The Sugar Quill
Author: Ajax (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Across A Wizard's Heart  Chapter: Chapter 3: The Summer of Brotherhood
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.


A/N: Many thanks to my beta Birgit, and also to the lovely Stella who got me promoted to the Professor's Bookshelf! Enjoy the story!

ACROSS A WIZARD'S HEART
A Harry Potter fic by Ajax

Chapter 3: The Summer of Brotherhood

Sirius breathed softly as he returned to consciousness. His whole body felt deliciously warm. He let out a huge yawn and stretched out his arms, feeling the joints crack until his right hand hit the bedside table and knocked something that had been on it down with a loud thud.

Hold on. His bedside table was on the left side of the bed.

Perplexed, he opened his eyes and blinked at the bright sunlight pouring in through unfamiliar windows. There was the sound of hurried footsteps and the door of the room was thrown open. He turned his head and saw his best friend, who was framed in the doorway and looking at him in a relieved sort of manner.

"Finally! You're awake!" James exclaimed and strode into the room, throwing himself into an armchair that had been pulled close to the bed.

Sirius stared at James' bespectacled face, uncomprehending. The room that lay beyond the armchair was much different from his own in Grimmauld Place. A jolt of recognition passed through him. This was the room he had slept in the only time his parents had let him visit James, which had been last Christmas.

Had he really done it?

Excited, he sat up, crossed his legs under the covers, and grinned at James. James, however, looked put out for some reason.

"I'm hurt, you know," he said. "I'd have thought you'd ask me to come along if you suddenly decided to fly across half the country on broomstick."

"What?"

"Unless, of course, you were trying to commit suicide through freezing and exhaustion, in which case I suppose I'll have to forgive the snub." He shot Sirius a wide grin. "Finally decided to leave the place, did you? Or did your parents kick you out?"

Sirius picked up a pillow and chucked it at James, mirth, relief and joy bubbling up inside him. He had done it! He never had to live in Grimmauld Place again!

The thought of it was like flying. It was freedom. It made him want to sing until his voice was gone and jump around the room like a madman.

"They didn't kick me out," he told James, barely fighting down the urge to shout in exuberance. "My mother kept locking me up in my room when she was angry at me, then last night there was a huge row about the usual pureblood rot, and I packed the trunk and left!"

"Did you fly all night?" James asked enviously.

Sirius could remember everything now: the metal snake crawling on his hand, the face of Regulus as they said goodbye to each other, and the long hours of flight, high up in the sky. "Yeah... Yeah, I did," he answered, smiling.

"That must have been brilliant!" said James, a note of admiration in his voice.

"It was." Sirius bent down to pick up the jug of water he had knocked down earlier, but frowned when he noticed that his muscles were reluctant to cooperate. "Except maybe the part where I fainted on your doorstep," he grimaced. "I was really cold and it was hard to fly with the trunk tied to the broom."

"You gave poor Dad a fright, I'm telling you!" James laughed. "Mum thought someone had put a Confundus Charm on him when he ran into the kitchen babbling about a blue bloke in the garden!"

Sirius guffawed, but the thought of Mr Potter sobered him up. After five years of friendship where they had been at each other's side through absolutely everything, it had felt only too natural that he should head for James' house upon leaving London. But now it occurred to him that James' parents might not be too keen on having him live in their home.

"What... what did your parents say when you found out it was me?" he asked apprehensively. James, however, didn't seem to notice his change in tone.

"Well, it was hard to convince Mum that you weren't a Polyjuiced Death Eater out to avenge the nutter she caught last week," he smirked. "Then she thought they could have put you under Imperius to get to her. She's become so paranoid, I tell you. Right up there with that crazy Moody bloke who was in the papers."

"D'you think they'd let me stay here, though?" asked Sirius. "I know they don't like my family much. I only have a little money but I s'pose I could get a job in the village and pay for a room at the inn--"

"Don't talk like you've drunk a Wit-Addling Potion, of course you can stay," said James.

"Did you actually ask them, though?"

"I told them you'd probably run away. I had to; when Mum saw the state you were in she nearly Apparated to London to tell your parents."

Sirius winced at the thought of the hardened Auror informing his mother that her son had somehow ended up half-frozen and unconscious in the front garden of the Potter house. His family would probably guess that he was in Godric's Hollow, and even though he knew they would never seek him out, he felt better thinking that his whereabouts remained unconfirmed.

"Don't look so worried!" said James in an unconcerned manner. "It's OK. Come down and ask them yourself if you want, they should be back from work by now."

Sirius pushed the covers away and swung his legs over the side of the bed, surprised. "Back from work? How long was I out?"

"Dunno. Eight, nine hours? We don't know when you arrived here, could be longer."

