Remus was fairly sure he was dreaming. Or he’d drowned getting over that awful lake and this was just his brain making things up before he died. He was standing in an enormous stone hall, the size of a cathedral. It was full of students, all dressed in identical black robes – apart from their ties – and lit by candles. Not just any candles – these candles were actually floating. He might have been able to live with that; it could be a clever trick of the light, something to do with wires. But when he looked up he almost yelled. There was no ceiling – just the vast night sky hanging above them, pendulous grey clouds and glittering stars.
No one else seemed interested, save for the red haired girl – Lily – and a few other kids Remus assumed must have muggle parents too. Remus had on his uniform now, and felt a little better to be dressed the same as everyone else. All of the other students sat on long banquet tables, under their house banners. James had excitedly explained the differences between each house, much to the chagrin of Sirius and Peter, both of whom were convinced they’d end up in the wrong place. Remus didn’t know whether to be nervous or not. He couldn’t see how much it would matter to him; he’d probably get kicked out after his first lesson anyway. The more time Remus spent among wizards the more he convinced himself that he couldn’t actually be one.
Professor McGonagall, a thin, stern faced witch who had led all of the first years into the hall was now standing beside a stool, holding a mangy old brown hat. This was the test James had told them about. They had to put on the hat, then somehow they would each be sorted into one of the houses. Remus looked up at each of the banners. He already knew he wouldn’t end up in Ravenclaw; not if you had to be clever. He didn’t think much of the one with the badger – they weren’t exactly exciting animals, especially compared to snakes. He liked the colour green, too, if it came down to picking a tie. But then, James and Peter had both been keen on Gryffindor, and seeing as they were the only people who’d been very friendly so far, he wouldn’t mind going with them.
A boy called Simon Arnold was the first to be called forward. The hat was placed on his head, covering the top half of his face. Remus wondered if it smelled as bad as it looked. Matron was always maniacal about head lice, and he hoped none of the kids who went before him had them. Simon was promptly sorted into Hufflepuff, the badger house, to tumultuous applause.
Sirius Black was the first of their group to go, and he looked positively queasy as he approached the stool. There was some catcalling from the Slytherin table – some of the older students were calling out to him. Two young women with masses of dark curls and the same high cheekbones and full lips at Sirius, who was now trembling on the stool. The hall was quiet for a few moments as the hat came to rest on Black’s head. Then the hat screeched,
A few moments of stunned silence before the clapping came this time. McGonagall gently lifted the hat from Sirius’ head and gave him a small, rare smile. He looked completely horrified, casting a desperate look at the Slytherin table, where the two girls heckling him were hissing, eyes narrowed. He got up and walked slowly over to the Gryffindors, where he was the first new student to take his place under the red and gold banners.
The sorting continued. Lily was also placed in Gryffindor, and sat grinning next to a very miserable looking Sirius. When it was finally his turn, Remus still couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. He didn’t much like having everyone’s eyes on him as he pushed to the front, but his did his best to ignore it. He would have shoved his hands in his jeans and slouched, normally, but in his weird new uniform it wouldn’t have had the same effect.
He sat on the school, McGonagall looking down her nose at him. She reminded him a bit of Matron, and disgust rose in his throat. She lowered the hat over his eyes. Everything went dark. It didn’t smell at all, and the peace and quiet was actually a bit of a relief.
“Hmmm,” A soft voice spoke in his ear. It was the hat. Remus tried not to cringe as it purred quietly, “You’re an odd one, aren’t you? What shall we do with you… perhaps Ravenclaw? There’s a good brain in here.”
Remus flinched, feeling as if someone was playing a joke on him. Not bloody likely.
“But then,” the hat considered, “You might go further… much further, if we put you in… GRYFFINDOR!”
Remus ripped the hat from his head as soon as it had sorted him, not waiting for McGonagall to remove it. He hurried over to the Gryffindor table, barely registering the cheering and clapping as he passed. He sat opposite Lily and Sirius. Lily shot him a pleased smile, but he just looked at his empty plate.
By the time the ‘P’s’ came around, Remus had somewhat recovered and was able to watch with some interest as Peter, a small, pudgy looking boy hurried towards the sorting hat. Peter was the sort of boy who wouldn’t last five minutes at St Eddy’s. He had a perpetually nervous, twitchy look that other boys always singled out. Remus was surprised that James – who was the polar opposite of Peter; relaxed and self-assured, brimming with confidence – was being so kind to someone so obviously inferior.
