Title: Phantom Prisons

Author: Erika

Rating: PG

Summary: Shortly after Remus leaves Hogwarts, Padfoot pays him a visit, giving the two of them the chance to talk about the doubts that drove them apart. Will the two be able to resume their friendship or will the ghosts of the last twelve years rip it from them?

Timeframe: Post PoA

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. Also, I have to give credit to the writers of the Deep Space Nine episode "Hard Time," because a scene in that episode very directly inspired a scene in this story.

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

Archive: Please ask first. )

Dedicated to: Miki. ) See, I told you I was going to dedicate an HP story to you – one of the ones I'm reasonably happy with. ) Thanks for reading!

Author's Note: (1) This ended up being quite a bit longer than I intended. While I very much enjoyed writing it I'm not sure how interesting it turned out. I hope that someone enjoys it anyway. D (2) I know that most people think that Sirius doubted Remus' loyalties first and that it wasn't until after James and Lily were killed that Remus believed Sirius was the traitor. However, the relevant passages in PoA don't have to be interpreted that way (I never did interpret them that way, myself) and I thought it'd be interesting to tackle the idea from a different angle.

Phantom Prisons


If returning to Hogwarts had been hard, leaving it was nothing short of painful. In the twelve years after James' and Lily's murder, I had grown used to solitude. I had accustomed myself to living alone and constantly moving from job to job, from flat to flat. I hadn't pitied myself. I had seen it as a necessary part of my life.

Then I had gone back to Hogwarts. Even though it had been difficult in the beginning, I had been happy there. Most of my fellow teachers, with the exception of Severus and a few others, had been very kind to me, despite my condition. I had loved teaching more than I ever could have imagined. It had also been wonderful to spend time with Harry, the son of my beloved friends.

My secret had been revealed, though. Leaving had been the best course of action. I couldn't risk hurting a student and I didn't want to deal with all the dismayed parents who would hound Dumbledore for having dared to hire me in the first place. Yes, I had made a good decision in renouncing, but certainly not one that was conducive to my own happiness.

I missed Hogwarts. I missed interacting with the students and professors. The simple truth was that I was lonely.

Some of the teachers had visited me occasionally in the weeks since my departure. Dumbledore himself had a made a point of stopping by frequently. I knew they had the best of intentions but seeing them reminded me only of the job I had lost, the one job that I had actually enjoyed.

Then there was the matter of my employment. Or rather, the lack thereof.

Dumbledore had insisted that I return to living in his cottage, the same one he had let me use for the last couple months of the summer, when I had been unable to find a job. Just as before, I was doing research for him and he was paying me by giving me a place to stay and food to eat.

I wouldn't kid myself, though. Dumbledore didn't need me to do this research and it certainly wasn't worth room and board. He was simply being kind. While I appreciated it, it didn't make me feel particularly useful. I hadn't been able to find another job though. My being a werewolf was now public knowledge, thanks to an article published in the Daily Prophet the morning after I left Hogwarts. No one wanted to hire me.

I also couldn't stop thinking about Sirius. Sirius, who had been my best friend at Hogwarts. Sirius, who I had believed guilty of betraying James and Lily. Sirius, who had spent twelve years in Azkaban. Sirius, who was innocent. A fact that both filled me with joy and guilt. It was wonderful to know that I hadn't misjudged him during all those years at Hogwarts. It was wonderful to know that the first friend I had ever had, the one who had done so much to make my full moons easier to bear, was not the traitor I had thought him to be.

I couldn't escape the remorse, though. Why had I believed him guilty? Why hadn't I looked deeper, discovered that the true betrayer was Peter? For that matter, why had I suspected Sirius in the first place? Who was I kidding? I knew why and I hated myself for it.

What I really wanted was a chance to talk to Sirius. I hadn't seen him since the night I had discovered that Peter was the one working for Voldemort. We had both apologized for doubting each other but that wasn't enough. I wanted to know where things had gone wrong between us. We had been so close. Perhaps not as close as James and Sirius – a fact that had always caused me to feel shamefully jealous – but close nonetheless. What had driven us apart? I needed to know. I knew my side of it but I needed to know his.

Was it because I was a werewolf? Voldemort had been recruiting 'dark creatures'. Had Sirius, even after everything he had done for me, begun seeing me as one of those 'dark creatures'? Or was there another reason for his doubts? Was it simply because suspecting Peter had been unthinkable? He had always seemed so…harmless.

I wouldn't know unless I asked Sirius. Sirius, however, was on the run.

All in all, I was rather depressed. I was lonely, I didn't have a real job, I had no way of finding Sirius, and, worst of all…it was the full moon. For another six hours, I'd be stuck in the form of a wolf. The Wolfsbane Potion, which, at Dumbledore's insistence, Severus had continued making for me, cured only the madness. It did nothing for dejectedness. Even during this last year at Hogwarts, the full moons had always made me melancholy. Perhaps it was the pain of the transformation, or the exhaustion that followed it, but I could never be happy as a wolf. Not while I spent that time alone. And I had spent that time alone ever since James and Lily had been betrayed.

Drearily, I ambled over to the crackling fire and curled up in front of it. Maybe I'd be able to fall asleep and temporarily forget my troubles.

I started, suddenly very much alert. What was that? Had I heard something? I had been dreaming about a full moon long ago, when Sirius had first learned how to transform into Padfoot, and then…something had woken me. It had sounded like a crash but everything was quiet now.

Nervously, I climbed to my feet. Dumbledore's cottage was situated far from prying eyes but it was not impossible to locate. Concealment charms had been cast on all the windows but I could have been seen during one of my many early morning walks. Had someone with a vendetta against werewolves found me? It wouldn't be the first time someone tried to…'take care of' me.

I looked towards the door…and very nearly collapsed in shock when I saw who was standing there, observing me. It was Padfoot! It was a skinny Padfoot with long scruffy, matted fur but it was Padfoot. Suddenly, I wasn't forlorn anymore and I wasn't tired. In a burst of enthusiasm and energy, I bounded over to the large black dog and playfully nipped at his snout. Then I pounced and knocked him to the ground, easily pinning him there with my superior strength.

It was then that I noted the confused, worried look in his large, chocolate colored eyes. Had I done something wrong? I hadn't hurt him, had I? I was certainly being more gentle than I had ever been when I had tried to play with him before taking the Wolfsbane Potion.

