Notes: There is some use of Welsh; I did not provide translations because it is explained within context. All Welsh mythology is genuine in source, and only slightly twisted to suit my plot purposes. I was at some times rather free with JK Rowling's explantion of the pre-Harry world.
Disclaimer: The lovely and talented JK Rowling so far surpasses me that I hesitate to post; but one cannot help but imagine.
‘You’re it,’ Bran said, slapping Anwir soundly on the back and dancing a few steps away. Anwir grinned, and lunged forward, catching his younger brother by his shirt sleeve.
‘Am not.’ Anwir had the sense to put some real distance between them, and put his hands on his hips. ‘Bran, come on. Chase me.’
‘Not fair,’ the boy whined, but obeyed, his thin little arms pumping as he ran. Anwir, taller by two inches and older by three years, quickly gained a substantial lead. He heard Bran calling out behind him, but ignored it; they were safe in this part of the woods.
The sunlight was wan and without warmth today. It was only early autumn, but even in the countryside they were feeling the cold encroaching more quickly than usual. Anwir was nine, and old enough to remember better years. The summer of 1971 had been particularly bad. Anwir had done what he could to keep little Bran from noticing the chill that had begun to stem from their parents-- mostly by keeping him outside, playing at innocent games in the nearby woods. Their parents barely noticed their absence.
It was approaching supper time when Bran began to slow down, tiring of their games and becoming sullen. Anwir dropped back to sit with him beneath an old oak, and offered the apple he’d been keeping inside his jumper. The six year old was noticeably more perky after he tossed away the core, and together they began to slowly make the trek back to their house.
It was the whining that caught Anwir’s attention. Bran stopped when he did, and took his brother’s hand. ‘Let’s go look,’ Anwir said.
‘Let’s not. I’m hungry.’
But the older boy had already taken a step toward the low keen. ‘It’s an animal. Maybe it’s hurt.’
‘Mam said not to touch strange animals,’ Bran retorted mulishly. ‘’Nwir!’ He stumbled into a run to catch up as Anwir bounded off through the prickly bush. ‘Oy!’
Anwir slowed only when he found the source of the whimpers. It was hard to see in the deepening dusk, but the large lump of slowly shifting fur was most definitely an animal. ‘Bran, look,’ he called softly. He took a step forward, moving around a fallen branch. ‘It’s in pain...’
Bran panted behind him, his small, fair head lowered in anxiety. ‘Don’t get too close.’
‘It can’t harm us. Look, it can barely move.’ Anwir was close enough to see the eyes now, wide and unblinking in the long and dog-like face. He held out a hand. ‘It’s all right, bachgen. Hold still.’
‘It’s a wolf!’ Anwir knelt, and carefully ran his hand over the stiff, bristly fur on the animal’s flank. The head turned to watch him, and the rib cage shivered in a quick inhalation, but it lay still. ‘I didn’t know there were any wolves in Wales.’
‘I want to go home.’ Bran tugged on Anwir’s shoulder. ‘Please.’
‘We can’t just leave him here. There’s no blood... maybe he’s sick.’ Forgetting to be wary, Anwir glanced up. It was nearly night now, but the moon was full and its light was especially strong. ‘He’s too big to carry. Maybe we could–‘
Bran’s shriek hadn’t registered before the warm body beneath his hand twisted, and the wolf attacked him. Teeth sank into his arm, but what he felt was the pressure, the incredible crushing pressure of a fully grown wolf’s powerful jaws. He knew his arm was broken in the split second it took for the wolf to bowl him over, and then the teeth were in his throat. And it happened so fast. The pressure again, and he knew he was dead. Something thick and liquid was in his mouth and his nose and his lungs, he was choking. He tried to call out to his brother, but nothing emerged. Bran. Bran, run.
The wolf was off him then, and it was quiet, except for the sounds of his own wet breaths. He was sobbing, and it hurt. He rolled onto his stomach and tried to spit it out, the stuff stopping him from breathing, but there was so so much of it.
