In the beginning -

James never knew, really, what had drawn him to Sirius Black. The Potters were a pureblood family, it was true: but they’d never had any truck with all the pamphlets and essays and snide editorial about the value of blood purity, and to eleven-year-old James it was all a bit abstract, anyway. It wasn’t as if you could see someone’s dirty blood under the skin, after all. They looked the same colour as anyone else, and for a while James had been under the misapprehension that the Separatists just had really good eyesight, to see the mixing of Muggle and Wizard in the veins.

I really like this paragraph as an opening. The “Separatists” are a polite DE euphemism borrowed from my Slytherin stories.

They were both sorted into Gryffindor, James and Sirius - but at the time that had meant very little, as so was everyone else he’d met on the train: a round-faced girl who loved Herbology and babbled away about plants and flowers through the entire journey; a short blond-haired boy who had shrunk in on himself when James offered him a Chocolate Frog, and then, shyly, offered him the card a few minutes later; and a boy with brown eyes who had kept his nose in a book the entire way, and didn’t eat sweets at all.

In case this wasn’t as obvious as I thought: Alice Longbottom, Peter Pettigrew (who obviously loves James ALREADY) and Remus. I have no idea why Remus doesn’t eat sweets at all. Maybe he’s saving himself for the massive cache of chocolate in his trunk.

James hadn’t met Sirius until they were trudging up the stairs to the first-year dormitory after the Sorting feast, yawning and rubbing their eyes after an unaccustomed amount of excitement for one day. James had stayed a little back from the others, looking around the common room because he wanted it all imprinted on his memory in case he woke up and it was all a dream: he was in Gryffindor, the same house as every other member of his family, and more importantly, the house with the best Quidditch team. He knew his parents would be proud, but that wasn’t important. What was important was that he hadn’t been put into Hufflepuff, as he sometimes was in his worst nightmares. He hadn’t been forced into Ravenclaw, as in the dreams where books, thousands and thousands of them, flew around his bed and pecked him to death. And he definitely hadn’t ended up in Slytherin.

I just liked the idea of James being as hemmed-in by Family Stereotypes as Sirius, but not choosing to rebel against them. And the Potters in my head are good-old-boy types.

When I was sitting Finals, I had dreams in which the books in Oriel library came to life and pecked me to death. How bloody ironic.

This was, he decided, a brilliant start to what was going to be a brilliant year.

“It’s fantastic, isn’t it?” he’d said excitedly to the only other person left in the common room.

Sirius had been staring into the fire, hadn’t bothered to look up. “If you say so,” he’d said in a small voice.

James hadn’t liked that - someone who looked so much younger than him dismissing the Gryffindor common room, the Sorting feast, Hogwarts, so easily. “What d’you mean? Of course it is!” James had replied belligerently. “Gryffindor not good enough for you?”

“I mean - of course - it’s just brilliant,” Sirius had whispered, his eyes fixed very firmly on the fire. James had the impression he was trying not to cry.

“Homesick already?” he’d asked, hesitantly. He wouldn’t have known where to start with homesickness himself, it sounded like an awful waste of a perfectly good year. But he’d sat down next to Sirius on the squashy sofa, and awkwardly put an arm around his shoulders.

James’s latent good-old-boy-ness showing here already. “Buck up, old chap! What, what?”


Sirius had stilled, then, as if he wasn’t used to being touched. But eventually he leant back slightly, and James could feel the bones under his robes.

Sirius ISN’T used to being touched. I don’t think there’s a single Black capable of showing physical affection.

“No. Not homesick,” he’d said finally, and flashed him a grin, startling in its openness. His long hair was tied back off his face, and warm from the heat of the fire. “Hi. I’m Sirius Black.”

And I know that Moody in OotP talks about Sirius’s hair being shorter in Ye Olde Days, and that it’s probably only long in PoA because of the escaped convict thing. I don’t care. I think Sirius has long hair. I think his parents try to cut it, and it does that growing-back-longer thing that Harry’s did on the Dursleys.

****

The next morning, at breakfast, a Howler had arrived. It was addressed in crabbed, gothic handwriting to Mr Sirius Black, Eldest Son of Isidore Black, The Gryffindor Table, The Great Hall, Hogwarts.

I like the name Isidore.

And it had exploded before Sirius had managed to open it, shrieking his blood betrayal to the surrounding tables.

The Slytherins had sniggered. The other Gryffindors had looked at Sirius in open-mouthed disbelief, and a few of them started edging away from him on the benches, as if that sort of hatred was catching.

James had made Sirius a bacon sandwich, and told him that his family were probably just jealous.

”Buck up, old chap! What, what?”

Okay, I promise to stop taking the piss out of James.


****

As the years pass -


This scene almost ended up being AFTER the first kiss, but I felt it was better off here as otherwise they go from ickle firsties to broom-cupboard frottage rather too rapidly.

“That was amazing!” Sirius crowed, almost tripping over his robes in his haste to get through the portrait hole. James could hear the Fat Lady tutting at him from through the canvas: he’d probably rapped on the painting, as hard as he could, still breathless with laughter, still not quite remembering that the paintings at Hogwarts were glad to be there and didn’t have to be poked and prodded like the paintings in his unspeakably horrible house. Sirius was trying to prop himself up against the sofa and failing, shaking helplessly with laughter. “You should have seen his face!”

The paintings in the Black house are probably all as disinterested and sneery as Phineas, who practically needs a cattle prod.

“Yes, well, I didn’t have much opportunity, what with the Exploding Frog-Spawn flying everywhere,” James said, his voice mock-serious, almost unconsciously raking his fingers through his hair, back-to-front, trying to see if there was anything unpleasantly slimy lodged in it. “I thought Rosier was going to explode.”

I found this scene very difficult to write from a James POV. It’s hard to write someone who’s doubled over with laughter. So he might come across as a little restrained, but he’s pissing himself. Honestly. And I just thought Exploding Frog Spawn was a very HP-verse thing to exist.

“Two hours in the Hospital Wing, at least,” Sirius guffawed. “I knew those Pustulus Jinxes would come through in a pinch.”

Again, Kay makes up things.

James remembered Remus’s face, pinched-up with tiredness but with laughter dancing somewhere in his dark eyes: you want to learn what?

And his hands around Sirius’s, moving the wand in slow concentric circles, Sirius biting his lower lip with concentration, Remus concentrating on the play of muscles on Sirius’s right shoulder. Suddenly he remembered - “Oh no, and the pants -

I wrote this scene way after I’d finished the Remus/Sirius arc, and wanted to establish that Remus fancied Sirius at school, as well. Although from another point of view, he could just be checking out Sirius’s impressive wand technique (ha ha).

“Right here, mate,” Sirius said cheerfully, holding up a pair of worn and slightly greying boxers on the tip of his wand. “Should imagine he’ll have a nasty surprise when he gets back to the dorm.”

James sniggered, feeling his ribs ache as he tried to stand up properly. The sight of a chorus of ten singing pairs of pants serenading Severus Snape with “You Are My Sunshine” would be almost worth the several million hexes sneaking into the Slytherin dorms would inevitably entail. “Speaking of nasty surprises, Padfoot -” he said, looking around the empty (for now) common room.

Hee! Sirius and James in OotP DID appear unduly obsessed with Snape’s pants, after all.


Sirius nodded. “Got you. Missing Divination once by being violently sick all over the classroom is unfortunate, twice in the same week and it starts looking suspiciously like a plan.”

James walked - more hobbled, actually - over to where Sirius was propping up the furniture, and held out his hand. “We’d better make ourselves scarce. Remus and Peter will be in the library for lunch -”

The significance of Remus and Peter’s whereabouts harked back to this section’s original purpose as a build-up to noisy, prank-fuelled sex in the Gryffindor dorms. I imagine Remus is tutoring Peter or something.

“But hearken! I hear -” Sirius started, looking towards the portrait hole.

James grimaced. “That’s the sound of Gryffindors having followed a trail of frogspawn to the Fat Lady -”

They beat a hasty retreat to the staircase.

“And who might not appreciate -” Sirius whispered in James’s ear, his arm wrapping around James’s waist as they tucked themselves away into the shadows.

Here there was snogging, and a tongue in James’s ear. It was a shame this scene had to be moved, really. But I like the way this sets up their physical intimacy.

“The true brilliance of our -” James continued, edging himself out of the light and peering through his glasses back down at the red-and-gold of the common room. “Seriously, we should get a fucking medal for -”

Three hundred House points!” Lily Evans screeched, her face almost red enough to match her hair.

“Oh.” Sirius said quietly, at the crestfallen expression on James’s face.

****

Throughout -

James would buy Dungbombs and Fizzing Whizbees in Hogsmeade when Sirius was stuck in detention for partially transfiguring the caretaker’s cat into a tea cosy.

It took me ages to think up an appropriate Transfiguration for the cat.

James would take the piss out of Sirius’s girlfriends, but sit up until midnight in the common room studying the sports pages of the Daily Prophet, in case Sirius came back early enough to get into some serious mischief while the secret passage to the Slytherin common room was still open.

James would challenge Sirius to pointless Quidditch duels that ended with them both covered head to toe in mud, despite the self-evident face that Quidditch is a primarily airborne sport.

