Title: Absolution

Author: Erika (firedrake88yahoo.com)

Rating: PG-13

Summary: Sirius makes a monumentally stupid mistake but is unable to grasp its severity. When he realizes the gravity of what he's done will he be able to gain Remus' forgiveness? Will Remus ever trust him again?

Timeframe: Remus, Sirius, James, and Peter are sixth-years.

Spoilers: For PoA

Category: Angst, H/C, POV

Disclaimers: Hogwarts and all of its characters belong to JK Rowling, I'm only borrowing them to have a little fun and I promise to return them unharmed (well, at least mostly unharmed =0). I'm making no money from this and this is written for entertainment purposes only.

Feedback: Both positive feedback and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated and will be cherished!

Archive: Please ask first. =)

Author's Note: (1) Please don't expect the characters to sound British…I'm American and I don't have any British friends. (2) This story takes place in the same timeline as my other story, "Moonlit Perdition," but also stands alone. You can find "Moonlit Perdition" at my website.



When I told Snape how to get past the Whomping Willow it wasn't that I wanted him to be killed. It wasn't even that I wanted him to be hurt. I had just wanted him to be scared. Scared enough to leave my friends and me alone and not meddle in matters that did not concern him. I had not thought about what would happen after he saw Remus transform. I had not thought about what the wolf would do to him. Truth be told, I hadn't thought much at all.

I had simply reacted. I had let Snape's insults and snide remarks hit their mark. I had let his jibes get to me. Instead of ignoring him, I had allowed myself to get angry. I hadn't considered the repercussions of what I was telling him, I had just spat out the first thing to cross my mind.

The first thing to cross my mind. The first thing to cross my mind had endangered the life of a fellow student. No matter how much I disliked Snape, no matter how heartless he was, I had not meant to actually mortally imperil him. He deserved the fright of seeing the grisly transformation. For all that he had hounded Remus in regards to his 'secret', for all his sneaking about and searching for a way to expel us all, he deserved it. He did not, however, deserve to die.

What was perhaps infinitely worse was that the first thing to cross my mind had betrayed one of my closest friends. I had promised Remus that I would never breathe a word to anyone about his being a werewolf. I had broken my oath. While I had not told Snape what he was, I had given him everything he needed to discover it for himself.

I had also assured Remus that his being a werewolf didn't matter and yet I had used his condition as a weapon. A weapon that could have given Snape the ammunition he needed to get my quiet friend expelled. If not for Dumbledore, Snape would have told everyone about Remus. Then the Ministry of Magic would have forced his to leave the school. Hogwarts – the best thing that had ever happened to Remus – would have been taken away from him. Because of me. What would Remus think? Would he ever forgive me?

Sighing, I entered the waiting room of the hospital wing. James was sitting in one of the many chairs, holding his head in his hands. Peter was standing on the far side of the room, staring out a window. Neither of them noticed my presence.

"How–" My voice came out strangely clipped and I shook my head, clearing my throat. "How is he?"

James lifted his head and Peter turned around. They both looked utterly exhausted and extremely worried. James had dark circles around his eyes and his face was drawn and tight. Peter's hair was a mess and he was very pale. By the looks of it, they had been here ever since moonset.

"His still unconscious," James said stiffly, his expression turning cold.

I swallowed. Still unconscious? It was past seven in the morning. Why hadn't Remus woken? "I don't understand."

James laughed but it was a sound devoid of all mirth. "The wolf got hold of Snape's scent. He smelled human blood. It drove him mad. Madder. Without us there to help him, he turned on himself more viciously than I've ever seen before."

I let my eyes drift shut. God, this was worse than I had feared. I had never thought about how this would affect the wolf. "How-how viciously?"

"I saw them bring him in," Peter spoke for the first time. His tone was subdued and unsteady. "He…was covered in gashes and bruises."

"I almost didn't recognize him, through all the blood," James added darkly.

God. Oh God. What had I done? I had sworn to help Remus. I had proposed that James, Peter, and I become Animagus so that we could be there with him during the full moon, maybe make things easier for him. Was I making things easier for him now? Was I helping him now?

I opened my eyes. James was staring at me, disbelief and anger evident in his gaze. "James–" I began, taking a step forward but stopping when my friend cut me off.

"What about Snape?" he questioned, clearly unwilling to hear my explanations. My excuses.

I sighed. "Dumbledore says that Snape isn't going to tell anyone about Remus."

James, overcome by relief, seemed to sag into his chair. Peter smiled, the tension draining from his face. "Brilliant," he whispered weakly.

"What else?" James turned back to me.

He was asking what Dumbledore had done to me. Endangering Snape's life was no small misdeed. "I'm to report to Professor McGonagall every day after classes for detention. After detention I'll be escorted to the common room. I won't be allowed to leave again until classes the next morning. On weekends, I'm to stay inside the castle." I almost continued but then I stopped, concealing the worst of my punishment.

Peter looked surprised. "So…that means you're off of the Quidditch team?" he sputtered.

"Of course he's off the Quidditch team! He's lucky to have not been expelled," James snapped, his voice dripping with irritation, "He nearly got two students killed!"

Peter averted his eyes from both James and mine. After a moment of looking morosely down at the floor, he returned to his position by the window.

I balked at James' words. "Two students?" I echoed weakly. That would mean that Remus…that Remus had… That he had almost… Oh God, no.

"By moonrise, Remus had nearly managed to kill himself," his voice was dangerously low and dipped in poison.

I let myself sink down into the chair next to James'. I hadn't meant to hurt Remus. This hadn't been about Remus at all. I had wanted to terrify Snape; I had wanted to teach him a lesson. I hadn't wanted Remus to pay the price for my stupid, thoughtless error. And he had paid the price, had paid it ten times over. He had nearly died and it was my fault.

My chest throbbed glaringly and every muscle in my arms and legs went tense, stiffening with pain and dread. Needles of ice shot through my blood. "Oh God," I choked on the words. "James," I turned to him desperately, "I didn't mean for this happen, I didn't mean for any of this to happen."

James' eyes flashed with anger and he opened his mouth, clearly intent on delivering a scathing reply to my words. He stopped short, though, and seemed to reconsider. Studying me, his face softened slightly. None of the ire faded but a small amount of understanding joined it.

