A/N: I'm not gonna lie: I teared up a bit in writing this. Sirius Black is and will always be my favorite character in the Harry Potter universe, and I've been wanting to write something for him and James for a really long time. This started out as a little three-page attempt at light-hearted humor and turned into this big life-long tale, but I think I like it better this way. It feels, for me, kind of like a tribute to the big part HP has played in my life. I know that's silly and cheesy and trite and makes me sound like I take fanfiction way, way too seriously, and if that's so, that's fine, but this is kinda like saying goodbye now that it's all over.
I hope all of you other diehard SIRIUS IS ALIVE! readers-in-denial feel the same way.
(Summary quote is taken from Flight of the Conchords' "Bret, You've Got it Going On," because Bret and Jemaine are Sirius and James in real life. TRUE FACTS.)
The Anatomy of a Bromance
James and Sirius
James Potter and Sirius Black first meet on the Hogwarts Express. It's not a big thing – they don't look at one another and instantly think hey, we're going to be best mates. They do sit next to each other in a compartment on the train, though, and they do argue about who's going to pay for all the candy and junk food they bought off the nice trolley woman, and they do talk about Quidditch a lot. James figures this makes them mates for a little while, at least until he finally joins Gryffindor and meets some cooler people.
He's beginning to think that Sirius is pretty cool himself, but then Sirius says that he comes from a family of Slytherins. James doesn't know what to think of that; his dad has always said that Slytherins are a bunch of cowards and snakes. Instead of prodding at his new mate – hey, he said he wasn't going to go, right? – James makes fun of that greasy kid, what's his name, the boy that was sitting next to that sniveling red-haired girl, and Sirius says something like, "Where do you want to go, then, since you aren't brainy or scrawny?" and James laughs.
They grin at each other when the compartment door slams shut.
"So, what d'you think of the Cannons?"
"The Cannons! Pssh, it's all about the Falcons…"
Sirius makes it to Gryffindor after all. But then so does that clumsy kid who tripped on his own feet when he was coming off the train and upset his whole trunk onto the platform. The red-haired girl does, too; she isn't very nice, and Sirius and James spend time in their new common room laughing at her.
"Shh, she'll hear you!"
"She's kind of pretty, though," James says, scratching at his head. He notices a girl his age looking at him before she spins around, her face all red. He frowns before turning back to Sirius. "Kind of."
Sirius raises an eyebrow.
"I mean, for a harpy," James corrects himself, shaking his head and trying to look as careless as Sirius. He slumps back in his armchair and clears his throat. "Look at her knobby knees, though."
"Yeah! And her hair – "
A quiet voice over near the fireplace interrupts them. "I don't know, I think she's pretty."
James and Sirius look over at the boy. His hair is light brown and his robes are old and he's got this big scar on his face that makes him look like he was in a war or something. James is kind of intrigued.
Maybe it's because they're both eleven year old boys, or maybe they really could be best mates and have a kind of psychic thing in their minds like those two wizards from the stories of Yawley and Grissom, because Sirius asks, "Hey, what happened to your face?"
The boy grows pale and turns away from them, muttering to himself underneath his breath. That night James and Sirius make up a story about a centaur and a castle and the boy who saves them from an evil warlock. Sirius says that they could probably do it better, brandishing his wand like a sword, and James hits him with a pillow even though he agrees.
"You looked liked a dimwit," James explains when Sirius asks what his problem is.
Sirius rolls his eyes before he grabs his pillow.
"You probably shouldn't have said that."
"You think, Sirius?"
Sirius shrugs. He's not the one covered in lake water and seaweed. He'd like to be, but that's not the point. "You called her fat, mate. Bad move."
"I didn't call her fat," James growls, peeling a strand of seaweed off of his face and throwing it on the ground. "That was you, you stupid duffer."
Placing his hand to his chin, Sirius lounges against the tree and pretends to be thoughtful. He doesn't really have to think about it, because yeah, it had been him, but he just wanted to see the look on Evans' face. "It was, wasn't it?"
James stomps away. Sirius feels a twinge of regret – only a slight twinge, deep, deep in his left pinky toe – before laughing and chasing after him.
"I have an idea."
