podfic here: https://soundcloud.com/elise-ayala/in-the-bed
When Sirius arrived at Potter Manor nothing could have prepared him for the warm, sparkling world he was confronted with, not even having James around. He’d forgotten James was away all summer at a prestigious and competitive Quidditch camp, run by Oswald Singer, the Oswald Singer, Pads. James had talked it up since Easter; that Sirius had forgotten was a testament to the agitation and isolation of Grimmauld (not to mention the crushing weight of what he’d done to Remus in May).
He stood on the porch faced not with his best mate and a summer of distracting shenanigans, but his very concerned parents. Sirius was ushered in by Mrs. Potter, and sat at the table by Mr. Potter. He was taken round the garden by Mrs. Potter to see how the tomatoes were coming along. And invited to the workshop to see Mr. Potter’s bizarre abstract mosaic sculptures (as if Sirius hadn’t seen the army of them covering the front lawn on his way in). And overfed and fussed over at the breakfast, lunch, and dinner table by the both of them.
Sirius had never been in a home where people were often around and eager to talk to him; Grimmauld was quiet, smothered under generations of silencing and muggle-proofing charms, so that even if someone was in the study just next door, you would never know it. In the face of so much warm attention, Sirius took to wandering the extensive property.
He poked around James’ room and ventured into the low slung attic and peered into the cellar. He found himself mapping out this new home, feeling like if he could just know where everything was he might start to feel at home. He worked from the edges of the Manor in, until one night he followed an oddly curved hallway with all the doors left ajar. He found a door that opened to a tightly spiraling staircase that ended in a trapdoor. After some poking and prodding and, eventually, pleading, the trapdoor snapped open above him and a slender wooden ladder descended gracefully.
Sirius climbed the ladder through the trapdoor into a circular tower room, graced with several well-pillowed window seats and floor to ceiling bookcases in between: Potter Manor's library. The windows looked out on the small pond on the Potter's estate, which even in the dark, Sirius could see was glowing an alarming purple color. Beside it stood two swaying willow trees.
Sirius circled the room slowly, skimming his fingers over the spines. He couldn't see the titles well, but didn't feel much like disturbing the dark. He tugged a large book off the shelf that looked like it might have pictures and brought it over to one of the window seats.
Snuggled up into plush pillows, he idly thumbed through pages of portraits, mostly of half naked women which weren't really of much interest to him and wasn't that just fucking great he thought, snapping the book shut. He hugged it to his chest, burrowing further into the pillows, and watched the willows sway their branches warily over the fluorescent pond.
After that Sirius spent as much time as possible in the library, returning to the bedroom only to keep up the pretense of sleeping there. Most nights and days Sirius was curled up on the window ledge with the best view of the purple pond and the willows.
The ladder floated gently nearby, forever awaiting Sirius' cue. All Sirius had to do was reach out to touch it, which hummed happily under his fingertips, and ask. The first time, he asked, "Can you show me where the Muggle books are?" The ladder twitched spastically, but didn't move.
So Sirius padded over to the nearest shelf to figure it out for himself. And there! Hadn't Moony talked about Crime and Punishment? Which apparently wasn’t about lawful prefectliness, but killing an old lady and falling in love with a prostitute. It was right next to An Unabridged History of Medieval Sorceresses. Sirius knew it was Muggle though, he definitely remembered Moony chuckling over someone's prolonged death scene via tuberculosis. He smiled a bit, thinking of Moony's twisted sense of humor, before he shook himself a little.
More exploration revealed that all the Muggle books were mixed in (everything was incomprehensibly mixed up, but the ladder sort of knew where to find things). Sirius had thought there would be a Muggle section, a novelty and treat, considering Grimmauld not only lacked Muggle books, but had instead an entire section of creature hunting memoirs he’d once got in trouble for trying to burn.
A precarious stack of books formed next to the ledge as Sirius searched the shelves for everything he could remember Remus ever mentioning. He'd even tried to read some, but two pages into Crime and Punishment, Sirius had to put it down because he couldn't stop picking at his fingernails, and watching the willows, and fingering the growing curl of hair behind his ear. Sirius would never find out about the murdered pawn shop lady because he couldn't really sit still like Remus. Only, it wasn't really sitting still that was the problem, because Sirius spent most of his time napping and staring, stack of books nearby both comforting and mocking.
Mr. Potter found him first.
Sirius was staring out at the willows, an abandoned book of poetry still propped in his lap when the ladder soundlessly zoomed over to the trapdoor and down. Mr. Potter's white, but still wild, head of hair emerged a moment later. Sirius rushed to stand up, sitting down awkwardly a moment later.
"Ah so this is where you've been. We've been wondering." Mr. Potter said, turning to the bookshelves.
"I'm sorry," Sirius said, filled with guilt that he couldn't just sleep in the bedroom they gave him.
"Yes well, you should be very sorry for enjoying the library. The library isn't for enjoying,” Mr. Potter teased.
Sirius smiled and watched Mr. Potter scanning the shelves, but if he was looking for something in particular he seemed unable to find it.
