Night came early and lasted long in the Highlands in November. Remus wasn't sure if he was glad to be missing supper or not. He was ravenously hungry, but the headache that had been plaguing him for days would not be improved by the clatter and hubbub of the Great Hall. Exposure to James and Sirius's ongoing surliness was unlikely to improve matters, either.
For the past several days, Sirius had sat with Remus and Lily at meals, contributing only a few grouchy syllables to the conversation, while James and Peter sat by themselves farther down the table. None of them were speaking to the Prewetts. Remus did not have the energy to deal with his moody friends, but tonight, he didn't have to. The full moon would rise hours before supper.
Remus shivered and hunched his shoulders, walking faster. It was not the chill of the empty halls -- his skin was flushed with moon fever -- but contemplation of the long night ahead. It would be more than sixteen hours before a new days' dawn wakened him back to his human self.
The echoing slap of running feet on the stairs and the sound of harsh breathing made Remus cringe and back up against the wall at the doors to the hospital wing. He did not want anyone to see him in his current state.
It was Sirius. He must have run all the way back from his afternoon detention with McGonagall.
"Didn't think I'd catch you," he gasped.
Remus looked away. He didn't want his friends' pity and he didn't want them drawing attention to his monthly visits to the hospital wing. A hand on his shoulder made him tense.
"I wish you wouldn't --"
But Sirius only gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze before letting go and stepping away. Surprised, Remus looked up into his friend's face.
Sirius gave him a lopsided smile. "See you tomorrow, Moony," he said quietly.
Madam Pomfrey appeared in the doorway. "Ah, there you are, Mr Lupin." Her eyes narrowed as she beheld Sirius. "Are you well, Mr Black?"
Sirius nodded. "I was just making sure Remus got here all right."
"Of course," said the matron. "I had heard Mr Lupin wasn't feeling well. We may need to keep him overnight. Good evening, Mr Black."
She turned away, and Remus followed her wordlessly through the hospital doors, trying to squash the tiny, treacherous part of him that didn't seem to mind Sirius coming to see him off.
Sirius waited in an alcove until Remus and Madam Pomfrey left the hospital wing, hidden under a Disillusionment charm. He counted to thirty before following them as quietly as he could manage down the staircase to the entrance hall, and stood there, watching through the crack between the great double doors, as they made their way to the Whomping Willow. He stayed until Remus's shimmery outline vanished between the tree's roots and the matron turned back towards the castle. It didn't matter that Remus didn't know he was there; Sirius did not want him to be alone.
He didn't say anything when he rejoined James and Peter for supper that night. Sirius wasn't about to sit with girls if Remus wasn't there, and the Prewetts had humiliated him. James gave him a grunt of acknowledgement, and Peter offered an uncertain smile. The meal passed in silence.
Sirius's thoughts kept returning to Remus. Was it cold in the house in Hogsmeade? Did he get lonely? Was he hurting himself? He gazed moodily up at the east end of the Great Hall, where the enchanted ceiling showed the face of the rising moon, peeking through a thick covering of grey cloud.
When supper vanished from the plate before him, Sirius found he had eaten very little. He wasn't hungry. As the puddings shimmered into existence, he pushed away from the table. James glanced up, catching his eye, but didn't ask where he was going, which was just as well, because Sirius didn't know.
He felt restless, like he wanted to run and run and never stop. Taking the great staircase two steps at a time, Sirius almost flew to the third floor landing. He didn't want to go back to Gryffindor tower yet; all the rooms there were too small. Instead, he sprinted down an empty corridor, taking turns without paying any attention to where he was going. This part of the castle was cold and dark and silent, with only the faint glow of silver moonlight through the unglazed windows to light his way. Sirius yelled as he ran until his throat was raw, throwing inarticulate rage at the darkness.
He only just stopped himself from barrelling headlong into a little man in loud green robes floating in the middle of the corridor.
"Can't do that!" declared the figure. "Not allowed. Only one poltergeist may inhabit the castle at a time, and that one is me! Out out out!"
"Shove off, Peeves," said Sirius grumpily.
The little man eyed him more closely. "Ooh, Blacksie! Causing trouble, are we?"
"No. Just blowing off steam. You can't do anything to me. I'm not breaking any rules."
"The Ickle Smalls is supposed to be all tucked up in their Houses once dinner is done," said the poltergeist, putting on an expression of mock virtue.