This is my own private joke: far too often I write Quidditch practices in which people are mud-splattered, grass-stained etc. It takes place IN THE AIR, YOU COMPLETE MORON.

I suppose they mostly roll around in the mud and pretend to be “looking for the Snitch”.


It never occurred to James that what he was really saying was “I love you.”

This idea is taken from my friend Kyra’s journal. Ages and ages ago she described people getting dropped off by their parents at university: the fathers fuss about boxes and stereos, the mothers ask about laundry facilities and so forth, but what they’re REALLY saying is “I love you”, in that roundabout way parents sometimes have.

****

Fifth year, and -

Neither of them had ever expected to lose their virginity in a broom cupboard, but somehow it didn’t seem so ludicrous at the time; Filch on the rampage and a confiscated map and a we should probably split up and the small creaking noises of the castle after dark. James had stood in the darkness, hoping desperately that Filch wouldn’t suddenly need Spot Remover Potion or Wipe-Away Cloths or any of the other household items cramming the tiny cupboard, and trying not to sneeze from where the tallest mop rested just under his nose. Sirius had been convulsed in silent hysterics, his long hair falling into James’s face, their legs wound together in an attempt to fit two sixteen-year-old boys into a square inch of floor space.

I wrote this entire section just to use that opening line.

“Where - do you think - Moony and Wormtail have gone -” James mouthed carefully, his ears straining for the least sound that could be Filch outside.

“Probably the back staircase to the kitchens,” Sirius whispered, an enormous grin on his face. “You know how good Peter is with the secret passages -”

Peter had to have SOME uses, after all.

“Shh!” James hissed. “I thought I heard -”

And was struck suddenly with the shivers at how close Sirius was, their bodies pressed together amongst all the mops and brooms and unidentified cleaning smells. “There’s no-one out there,” Sirius said, and deftly flicked his wand towards the cupboard doors, sending out the tiniest spark of red light.

James was just about to ask - “Then why have you soundproofed the doors -” when Sirius kissed him, clumsy and wet and unspeakably awkward. His tongue felt like it was everywhere at once, and James knew that his face was bright red and his glasses were pushed up uncomfortably onto the bridge of his nose. He tried to push Sirius away - he didn’t know where, the cupboard really was very small - but his traitorous arms wrapped themselves around Sirius’s back and refused to let go.

I have a secret kink for First Kisses to be awkward and sloppy and totally lacking in all finesse. Particularly when they’re between two hormone-crazed teenage boys. Come on, all my first boyfriends kissed like Hoovers. And, once a glasses wearer, I can TOTALLY EMPATHISE with James about the glasses cutting off all circulation to your nose.


Finally Sirius seemed to run out of air. His face was heart-stoppingly close as they separated, and James scrabbled for something to say. “Er,” he managed. “Er. Sirius.”

James-in-my-head says “Er” a lot, I’ve found.

Sirius looked embarrassed, and loosened his grip. “Sorry, Prongs,” he mumbled, and stepped backwards, crashing into the far wall and upsetting what looked like a collection of medieval torture implements.

That’s where Filch keeps them when they’re not used for threatening purposes.

“Oh, to hell with it,” James said, and kissed Sirius again. He didn’t know it if got better with time, but eventually they were half-sitting in a pile of off-white cleaning rags and Sirius’s trousers were pushed down around his knees and James was forgetting how to breathe.

“Where have you two been?” Peter had said indistinctly later, his mouth full of chocolate eclair. “We were worried you’d been caught.”

I had HELL with the tenses in this section. I love the use of “had” to indicate a shift in time, but am decidedly ham-fisted with my grammar and normally end up sounding as though everything was several billion years before the Iron Age.

The large pile of stolen food on Remus’s bed had proven Sirius’s earlier guess correct. “We saved you some,” Remus had said cheerfully. “Even those little pumpkin pasties that Wormtail practically lives on.”

“I’m not hungry,” James had said quickly, moving away from Sirius and into the room. The colours were too bright, and he could still feel Sirius’s fingers digging into his inner thighs, and he’d never expected to lose his virginity in a broom cupboard, to his best friend.

****

That summer -

There was a crash of thunder. “Of course,” Sirius said dully. “Of course it would be raining.”

I love Sirius. He has a sense of Pathetic Fallacy of course, because he is a Black.

James would have laughed if Sirius hadn’t looked so utterly abandoned. Black hair plastered to his face, making his cheeks look hollow. Shirt sticking to his chest, bag over his shoulder, pooling water onto the Potters’ doorstep. James still held the letter clutched in both hands, as if he was trying to hang onto reality, though he’d already memorised the large, angry handwriting that took up half the length of the parchment and accounted for the ink-stains on Sirius’s sodden shirt: I’m getting out. Expect me when you see me. Sirius.

And now Sirius was standing in his front garden at three o’clock in the morning, and it had been raining all night without stopping. James had been lying awake in his bed, parchment clutched to his chest, hearing his heart hammering in time with the vicious rain. Three knocks on the door, and Sirius still hadn’t got his Apparition licence, so he’d been walking in the rain since dusk.

“Sirius -” James started, holding the door open. “Come on, you great - it’s freezing outside!”

Thus starts the beginning of many pages of spectacular emotional incompetence for James.

“’S summer,” Sirius said, walking past him into the house. “’M not cold.” But he was shivering, and his arms were white, and when James sat him down at the kitchen table he could almost hear Sirius’s teeth chattering. James knelt in front of him, feeling oddly uncomfortable at seeing him like this. Sirius had always had nightmares, Sirius had always refused to talk about his family - but that was Remus’s territory, not James’s. It was Remus who knew what to say in the middle of the night when Sirius dreamt that his family house was burning down around him. It was James who hexed Slytherins and played Quidditch and sneaked into Hogsmeade to buy Sirius Fizzing Whizbees when he was stuck in detention.

I needed to set up Remus’s connection with Sirius, so that later on it wouldn’t come out of nowhere. This seemed as good a time as any. It’s playing to fandom cliches, of course, with bluff-Quidditch!James and junior-psychotherapist!Remus, but I don’t think those characterisations are too far off the mark in terms of their teenage selves.

The moonlit talks weren’t James’s domain, and he couldn’t help thinking that Sirius knew it, too.

“Do you want -” James started.

“Tea. I’d like some tea,” Sirius said firmly, and James scrambled to his feet, finally finding something he could do. He charmed the mug hot before giving it to Sirius, made too-strong with three sugars and the tea-bag still in it. “Thanks,” Sirius mumbled, and wrapped his hands around the mug, turning them pink with the sudden flush of blood. James leant against the kitchen cabinets, watching Sirius drink, not really knowing what to say. He ran his hand through his hair and fidgeted a little with his glasses. Sirius had dark circles around his eyes and looked terrible.

“You look terrible, mate,” James finally said, and then wished he hadn’t.

“I’ve been locked in my room for two weeks,” Sirius half-snarled. “And I’ve walked miles and miles in a torrential sodding downpour to get here.”

“You’re dripping all over the floor,” James pointed out, inadequately.

“Yes, well,” Sirius said around the mugful of tea. “Your mum’s nothing compared to mine, so excuse me if I’m not sorry or intimidated.”

James forced a weak smile, and pulled out a chair next to Sirius, perching on the edge. “It’s a wonder she’s not awake, actually. She normally has ears like a hawk when people are sneaking around in the middle of the night.”

Sirius laughed softly, and dipped his finger in the tea. “Biscuits would be good.”

“Biscuits? Biscuits! Right.” James jumped up and started going through the cupboards, wondering whether his mother had charmed the biscuit tin to shriek his name at the top of its voice in the case of illicit after-hours snacking. Behind him, he could hear Sirius shake himself, spattering raindrops over the tiled floor, his hair tangling itself into rain-whorled knots around his shoulders. He was still beautiful, James thought, and then tried not to, because it really wasn’t the time.

I really like the phrase “rain-whorled knots”.

Again, James’s total incompetence comes from a combination of his good-old-boy-ness and my inability to imagine him sitting down to have a serious heart-to-heart with Sirius without panicking at the amount of emotional resonance in the situation. I think he saves those moments for Lily. Which is fair enough, but Sirius gets a rather raw deal in this section because of it.


“Biscuits!” he said triumphantly. “There might even be some cake.”

Sirius raised his eyebrows. “That sort of thing must be nice,” he said quietly, sliding the lid off the tin. To James’s immense relief, it didn’t scream.

”To James’s immense relief...” is really a microcosm of this whole situation. Or it was meant to be, at the time of writing.

“The cake? Well, not if it’s bakewell tarts, mum makes them with concrete or something. The fruit loaf is quite good, thought, if there’s any left -”

That’s it, James, get the wrong end of the stick and beat yourself about the head with it. I fucking HATE Bakewell tarts.

“No.” Sirius shook his head. “To have a mother - be part of a family - that makes cake.”

