Harry Potter ; Remus/Sirius ; PG-13 ; 10,000 words ; AU
Sirius, the dutiful eldest son of the mighty Black family, has almost entirely lost his own hopes and dreams. An unexpected meeting with a long-forgotten friend might just change everything.
Written for Round Two of the rs_games, Team MWPP. Originally posted here. I could talk about this story a lot, but I think I'll let it speak for itself first? Onwards!
James lay back, staring up at the bright afternoon sky. This summer was getting off to a marvellous start. A pitcher of Mrs Pettigrew's lemonade lay between him and Peter, and with Remus due any minute now, soon all three of them would be reunited after a tedious week of living with their respective families and nothing more than continuous owl correspondence to keep their spirits alive. Here in North Finchley, with Peter as their guide to All Things London, true adventures could shortly begin. Peter had promised them finely-brewed ales, rides in something called a 'tube' (James was a little hazy on the details), and maybe even poking around Knockturn Alley if they were feeling daring.
"Cheers," he said, holding up his glass, which Peter chinked happily.
There was a knocking sound from inside, and they looked at each other. "Remus!"
Grinning, the two of them raced inside towards the front hall, where Mrs Pettigrew was letting in a laden Remus Lupin, who soon found himself bombarded with questions and chatter from his two friends, as Peter grabbed his things and James marched him up the stairs.
"It's going to be brilliant now you're here as well, we've extended my room out and I've got the record player all to myself--" Peter was saying.
"Do give the boy a moment to breathe!" Mrs Pettigrew called up after them, laughing.
"-- and there's one of those cinema things two streets down, you know, where they show flins."
"Films, James," Remus said.
"Yeah, that's what I said. Oh, all right, all right, leave it!" James yelped in response to Remus and Peter's exchanged amusement. "Just because I don't know all that Muggle culture stuff yet."
"Yes, we know," Remus told him soothingly, and James glowered.
"So, anyway. How was being at home?" Peter asked Remus.
Remus shrugged. "Oh, you know. The usual. A boring family gathering, the occasional moon-related fussing, my parents asking why I haven't got a girlfriend yet, all that."
"Oh, that's rough," James said, "did you evade them okay?"
"Yeah, it was fine. No need to have that conversation for a good while yet."
"Anyway, it's the bachelor life for us, right?" Peter asked.
"Absolutely,' James agreed.
Remus laughed. "We really are hopeless cases, aren't we?"
"Oh, I don't know." Peter pulled out a scroll from under his bed and unfurled an enormous map of London. "I think we can probably pass the time somehow."
Sirius Black sat at his desk, looking out of the window. His hair was neat, his clothes were smart, his bed was made, his back was straight, and his eyes made their way back down again to the parchment in front of him.
Dear Cousin Bellatrix, he had written,
It would be my pleasure to accept your invitation to visit.
He frowned. There really didn't seem to be much else to say. That was where he would be spending the month of August, and there was an end to it.
I trust this missive finds you in good health,
Sirius Black, esq.
Sirius folded up the note and attached it to his owl, watching idly as she soared out over the London sky. Merlin only knew what Bellatrix would have in store for him, though undoubtedly it would involve a lot of dinners and even more politics. There was some sort of rally coming up, a fundraiser for a man who was the saviour of the whole wizarding world if all the talk was to be believed. Sirius was at least looking forward to the change of scene. Of late, Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place had started to feel a little dull. The stay with his cousin and her husband would do him good, he was sure.
There was a clattering sound out in the hallway, and Sirius went to investigate. Regulus was racing up the stairs, trunk in tow, and he grinned at the sight of his brother. "Sirius!
"Hello you, welcome back! How was the Notts' country house?"
"Oh, really fantastic, we had the most fun. They've got a miniature Quidditch pitch out in the grounds, we got to try the Wronksi Feint and everything--" Regulus continued to chatter happily as Sirius helped him take his things into his room. Most of the Quidditch talk was fairly incomprehensible, but he nodded in what he hoped were the right places and smiled at Regulus' excitement.
"Honestly, I felt like just running away and living there all the time," Regulus finished, laughing. "But anyway, anything new going on here?"
"Not a lot, no. I'm off to stay with Bellatrix next month," Sirius told him.
"Oh, that's good! Is she taking you out into society and so on?"
Sirius shrugged. "No idea, really, I suppose I'll find out soon enough."
Regulus nudged him. "You'll be rubbing shoulders with all sorts of terribly exciting people, I should think."
"Yeah." Sirius moved to the door. "Anyway, you should probably go downstairs, I'm sure they want to hear all about the Notts and what wonders they have."
"Been cooped up here all day, I'm going for a walk."
As Regulus went into the kitchen, greeted by a bombardment of questions from his father, Sirius let himself out of the front door. A small rebellion, not to say he was going, but the chances were he'd be back before his absence was noted. He walked along Grimmauld Place, feet scuffing in discontent despite himself. It wasn't Regulus' fault, of course, but Sirius couldn't help the stab of envy that accompanied his brother's happy tales of school friends and the like. His parents would say that he'd have plenty of time for all of those things later, but the fact they were didn't do a great deal to lift Sirius' spirit.
He trailed around the square twice more, but as the sun lowered in the sky it struck him that his own thoughts didn't make for terribly good company this evening, and wearily he turned for home.
Peter led James and Remus through the streets of North London. "You get a lot of wizarding families around here," he was saying, "not that my mum had any idea when she first got our house, but there you go. There's the Prewetts just over there, and I'm pretty sure Dave Gudgeon's the next street along. And if you look over there," he added, gesturing in the middle distance, "there lies the mighty House of Black, not that they deign to speak to any of us."
"That's Regulus Black, right, the Slytherin Seeker?" asked Remus.
"Yeah," James answered, "and he's got an older brother as well, can't remember his name. Got shipped off abroad or homeschooled or something. Shame, actually, from what I remember he was an all right sort."
"You knew him?" Peter asked, surprised.
James nodded. "We had the same tutor, back when we were kids. Not at the same time, of course, those two weren't educated with anyone else. But I'd see him around, speak to him occasionally." He shrugged. "It's weird he's not at school. Still, he's probably just another rich pureblood git now."
"Suppose so," Remus agreed. "Shall we wander over there, though? I wonder what the house looks like."
