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A Cold Heaven

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With lightning you went from me, and I could find
Nothing to make a song about but kings,
Helmets, and swords, and half-forgotten things

- W.B. Yeats

i. October 31, 1981

Sirius Black never falters. Not when the Sorting Hat forced him to give up his crown, or pissed-off Remus Lupin was snarling in his face for telling Snape about the Whomping Willow and the werewolf (hidden beneath layers – he’s a good boy with dark secrets) and not offering any chance for forgiveness. Or even when McGonagall pushed the golden pin – its light slowly fading now because they’re a dying breed – across the aged and scratched desk; a promise made, a debt owed, as his fingers fondled the furled wings of a phoenix. There was no chance for hesitation.

You must remain true, and never, ever falter, Sirius.

And he never did. Until now.

Keep them safe. Keep them safe, or I’ll never forgive you.

Daylight is fading and his stomach is clenching and unclenching – a nervous fluttering, making its way up as a lump in his throat.

This was a mistake, a huge fucking mistake.

He paces in the kitchenette of his flat, running long, bony fingers through his black hair. He contemplates checking in on James and Lily and sweet, little Harry because there is an aching feeling in his chest that stretches and pulses and it hurts to breathe. Something will go wrong. He knows it – can feel it in his bones, can feel their binding friendship begin to fray. He knows that Peter will betray them, and he can already taste the bitter, coppery taste of blood in his mouth. He storms out, slamming the door behind him; a hurricane of confusion, anger and betrayal – leaving nothing but destruction (of friends, lovers, himself) in his wake.

The roar of his motorcycle’s engine (charmed to fly, brilliant boy) used to bring comfort. Now there’s only a sense of urgency to get there, get there quickly. It might be too late, he realises, and he draws in a shuddering breath as he urges the bike faster, faster.

ii. September 1, 1971

The bustle of King’s Cross station brought Sirius to his senses as a hurrying Muggle bumped into him on his way by. He looked around and clutched the handle of his trunk tighter, looking up at his father for guidance. His father, a proud and noble man, stood beside him, though his eyes looked at the passersby in disdain.

‘Muggles,’ he scoffed. ‘Look at them, Sirius – walking around, completely oblivious to everything around them. They just go on their ways, living vicariously through others, pretending that there is some sort of meaning to their insignificant lives. People like that do not deserve to share our world.’

‘It is a shame that there is no other way to get onto the Hogwarts Express. I would rather not have you exposed to these vile creatures, Sirius,’ his mother said, smoothing out a wrinkle in his vest.

Sirius looked at the passing Muggles carefully, but could not see how they were any different from him. They certainly did not look any different aside from the fact that most of them wore brightly coloured clothing that fascinated Sirius. He looked down at his own stiffly starched white shirt and grey vest, carefully measured trousers and polished black shoes and thought briefly for a moment that he looked as though he were attending a funeral.

This line of thought was abruptly interrupted when his mother yanked on his arm, dragging him towards the barrier to Platform 9 ¾. Together, they stepped quickly through the barrier and Sirius gaped in wonder at the brilliant scarlet train that loomed before him.

His father followed shortly behind them and placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder. ‘He has to learn to hate them sometime, Walburga,’ he said, eyeing his wife’s reaction carefully.

As expected, Walburga turned around sharply, pulling Sirius along with her and glared at her husband. ‘Sirius has learned to hate them, Orion. We taught him well. I taught him well,’ she hissed.

‘It is not just drilling it into his mind that prestigious families such as ours, royalty in our own right, deserve more power over these Muggles and Mudbloods; we have to prove it to him. If he does not see how they act in their natural environment – how they are no better than the dirt on the soles of my shoes – then he cannot possibly understand where we are coming from. We have to make him understand why Mudbloods should not be able to just wave a wand and act as though their magic is the same as ours, is as pure as ours.

It is not about magic, Sirius,’ his father said, turning to him, ‘it is about power, and bloodlines. It is about purity and allying yourself with those whose lineage is as powerful and pure as your own. Don’t expect to make friends at Hogwarts, Sirius. Influential families do not care for petty friendships. Once you step foot inside those castle walls, they will flock around you. You must act like the prince you are and lead them well; their loyalty to you will get you far.’

Sirius cowered beneath the powerful stare of his father and tried to wriggle his way out of his mother’s painful grasp. He looked around; all of the other children around him were smiling, waving to friends and saying goodbye to their families. And here he was receiving a lecture on how to maintain dignity and the consequences he would face should he soil the Black family name.
Toujours Pur, Sirius. There is nothing worse than being a disgrace,’ his mother warned him, tightening her grasp.

