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Chapter 1: One
Brink was supposed to be the story that I worked on to scratch the angst/romance/drama/humor itch whenever original fiction wouldn't allow it. It was supposed to be the thing that helped me move forward. Unfortunately, characterization issues that seemed menial at the time are making the story impossible for me to rework so I’m taking a break from the break to get a better handle on my characters .
I know I normally say that things are unedited (because they are) but this wasn’t' even composed in a real word processor - I wrote it in the web version of DarkRoom which is really just a glorified version of notepad. I wrote it in-between phone calls and I've barely read through it enough to remember where I've been. It's an exercise, so please don't judge me too harshly (for this anyway :P)
“That was in Witch Broomstick last month, wasn’t it?”
James and Peter’s interest had drifted from a debate on the finer points of skiving off classes in favor of broomsticks. Interested though he usually would have been in discussing the merits of the Comet against the Nimbus, the nervous atmosphere had the hair on the back of his neck standing on end and he was too uneasy to follow the conversation for more than a few inane phrases. “Remus,” he said quietly, catching the most reticent of his friends by the elbow. “I have some errands to run on the other side of the wall. I’ll be back a half hour.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. “I’m surprised they let you come at all, knowing we would be here. I’m not sure being out there is the best…” Remus trailed off, not finishing the sentence in the face of Sirius’ bemused expression.
“They don’t let me do anything, mate,” Sirius replied, patting Remus on the shoulder and mixing out into the crowd.
Despite the knowledge that the air on the Muggle side of the Leaky Cauldron was exactly the same as he’d been breathing amongst the throngs of witches and wizards moments before, he couldn’t help but savor the taste of fresh air on his tongue. There were days, like today, when suspicious glances from shoppers and schoolmates were enough to make him long for life in the Muggle world. To be sure, magic wasn’t something to be traded or bartered and he knew, no matter how hard he may try, he would never be able to truly escape the world in which he lived but, on occasion, he wondered what it might be like to exist beyond the reach of the Dark Lord.
It was almost disappointing when he reached his destination – the small storefront coming into view much sooner than he’d expected. Pushing open the door to the jingle of little bells dangling from the handle, he started for the counter but stopped a few feet short.
"Lily Evans?" he asked, wearing a sardonically surprised smile. Before him Lily stood, frozen with surprise, her finger wrapped tightly around the album she'd been inspecting when he noticed her. "Fancy seeing you here," he teased, still mocking.
Diagon Alley was always a bustle of activity in the weeks before a new term at Hogwarts began and it didn't surprise him to see her there. What surprised him was to find her not in Flourish and Blotts but rather, on the other side of the brick wall, in a record store no less.
He waited a few beats for her to respond - either to storm off or say hello - but she didn't make any effort to reply, evidently as surprised to see him as he'd been to find her. Extending a hand to pluck the album from her grasp, he tried again, flipping it over to examine the cover art. "I didn't have you marked for the kind of girl who would wander off by herself at a time like this," he observed, part patronizing, part genuine concern.
"Why should I worry when there are individuals like yourself out there to rush in and protect me," she shot back acidly, reaching out to snatch the album back again. Her cheeks flushed crimson - not with embarrassment but with fury.
"If i didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to hurt my feelings," he teased, yanking the record out of her reach before she could get it from him.
Glaring at him for only a fraction of a second, she considered her options before turning away in a swirl of frustration and red hair. "Clearly, you don't know me very well," she chided, thumbing through the records again.
It wasn't more than three breaths before she braved a glance in his direction. She found him watching her, the same rakish smile playing across his lips. Embarrassed, she stammered as she searched for something to say, trying to mask her discomfort. "Aren't you in a bit more danger here than I am?" she managed finally, gesturing to the room at large - her implication clear.
Sirius snorted a laugh - the sound ringing disingenuous even to his ears. "Lily," he started, the temporary rapport he'd felt with her evaporating in an instant. "You're thick if you think the people keeping an eye on me would be worried about something as inconsequential as a visit to a record store. If you're hoping for a way to get rid of me, they might be forced to do me in if they thought I were considering diluting the family blood line with a Muggleborn girl such as yourself. Though," he added as an afterthought. "That might prove more dangerous for you than for me."
He didn't have to watch her expression to know that it was shifting from irritation to anger and then sinking into utter revulsion as he spoke. "You're disgusting," she mouthed, the bitter taste of his words coloring her own.
"You're going to have to do better than a cold reproach to get under my skin," he replied, still smirking. His original pursuit long forgotten, he dropped the album back onto the shelf in front of her and turned to walk away. “And really, Lily, Wouldn’t You Like It?”
As he pulled the door open again, the little bells tingling their melody, she opened her mouth to stop him – regretting her admonition. “Sirius, wait!” The apology was evident in her tone but he didn’t hear her – already on the sidewalk outside.
