Chapter 4 : Cursed Gryffindors
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“Sirius, we have to talk,” his uncle’s stern voice was low, causing Sirius to jerk to attention.
Sirius looked to his parents, who were still in deep conversation at the dinner table. The long wooden table, inlaid with intricate carved scrollwork, glistened from its recent polishing. The crystal had never sparkled quite so bright and the mounds of food stretched from one end of the eight foot long table to the other, even though the five of them took up only one small end. Cat’s hard work put to waste, Sirius thought silently as he watched her lay another dish of food at his mother’s place. Like many of the other delicious dishes, his mother pushed away this one as well, her sharp tongue directed at Cat’s insolence. Sirius could tell her words were stinging, but he admired the way Cat’s face remained placid against each insult his mother tossed out. As usual, she nodded obediently and retreated to the kitchen. She shot Sirius a conspiratorial look behind his parents’ back before disappearing. “Is something wrong?”
“That’s what I want to find out but not here.” He exchanged a meaningful look with Sirius.
Sirius thought briefly of his planned adventure with Cat - they had intended to sneak out and kidnap some garden gnomes to leave in Regulus’ bed while he was sleeping - but the tone in his uncle’s voice told him this was definitely more important. “Of course.”
“Meet me in the back garden as soon as you can.”
Unlike normal, his uncle walked away without so much as a hug or well wish which told Sirius something big was going on. His parents didn’t even notice his uncle’s absence – he usually left unannounced when he’d had enough of their pureblood ramblings and they were used to it. Vaguely, he wondered if his uncle’s unease had anything to do with the new visitors that had been frequenting Grimmauld.
“Sirius, this dinner is for you. You’re leaving for Hogwarts tomorrow and you can’t sit still long enough to have dinner with your family? Disgraceful.” His mother’s voice was cutting. She turned her attention to Sirius, ignoring Cat who was waiting with another dish of food. She waved her off and Cat winked at Sirius as if to tell him it was now his turn to accept the abuse.
“I’m rather tired, Mum, with all the plans,” Sirius lied coolly, forcing his eyes not to follow Cat into the kitchen. “Would it be acceptable for me to go to bed?”
“Now?” her voice raised another notch and she dropped her utensils to give him her full attention. “We have people coming later.”
Sirius’ eyes flickered as he nodded. “I don’t want to be too tired tomorrow, it’s a big day.”
“Oh, let the boy go to bed,” his father waved Sirius away. “Probably has some last minute hexes he wants to learn before going to school and meeting up with all those damned do-gooder cursed Gryffindors.”
Sirius nodded without comment and slipped out of the room before his mother could respond then turned off to go out the back door to go meet his uncle.
The dark twilight made the grounds eerie and Sirius wished for Cat’s company. Since her appearance at his home over a month ago, they had become thick as thieves, as she called it. She knew the grounds almost as well as he, and the darkness of Grimmauld had always tied his stomach in knots. He quickened his pace to find his uncle. When he finally reached him, Sirius was surprised to see his uncle with a drink in hand. His uncle had never been one to drink in front of him, unless it was a holiday or special celebration. Even then, it was limited to mead or wine and never anything stronger. But here alone in the Blacks’ gardens, an empty discarded bottle and another half gone in his hand, told Sirius his uncle was far from alright. Moving aside the empty bottle, Sirius sank down beside him onto the garden bench. “What’s wrong?”
“Have a drink, Sirius.”
Sirius took the bottle from him obediently and took a small sip of the bitter liquid. He immediately made a sour face and handed it back. “Is this about the people visiting the house?”
“No, it’s about Cat. Wait,” his uncle turned a dark look his direction. “What people?”
“What about Cat?” he asked at the same time.
His uncle waved his hand in the air. “One thing at a time and I’m pretty sure mine will take longer so you first. What people?”
“Well, if you hadn’t been away for over a month we wouldn’t have to play catch up,” Sirius said bitterly. “And I don’t know who they are. Just a bunch of your average dark wizards. Only one I remember is one named Voldemort.”
“Voldemort? He was here at Grimmauld? You’ve met him?” His uncle shook violently next to him. Too young to understand his uncle’s terror, Sirius blamed it on the abundance of whiskey he’d consumed.
“Loads of times,” Sirius nodded.
“Maybe I was wrong. Yours might take longer than mine.” He took another drink and offered one to Sirius who took it begrudgingly. “Sirius, I’m sorry I haven’t been around lately. I know it’s hard on you. You know I’d take you away with me if I thought I could, don’t you?”