Anwir tried to stand, but dizziness overwhelmed him, and he fell back to one knee. His eyes burned, his throat– he wrapped a hand over his throat, so sticky and dripping– he forced himself to move, gagging on his own blood.
He couldn’t hear Bran anymore. The wolf was back.
It circled him once, sniffed at him. Anwir shook with something, didn’t know if the wet on his face was tears or something else. He was cold now. He hugged his arm to his chest, his hand to his throat. He was going to die.
The howl was the last thing he heard.
1973 : The First Day
‘Potter, you better hurry, or the train might actually leave without you this year!’
James waved to the black-haired boy hanging out the window. ‘I’ll be in!’ He turned back to his parents, and accepted the bagged lunch his mother tearfully offered. ‘It’s going to be just fine, Mum,’ he comforted her, quickly hugging her. ‘I’ll write as soon as I get there. And I promise to eat a big dinner and not too many sweets on the train. And Sirius and I will stay out of trouble.’
‘I just worry, Jamie.’ She smoothed his hair and smiled a quavering smile.
‘It’s my third year! It’s all downhill from here.’
‘Potter! Come on, already!’
His mother received a kiss, his father an embrace, and James was off, letting out a whoop as he leapt from the platform to the train. ‘See you Christmas!’ he yelled, and waved as the train shifted into movement.
Sirius, suddenly tall but still brown as ever, was there with a huge bear hug as James rolled his trunk into the same compartment they’d ridden in every year. Then, they’d been timid, shy with each other and afraid of mis-stepping. Not this year. They had a reputation to uphold. Within minutes they were sprawled on the seats among every-flavour beans and Muggle magazines featuring women not wearing as much as decent women ought to, and it was as if summer separation had never happened. James couldn’t help but beam. It was good to be going back to Hogwarts.
‘Think we can get the same dorm?’ Sirius compared the card from his chocolate frog to his existing collection. ‘I think I left some stuff behind that loose brick.’
‘I wouldn’t be surprised.’ James reluctantly decided not to test the odd greyish bean, and put it back in the box.
‘Let’s try to meet with Elliott and Nigel before the feast. We want to have good roommates.’
Their door opened, surprising them into straighter postures. A boy stood there, his face blank as he registered that the compartment was occupied. He sighed, and mumbled something that passed as an apology.
‘Hey,’ James called after him, rising and jumping to the door. ‘Come back! We’ve got room!’
‘Jamie,’ Sirius hissed.
‘Well, we do,’ the taller boy bit back. ‘Come on in. Let me help you with that.’ He grabbed the handle of the boy’s cauldron, waving away the boy’s clutching hands, and set it on the bench beside Sirius. ‘I’m James Potter, and this is Sirius Black. What’s your name? Are you new?’
‘Remus Lupin.’ The boy was smaller than either of them– a first year. He had not moved from the doorway. Despite the exceptional warmth of the lingering summer season, Remus Lupin wore a high turtleneck, and curled his fingers around the hems of the long sleeves that covered his hands. His light hair had the look of a fresh cutting; it stuck out oddly on the right side.
‘Sit down.’ James demonstrated by flopping on his bench. ‘We’re in Gryffindor. Where d’you reckon you’ll be sorted?’ He smiled encouragingly.
Remus slowly sat. ‘My mother and father are both Ravenclaw,’ he said. ‘They say I will be, too.’
‘Ravenclaw,’ Sirius repeated dubiously.
Remus nodded, his mouth moving in a not-quite smile. He didn’t seem thrilled.
‘Well, not always,’ James said, shooting a look at Sirius. ‘There’re these two brothers, Irish they are, and they’re different as night and day and one’s in Hufflepuff and the other’s Gryffindor, like us. So maybe there’s hope. You don’t want to be in Ravenclaw?’
‘Well... not especially, I guess.’ He looked up. ‘It just sounds like it might be more... fun... somewhere else.’
