Thicker Than Blood
Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual references. The main ships are James/Lily and Sirius/Remus. This story appears in other archives as "Midnight Conversation #2."
Thicker Than Blood
Definitely a night to be indoors
, James Potter thought as he stole a glance at the window. The snow still fell heavily, and the wind tore through the bare branches, making them rattle together like a bunch of iron keys. It was a night to be wearing flannel and a thick, woollen jumper, to be sitting by a crackling fire, sipping hot butterbeer and nibbling on chocolate frogs. It might not have been an ideal night to be spent playing wizard chess with one’s ten-year-old cousin Charlotte, but that beat the alternatives of going to bed or joining the adults for coffee and biscuits in the living room.
Charlotte drew his attention back to the game by taking his knight, who put up a decent fight but eventually went down grovelling and suggesting all sorts of bribes, to James’ chagrin.
“I’m bored,” he announced as two pawns carried the knight off the board.
“You’re just saying that because you’re losing,” Charlotte said tartly.
James scowled. “I was bored before. I’m just saying it now.” It was true, but he was aware of how lame it sounded. Still, with six years and about eleven inches in his favour, if he said the game was over, it was over, and Charlotte was wise enough not to complain as she gathered her pieces and began to put them back into their box. James rose and went to throw himself into the chair by the window, leaving Charlotte to take care of his chessmen as well.
“Thanks,” she grumbled.
“Get used to it, love,” James said with a smirk, as he cradled his butterbeer and slumped deeper into the cushions. “You’re starting at Hogwarts next year, and d’you know what they make ickle firsties do?”
“Clean up after the stupid, bigheaded seventh-years?”
“Right you are, poppet,” said James heartily. He lost his smirk when Charlotte grabbed the last chocolate frog and bit its head off. “See, that’s the kind of behaviour that gets ickle firsties fed to werewolves.”
“You don’t know any werewolves,” Charlotte informed him hotly around her mouthful of chocolate.
“Oh, don’t I?” James arched an eyebrow.
“No, you don’t. And if you did and you tried to feed me to it, it’d eat you first, ‘cause your head’s bigger.”
“Ah, but you’re sweeter.”
Charlotte bit off the frog’s foreleg and chewed savagely.
“Don’t hurt yourself, now.”
The girl glared at him, then flounced to the chair beside his and hoisted herself onto it. James patted her head fondly, grinned when she smacked his hand away, and looked back out at the snow. He could hear Padfoot’s voice: Got a way with the lasses, haven’t you, mate? To which he, Prongs, would have replied, Only the ones that adore me. If they ever unleashed their true feelings for me, they’d combust. Over-compensation, that’s what this is. Which would, of course, have prompted Padfoot to say slyly, Come? Bust? And then they’d have had a laugh and plotted a little mayhem--until Padfoot remembered he was a poof and went off to shag Moony.
James had been surprised to learn that his best friend was having sex with another bloke, much less another of his closest friends, but he’d had since September to get used to the idea. He did not necessarily like it, but he could not hate Sirius for being what he was -- what he’d always been, if Sirius was telling the truth. He could feel a bit awkward changing for Quidditch practice in front of Sirius, but he had never caught Sirius looking at him, or at any bloke besides Remus.
He could not hate Remus for being homosexual any more than he could hate him for being a werewolf. He could laugh at the ridiculously unfair hand Fate or Life or whatever had dealt him, but Remus could and did laugh along with him. James was not a bigot.
Which did not mean that he liked the idea of his two male friends shagging each other. For one thing, it was illegal according to wizard laws and Muggle laws. Getting caught by the wrong person could land them in considerable trouble. James was wise enough to know that that kind of trouble was not worth the effort it took to get into, but he wondered if his friends did.
They’d had some close calls. Merlin, they had been caught, he remembered, by Catriona Lynton, Sirius’ latest (and presumably last) ex-girlfriend. She’d come by their compartment on the Hogwarts Express, opened the door without knocking, and received quite an eyeful.
