Disclaimer: Everything you recognise is the work of the wonderful JK Rowling.
A/N: Originally written for the Tales of Sin and Virtue Challenge at Red And The Wolf on LJ.
Remus balled the sheet in his fists.
As soon as his eyes had flickered open, he'd known something was wrong, because for a start he was in his own bed and there was a soft mattress beneath him, rather than the harsh boards of the Shrieking Shack.
A glance around the room had only served to confirm his suspicions – Peter was sitting in the window, gazing out intently at nothing, Sirius leant against the wall with his brow furrowed in defiance and his arms crossed, and James was sitting next to him, his eyes alert, secrets he was desperate to spill written into every inch of his expression.
Remus tried to swallow his pounding heart, wishing he could think what it might be, but everything from the night before was a swirl of images, smells, and emotions, and he couldn't piece together quite yet what had happened.
But something obviously had.
Something bad. Something that shouldn't have.
"What?" he said, sitting up and trying to beat back the panic rising in his chest. "What happened?"
James' fingers clenched on his knee, but his gaze was steady, and Remus wasn't at all surprised that they'd chosen him for the task of breaking whatever news there was to break. Peter would have stammered, got all the details wrong, and Sirius would have been falsely jovial about whatever it was, tried to brush it away – but James was good at this kind of thing. James would be honest, cut to the chase, not leave him hanging; but be kind, break it gently, understand.
"There was an accident," James said, his eyes shooting to meet Sirius'. Sirius frowned more deeply, and then looked away, letting out a huff of irritation, and Remus' mind whirled, seeing clips of different nightmare scenarios – one of them unable to transform for some reason, terrified as they faced him, and then bloodied and cold on the ground.
That didn't make sense, though, he thought, because they were all here; but what else would justify such graveness in a room that normally rang with the sounds of merriment and mischief? He leant forward, urging James to go on, even though a large part of him really didn't want to know. "Snape found out how to get past the Whomping Willow – "
James nodded and Remus stared back at him with utter disbelief. This couldn't be happening.
He tried to picture the night before, after the moon, attempting to force his sluggish post-transformation mind to remember for himself, but his memories were fog, and the more he tried to picture things the more they twisted away on the wind.
He watched as his knuckles turned white, not even able to feel his fingers as he clenched them. Had Snape succeeded? Had he made it into the tunnel? Had he killed Severus? Bitten him and left him for dead?
Remus swallowed, trying to reign in his erratic breathing, his pounding heart, steeling himself for the worst even as the thought rushed into his head that if he had attacked someone, Dumbledore and the authorities would hardly have left it to one of his friends to tell him. But still, he needed to hear it. "What happened? Did I..?" he said, and his voice was small, but rent with anguish, and he couldn't bear to finish the sentence, to get the final words out.
"No," James said quickly. "You didn't hurt anyone."
"Yes," Sirius said, with a haughty, mocking laugh. "Hero Potter here saved Snivellus' worthless scrawny arse."
The look James shot Sirius could have peeled the varnish from the bed frames, but Sirius didn't flinch. He just glowered back, and at the window, Peter shivered, and shifted nervously on the seat, gnawing at his lip.
Remus felt numb. He wished that this was a nightmare, but the sweaty sheets balled in his fists felt all too real for his liking, and the consequences of what James was saying rose up to meet him like a tide. He'd probably be expelled. Everyone would know what he was. His parents – they'd gone to such lengths to let him have a normal life, and he'd thrown it away.
"How? How did he know how to get in?"
The words left his lips almost before he'd had time to think them, and he was a little surprised that he'd come up with something so rational, so reasonable, when all he wanted to do was crawl beneath the sheets and hide.
James looked away, following Peter's gaze out of the window even though there was no way he could see what Peter was looking at. It gave Remus an odd sense of foreboding, and from nowhere came the thought that he was going to like this answer even less than he had everything else. His pulse accelerated, his grip on the sheets tightening, pulling the fibres taut.
"Someone showed him."
Remus' eyes widened in surprise, and again the bit of his brain that was in charge of questions sped past the bit that was processing the information. "Who?"
