“Lupin, perhaps you can tell me – what are the transfigurative properties of lapis philosophorum?” McGonagall called out, towards the end of their lesson one day. She gave him a very pointed look – the last time she’d asked him a question in front of the class he had shrugged and looked away.
“Um…” Remus wracked his brain, “Well, I think that’s the one that turns stuff into gold? If you use it right… and Cleopatra the Alchemist used it to turn lead into silver, I think.”
“Correct.” McGonagall sounded as if she was trying to mask her surprise. “Five points to Gryffindor. And another five for making the connection to Cleopatra the Alchemist – she’s not mentioned in Transfiguration for Beginners, did you read that in your history text?”
Remus nodded, aware that everyone was looking at him.
“Well, excellent. Some of my third-year students are incapable of cross-referencing their studies like that, I’m pleased to see you taking such an interest.” She addressed the class, “And we will begin discussing alchemy after Christmas. Which reminds me – with the holidays approaching, I’d like to ask any students planning to remain at Hogwarts over the break to let me know by the end of next week. Thank you, you’re dismissed.”
The class stood up to leave. A few people patted Remus on the back as they passed.
“Mr Lupin, if you have a moment?” McGonagall said, just as he was passing her desk. His stomach dropped. He’d gone two weeks without a detention from her; he should have known something was coming. He stood still, shoving his hands deep in his pockets and staring at his feet as the rest of the class filtered out.
Finally, the classroom empty, she walked over and shut the door (right in James’ face) and turned back into the room.
“Well done today, Remus,” McGonagall said, kindly, “You’ve really been doing well lately.”
He looked up at her, startled. She laughed,
“Don’t look so surprised! I’m very impressed. Professor Slughorn and Professor Flitwick have said the same. I wanted a quick word with you about Christmas. I’ve spoken with Mrs Orwell—“
“The lady who runs St Edmund’s.”
“Oh, right, Matron.”
“Quite. As you know, the full moon will occur twice in December – the second,” (that was next week) “and the thirty-first. New Year’s Eve. Mrs Orwell seems to be of the opinion that you would be better off remaining at Hogwarts over Christmas for this reason. I hope you aren’t too disappointed.”
“I’m not fussed either way.”
Professor McGonagall nodded, very seriously.
“I shall add your name to the list, then. I’ll see you next week, Remus.”
* * *
James invited Sirius and Remus to visit him over the break, knowing that neither of them were facing a particularly merry Christmas otherwise. Remus was forced to decline – even if he hadn’t been incredibly shy about visiting James’ home and meeting his parents, he was still legally in the care of St Edmund’s local authority, and needed written permission from Matron to leave Hogwarts.
Sirius, who would have loved the opportunity to spend two weeks mucking about with James, racing their brooms and eating chocolate, also had to refuse. His family had made it quite clear that they did not approve of him visiting the Potter family under any circumstances.
“Bellatrix, that bitch, has been feeding my parents information.” He explained, darkly, “Apparently, I’ve disgraced them enough already. If I go to yours then it’ll only get worse. Sorry, mate.”
Remus went to the edge of the grounds with the marauders all to wave them off on the last day of term.
“We’ll send you owls!” James promised, “See if you can come up with our next plan of attack on Snape!”
Remus grinned and promised he would try. He hoped that the letters James sent would not be too long. He was the only Gryffindor first year staying behind for the break, and trudged a lonely path back up to the castle.
The next day he enjoyed lying in – something they were never allowed to do at St. Edmund’s. He slept until ten o’clock, when Frank Longbottom poked his head around the door,
“Come on Lupin, you’ll miss breakfast at this rate!”
Remus liked Frank – he had a broad, friendly face and an easy-going manner. He seemed altogether solid and dependable, like an older brother. He understood that Remus was used to being an outsider, and tried to include him wherever possible without pushing too hard.
After breakfast Frank disappeared to the owlery and Remus sat glumly in the common room, feeling the next two weeks stretch before him, empty and lonely. He considered a walk around the grounds, but it had started to rain heavily. He played a few of Sirius’ records and flipped through a stack of magazines some fourth years had left behind, just looking at the pictures. They were mostly of pretty, glamorous witches and handsome wizards – he supposed it was a fashion mag.
The next few days passed in much the same way. Frank would get him up in the morning, he’d eat all his meals with the remaining Gryffindors in the Great Hall, but otherwise he was left to his own devices.
He was so bored at one point that he even thought about doing some of the homework he’d been set. He’d been trying to improve his handwriting, but it was almost impossible with the ridiculous feather quills they were provided. No one would answer him properly when he asked why they couldn’t just use biro’s. Even pencil might have been better. He actually did try to read for a while, but after attempting a paragraph from his herbology text gave up in frustration. He copied out a few of the diagrams instead – Remus didn’t mind drawing; he liked the freedom of it.
