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Chapter 13 : Shades Darker than Midnight
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The Edge of Light
Chapter 13: Shades Darker than Midnight
Sirius dug his hands deeper in his pockets as he strolled through the Grimmauld gardens, the feeling of loss and betrayal overwhelming him. This was him a year ago, wasn’t it? Blacks from all around the world, coming to celebrate the beginning of his school career. The best handmade Slytherin robes being draped over his shoulders to show off for everyone where he belonged? Regulus, his own brother, the man of honor basking in the glory of being the one son that would never betray the house of Salazar Slytherin.
“Stealthy as a cat,” he murmured as Cat’s arm slipped in his. He was thankful for her presence and he slowed his pace easily, shortening his steps to match hers.
“Maybe – " Cat began but Sirius gave a resigned smile.
“I lost Regulus to them ages ago, Cat. The sorting hat will place him in Slytherin.” He glanced away, a slight movement from the wind through the trees catching his eye. “I’ve known it forever but seeing him in those robes…” Sirius trailed off, his voice cracking ever so slightly.
Cat was quiet, a rare feat for her, as she walked beside him. It allowed his mind to travel through childhood memories and times of “what-if” when he might have had the opportunity to instill some sense of righteousness in his younger brother. He came up empty though, and the guilt was overpowering. The crunch of their footsteps on the pebbled path began to unsettle his nerves even more and he tugged her slightly as he stepped off the path and into the woods. Their steps were soft and rhythmic now, the cushy green moss silencing their tread.
“My father died before I knew him. We were so poor growing up. We were forced to beg for food or money. But, no one wanted anything to do with the dirty gypsies.” Cat said quietly, avoiding Sirius’ gaze as they walked. “One day these men showed up in the forest with more money than we’d ever seen. It wasn’t London money. My grandmother called it the devil’s money because of the strange markings on it.”
“Wizards?” Sirius asked, tightening his grip on Cat’s arm as her shivers turned to trembles. Although she had talked often about her mother, Cat had never been willing to share anything else about her life before Grimmauld and her short, curt sentences told him she was struggling even now.
“We thought they were our saviors. They gave us food, money, and shelter. We went off one day and came back to have entire cottages built and waiting for us.” Cat hesitated as she remembered and Sirius stopped walking. He tugged her gently down to the ground beside him, the glazed look of memories that haunted her face frightening him.
“Sirius, I was so young. I didn’t understand but people kept disappearing or just not acting like themselves. It was as if someone else was controlling them. We blamed it on the forest pixies who steal breath from babies. My grandmother lectured everyone about sleeping with the devil and getting what you paid for. She just disappeared one day and I’ve never seen her since.” Cat’s voice caught. “I believed her after that. Whoever the men were they weren’t saviors but hell on earth. It just got worse as they got more powerful. One night, I came home and -” Cat stopped mid-sentence, her eyes searching Sirius.
“What?” he prodded gently but Cat had hugged her arms tightly around herself as if afraid telling him would make her relive the whole ordeal. Sirius took her hands in his, pulling open her self-embrace and holding her himself. She snuggled deeper into his protective hug, her silent tears falling onto his broad chest.
“I shouldn’t have been there. I was supposed to be at a friend’s for some stupid sleepover.” Cat shook her head. “But something told me to go home and I ran into her room.”
“Your mother’s?” Sirius’ quiet words caught her off guard and for a moment he thought she was going to refuse to continue. But she nodded, her grip on Sirius’ arm becoming painful as she tried to carry on.
“He had her pinned to the bed, her clothes off. He was raping her, of course, but I had no idea at the time. I didn’t understand until your uncle explained it to me days later.”
Sirius started. “My uncle?”
Cat nodded. “I ran, Sirius. I left my mother in that man’s clutches and ran. Your uncle was there that night, in the village. He stopped me and somehow got the story out of me. He gathered men and went to the house and saved my mother.”
“But he said he didn’t know you…” Sirius couldn’t help but interject.
“We lied to him,” she answered simply. “My mother was so ashamed of what had happened and she didn’t trust anyone. She feared what would happen to both of us for telling. She told him I was just a village girl and even though I knew he came to visit as the years wore on, I never saw him again until the night she died. She always sent me away long before he arrived and I knew enough not to come back early ever again.” Cat shivered as her emotions began to dissipate and Sirius conjured a woolen blanket and pulled it over her shoulders. “My mother loved him, you know. It took her years to trust anyone again much less a wizard. But she did love him. He was like no other. He brought in people to get rid of the dark wizards and for years we were safe.”
“He’s a good man,” Sirius murmured non-committedly. Something nagged deep within him – telling him there was a side to the story Cat couldn’t possibly know.
“You are a lot like him, you know. You defy all odds, Sirius. By all accounts you should be as wicked and foul as the rest of your family.”
