EDIT: What in the holy heck...! I apologize. I had no idea the formatting of this story got all haywire, and I'm not ever sure how that happened! YIKES! I was horrified when I saw it! Thank you to the reviewer that pointed that it to me in your review.
Anyway, here's the original story in a properly formatted version. Whew! Enjoy...(again).
Sirius dropped the metal tool he held and immediately jammed a greasy, black thumb into his mouth, sucking on the pad and tasting the coppery flavor of his own blood, mingled with the foul taste of petrol. Turning his head, he spit out the offensive substances on the pavement and swore under his breath. Fifth cut today, he thought staring at his hand, noting the way his knuckles were raw and scraped, as if he'd dragged them over a cheese grater. He was averaging one cut per hour now. Not bad.
Well...better than usual anyway.
Of course, usually James was there to help him, or heckle him endlessly (which was really more like it), teasing him about actually working on that ridiculous machine with real Muggle tools and equipment just like a Muggle would. James never had understood the romance of building and maintaining something with your own hands. Magic was convenient and clean and quick and foolproof-well...nearly-but now and again Sirius just liked to get his hands dirty. Not that Sirius hadn't tried to explain this to James a number of times before...
"Hand me that wrench, would you Potter?"
James looked down and considered the pile of tools lying in the lawn next to his feet and blinked. "Which one's the wrench?"
Sirius sighed. "It's a...a wrench. I don't know how else to explain it. It's got a little mouth on it that opens when you turn a little dial-"
"This one?" James asked hopefully, handing him an object.
"No, that's a screwdriver-"
"This one?" James asked, holding out another choice.
"No," Sirius gritted out in irritation, "that's another screwdriver."
"Why would you have two screwdrivers?" James frowned as he inspected the one he held a little more closely. They looked like the exact same thing to him.
"They handle different kinds of screws," Sirius explained phlegmatically.
James shook his head and dropped the tool, picking out another one. "Is this it?"
Sirius growled at the hammer James now held out and flipped himself over on his stomach, shooting his friend a dark look as he crawled the short distance over and snatched the correct tool from the pile near James' feet. James grinned broadly down at him, in a way that hinted to Sirius James' intention to have picked through every single tool, one-by-one, handing them each over to him until he'd come over the correct choice. Rolling his dark eyes, Sirius flopped back down on his back beside his motorcycle and busied himself with the wrench.
"You and your Muggle toys," James teased as he watched Sirius with the same kind of rapt enthusiasm he reserved for such exciting events as watching flobberworms race or fish sleep.
"It's not a toy," Sirius said defensively, "and maybe if you actually read that Muggle book I leant you, you'd understand."
"I read it," James insisted. "What was it called again? Art and...motorcycle...Zen, or something?"
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. And if you had read it you would have remembered."
"Yeah, that's it," said James, picking up another random tool beside him. This one was infinitely more interesting-it had long handle and a dial attached to it that you cranked in a counterclockwise rotation. It seemed to make pleasant clicking sound as he turned it, even tough James couldn't fathom what on earth it could be used for. "And I did so read it, I just don't see how all that rhetoric has anything to do with what you're tinkering with now, Si."
"Then you should read it again," Sirius suggested distractedly, fully engrossed in the guts of his machine and his whatchamacallit tool. "It's not about tinkering with toys or Muggle things; it's not about things at all. It's about learning a craft simply to enjoy it, not because it has a specific purpose or because you have to. Naturally, I could just wave my wand and repair this bike, and there would never be anything wrong with it again, but there's no challenge in having everything done for you with a few easy words and a flick of my wrist..." Sirius was now sitting up, waving his arms animatedly as he spoke, until his eyes met James' myopic blue ones as he sat with his chin resting in his hand. Sirius made a sound as if he would continue, but James feigned a yawn. "Fine," he grumbled. "Fine. I do it because I like to fiddle with things. Happy?"
"No," James smiled knowingly, "but I know what would make me happy..."
"Two pints of mulled mead at the Leaky Cauldron...my treat?" James wiggled his eyebrows invitingly.
Sirius considered this with a sigh and found that he really couldn't argue with that.
Been almost a year and he still has that book, Sirius thought with a snort. James had a natural born talent for borrowing things and never remembering to return them. Sirius reckoned he had leant half his library to the Potter's household and had never seen a single one of them come back to him yet. Not that it mattered; at least he knew right where they were and they were probably more useful and better cared for at James' and Lily's residence than stacked in the musty cellar of his own. It always gave him a good excuse to go over and borrow the Potter's library anyway and spend a little time with his friends...
Won't be doing that much anymore.
"Come off it Black, you're doing it again," he muttered derisively to himself, tightening a random screw with more force than strictly necessary. "You should be happy for them." Sirius dumped his screwdriver and snatched up a socket wrench, yanking off the attachment and choosing another one, punctuating his words as he snapped one on, tried it, pulled it off, slammed it down and grabbed another. "After all, Lily will be a wonderful mum," (slam!) "...and James is gonna be a great dad, who wouldn't want them as parents? Hell, I wish they'd adopt me!" (slam!) "Just all the more Potterses to love, right Sirius?" (slam!) "It's what married couples do 'round the world, you knew it'd eventually happen. It's perfectly natural, so why are you so put out? It's not like you'll be losing anything..."
Just the two people you've ever loved more than anything in your whole life.
Sirius jerked his head up and blinked in disbelief at the chassis on his bike: evidentially, he'd just driven the wrench right through the metallic body without even realizing it. Releasing a forlorn sigh, he buried his face in his soot-covered hands and attempted to yank fistfuls of his hair out by the roots. This was getting him absolutely nowhere...
Ever since the Potter's had announced Lily's pregnancy, Sirius couldn't help but feel that he was being pushed aside. Rightfully so; after all, new parents had much more things to worry about than their friends flaking out. Still, he felt it all the same, and much as he tried to cope with the idea that Lily and James weren't going to be able to devote as much time to him as they had in the past, Sirius couldn't help but feel like he'd already lost them somehow. The worst part about it was he couldn't even talk to anyone about it. James, his best friend since their first year at Hogwarts, had always been there to lend an ear anytime something had bothered him. More over, James was one of the few people he trusted enough to tell him anything. How could he even begin to tell James this?
