Author's Note: If anyone's interested, I'm trialing a serialized, complete original on WattPad (username: KristleLC title: First Apprentice). New chapters post on Fridays. I'm very new to WattPad and still figuring out the Android app so I may reply to PM's with "how did you..." Link's on my profile.
There's a longer author's note/rant on my profile. The gist...twenty drafts...it took me twenty drafts to finally come up with a Sirius-Harry talk that I half-way like. I don't love it, but it moves the story along and this at least works with the outline. I think. So here you go. See you on the other side.
One in the morning, five days after I realized my mother committed suicide, I found myself huddled under the covers with Sirius's mirror propped up on my pillow. In an odd way, it reminded me of how I studied at the Dursleys, but the differences between there and home were profound. The Dursleys didn't care if I stayed up all night. They actually preferred me hungry and exhausted. Also, they didn't want me studying anything especially magic. There, the rules existed to hurt me. Here, they existed for my benefit.
The rule was in bed by nine thirty and lights out by ten. An early bedtime for a fifteen-year-old, but my evening potions always knocked me out by nine. I thought about the tray of potions vials sitting on my nightstand and mentally revised that statement. They only knocked me out if I took them. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, counting my breaths, steadying my heartbeat. Not taking my potions on time was playing Russian roulette, especially when I still had that bloody monitoring band wrapped around my wrist. If Thomas found out...I shuddered. Get this conversation over with, take my potions, go to sleep, and hope no one noticed anything in the morning.
"Sirius Black," I said.
A minute passed before his smiling face appeared in the mirror. "Thank Merlin. I was just about to call you. Quick, I need an opinion," he said as I studied him, trying to figure out what was different about him. Clean shaven and healthier than I'd ever seen him, but healthy wasn't different. Something seemed off. Then it hit me.
"What happened to your eyes?"
"Colored contacts," he said, turning his head to give me a profile view. "What do you think? I wasn't too sure about brown eyes, but Hermione says they look like her mother's. My hair's a little lighter, but the goal was to look like a cousin, not a sibling. Think it will work?"
"Cousin?" I asked curiously. Hermione had implied she and Sirius were creating a new identity for him, but I hadn't asked for details as even with Lolly running the occasional letter our communications weren't completely secured.
"Malcolm Blake," he said as if he were introducing himself, "Hermione's muggle second cousin once removed. See?" He flipped the mirror around, making the room spin. Then the image resolved into a close up of a muggle photograph. A man I now realized was a younger Sirius dressed in ratty jeans and a seventies-style maroon shirt that wouldn't look out of place in Dumbledore's closet held a red-faced baby with a brilliant smile on his face. At first, I thought it was me, but closer inspection revealed a muggle hospital room in the background. He swiveled the mirror again and I saw a family photo with the same man sitting with an older couple with a curly-haired toddler perched on the woman's lap. It hit me then. These were Hermione's family photos and somehow they all featured a younger-looking Sirius.
"A little deaging potion and some guy Hermione's grandfather knew. Bit shady, if you ask me, but the man's a genius with photos. It took a little longer than we originally planned. She had to dig the negatives out of storage. Don't worry. Hermione made sure we had all the negatives and copies of the photos then I obliviated him. It's not foolproof, but I should be able to fool anyone who comes looking for me. I can't use a lot of magic," he said with a shrug, "but that's a small price to pay for being out of that house."
Understandable. I was once willing to give up my magic completely if it meant escaping the Dursleys and Dumbledore. "You said you needed an opinion," I reminded him before we both veered off subject again.
