Time seemed to speed up after Remus’ birthday. The days lengthened and spring rushed into the castle, flooding it with sunlight and fresh air after the long winter. Exams loomed, and Remus finally got over his anxiety around reading in public, spending more and more time in the library. Instead of planning new schemes and pranks, the marauders found their evenings devoted to practicing spells and quizzing each other on potion ingredients.
Sirius and James took the exams very seriously; it was a competition to them. Though they both would have denied vehemently, Remus suspected that they both had a desire to defend their pureblood honour – it was too ingrained as an attitude throughout the school, even amongst the teachers. It didn’t bother Remus – even if he wasn’t getting top marks in everything, he was still doing better than he ever had before. He was actually glad that he had no family to pressure him.
The pressure on Peter was all too evident. He wasn’t a bad student by any means – in Herbology and Astronomy he even flourished, often beating James. But he was nervous, and it tended to affect his wand work, making his incantations sloppy. Peter didn’t talk about his family very much, but he received a lot of letters from them, and Remus noticed that James was careful around the subject.
“How much do we need to pass the year?” The round face boy would ask desperately, at least four times a day.
“Peter, calm down,” James would sooth, “You’re going to be fine; you know all the theory backwards now, it’s just putting it into practice.”
“I don’t blame him for being a bit twitchy,” Sirius whispered to Remus when the other two were out of earshot, “There’ve been at least twelve squibs in the Pettigrew family – and that’s just this century.”
“Non-magical wizards.” Sirius explained, patiently, “You know how muggle families sometimes have magical kids? It works the other way too – no one likes to talk about it much. My great, great uncle actually had this mad theory that muggles were swapping their children with ours so that they could infiltrate the wizarding world. Completely bonkers, obviously.”
“Right.” Remus replied, hoping he sounded as if he understood everything Sirius had just said. “So that’s why Peter’s magic is a bit… wonky?”
“I dunno,” Sirius shrugged, “Maybe. I don’t know if they can actually prove that squibbishness runs in families. But it’s the reason the Pettigrews aren’t in the sacred twenty-eight.”
Remus sighed heavily, fixing Sirius with his most withering look,
“You know I don’t know what that is.”
“Well I don’t know, Lupin, what with all that reading you do these days. Nice to know there are some things I’ve got over you.”
Remus snorted in reply, looking back at his work. Sirius carried on quickly, as if reluctant to lose the other boy’s attention,
“The sacred twenty-eight are the purest of the pure-bloods. The last remaining ‘un-tainted’ families.”
Remus gave Sirius another mean look. The dark-haired boy held his hands, up, hurrying to explain,
“Their words, not mine! You know I don’t believe any of that blood purity rubbish.”
“Right,” Remus raised an eyebrow. “Bet the Blacks are top of the list, though.”
“Actually,” Sirius replied, eyes glittering with humour, “The Abbot’s are first. It’s alphabetical.”
Remus groaned and went back to his Potions revision.
* * *
Exams were not at the top of Remus’ list of things to worry about. He was relatively sure he would do ok – he’d even checked the examination rules (which were five yards of parchment in length) and confirmed that use of the Scriboclara charm for tidying up handwriting was acceptable, as long at the student was able to perform the spell by themselves. Remus had been using the spell since November, and had no concerns.
Two things were worrying Remus far more than passing the year. First, there was the grim knowledge that he would have to return to St Edmund’s in June. Though he had only been away for a few months, the difference between St Edmund’s and Hogwarts seemed as vast as the difference between monochrome and technicolour. While other students cheerfully looked forward to a long, hot summer full of holidays abroad, relaxation and lie ins, Remus felt as though he was facing exile.
They weren’t permitted to perform any magic outside of Hogwarts until they were seventeen, which meant that as well as losing contact with his friends, Remus would no longer be able to read. To him, summer stretched ahead, blank and desolated, punctuated by long angry nights locked away in his cell.
And there was Remus’ second problem, ready as always to rear its ugly, hairy snout. As Madam Pomfrey had predicted, since Remus had turned twelve his transformations had become much, much worse. There was no explanation for this in any of the books he read, other than some vague words about adolescence and puberty. Whereas before he might have come away with a few teeth and claw marks – the kind you’d get from a playful puppy who meant no real harm – he now awoke with deep, furious gashes which bled copiously until Pomfrey arrived to staunch them. The agony of the transformation itself reached almost intolerable levels, and he often felt queasy for hours before the moon rose.
To make matters worse, Remus was spending longer stretches in the hospital wing, and it was getting harder and harder to explain away. His friends had started wondering aloud about what on earth could be ailing him – sometimes suggesting he was putting it on to get out of lessons, other times teasing him about being contagious.
At least back at St Edmund’s he didn’t have any friends who cared where he went every month.
Sirius clearly wasn’t looking forward to the summer either. He grew uncharacteristically quiet whenever the upcoming holiday was mentioned, his eyes clouding over, the colour leaving his face. James invited all of them to stay at his for as long as they wanted – but Sirius remained pessimistic.
“You know they’ll never let me.” He sighed.
“Cheer up, mate,” James slung an arm around his friend. They sat together on the big couch in the common room, Peter in arm armchair concentrating on turning a banana into a slipper. It wasn’t working. Remus was lying on the rug in front of the fireplace, on his belly. He had a cut on his back that wasn’t knitting together properly, even after Madam Pomfrey’s ministrations, and had found that this was the only position which wasn’t uncomfortable.