Wait. That was it. The Wolfsbane Potion. It had been invented during his imprisonment. He had come here expecting to find a vicious monster that would unintentionally hurt him while trying to have fun. Instead, he was met by a calm, mild-mannered wolf. He thought that something was wrong, that I was sick, perhaps.

Unfortunately, I had no way of reassuring him. Not until moonset.

Yowling, I backed away from him and wagged my tail. For a while, he just stared at me. Finally, though, he stood up and came running towards me. Leaping to the left, I easily evaded his assault. Then, I yapped and scampered from the room.

Once in the kitchen, I realized why I had awoken. The window was broken; all the glass lay scattered on the counter and floor. That was how Padfoot had gotten in. I wagged my tail again. That was how we would get out.

I waited for Padfoot to poke his head through the kitchen door way before I gracefully jumped out the window. A few moments later my canine companion had followed me, just as I knew he would.

It was wonderful to be outside on a full moon with my friend again! The air was cool and crisp against my fur and filled me with a desire to simply run and play. It had been many long years since I had last had company while in wolf form, far too long for Moony and Padfoot to not have run together. I didn't know what grace of fortune had brought Sirius to me tonight but I wasn't going to let his efforts go to waste.

We were going to have fun!

And we did have fun. We spent the rest of the night – a mere four hours – chasing each other through the forest that surrounded Dumbledore's cottage. Pouncing, rolling through the mud, and mischievously 'fighting', we enjoyed ourselves more than we had during any other full moon together. It was, after all, the first time Padfoot had run with me and not a bloodthirsty creature of the night.

It was only when the lethargy of the waning moon robbed me of my energy and replaced it with growing dread that I regretfully turned back to the cottage. Whining low in my throat, I disheartedly leapt through the broken window and returned to the living room. The fire had burned itself down to a few glowing embers but still, I curled up in front of it and waited.

The Wolfsbane Potion was a blessing. It kept the mind of the monster at bay and allowed me stay in control during the full moons. It did not, however, do anything for the anguish of transformation. Nothing could. Not even the most powerful pain-suppressing potion could stay the agony.

Padfoot, having immediately understood my change of mood, had quietly followed me back. Now he was standing next to me in front of the fire, watching me sadly. Whimpering softly, he curled his body around mine. Wrapping me in his warmth, he offered the comfort of his presence.

Shifting closer to him, I closed my eyes and continued waiting. I was too tired and too frightened to do anything else.

I felt a gentle pressure and wet heat against my nape. Padfoot was lapping at my fur. Years ago he'd have been cleaning blood from the wounds I had sustained during the full moon. Despite the mind of the wolf being partially tamed by the presence of my wonderful friends and fellow Marauders, I had invariably found a way to injure myself. Thanks to the Wolfsbane Potion, there were no gashes or bites for Padfoot to be licking clean tonight. He was just trying to soothe me.

Padfoot had never been anything but kind and considerate regarding my condition. He had always done his best to make the pain and madness less searing. At school he had been an arrogant bastard but somehow that side had never shown with me. No, with me he had been the gentlest, most concerned person I had ever known.

It was reassuring that Azkaban hadn't changed that. It was reassuring that I still had my devoted friend. Despite the fear and the doubts leading up to James' and Lily's betrayal, despite rotting in that hellhole for twelve years, he was here with me. Even with my questions and fears regarding why he had questioned my loyalties, I was ecstatic and grateful for his presence. In spite of everything he was still my very dear friend.

Every muscle in my body abruptly tensed, going completely rigid. Oh God. It was starting. The pain hit with a blinding force. It felt like I was in a vise, like every bone in my body was being shattered simultaneously while my skin was ripped open. Everything burned. My head…my head pounded and protested as if it was being split it two. I couldn't…think. I couldn't move. I couldn't do anything to escape the torture.

Even after all these years, it hadn't become easier to bear.

I could hear myself crying out pitifully, I could hear Padfoot whimpering and feel him nuzzling against my neck, but the pain was so overwhelming that it was like being separated from those things by a wall. The physical torment engulfed nearly my entire world.

Stop. Stop stop stop. I just wanted it to stop! Oh, please… Please.

Then, everything went black. When awareness returned, the anguish had left me. I was sore, my muscles were tender. I couldn't yet move without spasms of pain shooting through my veins. And I was tired. So tired. The transformations took everything out of me.

There was something soft though. There was something warm pillowing my aching body. I wasn't on the floor anymore. I was…in my bed, wrapped in blankets. There was also a touch against my head. A gentle caress.

I groaned as my vision came into focus. Sirius had moved me into my bedroom. He was sitting next to me on the bed, a tender hand stroking my sweat-dampened hair as he hummed softly. His deep blue eyes were…haunted. They were filled with affection and concern for me but there was also darkness in those pools. It was a shadow that hadn't been there before Azkaban.

I had been too overwhelmed to really take notice that night in the Shrieking Shack but Sirius looked…haggard. He had once been roguishly handsome. At school, he had been quite popular with the girls. Now, though, his features were sunken and aged beyond his years. He was so thin that his skin seemed to be stretched out over his bones. Even through his tattered clothing, I could see the outline of his ribs. His hair and beard were a straggly mess of knots. They were both shorter than they had been last month but just as filthy.

Sadness clenched my heart. So much has been robed from him, so many years…

"Remus," his voice was raspy but affectionate. "My old friend. How do you feel?" His hand stilled but he didn't remove it from my hair.

"Tired," I murmured honestly, "but happy to see you."

Sirius immediately grinned, looking relieved. "Good. I wasn't…wasn't sure you'd...want me here. It's been…so long."

Ignoring the rather insistent protesting of my abused muscles, I placed a reassuring hand on his arm. "I'm glad you came. I…I've missed you, Sirius."

I had missed him. Not only during the last month since discovering his innocence but during the twelve years of his imprisonment as well. While he had been wrongfully confined in Azkaban, I had missed the man I had thought him to be. I had felt such bitter anger towards the man who had betrayed us but I had missed the man who had appeared to be my friend. Now I realized that I'd missed the real man all long. Sirius wasn't a murderer, he wasn't a traitor. He really was a man who'd rather die than see those he cared about hurt.

Perhaps it was because of my desperate loneliness or because I was overjoyed that Sirius was here. Whatever the reason, I sat up and hugged him tightly as soon as my gradually returning energy permitted. Sirius was obviously surprised because he stiffened in my arms. Within moments, though, he relaxed and returned the embrace with such force that he was practically clinging to me. I even felt him smile against me.

A trifle embarrassed, I flushed and pulled back.

