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The Age of Miracles

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Homorphus charm?

Sirius sneaks the note under Remus's elbow and slides it up his desk. Then, he sits back. He watches as Remus pauses and puts his quill down, picks the note up. There's a bar of late afternoon light slanting in through the room’s high windows. The light catches dust motes and falls across Remus's shoulders and the back of his neck, turning the curls there golden. Sirius chews on his quill. His "notes" are a splatter of ink and a stick figure drawing of James running into the Astronomy tower on his broom.

Remus's back goes rigid. Sirius stops chewing on his quill and leans forward.

"Everything all right there?" he breathes.

Remus doesn't respond, but he picks his quill back up. Sirius waits for a response.

It doesn't come. Remus's quill bobs along at a steady rate. After a moment, Sirius realizes, disgruntled, that Remus is actually paying attention to the lecture on the Goblin Peace of 1247. He raps his knuckles against his desk once. Twice. Then he leans forward again.

"Remus," he whispers.

No response.

Sirius flicks his gaze up towards the front of the classroom. Binns is droning away, as oblivious in death as he was in life. Sirius returns his attention to Remus.

"Remuuuus," he sing-songs. Evans, seated next to Remus, half-turns in her seat and glares. Sirius casually flips her the bird and ignores the kick James aims at his calf. Remus's back goes rigid again. Sirius tugs sharply on one of his curls.

"What?" snaps Remus, with a flash of white teeth. Something lurches in Sirius's gut and he grins, manic.

"You didn't respond to my note," he sniffs.

Remus scowls and he breathes in sharply through his nose. His expression turns placid, in true Remus Lupin fashion.

"We can talk after class," says Remus, a little stiffly.

"It's a good idea," points out Sirius. Something flickers in Remus's expression and Sirius expects him to scowl again. Two scowls in just under a minute would be a record. Sirius grins a little in anticipation.

But Remus's will power is stronger than his annoyance, and his face remains mild, unperturbed.

"I'm trying to takes notes," he says, as if that weren't already obvious. He turns back around and hunches over his desk. The bar of light is falling across the back of his chair now, landing on the edge of James's shoe. Sirius feels his face goes hot, and he's not sure if he's angry or embarrassed. Remus is ignoring him. Remus never ignores him.

He reaches for Remus's collar. James grabs his wrist, infuriatingly quick.

"What?" mouths Sirius.

James just raises his eyebrows and lets go of Sirius's wrist. He goes back to scribbling whatever it is he is scribbling; it definitely isn't notes for class. Sirius slumps back in his seat, sulking.

A note lands on his desk. It's from Peter.

What's wrong?

Sirius glares at the note for a second and then writes in hard, angry letters Remus is being a prat. He flicks it back to Peter.

Sorry, comes Peter's response a few seconds later. Sirius scowls harder.

Sorry, he sneers to himself. Sorry.

Shut up Peter, he writes vengefully.

Peter doesn't send him any notes after that.

***

At the end of class, Remus rushes out of the classroom, head down and bag tucked against his side. Sirius nimbly sidesteps Alanna Fawcett and less nimbly sends Atticus Belby sprawling to the floor. Sirius steps over him and catches up with Remus in a few long strides. He's actually hit his growth spurt. He grabs Remus's elbow.

"Where you headed?" he asks cheerfully.

Remus huffs audibly. "To the library."

"Of course you are," says Sirius. He grabs Remus's history book out of his arms. "I'll walk with you."

"I can carry my own book, Sirius."

"I'm just being helpful!" says Sirius defensively. He tucks the book under his arm and drapes his other over Remus's shoulder, effectively closing him off from escape. "But as I was trying to say to you in class, do you think a homorphus charm would work?"

Remus's shoulders slump. "No, Sirius," he says heavily. "I don't think a homorphus charm would work."

"Well, why not?" demands Sirius. "Have you ever tried it?"

"Don’t you think,” hisses Remus, furiously, logically, “if something as simple as a homorphus charm worked, people would know about it?”

