Rating: R for angst and language
Spoilers: All the canon books, I suppose
Story summary: Harry hates James Potter...who's alive. How is he alive? What happened on October 31, 1981?
Chapter summary: James' thoughts as he sits in Azkaban. Where does he actually fit in with all of this complication?
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters that came out of the Harry Potter series. If I did, Remus would be sitting here in my lap. Alas, they belong to Rowling.
Author's notes: I just finished OotP, and I won't spoil it here (even though the mere summaries and titles of some newly posted fics have ruined it for some people already), but the death...ack. I'm dying inside, even as I'm writing a bit of the next chapter of this completely AU fic. Anyone else emotionally drained after finishing the book? And no proper mourning by the other characters, either, aside from the brief moments from Harry as he's throwing stuff around in a rage before the Lost Prophecy conversation...that made me cry, definitely. The actual death, while it was happening, did not, although the break in the voice of one particular person at the beginning of the very next chapter made me wince in sympathy. Ah, poor, poor Harry. The character's not gone for good, though-it's not the last we've seem of them (like Harry's parents in the Mirror of Erised in book one, and out of Voldie's wand in book four). I'm not in denial-I really do think they're dead...just not gone forever. We'll see, I supposed. All we can do is hope, huh? Anyway, here's chapter 6-please review!
Looking into the cell, Alofe Winters felt a chill run down his spine. There, in the corner, sat the cold-blooded murderer, James Potter. Winters rattled the bars of the door.
"'Ay, Potter. 'Ere's yeh food. I'm no' comin' in there, so yeh'll hafta come up an' get it yehself." Winters held the plastic bowl away from him, trying not to wrinkle his nose at the smell of the contents. No one really knew what was in the food that was given to the prisoners, not even the guards. Not like they cared, though. As far as Winters was concerned, the prisoners didn't even deserve to live.
"Yeh hear me, Potter? I'm abou' to drop this bowl, an' then yeh'll have to lick the food off t' floor." He stared at the curled up shape of the prisoner. Potter was one of the quiet ones, always looking up at the cell's one high window, where sometimes, a small patch of sunlight or moonlight would stream in.
The room stood bare, save for strewn bits of debris that covered the hard, cold stone floor, a chamber pot in the corner, and the prisoner himself. The inhabitants of Azkaban were served food in plastic bowls, the Muggle invention being hard enough to withstand multiple uses, but yet too flimsy to be used as a weapon against the guards or themselves. Small shards of previously broken bowls lay scattered about.
The prisoners that were sane enough usually attempted to keep track of how long they were in by using the shards to make marks on the walls. Etching the corners of the plastic remains into small lines created a tracking system, although the guards didn't help any by emptying chamber pots in an irregular pattern, sometimes doing it two days in a row, and then waiting for a week before doing so again.
James Potter had been one of the ones that tried to keep track as soon as he got thrown into his cell more than a decade before. Winters let his eyes stray over the walls, noting the side that had small, thin marks arranged in neat rows. It went on for several rows, marking each day or week or however long Potter used for each mark, spanning a good quarter of that particular wall. Right in the middle of a line, however, the markings stopped, as if Potter had decided to give up.
"I noticed yeh stopped markin' time, there," he pointed out to Potter, who didn't look up. Feeling a little irritated at being ignored, Winters held the bowl out again. "Come get this bowl, yeh layabou'. I'm abou' to pour this food out if yeh don' get up. Yeh won' be gettin' more any time soon, either." He waited, but the prisoner said and did nothing.
Snorting in disgust, Winters dropped the bowl into the cell and locked the panel back that was used for depositing the food. He dusted his hands off, but stopped suddenly, and leaned back towards the bars. "I know why yeh stopped countin'," he said viciously. James Potter looked up then, and Winters was startled to see how calm the prisoner looked, the dark eyes alight with intelligence, his gaunt face lined with fatigue. Gold-rimmed glasses perched on his nose. Ironic, how his body was so broken and beaten, but his glasses still intact after all these years.
Shaking himself out of his small trance, Winters smirked. "Yeh stopped countin' because yeh can' keep track. In 'ere fer life, yeh are." He pushed away from the cell bars, then, as Potter continued to stare at him wordlessly.
The clunking of boots falling on the stone floor was heard echoing down the hall as Winters walked away, leaving James alone with his thoughts.
