Our Very Own Sirius Black
Story Notes: Thanks to JadeSullivan for the beta. The pairing is Sirius/Remus. Enjoy.
"Damn it," Sirius muttered as the top of the Potter's gate caught his shirt. Squinting in the darkness, he tugged, growled a profanity-laced admonishment and finally tore the fabric free.
Once the gate was closed and latched behind him, he scrubbed a hand across his gritty eyes and gazed at the silent house. Only the flicker of the lamp made an effort to greet him. Since it was well after midnight, he hadn't expected anything else.
He probably shouldn't be here at all, but his feet were traitors and he'd been halfway here before he realized it. Not that the Potters would mind his being here—at least they never had before. But then, Sirius had never left Grimmauld Place permanently.
Tedious, worthless child…
With his mother's parting words echoing in his head, Sirius made his way up the stone path and climbed the three steps to the front door. He could go in, he told himself. He'd done it before, hadn't he? Without warning, yes, but never in the middle of the night. And never on the first day of the summer hols.
Doesn't matter, he told himself, but even the voice in his head was beginning to waver. He gripped his wand in an aching fist, but didn't raise it to the knob. He was still standing mute and confused when the door swept open.
"Sirius?" Mr. Potter's voice, muzzy with sleep, filled the still air.
Unable to release his hold on his wand, Sirius pressed it against his hip, answering with a scratchy, "Yes, sir."
Mr. Potter's eyebrows drew together. "Are you all right?" he asked quietly, even as he beckoned Sirius over the threshold.
Numbly, Sirius nodded.
"You haven't a cloak…"
Sirius glanced down at his chest and wondered why he wasn't cold. Even if it was June, it was the middle of the night. "Sorry," he said hoarsely. Mr. Potter frowned in confusion.
"Come inside," he murmured, guiding Sirius toward the long sofa with a hand between his shoulder blades. Sirius obeyed the pressure, winced as his backside hit the cushion. Hours, he'd walked.
Mr. Potter's gaze sharpened at the grimace. "Did someone hurt you?" he asked, as candidly as he did everything; gently for all that. And there was detectable relief in the hazel eyes when Sirius shook his head. Didn't count if it was his brother.
"It was a long walk," he felt compelled to explain. "Didn't realize…"
Graying eyebrows knitted. "You walked all the way from London?"
Turning away from the concerned gaze, Sirius shrugged. "The Knight Bus took me part of the way…"
He started as a hand settled on his. "Sirius," Mr. Potter prompted. He gave a buoying squeeze and Sirius lifted his eyes. "What's happened?"
"Had to leave. Didn't… didn't know where else to go."
"You did right coming here," Mr. Potter assured him. "You should have used the Floo, though. A sixteen-year old boy has no business wandering the streets alone at this time of night."
Sirius' face heated at the rebuke, mild as it was. "I couldn't."
Surprise touched the kind eyes. "Why ever not?"
Words eluded Sirius, at least words that made any sense. But how was he supposed to explain that he couldn't face his mother again? Couldn't bear to see her smile as she paraded her non-worthless son in front of the rest of the family.
As proud as if Regulus had just been named Head Boy, instead of being inducted into Voldemort's ranks.
"Regulus finally did it." Sirius' throat seared again but he plowed on, "He's got the Mark and everything. I saw it. The entire family saw it; Bellatrix with hers and that rat-faced berk she just married. Even his brother has one. They were all ecstatic over it."
"I mean, how can they be so daft?" Sirius demanded, his hands in fists again. "The Dark Lord this and that, worshipping some bloke who is obviously off his rocker, even my father who isn't stupid in the least. Except that he is for believing this bullshit that we're better than Muggles. Bloody stupidest thing I've ever heard!"
Sirius abruptly clamped his lips together, a fierce flush lighting his cheeks as he realized what he'd just said. But before he could apologize for his outburst—and the profanity—Mr. Potter put an arm around his shoulders.
"Of course it is," he said, quiet and adamant all at once as he patted Sirius' arm. "And I'm very proud of you for realizing it, Sirius. Your parents ought to be ashamed of themselves for encouraging Regulus to become a part of that monstrous regime. You did exactly right in coming here," he said again, but Sirius barely heard him.
Proud of you, Mr. Potter had said. And he'd said it without thought, as if pride in Sirius Black was the most natural thing in the world.
Brought swiftly back to reality, Sirius winced, this time in earnest as Mr. Potter gently uncurled his fingers from his wand.
"What did you do?"
"Got in a bit of a scrap with Regulus."
Mr. Potter's eyebrows climbed.
"I told him what I thought of his new tattoo and he didn't appreciate it," Sirius explained. He didn't explain that Kreacher had appreciated it even less. He'd had enough Bruise Salve for his eye, so it didn't matter anyway.
Mr. Potter had already drawn his wand. He frowned as he waved it over Sirius' knuckles—all of them were a deep purple by now. "They aren't broken," he finally sighed, "but you'll need salve. And a pain potion?"
He nodded before Sirius could answer. "Sit right here. I'll just be a moment." He smoothed Sirius' hair before standing and turning for the kitchen. Sirius watched him go, absorbed the purposeful steps until the terrible knots in his stomach burned worse than they had all night.
His own father had seen the grazed knuckles, the blacked eye as well; hadn't spared him a second glance.
Clenching his teeth to still the itch climbing up his throat, Sirius watched the fireplace instead, glowing just the barest emerald in case a visitor wished to come through.
Mr. Potter's soft footsteps approached. Sirius quickly loosened his jaw and took the offered pain potion without protest. "This shouldn't hurt," Mr. Potter murmured as he sat and cradled Sirius' bruised hand in his own. "I'll be quick…"
Sirius blinked rapidly as his wounds were ministered to with as much care as always.
"You will need to sleep with this on," Mr. Potter said as he wrapped a poultice carefully around the bruised knuckles. He fastened it with a spell and then asked for the other hand.
"Just the one."
Mr. Potter looked up at the croaked protest. His eyes softened. "You don't have any other injuries? Any at all?" he asked when Sirius shook his head. "Regulus didn't even get in one blow?"
"He did," Sirius relented, knowing Mr. Potter wouldn't give up. "Took care of the other scrapes."
Mr. Potter pursed his lips. "All right, but if you need anything, you're to tell me straight away."
Sirius nodded. "Yes sir… thanks."
"You may stay here as long as you like, of course. Your parents don't know you're here, I assume?"
Sirius doubted they were even aware he'd gone. Not that they'd care.
"I'll send them a note, shall I?" Mr. Potter asked into the silence.
And though it was a standard question—had been for years—Sirius shook his head.
"Please don't. They don't…" He swallowed and tried again, "They don't want to know. They haven't ever…" He gave up then, his throat too sore. They were quiet then as Sirius stared at the green glow in the hearth; he could feel Mr. Potter's gaze.
"Are you hungry?" he finally asked. "I imagine all of this happened before dinner?"
Sirius glanced at him; it was easier now. "I'll wait until breakfast," he said, even though his stomach had rumbled off and on all night. He'd been enough trouble.
"Have you eaten?"
"No sir, but—"
"Come along then," Mr. Potter said firmly, already standing and gesturing for Sirius to do the same. "Mrs. Potter made a lovely cottage pie for dinner; a spice cake as well, which I know is your favorite. And if you don't eat it, James will."
Mr. Potter smiled. Doing his best to return it, Sirius accepted the arm draped over his shoulder and allowed Mr. Potter to guide him into the kitchen.
When Sirius dragged his eyes open the next morning, it took him a moment to remember where he was. This room was nothing like his own, of course. Much too cheery to be a Black's room. Even the ceiling was cheerful.
"Lazy, Padfoot; that's what you are."
Sirius turned his head. James was leaning back in the desk chair, grinning.
"It's nearly midday," he said as he tossed the book he was reading on the desk. "You're lucky Mum likes you so much; she never lets me sleep in past nine."
With a wide yawn, Sirius half-propped himself up on his elbows and squinted at James. "Bit creepy, you watching me sleep."
"I was under strict orders not to wake you. Dad threatened to wallop me if I so much as blinked in your direction."
Sirius made a face at his friend. "He did not."
"Not at first, no," James said with a solemn nod. "He said he would take my broom for a week, but I managed to talk him down to a walloping."
A slow smile took over. "You're cracked, mate."
"What the hell would I do without my broom for a week?"
"Exercise your brain for a change?"
"Not a chance. Lily wouldn't spare me a glance without these." He flexed his arm, grinning at Sirius' eye roll. "Go on, Pads, give it a good squeeze, you'll see."
Snorting, Sirius batted him away. "No thanks. And since when is Evans looking at you?"
"Well," James admitted, "she isn't yet, but she will." He let his chair down with a thump. "So I need to keep these muscles in top form, don't I?"
"Yes," Sirius agreed. "Because girls simply despise a man with brains."
"You've a point there. All right, fine, I'll just have to do both," James said with a dramatic sigh as he dropped on the bed and prodded Sirius' leg impatiently. "Although I can't do either if you're having a lie-in. Get up, you lazy sod!"
He yelped as Sirius dumped him on the floor with a swift kick. "Bloody…"
"How's that?" Sirius chuckled.
"Wanker," James complained under his breath as he hauled himself to his feet. "No appreciation, I tell you. Hours I've sat here, quiet as you please."
Sirius sat up fully, drawing his legs up as James took his place gingerly. "You should have woken me. Your dad wouldn't have known."
"You want me to lie to my own father, Sirius? I'm shocked."
"Because it would be your very first time?" Sirius asked sweetly.
Sirius grinned as he leant against the headboard. Loads better than waking up at Grimmauld Place. His happiness deflated a bit as he followed James' sudden shift in attention. He flexed his fingers and didn't even wince; the poultice had worked a treat.
"Who'd you punch, then?"
"Regulus," Sirius answered with the same forced casualness. Of course, that wasn't the reason for the bruised hand, but that hardly needed to be clarified. "Git got himself Marked."
James' eyes went round as saucers. "Shit. He didn't?"
"A whole mess of Slytherins were there apparently, including Snape and most of the sixth and seventh years. Bella was glowing with the news; she sponsored Reg or however it works, kissing Voldemort's arse. I've never seen my mother so happy."
As dazed with the news as Sirius had been, James shook his head slowly. "I didn't think he'd ever really do it. And Snape?"
Sirius shrugged. "Reg was listing all the new recruits, and Snape was definitely among them. You can't say you're surprised about that. He was casting dark spells practically before we got off the train as firsties."
"I know, but..." James gestured, apparently couldn't find the words and fell silent instead. "What happened?" he eventually asked.
"Just couldn't stand to be there, you know?" Sirius said, his concentration on unwinding the gauze.
"You here for awhile then?" James asked, unmasked anticipation in his voice. Sirius looked up, smiling as well as he could.
"Yeah, for awhile." Until I figure out where a person goes when he's been disowned.
"Well, good," James said firmly, a scowl in his eyes now. "You should have just come home with us in the first place. Bloody bastards…"
The indignant oath sent warmth through Sirius' chest as he peeled the poultice away from his skin and tried not to look too pleased.
"Maybe you ought to just stay here all summer; Mum and Dad won't mind."
Sirius looked up quickly, found his best mate gazing thoughtfully at him.
"I mean, what's the point in going back there?" James asked. "They'll just do something else entirely stupid. And if half of the Slytherins are fucking Death Eaters, you don't want to be there, do you?"
"Half my relatives are Death Eaters," Sirius pointed out. "We'll have to go to school with the Slytherins in any case. Not sure why Dumbledore allows that."
Not sure why he was arguing for going home when he had absolutely no intention of returning—no way to return actually.
"Anyway, don't have to decide right now," he said with a dismissive wave. Especially since it had already been decided for him. His mother had burned his name off the fucking family tree; while he had stood there and watched.
Gritting his teeth, Sirius turned and slid off the bed. He deposited the gauze in the rubbish bin and cracked something like a grin over his shoulder. "Wanna clear off, Prongs? Give a bloke some privacy to get dressed? Unless you have some fantasies you're—"
"Oy, don't even finish that thought, you pervert," James groaned as he leapt off the bed. "Not that I don't enjoy seeing you starkers, you understand, but it's early yet."
Sirius was already pulling his t-shirt over his head. James shrieked rather girlishly and ducked out of the room, crying, "My eyes! My eyes!"
Smiling for real this time, Sirius nudged the door closed with an elbow and went to rummage through his trunk.
James was waiting for him, leaning against the wall in the corridor, when he emerged.
"Now, don't you look lovely," James clucked. "Though I think blue isn't your best colour."
"Shows how much you know," Sirius sniffed as he slid his wand into its holster. "Just so happens Moony told me last week that blue brings out my eyes."
"Oh ho!" James eyed him. "Moony says so, does he?"
Sirius wrinkled a brow at him. "Yeah, he did. So?"
James grinned, but instead of staying on topic, he bounded down the stairs. "Look who's finally awake! Our very own Sirius Black." He plucked a biscuit from the tray his mother was pulling from the oven with a series of ooh, ooh, ahhs as he tried to find a cool spot.
"James, honestly," she sighed.
But he simply kissed her cheek and around a huge bite said, "Can't help it if you're a brilliant cook, can I, Mum?"
"I didn't make them," she said, though she was smiling. James tossed a grin at the equally cheerful house-elf slicing bread at the counter.
"Thanks then, Tilly!"
"Tilly is most pleased to make biscuits for young master and his friend," she said serenely.
"Thanks," Sirius said as James' mum offered him a biscuit.
"How did you sleep?" she asked, setting the tray down to brush the long hair from his eyes. "You're too pale; I hope you aren't going to be ill after walking all night."
"You walked here?" James goggled at him and then turned to his father, who was sitting at the kitchen table. "You didn't tell me he walked here."
"I didn't realize everything Sirius does is your business."
"Course it is, Dad." James ruffled his father's hair on the way past his chair. "You ought to know that by now."
Mr. Potter combed his dark hair back into place and favored his son with an amused glare. "I'll keep that in mind. For now though, hush and let Sirius speak."
Sirius smiled, hoping to ease the concern in the four gazes. "I don't feel ill. And I always sleep well here. Brilliant mattresses."
"Better than Hogwarts, even," James agreed as he accepted a glass of pumpkin juice from his father. Mr. Potter filled a second for Sirius as he slid in next to James.
"You took the poultice off," he said, eyes narrowing as he considered Sirius' hand. "How does it feel?"
Sirius waggled his fingers. "Good as new."
Smiling, Mr. Potter offered him the tray of sandwiches. "Eat up," he said, including both boys in his gaze, "and then why don't you take your brooms out for the afternoon?" He winked at Sirius. "I had no idea James could sit quietly for so long."
"Hey," James protested. "I sit for hours in my classes, don't I?"
"Not quietly," Sirius muttered into his juice.
James kicked him under the table as Mr. Potter chuckled.