Sirius pauses, and Remus takes advantage of the pause to try to snatch his book away. Sirius keeps a hand on it, and they end up wrestling over it.

“Maybe no one’s ever been brave enough to try!” points out Sirius, grimacing. Remus is bloody strong for someone as underfed looking as he is.

“And you’ll be brave enough to face a werewolf?” snaps Remus.

“Yes!” says Sirius brightly. He grins, still trying to pull the book back. “Just let me know where it is you transform, and I’ll be there tomorrow.”

Remus slams his heel onto Sirius’s foot, and Sirius yelps. Remus darts away and Sirius curses loudly enough for a passing prefect to send him a sharp look. He lets Remus go, the prat.

***

The demon of lycanthropy can only be cured by piercing the beast's hands with silver nails on the night of the new moon.

Sirius's stomach heaves. There are illustrations. A man's face twists into a rictus of pain as nails are shoved through his hands, blood spurting from the wounds. Next to him, a woman kneels, naked, her hands raised imploringly and similarly pierced. Blood streams down her arms and tears down her face. Sirius can't tell if she's ecstatic or in agony.

Sirius shoves the book away.

He is definitely not going to suggest that one to Remus.

He sighs and picks up a different book. He's never researched this much before, has never needed nor particularly wanted to. But this is important. This is for Remus. There are enough books in the library that one of them has to be helpful, even if he has to nick James's cloak and go into the Restricted Section to find it.

There are no nails in this new book, but a ritual instead. Silver and salt, wolfsbane and fire. The half moon. Purification and balance. Sirius chews on his thumbnail. He can get the silver easily enough, just have it sent from home. And there's nothing in the ritual that requires particularly difficult spellwork, only exact timing. Merlin knows James has that in spades.

He pulls out a piece of parchment and writes a letter to Kreacher, detailing the silver he'll need.

***

"Absolutely not," says Remus, the next day at lunch. He’s emerged from wherever he was hiding – it certainly hadn’t been the library, or Sirius would have found him.

"Why not?" demands Sirius.

Remus glares at him. "Because it's stupid and it won't work," he snaps.

Sirius swallows. "You don't know that! Merlin, Remus, there's no reason not to try."

"He has a point," says James, chin propped up on his hand as he reads over the ritual Sirius copied down. "There's nothing here we can't get our hands on, and it's not like it's dangerous, since it's at the half moon."

Sirius beams. "See?" he says smugly. "Remus I think you're being rather close-minded about all-"

"Stop it!" shouts Remus, standing up and slamming his hands on the table. Half the table goes silent, and several heads turn in Remus's direction. Gryffindor, by now, is used to loud outbursts from their section of the table, but never from Remus.

Remus turns bright red.

"Remus," says Sirius consolingly. He pats Remus's hand. "We're only trying to help."

Remus jerks his hand away and glares. "Shut up, Sirius," he hisses. "Just," he lets out a loud frustrated noise and grabs his book bag, "just shut up. I am-" It's rare to see Remus mad. In fact, Sirius doesn't know if he's ever seen him anything more than agitated. But he's angry now, and even Remus seems surprised by it. He's red and flustered, grabbing for words. "I am just! Really blo- really tired of you trying to help!" He snatches the ritual out of James's hand and shoves it into his bag. "You're not helping!" He's not looking at Sirius, but at the table, like he's embarrassed at being angry.

"Oh, come on," attempts Sirius. He reaches for Remus's wrist. "Remus-"

Remus pulls away before Sirius can touch him. "Stop," he snarls, lifting his head and looking at Sirius now. Sirius jerks back. There's something dark and terrible in Remus's face, not anger, but hopelessness. Sirius lets his hand fall.

"I'll see you later," says Remus tightly, to James and Peter. Peter's eyes are huge and even James looks taken aback. Remus turns and leaves.

Sirius stares after him.

"What the hell did I do wrong?" he demands loudly.

James looks at him pityingly, and Sirius finally, fully understands what people mean when they talk about the "insufferable arrogance of James Potter." He clenches his fists.