Yes. He's right. I didn't know how to keep track of forever. James looked then at the food, which was splattered on the floor in messy lumps. Groaning slightly, he forced himself to get up and crawl on his hands and knees to where the contents were soaking into the stone. He picked up bits of unidentifiable meat and shoved them into his mouth, not even swallowing one before chewing the next in his haste to eat.
When he finished, he crawled back to his corner, curling up again, his bony arms wrapped around his thin frame. The Dementors had taken away his good memories, leaving him with the ones that haunted him endlessly, the ones that threatened to make him as mad as some of the other prisoners. But the memories that were left, however, were the only ones he had, and he allowed himself to fall back into some of them then.
James walked into the front door, Lily behind him, and he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She looked weary and terrified. He suddenly wanted to seek out Voldemort and pound him until the 'Dark Lord' was dead for making her look like that.
He wrapped both arms around her, burying his face into her auburn strands. He took a deep breath. The spicy pumpkin scent of her new shampoo filled his nostrils, reminding him of Hogwarts and feasts and happier times.
"Who could do this?" he heard her ask into his chest. He sighed, not knowing how to answer, but the chill that had settled in his bones after speaking with Dumbledore suddenly solidified into icy hardness.
They had just come from Hogwarts, called there for a meeting that they had thought was about the Order, or maybe something else. What they hadn't expected was the Headmaster telling them of his suspicions.
He had told them that Voldemort had seemed to know where they were every time he attempted an attack on them. He said that there had been a prophecy, which he believes had made the Potter family a target. He did not know how Voldemort had found out about the prophecy, for it had been given in his office almost a year before.
Then, Dumbledore had told them, with a grave voice, that he suspected someone close to James and Lily had turned over to the Dark side, giving information to Voldemort. James couldn't believe it-the only ones he had ever told about their whereabouts every time they hid had been his three best friends. Lily had told no one. Surely, one of his friends would never...
As much as James trusted Remus and Peter, it was Sirius that he would place his bets on as the one who would NEVER betray them. Sirius was too open with his feelings about the attacks in the Wizarding world, and Voldemort himself. He was also the one that had been James' best friend throughout school. There was no way that Sirius could EVER go over to the Dark side, and put James, Lily, and Harry in danger.
And that was the other reason why James would never think about Sirius being a spy for Voldemort. Sirius, after being named godfather, showed an incredible amount of love and protectiveness towards Harry. He acted as if Harry was his own son, never complaining about changing nappies and cleaning up after feeding. All of it was done with a small smile.
And so as much as James could never believe that Remus or Peter would turn against them all, it was Sirius whom James KNEW wouldn't do it. It was a gut feeling, and James had always trusted his gut feelings.
"I can't believe what he said, Lily," he murmured into her hair. She backed away and looked up at him with startling green eyes, so beautiful that they took his breath away every time he gazed into them.
She sighed and ran a smooth hand over his cheek. "I know, James. I wouldn't believe it, either, except for that it's Dumbledore. I'm afraid. Not for me, but for you and Harry. I don't want anything to happen to you, but...James, you trust your friends so much, and I trust them, too. Sirius loves Harry, and Remus and Peter are...well, I can't believe it would be one of them, either." She kissed him gently as he closed his eyes against her words. "It's a dark time, now, and we have to be careful. I think we should do what Dumbledore suggested, and have a Fidelius Charm performed. But that means you have to narrow your trust down to one of your friends." She smiled sadly. "And I don't think I can help you. I trust all three of them equally."
"Mmm," he grunted absently, just enjoying the feel of her hand on his face. He didn't want to exclude Remus or Peter. He didn't believe that either one of them would turn, but...Sirius was the one that he would choose. He pulled away from her slowly, smiling down at her worried face, and walked into the living room.
Peter, who had agreed to look after Harry when they went to Hogwarts, was napping on the couch. He was lying on his back, and Harry was asleep on his chest. Peter had wrapped a protective arm around Harry's small body, and the look on both of their faces was completely peaceful.
'It can't be Peter,' thought James, as he met eyes with his wife, who had a dreamy, heartbreaking expression on her face. Her eyes seemed to say the same thing.
James shuddered, trying to get that memory out of his mind. It had been a good one, back then, but now, remembering the trusting and happy look on Lily's face as Peter held Harry protectively just brought back the painful feelings that he had. Being reminded of Peter's death was awful, and being reminded that Lily was also dead was worse.
Why couldn't he have trusted Peter? Why did it have to be Sirius? He knew why-he had convinced himself that Sirius was his best friend. They had shared so much together.
But James had been wrong. Oh, so very, very wrong, and his mistake had cost Lily and Peter their lives.