James throws the book on the table and stands beside Sirius, who is looking disgruntled at this time of the morning. It's like, eleven, though, and James has actually been up for half an hour, reading and taking notes and looking around shiftily. Or guiltily. Probably both.
"What is this?" Sirius asks around a mouthful of disgusting-looking mushy stuff. "It's Sunday, James. I don't want to do homework on a Sunday. I don't want to do homework ever – "
"No, listen," James interrupts, taking a seat next to Sirius. He's a bit close – their shoulders and legs are smushed together, and Sirius kind of smells like he took a bath in dirty socks, but whatever, this is a big, big, big secret – and Sirius makes a sound of protest before James glares at him. Sirius sighs, but he shuts up.
James holds up the book. The Secrets of an Animagi, Book One.
It doesn't take long for Sirius to get it. He looks over at James with surprise and determination and a little bit of awe. "Was this in the Restricted section?"
"And you snuck in and stole it?"
"And you want to do this? To help Remus?"
"He'd say it was stupid, irresponsible…"
James grins. "Yup."
Sirius pushes his mushy breakfast away and stands, tucking the book under his arm. There's a manic glint in his eye that James likes. It means they're about to do something stupid, irresponsible…
"Come on, I know where we can start."
Their first fight isn't over a girl or who snores the loudest or who ate the last treacle tart. It's about Peter.
"I hate that you're spending so much time with him," Sirius mumbles, writing away on a piece of parchment like he's actually concentrating. "He's so…"
"He's so what?"
Defensive for some reason he doesn't entirely get, and maybe a bit indignant, James practically shouts it. Half the classroom looks up, surprised at his sudden outburst. James glares at all of them until they get back to their own bloody business. It's probably not the best time for an argument, but they're talking about it – finally! – so he lowers his voice this time and leans in when Flitwick walks in the other direction. "I thought you liked Peter. What's got your knickers in a knot?"
Sirius grips his quill harder. "He's so stupid!You know how it makes us look, to be hanging out with him? When he trips and falls on his arse in the hallway? It makes us look like arses. Mammoth ones. With moles. Moles, James!"
He leans back. Runs a hand through his hair. Sally Hutaff watches from across the room, her face turning all red, but James doesn't notice. What the hell is Sirius getting at?
"What is this?" he whispers, repressing the laughter in his voice that he's sure is going to come off as mocking. "Are you jealous or something?"
Sirius' quill jumps. "What? No!" he growls, sitting back to stare at his best mate. "Why would I be jealous of Peter?"
A quiet sigh from behind, heavy and irritated, interrupts them. "When you two are done with your lovers' spat, could you let me know? I'm trying to focus."
James lets Sirius turn around and berate Remus this time. He stabs his quill into his inkpot. If Sirius could just learn to share his feelings more often, this wouldn't have to happen all the time.
Sirius makes the team first. It's an obvious choice: he's relentless and has an absurd amount of excess energy that needs to be burned off and swings that bat like it's a natural part of his arm. He's got an enormous bruise on his forehead and his wrist feels like rubber when he leaves the pitch but his grin is wide and contagious. James doesn't even have to ask what went down when they meet in the common room after Beater tryouts.
"Congratulations, mate!" James exclaims, vaulting over parchment, books, furniture, and people to grab Sirius and thump him on the back. "Man! Third year beater! You beat out – haha, get it? – West? And Vivienne? You know she's built like a lorry. I can't believe it! Well, yeah, I can – "
"James, I can't breathe," Sirius grumbles, pushing James back a few paces. He wants to jump up and down a little because he's just that excited, but there are people watching. And he's a guy. Guys don't jump up and down like girls when they're excited.
"You have to tell me what happened!" James says. "Like, did you get it right away or did you have to scrimmage? Were there any – "
Sirius pulls James to their dorm with the intent to tell him everything, but when he shuts the door behind them and James looks at him expectantly, Sirius can't help it. He jumps up and down. Like a girl.
"Oh, my God," James laughs, his head in his hands. "…oh, my God."
Sirius is tempted to scream with his excitement, too, but he makes himself sit down and tell James how Vivienne flew her broom into the ground after Ryan West told her he'd go to Hogsmeade with her if she'd give up. Sirius is laughing so hard he's crying and James is leaning against the bedpost, holding his stomach and shaking with silent mirth.
