In Grains of Sand
Summary: In the summer of 1972, one wrongly-delivered letter and a single misadventure reveal to James, Sirius, and Remus what it means to be undesired. Two of them already knew; the other wishes they never had to know.
Disclaimer: All recongizable characters and settings belong to J.K. Rowling.
Story Notes: This story takes place during the summer after James Potter's first year at Hogwarts. This story is meant to coincide with the Starting from Scratch Universe, more specifically with Chapter Five of the sequel, but this could also be read as a stand-alone story. No pairings (aside from a little hint of James/Lily—they're only twelve, folks).
Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks,
The zoo of the new…
…Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical
Not this troublous
Wringing of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.
Part I: From Hogwarts to Home
"Pass the salt, would you?"
Sirius grinned around a roasted potato in his mouth.
Remus glanced over at the staff table, pushed back his fringe, and settled his gaze on James. He'd recognized that gleam in James' eyes right away, even from behind his glasses.
Peter held up a finger as he wiped away a milk moustache with the napkin on his lap.
James poked at his meat with his fork and, heaving a sigh, stuck his elbow into the set of ribs to his left. "Come on, then, mate, I haven't asked you to finish my homework…"
Reaching for the glass salt shaker, Peter gulped his tumbler of milk at the same time, giving himself a newly formed moustache. "Here, take it," he said to James after a noisy swallow. "Could've reached right over me."
"Could have shoved your mug right in your gravy, as well, but I have manners, haven't I?"
"The best," Sirius agreed, flashing his best mate a potato-less grin this time, "except for Pete's napkin-folding." He nodded at the boy who sat a head shorter than James and gave a short whistle. "Your mum would be proud."
"Sod off…" Spoken through a familiar combination of steak and bitterness.
"Oy," James admonished in mock-seriousness, deepening his voice, "his mum would not be proud. She'd—"
"Buzz off, would you?" Remus didn't quite allow himself to laugh, and that was enough to rein the other two in.
James stretched his arm across the table, offering the shaker to Remus. "Your turn, then?"
"Not either," Remus disagreed, pushing away James' fist. "McGonagall can see us, you know. She's not blind."
"Can you imagine the possibilities if she were?"
"Here," Sirius said, offering his own palm, "I'll do it."
"We have our last exam in twenty minutes," Remus countered, pushing away the plate he'd barely touched and reaching for his Potions text; he found the page he'd marked last night, pressing his fist into his forehead as he read. "There isn't time."
James sighed, meaning to be heard. He tapped the salt shaker on the table. "Going to just let him get away with calling you that, then?"
Remus shrugged, and without looking up, he reminded them, "I am scrawny."
"So what? Rosier is a grotty wanker. He hasn't the bollocks to even pretend to take the mickey out of anyone. He's almost a bigger git than Snape."
Remus glanced up, mindful of the edge in his mate's tone. When Sirius got going, he was a bit difficult to cool down.
James, however, tickled at the string of blasphemy that had shot out of Sirius' mouth (and Sirius was the most talented of all of them in the name-calling department when he deemed it warranted), was flushed and grinning, clearly appreciative of this new and unique barrage of insults.
"Quite right," James followed up, still pink-cheeked. "He deserves any stick we give him."
"I've just decided," James stood, cutting Remus short. He'd already slipped the salt in the pocket of his school robes and was loosening the top with his fingers. "Look busy."
Peter's cheeks were puffed out with mashed turnips. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and nodded.
"McGonagall's been watching everyone like a hawk since exams began," Remus commented, pretending to study. "She's in a foul mood; you'll never make it."
"Old McGonagall's on the other side of the room, isn't she? She can't even see me. Have faith, mate," James said cheerfully. He took the shaker from his pocket, along with his wand, and shoved both hands under the table. "Windgardium Leviosa," he whispered.
Sirius, after his tirade, appeared rather subdued. "No appetite?"
Remus looked up again to see Sirius using his thumb to nudge Remus' abandoned plate, eyeing the steak with pinched eyebrows. "Not particularly," Remus answered, feeling much less plagued with concern, since the next full moon was nearly a week away, and he'd be spending this one in the comfort of his home.
Sirius nodded. There was nothing else to say about it, really. "Oy, there it goes—no, don't watch it."
The pages of Remus' book flopped closed over his fingers, but he wasn't reading anymore. He sat very still, his ears perked up for Sirius' report.
"It's under the Ravenclaws' table—almost there."
Remus' hands prickled with sweat, his fingers sticking to the pages of his Potions text.
"It's—I can't see it—it's…oh, no."
"Other way, other way," James muttered, his eyes widening to the circumference of the rims of his glasses.
"What happened?" Remus spoke to his book.
"Someone knocked it. He's lost control."
The salt shaker bumped into the forehead of Professor Slughorn and promptly snowed its contents onto his steak and potatoes. Slughorn scraped his chair back in surprise and rubbed at the painful spot.
A stillness fell over the staff table, as well as over the closest students who had witnessed the quiet atrocity. The silence rippled backward. No one blinked.
"Put your wand away!" Sirius whispered out of the side of his mouth.
"I can't move; he'll see me!"
Remus' eyes crossed as he stared at his book, his face burning.
Eyes flicking from his plate to each of the three of them, a slow flush crawled up James' neck. He was holding his breath.
Picking his napkin off of his lap, Peter wiped a bit of pudding from his cheek, blinking owlishly.
