Monday 23rd December 1974
Though Hogwarts had been as picturesque as a Christmas card under its blanket of highland snow, the marauders stepped off the train in London to grey, southern drizzle. The weather continued in much the same way for most of the Christmas break, meaning that sledging was off the cards this year, much to Remus’s disappointment.
It meant that the first few days before Christmas were pretty boring, and they made up for it by making regular trips into the village, underneath Mr Potter’s huge black umbrella, and spent long afternoons in the muggle cinema there.
Remus had convinced them to go - he hadn’t been to see a film since he’d started at Hogwarts, and Ste’s gang had been talking about Death Wish all summer, so he was dying to see it. It was just as exciting as he’d hoped; full of revenge and gore - and Charles Bronson reminded him a bit of Professor Ferox. James and Sirius were more interested in figuring out how the projector worked - which suited Remus fine, because it meant they agreed to go with him twice.
However, boredom soon got the better of them, and on the third visit to the picturehouse, a distraction presented itself in the form of a group of girls queuing at the ticket booth. At once, James and Sirius stopped discussing the ins and outs of visual perception versus frame rate, and started acting very oddly indeed. James made more of an effort to flatten his hair than ever, while Sirius began leaning casually against the wall as if he was James Dean.
The girls obviously noticed, and kept glancing back and then giggling amongst themselves. They must be freezing, wearing miniskirts in December, Remus thought to himself. Finally, the girls finished buying their tickets and went into the second screen.
“Moony,” Sirius said, not taking his eyes off the gaggle of long legs that had just passed, “How about we see something different today?”
“Yeah,” James nodded, blankly.
Remus looked up at the poster above the door. The Great Gatsby . He screwed up his face,
“Ugh, it’s a romance , though, what do you want to see that for?” He protested. But it was too late, they were already halfway in.
Remus settled down in the front row and resigned himself to his fate. It might not be that bad - he’d liked Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - he wasn’t as cool as Charles Bronson, but he might shoot someone, at the very least.
Half an hour later and - as much as he didn’t want to admit it - Remus was thoroughly immersed in the film, for all its pastel shades and silly costumes. There had been no shooting so far, but he was hoping for the best, and in the meantime, was rooting for Daisy to see sense and leave her awful husband.
At some point, Remus glanced to his left, to see if Sirius and James were enjoying the film too - and found that he had been abandoned. Twisting about in his seat, he stared into the darkness behind him, and could just about make out the dark shapes of his two friends sitting in the very back row - both engaged in some kind of horrendous teenage grappling match with two of the girls from earlier.
Mortified, Remus turned around at once, slouching down low in the red velvet seat. He couldn’t concentrate on the film now - and he’d been right, anyway; it was a stupid, boring, girly romance, and Robert Redford clearly wasn’t going to shoot anyone any time soon. In a split second he made his decision and quickly left the theatre.
It was too late to get a ticket for Death Wish , and the usher behind the ticket stand was giving him a very pointed look, so he shoved his hands deep in his pockets and sloped out, feeling bitter and mean. The town James’s parents lived in was a lot posher than the one Remus had grown up in - it was all pretty red brick cottages and oak trees. There was a big village green at the centre, and Remus could imagine cricket taking place there in the summer. It was raining now, though, and James had the umbrella, so Remus had no choice but to duck for cover under the nearest bus shelter.
There was a little shop, right opposite the bus stop, and he watched it for a while, checking out the simplest entry points. Not that he was going to break in. He definitely could ; it looked really easy - but what if Mr and Mrs Potter found out? They’d never have him for Christmas again. He thought about going back to the house, but he didn’t want to explain why he’d left Sirius and James in the picturehouse like that. Pricks. He kicked the side of the shelter with his heavy boots. An old woman, walking past with her little scottie dog tutted at him loudly, and he swore in return, throwing up a middle finger.
Even James had let him down now. James! Whose pure and honest adoration for Lily Evans had been the one thing which convinced Remus that snogging might not be that disgusting after all. He’d expected something like this from Sirius, who had never had any kind of impulse control anyway, but James ?!
“Oi, Moony!” As if by magic, James and Sirius appeared on the other side of the road, underneath the big black umbrella. He tried to ignore them, but it was a bit stupid, seeing as they were the only three people on the street.
“Where are you off to?” Sirius grinned, as they crossed to join him under the bus shelter.
“Just sitting here.” Remus shrugged.
“Why’d you leave?”
“Could ask you the same!”
“We only popped off for a minute…”
“Ugh, I don’t want to hear about it.” Remus covered his ears. He glared at James, “What about Lily? What about ‘it’s not time yet, but I don’t mind’?” Remus parroted back the words James had spoken in November.
