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Published: 02/01/2016Updated: 02/01/2016Words: 8,021Chapters: 1Hits: 43
The Other Side: Crossroads (Book 2)
- Story Summary:
- Sirius Black was entangled in more secrets and lies than anybody had a right to be. It wasn't like his Light friends and Dark family had left him any choice, with their utterly opposite expectations of him. All Sirius could do was try to finish Hogwarts without everything crashing down around him first, but he was pretty sure his heart and the brewing war had made that impossible.
Author's Notes: This is the second book of a series, the first being The Other Side: Thick and Thin, which is available from my profile. You should read that one first or else you will be super confused by a lot of things. The titles in the series are taken from songs by the band Avenged Sevenfold, which provided a lot of the inspiration for certain elements of the story.
Although the last book had chapters averaging 13,000 words, I am not aiming for that with this one. This time I am aiming for somewhere between 6000 and 9000 words per chapter (excluding notes). This is mostly because now that I am adulting fulltime, I don't have as much time as I used to, and I hate making you guys wait so long for updates.
A Year Later...
Although he stubbornly squinted his eyes against the light as he started to wake, once Sirius became aware of the oppressive heat against him, he knew that he wouldn't be able to doze back off again. He pushed the hot body pressed up against his side away and tried to roll over, but his friend was lying on part of his t-shirt. Sirius flopped back into place with a grunt--it wasn't midday yet, so it was at least a few hours too early for him to be articulate--and threw his arms across his face to shield his eyes from the sunlight filtering through the flimsy, lacy things that Mrs. Potter tried to pass off as curtains.
He always got stuck sharing a bed with Peter, because the smaller boy was a massive cuddler in his sleep, and James liked to play the "It's my house!" card to avoid bunking with him.
Sirius silently cursed the Potters' no-magic-outside-of-school-policy for probably the hundredth time that summer. He couldn't just transfigure an extra bed during their sleepovers like he could have done at home (not that they didn't have enough guest bedrooms at home, and not that his friends were ever invited to Grimmauld Place anyway).
He would have felt bad asking either of James's parents to transfigure an extra bed. Sure it would have been easy for them, but one shouldn't go around pointing out the deficiencies of other peoples' homes, right? Neither of them had ever offered, and Sirius had figured out pretty quickly that they thought it was normal for kids to share beds at sleepovers.
There was always the option of Flooing home at night, of course, but being home would only make running into his grandfather more likely. They had both been doing their utmost to avoid one another since Sirius's not-really-an-accident a year ago. His fourth year at Hogwarts had been a nice escape from Grimmauld Place, but since coming home for the summer he'd found that it was easier to stay with his friends than with his family.
When the sticky and unpleasant midsummer heat of two bodies became too much for him to handle, Sirius carefully cracked his eyes open and wrested himself out of Peter's grasp. The other boy grumbled and seemed for a few moments like he would wake, but then he just twisted himself free of the damp sheet and settled back into sleep.
That was a relief. Sirius was hoping to sneak out of the house without having to deal with his friends teasing him.
Mrs. Potter was puttering around near the oven when Sirius descended the narrow back staircase into the kitchen. A quizzical eyebrow quirked at the sight of his still-damp hair. "No drying spells, dear?"
"Frizz, Mrs. Potter. It's the number one problem for those who dry indiscriminately," he replied seriously as he ran his fingers through his thick locks to haphazardly push it out of his eyes.
She grinned at him then. "Have you got a date?"
Sirius was struck for a moment by how attractive the Black features looked on such a friendly, open expression. His own mother was almost always serious, unless she was downright severe. He smiled back.
"Yes, as a matter of fact. I'm meeting Janice in Diagon Alley."
He used her resulting giggles as a distraction and managed to slip out of the kitchen without being cajoled into a seat and force-fed whatever she was working on. Really, he was continually surprised that a woman who had been born as a Black could cook at all, but her cooking wasn't that good.
The Floo trip to the Leaky Cauldron was much longer from Godric's Hollow than from Grimmauld Place, but Sirius managed not to make a total fool of himself when he stumbled into the pub. It was between the breakfast and lunch crowds, as he had planned, and he was able to make it out the door and into Muggle London without drawing any attention. He didn't really have a date with Janice; he had a lesson with his uncle, at Alphard's house in Mayfair.
His life was a big bag of lies: His family thought that he was at the Potters', and the Potters thought that he was with Janice.
Really the only girl that he was likely to see all day was the pretty Muggle girl who spoke to him as he was opening the gate separating his uncle's property from the public sidewalk.
"Hello," she said, repositioning the strap of her leather satchel higher on her shoulder. "I'm Lauren. Lauren Ellis."
