Remus did not have a brother – at least not one that he knew anything about. He supposed that his mother might well have re-married and produced a few nice, non-magic, non-monster children. That didn’t really feel like his business; he’d accepted his lot in life long ago.
James too, was an only child, and this went at least some way to explaining why he was so cocksure and demanding. Sirius talked about Potter’s parents as though they were perfect saints, but they had clearly spoiled their son rotten. Peter had a sister who was a good deal older than him and had already left Hogwarts. She’d been in Hufflepuff, but Peter didn’t talk about her very much. She was studying at a muggle university, which was apparently the height of bad taste.
So perhaps none of them really understood what was happening between the two Black brothers, which might have been why they didn’t take it very seriously. It began the morning after the sorting. During breakfast, Regulus had received a gift from his parents; a brand-new eagle owl. This was his reward for getting into the right house – which they found out because Severus gleefully read the letter aloud within earshot of the Gryffindor table. Sirius stared at his porridge, not rising to the bait, but Remus looked over at Regulus and saw that he was blushing hard, trying to snatch the letter away from Snape.
“Didn’t your parents confiscate your owl again?” Peter asked, bluntly. Sirius gave a sharp nod,
“Said I can have it back when I remember my duty to the family and started acting like a ‘true Black’. I don’t care, I don’t need an owl.”
“What exactly is your family duty, again?” James mused, loudly, so that the cackling Slytherins could hear them, “Go ‘round with creeps like Snivellus and Mulciber? Marry your cousin?”
Sirius’ finally looked up at James, his expression half grateful, half mischievous,
“Oh yeah,” he replied, conversationally, just as loud as James. Snape, Regulus and most of the other Slytherins who had been laughing were now quiet, narrowing their eyes at the two Gryffindor boys. Peter edged away, slightly. “Inbreeding and creeping are key aspects of my noble heritage. And picking on kids smaller than me, of course; cheating, lying and cursing my way into power…”
“Well, mate, I’m sorry to break it to you,” James repled jovially, “But it doesn’t sound like you’re a Black at all.”
“Goodness,” Sirius’ hand flew to his face in mock surprise, “What on earth am I?”
“It’s obvious,” James shrugged, “You’re a Marauder.”
Sirius laughed, as did most of the Gryffindors sitting nearby.
Remus saw Severus’ hand reach for his wand, and quickly grabbed his own in preparation, running through a list of spells in his head, trying to come up with one that would stop him quickest. But Regulus nudged Snape with his elbow, muttering; It’s fine. Remus was sure he was the only Gryffindor who heard it.
“Come on,” Snape sneered, “We’d better get away from all this filth if we want to keep our breakfast down.”
This only made Sirius and James laugh harder, and Snape swept from the room, followed by Mulciber and a new first year called Barty Crouch. Regulus held back, glancing nervously between his new friends and his brother. The new owl sat perched on his crooked elbow, surveying the scene with an imperious, condescending look. He edged towards Sirius.
“You can borrow it, if you want.” Regulus said, quietly, “I never asked her to send me anything, but you know what she’s like.”
“Yeah,” snorted Sirius, “I know.”
They both looked at each other for a while, and Remus couldn’t tell if they were staring each other down, or trying to find the words to say something very difficult.
“Look, I’m sorry, ok – you knew I’d end up in Slyth—“ Regulus started, but was quickly interrupted by Sirius getting quickly to his feet.
“I don’t want your owl.” He said, stiffly, looking right through his brother, “If I need to send a letter, I’ll borrow James’.”
With that, he pushed past Regulus and made to leave. James, Remus and Peter hurriedly got up and followed him. Remus glanced back at Regulus, who looked very pale and very cold.
Remus didn’t think about Regulus very much after that – the line in the sand had been drawn, and it was their duty as marauders to support Sirius. Besides, they were all much too busy once lessons began.
Remus threw himself into his studies this time, in a complete reversal of his behaviour the previous September. He read along eagerly, answered questions in class and completed his homework as soon as it was set. In everything except potions, he was a model student. He had never forgotten what he had read the year before, about people with his problem. They did not do well, once they’d left school. Those stupid enough to sign the register were excluded from almost any skilled wizarding work. He would have to be the best of the best, and even that might not be enough, but he had six more years to try.
There was another element to his academic aspirations – Sirius. Well, Sirius and James, really, but most importantly Sirius. Remus didn’t doubt that Sirius was his friend, exactly – but he did doubt that Sirius truly saw him as an equal. He railed against the Black family’s beliefs in blood purity, but at the same time often made snide remarks about Peter’s squib heritage. This was always behind Peter’s back, and Remus dreaded to think what Sirius was saying about him.
