Sirius glanced around Platform 9 ¾ somehow not surprised that no one was there to pick him up. Scents of freshly baked cranberry bread, cinnamon, fresh oranges and cloves drifted from shops on the other side of the terminal and his stomach let out a low growl. He massaged it to try and keep it quiet as he looked around. Other families were wrapping students in warm embraces and he could see early Christmas gifts being exchanged between several of them. He shuffled away from the Hogwarts students quickly, unwilling to let them know his family had failed to appear. He paused at the edge of the platforms, unsure of exactly what he should do. The distance was much too far to walk and, unfortunately, he knew his parents would never forgive him if he appeared in some form of muggle transportation like a taxicab. He’d never apparated before and heard it could be quite dangerous on the first attempt. Just as he was considering testing it out, a firm grip on his arm made him turn.
“Sirius, do you need a lift?”
Expecting one of his roommates, Sirius recoiled at the sight of Lucius Malfoy standing beside him. His white blonde hair had been pulled back into a tight ponytail, causing him to look much less ominous than Sirius’ last encounter with him. His arm was draped casually around Narcissa, Sirius’ cousin, and his eyes seemed filled with legitimate concern.
“No, thank you,” he managed through gritted teeth.
“Come now, we’re headed the same direction. Your family is holding the first holiday party, after all. Narcissa and I have had our things sent straight to your place to get ready.”
“You will dance with me, won’t you, Sirius?” Narcissa took hold of his arm and smiled up at Lucius. “We look great on the dance floor, Lucius. We’ll make you green with envy.”
Sirius tried to withhold his urge to lunge at her. It was unnatural and unfair and he knew it. But her snobbish attitude made him want to tighten his bare hands around her slender throat. He took a deep steadying breath, trying to remind himself that it wasn’t her fault that he didn’t even know there was a party. Of course, the Blacks held constant parties all year and the holiday season was just another excuse to show off. But that everyone at Hogwarts knew it except him made his furor grow. No, he reminded himself, not everyone knew. More likely it had been a subject of regular nighttime conversation in the Slytherin common room - it was the rest of the school that hadn’t been invited. He glanced to Lucius whose eyes were traveling Narcissa’s body in a way that made Sirius’ skin crawl. When he caught Sirius looking at him he offered him a wink.
“I don’t plan on attending,” Sirius murmured, unwilling to let them know that he actually had no idea a party had even been planned at his home.
“Oh, of course you are!” Narcissa tightened her grip on his arm, her face purposefully flushed. “This is my night to shine and how can I possibly do that without my favorite dance partner?”
Sirius grimaced as the image of him twirling around a ballroom with Narcissa on his arm filled him with dread. He knew if there was a party his mother would already have his clothing laid out when he got home. As if he was still five years old, she’d believe he wasn’t smart enough to pick out “proper” attire for a holiday party. He could just see the halls of Grimmauld decked out for the affair, hundreds of strangers milling about keeping him from retreated into the quiet of his bedroom. He couldn’t help it when his bitterness boiled over. “Cissy, did it ever occur to you that this party isn’t being held for you?”
“What?” Her fingers released him as if she was touching fire.
“Some of us, unfortunately, have more important things on our mind than what color your dancing shoes are.”
Beside him, Lucius snickered and nodded in agreement which caused Sirius to immediately regret his words. Anything that Lucius agreed with could not be good.
Narcissa’s posture stiffened and she flounced the bottom of her skirt. “Well, its nice to know that smart ass attitude of yours hasn’t changed.” She whirled away from the two. “And they are blue, if you must know.”
“I look forward to seeing them, Cissy.” Sirius smiled and was happy to see her send him a guarded but happy smile in return as she walked off. Since childhood, Narcissa had always been his favorite target for insults. Unlike her sister Bellatrix, whom he despised, Narcissa at least had a shred of humanity in her. Her self-righteous attitude always made her take his insults in stride and, when it suited her, she could give them back as well as he gave them.
“She is a tad self absorbed, isn’t she?” Lucius asked quietly, watching her as she departed. “But, boy, does she have a set of knockers.”