Sirius surveyed her with a quick, well-practiced eye. She had the straight blonde hair and cornflower blue eyes that he understood other girls coveted, and she was wearing a dress in the Muggle style. That is to say, with a skirt high enough above her knees that his mother would have had a fit had she seen it, and any girl at Hogwarts would have received an automatic detention. He offered her an easy smile.
"Hello, Lauren Lauren Ellis. I'm Sirius Sirius Black."
She giggled, although it wasn't particularly funny. Sirius had learned that his face--and also, Janice assured him, the hair he refused to have cut--had that effect on girls.
After a moment, she seemed to more fully register what he'd said and gave him a quizzical look. "Serious? That's an, er... unusual name."
Was it? Lots of Blacks had been named Sirius (he was actually Sirius Black VIII) and nobody had ever told him before that it was unusual. Sure no one except Blacks had ever been named it, at least not that he knew of, but that was just a matter of respect. A Black wouldn't name one of his children Rabastan or Lucius or Bilius, just like a Lestrange or Malfoy or Weasley wouldn't name one of his children Sirius. (Well, maybe a Weasley would. They didn't have any respect for how things worked.)
"It's Sirius like the star," he elaborated.
"Oh, yes, of course. That's very interesting," she replied with a smile.
From the look on her face, Sirius guessed that she didn't actually know what he was talking about. Did they not teach astronomy in Muggle schools? Come to think of it, this was the first conversation he'd ever really had with a Muggle that didn't involve polite small talk with shop employees and cab drivers, so perhaps she was just unintelligent and it wasn't a deficiency of the Muggle school system at all. As she seemed to have exhausted her conversational abilities on that point, he was unsurprised when she changed the subject.
"I've never seen you around here before. Well, I mean, I never saw you before this summer, but lately it seems like I see you all the time. I live just over there, you see"--Here she pointed at the house across the street and absentmindedly used her other hand to hoist her bag back up her shoulder again.--"and I've seen you from the window."
Sirius had no particular interest in continuing the conversation--she was a Muggle, after all, and not quite pretty enough to make him overlook it--but he had been wishing for months that he could twist the story of Friedrich Braun into some sort of tragic hero's tale and receive all sorts of fawning attention for it, so he leaned in closer and explained in a low voice, as if he were sharing a state secret, "Well, I have lessons with my due--uh, fencing master in the afternoon. My grandfather won't let me fence at home anymore after a horrible accident with my last instructor--very tragic, very bloody--so I have to sneak out and meet him here, at my uncle's house, to continue my training in secret."
"Oh!" gasped Lauren. She leaned a bit closer, until her long hair was brushing his arm. "What happened?"
"Oh, it was awful, a real freak accident--" began Sirius, but he was cut off when a stern voice said his name.
"Sirius!" called his uncle from the front door, somehow managing to make his words carry very authoritatively down to the sidewalk without seeming to raise his voice overmuch. "Are you going to keep us waiting all day?"
Sirius straightened back to his full height with another smile, as if he didn't notice at all the way that the girl was dying from curiosity. "Oh, well, I guess I'd better go. See you around, Lauren."
He knew that he wouldn't really see her around, since he was leaving for Hogwarts next week, so he barely managed to politely hear her disappointed but hopeful reply before he turned on his heel and continued up towards the house.
Alphard hadn't even waited until he'd closed the door fully behind him before he asked, half on a laugh, "What in Salazar's name was that?"
"I don't know, just some Muggle girl who started talking to me." Sirius shrugged. "Lauren something."
"Ellis?" asked Alphard. He had a curious expression on his face that worried Sirius for half a second before he continued, "She's the daughter of some Muggle lord or other, I believe. Perhaps you should present her to your mother as a suitable substitute for Lucilla Lestrange."
Sirius barked out a laugh as they entered his uncle's study. "Maybe if she were a princess..."
Alphard turned and met his eye, and neither of them lasted for more than a few moments before cracking up completely. Even if she were the crown princess of England and Sirius would become her king, she still wouldn't be suitable for the scion of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. Imagining Walburga's reaction to the idea was a thing of such enormous absurdity that they could only laugh.
Sirius, of course, thought in general that his mother's obsession with securing his marriage even before he finished Hogwarts was so absurd that if he didn't find some humor in it then he'd probably spend all of his time being resentful and frightened.
When they had calmed down sufficiently, Alphard asked, "Why did you talk to her in the first place?"
Sirius shrugged again (his father kept telling him it was a nasty habit he'd developed, but he found that he couldn't stop). "Why not? I liked the attention."
"You are completely unbearable," his uncle informed him, not for the first time.
Sirius laughed again, not at all bothered by his uncle's assessment. Although later, once they had begun their Occlumency lesson, he made a point of thinking about the most arrogance-affirming memory he could think of.
