Let us be Diana’s foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon.
—William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1
There was a pause in the small hospital room.
It seemed as if all the occupants were captured in stillness, like little insects forever trapped in amber. To Remus it felt like the deep breath he always took moments before the full moon ascended high in the sky and ripped him to pieces. There was clarity in that instant; he always knew exactly who he was with perfect certainty—before it was torn all away.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Longbottom,” a young male healer said, looking at Alice. Remus wondered if Alice remembered that the young healer had bumped his shoulder against hers the previous day in the fifth floor tearoom. It had only been for an instant, but it had occurred, and now they were here. They might never have remembered each other had that been the only instance of their meeting, but now Alice would see his face in her minds’ eye for the rest of her life. “There is nothing more that we can do. Your husband is non-responsive. He doesn’t even register on the magical consciousness scale. I’m so very sorry.”
The sound of weeping suddenly echoed in the room, but curiously, it didn’t come from the stone faced younger woman. Instead, it originated from Augusta Longbottom, who was draped over the form of her son and crying her heart out. Alice, on the other hand, displayed no expression. From his vantage point in the back of the room, Remus watched as she looked at her husband’s still form with curious detachment. The young blonde seemed as if her mind was no longer present, as if it too had fled away like she had just been informed her husband’s had.
Remus had heard of Frank’s condition before. During Grindelwald’s reign one of his lieutenants, a member of the Pyromancers, had become enamored with using the Cruciatus Curse on those who opposed him. More than once, the curse had been held on the victim too long and their minds had broken. A living death
, the German healers had called it. It seemed an apt description to the werewolf as he took in the sight of Frank lying unresponsively on the bed, the blood vessels in his face broken, his extremities constantly twitching, and two blank eyes staring vacantly at the ceiling.
“What can be done to make him more comfortable?” Alice asked the healer tonelessly, shaking off her mother’s hand as Hermia reached out to touch her daughter’s shoulder.
“We can give him several potions to ease his symptoms, and have already done so, but most of the pain he is experiencing is imagined. It is very likely he is trapped inside his mind, repeatedly living what happened over and over.”
Alice’s hands fisted at her sides. “Hell is too good for those monsters. I will repay the Lestranges and Crouch for this in time, I swear it.”
“This is your fault.”
The words cracked like a fiery whip in the room.
Turning, Alice took in the hateful glare that her mother-in-law was shooting her. Augusta had never wanted Frank to marry Alice. She had thought them woefully mismatched—in that at least she was correct—but more likely, she simply hadn’t wanted the competition for her son’s love. Madam Longbottom had been the ruling force in Frank’s life since he was a boy, even her own husband cracking beneath her will, and she would suffer no rival. Remus knew that Alice had been joined in a bitter feud with Augusta from the moment she made the seven sacred vows and the seven solemn oaths to Frank on their wedding day. Neither woman had been willing to back down, and, as a Prewett-Liddell, Alice had seemingly almost relished the fight. She wasn’t a child to be cowed by dislike, and it had never really mattered to her that she had Augusta’s continual apathy.
Yet now, things had changed.
Hermia shot her daughter a nervous look, taking in the venom in Augusta’s voice. “Sweetling, come away.”
“No,” Alice said calmly. “Do you have something to say to me, Augusta?”
Madam Longbottom’s lower lip was quivering as she looked at her daughter-in-law. Her eyes were like daggers, and her hands like claws. “Where were you? You were supposed to meet him, he told me. Had you been there—”
“Had I been there, I would now be sharing a bed next to him,” Alice said flatly, her eyes flashing. “It would have been two against four, and we would have lost. Do not think, not even for one moment, that I will allow you to twist this into something it’s not.”
“I never understood what my son saw in you!” Augusta spat.
“Probably a chance to get away from you,” Alice snapped back.
Remus stepped forward then and grabbed Alice’s arm, and pulled her bodily from the room before she could yank out her wand and curse her mother-in-law. She ripped her arm from his grasp the moment they were in the hall, and then began to pace up and down. Her curly blonde hair was flowing like a banner behind her, bouncing with each step. Sirius had always loved it, Remus remembered suddenly against his will. He had followed Alice around like a puppy for their first year, then with his eyes the two years that followed, and all of Sirius’s girlfriends had always had wild, curly hair—just like Alice’s. He swallowed down his anger at the thought of the traitor, and focused on the woman before him.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have interfered,” Remus said quietly.
