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James did not return to the dorm, nor did he show up at classes all day. Sirius had to brave the scornful glares and curious whispers alone. He heard his name muttered wherever he went, but this time it was not in awe, not in gratitude, not in admiration…they spoke in hushed tones: it was fear and confusion driving their whispers. Sirius hunched over his work and tried to ignore it, but without James to distract him it was proving difficult, he only had Peter to talk to and, he found that after awhile this became extremely tedious, because as much as Peter liked a good prank, it was like talking to a wet blanket, Peter was only open to suggestion; no imagination of his own. With only a week before exams, he spent a lot of time helping Peter to study, writing down little hints to remember formulas and practicing charms and hexes, most of the time underneath the oak tree down by the lake: a stupid idea really, because that’s where the four of them had usually gone to study, only served as a bitter reminder without them. This particular routine continued for 3 days, Sirius saw neither hide nor hair of James or Remus and he could only assume that they were avoiding him. He knew they must be up in the Infirmary, because that’s what they had always done after full moon: stayed by Remus’s side until he had fully recovered. The first time Sirius had seen Remus after full moon was back in second year, and he didn’t admit it to anyone but James, but it had scared him to death seeing Remus looking pale and weak, his skin torn and bloodied from claws that Remus could not possibly possess, he hated seeing Remus look so ashamed, so scared that he would be rejected, but they had not, they had sworn to protect, to stand by him, to save him from the moon…and he had betrayed him. Maybe Moony’s really hurt this time. He shuddered to think about it, but he couldn’t help it, their absence from his life was incredibly noticeable…he didn’t have James to muck around with and he didn’t have Remus’s notes to copy off. One particularly lonely afternoon he had taken himself down to see Hagrid, desperate for some company other than Peter’s (Peter had almost had a pink fit when Sirius told him that he could study on his own). Hagrid was, as ever, warm and accommodating, looked down at the pitiful figure, hands stuffed in his pockets, eyes downcast, looking nothing like the 16 year old prankster he was, but rather a puppy that had been kicked repeately, Hagrid smiled broadly as he invited him in. “Yeh alrigh' Sirius?” he asked, pouring him a cup of tea. Sirius forced himself to smile, “Fine Hagrid,” he assured in a-would-be dismissive voice. Hagrid raised an eyebrow at him, (something difficult to see behind the masses of hair), “Yeh don’ look alrigh', you look like my mate Adrastos when he was told he lost a bet to Cardew Bronnen,” he chuckled. Sirius laughed emptily with him, taking another mouthful of tea, he sighed, figuring it was pointless to lie, “I suppose you’ve heard about…about, well I guess you would have heard what I did,” he said grimly, carefully avoiding Hagrid’s eyes. Hagrid stared at him over his mug, “I heard yeh played a rotten trick on Severus Snape, nearly got him killed.” Sirius laughed darkly into his own mug, nodding, “That all you heard?” “No, I know what yeh did to Remus, but I wanted to hear yeh say it out loud,” Hagrid said gruffly. Sirius grimaced, his hair slipping down into his eyes, “I didn’t mean to use him like that…he just…I just… I’m an idiot,” he mumbled apologetically. Hagrid laughed, “O’ course yeh are, yeh’re all idiots, bu’ yeh an’ James an’ Remus are mates, yeh’ll work it out, just give it some time,” “I don’t think it’s going to work that way,” Sirius said bitterly, “I’ve really fucked up this time, Remus shouldn’t have to forgive me,” Hagrid shrugged, “Maybe, but he will, cause he’s like tha’, friendly sort of bloke, never seen him angry,” he mused. Sirius slumped further into his chair, “And I gave him a reason…of all the shitty things that have happened to him, I get the honour of making him angry,” he groaned. “Jus’ give it time, Sirius, they’ll come around, James can’ live without his brother, yeh’ve only got half a brain between the two of yeh and yeh need it all to work on those pranks yeh play,” he laughed quietly to himself. A small grin flitted across Sirius’s face, his first smile for days, “Thanks Hagrid.” The next day Remus was released from the Madam Pomfrey’s anxious clutches, he was still heavily bandaged around his waist and still retained a few minor cuts on his face and arms, and she had been positively scary when she had entrusted his care to James. But he was out of there and that’s all that mattered. Well, almost all that mattered. Their first lesson back had been DADA and they had unfortunately been revising werewolves. Sirius sat hunched in the far back corner, shirking off any attempts from Peter to make conversation, insisting that he leave him alone so that he could study, people