A thoughtful pause, followed by a slow, sly grin. "Incorrect."
"That's impossible," Sirius muttered, frowning down at the stocky gargoyle that guarded Dumbledore's office. "I was just in here today."
"The password to the headmaster's office was changed precisely half an hour ago," the gargoyle nearly growled.
With one hand on his hip and the other threading through his hair, Sirius took a deep breath. "Is Dumbledore in, then?"
"That all depends." Another unctuous smile spread across the stone face.
"Have you the password?"
"You know I haven't—"
A low chuckle echoed through the corridor.
"But I have my wand, haven't I?" Sirius threatened; his temple was beginning to pulse with a headache—should have snagged some of that pain relieving potion his kid had had the displeasure of choking down.
The gargoyle ceased its sinister sniggering. Puffing out its chest, the statue straightened its spear and became petrified, its slanted eyes cold and hard as pebbles.
"Shit." Dropping his hand to his side, Sirius sidestepped the hideous statue and pressed his palm against the cool surface of the concrete entrance to Albus' office, feeling around as though he could somehow push his way through.
The sound of footsteps and wind-swept robes had Sirius turning around.
"I'm afraid no one has left a list of passwords lying around this time, Black."
"Although, if I were Albus Dumbledore, and the likes of you were under my roof, I might be obliged to change them just as frequently." Snape's black eyes resembled the gargoyle's—only muddier. "Step aside, if you can be troubled to…"
Without waiting for a clear path, Snape lunged into Sirius' personal space and wrapped his fingers around the point of the gargoyle's spear.
Sirius backed away from the entrance at the same time the door disappeared into the wall, scraping itself open, revealing the first of several steps that spiraled up to Dumbledore's office. But before Sirius could fall in step behind Snape, a black-sleeved arm shot out, poking two long fingers into Sirius' chest.
Grimacing with disdain, Sirius moved away from Snape's obstructing arm. His whole face was pulsing with heat that had nothing to do with embarrassment. He could feel his jaw twitching, but Sirius remained silent, meeting Snape's smirking gaze head-on.
It only took a minute of this for Snape to realize that Sirius wasn't planning on speaking—or moving. And when he did, the small bit of mirth drained from Snape's face, pulled his brows downward, leaving his face ugly and gray.
"The headmaster isn't here." The words slid around in Snape's mouth in that hateful way he reserved for Sirius' ears alone. "He accompanied Kingsley Shacklebolt back to the Ministry of Magic, to sit in on a meeting with the other Aurors. He will return by nightfall." He turned.
"And he's left you here to play Headmaster, has he?" Sirius kept his voice steady. "That's big of him."
"More than I can say for you," Snape sneered over his shoulder, "playing House with Potter and the Werewolf, neither of which have managed to get through an entire lesson since their return. Dumbledore should be commended for his decision-making."
The heat rose along Sirius' neck again, this time at a dangerous temperature. "You're damn right, he should."
"Shacklebolt hasn't a clue for whom he is searching," Snape ground out between thin lips, "nor does anyone else. The Polyjuice could have been consumed by the Minister of Magic himself, for all we know. So I suggest, Black, that you do your duty as godfather—" The moniker curled Snape's lip as though it were a swearword. "—and see to it that your ward keeps his place for once. Do us all a favor."
The grinding of the door seemed to spark Sirius' consciousness, but it slammed closed in front of his nose before he could say anything.
The smack of flesh against stone sliced through the silence of the corridor as swiftly as the pain sliced through Sirius' palm. He smacked the wall again.
He stepped back, his heart pounding in his throat. He ran his stinging fingers through his hair as he stared at the gargoyle.
Reaching forward, obeying a rather childish notion, Sirius touched his fingertips to the point of the spear. He clutched it.
The door remained sealed.
The gargoyle's eyes remained dead.
Sirius turned and tucked his shirt in as best as he could. He shoved his hands into his pockets as he glanced down the corridor, looking at nothing in particular.
He walked on.
