Author’s Note: Most of you who have been with me for awhile know that my author’s notes almost always say something actually important (go figure!). In this case, I’m offering a warning for a subject not really covered under the ToS except as “sensitive topic/issue/theme”…This chapter includes a scene (via memories only) of animal cruelty. It’s handled maturely, it’s not graphic, serves an important purpose in the plot line and the repercussions of the event are also described as characters face the outcome of their actions. I do not, of course, condone any such behavior but children can be cruel and thoughtless and it sometimes takes years for them to realize the error of their ways. In that vein, let me introduce you to the origins of Padfoot…
Origins of Padfoot
Sirius tightened his winter cloak around his throat, the draft of the front door causing him to shiver just a little. His uncle stepped inside briskly, shaking off a layer of glistening snow with a grin.
“Ready to go?”
“I need to check on Regulus first, if you can wait.” Sirius murmured distractedly and then lowered his voice. “She’s in the stables.”
“Perfect. I’ll give my regards to your parents and then we’ll set off.” He winked conspiratorially and brushed passed Sirius toward the dining room as Sirius set off upstairs.
“Regulus?” Sirius tapped lightly on the door as he opened it. He’d expected him to still be sleeping off his Christmas cheer and was surprised to find him doubled over the edge of the bed retching into the waste bin. He couldn’t withhold the chuckle that escaped his lips.
“Shove it, Sirius,” he managed through broken gasps.
Sirius frowned and conjured a damp towel. Kneeling down next to his brother, he pulled the hair away from Regulus’ face and wiped down the sickly sweat that was beading on his forehead. “Lay back down,” he ordered, pushing Regulus back onto the bed and covering him with a blanket. He sank down on the edge of the bed as he continued to wipe his face. “Better?”
Regulus nodded his thanks. “And don’t lecture me. I learned my lesson.”
“No more drinking?”
“Not any time soon,” Regulus chuckled. “What about you? How did the party go?”
Sirius shuffled off the bed, dropping the towel onto his brother’s chest. “Fine. Get some rest, Regulus. I’ll make excuses to mum for you.”
“Sirius,” Regulus’ whispered voice made him turn. “It’s true, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he answered nodding, withholding the urge to pull Regulus into a hug. “She’s marrying him and from the sounds of her, she deserves him.”
“No one can do better than Narcissa if that’s where you are going with this.”
Sirius laughed and returned to the bed. “Everyone can do better than Narcissa.” He knelt down on his knees and grasped Regulus’ arm. “You are a Black, Regulus. You can do so much better than her and you know it. Don’t let anyone make you settle, understand?”
Regulus nodded. “Thanks, Sirius.”
Sirius nodded, swallowing the bile rising in his throat as he slipped into the hallway. Just as he turned from shutting the door, a piercing voice cut through the hallway.
“Such a commendable speech from a boy absolutely devoid of any noble traits of a Black.”
“Morning mother,” he murmured.
“What would possess you to think you have the right to tell him anything about being a Black? You’ve done nothing but act like a blood traitor to us since the day you were born.”
Sirius curbed the biting remark he wanted to issue. “I had hoped to give you at least one son to be proud of, mother. Surely, you can’t find anything wrong with that.”
“Indeed,” his uncle’s voice cut in between them. “For once, it appears Sirius is doing your bidding, doesn’t it?” He offered her a wide smile. “You don’t mind if I take him off your hands, do you?”
“Keep him for all I care,” she huffed. “He’d only help Regulus if he saw something in it for himself.” She narrowed her eyes as if to study him but Sirius quickly moved away.
“I’ll have him back tonight sometime.” His uncle tugged on Sirius’ arm. “Come, Sirius.” He led him down the hall a few paces before speaking again. “Are you all right?”
“Fine.” He could feel his uncle’s eyes searching him but refused to give in. He wasn’t going to let his mum ruin this day or any other day again. She would have Regulus but she wouldn’t have him. “I’m sure Cat’s freezing, we should get a move on.”
