A/N: Alright, here we go…down to the last three chapters. Hang on tight because they are all full of twists and turns and hidden meanings!
With the permanent break from his family, Sirius fell into a veiled darkness that even the Marauders couldn’t penetrate. Although James came to visit him each day, Sirius would allow no discussions of the events that had occurred.
Instead, James did what he could by making sure Sirius got safely into bed at the end of each night’s drunken rampage. The drinking and self-imposed starvation took a greater toll on Sirius with each passing day and, every morning, James’ heart would wrench as he watched Sirius struggle and then fail to find a reason to move on.
James’ first thought for help was Remus but, due to an untimely full moon, Remus had isolated himself from everyone much like Sirius was doing. Knowing Peter would be more a hindrance than help, James finally did the unthinkable. Swallowing his pride, he appeared late one evening on the doorstep of Lily Evans.
Broken, weary, and a tad embarrassed, James pleaded for her parents to forgive his late night interruption. When she finally appeared on the porch in her night clothes, James’ thoughts were jumbled and his eyes red and swollen. He had no energy to make his request to Lily seem proper so, running his hand through his disheveled hair, James settled on being truthful with Lily Evans for the first time in his life.
His voice raspy with emotion, his heart unwilling to let him hide his anguish, James begged of her: “Lily, if you can, please save him.”
James wasn’t sure how she knew he was talking about Sirius but she did. Pulling him to sit with her on the porch swing, Lily held his hand tightly in her own, their mutual concern for Sirius making them one. Lily told James she couldn’t save Sirius, he had to save himself. James tried to lash out at her silly philosophical answer but Lily’s patience with him was so much like Sirius’ that he eventually grew tired of arguing and just returned to sit at her side. Lily believed they both could give Sirius a reason to save himself though and, out of ideas himself, James settled on believing she was right.
As the days turned into weeks, James and Lily settled into a common routine. James would stay through the night and Lily would appear in the morning to take over. The two would sink tiredly into chairs at the kitchen table while they waited patiently for Sirius to wake. They spoke of Sirius or the atrocities Voldemort began to invoke on those that opposed him. As the violent acts continued to escalate, they talked occasionally of joining the Order Dumbledore had created to fight against Voldemort. But the idea hung stale in the air, neither James nor Lily wanting to make such a momentous choice without Sirius’ input.
Unfailingly, as they finished their second cup of coffee, Sirius would appear in the kitchen. He never seemed surprised to see them but he never seemed to welcome their company either. Sirius would join them for a single cup, waving their concerned words away with a swift movement of his hand, and then brusquely escort them to the door. What he did with each day neither knew and all their attempts to follow him had been met with Sirius easily eluding them within minutes.
But it wasn’t until Remus appeared with the news that Sirius had been seen in Hogsmeade with none other than Lucius Malfoy that the true depth of Sirius’ torment became obvious.
Sirius stretched painfully as rays from the morning sun drifted across his covers, awakening him from his drunken stupor. His muscles ached terribly, making him feel years older than his true age. He rubbed his chest gingerly, knowing he would pay for the previous night’s indiscretions in Hogsmeade. Intertwining his fingers, he pulled them behind his head, the soft roll of voices from his kitchen making him feel queasy. He laid still as he tried to focus on the deep sound of James’ voice. He had become so accustomed to the daily banter between James and Lily each morning that he found the seriousness in their voices to be disconcerting.
Sirius closed his eyes as hazy visions of Remus helped him place the third voice drifting through his home. A sickening feeling washed over him as he recalled Remus’ presence in Hogsmeade the previous evening. Sirius had been in the tavern, Lucius mere paces away from him, when Remus had appeared in the doorway. Although Remus strode forward, automatically giving Sirius the benefit of the doubt, Sirius had been too tired to provide an explanation. The confrontation with Lucius had been straining enough and to have to relive it by exposing their conversation to Remus was just more than Sirius could take. With a few cursory salutations, Sirius had left the tavern, Remus’ suspicious gaze following him as he left.