"Dinner isn't done," Sirius sneered. "I left early." He turned on his heel and walked back the way he had come, hands in his pockets.
"Shouldn't go running through the halls baying at the moon," Peeves sang out, zooming after him. "People might think you're maaaaaaaaaad."
He grabbed Sirius by the head, ruffling his hair wildly and eliciting another angry shout, before vanishing through the wall with a high-pitched cackle.
James and Peter were already back in the dormitory by the time Sirius returned.
"Where were you?" Peter asked.
Sirius shrugged. "Around." He sat down on his bed, pulled Vlkodlak's book out from under his pillow, and began paging through it aimlessly.
Halfway into his pyjamas, James paused. "Still reading that thing?"
"No," said Sirius, slamming the cover shut. "It's useless. I need something that's written in words more than ten people know." He slid off the bed again. "I'm going to knick a better one from Pomfrey's office. You can come if you like."
James snorted. "You know as well as I do that she sleeps in there. But best of luck, mate."
Sirius scowled at him and shoved the book back under his pillow. "Well, what are we going to do, then?"
"I'm going to check over my assignments and then go to sleep," said James. "If you're clever, you will, too. It's double Defence in the morning, and I want to be ready for once."
"We can't sleep," Sirius told him. "We need to come up with ideas."
"For what?" asked Peter absently, smoothing out the Charms assignment he hadn't quite finished yet.
"For Remus, obviously."
"Oh, obviously." James rolled his eyes.
Peter shrugged. "What can we do? It seems like Dumbledore and Pomfrey are handling it."
If looks could kill, the glare Sirius gave his roommates would have been classified "Unforgivable".
James was unimpressed. "Pete's right. We're second years. What can we do that Dumbledore and Pomfrey haven't already thought of?"
"We're his friends," Sirius reminded them. "You said you'd help him."
"Like you helped me get into the Prewetts' club?" asked James. "He's probably better off without your 'help'."
Sirius scowled. "This is different."
"Too right it is. It's different because in this case I know there's nothing we can do," James told him, getting into bed. "Remus is a good bloke, and if there were anything I could do to help him, I would in a second. But there isn't. So unless you have any brilliant ideas you haven't shared yet, I'm turning it." He pulled the covers up and began looking over his assignments for the next day.
Sirius glared at him.
"Do you have any ideas?" Peter asked. "I'd like to help Remus if I can, but I don't know how."
Sirius sighed and shook his head. "Go to bed, Pete. You want to be ready for Defence tomorrow."
He got into his own bed and yanked the curtains closed, but he didn't feel tired. How could James and Peter call themselves Remus's friends when all they wanted to do while he was suffering was check over their schoolwork and get an early night? By the time the lights went out in the dormitory, Sirius was feeling very huffy indeed, and no closer to any brilliant ideas.
He tossed and turned in the darkness, punching the pillow into a more satisfactory shape, then changing his mind and flattening it again. The room felt stuffy, and Sirius got up to open a window. He stood there for a moment as the late autumn chill crept over him, but a soft rain had begun to fall and the wind was in the wrong direction. Listen though he might, no sound drifted up from the village.
Sirius stared belligerently at his rumpled bed, feeling no desire to return to it. The curtains of Remus's four-poster were drawn back. The bed had been neatly made, though the covers were mussed where Remus had sat earlier, trying in vain to finish his school work as the coming moon worked its will upon his blood.
"He should be here," Sirius whispered. "It's not fair."
His bare feet padded soundlessly across the floorboards and he climbed up onto the empty bed. The pillow smelled comfortingly of Remus. It calmed Sirius's anger. After a time, the chill from the open window drove him under the covers. Eventually, he slept.
Sirius woke to the sniggers of his roommates.
"Aw, did widdle Siwius get wonwey wiffout his Mooooony?" crooned James.
Scowling, Sirius sat up. "What time is it?"
"Half eight," said Peter. "We've still got time for breakfast if we --"
But Sirius was already out of bed and diving headfirst into his trunk for fresh clothes. He dressed haphazardly, ignoring Peter's questions and James's mockery, before tearing out the door and down the tower steps without pausing to comb his hair or tie his shoes.
When he reached the hospital wing, Madam Pomfrey blocked his way. She was still wearing her cloak, and her hands were full of bandages.
"Mr Lupin is resting," she said firmly. "No visitors."
Sirius glared at her defiantly, but both of them turned when the curtains around the infirmary's only occupied bed rustled, and a hand appeared.