"Blimey!" He rushed to his trunk and began dressing, stealing a glance at his watch as he did so. It was five o'clock in the afternoon.

Together, they went down the ornate staircase. Sirius drank in the sight of the wood-panelled walls and the lush, expensive-looking carpets, basking in the rich, warm colours of the Potters' home. James led him through a wide corridor whose walls were hung with portraits. A young, pretty witch winked at Sirius from her frame and whistled, prompting James to snigger and roll his eyes.

"Ignore my great-grandmother," he told Sirius. "She's been doing that to any chap who passes by since we brought her down from the fourth floor. Fancies herself young and beautiful, I imagine. Mum says she was a right old nag when she was alive."

The witch's jolly face contorted and she placed her hands on her hips. "Show some respect to your ancestors!" she retorted indignantly. "I have one hundred and seventy eight years on you, I'll have you know! And your mother's one to talk, as if she ever stopped whinging when she was a baby!"

Sirius gaped at the picture, trying to imagine the attractive woman in it as somebody's great-grandmother, but James merely stuck his tongue out at her and tugged at Sirius' sleeve, pulling him into a cozy room at the end of the corridor.

It was a small drawing room, decorated with plush armchairs and a couple of oak cupboards. Mr Potter was sitting by the window, wearing the elegant plum-coloured robes that marked him as a member of the Wizengamot. He looked somewhat weary, but glanced up when he saw them come in and gave them a jovial smile.

"Well, hello there!" he said, getting up from his seat to clasp Sirius' shoulder. "Good to see you up and about! Had a bit of a shock in the morning, when I found you! How are you feeling?"

"I'm all right now, thank you, Mr Potter," Sirius murmured.

"Good to hear it, good to hear it... Now, James told me we might be harbouring a fugitive. Was he correct, young man?"

Sirius felt a bit uneasy at the question, but there was no sign of disapproval on Mr Potter's face, only a serious expression. Meeting the older man's eyes, Sirius nodded and was relieved when he was met with a sympathetic gaze. He wondered if James had mentioned what Sirius had told him about his home life to his father, and thought that he probably had.

"I wasn't... I couldn't stay--" he began to say, but was interrupted by a yell coming from another room.

"Alistair! James! Is anybody there?" shouted a voice that Sirius recognised as belonging to James' mother. She sounded oddly far away. Sirius followed the other two as they sprinted out of the room and dashed across the corridor to enter the kitchen.

Mrs Potter's head was sitting in the fireplace, surrounded by leaping flames. "There you are!" she said when she saw her husband and son. "Is Sirius all right -- Sirius!"

He smiled at her, crouching in front of the fireplace so that they were at eye-level. "Hello, Mrs Potter."

"Wonderful, you're up," she replied in her customary brisk manner. "Alistair, can you take the boys out for dinner? I won't be home until late, Moody's just captured Corwell and I have to help interrogate him. Sirius, I know you and James are probably dying to put your heads together to plan some potentially dangerous mischief, but I want you to go bed early, all right? You still need your rest." She paused and talked to someone behind her whom they couldn't see from their viewpoint. "Yes, I'm coming, just a minute -- Enjoy your dinner, Alistair, Sirius, James. I have to go now." With a small pop, her head disappeared from the flames.

Sirius spent the next thirty minutes telling Mr Potter about the circumstances that had led to his departure from home. Both James and his father listened to him quietly, speaking only to ask a few questions here and there, but Sirius detected flashes of anger and disgust in their eyes at various points of his story. When he had finished, Mr Potter contemplated the fireplace for a few minutes. James placed a hand on Sirius' shoulder. The two boys remained silent, waiting for James' father to speak.

"Well, it's clear that you cannot live in that house anymore," he said at last. "It is sad, really, how people choose to persist in perpetrating such bigoted attitudes when there is no logical justification behind them. And they have been more widespread than ever, since the emergence of You-Know-Who. Magic would dwindle and eventually die out were it not for Muggle-borns and half-bloods. People with Muggle blood in them can become very worthy witches and wizards, despite their origins. Why, James is always telling me that the best witch in your year is a Muggle-born!"

Sirius choked and grinned at Mr Potter. "Oh, James thinks she is-- Ouch!" James had just kicked his leg under the table. Sirius decided swiftly that the amusement he would get from telling Mr Potter about James' unrequited love was not worth the mauling James would give him afterwards, and shut up. However, he was sure that Mr Potter had developed a knowing twinkle in his eyes as he looked at them.

"I'm very proud of you, Sirius," he said. "It takes great courage and strength of character to see the truth, to discard your own family's ideas and stand up to them as you did. I can only hope that others of your generation possess the same fortitude."

Sirius blushed at the praise. However, there was still the one question he had been wanting to ask for the past hour.