Sirius swallowed the bile rising in his throat and squeaked, “I wouldn’t know.”
Lucius turned on him, a broad grin crossing his face. “That was inappropriate wasn’t it? She is your family, after all. Look,” he wrapped an arm around Sirius’ shoulders, “I did what I had to do. It happens. We all do things that are required of us, don’t we? There’s no point in holding that against me. Besides, you are just being difficult. How else are you planning to get home?”
Sirius was too stunned to move. How could anyone justify nearly beating him to death – by giving him nothing more than a pathetic “it happens”? His blood boiled, coursing painfully through his veins - his fingers twitching anxiously with an insatiable desire to throttle Lucius. Images of that night flooded through him causing his hands to reach instinctively to his chest where the worst of his scars lie hidden underneath his woolen cloak. Although the physical pain had long since gone, each time he dressed, the visible scars it left caused him to hurriedly cover himself in embarrassment. The healers never quite understood why they wouldn’t go away but he knew - he understood. They were never meant to go away. Like scars on his soul, they were markers of his failure...as a son, a Black and a Slytherin.
“Required to do?” he hissed, wrenching free as Lucius stared on in perplexity.
The sound of his uncle’s voice made him turn. “Where have you been, boy? I’ve been looking all over for you.” His eyes turned to Lucius as if he hadn’t noticed him. “Hello, Lucius. Having a good term?”
“Yes, sir,” he nodded. “I was offering Sirius here a lift home but, as you are here, I feel confident leaving him in your care.”
“I’ll see you tonight then, Sirius?” Lucius nodded to both of them and strode away.
“Impeccable timing,” Sirius growled and shoulder his bag while his uncle took the other.
“I figured getting in trouble for beating the snot out of Lucius wasn’t the best way to start your holiday,” he grinned mischievously. “Although it was quite fun watching Cissy squirm.”
“Just how long have you been here anyway?”
“Long enough to see you get off the train with your new friends,” he answered with a wink. “Let’s go grab something to eat before we head to Grimmauld. Nothing at that party will be fit for consumption except the liquor and the pumpkin pasties Cat makes.”
The mention of Cat’s name caused Sirius to stop in his tracks and his face blanched. He’d done everything he could to get her out of his mind but the idea that she wouldn’t even want to see him anymore had kept him up almost every night as the term drew to an end. What if he had to spend his entire holiday break with only Regulus for company? He gave a visible shudder causing his uncle to turn.
“Fine.” He answered quietly and followed his uncle into a nearby restaurant. Dropping his bags onto the floor with a thud, he sank into one of the soft plush chairs. “How’s she doing?”
“Getting in almost as much trouble as you,” he laughed and waved to a waiter for drinks. “She has a nasty habit of picking on Regulus. You wouldn’t know where that comes from, would you?”
“She hasn’t liked him from the day she came to Grimmauld,” Sirius shrugged, missing the note of concern in his uncle’s voice. “Besides, he’s an easy target.” He paused. “She hasn’t got caught, has she?”
“No, no.” His uncle shook his head as the waiter handed them steaming cups of cider and warm apple bread. “She’s too quick for that. She put itching powder in his laundry once and then filled his pillowcase with pine needles. Your mum’s been in a fit trying to find out who’s making her poor baby’s life so miserable.”
“She doesn’t even suspect Cat?” Sirius said, unable to hide the note of admiration in his voice. He took the heavy earthenware mug in his hands as he spoke, the fragrant steam from the cider causing him to warm all over.
“Of course not. Cat has to clean up the mess…nobody’s stupid enough to make more of a mess for themselves, are they?” He chuckled. “Seems being a muggle does have its advantages at Grimmauld. Your mum doesn’t think she has the brains to plan anything.”
Sirius nodded rather than respond and trained his eyes on the restaurant to avoid his uncle’s gaze. Decked out in muggle Christmas ornaments such as wreaths and little strings of colored lights, the festive atmosphere was doing nothing to lighten his foul mood. As if dealing with Lucius and Narcissa wasn’t enough, he had to go home to be even more miserable. He was just contemplating how to sneak back aboard the train and spend the holiday back at school with Remus when he felt his uncle’s slight touch on his arm.
