The following days slumped on. Sirius continued to strain his brow with a heavy scowl and Remus was keeping well away. He instead spent more time with Lily, much to the distaste of James who was trying to keep some kind of peace between them all. Peter did what he could to keep up with the social politics but was quite often abandoned for dramatic exits that did not require his assistance.
It was gloomy Thursday afternoon and the Gryffindor common room was packed with furious students, squeezing the knowledge from every textbook into their exhausted brains. Peter and James however were passing the time before dinner with a game of checkers. James was barely paying attention, his chin sunk into his hand as his arm propped upon the table. Sirius was lying on his stomach across the floor beneath the window and was scribbling the ending of his Transfiguration essay. He would never admit to it being slightly more trivial without Remus’ help, but he cursed him silently anyway. He rubbed an itch on his rough, unshaven jaw, leaving an ink mark there before shaking the hair from his eyes again. He didn’t need a haircut though. Every now and again his interest would shift to the game of checkers which was probably just as dull as his essay. Sirius was almost tempted to write about the time that James had transfigured himself into a chair and had got stuck with wooden, jutted out arms. Remus had come to the rescue in that instant. Remus, again. Sirius shook his head, blocking out the thought with another bout of furious writing.
James had been making a move in the game when Lily descended the dormitory staircase and completely distracted him with her fabulous legs. He wasn't looking as he placed his piece on the board and Peter made a swift, triumphant move that took another of James' counters. Peter looked up to James with a proud grin but found it was wasted as the other boy gawked shamelessly over him. Peter didn't really need to look around to see what had transfixed James. Lily was now making her way across the common room; a dust-caped book open in her arm. James marvelled as she manoeuvred around various pieces of furniture whilst still managing to keep her eyes on the book. Peter looked back at James who was now straightening his back in the hope that she might look up at him. To James' dumbfounded delight, she did and he greeted her with a stupid, lop-sided grin.
"Alright there, Evans? Looking for a lap to sit on?" He asked, patting his pin-like thighs.
She gave him a plain look and snapped the book shut, dust whisked into the air. "Actually, I was wondering if you had seen Remus?"
Sirius immediately looked up from his work on the floor but said nothing.
"No, I haven't seen Remus." James said, with forced pleasantry. "He's probably got his nose stuck in a book somewhere."
"Literally" mumbled Sirius, bowing his head back into his work.
"How helpful, Potter." Lily sighed, tucking her leathery companion under her arm. "If you do see him, could you tell him that I'm in the library?"
"I might do, for a price." James casually observed Peter making a move on the board. He glanced up as Lily huffed irritably.
"I'm not going out with you, Potter."
"Who said anything about going out with me?"
She gave him a sceptical look.
"...Just a kiss."
"Oh, get lost!" The redhead flew from the common room before James could impress her with his pouted lips.
"Only in your eyes, Evans!" James shouted after her, his eyes following longingly.
"It's your turn." Stated Pete; frowning after Lily as she sauntered out. He really didn't see the big deal about Lily Evans. She was pretty, but it wasn't like she had amazing tits or anything and she was always upset about something. He didn't really understand girls in general and chose not to voice his opinion on the matter. He had had a few girlfriends during his time at school but nothing that lasted very long. He got the feeling that most girls that paid interest were only doing it to get closer to Sirius or James. Who could ever really want him compared to them?
"What? Oh right." James returned his attention back to the game at hand.
"You need to get over it, Prongs." Sirius said, finally looking up now that Lily had gone.
James leant his chin against his knuckles and claimed one of Peter's red counters with his other hand. "Probably."
"But you won't."
"But I won't." James sighed glumly, "I don't know, it’s Lily Evans." he spoke her name softly, as though he were savouring it.
Sirius rose a brow, looking at him with a superficial smirk. "Lily Evans is a stuck up cow."
A chilled silence cloaked the corner, Peter's eyes darted nervously between Sirius and James. The latter had stiffened, his jaw tightened and he was retaining the urge to hit the former.
"You know that's not true." James finally broke the tension with strained calm.
