Frank stared wide-eyed at the ceiling – seeing nothing in front of his eyes. He mouthed unintelligible words, his tongue lolling about. He’d once had thick, blond hair that he’d now pulled out handfuls of, the tufts that remained were brittle and straw coloured, almost colourless against the his white pillowcase.
James gripped the cane they’d given him to help him walk and bit down on his lip. It was too much to see Frank and Alice like this, two of the brightest, most loving people he’d ever known reduced to mental patients, trapped somewhere inside their heads or gone away completely, leaving only their bodies behind.
He hoped it was the latter, because he couldn’t have imagined anything worse than this.
Not even…not even death.
No recovery expected. That’s what the Healers had told them and though it was childish and pointless he felt like he could will them into recovery. Like if he stood here and talked long enough, Frank would remember him and wake up and little Neville would have his dad and his mum. James would have his friend back; the world would have two of its best back, sane and coherent.
Behind him, Sirius was holding Harry and Remus had taken Neville, attempting to feed him since none of the other Order members had that much experience with babies and Neville was refusing to go to strangers. They’d been told that Augusta was in Russia visiting her brother Algernon, and they’d been trying to contact her as the next of kin, but so far there was no success and Neville was under the care of anyone who would take him.
As he stood in between the beds of his friends, he wondered if either of Harry and Neville had any idea of what Lily, Frank and Alice had given to protect them – if they would ever be able to understand how much they were loved, if they noticed they weren’t around, if they weren’t ever going to be there anymore, that things had changed
James choked back a bitter laugh. He could barely comprehend Lily’s absence; he didn’t expect Harry or Neville to understand.
Frank’s fingers twitched on the bed sheets and he let out a sudden scream, clawing fearfully at whatever he could see in front of him. James’ stomach gave a sickening lurch and he grabbed one of Frank’s hands and tried to still it, tried to comfort him but Frank’s reaction was to lash at James, hitting him across the face hard enough to knock him down.
Pain seared up his leg and James cursed loudly as the Healers rushed forward to restrain Frank. Sirius and Remus has rushed to his side and with their spare hands, helped to heave James from the ground. He continued staring, even as he gingerly prodded the area where Frank had struck him; he couldn’t take his eyes off his friend as they strapped him to the bed, flailing and crying incoherently.
Sirius was tugging on his sleeve urgently and he finally turned to discover that Harry was screaming and so was Neville; they must have been given a scare by the outburst. James quickly took Harry into his arms and balanced unsteadily on the cane, wishing, like he did most times, he had an extra arm. Sensing that Harry was still terrified of all the action in the room and the pale, helpless man now whimpering to himself. James made the decision to feel like a bad friend instead of a bad father and with a nod of his head and a stilted, jerking pace to accommodate his own injury, the three of them moved out into the corridor and sat in the visitor’s chairs.
They’d seen their friends in pieces scattered on the ground, the bodies of children burning in the ruins of their own homes and been through their own fair share of tortures and nightmarish experiences, but nothing could prepare you for something like this, nothing could soften the blow of seeing them like that. Like so many other bloody things lately, James knew this was going to be going in the ‘things he couldn’t get a handle on’ file. Or just plain ‘things he couldn’t handle’.
He shifted uneasily in his chair and moved Harry to his other arm. “Come on big boy, don’t be scared, daddy’s here.” Harry was gulping in mouthfuls of air, but as he stared up at James he seemed to calm down and stood up on James’ lap to put his arms around his father’s neck. “Shhh, it’s okay. You’re all right, Harry.”
Poor Neville was watching James with fascination and seemed to calm down at the sound of his voice. He wondered if it was a dad thing, some kind of magic that you couldn’t get a child to calm down unless you were a parent yourself. At least Harry had him and he had Harry, Neville had no one to go to, both of his parents were in that room, unable to even recognise him now.
“What are you doing back here, Ted?” Remus asked suddenly and James looked up to see a pale and exhausted looking Ted rushing towards them, wearing the same robes from the last night. James could tell because they were crumpled and smeared with some sort of dark mixture.
“Just heard,” he said breathlessly on his way past them. He too disappeared behind the doors.
They sat there a little while longer and James sensed that Sirius and Remus were waiting for him to tell him what to do. He felt imperceptibly annoyed by it.
