"I already finished my lessons mother."

His tone is solemn and his mother nods approvingly.

His parents had hired a tutor to teach him how to read and do maths, but he didn't want to sit inside and learn all day long. It was boring, plain and simple. He wanted to ride his gleaming new training broom.

So he gave his tutor two weeks' worth of allowances and the man agreed to pretend that Sirius had completed his lessons for the day. It only bought him one afternoon, but it was better than nothing.

As his mother walked away, Sirius smirked triumphantly at his own cleverness.

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"Mother and father will always love me more than they love you!"

This is a lie because Sirius is beginning to recognize the change in him, but he says it anyways because Regulus has made him angry, and he says hurtful things when he is angry. This part of him will never change.

Regulus's face flushes with anger, "That's not true! Don't say that!"

Sirius laughs mockingly "That's why I have the bigger room. That's why I was born first. Second born? More like second thought!"

His brother's eyes fill with tears and he storms off, fists clenched at his sides.

Sirius flips languidly through a Quidditch magazine, unaware of what he is doing to his brother.

Perhaps things could have been different. Maybe they were always meant to turn out this way. This is not something Sirius will contemplate for many years. For now, he simply searches for a way out.

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"I'll miss you."

His parents are sending him off to Hogwarts at last. Unlike the other parents, his are too dignified to give him teary hugs and kisses. He is fine with this, and looks back at them only out of politeness.

And then he is free.

In a moment everything has changed because his parents are no longer standing right behind him. Sirius is only eleven, but he senses this through the lightness in his chest.

Breaking into a grin, he begins the search for a train compartment to sit in, for new friends, and a chance to be himself.

He sees a blur in his peripheral vision before someone roughly bumps into him.

Stumbling back, Sirius prepares a sharp rebuke, but the other interrupts.

"Whoa! Sorry there mate, almost tripped." The boy is thin, with round glasses and a shock of dark, messy hair. He doesn't sound apologetic at all. He carries the tone of someone who expected to be forgiven simply because he has always been forgiven. Sirius is impressed with his honesty.

"It's alright" he dismisses.

The boy holds his hand out, eyes taking a charming yet mischievous gleam. The gleam of someone who had everything and knew it.

"Name's James Potter."

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"That Lupin kid gives me a bad feeling."

They've only been at Hogwarts a few weeks, but his dorm mate Remus Lupin as already proved himself as the smartest in their year.

"Why?" James questioned, stuffing his mouth full of bacon as Sirius glares slightly at Lupin, who is sipping milk a few seats away has he reads.

"I dunno…he's too…nerdy. Quiet. Weird."

James swallows noisily, "Nothin' wrong with that" he said with a shrug.

Sirius frowned, slightly affronted. "Why are you defending him?"

"Cause being smart is a piss poor reason not to like someone." James explained matter of factly, then points his fork over at the Slytherin table, "I don't like Snape cause he's a right foul git. That's a good reason."

Sirius glanced back at Lupin and took a long, tortured, swig of pumpkin juice; half pretending it was whisky in an imitation of his father.

"Why don't you ask him to sit with us?" James questions suddenly.

Sirius nearly chokes and looks at his best friend incredulously, "I just said I didn't like him!"

James smiled knowingly, the expression making him look far too wise for Sirius's taste, "You said that, but what you meant is that you don't understand him."

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"I'm okay."

They'd been out flying for his thirteenth birthday.

He'd made a spectacular dive that was almost perfectly executed. Almost.

As three pale and concerned faces hovered over him, he winced as the pain in his ribs flared.

"Peter, go get Madam Pompfrey!" Remus ordered, not missing a beat.

"I'm okay" Sirius repeated as Peter prepared to dash off.

"Let him up" James nodded and offered a hand as the other marauders stood up to give him space. Sirius allowed himself to be hauled up and bit his tongue against the fire in his chest.

James brushes some of the dirt and grass roughly off his shoulders, "Alright there?"

Sirius nods. Peter is concerned. Remus is skeptical, and James is waiting.

He takes two steps forward, and then passes out.

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"You really are very beautiful."

He murmured this huskily into the ear of every girl he makes love to, and it was only partly untruthful.

She had soft hazel hair that always smelled like trees and pooled around her shoulders. Her skin was lightly tan, and freckles dotted her dainty nose. Her body was certainly something to behold.

All in all she was beautiful. But not beautiful.

