"How many times can it escalate ,

Till it elevates to a place I can't breathe?"

o o o o o o o

He opened the door and hauled his trunk out, filled with all his worldly possessions and few books from the family library that he wasn't supposed to take. He wished someone stopped him and demanded to give them back, called him a thief, slapped him in the face. Anything. Then he could have a proper fight, with voices raised in anger, wands drawn and slamming doors. A real exit.

Then he could say he ran away from home, because there is something special about saying this. Ran away. It implies there was some kind of danger, something dark and horrible and threatening that he could run away from. It makes him a rebel.

It is much better to be a rebel, than to be ignored.

His parents were sitting in the drawing room, with the doors opened. There was soft music playing and he could hear a whisper of a polite conversation. It was so proper it made him sick. He wanted to destroy that moment for them, to ruin their polite and meaningless evening, to make them feel something. As far as he knew he never made them feel anything ever since his Sorting, the day when he ceased to exist.

So he dragged his heavy trunk downstairs, towards the front door, right past the drawing room. He didn't bother hovering it, or at least being careful with it, and it hit one step after another on his way down. Every dull thud slammed into the artificial peace of this house in dissonance with the slow tempo of the music.

No-one stopped him. No-one yelled at him to keep the noise down and mind the trunk that was leaving ugly marks on the dark polished banister. No-one asked him where he thought he was going at that time of the night and no-one demanded he returned the books that were not his.

He stopped in the hallway and looked inside the drawing room. His father was sitting in his favourite chair by the fireplace and reading the Prophet. His mother was by the window, talking to Cousin Cissy in a hushed voice. For a moment it seemed that no-one noticed him, which he knew was impossible with all the racket he had just made. Then his father looked up from his newspaper and raised an eyebrow, as if asking Well?

And that was it.

He managed to reach the door before the first tear rolled down his face. They wouldn't care if they saw, and somehow it would be even worse than if they mocked him.

He didn't stop and didn't turn around to look at the house one last time. It would look just as it always did, the soft music would still be playing and there wouldn't be a shadow in the drawing room window, watching him. Nothing changed in the House of Black.

By the time he reached a small park three blocks away those damned tears were gone and the constant roar of pain inside lessened to a dull stab every now and then. That he could manage.

It was easy to figure out what to do next. There was only one place he could go, really. But before he could go... He looked around to see if he was alone. Satisfied he took out his wand and cast - only three curses, and only one of them mildly dark. He winced when it connected with his arm. He took off his outer robe and made a small tear, as if someone tried to grab him by the collar and pull him back. Shivering, he put the robe back on, took a steadying breath and punched himself in the mouth, hard enough to split the lip. The taste of blood was a lie, but the only people who knew this were him and three people listening to the music in a warm room, and they didn't care.

He managed a shadow of his usual cocky smile and waved to summon the Knight Bus.

"Potter Manor," he said and handed the man his last sickles. The older wizard gave him a long look, but he twisted his face into an impatient scowl and was left alone.

The ride took only few minutes, but it was long enough for him to smooth his story. His private fairytale, in which he could be the hero and there were real monsters, not just the icy silence, to fight. Hidden behind his own words he could be beaten, but never broken, he could spit the devil in the face, stare the imaginary horrors of the night in the eye and come out of them laughing, because nothing could ever break the hero's spirit.

He was Sirius Black, master of pranks, bad jokes, reckless stunts and outrageous flirting. He didn't know how to be anything else, except Sirius Black, the invisible one, and he refused to be that. He spent years drawing attention to himself, making himself noticed and known, ensuring that they couldn't forget or ignore him. Never again.

When he knocked on the door his trademark grin was already back, and the only thing that remained of the invisible Sirius was a slight shaking of his hands that he couldn't stop, no matter how hard he tried.

"Wotcher, Prongs. Seemed like a good night to visit," he said. Mrs. Potter saw the blood on his lip, his torn robe, a burn on his left hand. She hurried to fix him, murmuring something about reckless teenagers, but her eyes were soft and maybe even a little wet. And Mister Potter saw his shaking hands and his careless smile, and told him he was proud of Sirius being so brave.

James, his best friend, his only real brother, stood behind Sirius when his mother put a soothing, cool balm on his burned hand. He squeezed his shoulder and Sirius had to close his eyes for a moment, because that small gesture was meant for the invisible Sirius, the one in hiding, where only James knew how to get.

"It's a good thing that you are finally free of them. You should have left that house long ago," said Mrs. Potter bandaging his hand.

