Cold fire, you've got everything but cold fire
You will be my rest and peace, child
I moved up to take a place
So tired, it's the sky that makes you feel tried
It's a trick to make you see wide
It can all but break your heart.
Saturday 15th September 1973
*KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK*
“Oh, for the love of… Sirius Orion Black the Third, I know you’re in there!” James hammered on the door.
“Piss off, Potter.”
James stepped back from the bathroom door and sat on his bed, looking dejected. Sirius had not joined them for dinner, and had been locked in the bathroom now for two hours, without making a sound.
“Leave him alone,” Remus said, turning the page of his book. He lay belly down on his own bed, pretending he wasn’t at all concerned. “He’ll come out when he’s ready.”
That was something he’d often heard Matron say. At least once a week, one of the St Edmund’s boys – usually a new kid – had a tantrum and locked himself in a room, or crawled into some small space so no one could reach him. The response from staff was always the same; ignore it until he realises no one cares; until he realises that nothing he can do will make a difference. It always worked, Remus knew this first hand.
“It’s not like him,” James said, obviously disregarding Remus’s draconian tactic. “I could kill Snape, y’know. For saying that stuff.”
“Black already hates his family, though. I dunno why he lets Snivellus bother him about it.”
James stared at Remus, dumbfounded, as if he had just said something unimaginably cruel.
“They’re still his family, Moony.”
“They’re horrible to him.”
“Doesn’t mean he doesn’t care what they think.” James sighed. “Look, Lupin, maybe you’d better go before he comes out. Go and find Pete in the library or something.”
“I’m Sirius’s friend too!” Remus sat up, indignantly.
“Yeah, yeah, of course you are,” James waved a hand, “But well… if he’s been crying, I think he’d rather no one else saw.”
“I don’t care if he’s crying. I want to help.”
This was a bit of a lie. Remus had always felt uncomfortable around crying people – he never knew what to do with himself. But he really did want to help, too. Hadn’t he always tried to help?
More than ever Remus wanted to come clean about having prompted Narcissa into the unbreakable vow, just to see James’s face. But he calmed himself. It wasn’t a competition, and even if it was, it wasn’t one he would win.
“Ok,” James said, “but you have to be understanding about it. You can’t start a fight.”
“What are you talking about?” Remus was mortally offended. He never started fights.
“You two! You’re always bickering, I swear.”
“We do not bicker.” Remus snapped. James just raised his eyebrows, which was infuriating.
The dark-haired boy hopped off the bed once more and went back to the bathroom door.
“Sirius?” He knocked, “Please come out and talk to us?”
“Get lost, Potter, leave me alone.”
James sighed again. Remus, annoyed with James now just as much as he was annoyed with Sirius, got up too, and strode over to the door. Indicating for James to move, he rapped hard on the wood himself.
“I said piss o—”
“Sirius, it’s me.” Remus said, his voice hard and cold, like Matron’s. “Look, if you’re going to mope about like a big jessie then at least let us in so we can start planning our revenge?”
Remus tutted, “Fine, sulk. But you’re being a selfish git. You know, you’re not the only one whose family hates you.”
“Remus!” James exclaimed, scandalised. Remus shrugged. It was worth a try.
There was a shuffling noise inside the bathroom. Remus pressed his ear to the door, then reeled back as it opened. Sirius’s gloomy face peered out.
“Finally,” James said, relieved, “Look, come out and—”
“Moony can come in.” Sirius said, opening the door just wide enough for Remus to squeeze inside, then slamming it back and fixing the lock.
It was dark inside.
“Lumos,” Remus muttered. His wand point lit up, casting a pale glow over the small white room, and Sirius’s pale face. He had been crying, his eyes were dark and red. Remus looked away quickly, glancing up at the light fittings. The bulbs were smashed. He tutted, “You and your temper, eh?” He said, “Reparo.”
The lights mended and flickered back on. Remus extinguished his wand light.
“Didn’t do it on purpose,” Sirius sniffed, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. It was a sullen, childish gesture, somehow inappropriate for Sirius who was, even at thirteen, usually the epitome of grace and poise. “I still smash stuff sometimes, when I’m angry. My magic gets out of whack.”
“Oh right,” Remus nodded, though he’d never heard of that before.
“So, revenge?” Sirius asked, sitting down on the toilet lid and looking at Remus expectantly.