Remus had learnt during his very first term at Hogwarts that being a ‘half-blood’ meant that he was slightly less trusted than other wizards. The Slytherins, in particular, targeted students with any kind of muggle heritage – Marlene McKinnon, whose father was a muggle, had perfected the bat bogey hex before anyone else in their year group, as a means of defence. Lily Evans was protected from torment whenever Snape was nearby, but it was clear that plenty of the students thought that she was rather full of herself, considering the circumstances of her birth.
Sirius never voiced anything quite so strong, but Remus had a feeling that his being better than everyone else at schoolwork was taken as proof that his magic was somehow better. Remus had an extremely strong desire to prove him wrong. It came as a mild surprise; he’d never been very competitive before – but then he’d never been given the tools to compete.
Of course, there would always be one insurmountable obstacle for Remus, and in September of 1972 it came towards the end of the month. Remus had been dreading it as always, and in the days beforehand remembered to mention that he wasn’t feeling well in order to prepare his roommates for his impending absence. Truthfully, he had never felt better. Though the transformations had worsened, and the days required to recovered had lengthened, Remus also found that as the moon began waxing and gathering strength, so did he.
He was ravenously hungry, his senses sharper, his magic grew thick and heavy on his tongue like syrup and he barely slept at all, instead stating up half the night reading voraciously, trying to ignore Sirius and James’ furtive whispering in the next bed.
He arrived at the hospital wing promptly, and Madam Pomfrey and McGonagall once more escorted him down to the whomping willow. They were very quiet as they made their way across the grounds, but once Remus was locked into the shack for the night, he heard the two women stop and begin talking as they travelled back down the long passageway. They mustn’t have realised he could hear them – that his hearing was better than most people’s, especially on a full moon night.
Madam Pomfrey was complaining about Remus’ treatment plan over the summer.
“Covered in injuries! I cannot, in all good conscience allow him to return there, Minerva! It goes against everything I know as a Healer.”
“I understand, Poppy,” McGonagall responded sharply as they crossed the ground, “It is a difficult matter – when Remus’ mother handed him over to the muggle authorities she made things very hard… we have to tread carefully, very carefully. I shall speak to Dumbledore.”
“He’s such a quiet little thing, never complains, even when he must be in such a lot of pain…”
Remus didn’t hear any more, they had travelled too far down the passage and his own screams drowned them out.
* * *
In the morning, Remus came back into his body gasping as if he’d just been born. There was not an inch of him that didn’t hurt – his head throbbed sickly, needles pressed behind his eyes; his neck and shoulders felt like snapped elastic; it hurt to breathe. Every heave of his chest caused pain to shoot through him and he was sweating heavily even though the air was cool.
There was a deep gash across his belly that made him want to be sick. He had lost a lot of blood already, and it was still bubbling up, thick wine red. He half crawled, half dragged himself across the room to a box of emergency medical supplies kept under the floorboards. He pulled out some gauze, using all of his remaining energy, and pressed as hard as he could against the dark wound. He cried out from the pain, but kept pressing. His breathing grew shallow, though even that hurt. He felt dizzy, wanted to curl up and sleep. Stay awake, he urged himself, furiously, stay awake or you’ll die, you idiot.
Die, then. A tiny voice appeared in the back of his head, out of nowhere. It would certainly make things easier. For you. For everyone. Remus shook his head, dazed. The voice was very kind and soft – like a mother.
He pressed harder, grunting with effort. In his misery, he wondered if the voice was right. Was he clinging onto a life that had never really wanted him; that might never be all that much worth living? What if he did die? What if he just closed his eyes? It might just be a matter of sooner, rather than later.
He closed his eyes, exhaling softly.
“Remus?” Madam Pomfrey’s polite knock arrived on time as always. He ignored it; he was too tired now. He rested his head on the dark floorboards and let go of the gauze. So tired. “Remus!” The door burst open and suddenly she was there, kneeling beside him, pulling his head into her lap.
“G’away,” he murmured, not opening his eyes, “Let me go.”
“Not on your nelly, young man.” Madam Pomfrey said – so fiercely that despite his confused state, Remus laughed. Then he winced, instinctively clutching his chest. The medi-witch aimed her wand at his open wound and stitched it together in a matter of seconds, then she felt his chest, where he’d touched it. “Broken rib,” she murmured, “Poor lamb,” she flicked her wand once more and Remus felt an odd ‘pop’ in his torso – suddenly it didn’t hurt to breathe anymore.