The matron hurried over and stuck her head between the curtains. A moment later, she turned back to Sirius, frowning.
"He says you can come. Five minutes." She pursed her lips. "I don't like this."
Sirius did not care what Pomfrey liked or didn't. He was already pushing past her and ducking between the curtains.
Remus looked exhausted. There were dark smudges under his eyes. Even his lips were pale, except for a puffy red place that looked as if he'd bitten it. A bandage covered his left arm from shoulder to elbow. Sirius tried to give his friend a reassuring smile as he slid into the visitor's chair, but it felt all wrong on his mouth. He hated seeing Remus like this.
"Hey," he said.
Remus opened his mouth, but no sound emerged. His eyes flicked over to the nightstand where a glass of water stood, but everything else about him suggested that reaching for it was more than he was capable of just now.
Sirius picked up the glass, carefully tilting it to Remus's lips. Remus swallowed a little, wincing.
"Thanks," he rasped, not meeting Sirius's eyes.
"You OK?" Sirius asked.
Remus gave a barely perceptible nod. "You shouldn't be here."
Sirius shrugged. "Pomfrey didn't throw me out."
"She'll know you know now." Remus's voice was no more than a rough whisper. "Supposed to be secret."
Sirius gave him another sip of water when he began to cough. "So tell her I won't tell anyone."
"She doesn't trust you."
Sirius frowned. "Well, she should. You do."
"You should be in class. Defence this morning." Remus's eyelids were drooping.
"Sod Defence." Sirius rolled his eyes. "Anyway, you've got Potter and Evans to take notes for you."
"Pomfrey won't let you stay," slurred Remus. "Need to sleep."
It was only because he looked so weary that Sirius didn't make a fuss when the matron returned a moment later to order him out.
"I'll see you later," he said, but Remus's eyes were already closed, and he did not reply.
Sirius left the hospital wing feeling let down. He had hoped a visit from a friend might cheer Remus after his long night, but Remus hadn't seemed to want him there at all.
How can I help him if he won't let me? he thought grumpily as he hurried to Defence Against the Dark Arts.
As he slid into his seat, Peter leaned over.
"How is he?" he whispered.
"Fine," said Sirius shortly. "Resting."
"Did you tuck him in and make him a cup of tea?" teased James.
Sirius's cheeks flushed. "I only saw him for a minute. Pomfrey wouldn't let me stay."
"You would've missed class?" Peter asked incredulously.
Sirius shrugged as the bell rang signalling the start of the lesson.
"You say you want to be an Auror, but it seems like you can't be bothered with Defence lately," muttered James. "Did you even bring a quill or anything with you today?"
Sirius felt slightly guilty -- he was supposed to be taking notes for Remus -- but he excused himself, whispering, "We hardly ever take notes in Defence. Anyway, I bet I'll make a better Auror than you ever will, Potter."
James shot him a cold look, but their conversation was cut short.
"Communication," said Professor Gandolfsson from his carpet seat at the front of the classroom. "What is it? Can any of you likely lot tell me?"
A few tentative hands went up. No one wanted to draw the Defence master's attention, but they had learned over the last several weeks that a lack of classroom participation greatly increased one's odds of random hexings and visits to the matron.
"Rosier," said Gandolfsson, nodding to the curly-haired Slytherin boy.
"Communication is talking, Sir. To other people."
"Accurate but limited," sniffed Gandolfsson. "Potter."
"Writing, Sir," said James confidently. "Communication is about words."
"Partially correct, but still mostly wrong," Gandolfsson told him.
Sirius could not help snickering quietly. James had been acting like such a know-it-all about Defence lately. Unfortunately, the Defence master heard him.
"Did you have something to add to our woefully limited list, Mr Black?" he asked.
For a moment, Sirius was at a loss. Then he caught the contemptuous look James was giving him. "Facial expressions?"
Gandolfsson nodded. "Better, but still only scratching the surface. Anyone else? Snape."
"Thoughts," said Snape smugly.
"Good." Gandolfsson gave the hook-nosed Slytherin boy a long, searching look. "But perhaps a little beyond what this class is capable of. Mr Snape is speaking of the twin arts of Legilimency and Dictamency: mind reading and mind speaking, for those who do not know."
Sirius frowned. He had never even heard of Legilimency or Dictamency. He resolved to look them up later. It was no good letting Snape get one up on him.
