He hated that Black had seen his scars, though if Remus was honest with himself, he had known that it was bound to happen sooner or later. Now it seemed like every time he looked up, Black was watching him. Remus could feel him thinking about what he had seen. But after three days, he realised that Black wasn't going to mention the incident again, and he began to relax -- as much as he ever did. He even began to be a little amused, because Black was being nice to him -- an unprecedented occurrence -- even going so far as to ask before borrowing his notes. Most of the time.
But balancing Remus's amusement was irritation. He wasn't looking for anyone's pity, and certainly not his privileged roommate's. He had grown used to people's horror and disgust of werewolves, but somehow it was always pity that grated on him most. He hated being treated as if he was pathetic or weak or broken. It was bad enough thinking those things himself, without others doing the same.
Remus did manage to muster a small amount of gratitude that Black had not mentioned anything to Potter or Pettigrew. They treated him with the same indifference as always, barely glancing at him or including him in their conversations. Remus hoped that soon Black would grow bored with his private speculations and do the same.
But more than a week passed, and Black's interest did not waver. It seemed that, as long as his concern lasted, he would continue to pester Remus and invite him along with the others everywhere they went. Meals, classes, dodgy late-night wanderings, and that afternoon, oddly enough, tea with the gamekeeper.
"C'mon, Lupin," Black pleaded, blinking in what he probably thought was a winsome manner. "Gid and Fabe say his place is amazing. Everything's at least twice normal size."
Remus shook his head. "I've got to study," he said. "I'm behind on Charms, and I still haven't copied Potter's Transfiguration notes from last week."
"But it's Saturday!" whined Black. "Saturday isn't for studying; it's for skiving off. Everyone knows that! Besides, there's no rule against visiting the gamekeeper. You're not going to lose House points or anything."
"I expect you lot would find a way." Remus almost smiled. "All right. I'll come along if it'll keep you out of trouble."
He bundled up as best he could in his threadbare cloak, scarf and thin gloves, and followed Black down to the common room, where the the Prewetts, Pettigrew and Potter were waiting.
Exiting the castle doors into the failing winter light, they were met with a blast of driving sleet.
"Bloody hell!" chattered Black, attempting to make his neck disappear into the soft folds of his thick, woollen cloak.
"That's what you get for burning your scarf, mate," Potter said, slapping him on the back as they hurried into the wind.
"You burnt your scarf?" Gideon asked, puzzled.
Potter grinned. "Git went and brought a Slytherin scarf to school, instead of one of the colour-charm ones you're meant to get before you're Sorted."
Fabian laughed. "Sounds like you earned that cold neck, Black."
"If I come down with something, I swear I'll cough all over you unfeeling sods, and we'll all die together," Black scowled. At least, it sounded to Remus like he was scowling. The only part of him visible under his hood was the reddened tip of his nose.
At the door to the gamekeeper's hut, they waited, hopping from foot to foot to keep warm, listening to the frantic scuffle and barking going on inside.
"Down, Fuzzball!" growled a voice, and then the door was opened, and Rubeus Hagrid, Hogwarts' enormous gamekeeper, was beaming at them and ushering them inside.
Everything in the hut was, as promised, much bigger than normal, but that was to be expected, considering that Hagrid was about ten feet tall. A bed like a small continent took up nearly half the space, with a large table occupying much of the rest of it. Game birds and joints of meat hung from the rafters, and a well-worn crossbow leaned against the wall. Despite rumours to the contrary, it appeared that Hagrid did not, in fact, eat children. All in all, it looked like exactly the sort of place a wild-looking giant of a man would live.
"I see yeh've brought some little friends today, Gideon, Fabian," Hagrid beamed.
"We thought it was time you met our first years," Fabian told him, and introduced them.
"Pleased ter meet yeh, lads." Hagrid carefully shook each of their hands and then turned to drag over a huge elkhound that was cowering against the bed. "And this here's Fuzzball. Dunno what's got inter him. He's not usually so shy. C'mon, Fuzzy. Come meet the lads."
Fuzzball at last reluctantly consented to give Potter, Black and Pettigrew's fingers a sniff, but Remus, guessing the source of the dog's wariness, stood well back, and did not try to force the issue.
