The problem with growing up in a wealthy pureblood family is that it gives one ideas about how things are done. Sirius had outgrown most of the ideas his family had planted in his head. It had taken hard work and experience and years of being dead wrong about things, but by the time he left Hogwarts he was mostly a well adjusted sort of bloke. Some things, however, had managed to make the trip with him.
He was willing to let Andromeda take some of the blame, though. She was the one who weeks before had, over dinner at hers with Ted and the sprog, mentioned renting a little place on the coast for the summer. He supposed it was a holdover from his time of being very serious Sirius, but he remembered his childhood summers away from the city very pleasantly.
“I think you might have overdone it, love,” Andromeda told him. Her tone was sincere but Sirius wasn’t fooled— Meda was only sweet when she was mocking you.
“No such thing,” he told her confidently. They were standing in the entry to Starliss, the house that Sirius was renting out for the summer. It was, on paper, termed a cottage. Sirius felt that was being unfair, since Starliss Cottage did appear to be a big, sprawling manor house clinging tenaciously to a cliff, overlooking a thirty meter drop to the sea.
They were standing in the entry hall, a tall room filled with natural light, painted navy and cream with dark hardwood floors. A huge vase perched on a table so spindly it looked like it could hardly bare the weight was brimming full of freesia, orchid, and gladiolus, filling the air with a faint sweet smell.
Sirius liked it. He liked it immensely.
“On the contrary, cousin,” said Andromeda. There were two gently curving staircases on either side of the room that led up to a dimly lit landing. Andromeda made for the left-most of these stairs and started climbing. “There is a line, and I’m sure that here you have crossed it.”
Sirius made a face. “It’s nice,” he said defensively.
“Yes,” Andromeda agreed, pausing on the stairs to throw a look back at him. “For Auntie Bur and high tea, it’s very nice. For a summer’s abuse from you and your pals, Sirius, it’s excessive, you must admit.”
“Don’t take that tone with me,” he said, in a more than passable attempt at his mother’s voice.
She ignored him. Lights came to life as she stepped onto the first floor landing, gently illuminating the intricate white on white patterns of the long runner that covered the floorboards. The walls were the same blue as the foyer, the molding pristine white. A neat row of white doors extended from both sides of the landing, terminating in floor to ceiling windows on the outside walls.
Andromeda threw doors open at random as she walked down the hall, revealing bedrooms, mostly, but also a study, a washroom, and a comfortably appointed parlour. The hall wrapped around and ended in a room that took up the full length of the house and a wall of windows that overlooked the dizzying drop down to the sea. Sirius had seen the view once before, when he inspected the house with it’s owner, a wizened witch of no less than 200, but it still took his breath away.
“I think I’m beginning to understand,” Andromeda conceded, touching the glass with her hand.
The wind had picked up, frothing the ocean white and whistling in the eaves. He hoped it would rain; he wanted a proper gale he could go outside and lose himself in. Sirius sighed wistfully out the windows.
“You are the most wretchedly charming man,” Andromeda proclaimed, watching him with a close eye. “I’ll never understand it.”
It broke the mood and he backed away from the window. “Come along, cousin,” Sirius chivvied, beckoning her out the room. “You have yet more of my supreme good taste to admire.”
“I don’t think it’s your taste here that’s at fault,” she protested, but followed him willingly enough, anyway.
It threatened rain that night, the far off rumble of thunder rolling in across the water, but by morning the skies had cleared and the sun presided warmly. Sirius woke early despite spending most of the night exploring every hidden nook and cranny of the house.
The village was a little more than a mile down the coast and Sirius made the walk in very good spirits. It was a wizarding place, Madam Dobbs had told him, but with perhaps a better than average half-blood population. Enough, certainly, that there was a muggle post office, and Sirius counted more than one television aerial as he walked down the main street.
Despite it being only a little after seven, several people were about, so it was easy to find the market. He took his time and more than made up for skipping breakfast with samples of fresh produce, cheeses, and baked goods. He bought whatever caught his fancy: several different types of melon, tiny striped radishes and some sort of enormous courgette, three different types of bread and five different cheeses, a pound of butter and quarts of milk and cream, among others.
A woman sat at a low table hailed him as he was leaving. “You’re Dobbs’ renter, aren’t you?” she asked as he approached.
“Sirius Black,” he introduced. “Yeah.”
“Marin Norwood,” she said. She was perhaps forty, with dark skin and many tiny braids bundled away from her face with a bright blue ribbon. “We live just up the beach from you. This is Kerry,” she said belatedly, indicating a tiny woman in a yellow sun dress, her blonde hair a shiny cap of curls.
“Good to meet you,” he told them, meaning it. Their table bore a royal blue banner, edged in yellow, proclaiming simply ‘Norwood & Parks: Bees.’
Marin saw him looking, “If a bee makes it we have it— honey, honeycomb, beeswax, propolis, pollen, royal jelly— anything you might need.”
Sirius bought a large bag of soft, chewy honey candy from them and several thick slabs of honeycomb.
