19 July: Coping mechanisms Who: Lily and Sirius What: Dealing with recent Peter-related events and revelations (or perhaps "dealing") When: 19th July Where: Temporary Potter house Warnings: Mild references to violence, plenty of anger and grief
The little guest cottage that Lily and James had wound up in after all the panic and shifting around was really quite picturesque, backing onto a little bit of woodland that was just overgrown enough to suggest it went for miles but actually if you pushed into it for more than about five minutes you fell into a drainage ditch at the edge of a parking lot outside a twenty-four hour Tesco. Which had also been quite convenient. During her housebound recovery, Lily had liked sitting on the back step of the cottage, looking at all that greenery. It had been soothing.
It wasn't particularly soothing this evening. Nothing much seemed to be. She'd snapped three times at James and even once at Harry, which she was having trouble forgiving herself for. She'd taken herself out here as soon as he'd been put to bed, because clearly she wasn't fit company for anyone. She'd brought a cup of tea; it wasn't soothing either, and was now sitting cold beside her elbow. There had been voices inside, not just James's, and Lily thought she should probably go inside and be… herself. But she couldn't. Not just yet. Not without breaking something she valued too much.
The voice inside that didn’t belong to James was Sirius’s, of course. If there’d been any doubt of that, it was banished about a quarter-hour after its inception by the arrival of the man himself on the back stoop. James had warned him against joining Lily. “Bad mood,” he’d advised sagely, “snappish. Best to just let her be,” but, well, Sirius had never been one for following good advice when it was offered, and besides, he was in a rather foul mood himself. If Lily was on the warpath for the same reason he was- and he couldn’t imagine what else it could be- than he figured they could either rage together, or rage at each other. Either way it would keep them from going at their significant others’ throats without meaning it.
He studied the top of the woman’s head for a minute and then sat down next to her on the step on the other side from her orphaned tea cup, wordless. Let her have the first riposte if she wanted it. Sirius was feeling exactly that generous tonight and no more.
Sirius was almost the last person Lily had been expecting when she heard the door. She'd been bracing herself for James again, or--almost worse--Remus. It wasn't that she didn't think she could hurt Sirius, or that she didn't care if she did or not, but in a way, they had fewer vulnerabilities directly exposed to each other. And what they had, they'd poked at already, years past now.
"Black," she said, voice bound tight. And then, as though once she'd opened her mouth the words just came flooding out: "I keep thinking that it would be helpful to have something to do angrily, like smoking, and a little part of me goes, 'Well, you could ask Peter for a cigarette.'"
There was a bark of a laugh, sharp and staccato as a gunshot. "Fuck," he said, soft in comparison, because really, what else did one say when one's family betrayed one?
Well. He wasn't, Sirius supposed, the first Black to find out what that felt like. "Fuck," again, even softer, almost vulnerable, and he veered his thoughts away from that track as hard and as sharp as he could.
"Could punch things," he continued after a few moments, philosophical now. "Hell on the knuckles, but I find it's more satisfying than hexing. Visceral, like. You feel it in your bones, like taking a drag, a bit. Only better for the lungs and without the unfortunate associations."
Lily's snort of laughter didn't have much mirth in it. "You're a walking stereotype." But then she was gritting her teeth, rubbing at the space between her eyebrows like that could do something about the burn behind her eyes. Because they were all Gryffindors, they were all supposed to be bold and heedless and bright and together. "Fuck it," she snarled, between her teeth, and sniffed hard. "Is it done?" she asked then, words quick. "Is he gone?" Something she hadn't been able to let James tell her, earlier, without snapping at him.
Sirius turned his head to look at Lily for the first time, his expression eloquent. The redhead had little room to talk about stereotypes, walking or otherwise.
"If you're asking if I killed him," he said, desert-dry and looking away again, "than no. Don't get me wrong, I would have if I'd seen him, I think. But Moony…"
He shrugged, not particularly wanting to get into the full of the moon, how it had been this time.
"Moony didn't want to regret it. So. Far as I know, the rat lives, and Prongs wouldn't have done it without me. Us. But he's gone. If he wasn't I'd sniff him out and Mcgonagall knows it."
"Good," Lily said, and the word felt raw in her throat, because it wasn't good, it was the opposite of good, and yet at the same time... She ran her fingers through her hair, gripping tight at the back of her neck. "I keep thinking," she said, "about that last night at Godric's Hollow. About Peter coming inside and telling us that they were out there. But were they only there because of him in the first place? What did he tell them? And I wanted to ask him, I wanted to look him in the eyes and ask, but that was my home, that was my family in it, and all that time he was--" She shook her head, tugging against the grip in her hair, and when she spoke again her voice quavered. "When I think about it, I shake, I'm so angry, and I don't know what I might have done if I'd asked and he..."
“He’d have lied,” Sirius said, quick and harsh and mean. “He’d have lied to you, because he’s a liar, a liar and a coward who looked us in the fucking eye and told us they’d forced the Mark on him and he’d only had it a week and he wasn’t one of them. He- I apologized, Lils. For not cursing Bellatrix when she came to see me, not trying to kill her, because maybe it would have stopped her marking him, I apologized for that to him and he fucking let me-”
He stopped short, voice shaking, hands balled into fists so tight they hurt. He’d have loosened them, but they’d have shook too, he knew. A deep breath, or the approximation of one, and he tried again.
“He’d have lied if you’d asked him. He wouldn’t even have given you the truth, even now, because he’d know you might give him what he deserved if he did.” Another breath. “And you might have believed him. He was a good liar.”
She might have believed him. She'd have wanted to believe him. That was part of what Lily was furious about. But it helped, to have Sirius here, with all his own helpless rage. So similar to and yet different from her own.
