The Sugar Quill
Author: Alkari (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Romanza  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

ROMANZA

Disclaimer: Naturally I do not own JK Rowling’s characters, or make any claim to them. She invented them and the wonderful world of Hogwarts. I am just happily visiting her world for a while.

Summary: Fiona Martin has been friends with Sirius Black since first year. Just good friends … but then Sirius leaves home. An outtake from “A Most Unusual Student”. Sirius leaves home on Christmas Eve in sixth year, and this outtake takes place the evening following students’ return to school after the Christmas break.

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Fiona escaped thankfully from her classmates after dinner, glad of the chance to practice the new piece Professor Lieder had given her before Christmas. She’d been very slack over the holidays, and he’d expect her to have made some progress by her lesson next Friday.

She heard the music as she turned into the dim corridor. The sweeping chords, the passionate melody, the darkly glowing, moody colours of Arion Aldegardi’s Metamorphosis. She knew the pianist instantly: Sirius.

He’d given up formal lessons early in fifth year; his practice sessions were now irregular, and rarely in the evenings. She paused, listening to his touch: somehow, she’d always been able to sense his moods from the way he played. As he could with her, she reflected in some amusement, and found her feet had taken her to the door of the practice room.

She hesitated, then knocked softly and entered. He didn’t look up, but she knew he was aware of her presence, and knew also that with anyone else, he would have probably stopped playing. But he continued as if oblivious, dark hair falling untidily over his forehead, his gaze fixed intently on the keyboard and only occasionally looking at the sheet music. She moved quietly to his side, setting her violin case down and watching his fingers moving over the keys.

He was using the long bench seat tonight, a couple of books piled carelessly next to him on the faded blue cushion. Wordlessly, she moved the books onto the floor and sat beside him as she’d so often done. He continued playing, sweeping on to the piece’s gentle, lingering conclusion, the final chords dying away into the room’s shadows. He let his hands rest on the keys for a moment, then dropped them to his knees, sighing softly and staring up at the flickering candles in the wall bracket nearby. She allowed a moment’s silence before speaking.

“You all right, Sirius?”

He turned, looking at her. “Yeah – I’m OK. Why?”

“The way you were playing.”

“Mmm?”

“I … I heard you left home over Christmas.”

“Not you too! How many more people in this school know about my bloody personal life?” The bench wobbled as she recoiled under his sudden fury.

“Sirius - I didn’t hear anything ‘til this afternoon. You sat with James this morning. Portia told me in Herbology,” she said, trying to keep her voice reassuringly neutral.

“Had a good gossip, did you?”

“No, we didn’t gossip.” Fiona felt her own temper stir. “For some reason, she was worried about you.”

Sirius grunted. “How the hell’d she know anyway? Oh - don’t tell me. My darling brother.” The seething rage changed target.

“She said he was blabbing about it in the Slytherin common room. Being the new Black heir, or something. Seems it amused certain people.”

“I bet it did.”

“She thought about turning him into a worm. But as a prefect, she suggested he should keep quiet and find something useful to do.”

Sirius snorted. “Pity she had such self control. Might’ve put some sense into Regulus.”

Fiona hesitated. “I didn’t realize things were so bad,” she ventured.

He studied her, the slight frown and set of his jaw an unspoken challenge. You were stupid to have come in, she chastised herself. You could hear he was angry about something. He’ll just tell you it’s none of your business. She made herself meet his eyes, hoping, willing him to calm down and talk to her.

At last he dropped his gaze, sighed and stretched his arms out in front of him, wriggling his fingers and flexing his shoulders. “Bad? S’pose that’s what you’d call it. Couldn’t take it any more. It was leave, or …” He snorted. “Some bloody Christmas. Season of peace, joy and goodwill. Pity my family doesn’t believe in those things.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thanks.” There was another long silence while he picked absently at a loose thread on the front of his robes. “Sorry I yelled at you.”

“S’all right. You went to James?”

“Yeah. Was going there anyway on Boxing Day. His parents said I could stay as long as I wanted. Even wrote to Dumbledore, told him what happened.”

“What did Dumbledore do?”

