Long Road to Nowhere

"Peter probably hates you, you know."

The words sound so casual, coming from James who is lying on his back on the bed opposite him - but the casualness is calculated, and his usually warm eyes are almost cold.

Sirius blinks, and as he closes his eyes, for a moment, the world seems to slow down. To be told, at the age of thirteen, that you are probably hated by someone who is supposed to be one of your best friends is not normally a well received comment – but Sirius has always suspected he is not like other boys his age, not like James or Remus, and definitely not like Peter – and he finds this revelation equally crushing and liberating. Crushing because the Marauders are his family, the ones that he picked for himself, and he doesn't want his new, perfect family to fall apart like his old one did; liberating because secretly, deep down inside, he can admit to himself that all he feels for Peter, in return for his apparent hatred, is vague distain.

Sirius opens his eyes again, and realises that, evidently, the world has not slowed down for everyone else as well, because James is looking at him with a slightly curious look on his face, and has rolled onto his stomach to get a better look at him.

"What makes you say that?" Sirius asks with a feigned nonchalance, and begins picking absent-mindedly at the bed sheets, because he can play James at his own game, and he too can pretend that this is a conversation of little significance.

James shrugs, tracing an idle pattern onto his covers. "I don't know. Me and him used to hang out all the time before Hogwarts, but now... now, you're my best friend." James looks up, suddenly, at Sirius with shy liking, and Sirius can't help but be slightly thrilled by his words – best friend, he was James' best friend, he had a best friend –

But he keeps his face composed, and gives a "s'pose..." in reply, because to grin or laugh or celebrate simply because he has a best friend is a bit sad and not normal - and frankly desperation is Peter's forte, and James doesn't need Peter anymore, does he? Because now he has Sirius...

"Poor Petey," James murmurs, but Sirius can hear the grin in his voice, and catching James' eye, he begins to grin wickedly back, grinning and grinning, because James is his best friend now.

Screw Peter.

Years pass, and although they never speak of it again, the memory of that conversation leaves a tag in Sirius' mind and sometimes, when he lays sleepless at night, or is in a particularly boring lesson, he takes out the memory and inspects it - Peter probably hates you, you know – turning it over and over in his mind, but in the end he cannot draw out any more information or come to a different conclusion than he had when he was thirteen years old. But still, he cannot forget.

The rift between Sirius and Peter slowly turns into a chasm.

In their fifth year, Sirius and James – and Peter – finally complete their wonderful plan, which they believe will be an antidote to Remus' monthly 'problems'. When Remus hears about it, his face is simultaneously amazed and annoyed; an expression which only Remus can pull off.

The four of them sneak into an abandoned classroom, and lock the door behind them. Remus sits on a desk, looking slightly bemused, whilst the others take it in turns to showcase their several years' worth of hard work.

James is magnificent of course – huge and intimidating and unabashedly noble, Sirius thinks, rolling his eyes, as Remus gazes wide-eyed at the stag, and slowly reaches out his fingers to stroke the velvet skin on its muzzle.

Peter is next – small and puny and weak even in his animagus form, squealing shrilly and scampering around on the floor, overjoyed to even be there, to be accepted into Sirius and James' plans. Which was enough to make Sirius sick, really, because throughout the years, Peter had been little more than a burden to him and James; if they hadn't bothered to help Peter become an animagus too then they would have probably been finished a good six months earlier. That was an extra six months that Remus had had to spend alone every full moon.

And then Sirius transforms, feeling his body shift into nothingness for a second, and then reform into a large, black, shaggy dog, and suddenly, before really thinking, he is chasing a terrified rodent around an abandoned Charms classroom, wagging his tail and snapping his jaws gleefully, as Peter's squeaks became progressively shriller and louder, until suddenly Remus' arms are around his neck and someone is shouting "THAT'S ENOUGH, SIRIUS," and then he is a fifteen year old boy again. He is panting, and his stomach is churning, and he can barely believe what he has just done.

Peter is on the opposite side of the classroom, white and sweaty, gasping, with his hand clutched to his chest. James is by his side, staring at Sirius with wide eyes, like he is looking at a stranger.

There is a moment's silence, which is broken only by Peter's heavy breathing.

"It was just a joke." Sirius said quietly, shaking Remus' restraining arms off of his shoulders. "It was a joke, alright?"

He looked around wildly at his friends, but none of them can meet his eyes, so swearing loudly, he storms out of the room, slamming the door on his way out.

All he can think is that it is Peter's fault.

That night Sirius dreams that he is tied down, and there are thousands upon thousands of rats scurrying all over his body - he can feel their tiny feet scrambling all over him, and their whiskers brushing against his cheek, and he can smell their damp, stale smell, and when he opens his mouth to scream he can taste fur – and he jumps awake, bolt upright in his bed, panting and sweating and with tears inexplicably in his eyes, and he realises, shamefully, that James and Remus and Peter are looking, staring at him. When Peter squeaks his concerns, Sirius snarls that he is fine and pulls the covers back over his head.

Slowly Sirius' childhood friend Peter simply becomes 'Wormtail'.

When James asks Sirius to be his secret keeper, Sirius' head is filled with yesyesyes because somehow, it feels like a victory. Because, even though Peter is James' oldest friend, Sirius is his best, and the one that James trusts with his and Lily's and Harry's lives.

But instead, he says "no," because as sick as it makes him feel, there is someone who can protect James' secret better than he can – weak and talentless and perfect, because no-one will suspect a thing. Because James is his best friend, and he is more important than Sirius' childhood inferiority complex.