James looked stricken for a moment, but Sirius laughed heartily and slapped Remus on the shoulder,
“Oh come off it. Evans isn’t going to care if Potter snogged some muggle girl when he was fourteen. Calm down, Moony.”
That did it. If there was anything more likely to send Remus into a rage, it was being told to ‘calm down’.
“No!” He growled, “You made me watch that stupid girls film just so you could grope a couple of muggle birds in the back row!”
Sirius tossed his dark hair and rolled his eyes,
“Merlin, Lupin - we can go and see your beloved Charles Bronson tomorrow , if you really want. I mean, excuse us if we want to act like normal teenagers for five minutes.”
Something about this insult struck Remus so sharply, that if he’d had his wand he’d have cursed Sirius right then and there. As it was, he only had his fists - fortunately he was pretty good with those, and punching was often a lot more satisfying than cursing. By the time James had wrenched them apart and stood between them, Sirius’s nose was extremely bloody, and Remus could feel the beginnings of a black eye forming.
“What’s wrong with you two?!” James huffed, dragging them both through the rain back to his parents house.
“He’s a tosser!” Remus spat, trying to keep the drizzle out of his sore eye.
“He’s a wanker!” Sirius returned, stuffily, holding his wet jumper up against his nose.
“You’re both dickheads,” James said, firmly, as they reached the front gate.
* * *
Mrs Potter fixed them both up very quickly - she was just as quick at healing spells as Madam Pomfrey - then gave them a good telling off, with Mr Potter standing behind her, trying not to smile and saying “boys will be boys, Effie dear…”
Afterwards, Remus went straight up to the spare room and sat on the bed for the rest of the day doing his holiday homework. He knew it was silly and childish to sulk, but if he had to see Sirius again he couldn’t be sure he wouldn't swing for him. He thought about Ferox telling him ‘It’s good to be angry’ - but somehow didn’t think that was what the teacher meant.
Was he jealous? Jealous that all his friends had copped off with a girl now, and he hadn’t? Maybe that was it. Remus couldn’t really ignore the fact that he was the only one of his friends who wasn’t completely driven by his hormones - like a normal teenager , as Sirius had so kindly put it. Ouch; there was that pain again. Remus drew his knees up under his chin, making himself as small as possible. If he had a galleon for every way in which he was not normal .
He went down for dinner, but didn’t talk to James or Sirius, limiting himself only to polite interchanges with Mr and Mrs Potter. After they were excused from the table, he went straight back upstairs and curled up under the duvet with a book until he fell asleep.
He dreamed that he was back in the cinema, trying to watch a strange combination of The Great Gatsby and Death Wish - in which Professor Ferox really was Charles Bronson, black moustache and all, aiming his pistol at the gleaming socialites of West Egg. Something kept nudging Remus’s elbow, distracting him from the film - he turned and saw that it was Peter and Desdemona, writhing about in the seat beside him, lips locked.
Annoyed, Remus got up and sat in the row behind, returning to the film. Soon, something else bothered him - it was Mary and Darren. Remus had of course never met Darren, and the boy in the dream looked just like Muciber, for some reason. They were snogging too. Disgusted, Remus tried to get up once more, but tripped over Lily and James, who were rolling in the aisle.
“For god’s sake!” He shouted. Lily looked up at him and laughed - so did Mary, and now Peter and James too.
Sirius appeared at the very back of the theatre, his body silhouetted by the whirring projector,
“Never mind him,” he laughed along with the others, “He’s not like us.”
Remus spun around just in time to see Ferox shoot Robert Redford, then woke up with a start.
He was hot and sweating under the heavy duvet, and had to fight to free himself. Feeling very silly for having had a nightmare at his age, he clambered out of the large four poster bed and headed for the nearest bathroom. The clock on the landing read midnight, so he didn’t turn any lights on, though he could see a faint yellowish glow seeping out from under James’s bedroom door.
Remus used the loo, then washed his hands and face, taking a few sips from the cold tap before wiping himself dry on his pyjama sleeves. Feeling much better, he returned to his bedroom, just as James’s door swung open.
“Bloody hell, it’s you, Moony!” James whispered, sounding relieved, “What you doing creeping round in the dark?!”
Remus shrugged and whispered back,
“I can see in the dark. Didn’t want to wake anyone up.”
James nodded, and opened his door a bit wider,
“Thought you might be Gully, spying on us for mum or something. Come in, eh? Let’s all be mates again.”
It didn’t take much convincing for Remus to agree. Fighting took up too much energy, especially when you all lived together. He still didn’t really want to talk to Sirius, but he went in for James’s sake.
Sirius was sitting cross legged on James’s bed, and frowned when he saw Remus. James sighed,
“Come on, we’re all friends, right? It’s Christmas.”
Sirius nodded, solemnly. Remus nodded back. He joined them on the bed, where he was surprised to see they were pouring over some spellbooks.