Sirius opened his eyes and cursed himself. Of course Remus would have run straight to James with the news. Had Sirius taken just a brief few moments to explain the situation to Remus last night, this entire episode could have been avoided. But now, as it was, the entire group was going to face him head on in an attempt to stun some sense into him. The thought exhausted Sirius and he hadn’t even got out of bed.
Sirius sat up slowly and dropped his feet to the floor. Glancing at the darkening bruises on his arms and the red welts crisscrossing his chest, Sirius reached for a bottle of pills perched precariously on the nightstand, its contents spilling out across the wood. Popping two in his mouth, Sirius grimaced as he forced them down his throat without the benefit of water. Testing his balance as he stood, Sirius teetered only for a moment before being able to stand solidly. He pulled on a dirty pair of trousers that he had discarded the night before, trying to recall the last time he’d actually done laundry. Sirius’ thoughts were muddled as he tried to both locate a shirt and create some reasonable excuse for his recent actions the others might find plausible. The truth was out of the question but his normal quick witted replies had left him. Deciding it best to get a cup of coffee and gauge their anger before settling on a plan, Sirius hurried to find a shirt that didn’t smell overly foul.
“Sirius!” Lily’s worried voice made him turn just in time to see her and James appear in the doorway.
Immediately at his side, Sirius drew in a pained breath as Lily’s soft hands began to trace and scrutinize his most recent wounds. “What’s happened to you?”
Encircling her wrists in his palms, Sirius broke away from her touches easily. “I’m alright, Lily. Thanks for the concern.” Sirius sent her a reassuring smile but neither her nor James returned it.
“But, Sirius…” Lily’s concerned eyes locked with Sirius’ and a rush of guilt tore into him. Even knowing he shouldn’t, Sirius loosened his grip.
Her hands moved gently across him, checking each wound in turn. Sirius balled his fists in his pockets as he tried to suppress the urge to flee from the confused feelings her touches always brought. Glancing at James, Sirius rolled his eyes at her over-protectiveness. But James was watching Lily closely and refused to return his gaze.
“Will he be all right?” James asked quietly.
“I think so, but…” Lily trailed off as she moved behind Sirius to examine his back. Her fingers traced a small figure on his shoulder and she turned questioning green eyes Sirius’ direction.
Glancing over his shoulder, Sirius’ eyes bore into hers with an unspoken demand for silence. Taking her hand in his, Sirius pushed it away from the mark imbedded in his skin. “That’s enough. Will you hand me my shirt please?”
Lily backed away from him quickly, her eyes giving away a fear Sirius had never seen before. Her panic caught him off guard, but immediate understanding flooded through him. Sirius grabbed Lily’s arm brutally as she tried to slip away, twisting it as he pulled her into him.
“Sirius, please!” Lily’s voice was soft, her tone not matching the immense fear in her eyes.
“Sirius, you’re hurting her.”
Ignoring James’ confusion, Sirius’ lowered his voice so only Lily could hear. Searching her eyes for truth, his words held no question only loathsome revulsion. “You have been with Snape.”
“No, Sirius. I –”
Sirius shoved her away with such force she stumbled backwards, James managing to catch her from falling only at the last moment. After pulling on his shirt, he turned his back on both of them. Sirius refused to let his head drop; refused to let even a hint of his grief be seen.
“Sirius, please.” Lily struggled away from James. “It’s not what you think. Let me explain.”
“I warned you,” Sirius’ voice shook more than he intended. Knowing he’d already given away his emotions, Sirius’ eyes drifted to meet hers. “How could you?” he whispered.
“Please,” Lily’s voice was begging, “don’t do this. Not now.”
“Lily, will you leave us?” James put a hand on Sirius’ shoulder as he stepped between the two.
Sirius didn’t bother to look up but heard the door close behind her. Sirius dropped onto the bed, for once not caring if his distress was obvious.
James dropped down beside him. “Sirius?”
“Tell me it’s going to end, James.” Sirius choked as he said the words. Sirius wasn’t sure why Lily’s actions devastated him so much. Of all the things he had faced recently, why was this the one that finally shattered his cool exterior?