"Remus," there was a touch against my shoulder, "are you all right?"

Damn it. He must have seen something in my eyes. Twelve years in Azkaban had robbed him of his good looks but hadn't dulled his wits. Nor had it swiped his kind heart. I didn't want him worrying for me, though.

"I'm fine," I replied a little too quickly. Then, purposefully misunderstanding my friend's inquiry, I continued, "A potion has been invented that helps with the full moons. It's only my body that changes now. My mind remains the same. That's why I was acting so…er…strange."

Sirius frowned and bestowed a disapproving look upon me. He knew I was evading an honest answer. "That's wonderful, Remus," he replied, sounding earnestly happy for me. "I'm so glad that things are better for you now." A small smile tweaked the corners of his mouth. "I thought it was you looking back at me from behind those golden eyes." He paused. "That's not what I meant though."

I sighed. I didn't want to tell Sirius what was wrong. I didn't want him to know I was having such a difficult time leaving Hogwarts. I didn't want him to know I was lonely here. He didn't need me laying my troubles on him. And what were my troubles next to his? How could I complain of loneliness when Sirius had spent twelve years in Azkaban and was now a wanted man, never able to have more than a moment's peace or companionship?

Shrugging off Sirius' concern, I lowered my eyes and asked, "How did you find me?"

Sirius sighed, clearly annoyed at my stubbornness. "Dumbledore came to drop off some food yesterday. I…er…nagged him until he agreed to tell me where you were." He smiled, a hint of his boyhood deviousness sparkling in his eyes. Almost instantly though, he turned somber again. "I'm sorry that I was late. I wanted to be there…during both transformations. I just…had trouble finding the cottage."

How could he apologize? He had prevented me from spending the night alone. Surely he hadn't forgotten what that meant to me? "Sirius, you came." Meeting his gaze again, I tried to fill my eyes with all the gratitude I felt. "That's all that matters."

"I'll be on time next month," he continued, still apologetically.

Next month? I forgot all about reassuring him. "You… You'll be here next full moon? This…is going to be a monthly occurrence, then?" I hardly dared believe it possible.

Sirius fidgeted, looking very nervous and unsure, as if he thought he was presuming too much by thinking I'd want his company. "If you want it to be."

I hated his uncertainty. What had Azkaban done to my confident friend?

Taking both of his hands in mine, I waited until I was certain I had his full attention before replying. "Sirius, I'd be delighted to have something to look forward to during the full moons." Those words alone were not enough to express how happy he had just made me. I had barely discovered his innocence and already he was resuming his promise to never let me pass a full moon alone.

He grinned, eyes softening. "Good. Wonderful. I'll…I'll be back before moonrise on the next full moon, then."

"You're not leaving already, are you?" I asked, sounding disappointed and a bit…frantic. It was unbelievably selfish but I could not bear the thought of having to be alone today.

Leaning back, he released my hands and studied me with anxious eyes. "It would be best. They're still searching for me. They'll know that we were friends and might look for me here. They might think you're helping me because…you're…"

"A dark creature?" I supplied sorrowfully.

"That is what people think," he spread his hands, "You know…I never did."

No. I didn't. I didn't know that. Why had he suspected me of being the traitor?

"I wish I could stay longer," he continued. "Maybe in a few months, if they're not searching for me so exhaustively."

I sighed. I wanted him to be able to stay also. I really needed to talk to him. I had to know what I had done to make him doubt me. What was perhaps just as important was that the day following a full moon was always quite difficult for me. Having someone here would help. "I understand," I said in a tone of voice that suggested the opposite.

I let myself fall back onto the mattress. Sitting up was making me slightly dizzy. Losing and regaining my form was always brutal but had recently become even more so. When I was younger I had been able to attend classes and stave off the exhaustion until I had finished my homework. Now, it was practically all I could do to get out of bed after a transformation.

Sirius rose to his feet. I thought he meant to leave but instead he simply walked over to the bedroom window and gazed contemplatively out into the early morning light. When he finally faced me I could read the worry in his eyes. "I could stay…" he suggested tentatively, "Until tomorrow morning."

He was only saying that because he could tell something was wrong with me. It was touching. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't allow it. I tried to smile. "You shouldn't endanger yourself without reason," I protested dully.

"I have reason," he breathed. "You're not the only one who's lonely, Remus."

I glanced up sharply. Had I been that transparent?

He smiled. "Dumbledore told me why you left Hogwarts. It must have been hard."

"Not really," I lied but immediately regretted it upon seeing the hurt look in his eyes. I sighed. "It was difficult," I admitted. "I have no right to complain, though." He was the one that had lost twelve years of his life.

What was I supposed to do? Tell him that the silence seemed to engulf me? Explain that I felt like I was going mad with no one to speak to? He had been alone in a cell for twelve years, with only the filthy Dementors and their cold touch of despair for company. I couldn't do that. I couldn't pretend my suffering held a candle to his. I couldn't be so…inconsiderate.

"You think you don't have the right to be lonely?" he sounded angry. The sudden coldness in his voice surprised me. "Don't do that! Don't think of your life in relation to mine!"

I was taken aback. I hadn't meant to upset him.

Sirius seemed to sag suddenly. He shook his head and rubbed slow circles around his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. "I'm sorry," he apologized, deflated. "It's just…still hard for me to talk to people. Things don't always…come out right. I only meant that I don't want you to always be checking what you say or feel because of Azkaban. I don't…I don't want the rest of my life to be defined by those twelve years."

I would have given anything to erase the suffering from his bearing. "All right, Sirius," I mollified, "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. Just be honest with me." He returned to my bedside and settled himself next to me on the mattress. "Do you want me to stay until tomorrow morning?"

"I don't want you to take unnecessary risks," I replied, illusive at best.

He rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. "Damn it, Remus. Do you want me to stay?"

"Yes." It was useless to pretend otherwise and he had just asked me not to lie to him.

"Then I'll stay." He had always done things like that for me. When Padfoot had spent his first full moon with me after the Prank and I had…practically killed him, he had promised to come back anyway because I had told him I wanted him to.

"Thank you." I knew it was pointless to protest. Truthfully, I didn't even want to.

"Would you like to get some sleep? I can…make breakfast and wake you when it's ready," he suggested, sounding almost shy.

"Sleep sounds wonderful," I admitted, "but I think that the first order of business is for you to bathe. Just because you can turn into a dog is no reason to live like one."