“Take it you didn’t tell her,” James had said dryly, after Sirius had thoughtfully removed his tongue from Remus’ mouth -- some time after Cat had fled in a blur of scarlet cheeks and white-blond hair.
“Told her I’d found someone else,” Sirius had said, his gaze never leaving Remus -- who’d at least had the decency to look chagrined. “Didn’t lie to her about anything. Just didn’t tell her…” He’d smiled wonderingly, and Remus had returned the smile. They’d looked so disgustingly alike, so frustratingly happy. “Moony and Scotland,” Sirius had murmured. “No match for their combined efforts. Jealous, Prongs?”
Jealous? Not of Sirius exactly, and not of Remus, either. Not the way Sirius had meant, at least. But in another way…yes. Until this past autumn, James and Sirius had been as close as brothers were meant to be. They’d shared everything. They’d even shared a girl, once -- Eleanor Kersey. Sirius had foisted her upon him last spring in an attempt to get Lily Evans out of his head. They’d stayed together for three weeks. Then Sirius had announced -- shamefacedly, to his credit -- that he was beginning to fancy her. They’d each had her -- Sirius’ idea, although Kersey had been quite game -- and then she’d gone her own way. “It was fun,” she’d told James. “Bit of a fantasy, actually. Don’t really want to be the wedge between you, though. Cut you and he bleeds.”
With their raven hair and similar habits and phrases, they’d been mistaken for brothers more times than James could remember. They’d even been accused of using Legilimency at Quidditch matches, so accurately did they anticipate each other’s moves.
That was how it had been, until this past autumn.
James supposed that he was happy for his friends. He told them he was, anyway, and they seemed to believe him. Had either of them been a girl he knew he’d consider it a perfect match. Remus had someone who knew his secret, who’d actually become an Animagus so they could be together on full moon nights. Sirius had someone who was completely un-awed by his wealth, his surname, his pure lineage, and his cocksure approach to almost everything.
They were good for each other, James admitted grudgingly. He did not like to think about what they did in private -- and once, very nearly in public -- but it didn’t sicken him, either.
It was just that…none of Sirius’ girlfriends had ever broken into the Marauders’ charmed circle. Not even Maddin Mayfair, who played Quidditch with James and Sirius, had managed that. Remus, by being part of that charmed circle, could not help but intrude. They were divided now, the four of them. Factioned. Where once they had been Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, they were now Moony and Padfoot…and Prongs…and, when he wasn’t being a gormless git, Wormtail.
James wondered if Sirius missed the old days. He supposed he could ask when Sirius came to Windermere later in the week, but he had a feeling he wasn’t going to. Deep questions over winter holidays would no doubt be met with hostility. Oh, well, thought James. He could talk to Remus next month, when he was back from France with his family, if he was really desperate to know.
Outside, a dog was barking. James became aware of the sound gradually. It drew him from his thoughts. Poor sod, out in that. Better find his way home before he freezes.
Charlotte had heard the dog. She twisted round in her chair and pressed her nose to the glass. “Poor thing,” she crooned softly. “Is it one of the farmers’?”
“Yeah, probably.” James stared disinterestedly at the waving tree branches. The last of the autumn leaves had long been blown off. “The Stantons’ collies are always wandering off. Mum put up a ward, though. If any of them get too close to our yard they’ll just turn around and go home. Used to tear up the flowers, they did. Mum used to do her nut all the time.”
“This one’s in the yard,” Charlotte reported. “And…it’s not a collie. It’s an awfully big dog. Shall we tell someone?”
James peered into the yard. There was a dog, an enormous black dog, plodding through the thickly piled snow toward the house, where no dog was supposed to go.
No real dog, anyway.
James stood quickly.
“Where are you--?”
“I’ll take care of it,” he said, thrusting his cup at the girl. “Wait here. Better yet, go to bed. It’s midnight, anyway.”
“I’ll take care of it,” he said firmly and, his ears full of wind-whipped barking, he went into the front corridor to get his coat, scarf, gloves, and boots.
