At the First Turning of the Second Stair

"Together they are too much knowledge, all the same memories, almost completely Black as they never are when with anyone else." Sirius and Andromeda, the night before he runs away. oneshot

I've become addicted to the Blacks of late, especially Sirius and Andromeda, and this is the first result. Itis also the first installment in what will (hopefully) be a short series of vignettes/short stories about breaking free from the Black family.

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any of the characters or places in this fic, nor do I own the T.S. Eliot poem ("Ash-Wednesday") that the title came from. The idea for Andromeda having a choice was inspired by thirty2flavor's All on Black, a brilliant little piece.


"At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair."

-- T.S. Eliot, "Ash-Wednesday"


"I'm going out with a bang."

He's standing in front of the mirror, combing his hair. He says it confidently, matter-of-factly, completely ignoring the mirror, which is sighing over his eyelashes very much as the girls at school do.

A snort behind him. "Well, you're Black in that much, at least—flair for the dramatic." The voice is vaguely caustic, as cold as any Black's, but the chill is superficial, does not penetrate. There's more there than sarcasm and arrogance, though there's plenty of both.

He tosses the silver filigreed comb on the marble-topped dresser and turns to face her. He might as well still be looking in the mirror: grey eyes, sheets of black hair, sculpted features, porcelain skin. But there's no touch of femininity about his face, nothing masculine about hers. And she is older, face a fully-matured woman's, while he is still easing into a man's.

"Yes," he says. "Dramatic." He reaches for his outer dress robes, shrugging into them with a sloppy sort of grace that's all his own.

"Dinners with you are always dramatic. How will this be different?" She leans almost-too-casually against the bedpost, seemingly oblivious to the carved snakes coiling around the wood.

He considers. "I'm going to answer back to Grandmama—"

"You always do."

"And let that Malfoy git know exactly what I think of him—"

"How is that any different than any other day?"

"And eat exactly what I want—and only what I want—"

"As usual."

"And slide down the banister on the way down—"

"You've been doing that since you could walk."

"And ignore everything Mother says—"

"You know you never listen to her."

"And kick Kreacher if he mutters under his breath about me—"

"Aunt Walburga does that, too."

"And if Bellatrix says one nasty thing about Remus or Lily Evans, I swear I'll punch her, woman or no—"

"She's always snide, but she never comes right out and says anything."

"And generally do whatever I want."

She reaches over and picks a piece of lint off his shoulder. "In other words, you're going to behave the way you always do."

"Right. Only flashier and more dramatic."

She rolls her eyes—she's inordinately talented at eye-rolling, but then, growing up Black will do that to anyone.

She glances around the room as he tugs on his buckled boots. "I guess you won't miss this place."

It's his turn to snort, taking in the all-too-familiar room—for the last time, he realizes with pleasure. No nursery for the Black children; this was his room from the beginning, exactly as it's been for several centuries. Dust—that's what this world is—dust in their veins, dust in their corners.

He remembers the words from Remus' mother's funeral: he, James and Peter standing awkwardly and for once not the least bit confident as the rain drizzled down. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. They seem oddly fitting for his family.

The furniture is not the warm, elegant mahogany of the Potters' or the cheerful cherry wood of the Gryffindor Common Room or the imported olive of the Rosiers'. It is black elm, heavy, dark, forbidding, carved to the point of gaudiness with snakes and the Black crest. The hangings—draperies, bedspread, table skirts—all intricate black and green fleur-de-lis; the walls' only ornaments huge portraits, frames so thick that even the distinctive features of the Blacks within are overshadowed.

"I've wanted to get out of here ever since I can remember."

"Me, too."

They fall into a brooding sort of silence that comes as second nature to both. Together, it's companionable as it never can be with anyone else.

"The Potters will be good to you."

He grins, a little jaded, as only he can be. "They love me."

She sighs, resigning herself to the sentimentality of her next words. "You know you could always come live with us, if ever—Ted and I would be happy to have you—and it would make Nymphadora's life."

He's as uncomfortable with the sappiness as she, but he has to be vulnerable, too; it's only fair. "I know. I knew. But I have to get as far away as I can from—" he waves his hand, encompassing everything that preys on their minds and memories and lives—"all this."

He senses relief at the turn in tone. "Believe me, I know. Bella said that's the only reason I married Ted—he was my first chance to get away." Neither one has to voice how very wrong Bella was.

She sits down on the edge of the bed, casual scarlet skirt—her own little rebellion—cascading around her. "I wonder which emotion will be dominant: relief or fury?"