"Good job I don't need muscles to impress some bird," Sirius panted hours later as he and James lay sprawled in the grass, their brooms crossed above their heads.
"You need them to play Quidditch, don't you?"
"I've been on the team for three years; who's going to kick me off now?" Sirius retorted. His legs and arms were jelly. If he ever made it off this stretch of green, it would be a miracle.
"The new captain?" James suggested. "Whoever that is."
Sirius glanced at his friend; smiled at the wistful tone. "Your only other competition is Podmore and as he spends most of his days fawning over your very existence."
James gave Sirius' shoulder a half-hearted shove. "Oh shut it, he does not. And what about you? Why don't you want to be Captain? You would be better than Podmore."
"What's the point? Remus already lets us use the Prefect's bath."
"And besides," Sirius smirked, "Captain's robes would be wasted on me. You and your muscles need them to impress Lily."
James grinned slowly. "She would be impressed, wouldn't she?"
Sighing, James sat up, "She's going to have to be at some point. I'm running out of ideas here."
"Still not keen to try Remus' plan?"
"Quit being an arrogant toerag? I've considered it…"
"You'd have to quit hexing Snape." Sirius sat up alongside James. "Bearing in mind he's part of Voldemort's—" He made a face. "—elite now, we should probably do that anyway."
"And when he hexes us?"
Sirius shrugged; usually a discussion on Snape and his hexes—all of which had become increasingly inventive over the past year—would have had him gleefully plotting revenge. It all seemed rather pointless now.
And excessively dangerous.
"Bella was discussing something about training with one of my other cousins… sounded horrible."
James eyebrows climbed. "What sort of horrible?"
"The sort where everyone turns into fluffy bunnies and hatches chocolate eggs," Sirius snorted. "What do you think?"
But James didn't smile. "You mean like the Unforgivables?"
"More like how to most effectively kill a Muggle. Or a Blood traitor."
James was staring at him. "They were discussing killing people in your parlour?"
It hadn't been the first time. But since James looked rather green, Sirius decided not to say so. "She's insane, mate."
James didn't look reassured. "Is that why you left?"
"Something like that, yeah."
James' eyes narrowed but before he could ask any questions, Sirius lurched to his feet. "Are we flying or what? Can't build muscles sitting here like a lump."
James was slow to join him. But he nodded as soon as they were side by side, quickly mounting his broom. "Race you to that stand of trees?"
Sirius put on his competition grimace and on James' count of three, they lifted off the ground.
They came back to the grass only when Tilly's amplified call for dinner reached their ears.
Chests heaving, they hoisted their brooms, stopping to hand them to the elf as she waved them inside.
"Master Potter is suggesting young masters wash up and dress," she declared as they toed off their trainers and shrugged off the light cloaks Mrs. Potter had insisted they wear.
"We will, we will," James grumbled. Tilly collected their things and shooed them along down the corridor. "Suggesting, my arse," he muttered when they were out of earshot and up the stairs.
While James was wallowing in his grumbles, Sirius ducked past and into the loo, leaving James to shout a protest. The corridor was empty when he came out again, relatively clean but still flushed from the wind. He could hear James clanking about the other toilet at the other end of the corridor; humming to himself.
Sirius went into the room Mr. Potter had shown him to that morning. It was the first time he wasn't bunking with James, though that was probably only because he'd arrived in the middle of the night.
His trunk, which he had enlarged before falling into bed, was sitting in the corner. His good mood faded quickly as he gazed at its contents, at all his worldly possessions now.
Although he didn't know how this disowning bit was supposed to go, he was fairly sure his parents would no longer be buying him trousers and Quidditch kit.
You are not fit to be a Black, his mother had said as some sort of declaration while the charred fabric curled at the edges.
She probably wouldn't actually take steps to stop him from accessing the family vault; a formal disinheritance would mean time spent in the Wizengamot, something his family tried not to do these days and the Goblins didn't recognize Wizarding traditions.
But even if he could use their money, there was no way in hell he was going to. Not now.
Mrs. Potter's call spurred Sirius out of his self-pity. He had to apply straightening charms to his trousers and shirt—his robes as well. He was still fumbling with his tie as he went down the stairs.
James queued up behind, prodding him between the shoulder blades to hurry him along.
"Touch me again, Potter, and you'll be on your arse."
"That so?" James asked and Sirius could almost see the sly grin. He slowed, just enough to aggravate and smiled himself as an elbow dented his back. Pivoting, he caught a surprised James round the neck and jostled him with a grin.
"Geroff," James wheezed through his laughter, trying in vain to dislodge Sirius. "… off… me, you git!"
"Not until you admit I'm stronger than you. Smarter as well, while I have you."
"I think you'd better stick to the Quidditch, old chap— Aughh!"
Foiled by an ankle hooking his knee hollows, Sirius toppled and brought both of them over the last step and into a tangled, chortling heap on the kitchen floor.
"What is this, then?" Mr. Potter's face appeared above them—upside down. "A new Quidditch maneuver?"
"Sirius is going out for Captain," James said helpfully as he allowed his father to hoist him up by an elbow.
Mrs. Potter peeked around her husband's shoulder. "Are you?" she asked in surprise.
"Not unless they take away Remus' badge," Sirius said as he scrambled up.
"Ah," she murmured, as if that was the most natural reason in the world. Sirius smiled and turned to follow James, stopping abruptly when Mr. Potter settled a hand on his shoulder.
"A bit of help with your tie?"
"Oh. Right, sorry…"
Mr. Potter smiled. He took up the ends of the tie and with the ease of practice, knotted and smoothed it. "There we are." He patted Sirius' shoulder and took his place at the table. Ignoring the annoying tickle at the bottom of his throat, Sirius joined the family.
Once dinner was eaten and both Sirius and James had beaten Mr. Potter over the chess board, the two boys relocated upstairs where they were tossing a Quaffle lazily between them.
"Diagon Alley tomorrow?" James asked as he launched the ball toward the bed. "Dad already said we could go."
Thinking of the bag of galleons in his trunk—leftover from last term, Sirius frowned. What the hell was he supposed to do for money? Books alone would cost at least as much as in that bloody pouch.
"Don't want to?"
Sirius smoothed out his forehead and sent the Quaffle back. "Only if we spend at least an hour in Zonko's."
James smirked. "We can drag Pete along; test some of the new products on him."
"Too bad full moon's in two days," Sirius mused, pulling the captured Quaffle to his chest and denting it with his fingertips. "His mum'll never let him out."
"Don't be too sure of that, mate."
Sirius cocked a brow. "She never does. Don't know what she thinks he does at Hogwarts without her there to keep him in bed."
"She thinks he lives under Pomfrey's robes, of course. Pass the Quaffle!"
It sailed across the room and James had to stretch to catch it, toppling himself off the desk in the process.
"S'not funny, you tosser," James complained as he rubbed at a hip.
"Your coordination is pants," Sirius snickered. "Good job you're not Seeker."
A light knock brought their attention away from James' rude gesture.
"Everything in order in here?" Mr. Potter asked as his head came round the frame. He eyed his son, who was still half-lying on the floor. "Quidditch, again?"
"Yep," James said, holding up the Quaffle for inspection. Mr. Potter plucked it from his grasp and tossed it to Sirius.
"You have a visitor," he told them. He stepped back, pushing the door open as he moved aside.
Sirius' confused frown morphed instantly into a grin as the visitor stepped inside.
"Moony, old man!"
Remus smiled at James' jubilant shout. He switched his gaze to Sirius, his eyebrows peaking. "Only James is happy to see me?"
"Bit surprised is all," Sirius retorted, still grinning. "To what do we owe this unexpected delight?"
"Do I need a reason?"
"Certainly not," James told him. "Except, help a fellow up, would you? Sirius doesn't play fair, you know."
Remus gave James a hand up. "And you do?"
"He's on to something there, Prongs!"
"Not too late, boys," Mr. Potter interrupted James' retort. "Remus, be sure to turn the lamps down in the parlour before you leave, won't you?"
Mr. Potter smiled. "Good night."
As soon as the door closed, Sirius snagged one of Remus' belt loops and tugged him toward the bed. "How'd you escape, then?" he demanded as Remus landed with a muted oomph.
Remus sorted his crooked shirt, his smile as sly as one of James'. "My parents go to sleep early, especially when I'm home for full moon."
"Why Moony Lupin," Sirius drawled, "are you telling us you sneaked out of your house?"
Remus cocked his brow, mischief in his eyes. "Shocked, Sirius?"
"More like stunned, staggered and dismayed," James put in.
"Dismayed?" Remus echoed, ever more amused. "I thought you would approve."
"The guilt, Moony, the guilt," James said, putting his hand over his heart. "Your parents are going to toast you and you think I want that hanging over my head?"
"Well, it was my invitation that brought him through the Floo, wasn't it?" James told a confused Sirius as he regained his perch on the desk.
"They won't even know I've gone," Remus assured them while Sirius shot James a questioning glance, full of raised eyebrows and meaningful frown lines. James shrugged, eyes wide in a 'what did you expect?' sort of way.
And it was with that expression that Sirius realized how worried James must be—and how very unskilled he, himself, was at keeping his feelings to himself. Remus reinforcements. Not that Sirius had an objection to a rule-breaking Remus, though he didn't particularly want Moony's toasting on his head either.
Or Remus toasted at all, come to that.
"What illegal activities have you two been up to, then?" Remus asked. "Something more exciting than sneaking out, I trust?"
"We're as boring as a pair of Ravenclaws," James sighed.
"James sat silently for at least two hours," Sirius confirmed.
"Three," James corrected. "Watching Sirius sleep isn't nearly as exciting as you'd think," he added, winking at Remus; he had to dodge the Quaffle to his head.
"We're going to Zonko's in the morning," Sirius said.
"If you want to risk your arse twice," James added.
Remus sighed. "I think they'll notice if I'm not at breakfast."
"Well, I want to be fresh for our tests—Pete," James clarified for Remus, "so I'm for bed."
"It's barely eight," Sirius pointed out, tilting his head toward the clock on the shelf.
"Knackered," James said. He yawned much too widely as he slid off the desk. "All that muscle-building wore me out. We'll have to do brains tomorrow."
"I'll explain later," Sirius said to Remus.
"Lily?" he guessed and Sirius snorted.
"He is a bit predictable, isn't he?"
"I am not predictable!"
"Of course not," Sirius said soothingly. "And you're not obsessed either."
The rude gesture was tossed over his shoulder this time, but halfway out of the room, James paused and pinned Remus with a shrewd eye. "My dad must have asked if your parents knew you were here… Good Lord, Moony, you lied to him?" He shook his head, a look of wonder on his face. "We've finally done it, Padfoot; we've finally corrupted him."
He was still grinning as he slipped out.
"Finally," Sirius mused, slanting Remus a glance. "I think he forgets how many times you've lied to professor whoever needs to be lied to at the moment to save our skins."
Smiling, Remus said, "That's because he was too emotionally involved to remember them later."
"True," Sirius smirked. "I can't believe you sneaked out," he said as he watched Remus slide off his shoes and set them neatly beside the bed. "Your mum'll go spare."
"Don't worry about that," Remus said, scooting back so that they were shoulder to shoulder. "As a first offense, it's pretty tame, wouldn't you say?"
"First?" Sirius echoed dubiously. "McGonagall must have written to your parents at least a hundred times."
"Yes, but it's always on the order of 'Remus would be better served in the company of less mischievous friends.' Little does she realize she's delighting them with each one of those letters—the werewolf has friends; they couldn't be happier."
"You are not 'the werewolf'." With Remus' shrug, Sirius asked, "She calls us mischievous?" He wrinkled his nose in distaste. Remus chuckled.
"I might have embellished."
Sirius tilted his head to get a better look at Remus' face. "More lies, Moony?"
"Wouldn't want you to think she doesn't like you."
"McGonagall adores us; pretends not to," Sirius conceded.
Sirius nudged Remus' knee with his own. "Your corruption has made you cheeky." He smiled when Remus nudged him back. "You should convince your mum you could manage Zonko's in the morning."
"Not a hope. She hasn't quite realized that I manage Hogwarts."
Sirius sighed. "And you would be too worried about her worrying to have any fun."
"Hmm," Remus agreed. "I suppose I might have inherited that gene from my mother."
"Could be worse," Sirius told him with a half-smile. "Not sure I even want to know what I've inherited from my mine."
"You are nothing like her, Sirius," Remus said, voice quiet and resolute.
Knowing that should reassure him, Sirius shrugged and dropped his gaze to his hands, restless in his lap. "I've been disowned, you know," he murmured and once the words were said, he didn't even wish he could draw them back. An odd sort of relief soothed the tight places in his chest at Remus' softly indrawn breath.
"Yeah," Sirius muttered. "And it's an odd feeling, being disowned. I hate being at home and so I should be elated, right? Because I don't ever have to go back there. I can't go back there." He pulled a rickety breath. "She burned my name off the family tree; right there in front of me, calm as you please."
Remus took Sirius' restless hand, gripped it and somehow the burning eased along Sirius' throat. His eyes darted up; Remus' smile was sad, his brown eyes gentle.
"I can't imagine how awful that must have been. And of course, you're conflicted. They're your family."
"Some family," Sirius scoffed instead of giving into the stabbing pain near his breastbone.
"It isn't a terrible thing to want to be accepted by them, Sirius."
Unable to be still, Sirius pulled his hand away and shoved his hair from his eyes before hugging his bent knees. "They're insane, Remus. And Regulus taking the Mark, what the hell is he doing? How can he listen to the shit that Snape and those others spew about Muggleborns; Snape who slurred the girl he supposedly fancies."
"Well," Remus murmured, "he was a bit stressed—"
"Doesn't matter what his excuse is," Sirius cut in gruffly. "He thinks Lily is inferior to him, even if he does fancy her. It would take about five seconds for Voldemort to kill her. It's sick is what it is."
"You're right," Remus agreed. "But Regulus made his choice—it was made a long time ago, Sirius. You couldn't have done anything to change that."
Sirius pressed his nose into his kneecaps and stared at his trousers until the fabric blurred. "We used to be mates, Moony."
Sirius gazed at his hazy trousers awhile longer. "Did I ever tell you about the fort we made in the garden?" he asked, turning his head toward Remus and resting a cheek on his knees; Remus shook his head. "We spent hours in that thing. Dueling and making maps." He smiled, remembering, and Remus smiled with him.
"We thought we could make one from London to Bhutan and then charm it to take us there. He wanted to meet Druk, the Thunder Dragon…"
Swallowing hard, Sirius pressed his lips together. "Stupid, really," he eventually muttered. A hand settled on his back.
"It isn't stupid at all."
Sirius couldn't decide whether or not to agree. "He wanted to do everything I did," he said, lifting his head to stare across the room at the Quaffle still sitting on the desk. "Even then, my mother kept asking me why I couldn't be more like him. So I don't know why I'm so surprised she blasted me off the tapestry. God," he breathed as he dropped his face into his hands, "she was so relieved, Remus."