Oh God. I was a right bastard. What the bloody hell was I thinking? How could I have said something like that? Sirius was spending most of his time as Padfoot, not because he wanted to but because he had no other choice. It wasn't his fault. It was the only way he could avoid capture.

I stared at Sirius in silent mortification. I seemed to be past embarrassment. Far from blushing, I was reasonably certain my face had gone ashen. Oh, what a stupid, idiotic, thoughtless thing to say.

"Remus," my eyes widened to see that Sirius was actually smiling through his shock, "It's all right."

"Sirius, I'm sorry," I stuttered, "I shouldn't have said that. I didn't mean it as a criticism…I know you're doing what you have to and…" Fine time for me to stop carefully considering my words! Now I had no idea what to say.

Sirius was, infuriatingly enough, still smiling. "Remus, I said it was all right and it is. I'm not upset. I'm just surprised you spoke without thinking."

I blushed, still feeling awkward and careless.

He chuckled and shook his head, a bemused expression crossing his face. "All right then Professor Lupin," Sirius said with an air of drama, "So as not to offend your sensibilities, I will bathe and then make breakfast. I assure you that by the time I wake you I will be perfectly clean, if not entirely presentable."

Grinning, he sprung to his feet and walked towards the bathroom. He had nearly made it out of the room when he paused and turned to look at me, his face awash with heartrending vulnerability. "Remus…we…we are still friends, aren't we?"

The naked entreaty in his tone was enough to shatter my heart. "Yes, Sirius. We are still friends." Friends that had a great deal to figure out.

Sirius beamed, relief and joy unmistakable in his gaunt features.

I wanted to smile but I couldn't. Sirius was in pain. He was haunted by the demons of Azkaban prison. Knowledge of his innocence had kept him sane but it hadn't driven off the Dementors. When I had seen him in the Shrieking Shack he had acted slightly mad but his desire to find and kill Peter had given him purpose. Even when Harry stopped us from ending the bastard's life, Sirius had had something to fight off the despair with: hope of being declared innocent of the crimes he had supposedly committed. Now Peter was gone and Sirius was a fugitive. He didn't have anyone to be with, anyone to help him.

No. That was wrong. He had me. Somehow, I would help him heal.

"Remus." A soft, gravelly voice and a gentle hand wrenched me from the world of dreams. "Breakfast is almost ready. Remus."

"Hmm," I protested nonsensically, burrowing deeper into the covers as I tried rather unsuccessfully to cling to my much-needed sleep.

"Remus, wake up." Sirius' annoying grip on my shoulder tightened as he began shaking me with more force.

Persistent bastard. Of course, I was a persistent bastard too and I wanted to sleep.

"Remus. If you don't get up I'll be forced to take drastic measures," he threatened sternly, releasing me. "How would you like to have curly pink hair for the next two months?"

Opening one eye, I peeked out at him from amongst the pillows. "You don't have a wand, Sirius," I reminded him blearily.

He grinned. "I have your wand… An unimportant fact since you are as awake as I thought you were." He thumped the mattress just next to my head. "Now, get up."

Groaning, I blinked to clear my sleep-blurred vision. Sirius, I saw, had indeed bathed. His hair was damp and mostly detangled and the grime had been washed from his skin. He had trimmed his beard to a decent length and had even performed a cleaning charm on his threadbare clothing. Given new robes and a couple months eating hearty, full meals he'd probably regain some of his good looks.

"Are you feeling better?" he inquired.

"I'm still sore but I'll make it through the day," I replied, stretching out experimentally and flinching at the twinge that shot through my muscles.

"Good." He stood up and headed towards the door. "Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes," he called over his shoulder as he left the room.

Moving slowly so as not to strain myself, I climbed out of bed and slipped into my old, well-worn clothes. Then I rummaged through my dresser until I located a new set of robes I had purchased just prior to renouncing my position at Hogwarts. Sirius and I were about the same height and, while they'd be a little big on him because of his severe malnutrition, they'd due nicely.

Satisfied, I folded them up and made my way to the kitchen. As soon as I entered the hallway, I was bombarded with all sorts of pleasant aromas. Breakfast smelled delicious, a fact which caused my stomach to rumble rather noisily as I suddenly realized how hungry I was.

I froze as soon as I entered the kitchen and saw the meal that Sirius had spread out over the table. I hadn't even realized that Dumbledore had left me with so much food! There was a stack of steaming pancakes, a plate of waffles, several pieces of French toast, a large omelet, and a frying pan of sizzling bacon. It looked as if there was enough to feed the entire Weasley family!

Sirius, who had just finished pouring two large glasses of orange juice, looked at me sheepishly. "I didn't know what you'd be hungry for so I…er…made a little bit of everything."

Obviously. "It looks divine. Thank you, Sirius."

Aside from making breakfast, my friend had also used a fix-it charm to repair the window he had wrecked last night. All the glass was back in the frame, where it belonged. By the looks of it, he had even cast another concealment charm, to replace the one he had ruined by breaking in.

Busy work. That's what breakfast and the window were. Busy work. He was trying to distract himself. He was trying to escape his phantom prison by refusing to think about his situation, about his life. It probably even worked. It was only a temporary solution to the problem, though. Eventually, he'd have to deal with what had happened to him. He'd have to deal with the scars the last twelve years had left.

"What's that?" Sirius tilted his head towards the small bundle of clothes I was carrying.

"These are for you," I indicated. "I thought you could use some new robes."

"Remus," he frowned, eyes casually taking note of the state of my own attire, "I can't take that from you."

"You can and you will," my tone was calm and measured but I felt the stirrings of frustration. "Thanks to Dumbledore, I made a decent amount of money this last year." It was the most I had ever earned. "I'm not a pauper." I sighed, knowing the words had carried an unmistakable hardness. "I want you to have them, Sirius," I added, more softly.

Sirius nodded his defeat as he took a seat at the table. "As you say. Put them on the counter. I'll change after breakfast."

Nodding, I did as he bid. Then I sat down opposite Sirius and took in all the food, wondering where to start. Normally, after a full moon, I didn't have the energy or the desire to cook and ate whatever happened to be easily accessible. This was a more than welcome change from that.

Serving myself a couple of pancakes, some French toast, and a few slivers of bacon, I tentatively tried each of the procured items. "Sirius, this is very good." I was surprised. Sirius knew how to cook?

"You'd be amazed what you can pick up from the Dementors." It was meant to be a joke but it came out entwined with bitterness. Sirius grimaced upon hearing his own words. "I taught myself to cook after moving out of James' parents' house and into my own flat."