“Homework?” He asked.
“Prank.” James replied. “Haven’t worked out the kinks yet, though.”
“Oh, ok.” Remus nodded. And then, because he didn’t want it to be awkward any more, he asked; “How’s your nose, Black?”
“Fine,” Sirius grinned at him, relaxing into humour at once, “You’re losing your touch.”
“Oh yeah? Ask Snape. Headbutted him on the train in September.”
“You never did!”
“Bloody hell,” James laughed, “And he hasn’t tried it on since?”
“Not yet.” Remus said, trying not to sound too nervous about it, “Probably planning something, though. What’s the prank?”
“We’ll um… tell you when we know how to do it. Might not come off right.” James said, quickly, closing the book nearest him. Remus raised an eyebrow and said nothing - this only confirmed a suspicion he’d had for quite some time. He didn’t want to get into any of that now, though, he’d wait and see if anything came of it.
“Sorry I brought up Lily.” He told James, “I didn’t mean it, Sirius is right, she won’t care - if she’s ever stupid enough to go out with you, that is.”
James shoved him playfully,
“At least that stupid competition is over now, yeah?” Remus asked, hopefully, looking at Sirius.
“Yeah I s’pose,” Sirius shrugged, “We paid Pete his dues, anyway. What a letdown, though - snogging, I mean. Dunno what all the fuss is about.”
Remus didn’t say anything, though he was secretly pleased. So he wasn’t missing out on anything after all.
“It was alright,” James said, diplomatically. “Probably takes practice. Must get better.”
“It had better.” Sirius said, very seriously.
James and Remus burst out laughing.
* * *
Christmas Day 1974
Christmas morning was as dark and gloomy as the previous week had been, and Remus was woken by the noise of the rain pelting against his bedroom window. Still, the Potter's house was as festive as ever, and the five of them settled down to a hearty breakfast with smiles on their faces.
Breakfast was quickly followed by presents - the usual fair of sweets, chocolate, new quills from the Potters, books and socks. Remus was very surprised to receive a hand-knitted scarf from Lily, in Gryffindor red with gold tassels. He felt a bit bad - he hadn’t bought anything for any of the marauders this year, let alone any of the girls. She’d never given him a gift before, except for the reading aid - which, he had to admit, had been a pretty good present. He resolved to get something for her next time they went to Hogsmeade.
They were just finishing up with the presents, Mrs Potter vanishing the scrunched up wrapping paper with a sweep of her wand - when a loud, mournful song sounded in the hallway. It was a high pitched, haunting melody - completely unnatural and completely beautiful. They all turned at once, Mr and Mrs Potter withdrawing their wands in a duelling stance, and a strange, ethereal silver bird flew into the room, circling their heads. Remus recognised it at once as a phoenix - or something like the ghost of one.
“Dumbledore,” Mr Potter said, quietly, as the silver phoenix settled magisterially on the mantelpiece. Much to Remus’s surprise, the bird opened its beak and spoke in their headmaster’s voice.
“There has been an attack. I will be with you shortly - do not allow anyone else entry.”
And with that, the phoenix vanished into thin air. They were all quiet for a while, before Mrs Potter spoke, placing a hand on James’s shoulder, as if she just needed to touch her son.
“Oh Monty, an attack!”
“No need to panic,” Mr Potter said calmly, “Albus will be here soon. Boys, finish cleaning up here, eh? I’ll be in my study.”
They tidied up in silence, all waiting to see what would happen next. An attack - what could that mean? Remus’s mind went straight to Greyback - but it wasn’t a full moon, so unlikely to have been werewolves. Could it be Voldemort? Or were there other dark wizards out there? Guiltily, he looked over at Sirius, who was staring out of the window at the rain, looking pale and shocked. His family were dark wizards. Did he know anything about it? Surely not, Remus quickly dismissed the idea, feeling even worse; Sirius hadn’t been home since the summer, and it was common knowledge that his family hated him.
Finally, after what felt like a decade, but can only have been twenty minutes, there was a *CRACK* of apparition outside, and Mr Potter was at the front door. Mrs Potter joined him, and James, Sirius and Remus hung back in the hallway, watching.
The door opened and Dumbledore stood there looking very grave, completely dry despite the rain beating down in sheets.
“Fleamont, Euphemia,” he nodded politely.
Mr Potter held up his wand,
“What was the last thing we spoke about?”
“Your son having broken his record for number of detentions this term.” Dumbledore smiled, glancing at James, who turned red. This apparently satisfied Mr Potter, who stepped back to allow Dumbledore entry.
“Come in, Dumbledore, would you like some tea?” Mrs Potter asked, taking his travelling cloak and ushering him into the living room.
“Upstairs, boys.” Mr Potter said, sternly. James looked about to argue, but Dumbledore stepped in for him.