The hat took a very long time over Peter. Even the teachers seemed to be getting nervous, as the minutes ticked by. Finally, he was sorted into Gryffindor, and much more quickly so was James, who strode over to the table with a huge grin on his face.
“How great is that!” He addressed the three other boys, “We all made it!”
Sirius groaned, his head in his arms on the table.
“Speak for yourself,” He replied, slightly muffled, “My Father’s going to kill me.”
“I can’t believe it.” Peter kept saying, eyes wide. Though he’d clearly got what he wanted, he kept wringing his hands and shooting looks over his shoulder as if someone might come over at any moment and ask him to try again.
McGonagall did come over, but she placed a bony hand on Remus’ shoulder.
“Mr Lupin,” she said, quietly, but not so quietly that the other boys couldn’t hear, “If you would come to my office after dinner? It’s next to the Gryffindor common room, one of the prefects can show you.”
Remus nodded, mute, and she left.
“What was that about?” James asked, “McGonagall wants to see you already?”
Even Sirius looked up now, curious. Remus shrugged, as if he didn’t care either way. He knew what they were thinking – the rough kid was already in trouble. Sirius was looking at his black eye again. Fortunately, the food had appeared, distracting everyone. And it really had ‘appeared’ – the previously empty places were suddenly laden with an actual feast. Golden roasted chickens, piles of crispy roast potatoes, plates of steaming carrots, peas swimming in butter, and an enormous jug of rich dark gravy. If the food was going to be like this all the time, then Remus wondered if he could ignore talking hats and snobbish house mates.
He paid very close attention as one of the Gryffindor prefects, who introduced himself as Frank Longbottom, led the first years to their common room in one of the towers. Remus hated getting lost, and tried hard to cement the journey into his mind as they went. He made a mental note of the size and shape of every door they entered, each portrait they passed, and which staircases moved. He was so tired and full of good food that the moving portraits and staircases no longer seemed out of place.
Once they reached the right corridor, Remus saw McGonagall’s office, marked with a neat brass plaque, and decided to get the meeting over with. He paused outside the door and was just about to knock when James appeared,
“Want us to wait for you, mate?”
“Why?” Remus asked, eyeing the dark haired boy suspiciously. James shrugged,
“So you don’t end up on your own.”
Remus stared at him for a moment, before slowly shaking his head,
“No. I’m fine.” He knocked.
“Enter.” A voice came from within. Remus pushed open the door. The office was small, with a neat little fireplace and rows of books against one wall. McGonagall sat behind an immaculately tidy desk. She smiled thinly and motioned for Remus to sit down in the chair opposite. He did, sniffing and rubbing his nose.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Mr Lupin.” The teacher said in a reedy Scottish accent. Her hair was grey, pulled back in a severe bun, and she wore deep green robes secured with a golden clasp shaped like a lion’s head. “I’m even more pleased to have you in Gryffindor house – of which I am the head.”
Remus didn’t say anything.
“Your father was in Ravenclaw, you know.”
Remus shrugged. McGonagall pursed her lips.
“I thought it best to speak with you as soon as possible about your… condition.” She said, quietly, “Dumbledore has explained that you have had minimal interaction with the wizarding world so far, and I feel it is my duty to let you know that people with your particular problem face a huge amount of stigma. Do you know what ‘stigma’ means?”
Remus nodded. He couldn’t spell it, but he knew the word well enough.
“I want you to know that as long as you are in my house, I will not tolerate anyone treating you differently or unkindly. This applies to all of the students under my care. However,” She cleared her throat, “It may be prudent for you to exercise caution.”
“I wasn’t going to tell anyone.” Remus replied, “As if I want anyone knowing.”
“Well, quite.” McGonagall nodded, looking at him curiously. “That brings me to my next point. Arrangements have been made for the full moon – which next occurs this Sunday, I believe. If you could report to me after dinner, I shall show you where to go. Perhaps you could tell your friends that you’re visiting someone at home?”
Remus snorted. He rubbed the back of his head,
“Can I go now?”
The professor nodded, frowning slightly.
Outside, Remus found James still standing there, alone, waiting for him.
“Told you I’d be ok.” Remus said, annoyed. James just smiled,
“Yeah, but you missed Longbottom giving us the password. Didn’t want you stuck out here all night. C’mon.”
James led him to the end of the corridor, where hung a large painting of a voluptuous woman wearing pink.
“Widdershins.” James said, and the portrait moved away, swinging out like a door. They entered the common room.