James felt his stomach plummet. This really is Remus’s territory. Sirius looked suddenly cold again - cold, and dripping wet, and as if he’d walked miles in the rain to get away from a family that would send him a Howler just for getting Sorted wrong. “Padfoot,” James said softly, and put a tentative arm around his shoulders, feeling him shivering underneath. “Do you want -”

This was written BEFORE I actually wrote the bit with the Howler, and then I decided it was a good enough image to give a little section of its own. I am physically incapable of sitting down and writing a fic in a linear way.

Finally, James gets with the empathy. He’s really rather sweet in his own little bumbling way.


“No,” Sirius said, and buried his face against James’s pyjamas. “No, I don’t want to talk about it.”

****

Sirius looked out of place in James’s room, though he’d visited every summer since they’d started at Hogwarts. James had wallpaper covered with whizzing Snitches - a celebration of his position on the Quidditch team, though he privately thought it was a bit childish now - which could only be persuaded to stop whizzing around at bed-time with a combination of several quite tricky Charms and a lot of shouting. He had a large stuffed lion that he was slightly embarrassed by, though Sirius had already spent a gleeful summer teasing him about it when they were both twelve and was unlikely to start again now. Over his bed was a picture of Lily Evans, taken secretly after a Quidditch match when her hair was blowing across her face and into her mouth, and the fixtures programme for Puddlemere United.

Lots of stuff. The wallpaper - written AFTER I’d described it as a potential decorating idea for Harry’s room. James here is obviously a Seeker, so we’re movie-verse. I like the idea of him shouting at his wallpaper and trying to get it to shut up. James WOULD have a stuffed toy and be embarrassed by it. I chose Puddlemere United as a nice middle-of-the-road team for James. Lily supports the Harpies, of course.

And now he also had the eldest son of the house of Black, sitting cross-legged on his bed and trying to charm his own hair dry.

And making it into an Afro, most likely.

“Godric, isn’t it?” Sirius said, picking up the lion and tossing it aside to make more room. “I remember when you told me you were going to burn it because it was, and I quote, a stupid kiddy lion.”

James is so full of bravado. And of course his lion is called Godric. It was probably given him at birth, what with the scary obsessive Gryffindor-ness of the Potters.

“And I remember when you told me you were going to run away to Hawaii and become a hula dancer if the Falcons didn’t win the cup, and yet you’re conspicuously lacking in flowers and grass skirts,” James replied. Sirius snorted. “We’ll have to sort out another bed or something for you in the morning, but I don’t think I can conjure one up right now.”

Pick a Quidditch team, any Quidditch team...

You really think he wants a SPARE BED, James?


“Won’t be the first time we’ve shared a bed,” Sirius said, and slid his shirt off. James couldn’t tell whether he was referring to summer in their first year, or last term when Peter had come down with measles at the full moon, and James had fully exploited the fact that Sirius usually slept naked.

If I couldn’t write hot sweaty Gryffindor-dorm sex, I reasoned, I was going to put it in somewhere...

“Er,” James said. Sirius worked himself free of his trousers, and slid into bed, causing the mattress to make an unhealthy-sounding creaking noise. The Snitches would start to wake up again if he kept the light on any longer, he realised.

“What’s wrong, Prongs?” Sirius said quietly from the bed. “You’re acting all - weird -”

James shook his head. “I don’t really know what to say. Or do. I mean, you’ve run away from home, and this is the first time you’ve managed to get this far, and we both know that they’ll use you to try experimental potions on if you go back. And. And I don’t know why you ran away, but I know you don’t want to talk about it, and you’re -”

“Prongs,” Sirius sighed, and sat up.

“And you’re in my bed, and this is my parents’s house, and you’re not wearing any clothes, and if I get into bed I know we’ll -”

“Prongs,” Sirius said very firmly, the sheets sliding away from him. James tried not to look, but it was like looking at the sun - once glance and you’re done for. “Prongs, I’ve run away from home. This is meant to be about me, remember?”

I’m actually quite pleased with James’s stream-of-consciousness here.

James could see he was shivering, still. It took a moment for James to regain the power of movement, but when he did he was on his knees by the bed, and Sirius was in his arms. “Of course it’s about you,” James said into his hair. “I’m sorry, I’ve been so -”

Sirius half-laughed, the sound coming out like a bark, and lifted James bodily into bed, still fully dressed. “I know,” he said, and it came out almost like a sob. “I know.”

And, later, once James’s clothes were wound around their feet at the bottom of the bed, and once James’s glasses had been broken by a badly-placed elbow and the damnable Snitches had been woken up again by the moans and the sighs and the creaks of the bed - “But I still don’t want to talk about it,” Sirius murmured drowsily, his nose pressed against the back of James’s neck.

***

“I could buy it all new, and she’d never know,” Sirius said desperately.

“Rubbish. Everything would look too new.”

“I’d kick it around a bit!”

“You’d have to kick it around for five years to get anywhere near what your books look like, Padfoot,” James said firmly. “Mum will know that we haven’t gone.”

Sirius crossed his arms.

“Don’t sulk,” James sighed, and wrapped his arms around Sirius’s waist. “Look. We just go in, pack your things up, and come back. It won’t be that bad.”

Sirius kissed the corner of his mouth, looking resentful. “That’s easy for you to say.”

“We wouldn’t have to be going if you’d brought it with you,” James reminded him, fishing the packet of Floo powder out of his pocket.

Sirius glowered. “So when I’m undoing a hundred wards to sneak out of my Dark-infested family house without my evil little brother sneaking on me, I should have remembered to pack?”

James considered. “In brief, yes.”

I love this little section of dialogue. It was one of the few times I really felt like I’d captured what the characters sound like in my head.

Sirius punched him on the shoulder.

“Come on,” James said, and linked his arm with Sirius. “We’ll get it over with fast.”

He spent the brief journey with his lips locked on Sirius’s, too used to the whirling dizzy sensation to lose his rhythm, and wondering who on earth had thought that ‘Grimmauld Place’ was a cheery and welcoming name for a property development.

Sirius’s house was more horrible by far than James had ever imagined it. Severed heads and troll’s legs, and that was only the hallway. The house stretched away into the shadows in front of him, even though it was the middle of the day. Heavy drapes hung over the windows, jewel-green, blotting out the light. “Mother’s always worried the Muggles could look in,” Sirius whispered, taking James’s hand. “Even though the Confundus charms around this place are so bad the milkman’s started delivering kittens to Number 14...”

I just liked the image of a milk-crate full of kittens. Lo, this is how I write.

“Are your parents in?” James whispered, looking around.

Sirius hesitated. “Mother’s probably sleeping late. If we’re quiet we won’t wake her. Father will be out at work.”

“Regulus?” James asked.

Sirius grimaced. “Let’s hope he fell down the stairs when he went running to sneak on me for climbing out the window.”

Regulus WAS going to pop up and cause trouble, but I didn’t want to have to add in a new character that I had ABSOLUTELY no handle on. I’m cowardly like that.


They passed a mahogany table, littered with gold-edged invitations to the most prestigious wizarding balls: the Malfoys, the Lestranges, and some foreign families James had never even heard of. A large black tapestry hung on the wall over it, nearly stretching the entire length of the hall. “The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black,” James whispered. “Your family doesn’t go in for half measures, does it? My family motto is probably “Fight bravely, Gryffindor” or some other nonsense -”

He stopped when he could see Sirius’s face, pale in the shadows. He looked thin suddenly, thin and drawn, and they hadn’t exactly been getting enough sleep to erase the shadows under his eyes. “What is it?” James asked, squeezing Sirius’s hand.

“They’ve taken me off the family tree,” Sirius said softly.

I really like this line. I didn’t want him to make a huge song-and-dance about it, but I think it startles him how much he cares.


James didn’t know exactly what to say. He pushed his glasses up on his nose, and looked at the branch Sirius was pointing to. Sure enough, the gold line leading down from Isidore and Orion Black led to one person: Regulus. And beside his name, a blackened and burned patch of fabric, as though someone had wanted to burn Sirius right out of the family tree. “Padfoot,” James whispered, seeing Sirius staring at the tapestry like a man transfixed. “We have to go -”

Orion Black stolen, I’m sure, from half a dozen other fanfics. I remember Orion being a lovely sympathetic father in Drawing Down the Moon by Ailei and Khirsah, before the Black family was a byword for EVILNESS.


“Right,” Sirius said, some of the colour returning to his face. He turned to James and almost grinned. “I’m on the top floor. Don’t step on every third step - or the ones at the top and the bottom of each flight - mother’s frantic about burglars.”

House Elves, decapitated and mounted on plaques. A particularly unpleasant tapestry showing all the Heads of Slytherin house. A crystal chandelier embellished with hundreds of tiny silver snakes, their eyes shimmering in the half-light. “I’m not surprised you hate your house,” James said as they reached the top floor. “It’d give the Bloody Baron the creeps, and I’ve only seen the hallway.”

“Yes, well. What’s the point of being evil if you don’t flaunt it?” Sirius said in a more normal voice as he closed the door softly behind them. James looked around, feeling slightly horrified. It was so different from his own room - and decorated solely in black and green and silver - and there was a faint smell of burning coming from the slightly tattered drapes around the four-poster bed. James decided not to ask.

The burnt drapes pop up here and there throughout the story, long before and after they’ve been used for their one-line explanation of how much Sirius hates his family home. I should have just let it go.

