Sirius Black was a womanizer.
Well, that was one way to put it, anyway. There were others, but they weren't so polite. "Slut", maybe. Casanova? Ladykiller? Whatever. The point was, Sirius had been with a lot of girls. A good handful from their own year, even a fair few from the year above them. Even one or two Slytherins, and the Slytherins pretty much hated the Marauders as a rule. Peter wasn't really keeping track - really, he wasn't, it wasn't like he was keeping a list or something, he just tended to notice things. Anyways, it was hard to know exact numbers, because Sirius didn't really talk about his... conquests very much. Not even to brag. But even though Peter didn't have an exact number, he knew that it was an impressive number. A number that put the rest of the Marauders to shame.
Peter also knew that Sirius had had his first kiss back in third year, a full year before Peter and a good year and a half before James or Remus. And he knew that the longest he'd ever dated a girl had been about two months. And that Sirius made talking to - and getting with - girls look so much easier than it actually was.
Peter had had exactly two girlfriends, and towards the beginning of the year he'd had a bit of a casual thing going on with Elaine Cleary from Hufflepuff. He wasn't at all displeased with that number - 3 was a respectable number of girls to have gotten with, and besides, Remus had never dated anyone, just snogged a few girls at parties, and James was too busy pining after Lily Evans to do much dating or snogging, so Peter thought he was doing quite well, actually. Sirius was an anomaly.
He had tried to ask him for tips a few times though. Maybe there was some sort of art to it, and it wasn't just Sirius being 13 different flavours of irresistible, or whatever. But Sirius always brushed off his questions. "Mate," he'd said with a shrug the last time Peter had broached the subject, "I don't know what to tell you. Girls just love me."
Which wasn't very helpful, but at least left Peter feeling reassured that Sirius didn't have some secret he was keeping from the rest of them.
Sirius's latest girlfriend was Marlene McKinnon. Or, well, had been. They had broken up. Or, rather, she had broken up with him. Which was very unusual. Honestly, most of the time, there was no "breakup" per se - just a mutual drifting apart. And when there was an actual breakup, it was usually - although, admittedly, not always - him doing the breaking. But Marlene had broken up with him. And while that was unusual enough on its own, even more unusual was the fact that Sirius seemed upset about it.
The other three Marauders were alarmed. Marlene had broken up with Sirius privately, and they didn't want to upset Sirius further by asking him about it, so they had no clue what reasons she'd given him, or if she might have said something to particularly upset him. (The other option was, of course, that Sirius genuinely had feelings for her and was upset by nothing more than the end of the relationship; but this option was somewhat alarming in and of itself.) They'd had a conversation about what they should do, and had basically decided that they should just leave it alone and see if he snapped out of it. If he was still upset in a few days, James would talk to him.
Peter was fine with that plan. James was a lot better at dealing with Sirius's moods than he was. He rather hoped it wouldn't come to that, though - he hated seeing his friend so down and preoccupied, and he didn't want him to be upset for so long that James would have to intervene.
One night, he was woken up at an ungodly hour by his uncomfortably full bladder. He reluctantly got out bed and padded through to the bathroom, yawning. Unfortunately, the longer he was out of bed, the more alert he felt, and by the time he was done in the bathroom, he was feeling quite awake.
Perhaps that was why it was on his way back to bed, rather than his way to the bathroom, that he noticed Sirius wasn't in his bed.
He frowned, pausing in the middle of the dorm. That wasn't good. Maybe he'd had a nightmare...? He checked Remus's bed first, then James's but Sirius was in neither. And James's invisibility cloak was poking out of his trunk (he really needed to be more careful with that thing), which meant Sirius hadn't borrowed it to go for a walk. Which pretty much left one option.
Peter hesitated, but only for a second, before he slipped back out of the room and down to the Common Room.
