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Chapter 7: Seven
Of all the phrases could describe Sirius Black, 'morning person' was not among them.
After six years of rooming together, no one was likely to wake him unless a significant portion building was on fire but reason seemed to be on a perpetual holiday as James yanked the pillow out from underneath Sirius' head with a swift jerk and thumped him on the back with it. "Oy! Did I hear you were snogging Lily Evans in front of Honeydukes yesterday?" he asked.
"Piss off, James," Sirius muttered. Through the haze of sleep, he could make out only every other word but "snogging," "Evans" and "Honeydukes" came through clearly enough and he rolled over, tugging the blankets up over his head to drown out the noise of his reply.
The walk back from Hogsmeade had been both exhausting and restorative, and when Lily begged off to return a book to the Library, he'd taken the opportunity to wander the corridors. Hogwarts Castle was, in it's own right, a wonderfully quiet place. It's numerous inhabitants - from chatty portraits, wandering poltergeists, bewitched armor and noisy students - were loud but, when they'd been stripped away, the stone corridors were insulating and utterly silent. Two floors up, the sounds of dinner being served in the Great Hall were barely whispers as he wandered. When he finally did return to Gryffindor Tower, it was well past midnight and he stumbled into his bed clumsily, the hangover already setting in. James' disruptive greeting less than four hours later was nothing if not unwelcome.
"Piss off yourself," James fired back, annoyed now. "The hell are you doing snogging Evans?"
There was an edge of anger in his tone that was discernible even to Sirius but the fact that the room seemed to spin around him whenever he opened his eyes made him ill-disposed to care as he threw back the blankets and sat up. "First off - what I do with my time is no concern of yours, particularly not at six thirty in the morning. And second, I wasn't 'snogging Evans' anywhere."
"I saw you leave with her," Alfred interjected, pulling on a sock.
"What I do with my time is never a concern of yours," Sirius spat, rising up to his full height.
"Why look, it's breakfast," Remus announced hopefully, looking at his wrist. "And you've got Quidditch practice in an hour. You two are going to have to shelve this for a later date," he added, clapping James on the back and directing him toward the door.
"Are you coming?" Peter asked, lingering at the exit a few seconds longer. Sirius didn't answer him, just shaking his head before collapsing back into his mattress again.
"Is he coming?" Remus asked under his breath when Peter emerged from the room, shutting the door behind him.
Peter shook his head stiffly, his eyes on James. Already half-way down the stairs, he was still edgy, pushing past people when the reached the common room and nearly knocking a first year off his feet as he walked by him at the portrait hole.
"Oy, wait up!" Remus called behind him, doubling his pace to catch up and grabbing James by the sleeve in the hall outside. "You two aren't really going to fight over a girl, are you?" he asked incredulously, raising an eyebrow. Just then, the most unfortunate person who could have appeared crawled out of the portrait hole behind them - Lily.
Whether it was a bruised ego or an overblown sense of betrayal that had James on edge, his disposition wasn't improved when Lily stopped long enough to say good morning to Remus and then continued on her way without so much as a word to James or Peter. "Wo - James, come off it!" Remus yelled after him, turning away from Lily to find James stalking away in the opposite direction. "Oh for Merlin's sake. Peter, will you go and find out what has him in such a twist?" he asked, throwing his arms into the air with exasperation and rolling his eyes.
Peter did as he was asked, jogging down the corridor after James, leaving Remus alone in the hall, now just as irritated as everyone else had been. "Un-bloody-believable," he muttered, glancing at his watch before setting off in the direction of breakfast.
When Sirius finally did get up, the sun was already high in the sky. No one, not even Alfred, had come back to the room since they'd all gone down to breakfast and he was grateful for the silence when he awoke. The sleep had been anything but restful as his subconscious mind grappled with the question he'd been avoiding when he was awake, still, it was partially due to that fitful sleep that he'd reached into the far depths of the wardrobe, not for jeans and a t-shirt, but for a somber sport coat and a tie.
The tiny bag of Floo Powder felt heavy in his hands, the velvet cool against his skin, the embroidered crest turned deliberately to his palm, as he descended the steps into the common room, far too overdressed for a Saturday morning but no one was there. Whether it was dumb luck or cosmic design, the room remained empty long enough for him to toss a handful of the powder into the fire and mutter his cousin's address before stepping into the flames.
When he stepped out on the other side, careful to avoid the walls of the fireplace for their soot, a tiny girl, Andromeda's daughter, Nymphadora, screeched his name. She couldn't have been more than knee high and he rhair shifted through at least a dozen shades in her excitement as she ran across the room. He opened his arms and knelt down to scoop her up only seconds before she collided with him, throwing her tiny arms around his neck.
"Not shy, this one," he remarked to her mother, still standing a few feet away at the piano.