"Words, expressions, gestures," Gandolfsson continued, slowly floating around the classroom as he spoke, "body language, the way you dress, who you associate with, even the way you look at another person. Every choice a person makes has meaning, and can be read by anyone with the wit to know how. It's better to keep your mouth shut and your face still, but sometimes even that will give you away. For now, we will stick to the basics, since I'm sure that's all your minds are capable of grasping."
He stopped in front of Sirius, fixing him with a look of mild irritation. "Lesson one: avoid having private conversations in public. What do you think I might have learned from your conversation with Potter and Pettigrew at the start of the lesson, Mr Black?"
Sirius tensed. Had he said anything that might hint at Remus's secret? He couldn't remember. "I don't know, Sir."
Gandolfsson was silent for a moment, and Sirius quickly schooled his face into the expression of practised disdain he had learned from his parents.
"Many things," Gandolfsson said at last, "few of them interesting. You and Potter fancy yourselves future Aurors, do you?"
Sirius relaxed slightly, but remained wary. "Yes, Sir."
The Defence master snorted. "You'll never be Aurors. Neither one of you has the discipline for it. Everything that goes on in those empty heads of yours is written across your faces, plain as day."
"I want to learn. Sir." James's voice was a touch louder than was decent for the classroom setting. Gandolfsson's words had clearly nettled him. "Isn't that why we're here? So you can teach us to be better at this stuff?"
Gandolfsson gave him a look of cold disinterest. "Those who have ready minds will learn. There is little I can do for the rest of you."
"How can we learn anything if you won't teach us?" James almost shouted.
Sirius drew in a breath, shocked by this uncharacteristic outburst. A few of the girls gasped. Evans' hands were pressed over her mouth. A couple of Slytherins were grinning. Snape leaned forwards eagerly.
"You'll learn what I think you're fit to learn, boy," said Gandolfsson, moving in until he was almost nose-to-nose with James. "For some, that means learning to defend themselves. For others, it means learning how to hide and stay safe until the danger has passed. If you try to do one when you're better off doing the other, you'll wind up as dead as that fool, Brown."
James went red. For a second, he looked as if he were choking. Then three things happened at once. James went for his wand, Sirius a whisper behind him, but Gandolfsson's wand was already in his hand.
"Frigidarius," thundered the Defence master.
"Confringo," Sirius shouted.
Gandolfsson flew backwards, crashing into Lockhart's desk with considerable force. Somehow, he managed to stay on his carpet.
But it was not at the Defence master, nor at Sirius, that the rest of the class stared, round-eyed. Sirius turned to look, and was unable to contain a cry of shock. James stood, mouth open, wand out, frozen inside a block of ice.
"Will he be all right, Professor?" asked Matilda Hathersage, voice unusually high-pitched.
"Potter is well enough," grumbled Gandolfsson, adjusting his seat.
"How long are you going to keep him like that?" demanded Sirius.
Gandolfsson gave him a piercing look. "Maybe you need to cool off as well, Black. Then perhaps you'll remember to address your betters with the proper respect."
Sirius took a deep breath, clenching his jaw, and lowered his wand. "I meant no disrespect, Sir," he said stiffly.
Ignoring the near-apology, the Defence master turned back to James. "Thermatis."
The ice gave a loud crack and began to melt, then, with a splash, dissolved into a puddle which spread across the floor of the classroom.
"Clean that up," ordered Gandolfsson to a soaked and shivering James.
Immediately, Sirius moved to offer assistance.
"Did I tell you to help him, Black?"
"No, Sir," said Sirius, jaw clenched harder than ever.
"Then sit down."
"S-stay out of it, Black." James's teeth were chattering as he tried to work a Siphoning charm.
"You see what I mean? Undisciplined," said Gandolfsson, shaking his head. "You should never lose your temper in a fight, or hex someone in anger. It's too easy to make a mistake, like Black, shouting out the first spell that came to mind. That's a charm meant for removing obstacles, Black; not a hex or a curse."
James glared at Sirius, who tilted his chin up, defiant. Gandolfsson did not miss the look.
"Lovers' spat, is it? If you can't even maintain civility with your friends, how can you ever hope to infiltrate an enemy stronghold?" he said contemptuously. "Aurors, indeed. Give me your wands."
Startled, James and Sirius obeyed.
The Defence master snorted. "Never give your wand away without knowing exactly why it's needed."