"I'm sorry," I murmured faintly, hoping James would see how badly I felt about this whole situation.

"I know," his voice was just as subdued as mine. "I know that, Sirius, but I'm not the one you should be apologizing to. I'm not the one that your stupid recklessness nearly got killed."

I flinched and nodded. James would forgive me. It would take a few days, maybe a week, but he would forgive me. He would never speak the words, would never pull me aside to say that everything was all right between us, but the anger would slip away a little at a time until the tension between us disappeared as well. Peter already had forgiven me. Or perhaps he simply did not realize how serious my mistake had been. Whatever the case, nothing had changed between us. Remus, though… I could not say the same for him. I did not know if he would ever forgive this.

"What am I going to tell him?" I asked rhetorically.

James answered nonetheless, his words quiet and contemptuous. "Maybe you should have thought of that before you gave away his secret."

Before I could answer, Madam Pomfrey swept into the room.

James and I both stood and approached her. Peter turned but stayed where he was.

"Mr. Black," she addressed me directly, "Mr. Lupin is awake. You may speak with him now."

James shot me a disbelieving glare. "What about Peter and me?" It obviously did not seem fair to him that I should have the right to see Remus first. I, after all, was the reason he had been hurt so badly.

"I am under strict orders from Professor Dumbledore to allow in only Mr. Black," she explained patiently before turning to leave and indicating that I should follow her.

Giving James an apologetic look, I hurried to catch up with Madam Pomfrey.

What I hadn't told James and Peter was that in addition to the year-long detentions, it was I who had to explain to Remus what had happened. I had to tell him what I had done. This, by far, was the worst of what Dumbledore had reprimanded me with. I hated the fact that I couldn't do anything extra-curricular until next school year but actually having to look at Remus and explain to him that I had… It would be so much easier if he already knew. Then I could just try to apologize.

"Sirius?" Remus' labored voice startled me. I hadn't realized that I had already followed Madam Pomfrey to his bedside. I remembered leaving the room with her and then…the next thing I knew I was looking down at my friend's concerned face. I must have lost myself in thought. "Are you quite well?"

Quickly, I examined Remus' supine form. The blood and gashes that James and Peter had seen were gone now. All that remained were the scars. I thought it would be easier to see him this way, having already been tended, but I was wrong. There were so many new scars. On his face, on his arms and legs…everywhere. God, there must have been so much blood this morning. I had seen Remus endure some gruesome transformations since first year but none of them had ever left so many scars. It was all too easy for me to image him huddled in a corner of the shack, drenched in his own blood, with abraded skin and…

"Sirius?" he questioned again, his gentle concern slapping me in the face.

"Don't." I hissed abruptly, startling the both of us.

Remus frowned and shook his head slightly. "What is it, Sirius? What's wrong?"

"Don't ask me if I'm all right," I went on urgently, "Don't worry about me."

Now he was truly confused. He didn't even know what to say. He was just staring at me, looking more worried than he had before. He didn't understand.

"I-I don't deserve your concern," I tried to explain a little more calmly. "I don't deserve any of it." I paused and took a deep breath. "How-how are you?"

He looked as if he wanted to protest, wanted to press me for the source of my anxiety, but he stifled his worry. "I've felt better," he smiled almost imperceptibly, "but I've lived through worse."

"Before you came to Hogwarts?" I asked, not wanting to know the answer.

He nodded. "The cage my father kept me in was, as you know, very small. As a wolf I would practically mutilate myself trying to get out."

I closed my eyes. "This is the worst transformation since you came to school, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is," he agreed softly, "but I'm all right, Sirius."

I forced myself to look at him again.

"Sirius," he reached out to touch my hand, "You don't have to worry for me. I'm all right."

I jerked away from his comforting touch. This was my fault. He had almost died because of me. He had almost died and he was trying to make me feel better. He was only making things worse, though. Every time I saw the worry in his gaze it was like a blow to my stomach.

Remus looked hurt that I had pulled away from him.

"You almost died," my voice was so strangled that I almost couldn't make out my own words.

Remus shook his head. "No, I didn't."

My heart sank even further. Hadn't Madam Pomfrey told him? "James and Peter said that–"

"What I told Mr. Potter and Mr. Pettigrew," Madam Pomfrey scared me when she spoke. I had forgotten that she was here. "Was that Mr. Lupin came as close to dying as he ever has here at Hogwarts."

"If I had been left in the shack I'm sure I would have died," Remus added, "But Madam Pomfrey came just after moonrise, like she always does, so I was never in any danger of that."

I looked to Madam Pomfrey for affirmation. She nodded and I sighed, feeling some measure of relief. Only some, though. So I hadn't nearly managed to get Remus killed. I had still put his life in great peril, though. I was still responsible for the excessive madness the wolf had experienced last night. I was the reason that Remus was laying here in the hospital wing instead getting ready for class.

And now I was the one who had to tell him.

"This is my fault," I murmured, "Your transformation being so terrible last night… It's my fault."

Remus' eyes immediately went wide with disbelief. I knew he would protest so I quickly turned to Madam Pomfrey, "Would you please give us a few minutes alone?"

"Of course, Mr. Black," she agreed and quickly left the room.

When I looked back at Remus I found that he was watching me expectantly, waiting for an explanation that I didn't know how to give him.

What was I supposed to say? I had to tell him the truth. I had to tell him exactly what had happened. I just didn't know how. "Snape saw you and Madam Pomfrey last night," I started without meaning to. "He was following you when I ran into him."

I took a deep breath. That was the easy part. I didn't know how to explain what had happened next. Part of me wanted to tell him what Snape had said so that he would understand why I had gotten so angry. Part of me wanted to offer that up as an excuse for my actions. I couldn't though. Because there wasn't any excuse for what I had done and I couldn't pretend that there was. Couldn't try to make Remus think that there was.

Up until now I had maintained eye contact. I had looked straight into Remus' bright emerald eyes. I couldn't anymore, though. I couldn't bear to see his reaction to my betrayal of his trust. Instead, I fixed my gaze on the floor and continued. "He said some things that…made me very angry." I sighed. "I let him make me angry and I…I told him how to get past the Whomping Willow."