“Where did the injuries come from?” James asked quietly.
“No,” his voice was flat, “enough hiding, Sirius. Tell me the truth or I’ll beat it out of you. And, by the looks of it, you don’t stand a chance.”
Although James hadn’t raised his voice at all, Sirius had no doubt he would follow through with his threat.
“I told you I wouldn’t go back to Grimmauld and I haven’t. I haven’t seen or spoken to my family since that night.”
“Death Eaters…followers of Voldemort.”
“And the pills?”
“They’re nothing more than muggle headache medicine, James. I may be isolating myself but I’m not suicidal.”
James ignored his smart remark. “Remus says he saw you with Lucius.”
Sirius cringed. He’d forgotten all about that. “He did.”
“He’s afraid you’re turning to their side,” James said easily. “I told him he was wrong. Tell me he’s wrong, Sirius.”
“He’s wrong.” Sirius whispered forcefully. “He’s never been more wrong.”
“Well, what do you expect him to believe? You disappear days at a time and then are found conspiring with Malfoy?”
“I expect him to believe the same thing you do. That I’m not aligning myself with Voldemort during the day and coming home to drink with you at night.” Sirius said bitterly. “Besides, you are the person I conspire with.”
“You can’t joke your way out of it this time,” James shook his head. “To hell with everyone else, Sirius, I need answers here.” James gripped Sirius’ arm tightly. “I deserve answers.”
Sirius didn’t know how to respond. He knew James was worried about him. Moreover, he knew James had a right to be worried about him. But Sirius believed that pushing James away was the best way to keep him safe. They had been brothers for so many years that the last few weeks without James at his side had taken more of a toll on him than anything his family could have possibly thrown at him. Sirius had lain awake in bed almost every night longing for the opportunity to tell James the many things that were streaming through his mind. But James had relied on the Marauders for so many years that Sirius really wasn’t sure James knew how to stand on his own. If, for even an instant, James could give Sirius some indication that he had grown up – some shred of proof that he had the strength and ability to survive on his own – Sirius would gladly pull him back to his side. After all, by his side was where James belonged.
Sirius searched James’ face for some indication that he was prepared to learn the truth. Sirius knew James genuinely cared about him, but telling James the truth would require James to keep secrets from the other Marauders – something Sirius wasn’t prepared to make him do.
“Sirius,” James’ gave him a knowing smile, “Let it be my decision.”
Sirius nodded slowly, unsure of what he was getting himself in to. “Do you have time to go to Hogsmeade with me this morning?”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
“The others –”
“Can mind their own damn business,” James replied seriously. “Get dressed; I’ll get you some coffee started.”
When Sirius finally appeared in the kitchen, Remus and Lily were waiting expectantly for some idea of what was going on. James brushed each of Remus’ questions off in stride, leaving Sirius free to answer or ignore whatever he wished. Although Sirius tried to ignore Lily’s presence, he found it more and more difficult as the conversation wore on. Each time she started to speak, Sirius would cut her off with a stony gaze that chilled the entire room. She reached for him only once but Sirius jerked away from her touch with such hostility that her cup knocked over, its contents spilling over the table and into her lap. After that, she didn’t attempt to reach for him again.
“Sirius,” James’ voice was quiet as they began to make their way into Hogsmeade. “What’s Lily done?”
Sirius glanced at him uneasily. He knew James and Lily had finally gotten over their constant bickering and were close to becoming friends. As angry as he was, Sirius had no desire to come between that. “Nothing you need to be concerned with.”
“You don’t get this angry over nothing.”
“I’m not angry.”
“Then she’s hurt you,” James guessed. “Is it something I’ve done?”
Sirius smiled. “No, James. For once, you are innocent of all wrong doing.”
“Mark the calendar.”
“Mark it indeed.” Sirius answered nodding as he led James down a small alleyway. Pausing and taking a deep breath, Sirius steeled himself before knocking on the door. He had come too far to stop now and he knew it.
As he had expected, the door flung open and in a rush, soft warm flesh was buried in his arms. “You’re late. I was so worried something had happened. Were you with James and Lily? How are they? Are they okay?”