“Would you?” Sirius couldn’t hide the hurt in his voice and he cursed himself for it. Why was Cat able to conceal all emotion from anyone and Sirius couldn’t seem to hide a thing?
“You doubt me?” His uncle shook his head before Sirius could respond. “Of course you doubt me, I’ve deserted you most of the summer, why wouldn’t you?”
The devastation in his uncle’s voice caught Sirius off-guard and he immediately felt guilty. He knew his uncle cared for him, perhaps even loved him if there was such a thing. And here he was…acting ungrateful to the one person he considered his friend. He chastised himself and mentally promised to never do such a thing again if he ever managed to gain friends of his very own. “I’m just tired is all.” Sirius handed the bottle back to him. “I’m sorry.”
“Never be sorry for telling the truth, Sirius. And as for being tired, might that have something to do with those late nights you’ve been spending with Cat?” His voice held no notes of amusement as usual, but only a weary resigned observance.
Sirius hesitated, his mind filling with excuses and plausible reasons for their escapades. How had his uncle learned about them anyway? They had been careful not to let anyone, even Regulus, see them prowling about the grounds.
His uncle pat his leg. “There’s no need to lie about it. Your parents don’t know so just relax.”
Sirius nodded, but took another sip of his uncle’s drink to settle his nerves.
“You two have become quite the pair, it seems. Disappearing for hours on end, slipping into the passageways late at night not to return until daylight nears.” His uncle’s voice was soft rather than accusing. “I’m afraid you’re playing with fire, Sirius...tempting fates that don’t need to be tempted.”
“We aren’t doing anything wrong,” Sirius answered quickly.
“And exactly what would you classify as wrong?”
Sirius was quiet, unsure of what his uncle expected him to say. He reached for the drink, but his uncle stopped him.
“I think you’ve had enough. Besides, it won’t make it any easier.”
“Make what easier?”
“You and Cat,” his uncle swallowed. “You seem to have gotten over your fear of her embrace.”
“Oh.” Sirius’ face turned red and he smiled. “Father gave me that talk ages ago.”
“Yes, I can just imagine what your Father told you.”
“We’re just friends. Honestly,” Sirius explained firmly, choosing to ignore the harsh bitter tone that filled his uncle’s voice. “She’s a hell of a lot more fun than Regulus.”
His uncle didn’t respond but sank back against the bench, his eyes drifting lazily from one moonlit shadow to another. Sirius had the urge to flee…he’d seen his father drunk many times and there was always a brief moment of introspection in which you could escape without fear of facing a raging drunken tirade. But Sirius refused to believe that his uncle would turn on him and he tried to relax in the quiet. He sat silently, waiting for what seemed like an eternity for his uncle’s senses to come back to him.
“Is she better about her mother?” He coughed slightly as he struggled to sit up.
“Yes, she is,” Sirius answered then lowered his voice as he helped his uncle straighten himself. “Are you?”
He could feel his uncle’s eyes cut toward him. “Pardon?”
Sirius didn’t answer, but waited patiently for his uncle to respond. Over the past several weeks, Sirius’ nagging feeling about Cat’s mum and his uncle wouldn’t go away. He wasn’t sure exactly when he’d come to the realization that there had to be something between them, but Sirius didn’t doubt his conclusion. His uncle could deny it, but so strong were his feelings, Sirius knew he still wouldn’t believe him.
“This isn’t a conversation you and I should be having. Maybe in a few years…”
“And who should you be having it with?” Sirius argued. “Going to go run and tell my Dad you were involved with a muggle?”
“Watch your tone, Sirius.”
Sirius dropped against the bench in frustration. “You tell me everyone is equal. You’ve been blasting my ears with lectures about it since I was three. But when it comes down to it, you are just as ashamed of muggles as the rest of the Blacks.”
“No, no, no.” His uncle’s voice was furious and filled with disbelief but Sirius didn’t care.
“You went off and slept with some muggle and now are ashamed of it. You feel guilty because she’s dead and so you blackmailed my Dad into letting Cat stay here. Exactly what part of that is unlike a Black?”
“Enough!” His uncle jumped from the bench. “You want me to act like a Black? I’ll curse you to Azkaban for talking to me in that damned self righteous know-it-all tone!”