"Ugh," James says, shaking his head. He's trying to ignore the nagging doubt in the back of his mind that tells him he won't make the team, that Sirius will have all the fun and will leave him behind. He hides it behind teasing, as he always does, even though he knows Sirius will be able to tell. "Could you imagine having to shag her? Bleh."
Sirius sighs and stands up, brushing off his trousers. "Merlin, that is not something I want to think about. Ever. Anyway, Chaser tryouts are in a few hours, yeah? You'd better get ready."
It's not a lot. He doesn't say hey, we're best mates – I know you're going to make it. He just gives that look, helps James up off the floor, and grins, because it's what they do. He could say that, but it'd just make it weird and awkward. And he'd feel like a girl.
Relieved, James is tempted to hug Sirius again, but they've filled their quota for the week. Any more than one and it'd just be weird.
"Thanks, mate," James says.
"Yeah," Sirius says, clearing his throat. He crosses his arms, feeling awkward. "Any time."
"You don't really fancy her, do you?"
"What? Of course not. God, why would you think that?"
"Oh, I don't know, because you haven't stopped staring at her for the past bloody hour?"
"…shut the hell up and pass me that plate."
"You are a horrible liar."
"What should we call ourselves?"
Remus frowns, dragging his eyes away from his book just as reaches the good part. "What do you mean?"
"Well," Sirius says, unaccustomed to having to explain himself. Usually, with James, he can say something, anything, even half-formed, nonsensical thoughts that probably shouldn'tmake sense to anyone else, and James would just get it. "We can't just be… us. That's boring."
Remus' frown deepens. He looks like an old man. "What in the world are you talking about?"
Sighing, Sirius throws his arms up in the air. "We can't just be 'those four blokes from Gryffindor,' you know? When we pull pranks, people need to know it was us. Not… us."
"You aren't making the slightest bit of – "
James jogs up and points behind him. "Peter's coming," he says, and Sirius turns to see a form on the distance, slowly coming towards them… slowly… "So what's going on?"
"I'm trying to tell Remus that we need to call ourselves something so we're not us, and he's all, 'Blah, blah, blah, I'm Remus and I'm dull and nothing Sirius says ever makes sense because it's too brilliant for me to comprehend.'"
"You mean like code names?" James asks.
Sirius' face brightens and he throws a fist into the air. "Yes! Code names!"
Remus sighs and goes back to his book as the two of them toss around possible names for them all. He doesn't intervene except to draw the line on crude and absurd suggestions, and though they scoff at him and tell him that he should suggest something, then, if he has such big ideas, he keeps to his novel. There are some things he just isn't a part of, and their duo of insanity is one of them.
He's okay with that.
"I think you fancy her."
"Well, you're wrong."
"I think you keep asking her out because you know it's safe. I think you don't want her to know you have genuine feelings for her, so you make fun of her instead."
"And I think you're full of shit. Drop it, Sirius."
"What are you afraid of? That she'll say no? She says no every day. You actually talking to her like a human being might – oof! What the fuck was that for, you bloody prat? Get back here! Moony, stop him!"
"What'd you say to him?"
"Just… forget it."
There are some things – few and far between, but a few – that are off limits. Hair, for example. Feelings. Parents. Parents are very off limits, but James can't take it anymore.
"What'd they say?" he asks, trying to find a clean spot to sit. He wipes off a space of bench and takes a seat, cringing as he thinks about the owl poop he's probably got on the back of his trousers.
"They want me to come home for Christmas," Sirius says. "It's not like they bloody asked. 'You'll be coming home over the holidays, and you will get along with your brother and behave the way we raised you.' Which, you know, is code for 'don't fuck up in front of the relatives or you'll be sorry.'"
James makes a sympathetic hmm sound. He hates Sirius' parents. It is possible, he thinks, that he hates Sirius' parents more than Sirius does. His best mate is an amazing person. He's loyal and funny and intelligent and, at the risk of sounding like a complete and utter sap, he knows Sirius deserves better. Which does make him sound like a sap, but it also makes him sound like Remus, which can't be a bad thing, right?
He won't say this, of course, so he puts his arm around Sirius' shoulders instead. There's nobody else in the Owlery – he looked – so they've got, like, fifteen seconds according to the statute of male affection.
