(i) FALL, 1980
I smile to myself as I walk down the streets of London. Even the chill in the wind can't damper my spirits. It smells like early fall, the sweet smell of decay that comes before the stale smell of winter. I take my hands out of my pockets and rub them together for warmth. I blow on them, and as I inhale I can still smell him on my hands. I smile.
As I stroll down the sidewalk, I marvel for a moment at the brightly coloured leaves. Repetitive greens turned into distinctive reds, browns and yellows. I'm tempted to form a metaphor in my mind between my life before and after him. After us really, because he's always been there, a constant shining green in the sunshine. Now, though, he's turned into something unique, like the red leaf that lingers in my hair for a moment before falling to the pavement.
Still smiling, I pull open the door of the coffee shop around the corner from the flat where James and Lily are staying until they move into their new house.
"Hullo," I say as I sit down across from James.
He frowns for a moment as he eyes me curiously. "Why are you smiling like that?"
I shrug and the smile spreads despite my attempts to get it under control.
"Did you get laid or something?"
I quirk an eyebrow and watch in amusement as James eyes get wide. Only he knows of my – until now – fruitless pursuit of Sirius. He puts together the pieces quickly.
"Oh yes, my friend. Oh yes."
He lets out a maniacal laugh, startling the couple beside us. I can't stop smiling and for a moment it's almost as if all the flaming oranges and reds of the leaves outside are inside me, filling me with this tremendous warmth. I laugh with relief, at the joy of it all.
(ii) WINTER, 1980
The snow is falling heavily, white sheets outside our window. I'm feeling uncharacteristically romantic as Christmas tunes are cranked out of the record player. It's December 28th but Sirius loves Christmas carols, and these days I cannot deny him anything. I shiver involuntarily as I stand by the window and in an instant warm arms are around my middle and there is a brief kiss on my neck.
"Cold, Moony?" Sirius asks as he nuzzles into my neck, an action reminiscent of his animagus form.
"Not anymore," I murmur.
"Well, maybe we should be proactive and take preventative measure to ensure it doesn't happen again."
"What did you have in mind, Mr. Padfoot?" I ask, playing his games as I always do. His fingers are already on my shirt buttons, starting from the bottom and working their way up.
"Oh, I don't know," he muses. "Maybe a quick shag."
He doesn't ask, but it's not so much an order as a suggestion. A suggestion that is always taken. His fingers circle my navel lazily as his other hand starts to undo my trousers with practiced ease.
"Might we move away from the window?" I ask, suddenly aware of where we're standing.
"No one'll see," he murmurs into my neck. "'S too snowy."
"Be that as it may, I thought we might make use of that fleece comforter Peter got you."
Sirius chuckles into my neck and I smile as well at the thought of warm fleece on our naked flesh.
"Come on then," he says, leading me by the hand into his bedroom.
Afterwards, he murmurs a sleepy "I love you" and I stiffen with shock before I can help it, because those words are so foreign coming from his lips.
"I – I do," he says, more awake.
"I know," I reply and run my fingers through his hair until he falls asleep.
(iii) SPRING, 1981
"Just me and you," I whisper to Harry as I rock him gently in my arms. His eyelids are drooping and I can see it won't be long now before he gives in to his dreams.
Lily and James have gone out shopping for the day, and while they love to be with Harry all the time, the last time they took him shopping for china he cried and all the china within a two metre radius 'mysteriously' shattered. They've been a bit leery since.
I rub his back as he drools on my shoulder. I kiss his head absently as I wander through the house with his weight against me. It's so comforting to have someone depend on you, have someone trust you so completely, and I'm reluctant to put him down even though he gets heavier by the moment. I toe open the screen door of the cottage and step onto the back porch. There's a wooden swing set in their backyard that James, Sirius, Peter and I built in the spring just before Harry was born. I walk over to it now and sit carefully, rubbing Harry's back all the while. He doesn't stir as I sway back and forth on my heels, swinging only slightly.
I glance up when I notice thunderclouds gathering, but don't go inside. Not quite yet. There's the smell of rain in the air, mixed in with the earthy smell of mud that I hate to admit I adore. I like to think that my love of the smell of rain and earth comes from my Scottish ancestors, not from my time spent as a wolf running through the damp forest.