‘Well, you haven’t done too bad for being only half a foot in,’ James grinned. ‘Anyway, you’re ahead of the others, you’ve already got friends. You’ve got us. We’ll look out for you; won’t we, Sirius?’ Remus looked as if he could use some friends, and James had always said his friendship was free to anyone who needed it.
Sirius did not reply. He seemed absorbed in his magazine.
James lifted a shoulder, as if to say “What can you do?” ‘So, tell me. D’you like Quidditch?’
‘I guess so,’ Remus said. A little colour finally infused his face as he sat forward. ‘I mean, I look forward to the school competition. My uncle is a big fan and he said the school teams are excellent now.’
‘They sure are!’ James thumped his chest. ‘I’m Seeker for Gryffindor. We beat Ravenclaw last year, and they were the best for years and years running!’
‘You’re Seeker? That’s really cool. Do you have your own broom?’
James sighed. ‘Not yet. But I’m saving up for it! I did some work this summer for my pop, and I earn the odd bit here and there during the school year.’ He winked.
Remus took the bait, not hearing Sirius’s sceptical snort. ‘How? I mean, I didn’t know that they offered jobs during school.’
‘Not “jobs,” exactly,’ James deadpanned. ‘Y’see... You have to know where to look, and know who needs what and how to get it. Nothing underhanded or evil,’ he hastened to assure the younger boy. The look of incredulity on the kid’s face was too tempting. ‘But it doesn’t hurt. I could cut you in on it, if you like. All you need is a spirit of adventure.’
‘And a streak of insanity in your family,’ Sirius added, finally joining the conversation. ‘I’d stay away if you don’t want to be constantly up in the Headmaster’s office. The last one was pretty rough. Dumbledore’s all right. He’s strict, but he enjoys a good prank as much as any bloke.’
Whatever spark had started in Remus died at the mention of the new Headmaster. Surprised, James stared at him.
‘Well,’ he said slowly. ‘Tell us about yourself. Where you from?’
‘Monmouth,’ was the subdued reply.
‘That’s Wales, yeah?’ James nudged the boy’s leg. ‘I’ve a cousin up there. He says it’s a great place. Keeps trying to get me out there.’
‘It’s all right.’
‘Say something in Welsh,’ Sirius suddenly commanded. His eyes were impossible to read as he stared at the younger boy.
Remus turned red. ‘I–‘
James saved him, by throwing a box of every-flavours at Sirius. ‘Don’t be a bigot.’ He tried to give his best friend a long look of warning. Sometimes Sirius was absolutely insupportable. ‘There’s plenty of Welsh at Hogwarts. In Gryffindor, for that matter, and obviously Ravenclaw too.’
‘It was an honest curiosity,’ Sirius grumbled. He picked beans out of his lap. He did not look away from Remus, who was looking anywhere but back.
‘What’s your family? Do you have sibs at Hogwarts? I don’t remember, what’s your name again? Loopy?’ James dispelled the tension by drawing the attention back to himself. There would be time later to bring Sirius to task.
‘Lupin. It’s just me.’ Remus hunched his shoulders. ‘I had a brother. He– won’t come.’
James passed the rest of the time discussing which classes Remus would have, which teachers to avoid, which pranks had made the two older boys famous; which boys were friendly and which girls were okay, which prefects to obey and which rules were meant to be broken. Remus was an eager student for his wisdom, and even responded with enthusiasm at times. Sirius added a comment once or twice, as if he felt compelled to set the record straight, but kept mostly silent, unhappy with the intruder in their train.
‘First years go across the lake,’ James said finally. ‘You’d better get your robe on. All other years go all the way to the castle, so we have some extra time.’
Remus obeyed, standing and taking out a thick woolen robe from his cauldron. ‘What’s the Sorting like?’
‘You’ll see, you’ll see,’ James grinned.
‘Don’t want to spoil it your first time through,’ Sirius added reluctantly. ‘It’s really something.’
‘Did you know you would be a Gryffindor, Sirius?’
Sirius suddenly grinned. ‘Of course I did. You can always tell a Gryffindor.’
