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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.'

Chapter Text

And I that have not your faith, how shall I know
That in the blinding light beyond the grave
We’ll find so good a thing as that we have lost?
-W.B. Yeats

i. June 6, 1996

Sirius has never believed in an afterlife. He cannot fathom the idea of still walking, still breathing (in that peculiar way that you’re still inhaling and exhaling, mostly reflex, because the air here isn’t oxygen – it’s like breathing in redemption and feeling absolved of the sins you committed while living) when the world you once knew continues spinning, continues grieving your death.

It’s never made much sense to him, how people can put so much faith in an idea that you would still see your loved ones after dying, never too far from those you care about. Well, what about the ones you don’t care to see again? Do you still have to see them, with fingers clenched and boiling blood, blinded by red?

Sirius doesn’t want to think about seeing his brother again.

If he wasn’t standing in a dim room, surrounded by a half dozen other people – some bloody and torn, some seemingly healthy, but all most definitely dead – Sirius would still declare that he did not believe in an afterlife.

On the other side of the veil, he can still hear Harry and Remus angrily, desperately, trying to call him back. He pushes his way past a young wizard, forces his way closer to the tapestry that swallowed him whole, and can see Harry struggling against a restraining Remus. He reaches a hand forward, wants to grasp those fingertips (of a boy he doesn’t know as well as he should) that barely reach past the veil, hold on tight and pull, lift, get me out of here. He falls a few centimetres too short.

‘Harry!’ he calls, desperate now, because it’s not his time and he’s not ready to go, not yet. ‘Remus! I’m still here!’

Remus is pulling Harry away now, doesn’t want him to seek the same fate as Sirius and Sirius’s last chance at being saved is slowly sliding out of view.

‘Don’t leave me here, damn it!’ He’s yelling, screaming, trying to get someone, anyone’s attention.

There’s a low, wheezing laugh behind him, and he turns sharply to find a wizard in his mid-fifties, a dark grey fedora hat tilted forward over his eyes, shaking his head at him.

‘You won’t get far trying that, son,’ he says, still chuckling. ‘They can’t hear you.’

‘Why not?’ Sirius demands. ‘I can hear them.’

‘Things don’t work that way. You’re dead, they aren’t.’

‘I’m not dead. I’m still in my body,’ Sirius says, eyes flashing dangerously. He pats himself down, feels familiar skin and bone beneath his fingers, reassures himself.

The man raises an eyebrow and smirks, points a bony finger to a door that Sirius never saw before. Sirius’s stomach drops and he feels trepidation as he allows himself to follow the path the man’s finger has created. The door is cloaked in black, disguised by fear, and the hairs on the back of Sirius’s neck are erect. Sirius shivers. He reaches a hand forward, fingers grasping the brass handle (wishes he was grasping warm fingertips, a beating heart, anything real, tangible) and he turns, pushing his weight against the heavy wooden door.

The smell of rotting flesh makes Sirius want to vomit. He coughs, pulls his shirt over his mouth and nose and allows his burning eyes time to adjust to the darkness. He looks down at himself, still feels flesh, muscle, bone, but knows it mustn’t be real, can’t be the truth. He looks back into the room and sees himself – his dead self – and knows that it’s too late to do anything about it.

Sirius thinks this is really fucked up as he enters the room and kneels before his dead body. His fingers reach out to touch his face and he flinches as he touches cold skin. His face looks serene, as if he is finally at peace. But Sirius knows otherwise; a torrent of emotions and anger still rages inside him, threatening to explode, to destroy him from the inside-out. At least I’m already dead, he thinks, can’t do too much more damage.

Sirius sighs, knows that he shouldn’t believe this, that he should somehow be fighting death, finding a way back to those he left behind. But he feels tired now, worn down, and can feel the weariness making its way like a current through muscle and bone. He stands, looks at the rest of the bodies, most in more advanced stages of decomposition, and wonders if those other…ghosts, spirits, whatever the fuck we are, came to see their own bodies and felt a similar sense of acceptance.

‘Well, Sirius,’ he says to himself, ‘at least you died looking good.’ He mock salutes himself and walks back into the dim room, sitting down next to the old wizard who laughed at him earlier.

The two men sit in an awkward silence for a few minutes. Sirius fiddles with the cuff of his robe, observing those around him. He watches in fascination as a wizard slides across the floor, hands and legs still bound when some Death Eater probably tortured and murdered him before tossing him through the veil to hide any evidence of his death. Sirius speculates for a moment as to why no one has reversed the curse that has disallowed this man from walking freely, before rummaging through his pockets for his wand.

‘Won’t find it,’ the man replies, giving Sirius a sidelong glance. ‘You really think they’d let you walk around with your wand?’ The man whistles through the gap in his front teeth and Sirius subconsciously runs his tongue along his own now straight and clean teeth (after months of scrubbing away any hints twelve years of betrayal left behind). ‘Think of the damage you could do with a wand.’

‘Who’s they?’ Sirius asks, leaning back on the bench and stretching his legs out.

The man shrugs, raises a shaking hand to angle his hat back and stares out at the others milling around the room aimlessly. ‘Can’t say for sure. Never saw ‘em. But you hear stories the longer you hang around.’

Sirius clears his throat, feels uneasiness creeping through his body and tingling in his fingertips. ‘How long have you been here?’

The man grunts. ‘Probably longer than you’ve been alive, kid.’

