Sirius woke up with a raging headache and staring at the tops of his feet, which were sticking out from the end of a bright blue blanket. Only the hospital wing used bedclothes that cheerful. One of his socks had a hole in it. Something must have happened last night.
"Finally," a voice said beside him, and Sirius rolled over with difficulty to find Remus standing up, book now hastily discarded in Sirius's own lap. "Just let me grab everyone else--"
Sirius held a hand out, blinked, and thought about saying "wait," but Remus was already up and out of the room. He wriggled his toes, for lack of something better to do, and wondered just how strong a potion he'd already swallowed to be acting so daft. Trying to clear his head, he shook it, but the ache just intensified. He gave up, deciding to wait for the pounding to wear off on its own. It was certainly preferable to his throbbing temples, anyway.
"There he is," and James tumbled in the door, followed closely by several indistinct faces that, after a moment, appeared to be a blurry Peter, Remus, and Lily - and then the Madam. "You stupid bastard, how'd you--"
"Keep it down," Remus interrupted. "He's had quite a lot of potion shoved down his throat this morning, already." As Remus talked, they finally came to a halt at Sirius's bedside, and indistinct faces took more solid shape. Sirius registered, belatedly, that Remus must have been sitting with him all morning if he knew what potions he'd been fed.
James took the chair that Remus had so recently vacated leaving Remus to sit gingerly on a corner of the bed itself, and Peter and Lily to stand, hovering, somewhere near his knees.
A voice came from behind them. "Before you students," the Madam started, "begin harassing Mr. Black, I must examine him. This is, after all, supposed to be a quiet visit."
James backed up immediately, and allowed the Madam access to Sirius, though Remus refused to budge. "Nothing but a nice, quiet visit," James reassured her. Sirius knew that James was lying through his teeth by the easy agreement in his tone. When Remus took Sirius's hand, curling his fingers with Sirius's, the Madam hurried off, mumbling something about giving them some privacy. Lily followed her, discreetly checking the ward for something. When Lily returned, nodding, James added, voice low, "and a bit of a strategy session."
Sirius still felt a bit strange, like his head was all woolly from fever or something. There was something not quite right about the morning, still. "Strategy for what?" Remus's fingers were laced tightly with his, cool hand stroking Sirius's palm. "What happened?"
James frowned, and he answered, voice odd, "we were hoping you could tell us."
"And," as Sirius suddenly realized what was wrong, "why'm I in the hospital wing?"
James and Remus glanced at each other, unreadable, over Sirius's chest. James's lips twitched, and Remus nodded. Remus asked carefully, "how much of yesterday do you remember?"
Sirius tried to sit up, unsuccessfully. It was as if his limbs were lead weights, or half-asleep - they refused to listen to him. Damned inconvenient. He had to wake up properly. Even in his dopey state of mind, he could clearly recognise that something important was going on. "I know that we skipped out of Charms again," he said, a bit annoyed, "and that there was shepherd's pie in the Dining Hall. And--" he stopped, puzzled, as things started to make a hazy sort of sense. "Didn't. Something was in the Hufflepuff Common Room."
Sirius stopped talking, using his free hand to rub his forehead, which was still aching mercilessly. If only his head would stop spinning. Remus nodded. "Something was."
"What were." Sirius didn't continue. He just had to think, just had to puzzle this out. It was just going to take some concentration. "I followed them," he finally said quietly, "last night, didn't I?"
The realization came just as his headache subsided, a little bit. In its wake, a new kind of ache took up residence in his head. Remus's thumb stilled on his palm, and Sirius squeezed his fingers, got an answering pressure in return. It was James that spoke, however. "You insisted you'd look for them after dark." He couldn't look at Sirius. "They found you unconscious this morning. I would assume that you found them."
Peter's voice was small. "They didn't know if - they weren't sure you were going to wake up."
"It was." Sirius frowned, thinking back. It was nearly clear, if he could only-- "I don't think I saw anything," he finally told James, regretful. "I think they must have seen me and gone after me before they did, whatever it was they did."
Lily sighed. "Then we're back at square one."
"Not quite," James answered. "We know that - well, that Sirius found them." He looked away, out the window. Sirius knew he was uncomfortable, suddenly, not being able to look anyone in the eye. "McGonagall says that the teachers can't do anything about it. Her hands 'are tied'."
Sirius managed - not without some effort - to shove himself at least kind of upright with his free hand. He moved over so that Remus could sit down properly if he wanted to, but Remus stayed rigid. "Of course they are," Sirius said, and rubbed his forehead again. "At least I did find them, last night."
James looked at Sirius, grave. "They found you, Sirius." He glanced at Remus, and then Lily, before saying, "I'm. As Head Boy, I think." He looked back out the window. "We've got to stop investigating on our own. None of us are going anywhere without someone to watch our back." He looked back at Sirius. "That's it."
"I'll be fine," Sirius muttered.
"You might not have--" James started, and then he looked away.
Sirius cut him off, seeing the tension easily. "I know. I don't intend to do anything - anyway." He sighed. James had been worried about him, then. Sirius was a bit worried about himself. He was afraid that either hitting his head, or the curse he came in contact with, something, had addled his brains so much his memory was going to be permanently altered. He still couldn't conjure up a clear mental image of the attack. "I just wish that it didn't feel. Like." He bit his lip. "Like we were slipping backwards in the damned thing. You know?"
James kept looking out the window; Lily plucked at the blanket, and nodded. Peter was frozen in place, a statue. Remus's thumb circled Sirius's palm, over and over and over again. None of them had anything to say.
They decided to go in pairs. It wasn't a perfect solution.
"I don't see what other alternative we have," Sirius said, and turned around. The floor he was pacing wasn't the most attractive, being the stone floor between the kitchen and the pantry - well used by house elves and students hoping to sneak food, but not very decorative. He'd been staring at it for the last hour.
"We can't--" Remus started, and then stopped. "Sirius, do you have any idea what we have to lose? I could lose you - I nearly did. Do you understand that?"
Sirius paused in his walking. "What?"
"Just because," Remus said slowly, "James was the one speaking, he wasn't the only one concerned for your welfare. Certainly he wasn't the one most concerned."
Sirius laughed, awkward, flipped around on his heel. "You can't--"
"*Sirius*," Remus said. "You've asked me if I want to live with you. We're in the middle of a *war*, Sirius."
Faintly. "Why're you saying my name?"
It was odd, hearing Remus talk about their lives as being part of a war zone. It made Sirius supremely uncomfortable just thinking about it, especially when his relatives were most definitely on the other side. A war. Casualties of war.
"I love you, Sirius," Remus said. "And I appreciate that you would like to move in, that you asked me, but I don't think you quite understand what this means to me. Because it's quite a bit, you know."
Remus delivered all of this fairly matter-of-factly. Quietly, but not embarrassed. Remus wasn't uncomfortable. It was the way Remus would confess something so important he wouldn't know how to lie.
"Look," Remus said finally. "I put you on the spot, and that wasn't fair," and wasn't that was the truth. He added, "But understand, this is important. Because in a very short time everything is going to change. Everything outside this school has already changed, and in a very short time we're going to be a part of that."
All these words rushed out in a constant flow - maybe so Sirius couldn't have a chance to interrupt, he wasn't sure. There wasn't anything he could say that could interrupt anyway.
Remus went on. "And I need to know, because I've been taking stock of what I have, in my life, the important things. In the last year I've been thinking about it because," and he took a breath. "I keep thinking about what I could lose."
It couldn't be, it wasn't - Sirius gulped again. Remus was still talking, on and on in a steady stream, but Sirius focused on that word, 'lose'. Lose. They could lose. He could lose.