"Look, Padfoot," James says, staring at the crumpled up letter in Sirius' fist. "You ought to come to my house for the holiday. My parents, they don't care about all that blood stuff; they'd be glad to have you there. You don't even have to tell your parents – "
Sirius heaves a deep sigh and lights the note on fire. "I will, else they'll come looking for me. But… ask your mum, yeah?"
James drops his arm, makes another hmm sound; Sirius doesn't say thanks. They go back to the common room and play a game of Exploding Snap and Sirius lets James win.
Just this once, though.
James is having a panic attack and Sirius is laughing. He's laughing! At his best mate, who is clearly not in control of himself and is about to be sent into a bout of hyperventilation. And Sirius is laughing.
"I'm sorry, you what?"
"I don't even – " Deep breath. "I didn't expect it." Deep breath. "And I thought she'd say no, so I was just like, 'Hey, Evans, Hogsmeade this weekend?' 'Cause I haven't asked in almost a year, right? And she…" Deep breath. "Oh, Merlin, what am I going to do?"
"She said yes?!"
"I hate you."
"I'm trying to help here. Did you break down before or after she said yes?"
James rolls his eyes. "After. What kind of an idiot do you think I am?"
There's an attack on Hogwarts. They've been waiting for it, to be honest: You-Know-Who has been rising in power, and where else would be the smartest place to hit but a school full of underage wizards and witches with just a slim grasp on offensive magic?
It's a night of firsts. The first time James and Sirius fight alongside one another. The first time Sirius kills someone. The first time Lily kisses James. The first time James tells Sirius he loves him. It seems backwards, like he should be telling Lily he loves her, because, God, he does, but he's loved Sirius for years now – in that brotherly, platonic way – and they're best mates. They could've died.
Lily's unconscious in his arms, the gash on his forehead is bleeding profusely, and Sirius is slouching against the wall with his wrist cradled in his lap, staring at nothing. James thinks he's about to pass out, but they're in some kind of hidden enclave in some obscure part of the castle and James knows that they need to get out of there, need to find the others and start healing themselves.
"Sirius, mate," James rasps, nudging his leg. Lily's head lolls against his shoulder. James is terrified. "Padfoot."
Sirius' eyes, alert, cautious, so animalistic, snap to his. James waits for the adrenaline to die down before he nods to Sirius' wrist. "You alright?"
"Yeah," he says. He leans his head back against the wall and closes his eyes. "Prongs…"
James shakes his head. His voice is rough and hurts his throat when he tries to speak, but he's got to keep talking or he's going to lose it. "I know. I know, man. We're fine, though. We're… I mean, you and me and Lily, and Remus was with Peter and Dorcas, right? They're fine. We did it."
"I just – when that bastard was at your throat… I didn't… I didn't think, I just…"
"He would've killed us first," James says, low and grave. He reaches over to kick Sirius in the shin and bring his eyes back. "He had a knife to my neck. They had Lily. There was nothing else you could've done – you saved our lives, Padfoot."
"I just don't – I never wanted to be like them – "
James wants to move, wants to go to Sirius and cuff him about the head and tell him how stupid he's being. It's understandable, what he's feeling, but Sirius is so unlike his parents that it's absurd. He is not a Black, not in any sense of the word. He ought to know that by now.
"Listen to me. You're my best mate and I love you, and you'll never hear me say that again, alright? You are not anything like them. We won't let that happen to you."
Sirius clenches his jaw and looks away, biting out a rough, "Yeah."
They're quiet for a few moments as James tries to rouse Lily and Sirius twists his wrist experimentally every couple of seconds. There's a sniff. James looks up.
"Uh, are you… crying? I mean, it's cool, but – "
"No," Sirius says, laughing. He carefully pushes himself to his feet and helps James to lift Lily. "Men don't cry, arse."
James raises an eyebrow. "I just told you I love you. I'm sure men don't say that, either."
"Yes, well, we've always known you were the more effeminate one."
One day Lily and Sirius get in a fight over who knows James better. He's neither upset nor surprised when Sirius wins – he's his best mate. Was it really a fair competition in the first place?
Still, though. Later, when Lily is sleeping and he and Sirius are still hanging around near the fireplace, James sighs and says, "You should probably let her win next time."
She won't have a chance.