“If you wouldn’t mind, Fleamont, I think it best that the boys hear this. It will be all over the papers tomorrow anyway.”
Mr Potter looked at his wife, then nodded. The small party sat down in the large living room, waiting for Gully to come in with the tea. It was a very odd scene; Christmas cards still glittering on the walls, tinsel sparkling along the picture rails, opened presents piled up under the tree - and Dumbledore, still looking uncharacteristically serious in midnight blue velvet robes. Sirius, James and Remus sat squashed up on one sofa, while Mr Potter remained standing, pacing the room.
“An attack, then?” He finally said, impatient.
“I’m afraid so. The Fraser family, in Newcastle.”
“Fraser? Never heard of them.”
“No. Mr and Mrs Fraser were both muggleborn. They had two children not yet old enough for Hogwarts, but as far as we know, showing signs of magical ability.”
Remus winced at the past tense. Mr Potter had clearly noticed this too, for he looked very pale and tired all of a sudden.
“All four of them?”
Mrs Potter looked like she was about to cry,
“Children!” She gasped. “Children!”
“And do we know for sure?” Mr Potter continued, anxiously, “We know it was… him?”
“Voldemort, yes. He left a mark.”
“It will be in the papers tomorrow, I imagine. The Daily Prophet was there before I was alerted.”
“But what does it mean? Who were the Frasers?”
“Mr Fraser worked for St Mungo’s,” Dumbledore explained, “He recently raised a petition with the ministry suggesting that healers receive training in muggle healing techniques - first aid, I believe he called it. This didn’t go down very well with certain factions, I’m sure you can imagine.”
“I think I remember Darius saying something,” Mr Potter nodded, leaning a hand on the mantelpiece thoughtfully, “But to kill!”
“It hasn’t been the first time,” Dumbledore said, darkly, “But it is the first time they have made themselves known. This mark that was left behind - it has been seen elsewhere. Some of the old families have adopted it; a kind of secret sign of their allegiance to Voldemort. Only not so secret, any more.”
“Which families?” Sirius said, suddenly, looking at Dumbledore. He was tense all over, Remus could feel it. Dumbledore looked at him kindly,
“There is so far nothing to link the Blacks to this attack.”
“So far.” Sirius repeated. “But you know they… they’re…”
“It doesn’t help anybody to jump to conclusions,” Dumbledore held up a hand, “The situation is grave, yes, but we must not lose our heads, or allow emotion to cloud our judgement. There are difficult times ahead, and we will all need each other to be vigilant.”
He said this directly to Sirius, and seemed to be speaking to James and Remus too. Remus felt an uncomfortable twisting in his abdomen - he didn’t understand everything, but he knew that some great responsibility had settled on their shoulders. One he wasn’t sure he could live up to.
“I’m not trying to frighten anyone,” Dumbledore continued, as if he had read Remus’s mind, “But nor do I wish to devalue the seriousness of today’s events. I am working quickly to gather support, a line of defence against Voldemort. I have already spoken to a number of trustworthy associates within the ministry - Fleamont, can I count on you?”
“Of course.” Mr Potter said at once, “Have you spoken to the Weasleys? The Prewetts? The Bones’s?”
Dumbledore nodded, smiling,
“All on my list, of course.”
“We can help!” James spoke up. Mrs Potter sucked in her breath, her eyes still very pink.
“Yeah!” Sirius said, eager to show himself equal to James. “You can depend on us, sir.”
Remus didn’t say anything, but he nodded along, hoping that Dumbledore knew that he too had chosen his side.
“I hope it won’t come to that.” Dumbledore was smiling, his forget-me-not blue eyes twinkling with emotion for his pupils. “But thank you, boys.”
“No!” Mrs Potter said, “They’re children, Dumbledore.”
“I’m of age in two years!” Sirius said, straightening up, asserting his position as the eldest marauder. “And we’re the best in the year at defensive spells!”
“And hexes,” James put in, then quickly shut up, seeing the look his mother shot him.
Dumbledore chuckled, softly.
“Indeed.” He said, “Your mother is quite right, however. All I ask is that you are on your guard, and that you look after each other. Now, I must be going, I have other calls to make. Fleamont,” Dumbledore stood up and shook Mr Potter’s hand, “I will be in touch. Euphemia,” he turned to Mrs Potter apologetically, “Merry Christmas. I’m afraid I won’t be attending your party, tonight.”
“We may as well cancel it,” Mrs Potter rubbed her arms, as if the room had turned cold, “It seems disrespectful.”
“Enjoy your holiday, boys - Remus, Madam Pomfrey will meet you at the Three Broomsticks’ floo stop on Sunday morning.”
Remus nodded, obediently, and with that, Dumbledore vanished with a loud *CRACK*.