The next morning, Sirius’s head was splitting with pain. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut again before they were even open all the way. Lying there for an endless amount of time, half awake and half asleep, was torturous. But the thought of getting up was even more torturous, so Sirius stayed rooted firmly where he was. Even the light from the common room windows and the sounds of the others pattering around in their dormitories was too much to stand: it flashed in his eyes and roared in his ears like the end of the world.
Oh shit. Sirius’s eyes popped open, wide awake. His foggy brain had just remembered something that made him feel obscurely uneasy…It was a strange device of fate, how he never woke up so hung-over unless he was already in trouble. What exactly had he done last night?
He raised his head up slowly and painfully turned it to and fro to examine his surroundings. Empty bottles, cigarette butts, loose caps, shards of glass, and strewn cards were littered everywhere, as were the sad souls that had used them last night. Some of them were coming to with loud groans of discomfort, as others cringed at the brightness of the noise and the loudness of the sunlight…and still others snored on.
Sirius himself was still lying sprawled on the couch by the portrait door, through which James had arrived for the party last night, late and unexpected and at the worst moment possible. And he had stormed out just as suddenly because he had been met with a surprise that no one could have seen coming…
It all came back in a rush. Oh shit. Is that what happened? Sure enough, as Sirius looked past his knees, drawn to his chest in an effort to scrunch out his hangover, he saw what he least wanted to see in the world at that moment. Lily Evans was sleeping off a drunken night, only half-dressed, on the floor at the foot of his couch. The couch that would inevitably soon become legendary.
For Sirius this was indeed the end of the world. How could this have happened? Lily was not the girl he fooled around with last night. Was she?
Sirius groaned. He couldn’t think straight with this damn headache. He decided just to come to the conclusion that it was all a coincidence, or better yet, a bad dream. His memory was only playing tricks on him and having a laugh while he panicked. Everything was okay. It always was.
With a great effort, he hauled himself off the couch. Mumbling to himself, he stumbled up the stairs, clinging unsteadily to doorways and railings for support. He needed a shower and a cup of coffee desperately, which would clear his head. He needed to get away from the disconcerting figure at the end of his couch.
Characteristically, Sirius was, once again, running away.
The Great Hall was already set up for lunch, although it was too early and the room was so empty that drafts weaved around and between the tin pitchers and goblets, whistling eerily. Randomly Sirius thought that if everyone at Hogwarts were to disappear, then this is what the castle would remain like for an immeasurable amount of time. He shivered involuntarily at the idea and stumbled off in the opposite direction to see what he could scavenge from the house elves in the kitchen. That way, he could skip lunch and the curious glances and floating rumors which were bound to begin sooner or later, as word of last night’s adventures (and horrors) traversed the school’s corridors.
Any other day he would’ve received the attention of his fellow students with welcome arms, but not this day. After he had gotten some food into his belly and logic began to poke through the cloudiness in his brain like rays of sunshine (he laughed at the idea of it), all he wanted to do was find James. They were due for a talk.
Climbing through the portrait hole, past the waking partiers, up the stairs, and to the empty boys’ dormitory, Sirius gave himself a pep talk. He had done nothing wrong. All he had to do was explain the misunderstanding, and then everything would be fine. Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door open, ready to face anything. But there was no one there. It was completely empty. Evidently the boys were all in class or still sprawled out downstairs. James’s bed was cold and neatly made. It seemed as though he had not come back to sleep.
Gathering up the books he would need for classes that afternoon, Sirius sighed. He should’ve felt relieved that he had met none of the other boys, but it only deadened his stomach with more anxiety. If he didn’t talk to his friends soon, the gossip would only blow the situation out of control.
He lay down on his bed to try and calm his racing brain. After all, he had time.
For reasons unknown to him, the prospect of talking to James didn’t make him as nervous as facing anyone else. Maybe it was because he thought that James would be more understanding than the rest of them. The Marauders had been through so much together that Sirius doubted a drunken escapade would keep them apart for long. Still, it was Lily. Sirius didn’t know what to think.
The bell rang loudly, signaling the end of lunch. Sirius leapt up, grabbed his books, and raced down the dormitory stairs, intending to beat the crowd coming out of the Great Hall at the moment so he could hide out in the Charms classroom. Flitwick would sure be surprised that he was early.
