It was the early 1940s, when 12-year-old Charles “Bob” Martin, a Washington, D.C., kid who had always loved the water, decided to try to rent a boat. So he headed down to the waterfront to ask about the cost. A white man working there told him it would cost $5 to reserve a rowboat, plus a quarter for every hour on the water.
The next week Martin headed back to the waterfront with money he’d cobbled together from his job at a local pharmacy. He saw the same man with the boats for rent.
What happened next remains seared into his memory.
“This man broke my heart,” he said. “I said, ‘I got the quarter,’ and the man looked at me, and I’m quoting him now. He says: 'I don’t know why you keep running around down here to rent a boat, because we do not rent these boats to no — the n-word — so you can just leave here and just not even come back.’ ”
The encounter broke Martin’s heart. But not his resolve. “I’m going home crying to my mom,” Martin remembers. “I said 'Mom, I’m gonna get me a boat.’ ”
Around that same time, just upriver from where Martin was turned away, Lewis T. Green, a shop teacher at a D.C. high school, was trying to create a boat club for himself and other black boaters in the city. Green asked federal officials for permission to use land for his fledgling group, but didn’t have much luck. He eventually got the attention of the philanthropist Mary McLeod Bethune, who in turn contacted her friend, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was then-first lady of the United States. Soon enough, the Interior Department allowed Green the use of a small plot by the railroad tracks near the Anacostia River. It’s where Seafarers Boat Club — now Seafarers Yacht Club — began and where it still stands.
It was a stormy night. Ravaging winds and eviscerating rain
had swept in from the West, following a summer of nothing but eternal sunshine
and hot spells. The skies were dark and swirling, and the road shone slick with
The old manor house stood largely unaffected, solid and
unwavering in the face of such an onslaught. The trees groaned, shifting with
the weight of the wind ploughing into their trunks, and there was a little
broom shed that’s foundations looked as though they would be pulled from the
earth and the wooden panels of the walls would go splintering. Other than that,
there was nothing.
Until a figure appeared out of nowhere.
It was largely unremarkable, for the wind made one’s eyes
hard to trust, but one minute there was solitude and silence, and with the next
bout of storm, a boy stood in its place.
He was relatively tall, though his body was racked, and he
was shivering violently. He ran with fear lacing his strides, clutching tightly
at the thick cloak wrapped around him and lugging after his heels an old
The boy stopped only when he got to the house, collapsing
against the doorway, gasping sharply for air. He knocked desperately.
There was no answer. Nobody even stirred.
But then, a light flickered on above him. And another. It
was like a game of dominos, each light lit quicker than the last, until the
door was flung open and a yellow warmth devoured him.
James Potter stood in the house, glasses shoved onto his
nose, tired eyes slowly widening. His hair was stuck up in all possible
Sirius tried to smile, but he could taste blood and knew it
was more of a grimace.
“Dear Merlin,” James whispered.
“I didn’t know where else to go,” Sirius offered quietly.
It was only then that James noticed the trunk behind him. He
didn’t waste another second, throwing the door wider and ushering his friend
inside, taking the trunk from his cold and clammy hands and hauling it into the
entryway. The door slammed shut behind them.
James had seen many things in the five years he’d spent
being friends with Sirius Black. He had seen him thrash around in the dead of
night, pleading to an invisible man to stop, flinching and crying out when they
didn’t. He had seen him determined and loving ferociously, stopping at nothing
to make sure that Remus Lupin was not alone when the rest of society seemed to
believe he should be. He had seen him cold, when the hatred burned through him,
black as his namesake and eyes. He had seen him euphoric and free, laughing
like nothing in the world could touch him and at one time, James had believed
that to be true.
He had never seen him like this.
Sirius’ eye was swollen, purple and bulging, protruding from
his ashen face like a stone from water. His lip was bust, still oozing blood,
and there was a bruise blossoming on his cheekbone, ugly and grey and pink.
James knew that if he lifted Sirius’ shirt, even a fraction, he’d see identical
bruises, like a meadow spreading up his skin.