James studied the window frame, refusing to meet his eye, and Remus quickly ran through the list of people who knew how to get into the tunnel – Dumbledore, Madam Pomfrey, other teachers – none of whom seemed likely candidates.
The thought that was left – that the only other people who knew were in the room with him – sat in his stomach like a stone. Peter? Was that why he was shifting nervously in his seat at the window? But why would Peter tell Snape?
James, then? He didn't like Snape and he made no secret of it, but it was hardly James' style. James made a point of doing things, as he saw it, fairly. It didn't make sense for James to use him, to be indirect about it. "They didn't mean it," James said evenly, carefully, interrupting his thoughts. "It really was an accident more than anything. It doesn't matter who it w– "
"It was me, all right?"
Sirius pushed himself up off the wall angrily and wheeled to face them, his teeth gritted and his eyes flaring with dangerous indignation. "I told him."
For a second, Remus couldn't believe what he was hearing, and he just stared incredulously. Sirius dropped his arms to his sides and paced at the foot of the bed, stomping out a staccato rhythm across the rug. "And you know what? If you'd attacked him, he would have deserved it – sneaking around, trying to catch us out – filthy, greasy-haired tosser."
Sirius went on, calling Snape a load of names that were by degrees deserved and not – but Remus wasn't listening. He was back to swirls of nausea and sensation, images of a wolf, loose in the school, tearing through the flesh of friends and not knowing, just because Sirius had a grudge, had wanted to make a point –
His fists balled for an entirely different reason.
He tried to calm down, because after all, nothing had happened to anyone – but still, feelings he was rather unaccustomed to gathered in his stomach. There was panic, certainly, but mingled with it was a sense of fury, though he tried his best to quash it.
Remus' eyes fell on Sirius, still indignantly pacing at the foot of the bed and muttering obscenities about Snape, and the question 'how could he?' went round and round in his mind.
Remus' first instinct was to hit him – to get out of bed and just take a swing at him. In fact, his second, third and fourth instincts were to do that, too, and for a moment he wondered why he was just sitting there and not listening to them.
He pictured himself leaping up, taking Sirius by surprise, pinning him back against the wall, one hand round his throat and the other raised in the promise of a punch backed by everything that he was feeling –
But still he sat there, breathing heavily, twisting the sheets in his hands.
Sirius' face would be frozen in shock – he'd never see it coming, and for a moment, Remus thought that it really would serve him right to have to go down to breakfast with a fat lip and explain to everyone that he'd got it betraying a friend's trust.
Much as he wanted to, though, he didn't leap up and pin Sirius to the wall, he just sat, watching Peter's gaze, fixed on a point in the distance, flickering occasionally to the mirror on the wall to take in the scene. Then he watched James' eyes dart in Sirius' direction, his eyebrows dipped in a glower, and Sirius, strutting at the foot of the bed, waving his arms in indignation, protesting he was right, even as the panicked, fearful look in his eyes gave away the lie of his words.
Remus reasoned that he sat there and watched and didn't listen to his instincts because he couldn't react angrily – werewolves didn't have that luxury because it would just confirm that they were monsters, creatures of darkness and rage – but that wasn't it. He knew no-one in the room would really have held a grudge if he'd taken a swing at Sirius or even caught him off guard with a hex.
Maybe he was just like Peter, he thought, so afraid of losing the friends that were as precious to him as his own life that he'd put up with anything.
He toyed with a loose thread on the corner of the sheet, thinking that that was quite a disquieting thought, because he'd always thought that he was better than that, more than that, even though every time he turned a blind eye to something his friends did he was faced with proof that he wasn't. "What's going to happen?" Remus said, quietly.
"Dumbledore wants to see you later," James said.
"Me too," Sirius muttered. "Maybe we can go together."
James shot him another look, and then met Remus' eye. "Snape – he knows, now, but…. Dumbledore's going to talk to him and make him understand that he needs to keep the secret. Everything's going to be fine."
Remus forced a smile, because he knew James was only trying to help, to say the right thing; but he couldn't help feeling that James was dead wrong.