James being James—always finding the slightest twitch amusing among an embarrassed silence-clearly found Peter's napkin wielding a bit too much, for his cheeks suddenly expelled the breath he was holding, spraying out in the form of a single, lip-bubbling laugh that echoed through the Great Hall.
Every eye fell on James like a magnet.
Remus saw Sirius duck his head into his shoulders as the familiar sound of heels clicking on the stone floor marched their way, followed by the crisp clank of a thin piece of wood rolling from bench underneath James' bum to the floor as Professor McGonagall lifted him to his feet by a tight grip on his upper arm.
So that's where he'd hidden it.
It always managed to rain on the days that were meant to be brilliant.
Take, for instance, James' tenth birthday two years ago in March. His parents had given him a birthday tea in the theme of Puddlemere United: his very favorite Quidditch team. But when it came time to actually play the game, it thundered and poured, covering the courtyard with fat, muddy raindrops.
Even with the rainstorm, today would have been brilliant as well, seeing as it was the first day of summer hols. Not only that, though—Sirius had managed to snag an empty compartment on the train for the four of them, and they had all pooled their sickles together to buy lapfuls of sweets, which Peter and Sirius were eating through with relish. Remus was starting to look a bit gray and droopy, so he had pocketed the rest of his Chocolate Frogs after nibbling his way through half of one. No one bothered him about it.
James found himself picking at the wrapper of his Pumpkin Pasty.
"Can't be that bad, can it?" Sirius prodded before using his teeth to help him tear into another Cauldron Cake. "It was the last day of the term—you don't know for certain if she sent your mum and dad a letter. She didn't give you a detention. McGonagall might have a sense of humor after all."
James tried to smile, but every time Sirius mentioned Professor McGonagall, his stomach felt a bit worse. He only hoped his face wasn't as green as he supposed it wanted to be.
"Even Remus has eaten more than you," Peter pointed out unnecessarily.
Giving their friend an exhausted grimace, and having successfully removed his sweet from its pouch, Sirius stuffed the entire cake in Peter's mouth.
Peter's protest was muffled as he coughed bits of pound cake and icing onto the floor.
Even Remus smiled before turning sideways on the bench, where he was sitting next to James; he leaned his head back on the sweaty-looking window. "Could have been worse," Remus admitted as he pushed his fringe out of his eyes and closed them. "It's not as though you ran starkers through the classrooms turning over desks."
"On the agenda for next year," Sirius said through a laugh. "Good idea, mate." And then turning to his seatmate, who was still coughing, advised, "Breathe, Pete." He clapped him twice on the back. "Anyway, if your dad chews your ear off for it, I'll tell him I helped."
Even though he appreciated the gesture, James knew it wouldn't make a bit of difference to his dad. Never had with any of this other mates. He didn't tell this to Sirius, of course. Just like he didn't tell Sirius—or Remus and Pete for that matter—that although McGonagall hadn't given him a detention for belting old Slughorn in the head with a canister of salt, she had set out the key where James and the other first years—having been warned by the Prefects—knew she kept a plimsole in a dusty cupboard.
Of course I'm the first one privileged enough to get a look-see at that manky old key on the last day of term, James mocked his Head of House in his thoughts. Yes, I should be terribly ashamed, shouldn't I?
How flattering of her.
Clearly, McGonagall hadn't yet learned that fair warnings and keys to cupboards don't smart in the least. No—without a detention, there wasn't any letter.
James' felt his spirits pluck up a bit. "When is your lot going to the seaside?"
It seemed to take Sirius a minute to realize two things: firstly, that James had changed the subject without his expecting it, and secondly, that James was, indeed, talking to him. When he did, however, his eyebrows jumped toward the ceiling. "My mother hates the seaside," Sirius said with a shrug. "She hates the way it smells."
"You said you went last year," James countered, frowning. His family went every summer, rain or shine. And if his mother hated the smell of the fish and the salt water, she didn't care to tell the rest of them.
"Well, yeah," Sirius agreed, leaning over to tie his shoe. Once he'd tightened the knot, he flipped his hair back, an odd sort of grin—Sirius' grin—cracking his face. "I doubt my parents will make that mistake twice."
James wished his hair flipped like that, or did anything but kick up at the back and tickle his neck.
"Besides," Sirius continued, grinning more broadly as he remembered something, "Regulus sat on a jelly fish and it stung him right up the—"
"Ha!" Peter barked out, bouncing off of his seat. "You're joking."
"Completely true. I dare you to ask him about it when we see him."
James had only seen Sirius' ten-year-old brother once in September when he had tagged along with Mrs. Black to drop Sirius off at the platform. Seemed like a sulky git then; James couldn't imagine the little bugger after kissing a jellyfish hello with his arse.
All of a sudden, Sirius held up a hand in front of Pete's face and pointed to Remus. Pete swallowed his laugh and settled back onto the cushion, sitting on his hands.
James glanced to his left: Remus' chin was on his chest and his shoulders were rising and falling with deep, slow breaths. His legs were limp and crooked like doll's limbs. He was fast asleep.
James' eyes met Sirius' and then Pete's in the middle of the compartment, but none of them said anything. One-by-one, they leaned back into their seats.
James looked out the window and watched the grass blur by. It had stopped raining.
Please, not like Christmas. Anything but Christmas.
The words replayed in Sirius' head like the chorus of a song that had stuck in his ears—and wouldn't leave no matter the amount of alternate tunes he considered. He dragged his trunk off of the train steps, letting it bump-bump behind him.