"Don' yeh like dogs, then, lad?" Hagrid sounded personally wounded by the possibility.
Remus felt his ears go pink. They were all looking at him again. "They -- er -- don't usually like me very much," he mumbled.
Hagrid looked as if he might argue, but the evidence of Fuzzball's behaviour supported Remus's claim, and with a shrug of his massive shoulders, he turned to the stove to put the kettle on. The dog, once released, slunk into the farthest corner of the hut and stayed there for the remainder of their visit, eyeing the intruders warily.
"So, what've you lads been up ter?" Hagrid asked, setting the heavy, square table with seven oversized mugs and a plate of pastries as the boys sat down.
"Hogsmeade," said Fabian, leaning across the table for a cake and eyeing it surreptitiously before nibbling a corner. "Zonko's this morning, then down the Three Broomsticks all afternoon. Only just got back before we came here."
"We overheard some folk talking," added Gideon. "Have you heard anything about the Shrieking Shack, Hagrid?"
"Can' say as I have," Hagrid said, pouring tea from the gigantic copper kettle. "Would you lads like a tot o' mead in yer tea, then? I 'spose I shouldn', you bein' firs' years an' all, but a speck o' mead never hurt no one, did it?"
Even Remus held out his mug, cradling it in two hands, for a splash of the sweet, golden liquor. He usually enjoyed a bit of honey in his tea, and when one came right down to it, this was almost the same thing. The hot, steaming beverage was heavenly after the cold walk down from the castle.
"What's the Shrieking Shack?" asked Pettigrew, crawling halfway onto the table to snag the plate of cakes and scooping up two for himself before shoving the rest towards his roommates.
Remus took one and hefted it carefully. It seemed fairly solid. Maybe if he dipped it in his tea --
"It's this old house in the village," Gideon explained. "All boarded up. The whole town's talking about how haunted it is, but we've never heard anyone mention it before this year."
Remus jerked and made a small sound.
"You OK?" asked Black.
"Bit my tongue," Remus mumbled, abandoning the rocklike cake and burying his nose in his mug. They can't mean --?
"But it can't just suddenly be haunted out of nowhere, can it?" Potter asked.
Fabian shook his head. "Ghosts have to be closely connected to a place for ages while they're alive to haunt it after they die. No one's lived in that place for as long as anyone can remember."
"So we're going to investigate," said Gideon. "Next Hogsmeade weekend isn't until February, but maybe we can find an excuse to have a poke around before then."
"You shouldn't be sneaking off school grounds for something like that," Remus heard himself saying, slightly panicked. He hadn't considered until now that the noise he made once a month would attract the notice of the entire village.
The twins just grinned at him. "What have we here? A first year prefect? Going to take House points off us, Mr Lupin?"
"You're not afraid of a few ghosties, are you, Lupin?" teased Potter.
"No," Remus flushed. "I just don't think it's a good idea to go poking your noses into an old place like that. Might be dangerous." For me.
"The lad's not wrong," Hagrid scowled -- a ferocious expression on his broad, bearded face. "If it's the one I'm thinkin' of, it's a dodgy lookin' place, an' no mistake. Might tumble down around yer ears if yeh look at it wrong. Now, put that idea right out o' yer heads an' tell me what you lot are doin' over the holidays."
Remus was relieved when the others let the subject of the Hogsmeade "haunting" drop, though he did not miss the furtive look and Potter and Black exchanged. As long as they don't snoop around during the full moon, it'll be all right, he told himself. It didn't sounds like the gossip the Prewett twins had overheard had connected the sounds coming from the house with the lunar cycle.
He was so lost in thought that Black had to wave a hand in front of his eyes to get his attention. "Anyone home?"
"Sorry. What was the question?"
Hagrid flashed him an enormous, kindly smile. "You stayin' for Christmas?"
"Can't," he told the gamekeeper. "Mum wants me home, and my sister'll go spare if I don't." He wanted to go, too, and not just because there would be another full moon during the holidays. Homesickness was a constant, nagging ache in his chest. But that wasn't the sort of thing one said in front of one's roommates, if one did not wish to be mocked for a big girl's blouse.
