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May I Have this Dance?

James Potter stared at the letter in his hand. It couldn't be real. It wasn't real. The ministry was obviously lying. It couldn't be real… Around him, life went on at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His three best friends, Sirius "Padfoot" Black, Remus "Moony" Lupin, and Peter "Wormtail" Pettigrew sat across from him, laughing and joking, eagerly anticipating the coming full moon, unaware that James' world was falling apart around him.

Sirius was the first to realize something was wrong when James didn't comment on the nervous squeak in Peter's voice when they discussed the upcoming NEWTS.

"James," He asked hesitantly noticing his white knuckled grip on the letter, "is everything okay?"

James remained staring at the letter. It could not possibly be true, the letter was wrong, the earth, the entire universe must be spinning backwards. It wasn't real. James shoulders began to shake.

"James?" By now Remus and Wormatil had noticed as well.

"James, what's wrong?"

The letter fell from James' suddenly limp hand, landing silently on the golden plates. Remus and Sirius exchanged worried looks. For several long moments James continued to stare at the space where the letter had been, almost imperceptibly rocking back and forth. Then abruptly he stood and sprinted out of the Great Hall.

Grabbing the fallen letter, Sirius scanned it quickly, before loudly swearing.

Oblivious to the stares of their fellow students, Sirius dropped the letter and ran after the fleeing Head Boy. Remus, feeling it was better to understand what was going on, slowly reached over and picked up the letter.

His eyes frantically skimmed over the words, before he suddenly stilled. Remus carefully set the letter down, staring numbly ahead of him. Standing, he slowly walked the length of the Great Hall after James and Sirius. Peter trailed behind him looking baffled at the sudden somberness of his friend's mood. The letter remained sitting at James place.

Dear Mr. James Potter

We regret to inform you that your parents, the auror Charlus and his wife Dorea Potter were murdered last night at approximately 4:16 a.m. at their house in Tinworth. It is believed they were targeted at the behest of He-who-must-not-be-named and his accomplices.

We at the ministry sincerely lament the loss of these two outstanding members of our great society.

A representative of the ministry will be contacting Headmaster Albus Dumbledore with further details.

Our Sincerest Sympathies,

Millicent Bagnold's office
Minister of Magic, Great Britain

~ o.O.o ~

James had fled. Maybe, if he didn't acknowledge the letter as true, it wouldn't be.

It just wasn't fair! James crumpled against the balcony in the astronomy tower. In front of him, the morning sun cast a warm glow on the Forbidden Forest, but James did not see it.

It couldn't be true, because it wasn't fair. His parents… They were too strong, too … alive to die. His father, the one from whom James had inherited so many traits, he was always strong! How could he lose a fight with a bunch of death eaters! His mother, always there with a smile and a fond scolding. They couldn't be gone, James refused to accept it. It wasn't true… It must be a prank. Yes, that's it. Sirius was playing pranks again. Because the alternative was too gruesome, too painful… to even think about…

He heard footsteps pounding up the stairs across from him. He didn't look to see who it was, he didn't care, he couldn'

He felt a hand on his shoulder, slowly turning him to face the newcomer.

Sirius's worried face stared at him. "James, are you alright? I-" He faltered when he saw James face.

"Come on, Sirius," James said with an awful, crooked grin, "You can tell me. It was your idea wasn't it?"

Sirius was bewildered. "James," he asked slowly both hands now resting on James shoulders, "What are you talking about?"

James gave a mirthless laugh, as he half-heartedly tried to shrug off Sirius's grip. "Don't lie to me Pads, I know it was you. You did it, didn't you?"

"Did what, James?" Sirius was worried. This was not Prongs, his best friend. This was a half mad man, and Sirius honestly feared for James sanity.

"You sent the letter." James said mirthlessly from his slumped position, as if they were discussing the weather rather than the death of James parents and Sirius's foster parents.