Sirius plainly didn’t want to cheer up.
“They won’t though. Bellatrix’s bloody wedding is in June, you can bet I’ll have to be around for all of it.”
“We got an invite to that,” Peter suddenly spoke, looking up from his slipper, which was still bright yellow and looked unpleasantly squishy. “Probably see you there.”
“Yeah, great.” Sirius huffed, exhaling hard so that his long hair fluffed up over his forehead. “If I haven’t been turned into a newt. Or cursed into a portrait for the summer – they actually did that to Andromeda once. She’s never been the same, hates wizard paintings now.”
“After the wedding,” James said, tactfully trying to steer the conversation away from the Black family, “Then we’ll work something out. I’ll break you out of there, if I have to, I swear.”
Sirius grinned at James and James grinned back. Their body language mirrored perfectly and Remus felt a pang of loneliness. He knew that there was much more to Sirius’ family problems than just him being the black sheep – there were the scars Sirius had shown him back in September, obviously, but as far as Remus knew, those were perfectly normal. Matron beat him if he acted up, and he’d often got the cane from his muggle teachers – there was no reason for him to suspect that Sirius’ home life was out of the ordinary.
James obviously knew a lot more about it. Remus could tell, because it was the one thing Potter never teased Sirius about – family. They talked a lot at night, the pair of them – Remus had heard Sirius crying more than once. It made him want to cast his own silencing spell; he hated the sound of tears, and rarely cried himself.
“You too, Lupin,” James was saying,
“Hm?” Remus lifted his head from his thoughts. He arched his back carefully and tried not to grimace when the pain split his back like a bolt of lightning.
“You should come and stay over the summer. We’ve got loads of room, and mum doesn’t mind.”
“Can’t,” Remus shook his head, looking back down at his book. His back was on fire. “Matron won’t let me. Legal guardian stuff, muggle law.”
“There’ll be a way around it,” James replied, confidently. “Both of you are coming, right? I’m making it happen.”
Remus smiled, but knew there was nothing James could do. The full moons were due at the end of each month as they always were, and there wasn’t enough of a window even for a week at the end of the summer. Besides, Matron really wouldn’t let him.
“I think I’ve done it!” Peter gasped, suddenly, holding his bright yellow slipper aloft.
“Well done, Pete,” Sirius said, dully. “Try it on to see if it fits.”
Remus sat up, his back now very painful indeed. As he straightened, he felt a warm slither of blood run down his spine and soak into the waistband of his trousers. Alarmed, he stood up, quickly.
“Eurgh!” Peter yelped, withdrawing his bare foot from the slipper, covered in sticky banana slime. James burst out laughing, his glasses falling askew,
“He was joking, Pete! You’ve got to stop doing stuff just because we tell you to.”
“You ok, Lupin?” Sirius looked up, suddenly. Remus was dithering on the rug. He had to get to the hospital wing right away, but he had no idea how to explain himself.
“Yeah, just… think I might go for a walk.”
“Where? It’s almost curfew,” Sirius’ face lit up, “What are you planning?”
“No no, nothing… I just fancied…”
“We’ll come!” James stood up too, “I’ll get the cloak.”
“No!” Remus shouted.
They all froze, even Peter, who was halfway through picking banana strings from between his toes.
“I…” Remus stammered, “I don’t feel well. I just want to go to Madam Pomfrey, that’s all.”
“All right, mate,” James held up his hands gently, “Calm down. Want us to come with you anyway?”
“I’ll go.” Sirius said, quickly. He stood up and took Remus by the elbow, steering him towards the portrait hole before the other two could say anything.
“Sirius…” Remus started, once they were out in the empty corridor,
“S’all right, Lupin, I’m just walking you there. Won’t go in with you or anything.”
Remus looked at him, confused, then nodded and started walking, as quickly as his sore back would let him. He knew Sirius well enough now to know that there was no changing his mind. Peter might have let his nerves get the better of him and run back. James might have respected his wishes. But Sirius; Sirius always had to push it.
“Are you all right?” Sirius asked, eyeing him, “You’re walking stiffly.”
“I don’t feel well.” Remus repeated, through gritted teeth. He hoped Sirius would just think he was angry with him, and not realise that he was actually biting back a growl of pain.
“Ok.” Sirius replied, smoothly. They continued walking in silence. When they finally reached the hospital wing, they stood outside awkwardly for a few minutes, Remus’ hot amber eyes glaring into Sirius’ cool blue stare as if daring him to ask a question.
“Hope you feel better.” Was all Sirius said. “Can we come and visit you tomorrow, if you’re not out?”
“S’pose so.” Remus said, warily. He tried to shrug, then winced. Sirius’ expression did not flicker.
“Look after yourself, Lupin.” He said, quietly, before turning and hurrying back the way they’d come.
Remus watched him go, until he turned the corner. He had the strangest feeling that Sirius would glance back at him before disappearing. When he didn’t, Remus couldn’t help but feel strangely disappointed, though he ought to have known better – Sirius Black was never predictable.
He shivered, slightly – partly because of the mounting pain, and partly because of something else – then pushed open the hospital door.