“So you’re banging around that big old house all by yourself?” Kerry asked as she weighed out a pound of candy on a small brass scale; her accent was Australian.
“For now, at least,” he said.
She clucked sympathetically. “Well, you’ll have to come over sometime. We’ll give you a tour of the hives, let you try some samples.” She smiled.
Sirius smiled back. “I’d like that,” he said, surprised to find he meant it. He handed over a few sickles for his purchases and accepted the change Kerry counted out.
Marin nodded, “I’m expecting a swarm sometime soon. We could Floo you if that’s something you’d like to see?”
“Absolutely,” he agreed. “Just let me know when?”
“We’ll do that,” Kerry said, smiling.
Sirius puttered around the house for a bit, whiling away the rest of the morning, but the afternoon turned quite nice, with a breeze coming off the water, and eventually he migrated out to the sunny slope of the cliff with lemonade and Tolstoy.
He hadn’t always liked summers. As a child he had been dragged along to endless garden parties in endless sets of formal robes. He had had front row seats to the Walburga Black Show, watching as she smiled like she knew everyone’s secrets and built up or cut down Society according to her whims.
It wasn’t until school that he’d discovered the unparalleled joy of a lazy day, and that hadn’t been applied to summer until he was sixteen and spending all his breaks at James’.
Summer had become something sacred, after that.
He was on his back, bare toes dug into the warm grass and his arms beginning to ache from the effort of holding Anna Karenina over his head when he heard the shuffle of feet and an unmistakable humming.
“Moony!” Sirius shouted, abandoning his book and springing up to his feet.
Remus was ambling up the path, his luggage floating sedately behind him. He was wearing trainers and corduroys and a white shirt and looking so relaxed and happy and him that it made Sirius’ heart quicken in his chest a bit to see.
Gods, but it had been months since Sirius had laid eyes on him, since Christmas, at least, and then months again before then, and maybe it could be blamed on the bulky jumpers Remus favored at the slightest hint of cool weather but Sirius did not remember his shoulders being so broad, nor his hips so slim.
Remus did not even startle at the exuberant greeting. “Sirius,” he said, grave but smiling. “What did you do?”
“I— don’t know?” he hedged, studiously ignoring the great galumphing manor that stood solid and undeniable behind him.
Remus pursed his lips, very clearly holding back a laugh. “You don’t know?”
Sirius made his eyes wide, shaking his head.
“Sirius, this isn’t a house.”
He kicked his foot in the grass. “Isn’t it?” he asked, a little coy.
The laugh was winning out, coloring Remus’ voice, “There’s a tower!” He gestured, in case Sirius had missed it, protruding off the most cliff-wards corner of the house.
“Only a small one,” Sirius protested. “A turret, really. A cupola.”
“Houses don’t have cupolas, Sirius. Regular houses don’t,” he amended.
Sirius couldn’t stop his grin. “Technically it’s a cottage.”
“I have never seen anything less like a cottage, Sirius.” He held a hand over his heart, “Honestly, truly, there are holes in the ground that resemble cottages more than this.”
“Starliss Cottage,” Sirius enunciated. “Says so on the lease. I could fetch it for you, Moony, but at the moment I’d prefer to hug you, honestly.”
Remus held his arms out, “Well, by all means.” Sirius latched onto him, warm and soft and smelling slightly of oranges. He breathed him in and sighed.
“Moony,” he said.
“Padfoot,” Remus replied, his hands warm and solid on Sirius’ shoulders.
“I know it’s not a cottage.”
They went inside.
There had been a moment in sixth year. A small moment, shortly after Sirius’ seventeenth birthday. The moon had been black and the stars very bright, the earth cold and sleeping. Sirius had shivered his way through three cigarettes perched in the window of their dormitory and gone down to the common room fire flushed with cold and smelling of smoke. Remus had been sat on the sofa, bent over a book, and he had looked up as Sirius had come down the stairs, limned in firelight and smiling, and Sirius had known. He hadn’t anticipated it ever being a problem. An oversight, perhaps, but Remus had always caused him to want to be more, to be better, brighter, quicker. That he could produce a sort of sweet, sharp ache in Sirius’ chest was neither here nor there.
The kitchen had a high ceiling and north-facing windows, white washed wood paneling and counter tops a pale shade of duck’s egg. Sirius’ bounty from the market sat, jumbled, on the round little table in the corner nook.
“You’re a monster,” Remus told him, taking the eggs and milk and cheeses and tucking them safely away into the cold chest.
“I had a charm on them,” he retorted. There was a feeling like blue skies and strawberries bubbling up in his chest. Reckless and indulgent. He leaned against the counter and watched as Remus began to sort through the rest of his purchases and tried to keep it from showing on his face.
“Nevertheless,” Remus said, placing tomatoes on the windowsill and turning; Sirius scrubbed a hand over his face. He grinned when Remus quirked an eyebrow at him. “Nevertheless,” he repeated himself, frowning a little with his smile, “although I, of course, know you’ve never derived any sort of satisfaction from seeing things go exactly where they belong, I hope you’ll forgive my proletariat shortcomings.”