Sirius looked at her bowed head. He didn't leave them, not really. It was they who had left him, years ago. At eleven he found out it was possible to be abandoned, cast away, banished - without a single word. He knew the ancient ritual by heart, he looked it up in the Hogwarts library as soon as he realized there would be no letters from home, no family Christmas, no spring break at the villa in southern France. But there would be summer, and Sirius expected it to begin with those dreadful words, engraved in his memory. His name, his face, his words and his magic - may they be forgotten, for he is not, he never was, he never will be. Then they would turn their backs on him and wait for him to leave, and finally his mother would go to the family room on the second floor and change his name into an ugly burn mark on a family tapestry, like she did one day with his Cousin Andromeda. Another star winked out.

It never happened. They were waiting for him at the platform and when he saw them, the heavy coldness weighing him down melted in a gloriously warm burst of joy. It was over! They punished him for being a Gryffindor and it was horrible, but now he would be forgiven and everything would be fine once more! He ran towards them, a bright grin on his face, and then his father noticed him, pressed his lips into a thin mockery of a smile and raised an eyebrow, and Sirius' hope shattered.

A few years later he understood why they didn't cast him out completely. He was a spare – they were keeping him as insurance in case something happened to Regulus, the heir. Secretly he wished they would do it. Then he wouldn't have to spend every summer wondering if he really existed, or was nothing but a ghost, a memory, someone's dream.

James found him one night with a book on the old pureblood family rituals, opened on those dreaded words. The page was slightly dog-eared, because Sirius read it a hundred times before, and James noticed. He didn't say anything, and neither did Sirius. They just looked at each other for a long while - Sirius terrified and pleading, and James uncharacteristically serious. Then everything was all right, because there was someone who knew and didn't think him any less for it, and finally Sirius could let go and cry.

They never talked about that night and James never acted any different than before, and for that reason alone Sirius would do anything for him. Anything.

Mrs. Potter finished dressing his wounded hand and ushered him to the kitchen for a late supper. James waited until he finished his sandwich and then led him upstairs. Halfway up the stairs the trembling in Sirius' hands crawled up his arms and then to his shoulders, and then James had to put his arm around him to keep him steady. They reached James' room and he was sat on the newly conjured extra bed. His eyes were closed, but he could feel James sitting down next to him.

They sat there for a while in silence while Sirius struggled to pull himself back under control and James just was, silent and patient, grounding him. He didn't say a word and Sirius knew he wasn't expected to talk either, but he wanted to. James was the only part of this horrible night that wasn't a lie and so Sirius wanted to say something to him, something true.

"They didn't really..." he begun and winced at the way his voice wavered and broke.

"I know, Padfoot."

Sirius took a deep breath and spoke, before he lost his courage. "I'm sorry. I know it's daft to... to pretend like this, but I just..." he trailed off, not knowing how to explain the desperate need to stop being invisible and alone.

"...I couldn't," he whispered. "They didn't even notice, except him, and he only... looked at me, like I..."

Then James was holding him and saying "I see you, Sirius," and somehow that was enough.

o o o o o o o

Sirius stared at the singed spot in the fine fabric. He was so lost in thought that he didn't notice Harry until the boy was standing next to him. He looked at the younger wizard and smiled his best, charming smile.

"Black family tapestry. I used to be here," he gestured to the burn mark next to Regulus. "My dear mother got rid of me after my fifth year, when I finally told them to stuff it and went to live with the Potters."

"My grandparents?"

"Yes, they were great people. They took me in, treated me like James' brother. And imagine that - they had all four Marauders under their roof for at least a month every year and they didn't complain once! James' dad just sighed and walked around the house every evening, casting Finite on everything we managed to turn into something weird, and Mrs. Potter healed all the scrapes and bruises..."

Harry's smile grew distant. "That's how I feel at the Burrow, you know? Or here, with you. My family doesn't like me much either," said the boy, turning to the old tapestry.

Sirius' brow furrowed. "Kiddo, did they... I mean, do they hurt you?"

Harry's head snapped up and the cold worry in Sirius' heart grew.

"No. Mostly they pretend I don't exist." Harry looked at his feet and Sirius froze. "Like I'm invisible, or not worth noticing. I'd rather they yelled, actually, or even smacked me around a little from time to time. That way I'd know someone could see me." His voice was quiet, but steady, more resigned than sad. It broke Sirius' heart.

He took a step forward and enveloped Harry in a fierce hug, startling the boy.

"I see you, Harry," he said and heard the boy take a sharp, surprised breath. Harry slowly relaxed in his embrace and Sirius felt him raise his head and look at the wall behind them. Where the tapestry hung, with a dark stain marking the place of a star that was knocked off the firmament many years ago.

"It will be all right," said Harry into his shoulder. "I see you too, Sirius."

Somehow that was enough, for both of them.

o o o o o o o