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Several Ways to Apologize

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After Sirius sent Snivellus down the Willow, James didn't talk to him for a week. Sirius thought this was particularly unfair, considering that he had a month's worth of detention and meanwhile Professor Dumbledore was acting like the sun shone out of James' arse. He started saying so, loudly, until James hauled off and hexed him. The shouting match that followed happened with legumes growing out of Sirius' ears. And after that everything was back to normal between them.

Remus, on the other hand, acted like nothing had happened at all, and that was much worse.

Sirius wasn't about to change his mind -- Snivellus had deserved a good scare for prying about, and more fool him for trusting Sirius in the first place -- but James had a point about Sirius maybe being a stupid wanker for giving Snape any blackmail material, and when Professor Dumbledore had given him all those detentions, Sirius felt like shit. Professor Dumbledore's disappointed look tended to do that to a person. And it was about a thousand times worse when Remus Lupin completely failed to do the same thing.

"No one got hurt," was all Remus said when Sirius made an ill-timed awkward overture at finding out how angry he was really, and that deflated Sirius in about a second flat. It was the thing Remus always said whenever he woke up after the full moon and they visited him in the Hospital Wing like they hadn't just seen him a half hour before: they'd whisper back the highlights of the night's adventures, and Remus would smile tiredly and murmur, "Well, as long as no one got hurt." Lately Sirius was beginning to have a weird niggling grown-up sense of responsibility, and whenever Remus said it he'd get this twinge, because each year felt shorter than the last and they'd be out in the world soon and Sirius was beginning to have this concept of the future as a real place, not just the thing batty old Trelawney talked about sometimes. And he'd think, But what if some day someone does get hurt? He'd dismiss it, though, because Remus did enough worrying for all four of them, and Padfoot was equal to any danger, any at all and especially old Moony.

"What do you think?" Sirius asked, a day before the next full moon following the incident. Remus was out doing something grown-up and Prefect-y, and James was probably off making a damn fool of himself for Evans and getting brushed off for his trouble, but Sirius had cornered Peter in their dormitory. Peter was sucking on a Sugar Quill and frowning over his Charms textbook, and he looked up at Sirius with every indication of bewilderment. "About sending Snivellus down the Willow," Sirius elaborated.

"Oh," Peter said, and looked terribly uncomfortable. "I, er." Sirius saw at once he was caught between a rock and a hard place, or in this case between Padfoot and Prongs, and took pity.

"You think it was stupid," he said.

Peter flushed a little. "Yes," he admitted, and added in a rush, "But it was funny too."

Since this was both a diplomatic and an accurate summation, Sirius accepted it with good grace and flopped down on his bed. "The thing is, though," he said, addressing the scarlet draperies, "Moony's not going to give me legumes and yell. He's too nice. Not like you, Wormtail, I mean, you're nice but it's just because you're a good bloke, not because you need to be polite about everything. Moony doesn't think it's funny. He probably hates me."

"He doesn't," Peter said at once, with such anxious conviction that Sirius knew at once he was right.

He sighed dramatically. "Maybe ..." he started. He heard Peter's expectant silence, but he just shrugged eloquently and rolled over on his side, facing away. Maybe he shouldn't go out tomorrow night with them, but he wasn't sure Prongs alone could stop Moony if something got out of hand, and he was sure that if he didn't go, he'd just lie on his bed as a dog all night making whimpering noises, and Sirius Black could not stand even the thought of being that pathetic. They'd find some way to sort things, even if legumes were right out.

*

If Sirius was forced under threat of ... McGonagall, maybe, or something else that'd make him answer quick, he'd say that his favourite things in life were simple and few: a bottle of Firewhiskey cajoled, with James' occasional help, out of Madam Rosmerta; the quiet stupid pleasure he got from watching Remus' contemplative face while he soundly beat Sirius at chess; Peter buying boxes of Chocolate Frogs and willingly handing the chocolate over to Sirius, since he was only in it for a complete collection of cards; doing a spell correctly on the first try, so that even McGonagall was rightly impressed. But his really absolute favourite thing of the lot was being able to turn into a dog with only a thought.