Everything would never be fine again. He'd trusted Sirius – all of them – with something, trusted that they'd never do anything like this, and now he had. Things would never go back to the way they were, and the one thing he'd feared losing ever since he gained it hung precariously in the balance.
Six weeks had passed, and, to outside eyes, perhaps, it looked like business as usual, four friends on the way to Hogsmeade, two laughing and joking and two quieter, but from the inside Remus could feel the strain written into every syllable of every word.
What they were doing was a passable impression of things having gone back to the way they were, keeping up appearances, when in fact they'd done nothing of the sort. He'd wanted to let it slide, to move on, but he couldn't. He thought idly that he'd found the one thing he couldn't put up with after all, and he thought, maybe, the others were taking their cue from him.
He and Sirius had barely spoken – and it wasn't that he was still angry, or trying to punish him, or even that he bore a particular grudge, because he knew there was no way that Sirius had meant for him to actually kill Snape, that he'd meant it as a way to get Snape off their backs rather than anything malicious. He knew that, and yet –
Sirius laughed too loudly at one of James' jokes, and Peter sniggered with rather false enthusiasm for the attempt at a lightened mood. Sirius met his eye and Remus forced a smile, and then fixed his gaze on the cobbles beneath his feet.
This was how it had been. Sirius had tried, in his own way, to make up for what he'd done – he'd tried to involve Remus more, to make him laugh in lessons with observations he previously would only have shared with James, and Remus really wished he could feel in some way warmed by the gesture –
But he couldn't. Every time he felt like giving in, the image of Snape's terrified face appeared before him and he just couldn't brush it aside, however much he wanted to.
It wasn't, he thought, that he didn't want to talk to Sirius, more that he really couldn't think of anything to say – or that he had so many important things to say, he couldn't allow himself to be distracted by a dig at Professor Flitwick's robes or speculation about whether Amy Jacobs really did what everyone said she did in broom cupboards.
He knew James and Sirius had talked about it, tried to patch things up, but he knew, too, that James was still angry.
James had changed. These days he second-guessed the wisdom of the possible pranks they plotted at night with their curtains drawn and the lights out, and he seemed more – grown-up, Remus supposed, were the words.
Peter had nearly bitten all his nails off with worry. At first, Remus had thought that Peter had almost seen this as an opportunity to come between James and Sirius – he'd caught him a couple of times, bending James' ear about how appallingly Sirius had behaved, trying to draw him into a discussion on the subject, but James hadn't fallen for it, and had retained a stony silence on the matter. And after that, Peter had gone back to general worry, tried to chivvy them all into forgiving and forgetting, and while they'd all made an effort, it wasn't really in any of their hearts to do it.
"What are we going to do, then?" Peter said, gesturing at the Hogsmeade street before them.
"I dunno about you lot," Sirius replied, steadfastly not meeting anyone's eye, "but I want a stiff drink."
Glances of question were exchanged, but it seemed that they were all agreed on that at least, and the creaky sign above the door of the Hog's Head squeaked in welcome as they entered.
Sirius reeled back, his face every inch as surprised as Remus had imagined it would be.
He hadn't meant to hit Sirius, but –
Sirius wiped his hand across his mouth, leaving a trail of blood on the back of it.
Remus just hadn't been able to help himself. Rage and alcohol he'd learned were not a great combination, and while the other patrons' face had swum in and out of view, making him vaguely nauseous, Sirius' smirk as he threw some jibe about Remus holding grudges across the table had been as clear as anything.
And he'd wanted to hit him, to wipe it off his face, to let him feel, for a second, what he'd felt, and before he'd been able to talk his drunken mind out of it, he'd balled his fist and swung it. He'd listened to his instinct for the first time maybe ever, and although his hand hurt he couldn't deny it felt good to give in to the impulse he'd been dodging for weeks.
His somewhat panicked fast breathing was the only thing that broke the stunned silence.
"What the hell – "
James and Peter's shocked, slurred voices came from nowhere he could identify, and Sirius' chair scraped along the floor as he got to his feet, throwing his arms wide. "Well come on then," he shouted.
He took a breath – Remus supposed to say something else, but the ire in him was rising and he couldn't stop himself from taking another swing. He caught Sirius on the cheek, but this time Sirius retaliated, grabbing a fist full of his shirt and hauling him towards him.
