Friday 21st December 1973
Once he was finally given the space to think about it, Remus wondered why he’d even asked for more time. Of course he would say yes. He didn’t think he’d ever say no to his friends, even if it made him nervous. And it did make him nervous.
Perhaps it was their excitement that worried him – or their over-confidence. He knew that part of their eagerness had to do with the plan being incredibly illegal, dangerous and reckless. But they were also doing it for him. He wasn’t sure how to feel about that yet. Better not to think about it.
He took James aside one day not long after they’d proposed the idea, and asked for all of the research they had so far. It was promptly presented to him as a huge bundle of parchment; reams and reams of notes and diagrams penned in a familiar neat cursive script. To say that they had been thorough was an understatement. If only Sirius paid that much attention to writing his essays, Remus would never have a hope of beating him to the top of the class.
They had left no stone unturned. They’d charted the full moons for the next decade, at least. They’d practically written an entire history of European lycanthropy, along with feeding habits and migration patterns, pack behaviour, canine communication signals. They had listed every ingredient they would need, its’ cost and availability. Every ritual was carefully transcribed, step by step and the incantations spelled out phonetically. There were timelines, suggested locations for certain aspects of the extensive process – everything was painstakingly detailed.
“Christ.” Remus said, when he had finished reading it. “You’ve done all of this…”
“It was mostly Sirius.” James grinned, “Actually, basically all of it was Sirius. He did most of it over the summer holidays, while he was bored. A real labour of love.”
Remus’s stomach flipped. He didn’t know what to say – how could he refuse them after all that? Suddenly selling stolen cigarettes to underage wizards seemed very tame indeed.
It was agreed that work would begin in earnest over the Christmas holidays, when they would all be away from Hogwarts. Remus had secured permission from Matron, McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey to spend the break with the Potters, and as always, Peter was only up the road. Sirius was in a dark mood as term drew to a close – until he received a very short note during breakfast one morning:
To Master S. O. Black III,
You will not be required at the family home this winter break. Do as you please.
“Yes!” James cheered, almost knocking over his porridge, “Might even get you for the summer, at this rate!”
“What about Regulus?” Remus asked, tentatively, quietly in case Sirius wanted to pretend he hadn’t heard.
“Oh, little Prince Reg is going home for Christmas,” Sirius replied, shoving the note into his pocket. “It’s just me they’ve disinvited. Good. Perfect. Excellent. They don’t care; I don’t care.”
He didn’t properly cheer up until they were packing. Sirius covertly showed Remus the gifts he had bought for Mr and Mrs Potter – a beautiful golden watch chain and a pretty garnet broach.
“D’you think they’re ok?” He asked, nervously, “My family’s shit at doing presents, so I never really know…”
“Black… Sirius, they’re… I mean, they’re perfect. Don’t worry.” Remus felt a sinking feeling as he thought about the slightly shabby box of mid-range biscuits he’d bought for his hosts. It couldn’t be helped now, he had done his best.
Remus was actually looking forward to Christmas this year, for what may have been the very first time. He was still a bit shy about spending time in someone else’s house, but now that he knew how the Potters were, he relaxed into the idea. He had sold the very last of his illicit cigarettes at a premium, and bought presents for everyone he could – even Lily, Mary and Marlene. It was a real pleasure, giving people presents, he realised. Maybe even better than getting them.
In addition, despite some reservations, Remus was excited about beginning the animagus process. It would be some of the most complex magic they had performed yet – he had asked McGonagall about it, as subtly as possible. She had praised him for taking an interest, but said it was well above third year standard, or even seventh year. He relished the thought of proving her wrong.
There was one other thing he was hoping to get out of the break. Something he hadn’t mentioned to the others, because it was private. Last year, at the Potter’s Christmas party, Remus had been accosted by an old man who knew a lot about Lyall Lupin. At the time, Remus had been struck mute by the revelation and shock of it – but now, a year older and feeling quite mature at the grand old age of thirteen, Remus hoped he might learn a bit more.