Remus... Remmy might understand...if Sirius even knew where he was. Sirius had, on occasion, a mind to track him down and take him up on his offer to travel the countryside with him instead of sitting and rotting in his flat on Legerdemain Lane in the southwest side of central northeast London, hidden at the end of-where else?-Hyde Park. Remus' offer had become even more tempting now that Lily and James had recently broached the subject of moving once the new baby arrived, but he just couldn't bring himself to leave it all behind. Remus had his reasons for going off alone, and while tempting as it might be to follow in his tracks, Sirius preferred a simpler and more stationary way of life. London was his home and it was what he knew. Once in a while he still even saw Peter, the fourth member of the infamous Marauders, but lately Peter seemed to be too busy with work to pay much attention to old friends any longer. Maybe Remus' offer wasn't so bad after all...
It was heartbreaking for Sirius to know that he was slowly losing his friends' devoted interest-he could hardly deny that he'd always loved being the center of attention. But more than that, he could literally feel them slipping away one-by-one. First Remmy, then Peter...next would be Lily, whom he'd come to love as a sister...and then James... James. Best friends for life...partners-in-crime...brothers-in-arms. The Potter's were like family to him...his only family. Losing them was hardly more than he could bear.
Worse yet, everything he did to try and distract himself from thinking about it seemed to remind him of them more; Lily would've said this, or James would've done that...he knew them so well he could predict their every reaction to anything. But now even working on his bike, one of his favorite pastimes, was consumed with memories of James as he would prattle on endlessly over Quidditch statistics while Sirius listened with half an ear, nodding and agreeing on cue just as old friends do when they don't really listen to each other, but welcome the company all the same. They spent many warm, lazy days together in this fashion; Sirius was very good with his hands and there was little he couldn't fix, given enough time and thought, and James never seemed to really mind keeping him company. But this he couldn't fix no matter how long or hard he thought about it. And in this case, thinking about it seemed to only make it worse. He knew he'd have to face up to it all sooner or later...he'd just rather it was later.
"Fix that, Sirius," he mumbled through numb lips as he lay still, staring at bike as though it wasn't even there. "Then fix it, Dear Sirius, Dear Sirius, Dear Sirius..." Sirius stared for a long time at nothing in particular until his eyes seemed to want to dry up and crumble to ash. Sweat and grime dripped from his face that was smeared nearly as black as his hair and his limbs felt heavy as if his bones were made of lead. But he marveled with a mild sort of awe as he lay there that he didn't care what he was feeling anymore. As if a void had opened up in front of him and swallowed him whole. Just...empty.
Finally, he shook his head as if waking up from a dream. "The bike," he said as if suddenly remembering a key ingredient in a potion mixture. "Fix the bike, Stupid. How do you expect it to run with a wrench fused through the center of it? Blimey..."
Picking himself up off the ground, he wiped his hands and face on his black t-shirt and trudged back into his flat to find his book of spells and incantations that would hopefully give him the spell he needed to remove an object impaled unnaturally through another object. There had to be a spell for that. There were spells to make cinnamon buns tastier, it was only logical there had to be something for this. "Potter would know," he said with a snort. "He'd know right off the top of that pointed head..." A small, joyless smile curved at the corner of his mouth as he stepped inside. "Maybe I'll send him an owl later and ask him if I can't find it. He probably has my book for it anyway..."
Half an hour later, Sirius emerged from his flat wearing the same grubby attire, now covered with a little more dust kicked up from down inside the cellar. His nose stuck firmly in a book, he muttered to himself as he read aloud. "Let's see, here... Extensions...Extinguish...Extirpation... Ah! Here we are. Extractions."
He skimmed down the page of spells, reading the descriptions as he searched for the one he needed. "For the painless extraction of teeth? Ugh, no. Extracting information? Hmm...have to remember to look at that one later... Here we go. To extract one solid mass from another without damaging either object, simply say the words 'Res Evoco' and-" Suddenly, a very familiar and insistent shriek caught his immediate attention, and Sirius looked up sharply to see Squeak, one of James' and Lily's owls, perched up on the handlebars of his motorbike. Sirius frowned.
"Squeak?" he said walking suspiciously over to the animal. "What are you doing here?" Squeak was a barn owl, small but fast and used primarily to deliver brief messages over short distances. Emergencies... Rarely did the Potter's ever send Squeak to him. It was usually one of the other two larger owls... "Let's see what you've you got there, hmm?" He carefully pulled a small scroll of parchment attached to the owl's leg, for which he received an impatient flurry of feathers. He attempted to pet the owl's head hoping to calm the excited bird, but instead just narrowly escaped being nipped on the hand. "Calm down, for Merlin's sake, Squeak," he reprimanded, and immediately felt rather stupid for chastising a bird.
He unrolled the parchment and, at once, recognized James' handwriting, barely legible and hastily written as it was.
"'Rushed Lily to Charring Cross Hospital. Forgot her overnight bag in bedroom wardrobe. Please come quickly. James'. What in the...? Is Lily in labor?" Squeak flapped his wings anxiously once again. "But that's impossible," Sirius argued. "She's not due for another six weeks, at least!"
The owl bobbed its head three times, seemingly understanding the definite urgency of the situation. Sirius could do nothing but stare frozen in position at Squeak, still clutching the note in one hand and spell book in the other.
How...? Lily was so healthy, the ideal model for all expecting mothers. ...wasn't she? Had she been sick and Sirius not noticed? Good god, would James try to hide that from him, too? Had he really been avoiding them that long?
Suddenly, it felt as though the earth had vanished from beneath Sirius' feet and he was in a freefall.
"Oh my god."
Dropping the paper roll from his hand, Sirius knelt in front of his bike and spread the book on the pavement before him. Pulling his wand from his back pocket, he grabbed what he could hold of the wrench handle, tapped his wand and announced, "Res Evoco!" At once, the wrench pulled free with a horrible screech that made him wince slightly. He threw the tool to the ground and mounted his bike, shooing Squeak away with a wave of his hand. The owl seemed only happy to comply, taking flight once again.