There was something almost sublime in being Padfoot. The world pared itself down into essential things, clean lines of scent, the happy motion of his body, the encompassing sense of belonging with his pack. All the things that Sirius worried about, upcoming exams and his stupid family and dark rumours in the Prophet and the net loss or gain of points for Gryffindor that week, they were not immediate things, they were human things, and Padfoot was not much prone to worry.

Sirius was trying to look forward to that now, while they snuck out of the castle under James' Invisibility Cloak. It was only him and James under it, all elbows and feet and barely able to fit together at all; Wormtail was scurrying on ahead, which was very decent of him even if it only made sense, considering he was small enough as a rat to be nearly invisible anyway.

"Ow!" James hissed, the third time Sirius trod on his toe.

"Sorry," Sirius muttered.

James huffed out an annoyed breath and shuffled forward again. Sirius shuffled along with him, the grass rustling softly under their feet as they turned off towards the Willow. "Hey," James said quietly. "Are you all right, Sirius?"

"Yeah," Sirius said, uncomfortable. They only called each other their real names when the situation was dire, and he'd thought James wasn't angry with him anymore, but he couldn't be so sure now.

"All right then," was all James said, though, and pulled the Cloak off them. He bundled it up and stuck it in his robe as Peter darted between the Willow's flailing branches. It froze, and Prongs picked his way carefully towards the entrance between its roots. He paused and looked back along his flank at Sirius, liquid eyes asking the question again. Sirius managed a slightly horrible smile and changed.

He liked being Padfoot. He did. The problem was that sometimes making the world simpler sort of distilled it, so as he followed Wormtail and Prongs down into the tunnel towards the Shrieking Shack, his tail hung unhappily. Being a dog offered no solutions to the problem of Remus being so politely angry with him.

The closer they got to the Shack, the worse it got. Padfoot could smell Wormtail's faint fear, the fright of a small creature facing a predator. He could smell Prongs' warm hide, untainted by fear; Prongs was the steadiest thing in Padfoot's life, an anchor of kinetic calm, absolutely trustworthy. But over these things, growing stronger, Padfoot could smell distress and pain, and anger, the sort of blind anger he hadn't smelt for over a year now since Moony had become accustomed to their company. He whimpered, and Prongs carefully inclined his head further to butt against him gently, reassurance. Padfoot wuffled acknowledgment and went on.

Wormtail climbed into Prongs' antlers and reached up enough to undo the trapdoor latch; Prongs leapt back; and Padfoot darted forward to reign Moony in until he was calm enough to go out for a run. That was the way they always did it. So skid into the Shack Padfoot did, taking in for an instant the dark splintered furniture shapes, the smell of wood and blood, before Moony was on him, snarling. This was the way they always did it: they'd tussle, shaking each other's ruffs, reacquainting themselves with each other. Since the very first time, Moony hadn't attacked hard enough to draw blood.

This time Moony bit right down into Padfoot's ruff, through all the layers of fur, drawing a yelp of pain. Padfoot struggled for a moment, but Moony shook him, hard, and even while the Sirius part of his brain was panicking, Padfoot's physical dog brain understood and he went limp, whining softly.

Moony let go and shuffled back, still snarling. Heart pounding too hard in combined human and canine fear, Padfoot rolled over into his back, exposing his throat, which he'd never done before. Remus would've hated it, if he remembered that fragment, and Sirius and James between them had agreed before they'd tried being with Moony for the first time that they'd be firm in never giving him the upper hand. But this was ... a special circumstance, namely that Padfoot was frightened and miserable and it was instinct that prompted him. Good instinct: Moony's snarl died slowly. A moment later furry weight settled down next to him.

A soft thump told him that Prongs had shut the trapdoor. After a few moments he couldn't smell either Prongs nor Wormtail anymore, and in a vague way he silently blessed James' understanding. Moony made a soft interrogative noise, and Padfoot risked rolling onto his side and licking Moony's nose gently. Moony whuffled a canine laugh and curled closer.

Well, what the hell. Padfoot closed his eyes and allowed himself to relax in a way completely separate from the stillness of canine submission, adrenaline giving way to exhaustion.