Lily reached out, unclenching her hand for the first time in too long to wrap around one of Sirius's clenched fists. She didn't particularly need to be gentle, she could grip white-knuckled if she needed. "I'm glad you didn't go to see him." And everything else he'd implied would follow. "You're better than that, Sirius Black. You're better than he is."
That got a snort, the sound harsh enough to be almost animal. Sirius didn’t even try to unball his fist, to hold Lily back. Not yet.
He’d been thinking it since they’d found out. Couldn’t help it, try as he might to push it down. Knew it was self-involved and selfish and narcissistic and useless. Kept thinking it regardless.
“I did the same thing. Just from the other side and earlier. Maybe it was...inevitable. Blood for blood. A life for a life, a choice for a choice.” He swallowed around the lump. “Doesn’t make me want to kill him any less.”
"Don't compare us to your family." There was a sharper snap of anger in Lily's voice, but it felt better for having a different target; cleaner, clearer, less bitter. "We weren't as--" She faltered there, not finding the right word. Cold, callous, demanding, blithe, selfish. "Were we?" she asked, without really meaning to. Of course they weren't, of course it wasn't their fault, she knew that, knew it from practice, had drummed it into herself--it wasn't her fault that Petunia couldn't deal with her being a witch; not her fault that Severus had made the choices he had; and nothing of her doing that had set Peter upon this path and kept him on it despite other turnings. But why did this keep happening? Why did people keep turning away from her?
"We weren't," came the reply, swift and certain. If Sirius knew nothing else for sure in this rotten situation, he knew that.
"You weren't," he amended, deflating. "You lot. Maybe I was. I don't know if it matters.”
He scrubbed a hand over a face rough with too-long stubble, anger having momentarily fled and left exhaustion in its wake.
“At least there’s still us, at least we’ve still got each other.”
He could remember, though, viscerally, a time when in the midst of Walburga’s screaming Regulus had slipped a small hand into his own under the table and he’d thought much the same. When he’d looked at the other three on the platform waiting to file onto the train before another long, unbearable summer, and thought it then too.
How many times? How many more body blows? How fucking dare Peter Pettigrew choose anything but them?
"We've still got each other," Lily echoed, and it was a reassurance, but at the same time it wasn't. "I'd walk through fire for you. All of you." And she knew she wasn't alone in that, that they were all devoted each to the others. She felt so blessed, sometimes, that they had this, that they'd not just let her in but pulled her into this endless group hug. That was part of what had her vision blurring as she added, "I would have for him too." She wasn't alone in that either. "Why didn't he let us?" Her voice cracked, and the tears spilled, and she swiped at them with the back of her hand, too angry and frustrated and grieving all at once.
Though she was pack, late-adopted but no less loved, Sirius did not have- or at least had not developed quite yet- the easy physical affection toward Lily that he had for the others. Where he’d sling an arm around or a leg over the boys without conscious thought any time they were close enough, he generally kept a slight but respectful distance from his best friend’s wife, wary, perhaps, that James would take it amiss if he touched her the way he touched the others.
Now, though, he slid closer on the stoop, slipped an arm around the redhead and squeezed, fierce. “I don’t fucking know. I don’t know why he thought- why he didn’t choose- I don’t know. Maybe that’s the worst part. What we would have done, that we couldn’t.”
No. It wasn’t. The worst part was the betrayal. But it bore thinking about.
Lily had shrugged James off three times just this evening, too brittle to take the contact, worried she'd shatter. But now enough had chipped away that she could lean into Sirius, finally accept the comfort. She tilted her head against his shoulder and just sat, for a moment. Nothing like calm, but closer than she had been.
And then she sat up straight again. "Fuck him." Not much heat in it; she sniffled, and gave Sirius a weak smile. "I'm being a terrible host. Can I get you anything? Tea? Ridiculous amounts of alcohol?" Recalling his words when he'd first sat down, she added, "Something to punch?"
Visibly pulling himself together with a straightening of his shoulders like Lily’s and a hand raked through dark hair, Sirius rolled his eyes with deliberate, if not exaggerated, affection. “Lils. I’ve practically lived in your house since you got married, and in James’s for half my life. You don’t need to worry about hosting me. If I want to drink you onto the floor, I can get it myself, promise.”
He paused a moment, maybe for thought, maybe for effect, and added, “what would you let me punch? Hypothetically.”
That curved Lily's smile into more genuine lines, still tired and faded, but fond. "Nothing that will break your hand." She tilted her head, and added, "Muggles have punching bags which seem to serve the purpose." Her mind felt sluggish, dealing with the rational rather than emotional. Something she hadn't been able to manage much of this week, however hard she'd tried.
Sirius shook his head in awe that was only half-feigned. “Muggles, coming with the solution yet again. We owe them so much.”
He didn’t miss how tired Lily looked; he felt much the same himself, and that was unusual for him. Normally he was all energy. Partly it was how difficult the moon had been this time around- inevitably, unavoidably- but the rest…
Sighing, he tipped his cheek against her shoulder, just for a moment. Call it the need for rest, instead of the fact that it was easier to say maybe-vulnerable things when you didn’t have to meet someone’s eyes.
“You know,” he said, almost casually in a way that rather betrayed how uncasual it felt, “when I said I’ve only got the one brother now. Not quite true. Since I’ve got a sister as well, and that.”
The words near made Lily's heart ache, but not at all the way it had for so long. She tilted her cheek for a moment against his wild hair (so like James; so different) and said, "Yes, you do." A confirmation and a promise, all in one, to him but also to herself. She hadn't always been the best of sisters, or perhaps even the best of friends; she would keep trying, she would do better. They would do better together.