Kicking the motorbike to life, he revved the engine as he backed out into the street, and in moments he was tearing down Legerdemain Lane towards a dead end. Pulling up on the handlebars just seconds before colliding right into the front wall of a block of flats lining the end of the cul-de-sac, Sirius was airborne and climbing sharply, blessing the infamous London fog that would hide his flight as Squeak lead the way back to the Potter residence. Not that Sirius needed to know the way...
As he flew through the thick sky, cold air biting at his bare arms and untamed hair slapping his face, he could only think of one thing: Everything will be alright. Over and over he repeated this in his head. He didn't dare consider the alternative. Lily and the baby were going to be fine...
Fortune and speed were apparently smiling on Sirius, for he flew the entire trip undetected by any Muggle who might've happened to be looking up at the sky around 3:37 PM that day. Besides, who would've ever believed a black and chrome motorcycle, ordinary in every way apart from one slightly puzzling bumper sticker affixed to the back tire guard that read "Broomsticks are for Faeries" could fly anyway?
Not half-an-hour later, Sirius touched down in a hidden alley behind Charring Cross Hospital, barely bothering to park his bike properly before jumping off and sprinting into the old building, Lily's carpet bag swinging heavily by his side as he cantered through the hallways. He ignored the confused glances he drew from Muggles as he stopped to ask, in near-frantic tone, directions to the third floor boiler room from a passing nurse.
As soon as he found the boiler room and opened the hidden passage into the Wizard's Ward, he took off in another sprint through the hall and finally rounded the corner of a long, white, sparsely decorated marble lobby. He caught sight of James at the far end dressed casually in jeans and a T-shirt, nervously pacing the floor as he raked his fingers through his slightly messier-than-normal black hair. He looked a wreck-not the image of a father-to-be anxiously awaiting for his newborn child's arrival, but worried and gaunt, with dark circles under his eyes, skin the color of paste...and red streak marks running vertically down his slim face.
James had been crying.
Oh god, no... Please, no...not Lil'.
Sirius stopped and took a deep breath. Everything will be alright. He simply refused to believe anything else. After all, Sirius had seen James worried plenty of times. He'd looked this way back in school before every Quidditch match, before finals... But-James crying? He could only remember seeing James this upset twice in all the years he'd known him. Not pleasant memories, in the least. But Sirius was there now and at least James was also still there and looking like there was something yet to worry about. Worrying was still far better than grieving in his book. Sirius felt a knot swell up in his own throat. Everything will be alright, he told himself again, swallowing thickly.
As he approached, he realized James was not alone. Hovering fretfully nearby stood old Wormtail himself, Peter Petigrew, wringing his hands and fidgeting with his long, brown wizard's robe. A pang of hollow jealousy surged through him upon seeing Peter at James' side-where Sirius should have been. Internally reprimanding himself, he frowned harshly at his own betraying thoughts. Just Be glad they had someone trustworthy close by... Sirius approached and stood in front of them as James and Peter both glanced up and stared at him blankly. Peter, at once, averted his eyes and dropped his gaze to the floor; James' blue eyes were glistening bright with unshed tears behind the glasses balanced on the bridge of his nose. He stared awkwardly at Sirius before lowering his own gaze, pretending to straighten his specs.
Sirius studied his face for a moment, unsure what to do or say. It was as if his throat had suddenly dried up and he couldn't remember how to speak. He swung Lily's carpet bag off his shoulder and held it out, and James took it and embraced it to his chest like a lifeline. Finally, Sirius cleared his throat a few times and asked hoarsely, "What happened?"
Peter let out a small squeak next to him and motioned to James. "I'll go get you some tea, James, how's that sound?" James seemed to barely hear the question, but nodded his head anyway. "How can I make it for you?"
"Whatever..." James answered softly. "You know how I like it, Peter. It's been the same since school..."
"Right." With a curt nod, Peter scurried by Sirius without a second glance in his direction, and then off down the hallway leaving Sirius and James alone.
For a long moment, James just stood there grasping Lily's bag close to him, refusing to meet Sirius' piercing eyes. Sirius had seen the flicker of pain glint across James' face when had asked his question, but as he took a breath to ask it again just to be sure it had registered, James closed his eyes wearily and drew in a shaky breath of his own. "She collapsed," he said through a broken whisper. "She was fine...and then she collapsed..." His voice trailed off as if it had left him, looking as though he was about to physically suffer the same fate as his wife.
Sirius stepped quickly forward and grasped his friend by the elbow, leading him swiftly to a row of chairs behind them and guiding James to sit down. Sirius sat next to him, keeping a comforting hand on James' shoulder. James didn't protest.
"Where is she now?" Sirius gently queried.
"Don't know," James replied with a weak shrug. "Haven't seen her since I brought her in. Healers are looking at her now, I suppose."
"How long have you been here?"
Another indecisive shrug. "Few hours?"
Sirius beat down the wave of frustration welling up in the pit of his stomach. He'd only received the message from Squeak not even a full hour ago, and even if Squeak had been waiting for Sirius while he'd been in his cellar, it couldn't have been that long. Had Squeak been sent to fetch Peter first and then on to Sirius? Once again, he felt a begrudging sting toward Peter and a slight resentment to James for this. And once again he had to remind himself how ridiculous he was being. Peter worked right on Diagon Alley; one of the other owls had just probably reached him first.
Sirius exhaled sharply and nodded his head. He needed to take a quick walk before he said something he'd regret. Emotions were running high for them both, and James didn't need any of Sirius' extra baggage on top of his own to cope with. Abruptly, he stood up. "I'm going to go find someone," Sirius said, giving a final pat to James' shoulder.
Sirius got one step away before the tone in James' voice halted him dead in his tracks. "You're leaving?" James said with an icy sort of calm. "Things a little hard to handle for you now? Need to take a walk?"
Sirius paused and felt the blood drain completely from his face. He spun around and faced him again. "What?"
"You heard me," James growled, his eyes shadowed with contempt. "That's exactly what you always do, Sirius. Can't handle something, so you disappear in a puff of smoke without letting anyone know where you go. Fine. Go, then. Come back when it's convenient for you. If you come back at all."
