CB: Free time so I'm indulging in it and attempting to get this fic finished. Enjoy!
'Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.'
- Dorothy Thompson
"Exactly where are going?" Snape demanded as he and Sirius headed back up towards the school. The air was cold and he shivered, not appreciating the fact that he was alone with a fellow student who, from his point of view at least, did not seem entirely sane. Sirius kept smiling at him, his expression almost eerily serene as he shrugged in response to Snape's question and simply nodded towards the school.
"This way," he said. "You did want to see where I'm meeting Lupin, didn't you? Not backing out now, are you Snape?" He grinned, and although the expression was reasonably friendly, it did nothing to reassure Snape, who was quite certain Sirius was up to something. No one, he reasoned, following Black, readily gave up their secrets so they could be used against them. Least of all Sirius Black. No; Sirius, Snape was certain, was up to something; and whilst it was unnerving to have to play along with Black's plan – whatever it might be – Snape was certain that the situation could still be turned to his advantage. Sirius was, after all, more emotional than rational, and Snape was sure that it would not take long for his enemy to slip up, be it verbally or with some careless action.
"It's quite a strange place to meet," Sirius said suddenly, breaking the uneasy silence that had grown up. "But it's relatively safe – it means no one would be able to find us." He laughed, somewhat bitterly. "Safe," he repeated.
"What are you babbling about?" Snape frowned as Sirius came to an abrupt halt, turning to look at him. "Look, where are we going? Be honest, Black, you've got no intention of showing me where you and Lupin are meant to be meeting." Brutal honesty was, Snape felt, the only way to deal with someone like Sirius.
"Aren't I?" Sirius stared at him for a long moment, his face pale in the moonlight. Suddenly he sighed, his expression relaxing into something far more like the usual mask of disdain he always wore when around Snape. "Look," he said almost kindly, "are you sure you really want to know where Lupin and I were meeting? To be honest I don't think it's worth the trouble."
Snape blinked, somewhat nonplussed. Black sounded almost as though he was genuinely trying to allow him to retreat from the situation with dignity. It was unnerving. Yet Sirius's sincerity also fuelled Snape's curiosity; why was Black trying to get him to leave? There was the most obvious reason: that Sirius was probably unwilling to give him anymore blackmail material, but Snape suspected something else was forcing Black to be so…considerate.
"Why would it be trouble?" he said eventually, raising an eyebrow. "Surely it will only be Lupin there. Why the concern?" He smiled, making the expression deliberately nasty, and watched with some satisfaction as Sirius's eyes hardened at the sight.
"Well…" Sirius shrugged and turned away. "There won't be any trouble, of course." He nodded up the hill. "We're almost there."
Snape squinted, trying to make out the shape ahead. He could see the castle lit up against the night sky, but off to one side, nearer to them, was another shape. It crouched, low and menacing, a silhouette against the vague light of the moon. Sirius had begun to walk again, delicately picking his way towards the shape which was – Snape's eyes strained to make it out – moving. He frowned; suddenly horribly aware that he was vulnerable should Black and his friends be playing another practical joke. He was one against three – if you counted Pettigrew as a human being, which Snape often didn't.
Reaching for his wand, Snape drew it out from his pocket, keeping a close eye on Sirius, who was still walking away from him. Alert for any signs of mischief, he followed a few paces behind.
It took him a moment to realise that Sirius had stopped some feet from the shape, and it was another heartbeat before he saw exactly what Black was standing in front of. Eyes widening, Snape took an involuntary step backwards.
"You're meeting him here?"
"Not quite." Sirius's expression was unreadable and his tone of voice gave away nothing. "I don't think it would be very subtle to meet under the Whomping Willow, do you?" His lips thinned as he stared at Snape, grey eyes cold. "I told you, where we're meeting is relatively safe. No one would really be able to find the place unless they knew how." One shoulder lifted in a half shrug as Snape stared at him, unnerved.
"Where exactly are you taking me then?"
"I'm not taking you any further." Sirius's lips twisted in a cruel smile and he held up a hand to forestall Snape, who had opened his mouth to protest. "Oh, I'll tell you how to get the rest of the way, but you're on your own now."
"Why? Why won't you come? After all, it's you that's meant to be meeting him, not me." Suspicion was rising fast in Snape's mind, blotting out the normal distaste he felt for Sirius as he stared at him, his instincts telling him to go, run, be anywhere but here with this enemy. Sirius Black was not to be trusted; Snape knew that, but he also knew that if he didn't listen to Sirius now, there was a good chance he'd never be this close to discovering the whole sordid affair between Black and Lupin again. Most of his accusations had been made based on guesswork, but Sirius's reaction had shown him that his suspicions had been correct.
"I'm not coming because I don't…" Sirius trailed off, and for the first time his gaze left Snape, dropping to the floor, but not before Severus had seen the flash of guilt and consternation that flitted across his face. Sirius drew a deep breath. "I don't want him to know who's betrayed him," he finished. "That's all I ask, Snape. Don't tell him who told you about…this."
"And why shouldn't I?" Snape was still alert for tricks, but the sudden sincerity in Sirius's voice made him pause. "Why don't I ruin the both of you further? I bet Lupin would love to know who told me about the two of you. Maybe I should let it slip."
"Don't!" True panic flared in Sirius's eyes before he bit his lip, the expression fading back to disinterest. "Fine. Tell." He shrugged and turned away. "I just thought you might do me that one favour."
"Maybe," Snape conceded. "Now tell me how to find Lupin. You've been very helpful so far Black, suspiciously so. Don't think I don't realise you're up to something." He smiled nastily and raised his wand. Sirius frowned when he saw it, but said nothing. "So don't think I'm not ready for any trick you might be about to play on me."
There was a long pause, and only the sound of the rustling of the Willow broke the silence. Eventually, Sirius smiled. It was a slow, cruel, calculated smile and Snape shivered in spite of himself, unease crawling down his spine. Still smiling, Sirius turned, taking a step closer to the tree, which creaked menacingly. Snape waited with bated breath, expecting Black to get hit by one of the branches, which was shivering violently. Surprisingly, however, Sirius didn't. Instead, he picked a long branch off of the ground and handed it to Snape.
"There's a knot," he said, "on the tree. If you poke it with this branch, it allows you to get to some kind of door that leads down underground. That's where Lupin and I were planning to meet. It's a clever hiding place, don't you think?"
"You're lying!" Snape spat. "As soon as I go near that thing I'll get bludgeoned to death."
"No you won't." The eerie smile on Sirius's face didn't fade as he took the branch back. "Here, I'll show you." Striding forwards, he dodged a branch that made a swipe at his head, and poked the stick sharply at the trunk of the tree. Immediately, the branches stilled, frozen in place. Sirius waved a hand towards the base of the tree and Snape squinted, just able to make out a dark gap between the roots – it was large enough to admit a decent sized human.