Running out into the middle of the common room, bound for the portrait hole, he crashed once again into a disheveled, hung-over Lily Evans, on her way to her dormitory. They hesitated, pressed together for a moment too long. Sirius (and Lily too, though he knew it not at that moment) was surprised again to feel how well their two bodies fit into each other. They stood, unmoving. Lily yanked away first.
Sirius felt his cheeks flame for the first time in a long time. He didn’t get embarrassed, ever. He was shameless, and everyone knew that. So why couldn’t he bring himself to look up and meet her gaze?
He was making it worse by acting like they had done something wrong. Had they? He didn’t even know. It would have to wait until he talked to James; what had happened could possibly be brushed off, but just as possibly turned into the end of the world.
“Sirius,” he heard her whisper softly. Lily hadn’t moved. She was begging him to look at her. She wanted to believe that they hadn’t really messed up, no, not that much. And if Sirius could still look at her, then maybe that would make it okay. But Sirius kept on looking at his shoes. They were really very interesting shoes…and it was much better than seeing whatever it was that would be in her bright green eyes or hearing whatever it was that she wanted to say.
“Sirius, I’m sorry…” Lily’s voice wavered. She sounded like she was about to cry.
Still not looking up, he shook his head. “My fault too,” he mumbled to the floor. He didn’t stick around to see whether or not she had heard him. He didn’t wait for a response. Barging out of the portrait door, he took refuge in the Charms classroom, lurking at the back of the class where, thankfully, no one called attention to him.
That afternoon Hogwarts experienced a different Sirius Black, and a new peace, quiet, and boredom. Without the Marauders up to their usual antics, everything was so peaceful, quiet, and boring that even the teachers noticed and were consequentially made squeamish. In their experience, it was the sudden silence before a storm. Someone was bound to be unleashing an enormous ingenious prank soon.
But no storm came. Sirius was too emotionally drained, physically in pain, and preoccupied in general to pay any sort of attention to anything. Unfortunately, he had no classes with James Friday afternoons. He would have no opportunity to talk to him until dinner. He did, however, have Transfiguration with Remus as his partner.
Even as half of the Gryffindors were still suffering from miserable hangovers, Remus looked as fresh and relaxed as ever. He had learned how to make the hangover potion way back in third year, and it had come in handy quite often since then. “How are you feeling?” he asked Sirius kindly as the rest of the class practiced the spell they were supposed to be learning. Sirius almost laughed in relief. Moony was still, as ever, Moony. How could he have thought that Remus would blame him?
“I’m okay,” he lied. “I’m alright.”
“Me and Pete were trying to talk to James this morning,” Remus said seriously. “He wouldn’t listen to either of us.”
“You got Pete up? After the way he was last night?” Sirius asked incredulously. He made a big effort to sound lighthearted, but the situation didn’t sound promising. If James wouldn’t listen to either of his other best friends, how could he be expected to listen to Sirius? How was Sirius ever going to be able to explain and apologize?
“Coffee and lots of hangover potion.” Remus sounded a bit impatient now. “He’s real messed up, Padfoot. You knew about Lily. Everyone knew about Lily. What the hell were you thinking?”
Sirius bowed his head and stared at his hands. “I wasn’t thinking. I was shit-faced drunk, let me remind you. Wasted. And she was too.”
“There were thirty shit-faced-wasted teenagers at that party last night, me included. But, Padfoot mate, none of them managed to make more of a jackass out of themselves than you. Lily, mate! You knew!” Remus wasn’t mad as much as he just needed answers.
Sirius tried to explain. “I didn’t know it was her, Moony! I didn’t even care who it was. You know how I am--I can't exactly explain how I think when it comes to these things. It didn’t register that she was Evans.” It sounded pathetic, but it was the truth, and that was all he had.
Remus nodded sadly. He didn’t really understand, but Sirius sounded so unusually miserable that he couldn’t help but believe him. “You really screwed up this time, Sirius. I don’t know if I can help you.”
The bell rang and they stood up to head to dinner, leaving their Transfiguration subjects, a toad and a toadstool, untouched. The dreaded whispers drifted along in the corridors and followed Sirius and Remus through the entrance hall, until they finally entered the Great Hall and found seats at the Gryffindor table. The only refuge of dinner, Sirius thought, was that the many voices made a din so loud that it was impossible to discern those that were, without doubt, talking about him.
They were a little early, and the first of the Gryffindor sixth-years to be seated. However, soon all except James and Lily had trickled in silently. Sirius felt a leap of relief. Surely they were now having a talk. Was Lily going to be able to make James believe the truth?