They graduate. There's crying. There's hugging and laughing and kissing, but mostly there's crying. Mostly from Lily.
"I'm just," she hiccups, grabbing onto Sirius' robes and burying her face in his chest. "I'm just – I'm s-sad. I was s-so mean to you, and you're one of my best mates and I can't imagine life without you and I'm s-sorry, Padfoot – "
Sirius, for his part, looks sad, too. He sweeps her up in his arms and makes a big show of swinging her around in a circle before planting her on her feet and kissing her forehead. Everybody laughs. Lily laughs, for her part, but her face is still damp and she hides in James' neck as he shakes the hands of people they might not ever see again. McGonagall even gets a little teary as she lets them hug her, one infuriating Marauder after another, and she doesn't glare when they kiss her on the cheek and tell her they'll miss her over the summer.
They mean it this time.
When things die down and they have about an hour until the train arrives – they can Apparate home, but Lily's steadfastly decided that she wants to take the train one last time and nobody disagrees with her – the five of them go outside and sit near the lake. The sunset is bittersweet, and as they sit in a comfortable silence, all of them undoubtedly thinking the same things, reliving the same memories, James can find nothing to regret. He looks at Remus and Peter on his left and he smiles; he looks down at Lily and kisses her, long and deep and everything, everything, everything; and he looks to his right, to Sirius, his brother in all the ways that matter, and grabs his hand. Sirius doesn't let go.
They watch the sun fall and paint patterns on the vibrant green hills of their collective childhood, and James cries. But just a little.
"I can't believe we have our own flat."
Sirius grins with all of his teeth, clinking his bottle of Firewhiskey against James' with too much vigor. They both spill a little alcohol on the couch and laugh too hard when they shrug in unison, aware that, hell, it's their flat, what's a stain going to matter?
"Lily said it was too soon for us to live together, so thanks for lookin' out, mate," James says, taking a long swig and looking around their bachelor pad. Or one-bachelor-and-one-taken pad. Or something. Whatever. He's had too much to drink to think about smart things like that.
"Hey," Sirius says, sweeping his hair out of his face. "You remember that time Lily and I snogged, back in fourth year? You were so angry that you didn't talk to me for a week. Merlin, I'm glad Moony was there for that."
James pauses with the bottle halfway to his mouth. The room stops. "What?"
"Yeah, mate. You don't remember that?"
"Uh," James says. He's trying not to get worked up. He's trying to keep himself from smashing the bottle against the table and fighting Sirius with the broken end, something they've always wanted to try since seeing it on the old muggle movies from Lily's house. But he's not playing around this time. "No. I don't remember that."
Sirius has the decency, even in his half-drunk stage, to shift uncomfortably in his chair. "Maybe I was just dreaming that. It happens sometimes, you know? You have really bizarre dreams – like shagging McGoogles in the broom cupboard – and then when you wake up you feel like they're real? And you try to flirt with Minerva and she gives you detention for a week? Yeah. So… just a dream. Disregard."
James has been drinking too much. He's not quite sure where his bottle goes, but in the next second he's flying over the coffee table and tackling Sirius to the floor.
The next day, as Remus is tending to their various bruises and broken furniture, he calls them stupid and irresponsible and asks them if they need him to baby sit for a while. He tells them to apologize to each other, like good boys, and they do, albeit inaudibly and with unwillingness. James fixes the splintered coffee table and Sirius fixes the recliner and they sit in silence for about two minutes before Sirius buckles and says, "Can we go to Zonko's?"
James jumps up. "I'll get pants!"
"I thought we were playing Guess What I Just Ate again."
"No, but we need to do that again soon. Look, I have something important to tell you, and I need you to not be an asshole, because it's a big deal."
"I asked Lily to marry me."
"And she said yes?"
"Why are you always surprised?"
It's not something they've ever really talked about. Well, they've talked about it before, in detail, ad nauseum, but they never really said, hey, you're my best mate – we're going to do this together. They always knew they wanted to be Aurors; they always knew they wanted to work together; but it never seemed like a chance, the both of them getting in and being assigned as partners, so they never discussed it.
Luckily they work well as a team. Well may not be the right word, Sirius thinks. They work together like two minds of the same creature. James' weaknesses are Sirius' strengths, and he would say vice versa, but please, Sirius Black does not have any weaknesses.