"Shove it, Potter," he sneers. He stands up. "I'm going after him."

"Oh no you're not!" says James. He and Peter both grab Sirius and drag him back down onto the bench.

"Leave him alone for a bit, Sirius," implores Peter. He puts another turkey leg on Sirius's plate as if Sirius were a dog who could be tricked into staying with a treat.

Sirius frowns at the turkey leg and then picks it up and takes a bite.

"I was just trying to help," he mutters, to himself, around a mouthful of turkey.

***

Sirius likes the Owlery. It's smelly and a bit damp and full of hoots and constant, strange shuffling noises. But no one ever goes up there except to mail a letter, except for Sirius. He sits in the windowsill, his legs dangling over the edge of the tower. He is fairly certain this is forbidden. The school definitely doesn't want second years hurtling to their doom. He is even more certain he doesn’t care.

His cheeks sting. Even bundled in his scarf and warmest robe, he's cold, and his breath rises from his mouth like steam. The sky is dark with clouds, heavy with the possibility of snow. The grounds are quiet, and the sun has finished setting.

Sirius is sulking.

Remus had not been in their room when Sirius and James and Peter returned from lunch. Nor had he been there after they came back from watching James at Quidditch practice. He was still missing by the time Peter and James went to dinner. Sirius had stayed behind, waiting in the common room, anxious and annoyed, though he had no intention of apologizing. And then it was almost dark, and there was no way Remus would be coming back. Not tonight.

Fine, thinks Sirius savagely, kicking his heel against the tower. Fine. Remus can bloody be alone.

Somewhere, deep in the Forbidden Forest, something howls. Sirius's skin prickles. It's too early, he tells himself. Remus won't have transformed yet. A tight knot forms in his stomach.

Then Sirius sees them. A tall, silvery figure escorts a small, dark one across the grounds. Sirius catches a flash of white as the smaller figure looks up, towards the tower, towards the direction where the moon will rise. Even from this distance, Sirius can tell it's Remus.

He drops down off the windowsill and crouches, so that just his head pokes up. He doesn't realistically think Remus could spot him from this distance, but he's less certain about Dumbledore, and this is too good of an opportunity to waste. Sirius and James and Peter, well, mostly Sirius, have been trying to figure out where exactly Remus transforms during the full moon. Peter brought up the dungeons, and James figured Remus went home. But Remus refused to say, and shut down the questioning even more quickly than he did Sirius's suggestions of possible cures.

Sirius peers down. Remus and Dumbledore are making steady progress across the grounds, headed, it seems, to the Whomping Willow of all places. Sure enough, they stop just outside range of the Willow's whipping branches. Dumbledore leans down and picks up a long stick. He prods the Willow with it.

The Whomping Willow freezes.

Sirius gapes.

Remus glances up at Dumbledore for a brief second and then walks towards the Willow's trunk. He ducks down, and he disappears.

Dumbledore doesn't stay much longer. He takes a step back and the Willow springs back to life, furious as ever. Sirius waits for Dumbledore to walk all the way back across the grounds and out of sight. Then, he races out of the Owlery and down the stairs of the tower, through the corridors and the Great Hall, no thought of Filch or prefects or Mrs. Norris in his mind.

Sirius is breathless by the time he reaches the Willow. He's played the same game as every other boy in his year- try to get as close to the Willow as you can. And of course he, like everyone else, wanted to know why the Willow had been planted the summer before their first year. It's obvious now. The Willow is hiding something. It's hiding Remus.

He finds the stick Dumbledore used and there, he hesitates. Remus already isn't pleased with him and this won't endear Sirius to him any more. But there's a part of him, twelve and stubborn and sure, that knows if just given the chance he could save Remus.

He prods at the trunk hopefully.

Nothing happens. Sirius frowns. It was impossible to see just where Dumbledore poked with the stick. He tries again and then a third time, at random, to no success. He remembers then, there's a trick Remus explained to him, the first night Sirius and James dragged Peter and Remus out to look for secret passageways. Look at everything like it's a grid and search quadrant by quadrant.

