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A Conspiracy of Cartographers: Year One [+podfic]

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Sirius wiped his sweaty palms on his robes and tried to remember what Professor McGonagall had just said so that he could copy it down into his notes. Something about finding one shape inside another. Something about this being on the exam. No, it was no good. Whatever it was had gone, and now he had missed whatever came after, trying to figure it out.

He glanced at Remus again out of the corner of his eye, and his mouth went dry. Tonight was the night. The full moon. Tonight, he and James were going to find out for sure if their mysterious friend really was a werewolf.

Just as Sirius had expected, Remus was moody, distant and distracted, and seemed even less inclined to take notes than Sirius himself was. Just to be sure, he shot a look over at Evans, and then at James. Yes, both of them had almost filled their parchments. Good. He felt a bit guilty that he would not be able to offer Remus any notes to copy from, but he had been unable to focus on anything all day except the upcoming adventure.

They had discussed it briefly, late the previous night, hidden behind the curtains of James's bed after the others had gone to sleep.

"Not a word to Pete or the Prewetts," Sirius had whispered. "They're not part of this."

"I know," James had said testily. It was not the first time Sirius had insisted on secrecy.

James had been less of an arse towards Remus over the past week, but there was no telling if he was about to start up again once they found out for sure. Sirius hoped he wasn't going to have to hit his best friend.

The Prewett twins, however, seemed to have forgotten all about the possible existence of a werewolf at Hogwarts in the aftermath of the Easter Murders. They spent most of their time with Amelia Bones, working on forming an Advanced Defence Club for older students who wanted to spend more time practising Defence Against the Dark Arts. They had all but forgotten their young protégés, except to take them aside near the start of term and tell them that if they ever wanted to talk about everything that was going on, the first years knew where to find them.

Peter would be easy to dodge, but they would have to come up with a story to tell him afterwards about what they had been doing, and hope that he wasn't still sulking about being left out by the time Remus returned to the dormitory the following evening. It was vital to the plan that Remus should not suspect he had been found out.

After receiving a stormy look from Professor McGonagall for having completely failed to turn a matchbox into anything at all, Sirius and his fellow Gryffindors were dismissed to return to their dormitory, there to drop off their school things and spend the time until supper at study or leisure, according to their natures.

Sirius panicked a bit when Remus vanished while he was in the toilets. James said he was fairly certain Remus had just gone to study with Evans, but when Sirius went to check the library, he couldn't find either of them. He made a detour past the hospital wing on his way back, but only saw Madam Pomfrey restocking a supply cabinet.

Fortunately for their plans, Remus turned up at supper, still in Evans' company. Sirius watched covertly as his friend ate enough to feed a small army, without taking part in any conversation or appearing to notice what was on his plate. When the last of the food had vanished and people began to rise from their seats, Sirius inclined his head towards James.

"Ready for Operation Moony?" he whispered.

"You know that's a really stupid name, right?" muttered James.

"I like it."

When they left the Great Hall, they stuck with their fellow Gryffindors, but noted that Remus lagged farther and farther behind.

"Last one to the portrait of the Fat Lady is a Slytherin!" Sirius declared, and dashed ahead, with James and Peter close on his heels.

He and James grabbed at one another's robes, as if trying to hold each other back, letting Peter have a decent lead, and then they ducked into a side passage, crouching in the shadows as the rest of their Housemates passed, and a moment later, Remus. They held their breath, waiting for a count of ten before peering around the corner to see which way he turned, and then kicked off their shoes and followed in silent stocking feet.

Remus met Madam Pomfrey at the entrance to the hospital wing while Sirius and James pressed their backs into an alcove too far down the corridor to overhear the few words their friend exchanged with the matron. Then Madam Pomfrey drew her wand and performed some sort of spell that made them both not exactly invisible, but hard to look at or notice. Sirius was fairly certain that if he and James hadn't known that the two of them were standing right there, they wouldn't have been able to see them at all.

"Cor, that'd be a handy charm to learn," breathed James, admiring. "Wish we'd heard the words."

