Sirius, the Dog Star…Ursa major, the Great Bear…Orion, the Hunter. His father's quiet voice, strong arms holding him warm and safe, the taste of hot chocolate, feeling very small beneath the stretch of sky above him. A full moon, and a story about Andy…Enny…Endymion in love with the Moon…
Remus Lupin woke with a gasp.
"Finally! Go back to sleep, would you?"
Another voice echoed the sentiment with a grunt.
His breathing slowed as his eyes adjusted to the cold light pouring through the tall, narrow window and draping his bed. Remus shuddered at its touch.
It was his third night at Hogwarts, and he was in his dorm. The voice had come from the right of his bed - Black, then. The grunt must have been Potter. "Sorry," he replied quietly and burrowed his cheek back into his pillow.
The fourth night was the full moon. Tonight. After classes, after dinner, but before the library closed, tonight would be the full moon.
Remus tried to relax and slip back into sleep, but he was unable to now he was awake. He rolled over to lie on his back and watched his dorm mates burrow and turn under their blankets, heard the changes in their soft breathing as they fell asleep again. He smelled the scent of warm bodies and dark ink and dusty parchment; tasted stone and sweat and recent tears in the air.
He continued to watch as the light from the nearly full moon crept farther across his bed, then touched his sleeping dorm mates. He relaxed only when the light was swallowed by the dawn.
Later, he silently arose when his dorm mates woke, ignored their sleepy glares, dressed, gathered his books, and followed the rest of the Gryffindors down to the Great Hall of Hogwarts for breakfast.
The burning was nearly unbearable by Potions.
Remus needed all of his concentration just to remain still. He stared at his blank parchment while Professor Slughorn talked about aconite, a plant that Remus knew he couldn't touch, a plant that smelled sharp like nightshade and green like the grass in his field and suddenly his legs ached to run…
He clenched his fists and felt his fingernails break through the skin covering his palms, a rush of relief accompanying the small pain. The smell of blood made his mouth water.
If he were at home, he would be out in the field now. Mum would charm his furry mittens and hat to fly through the air, and he would chase them, a fierce eager hunger burning in his chest as he leapt and grabbed, trying to capture them before they could escape from his reach. Her wand movements would be delicate and maddeningly distracting, movements that made him want to crouch and spring and pull the wand out of the air with his teeth, surrounded by clouds of frozen panting breath…
Around him, the other students were packing up their books. Class had ended, then. Remus picked up his quill and inkpot, wincing when he saw that he'd smeared a little blood on his parchment, which by rights should have been filled with careful notes about potions. He'd have to ask Mum to Evanesco it…He froze.
Mum wasn't here. It was just him, now.
"You look strange."
He started, his heart racing.
"I'm OK," he said, his voice already hoarse with the change. He glanced at the pale, dark-haired boy who had spoken.
Black was one of his dorm mates, the one who preened and strutted and smelled vaguely of dark things and had sat at the Gryffindor table with a stunned expression when Remus had finished with the Sorting Hat and had gone over to sit by him.
Black got a Howler the day after the Sorting, yelling at him for being sorted into Gryffindor. Remus had never heard a Howler before and after hearing Black's, he never wanted to hear one again.
"You look like you're running a fever," Black insisted.
"I'm OK!" Remus took a deep breath and tried to find the calm space that Mum had practised with him after Headmaster Dumbledore had personally brought him his Hogwarts letter. "I just need something to eat, that's all."
Black waited for him to gather his books, then started talking again as they left the Potions classroom. "Madam Pomfrey can heal anything, it sounds like. I heard one of the older boys telling how she fixed his arm when a Bludger broke it during a Quidditch game last year."
Remus shrugged. "I'm sure she's very good," he replied. Mum had told him that it would be best if he stayed calm and polite while he was at Hogwarts, though she had smiled and added that he was always her sweet-tempered boy and she loved him very much…He couldn't, wouldn't let her down, he fiercely promised himself.