anxiously watched the interactions between James and Sirius, realizing from James’s actions Remus was somehow involved. Snape had also been given leave to attend classes, and Sirius watched his eyes flicker onto Remus’s back as their Professor wrote notes about werewolves on the board, Snape sneered with abject disgust and Sirius felt like he would quite like to grab Snape by his greasy roots and swing him out the window. He sighed and remembered that this was all his fault in the first place. Remus and James ignored Sirius blatantly and he obliged, figuring that he shouldn’t try to get in the way of Remus’s rightful indignation. Sirius wandered the halls, attended classes, ate in the Great Hall, alone, a mere ghost of his former self. Remus didn’t blame Peter, so in an instant he was back at James and Remus’s side, Sirius didn’t mind, solitude was becoming customary to him. They sometimes passed in the corridors, but Sirius would lower his gaze and move away, saying nothing, James glowering at him as he slouched away. After a particularly horrid Arithmancy lesson, one stifling Thursday afternoon (he couldn’t even answer the damn questions, cue more laughter and gossip directed at him), Sirius decided that he would skive off the rest of the day, dragging himself back up to the Gryffindor common room. He flopped down onto the lounge in front of the fireplace, loosening his tie and sighing deeply, he sat, eyes staring blankly at nothing in particular. “Accio Firewhisky,” he called dully, remembering that he still had a couple of bottles stashed away under his bed. He caught the flask in his hand, flipping off the lid and sipping it. He felt incredibly lonely, more lonely than he had ever felt at home when his mother had screamed at him, told him he was a traitor to her flesh, a parasite, a waste, a scourge and number of other vile names that she had called him, sometimes muttered beneath her breath, other times screeched, her voice echoing throughout the dark halls of his house so that he could not escape. But he had, he had escaped, he had gone to live with James, just as they had always planned, now he wasn’t sure if he even had a place to live, maybe Andromeda and her husband would take him in, maybe. Hopefully. Hr groaned loudly and hung his head, his attention was piqued by the sound of the portrait swinging open and two people entering, talking rather animatedly. Sirius looked over the back of the couch and was met by James, Remus and Peter, who upon seeing him, immediately stopped talking. Sirius observed with a pang of guilt that Remus still looked exhausted and weak, he had a fresh cut along the side of his face and his robes hung off him. He opened his mouth to speak, to apologise, but he couldn’t think of anything that could cover everything he was feeling right now. James apprehensively stepped a little closer to Remus, defiant in his posture, still seething with anger at his friend, still disappointed with him. Still trying not to love him like a brother. Peter’s eyes snapped from one to the other, watching the tense scene fearfully. Sirius stood up, stilling his queasy stomach, James and Remus made to walk past him, but they’d only got a few steps when Sirius finally spoke up. “Hit me,” he said quietly. They turned to him, “What?” “Hit me,” he repeated a little louder, taking a step forward, “I want you to hit me,” Remus shook his head, “You’re mad,” he said exasperatedly. Something resembling a smile twisted on Sirius’s faces, “Begging and pleading won’t do it, an eye for an eye, Moony, you got to take it by the pound,” he said, smacking his fist against his hand “You’re mad,” Remus repeated, but James saw the flask in his hand. “You’re drunk,” he said and Sirius laughed morosely. “Little bit,” he shrugged, taking another swig, “Doesn’t make me wrong. Hit me Moony, you’ll feel better,” he offered his arm to him, swaying slightly. The whole thing would have been funny if it wasn’t so disturbing, if Sirius wasn’t actually, well, serious. Remus shook his head, he was trembling slightly, his anger getting the better of him, “You mean you’ll feel better, that’s what this is about, you want me to alleviate your guilt and your suffering,” he snapped, his voice cold and hard , “I don’t want to forgive you, I don’t want you to feel better,” his fists were clenched now, his eyes clouded with fury, “I want you to fucking suffer,” he quietly, calmly, his hand gripping the railing on the stairs so as to hold him up. Sirius looked away from him, he nodded in grim acceptance and turned away, “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. Remus sighed and rolled his eyes, “You should be,” but this anger…this rage; Remus had always prided himself on being able to remove himself from the beast inside of him, feeling like he did now was too close to the effect that the full moon had on him. Sirius could not raise his eyes to meet Remus’s, “I am, God…I’d fucking grovel if I thought it would do me any good, I’m an idiot, a moron, coward, fool…anything you want to call me, I