Remus lost his smile. James kicked at Sirius, frowning deeply in reproval. Sirius made a face, but was forestalled from saying anything by the train slowing to a halt.
‘This is it, then,’ James said. ‘Want help with that?’ He reached again for the boy’s cauldron.
‘No. I’ve got it.’ Remus held it close to him, his hands wrapped so tightly around the handle that his knuckles turned white. ‘Thanks for everything.’ He turned grey eyes up to James, and it wasn’t hard to see the uneasiness in them.
James laid a fatherly hand on the boy’s shoulder. ‘Listen, don’t be nervous about the Sorting. Or what House you get. You’ve already made friends, haven’t you? And you are who you are– the Hat’ll know where you really belong, family or no.’
He received a tremulous smile, and then Remus was gone as quietly as he’d come in.
James flopped back to his seat. ‘You were rude,’ he accused Sirius.
‘I was fine. I just didn’t see why you had to invite him in here. We haven’t seen each other all summer and you go and spend the whole time coddling him.’
‘He’s needy. He’ll be attached t’your hip all year and I’ll be tripping over him.’
James shrugged equably. ‘Peace. Anyway, maybe he’ll make Gryffindor. Wouldn’t be half bad, and just think. He’d be the perfect straight man. No professor could look at that face and put him in detention.’
Sirius snorted and buried his face in an article.
‘You just don’t like change.’
Professor Asper greeted them at the train, looking dour and pale as usual. He herded them along with flicking hands and a narrow-eyed squint. ‘Hurry up, then. We’re all hungry. The sooner we get in, the sooner we can eat.’
‘How do the first years look, Professor?’ James called.
‘Wet and scared,’ Asper retorted. ‘Same as you did two benighted years ago.’
‘Hope he didn’t fall in,’ James muttered to Sirius.
Remus Lupin might as well have, judging by the condition of his robe as he trailed in, the last of the first years by several metres. James waved from the Gryffindor table, but Remus didn’t see him. The boy seemed entranced by the magical ceiling; he barely spared a glance for the rest of the hall.
Asper held out the hat, and began to call out names. James nudged Sirius as little Amy Babcock was announced Hufflepuff– she was the youngest daughter of his mother’s best friend from her Hogwarts’ days. Sirius cheered for the three boys and two girls who were declared Gryffindor all in a row. Then:
James let out a cheer, and waved again. This time Remus seemed to see him, and James thought he saw a small and tired smile as the boy climbed the stool, and accepted the hat.
‘He’ll make Gryffindor,’ James muttered to Sirius. ‘Look at him. Brave as a beaver.’
Remus looked stricken as he slipped off the stool and handed the hat to the next boy. Sirius’s eyebrows were nearly in his hairline; James did not cheer this time. He watched as Remus was greeted by his housemates. It was a long minute before he collected himself enough to flash a thumbs-up.
‘It’s not his fault,’ he told Sirius, trying to sound firm. ‘He is what he is.’
‘And he’s a Slytherin.’
‘So? It’s Ravenclaw we have to worry about. Maybe this is better.’
‘Just because Ravenclaw is the hottest competition for the cup doesn’t mean we want to be fraternizing with Slytherins, Jamie!’
‘Leave off him. There are nice Slytherins.’
‘I’m sure there are nice trolls, too, but you don’t defend them.’
Not for first time, James wished Sirius didn’t feel the need to be so sarcastic when he was right.
At the head of the hall, Professor Dumbledore was standing. He waved for quiet, and began his address.
‘It is a new year,’ he said. His voice was fuzzy and warm, and he was smiling. His long hair, auburn with streaks of grey, was curled around a finger as he spoke. ‘And though we are not new friends, there is a new situation at hand...’
‘Is that Malfoy he’s sitting next to?’ James worried.
‘Give him up for good, if it is.’ Sirius elbowed James’s ribcage. ‘Little Missy Malfoy’ll waste no time badmouthing us.’