There had been a rec room at St Edmund’s Boys Reformatory, but it was nothing like this. That room had been sparsely decorated, containing a black and white, too small TV and a few board games. The decks of cards were always incomplete, and most of the chairs were broken or damaged.
The Gryffindor common room was warm, comfortable and cosy. There were huge squashy looking sofas and armchairs, a thick maroon rug in front of the blazing fire, and even more paintings adorning the walls.
“We’re up here,” James said, leading Remus to a winding staircase in one corner. At the top, there was another door which opened into a bedroom. Again, this was nothing like the facilities at St Edmunds. There were four beds, all enormous, hung with thick red velvet curtains with gold trim tassels. There was another fireplace, and each boy had a heavy mahogany trunk and set of shelves by their beds. Remus saw his sad little suitcase propped up against one of the trunks. He moved over, assuming that was his bed.
Peter was rifling through his own things, pulling out clothes and magazines and books, making a terrible mess.
“I can’t find my wand,” he wailed. “Mum made me pack it so I wouldn’t lose it on the train, but it’s not here!”
“Pete,” James grinned, “Your mum asked me to look after it, remember?”
James and Peter, Remus had learnt since the train, had grown up as neighbours and knew each other quite well. Though two boys couldn’t be any more different, and Remus still didn’t understand why James didn’t want to beat the shit out of Peter.
Sirius was sitting on his bed, his trunk still packed.
“Cheer up, mate,” James said, going to sit next to him, “You didn’t want to be in Slytherin anyway, did you?”
“Five hundred years.” Sirius replied, stonily, “Every Black at Hogwarts has been sorted into Slytherin for five hundred years.”
“Well, it’s about time someone tried to be different, eh?” James slapped him on the back jovially.
Remus opened his trunk. Inside there was a large pewter cauldron – another item Dumbledore had scrounged up from the second hand bin, he imagined. There was also a long thin box at the bottom, with a note on top.
He unfolded the note and stared at the elaborate swirly script for a long time, trying to make sense of it. He only recognised the word ‘father’, and guessed that it was also from Dumbledore, but had belonged to his father. Opening it eagerly, he found a long, polished stick. It was a wand. He hadn’t thought about wands yet, but he took it in his hand and squeezed the wood firmly. It was warm to the touch, like his own flesh, and felt supple as he turned it in his hands. It felt good.
Sirius had finally started to unpack, pulling book after book out of his trunk. Those that didn’t fit on his shelf he stacked beside his bed. James stared, having just finished pinning a poster next to his own bed. It showed a lot of little people zooming about on broomsticks, throwing balls to each other. Remus thought it looked only mildly more interesting than football, which he hated.
“You know,” James said to Sirius, still stacking books, “There is a library here.”
“I know, but these are mostly muggle books. My Uncle Alphard left them to me, and mum would set them all on fire if I left them at home.”
Remus’ ears pricked at that. What was wrong with muggle books? Not that he had any with him. He hated reading more than anything in the world. He didn’t think about it for long, though, because now Sirius was lifting an actual record player out of his trunk, followed by a box of brand new looking records in shining bright sleeves. He went over to look straight away,
“Is that Abbey Road?!” He asked, peering into the box of vinyl.
“Yeah,” Sirius grinned, handing it to him. Remus wiped his hands carefully on his robes before taking it from him, handling it carefully. “You must be muggle born.” Sirius said, “Never met a wizard who knows the Beatles – except my cousin, Andromeda. She bought them for me.”
Remus nodded, forgetting himself for a moment,
“I love The Beatles, one of the boys in my room at home’s got at least ten singles, but he never lets me touch them.”
“Boys at home?” Sirius arched an eyebrow. Remus thought he seemed very grown up, “You mean your brother?”
“No,” Remus shook his head, handing back the record and shrinking away, “I live in a children’s home.”
“Like an orphanage?” Peter asked, wide-eyed. Remus felt anger rising, his ears growing hot.
“No.” He spat. He felt all of the boys’ eyes slide towards his bruise again and turned around to unpack the rest of his things in silence.
Eventually Potter and Black started up a conversation about something called quidditch, which soon became a very heated argument. Remus climbed onto his bed and drew back the curtains, relishing the privacy. It was dark, but Remus was used to the dark.
“You’d think he’d try harder to make friends,” Peter whispered loudly to the other two boys. “Especially if he’s muggle born.”
“Are you sure the hat wasn’t supposed to put you in Slytherin?” Sirius drawled. Peter was quiet after that.