"It's not that interesting," Peter protested, but James and Remus were already moving off.
"And there were these layabouts just loitering outside in the square this afternoon," Walburga was saying as dinner was served, "boys standing there gawking at us, I have no idea what it is they wanted."
"That's what comes of children with no structure," Orion said knowingly.
"How old were they?" Sirius asked.
"About your age, as it happens," Walburga said, "and what a shining example you are against people like that."
"Now you've had a good break from those dratted OWLs, I think it's high time we started our sessions again," Orion announced. "I've unearthed a few new documents recently on our family's history, it certainly looks to be worthy of study."
"Yes, we can't have you lying around all summer, can we?" Walburga smiled. "You've always been so good with history, you must let us know if you find anything interesting."
"Oh, I'm sure we will," Orion said.
Regulus coughed something that sounded remarkably like 'geek'. Sirius kicked him under the table.
The genealogy tables that had been found proved to be dense and difficult to tease out any real information from, so Sirius was at least grateful for something to really get stuck into.
"I think this line leads directly over to-- let me see. The Potter family, I think?" Sirius peered at the parchment, tracing over the scrawling quill marks.
Orion put on his glasses and leaned over beside him. "Ah, yes, I see. Your mother's aunt married a Potter, of course, but I had no idea we were intertwined that far back. A shame, really, the Potters used to be a fine family, but this last generation has really seen them turn from their heritage."
"They have a son, don't they? James?"
"How do you know him?" Orion asked sharply.
"Oh, no, from ages back. You remember that tutor Regulus and I went to, Madam Legarde? She taught him after us, I used to bump into him from time to time, that's all."
Orion's expression softened. "We really must see about finding you some suitable companions your own age, mustn't we?"
"I'd like that," Sirius agreed. He then hesitated, but decided this was as good a time as any to broach the subject. "Actually, Father, I've been thinking --"
"Oh dear, never a good sign," Orion replied, chuckling.
"Yes, well. Only, it strikes me that if I'm to take my NEWTs on time, I'm going to need a lot of teaching. Wouldn't it make good sense for me to simply go to Hogwarts?"
It was a wish he hadn't expressed aloud in years, and now he found himself holding his breath, wincing against the imminent reprimand.
Orion merely frowned. "Are you saying your education here has been inadequate?"
"No, not at all. I'm just thinking of practicality, really. I'm sure I'd be in Slytherin with Regulus, I wouldn't get myself into trouble."
"But that new, busy environment would surely only be a distraction, which could be disastrous at this stage. No, Sirius, it's best we stick to our arrangements, and we decided long ago that staying here would be best for you."
"But not for Regulus," Sirius muttered.
"Your brother's different," Orion answered.
"Yes." Regulus was bright and obedient and well-liked, and had been from a young age. Regulus hadn't had the difficult early adolescence that Sirius had, the danger signs that caused his parents to take decisive action. Regulus caused no worries, had no responsibilities. He was the younger son, and there were days Sirius would do almost anything to swap places.
Orion grasped Sirius' shoulder. "We're very proud of how you've come on, you know. Now then, why don't we turn our attention back to the task at hand, there's a parish register over here that dates right back to 1633."
"It's funny, I really hadn't thought about that Black kid in years," James said later that night, as they sat out in Peter's garden once again, empty beer cans making a sculpture of the evening on the outdoor furniture. "Now it's annoying me I can't remember his name."
"It'll come to you," Remus said.
"Yeah, suppose so." James stared up at the night sky, frowning in concentration. "It was something poncy, you know, name of a star, maybe?"
"Makes sense, with Regulus."
"Sirius!" Peter yelped.
James and Remus turned to stare at him, and he grinned sheepishly. "Sorry. Why I know that, I have no idea."
"Peter, always with the information you never thought you needed," James said fondly. "Woah, Sirius Black. Now there's a blast from the past. Wouldn't mind seeing him again, actually, see if he really has been tainted by all that Black nonsense."
"Heh, if you even glimpse him you'll be lucky," Peter told him. "They don't exactly get out much."
"Oh, I dunno, I'm sure I could manage something," James replied.
"What do you want to do, start a stakeout?" Remus asked, amused.
James' eyes lit up. "Great idea!"
"You can't be serious," said Peter.
"Oh come on, what else were we going to do tomorrow?"
"Anything else but this?" Remus suggested faintly, and Peter nodded in agreement.
However, as was often the way in the lives of the three friends, the force of nature that James Potter exuded won out, and so it was that they found themselves in Grimmauld Place bright and early the next morning, complete with packed sandwiches and a thermos. James even brought a pair of omnioculars along for the occasion.
"This is ridiculous," Remus told him. "Even if he does come out, you're just going to spring at him from the bushes or something?"
"Still working on that bit," James admitted.
The minutes ticked away. Remus and Peter amused themselves with some old Quidditch magazines they'd dug up the other day, while James continued to stare in rapt attention at Number Twelve, occasionally making excited noises when someone went into the house next door or a cat walked across the street.
It reached midday, and Remus stood up in a decisive gesture. "This is ridiculous. Peter, come on, let's go and leave this idiot here to his own madness."
Peter slowly stretched out his legs, wincing. "Ow, I've gone all numb."
"What?" James turned around. "You can't just leave me!"
"You won't even notice we're gone," Remus assured him. "We'll just be over in that pub - what's it called?"
"The White Hart," Peter supplied.
"Yeah, there. You come whenever you get bored." Remus grabbed Peter's arm and steered him away. "I give him half an hour, tops, before he trails after us," he murmured as they moved away.
Shaking his head at his friends' flakiness, James turned his attention back to its proper place, just in time to notice a twitch in the curtains from the third floor.
Sirius stared down at the street below. There was definitely someone in the bushes. And by the looks of it they were watching his house. He peered closer, but couldn't make out any more details. Well, he figured, gripping his wand, this was a probably as good a time as any to try out being the man of the house. Chances were it was just kids messing around, anyway.
So it was something of a shock to step out into the street and find himself ambushed by an excited teenage boy.
"Sirius! Sirius Black!" the boy cried, extricating himself from the bushes and running over to him.
"I'm sorry," Sirius said hesitantly, "do I know you?" He debated the relative merits of taking his wand out.