‘Well, there really was no call to switch his shampoo for dye. That green was putrid.’
‘I can’t help it if he’s got a natural proclivity for sliminess.’
‘Let the feast begin,’ called Dumbledore, and then the noise of hundreds of students clamouring for food drowned out their conversation.
It was a good year to be Slytherin. The Hat had sorted more new years into their House than any other this term, and it might mean good things in terms of the Championship. It smarted Lucius Malfoy that Slytherin had achieved last place his own first year. He wasn’t destined to be a loser; the House needed some fresh blood. Crabbe and Goyle, looking greasy and particularly stupid as they watched the Sorting without interest, filled Lucius with disgust. Scientific proof of the dangers of inbreeding. Even the eldest of wizarding families turned out a few genetic disasters per century.
Lucius listened closely to the names of each new student. He noted who was sorted where, and was pleased to note that most of the Mudbloods ended in other houses. Those few who made Slytherin would be ostracized.
Lupin– old money. Fallen on lean times by all accounts. Welsh– one couldn’t have everything. Lucius called to mind the face of a thin, spaniel-nosed man; rare attendee of his own father’s parties, but he knew the face from the old Hogwarts yearbooks his parents had made him memorise. The newest scion was lucky enough to have inherited his mother’s looks, apparently, though he had the old man’s sad eyes. Lucius cheered with reserved dignity as Lupin joined them– weren’t his parents Ravenclaw? Not so bad as Hufflepuff or, God forbid it, Gryffindor stock– and shoved Goyle far enough away for the skinny first year to sit beside him.
‘I’m Lucius Darling Malfoy,’ he announced, and held out his hand. ‘Welcome to Slytherin.’
‘Hallo,’ was the subdued reply. Lupin’s palm rested in his for less than three seconds before it disappeared into the folds of his robe. He looked a bit piqued. Lucius wasted no more time with him, for the moment– the Sorting wasn’t through yet and his father would be expecting a report. Unfortunately, Slytherin gained no more real treasures. They had a Lestrange– all of them shifty-eyed peasants– and a Nott. The last to their side was the youngest Snape, who looked at no one as he joined the table and ignored the rest of the proceedings.
‘Let the feast begin,’ called Dumbledore, and then the noise of hundreds of students clamouring for food drowned out his head count.
‘Well, eat something,’ Lucius ordered Lupin, who made no move to. Irritated, Lucius took the boy’s plate and filled it, smacking Crabbe’s hand away from the choicest pieces of meat and the largest dumpling. He dropped the plate before Lupin, who jumped as gravy splashed over the edge. ‘What’s wrong with you?’
Lupin picked up his fork. ‘I’m fine.’ He speared a cutlet, but seemed to turn green around the gills. He turned abruptly to Lucius, who was making short work of his own plateful. ‘There’s been a mistake,’ he said urgently.
‘A mishtake?’ Lucius swallowed.
‘I’m not supposed to be in Slytherin!’
Lucius thumped his own silverware against the edge of the table. ‘Not supposed to be in Slytherin? What are you on about?’
Lupin grabbed his arm. ‘Please. There has to be someone who can– do something about this. I’m not supposed to be Slytherin. I’m– I’m Ravenclaw, or something. This can’t possibly be right.’
The older boy peeled off the clutching fingers one by one. ‘Look,’ he said, trying to make his voice sound kind, and mostly failing. ‘The Hat is never wrong. Obviously you’re a Slytherin, though if you’re going to be a whiner I might considering going to the Headmaster myself. What’s your glitch?’
But Lupin had gotten the message, and Lucius didn’t wait for an answer in any case. What was wrong with parents these days? Couldn’t raise a child with a proper spine. And not supposed to be Slytherin! As if he weren’t damn lucky.