Sirius kissed her forehead and pushed her back into the room. Slipping his hand around her waist, Sirius moved to the side so that James became visible in the tiny doorway. She tried to scurry away but Sirius held her firmly. “Catarina, I’d like you to meet James Potter. James,” Sirius motioned for him to come in and close the door. “Catarina.”
James was too stunned to say anything and when he didn’t speak up, Catarina moved to wrap him in a warm hug. “I’ve heard so much about you over the years. I can’t believe I’m finally getting to meet you.”
“Years?” James questioned. “You…you are the girl that was with Voldemort.”
“Maybe you should sit down.” Sirius smiled warmly at James, a feeling of utter release washing over him.
“Actually, I’d rather have some answers.”
Catarina stepped to James’ side, linking her arm in his. “You sound as grim as Sirius. I thought you were the fun Marauder. Come, James Potter, sit with me. It’s high time we met each other anyway.”
Sinking down in a patchwork chair, Sirius smiled as he watched Catarina work her magic. No one had ever been able to remain mad at her and James was no exception. James let her lead him to a chair, where she sank down on the armrest beside him.
“How do you know so much about me?”
“I know everything about you. You are the little boy who at a mere ten years old wanted to fight dark wizards who were attacking a poor muggle gypsy at a summer carnival. Sirius kept you from pulling your wand and getting yourself killed, I might add.” Catarina’s voice was soft and flowing as if she was telling a fairytale to a young child. “You grew into a young man determined to do the same thing. Tell me, is Sirius still stealing your wand to prevent you from rushing out after the bad guys?”
“Something like that, yes.” James shook his head, sending a confused gaze to Sirius in hopes of getting some answers but Sirius remained silent. “If you know so much about me, why do I know nothing of you?” James asked her finally.
Catarina smiled and moved to sit near Sirius. “We are too much alike, you and I. Sirius was afraid you would steal me away.”
“He said that?” James’ eyes narrowed but Sirius only smiled.
“I told him that.” Catarina’s mischievous smile was infectious and James’ sour demeanor vanished. “So what’s happened, Sirius? You wouldn’t have brought him here after all these years if it wasn’t something terrible.”
“It was just time.” Sirius answered simply.
“So, exactly how long have the two of you…I mean –”
Sirius conjured a cup of tea for everyone rather than reply. Catarina winked at James. “I love it when he does that.”
“You’re a muggle.” James’ said startled.
“Ah, yes. I do see what you mean about that slow to catch on trait of his.” Catarina grinned but handed James a cup of the tea as a peace offering. “We met when Sirius was just a child. The same night the two of you became friends, as a matter of fact.”
“The woman,” James’ haunted voice cracked as memories from childhood flooded through him, “at the carnival. She was your mother.”
Sirius hand slipped along her back to comfort her as she nodded. “She has been safe for years, James. And then, at Grimmauld…”
“I remember,” James interrupted. “I remember the way she affected you.”
“I affected you?” Catarina winked at Sirius.
“Are you ever serious?” James cut in, and Sirius could sense his anxiety returning.
“When she needs to be, James, just like you.”
“But Lily –”
“Oh, yes. Do I get to meet Lily too?” Catarina stepped away from Sirius, her skirt swinging around her.
“I think not.” Sirius’ eyes narrowed meaningfully to James.
James dropped his head into his hands, the confusion overwhelming him. “I don’t understand. I mean you are trying to fight Voldemort on your own. I get that. It’s stupid but I get how your demented mind might see it as noble. What I don’t get is why you would turn away – hide all of this, hide her – from the Marauders. From me.”
Sirius turned away from the chastising look Catarina sent him and stood up to move about the room in an attempt to give James a moment. But Catarina moved to James’ side, dropping to sit at his feet.
“Now I understand why you’re here.” Catarina murmured. “Do you think Sirius would betray you?”
“But he’s afraid you believe that,” she countered.
James couldn’t ignore her pointed question. “Yes, but I don’t need to know everything he’s doing to know he’s on my side and not out doing something dim-witted.”