At some point, the bell rang hollowly through the corridors. Footsteps pattered, voices droned. Doors knocked into stone walls. It took Sirius a short while to realize he was standing in the rush-to-dinner crossfire. The suits of armor on either side of the Entrance Hall staircase seemed poised, girded for the stampede of black-robed adolescents that would come swirling by.
Sirius turned toward the laughter behind him; two young Hufflepuffs—probably first years—jostled each other. They bit their lips when they caught Sirius' eye; the laughter slinked down their throats. They hurried past him.
Sirius rubbed the back of his neck before stuffing his hands back into his pockets; he leaned against a corner and waited out the stream of whispers and whites of eyes that trickled by him. Aside from the occasional squeak of a trainer, the corridor remained quiet.
Sirius studied his fingernails. Harry would claim that he needed an afternoon coffee, with the way Sirius' fingers were pulling at his neck.
A few stragglers jogged by. The walls let out their breath.
Sirius continued on his way toward Gryffindor tower, letting out a deep breath of his own. A short flight of stairs and two corridors later, Sirius nearly collided with a tangle of limbs, textbooks, and faded robes—a walking cloak rack; gold-colored eyes peeked out from under a shock of fringe, hooking Sirius and dragging him back a few steps.
The questions collided, the way they had since the two of them were twelve and inclined to finish each other's sentences—something even he and James hadn't mastered.
The pale eyes smiled; the fringe sat upon an even paler forehead like the brim of a hat. "Did I what?" Remus shifted his books to his other arm. "You look out of breath."
Sirius thought about that; he squinted. "Do I?"
Remus nodded. "Have you seen Harry yet?" He frowned as he attached the latter half to his earlier question. "He left about a half hour ago—"
"Longer than that…more like forty-five minutes ago," Sirius corrected. He breathed carefully through his nose; he was a bit winded. "I don't think it's been an hour since he came to me—or you sent him to me, I mean."
"I didn't send him to you."
"After he was injured, I mean—"
"I sent him to the hospital wing."
The walls seemed to crowd Sirius' shoulders again, huffing down his neck. "No, you didn't…"
"I did, Sirius." The books sagged in Remus' arms now, pulling the robes from his branch of a shoulder. "Is he not there?"
"He is now." Sirius felt his whole face wrinkling in confusion. "Of course he is. Do you know what happened—"
"A skin-boiling hex," Remus supplied with a brief nod. "Why didn't he go to the hospital wing himself?"
"He…" Sirius trailed off, tilting his head in disbelief. "You didn't follow him there?"
"Well…it appears that way."
A befuddled pause shivered in the air, like the echo of the end-of-class bell. "This is Harry we're talking about…"
"You're right." Remus wore an amused frown. "Your Harry James, the boy who's been to the hospital wing a dozen times last year alone. Why on earth would I trail him?"
"He knows exactly where I sent him," Remus said evenly. "He promised me he'd end up there."
"Just like he promised me that cloak of his would stay where we'd placed it…"
Sirius could see the wheels turning behind Remus' face, but he kept the words trapped by tightly pressed lips. Just long enough to cause Sirius to want to yank them out. Even over twelve years later, Remus still knew how Sirius worked. And Sirius knew Remus knew.
Neither of them had to say it. But Sirius didn't always have to appreciate it. This was one of those special circumstances.
"Harry had no intention of getting treated," Sirius explained, trying not to seem as frustrated as he felt. "He was so riled up by Lucius Malfoy's kid that he almost forgot he was even injured."
"Oh, he would have brought it up—"
"Like shite he would have." The curtness of the statement poked a hole in Remus' optimism, deflating the atmosphere of the small corridor.
Resting his stack of books on the window sill, Remus tucked his hands into his armpits. "You don't think so?"
Sirius leaned the small of his back against the wall. He didn't know what to say. Or maybe he did. Maybe he couldn't. That was it.
"Look, mate," Remus sighed in his smooth-it-over voice, "I trusted Harry to keep his word, like he usually does, especially since he looked to be in quite a bit of pain; I didn't see it as an issue. And if I had, you know I would have been the first to…" Remus trailed off; his eyes tightened at the corners when he realized that Sirius was only half-listening. "What is it?"