…Okay, he does, and James fills in for them nicely, but their confidence is something that keeps them apart from the rest. They were trained separately, but when they had the chance to work together and the trainers saw how quickly and efficiently they moved through the exercises, how they came up with completely new approaches to old and tried tests, they were stuck together without second thought.
Now they're running missions and catching bad guys and kicking ass together, and it's pretty damn brilliant. It's like Hogwarts all over again except infinitely more dangerous and infinitely more fun. They're actually doing important stuff, here. They're actually saving lives.
Sirius is just thankful their friends never get tired of it.
At their weekly get-together-dinner: "Oh, oh, and there was Prewett, just standing there like he'd gotten smacked in the face! What? Haha, no! He just stood there! James – James, you have to do his voice, you're perfect when you – see! See! Just like that! Merlin's balls, it was great."
Before bed: "Lily, you just can't imagine what it was like. Here we were, cornered, just the two of us – stop laughing! This is serious. Yeah, you're lucky I love you. Anyway, we were standing there, and I was thinking, 'Oh, God, here I am, about to die in an abandoned building, and I don't have clean knickers on. Lily's going to disown me.'"
In the library, visiting Remus: "We can't 'pipe down,' Remus! We're heroes! They're going to print an article in the paper – yes, I'm serious! Okay, you wait. The headline's going to read: MASKED MARAUDERS SAVE THE DAY. No, we weren't really masked. You have no sense of humor; go read your microfiche and put on your sweater vest. Come on, James, let's moose. Ugh, yes, Remus, I know it's vamoose."
Soon, they make their own t-shirts and wear them when they're out and about. They've got a great big phoenix on the front – flaunting the secret Order without really flaunting it – and Lily makes fun of them, calling them fabulous and rolling her eyes every time Sirius walks by and flexes his muscles in his tight t-shirt, but she's just jealous she's not in their club.
"She's always been jealous," Sirius says as he throws his shirt in the wash.
James nods solemnly in the doorway.
Sirius has been smoking for a few years now. When he starts to get a bad cough during missions and can't breathe as well as he used to, Lily gets worried and convinces him to go to a muggle doctor. He's suspicious and is convinced that nothing's wrong with him, but he humors her and goes. He makes fun of the experience the whole time he's there.
While Sirius is in with the doctor, Lily and James are sitting in the waiting room. Lily's explaining what cancer is and what can happen to Sirius' lungs if he does end up having cancer. Quiet and patient, he listens to her softly explain tumors and treatments, her thumb rubbing small circles on his hand. He remembers that her mother died from cancer, remembers how torn up Lily was for a majority of her fifth year, and James thinks that if anything happens to Sirius like what happens to Lily's mum, James will never forgive the prat.
Sirius is smiling as he enters the waiting room, his hands up: safe. James doesn't fight it. He stands up, pulls back his arm, and punches Sirius square in the jaw.
She actually asks it aloud. "Who do you want to be your best man, James?"
He stops. Stares at her. Doesn't answer. What kind of a stupid question is that? Who does he want his best man to be? Seriously?
Maybe he needs to rethink this marriage thing.
As it turns out, Sirius does not make a horrendously embarrassing best man speech at their wedding. The only people there are their close family and friends, so it'd wouldn't be a big deal, but Lily is so visibly relieved that James has to chuckle.
"I don't want to take long, and I don't really have much to say that we all don't know already," Sirius says, holding a champagne flute in one hand. He doesn't need a wand to magnify his voice; they're so few, and already so close, that he can just look out at them all and speak his mind. His other hand can't make up its mind and alternately hides in his pocket, runs through his hair, and rests on James' shoulder. Sometimes he gestures with it. Sometimes James watches it shake as it hangs at his side.
"We all know how these two came to be – it just so happens that I had a special backstage seat. I won't reveal all the nasty details – they'd probably take me into the loo afterwards and drown me in a toilet – but I can tell you that this is where they belong. Lil, I know you hated me beyond belief; had to hear it every day; and sometimes I wanted to call you a harpy and trap you in a closet. But I just want you to know that you are my sister, and I love you, and if there's anybody that I would want James to marry, it is you."