"Ah Lautrec!" Mr. Potter exclaimed happily, spying the book on Sirius’ ledge, and his white hair gave a small salute of excitement.
"Sorry sir?" Sirius said.
Mr. Potter gestured wildly to the book, "May I? May I?" Sirius handed over the volume he'd been partially sleeping on. "It's been forever!"
Mr. Potter caressed the cover and sat down in midair, a chair popping into place at the last moment. He cracked the large book to a spread of paintings somewhere in the middle, carefully turning pages, lingering longer over some.
"Do you have a favorite?" Mr. Potter asked, glancing up from a painting with a leering green faced woman.
Sirius stared at her ugly green face, not wanting to lie to Mr. Potter about just how incomprehensible he found it all. "Um, this is the first time I've seen... anything like it."
"Yes! Yes!" Mr. Potter beamed, "Lautrec is so very unique. None quite like him!"
Sirius shifted on the ledge, curling his legs into his torso. "Yea."
"Do you have a favorite?" Mr. Potter asked again.
And if Sirius had thought he could get out of this conversation pretending, it was only because he had never faced the full force of Mr. Potter's earnest attention. "Actually Sir, I... I don't really get it." He couldn't say it just looked like a bunch of naked girls, he wasn't about to have Mr. Potter explain what he was missing about the naked girls.
Mr. Potter looked up at him. "Would you like to?"
"Start here," Mr. Potter flipped to the beginning of the book. "There's always an essay at the beginning to convince you the artist is an unparalleled genius and more often than not, it does its job well.
"And sometimes it helps to know about the artist's life and what other people were painting at the time. For example, did you know, Lautrec didn't get along with his wealthy father? His father wanted him to be something he could never be." Mr. Potter said, trying to casually turn a page, and Sirius suddenly knew that James’ complete lack of subtlety was hereditary, but he couldn't just shove Mr. Potter and tell him to shut up.
Mr. Potter kept going. "He knew what it was to be rejected and he painted the rejects of muggle society."
Somehow it had never occurred to Sirius that muggles, so rejected from the wizarding society he knew, had rejects of their own. "Who?"
Mr. Potter flipped another page, to a painting of a woman's back. "Mostly prostitutes."
"Lots of French painters painted prostitutes," Mr. Potter went on. "It showed how bohemian you were and they were cheap models, and mostly, men liked seeing naked women in their art. But I like Lautrec because it's more than just a body. He paints their humanity."
Sirius wondered how Mr. Potter could see humanity, when all he could see was a back and some messy ginger hair that would probably knock James out. "Oh," was all he said.
Mr. Potter gingerly passed the book over to Sirius, the woman's back still glaring up at him. "Read the introduction," he said, "And then flip through. If something catches your eye just look for a while, if it doesn't catch your eye, you don't have to look."
"Quite welcome," he said, already descending the ladder through the trapdoor.
Sirius looked again at the woman's back before snapping the book shut on her. He looked at the cover a moment before opening it once more, to the beginning, to the promised essay about how brilliant Lautrec really was.
Sirius spent most of the afternoon reading about Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. The Toulouse family was wealthy; Lautrec's father was called the Black Prince and he was crotchety and cruel even when he didn't mean to be. And he wanted a son to hunt game and ride horses but Lautrec was a dwarf. He couldn't be what his family thought he would be.
After that Sirius felt tugged toward the book. The woman's back was still incomprehensible but there were others, the strange green faced woman staring out of the corner of a painting reminded him of Bellatrix, and a glaring woman next to a bottle had a fierce expression that reminded him of McGonagall.
And further on, paintings of women laying in bed together, hands disappearing under skirts, hands wrapped around each other, hands resting, completely at ease. His own hands clutched the book tighter, reading each description with a deep ache. They were lovers. They were really lovers. It was confirmed in painting, in writing in this huge book, those hands under skirts and sheets, those hands around shoulders; they were irrefutably lovers!
That deep ache intensified, felt almost bodily, as Sirius gazed at the lovers. His fingertips traced over their beds, the world their love occupied, wanting to feel the possibility of their relationship. He thought of Remus, of being possible with Remus in that world, in those beds, disappearing under those sheets. His wanting solidified, and all the ways he looked and thought about boys slotted into a place of recognition and couldn’t be tugged loose to hide away again.
As summer drifted by, another stack of books formed. Sirius couldn't really focus on the exemplary stack of Moony books, he couldn’t really focus on anything except his heavy want, but he could rest his eyes on the paintings in Mr. Potter's art books. It was a smaller stack, just the book on Lautrec, another with a cover of apples about someone named Cezanne, and a last one with a swirling blue cover about Van Gogh. He flipped through them, lingering longer over some, skipping others, thinking always of Moony.
Curled up on the ledge, surrounded by several aborted attempts at letters, he felt like there was nothing he could possibly say. He'd finally done something Blacker than words could fix.