My heart was pounding. I could feel it pulsing against my chest, could feel the blood pumping through my veins. I could hear it thudding in my ears. That, and my suddenly raged breathing was all I could hear. Remus wasn't saying anything. I could feel him staring at me but he did not speak.

"James found out what I did and…pulled Snape back but…not before he saw," I forced myself to keep speaking.

"Severus knows that I am a werewolf?" Remus asked. Unlike when James had spoken to me, the anger was not evident in his tone. In fact, his voice held a strange, empty quality that made me shiver. It was devoid of all emotion.

Still unable to meet my friend's gaze, I nodded mutely. Then, realizing what Remus would be thinking, I jumped into a sudden rush of explanation. "You're not going to be expelled though. Snape isn't going to tell anyone what he saw. Dumbledore talked to him. I don't know how he managed it but…he's convinced Snape to hold his tongue."

Again, Remus remained silent. He didn't express his relief that he could stay at Hogwarts. He didn't express his anger that I had given him away to Snape. It shouldn't have surprised me but it did. I had expected him to yell at me, tell me that I was a horrible friend and a fool for never thinking things through. I expected him to say that he didn't want to have anything more to do with me. I shouldn't have expected that, though. Remus was not James. Remus was not me. Whereas either one of us would have verbally vented our ire, Remus kept his thoughts to himself.

Finally, I steeled myself and looked up into my friend's eyes. What I saw there surprised me. There was no anger in the emerald green depths. There wasn't even a trace of annoyance. No, there was something far worse than that. Hurt. Immense, soul-searing hurt. Remus wasn't angered by what I had done, he was hurt.

I staggered back. Anger I could have handled. A tirade I could have handled. This… This I couldn't handle. This hurt silence was worse than all the words he could have spat. I hadn't meant to hurt him physically and I certainly hadn't meant to hurt him emotionally. I hadn't meant to make him think that his friendship was worthless to me. I hadn't meant to make him think that I didn't care about the pain his went through every month, that his being a werewolf was just something I would throw at someone like a weapon whenever it suited me. And I had. I had made him think all of those things.

"Was everything you ever told me a lie?" Remus finally asked. "You were always so gentle with me. After each and every transformation, you were always so caring. First and second year, when I was constantly having those horrible nightmares, you were always the one that tried to comfort me. Was all of that meaningless to you?"

"No!" I insisted more vehemently than I had intended. "I-I didn't think. I just-just didn't think. This had nothing to do with your being a werewolf. You're my friend, Remus…if I had thought…at all, I wouldn't have sent Snape after you. I didn't want to hurt you. I never meant to hurt you."

"I trusted you," was his only reply.

"Remus…" I pleaded for understanding. "I'm…sorry. I'm sorry."

Remus shook his head. "Just leave."

I frowned. "What?"

"Leave." He said again, a hard edge entering his voice.

Releasing a raged sigh, I nodded. If he didn't want to see me then…he didn't want to see me. I had no right to protest. Not after what I had done. "I…I'm so sorry," I said again. Then I turned and did as he asked.

When I reached the waiting room I found Madam Pomfrey, James, and Peter. "I told him." Looking James directly in the eyes, I continued. "He's…very upset. I think…I think you and Peter should be with him now."

James nodded tersely. I knew he was going to say something but I just…couldn't hear it. Not now. So I shook my head and ran from the room. As fast as I could, I ran from the hospital and across Hogwarts. Ignoring the stern rebukes of about five different professors and the confused stares of a dozen students, I ran until I reached the entrance to the Gryffindor common room. Then I gave the password, waited impatiently for the painting to open, and rushed up to the dorm I shared with my three best friends. Once there, I collapsed on my bed and found myself fervently wishing that the universe would just take pity on me and open a small pocket in which I could crawl so that I would never have to face Remus again.

What was I going to do? I had lost one of my best friends. How was I ever going to get him back?

Remus and I didn't see much of each other in the next couple of weeks. I spent the better part of every day in class or in detention. When I was finally brought back to the Gryffindor common room I invariably found that Remus had just left. Obviously, he was studiously avoiding me. And, in so doing, avoiding our dorm room. He would leave right before I arrived and then would not return until well after the rest of us went to sleep.

For the first few days after the incident I had sought him out during evening meal and attempted to speak with him. Each time, Remus had coolly rejected my attempts at remedying the situation between us. Once, when I had persisted for longer than I should have, he had simply left the Great Hall without eating. The next day I had apologized for pushing him and had promised to keep my distance for a while. Not knowing what else to do, I was giving Remus time. Hopefully, eventually, he would allow me to approach him. Maybe then I could entreat his forgiveness.

Sometimes I wondered when I would forgive myself. Not a night went by that I did not dream about Remus having died because of my mistake. Sometimes I wondered what was worse, seeing my friend lying dead, his brutalized body unrecognizable due to all the blood and bruises, or seeing how depressed he had become since the last full moon. Remus had virtually completely withdrawn from both James and Peter. According to them, he now spent all his time studying or reading. When he did hang out with them they said that it felt forced and that they could tell he was trying to enjoy himself but not succeeding. Remus was just sad all the time.

What made me feel even worse was that Remus felt he could not spend any time in the dorm room. All of his things were here and I knew that he preferred curling up on his bed to study over sitting in the library, where he was spending most of his time. If I had been able to, I would have left so that Remus could stay. It was I, after all, who had fowled everything up.

As much as I disliked the idea, I was beginning to think that the best solution would be for me to move to another dorm room. It would mean leaving James and Peter as well but I was willing to do anything to make this easier for Remus. I wanted to talk to him about it first, though. I did not want him to get the wrong impression and think that I was leaving because his friendship had no value to me.

Instead of speaking with him during evening meal, I decided to wait until he returned to the dorm room. James and Peter had already gone to sleep. Having finished all of my homework for the next few days, I was simply sitting on my bed. Finally, well after one in the morning, Remus returned.

As always, he entered very quietly so as not to disturb the rest of us. Immediately, he noticed that I was still awake. For a moment, he paused in the doorway and studied me with unreadable eyes. Then, he nodded once and continued to his bed. In silence, I watched him set his books inside the trunk at the foot of his bed and pull out his nightclothes.

"Remus," I addressed him quietly so as not to wake James or Peter. "Can I have word with you?"

I heard him release a quiet sigh. For a moment I thought he meant to ignore me but then he turned around and replied very wearily, "Very well, Sirius."