James had gone out first and was pushing his cart in front of him; Remus, having been jolted awake by screaming wheels, trailed behind the two of them, his face squinted in sleepiness and confusion.
A prefect heaved Sirius' trunk onto a cart as soon as it hit the platform. Sirius waited for Remus to pass him and then reached down to help his mate lift his trunk off of the stairs.
They both waited for Pete, who emerged a few minutes later, red-faced and straining as he dragged his trunk with both hands.
"Jiffy up, then, toe rag," one of the smallest Slytherins in their year complained from behind, sour from being plugged up in the traffic, but also ruddy-cheeked and ruffled from having to drag his own heavy trunk.
Oh, piss off, Sirius grumbled to himself, the sight of the prefect badge curbing his tongue just in time, even though it was the hols; he side-stepped Remus and jerked the trunk off of the stairs so swiftly it nearly sent Pete stumbling.
Trunks on carts now, they caught up with James, who must have stopped at some point, looking very much like a mother duck that had lost her ducklings. And if James hadn't been so tetchy all morning, Sirius would have told him so. Didn't feel much like an arm-slugging war at the moment, though.
Pete branched off as soon as he saw his father, walking backwards and waving his arm in the air.
"See you, Pete," James called, leaning back on his cart and waving, though not half as enthusiastically. He pointed into the crowd. "There's your brother," he reported, craning his neck.
Sirius did as well.
"Oh, hang on." James pushed his glasses closer to his eyes. "Never mind. No jellyfish attached. My mistake."
Sirius supposed he was expected to laugh; James didn't notice either way.
The cart next to Sirius began squeaking again. He watched as Remus pushed his cart forward a few steps before abandoning it, letting it bump into a pole while he latched onto a green jumper instead.
Remus' dad had the same hair as Remus, dark-blond and parted to the side. He groaned happily as he lifted Remus by the armpits and let his son hang around his neck; Remus' feet dangled by his dad's shins.
"A head taller, old man—at least."
"Doubt it," Remus mumbled into his dad's neck.
Squeezing her husband's shoulder, Mrs. Lupin moved in to stroke Remus' hair over and over; she kissed his temple for a long time.
Sirius watched even after Remus was set on his feet again. But it wasn't Remus Sirius was watching—it was his mum. She hadn't said a word, only petting Remus' hair as she held his head to her chest, looking hard at her husband.
Mr. Lupin nodded. "Did you say tara to your friends, son?"
"Mmm," Remus shook his head. His eyes were still hooded with sleep, but he looked happy. He turned away from his mother. "This is Sirius Black, and this is James Potter."
"Ah." Mr. Lupin lifted his chin as he extended his hand to the both of them. "To put faces with names—very nice to meet you."
Faces with names.
James glanced at Sirius out of the corner of his eye; Sirius knew exactly what he was thinking: an informative letter from Remus, or an informative letter from McGonagall of a different sort? Remus had only got one of those penned home, unlike Sirius' three and James' four. According to James, who had received three returning letters and one memorable visit from his father, McGonagall did them the honor of mentioning the names of all conspirators in question.
Mr. Lupin put his arm around Remus' shoulders. "Have a lovely summer, boys."
"Write loads," James reminded Remus with a grin.
"So long, mate," Sirius added.
Remus gave a half-wave. His dad kept Remus tucked under his arm and pushed the cart with the other.
"Oy, that's them."
"Hm?" Sirius turned, his brain coming back into focus. But James was already dodging around trunks, shoulders, and one rather wide-brimmed hat with a bird on top.
He stopped so suddenly that Sirius smacked into the back of him.
"Look," James spoke over his shoulder, "look at his face—does he know?"
"He's your dad, you wank, how would I know if he knows?" Sirius almost laughed. "Think back to that last letter; does he look like he did then?"
James' ears turned red just like Sirius knew they would as he jutted his elbow behind him. "Who's the wank?"
An expert now at dodging James' elbows, Sirius grinned. "Who got walloped?"
"You know I didn't!"
James had, actually. But Sirius left it alone.
"Look." Sirius pointed over James' shoulder, urging, "Your mum's waving," before giving James a friendly nudge. "I'm completely joking, my man. Your dad looks over the moon."
And he did. Mr. Potter was standing with his hands on his hips, frowning a bit with his eyebrows but smiling hugely as he waited for James to cross over to him. He leaned over to say something to his wife, who was still waving and darting her head from side to side to get James' attention; Mr. Potter chuckled in her ear. And then he whistled to James—just a soft one—through his teeth, mimicking his wife's wave.
James and his dad met in the middle. Unlike Remus' dad, Mr. Potter crouched down to James' height and smothered him in a hug that James sort of just fell into. Sirius noticed that Mr. Potter's hair was sprinkled with much more gray than his own father's, who kept his very black, very wavy, and very slicked.
Still no black-haired Blacks in the crowd of grown-ups, Sirius couldn't help but notice.
"Can't hide from your old father, can you?" Mr. Potter teased, hugging James more tightly. "Never," he answered for him." He kissed James' head, thought for a second, and kissed him again. And then, to Sirius' amusement, Mr. Potter worked on smoothing down the hair that always stuck up like grass on his mate's head. "We missed you, Jamie."
When James stood back, his eyes were wide and his cheeks were pink, and he resumed combing back the hair his father had finally left alone. He glanced at Sirius and rolled his eyes as if to say yes, these actually do belong to me.
"Hi, Mum," James mother mocked lovingly. Reaching out, she took his face in her hands. "You get into these arms, young man." She held him for a moment. "Hello, love."