Sirius grinned, cheerfully earnest, “I live to support your quaint working class domesticity, Moony, you know that.”
Remus laid out a dish towel and pumped water into the sink. “And you know it means the world to me,” he said, as he began to rinse strawberries.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he said suddenly, so transparent it made him wince. Remus didn’t look up from where he was directing strawberries to swish through the water with his wand, but Sirius could see enough of his profile to know he was smiling.
“Well I was hardly going to refuse.” The berries took a brief detour to the drying cloth before aligning themselves neatly back into their original container. Remus’ attention turned towards a variety of leafy green things. “Do you even know what half this stuff is?” Remus asked, sounding genuinely curious.
“Sure,” Sirius said, glad to change the subject. He began pointing out things, “Leaves, slightly red leaves, curly edged leaves, purple-y leaves,” he trailed off to Remus’ laughter.
Remus flicked his wand over the table and everything on it glowed faintly gold. “Well,” he pronounced, a touch impish, “none of it’s poison, so I guess I can’t complain.”
Sirius tried for outrage but he was laughing too hard to quite manage it, “I bought it in the market, Lupin, I didn’t just pick it up off the ground!”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Remus said, dry as dust. “Next time, though, perhaps inquire as to what it is you’re buying before you purchase it, if it’s not too much trouble, of course?”
“Next time,” Sirius said, pulling up a straight face from gods’ knew where, “go fuck yourself.”
Remus threw a radish at his head.
Peter showed his miserable face that evening, bags under his eyes and with a keen interest in the contents of the cold chest. He had lost weight since Sirius had seen him, about three months previous, and he looked worn thin.
“First real holiday I’ve had in a year,” he was saying, crunching a carrot with all evident pleasure.
“Magizoology waits for no man?” Remus asked, leaning with his forearms braced against the island counter.
Pete waved the hand holding the carrot, “There were some,” he fumbled the next words, “personnel shifts, if you get me, so it’s just down to the four of us now— another bloke and two girls, and it’s gotten difficult to schedule time off.”
“And regular meals, apparently,” Remus observed.
“Sorry, Pads,” Pete said, speaking with a hand over his mouthful of carrot, but Sirius shrugged him off.
“But you’re definitely staying?” Sirius asked.
“Yeah,” he nodded, then qualified, “I mean, short of a breakthrough, but if anyone thought that would happen anytime soon they wouldn’t have cut our staff in half.” Peter had started with an internship in the magizoology department at the Arts Magica Institute straight out of Hogwarts with his Care of Magical Creatures and Herbology NEWTS and quickly moved up to a research gig with the maritime sub-department, tracking magical tides. There was some important focus on the ways certain single-celled organisms processed thaumatic energies that, Pete had sold to whatever board it was that handled his funding, would have groundbreaking impact on something or other— Sirius failed at the specifics.
“It’ll happen,” Remus said, with bracing optimism.
Pete smiled, “Gods, I hope so. Can’t come fast enough, honest.” He scrubbed a hand through his hair, “How’s school?”
Remus pulled a face. Years before Remus had let them in on his plan to subtly influence lycanthrope relations by becoming the best educated werewolf in Europe. It was a good plan, Sirius knew— people who might scoff at the suitedness of a werewolf in the classroom could not take lightly a man who held various Masteries in a handful of subjects, not without offending the institutes he had earned them from. A person needed an academic and a practical mastery to be considered a Master of a subject, and Remus had been awarded his academic mastery of charms the year before, only the third werewolf in Britain to achieve such. To achieve practical mastery a student was subjected to a barrage of exams designed not just to reveal technical knowledge, but also talent and ability, the culmination of which was the presentation and defense of a new spell, complete with it’s thaumatic proofs and a certification of origin.
“I’m in the fine-tuning,” he said. “Writing up the proofs, and such. It’s detail work, which is exhausting, but I think the summer should see me through with it.” A look of mingled pride and bafflement was on his face, as if perplexed by the fruit of five long years finally being in sight.
“And then you can sit your exam?” Pete asked.
“And then I can sit my exam,” Remus confirmed. “Gods help me.”
Sirius waved him off. “Modesty does not become you, Moony,” he said solemnly. “You’re a great bloody big genius and if you weren’t you wouldn’t be fit to be friends with, would he, Pete?”
Peter nodded, grave as a goblin with gold at stake. “Absolutely intolerable.”
“I see how it is,” Remus said, smiling. “And I know- with my great bloody big genius brain, thank you, Sirius- that there is no possible way for me to win this, so if you’ll excuse me, lads, I’m off to bed, possibly until tomorrow afternoon.” And he left, taking the narrow stairs up from the kitchen.
Remus held true to his threat, and Sirius didn’t see him until he came up the long ambling path from the beach a little after noon the next day, sea spray in his fur and sand in his paws. He bounded forward at the sound of voices on the patio and shook himself exuberantly over Remus and Peter’s late breakfast.
