In the corner of the morning in the past
I would sit and blame the master first and last
All the roads were straight and narrow
And the prayers were small and yellow
And the rumour spread that I was aging fast
Then I ran across a monster who was sleeping
By a tree
And I looked and frowned and the monster was me
Saturday 1st September 1973
After the first job, Craig and his gang had been so pleased with Remus that they’d taken him along on four more, to houses and small businesses in the surrounding towns. Even without an invisibility cloak, Remus found that he just had a natural gift for getting into places he shouldn’t. That’s what Craig said anyway; “Bloody natural, this kid.”
Nature was a funny thing, Remus found himself thinking, on the way to King’s Cross. He remembered James leaving a bag of coins behind every time they raided Honeyduke’s. It was not in James’s nature to steal, it seemed. But Remus didn’t think this was a particularly fair assessment, when James had never needed to steal. He was the heir to an enormous fortune, just like Sirius. And the truth was, you just never knew what you were capable of until you tried it. It must be very easy to be good when you had no reason not to be.
Still, Remus had resolved never to tell the other marauders what he’d got up to that summer, and spent the rest of his journey daydreaming about all of the Christmas and birthday presents he would finally be able to buy his friends.
Remus’s Hogwarts trunk this year was stuffed full of cigarette boxes and pouches of tobacco. Plenty to get a little business up and running – if he was savvy enough, he might be rid of most of it before Christmas. They were allowed to go to Hogsmeade this year, and Matron had signed his permission slip without a fuss – even Madam Pomfrey thought it was probably safe enough for him to go.
Matron, it seemed, had learnt her lesson. She accompanied Remus as far as King’s Cross, then left him there, with a curt goodbye. Heart pounding as much as it had two years ago, Remus flew at the ticket barrier, and exhaled only once he arrived safely on the other side. He was home again.
It did not take him long to spy Sirius, who was slouching against a station pillar beside his family. Mrs Black was fussing over Regulus, who looked paler than usual and was standing with his back very straight as Walpurga combed his hair and hissed in his ear. She was obviously ignoring her eldest son, whose hair looked deliberately messy, and whose robes were artfully rumpled and out of place. Remus thought it best not to approach.
“Hiya Moony,” he was clapped on the back and turned around to see James and Peter grinning at him. James had grown a few inches, and his face looked slightly thinner, but he had the same bright brown eyes and the same mop of black hair. Peter looked himself, though he seemed to be recovering from a rather painful sunburn.
“Hi,” Remus grinned back at them, his heart leaping with excitement. Everything just as it should be.
The whistle blew, and they climbed onto the train to find an empty compartment and wait for Sirius. He was finally allowed to join them at what seemed like the very last minute, and entered the car muttering darkly to himself,
“Keeping up appearances my arse.”
“No change there, then,” James winked at Remus. Sirius looked at them all and his face split into a smile. That Sirius Black smile.
“I thought I’d never see you all again!”
“Godrick, you always have to be so dramatic.” James punched him on the shoulder, as they all stood up to greet him.
“You don’t know what she’s like,” Sirius whined, clasping James’s hand in a warm, brotherly handshake. Then he saw Remus and smirked mischievously, “Is that you, Moony?!” He deliberately craned his neck, raising a hand as if to shield his eyes and peering up, “Can you hear me up there??”
“Ha ha.” Remus replied, shifting uncomfortably. “I’m the same height as James.”
“Not any more you’re not,” James countered, standing closer to Remus so that he could see that he was indeed half an inch taller than the dark-haired boy.
“Yeah, how did I end up mates with two beanpoles, eh?” Sirius grinned, slapping Remus on the back playfully, “Lucky I’ve got you, eh Petey-boy?”
“Hm?” Peter looked up from his pasty, confused. Peter Pettigrew looked no taller than he had been when they were all eleven, though he was considerably wider.
Sirius appeared to be growing up gracefully and in perfect proportion, which was just typical. He was a little taller, but not lanky like James, slender, but not skinny like Remus. His jaw had broadened over the summer too, the shadow of manhood rising in his features.
“Right,” James rubbed his hands together as they all sat down, “Now all that’s out of the way – I say we move onto new business. Plans for the year?”