Sirius' breath was hot and sour on his face, and the table dug painfully into his back, and the whole room, everything, was just a blur.
'You're still angry.'
Remus smiled slightly at the scrap of parchment in front of him before reaching for his wand and surreptitiously wiping it clean. For some reason, being stuck in detention with his friends and exchanging notes charmed so that only they could see them made him feel better.
Hitting Sirius hadn't, on reflection. Not really.
He wasn't sure how much they'd had to drink that day – enough so that the table had become foggy in front of him and the other patrons had done some kind of remitting, advancing dance. He'd been drunk on pilfered Butterbeer enough times to know that it wouldn't help, but at the time he hadn't cared. He supposed a bit of him had wondered what would happen. And now he knew.
Sirius Black had a mean left hook.
He still wasn't entirely sure how it had started. Sirius had said something, and though now he couldn't quite remember what it was that he'd said, at the time with his blood about 30 Hobgoblin beer he'd been overtaken by a wave of annoyance and said something sarcastic and snippy back, Sirius hadn't let it lie and they'd ended up brawling on the table.
James had intervened at roughly the same time as the barman had and rather less effectively, and they'd all stumbled out onto the street, a jumble of limbs and miss-directed punches and shouting, with the barman hurling abuse and saying that if business was better, he'd insist they never darkened his doorstep again.
It hadn't solved anything, and the metallic taste of blood in his mouth hadn't been pleasant, and now he came to think about it, the ludicrous drunken justifications for his actions he'd offered were quite embarrassing.
And of course Professor McGonagall had caught them on their way back into the castle and given them all a week's worth of detentions for being drunk and bringing the school into disrepute.
It hadn't solved anything, but in a way, it had helped.
He'd worried that his friends would think less of him for his actions, be wary of him lest he go off again at any second, but if anything the opposite had happened, as if they were relieved that he'd finally reacted like a normal human being because that was something they could understand and deal with, get over, when his stony silence and reluctance to be drawn into conversation while he lolled about in his own thoughts was not.
Which wasn't to say things had gone back to normal, because they hadn't, and the incident with Snape hung in the air between them whenever they were together, an invisible barrier to the way things were.
Remus looked down at the note, and then glanced up at Professor McGonagall, making sure she wasn't watching, because although he'd normally shy away from charmed notes in detention, there were things he thought needed saying, and this was the first time Sirius had spoken to him directly about how he felt. He didn't want to waste the opportunity to try and clear the air, because he really did want this over with. He was tired of it – tired of not laughing at Sirius' jokes, tired of not saying what he thought, tired of the uncomfortable silences and everyone's awkward attempts at filling them.
'No,' he wrote. 'I'm not.'
He tapped the parchment lightly with his wand and his words disappeared to appear on Sirius' parchment behind him seconds later.
He waited for the reply, and after a moment, Sirius' scrawl materialised. 'What is it, then? I thought after you hit me, got even, things would be better. If you're not angry, then what?'
Remus frowned, thinking. He wasn't angry, he didn't think – not any more, because Sirius really hadn't meant the prank the way Remus had taken it, and he knew that. 'Is it too much of a cliché,' he wrote, 'to say I'm disappointed?'
Behind him, he heard Sirius snigger softly.
The words: 'Not at all, if you are,' appeared on the parchment in front of him, and Remus felt the unfamiliar pull of a smile on his lips.
'It's just – '
Remus stalled. Truthfully, he wasn't sure he wanted to confess what he'd been feeling, although he wasn't sure he could live without confessing it, either, and if he ever wanted his friendships back in any form that resembled what they had been, then he thought he needed to say it, to be honest.
Not that he had the faintest idea how to phrase it.
When he didn't write anything else, Sirius leant forward and poked him in the back with the end of his wand, and Remus dropped his quill onto the parchment and started to write.