I smiled my thanks. "Remus, I know that the only reason you're returning so late is because you don't want to speak with me and I was…wondering if you'd…" My voice faded into silence against my will as I was overcome by another wave of guilt and sadness. Remus was staring at me such detachment that it drove a stake through my heart. I wanted things back to the way they had been before. I wanted my friend back. More importantly, I wanted him back to the way he had been before. I did not like the sorrow that constantly lingered about him ever since the prank. I did not like that he was having as many nightmares now as he had when I had first met him. I did not like that he was so unhappy. Unhappy because of me.

"What were you wondering, Sirius?" he inquired softly, his tone holding a gentleness that surprised me.

Clearing my throat, I continued. "I was wondering if you would like me to move to another dorm room. I was wondering if that…would make you feel more comfortable."

Remus was clearly surprised by this. Whatever he had expected me to say, it had not been that. For a moment he just watched me, a strange look in his eyes. I tried to identify the emotion that flickered in the emerald pools but it was gone before I could figure out what it was.

"You don't have to do that, Sirius," he replied softly.

A glimmer of hope ignited in my heart. Could that mean that Remus was starting to forgive me? If he did not want me to leave then perhaps he wanted to restore our friendship.

He, however, quickly extinguished that hope with his next words. "Christmas break is only a month away and we can request new room assignments then."

Swallowing, I nodded glumly. Obviously, Remus had no interest in things being the way they had been before. "Remus…I want us to be friends again," I spoke without thinking, completely aware of the pleading note my voice had taken. "Isn't there…something, anything I can do…?"

"No," Remus stated flatly.

"I know that I hurt you but…I didn't mean it," my tone was rising with every word but I didn't care. "Snape just…he made me so angry that I…I-I just…didn't think. I know it was stupid and horrible but it was a…mistake. And…I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"I know that you're sorry, Sirius, but that doesn't change anything," he answered just as quietly and calmly as ever.

"Just…won't you please give me a chance?" I sounded desperate now, but it didn't matter. I cared too much about Remus to just let our friendship end over an idiotic mistake.

"A chance?" he sounded incredulous. "Sirius, you almost turned me into a murderer."

"What?" I was utterly confused.

Now Remus looked annoyed, "I trusted you. You were my friend. And you almost let me kill another human being."

"Not you, the wolf."

"The wolf is me!" he yelled, sounding angrier than I had ever heard him. "Come morning, Severus' blood would have been on my skin. I would have seen myself ripping him shreds every day for the rest of my very short life." By the time he finished his tone had returned to its normal collectedness but I could still hear the hurt and ire in it.

"Very short life?" I echoed distantly, still confused.

Remus shook his head in disbelief. "You still don't understand, do you? You don't know what they would have done to me for killing a person. That's what hurts me so much, Sirius, that you don't even realize what you almost did to me. It's almost worse than your breaking my trust and using my greatest weakness against Snape." Suddenly he looked exhausted, as if all the energy had left his body. "No. I take that back. It is worse."

I was staggered. I didn't know what to say. Truth be told, I didn't know what Remus was talking about. Even if the wolf had killed Snape it wouldn't have been my friend's fault. He might have remembered what the wolf had done but he wouldn't have been to blame. No, I would have been to blame.

How could he say that I didn't understand what I had done to him? I had hurt him. I had betrayed him. I was the reason he was injured so badly during the last full moon. I was the reason he was always dejected and detached now.

"Goodnight, Sirius," Remus effectively ended the conversation. Turning back to his bed, he started to change out of his robes.

I stared at Remus painfully. I had ruined everything. He would never forgive me.

Quickly climbing to my feet, I grabbed my pillow and whispered, "Goodnight Remus." Then, ignoring the stares of James and Peter, who had both woken up during my failed conversation with Remus, I left the dorm room. There were several comfortable sofas in the common room. I would stay there tonight. I simply couldn't stand to be in the same room with Remus, knowing that he and I would most likely never be friends again. It was too painful.

"Maybe we could charm his parchment so that it turns into a rat in the middle of Potions?" Peter suggested excitedly.

James sighed. "That would be too much like the time when we made his Defense Against the Dark Arts essay turn into a Snitch and fly out the window."

Shaking my head, I tried to ignore my two friends and continue reading. They had been discussing ways to humiliate Snape for almost an hour now. It was rather distracting and very frustrating.

"Sirius, are you sure you don't want to help us think of ideas?" James asked me for the third time.

"No, James. I really have to finish this homework." I replied without looking up. James and Peter didn't understand the change in my behavior. Before the incident with Snape I had always been more than willing to set everything aside for the sake of embarrassing the slimy Slytherin. Things were different now. Or maybe I was the one who was different. It wasn't that I didn't hate Snape anymore – I did. It just…all seemed so meaningless and…cruel. Maybe he deserved everything he got but…still. What was the point of being so mean to him? It didn't solve anything. It only made the situation worse.

"I know!" James exclaimed, startling me and making me lose my place in the book, "We can charm his mirror into screwing up his reflection!"

"What would it show instead of him?" Peter asked.

James clapped once. "A werewolf!"

I slammed my book shut, suddenly very angry. "A werewolf?" I repeated in disbelief.

James and Peter, catching the disapproval in my voice, shared a surprised look but didn't respond.

"Haven't you learned anything from what happened?" I stood up and walked over to James' bed, where both he and Peter were sitting. "It's bad enough that you've kept playing pranks on Snape at every possible opportunity, but now you want to play one that involves Remus' condition?"

"It's not like we'd be putting anyone's life in danger." James replied evenly.

"I know that," I grated, "but don't you think it's still something that would bother Remus? He's our friend. His condition is…horrible. It's not something you can use to amuse yourselves. It's not a joke." I sighed tiredly. "Don't you have any regard for Remus?"

Neither James nor Peter knew what to say. They looked stunned and slightly…ashamed. Their eyes were fixed downward and they were both flushing slightly. James was shaking his head almost imperceptibly.

Without saying another word, I turned to leave the room. Almost immediately, I came to a complete stop. Remus was standing in the doorway. I didn't know how long he had been there but, judging by the look on his face, it was long enough to have gotten the gist of the conversation. For the first time since the prank, Remus' eyes weren't filled with sadness and hurt. No, they were wide with disbelief.