"Ah, well, it's nice ter have family," said Hagrid.
"Well, I'm not going home," Black declared loudly. "I've barely heard from them since I got here. I know when I'm not wanted."
Remus tried to imagine what it would be like not to be wanted at home. He tried to picture not hugging his mother and his father and Natalie the moment he saw them at Kings Cross station, not helping his parents with Christmas dinner, or having his hair ruffled by his father in passing, or reading bits of books back and forth out loud with his sister. It made him feel a bit hollow inside. For all Black seemed to have it all in terms of material possessions, he was lacking rather notably in the things that, in Remus's opinion, mattered most, and Remus found himself feeling a little sorry for him.
"Figured you weren't, mate," said Potter, "so I'm staying, too. Someone's got to keep you out of trouble."
Black blinked. "You're staying for me?"
Potter shrugged, grinning. "Mum and Dad wanted me home, but I told them I was needed here."
An answering grin spread across Black's face, and he punched Potter in the shoulder. "You're more likely to get me into trouble than out of it."
"I'm staying, too," Pettigrew said abruptly.
"Come off it, Pete," scoffed Black. "Your mum'll never let you."
"I owled her," Pettigrew insisted. "She can't make me go home."
Remus thought it was a little bit sweet and a little bit pathetic, Pettigrew standing up to his mother like that just to impress Potter and Black, but the announcement seemed to go over well with the other boys.
"The castle will be our oyster," Potter proclaimed, hooking his elbows around Black and Pettigrew's necks. "We'll be adventurers -- explorers. We'll know every nook and cranny by January."
"Well, good luck with that," said Gideon, sipping his tea. "Just remember that Pringle doesn't go home for the holidays, either."
"Are you two staying?" asked Black.
Fabian shook his head. "We're off to Molly's. She'll scold us for neglect, but she'll stuff us silly while she's at it, so it's all worthwhile."
"Not that yeh'll be missin' out by stayin' here," Hagrid informed the others. "The house-elves go all out fer Christmas dinner, even though it's only ever the staff an' a few students here fer it. Poor little blighters work themselves half ter death."
"Speaking of dinner," said Gideon, rising, "we'd better be getting back up to the castle. Thanks for the tea, Hagrid. And the -- er -- cakes."
While they were cozily drinking tea with the gamekeeper, the sleet had turned to snow. A whoop of joy stopped Remus in his tracks, staring. Black, whose wits had apparently deserted him, was dancing about, trying to catch every flake on his tongue, bare neck forgotten.
"It's snooooowing!" he sang, frolicking madly. "I love snow!"
Remus was not sure what possessed him. While Potter, Pettigrew and the Prewetts were distracted by Black's antics, he crouched down and scraped together a handful of wet flakes. Standing, he took careful aim -- and caught Black full in the face.
Black broke off, mid-frolic, and stared at him, stunned. The others were doubled over laughing.
"We should put mead in Lupin's tea more often," Potter hooted.
The castle wasn't just quieter after everyone left for the holidays; it was colder, too. At least, Sirius swore that it was. James wasn't sure he agreed, and told Sirius that if he was cold he could always put on more layers. But aside from his winter cloak, which he steadfastly refused to wear indoors, none of Sirius's fine and fancy clothes were worth much in terms of the warmth they provided.
Sirius solved the problem by stealing a ratty brown jumper from Lupin's trunk. James privately thought it looked atrocious on him, but Sirius insisted that he liked it, and started wearing it everywhere.
The three boys practically had Gryffindor tower to themselves. Only the giggly Hathersage sisters, first year Matilda and third year Cecilia, remained besides themselves. They slept until all hours of the morning, played loud and boisterous games in the common room until the house-elves came to stoke the morning fires, and roamed the corridors at will, learning new shortcuts and making note of statues, tapestries and unusual suits of armour to guide them through the castle.