'I thought you thought of me as a person,' he wrote. 'As just me, Remus, more than the creature I turn into sometimes. I thought that to you that was just an unfortunate part of me that you'd accepted – '
'It is – '
'But you ignored that. When it came to it, you thought about the monster in the Shack, not about the human part of me and how it'd make me feel to have Snape know, or to bite him, or to kill him – which I might have done. I mean, Merlin – did you even think what would have happened if I had bitten him? He'd be a werewolf forever – and I can't believe you'd really wish that on anyone having seen what it does. And I – well, I'd be in Azkaban, going insane, for something that wasn't my fault.'
'I didn't think.'
Remus swallowed. Even on paper it wasn't an easy conversation to have. 'It was like you'd forgotten it was me,' he wrote, before he lost his nerve, 'like I was just a monster, a thing you could use to scare him. And I know that's probably not what you were thinking at all – that you didn't mean it like that – but I can't pretend that after all this time, it doesn't hurt that you'd think of the wolf and how you could use it first, and me second.'
Remus tapped the parchment with his wand, and closed his eyes, not wanting to look down and see Sirius' reply. He pressed his fingers into his mouth, half-wishing he hadn't written that at all, wondering what would happen, if Sirius would ever speak to him again, and if James and Peter would forsake him too, in that eventuality.
After a moment, though, curiosity got the better of him, and he had to look.
Remus swallowed at the words, and more appeared. 'Not for what I did to Snivellus, because he deserved it, but you didn't. I'm a thoughtless selfish bastard, and I wouldn't blame you if you never spoke to me again.'
'That's not what I want.'
'No, I just – '
Remus scrubbed his words out and started again – but he couldn't think of anything to write. All the things he'd thought of saying, really, had been rendered useless and largely unnecessary by those two little words, and somewhere in his chest a knot had loosened, and for the first time in a long time he felt… light, his own size, rather than hunched over with feelings, wishes that things were different. 'Thanks for saying you're sorry,' he wrote, and then turned back to the lines he'd been supposed to be writing.
He half expected Sirius to write something else, but he didn't, and the classroom went back to the sounds of scratching quills writing out the same rote answers.
After a while, the clock struck, and Professor McGonagall spoke. "Well, gentlemen," she said. "It's eight o'clock so you may go. See you all again tomorrow."
Remus swallowed. For the first time ever, he hadn't wanted a detention to end, because he didn't know what would happen next. Would Sirius think that everything was Ok now? That they were back to normal? Would he act like nothing had happened?
How would he act? Was this something he really could forgive, without seeming like a doormat?
Remus got to his feet and gathered his things, glancing over his shoulder and meeting Sirius' eye somewhat nervously, although he wasn't entirely sure why. "I meant it," Sirius said quietly, regarding him just as cautiously, earnestly, almost. "I really am sorry."
Sirius smiled tentatively, and Remus couldn't help but return it, because it was so very rare that Sirius did anything tentatively at all. "Have you forgiven me, then?" he said.
"Not quite," Remus said, and Sirius' face fell. "But just because I haven't yet, it doesn't mean I'm not going to, does it?"
Sirius grinned. "Ok," he said. "I can live with that."
Remus almost didn't want to look at the others, to break or test whatever spell of reconciliation he and Sirius were under, but eventually he had to, because nothing else would make it feel real. Peter smiled cautiously, and James went for a full-on beam.
"Well," James said, slinging his bag over his shoulder and nodding towards the door. "If that's all sorted, I suggest we go back to the common room and do something useful. Unless that is, you two want to hug or something?"
Sirius elbowed him in the ribs, and Peter laughed, and as they moved out into the corridor, talking about all the things they'd wanted to talk about in the past weeks but couldn't – whether Lily really had been less frosty with James in Potions last Tuesday, whether Sirius should try and find out if the rumours about Amy Jacobs were true or not, and what on earth they were all going to write for their Charms homework since none of them had been paying the slightest scrap of attention – Remus couldn't help feeling relieved.
Things weren't back to the way they were, but when James and Peter became embroiled in a debate about Hufflepuff Quidditch tactics and Sirius met his eye and mouthed the word 'thanks', Remus knew that they were well on the way.
A/N: Reviews are always appreciated, and anyone leaving a word about this fic gets a Marauder-era character of their choosing to wrestle with. Now hands up, who wants Peter? ;)