Sirius rose to stand in front of him, his voice defiant. “I suppose that answers my question as to whether or not you are better, now doesn’t it?” Sirius fought to hide the uncontrollable shaking he felt coming on, but failed. He’d never seen his uncle so angry, much less angry with him. His emotions tumbled, his stomach churned, the whiskey made his head feel fuzzy and he stumbled to the ground as he tried to run away from his uncle. The idea that he might have lost his only ally in the Black household made him long to be off exploring the safety of the passageways with Cat. Sirius tried to stand but the nauseous feeling washed over him before he could react. His dinner spewed onto the soft green grass, the rancid smell causing his stomach to wretch again. Sirius struggled to his feet, tears of anger, hurt and embarrassment spilling down his cheeks. Squaring his shoulders, he wiped his mouth and eyes with his sleeves, refusing to turn and face his uncle. “I’ll see you later.”
But Sirius only got a few wobbly paces away before his uncle pulled him back. “Sirius, I’m sorry. Please stay.”
The broken look on his uncle’s face made Sirius hesitate. The dizziness overwhelmed him again, but his uncle’s strong arms wrapped around his shoulders, helping him sink to the ground with some sense of dignity rather than allowing him to fall again. They sank onto the soft grass, neither speaking as they waited for their emotions to dissipate. His uncle handed him the bottle of whiskey and a handkerchief as a peace offering and Sirius took them without comment.
“We are all we have, Sirius,” he said finally. “We can’t afford to lose that, no matter how old you get. We are going to fight and argue especially as you age and begin to think you know everything. But we can never, ever, let what happened tonight happen again. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Sirius answered simply, his nervous heart rate returning to normal. “I know I made you uncomfortable. I know that. But if I didn’t call you on it, you wouldn’t ever tell me a thing.”
“Why do you feel it’s your right to know?” his uncle asked quietly, his voice urging Sirius to think.
“I have no right,” Sirius admitted. “I just want to know.”
His uncle sighed in exasperation and defeat. “What do you want to know?”
Sirius had a dozen questions about the relationship he wanted to ask. He wanted to know how they met; what they saw in each other; if it was love or just what his father used muggles for; and he wanted to know why her death had devastated his uncle to the point of him pulling a wand on Sirius. But mostly, there was one thing that tugged in his mind at least a dozen times each day. He didn’t know why, but it tied his stomach in knots and gave him nightmares whenever he tried to sleep.
“Is Cat your daughter?” he asked solemnly, twisting the handkerchief into a tight rope as he spoke.
His uncle raised his head, a look of utter confusion on his face. “Why on earth would you want to know that?”
Sirius shrugged. “It’s just the one question I think I need to have answered.”
“Hm.” Sirius' question had apparently been an unexpected one and his uncle pondered him for a moment. “And you two are just friends? No snogging in the dark corridors or anything like that?”
“No!” Sirius answered quickly. “I swear!”
His uncle grinned and winked, causing Sirius to relax considerably. “Well, I’m afraid that might change if I answer your question.”
“She’s not your daughter, then?”
“No.” His uncle shook his head. “She’s too old. She did take me by surprise, though. Rosemarie, that’s her Mum, never mentioned a thing about having a daughter.” A smile crept onto his uncle’s lips and Sirius knew he must be lost in memories.
“You knew her a long time?”
“Years,” he answered nodding. “She was the most amazing person I’d ever met. Her husband died not long after they were married. We started spending more and more time together as the years went on and well, one thing led to another. I wonder who took care of Cat during all those times,” his uncle mused thoughtfully.
“Her grandmother until she was about eight,” Sirius provided. “After that, she was pretty much left on her own whenever her mother disappeared.”
His uncle took hold of Sirius’ arm, gripping it tightly. “Sirius, you have to understand, I didn’t know she had a daughter. I never would’ve taken a mother away from her child. I would’ve welcomed Cat as my own if Rose had given me the chance.”
His uncle seemed almost maddened with grief and Sirius had no idea how to respond. “I know,” he whispered simply.
“I just don’t know why she never told me,” his uncle said softly, unable to hide the hurt in his eyes.
“Well, I imagine you had your secrets from her, didn’t you?”
“Touché,” he answered and then smiled half-heartedly. “You seem to have learned a lot about Cat since I’ve been gone.”
“We talk a lot. She’s pretty nosey if truth be told.”
“Growing a bit attached to her, are you?” he asked with forced laughter.
Sirius grimaced. “She says I have the emotional depth of a toadstool.”