‘I understand, mother,’ Sirius said, before finally freeing himself.

He rubbed the ache out of his shoulder and his mother glanced at him disapprovingly before giving him one last inspection.

‘All right,’ she sighed, ‘you may go. Your cousin will be watching you carefully so do not do anything foolish.’

‘Make us proud, Sirius,’ his father said, outstretching his hand towards Sirius. Sirius grasped his father’s hand in as firm a manner any eleven-year-old could manage and shook it.

Sirius glanced to his side, watched a few other students hugging their parents and wondered why his family could not show that type of affection, or any type of affection for that matter. His family’s hearts were as cold as their manners. So instead of hugging his parents, he tucked away the part of him that yearned for affection, and nodded curtly before turning slowly away.

Students rushed past him as he dragged his trunk down the corridor of the train, looking for a compartment. He entered an empty compartment near the middle of the train and heaved his trunk onto the overhead, collapsing into a seat. He undid the knot of his tie and looked out of the window as the train whistled a last warning to students. More kisses and hugs, foreign affection for Sirius, and he wanted to vomit at the sentimentality of it all.  His compartment door slid open and Sirius sighed in relief.

‘Cissy,’ he said, greeting his cousin, Narcissa, as she entered the compartment, followed by three boys he had seen on occasion at family parties.

‘We were looking for you, Sirius. Mother was worried you might have already associated yourself with the wrong people,’ Narcissa replied, sitting down beside Sirius, frowning at the tie hanging loosely around his neck.

Sirius shook his head as Narcissa clucked her tongue and pushed him back against the seat so she could work on his tie properly. She quickly tightened it and fixed his collar, giving him a look that clearly reminded him of his place and what was expected of him in public.

‘Sorry,’ he mumbled.

‘Nonsense,’ she said, smoothing out the wrinkles in his sleeve and looking at him affectionately. ‘Just don’t forget again. I won’t tell your mother this time.’

The train whistled again and with a lurch, began to pull forward away from the platform. Sirius straightened in his seat and smiled, knowing that his first few days at Hogwarts would be just fine with Narcissa at his side.

The train ride passed by quickly for Sirius as he listened to the older Slytherins discussing politics—or attempting to, Sirius thought. Because they were still children in the eyes of the wizarding world and what could they possibly know about laws and the difference between right and wrong? Narcissa let him talk once in a while, but Sirius found he had little opinion on the subject matter of purity and bloodlines, opting to simply listen to their heated arguments.

Before they reached Hogsmeade, Sirius opened his trunk and pulled out his school robes, slipping them over his uniform. Narcissa gave him a look-over to ensure that every aspect of him was perfect and presentable. She nodded her approval and smiled. Sirius grinned back and followed the older students off the train. He moved to follow them, but Narcissa placed a restraining hand on his shoulder.

‘Over there, Sirius,’ she said, pointing to where a giant man holding a lantern stood.

He gaped at the man and then back at Narcissa.

‘That’s Hagrid. He’s nothing but a giant oaf if you ask me. But you need to go over there and remain with the other first years. Try not to get into trouble between now and the time you’re sorted, all right?’

Sirius nodded and followed the group of first years flocking towards Hagrid, who stood in front of a lake.

‘Inter the boats!’ Hagrid called out and Sirius finally noticed the rows of small boats lined up, rocking gently against the bank of the lake.

He found an empty boat and stepped in carefully, taking a seat at the far end. Two more boys quickly followed and soon the boats were magically moving across the lake towards the castle.

The boy in the middle leaned over the edge slightly to peer into the murky water, tilting the boat slightly.

‘Watch what you’re doing,’ Sirius croaked, looking at the water nervously. The boy sat upright and stared at Sirius for a moment before his mouth widened into the biggest grin Sirius had ever seen.

‘Ever seen a giant squid? My father told me one lives in this lake,’ the boy said, peering over his thick-framed glasses.

Sirius momentarily forgot the image he had to maintain and leaned forward excitedly. ‘Really? I’ve always wanted to see one.’

The boy nodded and again, bent over the edge. ‘I don’t think we’d be able to see it now, though,’ he said with a sigh. ‘Unless…’

The grin the boy gave Sirius made his stomach twist in knots and he wasn’t sure if it was because he was thrilled or terrified, or perhaps both and he gripped the sides of the boat tighter.