He pulled the Cezanne book over, having felt comforted before that Cezanne thought he was shit sometimes too. He flipped to the section of still lifes, loving the off-kilter tables and apples that looked like they could tumble right off the page. Sirius had felt like one of those apples his whole life, ready to fall right off the edge, always liminally right on the fucking edge. If only Moony could be there to straighten the tablecloth a little.
Sirius turned the page, wishing he was talented like Mr. or Mrs. Potter and could make something for Moony, a sculpture or a quilt, paint him something to tell him without words. But he didn’t really want to paint Moony anything, he just wanted to melt into the paintings he’d found, and share the melting with Remus. Sirius wanted to walk around cypress trees and through the fields by Mount Sainte Victoire with Remus. Was there a way to travel into and within the paintings?
The rest of the summer Sirius worked like he imagined Van Gogh worked on his ugliest days. He didn't stop to let himself think what it would really solve to show Moony the paintings, he just forged ahead to find a way to go there, go to that lense of reality where things were possible. He only let himself think through the technical problems, like what kind of travel-- apparating or portkey was best for jumping into them. Or the problem of resizing a human within the boundaries of the paint (solved with a clever equation from James' arithmancy textbook). The problem of copying the paintings so that he didn't rip pages out from Mr. Potter's books. The problem of which paintings to give Moony, which ones would he like?
Sirius worked on it through whole nights, staying up to make sure no one caught him using a family heirloom wand underage. Some paintings were easy choices: several Van Gogh landscapes went in right away, right at the beginning. They were accessibly beautiful and looked spacious, therefore requiring less arithmancy. Choosing the Cezanne's was harder. The still lifes Sirius liked best were closely cropped, deconstructed; what if Remus traveled to one of the 'unfinished' paintings and found himself unpainted? But Sirius desperately wanted to show Remus the apples, the vision of Remus' straightening the table cloth occupying his mind.
Copying the paintings onto new parchments took forever, not like when they copied bits of the map, the brushstrokes appeared slowly, one at a time. And each painting needed its own set of ratios to work, so that Remus wouldn't travel in and find himself hunched over on a still life table. And the portkey spell wouldn't work since the travel wasn't changing coordinates, which was fine because the portkey spell was one time use anyway. But neither did the apparating spell work because apparently a painting didn't qualify as a sufficient Destination, which Sirius thought was bollocks. It took a long time to puzzle the actual travel out, but Sirius eventually found a book on pensieves and found that embedding pensieve runes into the paper worked.
Technical problems solved, Sirius considered the aesthetic for the first time in his life. He wanted it to look nice for Moony. He didn't want to shove a stack of thoroughly magicked but still haphazard parchment bits at him. So he asked Mrs. Potter for strong thread and a sharp needle, to fix a corner on his truck he said. And he carefully severed the leather cover from his charms textbook, because it was nearby and the right size. Then he transfigured the cover so it was blank and sewed in the pages as best he could, by hand, because Mrs. Potter might get suspicious if he asked to borrow one of her sewing books.
Every couple of days he charmed the cover a new color: black when he was feeling despondent that his stupid project was both pointless and beside the point, fushia when he'd spent too long looking at the pond on the Manor grounds, forest green because Moony had a sweater that color that he wore often.
Then he found a calligraphy spell you could put on your quill and he wrote out all the names of the paintings in forest green ink, but he vanished them the next day and wrote them again in his own hand, which was still quite neat but much less needlessly flourishy. He doodled borders around the paintings like frames.
All the while he wondered if he should write Moony a letter, there was a blank page left in the back. Maybe not an apology, which Sirius felt he should say out loud, to Remus' disappointed face, but maybe something else. In the end, he inked a simple "To Moony" on the inside of the front cover with the spell. The day before James returned, he tucked it away carefully in his trunk, out of both time and ideas for improving it further.
Sirius tidied the ledge in the library, returning the stack of Moony books to their various, seemingly random spots on the shelf. He slid the books on Van Gogh, Cezanne and Lautrec in last, finally understanding why Remus always seemed to be clutching a book to his chest. But he had the book for Moony, and maybe Remus would forgive him one day and they could look at it together when Sirius was feeling like an apple tumbling on the edge.
James arrival home brought a flurry of activity: Quidditch in the garden and shopping for books and supplies, searching out socks and dungbombs, and packing up their trunks. The night before term Sirius lay in bed, mind spinning anxiously without a task to set his mind to.
He unearthed Moony's book from the safe spot in his trunk and snuck back up to the library. Sitting on the ledge with Moony's book and the Lautrec book, Sirius tried not to think about any of the implications of this particular sleep deprived decision: he was going to include a Lautrec. He flipped to the back, to the paintings of the women and found his favorite. He carefully wrote the pensieve runes into the parchment, charmed the ratios for this particular painting, copied the painting to the very last page of the book, casting light ennervates on himself to stay awake while each brushstroke graced the new page. When it was done, he carefully inscribed the name, Dans Le Lit, Lautrec underneath the painting, having to forgo a border because he couldn't keep his eyes open anymore.
He went back downstairs, too tired to creep carefully, and fell into bed with Moony's book still in his hand.