He was flushed with exhilaration and not a little windburn when he brought his Nimbus to a screeching halt mere feet from where Rabastan was standing. There was no telling how long the other boy had been waiting for him. Sirius hadn't had the chance to fly his broom at such breakneck speeds and try out so many death-defying maneuvers for nearly a year, since the last summer break, and he had so lost himself in it that he had lost track of time. Playing Quidditch for the house team was nice enough, but it was all about formations and plans and not at all about reckless abandon, and James Potter would not suffer pointless fun on his practice field.
Sirius bounced off his broom with a wide smile and a laugh, catching himself using Rabastan's shoulders and pressing a sloppy kiss to the other boy's mouth. They were alone, after all, unless Sirius's cousin or Rabastan's brother were spying on them from the windows of their cottage, which overlooked the meadow Sirius had claimed as his own. And if they were, then it was their own fault if they saw something they didn't like.
Rabastan caught him around the waist and, in a rare moment of carefree play, spun them around until they fell down among the soft grass and daisies and buttercups.
When the older boy finally pulled back and stared down at him with a kind of intensity that Sirius didn't immediately recognize, Sirius felt his cheeks begin to reheat.
"Nothing!" said Rabastan abruptly, almost guiltily. Then he twisted his mouth into a smile and continued, "Well, not nothing. I was just thinking how gorgeous you are, and how much I needed this."
The pressure in Sirius's mind, which had been building up steadily all the while, became too much suddenly, and he found himself sucking in a breath and staring into his uncle's flinty, annoyed eyes.
Alphard pursed his lips together in a way that made him uncannily resemble his sister. "I thought the point of these little lessons is for you to bury any thought of Lestrange so deeply that nobody could ever find it. Do you want to be exiled as an abomination?"
With that, Sirius's previously good mood evaporated in less than an instant. He gripped the arm of his chair tightly to prevent himself from doing anything else.
"Well, I could always use thoughts of Janice instead," he finally replied frostily, after he'd somewhat reigned in his emotions, "or maybe of these secret lessons with you. Or the ones I have with Dolohov even though I've been expressly forbidden. Or maybe of some Quidditch practices with James that actually don't exist at all, or the very real illegal Animagus lessons..."
"I get the point," cut in the older man. He looked at Sirius for a few moments as if examining him under a microscope, then finally said, "Nobody ever claimed that it would be easy. No matter who wants to access your mind, you will have a lot to hide. Hell, I managed to find out about your boyfriend and your Animagus plan within the first two times I used Legilimency on you, and I'm not the most accomplished Legilimens. But you should not waste our lessons by deliberately uncovering memories you ought to be hiding."
"I know," answered Sirius. Then he added, "And he's not my boyfriend. He's just a friend. Who I snog."
He didn't usually allow himself to be bitter or frustrated about all the various lies he'd managed to get caught up in, so it was doubly annoying when his uncle looked at him with something too close to pity. Just to spite him, Sirius spent the whole rest of the lesson remembering the last family dinner Alphard had attended, where Grandmother Irma had spent the whole two hours harassing her son about marrying some unfortunate looking, recently widowed daughter of one of her society friends.
If his uncle was annoyed by it, he was smart enough not to complain.
Sirius had a dueling lesson with Dolohov that afternoon, so after Alphard finished with him he made his way down the long corridor towards the large double doors. It was a huge relief--Occlumency was definitely not one of his strong suits, but he loved dueling, and after the emotional highs and lows of the past few hours he definitely needed the chance to mercilessly attack something.
One of the doors was slightly ajar, just enough for Sirius to be able to see the dueler closest to him. It was Evan Rosier. He'd grown taller and thinner over the summer, and his hair had grown longer and lighter. He looked good. And he looked like he was naturally talented at dueling. He must have only started training at the beginning of the summer, because he was going through exercises that Sirius hadn't had to do in two years, but he was clearly better at doing them than Sirius had been when he had been a beginner.
"Didn't your mother ever teach you that it isn't polite to spy at doorways?" Dolohov suddenly boomed.
Evan stopped what he was doing and spun around to see who had been watching. He froze when he saw Sirius. Sirius rolled his eyes and stepped fully into the room with the sneer he usually adopted when he wanted to antagonize his dueling instructor.
"I think you've confused my mother with someone else."
Dolohov made a sound somewhere between a snort and a cough, which Sirius recognized as him trying not to laugh. For his part, Evan looked like he might choke on his own tongue, but Sirius couldn't tell if it was from trying not to laugh or trying not to vomit. He was apparently really afraid of Dolohov's reactions, just like Sirius had been when he'd first met the man. Well... like he'd been before he'd known that the man was shagging Alphard. It was difficult to get the image out of his head and even more difficult to be afraid of the man in the image.