Smiling slightly, I nodded to him. "Remus."

"Sirius." He nodded back.

Things had been better between Remus and me since the last full moon. That night – exactly one lunar cycle after my horrendous mistake – was the first time he had been in the dorm room when I returned from detention. He, James, and Peter had been preparing for whatever 'adventure' they had planned when I entered. At first, they had all fallen silent. Eventually, though, they had continued their discussion. It had been hard to listen to their plans, knowing I wasn't included in them.

When they had left, I had desperately wanted to follow them. I almost might have, too, if it hadn't been to Remus. He had turned to me and said that it would make things harder for him if I was there. He had said I wasn't welcome. His words had stung deeply but I knew better than to protest. I did not want to make things more difficult for him. His transformations were already so painful. Instead of arguing, I had nodded and earnestly wished him well for the night. This had surprised him. Obviously, he had thought I would push harder and seemed very grateful that I hadn't.

After that, and much to my relief, Remus had started spending time in the dorm room again. He had picked up his old habit of studying on his bed. He still wasn't hanging out much with James and Peter and exchanged as few words as possible with me, but it was a change for the better. Even though we weren't friends again, I was pleased. At least he wasn't spending all his time alone anymore.

"Excuse me," I said, resuming my approach to the door.

Remus immediately stepped aside, allowing me to slip past him. I could feel his eyes on me as I entered the common room and I felt a smile flicker across my lips. He seemed much more receptive to me now. Maybe there was hope for working things out between us after all.

I spent the next few hours sitting in front of the fireplace in the common room, gazing at the leaping and falling tentacles of flame. The prank had changed me. It wasn't until after I had rebuked James and Peter for their continual torment of Snape that I realized just how much. I wasn't bent on concocting new pranks or scheming up some elaborate way to break half a doze school rules. I didn't mind having been kicked off of the Quidditch team anymore. It didn't seem to bother me that I couldn't go to Hogsmeade again until next school year.

All my grades had improved as well, and it wasn't simply because of all the time that daily detention afforded me to work on my homework. I had realized that understanding the material presented actually mattered to my life after Hogwarts. What was more, I had realized that my actions had real consequences.

And it only took endangering the lives of two students, I thought cynically.

I sighed. I liked this change in me. I only wished it had happened sooner and that it hadn't come at such a high price. If I had been acting with only a modicum of the sense that seemed to have sprung up within me in the last month and a half I never would have made the mistake of selling Remus out to Snape. Remus and I would still be friends and…

This was pointless. There was no use in second guessing the past. What was done was done. I had to deal with the situation as it was, not contemplate ways things could have developed differently.

Yawning, I climbed to my feet. It was late and I needed to get some sleep.

Silently, I stared up into the darkness. He was having another nightmare. He wasn't yelling or saying anything but I could hear him tossing and turning in bed. Before the prank I wouldn't have hesitated in waking him, in comforting him if he was overly distraught. Now, though… I didn't know what to do. As always.

This was far from the first time I had run across this dilemma. It happened more frequently than I would have liked. Every time Remus had had a nightmare since the prank I had wanted to help him. However, knowing full well that he wanted nothing more to do with me I had always forced myself to go back to sleep.

It was difficult, though. Difficult to sleep knowing that he was haunted by terrors he couldn't control or fight off. Difficult to sleep knowing that there had been a dramatic increase in the frequency of his nightmares since the incident.

One time, having been woken by a rather pitiful mewl, I had risen from my bed and crossed the room so that I was standing over his. For five minutes – maybe longer – I had stood there, waging a war within myself. My heart had wanted to wake Remus, pull him from the clutches of his nightmare. My mind had argued that it would probably do more damage than good, that Remus would not appreciate my intervention now that we were barely on speaking terms. Eventually, my mind had won out and I had silently slipped back into bed, trying desperate to ignore my friend's soft cries and not succeeding.

Now I was faced with the same impasse. Only this time my concern for Remus couldn't be quelled. This time I couldn't wait for him to wake on his own. The clenching in my heart wouldn't let me. He was scared and I cared for him to much to continue the charade that I didn't.

Mind made up, I pushed the covers aside and lithely slid out of bed. Padding to Remus' bedside, I sat down and watched him for a moment. His skin glistened with a thin sheen of sweat and his normally well kept hair was in disarray. A distressed look marked his unsually pale face and his breathing was slightly erratic. He was shifting restlessly under rather tangled blankets and emitting a series of very soft, very plaintive murmurs.

"Remus," I touched his shoulder gently and shook him from his dream.

My friend's breath caught in his throat and his eyes slowly fluttered open. They were disoriented and clouded by drowsiness. For a few moments he concentrated on evening his breathing. Then he straightened himself out under the covers and blinked several times to clear his vision. Watching his expressive eyes I knew the exact moment when the last wisps of his nightmare faded and allowed him to recognize who had woken him.

Without thinking, I tenderly brushed the damp hair from his face.

Remus stiffened under the contact and I quickly withdrew my hand and released my grip on his shoulder. It saddened and stung me to see his reaction to what before would have been a soothing touch but it did not surprise me. It was not as if I had expected him to warmly accept my help. Or to even accept it at all.

"You were having a nightmare," I dumbly stated the obvious.

Remus didn't respond. He simply continued watching me. Nervously, I tried to discern the look in his gaze. He was surprised that I had woken him but I couldn't tell whether he was simply annoyed by it or actually angered.

"I-I just wanted to help," I stuttered. "I'm sorry. I just couldn't keep laying there in bed, pretending that I couldn't hear you…that I wasn't concerned. I-I'm sorry."

Again, I was met with silence.

Feeling defeated, I shrugged my shoulders and rose to my feet. "I'll just go now. I-I only wanted to help. Really."

Slowly, I returned to my bed and allowed myself to collapse back into it. I didn't regret having woken him but nothing reminded me more of what I had lost than the stark contrast between our interaction just now and what it would have been before. I wanted so desperately for him to forgive me.

Burying my face in the pillow, I forced myself to stop thinking about Remus. If I didn't I would spend the next few hours contemplating my sheer and utter stupidity instead of sleeping.

"Sirius?" Remus' tired and hesitant voice startled me.

