There is little darkness left in the world following the second war. All is bright and cheerful—panes of candlelight spilling onto the sidewalk after sunset, sharp clinking goblets of firewhiskey, the rumble of deep laughter and drunken shouts. It is comforting and disorienting all at once, the happiness. I’ve spent so much of my life in fear and doubt that I don’t know what to do with myself now.
So every night, I pick a pub, walk in, and buy a drink.
Every night, I pick a man.
There is only one man here tonight who does not echo the raucous celebration that I see in everybody else’s eyes. He sits alone at the very end of the bar, hunched over and clutching his mug like an old friend, and I feel sorry for him. He never looks up from his drink. The bartender just fills it again when he sees that it has been emptied.
The man is familiar and not familiar—a stranger and a friend. He is unapproachable in a sea of drunken oafs, and yet I want to try him. I dare not think too much of it when I stand up and walk over to his side. There is an empty barstool to his left, and I take a seat.
“It’s impossible to start again, isn’t it?” I say.
There are napkins on the bar before me and I fiddle with the small squares of cloth. No response comes so I try to explain myself. “I mean, the world’s stopped for so many years that they can’t possibly expect us to restart again so easily.”
He grunts to make me a bit ashamed of interrupting his one-man party, but I don’t leave. “What can you know about it?” he asks gruffly. Without looking at me once, he grumbles, “You can’t be more than twenty-five.”
“I’m twenty-eight,” I protest.
He barks out a laugh, and even though his voice is already thick with drink, the sound comes out crisp and clear. When he tips his head to look at me, I catch a glimpse of cold, steel grey eyes and an ironic smirk that years of pain could not erase. “Well, you can’t beat me,” he says. “I’m thirty-eight.”
He’s more familiar now—not a friend, but a stranger below the headlines on the front page of a newspaper. Six or seven years ago I was a Ministry intern, nearly fresh out of Hogwarts, and the story had been everywhere. How could I have missed it? The face was fuller and the hair washed and combed, but the eyes and the smirk never changed. Even the haughtiness was still the same. “You’re Sirius Black,” I say, intrigued. “You—”
“Fought in the Battle of Hogwarts,” he replies. “Did you?”
“N-no,” I stammer, because it was the truth. In the Ministry there had been an underground network formed to defy the Dark Lord’s coup, but dangerous as it was and weak as we all were, even together—it failed. During the Battle I had been bogged down in tangles of conspiracy, trying to keep afloat without drawing the attention of the enemy. Sirius Black can look down upon me now because he doesn’t know that I worked in offices next to the Dark Lord’s puppets for months at a time, and survived.
“I thought not,” he replies, and there is a hint of smugness about it. His drink is drained once more, trickles of ale running through his three-day stubble, and in a half-drunk, melancholic stupor he suddenly becomes talkative. “Tell me, strictly from an objective standpoint, of course—is it a blessing to die? Could I—could I wish for anything more? Tell me, Miss…?”
“Canning,” I offer, taken aback. I’m beginning to regret ever venturing from my place to be closer to him. Even with his innocence proven, he’s dangerous. “Victoria Canning.”
“Miss Canning,” he sighs. “Now—”
I interrupt him again. “You shouldn’t wish for death when there are so many dead who would wish to be alive if they could.”
He bark-laughs again. The sound startles me with its sharpness, but it is surprisingly pleasant to the eye to see him sit up straight in his seat. His dark hair has grown so long that I could grasp handfuls of it in both hands, and I reach out—barely—and I almost do. I stop myself just in time, for the sake of decorum.
He ignores me, turning his gaze back to the wall in front of him. “I’d wish them alive again, too, if I could, Miss Canning. I used to have three best mates, see. Two of them died too early. One of them died not early enough.”
I reach out and draw the goblet away from him before the bartender can fill it up yet again. He doesn’t protest, but only settles further onto his stool. When he looks at me he does it like he is an old man and I am a young girl—and it is wrong, it’s not what I want. It’s making me too restless to stay still. When he closes his eyes I get off of my stool and sneak up even closer to him. He smells like his leather coat and aloe soap.
“The first of the two who died too young, he was my brother, Prongs—he left me a godson. The second, his name was Moony; practically the bloody love of my life, he was. He was always watching out for me. I used to think we must’ve been married in another life or something. He left my godson a godson.” He cringes, like simply the thought of it all could hurt him. “Ted’s my grand-godson. Ha! It’s the biggest bloody farce you’ll ever see.”
