The Blacks, like most old Pureblood families, were built on a solid foundation of traditions that could be traced back for centuries upon centuries. There were traditions for nearly every aspect of living when you were a part of the Noble and Most Ancient House Of Black, and they must be upheld with pride and dignity. There were traditions for meal times; Sirius knew how to tell his salad fork from his meat fork from his fish fork before he could hold said cutlery on his own. Proper posture was to be maintained and of course proper attire, and if his elbows hit the table, well...off to his room without supper to await a cane across his backside. There were traditions for social events, traditions for raising your children (if you could consider letting your house elf do all the work for the first five years proper child raising) and traditions for holidays.
Until Sirius came to Hogwarts, he had never once seen a proper Christmas Tree, nor knew who Father Christmas was. In fact, he had no idea that children received presents at all for Christmas until James pounced on him the morning they were all meant to go home for the holiday, shoving a large, brightly colored parcel in his face and shouting "Happy Christmas, mate!" so loudly that Remus threw his pillow from across the dorm and him in the head. The end result was an all out pillow fight, followed by James, Remus and Peter explaining the exchanging of gifts to a very confused, and slightly heartbroken Sirius. After that, Christmas became one of Sirius' favorite times at Hogwarts. He enjoyed the decorations and how warm and cozy the castle seemed to be despite the bitter cold outside. There was something extra magical about the school during this time.
However, that was nothing compared to waking up Christmas morning at the Potters'.
"HAPPY CHRISTMAS PADS!" Was James' war cry as he burst through Sirius' bedroom door and leaped into the other boy's bed. Sirius grumbled and shoved him off, pulling his heavy duvet over his head.
"Sun's not even up yet, Prongs. G'back to bed."
"No can do, Padfoot. Come on then, up we get." He roughly tugged the covers off of Sirius, who curled up into a ball with an annoyed whine. James groaned. "Sirius, you've been a grumpy little bitch since we got home. I'm not letting you lay about all sad and pathetic on Christmas of all days."
Sirius rolled his eyes and turned over to face his best friend. "I'm not planning to lay about all day, James. Just until I can look out the window and see day light."
"James Potter I will hex you and you can't do shit to stop me." Sirius threatened with a slight upturn of his lips.
James scoffed. "Merlin, a bloke turns seventeen and immediately takes advantage." He shook his head and hauled himself up. "Fine. You've got an hour before I come back here and drag you down to open presents."
Like a dog who had heard the crinkling of a food wrapper, Sirius perked up. "Presents?"
"Well yeah, mate." Laughed James. "And if you don't get your arse out of bed, I'm taking yours as well. First come first serve." He smirked triumphantly and leaned against the door frame as Sirius scrambled out of bed.
"Oh yeah?" Sirius grinned, shoving him out of the way. "Well then since I was on the planet first, I suppose your presents are mine, by that logic?"
"Oy! Don't touch my presents you prat!"
The two boys rushed through the hall and down the stairs, pushing and wrestling each other the whole way until they quite literally stumbled into the sitting room, landing on top of one another in a laughing pile right in front of the tree with a loud crash. Once he managed to dislodge himself from James' long limbs, Sirius sat upright in a stunned silence. Since Remus' decision to end their relationship, Sirius had had very few positive feelings. However, he suddenly felt a warm tingling sensation growing from deep inside. He had seen the tree the night before, he had even helped Euphemia hang some of the ornaments on it, but with the dozens of colorful packages sitting beneath it and the hazy light of the slowly rising sun in the window from behind, it was breathtakingly serene. What really had his stomach fluttering were the stockings that hung from the fireplace, and the fact that there was one on the very end that had an 'S' embroidered on it.
"You boys had better not be opening those presents yet!" Mrs. Potter called from the top of the stairs, bringing Sirius out of his own head and back down to Earth. Both boys quickly got to their feet as Euphemia made her way down in a festive green dressing robe and slippers. She was greeted at the bottom of the steps by the Potters' house elf, Trinket who was holding a tray of tea and biscuits. "Thank you, Trinket dear." She smiled, gratefully accepting her cup. The elf bounced over to James and Sirius who both took their own mugs of hot cocoa. James frowned at the left over tea cup.
Euphemia sighed. "He's going to be a tad late, I'm afraid. Got called into the Ministry early this morning-"
"On Christmas?" Said James, clearly outraged.
"There was..." Mrs. Potter hesitated for a moment. "Well, let's just say it was very important. He'll be home soon, dear. In the meantime, you may both go ahead and open your presents." She took a seat on the sofa and sipped her tea.
James and Sirius both were curious to know more about what had been so important on Christmas morning, but they decided against pushing the subject. They had plenty of ways to find out more information later on and there was the much more pressing matter of gifts to be unwrapped after all.
