Saturday 6th January 1973
Peter, James and Remus arrived promptly at King’s Cross to return to Hogwarts on the Saturday before term began. They all peered about looking for their fourth, but Sirius was not there – and nor was Regulus. As the train pulled out of the platform, James went in search of someone to ask. He returned with his hands over his nose, where a large boil was beginning to form.
“Narcissa said it’s none of my business.” He explained, sitting down heavily.
“Maybe they’re using the floo network,” Peter guessed, “Maybe his mum didn’t trust him to get on the train with us.”
“Maybe.” James stared out of the window, rubbing his sore nose. Remus had never seen him so unhappy. James had been missing Sirius more than any of them, and had been so excited at the prospect of seeing him once they got to London. Remus and Peter tried their hardest to cheer him up, but it was as if he was missing his right arm.
Before leaving, Mr and Mrs Potter said that they would see what they could do about having Remus to stay with them over the summer, too, and he thanked them profusely. It wasn’t likely, though, so he didn’t get his hopes up. Instead he just tried to be grateful that he was returning to school for a few more months with his friends. Most of them, anyway.
Sirius was nowhere to be found at dinner that evening, nor did he appear by the time they were getting ready for bed. James and Remus had brought his Christmas presents back for him, and piled them on top of his pillow, still wrapped in bright shiny paper and ribbon. Three of the packages were from Andromeda, and Remus knew they were albums. Sirius had asked for anything and everything by David Bowie.
Sunday 7th January 1973
On Sunday morning, the bed was still empty, and the three marauders sat around trying to distract themselves with homework. Remus had finished his and took the opportunity to get started on his Christmas books, now that he could invoke his reading spell once more. James took to pacing the room, went to ask McGonagall where Sirius was (she didn’t know) and even tried Narcissa a second time (she cursed him again). Finally, he went outside to do a few laps of the quidditch pitch on his broom.
Peter went too, with a box of biscuits to nibble on while he watched. Remus stayed indoors where it was warm; reading, or at least pretending to. Now that he was finally alone, he began thinking about the things Mr Potter’s friend Darius had said about his father, turning the new information over in his mind like a coin. His father was good at duelling – he’d heard that before. Lyall Lupin had obviously had a temper too – this was a new piece of intelligence, and an odd thing to know, after so long not really knowing anything. For the first time, Remus considered that his bouts of rage might not have anything to do with his condition. And who was Greyback? The name alone made him feel hot and uncomfortable. He wished more than anything that James and Peter hadn’t been there to hear it all.
Remus sat by the window in Gryffindor tower, his book slack in his lap, staring into space and trying to make sense of a puzzle he didn’t have all the pieces to. Occasionally he glanced out of the window to catch sight of James acting even more recklessly than usual.
“What the hell is he playing at?!” A voice squeaked over Remus’s shoulder. It was Lily Evans. She was sipping a mug of tea, staring at James on his broom.
“Nervous energy,” Remus shrugged, not turning back to look at her. The light from the window would cast his face into sharp relief, and his scar – while no longer red and angry – was still very noticeable.
“James Potter, nervous?!” Lily scoffed, “I had no idea he was capable of such complex emotions.”
“Oi,” Remus objected, still looking out of the window, “It’s not been a great Christmas for him, ok?”
“Ok, ok, I’m sorry, I know he’s your friend.” She always said that right after she insulted one of the marauders. “How was your Christmas?”
“Great, thanks. You?”
“Brilliant,” he could hear the grin in her voice, “Mum and Dad finally let me get an owl.”
“What about you?”
“Got some books.”
“From your… um, from the people you live with?”
He finally looked at her, even more irritated. Why wouldn’t she just get lost?
“No, from my friends.”
“Oh... of course, yeah.” Lily was consciously looking away, at the space just to the left of Remus’s head. He sighed, heavily, everyone was going to see it anyway. At least Lily was polite enough not to ask any rude questions.
Remus went upstairs in the end, drew his bed curtains together and settled into Conjurer’s Cartography. The others eventually came up for bed too, speaking quietly, thinking he was asleep. The exercise had done nothing to calm James down, Remus could hear his rapid heartbeat and smell the cloying scent of anxiety.
It was perhaps an hour after lights out that the door creaked open again.
Sirius had returned – there was no mistaking his familiar footfall. Remus felt a wave of relief wash over him, a knot in his stomach that he hadn’t realised was there beginning to uncoil. James and Peter slept on as Sirius tried to keep his movements quiet, creeping into the room and over to his bed, quickly climbing in and drawing the curtains. Remus lay still, listening to Sirius lying still too. There was something different in his breathing. Eventually curiosity got the better of him and he got out of bed.
Not wanting to intrude, Remus trod as close to Sirius’s curtains as he dared and whispered,
“James?” He replied, eagerly,
“Oh…” there was a moment’s awkward silence. “…I just want to sleep, Lupin. Speak tomorrow, ok?”
“Ok.” Remus padded back to his own bed and closed his eyes, feeling no less concerned.