Black snorted. "Very good? I bet she has all the latest in modern potions! 'Only the best,' my mother always…" his voice trailed away. He seemed to hunch for a moment, as if in pain, but recovered and started walking with a poker-straight back, nose in the air. "'Only the best for the Blacks,' she says. 'Even that Muggle-loving fool of a Headmaster can't ruin Hogwarts.'" Black's voice was high and nasal, and he spoke with exaggerated upper-class diction. Then he stopped strutting and grinned, but Remus could see that he clutched his hands so tight that his knuckles were white. "What rubbish. Still, I bet Pomfrey knows what she's doing. She wouldn't be at Hogwarts, otherwise."
Remus nodded and made a non-committal noise. Black seemed satisfied and started to tell Remus a rumour about a "completely insane, honestly, that's what everyone says!" professor who used to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts a couple of years ago. Black gradually relaxed as he embellished the story with improbable occurrences. Remus let the words wash over him until they reached their dorm.
One of his other two dorm mates was already there. The fat wet boy - whenever Remus was around Pettigrew, he could only smell snot and tears. Pettigrew glanced up to watch Remus and Black walk in, then hunched back down over his trunk, watching them from the corner of his eyes.
Remus heard footsteps and he looked toward the door. Potter, his last dorm mate, strode into the room as if he owned it, his dark hair even more tousled than normal. He nodded to Remus and Black as he walked past them, then threw his book bag on the bed by the window overlooking the Quidditch pitch.
"Potions doesn't seem to be that difficult," he observed as he sat on his bed and draped himself against his headboard. "Slughorn has been teaching it for donkey's years, according to my dad, but he still seems to have all his wits about him. Did you see how he skewered that slimy dark Slytherin boy? Snape, I think he called him."
"Yeah, it's Snape. Completely wet, and Dark to boot." Black flung himself dramatically onto his bed; his book bag dropped on the floor with a thud. "Lupin's sick!" he announced.
Pettigrew's eyes grew big and he shrank away from Remus, his lower lip trembling. "Don't come near me! I don't want to get sick, too!" He scurried around to the other side of his bed, as far from Remus as possible.
Remus sighed. "I'm not sick. I just need to eat something." He placed his book bag neatly in the middle of his bed and carefully hid a wave of nausea at the thought of food.
Potter pushed his glasses up on his nose and looked at Remus critically. "Black's right, you know. Lupin, you look dreadful."
"I'm all right. Just leave me alone!"
Remus saw the other three boys exchange glances and tried to control his annoyance. He couldn't lose his temper, not today. "Really. I'm fine." He opened his book bag and began to take out the things he'd need for studying. If he took them with him to the infirmary, maybe he'd be able to read a little in the morning.
Black rolled over on his stomach, and Potter walked over to sit on the bed next to him. Remus could feel their eyes on him.
"Bit of a swot, aren't you?" Black asked casually. Potter leaned forward, elbows on his knees, rubbing his hands slowly together.
Remus froze. His heart started beating harder. He forced himself to continue sorting his books, hearing rustles as the other boys shifted on the bed across from him. "That's what we're here for, isn't it?"
Black and Potter exchanged glances. "Well, that, and other things," Potter said.
Remus looked up warily. "What other things?"
"Pretty much whatever we come up with," replied Black.
"Only our imaginations limit us," Potter intoned. Black grinned and bit his lower lip. They both looked at Remus expectantly. Even Pettigrew seemed interested in what Remus might say.
Remus looked from one to the other. "I suppose that you both have pretty active imaginations."
"Yeah." Black looked at Potter again, then back at Remus. "The thing is, neither of us is really interested in research."
"I see." Remus looked down at his books. "So you need someone who is, is that it?"
"See, Potter!" Black slapped Potter's thigh. "I told you he'd be perfect! So, are you in?" he asked Remus.
Remus weighed his options. If he said yes and spent too much time with anyone, especially his dorm mates, it would only be a matter of time before they discovered his secret. If he said no, his life would most likely become one long torment, judging from the avid gazes trained on him, and chances were that his secret would be revealed even more quickly.
He'd known that he'd have to be careful when the Headmaster said he could come to Hogwarts, though. He tried to be casual and shrugged one shoulder as he chose the lesser of the risks.