Sirius could not find his voice. Grief for the Potters had clouded his mind, and tears threatened to fall from his eyes, but he couldn't give in, not when James clearly needed his help. But any response he gave now would likely only fuel James paranoia. Clearing his throat, he hesitantly replied, "James, I… I didn't."

James twisted in Sirius's hold, his face distorted by rage. "Don't lie to me, Sirius! You did it! You had to!" He continued to fight Sirius's grasp.

"James! I. Did. Not. Write. That. Letter!"

James seemed to sink in on himself, the anger gone from his face. Sirius hadn't sent the letter. It wasn't a joke. Then that would mean "They're… they're g-gone."

Sirius was barely able to catch James as he collapsed, tears cascading down his face. His body wracked with sobs, half formed words falling from his lips. Sirius closed his eyes and clutched his brother to his chest while he sobbed, as the tears slowly began to fall down his own face.

James sobs did not lessen, if anything they grew even worse, and showed no signs of stopping. Sirius was worried James was becoming hysterical, and was debating how best to get James to the Hospital Wing when he heard another set of pounding footsteps, and looked up to see Remus come dashing through the doorway.

"Sirius! Thank Merlin! We've been looking for you two everywhere, you took the map with you, and we couldn't find either of you! Where have you been? Have you been up here the entire time? Did he tell you what happened? How is he? How are you? Dumbledore's been looking everywhere, he wants James to go to the Hospital Wing, he's really, really worried-"

"Remus!" Sirius cut him off.

Remus looked abashed, "Sorry. How is he?" He whispered with concern and unshed tears in his eyes.

Sirius still clutched James to his chest, supporting him. "He's … Merlin, Remus! He thought I sent the letter as a prank!" His voice cracked.

Remus gasped, "He what?" Remus closed his eyes tightly. He knew what that must have done to Sirius, Mr. and Mrs. Potters were more his parents than his biological ones, James more his brother than Regulus. For him to say that…

"Come on," Remus muttered, "We should go… He needs the hospital wing."

Nodding, Sirius prepared to stand. Unfortunately, his movement jostled James. This allowed James to get a glimpse of Sirius, which sent him into a distraught rage.

"Let go … gone… bastard…" James words were barely distinguishable through his clenched teeth and jaws, as he punched, kicked and clawed at both Sirius and Remus, who had lunged forward to help.

Sirius however refused to let go. "James! It's. Not. Going. To. Happen. We aren't going to leave you!"

Something within James snapped. "LEAVE ME ALONE YOU BASTARD! I HATE YOU!" Sirius fell backwards in shock, staring up at James, his brother.

James was suddenly standing, staring down at Sirius's prone figure, breaths coming harshly through his clenched teeth, a look of deep rage on his face.

"You. You killed them!"

"J-James, I never, I d-don't…"

"LIAR! YOU DID IT! YOU KILLED THEM! IT WAS YOUR FAULT!"

James magic was losing control; sparks flew from his wand, hissing angrily against the cold stone. Both Sirius and Remus were frozen, frightened by the overwhelming fury in James eyes.

Sirius slowly stood. It was a mistake.

James wand was immediately pointed at Sirius's chest, forcing him against the parapet. One shove, and Sirius would plummet down to the lawn below.

"Look me in the eye," James whispered coldly, his face a mask of rage, "Look me in the eye and tell me that you didn't do it. Tell me you did not kill them."

Sirius did. "I didn't do it." He whispered softly. "James, I did not send the letter, and I did not kill your parents."

Silence ruled for several long moments, before James slowly lowered his wand, his face suddenly blank.

"S-Sirius?" he asked, dazed.

Sirius was just able to catch James as he fell, the extra body weight pushing him precariously against the parapet. Remus lunged forward, and together they laid him gently on the ground.

Remus looked down at James, gently resting his hand on the dazed boys shoulder. "James? It's Remus. Madam Pomfrey gave me something for you. She said it might help."

Sirius gently lifted James chest so he could drink. Remus held the small bottle up to James lips, forcing him to swallow the potion.

"Sleeping potion," Remus said, seeing the unasked question in Sirius's eyes.