"You see?" Sirius stepped back out of range as the Whomping Willow's branches shivered and began to move again. "That's how you get in." He laughed. "I would say trust me, but of course you don't, and rightly so." Tossing the stick to Snape, he turned on his heel, heading back the way he'd came, away from the castle. "Think about it Snape," he called over his shoulder. "I could be playing the greatest joke on you in history. Or maybe, just maybe, I'm telling the truth and you'll find Lupin down there. And then you'll get exactly what you deserve. You'll know everything."
Sirius's figure rapidly disappeared into the dark of the night, leaving Snape standing next to the Whomping Willow, stick in hand, wondering what to do.
"I don't understand it," James said, moodily swinging his legs back and forth as he sat on the edge of his bed. "Sirius should be back by now. If anything's happened to my cloak, I'm going to kill him. I bet he's ripped it, and now he can't face me so he's hiding out in a classroom somewhere or something."
"I doubt it," Peter replied, only half listening to James's complaints as he contemplated his Divinations textbook. "That cloak is almost as valuable to him as it is to you. How many pranks would have gone undone without the help of that cloak? Trust me; Sirius places too high a value on it to do something as careless as rip it." He sighed, hefting the textbook in one hand. "Do you think Professor Sinn's really going to test us on Chapter Twelve after Christmas?"
"Forget Divinations!" James snapped. "This is highly important, Peter! Sirius has vanished without a trace and he has my cloak! That's been in my family for years! What will happen if I tell my dad it's gone missing, eh?"
"Look, just because Sirius has been gone a little longer than expected doesn't mean he's fled the country," Peter said, patience wearing thin. "It's probably just taking him a bit of time to bring whatever it is Regulus has got him back up to the castle. It's probably something big and expensive – you know what Blacks are like, they try to make an impact wherever possible, even on their own family. It's probably a solid gold broom or some such nonsense."
"I don't think even the Blacks could afford a solid gold broom," James retorted, not appeased in the least. "Look, maybe we should go have a peek outside – see if he's coming."
"He's wearing an invisibility cloak." Peter's voice was suffused with long-suffering weariness as he pointed out the obvious to James, who was already off the bed and moving towards the door at speed. "You won't see him!" He shouted after his friend's rapidly disappearing back. James's reply was muffled as the dormitory door thudded shut behind him, and Peter groaned. Heaving himself of his bed and tossing his Divinations textbook on the bedside table, he trotted after James, who had made it as far as the portrait hole and was already climbing through.
"What if we get caught?" he demanded, clambering through after James and shutting the portrait behind him.
"We won't. Anyway, we're still allowed out of the common room – it's not that late."
"Yes, but we're not allowed outside," Peter pointed out as he and James clattered down the staircase leading to the entrance hall.
"Well we won't be very far outside. We'll just stand on the top step and see if we can see him coming."
"I told you, we won't be able to see him coming! He'll be wearing the…" Peter trailed off and lowered his voice as they passed a gaggle of Third Year's loitering in the hall. "He'll be wearing the you-know-what," he finished, as James grasped one of the great bronze handles and heaved the main door to the castle open. Peter shivered at the immediate gust of wind, and quietly vowed vengeance on James for making him go outside in mid-winter. Neither of them had thought to bring a cloak.
"I'll know if he's coming," James said confidently, tugging the door shut behind them. "I'll be able to sense him – or at the very least sense my cloak. I have highly attuned senses; I know when someone's watching me. And I bet Sirius wouldn't miss the chance to play a prank on us if he's wearing the cloak, so watch out for sudden frights coming from a north easterly direction."
"You should have been a weatherman," Peter commented sourly, folding his arms and hugging himself in an attempt to stay warm. The night air was bitterly cold, and the stars glittered like diamonds. A frost was already gathering one the grass at the foot of the steps leading back up to the door, and Peter glared at James, who had begun to amuse himself by making footprints on the frozen ground.
"Cheer up Pete," James said at last, pausing in his entertainment to blink owlishly at his friend. "I'm sure he won't be too much longer."
"Well if he won't be too much longer then why don't we wait inside?" Peter grumbled. "I mean it's not like –" He was cut off abruptly as James held a hand in the air, his expression changing from amused to focused in the blink of an eye.
"Did you hear that?" he asked, his expression intent as he gazed out across the open lawn towards the forbidden Forest.
"Hear what?" Peter hissed, climbing reluctantly down the steps to stand next to him.
"That!" James flapped a hand frantically, and as he did so, Peter heard a faint rustle of movement, coming from the trees.
"Right," he squeaked. "I think we should go in now. Something's moving in the Forbidden Forest and we're standing out here in the cold, alone, and with no defence – not even our wands. And that's your fault by the way because you were in such a hurry to see whether Sirius had damaged your cloak. So let's just back up the steps slowly and go indoors, where whatever bloodthirsty monster it is in there can't eat us, ok?"
"Peter, you're babbling." James's gaze never left the trees, and Peter whimpered as he started walking towards them. "Come on, I want to find out what it is. Nothing should be this close to the school."
"What if it's dangerous?" Terror would have rooted Peter to the spot had not fear for James's safety outweighed it. Reluctantly, he followed his friend.
"I'm sure it won't be," James assured him. "After all, I doubt it's a werewolf or anything."
"Werewolves," Peter moaned. "You had to mention werewolves. Now I've got images of being torn to pieces by Professor Lupin. Thank you very much James Potter. If I die – which is likely because I think I'm going to expire from fright any moment now – I hope you realise not only will my descendants have vengeance, but my ghost will haunt you forever. I hope you can live with that."
"Peter," James said impatiently, "you don't have any descendants. Stop talking nonsense and –" He broke off, looking somewhat disconcerted. "Did you just hear something else?"
"Apart from the rustling noises you heard earlier? No." Peter edged behind James, a small part of him hoping that if it was something dangerous in the forest, it would go after his friend first, leaving him safe to make good his escape.
"No, listen." James took another step forwards. "It's voices. Human voices."
Peter strained to listen and there, quite clear on the night air, was the sound of conversation.
"– and I've already told you that no means no. So if you don't shut up about it, you're banned from my flat for the rest of the term," one voice announced coldly.
"You can't do that!" spluttered a second. "You don't honestly expect me to stay at home in the evening with my sister, her husband and their horrible kids, do you?"
"What you do will be entirely up to you if you don't shut up and stop complaining!" the first voice snapped. "Although," the tone softened slightly, "at least you admit they're horrible children."