The force of the wind when he pulled open the door nearly threw him back into the house, but he gritted his teeth, pulled his hood up, and pushed his way out into the yard. He sank to his shins in snow.
Hugging his arms tightly, “Are you barking mad?” he bellowed at the dog, which had stopped a few metres away from the stoop and was watching him out of surprisingly pale eyes. “It’s bloody freezing! What in the Merlin’s name are you doing here?” Then he came to his senses. “Come on inside, Sirius.”
The dog did not move.
“Fine,” James snapped, “you are barking mad. Just come on inside. You’re not hurt, are you?” Sudden fear cooled his anger. “Are you?”
The dog shook his head and huffed.
“Come on, then,” said James. “I’m bloody freezing. There’s butterbeer inside, and I can scare up some biscuits. We’ve got guests, so naturally Mum made enough food for a battalion. They’re all in the living room talking,” he added quickly as the dog whined and shook his head. “No one’ll see you, if that’s what you’re afraid of. We’ve got plenty of blankets. And pillows.”
Before James’ eyes, the black furry shape blurred and shrank. The head went down and when it came up again two seconds later, James found himself staring into blues eyes set in a very pale face framed by unruly raven hair. “Just want a shower,” Sirius said gruffly. “And some food to take with me. Won’t stay long.”
“Fine,” said James, taken aback, and wondered what sort of trouble his friend could be in. He would not have burned down his parents’ house or liberated their hateful House Elf…would he? “That’s fine,” he said, resolving to let his questions wait. “Come on in. Only just let me make sure my stupid cousin’s gone to bed. She saw you as a dog, and--”
“Come on inside,” said James, and after that, the fourth time, Sirius finally moved. He stumbled across the last few snowy metres to James who, never knowing why, reached out and grasped his arm. It was a good thing he had done so because a moment later a fierce gust of wind blasted through the yard and Sirius swayed and would have fallen.
“Let’s go,” grunted Sirius, leaning into the support, his head down.
James noticed that Sirius had no bags but that his pockets seemed very full. He made no mention of this as they plodded up the stoop and into the house.
James made Sirius wait in the front corridor while he made sure that Charlotte really had gone. Once he was certain the coast was clear he turned and beckoned.
Sirius had trouble on the stairs. “Just knackered,” he muttered when James asked again if he was hurt, and shrugged at James’ proffered assistance. It was a slow ascent and James worried that someone would hear them, but they made it to his bedroom without discovery.
Once inside, with the door closed firmly behind him, Sirius sank to the floor, his back to one of the bedposts and his arms crossed over his chest. James studied his friend. He looked thinner than he had when they’d parted at King’s Cross just a few days ago, and his skin was as pale as James had ever seen it. There were dark circles under his eyes, his coat and jeans were soaked through and ripped, and his boots were missing their heels.
There were things James knew he ought to be doing, such as sending Charlotte for tea, or drawing a bath, or ordering Sirius out of his wet clothes, but all he could do was say, “What happened?” dully.
Sirius opened his eyes a slit. “Ran away from home. For good,” he spat. “I just can’t be arsed--” He started to lift a hand, but arrested the movement for some reason, and tucked it back under his armpit. “I can’t go back there.”
“Weren’t expecting you for another couple of days,” James heard himself say inanely. His brain was buzzing with what his friend had just told him. “But you’re welcome…I mean, of course you can--” For the second time in ten minutes he came abruptly to his senses. “Merlin, Sirius, did you run here? From London--?”
“Stopped in Birmingham to see Wormtail.”
“I won’t stay long,” Sirius growled. “Sent an owl to my cousin Andy. She and Ted are around for the hols. I’ll stay with them until I figure out what to do. I just need a shower and some food. I’m starving. I’ll get up. In a minute.”
“You were going to stay with me,” said James. “What happened to that?”
Sirius either chose to ignore the question or had not heard it. “I want Remus,” he muttered.
“Remus is in France.”