Remus' fingers tapped erratically against his back. "You haven't done anything to deserve this. You haven't," he said firmly when Sirius shook his head. "You can't ever please her because you are never going to be like her. You are too good for them, Sirius."
Sirius dug his fingers into his temples and wished he could believe it. "She only said I had to take the Mark because she knew I wouldn't say yes," he whispered. "She knew it."
Remus' hand stilled. His voice was shaky as he asked, "She wanted you to join Voldemort?"
"Demanded it," Sirius said hoarsely, trying in vain to rein in the tide of hurt swelling in his chest. "Said if it was time I was a proper Black and if I couldn't follow my brother's example…" He dragged in a breath until it burned. "Then I wasn't welcome there." A bitter, breathless laugh escaped. "As if I'd ever been welcome there."
"And Regulus just stood there; the fucking bastard wouldn't even look at me."
Sirius let his head fall against the wall, his fingers curled once more in his lap. "He was probably gleeful, the prick. Every single knut in Gringotts' is his now."
"You know that is something you needn't fret over," Remus said, joining him against the wall.
"No? You think I'm suited for a life of crime, do you?" As an attempt at humour, it was pathetic. Remus smiled anyway.
"I think the opposite actually. But the Potters aren't going to let you starve."
Turning his gaze straight ahead, Sirius didn't answer. "I can't stay here, Moony."
Sirius shrugged. "Because it's not on. Visiting is one thing, but I can't just plop myself on James' sofa and announce I'm moving in."
"You haven't told them you've left permanently?"
Sirius turned his head just enough to see Remus' surprise.
"Of course you haven't," Remus answered himself with a frown, "or James would have told me."
"What exactly did that git tell you?"
"Don't change the subject," Remus chided, swatting his leg. "Why didn't you tell Mr. Potter when you arrived? Or James?"
Sirius thumped his head against the wall a few times. "I dunno. It's not exactly an easy thing to tell, is it?" Neither of them mentioned that it had been easy enough to tell Remus. Maybe Remus hadn't noticed. He had gone a bit silent there. Sirius glanced at him; didn't understand the look Remus was giving him.
"James' parents will want you to stay here."
Why should they?
Remus frowned. "They aren't going to turn you out into the streets."
"My mother did."
"Your mother is vile," Remus said with a scowl in his eyes. "And you know perfectly well that the Potters adore you. And not in the McGonagall-sense of the word."
A smile tugged at Sirius' lips. "Even so, Remus, adoration doesn't mean they want me to live here."
"That's exactly what it means. Would you like a dictionary?"
"The Potters take Sirius in—that's the dictionary definition, then?"
"Yes," Remus said firmly. "It is."
Even amused, it wasn't enough. A few more thumps punctuated the silence. "I'm not supposed to have to worry about this for at least another two years. Isn't there a law against abandoning your kid?"
"I should think so," Remus said, tilting his head thoughtfully. "Is that what you want? If your mother didn't mind, would you go back?"
"Gods, no," Sirius said, his elaborate shiver not entirely exaggerated. "But I can't say I'd mind a little justice."
"Yes, you would."
Sirius sighed. "Not even revenge, Moony? Maybe that's what I inherited from my mother. She gets a sort of gleeful shine in her eyes. Take a look—"
"Don't do that, Sirius."
Sirius fell silent at the soft words—completely drained of humour.
"You are nothing like them," Remus repeated, leaning forward a little and Sirius could feel an elusive flush warming his face. "You are loyal to a fault, something your family can't claim, and you are far kinder than you realize. How many times have you protected me? Or James and Peter, though I doubt you're even aware that's what you're doing. You didn't have to become an Animagus, but you did it because you knew I needed it. Whatever you may have inherited from your parents, you've found a way not to let it define you."
Caught between horrible embarrassment and cautious elation, Sirius couldn't find a response, not even a witty one.
Remus took a breath and clamped his lips together briefly before nudging Sirius' knee; his eyes were brighter than usual. "Are we clear?"
Finding his voice again, Sirius squinted in consideration. "We are, and may I amend my earlier statement; your corruption has made you cheeky and despotic."
"Now that, I learned from James."
"Well," Sirius declared with a grand gesture, "tell me, then. What other great wisdom have you to depart? And if you could confine it to where I'll find a room for the price of a few used Quidditch magazines, I would be ever so grateful."
Remus' eyes crinkled their amusement and Sirius found himself smiling along.
"I'll read your palm… play the seer, shall I?" He opened Sirius' hand, curled the fingers in his own and traced a path down the longest line.
A jolt shot through Sirius' fingers at the contact. It traveled up his arm and stole his breath.
"It says here that you'll tell Mr. Potter that you're not going home. In the morning, no less."
Remus' eyes were dancing now, but Sirius' mouth was inexplicably dry and he couldn't move his tongue. Remus' smile faltered.
"I really do think you ought to tell them," he said, a bit more serious now. "I would take you to my house but I think my parents would be more worried that I might eat you than where you would sleep—" He blinked, startled, as Sirius laughed, all at once brought out of his daze.
"They don't think you eat people, Remus, be serious," he chuckled. "If they did, they wouldn't have sent you to Hogwarts. Besides, I've been to your house."
Relaxing, Remus shrugged. "You are perfectly welcome to bunk at my house, although you'll have to contend with James' jealousy if you do. Not to mention Mrs. Potter; she'll probably cry."
Sirius quelled a juvenile urge to stick out his tongue and instead sighed. "You don't play fair, Moony."
"Never claimed to. So you'll be sensible then and tell them?"
"Yes," Sirius answered, only half-meaning the sour expression. Couldn't really mean any of it when Remus' smile was so smug.
It was unceremoniously that Sirius was yanked from his sleep when something tickled his chin unknown hours later. He shifted and then stilled. Remus was half-lying on his chest and it had been Remus' shaggy hair which had woken him.
How they'd managed to fall asleep in this strange heap—or how they had fallen asleep at all were certainly questions worth asking. And Sirius supposed he might even need to decide what it meant that his heart was beating erratically. He didn't think it was because he minded Remus being sprawled all over him—the opposite might even be true, which by far, was the most disturbing part of this little scene.
He was given no time to ponder any of these things however. The sound of the Floo roaring from downstairs brought Remus awake. He stilled, imitating Sirius' reaction and then very slowly, he raised his head.
They stared at one another, Remus looking as befuddled as Sirius felt. Except that Remus looked a bit alarmed as well. Before either of them could seize on something appropriate to say, a frantic voice pierced the silence.
"Remus! He isn't in his bed—"
"Shit," Remus breathed as he shot up and scrambled off the bed, nearly knocking Sirius off in the process. "Shit, shit, shit, shit," he continued on in a completely un-Remus like mantra. "Where are my bloody shoes?"
Befuddled and sluggish, Sirius scrubbed a hand over his eyes and fumbled for his wand. Muttering a spell to turn up the lamp, he leaned over the edge of the bed, feeling around for only a second. "Here," he said, handing the shoes over. "Moony, calm down," he said quietly as Remus tried unsuccessfully to hop into them.
"Calm down?" Remus echoed incredulously. "That's my mother shrieking down there—my dad's going to kill me."
"No one going to kill you… here, give me those." Sirius pulled the shoes from Remus' fumbling fingers and gave his shoulder a gentle push. "Sit down and let me do that." He unlaced the shoes quickly while Remus gaped at him.
"What time… bloody hell, it's three o'clock!"
"All right, yes it's a bit late," Sirius said, feeling oddly sensible about the entire problem. "Just put your shoes on and we'll explain—"
"Explain?" Remus rasped as he shoved his feet into his trainers and didn't stop to lace them, instead jerking to his feet and making for the door. "My mum's probably having heart failure—aughh!"
Springing forward at the strangled shout, Sirius blew out a frustrated breath as soon as he saw the reason. James was standing in the corridor, gaping at them.
"Er… I think I heard your mum…"
"You don't say?" Remus mumbled and brushed past before James could make any other brilliant observations.
James caught Sirius' arm as he turned to follow Remus. "What—"
"Not now," Sirius said under his breath. He pulled his arm free with little effort and went after Remus.
Remus' footsteps slowed as they descended and then halted completely as Mr. Potter appeared at the bottom of the stairs; his worry immediately morphed to surprise. He switched his gaze to Sirius, a small frown hovering now and Sirius' stomach flipped.
Without addressing them, Mr. Potter said over his shoulder, "He's here, Melinda," before turning his attention back to the stairs, only this time above Sirius' head. Sirius glanced round, found a guilty-faced James.
"Remus," Mrs. Lupin said shakily as she rushed in, followed closely by Mrs. Potter.
"Mum," Remus began as he came close, but she didn't let him speak, instead taking his face in her hands.
"Are you all right?" she demanded.
Remus nodded. Relief flooded her face and she hugged him tightly. Remus didn't resist; he patted her back, mumbling, "I'm all right, Mum, honest."
"We had no idea where you were," she said, still tremulous as she pulled him away.
"I know, I'm sorry—"
"We were worried sick—" Mrs. Lupin dropped her hands, drawing in a quick breath. "Your father…" She pulled her wand from a pocket in her dressing gown and with a quick spell, sent her Patronus away. "He went to search the woods," she explained. She tucked her wand away and sighed. "We were frantic, Remus," she said, a hint of rebuke amongst the concern.
"It was my fault, Mrs. Lupin."
All eyes turned to James, who was hovering on the step just above Sirius' now.
"I er… asked him to come."
"It wasn't his fault," Remus put in quickly, but before anything else could be said, there was a deafening pop from beyond the front door, footsteps tripping up the stairs and a loud knock. Mr. Potter opened the door.
Mr. Lupin, looking every bit as frantic at his wife, stood on the stoop. His eyes darted around until he found Remus, and then his breath came out in a sharp explosion.
"He's all right," Mrs. Lupin assured him; she curled an arm around Remus' shoulders.
"I am," Remus said quickly. Mr. Lupin pressed his lips tightly together and at Mr. Potter's gesture, entered the house.
"I do apologize," Mr. Potter said quietly. "I didn't realize you hadn't given Remus permission to be here." His gaze flicked over the three boys again, lingering on James, who shifted and looked like he'd rather be anywhere but here.
But ever brave—or stupid, he said again, "It was my fault."
And since Sirius was just as stupid as James, he brought his courage to bear and said, "He was just trying to help me—thought I needed someone to, er…" Could he sound any more idiotic? "Someone to talk to, erm… considering things at home?" He cleared his throat and wished at least one of them would stop gaping at him. "So if it's anyone's fault, it's mine."
"Well, whomever's fault it is—" Mr. Potter said, pinning first Sirius and then James with his eyes,"—and we will sort that out in the morning, both of you go back to bed."
Mr. Potter's narrowed gaze ate up James' protest. He sighed deeply and turned. Sirius pulled his eyes from Remus', but before he had fully turned, Mr. Lupin's strained voice stopped him, "If I might have a word with Sirius, Charles?"
Sirius' stomach jerked and just above him, James shot him a grimace over his shoulder.
"With Sirius?" Mr. Potter echoed behind them. "Well, yes, if Sirius doesn't mind…"
Feeling vaguely anxious, and hoped it didn't show, Sirius turned. Remus was halfway into the parlour with his mother, but he twisted away from her to gape at his father.
Mr. Lupin glanced at him and though Sirius didn't think he looked particularly angry, Remus didn't continue. Mr. Lupin's expression softened. "Go on with your mother," he said quietly. Remus' shoulders slumped but he nodded.
His eyes didn't leave Sirius though as he came slowly down the stairs. With a bravado he didn't feel, Sirius smiled and winked. Remus, at least, looked marginally reassured.
Sirius followed Mr. Lupin into the study.
An apology usually worked best in situations like these, so Sirius said as earnestly as he could, "I'm sorry we worried you. Remus didn't mean to do that."
Mr. Lupin's eyebrows peaked. "Well, I do appreciate your apology, but I'm not angry."
Mr. Lupin smiled. "I daresay I don't enjoy finding my son's bed empty in the middle of the night, I'm not angry, especially not with you, Sirius. I do know Remus regards you very highly and if you are having a problem at home…" He trailed off, the awkward twist of his hands holding Sirius' attention. "I wanted to thank you, actually."
Sirius stared at him blankly.
Mr. Lupin straightened his dressing gown's lapels. "Melinda and I," he said quietly, "were not keen to send Remus to Hogwarts, I'm sure you know that?"
Having no idea where he was going with this, Sirius nodded.
"His condition makes everything more challenging, and we were both very relieved when he became close to you boys, and then when you took it upon yourselves to become Animagi…" Mr. Lupin cleared his throat, but it was still scratchy. "It's been easier for him now, and that has been a relief I can't quite describe. We are very grateful to you; James and Peter as well."
It took Sirius much too long to find his voice. "You're welcome, sir. I mean, it wasn't terribly difficult. And Remus needed us, so…" He shrugged.
Mr. Lupin squeezed his shoulder. "I know," he said quietly. His eyebrows knitting, he murmured, "We'd best return. Remus is probably more anxious than is warranted."
Sirius had to smile at that. "He always is."
Mr. Lupin smiled. He gestured for Sirius to go first and his nerves no longer jangling, Sirius did. Mr. Potter was the only one left in the foyer.
"Is everything all right?" he asked.
"Absolutely," Mr. Lupin assured him.
Mr. Potter's shoulders relaxed. "I will show you out then, John. Sirius," he added, gesturing with his head toward the stairs, "off to bed."
Sirius obeyed, ducking his head from Mr. Potter's still-lingering frown and went upstairs. And even though the house was quiet again, the lamps turned down—and he'd heard the whoosh of the Floo taking Remus' dad away—he couldn't sleep.
But if he stayed very still, he could almost feel Remus' head on his chest. He could smell him even—what was that smell? Parchment and melted candles, he decided with a smile. Parchment wrinkled from all the time Remus spent bent over them, erasing and adding words for hours. Writing brilliant things that didn't seem to belong to Remus, somehow. Quiet, proper Remus.
Sirius cracked an eye as the door creaked open. Muted light drew shadows on James' face as he crept into the room. He dropped onto the bed without so much as a by your leave and thumped Sirius on the back.
"I know you're not asleep."
"I might have been asleep," Sirius grumbled.
James ignored that. His wand light hovered too close and Sirius groaned again as he flipped. "What do you want?"
James' eyes narrowed; a fair imitation of his father. "What the hell was that?"
Sirius adjusted the blanket and didn't even try to pretend he didn't understand. "We fell asleep. We didn't mean to."
"You didn't…" James shook his head. "So this isn't…" He gestured vaguely.
"You and Remus," James stressed and then sighed. "I thought you were in here together. I haven't an objection to that, you know, but I at least should be told first."
Sirius stared. "Have you gone round the twist?"
"Don't think so. Why?"
Sirius pushed himself up. "How do you mean you thought we were in here together?"