They followed the indistinct shapes down the great staircase and into the entrance hall, and there they were forced to stop. Pomfrey and Remus continued out the main doors of the castle, but there was no way Sirius and James could risk going out into the open without being seen.

James kept a lookout on the stairs so that no one could sneak up on them while Sirius watched through the crack between the great wooden doors. Squinting to make sure he didn't lose sight of the two figures in the dim evening light, he saw them hurry down the castle grounds towards -- towards the Whomping Willow? The tree's heavy branches waved threateningly as they approached, but then Pomfrey did something, and it fell still. As he watched, the hunched figure of Remus Lupin approached the tree and seemed to disappear between its roots.

"There must be a secret underground chamber or something," he told James a moment later as they crouched in a broom cupboard, waiting for Pomfrey to pass. "The tree guards the entrance so he can't get out. It's sort of brilliant."

James nodded. "Cecilia Hathersage said the Whomping Willow only got planted last year, and no one knew why. I guess we know now."

Sirius eyed his best friend. "So you believe it's him?"

"I guess I have to."

They waited, breathless, as the castle doors creaked open and footsteps echoed across the entrance hall and back up the great staircase.

"So what now?" whispered James once silence had returned. "Back to the dormitory?"

Sirius bit his lip. "I want to go down to the forest," he said. "You don't have to come if you don't want to."

James shook his head. "You think I'd let you go alone and maybe get eaten by one of those giant spider things? No way. Someone's got to watch your back."

Sirius grinned. This was all part of what made James the most brilliant best mate in the world. He really hoped he wasn't going to have to hit him. "All right, then. Let's go."

Darkness was falling, but the moon had not risen yet as they crossed the school grounds, hurrying towards the pooling shadows of the Forbidden Forest. They found a sheltered spot with a good view of the Whomping Willow, and settled themselves onto the thick mat of fallen leaves and needles of yesteryear.

"What're we waiting for?" asked James.

Sirius shrugged. "Dunno."

"Why do you care so much about all this werewolf stuff, anyway?"

Sirius shook his head. "Dunno," he said again. "It's just -- different, isn't it?"

"I guess it is that," said James. "D'you know you're a funny bloke?"

But Sirius hadn't heard him. His chin jerked up, head turning towards Hogsmeade, and he grasped his friend's arm with both hands. "Did you hear that?"

"What?" said James.

The shriek sounded again in the distance.

"The creature transforms," said a soft voice behind them, and both boys jumped.

James had his wand out and lit first, but Sirius wasn't far behind. The wandglow revealed a young centaur, by the look of him no older than themselves. He had white-blond hair and a coltish palomino body which was still losing some of its shaggy winter coat. In one hand, he carried a strung bow, and on his back was a quiver of arrows.

"What do you know about it?" Sirius asked accusingly. He hated being taken by surprise.

The centaur gave him a cold look. "I know what the centaurs know. That the creature cub leaves the castle on the night when the moon is brightest to take refuge in the village."

"Merlin's beard," breathed James. "The Shrieking Shack!"

As if to highlight this revelation, the moon broke through the clouds on the horizon, and a long, mournful howl drifted over them on the wind. Sirius shivered.

"What do you here, human foals?" the centaur asked. "The forest is no place for you."

"'Human foals'," Sirius sneered. "We're looking out for our mate is what we're doing. What're you doing here?"

"I keep watch," said the young centaur simply. "My herd owe the creature cub a debt of gratitude." He touched his right shoulder where a scar in the shape of two puncture marks still showed pink.

"You mean you've been here every full moon since he stunned that spider thing?" asked Sirius.

The centaur nodded. "A creature-friend should not be left alone in his suffering."

"But he is alone," James pointed out. "He doesn't even know you're here, does he?"

The centaur shrugged a shoulder. "I do what can be done. But if you are truly friends, and if you are here to keep the vigil this night, then I am relieved of my duty."

"We're staying," said Sirius firmly without looking at James.