"Oh," the boy stopped, looking embarrassed. "Sorry, right, yes. I'm, err, James Potter, I have no idea if you remember me, we used to see each other a bit when we were kids?"
Sirius' eyes widened. "You're James? Really? You're . . . taller."
James laughed. "Yeah, well, I could say the same about you."
"What were you doing hiding in our bushes?"
"Was I?" James asked innocently. "Oh yeah, suppose I was. I just suddenly remembered you, and I was in the area, so I thought I'd, you know."
"Why didn't you knock on the door?"
James grinned. "Nah, not as fun." He held up a thermos proudly. "See, I was prepared and everything."
Sirius stared at him. "That's-- you're-- what?"
"So," James breezed on, "how the devil are you these days, anyway?"
"I'm--" Sirius stopped. "No, I'm sorry, I'm still confused by the bit where you were hiding in the bushes."
"Oh come on, you'll have to work faster than that if you want to keep up with us."
"Us? Excuse me?"
James gestured behind him. "Me and a couple of friends are spending the afternoon at a pub down the road, fancy joining us?"
"But . . . I haven't seen you in five years!"
"Exactly," said James, "we've got some catching up to do."
Sirius sighed. "But I can't just disappear off, I've got things to do."
"In the middle of the holidays? What could you possibly have to do?"
Sirius opened his mouth, then shut it again. He turned to look back at his house, and set his shoulders. "You know what? Absolutely nothing important."
"That's the spirit," James said, pleased. "Come on then, let's go."
They set off down the street, Sirius unable to help glancing behind him from time to time.
"Wow, you're twitchy. Parents keep you on a tight leash?"
"Something like that," Sirius muttered. "So, anyway, what about you? You're at Hogwarts, yes?"
James nodded. "Yeah, just finished fifth year. And you?"
"Oh, I'm--" Sirius hesitated, suddenly feeling embarrassed, "actually, I get tutored at home."
"Oh right," James replied, seeming unfazed. "But not your brother?"
"It's a bit of a long story."
"Ah, here we are," James said, halting outside an inviting-looking pub. "Now, let me introduce you to my friends."
They walked inside, to be greeted by the clinking of glasses and the comfortable laughter of old men. James spotted two boys sitting in a corner and headed towards them. They both looked up as Sirius approached, and then developed matching expressions of surprise.
"Right, Sirius," James said, "this is Remus and Peter - lads, allow me to present Mr Sirius Black!"
"Well, I'm impressed," Remus said as they sat down. "Did he spring you from the shrubbery?"
"Yes he did, rather," Sirius answered with a laugh.
Remus rolled his eyes. "James, we're really going to have to have words about this, you know."
"Oh shut it," James replied easily. "Worked, didn't it?"
Peter was studying Sirius with unabashed interest, and he shrank a little under the scrutiny. But the three of them stayed there for the rest of the afternoon, and Sirius sat with them, marvelling at the easy way they exchanged insults and quips with each other, the clear depth and history of their friendship. Yet somehow he felt included in their presence, as they explained inside jokes for his benefit - and often also for the pleasure for embarrassing one of their number - and gave him room of his own to speak. He found himself racking his brains for funny stories, and it turned out that ordinary events in his own life were supremely entertaining to them. They laughed uproariously at tales of high-class dinner parties and intricate courting politics, things that had never occurred to Sirius as being anything but entirely normal.
The longer he stayed, a warmth, an easiness began to settle in his stomach. He wasn't used to laughing this much; his sides ached. On the surface, he had nothing much in common with James and certainly not with his friends, but somehow that didn't seem to matter. It wasn't like making social connections among well-placed families, this encounter had no ulterior motives or hidden rules. Sirius didn't understand it very well, but when dinner at home beckoned, he found it surprisingly hard to leave.
Regulus gave him a funny sort of smile when he was explaining all this to him later.
"What?" Sirius asked, confused.
"It's just-- look, I'm really glad you've found some friends and everything, that's great, but did it have to be them specifically?"
"What's the problem? I mean, I know Father's not wild about the Potters, but I actually think if he met James he'd really like him."
"And what about the others - Remus and Peter, did you say?"
"Yeah, what about them?"
Regulus sighed. "Did they even tell you their families?"
"Now you mention it, no."
"My point exactly," Regulus said. "Sirius, I know Potter and everyone else at school, remember? Lupin's a halfblood, and that Pettigrew boy's a Mudblood."
"Oh." Sirius' face fell. "I didn't think of that."
"See, this is what happens when you get shut up in here for years. I'm sorry, I really am, but you can't just spend time with any old person you like, it's not proper."
"But they seemed so nice!" Sirius said, surprised.
Regulus laughed. "You can't always tell people's lineage right off the bat, don't worry."
"So I suppose I really can't see them again."
Regulus shook his head. "'Fraid not. Don't worry, we'll find you proper friends soon enough."
For the rest of the day, Sirius made an attempt to put James, Remus and Peter out of his mind. But try as he might, he kept catching himself smiling at one of Remus' put-downs, or a terrible pun Peter had made. And he couldn't help but remember the casual way that, after some internal conferring, they'd asked him round to dinner with Peter's family the following night.
The next day, and Sirius was constantly changing his mind. He was going; he wasn't. He'd go just to apologise for not going. He'd go round now and explain, then leave again. When seven o'clock came around, the time he was due at Peter's, he still hadn't made up his mind, and so it was habit more than anything else that found him sitting at his own dinner table instead.
Regulus nodded at him as he sat down, but Sirius' mind was elsewhere throughout the whole meal, and he ate mechanically, not listening to the conversation of his parents in any great detail. When the house elves took their last dish away he made some sort of excuse about not feeling well and slipped away.
As soon as he was stood out in hallway, his mind made itself up. He grabbed the nearest cloak by the entrance and quietly opened the door, slipping outside without a second thought. He raced down the street, trying to remember the directions Peter had given him, and before long he found himself in suburbs he'd never seen before. He was practically running, fuelled by an energy he didn't quite understand, and laughing as he went.
He arrived at what he could only hope was the correct address and knocked on the door. A woman opened it, and looked at him in bemusement.
"Oh, sorry," Sirius said a little breathlessly, "you must be Peter's mother. He invited me over this evening, though I know I'm a little late."