It had been quite a haul. Both James and Sirius received new personalized stationary kits ("Mum! I told you to stop putting my middle name on these bloody things!" James whined) and they had also both been given the newest racing broom on the market. Their stockings were full of candy and baked goods, and then there were the usual scarves and gloves and things they needed rather than things they actually wanted.
Peter had sent James a stack of rare Quidditch trading cards and a guitar pick for Sirius with an excitedly scribbled note explaining that his muggle cousin had met Pink Floyd backstage after a concert and had managed to secure one of David Gilmour's picks.
"Nothing from Remus." Sirius muttered, taking another look under the tree to see if he had missed anything.
"Nothing from Remus yet." James corrected him. "It's still early. Maybe his owl's just not made it here yet."
Sirius shrugged it off, trying not to think too much about it. Nor did he have to, because at that moment the fireplace glowed bright green and Mr. Potter stepped through, brushing floo powder and ash off his robes.
"Good morning all. Happy Christmas!" He smiled, despite looking exhausted. "Well, it looks like you've gone and started the festivities without me. I hope I haven't missed breakfast?"
Euphemia stood and greeted her husband with a kiss. "Just in time, I believe."
Breakfast was great, even though Mr. Potter declined several times to tell James and Sirius what his emergency meeting at the ministry had been about. It was nothing for them to concern themselves with, or so Mr. Potter insisted. Defeated, the boys excused themselves to the yard to try out their new brooms and enjoy the freshly fallen blanket of snow that was incidentally perfect for a snowball fight. They returned to the house hours later, sopping wet and frozen to the bone and laughing to hard to care as Trinket hurried towards them with dry clothes and more steaming mugs of cocoa.
"Thanks Trink." Sirius shivered, peeling his soaked jeans off his legs with some difficulty and accepting the new pair from the elf. They were warm, he guessed they had been charmed.
"Merlin that's nice." James sighed as he too pulled on his dry trousers. "Thought I was going to freeze a bloody bullock off."
"Ah, what a shame that've been for Mary when you returned to school a eunuch." Sirius snickered, earning a swift smack to the back of his head. Sirius turned and pulled his wand out, sending little sparks at the other boy's feet and making him jump.
"AH! Shit, Pads!" Hissed James when one actually hit him. "No fair, mate!"
Sirius was about to come back with a snarky remark, but Trinket gave a tiny cough and interrupted. "Trinket is sorry, Sirs. But Master and Mistress Potter wish for Trinket to fetch Master Sirius for them."
They both stopped dead in their fooling around and exchanged confused looks. Sirius felt his stomach drop. In his experience, parents wanting to speak with him never ended well. Were they going to tell him he had to find somewhere else to live by the summer? He was seventeen, an adult by Wizard standards, and no longer required guardianship. James must have sensed what he was thinking and he stepped closer, clapping him on the shoulder.
"No worries, mate." He smiled reassuringly. "I'm sure it's nothing. Mum and Dad love you."
Sirius bit his lip and shook his head. "Your parents have done way more than they ever had to, Prongs. I can't expect them to let me stay forever."
"Don't be stupid, Sirius." Said James seriously, giving his shoulder a light squeeze as they both headed towards Mr. Potter's study. "You think they'd be kicking you out on Christmas? Come on, stop thinking the worst!"
"Can you blame me?" Muttered Sirius, wrapping his arms around himself anxiously. He sighed. "Sorry, it's just habit I guess. You're right, I'm being silly. I just don't know how much more bad news I can handle right now, you know?"
James nodded solemnly. "Yeah Mate, I know."
They were standing in front of the door to the study, James raised his hand to knock -
"It's getting out of hand, 'Phemia." Said Mr. Potter's tired voice on the other side of the door and James and Sirius paused. "The Ministry can't keep up anymore. He gains more followers each day! The scariest thing is that a lot of them aren't much older than James and Sirius."
James and Sirius looked at each other with wide eyes before pressing their ears to the door to listen.
"He's going to all of the Pureblood families to recruit. Most of them obviously join up without question-"
"And what if they refuse?" Asked Euphemia, sounding anxious.
Fleamont paused. "Aurors found the Bellrose's house blown apart last night."
Euphemia gasped, as did both James and Sirius.
"Anastasia Bellrose? The Ravenclaw in our year?" James hissed, looking terrified. Sirius swallowed and nodded.
"There were no survivors." Fleamont continued. They could hear his foot steps as he paced back and forth across the floor. "I hope Trinket didn't forget to tell Sirius we needed to speak with him."
Sirius' stomach was in knots and he looked to James with fear. James shook his head and sighed. "It'll be fine. I'll wait out here for you, yeah?"
