It surprised him that the Halloween Dance hadn't ended, that the world hadn't stopped to acknowledge the events in Lex's room. But as Sirius emerged from the base of Slytherin Tower, music still spilled from the Great Hall, a vibrating thump that he felt in the souls of his feet.
His thigh ached as he walked up Gryffindor Tower, and a spot of blood had leaked through his robes, leaving a round stain that wouldn't come off even when he rubbed it with a trembling finger. Sore and used inside and out, skinned and gutted, Sirius went into the Prefect's bathroom on the fifth floor, where he was violently sick, his stomach heaving even when emptied.
Finally, he staggered to the sink, splashing water on his face over and over until he stood in a pool of it, his hair dripping in his eyes, his clothes sopping. Bending under the tap, he drank, rinsing his mouth, spitting out the cold water, a ritual he performed a dozen times, followed by three Abluere spells. Still unclean, he filled the huge marble pool, turning on all the jets, then stripped and sank in despite the scalding heat.
The water burned his most used places, his arse, his wrists, his thigh, his nipple where Lionel had twisted it. He relished the pain, diving under to lie on the tiled floor until his lungs screamed. When he burst to the surface, the blonde mermaid in the gold-framed picture stared at him in dismay, as though he was some monstrous creature from the bottom of the sea, then hid behind a rock, only the tip of her green tail still visible.
Sirius swam after that, did laps the length of the pool, touching one end before kicking off back to the other. He swam until his body refused to go on, his muscles past their limit, his heart ready to explode, then dressed without bothering to towel dry, his costume itchy against his skin. He left his crown on the bathroom floor.
Half-crawling, he mounted the remaining steps to the dormitory. The door stood partly open, and he waited there, praying that Remus and James were asleep or still at the party, so he could escape under the covers. But when he stepped inside, Remus and James sat together on the edge of Remus' bed, their shoulders touching. Waiting for him. They looked unfamiliar, their features somehow changed, like other people now lived inside their skin.
"The king returns," James said. "Very considerate of you not to bring Lex back here. Or is he planning to stop by later for a midnight shag?"
"Can this wait until tomorrow? I'm not up for it."
James rolled his eyes. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Your Majesty. Are our lives interfering with your royal pleasure? Please don't let us stop you. Not that you give a bloody fuck what we think. You know, I'm used to being treated like shit by you, second-class all the way. Sure, it hurt like hell when you let Lex..." He swallowed, drumming his fingers on his thighs. "...when you let Lex fuck you, when you're supposed to hate him, and not me. But that it was him, when you know how Remus feels....You've always been a goddamn selfish prick, but that, that was low even for you."
"It wasn't what it looked like."
"He had his bloody cock up your arse! What else could it be?"
"Look, I'm sorry. I'm sorry about everything."
"Well, that just makes everything better," James snapped.
Sirius took a step closer. "Remus, are you going to say anything?"
"What do you want me to say? Explain to you how I feel? If you cared at all, you wouldn't have...done what you did. I may as well rail at the moon." Remus spoke very calmly, not raising his voice, just stared at Sirius with shuttered eyes. "I've always looked up to you, Sirius, even when you've done things I didn't like or approve of, because you're the strongest person I know. But you're also the most selfish, and tonight you showed me that no one really matters in your kingdom except you."
"Things will seem better in the morning," Sirius said desperately. "You'll see. We'll just go on as usual. Lex is leaving and everything will be back to normal."
"Lex is leaving?"
"I...His father came and...Look, I'll go, too. It's obvious that I'm only buggering things up there."
"Good," James said. "You should go. No one wants you here, Sirius. To quote you: ‘Just bugger the hell off.'"
Remus nodded, just a small jerk of his head. "I agree with James. It's a good idea: leave Hogwarts before you cause any more damage. It's the least you can do."
Sirius stood frozen, like he'd become one of the statues in the hall, his limbs too heavy to move, although deep inside there were fissures.
"What are you waiting for?" James got to his feet, his hands out like he intended to shove Sirius through the doorway. "Get out of here. Go fuck yourself, because no one else wants you."
Without being aware of it, Sirius backed from the room. He didn't know what else to say or do, not when the truth was just as messy and ugly as the lies. Remus and James were wrong, and they were right, and he didn't know what to think anymore.
He fell once on the stairs, opening the puncture wound in his thigh, which oozed more drops of blood. Students passed him, staring curiously, probably thinking he was drunk or pulling some stunt, and gave him a wide berth. In the Great Hall, he slipped between them, bumping shoulders and elbows in his haste to reach the cluster of professors in the corner.
"Professor Dumbledore. Where's Professor Dumbledore?" he asked McGonagall.
"In his office, but--"
With his thoughts too loud, Sirius ran, not stopping until he saw the ugly gargoyle that marked the entrance to Dumbledore's office. "Sherbet raspberry," he said, and the gargoyle jumped from his path. With a groan, the walls parted, revealing a spiral staircase. He ran up that too, although the magical stairs already moved him forward, and he reached the door with his head spinning, barely able to see the knocker.
When he went to tap it, the door opened, and Dumbledore stood there, dressed in his usual robes and long purple cloak.
"Mr. Black. Come in."
The chaos of the circular room, with its beeping and gyrating devices, its riotous stacks of scrolls and books, its shelves sagging with brimming jars and overflowing boxes, its squawking phoenix and its chittering...whatever those furry blue things were, only made his head hurt worse, and Sirius closed his eyes. He felt Dumbledore's hand close over his bruised wrist, then gently lead him through the wilderness to a chair.
Sinking into it, Sirius counted to ten before opening his eyes. "I have to leave Hogwarts. Tonight. I know that Filch has hidden my motorbike somewhere, and I want it back. Please."
"That might be for the best," Dumbledore said gently, as he sat nearby in a claw-footed armchair.
Did no one want him here? "Okay, then."
"Sometimes, students are here for so long that they go a little school-blind. They can't anything beyond the walls of Hogwarts. Sometimes they need this safety to grow; other times it leads to a more permanent blindness." Dumbledore sighed, staring up at the star-covered ceiling. "You may return in the spring to write your NEWTs; you're already ahead in most of your classes, and I can send along the books you'll need."
"I don't think that I can ever come back. My friends hate me. It makes them sick to look at me."
