“James, give me your wand.” Sirius pulled James to a stop paces away from Grimmauld.
“Are you out of your mind?” James struggled free of Sirius’ grasp, a look of utter astonishment on his face. “I’m a Potter, for goodness’ sakes. You think I’m going to walk into the Black household wand less?”
Sirius turned to him, the street lamps casting eerie shadows across their path. “The only way I can keep you safe is to make sure you don’t fly off-"
“I’m not some irrational kid anymore, Sirius. I’m not going to do something stupid.”
Sirius eyed James warily. “James.”
“You can’t ask me to go in there with no way to defend myself.”
“You mean, I can’t ask you to trust that I’ll protect you?” Sirius countered hotly.
“I don’t mean it that way.” James pulled out his wand and shoved it Sirius’ direction. “You better be right about this, Sirius.”
“If I’m wrong we’ll both be dead and it won’t much matter, now will it?” Sirius growled as he tucked James’ wand in his cloak alongside his own. “Keep close and whatever you do, don’t take off that cloak.”
“Really? You think that’s wise, do you?”
James’ smartass comment infuriated Sirius but he decided to let it drop. He had other things to concentrate on than chastising James for acting like a ten year old. Sirius was curious as to why he had been asked home so quickly after having just made an appearance. Although Sirius was certain Voldemort had something to do with it, the uncertainty weighed heavily on Sirius. Was it possible Regulus had changed his mind? That perhaps his family had finally seen the truth? Sirius couldn’t help but laugh at himself for such a crazy thought.
“Sirius?” James’ nervous voice sounded from somewhere behind him.
“Just thinking maybe they called me here to tell me they decided the whole full blood/half blood thing was a bad idea after all.” Sirius dropped his eyes. “Crazy, I know.”
Even through the cloak, Sirius could feel James’ comforting hand on his arm. “Not crazy, Sirius. Maybe one day – "
“No.” Sirius shook his head but smiled his thanks to James. “It’s too late to believe they will ever change, James. Let’s get this over with.”
Sirius stepped into the house more assuredly than last time, knowing he had James beside him. Even without his wand, James gave Sirius a strength no one else could.
“Sirius, I’m glad you got here so quickly. I do apologize for interrupting you at such an inopportune time.” Voldemort’s voice was genuinely kind and the idea that Voldemort actually had any feelings of his own stunned Sirius.
“I assumed it was urgent seeing as how I was just here.”
“Yes.” Voldemort took Sirius’ arm and began leading him up the stairs. Unlike before, Voldemort was gentle, his touch guiding and almost fatherly. “We’ve been trying to locate your father but haven’t been able to yet. Regulus is out looking for him as we speak.” Voldemort hesitated at a familiar doorway. “Your mother, Sirius, she’s taken ill.”
Sirius turned from his parent’s bedroom door. “What do you mean, taken ill?” Sirius asked his voice full of doubt.
“She collapsed at a party last night. She’s been bed-ridden ever since. Sirius,” Voldemort’s hand moved to Sirius’ shoulder. “She’s not expected to live much longer.”
Sirius’ heart leaped to his throat, unanswered questions overwhelming him. “Has she been ill? Why hasn’t anyone told me? What exactly is the matter with her? Have the healers been here?”
“I know you have many questions, Sirius. I’ll try and answer them as best I can. But, really, you needn’t waste any more time. Go to your mother, Sirius.”
Voldemort opened the door for him and Sirius stepped inside with James close behind. Voldemort closed the door quietly, allowing Sirius time alone with his mother. A slight medicinal smell permeated the air and a handful candles cast a soft glow across the room. From his position, Sirius could see his mother lying still in the over-sized bed. Her face was pale and gaunt, lacking in color or emotion. Her hair, normally tied in a neat chignon at the nape of her neck, was now spread haphazardly around her face. She seemed only distantly aware of his presence, an idea that bothered Sirius more than her appearance. He hadn’t been in the same room with her without being immediately scolded since he was ten.
Sirius’ emotions tumbled and he felt weak. This was the woman he had sought approval from his entire life only to be turned away with each decision he made. How on earth was he supposed to react?
