Peter finds Sirius sitting on the sofa with his face in his hands. His knuckles are red and bleeding and there are two fist-sized holes in the wall. He doesn't move even when Peter clears his throat and settles onto the cushions next to him.
"Padfoot," he says tentatively. "Are you all right?"
Sirius' voice is hollow when he finally answers. "His things are gone." He raises his head and Peter's heart thuds painfully at the staggering agony visible in Sirius' red-rimmed eyes. "I thought I would be glad. That it would be finally settled, but I--I want..."
Peter reaches out to Sirius and grips his shoulder, a silent token of comfort. "What, Padfoot?"
"I just want him back." Sirius, Peter can see, is trembling and his voice has an edge to it that Peter knows means he is on the verge of some kind of breakdown, one maybe ending in tears or a black sulk or maybe more violence. "As fucked up as things are, I just want him to come back."
Go after him then, Peter thinks, his anger rising suddenly. Go after him and bring him back.
What Peter says is, "Did you have another row? I thought you were going home the other night to try and work things out."
Sirius jerks his head. "After I left your place I did come here, but I couldn't stop thinking about what you had told me. About seeing Moony in Knockturn Alley and--"
"Padfoot," Peter says with just the right amount of sympathy and pity. "You know I told you I could've been mistaken. It was getting dark and, well, maybe there's a good explanation for it."
Ask him, Peter tries to drill the thought into Sirius' forebrain. Ask him for an explanation. Confront him with all the lies you've soaked up so easily.
"I don't know what to do," Sirius says hoarsely. "There've been too many things. Too many secrets. I don't want to believe it, but how long can I keep from it? I feel like I can't trust myself around Prongs and Lily and Harry. I feel like a traitor because I--"
Because you love him, Peter thinks viciously. You love him, but not enough, because you'll sit there and think foul thoughts about him because you're scared and you finally realized you're not invincible.
"Moony, he's--" Peter hesitates, eyes round with sorrow. "You know how rough he's had it. The ministry is impossible. His job prospects. It would be understandable if--"
"Understandable." Sirius looks at Peter with a kind of drugged horror.
"No," Peter says quickly. "I just mean we should...give him a chance to, I don't know..."
Sirius shakes his head, dropping his face back into his hands and shuddering.
"We've got to stop making excuses for him, Wormtail."
It sickens Peter how well he plays the defender of the one he's framing. The one reluctant to believe the suspicions, eager to search for other answers. He almost hates Sirius for making it so easy.
"You know how James is," Sirius protests. "He won't have anyone even suggesting that one of us could--"
And you pick now not to take everything that falls from James' mouth as gold? Peter wants to scream in Sirius' face. It's your fault. It's your fault for turning the world upside down.
Sirius jerks to his feet and Peter flinches back, his hand dropping from Sirius' shoulder and raising palm outward in an instinctive warding gesture. Sirius stares at him, shaking his head as if to clear it.
"I'm sorry." Sirius swallows thickly. "I'm sorry, Pete. You've been a good friend, and I don't mean to take it out on you. Make you keep listening to me going round and round about it."
A good friend. Peter's nausea increases, but he forces a tremulous smile.
"I don't mind," he whispers. "I just wish I could do something to help."
Sirius drops to his knees in front of him and places his hands on Peter's shoulder. For one frozen instant Peter thinks Sirius is going to kiss him.
Would I do even that, Peter thinks from someplace far off and muted. And already his mind has processed and cataloged the possibilities and how he could use it to his advantage. Would it make what he had to do harder or easier? And then--a flush of raw guilt and self-loathing--Moony. Did he really need another weapon to carve more scars into his old friend's damaged psyche?
But Sirius only squeezes, frowning into Peter's startled eyes.
"You have helped. I don't know what I would have done without you these past few weeks." Sirius sits back, sagging into himself with a shuddering sigh. "What with it being so risky to see James much, and...it's so hard to be there now...so much I can't say."
"He misses you," Peter says, because it's true and because he knows it will ratchet the desperation and helplessness inside Sirius to volatile levels.
Sirius breathes out a ragged sound and then his whole body is shaking as he sobs into his hands.
"I miss him. I miss him so much."
Peter isn't sure if Sirius is talking about James or Remus, though it's probably both. Suddenly, he can't bear to witness the fruits of his efforts, though he should be exulting. They always had underestimated him. And now there was no one to stop this. (Stop this, a tiny corner of his mind echoes. Stop me.)
"Did--did you talk to Moony the other night?"
Here is the test, Peter thinks. How effective are his manipulations? Had it been as safe as he thought to send Sirius off with words of encouragement.