Harry gurgles against my neck and I feel such a surge of love for this infant in my arms. I have always known I would never have a child of my own. If not for the werewolf laws, the homosexuality. Still… some ancient paternal instinct stirs inside me and I long for what James and Lily have. I drift into a daydream of Sirius and I after the war, still living together. He could adopt a child, I think suddenly, and blush at my presumptions. We've barely been together six months and the subject of children has never come up, although I see the way Sirius looks at Harry. He looks at him the way a father looks at a son and cares for him just as much.
"He's so proud of you," I murmur to the sleeping bundle in my arms.
I feel a drop of rain on the back of my head and get up slowly from the swing, clutching Harry tightly to me. As I close the screen door behind me, the heavens open and let forth a torrential downpour. I chuckle with relief and sit down in an armchair by the window to watch the rain, Harry still sleeping soundlessly against me.
(iv) SUMMER, 1981
The heat is sweltering and I cast a cooling charm as soon as I've opened the door to our flat.
"Sirius," I call, "I'm home!"
There's no answer and I set my briefcase down uneasily and take off my robes. I look around the living room and kitchen, but cannot find Sirius anywhere. I think perhaps he's napping and check the bedroom.
A black lump is curled up on the bed. Padfoot. I can tell by the erratic breathing he isn't sleeping, but I approach softly, slowly.
"Padfoot?" I whisper. I sit on the bed gingerly and stroke his fur. He doesn't move, so I lay down beside him and curl my body against his. I pet behind his ears and down his body until he uncurls a bit so I can pet his belly.
"Everything okay?" I ask. He opens an eye and looks at me before shutting it again. That one eye holds more pain than could be expressed in words and I start to worry.
"Pads, what is it? Is it James and Lily? Harry? Peter? Padfoot, you have to talk to me," I say frantically and stop petting him to shake him gently but urgently.
He changes suddenly and I see he's wearing track pants and a wool sweater my mother knit for him, even though it's sweltering outside. Comfort clothes, I realise suddenly.
"Regulus," he says hoarsely.
"What about him?"
"Oh, Pads," I sigh and hug my body around his. I feel him shaking in my arms and I mutter what I hope are comforting words. There are a million questions I want to ask, but instinctively I know now is not the time.
"Come here," I murmur and he rolls towards me, borrowing his head in the crook of my neck. I smooth down his hair and rub his back like I remember my mother doing to me when I was younger. I can feel his tears soaking through my t-shirt as he sobs silently. I'm at a loss of what to say to him, how to make it go away. In the end I remember what my mother used to say to calm me those days after the full moon.
"It's going to be all right," I say and kiss the top of his head. "It's going to be all right." It wasn't true when she said those words to me then, and they aren't true now but sometimes the truth isn't what you need to hear.
(v) FALL, 1981
A gale is blowing, making the leaves dance and spin. I bring my head down against my scarf and shove my naked hands in my pockets as I lean against a tree in Hyde Park. I look up at the crunching sound of someone walking through the leaves but it is a young couple, not who I am waiting for. I sigh softly as I watch them walk through the leaves, oblivious to the war being waged around them. I envy their relationship, the closeness that is visible even from where I'm standing. He smiles as she kicks through the leaves with childish glee. Even from here I can tell how he adores her, how he holds her in wonder.
I turn away bitterly and look down at the dead leaves near my feet. They are decaying, as everything does. Even that couple who seem so happy now will decay eventually; everything does. They will decay and they won't even know it until the colour is all but faded from the relationship and they wonder how they could have let summer turn to fall so fast.
Sirius denies our decay. He tells me the lies that one expects a lover to tell; lies of love and adoration. They were once true I'm sure, but now they seem like our broken record player that once used to play bright Christmas tunes and now plays melancholy jazz albums with a loud crackle of static.
We talk about the future to avoid talking about the present. We carefully side-step whether or not we will be together a week from now, a month from now, and talk about 'after the war'. I scoff as I kick the leaves. So many people in the Order have died in this darkness it seems ridiculous to imagine anything bright after this, but we do. We allow ourselves to fall into naïve hopes and promises of something better.
I look up at the sound of crunching leaves and nod towards Peter who approaches me hesitantly. We shake hands and say our hellos.
"It's done?" I ask expectantly.
He nods. "They've just sent word. Sirius is the secret keeper."
I nod in return. "Good."
As we walk away through Hyde Park, a bright red leaf catches my eye as it dangles from a lonely tree branch and in the moment before it falls I allow myself to dream of something new, something bright in the future to shine through this darkness.