“I’d wondered where you’d gotten off to,” Remus told him. Sirius let his tongue loll, enormously pleased with himself.
“I hadn’t,” Peter said darkly, brushing himself off. “In fact, here I was just now, thinking, ‘Gee, isn’t it nice that Pads isn’t here, making everything smell of wet dog?’”
Sirius shivered into his human shape, rising from a crouch in the same motion. The stronger the animagus the more powerful the crossing of human and animal traits, and as a result Sirius’ senses bled over monstrously. Crowded back into his human body, downwind of his friends, Sirius could smell everything, the food, their bodies, their clothes and soaps and the things they’d touched in an effect that was not totally unpleasant, but nonetheless caused him to sneeze and his eyes to water.
“Fuck off,” he told Pete, wiping at his face. He slung himself into a chair and stole a bit of egg off Remus’ plate with his fingers.
Remus glared but refrained from comment.
“Had a Floo from Prongs,” Peter said, his fork held ready to defend his own plate, in case Sirius should get any ideas. “They should be out in time for dinner.”
Sirius snorted. “Trust James to be around when there’s food on the offer.” He plucked more egg from Remus’ plate.
Remus poured coffee into a delicate glass cup and passed it off to Sirius, motions very deliberate. Sirius drowned it in cream and sugar and plucked the knife off Remus’ plate, stirring the coffee with its handle. Remus pretended not to notice.
Pete coughed a laugh. “Yeah, right bastard that James Potter, steal a man right out of his breakfast.”
Sirius smiled over the rim of his coffee cup, beatific. “Absolutely shameless. Can’t imagine how he lives with himself.”
“Alright you two,” Remus said, quelling. He forked up the last of his eggs and began to gather dishes. “Help me with these and then,” he looked over to catch Sirius’ eye, “I think we’re owed a tour?” Remus’ hair was damp with washing and he was fragrant with the smells of tea, sandalwood and citrus. Sirius’ heart kept double-time in his chest.
“Sure,” he said, downing the remainder of his coffee in one scalding swallow and springing up.
Starliss was massive from the outside, but the inside was so spacious that Sirius was sure some liberties had been taken with the dimensions. There were parlors and receiving rooms and studies, bedrooms and baths and a library that should have taken up half the house alone, and all of it was laid out with utmost mathematical precision. Not an inch of space was wasted, and everything from the molding to the window panes was arranged to be perfectly pleasing to the eye.
Sirius ended their tour with a modest little music room, set up with a five and a half foot ebonized black baby grand. Remus went directly to it, with a dirty look thrown back over his shoulder at Sirius, as if he knew exactly what he was up to and wanted him to know it.
Even so, Remus bent to the keys and lightly touched middle C, then played a brief scale. He frowned and made a very careful, very small movement with his wand, then tried again. Whatever he had done seemed to satisfy him, though Sirius could hear no change, and he took a seat at the bench.
Sirius slouched into a comfortable position against the wall and even Peter took a seat, curled up in one of the armchairs near the window. Remus’ fingers tripped up and down the keys in a marvel of careful finger work, an aria that didn’t stray too far up or down the keyboard. Probably Bach, Sirius decided, who Remus had a particular fondness for and had composed with the smaller range of a harpsichord. Remus played for several minutes, starting the aria over when he finished with it, then played a bit of something more Romantic, Beethoven or Berlioz, maybe.
The piano was in excellent condition and the room had better than usual acoustics— the treble rolled through the small space, and the high notes were brilliant as diamond in the air.
Remus spoke as he began a mincing little waltz that could only have been Mozart. “Don’t think I don’t know that you didn’t do this on purpose,” he said, missing a few notes.
Sirius winced, though he supposed it was pure luck that Remus hadn’t decided to torture them with the merry handed dissonance of Shoenburg.
“No idea what you could mean,” he said. “Why, I didn’t even know that you could play, Moony.” He turned to Peter, “Wormtail, did you know our very own Moony could play the piano?”
Peter adopted an expression of slightly baffled innocence, something that had steered him clear of many a detention when they were still in school. “You play the piano, Remus?” he asked brightly. Sirius cackled.
Remus’ hands slipped down into a strong forte fortissimo dirge, causing Sirius’ teeth to rattle with its force and absolutely nothing else in the room to be heard while he kept it up. He finished it with a flourish, glaring all the while, and Sirius clapped loudly as he stood from the bench.
When asked, usually by a persistent Sirius, Remus always said that he hardly played, though he never seemed out of practice, or that he really wasn’t very good, though Sirius had just watched him play four or five pieces from memory alone and barely drop a note. Sirius suspected, though, that it made Remus happy to play, and there was nothing Remus liked to deny himself more than his own happiness.