Sirius was the one who had been the spy all along. He had been the Secret Keeper, and then Voldemort had known exactly where to look for them.
"I'm not scared," Lily smiled at James as she sat on the couch in the living room at Godric's Hollow, their original home and latest hiding place. Even though everyone had known about them living there before, no was going to find them there now, for they were protected.
James grinned back. "I'm not either. Sirius would never let anything happen to us." He thought he saw something cross Lily's face, a shadow of worry, or anxiety, but it quickly passed. She was smiling again.
"Maybe, when the charm wears off, Voldemort will be dead. Surely, the Aurors or someone else will have gone after him and killed him by then. I mean, the Fidelius Charm lasts for two years, James." She shifted Harry onto her other leg, running her hand lightly over their son's head as the small child looked up at his mother.
"Yes," James agreed as he watched his son reach out and pull a strand of Lily's hair, his face lighting up with a smile. A wave of love passed through him.
But then a loud 'pop' sounded outside. It sounded like someone had Apparated there. Who would find them? Was there something wrong? James strode over to the window and peeked out of the slit in the curtains.
It was nighttime, Halloween in fact, and he could hardly see a thing. The moon was bright-it had been full only four nights earlier, when they had seen Remus last. Remus and Peter knew that Sirius was the Secret Keeper, but the only one who actually knew where they were was Sirius. But what would he be doing there, at Godric's Hollow?
A wave of horror swept through James, and caught him by the throat, as he finally saw who had shown up in their front lawn.
Tall, with dark robes billowing out ominously around him, Voldemort stood, illuminated by the moonlight, looking into the window. Right at James.
With a strangled yell, James tore himself away from the window, his heart pounding. "Get upstairs!" he shouted at Lily, and she stood, frantic, Harry clutched in her arms.
"What..." she began, but he cut her off when he ran to her and kissed her, the kiss conveying exactly how he felt. He kissed Harry on the forehead, who just laughed at him and swept a hand over the lingering wetness, and pushed Lily gently towards the stairs.
"Protect Harry," he told her. She nodded, her green eyes wide with fright.
"But who..." she started. He just shook his head and pointed to the stairs.
"Go," he demanded, his voice rising as it had never risen in their whole history together. "You have to go. I'll take care of it." He felt as if he might be looking at her for the last time. Her long, auburn hair and her delicate features, her soft hands, the way she held onto their son with care...
A rustling sounded outside the front door, and James panicked then, pushing Lily again towards the stairs. "Lily, take Harry and go! It's him!" Lily's eyes flickered with tears and fright-she knew whom he spoke of. "Go! Run! I'll hold him off..." She fled up the stairs, without looking back, and her wild eyes were the last that he saw of her. He turned towards the front door, his wand ready, and the door smashed inwards, wooden chunks littering the carpet.
A dark figure stood in the doorframe, red eyes glaring. It was a man, a tall man with a hood over his head, but the face...the mouth was twisted and the eyes were terrible. It was definitely Voldemort, though James had never seen him before. And he was laughing, a high-pitched, maniacal sound that grated down James' spine.
Springing into action, James attempted to curse the dark intruder. "Expelliarmus!" he shouted, the power bursting from his wand, but Voldemort blocked it without saying a word, and stepped closer.
"Relashio!" James tried again, a shower of sparks shooting out of his wand towards the approaching figure. But Voldemort just laughed again.
"Foolish boy," Voldemort said. "I didn't become the greatest wizard of all time for nothing. Simple little hexes won't affect me." He stepped closer, TOO close now, and James felt the breath exit out of his lungs. He was unable to breathe, to think, to move. All he could focus on was the fact that Lily and Harry were upstairs, and he was downstairs, facing their attacker, and he was the only one that could stop what was about to happen.
His last chance to curse Voldemort was then. "Stupify!" he tried, but the spell didn't appear to affect Voldemort at all. In fact, it just caused the dark wizard to smile, a malicious smile that seemed to darken the room.
"This prophecy," Voldemort said quietly. "It will never come to pass. A particularly useful agent of mine has been keeping me informed about you, and about your son. Harry Potter will not be alive to get rid of ME." The red eyes flashed, and a dark wand was brought up, and the last thing James could think as Voldemort cast a spell to kill him was the fact that Lily was good at charms, so surely she could protect Harry.