"Can we have them back, Sir?" asked James.
Gandolfsson waved his own wand, and the two in his maimed fist vanished. "You can have them back when you find them. They're somewhere in the castle. Call it a detention, but I'm not going to follow you around while you do it."
"But we have Charms this afternoon," said Sirius, stunned.
"Not my problem, Black." Gandolfsson raised his hands. "And now, desks away --"
"We can't do Defence drills without wands," James complained as the class jumped up and desks zipped to the margins of the classroom.
Gandolfsson's eyebrows rose. "Then you're just wasting everyone's time, aren't you? Go. Find them if you can."
Sirius stood, open-mouthed, for a moment as James angrily shoved his school things into his bookbag and stormed towards the door, wet robes making a slapping sound as he walked. Then he caught the look of unalloyed glee on Snape's face, flushed, and turned to follow his friend.
"Can you believe him?" he said when he caught up with James halfway down the corridor. "'Find them if you can.' Where are we even supposed to start?"
"You can start where you like," growled James. "I'm going back to the room to change."
"He could have put them anywhere," groused Sirius when they reached the abandoned Gryffindor common room. "They're probably in Slytherin or the girls' dormitory or Dumbledore's office. For all we know, they're inside one of the walls or stuffed inside a library book or something."
"It would serve you right," said James. "This never would have happened if you'd taken Defence seriously."
"You think it's my fault?" exclaimed Sirius. "You're the one who shouted at him in class."
James glared at him. "Well, maybe I wouldn't have done that if I wasn't already pissed off at you today."
"Hey, I know," Sirius sneered. "We could check whether that stick you've got up your arse is your wand."
"Shove off, Black. If this is all the 'help' you're going to be, why don't you just go visit your pet werewolf?"
Sirius blazed. With a shout, he threw himself at James, knocking the other boy into the back of the sofa. They crashed to the floor, yelling and swinging at one another. James seemed to be doing well at first, managing to connect a fist with Sirius's mouth, bloodying his lip, but he had not grown up with a younger brother. Sirius quickly regained the advantage, and by the time an arm reached down to yank him off of James, the other boy's nose was streaming blood, and he was clutching at his face and howling.
"What in Slytherin's pants is going on here?" demanded Fabian Prewett, giving Sirius a shake.
"He started it," said Sirius hotly. "He called --" He shut his mouth with a snap, horrified. In his anger, he had nearly revealed Remus's secret.
"I don't care what he called you," said Fabian. "What's gotten into the pair of you lately? You're supposed to be friends."
"He was being a tosser," Sirius frowned, sucking at the split in his lip. The fight had dissipated some of his anger. He wasn't ready to apologise to James yet -- not after the crack he had made about Remus -- but he felt better, all the same.
Fabian shook his head. "He's not the enemy, Black. Are you all right, Potter?"
"By doze," moaned James into his hands, sitting up.
Fabian knelt down beside him. "Let me see."
Gingerly, James removed his hands from his face. His nose was puffy and slightly off-centre. A river of blood continued to flow over his upper lip and drip from his chin.
"That looks bad," said Fabian. "I could try to fix it, but you're probably better off going to Pomfrey. C'mon, I'll take you."
He grasped James by the arm and pulled him to his feet. James followed him wordlessly, one hand still carefully cupped over his damaged nose.
"Go to your room and cool off, Black," the older boy advised him. "I don't like to take points from my own House, but if I catch the two of you fighting again, I will."
Sirius went, feeling embarrassed. He had not meant to hurt James. He wasn't even very angry with his friend anymore. James, with his broken nose, would probably feel differently, though. He might not even want to be friends with Sirius anymore.
Feeling gloomy, Sirius trudged up the stairs to their dormitory. He supposed he should go start looking for his wand, but he had no idea were to start, and no inclination to undertake the quest on his own.
Lacking anything else to do before lunch, and effectively prevented from visiting Remus by James's presence in the hospital wing, Sirius flopped down onto Remus's bed and rummaged through his friend's bookbag for the assignments which Remus had been unable to finish.
Remus's eyes did not seem to want to focus, which probably meant he had not slept for very long. He squinted at the dark-haired figure seated beside his hospital bed.
"Sirius?" he said groggily.
The voice sounded oddly clogged, and it took a few more blinks before Remus recognised his visitor as James.
"Oh. Hi. What happened to your nose?"