"Mr Potter," he began softly, "I was wondering... I don't want to impose. That is, if you don't want me staying here, I could get a room at the inn--"

"Of course not! You can stay here as long as you want to," said James' father. "We are not going to let you stay in some inn, and especially not the rickety place old Barry runs down the road! Evelyn and I are both very fond of you, and we would be delighted to have you as part of our family. James already thinks of you as a brother, of course."

A streak of warmth shot through Sirius, and even though he couldn't look up to meet the two Potters' eyes, he felt the last of the darkness of Grimmauld Place ebbing away from inside him.

"Now, how about fish and chips for dinner?" Mr Potter asked.

*

James stifled a yawn as he made his way towards the dining room for breakfast, nodding a greeting to Toppy the house elf, who was scrubbing the floor. He felt a little tired; despite his mother's advice that Sirius go to bed early, James had sneaked into his friend's bedroom and they had chatted for a few hours before finally nodding off. He felt sorry for Sirius. After three weeks with only his awful parents, his younger brother and a stupid house elf for company, Sirius had seemed desperate for some good conversation and a chance to be himself. James set his jaw in determination. The remaining five weeks of Sirius' holidays would be good ones.

He would see to it.

"Good morning," he murmured as he entered the dining room. His parents and Sirius were already seated at the table, being served porridge by Letty, Toppy's sister. Winking at his friend, James slid into the chair next to Sirius' and ruffled the top of Letty's head as she scrambled to place food onto his plate. His mother was telling his father about her work, the latter listening intently as he ate.

"...so it turns out that Corwell was slipping them information about some Muggle-borns in Kent. That's how they knew to attack there last week. Three killed and one child in St. Mungo's, all because Corwell believed they would get him the promotion he wanted into the Department of International Cooperation! I hope your lot throw him into Azkaban for the rest of his miserable life!" she said viciously to her husband. "It looks like it is true that he has spies inside the Ministry, Voldemort, that is."

James flinched, but only slightly. He was used to his mother speaking that word, by now.

"You said his name!" gasped his best friend.

"And why should I not? It's obviously not even a real name. I became an Auror during Grindelwald's reign, Sirius. I have seen too many things in my time to know that it is pointless and absurd to become a quivering wreck when confronted with evil, never mind a mere name." She snorted. Sirius was gaping at her with a look of mingled shock and admiration. "'Lord Voldemort', indeed! If that wretch has a single noble cell in his body, then I'm Merlin's great-grandniece! It's just a stupid name devised to frighten the naive, nothing more."

James smiled. His mother's courage and cool logic had always provoked a deep admiration in him. Across the table, a morsel of porridge slid off his father's spoon and dropped into the bowl with a small plop. James sniggered and elbowed Sirius, nodding in the direction of the sound.

His father was gazing at his mother with a smitten expression.

"Oh Mum, you're so brave!" James crooned, batting his eyelashes in an exaggerated manner.

Sirius grinned and joined in the joke. "Brave, and beautiful..."

"What are you two talking about -- Oh Alistair, stop gaping like that," his mother said to her husband, but James noticed that a corner of her mouth had lifted slightly upward.

"Were you a Gryffindor, Mrs Potter?" asked Sirius.

"Yes, unlike Mr Ravenclaw here," she replied, indicating James' father. She swallowed the last of her omelette and wiped her mouth with a napkin before pushing her chair back from the table. "James, I'm sorry I can't come and watch you fly today. I know I promised, but Moody really needs my help with Corwell."

"Always work..." huffed James. However, the mention of flying had reminded him of something he had wanted to ask his mother. "Mum, Comet's put out a new broomstick model, I was wondering if you would buy me one? Since I got nine OWLs--"

"We bought you a broom last year!" his father interjected.

"But Dad, this new model's supposed to be incredible! Fastest acceleration on the market, most aerodynamic bristle set-up--"

"I'll go to Quality Quidditch Supplies tomorrow and buy it, all right?" said his mother.

His father didn't look too pleased. "I spent a whole sack of Galleons on his last broom, barely twelve months ago!"

"He can have the broom if he wants it, Alistair," his mother replied. James smiled in satisfaction. He knew that when his mother spoke with that tone, no amount of reasoning would change her mind. He continued eating, not bothering to look up when his parents Disapparated to work, leaving him alone with his friend.

"Can I have your old broom if you're getting a new one, then?" asked Sirius, laughing.

"Yes all right," James answered magnanimously, and dug into the rest of his porridge.