“Don’t be stupid,” Alice said, looking up with a glare flashing across her round, elfin face. “Of course you should have. I couldn’t very well hex the old bat, could I?”
He let out a low laugh. “I suppose not.”
All the strength seemed to seep out of her then, and Alice fell back against the wall, banging her head gently against the plaster. She sank slowly to the floor, her knees bending and tucking up tight against her chest. “When I heard the news I was relieved. Can you believe it, relieved? Because alive is not dead, but...that...man...in there...is...not
...my husband. Now I wonder if death would have been better.” Tears began to run from her eyes then, the inner dam finally breaking. Her blue gaze caught his, and her lip trembled. “What kind of monster does that make me?”
Remus crouched down next to her and put his hand on her shoulder. “A human one, I imagine,” he murmured.
She suddenly looked apologetic. “I didn’t mean...”
“I know,” he assured her softly. “Maybe you should go home, spend some time with your son. It’s been a long night, and you’ve been waiting for hours for the tests to be finished. There isn’t much more you can do for Frank right now, anyway.”
Alice flinched, but nodded, acknowledging the truth of his words. “Thank you for staying with me.”
“Of course,” Remus said. Momentarily, he reflected on the odd relationship they had formed over the past week. Though they had been in the Order together, they had been little more than friendly acquaintances then. But a week such as the one they had at James’s bedside, worrying about Peter, their shared frustration with Dumbledore, even the hushed conversations they had about Lily, and dealing with her funeral arrangements—they had all been things which formed a sincere friendship between the two of them.
He stood then, stretching.
Alice observed him dispassionately, and stood as well, tears drying on her cheeks. “I hope you’re going home too. You look knackered.”
“I am,” he said. “I just have to get my book from James’s room. I think a couple of hours of sleep are well deserved, and then I’ll be back here later.” He then reached out and touched her arm. “Don’t worry about James now. Focus on what needs your attention.”
She nodded shortly, swallowing audibly. “I’ll see you later, Remus.”
He inclined his head. “I’m so sorry, Alice.”
Tears filled her eyes again and she gave him a watery smile, before stepping back inside Frank’s room once more.
Remus turned and departed then, his heart heavy. He could hardly believe what had happened. God, they’d all thought they were safe. It had seemed like all the Death Eaters had laid down arms and those that hadn’t were being hunted down. Never had it occurred to any of them that those remaining would go on the offense. Fight when cornered, yes, but seek out an Auror and torture him for information?
He felt weary. Even with the war over, there was no ending. Remus vaguely wondered if this was to be their new reality now, forever worrying of attack, forever looking backwards.
Without much thought, he pushed open the door to James’s room with a stilted sigh waiting just behind his teeth, and—he stopped in shock.
There, sitting on the bed, awake and so very much alive, was James Potter.
“Prongs?” Remus managed to gasp out, causing hazel eyes to snap upwards to meet his shocked gaze.
“Moony!” James exclaimed, jumping up from the bed and batting away the helping hand of the healer whom he had been talking to. He rushed across the small room, and Remus met him half way. They met in a tangle of limbs and a slamming of bodies. While Remus was, at six foot four, four inches taller than James, the other man had always been thicker and better muscled, despite being thin like the werewolf. He still felt solid and substantial, but Remus did notice that his friend had lost a stone or so over the past two weeks, but it seemed to be in muscle mostly. Remus clenched the stag Animagus tightly to him, tears clogging up the back of his throat and preventing the werewolf from speaking. James seemed to sense his difficulty, for he pulled back and lifted a single hand up to the side of Remus’s face and gave him a playful tap. “Don’t take this the wrong way, mate,” James said. “But God, do you look awful.”
Remus couldn’t help it; he laughed. “You git.”
James winked, his face playful, but his eyes hooded. “Merlin, you’d think you’d been the one in the coma. You trying to steal my crown for the worst looking bloke in the group? I’m the center of the universe around here, remember that.”
“Of course, your majesty,” Remus smirked, rolling his eyes. Neither man noticed the healer quietly slip from the room; they were both too wrapped up in their reunion.
“So,” James said conversationally, releasing the other man and sitting back down on the bed, while Remus grabbed the chair. “I know why I’m in a hospital room at St. Mungo’s at seven in the morning, but what the bloody hell are you doing here?”