It had, thus, become something of a project of his to provide Remus access to a piano. He owned three: an old Chickering upright in the London flat that Remus technically rented from him, though Sirius had never deposited any of the Gringotts credit slips Remus had given him, nor quit Remus’ company without emptying his pockets of the back rent Remus had tried to slip him. The second was an out-sized harpsichord nearly as large as the baby grand Remus had been playing, and which still took up pride of place in his late uncle’s house in Sussex Downs, which had been willed to Sirius. The third was a massive nine foot concert grand, which he had purchased on something of a whim, and had almost immediately regretted, not just since it had been in for repairs for the last seven months, having it’s action rebuilt meticulously by hand, but because even he knew it was just too big of a gesture. The Chickering was fine, the harpsichord had been an inheritance, but there was no way to present a nine foot concert grand to someone without them perhaps catching on that your feelings were a touch more than platonic. It made his stomach squirm every time he thought of it.
“You like it?” he asked, still leaning against the wall, his hands stuffed casually into his pockets.
Remus pulled a face. “I don’t know why you insist on doing this to me.”
“Yes,” Sirius agreed. “It’s terrible that you’re enjoying yourself, I fully sympathize.”
Remus turned his back on the room, keeping the piano squarely out of his line of sight. “I won’t have time to play it.”
“Absolutely not,” Sirius said.
“It’s just going to sit here.”
“I suspect it will.”
Remus stared him down. “It needs tuning,” he said, finally, then stalked out of the room. Sirius nearly crowed in triumph.
Lily and James rang the bell at a quarter till five that afternoon, weighed down with several trunks and a valise. Sirius knew from bitter experience that most of the luggage would be James’.
Lily greeted him warmly. She had chopped most of her hair off since he had last seen her, and it fell in a short, even bob to her ears. He ruffled it and she swatted his hand away. “It’s good to see you,” he told her, the both of them pointedly ignoring James’ struggle with the trunks.
There had been no small amount of strife between them when they had been in school. First because no measure of gold yet invented could keep his tongue civil while Snape was in the room, and then later because of her growing closeness to James, and Sirius’ own inability to share his toys.
They had, to their mutual surprise, managed to bond, somehow, someway, and Sirius considered her family, in his own fashion— occasionally infuriating, but someone to fall on the sword for, if needs must.
“You’ve no idea how glad I was when James told me you’d invited us up.” She carried her valise into the entry hall and gave a long whistle that echoed back from the high ceiling. “Swank, Black,” she said, looking around. “I mean, we saw the tower, I was expecting it to be nice, but this…” she spun a circle on the heel of her boot, taking it all in.
“Didn’t you hear,” Remus asked, leaning in the open doorway under the stairs. “It’s a cupola. Cottages don’t have towers, that would be ridiculous.”
“Remus!” Lily laughed. They hugged warmly and Sirius felt very pleased to have all of his friends under one roof again.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” James said, finally directing the trunks through the front door. “By all means, keep manhandling my wife, I’ve got this.”
“Fiancee,” Lily stressed, her arm wrapped around Remus’ shoulders. “We’re not married, yet, James Potter.”
“As you so often like to remind me, dear,” James said, grinning nonetheless. James, gods bless his crooked nose, looked exactly the same as he always did, glasses askew and his hair doing its very best hedgehog impression.
“Prongs!” he said, and crossed the room in three long strides to catapult himself bodily onto James.
James went down laughing and hit the ground with a great oof of displaced air. Sirius sat firmly on his chest and patted his cheek, smiling sweetly. “’Lo James, you well?”
“Absolutely tops, mate, thanks.” Sirius could feel James moving with suppressed laughter underneath him. “You alright?”
“Fine, fine, yeah. Up to anything lately, or?”
“Not really— bit of this and that, just, you?”
“Alright, you two,” Lily interrupted them, and Sirius smelled Remus come up behind them before he felt his hands on his arms, hauling him up. He turned in time to catch Remus’ smile, crooked and fond, and felt warmth build in his chest. He winked and Remus rolled his eyes.
“Oi!” he heard Pete call, and they all turned to see him framed in the doorway, menacing them with a wooden spoon. “Did I just spend the last hour slaving in this kitchen for naught, or are you tossers actually going to get in here and eat?”
“If we must,” Sirius drawled, but they all filed down the hall to the kitchen in good cheer.
Sirius sat up in the round little room at the top of the tower, curled in the window seat and watching, abstracted, as the sea continued to bash itself against the cliffs. It had turned cool outside, enough that his breath puffed fog against the glass, and he wore a blanket round his shoulders.
Dinner had been good, having all his friends at one table, sharing out Wormtail’s more than passable bolognese with plenty of wine and conversation. It had left him feeling somewhat hollow, though, and he had retreated shortly after.
He was pretty sure they were still down there, talking over the remains of the table, but it had been easier to physically remove himself from the space than to be caught only half-there, mentally.
What was he doing, he wondered. Hadn’t this been what he wanted? Everyone under one roof? A full house and his friends happy and close, like it used to be? He blew out a deep breath, fogging the window pearly blue. So much of what he did lately felt like grasping at straws.
He curled more tightly into himself, and let his forehead fall against the cool glass of the window.