When Dolohov recovered, he crossed the room and slapped Sirius's shoulder none-too-gently with one of his enormous hands as he used the other to check his pocket watch. "Time's up, Mr. Rosier. You can show yourself out, and be sure to improve those spell combinations before I see you next."
Evan lifted his stare from the hand still draped casually across Sirius's shoulder and met Sirius's eyes on the way up. Color spread across his olive cheeks, but Sirius only lifted one eyebrow in a silent question.
"Bye, Sirius," the other boy managed to say. "I'll, uh, see you at the Lestranges' this weekend?"
Sirius and Rosier had barely spoken more than a handful of words to each other since they were children, but that wasn't for lack of trying on Rosier's part. Rabastan had convinced Sirius over a year ago that the grudge he had been holding against his former friend was more than a little unfair, but that didn't mean Sirius wanted to be his friend again. He didn't actively dislike the Slytherin anymore, but he didn't like him either. Rosier tried to engage him in conversation every time they ended up at a family function or some Slytherin event together, but Sirius made a point of only responding with distant civility.
"Oh, were you invited?" he asked. Of course he knew that Rosier had been invited--all of the pure-blood Slytherins had been--but he still let a slight edge of incredulous condescension creep into his tone, as if he disapproved. "Well, then yes, I guess you will see me there."
The color on Evan's cheeks deepened, but he only nodded and, after offering a stammered goodbye to Dolohov, walked stiffly to the fireplace on the other end of the ballroom. Most of Dolohov's students had to Floo in and out from that fireplace and weren't allowed in the rest of the house. Sirius was a special exception on account of it also being his uncle's house. And, of course, on account of it being stupid to use the Floo Network to travel somewhere he wasn't supposed to be.
"You shouldn't have let him see me," he told Dolohov after the other boy had disappeared in a swirl of green smoke.
Dolohov snorted. "What, are you worried that he'll think the Blacks can't afford for me to make house calls for you?"
Sirius rolled his eyes and released his wand from its arm holster and into his hand, giving it an experimental twirl in his fingers.
"No. I'm worried that he'll tell somebody I'm still taking lessons from you even though everybody knows my grandfather sacked you." Dolohov scowled, but Sirius was undeterred. "But now that you mention it, how can Evan Rosier afford to take lessons with you?"
"What makes you think that I'll share my clients' financial arrangements with the likes of you, brat?"
Sirius pinned him with a flat stare.
"Fine!" Dolohov growled after a few moments and ran the fingers of one hand through his dark hair in frustration. "Just like your uncle, I swear... I took him on for a pittance. The boy shows more promise than most, and his father wants him to do his best when he's old enough to take the Mark in a few years. And I owed Evan--the senior one, that is--a favor."
Sirius could vaguely recall, at the edges of his memory, that his parents had mentioned something about the elder Rosier's connections when they'd been shopping for his first Hogwarts list and his mother had been complaining about Evan and Mrs. Rosier interrupting them. He supposed now, with the benefit of hindsight, that they had been talking about the fact that Mr. Rosier was a Death Eater. He wanted to ask what sort of favor Dolohov could have possibly owed that he'd been convinced to take on a student for barely any money, but he could sense that Dolohov was done sharing for the time being.
"Fine," he said instead.
"Fine," replied Dolohov. "Now, were you planning to duel today or just to gossip?"
Sirius responded with an exaggerated bow towards his instructor, sweeping his wand arm back behind him in the traditional manner that his instructor found frivolous and silly.
Dolohov shot a Stunner at him that he almost didn't have time to deflect before it hit him. He let out a delighted bark of laughter as he spun away from the resulting explosion of sparks where he'd just been standing, slashing his wand back up through the air as he went and sending a vicious slicing hex towards Dolohov. For Sirius, the fluid movements and constant flow of one wand movement into another were almost as fun as flying.
By the time he and Dolohov finished their two-hour session, Sirius was rather late getting back to the Potters'. He quickly learned that Remus had already gone home to prepare for the next full moon, but Peter and James wasted no time bundling Sirius into James's bedroom.
"That was a long date," said James as he eyed Sirius's still slightly disheveled state. Sirius had put himself as much to rights as he could after the dueling lesson, but there was only so much that magic could do without the aid of a shower and change of clothes.
"Too long to have spent it all window shopping," put in Peter, his good humor making his normally dull eyes seem brighter than usual.
James nodded vigorously in agreement. "It's almost as if you're hiding something from us."
Perhaps Sirius's breath froze for just a moment, until he caught the suggestive leer Peter was giving him.
"Oh, come on," he protested with a groan. He threw himself carelessly across James's bed. "I told you that we haven't done... you know, it."