Sirius snapped his head in surprise toward that hand that had just patted his shoulder. Mr. Potter was gazing down at him, still showing his teeth and looking very pleased with the world. "How are you, Sirius? Exams easy enough?"
"Yes, sir," Sirius agreed, pushing his hands into the pockets on his seat. "Very easy—we barely had to study."
Mr. Potter raised both eyebrows.
Pulling away from his mum, James gave Sirius a look.
Sirius shrugged. It was the truth, after all. All you had to do was listen in class, practice a bit, and take the exams without falling asleep. On a good week, James conquered at least one out of the three, and he was still tops in everything.
James talked for a while longer about class and Quidditch and who had won the House Cup—Ravenclaw—and once they had been standing around for a good few moments, Sirius couldn't help but notice the dwindling number of heads in the crowd. Mr. Potter noticed as well.
"Shall we search around a bit, or are you to meet your parents elsewhere?" His hand had found Sirius' shoulder again.
"Dunno," Sirius said quietly, still swiveling this way and that. "This is where I was dropped off." His parents hadn't come through the Floo to collect him for Christmas the way James' father had, nor insisted on meeting any of Sirius' friends—also as James' father had. "I can wait here; someone will come."
"We'll wait with you," Mr. Potter insisted. "Dinner is the only event on the itinerary, and it can always be reheated."
"Especially if I've creamed spinach on my plate," James said sweetly, crossing his eyes and sticking his tongue out where his mother couldn't see.
"You see?" Mr. Potter followed up, playing along. "He agrees."
Whatever was said after that, Sirius didn't hear it, as he could only gape at the gray-skinned bundle of rags shuffling toward him, its ears flopping over its sallow cheeks, its watery eyes glaring.
Creamed spinach: the consistency of Sirius' stomach lining. Quite accurate, that.
"Kreacher has come to collect Young Master." The Black family house elf. He was as growling and unpleasant in public as he was in the privacy of their home.
Sirius knew his face was turning red. The Potters were all gawking down at Kreacher's bald, spotty head with their eyebrows twisted up in different shapes.
"Where—where's Mum?" Sirius managed to choke out, trying to keep his feet from shifting. "Is she coming?"
"Young Master is to be obeying Kreacher without fuss, my mistress says."
Sirius certainly hadn't missed hearing that every day of his life, just as Kreacher probably hadn't missed Sirius' habit of stepping around him, feigning deafness.
"Kreacher?" Mr. Potter glanced up at Sirius for confirmation. Sirius nodded, his cheeks flaming now. He couldn't look at James. "Kreacher," Mr. Potter addressed the elf again, "is Sirius to meet his parents at home?"
Laying eyes on James' father for only an instant, Kreacher's gaze then fell on Sirius. "Master and Mistress has gone to Bulgaria with Master Regulus."
"For the night?"
"A fortnight, sir."
Sirius' throat felt dry as Kreacher's eyes continued to crawl over his face.
"Sirius has been left home alone, then?" Mr. Potter continued the interrogation, his voice growing quieter each time he asked a question.
"Kreacher is to be feeding Young Master his meals and to be drawing his bath."
"You're not touching my bath," Sirius croaked, wishing more than anything that the Potters weren't surrounding him at the moment.
Ignoring this, Kreacher wrapped his long fingers around Sirius' wrist, his rags falling away to bare a spindly shoulder. "You is to go with Kreacher, sir."
"Get off me."
The fingers pinched. Sirius' eyes widened at the unexpected pressure that continued to tighten. Was almost painful. A new pressure, however, released the first one, as Sirius felt himself pulled back a few steps by the grip on his arm.
"Kreacher," Mr. Potter spoke again, "Sirius is twelve years old—a bit young to be staying on his own for the amount of time you spoke of. Are you certain Mr. and Mrs. Black intended you to be his caretaker?" And then, without waiting for an answer, he turned to Sirius. "Have you any relatives?"
"They won't be there," Sirius mumbled, hugging his elbows and stealing quick glances at James, who appeared torn between wrinkling his nose at Kreacher and frowning in that concerned way he reserved for Peter's Potions essays… Remus' ill weeks…Sirius' bad moods… the occasional, odd-looking vegetable on his dinner plate…
"Come home with me, then."
They all looked over at James—even the elf.
"Well, he should, shouldn't he?" James conceded; he lowered his voice, wrinkling his nose all the way this time. "Going to make him live with that, are you?"
"James," Mr. Potter said quietly. "A bit of tact, please."
If possible, Sirius felt his face turn even redder, though he wasn't certain of the reason. It was as though every pair of eyes on the platform were on him, while he stood there in, well, his pants with a decaying drip of a house elf by his side.
Perhaps not so nightmarish. Still.
"Come on, Dad," James implored his father, managing to ignore his request at the same time. "Send Sirius' parents a letter, telling them he's lodged up at our house—they won't mind—they won't mind, Sirius, will they?"
Somehow, even James must have sensed how Christmas had gone. Sirius found it hard to swallow. "Not likely."
His father didn't.
James' mother took it step further and frowned.
Kreacher picked sulkily at a thread hanging by his knees.
"See, then?" James piped up, giving his dad a one-armed shrug. "All settled."
Mr. Potter reached out and laid his hand on James' head, guiding him a short ways around his mother and depositing him right next to Sirius. "And the proper way to go about this…?"
James tilted his head back, giving his father an upside-down grin. "May Sirius lodge with us, please? And thank you very kindly."