“I know.” Sirius groaned and curled forward, his forehead dropping to his knees. “He won’t be back until after New Years. Didn’t send him an owl cause I didn’t want to spoil his bloody holiday. See? I’m a bloody good boyfriend. And a fecking miserable son. Blood-traitor, diseased branch of the glorious family tree, to quote my dear mum. Oh, and abomination, too. Mustn’t forget that one. I think it’s my favourite. My dad’s assessment.”
“What happened?” James asked patiently. As far as he knew, Sirius had never pleased his parents, not that he’d ever made any effort to do so. They were constantly sending him Howlers -- for earning Gryffindor too many House Points, for losing Gryffindor too many House Points, for dating the wrong girl, for teasing his brother. They called Sirius words James was certain his own parents did not know. Sirius had never let his parents’ abuse bother him, before. He’d always laughed it off or ignored it completely. What in Merlin’s name had happened this time?
“I thought,” James said, when Sirius did not reply, “you were going to stay out of everyone’s way.”
“They found out about Remus,” the other boy said simply.
James frowned. “They found out he’s a--?” Then, with sudden cold understanding, “Oh, they found out about you and-- How?”
Before Sirius could answer, the bedroom door opened and Charlotte stuck her head in. Her eyes opened wide at the sight of Sirius, who had jumped to his feet and looked ready to spring either for the girl’s throat or the window.
“Get out!” James snapped.
“What happened to the dog?” Charlotte demanded.
“That wasn’t a dog,” James said quickly. “That was him.” He stole a glance at Sirius, who was hugging the bedpost, his face deathly pale. “Get out,” he said again in a low voice.
“I heard barking,” the girl insisted.
“That was one of the neighbours’ dogs. The ward stopped it. You saw Sirius. Out.”
“No, I saw--”
“You didn’t see what you thought you saw,” Sirius muttered threateningly, and took an unsteady step forward.
Charlotte shut her mouth.
“Look,” said James, anxious for once to avoid a disaster, “this is my friend Sirius. Obviously he’s not a dog. Ergo, you didn’t see a dog. It was dark. You heard a dog, so when you saw a black shape in the yard, you assumed--” Too much explanation, he realised. His cousin was eyeing his friend suspiciously. James drew a deep breath, and began again in what he hoped was an authoritative tone. “This is Sirius. He’s travelled a long way and he’s cold. Why don’t you be useful and make us some tea, and get us some biscuits if you haven’t eaten all of them?”
“I’m not your slave!”
“Consider it practice for next year. Be a love or I’ll feed you to a werewolf.”
“You don’t know any werewolves.”
“He does,” said Sirius, sounding faintly bemused. “So do I. Wash you down with a glass of firewhisky, he would.”
“Right, then,” said James. “Poppet--”
“I’m going,” Charlotte snarled. But she did not go. She continued to look at Sirius and as James watched, her expression changed from suspicion, to surprise, to an expression James knew well. He’d seen far too many girls look at his friend that way.
“No,” said James.
The girl rolled her eyes. “I know, I know,” she muttered. “Too young.”
“Too Potter,” Sirius said nastily.
“Too female,” shot James, and immediately regretted it.
But Charlotte only shrugged, said a little dreamily, “Oh, well,” and left, closing the door behind her.
“You just outed me to your cousin,” Sirius grumbled.
“What happened?” James asked. “With your family?”
“With my--? Oh, right. I did stay out of everyone’s way, like I said I would.” He looked as though he needed desperately to be believed, so James nodded. “I tried, anyway. Stayed out most of the day. Spent most of the night in my own room. I even ate there, when they let me. No one seemed to care, really.” Sirius turned his face to the window, so James could not see his expression. His tone was light, almost conversational. “Trust my mum not to leave anything alone. She wanted to know what I was doing in my room all the time. Reckon she thought I was organising some halfblood or Muggle-born rally or something. Or making anti-Dark Lord badges. Or something. Monday, when I went out, she sent Kreacher to search my room. He found this letter I’d been writing to Moony. Of course I locked everything,” he barked, though James had not opened his mouth. “He got in anyway. Didn’t use Remus’ name in the letter. M’not that stupid. But…I described certain things and…they knew I was writing to a bloke. Needless to say, I got home to quite the warm reception. Volcanic, actually. So. I grabbed what fit in my pockets, and I ran. Now, if I can take that shower and that cuppa I’ll be off to York and the other family abominations.”