‘And them?’ He tilts a head towards the crowd, suddenly wishing he knew their stories, how they came to rest in this room, how they learned to accept their fate.

‘Not sure. People come and go over the years. Don’t remember faces much anymore.’

Sirius sighs and clenches his fingers into a fist. ‘How long am I stuck here?’

The man laughs again, a deep rumble that reminds Sirius of Uncle Alphard and people who care about him. ‘That’s the thing, kid, no one knows for certain. It depends on how long it takes for someone to come and collect you.’

Sirius wrinkles his forehead and looks curiously at the wizard. ‘What do you mean, collect me?’

‘You don’t know anything about the afterlife, do you?’ the man asks incredulously.

Sirius can feel his cheeks burn in embarrassment and he shuffles uncomfortably under the scrutinising stare of the older man. ‘I never really thought much about the afterlife. I didn’t believe it existed,’ he replies honestly.

The man makes an odd noise in the back of his throat which Sirius takes to mean some sort of understanding. ‘Someone you know, someone you might’ve loved, comes and collects you when they’ve discovered you, well, you know, died. They take you away to ‘the promised land.’ The man snorts at this. ‘Hell if I know what it looks like. I’ve been here for decades.’

‘And what about those who don’t have anyone to collect them?’

‘Kid, you’re looking at them.’

ii. March 17, 1976

Sirius watched James’s hand run across the library table separating them, fingers mapping the valleys and hills that bruise the wood.

‘Sirius,’ he said without looking at him. ‘Sirius.’

It was a plea, one that asked Sirius to understand James’s silence because what he was about to say choked him, made him fumble over his words and curse in frustration. But this was one thing that Sirius couldn't figure out from simple gestures and tired eyes, needed to hear it from James’s own mouth.

‘James.’

The table made them feel worlds apart.

James’s hands had stilled and Sirius wished they’d kept moving, mapped the world that lay out in kilometres between them, until they were both standing on the same coordinates.

‘It’s Dad, Sirius.’

Well, now at least they were on the same page.

‘Is everything all right? Everything going to be okay?’

Sirius could see the slump in James’s shoulder, knew that everything wouldn't be fine and waited for the thin lines that outlined the world they created to disappear around them.

 

The owl came a week later.

Sirius couldn't look at James’s owl ever again without thinking of bad news and death, the end of a family that had become his own.

James didn’t talk to him at all that day, couldn’t look at him without being reminded of home and those that he loved.

But at night you can spill your guts and the darkness will curl around your secrets, keep them hidden and safe.

Sirius startled awake when he felt his mattress dip and a warm, dry hand curled around his neck.

Shh, shh, Sirius. It’s just me, the hand was saying. Just James.

‘James,’ he croaked, voice still laden with sleep. He rubbed a hand wearily across his eyes, saw the glint of the moonlight off James’s glasses. ‘You all right?’ Are we all right?

‘Yeah, yeah.’ His voice was soft and Sirius’s heart clenched at hearing usually cocky, in-your-face James Potter sound subdued. ‘I couldn’t sleep.’

Sirius grunted as he slid over, making room for James in the too-small bed. ‘C’mere,’ he said, let me help you.

James sighed, was hesitant as his fingers picked at some stray threads on Sirius’s duvet.

‘Hey, hey,’ Sirius said, his fingertips brushing against James’s knuckles. ‘It’s all right.’ No one has to know – the dark will hide your breakdown.

And James gave up, gave in, pulled the duvet up and slipped under, cold feet brushing against Sirius’s leg. James rested his head in the crook of Sirius’s neck and clutched tightly to his best friend, his saviour now.

‘We should’ve expected it.’ His voice was muffled against Sirius’s neck and Sirius could feel the vibrations down to his bones, held on tighter to James. ‘He was old. We should’ve known.’

‘Don’t be stupid,’ Sirius mumbled into his hair. ‘You don’t ever want to think about your parents, or anyone, dying.’

‘You don’t ever think about it, Pads?’

‘Dying?’

Sirius could feel James nod into his shoulder. Sirius sighed and rubbed soothing circles on James’s hip, skin warm beneath his hands.

‘I don’t know. It’s kind of morbid, don’t you think?’

‘No – not really. I mean,’ James sighed and curled in tighter towards Sirius, towards warmth, ‘like, the afterlife. Have you ever thought about what it’d be like and – and who you’d meet? What would I say to my father when I see him? ‘Gee, thanks for leaving me when I was sixteen, dad. But I certainly had a blast with you while you were alive’? It’d be so fucking awkward.’

Sirius snorted. ‘You actually believe in that bull? Of seeing the light and a life after death?’

James raised himself up on one elbow, glanced at Sirius through bed-tousled hair and calculating eyes. ‘You don’t?’

Sirius shrugged. He was raised on purity and aristocracy, not religion, and knew nothing about an afterlife or spirits, of burying people with prayers for redemption in mind. He knew only about dark magic and dark deaths, kept secret and unspoken of; prayers were kept for silent nights alone in bed for a life outside of the one he was born into.

‘I’m indifferent,’ he said finally, tugged at James’s shirt sleeve, pulled him back down.

‘You can’t be indifferent,’ James argued. ‘You either believe in it or you don’t.’

‘Fine, then, I don’t believe in an afterlife,’ Sirius conceded. ‘It’s not…practical.’