“Regulus, too.” Cat’s voice hardened. “He doesn’t deserve your sympathy.”
“He’s my brother, Cat. I’ll never believe he’s completely like them. There has to be something deep within him that tells him it’s wrong.”
“What good does that do if he’s too much of a coward to fight for it?”
“I can only hope one day he finds the bravery he needs. Cat,” Sirius’ voice softened. “I won’t ever give up on him. I can’t. Please just understand and give me that.”
She nodded. “I won’t bring it up again.”
Sirius shifted so that he could lean against a nearby tree then pulled Cat back into his arms. There was something about her revelation tonight – something about the memories she’d shared with him – that made him want her close. He wasn’t sure why and chose not to give it much thought for fear of what the answer might be, but he wanted the warmth of her presence beside him. The light smell of rosemary and mint that always accompanied her traveled over the wind, calming and comforting him like nothing else ever had. “Your mother, did she look like you?”
Cat smiled. “Haven’t I showed you a picture? Your uncle brought it for me. She looks so stern in it.” She dug into her pocket and pulled out a tattered and dog eared photograph of his uncle and her mother. “See? We look nothing alike really. Her hair was straight as a board and she was so skinny. I like to eat.”
Sirius chuckled. He had seen Cat put away more food than James, which was a feat in itself. He studied the photograph. His uncle looked young and carefree but Rosemarie did look a bit grim. “Was she not happy?”
“He was tickling her and she wanted the picture to be perfect. She was so angry at him for acting so juvenile.” Cat grinned. “Must be where you get it from. She was lively. She loved to laugh and joke and oh, when she danced.” Her voice softened. “It was as if the world stopped turning. I would’ve given anything to be able to dance like her.”
“Her eyes, were they blue like yours?”
“Who says my eyes are blue?” she asked mischievously.
“They’re darker than midnight, Cat, but they’re blue,” he answered without even glancing at her.
Her face was glowing, her eyes intent on him. She shifted in his arms, causing Sirius to hand the photograph back. “What?”
“How do you know that?”
He looked at her in perplexity. “Know what?” Realization dawned on him a moment later. “Oh, your eyes,” he shrugged. “I noticed them the first night I met you. Well, before I met you actually. You walked passed me at the carnivale.”
“Sirius.” Cat’s voice demanded the truth.
Sirius had never understood how she could make him feel guilty by just saying his name, but it was definitely one of her talents. “I thought you hated me. When I returned to Hogwarts I left with the belief you hated me and I had lost my only friend,” he said quietly. “I went to bed each night seeing the disappointment in your eyes. It’s something I never want to see again in my life.”
“You could never disappoint me, don’t you know that?”
“I do everyone else,” he shrugged. “It’s a given.”
“That’s only because they all expect something from you. Me? I expect nothing. I expect you to be you. Which means, you’ll be serious one minute but a joking fiend the next; a noble wizard to some and a callous marauder to others. You’ll be the boy who willingly suffered watching the death of my mother just so another boy didn’t have to see it. You’ll be the one who baits the Slytherins just because he can. And,” she touched his cheek softly, “you’ll be the man who believes his best is never good enough.”
She was right…and he hated her for it. He wasn’t stable like Remus or slow but loyal like Peter. He was willing to take risks, but not completely fruitless ones unless prodded along by James and he wasn’t studious like Lily. The only thing he was known for was being consistently inconsistent. He’d protect James with his last dying breath but let another wizard like Severus Snape suffer unmentionable tortures just because he could. His own double standard made him ill but he stubbornly refused to change.
He didn’t believe he deserved James’ friendship…or Cat’s for that matter. It was his kind that destroyed her life and threatened James’ more with each passing year. Deep down, he believed one day they would realize the same thing and he’d once again be all alone. The thought terrified him more than anything he’d ever seen or heard and somehow, he had the feeling Cat knew that and that was why she stayed. And that she had chosen tonight, when his brother’s life had been so vividly lost, to share with him tragedies of her own meant more than he could ever explain to her.
“For tonight,” Sirius whispered, his fingers tipping her chin to face him, “thank you.” He leaned down hesitantly, his lips barely brushing hers. He pulled an inch away, tilting his head to survey her eyes. “One shade darker than midnight,” he said affirmatively with a crooked smile.
“And yours are as gray as your soul.”
“What a comforting thought,” he chuckled. “It’s getting late and you must be freezing. We should go.”
“Ah, I’m with the noble Mr. Black this evening,” Cat said standing up and brushing off her clothes. “Where is that marauder when you need him?”
Although her tone was light, Sirius could hear the disappointment in her voice. Rather than stand up and follow her, he reached up and grabbed hold of her hand. “What exactly did you have in mind?”
“Well, I had a wonderful plan that involved biscuits, a colony of ants, and Regulus’ new school robes but I don’t imagine you’re much in the mood for that now.”
