Hi all! So, this was a tricky chapter to write, but I finally finished! There will probably only be two more chapters of this story before I begin the sequel, which will be posted separately. That being said, once I finish this story, I'll probably go on a short hiatus so I can get some chapters written ahead of time. Also, if you have any suggestions for 7th year adventures, leave them in the reviews. I only have a vague concept of 7th year right now, so any ideas are welcome! But for now, read and enjoy, and don't forget to tell me what you think!
Chapter 41 Full Moon Again
The following day was rough. Very rough. Remus was pale and jumpy all day long, and he never strayed far from Harry's side. At first Harry wasn't sure why, until he remembered that he'd been the only one there for Remus that first night. It wasn't the others' fault or anything, but it seemed Remus gravitated toward Harry for comfort first because of it.
They also keenly felt Sirius's distance. He knew what day it was just as well as they did, and the glances he kept sending them from across the room were both of longing and deep regret. As the day wore on and they still didn't speak to him, the looks turned to ones of resignation.
Finally, as the evening approached, it was time to go. Making a ruckus of saying they were heading off to "make mischief," James, Remus, Peter, and Harry left the common room. As they passed Sirius, he looked up in a last-minute look of longing. Harry grabbed his upper arm and pulled him to his feet.
"We're giving you a chance," he said quietly. "Don't blow it."
Sirius nodded solemnly and followed them out. In an empty stretch of hallway, Sirius and James donned the invisibility cloak with Peter in rat form perched on James's shoulder while Harry ostensibly escorted Remus to the hospital wing. He let Madame Pomphrey take over, then slipped under the cloak with the others while she walked Remus down to the Whomping Willow.
As soon as Pomphrey reemerged from the trap door, they hurried down it, stowing the cloak back in James's pocket. Moments later, they reached the Shrieking Shack and joined Remus in the middle of the ground floor.
They were early, so for the first little while they tried to make small talk and ignore the upcoming trial—for it was sure to be a trial. But their pretense didn't fool Remus. He sat beside Harry, huddled in a blanket and shaking even though the evening was warm. After a little while, Remus turned and hid his face against Harry's shoulder, his hands holding the blanket tightly around him. And there he stayed until the impending transformation forced him to move.
As soon as the tremors that wracked Remus's body grew pronounced and interspersed with groans, the others transformed. Russet stayed close to the transforming werewolf, ready to leap into action the moment Moony found his feet.
And a good thing, too. Because the last thing Moony remembered was Russet denying him his kill. Immediately the werewolf lunged. Russet dodged and swiped in warning, growling to remind Moony who his alpha was. But Moony wasn't having it. He lunged again, and Russet defended, and the two wolves began a vicious wrestling match. Padfoot whined in worry while Prongs stamped the ground nervously. As much as he wanted to interfere, it would be terribly dangerous to get between the two wolves. Wormtail—Silverback—wisely stayed out of the way, but his worried squeaks were still audible in the moments between attacks.
Russet fought back fiercely. He tried not to hurt Moony too badly, but the werewolf didn't make it easy. Russet got some good hits in. But so did Moony. A furious slash at Russet's flank drove the breath from his lungs and left a bloody gash. Russet retaliated by biting down hard on Moony's muzzle, piercing one of his ears. Moony yelped and snarled. Russet bit down hard on the back of Moony's neck and gave him a firm shake, growling. With one last effort, Russet wrestled Moony onto his back and pinned him to the ground. Claws extended, Russet rested his paw on Moony's throat with a fierce warning growl, as if to say, don't try me again.
Moony whimpered in defeat. Russet bared his teeth in one final warning. When Moony made no move to attack again, Russet slowly released the pressure and backed away, still growling in warning and still poised to attack again if needed. Moony slowly got to his feet and bowed his head in submission. There was an almost audible sigh of relief from their audience.
Then Moony pounced again, and Padfoot leapt in to subdue him before he could get his claws on Russet again.
The fight that followed was every bit as brutal as the one between the two wolves. Prongs had to step in, forcing Moony away with his antlers many times as the werewolf continuously attacked, trying to get past Padfoot to attack Russet. Russet retreated, licking his wounds, while Silverback kept him company.