“You could stay here,” James began, fairly certain his offer would elicit the same response as before, when a movement of Sirius’ caught his eye. The other boy had lifted a hand toward his face again and, as before, arrested the gesture and tucked the hand back out of sight. “What’s wrong with your hand?”
“Right.” James closed the space between them in three quick strides, seized Sirius by the wrists, and forced him about. The other boy tried to throw him off, but James held him fast and brought his hands up so he could see. “Oh, Merlin--”
“It’s a long way from Birmingham.” Sirius sounded defensive. “The ground’s frozen. Ice and rocks. Had to ford a river once. Had to jump a few hedges, too--”
James stared at his friend’s bruised and dirt-blackened, blood-caked palms. They were so swollen, every fingernail cracked and blood-encrusted, and James had been to London, had seen squirrels that had been struck by Muggle cars, and the pulpy masses he held looked more like those than like human hands. He could only imagine what Sirius’ feet looked like. How was he still standing?
James swallowed. “There’s ointment,” he said softly. “In the pantry. I’ll get you some. We’ll get you cleaned up. And then -- Pads, for Merlin’s sake, let my mum look at you. She’ll know what to do. For the love of-- I’m going to murder Wormtail if you were even half this messed up when you got to his house.”
Sirius babbled brokenly, “It’s really far. Didn’t have time to grab my broom. Didn’t take any money for the Knight Bus. Hitched for a bit, but-- It’s really far. I didn’t realise. He sent the Crups after me. They didn’t do anything. I think they sensed-- Just chased me for a bit. Transformed as soon as I could and scared them off, but-- He’s so stupid. I’m fucking going to kill him. So stupid. Sent the Crups after me. He said, ‘If you like playing the bitch so much, here’re some real dogs.’”
“Who said that?” James demanded. “Who sent the Crups after you?”
“My brother Regulus.”
Something inside James that had been frayed since September mended suddenly. Fierce love and anger charged through his veins, scorching the doubt. “Regulus is not your brother,” he said in a tone that made Sirius lift his head and stare at him, wide-eyed. James shook him once, hard. “Don’t you dare call him that. I’m your brother. Me. If you call him that one more time, I’ll hit you, I swear. I’m your brother.” That was a role no one -- not even Remus -- could take from him. Looking frankly into the pale blue eyes he saw that Sirius knew it, too, and before the other boy could say a word James dropped his wrists, grabbed him by the shoulders, and pulled him close. “I’m your brother,” he whispered again harshly.
Sirius dropped his head onto James’ shoulder and sagged into his embrace. His shoulders shook, and his breath hitched in his throat. James let him cry, supporting him silently, refusing to embarrass him with words. At length Sirius quieted and his heartbeat slowed to a regular thump. “M’okay,” he muttered.
James said firmly, “You’re staying here, all right? There’s plenty of room and plenty of food. My parents won’t mind. You really think they’d turn you away at Christmas? Or ever? Why didn’t you owl me from Peter’s? Why didn’t you come to me first?”
A long, loud sniffle preceded Sirius’ answer, and when he spoke his voice sounded thick. “Peter said he thought you were angry. About me and Moony. And maybe jealous.”
“Wormtail’s an idiot. I’m not angry. Jealous? Honestly. Why are we friends with such a stupid git? Come on, then. You’re soaked and you’re getting me soaked. Get out of those clothes. You can borrow some of mine.”
Sirius sniffled again. “You know as soon as I’m half-naked your innocent little cousin is going to materialise.”
“She already fancies you. Can’t think why.”