James groaned and pinched Sirius.

‘Ow! What was that for?’ Sirius muttered, rubbing his arm.

‘We’re talking about life after death, Sirius. No one said anything about practicality. I mean, we live in a world where we have spells for everything and creatures Muggles have never heard of. If you were an outsider, or a Muggleborn, you really think a world like ours would be practical?’

‘You know what would be really practical?’ a voice mumbled from the next bed over. ‘Being asleep at three in the morning.’

James bit his lip and smiled half-heartedly. Sirius thought it was better than nothing, better than tears even.

‘C’mon, James, let’s go to sleep, yeah?’ Sirius entreated, burying his face into James’s hair.

‘Sorry, Moony,’ James said. ‘G’night.’

James yawned, slipped a leg between Sirius’s, and threw an arm across his waist.

‘You’ll be okay, James,’ Sirius said, his fingers finding skin, drawing patterns, bringing comfort.

James breathed heavily onto Sirius’s neck, sleep came easier now that he was safe in the arms of Sirius. And Sirius knew James would be all right, knew James was always stronger than him and, after a few days, would be able to pick himself up and carry on.

Sirius pulled James’s glasses off and set them on the bedside table beside his bed.

‘’Night,’ he whispered, and pressed a chaste kiss above James’s brow before he slipped into a dreamless sleep.

iii. June 7, 1996

Sirius spends the beginning of the next day walking around the room he’s confined to until someone comes to collect him. The room is dim – the only light source is from a couple of lanterns hanging from the low, sloping ceiling – and slightly damp. There are two doors. The door in the south-east part of the room holds the bodies of those who have fallen through the veil like a tomb; Sirius has already been through this door, seen the evidence that let acceptance come easier than he expected. The other is dead-set north and Sirius isn’t quite sure where that leads. He can see a faint ray of light coming from the crack between the door and the floor and assumes this is his only exit, but he can’t even turn the doorknob.

‘Hey,’ he says as he approaches a young woman standing by the door. ‘Is this the way we get out, when someone comes to get us?’

The woman continues staring forward as if she didn’t hear Sirius.

‘Hey,’ he says again, placing a hand on her shoulder.

The woman’s head snaps toward him as she starts shrieking. ‘No, no, no,’ she mutters, pulling away from him and scurrying over to the other side of the room.

‘Huh, that was weird.’

Sirius shakes his head and tries again, and again, and again. Every occupant in the room, aside from the old man with the fedora hat, ignores him or goes into a complete frenzy as he approaches them. Sirius gives up even trying and walks back over to the bench. He sits down, pulls a leg up and wraps his arm around it, sighing.

‘So,’ Sirius starts, and he picks at a hole in the knee of his jeans, his fingers dancing up and down his leg, itching for something to do, somewhere to go. ‘So what’s the average waiting time before you’re collected?’

‘Bored of me already?’ the man retorts. ‘I knew I was bad company but most people can last a few days longer in my presence.’

‘Not bored of you,’ Sirius replies, ‘but bored of this. Waiting and not – and not being able to do anything but sit here picking at the dirt beneath my fingernails.’

‘You got someone waiting for you?’

Sirius thinks of James, of the night he found him dead and found Harry, surrendered his life to Hagrid, exchanged his freedom for twelve years in Azkaban.

Sirius says softly, ‘Yeah, yeah I do.’

The man makes a pleased noise. ‘I’ve heard that tone before. Significant other?’

Sirius sighs. ‘No, my best mate though. We were like brothers.’

‘Pity. He must’ve died young, eh? That’s always too bad,’ the man says, looking Sirius over. ‘You don’t look that old yourself.’

‘It’s because I’m not that old. But yeah, James was young, had a kid too. It was a damn tragedy.’

‘Well, at least you get to see him again. Bet you’re looking forward to that.’

‘It’s probably the only good thing about dying,’ Sirius mutters. ‘I feel like I had just started living again, you know?’

The man grunts. ‘Isn’t that how it always goes? The big guys up there…’ The man points a shaking finger towards the ceiling. ‘…see that you get yourself a new life, a happier life and then they snatch it away because they don’t think you deserve it or something.’

He shakes his head. ‘But I did deserve it, damn it!’ he yells, smacking a hand down on his bony knee. ‘And then bam! one day at work, I fall through that bloody curtain. I had myself a new mistress and everything. And let me tell you,’ the man leers, ‘my sex life – ’

‘Okay, whoa!’ Sirius exclaims, jumping up off the bench. ‘I don’t need the details.’

The man grins at Sirius. ‘Your loss, kid. But I’m telling you, I’ve got some real fascinating stories I could share with you.’

‘No wonder people get sick of sitting here talking to you. Why doesn’t anyone else here talk? Why can’t I strike up a conversation with someone normal who won’t tell me about their sex life when they’re like, fifty years old.’

‘Hey!’ the man exclaims, smacking Sirius in the back of the head. ‘Just because I’m fifty-six doesn’t mean I can’t have sex. I’m not that old.’

Sirius shudders. ‘But it’s like talking to my grandparents about sex. That’s, that’s just wrong.’

‘Keep digging that grave, kid.’

‘Hey, hey, you’re the one who brought it up,’ Sirius points out, cracking his neck. ‘So what about the others? They either don’t talk to me, or they go crazy and still don’t talk to me. Do they…are most of them mute?’