An owl interrupted breakfast the next morning, scraping against the glass until Sirius waved the kitchen windows open. Lily’s eyebrows implied a question over her steaming coffee cup, but Sirius shook his head. The bird flew to his outstretched arm, and Sirius looked down into the white phantom face of his mother’s owl. It stared back up at him, it’s liquid black eyes unblinking, until finally, almost bashfully, it ducked its head and nibbled delicately at Sirius’ thumb with its powerful beak. He exchanged it bacon for his letter, and it flew off, eerie and silent, back through the windows.
The letter was addressed in his mother’s flowing hand,
— with her own symbol, a six rayed estoile crowning a tower rendered in the bottom left, marking it as personal. It read,
What remarkable luck it was that I encountered dearest Andromeda last evening when I stopped at Swan’s Fall. You have no notion how it pleased me to hear that my eldest son had once again taken up residence in England.
It is most happy coincidence that my little do-gooder’s club is throwing a bit of a fete for the Beaumont Majoribanks Herbological Society this afternoon. I would so like you to attend, Sirius.
“Anything interesting?” Lily asked, after sufficient time had passed that Sirius had fought back his initial reaction of utter panic, and was therefore only greatly alarmed.
It took him several tries to form words. “It’s from my mother,” he told her, then left the room, and his breakfast, without another word.
“You look lovely,” his mother said, eyeing him over a flute of something clear and golden.
Sirius deliberately did not adjust his robes, though now he very much wished to. He had spent close to an hour dressing, meticulous in every detail from the part of his slicked-back hair to the shine of his shoes. He had never been able to leave behind him that childish impulse to please his mother.
Walburga herself was resplendent, her thick black hair pinned back from her face with enameled gold laurels and her gracefully tailored robes the faint purple-grey of dawn. She smiled at him warmly.
“Thank you, mother,” he said, and bent to kiss her cheek. She smelled softly of roses. “You’re well?” he asked.
“Astonishly so, dear.” She placed her gloved hand on his elbow and he led her through the gardens. “Tell me, though, was it that you honestly thought that I wouldn’t find out, or had you merely hoped?”
There would have been a time when he snapped back immediately, defensive, but Sirius took his time and his mother remained patient, allowing him to guide her through the flutterby bushes.
The Beaumont Majoribanks Herbological Gardens were housed in a glass and copper greenhouse the size of a quidditch pitch tucked away in a copse of woodland that had been hidden from muggles for three hundred years. In direct sunlight it was an assault against the eyes, blinding glare in any direction one cared to look, but the day was overcast and rain fell in a staccato drizzle against the high ceiling. Sirius led his mother along a small walking path while tiny, brilliantly colored fairies played freely among the flora.
“I didn’t want to upset you,” he said finally.
She looked up at him, grey eyes crystalline; the lines that creased their corners had grown less faint without him noticing. Her expression was very soft. “Sirius,” she said, “there are truly no circumstances of which I can fathom that I would not wish to see you.”
He had known this, but never before had he heard it stated so baldly. “Your black sheep Gryffindor son?” he joked, uncomfortable.
“My very own,” she agreed, completely serious.
He huffed a breath, dispelling the tension a little. “Well,” he said, spreading his arms demonstratively, “here I am.”
“Indeed,” she replied, arch. “You come when I call, which is more, unfortunately, than can be said for your brother.”
“Regulus?” he asked, as if he had more than one than just the one. “What’s he up to?”
She smiled sharply, “Would that I could say, but he has not replied to so much as a letter for nearly a fortnight.”
Walburga shrugged diffidently, “He has ceded the lease of his rooms to the girl-child and failed to leave an address at which he might be reached. He has not died and he is not at St. Mungo’s and now you know as much as I.”
Regulus had taken up with a Parisian witch nearly a year before, of whom his mother had failed to even once refer to by name. “Clothilde,” he told her. “Clothilde Durant.”
“As you say,” she agreed, all of her attention apparently absorbed in studying the gardenias they were passing. “These would look nice in the garden,” she said, apparently done with the subject of her younger son.
The party broke up as the sun began to set, and Sirius was surprised to find that he had enjoyed himself. His mother had not once required him to do more than greet any guest they happened upon as she exchanged polite pleasantries, then inevitably led them on.
She hugged him as they said their good-byes. “This was exceedingly pleasant,” she told him. “Will you have dinner with me on Saturday?”
He nearly agreed before remembering, “I can’t Saturday, we’ve got a picnic planned, we’ll be on the beach all day.”
“Very well,” she conceded. “I will be at Swan’s Fall all of Sunday, unfortunately, lending my eye to wedding concerns.” Her expression made very clear her opinion on being forced to abide in a room with her brother’s wife while Drusilla pretended at vapors over marrying off her youngest.
Walburga shrugged apathetically. “It can’t be helped. None of her daughters inherited her temperament, at least, and Andromeda will bring little Nymphadora, which should distract Drusilla admirably.” She leaned her head to the side, “Will Monday evening work for you?”