“Then, either she doesn’t know you very well or you aren’t being very honest with her.”
Sirius dropped his head and glanced away rather than respond.
“Sirius?” his uncle touched his shoulder. “Sirius, what is it?” His voice was normal again… caring; loving; understanding of all Sirius’ questions and doubts.
“I can’t be honest with anybody,” Sirius murmured. “Outside, if I tell someone I’m a Black they either start backing away or start fussing over making me happy. Inside the house, I can’t tell anyone what I think of their so-called pureblood hysteria.”
“And what do you think about their pureblood mentality?”
“I think we’re no better than anybody else.” Sirius lowered his voice. “In fact, half the time I think we’re worse.”
His uncle draped an arm around Sirius’ shoulders. “It’s a terrible place you’ve been put in, Sirius. Maybe going off to Hogwarts will give you the chance to finally be a kid. You know, raise a little hell and stop being so damned responsible for once in your life.”
“Maybe.” Sirius pulled away. “I’ve got to go. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day.”
“I’m sorry for tonight, Sirius. You shouldn’t have had my problems on your shoulders. You carry a heavy enough weight as it is.”
Sirius nodded rather than answer and quietly returned back to his room. He wasn’t sure why the conversation with his uncle made him feel so uneasy…perhaps it was because it was the first time he’d ever had to say goodbye to anyone.
Sirius sank onto his bed, lost in thought. Somehow, he didn’t think leaving had much to do with it. The relationship with his uncle and a muggle hadn’t surprised him, but the depth of his uncle’s heartache was frightening. Sirius didn’t know it was possible to feel that strongly about someone. He tried to imagine what it would be like to lose his parents or brother, but he only had a vacant sense of relief and Sirius immediately chastised himself for thinking such a thing. Whatever had caused his uncle’s pain, Sirius knew it was something he never wanted. He never wanted to be broken like Rosemarie’s death had broken his uncle and he vowed to never let someone have such control over his life. Love might be alright, but what his uncle and Rosemarie had? No, that definitely wasn’t something Sirius would ever let happen to him.
His thoughts drifted to Hogwarts. He couldn’t believe it was finally time to go. He had dreamed about leaving Grimmauld for as long as he could remember. Getting to choose his own friends…maybe even James Potter would be sorted into Slytherin with him. After all, they were both purebloods. Sirius knew James had it in him to be a trouble maker and his mind whirled with the mischief possibilities that had to exist at Hogwarts. Sure, the teachers would be strict, but after ten years of avoiding his mum, Sirius didn’t think any professor had a chance at catching him. Besides, even if he had to behave, he was at least out from under his parent’s control. That alone was worth behaving for.
Sirius didn’t stir as he felt Cat sink onto the edge of his bed. At some point over the last month, he had gotten used to having her appear in his bedroom and, in fact, had learned to welcome the distraction of her presence.
“Everything okay with your uncle?”
“He’ll be fine,” Sirius nodded. “Just a little wisdom to impart before I left.”
Cat knew he was lying…she could always tell. But unlike everyone else he knew, Cat never pushed him for more than he wanted to say. She paused briefly, but only briefly, at his lie as if giving him a chance to say more. When he didn’t, she smiled. “Telling you to be good was a waste of breath.”
“Actually, he advised raising a little hell.”
She was pacing the room now, nervously picking up objects and then placing them down again. She hadn’t acted this way since her first night at Grimmauld and it made Sirius uneasy. “Sirius.”
Something in the tone of her voice made him sit up. He wasn’t sure how many more revelations he could stand in one night, but the way Cat said his name told him she was about to say something important.
“I’m not good at being alone.”
Images of Knockturn Alley and his father’s disastrous run-in with some half-blood women that wouldn’t obey him flickered in Sirius’ mind. “Cat, you have to be good. If you get caught sneaking around – "
“No, that’s not…nevermind. Just nevermind.” Cat shook her head. Sirius caught a look of determination in her dark blue eyes, but it was gone so quickly Sirius thought he’d only imagined it. “I’ll see you soon, Sirius.”
Although she started to walk away, she quickly stepped back and placed a soft kiss on his cheek. “Take care.”
Sirius watched her go, the puzzlement in his mind growing bigger with each step she took. When she was gone, Sirius sank back onto the bed, his mind in a daze. It was just a peck on the cheek after all. It really wasn’t anything.
Why, then, for the first time in his life, did Sirius find himself not wanting to leave Grimmauld?
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