* * *
Saturday 22nd December 1973
The full moon had fallen earlier in the month this year, so all four of the marauders were able to join their peers aboard the Hogwarts Express on the usual Saturday. In a change from their usual train journey, Marlene and Mary joined the boys in their carriage. Remus suspected that Lily was somewhere on her own with Severus, probably listening to him whinge about how nobody liked him.
“Did you get your essay back off Ferox?” Marlene asked Remus, a deep crease in her brow, “I only barely got an ‘Acceptable’ mark, and mum’s going to go mental if I don’t get better results this year.”
“Yeah, I did ok…” Remus replied, embarrassed by his third ‘Outstanding’ that term.
“We’ll bring back the study club after Christmas, right?” Mary put in, “Lily’s up for it. Don’t worry, Marls, you’ll be fine.”
“Sounds good.” Remus nodded.
“Moony’s joined a club without us!” Sirius wailed, pretending to weep on James’s shoulder.
“He’s a big boy, now,” James patted his friend, solemnly, “They grow up so fast.”
“Piss off.” Remus grinned, “They have slug club for posho’s like you.”
“You can study with us if you want, Sirius,” Mary purred.
Sirius looked alarmed – he used the library exclusively as a resource for jinx and hexes, not for doing anything so mundane as homework. Mary didn’t know Sirius. Not really.
When they pulled into King’s Cross, Remus felt a certain thrill when he saw that Mr and Mrs Potter were there to collect all of them. Usually he had to cross the barrier and go looking for Matron in the café or by the newspaper stand. He was in for a shock, however, when he learnt that he was about to apparate for the first time.
“Hold my arm, dear,” Mrs Potter smiled at him kindly, “Close your eyes, it’ll all be over in a moment.”
Remus obeyed, scrunching his eyes shut.
It was much worse than floo powder. Worse than flying. He nearly dragged Mrs Potter down with him when they landed, as he lost balance and fell hard on the pavement outside the Potter’s house.
“Whoops-a-daisy!” Mrs Potter laughed kindly, pulling him up again. “You’re all right now.” She brushed his knees and shoulders. “Now, I’ll just pop back for Sirius, Monty will be over with James in two ticks.”
And with a CRACK, she vanished. Remus barely had time to lean on the low front gate and catch his breath before there was another CRACK, and Mr Potter appeared with James, who didn’t look half as bad as Remus felt.
Once they were all there, Mrs Potter ushered them all into the house, sending their trunks flying up the stairs to their respective bedrooms, boiling a kettle and slicing some homemade madeira cake all in what felt like a few seconds. As Remus sat at the Potter’s big wooden kitchen table eating cake and sipping a huge mug of tea, listening to James and Sirius chatter nineteen to the dozen about the term so far, he couldn’t resist sighing contentedly to himself. Two whole weeks of this.
Unfortunately, unlike the previous year, there had been no snow yet this winter, only rain. In fact, as the evening drew on the downpour grew heavier and heavier, until thunder cracked open the sky outside, and hailstones battered the window panes. Rather than go outside, the boys sat in the living room under the Christmas tree playing games and toasting the occasional teacake on the fire. Remus himself settled into a book on human transfiguration, and Mrs Potter reviewed her lists for the coming celebrations.
“We’ve a few more people coming this year,” she explained, as the long thin strips of parchment hovered before her, a royal blue quill working quickly across the surface, ticking off various items. “Some friends from the old days, and some newer acquaintances,” as she said this, she glanced furtively over at Sirius, who wasn’t paying attention, immersed in the game. “Only just have enough room for all of you!” She continued, with a happy smile that was just like her son’s.
Just then, there was a knock at the door. Sirius sat bolt upright, as if he’d been stuck by lightening. He turned to Mrs Potter wide-eyed. It wasn’t his mother, Remus knew this – but he didn’t say so, because how on earth would that sound? ‘Don’t worry, Sirius, I know your mother’s scent.’ Too bloody creepy.