Raising my head, I turned towards him in the darkness. "Yes Remus?"

"Thank you," he breathed, almost quietly enough to make me think I had imagined it.

Smiling, I tried to control the ridiculous surge of happiness that flowed through me at his genuine gratitude. "You're welcome."

"Good morning everyone," Professor Membral addressed us as she swept down the stairs from her office and entered the classroom.

"Good morning Professor Membral," the class chorused.

"Today we're going to be continuing our discussion on controlling the threat Dark Creatures pose to the Wizarding World. As I explained on Monday, all werewolves have to be registered at the Ministry of Magic and have their homes declared safe for transformations.

"Though all possible precautions are taken to lessen the likelihood of a werewolf harming or killing innocent people there have been many cases where just that has happened. Obviously, these werewolves have to be dealt with. I'll be explaining three of the most common sentences given to werewolves that convert or kill people."

I stiffened in my chair. She was acting as if werewolves were to blame for their actions during a full moon. How could she even imply that? They had absolutely no control when in wolf form. They were overtaken by a brutal madness that allowed no room for thought or reason. How could she even talk of punishing them? It wasn't their fault!

"When a werewolf kills a person it is sentenced to expedited execution. When a werewolf kills more than one person it is sentenced to a life term in Azkaban Prison, a place far worse than the recesses of hell itself. If a werewolf bites so much as a single human being, the worse punishment known to the Wizarding World is administered to it," she paused for dramatic affect. "The Dementor's Kiss."

For a moment I was so disgusted by her use of the word 'it' when referring to werewolves that her hateful statements didn't fully register in my mind. How could she refer to them as if they weren't even human? Something horrible happened to these people and it wasn't their fault. It wasn't as if they went in search of a transformed werewolf so that they could become one as well. They deserved our help, not our hate.

Finally, I realized what she had just said. Execution. Azkaban Prison. The Dementor's Kiss. The words seemed to shriek and clash in my head. Like a vicious tempest, they circled and swarmed my body until their buzz was so loud that they drowned out the Professor's next words. Execution. Azkaban Prison. The Dementor's Kiss. How… How was that even possible? These were people afflicted with a condition so terrible that it was beyond imagining. They weren't criminals. They didn't mean to do the things they did in wolf form. They were just people who had suffered a grave misfortune. How could we do this to them?

Numbly, I turned towards James. He looked pale and shaken. Judging by the clenching and unclenching of his fists I knew he was fighting hard to keep from arguing with the teacher. Peter wasn't in this class and I was suddenly glad that Remus had taken to sitting in the very back. That way I wouldn't have to see his reaction to this…lesson.

Swallowing convulsively, I forced myself to listen to Professor Membral. "…have to ensure that the person in custody is actually werewolf. Obviously, the only way to determine this beyond a shadow of a doubt is to witness a transformation. During the next full moon the investigators tie the werewolf down to a magically fortified chair and use numerous charms to ensure it can't move. The transformation is then fully documented so that there can be no question as to whether the perpetrator is a werewolf."

I had seen Remus transform more times than I could count. It was a ghastly and painful process, the memories of which had haunted many of my dreams. I couldn't even begin to imagine how agonizing it would be to endure a transformation while restrained to a chair. The changing muscles and skin, the breaking and reforming bones, would be forced to take a disfigured shape due to all the immobilizing charms. What was already unbearable would become…excruciating.

Dear Lord. I could see Remus, in my mind, having to endure such barbarity. I could see how his form would mutate. I could hear his screams in my head. I could see how the crazed wolf would try to thrash against the invisible restraints. I could hear how it would howl and snarl and…

They would have done this to Remus. If…If the wolf had killed Snape, they would have done this to Remus. They would have taken him like some animal and magically tied him down. They would have watched the transformation with clinical detachment, ignoring the shrieks of pain as muscles and bones took a misshapen form. They would have taken notes and documented the incident as Remus, and then the wolf, writhed in pain. And then…then they would have…executed him.

Oh…oh…God. What had I done? What had I almost done? It would have been my fault. Remus would have undergone something worse than torture because of…me. He would have been killed like a beast because of me. They would have… He would have… He… He… Oh. God.

I felt sick. Physically sick. How could people do this? How could this be the system? It wasn't the werewolves' fault! They hadn't done anything wrong! It wasn't Remus' fault! I knew that werewolves were hated and feared, knew how deplorably Remus had been treated by narrow-minded fools, but I hadn't thought… I had never thought that this level of cruelty was possible.

It would have been my fault. My fault. How could I have been so thoughtless? Remus would have… Because of me. I was his friend and I had nearly done this to him. What was wrong with me? How could I not have been more careful? How could I not have researched the Ministry of Magic's policies regarding werewolves?

They would have restrained him and he would have howled in pain. They would have treated him like a monster and he would have been killed. Dead. It would have been my fault. My fault. Because of me. My fault. They would have…

Abruptly, I rose to my feet. I had to get out of here. I couldn't hear any more of this. I couldn't stand to hear any more of how werewolves were 'dealt with'. I just had to get out.

"Mr. Black, sit down" Professor Membral snapped impatiently but I ignored her.

Unsteadily, I turned and bolted from the room. Vaguely, I was aware of the Professor saying something about detention and losing Gryffindor fifty points but I didn't pay her any mind. James might have called after me too but I wasn't sure. It didn't matter, after all. None of it mattered.

I just had to get away.

Abruptly, I stopped running and collapsed onto the floor. I couldn't get the image out of my head. I couldn't get it to leave me alone. It just kept playing out before my eyes, taunting and tormenting me with the same sequence of events, over and over again.

It started with a bloodied and weakened Remus being dragged from the hospital, being told he was under arrest for the brutal murder of Severus Snape. Dumbledore would try and stop them but would fail and they would take my friend away, viciously beating and insulting him because the Fair Treatment of Criminals act only applied to humans. Then they would shackle him and throw him in a magically reinforced cell while they continued their inquiry.

After determining that Snape really had been killed by a werewolf, they would keep Remus confined in that tiny cell. They would barely feed him and would take joy in constantly beating him. By the time the next full moon rolled around, Remus would be unbearably thin and covered in welts, bruises, and caked blood. Then they would drag him to their damned magically reinforced chair and secure him so that they could sit back and watch the 'monster' take physical form.