"Great! Since it's Friday, we can get started tonight. Potter has this brilliant way to get us into the library after hours…"
Remus stiffened and responded automatically. "I can't tonight."
"Why not? You didn't believe all that rot about failing Binns' class if you don't read the text, did you?" Black asked incredulously.
"Well, I plan to read the chapters at some point this weekend, yes. But tonight, I've…well, I've got to go to the infirmary. The matron is helping me with something."
"So you are sick!" Pettigrew sniffed, then sniffed again, harder. "I knew it! You've already made me sick, too, haven't you!" He coughed half-heartedly, and looked around at the other boys as if to gauge their reactions.
"I'm not sick! At least, not with the kind you can catch." Remus ignored the voice in his head that whispered, yes, you are. "I just have a…asthma."
"You do sound a bit hoarse." Potter frowned. "Don't they have potions to deal with that?"
"I'm allergic to some of the ingredients." Remus stuck to the story that Dumbledore and his mum had told him to tell, but it didn't stop him becoming more and more alarmed as the questioning continued. "Just drop it, will you? I'm fine. I just have to spend the night in the infirmary every once in a while. The Headmaster knows about it, and he said it was OK."
Black sat up and stared, a calculating look in his eyes. "You're not just sick, are you."
Remus' heart skipped a beat.
"What do you mean?" Potter's voice sounded sharp and suspicious.
"Just drop it, OK? I'll help you out with your pranks, don't worry. Just not tonight."
Again, the other three boys exchanged looks, this time speculatively.
Remus began to tremble, his alarm turning to true panic. He'd known it, known that the Headmaster's promises had been too good to be true. Only three days at Hogwarts, and his secret was already out. He abruptly sat on his bed as his legs refused to hold him. Staring at the floor, he listened to the other three boys stand up, walk over, surround him circling…
He waited, head bowed.
Black crouched in front of him, head tilted to the side as he tried to look at Remus' face. "I've seen this before."
Remus' eyes snapped up and locked with cool appraising grey.
"You've been cursed, haven't you?" Black sat down in front of Remus and crossed his legs, refusing to look away. "I've seen it before," he repeated. "There's always something in the eyes, though yours look pretty normal. Except that they're a bit yellow-y brown. In my family, we're bled as soon as we're born so that we can be covered by blood protections." His voice was matter-of-fact. "It's common practice amongst pure-bloods."
Potter sat on the floor next to him and looked curiously at Remus. "Not in my family," he said, "but then we're not Blacks, either. I've never seen someone who's cursed. Must be a Black thing."
Black ignored him. "Are you a half-blood?" Remus didn't answer, but Black nodded anyway. "I thought so. I don't know anyone called Lupin, so your dad must be Muggle. Which family is your mum from?"
"She's Ariadne Figg." Remus was proud that his voice didn't tremble.
Potter frowned and tapped his mouth just like Remus' mum did when she was thinking. "I've heard of the Figgs before, but I've never heard anything about them being Dark or important. So why would anybody curse you?"
"I've never met a half-blood before." Out of the corner of his eye, Remus saw Pettigrew crouch next to Potter, though he didn't sit down. "Maybe they're all cursed?" he offered timidly.
Black rolled his eyes. "What dungeon did you grow up in, Pettigrew? Half-bloods aren't all cursed." He looked back at Remus. "My guess is that she married a Muggle and some pure-blood got angry."
"Is that common amongst Blacks?" Potter asked scornfully. He pushed his glasses up his nose again.
"No, actually." An angry expression washed across Black's face. "If any Black tried to marry a Muggle, they'd both be dead before the vows were finished. Faster, if my mother had anything to do with it," he added bitterly. He looked at Potter defiantly. "I might be a Black, but that doesn't mean that I think like one, you know."
Potter looked thoughtfully at him for a moment, then nodded and shrugged. "OK."
The boys fell silent and looked at Remus. Remus wondered what they'd say about him next. He wished that they'd get to the point and either fight him or leave him alone. He watched them, and they stared back at him.
"So, what's the curse?" asked Pettigrew.