Sirius thought it dreadfully boring at the time, but by the end of the night, it was Remus, smiling shyly and proudly, who had found a passageway, hidden behind the statue of a witch with a hump.

Sirius feels a little guilty using Remus's own strategy against him, but the feeling is quickly erased by anticipation. He pokes a knot in the second quadrant he's drawn in his head. The Willow shivers once all over, and falls still. Something creaks in the tree and an opening, dark and low-ceilinged, is revealed. Sirius darts inside.

The doorway blocks up quickly behind him, leaving Sirius entirely in the dark. He gropes for the wall and feels wet earth beneath his hand.

"Lumos," he whispers, holding his wand out. Silvery light erupts and Sirius finds himself in an empty earthen passageway. Roots dangle from the ceiling, which reaches the standing height of an average man about two meters in. Sirius bites his lip and steps forward carefully, listening. As sure as he is that his plan will work, he doesn't want to be surprised when he happens upon his werewolf.

He hears nothing, and so, advances forward.

The tunnel is longer than he expected. He walks, he figures, for a good quarter of an hour, before he hears the first howl. The noise slices through him and bolts him to the spot. He waits for another, and it comes again after a few moments. It’s nothing like hearing a howl from the safety of the castle grounds. Those are distant and eerie and undergirded with the knowledge that he is safe. But this is different, and the animal part of Sirius shrieks in fear, blood thrumming with the knowledge that a predator is close.

Sirius shoves it down and grips his wand tighter. Gryffindor, he reminds himself, but he goes more slowly after that. The howls are paced longer and longer apart and between them he starts to be able to hear low growls, the sound of things being torn and broken. Which is odd, he thinks. There’s nothing to break inside a dirt tunnel.

Then he arrives at the door at the end of the tunnel. There are some low steps which lead up to it, and the door itself is crooked, wooden, and bolted. On the other side, must be the wolf.

Sirius walks towards it, feeling numb. He’s a foot away. He reaches out his hand. The door shakes, and the wood groans suddenly from the weight of the wolf slamming against it. Sirius pauses, his hand hanging in the air, fingertips inches away from the door.

He trembles. His mouth is dry. The door shakes again. The werewolf on the other side screams. It can smell him, Sirius realizes, human and vulnerable and inches away. It’s Remus, he tells himself. It’s just Remus, his friend who is quiet and bookish and kind.

He presses his hand against the door.

The door bulges forward, there’s the unmistakable noise of ripping wood, the wolf howls with the force of thunder.

Sirius runs. Down the passageway, he trips over a root, goes sprawling and bites his lip bloody in the process, but he gets up, winded, and keeps staggering forward until he’s practically flying. His heart beats hard in his ears. He bursts out of the passageway, into the frigid night.

And a whipping branch slams into his side. He falls, winded again. Another branch slashes at his face. He pulls himself to his knees. There are branches everywhere, grabbing at his robes, his hair, his scarf, slicing at any exposed skin, walloping his back and sides. He lunges forward and rolls and makes it just out of range.

Sirius stares at the sky for a long moment, dizzy. The clouds have cleared a bit, and the moon is yellow, just visible above the silhouette of the castle. He touches his face, and his fingers come away wet. He’s bleeding.

He hears a loud howl and the panicked thought that the wolf may have broken through the door propels him to his feet, and sends him running again, across the grounds and back the way he came, until he makes it, bleeding and bruised, to the portrait of the Fat Lady. He barks the password at her, over her disdainful sniff of, “And what happened to you?” and collapses just on the other side, panting.

The Prewett twins stare at him.

“You have an exciting evening?” asks one of them amiably. The other is laughing into his sleeve. Sirius wonders just how late it is, that only the Prewett twins are still up in the common room. He stands up and smooths down his hair.

“I suppose,” he says coolly, straightening his robes. The blood on his cheek is starting to turn tacky.

Without another word, he stalks up to the second year boys’ room, chin held high and back straight enough to make even his mother proud.

***

Sirius waits for James and Peter outside the Hospital Wing the next day.

