He wakes up in the south of France with blood in his mouth and a broken nose. He stares up at the ceiling above him and feels dazed. Thunder claps outside and he can see a streak of lightning through one of the full length windows to his right. He’s in his family villa. He’d followed her here.
Above him, there’s the quiet flap of wings before an owl settles right next to one of his shoulders. He stares at it, and it stares right back at him. It’s Lily’s owl -- the one he got her two Christmases ago. It hoots at him, a soft brush of noise, and Sirius finally sits up. He spits out the blood his mouth, onto the floor, and reaches forward to untuck the note curled onto the owl’s leg. He skims it briefly. Lily has written him ever since he left. Most of her notes just share what’s happening there. They ask him how he’s doing. And quietly, they beg him to come back.
He never writes back. The owl doesn’t even wait around to see if he’s going to gather up any parchment. It hops twice along the floor and then wheels back into the air, clearly eager to get back to England before the storm breaks. It’s always been able to find him, no matter where he is, and he’s been a lot of places by now.
Sirius pushes himself to his feet finally, and finds another note meant for him -- this one tacked onto a window. It’s got just an X in it, drawn in two slashes of a pen. Bellatrix’s hand. He gathers this one up, and crumples it between his fingers, feeling the paper give way. She had been here. He’d seen her. He wipes away the crusted blood that’s gathered underneath his nose and steps outside. Leaning up against the outside of the villa, he watches the waves crest and lights a cigarette. It’s difficult to breathe, but he doesn’t care. He mulls over where they’re going next. Italy, maybe, he thinks.
It begins to storm and Sirius stands outside in the rain and watches the lightning pierce through the roiling clouds. He sleeps that night on a couch still covered in sheets and listens to the ghosts of his family run through the villa.
Andromeda’s there when he wakes up.
He’s on alert the moment he hears someone near him, wand clenched in his fist, but when he sees that it’s his cousin -- not Bellatrix -- he stares. She looks at him with open surprise for an instant, and he doesn’t really understand why, because she had to have been looking for him. That has to be why she’s come here. Only a Black would know where this villa is, but Sirius hasn’t spoke to Narcissa or Andromeda since before he was taken now.
“I thought you were dead,” Andromeda says, honest as always. She looks as if she might cry. “All those years, James and Remus insisted that you were still alive, but --”
But they didn’t know Bellatrix, Sirius thinks. That’s what Andromeda means to say. They don’t know the depths of her darkness, the lengths she would to go to inflict her cruelty and insanity on others. But that, Sirius wants to point out, is also why he’s still alive. It would never be simple enough for her to just kill him -- not him. Not after how he left, not after being the heir to the family.
Sirius doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say, so he shrugs, raising one shoulder up.
He hates this. He hates this more than anything, seeing all these people and suddenly not knowing how to talk. He remembers what it had been like in the hours after everything had happened, after he had been released from Azkaban, and James and Remus had been there waiting, all wide eyes, and Sirius was still reeling from learning that nearly the past twenty years of his life had been a lie. He couldn’t say anything to them, and it had been Lily who had coaxed him back to the house for a single night -- and met her son, a child scrubbed free from his memory. He’d tried to sleep in that house, but everyone else’s thoughts and feelings had crowded him until he was drowning.
It’s not quite that bad with Andromeda. Bellatrix had never spoken favorably about her, but he’d never planned to kill her. And in the end, she will understand in a way that nobody else ever will, because she knows the poison that is in their blood, and she knows what it’s like to be afraid of becoming what their family wants of them. To become what Sirius has become.
Ever graceful, Andromeda crosses the room and presses both her hands gently in against his face.
“I’m going to kill her,” Sirius tells Andromeda. Andromeda nods, and he can see the steel in her eyes, the inherited Black trait.
“Don’t lose anything else in that pursuit,” Andromeda tells him quietly, pressing a hand up against his heart. “Come back to us.”
Sirius thinks about telling her he doesn’t think he has anything left to lose. He’s a hollowed version of the boy he was, and the man he’s become has been based on a lie. He can give into the violence in his heart or he can chase after the past of what he was, and neither of those options seems likely to end well.
One of the runes on his arms is burning. He gets up, gets on his bike, and drives through the night, letting the tug of it pull him closer to her.
She’s in a cave, of all places, standing at the edge of a lake. Her hair is piled on top of her head, a messy cascade of waves, and for the first time, he starts to see the greys spiking through it.
“Where are we?” Sirius asks as he approaches her from behind, wand in hand. Up until this point, they’ve been traversing through the pages of their childhood. Vacations they had taken, homes their family owned. Places that are crumbling into ruin now, abandoned by everyone but the two of them.
“We killed your brother here,” Bellatrix says, her teeth bared as she looks at him.