"Would you like to come home with us, Sirius?" Mr. Potter asked.
"Surely, your parents wouldn't mind?" Mrs. Potter added softly. "We would love to have you, dear."
"They don't mind much."
They didn't—not anymore. Perhaps there was no seaside in Bulgaria. Perhaps that was it.
Sirius' stomach felt scalded.
Mr. Potter turned to the house elf. "Thank you, Kreacher. Mrs. Potter and I shall inform Sirius' parents that we've borrowed their son for a time. He is in good hands."
Kreacher exited the way he came: grumbling. Glaring. The air crackled as he Apparated back to London.
"Give us a hand, yeah?" James called out from where their carts stood diagonal to each other. He was already trying to heave Sirius' trunk on top of his own.
But before Sirius could take a step, Mr. Potter had already removed his wand, shrinking both trunks, matchbox-sized. "Caught you," he said jovially as he stooped to put the miniature trunks into the pockets at his hips. "Home it is, then. Creamed spinach, you've requested, is it, Jamie?"
But whatever words James had spewed to accompany the horrified shape of his eyes were drowned out by the shrieking train whistle and the noisy steam that billowed over their feet as the Hogwarts Express began inching its way back to the castle.
Mr. Potter kept a hand on his and James' backs as they left Platform 9 ¾. Aside from an attendant here or there, they were the only four heads left in the crowd.
Sirius glanced over from his side of the room, where he was lying flat on his back with his bare feet stuck to the headboard. James' dad had transfigured his desk chair into a second bed for Sirius, identical to the one James had been sleeping in for years.
Better pillows, though, James considered. His head had flattened his a long time ago; he could stack three pillows to the width Sirius' one. But he liked them that way.
"Maybe it's ignoring you," Sirius decided, resting his heels on the slopes of his headboard, "for smacking the hell out of it with your wand. I would."
"Well," James began as he held the round mirror over his head, closer to the lamplight, "it's being difficult." He shook it again, his own frustrated reflection bouncing up and down, making him a bit queasy. "Shall I try flattery?"
"Try mine," Sirius suggested, flipping onto his stomach and hanging his top half over the edge of his mattress as he fished under the bed, muttering, "Or maybe I put it—no, here it is; I found it."
"Don't break yours like Pete did."
Sirius' head emerged, his hair sticking up. "We should have made him one out of aluminum foil." He pulled out his own hand-held mirror and used his legs to shimmy the rest of his body back onto the bed. He was breathing hard when he stood and wiping sweat from his hairline. He held out his mirror. "Here. Trade me yours. Shove over."
Lifting his stomach off of his bed by his elbows, James crawled closer to the edge and plopped down again, shoulder-to-shoulder with Sirius now. James' room smelled like a cloud of shampoo had invaded, now that another person with bathed hair was in it. Who knew he smelled so much like a girl at night? His mum needed to buy better soap.
"See?" James huffed, poking his wand into the middle of the mirror's face, which, strangely, had gone cloudy now. "We should just be able to say Remus' name, and he should hear us."
"See us, you mean."
"And hear," James reemphasized, watching as Sirius twirled his wand over his reflection, as though hypnotizing himself.
Sirius' reflection dissolved; the mirror went black. He glimpsed James excitedly out of the corner of his eye, and then clamped his tongue between his lips the way he did when he was concentrating. He tapped his wand on the top of the mirror—twice.
Wriggling so that he was sitting back on his heels, James held his own mirror with both hands. "Say my name first," he suggested.
Slowly, the shape of Sirius' face came into focus—blinking, maybe—but otherwise featureless, as though he were squinting at James through a filthy window.
"Cor! Look at that!" James nearly shouted. "Say something."
Moving his lips closer to the mirror, Sirius spoke in a low, mystical, Seer-like voice. "James Potter will marry Eliza Stragglehorne and have four children—"
"Berk!" James cried, holding his mirror safely over his head as he drove his knee towards Sirius' stomach the instant Sirius tucked himself into a ball. Stragglehorne: that pointy-nosed, pigeon-toed Slytherin.
A wavy echo emitted from above, but James' only concern was smashing his best mate into the mattress.
Sirius' laugh vibrated through the mirror.
"And—and—" Sirius gasped for air, shaking with laughter now as James attempted to smother him. "—and he will carry her knickers in his pocket—always—"
Sirius rolled over onto his stomach, in hysterics. "—for brilliant luck!"
Kneeing Sirius in the arse wasn't nearly as satisfying, so James backed off, moving to his end of the bed as he waited for Sirius to sit up and give it another go. For Remus, this time.
"Hilarious, you are," James mumbled, scowling.
"No worries, mate," Sirius said, his mouth still twitching as he attempted to smooth damp hair out of his face. "I shan't tell Lily."
James stared at him, and then he felt his frown weakening. "Bugger off," he muttered, grinning now. It was nice to see Sirius laughing after two days of trying to cheer him up—and getting him to stop apologizing for his parents' lack of brain cells.
Scooting over so that he was next to Sirius again, James leaned his back against his headboard and drew up his knees. "Shall I try Remus?"
James had just spoken Remus' name when a cough drifted in from somewhere in the corridor; the floor creaked outside of James' bedroom door.
Sirius was the first to move: bouncing off of the mattress and landing on his feet in one smooth motion. He stuffed his mirror underneath his own bed, while James leaned over and hid its match, barely catching himself from tumbling to the floor. Sirius busied himself with pulling back his blankets.