His friend touched the feature in question self-consciously. It was red and slightly swollen, with a crust of dried blood visible around his nostrils. "Sirius," he said.
Remus frowned, half sitting up. "He hit you?"
"We had a fight." James looked uncomfortable. "I -- look, I said something thoughtless about you, and I said it in the common room. It's OK," he added quickly, "no one else heard. But I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry."
"Oh," said Remus. "Um -- thanks. I'm sorry about Sirius."
James shrugged. "It wasn't your fault."
But Remus was not sure that was true.
"What time is it?" he asked.
"Getting on for afternoon break."
Remus frowned. He had got much less sleep than he'd thought. "Why aren't you in Defence?"
James rolled his eyes. "Long story. D'you want to come back up to the room before class lets out, or d'you want to wait for lunch?"
Tired though he was, Remus sat up and put his legs out of bed. Worry was rising in him, and he would not be able to sleep again until he did something about it. James helped him pull on his robes over his pyjamas, and when the matron appeared, saved Remus the trouble of arguing with her over allowing him to leave so soon.
"I really don't like this," she said, giving James the same look of frowning concern she had given Sirius earlier. "No one is supposed to know."
"It's all right, Ma'am," James told her as Remus clumsily stuffed his feet into his shoes. "He didn't tell us, and we won't tell anyone else."
Madam Pomfrey was not reassured, but there was little she could do, short of a powerful Obliviation charm, and she let them go.
James let Remus lean on his arm, and did not try to hurry him as they made their way back to Gryffindor tower. Nevertheless, Remus moved as quickly as his aching body would allow. Class would be out soon, and he wanted to be safe in their room before anyone might see him and ask awkward questions.
Sirius looked up in surprise when the two of them entered the dormitory. He quickly gathered up the books and parchment that littered Remus's bed to make room for him to sit down as James went to his trunk and began rummaging for clean, dry robes.
"Were you doing my school work again?" Remus asked.
"You know you don't have to do that," he said, touched. "Dumbledore's fixed it so that I always have a couple of extra days to turn things in, if I need it."
"I know," Sirius shrugged. "I just didn't think you'd want to come back to it." He cast a sidelong look at James, who was busy pulling on fresh clothes.
"He's apologised to me," Remus said quickly.
Sirius scowled. "Did he tell you what he said?"
"It doesn't matter," Remus told them both. "We're friends, all right? Sometimes friends say or do stupid things they don't mean. He's said he's sorry, and I believe him, and now you're going to do the same."
Sirius looked momentarily confused.
"To James," Remus clarified.
Sirius bit his lip, which, Remus noticed, was puffy and had a split in it. "Sorry, mate," he said, eyes downcast. "I didn't mean to break your nose."
"All right, James?" Remus asked.
James nodded. "It's fine. Pomfrey fixed it in about a second."
"So ... we're good?" Sirius asked suspiciously.
"Of course we are," said James, putting out his hand. "Sometimes brothers fight, yeah? Anyway, Fabian and Gandolfsson are right; fighting with your friends is stupid."
Hesitantly, Sirius shook his hand, looking awed. "I'd hate someone for a long time if they broke my nose."
James grinned. "Then be glad I'm not you. I save my hate for things that matter."
"All right," said Remus. "If that's sorted, I want the room for a minute to talk to Sirius."
Both of them seemed surprised, but no one argued.
"I'll go find Pete," James said, moving towards the door. "We'll get a head start looking for our wands. See you at lunch," he told Sirius.
As the dormitory door closed, Remus gave Sirius a quizzical look. "What happened to your wands?"
Sirius grimaced. "Gandolfsson. We have to find them. It's our 'detention'."
"What've you done this time?" Remus asked wearily.
"It wasn't me. James shouted at Gandolfsson in class. Said he wasn't teaching us anything."
"But he took both your wands," prompted Remus.
Sirius shrugged. "He said he didn't like that we were fighting."
"I don't like it much, either," sighed Remus, leaning back against the pillows. Then he frowned. Turning his head, he sniffed at the pillowcase.
"Did you sleep here last night?" he asked incredulously.
Sirius blushed, looking down at his hands.
Amusement and annoyance warred with one another in Remus's chest, but his face concealed the struggle from his friend. Amusement won. Remus sighed. The truth was that he was very fond of Sirius, and no matter how ridiculously he behaved, Remus could never stay annoyed with him for long.
"It's all right," he said. "Could you not sleep?"