"No." Sirius doesn't look up. His voice is thick with choked tears. "He was asleep, or in bed anyway. I think...I think he was awake, really, but he didn't say anything. I couldn't bring myself to speak to him."
"Why not?" Peter asks softly.
"I was afraid of what might happen." Sirius' voice is so low Peter can barely hear it. "I was afraid I wouldn't be able to stop myself from wanting him. Touching him. I can't trust myself with him, and I get so angry and I want to hurt him for doing this to us. For lying. For not trusting us to help him. For not coming to us if he--if he--."
"Shh," Peter murmurs reaching out and letting Sirius fall against his shoulder, sobbing again. "Shh, Padfoot. Everything is going to work out. You'll see."
And it would, Peter knows. Everything would work out just as he has planned. He swallows another surge of hate for his friends who had claimed eternal bonds. Another flash of regret. Sorrow. But the bonds were proving to be nothing but dust, crumbling between their fingers. Your fault, he thinks again.
His hands rub slow circles over Sirius' back, and he murmurs comforting sounds until Sirius begins to calm.
"I suppose," he hesitates, "you're not going to be there for the full?"
Sirius' head whips up and he gasps.
"Fuck, the full is tonight! I'd forgotten."
Sirius is suddenly on his feet and pacing. His fists clench and Peter wonders if the walls will suffer another outburst of Sirius' frustration.
"Shit," he moans. "What should I do?"
"You mean," Peter says carefully, "you're thinking of showing up?"
Gently, Peter admonishes himself. Don't push too much.
"I've never not been there, not since I could be," Sirius says simply. In this moment he sounds utterly defeated, beyond sadness even.
Peter's heart clenches again and he has to will himself to speak. He makes himself remember what he is now, to whom he belongs. His fingers tremble toward his hidden mark and pull back.
"Do you think it's a good idea? With the way things are between you?" Peter gives Sirius a look filled with concern and worry. "You know Moony is affected by...intense emotions." He plays a card he knows will be effective. "The transformation could be bad, worse maybe if you were there. Remus could be badly hurt."
Sirius blanches and Peter knows he is thinking of sixth year and the subsequent months that had been painful and hair-raising and had only slowly stabilized.
"Do you think maybe that's why, or a part of it?" Sirius has his head tucked down so that his longish hair obscures his face. Peter doesn't need to see it to know the echoes of guilt from that long ago heartache are etched into the lines around his mouth. "That that's why he's..."
Sirius can't say the words yet, but it doesn't matter. Peter isn't quite ready to bring it to that point anyway. He's got Sirius shouldering the blame for what he thinks is going on, and that's only fair. He should take responsibility for this. They all should.
"I don't know, Padfoot," Peter whispers sadly.
"Jamie will never forgive me if I don't go."
"He would understand," Peter says. "You know he would. He always forgives you anything."
Sirius shakes his head. "Not this. He's protective of Remus. You know that. Made me promise, even though he thought the two of us were still...all good."
"Well," Peter says. He stands up and waits until Sirius meets his eyes. "Maybe...maybe we don't have to tell James."
Sirius stares back, uncertainty and grief making him look older than Peter has ever seen him.
"I could go alone," Peter suggests slowly, as if he is coming up with the idea on the spot. "I could go and tell him that you got called away on a mission. That you intended to be there, but..."
"I...I don't know." Sirius frowns, moving to look out the window as if the full moon was suddenly going to appear outside the pane.
"I'll stay with him. Moony likes Wormtail. It'll be enough. We'll be shut inside."
"But Padfoot is--"
"Padfoot might hurt more than help right now," Peter reminds him.
"Fuck. Fuck!" And now Sirius does slam his fist into the wall, cursing as his knuckles split and bleed again. But then he turns, eyes blazing, ignoring the blood dripping off his fingers to splatter on the floorboards.
"Will you owl me? In the morning? Let me know if he's hurt badly?"
All the air seems to have left Peter's lungs and he tries to take deep breaths, eyes fixed on Sirius' bloody hand. He gestures weakly and reaches for his wand.
"Do you want me to--"
"No." Sirius jerks his hand up, cradling it in the other one. "No," he says more gently. "Just go."
Peter nods, turns to leave.
"Wait," Sirius calls, dropping his voice to an almost whisper. "If...if he asks for me--"
Peter says nothing only lets his eyes go wide with pity.
Sirius flushes, turns jerkily back to the window.
"Never mind. Goodbye, Peter. Don't forget to owl tomorrow."
His owl shows up in the morning.
Went to visit our friend. No sign. Waited all night.