Note: Huge thanks to my brilliant beta, cinnamonsakaki!
Simple facts, his father once said. You are a wizard. A Pureblood. A Black. That means you are practically free to do as you please. However, you must take pride in your heritage. In your blood. When you wake each morning, dress yourself in your finest clothes, but also in your pride. Show them who you are.
Simple facts his father never knew: Sirius smuggled Martin Miggs comics into the house from the age of eight (Andromeda sent them from school). Sirius' favourite game is Exploding Snap. Sirius prefers roast pumpkin to roast potato. Sirius cried when he came home over Christmas to find the head of his old house elf, Blinky, stuffed and mounted on the wall. Sirius kissed another boy on his sixteenth birthday and doesn't like to think about it.
A simple fact Sirius didn't know, until three weeks ago: Whatever happens, whatever he does, whoever he tries to be, his father was right about one thing. He is a Black. He will always be a Black even if he charms his hair orange or takes Polyjuice or peels his skin off like you'd peel an apple.
Three weeks ago. Well, three weeks and two days, now. Sirius imagines it being a year later, or two years. He wonders whether he'll still be counting back then. Will time make a difference? He thinks maybe it will. The memory will dull, at least. Eventually it will be like memories from five years ago, blurry images of the first sight of school on a rainy autumn night, the Sorting, the first friendships, the first prank. Shaky photographs.
Memory isn't all, of course. There's also the emotion. He's not sure what to call it. The Emotion. It could be guilt, but it seems bigger than that. Like a larger version of a cursed spider bite he had once, just above his ankle. It swelled up and he was afraid it would burst and the poison would spill into his blood. It just shrank again. Maybe the Emotion will shrink too, but every day it seems bigger. It's heavy in his chest, just above his stomach. It distracts him in class. It makes it hard to eat, sometimes even to swallow.
James said, two weeks ago, that maybe Sirius should just Take A Flying Leap You Wanker. One week ago he said, looking concerned, Maybe You Should Have Some Porridge Mate. Sirius replied, i'm not hungry prongs.
Sirius wonders if he'll ever forget to feel like this. Already he doesn't feel bad about what could have happened to Snivellus. He felt a bit bad at first, but more scared than guilty.
That sneaky bastard, he sometimes finds himself thinking. Ruined everything. It's his fault.
What he feels bad about is being a traitor. He used to pride himself on his disloyalty to his family and his loyalty to his friends. But the way James and Peter look at him now, sometimes, it's as though he's made a list and they're next on it.
In Muggle studies (which he took because Blacks never take Muggle studies), they learned about Muggle religion and this man with a beard called Jesus who died really painfully. It was all gory and made Sirius think of what his family did to Blinky and to Andromeda's pet cat.
Anyway this bloke, Jesus, was betrayed by his friend, his good friend, but Sirius can't remember the traitor's name. It started with a J, too. It was a simple name. Sirius wants to look it up but going into the library would be difficult now, so every night he tries to remember it. What he remembers is that the traitor killed himself and ended up being tortured forever and ever, and that's what happens to traitors in the Muggle religion, because traitors deserve it.
When Sirius was in Dumbledore's office, three weeks and a day ago, he almost said, "Send me to Azkaban because I deserve it." And he tried to say, "Please, expel me at least." But the words stuck halfway up his throat. He tried really hard to say them but they were just stuck there and it was hard to breathe, or that's what he tells himself now, although he's a Gryffindor and he's meant to be brave. If he was really a Gryffindor and he wasn't a Black he would have been able to say those things, he would have said to Dumbledore, "I think I probably deserve to die." And maybe, "I can't be trusted and you should lock me away like my mother used to do because I deserve it."
After leaving Dumbledore's office, Sirius went down to lunch and everyone was eating perfectly normally and the enchanted sky had the kind of fluffy clouds Peter likes to lie on the grass looking up at and saying what animals they remind him of. Sirius walked in and couldn't sit at any table because he definitely isn't a Hufflepuff or a Ravenclaw, so he walked back out and up the stairs.
He walked all the way up to the dormitory and sat on the edge of his bed. He kicked off his shoes. He lay down on top of the covers and pulled his robes up over his head to block the sunlight. He thought about how Remus was in the infirmary all torn up and bruised and there was a new cut on his face, down his cheek, that Sirius had glimpsed when they'd carried Remus past him on the stairs.
Sirius thought about what Dumbledore had said. Then he thought maybe he should get some sleep because he was exhausted. It had been two nights since he'd slept properly. Looking back on three nights ago was like looking through a keyhole at another life. It all seemed unnaturally bright and distant and improbable. He'd brushed his teeth standing next to James. He'd poked out his tongue at their reflections and rolled his eyes up into his head. James had laughed until toothpaste had dribbled from his mouth and down his chin. Then Sirius had spat into the sink and walked out of the bathroom.