Slicked blond hair had reached Sirius' vision before the sound of even, shuffled footsteps and murmurs reached his ears. Sirius recognized Lucius' son right away, as he only had one of his mates with him, and dark hair spoke nothing of the Malfoy line.
Remus had craned his neck in the direction of Sirius' eyes.
Shock splashed over Draco's face when he recognized Sirius and Remus standing at the far end of the corridor, leaving the smug, fashionably-late smirk to drip right off of his pointy chin and onto his smart school shoes. He grabbed a handful of the tall boy's sleeve and urged him round the corner with a twitch of white eyebrows and an offhanded tug at his own lapels.
Gesturing vaguely to Remus, Sirius was already moving forward. "Have you had it out with him yet?"
Trailing behind, Remus' soles flapped against the stone floor.
"Did you even—" Sirius quelled his attempt at directing his questions backwards while walking forwards and jogged a few steps to reach the corner. "Oy!"
The echo of Sirius' shout bounced off the ceiling and down a narrow staircase, where both boys snapped their heads around.
"Sirius, wait a moment." Remus was at his heel now, but Sirius didn't turn around. He watched the lanky, dark-haired Slytherin soak up some of the unease that had stiffened the shoulders of his friend, whose gray eyes were wide and still, easily ignoring the nervous, flickered glances from the other one.
Sirius hadn't much interest in his given name during his adolescence, when he would have rather been named after a famous Quidditch player rather than a constellation, but the power of hearing his own name in public—and witnessing those reactions—still startled him. The single word cracked like a whip in the air, turned heads, had teeth biting down on lips.
Frightened Malfoys, apparently.
Sirius swallowed away the peculiar feeling in his chest and drew a wayward strand of hair from his face. This wasn't about him, after all.
"Where were you practicing this afternoon?" The question was for Remus, but Sirius kept his eyes squinted in Draco's direction. The boy still hadn't blinked.
"The Entrance Hall, the landing at the top of the stairs—"
"Did you pass through that area?"
Realizing after a moment that this question was for him, Draco took a deep breath and lifted his chin, a gesture that made the boy appear years older; a mirror-image of his father.
"No, sir, I was in the common room," the tall one mumbled, still passing quick glances at Draco.
"We haven't a class then." Draco's chin stuck out defiantly.
Sirius stared at him.
"Theodore," Remus spoke gently, "would you give us a moment?"
With a final glance toward his friend, Theodore chewed on the corner of his lip and nodded; he seemed to curl into himself as he clambered down the stairs and sank into the shadows.
Draco didn't even watch his mate go; he lifted his chin a bit higher, but the attempt at looking superior failed him; his nose had twitched several times, and Draco looked much younger when he scratched at it.
Sirius caught Remus' eye. Remus shook his head, the movement tiny but clear. Clutching at his neck again, Sirius took a small step back and waited.
"Someone was injured today in my class, Draco," Remus said calmly, clasping his hands behind his back. "We're not quite certain what caused it, but the incident occurred at about the same time several students saw you passing by."
The polite inquiry was automatic, innocent enough. But Sirius sensed the haughtiness behind it, accompanied by the snap of an eyebrow down to a moth-eaten hem, scanning the deep wrinkles in the mud puddle leather of his professor's shoes. A smirk curled the boy's mouth in the same direction as his eyebrow. Draco Malfoy's defense was a steel wall, held up by his father. But Sirius could also tell that Remus was used to this, for he, too, had raised his own silent defense. Remus hardly cared what people thought of him. In fact, he had a pair of shoes that were even tattier than the ones he was wearing. And he loved them.
Remus continued the investigation. "Did you see anyone in the corridor when you passed through the Entrance Hall?"
Sirius sighed, deep in his throat. Remus had given the little wanker an out. Crossing his arms tightly over his chest, Sirius squeezed his hands in his armpits to keep them patient.
"Consider the scene carefully," Remus suggested. "There were quite a few of us there; another body wouldn't have seemed to stand out.
Draco swallowed and wetted his lips, obviously surprised by the gentle prodding. He wasn't smirking anymore.