*

The next few weeks were busy, but always entertaining. A couple of times, James' father took him and Sirius to the beach, where they swam and laughed at the people who subjected themselves to hours of lying prostrate in the sunlight to get a tan, whereas a Bronzing Charm would have done the job in a few seconds. They went flying in the woods behind his house, pretending the trees were Quidditch players as they darted between them. Sometimes, they sneaked out at night, transformed, and let Padfoot be glimpsed by the ten or so other wizarding households in Godric's Hollow. People were so frightened by what they thought to be the Grim that soon an article appeared in the Daily Prophet ("Godric's Hollow terrorised by Grim sightings!" read the headline). Sirius kept the clipping, joking that it wasn't often one found oneself on the fourth page of the Prophet.

The day after Sirius appeared in the newspaper, they received a letter from Peter, which left them chuckling for minutes afterwards.

Dear Padfoot and Prongs,
Enjoyed the article in the Prophet. Jolly good show.
Prongs, if you've started adopting chaps who were driven bonkers by their mothers, can I come too? Mum's dragging me around to all her friends' for tea every bloody day. I think I'm going to put myself up for sale to save myself. How about an advertisement in the Prophet?

Pet rat for sale!
Friendly and house-trained. Has many powers and can list the winners of the last forty five Quidditch World Cups in chronological order.
Only ten galleons

Think that'll work?
Wormtail

A few days after the article, the novelty of scaring people wore off and they started to look for other activities. They had never been to the village before as James' home, along with the other wizarding homes, was farther away from the main cluster of Muggle houses, behind a hill that kept them fairly isolated, and the climb over that hill was somewhat strenuous. In fact, most wizards stayed away from the village, fearing detection by Muggles if they mingled too closely with them. On an evening when his parents had gone to a Ministry banquet, however, James was approached by Sirius with an interesting plan.

"Why do you want to go into the village?" he asked, perplexed.

"It's better than sitting at home!" said Sirius. "I want to see what the Muggles are like!"

"That's it, that OWL in Muggle Studies has gone to your head!" joked James, but he was starting to become excited by the prospect of adventure. "Mum'll ground us for a month if she finds out we've been sneaking around Muggles," he said.

Sirius shrugged. "She's not going to catch us though, is she? So what if she's an Auror? We're Prongs and Padfoot! We might as well throw ourselves from the Divination Tower if we can't manage to sneak in without getting caught when we've been sneaking out of Hogwarts for years! Besides, I reckon we'll be back before they are, those banquets always last ages."

James smiled and ruffled his hair. "Then what are we waiting for?"

Moving quietly to avoid the house elves, they collected his Invisibility Cloak and made their way out of the house. James breathed in the summer evening as they walked over the hill, debating about which subjects to choose for their NEWTs. He thought that becoming a Gringotts Curse-Breaker sounded exciting, even though it required some of the most difficult subjects: Arithmancy, Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Potions and Transfiguration. He felt a little sad upon realising that Sirius wouldn't be able to go for that job since he had not taken Arithmancy at school.

By the time they had reached the other side of the hill, the sun had already set and the sky had become darker. At first, he was a little startled by the hundreds of lights that blinked at them from behind windows and the tops of tall metal poles, until Sirius told him that he remembered reading about something called "electricity" for Muggle Studies. They walked down the wide grey road that wound through the centre of the village, trying not to gape at their surroundings but failing dismally. On the corner of one street they spied a slick, gleaming metal contraption, the likes of which James recalled seeing on his journeys to and from King's Cross. He thought it was some kind of vehicle, but Sirius couldn't remember learning about anything like it in class. As they stared, a man wearing a black leather jacket came out of a building and mounted the contraption, sitting astride it as if he was riding a broom. He fiddled with something, turned something else, and with an almighty roar, the strange vehicle sped onto the road. They jumped back when it went past them, moving so fast that it gone in a blink of the eye.

Sirius was the first one to speak. He turned to look at James, his eyes wide with amazement. "Does even your Comet go as fast as that?"

James numbly shook his head. He didn't know what the vehicle was, but if it made that sort of infernal racket and went faster than a broomstick, then he wanted one.

"D'you reckon we could... er... borrow one for a few hours, while we're here?" asked Sirius. His eyes were gleaming in the dim light.

James entertained the idea for a moment but then made a negative gesture. "Nah, we probably wouldn't be able to make it work," he said regretfully. "Would have been great, though."

"Well, I'm going to ask Lily what that was when we're back at Hogwarts," said Sirius.

"You think she would even want to talk to one of us?"

"I'll tie her to her chair, then we'll see," Sirius answered.

James laughed, but his chuckles were interrupted when a fat drop of water hit his nose. There was a sudden flash of bright, actinic lightning, followed by a deep rumble of thunder, and the heavens opened up above them.

"Bloody hell!" James yelled as they ran for cover, already half-soaked by the unexpected downpour. They took shelter under the awning of a small shop, watching the storm in dismay. A Muggle woman wearing a thin dress squeezed in next to them, holding a baby close to her chest in an effort to keep it from the cold. For a few minutes, James stared out into the street, entranced by the way the strange, artificial light of the Muggles was reflected in the puddles of water on the pavement. He turned to speak to Sirius, but his friend was making a funny face at the baby, who had reached out a short, stubby arm towards him. The Muggle woman smiled at them, but her gaze turned miserable when she glanced back at the skies.