*

Some time later, silvery moonlight slanting into the Shack from a different angle, Padfoot woke. He nuzzled Moony awake too, coaxing and bullying him up the stairs into one of the bedrooms, which was also a normal part of the proceedings. They didn't like Remus waking up naked on bare floorboards if they could help it. This time, though, Padfoot didn't have an open trapdoor to leave through, so when Moony was settled on the bed, he lay down again next to him and sank back into sleep.

*

He awoke to sunlight and instinctively shifted to human, blinking and trying to untangle himself. It was harder than it looked. He and Remus were both twisted into canine attitudes, wrapped around each other, and, oh yeah, heh, Remus was naked.

"Er," Sirius whispered. "Moony."

Remus (who was by the way naked and had really smooth skin where it wasn't lightly crossed with scars) stirred a little, made a soft confused sound, and opened his eyes to stare at Sirius. His hair was flopping across his forehead. He looked very tired. He looked ... like really the only thing to do was for Sirius to give him a smile and say, "Good morning."

"We're in a bed," Remus said.

"Yeah," said Sirius.

"The same bed," Remus said, possibly for clarification.

To his horror, Sirius started blushing. "Excuse me if I couldn't get out last night," he said, as coolly as he could manage. "I had this problem where Prongs locked me in."

"Oh," Remus said. He blinked. Then fear started seeping into his face. "Why?"

"It's okay," Sirius said quickly, and tightened his arms around Remus, as instinctively as he'd bared his throat. The blush wasn't subsiding. He was too sleepy still, and too muddled up with Padfoot, to figure out why, but he was pretty sure he liked having his arms wrapped tight around Remus like this. Because Remus was allowing him some physical contact again, wasn't pulling away. Because ... "Er, we had a fight."

This didn't seem to reassure Remus at all, but at least he still wasn't pulling away. "What did I do?" He asked it softly, cautious, not really afraid yet.

"You, er," Sirius said, and didn't actually know how to explain without using the word legumes in there somewhere, but he'd had enough of those to last him a lifetime. He settled for a crooked grin and tried, "You know, most people, when they're angry with their friends, they just yell it out. They don't wait until all the politeness gets ..."

"Shoved aside," Remus completed hoarsely, and pushed himself up until he was propped on an elbow. He had to remember at least a rough outline of their fight, because he was scanning Sirius' body a little frantically, like if he looked hard enough he'd see right through the robes to the damage. Better to get it over with, Sirius decided, and obligingly tilted his head forward until the hair against the nape of his neck slid aside.

Remus sucked in a harsh breath. After a moment Sirius felt warm, trembling fingertips touch his nape gently. It hurt a little, but more like a bruise would than broken skin. And Remus' trembling fingers were beginning to make him shake too, this slight rolling shiver that met his half-faded blush, and suddenly Sirius was having a hell of a time breathing normally. Oh no, please, not now, he thought, a little despairingly; this sort of thing happened often enough, usually when he was watching Remus do something really completely ordinary, and after being puzzled by it for a few weeks, Sirius suddenly realized that he was feeling something that felt suspiciously close to the way James looked when he was staring after Evans. He hadn't bothered to panic, because it was just too weird and absurd to panic over, but now, all his senses still Padfoot-sharpened and Remus touching his bare skin so gently like that, Sirius was beginning to really consider panic as an option.

"I did this," Remus said, not quite a question.

"'s fine," Sirius told him, a little muffled. He couldn't have raised his head if he'd wanted to. He was too warm and heavy and paralysed.

"You're hurt," Remus told him, and the fingertips changed to the palm of Remus' hand, cupping the nape of his neck and then cradling the back of his skull, carding gently through his hair in a way that made Sirius swallow a little canine whimper. "Sirius," Remus said, "no one's supposed to get hurt."

Sirius made himself raise his head, following the feeling of Remus' hand in his hair. It brought their faces about two inches apart. Sirius went a little cross-eyed, and still couldn't quite figure out how to breathe with Remus' warm gaze fixed on him, but he managed to say, quite seriously, "But you're not angry with me."

The hand in his hair tightened a little, probably without Remus even realizing. "I'm not angry with you," he agreed.

"But you were," Sirius said.