He was shaking, trembling so vigorously, James was sure he
would burst. He was convinced that Sirius would explode and everything he’d
ever felt, everything he’d held inside of him, would come ricocheting out, all
the red and gold and black traversing through his veins.
whispered James, and he felt his throat close up. Without saying another word
(he wasn’t sure he could), he pulled the smaller boy into his arms, hugging him
so closely, so tightly, as if this embrace would make all of Sirius’ broken
parts fit back together. But then James wondered if he wasn’t whole to begin
The two boys stood there, clutching onto one another so
firmly they left marks. Sirius sobbed into James’ shoulder, fingers clenched
around the material of his pyjamas and James didn’t mind that he was now as
drenched and cold as the storm outside. His brother was safe in here, in his
arms, and if it meant he had to hold him for an eternity, James would do so in
“James, darling, what-?”
Euphemia Potter stopped at the foot of the stairs. She
breathed in sharply, and her words were lost.
“Sirius, love, is that you? What’s happened? What’s-? Oh my.”
She didn’t wait any longer, rushing over and she bundled
both boys into her arms, hugging them to her body as though they were till
children in need of a mother’s embrace, and she felt Sirius cling to her, melt
into her warmth.
Euphemia realised he had probably never felt the love of a
mother’s embrace before. She made sure to hug him tighter.
She patted his back to let her go, pulling away and wiping
at her eyes, sniffing resolutely. She cast a drying and warming charm on him,
smiling softly, holding his face tenderly in her hands. “Love, we need to get
you out of these clothes. You’ll freeze to death if not. James, run and get him
some of your pyjamas.”
James seemed hesitant to leave his friend, but his mother’s
eyes urged him and he set off at a sprint, returning mere seconds later with a
pair of clean Quidditch nightclothes, emblazoned with snitches and Puddlemere
United. Sirius hardly had the effort to jab at James’ shocking allegiances.
“Can you walk, dear?” Euphemia asked him, brushing away some
hair by his eyes. Though her face didn’t show it, she wanted to flinch at the
sight of him. A child. And yet, here he was, beaten and bloody, almost a pulp.
She tried to lead him upstairs, but he collapsed in her arms. “No, it’s okay.
We’ll get you on the settee for tonight and move you upstairs to your room
With James’ help, they gently led Sirius over to the settee,
and Euphemia procured blankets and pillows to wrap him up with. She flicked her
wand and a fire leapt in the hearth, bathing the room immediately in heat.
“I’ll just go and get some balm for his eye, and see if we
have any potions for his bruises. I-”
“Mum,” James cut her off.
She fell quiet and the two looked at the broken boy on their
settee. He had settled into the cushions, burrowing into their warmth, with the
blanket tucked right up to his chin. In the firelight, the purple of his face
made him look haunted, nearly dead. James’ throat clenched up at the thought
and he cast it away instantly, focusing instead on the steady rise and fall of
his brother’s chest.
Euphemia felt her heart melt. A sad smile formed at her
lips. “I’ll be right back.”
Luckily, because they had a son as danger prone as James,
their medical cupboard was well-stocked, and she was returning in no time with
the necessary balms and potions and a warm cloth to wipe away any blood, but as
she stepped back into their living room, she stopped in her tracks.
James had climbed under the covers beside Sirius, and was
snoring peacefully, the smaller boy tucked against his chest. He had his arm
draped over her son’s waist, and every now and then, his hand would seize into
a fist and he’d clutch the material of James’ shirt. James absently stroked
She and Fleamont had always had trouble having children.
They had thought, as old as they were, that they might be condemned to live in
a big, empty house, happy and in love, though missing something, missing the echoing of laughter and the high-pitched
glee that followed it, spiralling out of control, and yelling after ghosts that
sprinted down the hallways and slammed doors and made messes in the kitchen,
and trailed mud into the house after a day spent dancing in the rain-
The day she found out she was pregnant with James was the
happiest of her life, and though he was her blessing and her joy, it had come
at a cost, and she was warned that another childbirth would kill her. And so,
the dreams of a big family with several children had bubbled down to one child,
whom she loved with all her heart.
Now, however, she thought that wasn’t true.
She laid the tray of medicines down on the coffee table,
before quietly moving over to her boys. She pressed a lingering kiss to each of
their foreheads, and pulled the blanket further up, making sure it covered
Euphemia stopped in the doorway, looking back once more at