Mrs Potter got up, leaving the lists hovering in mid-air, and went to answer the door. A cold breeze blew in, and the three boys listened intently. It was a woman, but her voice was higher and younger than that of Walpurga Black. She sounded as though she was crying, and Mrs Potter spoke in soothing tones.
“Boys!” She called from the hallway. They got up and went to meet her. She was standing just inside the kitchen doorway. Behind her, a young woman with long blonde hair sat at the table, her head in her hands.
“What’s up, mum?” James asked, craning his neck.
“It’s getting late – you’d all better go to bed. Philly’s staying the night, and I’m afraid we’ve no room left – Sirius, would you mind sharing with James tonight, dear?”
“We can all share,” James said, generously, “Everyone else is arriving tomorrow anyway, might as well just all bunk up together.”
Mrs Potter nodded, and summoned the house elf.
James’s bedroom was absolutely perfect in every way. Huge and spacious, the walls were plastered with Gryffindor banners and quidditch posters. Every broom he’d ever owned was mounted on the wall, and his shelves were packed with wizard children’s books and old toys that he clearly wasn’t ready to let go of just yet. Chief among these was a little knight figurine, apparently supposed to be Godric Gryffindor himself, marching back and forth along the edge of the bookcase.
The bed was huge, hung with red velvet drapes, the same as their dorm room, and though it was big enough for all three of them, the house elf had whipped up two single beds which lay at the foot of it.
“Who was that?” Remus asked, as they all sat on the big bed together in their pyjamas.
“Philomena,” James said, “Pete’s sister.”
“What’s she doing here?”
“I think she’s been arguing with Pete’s folks – they don’t like her going to muggle university, and,” he lowered his voice, “Dad says she’s got a muggle boyfriend.”
“Really?!” Sirius’s eyes widened in awe. Remus said nothing – he hadn’t known that going out with muggles was particularly taboo.
“Yeah, and you know what mum’s like,” James nudged Sirius, “Loves taking in strays.”
* * *
Christmas Eve, 1973
Philomena was present at breakfast the next morning, and remained for the whole of Christmas. At first, she didn’t say very much, but stared into space, pale faced and red eyed. From what Remus had gathered, going out with a muggle was not only taboo, but an offence worthy of disowning your own child. Apart from the Potters, Remus couldn’t help but think that wizards did not make very good parents, based on his experience.
Peter’s sister was about seven years older than him, and you might not know they were related at all, other than their straw-coloured hair. Where Pete was round and podgy, Philomena was slim and dainty-featured. She had chocolate brown eyes and a delicate smattering of pale brown freckles over her little nose. Her hair was worn in the same style as many muggle girls Remus had seen; long and poker-straight with a thick parted fringe, like Marianne Faithfull.
James, who knew her best, could not do enough for the pretty visitor. He offered her tea, held out her chair and generally became her willing servant, until even Sirius had had enough of him.
“Bloody hell, Potter, she’s just a girl.”
“I’m being nice.” James frowned. “Nothing wrong with being nice to my mate’s sister.”
They hadn’t seen Peter. Once Mrs Pettigrew learnt where her daughter was staying, he had been confined to the house. They were making do by sending owls back and forward, which was probably more fun for James and Sirius than it was for Peter.
“What would Evans say?” Sirius teased James, who turned bright red.
“She’d be glad someone’s taken his mind off her,” Remus suggested from where he was lounging on his camp bed.
“You can talk, Black.” James shoved his friend, “What’s going on between you and Mary?”
“Macdonald?” Sirius asked, innocently, “Dunno what you’re talking about.”
“Oh come on,” James groaned, “Tell us! Have you snogged her or what?”
Remus dropped his book. Snogging?! Since when was snogging on the cards?! Sirius gave a coy look.
“No. Kissed her cheek though.”