Sirius felt his mouth gape open in shock at the accusation. The words cut him like a cold knife searing right through the center of his soul. He couldn't believe what he was hearing...but mostly, he couldn't believe he was hearing it from James. "When have I ever..." he started heatedly, then stopped and snapped his mouth shut again, afraid that James might actually supply an answer to his question if he finished it. He was not going to do this. He was not going to fight with James when the man clearly wasn't thinking in his right mind. This was not the time to pick an argument. "I said," he ground out, "I was just going to go find someone. I'll be right back."
"There's no one to find," James muttered. "I've already looked. Nobody's around and nobody's told me a bloody thing..." His voice cracked and trailed off again, and Sirius watched as his throat bobbed, forcing down what looked like very painful swallow.
Sirius' expression softened to one of pure sympathy as he stood there observing him. It didn't take a crystal ball to see that James was worried beyond all reason. If James was feeling one-tenth as helpless as Sirius felt, it was no wonder why his normally level-headed friend was a bit on edge. "James," he pleaded softly. "I'm sure Lily's fine. She'll be alright."
James wasn't half as optimistic. "Well, thank you for your professional opinion, Doctor Black," he sneered. "But if you don't mind, I think I'll wait right here." Punctuating his bitter tone, he flung Lily's bag into one of the empty chairs beside him and seemed to cave in on himself all at once, folding his arms and crossing his legs, turning his head away to shut out Sirius and, presumably, the rest of the world with him.
Sirius frowned, concern mingled with irritation etched in fine grooves around his eyes and mouth. James didn't unravel like this usually, and he wasn't sure if he should feel flattered in that he trusted Sirius enough to completely break down in front of him like this, or angry that James seemed to have stored up all his frustration just for him. Undoubtedly, James was so distraught, he hardly knew what he was doing. That didn't mean he wasn't completely invulnerable to James' callousness...
"James," Sirius began in a reproachful tone, "I don't think-"
"No, sometimes Sirius, you don't think," the other wizard hissed. "Where have you been, anyway?"
Sirius blinked incredulously. "What do you mean? I came as soon as I got your letter from Squeak."
"Not today," James spat, "I mean I haven't seen you in weeks, it seems. When was the last time you came over?"
"Last Thursday," Sirius retorted at once.
Sirius inhaled sharply to respond and found that, indeed, he couldn't remember right offhand when he'd paid a casual visit to the Potter's last. All subsequent arguments fled him at once, and the anger inside him ebbed away like an outgoing wave and filled him with something that made him feel much worse. Guiltily, he lowered his gaze and stared down at his tennis shoe. "You haven't exactly invited me over lately," he muttered.
James lifted his head a notch and stared pointedly at the top Sirius' head, waiting for the two dark-brown eyes to peek up through that curtain of unruly hair and meet his. Over the years, James had learned that tolerance and perseverance would outlast practically any of Sirius' famous guilt acts. Even if Sirius really was filled with a deep sense of guilt and remorse, James also knew that he hated being put on the spot even more. Which is exactly what he was going to do. Guilt trips were never a successful method with Sirius anyway. They didn't last long enough with him to mean anything significant. But honesty nearly always called his bluff.
Predictably, Sirius rolled his eyes up and peeked up under his brow to see James fixing his gaze on him with the look of a practiced gambler-eternally patient and utterly neutral. Sirius dropped his act and once, exhaled gustily and met James with an agitated glare of his own.
"Since when does Sirius Black require a formal invitation to visit his friends?" James pushed up his glasses and eyed him levelly.
Sirius' broad shoulders drooped at once, almost as if he were deflating. Unable to verbally respond, instead he took one more step toward James and, with uncalculated grace, threw himself down in the empty chair right next to him, slumping down in it like a sack of apples.
James turned toward him, his eyes softening again and filling with genuine warmth and emotion. "Si..." James said, remorse painted on his face. "I...I missed you."
Make that a really rotten, worm-ridden sack of sour apples...
"Out with it," James insisted with a wry smile, mirroring his friend's nonchalant posture and elbowing him lightly between his ribs. Sirius flinched in reaction. "What's your excuse?"
"Work's kept me busy," Sirius grunted dismissively.
"You don't have a job."
"...would you believe I've been looking for one?" he tried without much conviction.
Sirius sulked for a moment, black eyebrows anxiously puckering just above the bridge of his nose as he folded his arms defensively over his chest. He hesitated, mentally trying to sort out what he was going to tell James. Of course flimsy excuses wouldn't work, not with James...and so he had no choice but to voice what had been eating at him now for months. "Promise you won't get upset?" he asked hesitantly.
James quirked a tired smile, pushing one side of his wire-rimmed glasses up on his face higher than the other and making him look a little bit like a crooked portrait. "No," he answered frankly.
Not encouraged by this at all, Sirius decided to just go for the direct approach and get it over with. Steeling himself, he took a breath. "Well...you and Lil' have been fairly preoccupied with the new baby coming and such, I just thought...maybe...you might not want me around as much any more."
"What on earth gave you that idea?" James questioned, more critical than sympathetic.
"Well, you can't just sit there and pretend everything will be the same," Sirius shot back. "Not like you're going to have a lot of free time devoted to running around and playing tricks with your old mates anymore, now is it?"
James scoffed humorlessly. "You're making a big deal out of nothing."
Sirius shook his head skeptically. "Whatever..."
"Oh come on, we'll still see each other plenty of times."
Sirius wasn't comforted in the least by James' false sense of confidence. "Yeah, that'll be really easy after you and Lily move, won't it?" he said darkly, eyes narrowing as he glanced skeptically over at his friend.
"Ah! So that's what this is all about..." James watched him in a sort of revelatory amusement, as if he'd just figured out how to cast a particularly difficult charm. "You really think we're going to just abandon you once the baby's born, don't you?"
"No!" Sirius bristled at the suggestion, his whole body seemed ready to snap if the slightest thing touched him. James immediately countered with a severely doubtful look which brooked no arguments whatsoever, and Sirius sighed and slumped back in his chair once again. "Yes..." he sighed. No doubt in Sirius' mind James was going to make one hell of a father with that kind of skill...