As if sensing his turmoil, James gripped his arm tightly for support. But it was only when his mother called to him that Sirius came out of his haze.
“Sirius, is that you?” her weak voice was barely audible and Sirius immediately moved to her side. “Sit with me, my son.”
Sirius sank onto the bed beside her, desperately wanting to take her into his arms and make her understand why he had been away for so long.
“It’s been so long,” she whispered and took his hand in hers.
“What’s happened? What’s the matter with you?” Sirius could feel James’ warmth behind him and was suddenly grateful that it had been James’ to accompany him tonight.
“I’m old, Sirius. Old enough to realize I’ve made a lot of mistakes with you and your brother.”
“Don’t talk about those things now,” Sirius’ voice cracked as he spoke. He had never seen his mother this weak, this full of regret and compassion.
“I’ve only wanted the best for you, Sirius. You understand that don’t you? All this time, all these years, all the things we’ve argued over, they are only because I want the best for you.”
“I know,” Sirius answered, not sure if he really did understand.
“Sometimes we have to make sacrifices for the ones we love.”
Sirius sat up straighter. Her position hadn’t change, her voice still held no emotion. But something was definitely different. “Sacrifices?” Sirius asked hesitantly.
“I want you to do something for me, Sirius,” her voice was soft, almost pleading. “I won’t be here to watch over Regulus or your father. I need to know they are taken care of. I know it will require certain allowances on your part.”
“Allowances?” Sirius slipped his hand away from his mother. “You are asking me to join Voldemort.”
“Consider it my last request, Sirius,” her voice broke. “I don’t know how much longer I have. Please – "
Sirius dropped his head, unwilling to look at her. “I can’t.”
“You mean you won’t.”
The edge in her voice made Sirius uneasy. “Alright, I won’t.”
“You would refuse your dying mother’s request?” She asked harshly, sitting up in bed in one swift movement.
Sirius jerked away from her, almost colliding with James. The fire in her eyes was nothing new to Sirius but it was certainly unexpected. “You have a lot of energy for a woman on her deathbed,” Sirius’ voice was low, still not wanting to believe she would go to this level to control him.
But if he had had any doubts, when she jumped out of bed and lunged for him, all of his doubts dissolved. “You foul, loathsome, muggle loving prat! To deny your mother’s request. Is it that girl? The one they found you in bed with? She’s a muggle isn’t she? That school has poisoned you!”
Sirius took her abuse as he always had, waiting patiently for her to tire herself out. She threatened him with disownment, promised curses on his future but when she began screaming her intent to harm his friends and fellow school mates, Sirius could handle no more.
He left the room without comment, her shrieks following him down the hallway as he departed. Sirius could think of nothing but escape. He had so badly wanted to believe that she had changed her ways…that she was going to embrace him with open arms as her death approached. In the brief few moments he had believed her to be sick, he had hoped for reconciliation. He had dreamed of her approval for years and thought the time had finally arrived. That she would use his emotions to try and get her way, didn’t shock Sirius. But it did deepen the wounds his family has already created to a depth where they could never heal.
Sirius could feel James beside him and he wondered what on earth could be going through his mind right now. James had wanted an idea of what Sirius had to deal with but this, what his mother had done tonight, was more than Sirius ever desired for James to see. James didn’t deserve to be put through that. Sirius’ thoughts were interrupted by Voldemort’s appearance at the bottom of the stairs.
“How is she?”
“Oh, she’s had a remarkable recovery,” Sirius’ voice was heavy with sarcasm. “I feel confidant in leaving her in your care.”
“You don’t feel it would be better to wait here for your father’s return?”
“My mother has made it quite clear that I’m not welcome here,” Sirius returned, his voice calm but his thoughts jumbled with his maddening desire to escape from the house.
“I can convince her it is best.” Voldemort’s voice was dripping with sweetness.
“I do not and will not accept any intervention from you.” Sirius growled. “My family may have sided with you but, mark my words, I never will.”
Voldemort’s smile unnerved Sirius. “In time, you will see the error of your ways.”