"Then what do you do together all day with a girl?" asked James incredulously. "You can't have that much to talk about, and she's pretty, but you can't spend all day just looking at her."
Sirius waved his hand vaguely in the air but didn't sit up to look at his friends. "Have you shared these thoughts with dear Lily? That might be the reason she keeps telling you to get stuffed."
Sirius couldn't see, but he knew that a flush had run up James's neck and across his face, part in embarrassment and part anger.
"Shut up, Black!"
"That isn't why she keeps saying no anyway," interjected Peter. Again, Sirius didn't have to look to know that James was paying rapt attention to everything the other boy said... and doing everything he could to make it seem like he didn't care at all. "She told Remus that she says no because you're a bully and you treat her best friend like garbage."
"I treat Snape like garbage?" echoed James. Sirius really wasn't sure how much of his incredulity was genuine and how much was magnified for effect. "He started it!"
They had been over this many times since James had professed his undying love for probably the one girl who would never have him, and Sirius was more than a little sick of the topic. He flopped over onto his stomach with an annoyed groan.
"I know it's my own fault for bringing her up, but please can we go one day without talking about how James will never snog Evans?"
James's offended "OI!" was almost drowned out by Peter's hiccupping laughter.
Sirius saw James coming from across the room, but he still didn't really have time to prepare for it before the other boy landed on his back. The blow was mostly absorbed by the thick mattress, but from his position on his stomach it was still difficult for Sirius to do anything to retaliate as James's fingers dug into his ribs. He only struggled half-heartedly anyway; he acted like he disliked it, but really he enjoyed the casualness of his friendships in Gryffindor, which was an astronomical contrast to the polite, restrained behavior he'd grown up around.
Just when he thought he would suffocate from laughter, he managed to roll them so that James was pinned under Sirius's more substantial body weight.
"Cut it out, Potter," he wheezed through lungfuls of air. "Your parents aren't going to be gone for much longer."
"Whose fault," gasped Potter from underneath him, "is that?"
It took a lot of pushing and shoving, but eventually they managed to sort themselves out. Peter was standing on the other side of the room with his arms crossed, and Sirius offered him a small smile over James's head. Peter disapproved of their occasional bouts of roughhousing, mostly because he wasn't confident enough to join in. Sirius secretly couldn't blame him, since he didn't seem to have grown very much at all even though all of his friends and classmates had been shooting up like weeds, but he liked the other boy enough not to say anything about it.
"What's on the agenda for today, Peter?" he asked, not because he hadn't read the books and helped make their training schedule himself, but because he wanted to make his friend feel more included.
Peter uncrossed his arms, which Sirius considered progress.
"We've got to keep practicing wandless control," said the shorter boy, "and keep studying the anatomy books. I know you're both eager to try the full transformation, but none of us is ready."
It was maddening having to wait, but Sirius agreed that none of them was ready to try a complete Animagus transformation yet. They had been going through a quite arduous process for the past several years, not the least of which had been having to keep Mandrake leaves in their mouths for an entire month. That had been doubly difficult for Sirius, since he'd had to avoid both Janice and Rabastan unless he'd wanted to explain why he couldn't kiss. And after all of that, now they were in a seemingly endless cycle of practice and research.
Sirius was glad that at least he'd been able to figure out what sort of animal he would become. He couldn't imagine what it would have been like to have to wait for years to figure out what he'd be, but more importantly he couldn't imagine practicing the transformation without knowing exactly what he was supposed to be transforming into. Wandless magic was difficult enough without any additional handicaps being added to the mix.
He let out a little sigh of resignation as he cracked open his copy of Dog Anatomy.
He'd managed to procure the book from a Muggle shop that had been only a minor detour from his usual route between the Leaky Cauldron and Uncle Alphard's townhouse. It had been much more difficult to find anatomy books for deer and rats. The shop girl had been willing enough to help him track down what he wanted and special order them, but she had clearly thought that he was some sort of budding serial killer who was practicing on animals.
Today he focused on the forearms. The most tedious part of their training was having to correlate every piece of their Animagus forms' anatomy to some piece of the human anatomy, but it was necessary. Just like with regular Transfiguration, it was important to have a clear mental plan of exactly how one thing would turn to another.
When he was ready, he began with the easiest part: making thick black fur sprout from his arm. It always took a bit of effort to get it started, but it took less effort each time he did it. After he managed to grow the first bit of fur, it was as if a dam had burst and it became incredibly easy to make it spread down to his hand and up towards his shoulder. It made his skin prickle somewhat unpleasantly, but that was nothing to the unpleasantness of having his human arm crack and twist into a dog's front leg. The pain never became easier no matter how often he did it, although the process did become more natural and automatic every time he completed it.