"That's beside the point." The owner of the second voice was clearly sulking. "How could you even think of banning me. It's not fair."
"Will you stop whining? You're not five, and sulking doesn't become you either, so stop pulling faces. If I say you're banned, you're banned. And don't think I won't change the wards on my door, because I will. Dumbledore will let me, and it might give me five minutes peace for a change if you're not there." There was the rustle of movement and the crunch of footsteps as whoever was talking began to move closer to where Peter and James were standing. Peter tugged urgently at James's sleeve, but his friend simply shook him off impatiently.
"Sinn, this is clearly an abuse of our friendship. Would I ever ban you from my house? No. Of course I wouldn't. And especially not over something as stupid as this."
There was a hiss of indignation and Sinn's voice took on a distinctly icy tone. "I would hardly call this stupid, Pyrrhus Anthony Fogarty. Now you will say no more about it, or I'll be forced to spell your mouth shut, as well as ban you."
"You wouldn't! Er…would you?"
"Yes! Now shut up and do your job."
James's lips twitched in amusement as he listened to the sullen muttering that followed this statement, before his expression changed to one of panic as Sinn emerged from the forest, dragging a disgruntled Mars by the collar. The sight of the taller Sports teacher being hauled along by someone shorter than himself would have been more amusing had Sinn not, at that moment, caught sight of the students standing close by. He froze, expression hardening from mere annoyance to something that was clearly bordering on true anger.
"What are you two doing out here?" he demanded, releasing Mars's collar in favour of pointing an accusatory finger at the guilty pair. Peter groaned, fervently wishing it had been anyone but Sinn who had found them. The Divinations teacher terrified him with his sour, sarcastic nature and low tolerance for poor work. Hoping that it was all some kind of terrible dream, or perhaps simply a hallucination, he shuffled his feet and stared hard at the ground, waiting for James to come up with an excuse.
"Er…that is…" James fumbled for an explanation as Sinn glowered at him, and Mars frowned. "We…um…we wanted a bit of a walk and felt that the…er…fresh air would do us good."
"A bit late for a walk, isn't it?" Suspicion dripped from Sinn's voice like acid honey, and Peter flinched, aware that James's poor excuse was not fooling anyone.
"Not really. Peter and I felt it would help us sleep…" James trailed off, wilting somewhat under Sinn's disbelieving gaze.
"Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to be out at this time of night and this close to the Forbidden Forest?" Sinn's voice was rising dangerously, and Peter thought he saw Mars shuffle back a step, away from his friend. "There is a reason it is called the Forbidden Forest, and it is not to encourage foolish students such as yourself to gallivant around in it after dark when you could be ripped to shreds by any number of creatures! I know you are not stupid, Mr Potter, but sometimes you do give a remarkable impression of it!"
"Well you were in it too," James blurted out before he could stop himself, then clapped a hand over his mouth in a belated attempt to stop the words escaping. Peter thought he saw Mars shake his head sadly, and silently bid a fond farewell to his life.
"I," Sinn said slowly, "am doing my job. And my job is to patrol the grounds to make sure stupid students such as yourselves do not do something dangerous. I think it's just as well I was out here, don't you? Now get back inside before I tie you both to a tree and leave you for the first creature that comes along." The positively psychotic glint in his eyes convinced Peter he wasn't making an idle threat.
"Right," James agreed, backing away hastily. "We're going back inside right now. Straight away, Professor. No more running around after dark. You have my word." He flinched as Sinn grabbed one of his arms, marching him back towards the school.
They had just reached the door to the entrance hall – Sinn in front, one hand still gripping James's arm, Peter and Mars trailing behind – when Mars paused, turning on his heel to squint out into the dark. Peter, who was watching him closely in case the Sports teacher felt the sudden urge to carry out Sinn's threat, noticed the widening of blue eyes and the sudden stiffening as Mars's expression shifted from faintly amused to something that looked very much like panic.
"Sinn," he said, and the other teacher turned at once, clearly aware that something was wrong. Mars's voice held none of its normal cheerfulness.
"What is it?" he asked, letting go of James's arm in favour of stalking back down the steps.
"Look at the tree. Look at it!" Mars pointed out across the grounds. Both Peter and James strained their eyes to see in the dark. "It's not moving."
"Oh my god." Sinn's voice shook. Turning sharply on his heel he glared at James and Peter. "Get back inside!" he barked. "Now! And shut the door. Go and find Dumbledore and tell him someone's discovered the knot. He'll know what I mean. It's extremely important you do that, alright?" He hissed in frustration as they both stared at him, speechless. "Go now!" he yelled, and James, startled into action as much by the urgency in Sinn's voice as the noise, grabbed Peter by the arm and hauled him bodily up the steps.
"What the hell's going on? Do you think someone's gone down there?" he heard Mars ask as he hauled open the door. Sinn's reply was grim – barely audible as the thick wood thudded shut behind himself and Peter.
"I don't know. I don't know how someone found out, and I don't know if they've gone down there, but we've got to find out. Now."
Sirius stalked back towards Hogsmeade, his heart thudding in his chest as he walked blindly, his mind a chaotic jumble.
'It serves Snape right,' he thought angrily, 'meddling where he isn't wanted.' He didn't care what happened. Let Snape think it was a trick if he wanted – it was, in a way. A small, cold part of Sirius felt inordinately smug at this thought. Either way, Snape would get the shock of his life. He'd either not bother going down under the Whomping Willow, and then regret it for the rest of his life, or go and meet with everything he deserved. Whatever might happen, Sirius didn't care. There was a deep, primal satisfaction that tainted this thought, along with the vicious sense of a job well done. It was effectively getting rid of Snape, whatever the outcome.
'I hate him,' he thought, fury blinding him to all else for a moment as he paused, hands clenched into fists. 'How dare he try to blackmail me! He should learn not to mess with the Blacks. It'll serve the slimy little worm right. I hope he gets the shock of his life.' He laughed softly to himself. 'He might even get hurt. Just a little.' His lips thinned, the amusement falling from his face as he stopped abruptly. 'And that would serve him right too, but…but…' But something wasn't right. Sirius could sense it. Generations of Black were screaming in his mind for him to simply walk away. Leave Snape to whatever mischief he had gotten himself into. It would serve him right, he knew it would. But something was wrong. Sirius had missed something when he'd had the brilliant idea of sending Snape off down the Whomping Willow. What was it?