They packed in silence for a while, Sirius directing James to the fake floorboards where his Quidditch kit was hidden, vibrant in gold and red. Sirius had hidden a surprising amount of Quidditch magazines behind the wardrobe - “They think it’s a useless waste of time,” - and photographs of their housemates over the headboard of the bed. James unstuck them from the wall one by one, watching Alice Jones arguing vehemently with Frank Longbottom over the correct care and feeding of Swamp-Growing Hellibore.

Interestingly enough, they were originally arguing over Madness Hellibore, until I decided that was just too foreshadowing-tastic for my tastes. As you can see, I fully embrace the idea that Neville gets Herbology from his parents, although what Aurors would do with Herbology I really can’t imagine.


He paused when he came to the final row, and stuck his head out from between the curtains. “Oi, Sirius,” he said softly. “Anyone would think you had a crush on me.”

On the wall behind him, twelve James Potters swooped on their broomsticks, lounged on the sofa in Gryffindor common room, pondered over the Marauder’s Map with ink all over their hands.

Sirius grinned. “As if it wasn’t obvious,” he said, and leant over to plant a kiss firmly on James’s lips. “Sometimes, you were the only thing brightening up this room,” he said more seriously, grey eyes fixed on James’s face. “The best thing about Hogwarts that I could remember.”

This is one of the very few times you actually hear Sirius articulating his love for James. Teenage boys aren’t good with words, I decided.


James felt his throat tighten. “Shall I - shall I take them off then?”

Sirius parted the curtains, and his eyes roamed appreciatively down James’s body. “Normally, I’d say yes, but I don’t think this is the right time -”

James laughed. “You prat. I meant, shall I take the photos down?”

Sirius considered. “Not the ones of you. I’d like to keep the others, though.”

James must have looked quizzical, because Sirius laughed again, and kissed him. “I’ll be able to see you every day, after all, won’t I?”

Before they left, James charmed each one of the James Potters onto the wall with the strongest Sticking Charm he could muster.

This was written AFTER the section in which Sirius returns to Grimmauld Place and finds Kreacher has kept the pictures of James to torment him with. I needed a decent explanation of why the photos were still there, when all of Sirius’s other school things had been packed up and moved to the Potters.


****

Next summer -

Dear Padfoot -

Hope the parents are treating you well. Don’t let Mum feed you any more of that chocolate cake, you’ll get fat. And then you’ll BREAK my BED and we can’t be having that, can we? Lily says hi. It’s amazing here, really high up in the mountains, you can see all the Muggles walking round and round the base of the mountain and NOT being able to FIND it. Hah! They look like those little ants that McGonagall tried to get us to make into aunts. Mine came out nothing like my aunt. And she wouldn’t believe that my aunt had six legs and antennae when I tried to explain! SO unfair. Lily and I have been studying the old caves here, where the dragons used to live before they were relocated. I think Lily secretly wants to work with dragons, but whenever I ask her she sort of pinches her lips together and says Healing is a more RESPECTABLE career according to her parents. She’ll be sorry when we’re all AURORS and run around saving beautiful damsels, etc etc.

See you soon!

Prongs.

My favourite part of this letter is the ants-into-aunts assignment. That sounds like fun. And I’m sure Lily’s family are much nicer than they sound here; they just want to do right by their little girl.

****

Sirius had seven postcards, three letters and one badly-made Howler from James over the course of one week. James’s parents joked that if James did nearly as much writing in class, they’d stop being afraid of meeting Professor McGonagall in Diagon Alley.

Lily got James for an entire week. Sirius got an essays-worth of parchment.

Sirius thought that really, Lily had got the best deal.

This was difficult. I wanted the entire first section to be James POV, but I really had to show Sirius’s reaction to the letter, to show that he realised the tide was turning in his relationship with James. I tried to do it with a reply letter, but it came out mangled and trite and had to be removed. So here it is. James is spending a lot of time thinking about Sirius, but Lily gets his actual presence, which means more to Sirius than James’s words. See?


****

And after Hogwarts -

“I can’t understand why he’d -” Sirius whispered into the fire. He wasn’t sure why he was whispering, but the bottle of Firewhiskey had taken most of the edge off the pain, leaving only a dull sense of confusion. It didn’t make sense. Nothing was real anymore, and Sirius fought a fleeting urge to just step bodily into the fire, see where it would take him, whether his torso would arrive at Remus’s before his knees turned up in Beijing.

The whispering comes from a RL experience in which my best friend was dumped and showed up outside my room at 3am, unable to speak any louder than a whisper and clutching a bottle of gin. I don’t think wizards have gin. But I liked the idea of Sirius being so completely wracked with pain that he can’t do anything BUT whisper.

Again, this was meant to be a James POV section, but I didn’t want to write the break-up in any great length or detail, so you get Sirius’s reaction to it instead.


“I don’t think he understands it himself, Padfoot,” Remus whispered back, his face in the fire almost close enough for Sirius to touch. “I wouldn’t imagine this was an easy decision to make.”

Sensible Remus.

“And now you’re taking his side,” Sirius said dully. “Lucky James, having so many friends. Wife and house and taken all my friends.”

“I’m not - Padfoot, you couldn’t possibly think -” Remus murmured, brown eyes full of compassion. “I’m not taking sides. You’re both my friends. My best friends. And I can’t even imagine how you’re feeling right now.”

Sirius shifted his legs, which had numbed to the warmth and hardness of the stone floor under him. “Sore. In pain. Confused,” he whispered, feeling tears starting to prick behind his eyes. “Moony -”

Remus stood up, and Sirius could only see his legs. “Stay right there. I’m coming over.”

I like to imagine that Something Happens when Remus does go over. Whether it’s a drunken and maudlin kiss that Sirius doesn’t quite remember in the morning, or just Remus wrapping himself around Sirius all night and whispering into his hair is entirely up to the reader’s imagination.

****

And of course -

James hadn’t expected to go back. It didn’t make sense, and James was fairly sure that this was when his life was meant to start making sense: job, house, wife, accompanying Lily by Floo to her ante-natal check-ups and arguing about whether a wallpaper comprised entirely of dashing, whizzing Snitches was insufficiently restful for the small cupboard they were trying to think of as the nursery. He’d got up that morning, kissed Lily goodbye as she went to meet Alice Longbottom in Diagon Alley and share disgusting, pregnant-woman ice-cream flavours at Fortescue’s, and sat on the sofa with the same cup of coffee for three hours.

See? The Snitch wallpaper, explained here first.

And then he’d stood up, looked at himself in the mirror - wild hair, glasses still slightly lopsided from a Quidditch incident in the last year of school - and thought, well, you knew it was going to happen sooner or later.

That was why James was standing outside a nondescript front door in an even more nondescript block of flats in Battersea, and trying very hard not to throw up.

I live in Battersea. And nervous relationship things make me want to throw up. See, you really get the kitchen sink of my life experience when you read one of my fics.

He was just about to summon up the courage to knock on the door when it opened. Sirius leaned around the doorframe, all tatty sleeves and unwashed hair, and balanced two empty milk-bottles on the step outside.

He didn’t see James until he straightened up. His grey eyes were cold. James could see he was gripping the corner of the doorframe harder than he needed to, as if he was trying to stop himself taking a step forward. “James,” he said, formally. “To what do I owe the great and undeserved pleasure?”

Sirius Black could be a bastard when he wanted to, James remembered, feeling the blood prickling in his cheeks. “We’ve been friends since we were old enough to hex each other,” James reminded him, trying not to think about what else they’d learned to do to each other, trying not to think about those sardonic lips curved around his cock. “Do I really need a reason?”

“Yes, nowadays,” Sirius muttered, but he stepped back from the doorway. He was wearing just his old Quidditch shirt and boxers, and it looked as though he hadn’t quite got out of bed yet. The flat was dark, curtains still drawn at midday, and smelled faintly of Firewhiskey. There were mugs on almost every available surface: Sirius must have absorbed the Remus-habit of making tea in a crisis. Some were still half-full, almost untouched.

In OotP, Sirius smells of drink when he’s particularly down. I don’t think he’s an alcoholic, but I do think he feels things strongly enough to want to numb the pain. “Tea in a crisis” is a reference to a Lily-and-Remus trait I mention in a later section (written, as you should know by now, Before This One).

Sirius shut the door behind him. “How’s Lily?” he asked, his voice guarded. “I’d offer you a drink, but I think I drank it all.”

James shook away the offer, perching on the arm of the sofa. “Lily’s fine. She’s still getting up early to do those exercises where she tries to bend her leg around her head. She’s gone to meet Alice and gossip about whether the tea leaves were floating high or low and whether that means the baby’ll be good at Charms or not. Girl things.”

Sirius raised his eyebrow, but didn’t say anything.

“You haven’t been going to work?” James asked. He had to know, but he didn’t think he wanted to hear the answer. It was entirely too new, too unexpected, this feeling: to know that he held someone’s heart in his hands, cupped gently, like a raw egg.

I really like this image. I thought it was over-the-top at first, but James is rarely effusive about Sirius even in his head, so I thought I could slip it in here.