Shuddering at the memory, James was almost numb to the sadness that threatened to envelope him. Lily was dead, as some of the guards had shouted at him as they kicked and beat him, when he first came to Azkaban. His son, however, was alive. Harry had lived, and so had James, and from what the prophecy had said about father and son coming together, there was still a chance that it could come to pass. If, indeed, it had been about the Potter family.
And Sirius had been the betrayer. James sighed, ignoring the sour smell of his unwashed body as he laid his forehead on his bent knees. He had trusted Sirius with his life, and with Lily and Harry's, and he had failed them.
He knew that Sirius was also in Azkaban, though he had never seen him. Granted, the prisoners were never let out of their cells, so there would be no reason to see his former friend. But, if James could get out...
I would kill him if I saw him. He took everything from me. James violently imagined seeing his former friend, tearing him limb from limb as the other screamed mercy. 'You showed no mercy to Peter!' James would shout at him as Sirius' right arm came off in a bloody splatter. 'You gave no mercy to Lily!'
Oh, Lily. I'm so, so sorry for trusting him. I'm so sorry... James felt a pang at the memory of her face, her hair, her smile. His heart threatened to collapse under the weight of depression as he thought about the friendship that he thought he had had with Sirius. He had trusted him with everything. Why would he turn? Why would he sell Peter and Lily out? What would motivate him? Could it have been about the one secret that James knew about Sirius? Remus and Peter knew nothing of it, but James was trusted. And this is how his trust was repaid?
"I have to tell you something." It was sudden, an opening of blue eyes and raised eyebrows, and James thought it was the first and only time he had ever seen Sirius afraid.
"What is it?" They were walking with Remus towards the Gryffindor common room, James in the middle, and Sirius had glanced nervously over at Remus before hissing at James, pure terror on his face.
Sirius shot Remus a nervous smile as the werewolf looked questioningly at them, and then slowed down, allowing Remus to walk ahead of them. He leaned in to James. "Not here. Let's go for a walk in a bit."
James, confused, agreed, and they followed Remus into the common room and sat down for a game of Wizard's chess, while their friend curled up in one of the armchairs with a book. Sirius, a focused look in his eyes as he peered at the chessboard, commanded a pawn to take the first move. James looked at him, silently asking.
"Not here," Sirius repeated quietly without glancing at him, and James settled down for losing the first game of the night. Sirius had always been fantastic at chess, going at it like a general going into battle. Only Peter, who was currently finishing a detention for being caught after hours, could come close to beating Sirius. Remus, who was smart and made nearly top marks in most of their classes, had never won a game against anyone. He was hopeless at it. And James...well, not as good as Peter, and only marginally better than Remus.
James wondered what Sirius had to tell him, and why he didn't want Remus to know. They always shared things between the four of them, with the exception of James' currently fruitless crush on Lily Evans, which he had only told Sirius about. But that was trivial. Not like whatever Sirius had to tell him.
When James had lost half of his pieces, without taking any of Sirius', he was jolted out of his concentration by his friend standing up and stretching. James snuck a look over at Remus, who was still reading, but covertly peeking at Sirius, as well. James turned to Sirius.
"We'll be right back, Remus," Sirius announced quite loudly, dragging James up by the arm and over to the portrait hole. James looked back at Remus, who shrugged and turned back to his book, his hair falling into his eyes.
They exited, and Sirius silently led the way down some corridors, peering around each corner to make sure a professor wasn't coming. Satisfied, he shoved James into the empty Charms classroom and pulled the door almost shut.
"What's all this about?" James ventured. Sirius suddenly looked terrified again, which baffled James, because Sirius wasn't afraid of ANYthing. He watched as the other boy crossed the room and sat on Flitwick's desk, patting the space next to him. James joined him.
"I don't know where to start," Sirius began. He paused, not looking at James, running his fingers through his hair. "It's complicated."
James reached over and patted Sirius on the shoulder. "Just spit it out. It can't be that bad."
"But it is!" Sirius turned and looked at him, then, his eyes wide. "It's horrible." He took a deep breath, still looking James in the eye. "I don't think I fancy girls, James."
James stared at him. "Oh." He didn't know what else to say. "Oh." He gathered his wits about him. "So...you like boys?"
Sirius nodded. "I think I do. Please don't hate me for this."
Feeling a smile break out on his face, James slung his arm around his friend. "Hey, I don't hate you, mate. Is there, er, anyone in particular?"
"Maybe, but I don't think that he's...you know...that way," came the reply. Sirius leaned forward, putting his head on his hands, his arms propped on his knees. "Why can't I just like girls?"