Fear bites at his heart, and Sirius steps in close to her, able to feel his magic flaring up in the runes inked onto his skin. He wants her blood. He’s heard what the doctor at Mungo’s have said about Lily’s memories. She’s been looked at by a few specialists, and they all say that she’s lucky not to be insane now -- but the work was done with such precision. By someone who knew what they were doing. And Sirius knows his mind not be in any better. James had gripped him so hard at first, whispering something about everything she must have done to him, how it had to have been even worse than Lily, because they had so much more time. And Sirius had just stared at him. Years wiped clean.
He grabs her hard around the shoulders and spins her about. They nearly fall into the water, and she’s already laughing, wand jabbed into his throat. His own is pressed in against her temple, the two of them drawn to a standstill, as always. The same force clashing against each other, over and over again.
“You can’t even remember his funeral,” she bites off wildly. “You told me I had killed him, but you don’t know the half of it, traitor. I taught him responsibility, and you taught him rebellion, and it tore him apart.” She slashes at him, and Sirius can feel the skin splitting along his collar bone, bleeding into the leather of his jacket.
He stumbles back before whipping a burning hex back at her. The air flares with fire, and she’s out of the way before it touches her. In that moment though, the recesses of the lake are lit, and Sirius can see the white bodies floating near the top of the lake. He stares, and his stomach lurches.
Bellatrix hits him with another spell, and a cut slices its way open along his cheek.
He moves without thinking, barreling forward, catching her roughly. They collide to the ground, rocks sent flying everywhere. He can scarcely think long enough to remember to use his wand. She catches him about the throat, her grasp unforgiving.
“They’ll try to reclaim you,” she says, her voice a low hiss, eyes glinting hard. “And they’ll tell you they love and that will save you. But it won’t. I’ve made you, Sirius, and that will never go away. I’m in your head and in your blood.”
She tosses him aside and he lands on his back, his legs mostly in the water. He listens to her leave and he curls his fingers around his wand.
He’s in Venice when she sends him a letter. He goes to find her in Greece. Lily’s owl flies vigilantly behind his bike and he ignores it.
He doesn’t find her in Greece. Instead, she leaves a vial of memories tied to a chain in a small house that had belonged to his mother’s side of the family. He has only been here once before and that was when he was very young. The rooms are all covered in dust, and it doesn’t take him long to find the vial glowing on the floor.
There’s a pensieve -- of course there is -- because Bellatrix leaves nothing to chance. He holds the vial too hard in his hand, stares at the murky bottom of the basin. And then he dumps the memories in all at once, letting him be pulled in, a cold hand clenching his chest. The shadows of Grimmauld Place rise up around him, smoky and translucent. He finds himself following her through the halls.
They wind their way up the stairs and toward the back of the house. It’s only then that Sirius can hear screaming from one of the rooms. It doesn’t take him long to figure out that it’s Lily. He can feel his stomach beginning to twist, his heart lodging itself in his throat. Bellatrix opens one of the door, knife in hand, wand resting in her pocket. She glances over her shoulder just once -- as if she can see him. Sirius catches a flash of red, and he can hear Lily calling his name over and over again. He flies at the door, but the memory melts away from around him.
Everything shifts around him, and he finds himself in a different part of the house -- his study. His father’s study, the one he remade.
He looks down and sees himself on the floor, Bellatrix sitting on his chest. There’s something wrong with one of his arms, and Sirius can feel the bump of a long-forgotten scar raising up there. There’s blood spattered across his teeth, and one side of his mouth is sliced open, staining his neck and chin with blood. Bellatrix has his face in between her hands, the same knife settled on the floor near the two of them.
“I’ll bleed all the Gryffindor right out of you,” she promises in a low hiss. She slices open the other side of his face and then picks up her wand. The spell hits him hard in one temple, and Sirius can see his eyes rolling in his head, Bellatrix’s bloodied hands still fixated on him.
There are more memories here. He can feel them, but he doesn’t let himself go into them. He pulls back out and flings the pensieve across the room, able to hear it shattering against the far wall. He pushes his face into his hands, and tries, without success, not to imagine Lily’s face as his cousin attacked her.
He does go home -- without telling anybody that he’s back in England. He appears on the threshold of Grimmauld Place. He can feel the house opening up to him. Lily’s owl perches on just above the door, and he glances up at it once before heading inside. The door clicks shut behind him, and the house seems mustier than he remembers. It’s been weeks since anyone’s been here, that much is obvious. The house is silent around him. It’s somewhat strange to see the rooms that he and Lily have redone, decking the house in brighter colors. He half expects to see the tomb he left behind when he was sixteen.
He ignores the first floor and heads up the steps to the study. It comes as no surprise when he opens the door that she’s there. She smiles wildly, madness glinting in her eyes, wand already out, pivoted on him. She’s wearing her Death Eater robes; they wrap around her like a shroud, and pull across the carpet as she walks toward him.
