose it was going to come out eventually.”
“Maybe,” Remus said, “maybe if we befriend him properly, he’ll change his opinions.”
“Yeah, maybe.” James didn’t sound too hopeful. “Listen, I have to get to Quidditch—I’ll see you later?”
Remus nodded. He wanted to say something rude about how they weren’t even halfway there yet, but he couldn’t find the words.
It was the last detention of the year and, in some ways, Remus would miss it.
He would not miss Sirius—over summer, he’d have other things to occupy his mind—but he’d miss the rush of it, the thrill of having someone to face off against. If he missed one thing about being Sirius’ friend, it was not the companionship, but the way it felt to have a common enemy. Although Sirius hailed from the establishment, it had not been kind to him, and in a different way it had shown cruelty to Remus, an outsider. That was what they fought against. James and Peter had grown up happy. They didn’t know what it was like.
This evening they were in the trophy room, cleaning their way along the cabinet that housed trophies from 1750 to 1800. Filch, duly impressed with their overall decent behaviour, and perhaps Remus’ track record as a Prefect, left them to it with only Mrs. Norris watching over them.
Exchanging glares through the warped old glass of the trophy cabinet was as close as they could come to sharing an enemy, now. This time, it was their friendship itself, the them that had been, that they fought against. Remus thought that having an enemy wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun if he hadn’t been friends with them first.
“Missed a spot,” Sirius spat, not looking at Remus.
“Oh, yes, very observant,” Remus said, and kept doing exactly what he had been doing.
This trophy was from 1769, awarded to a student who saved the life of another during the Triwizard Tournament. The one next to it was from the same year, for a student who nursed an injured hippogriff back to health.
“What’re you reading them for?” Sirius asked.
Remus put down the trophy. “It’s all very brave, isn’t it? These life-or-death situations, someone risking everything, and all they get is a piece of silver that’s used as a punishment for students three hundred years later.”
He paused, eyeing Sirius, but the glass was so filthy that he had no way of telling what Sirius was thinking.
“Although I suppose you know all about life-or-death situations.”
Sirius slammed down the trophy he was halfway through cleaning. “What’s that meant to mean?”
Remus shrugged. “You missed a spot.”
“You think that just because I nearly got someone killed I might’ve suddenly grown a moral compass?” Sirius laughed. “You really don’t know me at all. I’ve got no remorse for Snivellus of Slytherin.”
“I know. We’re friends now—James and I and Severus.” It felt strange to call Snape by his first name, even stranger than calling them friends, but he wanted Sirius to feel somewhere close to how betrayed he did. “We have a lot in common.”
“Being a bunch of greasy, back-stabbing gits?”
“Being people you’ve got no remorse for.”
Sirius had no response to that. He took up his trophy again and started scrubbing again with renewed vigour. Remus picked up another, an award for outstanding academic excellence from 1770. This was a plaque which listed a number of essays and discoveries by one Jebediah Branch, who had been both a Prefect and Head Boy. Over the course of his illustrious Hogwarts career, Jebediah Branch had accomplished more than Remus ever would. Was it just that there was no new magic to discover, or was something holding Remus back?
He knew the answer to that.
While Remus was busy reading the plaque, Sirius had moved around to his side of the trophy cabinet. Now, there was no glass between them, nothing to stop Remus from admiring the way Sirius frowned in concentration. He hated that frown.
“Look at this one, Lupin.” Sirius held a trophy just out of Remus’ reach. “Lancelot Abney of Hufflepuff, 1795, ‘for his most extreme act of valour in saving a fellow student from the bite of a most vicious werewolf.’”
“Good on Lancelot Abney of Hufflepuff,” Remus said. He turned his attention back to Jebediah Branch’s massive plaque.
“Reckon they should give Potter one of these, too,” Sirius said. “James Potter of Gryffindor, 1975, for his most extreme act of valour in—”
“Shut up,” Remus hissed.