Black and Potter both whirled to stare at him. "Where did you learn your manners, Pettigrew?" Potter hissed. "You never ask someone about their curse! If it can't be lifted, it can't be lifted, and it's none of our business what he's living with!"
Black suddenly stood up and sat on the bed next to Remus. He frowned at Pettigrew. "Potter's right. Lupin's obviously OK. I vote that we keep his secret and help him out if we can."
"How do you know I'm OK?" Remus snapped, his nerves ragged. If he was going home, he didn't need to worry about staying calm. "How do you know that my curse isn't going to hurt you? That's what curses do, you know!"
Black looked at him and smiled. "Believe me, I've been around cursed people before. All of them ended up in Slytherin. You're in Gryffindor." Black shrugged and held out his hand. "You're already different from them. Hi, I'm Sirius."
Remus looked at Sirius' outstretched hand for a moment before looking up. "Why?"
Sirius pulled his hand back and started counting on his fingers. "You aren't a whiner. You don't act like a backbiting git like my brother. You're not acting crazy, which is fairly common behaviour in my family, believe me. You're cursed and trying to keep us from hanging around you, so you must be pretty decent. Besides," he added, "Dumbledore let you in. I reckon you have to be OK. So?" He extended his hand to Remus again.
Remus made his decision and took Sirius' hand. "Hi, Sirius. I'm Remus."
A blinding smile met his words, and Sirius pumped his hand. "Brilliant. Good to meet you!"
"And I'm James," Potter added, standing up and taking Remus' hand as Sirius released it. "To all of you," he added as he shook Remus' hand.
"Me, too, to all of you!" Sirius announced somewhat convolutedly and smirked. "I think this is gonna be good!"
Pettigrew hesitated, his eyes darting around at the other boys. Finally, he stood and offered his hand to Remus. "I'm Peter." Remus had barely touched his cold, sweaty palm before it was hurriedly withdrawn, and a nervous smile was offered in its place.
"Brilliant!" Sirius sprang to his feet, rubbing his hands. "I'm starved! Let's go down to dinner, it must be about time."
James took out his wand and cast a Tempus charm. He yelped. "We're late!"
"Fashionably so," Sirius said as they headed toward the door. He turned back to Remus. "Coming?"
Remus stood and followed them, his nausea diminished to almost nothing, thinking furiously as he examined his situation from every angle.
It seemed like he might actually have friends - at least until they found out about which curse he had.
Well, that was certainly unexpected, he thought and caught up with the other boys.
Remus put some carrots and potatoes on his plate so that nobody would notice that he was just eating the roast, all the bloodiest slices he could find without being too obvious about it. When he finished, he pushed the vegetables around his plate to make it look like he'd actually eaten some of them.
He turned in his seat. Professor McGonagall was standing behind him, looking at him through her reading glasses. "You are to report to the infirmary now."
He nodded. "Thank you, Professor. I'm just going." He slid off the bench and stood.
"Do you want us to come with you?" James placed his knife and fork neatly on his plate and elbowed Sirius, who looked up.
Remus shook his head. "No, thanks, I'd rather go alone. I'll see you…well, if not tomorrow, I'll be back by Sunday."
James nodded and Sirius said, "Later." Peter glanced toward James and Sirius and then looked back at Remus and gave him a weak little smile.
Remus nodded back at them. "Later." He reluctantly started toward the Hospital Wing.
It was easier to find than he'd thought it would be. Remus paused and took a deep breath before he pushed one of the heavy doors leading into the infirmary open. A woman in long black robes and an old-fashioned nurse's wimple looked up as he entered.
"There you are, Mr Lupin. Splendid. Very punctual." She bustled over and patted his shoulder briskly. "Now, you just wait here for a moment while I gather a few things." She disappeared into a small room just off the hospital ward.
Remus looked around, his nose wrinkling at the smell of potions that must have been recently used. The room was huge and made him feel vaguely uneasy, open as it was with no sense of cover or privacy. On either side of an open aisle pristine white beds ran the length of the room, small tables between them. The air was unnaturally warm. He shivered and looked up at the fading light falling from the tall, narrow windows.