They’ve met up before, collided across several countries. But somehow he knows that this is going to be the last time. He pulls out his own wand; he half expects her to say something taunting, but she simply flicks out a sharp spell. He ducks underneath it, but it still burns against his side, eating part of his leather jacket to tatters.
Another jet of red light and something shatters on the wall just behind him. He twists again, working his way toward her, and suddenly, he sees the pathway all too clearly. There’s a wide whole in her defense, and he ends up with his wand against her throat.
“Avada Kedavra,” he says, throat raw. He can feel the magic work its way through him, pulling at his insides. There’s just a flash of surprise on Bellatrix’s face before the spell hits her, hard, sending her careening backward before she collapses onto the floor, unmoving.
In the hallway, the portrait of Sirius’ mother begins to scream.
He collapses to the ground a few feet away from the body of his cousin, his back hitting the front of his desk. His heart is beating a staccato rhythm in his ears. He’s breathing more heavily than he expected. Slowly, Sirius pulls away part of his tattered jacket and looks at the raw skin underneath. He looks back at Bellatrix, her hand still curled rigidly around her wand. He feels nothing. But for the first time, he pushes his face into his hands and begins to weep.
It’s not hard to get rid of a body in Grimmauld Place, and he does what he must once he’s done.
He leaves his wedding ring on the desk in the study and heads out to find his bike. Lily’s owl is no longer there. He flies south and drinks himself into oblivion for three weeks. When he leaves, he writes Lily for the first time and tells her he’s going to Scotland. He travels for six months more after that, sending Lily postcards from each of his destinations.
His memories come back in pieces.
You have the rings, right? James asks him.
Of course, I do, Jamie, he answers, smiling cheekily. You can’t think I’d forget something that important, do you?
James is obviously nervous, and it’s entirely adorable, Sirius likes to think. He’s waiting for him to actual start pacing. Sirius is practically sprawled on one of the chairs, itching for a cigarette, but he knows he’s going to have to wait now. It’s a shame that Moony also confiscated his flask.
Merlin, Potter, he says, stepping in closer. Who taught you do to do a bow tie?
He undoes James’ tie, and begins to redo it, his fingers finding their way easily. His mother had him tying bow ties by the time he was four, after all. He can feel James fidgeting as he adjusts it.
Nervous? Sirius asks, and he’s trying not to laugh. James looks up at him, but grins back.
Not on your life, mate, he answers. Not on your life.
“Sirius,” Lily says -- and she says it the same way Andromeda had, as if he’s some sort of ghost that had just wandered into the house. He’d written ahead saying he was coming home soon, but he hadn’t provided any details, so maybe it’s not a surprise that she says his name like that.
“Lily,” he answers, and it surprised when he even manages to smile. It hurts.
She’s across the room before he knows what to do, wrapping her arms too tightly around him. He drops his bags to the floor, and his ribs hurt. He doesn’t know exactly if he should hug her back, but he does anyway. He’s acutely aware that he still doesn’t know how he’s supposed to act around her. He’s nothing to her now. He’s nothing to any of them now.
He doesn’t recognize the perfume she’s wearing, and it sets him even further off balance. She’s changed her hair in the year and a half he’s been gone. He wonders if anyone will ever not feel like a stranger again, or if the shame of is that Bellarix was the only person he ever knew.
“You need a bath,” Lily says, pulling back, smiling up at him, nose wrinkled. He keeps smiling back down at her.
He drinks far too much for the first few weeks he’s back. He’s always been able to handle his alcohol, but he’s never had to use it as a coping mechanism before, and James readily calls him out on it -- because that’s what James does.
“Fuck you, James,” are the words that come out of his mouth, and he doesn’t even know if he means them or not. Part of him is still so angry, still so goddamned angry, and that rage never seems to go anywhere. He’s angry with James and Remus because he’s been told to be, and he’s angry with himself, because there’s absolutely no reason he should be anger with James and Remus.
James doesn’t even blink though, still obstinately pulls the bottle away, tossing the rest of the whiskey down the sink.
Sirius isn’t sure what happened, but suddenly he’s throwing a punch at James. He makes a good connection, because he can feel James’ lip give way underneath his knuckles. And suddenly, they’re on the floor of the kitchen -- and thank Merlin Remus and Lily and Harry aren’t home. They’re tussling like when they were sixteen all over again, but Sirius moves with more purpose, and he can feel James pushing back against him all the while. He hits James once more, just underneath his ribs. He can hear the pained noise that it pulls from James; one of James’ elbows catches him hard in the nose, and there’s blood all over the floor.
He starts crying without warning, his face pressed into James’ shoulder so that there are tears and blood all over his shirt, the fabric ruined entirely.
“You’re okay, Pads,” James says softly, and he holds him close, his fingers digging into the back of Sirius’ T-shirt as if he’s afraid to let him, and honestly, Sirius is afraid that he will.