He laughs. "They've wanted me out since the Debacle with the Sorting Hat first year, but disowning me would have meant an even bigger scandal. Now they can at least blame it all on me—nonsense about Changelings and bewitchings aside." His laughter is derisive, and so is hers, before it dies away

The look she doesn't give him is almost wistful, a look he's never seen on her before. "It gave me a choice, you know." He doesn't ask the obvious question. "The Hat. It said I could be in Gryffindor, if I wanted to. I guess I did not deserve to be there, if I didn't have the courage—I said no." She's playing with one of the tassels on the bed drapes, and her smile is self-effacing this time. "I've always envied you. But perhaps Nymphadora will make up for it."

He shifts his shoulders beneath his robes, slightly uncomfortable, but pretending to hide it. "Yeah. She causes more mischief than everyone in my year put together."

They laugh; it's true. But when they laugh together, their laughter is nothing near as free as his is with the other Marauders, as hers is with Ted and Dora. Together they are too much knowledge, all the same memories, almost completely Black as they never are when with anyone—anyone—else. Jaded, cynical, arrogant, but very, very confident. That's what they are together.

"You were Slytherin, anyways," he says after the laughter. "You had your ambition."

She arches an onyx brow at him. He flops down on a chair meant to hold its occupant like a straightjacket. "You wanted to rise above all this."

It's the right thing to say, and only he could ever say it. Her face does not soften, her eyes do not warm, but he doesn't need them to to know how much they mean to her. No one else will ever suspect, and she will act no differently, but somehow he knows those few words have set her free.

"Damn, I'm glad I'm not the only one," she says suddenly, violently. Most unladylike, Grandmama would crow, with Bella, who cursed worse than a sailor while at school, smirking and "docile" beside her.

"Yeah. Me, too." Darkly.

For a few moments, their hands find each other, blood speaking to blood, like to like, the outcasts, the rebels. Then he stands, abruptly, the moment over, and she rises as well, both the pictures of arrogance and grace.

"Thanks for bringing the bike, Andie." For the first time in his life, he thinks how unfitting the nickname is; she looks nothing like an Andie or an Ana an Andro or any of the other names he calls her. She is Andromeda through every line, as beautiful and distant and untouchable as a constellation. But she is a chained princess no longer, finally free of the tangled cage of blood and dust and ash and a false sort of "purity" that had bound them for so long. Soon, soon, he will be like her. "If they find out you were here—"

She waves a white hand, strong but soft, dismissively. "The wards let any Pureblood in, and I'm still that, Tree or no." He does not flinch from the acidity of her tone. He understands it.

She turns to face him again, and they stand eye to eye, and once again there is the mirror. But she is in Muggle clothes, in colors no self-respecting Black, no Slytherin, would ever wear, and he feels a thrill knowing that after tonight he can wear such, too. There's a black dragonhide jacket under his bed and a red Muggle t-shirt. And in the alley outside there is an enchanted motorbike and a future.

"Come and visit. Dora made me promise to ask."

He gives her a grin that is almost completely free of bitterness. "As often as I can."

"Bring James and Remus, too, and Evans if she ever gives in to Potter, and Pettigrew, if you must."

He laughs at the allusion to James' moody, unrequited, and downright annoying love, which she's heard more than one complaint about over the years. But he's never understood her aversion to Peter, who is dumb, yes, but harmless, and she can never explain it. Just a shrug: "Just a feeling."

"Are you sure you want Dora under the influence of the Marauders, Ana?"

She snorts. "Just as long as she doesn't inherit the Map and you keep Potter's bloody Cloak away from her—she won't need either. She makes her own trouble."

"I promise. At least one visit before school, probably with James, alright? I'll take Dora up on the bike."

She smiles, lightly almost. "Good. I'll make toast." The Black women are famous for their lack of domestic skills. "And Ted can make a cheese soufflé."

"Excellent. See you then."

"Good luck, Sirius."

"Thank you, Andromeda."

There is nothing that they can say that they have not been saying in silent comradeship again and again and again over the years—through every unbearably pretentious ball, every taunt in the hallways of Hogwarts about "the pale Blacks," every cruel word from the people who were supposed to love them. No words for this sort of thing, for the unbearable relief of the knowledge that they are both—almost—free, even if they will never escape memory or blood that will haunt their every step to the end of their days. But then, words aren't really necessary when you have blood and memory and the same dream—all-consuming, all-encompassing—to make you both who you are.

She hugs him briefly, hard, something she rarely does, then releases him, flings her hair over her shoulder, grins again, and Apparates.

And Sirius Black turns, alone, to face his family and the future of his choosing.