Finally, Moony exhausted all his energy and lay panting. Padfoot stayed vigilant, though his sides heaved. Prongs tried, but his energy was spent, too. Then the moon began to set, and Moony's pants became howls and then screams. And then Remus lay, shivering, naked, bruised, and scraped in the middle of the floor.
Gratefully Russet became Harry, but he didn't have the energy to stand. His side throbbed, blood soaking through his t-shirt and jacket. Prongs became James, who stood a little shakily and tossed the blanket from before over Remus's trembling form. Padfoot simply sank to the floor and was almost immediately asleep now that the threat had passed. Knowing sunrise was still a ways off, the rest of them quickly followed.
A little over an hour later, Harry woke slowly, groggy and sore. His side burned, too, but he'd dealt with worse. It was still mostly dark; he could only just make out the silhouettes of his friends in the dim predawn light. He wished he could go back to sleep, but he was fully awake. So he just lay there, watching the sunlight creep across the ceiling, when he heard soft, uneven breathing.
Harry turned to see James sitting apart from the rest of them, his knees drawn up to his chest and his back to them. Maybe it was the lighting, but it looked like he was shaking.
Gritting his teeth, Harry rolled onto his hands and knees and crawled over to James. His side protested, but he ignored it in favor of his friend.
"Hey," Harry said quietly as he settled beside James.
James jumped a little and immediately scrubbed a hand over his face. "Hey." His voice was hoarse.
"Rough night?" Harry asked with a faint smile.
James almost smiled back. "You could say that." He glanced at Harry's wounded side, then looked away. "It was worse than I thought it would be," he finally admitted quietly.
"You'll be okay, right?"
Harry gave a half-smile. "This is nothing. I'll be fine." Then Harry gave him a critical look. "Will you be okay?"
James averted his eyes again and hugged his knees tighter. "I don't know," he said softly. "I always thought we were unbreakable, you know? And then Sirius—"
"Yeah." Harry sighed heavily. "I've been betrayed before. I didn't want to believe it could happen again."
James flinched. "I miss Sirius. I miss my best friend."
Harry nodded, but didn't speak, sensing that James had more to say. And after a pause, he did continue.
"I wish things could go back to the way they were before. I know they can't, because I've changed, and...he's changed. I...I think I've mostly forgiven him. But I...I can't trust him yet. I want to. Godric, I want to. But..." James's breath hitched. "I want my best friend back."
Harry lightly rested his arm around James's shoulders. "I know."
James's breath hitched again. He leaned into Harry's side, shaking. A few seconds later, he turned his whole face into Harry's shoulder, his breathing harsh and uneven. Harry tightened his arm around James's shoulders, biting his lip.
A while later, the sun had crept high enough to light most of the room from the high windows and through the cracks in the walls. Harry shifted unconsciously, realizing they needed to leave soon. James noticed and took a deep, shuddering breath before pulling away.
"We should go if we don't want to get caught by Pomphrey," he said quietly.
Harry nodded. "You get Remus and Peter. I'll get Sirius."
James nodded and offered Harry a hand up. He accepted it gratefully, hissing in pain as his side protested. He cast a ferula to bind his side with bandages, then limped over to where Padfoot was still sleeping.
"Sirius." Harry shook his shoulder gently. "Sirius, wake up."
Padfoot was immediately awake, and then he transformed back into Sirius. He woke up so uncharacteristically fast that Harry wondered if he'd been awake the whole time. Then Sirius spotted the bandage around Harry's torso and winced. He glanced worriedly at Remus, biting his lip. He was bruised and scraped, and would probably be sore for several days. But it wasn't anything major, and Sirius sighed quietly in relief.
Remus happened to look over at the same time. He met Sirius's gaze by accident and immediately looked away. Sirius's face crumpled.
"I'm so sorry. I'm sorry I broke your trust. I—"
A loud creak alerted them all to Pomphrey's approach. James immediately pinned the rest of them to the wall and threw the invisibility cloak over them.
"I'm so sorry—" Sirius continued.