“Well, I forgot my book, you see,” Remus deadpanned, a smiling tugging at his lips.
“Mate, we really need to get you a girlfriend,” James tossed back, chuckling.
Then, the good cheer and laughter leeched itself from the room as both men remembered Lily, and Dorcas, and Marlene, and all the others who had died during the war. James’s face took on a mournful cast, and he seemed to be looking without seeing as he stared at a point to the right of Remus’s head.
“I’m so sorry, James,” was all Remus could think of to say, and it seemed woefully inadequate to the werewolf’s ears.
His friend turned to him, and blinked, looking for a moment like he had forgotten the other man was in the room. Then his eyes filled, and James blinked the tears back and began to swallow convulsively. He nodded stiffly to Remus, and then cleared his throat, looking away.
“So, my friend,” he said after a moment, looking away. “Why are you here so early?”
Remus waved a hand. “We can talk about it later. What about you? Are you all right? Can you leave, or are they keeping you for tests for a day or so?”
“Naw, I can leave at any time,” James said. “That healer was checking me over as she filled me in on all that I missed. Can I just say that the fact that my son was awarded an Order of the Merlin First Class, and I got a Second Class was a really shite thing to do?”
The werewolf laughed. “Beaten by a baby—how’s it feel, Potter?”
James shook his head with a small smile, chuckling ruefully. “Voldemort was the one beaten by a baby. I can scarcely believe it.”
“I know, right?”
“All that time,” James said, with something like wonder in his voice. “There was a prophecy, you know,” he confided. “That Harry would be the one to defeat him, I mean.”
Remus inhaled sharply.
“I thought that it would happen when he was grown up; that we were stuck in a war with no end in sight,” James continued. “To think, not even a year and a half old and already famous.”
“Feeling proud?” Remus asked with a small, knowing smile.
James looked almost gleeful. “Do you even have to ask? Lily would scold me...” he trailed off. The emotion drained away from his face. His hands were clasped in front of him, and for a moment, to James, they looked as if they were the most fascinating things in the world. One of James’s hands rose and messed up his hair in an absent-minded fashion. When he spoke again, he sounded almost haunted. “I can’t believe he would do this. All those years, we were his friends.”
“I know,” Remus said, not even commenting on the shift in topic. “I thought I knew him, but I guess I never really did. He always seemed so loyal, except for his one big slip up, of course. I suppose we should have known then what kind of man he was.”
James frowned, his hazel eyes narrowing behind his glasses. “Accidentally spilling your secret is a bit different to actively spying on your friends, and turning traitor. I’m not sure when he turned into a traitor, but it wasn’t when we were that young. I don’t think he meant to tell about your furry little problem, and Dorcas—”
“How can you defend him, even now? He almost got me killed!” Remus burst out, the words spilling from his lips in agitation. It had always been like that with Sirius and James, Remus thought. No matter what, they were in each other’s corner. Remus could still taste the fury at the back of his throat at the way James had brushed the Whomping Willow incident aside afterwards and treated Sirius exactly the same. If anything, it had only brought them closer, but both had been rather distant with Peter afterwards. Remus had always felt bitter at the thought that the two of them had been annoyed with Peter for no reason, but Sirius’s transgression was completely forgotten. Remus barely leashed his anger, and said, “Calling it a prank doesn’t change what it was!”
James looked at Remus as if he had grown another head. “When have I ever defended him? And what are you talking about, almost got you killed? Of all of us, you are the one in the Order who has been on the safest of missions and never was on one that went balls up.”
“I don’t mean in the Order,” Remus said, “I mean at school. How can you still be defending Sirius? He proved himself a ready murderer then, are you really surprised he turned to it full time after school by joining Voldemort?”
“Remus,” James said with artificial calmness, titling his head to the side, “what the fuck are you talking about?”
“Sirius!” he exclaimed. “Turning traitor and selling your location out to Voldemort! Didn’t the healer tell you? I thought you said she had caught you up? Dumbledore told the Aurors that Sirius was your Secret Keeper. He was arrested outside of this very room.”
James sucked in a quick breath. “I see. She said it had been in the papers that they had caught the traitor, I just assumed...and where is he now?”
“Azkaban,” Remus said. “And there’s more. Peter’s missing. I think Sirius killed him before he was caught, that or Peter ran off because he thought Sirius was after him.”
James stood up from the bed with careful precision. He looked utterly calm, and Remus was reminded suddenly of all the times James took on just that look before all hell would break loose.