James squinted behind his spectacles. "Oh, fine," he drawled, rolling his eyes. "I'm completely mad. You don't fancy him at all."
"I…" Sirius closed his mouth slowly. Fancy Remus? He didn't. Remus was his friend. But a friend couldn't steal his breath simply by touching him, and a friend's melted candle smell shouldn't linger in his nostrils. He shouldn't even know what his friends smelled like.
James was smirking at him. "Got there all by yourself, did you?"
"Get the hell off my bed."
James made himself more comfortable. "You know, Padfoot, this is brilliant," he mused. "Except that you'll be wanting those Captain's robes now and we're destined for the sort of rivalry that history is built on. I'm going to win, of course."
"Of course," Sirius mocked, as sour as he couldn't be with Remus.
"But you'll still be able to use the Prefect's bath, and actually—"
"If you finish that sentence, I will hex your bollocks straight off."
"Fine," James said, hands help up in surrender. "I'm only saying… brilliant, yes?"
And in spite of himself, Sirius smiled. But instead of answering, he said, "Unless you're going for weeks without your broom, go back to bed."
James deflated. "Dad's going to kill me, you realize."
"Yeah well, you shouldn't have told Remus to sneak out."
"I didn't!" James scowled. "I wouldn't do that."
"What did you think he was going to do, you berk? Telling him I'm standing on a cliff somewhere—"
"Well, you were," James insisted. "And by the way, you're not any longer so I guess Remus worked a treat, then?"
James huffed. "Fine, fine, I'll go, but not until you admit I was right. And if it's my skin, what do you care? Unless… how angry were Remus' parents? Did his dad threaten to hex you or something?"
"No. He was thanking me actually."
Sirius smiled to himself. "For becoming an Animagus."
"Well, I like that," James muttered. "What about me?"
"It was my idea."
"Oh, that's very nice. He leaves me out altogether, just because he's googly-eyed over you."
Now that was something Sirius hadn't considered. Not that he'd had any time at all to consider anything. "Are you going to let me sleep? Or did you want to sit here and tell me a bedtime story?"
"I tell brilliant ones, I'll have you know," James sniffed.
"I know. Get out."
James finally stood but not before socking Sirius lightly on the shoulder. "Brilliant, mate, you'll see."
He slipped out again, leaving Sirius wondering what the hell he was supposed to do with this revelation. This rising tide of terror that was squeezing his chest. There was something liberating about it though… something welcome that Sirius couldn't quite capture. He'd had his fair share of kisses—a date or two—but not once did the anticipation feel like this.
Without thinking about it, he brushed his fingers over his mouth, wondering what Remus' lips might feel like. The thought made his stomach tingle and his brain freeze all at once. He wanted to kiss one of his best friends. And he definitely would have welcomed Remus' weight against his chest again.
Smiling like a dolt at the ceiling, Sirius let the fear and awe mingle until he thought his chest might explode.
Sirius ran clammy palms over his trousers' seat as he and James made their way downstairs the next morning. All of the odd, fizzy anticipation about Remus had been squashed for the immediate trepidation in telling the Potters he'd been tossed out.
No matter what Remus had said, Sirius couldn't be certain they would want him to stay. But since he had promised Remus he would tell them, tell them he would.
It didn't help that he was half-convinced Mr. Potter was going to be including him in James' lecture.
"Don't worry," James said under his breath, "I'll tell him it wasn't your fault."
Sirius glanced at him, grateful for that. He didn't care for James' parents to be upset with him; didn't care for it at all. "We'll simply have to do some of that brain-building for awhile," he said, hoping to encourage. James grimaced and with a sigh, they went through the kitchen and into the dining room.
Mr. Potter was at the table. He eyed them over the day's Prophet. "Good morning."
Both boys' greetings were equally subdued. James was still watching his father, even as Tilly set a plate in front of him. The smell of banana hotcakes—James' favorite—filled the room.
Mrs. Potter smiled at them across the table. Sirius managed a small one in return and thanked Tilly when a plate appeared in front of him. The newspaper crackled as Mr. Potter folded it and set it aside. "Thank you, Tilly," he murmured and then turned his attention to James, who was pressing the tines of his fork into the fluffy cake. "I assume you don't want to delay our discussion?"
"Look Dad," James said, "I know it was stupid, but I didn't exactly tell Remus he ought to leave—not without telling anyone—"
"It wasn't his fault," Sirius felt compelled to add; James' squirming was making him want to flee the table. "He was only trying to help—"
"So you already explained," Mr. Potter cut in quietly; Sirius brought his hands into his lap and fell silent. "And I have no objection to that. I do, however, take issue with Remus lying to me and sneaking out, which you must have assumed he would have to do to leave his house," he said to James. "Am I wrong?"
"No," James sighed.
"Remus' parents are overly anxious when it comes to Remus, I'll admit that," Mr. Potter said, echoing James' sigh. "But no parent wants to wake up in the middle of the night and find that one of his children is gone."
James dropped his eyes. "I know."
"I don't want this to happen again, James. Especially not because you feel that Sirius needs help." He glanced at Sirius briefly before turning his attention back to James, who was waiting warily. "Your mother and I are quite capable of solving any problems either of you are having. And if you felt Sirius needed to speak with Remus, we would have arranged it."
James' brow furrowed, as surprised by the shift in lecture as Sirius was.
"As for you, Sirius," Mr. Potter went on, startling Sirius, "I would like to speak to you after breakfast."
Sirius felt his ears growing hot but he nodded. "Yes sir."
"Sirius didn't know Remus was coming," James objected, his eyes darting between his father and Sirius.
Mr. Potter nodded. "You've made that perfectly clear, James. He isn't in any trouble—" A small smile as he picked up fork and knife, "—although since you won't be going to Diagon Alley this morning, I assume he won't want to either."
"Unless you would like me to put your broom away after all?"
James clamped his lips together, pushed a heavy breath through his nostrils and slumped in his chair. "No," he mumbled in answer to his father's questioning eyebrows.
Mr. Potter reached over and mussed his son's hair. "You and Sirius will find some other mischief, take your mind right off Zonko's, I have no doubt."
James sighed. "Yeah, guess so." He gave his father a lopsided smile. "But we weren't planning any mischief, you know."
"Mm," was Mr. Potter's response, not quite disbelief but close enough; James smirked and picked up his fork again.
"Would you like syrup, James?" Mrs. Potter asked, looking relieved that all that business was over. "Sirius?"
Sirius nodded, accepted the pitcher of warm syrup as James asked his dad what sort of case the Wizengamot was hearing today. Sirius watched the syrup spread over the hotcakes, too unsettled to join in the family's chatter.
Mr. Potter had said he wasn't in trouble, so maybe it was this promise he had made to Remus making his insides feel like they'd been eaten through by moths, though why he didn't just tell them now, he had no idea.
He looked up, found Mr. and Mrs. Potter eyeing him with concern.
"Are you feeling ill?" Mrs. Potter asked.
James looked up from his mouthful and frowned.
"Erm, no," Sirius said, picking up his fork dutifully. "A bit tired is all," he explained and took a bite of hotcake. None of them look convinced but they allowed the charade, all except James, whose pinched eyebrows promised that Sirius would spill all directly after breakfast.
After numerous tasteless bites, Sirius was relieved when Mr. Potter shook his head at Tilly's offer of coffee once the dishes had been cleared. He pushed back his chair and beckoned Sirius to follow him into the library.
Mr. Potter sat next to him on one of the cozy sofas, his eyebrows pinched. "I sent a letter to your parents," he began without preamble. Sirius drew his elbows tight against his side and nodded, thinking this was probably worse than being scolded.
"I know you didn't think it necessary, and perhaps…" Mr. Potter pursed his lips. When he began again, his voice was strained, "I know you told me that no one hurt you, but I'm concerned. Whatever you tell me, you may trust that it won't leave this room, Sirius," he said gently. "If something happened and you're afraid to—"
"I'm not," Sirius broke in, almost as strained. Mr. Potter stopped speaking, his face expectant; Sirius shifted. "It wasn't anything like that, sir. Not that they haven't ever… er, well, what I mean is, they don't… they haven't—" He gave up and blew out his frustration on a short breath. "It was Kreacher who hurt my hand."
That was safe enough to admit.
Sirius shrugged. "He's always been fond of Regulus."
Mr. Potter stared at him, his lips pinched. "Did your parents order him to do that?" he finally asked, the curl of his lip belying the calm in his eyes.
"No," Sirius said honestly.
"And that's all that happened? You left after that?"
A lie still seemed easier. But Sirius shook his head, and then wondered why Mr. Potter tensed. And then he realized that he must already know—he had sent a letter after all. His mother must have told him Sirius was no longer welcome at Grimmauld Place.
Sirius looked away, to the soaring shelves of antique books. Obviously, Mr. Potter was no more excited about this conversation than he was. "I have enough galleons to last for a few weeks, I think. If I can find work for the summer, that will last until term starts and Remus said I might be able to stay with him—"
"Sirius, what on earth are you on about?"
Sirius halted mid-ramble to find Mr. Potter gaping at him. "I…"
"How do mean you only have enough galleons to last a few weeks? And why in the world would you need to stay with the Lupins?"
Sirius gestured vaguely, his throat aching more than it had when he'd appeared on the Potters' doorstop. "I… only have the galleons left over from last term. I didn't spend much but I guess I should have been more careful. I mean, I don't think they will formally disinherit me…"
He trailed off as Mr. Potter held up a hand. "Are you telling me," he demanded quietly, "that your parents have disinherited you because you fought with your brother?"
Now Mr. Potter looked truly dumbfounded and Sirius was beginning to think he had assumed too much. So he started at the beginning, stumbling over words and generally making an arse of himself.
"She went back to the parlour after that," he mumbled, having been focused on his hands for awhile now. His mother's words, muffled since last night taunted him again. "I went upstairs—I didn't know what to do and… dunno, just eventually shrunk my trunk and left."
The silence was thunderous.
And when Mr. Potter asked the inevitable, Sirius winced; dared to look up. Mr. Potter's face was an odd shade of red, as if he'd forgotten his sunburn balm. And finding an answer to why he hadn't told him about this before proved difficult.
"I dunno… I didn't think it mattered. I mean," he added hastily as Mr. Potter's eyebrows flew behind his fringe, "I thought I might stay here for a few days and then if Remus' parents would rather I not stay with them—"
"A few days?" The echo did nothing to help the crimson staining Mr. Potter's cheeks. "I meant it when I said you could stay here as long as you wanted, and now, under the circumstances, you will remain with us for the summer and we'll make whatever formal arrangements need to be made, and money isn't—"
"You don't have to do that." Sirius hated the heavy weight in his stomach; hated even more the sting erupting in his throat. "If the Lupins don't want me to stay in their house, maybe they'll just let me use that old shed at the edge of their property and once I find work—"
"Now see here, young man, you are not staying in a shed."
Sirius closed his mouth.
"You are sixteen years old," Mr. Potter went on. "You are not fending for yourself on the streets. And you are certainly not sleeping in a rotting hovel that used to be home to cattle."
Mr. Potter sighed when Sirius could find no response to that. "I'm very sorry this happened, Sirius." He smoothed Sirius' hair. "What your mother did is unforgivable, expecting you to take part in something so heinous and then…" His free hand curled into a fist, some internal struggle that joined the confused mass of Sirius' tangled emotions; one more thing he didn't understand.
"If this is what they want for you," Mr. Potter said grimly, "then it is best you left."
Sirius nodded. He knew that, he did, but that didn't explain the hollow spot in his chest. "What…" He didn't want this to matter. "What did she say in her letter?"
Mr. Potter gazed at him with tight lips for a long moment and then finally, squeezed the back of Sirius' neck. "The owl didn't bring a letter back with her."
Sirius' nod was mechanical this time. Of course his mother hadn't responded. She'd burned him off the family tree.
"You aren't to worry about anything," Mr. Potter was saying. "After all, you're family." His smile was too forced, but Sirius didn't think that was really about him. "Dorea will be pleased to have you here for the summer. And of course, you and James will go together to get your books and Mrs. Potter will want to buy you new robes and uniforms for the new year in August. Is there anything else you need just now? Anything you didn't bring with you?"
"Well, if you think of anything," he said firmly when Sirius shook his head, "you and James may go to Diagon Alley tomorrow. Perhaps if Remus' parents will allow it, you'll ask him along. Peter as well if you like?"
"Erm, sure," Sirius murmured, rubbing his palms against his trousers. His hands were cold.
"Good then. And if you want to bunk with James, you're welcome of course, but I think you might like your own room. Perhaps even decorate it with whatever sorts of posters you like? The Canons, just to annoy James?" He smiled, this time with more humor. Sirius did his best to follow along.
Mr. Potter's smile pressed together briefly. "I know this is difficult. Whatever we can do to make it easier, we will. And we are very pleased to have you here. I want you to understand that."
"Yes sir," Sirius said gruffly. "I know."
Mr. Potter patted his knee. "Why don't you and James go out and fly for a bit? Find a bit of that mischief, eh?" He stood with Sirius, giving him a squeeze about his shoulders. "I will be straight out."
He smiled and Sirius, not knowing how to say all the things in his heart, shoved his hands into his pocket and mumbled, "Thanks."
"No need to thank me, Sirius. It's what a family does."
Not all families.
"Thanks all the same." Before Mr. Potter could answer, Sirius ducked his head and let himself out. James was still at the table doing a very poor impression of someone reading the morning's paper. He waggled his eyebrows at Sirius, paused mid-jiggle when Sirius didn't crack a grin.
"What's the matter?"
Mrs. Potter came in then, a parchment in her hands, smiled at the boys and went into the library. Mr. Potter's said something too quietly for Sirius and James to hear and then the door closed with a soft click.
"Big secret?" James asked.
Restless, Sirius was already moving for the doorway. "Want to go flying?"
Their exit was halted by the explosion of Mr. Potter's voice beyond the library door, "It's inexcusable!"
"I can't believe she would do that," came Mrs. Potter's voice, equally distressed but not nearly as loud.
"That woman has always been awful, but to throw Sirius out—to blast him off their family tree and then not even take the letter—to act as if he doesn't even exist—"
"Maybe she will still write something."
"The bloody owl's foot was nearly burnt off!"
"Shh, Charles… The boys will hear you."
There was silence. And then, "Merlin help me if she hurt that child, Dorea…"
Buzzing, awful silence. And Sirius was still standing in the doorway, his fingers tingling with it. James was standing next to him, staring at the closed door.
He eventually asked softly, "Did she really toss you out?" He turned his head when Sirius didn't answer.
James didn't say anything and Sirius waited for anger or pity—a platitude of some sort. But James only smiled. He palmed the back of Sirius' head and gave it a jostle. "Come on," he muttered.
Relieved, Sirius fell in step beside him and they went outside.
Mr. Potter pulled his head from the emerald flames. He sat back on his heels and smiled.
James grinned triumphantly. "See?"