"Save it, Sirius," James hissed. Sirius's mouth closed with an audible snap and Harry felt his shoulders slump.
Damn. What bad timing.
Seconds later, the trap door opened to admit Madame Pomphrey. She tutted over Remus's cuts and bruises and then escorted him out, supporting him on one side as they walked.
The rest of them waited with bated breath for another five minutes or more before they dared to move.
"I'm sorry. I was an—"
"I said, save it," James growled. Sirius's face crumpled again, and he was silent as they left the shack.
Peter stayed in rat form all the way back to the castle, because it was easier to fit three teenaged boys under the cloak than four. But as soon as they reached the infirmary, the little rat jumped off Harry's shoulder and transformed back into Peter. His face was hard and he deliberately avoided Sirius's eyes. Harry just felt uncomfortable. James was also avoiding Sirius's eye, but because he was more uncertain than angry.
Remus was awake when they gathered around his bed. Madame Pomphrey had just finished bandaging him up. She gave them a curt look.
"I don't know how you four always turn up at just the right moment. If I didn't know any better, I'd say you stayed with him overnight." She gave them all a stern look that then softened into a smile. "But regardless of how you do it, I'm grateful to you. And I know Remus is, too."
Remus flushed a little and looked away, but Harry saw the corner of his mouth lift just a little at her words.
"Don't tax him overmuch. He still needs rest."
"Yes, ma'am," they all chorused.
She tsked at them, then left for her office. The moment she was gone, though, the awkwardness from earlier settled over them. Harry, in an effort to put off the moment, swiped the extra blood replenishing potion on Remus's bedside table and downed it. He coughed at the metallic taste, but instantly felt far more alert.
"Harry, what—" Then they all saw the makeshift bandages around his torso.
Harry waved off their concern, then vanished the blood-soaked bandages, siphoned the blood out of his shirt, and replaced the bandages with fresh ones. "I'm fine. See? Good as new."
Remus looked guilty, but Sirius looked worse.
"This is all my fault," he whispered.
"No shit, Black," Peter muttered. Sirius winced at the use of his last name. Harry gave Peter a surprised look at the hostility in his voice.
"No, really." Sirius cleared his throat and straightened up. They could all tell how much effort it was taking for him to look them all in the eye. "I...I fucked up. I...I put myself and..." Sirius grimaced, his mouth twisting in distaste, "and my own pride above the Marauders...above you, Remus." His voice softened as he looked at Remus, who could barely hold his gaze. "I told Sni-Snape your secret. Not directly, but...I may as well have shouted it from the Great Hall. I...I betrayed you." Sirius's voice cracked. "I betrayed the Marauders. I betrayed us. And in the process, I hurt all of you." He caught James's eye and immediately looked down, twisting his hands together. "I...know it's not nearly enough, but...I'm sorry. I...I really, truly am."
Sirius looked up again and they could all see the tears in his eyes. "If...if you can't forgive me...I'll accept it. I...I don't deserve it anyway."
Harry bit his lip. It was hard to stay angry at Sirius when he was debasing himself like that. But at the same time, his apology, while sincere, did not and could not erase the hurt they'd all felt for the last month.
"How can we be sure you won't do it again?"
They all looked in surprise at James. His eyes were glassy but determined.
Sirius opened his mouth, then closed it.
"You betrayed us because you hated Snape, because you hate Slytherins." James spoke frankly. No accusation, just facts. Somehow, that made it worse. "So the next time you lose a duel, or Snape gets the better of you, how can we be sure you won't do something like this again?"
"I-" Sirius couldn't form words.
"He's right, Sirius," Harry spoke up, his voice quiet but pointed. "I've been telling you all year to leave them be. And...I believe your apology is sincere, but...until you show us you've changed, it's going to be hard to trust you again."
James nodded. He then straightened his shoulders, took a deep breath, and looked Sirius dead in the eye. "I won't pretend to like Snape, or any of the Slytherins. But I'm not going to make fun of them or prank them or hex them just because. And...unless you do the same..." James took another deep breath. "I can't be friends with you anymore."
