A/N: Thank you if you are reading this. Stats tell me that I'm receiveing a lot of hits but I would really love some more reviews. They are a writers bread and butter, you see, and even though I am quite willing to upload without them it's always good to know what my readers think.
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Disclaimer: The wonderful world of Harry Potter was created by J.. We all know this. No need to sue.
Lily takes Dumbledore's advice and lies low. Far away, a man pays the price for empathy.
There was a hiss as the cracked eggs hit the pan, sending a splatter of oil across the hob that looked very much in need of a good clean. Although it was only six o'clock in the morning Lily just couldn't sleep and had jumped up with a wild idea of making everyone breakfast. A rattling snore as she slowly got up told Lily that James wasn't ready to be awake just yet and she pulled the dressing gown Sirius had leant her tightly around herself before quietly leaving the room.
Sirius' place was less audacious than would have been expected with its open planned living area and shag-pile rugs. It was messy, of course, and a lot of the debris that littered the living room that Lily had to pick her way through was reminiscent of the impulsive seventeen year old Sirius had been when he had bought the place. There were stacks of magazines, both Wizarding and Muggle. Clothes were strewn everywhere. But it had been kind of Sirius to allow her and James to stay for a while until, as Dumbledore had put it, "Things died down."
The frying pan began to smoke and Lily looked down to see that the eggs she had been attempting to fry were now welded to the pan. The acrid smell of smoke told her the toast was burning and she pulled out the grill pan, tipping the charred bread and a whole lot of crumbs onto the side, before opening the kitchen window and flinging it out for the birds.
"Do I smell breakfast?" a lazy voice asked and Lily turned to see a very bleary-eyed Sirius appearing from his bedroom, rubbing his face vigorously with his hands.
"Sort of," Lily replied, indicating her failed attempts with a wave of her hand.
Sirius gave a derisive snort of laughter and rooted around the floor for something to cover his naked torso. Having given it an experimental sniff he decided on a brown jumper and, pulling it over his head, Sirius sat down at the kitchen table and said with a smile, "Well if you will insist on doing things the Muggle way, Evans..."
"Potter!" Lily corrected before making them both a cup of tea. After loading his with sugar and taking a scalding sip Sirius asked, "Trouble sleeping?"
She could deny it, Lily considered. But what would be the use in that? As short-sighted as Sirius was sometimes he would not believe her if she lied. But he was not exactly known for being the best of listeners. In fact, Lily had to think hard to remember the last time they had a proper conversation at all.
Finally, Lily shook her head and Sirius sighed. "There wasn't much we could do when we got there. We were outnumbered and what with Vodemort..."
"It doesn't matter," Lily reassured him, watching the steam as it rose from the top of her cup. "You did all that you could."
Although Sirius nodded he appeared unconvinced. He leant across the table, his eyes capturing hers with a determined intensity, before he began, "I know James is beating himself up about it. He keeps saying how he should have known, how he should have put his foot down and not let you go."
Lily laughed a little mirthlessly. "That wouldn't have made any difference. I wouldn't have listened."
Sirius' lips pulled into an appreciative smile as he replied, "No, I don't suppose you would have."
"Besides, there was no way to know. No one could have foreseen what would happen?"
"Didn't you have any idea?" Sirius quizzed, clearly ignoring James' heated outburst at the last gathering of the Order when he had instructed everyone "to stop pestering my wife!"
Once again Lily thought back to the letter she had received from Mary. "No...how could I have known?" She remembered how altered Mary had looked from when she had last seen her; so nervous and pale – a shadow of herself – and her hands tightened around the mug she was gripping as she remembered the moment Snape had entered the room. Her chest became tight, her breathing ragged, as Lily thought back to the moment Snape had murdered Mary and she had fallen unconscious to the floor. After that everything was a jumbled mess, each memory slipping further away the more she tried to grasp at them. Dumbledore had encouraged her to take time, that this was only what was to be expected, that this was her brain's way of protecting itself after her terrible ordeal. And every day there were things that came floating back to her; the laughter of Bellatrix, the stare of Voldemort, the taste of blood in her mouth. There was the feeling of being lifted up into someone's arms, of someone helping her, saving her but this all became confused – shot through with memory of pain. She struggled to stop her hands from trembling and pointedly avoided Sirius' eyes as she said, "I don't really want to think about it just now..."
Very slowly, Lily looked up at Sirius beneath her hair and Sirius nodded before tipping his chair back on its hind legs and whistling a low tune under his breath. He looked up, regarding the polystyrene tiles of the ceiling briefly, before turning back to Lily and asking with a characteristically disarming smile, "So what are they saying about me then, in the Order? That I've gone off my rocker since my brother died?"
Although she was pleased that she was no longer the object of scrutiny, Lily was stunned by Sirius' sudden change of subject. Then again, she thought to herself, this was just like Sirius; to be sullen and withdrawn for days on end but then to turn around and with a shrug of the shoulders to dismiss the worry he had caused. "Something like that," Lily replied with a wry smile.