James collapsed against Sirius's chest. "Come on," Remus muttered, brushing tears out of his eyes. "Let's get him to the Hospital Wing. Mobilcorupus." Carefully, Remus maneuvered James' sleeping body down the ladder.

Sirius followed behind him, fiercely wiping at the tears in his eyes, his body shaking slightly from half-suppressed sobs.

~ o.O.o ~

James lay in the hospital bed, staring up at the darkened ceiling but not really seeing it. The hospital wing was quiet, as was the castle; it was very late. He had been here for several long days. Madam Pomfrey had been forced to give him several strong calming draughts, as after the sleeping potion had worn off; grief had once again caused him to lose control of his magic, sending objects careening around the hospital wing.

Madam Pomfrey had been forced to stun him, but as it was, James leg had been broken when a bed had crashed down on it. Sirius now sported a black eye from a careening lamp, and it was only Remus's enhanced reactions that had kept him from being knocked out by a flying shelf.

James was aware that this had happened, but he was somehow detached. He understood now that his parents were dead, and while the calming draughts numbed the pain, they did not diminish it. He had not been able to stop crying since he first woke, and the part of him that was detached idly wandered how many tears his body had held.

Professor Dumbledore had come and visited him after he woke; informing him that Augusta Longbottom, a long friend of his families had taken over the arrangements. The funeral would be in several days, and James did not honestly know if he would be able to cope. He had asked and received permission for the other Marauders to accompany him to the funeral. He hoped it would be enough…

It just wasn't fair! His parents were too strong, too good! They were still so alive, so full of life. James knew that they had been getting older, but he had never before considered that they might one day be gone. But Voldemort had cut them down before there time, leaving James alone.

James was startled out of his despondent thoughts by Sirius emerging from underneath his invisibility cloak at the foot of his bed.

For several long moments, they both stared at each other. Unnoticed, tears started to run down both their faces.

James didn't know who moved first, but suddenly Sirius was clutching James as though he was a lifeline, and James was reciprocating.

"Sirius I… I-" James attempted to choke out.

"I know." Sirius whispered into James shoulder.

Pulling back, James stared at the sheets, ashamed to see the black eye and scratches on his brother's face.

"You didn't cause it, James."

Startled James looked up. Sirius was gazing at him understandingly, as he wiped tears from his cheek.

"I…"

"Listen to me, James. You. Did. Not. Cause. It."

"I blamed you." He said, ashamed.

Sirius smiled sadly, "I know. But you were overwhelmed. I don't hold it against you."

Fresh tears began running down James face, as Sirius pulled him into a hug. James felt sobs overtake his body.

"I-I don't know if… H-how… h-how will I c-cope?"

"Shh," Sirius murmured. "You'll have us. The marauders, remember? We will always be here, James. We are a family. Unconditionally and forever."

Both brothers sat holding each other in the quiet of the hospital wing.

~ o.O.o ~

Once again, James found himself staring at the hospital wing ceiling. The funeral had been two days before, and he had suffered from what Madam Pomfrey dubbed a "magical relapse." She used a lot of medical mumbo-jumbo, but from what James understood, his emotions had caused his magic to lash out. Sirius and Remus had talked him down while Peter shielded the other mourners, but Madam Pomfrey had forbidden him from going to class, saying the strain would likely be too much for him. She had even gone so far as to erect wards preventing Sirius, Remus and Peter from entering the hospital Wing, all in the name of her patient getting his rest. James didn't know about that, he would have welcomed any distraction from his thoughts, thoughts that kept rushing, full of endless what-ifs.

James flinched when a hand was laid on his shoulder. Immediately the hand withdrew, and James was surprised to see Lily Evans looking down at him in concern.

"James?"

"Lily," he said, sitting up in the bed, "What are you doing here?" The two had become civil to each other during the last year, but James never expected her to come visit him.

She smiled sadly, "I brought you you're homework. Figured it might help to have a distraction, it certainly helped me." She held a stack of books in her slender arms.