"Never mind," James mumbled, both palms on the floor, the blood rushing to his head. "I'll just have a bit of hang while you get cozy."
Three quick knocks sounded at the door.
"Come in," James managed to call out before finally heaving himself up and collapsing back onto his pillow.
Sirius twitched his eyebrows the way he did when he'd just proved a point and stuck his feet underneath the sheets, taking James' advice of getting cozy quite seriously.
His dad's foot greeted them before his head did, nudging open the door as he carried in two full glasses of water. The spectacles on his nose flashed in the lamplight. "Under the covers," he observed, trading glances between the beds, "heads on the pillows… What have I just walked into? I believe I may be in the wrong room."
James leaned up on his elbows, accepting his share of the water. "The plan is to steal away when you've dozed," he jibed. "So tell Mum to leave out some biscuits for when we've returned and are hunting for a bite."
"Wouldn't you rather polish off the black pudding left over from dinner?" His dad handed over the second glass, muttering, "you're very welcome," in response to Sirius' thanks.
James took a gulp of water before setting his cup on the night table next to him. "Both, if you please." He moved his legs to clear a landing spot for his dad.
"You're wide awake, it seems."
"Yes," James answered truthfully, resting his head on his pillow anyway. He jerked his thumb towards his half-empty glass. "Put a sleeping potion in that, have you?"
"Ah," his dad made a grand gesture with his chin. "I must learn to be quicker."
"Brighter," James added, ruining the game with his grin.
"Cheekier. Like my son." He patted James on the hip. His eyes were wrinkled, and his mouth was scrunched around a chuckle. He looked at James for a moment, the way he always did before he turned the lamp down.
Naturally, a short while later, the room dimmed.
"It's quite late."
"How late?" James wondered.
"That isn't very…"
A soft chuckle.
"Did you kiss your mother good night?"
"Turn down your lamp soon," his dad advised, patting James' hip again. "You've a full day ahead tomorrow."
"We will," James promised simply, his sense of wit drifting out of him in the same manner as his will to lie in the twitching lamplight, wide awake.
His father's kiss was a bit bristly, reminding James that he had worked from home today; he saved the smart, clean-shaven days for the office.
Despite himself, James yawned as he watched his dad float over to Sirius' bed, crouching down instead of sitting on it. Tonight would mark the third conversation between his father and his best mate that James could only half make out, like a tune on a gramophone he had once listened to from Grandmother Potter's collection. Always right quick—always the same.
Sirius lay on his side with his fist under his cheek, blinking at James' dad as though his eyes were playing tricks on him.
"…sir, I will."
"Thank you, sir."
"...see… the morning."
He lifted Sirius' covers closer to his shoulder.
Sirius blinked at him.
His dad's knees cracked as he stood and stretched his back; his feet sounded loud in the dark, orangey haze of James' bedroom, which, for the next five minutes, at least, would house the noise of the lantern wick crackling and their breathing.
His dad stopped at the door. "Remember, boys, it's late."
"Yes, sir." Chirped in unison.
Even quieter: "Have a good sleep."
Two-for-two; a smashing recitation.
Once the door closed, James spent the next few minutes studying the tiny flame struggling for life in the glass lantern on his night table.
Sirius was still resting on his side, staring at the curtains. Thinking, James supposed. He knew—hoped—Sirius would talk soon enough.
"Yeah," James answered, popping up on his elbow. "I'm awake." He straightened the glasses still on his nose. "Let's give it a go, then."
"Tomorrow," Sirius mumbled, turning over onto his other side. "I want to be able to fly again."
"Not if I fall asleep on my broom."
"I shall tie you to yours…and then to mine," James joked. "You'll trail me."
Sirius didn't answer.
After a minute, James reached over and turned down his lamp, extinguishing the flame to smoke.
Breakfast at the Potters was always the same, at least as far as Sirius could tell—and this would mark his fourth breakfast at James' house, including the breakfast meal they ate for dinner on their first night home from school, by request of James, of course.
Mr. Potter sipped coffee with sugar from behind the front page of the Daily Prophet. Mrs. Potter barely sat long enough to finish chewing a bite of her toast, choosing instead to help Vera, the house elf, refill the pewter jugs of milk and pumpkin juice and to find another banana for James to slice into his oatmeal.
Sirius hadn't realized how long he had been watching her, neglecting his own oatmeal, until he felt James' elbow in his ribs—each nudge accompanied by a less patient plea to "hurry up." Sirius tried to hurry. The other option would require an explanation to James of how Sirius hadn't seen his own mother bustle around and top off his milk glass since he was six years old. Five, maybe. Kreacher's job, that was.
Sirius' more vivid dining memories involved his little brother Regulus making faces at him from across the dining room table in the upstairs nursery and spitting out anything green or bean-shaped into Kreacher's palms while Sirius laughed until tears came to his eyes. He'd even laughed while standing with his nose in the corner of his bedroom, much to his mother's annoyance.
Try explaining that to someone whose mother was currently doling out an extra spoonful of pumpkin marmalade atop his oatmeal.
So, Sirius tried to hurry.
"Swallow, if you please," Mr. Potter spoke from behind his newspaper. "Then ask again."
James had been asking his questions all through breakfast, and Sirius couldn't help but marvel at the way Mr. Potter only shook out his newspaper, sipped his coffee, eyeing James through freshly cleaned spectacles, and provided answers for them. All of them.