Dumbledore smiled and shook his head. "If you'll permit me, I hear so much through these walls, hollow spots everywhere, not always enough, but...Your friends don't hate you. You've hurt them terribly, partly for a good cause, partly not, and it always hurts worse when love is involved, but it's the love in the end that will allow them to forgive you."
It sounded like the lyrics from one of Lily's Muggle songs. Besides, what did Dumbledore know about being seventeen? Sirius peered at the folds and crevices of Dumbledore's face, the withered skin of his hands. Maybe when the world was young, but who could remember anything from an age ago? "They don't love me," Sirius said, "and they won't ever forgive me. They want to hang me by my toes and beat me with Quidditch brooms."
"For now. But now isn't forever."
"Feels like it."
"Go to your flat in London, Sirius. Stay there, lick your wounds. See the world beyond the school." Dumbledore rose to his feet, and Sirius slowly joined him.
"Did you know that Lex's father was a Death Eater? And so are Lestrange and Macnair?"
"Lestrange and Macnair work for their fathers first, and here I can keep an eye on them. As for the elder Mr. Luthor, he's out of my reach right now. But I assure you, Sirius," he said, leaning forward, something black and very ancient appearing behind his eyes, "that he'll live to regret his actions." Then it vanished, leaving Dumbledore kind and benign once more. "Your motorbike will be waiting for you on the lawn. Good luck, Mr. Black. Look to your future. And when you're ready, please contact me."
"Ready for what?"
"Ah," Dumbledore said with a smile, "part of being ready is knowing what you're ready for." With that obscure advice, he clapped Sirius on the back, shook his hand vigorously, and ushered him from his office.
Alphard was indeed waiting for him on the lawn, chrome shining under the stars, all traces of sheep magically removed, his helmet resting on the seat. Sirius patted the bike's side, donned the helmet, then climbed on, but when the engine roared to life he stayed in place, staring up at the castle, at Gryffindor Tower, the very top, where the candles lit the windows.
No one looked out, though he waited for awhile.
"Well, goodbye, then," Sirius said, and soared into the night.
Sirius slept through the first half of November.
Piled under mildewed blankets, the television chattering in the front room, the wind barking outside, he woke only to conjure toast and cheese or to use the toilet. There were crumbs everywhere, under the sheets and on the wooden floor beside the bed; at night mice came scurrying from unseen holes in the wall to nibble at them. He supposed he should do something about them, crumbs and mice, but fell back asleep too quickly each time.
While his dreams were mostly hollow, like living inside a black egg, sometimes he shouted himself into consciousness, the sheets shrouding him, clammy with sweat. He hung a towel over the bathroom mirror because he couldn't stand to see himself, his sickly white skin under the growth of beard, his hair lank and too long. His pyjama bottoms didn't fit anymore, so he found a piece of string, tying it around his waist to keep them up.
One morning, or maybe night, since the shades were drawn against the sun, a rhythmic tapping jarred him awake. At first he thought it was claws on the floor, and thought, ‘Remus,' but no one was there. The tapping continued, an insistent click-click-click, so wrapped in a blanket he went into the bathroom to check the faucet. Dry.
It came from the front room, he decided, and went in there, the floor icy under his feet. He shut off the television, then listened carefully. Above the desk he never used was a window that when the curtains weren't drawn looked out over a park, a small one with a couple of mangy trees and a weather-worn bench. The sound emanated from this window.
When Sirius wrenched aside the red curtains, dust billowed up, thick and grey as fur, and he choked, squeezing his eyes shut against the grit and the thin sharp blast of late-autumn sun. Before this, he had an impression of a round white face with enormous yellow eyes, and when he looked properly, unsure if this wasn't a dream, an owl staring reproachfully at him from the ledge, a letter in her claws while she thunked the glass with her beak.
It was Mouse, Peter's owl, his first visitor since elves had delivered his trunk, and Sirius unlatched the window, throwing it up. As the air blew right through him, Mouse dropped the letter, accepted a conjured mouse, then flew off, landing in the branch of the tallest of the park trees for her pre-departure snack.
"Thanks," he called, then shut the window.
The sofa was lumpy but close, and he dropped onto it, holding the letter on his knees. Definitely from Peter: he recognized the loopy scrawl, and definitely for him, since the outside of the scroll read, "For Mr. Sirius Black, Esq." A rush of affection for his old friend struck him, made his eyes sting, and he gave the scroll a squeeze.
I still can't believe you're gone. I mean, I can, because the place feels wrong and empty without you, but I keep expecting you to pop around the corner. Only you don't.
I'm not the only one. James and Remus -- is it all right if I talk about them? James mostly filled me in on the details although I think he kept one or two to himself -- didn't realize you'd actually gone for good. They thought you'd just gone for a sulk, then James was all, ‘I'm glad he's gone,' but went and locked himself in the toilet for an hour.
Remus doesn't say much of anything. Several of the first-years keep mistaking him for a ghost, and I don't blame them; he looks like someone drained all his blood. It's doubly hard for him, with Lex gone too, but while I know that he and Lex were special friends, I think he misses you more. Only don't tell him I said that because he'd turn me into something squishy.
I don't mean to upset you, but everyone's desperately unhappy and I wish you'd come back.
P.S. The house-elves have banned me from the kitchen after a rather disastrous attempt to make creme brulee. Seems I took the ‘brulee' part too literally.
The ink was bleeding, and his hands shook so much that the letter fell to the floor. He wiped his cheeks furiously with the edge of the blanket, then curled up. With Mouse still outside, he could send a letter back, but what would it say? ‘Dear Peter, I miss you all so much it hurts to be awake'? If only it wasn't so complicated, this giant knot of missteps and mistakes.
The dust had settled too deeply in his lungs, so he conjured a cup of tea, hot enough that it burned his fingers and his tongue, but the warmth down his throat, in his belly, made his chest ache a little less. Suddenly famished, he conjured a plate a sandwich, slabs of ham and cheese, wolfing it down. The effort exhausted him, and he scooped up the scroll, hugging it to his chest as he dropped back to sleep.
The restaurant had blue walls, tiny round tables painted black, a vase with a fake flower in each. A blackboard loomed behind the bar, listing food and prices in pink and blue chalk, bordered in a tangle of well-drawn roses. A couple of Muggles sat at tables around him, packages upright at their feet like plastic pets, eating crusty sandwiches filled with Brie, grilled tuna steaks with carrots, paying him no mind as usual, except one girl who smiled with shiny pink lips while her boyfriend studied the menu. Sirius smiled back, then looked out the window.