It wasn't like James, who truly thought Lily Evans was beautiful, and had stopped dating anyone in order to court Lily "full time".

There were plenty of girls out there who were just as attractive as the one slumbering next to him.

As Sirius began the search for his clothes, he wondered if he'd ever find anyone that he could love the way James loved Lily.

Remus had assured him he would.

He tugged on his robes and glanced down at the girl he felt no attachment to, wondering if it was true.

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"You look great Prongs."

"Really?"

Sirius nodded earnestly as he straightened his best mate's bow tie. This is clearly not a lie, and Sirius beams at his best friend.

James had never looked better. While his dress robes were fresh and crisp, his eyes and hair were as wild as ever. But it was his aura of unbridled joy that stood out. It really was the best day of his life.

Straightening himself in front the mirror, he looked rather dignified as he viewed himself and removed those last stubborn pieces of lint. Suddenly, his expression completely collapsed and he turned back to Sirius anxiously. "Are you sure this isn't a dream?"

Sirius sighed and for the third time today, reached over and pinched his arm.

"Ouch! …Thanks Padfoot."

"You're completely off your rocker you know that?" he couldn't stop the upwards tug on his lips.

Suddenly Remus and Peter entered, both looking excited.

"Better get out there" Remus addressed James "Lily will be ready in a bit."

James jumped and began to pace, "Okay..okay, I'm not going to mess this up! You can't mess up a wedding right? I mean as long as she says 'I do' then it'll be fine. Shit…I gotta piss, hold on a second" he babbled before hurrying off to the restroom.

"I can't believe Prongs is getting married…to Lily Evans of all people." Peter chuckled with a slight head shake.

"If you would have told me that ten years ago I would have called you a nutter." Sirius agreed, a nostalgic smile touching his lips.

"We all would have." Remus nodded quietly.

Suddenly, a thought struck the werewolf and he turned to Sirius sternly, "You're not going to try anything are you?"

Sirius blinked innocently, scratching an imaginary itch on his cheek "I have no idea what you're going on about."

"This is their wedding."

"Really, I hadn't noticed. I was wondering why I had to wear this stupid bow tie."

Remus stared at him for a moment, expression flashing between exasperation and amusement before he stuck his hands in his pockets, leaning back casually and chuckling, "Lily is going to murder you. No doubt about it."

The corners of Sirius's mouth twitched, "Lily doesn't scare me."

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"I don't spoil Harry!"

"No, you just give him whatever he wants." Lily rolled her eyes lightly on her way to the kitchen.

"She has a point Padfoot," Remus commented as he bounced a giggling Harry Potter on his knee, "there's a reason his first word was 'Seerus'".

"You're not much better." Lily pointed out, handing the men a few biscuits and tea.

Remus smiled sheepishly at her but didn't deny it.

"In my defense, he needed that toy broom! He needs to start early if he wants to be a professional Quidditch player!"

"He's right Lils," James nodded approvingly has he came down the stairs, "he needs to start early. All the best players do."

"Who says Harry's going to play Quidditch professionally? What if he wants to be a healer, or a professor?" Lily beamed down at her son.

Harry grinned at her, exposing his first couple of teeth and picked up a stuffed snitch plush, promptly putting it in his mouth.

"Who am I kidding?" Lily chuckled, "he's going to be absolutely mad about Quidditch."

"Maybe he'll be a chaser, like his good ol' dad!" James said hopefully, picking Harry up and tickling him.

"Nah, he'll be a beater like his favorite uncle." Sirius smirked and winked charmingly at Harry.

"Favorite uncle?" Remus echoed with a frown, "who said you're his favorite uncle?"

"I said, after all I'm the one that gets him the coolest stuff!"

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"I think it's Remus."

"What? Moony would never side with Voldemort!" James stood up sharply, glaring down at Peter, who flinched at either the sound of the dark lord's name, or the heat in James's eyes.

"Look, I love Remus as you do, but the evidence..."

"What evidence?" James snapped roughly.

"He's never here anymore James! We barely see him, he looks awful and sickly- worse than usual- and he's been acting a bit off! You know he's been acting weird right?" Peter gazed imploringly at James.

"He's just stressed, like the rest of us!" James said frowned then said almost mockingly, "You know we're all stressed right?"

"James, calm down honey, you'll wake Harry." Lily tugged at her husband's arm, "Look, we just need to be reasonable."

