“You look at James an awful lot.”
I don’t think I really ever had to tell him. He just knew, and it scared me, because maybe there were times when I wasn’t careful enough. When I looked at him and the world could see. Or maybe it was just Sirius.
Sirius had proven to me that you could know someone for seven years and not really know them. Oh, to be sure, I knew sides of him, but not the complete him. Now that I look back I wonder why I didn’t see it earlier. All the jokes, the performances, the bullying, the sleeping around. That’s not a person. That’s what you do when you can’t face the truth. And I should know. I’ve learned a few of those kinds of tricks myself. Things that help fill up the day so you can make it till night. At night you can live.
There is a power within the darkness. Not the darkness of death and destruction, but simply the peace of silence and the ability to go unseen. Only at night did I ever feel free in those years. I could let go of my acceptance and tend to the wound that lay beneath before bandaging up at first light. My pain was your pain and still is your pain. As they say, your grief and mine must intertwine, diverse yet single, forever and ever.
I thought I loved James. I liked him in first year, but I was young. I drew his name on my journal and passed notes with my friends about him. Second year, I learned to make his name dance and turn different colors. Third year I thought I would just about die, because he started to look at Lily. I was thirteen and even then I knew what that look meant. In the years that followed I watched their banter. For his kindness and the gentle part of him that loved Lily, I fell in love with him more.
Sixth year was a year of choice. I knew I didn't really love James because I didn't purely want what was best for him. Whatever would make him happy. Make him smile again. Yet I knew only Lily could do that. And Lily, whom I loved above all, my dearest and closest friend. The conflict within me was unbearable. Resentment because she did not see what she had, envy because I wanted James to forget her, disgust that I would desire to separate them, hope that she might date him for the sake of her happiness, anger at how she had changed, longing to want to go back and change everything, and still above all - love for my dearest friend.
In sixth year my sister died.
In some part, watching them was my ultimate fulfillment. The people I loved most in the world were in love. Although some secret part of me still wished the world was different, my sister’s death gave me perspective. I didn’t want to lose Lily and I couldn’t lose James, because I had never had him in the first place. And if I didn’t accept what was there, I would lose everything.
But there were nights. Nights when the acceptance grew threadbare and oh, my torn and bleeding heart just barely showed. That was how I first grew to know Sirius. When someone sees the part of you that is most hidden, something changes. Something did.
It was late in March and the smell of the leaves, dry and blooming, was crisp on the air. Most of the seventh years were outside. By now, the longing to leave was matched by the sorrow of goodbyes. Every day seemed like a goodbye … to a place, to a time, to a memory. Our beds, the kitchens, the lake. We could always come back, but we would be bigger, older, and strangers. We could stand in the same exact spot, but we would forever be different and some part of that was dissatisfactory. So we flocked to the grass and made the most of that Saturday afternoon when the morning clouds were floating off into the distance and the sun began to warm the air.
Sirius was carving with the old pocketknife he always had on him. There was a time when I would have worried about what he did with it, but age and the incident with Snape had tamed some part of him. Now I only worried he’d cut himself, but even as I worried I knew he wouldn’t. It just wasn’t Sirius-like.
I picked at the leaves, tearing them into little pieces and dumping them on the ground, making easy work for the ants I’m sure were to come. I would love to say that was how I spent my time, but truly I was watching James and Lily. Somehow if I watched them, I didn’t feel so left out. Like I shared part of their secret, their closeness, merely by watching them.
When Lily and James began dating, Sirius had had difficulties. He didn’t understand the complexities of Lily like James did, so when she became fearful of her relationship with James and pulled away, he only saw Lily being a tease. How could he understand that she wanted James both to find her attractive and still guard her innocence? How could he understand that she was frightened by how far she had let James into herself, how close he had gotten? Sirius didn’t. That was something only your loved ones can understand.
Sirius only remembered how wrecked James used to get after Lily had spurned him. I’m betting Sirius saw the most raw and devastated James that James could be. I suppose after years of watching Lily hurt him, not intentionally, but nevertheless, hurt him Sirius had difficulty in just accepting her. I would have had misgivings about James on Lily’s behalf if he were anyone else. But I had many blind spots when it came to him.
Sirius stopped carving for a minute, and at first I didn’t notice, but soon my back was burning with the feeling of being watched, and I knew it was him.
“You’re watching those two pretty intently.”