By mutual agreement, they had decided to wait for New Years Eve to investigate Hogsmeade's so-called Shrieking Shack. Not only would the Hogwarts staff be busy celebrating that night, and taking less notice of illicit comings and goings, but they would have the light of the full moon to see by. At least, James and Sirius had agreed to this plan. Peter was not nearly so keen to poke around potentially haunted houses on cold winter nights.
"But you see ghosts every day!" said Sirius, exasperated. "You're not scared of Nearly-Headless Nick, are you?"
"No," Peter sulked, but James suspected this was not entirely true, given Peter's timid and sensitive nature, and the fact that whenever they met the Gryffindor ghost, Peter was careful to keep either James or Sirius between himself and the spectre.
Christmas Day began with Sirius landing smack in the middle of James's bed, yanking the pillow out from under his slumbering head and attempting to smother him with it while bawling, "Wake up, Potter! It's Christmas!"
"Umph," replied James inarticulately, flailing a bit.
"What was that?" asked Sirius, removing the pillow.
"I said, 'get off me, you sodding nutter'," James huffed, scowling.
"C'mon, James. Prezzies!" Sirius pleaded. "Pete 'n' I can't open ours until you're up. Wouldn't be sporting."
"He hexed me and took mine away when I tried," Peter pouted, showing James his hands, thumbs stuck fast to the palms.
James rolled his eyes. "Fix Pete, and we can do prezzies," he told Sirius.
Sirius did so, and the three of them gathered on the floor between their beds with their small piles of loot.
For all his enthusiasm, Sirius's presents were more than a little disappointing. His parents had sent nothing but a long letter saying that they had considered his situation at length, and exhorting him to remain on good terms with "those of good family and reputation, abhorring the company of half-bloods, Muggleborns and blood-traitors" insofar as was possible.
"Oh, that's jolly," commented James sarcastically. "Happy Christmas and all that."
A small, anonymous, clumsily-wrapped gift proved to be an intricate silver cloak pin in the shape of Sirius's initials. He scowled at it. "Regs. Must be."
"Well, that's sort of nice," said James, peering at the ornate monogram.
Sirius leaned to open his trunk and tossed the glinting silver ornament inside. "He hasn't written to me at all," he said coldly. "Which means he's either a traitor or a coward, and one's as bad as the other, if you ask me."
"He's only ten," Peter said quietly.
Sirius was unimpressed. "He can still write, can't he? If he can go to the trouble of having a thing like that made and sent, he can bloody well find himself a quill and parchment and send me a sodding letter."
James could tell that Regulus's perceived abandonment upset Sirius, but having no siblings of his own, and having never met Sirius's brother, he was unsure what to say.
"Sod him," James settled on. "Open the other one."
This one, too, was anonymous, but more tidily wrapped than the other. Sirius tore off the paper and stared at the object in his lap. It was a long, multi-coloured scarf.
"Where'd this come from?"
James shrugged, grinning. "I owled Mum and Dad and had them send it 'round. Can't have my best mate dying of pneumonia, can I?"
With a shout, Sirius leapt on him, and they wrestled amid the wrapping paper until they were both thoroughly tangled in the scarf.
"C'mon," James croaked, Sirius's knee on his chest. "Colour it already!"
"What do I do?" asked Sirius, removing the constricting knee.
James sat up, gulping air. "Just grab hold of it and say the name of the House."
Sirius licked his lips and laid hold of the scarf that still bound them together.
"Gryffindor!" they cried.
The folds and loops of the scarf shivered and the stripes shifted, until all the other House colours faded away, and all the was left was red and gold.
"Pete's turn," said James, disentangling himself and handing the scarf to Sirius, who wound it around his neck where it clashed horribly with Lupin's old jumper.
Peter's gifts from his mother weren't much better than the ones Sirius had got from his family. She had sent a purplish turtleneck jumper and a frilly-looking crocheted pillowcase, both of which she had clearly made herself. Peter blushed.
"D'you reckon I have to use them?" he asked the other two. "Or can I just tell her I love them and stick them in my trunk?"
James punched him in the arm. "It's the thought that counts, mate."
The gift from Peter's uncle was rather better. He had sent a small, carefully-wrapped cage containing a custard-coloured ball of fur. Peter was delighted -- though James privately considered puffskeins to be a girly sort of pet -- and immediately named it Constantine, for his uncle.