“I can’t think of why it wouldn’t.”
She nodded. “Monday at six it is, then. And bring that wayward brother of yours.” She kissed his cheek and departed.
Sirius considered the afternoon as he watched the guests leave. It was, he realized, the first conversation they’d had where they stood on equal footing, he utterly grown and independent. It left him feeling oddly bereft, as if he had lost something before ever realizing he’d had it. He squinted into the dying sun as this thought settled uncomfortably within him, altering his internal landscape. There were new peaks and valleys in him, he realized, looking down into himself. How inexplicable that the tectonic shifts of his own inner self had gone unnoticed for so long.
He hugged his arms around himself, creasing the fine fabric of his robes, then disapparated on the spot.
The sun had well and truly set on Starliss and Sirius stood at the grand windows of the viewing room, watching the dark wash of the sea, feeling cold despite the warmth of the evening.
“You want to talk about it?”
Sirius snorted. Remus had been curled up comfortably, reading in the corner when Sirius had made his dramatic entrance, swirling his robes about himself and setting up for a good brood. They had maintained mutual silence for almost a quarter hour, as Remus methodically turned the pages of his book and Sirius stared at his own pale face reflected in the glass.
“Well, let’s us try this, then.” Remus, so careful as to be mocking, marked his place in his book and set it to the side. He leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his thighs. “Your mum posted you this morning, Lily told us that much. You proceeded to abandon your breakfast, lock yourself into your tower and do your best Gothic hero impression until leaving, telling no one where you were going or when to expect you back, for several hours, and then reappearing on equally short, which is to say no, notice. That about sum up the day for you?”
“Good,” he said. “That’s just— great, really. Wonderful.” There were several tense moments of silence, and then Remus sighed. “Sirius,” he said, soft with worry. “Was it that bad?”
Sirius was startled out of his sulk. It hadn’t been bad at all, but he doubted Remus would recognize that as the problem. He turned from the windows. “I think I grew up,” he said.
Remus’ expression, which had been a bit pinched in the forehead, smoothed out. He smiled at Sirius, the day’s transgressions apparently forgiven. “You’re twenty-three,” he said, “it had to happen eventually.”
He moved to sit at Remus’ feet, his back against the chair, his legs sprawled out in front of him. He sighed and leaned his head against Remus’ knee. “We went to the Majoribanks,” he said.
“Oh?” Remus asked, wonderfully neutral.
“There was a party,” he turned his head until Remus’ leg blocked the rest of the room, and all he could smell was skin and denim and citrus. He very dearly wanted to be Padfoot. “She wanted me there. I expected—” he trailed off, then tried again. “We talked. It was okay. Good, even.” He curled his arm around Remus’ leg and felt the muscle tense before it relaxed; he pressed his nose into Remus’ trousers. “I grew up,” he said again, softly.
“Sirius,” Remus sighed, a little sadly. Sirius stilled when he felt Remus’ hand come down on his head, but then melted as his fingers began to comb through Sirius’ hair. He felt tired and tense and Remus’ fingernails were wonderful skritching against his scalp.
Slightly less than platonic, he thought, with a stirring in his chest.
He didn’t remember falling asleep, but the next he was aware it was filtering in dawn through the great windows. Remus was snoring softly above him, his hand still tangled in Sirius’ hair. There was a crick in his neck and his whole body screamed in protest as he levered himself up, but it was the best night’s sleep he’d had in ages.
Remus, who could look frighteningly middle-aged at twenty-two, seemed very young as he slept, his expression open and peaceful. Sirius studied his familiar features, and, for the first time, felt something bright and uncomplicated warm him from within.
Feeling very bold Sirius braced his hands on the arms of Remus’ chair, leaned forward, and placed a lingering kiss on his very dear, freckled forehead. He was rewarded with Remus blinking awake underneath him, sleep-mussed and fuzzy.
“Moony,” he said, with quite a self-satisfied smile. He was very pleased with himself for figuring this out, there was no telling how long they both would have danced around it, otherwise.
“Padfoot,” Remus said, and to his utter joy and delight, reached up to cup Sirius’ cheek in his hand. His right hand, Sirius noticed inanely, rough with calluses and warm and perfect. Something occurred to him.
“I have to go,” he said, almost laughing at himself. “I’ll be back this afternoon, but I have to go. I just needed—” he kissed Remus again, properly, gently, taking the time to open up his mouth and learn the taste of him, to press a promise into his lips, before withdrawing. “To be continued,” he said, wickedly, and disapparated.
Grimmauld Place should have been empty even of the house elves, with his mother and father away for the summer, but when Sirius apparated into the kitchen it had the distinct air of habitation. Regulus could be hard to know, but they had shared a childhood together, and hadn’t Sirius run to something like home when he needed the distraction?
London was still dark, but the orange-fog of light pollution allowed enough light for Sirius to navigate the hall without alerting Regulus, wherever in the house he may be. Sirius hadn’t been in London for nearly two years, but Grimmauld Place hadn’t changed in decades, and his feet knew the way.