"Look," Sirius acknowledged gravely, "do what you have to do. I understand I'm not exactly every parent's idea of a perfect roll model." Sirius snorted a sort of self-deprecating laugh, and then fell completely silent.
James felt particularly lost for words. He seemed to consider this for a while as he looked pensively down at the floor and bent forward to rest his elbows on his knees. He'd harbored this precise suspicion now for a while, but of all the people James knew and had become friends with, Sirius had always been particularly challenging to read. Generally, it took a small catastrophe or two for Sirius to really open up on his own unless James pried him relentlessly, and lately James just hadn't had the occasion or the energy to introduce the subject to Sirius. He couldn't help but feel his own insides twist around into a giant Devil's Snare-sized knot of guilt. He hadn't realized it had gone quite this far already, that Sirius had really finally talked himself into believing that their friendship might as well be nothing but distant memories in just a few more weeks. Perhaps recent events had left him a little preoccupied with all that was going on, but he had always mentally amended make it up to Sirius later. Somehow. Eventually...
Well, now was later. And here was the catastrophe.
And what Sirius needed was a swift kick in the seat to bring him back to reality.
"Sirius," James said as if he'd suddenly had a moment's inspiration, "You...are an horse's arse."
Sirius nearly swallowed his own tongue. James was now swearing? Things must be much worse than he thought. He whipped his head around to be sure he was still sitting next to the same person. "What!?"
"You heard me! You are an arse," James firmly stated once again. "How long have we been friends?"
"Ten years," he answered without even pausing to think about it, but visibly annoyed.
"That's right. Ten years," James remarked. "And do you really think that I'd waste all that time on one person if I didn't think they weren't worth it?" Sincere blue eyes met brown and locked squarely for just a moment. "When I think of all the nonsense we pulled off together..." He stopped, exhaled and shook his head, seemingly trying to organize his scattered thoughts. He desperately wanted Sirius to understand how much he needed him now...now more than perhaps ever before in their entire friendship. Searching for the one thing he could say to possibly convey this, he lifted his gaze once more to meet the expectant eyes and said, "You're like my family, Si... Do you really think that there is anything in the whole world that could make me choose one family over another?"
Sirius felt his face soften humbly at the remarkable honesty shining in James' eyes. Honesty that left him uncharacteristically speechless.
They were family. And in that moment, Sirius felt like he had finally been welcomed home. He let out a heartfelt sigh that came from his very depths. One that released a wealth of fear, worry, anger, loss. He smiled genuinely at his friend, and felt relief wash over him as James returned his first true smile of the day. How odd, he found it, that he'd come there today to be the one to lend comfort to a friend in need, and instead had been the one comforted. But then, such was their friendship, odd and wonderful and a thousands things he couldn't even hope to explain. He doubted anyone else could fully understand it. But that was friendship for you. No...that was family.
"I'm sorry, James..." Sirius sighed regretfully. "I am an arse."
"Well, it's good that you acknowledge it," came and uncharacteristically cynical reply. "You know, the first step to recovery is admitting there's a problem."
Sirius frowned at the tone in James' voice. Not that he felt particularly insulted; normally he would have laughed at the jibe. Rather, there had only been a fraction of James' ordinarily tireless humor behind it, and now it appeared to Sirius that James was merely finishing a routine that he could have performed in his sleep. The fact that James hadn't meant it worried Sirius more than if he had. James without his sense of humor was like a wizard without a wand: Pointless.
Searching for an alternate method to keep his friend from dwelling on the obvious gravity of the situation, he said, "What I mean is... Do you realize we've had this exact same conversation before?"
James searched his memory for a moment and then his expression lightened just a fraction. "Right after Lily and I got engaged," he said reflectively. "When I asked you to be my Best Man..." Sirius agreed with a meek nod. "Honestly, I hope you're not going to make me go through this when I have grandchildren," James drawled.
Sirius considered this with an easy shrug. "Well...only if it'll irritate you."
The sentiment brought a faint smile to James' lips, but disappeared all too quickly. "Si," he addressed him solemnly. "I have something else I need to ask of you. But before that, I have something I want to tell you... I haven't exactly been up front about everything lately..."
Sirius frowned in confusion and faced James with a questioning look, silently inviting him to continue. James sighed and slumped back in his chair. "The reason Lil' and I have been thinking of moving...we haven't really decided yet, but...well, things are getting a bit strange at the Ministry these days. Everyone seems to be taking sides, and I don't know what to think."
"What things?" Sirius prompted.
"I don't really know everything myself. It's just all getting a bit vague. There are talks of reformation and restructuring everything; some people say that Dumbledore is up for shot at Minister. But then there are others, like Malfoy, who seem to have their own agenda; he keeps trying to rally his opinions with the Ministry."
"Lucius? You can't trust that bastard," Sirius snorted.
"I know that, Si. But...well...he keeps pressing me to hear him out. And sometimes..." James breathed, eyes filling with confusion and remorse, "sometimes he makes an awful lot of sense."
"James," Sirius frowned sternly, "this is Lucius we're talking about here. He hates Muggles."
James nodded, wearily. "I know. I know."
"He hates anything having to do with Muggles," pressed Sirius, his voice rising slightly.
"James," Sirius persisted, "Lily is a-"
"I know!" he exploded.
Sirius stared at him warily for a moment, studying the grim expression scored in James' features. Sirius wasn't completely ignorant to what James was referring to. Something dark had been settling over the wizarding community for some time now, and rumors were flying everywhere. Wild reports whispered on the streets told of giants terrorizing all parts of England and seemed to tie in somehow with a group that called themselves the Death Eaters. Gossip-mongers at the Leaky Cauldron naturally had to paint the worst pictures possible; according to them, no wizard, witch or even Muggle was safe any longer. Most of the time, Sirius just ignored them, preferring to drink his ale in peace. But now even James was voicing his concern. And if Lucius Malfoy was anywhere behind it, it couldn't be a good thing. He had always been up to no good. "Well, just don't listen to him," he answered simply.