He was testing the waters, something I had never known him to do. He was usually so blunt, without hesitation despite how personal his comments could be. But he was right. Some part of me could have denied it, spun some story about caring for Lily and wanting to protect her, but I didn’t want to lie. It would only be an insult to the friendship I shared with her.
“You look at James an awful lot.”
At that, I really did stop. I didn’t face him, just kept staring at them. James was on his back, with Lily’s head in his lap. His fingers were playing with the ends of her hair and she had that smile on her face, the one she reserves just for him when he said something sweet.
I took a deep breath and stood up, brushing the leaves and dirt from my robes and walked away. They loved each other. I loved them. But sometimes acceptance isn’t enough.
I took the Astronomy Tower for my prefect duties that night. During the week there weren’t many couples up there, and there were more secret spots for the truly dedicated. I really just wanted some fresh air and time alone. Something bad had settled into my stomach, residue from the scene earlier that day with Sirius, a mixture of guilt and apprehension. At dinner, I had sat across from him and could barely swallow my food. He kept looking at me, anger and questioning flickering in his eyes.
When I got to the tower I did a brief once over before climbing up the hidden stairs to the top of the neighboring tower. It was so cold I’m sure my face was chapped, but I was heated inside and I wanted to expel it all, so I sat up there to cool off. To be honest, I wasn’t that surprised when Sirius followed up only a few minutes later. He never was one to let things go. At that moment, I hated him for it.
“I could send you to the headmaster for being out here.” I knew it was a lie, so did he. Even if I could, one more trip wouldn’t bother him.
“Leave James alone.” This was my favorite side of Sirius. His fidelity. He may not like Lily much, but by gosh, if James loved her, Sirius would not stand for interference.
I bowed my head and looked out over the grounds. Had I really thought no one would notice? No, not really. I just never pictured Sirius being the one to put the pieces together.
“I wouldn’t touch James with a ten foot pole.” It’s true. He belonged to Lily. And I have no clue what I would do if I were actually close enough to touch him.
He looked at me kind of funny before walking right close up to me. He always did have a crazy streak. Unpredictable at best. At the moment, it manifested itself in disgust. “So you’re one of them. One of those girls who likes a guy once he’s taken. Just want what you can’t have.”
The urge to slap him crossed my mind, but it floated away.
He shook his head, gave me a dirty once over and went to climb back down the stairs, picking up a cloak I hadn’t noticed along the way.
“I love him.” At that he turned his head. Before he could respond, I beat him to it. “But I love her too.” He turned, arms taught and eyes confused, unwilling to relate. “I love the two of them more than anyone. Enough to let them be.” “But you’d be more than happy to see them split.” His words ignited me, echoing my conscience. Only I could ignore that little voice in my mind, but I couldn’t ignore Sirius. I couldn’t run from the argument, it would have to be seen out. No thinking about it later, no accepting, just getting the bottom of the nastiness.
“Do you know what it’s like … to see them … to …” images swam before my eyes. Them kissing at Christmas, her opening a gift, him teasing her in the common room. It burned, more than I wanted it to, more than I could stand. Clip after clip. His birthday. After Potions. Under the tree. Him touching her hair. Her saying I love you. Sirius was no longer there, just images. Blurred, rolling, one after another, faster until it was all just one incoherent jumble of pain.
So I yelled. I screamed, opened my mouth to the darkness and screamed bloody murder until my eyes watered and my lungs begged for breath, choking on the tears to come as they clawed their way up my throat. I stopped when Sirius ran and covered my mouth. He had me locked in his arms to stop me from fighting, and our faces were just that close. I let him see. The crazy left my eyes, and all that was left was the filth of shame and hurt and disgust and fear. I let all the confusion and complexities, the bonds of friendship and the poison of love shine through in the tears that clung to my eyelashes.
He let go and I read his face. He was shocked and I could see still the wariness of accepting my position. He would protect James first, but in his face and the hands that lay palm open I saw that perhaps he would protect me too.
The next morning was awkward and that feeling of unease hadn’t left. The light of morning brought brutal clarity. My secret was no secret.
Lily and James were sitting slightly apart, him quizzing her from her Ancient Runes text. Remus was visiting his grandmother who was ill (an old curse wound acting up in her later years), and Peter was dedicated to his meal. Sirius actually sat with us alone. His latest girlfriend was surrounded by a group of ferocious looking friends, so I took it his latest was his newest ex.
Without James or Remus to play off of, his performance juice was low. Instead we sat, on the brink of friendship. I looked up, he looked at James, his eyes met mine, and it was enough.
After breakfast, I left for Potions, but I could feel him watching me.
It was relieving in some part not to hold my secret alone. The devil works best in isolation, but sharing the burden helped me return to a somewhat normal existence. It was the beginning of April. Sirius had somehow convinced me to climb to the top of an old willow. From there we could see all of our fellow seventh years picnicking.
Sirius had been looking at me funny all day. I smiled and snapped off a branch, twirling the dried twig between my fingers, let the earth smell rub into my skin. “You’re staring.” He laughed under his breath. “You’re not.” I raised a dignified brow at him before catching his meaning. Looking over the ground I could spot Lily, with that hair, and of course her shadow James. “I don’t begrudge them their happiness. Not anymore. I suppose now, it’s just a healthy desire for my own part of it.” He nodded as if that only confirmed his suspicions. “I supposed I’ll have to ask Lily how she got James so hooked.” His smile grew wider. I have to say, I’ve never met anyone since who had Sirius’ smile. It was always uneven, the right side tugging first, followed swiftly by a devilish left smirk. Over the years I suppose I had become used to it and never noticed.
Climbing down from the tree, Sirius held my waist to steady me. When his hands left, the feel of them didn’t.
Two nights later Sirius, James, and Peter came limping into the common room at about two in the morning. Despite two cups of Chamomile tea and an extremely dull book I borrowed from Lily, that night held no sleep for me. They all looked unnerved to see me sitting there, wide-awake. They resorted to whispers and codenames but Sirius stayed behind when the others headed up the stairs.
Despite being a prefect, I believe Sirius knew I wouldn’t turn him in. I got up when he approached me. It seemed a moment for standing. He had a large bruise on his left cheekbone and a cut that receded past his hairline. Despite the bags under his eyes, there was an underlying excitement in the depths of his eyes still lurking. I had thought the pranking was over, it had been awhile, but then again, it was the end of Hogwarts for us pretty soon. Although logically I could write it off as a trip down memory lane, I could tell there was something else.
“I’ve kept your secret all this time.”
I touched the bruise, but he didn’t wince, just kept looking straight at me. My eyes flickered between his and the cut bleeding, taking in the energy that always seemed to envelope him.
“I know. And whatever this is, I’ll keep it too.”
His shoulders relaxed a little, but I took advantage and led him to the sofa before pulling out my wand. I summoned some bandages from his room and they came, as I suspected they would. When I dabbed the cut above his brow, he caught my hand. Caught my heart. I suddenly couldn't tell the difference. The fear inside me took hold of my stomach, pumping adrenline through every vein in my system, nerves alight from toes to the fingertips that still lay in his hand. I was afraid ... and then his energy changed. The static fled and suddenly he was Sirius, once again seeing into my fear. Seeing what no else had. Sirius, who understood. His fingers laced in between mine, brushing again the chastity ring that I had perverted for so long, using it to keep others out and away. But with the time it took to brush my eyelashes together, his lips met mine, my back shifting as he fingered the small hairs on my neck. My first. Slowly he pulled back, but our faces still touched. Only at night did I ever feel free in those years
Lily slid up to me the morning of graduation. It had come, at last. I felt like crying. Every mark on the Gryffindor table urged the beast inside me to be released. I had just found my place here and already I was moving on. Lily nudged me, I nudged her, and suddenly I was that first year again and she was her prudish little eleven-year-old self, informing me that I should still eat vegetables even if my parents weren’t there. And the world was okay.
Lily got over her disease or whatever it was. She learned with time how to balance the Lily I knew with the Lily that melted with James to be an entirely different being. And I learned to appreciate both.
After breakfast we took a walk along the lake and threw rocks out toward the giant squid. James and Sirius were busy tossing Remus into the lake. Peter looked on from a distance, afraid of water from what I recall. The sun made Sirius even more beautiful than he already was. It matched his smile and heightened his laughter.
Lily giggled. I turned to her and smiled along with a joke I didn’t get. “What?”
She grinned mysteriously, swiping a stone from the ground. “Nothing!”
I stopped my ambling and so did she. “What?” She looked excited. Perhaps James had proposed. It would be unusual for him, who had been so patient all along, afraid to scare off his doe-like better half, but then again, he had changed as much as she. Lily walked back a few steps toward the lake and turned her head to look at me again. “It’s just … well …”
I walked alongside her, and tried to look for what it is she saw.
“You just look at Sirius an awful lot.” She flashed the smile she saves just for me, when I can see why I love her, because she cares so much about my happiness.
I grin, and shake my head, because, well …