‘What did you have in mind?’

The boy leaned in conspiratorially, his mouth barely an inch from Sirius’s and Sirius could taste chocolate on his breath (could even see the stain on the cuff of the boy’s own starched shirt, not hidden well beneath the robes). He then whispered, ‘Do you know what giant squids eat?’

‘You want to lure a giant squid up to the surface? Are you daft? What if it tips the boat over?’ Sirius narrowed his eyes at the boy.

‘So you don’t know either? Bugger. It would’ve been neat. Maybe some other time.’

The boy pulled away from Sirius and fiddled with the cuff of his shirt, smudging the chocolate. 

‘What would your parents say if they saw that disgusting stain on your shirt?’ Sirius blurted out without even thinking.

The boy laughed and looked down at the stain, shrugging. ‘They wouldn’t mind. I’m always getting dirty. Why?’

‘You’re a Pureblood, aren’t you?’ Sirius clenched his fist and berated himself for not even thinking that this boy might not be the sort he was allowed to associate himself with.

The boy nodded. ‘But I don’t see…’ A look of realisation crossed his face. ‘Oh, you must be one of those Purebloods.’ He looked at Sirius, taking in his appearance, as though he was seeing him for the first time. ‘A Black, maybe?’

‘What sort of Pureblood am I?’ Sirius growled, annoyed at the tone of the boy’s voice.

The boy looked pleased. ‘So I was right, then? You’re a Black.’

 ‘Sirius Black. And you are?’

‘You’re the sort of Pureblood who cares about the purity of the magical world. I hear my parents talking about it all the time,’ the boy replied. ‘But I figured you’d be more…’

Sirius raised a questioning eyebrow. ‘More what?’

The boy shrugged and the casualness of this boy infuriated Sirius; everything about his dishevelled appearance and lack of dignity was an example of what Sirius was raised against.

‘I figured you’d be a bit more stuck-up is all,’ the boy finally answered, looking at Sirius with wide, bright eyes.

Sirius didn’t know what made him angrier – the fact that this boy could get under his skin so easily by mocking his family, or the fact that he simply radiated arrogance; his light more brighter than Sirius’.

So Sirius did what he knew best – the only way he knew how to express his anger – and punched the boy directly in the nose. The momentum of throwing his fist forward and of the boy falling backwards, clutching his bleeding nose, knocked both of them off balance and they tumbled into the lake.

The moment Sirius felt his head slip beneath the surface of the water, he panicked. He learned how to play the piano when he was five, he could speak three different languages, and despite all the activities that made him just as aristocratic as he was supposed to be, he did not know how to swim. He thrashed violently, trying to simply break the surface, but he felt himself beginning to tire. His lungs begged for air and Sirius knew he was going to die. He’d sink to the bottom of the lake where no one would ever find his body and he would decompose into a hideous-looking corpse, he was sure of it.

Sirius felt something grab his arm and he opened his mouth to scream, swallowing a lungful of water. He felt himself being pulled up and when his head broke surface, he coughed up the water he had just swallowed and breathed in the air greedily. He winced as he felt the side of the boat scrape against his back as he was pulled back into the boat and collapsed wearily into the arms of his saviour.

Sirius opened his eyes and saw none other than Mr. Arrogance himself, smiling sheepishly at Sirius through water-smeared glasses.

‘Are you all right?’ the third boy in their boat asked them both, looking worriedly between Sirius and the bespectacled boy.

Sirius coughed and nodded, still breathing heavily.

‘How do you not know how to swim?’ he asked, borrowing the robe hem of the other boy in their boat to dry his glasses off.

‘I missed out on a few trivial childhood activities,’ Sirius mumbled, wringing his robe out over the side of the boat.

‘Trivial? You could have died.’

‘Well if you didn’t make those snide comments about my family, I wouldn’t have punched you and I wouldn’t have fallen into the lake!’

‘So this is my fault, now?’ The boy gaped at Sirius.

‘It’s not my fault,’ Sirius bit back, running his fingers through his now sopping wet hair.

The boy sniggered. ‘You look like a wet dog.’

‘Yeah, well, you look like a drowned rat,’ Sirius retorted, a small smile gracing his face.

‘So you do smile.’

‘Of course I do. I’m not emotionless.’

‘You’re a Black,’ the boy replied, looking at Sirius as though it was the most obvious answer, ‘most would disagree.’

