James approached Sirius slowly. He was white as a sheet and just where Lily had said he would be, standing by the kitchen window and gripping a piece of parchment that must've just been delivered if the owl feather on the windowsill was any indication. Staring at the parchment as though it were a black hole, he was unnaturally still, and it was this more than anything else that brought a flutter of fear to James's chest.
"Sirius," James said cautiously.
There was no response for a moment. Then Sirius raised his head to look James in the eye, and his expression was so utterly bleak and un-Sirius-like that James almost wished he hadn't looked up at all.
"He's dead," Sirius said in a voice choked out like dry heat.
James's stomach gave a rough lurch. "Who?" he asked sharply, feeling his face tighten.
Sirius closed his eyes for a moment and dropped the hand holding the parchment to his side. He stayed silent so long that James wasn't sure he was going to respond at all.
"Reg," he said at last, with a deep breath. "Regulus is dead."
James stared. "No," he said, his voice seeming to fall far away from his ears. "Oh, no…Sirius, I'm sorry…"
Sirius jerkily shrugged off the apology. "Wasn't like I even knew the little prat," he muttered. He had regained a bit of color, but the blank, shocked expression didn't leave his face at all. "Haven't talked to him in years."
James sighed inwardly. Of course Sirius would try to cover it up, pretend it wasn't as big as it was.
But then he caught James off guard, looking at him with a sudden intensity. When he spoke it was in earnest. "I tried to warn him, though – didn't I? You heard me at school. You saw – all those letters –" He ran an agitated hand through his hair, his other hand tightening on the parchment and crumpling it along the edge. "I told him again and again, I tried–" His voice came dangerously close to breaking and he stopped, blinking as though surprised at his own emotion.
"I know," James said. He stepped forward and put a hand on Sirius's arm, guiding him toward a chair.
"When we were kids," Sirius said suddenly, allowing himself to be steered into a seat, "things were all right. We were…we didn't…fight…"
James nodded, sitting down next to Sirius and summoning a bottle of Butterbeer from a shelf on the wall. "I know." He handed the bottle to Sirius, who took it in a shaking hand.
"Wasn't till later on that he hated me," he mumbled.
"He never hated you," James said softly, but Sirius didn't seem to hear him.
"Always furious at me for one thing or another. For being in Gryffindor. For not being the way Mum - all of them - wanted me to be. For causing awful arguments all the time…" Sirius looked at James with a pained expression, his pale eyes over bright. "James," he said, his voice pleading, "I never meant it to hurt him."
"I know," James said again, patting Sirius on the shoulder. "You couldn't help being who you are, mate."
There was a pause. James nudged the bottle in Sirius's hand. "Astonishing as it may seem, this stuff is meant for drinking," he said lightly.
Sirius drank without seeming to notice the few tears that had spilled from his eyes. He downed the bottle as though it were an antidote to some deadly poison, drinking it clean in a matter of seconds. James watched and was glad he hadn't decided to summon the Firewhiskey.
"James," Sirius said finally, hands folded, empty bottle abandoned on the table.
Sirius tilted his head and looked at James with an expression of utter bewilderment. "My brother's dead."
James leaned forward in his chair and wrapped his arm around Sirius's shoulders, pulling him close. "I know, mate," he said, as Sirius – brave, daring, proud Sirius – shuddered in his arms. "I know."