Remus could feel the moon already. His skin itched, and he couldn't help fidgeting as he waited. He figured it was about an hour, maybe less, until the moon rose.
The authoritative click of boots against stone alerted him, and he held himself still. The woman was walking toward him, a stern yet concerned look on her face. She carried a lantern, and a thick blanket was draped over her arm.
"Now then, I shall introduce myself first. I am Madam Pomfrey, the matron here at Hogwarts. I know that Professor Dumbledore has already spoken with you and your mother, but I would like to make sure that we both have the same understanding.
"On the nights with a full moon, you shall report to me here at least an hour before moonrise. If I am busy with a patient, I shall notify Professor Dumbledore and ask him to meet you here in my stead. We will keep your secret, don't worry," she added more gently, and Remus knew that his face had betrayed his fear. "Now, please follow me."
She set out across the ward and exited the Hospital Wing, Remus hurrying to keep up with her. She walked a few steps down the corridor, then paused in front of a tapestry, took out a wand, and uttered a spell in a low voice. The tapestry faded away, a heavy stone door in its place. She tapped the lantern and said "Lumos," then pushed the stone door.
It opened silently, a current of cold, damp air eddying from the opening. Remus could see the beginning of a flight of stairs leading down into darkness, and he shivered. Madam Pomfrey didn't hesitate, however, and started down the stairs. Following her, Remus shivered again as the heavy stone door closed silently behind them, the light from the lantern harsh against the dark. He paused.
Mum never locked him into the cellar any more. She always secured him where he could see the moon and smell fresh air. She said that he didn't hurt himself as badly when she did that. The hair on the back of his neck prickled as he fought his instinct, run escape break free…
He said nothing and bit back his panic. He wasn't the wolf yet. He could control this.
Remus followed Madam Pomfrey.
Fear made the journey a blur of stone stairs and rocky Scottish moor, a tree with branches like whips - "Professor Dumbledore planted it specially to protect the route to your transformation space, Mr Lupin" - and a long, long tunnel.
Remus feared it would lead to a cellar where he would be chained and locked in until the moon set. He braced himself to face whatever restraints they required. He would not show his fear, just gratitude. This was what allowed him to attend Hogwarts, after all.
His mouth was dry and his heart beat hard, nonetheless.
Suddenly, they emerged into what looked like a basement. Along the opposite wall, a set of rickety wooden stairs led upwards. Madam Pomfrey swept up them unchecked; Remus wondered if she was also aware of how close the moon was as he followed her up the steps.
Two flights of stairs, and the steps ended at a dark corridor. They followed the hall until they reached a room.
Madam Pomfrey gestured for Remus to enter, then followed him in. A quiet word lit lamps set high on the rough-hewn wooden walls.
Remus looked around. There was a canopied bed, similar to the one in his dorm. Madame Pomfrey laid the blanket on it and turned back to him. He knew that she was watching him, but he continued to look around the room, feeling more and more alarmed. There were windows, though they were boarded over, and a large fireplace. Dust covered the floor, revealing the tracks of small animals criss-crossing its expanse.
Remus shook his head and felt his heart race. He turned around and around, but there was nothing else. He couldn't help it - his nose filled and his eyes burned with tears.
It was all wrong! Didn't they know it was all wrong?
"What is it, child?"
Remus gestured helplessly. "Where's my cage?! Where are the shackles?! This won't hold me! I'll get out, I'll end up hurting someone…" He spun around, desperate to find his restraints.
"Hush, Mr Lupin." Remus turned to her, choking on his tears. She looked…scared, but very sad. Would he end up hurting her first? Would he end up…He couldn't even think it.
Remus sobbed once, a dry, desperate sound.
Madam Pomfrey continued in soothing tones. "There is no cage, and you won't be shackled. Professor Dumbledore has made this house impenetrable - you won't be able to get out, and no one else can come in. You have nothing to fear. When I leave, the tunnel will seal behind me and will not open until the moon has set. The students will be safe, but more importantly, so will you. Now, there's not much time." She pointed her wand at the fireplace, and a flame leapt up. "What else do you need?"