We ate in silence. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence but it wasn't a comfortable one either. It was obvious that we didn't know how to behave around one another anymore. Sirius keeping me company during the transformations was so normal. He had done it nearly every month for over seven years, only missing a handful of full moons just after the Prank. His picking up the old habit now was unexpected but not shocking. It had been easy to fall back into our old friendship. Now, though, it was painfully obvious that we were on uneven footing, unsure of where to tread.

I couldn't help but wonder…what next? Would he try to continue as if nothing had changed, never speaking of the twelve year gap? Would Azkaban and the corresponding time in my life become taboo? It couldn't, though. If not for his sake then at least for the survival of our friendship. We couldn't expect it to disappear and not affect our relationship. Just like we couldn't expect our doubts regarding who was the traitor to vanish now that we both knew Peter was to blame. Something had pulled us apart. Whatever remained unspoken between us had to be dealt with.

How would I broach the subject, though? It wasn't something easily dropped into conversation. It wasn't as if I could inquire about the weather and then casually bring up Azkaban and ask why he had suspected me. Even if it was that simple it might be too soon. What if Sirius wasn't ready to remember that? What if it was still too raw? It haunted the depths of his eyes; I didn't want to be the one that caused him unnecessary pain by bringing those memories to the surface before he was prepared to deal with them.

When I finished eating I looked across the table to see if Sirius was also done. What I saw puzzled me. There was still a good amount of food left on his plate but he was not eating it. He was cutting it into little pieces and setting it on a napkin he had spread out beside his placemat.


"Hmm?" he didn't so much as glance at me.

"What are you doing?"

Flushing, my friend abruptly dropped his knife and fork, letting them clutter noisily against the plate. "They hardly fed us in Azkaban. When they did, I learned to save as much as I could," he mumbled, not once looking at me.

Oh. How…sad. I swallowed. Feeling ill at ease, I averted my gaze. What did one say to something like that? Was I expected to express my sympathy? Should I tell him that I was sorry? Offer to listen if he wanted to talk about it? I felt so powerless. I wanted to help him but had no idea how.

Anger surged within me. How dare Peter do this! How dare he betray James and Lily and then frame an innocent man for his death! He was the one that deserved to be decaying in Azkaban. He was the one that should look as if the life had been bled from him. Not Sirius.

A muffled curse drew my eyes back to Sirius. He was flustered and angry…but not at me. He was upset with himself for having slipped up and fallen back into a habit that had probably helped him survive his imprisonment. Sighing, he took the napkin and dumped its contents back onto his plate.

Feeling guilty for my silence, I reached out across the table. I meant to lay my hand over his but Sirius abruptly rose to his feet and turned away from me, taking his plate with him. Noisily setting it down in the sink, he leaned over the counter and buried his face in his hands. His shoulders were shaking.

I swallowed again. Why did things have to be this way?

Pushing my chair back, I stood. A twinge of fire shot through my legs but I ignored it and came to stand behind my friend. Indecisively, I placed a hand on his back and held it there. I could feel the tension that seized him, the tremors that wracked his shrunken frame. I wanted to say something, something that would ease his suffering, but I held no such words of wisdom within me. So I just stood there and waited for him to compose himself.

Sirius drew in a deep, shuddering breath and raised his head. When he turned around I allowed my hand to slip away. His face was contorted by pain. He looked miserable. Somehow, though, he managed a weak smile. "Thanks."

I tried to return the smile but found my lips uncooperative. Instead, I just nodded.

Obviously embarrassed, he shuffled past me. Collecting several plates, he worked to clear the table. Immediately, I moved to help him.

"No," Sirius said simply, as he set the dishes on the counter behind me.


"I'll clean everything up and put preserving charms on the leftovers. You should rest." He cocked an eyebrow, daring me to protest.

Seeing the adamant glimmer in his eyes, I knew better than to argue. "I'll be in the study."

"Reading is not resting, Remus!" He reminded me of the sixteen-year-old boy who had shouted nearly the same thing after another full moon. That time, though, I believe it was 'studying' that wasn't 'resting'.

I chuckled and ignored him. Sirius never had understood my fascination with books.

I was nearly fifty pages into Ender's Game, a wonderful Muggle sci-fi novel that I had found in Dumbledore's small library, when it occurred to me that I hadn't heard anything from Sirius since leaving the kitchen. Surely he wasn't still cleaning things up from breakfast?

Frowning, I lifted my gaze from the book. Sirius was sitting on the other end of the couch that I was reclining in. Somehow, that didn't surprise me. He had one leg drawn up against his chest and was resting his chin on it. His eyes were soft and sparkled with amusement.

"How long have you been there?" I asked, carefully marking my place in the book before setting it on the table beside me.

"About twenty pages," he rumbled goodnaturedly.

"Sirius! Why didn't you say something?"

He shrugged. "You were enraptured. I didn't want to disturb you. Besides, it's endearing that you can still lose yourself in a book."

Endearing? Sirius had never found that endearing before. In fact, he had always expressed his utter disbelief that I hadn't managed to bore myself to death with all the reading I did. At least, that was the opinion he had held before Azkaban.

"I have more than enough time to read, Sirius." It was sadly true. Dumbledore's research occupied a great deal of my time but there were many lonely hours that it didn't fill. "You'll be gone tomorrow morning."

Sirius didn't answer. Instead, he stood up and gestured at his clothes. I got the distinct impression that he did not want to think about having to leave. "What do you think?"

It was then that I noticed he had changed into the robes I had left for him. They were, as I had suspected, rather baggy on him. "They seem to fit well enough."

"They're not quite my style," he reflected in a jokingly critical tone.

No, they definitely weren't. Sirius' tastes had always been more refined than mine and more expensive as well. I never would have been able to afford his usual garb. "Rags aren't exactly you're style, either."

"No," he whispered sadly, "No they aren't… Thanks." He rushed on before I could respond. "Why don't you finish the chapter you're reading and then we can talk. I'd like to hear all about Harry, if you don't mind."

Something told me not protest. Instead, I picked up the book and flipped back to where I had left off. I had only read about half a page when I felt a weight settle in my lap. Looking down, I was surprised to see Padfoot stretched out across the sofa with his head resting over my legs.

How odd. Sirius was spending an inordinate amount of time as a dog so as to avoid being recognized. Why would he change now, when he didn't have to? I couldn't imagine that he was more comfortable as one. At least not physically. Could it be that it made him feel safer emotionally? He had told me that he had trouble expressing himself in words. As Padfoot, talking was literally impossible. Did it make him feel better to remove the pressure of verbal communication?