‘Nah, just, after being stuck here for so long, people don’t have much to talk about anymore. They close in on themselves, you know? I think half of them are insane – only talk to themselves, those nutters.’

‘What about you?’ Sirius asks. ‘How come you didn’t close in yourself, go insane, or whatever?’

‘I like giving you headaches and bringing up my sex life,’ the man laughs.

‘Yeah, that’s for sure.’ Sirius grins.

iv. June 28, 1979

The night was just as humid as the day and Sirius wiped away a drop of sweat with the cuff of his robe. He was crouched down, hidden by shrubbery and cloaked by the darkness, and eyeing the back entrance of a known Death Eater hideout. He hated stakeouts, thought they were a waste of time, and much prefered the action and physical exertion of duels.

‘Where are they?’ he muttered to himself.

He had been waiting here for three hours since he trailed two Death Eaters to the house from a pub four blocks away. They had shown no signs of leaving and the shadows cast by the candle in the kitchen indicated that they were at least still inside, still plotting.

There were loud cracks behind him, and to any Muggle it would have sounded like a car back-firing, but to a wizard and trained Auror, Sirius knew otherwise.

‘The fuck?’ he said, whipping his wand out as his eyes darted from one edge of the wood to the next, searching for some type of movement.

He saw nothing. Then he jumped as a firm hand wrapped itself around his arm and he twisted around, shoving his wand into the throat of his assailant.

‘Are you kidding me?’ he exclaimed. ‘What the fuck are you doing, James? Why’d you leave your post?’ He shook his head as he pulled his wand down, and resumed searching the wood.

James rubbed his throat. ‘I heard someone Apparate. You see anything?’ he whispered. ‘And seriously, be careful with that wand, Black. You could’ve killed me.’

‘Well you shouldn’t creep up on me, Potter,’ Sirius snapped. ‘Especially during a stakeout like this. I was being prepared and you were being careless.’

James’s eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to retort, but Sirius quickly covered his mouth and pulled him closer.

‘Shut up, James. Shut up.’

There was a snapping twig somewhere to their left and they both turned, wands at the ready.

‘No one should be out there, Sirius. What the fuck’s going on?’

‘I don’t know.’

Expelliarmus!’

Sirius ducked as a flash of red rushed past his head. He quickly regained his balance and shot a spell back into the woods, illuminating the shadows to reveal four Death Eaters making their way towards him and James.

James turned around for a brief second before shaking Sirius’s sleeve. ‘We’ve got two behind us, Sirius,’ he whispered harshly. ‘Shit. Stupefy!’

One Death Eater fell to the ground, but that didn’t stop the other five from closing in on them. Sirius was trying to aim and fire spells, but he was constantly thrown off balance by the three or four spells being aimed at his head. He barely missed a blasting curse and he fell to his knees and rolled, popping up quickly to fire Petrificus Totalus at an oncoming Death Eater.

James managed to knock another Death Eater unconscious that had been approaching from behind and pulled Sirius back through the shrubbery, snapping branches along the way.

‘Okay, okay this was a fucking set-up,’ he said between firing spells at Death Eaters, his hand still gripping tightly to Sirius’s robe sleeve.

Impedimenta,’ Sirius cried as one Death Eater came rushing towards them.

James let go and ran off to the side to cut off one of the Death Eaters who had separated from the approaching group.

‘Be careful, you idiot!’ Sirius yelled after him, before squaring off and facing two Death Eaters at once.

One sent the Cruciatus curse at him and Sirius winced as he barely missed the spell, didn’t want to imagine the pain he’d feel if he had been hit.

‘Come on,’ Sirius taunted. ‘That the best you can do?’

And yeah, maybe he had a death wish or something because he was laughing now, the adrenaline pumping through his veins like a drug. He could be on top of the world. But then there was a spell flying past his head, barely grazing him, and he stepped back, stepped away before aiming and sending another 'Stupefy.'

He missed.

‘What’s the matter, Black,’ one of the Death Eaters drawled, ‘afraid to use a little bit of dark magic? Afraid that you’ll end up like your pathetic brother with no heart and a head full of anger?’

Sirius clenched his fist tighter around his wand. ‘Don’t bring him into this,’ Sirius snarled. ‘This is between you and me.’

This time he didn’t miss and the Death Eater who had been taunting him collapsed at the feet of his comrade.

‘You got anything better?’ Sirius sneered, wand aimed at the chest of the final Death Eater.

He glanceed quickly to his side, saw James still duelling, and thought of the best way to cause this asshole the most pain possible. He wasn’t fast enough, though, and the Death Eater cried out, ‘Incarcerous,’ and Sirius was suddenly falling forward onto his face, legs and hands bound by thick rope.

‘You’re a pitiful dueller, Black,’ the Death Eater spat out. ‘And to think that the wizarding world is relying on people like you to save them from the Dark Lord’s reign.’ The Death Eater laughed harshly, playing with his wand. ‘You will not win this war. The Dark Lord will rule over the wizarding world and we will purge our society of Mudbloods and Mudblood-lovers like yourself, and your pathetic friend over there.’ The Death Eater nodded his head in James’s direction and Sirius could twist himself slightly so that he could see James on his knees, desperately trying to stop the advances of the other Death Eater.

Sirius growled and spat on the robe of the Death Eater. ‘As long as I am alive, you will never win this war.’