“—saving Snivellus Snape of Slytherin—”
“—from the bite of a most vicious werewolf, named—”
Remus dropped the plaque to the ground; he heard the ring of silver clattering across stone as he lunged for Sirius. He was unsure what to do once his hands were fisted in the front of Sirius’ robes. He couldn’t throw another punch; he didn’t want more detention. Sirius let go of Lancelot Abney’s trophy, and it rolled benignly between them. Remus had not thought this far ahead.
Sirius, cross-legged, smirked up at Remus, who was getting dust all over his robes and probably tearing the fabric too, his knees digging against the uneven floor. In that moment, all Remus could think was, Maybe he’s right, and then Sirius kissed him.
Maybe everyone was right, and Remus really was a danger to society. Maybe Snape was right; Remus shouldn’t have been allowed into Hogwarts in the first place. Maybe James really did deserve an award for saving Snape from the wolf. From Remus. But weren’t he and Sirius still fighting the same thing? No longer side-by-side but not on opposite sides of the line either.
Sirius tasted like silver polish and the corned beef they’d been served for dinner that night. He kissed like he was trying to prove a point, which, for all Remus knew, he probably was, although Remus couldn’t have said what the point was. He closed his eyes and let Sirius kiss him—whatever else he was, Remus was sixteen and this was his first kiss. It was all the more thrilling because it was Sirius, who had given him everything and then taken it away so, so swiftly. He was not sure what Sirius felt for him—if anything—and he was less certain of his own feelings for Sirius, but kissing was kissing. Kissing didn’t have to mean anything more than the stillness of the trophy room, the polishing rag in Sirius’ hand pressing against Remus’ wrist.
It was, perhaps, too thrilling.
Remus pulled back. “Never,” he breathed, “speak to me again.”
“Loud and clear, Lupin,” Sirius said, and Remus was pleased to see that there was not a trace of sincerity in the half-cocked smile he wore, no hint that he might have affections beyond what residue their friendship left behind. It was, after all, only typical that Sirius cared so little for Remus—since that full moon, he had been proving it over and again.
“Good,” Remus said.
They left it there.
Dumbledore had summoned Remus to his office. Alone—so this wasn’t about the fight with Sirius. Sometimes Dumbledore checked in on Remus, being the problem student that he was. But coming off the back of a month of detentions, this felt different. This felt like more punishment.
Remus sat in the chair opposite the headmaster for a very long time before either of them spoke.
“Remus,” he said, and placed a silver Prefect’s badge down on the desk between them. “Over the last month, you have proven yourself as diligent and dedicated as I’ve always known you to be. I hope your altercation with Sirius Black will prove to be an isolated incident.”
“It won’t happen again,” Remus said.
“Good, good. Then I believe this belongs to you.”
“No.” Remus looked down at his hands, his clenched fists. “I can’t accept this badge.”
“You’ve tried to return it once before,” Dumbledore said. “Do you remember what I told you then?”
It was when Remus had first been appointed Prefect. Dumbledore had given him a long-winded speech about responsibility and how he knew Remus would dedicate himself to the position. “The way I never dedicated myself to my studies,” Remus had said later that night, when he was mocking the speech to the other three back in their dorm. They’d all cackled as Remus went on, “Anyway, think of all the sneaking around I can get away with now! Think of all the secret passageways I’ll find!”
“You know I have to take it off once a month, Professor,” Remus said now. “When I transform. I can’t touch silver as the wolf.”
“I know,” Dumbledore said. He didn’t look disquieted by this, not in the way Remus wanted him to be.
“You’re going to tell me I deserve it the rest of the time,” Remus continued, “and I think you’re—probably right. But I don’t want it. James wants it. Please let him keep it.”
Dumbledore’s expression darkened, if only for a moment. Remus wasn’t sure he hadn’t imagined it. At length, the Professor said, “If that is your decision.”
Remus stood. “I won’t take it.”
It was an ending. Remus was getting very good at those.
“One more thing,” Dumbledore said, just as Remus was about to leave the office. “Your father has written to me. He wishes for you to return home early, immediately after your final O.W.L. examination. If you were a Prefect, I would have very good cause to keep you at Hogwarts instead of sending you home.”