"Yes," his father agreed, shaking his head in amusement. "The Lupins seem to be expecting you."
"Of course they are. Didn't we say so?"
"You did, but considering—"
"It wasn't me who lied, Dad," James said, still grinning as he offered Mr. Potter a hand up. "I would never."
"I'm absolutely reassured," Mr. Potter said dryly.
"Tell him, Sirius."
"Oy," Mr. Potter chided, taking James' shoulder and turning him toward the stairs, "don't make Sirius lie for you. Go on upstairs and pack."
James brought his toothbrush out of his pocket with a flourish. "Already done."
Mrs. Potter and Tilly appeared from the kitchen, both carrying backpacks. "Here we are," she said, handing Sirius' over. "Clean clothes, toiletries."
"You went through our drawers, Mum?" James complained. He made a face.
"Hush. And remember to be on your best behavior," she said, coming closer to rearrange James' crooked collar. He sighed and angled his chin so she could smooth it. "No mischief," she said positively. "Mr. and Mrs. Lupin are so fretful."
"We promise," James said solemnly. "No mischief."
"You would think," Mrs. Potter sighed, "that you might like to be a home for a few days before you go rushing off again. We've missed you terribly."
"I know, Mum," James said soothingly. "And I promise, when we get home, we'll spend loads of time with you. We'll even let you take us to Madame Malkin's." He glanced over his mother's head. "Won't we, Sirius?"
A fate worth than death.
But Sirius nodded dutifully. "Absolutely."
"There now, won't that be lovely?"
"I suppose, yes it will be," Mrs. Potter decided, smiling now.
James grinned and bent to kiss his mother's cheek. Looking decidedly more cheerful, Mrs. Potter turned to study Sirius. "You're still too thin," she declared. "We'll stop for lunch after we order new robes." She stretched on her toes and kissed his cheek. "Be good."
Smiling slightly, Sirius nodded. "Yes ma'am."
"You as well," she told her son. She gave him a kiss and then stepped back to allow them to step into the Floo.
"Behave yourselves," Mr. Potter said seriously.
"We will, Dad." With that, James threw down the green powder and called for Remus' house.
Sirius tried to ignore the tingle of nerves in his belly as they went up in flames. And once the network spat them out, his eyes were already scanning the parlour. His shoulders slumped; no Remus. His mother was waiting with hands clasped. She sighed in relief.
"Remus will be so pleased you're here. I'll be right back." She hurried out of the room.
Peter was there as well, sitting in one of the Lupins' chairs, as out of place as a Slytherin in red and gold. "What took you so long?" he complained as soon as they cleared the hearth. James shook his ashy hair in Peter's direction.
"Made a detour to Hogwarts, took in a class. McGonagall's positively stunning in a bathing costume."
Peter wrinkled his nose. "I'll lose my dinner."
"Sirius already did," James said cheerfully. "Where's Remus?"
Mrs. Lupin returned with a stack of blankets. She handed them to James, who smiled encouragingly at her. "Be careful, all of you," she said quietly.
"We always are," Sirius assured her. "Let's go," he said to James and Peter. Leading the way, he gauged the setting sun, gave it another thirty minutes. He glanced at James, who nodded.
Sirius closed his eyes and drew in a breath, bringing his magic up from his core until it vibrated his fingertips. Slowly, he pushed it to the very edge of his skin and as he did, he felt the deep crawl of the magic rushing through his blood, rippling his muscles, straining until everything burned white.
Padfoot shook his head, took in this new perspective, the cool grass beneath his paws, the crisp summer air. Prongs was huffing beside him, shaking his great antlers at the orange sky. And winding between their feet, his tail twitching, was Wormtail. He settled between Pafoot's paws, all three staring at the ancient shed.
Prongs' hoof dented the grass as he pawed the earth. Taking the cue, they made their way across the field and into the shed. Padfoot's heart sped up when he saw Remus, a blanket wrapped around him in the middle of the floor.
He looked up and a small smile broke through the sheen of sweat. "You made it."
Padfoot nudged Remus' hand with his nose. Remus smiled and let his fingers slide through the course fur. "Glad you did." He kept his hand on Padfoot's shoulder as Padfoot settled down next to him. Wormtail curled up on the edge of Remus' blanket while Prongs stood guard.
Together, they waited for the moon.
Finding a patch of shoulder that wasn't bloodied was proving difficult. Without thinking about it, Sirius brushed the sweaty fringe from Remus' forehead. His eyes fluttered open.
"The sun has been up for at least ten minutes, Moony. And James calls me lazy…"
The corner of Remus' lip curled, but he winced before he finished the smile.
"You've a nasty gash on your chest," Sirius said quietly. "Try not to move."
For some reason, crimson stained Remus' cheeks and his hands gripped the blanket at his waist but after the full moon, strength was only a memory.
"I'll do it…" Sirius tugged the blanket up, quirked a sardonic eyebrow when it was tucked under Remus' chin. "Better?"
Remus wet his lips and nodded. "Sorry… cold is all."
Sirius produced his wand and waggled it above Remus' nose. "Warming Charm?"
"That's all right, my parents will be here soon…" Remus' gaze wandered to the door. "… and our healer."
Smiling, Sirius asked, "Is that a dismissal, Moony?"
Remus' eyes snapped back to Sirius. "No, of course not, it's just—"
Sirius' soft voice halted Remus' slipping words.
"I know we've only done this a few times," Sirius said, doing his best to keep his voice relaxed, "but we didn't mind; any of us."
It took a moment for Remus to nod. "I know."
"Then relax, mate. It's just us."
Swallowing, Remus nodded again. "Right," he said, in a tone that told Sirius he wasn't convinced. He glanced away again. "Look, Sirius," he said, the strain in his voice making his jaw taut, "sorry about… well, the other night. Funny how you don't mean to fall asleep." A strained chuckled. "…bit awkward."
Sirius stared at him. Awkward?
Remus' eyes were shining with anxiety, his face pinched and pale—and this time Sirius didn't think it had anything to do with the moon. At least not completely. And what was the apology for? In case Sirius had found it awkward? Or because Remus had?
Uncertain how to respond, Sirius quirked a lopsided smile. "No worries," he said, forcing the hoarse from his voice. "You were up too late is all. Seems your mother knows what she's on about when she sends you to bed before dusk."
Remus smiled faintly.
The shed doors creaked and both of them turned their heads. It was with an odd mixture of relief and reluctance that Sirius stood. Mrs. Lupin knelt down beside her son, already fussing with the blanket and demanding reassurances that he was all right; Remus didn't mention the gash across his chest.
"Thank you," Mr. Lupin said quietly as he took Sirius' upper arm and led him away. "He was much calmer last night," he murmured. "And physically…" He smiled at Sirius. "All of it is easier." He clamped a hand onto Sirius' shoulder, his eyes drifting to his son again. "Our healer is on his way. I'm sure Remus has told you about him?"
Sirius was grateful a mute nod would suffice.
"Been with us since Remus was first bitten," Mr. Lupin said anyway. "We have been lucky to have someone we trust." He turned back to Sirius. "You boys go on in, have breakfast if you like."
Sirius nodded again. Mr. Lupin clapped his arm and went to join his wife. His nerves making his fingers twitch with too much energy, Sirius went over to the other Marauders and nudged Jame's ankle with a toe.
"… not moving…"
"You are, or Padfoot is going to have a snack."
"It's too early for threats," James grumbled, but he had already cracked an eye. He flapped a hand about his head and eventually whacked Peter. "Get up, you git, or Padfoot will eat you."
"Be my bloody guest…"
"Come on, chaps," Sirius said, changing his tone and hoping his lazy-arsed mates would understand, "Remus needs to see his healer."
Words well chosen.
Peter and James sat up, both of them zeroing in on Remus, who was now trying to soothe his mother's tears. "Is he hurt?" James asked, accepting Sirius' hand up and then paying the favor forward to Peter.
James' eyes sharpened.
"The healer will take care of everything," Mr. Lupin assured them from where he was still kneeling beside Remus. . "I can't thank you boys enough. I already told Sirius—" James jabbed an elbow into Sirius' ribs. —but we are both very grateful."
"We don't mind at all," James told him, and Peter nodded his agreement. "We'll expect him you Diagon Alley in three days, Moony." James glanced at Sirius. "Think that ought to give my mother enough time with us?"
"Doubt it, mate." Sirius let James and Peter go first, pausing in the doorway. Remus glanced up then, eyes connecting with Sirius'; Sirius found himself smiling. As Remus' face relaxed, he wondered if his heart was destined to sprint every time Remus smiled at him.
"Dad's not expecting us back for at least a few more hours," James pulled his attention from the door.
Sirius creaked the old shed doors closed and eyed James. "I hope you have something better than Quidditch in mind—"
"Better than Quidditch!"
"We've been doing nothing but playing for days now."
"It isn't my fault we were banned from Diagon Alley," James said, still looking highly offended.
"Actually it was."
"Well, if you're going to be technical about it…"
"How did you get banned from Diagon Alley?" Peter asked interestedly. "Did you blow someone up?"
"Blow someone up?" James echoed. "Well, I never. Can you even name one time we blew someone up?"
"You blew me up last week!"
"Oh right," James said, stroking his chin.
"To be fair," Sirius said, sliding his hands into his pockets and put up a nice grin, "we didn't blow you up, not literally. Even we aren't that advanced with a Reparo."
"My pants," Peter stressed, making a face. "You blew my pants to smithereens."
"Well, yes, I suppose we did…"
"And we didn't even use a Reparo Charm, did we?" James asked, his lips pursed in chagrin. He looked to Sirius. "Why didn't we?"
"Pieces were too tiny… disintegrated a few, I think."
Effectively distracted from Diagon Alley bans, Peter scowled. "You could have blown off my bits. Whoever heard of localizing a Blasting Spell that way?"
"Well, it worked didn't it?" James retorted; the same logic he had used last week. "You'll thank me when someone tries to hex you."
"I'm going to win a duel by blowing off someone's pants?" Peter asked sourly.
"Their bits, mate, their bits."
Peter considered that. "Good point."
"Well, now that's all settled," Sirius said pointedly to James, "what was your brilliant scheme?"
"Did I say it was a scheme? Did I even say had a scheme?"
"He didn't," Peter said nodding and hooking a thumb in James' direction. Sirius rolled his eyes. "Only said we have a few hours to kill. Well, you and James only have a few hours. I have all day; parents went to Marbury to visit my grandmother."
He continued on while James compared how little he cared about grandmothers to the size of Peter's bits, but Sirius had stopped listening. He could see Remus through the small window on the side of the shed. Could hear him as well, since the windows hadn't had glass for years.
The healer was there now, helping Remus sit up and waving his wand over him.
"No, no, doesn't really hurt…"
"No need to brave, Remus. Of course it hurts—"
"You still with us, Padfoot?" James asked.
Sirius turned reluctantly. "Yeah." He swiped his hair out of his eyes. "What's the plan, then?"
"Could it include eggs?" Peter asked. "Because I'm hungry. A few bangers wouldn't go amiss."
"Breakfast?" James groaned. "That's our brilliant plan?"
"Being a rat is exhausting, you know."
"There are eggs at James' house," Sirius interjected before James could make a witty retort. "Why don't you lot go over there and I'll be over once Remus is settled." Didn't really matter if Remus might want nothing to do with whatever was making Sirius' chest hurt; they were Marauders first.
Blood brothers. All that rot.
"He doesn't need us. And I need breakfast." Peter's stomach growled to make his point.
"Well, if you're staying, I'm staying," James said.
Peter sighed. "I'm for the loo. And for pie, if the Lupins have any."
"Bring me a wedge!" James called as Peter trundled away. He waved over his shoulder in acknowledgment.
"Think he's really all right?" James asked as Sirius turned back to the dingy window.
"Looks to be," Sirius muttered. "The healer keeps telling him he's on his last breath."
"Remus is about to castigate him," James observed. Sirius nodded, having already come to that conclusion just from the studious set of Remus' lips and deceptively calm brown of his eyes.
"And I thought Pomfrey was irritating…" Sirius looked over his shoulder as something nudged his back. He quirked an eyebrow. "Aren't you supposed to be human?"
Prongs nudged him again and danced backward. Sirius stared at him, caught between puzzlement and humour. As a distraction, it was hardly ingenious. Except that Sirius rarely saw Prongs through human eyes. And he had never seen him dance.
"Is this how stags initiate a duel, then? Death by antlers and all that?"
Prongs huffed; stamped his hoof impatiently.
"All right, all right," Sirius laughed. He was bounding away as Padfoot in the next second and skidding to a halt so quickly that he tripped over his oversized paws and landed in a heap on the cold grass. Mr. Potter was standing halfway between the house and the shed, his mouth parted in shock.
Shock at seeing a black, grim-sized dog is all, Padfoot told himself once he had gathered his wits.
And a stag, his brain added helpfully as Prongs froze just behind. A stag that looked like the twin to Mr. Potter's Patronus.
"Oy, I found a whole pie, Prongs! Cherry and its…." Peter gaped between them and Mr. Potter. "Er… hullo, Mr. Potter. I was just, erm… I thought… I really like cherry pie," he finished, drooping with the pie in his hand.
Mr. Potter didn't even glance at Peter. He was already moving forward, no less shocked and just the beginnings of anger edging his mouth. "James Charles Potter," he said, his voice deep voice rustling the morning dew, "what in Merlin's name is this?"
Neither stag nor dog moved. Sirius because this level of panic apparently required his limbs to cease functioning.
"James," Mr. Potter said sharply, followed by a deep breath. "As surreal as this sentence is, I saw you transform. I am quite capable of a Homorphous Charm," he warned when that was met with silence.
Giving in to defeat, Sirius transformed. He felt James' magic crackling behind him as his mate did the same.
"Surprise?" Peter warbled from behind Mr. Potter.
"Shut up, Pete," Sirius said since James was mute under his father's frown.
Mr. Potter shook his head, more perplexed than angry now. "I am trying to understand why you would hide this?"
As unusually open as James was with his parents, the hurt in Mr. Potter's voice wasn't difficult to understand.
"We didn't mean to exactly," James began. And even though they hadn't really had a choice, the words were soaked with regret. "It's difficult to explain—"
"Slowly now, Remus... we are not in a race, dear boy."
Mr. Potter turned at the sound of the healer's voice.
His sharp gasp had James and Sirius whipping around. The Lupins and the healer were gaping at all of them. The red slashes stood stark against Remus' colorless face; worse in the sunlight. And the robes clutched around his shaking frame were fluttering around his bare legs.
"Charles," Mr. Lupin stuttered just as Mr. Potter demanded, "What is going on here?"
"Just a little accident," the healer said crisply. "Nothing to be concerned about."
"Nothing to be..." Mr. Potter took a step forward. "Remus, are you all right?"