“What’s the matter, Sirius? You haven’t eaten a thing.”
Unable to could stop himself, Sirius spilled out the entire story of his last night with Cat. The look in her eyes, her failure to talk to him…how she seemed determined not to tell him anything at all. He struggled to explain why losing her friendship meant so much to him but he couldn’t seem to vocalize it. Instead, his words came out in long winded rambles that his uncle listened to patiently, never stopping Sirius as he paused for a breath. When Sirius had finally run out of things to say, he sank back into the chair and sipped his mug of cider, his eyes downcast and unwilling to look at his uncle. He felt like a fool for being so emotional about the whole thing but couldn’t seem to stop the feelings from coming.
“She asks about you all the time, Sirius,” his uncle said quietly. “I don’t think she was ever angry or disappointed in you.”
“I don’t understand-"
“This is new for her, you have to remember. I think as she learns what life is like at Grimmauld she is learning exactly what you face each day. I think she was angry your childhood has been taken away.”
“She pities me?” His voice lilted with impending fury.
His uncle laughed. “No, nothing quite so dramatic. She just got a taste of what being Sirius Black is like and she didn’t like it too much.”
“Yeah, well, welcome to my world,” he returned bitterly.
Sirius sank onto the bed in his room in exhaustion. The party was already in full swing by the time he arrived and his mum had promptly sent him upstairs to change for fear of anyone seeing her son in muggle blue jeans and a t-shirt. He had just decided to roll over and go to sleep when he felt the presence in the room. He turned slightly and sure enough, Cat was watching him from the secreted doorway. She hadn’t grown much since he was gone and, in fact, she actually looked smaller. She seemed much thinner than he remembered and her olive skin had lost some of its glow. Her hair had been pulled back in a tight bun and the uniform for the party (although better than her normal attire) made her look like a crumbled paper doll. He was almost prepared to believe her a ghost but his eyes traveled to her eyes and the deep blue let him know she was real.
Even the oversized dress couldn’t hide her figure, though, and Sirius found his eyes wandering to places he hadn’t ever noticed before….the slight curve of her hips; the slight dip at her waist line; the curves of her chest that he certainly didn’t remember from last summer. He felt something rise deep within him and cursed himself. Living with three boys for the past few months had had its affect on him…when faced with someone of the opposite sex he couldn’t help but feel something. He chided himself for thinking such a thing, confused as to why he suddenly looked at girls when just months ago he wouldn’t have given them a second glance.
“Are you you?” she asked, her head tilted sideways as if surveying him for some disease.
“What the hell does that mean?” he asked tiredly.
In an instant, she was across the room and had enveloped him in a huge hug, her smile growing to her eyes. “Regulus said the school changes you into…”
“I don’t even want to know what he said,” Sirius shook his head and struggled out of her arms afraid of what reaction her warm touch might cause.
“Are you not coming to the party?” Cat straightened herself to sit on the edge of his bed, letting her hand rest casually on his stomach, as if by maintaining contact she was assured his presence was real.
“Why would I do that?”
“Because it’s a party?” her eyes narrowed. “It’s your first night back, how on earth can you be pissed off already?”
Before he could answer, she was off the bed and had moved to run her hand along the dress cloak hanging patiently by the door. The dark Black velvet material was tinged with threads of deep purple making it glitter under the soft flickering light of the fireplace. “You should see everyone, Sirius. They look like something from a fairytale. Everyone is dressed so beautifully, the girls have their hair done up in little curls and some have ironed it straight and they are smiling and dancing and…” she trailed off as her hand reached up and touched the tight braided bun of her own hair. She slid her hands into the pocket of her frumpy skirt and Sirius immediately understood.
“No, you already think I’m silly enough as it is.”
Standing up, he climbed off the bed and was at her side in one stride. “Go on,” he said, his voice soft and encouraging.
“They just look so perfect,” she whispered and he could see the tears began to glisten in her eyes. “I’ve never seen this house so alive with people and they all seem so happy.”