Sirius hesitated, his confidence struck. He backed away from Voldemort, almost tripping over James. Sirius reached into the cabinet and pulled out a bottle of rum, knowing he would need it before the night ended.
“Shall I inform you when I learn of your father’s return?”
“Never contact me again. If you summon me here again, I swear I’ll burn this place… all of its precious relics and everyone inside.” Sirius spoke with confidence he did not feel.
“Somehow, I believe you would do that,” Voldemort smiled. “We’re a lot a like, you and me.”
Sirius held his tongue, knowing James was just paces away. If James thought for any reason that Sirius was no longer in control of the situation, James would undoubtedly act irrationally and put them both in danger. Without even acknowledging Voldemort’s comment, Sirius strode toward the door.
“Willing to share that drink with me before you go?” Voldemort asked, moving quickly to block Sirius’ path.
“I think not.” Sirius considered pushing him out of the way but then realized James would still be unable to get out of the house should anything go wrong. “And I believe I can find my own way out.”
Sirius turned on his heel, leading James toward the back entrance to the house. He found it odd that Voldemort made no additional attempts to block his exit and, without looking, could almost feel a sense of triumph in Voldemort.
Before Sirius gave himself a chance to analyze what Voldemort might have planned, he hurried into the back parlor intent on getting outside. He was halfway through the room when something caught his attention. Sirius tried to ignore the feeling but something continued to nag at his soul and he hesitated at the outside entryway. As much as he struggled with it, Sirius couldn’t resist the urge to turn around. The back parlor was just as he remembered from years ago. Everything was still in its rightful place. It took a moment for Sirius to even notice the crumbled form but, when he finally saw her, Sirius understood what had tugged so deeply at his soul.
An image he thought he’d never see again; a memory he’d tried to bury; a brokenhearted fate he assumed he’d overcome, and yet here she was. As the memories cascaded over him, all concerns for James’ safety were quickly forgotten as Sirius eyed the girl from the doorway. Somehow she looked much younger than he remembered. Her clothing was tattered; her coffee colored hair now dingy and matted. Her brilliant blue eyes – the ones Sirius had often described as one shade darker than midnight in sentimentality after making love – were now dull but he would still recognize them anywhere.
She had curled herself into a ball in Sirius’ favorite chair and now sat trembling in fear. Even in the darkest corner of his mind, Sirius could not imagine the depraved scenes Voldemort and Lucius might have put her through.
Sirius walked to her, towering above her trembling form. He had held her in his arms many times, far more than any other girl he’d taken as a lover, but could never remember her being quite this small. His hands knew every curve of her body from memory and Sirius fought to end the visions of Voldemort’s hands having traversed her olive skin.
Sirius reached his hand to her face, his heart wishing it not to be true. But she knew the rough feel of his skin and the gently way he caressed her face and she turned her inky blue eyes towards him.
“Sirius?” her voice was terrified but his touch seemed to strengthen her.
Sirius tipped her head from one side to the other, surveying the injuries she had sustained. Sirius swallowed the lump that had risen in his throat. “I’ve seen you look worse,” he whispered, trying to disguise the worry in his voice.
“Only at your hands,” she returned meekly, purposefully loud enough for Voldemort to hear.
Sirius’ heart plummeted. She still knew the words to say, still knew how to play the game that protected them both. Sirius fought the desperate urge to pull her into his arms. Sirius had forgotten just how well she knew his every move, though, and her eyes chastised him for even considering such a reckless action.
“Yes.” Voldemort stepped forward and touched her head. “I had heard you two were old friends.”
Sirius had had enough. For Voldemort to have taken her and now try to use her against him, the thoughts made Sirius’ blood boil. Sliding his hand into his cloak, he reached for his wand. But she was quicker than him…she always had been. Grabbing Sirius’ hands to prevent him from attacking Voldemort, she dropped to her knees in front of him.
“Please, I’ll do whatever you ask. I’ve behaved, haven’t I?” she glanced to Voldemort. “Haven’t I?”