“James?” Remus called when his friend started walking for the door. “Where are you going?”
James turned back when his hand was on the doorknob. “To the Ministry, to see if I can get those fuckwits in the office of Magical Law Enforcement to do their job properly.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Sirius wasn’t the Secret Keeper, Moony,” James Potter bit off tensely, “Peter was.”~*~
It seemed as though autumn had given its last gasp. All the colorful foliage that had been in the park, even the week before, was gone now. The leaves had fallen from the trees, and bare branches were all that remained. It was chilly in Kensington Gardens, but the sun was rising upwards slowly as the hour grew later. Buffy pushed the pram down the walkway, breathing in deeply.
She had found to her surprise that fresh air helped to keep the nausea at bay in the mornings. It had become habit to take Harry for a short walk in his stroller. On the weekends though, as she had the time, she liked to take him out for the mornings and play in the park near the Round Pond. Harry liked to walk along the water and feed the birds, and even chase them occasionally. Buffy kept a close eye on him, but he had never given her cause for worry.
When they reached their favorite spot, Buffy stopped and pulled Harry out and settled him on his own feet. He wobbled a little, the heavy coat and hat upsetting his center of gravity for a moment, but then he was haring off towards the ducks congregating on the grass. His happy baby laughter made Buffy smile, and, without conscious thought, one of her hands strayed to her abdomen, pressing against the material of her coat. Her eyes watched her son run and play, and all the while she wondered how she had survived before Harry had entered her life.
She had become so hard, and without even realizing it. Oh, she’d had moments of clarity and self-reflection, but a large part of Buffy had been focused on not examining herself too closely in a mental mirror, lest she hate the person she had become. But now, it was as if all of that had passed away. Like it had been someone else’s life in Sunnydale, and sometimes she could even convince herself of it. That another Slayer had wielded the blades and stakes; that another had lifted up the scythe and led an army into battle.
The Slayer who had done those things was cold, just like the vampire in whose arms she had lain in for comfort. Now, though, she feels increasingly like the warm girl who had arrived in that small California town, much as if the intervening years hadn’t occurred at all. And she knew why.
She had hope for the first time in a long time. It was almost tangible in her hands, like the feel of a freshly carved stake that hadn’t yet had time to arc and bend and take shape by learning the curve of her fingers gripping it. Perhaps it was owed to the little stranger who had come into her life and turned it upside down, or perhaps it was owed to her release from the Hellmouth. Whatever it was from, it felt good. The freedom, the possibility of living—it was liberating in a way that she could only have dreamed of when she was sixteen.
A little shriek from Harry made her smile. Getting up from the bench, she crossed to his side and pulled out the little baggie of bread crusts she had brought along with her to the park. She opened it up, and he reached one pudgy little hand in and grasped the crusts. Then, with a dramatic sweep of his arm, he threw them on the ground very near to his feet. Buffy stifled a laugh, because she knew the ducks wouldn’t come that close, even for something to eat. She went to move and give them a little toss to the animals, but rocked back on her heels in shock instead. The bread crusts were moving of their own accord.
They bounced along in an orderly little line towards the ducks, reminding her of the marching broomsticks in Fantasia. Harry clapped his hands together and laughed, not at all surprised that the bread was doing his bidding. Buffy didn’t know how she knew that Harry was doing it, but she just did.
“Look! Look!” he said, beaming up at her and showing Buffy his two top teeth. Harry clutched at her hand with his little fingers, pointing and laughing.
She gave him a little smile in return; all the while her mind was whirling. Was it telekinesis? Buffy had never seen such a thing without the aide of magic, but it was certainly possible. Then she remembered Asha Harkness, and thought of what she had said about Harry’s birth mother. She had been magical, or had died in a magical way near Harry. Was it possible that Harry was gifted like his mother, or that some of the magic from what killed his mother had leeched off onto him? In theory, magic wasn’t evil or good, it was how you used it, so, again in theory, such magic could have survived Willow’s cleansing spell.
Buffy looked around quickly, but no one was around to take note of Harry’s little show. Smoothing a hand over his hair, she took a deep breath. She only had one thought, as she always did when something occurred which was beyond her understanding.