Remus’ dad wrote to him regularly; he hadn’t mentioned this. He had mentioned that Remus’ mum’s health getting worse, but he never wrote in detail about it. He was scared people were reading his letters, ever since some Slytherins had emptied the contents of Remus’ bag all over the floor of the library in second year.
Lyall Lupin was always anxious about something. So was Remus—that was his curse as much as the wolf was—and so he had learnt how to identify whether or not his dad was being reasonable. Leaving details out of letters, when Remus didn’t even get picked on anymore, was not reasonable. But hearing this request second-hand from the Headmaster—Remus couldn’t gauge whether or not this was one of the rare serious occasions when Lyall’s anxiety was justified.
Either way—what was there for Remus at Hogwarts after his O.W.L.s? A frosty dormitory and the memory of Sirius kissing him in the trophy room. He had James, but James had Lily to keep him company. And Remus had been using his sick mother as an excuse to disappear every full moon since his first year. If he wasn’t with her when she was really sick, then all those excuses meant nothing.
“No, he’s right,” Remus said. “I should leave early. And someone will need to be Prefect when I’m gone.”
“Very well,” Dumbledore said. He looked disappointed, but Remus could live with another person being disappointed in him.
When James asked, in the Gryffindor common room that night, why Remus hadn’t got his badge back after the detentions were over, Remus hesitated a moment before answering: “That wasn’t what Dumbledore wanted to talk to me about after all.”
“Damn it,” James said. “I thought for sure…”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Remus teased. “You’ll just have to keep patrolling the corridors with Lily.”
James grinned. “I think I might be in with a chance, mate. She’s going to write to me over the holidays.”
“Fantastic,” Remus said, clapping him on the arm. “Everything’s coming up Prongs, isn’t it?”
“It’ll be your turn soon, Moony,” James said. “Just you wait. Things are going to start looking up.”
It wasn’t quite as jubilant as James suggested. Remus was free of detentions, but now he was adjusting to a new normal, busy every minute of every day, studying for his O.W.L.s. He had been doing better than usual in his classes, thanks to overcompensating for the time eroded by the detentions with extra study in what little time he had. Now, all that work simply felt normal.
The real upside of all of this was that he barely saw Sirius at all. He would study, he would sit his exams, and then he would leave. And by the time sixth year rolled around—maybe things would be a little less strained. Maybe they would be worse, but maybe Remus would be better at coping with it by then. Maybe Snape would’ve told the whole school they had a werewolf among them and Remus wouldn’t be back at all.
That was Remus’ worst fear. It was the opposite of wishful thinking, yet he indulged in it like it was the most spectacular fantasy. Some days, Remus thought his tendency to wholeheartedly embrace the worst case scenario was his worst feature, even worse than being a werewolf.
Other days, he reminded himself that his kind always had to expect the worst, and got back to work.
This was home, Remus supposed, or as close as he could get to it. It had been for the last five years. They’d moved around a lot before that—his fault—but at least this iteration of home felt right, a cottage in rural North Wales, somewhere off the map, with no other houses in sight of the front gate and a forest as the back garden, the perfect hideaway for a young werewolf. It was a pain to get home from Hogwarts, though; Remus could not yet Apparate, and his dad couldn’t take him side-along because he was kept so busy these days taking care of Remus’ mum. They had organised the Hogwarts Express to make an early trip for him, and from King’s Cross Remus had taken a late night train to Cardiff. He slept at the station and caught an early morning train to Llanwrst, hiked the rest of the way, and by the time he made it home it was the late afternoon.
He took his shoes off in the muddy grass by the gate, tied them together at the laces and slung them over his forearm. The front garden was overgrown, and with the trees looming behind the house, it reminded Remus of the Forbidden Forest. Safe.