The double doors banged open loudly and all the heads in the Great Hall turned. In shuffled James, who was alone and had transformed into an old man overnight. There were bags under his eyes, which had lost its sparkle and looked dully everywhere except at Sirius. The corners of his mouth were down-turned, as if he had not the energy to raise them even to their normal level, and there was a slight bit of stubble growing under his chin. His entire body sagged under his burden, but he bore the curious glances of the crowd like a martyr.
Sitting down silently beside Frank Longbottom, a friendly fifth-year who had spent last night’s party solely with his girlfriend Alice, James hesitated only slightly before digging in. His appetite, apparently, had not changed.
The air was filled to breaking point with tension. Everyone could feel it. The fourth-years sitting opposite of James scurried away to find new seats as they saw Sirius heave himself up and walk slowly toward them. He sat down. James didn’t look up.
“We need to talk, mate.” James gave no sign of having heard him speak. Sirius sighed. This was easier said than done. “I know you never want to see me again. It’s kind of obvious.” He stopped to collect himself because, in his nervousness, this was not what he wanted to say. “I’m not gonna stop bothering you until you give me a chance to explain, because what the hell kind of friend would I be if I just left you like this?”
Sirius caught Remus’s eye. Remus smiled a small, grim smile of encouragement. Peter, seated beside him, nodded slowly. So he was forgiven there, at least. He took a deep breath.
“I know it was ugly last night. I know you think it can’t possibly be like anything except what you saw--”
Sirius was cut off by another loud bang of the double doors. None other than Lily Evans slogged in, eyes rimmed with red and sniffing. Her bag dragged on the ground after her. Like James, the change in her was so dramatic that she appeared to be utterly drooping with misery. Oblivious to everything including where she was going, her empty gaze searched the room blindly…until her eyes lighted on the Gryffindor table and James.
Distantly, Sirius heard the jeering of his own cousins and their other Slytherin friends. He knew they were delighted at his scandalous mistake. It was another reason to ridicule the Black blood traitor, a historic blunder in the making, and they had front row seats.
Neither Lily nor James seemed to be affected by, or even hear, their taunts. Lily was now slowly walking up the side of the table opposite Sirius, and he knew by her expression that it was time for him to leave James alone. He returned to his seat across from Remus, a little ways down the table.
Frank Longbottom scooted aside to make room next to James. Eyes wide, Frank looked like he was trying to make himself as invisible and insignificant as possible. He was nothing in interest next to the downfall of the mighty James Potter and his fair lady Lily Evans. It looked like Sirius would be playing the bad guy in this one.
Lily stopped right behind James and reached out, slowly sliding her arms around his neck in an embrace. To anyone who knew her well, she looked dazed, like she was in a trance. “James,” she whispered, and buried her face in his shoulder. Her entire body collapsed onto him. “James, it’s me.”
James had stopped eating, and remained as silent and wooden as a board. He appeared not to be breathing, but was staring unblinkingly straight ahead.
The entire Great Hall held its breath. This was most unlike both Lily and James. Lily, who was always so together, turned into this emotional, needy wreck? And James, who had pined after her for years, ignoring her as if she had never existed? Hogwarts was stumped.
Sirius grabbed Remus’s wrist and squeezed hard in anguish as Lily’s face emerged and fresh tears ran down her cheeks. At the sight of her tears, James’s own face fell a little further before he took control of it again. When Lily didn’t let go and walk away, and instead wedged herself firmly next to him, he looked genuinely surprised. But Sirius knew he wasn’t ready to forgive her because he still said not one word.
There was near silence for the entire meal. When Lily was finished, she got up, observed by the entire room, and grasped one of James’s hands tightly in both of her own. She leaned over to kiss him. He didn’t kiss back.
Lily picked up her bag and hurried toward the door alone. The crushing silence was finally broken by Bellatrix Black, who shrieked, “Whore!” after her retreating form. The door slammed, echoing through the Hall.
Sirius didn’t need Remus’s warning glance to know that it wasn’t his place to defend Lily. He waited for James to leap up and put his cousin back into her place. But he just sat there, pretending like he hadn’t heard. It struck Sirius that perhaps James, at the moment, agreed with Bella. And the world had ceased to exist like he had known it.
A/N: Edited December 2nd 2008. It's not over yet, I promise! Somehow, Sirius will get James to forgive him. =]