“Called me up to see him last night.” He reached out to run one finger idly along the keyboard. “Told him I’m never setting foot in that house again. My parents won’t want me back anyway – I’m not what they consider a ‘suitable son’. Especially since I was unfortunately Sorted into Gryffindor.” He grunted. “A true member of the noble and Toujours Pur Blacks would never be in that House. Along with all those stinking half-breeds and filthy worthless Mudbloods.”

She’d never heard him use that language before. He glanced at her, then dropped his eyes and fell silent. A log shifted in the fireplace, sparks crackling and spitting softly.

“I hate them. All of them. Sodding bastards. Why the hell do I have to have them as parents? Who’d ever want to be a Black?”

The renewed vehemence caught her by surprise. She realised he was staring fixedly at the keyboard again, breathing heavily. What happened, Sirius? she wanted to ask, but the words wouldn’t come. The air seemed to vibrate around him; it was like waiting for a Howler to explode in the Great Hall.

“Bloody families.”

It was difficult to know what to say. Anger – pain - bitterness – defiance - yet there was an undercurrent of sadness and regret. She’d heard it all in the music earlier.

“I thought things might have been a bit better after the O.W.L.s. Weren’t they proud of you after those results? All Outstanding. I mean, no one’s done that for years, not like you and James.”

“As if that made any difference. I’m expected to do well. Only I had the hide to do Muggle Studies. Then of course there’s my – er - unfortunate tendency to get detentions.” He sounded slightly calmer and she was relieved to see the faint quirk of his lips.

“What did Dumbledore say last night?”

“Said he understood. Didn’t seem surprised. My father wrote to him you know – something about being a continuing disappointment to them, blah, blah. If I was determined to throw away my heritage and waste my life with those people, I needn’t bother darkening their doors again.” He paused. “Dumbledore’s happy for me to stay with the Potters. I’ll go there next summer. They’re more a family to me than mine have ever been.” The bitterness was back again.

“There’s an old saying - you can choose your friends, but not your family.”

“Yeah. Well, I’ve made my choice. And I don’t regret it.”

But you do regret it, she thought sadly. You shouldn’t be forced to make that sort of choice, to leave your family. Impulsively, she reached out and put an arm around his shoulders.

“I’m sorry, Sirius,” she murmured again. “I’m really sorry.”

She felt him tense at her touch, and was immediately terrified that she’d done the wrong thing again. The instant seemed to stretch out for an eternity, when time was somehow frozen. She was excruciatingly aware of the texture of his robes under her fingers, of the muscles in his shoulders, of his tension and ragged breathing.

And then he gave a funny sort of sigh, turned and put his arms around her. She slipped her other arm around his chest, resting her face against him, feeling him shift slightly on the bench to pull her closer and hug her fiercely, crushing her against him. It was a little awkward sitting there side by side, but it didn’t matter.

She could hear each breath rasping, could feel his heart beating, and wondered whether her own was thumping just as madly. Minutes passed. The thick wool of his winter robes was rough and warm against her face. His breathing slowed and became quieter, and she felt him slowly relax. Gradually she became aware that he’d started playing with her hair, stroking it, twining strands round his fingers and letting it fall back. His touch made her tingle …

“Fee? You’re not going to cut your hair, are you?”

“Cut my hair?” She drew back, looking at him in astonishment. “Why would you think …?”

He smiled a little sheepishly. “I just – I just like your hair long - it’s - it’s - pretty.”

She was very conscious of his scrutiny. And of the fact that his arms were still around her.

“Well, I wasn’t planning to cut it,” she said, trying to sound light and nonchalant.

“That’s good.” He was still looking at her, and she suddenly had the impression that he’d never really looked at her before. She was very aware of him, of how their thighs and bodies were touching as they sat side by side, of how she suddenly felt warm and couldn’t quite breathe properly for some reason.

He reached up and touched her face softly, tracing along her cheekbone with his forefinger and then pushing back a strand of hair.

“Sirius?”

It was the lightest of touches, a gentle meeting of lips that was over almost as soon as she had registered the touch – warm, soft lips, and the faintest smell of soap on his skin. Did he have a bath before dinner? part of her mind registered. He drew back almost immediately, looking at her with an expression of – well, he looked almost surprised, she thought in slightly dazed realisation. Do I look like that, she wondered. I don’t know much about kissing – I only ever kissed Charles Plummer a few times - we kept bumping noses and I nearly knocked his glasses off that first time. I’d much rather kiss Sirius though …

“Fee? I … I’m …”.

