It was supposed to be just the three of them this year. Not that there had been anything wrong with Abernathy. He had been all right in a middle-class sort of way. Nice to look at, too, though Sirius Black knew better than to say such things aloud about one's roommates. But Abernathy's father had been transferred to America by his company the previous spring, so this year, it was just going to be Sirius and his friends James Potter and Peter Pettigrew sharing a room, which would have been ace.
Sirius eyed the case lying on the vacant fourth bed beside the window with displeasure. It was scuffed, but had at one time been of decent quality. Of its owner, there was, as yet, no sign.
"What d'you think he'll be like?" wondered Peter, staring at the case as if it might tell him something about their new roommate.
James shrugged, disinterested. "Up himself." That was James's opinion of most of the boys who attended St Godric's boarding school.
"I thought it was just going to be the three of us," grumbled Sirius, subsiding onto his bed. "What are they playing at, putting someone new in our room?"
"Think they should've consulted you first, do you, Black?" laughed James. "Your parents' money may go a long way, but I doubt it's enough to stop the school filling vacancies. I've heard tell they like other people's money, too."
"Why's he starting now?" Sirius complained. "We're already two months in. He'll be well behind."
"Must've transferred," said James. "Like Abernathy. His father probably got a new job."
Sirius's eyes narrowed. "You think he's foreign?" There was no other reason he could think of for a new boy to transfer in the middle of the year. Boarding school meant that it didn't really matter where in the country one's family lived.
"Could be," said James, as if he did not care one way or another. He took out his maths text and opened it.
"I heard he was in some kind of trouble at his old school," said Peter.
Sirius sat up. "What kind of trouble?"
Peter shook his head. "Dunno. Fighting or something. I overheard McGonagall and Flitwick talking about it when I walked past the staff room earlier. They shut up when they saw me, though."
That might make things interesting, Sirius thought.
James and Sirius were widely considered to be the biggest troublemakers at St Godric's, but their family connections kept the teachers from making too much of a fuss. James's parents considered their son's behaviour to be nothing more than youthful high spirits, and while Sirius received a sharp note of reprimand from home every now and then, he knew that for the most part his parents would rather ignore him than deal with him. However, James and Sirius's troublemaking usually took the form of pranks and clownish behaviour. If the new boy was a bully, then they might have to pound on him a little, just to show him where he fell in the order of things.
"What exactly did McGonagall and Flitwick -?" Sirius started to ask, but was interrupted by the opening of the dormitory door.
The new boy in the doorway froze, caught in the crosshairs of three pairs of narrowed eyes, assessing, judging. He did not look like a bully, Sirius thought, which probably meant that he had been the one picked on at his old school. He was possibly a hair taller than James, but he was skinny and pale and rather sickly-looking, with honey-brown hair falling into large, wary brown eyes. His burgundy school blazer and navy blue trousers looked secondhand. Sirius wondered how he could afford St Godric's, and whether his poverty had been the catalyst for the bullying that had caused his transfer.
The boy dropped his eyes to the floor and moved across the room to the bed bearing his case.
"What's your name?" asked James sharply, getting up. A stranger entering their room unasked and without a proper introduction had no right to his usual friendly manner.
"Lupin," mumbled the boy, not looking up. "Remus Lupin."
James approached the boy, who was fiddling with the latch on his case. "I'm James Potter," he informed him. "That's Peter Pettigrew, down the other end, and this is my best mate, Sirius Black."
"Nice meeting you." The pale boy still did not raise his eyes.
James was quiet for a moment, considering the stranger. Then he said, voice rippling with challenge, "Black's queer. That's not going to be a problem for you, is it?"
Lupin glanced up at James, startled, before shifting a less readable look to Sirius, who scowled. He didn't make a secret of his preferences, exactly, but he felt that it was his place to tell, not James's, even if James was the unspoken leader.
The wary brown eyes fixed on Sirius for only a moment before dropping back to the open case. "No. No problem. So long as he keeps his hands to himself."