There are boxes and boxes full of pictures of them in the attic. They’re well worn, and Sirius has come to understand that Lily has been going over them for months now. She’s started to get a lot of her memories back, and she gently asks just once if he’s remembered anything. He doesn’t know how to answer so she drops the question.
He still feels like he tiptoes around the house -- he feels like the ghost of something now, and he only goes up into the attic to look at the pictures when he’s fairly sure no one is looking for him.
It’s a blistering Tuesday and he’s up in the attic sweating through a T-shirt and feeling particularly frustrated. He’s on his third box, but these -- he doesn’t even know where they were taken. All in the same place, and he has no idea where it is. They spark nothing.
“Our flat,” a voice says from behind him.
Sirius spins around, the back of his neck prickling, uncomfortable with the knowledge someone’s walked up behind him. It’s Remus -- who he’s probably seen last of all since coming back. He’s on more even footing with Lily now -- as if nothing has ever changed. And James -- well, he’s always there, always pressing, and sometimes that’s too much, but sometimes it’s what he needs. Remus has been distant though, and it’s strange, because the man in front of him rarely matches up with the boy in his memory.
“What?” Sirius asks belatedly, hardly even knowing what Remus has just said.
“Our flat,” Remus says, gesturing with one hand so that Sirius hands him the picture. “Your birthday,” Remus says, and Sirius can see just the faintest traces of a smile starting to curve at the corners of his mouth. “You were so drunk you fell asleep in the garden bed and I didn’t find you until the next morning.”
Remus looks up at him, and Sirius doesn’t know what to say.
“We lived there for a bit,” Remus says. “After school. Walls were paper thin and we didn’t have enough furniture. I think you had a few pet cockroaches.”
He holds the picture back out to Sirius. Sirius looks at it for a moment and then offers up the other one he’s been holding to Remus. Remus takes half a step closer to him and takes that picture, too.
They spend the afternoon in the attic, Remus telling story after story.
He never gets all of his memories back. Sometimes, the only way he can fall asleep at night is if Remus is telling him some quiet story about something idiotic they did in the seventh year or a pub they stumbled drunk home from.
Harry is born on the fucking hottest day of that summer. Sirius is on a mission, but when he gets word, he makes his excuse to Mad-Eye and gets the hell out of there. He knows Mad-Eye doesn’t approve, but Sirius could give a fuck. He gets on the bike and flies too fast, sliding through a summer thunderstorm that soaks him to the bone.
It’s past midnight by the time Sirius gets to Mungo’s and Lily’s already been in labor for hours and hours. Remus is in the waiting room by himself, looking exhausted. Sirius buys him a sandwich, and they both sit in the waiting room and wait then, the backs of their shirts sticking to the plastic chairs.
Remus falls asleep half past two, and Sirius falls asleep a little after three, his head on Remus’ shoulder, one of his legs propped up against Remus’ knees.
He wakes blearily, feeling hot and sticky, and James is above him, shaking his shoulder insistently. His face is red, his hair a mess, and he’s still crying, and Sirius can only half make out what he’s saying. Remus is up seconds later though, and then they’re moving into the room, where Lily is propped up in bed, her red hair all drawn out of her face. She’s holding Harry.
It’s weird, because until then, he’d been fine with everything, but the moment Lily carefully takes Harry into his arms, Sirius’ throat closes up.
“Your godson, Pads,” James murmurs from where he’s standing beside him. James has one hand underneath his arm still, as if he’s afraid that Sirius is going to drop him, and Sirius can understand that concern, because the baby in his arm seems all too vulnerable -- but perfect in every way.
He’s suddenly blinking away tears. He stubbornly tries to act as if he isn’t, and Lily laughs at him.
He finds the bike by accident one day. He’s just outside, because sometimes that’s where it feels easier to breathe. (Some days, he goes for runs, where he just heads down the street and doesn’t stop until he can’t pull air into his lungs anymore. It’s the closest thing he can get to Padfoot these days.)
The bike is stored in a shed, and it’s something of a wonder that Sirius hasn’t stumbled across it before. He actually stops walking when he sees it and just stares. It makes sense, he thinks. Everything had come together so easily when he had built his bike at Grimmauld Place. His fingers had moved easily, the pieces coming together simply. It was as if he had already known the spells. And no he knows the truth: He had already known the spells.
He steps in and presses a hand gently against the leather of the soft, able to feel how it’s worn but taken care of. He feels a phantom sensation of being sprawled on the grass while working on this bike. He thinks he remembers talking to Remus. But the ghost of a memory is gone before he can even process it. He goes for a ride on his bike, the one he remembers building.
The next week Harry comes into the house, shouting for Remus -- who is out at the moment, and it’s just Sirius in the house for the time being. He hasn’t exactly been avoiding Harry -- but he also has. When Harry mentions something about the bike though, Sirius decides to prove that all his Gryffindor courage wasn’t bled out of him.