He looked nothing like the assured, confident boy who was idolised by half the girls at Hogwarts. Indeed, he now seemed awkwardly uncertain, almost shy – and it occurred to her that perhaps he was as new to all this as she was. Maybe he doesn’t know very much about kissing either?

Her smile must have reassured him, because he leant forward to kiss her again, lingering this time, fingers stroking her cheek and then drifting round to brush her jaw, her neck, trail down her back. She responded happily, eagerly – mmm, yes, this was much, much better than kissing Charles – it somehow felt - right. She’d always liked Sirius - and this wasn’t, well, demanding – like Charles had been that last time, with his groping, roving hands. She hadn’t wanted all that - though perhaps Sirius’ hands would be different …

She wasn’t quite sure how or when the kiss ended. Somehow she found they were snuggled together, his cheek resting against her hair. She felt deliciously light-headed, sensitive to the slightest touch; her stomach was doing strange twisting somersaults and she was sure he could feel her heart through both sets of robes. But it was nice to just sit there close to him, their slightly uneven breathing the only noise apart from the faint crackling of the fire in the grate.

The minutes passed. Sirius seemed content to stay holding her quietly like that, and she wondered again about the intensity of emotion she’d heard in his playing. She wanted to ask what had finally driven him out of his home at Christmas, but it would mean spoiling this precious moment.

“Fee?”

“Mmmm.”

“I’ve been a real berk, haven’t I. This last year or so.”

It was the last thing she’d expected. A dozen visions of him came to her, usually with James: the fun and laughter, their inventive pranks, Quidditch matches, practical demonstrations of their magical talents as they managed difficult spells with ease. Sirius’ piano playing, the intensity he often devoted to his studies; that time he’d borrowed her makeup and had reluctantly accompanied her into the shop to replace it. But also him showing off with James, the feuds with Slytherins, various incidents with Snape, Avery and others, the bravado and the way they’d sometimes strutted through the school, seemingly so insensitive to others. She decided to meet honesty with honesty.

“At times. You and James. You’re good at everything, but sometimes – you don’t think about what you’re doing. Or other people. You’ve had a few less than - pleasant - moments.”

“Moments?” He snorted with amusement, or was it disgust? “I’ve been a prat. Thought I was so smart. Good at everything. Perfect O.W.L.s. Never mind others – I can just - have fun.” There was a pause. “Even if I hurt people - friends.”

She wondered what he’d done, but decided not to press. “And now?”

He sighed, and she felt him relax slightly, gently playing with her hair again, twisting the strands, letting them slip slowly through his fingers. “What you said earlier - choosing your friends. It’s more than that though – it’s - it’s choosing where you want to go. What you believe in.”

“Which is why you’ve left your family.”

“Uh-huh.”

“So, have you decided where you want to go?”

He sighed again. “Don’t know - not really. Just never want to be like my family. S’pose that narrows the choices.” She felt his fingers clench briefly, then resume their slow caress.

“Mmm. I think that’s part of - well, growing up. Choices, making decisions, learning to live with the consequences. Becoming responsible. At least, that’s what Mum’s always saying to us.”

“She’s been talking to Dumbledore. Or Mrs Potter.” He sounded faintly amused.

“No. Just trying to get Sarah to see sense. Don’t think it’s made much difference.”

He chuckled. “To you or her?”

She leant back to look at him and found he was smiling slightly. “You tell me. But after Sarah, I think I’m supposed to be the sensible one in our family.”

“Not all the time I hope.” There was a familiar wicked glint of mischief in his eyes as he held her loosely.

She burst out laughing, gave him a friendly dig in the ribs, then settled back against him. This may not be entirely sensible, she thought happily. On the other hand, perhaps it was … She felt him give a funny little half-sigh, then change position slightly so they were more comfortable.