"He will be perfectly fine," the healer said. "If you would allow us to take him inside—"
"Now just a moment," Mr. Potter objected, blocking the healer's escape. "What sort of accident leaves a boy with such deep cuts and unable to walk unescorted?"
"It is really quite easy to explain-"
"Then please do," Mr. Potter interrupted with a frown. "I know Remus is ill quite frequently but this—"
"See here," the healer interrupted irritably, "Remus' health is none of your concern. Now if you would move aside—"
"Charles," Mr. Lupin finally found his tongue, "I know this appears odd, but I assure you nothing suspect is going on here. Remus is prone to night wanderings, and sometimes he hurts himself." Mr. Lupin's smile was strained. "We really do need to get him inside."
Mr. Potter's hazel eyes studied the other man's for a long minute. With a curt nod, he stepped aside. Still strained about the mouth, Mr. Lupin uttered his gratitude and he and his wife shuffled away with Remus in between, who looked as anxious as he had just after Sirius and James had discovered his secret.
Peter made an awkward noise that might have been an attempt to clear his throat. "I'll just… eat this inside," he muttered when Mr. Potter glanced at him. He slunk away after the Lupins.
It was a long moment before Mr. Potter turned round. James grimaced as he met his father's frown. "Remus hurt himself so much that he needed a healer," Mr. Potter said quietly, "and you and Sirius are out here transforming?"
James shifted under the scrutiny, which switched to Sirius until Sirius dropped his eyes.
"Is that what happened, James?" Mr. Potter asked. "Did Remus hurt himself while he was sleepwalking?"
"Answer me, James."
Sirius could feel all of James' resolve crumbling. Lying to his father had never meant so much. Sirius couldn't blame him though, and so he steeled himself. He blinked at James' croaked, "Yes sir."
He looked up to find James and Mr. Potter staring at one another, James with guilt making his face stiff. Pressing his lips together, Mr. Potter turned to Sirius. "Your Uncle Alphard sent an owl this morning. That is why I came. He sent a letter to you; one to me as well, asking to see you as soon as possible."
"Oh." Too surprised to offer much else, Sirius nodded. The disappointment in Mr. Potter's eyes was difficult to look at, but it seemed cowardly to turn away. Especially since it was James who had made the sacrifice.
"As soon as we return," Mr. Potter said tightly, "we are going to the Ministry. You need to be registered as Animagi."
Mr. Potter turned. James swallowed, but he made it past the frown this time and said, "We can't. I mean, we don't need to—"
"You do," Mr. Potter interrupted, his voice unusually brusque. "If someone were to find out that the two of you are unregistered Animagi, you would be in serious trouble."
They both knew that. James was trying not to look at Sirius, in that way he always did under McGonagall's suspicious gaze.
"What could possibly compel you keep this a secret?" Mr. Potter demanded. "It is illegal, not some childish prank that will have you in detention for a week. This has to do with Remus, hasn't it?" he asked, quieter now as he surveyed their shifting stances. And when neither answered, he tapped James under the chin. "What is going on?"
James' cheeks immediately burned crimson, but even the admonishment couldn't bring him to answer. Sirius' stomach twisted in sympathy.
Mr. Potter sighed and gripped James' neck, ducking a bit to meet his reluctant gaze. "If Remus asked you to keep a secret for him… I know how you boys feel about him, but if someone is hurting him, keeping it to yourselves won't help him, I promise."
James shook his head. His voice was strained to the breaking point when he spoke, "No one's hurting him, Dad…"
Mr. Potter closed his eyes, and half-turned to Sirius. "If you know something, Sirius…"
"We wouldn't let anyone hurt Remus," Sirius said quietly. The conviction, from somewhere deep inside, startled him. Mr. Potter gazed at him for a long time, during which Sirius forced himself not to fidget. This scrutiny was no different than McGonagall's he told himself firmly and then swiftly pronounced himself a liar.
Mr. Potter blew out a breath. "If it hasn't anything to do with protecting Remus, we are going to the Ministry. And then the two of you will be spending the next few weeks at home. Come along. Now," he added when Sirius and James didn't move.
James hesitated only long enough to spare Sirius a glance before going ahead of his father—a glance that told Sirius that James had no intention of simply giving in, not for something so important. But a glance that told him there was little point in arguing further just now.
And Sirius could have fallen in step behind James, probably would have been the smart thing to do. But James' face was so stiff, so full of an anxiety that was never there when he was around his father. It was a rare expression for James to wear in any case.
So Sirius didn't queue up behind James. He did the completely stupid thing and slid his hands into his pockets, the stance that his mother hated the most and said quietly, "We can't go to the Ministry."
Mr. Potter's eyebrows went up slowly. "This isn't open for debate, Sirius."
"I know that, sir," Sirius agreed, ignoring James shaking his head fervently. "But we can't tell anyone else that we've become Animagi. And I know we're sixteen and probably can't be trusted to make decisions like these for ourselves but it's one of those important things that we really have no choice in. I promise you that no one is hurting Remus," he added when Mr. Potter opened his mouth to protest. "And except for not registering our Animagus forms, we are not doing anything illegal. Couldn't you simply trust us on that?"
On the whole, Sirius thought, he had sounded perfectly mature and like someone who could be eminently trusted. Not exactly an accurate picture of one Sirius Black, but hadn't Mr. Potter said only days ago that he was proud of him? Satisfied that this would keep both James and Remus out of harm's way, Sirius kept Mr. Potter's gaze while he watched a war raging in the hazel eyes. And then without a word of acknowledgement either way, Mr. Potter pivoted and strode away—toward Remus' house.
"Dad?" James called. "Where are you going?"
But Mr. Potter didn't answer. James surged forward, only half a step behind his father and Sirius had no choice but to go after them as monstrous butterflies swarmed his stomach.
Mr. Potter's longer strides overtook theirs easily which left them far enough back for James to give a rough shove to Sirius' shoulder. "What the hell was that?" he hissed. "Didn't you see me shaking my head?"
"We can't let anyone know our forms," Sirius hissed back, irritation slamming him as hard as James' hand had. "It would take someone five seconds to connect those dots if they saw us out—"
"I know that—"
"Then why the hell are you barking at me?"
"Because my dad was about to go spare, you idiot," James retorted, with another shove that set Sirius' teeth on edge and probably would have been the start of a less than friendly tussle if James hadn't continued, "I was giving him some time to cool off, don't you think I know when my own father is about to kill me? And now he's marching off to the Lupins to do Merlin only knows what…"
Feeling as though he'd been kicked and with no idea why, Sirius nodded stiffly. "Right. It was stupid." He surged ahead before James could reply. Not that he had any reason for going after Mr. Potter. Or any idea what Mr. Potter was going to do once he ripped the Lupins' door down.
After all, only James could be forced to report his Animagus status. There really wasn't anyone around to make Sirius tell. And when he refused, he was fairly certain Mr. Potter wouldn't rat him out. Not if it meant he would be in the sort of trouble that involved magical law enforcement.
He was abruptly torn from his pointless musings when Mr. Potter rapped sharply at the back door. James had caught up with Sirius by then, stepped past him and said quickly, "Dad, I think they're busy with Remus—"
The door squeaked open. Mr. Lupin furrowed his brow at them. "Charles?" He glanced beyond to Sirius and James. "Did you boys forget something?"
"Are you aware," Mr. Potter spoke before they had a chance, "of the penalty for neglecting to register as an Animagus?"
Sirius could see Mr. Lupin's face pale even in the shadowed doorway. "I don't know what you mean."
"You weren't aware that James and Sirius have taken Animagus forms?" Mr. Potter asked, his tone unfamiliar and dangerous.
"They were transforming in your backyard and yet they refuse to register—they say it's a matter of my trusting them," Mr. Potter went on. "But I think that if my son is committing a crime whose penalty is Azkaban, I have a right to know why."
"I will not allow either James or Sirius to be hurt," Mr. Potter cut off the croaked protest. "I want to know what is going on, John. And I want to know right now."
Mr. Lupin's eyes darted between them, frenetic and undecided. He lost his balance as the door was yanked away. Remus', his brown eyes wide and sunken, stepped under his father's arm.
"It's all right, Dad," Remus whispered. Sirius' heart caught mid-swallow as Remus' gaze lingered. "He's right… No one should be hurt because of me." He shook his head when Sirius opened his mouth, somehow knowing that Sirius wanted to correct him.
Remus turned his attention to Mr. Potter, who was watching Remus carefully. Remus' smile was pasty. "I'm sorry about all of this. I didn't mean for them to do anything illegal, but they were just trying to help me."
"How?" Mr. Potter asked, voice gentle now.
"It isn't what you think," Remus murmured. "They were trying to help me because—"
"Remus, you don't—"
"Mr. Potter will keep my secret, Dad," Remus said, reaching out to squeeze his father's arm. Mrs. Lupin had joined them, but she didn't protest, simply nodded at Remus' glance. And then Remus faced Mr. Potter. "I'm a werewolf."
It took absurdly-long minutes for Mr. Potter to react—during which his face went through several transformations.
"Werewolves respond differently to animals," Remus warbled, uncertain now. "During a full moon…"
Mr. Potter stared at him while Remus shifted and then he turned his wrath to Remus' parents. "Am I to understand," he said in a low voice, "that you encouraged Sirius and Remus to become Animagi so that they could spend the full moon with a werewolf?"
"Dad, they didn't—"
Mr. Potter cut James off with a hand slashing through the air. "How dare you." The words shook. "How dare you allow them to do that! I don't care how differently a werewolf acts, or how much you insist that he wouldn't hurt them. This is my son!"
"I know that," Mr. Lupin whispered. He gripped Remus' elbow. "I would never want them to be in danger. But they did this on their own and it has helped—"
"Helped? Helped what?" Mr. Potter demanded.
"Helped Remus not to tear himself to pieces," Sirius blurted before he could stop himself; his heart was pounding in his ears. Mr. Potter rounded and Sirius took a step back.
"And what if he tears you to pieces? Or James?"
"He's a werewolf, Sirius! He wouldn't even know he was doing it!"
"No," Mr. Potter said. "I forbid it. I will not allow this, even if it is Remus." He took James' wrist. "We are leaving. Sirius—"
Sirius tore himself from Mr. Potter's hold, his eyes riveted on Remus' face. His pale cheeks, just beginning to blossom with crimson shame. And the shine in Remus' eyes. "No," Sirius said, not caring how he scraped over the refusal. "You don't understand—"
"I understand enough—"
"No, you don't! How the hell can you understand?"
Mr. Potter's eyes widened and Sirius could half-feel James' surprised but he ploughed on, "You have no idea what it's like for him, month after month, all alone out there. And now, finally he has us and I don't care what you think you know, you haven't a clue what this is like for him or for us out there with him. You aren't there. You're just like every other bigot, standing here lashing out at him, when he hasn't done anything to you, or to anybody. You haven't any right and I don't care if you don't like it, I'm not going to abandon him."
Mr. Potter's jaw was clenched; his chest was rising and falling with breaths he was trying too hard to control. "You are going to do as you're told," he said.
"Well then, you can just sod off."
The words shot out without his permission, a mere reaction to similar words from his mother; years of her making certain that he did obey, no matter the cost to Sirius' pride.
But unlike his mother's, Mr. Potter's face blanked, though not enough that Sirius couldn't see the hurt in his eyes. Sirius caught the expression on James' face then as he stepped up to his father's shoulder. As horrified as James ever managed to look—that first time that they had seen exactly what Remus did to himself on a full moon. His eyes were darting between them, his mouth hanging open a little.
Unease knifed Sirius' belly. Hot shame followed in a slow crawl up his neck and face. He backed up, and found James' dismay mirrored on Remus' face.
Just one more thing that Sirius had mucked up.
Fighting down the familiar dread, Sirius turned toward the forest. He had no idea where he was going, no destination, no endpoint but he went anyway, knocking branches away from his face and forcing his legs to stay upright over broken twigs and slick leaves until there was nothing but green.
Sirius stared at the moss-covered sticks strewn over the forest floor, his head bowed and his hangs dangling listless between his knees. What a stupid git he was, fleeing into the forest like some child running away from home.
He didn't even have a home.
Goddamn it, he always did this. Always fucked everything up. It didn't even matter that he hadn't meant to, not this time. He did mean to quite frequently—at least when it involved his parents and sometimes a professor or two. But this time…
He squeezed the heels of his hands together and forced down the lump in his throat. He hadn't really expected to stay with the Potters anyway; he'd left home knowing he would probably be without a permanent bed until September. It was only two months.
A snapping twig brought Sirius' head up. Mr. Potter sighed when he met Sirius' eye. "Have you any idea how long I've been looking for you?" he asked, his voice overly loud in the cocooning silence that Sirius had got used to.
He moved several branches aside before he was close enough for Sirius to see the lines around his eyes. Sirius looked away from the frown to stare at the leaves near his feet until they blurred. He swallowed again, but when he spoke, his voice was too hoarse, "I'll leave as soon as I have my things—I can leave from here if maybe Tilly could bring my trunk."
The rustling footsteps had halted but Mr. Potter's voice was close as he asked, "What on earth are you on about? You're not leaving."
Sirius glanced up as the log shifted; Mr. Potter was sitting next to him. "But—"
"But what?" Mr. Potter asked, drawing back to survey him. Sirius blinked at the scrutiny and finally Mr. Potter went on, "You thought that everything I told you yesterday was no longer valid? That I was lying to you when I said your home is with us for as long as you want it?"
Sirius stared at him; couldn't understand anything that he was saying. "But I—"
"You said some indefensible things to me, Sirius, which I assure you I do not appreciate in the least."
Sirius was too numb to even cringe.
"But that does not mean you are no longer welcome in our home." He gripped one of Sirius' kneecaps.
And Sirius didn't mean to say it but the word emerged, croaked and pathetic, "Why?"
"Because that's what a family is."
"Well you're not my family," Sirius said harshly, "so I don't understand why you care."
"I do care very much, Sirius. And as far as I'm concerned, you are part of our family, do you understand?"
He leaned in but Sirius jerked away. "My mother has hated me since I can remember," he croaked. "My own mother and she just blasted me off the family tree as if I didn't belong there, as if I had no right at all to be there, and that's my family, not you and so no, I don't understand, I don't understand at all—" He gulped, words no longer possible and though he shook his head and tried to pull away, Mr. Potter put an arm around him anyway and pulled him in.
"Oh Sirius…" A gentle hand was smoothing his hair over and over. "Shh… there now… it's all right…"
Feeling panicked, Sirius shook his head again and tried to push Mr. Potter away, but the strong arms stayed, unmoving, and Sirius eventually stopped struggling. His back was still taut, ready to bolt as soon as Mr. Potter let up, but it took too long.
Mr. Potter simply sat there, brushing through his hair and saying things about not worrying until the need to flee began to drain from Sirius' muscles and he was half-leaning into the embrace. And still Mr. Potter didn't pull away.