Due to the restraints, Remus' transformation would take a grotesque shape. He would scream as fits of pain seized his body and cry as madness overtook him. The human shrieks would change to animalistic yowls and he would spend the night struggling to get to the people that stood so close by, observing. When the moon waned, he would change back. Then, as an exhausted Remus sat their helplessly, skin shredded by the binds, they would execute him. All that would be left of my friend was a lifeless body.

Then the entire cycle of revolting images would play back again.

I thought I would go mad.

I could feel myself shaking. Everything in my body was cold and tight. My breathing was harsh and uncontrollable. My lungs burned. My eyes stung. I felt sick. Literally, physically, sick. My head was throbbing with vertigo and a disgusting uneasiness had settled in my stomach and seemed to churn its way up through my throat. I felt like I couldn't swallow. A wretched taste had settled in the back of my mouth.

The images just wouldn't let me be. They were there. Always there. And every time they ran through my mind I was overcome by a tidal wave of guilt and nausea. That's what they would have done to Remus. That's what they would have… And it would have been my fault. Entirely my fault. Because of me. Me. They would have slaughtered him and I…

Oh God.

Suddenly I was gagging and coughing. An upsurge of queasiness in my stomach warned me and I leaned forward just in time to retch the contents of my breakfast onto the floor. Then I wheezed and continued coughing. When I finally quieted, my throat was left dry and burning.

Slowly, the world came into to focus. There was a repulsive puddle of vomit at my feet. Where was I? I looked around. I was sitting on the steps of a staircase located in a labyrinth of secret passages only accessible through a painting in the library.

I wasn't even aware of having come here. It didn't surprise me though. I needed to be alone. Remus and I had found this place on Christmas Day during our first year. I had promised not to tell James and Peter and so it had remained our secret. The one time James had come close to discovering it, I had distracted him. Thus, it wasn't on the Marauder's Map. James and Peter wouldn't know where I was and Remus surely wouldn't care.

Oh God. Remus.

I stumbled to my feet. There was a small mirror on the wall just across from the steps. It was at a perfect height for me to be able to see my face. My hair was disheveled and my skin was paler than I had ever seen. My eyes were dark and shadowed by guilt and repulsion. I looked…haggard. I looked disgusting. I was disgusting. I was a pathetic, reckless, thoughtless bastard that had nearly gotten my friend butchered.

Emitting a strange, strangled noise I slammed my fist into the mirror. The glass shattered. A few stray bits fell to the floor but those that remained formed a fragmented picture of my face, like a distorted puzzle. Blood dripped into the cracks and marred the once smooth surface, streaking my broken reflection.

Staggering back, I sat down on the steps again.

Dazedly, I looked at my still clenched fist. The skin was splintered and covered in blood but I couldn't even feel the pain.

The creaking of old wood warned me that I was no longer alone but I didn't bother to turn around. There was no need. It could only be one person and I didn't feel much like moving anyway.

When the quiet cracking stopped and was replaced by barely audible footfalls, I knew that he was over halfway down the staircase. I still didn't look over my shoulder. Even when there was a pause in the sounds of his approach and I realized he was standing on the step directly behind me, I kept my head bent low.

"James and Peter are worried," he informed me softly. "After classes, they went back to the room and pulled out the Marauder's Map. For a while they thought you had left Hogwarts but I managed to convince them that you had probably found a way to hide yourself from it." He paused as he slipped by me. "They're looking everywhere for you."

He was standing in front of me now. I could see his worn out shoes, right next to the throw up. In any other circumstances I would have been embarrassed at being found this way but right now I couldn't bring myself to care.

His weight shifted. He had probably crouched down so that he could examine me better. For a while he didn't say anything. Then I heard him murmur a few vaguely familiar words and watched the vomit disappear. A cleaning charm. How very like him.

"Please leave me alone," I mumbled, my voice breaking.

"I don't think that would be a good idea," he replied immediately.

I sighed. "Why are you here?"

At first my query was greeted only by silence. When he finally spoke I knew he had been considering his words carefully. "I was worried too."

I almost wanted to smile. "Why?"

"You mean aside from the fact that you fled from the classroom as if twelve dozen Severus' had materialized behind you?" It was said it a half-teasing manner. I just scoffed and he continued more somberly. "Sorry. It's been ages, Sirius. You missed evening meal. It's past sunset."

Past sunset? Dear Lord. That meant I had been sitting here for over seven hours.

"You didn't even realize, did you?" Now he sounded concerned.

I shook my head. "Lost in–" I stopped abruptly. I had wanted to say 'thought' but I knew that wasn't true. I hadn't been lost in thought. I had been lost in a haze of guilt and revulsion. "Just lost." I amended.

"Please go." I pleaded again.

His feet moved but not to leave. He had turned around. Now he was walking towards the wall across from the steps. Any moment now he would…

"Sirius!" There was a sudden sharpness to his tone. "Let me see your hand."

In an instant he had returned to his crouching position in front of me.

I was holding my fist against my belly, using my robes to soak up the blood and hide the injury. Knowing that he would not let me rest until I had complied, I extended my arm and allowed him to cradle my hand in both of his. With gentle touches he coaxed my fingers open so that he could better examine the wound. Lightly, he touched the abraded skin.

I flinched and resisted the impulse to wrench my hand back.

"Sorry," he breathed. "It's still bleeding and there are shards of glass imbedded in your skin. We need to get Madam Pomfrey to take care of it."

Resolutely, I shook my head. I wasn't going anywhere.

He half-sighed half-chuckled. "Still as stubborn as ever, I see. Very well. I will do what I can."

Delicately, he removed one of the larger pieces of glass that was stuck in my wound. This time I did jerk back in reaction to the sharp pain that stabbed through my hand.

"Be still," he reprimanded sternly as he pulled my hand forward again. "You're the one that won't go to the hospital wing."

For the next few minutes I did my best to ignore the pain as he worked to clear the glass from my skin. He was as gentle as possible but it still stung and I was relieved when he announced that he thought he had found all the shards. Then he wrapped something soft around my palm and tied it tightly. His handkerchief, I realized distantly as he released his hold and allowed me to pull my hand back.