The room was warm, and Sirius was playing with her hair again. She could stay like this for a long, long time, she thought, relaxing under a touch that was exciting, yet oddly soothing. Well, her body relaxed, but her mind was whirling and darting off rather – oddly. She’d liked Sirius ever since first year, when she’d discovered that the fun-loving, talented boy with whom she’d occasionally shared a bench in Herbology was also a keen pianist. Professor Lieder had suggested they learn a piece together, and the first awkward practice sessions had developed into an easy understanding and genuine friendship. Somehow they’d always been able to talk about all sorts of things, and she suspected she was one of the few people at Hogwarts who had any real understanding of his troubled home life.

She wasn’t sure when things had subtly changed, but for the last year or so she’d found herself thinking more and more about him; wondering whether they would ever be more than ‘just friends’, whether he’d ever see her as a girl. Other boys noticed her. And plenty of girls watched Sirius - avidly, longingly, adoringly.

Yet Sirius had seemed oblivious, caught up with other things and other people. He was good company, laughing and joking, and flirting light-heartedly with various girls, though he didn’t seem interested in any particular one. She’d often seen him with Susan, Amanda and a few of the other Gryffindors; she knew he’d gone out with Portia a few times; she’d once noticed him accompanied by Hufflepuff’s curvaceous Xanthe Jowett as he and his friends had strolled back from Hogsmeade. Fiona had felt a small pang of jealousy at that, wondering whether he would ever regard her that way. Perhaps Sirius would never be more than her musical companion and ‘just a friend’.

She realised he’d stopped playing with her hair; his hand was now gently exploring her back, fondling her neck, then moving in slow sweeping circles across her shoulders and down her spine. That’s nice … oh yes! Very nice … She gave a small sigh of pleasure. Charles’ hands would’ve been a lot further than my back by now, she thought, smiling secretly into Sirius’ chest as he continued the steady stroking. But then, Charles only ever had one thing on his mind when he kissed me … Sirius at present was clearly preoccupied with other matters.

Other matters. Family. Outwardly, Sirius had it all – good looks, talents, personality, social status as the eldest son of a rich, old pure-blood family. Yet as they came to know each other through their music, he’d gradually opened up about the more shadowy side of his background, apparently having decided that she could be trusted not to gossip and betray confidences. She was a friend.

Are we still just friends? she wondered. I don’t know what this means – where is this going? – it’s all so sudden … Does he want to go out with me – be nice if we did - he needs a friend just now though – he’s so quiet - should I say something? Her thoughts whirled and spun like demented billywigs.

He was back to playing with her hair again, and she tightened her arms around him in a quick squeeze, feeling him respond with a similar hug. It's all right - I don’t need to talk – we understand each other.

She remembered how their friendship had been challenged when she’d been made a prefect. The prospect of confronting the extremely popular Gryffindor duo was not one that she, or any of the other fifth year prefects, looked forward to. She would never forget the day she had come across the two of them arguing in the corridor with Rosier and Avery. Before they could hex each other, she’d told them to stop it and get along to classes. She knew she was a match for Rosier or Avery, but James and Sirius were quite another matter. Quaking inside and hoping her voice sounded bolder than she felt, she had made herself stand her ground, looking each of them in the eye and assuring them that yes, she meant what she said. To her amazement they’d obeyed: it had been Sirius who’d dropped his eyes first, tapping an angry James on the shoulder and remarking disdainfully that they had better things to do than waste their talents on a couple of Slytherins.

Next morning she’d been assigned to work with Sirius in Potions. The lesson passed in frigid civility, but the following evening he’d paused by the table where she was working in the Library, and casually handed her a book she’d been wanting to read for some time. He’d said almost nothing, but she’d smiled and accepted the peace offering. Their friendship resumed, and she sometimes wondered if she’d passed some sort of test that day.

She jerked back to the present as Sirius suddenly sat up and released her, turning back to the piano once more. Frowning slightly, he extended his left hand and slowly started to pick out a melody. She watched his fingers moving over the keys, seemingly hesitant, yet there were no wrong notes. Strong fingers … strong, capable hands … why do people always think that artistic people have long elegant fingers? The tune was oddly familiar, nibbling at the edges of her mind, though she wasn’t sure of it in a minor key.