"Come on," he says, holding James's invisibility cloak out. "I want to show you something."

“We promised Remus we’d take notes for Potions though!” protests Peter, but James has already pulled the cloak over himself. Good man, James Potter, always up for an adventure.

“We can nick notes off Evans later,” says Sirius dismissively. He joins James under the cloak, and it’s only a second before Peter joins them as well, never one to be left out.

There’s just enough room to hide the three of them, and they manage to mostly avoid stepping on one another’s toes as they make their way to the entrance. Using the invisibility cloak during the day is trickier than at night; there are many more potential obstacles to run into, but they sneak behind a stream of third years being led outside by Professor Kettleburn, and squeeze through the doors of the Great Hall just in time.

“So where are we going?” asks James. They’re still under the cloak, but with the Care of Magical Creatures class gone in the opposite direction, they’ve no fear of being overheard.

“I found where Remus goes at the full moon,” says Sirius.

James sucks in a breath. “So that’s what you were out doing last night!” He punches Sirius’s shoulder punitively. “And you didn’t ask me along?”

Sirius elbows him in the sternum and then rubs his shoulder. Peter squeaks as he gets stepped on the scuffle and James mutters a perfunctory apology to him while Sirius snaps, “It wasn’t on purpose; I saw him and Dumbledore walking across the grounds and followed them.”

“Yeah, but followed them where?” demands James.

Sirius tries to elbow him again, and James dances away, pulling the cloak up high enough that Sirius’s legs are exposed from the knee down.

“Arse!” cries Sirius. He ducks out from the cloak altogether. “And I’m showing you, aren’t I?”

“Well, show us a little faster,” demands James’s voice.

Sirius rolls his eyes but, in deference to James, dashes off. He hears James’s cursing behind him, and then James is running too, at Sirius’s heels. The two of them whoop and race across the grounds, until Sirius skids to a halt just beyond the reach of the Whomping Willow.

“The Willow?” says James skeptically.

“Watch and learn, Potter,” says Sirius; he picks up a stick.

“Pete, you with us?” asks James. He watches Sirius with curious, narrowed eyes.

“Yeah,” pants Peter’s voice. His head pops up, hovering five feet off the ground, and then the rest of his body follows suits. His cheeks are bright red. “Right behind you.”

Satisfied, James nods at Sirius and Sirius leans forward, and presses the stick against the knot. The Whomping Willow falls still, and the entry way opens.

James and Peter both gasp.

“You’re going to let flies in, with expressions like that,” says Sirius, pleased at their shock. He gets inside quickly, and James and Peter follow just before the Willow begins Whomping again.

“Merlin,” says James. “This is bonkers.”

“Wait till you see what’s at the end,” says Sirius, though he’s not sure himself. There’s just a door, and beyond the door, someplace to keep a wolf.

He and Peter walk in silence down the passageway, while James prattles on about the logistics of making a tunnel like this, what kind of spells they must have used, how they should have guessed the Whomping Willow was involved, considering how shirty Remus got when they tried to see who could touch the trunk, that they must nearly be at Hogsmeade by now, this tunnel was that long.

They get to the door.

“Reckon it’s locked?” asks James.

“One way to find out,” says Sirius with a shrug. There’s a minor stir of fear in his stomach. But now, in the day, with no howling wolf behind the door, and his friends at the back, it’s easy to ignore. He grabs the door handle and pushes; it opens inward.

They step inside a dark, musty room. There’s broken furniture strewn about, and in a corner there’s a low, sunken bed. The sheets are stained with some dark liquid, and a queer feeling fills Sirius at the sight; he thinks it must be blood. Remus’s blood.

"We shouldn't be here," quavers Peter. "Remus wouldn't want us to be here."

James and Sirius both ignore him. James takes a look around, and then goes bolting up the stairs. He’s only gone a moment before he shouts, “I knew it! I know where we are!”

Sirius ignores him as well, and it’s up to Peter, face twitching with fear to ask, “Where are we, James?”