Sirius couldn't remember the last time he had seen his father drink coffee in the morning—couldn't remember the last time his father had sat at the kitchen table to eat breakfast, and Sirius had been dining out of the nursery for two years.
"Remus should have answered already, shouldn't he?" James inquired, burying his marmalade under a glob of oatmeal and sparing a smile across the dining room. "Thanks, Mum."
"Thank you," Sirius added.
Mrs. Potter beamed at them as she drifted back towards the kitchen to return the marmalade.
Mr. Potter folded down his newspaper and considered James thoughtfully. "It's only been a day and a half, Jamie," he pointed out. "Some responses take weeks to send, you know—and you said yourself your friend has been ill this past year. Perhaps he's resting in bed."
"But he—" James began, and then stopped for a moment, licking the film of oatmeal from his spoon.
It only took that one flick of a glance for Sirius to understand was thinking. The mirrors were working perfectly. Well, nearly perfectly. They knew this because even though they couldn't see Remus' face in the mirror this morning—couldn't see anything but a fog, really—they could hear voices through their own mirrors. Remus' parents' voices. Muttering voices. Worried voices. There wasn't any letter. But they had kept the mirrors a secret for over six months. Bloody shame to give it away now.
"He answered my letter right away on Boxing Day," James reported, sitting up straighter now, which told Sirius that James was telling the complete truth this time. "No one does anything but sleep and eat pudding on Boxing Day, and Remus answered my letter."
Boxing Day, Sirius thought disdainfully, gulping his pumpkin juice in attempts to drown the memory of his mother's fingernails in his arm and a whole day staring at the ceiling in his bedroom, while his brother visited cousins with their father.
"Now," Mr. Potter began, laying his newspaper next to his coffee cup, "why, exactly, are we so eager to get this letter, hm? Your cousin Finn tried to get you to write back to him for a month last year. Your mother had to nearly stick you to a kitchen chair to get you to do it."
James took a breath, preparing to speak, but finding no answer, his teeth clacked together.
Sirius rolled his eyes at his bowl.
"Well…" James appeared to be mulling over his thoughts. "…Finn's not that interesting—he studies eschamology."
"Eschatology," Mr. Potter corrected. "And you actually mean entomology."
James grinned a bit. "Same thing."
"Insects and the afterlife are quite different, I must argue…"
"He severs the heads off of bugs and attaches them to spiders with a Sticking spell, and then he tries to Rennervate them," James told Sirius, "and once they've snuffed it, he pins them to his wall and gapes at them through a magnifying glass like this—" Here, he mimicked a ridiculous version of someone squinting and sour-faced, holding an invisible magnifying glass a centimeter from Sirius' nose.
Pushing two fingers into James' forehead only made his mate squint harder. "Buzz off," Sirius managed through a laugh. "You smell like a banana."
"Better than smelling like bug guts," James retorted. "The girls won't go near him—imagine that, at sixteen—I'd die."
"A little kindness, James Potter," his father said, doing a poor job of disguising his chuckle in a sip of coffee. He swallowed meaningfully. "You haven't answered my question."
"Remus said he would write back right away," Sirius piped up, eyeing James over the rim of his goblet. "It's just not like him to wait; that's all."
"Ah," Mr. Potter said, "so you're concerned."
And that, mate, is how it's done, Sirius thought. Cutting to the chase wasn't exactly James' style.
Sirius nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Should we not be?"
Once again, all eyes were on James as he sat their blinking quite innocently. But Sirius had recognized the tiny bit of edge in James' voice, and, apparently, so did Mr. Potter. Another golden attribute of his best mate's style.
"You've every right to be concerned for Remus' well-being," Mr. Potter said rather calmly, "especially under the circumstances."
Sirius let out his breath as quietly as he could.
"I should think a week would give him time to settle and unpack—rest." Mr. Potter drained the last of his coffee. "A spot of patience."
Bit of kindness, spot of patience. Should have recommended a smattering of self-preservation. James had that look in his eye.
"Can't we just drop in for a visit?" James wondered, tilting his head for a sulk. "A tiny one?"
"Ah, Dad, why not? A call, then."
"I don't fancy the idea of your head in the Floo," Mr. Potter explained as he lifted his chin to knot the tie hanging round his neck. "I may never see it again."
"You can call, can't you?"
"I've got to be at the office in half an hour, I'm afraid. Besides, I hardly know the Lupins—"
"They know you, Dad," James insisted; he was nearly bouncing off of his seat. "Who doesn't?"
"Many people, actually," Mr. Potter argued in the same calm voice as he tightened the knot in his tie. "I'm not exactly showing up in Witch Weekly, am I?" He winked at Sirius. "And a good job of that, eh?"
Maybe not a gossip magazine like Witch Weekly, but Sirius had seen James' dad's name mentioned in the Daily Prophet—as the appointer of Aurors in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, how could he not be?
"Let us call, Dad," James said. "Please?"
"Out of the question, son."
"Have Mum call, then."
Mr. Potter checked his pocket watch and pushed back his chair. "I'm sorry, Jamie, but you'll simply have to trust my judgment this time. I shall be late if I don't get going." He patted James on the head, ignoring the scowl was written all over his son's face.
"Sirius has used the Floo that way, haven't you?"
Sirius felt his eyes widen in surprise; he opened his mouth, his ears burning hot at the thought of explaining how he wasn't allowed to enter the parlor where the Floo was located in his home, let alone stick his head in the fireplace. But James had already twisted in his chair.
"See, then?" James continued. "We'll be very careful."