“I can,” said Sirius. “The point is, she might think you’re a poof, too.”
James rolled his eyes and gave his friend another hard squeeze. “I was going to go for the ointment while you changed. But who cares what she thinks? Doesn’t make it true. And even if it did -- who the hell cares?”
Sirius pulled away and looked at him uncertainly. His cheeks were tear-streaked, his eyes red-rimmed. “You mean that?”
“Yeah,” said James. “Yeah, I do.”
“You know,” the other boy said slowly, “I didn’t really -- change. Last summer I didn’t become anything I wasn’t already. Thought I could make it go away. Thought it was just a phase. But then I was alone with Remus, and I realised I didn’t want it to go away. Everything made sense. Didn’t need any hexes or potions. The whisky helped…”
“No explanations necessary, mate,” James said, although he was strangely curious. “As far as I’m concerned, you can love anyone except a Slytherin or Lily Evans.”
“I’m fucking freezing,” Sirius croaked, with a ghost of his accustomed humour.
“So strip already,” James said exasperatedly. “I’ll get the ointment. There’re pyjamas in that drawer over there. Robe’s in the wardrobe. Don’t bleed on the duvet. I’ll find Charlotte and the tea. Tell her we won’t feed her to any werewolves.”
“Nah. Anyway, Moony assures me I’m the only one he’s ever eaten.”
“I’m leaving!” James choked, and jerked away.
When he returned ten minutes later, Sirius was asleep, slumped against the headboard. He had not changed, and one look at the hands dangling limply in his lap told James why.
Cursing himself for his stupidity, James put the tray bearing the ointment, bandages, tea, and biscuits on his desk, and went to his friend’s side.
There is a point where propriety loses all worth and meaning.
Taking great care not to touch the mangled hands, James undressed his friend -- he had to cut the boots away with a knife, so swollen were his feet -- washed his cuts, slathered them with antiseptic ointment, and wrapped them in clean linen bandages. He tried not to look too closely at the other boy’s body as he did this, but he could not help himself, and he thought, as his gaze took in the narrow hips, the flat belly, the broad shoulders, and dishevelled black hair, This is what Remus likes. This is what he desires.
He could see why a girl would find Sirius attractive. He was beautiful. But Remus was not a girl. Still, they want each other. They make each other happy. He did not understand it, but he saw that much. And if they make each other happy, he thought, what’s so wrong about it?
Sirius stirred as James was easing him into his flannel robe. He sighed, turned his head, and stared up at James, his eyes still misted with sleep. “Thank you,” he whispered.
There were questions James wanted to ask -- Was it always Remus? Only Remus? Was it ever me? They crowded to his lips, but when he opened his mouth all that came out was a simple, honest, “You’re welcome.”
Sirius blinked slowly, and one corner of his mouth quirked upward. It was the first real smile James had seen all evening, and it warmed him. He would never ask his questions, he knew, and he would be content not knowing their answers. He had his friend, he had his brother. If Sirius had ever wanted them to be something more than what they were now…it was unimportant.
Sirius was asleep again before James -- whose hands had begun to tremble with fatigue -- managed to get his sash tied. James tried to will his body still, though he suspected it would have taken a herd of rampaging Erumpents to wake Sirius again. He pulled back a corner of the duvet and eased the other boy against the pillows. Rising stiffly, he smoothed away the errant strands of hair that had caught on the short lashes and the half-parted lips. He noticed, as he did, that Sirius’ skin was hot. But he looked peaceful.
Cut him and I bleed, thought James and silently wished a spellbook’s worth of hexes upon the heads of Mr and Mrs Black and the younger of their two sons.
He would let Sirius sleep as long as he needed, James decided as he extinguished the light and settled down on the nest of blankets and pillows he had arranged for himself on the floor. When he woke, he would have his mother look at the other boy, though he strongly suspected his friend would want nothing to do with mothers for a very long time. They would send owls to Remus and Peter and the four of them together would decide what to do.
That was what brothers did.