Lucius spent the rest of the feast re-acquainting himself with the rest of his House, and establishing a few tentative alliances that would get him through the first few weeks, until he knew better the lay of the land. He took the time to thoroughly chat up Beatrix Snape, who was ignoring her own brother and concentrating on showing off her liberation from braces. Lucius had to admit to himself that her smile wasn’t so nauseating anymore, though in his flattery he was much more generous. Perhaps she wouldn’t be a spinster after all. And Alfred Halfstaff had been promised a spot on the Slytherin Quidditch team this term, and had used the summer to grow his ego nearly large enough for a second personality. Lucius added a few harmless compliments and hinted that the Malfoy funds might be persuaded to invest in team brooms.
And then the feast was largely over, and there were massive yawns from the elder years who were busy trying to look jaded and unimpressed with the proceedings, and a fever-pitch of excited chatter from the first years who could barely contain themselves. Beatrix, who was sure to be the most annoying Prefect in the history of Hogwarts, gave nasal instructions to form a queue. The vicious jostling for best position that followed was as fun as always. Lucius earned first place, with Goyle backing him up and rudely shoving other contenders out of the way. He held his head high as he followed Beatrix, and didn’t look back as he left the Hall.
‘I’m Severus,’ said a voice softly in his ear.
Remus, who was trying desperately to learn a few landmarks, gave himself up for lost and turned. ‘Remus,’ he replied, and pressed the hand that was offered to him. ‘Are you a first year?’
‘Yes.’ Severus was much taller than him, but the advantages ended there. He was very homely, with what might be politely described as an unfortunate nose and an even more unfortunate hair style. Uninspired black hair hung in a straight curtain right down to his eyebrows and appeared to have been cut with a bowl. His eyes were black and squinted, even behind the thick lenses that seemed to magnify them to twice their normal size. He had big feet.
Remus hung back deliberately from the rest of the queue, and Severus fell into step with him. They were several levels down, now– the stairs had left him out of breath, and his chest ached, though they had not hurried. The Prefect seemed to be more engaged in giving a tour of Slytherin memorabilia than in getting them straight to their rooms. He didn’t know if it were his imagination, but with each stair case traversed it seemed to grow colder. Slytherin lived in the old dungeons, his mother had told him once. Far away from the sun. From everyone else in Hogwarts. He felt like the walls were closing in on him already and prayed, despondently, for a window.
Slytherin. It was like a punishment. Dumbledore had said nothing about putting him in Slytherin.
‘Severus?’ he asked, hating the squeak in his voice. ‘What– what did the Hat s-say to you?’
Light reflecting of the thick glasses prevented him from seeing the taller boy’s eyes as they turned toward him. ‘What do you mean?’
Remus rubbed his arms through the wool of his robe, suppressing a few shivers. ‘Did it– say something? Anything? During the Sorting?’
‘It said it remembered my sister.’ Severus hesitated. ‘It... it also said... ‘ He glanced ahead, to make sure they were far from the others. He said, ‘It told me I could accomplish much in Slytherin. That it would help me find what I was looking for, being in that House.’ He fell silent, obviously thinking deeply on this. ‘I’m not entirely sure what that means yet,’ he added, with surprising candor. ‘Why do you ask? What did it say to you?’
Remus pretended not to have heard, and hurried to catch up with the others, who had finally reached a cold metal door that must be their destination. The Prefect was waiting, crossly, for them.
‘Now listen carefully, for I’m not saying it twice,’ she told them all sternly. ‘The password to get in is “The Haunted Wizard.” You can’t get in without it. Don’t repeat it to anyone, and don’t forget it. If you do, no one’s going to help you, got it?’
‘She’s full of it,’ a boy ahead of them whispered. ‘Beatrix got locked out a million times her first year. She’d still be standing here if we hadn’t made her write it on her hand.’ The group of Slytherins shuffled forward slowly, forced to enter the dungeon one by one, as Beatrix was standing like a guard gargoyle right in the way. Remus saw Lucius squeeze in with the huge boys he’d been sitting with at the table, and wondered suddenly who he would have to room with.
‘This is the common room,’ the Prefect announced. ‘You can study here or hang around, but don’t make a mess and don’t damage anything you can’t fix. No food in here, either.’