Lily covers her mouth with a trembling hand and scrambles to her feet to reach her husband's best friend – her best friend. He puts his glass down and wraps his arms around her and James watches as they whisper to one another. He'll never find out what they say – sometimes he will think about it, but he'll always decide that it's not his right to know. He hears them whisper to one another "I love you" as they pull away, though, and it makes him absurdly happy that his best mate doesn't think his wife is a nagging, irritating twit and his wife doesn't think his best friend is a sloppy, immature waste of life, so it's good. Love all around.
James looks up. Sirius looks at the crowd. "James has been my best mate since we stepped foot on the train to Hogwarts. I didn't know it then and I'm sure he thought I was going to end up following in my parents' footsteps; but what he doesn't know is that he kept me from that. We've done plenty of illegal and dangerous stuff in the past eight years, mate, and I expect it to continue until we're well past a hundred."
Only then does he turn to look at James. "You once told me that I saved your life. And while that was true, I need you to know that you saved mine from a fate far worse than death. Thank you."
James stands. He hesitates for a moment; he feels like he needs to say something – because something needs to be said, because the sincerity in Sirius' voice makes him emotional, because he has a lump in his throat the size of a Quaffle – but Sirius' lips quirk upward into a crooked smile and James moves to hug him. They stand like that for a long period of time, longer than they probably should, but it's not weird or awkward.
"Are you crying?"
"…would it make me the effeminate one if I said yes?"
"Your kid just puked on my face."
"I'm sure it wasn't on purpose, Padfoot. Then again, he's a genius already…"
"Why would he want to projectile vomit all over his godfather's face?"
"Because you deserve it? Did you withhold his milk from him? Don't you dare torture my son just because you covet my beautiful wife and my fantastic house."
"…is she standing right there?"
"Want me to tell you how cool it looks later?"
"Have fun on your date. I'll save some for you to examine later."
"Eugh, that's just… Bye, Padfoot. Be careful with my son, please."
They switch. It's his idea – of course it's his idea, it's brilliant – but he hates it. Something about Peter has always seemed off to him, but James trusts him, and if James is willing to put his family's life in the hands of Peter Pettigrew, then so be it. Sirius will have to trust him, too.
Still: it makes him nervous. He's not afraid that Voldemort's going to come after him; that's inevitable. Voldemort's coming after them all. Sirius is afraid that something's going to happen to Lily, to the baby, to James. He's afraid that he won't be able to get there in time. At night he has dreams that wake him up in a cold sweat, grasping the telephone to call them in the early hours in the morning to check up on them.
"Uh, hey. Look, I'm sorry, I know it's early, but…"
"Everything's okay, Sirius," James says, his voice thick with sleep. Sirius thinks there's a little bit of laughter underneath the fond annoyance in his words. "Lily's sleeping, Harry's sleeping, I was sleeping. The wards are up and the lights are out and all is quiet and peaceful in Godric's Hollow. We're all okay."
"I know, but…" he bites his lip. He's acting obsessive and paranoid and he knows it, but something's making him antsy. "Maybe I'll go on a run, let Padfoot out for a while."
"Mmm… That's – that's a good idea…"
"You sure everything's alright? You'll send a Patronus if you need me?"
James chuckles. "Yes, right away. Now let me sleep."
"Alright. 'Night, Prongs," Sirius says, hanging up the phone. He glances at the calendar before grabbing his coat and making sure his wand is tucked safely in his pocket. The wards are locked behind him, everything shut tight, and Sirius lets Padfoot free with awaited relief before he reaches the tree line.
He'll always remember that night as the Night Before. When he'll sit in prison, staring at the walls, the falling sun casting ugly shadows over the cold, wet floors, he will always regret not going to their home the next day.
He won't cry. He'll plan.
When he's not stuck in his own misery or planning his escape or forcing nightmares out of his painful sleep, he tries to remember. Tries to remember James' face, the way he would laugh, the way they would crouch inside of small closets with handfuls of dungbombs and their ears pressed to the doors, waiting for the reactions. Tries to remember Lily and her bright red hair and knobby knees and the way she would help him with the rare piece of homework that he failed to understand, the way she started to kiss him on the cheek in their seventh year, the way she was so unselfishly understanding about his need to spend time with James. Tries to remember little Harry's face, so innocent and loving, his gummy grin a bright light in a dark world.