Sirius was about to respond when the boats hit the bank. He looked up in surprise at the illuminated castle that stood before them and gaped in wonder. There was a mad scramble as the First Years got off their boats and waited on the bank for Hagrid.

‘You two a’right?’ he asked, looking down at the soaking wet boys.

‘Yes, sir,’ Sirius replied.

Hagrid nodded in approval and walked to the front of the group. ‘Follow me up ter the castle!’

Sirius trailed at the end of the group, walking slowly because his pants were sticking to his legs and his robe, heavy with water, was weighing him down. He swiped at the hair that was currently sticking to his forehead but knew he just made it look worse. The other boy fell into place beside him and they quietly followed Hagrid up to the castle.

‘You’re not like them, you know,’ the boy said, finally.

‘Like who?’

‘The rest of your family.’

Sirius stopped walking and gave the boy a sidelong glance. ‘What would you know?’

‘My parents tell me stories about what your family is doing and what they’ve done. I can’t see you doing any of it.’ He shook his head. ‘You smiled. It means you’re actually human. Plus, I saw that look on your face when I told you about the Giant Squid…definitely not Black-like.’

He gasped and looked at Sirius in mock horror. ‘What would your parents say?’ He burst into a fit of giggles.

‘Who are you?’ Sirius sputtered, ashamed that he was losing his composure in front of this boy he had just met and who had just tried to kill him.

The boy grinned again and Sirius felt so jealous about how brightly this boy shined.

‘You’re right. I never did introduce myself, did I? What horrible manners I must have; my parents would be disgusted. I’m James Potter.’

He stuck out a hand and looked expectantly at Sirius. Sirius bit his lip and looked at the hand and back up at James. His parents had told him about the Potters – a family whose lineage was just as pure as his, but whose beliefs were almost the polar opposite of the Blacks – and he knew he’d be condemned just for talking to this boy.

Sirius must have hesitated a second too long because suddenly James pulled his hand away and Sirius looked up at him, surprised. His heart pounded painfully in his chest when he saw hurt written in the creases of James’s forehead.

‘Sorry,’ he mumbled.

James looked down at his scuffed shoes and at the retreating backs of their classmates, before turning and walking briskly to catch up.

Sirius sighed because he did not like this James – quiet and uncertain – and he knew that trying to forget this boy would be difficult. So he swallowed his pride and pushed down the fear of disapproval and ran after James, wrapping his slender fingers around James’s forearm.

‘Wait,’ Sirius said, and the look of surprise on James’s face probably mirrored his own, because Sirius did not know where that came from.

Don’t expect to make friends, Sirius.

Sirius released James’s arm and sighed. He knew this was a mistake, knew that his parents would hear about it in the morning, but right now, Sirius didn’t care.

‘I want to be your friend,’ he rushed out, almost stumbling over his words in an attempt to spit it out before he decided to take it back.

The smile on James’s face was probably brighter than his own star and it made Sirius’s heart swell.
James slung an arm carelessly over Sirius’s shoulder as they entered the Entrance Hall of the school that was to be their home for the next seven years and said, ‘This is the start to a beautiful friendship, Sirius.’

Words of agreement were on the tip of his tongue until reality crashed down upon him and he felt his stomach drop. There was no way that James would ever be sorted into Slytherin; he would be best suited for Gryffindor with his ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. If he was to become friends with a Gryffindor, his parents would never forgive him. Sirius looked at James anxiously and James, who seemed to have read Sirius’s mind, gave his shoulder a little squeeze.

‘Don’t worry about it. Things will be just fine,’ James reassured him.

Sirius couldn’t understand how James could be so certain about everything. Sirius wished he had that sort of confidence, knew that he should have had that poise and arrogance because he was a Black, practically royalty in the wizarding world. But when Narcissa saw him standing in line with James’s arm around his shoulder and gave him a look full of surprise and poorly disguised malice, he felt small and weak.

When his name was called and he sat on the three-legged stool with the Sorting Hat on his head, Sirius felt doubt creep into his veins; an uncertainty about his destiny. And for the first time in his life, he didn’t know who he truly was.

The hatred in Narcissa’s eyes was no longer disguised when the Sorting Hat cried out, ‘GRYFFINDOR!’ to the surprise of all in the hall. She shook her head and Sirius was certain he saw a flash of disappointment on her face, before a look of disgust replaced it. 