“Revenge.” Remus agreed, “What’d you want to do to him?”
“Not just him.” Sirius glowered, “All of them. Every single Slytherin in the school.”
Remus nodded enthusiastically – that sounded a bit bonkers, but it was a start. There would be time to talk him down later, when he was acting less weird and wasn’t in danger of blowing up any more lightbulbs.
“Yeah, we’ll get ‘em all, Black. Now c’mon, let’s go and—”
“I’m not coming out yet.” Sirius said, sulkily, crossing his arms. Remus sighed. He sat on the floor, leaning against the door.
“Ok, fine. Want to talk about it? Because James is probably the best person to—”
“Did you mean what you just said?” Sirius interrupted him again, “Do you think my family hates me?”
“Oh god, I dunno, do I? I’m not exactly an authority on families.” Remus rubbed the back of his head. “I was just trying to get you to open the door, to be honest.”
He’d meant it as a joke, but Sirius didn’t smile. He looked down at Remus through a curtain of dark hair.
“You said your family hates you.”
“Well I s’pose they must have,” Remus explained. “Otherwise they wouldn’t… well, I wouldn’t have been sent to St Edmund’s, would I?”
“Doesn’t mean they hated you.”
“No.” Remus reflected, “But I don’t think they can have liked me very much, all the same.”
“You’re not… I mean, it doesn’t bother you?”
“Sometimes, obviously. But, y’know. No one’s entitled to a happy life.” Matron had said that many times. For the first time, saying it out loud, Remus wondered if she was entirely right.
“Blimey, Lupin, you’re a right downer, you know that?”
“You let me in.” Remus kicked Sirius lightly in the shin with the toe of his trainer. “If you want cheering up then I’ll get Potter.”
“Nah,” Sirius shrugged, smiling weakly. “You’re ok.”
“James didn’t want me to come in. Said we just bicker.”
“He what?!” Sirius shook his head. “We do not bicker.”
“That’s what I said.” Remus assured him.
“My family…” Sirius said, suddenly, “I don’t think they hate me. I think they want to like me, really. But I keep letting everyone down. It’s funny most of the time, but… well, it isn’t today.”
Remus didn’t know what to say to that, so he kept quiet. He thought about Narcissa, vowing to face death if she could not marry Lucius. He thought about Regulus, who often stared at his older brother across the dining hall, green eyed with jealousy. Families were a messy business. Perhaps he ought to be grateful to Lyall Lupin for ending it all in one fell swoop, so that Remus never had to know whether or not he would have made his father proud, or whether he would have been a disappointment after all.
* * *
Friday 5th October 1973
“I’ve got it. I’ve really got it this time.”
“That’s nice, Pete.” Remus replied blithely, reading his Arithmancy textbook.
“We should dye his robes pink.”
“He’d just dye them back, it’s too simple. Where would we even get his robes from?” Remus turned the page and resumed his reading.
“Ouch! Bloody hell, there’s something wrong with that bludger!” Sirius shouted, standing up. “Come on, McKinnon, move your bloomin’ arse!”
“Do you mind leaving her arse out of it?” Mary snapped, from a few rows up.
They were watching the Gryffindor quidditch practice. Well, Sirius, Peter and Mary were. Remus had just wanted to get on with his reading.
“Jealous, MacDonald?” Sirius replied, cheekily.
“Dye his hair pink, then,” Peter persisted, shaking Remus’s arm for attention, “I’ve learnt colour changing spells now, I can do it.”
“So can he.” Remus said, jerking his arm back and searching for his place on the page.
“You know, Moony, you could show a bit more interest.” Sirius said.
“In quidditch? Or taking down your arch nemesis?”
“I’m here, aren’t I?” Remus turned another page.
“Who’s your arch nemesis?” Mary asked, getting up and coming down to sit beside Sirius.
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” Sirius said, dryly. Mary rolled her eyes,
“Is it Snape?”
All three boys looked at Mary in surprise. She laughed, “Come on, you lot, it’s not exactly a secret – you’ve all had it in for each other since first year. Plus, Lily is one of my best friends.”
“Don’t talk to me about Evans.” Sirius groaned, “I hear enough as it is.”