Once, in the course of a Divination assignment gone horribly, horribly, awry under the late Professor Negilla, James and Remus opted to describe a vision in which they saw Sirius' mother, in a fit of kindness, declare an undying affection for her eldest son. It was meant to be a joke - the kind of jab they'd all taken a time or two when things with his family were proving particularly problematic. In any case, it took them the better part of a quarter of an hour to decide what word to choose to describe her but no more than a few seconds to describe the house - looming.
The house on Grimmauld Place did nothing if not loom. It's height loomed over the street. The ornate architecture loomed over the other houses. Even its blackened windows - darkened not by shades but by magic - loomed over anyone who dared stand at its stoop.
"Dissendium," he whispered, approaching not the front steps but a gargoyle positioned menacingly a few steps away from it.
"Skulking around again, Sirius?" his father asked. Sunken low into a high-backed arm chair, nestled into one of the many dank corners this house had - all far too convenient when one wanted to disappear.
"I didn't want to wake anyone," Sirius lied automatically, his grip tightening around his school bag. It was full to the brim with new books, potion ingredients, robes and a few of the other things he couldn't face another term at Hogwarts without.
His father smirked, getting up. It was the first time they'd spoken since Regulus' ill-conceived birthday celebration two weeks ago and the mere act of remaining in his presence brought forth a bitter bile in his throat. "I had someone go back into London and pick this up for you," he said conversationally, extending a parcel from the shadows. "Your man seemed to think the little mudblood your friend is so infatuated with had you too distracted to finish your shopping."
"Is that all?" Sirius managed through clenched teeth, not making any move to take what his father was holding out for him.
"Is it took much to expect for a father to be able to have a conversation with his son?" Orion asked, dropping the album into Sirius's bag.
The obvious hostility in his question, however well he'd controlled his tone, had broken their convivial ruse and Sirius' free hand closed into a fist reflexively. At sixteen, Sirius met him eye for eye, shoulder for shoulder, but one too many nights spent peaking through the banister made him all too aware that his father's strength wasn't in his size. Suddenly, he regretted pocketing his wand. "You made it fairly clear I was no son of yours," Sirius pointed out, turning toward his room
"How dare you walk away from your father, you ungrateful, muggle loving, half-witted..."
His mother's shrieking was so high-pitched that he didn't hear his father muttering a curse behind him - didn't see it coming until it was too late and his skull was colliding against a candelabra on the wall. In the distance, the liquor bottles clattered out of his bag, shattering as they landed. He hit the floor only a few seconds later shards of glass, laced with alcohol digging into his skin.
It took his father a full minute to coax his mother back from the brink, her rage spewing forward even though its target was drifting in and out of consciousness. In his flickers of lucidity - in the mere seconds before the searing pain overwhelmed him again - he could hear them talking, his father's voice placatory and reassuring.
"There's no point in being upset," he simpered, taking a few steps toward her.
From his limited vantage point, Sirius could see only the hems of their cloaks rustling across the floor, but he heard her muttering under her breath as she walked away, her tiny kitten heels pounding against the hardwood. "As for you," Orion sighed, turning his attention back to his son. He hooked his shoe under Sirius's arm, pushing him over onto his back. Sirius fought against him, only going limp when his father cut off his oxygen, resting his shoe on Sirius' throat. "Don't ever forget where you come from, Sirius," he warned. "That is the last time I ever want to hear of you fraternizing with a mudblood." Releasing him with one final tap of his heel against his chin, Orion turned away, stalking down the hall.
His father was gone before he could muster the strength to pull himself up, the edges of his vision still blurring with each breath he took. On his feet again, he drew his wand from his robes and took the stairs two at a time, following the sound of voices into the sitting room. Regulus was the only one who looked surprised to see him, getting to his feet at once. "What happened?" he asked, his concern genuine and immediate. If Sirius had been able to see himself, Regulus' concern would have made more sense.
His hair was matted - caked with blood - and shards of glass stuck out of his face at odd angles, refracting the light eerily.
"Stay put," their father ordered, reaching out to stop his younger son - their pride and joy. Regulus did as he was told - his eyes shifting between the two of them, clearly still afraid. "Sirius, you should go back upstairs and clean yourself up. You look a mess."
Sirius shook his head, despite the pain, his glance stealing toward his brother for only a fraction of a second. "Regulus ought to see first-hand what name he's so eager to protect."
"As long as you bear the name of Black you will be mindful of this family's legacy or so help me I will make you mindful," Orion warned, getting to his feet and brandishing his wand again.
"I don't want it anymore," Sirius answered, his own wand at the ready.
Orion's next words were an order. "You will not walk away from us."
The two of them glared at each other for only a fraction of a second - their hatred palpable - before his mother was in the fray as well, her expression far removed from that of his brother. A wild fury played across her gaunt face as she descended upon him, pushing him toward the stairs and barking at him in words too garbled to be understood.
It was the first time in his young life it had ever occurred to him to raise a hand to his mother. Gripping her emaciated arm he threw her back, shaking his head all the while. "I don't want it anymore," he repeated, cutting a beeline for the front door.