Pensive, he turned away from the mirror. Papers rustled then he spun back around with a magazine in his hand. He opened the magazine to a dog-eared page and held it up in front of the mirror. A bed. I blinked and looked at it again. A dark stained wood headboard and fairly minimal foot board-really just two posts jutting up enough to hold the mattress and sheets in place. "For Hermione," he said. "Well, I plan on telling her it's for my guest room, but it's really for her so she has somewhere to go next summer." He shrugged. "I know it's weird and we're not really related. I mean we could be, considering how my family got around, but probably not." A haunted look crossed his face. "A fifteen-year-old kid shouldn't have to rent their own apartment. I'm not saying she can't handle it because she did, but it's not right. I was thinking about getting a bed, a couple of bookshelves, maybe a desk. I checked the pet policy before renting the place. Crookshanks won't be a problem. She'll have her own bathroom. There's even private beach access. I know she said she wanted to be closer to Cambridge next summer," I schooled my features into a blank mask, trying to hide my shock. Hermione never mentioned staying close to me next summer. That she said anything to Sirius suggested she wasn't planning on living with her family next summer either. "It's a bit far, but there's regular train service. Personally, I don't see the difference between the libraries around here and those in Cambridge, but as long as she doesn't mind making a day out of it, it's not that far away."
"It sounds great, Sirius." A band tightened around my chest like I was trapped in a Hagrid hug without the warmth. My eyes closed as I struggled for breath, willing body to fight back for a little longer without the potions.
My eyes snapped open at Sirius's worried tone. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not. By all rights, you should've spent the last month in St. Mungo's. You were not well enough to leave the hospital, but staying there was a greater risk to your health than the alternative. I also hear you're still battling that fever."
"It's just a side effect from the potions," I said.
Sirius pursed his lips. "Maybe."
"Who told you about the fever? Hermione?"
"Your guardian. It seems we finally found something we agree on: you getting healthy and staying that way. Speaking of which, shouldn't you be asleep?"
"Can't," I mumbled.
"Can't or won't?"
"Both." The mask I always wore around Sirius slipped off my face, revealing my inner turmoil. "Why didn't you tell me my father tried to kill me?" I whispered.
A harsh intake of breath followed by a chair scrapping across the floor. "Wormtail?" he asked, resigned.
I nodded. "I still can't believe you threw me out the door. You could've killed me."
"Hardly. By that age, you were levitating everything in sight, including yourself. You used to do this thing where you'd float yourself upside down while sucking on your toes. Beat anything I've ever seen. Lily ran herself ragged casting cushioning charms on the floor."
Frowning, I mulled over this new scrape of information. "But I thought accidental magic doesn't manifest until age five or six."
"Those are average ages," he said gently. "Some manifest later; others earlier. The first time, you were about six weeks old. Lily was so worried. The healers told her all this nonsense about premature babies and squibs. You were so small she had to shrink all your clothes. I remember it like it was yesterday. Lily took off your unicorn wrist rattle to give you a bath. She set it on the kitchen table. Next thing anyone knew, it was in the kitchen sink with you," he said wistfully. "Lily and James were so proud. We all were." He paused.
"I thought I was full-term."
He shook his head. "You were due September 6th. I remember Lily patting her stomach and whispering that you needed to come a little sooner or you'd be the oldest in your year."
Maybe I listened a little too well.
"We were all at St. Mungo's visiting Alice Longbottom and her son, who was born the night before. Lily got the funniest look on her face then Alice started screaming for a healer. You were born a little before midnight." His voice cracked. "James didn't handle it well. Kept telling me he should be in there and trying to slip inside the surgery. Remus finally stunned him and called Albus to talk some sense into him. In hindsight, he should've called Minerva. James didn't take Albus's presence too well. They nearly got into a fist fight in the lobby. Then the healer walked in and announced you were both fine. Smaller than everyone planned and you needed a few potions, but overall you were both fine."
Silence fell as I digested his story. Part of me wondered why my mother went into labor early. Was it natural or intentional? Given the prophecy, someone might have caused it because the 30th wasn't exactly 'as the seventh month dies'. If they truly believed Trewlaney's insanity and were convinced she was using the Gregorian calendar, it was possible. However, unless they scanned my mother for foreign spells and potions at St. Mungo's, we would never know. Still, I wondered. It was awfully convenient that Neville and I were born on the 30th and 31st respectively. Too convenient really.
"Was Neville born early?"
Scratching his chin absently, Sirius tilted his head and closed his eyes. "Don't think so," he said several minutes later. "My memory's a bit spotty sometimes, but I seem to remember Frank moaning about the baby taking his time."