Everything about the cottage on the border of Gwydyr Forest was very Muggle, very quaint. The front door opened with lock and key—not that Remus could have used the Alohomora charm outside of school, being underage—and he could hear the sound of a kettle whistling on the stove, all electricity and steam. He made his way to the kitchen, where he found his dad leaning over the stove.
“Hello,” Remus tried. No response. “Dad?”
Lyall Lupin looked up, disoriented. “Oh, hello Remus. Goodness… you’re back already.”
Remus swallowed. “Yeah. You got Dumbledore to send me home early, remember?”
“Goodness, yes, I remember now,” Lyall said. He looked as though he hadn’t slept in days. “Well, that’s not such a bad thing, given…”
Remus had to ask eventually. “How is mum?”
Lyall shook his head. He didn’t answer for a very long handful of seconds. “Not good, Remus. Not good. Enough about that. How are you? How was the journey home?”
“Long,” Remus said.
“You must be tired. Why don’t you go upstairs and sleep? I’ll have tea ready for you when you come down, and then you can go and see Hope.”
Remus was too tired to argue, although he wanted to see his mum more than anything else. He made his way up to the bedroom, at the opposite end of the corridor to where his parents’ room was, and the smaller study where his mum’s sickbed had been set up. There was no light coming from under the door; she must have been sleeping. His own room was in darkness too, the white-painted walls a sullen grey and a little light coming in from the waning gibbous moon. His bed was made with the same awkward tucks and folds from when he’d done it at the end of the last summer, hastily the night before leaving for another overnight journey to London. He flicked on the overhead light, which was immediately swarmed by moths. There was, regrettably, still nothing on the walls.
Sirius’ room had posters all over the walls. Remus remembered it from when he’d stayed at the Blacks’ London house for a couple of days last summer, ostensibly in a guest room just down the hall but actually in Sirius’ room the entire time.
“They’re Muggle posters,” Remus had noted. They were lying on Sirius’ bed, elbows touching. “Why do you have them?”
Sirius had shrugged messily. “They’re hot. Absolute babes, you know? And it pisses off mum that they don’t move. I think that’s what she hates the most.”
Which was what Sirius liked the most. Remus had stopped in a poster shop on his way to King’s Cross at the end of that stay, but he didn’t have the courage to buy the static images of David Bowie that caught his imagination, so he’d just left, scrambled out without looking anyone in the eye.
Now he wished he’d bought something, anything. His bare walls bore down on him as he lay on his back, closed his eyes, tried to sleep.
He woke sometime later to the sound of low voices from the other room: two people having a conversation, so his mother was still well enough to talk, which was only a little consolation. Gently, making sure to avoid the floorboards which creaked, Remus got out of bed and made his way down the corridor.
“You don’t need to tell him,” Lyall was saying. “On top of everything else, he doesn’t need to—”
“Lyall.” It was his mum’s voice, though far weaker than he remembered it from last summer. “Remus is sixteen. He’ll be an adult soon. He has a right to know.”
“Remus is only sixteen. And he’s got problems of his own. He doesn’t need to know. He just needs to be here, with us.”
Hope’s voice was sterner when she said, “I want him to know.”
“You can’t tell him, Hope.” Lyall sounded strained. Remus flattened himself against the wall, closer to the door so he could hear more clearly. “That’s my final word. You don’t understand his situation like I do, you never will.”
“Because I’m a Muggle? Lyall—”
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
“He’s my son.”
Taking a long breath in, exhaling for longer, Remus forced himself to go to the door. He knocked once, gently, and then pushed it open.
Hope was sitting upright in bed, a ghost of herself. Her grey hair was thinner than Remus had ever seen it, her skin hanging loose over her bones and her nightgown loose over her frame. “Lyall, leave us alone,” she said.
Without ceremony, Lyall stood up and pushed the stool by Hope’s bedside towards Remus. He opened his mouth, looked like he might have been about to say something, but then decided against it. He made for the door and didn’t look back once.
“You heard us talking,” Hope said.
She looked resigned to it, so Remus nodded. “Yeah. Sorry.”