James held Sirius's gaze for one more moment, then turned and walked out of the hospital wing.
Sirius looked stricken. Remus and Peter didn't seem to know how to react. Harry, though, he understood. He hesitated, but both Remus and Peter nodded at him, indicating he should go after James. So he did.
James hadn't gone far, Harry found. He was leaning against the wall just outside the doors to the hospital wing, hands in his pockets and trying to look casual. But even as Harry watched, James sank to the ground against the wall, pulling his glasses off with one hand and bowing his head.
Harry's heart twisted. It was like looking in a mirror. Quietly, he closed the door to the hospital wing and went to sit by James. He looked up at Harry's approach, but he said nothing. So Harry returned the favor. He sat silently beside his friend, just close enough that their shoulders brushed.
James suddenly let out a long, shaky breath. "I don't know what to do, Harry," he confessed quietly, breaking the silence.
Harry leaned his head back against the wall. "I know. For what it's worth, though," Harry turned to face James, "it was pretty brave of you to say that, and to Sirius of all people." Smiling faintly, Harry added, "I'm proud of you."
James returned his faint smile, but he didn't look fully convinced.
"I mean it," Harry insisted. I'm proud to call you my dad, and my friend. The scene he'd stumbled across in older Snape's pensieve still haunted the corners of his mind, but James had proven now that he wasn't that person anymore.
"Thanks," James said quietly. "But..." He hesitated, pulling his knees tighter against his chest. "Do you think he'll do it?"
"For the Slytherins in our year? Maybe. He'll try. For the others? Probably. Sirius is dense, but even he's not that stupid. Not when he knows what's at stake."
James nodded solemnly.
Harry nudged his shoulder lightly. "Anytime."
A little while later, the doors to the hospital wing opened and Peter, Sirius, and Remus emerged. They didn't have to look long before spotting James and Harry sitting against the wall. They both stood as the other three approached.
For a moment they just looked at each other. James and Sirius especially were clearly uncomfortable. Then Peter gave Sirius a meaningful look and Remus elbowed him in the side.
Sirius fidgeted, still uncomfortable. Then, suddenly, he squared his shoulders and looked James in the eye. "You have every right not to forgive me. And I know you don't trust me—not yet anyway. But..."
Sirius looked even more earnest. "I swear, I swear to you I'll earn it back. I'll..." he hesitated, just a little. "I'll stop hexing the Slytherins. I...I still hate Sni-Snape. But I'll stop hexing him, and I'll stop mocking him. Even if he starts it, I'll...I'll try to let it go. Because nothing—nothing—is more important to me than you—all of you." Sirius looked at the rest of them, too. "Nothing is more important to me than the Marauders. And I don't want to lose any of you, ever again."
James bit his lip, hesitating, then nodded. "I-I can't promise we'll go back to normal right away. I...I don't even know if it can. But...for what it's worth, I'm sorry, too, for what I said to you...back then. And..." James rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "I forgive you...Padfoot."
Sirius laughed aloud in relief and grabbed James in a hug. James choked in protest, then returned the hug. And for a while, neither of them would let go.
Once they finally separated, Sirius turned to Harry, apprehension back in his face. Harry stared at him coolly.
"You can say 'I told you so,'" Sirius said quietly. "I'd deserve it."
"I told you so."
Sirius cringed at the weight of those four words, then he squared his shoulders again and looked Harry in the eye. "You're right. You've been telling me all year that if I kept messing with the Slytherins I would lose you. And I did. I...I've only known you for a year, but you're one of my best friends, Harrison." Sirius's voice grew softer. "I don't know how, but you know me better than you should. And I should have listened to you. I know it's not enough, but I truly am sorry."
Harry bit his lip. "I...I'm not as forgiving as James. I used to be, but I...I've been used and betrayed too many times. But..." Harry hesitated, weighing the words in his mind, evaluating their weight for Sirius and for the others. And for himself. "I lost my family once. I don't want to lose it again. And...you're my family, Sirius. The Marauders are my family. So...I'm willing to forgive you. Just not yet."
Sirius bit his lip, but he nodded. "That's good enough for me."