The Hogwarts Express left Hogsmeade station for Christmas on Saturday 16th December that year, meaning that once the full moon had passed, James, Sirius and Remus had to find other means of getting to the Potters' family home.
McGonagall, after lecturing Remus on not letting any other students in on his secret, was sympathetic to the marauder’s wishes, and allowed them to use the floo connection in her office ‘just this once’. Remus didn’t mind the lecture so much, but he was terrified of using the floo network for the first time. He’d heard all sorts of horror stories from fellow students, and it didn’t help that he was usually queasy for a few days after the full moon anyway.
Sirius received a howler every morning after the 16th demanding that he come home at once, but he simply tossed the scarlet envelopes into the fireplace, where Walpurga Black’s screams echoed up into the chimney stacks. James was clearly unnerved by this behaviour, but didn’t say anything. Sirius was always up for a fight lately, and it was just better to steer clear. Unfortunately, as the full moon drew nearer, Remus also had a very short fuse. The two boys bickered over anything and everything, and poor James had to step between the pair more than once.
“Just write back to her for god’s sake.” Remus groaned on the morning of the 20th, throwing a pillow at Sirius from his bed. He’d been woken early for the third morning in a row by a howler,
“IF YOU THINK YOU CAN ESCAPE YOUR BIRTH RIGHT IN THIS COWARDLY FASHION THEN YOU HAVE ANOTHER THING COMING!” It wailed, echoing through Gryffindor tower like a banshee.
“Stay out of it, Lupin,” Sirius flung the pillow back at him.
“How am I supposed to stay out of it when it’s in our bloody bedroom every morning?!” Remus growled, getting up now.
“I’m so sorry to inconvenience you!” Sirius retorted, dripping with sarcasm. He looked rough, as if he hadn’t slept properly at all, but Remus was in too much of a bad mood to care, and his transformation was only hours away.
“How about not acting like a spoilt brat for five minutes?!” He snapped, “You’re so bloody selfish.”
“I’m not asking her to send them! At least I actually get post, at least people care enough about me to—”
Remus threw himself on top of Sirius and began thumping him as hard as he could, incandescent with rage.
“SHUT. UP.” He grunted, landing a decent punch right on Sirius’s left cheek. Sirius, though extremely adept at caustic insults, was not much of a fighter. He gasped and tried to push Remus away, eventually grabbing for his wand,
“Mordeo!” He hissed, aiming at Remus’s face. At once, Remus let go, tumbling backwards onto the bed, clutching his forehead. A horrible stinging sensation radiated from the spot Sirius had cursed,
“You wanker!” He yelled, feeling his face tightening and swelling up.
“You deserved it!”
“Sirius!” James had clambered out of bed too late. “You cursed him?! You bloody cursed him?!”
Sirius was looking less sure of himself now,
“He started it!”
“He didn’t even have his wand on him!”
Remus had climbed off the bed and was staring at himself in the wardrobe mirror. He looked as though he had rolled through a stinging nettle bush backwards. His skin was red and shiny, taut and swelling at a worrying rate.
“Does it hurt?” James asked, tentatively.
Remus shook his head, though it did – a lot.
“I’m going to the hospital wing.” He said. “Don’t come with me.” He snapped, seeing James pulling on his dressing gown. As he marched out of the room still in his pyjamas, he heard James mutter,
“Attacking someone who’s unarmed is really fucking low, Black.”
* * *
Madam Pomfrey healed him quickly using the counter-jinx, but she was very annoyed about it.
“Who did it?” She asked him, “If it was Potter or Black then I want to hear about it – I told Minerva it was a bad idea to let you go away for Christmas.”
“Why shouldn’t I go?” Remus asked, scandalised, “Sirius is going!”
“Mr Black doesn’t have your limitations.”
“But we’re not going ‘til tomorrow, it’s right after the full moon, that’s the safest—”
“I’m thinking of your health, Remus! You’re very fragile—”
“I am not fragile!” Remus seethed.
“Of course not, dear,” she said, not really listening to him. “Now sit there quietly for a bit, eh? Have you had breakfast?”
Madam Pomfrey made him stay in the hospital wing all day in his pyjamas. The medi-witch had been working on a new potion that she hoped might make his transformation smoother. She let him borrow some of her books, so it wasn’t too bad, but he felt like an invalid all the same. His face was still a bit tingly from Sirius’s curse, though the swelling had gone down substantially. It might be a good one to use on Snape, he made a mental note to remember to ask Sirius exactly how he’d done it.
At about one o’clock, just after lunch, James and Sirius came to see him. Madam Pomfrey gave them a sound telling off, first.
“Cursing your fellow house mate! Cursing your dorm mate, for goodness sake! In my day you’d have been flogged! And Professor McGonagall has informed me that you know about his special circumstances! One might think you’d have more sense!”