"Then I shall return to the herd." He bowed solemnly to them. "I do not doubt that we shall meet again. I am called Firenze."

"Sirius," Sirius said shortly. "And this is James. The 'creature cub' has a name, too. It's Remus."

"Well met," said Firenze, and turned to go.

"You're -- centaurs, I mean -- you're not afraid of him, then?" James asked suddenly.

Firenze paused. "No. We have not the mindless fear common to lower creatures. We know that his kind does not usually hunt ours, and we are capable of defending ourselves." He vanished into the shadows without a sound.

James settled back down onto the leaves with a sigh. "I've changed my mind. He's a funny bloke. Compared with him, you're dead normal."

"Yeah." Sirius was still staring at the spot where Firenze had disappeared, fist clenched around his wand.

"Might as well make yourself comfortable, if we're staying," quipped James. "Thanks for volunteering me, by the way."

Sirius extinguished his wandlight and sat down. "You don't have to stay."

"But you are." It wasn't a question.

Sirius nodded. It wasn't just that he had told the centaur that he would; he wanted to be there when Remus reappeared in the morning, as if by keeping vigil through the dark hours of the night, he was helping somehow.

"Then I'm staying, too. It will be a rugged and manly adventure."

"Thanks," Sirius grinned. "I'd probably get bored, sitting out here all by myself."

"It's not all for you," James said. "He's not a bad bloke, Remus. I guess he can't help what happened to him."

Sirius's grin widened. "Changed your mind, have you? I thought maybe. First you went off about him being -- you know. And then I come back to the room the other day to find you holding hands."

James punched him in the shoulder. "I told you. We were just practising meditation. That's how he manages the Imperius Curse like he does."

Sirius settled back onto his elbows in the leaves. "So you sorted things out?"

"We -- talked about things. The other day in the Owlery." James lay back, hands folded behind his head, staring up at the night sky through the leafy branches.

"Like what?"

"Family stuff. My dad being an Auror and having to track down -- those kinds of people."

Sirius lowered his eyes, ashamed. "I didn't think about that. I guess you must be worried."

"He knew I was," said James. "Remus. He thinks about things more than most people, I guess."

Another yelping howl floated through the air and Sirius hugged his knees. "Can't imagine why."

"It's a pretty raw deal for anyone," agreed James, "let alone a kid."

"I tried to read up about it," said Sirius. "About werewolves. But Pomfrey's cleaned the library right out. All I could find was an entry in Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, and it didn't say much."

James was silent for a moment. "I stole one of Pomfrey's books," he confessed. "After he and I talked, I waited for her to nip out to the loo, and I grabbed one."

"I want to read it," Sirius said immediately. He reached into the pocket of his robes to touch the crumpled Ministry pamphlet he still carried. "What did it say?"

"Loads of stuff. Most of it pretty awful," James told him. "But -- it also said that werewolves aren't any worse than regular wizards most of the time."

"Told you so."

James wrinkled his nose at that. "Anyway, if that's true, and if Dumbledore's OK with him being here, then I guess I am, too."

"Good," said Sirius. "Because if you were planning to start being an arse again, I was going to thump you, best mate or no."

James grinned. "You could try."

"You're shorter and skinnier than me," Sirius pointed out. "You think I couldn't take you?"

"You? You're all posh and delicate. And I'm fast," said James, pinching Sirius hard on the side, and rolling away before he could retaliate.

There was a brief scuffle that ended with James face-down in the leaf mulch, and Sirius sitting on his back, saying "I told you so" again as he wiped a smear of dirt off his cheek with his sleeve.

"Gerroff," said James's muffled voice.

Sirius let him up, and even helped him brush the dirt and leaves from his robes.

"I was wrong about you being delicate," James informed him as they sat down again, leaning back against a tree. "You weigh a tonne."

Once the heat of their brief exercise wore off, Sirius began to shiver. It was a cold spring night, and neither of them had thought to fetch their cloaks from the dormitory before supper.

"I know snuggling's out, as it's a manly adventure," Sirius said, "but what about huddling for warmth?"