"You still haven't answered my question," I said softly. "Did my father try to kill me?"
"I know Lily thought he did, but we didn't see the beginning of the fight, only the end." He paused.
"And you can't tell me about what you saw because of that idiotic vow," I said before he could utter another excuse.
"Don't put words in my mouth," he said softly. "There are a lot of things I don't know. Things I never knew because I was too much of a coward to ask. Did you ever ask your cousin," he grimaced as if the thought pained him, "why he told me how to get rid of my mother's portrait?"
"He said payback," I said with a shudder as I recalled Thomas's tone.
His brow wrinkled then he nodded. "As a kid, when the entire Black family gathered for holidays, my uncles would tell us stories about Hogwarts before bed." A wistful smile appeared on his lips. "Looking back, I think that's the only time we were a family. Uncle Charlus, your grandfather, would conjure sleeping bags in front of the fire at my grandfather's. I remember we'd all run in and dive for the bag closest to the fireplace. It never worked. The eldest always got the fireplace and the youngest was always next to the door with the rest of us smushed in between. Something about the bathroom," he shivered. "Can't remember. There, but not," he mumbled, setting off alarms in my head. Dementors or what Barty called the Black insanity?
"Don't push yourself."
"It comes and goes," he said with a shrug. "Where was I?"
"Why Thomas hated your mother," I prompted.
"Everyone hated my mother. Even her own blood hated her. Uncle Cyg used to tell us stories about Hogwarts. My father sounded so different when he talked about him. Happy, playful." A far away look entered his eyes. "Alive," he whispered. "I remember playing gobstones with Reg once. Before Hogwarts, not sure how old we were. Still small. I remember telling everyone I was a big boy because I was taller than Kreacher, or was that before? Anyhow, we were sitting there and suddenly my father started screaming. Sounded like he was dying. Kreacher popped in, grabbed Reg, and left. Uncle Cyg flooed in. He had a couple of people with him. I don't remember who. They bundled me off to his house. Reg and I spent the next few months bouncing between families-the Black's dirty little secret. I always hated Kreacher for leaving me behind."
I bit my tongue. He couldn't, I wanted to say. I asked Dobby once about popping with passengers. He puzzled over it for a few minutes before saying it should be possible, but most elves couldn't manage more than one. He never answered when I asked how many he could manage. Instead, I changed the subject. "Why was a Potter at a Black family gathering?" I asked, genuinely curious.
"Because by then, Uncle Charlus and James were the last Potters left."
Oh. Back to the beginning then. "What didn't you ask my parents? It's okay if you don't want to say. I know it's personal."
He sighed. "Harry, you should never have to beg anyone for information about your parents. I'm sorry if I've made you feel like you should. I know that Remus and I haven't exactly been forthcoming. It's difficult to talk about. I was closer to James than I was my own brother. But you have the right to know. The vow I swore only covered," he tried to speak several times before he found a way around the vow, "your language issues."
"Not my mother's?"
Pursing my lips, I wondered if I should tell him about the memories. He already knew Pettigrew was my source, but probably thought he sent me a letter or told me in person. Sirius wasn't the most rational person before the dementors. Could he handle knowing what she did on top of everything else? No, I decided. "Snape's snake told me about her."
Blinking, he cocked his head and mouthed the words then a giggle escaped him. "That sounds so wrong."
"His name's Franklin. His first owner abandoned him in a park. She found him and gave him to Snape."
"Sounds like Lily. Do you really want to know, Harry?" When I nodded, he stood up. The image shook as he walked across the small apartment to the kitchen. I wondered where he was. Somewhere near the sea, Hermione said. Limited magic, but he seemed happier. She said she'd enrolled him a cooking class. As he flipped on a gas burner and filled a kettle with tap water, I realized all I knew was she'd helped him rent a nice apartment on the beach and there were lots of restaurants nearby so he wouldn't starve.
Water droplets landed on the mirror. He set it on the counter and turned away. The kettle clanged when he sat it on the stove. Then he picked up the mirror and frowned at the water. "Sorry," he muttered and wiped it off on his pants leg.