He tries to remember Remus. He tries to remember Remus' unabashed loyalty, and he tries to hope – in a place stripped of such an absurd thing – that Remus has figured out what had happened. He tries to hope that Remus knows he would never turn in James and Lily, knows that he would rather sacrifice himself before he turned his best friends over.
And he remembers Peter. There is no trying – Peter's face runs in everything he sees. On the days that the dementors are particularly vicious, Sirius makes sure that he hangs on to Peter's face, because that will bring back the rest. And it does.
He will get out, he will find Peter, and he will kill him.
He'd never been jealous of Peter – he'd been wary. Wherever James was, he would have to learn to understand that.
The first time Sirius comes face-to-face with Harry, years later, he is momentarily stunned. It doesn't last long – it can't, really; he never has time to spare anymore – but he feels physically ill, out of breath, dizzy. He is James and Lily's son, completely and wholly. He wants to take the kid into his arms and never, ever let go, to apologize for not being there, for not taking up where his parents couldn't like he had promised, for not coming to their home when he should've, for a lot of things that had been out of his power but had weighed on his shoulders until he had broken.
Harry looks so much like James it's unreal. He gets them confused sometimes, when things have been settled, when he has more time to look. It's Harry's fifth year and they're fighting and it's so much like the past – all they'd need are tight t-shirts with emblazoned phoenixes. He smiles to himself, thinking that as soon as they get out of here, he'll have to get on that – and then beside him, a bright flash of light –
"Nice one," Sirius shouts, trying to fend off his crazy bitch of a cousin and protect his best friend – no, his best friend's son, this is Harry, not James, and he fires off a few spells as Harry gets away –
But then it's over. He's vaguely aware of meeting Remus' eyes, then Lil – Harry's before his head falls back. It's cold. There are voices. There are hundreds, thousands, millions of voices; it's black and cold and he's just floating, at peace for the first time in over a decade. He falls asleep. It's not dreamless, but he doesn't want it to be – these dreams are full of the things he'd always said he'd pay to live again. Friends, family. Light.
He sleeps, and in his sleep, they are reunited.
Sirius blinks. It's bright as hell and something smells good. He can't place it but he knows he's smelled it somewhere before. It's like… it's a mix of things, all of them pleasant, and it makes his mouth water.
"Should we get some water or something?"
"What would we do with water?"
"Dump it on his head? Drown him?"
"What! He's already dead, it's not like he's going to die again. Where else would he go?"
"I don't think I want to find out. Can you stop pacing?"
It's too familiar. He screws his eyes shut, groans, and presses the heels of his hands into his eyes. Too familiar, too impossible. He's knows that he's dead and it's pretty likely that those voices belong to who he thinks they belong to, but there's no way… he'll just go back to sleep. Slowly he slips back into a near unconsciousness and is thankful that the memory of them isn't too painful anymore. Just when he thinks he'll sink back into the cooling, soft darkness again, there's a sharp pricking on his arm, then laughter.
He sits up but immediately shuts his eyes again.
James and Lily.
"I'm – this isn't – no."
Lily's hands pull his fingers from his face. "Open your eyes, Sirius."
It's green. There's green as far as the eye can see – vibrant green hills, vibrant green trees. There's a lake to his east, shining underneath the high angle of the sun, and far off in the distance there's a towering castle, smiling at him from afar.
And his best friends, dressed in white, are with him.
"Oh, my God," he says, and when he stands, Lily's hand warm and small in his, his feet are bare in the grass. There's a breeze blowing through the leaves of the tree they're standing under. James' glasses glint in the sunlight.
Sirius doesn't know what to say to them. He's dead. He failed their son – he failed Remus – he failed Dumbledore and McGonagall and Hagrid and Moody – he failed himself – he failed them. He's so, so damn sorry, but he's not able to feel remorse at the moment. Not here, where everything is perfect. Maybe he'll feel it again sometime, but for right now…
"We've missed you," James says, ducking his head and running a hand through his hair.
Sirius laughs because it's all he can do. And then his mouth opens.
"You look nice in those trousers."
James just looks at him. Lily giggles.
Sirius coughs. "Just wanted to let you know."
"Uh, thanks, mate. Now come on, let's show you around. You've got a long story to tell."