"This is awful, isn't it? And it doesn't look like it'll clear up soon. Geoffrey's just recovered from the sniffles," she said, shifting her grip on the baby. "I don't want him sick again. I should take him home, but I can't get there without getting us both soaked."

James wished, for what was probably the millionth time in his life, that the Ministry hadn't banned underage magic. It would have been a second's work to cast a few Charms that would let the woman take her baby home without exposing him to the cold rain. Then he noticed that Sirius had taken off the light jacket he had been wearing.

"Here, you can wrap him in this," he said and thrust the garment into the woman's hand.

"Oh, that is so kind of you! But I can't take it, you'll freeze!"

"We came by car," Sirius lied. "Take it, I really don't need it. We wouldn't want Geoffrey to get sick again, would we?" He made another face at the baby.

"Oh really, I..." the woman seemed to hesitate, "I really should get him home soon. How will I ever return the jacket to you, though?"

"We... er... we go to the pub, sometimes," Sirius said. "You can leave it with the barman and I'll collect it from there."

"In that case, I suppose I can accept the offer." She wrapped the jacket carefully around the baby, knotting the sleeves over his stomach so that it wouldn't unravel from around him, and muttering another "thank you", began to run up the street. They watched her until she disappeared around a corner.

The rain was still coming down incessantly. Sirius started rubbing his arms and James noticed that the hair on his skin was standing on end from the cold.

"What do we do now?" he asked his friend. "Reckon we should make a dash for it or wait it out?"

"We'll get soaked before we're halfway up the hill," said Sirius. He paused, scanning the Muggle buildings thoughtfully. "You know, we really could go to the pub," he continued, and pointed across the street to where a sign depicting a foaming glass of beer hung over a door, blown from side to side by the wind. They looked at each other for a moment. James shrugged and nodded at Sirius. As fast as they could, they ran across the road, feet splashing in puddles. He felt the unpleasant sensation of water seeping into one shoe and soaking his sock, then Sirius had thrown open the door of the pub and they were inside. A blast of warm, stuffy air hit them as they entered, carrying with it the mingled scents of tobacco and cooking oil.

The inside of the pub was crowded. James noticed a lot of damp people and assumed that they had also chosen to use the place as a shelter until the storm passed. He took in their surroundings as Sirius led him to a small table in the corner. A group of men to the left were gathered around a black box, listening intently to it and occasionally throwing their fists up and breaking into raucous yells. Sweat was dripping down the barman's red face as he rushed to keep up with the customers' orders. James fished around in his pocket and took out the Muggle money he'd nicked from his father's study. He handed the notes to Sirius.

"What do you want?" Sirius asked.

"You don't suppose they have Butterbeer, do you?" James yelled at him. It was hard to make himself heard with all the noise in the pub.

"What?"

"You don't -- Oh, forget it!" He pushed his chair closer to Sirius' and shouted in his friend's ear. "Let's get something strong!"

Sirius grinned and gave him a thumbs up. When he returned from the bar a few minutes later, he was carrying a small bottle and two tumblers which he placed on the table.

"What did you get?" James asked as Sirius poured some of the drink in each glass.

"Dunno," Sirius shrugged. "I yelled at the chap for something strong and he tossed me this."

James held the bottle up to the light to read the label, watching the amber liquid swirling inside. "Whiskey?"

"Is that what it is? D'you suppose it's anything like Ogden's?"

"Dunno, but I'm going to find out," grinned James. They knocked their glasses against one another and took a big sip. James swallowed and nearly choked; the whiskey was unexpectedly bitter. Trying not to make a face, he took another sip and this time he swallowed it slowly, concentrating on the way it burned as it slid down his throat.

It was a surprisingly pleasant sensation.

The group of men who had been listening to the black box had left. A boy who was around their age fiddled with it until it started blaring some loud, pounding music. James leaned back in his seat as he drank, gazing at the Muggles. He wondered for a moment what his parents would say if they caught him drinking whiskey at a Muggle pub. The thought sent a heady thrill of excitement coursing through him and he almost shivered in delight. It was the same thrill he always got when they sneaked out of the Gryffindor Tower at night -- the thrill of doing the forbidden.

"This is good stuff," Sirius told him. James could see in his friend's grin that he was feeling the same way.

By the time they had finished their first glass, Sirius' face was somewhat flushed. James felt his own blood begin to buzz in his ears. Each beat of the fast, driving music felt like it was being pounded on his eardrums. Sirius uncapped the bottle and poured him another glass.