"Peter!" she called behind her. "I've got a friend of yours here!"
The three of them exchanged surprised looks.
"He actually came?" Peter asked.
"Looks like." James jumped up. "Come on them, let's not leave him hanging."
"James," Remus muttered, "did we actually think this bit through? I mean, it's one thing to see him in a pub for a couple of hours, having him here is a little odd, don't you think?"
"Oh, ye of little faith! It'll be fine, just you see," said James.
Sirius was standing in the hallway, hands clasped awkwardly in front of him. "Hello," he said.
"You made it!" James grinned. "You took your time."
"I know, I'm sorry. Took me a while to get away."
"You didn't sneak out, did you?" James asked.
"Actually . . ." Sirius suddenly smiled. "Yeah, I did."
"Good man! Right, come in, let's fix you up with a drink or something."
They took Sirius up to Peter's room, now twice its usual size as they had magicked away the wall between that and the room next to it while his brother was in France. Posters covered the walls, wizarding rock stars and Muggle bands side by side, and there was a huge stack of vinyl next to the record player that Remus was rummaging through.
"Can we have something listenable this time, Lupin, please?" James implored. "No more of that Pink Floyd nonsense, for mercy's sake."
"Pink what?" Sirius asked.
"Muggle band," James explained. "Well, I say band. The lot of them seem to spend their whole time high as kites, make bloody weird noises they pass off as music."
Remus tutted from over by the records.
"Remus loves them, probably because he is a lunatic."
"Don't worry, James, I'm sparing you this time. Got something by The Clash here, lots more thrashy chords, you'll like it."
"You - you listen to a lot of Muggle music, then?" Sirius asked, surprised.
James shrugged. "Sure. These two are both well into it, play lots of stuff to me over the summer - we've yet to perfect playing this stuff in school, it needs, whatsit."
"Electricity," Remus said wearily.
"Muggle substitute for magic," James continued. "Can't use anything that needs it at Hogwarts."
"Can't you just charm it to work magically instead?" Sirius asked, looking at the player.
"Theoretically, but the trouble is getting the charmwork to work around the existing wiring, the spells we've tried tend to react with the electricity and short out," James told him.
Sirius walked over to the record player and crouched down next to Remus. "Mind if I take a look?"
Remus raised an eyebrow. "Be my guest," he said, moving out of the way.
Sirius looked at the box in fascination, turning it on its side and tapping it a few times. "This is amazing," he said. "It can really work without any magic at all?"
"That's the general idea," Remus replied dryly.
"Well, okay, if the problem is that the spells you've been doing are coming up against this other stuff, you'll need some kind of insulation modification. We have this kind of thing all the time at home, ancient spellwork that gets in the way of new charms we try to put in. What you normally have is--" Sirius broke off, staring at one of the records. "How does that thing even play?"
"It rotates, and there's a needle . . . oh, it doesn't matter, you really wouldn't need to understand that bit," Remus said.
Sirius started muttering to himself, taking the Clash album and turning it this way and that. Then he took out his wand, whispered a few spells over the record player, and then he gently placed the album on the top. "There, that should do it."
"This record had better be good," James told Remus, sitting back with anticipation.
The first notes of 'Clash City Rockers' began to fill the room, the sound sharp and clear, with none of the crackling noises James was so used to hearing from Peter's somewhat antiquated record player.
"Is that all right?" Sirius asked, looking worried. "Is that how it's meant to sound?"
"All right?" Remus was staring at the music in amazement. "That's bloody brilliant, is what that is."
Peter appeared in the doorway. "What have you done, what's going on?"
"He's fixed it," James said, grinning.
"You can listen to all the music you like at school next year," said Sirius, looking pleased with himself.
"Wow - thanks, mate!" Peter beamed. "Well then, you've definitely earned yourself a drink."
He pulled a box out from beneath his bed, and with a couple of tugs unveiled a motley collection of bottles.
James groaned. "Sirius, I apologise in advance, his taste in alcohol is-- well, it's certainly unique."
Peter wasn't listening. "Okay, gents, I'm going to pick something special this evening."
He pulled out a dark, dusty bottle. "This is a vintage from '67, a little known vineyard in the French Bordeaux . . ."
"Pete," James interjected, "you got this from the cornershop for a couple of quid, didn't you."
"Yeah," Peter admitted, looking crestfallen.
"It'll do." James did his best to extricate as much of the crumbling cork as he could from the bottle neck, then poured out four tumblers. "Cheers!"
James and Remus drank readily, and from Peter's expression he seemed to be quaffing ambrosia itself. Sirius picked up his glass and tilted it a little, looking at the wine in the light. He took a small sip, and the ensuing look on his face was one James was sure he would treasure for the rest of his days.
"What do you think?" he asked brightly.
Sirius swallowed delicately. 'It's-- certainly very distinctive."
Remus peered into his glass. "I appear to have been corked," he said, "is that lucky or something?"
"Oh yes, Mr Lupin," James said in imitation of Professor Luxley-Harrow's querulous, prophetic tones. "I see great things in your future."
"Really." Remus looked unmoved by James' dramatic foretellings.
"Indeed," James continued, "for soon a dark, handsome stranger will enter your life--" he broke off cackling as Remus threw a bit of scrunched up parchment at his head.
"Bet Remus wishes he'd hurry up and get here," Peter said slyly.
"Mm, yes, well, if you see said stranger knocking around, do give me a shout," Remus replied, laughing.
They passed the rest of the evening trawling through the rest of Peter's record collection, with Remus lecturing Sirius on a dizzying array of Muggle bands until Sirius' look of mixed intrigue and bewilderment threatened to become permanent.
"Steady on there, Remus, give the man a break," James told him in amusement.
Remus looked a little embarrassed. "Right, sorry. Okay then, something you do know, how about I put on the Hobgoblins and leave you alone."
"Who?" Sirius asked.
Remus gaped. "You poor soul, it's worse than I thought. Peter, get on it."
"Hobgoblins coming right up!"
"Don't worry," Remus said, "I won't bend your ear with another lecture. Just-- oh, just listen."
Sirius did. His eyes widened almost from the first beat, the discord of saws and harps and bass guitar. But as Stubby Boardman's growling vocals kicked in, he slowly began to smile, and Remus sat back looking smug.