She needed Giles.~*~
James paced through the office of the Minister for Magic like a caged tiger. It had been the work of the morning to leave the London Hospital and make their way to the visitor’s entrance to the Ministry by the Strand, near Covent Garden. The healer had warned him that he was not allowed to perform any magic, including magical travel, for at least a week, and James had not quite been able to stomach the thought of getting on the Knight Bus, so they had walked. Remus had had been a quiet presence by his side once he had explained the reasons for the switch in Secret Keepers, and their intention to inform the werewolf once they next saw him in person.
After they had arrived at the visitor’s entrance to the Ministry of Magic, the pair of them had immediately walked with purpose towards the Minister’s office, bypassing the front desk entirely. James hadn’t quite understood the full meaning behind his new moniker Man Who Lived, but one trip through the atrium of the Ministry had made it clear to him.
When leaving St. Mungo’s, Remus had led James out the side entrance that the Healers used, which Alice had shown him, as her mother had told her about it. Because of this, James’s first brush with the Wizarding public was when he arrived at the Ministry.
At first, no one had quite looked their way. James and Remus had been striding forward, with Remus about a step behind, and they didn’t draw much attention. That all changed when one person looked their way. And then another, and another, and another. Soon the noise in the atrium rose to a dull roar as everyone was cheering and clapping and calling out to him and screaming his name. James was reminded of the way the Gryffindor house used to chant “Potter! Potter!” after games, and it was deeply disconcerting. Every person who was smiling and beaming at him—well, they seemed like they were applauding the event that led to the death of his wife.
Deep contempt filled him, but he swallowed the bitterness down, knowing he could not give rise to it at the moment. Had they clapped and cheered too when Sirius was marched off to Azkaban in magical binders? Did they tell themselves that the life of one Muggle-born witch was an easy sacrifice when it meant their own safety?
Sirius had frequently claimed that the majority of the Wizarding world was peopled by fools, and James now was ready to concede that he had a point. What did these mindless little drones know of pain or sacrifice? He didn’t recognize even one of them from the Order, nor did he see any people that he knew to have lost someone to Voldemort. The people who worked for the Ministry who had died were the Muggle-borns and the half-bloods; the ones without people to mourn for them, at least in the magical world.
Remus and James had shouldered their way through the crowd, making it to the lifts with no little impediment. Eventually though, they had made it to the Minister’s Office, where her secretary’s mouth had promptly fallen open with surprise and the scared little girl had ushered the pair of them into the empty office immediately. The secretary couldn’t have been more than a year out of Hogwarts, but James didn’t recognize her. He felt very old when he realized that. He was twenty-one, and a father, and a widower, and ancient.
Millicent Bagnold was not in her office at the moment, but from the way the little girl had hurried off to find her, James gathered she was somewhere in the building. So he had begun pacing, and his steps were not halted until Remus suddenly spoke.
“I thought he was guilty, you know.”
James paused, and turned, leaning against the mantle of the fireplace. “Did you?”
His words gave nothing away, but inside he felt very conflicted about Remus at the moment. The other man had his absolutely unwavering love and friendship, but that didn’t stop the Potter scion from being, frankly, brassed off at his werewolf friend. James considered it the height of dishonor to suspect one of his friends of treachery—something his wife had paid for with her life—but Remus had been ready, even willing, to believe Sirius the traitor. James would never have believed it, even of Peter, in a million years had Voldemort not told him that the rat was a traitor. Had the Dark Lord been silent on the matter, the stag Animagus would have thought for the rest of his life that Peter had been tortured to death and had broken under the lash of the Cruciatus Curse—anything but think him capable of such vile treason.
Twisting his hands, Remus grimaced. “Dumbledore said—”
“Well, if Dumbledore said it, it must have been true,” James cut in dryly. He crossed his arms over his chest, ignoring the twinge he felt from the scar that was situated over his heart, which hadn’t quite healed the way his other injuries had. “He was the one who suggested the Fidelius Charm. And you, yourself, told me that he sent Harry to Lily’s wretched sister because he thought I would die. Does that sound like the action of a man who is right about everything?”
Remus shook his head.
James inwardly winced at the thought of his son. Harry would just have to hold tight for a couple more hours. Once Remus had relayed his conversation with the Headmaster on their walk to the Ministry, James had been forced to fight the urge to apparate to Surrey instantly. Two things had stopped him; firstly, he wasn't allowed to do magic for a week, and even if he could, he didn’t have a wand anymore, as his had snapped under him during the duel with Voldemort; so before he could do magic of any sort, it would have to be replaced. Secondly, just because James had absolutely no respect for Vernon Dursley and his horse-faced wife, didn’t mean they weren’t capable of taking care of Harry. Granted, his son had probably had two rather cheerless weeks, but James knew his material needs must have been met. He could easily stay in that house for another two or three hours. Sirius couldn’t stay in Azkaban for another three minutes.