James made copious apologies, and Sirius, who barely flinched at his mother’s obscene chastisements anymore, hung his head looking utterly ashamed. Eventually, Remus guessed that this must have been enough to satisfy the school nurse, who allowed them over to see him. They stood at the end of the bed like mourners, barely meeting his eye.
“We’re really sorry, Remus,” James started. Remus clicked his tongue,
“You never did anything.”
James kicked Sirius, who looked up too,
“I’m really sorry, Remus.” He had a heavy dark bruise high on his left cheek and his eyes looked a little over bright, Remus wondered if Sirius had cried about it. The thought made him feel funny. He shook his head, no longer angry,
“I started it. Sorry I hit you.”
“Sorry about the howler.”
“Sorry your mum’s a nightmare.”
“Sorry you’re a werewolf.”
They both laughed, and everything was forgiven.
“Will she let you out now?” James asked, “Few hours still ‘til the moon.”
Remus shook his head,
“Nah, she wants to try some new potion.”
“I didn’t know there was a cure!”
“There isn’t,” Remus said, quickly, “This is just a… I think it’s to make the transformation, y’know… easier.”
They both looked at him, puzzled. He shifted uncomfortably,
“Like a painkiller, I think. Muggle ones don’t work.”
“Does it hurt, then?” Sirius asked, cocking his head. Now that the storm had passed he was back to seeing Remus as an interesting specimen.
“Well, yeah.” Remus frowned. He had assumed they knew a lot more than him, having grown up in the wizarding world, so he was surprised that they didn’t know about the pain. For a long time, the pain was the only thing he had known.
To his surprise and delight, James and Sirius elected to stay in the hospital wing with Remus for the rest of the afternoon. They played a few riotous games of exploding snap, before Madam Pomfrey sternly told them to quiet down, so they switched to gobstones. As the evening drew in, they didn’t go down for dinner, but ate the same hospital food as he did.
This was no great thing for them – James and Sirius treated it as any other afternoon; the hospital bed was just an extension of their dorm. For Remus it was everything – it was time that would otherwise be spent anxious and alone. It was the closest thing to family he could imagine.
McGonagall came and chased them out, eventually, ready to lead Remus to the shack. He went peacefully, with a soft smile on his lips and laughter still echoing in his ears. Madam Pomfrey’s painkilling potion had no effect – but Remus found the transformation slightly more tolerable all the same.
* * *
James and Sirius arrived first thing the next morning. Remus was dozing in his bed, having been brought back into the castle at dawn. His face hurt, and he knew it wasn’t from the curse anymore. Madam Pomfrey had left a hand mirror on his bedside table, glass down, but he had been too tired to look yet. He was woken by the sharp gasp of breath which came from either James or Sirius, he wasn’t sure who. When he opened his eyes they had both rearranged their expressions into stoic cheer.
“Alright, mate?” James said, with a half-smile, as you might address a child.
“Alright.” Remus croaked, hauling himself up. It must be bad. He lifted the heavy mirror and turned it towards his face. Ah.
The cut looked half-healed already, thanks to Pomfrey’s ministrations, but it was still a shock. The scab was hard and black, edged with tender red skin. It stretched from the inner corner of one eye, up over the bridge of his nose diagonally down towards the centre of his opposite cheek. He couldn’t remember much, but it looked as though he’d almost split his face wide open.
“My beautiful face,” he said, weakly, attempting sarcasm, but feeling dreadful. Now everyone would know. So far he’d been able to hide the worst of his scars under his robes, but he knew now that it had only been a matter of time before his luck ran out in that regard.
“It’s not that bad,” James said, quickly, “It’ll heal really fast, I bet…”
“How did—” Sirius began, but was interrupted by Madam Pomfrey who came storming over,
“You two back again!” They stepped back, sharply, as if frightened of her, showing deference they never showed for McGonagall. The nurse pulled the curtain around Remus’s bed, closing it in their faces. “Ah, you’ve had a look, have you?” She addressed Remus now, in a much softer tone, “I know it looks bad, but it’ll pale just like the others. Should be barely noticeable by the new year.”
Remus somehow didn’t believe her – even his most faded scars were still very noticeable. She took a closer look, then smoothed a clear ointment over the cut,
“Take this with you,” she instructed, handing him the jar, “Apply every morning and evening. Does it hurt, still?”
He shook his head. She clucked her tongue sceptically, “Well, even so. It might itch a bit as it heals. Perhaps we could try trimming your nails down next month? Though I suppose the claws come in anyway.” She sighed, sounding frustrated, “Your face must still have been irritated even after we got the swelling down.”
“It’s fine,” Remus shrugged her off. He was keenly aware of his friends on the other side of the curtain, and wanted her to go away. “Can I go now? I feel ok.”