His uncle nodded, his brief look of malcontent not going unnoticed by Sirius. “By all means then, let’s not keep her waiting any longer,” he managed with a forced smile. “Think we can get her into trouble today?”
“If we get caught, we’ll all be in trouble,” Sirius countered grinning.
“Wouldn’t much be worth it if we didn’t, now would it?”
Cat stepped out tentatively from behind Sirius and his uncle as Diagon Alley opened up to her. The skyline was interrupted by awkwardly jutting buildings that looked as though they'd been designed by children with no sense of gravity. The bustling crowd murmured and hummed along, occasionally odd words like 'hex' or 'wand' jumping out at her, filling her with a sense of delight and rekindling some of the childhood fantasies she'd concocted...where wizards and witches and magic were real. The people were dressed in ornately flowing robes of the finest silks and velvets, causing them to appear as brightly colored wrapping paper jostling about in the wintry wind. A sudden bang caused her to jump back behind them. The air was temporarily alight with a shower of sparkles as two young boys ran off laughing and Cat couldn’t miss the look of mischief Sirius had on his face as they dodged the street patrol.
Something caught her eye in one of the shop fronts and she dashed towards it, tugging Sirius along behind her. A Christmas display unlike anything she'd ever seen and far more magical than anything in the shop front of Harrods Department store…it was Santa's workshop, a common favorite of any window dresser, but this one had very real, very ugly elves, who looked very disgruntled at the prospect of wrapping presents. Periodically a Christmas tree near the center of the street would spout a stream of stars and streamers from its top, covering the festive shoppers and caroling elves (Sirius explained that they were actually gnomes, most likely under magical contract to perform but she’d chosen to ignore him.)
As they continued down the street, the window displays seemed to become more fantastical: Christmas trees with snow that fell from nowhere and was never cold; baubles that floated down the street wishing everyone a happy Christmas and all matter of magical creatures dressed in holiday attire. She ignored the repeated requests by Sirius and his uncle to stop for food until they finally forced her into a nearby pub with threats of taking her home if she didn’t allow them sustenance.
Cat trailed behind, her focus flitting from one thing to another, each as extraordinary as the last. Her eyes were still wide with excitement as they finally managed to drag her into The Leaky Cauldron for a sit down meal.
Tom, the barkeep, hobbled towards them with something that looked like an orgy of colored wool perched precariously on his balding head.
"What can I do you for, Messrs Black?" "
“Just a couple of menus, Tom, and a jug of pumpkin juice for starters."
Tom bowed and after conjuring three menus, he ambled off, complaining about his joints. Cat fidgeted in her chair like a two year old hyped up on sugar, beaming at them.
Leaning down to whisper across the table, she murmured, "We're sitting in a magic pub!" As though they had somehow missed that when they came in. She read her menu and was caught between feeling ill and delighted at the choices: 'Slug Stew', 'Cobra Schnitzel', 'Lamb roasted with dragon bile'.
"I, um, I think I'll have the pea soup,” she feigned a smile as she choose the only thing that seemed edible.
Sirius smiled at his uncle. "I think you'd be better off going with steak and kidney pie."
She looked slightly green, "It's not...human kidney, is it?"
"Not here, it isn't,” his uncle said grinning over his mug and exchanging a smile with Sirius.
Cat shut her menu. “Perhaps you two can order for me and just not tell me what it is until after I eat?”
“Wise choice,” his uncle nodded approvingly. “Don’t mean to put a damper on the day,” he began as Tom took their orders and then conjured the meals for them.
“Then, please don’t,” Cat responded without looking at him, her eyes intent on the pinkish red liquid in the bowl in front of her. She glanced questioningly to Sirius, wondering what he had ordered her, but he would only smile.
“Sirius, I need to talk to you about Regulus.”
The silence that fell over the table put everyone on edge. Cat shifted uncomfortably, Sirius dropped his utensils and his uncle seemed unnerved by their reaction.
“Apparently this needs to be a longer conversation than I intended,” he murmured, eyeing the two with curiosity. “I only meant his drinking.”