"Oh, whatever James." Sirius muttered, throwing his quill down and getting to his feet.
"If you can't see what a fool you're making of yourself over her then you're truly bloody hopeless."
James stood up, knocking the table enough to disturb the pieces of the checker board.
"When are you going to stop being a moody git? The sulking act is getting old.”
"I'm not sulking!"
"You bloody well are!"
Peter trembled ever so slightly as James raised his voice. The common room had gone suddenly quiet. James and Sirius were staring at each other indignantly. It was incredibly rare for them to fight; Peter knew this and suddenly wished for Remus to be there to dissolve the situation.
"Well goes to show what you know then, doesn't it?" Sirius spoke tightly.
"Grow up, Sirius. You did something wrong, this is what it feels like to be wrong."
The tension seemed to thicken as Sirius stared at James, a wave of realisation moved over his eyes as though James had spoken aloud what he had been scared to admit himself. He had been wrong, and he didn't know how to deal with it. James seemed to sense that he had touched a nerve and ran a hand back through his hair, as if to defuse things.
"I mean, come on mate..."
Sirius was about to say something when Remus appeared to the side of Peter’s chair in his shabby robes, looking at them awkwardly. James, Peter and Sirius all looked back at him with a combination of guilt and surprise. The moment came to an abrupt finish when Sirius grabbed his work from the floor and muttered that he was going up to the dormitory. He was gone, leaving James standing beside his chair. Remus willed himself forward to place his books down on the table.
"Everything alright?" He asked carefully, although clearly it wasn't.
"Fine." Replied James, flopping back into his chair. "Where have you been?"
"I was with Slughorn, going over that Liquid Luck stuff again." Remus, try to sound at ease but Peter was fidgeting and giving him a false smile.
"I'm glad I didn't take Potions at N.E.W.T!" Peter chirped quickly, still feeling on edge.
"You didn't get an Exceeds Expectations on your OWLs, Pete." James pointed out, half-heartedly making conversation.
"Oh. Oh yeah." The boy slumped a little, he had always been disappointed not to take all the same classes as James that year but he really did struggle with Potions.
"Have you seen Lily, per chance?"
Peter and James exchanged a sharp glance, tension seemed to stick to them like Velcro recently. Remus swallowed, sensing the danger like a hunted wolf.
"She was just here, actually" James stated, looking round at Remus nonchalantly "Looking for you."
"Oh really?" He replied, inwardly twitching. He really didn't like confrontation, especially the kind where you weren't really sure it was confrontation. "Do you know where she went...?" He asked, carefully.
"No idea, mate." James shrugged.
"She said she was going to the library, didn't she James?" Peter asked, looking at James in mild confusion. He wasn't apparent to him yet that James was holding back that information.
James could've throttled him. It's actually a wonder that he didn't. Not only was the hot sensation rising to his cheeks at the fact that Peter had told Remus Lily's location, but that it was now obvious that he had lied. Throttling was definitely on the cards.
"Yes, I thought she might be in the library." Remus managed a futile smile at the boys. His predicament caused rigid disposition at that time. The options he had in front of him were to go off to the library to meet Lily without any of the books or parchment he needed, to go upstairs to claim these things and thus face Sirius or to sit in the impending snake-pit with James and Peter. His eyes flickered up to the stairs for a moment. He really should be able to go up and get his things. Sirius probably wouldn't say anything anyway. After preparing himself, Remus grabbed his books from the table and gave them both a meek farewell before slipping up to the boys' dormitory.
Peter looked at James, shamefully grunting an apology.
"You're a flipping idiot sometimes." Came the snapped response, but James didn't want to be on bad terms with Peter as well and so he began to reset the pieces on the checkerboard. "Let's just start over."
It had taken Remus a few moments of hesitation before he entered the dorm room. The evening sunlight was streaming through the windows to the left. At first, Remus didn't see the dishevelled heap sat on the floor between James' bed and his own. In fact, Remus caught sight of the smoke first, as it was exhaled into a heavy cloud. Remus frowned at the sight. Suddenly compelled as a prefect to remind him of the rules, Remus spoke up.