The Death Eater cackled. ‘Your death can be arranged, no worries about that. But it’s the method that I have trouble deciding on. Crucio!’

Sirius gritted his teeth but couldn’t stop the cry from escaping his mouth as the pain intensified. He could feel it in his bones, like an electrical current shocking every nerve ending in his body.

‘That’s the hard, painful way you can go,’ the Death Eater said, walking around Sirius full-circle, and Sirius could hear the shit-eating grin on his face despite the mask. ‘Or, I can take pity on your hopeless soul and kill you the easy way. How’s that sound, Black?’

‘Bite me,’ Sirius groaned out, breathing heavily, face buried in the dirt as the pain eases.

‘You are weak!’ the Death Eater snarled.

‘And you’re inexperienced,’ James said from behind them, before shouting, ‘Expelliarmus! Stupefy!’

James grabbed the Death Eater’s wand as he tumbled to the ground. James kicked him with his foot. ‘You should know to always watch your back,’ he said, before tossing the wand and performing a binding charm on the wizard.

Diffindo.’ Sirius felt his arms go slack and James rested a reassuring hand on his neck, pulling the ropes from his hands and feet. ‘Have a little trouble there, Pads?’ James teased, helping Sirius to his feet.

Sirius groaned and leaned on James for support, his sweaty forehead pressed into James’s neck. ‘Hey, hey, it’s okay, Sirius. You’ll be all right.’

‘I don’t think I’d ever want to wish that pain on anyone,’ Sirius mumbled as James pulled him even closer. ‘It feels like my bones are on fire. Fuck. I really thought he was going to kill me.’

‘Yeah, but he didn’t, because I came just in time to save your sorry ass,’ James said lightly, ruffling Sirius’s hair.

‘I thought I saw the white light and everything,’ Sirius insisted, lifting his head to rest his forehead against James’s.

James curled a hand around the back of Sirius’s neck and pulled his head down for a chaste kiss. ‘I thought you didn’t believe in an afterlife or Heaven and Hell. Plus, a white light would imply you were going to Heaven,’ James snickered. ‘Not sure I’d back that a hundred percent.’

‘Hey!’ Sirius cried out indignantly, punching James weakly. ‘And I don’t. But I know what I saw. Maybe, maybe it was the spell you cast to knock out the Death Eater you were duelling, huh, James?’

James shook his head. ‘Sorry, but that was blue light, not white. Maybe you were about to see the other side.’

There were suddenly five cracks that startled the both of them; James could feel Sirius tense beneath his soothing hands and he winced as the sound ricocheted.

‘James!’ a voice called out, and Sirius slumped into James’s arms, exhausted and in pain, as Lily rushed towards them.

‘Sirius!’ And Remus was there too, all of them moving in, suffocating.

Someone was checking the perimeter, making sure everything was clear, and securing the unconscious Death Eaters. There were hands everywhere, and voices, and someone was trying to pull him away from Sirius, but James wouldn't let go.

‘James,’ Lily was saying, trying to keep her voice calm and steady, ‘let go of Sirius, we need to check his wounds.’

And James was shaking his head no no no, you won’t take him away from me, because he had finally realised that he really could have lost Sirius tonight. But Remus was tugging and James thought that being a werewolf gave him abnormal strength, or something, as he peeled him away from Sirius into the arms of a slightly hysterical Lily.

Dorcas Meadowes was given the duty of checking Sirius’s injuries and Remus had now turned to James, tried to get James to look him in the eye, but all James could do was stare at Sirius’s fragile body and watch as Sirius’s eyes struggled to remain open, despite how tired he must have felt.

‘James, Prongs? What happened here?’

Lily was smoothing his hair back, whispering nonsense in his ear, and James looked dazedly at Remus, whose hands were holding his face too roughly, and not enough like Sirius.

‘I don’t know,’ James said finally, slowly, sagging against Lily as the adrenaline began to wear off. ‘But…but, I think we’ve got a traitor in our midst.’

v. June 8, 1996

‘You know,’ Sirius is saying as he sprawls out across the bench, the old man sitting beside his head, ‘there wasn’t any ‘white light at the end of the tunnel’ for me. I thought that when you died, there was supposed to be white light and God waiting for you. Instead, instead I get stuck in a dirt room with a lewd man who can’t keep his mouth shut.’

The man huffs. ‘What kind of stories have you been reading, kid? Obviously you’ve heard that old Muggle tale. Didn’t your parents teach you any better?’

Sirius bristles at the mention of his parents but swallows his pride and shakes his head. ‘What old Muggle tale?’

‘You really are an idiot when it comes to the afterlife,’ the man says, rolling his eyes. ‘But, ah, I guess I’ll enlighten you.’

‘Oh, please, if you would be so kind,’ Sirius replies.

The man ignores his sarcasm. ‘Some say it originated as far back as anyone can remember, when the magical and non-magical worlds first began to collide,’ he begins. ‘Obviously, wizards were using memory charms on Muggles to keep the wizarding world a secret. No one really knows for certain how the idea sprung up, but one day, Muggles who had had their memories erased started claiming to have been on the edge of death when they saw a bright white light, leading them to Heaven. Well, it’s quite obvious that the white light came from the memory charm, but you know Muggles, they like to tell tall tales to their young ones. Keeps them entertained and from misbehaving, you see? If they’re good, they’ll know that the white light means they’ll be going to Heaven, and the idea just grew from there.