James considered for a moment. "I suppose that would be all right. My arse is about frozen to the ground."

They made a nest of leaves, James placing a couple of Warming Charms on it, and Sirius ensuring they still had a good view of the Whomping Willow, and they nestled down into it, pulling their robes tight around them. James closed his eyes.

"You going to sleep, mate?" Sirius asked.

"No. Just resting my eyes. You?"

"No. I'm going to keep watch. You can sleep if you want to, though."

"I'll be fine," James yawned. "We're going to be useless in Double Potions tomorrow, though."

"Just have to let Pete do all the work," Sirius said comfortably. "Imagine Remus's surprise when we all wind up in the hospital wing together."

James chuckled sleepily, and a moment later began to snore softly against Sirius's shoulder.

Sirius couldn't help nodding off a few times, but he came awake again with every distant howl from the village, shivering with something more than cold and wondering if the night seemed as long to Remus as it did to him.

The burst of birdsong as the eastern horizon began to show a tinge of pink seemed absurdly loud and entirely inappropriate to Sirius's mood. He wondered fuzzily how James could possibly sleep through such a racket. There was frost on his robes -- frost! It was the coldest night he had ever spent, including his nights in the cellar. What madness had gripped him to do such a thing on purpose?

He nudged James awake as Madam Pomfrey exited the school, bundled up in a heavy cloak and carrying a large basket over one arm. As James blinked and yawned, the matron approached their hiding place at a brisk stride, stopping just out of range of the Whomping Willow's flailing branches. She removed what looked like an oddly-shaped stone from her pocket, took careful aim, and hurled it at the base of the tree. It bounced off a large knot and flew immediately back to her hand as the branches fell still. As Sirius watched, she wedged the basket into an opening between the tree's roots, and carefully lowered herself in after it.

"I'm going to go have a look," he whispered to James, who nodded.

He crept up to the motionless tree and stuck his head into a large gap concealed by the arch of the roots. It was dark and cool and damp, but he couldn't see or hear much of anything.

"Sirius, the tree!" James called a warning, and he ducked away from it just as the whip-like branches began to wave menacingly.

It was almost full daylight by the time a hand reached up from between the roots to prod the knot at the base of the tree once more. The basket appeared first, followed by Madam Pomfrey. She frowned in concentration and gave her wand a series of delicate flicks and flourishes, first to one side, then to the other, and a bundle of bloodstained blankets slowly emerged from the opening.

"Slytherin's pants," breathed James.

They couldn't see much of Remus, but what they could see looked bad. There were dark circles under his closed eyes and dried blood matted his hair. The pallet jolted slightly in its progress and its occupant winced, one bare arm falling free of the blankets to hang limp. A long gash from elbow to wrist dripped a steady patter of blood from the tips of his fingers.

Sirius was not aware of having moved until he felt James's firm grip on his shoulder, shoving him flat to the ground.

"Stay down!" his friend hissed. "D'you want her to see us?"

Sirius shook his head, feeling a bit wobbly. When Madam Pomfrey paused beside the floating pallet to tuck Remus's arm back in, her face wore such a look of tender sadness that Sirius developed an instant fondness for her, and resolved never to trouble her with pranking.

When matron and patient disappeared through the doors of the still-sleeping school, Sirius let out a breath he hadn't realised he was holding.

"Did you know?" he asked James. "That it would be that bad?"

James shook his head and got to his feet, eyes still fixed on the distant castle doors. "I didn't read the whole book. I figured he was just -- you know -- tired the day after from changing and running around all night. I mean, I know he's got scars, but I never thought --"

"Me neither," said Sirius, feeling ill. "D'you reckon it's like that every time?"

James shrugged. "Probably." He reached a hand down to pull Sirius to his feet.

"James," Sirius said, not letting go of his friend's hand, pale grey eyes burning into hazel ones. "We have to help him."

"How?" said James, glancing back up at the castle.

Sirius set his jaw. "Any way we can."

James was silent for a moment, and then nodded, squeezing Sirius's fingers in agreement. "All right," he said. "It looks like he could use all the help he can get."