Remus swallowed back his tears until he gained control over his voice. "You aren't lying? This is really safe?"
She nodded. "It's truly safe."
He rubbed his eyes and looked around again, assessing his situation. It looked as if he would have more room to move than he ever remembered having before. "You'll need to put out the fire," he murmured. "And the lights. I don't think that I like the light."
The fire died, as did the lamps on the walls, until the only light came from Madam Pomfrey's lantern.
Remus turned and looked at her directly. "You should take out anything that you want kept nice, please." He looked toward the bed and looked back. "I…I tear things up a lot."
"This is your place, Mr Lupin." Madam Pomfrey's voice was nearly as quiet as his. "Don't be concerned about any of the furnishings. They're here for you, and you alone."
He dropped his eyes and nodded, overwhelmed. "Well, I suppose I should get ready." He walked over to the bed and slid out of his school robes. Remus carefully took off the rest of his clothes, folded them piece by piece, and laid them in a neat pile on the bed.
Once naked, he picked up the pile of clothing and walked over to hand it to Madam Pomfrey. "Could you please keep these for me? Otherwise I'll just tear them up." He dropped his eyes and blushed when she took them from him without a word but with a kind look that made him feel like maybe, just maybe, this could really work.
Then he felt a familiar shiver start at the top of his scalp and travel down his spine. He looked up with urgency. "Please - you need to go, now. It's going to start in just a few minutes."
Madam Pomfrey nodded. "I'll be back for you when the moon sets," she said, then turned and walked out the door, leaving him in darkness. He watched the light of the lantern recede along the hallway and down the stairs, where it finally disappeared; he listened to her walking away until the dirt of the basement muffled her steps completely.
Remus wrapped his arms around his body and shivered again. There was almost too much room; he wasn't sure what to do without the familiar confines of his cage to curl up in. Instead, he walked back to the bed, the dust soft under his bare feet. He climbed on top of it, scooting to the middle of the mattress and sitting with his knees to his chest, hugging himself tightly.
The shiver became almost constant.
Moments later, he felt the first stretch and creak of his bones shifting an instant before the pain struck. Then he was changing.
He woke up not knowing where he was, other than being in a soft bed with white blankets, cool sheets and a deep, soothing pillow. Bright light hurt his eyes, and he squinted against it, aching deep in every part of his body and feeling ill.
Shaking, he lifted his covers. Someone had dressed him in an old-fashioned nightshirt. He pulled it up to take stock of this moon's injuries.
Remus ran a hand over a bandage around his left thigh and could see some scratches down both legs. It felt like he might have hurt his ribs again, because it was hard to catch his breath.
He sighed in relief: he couldn't remember the last time he'd had so few cuts and bites and bruises. He pulled the nightshirt down again and relaxed back into his pillow.
"Oh, Albus, the poor bairn…" Remus started and sat up; he hadn't realised anyone was near. He looked around, but other than an empty chair next to his bed, he was alone. Curtains surrounded him, letting in light, but no shadows.
"… I went in to get him this morning, and the damage…" He recognised Madam Pomfrey's voice. She spoke softly, but Remus heard her all the same. "… in every room …"
Remus closed his eyes, mortified. He'd tried to tell her. The wolf didn't like human things, and they always ended up destroyed. He'd probably left the room in a shambles.
Well, that was it, then. One moon and they'd seen the truth. He destroyed things. They'd think he'd destroy people, maybe even other students, next. They'd send him home now.
Heartbroken, he tried to reconcile himself to leaving Hogwarts.
A deeper voice was speaking. "…he was six. It is distressing, Poppy, but he is a remarkable child and has proven his courage and perseverance time and again. He will recover from these injuries, as he has recovered from all of his previous injuries."
"Well, he should be waking soon. I'll take care of him from here. Thank you for stopping by, Albus."
Soft footsteps faded toward the door and the click of Madam Pomfrey's boots against stone faded as she walked away. Almost immediately, though, he heard the sound of the boots returning.
Remus frantically tried to think of a way to make her go away. He lay back down and closed his eyes.