"You don't know how difficult that's becoming," James said, an edge of desperation in his voice. "He never shuts up. It's getting so that's it just as much work to avoid him than it would be to just let him talk." James dragged his hands forcefully through his hair. "That's not all, either. They've even been talking about closing Hogwarts for a while until it all blows over. If Dumbledore wasn't so adamant against it, they'd have already done it by now." James released a sigh which Sirius echoed, and they fell silent for a moment, each deep within their own thoughts.
That school had stood solidly like a beacon throughout their entire lives; to shut it seemed hardly possible or proper. It touched a spark of anxiety deep within the two alumni to consider the possibility that the landmark could succumb to such pressure. If Hogwarts was that afraid...who only knew what else could happen? Breaking the silence, James finally said, "Sorry to bring all this on you now, Si. It's just that...no one seems to want to talk about it. Even Peter..." he said lowering his voice conspiratorially as his eyes shifted around the great empty marble lobby. "Even he just changes the subject straight away every time I try and bring it up."
Sirius minutely nodded his understanding, and tried to offer a sympathetic smile. "You can always talk to me about anything, you know."
James seemed to take slight courage from Sirius' offer as a faint smile curled at the edge of James' lips. "I know."
Sirius scrambled for anything that would lift James from his funk. "So that's why you're leaving me, eh?" he remarked, trying to keep a casual indifference to his tone.
But James merely rejoined with a somber nod. "If it comes down to it," he said with renewed determination. "I don't want to raise my child with this kind of fear hanging over our heads. I want us to be happy. I want to do the right thing. I just...I just want to be a good dad."
Looping his arm around the leaner man's shoulders, Sirius gave him an affectionate squeeze. "I've no doubt that you will, Prongs." James gave a gentle smile and responded in kind by dropping his head on Sirius' shoulder. Sirius automatically reached up to ruffle James' hair.
"So what'd you want to ask me?" he said, attempting to introduce a little levity in his voice.
"Oh." James straightened again and made a half-hearted effort to smooth down his hair. Sirius couldn't help but think it was a completely lost cause, and strained to keep a straight face. "Lily and I were talking," James said in a strictly business-like tone, "and we decided...we want you to be the baby's godfather."
All humorous thoughts fled Sirius completely as he stared into James' wide, expectant eyes with dumbfounded amusement. It was now James' turn to suppress a grin at the look on his old friend's face. Indeed, it was a rare occasion to catch the quick-witted and perpetually collected Sirius Black in such a state. "Y-you...really? Me?" Sirius stammered. "You're sure?"
James had never been more sure of anything in his life; he smiled sincerely and nodded. "You know...that means if anything ever happens to Lil' and I..." he began awkwardly, but was grateful when Sirius didn't let him finish.
"I know what it means, James." Sirius couldn't even begin to complete that thought. If anything happened to Lily or James... No, he thought with utter conviction. He simply wouldn't allow it.
Still... If something did happen...
Truthfully, Sirius wasn't sure if he was even ready to accept that kind of responsibility on those terms should they ever come to pass, Which they won't, he amended at once. This wasn't a simple act of standing at the alter on their wedding day and making sure the groom didn't to put his trousers on backwards by mistake, or remembering to give over the ring at the right time during the ceremony. It would take a lifetime commitment, undeniably. "What about Lily's family?"
James quirked an eyebrow a put on a highly disbelieving look. "Do you even know what you're saying? Have I ever told you about the Dursley's? It'll be a cold day in Hell before I let them look after any son-er, child...of mine..." He backpedaled for a moment, clearing his throat and shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
Oh, no. Sirius was not about to let that slip by, and by the way James looked as if he was trying to actually become part of his chair, he knew it as well. He'd distinctly said 'son.' Not 'son or daughter', not the general designation 'child'... "Son?" repeated Sirius, quirking a dubious eyebrow. A flash of red burned across James' cheeks and he sank further down into his chair. "You already know what it is, don't you?"
Smiling in a way that reminded Sirius of the devout prankster he knew so well, James forfeited a slight nod. "You know Lily... She just couldn't wait to find out-"
"Lily, nothing!" Sirius accused, as though offended that James would even think of holding his own wife accountable for such a mendacious act of deliberate deception. "Potter, I know full well that your perceptive talent seems to increase dramatically right around gift-giving occasions." Sirius pressed his lips together and wobbled his head haughtily for a moment before berating him further: "You never could wait until Christmas to find out what you got." And then a smile as sly as the Devil's himself bloomed up on his lips and he turned and grinned at his companion as James surrendered an sheepish smile of his own. "So out with it," he sobered, cuffing James lightly on the arm. "What are we going to call Potter Junior?"
James smiled modestly. "Well...Lily wanted to name him after me," he said, the crimson tint brightening just a notch, "but we decided to name him after my grandfather."
When no further hints were immediately provided, Sirius' brow furrowed skeptically, wondering if his old friend was baiting him to ask the obvious question or simply assumed Sirius already knew it. But Sirius had very little knowledge of the Potter ancestry, so curiosity more than piqued, Sirius promptly urged: "Which would be...?"
"Harold," James announced with a small triumphant nod, and then looked over to gather his friend's reaction. At once, James' smile melted into an expression of disappointment. "Oh, close your mouth before you swallow something. It's a good name," he groused.
Sirius feigned an injured look. "Harold?"
"My grandfather was a well-respected wizard," James retorted with a defensive sniff.
"Harold, James...?" Sirius repeated, crestfallen.
"It's a good name," James insisted once again.
"The kids will tease him."
"No they won't."
"I'll tease him!"
"Ah, now there's a name," Sirius said, choking back a laugh as James screwed up his face like he'd just bit into a lemon. "Sirius... It's got a kind of dignified ring to it, don't you agree? Sirius Potter..."
Sirius mused over this for a moment while James eyed him half-amused and half like his friend had gone completely mad. They exchanged glances for a while, staring at one another-Sirius hopeful, James doubtful-until they suddenly erupted into fits of giggles, underscored by their exhaustion and emotional state, and blurted out "No!" in unison.
Sirius regained his composure, and slapped the other man on his back. "Very well...Harry Potter it is-"
The two heads promptly snapped up in the direction of the new voice. In front of them stood a man of average-height and middle age, with very neat silver hair and trusting, grey eyes. He wore a long white coat that hung to the back of his knees over ordinary trousers and collared shirt, and he had a necktie that seemed to shift hues depending on which way he was standing in the light. Out of his breast pocket, protruded an ordinary, black wizard's wand.