They made their clumsy, sleep-deprived way through the cold, silent corridors of the school to Gryffindor tower, startling the house-elves who were sweeping the floors, and occasionally stumbling into one another. At this hour, Apollyon Pringle had long since gone to find his own bed, and while there were injunctions against students wandering the castle late at night, it seemed there were none regarding the early hours of the morning.

Maybe because it's usually only the virtuous who are up at this hour, he thought. He certainly didn't feel virtuous; he felt groggy and shaky, and wanted nothing more than his own bed and several hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep. Unfortunately two hours was probably going to be about his lot before they would have to face breakfast and Potions and a sulky Peter.

Peter was still asleep and snoring ungently when they eased the dormitory door open and slipped inside. James fell immediately onto his own bed and yanked the curtains shut around him with no more than a mumbled "G'night". Sirius kicked off his shoes, shed his robes, which smelled of damp and leaf mould, and slid gratefully under the covers.

He closed his eyes and reveled in the feeling of warmth slowly returning to his limbs, but sleep would not find him. As the dawn light filtered into the room, showing red through his closed eyelids, all he could see was Remus's limp and pale arm, flesh torn, blood dripping from his fingers.

What must that be like, he wondered, to go through that every month, and never be able to say anything to anyone?

Until that morning, he had thought of cocksure James as the consummate Gryffindor, but how much braver must Remus need to be to watch the moon wax night by night, knowing what was coming, and never show it? To come to a place where he knew he would be hated, knowing that he could be found out at any time? It made Sirius feel hollow in his chest to think about what kind of bravery that must take.

We have to help him, he thought, turning on his side to stare at the closed curtains of Remus's empty bed. We have to.

Sleep continued to elude Sirius, and at last he gave up the struggle with a sigh and slipped silently out of bed. A quick rummage through James's things rewarded him with a heavy, elderly tome entitled A History and Physiology of Lupus Lycanthropus. He took it back to his bed, pulling the curtains closed behind him and burrowing deep into the blankets. His tired brain refused to focus, however, and many of the words were long and scientific-sounding. He could gather very little sense from the text.

It is a common misconception that Lupus Lycanthropus represents a distinct species or race of beings. Lycanthropy may be more accurately described as a thaumaturgic disorder of the blood which is influenced by the lunar cycle. It may be transmitted only when the saliva of the transformed lycanthrope enters the human bloodstream. The condition is unique among magical ailments in that --

Sirius shook his head and blinked rapidly, but the words were beginning to slide off the page and jumble into nonsense.

When Peter's alarm clock brashly announced that it was past time they were up and about, Sirius snapped the book shut and shoved it under his pillow. He would give it another try sometime when his brain was working properly. He pulled the curtains aside, yawning and stretching and doing his best to look like he was just waking up, and hadn't only just got back in a couple of hours before.

"Morning, Pete," James yawned, smiling easily.

"Morning," Peter grumbled. "You three have fun last night?"

Sirius opened his mouth, confused, but James stepped in quickly.

"Sirius and I got a chance to spy on Tynedale. We didn't have time to get you. Sorry, mate."

"Yeah," added Sirius. "And then we ran into Peeves and had to hide until he went away, which took ages."

"Oh," said Peter, looking slightly mollified. "Did you find out anything?"

Sirius shook his head. "That woman's as boring in her spare time as she is when she's teaching."

"Did Remus go with you?" Peter asked curiously, glancing at the still-closed curtains around Remus's bed.

"No," said James. "He had to go home again last night. Remember? He had an owl yesterday afternoon."

"Oh, yeah." Peter paused in the act gathering up his robes and looked as if he was trying to remember. "I don't remember him saying he was leaving."

"Well, he did," Sirius lied. "You were probably just so busy playing with your Puff that you didn't hear him."

"Guess so. Hope his mum's OK." Peter looked a little guilty as he ducked into the bathroom to shower.