Remus caught sight of several cobwebs lining the low ceiling. The room was as pleasant as it could be made to be, which wasn’t saying much. There were new tapestries hanging on all the walls, and the mythical beasts all dying messily under the spears of Mugglish hunters stopped to growl at the students. There was blocky, heavy looking furniture: several sofas and ottomans, and tables with cheery tablecloths in bright green checkered patterns. There were several petrol ovens, all glowing softly and emitting welcome warmth. But the common room was still part of a dungeon, and only a barely disguised part at that. The ceiling was made of rusty metal, as the hidden walls must have been as well, and a smell of mould hung stickily in the air. Remus coughed into his sleeve, only barely resisting the urge to cry. Surely this was a mistake.
‘First room: Cherryh, MacEammon, and Fiddle,’ Beatrix decreed. She was moving briskly along, and stood pointing to the left with an absolutely rigid arm. ‘This, you will notice, is the girls’ side. If I catch any boys there, they will be strictly punished. Second room: Keene, Salvator, and Weismer. Third room: myself, Arachne, and Jindia.’
‘This is the worst part,’ Severus said to him. ‘The first night.’ His eyes were nervously roaming the room.
‘To the right is the boys’ side. If I catch any girls, you had better be able to give me a good reason. First room: Malfoy, Goyle, and Crabbe.’
Remus hoped for a wild instant that Malfoy might look back for him; but the blonde second year did not. It wouldn’t have been so bad to room with him.
‘Second room: Roth, Tollery, and Snape.’
No luck there, even. Severus cast him a disappointed look, and scuffed off with his head bowed. He met up with two older-looking boys, and together they disappeared down the hall.
Beatrix had been continuing during their departure, and Remus only came to himself when he heard his name. He was forced to raise his hand; burning in embarrassment, he asked, ‘Pardon, I didn’t he-hear– what room?’
The Prefect glared at him. ‘Fifth,’ she retorted. ‘Would you like me to walk you to it?’
He flushed. ‘No, ma’am.’
‘Get moving.’ She released him from her sights and made some show of forgetting him entirely. ‘Sixth room.’
Remus found the hallway already deserted, but could hear voices behind a few of the doors. He stopped at the one with a “5" emblazoned on a little plaque, and laid a hand on the cold metal. It swung open noiselessly at his touch.
The room had only one bed, and his trunk and cauldron sat at the end. There was an oven, already lit, and someone had thoughtfully turned down the comforter.
Remus returned to the common room, and nearly stumbled into Beatrix as she made to turn toward the girls’ side. ‘Wait!’ he exclaimed.
She looked down her nose at him, and he knew, miserable with the knowledge, what she saw when she looked at him: a snivelling, short little boy who cringed and kept his eyes on his feet. He wouldn’t have liked himself either.
‘I d-don’t seem to have any room mates,’ he choked.
‘What? Speak up.’
He raised his voice a costly fraction. ‘I don’t have any room mates.’
‘You would be Lupin.’ She gave a put-upon sigh. ‘Seems like *someone’s* parents pulled a few strings. What are you complaining for? Get to bed. Or at least let me get to mine.’
No room mates. Slytherin. Remus hated Hogwarts.
The room was far too large for just himself, and there was not a window. There were thick tapestries tacked onto the walls, worn a little thin in some places. Remus was thankful that at least there were no people in the weavings, for he would have found watchful eyes unbearable in the grimly silent space. A bird in the one over his bed ruffled its feathers and gave a sleepy squawk, but no other animals appeared. He unpacked his trunk and laid out all his books on the squat, much-used bureau, and found that his schedule had appeared taped to his mirror. Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts, History and–
And Potions. With Gryffindor.
James and Sirius. Remus caught his breath in a sudden fierce rush of gratitude.
But no. They were third years. He wouldn’t be seeing them after all. How much use would his “friends” be if he were never able to see them? *Why* couldn’t he have just been braver? Surely then the Hat would have placed him in Gryffindor...