"I know it is difficult for you to understand," he said gently, "because your parents are deplorable examples of what a family is supposed to be, but this is what it means to be a family—at least what it means to me. Dorea and I have thought of you as a son for years. And I know it isn't the same, that you wish your parents were proper parents." He sighed. "I am very sorry they cannot be what you need them to be, Sirius. But if you'll let us, Dorea and I can be that for you, and James loves you as well as any brother."
Sirius let the words seep in, wanting to believe them. Not about James; as far as Sirius was concerned, they were brothers.
No one had ever claimed to love him before. And Mr. Potter didn't seem to care that Sirius was fucked up—wanted him to be part of their family. Mr. Potter had even come after him.
He let that soak in and soothe the ache in his chest. And even though he couldn't find the means to respond, Mr. Potter didn't seem to mind that either. He squeezed Sirius neck. "You'll be all right," he said quietly. "I promise."
It didn't make the hurt go away, but somehow it helped.
When Sirius tugged against the hold, Mr. Potter patted his back and let him pull away. Sirius quickly scrubbed a hand across his cheeks. He accepted Mr. Potter's handkerchief and the smile that came with it.
He balled the fabric into his fist, keeping the hazel gaze without much effort this time. He knew of course that this wasn't one of his parents, but it still seemed foreign to find no acrimony there, no disdain. "I'm sorry," he found himself saying, something he had long since given up saying to his parents.
Mr. Potter rested a hand on his head. "Thank you for that, but you were right. Although, next time I would rather you share your feelings without being quite so disrespectful."
"Yes sir." Sirius accepted the admonishment with a quick nod and hoped his ears weren't bright red.
"I've never considered myself a prejudiced man," Mr. Potter continued, grimacing. "I've sat on more Wizengamot sessions than I care to recount, working for laws that would protect not only werewolves, but all sorts of wizards who society considers outcasts." He sighed. "I was frantic with worry. Thinking of you and James… something happening to either of you and this, becoming Animagi during the full moon, it's much too dangerous. I don't like it."
"I know," Sirius said. "But you would have to see what it was like for Remus without us. He used to tear himself up every full moon. He doesn't do that now, not with us there, and we can communicate with him." Drawing a breath, he tried to explain, "When he's with us out there, he's just like one of us, just another animal. Remus isn't a monster."
"No, he isn't," Mr. Potter agreed softly. "But I still don't like it."
Sirius held his breath, waiting for him to forbid them going with Remus during full moons—something that Sirius couldn't agree to.
Mr. Potter massaged his temples and sighed deeply. "You are not going to obey me if I tell you not to do it again, are you? You or James?"
And Sirius could only answer honestly, "No sir."
"And you realize not registering your Animagus forms with the Ministry is illegal? And yes, I do understand that you don't want to in order to protect Remus," he added when Sirius opened his mouth to say as much. "You could face time in Azkaban."
"I know. We thought about all of that, honestly we did." And the thought scared the hell out of him. "But Remus needs us."
Mr. Potter considered that for a long time. "Remus is worth the risk." He massaged his forehead. "I do understand that… I wonder if you do?" He held up a hand. "Do you know why you feel so strongly that you can't abandon him?"
Sirius tilted his head. "I told you… he's all alone—"
"And hurting himself," Mr. Potter finished softly. "I know, and I sympathise with that as I know James must. But do you think your empathy for Remus runs a little deeper… for other reasons?"
Sirius stared and as his meaning seeped in, his cheeks immediately burned.
Mr. Potter smiled. "I don't mean to embarrass you. James and I have had similar discussions about Lily, if that helps. His feelings for her are a bit obvious as well."
With no hope of finding his tongue, Sirius only nodded. First James and now Mr. Potter. Which meant Mrs. Potter probably knew as well. And Tilly.
His heart somewhere amongst the moldering leaves, Sirius wondered if Remus somehow knew. And if he did, where did that put things?
Realizing he looked an idiot, Sirius lifted his head. "It's all right," he said, trying a shrug. "I mean, we're not..." He waved his fingers. "Anything."
"Ah. Well," Mr. Potter said, in a reassuring tone that made Sirius think he was ridiculously transparent, "even so, I do understand why this is so important to you. To James as well. But you need to promise me that you will both be careful, and I want to hear from you as soon as the full moon is over."
"But, I thought you said—"
"That I don't like it? No, I absolutely do not. But sometimes, as a parent, you need to allow your children to do things you don't agree with. Give in gracefully, in this case. No matter how terrified it makes me. If we can devise some way for you to alert me in an emergency, that would be ideal," he went on thoughtfully. "And under no circumstances is Mrs. Potter to know."
"Right," Sirius agreed, nodding. He could well imagine the expression on her face.
"I do hope Remus will understand I was simply worried," Mr. Potter sighed. "I am still quite angry with his parents, however. And I am not exactly pleased that you and James didn't come to me," he said, his eyebrow expressing that quite well. "Especially when you didn't have any trouble telling Remus' parents."
Sirius lowered his eyes briefly, nudged a stick with his toe. "I know… we didn't want to hide it from you, but we knew you would be upset. We didn't tell Remus' parents either," he added hastily, suddenly wanting to make that clear. "Remus told them in a moment of madness, but we couldn't really blame him."
"No," Mr. Potter agreed softly. "The poor boy has been through enough."
Mr. Potter's lips lifted in a small smile. He tousled Sirius' hair, pushed himself up and asked, "Shall we find our way back? James is worried about you, and I daresay he's probably worried for his own hide as well."
Sirius paused in dusting off his seat.
"Don't worry," Mr. Potter chuckled. "I will weigh all the facts before pronouncing sentence."
As discouraging as that sounded, Sirius didn't argue. He ducked under the umbrella of branches Mr. Potter moved aside, and together, they began the long trek back to Remus' house.
The mood between the two fathers was chilly, though more on Mr. Potter's part. Remus' dad had the same nervous lines around his eyes as his son always had. It went easier when Mr. Potter assured them he wouldn't give Remus' secret away, not that it was a surprise to Sirius. James had learned the meaning of loyalty from his parents, after all.
"Remus will just be grateful that Sirius is safe," Mrs. Lupin assured them when Mr. Potter offered his apologies. "He wanted to wait for you," she explained, "but he had already taken a sleeping draught and I wouldn't give him a potion to counter it."
"No, no," Sirius waved her apology away. "It's more important that he rests." And Sirius needed time to decide exactly what Remus might be feeling before they met again.
She smiled and patted his arm. "I'll send him along the day after tomorrow if he's feeling better. If that's all right?" She directed that question to Mr. Potter.
"Absolutely. I hope you understand that I was simply worried. Remus is always welcome in our home."
Mr. Lupin relaxed further. "Thank you." He hesitated; glanced at his wife. "We do apologize for keeping their transformations a secret from you, but it's impossible to know… and if someone were to tell the Ministry…"
"I understand," Mr. Potter said quietly. His smile eased some of the worry lining Mr. Lupin's face. "Please do give Remus our regards. We will look forward to seeing him Monday."
They parted with considerably less strain between them and as Mr. Potter beckoned Sirius close to Disapparate, he found his eyes straying to Remus' bedroom window and wishing that Remus were there. They were mates first. And if that's all they could be, he could live with that.
The world turned inside out before he could decide.
"All right?" Mr. Potter asked before stepping back. Apparition had never bothered Sirius though, unlike James who never seemed to make it back without losing his balance. Or his lunch.
James was pacing in the parlour when they came in. "Blimey," he exploded as Mr. Potter closed the door. "Where did you go? To Hogwarts? I thought you'd been eaten by a Targ!"
"There aren't any Targs in Remus' backyard," Sirius retorted. "Idiot," he added under his breath. James scowled.
"Well, you didn't have to go off like that. Dad was frantic."
Sirius glanced at Mr. Potter, who was returning his cloak to its hook. "Sorry," Sirius mumbled.
"Quite all right. And I believe James was just as worried."
Sirius turned back to his friend, who was still scowling and indignant. "Sorry," he echoed. James' scowl deepened for a moment but then he smacked Sirius' forehead with the flat of his hand and shrugged.
"Just don't be such a git in future."
Sirius smiled. "It's not very likely, you know."
"I know." James grimaced, changing gears quickly as he perched on the arm of one of the long sofas. "You still livid?" he asked his father.
"Livid? Have you ever seen me livid?"
James shrugged, bravado stripped away. Mr. Potter sighed. "I'm not livid," he promised. "I'm disappointed, mostly. Didn't I tell you yesterday that I want you to come to me if you have a problem? Worry for a friend who happens to be a werewolf qualifies."
"We figured you'd kill us."
"I wouldn't have killed you."
"You might have locked us in our bedrooms until we were of age."
"All right," James conceded. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I wanted to, but it wasn't because I thought you would rat out Remus or anything. I thought you would tell us we couldn't."
"Would you have continued on if I forbade it?" Mr. Potter challenged. James' shoulders slumped. "If you would have ignored me anyway, why didn't you tell me?"
James studied the sofa's floral pattern. "I knew you'd worry," he finally muttered. "I know it's dangerous and we're being complete idiots, but we couldn't let Remus go on like he was. You heard Sirius. He used to claw himself to pieces."
The pleading voice, the voice James only ever used with his father, always made him seem younger, more like the seven-year old Sirius had first met in Flourish and Blotts—years before Hogwarts. It still worked a treat, even if Mr. Potter had considerably more grey in his hair.
"And he doesn't hurt himself now?"
James could have lied, made the whole thing easier. He glanced at Sirius, raised his eyebrows in apology, even though there was no need.
"Not like he used to," James answered truthfully. "A few nicks here and there. I promise we're not in danger. We can communicate with each other, hear each other's thoughts. Remus is just himself around us, it's hard to explain."
Mr. Potter nodded. "I think I understand. I've read the research as well, and it does seem as though werewolves respond quite differently to other animals. But as I told Sirius, I still don't like it."
James waited, his fingers twisted in the knees of his trousers.
"I told him I understand why you need to do this," Mr. Potter added, resigned now. "And we are going to find a way to make this safer. I won't sleep at all during a full moon, I hope you realize." He shook his head, probably because James was not hiding his grin well at all. "This doesn't mean you are not in trouble."
Sobering, James nodded. "I know. I really am sorry we didn't tell you."
"Yes, I know you are. Come here."
Warily, James obeyed. As soon as he reached his father, Mr. Potter gripped his shoulders. "Do you realize that you've managed to both scare me out of ten years of my life and make me enormously proud?" he asked quietly. "In the same moment. Quite the accomplishment."
A pang hit Sirius' chest as he watched Mr. Potter pull James in, James smiling against his father's shoulder. He pushed the feeling away where it belonged and waited for the inevitable.
"Your broom is going to be rather lonely for the foreseeable future."
James groaned as he pushed away. "Dad…"
"Yours as well, Sirius," Mr. Potter said, ignoring the plea. Having expected that, Sirius hoped his didn't disappointment show.
"Yes sir?" James echoed, making a face. "Come on, Dad. Can't you just wallop us and get it over with?" He ignored Sirius' mouthed "Us?' from over by the fireplace. "I need my broom. I promise I will never keep a secret from you again—"
"Or lie to me?" Mr. Potter interrupted. "You do remember that you told me Remus was injured during a sleepwalking episode?"
"Erm, well… I couldn't very well tell you he was a werewolf, could I?"
"I don't appreciate being lied to, James. I don't have to tell you that."
"I know, Dad, but honestly, my broom? How are we going to practice for Quidditch? McGonagall isn't going to appoint me Captain if I can't remember how to fly."
"Don't be overdramatic, James." Mr. Potter nudged him aside on his way to the desk in the corner where they kept the post. "A few weeks without your broom will not be your ruin."
"It might be. Sirius' too. Honestly, you can wallop us twice!"
James waved away Sirius' gape-mouthed protest.
"Dad, come on—"
Mr. Potter didn't even glance up from the letter he was opening. "I could keep it for the remainder of the summer."
James' mouth snapped shut. And just in case he changed his mind, Sirius grabbed his mate's elbow and hauled him away.
"You are insane," Sirius hissed as he dragged him up the stairs.
Still attached to Sirius' fingers, James hung his head in his hands. "My bloody broom."
Sirius rolled his eyes and none too gently shoved James over the threshold into his room, where James flopped onto Sirius' bed and continued to moan about the one thing almost as beautiful as Lily Evans, all while Sirius found and read his uncle's note and composed a reply, agreeing to Alphard's proposed visit.
Sirius wiped a hand across his dripping forehead as he crossed into the Potter's yard the next morning. Having had enough of a broomless James, he'd left just after breakfast, citing restlessness to Mrs. Potter, who had encouraged him with a quick hug.
James had flapped a hand in his direction as he'd made rivers in his porridge.
And now, as Sirius trekked over the lawn, he could see James had made it out of the house. He was sitting in the top of one of the trees in the backyard, staring at the clouds.
"Oy!" Sirius called. "You're not actually flying, you know!"
Starting, James squinted down through the leaves. "What the hell is that?"
Sirius grinned. "A motorbike." He patted the leather seat. "Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Beau…" James scrambled down from his perch, dropping with silent feet onto the grass and prowling around the motorbike with a wondering frown. "Blimey, Sirius, it's some sort of crazed bicycle…"
"It isn't a bicycle, you twat. It's a motorbike. Don't just stand there. Help me move it."
"Move it? What are you going to do with it?"
Sirius gestured with his head for James to grab the back end, which James did reluctantly. "I'm going to ride it," Sirius said, huffing as they maneuvered around the tree.
"Because it's brilliant, that's why." Sirius rolled his eyes. "I saw some Muggles riding them last summer in London—they're nearly as fast as the new Nimbus, though not nearly as quiet."
"I don't think McGonagall is going to allow you to fly a motorbike during matches, mate."
Sirius swatted at his grinning friend. "Motorbikes don't fly."
"Too bad, because Dad only banned us from our brooms."
"You know," Sirius wheezed as they went up the small hill, "hate to break it to you, Prongs, but you're becoming an awful bore."
"I am not! You groused about not being able to fly last night."
"Yeah but I found something else just as brilliant, didn't I?" Sirius retorted, triumphant as they came to the gleaming shed shaded in a small grove of apple trees.
James gave the motorbike a dubious eye. "This is your idea of brilliance? You're going to spend your summer pushing a bicycle around?"
"Motorbike. And don't be a prat. You don't push it. It drives itself… like a car. These Muggles are geniuses."
"Why were you pushing it then?"
Sirius ran a hand over the handlebar. "Needs something called petrol. It ran out halfway here. It works though, and it's fast. You'll love it."
James cocked his head, watching as Sirius crouched down to examine the sliver tubes—tired pipes, or at least the woman had said they were exhausted; maybe she simply meant they were old.
"Where did you get it?"
"From a woman at the edge of the village. She was struggling with some boxes—clearing out her garage. I offered to help."
"The famed Black chivalry?"