As the door to the bathroom clicked shut behind him and the rush of water drown out any chance of them being overheard, James subsided onto his bed with a yawn, one sock still dangling from his toes. "So how are we going to do this?" he asked.

"Do what?" Sirius was fairly certain he was going to feel a bit behind all day.

"Well," said James slowly. "We know now. Lupin doesn't know we know. And Pete doesn't know anything, but he could figure it out anytime."

Sirius snorted. "Pete doesn't think about things unless you tell him to."

James made a face. "But he might. And if he does --"

"D'you think we should tell him?" Sirius asked.

"Dunno." James's shoulders sagged. "Maybe. That way we could do it somewhere quiet, and pound on him if we have to."

"I want to tell him," said Sirius.

"What? Now?" James looked mildly alarmed.

"Not Pete," Sirius clarified. "Remus. I think we should tell him that we know."

James shook his head. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"Why not?"

"Use your head, Black," said James, exasperated.

"You're the one who got sleep," grumbled Sirius.

James sighed. "D'you remember what he was like when he first got here? He didn't talk to anyone or do anything but study. It's taken him months to relax around us. If we tell him, he'll close right back up."

"But he knows us," Sirius protested. "And once he realises we won't tell anyone --"

James was shaking his head again. "We're four weeks from exams and seven weeks from summer hols."


"So," James explained, "you might not care about studying, but Lupin does. You want to tell him now that his secret's out? Great idea. Then when he can't concentrate and fails everything, he'll have an excuse not to come back next year."

Sirius paused in the act of shaking out a slightly rumpled set of robes and stared at his best friend. "You think he wouldn't? But -- look what he deals with all the time. You think he couldn't face us?"

James shrugged. "He hasn't really got a choice about that. But if he doesn't want to deal with us, all he has to do is not come back. You think his parents would make him if he told them we knew?"

Sirius tried to imagine the dormitory with just the three of them, and couldn't do it. He'd still have James, of course, but somehow, in some quiet, indefinable, Remusish way, Remus made life more interesting than it would be without him.

The rush of water in the bathroom ceased.

"So what about Pete?" James asked, lowering his voice.

Sirius glanced at the bathroom door. "We'll tell him if it looks like he's about to figure it out anyway," he decided. "Or if Remus finds out we know."

"Fair enough." James nodded.

Sirius would have fallen asleep in the scrambled eggs if James hadn't been there to nudge him every few minutes. He slurped down four cups of tea, hoping that would wake him up, but all it did was force him to use the time between breakfast and Potions to visit the loo, rather than sneaking into the hospital wing to check on Remus.

Potions was slow torture. Professor Slughorn had never looked more disappointed in him or James, and a permanent smirk seemed to have attached itself to Snape's mouth.

When Slughorn walked away from their Strengthening Solution, which had come out black and rather gritty, shaking his head, Snape leaned towards Sirius and muttered, "Do you miss Lupin so much that you felt the need to copy his performance in Potions? How touching."

"Shut it, Snape," hissed Sirius as Peter glanced over nervously from where he was working with Matilda Hathersage.

"Where is the witless wonder, anyway?" said Snape nastily. "Couldn't face another failure?"

"Couldn't bear looking at your ugly face so early in the morning," James shot back across Sirius.

Evans, who had until then been absorbed in looking something up in the index of her Potions text, glanced up.

"It would only make sense if he had a delicate stomach to go with his weak mind," sneered Snape.

"Sev!" hissed Evans, shocked.

"Stay out of it, Evans," James snarled. "Your opinion's not wanted."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Evans bit back.

"Just that if you can be friends with the likes of him --" James jerked his head towards Snape "-- then I don't think much of your opinions or your House loyalties."

Evans turned bright red, and looked as if she was about to start spitting with fury.

"You leave her alone," snarled Snape.

"Or what?" demanded Sirius. "You'll hex us in the back, like you did to Remus?"

Snape's face went livid. Sirius didn't see him draw his wand, but somehow it was in his hand. He and James quickly followed suit.

"What's going on back there?" cried an alarmed voice.