"That was-- wow, that was very good," Sirius said as the track finished.
"Then there's hope for you yet," James pronounced.
If this was what school was like, Sirius couldn't understand why anyone could ever complain about having to go. Still smiling, he flicked open his pocket watch.
"Oh no," he breathed.
"What?" asked Peter.
"It's . . ." Sirius stared at the time in horror. "It's a lot later than I realised." He jumped to his feet. "I'm sorry, I have to go, my parents are going to murder me. But thank you, thanks so much for having me and everything, this was really--" he broke off, embarrassed, but he smiled and was met by three answering grins.
"Do you think I could see you again sometime?"
"Oh, I dunno . . ." James glanced at Remus and Peter deliberatively, and they both wore similarly serious expressions.
Sirius blanched, afraid he'd somehow failed an unspoken social test over the course of the evening.
"James, you're a disgrace." Remus rolled his eyes and grinned at Sirius. "You shouldn't listen to him, he's just messing with you."
"Oh." Sirius laughed. "So . . . I'll see you soon, then?"
"Count on it," said Remus.
"You never know," said Peter, "you might get really lucky and experience one of James' shrubbery ambushes again."
"You know, this has been-- it's been really-- thank you, thank you very much." Afraid he was flushing, Sirius shut his mouth and made a swift exit from the room, followed out by a chorus of "bye!" and "seeya!".
Sirius hurried down the stairs and out the front door, past the cheerful lights and murmuring sound of the radio playing in Peter's kitchen. He stood on the doorstep and exhaled slowly as panic began to descend. If his parents had noticed he wasn't at home, well. He couldn't imagine quite what the consequences would be save that it would be dire. But-- maybe they hadn't noticed, busy with other things, and there was always the possibility Regulus was covering for him. Sirius stayed where he was, now torn by a new dilemma. If nobody had noticed that anything was amiss, then going home now would only blow his cover. He checked the time again. It would be at least another hour before the household had fully descended into slumber . . . if he could just wait until then to creep back in, maybe he'd get away with it.
Still feeling desperately uncertain, but deciding that he might as well stay where he was until he could really think this through, he squatted down on the doorstep, curling into the shadows at the front of the house. Despite the anxious, guilty gnawing in the pit of his stomach, Sirius couldn't help but smile a little at the thought of his daring rebellion. He considered getting up, knocking on the front door again and going back inside, but in spite of Remus' reassurance Sirius was still afraid of wearing out this incredible luck, and he didn't want to risk it.
As he sat there, he ran through the evening again in his mind, trying to analyse how the three boys undoubtedly still sitting and laughing upstairs managed to work so well together, how they were able to make jokes so easily at one another's expense without causing upset, how they seemed to think as one unit some of the time. The idea that he would have chance for further study of this phenomenon filled Sirius with joy beyond words. He hugged his knees into his chest, mind dancing with possibilities as the time passed.
Some time later, and the door opened behind him. Startled half out of his wits and already mumbling apologies, Sirius leapt to his feet and whirled around to find Remus peering at him in the doorway.
"What on earth . . .?" Remus asked.
"I-- I'm waiting until I can sneak back home," Sirius admitted.
Remus moved back from the door. "Then wait inside, don't be daft!"
Sirius stepped in gratefully. "I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to intrude any more--"
Remus shook his head, cutting him off. "Not at all. Anyway, those two lumps are both long gone and snoring uproariously upstairs, you can keep me company. Tea?"
"Oh, well, I don't--"
"That'll be a yes, then." Remus walked into the kitchen and Sirius followed after him.
"You're really not how I expected," Remus said conversationally as he put the kettle on.
"Mmm, I figured you'd be all stuck up and superior, you know, always mouthing off all that pureblood supremacist bollocks."
"Oh." Sirius frowned. "Why, is Regulus like this?"
Remus shrugged as he poured water into mugs. "Couldn't say, don't really know him. Mind you, he's in Slytherin - it sort of goes with the territory."
"I don't know what that means."
Remus glanced at him quizzically. "No, I suppose you don't. So you've really never been to school?"
"No, never. Not properly."
Remus carried the tea over to the kitchen table. "Didn't you want to?"
"More than anything," Sirius confessed. "But my parents, they-- I was a bit of a terror, when I was about ten, eleven, never doing what I was told and getting into trouble. And because, well, because we are who we are they thought it would be best for me to stay at home. It's silly of me, really, to mind - I mean, I took my OWLs last summer and everything, I'm not missing out. I suppose I always had this dream of Hogwarts, if that makes any sense. It always sounds wonderful."
"Yeah." Remus smiled, saying, "It sort of is, actually. It's funny, but I do know what you mean. I almost didn't go to school either, as it happens."
"Why's that?" Sirius asked, surprised.
"Oh, it's nothing interesting. I used to be quite ill as a child, we weren't sure the school would be able to look after me. Luckily for me, they were. James and Peter, school's a birthright for them I suppose. James aces every subject he's ever laid eyes on, no problem, and Peter just coasts on his robe tails and is perfectly happy."
Remus shrugged. "I sort of feel I ought to try hard, you know, give back to Hogwarts." He rolled his eyes. "Oh God, that makes me sound horribly swotty."
"No, not at all. Or I don't think so, anyway, but what would I know." Sirius smiled. "Socialising isn't exactly my forte."
"You're doing pretty well from where I'm sitting," Remus told him.
"Really?" Sirius couldn't quite keep the eagerness out of his voice.
Remus chuckled. "Really."
Sirius beamed. "Oh! That's good."
He drank his tea, a comfortable silence descending between him and his new friend. Remus still felt like something of a mystery - as on the ball as James but quieter with it, as welcoming as Peter but less showy with it. Sirius had never met anyone like him before, someone who seemed so unwedded to ideas of social standing and appearances. It was a puzzle he desperately hoped he'd have the chance to unravel.
He caught sight of a clock on the wall and got to his feet. "I should really go back now, leave you in peace," he said. "Thank you, for the tea and everything."
Remus walked with him out into the hallway. "Will be you be all right getting back?"
"It's not very far, I'm sure I'll be fine," Sirius replied.
"Right, good, well. See you soon, I'm sure."
"Yes, I'd like that."
"Good, that's good." Remus grinned.