Swirls of snow this Christmas eve, and the Muggles walked with their heads tucked down like sleepy swans, clutching packages and kicking up brown slush. A trio of them stood huddled on the corner, their noses red, mufflers wrapped around their necks, mouths open in song; people passing by chucked silver coins in the pot before them, the same silver coins that Sirius had in his own pocket after an exchange of a few pieces of gold at Gringotts.
When he first headed into the Muggle world, he'd thought them mental, the upkeep of their lives requiring so much time and effort. Wizards would simply enchant the pot and have it do the singing in the cold, while they apparated back to their warm dens, conjuring a meal and a fire with the flick of a wand. None of this standing and waiting, this endless waiting, yet they didn't seem to mind, not the singers waiting for coins, not the people in the restaurant, not the pedestrians hurrying along the snowy streets; they couldn't even fly without a good deal of trouble and noise.
Yet, the more they did, the happier they became; the least content Muggles were always those who couldn't do anything, like the gnomish old man in the threadbare coat who sometimes slept on the park bench, drinking from a bottle in a paper sac. Even Rita, the waitress who always served him, who worked on her feet all day and said that she longed for her days off, admitted that those days never lived up to their promise, dull without the bustle and contact of her job.
The more Muggles moved, the more they saw, their universe expanding forever. The world of wizard folk, on the other hand, kept shrinking: you wanted to learn as many spell as possible so you'd have to do that much less, and the less you did, the less you saw; how could you care very deeply about anything if you could gain it, gain anything, without any effort?
It was all very curious, and Sirius had found himself avoiding magic, always so ridiculously easy for him, in place of Muggle hard work. He'd taken to walking everywhere, poking around green-walled hospitals and dim, dirty police stations, solemn grey churches and loud neon cabarets. He saw people dying and being born, getting married and getting off, blood, sweat, tears and come, the world not just unfolding but exploding before him. Sleep lost its appeal, an obstacle now to experience, and he practised it as little as he practised magic, barely at all.
He kept his eyes open all the time, with years lost sleeping at Hogwarts, which now seemed in memory like a great dark cave that had swallowed him whole. The best part of school had been his friends, and he missed them always, a permanent dull throb like a headache that never quite broke, never quite vanished. He wanted to show Peter the gleaming white ovens of the cooking school, James the grassy expanse of football fields, and Remus...
He wanted to show it all to Remus. It occurred to him yesterday as he stood in Smithfield Market watching a man with thin brown lips blow glasses into colourful shapes, that he was in love with Remus, would always be in love with Remus, because, in addition to the expected reasons of brains and a sense of humour, those fine grey eyes and the soft brown hair, Remus required effort and offered the greatest reward.
Remus lived between madness and rationality, between the moon and the sun; he could help a broken-fingered Bowtruckle one day, and rip your throat out the next. Until yesterday, Sirius had always thought, when he thought of it consciously at all, that he loved simply because Remus was good, because Remus was kind; now he knew that he loved as much the parts of Remus that were neither. Remus was like the Muggle world itself: a carnival behind the walls of a monastery.
The world around him became one worth saving, and when the Wizarding Wireless Network brought news of Voldemort's growing power, Sirius knew he was ready. He wrote Dumbledore and offered his services, and Dumbledore, delighted in his mad wizard way, accepted them, sending Sirius messages that extolled the virtues of various obscure parts of London where a bored seeming-Muggle might overhear all sorts of things and share them with his old headmaster.
A bowl of calamari salad interrupted him, and he turned from the restaurant window.
"Won't be much of a Christmas for you, will it, love?" Rita asked. She had yellow hair, a face like an Alsatian, and a lot of patience for ex-school boys with many questions about the Muggle world.
"I'll be all right. I'm off to Hyde Park in the morning for the race in the Serpentine, then to Westminster Abbey for carols at noon, then back home. I've bought one of those cook books, and I'm going to try my hand at it. After that, I thought I'd write some letters that I've been putting off."
"Including one to that special friend of yours?"
Rita's nephew also had special male friends; she never used the word ‘queer,' which is what he gathered the Muggles called boys like him, but she always gave him a friendly wink when asking about Remus.
"His will be the hardest."
He planned out those letters on the walk back to his flat, enjoying the fat snowflakes that the wind blew straight onto his eyes. Peter first, because he was the easiest. No, last, for that very reason. Remus first. An apology, then an explanation why Remus was the last person he ever wanted to hurt. He rehearsed words, muttering them aloud, rejecting most, and hadn't advanced much beyond ‘Dear Remus' by the time he'd arrived home. Mouse was waiting impatiently on the window ledge, tapping madly, and the letter she carried from Peter simplified the words he needed for both Remus and James:
Don't know how to put the latest news, so I'll just plunge in with it. First: James and Lily are keeping company, as my gran would say. The snogging kind of company. She's even gone with him to his parents' house for the holidays. I'm sorry. If it helps, and it probably won't, James has stopped locking himself in the toilet and is smiling again, though not as much as Lily. Also, more good/bad tidings. Lex came back. He didn't stay long, but he spent the entire time with Remus. Don't know what they said, but when they finally came downstairs Remus looked...Well, happy. Sorry again.
Seems rather pointless to wish you a happy Christmas, but I do.
Sirius sat on the lumpy sofa, water puddling at his feet as the snow died, the muffler still wrapped around his mouth, until the candle sputtered and went out. They deserved happiness and it was grotesque, grotesque as Lionel Luthor, to wish them anything but that, so he tried as hard as he could.
He was still trying in Hyde Park the next morning, watching a group of men hack a path through the ice on the river before a dozen swimmers jumped in for the race, their shouts blending with the crowd's roar. The cold bit through his coat, numbed his toes and fingers, yet these mad Muggles were throwing themselves into the frozen Serpentine, teeth chattering and their skin turning blue as the Christmas sky.
There was something undeniably pure about their actions, the sheer mental Kamikaze bravery of it. To honour this, Sirius decided that tomorrow he'd go to see James.
The Potters lived in a small village not far from York, the kind with one of everything, and not much else: a pub, a church, a circle of grey houses, and a ruined castle in the backyard. Battles had been fought and won, fought and lost, and now sheep grazed where bodies had lain, at least when the world wasn't blanketed in snow.