Rather brilliant at Defense Against the Dark Arts, James knew only too well what the effects of dementors were. Most people exposed to them went mad within two days; James could only hope that Sirius had been able to last for two weeks.
“Still, James,” Remus said, pulling his attention away from thoughts of the black wraiths that haunted the prison in the North Sea, “you have to admit that Sirius has been acting a little strange the past year.”
James fixed him with a baleful glare. “Well, I simply could not conceive of a reason why,” he said sarcastically. “After accidentally getting your girlfriend and my childhood best friend Dorcas killed, he witnessed Benjy Fenwick being blown up, and then the girl he has been infatuated with died at the hands of Death Eaters. Of course he has been acting differently.”
Remus winced at the mention of Dorcas, but managed to ask, “The girl?”
“Marlene,” James said softly. “She wasn’t ready, not when Fabian had just died, but yes. Sirius had been half in love with her for years. He always seems to fall for the ones who are already taken.”
The door to the office flew open, and James turned to see the Minister for Magic stride through the doorway.
“James Potter!” Millicent Bagnold said, smiling at him in a way that felt to James as though it was calculated. “James, may I call you James? I cannot tell you how happy I am that you stopped by today. We are all so indebted to you for your part in the defeat of You-Know-Who, and I am just pleased to get a chance to tell you so in person.”
Though it turned his stomach to do so, James forced a polite smile onto his face and shook the outstretched hand of the Minister for Magic. “Of course you can call me James, as I intend to call you Millicent.” James hid his pleasure when her careful mask slightly slipped, and continued, “May I introduce you to one of my best friends, Remus Lupin?”
Millicent nodded politely to the werewolf, and then extracted her hand from James’s grip and made her way around to her desk, sitting and folding her hands across the top of it. Potter recognized the power play for what it was, and remained standing, leaning negligently against the side of one of the winged back chairs she intended him to sit in. A muscle in the Minister’s jaw clenched slightly, but she smiled. “Now James, what can I do for you?”
“Well Millicent,” James said, starting pleasantly. “I was wondering if you could answer a question for me?”
She nodded, looking interested.
“Good,” James said, his voice turning deadly as he straightened. He then crossed to the front of her desk and slammed his hands down in two angry fists. “Then perhaps you can tell me what the fuck my best friend is doing in Azkaban when Sirius Black hasn’t betrayed anyone, nor has he ever been a servant of Voldemort.”
The Minister’s mouth opened and closed reflexively.
“Need a minute to think?” James asked sarcastically. “I’ll wait.”~*~
“Made them move how?”
Buffy cradled the phone between her head and shoulder, as she carefully cut slices of banana for Harry’s snack. The baby was seated behind her, banging his spoon on his highchair in a discordant rhythm to go along with The Wiggles, who were singing on the television about cold spaghetti. His attention span was limited, but Harry did seem to like occasionally watching TV for a ten minute block she sometimes allowed him when getting his food ready.
A lock of her golden hair fell forward, and Buffy blew it out of her face with some annoyance. “Like made them march along, Giles. I don’t know how to explain it better than that. It was like he was a conductor in an orchestra, and they were the instruments. I’ve never seen anything like it. Even Willow, she of the uber-magic, had a really hard time with moving stuff with her mind in the beginning. She nearly impaled me with a pencil once! But this, I’ve never seen anything like it. He was barely focused on it, other than to laugh—like the whole thing was deeply amusing to him.”
“I see,” Giles said from the phone, and Buffy had a feeling he was cleaning his glasses. “I’ll have to do some research about this, of course. Do you think it’s just limited to telekinesis?”
Buffy opened her mouth to reply, but then noticed something out of the corner of her eye. Turning, she blinked and gasped. “It’s not just telekinesis. I have to go, Giles.”
“Because my son just made hundreds of soap bubbles appear, and they’re filling up the kitchen.” Buffy hung up the phone, and made her way forward, popping bubbles as she went. When she reached the highchair, Harry shot her an angelic smile, and Buffy couldn’t help but laugh in return. “You’re going to be a handful, aren’t you?”