“Wouldn’t you rather get a bit more sleep?”
“No.” He shook his head vehemently, “I’m hungry – I want to go down for breakfast.” He knew that would work; she was always on at him to eat more.
“Well… fine. Get dressed and off you pop.”
Sirius was very quiet during breakfast, leaving James and Remus to maintain the conversation – something neither of them had much practice at by themselves. Once fed, they went upstairs to pack because Sirius and Remus had left it to the last minute. James, frustrated by their lack of foresight, marched to McGonagall’s office to see if everything was ready for their journey, leaving them to it.
Remus packed a few things – he hadn’t got the others any presents, and he’d made them all promise not to get him anything either. It wasn’t fair. Matron had sent ahead a small package, so there was that. He threw in some clothes – the others probably wore robes at home, but the only robes Remus owned were his school uniform (and he wasn’t very sure he actually owned that, or whether it was just on loan), so he just shoved in his muggle clothes.
Packed, Remus turned to find Sirius standing directly behind him, looking even worse than he had the day before.
“What’s up?” Remus asked, startled.
“It’s my fault.” Sirius replied, his voice strangely flat, “I heard Pomfrey say so.”
“Your face… I cursed it, then when you turned you scratched it…”
“Oh.” Remus raised his fingers to his face, self-consciously. Sirius looked away. “It’s not really your fault,” Remus said, awkwardly, “I mean, I scratch everywhere else, too. Bound to happen eventually.”
“Why do you do it?”
Sirius had asked that once before, when looking at his old scars. This time Remus could tell that he really understood what he was asking. But Remus still didn’t have an answer.
“I dunno. I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember anything at all?”
“Not really. I know I’m always hungry – like I’ve been starving all my life. And angry.”
Remus shook his head,
“I’m so sorry, Remus.” Sirius looked sad again. Remus couldn’t bear it,
“Oh, shut up.” He said, half joking, “You wouldn’t think twice about cursing James or Peter.”
“Yeah, but you’re…”
“Don’t say it.” He’d been afraid this might happen, “Please don’t treat me like I’m sick, or different, or whatever. It’s one night a month. If I punch you, you’re allowed to curse me, ok?”
Sirius looked like he wanted to laugh,
“Are you saying you’re planning to punch me again?”
Remus threw a sock at him,
“If you don’t sort out those bastard howlers, maybe.”
* * *
Travelling by floo powder was nothing compared to feeling your own spine elongate every month, and Remus wasn’t sure what all the fuss had been about. He was the second to step out of the fireplace into the Potter’s lounge, after James. Brushing soot from his shoulders he quickly hopped off the hearth rug to make room for Sirius, and watched as James was pulled into a hearty embrace by both of his parents.
Mr and Mrs Potter were quite a bit older than Remus had imagined, but both had kind, merry faces that shared familiar features with their son. Mr Potter’s hair was white as snow, but stuck up at every angle exactly like James’s. Mrs Potter had his winning smile and warm hazel eyes. They both hugged Sirius too, while Remus shrank back, feeling horribly out of place.
Finally, Mrs Potter turned her sunny smile on him. Thankfully she did not make to hug him too, perhaps sensing that he was uncomfortable. She simply nodded at him gently,
“Hello, Remus, we’ve heard ever so much about you, I’m so glad you’re spending Christmas with us.”
Remus smiled back shyly, but couldn’t bring himself to speak. It didn’t matter; James and Sirius were chattering nineteen to the dozen with Mr Potter, who looked like a schoolboy himself, eyes twinkling with fun and mischief.
The sitting room – Remus supposed it was a sitting room, as it had three sofas in it – was the biggest he’d ever been in, with wide, tall windows letting in soft winter sunlight that pooled onto the polished hardwood floors. A gigantic Christmas tree stood in one corner, glimmering with silver dust and surrounded by a mountain of brightly wrapped presents.
Paper chains and streamers were draped across the ceiling and along the picture rails, and even the magical portraits had decorated their frames with fairy lights. As they were led through the house (“For goodness sakes’, Fleamont, let the boys put their things away before you start planning whatever it is I know you’re planning,”) he found that every room, even the hallways were decorated with lights, tinsel and hundreds and hundreds of festive cards. The Potter’s must be very popular wizards indeed. They were certainly wealthy – the sweeping mahogany staircase continued up three more flights.
James’s bedroom was big enough for all three of them – bigger than their dorm room at Hogwarts, with a king sized four poster bed, but Remus was surprised to find that there were four equally large bedrooms which were unoccupied. Sirius had already claimed the one next to James, so Remus put his bag in the third room, wondering what it would be like to sleep alone for the first time.
“Come on then, lads!” Mr Potter yelled up the stairs in a booming voice, “It’s been snowing all afternoon and I’ve got the toboggans ready!”