“I think she’s an idiot, going around with that creep.” Mary said, rubbing her arms as if just the thought of Severus made her skin crawl. “You know he made Marlene cry the other day? Called her dad something really nasty. Makes no sense, either, because Lily says he’s half-blood, Severus… anyway, someone needs to teach him a lesson.”
“Ha!” Sirius barked, “He’s half-blood?! Brilliant.”
“Yeah.” Mary said, coolly. “So’s Remus. And I’m muggle born. So what?”
Remus finally looked up from his book to smirk at Sirius, raising an eyebrow at him. Sirius looked down, then back at the quidditch.
“Nothing,” he muttered, “I’m not like that.”
“Good.” Mary said, primly. “I get enough of that shit from Slytherins.”
Remus was inclined to agree with Mary, who had more backbone than he did, putting Sirius in his place like that. Insults from the Slytherins had definitely increased this term, though it might only have been noticeable to non-pure blood students. Remus had started to worry about travelling between classes by himself, though he rarely had to. He’d had a few near misses anyway, and been called a mudblood twice. He didn’t tell James or Sirius this, it seemed a bit like whinging. Plus, as far as insults went, he felt like he’d been called worse than ‘mudblood’.
He didn’t like the idea that it had made Marlene cry, though. It was all very well that Remus got picked on by Snape and Mulciber, or even puny, sadistic little Barty Crouch, but making girls cry was another thing altogether. Remus felt a surge of protectiveness and chivalry towards his friend. He clenched his fists, then unclenched them.
The problem was that Snape wasn’t the type to attack with hexes and big pranks. He could do both of those things, he was every bit as able as the marauders. But Snape relied on words to hurt people – and they were much trickier to counteract.
Unless you changed the words.
“Oh.” Remus put his book down, suddenly. He grabbed Sirius’s arm, “Oh!”
“What?” Sirius frowned at him. He’d been absorbed in watching the training while Remus’s mind had wandered. There had been another opportunity for Sirius to join the quidditch team this year, but he had declined. Maybe because he had changed his mind. Maybe because he didn’t want to be embarrassed in try outs again.
“We change the words!” Remus gabbled, “We change what he says.”
“What are you on about?” Sirius clucked his tongue. “Snivellus?”
“Yeah! There are spells you can do to stop someone speaking, right?”
Sirius coloured slightly, looking at Remus.
“Yeah…” he said, cautiously.
“Ok, so how much more difficult can it be to… to like, twist their words? We could set a trigger word – or a few – mudblood, or blood-traitor, or half-breed, dunglicker, or… whatever. And instead, we make him say something really nice. Or something stupid. Whatever we feel like.”
“Moony, where did you hear all of those—”
James scored a goal, and Peter leapt up, clapping wildly. Potter did a few loops on his broom, showing off. Sirius grinned up at his friend. Mary’s knee was touching Sirius’s, Remus noticed. They were sitting really close, actually.
“So?” Remus grabbed Sirius’s shoulder again, trying to get him to focus. “What do you think?”
“I love it.” Sirius said, simply. “We should make him say something really ridiculous, like… I dunno, ‘snuggle bunnies’ or something. We’ll go to the library after this, yeah?”
“Can I come?” Mary asked. Sirius shrugged,
“If you want, I s’pose. It’s serious marauder business though.”
Mary giggled. Remus wondered if Sirius found that as annoying as he did. He picked up his book and returned to Arithmancy.
Twenty minutes later, the training session was over and the marauders were walking towards the castle, Mary and Marlene in tow, Sirius and Remus both babbling excitedly to James about their brilliant plan (it had somehow become ‘their’ plan, in Sirius’s mind).
“You’re supposed to be off the pitch by five o’clock.” Someone grunted, in front of them.
Remus looked up to see the Slytherin quidditch team walking towards them, brooms in hand, kits slung over their shoulders.
“We’re leaving now, Bulstrode, bloody hell.” James said, annoyed.
The pug-faced Slytherin captain just scowled at him and pushed past, deliberately knocking James with his shoulder as he did so.
“Oi!” Sirius pulled out his wand. James held him back.
“What’s it to you, Black?” Bulstrode sneered, “If that’s still even your name.” The Slytherins all laughed. Including their smallest, newest member, who had been behind the others.
It took James and Remus to pull Sirius away, as the Slytherins snickered and whispered.
“Remember the plan,” Remus whispered. Sirius slackened, then nodded.
“Promise me we’ll get all of them.” He growled.