They were midway through their third one and James was beginning to feel slightly dizzy when someone touched his arm.

"D'you mind if we join you?" said a slurred voice. They looked up and James almost choked on his drink, for standing in front of them were two Muggle girls dressed in clothes that bared more skin than he was used to seeing. Much more.

"Her boyfriend's being a prat," said the second girl. She sounded more lucid than her friend, who had spoken first. "We don't want to hang around with him and his friends anymore."

James saw Sirius' jaw drop open. Dimly, he realised that he was nodding. It appeared that this was all the confirmation that the two girls needed, because they pulled up chairs and settled down. The first girl fumbled in her small, glittery black handbag, took out a short white stick, and used a pink object that was the same colour as her skimpy top to light its tip. James saw Sirius make a face at the acrid smell as the girl put the end of the stick in her mouth and inhaled.

"Fag?" she offered in her slurred voice, holding out a carton filled with more of the white sticks. James shook his head. Meanwhile, the second girl had pulled her chair so close to his that their knees were touching below the table.

"I'm Carolynn and that's Linda," she said, indicating her smoking friend, who had helped herself to Sirius' glass and taken a big swig as his friend watched, still open-mouthed. He gave Sirius a kick under the table. Sirius jumped; at the same time, the girl called Linda set the tumbler down forcefully, splashing them with droplets of whiskey, and her mouth curled into a snarl.

"Dave's a prat!" she declared. "A prat, a prat, a prat!"

Sirius glanced at James and they sniggered, Linda was obviously very, very drunk. "He's the blond one over there," she continued, waving her hand vaguely in one direction without even looking. "Do you think you could beat him up for me?"

"Erm... I never use force on Muggles, sorry..." Sirius said. James noticed that his friend's voice was also a bit slurred. He tried recalling how much whiskey they had drunk but couldn't remember.

"Oh dear, you two are as drunk as she is, aren't you?" Carolynn murmured in James' ear, leaning towards him. "Your friend's already mixing up his words..."

James shifted uncomfortably, she was so close that he was breathing in her scent. The odour of the pub clung to her, but beneath it he could detect a hint of cheap-smelling perfume. He didn't find it a very nice combination.

"I'm not drunk," he protested weakly, and nearly knocked over his empty glass with his elbow. She laughed as she caught it.

"No, of course not," she said, and wrapped one arm around his shoulder. Despite her slightly unpleasant scent, and the fact that he was starting to feel closed-in and hot, her body was wonderfully soft where she pressed against his side, and he found that for the moment, he had no wish to move away. Meanwhile, Linda was still talking about her boyfriend using words that would have made even Wilkes, Slytherin's foul-mouthed Quidditch captain, blush. Grinding out her cigarette in Sirius' glass, she glanced towards the back of the pub.

"Oooh, he is looking here!" she said darkly. "I'll show him, come here, you!" She made a sudden move towards Sirius.

"What are you -- mph!"

"Hey!" James spluttered, for the girl had manoeuvred herself into Sirius' lap and had started kissing him enthusiastically. He watched in astonishment as Sirius shut his eyes after a few moments and began to respond to her kiss instead of pushing her off, but his attention was drawn away from the spectacle when Carolynn gripped his jaw and turned his head back to face her.

"Aw, she always gets the good-looking ones," she said in a low voice. "Must be because she's so bloody gorgeous... And I get stuck with all the pimpled gits! I suppose the boys find me ugly." She paused, contemplating his face, and ran a hand through the messy hair at the back of his head. "You're not bad, though. Do you think I'm ugly?"

"Uh... No, of course not. You are-- You're not ugly!" James stammered, panicked at the woebegone look on her face. At his words, however, she gave him a smile and glanced up at him from beneath lowered eyelids.

"You're sweet..." she murmured, and started leaning towards him. James stared at her face; they were so close that her breath was misting his glasses. He heard Sirius moan softly from across the table, and then her mouth was on his.

For a heartbeat, James stayed motionless in shock. The noise of the pub receded from his ears. The warm pressure against his lips felt far better than he would have thought and, like the time she had put her arm around his shoulder, he found that he didn't want her to move away. He pressed back experimentally, tilting his head a little to the side, and was rewarded with a soft sigh.

He didn't know how long the kiss went on but he was aware that it was only getting better as the minutes passed, and that he was losing himself in it. Suddenly, a man shouted something obscene from somewhere across the room and James' eyes flew open, startled. Something felt wrong; he wondered for a moment why the person he was kissing didn't have red hair and broke contact. The shout was repeated, followed by the sounds of a fight breaking out. He glanced to where two men were engaged in a small scuffle, then back at the girl sitting in the chair next to his, and it hit him that he had just got his first kiss -- from someone he hardly knew.