Sirius heads back outside with Harry to where Remus keeps the bike. (Remus, Sirius thinks, of all people, he was the one that kept the bike. The one who would never ride it after Sirius got it to fly; and that’s just how his memories work sometimes. One moment they’re suddenly there.)
Sirius ducks down underneath it, wand in one hand, wrench next to his knee so that he can reach it if he needs it. Harry peers down at him, and Sirius finds himself trying to explain what he’s doing. There aren’t exactly words for it, because he can just feel these things out; he knows how his magic works, and he knows how the bike works. But Harry listens all the same, and Sirius finds himself not constantly thinking about how much he looks like James, or obsessing over the fact that the only way he knows this boy is through the scrap of a memory from the day he was born.
When he finishes and the bike sounds fine again, Harry goes inside and retrieves two beers and they sit on the grass and drink together, and it’s probably the most normal thing Sirius has ever done, he thinks.
Sirius has always enjoyed Halloween because of the mischief in the air. For one day out of the air, it was suddenly okay for them to all play pranks and be ridiculous. He likes the imagination that goes into the holiday. And all the sweets don’t hurt either.
Of course, this has been a particularly quiet Halloween, but he can deal with that -- next year, he figures. Besides, next year Harry will be big enough to hit the streets with them, and he knows what a great weapon a toddler can be in candy retrieval.
For this Halloween, he and Jamie carve some pumpkins and Sirius does buy Remus enough chocolate to make himself sick, and all they enjoy a butterbeer while watching the pumpkins glow. James plays some games with Harry -- puffs of colored smoke out of his wand -- until Harry grows tired and cranky. Sirius offers to take him up to bed while James goes to clean up the mess they’ve made in the kitchen. Lily is half asleep on the couch, and Sirius winks at her as he takes Harry into his nursery.
“You got him?” Remus asks idly as he walks past him in the hallway.
“‘Course I do,” Sirius answers with a grin as Harry grabs a handful of his hair and yanks hard. He can see Remus smirk, but he ignores it.
“Your Uncle Remus is the worst,” Sirius tells Harry as he starts to put him into his blue pajamas. Harry is looking up at him with big green eyes, so Sirius figures he understands. He settles down into the rocking chair with Harry, because he knows he’ll fuss if he leaves right away. “He’ll try to turn you into a responsible and productive member of society,” Sirius continues, rubbing small circles along Harry’s back as he talks. “And that just won’t work out. Don’t ever listen to him and you’ll get along okay in life.”
Harry makes a garbled noise, and Sirius decides to take that as assent, that they have an understanding. Sirius thinks this has to be for the best, because Harry’s hair is already ridiculously messy and no one with hair that mussed could ever be a responsible member of society.
He keeps talking and he can feel Harry starting to fall asleep in his lap -- when James starts screaming from downstairs.
Sirius stands up too fast and Harry starts crying. He’s out in the hallway in a second. Remus is standing there, and Sirius hurriedly hands him Harry before pounding down the steps, wand in hand, eyes searching for James.
There are Death Eaters in the house. The room seems to be full of shadowy black fabric and glinting silver masks. All of this is supposed to ensure anonymity, but he knows her no matter what. He charges into the room and flings out a hex.
He can hear James bellow to his name, sees a flash of dark hair across the room. To his right, there’s the sharp sound of someone disapparating. It’s only then that he realizes he hasn’t seen Lily.
He reaches Bellatrix, and he can hear the cruel sound of her laughter from beneath the mask. She hits him with a hex so hard that it leaves him winded. Her sharp nails dig into the side of his face, grab at him, and he’s unable to pull away. He hears James screaming his name, over and over again, but he doesn’t full understand why until he’s been pulled away, out of the room, and is gone.
Somehow, Rodolphus eventually gets out of Azkaban. Within a day of his release, Sirius finds a note with two words written on it: Hello, brother. He doesn’t know if he’s more afraid or more enraged. He imagines going on the hunt like he did with Bellatrix. He waits. Waits for Rodolphus to come to him.
But he never does. That’s the first and last thing he ever hears of Rodolphus Lestrange.
(He doesn’t find out until later -- much, much later, when they’re all so old that such things almost don’t matter, that Remus, James, and Lily caught Rodolphus when he came, and they took care of him on their own. By that time, he’s so old he can’t be angry; he just remembers what Andromeda told him, and is glad he didn’t sell the rest of his heart for so little.)
Lily crawls into bed with him early one morning. She curls up against his back, and he swears he can actually feel her smiling. He shoves his face adamantly into the pillow.
“Happy Birthday, Shaggy,” she says.
“Go away,” he answers in return, trying to push her away using one hand. Honestly, he’s forgotten his birthday, but he’s pretty content with not celebrating it this year. But he knows Lily, so he knows that he should have known better.