He frowned, struggling to work around the problem. Snape would go down under the Whomping Willow and meet with a fully grown werewolf, proving that curiosity really does kill the proverbial cat. This wasn't a bad thing, it would scare him, probably even scar him, and this was something that Sirius, even in a moment of lucidity, could not regret wanting to inflict on Snape. He hated the other boy. Part of it was simply irrational – he knew that; there had been a mutual dislike from the moment they had met. But another part of it arose from the fact that Sirius had no desire to play along with whatever twisted little scheme Snape had concocted with Lucius. Sirius hated being manipulated – his mother had done just that to him for most of his childhood, and it had only been after he had escaped to Hogwarts that he had learned that he could say no to her demands. Snape was doubly damned, therefore, because he had tried to trap him, and this was something Sirius would not – could not – tolerate.
So, his plan, his clever, ingenious plan that would rid him of Snape one way or another, with no evidence save Snape's word that would point to him. Snape would be suitably punished, and perhaps it would be a lesson to anyone else foolish enough to try and force him into a corner. Blackmail, people would soon learn, did not work on Sirius Black. Snape's meeting with Lupin would soon prove that…
The thought hit Sirius like a splash of ice water, jarring him from his pleasant contemplation of Snape as an example to others.
He'd sent Snape down under the Whomping Willow to meet a werewolf.
But it wasn't just any werewolf. It was Lupin. Lupin who was a mild mannered, relatively sweet man by day and a vicious, bloodthirsty killer by night.
Sirius's heart began to beat wildly. Remus Lupin was a killer, and he, Sirius, had just sent Severus Snape into the jaws of a bloodthirsty monster. He paled, eyes widening. Remus Lupin could kill people – this was something that simply hadn't occurred to him until now; not really, anyway. Of course he knew werewolves were vicious creatures that longed after the taste of human flesh, but it was an altogether different concept when you tried to place that image next to the one of a mild mannered teacher. Remus could kill people – would kill people, given the chance. He would kill Snape.
"Oh Merlin…" he whispered, pressing a shaking hand to his mouth. "Oh my god. Oh my god, what have I done?" He stood stock still, trying to think rationally, but a myriad of confused, terrified thoughts swirled through his mind. 'I've killed Snape. I'm a killer. No, worse than that, I've killed Remus. I've killed him. What the hell do I do? If he harms Snape in any way he'll be shot. I know the law – hell, father's talked enough about the trials of dangerous creatures. What do I do? Oh god why can't I think of anything? How could I do this? I can't let Remus hurt that bastard Snape. I can't let him be killed. I can't. Not when…not when…'
Letting out a shaking breath, Sirius spun around and pelted back up the gentle rise of the hill towards the castle.
'I could go to Dumbledore, get help. No, no time. Shit, why is there never anyone about when you need them? I could at least have sent someone to fetch him. No time for that either. What the hell do I do?' James's cloak fluttered to the ground behind him, but Sirius didn't stop to pick it up. Panting, consumed by sheer terror, he raced towards the Whomping Willow. Snape was nowhere to be seen, but the stick he had tossed him earlier was lying abandoned nearby. Flinging himself towards it, Sirius's fingers scrabbled in the dirt for one breathless moment before he grabbed the branch and lunged at the trunk, ignoring the bruising blow the Willow dealt him on one shoulder.
'I've got to get down there, I've got to try and stop him from going anywhere near Remus.' Not even bothering to wait for the branches to freeze fully, Sirius dropped the stick and scrambled towards the gap in the Willow's roots. He swore as his foot got caught on something, and he tripped, stumbling into the trunk of the tree. Glancing down, he saw the opening beneath him and staggered forwards, wriggling through just as the Whomping Willow began to move again.
Slithering down a shallow slope, he landed on his hands and knees, the breath knocked out of him. He stayed still for a moment, panting, too terrified to do anything but panic. The air was thick, stale; it smelt of earth and the musty scent of it made him wrinkle his nose. When he tried to climb to his feet he hit his head on the low ceiling. Somewhat dazed, he crouched again, one hand pressed to the wall. The darkness was complete – there was no light down here, and he didn't think to reach for his wand.
Taking a deep breath, he began to crawl, one hand still pressed along the wall, guiding him. He could feel damp seeping through the knees of his trousers, but he ignored it. Now was not the time to worry. Terror had erased all else from his mind. 'What will happen if Snape's dead? How do I explain that? How do I save Remus? What have I done? What have I done? What have I done'
The tunnel seemed to stretch for eternity, time dragging in a horrible slow-fast momentum that had Sirius convinced he'd never catch up to Snape. It was impossible to tell for how long he crawled, the only sound the rasp of his own breath and the loud beat of his heart. 'I'm not going to make it in time. I'm not going to. What the hell was I thinking?' Adrenalin surged through Sirius's veins, and he scrambled to a crouch, feeling the tunnel begin to slope up under his feet. Breaking into an awkward run, he could just make out a dim light and, aiming for it, he squeezed between two wooden planks and stumbled out into an empty room.
The air was thick with dust and had the same, stale scent as the tunnel. Shaking, Sirius dug frantically in his pocket for his wand and discovered to his horror that it wasn't there. No wand, no defence, and he was about to walk into a werewolf's lair.
"Snape?" he called softly, leaving footprints in the dust as he crept across the floor towards a doorway opposite. The door was hanging off its hinges, decrepit and clearly fragile. Sirius paused, hesitant to touch it in case it fell, startling anything lurking nearby into attacking him. Trying to strengthen his resolve he lifted a shaking hand and pushed it ajar. 'I've got to find him, I've got to. It can't be too late.'
The next room was equally dusty although a dim, pale light seeped in through the windows. Sirius shivered, glancing nervously out of them. Through the smears and scratches on the glass, he could see the moon hanging low and full in the sky. The sight of it sent a pang of terror through him and he gasped silently, hand again going automatically to his pocket for his wand. The feeling of his fingers closing around nothing brought him to his senses somewhat and he bit his lip. The room was still empty and silent – indeed, the whole of what he presumed to be some kind of house, remained quiet.
'Where on earth can Snape have got to? Where the hell is Lupin?' Squinting in the gloom, Sirius ignored every instinct that was telling him to run, and stepped out of the room into what appeared to be a hallway. A set of fragile looking stairs ascended up into the darkness of the second storey and Sirius hesitated, unsure if he should risk climbing them. The wood had rotted and splintered in so many places, and in the uncertain light it was quite probable that he'd slip and break something.
"Where am I?" he whispered to himself, reaching out uncertainly to grip the broken banister. "What is this place?" The silence was thick, suffocating, and he felt as though a thousand eyes were watching him from the shadows as he set a foot on the first step. The resulting creak was loud – a gunshot of noise that broke the atmosphere and made him jump, shocked. Somewhere above him, something shifted. He could hear a sound, like feet scraping across the floor, nails dragging, creating a slow, grinding noise that seemed to reach into his very soul.
'It's him, oh god help me, it's him. The werewolf's up there.'