Remus was making the kid nervous.
Good, Sirius thought. Great, even.
"I just walked by," Draco muttered, his voice growing lumpy. His eyebrows squirmed on his forehead now. "I hardly saw a thing—didn't even know it was your class, really." He glanced down the staircase leading to the dungeon, silently dismissing himself.
Remus offered up a half smile. His teacher face. "Think on it a bit."
The boy blinked in flutters.
Sirius bit the insides of his lips to keep from smiling. Ah, he mused. So this is how Moony does it.
"One of Potter's friends could have misfired to injure him, you realize," Draco said in a bored tone. "With Longbottom in that class, it's no wonder—" The supposition shrank to the back of the boy's tongue.
Sirius's spine tingled as the frostiness in Draco's gray eyes thawed, leaving them foggy and lost; the boy had realized his mistake.
Sirius tried to catch Remus' eye, but his mate was still locked in to professor mode. Remus had caught the slip-up as well.
"Misfires, I can understand," Remus said coolly. "Hexes are another matter entirely, especially when an opponent's back is turned."
The boy's pale skin instantly pinked.
Sirius could feel his teeth gritting among the fresh tension.
"I'm afraid I don't know what you're implying, sir." Delivered by a cracking voice that betrayed the offended frown.
"I'm afraid I do." Sirius couldn't help himself. He'd sat on his voice box long enough, like a jittery primary school boy's hand that ached to poke and pull hair.
A glance and a mouth-twitch in Sirius' direction summed up Remus' lofty opinion of that outburst.
Sirius shrugged with his eyes.
Remus proceeded with the business at hand. He lowered his chin, keeping his gaze on the boy. The confession had already tip-toed out of the lips that were currently tight with embarrassment; Remus needn't do much else. "Would you be willing to put your claim to the test?"
Understandable fidgeting as the cloudy eyes searched his professor's face. "How do you mean?"
Putting his hands on his knees, Remus drew his voice down to match. "I'll need your wand, please."
Draco blinked, coming back to himself. "What? Why?"
"Just get it from him," Sirius muttered to his own shoulder. "You're his teacher…"
Remus ignored him; he spoke even softer. "This isn't for keeps, Draco. Your wand, if you please."
"I—" The boy scanned the corridor for refuge. Finding none, his lips pinched with a mix of apprehension and disgust. "That couldn't be allowed."
Remus straightened, as though he'd expected the response. "If you were unaware of the situation like you've claimed—" Here, Remus paused, holding the boy's gaze. "—this shouldn't go any further than here in this corridor, should it? But we can certainly speak to Professor Dumbledore if you'd like."
Draco's mouth gaped like a fish and then closed again. Red splotches stained the pale cheeks. Had it not been for his godson's skin almost boiling off onto Sirius' quilt, he might have been able to dig deep and find a bit of sympathy for the painful humiliation that had gripped Malfoy's son like a fever.
Sirius could see the end of the boy's wand sticking out of a pocket inside of his robes; Sirius' fingers itched to snatch it.
"I—" The footsteps on the stairs had Draco's head swiveling, cutting off anything else he might have said.
"Two adults to one student." Black robes floated up the staircase like the threat of a rainstorm. "An interesting form of inquisition, though I must say I find myself terribly…unsurprised." The curl of Snape's lip reached the top of the stairs before his boots did. "Old habits refuse to perish." An even stiffer smirk. "As do those who possess them…"
A pair of downcast eyes peeked over Snape's shoulder.
"Dinner, Mr. Nott." Snape's gaze dragged over the three of them, ignoring the student trailing on the stairs behind him. He snapped his fingers behind his back and pointed in the direction of the scent of roasted meat. "Quickly. You're tardy."
"Aren't we all…" Sirius muttered. He crossed his arms across his chest and took another step back, transforming their small circle into a half one.
Theodore ducked around his Head of House, taking long, grasshopper-like strides until he disappeared round the corner.