As if a switch had been pressed inside his head, all the noise of the pub rushed back into his ears, drumming unpleasantly against his brain. His vision lurched. He looked across the table and tried to focus on the tumbler near Sirius' arm when he realised that his friend's lips were still locked with Linda's.

He didn't know why, but suddenly he didn't want to see anyone kissing anymore. Unsteadily, he rose from his seat, ignoring Carolynn's hurt exclamation, and walked around to Sirius' chair. He tugged on Sirius' arm impatiently. His friend swore at the disruption as he ended the kiss, and Linda looked particularly murderous. However, Sirius' irritated expression changed as he glanced at James' face, and he pushed the girl off his lap.

"Prongs, what's wrong?"

"We need to go," James muttered, grasping the edge of the table to steady himself. "It's nearly midnight, we need to go." His stomach clenched nastily.

Sirius stood up and grabbed James' arm, pausing only to give a brief wave to the two surprised girls before leading him out of the pub.

"Are you OK?"

"Dunno. Head hurts -- ah..." James gulped a mouthful of wonderful fresh air when they stepped outside. It made him feel a bit better. He glanced at his watch and found that it really was almost midnight; his parents would be home in a couple of hours at the latest. His legs felt oddly heavy and he stopped after taking a few steps. Then he heard Sirius laughing and turned to berate him for mocking him.

"What are you cackling about?" he snapped.

Sirius was slumped against the building, laughing his head off and looking almost as drunk as James felt. At James' words, however, his chuckles died out, even though a wide smile remained on his face.

"That was bloody brilliant! I just snogged a girl!" he said. He pulled away from the wall but for some reason James was incredibly amused to see that he had to put a hand out to steady himself. Slowly, Sirius tottered over to where he was standing. They started making their way up the road towards the hill.

"I felt like I'd been Petrified when she threw herself at me, you know?" continued Sirius. "But -- well, it was still brilliant."

James smirked. "Was she a good kisser, then?"

"I dunno, do I? Maybe there are, you know, special ways, to do it? Felt good, though."

They walked in silence for a while. The cool night air sobered James up a little, and he found that being drunk wasn't so bad once he was outside of the stuffy, crowded, cramped pub -- in fact, it gave him a very pleasant buzz.

"What did her boyfriend do when she snogged me?" Sirius asked suddenly.

James looked at his friend and felt a grin form on his face. "I... er... I didn't really see," he answered. This was going to blow Sirius away. "I was... busy. Busy being kissed, that is."

Sirius tripped over a crack in the pavement. "What?"

"Mm-hmm. And mine didn't just kiss me because she wanted to get back at her boyfriend, ha!"

"Oi!"

"Yes, apparently I'm very sweet and good-looking."

Sirius punched his arm. "You sly dog, you!"

"Look who's talking!"

"A-ha! But I am a dog!"

"Eh?"

"I am a dog! I am Padfoot! See?" Sirius barked at him, and transformed into his dog form. James snorted and rolled his eyes.

"That was lame, you git! Turn back, you must be even more drunk than I am!" But the dog didn't pay any heed to his scolding and ran around him, nipping at his legs.

"You big oaf, I'll show you!" James yelled, and lunged at Padfoot, but the giant dog was faster than him and scrambled up the hill, running all out. Not bothering to stifle his laughter, James gave chase, trying to level a kick at the dog's rear as he ran.

*

Sirius was woken the next morning by a headache. Groaning as he helped himself to a glass of water from the bedside table, he cast a look outside and saw that the sky was a light grey. The sun hadn't even risen yet. He turned in his bed and tried to go back to sleep, but it was a futile effort. He tossed the covers off and stood up, sighing. The headache seemed to increase as he moved. Trying to ignore it, he threw on a robe and went to James' room.

His friend was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling. Sirius wasn't surprised to see James was awake; they probably both suffered from the same headache.

"Morning," he said quietly, stepping into the room and shutting the door. James glanced at him before closing his eyes with a pained expression.

"Headache?" asked Sirius.

"Yeah."

"Do you want to go outside for a bit?"

James seemed to consider for a moment before nodding, his eyes still closed. "OK." Moving gingerly, he put on his glasses and dressed. They left the house quietly, so as not to wake James' parents, and walked towards the small forest behind it. The place was eerily silent in the pre-dawn, tendrils of cool white mist sneaking between the trees. Sirius and James settled at the bottom of a large oak, feeling too groggy to say anything. Sirius idly touched the grass at his feet and his fingers came away wet with dew.

They sat in companionable silence for a while, contemplating the slowly reddening sky. Despite the pain in his head, Sirius felt peaceful and happy: happy that he was no longer at home, happy that he could live with his best friend, and happy that he was free to do things like getting drunk in Muggle pubs and snogging strangers. He glanced at James, who was rubbing his forehead, and reflected that perhaps your family wasn't always the people you shared your blood with.