Too late Sirius realised that Snape had turned his shoulder towards the front of the room, concealing his own drawn wand from Slughorn, who was bearing down on them like an overstuffed sofa on a mission. When Sirius looked again, Snape's wand had vanished, but his smirk had returned.

"Mr Potter! Mr Black! Put those away at once!" Slughorn said sharply.

"But Professor," Sirius complained. "Snape was --"

"I don't want to hear it."

"Please, Professor," said Evans. "It was just a misunderstanding."

Slughorn's face softened. "No doubt you have the right of it, Miss Evans, but I cannot allow wands to be drawn in a threatening manner in my classroom. Ten points each from Gryffindor, and detention tomorrow after breakfast in my office."

"I can't believe he got away with it again," growled Sirius when Slughorn had returned to the front of the classroom. "That Slytherin snake needs a lesson in manners."

James glanced darkly over to where Snape and Evans had moved a little farther away from where they were working. "What about that harpy who calls herself a Gryffindor?"

Sirius shook his head at that, scowling. "Remus likes her. He'd hex your parts off if you did anything to her."

"Maybe so," James relented. "It's just -- she's Muggleborn. How can she stand to be friends with one of them?"

"Beats me," Sirius shrugged, shoving his Potions book into his bag and performing a Scouring Charm on their blackened cauldron as the bell rang. "You going to lunch?"

James nodded. "I'm starved. You?"

"Nah," said Sirius, shaking his head. "I'm knackered. Wake me in time for supper if I'm not up by then."

It was a long, weary climb up from the dungeons to Gryffindor Tower. Sirius couldn't bring himself to face the long detour to the hospital wing. Remus would be back in a few hours, and Sirius would see how he was doing then. He fell onto his bed, pausing only to kick off his shoes and tug the curtains closed against the midday light. As soon as his head hit the pillow, he was asleep.

The creak of the dormitory door woke him. He was disoriented for a moment by the level of light peeping in through a gap in the bed curtains, and wondered briefly if he was late for a class. His bed was so comfortable, and his eyelids so heavy, that he wasn't sure he cared.

A shadow momentarily blocked the intruding beam of light, and Sirius peered out in time to see the bathroom door open and close. Remus was back. As Sirius listened drowsily to the rush of water from the shower, he wondered what time it was, and whether he could grab a bit more sleep before supper.

When Remus emerged from the bathroom fifteen minutes later in his pyjamas, hair standing on end from being toweled dry, Sirius smiled lazily. He looks better. He sat up, yawning, and tugged the curtains aside.

"Hey," he greeted is friend, swinging is feet to the floor.

Remus turned, surprised to find he wasn't alone, but smiled lopsidedly when he saw Sirius. "Hey, yourself. Feeling all right?"

Sirius nodded, yawning again. "Just thought I'd grab a kip before supper. You coming down?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

Remus indicated his pyjamas. "I'm all in. And I ate earlier -- on the way back."

"Oh, right," said Sirius, belatedly remembering the charade they were meant to be keeping up. "How's your mum?"

But before Remus could answer, the dormitory door burst open and James and Peter entered, in the midst of a heated argument.

"You're the one who keeps getting himself detention right before Quidditch matches," Peter pointed out.

"It's just so unfair!" James declared. "You'd think they do it on purpose. Oh, hi, Remus."

"Hi," Remus replied, sinking down onto his bed. "What've you done this time?"

Peter rolled his eyes. "Only threatened Snape. In Potions class. In front of Slughorn."

Remus looked surprised. "James did that?"

"Wasn't just me," muttered James, shooting Sirius a look. "I didn't even start it."

Sirius scowled, lazy afternoon mood shattered. "And I did? You know it was that --"

"Merlin, Sirius," said Remus, scrubbing his hands over his face. "Why can't you leave him alone?"

"Like you do?" snapped Sirius. "Let him hex me in the back and pretend like nothing happened?"

"I just -- don't want trouble," mumbled Remus, staring down at his knees.

"He is trouble," Sirius informed him. "Someone's got to put him in his place."