“I brought you breakfast,” she declares, and she kisses him gently on the back of his shoulder. The smell of waffles is enough for him to properly sit up, pushing his hair out of his face. He accepts the plate that Lily offers and eats without saying a word, although Lily remains close, smiling in that way that Sirius suspects he is going to regret something soon.
“We’re going out tonight,” she announces when he’s done.
“Let’s not,” Sirius answers.
“Not a discussion,” she says. “And you’re getting a haircut.”
“Would think I get to pick things on my birthday,” Sirius says, flopping back down in bed and pressing his face back into the pillow.
It’s not so bad though. When he does finally get up, they head outside, and Lily brings a pair of scissors with. She manages to get a comb through his tangled mass of hair before finally beginning to snip the ends so that it’s still long but he looks like less of an escaped convict. It does feel good, but he won’t give Lily the satisfaction of telling her that.
When she’s finished, she wraps her arms lightly around him, resting her chin on the top of his head. He presses one of his hands against her arm.
“We’re going dancing tonight,” Lily says after a few minutes, and Sirius closes his eyes, knowing that there’s no point in arguing with her.
They danced plenty in Grimmauld Place -- really, that was one of the things they did most often, was dancing from room to room. There’s been less of that since they’ve come back, and somehow he finds himself being dragged out, sandwiched between Remus and Lily and James, going to some pub that Lily has found.
He’s drunk within the hour. He blames Lily, because that’s usually the easiest thing to do. She pulls him out onto the dance floor, and it’s all a little easier now, because he’s pretty sure she’s a little drunk, too, what with how much she’s laughing.
“Shaggy,” she says, and she puts his arm around her waist, and they start moving erratically across the floor to some song that he doesn’t know in the slightest. It’s really irrelevant though, because it was rare that they ever danced to match the music. He twirls her once, twice, red hair flying everywhere, laughter curling into the air. That done, he pulls her closer, and they sway childishly back and forth as he holds one set of hands into the air. He smiles down at her and is surprised to realize just how happy he is.
“Happy Birthday,” she says again, settling her chin on his shoulder.
He stays close to her then; he can still see James at the bar, talking to someone and laughing. He looks over at them just briefly, but Sirius can see that he’s smiling, too. Remus is across the room -- dancing with some young, blond girl that Sirius doesn’t know. He watches as Remus moves, too much motion in his hips and long legs. He stares because he doesn’t think he’s ever seen Remus dance before, and he wonders just when that happened.
Lily pulls away, and it takes Sirius a moment too long to look away from Remus and back down to her. Lily smiles at him and kisses his forehead.
He realizes it slowly. It hides in the corner of the memories that bleed back into his mind. He finds a box in the attic that he thinks isn’t supposed to be there. It’s not photos at all. It’s every single letter he’s ever written Remus all carefully folded and pressed. He reads through them and his chest is too tight.
It’s late February and it won’t stop snowing. James and Lily are still in bed when Sirius slips out of Remus’ room clad only in his boxers. Remus is already downstairs starting the first pot of tea for the day. Sometimes it feels too cold to drink anything else. He manages to sneak in behind Remus and gets both arms around his middle and buries his face in the warmth of his shoulder. His hair falls everywhere and Remus reaches one hand and presses it gently against Sirius’.
“Should’ve stayed in bed,” Sirius mumbles, because he doesn’t know why Remus has to be up so early on Sunday, being respectable and making breakfast and reading the paper when they could be still in bed having an early morning shag.
Remus doesn’t answer, but Sirius swears he can practically hear his smile. He presses closer to Moony and rubs his thumb over his lower belly, rucking up the T-shirt he’s wearing in the process. (He’s pretty sure it’s his T-shirt, actually.) Remus starts to turn in his arms and Sirius picks up his head so that he can kiss Remus more fully -- just as they hear the patter of footsteps. And seconds later, Lily is in the kitchen. Sirius has turned about so that he’s standing next to Remus and has a cup of tea in hand and is sipping it lazily. Remus is still standing in front of the sink, his head down again.
Lily eyes him sleepily, suspicion thick on her face.
“What are you doing up so early?” she asks.
Sirius shrugs a little.
“S’nice day, isn’t it?” he responds. Lily glances out the window at where the snow is still coming down thick and shakes her head.
Cici is five before Sirius even thinks about what he needs to do with Grimmauld Place. All of the Black family property and assets are in his name now, but he hasn’t touched most of them since he’s come back.
The fact of the matter, though, is that a lot of the magic is starting to bleed out of Grimmauld Place. His father had put so many spells on there and Sirius and Bellatrix had added so much -- none of which is now maintained. It doesn’t help that the lawyer who takes care of it all has started to press him to name an heir for the estates. He’s not the same man who worked for his parents, but he is concerned with the preservation of the Black family name even if Sirius isn’t.