James emerges back at the foot of the stairs, face brilliant with triumph, “We’re at the Shrieking Shack! This all makes so much sense!”

Peter makes a small terrified noise, and James claps him on the back bracingly. “Think about it! Everyone our year and above says the Shack wasn’t haunted before our first year. And the shrieking’s not all the time. In fact, I bet you if anyone bothered to chart it, they’d realize it was only at the full moon! Dumbledore’s a bloody mad genius! I mean, would have been more of a genius if he’d set up more of this up in advance or had someone come in every once and awhile to make noise when it’s not the full moon, but-”

“Be quiet,” orders Sirius.

James falls quiet. “Did you hear something?” he asks, eyebrows drawing together.

“Just the sound of your endless yapping,” snarls Sirius. He glares at the deep scratches on the wall. Remus made those.

Excuse me?” says James, drawing himself up and puffing out his chest absurdly. Peter looks nervously between the two of them.

Sirius wheels on him, “I said be quiet!” he yells. “I don’t need to hear your bloody prattling on what a bloody genius Albus Dumbledore is like this is some bloody brilliant logic puzzle for you to figure out! This is our bloody friend you’re talking about!”

James deflates a little. “Merlin, Sirius,” he says, tugging at his hair. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

Sirius scowls. “Well that’s how it bloody comes across.” He pauses, and scowls more deeply. “You are right about one thing though. Shockingly.” He leans down to pick up a table leg.

“And what’s that?” asks James. He peers at Sirius nervously.

“It’s poor planning to not have someone make noise any time other than the full moon.”

He slams the table leg into the wall. It makes a satisfying smash. Peter and James both wince, but James, at least, follows suit. He grabs a chair and smashes it against the floor. It crunches, and then Peter starts banging his fists against the wall. Sirius runs up the stairs, continuing to slam the table leg into the wall as he does. The upstairs is as wrecked as the downstairs, and he yells loudly. Downstairs, James and Peter start yelling too.

They keep at it for a good quarter hour. Sirius smashes his table leg into everything and anything he can, screaming the whole time. He keeps thinking about Remus, sitting up here alone, waiting to turn into something he hates, or, worse, Remus when it’s over, lying bloody and small on the bed downstairs. It’s not fair and it’s cruel and it’s wretched and if Remus would only let Sirius help him-

“Sirius, mate,” says James gently, grabbing Sirius’s shoulder. “That’s enough.”

Sirius stops, shoulders heaving. He feels sick. Slowly, he lowers the table leg. There's not much left to it.

“Right,” he says. He doesn’t look at James or Peter. “All right.”

***

Perhaps one of the most interesting facts about lycanthropy is that the subject, once fully transformed into a werewolf, is completely uninterested in animals. In fact, the werewolf can quite comfortably co-exist alongside animals, as well as, intriguingly, sentient magical brethren such as House Elves and centaurs. It is only humans whom the werewolf attacks. Goodall, in his fourth edition of Beasts with the Skin of Men, posits that this might be due to an evolutionary...

Sirius's attention wanders off. It’s his fourth time reading the werewolf section in Newt Scamander's Beasts of the Wizarding World. He isn't expecting anything new, but he’s hoping he’ll see something in a new way. Insanity, Black, he can hear James mutter, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

"Shove off, Potter," he mutters aloud. He circles the word "animals" thoughtfully. Something’s beginning to niggle at the edges of his brain.

"Talking to yourself again, are we?" says a familiar, cheerful voice. Sirius bolts around.

Remus is standing behind him, face wan above his dark robes, but overall looking healthy enough. Sirius slams the book shut and then shoves it off the table. It lands with a muffled crash. He winces.

Remus raises an eyebrow but elects to comment neither on Sirius's handling of the book nor inquire about its subject matter. Instead he says, looking abashed, "I'm sorry I lost my temper."

"Oh!" says Sirius. A guilty part of his brain twitches remorsefully. Sirius really isn't the one who’s owed an apology. He kicks it aside. "Well," he smiles instead, lounging back against his chair. "Well, well, well."