Sirius sighed and Cat returned to eating, her eyes still avoiding the others.
“You took good care of him this morning, Sirius. Is this a regular event?”
“No,” he shook his head as he ate. “At least this is the first time I ever seen him drink and he certainly didn’t act too found of the outcome.”
“Good.” His uncle nodded and then smiled. “And you, Sirius? Have you taken a liking to drinking?”
Sirius avoided the impish grin Cat sent him. “Not particularly. Why, is it a problem if I do?”
His uncle laughed. “No, I was merely going to order a brandy with dessert to celebrate our day and thought I’d get one for you if you like.”
“I think coffee all around is more appropriate,” Cat scowled. “Last thing I need is to be trying to find my own way home with the likes of you two drunk as skunks.”
The laughter echoed across the room and his uncle nodded.
“The lady wins. Coffees to go, Tom,” he said, waving to him. “And one more stop before we leave town.”
“Only one?” Cat frowned. “Is it that late?”
“We’ll come back again one day. I promise,” he took her arm as he spoke, threading her back outside and into the crowd. “You’ll love this store best of all.”
Cat nodded and turned to link her arm into Sirius’ as the trio walked. “What did I eat anyway?”
Sirius opened his mouth to answer but, luckily the store appeared around the corner and Cat’s mouth dropped open. Situated a few feet above the ground, the glistening store with frosted windows seemed to rest on a cloud of snow. Light flakes sprinkled over them and just as Cat was wondering how they were supposed to get into the store, she felt herself rising slowly above the ground until she was standing in the doorway.
Sparkling glass cabinets filled with jewels, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds lined every corner of the room. Near the back, crystal trays showcased brilliant silver pieces like lockets, bracelets and even tiny little spoons for newborn babies. Family crests bedecked in various jewels hung along the walls and Cat attempted to pick out the Black crest but Sirius refused to give her any hints. She reached to touch a silver trinket box, lifting its lid and causing a lilting voice to carry throughout the store. The shoppers seem to fall under a trance and only the three of them seemed immune. She played with it, opening it and shutting it, watching in amusement as people would awaken from their daze and then go blank again. Apparently one of the shopkeepers finally caught on and the next time she closed it he wrenched it out of her hands causing the trio to hurry off to another part of the store.
They were just considering purchasing some tiny silver barrettes as a memento for Cat when they noticed the shadow in the mirrors lining the glass cases along the wall.
His uncle saw them a split second before Sirius did. Cat, a few paces away, was ogling a locket that seemed to talk back to you, had missed their presence altogether.
“Cat,” Sirius hissed quietly. She jerked to attention immediately but remained with her back turned to him.
“Well, Malfoy, what a pleasant surprise,” his uncle greeted smiling. “Out for a bit of Christmas shopping for the wife?”
“Silly holiday,” he murmured. “I supposed you’re looking for jewelry for your mother, Sirius?”
Sirius nodded. “Have any suggestions for me, sir? I’d be greatly obliged. I understand she thinks your taste is fine.” As he had hoped, the elder Malfoy beamed brightly.
“I do tend to make the ladies happy with my choices. Come with me, boy, and we’ll see what we can find for her.” He took Sirius’ arm, who cast a single glance back at his uncle who nodded approvingly.
“Oh, nice to see you again,” he turned unexpectedly and Sirius could se his uncle blanch. With one swift move, he pushed Cat backwards and through the open cupboard door. He leaned against it heavily.
“Delighted, as always,” he murmured. “Hurry up, Sirius. Choose your gift so we can get on home.”
“Yes, sir.” Sirius pulled Malfoy toward the cases, distracting him as best he could. It seemed like hours before he finally found something he felt suitable for Mrs. Black and Sirius couldn’t believe he was going to have to pay so much money for a gift he never intended on giving. But, if it kept Cat safe, he was happy to do it.
By the time he hurried outside to meet up with them, they were yelling loud enough to be heard back in London. He tried to hush them and, although his uncle immediately quieted, Cat couldn’t be calmed. She was lashing out at him, calling him horrid things and blaming him for putting her in the position of being caught.