"Invisibility Charms," Snape recited, sneering over the cover of the topmost book in Remus' stack on the windowsill as he strolled closer. His eyes, hooded and cold, found Remus. "For fourth years? How appropriate." He caught Draco by the arm and yanked the Slytherin out of the half-circle so abruptly that Sirius, on reflex, stuck out both arms to keep the whirlwind of blond hair and black robes from tumbling into him…or onto the floor.
"Dinner, Draco." Another snap. "Now."
The boy's head jerked up; several carefully oiled pieces of hair had fallen across his eye. Snape glowered down at the disorder.
"Actually, Severus," Remus said, readjusting his robes over his shoulders as he stepped in front of Sirius, "he and I were having a rather important discussion—I'm glad you stepped in."
Moving into the new circle of grownups, Sirius pressed two fisted knuckles under his nose.
Draco continued backing up until his behind bumped the railing, and then, looking distinctly out of sorts, he used his fingers to comb his hair into immaculacy, watching Snape all the time.
"So important a discussion should require the presence of the student's head of house, should it not?" Snape said silkily. The question evaporated in his mouth. It had its own answer.
Sirius glared at the man—at the collar that choked him, the black hair that hung on him, the sleeve of his robes that shielded the boy behind him.
He thought of Harry, waiting with those rotten green-striped pajamas on his lap, probably tucking his fingers into his fists to keep from biting his nails, which had finally grown beyond the quick. He'd been practicing that lately; grinned, even, when Sirius mentioned it.
Sirius' hands became hot with sweat; his blood boiled. "A bit like the importance of a head of house knowing exactly what his student has been up to during his free period," Sirius declared, choking back the venom that longed to lurch from his throat. "Only took sixty minutes to get a hex from yours—" He indicated Draco with a nod. "—and a hospital trip for mine. Hardly compares to an entire summer of lurking after my kid with nothing to show for it, does it?"
"Should be proud of that, shouldn't you?"
"Pity only one of us knows the definition of such a word, Black."
"Let's move this to my office, shall we—" Remus again.
"A skin-boiling hex." Sirius threw his words against Snape's forehead. "That's no classroom misfire."
"I didn't!" Draco blanched.
Snape's eyes darted over the blond hair that had curled around the boy's nose again.
"Check his wand, then," Sirius challenged, feeling belligerent—the kind of belligerency he forced Harry to take deep breaths through and then count to ten, frontwards and backwards. Good job his kid wasn't here. "Go on."
"Please," Remus spoke quietly, "let me handle this."
"Even Snape knows you have rights to—"
"Sirius." The whisper sneaked out from under Remus' fringe. "Take a walk."
Sirius' heartbeat was in his throat, his nose, his hair, even. He was his heartbeat. If only Snape would glare at him instead of that boy. Coward.
Sirius felt a pressure on his elbow; he glanced down; Remus was attached to him. "Let me handle this," he said again.
The blood drained right down to Sirius' toes, leaving him cold all over. He stared at Snape, willing the man to stare back. He swallowed hard. "My kid needs his pajamas."
"Go get them," Remus muttered. "I'll be right there."
Sirius finally felt the stinging in the palm he'd scraped on the door to Dumbledore's office. He put it into his trousers pocket and left the circle; he didn't look back.
"It's completely sensible—I don't know why I didn't think of it before."
"I don't know why I didn't either. Well, actually, yeah, I do," Harry amended, drawing his knee closer to his chin as he perched on top of the hospital bedclothes. "It's stuffed up in Sirius' wardrobe in his bedroom at home."
Hermione nodded, seeming to accept this.
Ron shifted at the edge of the bed to keep from sitting on Harry's foot; he rubbed at his cheek. "Maybe Sirius brought the map with him."
Harry shook his head. "It's safer at home. Remember what Remus said last year? Sirius's locked it up."
"Warded it, you mean," Hermione corrected; she kept glancing over her shoulder to watch for Madame Pomfrey's return from Snape's storage room, knowing very well that the second Pomfrey bustled in through the double doors, their visit would be cut short.
Ron rolled his eyes. "Same difference, Hermione."
"Oh, for heaven's sake, it isn't either—"
"He might have warded it as well," Harry broke in. "But he locked it first; I saw him. We keep the key in one of his shoes."