(He suggests naming Narcissa as his heir, with her son to follow. An idea that is quickly stomped on by Narcissa herself. He, Andromeda, and Narcissa meet up about once a month, awkward meetings at first that seemed to only declare that they had survived being born into the same family.
“Burn the whole thing down,” Narcissa says at the mere suggestion she might inherit Grimmauld Place. She says this in a simplistic sort of way as she puts down her tea cup, requesting that her house elf go to fetch something for her son.
She’s so often written off as the trophy wife of the family, the one who was well-behaved, but never excelled in her own right. But Sirius knows she’s just as sharp and smart as the rest of them -- her eyes find the string of runes on his collar bone, and she doesn’t ever make any comment on them, not like Andromeda does, but Sirius knows that she’s the only person who recognizes exactly where those runes come from.)
Lily comes with him just once with him to see the layer and it’s only because she’s going to a shop nearby; he wants to separate Grimmauld from them all as much as possible, but he knows Lily want to help, if she can.
“Why not just let Cici inherit?” Lily asks one tentatively. “We changed that house. It’s not where you grew up.”
He thinks of the things he left in the study, and he thinks of his mother’s portrait still shrieking in the hallway.
“My daughter who is part Veela with a werewolf father?” Sirius asks, his voice a bit sharper than he means to make it, and it’s the last Lily ever mentions it.
He’s lying on his stomach, pretending to be asleep when Remus comes in to bed. He feels Remus settle down against him, the mattress dipping underneath his weight. Remus starts to say his name, but then suddenly falls silently. He can feel Remus’ fingers gently tracing along his back, silhouetting the new shape there.
“Sirius?” Remus says quietly, but Sirius continues to pretend to be asleep, letting Remus look at the tattoo on his back -- the only one on his body that isn’t a set or runes, but the ones that’s most important, because it represents Remus and Cici; one set is everything that was bad about his life and the other set is now everything that’s good about his life.
Remus settles in against the bed, seemingly content to not try and wake him up. His fingers linger, and finally he kisses the two crescent moons that resembles two ‘C’s. He curls up against Sirius and they go actually go to sleep.
Sirius blinks awake, able to tell that it’s late. He twists a little, realizing too late that Cici has a handful of his hair. She’s standing on his side of the bed, her eyes wide even in the dark of the room. Remus is still asleep behind him, and Sirius slips carefully out of bed. Cici lets go of his hair and raises up her arms and Sirius picks her up. She wraps both of her arms tightly around his neck, her legs going about his middle. She’s so big that it’s quite difficult to carry her, but Sirius already knows he’ll carry her for as long as he can.
“What’s wrong?” he asks as he closes the door behind them and walks back into the hallway, heading toward her room.
“There is a monster in the closet, Papi,” she says, her fingers twining in his hair as she talks.
“Un monstre?” he asks, and she giggles; she’s already begun to correct his French, something he’s surprised he remembers at all.
“Un monstre,” she confirms as he opens the door to her room. They step inside and Sirius sets her down on the bed.
“I’ll go check then,” he says, smoothing back her tangled blond hair. He kisses her on the forehead and heads over to her closet. He presses his ear to the door as if he’s listening, aware that she’s balanced on the edge of her bed, watching the entire time. He glances back at her as if he might be afraid, and then begins to pull the door open very slowly, peering in little by little. Finally, he pulls the door open all the way -- to reveal just her toys piled haphazardly.
“Rien,” he says, smiling as he shows her the closet. She sits back on her heels, seeming satisfied. He walks back to her bed and sits down beside her.
“Will you tell me a story?” she asks as he tucks the blankets back around her.
Sirius is certain she knows more stories than any other child her age -- she gets an odd conglomeration of whatever Muggle stories Lily and Remus know paired with the wizarding stories James and Sirius grew up with and the odd French tale from Fleur.
“‘Course,” he says, smoothing a thumb over her forehead. By the time he’s halfway through, she’s fallen asleep, her breathing quiet.
He ends up falling asleep as well and doesn’t wake until Remus comes to get him in the morning.
“Your back is going to hurt later,” Remus tells him, grinning at how Sirius is folded up in Cici’s small bed.
“You’re the old one, Moony,” Sirius bites back.
Lily goes with him to Grimmauld Place the first time. She helps him clean out the main room and their bedroom. They sort through what they want to keep (not much) and what they want to sell or donate. It’s strange to be back after being here for so long and then gone. But perhaps a little easier than he thought it would be. Lily finds the record player at one point, and then the entire afternoon is lost, but Sirius figures he’s lucky that she didn’t throw paint on him again.
“I can do the rest on my own,” Sirius says after they finish those two rooms.
“You don’t need to,” Lily says, squeezing his hand gently as they head home.
“But I can,” Sirius answers.