Sirius laughed, like a bark, and picked up one of the half-empty mugs. “What’s the point? They’ll only fire me eventually.”

That bark-like laugh again. Kay tries to cram as much canon as possible into one fic.

“Yes, but -”

Sirius just stared at him, and James could read that stare, right through to the raw hurt behind Sirius’s eyes: you’re telling me what to do, after what you did to me? “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I shouldn’t have. I don’t know why I.”

Sirius swore, softly, under his breath. “James. You should probably go.”

“I don’t know,” James said miserably. “I just - I didn’t want - couldn’t we just pretend it never happened?”

He heard Sirius hitch in a breath, and the sound of the mug hitting the floor, bouncing away across the vile lime-green carpet. “You want us to pretend it never happened?” Sirius said quietly. James could taste his heart in his mouth, a curious metallic tang, surging forward on the thumping of his pulse. The air stilled between them.

Then, just as suddenly, Sirius swept the mugs off the nearest table. A deafening cacophony of broken glass and porcelain and liquid hitting the walls and the final - smash - that was the bottle of Firewhiskey breaking against the wall. “Fuck!” Sirius bellowed. “You want to pretend it never happened? You think you can just come back here, park Lily off with her boring friends and come back here and say it never happened?”

This is obviously where Harry gets his capslock tendencies from. The Sirius in my head shouts a lot.


James looked down at the carpet. “Yes,” he said. “Please, Sirius.”

Sirius managed to knock over another table, two chairs and a large vase on his way to James, kicking them aside with the utter abandon of someone who could afford to buy you the moon in a box if he only knew who was selling. Two heartbeats, and his mouth was crushed roughly against James’s, hot and frantic and scratchy with stubble, and James was winding his hands desperately in Sirius’s hair, breathing in the smell of warmth and alcohol and - somewhere, somewhere - wet canine. Sirius kissed like a man possessed, like someone who was starving, and for a moment again James had that horrible feeling again, of Sirius’s heart hammering against its chest as if it would break out and crawl its way to James alone. “Fuck, Prongs,” Sirius half-sobbed into his mouth, his hands scrabbling at James’s shirt-buttons. “I didn’t think you’d -”

I really fancy Sirus here. “The moon in a box” - I don’t really know what I was thinking with that simile, but I probably had a reason. There’s a lot of run-on sentences here because it’s one of the few ways I know to convey urgency and up-against-the-wall passion. Again, I like the imagery around Sirius’s heart.


“I didn’t think I’d -” James mumbled into Sirius’s hair, five minutes later in the bedroom, with Sirius on top of him and the sheets tangled and nest-like around him. Sirius had always been heavier than him, and the weight felt good against him, crushing him down into the mattress, leaving him with no escape from Sirius’s hands inside his trousers, the long ravenous licks of Sirius’s tongue against his throat. “I missed -”

“I love -” Sirius said indistinctly, and James gave in to the spiralling surge of desire, his fingers scrabbling for purchase on Sirius’s hip-bones.

(now fade to black)

Sometimes I wish I’d managed to write a proper sex scene in this entire fic. But then again, so many reviews have been from non-James/Sirius shippers who say that it works for them precisely because the characters are primarily friends rather than fuck-buddies. Far be it for me to scare off my entire readership.

****

At Hogwarts -


Years and years later, long enough for James and Lily’s son to grow into another Gryffindor with untidy hair and a love of Quidditch, a werewolf sat and marked third-year essays on Grindylows. Regular, controlled motions of his wrist: a tick for a point particularly well-made, a red line underneath anything wrong, and an exclamation mark in the margin for particularly egregious errors. He used blue ink, because he had seen Neville Longbottom’s face on getting back a Potions essay practically dripping with red.

And besides, Remus thought that he’d seen enough blood to last a lifetime.

This is one of my favourite bits of the entire fic. I love the “panoramic” feel of the scene-setting, which was done entirely to convey the length of time and shift of POV. Although I apparently can’t make up my mind whether Remus is using red or blue ink.

He’d been given rooms in the East Wing, where the rising sun would peep through the curtains and spill across his bed every morning. He suspected that was Dumbledore’s doing; the Headmaster knew how he looked forward to the dawn, the escape from the subtle pull of the moon as it inched its way from the Quidditch pitch to the Forest, casting long shadows over Hogwarts. The rooms were sparsely decorated. His battered trunk sat at the bottom of the bed, with “Moony rules” etched into the side in wobbly letters several inches high, and his Muggle gramophone rested on top of it. Remus liked music, because it was better than the silence in his head.

I love that gramophone. The DADA class to music was one of the best things about the PoA film for me.


He’d been a quiet boy, and had grown up into a quiet man. He sat cross-legged on the bed, bare feet tucked under the covers, the parchments spilling over his lap. Every now and then his eyes crept to a picture by the side of his bed: a man with black hair and a girl in a wedding dress. A werewolf in formal robes, looking slightly cross-eyed - Remus had never photographed well. He didn’t trust photographs, a childhood fear that somehow they’d be able to see the wolf, beneath the skin. A slightly chubby man with a glass of champagne, toasting the happy couple. The girl’s hair is the colour of blood. Her husband has his arm in a splint from a Quidditch accident.

Because I like to refer to characters obliquely. The chubby man is Peter, making one of his five-second appearances in this fic. I like the idea of Remus sitting barefoot and cross-legged (no idea why, I just DO).

I think the remark about Lily’s hair might have been overdoing it. Ho hum.


No matter how often Remus looked at the photograph, catching it in the corner of his eye, rolling over onto his side and staring it for hours, there was always one thing the same about it.

Sirius Black never entered the frame.

****

In the Shrieking Shack -

There was a moment where Remus just gaped at Sirius, at his tattered prison clothes and the stark gauntness of his jaw; at the immense ginger cat curled up on his chest, claws digging into his stomach; at the thin trickle of blood on his face from Harry’s curse.

I HATED having to work the books into this fic, but it was obvious I’d have to for there to be any sense of continuity and perspective. Thus, this is my attempt to sum up “Sirius is alive! And good! And I still fancy him!” in as short a section of text as I could get away with.

It was Sirius, and he was alive. Remus knew, just knew, that if he looked at the picture by his bed, Sirius would be back in the frame, his arm around Peter’s shoulders, threatening to moon in the official wedding photograph.

It took him three tries to get the words out, and even then he felt as though his heart was in his voice. “Where is he, Sirius?”

The blank, expressionless look on Sirius’s face made his heart pound. Dementors flittered through his mind, the roaring and crashing of sea against cold grey stone.

But once Sirius was in his arms, he knew that it was true. It had been too late, too late for James and Lily, but it wasn’t too late for Sirius.

Maybe it wouldn’t be too late for him either. Remus buried his face in Sirius’s hair for a blissful two seconds, feeling the greasy and knotted tendrils brushing against his nose, and tried to hang on to reality.

Then turned to face the children, Lily’s eyes staring at him from Harry’s face.

****

In an attic in Pontypridd -

This is set in Pontypridd because one of my friends lives there.

“Is there anybody there?” someone said outside, and Remus shook his head absently, turning down the corner of the page to mark his place. It sounded just like Sirius, but Sirius was in Azkaban, and his voice wouldn’t carry across the stone and the rock and the miles of cold, cold sea.

Once I’d decided that the fic would be based around “The Traveler”, I knew I had to write the lie-low-at-Lupin’s scene this way.

Oh.

Remus’s hands stilled on the book.

“Moony?” the voice said again, uncertainly. “Is there - is there anybody there?”

Remus stood up, knocking the chair over.

I’ve only noticed on a re-read of PoA, but Remus drops things and knocks things over when he’s truly unsettled.

“It’s me,” the voice said, lowering to a whisper. “Er - Sirius.”

Remus realised he was shaking, and had pins-and-needles in his fingertips, and the Dementors hadn’t caught Sirius and the Ministry still hadn’t found him and he was standing right outside Remus’s door -

The handle was cool on the palm of his hand. Remus swallowed, and opened the door.

As usual, his heart plummeted when he saw Sirius. He looked tired, and his hair was knotted up into possibly the most ugly approximation of a ponytail that Remus had ever seen him manage, and he was wearing a Muggle T-shirt and worn trousers. But his eyes lit up when he saw Remus, and Remus found himself wishing desperately, desperately that the last thirteen years hadn’t had to happen.

“Sirius,” he said, finding his voice. “Come -”

And Sirius stepped over the threshhold and put his arms around Remus, warm and careful, as if he was afraid he’d break. But I wasn’t the one in Azkaban, Remus thought, and closed his eyes. Sirius smelled of rain, and rested his head against Remus’s collarbones as if he was meant to fit there.

Because I like the movie, Sirius is shorter than Remus.

Remus couldn’t speak, so when they pulled apart, it was lucky that Sirius did.

“Travelled light,” he said nonchalently, slinging a satchel over his shoulder. There were lines around his eyes that Remus had never noticed before.

“Do you have anything to eat? I’m starving.”

****

That was then -

This section was the first ever section to be written, and I’d originally intended for it to be the only one starting with an italicised scene-setter. Then I realised that because the fic jumped around a lot, they’d be useful in other places, too.