Sirius found himself smiling back. "Yes, yes, right, I'll be going then." He paused, half-feeling as though there was something else he should be saying, but then it passed and he gathered himself. "Right, absolutely, going." He fumbled with the door latch. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight," Remus said brightly, waving him off.
Sirius hurried out, quickly pulling the door closed behind him. He paused for a moment, not quite sure if he'd just missed something. Shrugging it off, he started to head for home, hardly even noticing that he was still smiling.
Remus slowly locked the door. He walked back into the kitchen and watched Sirius leaving the street through a crack in the curtains, a strange little smile playing on his features.
He caught himself, and hastily switched the lights out as he made his way back upstairs. "Oh, bugger," he muttered to himself with considerable feeling.
Two days of rain followed, and James refused to do anything but stay indoors and play Gobstones, trying in vain to outwit Peter's fearsome tactical advances while Remus played referee and did his best to prevent the two actually coming to blows. The weather couldn't improve fast enough - both to lift James' tetchiness and, though Remus was loathe to admit it even to himself, the chance to see Sirius again. Mercifully, on the third day the rain clouds lifted, with bright blue sky glinting with promise on the horizon.
"So, chaps, what's the plan for today?" James asked that morning, bouncing downstairs with renewed enthusiasm for life.
"It's a lovely day, why don't you go down to the park?" Peter's mum said as she went through the kitchen.
"Sounds good to me," said Peter.
"And we could always get Sirius to come along," Remus suggested, rather quickly as he belatedly realised when James and Peter both affixed him with knowing looks.
"Remus?" James asked with a teasing note in his voice.
"Yeah, sure," Peter scoffed.
"I'm doomed, so help me," Remus said in a small voice.
"Oh, I dunno," Peter said. "Sirius is a bit--"
"Posh? Yeah, but that's not the point. He's an heir, it doesn't make a blind bit of difference what he is," James said.
"So, so doomed," Remus repeated.
"Well now, I didn't say that." A glint appeared in James' eye. "Where there's a will there's a way and all that."
Remus gaped in horror. "Don't even think about doing anything, Potter, or so help me I will kill you."
"Oh, just a little light investigating, nothing to get in a twist about, don't you worry."
Sirius sat at his desk, looking out of the window and watching people on the road below. His absence of a few nights ago had not been discovered. Regulus had shot several pointed looks in his direction at breakfast the next morning, which he had cheerfully ignored, and when his father suggested that he take some of the genealogy books and study them privately, he jumped at the chance to spend extended periods absent from the rest of the family, a perfect cover. Now, as he sat with those dusty tomes lying unattended in front of him, he wondered how long it would be before he saw his new friends again.
He suddenly caught sight of something glinting in the bushes on the other side of the road. Squinting, he thought he could see someone hidden there, and had to clap a hand to his mouth to stop himself laughing. Listening out for sounds of family members or house elves, he crept out of his room and then, finding his way mercifully clear, he was soon dashing across the street and vaulting over the hedges to find James, Remus and Peter stood there.
"See," James said in what seemed to be a rather pointed tone to Remus, "I told you he'd be looking out for us."
"We're going to the park!" Peter announced. "Feed the ducks, get sunburnt, all of those good things."
"That sounds brilliant," Sirius said happily.
They set off, and this time Sirius didn't look back, already immersed in following Remus and Peter's debate on the relative merits of two things called "Superman" and "Batman". He had no idea what that meant, but it didn't matter, he was out and free once again.
They made camp in the grass, watching people walk past and luxuriating in the sunshine. James produced a Snitch from his pocket, much to the delight of Peter and the consternation of Remus.
"You can't just have that out in the middle of London," Remus said.
"Pfft," was all the response he got as James began to idly play with the winged ball, letting it flutter up above his head and then catching it again. "So," James said casually, turning to look at Sirius. "What is it you do when you're not ordering around house elves or whatever? Got a girlfriend or anything?"
Sirius laughed incredulously. "No, nothing like that. That will all be sorted out when I'm older."
"Sorted out?" James winced. "Eesh, that doesn't sound fun, mate."
"It's about what's best for the family, I suppose." Sirius shrugged. "I don't mind, not really. It's not as though I'd be likely to find someone by myself anyway."
James nodded. "Well, all right, fair enough. So all of that won't happen for a while yet?"
"No, I shouldn't think so."
"Interesting, interesting," said James.
"It is?" Sirius frowned.
"Oh, well, you know."
"James!" Remus hissed.
Sirius looked between them, feeling rather confused.
"You know what," James said after a moment, "I quite fancy an ice cream. Peter?"
"What? Oh! Oh, yeah, sure, we should go and do that."
"Right-o." James got to his feet, smiling about something or other.
They walked briskly off, and Sirius turned to Remus, frowning. "Have I missed something?"
Remus appeared rather stricken. "Hmm? Oh, no, no you haven't. James is just being-- well, he's being a prat, actually. Don't worry, it doesn't matter."
"All right," Sirius said slowly.
"Yeah, it's just that he thinks . . . after the other night, you know, and I said that I thought I-- I mean, since then I've been sort of--" Remus broke off. "Do you know what I mean?"
"Not at all, sorry," Sirius confessed.
"It's nothing, really, it's fine."
Sirius didn't know what to say that, and Remus was no more forthcoming. They sat in silence, and Sirius could tell that something was going on, but couldn't begin to guess what nor imagine what it was he was meant to do.
"Is everything all right?" he eventually ventured.
Remus puffed out a breath. "If James gets back and I haven't-- oh, God, he'll do something horrendous. Well. Hey, how about taking a stroll over there somewhere?"
They got to their feet, and along with Sirius' continued mystification he couldn't deny an ever-growing curiosity. Constantly looking around him, Remus led them towards the edge of the park, where trees clustered together. He ducked between them and Sirius followed after him.
"Right," Remus said, looking at his feet.
"What is it?" Sirius asked.
"Basically, in a nutshell, I-- actually, first off, I really don't want you to think that I'm trying to, you know, or that you have to-- this really doesn't matter, I don't expect that you'll be in any way--"
"Sorry, what?" Sirius was staring at Remus now, trying to decide if there was any sense at all in what he was saying.