She spun herself tighter as she screamed at him, her verbal attacks causing her uncle to pale as they grew more pointed and accusatory. But when she hissed that he had no right to act like he owned her and that she was neither his slave nor house elf, Sirius had to grip his uncle’s arm to keep him from collapsing.
Sirius stood between the two, uncertain of just how to calm the situation. His uncle hadn’t meant to hurt Cat’s feelings and he certainly wasn’t trying to act like he owned her. He had been trying to protect both of them…the Blacks would never stand for the two of them to be friends much less being seen out in public together. Cat’s scathing accusations were causing his uncle to recoil and he seemed simply unable to defend his own actions.
Although Cat’s voice was still filled with anger, Sirius saw her break. It was merely a shift in the shade of her blue eyes but, he recognized it immediately from the first night he’d met her. His uncle had made her feel cheap and used, as if he was ashamed by her presence. As angry and vulgar as her words were, Sirius could tell she was near tears.
Wordlessly, he slipped his hand around her waist and she silenced immediately. With hardly a glance at his uncle, Cat slid into Sirius’ arms and buried her head in his chest. He could feel the rake of her teeth on his shirt as she bit down in an attempt to keep from falling apart in front of everyone. Her fists were clenched into tight knots and, although she wrapped her arms around his waist, the tension in her body wouldn’t release.
“I think I’ll take her home now,” Sirius murmured quietly, as his uncle reached out to caress the top of Cat’s head. “You’ll be okay?”
Although he asked the question, he didn’t wait for his uncle’s answer. Instead, he offered him a half smile of encouragement and disappeared out the back door with Cat. She didn’t let go of his arm the entire trip home and followed him straight to his bedroom. Prying her loose from him, he offered her a blanket and then watched her quietly curl into a ball at the foot of his fireplace. The crackling firelight cast eerie shadows over her tired form and Sirius dug his hands deeper in his pockets as he watched her. He wanted to explain to her that his uncle hadn’t meant anything by his actions but somehow, he knew she already knew that. Why she had suddenly reacted so violently he had no idea but she didn’t seem to want to talk about either.
“Can we have some cocoa, Sirius? With peppermint sticks and marshmallows?” She asked finally, sitting up in the darkness. “Will you get in trouble?”
“No,” Sirius shook his head and conjured two mugs of steaming hot chocolate. “And stop asking me that, alright?”
Cat nodded and cupped the warm mug in her hands. Something tickled in the palm of her hand and she almost dropped the mug as she jerked away. Tiny little reindeer figures were marching around the mug in unison, sending off sparks of colorful red and green stars that were shooting off the edges of the mug. She smiled in gratitude as Sirius attempt to cheer her but it wasn’t the reaction Sirius had expected. Tilting his head toward the mug, the reindeer began singing a badly off key Christmas carol, determined to get her to laugh.
God rest ye merry hippogriffs, let nothing go your way;
Two devilish boys they did bite
This lonesome Christmas day
“What’s a hippogriff?” she asked quietly, as the words of the song began to sink in.
“A creature that will bite you and kill you if you disrespect it,” he answered sinking down beside her as she allowed herself a small laugh.
“Like your mum,” she giggled as she sipped the hot chocolate. “Please tell me this isn’t how you sound when you sing.”
“Black,” she returned quickly but rather than grow angry as usual, Sirius laughed.
“That’s the best you can come up with?”
Cat pondered for a moment then nodded. “Yeah, pretty much.”
“How utterly mundane.” Sirius touched her leg lightly as he laughed – a natural reflex to the pure joy her company brought him. It was only a moment later that he realized his mistake.
She jerked away from his touch with such force she toppled backwards and Sirius barely managed to catch her mug before the hot liquid spilled all over her. She was breathless, he was unnerved, and he clasped his hands tightly in his lap to keep himself from automatically reaching out to her in concern. He eyed her worriedly as her breathing slowly returned to normal.