This is now: Sirius, stepping over the doorstep at 12 Grimmauld Place, hearing the soft sweep of dust falling off the door-knocker, pooling around his feet. The house stretches away in front of him, miles and miles of shadows and moonlit stair, the streetlights casting an orange glow on the threadbare and patchy carpet in the hall.

And I bounce into present tense, where I am more comfortable. This was meant to give the OotP scenes a lot more foregrounding, and make the missing James scenes more wistful and remembered. I have no idea if it worked.

“Moonlit stair” is the first conscious reference to the poem.


“Aren’t you going to go in?” Remus says behind him, his voice hushed.

“I could almost swear I saw...” Sirius mumbles, his feet obstinately refusing to move. He almost points his wand at them: move, feet, move! but that would mean another step, another movement, disturbing the silence of the Black house.

“Saw what?” Remus says lightly, his hoarse voice cracked from the cold. He’s trying to make a joke out of it, Sirius can tell, but he can’t blame his old friend for thinking that maybe Azkaban made him go nuts.

Sirius shakes his head. “Nothing. Nothing at all. Just the way the light fell on the stairs -”

I don’t know what Sirius saw, either. BYO imagination, boys and girls.

He opens the door wider, and lets Remus take the first steps inside, shaking the snow off his coat onto the carpet. “Only a host of phantom Listeners,” Remus muses, propping his umbrella up against The Stand, the trolls-leg umbrella stand that Regulus had used to chase him around with as a child. Some of the preserving charms are peeling off, and it smells.

Of course Remus knows Muggle poetry. This is a shameless appropriation of the Shakespeare-reading Remus so beloved of fanfic. I don’t know why Remus does, but he DOES.

I had a whole scene in my head involving that umbrella stand, but it never really worked out.


Sirius wrenches his eyes away. “What?”

“It’s a Muggle poem,” Remus replied, hanging his coat over the bottom of the bannisters, drawing Sirius’s gaze up and up into the endless night of the upstairs hallway. “About someone coming back to an abandoned house, and finding it full of ghosts. Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair, that goes down to the empty hall...

“Don’t,” Sirius says wildly, catching hold of his arm just as Remus is about to shut the door, about to shut them in. “I don’t think I can.”

Remus sighs, the dull orange light showing every strand of grey in his hair. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

****

Remus has Earl Grey in the mornings, and English Breakfast in the afternoons, and no-one except Lily (also Muggle-born, also obsessed with the provision of hot beverages in almost every emergency situation) had ever found it odd. Sirius had found it comforting, in the few weeks they’d spent sharing a tiny attic in Pontypridd, to wake up and smell the light citrus-tea-herbs smell: it was a million miles away from waking up in Azkaban, where there was no tea and no sunlight blazing through the window and no Remus sitting in the only armchair and frowning over the Daily Prophet. The smell would hang over the entire attic, Remus’s charms-work not being entirely up to stretching the space into two separate rooms, floating from the corner by the doorway (a table, a Muggle kettle, mugs hung on nails hammered into the beams) over to the bed under the eaves, the bed that was slightly too small for both of them, though Sirius had been too long away from other humans to care.

Another paragraph in which I shove in the metaphorical kitchen sink to establish character back-story. Lily and Remus have a Tea thing. I liked the attic in Pontypridd and would have set another scene there if I could. And I think it’d be perfectly reasonable for Remus and Sirius to share a bed platonically in those circumstances, so nah.

“How did you sleep?” Remus asks carefully, the flickers from a half-hearted fire lighting up the cavernous stone walls around them.

There are only two things about Grimmauld Place I have clear in my mind: the kitchen, and the hallway. Everything else is just blurry and dark. Hence the relative frequency with which scenes are set in those locations.

“Terribly,” Sirius says, hating the morning and hating the underground kitchen and hating Number 12 Grimmauld Place. After a brief pause, in which Remus gets up to put the kettle on to boil, he decides to hate himself as well, just for the sake of completeness.

This is your introduction to “I’m fifteen really!” Sirius Black.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Remus has his back to him, hunched over the stove like a man much older than either of them.

Sirius sighs. “No.” He sits down at the old stone table, thick with dust and cobwebs and dead flies. “I wish... I wish we’d never left Wales, Moony. I hate this place.” He tries not to think about how the shadows had seemed to close in around his bed after he’d blown the candles out, how the curtains on his four-poster bed were still tattered from when he’d been locked in his room and tried to burn the house down, and how he’d lain perfectly still, sure that if he moved an arm or a leg, something would see. “It’s not a good place, Moony,” he says, hating himself for how pathetic that sounds.

There, the burnt curtains. I told you I’d explain them at some point.

Remus sits down next to him and hands him a mug. It has a small drawing of a purple dog on it - another mystery of those twelve lost years - and looks terribly out of place in the Black kitchen, which Sirius remembers as swarming with House Elves, all fawning and bowing and pleading with him not to make them stick their hands in the fire.

It was going to be a purple cat, but for some reason that was ALL WRONG and I had to agonise about it.

“Is it because you’re not used to being alone?” Remus asks carefully, and Sirius can hear the things he isn’t saying. Sirius can only remember - once - waking up in that impossibly tiny attic bed, with Remus’s arm around his waist and Remus’s lips pressed to his neck and Remus’s face so wound up in his hair that he’d woken when Sirius pulled away.

The Sirius/Remus in this fic broke my heart to write, it really did. Poor needy, patient, LOVING Remus.

Sirius curls his fingers around the mug. The warmth is fleeting.

I love that.

“Maybe,” he says shortly. “Maybe it’s just that I’m back in a house entirely populated by ghosts of people who wanted to kill me.”

“They’re not here now,” Remus says, and rubs his eyes. “I mean, have you actually seen -”

“No. No, I haven’t.” Except that first, catch-of-the-light, and what had Remus called it, a Listener?

Somewhere in the house, a clock strikes eight. Remus starts, and gives Sirius a wry smile. “I didn’t think any of them would still be working.”

Sirius shakes his head, trying to clear the night from his mind. His legs bump Remus’s under the table, and only someone who doesn’t know Remus as well as he does could miss the way Remus’s long, pale hands tighten around his mug.

“If you want,” Remus says hesitantly, “we could stay in the same room.”

It hangs in the air between them like an awful mistake, and Sirius suddenly feels as if he could cry. He reaches out and covers Remus’s hand with his own. “It’s okay, Moony,” he says. “I should start getting used to it.” He flashes the famous Sirius Black smile, feeling his heart twisting itself into knots and tatters, feeling the house suck the warmth out of his words. “Can’t go running to you every time I think my mother’s about to rise up and chop my head off, can I?”

Remus nods.

This is another chunk of interaction that I’m genuinely pleased with. Sirius knows that Remus wants him, but knows that it’d be a mistake, and changes the subject as fast as he possibly can. “Feeling his heart...” is another reference to Sirius’s heart, so beloved of me for metaphoric purposes.

After breakfast, Sirius goes back up to his room, trudging up the creaky stairs with as much teenage petulance as he can muster. “Right, you bastard, I don’t have to like being here any more than you like having me here,” he mutters. “So you’re just going to have to put up with me and I won’t accidentally burn you to the ground, which would be such a shame, you know how flammable these nasty old houses are...”

Sarky capslock Sirius.

Standing in the doorway of his room, he looks at the curtains on his four-poster. “Not as flammable as I’d hoped,” he says to himself, and walks over to open them.

Laid on his pillow is a picture of James Potter, sitting astride his broom, laughing in the sunlight, red-and-gold and glorious.

Sirius feels as if a Lethifold has sucked all the air from the room.

“Kreacher thought master would like a present to welcome him home,” a horribly familiar voice says from behind him. “Unnatural blood traitor that he is.”

Duh-duh-DUH!

This was written very early on and left hanging while I went back and wrote all the pre-OotP stuff. It still feels like a cliffhanger to me, though I did my level best to pick it up again.

****

Sirius has plenty of arguments with Hermione about why Kreacher should just be taken into the back garden and beheaded. “He wants it,” Sirius says reasonably, glowering at her as she sits primly at the kitchen table and does far more homework than she needs to. “It’s his life’s ambition to get mounted on a little plaque that says “Kreacher, loyal house elf to Isidore Black” and hung up in the hallway with the rest of his disgusting ancestors.”

“Just because someone wants something, doesn’t mean it’s right for them,” Hermione says firmly, and charms page numbers onto the scrolls of parchment with a flick of her wrist.

I love Hermione, and I love her dedication to homework. “Ephemeris”, one of my favourite Sirius/Remus Grimmauld Place stories similarly features Hermione and her homework and her sensible approach to life, so I suppose this was an unconscious shout-out. She does seem the perfect person to dispense wisdom, though I’m not entirely sure what her advice is applicable to - Remus wanting Sirius? Sirius wanting James to still be alive? Who knows?

“Yes it does,” Sirius mutters, and he knows he sounds about fifteen. It’s this house, it’s being locked up for weeks on end in the gloom, it’s having a picture of James, beloved James, under his pillow, as bright and shining as he ever was in life.

****

When Harry arrives, Sirius is disappointed.