If you ask me, they blew it completely out of proportion, because the idea of walking down a tunnel and meeting God at the gates of Heaven? Completely bogus. Sure, we have magic and we can do a lot but, creating a pathway to Heaven for every single person who dies? You’ve got to be kidding me.’ The man shakes his head and Sirius bites his lip, trying to control his laughter. ‘The things these Muggles come up with astounds me.’

‘I don’t think I’ve seen you this worked up over any story you’ve told me so far,’ Sirius guffaws.

The man seems indignant and smacks Sirius’s forehead. Sirius yelps and sits up straight, rubbing his sore head.

‘What was that for?’ he mumbles.

The man snorts. ‘For being a wise-ass kid.’

Sirius opens his mouth to retort when there is a sudden loud, echoing knock and everything just stops. Then, as though they had been practicing for years to synchronise their movements, every person turns towards the door. Sirius looks at the old man, who nods towards the door.

‘Go on,’ he says, smiling encouragingly. ‘They’re waiting for you.’

Sirius can feel the anticipation mounting and his hands begin to shake. He urges himself forward: right foot forward, left foot follows, right, left.

The room seems infinitely large and Sirius isn’t sure why he’s this nervous, why the butterflies are the size of birds as they swoop and tumble in his stomach, because this is James. And maybe, he’ll admit, he’s afraid that he won’t be anything that James is expecting and this reunion won’t be like anything he had hoped. So he braces himself, tucks his heart away so that disappointment can’t worm its way in through existing cracks, spread like a plague and shatter his already fragile heart, and grips the doorknob tightly. The knob turns easily now, without much exertion, and the door swings open.

Sirius steps back, an arm shielding his eyes as the all-too-bright light is a sudden stark contrast from the dim room, and releases a shaky breath. When his eyes become adjusted, Sirius does not see what he is expecting and there is a sharp aching in his heart as the birds in his stomach turn to a fire in his veins.

His tongue is thick is his mouth, and he clenches his fists as he spits out, ‘Regulus?!’

vi. December 21, 1979

Sirius trudged up the stairs to his flat, face smudged with mud and exhaustion nestled deep in his muscles, making every step a challenge. He reached the third floor and sighed in relief. The noise on his floor was a cacophony of spouses screaming, babies crying and teenagers blasting music far too loud and frequently. Sirius rubbed a weary hand over his face and fisheed for his keys in the pocket of his leather jacket. His fingers curled around the doorknob and the door swung open. Sirius looked up in surprise and suddenly, the tension that had been slowly easing comes back full force. His eyes narrowed and his wand came out of his pocket in a flash as he slipped past the open door. The flat was dark save for the moonlight filtering in through the window and Sirius could feel his senses heighten.

He walked into his kitchenette, found that half his loaf of bread has been eaten and someone had been drinking from his firewhiskey. He growled softly and gripped the countertop momentarily, swearing.

He heard the floorboards outside the kitchenette creak and he whipped around, his wand straight and steadily pointed at the doorway.

‘Who’s there?’ he called, the doorway hidden by shadows.

‘You really should take more care about your safety. I was able to walk right in using a simple charm,’ Sirius heard before a figure stepped forward into the moonlight.

‘Regulus,’ he hissed, fingers tightening around his wand as his eyes landed on his younger brother.

‘Sirius,’ Regulus greeted jovially.

‘Get the fuck out,’ Sirius snarled. ‘Get out! I don’t want to see you.’

Regulus raised his hands in defence. ‘I’m not armed, Sirius. I just – we need to talk. Can we talk? I need your help.’

In that moment, Regulus looked as young as he was, and vulnerable with his hair a mess and his face caked with dried blood, and something wrenched at Sirius’s heart. This was the little boy he had taken care of, looked after through childhood, and now, now he needed Sirius’s protection again. But Sirius pushed his thoughts aside, replaced compassion with anger and shook his head fiercely.

‘No, no. Get out, get out! I don’t want to speak to you!’ He rushed forward and grabbed Regulus by the collar of his shirt, dragging him towards the door.

Regulus tried to put up a fight but he was weaker compared to Sirius, always had been, which was why Sirius had had to always look out for him.

‘Lily and James are expecting a child, aren’t they?’ he spat out.

Sirius glared at Regulus and threw him to the floor. ‘Don’t you dare speak of my friends ever again,’ he said, a hint of a threat lacing in his words. ‘I swear to God I’ll kill you myself if you even mutter their names.’

Regulus managed a bitter, hollow laugh before sighing and dropping his head to the hardwood floor beneath him. ‘Don’t have to worry about that, brother. I’ll be dead soon. The others will kill me.’

‘Good. You deserve it.’ Sirius’s eyes hardened as he stood menacingly over his brother. ‘Now, get out of my flat.’

‘Sirius,’ Regulus said, a little desperately now, ‘Sirius, listen to me. There is a prophecy…’

‘Stop, stop!’ Sirius yelled. ‘I don’t want to hear your lies. You’ve had your share of food and alcohol. Now get out before I kill you with my bare hands.’

Regulus whimpered softly as he scrambled to his feet, making his way towards the door. Sirius followed inches behind him. When he reached the doorframe, he turned around quickly and gave Sirius a look of sympathy.

‘I’m sorry, Sirius,’ he mumbled before Sirius slammed the door in his face.