Sirius nodded. "Yeah..." His voice shook, as did his hand as he raised it and knocked on the door.
"Come in!" Fleamont called. Sirius took a deep breath and opened the door. "Ah, there you are son! Come on in, sit down." The man smiled broadly, his tone holding no traces of the fact that he had just finished discussing the death of one of their classmates and her entire family. Sirius tried his best to appear as if he hadn't been listening. He closed the door behind him and managed a weak smile in return, slowly walking to the seat beside Euphemia.
"Are you alright, sweetheart?" Asked Euphemia as Sirius sat down. She frowned a little as she raised one hand and rested it on Sirius' forehead. "You look pale."
Sirius nodded quickly. "I'm fine, mum. Probably just from being outside, you know."
Euphemia shook her head and sighed. "You boys are going to catch your death, flying around on those brooms in this weather."
"Nonsense, 'Phemia!" Fleamont laughed, taking his seat behind his desk and rummaging through the drawers. "They're strong lads. A bit of cold weather is good for them. Aha, here it is!" He produced a small, square box from the drawer and set it aside on the desk. "Now then, Sirius. I wanted to apologize-"
Sirius frowned. "A-apologize? For what?" He couldn't imagine. The Potters had done more for him than anyone ever had in his entire life.
"For missing your Birthday, of course. Seventeen is quite a big deal for a young wizard!" Said Fleamont.
"We should have at least written to you." Euphemia said regretfully. "We just wanted you to know that we certainly didn't forget, dear. We just thought this was better done in person and since you were coming home for Christmas, we figured we would just wait."
Blinking, Sirius looked from Fleamont to Euphemia in confusion. "I don't understand..." The confusion only grew as Fleamont slid the small box on his desk to sit in front of Sirius. He hesitated for a second, but with an encouraging nod from Euphemia, Sirius reached forward and took it. His fingers shook a little as he removed the lid and his breath caught in his chest.
"It is tradition after all," Said Fleamont. "For a wizard to receive a watch for his seventeenth birthday."
Sirius' jaw dropped as he stared at the polished silver pocket watch in the box. He could feel his heart beating hard against his chest and, to his embarrassment, tears burning his eyes as he carefully ran his fingertips over the detailed carvings around the edge. He wanted to say something, anything, but he couldn't form the words for what he was feeling and he just kept sputtering, "I-I...Wh-..." As Fleamont explained that this watch had belonged to his great uncle.
He felt Euphemia's gentle hand on his shoulder. "Happy Birthday, dear." She kissed his cheek and that was about all he could take. Setting the box back down on the desk, he flung his arms around her in a tight hug that was returned with just as much enthusiasm.
"You've done so much for me already," Sirius said tearfully, slightly muffled with his face buried in the woman's shoulder. "Y-you haven't had to...I d-don't deserve-"
"Shhh..." Euphemia's hand rubbed his back in slow circles. "Don't be silly, Sirius. We love you very much, don't you ever forget that."
"That's right, Sirius." Her husband added. "You are our son. Never doubt it, my boy. This is your family."
When Sirius finally left the study, some time later after having to compose himself and countless Thank Yous to both Mr. and Mrs. Potter, James was still standing in the hall. He was leaning casually against the wall on the opposite side and picking at his fingernails.
Sirius rolled his eyes. "You can cut the innocent act, Potter. I know you were listening."
James cracked a grin, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter. "You cried, mate."
"You're such a prat."
"You actually cried, Padfoot. Merlin, you're such a bird." James chuckled, throwing an arm around Sirius' shoulders as they walked back to his bedroom. "Really though, I told you not to worry so much. My parents will probably kick me out before they give you the boot." He kicked open the door to his room and flopped onto the bed, pulling the stack of Quidditch cards from Peter out of his pocket. Almost as soon as Sirius sat down beside him, a tap on the window made them both look up.
"Might be Moony's owl." James said, poking Sirius in the side and giving him a hopeful smile. "Go let it in."
Sirius crossed the room and pushed the window open, letting the large copper barn owl in. He frowned. That wasn't the Lupin family's owl, but it was certainly familiar. A slow smirk spread across his face as he took the letter from the bird's beak. "Well, hello there...Titania, is that right?" He heard James choke. "What's Lily Evans' owl doing delivering mail to James 'The Arrogant Toerag' Potter', eh?"
James was on his feet in under a second, making a desperate grab for the letter, but Sirius ducked and laughed. "Does Mary know you and Evans are corresponding, Prongsy?"
"Sirius, give me the letter." James demanded, narrowing his eyes as Sirius hopped up onto the bed and held the letter above his head.