He spends hours wandering around the house aimlessly, thinking about how fun it would be when Harry gets there. Sirius would show him the secret torture chamber below the kitchen, and tell him blood-curdling stories about the time he’d embarrassed his mother at a dinner party and had spent a whole day down there, with the rats. Sirius would teach him necessary, manly things, like how to hex with one hand behind your back, and how to blag your way into an underground club when you’re not on the guest list. They’d feed Buckbeak together - Sirius knows that Harry and Buckbeak get along just fine, he wouldn’t trust anyone else near something that big and dangerous - and talk about building a new flying motorbike. With an Invisibility Shield.

The necessary and manly things are another shout-out to a devastating fic in which Sirius has 24 hours with Harry to teach him everything he needs in life before getting the Dementors’s kiss. I’ve forgotten the name, but it just kills me.

Here, Sirius has all these plans and the reality of Harry is just completely unable to live up to them.

Inevitably, Molly jerks him out of these fantasies with reports of a Boggart in the wardrobe or an Inside-Out curse on his mother’s dressing table, and Sirius looks disapproving. As if he really cared. As if his family home, his family, still possesses any capacity to rouse his anger or his disapproval.

I’ve no idea why Molly tells him this sort of thing in OotP, when it’s obvious he doesn’t give a flying fuck.

And then Molly makes him tea, and talks to him about how dangerous it is having the children here, and you could at least take an interest, Sirius. And Sirius isn’t listening at all, because he’s waiting for Harry to arrive.

But when Harry does arrive, it’s in the middle of an Order meeting, and he doesn’t even try to get in. Doesn’t even try to see Sirius, who’d risked life and limb to look out for him during the Triwizard. Sirius sighs slightly when he hears the footsteps going upstairs, and settles further into the corner, and tries not to see Remus’s disapproving glance.

And then Harry complains about the Dementors, and it’s all that Sirius can do to stop himself screaming. Sirius has been on first-name terms - well, not exactly, Dementors don’t have first names - with all the Dementors in Azkaban, and Harry is acting as if them showing up in Surrey is a major catastrophe. When he had his wand. When he was locked up with those useless Muggles, and had surely been longing for a bit of excitement. When James would have seen them all off in seconds, and then embellished the story to contain hags and vampires and the last living woolly mammoth.

And the first fatal Harry-to-James comparison is made. Originally this fic was meant to be Sirius/James with eventual Sirius/Harry, and I think I was hoping my subconscious hadn’t quite given up on the idea.

Sirius doesn’t say this. Sirius says: “Don’t know what you’re complaining about, myself,” and grins at him.

Because Harry is still the last little piece of James that Sirius has left.

****

“I killed him, Moony,” is all Sirius will say from under the pile of blankets. It’s been a hot summer, and the air in the house is suffocating, and the windows in Sirius’s bedroom are still spelled shut from an abortive attempt to run away from home, twenty-four years ago. Sirius feels as though he is smothering in blankets, but he won’t crawl out from under them. The top one is scratchy, and rubs harshly against his neck.

You’d think he’d pick another room or something.

But he won’t come out.

“It was a dream, Padfoot,” Remus says quietly in the darkness, his hand on the pile of Sirius-blankets. Sirius can hear his breathing, steady and slightly wheezing: there’s still too much dust in the air, despite the incessant cleaning. “Just a bad dream.”

“No it wasn’t,” Sirius chokes out. “It was me. I killed him. I should have been the Secret-Keeper -”

This was when I decided there wasn’t enough James-angst in this part of the fic, and decided to pile it on thickly and ham-fistedly.

He feels the slow, comforting movement of Remus’s hand on his shoulder stop for a moment. “I should have been, I was his best friend, it was James, and it was such a stupid idea and I should have known -”

“We couldn’t have known, Sirius,” Remus says, his voice sounding decades older. “Shh. We couldn’t have known.”

“It was James,” Sirius says again, stupidly, and tries to stop the sob welling up in his throat.

He hears the door click, a creak on the landing outside. “Is everyone - Remus, are you all right?” Molly Weasley says, her voice hoarse with sleep. Remus must make some sort of hand movement to her, because Sirius hears her clear her throat, and say: “Sirius. Just - just try to get some rest.”

She sounds disapproving, and Sirius realises that his bare feet are sticking out of the bottom of the blankets, and it’s obvious he’s naked underneath, and Remus is sitting on his bed, and she’s always been the mistress of wrong conclusions.

I like that last paragraph, because I think Molly DOES jump to conclusions an awful lot in the books (Hermione! Easter egg!) and would be the first to assume Sirius and Remus were shagging.

****

Sirius is less disappointed in Harry when he hears about the secret Defence Against the Dark Arts group. He’s still shut up in Grimmauld Place while the Order members come and go, and even Remus leaves for days at a time to carry out unspecified activities at a secret location (Sirius finds leaves in his hair, afterwards, and he knows the Portkey is set to somewhere on the continent, but Remus clams up whenever Sirius tries to talk to him about it, which is often). He spends his days trying to do Wandless Magic, and failing, or feeding Buckbeak, who gives him such haughty and disdainful looks that he isn’t sure that Snape hasn’t been sneaking up to the attic and badmouthing him to the hippogriff. So when Mundungus reports Harry’s secret meeting in the Hog’s Head, Sirius is the only member of the Order who’s firmly in favour.

It’s only doing this commentary that I’ve noticed my tendency towards REALLY BIG AND CLUMSY opening paragraphs that recap everything plus the kitchen sink. Remus is, incidentally, going to talk to the werewolves living in the remnants of the Black Forest. Sirius still doesn’t have a wand, although I notice in OotP he regains one in time for the climactic battle - just where does an ex-convict pick up a new wand these days, anyway?

“It’s brilliant!” Sirius says, his eyes shining. “Building up a secret army right under their noses!”

“And getting themselves expelled and away from the safety of Hogwarts into the boot, I shouldn’t wonder,” Moody growls, his magic eye whirling rapidly as it checks for enemies standing behind him. “Harry’s getting distracted.”

“He’s just a kid,” Tonks says, and her bubblegum is the exact same colour as her hair today. “They’re all just kids, Moody, I don’t know if we can expect them to -”

“It’s placing Harry right in the line of Ministry fire,” Bill says quietly. He rocks backwards on his chair for a moment, and Sirius thinks spitefully about pushing it just that fingertip too far, seeing the so-cool cursebreaker on his back. “Is there any way we can contact him, or any of them?”

Sirius hates Bill. There was a whole extra section planned out in which Remus started sleeping with Bill, which catalysed Sirius’s final decision to Shag Moony At Long Last, but it took the focus off the important characters and was just padding. I rarely get sustainable ideas for fics longer than a few pages, and when I do, I try to throw everything humanly possible in there. Sometimes it just has to be taken straight back out again. So the Sirius-Remus-Bill-Fleur love quadrangle will just have to wait its turn.

“Molly might be able to get a letter to Ginny -” Tonks starts.

“All the Weasleys are being watched, you know that,” Moody says, and drums his fingers on the table.

Sirius feels himself deflate. “Well, I think it’s a great idea,” he says sulkily. “We can’t just sit back and expect Harry to get good enough to take on Voldemort all by himself. He needs practice, proper training, and all Dumbledore’s gone and done is appoint a Defence teacher who won’t even teach.”

“Dumbledore had no choice,” Kingsley says quickly.

“Could have been Remus, though, couldn’t it?” Sirius says, feeling a big hot well of resentment building up inside him. “Even with polyjuice or something. But no, we all have to sit back and just let Harry get on with it -”

“So you’d rather place him directly in danger, just to see some action?” Kingsley says, looking at Sirius as if he thinks he’s gone barking. Only some of the time, Sirius thinks, and sniggers at the pun. “I agree with Moody. We should contact Dumbledore and wait for him to act.”

I feel like I’m spelling out in big letters: SIRIUS IS A TEENAGER.

Because Dumbledore’s such a fan of action, Sirius thinks resentfully, and folds his arms. He can just see Harry now, standing on a chair in some secret passageway that no-one uses - probably the one behind the big mirror on the fourth floor, now he comes to think about it - with the other Gryffindors gathered around him. Wand out, Harry demonstrates Expelliarmus, his movements quick, businesslike. This is how to do it, Harry says, and We all have to be ready, we have to do something. The light glints off his glasses, and there’s at least one girl looking up at him adoringly. His loyal friends stand off to one side, ready to back Harry up if anything should happen to him. Holding up his fourteen-inch cedar, Harry starts to demonstrate the Patronus charm.

Hah. Sirius is such a fanboy.

It’s only when Moody clears his throat loudly that Sirius remembers that fourteen-inch cedar is James’s wand.

It isn’t, actually, as I found out to my dismay when re-reading Philosopher’s Stone. I never remembered James’s wand being mentioned and so decided it wasn’t worth checking. Skyehawke is still not letting me change this crucial canon detail, which is driving me mad. James’s REAL wand is eleven-inch mahogany, because JKR hates me.