How Sirius convinced himself to take another step, he never knew. Perhaps it was bravery, perhaps sheer foolishness, or perhaps somewhere, in the back of his mind, he knew it to be the only real course of action left open to him. Whatever the reason, almost as though of its own will, his body took over and began to move, climbing the stairs. Every step was a nightmare – a test of resolve, with the desperate hope that the wood would remain solid beneath his feet.
He reached the landing, terrified. He'd lost his voice somewhere between the fifth stair and the tenth, and could no longer even whisper in the hope that Snape would somehow hear him. Reality was a cold reminder in his head, and the fact that he had not heard anything to indicate his fellow student was upstairs terrified him still further. No noise meant no Snape, and no Snape meant there was no Snape left to make the noise in the first place.
'He's dead, he's dead, I've killed both of them…'
Bile rising in his throat Sirius moved across the landing. There was only one door up here, and it was closed. No fragile thing, this, like the doors downstairs, but a hard, thick piece of oak, clearly designed to stop something from escaping. He stood in front of it, no longer even thinking. He had gone beyond terror now, into a place where reality seemed far away. Everything was distant, although what really struck him was there was still no noise from the other side of the door. The only sound he could hear was his own short, laboured gasps for air, and the frantic pounding of his heart.
'I've got to see, I've got to know…'
He pushed open the door.
The room beyond had several pieces of furniture, all heavily scarred, which lay scattered across the floor. The windows in this room had been boarded up, and the darkness was near complete. Sirius strained his eyes, trying desperately to see something, anything, but nothing was moving. Not thinking, not questioning his motivation, he stepped inside, trying to see if Snape was there. The air was as stale in here as it had been downstairs, but the prevalent musty smell was overlaid by something far fresher. It took Sirius a moment to place the rich, coppery scent that lingered at the back of his throat every time he inhaled, and when he did, he retched.
Panicking, he spun in the centre of the room, then froze at the sound of a low, rumbling growl. From behind what appeared to be a battered sofa near the door, a shape slunk, its eyes gleaming a deep, hypnotic gold in the dark. It moved silently, stalking towards him with slow, graceful menace. No matter how much Sirius tried, he could make out no more of the creature than its eyes, and it was these that caught his attention and held it.
"Lupin," he whispered, taking a slow step back. The creature neither blinked nor acknowledged his voice, continuing its steady advance. Sirius swallowed, backing away from the wolf even as it stalked towards him. This was it; his death was inevitable. He knew this with the same kind of certainty as if someone had shouted it in his ear. Time's Up. He could see the message and the intent written clearly in the wolf's malevolent eyes – could all but hear it in the rhythmic sound of his own heartbeat and the soft scrape of claws against wooden floorboards.
He couldn't really think of anything to say, although some hysterical part of his mind was prompting him to run, do something, say something, anything. If there was the slightest chance he could appeal to whatever humanity remained in Lupin, he might be saved. The coldly rational part of him, however, knew that it was too late. Lupin was the wolf, and Sirius was its prey. It was far too late for words or even actions. Still, he couldn't help it, amidst the sheer terror and absolute panic that was invading his mind, he found a tiny sliver of something that – to his shock – felt very much like regret.
The wolf growled, and Sirius realised he had retreated as far as he could. His back was pressed to the rough wall of the house, his fingers digging into the splintering wood. Taking a deep breath, he wondered somewhat dazedly if Remus would escape the death penalty if he killed the only other human who could have testified against him in court. It was a ridiculous thought, and even as he stood there, now too terrified even to think about moving along the wall or making a break for the doorway, he realised this. Whatever happened, if Snape was dead, if he, Sirius, was dead, Remus would be killed, simply for being what he was and following his natural instinct.
There was an agonising pause that seemed to stretch for no more than a heartbeat and yet for eternity, as the wolf stopped, feet away from him, and merely stared. No memories flashed before Sirius's eyes, but the room felt far away. The situation was unreal to him – distant – almost as though he was watching a scene from a movie. The concept of his death seemed strange to him – a refusal to believe he was about to be killed. It wasn't something he'd ever thought to face, and now, confronted with dying, he was fully aware of himself. He could hear the beat of his heart; feel his lungs filling with air; was conscious of every final, precious breath and the feel of wood beneath his fingertips.
He shut his eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said, and he didn't know if he was apologising to Remus, Snape or even himself. "I'm so sorry."
There was a snarl. He opened his eyes in time to see the wolf lunge, and instinctively threw up his hands to shield himself. The force of the animal slamming into him knocked him sideways and he fell, the wolf on top of him. He grabbed handfuls of fur, yanking in a desperate attempt to keep the werewolf's teeth away, but his actions were in vain. The beast shook itself, dislodging his hands with startling ease and lunged again.
There was the feel of hot breath on his neck.
There was the sound of running feet.
There was a flash of light and a bright burst of pain.
Then, mercifully, there was nothing.
"I'm telling you, something is seriously wrong," James said anxiously, as he and Peter sat huddled in a corner.
The Great Hall was filled with winter sunlight that streamed down from the enchanted ceiling. Decorations and garlands festooned the walls and the majority of Hogwarts' students who had stayed for the Christmas festivities were dressed in brightly coloured costumes. As Christmas celebrations went, this one was exceptionally grand, but James – jammed into a suit of armour he'd eventually borrowed from the castle itself – and Peter (dashingly swathed in a bright red suit and a beard) paid little attention to their surroundings. Their primary concern was the complete lack of Sirius.
"We haven't seen him since last night," Peter pointed out unnecessarily, "and his bed hasn't been slept in. His presents have been left unopened and no one seems to know what's going on." He frowned. "And to top it all off, there was that whole thing with Professor Sinn last night. What was that about, do you think?"
"I don't know." James's expression was grim, and he pushed up his visor so he could see more clearly. "But Dumbledore seemed worried – almost scared in fact. If you could claim he ever felt fear, of course. I think something's going on – something we're not meant to know about. I mean, what do you think Mars meant by the tree not moving? Do trees move? And if they do, why was this one not moving causing such a problem?"
"I don't think trees move in general," Peter's voice was dubious, "but there's at least one that does. The Whomping Willow, remember?"
There was a long pause, during which James stared thoughtfully at the students who were dancing. Lily was out there in the middle of the throng, dressed in a pale pink gown, her red hair swept high off her neck. Nearby, several of the teachers who were in outrageous costumes stood, not enjoying themselves as one would expect, but huddled together, their expressions grim as they talked in low voices.
"Peter…" James said slowly, a nasty suspicion beginning to form at the back of his mind as he noted Madame Pomfrey, Sinn, Mars and Dumbledore were not among the throng. "Why exactly was the Whomping Willow planted this year?"