He had never felt so numb in his life as he did when he sat down at the Gryffindor table, staring at the worn wood forlornly. He hardly paid much attention to the rest of the Sorting, could only feel Narcissa’s eyes burning a hole in his back, so he jumped in surprise when a hand clasped his under the table.

‘I knew you were different,’ James said quietly, looking at Sirius with understanding eyes. ‘You’ll be all right, really.’

Sirius knew James was just trying to reassure him with lies. But he forced himself to believe them, believe in James, because he had no one else to rely on but this arrogant boy who could understand him better than he could himself.

Later, in the safety of their dorm room, beneath a pile of bony arms and legs, tangled and pulling to release themselves after a wrestling tussle to see who would get the bed beside the window, Sirius realised that perhaps this was where he truly belonged.

‘I win,’ James proclaimed as they finally collapsed on the cool floor, breathing heavily.

‘Like hell you did,’ Sirius retorted, elbowing James in the stomach.

James groaned but quickly wrapped an arm around Sirius’s neck and tousled his hair. ‘You only wish you were as strong and handsome as me, Black.’

Sirius grinned when he heard Remus snort behind the book he was attempting to read. James loosed his grip on Sirius and quickly got to his feet before jumping on top of Remus, tickling him.

‘Got something to laugh about now, Remus?’ James asked, his fingers torturing the squirming boy beneath him.

Sirius used this opportunity to claim ownership of the bed beside the window and watched, with a smile, as Remus wormed his way from beneath James’s grasp, gasping for breath. James looked slightly put-out but eyed his newest victim, their fourth roommate, Peter. Peter squeaked and shook his head but James just laughed and tackled Peter anyway.

Sirius sighed contentedly and thought that maybe James was right and things would be just fine, as long as they had one another.

iii. October 31, 1981

He knows it’s too late. He knows they’re dead before he even reaches Godric’s Hollow; there is a sudden shift in the air – the slipping of secrets, the unravelling of powerful magic – and the sharp pain in his chest tells him they’re gone, they’re gone. And Sirius feels like he’s going to die. He might die soon, if he doesn’t reach their house quick enough. He needs to see it for himself, needs to prove that this isn’t some fucked up dream sent to taunt him of his greatest fears.

He has no time for slowing down and lands with a bang! in front of James and Lily’s house, stumbling off his motorcycle from the impact. He yanks his helmet off, drops it to the ground and watches it bounce (thud, thud, thud, like the slowing beat of his heart). The door to the house is wide open, creaking slightly in the wind, taunting him. His heart is in his throat and he wants to vomit. He sinks to the ground, digging his fingers into the dirt, shaking his head. No, no, no.

They’ll never suspect Peter. It’ll be the perfect switch.

He should have known better. That lying, manipulative bastard. He should have listened to Lily, should have trusted her rather than pretend to know what’s best for her. She always knew what was best. Sirius wouldn’t have betrayed them, would have rather died for them and they knew that. But still, but still…

You know I’d die for you, James. But I couldn’t live with myself if I was the reason you were dead.

The irony of it all leaves a bitter aftertaste in Sirius’s mouth. Their blood still stains his hands and he rubs them desperately on denim, trying to get it off. Suddenly, everything is so loud – his heart is now pounding in his chest (he realises he will never feel James’s heartbeat beneath his palm again) and there is a gut wrenching screaming in his head. He covers his ears with his hands, demanding stop stop stop. But it doesn’t stop, and nothing slows down, not until he realises that he’s the one screaming and he snaps his mouth shut.

Everything falls silent.

iv. July 14, 1976

Sirius could feel the anger coursing through his veins as he curled his fingers around the steel pole, his weight being thrown about by the erratic movements of the Knight Bus. Sirius hardly paid much attention; he ground his teeth in frustration, ignoring the nosy stares he was getting from the other passengers. He swiped at his face with the back of his shaking hand, pulled away and found blood. He sniffed, searched his pockets for a spare handkerchief, found one being shoved in his face by an elderly man who smiled with false compassion.

‘Thanks,’ he muttered, wiping away the blood, trying desperately to clean himself of memories and pain.

The purple bus came to an abrupt stop and Sirius’ knuckles turned white, clenching tightly to the pole. He looked out the window, saw a familiar home and warm faces, and he put on a half-smile, dragging his trunk off the bus.

James met him halfway between the house and the road and immediately noticed the stained-red handkerchief. He clenched his fist, looked at Sirius momentarily with a flash of anger in his eyes before throwing his arms around him.