Every day he walked around the castle for a few hours, with his map. The other boys had long since discarded theirs, having learnt all the classroom locations after the first week or so. But Remus hung on to his, still bothered by its incompleteness. He’d begun marking it up himself, adding points of interest, hiding places and the secret passageway he’d found.
The rest of the time he spent avoiding teachers who were concerned about his being alone. He wasn’t the only student left in the school, but most of the others were sixth and seventh years, who generally stayed in the library revising hard for exams, or working on their coursework. Slughorn was holding special extra Potions classes in the dungeons, but Remus hadn’t been invited and probably wouldn’t have gone anyway.
He practiced a few spells, and entertained himself for a good few hours trying to see how many objects in their dorm room he could levitate at once. He made a game of it, throwing various objects – books, gob stones, decks of cards – up in the air, and trying to stop them before they hit the ground. He had to stop that, eventually, when Frank knocked on the door and told him irritably to keep the noise down.
* * *
Saturday 24th December 1971
On Christmas Eve, Remus was woken earlier than usual – it was still quite dark. Heavy rain pelted the thick glass window panes, the sound of it loud enough to echo through the empty dorm room. But that wasn’t what had disturbed him. The door was creaking open, and someone stepped inside.
Sitting up and peering through the gloom, Remus expected to see Longbottom telling him to get up for breakfast. But it wasn’t Frank. It was a very soggy and dishevelled looking boy, with long hair and a haughty face.
“Sirius!” Remus leapt out of bed, overjoyed to see his friend.
Sirius pushed his wet hair out of his eyes – he’d clearly been out in the rain. He pulled off his heavy travelling cloak, dropping it in a pile on the floor.
“Alright, Lupin?” He grinned. “Freezing, isn’t it?” He pointed his wand at the fireplace, “Incendio.”
“What are you doing here?!”
“Had enough,” He said simply, pulling off his boots, which were caked in mud. “Got into an argument with Dad, then the whole family got into it. All the usual stuff. Called me a blood traitor, the shame of the family, et cetera, et cetera…” He flopped down on his bed. “So I left.”
“Wow.” Remus rubbed his eyes, awestruck. “How did you get here?”
“Floo powder.” Sirius shrugged, “To the pub in the village. Then just walked up.”
“Wow.” Remus repeated.
“I’m starving, they sent me to bed last night without dinner. Come on, get dressed! Breakfast!”
McGonagall was not as pleased to see Sirius as Remus was. The two boys attempted to take their seats at the table as if nothing was out of the ordinary, but she appeared at their side almost immediately.
“Mr Black.” She said, a note of warning in her voice which Remus recognised from his detentions. “What is the meaning of this?”
“I missed you too, Professor.” He grinned up at her.
The corner of the old witch’s mouth twitched, but she kept her composure.
“You were seen walking onto the grounds from Hogsmead at six o’clock this morning. Do you care to explain yourself further?”
Sirius shook his head,
“Not really, Professor. That’s pretty much all there is to it.”
McGonagall sighed, shaking her head lightly. She had the same look of pity she usually reserved for Remus.
“Very well, Mr Black. I shall have to contact your parents, of course, so that they know where you are.”
“No need.” Sirius replied, nodding at the flock of owls which had just swooped into the room. The largest of these birds, a huge, stately eagle owl, dropped a thick red envelope onto Sirius’ plate. He looked down at it, then up at McGonagall with a wry smile, “I think they know exactly where I am.”
He picked up the ominous envelope, and, without breaking eye contact with McGonagall, ripped it open. Almost immediately, the letter began to shriek. The voice was so loud that it filled the entire hall, causing heads to turn. McGonagall winced at the ear-splitting pitch of it. It was the voice of Sirius’ mother.
“SIRIUS ORION BLACK,” it shrieked, “HOW DARE YOU DEFY YOUR FATHER IN THIS MANNER!” Remus covered his ears. Sirius remained perfectly still, looking up at McGonagall, “CONSORTING WITH HALF BREEDS AND BLOOD TRAITORS! TURNING YOUR BACK ON YOUR FAMILY! IF YOUR GRANDFATHER WAS ALIVE HE’D HAVE DISOWNED YOU THE MOMENT YOU WERE SORTED! YOU WILL REMAIN AT SCHOOL UNTIL THE END OF THE YEAR AND THINK ABOUT THE SHAME AND DISHONOUR YOU HAVE BROUGHT TO YOUR NOBLE TITLE! DON’T THINK WE WON’T DISINHERIT YOU! YOU ARE NOT OUR ONLY SON!”