Sirius was slightly drunk, celebrating Christmas Eve with James and Lily when the owl arrived. He sobered immediately as he skimmed through the ‘we’re sorry for your loss’ to find that Regulus had been killed, a victim of a quick and painless Avada Kedavra. Sirius shook his head and laughed grimly when he thought that his brother wasn’t even worth the Death Eaters’ time to torture.

James read the letter over his shoulder and wrapped an arm around his waist, head bumping into his shoulder.

‘Hey, you okay, Pads?’ he mumbled, breath tinged with alcohol and warm against the back of Sirius’s neck.

‘It was his own fault,’ Sirius said defiantly. ‘He’s the one who got into that mess when he was too young and too rash. He didn’t understand the consequences. It’s his own fault.’

Lily looked at him sadly, gripped his hand tightly and kissed his cheek.

‘It’s okay to be upset about it, Sirius. He was your brother,’ she reassured him.

Sirius shook his head and cleared his throat. ‘No, I won’t be upset about it. When I ran away from home, I ran away from Regulus too. He’s not my brother anymore.’

James held on tighter to Sirius and nuzzled his neck. ‘I’ll always be your brother, Pads.’

Sirius sighed and slipped his hand over James’s, nodding. ‘I know.’

vii. June 8, 1996

Regulus has been eighteen years old since 1979. His hair is still dark, eyes still bright and unwavering and his body is not a victim of age and grief, like Sirius’s, like everyone who survived the first war. Sirius can feel the lump rising in his throat, looking at his younger brother who appears just as innocent and vulnerable as before.

He swallows and shakes his head. ‘No, no,’ he says, stepping back into the dim room. ‘What are you doing here? Where’s James?’ He looks around frantically, eyes landing on the old man who looks on with some sort of sympathy.

‘I’m here to collect you, Sirius.’ Regulus looks anxious and out of place, his hand rubbing the back of his neck – a sign Sirius recognises to mean that he is nervous.

Sirius is silent for a few moments, staring hard at Regulus, caught someplace in between anxiety and hate. He pulls his hair slightly and bites his lip, sighing as Regulus waits patiently for him.

‘I’m going to Hell, aren’t I?’ Sirius whispers finally, looking at Regulus with something akin to dread in his eyes.

Regulus bursts out laughing, a real hearty laugh, and Sirius, Sirius hasn’t heard Regulus laugh like that since they were children, and it makes his heart swell.

‘There’s no such thing as Heaven and Hell,’ Regulus says, still chuckling, beckoning Sirius forward to cross the line that separates the waiting room from the afterlife. ‘But your comment certainly doesn’t surprise me. I really was a rotten brother.’

‘So – so there’s just an afterlife?’

Sirius is hesitant and it isn’t the first time he’s ever felt uncertain; the nervous knots that twist and tug are no stranger to a man who’s had expectations to meet his entire life.

Regulus nods. ‘Just an afterlife. I’m merely a messenger sent to collect you. I have my own life to return to. But James and Lily are waiting for you.’

Sirius sighs and takes a step forward towards Regulus. He feels like he’s eleven again and walking down between the House tables in the Great Hall on his way to the Sorting Hat, to where his future was decided and his friends were made.

‘Well, goodbye,’ he says, turning slowly to wave to the old man. He frowns for a moment. ‘I don’t think I ever got your name either.’

The man grins. ‘I’m Gabriel. It was a pleasure meeting you, Sirius,’ he replies with a wink.

Sirius snorts and crosses over the line just as the door to the waiting room closes behind him with a resounding thud.

‘Welcome to the afterlife, Sirius,’ Regulus says.

Sirius blinks. He had been expecting bright white light (enveloped in innocence, salvation for the sinners) or wide open, rolling fields to lounge around in with loved ones, talking and catching up about time lost. Instead, he’s met with the grey slab and busy sidewalks of London.

‘Follow me,’ Regulus says, keeping one hand on Sirius’s shoulder to guide him.

Sirius’s feet follow a familiar path. He remembers walking these streets, feeling the concrete drag out for kilometres beneath his trainers.

‘Where are we going?’ he asks, taking in the sight of buildings he hasn’t seen for years – twelve years of Azkaban may have broken his body, but not his memory.

Regulus smiles softly. ‘You’ll see.’

Sirius continues following Regulus, reminding him of a time when Regulus would have followed him blindly anywhere; Sirius realises that Regulus must have invested a lot of his trust in him when he was younger, wonders if he still does.

Sirius stops when he’s standing in front of an old, run-down building.

‘You’re kidding, right?’ Sirius stands in shock before walking up the stairs, fingers dancing along the black coiled rail that lines the stairs.

The door opens to reveal James and Lily, both still twenty-one and beautiful, youthful, standing with their arms around the other’s waist. Lily smiles at Sirius affectionately, stretching out her arm to pull him into a hug.

‘I’ve missed you, Sirius,’ she admits.

Sirius grins into her skin, planting a kiss on her collarbone. ‘It’s been a long time, Lily.’

He pulls away and looks up at James, his eyes shining and his heart threatening to burst.

‘James,’ he says softly.

James steps forward and wraps Sirius tightly into a hug. ‘Welcome home, Sirius,’ he breathes.

Sirius buries his face into the crook of James’s neck and smells all that is James: sweat and dirt and something delicately James, and clings tighter.