“We have to finish the map,” Remus said, quickly. That had been playing on his mind for some time. “It’s not far off, and I bet we can figure out that homunculus charm if we really put the effort in.”
“Definitely,” James said, “The map is basically our legacy, right? We’ll work on it, I promise.”
“And that other thing,” Sirius suddenly said, very sharply. James and Peter exchanged glances, and Remus felt a knot tighten in his stomach.
“What ‘other’ thing?” He asked, frowning.
James looked him in the eye, looking very serious.
“Just something we were talking about last year. We’ll um… we’ll let you know if we decide to go through with it.”
“Don’t want to get you into trouble, Moony,” Peter laughed, nervously, “Less you know the better, eh?”
Remus took umbrage to this. Hadn’t he got away with participating in most of last year’s pranks, and had the least detentions? And hadn’t he been the only one who’d even attempted to talk to Narcissa about Sirius’s family problems? Of course, the others didn’t know about that – if they had a secret, he could have one too. He looked out of the window, testily, ignoring the rest of the conversation.
Finally, Peter sighed heavily,
“Where’s the trolley witch? I’m hungry.”
“I just saw you finish a pasty.” James replied, mildly annoyed because he’d been midway through explaining his plan to bewitch all the Slytherin quidditch team’s brooms during their next practice.
“Yeah, but I fancy something sweet.” Peter pouted, emptying out his pockets and only coming up with empty wrappers.
Remus saw his chance and finally cheered up a bit,
“I’ve got you sorted, Pete,” he dug into his suitcase and pulled out a handful of chocolate bars, dumping them on the empty seat beside him. The other three boys stared at the pile.
“What are these?” Sirius picked up a Mars bar, looking suspicious.
“Muggle chocolate,” Remus said, “They’re good! Go on, won’t bite.”
Peter had already unwrapped and bitten into a Milky Way, and was grinning encouragingly at the others. Remus selected a packet of Maltesers for himself, sitting back with satisfaction knowing that for once he had brought the snacks on the train.
* * *
Remus noticed that they were sitting further away from the teacher’s table when they took their places for the feast. The first and second years now below them, the marauders found themselves no longer among the youngest students, which gave them an unnecessary sense of pride and achievement.
“You’re taking Runes, aren’t you Remus?” Lily asked, plonking herself down next to him. She had cut her hair over the summer, and had a soft fringe which made her look a bit like Jane Asher.
“Yep,” he nodded.
“Moony’s abandoning us!” Sirius wailed, comically, pretending to fall onto James’s shoulder, sobbing inconsolably,
“There, there,” James patted his friend’s back, solemnly, “I hope you’re happy, Remus,” he scolded, “All very well you moving on to bigger and better things, but think about us little people you’re leaving behind.”
“I’m not leaving anyone behind,” Remus muttered, his ears turning red, “Just didn’t fancy divination.”
“Ignore them,” Lily said, primly, casting a disapproving look at Sirius and James, who were now holding each other, still pretending to weep hysterically as though their hearts were irreparably broken. Lily tutted, seeing she had no effect, and turned back to Remus, “You lot don’t have to be attached at the hip all the time. Anyway, I’m doing Runes too, have you done the pre-reading?”
Remus nodded enthusiastically,
“Yeah, it looks really interesting.”
“Aha!” Sirius looked up, slyly, “Now I see.”
“What?” Remus asked, nervously. Sirius had that wicked, unpredictable look in his eyes.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with furthering your academic career,” he scratched his chin, wisely, “I think our dear Remoony has been lured away from everyone’s favourite doss subject by the fairer sex!”
“Shut up,” Remus blushed harder, trying not to look at Lily. Sirius always knew exactly the most embarrassing thing to say.
“Yeah, shut up, Black,” Lily sighed, “Honestly you lot can’t even be nice to each other. Just because no girls would come near you with a five-foot barge pole—”
“I’ll have you know I was very recently engaged to be married,” Sirius replied, with a swish of his dark hair. James was snorting with laughter now, shoulders shaking.
“What else are you taking, Remus?” Lily asked, pointedly ignoring the other marauders.