“I don’t mind,” she said. “It’s—Remus, it’s hard for me to talk, so you must listen carefully. You need to leave this house. You need to go somewhere safe, and don’t come back.”
“Mum, what do you mean? I came home early from Hogwarts to see you. I can’t just leave.”
“Lyall doesn’t want you to,” she said. “He thinks you should be here to support me, but he’s barely here himself. Living in his head, that man. And, darling, you’ve known enough horror. I don’t want you to be here when I—”
“When you… ?”
“When I’m even less myself.” Hope let out a long sigh. “I’m dying, Remus. I don’t want you to be here when I die. I don’t want you to see that.”
“You can’t.” Remus shook his head; that wasn’t for him to decide, but she would know what he meant. “I mean—haven’t you—have you been to St. Mungo’s?”
“I’ve tried all sorts,” Hope said. “Normal medicine, magical medicine… there’s nothing anyone can do.”
Remus’ hands went unbidden to his face. He was crying. “No, that can’t be—that’s not true—”
“I need you to leave. I want you to leave. I’ll send you letters as long as I’m able, but I won’t be another burden on you. Do you have anywhere you can stay?”
“Yeah,” Remus said. A burden. She thought she was the burden. “Probably, yeah.”
Hope held out her hands and, wiping at his eyes one last time, Remus took them. Her skin was cold. “Promise me,” she said.
“This is what I deserve,” Remus said. “All those times I told people I was away from school because I had to visit my sick mum—”
“I gave you that excuse,” Hope reminded him. She tried to laugh, but it didn’t quite happen. “And for all the ease it gave you at school, I would never take it back.”
“My best friends found out, in the end,” Remus said. “James, and—the others. They worked out this advanced spell so that they can turn into animals at will and come out at night with me when I transform. But you can’t tell dad, okay? It’s really illegal.”
Hope gave him such a wide smile that Remus knew that this would be a secret between the two of them, for as long as Hope was around to keep it. “Tell me more. What kinds of animals can they turn into?”
Remus rolled his shoulders back, summoning the last bit of strength he had to carry on like nothing was wrong. “Well, they can only turn into one animal each—”
I don’t want to impose, but I need to leave home soon. I think it might be for good. I’ll tell you all about it in person. Anyway, when you get back from Hogwarts, I don’t suppose I could stay at yours until I find a more permanent situation? That might mean I’m there for the you-know-what on the 11th of July. I hope not, but I don’t know where else I can go. Let me know if this is okay.
The Potters lived in a posh country house in the Lakes District, the kind which Remus had only seen in pictures in magazines and fleetingly on telly. He knew objectively that the grounds weren’t massive, and that the Blacks and Lestranges of this world would likely own manors ten times the size, but that didn’t stop it from being daunting. Remus found his way there on three trains and a bus, and now he stood at the front door with his suitcase, one fist clenched but not knocking yet. He felt very insignificant.
He wasn’t sure what he expected—a butler to offer to take his case? A house elf to show him to his quarters?—but what he got was the sound of footsteps down a flight of stairs, accelerating as they rushed to the door, and James flinging it open with both hands.
“Moony! You made it!”
“Yeah, only took me a day,” Remus said. He held back a yawn. “Are you sure this is—”
“No more questions,” James said. “Come on in. My parents are out for tea, but you’ll meet them later when they get home. For now, I have to give you the grand tour. And as for rooms—do you want one of your own, or do you want to stay in mine? It doesn’t matter, really, because you can come into my room whenever you want. We’ll stay up late every night. We can even build a fort!”
Remus followed James inside; he struggled to find the words to respond. “This is all very kind of you. Er, my own room would be good, if you have the space.”
James scoffed. “Moony, come on. If we have the space? Have you seen this place?”
“Sure,” Remus said. “I’m just checking.”
He followed James up a staircase to the top floor of the house. It was well-maintained for its age, not too dusty or dark around corners. The windows were thrown wide open to let in the summer breeze, and at a turn in the stairwell Remus looked out over a rolling field, dotted with the odd copse of trees, and a lake in the distance.