‘Let’s go inside,’ Lily suggests, smiling warmly.

Sirius turns to say goodbye to Regulus, but finds him already gone. His heart feels heavy, knowing that he never had the chance to apologise to Regulus for turning him away that night, to say that he never meant to leave him behind to pick up the pieces of an already broken family.

James looks at Sirius knowingly. ‘Don’t worry, Sirius, he knows. He’s always known.’

Sirius nods and follows Lily and James up the stairs to his old flat, feeling like he’s eighteen again and alive, at peace with himself as he’s reunited with those that he once lost.

James turns and grins. ‘Can you believe it?’ he asks, throwing an arm around Sirius’s shoulders as he ruffles his hair. ‘We’re together again. I always knew we’d see each other again.’

Lily fiddles with the doorknob and the door to his flat swings open. James plops down on one of Sirius’s old armchairs, stretching his legs out over one of the arms as Sirius sinks into the deep cushions of his favourite chair by the window.

‘So,’ James starts, ‘you need to tell us everything.’

Lily sits down in an adjacent chair. ‘How is everyone? Remus and Harry? Are they all right?’ she queries.

‘What have you been doing since we last saw you?’

Sirius takes a deep breath and opens his mouth, fifteen years of memories spilling like secrets through his teeth.

 

It’s late before Sirius actually realises the time and he feels the familiar ache of exhaustion settling in. Lily has fallen asleep, hair fanned out on the cushions and mouth slightly open. James is looking at her fondly as the dimmed light in the room casts shadows across her face.

‘When we heard the news that you had died,’ James says quietly, dragging his sight away from his wife, ‘Lily was worried that there would be some mess up and we would never be able to see you. She almost panicked when we didn’t get a message telling us that we had to pick you up.’

Sirius smiles and watches the rise and fall of Lily’s chest. Breathe in, breathe out. ‘You weren’t worried at all?’

James scoffs. ‘No way. I knew we’d see you eventually. Not even death can tear us apart, Pads.’

‘Wow, that’s so cliché,’ Sirius snickers.

James shrugs and stretches his legs out, pulling himself up off the chair to sit at Sirius’s knees. He leans his face against rough denim and sighs.

‘How are you coping with all of this Sirius? Honestly.’

Sirius runs his fingers through James’s hair. ‘I don’t know. The transition – it’s a lot easier than I expected. I’m just…I’m just glad that you’re here with me, James.’

‘Me too, Pads.’

They sit in a comfortable silence for a few minutes before Sirius asks, ‘James, earlier, when you said that Regulus knew that I was sorry – how did you know?’

Sirius can feel the stretch of lips against his leg through his jeans and James looks up at him, the smile still on his face.

‘There’s a mutual understanding between the two of you,’ James says. ‘I think now you fully understand why he did what he did and the sacrifices he had to make and he realises the same of you.’

James scrambles up into the armchair and squeezes in between Sirius and the arm. It’s as though they’re fifteen again, sharing secrets and beds. He rests his head on Sirius’s shoulder.

‘And I’ve come to a realisation about you too, Sirius,’ he murmurs.

Sirius hugs James close, knows this is the closest they will ever get now, knows it’s the closest they’ve ever really been. ‘What’s that?’

‘You still blame yourself for mine and Lily’s death.’

Sirius looks at James sharply. ‘Let’s not discuss that now, James. It’s been fifteen years.’

‘Exactly!’ James exclaims. ‘Fifteen years and you still blame yourself.’

Sirius is silent, refuses to look at James though he knows James is trying desperately to look him in the eye.

‘Sirius,’ James says, pressing a kiss to Sirius’s forehead, sweeping away stray hairs from his eyes, ‘Sirius, it’s not your fault.’

Fuck you, James,’ Sirius hisses. ‘You don’t understand the torment I went through in Azkaban because of what happened. You will never understand that torment. How can you – how can you just come right up and crawl into my fucking head, telling me that it wasn’t my fault?’

James growls in frustration. ‘No, no, I know I won’t understand that, but I do understand that what happened that night had nothing to do with you and everything to do with Peter.’

‘It was my idea to switch. My idea to put your life in the hands of a traitor.’ Sirius brushes away a tear.

‘Stop it, Sirius. Stop blaming yourself.’ James puts his arms around Sirius and hugs him fiercely.

‘I’m sorry, James,’ Sirius whispers. ‘I never would have wished this on you. You know I would have rather died before you. I’m sorry.’

James sighs and clasps his hand with Sirius’s. ‘I know. I don’t blame you. These things happen for a reason. It was my time to go. I wasn’t happy about it – I didn’t want to miss out on Harry growing up, or being able to see you and Remus become such fine, distinguished gentlemen…’ Sirius rolls his eyes at this, presses closer to James. ‘…but I learned to accept it. That there wasn’t anything I could do to reverse what happened. And you need to learn to accept that too.’

‘I’m trying, James.’ Sirius closes his eyes and rests his head against James’s shoulder.

‘Go to sleep, Sirius,’ James whispers, placing a kiss at his hairline. ‘I’ll be here when you wake up.’

‘Goodnight, James,’ Sirius yawns, his breathing becoming slower and steadier as he drifts into sleep.

‘I forgive you, Sirius,’ James murmurs, lips brushing Sirius’s temple. Sirius sighs but James can feel the tension easing from his body. ‘I forgive you.’