Sirius woke up shivering. For once, it was not a nightmare that had awakened him. The room was dark and the flimsy privacy curtain that hung between his bed and Lupin's was drawn closed, but from the flutter of it, Sirius could tell that the window was open.
"Shut the bloody window, Lupin!" he hissed into the darkness. "It's October, for god's sake!"
There was no answer. After a moment, Sirius got up, cursing as his bare feet touched the cold floor, and stamped over to shut the window himself. He got back into bed, muttering under his breath about inconsiderate tossers, burrowed under the blankets, and tried to go back to sleep.
Lupin was a swot. Sirius had reached this conclusion long before the end of the new boy's first week at St Godric's. He made no attempt to talk to or get to know his roommates, and all his time that wasn't taken up with classes, meals, or sleep, was spent in the tiny, private study cubicle he had been assigned, or lying on his bed with his nose in one of his schoolbooks. He wasn't even behind in his classes, as Sirius had thought. He rarely raised his hand, but when called upon, gave correct answers in the same flat, quiet voice with which he had introduced himself.
Sirius was annoyed. He and James frequently engaged in friendly competition to see who could get the best marks in their year - usually without half trying - and he didn't like the idea of a swotty stranger beating them both, just because he had nothing better to do with his time than study.
Lupin persisted in falling asleep with the window open every single night. He seemed to think that, just because it happened to be next to his bed, it was up to him whether the damn thing was closed or not. Sirius had complained loudly and repeatedly, but Lupin had ignored him, and every night, Sirius awoke to cold and darkness and an increasingly bad temper. Peter had begun to lay a fire in their small hearth in the evenings, but it was down at his and James's end of the long room. Once or twice, Sirius had almost considered curling up on the hearth rug like a dog to sleep. He wondered if Lupin would continue in his stubborn refusal to see reason until a winter chill carried them all off. If this was how Lupin normally behaved, then it was no wonder if he had been beaten regularly at his old school. Sirius felt rather like punching the quiet boy himself.
The tension in the dorm room reached a breaking point on the Saturday following Lupin's first week at the school.
"Halloween next weekend," James said that afternoon.
He had spoken casually, but Sirius grinned. The last weekend in October was traditionally one of three weekends of the academic year when a social was held between the boys of St Godric's and the girls of their sister school, St Helga's, in the next town. Sirius's best friend was keenly interested in girls. Or one girl, anyway.
"Going to try to get off with Evans again?" he teased.
"Almost got off with her last time, didn't I?" said James. "She's probably gagging for it by now."
"Sure," Sirius snorted. "If getting slapped counts as 'almost getting off'. You're lucky you're not banned from going this year, mate."
"No need to take that tone just because you won't be getting off with anyone, Black," said James with wounded dignity.
Sirius smirked. "I was thinking of asking Pettigrew or Lupin to accompany me, but it didn't seem fair, having to choose between them, so I think I'll just go stag."
He caught Lupin's eye where the other boy was lounging on the next bed, reading. Lupin quickly looked back down at his English text.
"Don't think I'll be going."
"You should, Lupin!" Peter enthused. "There'll be girls and dancing. I'm going to ask Maddy Yaxley to dance with me."
James grinned at him. "You say that every time. I'll believe it when I see it. You should come, though, Lupin. It's a good time, and I know a bloke who can fix us up with some liquor."
Lupin just shook his head.
James shrugged and turned back to Peter. "Let's make a bet, Pettigrew. If you get off with Yaxley before I get off with Evans, I'll write your next English essay for you. But if I get off with Evans first, you have to sleep with my rugby shorts under your pillow for a week."
"I already got off with Maddy," Peter complained, making a face. "At the choir meet. She took me into an empty practice room, and -"
"You're not going to tell that old story again?" groaned Sirius. "Pettigrew claims he almost got a shag once," he explained to Lupin. "But since he's too scared to speak to the bird he says it happened with, Potter and I aren't buying it." He turned back to James. "I'll take your bet. I could use one less essay. If I get off with any of the blokes there before you get off with Evans, I win."