“Still using the black keys as well as the white?” she said at last, studying the way the firelight touched the planes and angles of his face, throwing his eyes into shadow.

“Mmm.” A long pause. “S’pose they’re necessary. Bit boring if everything was in C major.”

Boring? For Sirius Black?”

A wry chuckle. “I get called a few other things.” Both hands now, the key changing in a seamless transition to major. Recognition at last - Endless Journey, the Nobbly Nargles’ surprise first hit. She found herself softly singing the last lines:-

I’ll fly my broom to the rising sun
With the darkness forever behind

Sirius completed the verse, letting the final notes drift off into the firelight before draping his arm around her shoulders once more. Silence wrapped them, a comfortable blanket of shared understanding and just-discovered intimacy.

“Fee?”

“Mmm.”

“You still really want to be a Healer when you leave school?”

“Yes. Yes, I do. Used to wonder if I’d change my mind when I got older, but I know it’s what I want to do.” It was her turn to lean back a little, studying his expression.

“Brewing potions with Madam Pomfrey this year hasn’t put you off?” He raised an eyebrow, and she shook her head, smiling.

“No. If anything it’s made me more certain. I know everyone thinks she fusses too much - but she really cares for people. When you talk to her – she’s an interesting person. And there’s so much we still have to learn. Things we can’t cure yet. ”

He nodded. “You’ll be a good Healer. You - you try to understand people. Even if you can’t Heal them, you’ll find a way to help them somehow.”

“Thanks. It’s a lot of study – another four years after school, and then you still have to work under close supervision for two more years.” She paused. “What about you? All those ideas you had. Like getting a Muggle motorbike and riding round the world.”

He grinned. “I’m definitely getting the bike.”

Oh yes, she could see him doing that. Muggle fun, fast and loud, and a symbol of everything his parents would hate. Knowing Sirius, he’d probably enchant it to fly. His attitude to rules had always been - flexible. “Well - apart from that? Now you’ve left home.”

Sirius didn’t answer immediately. He’ll probably just say he wants to play Quidditch, or make some other offhand remark, she thought, wondering if it had been the wrong thing to ask. But when he spoke, his voice was almost wistful.

“Wild ideas – yeah, plenty of those. Used to dream about doing some of the things they did in books – you know, like Hannibal Hannay in Hunt for the Red Dragon. Loved that book when I was little. Always wanted to do exciting things, meet people, have fun. Be a hero.” He gave a faint smile, then glanced down to where his hand rested on hers. He moved his thumb, caressing her slowly, tracing small circles on the back of her hand.

“Then things – you know, got worse – at home. Stopped thinking about - later. Couldn’t wait to get back here each year – just wanted stick it out till I left school. Do well in O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s , see what happened then.” He frowned and ran a hand through his hair, lapsing into silence. He looked almost sad, she thought.

“And?”

“I did something stupid last term. Idiotic. Nearly hurt someone. Ended up in Dumbledore’s office. Thought I was really for it - maybe even have to leave school. But he just – well, he talked to me – like I’ve never heard him before. I just wanted to crawl away and hide. But then he went on – even gave me a cup of tea - we talked about - things. He said people would have to stand up and fight for what they believed in. He told me I had a lot to offer, that he thought I’d be needed in this war.”

Another silence, another slight frown. “Me – and James. Remus too. And anyone else who wanted to fight. All part of what he said about choices. This war - all the deaths. I don’t know what I can do, but I’m not going to stand by while Voldemort takes over. I have to do – something. Does all that sound - silly?”

His voice had become stronger as he spoke. She considered what she knew of his family, and her only meeting with his parents at one of Michael Pomfrey’s concerts. She thought of his cousin Narcissa, that cold-hearted spoilt bitch, as she’d once been described by one of the Ravenclaw seventh years. Now engaged to Lucius Malfoy. And then there was the clever and creepily dangerous Bellatrix. Recently married to the self-important Rodolphus Lestrange. Pureblood families who all supported Voldemort. And of course, Sirius’ brother Regulus, already involved with some of the less savoury characters at Hogwarts.