am,” Remus snorted, still not moving from the stairs, “I’m not disagreeing with you there,” James had taken a backseat to the whole drama, he stood behind Remus watching intently, he watched as Sirius swayed gently under the influence of too much drink, there was something mournfully pitiful about his posture, his expressions, he felt a twinge of guilt knowing that he had been in part responsible. I should have seen it, I should have seen it… “I didn’t think…I just acted, it was a stupid decision made in about a half a second, I just wanted to hurt Snape, wanted to get him back once and for all…I didn’t think about you,” he explained, his voice trailing to a whisper, “I didn’t think about you!” he reminded himself loudly, “God, I’m an idiot,” he muttered. “Yes, we’ve established that,” Remus said lightly, a faint smile on his face, Sirius let out a half sob, half laugh and he finally gained the courage to look up at Remus. “I’m sorry Moony, I really am, I’m a fucking twat and you should take me up on my offer…beat me senseless, or rather beat some sense into me,” he laughed sullenly. Remus sighed and took a few steps to where Sirius was standing, his head hung, flask in hand, “I’m not going to hit you, Padfoot,” he said softly, a calm reassuring smile on his face. Sirius snorted again, “You should,” “No, no, if I wanted revenge on you, I’d just kill you in your sleep,” he said pleasantly, Sirius barked out a laugh and flung his arms around Remus’s neck emphatically. Remus returned the hug, laughing to himself about what a gigantic idiot Sirius was, nothing but a big puppy dog, really, a big slightly intoxicated puppy dog Sirius caught sight of James over Remus’s shoulder, James’s expression was indiscernible, but, he thought grimly, James was unlikely to forgive as easily as Remus had…even though Remus had more right to be angry, Hagrid was right: it was not in his nature to hold a grudge. You don’t want to betray James’ trust, his loyalty. Sirius broke away from Remus, grinning impishly, “Sorry, you know I get emotional when I’ve had a few,” he slurred. “Just so long as you keep your distance when you start getting gropey,” Remus joked. “Too late!” Sirius laughed, throwing himself at Remus, overwhelmed with joy that he was actually speaking to him. James allowed a ghost of a smile to grace his features before it set back to its original stoic stance. Remus laughed heartily at Sirius, subtly clutching his side so that no one would notice that he was in pain. It was obvious to him that Sirius had been tortured enough without him knowing what the results of a few moments of stupidity had been. “You’ll want to be careful with him Padfoot, our boy’s…what’s the word Madam Pomfrey used? Oh yeah, ‘delicate’,” James said smoothly, light and laughter in his eyes. Remus and Sirius both stopped and turned to James, who dropped down the last couple of stairs with a joyful sort of spring in his step, confident cocky grin on his face again. Sirius was dumbstruck, he caught James’s eye and with a look said it all. “I’m not delicate!” Remus hissed, but he was smiling, “Take off your glasses and we’ll see who’s the first one to have an unfortunate accident,” he challenged. “So pale and thin, ickle Moony, come now, you should sit down before you do yourself some serious damage,” James teased. “Maybe you just don’t want to see Madam Pomfrey again so soon…I seem to recall you backed up against the wall when she asked you to take care of me,” Remus commented wryly. James laughed, “More like threatened, mate, I ‘ve a lot of respect for Poppy, she’s healed my bones countless time, ‘spect that she knows how to break every single one of them too,” he said soberly. “Wimp,” Remus said edgily, squaring off with James now, shy smile still on his face. “Delicate,” James elaborated the word, drawing it out for maximum affect, and his grin became wider still when he saw that Remus looked positively demented, “Sirius, give us a hand with Mr Lupin here, in his delicate condition it would be best if we carried him upstairs to bed with a nice cold compress,” Remus growled in a very werewolf like manner and launched himself at James, the two of them tumbled to the ground, laughing madly, Sirius just stood away from the tumbling pair, chortling with happiness, feeling it keenly after it had been so absent from his life. James reached up an arm and pulled at Sirius’s trouser leg, and Sirius, being slightly inebriated didn’t need much to put him off balance; he fell the floor with a residing thump, the near empty flask of Firewhisky flying from his hands. The three of them lay there on the ground, panting, huge grins plastered on their faces. Peter stood over them, round face peering down with extreme glee, “It’s about time!” he exclaimed, “It’s a right bore when you’re all fighting!” Sirius laughed and pulled him down to the floor with them. They lay there, still tangled up from their roughhousing, laughing like idiots. There was no better way to spend an afternoon.

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