"Not going to happen," James said flatly. "After last time, McGonagall will have her eye on you. If you even look twice at anyone, she'll march you out of there straight away."
"Last time, he snogged Dorian Gaveston," Peter volunteered
Lupin gave Sirius a skeptical look. "And he didn't punch you?"
"Nah; he was into it," grinned Sirius. "Though of course he claimed afterwards that he was just too shocked to move. You'd be surprised how many blokes at this school I've gotten off with."
James snorted. "He thinks it's his good looks and boyish charm, but I'm betting they're banking on getting favours or money out of him later on. His family are loaded."
Sirius rolled his eyes.
"Who've you snogged beside Gaveston?" asked Peter. "You've never said."
"A gentleman does not kiss and tell," said Sirius, smiling mysteriously.
That got another snort from James. "Since when are you a gentleman in anything more than name, Black?"
Sirius threw his pillow at him. "What about you, Lupin? Done much snogging?"
"I'd say that's none of your business," said Lupin, turning back to his English text.
"What's this?" Sirius pressed his hands theatrically to his heart. "Sweet sixteen and never been kissed, is that how it is, Lupin?"
Lupin glanced up at him, and something indecipherable moved in the depths of his eyes. "Leave it, Black," he said very softly, his face flushed.
The edge in his voice caused the laughter to die on Sirius's lips, but James and Peter hadn't heard.
"Is that why you left your last school, Lupin?" James teased. "Did they give you a hard time because you've never gotten off with anyone? Don't worry; we can help you get your dick wet. There are lots of easy girls at St Helga's. I'll draw you up a list. I'll bet Yaxley would do you before she'd do Pettigrew. At least you're taller than she -"
Lupin, who had been growing steadily redder as James spoke, jerked himself upright and stood, teeth clenched, eyes flashing fire. The other three boys stared at him. For a moment it looked as if he might throw himself across Sirius's bed and attack James.
"Shut up," he hissed. "I'm not going to your poncy social, all right?"
"Lupin," Sirius said softly, moving to stand between the new boy and his best friend.
Very slowly, Lupin's moved from James, still sitting on his bed, to Peter, blue eyes wide, mouth hanging open, to Sirius, standing in front of him, fists clenched. Sirius wouldn't hit him if he didn't have to; it wasn't his style. But that didn't mean he'd hesitate if it looked like Lupin was going to make him do it.
"You know what?" said Lupin. "Fuck all of you." He turned on his heel and stormed out the door, slamming it shut behind him.
Sirius, James and Peter stared at one another in bewilderment.
Lupin did not return until after lights out. Sirius considered pretending to be asleep as the other boy crept through the darkened dormitory, but when Lupin stubbed his toes on his case and swore breathlessly, Sirius sat up.
"How'd you get past Filch?" he whispered. The doorman was legendarily strict about students being out of their beds after hours.
"Told him I had to go see the matron," Lupin mumbled. He yanked the privacy curtain across, signaling an end to the conversation.
When Sirius awoke on Sunday morning, Lupin wasn't there. As he, James, and Peter entered the dining hall for breakfast, he thought he caught sight of Lupin leaving, which suited Sirius. He had had to get up again in the night to close the window, and was not feeling very charitable towards his new roommate. Lupin did not reappear all that day, though Sirius looked for him in chapel, at lunch, and then again at supper. He returned only just before lights out and drew the curtain without speaking to any of them.
That night, Sirius decided he was not going to wake to chilly fingers and frozen toes. He lay awake until it sounded as if Lupin's breathing had evened out into sleep, then he got out of bed and tiptoed over to the window.
His hand was on the sash when a quiet voice said, "Don't. Please."
"I'm getting tired of freezing my bloody bollocks off every night, Lupin."
Lupin sat up, tugging at his bedclothes. "Here," he said. "Take my blanket if you're cold. I just need it open, all right?"
"You'll freeze," said Sirius, but he was already reaching for the woolen blanket.