He opened his eyes and looked up at her. She was busy tugging a blanket over his shoulders to keep him warm. “Now then,” she whispered gently, though they were quite alone, “What do you think you’re doing, giving me a scare like that, hm?” Her voice was so warm, and her fingers so tender. Very carefully, she pulled him into a hug, “We can’t lose you, Remus, not while I’m still at Hogwarts.”
“Hurts,” Remus whispered.
She held him tighter and that did it. For the first time in a very long time, Remus began to cry. Not just a few sniffles, either; as the sweet, kind nurse held him he wrapped his own arms around her soft body and bawled like a baby.
* * *
He had to spend two full days in the hospital wing. The wound on his stomach was not the only one he had inflicted that night, though it was the worst. Madam Pomfrey’s spell had been enough to stop the bleeding long enough to get him out of the shack, but he needed rest and quiet. She gave him sleeping draughts regularly, and he drank them down without complaint, preferring not to be awake. The marauders came by trying to see him, but at Remus’ request Madam Pomfrey turned them away.
It was already late on Friday morning when she finally let him go.
“I’ll send a note to your professors, let them know not to expect you. You’re to go straight to your dormitory and lie down, understood?”
He walked up slowly, taking a different route than usual, thinking about the map – he ought to start work on that again, he’d read something very exciting about something called a homunculus charm. Once he reached the dorm, Remus crawled onto his bed, drew the curtains around it and lay on his back. Beams of light slid through the joins in the fabric highlighting a galaxy of dust motes.
It was still warm for September, and someone had left the windows thrown open, filling the room with cool air. The breeze sucked the drapes on Remus’ bed in, then pushed them billowing out. He watched it dreamily for a while – in and out, it was like being inside a lung.
“Lupin!” A sharp voice shattered his calm. Sirius ripped back the curtains, flooding the small space with light, searing Remus’ retinas.
“Ugh, what?” He groaned, shielding his eyes.
“Sorry,” Sirius rubbed his arm nervously.
“What is it?”
“Remus, I have to tell you something.”
They were quiet for a few long moments. Remus slouched back, too tired to sit up. He sighed,
“It’s James!” Sirius said, desperately, “He… he wants to talk to you.”
“It’s… blimey, this is hard to say, Lupin…”
“What are you on about?”
“He knows! James knows! And he wants us to confront you.”
Remus sat up, abruptly, his stomach flipping over.
“He… he what? Knows what?”
“About your… you know. Where you go. Every full moon.”
Remus stared at Sirius. He didn’t know what to do.
“I knew.” Sirius confirmed.
“Since last Christmas. I… I didn’t want to say anything. Didn’t want to make it harder for you.”
Remus was speechless. Sirius shook his head, impatient, “But James worked it out too, the lanky idiot, and now he’s decided we all need to confront you about it. I’m really sorry, I tried to get him off it, but you know how pig headed he is.”
“Yeah.” Remus croaked, leaning forward rather suddenly. He held his head in his hands. This was it. He was about to lose everything; everything that meant anything to him.
“It’s ok… I think it’s going to be ok.” Sirius said.
“How?” Remus lifted his head, hot with terror. “Might as well start packing now.”
“No! Don’t. Look, he wants to talk to you about it, he’s not going straight to Dumbledore or anything, doesn’t that mean something?”
But Remus had already got up, opened his trunk and begun emptying things into it. He might have to leave straight away; they might not even give him time to pack. Would they let him keep his wand? He’d grown very fond of it, and it had belonged to his father, so it was rightfully his. Perhaps if he promised only to ever do the reading spell with it?
“Remus!” Sirius grabbed his shoulders. He flinched, but only because he expected it to hurt. Sirius’ dark blue eyes bored into him, and he tried to look away. “Listen to me,” Black said, very gently, “Just wait, ok? Just wait and see what James says – he’s your friend. We’re marauders, all of us!”
“That’s bollocks,” Remus shoved him away, “That’s complete bollocks. You two are the marauders, you and him. Me and Peter are just your pet charity cases.” He seized his pyjamas from the end of the bed and flung them into his trunk. “I’m not that much of an idiot, Black. I’m probably better off going back where I belong.”
It was the first time Sirius had ever been speechless. But then, it was the first time Remus had ever said so much to him. His mouth twitched once or twice, as though he wanted to speak, but couldn’t quite manage it. Remus kept packing.
“Just wait,” Sirius said, hoarsely, leaving the room, “Just wait and see what he says.”