"They're trying to keep students in the school instead of wandering around outside after hours?" Peter suggested.
"No. I don't think so. Look, the Willow was planted this year, right? What else happened this year? Professor Lupin arrived. I bet that tree is some kind of cover. It's got to be. Maybe it's hiding a place for him to change into a wolf or something. After all, they can't just let him run loose in the Forbidden Forest. Think about it; it would explain why everyone was so worried about it not moving last night. Maybe it not moving is a sign that something's gone wrong, or someone's discovered the hiding place. Maybe that's what the panic was about."
"James," Peter whispered, lowering his voice as a group of students moved nearer to their secluded corner, "you don't think that's why Sirius isn't here, do you?"
"What do you mean?" James stared at him blankly. "You think he's the one who managed to freeze the tree or something?"
"Well…" Peter looked vaguely uncomfortable, "…think about it. Sirius seems pretty obsessed by Professor Lupin – not that he'd admit it of course – and it wouldn't take much for him to find out where Lupin transforms each month. Maybe he was trying to scare the staff into a panic, or warn Lupin that his secret wasn't safe and he got caught whilst he was setting the tree off." He paled. "What if he's in serious trouble? You don't think he'd be expelled, do you?"
"For something like this?" James scoffed. "Don't be daft. Anyway, we've no proof that's what actually happened. The two incidents could be entirely unrelated." He frowned. "Although I'm not going to deny the possibility you might be right. Do you think we should ask someone?"
"No. Think about: if you were Sirius would you want your mates intruding on a private matter?" Peter tugged irritably at his false beard. "I think Sirius has got a lot of issues to work out, not least of all those involving Professor Lupin. If we go blundering in, trying to help, I don't think it'll make life any better. He'll probably just get angry and defensive; especially if we try and point out that he's got problems. No, it's something he has to work through on his own."
"Peter," James said, sounding rather impressed, "I never knew you were so good at analysing people. Your perceptions are quite astonishing." He grinned rather lopsidedly and gave Peter a gentle punch on the arm. "I'll have to watch what I say around you from now on," he said, still grinning to show he was teasing.
"Maybe. But I wouldn't worry. Compared to Sirius, you're an absolute joy to analyse, Potter. You're only interested in one thing, and that's…"
"If you were I wouldn't want to know about it. No, it's Lily."
"Er…" Much to his embarrassment, James found that this assessment was also remarkably accurate. He smiled sheepishly. "You're probably right. But don't tell her, or I'll never hear the last of it. You know what girls are like." He sighed, gaze straying to his girlfriend, who had abandoned dancing in favour of gossiping in a corner with several other girls. Wondering how women could stand simply hovering in one place talking for hours on end, James was just about to suggest to Peter that they slipped out to see if they could find someone willing to answer questions pertaining to the whereabouts of Sirius, when his eye was caught by a vaguely familiar figure.
"Problem?" Peter asked mildly, giving up on straightening his beard, which had been skewed in one of his many irritable fits of tugging. He pulled it off completely and heaved a sigh of relief.
"I should say so," James whispered, shuffling further into the corner as surreptitiously as he could manage when wearing a rusty suit of armour. "That's Mrs Black over there."
The pain in his head was a sharp, agonizing throb that made him feel as though his very skull was splitting in two. Hovering on the brink of consciousness, Sirius was aware of two things: the first was the utter silence that surrounded him, and the second was that he could feel absolutely nothing from the neck down. Dazedly wondering where he was, he tried to move and was surprised when it seemed as though his fingers at least were cooperating when they twitched slightly.
The first attempt to open his eyes resulted in a flash of white light and a renewed burst of pain in his head. Groaning softly, he slowly drew a breath, noting in a hazy sort of way that the rest of his body was beginning to make its presence felt in the dull ache beneath his ribs. He waited for a moment, half aware of the fact that he seemed to be drifting in and out of consciousness before he tried again to open his eyes. This time he was more successful, although the sight that greeted him surprised him nearly as much as the stabbing pain in his shoulder when he drew a breath in shock.
An angel was sitting on the end of his bed, swinging his legs as he scowled moodily off towards the right. Bright sunlight streamed down on his hair, illuminating him softly, and a halo – slightly skewed – was hovering above his head. His short, white tunic was slightly crumpled, as though he'd fallen asleep in it at some point, and his expression was anything but angelic, given the frown he was wearing and the fact that he was evidently sulking. He paid no attention to Sirius, probably not even aware that he was being observed by him. This, Sirius felt, was slightly odd. He had the vague notion that angels were meant to be relatively all-knowing and – he squinted – he very much doubted that they ate cheese and tomato sandwiches.
"Ngk," he managed, which wasn't much but the angel obviously heard him as he turned his head to look directly at him, still scowling.
"Oh," he said, "you're finally awake." He hopped lightly off the end of the bed and stomped around to stand over Sirius. As he moved, he swam in and out of Sirius's vision until he resolved himself into a rather less angelic, but still clearly grumpy, Professor Fogarty. The cheese and tomato sandwich, Sirius was somewhat pleased to note, had not been a figment of his imagination, and was still clutched firmly in the Sports teacher's hand.
Mars was dressed as an angel, and Sirius wondered whether this was simply part of an elaborate joke on him. Maybe he really was dead. Maybe he was in hell, because he was pretty sure Sports teachers didn't end up in heaven, even if they were dressed as though they were meant to be. But if he was dead and Mars was here, that meant Mars was dead too, and Sirius was pretty sure he'd been alive the last time he'd seen him.
"…Dead?" he managed hoarsely after a painful moment of trying to find his voice.
"No." Mars sat down on the edge of the bed next to him, clearly not at all concerned that the jolt as he did so sent agony tearing down Sirius's left side. He deposited the remains of his sandwich on the bedside table. "And you're lucky to be alive, because I'm fit to kill you." His young, normally cheerful face was unusually grim and he looked exceptionally serious. "Do you have any idea what you've done?"
"What I've…" Sirius's voice ran out and he licked his lips, trying to focus on what the teacher was saying to him. "I…"
"You nearly killed him!" Mars burst out, his expression furious, and Sirius stared at him, disorientated, confused and more than a little scared. The Sports teacher was clearly agitated and behind his anger was something else – something that, to Sirius at least, looked very much like fear. As though the foundations of Mars's life had been shaken. He blinked, staring mutely at Mars in a silent appeal to explain what was going on.
"The Whomping Willow? The Shrieking Shack? Remus Lupin? Is none of this ringing a bell in your mind?" Mars pointed an accusatory finger at Sirius. "Don't tell me you've forgotten something like that, Sirius Black."
And that was when it finally hit Sirius.