James's parents had -- at their son's urging -- sent Peter a box of Chocolate Frogs, which he immediately broke open and shared with his friends while James opened his own gifts.
His mum and dad were brilliant gift-givers, and James was not disappointed. He unwrapped a large bag of Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans, and -- Oh, well done, Mum! -- a complete set of Falmouth Falcons action figures that actually flew and demonstrated Quidditch plays on command.
The three boys watched the tiny players swoop and soar for several minutes before Sirius asked, "Are you going to open that or not?"
James looked down in surprise to see a small scroll secured with a red ribbon. Curious, he tugged the ribbon off and unrolled the parchment.
"It's to all of us," he said, and read out,
Dear Junior Pranksters,
We figured you've earned yourselves a bit of a treat, so here you go. Since you're all staying at school over the hols, feel free to help yourselves to the prefects' baths. Believe us, it's worth it! You'll find them on the fifth floor, fourth door to the left of the statue of Boris the Bewildered (he's the one who's got his gloves on wrong). The password is "Soap Bubble". Just don't make too much of a mess. You can thank us by learning a couple new Defence spells.
G & F
"Baths?" said Sirius. "That doesn't sound like much of a gift."
"I dunno," James mused. "Prefects are supposed to get all kinds of cool perks. I say we check it out. Pete?"
Peter shrugged. "Sounds good to me."
"Only not just now," Sirius said with a sudden manic grin, eyes glued to the window. "It's snowing again!"
The three boys quickly bundled up, Peter taking a reluctant and prolonged farewell of Constantine, and headed down into the grounds. They made a brief detour to the kitchens to acquire a quick and portable breakfast from a smiling Snootles, who merrily wished them all "Happy Christmas" as they took their leave of her.
Over thirty centimetres of snow had fallen in the night, causing Sirius to become quite demented with joy. Within minutes, they were engaged in an epic life-or-death, every-man-for-himself snow battle, in which Wingardium Leviosa was employed to maximum effect. But alliances shifted along gender lines when the boys caught sight of the Hathersage sisters exiting the castle.
James went positively green with envy when he saw the new racing broom Cecilia Hathersage carried: a Nimbus 1001. His fingers twitched, longing to close around the smooth handle. The girls had clearly decided to brave the cold for a test flight. Cecilia kicked off from the foot of the stone steps and soared up into the winter air as her sister whooped and cheered from the ground.
Without so much as a word, the boys moved into position, ducking behind hummocks of snow, carefully-crafted white ammunition in hand.
"Now!" cried James, when she was directly overhead.
Three wand-guided snowballs sped upwards to converge on the flying girl, and she shrieked as they pelted her. The boys did not wait to see the results of their handiwork, but bent to the task of preparing more missiles. And that was when Cecilia dive-bombed them.
She came in low, wand out, skimming the ground, and ushered up a tidal wave of white to engulf them, ice crystals shivering into their ears and down their necks. Sirius gave a cry of shock and hefted another snowball, but his throw went wide. Swinging about, Cecilia swooped at them again, laughing as Peter dove out of her way.
They were so distracted by the flying girl that they had forgotten about Matilda -- until a barrage of well-aimed snowballs pelted them from behind. Matilda wasn't even bothering with her wand, relying instead on good old-fashioned sneaking and a keen throwing arm. She was a skinny little redheaded thing, but James couldn't help admiring her style a little.
The snow war escalated as James and Sirius huddled in hurried conference, and blasted Cecilia with a snow-geyser on her next pass. Peter was attempting to hold off Matilda single-handed, but was quickly losing ground.
"Help me, you tossers!" he shouted to his friends, and they turned as one, and with a wave of wands, buried the girl under a mound of snow. She struggled out a moment later, panting and grinning.
"My turn, Cecy!" she called to her sister. "You promised!"
The older girl banked sharply and came around, auburn hair flying, dismounting with a light-footed hop next to Matilda, who grasped the handle and left the ground with a dancing kick. She was even more of a natural in the air than her sister, and James watched, snow war momentarily forgotten, as she swerved and looped, dodging every snowball Sirius and Peter aimed at her.