Sure enough, Sirius was sitting by himself on the couch nearest the fireplace, staring into the flames. He seemed lost in thought, not appearing to notice Peter approaching. In fact, he didn't even startle when Peter dropped down into the adjacent armchair.
"Erm... Padfoot?" he said cautiously.
Sirius looked up at him. His eyes were red-rimmed, and Peter noticed for the first time the bottle of Firewhiskey - with a considerable dent in it - sitting on the ground by Sirius's feet. Oh, this was no good at all; he was just about to get back up and go wake James when Sirius spoke.
"Hey, Pete," he said hoarsely, pulling his knees up to his chest. "What're you doing up?"
"Well, er, bathroom. But then I came to find you. Are you, uh, okay?"
Sirius let out a chuckle, and Peter cringed at his own stupid question. "Are you okay", come on. But he didn't back down.
"We can talk about whatever it is," he offered.
Sirius shrugged and looked down at his knees. He didn't tell Peter to shut the hell up, though, so he decided to plow on.
"Is this about Marlene?"
Sirius snorted. "No. Well, not really. No."
"Are you sure? I mean, we've all noticed you've been a bit off since she broke up with you - which is obviously understandable, even if it's, er, unusual - and -"
"I'm gay," Sirius interrupted.
Peter stopped. And stared. Had he heard wrong? Was Sirius joking? There was no way... it made no sense. All those girls... but Sirius certainly didn't look like he was joking. In fact, it looked like there were tears brimming in his eyes. With a sad little sniffle, he squeezed his eyes shut and buried his head in his arms.
Peter suddenly realized his mouth was hanging open, and snapped it shut. He hadn't come into this conversation prepared for this. Seriously, had he heard right?
"Er... what?" he asked, just to be sure.
Sirius didn't look up to answer, but Peter still heard his mumbled "I'm gay" loud and clear.
He blinked a few times, and opened his mouth to speak before realizing he had no idea what to say and closing it again. "I... oh," he said eventually. "Well, that's - unexpected, but -"
Sirius pulled his head out of his arms, but he looked so thoroughly miserable that Peter almost wished he hadn't, as it was making him want to cry himself.
"I thought I could make it go away," he whispered. "If I tried hard enough. I thought if I got with enough girls I'd start to like it." He swiped at his eyes, a look of frustration briefly passing over his face, and sighed heavily. "But I still don't. I just. I can't do it, and I can't stop thinking about blokes and I hate it, Pete!"
He was crying in earnest now, and Peter felt absolutely horrible. He was opening and closing his mouth, hoping something brilliant would come to him, but nothing did.
"Marlene, she figured it out," Sirius continued. "I don't really know how, she said she could just tell that I wasn't enjoying myself with her, not really, and that she'd put two and two together. And she said she had nothing against me and that she wouldn't tell anyone, but that she didn't want to be with someone who didn't really want to be with her. Which is fair enough, but the thing is, Wormtail - I like Marlene. As a person, you know? And I thought maybe, if it was a girl I liked as a friend, I could make it into more, you know? But it didn't bloody work! And if that didn't work, I don't know if anything will. I don't know what else to do."
Peter looked on helplessly as Sirius fisted his hands into his hair and curled up tighter. He knew he wasn't going to be able to say something that would make Sirius instantly feel completely better, but he wished he could at least think of something. He wracked his brain for a few minutes, but didn't come up with anything.
He ended up getting off the armchair and plonking himself down next to Sirius on the couch. "Cheer up, Padfoot," he said encouragingly, slinging an arm around his shoulders. "You don't need to like girls. You're not hurting anybody. And James and Remus will be fine with it."
His words didn't quite have the intended effect. Sirius looked up abruptly and glared at him. "No they won't," he snapped, "because they're not going to find out. Ever. This is between us, Wormtail. You can't tell anyone, okay?"
Peter nodded meekly. He wasn't going to argue the point - it was up to Sirius. And he could understand the hesitation.