Muggles and wizards lived side by side, and nobody cared much about the differences, though Anne Potter sometimes had dreams that came true, so people listened twice when she spoke. Henry Potter was a Muggle from a long line of Muggles, though a Scottish ancestor had been burnt at the stake during the Persecutions for her skill with herbs, while he swore he'd once levitated a ditched cow as a child. He deferred to his wife in everything, and claimed that the third happiest day in his life was the one where he'd walked that cow and its owner, a skinny red-haired girl, back to her farm, with the second the day he married her, and the third the day she gave him a son.
Their stone cottage squatted within view of the Nidd, with fat little chaffinches muttering "pink, pink" in the hedgerows. Mr. Potter looked not unlike a chaffinch, with his grey head, round belly, and fondness for brightly-coloured clothes. Mrs. Potter was still skinny, but her hair was mostly white with only a few splashes of faded red at the temples. They'd been very kind to Sirius when he stayed with them last summer, even when Mrs. Potter had asked him to leave.
Today, though, when Anne Potter opened her front door, her smile tiptoed away. "Sirius. I'm sorry, but James isn't here right now." As though he always came to call. "He's skating with Lily. Lovely girl. He's very fond of her, and she adores him." Fear gave her skin a papery look, white with blue lines under the skin. "Perhaps you could come back another time."
"Can I wait, please? I need to speak to him. It's not what you...Lily's a great girl. Perfect for James. I wouldn't let anything...I only want him to know that."
"I'll tell him for you. Nice of you to call."
When she began to edge the door shut, he stopped it with his foot. "I'd prefer to tell him myself."
"I think it would be best if you left. James' future is with Lily, and he's only starting to accept this. I wouldn't want anything to upset that. Do you understand?"
"I do. That's why I need to speak with him. Please."
She hesitated, then stepped aside, allowing him to pass, a maternal sentry. "Perhaps you're right. Perhaps this is what he needs. But if you hurt him..."
"I'll turn myself into a toad, and you can throw me in the river."
He pulled off his boots while she hung his coat, then followed her into the sitting room where a fire blazed in the hearth, casting an orange light on the witch-balls that hung from the tree while a ginger cat snored nearby. Stockings still hung from the mantle, empty now, but apart from the Christmas additions, the room looked the same: battered with age, but immaculate, no dust even under the late-afternoon sun that filtered through the window. Generations of Potters smiled at him from silver frames cluttering the small round table, including a new one that showed James and Lily, their hands clasped as they stood before the cottage.
While Sirius took a seat in a weary blue armchair beside the table, Mrs. Potter offered to make tea while he waited. When she'd gone, he picked up the photograph, and was still studying it when the front door burst open.
"Mum! Tea! We're famished and freezing!"
"Isn't he the rudest boy, Mrs. Potter? So well brought-up, but when he's hungry..."
Then dead silence.
A low rumble of voices soon followed, a high-pitched, "He's got some nerve," from Lily, footsteps after, a door shutting. Sirius replaced the photograph just as James entered the room and got to his feet.
"I've told my mum for ages to get rid of that damn cat. It drags in the most frightful things. Gutted mice, wing-gnawed birds, former friends..." He didn't sit, just stood in the doorway, his nose still rosy from the cold. "Lily has this ridiculous idea that you're here to take me away from her. Mum had a hard time convincing her otherwise."
"Your mum's right."
"It's not as if I'd go," James said.
"Of course not. I know you and Lily are together now. I'm glad you are. I wanted to tell you that."
"Really? Sure you don't want to shag Lily while I'm looking the other way? Not that she'd let you near her. She's safe anyway, though, isn't she? It's not like she and Remus were ever close."
"You weren't my best mate through default, James. Mayhem and mischief in every corner. No one can make me laugh like you do. No one's more fun."
"It's just not enough."
"It's not a matter of enough or not enough. It's not like I love you less than Remus. It's just .... different. And that difference makes me do stupid things. I'm sorry for that."
"I don't know," James said, throwing himself on the sofa. "Maybe I'm the stupid one. For thinking things would change when I knew better. It's just that we did have so much fun, whatever we were doing. Doesn't seem fair. Day's night and night's day."
"But you have Lily now." He dropped back into the armchair. "Great girl."
"Right. I have Lily now." James didn't look at him, staring into the fire. "She loves me."
"And you love her."
"Who wouldn't? She's good for me. We have a great time together. She's pretty and smart and a good sport about everything. Well, everything but you."
When James glanced up, his face was written with a truth that Sirius had hoped would be gone. ... this sick, mad, ugly, beautiful thing that will never ever go away... "I'm sorry," he said. "I wish--"
"We're going to be married," James said defiantly. "Lily and I. Mom's not well and has been having crazy dreams, and it's not like I haven't known Lily for ages. So we're doing it in the spring when we're both eighteen. Unless anyone objects."
"Congratulations. I mean that. You'll be happy with her, with Lily and her celery stalk. She'll--"
"Can't you pretend to be the slightest bit jealous?"
"I am jealous." And he was, of both of them for what they'd have, a normal, sane, unbrutal life. "Lily's lucky to have you, James. Anyone would be."
"Anyone except you."
"Even me. Especially me." Sirius didn't want to meet James' eyes, but he owed him. "You know it's better this way."
"Less like a permanent Quidditch match against the world's roughest team, at least. Poor Moony. He doesn't know what he's in for with you. You'll burst his logical brain."
"Remus and I aren't...Lex is back. Or was back. He and Remus are back together. "
"Won't last. Don't know how you missed it, Sirius, how he feels about you. Always thought I'd be the last one to point this out, but he's completely mad for you. Always has been. Certifiably mad. You and the moon." When Sirius opened his mouth to protest, James cut him off. "Don't bring up his refusal to shag you. He'll have some perfectly logical-to-him, insane-to-everyone-else reason for not doing it, but it won't be because he's not desperate for it. Might even be because he's desperate for it. Moony's always liked his control. Really, Sirius, don't look so happy or I may have to punch you, and you know I could kick your sorry Pureblood arse."
"In your dreams, Potter." He smiled, and James smiled back, and maybe everything would be all right. "I'm working for Dumbledore now. Spying, you could say. Because You-Know-Who's becoming stronger."
"Lucky bastard. You won't believe this, but Mum has this mental idea that Lily and I will have a son who'll defeat Voldemort. I think she just says it so I won't run off and get myself killed. Or worse." He winked at him. "Can you imagine me with a son?"