“No, it’s not silly at all. And he’s right about you, Sirius. Dumbledore, I mean. You’ll never be one to sit back and do nothing. So you chose – and you left home.” She met his eyes steadily, reaching up to brush back the hair that insisted on flopping over one eye. This Sirius was somehow a different person. It was as though parts of a rough outer coating had been peeled back, revealing something bright within. He seemed to be growing up with a rush; it was slightly disconcerting, but she rather liked what she was seeing.

“I’m never going back, Fee.” She nodded calmly, and he drew her back against him. “Not that I’d ever want to. Got a letter from my dear, sweet mother before I came back to school. In with all the insults, she said they’d ‘removed’ me from the family tree tapestry. The one they’re all so proud of. As if that stupid old thing matters.”

She didn’t reply, wondering whether he’d end up fighting his own family, but it didn’t seem the time to raise that prospect. Though there might be other more practical concerns …

“Will you be all right? I mean – for money and things. What about school fees?” Even as she spoke, she realised that this might be too personal a question. “Sorry – didn’t mean to pry. But …” She trailed off, cursing herself for raising the matter. It was a stupid question: the Potters were very wealthy and of course they would look after him. But Sirius was intensely proud and stubbornly independent, and would never want to rely on others’ charity.

“Offering to buy me chocolate frogs to stop me starving?” His voice was teasing, and she was relieved he hadn’t taken offence.

“Hmmm. Maybe one a week - if you’re good.”

“’Fraid I’ll starve.” He chuckled, and turned to look at her. “I’m OK. Honestly. Got a few sickles put away. Don’t spend everything at Zonko’s or Honeydukes, you know!”

She nodded, relieved, and was surprised when he continued as if to reassure her. “My uncle left me a bit of money – enough for next year’s fees and stuff.”

“Uncle Alphard?” Apart from Andromeda, he was the only family member Sirius spoke of with any affection.

“Yeah. He wasn’t too popular for that. All hell broke loose when they read his will.”

Which was probably putting it mildly, she thought. There was another long silence, then he suddenly sat up and turned away, looking embarrassed.

“Sorry. I – er – shouldn’t have rambled on with all that stuff. Didn’t mean to.” He turned away from her, hunching his shoulders and staring down at his hands before awkwardly reaching for the music sheets. He fumbled a little as he tidied them.

Oh Sirius! “Well, I suppose I should have just hit you over the head instead of talking and kissing you.” Fiona lunged across to the piano, seized a sheet of music, and swatted him lightly. “There! Feel any better?”

He looked surprised, then started laughing as he took the music from her hand. “Only about certain things!”

She rose too, bending to pick up her violin case. “I can always hit you over the head every morning. Do I need a brick or something?”

He closed the piano lid and stacked the music sheets neatly before packing books and music into his bag. “Be nicer if - if we’d do this occasionally,” he said softly, ushering her to the door. “At least – I mean – if you want …” He flushed slightly and seemed suddenly awkward again.

“I like that idea.”

He doused the lamps, closed the door behind them, and they walked slowly along the corridor hand in hand. Down the stairs, pausing at the bottom, where he would turn left to go to Gryffindor Tower.

“Fee? Sorry if you came up there and wanted to practice. I mean …”

She couldn’t resist it. “Thought that’s what we just did!”

He chortled, and pulled her against him for another kiss.

“Thanks. For – for everything. See you tomorrow. Sweet dreams.”

“And you, Sirius.” Fiona watched as he swung round and headed off down the corridor, his long strides oddly jaunty. Then she turned right towards Ravenclaw, hugging her violin case and smiling. Her feet did a strange little skip as she neared the Ravenclaw door. She wondered if Professor Lieder would appreciate the irony of asking her to learn a piece called “Romanza”.

________________

Author’s Note:

“Romanza” will fit into Chapter 33 of “A Most Unusual Student”. But it also makes reference to the events in two other "Student" outtakes – “Independence” (Uncle Alphard’s inheritance) and “A Simple Decision” (Sirius leaving home). Both are posted here on SQ.

Many thanks to all those who have helped at various times over the long time it has taken to finalise this fic! Seriously Sirius, Eir de Scania, Tapestry, Mincot and Violet Azure have all contributed, and St Margarets (Queen of Fluff!) has added final touches. I'm very grateful to all of them.

//
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