"Remus!" he gasped, sitting up abruptly then doubling over, retching violently as pain washed over him, drowning all else for a moment. Trembling, he glanced up at Mars who looked somewhat calmer and a little repentant at the sight of his pupil, who was clearly suffering. Sirius, however, was not interested in Mars; he was far more concerned with the problem at hand. Still shaking, he reached out, gripping Mars's arm with surprisingly strong fingers.
"Remus. Is Remus alright? What's happened? Where is he?"
Mars, who was looking more surprised by the second, shook his head. "He's…he's as well as can be expected. He's pretty badly injured though." He frowned, but not with any real anger this time. "Why would you care, though? Honestly Sirius, don't you think it's a little late for concern? And," he added almost absently, "you don't talk about teachers by their first names. Show some respect."
"But is he…will they…what's going to happen to him?" There was a strange panic settling over Sirius, he could think of little else besides Remus's fate. Even the pain in his sides and head had become something distant – little more than a secondary concern as he stared at Mars who blinked, slightly nonplussed.
"Happen? Well, I don't know. He attacked a student and that's something that's got to be taken into consideration…"
"But Snape he's…what about Snape? What about what he did to him?" Sirius was aware that Mars was looking more worried by the second, but he had to know, he had to find out.
"You mean Severus Snape? He hasn't done anything to him, as far as I know. I saw him this morning not long after Remus was brought to the hospital wing. Why?" Mars's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What's Snape got to do with anything? What exactly is going on here?" He watched as Sirius flinched, letting go of his arm as though burnt. The student's eyes were hazy, unfocussed, but Mars could see real fear lurking in his expression. As he watched Sirius glance away, a horrible suspicion began to dawn at the back of his mind.
"Severus Snape knows about Remus, doesn't he?"
"I…" Sirius touched his forehead with shaking fingers. "I don't know. I…" He bit his lip. "I thought he was dead," he whispered at length. "That's why I went. I wanted to…to stop Remus doing anything. I…it's all my fault. I thought I'd killed both of them." He looked up, and Mars was shocked by the overwhelming guilt he could see in Sirius's expression. "It's all my fault," he repeated. "All of it. No one else is to blame. Snape was there, and he knew…he knew about Remus and I, and he threatened me…he wanted to blackmail me into doing something and…and…I thought how dare you? And I didn't stop to think, I did what I thought was necessary, but I didn't realise at first that it would be Remus that would kill him, and I forgot that the wolf and the human were part of the same creature and…"
"Sirius," Mars's voice was surprisingly gentle, despite the fact he was clearly still struggling to push down his own anger. "You're babbling."
"Am I?" Sirius stared at him, grey eyes wide. "I suppose I am." He laughed, and his voice was tinged with hysteria. "But I've got to tell someone, you see; and you happen to be here. You've got to understand, it's all my fault."
"I know it's all your fault," Mars assured him with more than a little condemnation in his voice, "but that doesn't explain exactly what you thought you were doing in the Shrieking Shack on a full moon." He frowned. Sirius was clearly still dazed from the potions Madame Pomfrey had poured down his throat, but some of what he was saying was starting to paint a rather more complicated story of what was going on than he'd originally suspected.
"It was the Shrieking Shack? Oh, that explains why I thought it was a house," Sirius was saying. "I didn't realise the tunnel would end up there."
"How did you know about the tunnel in the first place?" Mars demanded, shooting a surreptitious look over one shoulder to make sure Pomfrey wasn't bearing down on him to demand he leave for disturbing her patients.
"I heard you; you and Professor Sinn and Remus talking about the Willow. I didn't know there was a tunnel, but it was evident once you started to look for it. I heard about the knot and realised it had to do something to the tree, so when the branches froze I wasn't surprised. It was easy to convince Snape I already knew all about where Remus was hiding and I let him think we were meeting there. I suppose he thought he could catch us out if he confronted Remus about everything."
"What do you mean 'if he confronted Remus about everything'?" Mars demanded. "What are you talking about? Do you mean Snape suspected Remus was a werewolf?"
"No…I…" Sirius trailed off, and Mars could see the realisation dawning on his face that he'd said too much. "It's nothing," he said abruptly. "Don't worry. Just…no, it's really nothing." He covered his face with his hands. "I really am sorry, you know." The words were barely more than a whisper. "I didn't mean to cause this much trouble. I didn't think. I don't want anyone to get hurt because I did something stupid."
"People have already been hurt!" Mars snapped in spite of himself. "Remus is a mess right now, thanks to you, and Sinn…" He trailed off, lips pressed together as his hands clenched into fists.
"Professor Sinn?" Sirius dropped his hands and stared at him, face pale. "Why was he hurt?"
"It was us that found you." Mars glanced away, unable to look directly at Sirius. "Another couple of seconds and you'd have been ripped to shreds. Or bitten. I'm not sure which is worse. Anyway, we realised something was wrong because we saw the Willow wasn't moving, and we came down the tunnel after you. We found you on the floor, the wolf standing over you, and Sinn tried to fire a curse. Well, it hit you by accident and then the werewolf attacked Sinn. He's ok – he only got clawed, but the bleeding wouldn't stop for a long time." He drew a deep breath. "Both of you are so damned lucky to be here at all. Hell, so am I!"
Sirius remained silent, although Mars suspected this was largely because he was still too confused to process everything properly. He tried to find some sympathy for the pupil and found, to his surprise, that he did have some. Sirius, he suspected, was someone who was led by emotions far more than he was led by common sense, but this didn't stop him from wishing that he could throttle him.
"I nearly lost everything because of you," he said to Sirius softly. "So you'd better come up with a good explanation for all of this when Dumbledore stops by to see you. And you'd better make damned sure you explain that it wasn't Remus's fault. Believe me when I say this, Sirius Black, I'm not putting the people I care about in danger again just because you think it's a good idea to get rid of a problem." He stood up, intending to leave.
"What's it like?" Sirius's voice was soft but clear in the deep silence of the room.
"What's what like?" Mars turned to look at him, his expression faintly confused.
"Being so angry because someone you love was hurt. It must be hard, loving someone like that." Sirius's tone was distant, his gaze seeming to reach through Mars to his very soul. He was clearly still only half-conscious, not really aware of where he was, but his question was astute. "What's it like, caring that much for someone?"
"You've no idea."
"So tell me."
"It's everything to me – he's everything to me. It's not about being in love or romantic confessions, it's about knowing I'd die for him if I thought it would protect him. It's about friendship, and sticking together. It's about understanding and wanting what's best for him. It's about all of that, and it's about just wanting to be with him, no matter what that entails. I don't care about who, or what, he is, and he doesn't care who, or what, I am. When I thought he might die, it was the most painful moment of my life. That is what it's like, and if you ever, ever make me relive that moment again, I shall personally rip you into little pieces and feed you to one of Hagrid's pets. Do you understand me?"