“It’s empty out here,” he said.
“Yeah.” James paused at the window, following Remus’ gaze. “It’s all yours for the full moon.”
“You own it?”
James looked horrified for all of half a second. “No, no! Some Muggle owns it. The Queen, I think. But no-one’s using it, really, so you can go out there and howl to your heart’s content.”
“Is it safe?” Remus asked. “I mean, for the locals.”
“We are the locals,” James said. “There are a couple of Muggle estates nearby, but you never know. There might be a stag around to keep the wolf company.”
Remus grinned, despite himself. He knew he wouldn’t always have James to rely on for his transformations, not once they were out of Hogwarts and they had to go out into the real world and get jobs—not to mention the war that was raging around them, and the fact that Remus would never get employment if he was registered as a werewolf, would never be able to stay anywhere for long if he wasn’t. He’d spent too many nights mapping out his life and he was sick of thinking ahead. Just this once, he would take what he had for granted.
“I’ll be counting on it,” he said.
James’ bedroom was on the top floor, a few doors down from the guest room where Remus would be staying, for however long he needed to. He was still a little bit overwhelmed by James’ kindness, but there was no time to dwell on it. James gave Remus only as much time as he needed to put down his suitcase, and then whisked him next door.
“I want to show you something,” James said. “A little project I’ve been working on.”
He wiggled his fingers on the word project, which was the first thing that had made Remus laugh in weeks. He hadn’t been this comfortable in his own skin since—
“Black and Pettigrew aren’t going to know what’s hit them when this prank war goes down,” James continued. “I’ve started work on a tool which will give us the ultimate advantage. You’re going to love it. I can’t complete it without your help, though.”
James crouched down by his bed and pulled out a box from beneath it. He lifted a rectangular piece of folded parchment out of it, revealing a miscellany of Zonko’s items and chocolate frog cards beneath it. But James pushed those to one side, and unfolded the blank parchment on the floor between him and Remus.
“I don’t get it,” Remus said.
“Watch this.” James pulled his wand from behind his ear and pressed its tip to the parchment. He cleared his throat and said, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
Before Remus’ eyes, thin lines in dark red ink appeared on the parchment, tracing out a blueprint of Hogwarts from the castle’s dungeons to its towers, the grounds, the lake, the Quidditch pitch.
“Cool, isn’t it?”
“Fuck, Prongs,” Remus said, “it’s incredible. When did you get time to work on this?”
“Started it while you were stuck in detention with Black,” James said; his nonchalance was so forced that it was glaringly obvious how proud he was. “I think I’m missing a few of our secret passageways, and I’m sure there are more to be found, but I know with your help we’ll get all of it down.”
“You’re missing the Room of Requirement,” Remus said, pointing to the seventh floor.
“Tried it,” James said. “The damn thing’s unplottable.”
“Well, that’s alright. We know where it is.”
“Yeah. So the next thing I want to do with this—I’ve found a spell which tracks the location of people on a map, but it’s tricky magic. I think we should make a couple of small maps first and test it on those. Maybe we can map out my bedroom.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Remus said. But never mind James’ bedroom, when the whole of Hogwarts was their playground. “First, though, the map needs a name.”
James hummed. “How about… Prongs and Moony’s Guide to Hogwarts?”
He said it with such a flourish that Remus couldn’t help but laugh, but privately he also thought it was a little long-winded. “Not bad,” he said. “Oh—how about the Marauder’s Map?”
“The Marauder’s Map,” James said, appreciative. “Sounds dangerous.”
“Sounds like us, then.”
James held out his hand over the map like he wanted to arm-wrestle, and Remus took it, clasping James’ fingers tight as he could between his own.
“It’s you and me, Moony,” James said. “You and me against the rest of them.”
And that was where his doubts ended. As a Marauder, Remus didn’t have to be a werewolf with a dying mum or a troublemaker masquerading as a Prefect or a half-blood on the losing side of the war. He just was. Right now that was enough.