Sirius awoke early on the last day of August, not that he had really slept.
He looked to the clock on the wall and, with a groan, pushed himself into a sitting position, the blankets crumpling to his hips. Normally, this was the day every year he would wake with a grin, anticipation tattooed on his face and rush to the shower in preparation for his annual trip to Diagon Alley. There, he would meet his friends and, laughing, the four of them would reunite by tormenting the town with their presence as they gathered goods for the school year. Today was different.
Slowly, Sirius stood, making his way to the shower with a long, deep sigh. He ran his palm along his face, remembering. Sirius’ school supplies lay in a heap against the wall, having been collected days ago and forgotten. He would see his friends today as well, but they would neither laugh nor torment. Instead, they would not give but experience the latter.
Sirius felt heavy. He crossed the hall to the adjacent bathroom and closed the door behind him quietly. James was probably still asleep, hopefully still asleep, and Sirius could not wake him yet. He shook his head, unnerved by the silence.
Sirius had been living with the Potter’s since the summer before their sixth year. It had been a mutual decision, between his parents and him, that Grimmauld Place was not his home and an unspoken one that Godric’s Hollow was. He had left in a storm of insults and curses (both lexical and magical) and arrived to the warm, open arms of James’ parents. Sirius choked. The house had been so alive.
He quickly undressed and stepped into the shower, his skin steaming on contact with the scalding water. Sirius stood there for some time, his hair hanging in his eyes and the water cascading down his face. There was no anticipation. Instead, his body felt tight with dread. For a time, he kneaded his fingers into the tension of his shoulders, but there was to be no relief. Not today. Sirius rested his head against the tiles with a tired sigh, reaching out to turn off the water. He stood naked long enough for the steam to disperse and only roused himself when the warm air began to fade into cold. Sadly, he lifted his forehead from the wet tiles and stepped from the shower, wrapping a towel around his hips carelessly.
Sirius wiped his hand across the mirror, looking at himself uninterestedly. His hair hung dark and limp against his forehead and when he saw his bloodshot eyes, he realised that he had been crying. With a groan, he wiped at his face and turned to leave.
His room was a mess. Sirius had attempted to pack three times now and with each try the floor had been strewn with more and more clothes, things and nothings. Each attempt had left him overwhelmed and he felt his throat tighten at the realisation that he had only tonight to get it done. When they left, what would happen to this place? Would it simply rest, or rot along with... Sirius drew in a sharp breath, disgusted at his own thoughts.
He silenced his mind, ignoring the painful thump thump thump of its stubborn attempt to be heard and kicked through the piles of clothes on the floor in search of an outfit. Quietly, he slipped into a pair of black dress pants and a dark button-up shirt which he respectfully tucked in and flattened. Atop them, his finest dress robes; unfortunately creased. His sopping hair was cold as it dripped down the back of his neck and soaked his collar, but he did nothing. He looked nice. For once, Sirius couldn’t care less.
His hair was dry by the time Peter and Remus arrived. Sirius greeted them at the front door, looking them over momentarily. They were dressed respectfully, as he was, in all black and neat clothing. Sirius felt momentarily embarrassed of the creases in his clothes; he had not thought of it until this morning when he fetched them from the floor and having never learnt to iron, magically or otherwise, or had the occasion to, he had simply thrown them on. Sirius threw his friends a sad smile and ushered them in, closing the door softly behind them.
They gathered at the kitchen table, Sirius offering his friends breakfast which they gracefully declined. Yeah, he wasn’t hungry either. The three of them sat in silence for some time before, the guilt rising in him, Sirius stood suddenly.
“My parents never took me anywhere,” he confessed loudly.
Both Remus and Peter stared at him dumbfounded, so he quickly continued. “My parents never took me anywhere and even if they had, I wouldn’t have bothered. When I came here, Mrs. Potter – ” he choked, “ – did everything for us. She’d wash our clothes, fold them, and if we were going out, iron them and lay them out nice on our beds.”
Sirius’ eyes flicked between his two friends, his face contorted into a heavy frown. Peter seemed to become only more confused as time wore on; on the other hand, understanding slowly dawned on Remus and he asked quietly “Does it bother you that much?”
“It does,” Sirius rushed.
Remus frowned, “I’ve never been great at housekeeping spells. If I tried, there’s the possibility I might set your clothes alight...”
Sirius grinded his teeth atop each other nervously. “Mrs. Potter liked the muggle way of things more and more as she got older,” he thought out loud, “She said it was satisfying, to do things the long way. The hard way. Sometimes she called magic cheating, but she always laughed a little afterwards.” Thump thump thump. “She had an old iron she used sometimes.”
Remus offered a friendly smile. “Do you know where she keeps – ” he coughed, “... kept the iron. We learnt this in Muggle Studies. It’s not so hard.”
Sirius gave a quick nod, thinking a moment before rushing to the laundry and wrenching open the linen closet. Within, he found both the iron and an ironing board which he carried clumsily back to the kitchen. On his return, Remus seemed to be explaining to Peter exactly what Sirius had been rambling on about. When he finally understood, Peter nodded.
“I can’t believe you remember that lesson...” He began, crinkling his nose, “I barely can.”