“I didn’t mean to startle you.” Sirius spoke as if he’d been reprimanded.
“No, no, I-" Cat’s rushed voice trailed off rather than deny it. “It’s just-" she broke off again, glancing away from him. She fidgeted in her place and Sirius reached toward her again, slowly this time, to give her the chance to brush him away. When she didn’t, he rubbed her head lightly as his uncle had often done to him. His voice was quiet and soothing, an attempt to mimic his uncle’s. “You can tell me, Cat.”
She searched his eyes for so long before responding that Sirius had taken his hand away in defeat.
“It’s just been so long since someone touched me without wanting something in return.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing, just things, you know?” she asked lightly, her eyes unwilling to meet his. “You never get something for nothing. That’s all I meant.”
“You underestimate me, Cat.” Sirius’ low voice caught her attention immediately. “Perhaps I should have said who do you mean?”
“Why do you do that?” she snapped. “Read more into things than are there?”
“Why do you insist on hiding behind some damn smokescreen rather than just tell me the truth?” he countered, his temper beginning to flare.
“You are as arrogant as your brother, do you know that? Just because you want to know something doesn’t mean you have the right to know it!”
“And you can’t protect me from something by hiding the truth just because it’s more convenient for you!”
“Well, just because your family thinks you’re old enough to know everything doesn’t mean I agree or have to contribute to it!” Cat threw off the blanket and began to stomp away when Sirius finally replied.
Even though he was trembling in fury, his voice was steady. “Run if you want, Cat, it won’t change the truth.”
“What?” she whirled on him, her eyes blazing; her fingers curled into a tight fist.
“I’m sorry if it’s inconvenient for you that I know things and have experienced things other people my age haven’t. If anything, the Blacks are known for discretion but it’s still your choice to tell me whatever you’re comfortable with. Like it or not, I’m a Black – obfuscating the truth in one of our talents so trust me when I say I know how to recognize a lie when I see it. Hell, Cat,” Sirius’ voice dropped and he turned a heart-wrenching gaze her direction. “If you don’t want to talk about something just say so. Don’t lie to me about it for goodness sakes.” Pulling his knees to his chest, he dropped his head in his hands, running his fingers through his hair in frustration and hurt.
“I didn’t know,” she whispered.
Cat sank back down in front of the fire, sliding to sit in near him. She rested her hand on his thigh, making him turn his tear rimmed eyes her direction. “I didn’t know I had a choice,” she repeated. “My whole life I’ve been forced to tell everyone everything. You were cornering me.”
“Yes, but I didn’t know that, now did I?” she offered him a small smile. “It’s like you being unwilling to believe in James’ friendship.”
“I am his friend.”
Cat nodded sympathetically. “Yes but you are terrified he’ll decide he’s too good for you and will walk away. We only know what we’re accustomed to, Sirius. For you that’s loneliness. For me, well, it’s something entirely different.”
Cat reached forward slowly and intertwined her fingers with his. She glanced at him as if asking permission and when he didn’t protest, she turned around and laid her back against his chest. She pulled his loose grip tight around her body until she felt him tighten the embrace himself. He held her tightly, her head resting on his chest.
“I’m sorry, Cat.”
“Don’t know, it just seemed like the thing to say.”
Cat giggled and a warm silence fell over them both. She snuggled deeper into his arms as they watched the fire start to dwindle to low glowing embers, both still lost in their own fears and memories. Sirius’ grip never lessened and Cat couldn’t help but wonder if his resolve was limitless. She had tried to move away several times to allow him a chance to stretch but he’d always tugged her back in to place with a mocking grin that challenged her to try and protest.
“Sirius, can I ask you something?” she asked finally when he’d once again pulled her back into a crushing hug.
He cocked his head sideways, a devilish grin spread across his face. “Anything.”
“When’s the last time anyone hugged you?”
She could feel his grip loosen and his arms start to drop away. She wrenched hold of them and held his limp arms around her. He struggled to get away but Cat was stubborn and refused to let him go.