“Care of Magical Creatures,” Remus sighed. He’d already had enough jokes about that from James and Sirius.
“Oooh!” Marlene turned around suddenly, “Me and Mary are taking that!”
“A-HA!” Sirius said again, even louder, and James completely fell apart.
Fortunately, the sorting began then and the hall fell silent. The ceremony was extremely dull unless you were involved in it, Remus found, and he struggled to hold back a yawn as the line of frightened first years gradually grew shorter, and the spaces at the top of the Gryffindor table filled up with new students. His attention wandered and he gazed over at the Slytherin table, where Narcissa was sitting at the far end, regal as a queen and looking much more cheerful than when he’d last seen her.
Regulus, now a second year, sat at the other end from his cousin, looking as bored as Remus felt. Then there was Snape, among the third year Slytherins, staring at Lily, as usual. He caught her eye once or twice and Remus saw her smile at him in her usual friendly way, but it didn’t seem to brighten Severus’s mood one bit. Only Lily could remain friends with someone that miserable, Remus thought to himself.
The feast, when it appeared, was as delicious and welcome as ever. Remus had his customary two helpings of everything, including pudding and once the meal was finished, Dumbledore gave his usual speech. For the past two years, Remus had switched off for this portion of the evening – being too full of good food and too sleepy from the long day to pay much attention. But something about the serious tone of the headmaster’s usually playful oration made him listen.
He saw that he was not the only one. There was a low, ominous muttering from the Slytherin table, particularly those in the upper years. The Gryffindors around Remus seemed to straighten up a little more, too.
“What was that all about?” Remus asked, as they left the hall for their dorms, Dumbledore’s confusing warnings ringing in his ears, “’Unity in the face of darkness,’ and all that?”
“Oh right, you won’t know…” James said, quietly. He looked at Sirius, who was scuffing his feet, hands in his pockets. “Tell you when we’re alone, ok?”
They waited to get that year’s password (‘Codswallop’) and headed straight up the stairs to their familiar dorm room. All of their beds were made, their trunks sitting by, and Remus felt a surge of happiness as he entered. Sirius began to unpack at once, pulling his beloved muggle records and books from James’s trunk. James only unpacked his broom, and began to polish it lovingly, sitting cross-legged on his bed.
“So?” Remus asked, impatiently, “The weird speech?”
“Oh, yeah,” James swallowed. He glanced at Sirius again, who appeared to be ignoring them. James sighed, running his hands through his hair. “It’s all politics, really.”
“Politics?” Remus groaned inwardly. He didn’t know much about muggle politics, let alone whatever went on in the wizarding world – other than the statute of secrecy, which they had covered in first year History. There was a referendum coming up about Britain joining the European Community – but that wasn’t for a few years, if Remus had understood the prime minister’s speeches correctly, and he couldn’t see how that affected wizards very much.
“Well, you know there are… um… well, dark wizards?”
“Yeah…” Remus tried to look knowledgeable. He remembered reading something briefly about Grindelwald, but they wouldn’t be studying that until their OWLs.
“There’s been a surge in dark magic lately, that’s all. And my dad told me… there’s some stuff going on at the ministry. Department heads pushing for stricter reforms against muggleborn wizards and… people who are different. Dad said it was nothing to worry about, just the usual old prejudices. But I s’pose Dumbledore thinks we need to be on our guard.”
“Mother and Father called a meeting.” Sirius said, suddenly. They both turned to look at him. He looked tormented, ashamed, and would not meet their eyes. “They wouldn’t let me in, obviously, but Reg went. They keep talking about this Dark Lord – I dunno, maybe a politician they want to back in the next election. All I know is if the Blacks are supporting him then he can’t be good.”
Even James didn’t have anything positive to say in light of this announcement. They were all quiet, until Peter spoke up.
“We’re at Hogwarts.” He said, “My mum always says Hogwarts is the safest place in Britain. And we’ve got Dumbledore.” He said firmly, settling the matter. “C’mon, Black, bet you’ve got another awful muggle record you’re just dying to assault our ears with.”
They all looked at Peter with mild surprise. Sirius grinned,
“Actually,” he said, dusting off his record player, “I have.”