No. That didn't seem right. We had spoken a great deal just after moonset. At breakfast I hadn't gotten the impression that he wasn't talking because it made him uncomfortable. It had seemed more of a mutual uncertainty of what to say and what to ask after so many years.

Perhaps it was something simpler than that. He had nearly clung to me when we embraced… For twelve years, Sirius had been alone. All of the prisoners were kept in separate cells and I wouldn't exactly count the Dementors as company. It was true that for twelve years he had barely spoken with anyone. However, for twelve years he also hadn't had the comfort of simple physical contact with another human being. Could that be what he was after now?

It would have been embarrassing to ask for. In human form, it would have been embarrassing to do what he was doing now. At least, for Sirius it would. Things were different as a dog, though. Dogs were much more physically affectionate, a characteristic that Sirius also adopted as Padfoot. Being close to me as a dog didn't have to be awkward. It was probably soothing.

Returning my attention to Ender's Game, I let my hand settle on Padfoot's head. Absentmindedly, as I read, I ruffled the fur behind his ears. The only response I received was a soft whine and a slowly wagging tail but it made me smile. He always had liked that.

Sirius and I ended up discussing Harry and my one year at Hogwarts all the way through lunch and well past dinner. He had wanted to know everything about his godson. He was happy that Harry had found such loyal friends and particularly delighted to learn that he shared Sirius' intense dislike for Severus. He had commented, several times, how like James and Lily Harry seemed.

The hard part had come when Sirius had wondered aloud when he'd be able to take Harry away from his horrible aunt and uncle. I had wanted to tell him that it'd be soon, that somehow Peter would slip up and show himself to the world, but I couldn't. It wasn't going to happen soon. Somehow, I knew that it would be a long time before Sirius was vindicated. I felt it. I couldn't tell him that everything was going to be all right because I couldn't lie to him. Not even to lift his tumbling spirits.

We'd sat in silence after that. Finally, at midnight, I had excused myself to take a shower and bid him goodnight. Now, I was toweling the moisture from my body and preparing to retire. It had been a good day. There had been some awkward moments between us but overall everything had gone smoothly. I remained glad that he had come. I only wished that we could have talked about the time before James' and Lily's murder. I only wished I could have helped him somehow.

Quickly, I slipped into my nightclothes and returned to my room. I hadn't taken more than a step towards my bed when I noticed him. Sirius. Or rather, Padfoot. He was curled up on the rug in front of the fire. I had left him everything he would need in the guestroom, what was he doing here? It wasn't that I minded, I was merely concerned.

Fighting the urge to simply collapse in bed, I sat down next to Padfoot and scratched at his nape. I thought he'd change back but instead he leaned into my touch and let the tip of his tail twitch back and forth. For a couple of minutes we stayed like that, with Padfoot lying there silently and me gently petting him. I wanted to wait until he was ready to tell me why he was here but finally had to realize that he had no intention of transforming.

"Sirius," I said, removing my hand from his fur. "Change back."

Padfoot lifted his head and stared at me pleadingly through large chocolate brown eyes.

"Sirius," I chastised sternly, "Change back."

He whimpered pitifully but climbed to his feet. Within moments I was gazing upon my crouching, fully-human friend. His head was bowed and his eyes were downcast. He looked, for all the world, like a lost puppy. My chest ached because I didn't know how to help him. I didn't know how to ease his pain.

Sirius stood and extended a hand towards me. Gratefully, I took it and allowed him to pull me to my feet. Together, we silently sat down on my bed. For a long while, neither of us spoke. I wanted to ask him 'Why are you here?' but knew he would explain in his own time. I just had to be patient.

So I waited.

"I was alone in Azkaban," he breathed shakily, "Always alone. The Dementors…they wouldn't feed off of me all the time. They would sometimes leave me in peace for days, even weeks. Long enough for me to…remember hope and joy and…dream of a night spent under the stars. They would always come back, though, and rip it all away. Leaving me with my worst memories, playing over and over again."

He shuddered. "And I'm still alone all the time, Remus," he sounded desperate and I felt like crying at the amount of raw suffering his voice contained. "A boggart can't turn into the thing I fear the most. What is the shape of solitude?" He was shaking now.

Instinctively, I took his hands in mine.

He gripped my fingers with painful strength, as if the tenuous contact could somehow pull the memory of Azkaban from him. "I can bear it during the day. At night though… I get scared," he flushed. "It's dark just like in Azkaban and it terrifies me because I think…maybe it's just a dream. Maybe I didn't really escape and the Dementors are just waiting to suck the hope from me again. Maybe I'm still there…dying, alone, in that cell."

I closed my eyes. I didn't know what to say. I could assure him that he had escaped, that it wasn't a dream, that he was really here with me, but…he already knew that. He just didn't feel it. He was frightened, trapped in the memory of those twelve years. And who could blame him?

"I don't want to spend the night alone," he explained, his tone taking on a note of pleading. "Please…let me stay here. As Padfoot, you won't even notice. I won't disturb you and–"

"Sirius," I opened my eyes and squeezed his hands. "You're more than welcome to stay." My throat was unusually tight and the words were rather gruff. It killed me to see him like this. He was…so defeated. At school, he had been young and self-assured and full of such vitality. Now… he was so broken, so frightened. "It will, however, under no condition be as a dog."

Sirius smiled and frowned at the same time.

"Sirius," I spoke as gently as I knew how, "You're welcome to stay as yourself. The bed is more than big enough to share."

Sirius released a trembling breath and shifted nervously.

I cocked my head to the side. "Unless…that would make you uncomfortable."

"No!" he answered forcefully, shaking his head. "It's not that. I just…don't want to disturb you. I've been having…horrible nightmares. I wake up…screaming, in the middle of the night. I know how tired you are…you deserve to rest. I don't want to–"

"Oh, Sirius," I admonished kindly, "During first year, when I was constantly having those nightmares, you would always wake and try to soothe me. Even before you knew what I was dreaming about you would always comfort me. Don't you think I'd be happy to do the same for you?"

My friend's eyes lit up with gratitude. "If you're sure it won't be a bother…"

I smiled. "Positive."

"All right then," he took a deep breath and let it out it as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "Thank you."

"You're more than welcome."

It was a scream that woke me. A hoarse, panicked scream. Followed by a flailing arm smacking my face. And then a series of desperate sobs and the dull sound of hands and feet striking out against sheet and mattress.