‘Not again, Sirius,’ James mumbled into his shoulder. ‘What happened this time?’

Sirius extracted himself from James’ embrace and shook his head.

‘I – ’ don’t want to talk about it again, don’t make me relive it, ‘ – left,’ he replied.

James pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose and stared at Sirius, dumbfounded for a moment. ‘For good?’

Sirius ducked his head. ‘Yeah, for good.’

Suddenly, his head snapped up and he looked at James, to the house and back at James again, drawing in a shaky breath. ‘I, fuck, mate, I didn’t even think about it. I’m sorry. I mean, do you mind? I…I didn’t know where else to go. I don’t…’

‘You idiot, of course you’re welcome to stay here,’ James said, pulling Sirius into another hug. ‘You’re like a brother to me. My home is your home.’

You’re my home, Sirius wanted to confess, staring at James with wide, uncertain eyes. And suddenly he felt like his perfect façade was crumbling, shattering him into thousands of irreparable pieces. He felt the tears sting his eyes and wanted to brush away at them, angrily, for showing his weakness.

James took Sirius by the elbow and led him into the house, ushering him upstairs to the safety of his bedroom where adolescent secrets were shared and promises made.

‘Everything will be all right, okay?’ he said, wiping the pad of his thumb across Sirius’ wet cheek.

The affection etched into the worried wrinkles on James’s face, in the careful yet sure movement of his hands rubbing soothing circles on Sirius’s back, overwhelmed him. Wracking sobs overtook his body and he shook in the comfort of James’s arm.

‘I can’t do this anymore,’ he sobbed, clutching tighter to James’s forearms.

It felt as though everything was falling apart and the only thing keeping him grounded by James (anchor, best friend, saviour). 

‘Shh, you’re safe,’ James reassured him, pressing small kisses into his hair. ‘I won’t let anyone else hurt you.’

Sirius’s tears subsided, slowly, and he hiccoughed, burying his face into the crook of James’s neck, which smelled of sweat and soap and home. James continued to rub his back and Sirius could feel the tension in his body begin to fade away, replaced by warmth and comfort. James was whispering nonsense in his ear, but against the confusion raging a war inside his head, it sounded like a soothing lullaby, lulling him to sleep.

v. October 31, 1981

The inside of the house is a disaster.

He finds James where he knows the living room should be – knows the outline of the house almost as well as he knows every curve, freckle and scar of James’s body – and kneels beside his limp, lifeless corpse.

Sirius is not a religious man (prayers are only uttered with eyes squeezed shut and to a god named James, who makes him break with touches, only to rebuild him with teenaged kisses; love is the only religion he believes in) but he prays that James is safe, wherever he is.

He whimpers slightly, traces James’s face with calloused fingertips and wishes it didn’t have to end this way – a whisper in the dark destroys ten years of memories in minutes.

Even in death, James shines brighter than Sirius. But he’s no longer jealous, knows that it’s just borrowed light; James glows when he’s loved. He was always loved, will always be loved.

Sirius sighs, kisses James one last time and rises with aching knees (grief is already making its way in between muscle and bone). He sifts through the wreckage and finds Lily next – beautiful, patient Lily – whom he hated for the longest time for stealing James from him. But he doesn’t hate her now; she’s got vows and wedding rings, but he has James’s heart. He murmurs another prayer for her, hoping she finds her way safely to James and goes in search of his godson.

It’s this that makes his blood boil with anger – a searing, hot emotion that blinds him and makes him see red. Harry never even got the chance to live; no Hogwarts, or first kisses, heartbreaks and friends. Sirius can’t grasp the idea of never seeing his godson’s plump face and bright green eyes again and he kicks what’s left of one of the walls in frustration.

I’ll kill you, Peter. I swear I’ll find you and I will tear you to pieces with my bare hands for destroying my world.

There’s a whimper and he freezes, wondering if his mind is playing tricks on him. He stays silent for a few moments longer, hears nothing and slumps his shoulders in defeat.

There it is again. He turns around in circles, searching frantically, climbing through debris until he sees colour (bright yellow against grey slab and dirt) and then sees those eyes, wide with confusion and hurt, staring up at him.

‘Harry,’ he breathes, reaching for the small child and cradling him to his body. He finds comfort in the warmth of the child, who’s buried his face into his leather jacket. Harry whimpers again and Sirius pulls him away from his body to look at him. He looks all right, except for the jagged lightening bolt scar running down his forehead. Sirius presses a kiss to it and stares at it in wonder as Harry holds onto his face with chubby fingers.