James slowly reached out and took the books from her. Glancing down, he noted the transfiguration book on top.

"Thank you. What did … " He cleared his throat. "What did you need a distraction from?"

Lily sat in the chair at his bedside with a faraway look in her eyes, "My parents were killed in a car crash last summer. The summer essays helped me put off the pain until I was ready to handle it."

"When did you… I mean, how did you…"

"Handle it? I haven't. Not really. It doesn't go away," she answered, reading the question in James eyes. "You never stop missing them, at least I haven't. But, after a while, the pain becomes detached. It's still a part of you. It always will be. But… it's not my whole life anymore. My parents wouldn't have wanted me to dwell on the pain."

She laughed quietly, "My mother especially. She would have given me a stern talking-to if I had brooded like that when she was alive."

"What were your parents like?"

Lily looked at him considering for a long moment, and then answered. As she spoke, James found himself enraptured by the scene she was describing, he couldn't take his eyes off her. Lily used her hands when she spoke, gesturing, smiling softly, and loosing herself in her stories. Slowing, she began to talk about her parent's death, the rainy night, the bad brakes. Her voice cracked as she described the funeral, the sister who hadn't spoken a word to her during the entire service, the friends and family who had crowded around them, never letting her be alone.

"I hate it, you know." James said suddenly.

"Hmm?"

"People saying there sorry. They don't mean it. Not really. At the funeral, all they could say was 'sorry.' But it didn't help. How could it?"

"People said the same thing at my parent's funeral. There was a line of them, and more and more just kept coming and telling … P-Petunia and I how terribly sorry they were, what a shame it was. I reached the point where I felt if I heard the word sorry again I would hex the speaker, muggle or not, but the line just kept coming, and I had to do something." Lily's voice trailed off.

"What did you do?"

Lily met James eyes. "I danced. I walked away from the mourners, stood by my parent's grave, and I just danced. I couldn't stop sobbing, and there wasn't any music, but that didn't stop me. My mother had this favorite poem, she would always tell it to us as a bed time story. And as I danced I just said that poem, over and over again. It was my way of telling her that I wasn't going to forget her, that I was still here, and I would still live."

"I don't know if I'm strong enough to do that." James admitted, ashamed. He stared at the bed sheet. The calming draught was beginning to wear off, and he could feel the grief threatening his control. He clenched the sheets in his fist. He just wanted to lose himself to it, to curl up and cry and just never stop, because it hurt, it hurt so much. He was ashamed to realize the tears were pouring down his cheeks as he struggled to breathe against the overwhelming pressure in his heart.

Lily stared at him in shock, before quickly grabbing his shaking shoulders and pulling him into a tight embrace. He clutched at her. She was his anchor, and if she let go, if he fell, he would keep falling into the darkness that loomed all around him.

Mumbling platitudes, Lily simply held him as he wept, not caring that this was James, the man she had rejected far too many times to count. She could not reject him now, not when he was so grief-stricken.

In due course, James again gained control, pulling himself away from her, and furiously scrubbing the tears from his eyes.

"Ms. Evans!" Both James and Lily jumped. Madam Pomfrey stood at the door of her office, glaring at the two.

"I specifically said that Mr. Potter was not to receive any visitors! The ordeal that he has been through!"

James winced falling back on the bed, and Lily watched sadly as the despair once again set in. Madam Pomfrey continued to rant, but neither teen paid her any attention.

Lily leaned over and to both their surprise, hugged James tightly. "It will get better," She whispered in his ear, "I can't promise you it will be right away. But I promise you will survive."

"Ms. Evans, I think it is time you leave. This patient needs rest, not visitors!" spoke Madam Pomfrey.

Lily smiled sadly, squeezing James hand before she stood and slowly made her way out of the hospital wing. James watched her as she left. Pausing at the door, she turned around, her green eyes filled with some hidden emotion.

"Hey, James?"

"Yeah?"

"For what it's worth… I'm sorry."

Lily slipped out of the hospital wing.