This fic was a request from Iamakoala, who also beta read for me. Thanks hon!
WARNINGS-Contains caning of teenagers and swearing. I believe the rating is high enough, but if you disagree, please review/PM me and let me know.
The three fifth years stood in a line in the hallway. One, with wild black hair and a slim frame, shifted nervously from foot to foot, his hands dug deeply in the pockets of his robe. The second, a rather faded and shabby-looking boy, tapped his fingers urgently against his thighs, his breath coming a bit faster than normal. The third boy stood stock-still, at attention like a soldier, his slate eyes staring blankly in the distance.
James spoke first. "Pete is gonna be really glad he was in hospital with dragon pox," he offered to his companions.
"Yeah," said Remus quietly. They exchanged quick grimaces.
Sirius didn't move. He didn't even blink.
"Professor Honkelbopper sure was pissed, eh mate?" James tried again.
"I've never seen anyone's ears smoke like that without Pepper-Up," Remus agreed after a short pause. "You reckon it's true, that he's part Salamander?"
"I'd heard dragon," James replied. "He's too big too be part Salamander."
"Not sure that a dragon could mate with a human, though," Remus said seriously. "Think about it. A dragon would just as likely eat you as let you, well, you know."
"Maybe his great-grand-mum was an Animagus?"
The pair contemplated that. Sirius gave no sign of hearing them.
"Well, he's sure big enough to be part dragon," James said. "I reckon he's as tall as Hagrid."
"Will you please shut it?" Sirius asked tonelessly from Remus' other side. His friends both looked to him.
"You all right, mate?" Remus asked cautiously.
Sirius didn't reply. The door next to James opened.
"Mr. Potter." Honkelbopper's tone was severe.
James swallowed hard, and disappeared into the man's office.
The door slammed shut, leaving two boys in the hallway. They could still hear the rumble of the professor's voice through the door, although not the words he spoke. He only spoke for about a minute. There was a silence of perhaps thirty seconds, and then a whooshing noise that would stop any schoolboy's heart, followed by the sharp crack of rattan against flesh. Remus and Sirius both flinched. James' yelp could be clearly heard even through the thick door.
Remus glanced at his friend, who had gone as pale as fresh milk. He briefly wondered if Sirius, who was usually brave to the point of recklessness, was going to faint. Hesitantly, he reached over and took his friend's arm so he wouldn't collapse to the floor if his knees gave out.
Sirius jerked away, and Remus heard his breathing pick up speed and volume. Another whoosh, CRACK! followed by a yell came from the other side of the oak door.
"Sirius?" Remus asked. "You all right?" But Sirius didn't say anything. He looked to have shrunken into himself a bit. This was beyond strange.
When Honkelbopper had screamed at the three of them in front of the entire class, Sirius had smirked and cracked jokes under his breath to both Remus and James, as he usually did...until the man had hollered that they'd see the cane for this. Of course, Remus had been too busy panicking himself then to realize that Sirius had gone silent. It was only after class, as the trio was walking to Honkelbopper's office, that it had struck Remus that Sirius hadn't said a word since then. And now, he was, well, acting very un-Sirius-like.
Whoosh-CRACK! The response from James was louder and more severe now, and Remus didn't miss it when his friend pushed himself further back against the wall.
Swoosh, CRACK! "Ahh!" James sobbed out. Another low rumble from the professor.
"Padfoot? You're really freaking me out, here," Remus cajoled.
Sirius did not react at all to his friend's statement. His back was right against the cold stones of the wall as though he hoped to make like a ghost and walk through it. "Sirius?" Remus tried again cautiously. Still, nothing. "Mate, are you all right?"
Another swipe of the cane was heard from beyond the door, and another cry of anguish. The yells were becoming progressively louder and more out-of-control, and with each one, Remus had to swallow hard as his lunch threatened to make a second debut. How could someone hit another human being hard enough to make them scream like that? Didn't the professor have a heart? It sounded like James was being murdered in there!