"I'll be fine," Lupin assured him. "I'm used to it."
Sirius hesitated before turning back to his own bed. "Thanks," he said awkwardly. "I sort of figured you hated us."
Lupin shook his head. "I save my hate for things that matter."
This cryptic statement left Sirius as sleepless as half a dozen open windows. What did Lupin think didn't matter? His roommates? Or just what they had said? Something had clearly gotten to him the day before; there could be little doubt about that. For the first time, Lupin's quietness struck Sirius as secretive and mysterious. He resolved to keep an eye on the new boy.
Sleeplessness was beginning to take its toll on Sirius. He hadn't slept properly a single night since Lupin had arrived at the school. His weariness and short temper caused his better judgment to desert him when Professor Flitwick, the Maths master, reprimanded him for inattention in class. Sirius responded with a snide remark, and Flitwick, unamused, summoned him up to his desk at the end of the lesson.
"I won't abide unruliness in my classroom, Mr Black," he said grimly. "You need to keep yourself in better order. Don't think that just because your parents are who they are that you are exempt from all discipline. You will treat your professors with the proper respect, or a letter will be sent home. You will also shine your shoes and report to the matron after supper this evening for a haircut."
Sirius blanched. He rather enjoyed how long his hair was getting, knowing that it would infuriate his parents over the winter holidays to the point that they might even speak to him about it.
"Sir," he began. "I apologise. I know there's no excuse -"
"Be that as it may, Mr Black, the school dress code is clear on the matter of appropriate hair length for students. Haircut. End of discussion."
Sirius spent the rest of the day in an even more foul mood than before. He had only ever had one haircut from Madam Pomfrey, the school matron, in his second year, and she had done a truly appalling job of it. James and Peter had mocked him mercilessly for weeks until it grew back. How could he show himself at the autumn social looking like a poorly-groomed hedgehog? There were no blind boys at St Godric's for him to get off with. James would win their bet for a certainty - a distasteful thought, even though he and Sirius had agreed to alter the terms to exclude James's smelly rugby shorts.
After supper that night, Sirius dragged his feet to the infirmary. "Professor Flitwick says I'm to have a haircut, Ma'am," he mumbled when Madam Pomfrey asked him his business.
"Tcha. As if I don't have enough to do!" she said impatiently. "Sit down, then."
Sirius sat, feeling dismal, as Pomfrey retrieved a blunt pair of shears from a drawer.
"Hold still," she instructed. "We'll try to get this over with as quickly as possible."
That's what I'm afraid of, Sirius thought glumly, and closed his eyes.
For a moment, he heard nothing but the snick, snick of the shears performing their butchery on his wavy black locks, and then a soft voice said, "Oh. Sorry."
Sirius groaned inwardly. He wasn't even back at his dormitory yet, and already he would have to suffer the humiliation of being seen by one of his school fellows. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes. Remus Lupin stood in the doorway, looking uncertain.
"They're just there on the counter, Mr Lupin," the matron said briskly, nodding in the direction of a small paper cup. "Take them, and be off with you."
Lupin's eyes dropped to the floor as he mumbled something that might have been thanks and picked up the cup, turning to go.
"Not so fast!" ordered the matron. "You'll take them where I can see you."
Lupin hesitated only a moment before bringing the cup to his mouth and tilting his head back. He swallowed visibly.
"There's a good lad." Pomfrey nodded, approving. "All right, I'm finished with you, Mr Black. You boys had best be getting back to your room."
Sirius did not dare to glance in the mirror that hung on the infirmary wall. He hurried out the door after Lupin.
"What does she have you taking?" he asked when he had caught up with the other boy just past the chapel.
"Nothing," said Lupin. He brought his hand up to his mouth and spit out two round, white pills, made a face, and flung them away into the gathering dusk.
"What were -?" began Sirius.
"Forget it," said Lupin, the edge of steel back in his voice for the first time since he had shouted at James. He turned away. "I need to go to the library before curfew."
He hurried off, leaving Sirius to stare after him, more puzzled than ever.