* * *
Monday 8th January 1973
The next morning Sirius had already left before any of them woke up. His presents, still unopened, had been pushed to the end of the bed. His trunk had arrived at some point, and his broom was back on its shelf. James saved him a seat at breakfast, but he never turned up, and they didn’t see him at all until their first lesson.
“He wouldn’t miss McGonagall,” James said confidently, as they pressed towards the classroom, “He loves Transfiguration.”
When they entered the room, however, they were all in for a shock. There was another boy sitting in Sirius’s seat. He was smallish and hunched over, with pale, pointed features and big blue eyes. His hair was shorn close to his scalp in the same way that Matron shaved Remus’s head every summer. It looked darker than Remus’s, though.
“Who’s that?!” Peter whispered, a little bit too loudly. The boy turned to look at them.
“Sirius!” James gaped.
Sirius coloured slightly, and looked straight ahead as if he hadn’t seen them at all. James slid into the seat beside him,
“What happened? Where have you been? What did she do to you?!”
Sirius shook his head,
“Later,” he murmured.
The classroom had filled up now, and everyone seemed to be whispering behind their backs. Remus couldn’t blame them – he couldn’t strop staring either. It wasn’t just the lack of hair – although that was incredibly disconcerting; Sirius just wasn’t Sirius without his hair – he also had dark shadows under his eyes, and there was not a trace of humour on his lips.
“All right, settle down, please!” McGonagall entered the room. She glanced at Sirius. Her eyes widened for a millisecond as she recognised him, but she said nothing, addressing the class; “Your end of year exams begin in three months, let’s see who’s been paying attention…”
McGonagall didn’t call on Sirius once to answer a question, though it was usually the only way she could get him to pay attention. Nor did she bother any of the other marauders, who spent the entire lesson shooting worried looks at their friend. When Transfiguration ended, they packed up their things and followed Sirius hurriedly out of the door,
“What happened?!” James asked, trying to keep up with Black’s brisk clip.
“I said later,” Sirius returned, “Wait until break, ok?”
“But you – what did she…?”
The next lesson, History of Magic, was agony. James was beside himself and even resorted to passing notes to Sirius – who steadfastly ignored them. He sat stiffly, back straight, eyes on the board. For the first time in two years, Remus saw him actually reading his history text in class. Something was very wrong indeed.
They couldn’t get out of History fast enough – James grabbed Sirius’s arm and practically marched him outside to the nearest courtyard, where they chased away a group of first year girls who were doing handstands against a wall, skirts tucked into their knickers. It was icy cold out, though no snow had fallen yet, the sky was paper white and a storm was on its way. Once the coast was clear, James stared Sirius down, eyes full of feeling, deep creases in his brow.
Sirius sighed heavily.
“What’s it look like?” He gestured at his head. Remus had the peculiar feeling that neither of them cared he and Peter were there – that this was between the two of them, like their nightly chats.
“Your mum did that?”
“Well I didn’t do it myself, did I?!” He snapped, angrily. James didn’t react, just kept looking at his friend. That was James’s secret, Remus realised, suddenly, he was always patient and he never took anything personally. How else could you be best friends with someone like Sirius Black? Sirius was now rooting in his bag and pulled out his red Gryffindor hat, which had so far never been worn. He crammed it over his shorn head, “Bloody freezing.” He muttered, “Dunno how you cope, Lupin.”
Remus shrugged and smiled, pleased to be acknowledged. Sirius leaned heavily against the wall, looking at his feet.
“They let me come back,” he said, quietly, “They almost didn’t – one wrong move and they’ve promised to send me to Durmstrang.”
James and Peter gasped, Remus made a mental note to ask about it later. Sirius continued,
“Didn’t get my voice back until Christmas dinner. Had to play my part for that; everyone was there, all of the sacred twenty-eight – except the Weasley’s, obviously. Lucius Malfoy really bloody hates me now, but he had to be really nice to me and Reg – slimy creep. Got away with wearing my Gryffindor tie until mum noticed and vanished it. Then I… I um… I may have set off a few dung bombs during the fourth course…”
Peter, Remus and James all winced, collectively.
“That’s why… the hair…?” James asked again tentatively. Sirius looked up,
“She said seeing as the usual punishments weren’t having any effect she’d try something different… I tried to get Pomfrey to grow it back for me, but the old bitch said she wasn’t a beautician. Thought I’d done it myself by accident or something.”
“You could tell her—“ Remus started, feeling the need to defend the nurse. Sirius shook his head,
“Not worth it.”
“Regulus?” James asked, suddenly, “Is he back too? He sent us a note to let us know you got home, but we never heard anything else.”
“Yeah, he’s back. Kept his hair, obviously. Dad sorted out a portkey into Hogsmeade. He’s still… y’know, a bit of a tosser, but… he didn’t choose to be a Black either. He just plays the game better than I do.” He looked past them all, his eyes wide and desperate. Remus felt an awful ache in his chest. “I just wish…” Sirius said. But nothing more. The bell rang, and they had to get back to their lessons.