Harry lifted up his arms in the universal signal to be held, and Buffy complied, plucking him from his little seat. She tossed the toddler up in the air, catching him and making him scream with laughter. His happiness was infectious, and her smile continually widened at Harry’s obvious joy. Though she felt slightly unequal to the task of raising an obviously magical baby, Buffy was
How hard could it be? ~*~
Two hours after James stormed into the Ministry, they finally received word that Sirius had reached the building and was just being processed through the Auror office. Once Millicent Bagnold had understood just what James was upset about, she couldn’t bend over backwards enough to help them. She had immediately summoned Barty Crouch to the office and berated him in front of James and Remus, which they had enjoyed for a while, but eventually they had to remind her to move it along for Sirius’s sake. Barty Crouch had already looked as though he was having a horrible day, for what reason James couldn’t fathom, but he went deathly pale when he heard that Sirius was innocent. Remus had murmured to James that Bartemius Crouch had just seen all his political ambitions go up in flames. It seemed a loaded statement, but James resolved to ask what he meant later.
After that, it had simply been a matter of waiting. Two Aurors had immediately been dispatched, but it still took time to get to the small island in the North Sea and release a prisoner. As the minutes ticked by, James felt himself growing characteristically impatient. He had never been the calmest of people, and there was a building need within him to see his son. The business with Sirius helped ease the ache within him, but he still wanted nothing more than to hold his baby in his arms and mourn for awhile. With Harry, perhaps he would be able to think of Lily and not feel as though the world had ended.
The door to the office creaked open, and there stood Sirius with two faceless Aurors at his back. His head had been shaved, and that thick black hair he had been slightly vain about was gone, and Sirius looked as though he had lost about two stone in two weeks. James wondered what they had been feeding him, if they had at all. His robes were wrinkled, and buttoned wrong on the left cuff, as if they had been hastily thrown on. Sirius was looking extremely confused, as if he was stuck in a fog he couldn’t quite get clear of. His grey eyes looked without seeing, but then focused, and he suddenly inhaled sharply. He looked right at James, blinking furiously, as if to convince himself that what he was seeing was true.
“James?” he rasped, his voice sounding as if it had been shredded. “Prongs?”
“Padfoot,” James said, exhaling on a sigh.
The two men rushed forward for a backslapping hug, or it would have been had Sirius not been so thin that James could feel the outline of his ribs through his robes. He didn’t dare slap Sirius's back, lest James knock his best mate over. For a moment, James forgot everything else. He forgot Remus standing awkwardly at the side of the room. He forgot Lily and the grief he had to force down every second of every minute. He forgot Harry and his desperation to see him with his own eyes and confirm that his son was alive and well. Everything narrowed to Sirius, his best friend and brother, who had gone through unspeakable hell for the past two weeks. James fought back the nausea that rose at the thought of what would have happened to him had James died of his wounds.
Pulling back slightly, James looked the dog Animagus over and was pleased to see the sharp look of sanity within his eyes. He had no idea how Sirius wasn’t a blithering mass of madness by now, but he wasn’t going to question good fortune when it was given. All that mattered was that Sirius was going to be all right. And he would be; James would accept no less for his best friend.
“You’re alive,” Sirius croaked. “They said...they didn’t know...you were so close to death.”
“I’m fine,” James assured him.
“It would have been my fault,” Sirius said, his fingers digging into James’s arms with surprising strength, his grey eyes meeting James’s hazel ones with manic instance. “I suggested the switch. My fault, my fault.” He started shaking his head from side to side.
“It’s not your fault,” James said, grabbing Sirius’s face and forcing him to meet his eyes. “We trusted a friend who betrayed us.”
“But I as good as got Lily killed,” Sirius protested hoarsely, his eyes clearing once more.
James swallowed down the emotion his wife’s name evoked, knowing that Sirius couldn’t deal with anymore grief or guilt right now. “You did no such thing, mate, and I won’t hear otherwise.”
Sirius searched James’s face warily, like a dog expecting to be hit, but finally he nodded and hugged James again.
Desperate to lighten the mood, James joked, “Padfoot? You could really do with a bath, mate.”
As was intended, his best friend began to laugh. Sirius’s chest shook against James’s torso as the stag Animagus chuckled along. It was only later, when several moments had passed, that James realized the laughter had turned to sobs against his shoulder.