James, as usual, was unable to resist goofing off and had chosen to make antlers and ears spring from beneath his untidy black hair. Peter was still working on the consistency of his grayish-brown fur and hadn't gotten very practicing limb morphing. Sirius was actually a bit worried that Peter's progress would stall even further because of the pain associated with shrinking his body down to rat size.
Overall, they had made great progress for a bunch of teenagers who didn't have anybody helping them. Although Sirius was sure that they could have managed the transformations by now if they could have had help--or at least he and James could have.
The Potters arrived home (Mr. Potter from work and Mrs. Potter from her knitting club) about an hour before suppertime, and that immediately put an end to their Animagus practice. Mrs. Potter had a habit of barging into her son's bedroom without knocking, and the last thing they wanted was to be caught out mid-transformation.
True to form, a few minutes later James's door opened and Dorea poked her head into the room. By then they had set up a game of chess between them, setting up the pieces to make it appear as if James and Peter were in the middle of a game and Sirius had been watching the whole time. If someone more familiar with chess had looked closely, they would have realized that the pieces had been placed rather randomly around the board and didn't resemble anything that actual players would have done in a real game. But Mrs. Potter was not a chess player, so she remained blissfully ignorant.
"Isn't it time for you to head home, dears?" she asked. "I promised your parents that I would have you home today in time for supper."
Sirius wouldn't very well argue unless he wanted to start offering reasons for why he didn't want to go home, so he rose from the cushions on James's floor and stretched, making a sound somewhere between a groan and a yawn that would have appalled his own mother.
Perhaps Sirius was too hard on his mother, he thought. Oh, not that it wasn't completely true that she cloaked herself in high society manners and social niceties as if they were a second skin. And then there was the whole marriage thing. But she did love him and dote on him as best she knew how, and it probably wasn't fair to compare her to Mrs. Potter or to the stories he'd heard about his other friends' parents. After all, Dorea Potter might make half-passable attempts at baking and display a kind of effortless, open affection that Sirius had rarely experienced, but Sirius sincerely doubted that she would have taught her son how to curse school bullies without being caught or helped to cover it up if James had slayed his dueling instructor right there on the antique wood floors in her spare drawing room.
It was kind of a bad feeling to realize that he'd been thinking so meanly of his own mother, so that evening he made an effort to pay special attention to her.
"Here, Mother, allow me," he said when he met her in the hallway as they were both on their way to the dining room.
He took her hand in his and wrapped it securely through his arm, and she looked up at him (for he had outgrown her by now) with an expression that Sirius couldn't really recall seeing since that first shopping trip to Diagon Alley when his father had given him his ring with the Black family seal. It had probably been almost that long since he had willingly shown her this kind of attention, though.
His father and brother watched these proceedings skeptically, of course, and Grandfather Arcturus looked as if it took a Herculean effort for him not to come right out and ask what Sirius was trying to accomplish with his behavior. It struck Sirius then how much his mother did love him, even if she showed it in ways he didn't prefer. If it had been almost anybody else she would have been just as suspicious as the rest of them, but in this case she accepted Sirius's affections like a drowning woman sucking in much needed air.
He paid attention to her all throughout supper, and she happily lapped it all up. Finally, just as the dessert course appeared on the table, she decided to see how far she could push her luck.
"Sirius, my darling, surely you can stay home this Saturday? I understand that everyone will be at Bellatrix's little party, but you have not missed an event or a practice or a sleepover all summer." She said the word sleepover as if she still wasn't quite convinced that it was a real thing and he hadn't just been pulling her leg the whole summer. "You will go to Hogwarts on Monday, and then I will not see you again until December."
"Mother, I've already promised several people that I will be there."
Not the least of whom was Rabastan. Sirius wasn't sure if he would be able to see the other boy again until Christmas either, and he had to admit that at this point he was just a bit more interested in having a proper goodbye with Rabastan than with his mother.
Walburga looked deflated for a moment, but she quickly recovered her mask.
"Oh, well, then you must go. I do wish I had spent more time with you this summer. I will be terribly busy over the holidays, you know, with the final preparations for Narcissa's wedding. Although she was quite right to schedule it in December rather than this summer, because she and Bellatrix should not have people comparing their weddings, and she and dear Lucius will look so fine together with their coloring and all the blues and silvers."
A muffled groan seemed to pass through the four men at the table all at once. They had each heard some version of this speech at least twenty times in the past month alone.
However, Walburga was happy to completely ignore it, if she had even heard it at all, and Sirius found that he could only smile indulgently as she began telling him again about the blue diamonds that her brother Cygnus had been persuaded to purchase so that they could have them set into several pieces of jewelry and a hairnet to complete Narcissa's wedding ensemble.