Remus' heart was in his throat-he had never been caned before and it sounded worse than any horror story he'd heard from older boys in the dorms. But even through his fear, he still had enough compassion that Sirius' reactions were terrifying to him in a whole different way. This was not like Sirius. Happy-go-lucky, brave Sirius. This silent, stiff stranger would have made Remus suspect Polyjuice, but the boys had been together for at least an hour and none of them had taken as much as a sip of water, much less anything else.
Whoosh CRACK! The noise that James let out then was the shrill squeal of a dying rabbit, and Remus shut his eyes. They were all going to die, or at least be maimed. And for a rather lame prank at that...a couple (dozen) dungbombs shouldn't have gotten them in this much trouble.
The professor's voice was rumbling again behind the door. "Sirius, please say something," Remus said rather frantically. "I...oh, Merlin, he's going to kill us."
The-statue-that-was-Sirius spoke then in a low mumble. "It'll be bad, but it sounds like the professor will only give six," he said in that same emotionless voice. "No need to panic."
"No need to panic? Did you hear James screaming in there?" Remus said. "That sounds like a reason to panic to me!" He felt pretty close to panicking himself now.
The door opened then. Both boys turned to look at their friend as he limped out the door. James looked much the worse for wear, with red eyes and tear stains on his face only somewhat rubbed away by the sleeve of his robe. His breath was hitching in his chest too, in that way that it tends to when one has been crying too hard. Remus felt the blood drain from his own face.
"Prongs?" he managed to whisper. James just shook his head, looking down at his trainers.
"Mr. Lupin," Honkelbopper intoned.
It took every last ounce of Remus' Gryffindor courage to take the few steps away from his friends and through that door.
James was in absolute agony. As soon as the door shut behind Remus, he grabbed his buttocks in both hands, then let out a hiss of pain. "Ahh, Merlin, that h-hurt!"
Sirius was silent. James would have expected at least a bit of mild, good-natured ribbing from his friend. He knew he hadn't taken it the best—he'd screamed like a little girl, actually.
"P-Paddy?" James said. "You all r-right?" He carefully inched closer to his best mate, trying not to move his legs overly much.
Sirius didn't answer.
"R-really, mate, it's n-not that bad. I'm j-just a bit of a w-wimp," James tried again, this time lying straight through his teeth. Sirius swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat, but otherwise made no sign that he had heard him.
James heard the tell-tale sound of a cane connecting with skin behind the door, and the first yip from his friend. Merlin, it was surprisingly easy to hear from out here—no wonder his mates had looked so pale when he'd stepped out.
Sirius' stillness was unnatural, unnerving. His friend was always moving, restless and generally unable to be still. But right now, he seemed to be doing his best impression of a Muggle statue. James reluctantly released one buttock and waved his hand in front of his friend's face. Those gray eyes snapped to his for a moment, then returned to the middle distance. But Sirius didn't tell him to bugger off as he usually would have done.
Another loud CRACK and corresponding yip of pain came from the office. Even though his punishment was over, James couldn't help but flinch. Across from him, Sirius did as well, but his face was still and unreadable.
The next CRACK came with a yelp that reminded James of when he'd accidentally stepped on his dog's tail. James did a bit of quick calculations in his head...the moon was waxing, and they were five days out from the full moon. It would explain why Remus' cries sounded more like an injured pup than a pained boy.
"S-sounds like Remus' furry little problem is rearing its head in there," James commented softly. Again, Sirius gave no sign of having heard his friend. James looked over at him again. He sure looks pale, he thought.
CRACK! From behind the door came a low howl, not unlike the ones from the last moon spent wandering the Forbidden Forest. Moony was not doing well in there, either.
"D'you r-reckon that if we used our Animagus forms, once we're back in the dorms, that the pain would go away?" James said quietly, not wanting any passer-by to hear them.
"No," Sirius said tonelessly. James looked at him curiously. He sounded awfully sure.
Another crack, and another anguished howl. James bit at his lip.
"Couldn't hurt to t-try though, right?" he prodded, hoping Sirius would expand his answer.
"It's useless. And the shift hurts, too, when you're injured." The boy's voice was slightly muffled and without inflection. He sounded very certain though, and James couldn't help but wonder why.