James immediately jumped up out of his seat and rushed over to him, Sirius directly on his heels. "Dr. Majella," James said, the anxiety returning to his voice. "Is she alright, is the baby ok?"
The doctor smiled and waved his hand in a kindly gesture, taking one step back to avoid being knocked to the floor by James who had all but dove at him. Sirius stepped forward and took a firm hold of James' arm to steady him. James didn't try to resist the gesture, but Sirius could help but notice the visible tension in the former Quidditch player's lean form that had him wondering if he could restrain him should worse come for worse. He reminded himself not to jump to conclusions before the doctor had spoken... But he tightened his grip on James' arm all the same, providing the comfort of touch as much as needing himself in return.
"Sit down, Mr. Potter," Dr. Majella cajoled, motioning James back into his chair. Sirius let go of him as soon as James fell back into his seat, and the doctor took the chair right next to him that Sirius had been previously in. Dr. Majella folded his hands properly over his own lap and turned to address James fully, who looked nearly as worried as he had when Sirius had first seen him earlier.
"Is she ok?"
"Your wife is doing just fine," the doctor smiled warmly, and as soon as the words were airborne, James let out a quiet, thankful sob, tearing his glasses off before burying his face in his hands. Lingering nearby, Sirius released a soft, shaky sigh of relief he didn't realize he was holding, lowering his eyelids slowly when he felt the tears begin to sting at his own eyes. "We gave her some chocolate and she's resting comfortably now," the doctor further offered, laying a gentle hand on James' shoulder.
"And the baby?" Sirius found himself voicing, which seemed to startle James once again as he looked first to Sirius, then back at the doctor expectantly, blue eyes red-rimmed and glistening bright.
"Right where it should be for at least another month," the doctor said in a patient, soothing tone, "and then I daresay you shall have even more problems to worry about, my friend." He chuckled heartily and patted James on the back as James and Sirius each shared in some much needed laughter-perhaps a little too strained and perhaps a little too loud, but genuine laughter nonetheless.
"Now, I would like to keep Mrs. Potter here overnight," the doctor continued once their voices had died down. "She was quite fatigued after she finally came around, but she should be just fine to return home tomorrow. And then I'd advise as much bed rest as possible from here on out until the rest of her term," he said firmly, to which James nodded his agreement. "And Mr. Potter-"
"I recommend dropping the bowling league until then," he added with a friendly wink. Again, James answered another solemn nod.
Dr. Majella then pulled out a gold pocket watch and flipped the case open to stare thoughtfully at the face for a moment. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe my shift ended, oh...about nine years ago." He smiled once again, pocketing the watch and stood up slowly. "You know, I nearly got to go home last year, but I had to perform a last minute wand-ectomy. Not a pleasant site." He gave a slight but visible shudder at the memory. "What's more," he added in a quieter tone, "is the wand had been cursed to only conjure fresh produce. Poor old chap kept laying avocados! The staff and I had quite a delicious guacamole dip later on though, if I recall..." With that, James watched as the doctor strode slowly away and vanished before his eyes, calling out, "Cheerio!" at the last moment until the lobby was once again quiet and empty, save for the two dark-haired companions.
James took a moment to dry his eyes on his shirt sleeve, inhaling several deep, cleansing breaths in succession and releasing them slowly, each one sounding less rattled than the one before. Finally he was breathing calmly, sitting with his eyelids closed and feeling a certain sense of euphoria sweep through him, as if floating on a wave...
Slowly the lids lifted, blinking at the fuzzy backdrop, and James returned his glasses to their intended perch on the bridge of his nose. Sirius was standing several paces away, his back turned toward James as he allowed his friend to collect himself in peace. James smiled warmly at the gesture... "Close one, eh Si?" he said softly.
But Sirius didn't turn at once as James had fully expected. His shoulders instead seemed to tense like a wire, and James thought he could detect that he might be shaking slightly. He'd always known Sirius to be the passionate one of their group...softhearted and more emotional than he'd ever be willing to admit, and James couldn't help but smile in appreciation for his oldest and most devoted friend's affection. James felt the overwhelming urge to comfort Sirius...for between friends such as they, no emotion should ever be hidden. Swallowing thickly, James gently beckoned the other man. "Sirius...?"
At once, Sirius spun swiftly on his heel and faced James. But instead of the expression of gratitude and endearment James had expected, dark eyes narrowed to slits and his angular jaw was set in a hard line. Sirius aimed a fulminating glare at him, and James shrank back uneasily into his chair. "Sirius...?" he gulped.
"BOWLING?" the deep voice roared. "You and Lily were BOWLING?"
James cleared his throat and smothered a smile behind his hand as he casually wiped at his mouth, which only served to upset Sirius further as he stomped over to loom right in front of him. "Potter, do not tell me you are that bloody stupid!"
"Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time," James meekly offered. Sirius' face blanched to a deathly shade of grey and he looked as if he'd just swallowed a particularly nasty Every Flavor Bean. He inhaled a sharp breath through his nose, presumably steeling himself to unleash a lecture that would've made a four month-old Howler letter sound positively soothing, but James, thinking quickly, preempted Sirius' tirade with another hopeful explanation. "Really! She was bowling her best game since we'd joined the league! Perfect score and all, until she..."
"What league?" Sirius growled, frowning so deeply that his eyebrows nearly touched in the middle of his forehead.
James let out a sharp, derisive snort and rolled his eyes. "The one we joined about a year ago?" he drawled sardonically. "The one I asked you to join with us."
"I don't remember you asking me to join any bowling league," Sirius snarled.
"Not bloody surprising," James retorted. "I doubt you even heard me when I asked; always with your nose stuck inside the innards of that blooming motorbike, it's amazing you remember to feed yourself sometimes. Honestly."
A year ago... Curiously, that would be have roughly been right around the same time James had stopped coming around to help him... Of all the stupid, absurd, worthless things to drive a friendship apart! Betrayal? Yes. A woman? Perhaps. Tenpin bowling...?
Sirius felt his eye twitch.