“Ohhh, how scandalous, Black!” James threw a pillow at him. Sirius threw it back and all of a sudden they were wrestling.
Remus usually just rolled his eyes and let them get on with it. But now he used the distraction to gather his thoughts – he felt very childish and silly, not having realised that Sirius liked Mary back. That there was kissing involved now, even if it was just a peck on the cheek. Remus wracked his brain, trying to put himself in Sirius’s position. If a girl liked you, you pretty much had to kiss them, wasn’t that the case? Was it awful if a girl didn’t like you? If Sirius now liked Mary, and James liked Lily, ought he to pick a girl too? Marlene was ok. A bit shy, like him. Maybe Marlene, then.
The thought kept him up that night, long after James and Sirius had fallen asleep. They both slept in James’s bed – Sirius had simply climbed in on the first night and James hadn’t said a word. Remus kept to himself, on his designated camp bed. He tried to take his mind off it, think about Christmas and stockings and crackers – but it was all in vain. All he could think about was Sirius kissing Mary’s cheek. And where had they done it? When had it happened? What did it feel like?
Eventually, restless and overwrought, he got up to get some water. He padded out of the room, into the bathroom across the hall and ran the tap. He sipped some of the tepid water, and looked at himself in the mirror. In the dim light, he couldn’t see his scars. Would a girl ever like him, if he looked the way he looked? He would never be as good looking as Sirius, or even James, but perhaps he was slightly better than Peter? How on earth could you know?!
Suddenly, the lights flashed on, burning his retinas, so that he almost dropped his glass.
“Oh, sorry!” Philomena stood in the doorway in a long peach-coloured nightie. She looked shocked, “What are you doing wandering around in the dark?!”
“Um… I have really good eyesight.” He mumbled, stepping away from the sink. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“Me neither,” she sighed. Once the surprise had left her face, she looked sad again. Remus hoped she wouldn’t cry. He was useless with crying – oh god, if he got a girlfriend would he have to deal with crying?! He had no time to swallow back his panic, before Philomena began talking again, “It’s horrible to be away from family at Christmas, isn’t it?”
“Er… I grew up in a children’s home, actually.”
“Oh really?” She looked interested for a moment, “You’re one of Peter’s little friends, aren’t you? I didn’t know he knew any muggleborns. Kept that quiet from mummy.”
“My dad was a wizard,” Remus said, with some confidence, “But he died.”
“Half-blood.” She murmured. “But even so…” She trailed off, despondently. Remus shifted uncomfortably; his bare feet were beginning to get cold on the bathroom tiles, and he was only wearing his underwear and a vest to sleep in, which was embarrassing enough. She didn’t seem to mind, “You’re lucky,” she said, “Not having to grow up with all of this shit.”
“You mean magic?” Remus frowned. He’d never heard a witch or wizard – pureblood or muggleborn – talk this way.
“Yeah, magic,” she sniffed, “What’s so bloody good about magic, eh? What makes us so special? D’you want to know a secret?”
He didn’t, but thought it better not to say so. She carried on anyway, whispering now, “I wish I was a muggle, sometimes,” she said, a glimmer of madness in her eye, “If I could do it, I’d run away forever and never be found. And I’d have a nice normal job, and a nice normal life, and I’d fall in love with whoever I want.” At this last affirmation, she burst into tears.
“You could do that anyway, if you wanted.” Remus said, quickly, not sure exactly why he was saying what he was saying. She looked at him suspiciously,
“What do you mean?”
“Well, what’s stopping you?” He asked. “You’re of age. You can do whatever you feel like. Go and be a waitress, or run away to America and be a film star. Marry Prince Charles if you want to. I mean… you might need to use a bit of magic to get started, but you could give it up. No one says you have to do magic.”
She stared at him, and looked him up and down,
“No one’s ever said that to me that before.”
“What’s your name, again?”
“Remus. Remus Lupin.”
“Oh!” She burst out laughing, “You poor thing, that’s almost as a bad as Philomena!”