“Oh, really?” Catarina’s strong vibrant eyes locked with his. “Then why did he feel it necessary to bring you here today? Today? Not a year ago, not five years ago, but today.”
James didn’t answer but Sirius had to admire the way he held Catarina’s gaze. Even Sirius would have already broken under her penetrating stare.
“You doubted him.”
“Cat – " Sirius stepped forward but James raised his hand.
“She’s right,” James whispered. “Somewhere deep down I knew you were hiding something. I imagined it to be about your family.” James smiled weakly his eyes still focused on Catarina. “I certainly never expected you.”
“Yes, well, Sirius is an excellent secret keeper.”
“She’s not some sordid secret, James.” Sirius pulled Catarina to his side, his hand resting possessively in the small of her back. “My family would have had her killed years ago had they learned we were still communicating. Voldemort knowing about her…that just made everything come together for me. James,” Sirius’ voice dropped. “He will go to any lengths to get what he wants. He will destroy anyone that opposes him.”
“If he thinks you are the reason Sirius won’t join him,” Catarina interjected quickly, “you won’t stand a chance.”
“Why does he want you? You specifically?”
“I’m a Black,” Sirius answered simply.
“No, he wants you the same reason James does.” Catarina shook her head, a look of condescension on her face.
“His loyalty can’t be bought.” James answered quietly, his gaze locking with Sirius’.
Catarina nodded. “Well, now that we have all this serious business aside, perhaps you’d like some breakfast?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of a stiff drink, but breakfast will work.” James nodded his thanks to her.
“What is it with wizards and drinking?” Catarina shook her head as she disappeared through the door into a small kitchen. “You’d think you people had never heard of facing your problems rather than drowning them.”
“We people.” Sirius winked at James who came to join him at the window that looked out onto the streets of Hogsmeade.
“She’s amazing, Sirius.”
Sirius nodded. “She’s in danger, James,” he said quietly. “More than she cares to admit. Seeing her there, with him…”
“Is she okay? I mean…”
Sirius shrugged non-committedly. “I think it’s too soon for her to be willing to talk about it.”
“And it’s killing you.”
“My imagination is usually far worse than the truth turns out to be. But the images…” Sirius trailed off. “I’m afraid to let her leave this place, James.”
“Sirius, that you brought me here,” James began but Sirius tried to wave him off. “No, you’re going to let me finish this time. That you brought me here, that you trusted me enough to share this with me, it means more than I can explain.”
“James,” Sirius’ voices was steady as he tried to make his friend understand. “I have entrusted her life to you by bringing you here. You do understand that, don’t you?”
“Yes.” James gripped his shoulder tightly. “And one day, I will do the same to you. And you won’t doubt that I’ve made the right choice.”
Sirius nodded, still not certain that James knew what Sirius had done by bringing him here. He glanced to the kitchen, watching Catarina shuffling around and grinned. “She refuses to let me conjure breakfast. Any other meal it’s fine but not breakfast.”
“Sirius, does she know about Lily? I mean the two of you?”
“Yeah, James, Cat knows everything.” Sirius smiled. “And she’s just dying to meet her.”
“Braver man than me to do something like that.” James’ laughter brought Catarina into the room.
“This sounds much happier now. Are we okay then?”
“We’re good,” James answered. “Can I help you with anything in there?”
Sirius didn’t want the day to end. Having James back at his side, allowing the two of them to get to know each other as Catarina offered them a muggles tour of the town, Sirius felt as if the world couldn’t get much better. As he’d expected, James and Catarina had hit it off immediately. Catarina had made James feel as if he’d known her for years and, in return, James welcomed her like a sister he’d never met. It was only when darkness began to fall over the town that Catarina finally reminded him that he had to go.
“Already?” James asked quizzically.
“Death Eaters take over the town after dark,” Catarina explained. “It’s not safe for anyone to guess where Sirius’ has been. Especially after the close call last night.”
“Malfoy,” James murmured quietly.
“Malfoy,” Sirius confirmed nodding.