"That's it!" he roared, furious, jabbing a finger in James' face. "I am not going to allow my godson to be raised by a couple of gits who happen to think bowling is a good way for an expectant mother to pass her time! From now on, I am keeping a close watch on you two. Closer than close. In fact, I am moving in with you two, and neither one of you had better even blink-"
"Did you say godson?" James softly interrupted, taking hold of the finger Sirius had been so emphatically attempting to stab him with.
Sirius fell abruptly silent and studied his friend's hopeful and trusting gaze, a wry smile curling at one side of his mouth. "Well..." he acquiesced, pulling his hand back and folding his arms across his chest. "I've got to look forward to corrupting someone. You obviously seem to be a lost cause."
Before Sirius could even react, he found himself being swept in a hug so tight he felt his ribs creak. But he didn't mind in the least. He turned to rest his face in the notch between James' neck and shoulder, and sighed contentedly. "Thanks," Sirius mumbled.
"For?" James asked, not yet willing to let go.
Sirius smiled and wrapped his arms tighter around his friend. "For giving me a home."
"No problem, Si," James whispered. "No problem..."
The two friends finally disengaged from one another and mutually agreed that 'home' indeed sounded like it would much be better spent in each of their respective residences than in the wing of a hospital, since it was unlikely they would be able to visit Lily now that she was resting so comfortably. That didn't mean, however, a quick visit to the Leaky Cauldron wasn't out of the question. In fact, it was looking more and more like one of the most brilliant ideas either of them had ever had, when James suddenly remembered Peter.
"What in the world could be taking him so long? When he said he was going to get tea, I didn't expect he'd be growing the tea leaves himself," Sirius griped.
"He probably got lost," James snickered.
Sirius reclaimed his previous chair, settling down next to James once again, and resigned himself to waiting for Peter's return. Sirius' eyes wandered the lobby and actually took notice of it for the first time since he'd been there. White walls, white floors, huge cathedral windows and titanic pillars that stretched from floor to ceiling. Just another typical hospital lobby... It was seconds later when he decided there wasn't much to look at at all, that he glanced over beside him to James who was digging like a badger through the contents of his wife's bag. "What in Merlin's name are you doing?"
"I'm hungry," was the straightforward reply. "Thought Lil' might've kept something in here to eat. Ah! Here's something..." He grinned as he pulled out a small box and shook it, rattling the contents inside. "Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans...for New Mothers?" he read. Sirius and James each traded hesitant looks.
"I didn't know they came for different occasions now," Sirius said. "I hope we don't start lactating or something."
James didn't even try to stifle his laughter this time, but Sirius still remained skeptical. "It'll be worth it," James resolved. "I'm starving."
Popping open the box, he shook out a handful of beans into his hand, offering one to Sirius who reluctantly accepted. Sirius studied the pinkish candy thoughtfully as he held it up like a gem in front of him. "We should make a toast," he concluded.
James looked at his own brownish colored bean with much less optimism than before and agreed. "Ok. You start."
Sirius cleared his throat pompously.
"Here's to you,
And here's to me.
Friends forever we shall be..."
James' eyes twinkled mischievously as he recognized the verse at once, and Sirius slipped him a cunning smile.
"And if we should ever disagree?" James prompted.
"Then...to Hell with you, here's to me!" they both finished in chorus, then squished their respective beans flat between their fingers and popped them in their mouths with practiced timing.
"Champagne," Sirius noted with amusement.
James frowned, somewhat puzzled. "Cigar," he said, almost choking. "I think..."
Sirius laughed and slapped him on the back in a congratulatory manner, which didn't serve to alleviate James' choking at all. Between choking and laughing, it took James a few moments to recover. Finally when he could breath again, James turned sheepishly to his companion and asked, "Um...you weren't actually serious about moving in, were you?"
Arching a sardonic eyebrow, the raven-haired man turned to James and dryly replied, "I'm always Sirius."
James shook his head and snorted, hardly believing he'd walked into that old pun for probably the 3,435,230 time. He suddenly couldn't wait until his own son was old enough to initiate it to; hopefully he would be able to get a few years out of the joke before his son would have him permanently committed. However, James was now in quite a good mood, and he couldn't help but resist the temptation to run the gamut with the pun. "It's a good thing we had our talk," he began sincerely. "I guess we had a Sirius misunderstanding."
Sirius chuckled once wryly.
"I mean...if we'd have stayed angry at one another, we could've been making a Sirius mistake," he said.
"Yes, that's quite true, James," Sirius remarked with an edge of annoyance beginning to creep into his tone.
James ignored it. "But Sirius-ly-"
"Potter..." he threatened warningly.
"I cut my finger the other day," James said holding a completely mark-free finger out for his friend to see. "Do you think it's Sirius?"
Calculating precisely the space between them-which wasn't much-Sirius suddenly turned on James and attempted to pounce on him, but years of Quidditch playing had conditioned James to anticipate such moves and he swiftly rocketed from his chair to easily avoid the attack, giggling so hard he had to hold his sides together. Even Sirius had to fight to smother his own amusement, inwardly delighted and relieved that his best friend's former self was back at full tilt. Meanwhile, he eyed James like a particularly hungry wolf stalking his prey.
"Now, Si," James placated, still giggling, albeit a tad nervously. He could already see the familiar animalistic glint in his friend's eye and though he and Sirius and Peter had each made a secret pact after leaving Hogwarts to resist shifting into their Animage forms, he knew the ability hadn't been forgotten. "You wouldn't hurt me, would you? Your oldest friend?" Clearing his throat, he straightened and set his hands on his hips. "Alright now. Enough playing..." James reprimanded in a very fatherly manner. Then he choked back a snicker. "I'm dead Sirius..."
Authors Notes: I do not own Harry Potter, James Potter, Sirius Black (despite wanting to), Diagon Alley, Lilly Potter, Peter Petigrew (thank God), Remus Lupin, Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, the Leaky Cauldron, Quidditch or any other Harry Potter™ related material. Those are the sole property of the extraordinarily talented J.K. Rowling and whoever she's deigned to handle movies rights and merchandising and all that crap.
Charring Cross Hospital and Hyde Park are property of London, England, UK.