Remus laughed slightly. "McGonagall always does say I'm much better at the practical side of things." He moved towards Sirius, took a breath, then quickly kissed him.
Sirius' mouth fell open in surprise as Remus rapidly moved backwards. "That's what you were trying to say?" Sirius asked.
"I'm really sorry," Remus muttered. "This is ridiculous, I've only known you five minutes and already I'm making a complete idiot of myself."
"No, it's all right."
"You don't mind?"
"I--" Sirius wasn't sure what he thought. Surprise was still the dominant thing in his head, but that was something that felt a lot like nerves or maybe anticipation, something curling in his stomach that had been there most of the afternoon, now he came to think about it. And Remus looked so worried, standing there, and Sirius didn't want that, not one bit. "I don't know," he said. "I mean, I haven't, I've never-- But . . ."
"That was really quite-- and you are very."
Remus started to laugh. "I am very?"
"I don't know!" Sirius was laughing too, and somehow that seemed to make things better. "I don't know," he said again.
"Neither do I," Remus told him. "I really don't."
"Well then," Sirius said carefully, "in that case, we should probably do some further research, to find out."
Sirius nodded. "I think that would make sense, don't you?"
Suppressing a fresh burst of laughter, Remus stepped forward again. Sirius received the second kiss of his life, and he was of the opinion that that, at least, made a lot of sense indeed.
James and Peter stood at their abandoned spot in the park, ice creams dripping from their hands.
"Well, knock me down and call me Vera," James said, highly entertained. "I really didn't think that would actually work."
Sirius walked through the streets of London, hoping vaguely that he was heading in the right direction. Though it seemed unimportant really, the present paling in comparison to the events of the afternoon that were still playing through his mind. He felt-- indescribable, really. He ran through metaphors, deciding that 'on top of the world' roughly covered the happiness bursting within him now. Somewhere, there was the faint knowledge that he still had no idea, not really, quite what was happening nor what he was doing, but that didn't seem to matter. Whatever it was, whatever Remus was, he knew it was good.
And so it was that Sirius began to spend more time outside of the house than he ever had before. He grabbed hasty early breakfasts, professing an eagerness to really devote himself to his research, and then whenever the opportunity first presented itself he'd be racing out of the front door with scarcely a thought as to what would happen if he were discovered.
Some days they went on high adventures, Peter leading them through the sights of Muggle London where they negotiated the perils of the Underground and the terrors of traffic in order to find wonders beyond Sirius' previous imaginings. Whole shops that sold the records Remus and Peter liked so much, places devoted to strange boxes with moving pictures and even a grand old converted warehouse showing those moving pictures on an enormous scale, where men and women far bigger than their usual size striding about before them, telling grand stories of love and war and life beyond anything Sirius knew. And in the darkness, when the crowd was immersed in the tale and nobody else need know, Sirius felt a hand press into his own, and when he glanced over he could see Remus' smiling face illuminated in the projected light, a much better sight than anything Sirius saw before him.
On other days they'd stay closer to home, sitting out in Peter's garden, playing cards and forming preposterous scenes out of cloud shapes. Peter would tell stories about his neighbours, much embellished by James, and Sirius would reply with tales of his own, because he was beginning to see it, now, the oddities of the life that he knew, the society that was so far away from all that his friends knew as normality. And as he joked about it, about his family's predilections and beliefs, he felt he was beginning to see them in a new light, a true light.
"They really are mad, aren't they?" he asked one day, and Remus nodded.
Sirius suspected he'd have to think on that seriously at some point, to re-examine himself and what he thought that he knew. Yet it seemed a truth far less important than the freckles that were beginning to fan out across Remus' cheeks, the wicked glint in his eye that he obtained whenever they found themselves alone, and the slow, sunkissed warmth of his hands on Sirius' skin.
It was nothing but trouble waiting to happen, of that Remus was sure. But the terrible repercussions he was preparing himself for had failed to materialise. Sirius was a revelation, his thoughts and observations and impossibly clipped tones like a fragment of another time, all powered by a fierce intelligence that Remus wasn't even sure he noticed. And somehow, in amidst of all that was a boy, who was all heart and self-conscious wit, so it was really no surprise that Remus found himself falling, hard. The surprise came at the moment he realised this wasn't another one way street to disaster, but rather something returned, something he was allowed to have.
Something, too, that his friends teased him mercilessly about, but he'd want nothing else. Coupled with the simmering anxiety of saying nothing to his parents, the thrill of going out into the world with nothing but the occasional brush of fingertips to give away their secrets, and this was new and strange and entirely brilliant. This was the best of summers, far beyond what he could have dreamed up.
"This really won't end well, will it?" he asked James one day.
James' lack of reply was all he needed to know.
Two weeks since James had leaped out of the bushes and turned Sirius' whole summer upside down, he came home after a fantastic afternoon of playing something called 'football', where the aim from what Sirius could tell was to kick a small ball as hard as you could in a straight line. Apparently there was more to it than that, but Sirius hadn't really grasped the finer points. Covered in grass stains, he slipped into the hallway, planning on racing straight upstairs and changing, so it was something of a shock to nearly run bang smack into Regulus.
"Hello, Sirius," Regulus said, and there was an edge to his voice that made Sirius feel very uneasy.
"Oh, I was just out doing some errands," Sirius attempted, wishing he was a better liar.
Regulus opened the door of a small sitting room. "Why don't we step inside here," he said.
Ice-like dread pooling in his insides, Sirius followed him in.
Regulus sighed, passing a hand across his face. "You know, I really would be more than happy to watch your back for anything, something cool or daring, but this? Sirius. What have you been thinking? I know, I know, you've had a funny old time of it growing up here, but I never thought our parents had entirely addled your senses before this summer."
Sirius said nothing.
"James Potter, honestly," Regulus continued. "Actually, Potter would be one thing, by himself - he's an insufferable idiot in my opinion, but he'd probably tell you the same about me. But it's the company he keeps. Sirius, you can't."
Sirius shook his head. "It's not up to you what I do."
"Maybe not. But our whole family rests on your shoulders, when you get down to it. That terrifies me at the best of times, seeing as for all your books you don't have a clue about the real world, not really. But the wrong connections can ruin you, and you're the heir, and we can't let that happen."
"I'm not-- I'm not out to destroy our family or anything, come on."