"You could teach him Quidditch. And the fastest way to reach Honeydukes."
"You could show him how to ride a motorbike. And that spell where it looks like you're sitting in detention but you're really off feeding foetor newts to Filch's cat--"
"And you could show him how to sneak into the girls' dormitory--"
"I've made tea," Lily said, her voice brittle as the cups on the tray in her hands. She placed it on the table before James, then sat next to him. "Am not interrupting anything, am I?"
"We were just talking about your son," Sirius told her. "The son you'll have with James."
"Really." James took her hand.
"You mean I won't have to turn Sirius into a worm and feed him to the chaffinches?" The wobble was leaving her voice. "Your mum gave me the recipe for a potion, just in case."
Sirius, who'd helped himself to tea, eyed the cup suspiciously, then put it back down. "No need for drastic measures. James is all yours, Evans--his choice."
"Well, that's a relief," she said. "I'm not even sure chaffinches eat worms, and then what would I have done with you?"
James pulled her closer so that they looked already married, a proper couple with a guest for tea. "Remus would've looked after him. He's always been good with defenceless creatures."
"He'd have to be with you two for mates." She helped herself to a biscuit from the tray, and fed one to James. "Will you be coming to the wedding, Sirius?"
"Of course." He noticed that she left the tea alone. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Good, because James is in need of a best man. There's always Remus or Peter, but..."
"Are you sure?" Sirius looked between them both.
"Anything to keep James happy. It's not like you two aren't best mates, right? You can bring Remus, Sirius; he'll make sure to keep you out of trouble."
"Don't know about that, Lily. Remus and I..."
"The really good-looking ones are always a bit thick, aren't they?" Lily shook her head.
James nudged her with his shoulder. "Hey! Where does that leave me?"
"You're the exception, of course," she said. "Think I'd lavish my affection on just anyone? And, Sirius, while part of me thinks you deserve to crawl in the mud hiding from chaffinches, you should know that Remus is annoyingly mad for you."
"Not sure about that. There's Lex, and I've been such an idiot, and--"
Lily threw a biscuit at him, startling the cat. "Trust me. I recognize the symptoms in others."
No one spoke, then James kissed her pale cheek. "Even if there weren't already a dozen reasons to love you, your immunity to the Black charm would convince me."
"How could it work with you around, you silly beautiful daft boy?" She turned her face up to him, her eyes shining like the witch-balls on the tree.
Sirius left them there, kissing on the sofa.
The sky had turned thick with snow when Sirius reached London, muting sound and dimming the Christmas lights that still hung in shop windows. Landing on the roof to park his bike in a secret shed, he surveyed the city, with its tall spires and glass towers, its arched bridges and marble monuments, and felt more alone than he ever had in his life.
The Chinese State Circus was at Queen Elizabeth Hall, acrobats, jugglers and pole-vaulters performing amazing feats without the benefit of magic, a jazz band playing at Bird's, while a new American film had opened on Christmas Day at the local cinema. So much to do, but with cold seeped under his skin Sirius chose instead to head into his flat.
To break the dark, he lit candles and started a fire, then fixed a cup of tea, reclining on the sofa with a book on London Muggle history. It might've been an interesting text (the shopkeeper at Flourish and Blotts had been quite keen on it), but he couldn't tell: the Normans kept invading the country since he never turned the page. Food might help. He could pop round to The Caprice, see how Rita had spent her Christmas, dig into some fishcakes and rocket--
Three quick taps.
Not the window, but the door. The door with a spell on it,
discernible only to a wizard. Had to be a polite wizard, too,
since if he could spot the door he could also open it. Holy
Merlin's balls. Sirius got up, bit his nail, then unlocked
"You bloody idiot," Remus said, and punched him on the jaw.
The blow sent him flying back, landing with a bone-cracking thud on the floor. He lay there dazed, then Remus was at his side, cradling his head. "Ow." Which was a slight exaggeration, but the position was too good not to milk the pain.
"I'm sorry, Sirius. I am. But you're the most maddening person in the whole world. If a person spent his entire life from birth to death dedicated to being maddening, if he went to an institute of Higher Maddening, then taught there for forty years, he wouldn't be as maddening as you are." He stroked Sirius' hair, snowflakes melting in his own, then pushed him off his lap, and Sirius cracked his skull again. "I could kill you."
"I'm glad you're here."
"You stupid, bloody idiot. Lex told me everything. You..." Another shove, and Remus stalked to the window, leaving a wet trail. "Stay where you are. I don't want you within murdering distance." He tore off his coat, throwing it across a chair, then kicked off his boots. "I'm so bloody mad and hot and I hate you right now."
"You look good, Moony. A bit mental, but good."
"Of course I look mental. You've made me that way. Holy Merlin, Sirius, don't you realize that Lionel Luthor could've killed you?"
"I thought you wanted me dead."
"I've avoided coming here for a couple of days, hoping I'd be calm enough to talk rationally to you, but that's clearly impossible. You let us all think the worst of you, which we all did, because so often that's the only part you let us see--"
"I missed you, Moony. You can't imagine how much."
"Shut up. I'm not done being angry with you. Why didn't you tell me the real reason you slept with Lex? To protect me? I'm not a little girl, for Merlin's sake."
"Definitely not a little girl." He eyed Remus' wide mouth, his chest, his thighs, and his hand moved.
"Would you not look at me like that? I'm trying to yell at you."
"I don't want to yell. You drive me to it."
"James and Lily are getting married."
"So that's why you're sitting here alone and reading a book? You're having a breakdown?"
"Lex didn't tell you everything, then. Not about my being in love with you, I mean."
"He mentioned it, but I didn't believe him, which made him quite angry, actually. Said that I was buggering up his whole penance plan, and it was the last time he intended to do any good--"
"Why are you here, Moony?"
"Because we never talk. Not about anything proper."
"We can make it improper, if that will help."
"Everything is improper about you, Sirius. You're the most improper person I've ever met."
"I thought I was the most maddening."
"That, too. I'd love few things more than to put you out of my mind for good."
"Why don't you?"
"Because I can't! I've tried and tried, and you're like this sickness, like my stupid werewolf madness that won't ever go away. You're like the moon."
"You're not going to hit me again, are you?" Sirius touched his tender jaw.
"No. I'm sorry. That was unforgivable. It's precisely why you and I should never...Why we never..."
"Why you turned me down?"