But no. The Hat had said–
What did he care what the Hat had said? It was just a stupid piece of animated felt. Dumbledore would know what to do. There had to be something to do.
Remus laid on his bed, transfixed by the sight of a spider building a cobweb in a far corner, her work quite visible in the light of the stove. It kept him from crying. He wanted to go home so hopelessly that it was making him cough, and the last, buggered last thing he need was to make himself sick on his first night. He was concentrating so hard on not thinking that the knock startled him out of his wits.
He scrambled off the bed, tripping in the deep green pools of the velvet bed curtains, and grabbed for the lock. ‘Who is it?’ he called automatically; but he was already opening the door.
Severus stood on the other side, dressed in his pyjamas already and looking decidedly uncomfortable. ‘May I come in?’
As if he had to ask. Remus had already stepped aside. Severus took his welcome and went immediately to the stove as the other boy shut the door.
‘You don’t have room mates,’ Severus said, astonished.
‘I know,’ Remus replied miserably. ‘I don’t know why.’
The taller boy was regarding him thoughtfully. ‘You’re rich,’ he guessed. His tone became doubtful. ‘Old wizarding family. But you’d have to be. Not even Malfoy has his own room.’ He suddenly cracked a smile. ‘Though if he finds out you have one, he’ll be begging his daddy for a bigger and better one as soon as possible.’
Remus barely heard. The way Severus had said ‘Rich’-- a dark mix of suspicion and criticism– made him fear losing the only person in all of Slytherin who had spoken more than two nice words to him. ‘We were never that rich,’ he hurried to explain. ‘And it’s all gone now anyway.’ Between the crackpot cures and his parents’ crackpot investments, Remus had never even had new things until the trip to Diagon Alley.
Severus seemed to accept that. ‘My two– Tollery and Douglas– they’re fourth years. They were supposed to get someone else, I guess.’ He held his hands out to the stove, though the room was quite warm. ‘Sorry to be a bother,’ he added bitterly.
Remus tugged at his sleeves. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Who cares what they think.’ Severus turned. ‘I don’t need any coddling.’
Remus believed it. Severus had a dignity that gave him authority; a self-containedness that was unusual in an eleven-year-old boy. Though Remus did not know it, he had the same air; a shield against loneliness, and a certain mein of mystery. But it was enough for Remus that this boy seemed to– if not care for him, then at least not despise him.
‘What did the Hat say to you?’ Severus asked suddenly. ‘You never told me.’
He started. ‘The Hat?’
The other boy invited himself onto the bed, and leaned back against the headboard. Remus quickly climbed up with him, tucking his legs beneath him and grabbing his cardigan to wrap around himself.
‘The Hat. What did it say.’
Remus worried at his lower lip while he arranged the edge of the much-darned wool. ‘That I had all the qualities of a Slytherin.’ It wasn’t quite a lie, though it wasn’t the whole truth. “*Smart enough for Ravenclaw, loyal enough for Hufflepuff. Braver than you think, which as a package could make you Gryffindor. But you keep secrets too well, Remus Lupin, and I think we need to see where that will take you.*” And then, with a dry sort of compassion, the worst of it had come: “*Don’t be so disappointed.*”
A sudden coughing fit caught him out of his thoughts, and he stumbled from the bed to his cauldron, where he had a bottle of juice he’d bought at the train station. The lukewarm acid of it burned going down, but it settled the cough.
‘Are you sick?’ Severus asked in a very odd voice.
‘It’s just a leftover cold or something,’ he replied hoarsely. ‘Can’t seem to shake it.’
The other boy nodded. He was fiddling with the hem of his pyjamas.
Remus stood watching him. It occurred to him then that when Severus left, he would be locked up absolutely alone in this room, with nothing but iron and a sleeping tapestry bird for company, and that he was absolutely terrified of that. So he blurted, ‘You could stay in here if you like.’
The wash of relief over the boy’s face made Remus almost weak. Thank God.
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