That she was going to make him continue with this charade made Sirius ill. The muscles in his body began to quiver as he looked down on her…her fingers clutching him desperately but her eyes now shining brilliantly with determination. She was trying to force him to leave. That she still underestimated him infuriated Sirius.
“Send her back where she came from.” Sirius jerked away from her touch, brushing off his cloak as if she had infected it. “I don’t have time for this now.”
“I thought it might get your mind off your mother, Sirius.” Voldemort’s voice was unsteady as if, for once, Sirius had caught him off guard.
Taking advantage of Voldemort’s confusion, Sirius whirled on him. “I know where to find her should I change my mind,” Sirius spat. “Send her away. Don’t bring filth like that in the house of Black. My father didn’t approve of her before and certainly wouldn’t now.”
“That information was not provided to me.” The coldness in Voldemort’s voice told Sirius someone as going to pay dearly for the misinformation. “My apologies.”
Grabbing her roughly, Sirius shoved the girl out the door. A slight movement caught his attention and Sirius realized he’d just sent her flying into James.
Sirius cursed himself for failing to keep up with James’ whereabouts and turned to Voldemort. “Perhaps if you desire so much to rise about your muggle lineage you should choose better company.” Sirius could feel the instant rage well within Voldemort, but he didn’t care. He had to keep Voldemort occupied so James could rearrange the cloak and remain hidden.
“I assume you won’t be returning to Grimmauld?” Voldemort hissed dangerously.
“Not in your lifetime.” Sirius didn’t bother to take a last look…didn’t chance a last glance at his home place. Striding outside, he slammed the door, knowing any chance he might have had at reconciling with his family was now gone.
His emotions overwrought, his physical strength spent, Sirius had no idea what direction to head. Had it not been for James’ arm steering him, Sirius would have stayed firmly planted on the Black property. After they had gone a safe distance away from the house, James pulled off the invisibility cloak.
Sirius glanced James’ direction as if in a daze. The appearance of the girl had thrown him and the finality with which he’d left Grimmauld gripped all of his senses so much that he had only been vaguely aware of James’ presence.
“Sorry,” Sirius murmured as he pulled the cork out of the bottle of rum he had confiscated from the Black house earlier.
“I never imagined…”
Sirius waved him off. “And why on earth would you?”
“I understand now.” James stammered. “I mean, I understand why being called a Black is so cutting to you. I can’t believe your mother would try and manipulate you like that.”
“Hm.” Sirius continued to drink the bottle, trying desperately to drown the girl’s memory as they walked.
James caught his arm in mid-air as Sirius tried to take another swig. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing, cursed family is all,” Sirius answered but wouldn’t meet James’ gaze. She was the one secret they had…the one side of Sirius’ life he’d shared with no one – not even James. At the time he thought he was protecting her but now Sirius wondered if he had only been trying to protect himself. Sirius closed his eyes as each breath drew him back into the world he had shared with her. The long summer nights spent lazily gazing at stars and voicing dreams they knew would never happen; the moments when he allowed his weaknesses to be exposed for only her to see; and the hours he’d spent holding her tightly in his arms, while she clung desperately to the hope that Sirius could keep the cold bitter outside world from seeping into their lives. But, Sirius reminded himself, he had failed her just like he failed everyone else who put their trust in him.
“Sirius,” James’ voice was gentle; as if he knew Sirius had fallen into the darkest depths and was afraid disturbing him might destroy him. “Who was that girl?”
“No one,” he answered a bit too quickly.
“You’re drinking whiskey like water, Sirius.” James’ words were tinged with doubt.
“Don’t be so melodramatic, James.” Sirius downed half the bottle in one swallow, afraid James was going to take it away from him.
“Sirius, your family…”
“I have no family,” Sirius spat angrily.
Sirius knew he had offended James somehow but just what he’d done he didn’t know. James was sulking as they walked and, even knowing he should probably say something, Sirius couldn’t bring himself to talk. They walked in a heavy silence, Sirius allowing James to lead him wherever they were going.