Remus nodded. "You think I'm this kind, gentle person, but when you're close, I want...I want to throw you down and take you. Hard. I'm scared I'll hurt you if I give in to it. What are you doing?"
"Just moving closer. Floor's too cold." He planted himself beside Remus, placing one arm behind him on the sofa.
"Did you not hear what I said? I'm not joking, Sirius. I might hurt you."
"I'm willing to risk it. It's not like I've never seen you out of control, Moony. Just not this way. And I want to see it this way."
"You don't understand. Once or twice won't be enough. If we start something, I'll want you all the time."
"All of this talk that's supposed to put me off? Is having the opposite effect. And you know what? I think you're hoping for that."
"I give up," Remus said.
Sirius found himself on his back as Remus kissed him, wild as he'd threatened, grinding and growling, already hard as he pushed his tongue deep. It was so intense, zero to near-orgasm in an instant, that Sirius didn't know what to do, couldn't think ahead to the next move. Nothing to do but hold on and let it happen. He was aware only of fragments, like the shaggy tangle of Remus' hair, the smooth wetness of his tongue, the press of his stiff cock. Then it was just waves and thrusts and the scrape of the sofa's legs as Remus rubbed against him, as he rubbed against Remus.
He'd never been this hard, this desperate, because it was Remus, truly Remus this time, and Remus was trying to bore into him, fuck him into the couch with his tongue, his cock rigid against Sirius'. It was too intense to last, too good, and Sirius came right before Remus did, record time, gasping and clawing at Remus' back, trying to drag himself back to reality for the look on Remus' face, and caught the flash of grey as Remus opened his eyes -- startled, wolfish -- before shutting them tightly.
"Hope you weren't expecting finesse," Remus said, panting, his cheek against Sirius'. "Maybe in a few years. Told you that you make me crazy."
"Idiot." Sirius kissed the tip of his nose. "It's the who, not the how. Not like I come at breakneck speed for just anyone."
"I liked that. I liked how you said my name at the end, too. I liked that a lot."
"I said your name?"
"That's even better, that you didn't know. What're you doing?"
Another need, beyond words, to get closer to Remus, learn things about him that no one else would ever know again. When Remus reclined against the back of the sofa, his hair branched, his lips pink and a little swollen, Sirius knelt between his legs and unfastened Remus' trousers, his mouth already dry as he licked his lips.
"I appreciate the effort, Sirius," Remus told him gently, "but I can't get hard again this quickly, not even for you."
"I know." He tugged down Remus' trousers, then his pants, exposing his soft, damp cock. "I want to taste you while you're too relaxed to rush me, and I'm relaxed enough to pay attention."
Spent, Remus' cock fit easily into his mouth, and Sirius licked and sucked it clean, his mind empty from the taste of Remus, then explored it with his tongue, tracing every curve. Remus watched without blinking, sometimes brushing Sirius' hair from his eyes or stroking his cheek.
"I hurt," Remus said suddenly. "Not because of what you're doing. That's brilliant, seeing you with my cock in your mouth. It's like a dream, but better. Much better. I just thought that being with you would stop the hurting, but it's still there. Just looking at you hurts."
Sirius kissed the head of Remus' cock, his balls, the insides of his thighs, then tucked him away before moving up to kiss Remus' mouth. "I think it's supposed to hurt. So we'll take it seriously. Moony?"
"Can't think when you're kissing me."
"You're the one who said we didn't talk. Remember when we did that Parvus Memento spell in Farrago's class? What memory did you use? If it was about Lex, feel free to ignore the question."
"It was the day you came to me and told me you'd figured out the Animagus spell. You were so excited, and I knew it wasn't just because you'd proved yet again how clever you were, although that was part of it." Remus grinned and Sirius bit the lobe of his ear. "It was this amazing gift that you'd made just for me, you and James, because we were mates and you knew how much I hated to be alone and deadly every month." He cleared his throat. "What about you? If it was some fabulous time in bed with James, skip it."
"It was the first day we all met. The four of us, and we became friends."
"That was a good day," Remus said. "You on the platform, the best-looking boy I'd ever seen, the sort I'd always wanted to be. Looks equal happiness. Why do we think that? Except you weren't happy: you were staring up at your mum like she was a dragon. I knew how you felt, with my dad giving me a lecture on what would happen if anyone discovered my secret, and when you saw me it was like we both shared a new secret, about how stupid parents could be."
"I remember. You were this pale, quiet, strange boy. You still are." Sirius laughed, this loud, joyous bark, and laughed harder when Remus tackled him, covering his face in licks and kisses.
"Wish I had something to remember tonight," Remus said, resting his chin on Sirius' chest. "Just in case."
"There's no just in case. You're stuck with me. I command it, and you know how we Blacks are about having our way. You hungry?"
"Now that you mentioned it, I'm starving. Want me to conjure something?"
"I've got a better idea."
Bundled in coats and mufflers, they went outside into a night lit by snow, stars and a crescent-shape moon. When Remus slid on a patch of ice and nearly fell, Sirius took his hand and didn't let go. Gloves over skin, but still warm, still anchoring, still bloody brilliant. The wind howled and slapped his cheeks, but nothing could stop his smile.
"So where are we going, Sirius? The Leaky Cauldron?"
"Is it new? I've never heard of it."
"Not new. Just Muggle."
"You eat in Muggle restaurants?" Remus was clearly impressed. "I've never been. My parents...Well, you know what they're like. Think I'll change if someone even mentions the word ‘moon.'"
"It was confusing the first time. Scary, too. My mother always said they served rats and puppies, but it's just regular food. Then there's the money. Took me ages to figure that out."
"I want to kiss you," Remus said. "Is that all right?"
"Moony, you could bugger me right here if you wanted." Reaching beneath his coat, Sirius began to unfasten his trousers.
Grinning, Remus pulled him into the doorway of a bookshop. "As if you'd let me."
Sirius spun around, placing his palms flat against the doorway. "Try me."
"But I thought..."
"Moony, you're still not quite grasping things. Okay, now you are," he added, his breath steaming the glass of the door as Remus squeezed his arse, "but I meant it the other way. About you and I. All the usual rules? Those are for other people, not us."
"You shouldn't say things like that." Remus turned him around, placing his arms at Sirius' waist. "Because if it wasn't cold enough to freeze my prick off, I'd take you right here. Still going to kiss you, though."