Sirius nodded mutely.
"Good," Mars said, still uncharacteristically serious. Turning, he pushed aside the curtain surrounding Sirius's bed and marched off down the ward, more shaken than he cared to admit.
In the bed nearest the door, a pale figure was propped up amidst a mound of pillows. There was movement as Mars drew closer, and Sinn turned his head, watching his friend with half closed eyes as he approached.
"Was Sirius awake? Did you talk to him?" he asked, absently moving his legs to make room for Mars, who sat down.
"I talked to him." Mars's expression was grim.
"He's still pretty confused, I think. Doesn't know where he is; didn't know who I was for a while. He's terrified about anything happening to Remus though; I got that much out of him. He also mentioned Severus Snape." Mars sighed, raking a hand through his blond hair. "I'm worried, I think there's a lot more going on here then just some stupid kid accidentally discovering Remus's secret and thinking it would be fun to go and have a look for himself."
"It's not like you to worry." Normally, Sinn's gaze would have been sharp, but, like Sirius, he'd been given a sedative to ease the pain of his wound. His shoulder and the length of his arm were bandaged, hiding the deep rip that ran down from where the wolf had sunk sharpened claws into him. Following the course of the wrappings with his eyes, Mars silently gave thanks that it was, effectively, a scratch and nothing more.
"You look ridiculous in that outfit," Sinn added, a hint of his normal mocking tone showing through.
"I know." Mars reached up, tugging the halo hovering above his head self-consciously. "But since I thought I'd probably head off to the Christmas celebrations at some point, it seemed a shame to let my costume go to waste."
"It's a wonder Sirius took you seriously at all," Sinn muttered.
"Well, like I said, I don't think he was all there."
"Mm." Sinn's eyes drifted shut and he sighed. "So what's all this about something else going on?" he asked after a moment, clearly fighting against sleep.
"Mars smiled down at him. "I'll explain later," he promised.
"Well push off then. Go down to the Great Hall or something, you're disturbing my sleep." The words were meant to be harsh, but the effect was ruined as Sinn yawned.
"All right," Mars lied, swinging his legs up onto the bed and laying down. There was barely enough room for both teachers, but somehow he managed to work his way under Sinn's uninjured arm, resting his head on his friend's shoulder. Sinn grumbled under his breath but didn't really object – clearly too tired to do anything more than give Mars a half hearted push.
"Get off," he muttered, betraying the statement by reaching up, lightly touching Mars's hair.
Mars lay there listening to the reassuring beat of his friend's heart until he was sure Sinn was asleep. Grinning to himself, he settled down, fully aware that he'd be shoved off the bed as soon as Sinn awoke.
"No," he whispered in reply to Sinn's last comment. "I'm not going anywhere for a while."
It was dark the next time Sirius awoke.
Lying on his back, he frowned at the stone ceiling, still vaguely confused and in rather a large amount of pain. Whatever he'd been given to dull his senses had clearly worn off, and although his head was aching slightly less, his whole body throbbed in agony. He vaguely remembered Mars's visit, and with hazy recollection came the knowledge that Snape, at least, was clearly safe. But he didn't know much more than that. Was Professor Sinn alright? More importantly was Remus alright? From what he could recall there had been frustratingly little information concerning the werewolf, and Sirius was worried.
A part of him still could not feel sorry that he'd tried to send Snape down the passage to see Remus. His sentiments in that area had, after all, not changed. Snape deserved everything he got, especially because he refused to leave a person's private business alone. Sirius despised him and felt somewhat vindicated in attempting to scare him off – perhaps even kill him. It was a terrible, awful thought, but it was simply part of who he was. Another part of him however, was far more deeply concerned about the repercussions this would have for Remus. Sirius was no fool. The werewolf had attacked not one, but two people, and that at the very least could land him in prison. The law was not lenient when it came to dangerous beasts.
Somewhere at the back of his mind Sirius was struggling to associate the animal he'd seen last night with the mild mannered man he'd been talking to for the majority of the term. Oh, he knew Lupin was the creature and the creature was Lupin, but the two aspects of the same man seemed so different – so removed from one another – that it was almost impossible to link them together in his head. Lupin was a werewolf – he clearly hid the aspects of the wolf. He wasn't human, didn't deserve to be treated as a human. This was what he, Sirius, had always been told.
And yet Remus had been all he could think about last night when he'd gone down the tunnel. He'd been terrified, but his fear that Lupin would be blamed and then killed for something that he, Sirius, had done, had been an even greater cause for fear. He'd thought he would die down there – no, he'd known he would die down there. Those last seconds before the wolf had pounced had been filled with the absolute certainty that his life was finally over. But even then he hadn't blamed Lupin, instead he'd felt…relief. As though he'd finally be free, that he'd finally have made things right by dying. It didn't make sense.
Or maybe it did.
Professor Fogarty's words came back to him as he lay there, biting his lip. 'It's not about being in love or romantic confessions, it's about knowing I'd die for him if I thought it would protect him.' Was that what he'd felt? That at least by dying for Remus he'd be able to protect him in some ridiculous way? That at least the Ministry would have no witnesses to confirm that Remus had killed? That perhaps no one would ever know the wolf had killed two people? It was a ridiculous notion – it was inevitable that people would notice he was missing and begin to ask questions, but it had been of some comfort at the time, hadn't it?
Slowly, Sirius sat up. It did make sense. He'd wanted to protect Lupin, even though it was he, Sirius, who had caused the problem in the first place. He'd wanted to stop him from getting hurt, despite knowing what Remus was; despite knowing he'd probably die in the attempt. It was strange. Why would he do that? It wasn't like him. If he was brutally honest with himself – and Sirius often was – he was not the type of person to help someone on a whim, let alone protect them like that, so why had he done it?
He knew that only he could answer that question, and he wasn't sure he wanted to. If he'd done it because…because he felt something for Lupin, then he didn't think he wanted to know. Sirius Black didn't develop feelings for people – aside from the inevitable friendship with James and Peter, of course – and he certainly didn't fall in love with werewolves, did he?
He sighed, feeling tired. He was attracted to Remus, wasn't he? He didn't know. Yes, no, maybe…it was all so complicated, so difficult. And to make matters worse he, Sirius, had nearly killed Lupin with his stupidity. What was he to do? He rubbed his forehead, trying to dispel the ache building behind his eyes. The answer was already there in front of him, he knew, and he wasn't sure he liked it.
He had to find Lupin.
Carefully, wincing with every movement, he slipped out of bed and quietly made his way towards the door at the far end of the room.