All characters in this story belong to J.K. Rowling. The poem belongs to T.S. Eliot.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house and fell asleep.
From underneath two layers of old sheets and a moth-eaten brown blanket there rose a pulse: a slow, but steady undulation. If one looked closer, or pulled the bedclothes back, they would find a young man lying still and pressing his head against a dirty pillow. He was undressed, for he liked the feel of the fabrics against his bare and youthful skin. He had chosen this position after spending several hours nursing a bottle of Firewhiskey, and getting angry with the futility he found there. His warm breath slid from his mouth and through several strands of hair that were plastered against his face. This was the perfect end for a birthday.
The rain that had begun to fall outside was making a clinking sound on the couple of empty glasses that Sirius and James had left on the windowsill. The breeze that pushed in into the room tickled the young man’s feet until he awoke. He wiped the hair from his face and the sticky remains of drool from the corner of his mouth before throwing off the sheets and easing himself out of bed. He walked to the window and pushed it closed, looking out over the empty street and into the windows of the neighbouring houses. He stretched his back, hearing several sharp cracks resound through his bones as he did so. “Twenty one years old,” he said to himself, running his hand through his long hair. He shrugged a sigh and turned back to face his Spartan room. A pile of dirty clothes was huddled in the corner, and a few books were gathering dust under his bed. He had left many things behind when he moved out from under his parents’ control, and even over the past few years he had not built up his collection of personal possessions. He never saw the need. He walked over to the pile of dirty clothes and picked out a pair of underpants, pulling them on then taking a moment for another long stretch. The same echo of cracks came from his back.
He was not as drunk anymore; he had managed to sleep most of it off. He had not been overly drunk in the first place; he never needed to be completely drunk. There was a character in between his sobriety and his drunkenness that he was attracted to. This was the playful and attractive man that people fell in love with. He tripped over the empty bottle of Firewhiskey on his way back to his bed, causing him to fall onto the mattress with a force that shifted the bed frame. He rolled himself over and looked at the ceiling, stretching his legs out along the length of the bed and running his hands over his chest. “How many women have wanted to touch Sirius Black’s body?” he asked himself. “How many women have already touched it?” He let out a small, confident laugh. His fingers pulled back the waistband of his underpants and he bent his head to look at himself. “You’re not going anywhere, are you?” he asked, and then let his head fall back once again, the elastic he had been holding snapped back against his skin. A bark escaped his mouth and he repeated the action several times over, enjoying the sound and the sensation it made. He was losing his mind.
“What is it going to be like to get old?” he asked. He pinched the paunch of his belly, and wondered how it would look after years of bad food and too much alcohol had stretched it. “A man should think about these things when he reaches a certain age,” he rolled onto his side and propped his head up with his hand. He felt the hairs of his beard that were protruding through the skin of his jaw. “And twenty one, isn’t this the most important age that there is?” He twisted his mouth one way and then another, lost in thought. He was thinking about James and Remus. James had already passed his twenty first, and Remus was soon to be sidling up to his. It had all happened so quickly, and he finally realised what people meant when they said that times creeps up on a person.
He tried to picture himself as an old man. His skin was sallow, and he was balding. He had spent the past ten years being referred to as “Mr. Black”, and “Sir.” His back hurt, and he needed increasingly to sit down. When he saw himself, he was alone. He never imagined himself as the marrying type, but in this vision he was not amongst friends either. He supposed they were with families, perhaps even dead. Remus would not be dead, Remus was careful. Remus was probably his best friend at this point, he imagined that they played chess on rainy nights and insulted one another’s past relationships over glasses of Firewhiskey. Yes, that would be how it would happen. He would grow old and cantankerous with Remus. He was hardly a pretty face to look at for the rest of his winter years, but he was a friend and trusted companion. Moreover, he was a good laugh.
Sirius looked over at the clock on the wall. It was four in the morning, only a couple of hours before it would get light outside. He wondered if he should try to sleep again, or if he was beyond sleep. He propped his hips up and slid his underpants off again, throwing it to the pile in the corner and getting up off of the bed. “Perhaps some cold water will tell me what I need to hear,” he said, walking out into the hallway and to the bathroom. His feet stuck to the cold tiles on the floor as he flicked on the shower and stepped into it. The cold water slid down his bare chest, finding its way through the hair on his legs and into a puddle at his feet. He leaned his head back and wet his hair, opening his mouth for a moment to allow some water to drip down his throat.
“What if I were to die, right here?” he thought, feeling the slickness of the tub with his foot. “I could slip, my head could hit the side of this tub, and I could bleed to my untimely death in less than an hour. I could say goodbye to endless evenings of playing chess with Remus.” The shampoo he had massaged into his hair was now mingling with the water on his chest, little bubbles sticking and popping on his skin. “Will I die?” he asked the emptiness, his voice reverberating off of the walls. “Will I die?” he repeated. Repetition, it was something he hated, yet something that was comforting.
He shut off the shower; the soap was not yet washed out of his hair, but he had had enough. He wrung the water out of his hair, and stepped from the shower. Not bothering to grab a towel, he tracked water down the hallway and into his room. He walked to the window and opened it again, letting the cold breeze try and dry him. “I won’t die,” he said, finally. Did he dare say why not? He put his forehead against the glass of the windowpane and looked down once again at the street before him.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”
--from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot.