‘Arrangements do not preclude catastrophes, Padfoot.
P.S. You really are a prat.’
- (On a card given to Sirius Black on his birthday, 20th December 1978, by Remus Lupin)
The plan, quite simply, was this: Lily was supposed to turn up late.
Everything had been arranged. That’s what Sirius always fell back on. And Lily had agreed to it; that much had been certain. But, like all of Sirius Black’s plans, many of which had turned out spectacularly wrong, he had been skimpy on the details right from the beginning, and that, it seemed to them long after the whole event was over (and as Remus Lupin was eternally fond of reminding him), had been at the very heart of the problem.
I. Introducing an idiot.
The best place to look out over James’ backyard was the roof of his polite two storey suburban house. At least, a little starling who had alighted there, perched on the edge of James’ rain gutter, seemed to think so. From there, one could see out across the surrounding neighbourhood; the sea of triangulated roofs here and there broken by telephone wires or the upmost branches of a large tree. The usually sullen English sky was today bright, ineffably blue. Yes, today was a good day. It was an expectancy that hung in the air – a kind of peacefulness that all but the most imperceptive could sense, and had you been there in that yard, or perhaps on the roof looking down at the houses all around, you would have wished to be nowhere else.
Here. Right here, at this instant; this was the best place to be, and surely nothing could go wrong on a day like this.
It was James’ wedding day.
The lawn below had been bedecked with hundreds of fairy lights stretching from poles to one end of the yard to the other, in a fanning arc and at different heights, so that the very lowest of these lights could brush against a tall person’s head. The huge oak tree at the west side of the yard had also been decorated with lights. They sat among the branches like tiny diamonds, glinting in crystalline rays when the sun glanced off them.
A small throng of people stood about in loose groups in the backyard, between two tables that had been laid out in elegant white linen and piled with platters of salmon, chicken, and egg salad sandwiches, various meats, cheeses, spiced olives, and fruits. An intricate display of flowers sat on each table, blinding in splashes of bright red and white.
From up on the roof, it was nearly impossible to catch the gist of each of the individual conversations, which were occasionally broken by titters of soft laughter.
Only upon drifting down to the porch that gave off James’ kitchen directly below, and from there swooping across the green lawn, did the murmur of voices form themselves into recognisable words.
From down there the most interesting conversation appeared to be taking place between James Potter, Sirius Black, and the girl he was with; if one was to make their way over to the three people who stood between the overhanging branches of the oak, and one of the white-draped tables, one might just have caught James say:
“You’ve got an idiot on your arm.”
James looked splendid; he was immaculate. Except for his hair, which was tousled and messy, customarily sticking up at the back of his head, as if it had never once seen a hairbrush. Yet somehow its messiness complemented him. He had tried smoothing down his hair once, decided that the combination of that, and the glasses (which were today polished to perfection), made him look like an accountant, and hadn’t tried it since.
The only spot of white on him was his tie – a silk cravat. The handkerchief square poking out of his breast pocket was lustrous grey.
The idiot to whom James had spoken was Sirius Black. He looked at the girl whose hand was at present wrapped around his elbow in a possessive grip, and said, “That’s not very nice, James. Portia’s quite clever, aren’t you love?” He nudged her lightly and affectionately with his shoulder.
The girl shook a strand of her blonde hair out of her face (blonde hair that had been dyed with garish black streaks) and said, dryly, as if it not been obvious to anyone but her, “He was talking about you, Sirius.” And added, as if as a challenge, “And you’re very clever.” A smile, a little touch of smugness, as she turned to James and said, “He’s going to teach me to become an animagus, aren’t you Siri?”
“Tell you that, did he?” James answered, amused, though Sirius could tell he was not entirely engrossed in the conversation.
“Well. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, eh?” Sirius replied, somewhat uncomfortably.
James, his interest perked, was now quite enjoying himself. “Oh I don’t know. He’s always been one for a bit of a challenge. Can’t be that hard, can it Sirius?” A smile perked at the corner of his mouth, however, which Sirius noticed.
The other man raised an eyebrow at James, but his voice remained good-humoured. “You know, if you’re having go at me, James, I’ll take you on right now – propriety be damned.” And what James knew he was really saying, was: shut up before you get me in over my head.
James smiled, unimpressed by the threat, and scratched the back of his head. His white silk cuff slipped down his wrist. “Sorry, no messing up my clothes. Lily would kill me.” And he threw a glance at his watch for perhaps the tenth time that day; the movement was not lost on Sirius.
Sirius belying his thoughts, snorted in mock-disgust. Portia tightened her arm around his, and glanced around with a bored expression.
James held his hand out. “Oh, ah— you know, I don’t think we’ve been introduced.”
The girl did not remove her grip from Sirius’ arm but gave James a rather brief and perfunctory smile. She might have just said yeah, whatever, and been done with it.James was left with his hand hanging in mid-air for several moments before he realised he was starting to look foolish, and dropped it.
Sirius cleared his throat and twitched his arm a little, as if uncomfortable. “Portia. This is James Potter, my best mate, who’s getting married today.”
James took a moment to glance at the girl up and down, and then really wished he hadn’t. She saw the movement of his eyes and her stony expression seemed to be daring him to say something.
She was wearing what appeared to be a black corset with a frilly skirt, far too short for the normal rules of propriety, and some sort of pink furry jacket. She looked like a marshmallow rolled in fluff.
“I like your shoes,” James said genially.
“Thanks,” the impetuousness abated a little. Suddenly, her attention was drawn away by something else across James’ lawn. A smile – which quickly became a smirk – curved across her lips.
Realising someone was behind him, James turned around to see Remus Lupin, and smiled.
“Ah,” Sirius said. “Remus, this is…” he waved a hand vaguely in the girl’s direction.
“Portia,” she finished.
“Oh, like the car,” Remus replied politely, but strangely tensed, smiling at her. And the awkwardness that suddenly hung in the air between the four of them was palpable, and James, feeling a bit like a third wheel, looked tactfully down at his shoes.
The smirk did not leave her face. Noting that it was aimed precisely at him, Remus’ smile faltered, just a little. “Yeah. Like the car,” she said, only slightly sarcastic. And she flicked her hair out of her eyes. “Speaking of which, my daddy just bought me a brand new one, Sirius, did I tell you?” Though she was talking to him, she was looking at James and Remus. Idly she chewed the loose strand of hair and smiled at them.
Not really knowing what to say, the three of them just stood mutely, waiting to see if she would add anything to that.
Clumsily (and by way of explanation, and just to cover up the awkward silence), Sirius said, “rich parents.”
James and Remus nodded.
The girl slid her arm out from around Sirius’ and reached into her pocket (her nails, Remus observed with no surprise but wry amusement, had been painted alternately black and pink) to pull out a packet of cigarettes. “Anyway. I’m going to have a smoke,” she said, now completely ignoring the other two men; she gave Remus another strange look before slinking off across the yard.
James cleared his throat. When she was finally out of earshot he said, under his breath, “I’m guessing her daddy didn’t buy her that outfit.” Remus laughed; Sirius smiled, and – truth be told – there was more than a little something self-conscious about it.
But he soon recovered himself. Having caught Remus’ eye, he abruptly scratched his head, looked at the ground and then bit his lip.
Remus had caught his look, and said, “What?”
“You have… seen what you look like, haven’t you?” Trying hard to keep the amusement out of his voice.
“Why, what’s wrong with—?” he paused, realisation dawning. “Is that why she was looking at me oddly?” He reached up to his head. “Is it the hat?”
Remus had turned up that morning in a ridiculously old-fashioned pair of dress robes. Slightly faded, tattered and fraying, and made from some antiquated maroon fabric that had been threaded with elaborate looping patterns of pink and gold which may have been tiny astrological symbols. The whole awkward effect was ill-complemented by a funny, soft little hat with a black tassel that hung limply beside his cheek.
Sirius – who, as the best man, looked suitably debonair in silvery-black robes – was trying to keep a straight face. “It’s the whole lot, mate, if you ask me. Could be worse though. Peter’s tie looks like it’s about to swallow his face. That thing ruins some decent-looking robes – at least yours has some uniformity... you know. It’s sort of…” he waved a hand. “Ugly all over.”
“It’s old. It’s been in my family for years.” Remus couldn’t keep the slight note of indignation out of his voice.
“Mm. Generations, it looks like.” Sirius said, less than comforting, but Remus thought this was probably intentional.
“Charming,” Remus mumbled, unimpressed by Sirius’ attempts to get a rise out of him. The tension had lifted now that it was just the three of them again, which Remus was glad for. He did not look at Sirius again, but around the yard.
Of the small group who had gathered for the wedding, he could see Mr and Mrs Evans, a cluster of girls in bright dress robes who he knew to be friends of Lily’s, and he recognised Peter Pettigrew, back turned to them, over by the farthest table, making the most of Mrs Evans’ sandwiches.
Remus said contemplatively, “I think I’ll go and be unfashionable over there with Pete,” and left James and Sirius (who watched him go) standing alone.
James was fiddling with the silver watch on his wrist. Sirius, saying nothing, watched him do this for several long moments, his face unreadable, but his eyes had sharpened slightly.
“All right, James?”
“Eh?” The other man raised his head. His fingers continued to play with the band of his watch, sliding it around his wrist.
“It’s only been ten minutes. Don’t worry. You know how women are.” Sirius smiled.
James returned the smile, but Sirius could see that there was no conviction behind it. “Yeah, but it’s my wedding day, Sirius,” he said in a quiet voice, and his eyes flicked away, over Sirius’ shoulder, to the other guests, and to the lights drooping above their heads. He chewed his lip. “You know. It’s not like Lily to be late, that’s all.”
“She’s probably still putting on her makeup.”
James shrugged and suddenly became very interested in his feet.
“Doing her hair.” This having elicited no response, he persisted, pointing a finger into the air as if he’d had an epiphany. “Maybe she met some really handsome bloke on the way from the bathroom to the kitchen and decided to run off with him.”
“Very funny,” James muttered.
“I don’t know what it’s about, really, that old Muggle superstition of not letting the groom see the bride in her wedding dress before the day. Could have saved you a lot of trouble if you’d both stayed in one place and arrived together.”
James breathed heavily through his nose, his shoulders slumped, and glanced over his shoulder for no particular reason that Sirius could see. “Yeah, well, it was Lily’s idea. I could hardly argue with her, could I?”
Sirius slapped him lightly on the arm. “Cheer up mate.” The he looked over his shoulder. Portia was re-emerging from the kitchen, where she had gone to smoke.
“Better go baby-sit your girlfriend,” James said.
Sirius gave him a sarcastic half-smile that did not conceal the embarrassment in his eyes, and brushed past him, going to meet her.
“Oh, and at the ceremony, make sure she doesn’t catch the bouquet. Unless you want to marry into a rich family.”
Sirius, who hadn’t gone more than few steps and could still hear quite clearly, ignored him. Secretly, all jokes aside, he was quite pleased that James hadn’t lost his sense of humour.
Well, not yet, anyway.
Write a Review Ungracious Offences: I. Introducing an idiot.