A handful of snow square in the back of the head brought him to his senses. He turned around, grinning.
"You're pretty good," he told Cecilia.
"Course I am," she said without a hint of arrogance. "I'm Chaser for Gryffindor. As you'd know if you ever came to a match, James Potter."
"Been busy," said James with a shrug. "You fancy Gryffindor's chances for the cup this year?"
"They'd be better if we had a decent Seeker." Cecilia's eyes rose to follow her sister, skimming the treetops along the edge of the Forbidden Forest. "Mum and Dad say Tildy's not allowed to try out until next year."
"She's pretty good, too," James allowed. "Of course, having an ace broom helps."
Cecilia wasn't listening. "Tildy, don't you go anywhere near that Whomping Willow!" she called, and the younger girl banked, giving the tree a wide berth.
"What's a Whomping Willow doing on school grounds anyway?" asked Sirius, joining them. Lupin's jumper, soaking wet and heavy under his cloak, hung nearly to his knees.
Cecilia shrugged. "It was only just planted over the summer. I think it's a pet project of Professor Beery's or something."
"Bloody dangerous, if you ask me," said Peter, joining them. "Sort of thing Dad used to grow."
"Used to? Did he learn his lesson?" the girl asked.
"Yeah." Peter looked at his trainers. "Dad was always mucking about with dangerous stuff. Did him in, in the end."
"Sorry," Cecilia blushed. "I didn't know."
"S'OK," Peter mumbled. "It was a long time ago. I barely remember him."
"Way to throw a bucket of ice water on the Christmas spirit, Hathersage," James teased as Matilda lightly touched down beside him.
"Hi, James," she said, dimpling at him.
"Hi." He grinned, running a hand through his hair. "Nice flying. Mind if I have a go?"
"Cecy?" the girl asked, turning to her sister.
The older girl looked him over, and James ruffled his hair again, trying to make himself look as appealing as possible.
"Sorry, I don't think so," Cecilia said at last, shaking her head. "C'mon, Tildy. It's getting cold. We'll see you blokes later."
She took the broom from her sister and turned away, but Matilda hesitated a moment. "See you, James," she said, flashing him a smile, then turned to run after her sister.
Sirius punched him in the shoulder. "She fancies you, mate!"
"What's not to fancy?" James grinned, returning the cuff. "Did you see the way she banked that thing?" He whistled. "Merlin! If I could get my hands on a broom like that, I'd be playing for England in a month!"
"The older one was really good," said Peter. "Pretty, too." His ears went pink.
"What about you, Black?" James asked. "Fancy either of them?"
Sirius just shrugged. "Not especially. They're all right, I guess. I've snogged both of them," he added as an obvious afterthought.
"You never!" cried James, delighted and scandalised. "When?"
"He did," Peter confirmed. "His sixth birthday. I was there."
James laughed. "And you call your cousin a tart!"
They headed back up to Gryffindor tower, soaked to the skin and shivering. Then grabbing a change of clothes and their shower things, they followed the Prewetts' directions to the prefects' baths.
"Soap Bubble," said James, and the door opened to reveal a room of white marble, glowing under a candlelit chandelier. The tub was huge and deep and surrounded by a hundred jeweled taps that sparkled in the flickering light. There was even a diving board. He elbowed each of his friends, grinning, and knelt on the stone floor to turn as many taps as he could reach. From each one flowed steaming water with a slightly different scent, a slightly different colour. With Sirius and Peter's help at the other taps, the bath began to fill very quickly.
"C'mon, Pete," said Sirius, grinning wickedly, shrugging out of his cloak and peeling off Lupin's jumper. "Bathing suits are not required!" And he leapt in, bare as an egg, splashing the other two with a tidal wave of scented foam.
James quickly followed suit, and Peter, not to be outdone, hesitated only a moment before shucking off his own clothes and joining them. They splashed and laughed, wallowed and cavorted, and invented ridiculous diving challenges for one another as the heat flushed their cheeks and feeling came back to their fingers and toes, until they were all quite pruney.