“Sirius, the mark…”
“James, I’ll be ready to go in just a minute.” Sirius took Catarina by the arm and led her into her bedroom. Pulling off his shirt, he sank onto the bed as Catarina pulled out a tiny leather case. Climbing onto the bed behind him, she pulled out a black ink needle and pressed it lightly into his flesh.
“James hasn’t seen it then?” she asked softly.
“No, and I only need it for a few more days,” Sirius answered then dropped his voice. “But Lily saw it.”
“Lily?” Catarina put down the tool and sank to face him. “How did she react?”
Sirius hesitated but knew Catarina would pull it out of him anyway. “She’s been with Snape.”
“She told you that?”
“I didn’t give her a chance.”
“She saw the mark, reacted and you went off on her, didn’t you?” Catarina shook her head.
“Don’t lecture me, Cat. Him, of all people. How could she do it?”
“First off, you don’t know she did anything. Second, if she did,” Catarina touched his arm tenderly. “She needs you now more than ever.”
“You won’t,” she countered.
“She tried to touch me this morning at breakfast.” Sirius took Catarina’s hand in his. “It made my stomach turn, Cat. The idea of her running to him, having his hands on her, she deserves so much better than that.”
“She deserves someone like James,” Catarina said softly, knowingly. “She has to learn that, Sirius. We’ve had this conversation a hundred times.”
“I know.” Sirius let his fingers travel her hand, the warmth of her skin providing him solace. “What I don’t know is how to help her.”
“Yes, you do.” Catarina brushed her lips to his, her hand caressing his cheek tenderly. “You are willing to do anything for me, anything for James. Why is Lily any different?”
“What she’s asking…” Sirius trailed off in thought. “What she wants,” he corrected himself, “the price is just too high.”
“And letting Snape get to her, letting him lead her to Voldemort, you’re willing to pay that price rather than just giving in?” Catarina dropped her forehead to rest on his. “Sirius, I know you’re angry. I know you feel betrayed. I know you’re afraid you won’t be able to walk away. But, Sirius, she needs you. I know,” her voice softened. “I remember. Don’t you?”
Sirius didn’t have to search for the memory; it was with him every waking moment of his day and often spilled into his dreams. Sirius lowered his lips to meet hers, brushing against them lightly. Her lips were warm and sweet on his and he lingered longer than he should, savoring the peaceful feeling her kisses always brought. “Of course I do.”
“Then forget about Snape.”
“I can’t,” Sirius pulled his shirt back on as he stood up. “I wish I could, but I can’t.”
“Then at least give her the chance to explain.”
“I have enough pictures in my head without her colorizing them for me, Cat.” Sirius’ voice was colder than he intended and Cat sent him a reproachful glare.
“Coward,” Cat said quietly. Taking hold of his shirt, she pulled Sirius toward her and began buttoning it for him. The easy manner with which Cat handled such a domestic task made Sirius temporarily forget the violence he knew to be going on outside. Sliding his arms around her waist, he gazed at her questioningly.
“A coward, am I?” Sirius snuggled his head into her neck, his lips caressing her skin with feathery lightness. Catarina tugged lightly on his shirt, pulling him down onto the bed and into her arms.
A moment of dread flowed through Sirius as he wondered just how much longer he would have to hold Catarina in his arms before the coming war tore them apart. Brushing a wisp of hair off her neck, Sirius caressed her cheek as a sad smile crossed his lips. “I have to go.”
“I know,” she kissed him lightly on the tip of his nose before he could pull away. As he headed for the door, Catarina called him back. “Sirius?”
“Yeah?” Sirius turned from the doorway to face her.
“You can’t win against her. You know that, don’t you?”
Sirius glanced at her uneasily as he tucked in his shirt. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“I mean, prepare yourself for the outcome because as much as you want to, you won’t be able to tell her no.”
Sirius laughed. “You underestimate me, Cat.”
Cat lowered her eyes, unwilling to look at Sirius when she spoke. “Sirius, you want to be loved so much. You’ll never be able to turn away someone who offers it.”
Sirius refused to acknowledge her comment. “I’ll see you soon, Cat.”
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