Just then, a hooting sound was heard and a small owl swooped down from the sky towards them, landing on his knee and holding out its leg to him. Curious, Sirius untied the letter and attempted to pat the owl's head, but it flew away before he could do so.

"What's that?" asked James.

"Dunno." He turned the letter over in his hand and smiled when he saw the familiar loopy handwriting. "It's from Andromeda!" He tore the envelope open and unfolded the parchment inside, starting to read it aloud so that James could hear as well.

Dear Sirius,

My lovely sister Narcissa informed me yesterday, when I ran into her at Diagon Alley, that you had given the slip to your dear parents, so to speak. Now, I know that as an older and much wiser sister figure, it would be expected of me to berate you for your utterly improper and scandalously shameful behaviour, but I am going to do no such thing. I might say, however, "well done, midget!" --"Midget?" James snorted, and Sirius blushed. He was easily one of the tallest in their year, but "midget" had been Andromeda's nickname for him ever since he had been little.-- Narcissa told me that your mother is sure you are staying at your best friend's house, which I'm sure makes you very happy -- even though I suspect your friend's mother might think differently about having a lout like you in her home. So in order to save her sanity and to properly congratulate you on your grand escape, Ted and I are inviting you to our house for the rest of the summer.

I know that we might not be as fun to be with as your best friend, but we'll try to be suitably entertaining while you're here. I really want you to meet Nymphadora, she's the cutest little girl and you'll love her. She's already showed signs of Sirius-like behaviour such as accidentally setting fire to my hair and covering the carpet with mashed potatoes, so I'm sure you two will get along famously.

Please write back to let me know when you'll Floo here so that I can prepare for your arrival.
Andromeda

Dear Sirius,
Please do come. We need a baby-sitter!
Toodle-oo,
Ted Tonks

Sirius folded up the letter, chuckling. James was gaping at him incredulously.

"What's the matter?"

"Nymphadora?" James asked. "Who would name their daughter Nymphadora?"

"Oh, well-- I think she found it in a book."

"So the baby's called Nymphadora Tonks?" James paused. "Sounds like a plumbing accident."

Sirius burst out laughing, crumpling the letter in his hands.

"So you'll go, then?" asked James.

"Yeah, I think so. I haven't seen them in over a year, not since they had the baby, in fact."

"Your cousin sounds great."

"She is. Her and Ted both. She's really the only one --well, besides Uncle Alphard-- that I'm glad to share my blood with, you know. For what that's worth."

"I thought you liked your brother," said James.

"I dunno. He's all right, but he's started believing all the garbage my parents spout all the time, he told me so. And I don't want him growing up to be like them. He's always looked up to Mum and Dad, though, and he's in Slytherin. You know what some of them are like."

"Maybe you could talk to him at school. Try to change his mind."

"Mum's probably filled his head with all sorts of rubbish about me. He hasn't even written since I left home. I don't think he'd listen to anything I say," said Sirius.

"He looks up to you too," James pointed out. "Remember how he congratulated you after you played that prank on McGonagall?"

"Oh, he's always been nice... But the way he agrees with our stupid parents, it's awful -- can you believe he tried to defend their ideas to me? I'd rather not have a brother at all."

An odd look crossed James' face at his words, but then he huffed and waved his hand dismissivelly. "Ah, forget it! Potter blood's much better than Black blood, anyway!"

"What good's that to me?"

"Well..." The strange, unreadable expression was back on James' face. He reached over, plucked Sirius' penknife from his pocket and pried one of the sharp blades open.

"What are you doing?" asked Sirius, but before his sentence was finished, James had cut a gash across his own palm, wincing. Sirius stared at the red liquid blossoming from his friend's wound, incredulous.

Then, quick as a flash, James grabbed Sirius' hand and made a cut in his palm as well.

"Are you mad?" Sirius yelled.

"Shut up for a second, will you?" James scooted a bit towards him and pressed their palms together. Sirius hissed at the pain when his cut flesh came into contact with James', but as their bloods mingled, an odd, warm sensation shot through his hand and straight to his heart.

Magic.

"There you go," said James quietly. "Shared blood."

Sirius stared.

"For what it's worth," James added with a smile, and let go of his hand.

A feeling, so powerful it nearly choked him, swelled inside Sirius' chest. Even though he shouldn't have been able to, he keenly sensed James' blood seeping into a cut artery, until it was merged perfectly with his own. James blinked at him and laid back against the trunk of the tree, watching the sun rise in the east.

There was a word on the tip of Sirius' tongue, a word that had always been reserved for Regulus. But he didn't feel the need to say it, because he knew that James understood.

Wordlessly, they stayed beneath the tree until the sun was high in the sky.

12.10.2003

//
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