“I’ve heard the stories,” I whisper, my lips bent close to his neck. His hairline shivers. “I’m so sorry. It wasn’t right.”
He doesn’t open his eyes, but I watch his open fists clench tightly on the surface of the bar. “It wasn’t right, but you haven’t heard the truth. Nobody has. Does The Daily Prophet ever get things right?”
“I’ve heard enough to know that you’re wrong.” And it was true; I had. I knew Sirius Black had defied death and madness enough times to bear the mark of God. He is the antithesis of the Dark Lord—the proof of his weakness. Unlike He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Sirius Black had spurned so much temptation to fight the darkness that lay within him, and he had succeeded. The Prophet had at least gotten that much correct. “There’s always something to live for.”
He rakes his fingers through his long hair so quickly that I have to move back in order to avoid getting struck across the cheek. He has every right to be angry at me, but he is not. I can tell he is startled by me, shaken and unsteady, but his voice is never mean. “That’s enough, Miss Canning. I don’t need you to tell me that.”
“Call me Tori,” I insist, and when he doesn’t answer, his aggravated hands through his hair are too much. I grab hold of one, and then the other, and even though he is dangerous I suddenly want him more than all the others. Of all the things he has seen, and all the people he has known, somehow I want to be the most important.
When he tries to pull his hands back to his sides I hold fast—my head drops to his shoulder, my arms trail along his, and I can feel his inhale and exhale in the rise and fall of his back against my chest. I breathe musky leather and clean aloe.
This time, he doesn’t pull away. “Miss Can—Vic—Tori. You’ve had a little too much drink than is good for you. Go home.”
It’s an order from father to daughter, from teacher to student—from an old man to a young girl. Recklessly I hate it. I shift myself and press down on him and dare him to enforce the order against his will and my own.
“Stop it. You don’t know what you’re doing.” He is stirring, I can feel it. He can’t help but be moved because he is, after all, human. I stick my nose in the curve of his ear and brush the flesh of his lobe with my lips, making sure he can feel my smile. I want to raise the nerves of his skin. I want to freeze the part of his brain which paints himself as an old man, and I as a young girl. “Stop it, Tor,” he groans in a rush of breath.
“I won’t.” I defy his words, but not his actions, for now he’s bringing me around from behind him, leading me by our joined hands. He’s pulling me towards himself—not pushing me away.
He spins around on the barstool and gets up, still not releasing me. When he looks at me, his grey eyes are cloudy—unreadable—and I wonder if his first love ever felt this desperately out of touch with him. It seems nearly impossible to get through to him. Then I wonder if Prongs and Moony were ever sad that Sirius Black existed somewhere far beyond their reach, for even in death, their greatest legacy lives with him.
He pulls me very close to his chest, too close, and says gently, “You’re too young. Go home and get your head on straight before you come out alone at night.” He gives me a soft push towards the door.
“You don’t understand,” I hurry to say as he turns back to his drink. “You need me. You’re Sirius Black, and you think you don’t need anyone because everyone that you once needed is gone, but I know! Everyone I ever needed has gone, too.”
He whirls around to face me. “You’re mental,” he growls, rubbing his brow bone. “You’re star-struck. Go after one of the Weasley boys instead if you’d like, or Neville Longbottom, but just listen closely, don’t think you can rope Harry Potter.” He bark-laughs loudly, and I know that he’s deliberately misunderstanding me to protect himself. He doesn’t want to make any connections—he doesn’t want me to connect anything—but every night I pick a pub and order a drink to do nothing else. “Ginny Weasley will beat you with her wand and her broom if she catches you trying for Potter.”
“I don’t want Harry Potter,” I declare staunchly. “He’s much too young for me, in any case.”
Before Sirius Black can sit back down I close the little space there is between us and wrap my arms around his torso, dragging the pads of my fingers along his spine from his shoulder blades to his hips. His hands waver, but they have nowhere to go except behind my neck and through my hair. “There,” I breathe hot air into his collar, “that’s not so bad, is it?”
I can feel the bartender watching us curiously; the rest of the alehouse could care less about the mismatched pair in the corner. What I had said, that he needed me, it was true, I could tell. But it was only half. The other half, he didn’t need to know.
“Tori.” He mumbles my name like a sleepy word of caution into my scalp. I can feel the movement of his lips all the way down to the center of my body, but I don’t shift for fear that he might think it is a refusal, a no, a rejection of his hands. “This isn’t good for you. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. You don’t know me. You don’t want me.”