‘It’s all right, Harry. Uncle Sirius is here now.’

He holds Harry close to him, afraid to lose him now, and stumbles his way outside of the house. He starts when he sees a shadow before him but sighs in relief when he sees it’s just Hagrid.

Hagrid looks at the house with sad eyes, tears sliding into his beard. ‘I’m ter take Harry, Sirius,’ he says, looking apologetically.

Sirius looks at him in disbelief, can’t believe that anyone would want to take away the one person who could help Sirius cope with his grief.

‘Dumbledore’s orders,’ he explains, shifting nervously.

Then Sirius remembers Peter and he thinks that perhaps Harry will be safer with Dumbledore after all. He feels the anger and adrenaline begin to course through his body and his fingers tingle in anticipation. He shifts Harry’s weight, kisses his mop of unruly, black hair (so much like his father’s – will grow up without knowing how loving and magnificent James was – and it gives Sirius a heavy heart).

‘I’ll always look after you,’ he whispers, before handing him over to Hagrid. Then he digs his hand into the pocket of his leather jacket, fingering the keys to the second love of his life. ‘Here, Hagrid, I won’t need it anymore. Get Harry safely to Dumbledore. Take good care of him, won’t you?’

Hagrid nods and takes the keys from Sirius’s outstretched hand. ‘Where you off ter then?’

‘I have some unfinished business,’ he replies stiffly, fingering his wand and moving away from the house, where it’s safe to Apparate.

Stay safe, James (under a dim porch light – stealing kisses in the shadows). I’ll always love you.

‘I’m sorry I failed you, James,’ he thinks, before Apparating away.

You were always too good for me, Sirius.

vi. August 3, 1979

The bedroom of Sirius's new flat was stifling hot during humid summer days. He tried every cooling charm he knew, but he woke up in the middle of each night half-naked and struggling for air.

'I can't breathe,' he gasped, fingers curled around the bed sheets, head thrown back against the pillow, hair plastered to his face with sweat.

But he knew it had less to do with the summer heat and more to do with the heat of the body hovering above him, making half-moon-shaped indents in his hips.

'What the fuck are we doing, James?' Sirius groaned, eyelids fluttering shut because oh, god, what was James doing with his tongue? He felt like he was going to fall to pieces when James touched here, here and there.

'Hush, Sirius,' James mumbled, pressing a fumbling open-mouthed kiss to Sirius's dry, chapped lips. 'Don't talk. Please.'

James's hands were cold on his burning skin (slipping under cotton), tracing the lines of hidden alleys on the map of Sirius' body. His tongue found every one of Sirius' childhood scars and James was mouthing their origins against his skin.

'James...we shouldn't.' His voice hitched as James found a particularly sensitive scar on his abdomen.

'Sirius, will you just shut the fuck up?' James said, looking up through half-lidded eyes, breathing ragged. 'I thought you wanted this.'

Sirius wanted to cry, could feel the lump forming in his throat, because this was not his best friend. This was desperation, a hunger that Sirius wasn't sure he could sate. He couldn't figure out where this was going. It wasn't at all romantic like he imagined (because he did want this, has wanted this for years, begged for it, even. but not like this, never like this) and maybe it wasn't even anything at all but primal urge, a need to satisfy. Yet, yet...

'You're getting married tomorrow.' He wanted to say it with conviction, or even anger; to prove to James that he was just as strong as him. But instead, it came out strangled.

'This doesn't mean anything, Sirius. You've always known that. It can't mean anything.'

James was pulling feelings and heartstrings, not caring what it all meant, because it didn't mean anything. It never meant anything, to him. But to Sirius, this meant the whole fucking world because James was his world.

You're breaking my heart, Sirius wanted to cry. But instead, he squeezed his eyes shut and bit back the words on his tongue as his world shuddered and collapsed above him.

James buried his face in the curve of Sirius's neck; hot, damp air ghosting across his already-on-fire skin and everything was humid and sticky and he couldn't breathe. James splayed a hand across Sirius', feeling his heart hammering heavily against his ribs.

Sirius closed his eyes and pressed a kiss to James's sweaty forehead, entwining their fingers over his heart.

'I'm sorry, Sirius,' James murmured, peppering his skin with kisses (a guilty conscience pays its currency in forged apologies). 'I'm sorry.'