Sirius didn’t want to hurt her but he couldn’t continue to let her dream about being a part of something that wasn’t real. “It’s an illusion, Catarina.”
“I know that.” She offered him a faint smile. “It doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it, does it?”
“No, of course not,” he said quietly, suddenly aware of how close he was to her. He took a step back. “But it doesn’t mean I have to either.”
“Will you at least let me see you in this outfit?” she asked, her hands sliding along the fabric again. “After everyone goes to bed, maybe?” She hesitated, her hand hanging in mid-air. “Regulus,” she hissed. “He’s in the hallway.” She scrambled through the passageway just as Sirius flung the door open in anger.
“What are you doing out here?”
“Who are you talking to?” Regulus stepped into the room and looked around. Finding no one, he dropped onto Sirius’ bed. “Having a private party of your own? Where did you hide her?”
Sirius eyes narrowed and he folded his arms across his chest as he slid the door shut. “You’re drunk.”
“Me?” Regulus laughed a drunken laugh that sounded exactly like their father. “Just a little Christmas cheer.”
Sirius moved to him, jerking him off the bed and patting him down roughly. It only took a moment before he found the bottle concealed in Regulus dress cloak. “Where did you get this?”
“Nicked it from dad’s stash. He’ll never notice anyway.”
The words cut into Sirius…he knew it was true. What else had his brother gotten in to while he was gone?
“How long have you been drinking?” he asked, leaning against the wall opposite Regulus.
“Tonight or in general?”
“Screw you, Regulus.” Sirius tossed the bottle at him and chuckled as Regulus fell backwards in an attempt to catch it. “Why aren’t you down enjoying the party anyway?”
“Oh, the news was just too much for me. I mean, come on, Lucius Malfoy? As powerful as his family is everyone still agrees his one dirty bastard.”
“What news?” he turned to face his brother. It was unlike Regulus to be emotional about anything…that he was suddenly talking bad about a Malfoy had to mean something big was going on.
“You didn’t hear?” Even slurred, Sirius could discern the anguish in his voice. “He’s marrying Cissy.”
All movement in the room stopped…Sirius could hear the beating of his brother’s heart in the stillness that enveloped the two. He sank onto the bed beside him, all his questions about Regulus’ drinking now making sense. Regulus had had a crush on Narcissa since they were little kids. Of course, she’d never given him the time of day but it didn’t stop him from dreaming about her late summer nights when he and Sirius would camp out in the gardens. Sirius reached his hand out to Regulus but he pulled away.
“When did this happen?” he asked quietly.
“Just before you showed up I guess,” he shrugged. “Malfoy, can you believe it? Why on earth would she choose him?”
Good question, Sirius thought silently. What on earth would provoke a girl no where near graduating school to agree to marry? Much less to marry Lucius? He’d never even seen the two within paces of each other until they arrived at Platform 9 ¾ earlier today. Even at Hogwarts he’d never seen the two together.
The bitterness in his brother’s voice had sounded like his own and it made Sirius’ heart ache. He slipped the bottle out of Regulus’ hand and took a swig himself. As an afterthought, he turned to Regulus. “You okay?”
Regulus shook his head and Sirius placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. This time, he didn’t shirk away. “Anything I can do?”
“Go downstairs and keep up appearances while I stay in my room and get drunk as a skunk?” Regulus chuckled. “Nah, don’t worry about, Siri. I know you don’t want to step foot in that madhouse.”
Guilt tugged at Sirius…even his brother didn’t expect him to help him out when he needed it most. He squeezed his brother shoulder. “Go lock yourself in your room. I’ll take care of mum and dad.”
“You sure?” the gratitude in his voice washed away all of Sirius’ misgivings.
“Positive. Besides,” Sirius said, grabbing his cloak off the wall, “seems its time for Cissy to do some explaining.”
A/N: Special thanks to JaxGranger and Drommen for taking the time to read through each and every one of these chapters just to help me move along with this story. You are the best! If I do not have you on my email update list and you want to receive update notices, please make sure to leave me your email address :)
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