His warnings are mechanical, and we are not.
My fingers are still moving along his back, down until they find his belt and hook into it. I choose to ignore his warning and guide him, inch by inch, following blindly along the wall until we find an empty booth with seats smelling of coffee spills and plastic lining. I dump him in by the seat of his pants, and he grunts in surprise.
I haven’t kissed him yet, and he’s staring at me like I’m a madman because I’m standing over him, smiling and waiting for another protest. But he doesn’t move, and slowly I slide into the booth after him.
He leans against the back of the seat and the plastic crunches under my knees and when his hands reach out to knead my hips I want, want, want. As my lips hover above his I dare to look into the cold grey.
There is nothing there.
“Fuck,” I mutter in aggravation, and I kiss him deftly, here and there, wherever I know how. His hands are already sliding up my shirt, his fingers tucking underneath the wire of my bra and lifting it. I scrape the rise and fall of his chest with my fingernails, as if pain will force from him an admission of need.
He is slow. He is unthinking. He is sleepy, and it makes me angry.
I reach for the front clasp of his belt just as his hand slips upwards through cotton and lace.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Suddenly he jerks to life, tossing my arm away from his lap haphazardly, shoving me aside, scrambling to set his clothes in order. When he stands fully upright and glares at me, there is a craze in his apathetic grey eyes and I am excited, because I am the one who put it there. “Who do you think you are?” he shouts. “You’re too bloody young for me!”
“Young?” I scoff, imitating his sharp bark-laugh with one of my own. Now I am sure that he still doesn’t understand. “Can’t you see—that’s just the problem. I’m not quite so young anymore.”
I boost myself up and ease my fingers into his collar gently. The stubble on his chin is prickly, like dry grass, but I like it because it’s difficult under my touch. “I was young once,” I whisper, tracing my fingers slowly across his jawbone. He’s frozen on the spot, a wrinkle of consternation beginning to form between his crazed, cold grey eyes. He doesn't understand, but now he is trying—and he’s almost got it. “But youth is wasted on the young. You know that better than anybody. I’ll bet there are tons of things you wanted to do when you were young—I’ll bet you wanted to do everything in the world just once. I’ll bet there are tons of things you wanted to say to Prongs and Moony—or even just to spend time with them—before You-Know-Who appeared.”
He is quiet for once, letting me speak without protest. The chatter of the other patrons drifts in and out like white noise.
“I already told you why you need me,” I say, my desperation rising. “Your youth was wasted on you, and now, everyone you’ve ever needed is gone.” I’m spiraling out of control, losing touch with my senses and the censor in my brain that tells me when I’ve strayed too far into danger. I let my fingers slide to his collarbone, following the dips and grooves of his shoulders underneath his shirt. “I’m telling you now, I need you, too.”
“You’re mad,” he whispers again, but I can tell that he’s got it now. He just doesn’t want to let on. I wait, and let my hands and his wander. When I begin to trace the lines on the flesh of his stomach again, he says, “You wasted yours, too.”
I nod slightly, not smiling. Cold grey stares back at me, disbelieving.
I can’t bring myself to tell him about the years I spent, miserable and obsessive, when I really was too young. For the longest time, I had fallen by the wayside. It was this inadequacy that I swore I’d leave behind which makes me want him so. I don’t know what to do with myself when I need to be the most important, and I am not.
So I tell him, “I didn’t have to do a thing, Sirius Black. It was wasted for me.”
I can’t stand looking at the questions in his stare. There is no need for me there, only pity. Tonight I told him that I needed him, and for that he pities me.
“I was late,” I snap, as if that would answer anything and everything that was on his mind. Grabbing his hands, I drag them roughly and heavily across my chest, down my waist, around my hips. “Things weren’t always like this for me. I was inadequate.”
He doesn’t flinch when he touches me. He is back to being the old man, and I the young girl. I could be Prongs’ child, or Moony’s. I could be his bloody grand-goddaughter.
“How late?” he asks. Pitying, pitying me.
“Too late,” I say. “By the time I became enough, I was already twenty-six.”
He steps back and gives me a small, sad smile. This time, when he pulls away, I release his hands and let him leave. Before he goes, he looks back and reaches over to pat my shoulder gently.
“You’re beautiful,” he tells me. “Youth is never wasted on the young.”
I tried something new here - first person and present tense. Please let me know if it works. Reviews would make me very happy.