My eyes shot open. I waited for the darkness to settle into dim, recognizable shapes before I rolled over to face Sirius. My friend had entangled himself in a web of sheets and blankets. His skin was slick with sweat and the nightclothes I had let him borrow were soaked and pressed to his body. His hair was damp and partly stuck in clumps to his face, the rest was a frayed disarray that framed his head as he tossed it fretfully from side to side. Beneath the lids, his eyes were darting frantically about. An expression of dread and denial fogged his features. Incoherent murmurs had replaced the louder shouts, making him sound forlorn and frantic.

Without thought, I pulled him close. He immediately tensed and thrashed against me but I merely tightened my hold and brought my hand up to brush his hair back. "Sirius!" I spoke directly into his ear, jolting him from his nightmare.

My friend gasped for air and clutched at my back. I couldn't see his eyes but I knew he was awake. His breathing was still erratic and tremors were wracking his body but his muscles relaxed and he sagged wearily against me. Letting his forehead settle on my shoulder he fisted his hands in my shirt.

"Remus?" he choked.

I ran my fingers through his hair. "I'm here, Sirius. I'm here."

His ragged wheezing evened out. "Not a dream, then. Not a…dream." The shaking faded to an occasional shiver. He released his hold on my shirt but didn't shift away from me. He seemed unwilling to lose the contact between us, as if it was his only assurance that this was real.

I thought he meant to fall asleep like that but just when it seemed he had drifted off, he shifted his weight and murmured, "It was James and Lily. I saw Voldemort butchering them."

"In the nightmare?" I pressed my fingers to the nape of his neck and rubbed them in soothing circles.

He nodded. "They were so cold when I found them, Remus. Cold and pale. Lifeless and terrified. The house was in shambles and…Harry was…crying. I went numb to the grief. All I felt was anger. I realized…even before I saw the bodies, that it was Peter. Peter…all along. Worthless, deplorable scum…" The last bit was dipped in poison and practically spat out.

He went stiff. "I should have seen… I should have known it was him! But I didn't…not until it was too late. Not until I was searching the wreckage, screaming out to James and Lily even though I knew they were dead. Why didn't I see? It was so obvious…why didn't I see?"

Such self-contempt. There was such self-contempt in his voice. "Because it wasn't obvious, Sirius. If it had been obvious, we would have known! James and Lily didn't see, I didn't see… Why would you have?"

"I would have," he ground out darkly, "I should have! I was…too busy suspecting you. I was a fool. In what universe could you ever turn traitor?"

"Then why?" the words were out before I could register speaking them, uttered nearly inaudibly on a strangled breath of air.

His hand was warm against the skin of my arm. "You were so distant, Remus. After Harry's half-birthday you…virtually stopped having any unnecessary contact with me. You found time to spend with James, Lily, and Peter but…you would barely talk to me. Even during the full moons. When you did…you were so cold and…tense. I didn't want to…"

My heartbeat seemed to drown out the rest of Sirius' words. Or was he even talking still? I wasn't sure. Sirius reminding me that Voldemort had started recruiting 'dark creatures' I had expected. Sirius saying that Peter had been so beyond his field of doubt that I was the only alternative, I had expected. But this? Sirius doubting me because I was a werewolf would have been easier. It would have hurt but I could have dealt with that. But my being…distant?

"Remus?" Sirius had pulled far enough away so as to be able to look at me. His eyes were searching mine. He seemed worried. "I'm sorry if it upsets you… I wish I could change it."

I was cold. Freezing inside. My body was warm but I couldn't feel the heat. Jerkingly, I shifted away from Sirius and crawled to the foot of the bed where I sat down, head in hands. I didn't know what to think or how to react to this. After all these years of telling myself that I wasn't to blame for James and Lily, only to find out that I was… Was this guilt? Or was this just shock? No. It was numbness. Complete numbness of mind and thought.

"Remus?" He was directly behind me, I could feel the dip of the mattress.

I swallowed the frigidness down. He deserved to know. I had to tell him. "Dumbledore was positive that someone close to James and Lily was leaking information," I didn't even recognize my voice…it was too unvarying and emotionless. "The closest people to them were Peter, myself, and you. At first I denied the possibility. There was no way you or Peter would betray us." Merlin, I sounded like I was reading the newspaper aloud.

"Then I forced myself to think about it. Dumbledore's a great man…surely he wouldn't be wrong about something like that. I dismissed Peter out of hand because he was harmless…he worshiped you and James… But you loved James and Lily and adored Harry…so how could it be you?" The emotion was creeping back into my voice even as it grew softer and softer.

Sirius rested a hand on my shoulder. "You don't have to explain, Remus."

"Yes I do. You need to understand." Why did his touch seem so cold? It was supposed to be comforting. "How could you be capable of betrayal? But then I realized…you had already proven yourself capable of murder. What was being a traitor next to that?"

I expected Sirius to withdraw his hand but he didn't. He didn't even demand an explanation. He just waited for me to continue.

"It was the Prank," I forced out past the sudden dryness of my throat. "It was a mistake. You made a thoughtless, stupid mistake but…it was a mistake that could have gotten Severus killed. When it happened I felt so betrayed by you. My only thoughts were of how I had trusted you and how you had nearly turned me into a murderer that the Ministry would have been only too happy to execute.

"Then, years later, I realized that you would have been a murderer as well. You had felt so guilty about hurting me. When you found out what the Ministry would have done to me for killing someone…you were devastated. But you didn't once express regret for having nearly sent Severus to his death. So…" I cleared my throat. "So, I thought that if you could do that without showing remorse…then maybe you could betray without remorse as well."

Still, the hand on my shoulder remained. "Your suspicion made you pull away from me, didn't it? Right around Harry's half birthday."

I didn't nod and I didn't say yes but my silence was response enough. "Now you know. You must hate me."

"Hate you?" he repeated, confused.

I scoffed. "If I had simply trusted you I never would have pulled away and you never would have had reason to suspect me. One of us would have noticed something about Peter that would have given him away. Surely, we would have discovered him if we hadn't been, as you said, so busy doubting one another."

"You can't seriously blame yourself for James and Lily?" he exploded. "That's ludicrous! Remus! Where's your sense? You haven't gone and lost it in the last twelve years, have you?"