Remus looked down and away. Sirius could see the faint quiver of his eyelashes. Long. He flushed all over again and nearly missed Remus softly admitting, "I was."

"Then," Sirius said, leaning forward and kissing Remus lightly on the nose for emphasis, "you didn't hurt me."

They both froze; Remus had probably been hit at the same time Sirius had with the sudden realization that he'd kissed Remus. On the nose, yeah, and with a lot less tongue than Padfoot would've, but there was something ... There was definitely something, a world of difference between Padfoot slobbering on Remus and what was happening here, Sirius with his arms wrapped around Remus and Remus stark naked with a hand in Sirius' hair, the two of them lying on a bed with two scant inches of air between their faces.

"Sirius --" Remus said, half-panicked, half-pleading, and possibly from sheer terror Sirius kissed him.

He'd kissed people before. Or, well, person, specifically Adele Vane behind the greenhouses in the autumn, mostly so that he could boast to James about it. It had been nice, except that all of Adele's friends started bursting into blushing giggles whenever they saw him, and although Sirius liked the attention, it was a bit annoying. The kissing hadn't really been worth that. Because the kissing had been nice, but mostly in a slightly damp way where Adele mostly pulled away before it could get very interesting, even if she did let Sirius hold the warm curve of her waist.

If he'd been kissing Remus behind the greenhouses, he probably wouldn't've even been able to stand up properly.

Because even though Remus had obviously never had any practice kissing, by the greenhouses or anywhere else, he didn't pull away. His lips yielded warmly against Sirius's, and he made a soft surprised noise when Sirius, who was still a little panicked and shocked with himself but beginning to really enjoy the feel of Remus's lips, slipped him a little tongue. Adele had made lots of pleased noises and just kept on kissing him kind of damply, but Remus made one little noise and then tilted his head and they were kissing, tongues in each other's mouths Remus making soft breathy noises with his hand squeezing gentle and convulsive in Sirius's hair kissing, and Sirius was maybe dying a little from how good it was. He was warm, dizzy, kissing Remus, his hands against the bare curve of Remus' spine, and it was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Eventually the dizziness became a need to breathe, and they pulled back reluctantly, gasping, foreheads pressed together. The moment the dizziness receded a little, Sirius tried to move back in, but Remus turned his head a little. Sirius's lips landed on Remus's jaw line, but that seemed pretty okay too, and he kissed along it.

"Sirius," Remus said, halfway between breath and reproach. Sirius paused and Remus said, a little shakily, "Madam Pomfrey will be here any minute."

"Oh," Sirius said. Damn. He disentangled reluctantly and sat up, suddenly unable to look straight at Remus. Flushed, naked Remus. He made himself keep his eyes on Remus' face. "I'd. I'd better."

"Go," Remus said gently, and gave him an awkward tentative smile. "Sirius. Er."

"We'll work it out," Sirius promised. Knowing Remus, he'd want working it out to involve a serious and thoughtful discussion on the changes to their friendship and what they were going to tell James and Peter and was it really a good idea anyway, and since everything in Sirius' body from his brain to the soles of his feet was shouting, Yes, yes, it's a brilliant idea, he was hoping that working it out would really mean snogging the hell out of Remus to demolish all arguments ahead of time.

The tentative smile on Remus' face became less so, the corners of his mouth curving up wryly. Sometimes Sirius vaguely suspected him of sneaky innate Legilimency. "All right," Remus said. "Go."

Sirius grinned back and went, down the stairs and to the trap door, which he closed behind him. Dimly in the tunnel he could see the silver pool of the Invisibility Cloak, and resolved to do something nice for James in the near future. Not tease him about Evans for a whole week, maybe. He shrugged the Cloak on and crept up the passage. He had to stop and press himself to the tunnel wall near the entrance, as Madam Pomfrey passed him briskly. Then he was up and out in the open air.

He blinked around at the dewy lawn sloping up to the castle, everything glittering in the pale morning sunlight. Sirius had emerged in a new world: his neck ached and his lips tingled. James Potter was the best friend in the world and Remus Lupin was even better. Sirius beamed affably about and began walking jauntily up towards the castle.

He really wasn't sorry about sending Snivellus down the Willow at all.