Sirius threw his arms about Remus' neck, catching his cold kiss. He ran his tongue over the tips of Remus' canine teeth and wondered how they'd feel biting his thighs, sinking into his arse, scraping over the head of his cock.
"Love how you kiss me," Remus said. "Playful and messy. Not...elegant. Don't know if I can stop."
But Remus was starting to shiver, so Sirius licked Remus' tongue once more, then pulled him back onto the pavement.
"Elegant?" Sirius repeated, when his brain caught up with his body. "That's what you expected?"
"Well, when I watched you kiss James--"
"You weren't exactly discreet. Besides, sometimes it seemed like you wanted me to see."
"I was hoping for jealous rage."
"You had it."
"Invisible jealous rage doesn't count."
"There were times when we were in the tunnels, all changed, and I had to keep far from James. I wanted to rip his throat out. And yours. My two best mates."
"You could've dined on Lex instead. I wouldn't have told."
"It's funny that you and Lex hate each other, when you're so much--"
"Say it, Lupin, and that snow drift will be all you snog again tonight. Best thing I can say about Lex is that he had the good sense to find you immensely shaggable. It's also the worst thing."
"Sirius Black, jealous. Hard to believe."
"‘Course I am. What did you think? That I just didn't like the look of him? I might've liked his mouth if he'd kept it off you."
"That's just what I thought. That you looked and judged and disliked."
"You do remember that I tried to shag you years ago?"
"You tried to shag everyone. And succeeded, most of the time."
"You were always there with me, Moony. It was always a threesome."
The crunching of Remus' boots stopped. "I shouldn't be glad when it hurt other people."
"Mostly, they didn't know. Except James."
"And I should feel guiltier about him. I would, if I hadn't caught so many shows of the Sirius-James shagfest. And if he didn't have Lily."
"Here we are," Sirius said.
"Do they do take-out? Because my second wind's coming on. You look good covered in snow. I'd like to lick it off you."
"I'll walk home starkers, then."
"You wouldn't get far."
A warm blast of air hit them as Sirius opened the restaurant's door, garlic-scented heat, and he saw Remus' nose quiver. "Smells good, doesn't it?"
"Loads better than Hogwarts. The Great Hall's got this burnt singed odour thanks to Peter and his elfish food obsession. You missed his last disaster; the elves banned him from the kitchen. Poor bloke."
Sirius led him to a corner table with a view of the street, and they hung their coats on the rack, then sat down. "Menu's on the wall," he said. "The tuna steaks are brilliant. Hey, Rita. This is my friend Remus. Remus, Rita."
She studied Remus, gnawing on the tip of her pencil. "So this is the one. Knew it the second you stepped in the door, and not because you're usually alone. He's got ‘the one' written all over him. In red ink."
"The one what?" Remus looked over at Sirius.
"There's been pining." She winked at him. "But it's gone now."
Remus went pink as the fake carnation on the table. "Well, he wasn't the only one."
"He's sweet," she said to Sirius. "Take good care of him."
"We need to eat first."
"Oh, to be young again. Or at least to have my husband young as he once was." Rita heaved a sigh, then took their orders. "I'll tell Cook to be quick about it."
"You were pining?" Remus asked when she'd walked away.
"More a restrained longing. No one pines any more."
"There were witnesses."
"You just like the image of me wasting away for you."
Remus placed his hand on Sirius' thigh under the table. "If we weren't in a public place, I'd show you how much."
"You sure it's the wolf that comes out only during the full moon, and not tame, logical Remus?"
"Do you mind?"
"Move your hand to the right and see how much I don't mind."
When Rita brought their food, they ate quickly, almost obscenely, Remus stealing bits from Sirius' plate, licking his fingers then feeding Sirius from his own, sharing sips from the same glass of lager, which led to bumped noses and tongues.
"We're lucky it's a slow night," Sirius said. He'd forgotten about the rest of the world, the big window that framed them: an old woman peered inside, clutching a tiny dog to her chest like a canine heart attack.
"Wouldn't matter." Remus kissed him full on the mouth. "It's the price you pay for showing off your success in the Muggle world."
"If that's the price, then--"
Beside them, Rita cleared her throat. "I'm assuming no dessert?"
"We're done, thanks."
"It was delicious." Remus said it to Rita, but looked at Sirius. "Don't know the last time I was this hungry."
When they were bundled up against the cold, Sirius paid the bill, leaving a few extra pounds, then plucked the carnation from the vase on the table and fixed it in Remus' buttonhole. "For the Parvus spell. In case of fatal explosions from happiness."
"Won't do me any good if I'm a blot on the ceiling."
"I meant me. Because looks like that? Very explosive."
He'd meant to show Remus his London, but instead grabbed his hand and ran. They tore off down the road, sliding and hollering as they crashed into a post box, a street lamp, the base of a column where a pigeon-hatted marble Muggle stood guard. The few pedestrians avoided them, stepping aside as they dashed past in a spray of snow, sharing misdirected kisses.
The kisses stayed sloppy and quick on the lemon-polished stairs leading up to Sirius' flat, and they fumbled with buttons and belt buckles, cold fingers on hot skin. Inside the door, clothes fell, pulled or kicked off, Remus' hair under his hands, Remus' back, arse, chest and cock. Sirius kissed, licked and sucked whatever he find, fingers, nipples, shoulders, and learned how Remus' sharp teeth felt everywhere he'd hoped, and more.
He wasn't sure where they were, the hallway, maybe, soft scratch of a carpet under his back or palms and knees, couldn't even tell where Remus' tongue or fingers were half the time, moving all over his body, inside it, recognition only when Remus' cock was in his mouth, hard and seeping, when his cock was in Remus', sucked so hungrily that Sirius' flailing fist dented the wall.
Remus kissed the bruise on Sirius' knuckles before making a series of his own on Sirius' neck, his hips, the fleshiest part of his arse. Possession, pure and simple, and he welcomed every sucking bite, the fierce concentration on Remus' face as he did it, even when Sirius was face-down in the carpet, tongued and bitten, and had only his memory of that determined look.
When Sirius was marked to Remus' satisfaction, Remus encouraged him onto his back, uttered a spell, and his fingers glided inside him, though Sirius was wet enough already from Remus' tongue. Sirius pushed down into the sweet stretch, spread his legs wider, moaned instead of demanded because he couldn't remember how, not when Remus returned to Sirius' cock, which was so thick full he worried Remus would choke on it. Not that Remus noticed or cared, Sirius halfway down his growling throat, his eyes sleepy-wild. More animal noises as Remus gorged himself, his hands locked on Sirius' hips, trying to swallow him whole.