Remus had been sitting cross-legged at the foot of his bed, reading. Sirius had pounced on him, knocking him forward, and Remus had laughed, strange and high and surprised, and said, Padfoot, get off. Sirius had clambered off and said, Goodnight, Moony. And Remus had composed himself but he'd still been smiling faintly and he'd replied, Goodnight, Padfoot.
"You could talk to Moony, you know," James says. It's been four weeks and four days. They're sitting next to the lake, under the usual tree. Their textbooks are lying next to them, unopened.
"But there's nothing to say, really," Sirius replies. He has destroyed a patch of grass and daisies growing next to him, and his hand moves to another patch.
"You could say…you know. You could apologise."
Sirius just stares at James.
"What?" James asks.
"I could apologise?"
"Yeah. What of it?"
Sirius digs the heel of his hand in above his nose. Before what happened he and James used to wrestle and tussle and get drunk and make up pranks and throw pudding at each other and do detention together, and now all they do is talk. They talk quite solemnly, like adults. Like adults who are strangers on a train in the same compartment and have to make a long trip together.
"James," says Sirius, struggling to sound patient, "nothing is going to make it better. Apologising would just make him hate me even more because there's no point and it would sound like I was trying to get out of it and make everything better, even though it'll never be better."
"No," says James. Now he's picking at the grass, too. "It's not all right."
"That's exactly what I'm saying."
"No, I mean, not apologising isn't 'all right'."
"Do I have to explain it all again?"
James stands up and says, "Look, is this some thing? Some Black thing, like you're not allowed to apologise? Like you can't?"
Sirius shivers and curves his knees until they're touching his chin. He wraps his arms around his legs.
"Well?" James asks.
"Christmas is coming up soon," says Sirius, instead of replying. "I think it's probably better if I stay here, this year. All right?"
James shakes his head and then he nods, and then he picks up his textbooks and walks off across the lawn, and Sirius watches him, and then Sirius watches the lake until the sun starts to go down and it gets too cold.
Once, months ago, Sirius and Remus were alone together in the dorm because Peter and James were sick after a failed Potions prank. It had never been just the two of them before. At first they did homework and didn't try to talk.
Then they played Exploding Snap on Remus' bed until they got sleepy. Sirius picked up his wand and said, Nox, and they lay down and closed their eyes.
When Sirius woke they were curled up together, skin and pyjamas and hair all tangled, and it was the middle of the night. Remus shifted and said, Pads, very softly. Sirius felt warm and safe and soothed. He fell back asleep and when he woke again Remus was already in the bathroom brushing his teeth.
More simple facts: one day in fourth year Snivellus sketched a Death Eater tattoo on his arm in black ink and got detention. The next day, even though Snivellus isn't popular, a lot of other Slytherins did it too. They kept doing it until the teachers gave up. Regulus was one of the last to start, but he followed them, just like Sirius knew he would.
Regulus and Snivellus have become friends since then. They're both awkward and greasy and pimply and they both wear nothing but black and they both smell of cigarette smoke all the time. They look more like brothers than Sirius and Regulus.
Sirius thinks maybe that's why he did it.
It was also because Snivellus said, "Where's your boyfriend, Black?" making Sirius think of how he'd kissed Moony on his birthday when they'd both been drunk and Moony had made a soft low sound and tasted like chocolate cake.
It was also because Sirius' anger was like one of those waves at the beach he went to with James' family last summer, one of those big waves that shoves you down into the water like the slap of a giant hand. Right down into the briny dark water where you can't breathe and you get salt up your nose if you try. You come up spluttering and struggling and when you get back to the beach you're just glad to be alive.
Other people don't feel anger like that. Anger that blots everything out like spilled ink, even the most important things, and makes you into a traitor and an almost-murderer and a Black.
Sirius lies in bed, alone in the dorm on the second day of the Christmas holiday, and wonders what an apology would sound like. He opens his mouth to practise but it seems stupid when Remus is in France and apologising is an idiotic idea anyway.
No one has ever apologised to Sirius. He used to want his parents to say it, one day. They would suddenly realise how cruel and strange they'd been all their lives, and they'd walk into his room and say, "Sirius, we're so sorry. We love you." They would smile and cuddle him and everything would be all right, then. They would take down all the house-elf heads and open all the windows. They would eat dinner together like other families Sirius had read about, real families who talked about their days and made jokes and teased each other. If Sirius was ever upset he'd be able to go to them and they'd hug him and listen to him and tell him everything would be all right, and it would be.
These dreams evaporated over the years like a puddle on a summer day, leaving nothing but cracks in the mud. Now if his parents apologised (Sirius knows they never would, but if they did), he would hex them and tell them, No Matter What You Say I'll Never Forgive You. The same applies to Regulus.