With that, the letter burst into flames, curling and shrivelling into a pile of chalk white ash. The silence that followed was deafening. Everyone was staring.
Sirius reached for some toast, put it on his plate, then began ladling scrambled egg onto it, nonchalantly. He glanced up at McGonagall again,
“You can send mother an owl if you like, Professor, but I doubt she’ll read it.”
“Very well, Sirius,” McGonagall nodded, “Just… try to keep out of trouble, will you?” With that, she walked stiffly back to the teachers table at the far end of the hall.
Sirius ate his breakfast in silence. Years later, Remus would always remember thinking in that moment that Sirius Black must be the bravest boy in the world.
* * *
Christmas day at St Edmund’s was usually an extremely noisy affair. Some boys got presents delivered – those with distant relatives who cared enough to send a new sweatshirt perhaps, but not enough to visit – others made do with the usual selection of donations from the locals, which Matron had wrapped up for them. Gift-getting was quickly followed by gift-swapping, and they often passed the morning bartering and trading the meagre items they’d received. They were made to smarten themselves up, then led in a long line down to the church, where they would sit through the Christmas service, bored and slouching.
Christmas morning at Hogwarts was a good deal more pleasant. Remus was almost touched to find that Matron had not forgotten him – the post had arrived overnight and at the end of his bed he found a card from her, as well as a lumpy package which contained a bag of nuts, an orange, and a tin of biscuits. To his amazement, James had also sent a present – his very own set of gob stones. Peter had even sent a box of chocolate frogs.
“Merry Christmas,” Sirius yawned, opening his own gifts. He had nothing from his parents, as far as Remus would see, but didn’t mention it. James had sent him an annual of his favourite quidditch team, the South End Scorchers, and he had a box of frogs from Peter too.
“Merry Christmas,” Remus returned, “I didn’t get anyone any presents,” He admitted guiltily. “I didn’t know they would…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Sirius replied, on his way to the bathroom, “No one expected you to.”
This troubled Remus, but he tried not to think about it. While Sirius was in the loo, another owl flew in the window and dropped a large, flat, square package on his bed. When Sirius came out and saw it, his eyes lit up and he ripped it open, eagerly,
“It’s from Andromeda!” He explained, pulling the record out, showing it to Remus, who hurried over excitedly.
It was another muggle album. The cover was black, printed with the silhouetted image of a man standing in front of a huge amplifier, playing a guitar. He had long, wildly curly hair, stood with his legs apart in a power stance, outlined in gold. Electric Warrior, the title blared, T-Rex.
“Ohh, T-Rex, I think I’ve heard of them,” Remus said, as Sirius flipped it over to read the track listing.
“Stick it on!” Remus encouraged, impatient. Who cared what the cover said?
Sirius did, sliding out the slick black disc and settling it onto his turntable. The record began to turn, and the room filled with music – a smooth, sliding throb.
‘Beneath the bebop moon/I wanna croon/With you-ooo…’
They sat and listened entranced, stopping only to flip to the B-side. Once it was over, Sirius wordlessly turned it over and began at the beginning again. They alternated between sitting on the bed, swaying slightly to the melody, or nodding their heads as the beats quickened. They shared grins with each other at the catchiest riffs, and lay down to stare at the ceiling for the slower, dreamier tracks.
Eventually, halfway through the second listen, Frank came in,
“Merry Christmas lads – come on, breakfast!”
They dressed quickly and went down to the dining hall. The Great Hall had been decorated garishly by the teachers – glittering ropes of tinsel in red, green and gold sparkled from every rafter, hanging down like festive jungle vines. Twelve enormous trees twinkled with lights in every colour imaginable, and baubles the size of footballs hung from every branch.
After breakfast, the boys ran back upstairs to listen to the album again.
“It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.” Remus declared. Sirius nodded, solemnly.
Sirius’ favourite song was Jeepster – he loved the twanging chords, the aggressive thump of it. Remus like Monolith best; it was spacey and smooth, the words both nonsensical and meaningful at the same time. It made him feel like he was floating.
For the rest of the day they played music in the common room, ate their way through the chocolate frogs, nuts and biscuits, and played rowdy games of exploding snap. Meals at Hogwarts were always spectacular, and Christmas dinner was no different. By the time night had fallen, Remus had eaten so much he thought he might never be hungry again.
Though he didn’t say it to Sirius (who, after all, had been forced to run away from home for the first – if not the last – time), it was Remus’ best Christmas ever.