“You can say you don’t want to talk about it,” she offered.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Sirius tightened his grip two fold, causing her to gasp for breath. It was his attempt to punish her for daring ask such a thing, but Cat wasn’t so easily deterred.
“Yes, you do,” she whispered. “I know you do.”
“After the sorting, my uncle-"
“You were on your death bed…that doesn’t count,” she interrupted.
“I don’t remember then,” he growled.
Cat turned her head to look at him. “Really?”
He tapped her with his shoulder, causing her head to fall back into place on his chest. “No.”
He hated feeling cornered…but he hated seeing Cat upset even more. He knew the day hadn’t ended the way she had wanted and he felt guilty for having any part in something that had apparently made her so ill at ease. He struggled with the memories that were flooding through him but knew helping Cat understand him might make her understand why his uncle had done what he did.
“My fifth birthday,” Sirius murmured. “My mother planned a huge party to celebrate. It was the night I met James Potter, in fact. It was held at someone’s house. I don’t even remember whose,” Sirius’ voice held a note of incredulity that he’d forgotten something like that.
“We were just kids. There was a dog...they had a pet dog. It was one of those spoiled rotten mongrels, you know? It had this glossy black fur that shined so brilliantly the lanterns reflected off it. His fur was cut just perfect, not a shaggy or misplaced hair on the entire animal. It looked better kempt than most of us kids. We were merciless to him…teased him just because we could. And that dog, you should have seen it, Cat. It never made a sound. No matter what we did it would just stand there stupid as can be wagging its tail at us. He had on this little silver collar shaped like a crescent moon. It made the most annoying jingle whenever he moved. It had,” Sirius caught himself in his ramblings. “That tag had I don’t know, something like Bristol or some such on it.” Sirius tried to make his voice light, as if he couldn’t remember but he knew he couldn’t fool Cat.
He remembered everything about that damn dog. The way it would lift one paw when it got near dirt…as if it was too good to muddy its paws; the script on its name tag that had a flourish underneath his name…just where the curve of the moon hit his small chest; the mocking way it cocked its head whenever Sirius laughed…as if it knew something he didn’t. “We were doing spells on it, just for fun, you know?”
Cat shifted in his arms to meet his gaze and she nodded but Sirius didn’t even notice. “I did one…a terrible one. The dog lifted into the air, it shuddered and made the most horrible noise. I’ve never heard anything like it in my life.” Sirius’ body shook from the memories. “I killed it but not before,” Sirius hesitated as he searched for the right word, “it had an excruciating death.”
Sirius fell quiet as he fought to rid himself of the sounds and visions of the dog’s horrendous death.
“Sirius?” Cat shook him worriedly but he pulled her back into his arms.
“It was an unforgivable curse, ones outlawed in the wizarding world,” he explained. “My parents were so proud they both rushed forward and hugged me. They touted me around as if I was a hero. It wasn’t that they were proud of what I’d done it was just because I had the ability to do it.” Sirius’ voice filled with disgust. “James got sick during the middle of the whole ordeal. He’d been egging us on the whole time until that moment when we heard the dog’s bones shatter. He was still alive and you could hear the bones inside his body just splinter into pieces and start ripping into his flesh…” Sirius suddenly realized he was talking aloud and he quieted. “James ran off somewhere and when I got away from my parents I went searching for him. I found him puking his guts up in the back garden. We went and got the dog and buried it,” Sirius’ voice held a note of finality to it that Cat wasn’t ready to believe.
“Your parents caught you, though, didn’t they?” she asked gently.
Sirius nodded. “They saw me as weak after that… an emotional fool. And you, of course, are here to witness the rest.”
“You mean it’s been like this since you were five?” Cat’s eyes filled with tears but Sirius quickly brushed them away.
He pushed her head back into his chest, his voice soft but firm. “I’d rather not talk about that.”
Author’s Note: Many many thanks to noblevyne for the assistance on this chapter…without her, the day in Diagon Alley never would have happened. Two months in the making….I hope this chapter was worth it.
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