****

Towards the end -

Sirius knows it isn’t a good idea, but he does it anyway. Sometimes he thinks that’s the only thing that could be said about his worthless life, what Dumbledore will twinkle over half-moon glasses at his funeral: he knew it wasn’t a good idea, but he did it anyway. But this time it doesn’t make Sirius feel the least bit proud, or inspire Gryffindor bravado. This isn’t living life on the edge, this is making a monumental mistake for no other reason than this: that Sirius wants to do something, anything. Anything that isn’t cleaning or grooming Buckbeak or sitting in the kitchen holding cold mugs of tea and waiting for Remus to return, for Harry to fire-call him, for an owl to come, anything, anything.

This entire section makes me so sad. It’s me being gratuitously cruel to Remus.

He hears the creak of measured footsteps in the corridor outside his room, stopping in front of his door. A glimmer of light, then, and Remus has always been a slightly yellow glow of wand-light, whether crawling out of bed in the middle of the night to put eels in Severus Snape’s bed or getting up to make Sirius tea and toast when the nightmares about Azkaban became too vivid for sleep. Sirius can almost taste his indecision.

Eels! I love thinking up things for teenage Marauders to do. I also have to forcibly remind myself sometimes that Remus was probably the worst of the four - the sensible-looking one that no-one would ever suspect of night-time pranking.

And he hates himself for what he’s going to do.

I hate you too, Sirius.

When the door opens, Remus comes to stand on the other side of the drapes. Sirius wonders if he is looking at the seared burn-marks, the hole in the corner where he’d once caught himself up in the fabric in the middle of a particularly frightening dream about Lethifolds, when he was eight.

I apparently have a major obsession with everything that’s ever happened in Sirius Black’s bedroom. Escape attempts, fire, Lethifolds.

Sirius sits up, and hears Remus’s breathing stop. “Moony,” he says softly into the darkness, grateful - for the first time - that there is no-one else in the house to hear them, no-one else to see them making this last and final mistake. The curtains twitch, and the yellow light grows stronger, framing Remus’s face in the parting of the fabric.

He looks younger than he should, Sirius realises, in this half-light. Maybe Remus is looking back at him, and thinking the same thing; seeing the teenager he’d been, the teenagers they’d all been. Remus’s hair is almost blond in the strange light, and his eyes are warm. “I - I thought I heard you awake,” he says gently, slipping between the curtains to sit on the side of the bed. “Is the house keeping you awake again?”

Sirius swallows, looks away. “In a way,” he says, his voice hoarse from sleep. He can feel his long, long hair tickling his back, matted and coarse against the pillow. “We’re the last ones left, Moony.”

Remus looks down, places his wand on the bedcovers, warm from Sirius’s skin and damp from his sweat. Remus is wearing pyjamas, blue checked pyjamas, and suddenly Sirius’s insides are roiling because that’s Remus all over, and Sirius knows he is naked under the sheets and he knows that soon, soon, he’s going to kiss Remus for his two decades of unquestioning kindness, two decades of Earl Grey tea and making sure Sirius didn’t have nightmares.

“I know,” Remus says, and the sadness in his voice is enough to break anyone’s heart, as if Sirius’s isn’t broken already. “Sirius -”

They come together in the darkness, Sirius’s palm under Remus’s pyjamas, resting against the flat of his back, Remus’s hands clenched in Sirius’s hair. Remus is cool against Sirius’s skin, and fits into his arms like he was always meant to be there.

“James -” Remus mumbles into the crook of Sirius’s arm as Sirius kisses the curve of one scar-marked shoulder.

Awww. Part of me thinks that Remus knows he’s being second-best with a vengeance, but that’s too sad for words.

“Not James,” Sirius whispers, his deft fingers finding the junction between skin and fabric. “You.” He doesn’t catch Remus’s response, but that’s fine with him: his lips have finally found Remus’s mouth in the near-darkness, and it’s slightly awkward and Remus presses forward harder, more eagerly, than Sirius would ever have imagined possible. We’re too old for this, Sirius thinks, and pushes Remus gently down onto the bed, using his fingers and lips to map out a thousand prayers of thanks for this friendship, for this memory, for him not having to be the only one. Sirius isn’t always gentle, but Remus doesn’t seem to mind, arching into his touch, his mouth making small soft whimpering noises at the touch of Sirus’s teeth.

I don’t think Sirius ever really GOT how obsessed Remus was with him, through the years. And I like the idea that it’s Remus who surprises Sirius with his passion, when Sirius is almost just filling time.

And in the end, Remus whispers “I love you,” his lips soft on Sirius’s neck. Sirius opens his mouth to answer, and Remus places his hand over Sirius’s mouth. “Don’t,” Remus says. “I know. I already know.”

Sirius wonders, afterwards, what he would have said.

The subtext here, I think, is that Sirius would have said nothing. But reading it again, Sirius could also have said it back, because he DOES love Remus, in his own way. But Remus just knows, either way.

****

Some days later -

Remus grabs Harry around the chest.

More patented mixing-in-the-book scenes. This is in the Department of Mysteries.

“There’s nothing you can do, Harry,” he says, feeling his voice crack, feeling the terrible coiled anger in Harry’s muscles. “It’s too late.”

He stares towards the archway, wondering if he’s finally going mad. He expects tears to blur his eyes, but they remain mercifully dry.

Everyone seems to have a rage on at Remus for NOT crying when Sirius goes through the Veil, but come on - he’s seen enough heartbreak and pain in his life for ten people, plus there are Death Eaters running around and seriously hurt students on the floor. He’s not going to take a moment out to mourn. That will come later.

Too late.

This is my epitaph for Sirius Black: too late. I think it sums up everything I’ve ever wanted to say about the character. And it makes me cry like a girl because I absolutely DESPISED Sirius as a one-note character until just before he died.

****

Finally -

Remus is almost glad when the visitors stop coming. Tonks had brought flowers from a Muggle shop, wrapped up tightly in crinkly plastic, which are still sitting on the kitchen table, waiting for water. Molly had insisted that he come back to the Burrow with her, and he almost feels bad for how abruptly he’d ended the conversation. Kingsley had brought alcohol; Bill, books; Mundungus had tried to teach him poker, with no great success.

But, one by one, they stop coming. The last person Remus can remember seeing is Bill, who dropped by on Monday to pick up some clothes that Molly had forgotten, hanging forlornly on the washing-line in the back garden, getting hissed at by the Poison Ivy.

I like the Poison Ivy.

That’s fine with Remus. He’d endured the well-meaning questions as he had done for most of his life: a self-deprecating smile, a swift change of the subject. Meek and mild and slowly coming to terms with his grief. He knows how to do this, he wrote the script.

This is me explaining why no-one sees Remus going to pieces in OotP.

But there are a lot of things Remus doesn’t want to discuss with the Order. The first is what he’s planning to do now the protections surrounding the Black house are fading. The second is the reason why his bed hasn’t been slept in for weeks. The third is the simple, heart-breaking fact that Remus saw Sirius do a downward arc through the Veil (black hair falling across his face, wand outstretched) into the arms of a twenty-two year-old man with glasses and a Puddlemere United T-shirt.

I’m not sure, now, why I put items one and two in. I suppose item one is that he can’t see a future for himself anywhere apart from Grimmauld Place. Item two is that he sleeps in Sirius’s bed, where it still smells of their last night together. Item three just breaks my heart. I had this lovely image - which may not have come out right here - of Sirius falling straight backwards like you do when you’re playing “Trust” with a friend. You fall absolutely dead, not putting out an arm to save yourself, because you’re trusting your friend to catch you. And James does, just before Sirius hits the floor on the other side. Awww.

That’s how Remus knows that Sirius is really gone, that he isn’t coming back. Remus saw James catch him, a sudden graceful bend at the hips, as if Sirius was the Snitch falling to earth, bearing him up as if Sirius weighed little more than a child. James has Sirius now, and Remus has a house-full of echoes and a never-ending supply of Earl Grey tea that tastes, too much, like an attic room and the shape of Sirius under the covers in his bed.

I always chuck in loads of Quidditch metaphors surrounding James. One of my reviewers said that Sirius “really is James’s Snitch”, which I think is a lovely metaphor to get out of my incompetent scribblings.

“Nox,” Remus murmurs, and the lights dim. Remus turns around towards the darkened stairway, his footsteps - slow, deliberate, like an old man’s - echoing faintly through the empty hall.

”Empty hall” is another “The Traveler” reference.

He turns as he reaches the landing, almost expecting to see Sirius at the bottom of the stairs, Sirius laughing, looking up at him. But there’s no-one there.

Remus goes into his room, closes the door with a click.

The silence surges softly back behind him.

”And how the silence surged softly backward/When the plunging hoofs were gone... is how “The Traveler” ends, and I thought it was a beautiful line. And the rest, of course, is silence.

****

The fic took me about 10 days to write, on and off, and went through various incarnations as “There Is A Light” (a James/Sirius, Sirius/Harry fic), a long multi-parter with added Bill and Remus, and finally took shape on about day seven. It wasn’t a happy fic to write, but I’m very proud of it. Either due to the pairings or due to being recced on journal sites, it’s also the one-shot for which I’ve had the most surprising number of reviews on Skyehawke. Part of me wants to cash in on this and write nothing but the Marauders for the rest of my time in fandom. But we shall see.