"Nothing wrong with it," James told him. He felt relieved. He had been expecting earth-shatteringly horrible news, like Sirius' dad dying or something. "So who's the lucky bloke?"
"I don't...think that I want to say, yet," Sirius mumbled. He looked up. "Sorry. I trust you, but I have to sort out my feelings, first."
"It's not me, is it?" James suddenly was afraid of the answer. He liked girls. He liked Lily. What if Sirius...
"No," Sirius interrupted his thoughts. "It's not you." He smiled. "As desirable as you are."
"Er, thanks," James squirmed. He grinned. "I thought you were going to tell me something terrible."
A sigh. "It IS terrible."
James shook his head. "No, it's not. You fancy blokes. There's nothing wrong with that. You're still Sirius."
"But I'm not even sure, yet."
"What do you mean?"
Sirius shrugged. "I look at them, but I've never...you know...did anything with one. What if I think I'm gay, and then kiss a bloke, and then not feel anything?"
James thought. "Why don't you find someone who's willing to let you try it with them?" He lit up. "You know, Remus is very open-minded. He might just-"
"NO!" The shout startled James. "I mean, I don't want this to go beyond you and me." Sirius peered at James. "Would you...I mean...?"
James licked his lips, suddenly confused and embarrassed. "I don't know, Sirius. I already know that I fancy girls. Can't you find some other friend to do it?" He thought. "What about Peter?"
Sirius scrunched up his nose. "Peter's my mate, but...no. No way." He grew serious. "James, you're the only one I can tell this to. Please? Just...it'll be over in a second."
"You want to do it right this minute?" James rolled his eyes. "You just want an excuse to snog me!"
Sirius laughed, which was a good thing. Familiar. It put James at ease. "Dream on, prat!"
Shaking his head, James smiled. "Only YOU would put me in a situation like this."
"So you'll do it?"
James nodded. "Okay." He sat still, his eyes open, staring at his best friend. Sirius leaned in very slowly, watching him for signs of a change of heart, but James steeled himself. 'This is my best friend,' he told himself. 'I have to do this for him. He'd do something like this for me.'
It was over quickly, and James was glad. No tongue, thank heavens, and Sirius' lips were dry and a little chapped. Nothing like a girl's lips at all. It had been uncomfortable, knowing that it was a bloke that he had let kiss him, but James wasn't scared.
Sirius was grinning. "I think I'm in love." He wriggled his eyebrows, and James laughed along with his friend, pushing him back.
"Well? What do you think? Seriously?"
Sirius sat back, a look of contemplation on his face. "I think...that I am most definitely gay." He grinned at James. "And I think that I'm regretful that you're not!"
"Yeah, yeah," James waved him off as he got off the desk. "Just don't peek at me in the shower or anything." He turned around to find Sirius staring at him. "What?"
"Just...thank you for understanding." Sirius said it quietly. James smiled.
"That's what best friends are for, eh?" he told him.
James unclenched his fists as that particular memory surfaced. It had not been a good one. Knowing that Sirius was NOT the friend that he had thought...
"Potter," Winters had pushed his face into the bars on the door, again. He peered in the cell with watery brown eyes, a sneer on his face. "Yeh migh' be interested in knowin'..."
News. No guards ever told anything that went on in the world outside of Azkaban to the prisoners. James furrowed his eyebrows, trying to soften his curiosity.
"Yer boyfrien'. He's escaped. Thought yeh'd like t' know." Winters grinned a yellowish smile at him.
"Sirius? How could he escape?" James was floored. No one had ever escaped from Azkaban. How had Sirius managed it? What was he going to do? "Do they know where he might be going?"
If it was possible, Winters' grin grew more evil, leaving James terrified. "Ol' Garner heard 'im talkin' in his sleep. Ministry thinks he's goin' to Hogwarts. He was heard sayin' 'he's at Hogwarts' or somethin'. They think he's after yer son."
A rage filled James then. Sirius was...going after Harry? After all these years? What made him suddenly decide that he needed to escape? What pushed him into action, now, after sitting in Azkaban for so long? James thought that Sirius just might have become like the other prisoners. Crazy. Driven mad and weak by being around Dementors. But James should have known better.
"Th' Dementors are upset, o' course. Makin' roun's t' all th' cells, they are. Yeh'll see one shortly." And Winters laughed, leaving James alone in his cell.
All James knew was that he couldn't allow Sirius to get Harry. Winter's threat rolled off of him. I have to get to Harry first. He looked up towards the small window near the top of his cell. Now how can I get out of here?
To be continued...