(Not that he ever feels inferior to Wormtail. Never.)

And so Sirius watches as the Potters' location is buried deep within the soul of Wormtail, and as he leaves, Sirius claps him on the shoulder and says, "See you soon, mate," and tries not to make it feel forced.

Not long afterwards, Sirius is standing in front of the smouldering ruins that were once the Potter's house, and all he can think, with almost numb satisfaction, is that he was right all along.

And then he realises that he has lost everything. He wonders if Wormtail had felt like this when he realised James was no longer his best friend. Not that it matters anyway.

At the age of twenty-one, Sirius loses his second family; the one that he chose for himself.

Mostly, Sirius feels that he is slowly going insane. He can hear screaming, and he's not sure whether it's coming from the people around him, from himself, or whether it's just inside his head. Inside his mind, he revisits and revisits the ashes that were once a home, and he cries and begs and is weak, because everything that made him Sirius Black is gone and stripped away

All he can think is that Peter really must have hated him, because he left him alive and alone.

When Sirius sees Wormtail again, after twelve long years, his emotions are dulled by being Padfoot, - because when he is a dog he is safe, and comfortable and feeling is far away and unimportant - but his senses are heightened. He can smell the fear radiating from the rat, he can feel the blood pounding in his ears, he can taste the blood from the boy's leg as he drags him down the tunnel to the house where it all began.

Once safely in the Shrieking Shack, he pauses and the world shifts, as it has done so many times before, and he is crouching, matted hair falling over his shoulders, and suddenly, the emotions come flooding back and he remembers exactly why he's going to kill Wormtail.

But somewhere the plan goes wrong, and Harry is there, and he wants to get down on his knees and beg and apologise, but he can't because there are more important things that had to be dealt with first – like Wormtail –

And suddenly, somehow, Remus is there too, and Sirius feels stabbings of guilt in his chest and stomach when he looks at his old friend - because he knows he has cursed Remus' name in Azkaban almost as much as he has cursed Wormtail's – and when Remus pulls him up and embraces him, Sirius finally feels like he has come home.

The two of them turn and faced Wormtail together – like brothers should – and when Wormtail speaks to Harry, something unhinged in Sirius' head screams and it is all he can do not to jump on him and tear him limb from limb there and then.

Outside, the full moon shines on Remus, and then there is a werewolf running unchecked around the grounds of Hogwarts. Sirius lets his eyes feast on Harry one last time, before he is chasing after Moony, and it's like being sixteen again, only this time the danger is tangible and he can taste it like he never could when he was young and carefree.

Everything goes cold, and as hundreds of Dementors close in on him from the sky, Sirius thinks that it is probably all over.

He lays motionless on the ground, and from across the lake, he can see James charge, and the Dementors are gone. His eyes fill with tears, and he can almost see James' grin, the one that says, "I've always got your back."

Hours pass and Sirius is locked in the Charms classroom where he once chased Peter around and around on the floor. He remembers Remus' arms around his neck, and James' distant stare, and there are four crescent moon shapes cut into the palm of each hand. Sirius wonders where the blood under his nails came from. It is a while before he realises it's his own.

Then Harry is at the window with a Hippogriff, and Sirius is flying to freedom, and he tells himself it's the wind that is causing his eyes to tear up once again.

Sirius knows then that Harry is most definitely James' son after all.

Sirius sits alone, in the kitchen of number twelve, Grimmuld Place, and pours himself another drink. It is sometime past two a.m, and he doesn't know how long he has been drinking for. It could have been ten minutes, or an hour, or a day. All he knows is that he is comfortably numb.

Sirius sits alone and stews his liver in his own bitterness, and the clock ticks onwards towards the harsh light of day.

A rat scampers across the floor, and unthinkingly, Sirius raises his foot and crushes it beneath his boot. He can feel the skull crack beneath his heel, and he feels unquestionably powerful. He raises his boot again, but there is nothing there. Somehow, this does not strike Sirius as strange.

Remus stumbles down the stairs, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Sirius?" he asks. "What are you doing up?"

"...I've had too much to drink." Sirius replies and neither of them pretend that this answers the question.

"Let's get you to bed, eh?"

Remus, half-drags, half-carries him to bed, and as Sirius collapses, suddenly exhausted by the two flights of stairs and by the weight of his own emotion, he asks, "...Do you think Peter hated me, Moony?"

Remus is silent, and for a moment, Sirius thinks that he didn't hear him, and steels himself to ask again, but then Remus answers, softly, "I think he must have hated us all Padfoot," and smiles that sad, sad smile that only Remus can do. At that, Sirius, closes his mouth, and gets quietly into bed, and Remus bids him goodnight and leaves.

Sirius curls in on himself, trying to hold the edges of his broken self together, and pretends that he is not crying, silently, in the dark, that he has not lost everything, and he most definitely does not feel completely alone.

In the end, as his body curves gracefully through the air, he blinks, and as he closes his eyes, for a moment, the world seems to slow down.

He wonders who is truly at fault.

And then he opens his eyes again, and somehow, the world hasn't slowed down for everyone else, and there are still jets of light flying around, and a mad witch with dangerous eyes too similar to his own is screaming and laughing in victory, and he wants to say "I'm not dead yet!", but instead he falls through the curtain, and his mind is humming with a thousand soft voices.

One of them whispers, "Padfoot," and Sirius knows he is not alone anymore.