She doesn’t press, but asks him every day when he heads over if he wants her to go and every day he says no.
He doesn’t know if he should be surprised or not when James starts to show up with lunch most days. James peers about, and it strikes Sirius that this is the first time he’s been here since they were fourteen and James stopped by just once.
They end up eating sandwiches and drinking beer on the floor of his mother’s sitting room and when they’re done, they head to the park. Sirius can’t bear being inside any longer, and he runs ahead of James as Padfoot. It’s no surprise to find Cici and John and Remus already there. Cici and John jump off their swings and spend most of the day chasing Padfoot around until he collapses on top of Remus’ feet, panting loudly.
He works through the house in a pattern, going through the places that hurt the most last. Regulus’ bedroom -- which, oddly, was mostly untouched -- is one of the latter places he goes through. He remembers the strange lake Bellatrix brought him to, and he finds a bundle of black robes with a silver mask in one of the hidden places of Regulus’ room. They are the first items that go in the pile of things that need to be donated. One of the many secrets swallowed by Grimmauld Place. The house seems to creak oddly around him as he goes through old Potions ingredients and text books. There’s an odd quill here or there and a thousand Quidditch magazines.
For the first time in a long time, he misses his brother, and he wishes he could remember more about what happened, but he doesn’t know if it would make any difference at all. He pauses to wonder what his brother would think of his daughter, and he likes to think that Regulus would love her even if he didn’t exactly know what to do with her. Maybe he’d teach her about Quidditch, but in the end, he knows there’s no point in dwelling over it, because he’s just another ghostly vestige of Grimmauld Place.
His bedroom is second to last. He doesn’t know why, but that’s where he needs it to be. It’s still has some of his and Lily’s clothes, things that were left behind. The bed has been permanently unmade for years, and there are some pictures of him and Lily and Bella and Rodolphus scattered about. It’s hard to sort out what to do with so many of those.
The last place he cleans out is the study. That’s no surprise. It’s the room that swallowed him, the place he inherited most of all from his father. It takes him just a day to go through the books; half of those are even too dangerous to donate. He knows the dark magic that lurks in these corners, knows which books have tasted his blood. Plenty of them are rare, though, and he knows they’ll be appreciated.
He finds notebooks full of his own writing, and those send pain searing through his heart and he quickly chucks them in the pile of things to be burned. He doesn’t need to write them.
He’s half-exhausted and heads wearily down the stairs, pacing through the skeleton of Grimmauld Place. All of the rooms on the lower half are empty now. He sits down on the floor in the main room, legs crossed in front of him and thinks about all the strange things that have happened here.
He’s surprised to hear the whoosh of the fireplace, and expects it to be James, although it’s too late for lunch. He gets up and falters when he sees Remus. He has never been here before and somehow it scares him to see Remus standing in the middle of Grimmauld Place -- gutted as it is. Remus turns to look at him, and there’s worry on his face.
“Did you bring Cici and John with you?” he asks, and Sirius stares, because of course he would never bring their children here.
Sirius shakes his head mutely, cold clutching at his heart. Almost as if cue, he hears a peel of laughter from upstairs -- Cici.
He’s turning and racing up the stairs before he can even think about it. He can’t process how she got here, but he can’t even begin to imagine his daughter being inside the house. It seems like the most dangerous thing he could imagine. He flies past the portrait of his mother, which watches him with narrowed eyes, mouth poised to shriek.
He explodes into the study, which, for all his work, still collects darkness in the corners. He freezes in the doorway, staring down at where Cici and John are both standing near the wall covered in the Black family tree. They both look at him with wide eyes, crayons poised.
“You forgot us,” Cici says tentatively, obviously uncertain of whether he’s angry or not. She dots the second ‘i’ of her name -- drawn messily underneath his own name, which is now linked with Remus’.
He manages to smile.
“Come on,” he says, and he hefts Cici off the floor and takes John by the hand so that they can head back downstairs.
“You understand some of the artifacts in that house have been in your family for centuries. The house alone --” the lawyer struggles to speak as Sirius watches impassively.
“All sold,” Sirius repeats. “And all the other properties belonging to the Black family. Take care of it. You’ll divide the money into three accounts: one each for Harry Potter, John Potter, and Celeste Delacour-Lupin, to be given when I die. I don’t want to hear anything about it again after this.”
The lawyer nods dumbly, and Sirius spends the next half an hour signing all the paperwork, destroying the Black family’s legacy with each swirl of his pen -- but building something much better in its place.
When he leaves, Remus and Cici are waiting for him outside and Cici has chocolate on her face, a sure sign she’s just finished ice cream. She laughs when he reappears and rushes forward, wrapping herself around his legs.
“Can we go home now?” she asks as Sirius sidles up to Remus, linking their hands together.
“Yes,” Sirius says, taking her small hand in his other one. “Time to go home now.”