"I'm sure Andromeda would have said that once, too." Sirius' eyes widened, and Regulus gaped. "Oh, Merlin, no. Tell me there's not a girl. You can't have gone and-- oh. Well that's just terrific."
"Actually," Sirius started, "it's not a--"
Regulus cut him off. "I don't want to hear about it, for all our sakes."
Sirius stared at his brother, not caring how desperate he seemed. "Reg, please."
Regulus' expression softened a little. "I am sorry, you know. I should have said something sooner before you got yourself so tangled up."
"Look," Sirius tried, "I'm going to Bellatrix's soon, right? And when I come home they'll all be gone. I'll probably--" his voice cracked a little, "I'll probably never see them again."
Regulus bit his lip. Eventually, he said, "All right, all right, just stop looking at me like that! This is an awful idea, but so be it. Guess I'll keep playing watchdog for a little longer, eh?"
Regulus sighed. "Well, this is what brothers are for, I suppose."
"What's wrong?" Remus asked the next day.
"Oh." Sirius smiled. "It doesn't matter. Family thing, very boring."
"They don't know, do they?"
"My brother does. But it's fine, he's not going to sell me out or anything."
"But?" Remus pressed.
"It's on the condition that I'm to go and stay with my cousin, Bellatrix."
"Bellatrix?" Remus fought back a wince. "Wow, I'd forgotten you were related. Sorry, no offence, but she scares the daylights out of me."
Sirius laughed. "Yeah, she can be a bit-- intense, I suppose."
"Err, to put it mildly." Remus sighed. "Go on then, how long have you got?"
Sirius looked at him miserably. "Under two weeks."
"I'm sorry, I know this is really rotten of me."
"No, no." Remus smiled with little humour. "I mean, it's not like we were ever going to, you know. We couldn't have. This is just one of those odd little things."
They stared at each other, and then Sirius was kissing Remus with more feeling than he'd ever known before. "I--" he gasped.
"Yeah," Remus said, clasping Sirius at the neck, his hands sending a shudder right through him.
"I really," Sirius began again, but Remus silenced him, placing a kiss at the base of his throat, his hands travelling down to the fastenings on his robes.
"Peter's going to kill me," Remus said, laughing, the last thing to be coherently spoken for some time.
Cygnus and Druella were over for dinner, and their company suddenly seemed excessively tedious to Sirius. Their concerns were so trivial, so wrapped up in themselves, and his parents agreed with them so much.
"Yet another Muggle-loving fool trying to bungle his way into office," Druella was saying, sipping at a glass of port. "Of course, it won't come to anything, but it is enormously infuriating."
"Surely some level of co-operation with the Muggle community is important, though, isn't it?" Sirius asked. "We have to co-exist, after all."
Druella spluttered with laughter, looking at Walburga. "Where have you been keeping this boy?"
Orion smiled a little anxiously. "Sirius here just likes to think the best of people, that's all."
"That's just it," Sirius continued, "they're people too, so what if they go about their affairs differently from us? I don't see why everyone makes such a fuss all the time."
Silence fell around the room, and Regulus kicked Sirius under the table, hard.
"You know," Druella muttered to Cygnus, "it's just as well Bella will be taking him under her wing so soon. If you ask me, he's getting much too wayward. Always said Orion let the kid have far too much free thinking."
Sirius kept his mouth shut. There was something close to anger bubbling in him now, and it scared him. This had never been part of the plan, to find himself so at odds with his own family. Differences of opinion shouldn't matter this much, he tried to tell himself. And he had duties and responsibilities in any case, chief among which was to put the interests of his family far above his own.
Regulus didn't speak to him for the rest of the night, only shooting him one cold glance as he traipsed up to bed. Sirius grimaced, but decided that if Regulus were going to tell their parents he'd have the decency to give a warning first. Soon enough, Sirius had put the whole evening out of his mind in any case, already looking forward to the days to come.
Time sped up enormously. Heady, inexorable, the imminent future set against the rush of the present. They raced through London, the four of them, careless of everything but each summer's day, and Remus and Sirius didn't, didn't, didn't think about how soon this would all be over.
When the final moment came, it found them in the hallway of Peter's house. Sirius said his goodbyes, his thank yous, and with a nod and a smile James and Peter slipped away.
Sirius looked at Remus, suddenly lost for words.
"There's no way you can get out of it?" Remus asked.
"Either I go willingly, or I refuse and they drag them along anyway. Whatever I do, I go."
"But, your cousin, she sounds--"
"I know. She is."
Remus gripped onto his wrist, and Sirius shivered at the contact. "I want you to stay," Remus said, not quite looking at him.
"I--" Sirius started miserably, then fell silent. He stepped forward, buried his face in Remus' neck, not trusting himself to speak. The whole world seemed to narrow down to this, the two of them standing there, pressed together, no sound but their ragged breathing. Sirius was aware of nothing but Remus' hands on his shoulders and the stinging knowledge that in a moment he'd have to let go for the last time.
"Hey," Remus said gently, placing his hands against Sirius' face, bringing him upright again, meeting him with a kiss. Sirius felt himself falling into it, trying to commit the corners of Remus' smile to everlasting memory, the warm heat of his mouth that still seemed so new and wonderful. Another day, and time might have stood still, but Sirius could think of nothing but the moments ticking away.
He pulled back with more reluctance than he'd ever known. "I'm sorry," was all he could manage to say. He turned to go, gathering up his cloak and walked towards the door, not looking back.
He turned. The flush on Remus' cheeks was rapidly fading, his eyes wide open, and Sirius nearly forgot to breathe as he looked at him.
"What happens now?"
Sirius thought of Peter's terrible jokes and James' seething brain, the simple happiness of the summer evenings spent in this house. He thought about Remus, his sarcastic laugh and the way he was angles and bones that shouldn't fit together yet did, perfectly. He thought about how this is how it should always have been, because he should have gone to school, should not have been denied this friendship, this love. He thought about his own heart, how it seemed to be cracking right open even as he stood there. And he thought about Bellatrix and her politics, his parents and their plans for him, the cavernous house he barely left and the life of the heir that always stretched out before him.
"What happens to you now?" Remus asked again.
"I don't know," Sirius whispered, then he opened the front door and left.
end of part one.