Sirius’ thoughts moved through his mind in jagged images, the events of the night still to fresh for him to make any sense of. As they reached their familiar childhood haunt which they had affectionately dubbed “Marauder’s Cliff,” Sirius couldn’t keep from wondering where the girl had gone. Was she waiting for him right now? The idea made Sirius miserable with longing and he downed more rum. From the corner of his eye, he could see James’ reproachful glare.
“Where do you think your father is?” James asked finally.
“Running an errand for Voldemort, of course,” Sirius said bitterly and finished off the rest of the bottle. “Killing off some unsuspecting muggle loving family.”
James grabbed Sirius’ arm as he teetered near the edge of the cliff. James pulled him back roughly and Sirius dropped to the ground. He smiled appreciatively to James and patted the ground for James to join him.
“He wouldn’t do that.” James didn’t sound convinced.
“No,” Sirius admitted, his voice slurring as he tried to conjure another bottle of rum. “He’d just finance it. He’s too much of a coward to do anything.”
“Give me that.” James slipped Sirius’ wand out of his hand. “You’re gonna kill us both waving it around like that,” he murmured and conjured another bottle for Sirius. “I don’t envision the Blacks to be cowards.”
“Oh, but we are.” Sirius nodded gratefully to James for the drink as he spoke. “They are afraid of losing their precious image, their house full of baubles, and their entire way of life.”
“And you?” James asked quietly. “What are you afraid of, Sirius?”
Sirius looked at him blankly for a moment, trying to get his murky thoughts to clear. Picking up the empty bottle, he tossed it over the edge of the cliff, listening as it shattered into a thousand pieces. “Being alone,” he murmured finally. “Nothing else.”
“It will, James. You, Lily, Remus, Peter, Ca...” Sirius’ voice trailed off as he caught himself beginning to mention the girl’s name. “You’ll all leave. That’s the way it works. And you are a fool if you think any different.”
Sirius offered a drink of consolation to James, who took it gratefully. They sat in silence for a few moments, James continually opening his mouth to say something and then deciding not to.
Sirius grinned at him in drunken amusement, and then stretched out to lie on the gravel. “You know, I’ve heard muggles say that if you do that too many times your face will stick like that. Do you think that’s true?”
“Oh, shut up.” James pulled the bottle out of Sirius’ hand and took a swig before handing it back. “Do you love her, Sirius?”
“Who?” Sirius was immediately on guard as visions of the girl filled his mind.
“Evans?” Sirius asked, briefly confused.
“Don’t make me hex you while you’re drunk.”
Sirius laughed. “No, James. I don’t love Lily Evans. I wouldn’t even know how.”
“Then what is it?”
Sirius opened his mouth to respond but then thought better of it. If James wanted to talk about Lily Evans, that was probably a much safer conversation to have. “She’s not the prat you take her for, James. You should give her a chance.”
“Only if you make me.”
“Well, then, I’m making you.” Sirius tried to punch him but was too drunk to even come close.
“You’ve never been so defensive of a girl before.” James shrugged. “It’s like you’ve put a wall up between us where she’s concerned.”
“Must you wait until I’ve had two bottles of rum to decide to be profound?” Sirius sat up and hesitated a moment as his head spun. “She’s bringing us closer, James. You’re just too pigheaded to see it. How’s that for profound?”
“You did your damnedest to break things off with her and then she’s in your bed.”
Sirius’ laugh was so loud and unexpected it made James jump. “She is rather determined when she sets her mind to something.”
“And she has it set on you?”
A dark shadow passed over Sirius. “No.”
“She’s of the belief I need saving,” Sirius murmured.
“She’s right,” James responded quietly.
“No, she’s wrong. You’re wrong, so don’t waste your time,” Sirius said flatly, all trace of drunkenness gone. “I’m beyond saving.”
A/N: Curious who the girl is? You can meet her in my new Sirius story The Edge of Light. It will serve as a prequel of sorts to Reckless. I hope you all will come join me! Oh, and if the cliff scene seems vaguely familiar, I promise I didn’t steal someone else’s idea – it’s the same setting I used for the Sirius one shot in Through the Looking Glass. It’s mine, I swear! :)
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