When they returned to the Gryffindor common room, Sirius hung Lupin's jumper on the hearth to dry. They all agreed that it had been a most satisfactory way to spend an afternoon, and that they really owed the Prewetts a great debt for their thoughtfulness. They nodded off, sprawled across one another on to sofa, and were prodded awake an hour or so later by the Hathersage sisters, who informed them that if they didn't hurry, they'd be late for the Christmas feast.
"What's that smell?" asked Matilda, glancing around. "Is something burning?"
Sirius made an inarticulate sound and leapt up to rescue Lupin's smouldering jumper. "It's all right," he assured the others, pulling it over his head. "Just a bit singed."
None of the boys had had anything to eat since the sticky buns provided by Snootles that morning, and together the five Gryffindors hurried down to the Great Hall.
The feast did for their insides what the bath had done for the rest of them, filling them with warmth and contentment, not to mention turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and a vast array of puddings. Everyone was in high spirits, including the professors, and James strongly suspected that it wasn't pumpkin juice in their goblets.
Professor Tynedale got a bit wobbly, and Madam Pomfrey put a hand on her arm, asking if she was quite well.
"Oh, quite, Poppy," Tynedale replied with a beatific grin, patting Pomfrey's hand. "Never better."
"Nevertheless," said Pomfrey, with an uncharacteristic smile, "you'll come and see me soon, won't you dear?"
James glanced at Sirius to see if he had found this exchange at all odd, but Sirius was busy dabbing at a large cranberry sauce stain down his front, so James looked to Peter instead, raising his eyebrows and inclining his head towards the two beaming women. Peter glanced at them and shrugged. No idea, his expression seemed to say. By the time they stumbled up to their room, he was so exhausted by Christmas cheer that he had forgotten the momentary oddness.
Peter fell onto his bed, mumbling, "Best Christmas ever," and began to snore.
Sirius, on the other hand, rummaged in his trunk and came out with quill, ink and parchment, bringing them over to flop down beside James on his bed.
"What're you up to?" James asked dreamily.
"Thought I'd write to Lupin."
"Why? We'll see him next week."
Sirius shrugged uncomfortably. "Just wanted to check and make sure he's OK."
"Why wouldn't he be?" James turned on his side and propped himself up on one elbow.
Sirius looked genuinely troubled. "It was just something -- a couple of weeks ago, I saw -- d'you know Lupin's got scars all over him?"
"We've all got scars, Black," James said dismissively.
Sirius shook his head. "Not like this. He's all torn up. Like someone really had a go at him."
That surprised James. "Like who?"
"I thought -- maybe Snape," Sirius said. "But some of the scars looked -- I dunno -- old, like he's had them a while."
"He's got scars on his face, too," said James thoughtfully. "I noticed the first day."
"So it's got to be someone at home, hasn't it?" Sirius's mouth turned down in an uncharacteristic frown.
"Maybe," James shrugged. "If they're old, maybe it was something that happened to him a long time ago."
Sirius shook his head. "Some of them were still sort of pink, like he'd just got them, and I thought -- with him going home all the time --"
"Does he know that you saw?"
"Did you ask him?"
"Course I did," Sirius scowled. "He said it was none of my business."
"Well, that's true, isn't it?" James reasoned. "Just 'cos he's in Gryffindor doesn't make him your problem. If Lupin wanted friends, he'd be friendlier."
Sirius looked down at the blank parchment. "I wasn't," he said quietly.
James smiled at that. "Yeah, well, at least he's not a tit about it."
Sirius cuffed him affectionately.
"So you're going to write to him?" asked James. "What good'll that do, if someone's slapping him about at home?"
"None," Sirius admitted with a sigh. He gathered up the parchment, quill and ink, and shoved them onto the nightstand, then settled back, head pillowed on James's full stomach.
"Am I really your best mate, Potter?" he asked.
"Who else?" James said comfortably.
"I've never had a best mate before." Sirius's voice was a sleepy murmur.
"You've got a brother," said James, looking down at his friend's profile and wondering if this was what it felt like, that closeness of shared blood.
"This is better," sighed Sirius. A moment later, they were both asleep.