“Not particularly but I do intend on remembering that.” He laughed. “What else you got?”
“Something that might do us both some good, but –" Cat’s eyes clouded, “nevermind.”
“You know I hate it when you do that,” he said, tugging one of her curls playfully. “To hell with the rest of the world, we deserve a little fun. Tell me.”
“It looks like the marauder has finally appeared.” Cat stepped closer to him, her fingers running lightly through the hair on top of his head. She smiled innocently. “Have you ever kissed a girl, Sirius?”
“I just kissed you, didn’t I?” he grumbled.
“No, I mean really…where it leaves you breathless.”
His eyes darkened. “Cat-"
“Damn, Sirius!” She plopped down beside him with a loud thud. “Does everything have to be so serious with you?”
“You don’t think kissing is serious?”
“Sometimes of course it is,” she shrugged, “but it can be just for fun.”
“Just for fun?”” he asked skeptically. “Cat, have you been drinking?”
“Just a bit but that was hours ago.” Cat moved closer to him. “I told you I wasn’t good at being alone.”
“Never would’ve guessed that meant you were off kissing somebody.” Sirius couldn’t hide the twinge of jealousy that rose within him. Who exactly had she found to kiss around Grimmauld anyway? Regulus jumped to his mind and his eyes narrowed. He grabbed her arm and jerked her back toward him.
“What’s the matter with you?” Cat’s eyes widened as she tried to break his grasp.
“Regulus?” he spat.
“Oh, geez, you’ve got to be kidding me,” she hissed and finally managed to break free. “What do you take me for anyway?”
Sirius immediately felt guilty. It was true…she’d never demonstrated anything but pure revulsion for Regulus since her first day at Grimmauld. In fact, the only person she’d shown any compassion towards other than Sirius, of course, was his uncle. He knew his uncle was above kissing her and hoped his father was, but that only left the irregular visitors to Grimmauld. Or, and the thought concerned him more than he cared to admit, she had found a way to leave Grimmauld unnoticed. “Cat, have you been leaving Grimmauld?”
She sighed heavily. “No, Sirius. I told you I would behave and I have. I’ve given them no reason to have me thrown out or murdered in my sleep.”
The lightness with which she spoke about his family caused Sirius to turn away. He wanted to have a family to be proud of and, even knowing that wasn’t in his future, he couldn’t help but ache when the realities of his family’s evil doings were thrust upon him. He found it much easier to ignore their behavior than dwell on it.
“Sirius,” Cat took hold of his hand. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“It’s the truth.”
“Which makes it all the more pointless to mention.”
“Don’t you ever stop talking?”
Cupping her head in his hand, he pulled her closer, hesitating only a moment before pressing his lips to hers. His kiss was soft and lingering, allowing the visions of his family time to fade away. His teeth pulled gently at her bottom lip and a feeling he’d never experienced washed over him. His lips sought hers again, seeking the euphoric sensation her kisses brought. All thoughts deserted him, his body contented with the silky feel of her tongue sliding into his mouth. He felt something rise from deep within him – a sense of pure joy unlike anything he’d ever known.
She had been right…kissing wasn’t only fun it was addicting. They kissed for hours – exploring kisses; quick friendly kisses; kisses that held laughter and ones that held something more seductive that he didn’t yet understand. Occasionally she would kiss him with such passion it touched the edges of his soul and Sirius would immediately back away. She never failed to notice his unease and, as if repelled by some invisible wall around his heart, she would retreat back into the world of friendly undemanding touches.
It was only when the hazy glow of sunlight began to lighten the horizon that Sirius came to his senses and realized his respite had only been temporary. “Cat, we need to get back. The sun will be up soon.”
“Hm” Cat responded sleepily. “Couldn’t convince you to conjure breakfast so I can take a nap, could I?”
“I think that could be arranged,” Sirius pulled her to her feet, kissing her lightly on the forehead. Taking her hand in his, he led her toward Grimmauld, making sure to take the least known passages so they wouldn’t chance being caught. When they reached his room, he paused uncertainly. “Cat, about tonight –"
His seriousness was washed away as she stretched up on tiptoes to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. She gave him a mischievous smile. “Some things are worth getting caught over.”
“Touché” he laughed loudly as he opened the door to his room. Cat took a step ahead but stopped immediately, causing Sirius to run into her. “Get lost, did you?”
“Sirius.” The fear in her voice caught him off guard and Sirius jerked her behind him, afraid someone had been waiting in his room for their return. Why had he let her enter first? Why hadn’t he checked the room? Cursing himself for his recklessness, he stepped out of the shadows with more courage than he felt.
“Sirius.” It came from a different direction and this time the call of his name was much weaker, more broken and overflowing with pain. “Help me.”
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