"Thank you." I tried to smile again but my lips wouldn't move. Part of me was touched by how kind he was being and part of me was several steps past incredulous. How could he be acting this way towards me after what I had done? I had nearly gotten him executed and he was acting like…my friend.

Funny time for him to forgive me, just when I thought I would never forgive myself.

"Look at me, Sirius," he entreated.

When I did not do as he bid I felt warm fingers take hold of my chin and urge my head upward. Suppressing a sigh, I looked up and met his gaze. His face was softer than it had been since the prank and he didn't seem at all detached anymore. Hurt still lingered in his eyes but there was warmth there and… My God. He really had forgiven me.

"I don't understand," I shook my head.

A small smile tweaked at his lips. "That's funny. I thought you finally did."

At first I was confused but then I grasped what he meant. "You were right," I conceded. "I didn't realize what I had almost done to you. I thought I had betrayed your trust. I thought I had endangered Snape's life and yours as well. I thought I had hurt you."

"You did." He removed his fingers from my chin.

I closed my eyes momentarily and nodded. "But I did so much more than that."

He didn't respond and I slowly rose to my feet, stretching my sore muscles. Stepping around him, I moved so that I was standing in front of the mirror again. This time I didn't see my reflection in it. No. Instead, in every fragmented piece of glass I saw another step in the scenario of Remus' arrest and execution.

How could he forgive me for this?

"Even if you had killed Snape, I thought that all they would do was expel you. I mean–" I broke off, unsure of what to say. This was so difficult. Being here with him was so difficult. He had forgiven me and it didn't make me happy. It made me feel worse. I couldn't stop feeling guilty for the horrendous error I had committed. I couldn't look at him and not see him strapped to a chair, transforming…

"I never thought that–" Again, I stopped, faltering for words. "It's not your fault. You turn into a wolf once a month and…lose your mind. It's not your fault. How can they not see that?"

"People hate me, Sirius," he answered, his tone marred my sadness. "You know that."

"I know that!" I snapped without meaning to. Then, forcefully, I lowered my tone. "I know that you're hated. I was raised in a family that hates what you are. Even still…I never understood. I never realized how blind people are."

I turned around. Remus was standing less than a foot away from me. "You told me what people did to you. How you were beaten and… Still, I didn't see. I never understood the capacity with which some people loathe. Maybe–"

Remus' eyes searched mine. "Maybe…?"

"Maybe I didn't want to see," I ground out. "And then…then I was sitting there in class listening to her go on about how werewolves are 'taken care of' and it hit me so hard. Humankind's capacity for cruelty is unparalleled."

"Humankind's capacity for kindness is also unparalleled," he smiled sadly. "I never believed that until I met Professor Dumbledore and…you."

I flinched. "Don't say that!" I hissed. "I-I I'm not kind. I'm an idiot, a bloody idiot. If it hadn't been for James, Snape would have gone all the way down to the Shrieking Shack and would have been killed!" The words that before wouldn't come were tumbling forth from my lips in a flood of desperation. "And then they would have come for you and they would have taken you away," my voice was weak and breaking but I pressed on. "They would have restrained you in a chair that would have made your transformation unbearable and then they would have killed you like some sort of…animal." I gasped for breath. "All because of me so don't tell me that I am kind."

My eyes were stinging. God, no. Don't cry. I couldn't cry. I couldn't cry in front of Remus. I had never minded him crying in front of me, had never thought him weak for it, but I couldn't weep. I couldn't let him see me like that. I had to stop. Don't cry.

I blinked furiously but my silent entreaties went unanswered because soon I was crying. Tears filled my vision, blurring it until I couldn't see anything except shimmering masses of fragmented color. Then they spilled down my cheeks, feeling cold against the burning shame that radiated off of them. Hastily, I tried to rub away the moisture but soon gave it up as a lost cause because the tears just kept falling.

I heard a movement in front of me and felt a warm, soothing touch against my arm. Remus. Remus was comforting me. He didn't say anything. He just kept his arm there, a calming pressure against my skin.

"I'm…sorry," I choked, barely intelligible.

"I forgive you, Sirius," Remus assured me, squeezing my arm.

"I don't deserve your forgiveness," I managed, practically strangling on the words. My throat was so tight.

"Maybe not," he agreed, "but you have it nonetheless."

"How can you–" I took a deep breath. "H-How can…you act like everything's…okay?"

"I'm not. Everything's not okay, but it will be. Maybe. Or maybe not," he was struggling for words too. "I don't know. I forgive you, Sirius, but that doesn't make it okay. I don't know if I can trust you again. I don't know if we'll ever be friends the way we were before."

I lowered my head and closed my eyes. "I understand." The flood of tears was beginning to slow.

"But I want to, Sirius," he continued as if I hadn't spoken. "I want to be friends with you again and I'm going to try. I need to try. You just have to give me time."

Immediately, I nodded. "As much time as you need." I sniffled and drew in a ragged breath. I wanted to feel happy at this turn of events. Remus wanted to try and be friends again. Since the day of the prank, this was all I had wanted. Now though…I just felt so guilty looking at him. I felt so horrible for what I had done. How could Remus look past that?

My vision had cleared enough for me to see him smile. "You don't seem pleased," he noted.

"I still don't understand," I confessed, feeling the last of my tears fall. "It's not that I don't want us to be friends again…I just don't get why you even want to try. That night…when I told Snape, I almost signed your death sentence."

"Because you were always very good to me," he whispered, squeezing my arm again. "The prank aside, you've always been a brilliant friend. You… Sirius, you were the first person to make me feel like I wasn't a monster. Sometimes you can be such an arrogant git but…you always made me feel like I could talk to you and not…not have to worry about being judged. I…miss that. I miss you."

I wanted to believe him. I wanted to believe that I had been a good friend to him. I couldn't, though. All I could see was the prank. All I could see was his execution. Maybe, though… If I hadn't been a good friend before, maybe I could be a good friend now. Remus was giving me a chance. I just had to use it. Use it to be a real friend to him, not some worthless prat who would betray him whenever a Slytherin pushed all the right buttons. If I could do that, if I could offer him true friendship, then maybe I would come to forgive myself.

"Are you okay?" Remus asked, perhaps seeing a change in my eyes.

I shook my head. "No," I admitted, "but I think that maybe…maybe I will be."

He smiled and then, so did I.