The first day after the Christmas holiday, Sirius wakes up in the infirmary. He's not sure how or why he isn't in his own bed. Remus is sitting at the foot of the starched infirmary cot, cross-legged like he does when he's studying. And Remus is reading a textbook, so it's very disorientating. Sirius closes his eyes because he thinks he's probably dreaming but when he opens them Remus is still there, only now he's closed the book with a page folded over to mark his place and he's looking at Sirius.
"Hello Sirius," says Remus. "How are you feeling?"
Sirius tries to speak but his mouth is too dry, like it's full of gravel and glue. He shakes his head, helpless, and Remus conjures a glass of water and hands it over. It's icy and minty and slightly sweet.
"What happened?" Sirius asks, when he's finished. He hands the glass back to Remus, who vanishes it.
Sirius nods, because he remembers something about drinking now. Him and a bottle in the empty common room. "Oh."
"You drank an entire bottle of Firewhiskey."
"I don't really remember," says Sirius, although everything is getting clearer.
Yesterday, while he was eating dinner, he looked at the spot on the bench next to him and thought about how James used to sit there and Remus sat across from him, and how sometimes his foot would bump Remus' under the table. Then he thought about how Remus would never talk to him or touch him again and how they'd never sit across from each other again and how he deserved it.
Remus half-smiles. "That's not surprising."
"Why are you talking to me?" Sirius asks, the obvious question because they haven't spoken in seven weeks and two days.
"I came back from my Christmas break to find you on the common room floor, surrounded by panicking students and a puddle of vomit."
"James, Peter and I brought you here."
Sirius shakes his head. "That doesn't explain anything."
"Well, then I stayed to make sure you were all right."
"And I am. And?"
Remus' mouth turns down. "You don't want to speak to me," he says, flatly. "I'll go, then."
"No," says Sirius, grasping out at Remus to make sure he doesn't leave, although he just catches the edge of Remus' sleeve with his thumb. "No, really, stay. I want to speak to you. It's just I thought you didn't want to speak to me. Which I completely understood."
"As in, ever again?"
"That's right," says Sirius. Isn't it simple enough? "I mean, you hate me. And that's…well, that's how you feel."
"But I don't hate you," says Remus. He's composed in an 'utterly composed Remus Lupin' sort of way, sitting there with his back straight and his lips pursed in thought. "I was angry and upset, and I suppose I wanted an…it doesn't matter. I'm glad you're all right. Everything's all right, now."
Sirius sits up suddenly, knocking one of his pillows to the floor. He and Remus' foreheads bump when they both reach for it and then Remus mutters, "Sorry."
"No," says Sirius, wincing as they both rub their foreheads. "No, you see, I am. Sorry. I'm sorry about what happened. I got angry and shouted and it all went wrong. I just hated him so much right then and there are lots of reasons probably but there's no excuse. And I completely understand that you hate me –"
"But Sirius –"
Sirius waves him off, "You say you don't, but of course you do. I betrayed you and James and practically everyone. Snivellus could have died. You could have…I don't like to think about it. I'm an almost-murderer. It's simple, Remus. Really simple. I'm a Black and I'll always be a Black. I thought about talking to you…James said I should. But you hate me and talking never helps when someone hates you, it just makes things worse."
"I don't hate you, Sirius," says Remus. Then, swiftly, he ducks down to kiss Sirius on the cheek. A wet smack of a kiss that seems louder than words.
Sirius rubs his cheek, blinks slowly, and says, "That's what that bloke did to Jesus."
Remus frowns and leans back down to kiss Sirius on the lips this time, though it's more a brush of mouth against mouth than a proper kiss. Vividly Sirius remembers his birthday party: he and Remus in a corner, away from the lights. No one noticed. How he gripped Remus by the shoulders, cotton shirt, and pushed him against the wall and Remus made that 'oh' soft sound when Sirius tasted him.
They smile awkwardly and don't quite meet eyes. Remus reaches his hand out and Sirius takes it and there's a new scar along Remus' index finger so Sirius strokes it, softly, with the pad of his thumb, and Remus licks his lips. Sirius feels anxious and clear-headed and happy and exhausted, but he doesn't know what to say next. He's a Black and a traitor and an almost-murderer, but Remus doesn't hate him and that's the only simple fact he needed to know.
Now that he knows it, he pulls Remus down and kisses him, kisses his lips and his cheeks and his eyelids and forehead and ears and neck. Remus squirms and moans 'oh' and kisses him back.
"I can't believe you'd ever care
And this is why you will never care
These things take time
I know that I'm
The most inept
That ever stepped"
– The Smiths, These Things Take Time