"Promise me, Peter," Sirius said sternly. "Promise you'll keep this a secret."
"I promise," Peter squeaked. "Now please come back upstairs."
Sirius waved a hand at him dismissively, turning his attention back to the fire. "I'll come up when I'm ready. G'night, Wormtail."
Peter, recognizing the emphatic end of the conversation, reluctantly did as he was told. There was just no use arguing with Sirius when he was like this. He just hoped Sirius wouldn't take his hangover out on him tomorrow.
He almost thought he'd dreamed the whole thing when he woke up the next morning. But then Sirius woke up too, and immediately groaned melodramatically and pulled his pillow over his face. Yup. Hangover.
The whole way down to breakfast, Sirius was scowling, Remus was sighing, and James was having a silent fit of worry. Peter knew exactly what he was thinking - that things were much worse than they'd thought. Which wasn't inaccurate, exactly because Sirius certainly was more upset than they'd suspected, but he wouldn't say "things" in general were worse. Just... different. Very different.
As they walked into the Great Hall, they passed Marlene, who gave Sirius a sad little smile. This, predictably, put Sirius in an even fouler mood. He didn't say a word all through breakfast, and he stabbed at his food with such ferocity that Peter caught James wincing once or twice.
He was in a bad mood all day, and also he kept glaring at Peter. Which was disconcerting, and a little bit hurtful, because Peter hadn't done anything wrong. Sirius was the one who'd gotten drunk on a school night and made a confession that he now apparently regretted. That wasn't Peter's fault.
Sirius ended up in detention that night, because he'd snapped at Professor McGonagall, who was still irritated with him over a prank he'd orchestrated the week before. While he was gone, James called an Emergency Meeting in the dorm room.
"This is bad," he said, pacing back and forth in front of Remus and Peter. "This is very, very bad. Forget liking Marlene, he must be in love with her. What are we going to do?!"
"Nothing?" Remus suggested glumly. "What can we do? It's not like we're going to give Marlene a love potion or something, we're not terrible people. We might just have to let him mope until he feels better."
James groaned. "There must be something we can do to help him. We can't just leave him to feel like shit."
Peter had listened to this exchange silently. He didn't want to speak up and say that they were wrong, because he wasn't sure how he would explain himself without breaking his promise. But now, he decided to say something.
"I don't think we need to come up with some sort of scheme," he said, making himself sound as firm as possible (which was still not very). "I think we just need to be there for him. Y'know, let him know that we support him and stuff. That he can talk to us about anything."
Remus and James just stared at him. They both looked rather floored. Whether this was because of the contents of his words or because of the fact that he'd spoken up at all, Peter couldn't tell, but he wouldn't be particularly surprised by either.
"Very pragmatic, Pete," James said eventually. "But I still feel like we need something more elaborate. Maybe we should set him up with somebody. We could throw a party as an excuse."
"No," Remus said with a frown. "No, Prongs, I think Peter's right."
James sighed and worried his bottom lip between his teeth, but he didn't argue further. Not too long after that, Sirius returned from his detention; he flounced into his bed and drew his curtains shut sharply without saying a word to any of them.
The next morning, Peter pulled him aside on the way down to breakfast and told him about the meeting.
"I think you should tell them," he finished. "James is worried sick and it probably won't be long before he does something stupid to try and get you and Marlene back together, or something. They wouldn't judge you, if that's what you're worried about."
If that's what you're worried about. Peter wanted to smack himself. Obviously that was what Sirius was worried about. But his point still stood.
Sirius was scowling at him.
"You can't say that for certain," he snapped. "Let James do what he wants. Hell, if he could get me and Marlene back together, that'd be great. It'd certainly be better than telling him and losing my best friend."
"You wouldn't -" Peter started to protest, but Sirius turned on his heel and stormed away.