"No way in hell!" Sirius chuckled, opening the envelope and unfolding the parchment. "James, - Wow, first name basis, no insults. Off to a good start-"
"I mean it, Sirius! Give that to me!" James sounded urgent, but Sirius paid him no mind and jumped out of the way when his friend made another lunge for him.
Sirius whipped his wand out and pointed it at James in a mock threat as he continued to read Lily Evans' letter out loud with a shit eating grin. "I've been going over everything we discussed that night in the library - The Library? James, you dog!-"
"And it seems that our suspicions about Remus' behavior were-" The grin faded from Sirius' face and he stopped reading the letter outloud. His eyes scanned over Lily's elegant script, his mouth falling open slightly and the color draining from his face. James held his breath. When Sirius finished, he dropped the parchment on the bed and refused to look at the other boy. "You were researching this behind my back?" He asked quietly.
James licked his lips and took a breath. "We didn't want to say anything until we were sure. We were worried abou-"
"Does Remus know?"
"Does. He. Know?"
After a moment James nodded. "He does."
Sirius sniffed and tried to cover it with a cough as he jumped off James' bed and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "So everyone's in on it but me, then?"
"Well...well, no. Not everyone. It's just me, Lily and Rem-"
"And you didn't think I deserved to know as well?" Sirius snapped, glaring daggers at his best friend. "You didn't think I'd want to help? It's my boyfriend you're reading up on after all! Hell, it's my life!" He pushed roughly past James towards the door.
James sighed. "Sirius, it's not like that. What are you do-"
"I just need a minute." Sirius mumbled, leaving the room and closing the door behind him. He crossed the hall to his own room, grabbing his leather jacket and searching his pockets for his cigarettes. Tucking one behind his ear he went to the large bay window and slid it open, swinging his legs over the edge and leaning against the side. He took the cigarette and placed it between his lips, lighting it with his wand and inhaling deeply.
It wasn't James he was mad at. He knew that it James and Evans had been trying to help and that keeping it from him had probably been to save him the exact emotions he was currently feeling. That dull, aching, heavy feeling in his chest.
Remus knew. He knew what was happening to him, and he was still going through with this whole break up. Shouldn't this have been good news? The answer seemed so easy to Sirius. Something that would bond him to Remus, that made them stronger together and connected them...He would have jumped right on board with that if Remus had asked him to...
And that could only mean that Remus didn't want it. Not with him.
He heard the door open and close behind him and he quickly wiped his eyes with the back on his hand before James climbed up to sit on the opposite end of the window sill. Neither of them said anything and Sirius kept his eyes on the waxing moon. It would be full in just a few more days.
Tossing the burnt out butt of his cigarette, Sirius reached into his pocket for the carton.
"Could I get one of those?" James asked quietly.
Sirius glanced at him for a second then shrugged and held them out to him. He took one for himself and lit them both and they sat in silence once more.
"I'm really sorry, Sirius." Said James after a while. "You're right. We should have included you when we decided to do the research. If it helps, we didn't tell Remus either. I only told him to make him come back to the dorm. I thought it would fix things."
Sirius shook his head. "There's no fixing it." He muttered, flicking some ash. "Obviously he doesn't want to have that with me." He forced a laugh before taking another deep drag of his cigarette. "Can you blame him? After what I did to him last year, it's no wonder he wouldn't want to be stuck with me forever. He doesn't deserve to be..."
James snorted and Sirius finally looked at him with a deep frown.
"Merlin the two of you are bloody stupid." Said James. "If you would both stop and see yourselves the way you see each other, you'd be set."
"What's that suppose to mean?"
James held up a finger as he tried, and failed, to blow a smoke ring. He sighed. "I mean you are both constantly putting yourselves down and claiming that you aren't good enough for each other." He shook his head. "You know Remus, mate. You know he isn't distancing himself from you because he doesn't love you. He's doing the exact same self pitying bullshit that you're doing. He's moping about and thinking 'Oh, Sirius should find someone better' and 'I can't make Sirius stay with me just because I'm a werewolf' and all that stupid Moony shit he pulls."
Sirius pulled his jacket tighter around him and didn't say anything. James snubbed out the last of his cigarette and threw it into the cold, dark night. He pulled a small, thin, brightly wrapped box out of his jacket and held it out to the other boy. "Moony's owl came. I got the newest addition of Quidditch Through The Ages, special edition too." He shook the box when Sirius made no move to take it. "Sirius?"
Sirius took it and stuffed it into his own pocket. He looked up, meeting James' questioning look. "I'm just not ready."
"Right then. Want me to leave you alone?" James asked, preparing to stand up and give Sirius his space.
Sirius shook his head. "Not really, no." He glanced up again. "Stay?"
"Yeah, mate. You know I'm here for you." James smiled and put his arm around Sirius' shoulders. "'Til the very end, Pads."