The setting sun sparkled in Ron's ginger hair, causing him to look doubly excited. "Brilliant! It'll be easy."
"No," Hermione snapped, and then, taking a deep breath, "no, no, never again…I'm through—"
Ron gawked at her. "What are you on about?"
"If you go through the Floo again, I'm telling Sirius," Hermione threatened, tucking her hair behind her ears matter-of-factly. "And then I'll go to McGonagall. I don't care if you never speak to me again—"
"Hermione…" Harry squinted at her in confusion. "Stop. I'm going to ask Sirius about it when he gets back."
"Yeah," Ron added sourly, so sourly that Harry knew the thought hadn't even crossed Ron's mind. "Think we're bloody idiots, do you?"
The doors to the hospital wing flew open, but Harry was so busy giving Ron a belt up look that he didn't pay much attention to whoever was moving in his peripheral vision.
Hermione, who was already sitting on the very edge of the bed next to Harry's, had pushed herself to her feet.
"What? What'd I say?" Ron piped up, his eyebrow twisting toward his hairline.
Ignoring this, Harry kicked his legs over the side of his bed to get his shoes off the sheets. But it wasn't Pomfrey. "Hey, Sirius."
His godfather gave him a close-lipped smile and lifted his eyebrows in greeting as he took a bundle of sleep things out from under his arm and held them up for Harry to see.
"I found clean pajamas." He tossed the cotton trousers and t-shirt onto the mattress. "Miraculous, really."
Harry smiled back. "Cheers."
A toothbrush bounced off of Harry's thigh and onto his folded t-shirt.
"And this as well."
A wad of socks.
"Oh, and this…"
Close enough now, Sirius handed Harry the bookmarked novel that he, himself, had kept on his night table for the past week.
"You're finished with this?" Harry peeked up, skeptical. Ghost Warriors was over five-hundred pages long.
"Mmhm." Another casual smile, this one for Harry's best mates. "All right, you two?"
"Hi, Sirius," Ron and Hermione said together.
Sirius squatted down and reached out toward Harry. "How's the stomach?"
Without meaning to, Harry scooted back a bit and pulled down the hem of his shirt; his face warmed. "It's fine," he said quickly. "Doesn't hurt, I mean."
Seeming to understand, Sirius nodded as he sat on the bed that Hermione had just vacated. "Dinner's been set for ten minutes," his godfather informed them; he winked. "Smells like it, anyway. I'll see to it he gets tucked in nice and tight."
"Aw, geez, Sirius—" A pillow tossed in the direction of Harry's face muffled the rest of his complaint.
"You're tortured, I know." And then, turning to Ron and Hermione, Sirius sobered a bit. "Go on, now, before it gets cold."
"Or disappears," Ron corrected this time, standing and moving next to Hermione. "That's even worse."
"Tragic," Hermione muttered. She cast a pointed eye in Harry's direction as she dragged Ron out by the wrist, mouthing, "Don't forget to ask him!"
"See you tomorrow, Harry," Ron called over his shoulder. "Bye, Sirius."
Sirius waved behind him.
Madame Pomfrey was holding the door open for them with one arm and clutching a cauldron-full of something powdery in the other. Sparing a nod for Sirius, Madame Pomfrey headed directly for her office. "Dinner in a quarter of an hour, Mr. Potter, unless you're feeling peaky. Then nutrient supplements, it is…"
"Which reminds me," Sirius declared, inching closer to the edge of the mattress, "lift that shirt."
Grateful for the empty room, Harry did as he was asked, allowing his godfather to inspect the damage.
"A bit better," Sirius decided. "Feeling peaky at all?" The crooked smirk that drifted across Sirius' face told Harry that his godfather knew exactly how Madame Pomfrey made Harry feel: dangerously close to chewing his nails to the quick again.
Harry rolled his eyes. "I've felt fine ever since you left. You were gone forever—where'd you go?"