Remus eyes him warily, as if beginning to suspect this apologizing thing is bad business.

Sirius clasps his hands together. "Shall we forgive him, dear poppet that he is, or shall we make the dear poppet dance for his forgiveness?"

Remus's eyebrows draw together in a frown and he lifted himself to his full height, which is not very high at all.

"Who," he asks, "on Merlin's green earth are you talking to?" He frowns harder. "And what happened to your face?"

"My face?" says Sirius, feigning indignance. He can feel a blush lurking. That won't do; he’s a Black, and Blacks only blush when they want to put their opponent off guard. His back itches uncomfortably at that. Perhaps he shouldn't be thinking about how to manipulate his friends, but he shakes the thoughts off, like a wet dog.

"Yes," says Remus, "your face. You’re all bloodied up." He bites his lower lip and draws closer. Sirius can make out the familiar, silver scar on his cheek, prominent against the paleness of his skin. There don’t appear to be any new scars though, at least not on his face. Sirius stares at Remus's robes critically. Then, suddenly, abruptly, quite without warning, Remus's fingers slide up along the side of Sirius’s face and through his hair to rest lightly against the back of Sirius's skull.

"Hwargh!" protests Sirius. His chest feels suddenly tight.

"Mmm," says Remus amiably. He lets go of Sirius's head and takes a step back. "Well it all looks minor enough." He looks calm, but just beneath that Sirius can see a faint shadow of nausea. He wonders if it’s the moon, or Sirius's own injuries. "I won't ask why you haven't been to Pomfrey. No doubt you earned those injuries doing something dangerous and against the rules."

"It was the Willow!" blurts out Sirius.

Remus goes very still.

Sirius curses himself silently. He hadn't meant to say anything. It was the way Remus asked without asking. Sirius can survive any amount of James bouncing on his stomach and bellowing his demands, can ceaselessly endure Peter's whining and begging and sniffling. But he absolutely cannot withstand Remus's kind and mild curiosity.

Or perhaps it’s the guilt.

"The Willow?" squeaks Remus eventually. "Not the... Whomping Willow."

Sirius shifts. "Er," he manages. He swallows hard and flaps his hands. He isn't used to being at a loss for words. "I sort of saw you and Dumbles - accidentally! I was up in the Owlery - last night, walking across the school grounds..." He trails off.

Remus stares at him.

“And you followed us?” he asks, voice strained. “You went to the Willow?”

They’re questions, but there’s a flatness to Remus’s tone which means Sirius doesn’t have to say anything; the answer’s already written in the bruises and scabs on his face. Remus is very, very pale and for a dizzying moment, Sirius thinks Remus might be about to hit him. He doesn’t flinch. He deserves it.

But Remus doesn’t hit him. Instead, he takes Sirius’s wrist and holds it gently, examining the bruises on Sirius’s forearm.

“Well,” Remus says, biting his lip. “It’s a good thing I’m not shit at healing charms. Necessity and all that. Be a pain to explain this to Pomfrey.”

Sirius gapes, and then he lunges up from his chair and hugs Remus.

Remus makes a startled noise like a disgruntled cat, and Sirius presses his nose into Remus’s hair for a second. He smells like boy and too-strong soap and something vaguely medicinal. There’s no hint of wolf or blood or musty earth. It’s just Remus, who is Sirius’s friend, who accepts with dry courage the fact that he must know healing charms out of necessity, who spends one night a month locked alone in a room as a monster.

Remus shifts awkwardly. “Sirius,” he says into Sirius’s armpit, with all the dignity he can muster. “I can’t heal you if you’re squashing me.” But he raises his arms and pats Sirius on the back.

Sirius pulls away. His heart and mind are racing. He wants to help Remus, and he will help Remus – Remus just has to accept that – and even if he can’t cure Remus, he can make sure at least Remus isn’t alone anymore.

Remus lifts his wand to heal Sirius’s wounds, and Sirius thinks about the word animals circled in Scamander’s book.

He has an idea, and he can feel it start to bloom.