As he waited for the kettle to boil, he propped the mirror up and sat down at a small two-person table. "Have you ever had a crush?" he asked. The answer must've shown on my face because he grinned. "Who?"
"Cho and Parvati." An imagine of Hermione kneeling beside me in a white sundress popped into my mind. My ears warmed.
Sirius waggled his eyebrows. "Anyone else?"
I glared at him. "Don't you dare tell her."
"Hermione!" He looked like Christmas and his birthday both came early.
"Don't," I paused, searching for a plausible threat. Nothing. "Please. I thought she was pretty, but it's Hermione. She's a friend and I don't really think of her like that. She looked really nice and everything, but I know the real her."
He barked out a laugh. "I keep trying to tell her she's not half as attractive with ink smeared on her nose." He sobered. "I get what you're saying. There's a difference between checking out a girl and dating her. So two crushes and you checked out your friend once." Technically three times, but I didn't dare correct him.
The kettle whistled. Leaving the mirror on the table, Sirius stood and crossed the room. He took a mug off a hook under the cabinet, dropped in a strainer and filled it with leaves. Then he removed the kettle from the heat and poured it over the leaves. After flicking the burner off, he returned to the table with his mug cradled in his hands. "Sorry," he said, yawning. "Cho and Parvati. Did you like them both at the same time?"
"Not really. Cho was around November. Then I started noticing Parvati right before the ball."
"They were quick little crushes. A few months at most and it was over. That's normal. James saw Lily and that was it. There were times when everyone in our dorm changed girlfriends more often than we changed our socks, but not James. He'd flirt a bit, but at the end of the day, he only had eyes for Lily, who openly despised him for six years. She was his obsession."
"You make it sound like he was a stalker."
"Not quite." His mug thumped against the table. "My memories are fractured at best. I can't always tell the real memories from the nightmares. A lot of times they bleed together. Hermione's had me reading psychology books. I think she believes if I have enough information I can fix myself." A sigh hissed past his lips. "Sometimes I think James was obsessed. Others I think his crush died a natural death and was reborn years later as love. I wish I could tell you one way or the other, but I can't because I honestly don't know. Looking back, I think I saw their relationship as a symbol of everything we were fighting for. The muggleborn and the pureblood in love and living happily ever after as the muggles say. I never asked why when James called off the wedding or why he changed his mind. I saw them happy and in love and that was all I ever needed to know."
As I stared at Sirius's anguished face, I realized how much it cost him to not lie. He needed the lie like the Giant Squid needed water. The lies kept his world in balance and his mind mostly stable. I wanted the truth. After fourteen years````` of lies about my family, I felt I deserved it, but not at this price.
Instead of pressing forward, I took a mental step back and smiled at him. "Thanks. How do you like the beach? I've never been myself, but I hear it's fun."
A grin flitted across his lips. "It's wonderful. Warm and sunny - well, as sunny as Britain gets - and the girls," he trailed off with a dazed expression on his face. For the next ten minutes, Sirius rambled about muggle girls in bikinis, warm weather, and the coffee shop down the street. Then he glanced up at the wall. "Take your potions and go to bed."
"You sound like Thomas," I grumbled, already reaching for the first potion.
"I can't believe I'm saying this, but good," he said as I popped the cork off. Head tilted back, I chugged the first potion, grimaced, and reached for the second. A gimlet-eyed Sirius watched me swallow it then he smiled. "Goodnight, Harry," he said, reaching for the mirror. His thumb pressed against the glass. "And Harry, I'll let it slide this time, but if you skip your potions just to talk to me again I will tell. Even if I have to kidnap Malfoy and make him play owl, I will find a way. Got it?"
"Yes, sir," I mumbled as my eyelids grew heavy. The mirror slipped out of my fingers as sleep claimed me.
Note: Since I've had a few PMs asking about the First Apprentice link and WattPad's search is a bit screwy apparently, here it is: First Apprentice (serialized novel in progress): /story/123517817-first-apprentice
I've aso updated this on my profile.
Sorry for any confusion. FF's revised link policy caught me with my pants down.