Rodolphus and Bellatrix's house was already full of Slytherins when Sirius and Regulus Flooed into their drawing room one right after the other. Bellatrix was apparently monitoring the fireplace for new arrivals, because she had swooped in and placed a kiss on each of Sirius's cheeks almost before he had caught his balance.
She released him just as quickly and turned to do the same to Regulus, but it was obvious from his expression and the way that he turned to present her with only one cheek that he had not yet outgrown his moody pubescent stage. He accepted a single kiss with a distinct lack of grace and then wandered off to join a group of third-year Slytherins with barely a word to either his brother or cousin.
Sirius rolled his eyes and turned back to Bellatrix, bumping her shoulder playfully with his. "This is some party. I've never even met at least half the people here."
"We will begin narrowing it down soon," she said, lowering her voice so that they wouldn't be overheard as she led him towards the dining room. "Right now we are identifying potential recruits, gathering information about them and feeling out their loyalties."
Sirius had no idea what she was talking about, and he had no intention of asking her to elaborate. He hadn't broken the news to her yet that the chances of him becoming a Death Eater were slim to none, due to his grandfather's ultimatum that should he join then he would be disowned. He wasn't exactly afraid of her reaction, but she was just a tad fanatical about the Dark Lord so Sirius maintained a healthy level of anxiety about what she would do or say when she found out. It was best to just avoid the subject altogether as much as possible.
Only Rabastan knew, and he usually avoided bringing it up.
The dining room furniture had been moved or Vanished somewhere, and what remained was a relatively large space full of people of all ages mingling in various groups. Sirius didn't see anybody he recognized as younger than Regulus, and nobody was older than Rodolphus and Bellatrix, but everything in between seemed to be fair game. He nodded hello to Flint, whom he had met briefly a few summers ago in Diagon Alley, and Bellatrix introduced him to several older Slytherins he'd never properly spoken to before. Then she moved away to go back to the fireplace and he found himself standing in a group with Will Avery, Nigel Mulciber, and a Slytherin girl Sirius recognized but had never spoken to.
"This is Eleanor Greengrass," Avery finally thought to introduce her, but only after she'd pointedly tugged at his arm. "Sorry, I thought you knew two knew each other. We're in the same year."
Sirius vaguely recalled having classes with Eleanor--she'd sat two tables behind him in Potions last year, if he remembered correctly--but he'd never paid attention to the Slytherin girls.
"Of course," he replied and dutifully brought her hand up for a brief kiss. "I apologize; I should really try to get to know more people in Slytherin."
Greengrass smiled at him, perfectly white teeth contrasting with the berry-colored lipstick she was wearing. "Oh, that's all right. We know enough about each other, I'm sure."
People in normal social circles probably would have taken that as some sort of insult or dismissal, but Sirius recognized it for what it was: acceptance of the fact that what was important was their lineages and relative wealth. The Greengrass family was one of the only twenty-eight remaining families that was truly pure, as were the Blacks and Averys, but there weren't a whole lot of options among twenty-eight families.
Sirius could not imagine accepting such a thing as quietly as Eleanor. Although he did have to admit she would be miles better than Lucilla Lestrange, he had absolutely no intention of even thinking about marrying her, even if she was clearly assessing him with an eye towards that outcome.
Sirius could see Lucilla from across the room, looking as disagreeable and judgmental as ever. If he had been inclined to dislike Lucilla before just on account of the way she treated her brother, even before he'd known why exactly, then he was doubly or even triply determined to dislike her now that he shared in, as she saw it, Rabastan's homosexual sickness. Not that she knew that or, if Sirius had his way, ever would.
He was saved from the rest of the potentially awkward conversation by the sudden appearance of Rabastan Lestrange himself at his side. He stood far enough away to be absolutely proper and not draw any suspicion, and maybe even a little further away than that, but that didn't stop Sirius's entire body from immediately heating up at his presence.
"Sirius," he rumbled from somewhere deep in his chest, so that it was all Sirius could do not to growl back at him, "I didn't know you'd arrived."
"It's no matter," replied Sirius. "Elena has been keeping us entertained."
Mulciber snorted loudly enough to draw the attention of the people in the group standing nearest to theirs.
"It's Eleanor," she said through a laugh, but he could tell that her jaw was clenched in some mixture of embarrassment and anger.
Of course he remembered her name. But she had been eyeing Rabastan with way too much interest for Sirius's tastes. Sirius knew that he was being quite irrational in his anger and even more irrational in his possessiveness of the older man, but he didn't care.
"Right," he responded carelessly.
Rabastan's foot nudged his just before he said, just as dismissively, "Well, Sirius is needed elsewhere. Enjoy the rest of your evening."
He spun on his heel without waiting for the proper responses, and Sirius followed behind him after only a nod of acknowledgement towards Avery and Mulciber. They were something between acquaintances and friends, after all, and he didn't want to completely snub them.