Sirius shook his head, but relaxed a little, reclining on the bed and propping himself up on an elbow.
Remus sighed. "I was afraid of this. How did you feel last night?"
"Weird," Sirius admitted. "Like, no matter what I did, I wanted to be doing something else. I couldn't sit still. Everything bothered me. I felt like I was going mad."
"So now we know you're tainted," said Remus. "The full moon is affecting your moods."
Sirius bit his broken lip again. "Is it always going to be that bad?"
"No." Remus gave him a tired smile. "You're just not used to it. The moon was at perigee last night, too. Sometimes that makes things worse."
"Perigee?" Sirius frowned at the unfamiliar term.
"It's when the moon passes closest to the earth in its orbit," Remus explained. "It swings in and out, but last night was the closest it got all year."
"Oh," said Sirius. "At first, I wasn't even sure I was tainted. I didn't notice anything for weeks."
Remus was starting to feel sleepy. "The moon was at apogee last month. It was a lot farther away."
"Last night," Sirius admitted, "I wanted to do something to help you, but I couldn't think of anything. Everything I did seemed useless. I was annoyed. And then, this morning, it seemed like you didn't even want my help."
Affection squeezed at Remus's heart. He reached out and patted Sirius's knee. "You are helping me," he assured him. "You're helping by keeping my secret. You take notes for me when I can't. Sometimes you do my school work, even when I tell you not to."
Sirius gave him a half-smile of acknowledgement. "I know, but that doesn't seem like much."
"You can help me by learning some self-control," Remus told him gently. "It wears me out, seeing my friends fight. I don't think I could bear it every month. And if anyone ever notices your moods changing with the lunar cycle, I could be in a lot of trouble."
The smile was gone from Sirius's mouth. "But you didn't do it."
"It doesn't matter," Remus shook his head. "The laws are made to favour people like your family, not people like me."
"That's not fair."
"Maybe not, but there's nothing you nor I can do about that."
Sirius looked at him. "You're angry. Because of me letting myself get tainted."
Remus shook his head. "Not angry. I just wish --"
"I'm sorry, Moony," Sirius said quietly, eyes dropping back to the bedspread. "I mean -- not completely, because I think I'll be able to help you more if we don't have to worry about that. But I'm sorry it's a problem for you. I didn't mean to give you more problems."
That surprised Remus. Sirius hardly ever said he was sorry to anyone for any reason, and he had already apologised once in the last hour, to James. He felt as if Sirius had given him an unexpected gift, and wanted to give him something in return.
"It's all right," Remus told him. "I know your heart is in the right place, Sirius. You're a good friend. This morning -- it's not that I don't want you around or I don't appreciate your help. I just get embarrassed, having people see me when I'm weak like that, or when I'm not in control."
"You're way better at control than I am," said Sirius. "You wouldn't have hit James, no matter what he said."
"You can get better at it. That would help me a lot."
Sirius flopped over onto his belly, chin cradled in his hands. "I want to be better, but I don't know how."
"Meditation helps a lot," suggested Remus. "Would you try it again?"
Remus's roommates had joined him for a handful of half-hearted meditation sessions the previous year, but in the end, sitting still and being quiet for extended periods had been too much to ask of his fidgety friends, and he had not argued when the rest of them had given it up as a bad job. Remus himself still meditated several times a week, sometimes on his own, and sometimes with Lily. He found that it calmed him before the full moon, and helped him to regain his strength after, besides improving his ability to focus his magic.
"I wasn't very good at it," said Sirius.
"I know it's not easy, but you'll get better with practice."
"It will really help?" Sirius asked. "This isn't just you looking for a way to shut me up for a while?"
Remus grinned. "It really will."
Sirius nodded. "Then I'll do it."
"Thanks. We'll start tomorrow," said Remus. "You should go down for lunch. I know you missed breakfast this morning. And I need to get some sleep if I'm going to help you and James find your wands before supper."
Sirius sat up. "D'you need anything before I go, Moony?"
Remus shook his head.
Sirius gathered up his bookbag and Charms text, and quietly padded out of the room, as if Remus were already asleep.
Remus got under the covers and nestled down into the pillow that still smelled like his roommate with a sleepy sigh. He was glad that Sirius wanted to change his behaviour. Remus hoped it was possible. If not, they were both in for a lot of trouble. For better or for worse, Sirius and his tainted blood were Remus's problem now.