"Reasonable?" James shot up again and began pacing the room, "How is accusing Remus of being a…a...traitor even remotely reasonable?"

"It's not." Lily said firmly and turned to Peter, "I know you're worried Pete, but Remus wouldn't betray us, he just wouldn't."

Peter deflated, "I just have this feeling…"

"Well it's damn wrong." James dismissed coolly, and Peter shrank back in his seat.

Lily shifted to face Sirius, "What do you think?" she questioned, gazing at him with those emerald eyes that seemed to already know the answer. He looked away.

"Yeah, what do you think Padfoot? He's wrong right?" James turned toward him aggressively. It was clear to Sirius that he was expecting reassurance, confirmation that one of his worst fears was not coming true.

Sirius placed the ankle of his right leg on the other's knee. He took a sip of tea and sighed, unable to stall any longer under their heavy gaze.

"I think Peter…may have a point." He said carefully. So unlike himself.

He felt James stiffen, felt his imploring stare, yet he found himself unable to meet it.

'Coward' a voice in his mind sneered. Since when was he this cautious? Since when did he have so much to lose?

"Unbelievable!" James croaked hoarsely, "This is bullshit!" his voice hardened and he stormed upstairs channeling the teenager he still felt like at times.

Sirius felt his insides wilt under Lily's gaze. Hers wasn't as intense, not as demanding, but it taxed him all the more.

Again he felt himself unable to look into those eyes who knew him so well. Who had caught him right away, but decided to let him go.

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Sirius sighed as he closed the door to Buckbeak's room with a click.

He made his way down the long, dusty hall of Grimmauld place and into the kitchen, where he was greeted by a familiar head of tawny hair. He chose to ignore the flecks of gray splattered throughout.

"Hey there Remus!" he greeted warmly, "Nice surprise, want some water? Tea? Firewhisky?"

Remus made a half-hearted attempt at a smile. The slight crease on his brow told Sirius everything he needed to know.

"Tea then. What's on your mind?" he asked breezily, bustling about the kitchen in a poor attempt to avoid the inevitable.

"Sirius, please." Remus shook his head lightly, "Just sit down."

Sirius dropped the act and sat opposite to the werewolf. He picked at a loose string in the table cloth.

Remus eyed the string unblinkingly. There was a heavy pause. Then, "I'm worried about you."

He shook his head and bit out a dismissive snort of laughter, "Don't be Remmy, I'm fine."

"Are you?" so quiet you could barely hear it, yet it rung in his ears. So typical of the man sitting in front of him.

He continued to pick at the string, pulling it out and unraveling more of the cloth.

Remus shifted, eyeing his every move. Picking him apart like he always had-always will.

"What do you want me to do Remus?" he asks, letting out a deep breathe through his nostrils. He sounded tired and frustrated, even to his own ears. He hated himself for it. He sounded old.

"I just want you to be careful." Remus frowned, hands gripping the table lightly, pleadingly.

"I've been nothing but careful!" Sirius burst out harshly, a hot poker of anger, indignation, frustration, restlessness and a mired of other emotions seared through his gut. "I've been here all the time haven't I? Haven't I been here all the time, doing nothing other than being so bloody careful I might go out of my damn mind?" he pulled at the string harshly and the friction burned his fingertips. He ignored it, focusing instead on the pounding in his ears.

He looked at the amber eyes gazing back. It was unfair, he thought viciously, that he could look only at Remus's eyes, and yet the werewolf would look straight into his- without any magic or effort.

How dare Remus Lupin look so calm, when he felt like he would soon burst apart in a cataclysmic explosion?

"If something happens," Remus began carefully. Measured. "Don't do anything rash."

Sirius barked out a laugh, "C'mon Remus, what am I going to do?"

"Something idiotic!" Finally, he raised his voice, finally his eyes flashed with something other than guarded patience. "Something that might land you another 12 years in Azkaban, or...or worse." Remus swallowed with difficulty.

Sirius couldn't look into his eyes, but he could see the signs. The way his shoulders tensed, the crease in his brow, the way his thumb would bury itself between his index and middle finger.

Sirius understood. Understood the weight, the worry, and the fear.

He nodded slowly, "If something happens, I'll be careful Moony. I will."

He missed the look on the other's face because as soon as the words were out of his mouth, his gaze turned down to the string poking out of the table cloth. He pulled it once more.