By that evening, Peter had just made up his mind to leave it. It was Sirius's decision to make; Peter didn't want to meddle, and he most certainly wasn't going to force his hand. But then he caught Sirius crying in the shower, and he decided that something had to be done. There had to be some way he could help without breaking his promise or forcing Sirius's hand.
And then he came up with a plan.
The next day was Friday, and after classes were over, Remus went to the library to get a head start on their potion homework like the total swot he was, James went with him (allegedly to do the same, but more likely to either gawk at Lily evans or try to get Remus in on a plan to "help" Sirius), and Sirius went to their dorm to mope. Which worked perfectly. Peter left him for about fifteen minutes before following him up.
"I have a plan," he announced, shutting the door behind him.
"Oh no," said Sirius from under his pillow.
"It's a good plan," Peter whined, walking over and tugging Sirius's pillow away. "It'll make you feel better."
"Does it involve telling James and Remus that I'm a queer?" Sirius asked grumpily, clearly smarting from the loss of his pillow.
"No, but it does involve the two-way mirrors."
Sirius looked rather intrigued despite himself. "And what do I have to do?"
"Absolutely nothing. Well, besides telling me where James's mirror is and then staying here and being quiet."
"And that's going to make me feel better... how exactly?" Sirius asked skeptically.
"Just trust me, will you?"
Sirius eyed him up for a minute, but finally relented, and before too long, Peter was on his way down to the library, with James's mirror activated, silenced, and tucked into his robes.
As he had very much suspected would be the case, Remus was sitting at a table by himself, down the end of one of the more obscure Potions aisles, with a roll of parchment in front of him, and James was nowhere to be found. Since he had already found Remus and he couldn't imagine Sirius's patience holding out much longer, he decided to start there.
"Hey, Moony," he said, making sure his voice was quiet enough to avoid incurring Mme Pince's wrath while still being loud enough for the Mirror to pick up. He plopped himself down into the chair next to Remus and peered at his parchment. "How's the essay going?"
"Fine," Remus replied absentmindedly. "What's up?"
"Er... well, you know Sirius?"
That drew Remus's attention away from his parchment. "Obviously...?" he said slowly, clearly trying to work out where Peter was going with this line of questioning.
"I was just wondering if there was anything he could do or - or tell you that would make you not want to be friends with him anymore."
Remus was silent. He looked back down at his parchment and picked his quill back up, but didn't start writing again. After a long moment of silence, Peter was starting to panic a little. He was about to say something else - offer an example, maybe - when Remus finally spoke.
"No," he said firmly. "Peter, you and James and Sirius - you found out about - you know, about me, and not only did you stay friends with him, you all learned some seriously complicated magic just to help me. There's nothing any of you could do or say, short of joining the Death Eaters or, I don't know, getting on a table in the Great Hall and yelling out that I'm a werewolf, that would make me not want to be your friend anymore."
Peter let out a sigh of relief, and Remus looked up at him sharply. He barely resisted the urge to clap his hand over his mouth.
"Why do you ask?" Remus asked, squinting.
"Er... no reason!" Peter squeaked, scrambling out of his chair. "Bye Moony! See you later!"
And he hurried off to find James.
James was at the other end of the library, near the Restricted Section. He was not, though, ogling Lily Evans (who was nowhere in sight - in fact the section was deserted). Obviously, he was also not working on his essay - that would be absurd. He was, however, scribbling furiously on a piece of parchment. A Plan Regarding Sirius, perhaps? Peter went up on his tiptoes to check and saw... what looked an awful lot like a poem. And he distinctly caught the words "emerald eyes". He smiled gleefully, but thankfully managed to stifle a snort of laughter. He was so going to tell Remus and Sirius about this later; they could probably craft some sort of brilliant prank out of it. Right now, though, he was on a mission.
"Hullo, Prongs," he said in the most measured tone possible.
James jumped violently, and shoved his parchment into his bag with impressive speed. He then spun in his chair to face Peter, a very forced "casual" expression on his face. "Hey Wormtail. I was just. Working on my essay. What's up?"