"You are an utter dick," Rabastan told him as soon as he'd shut the door to the small potions lab behind them.
Sirius didn't bother to deny it. Instead he raised an eyebrow and asked, "Oh, is this where I'm supposedly needed? Do you need me to brew you a subtlety potion?"
Rabastan grinned wolfishly and nabbed Sirius by the wrist, pulling him closer so that Sirius could feel his warm breath across his face.
"Depends. Do you want me to be subtle, or do you want me to kiss you?"
"It depends," echoed Sirius, although his question was a bit more serious. "Do you really think that we won't be missed?"
His friend pressed a kiss to his jaw that was more tender than it had a right to be given the lecherous gleam in Rabastan's dark blue eyes. "There are nearly a hundred people out there. I'm sure that everybody will just assume that they weren't lucky enough to run into us in the crowd. Anyway, I have it on good authority that Roddy's about to break out the booze."
It was all too easy to give in then, and Sirius allowed himself to be half pulled and half pushed until he was perched on the edge of the brewing table, his legs on either side of the Slytherin's narrow hips. He eagerly leaned into the kiss when Rabastan's mouth met his, and a few moments later he had managed to insinuate his hands inside his friend's robes and under his shirt so that he could feel his skin.
He wasn't sure how long they stayed like that, but a crash and the sound of inebriated laughter from the hallway right outside the door broke them up quite abruptly. They could have gone back to what they'd been doing as far as Sirius was concerned, but Rabastan had apparently decided that he'd been irresponsible enough for one night.
"I need to get back out there," he said with a mournful sigh. "I'm actually supposed to be doing my job, believe it or not. You're such a bad influence."
Sirius snorted and pinched a bit of the tight flesh of Rabastan's stomach, which earned him a pinch on the ass in return. Then the Slytherin stepped away and began putting his appearance to rights.
"What job do you mean?" asked Sirius when his brain finally caught up with what was going on around him.
Rabastan rarely told him about Death Eater stuff. He said that he was strictly forbidden from sharing most of it, and anyway he didn't want Sirius to get any more involved than he had to be if he was still determined not to take the Mark. But from what he did share, Sirius couldn't imagine what a party had to do with it. Unless they were planning to torture some of the attendees, or maybe kidnap them to hold for ransom, but either occurrence seemed unlikely.
The Slytherin sighed again and pulled Sirius in for an embrace, seemingly indifferent to the fact that he was re-mussing up the clothes he'd just got finished straightening out.
"It's recruitment," he finally explained. "Most of my duties now revolve around identifying and recruiting young witches and wizards into the fold. New ones, of course. Ones who won't be obligated to join anyway because daddy's a Death Eater. We--that is, Rodolphus, Bellatrix, and I--thought that one way to go about it is to get all of the potentials together and see how they interact with those of us whose loyalty is already known."
Sirius hummed in understanding. Bellatrix's words from earlier, when he'd first arrived, made perfect sense now. Then a terrible thought occurred to him, and although he told himself it was a bad idea to ask and tried to stamp the question back down where it'd come from, he couldn't stop the words from spewing out.
"Will this... will I..." He swallowed heavily, dreading the answer he already knew he would get. "If this is your job, then will it be even worse for you when I don't join?"
Rabastan's whole body tensed and Sirius bit his own lip so hard that he tasted blood. Then one of Rabastan's hands was wrapped around the side of his neck, and his other thumb was gently tugging Sirius's lip from between his teeth and then moving up to stroke along his high, defined cheekbone.
"I don't want you to worry about that. Okay?"
Sirius nodded that he understood. He did understand, even. He just refrained from mentioning that understanding that Rabastan didn't want him to worry about it didn't mean that he wouldn't worry about it.
Rabastan leaned in for another kiss and sucked Sirius's still-bleeding lip into his mouth. It kind of hurt, but it felt too good for Sirius to pull away, and he thought that was like a lot of aspects of their relationship.
When Rabastan finally pulled away on his own, it was to ask, "Will you stay the night?"
Merlin, if he slept over tonight and deprived his mother of any of her final hours with him tomorrow, she would be so furious that she'd probably kill him before he ever had a chance to board the Hogwarts Express for his fifth year. It was a horrible idea. He really shouldn't.
"Yeah, of course," he replied.
Author's Note: The information about holding a mandrake leaf in one's mouth for a month straight comes from Pottermore. According to the Black family tree that we have available, Sirius is the third such person with the name. However, we only have a small portion of the tree dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, four generations before Sirius, and the "noble and most ancient house" has to go back further than that. I'm taking the liberty of saying that some of these people further back had been named Sirius--after all, they seem to have chosen their preferred family names and given them to babies over and over.