"For the person who always smuggles her sweets she isn't supposed to have? I should think not," she replied, reaching out to rumple her daughter's now lilac hair before scrutinizing her cousin more seriously. "How is your brother?" she asked, her eyes fixed on the faint traces of a scar that ran across his temple.
"Still a complete tosser," he answered uneasily.
Before the mood could turn tense, Nymphadora began tugging at his lapels. "What did you bring me?" she asked. Sirius forced a smile and fished in his pocket for a treat, handing her a chocolate frog before setting her back down.
"Don't get that on your clothes, young lady," Andromeda ordered as she disappeared into the kitchen. They both listened until the sounds of tearing paper gave way into giggles as she chased the candy, Sirius's gaze drifting from the doorway back to the piano, settling on the photos. She watched him as he crossed the room, forgetting not only her but himself to pick up one of the frames and examine it more closely. He looked more than tired - he looked exhausted. Even his skin looked pallid in the bright, artificial light of her sitting room.
"We were just playing," a six year old Sirius argued as his father yanked him up by the arm. He could feel the blossom of bruises forming under his shirt sleeve as he struggled to move his legs fast enough to keep up with his father's larger gait, his knees smacking hard against the front steps as he was being dragged up them and back into the house.
"You would do well to remember that we don't mix with their kind," Orion warned him, letting go of the boy as if he were something grimy and unpleasant. "Get out of my sight," he ordered a second later, the disgust dripping from his every word.
Sirius did as he was told and disappeared to his bedroom. It was stark in comparison to the other neighborhood children. There were no pictures or posters on the walls - no children's books lining shelves. Instead, his shelves were filled with treatises on the importance of purity, text books on dark magic he was made to study though could scarcely comprehend, let alone practice and a few ancient family albums, filled with photographs of similarly cruel faces.
From his ornately carved desk, he drew out a small bag, intricately embroidered with the family crest - their motto sewn into the fabric with a sparkling silver thread - and poured the handful of marbles out onto the floor, flicking them with his fingertips. The soft, tinkling sound of their collisions drowned out the sounds of yelling for a time, until the shouts became louder and impossible to ignore.
"What is the harm in him playing with the other neighborhood children?" his Uncle Alphard was asking, his tone remaining reasonable despite his volume.
His mother's more haggard, frantic response came far more shrilly, "Oh surely you would love it if I were to let him play with the filthy little muggles. It might be nice for you not to be the only filthy member of this family Alphard." There was a pause for a moment - either as she collected herself or simply wound up for the next round of screaching - before she started in again. "I won't let him turn out like you - a disgrace to his proper heritage. Get out! Get out!"
"Stop blaming yourself, Sirius," Andromeda interjected, calling him away from his musings. "It wasn't your fault."
He didn't answer, but it was no matter as Ted poked his head in from the hall, a few black umbrellas tucked under his arm. "Are we ready then, Andi?"
She stole one last glance at Sirius before nodding her head and shouting for her daughter. "Time to go, Nymphadora! Come and put on your jacket."
The ride, wedged into the back seat of the car next to a singing toddler was, as anticipated, lengthier than Sirius might have liked. She sang along with the radio, making up words or replacing them with sounds as she went and kicked her feet against the seat along with the music. Her carefree laughter seemed an eerily fitting punctuation to the somber occasion as they pulled into the cemetery, the paved road turning first into brick and then into gravel before Ted pulled the car to a stop.
"Do you remember what we talked about, Dora?" Ted asked, coming around to open her door and pluck her from her carseat.
"No funny business," she answered merrily shifting her hair back to brown. A half-dozen blue bubbles had escaped her lips as she'd spoken, the gum smacking loudly on her tongue.
"Did you give her Droobles?" Andromeda asked as one of the bubbles floated out of the car door and drifted away, disapproval evident in her tone.
Sirius merely grinned. "There's no on here to notice it, Andi," he teased, heavy emphasis on the nickname she loathed most of all.
She hesitated a moment before electing to let it go, elbowing him from underneath her umbrella instead.
It proved impossible to keep ones mind from lingering over the reason they were all there as the gravel crunched loudly under their feet while they walked. It was the only interruption to the silence of the empty graveyard, the four of them the only living souls in sight. They passed nearly a dozen headstones before reaching their melancholy destination - a single, white slab of marble surrounded by a seemingly spontaneous outcropping of white chrysanthemums.
Sirius hesitated before approaching it, taking a deep breath as if it would help him control the flood of guilt, regret and sadness threatening to overtake him. At first glance, the headstone looked like any other - a name and a series of dates carefully carved into its surface but, upon closer inspection, it revealed a far more intricate design. A twisting snake wrapped around the Black Crest, the single center star - the heart of the beast - seemed to twinkle or shimmer under the rain as it wound itself around the etched dates and a single phrase - Tojours Purs.