Peter, since he was on a mission, put aside the fact that James had not been working on his essay. "Just wanted a word."
"Nothing important, really."
James looked at him expectantly, and Peter rocked on his heels for a moment before blurting out the same thing he'd said to Remus.
"You know Sirius?"
James blinked. "Is this a trick question?" Peter shook his head, and he frowned. "I know of him. Why are you asking if I know Sirius? Have you hit your head or something?"
"No," Peter huffed. "I just wanted to know - is there anything he could tell you, or anything he could do, that would make you want to stop being friends with him?"
This did not make James look any less confused, for obvious reasons. "Well, I suppose if he marched into our room and announced that his mother was right after all and Voldemort seems like a great bloke, I'd be a bit put off. Seriously Pete, what the hell?"
"What if he told you," Peter pressed on, his palms sweating a little, "that he actually doesn't like something we all thought he liked? And that he actually likes something else instead? And, er, maybe it's something that's kind of frowned up and he's nervous about what you'll think?"
James just stared at him blankly, and Peter found himself continuing, although he probably shouldn't have: "Like what if - just for example - he told you that he fancies blokes? Hypothetically speaking?"
At this point, James looked, frankly, offended. Peter panicked internally for a second, thinking James might say something extremely unhelpful, such as "Sirius? Our Sirius? Sirius who's had about a jillion girlfriends? One of those -" and then maybe a rude word or two - but when he spoke he said nothing of the sort.
"He's my best mate," he said indignantly. "He's my brother. If he told me he was gay I'd say good on him. You really think I'd hate him or stop being friends with him over something like that?"
"No," Peter said hurriedly. "Of course not. I was just asking. It was a hypothetical question."
That made James relax a little, but his I'm-worried expression had replaced his offended one.
"I just want him to be happy," he sighed. "Which is, incidentally, why I really wish you and Moony would help me work out a plan to get him and Marlene back together."
"Uh," Peter said awkwardly. "Yeah. Maybe. Not right now though. I have to go... fold my socks."
And he sped off before James could call him out on what a terrible excuse that was.
When he got back to the dorm, Sirius was exactly where he'd left him, cross-legged in the middle of his bed with his mirror in his hands. He looked up when Peter entered and gave him a smile that was only slightly wobbly.
"Nearly blew it at the end there," he said. "‘I need to go fold my socks', honestly, Wormtail. And all that "hypothetical question" stuff, you nearly gave me a bloody heart attack."
"I know," Peter groaned. "I panicked. But did all that make you feel a bit better, at least?"
"I suppose." Sirius looked back down at his lap and bit his lip. He certainly didn't look like he felt much better. "I just. I dunno, Pete."
Peter sighed and sat down on his own bed. "I'm not pressuring you. Okay? You don't have to tell anyone anything if you don't want to. But you've obviously been stressed out - I mean, I'm not sure about the specifics but I'm guessing you're worried Marlene will tell someone or everyone will just start guessing like she did. And James and Remus are really worried. So, since you just heard what they think, it seems like telling them would make all three of you feel better. But it's up to you," he amended hurriedly.
"Did you do Legilimency on me or something?" Sirius asked after a beat. "And since when are you so eloquent? What other talents have you been hiding?"
"I just notice things," he was about to answer, but before he could the door swung open and James and Remus walked in.
They'd been bickering about something when they'd opened the door - probably some harebrained scheme of James's - but they stopped short at the sight of Peter and Sirius sitting around looking all... solemn.
"Er, hello," James said. "Everything alright?"
Sirius and Peter exchanged a small glance; then, slowly but surely, Sirius smiled.
"Hullo, you two," he said. Somehow, he managed to sound nervous and confident all at once. He shot a quick glance at Peter before looking back to the doorway, meeting James's eyes, then Remus's, and his smile grew slightly wider. "I do believe I have something to tell you."