The curtains were pushed aside. "It's no use pretending to be asleep, Mr Lupin. It won't stop me from giving you this."
She probably had an expulsion letter. Remus reluctantly opened his eyes.
A cup full of bubbling purple liquid was being held out to him. He took it.
"Drink it down." Remus sipped and grimaced. He looked at Madam Pomfrey helplessly. "Don't give me those big eyes. You drink every last drop. It helps if you do it all at once," she advised.
Remus gulped the contents of the cup as fast as he could and handed it back quickly as his stomach threatened to throw everything back up. He wiped his arm across his mouth. After a moment, he was surprised to find that he didn't ache so much any more. His eyelids started to feel heavy.
"Get some more sleep. You'll feel better when you wake up."
She turned to go, but Remus whispered, "Please!"
Madam Pomfrey turned around. "You're a quiet one, aren't…?" She stopped and seemed to reconsider her words. "I'm sorry," she said. "You're probably a bit hoarse, I would imagine. What can I do for you?"
"Am I … are you …?" He took a deep breath. "I was just wondering when Mum will come for me."
"Why would your mother be coming for you?" Madam Pomfrey sounded mystified. "Aren't we taking enough care of you?"
"No! I … you've been very kind." Remus flushed, wishing he could just hide under his covers. "I just … Are you expelling me?"
"Expelling!" She looked shocked. "My goodness, of course not, Mr Lupin! Why would you think that we would do such a thing?"
"Well, I probably ripped up everything in the room, didn't I? I don't mean to, but I … well," he said, miserable, "… I always wreck things. I'm sorry. You can put me in a cage the next time, then I shouldn't cause so much damage," he offered.
"Mr Lupin." Madam Pomfrey flicked her wand at the chair, and it slid over to her. She sat down. "What did I tell you about your space?"
"I know," he whispered. "But I heard you telling the Headmaster that the damage was in every room."
She looked confused, then her face cleared. "I believe that you misheard me. The damage that I was speaking of was to you. Your injuries."
"Oh." Remus relaxed. "Well, that's OK. I mean, actually it wasn't so bad this time. I think not being in a cage helped."
He saw Madam Pomfrey blink rapidly several times and reach her hand toward him, but suddenly he felt so sleepy…
Remus woke much later, alarmed and on edge, to the smell of dark things and snot and the sweet brown scent of chocolate frogs. He could hear breathing, but though lamplight from the room beyond made the curtains glow and a partially open dark lantern shone on the table next to his bed, he could see nobody.
"Who's there?" he whispered.
A rustling sound, and then as if a curtain had been opened across thin air, his three dorm mates appeared by his bed.
"Whoa." Remus was impressed. He pushed himself up against the pillows. "How did you do that?"
"James has an invisibility cloak," Sirius said as he climbed onto Remus' bed. James followed, and Peter sat in the chair. "Here. James' parents sent a whole bushel of 'em." Several chocolate frogs were pushed toward Remus.
"Thanks," he said. Surprised, he realised that he was a bit hungry, so he peeled the wrapper from one of the frogs and neatly caught it as it tried to leap off the bed. He absently ate it as he looked at the card. "Herpo the Foul. Ancient Greek, dates unknown. First known creator of the basilisk."
"Oh, can I have that?" Peter leaned forward. "I don't have him, yet."
"Sure." Remus passed the card to Peter, then politely offered chocolate frogs to everyone.
Formalities observed, the other three boys looked expectantly at Remus.
James pushed up his glasses, smearing a bit of chocolate on his nose. "So? How was it?"
"Must have been bad. You can barely talk." Sirius stuffed a frog into his mouth, whole. "'N' y'r 'ill in 'ed."
"I'll be able to leave in the morning," Remus said. He unwrapped another frog, more slowly this time. "It must be dinner time. What are you doing here?"
"Way past, actually." Sirius licked his fingers exuberantly. "'Most midnight, in fact."
Remus glanced at the curtains and looked back. "Madam Pomfrey will probably be back soon. Won't you get in trouble?"
"Only if we're caught," Sirius said happily. "But we won't be. We've got James' cloak."