CRACK! The howl this time was long and loud enough to make James wince. His sideways glance at his friend saw Sirius squaring his shoulders, his jaw set. He looked like a man facing off with a firing squad. "Padfoot?"
He saw Sirius swallow. There was a long pause.
"Don't wait for me," he said quietly. "I'll see you back at the dorm."
"But—" James protested. The door opened. Moony limped out, teary-eyed and obviously in pain, his gait uneven.
"Mr. Black," Honkelbopper intoned from the inside of his office.
James watched his friend walk inside with his head high and his spine stiff. The door slammed shut behind him. He glanced over at Remus, who was sniffling into the sleeve of his robe.
"You all right?" he asked. Remus shrugged.
"N-not really," he muttered under his breath. "My a-arse really h-hurts."
The boys stood anxiously in the hallway.
"We can't just leave him," James said.
"'C-'course not!" Remus replied, sounding affronted. "W-we wouldn't."
James felt uneasy, but even though Sirius had told them to go, he couldn't have really meant it. No one would want to be alone to face something like that! So they stood in the hallway, rubbing cautiously at their sore backsides and listening reluctantly to the muffled sounds escaping the office.
Sirius stood inside the doorway, avoiding the professor's eyes. His father thought eye contact was the height of disrespect and reacted accordingly. The last thing he wanted to do was make this giant of a man angrier at him.
"You know why I'm caning you," Professor Honkelbopper said sternly. "Is there any confusion on that account?"
"No sir," Sirius mumbled around a small piece of leather he'd conjured on the walk between the classroom and the office. He'd found long ago that such a thing would protect his teeth and jaw, and also helped to muffle sounds he couldn't suppress. A familiar terror was already thrumming through his spine, but he concentrated on being absolutely still and without emotion. Any kind of resistance, any kind of reaction, would only make things worse.
"Fine. Remove your robe, trousers and pants down," the man said. "Bend over the desk."
Silently, efficiently, Sirius took off his robe and placed it on a chair. He stood in front of the desk and unbuttoned his trousers, then pushed both trousers and underpants to his knees. His stomach was twisting as though he'd been hit with a slug-burping hex. Sirius was well-acquainted with pain, but that didn't stop him from fearing it. He pressed his chest to the surface of the desk and gripped the sides in a practiced movement.
The professor must have noticed, for he scoffed. "I see that unlike your friends, this is not your first taste of the cane," he said. It wasn't a question, so Sirius didn't reply. He was acutely aware of the chill air on his bare skin, and the minute tremors of his legs. Only six, he reminded himself. You've never known how many were coming before. He could take six. That was nothing, really.
The whoosh as the cane displaced air made him tense, and the CRACK seemed to echo off the walls of the office. For a moment, he felt nothing, before bright, fiery pain lit a line across his backside. His teeth clenched deeply into the piece of leather, but he managed to hold back a cry.
Only five more, he repeated to himself like a mantra. Only five more.
Whoosh-CRACK! He jerked at the impact but again managed to keep the yell behind his teeth. He heard the professor sniff.
"You think you're a tough lad, do you?" he said. His voice was mocking. Sirius squeezed his eyes shut in an attempt to keep back tears. His father hated tears; they only made the beatings worse.
Whoosh-CRACK! Oh, Merlin, that hurt! But he somehow managed not to scream out, even though the only pain he'd ever felt worse was the Cruciatus. Mother didn't like to get her hands dirty with a punishment that any common muggle could dole out. His father, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy the hands-on aspect of causing pain without spells. He was usually more for using his fists than a cane, but he used one often enough that Sirius knew this pain familiarly.
Whoosh-CRACK! Whoosh-CRACK! The two strokes back to back nearly made Sirius scream, but despite the unbelievable agony, he managed to hold back the noise. Behind him, he heard the professor breathing hard.
WHOOSH-CRACK! The sixth stroke was even harder than the rest, and Sirius let out a squeak of pain that he couldn't suppress any longer. Even through his agony, he pushed away from the desk, crouching forward to pull up his clothing.
The unexpected stroke connected with the small of his back. The last thing he saw was the floor rushing up to meet him as his world went black.