There was light on the first floor landing, slanting through the crack of his mother’s study. He had fond memories of sitting on the chaise in that room in the golden afternoon light and listening to his mother as she wrote out whatever correspondence she was keeping up with, her amused observations and scathing cuts. The door was obligingly silent on it’s hinges and he stood there for several moments until his brother looked up.
“Rose and thorn,” Regulus exclaimed, dropping his quill. It was their mother’s favorite curse, and Sirius smiled to hear it from his brother. “You couldn’t warn a person?” he asked, startled and tetchy with it.
Sirius reclined against the door lintel, crossing his arms and affecting an aristocratic smirk. “No one’s heard a word from you in two weeks, I wasn’t about to announce myself and have you go rabbiting off.”
“Weren’t looking too hard, were they?” Regulus asked, gesturing snidely at their surroundings. “I’ve been here since Clothilde kicked me out and I haven’t been shy about it.”
“Just returning all of mother’s letters unopened?” Sirius asked, his eyebrows making an incredulous march towards his hairline.
Regulus made a sound like hacking up phlegm. “So she can tell me just how wrong she knew Clothilde was for me, and that she told me so from the beginning? Non merci.”
Sirius couldn’t really fault this. He ambled closer to the desk, loosening up his posture. “I kissed Remus,” he said.
“You didn’t,” Regulus said, almost before Sirius had finished speaking.
“I did,” Sirius replied, his mischievous joy apparently clear on his face, because Regulus’ eyebrows crept down from the heights of skepticism to furrow in consternation.
“Alas,” he announced. “I am truly the last Black to find love. Gods, I can see it now. You and your pretty little scholar, tucked away in a cottage in the woods somewhere, reading poetry to each other and, gods, adopting cats!”
“I like cats,” Sirius said, more pleased than he could say over Regulus’ projected future.
“I know,” Regulus replied, in a tone that made it quite clear what he thought of this devastating character flaw. “You’ll have three cats and rescue woodland animals and be so grossly, domestically happy that you’ll be impossible to be around. Trust me.”
Some of the amusement went out of him. “It’s really over with Clothilde, then?”
“Absolutely, irrevocably over,” Regulus drawled, armor once more up about him. Sirius did not particularly like his brother, but he did love him very much.
“Go clean yourself up,” he said, “we’ll go get breakfast and then I’ll find you some dreamless sleep. You can come to mine, even, if you want?”
Regulus scrutinized him, then finally stood from behind the desk. “You’ve changed,” he commented.
Sirius shrugged, still a little uncomfortable in his new, adult, skin. He wondered what he would have done five years ago, if he had found his brother sad and alone in their childhood home, and didn’t want to think on it. “Go clean your ugly face,” he said, and, surely only because he knew Sirius expected him to protest, Regulus went to do so, without comment.
Remus did not particularly like being blindfolded, but he bore it, mainly for the absolute glee on Sirius’ face when he told Remus that he had a surprise. In their long history of acquaintance Remus could point out perhaps only a handful of instances in which, when Sirius had said ‘surprise’ he had not actually meant ‘disaster.’
But Sirius had kissed Remus, and he had wondered for so long what that must be like, not just the mechanics of the kissing itself, though that had logged its due consideration, but what it would be like to be the one allowed to kiss Sirius Black, to be the person that could hold him through the night, to kiss his forehead when he was ill and touch him, kiss him, until he was warm and happy and pliant. He had wondered for so long about what this must be like that he was quite ill-prepared to hold out against it. So Sirius had kissed Remus, and Remus had agreed to the blindfold, and now they were somewhere very large indeed, in some sort of warehouse that smelled of varnish and spruce.
“There’s a chair here,” Sirius told him, and guided him onto something low and wooden. It was not a chair, Remus discovered, exploring the seat beneath him. It was a bench, a low bench and, with a lifetime’s ingrained practice, his hands reached out before him and his right index finger found middle C. It was perfectly tuned, he found, as he played a scale. More than that, it was perfect. The sound filled the enormous room, echoing back to him, and the action of the keys under his fingers was so light that he found the note sounded almost before he had moved to press it. His hands had almost made it through the first aria of the Goldberg Variations before he had even decided to play it. When Remus took his hands from the keys the sound stayed, resonating throughout the room.
He eased the blindfold from his eyes. The piano was fully nine feet, a concert grand in a strange, glossy grey. It was agonizingly perfect. “God I hate you,” he told Sirius, looking up at him. It struck him sometimes, how much Sirius had changed. From the reckless, beautiful, bullying boy Remus had idolized at school, to the often reclusive, still impulsive, but overwhelmingly kind man he had grown into.
“But you like it?” Sirius asked, his anxiety plain in the crease of his brow.
“It’s extravagant and awful and I will curse your name to my dying day, but I love it,” he admitted.
Sirius beamed, and Remus took it upon himself to kiss the smile from his face. He found the exercise enormously satisfying.