"Sirius and I have it all planned out," James said, dangling his feet and kicking the air decisively. "We reckon that we can come and keep you company when you have to stay here. Nobody'll know. And it must get awfully boring in here by yourself."
Remus froze. "Look, please promise me you won't try to visit me on the nights I come here. I…it's…"
Sirius leaned forward eagerly. "Too ugly? Too gross? Do your eyeballs leak blood? Do you spew maggots and blow rivers of snot from your nose?"
Remus sat with his mouth open. He noticed that James and Peter looked as disgusted and impressed as he felt.
He finally found his voice. "Too personal. Please, just promise me that. You can come visit me the day after, but just don't try to visit me that night."
"You'll let us, someday," Sirius replied, seemingly confident that he could wear Remus down over time.
"Maybe," Remus temporised. It was better to seem like he was going along with things now. Maybe if the other boys got used to his…his 'sick days'…they'd get bored and leave him alone. Meanwhile, he would ask Madam Pomfrey to set really strong wards on the Hospital Wing those nights. He changed the subject. "Are the things you just said real curses?"
Sirius nodded. "Occulus Cruento was the eye thing, Vermis Expulsum for the maggots, and the last one was the Snot-Nose Curse."
"Where do you learn all of this?" James demanded, a horrified yet fascinated expression still on his face.
Sirius shrugged, but Remus could see him tense, his hands clutching the blankets tightly. "My cousin Bella studies 'em, studies all curses, I mean. She talks about 'em all the time. Collects 'em like other people collect Chocolate Frog cards or Quidditch programmes. She says a lot of curses are timed, like some happen at a certain age, others at a certain time of year, others when stars are aligned…she says it's all to do with the nature of the curse and the way it's cast. I've never heard of an asthma curse before, but it sounds pretty bad." He looked down at the floor.
"Living with a curse must be a drag," James observed, rubbing sticky hands on his robes.
Remus wasn't sure quite what to say to that. "Yeah, well…at least it's not all the time."
"I bet you're an only child." Sirius looked up again, a bit subdued. His cool grey eyes assessed Remus. "That, or the oldest. Bella says they're the most likely to get cursed."
"It's just me. Me and my mum, now."
"Too bad your mum's family didn't have more influence. But half of the Figgs are Squibs, aren't they?" James leaned back on his elbows.
"My mum isn't a Squib. She came to Hogwarts, too."
"Did you know your dad?"
Sirius and James shot disgusted looks at Peter, but didn't reprimand him. Remus hugged himself and tried to sound matter-of-fact. "Yeah, but he … died when I was little."
"Too bad," James said.
"I don't know," Sirius replied, an edge to his voice. "My dad is a right old bastard. I won't be all that unhappy to see him go."
"Your dad." James sat up. "He isn't Orion Black, is he?"
"Yeah, that's him."
"My dad says that he's a right nutter. How'd you get into Gryffindor, then?"
"Dunno. The Hat muttered a bit, then put me here." Sirius crumpled a discarded Chocolate Frog wrapper in his hand. He grinned, but Remus thought it looked at bit forced. "What d'you think the Howler was for, anyway? Well rid of 'em, if you ask me. I like it here."
Remus grinned and caught his eye. "Me, too."
Sirius relaxed. They shared smiles.
"Rum luck, mate." James shook his head, then looked around. "We'd better get going now. Pomfrey'll stop by soon. Grab the frog wrappers." He slid off the bed and pulled a shimmery cloth from his pocket. Sirius and Peter went over to him, stuffing wrappers in their pockets.
"Later," Sirius said. Remus watched as James draped the cloth over the three of them and they disappeared. The curtain moved, and they were gone.
Remus lay back down.
He couldn't believe it, but maybe, just maybe, he could keep his secret hidden now that Black - Sirius, he corrected himself - had offered such a convenient explanation for his lycanthropy.
An asthma curse. He snorted in quiet amusement. He'd have to ask the Headmaster or Madam Pomfrey if there was such a thing, and what its name was, just in case anyone else tried to learn his secret.
He closed his eyes. First moon down.