Sirius gave a sharp bark of laughter before setting the four legs of his chair back down firmly on the floor and, after an exasperated sigh, said with a shrug, "There was nothing I could tell them at the Ministry that they didn't already know. I hadn't seen my brother for years. What did they expect me to know?" It didn't seem like he was looking for Lily to answer this question and so she remained silent as he continued, talking as though she wasn't even there, "Sometimes I wonder what might have happened if I hadn't have left home. Maybe things might have turned out differently for him? He wasn't a complete goner then..."
"But you didn't have a choice really..." Lily broached tentatively.
"Still..." Sirius' voice trailed off as he became lost in the thoughts of what might have been. "Who knows what would have happened?"
"Do you regret it then?" Lily asked impulsively, without thinking, eager to find a validation to her own feelings of regret in Sirius' answer.
After considering the question for a moment a slight smile pulled at the corners of his mouth, and he replied in a low voice, "There's a lot of things I regret Lily. But what can I do?"
They sat a while in silence. Sirius turned his eyes to the smeary window through which the sky was gradually giving way to a doubtful grey. A few birds had alighted on the window box outside and were now pecking at the burnt toast. All the while Lily watched Sirius' face carefully as he no doubt became preoccupied with all the things that had happened that he had felt powerless to change. Lily knew that feeling well; understanding completely the helplessness that always came with hindsight. She rose to her feet and stood beside him and, seized by an unexpected maternal desire to comfort him, Lily placed her hand on his shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. This seemed to draw Sirius out of his reverie and in a typically brash gesture he turned his head and planted a firm kiss on the back of Lily's hand.
"Now..." Lily said with a smile, returning to the hob and looking around for the carton of eggs. "How about some breakfast?"
Finally Lily managed to fry the eggs, toast the bread and cook the bacon. Sirius made them both another cup of tea and greedily spread his toast with a generous layer of thick, creamy butter that dribbled down to his chin when he bit into it. It gave Lily great pleasure to see him enjoy it so much and after scrapping the last bits of egg yolk from his plate he leant back and announced, "Well I've got to give it to. You can cook."
Lily placed the empty plates in the sink and Sirius set them to wash with a lazy flick of the wand. "That was hardly gourmet," she joked.
"Still," Sirius said, rubbing his stomach appreciatively. "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."
"You could do with a woman round here," Lily teased, indicating the general mess with a wave of her hand. "Seeming as you're incapable of looking after yourself."
"Ah ha!" Sirius said. "That's where you're a wrong! If I had a woman round here she'd clean, get rid of my things, put potpourri everywhere, insist I eat brown bread..." He began to laugh as he saw Lily's predictable frown that told him she was unimpressed.
"That's hardly a modern attitude, is it?" Lily complained. "Anyone would think you didn't want to attract a woman."
"Now now," Sirius begun with a knowing smile. "We both know that if I wanted to attract a woman it wouldn't exactly be difficult."
"Of course, how could I forget? You're Sirius Black." Sirius laughed sharply. "Come on you're not telling me you don't get...lonely?"
"Sometimes," Sirius confessed with characteristic candour. He smiled warmly. "When you and James got married it sort of made me think...that maybe I was missing something. Then again...how could I ever compete with the golden couple?"
"What's that?" a very befuddled James asked as he entered the room. He was rubbing his goose pimpled arms furiously and his hair stuck up at the back where he had slept on it. He flung himself down on the sofa and, pulling the crocheted throw over him and wrapping it around him. "Bloody freezing here, Padfoot!"
Lily got up from the table and moved over to where James was reclining, sitting down next to him and curling her body against his. He turned and smoothing back her hair gave her a kiss on the forehead.
After grimacing and pulling faces as though he was going to be sick, Sirius stood up. "I'm going back to bed," he announced. "Rather that than watch you two fawn over one another."
"What were you two talking about?" James asked although Lily wasn't really listening as she was too busy watching the gap as Sirius opened his bedroom door. She hadn't realised that there was someone asleep in his bed; a leg was dangling over the side, a sandy head lay obscured amongst the pillows and a shirt lay disregarded on the floor. Sirius looked up and saw that Lily was watching and he gave an insinuating wink before closing the door.
"Nothing," Lily said, barely containing her smile as she snuggled into her husband's arms. "Nothing at all."
Miles away in a house by the sea a man lay twisted in agony on the floor. As another vicious curse tore through his body he refused to cry out and instead fixed his eyes out the window. There was hardly any garden to speak of; the grass spread out for only a matter of metres before the ground dropped away completely to form the chalky cliffs below. Although he could not see it he imagined the sea stretching out away from him, towards the horizon where sky and sea became indistinct. These thoughts swept him away and out of his body, and he felt barely there as he heard a hissing voice say, "You will not fail me again."
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