"Whom did I run into, you mean…"
Shrugging, Harry toed off his shoes and used his heels to nudge them underneath his bed. "Or that, yeah." When Sirius didn't go on, Harry glanced up. "What? It wasn't Fudge, was it?" He wrinkled his nose at the vision of those fluorescent, pin-striped trousers marching about the school corridors. In honor of the upcoming First Task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, the bloke had been stalking Hogwarts off and on for the past month, always showing his teeth: a skin-crawling impression of Gilderoy Lockhart, if you asked Harry.
"No, not Fudge," Sirius replied as he leaned his elbow onto the stack of pillows near his hip. "Professor Dumbledore is in a dinner meeting with him at the Ministry."
Harry watched Sirius watching him. He recognized the look on Sirius' face right away. Whatever news his godfather had gleaned wasn't going to be pleasant.
"What?" Harry asked quietly.
"Did Remus ask you to come straight to the hospital wing after all this happened with the hex?"
Wearing the same vague grimace as his godfather, Harry pulled his feet back up on the bed and thought through the past hour. His brain had been a bit preoccupied, after all. "Well, class hadn't ended and he told me that…" The memory stung him, right in the half-skinned gut.
Sirius raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, yeah," Harry mumbled, feeling his gaze droop on its own. "He did."
A nod from the other bed. "He said he did."
"Yeah, he did," Harry repeated, wondering where the tennis match of shame-faced agreements would end. "Did he come find you, or did you just run into him?" The first option would be much worse.
"Well," Sirius began, his pillowed elbow moving to join its mate on Sirius' knees, "I think I caught him as he was coming to the hospital wing to see you."
"Oh." The whole ordeal hadn't seemed so important when Harry had decided to find Sirius instead of dashing into the hospital wing like Neville covered in an exploded potion, but with the way his whole skin was starting to burn, Harry was sensing his mistake quite quickly. "If Remus mentioned it, he's angry, isn't he?"
"No," Sirius said soothingly, "he's not angry. He was worried about you. He had to watch you limping away…"
"I didn't mean to worry him."
"I know, but that's not quite the issue…"
"I know," Harry muttered. And he definitely did know. They'd been over this particular issue a hundred times. Sirius' eyes were kind under his dark brows, but they didn't help Harry feel any less guilty.
"Would you have gone on your own if I hadn't taken you to get patched up?"
Less guilty, no. More truthful, yes.
Harry shook his head. "No, sir." He bit his lips for a moment, feeling awfully rotten. "Sorry, Sirius."
Sirius laced his fingers together, as he considered Harry with those same kind eyes. "All right," he concluded gently. "We'll work on it."
"I'll tell him I'm sorry."
"I think that's a fantastic start; very fair of you." A sad smile creased Sirius' face. He reached over and pinched Harry's nose between his knuckles. "I'm no Sir."
Harry tried to smile as well, but as the realization of his blunder with Remus was still washing over him, he found it a bit difficult. He shrugged. "Habit—creeps up sometimes."
"Put your sleep kit on," Sirius instructed with an important nod toward Harry's pajamas. "I searched for hours."
Harry indulged his godfather with a half-hearted laugh through his nose as he moved off the bed and made a grab for his kit; he was still thinking about Remus.
"What are you supposed to remember to ask me?"
Dropping his t-shirt on the floor, Harry cast down a befuddled frown. "Ask you…"
Sirius leaned over to retrieve the shirt, but he kept his eyes on Harry. "Am I not supposed to know?"
"Know what, Sirius?" Taking the shirt from Sirius' grasp, Harry added it to the top of his pile as he tried to shake out the cobwebs of shame that were making his head feel fuzzy.
Straightening out of his slouch, his godfather tilted his head and peered at Harry through one eye. "Hermione—before she left, it looked like—"
"Oh!" Harry exclaimed, comprehension splashing him in the face. "Oh, yeah, she told me—" Flipping his head back to look for a clear area, Harry sat back down on his bed. "—she brought it up, I mean."
"Brought what up?"
"The Marauder's Map," Harry clarified, the sheepishness escaping him for the moment. "She said we should use it to see if Peter Pettigrew is on the castle grounds, like we did last year. He showed up as a rat, so he'd show up as Professor Moody, wouldn't he?"