Sirius' hand dropped from my shoulder and his weight against the mattress disappeared as he came to kneel in front of me. His face was cast mostly into shadow by the darkness of the room but I could still see his fervent desire to make me see reason. "Remus, you were the one that said that Peter's betrayal wasn't obvious, that one of the four of us would have suspected if it was. You can't give that as a reason for me not to feel guilty and then turn around and forget it so that you can feel guilty."

"Yes, and then you said that if you hadn't been so busy suspecting me, you would have suspected Peter."

Sirius looked as if he wanted to throttle me. "I meant that I never should have suspected you. No matter what."

What? And I should have suspected Sirius? For an adolescent prank that had nearly torn him apart with guilt? For God's sake, he had cried when he had realized that the Ministry of Magic would have executed me for killing Severus. I had never seen him cry before or since. And somehow, that made him fit for murder?

"I shouldn't have suspected you either." I voiced my thoughts. "I never should have suspected my best friend."

He smiled. "We both made a mistake, then. I've already forgiven you for yours. Have you forgiven me for mine?"

I nodded. "It doesn't change anything, though. James and Lily are still–"

"Not because of you," he interrupted firmly. "You can't second guess the past. You can say if I hadn't done this then maybe I would have done that but…it doesn't mean anything. 'Ifs' and 'maybes' are worthless. They prove nothing save mankind's remarkable ability to doubt the past. Do you know for certain that if you hadn't doubted me and I hadn't doubted you then one of us would have realized what Peter was?"

I shook my head. There was no way I could know. There was no way to know how changing one variable would have affected the chain of events that led to the murder of James and Lily. Which made it very foolish of me to blame myself for it. Only two people were at fault here. Peter and Voldemort. There was enough fabricated blame to go around but…that's all it was. Fabricated blame. I certainly had overreacted for no reason. How embarrassing.

Suddenly, I chuckled. Then, at Sirius' arched eyebrow, I explained. "For a man who has trouble expressing himself you certainly were very convincing."

Sirius smiled but it didn't quite touch his eyes. There was a distant, troubled air about his face. His gaze was disheartened.

"Sirius, what's the matter?" I drew his hand up into my lap. "Is it because of James and Lily? You know…it wasn't your fault either."

He shook his head. "No, it's not that. I mean…I do still blame myself. I think I always will because I was the one who convinced them to use Peter as their Secret-Keeper. It's…something else."

I squeezed his hand. "What, then?"

"I just… I just thought…" he sighed. "I thought that we had left the Prank behind us."

Oh. I should have expected this. Sirius had worked so hard to regain my trust after the Prank. Upon graduating I had assured him that I did trust him and that the Prank was in the past. Now he doubted that it really was. "We have left it behind us, Sirius. I was foolish for doubting you. Times were dark and…I was scared. We all were. I saw shadows in every corner. Fear does strange things to people. It clouded my judgment."

Sirius pulled his hand away. "If you had really forgiven me then the Prank wouldn't have sprung to mind as proof that I could turn," he pointed out, frustration making his words hard.

I had forgiven him, though. Sirius had made a stupid mistake in telling Severus how to get past the Whomping Willow but I had made a stupid mistake in using that to convince myself that Sirius was the traitor. How could I make him see, though? I could say that I had forgiven him until I forgot how to speak but Sirius wouldn't believe it.

Sirius jumped to his feet and turned away from me. "It'll be safer if I leave under the cover of darkness. Your wand is on the dresser in the guestroom. Thanks for letting me use it. I'll just change out of these clothes and be on my way."

I stood. "You're leaving? Right now?"

"I think it would be best," the hurt tightness in his inflection was like a knife twisting in my gut.

"I think it would be best if we finished this conversation," I countered.

Sirius didn't respond. He just shrugged and started walking towards the bedroom door. My chest tightened like a vise around my heart. If I let him leave like this I knew he wouldn't come back, not next month, not ever.

"Don't go," I pleaded, taking an aborted step to follow him. Then, when I saw he hadn't so much as paused, I added more softly, "Sirius, please don't go. Not like this." I couldn't lose him. I had lost him for twelve years due to a foolish error in judgment on both our parts. I couldn't lose him again, not because of a misunderstanding, not now.

Sirius stilled his flight just inside the doorway. For what seemed an eternity, he simply stood there, unmoving. Then, muttering something I couldn't understand, he gave a strangled shout and slammed his hand against the wall.

I jumped at the loud bang that reverberated in the otherwise silent room.

When my friend turned around, the anger seemed to have fled his system. Along with everything else, including his energy. He just looked…exhausted and overcome. "I'm sorry, Remus. I don't mean to be…difficult. Ever since Azkaban…sometimes I don't understand the way I react. Some of the thoughts and feelings that run through my head…I can't even begin to comprehend or explain them to you."

Leaning back against the wall perpendicular to the door, he let himself slide down to the floor listlessly. "I feel like I can't handle anything right now. I hate being so weak but it seems like you and Harry are all I have. I don't mean to be needy and I don't mean to lay everything on you but…"

I was sitting next to him before I even thought to do so. "Sirius, it's all right. You don't have to worry about being strong and having everything figured out. You don't simply leave a place like Azkaban behind. It will haunt you for a long time. I can't promise that you'll be okay tomorrow, or the next day, or even a year from now, but eventually things will be easier."

"The Dementors took so much from me, Remus," he managed faintly.

"I know," I settled my hand in his hair, "but you'll get it back. I'll help you."

Hesitantly, he leaned against me. "I know."

Slipping an arm around his shoulders, I drew him close. I wanted to bring up the Prank again, make sure everything was all right there, but I understood that now was not the time. Later. When he began escaping the mental prison Azkaban had left him trapped inside, we would talk about that. I would make him see. Until then I would help in the only way I could: by being there for him. I was his friend. It was all I could do but I finally understood that it was enough.

Sirius and I stayed like that, leaning into each other's warmth, until we fell asleep. When I awoke it was well past midday and I found myself comfortably settled back in my bed. I didn't have to get up to know that Sirius was gone. When I looked over to the nightstand I saw that a small piece of parchment had been wrapped around my wand. Smiling, I unrolled it and read the note that had hastily been scribbled onto its faded surface.


I wanted to wake you before leaving but I know how tired you are following a full moon. Our late night discussion must have killed you. I can't imagine that sleeping against a wall helped much either. Since you didn't even stir when I moved you early this morning, I decided to let you be. You'll find breakfast ready in the kitchen, courtesy of a warming charm. I hope you enjoy it.

I'll see you next month.


P.S. Thank you, thank you, thank you. A thousand times, thank you.