Lost by then, lost in the sights and sounds of Remus on his cock, Sirius didn't come only because Remus pulled back, chin and mouth gleaming, and lifted Sirius' legs to his shoulders, saying, "Can't wait. Can't wait or I'll die," as he penetrated him.
Then, "You're so...Oh. Yes."
It hurt enough to be real, not enough to do more than spread wider and take it, take Remus' cock, making depraved little whimpers each time Remus forced them closer, forced his big hard cock deeper inside. Almost there now, and it wasn't enough so Sirius rocked up, took it all, and saw Remus' mouth open, his eyes widen, shocked lust and something hotter behind the grey.
Too much at once when Remus closed his fingers around Sirius' cock, a flash of black as he fell somewhere dark, back into the tunnel as the past realigned. He returned, gasping, only to find that Remus blind above him, teeth gritted, sweat and liquid snow leaving silvery tracks on his face.
"Open your eyes, Moony."
"Can't. If I look at you, I'll come. You have to come first."
"If you open your eyes, I will." He was going to anyway, but better this way, with Remus not hiding anymore, wolf out, dangerous and aware. "That's it."
Wide pupils, grey-ringed, and Sirius swore just before he came that Remus' teeth began to grow, his hair to thicken. Shouts, cries, a heat to melt skin and bone, conscious only because Remus' cock and eyes pinned him there, bloodrush like his heart really had exploded. Then, not thinking, just needing, he grabbed Remus' hips, thrust up for the full wet storm of Remus' orgasm. More sounds from Remus, Sirius' choked name, pulse far inside him.
"You were...That was..." Remus collapsed, showered him with a dozen kisses, then rolled on his side, taking Sirius with him. "Fast. Sorry. Warned you."
"Idiot," Sirius said, his eyes drifting shut as he lay pressed against Remus' slick body. "When will you learn? It's you. How's not important." He yawned, licked Remus' cheek and curled closer, sleep hovering, with Remus already breathing slowly and steadily beside him, one hand splayed possessively on Sirius' hip.
Nearly there, relaxed and warm, when Remus moved. "James and Lily are going to have a baby," he said sleepily. "And he's going to save the world. Too late. You'll leave me." His arms went tight around him, his cheek against Sirius' chest. "Don't leave me, Sirius."
"It's just a dream, you foolish wolf," Sirius told him, and half-dragged, half-carried Remus into the bedroom where Remus huddled against him beneath the covers. "Just a dream. How can I leave? I'm the moon, remember. The moon in your blood, always there even when you can't see it."
"Always there," Remus repeated, his eyes shutting again, tension fading. "The moon in my blood."
The chaffinches were very excited. They flew among the hedgerows, sometimes higher into the blue June sky, eyeing the small wedding party with bright curious eyes.
Lily wore a crown of flowers and a white dress with gold-threaded red ribbons that hung to her ankles, part May-Queen, part bride, all Gryffindor. Her left hand fluttered like one of the birds, James holding her right one, her new husband beaming like it was a Quidditch victory party. His smile had faltered only once all day, when Sirius and Remus had arrived at the stone church, but he'd quickly found it again, bounding over to give them each a hug. On Lily's other side at the table, Anne Potter watched the couple, her smile warmer than the sun.
Henry Potter, whose chest threatened to burst through his red and gold vest, chatted enthusiastically with Dumbledore, explaining the best way to grow cabbage-sized roses like the ones lining the white path to the house, though he coughed once or twice, as though a cold were coming on. McGonagall in her emerald robes looked distinctly unruffled as she passed Mandy Litvack a slab of wedding cake, about as likely to give anyone paws as a purring tabby.
Sirius, who found sitting a little awkward after last night at the inn, shifted on the bench, and Remus turned from his conversation with Peter to wink promises at him. Under the table, Sirius squeezed Remus' hand and basked in the afternoon sun. No need for words, not today, then he changed his mind and whispered in Remus' ear, "I'm on top tonight, and I'm going to make you forget your name." Because sometimes his werewolf lover was a little too cocky.
Peter prattled on, oblivious. "Sirius, I was just telling Remus that it looks like elf school is out. They laughed quite hard, though, so at least I was amusing. Seems a waste of this nose." He grabbed a stalk of celery from one of the vases decorating the table, chewing thoughtfully, then attacked a slab of cake. "Grub's been brilliant here--maybe Mrs. Potter will give me a lesson or two."
"I'll tell my mum to take out extra fire insurance," James called to him. "Maybe some for Sirius and Remus as well. Peter reported that the inn was in danger around midnight yesterday."
"Funny, Potter," Sirius said. "If I wasn't scared of Lily, I'd thwack you, wedding day or not."
"Should've mentioned you had some strength left," Remus whispered. "Maybe we can sneak off later down by the lake."
Lily leaned forward, grinning at Sirius. "If anyone's going to thwack James, it's me, Black. Wife's privilege. Feel free to thwack Lupin all you want. Hear he likes it."
"Honestly, you children." McGonagall clucked her tongue. "This sort of talk at a wedding party is quite...appropriate." And she smiled into her wine glass.
"Oh! This cake reminds me," Peter said, getting to his feet. "I know the toasts have been made, but I've always been a little slow."
"Slow, maybe, but steady," Remus told him encouragingly, then everyone fell silent because Peter really was a good bloke in his own scattered fashion.
Peter raised his glass, smiling at the company as the sun added more freckles to his round cheeks. "My gran told me that in her day, girls at weddings would always take home a piece of cake, sleeping with it under their pillow so they could dream of the man they'd marry."
The women all nodded, and Anne Potter said, "I dreamed about my Henry when I was at my aunt's wedding. Levitating cow and all. Don't know what I'd do without you, Henry." She smiled tenderly at him, then added, "But please continue, Peter, dear. It's a lovely toast so far."
"I think," Peter went on, " that we should each take home a piece of cake, but save it for the future and a Parvus Memento spell. Because everyone's so happy today, and, really, it's hard to imagine that we'll ever be this happy again."
A chaffinch flew above them high into the benevolent blue sky, a single black dot in the centre of the sun.
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The Third. (c) Thamiris, January 2004
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