Remus shrugged, watching as Sirius set up the ironing board with some difficulty. “I always remember lessons about self maintenance. I like to look nice on the outside. Sometimes it makes me feel less tired... inside.”
Peter muttered a small “Oh” and looked to Sirius, who was standing expectantly in front of them. He had set up the ironing board in the space between the kitchen table and the breakfast bench and had set the iron atop the stove to heat. He quickly threw off his robes and unbuttoned his shirt, whipping it off his shoulders and letting them both fall in a heap on the ironing board.
Sirius looked to Remus in distress, as if to say “What now?”
With a light hearted sigh, Remus stood and rounded the table, laying Sirius’ shirt out neatly. He proceeded to demonstrate the proper ironing method to Sirius who, nodding gently, took the iron from the cook top and began to flatten the creases in the item. Remus watched on, only intervening when he smelt burning. When Sirius had finished, he threw the shirt back on, buttoning it to the top and folding his collar and cuffs. Quickly, he then stepped out of his pants, placing them on the ironing board in the manner that Remus described. For a time, he wore only a dress shirt and his underwear in the light, open kitchen, but he was intent only on looking his best for the day. Presented well, as a mother would want. At the thought, Sirius squeezed his eyes closed tightly, opening them again a moment later and continuing to iron his trousers slowly, but well. When they were once again on, he tucked in his shirt and let out a breath. Finally, Sirius ironed the lines from his robes before adorning them once more. he felt lighter; it was the small things.
Sirius knew that a few creases were of little importance, considering... Nevertheless, he felt it his duty to pay his respects looking like the dignified young man Mrs. Potter had always assured him he was. Of course, focusing on the imperfections of his clothing had given him momentary relief and now that he was once again dressed and content in his appearance the dreaded thump thump thump returned. Sighing, Sirius returned the iron and ironing board to the linen press and found his way slowly back to the kitchen.
As Sirius sat, Remus spoke up tentatively. “How’s uh, how’s he been?”
“Quiet,” Sirius replied lightly.
The three of them looked between each other sadly.
“And you?” Peter asked.
“Hmm?” Sirius mumbled, looking to the clock.
“How are you coping?”
Sirius looked to Peter momentarily, his eyebrows drawing together in a frown. He had not been expecting that. How was he coping? To be honest, he’d hardly thought about it. Of course he was involved, but this wasn’t about him. He hurt, but this wasn’t his pain to feel.
“That’s not really...”
“They were your family,” Remus interrupted, “Yes, it is.”
Sirius looked to the table, focusing intently on the imperfections in the hardwood. He scraped his nails across its surface, breathing slow, deep and purposeful. “I’m okay,” he eventually spoke, feeling that sting behind his eyes, “It’s still fresh but... I’m okay.”
Remus and Peter nodded in unison, deciding it best not to push the subject. Again, the room fell into silence and Sirius shuddered. This house had been too quiet lately and it made him feel sick to the stomach. The air was dead and, even with the candles lit, it seemed always dim. It was as if the world was slowly falling asleep.
Long, silent minutes passed in which none of them spoke, the air cold and heavy between them. The Marauders had never been so without words and it only added to Sirius’ unease. He longed for the comfort of familiarity.
Only when the silence became unbearable did Remus speak.
“I haven’t had the heart to wake him.” Sirius answered softly.
It was getting late and they all knew it, but the thought of rousing James and watching his face melt into that hollow mask made Sirius’ skin tighten. Nothing had ever pained him so much and, by the looks seeping into his friends faces, he could tell they did not wish to feel that hurt. They had always felt James’ pain, but this was different. Less pain, more nothing.
“I’m awake,” came a small voice from the doorway and the three of them started, their eyes jumping quickly to James. He looked tired; worse than Remus after the full moon.
All three boys stood quickly, looking to their friend expectantly, as if in the hope he would announce that everything was well and good. He did not. In fact, if Sirius knew his best friend, James’ inner monologue was something much more torturous.
Thump thump thump.
With a sad smile, Sirius noted that James wore his father’s robes. They was too long in the arms but too short in length and James’ dark socks peeked out beneath the hem. His father had been a broad man but had shrunk with age. At least the shoulders fit well.
His tie was plain and hung neatly in front of a black dress shirt which, Sirius noted, had not been ironed. The creases matched the lines on his face; eyes red and wide behind his glasses. James looked a mess. There was no laughter in those hazel eyes and it made Sirius’ stomach drop to see his best friend without expression.
The three boys stared at James in a hollow silence. He looked tired, older. His glasses sat slightly askew and his fingers twitched at his side. Sirius groaned internally at how he had fretted over his crinkled clothing. A coping mechanism, sure, but needless. Insignificant! His best friend stood before him in a messy, creased dress shirt with awkwardly fitting robes and shoes that might have been his years ago. He looked perfect. The image of his father.
“Are we ready to go?” James asked without emotion, his eyes flicking between the three but never lingering long enough to make any sort of solid connection.
Sirius smiled sadly. He had combed his hair.
Voila! Chapter Two. A bit sadder and a bit slower but I hope you still enjoyed it. Thank you to those of you who have reviewed so far, I'm really loving reading your feedback! Speaking of feedback, I've changed my banner... What do you think? I didn't feel the other really captured the mood of the story, to be a bit wanky, but I'm still not 100% loving this one. Eh? Keep reading :)
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