"He'd show up even if McGonagall transfigured him into a carrot…"
Harry found it a bit easier to smile now. "I know. See? Anyone would."
"That was good thinking on Hermione's part," Sirius said. "I don't know why I didn't consider it."
"You hid it, that's why," Harry reminded him. "I didn't think of it either."
"I'll get it tonight—Dumbledore doesn't even know that map is in existence." It was Sirius' turn to look sheepish. But unlike Harry, Sirius could smile through it. "I make mistakes as well, you see…"
Lowering his gaze once more, Harry twisted his lips as the embarrassment crawled up his spine with its spider legs.
"We'll try to be sharper about our memories, eh?"
Not I. Not you.
It was moments like these that made Harry's dull memory instantly sharpen. He loved Sirius an awful lot.
"Now," Sirius went on, clearing his throat as he stood, "hop into those sleep clothes before Madame Pomfrey comes after you with the green ones again—then you actually will feel peaky—and one more thing…" Curling his fingers around the base of Harry's neck, Sirius pulled Harry close and ducked down a bit. "Apologize, and let it go," he whispered reassuringly. "Do you hear me?"
Reaching around, Sirius popped Harry lightly on his seat.
"You'll apologize," his godfather muttered again, a bit louder this time, "and then—"
"—I'll let it go."
"You'll let it go," Sirius agreed with a nod.
After a long moment of staring at the buttons on Sirius' collar, Harry nodded as well, once again, thoroughly grateful for the empty hospital wing.
Sirius squeezed Harry's neck. "I'll be right here waiting, Bub."
Tucking his pajamas and clean socks underneath his arm, Harry shuffled over to the nearest curtained area. But before he could draw back the drape, he caught sight of Remus standing in the threshold of the infirmary entrance.
Harry's stomach curled with guilt. He watched for a moment as Remus greeted Madame Pomfrey, who had just closed the door to her office. The pleasant politeness on Remus' face dropped as soon as the woman turned her back. Sticking his tongue in his cheek as though he were thinking about something, Remus looked straight ahead, searching. Then his eyes fell on Sirius.
Remus nodded at him.
"You should have been into those pajamas an hour ago," Madame Pomfrey's voice crept up behind Harry, causing his shoulders to jerk in surprise. She swept open the curtain. "In you go. And I'll hear no more fuss about it, Mr. Potter."
If he would have been truly listening, Harry might have pulled a face at her, but seeing as Remus hadn't seen him yet…or moved.
Setting his pajamas on the table, Harry grabbed a fistful of curtain but watched for a few seconds longer. Remus had eased the door closed behind him and was walking toward where Sirius was standing.
Harry jerked on the curtain before he could decide if Remus' nod had anything to do with him; its white hem dangled over his feet, tut-tutting and shaking its head.
Two pairs of men's shoes faced each other in the middle of the floor.
"I knew it…" His godfather's voice.
Knew what? Harry thought. Socks, underpants, and a wrinkled school shirt flew in all directions; he had never pulled on his pajamas so fast. The two of them barely seemed to notice that a pair of smaller feet in socks had joined the meeting, a less tidy bundle of soiled, wadded clothing under his arm.
"Dragged him straight down to the Dungeons," Remus reported, speaking under his breath. Glancing sideways at Harry, Remus laid a warm hand on Harry's head, just for a second. "You've got some color back in your face."
Harry felt himself flush, adding to that color. "Erm…"
"Then he's protecting him from the consequences," Sirius decided. "Could've guessed that much." Sirius glanced Harry's way as well. "That was quick, mate."
"You didn't see the look on his face, Sirius." Remus almost snorted. "There is no protecting taking place in Severus' office right now. Believe me."
Sirius stood there, pinching his lips between his knuckles.
All of a sudden, Harry knew.
Author's Note: 'Twas a long chapter, sooo does that make up for my posting lackage in the SFS department? ;-) Thank you for the reviews and for continuing to read after over a year of my being a slug.
On a sidenote, did anyone find him/herself squealing when Sirius popped up on the latest HP: DH2 trailer? Guilty. Oh, the Gary O. love.