Sirius shrugged at the teasing tone. "She was old. Anyhow, she didn't want the motorbike, and she said I looked like just the sort of lad who should have one. Dunno what that means, exactly…"
James studied him behind his spectacles. "Must have been a compliment if she gave this thing to you. Unless it's some sort of Muggle death trap," he said with a hint of a smirk.
Sirius scowled. "Aren't you supposed to be a Marauder, an adventurer?"
"A Marauder, not a Muggle death trap tinkerer. How the hell are you going to find… what'dya call it? Petrol."
"I'm not." Sirius slipped his wand from its holster and grinned. "We're not the best in our class for nothing, you know."
"Except for Lily," James corrected, but the gleam was already in his eye, so Sirius let that go. "What do you have in mind?" he demanded as he joined Sirius in his crouch.
"There's an engine in here somewhere," Sirius said, tapping at some of the silver. "She said it works a treat so I reckon that's what makes it go, and this—" He pointed with his wand. "—is the key, you turn it and the thing is louder than Filch at his best—"
"You actually rode it?"
Sirius smiled, finally finding the excitement in James' voice that the occasion deserved. "Not very far, but yes. Better than a broom."
"Nothing is better than a broom… maybe sex."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "If you could actually get a girl—"
"If you could actually get Evans to agree to shag you, I bet you would trade in your broom."
James considered that. "I'll let you know," he finally decided. "But until then, there is no way this motorbike even comes close to being up in the air."
Sirius worked the corner of his lip between his teeth. There really was nothing better than soaring with the clouds. Weeks without his broom was not exactly a thrill for him either. But this motorbike… it was fast. Fast enough to whip his hair behind him, to make his heart pound.
Fast enough to make him forget everything else.
He smiled slowly. "What if we could charm it to fly?"
James' knitted eyebrows soared. "Do you think we could? Of course we could," he answered himself, already whipping out his wand. "A modified flying charm would work, wouldn't it?"
"The same one used for brooms, only it would have to be much more powerful—"
"We've never had trouble with powerful charms," James grinned. "They're our specialty, I'd say."
"Peter's bits would agree with you."
James laughed. "Let's figure out what makes this motorbike run, shall we?"
Grateful for something to do besides think—about his family, his Uncle Alphard's somewhat mystifying delight in his defection, and most of all Remus—Sirius grinned.
"This is your fault," James groused. The day was too warm for it. The past two days had been too warm for it. "I told you to make the damn thing invisible."
"I didn't have a chance. Your dad has been suspicious of our every move since he found out Remus is a werewolf. At least he didn't confiscate it."
"That's because he has no idea we're trying to make it fly."
"He didn't object to our charming it to run without petrol—"
"Which it doesn't."
Sirius shoved a damp lock of hair off his face with his wrist. "If you would be patient. I managed to start it, didn't I?"
"My bloody spell."
Scowling, Sirius moved the now-detached sidecar away with a well-aimed kick. "Merlin, you're annoying. This isn't the first time your broom's been locked up."
Instead of replying, James blew out a breath and aimed his glare at the house.
Sirius stopped trying to force the cap back on the petrol tank and sat back on his heels to study his friend's glower. "What's with you?"
James flicked a several-legged insect from his trainer and didn't answer. Tossing his flannel aside, Sirius pulled up a patch of grass and elbowed James' arm. "I'm going to start taking it personally if you don't tell me."
James gave him a sideways look, sighed and slumped. "I saw Lily yesterday."
"With your mum?" Sirius had missed the last hour of shopping, thanks to taking tea with Mr. Potter at Alphard's sprawling mansion. Mr. Potter had refused to let him go alone. "You didn't try to impress her with your brains already, did you? It's only been a few days—"
"She was with Finnegan."
Sirius' smile faltered. "Oh."
"She was holding his hand," James said glumly. He tore up a tuft of grass and sent it skimming into the wind.
"It won't last," Sirius said firmly. "Finnegan's about as clever as a troll. And his ears are too big."
James smiled, but it faded quickly. He rested his chin on his knees. "Feels impossible sometimes, you know? I don't even know why I keep trying. She isn't the only girl, like you said. Alice Longbottom kissed me at that last party we had in the tower."
"Didn't you tell me it was like kissing a fish?"
James made a wide gesture of defeat with his hands. "Fish are people too."
"Not sure you can help how a person makes you feel."
Raising his dark eyebrows, James asked, "When did you become so wise?"
"Experience, old man." He drew his legs into a pretzel and admitted, "Not sure Moony appreciated falling asleep with my elbow in his diaphragm."
James' brows collided. "How do you know?"
"Mentioned how awkward it was," Sirius said, squinting against the sun.
Before James' frown could find voice, the sound of the back door closing carried across to them. Sirius' spine straightened. Remus and Mr. Potter were crossing the grass toward them. Remus was nodding to something Mr. Potter was saying. Mr. Potter smiled and patted Remus' shoulder.
Sirius saw James' glance but couldn't respond, not with the swarm of butterflies descending on his stomach. The same reaction; the heat climbing his neck, the erratic jump of his heart. His body apparently didn't care whether or not Remus was going to respond in kind.
He suddenly felt very sorry for James.
"How is the charm coming along?"
"Isn't yet," James answered since Sirius couldn't. He flapped a wave at Remus. "A few days of sleep does wonders for you."
"As flattering as always." Remus' amused smile faltered when he met Sirius' gaze, and it took that for Sirius to realize he was staring.
"Your mother let you out early," he said, smiling as he stood and dusting off his grassy fingertips. "Good behavior?"
"Without the two of you, it's certainly easier." The teasing tone was absolutely no help to Sirius' butterflies; Remus didn't seem like he was holding a grudge for the awkward encounter of three nights ago. The lines around his eyes deepened for a moment and Sirius forgot they weren't alone.
"I should be insulted, yeah?" James broke that delusion. Remus pulled his crinkly-eyed gaze from Sirius and frowned down at James.
"What's the matter with you?"
"Evans," Sirius supplied when James only sighed. Remus and Mr. Potter sported twin wrinkles of confusion across their foreheads.
"I thought you had a brilliant new plan to win her," Remus said.
James made a face. "Bit difficult if she's parading around with Finnegan—a Hufflepuff of all things."
"Yeah," Sirius added his support. "Doesn't she know his ears are too big?"
James' sigh was highly forlorn this time.
"Now, now," Mr. Potter murmured, "there is no reason to think the worst. You don't even know if Lily is serious about this boy."
"She was holding his hand."
Mr. Potter smiled. "I held quite a few girls' hands before I held your mother's. Now come along inside with me," he said, offering his son a hand up. "Putting yourself into a depression over this won't help."
"It can't hurt," James mumbled, but he allowed his father to pull him up. He didn't immediately follow him though. He turned to Sirius instead and asked, "You need help with this?" He gestured to the motorbike, but Sirius knew he meant Remus.
Sirius glanced at Remus, found the same open expression and warm brown eyes; the decision was easy, even if it was terrifying. "Think we can manage on our own," he said.
James' one-eyed squint made him smile.
"Be very careful, boys," Mr. Potter said over James' head. "Shout if you have trouble."
"And don't do anything brilliant without me," James added.
"Wouldn't dream of it," Sirius told him.
James nodded importantly. He turned away, clipped Remus' shoulder and fell in step beside his father. Mr. Potter draped an arm over his shoulders as they made their way back to the house.
"This is your newest mischief, then?" Remus asked, examining the motorbike much as James had yesterday. Sirius followed his movements, the way his shirt stretched across his back as he bent over to peer at the various gauges. Remus glanced up and Sirius blinked; cleared his throat.
"It's a motorbike."
Remus smiled. "I know. There was a picture of one in that Muggle magazine you bought last summer."
"Oh. Right," Sirius said, surprised that Remus had remembered.
"Where did you get it?"
"Nicked it from someone's yard."
Remus' eyebrows shot up.
"Course I didn't," Sirius said, smiling as he nudged Remus aside with an elbow so he could perch on the seat. "A little old lady gave it to me; said it suited me." Remus' brow wrinkled. "I helped her move some boxes," Sirius elaborated. "I'm very charming you know."
"That's why you haven't been expelled," Remus agreed, his eyes dancing. "What are you going to do with it? Besides using it as some sort of throne?"
"Isn't that enough?" Sirius smiled as Remus rolled his eyes; not even a hint of awkwardness. And Sirius wasn't a Gryffindor for nothing. "Fine then," he said, swiveling and throwing a leg over the seat. "Care for a ride?"
Behind him, Remus sounded winded, "I thought you hadn't perfected the charm to make it run?" He gestured vaguely toward the kitchen when Sirius twisted with questioning brows. "James' dad told me about it."
"Doesn't need a charm, not technically," Sirius explained. "Runs on petrol—Muggle energy. Hop on and I'll show you."
Sirius gauged the spots of color on Remus' cheeks, decided it wasn't disgust and winked. "Come on, Remus, a bit of adventure will be good for you."
"I've had enough adventure to last a lifetime, thank you very much," Remus retorted. If anything, his cheeks were darker.
"Then come along because I want you to."
Remus opened his mouth, probably to remind Sirius of the numerous times he had done just that, but instead he demanded, "Where am I supposed to sit?"
Ignoring the rush of pleasure soaring through him, Sirius tried to keep his grin in control. "We detached the sidecar. So you'll have to sit behind me."
Remus hesitated for half a breath before closing the space between them. Sirius planted his feet to steady the motorbike. He listened to Remus' quick breath and then he did his best not to hyperventilate as Remus' leg brushed against his backside and settled against his thigh; the other one as well.
And even though Sirius was fairly certain he would explode if any more of Remus was pressed up against him, Remus' perch was far too precarious.
"Put your arms round my waist," he said quietly. He glanced over his shoulder when Remus didn't, smiled at the petrified expression. "I don't bite, Moony."
Pulled out of his daze, Remus nodded firmly and slid his arms around Sirius. Ignoring the dizzying uptempo of his heart, Sirius grabbed Remus' hands and pulled until Remus was tight against his back. His hitched breath tickled Sirius' neck. "Don't want you to fall off," he muttered.
He drew in a sharp breath of his own as Remus' arms cinched him tighter. Closing his eyes and praying he remembered how to do this, Sirius turned the key. The engine roared and Remus jumped behind him, which nearly shot Sirius' heart straight out of his chest.
Breaking out of his momentary panic, Sirius laughed. "Sorry... bit loud. Ready?"
"Yeah…" The nervous tremor couldn't hide the anticipation.
Grinning, Sirius gripped the handlebars and called over his shoulder, 'Don't let go," as he kicked the stand out of from under them. Remus' panicked shout next to his ear was mixed with laughter as they sped toward the lane.
But Sirius' mind was on everything but the speed. The feel of Remus, the hands tangled in his shirt, fingers denting his stomach. Remus' face was in his hair and for a moment, Sirius wished their positions were reversed. Except that he liked this feeling; Remus needing him, holding onto him like this.
It was protection, only he wasn't certain who was protecting whom here.
Nothing else mattered, and he realized that it always felt like this when he was with Remus. Only the two of them existed, and he didn't care if his family hated him, didn't care if he might never be anything more than the rejected son of a Black.
Remus thought he could be and that's what counted.
Houses and trees whizzed by as they flew over the dusty roads. Remus bent with him as he pushed for more speed. Remus was enjoying this.
Wanting more, Sirius asked and the motorbike delivered. Feeling free for the first time in a long while, he gave a gleeful whoop. Remus' laughter vibrated his neck.
"This is brilliant!"
Sirius grinned. "It'll be even better when it flies!"
A pointed pause. "Mr. Potter will kill you!"
A hand rapped his stomach, but the admonishment only made Sirius' grin wider. He was more determined to make the flying charm work. No question: infinitely better than a broom.
But once they shot past the pond where James and Sirius used to wade, he remembered the motorbike's Muggle limitations; definitely needed to perfect that charm.
Not wanting to stop, but wanting to avoid a long trek back to the Potters' house when the petrol ran out, Sirius called out another warning for Remus to hold on. He turned the handlebars neatly—years of handling a broom. They were off the lane in the next moment and circling the pond.
He slowed, his timing only off by a little as they came to an abrupt and sputtering halt next to the weeping willows Sirius had loved as a child.
"Bloody spectacular," he declared, the adrenaline still pounding through him.
Remus didn't immediately lose his hold and he seemed to be trying to catch his breath. Concerned, Sirius twisted his neck, stilled as his cheek brushed Remus'. "You all right?" he asked quietly.
Remus nodded. "Will be... think I lost my stomach back there somewhere."
Sirius chuckled. "Take a moment." He shivered as Remus released his breath.
And then very slowly, Remus unwound his fingers from Sirius' shirt but he couldn't untangle himself from the seat without gripping Sirius' arms, which he did without hesitation. Once Remus was solid, Sirius hopped off.
"Put some colour in your cheeks at least," he said, tilting his head to get a good look at Remus' flushed face. Remus scrubbed a hand over his cheeks.
"You sound like my mother."
"I've been practicing."
"Yes well, if she knew I was riding a Muggle motorbike, she would kill me. Or you, rather."
"Your parents adore me. Charming, like I said."
Remus' smile returned. "And not at all conceited."
"Certainly not." That smile was going to wreak havoc on his health. To distract himself, he asked, "But mothers aside, it's spectacular, yeah?"
Chuckling, Remus gestured to the motorbike. "Mr. Potter really will kill you if you cast a flying charm on it. I assume you're already in massive trouble for the Animagus incident?"
"Not massive. He locked up our brooms."
"That's the worst of it?"
"Not enough?" Sirius teased. Remus turned back to him, laughter in his eyes. He sobered though and shook his head.
"I'm sorry about that—"
"You're keen on the apologies these days."
Remus snapped his lips together. Not sure what made him take this tack, Sirius went on anyway, feigning nonchalance, "First falling asleep all over me and now the Animagus incident, neither of which was actually your fault."
"Well…" Remus gestured; his cheeks were flushed again, and Sirius decided he rather enjoyed a flustered Remus. Wanted more.
Just a little shift in his stance and there was very little space between them. "Unless of course," he said quietly, "you did mean to fall asleep in my bed."
"I…" Remus was a deep red now, and his eyes were dazed as he stared. "No…" he finally stammered, "… of course not."
"Did you really think it awkward?" Sirius heard himself asking, as if his brain and lips were no longer connected, but once the words were free he didn't want to pull them back.
"I…" And then Remus straightened his shoulders, but even so his voice came out tremulously, "Did you?"
A question for a question. Enough of that. "No."
Relief and shock shouldn't mix so well, but Remus managed it. He was terrifyingly close, too close.
Or not close enough.
Finding his voice and determined not to be mortified by the ground-glass quality, Sirius muttered, "I'd like to try something here..." One more step and they were touching. Sirius' heart was beating so fast, he was certain Remus could hear.
But when he circled an arm round Remus' back, Remus pressed closer, and Sirius no longer cared how much he was giving away. He tugged Remus in and claimed that kiss.