"James," Mr. Potter said sharply, causing both of them to jerk a bit in their seats. He had turned on his heel, looking very serious now. "Absolutely not."
The reprimand hovered over all of them, tickling Sirius' eardrums uncomfortably. He didn't know where to look. He found James' foot underneath the table and kicked it.
A rare contrite look passed over James' face as he stared into his oatmeal. And then he lifted his eyes, tilting his head again. "But why, Dad?"
Sirius closed his eyes. Bugger.
The next thing he knew, Sirius was sitting next to Mrs. Potter in the parlor off the kitchen, eyeing the quill that was drifting over the strip of parchment that hung in the air as it waited to be inked with the remainder of Mrs. Potter's grocery list. But he wasn't quite listening to her muttering—mostly to herself—about kidney beans and potatoes. His ears were straining to hear the massive telling off that was probably taking place in the dining room. James never quite knew when to quit.
Sirius listened for a long time, but all he heard was the chirping of the birds outside of the parlor window and the scratching of the grocery-list quill.
"Hm?" Sirius shook the cobwebs out of his brain as his eyes came to focus on the quill's feather, twitching expectantly. "Oh—sorry. No, thank you. I'm fine."
"James will be sure to add at least a dozen Pumpkin Pasties to the list before Vera delivers this to the market." A warm smile. "Had his fill on the train ride home, I'm sure—he gets one." The sternness didn't fit her face one bit. "Would you like one as well?"
After a moment, Sirius found it quite easy to smile back at her. She wore her hair loser than his own mother did. "I like those. Thank you."
She patted his cheek. "That's a dear."
Sirius' eyes were just beginning to grow bored of watching the quill dance across the parchment when he caught sight of James being steered into the parlor by his shoulders. By the look on Mr. Potter's face, it was clear that his earlier fear of being late had just come true. He abandoned his hold on James, who promptly stuffed his hands into the pockets of his trousers, and crossed the room to kiss his wife on the cheek.
"Be good, boys," Mr. Potter said, squeezing James' shoulder as he strolled past and lifted his umbrella from the hook.
James nodded toward the ground. "Yes, sir."
"Yes, sir," Sirius followed up. With James tracing patterns in the carpet with his toe like that, he figured a second affirmation couldn't hurt.
As soon as the flames died down in the Floo, with Mr. Potter on his way to the Ministry of Magic, James made a dash for the stairs; stopping at the landing, he gestured upwards with his eyebrows, then his head. Sirius glanced to his right—Mrs. Potter was busy adding to her list. He flicked his eyes back towards the stairs just in time to see James forcing himself to go cross-eyed and stick his tongue out, which, like many faces James made, told Sirius nothing about anything, but made him smile all the same. He pushed up out of his parlor chair and followed James to his bedroom.
"You're a right git," Sirius told James as he flopped back onto his pillows. "If you were my son, I'd throttle you. What'd you go and make him all cross for?"
Folding his stack of pillows in half and shoving them under his arms as he lay on his stomach, James sniffed. "You wouldn't either," he disagreed. "And besides, that isn't cross."
"Whatever you say, mate," Sirius said, balancing a pillow one-handed above his head. "I think you're in for it—that was definitely a fourth-letter look he gave you."
Sirius got a face-full of one of James' tatty, flat pillows before he jumped onto Sirius' feet and tried to whack Sirius with the pillow he was holding.
"Leave off, Potter." Sirius shoved James back toward the foot of his bed.
"Right," James began, once they'd settled down again. "Well, at any rate, I'm supposed to apologize to you for—" He brought his eyes up to the ceiling, remembering—quoting. "Ah, that's it," he said with a snap. "For 'lacking decorum whilst among our guest'…and being a prat." James sat back and smirked.
Sirius blinked at him. "Your dad said that?"
"No," James admitted. "Probably thinking it, I suppose. But about the apology, yes."
Never in Sirius' life had someone been made to apologize to him, for next to nothing, by a parent. Either James was taking the piss—more than possible—or Mr. Potter was unlike any grownup he'd ever met. Sirius had been made to apologize to his mother before. And to Regulus. And to Kreacher, even. The bloody house elf.
Who did that?
"My deepest regrets," James continued, the grin on his face sliding from amused to cheeky in a matter of seconds. "You'll forgive me, won't you?"
"I'll smother you with that pillow if you don't stop with the wanker bit."
"Oy," James frowned, feigning outrage. "Who needs to apologize now? You're worse than Peter, you are."
"Your mum's calling you…"
"No," Sirius said. "Really—she is. Listen."
Sirius was right.
Sighing, James stared at the closed door. "She'll keep; let's check on Remus again."
"You go on," Sirius suggested, leaning over and feeling around underneath his bed for his mirror. "I'll see if he answers."
"You can't afford any more apologies," Sirius said earnestly. "You're rubbish at them."
Sirius dodged another flying pillow. "Go, mate; your mum is actually pleasant."
Already finding the floor with his feet, James shrugged. "Yeah. I suppose."
"She's getting us pasties."
"Oy!" James hurried now, swinging himself into the corridor by the doorframe. "And bubblegum—Droobles—I'll have her add that."
Listening to James' feet thud down the stairs, Sirius held onto his mirror with one hand and his wand with the other. This time he didn't hear anything but clicks and shuffling. The face of the mirror stayed black.
Author's Note: Well, this is one of those stories that I've had in my head for months and months, and I just had to get it out before I wrote anything further on my other stories. Hope you enjoyed this one! The next part will be up soon!