"You can't smoke in here, Sirius."
The other boy didn't seem to be listening. He took a long drag of the cigarette and exhaled slowly a moment later before he turned his head to Remus.
"It's not like I've never done it before, is it?"
Remus let out a sigh and turned to his bed. Clearly there was no room for argument. It didn't matter than he, Remus was a prefect and had a responsibility to uphold. Oh no, Sirius Pollux Black could do what he bloody well liked. With a sudden burst of irritation, Remus he turned back to him.
"No, but I've never bothered to pay much attention to it before. Now I am. It's against the rules to smoke within school and you damn well know it."
Sirius gave him a sudden look of surprise. The idea of Remus 'having a go' was more jested than actually considered. Since leaving his family home over Easter, he hadn't been confronted and yelled at about anything with the exception of McGonnagall and he had to bite back a spiteful remark.
"Yes alright, Mum." He muttered instead, moving around his bed and pretending to look for something on the bedside table as way of distraction.
"You never bloody listen to me do you?" Remus blurted out again as the burst of annoyance was prolonged by Sirius' reply.
"Maybe if you said something remotely interesting, I would." Sirius shot back, irritably. He hadn't meant it of course, Remus was full of interesting things, but he was too overcome with self-loathing to be sensitive to others.
"Right, well then you're behaving like a spoilt brat and making everything about you, as per usual. How's that?"
Silence stung the air. And for a moment Sirius didn't quite know whether to be more angry or shocked. The defiant bite that was one of Sirius' lesser traits was bubbling to the surface and he turned slowly to the sandy haired boy. Another mute moment went past as Sirius battled the bratty child within and Remus contemplated escaping while he still could. But a prickle of determination shivered down his spine, forcing his purpose to the top of his conscience. Remus would not leave, this was his dormitory as well and Sirius was in the wrong. When Remus was to look back on his life in years to come he would think 'that was the day I stood up for myself to my best friend' and he would never doubt himself again. In all the times they had fought before (which was never that often), Remus had always backed down and made way for the righteous Sirius. He would doubt his own argument and his confidence would fail, but today he felt utterly justified.
"It was better than your usual wet and mostly impotent comebacks." Came the bitter reply, finally. Sirius wasn't able to maintain the eye contact for long before stuffing his hands into his pockets and glancing around at the dusty floorboards, one of James' forgotten socks was being devoured by dust under his bed.
"Sirius, I'm exhausted from treading on eggshells around you even though you're in the wrong." Remus sighed heavily, trying to relax through the breaking tension.
"How am I in the wrong?" He exclaimed, loudly. At the sight of Remus' plain look, Sirius faltered. "Don't answer that..."
Remus, though he wanted to, waited. He sat down on the edge of his neatly presented bed and waited. Sirius was impatient about a lot of things but apologising was not one of them.
“…I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…” He stopped, stuck for the appropriate words. “I fucked up, alright?” He finished on a harsher note, more directly at himself than Remus. His eyes shifted upward to look at him, almost afraid of the reaction; that Remus might somehow turn around and say: ‘Yes, you did. You are an awful friend and I never want to see you again. Goodbye!’
Remus was smiling.
Remus was smiling, and it was getting more prominent. In fact, his lips were parting and he was showing – teeth! A sound that raised the hair on Sirius arms singed the cold air of the dormitory. Remus was laughing, and it infected Sirius, washing away the tension in his shoulders.
“In all Siriusness. You are a prat.” Chuckled Remus, boldly as his friend collapsed on the bed beside him.
“I know, I know! Moony” He sat up, his black hair flopping about his collar. “…Can you forgive me then?”
Remus considered it for a moment before he said: “I think I can, yes.” He cleared his throat; the last dregs of his confidence gathered in his mind. “But, Sirius, if you ever betray my trust again, I will not.”
His eyes lingered, locked in battle with Sirius Black’s. The other, slapped back from the comfortable ease of forgiveness and returned the steady meaning in his look.