“Reckon we’d better get back to our rooms,” he said gruffly and went to stand up, juggling Harry and his cane with some difficulty. As soon as he’d made any movement, Sirius reached for his elbow to help him. “I’m not an invalid, Sirius!” he snapped, grasping at his cane and pulling himself up.
Sirius jumped back, looking uncertain and awkward, as if he wasn’t sure what to do. It’d had been like this since he’d woken up. No jokes or easy speech, it was as though neither of them knew what to say to one another. Remus was fine, two of his most defining characteristics were concern and worry so he was in his element trying to just be there for him, solid and stoic, he expected that from Remus. But neither Sirius or James had ever really dealt with grief well, the worst times were treated with utmost sensitivity: a pub crawl until the both of them were at a loss to remember their own names, let alone what it was that had sent them on a drinking binge in the first place. He wanted to ask Sirius what had happened to him in Azkaban and he wanted to somehow make it better for him but giant, clueless dolt that he was he had no idea how to even begin. Though he did hope he wasn’t being nearly as irritating as Sirius was being around him. He really didn’t want to see that look he was giving him all the time. It was the same look everyone was giving him: sickening pity. He had thought Sirius knew him better than that, knew that he was stronger than everyone assumed.
He limped a couple of steps and muttered and apology to Sirius who shot him a strangled look of understanding.
“What should we do with Neville?” Remus asked, sidling up beside James.
James shrugged in reply. “Take him with us, they’ll know where he is and with half the bloody Order and five Aurors posted outside the room he’ll probably be safer.” Remus was close enough now that Harry and Neville were reaching out to one another, looking in fascination at the other’s hands and hair. Fat little fingers poking in curiosity.
Neville and Harry had been playmates more than a few times. Cribbed together while their parents talked strategy at Order Headquarters or wherever it was they’d agreed to meet, neither of them had ever been terribly fond of the other, always possessive over toys and unsure of what to do with someone who didn’t spend all their time trying to amuse and care for you. Neville was a big lad too, only a day older than Harry and he weighed in at least four pounds heavier so Harry had always been afraid to approach him, but now they seemed to be getting on well enough.
Sirius had dug his hands deeply into his pockets and was wandering along slowly, off in his own cloud. Having him here was brilliant, James couldn’t deny that but he wanted for the old days so desperately. He didn’t want Sirius to be afraid of talking to him, of cracking a joke or punching him on the shoulder, telling him he was an idiot. It was bloody unnatural for him to be so quiet.
“Reckon Dumbledore’ll get here soon,” James said conversationally.
“Hm?” Sirius said, looking up.
“I said ‘I reckon Dumbledore will be here soon’,” he repeated loudly. “Honestly Padfoot, you’re daft as well as deaf. Does Azkaban have an entrance fee for criminals with an IQ above 60 or something? Were you trying to blend in?”
Sirius stopped dead in his tracks.
James hadn’t meant to say that, he wanted to make a joke and he’d been trying to get Sirius to open up about what had happened in Azkaban and somehow those two concepts had intermingled and he’d said…that.
“Sorry, mate. So, so sorry. I’m an idiot. Merlin, I didn’t mean it like that. Forget I ever said anything, okay?” James stammered.
Sirius was just looking at him, a faint look of coldness in his eyes behind the hurt and confusion. “Never mind,” he said quietly after a moment of incredibly tense silence. “We all know your mouth and your brain aren’t connected.” He forced a mangled grin onto his mouth.
Remus had watched the little exchange cautiously, James could tell he was ready to step in with healing words and his body as a buffer shield if it came to it, but now that it appeared to have resolved itself, he breathed an audible sigh of relief. James wasn’t so sure it had passed, thick as he was, he got the sense that there were enough things unsaid between them that it was burbling away just beneath the surface.
Along with everything else he’d forced down. Honestly, the way he was going he was sure he’d be able to book himself permanently into St. Mungo’s.
Harry rocked excitably in James’ arms as they rounded the corner and turned into his room. The reason for Harry’s good cheer was immediately discovered upon entrance.
Dumbledore stood there, an innate calm surrounding him and a special smile for Harry who had always been charmed by James’ aging Professor. Harry gurgled and grinned. “ ‘Dor!” he squealed. Apart from ‘Mumma’, ‘Dada’, ‘Pafoo’, ‘Moo’, ‘Ta’ (which they had always thought was thank you, but he seemed to say it a lot whenever Peter was in the house. But he didn’t want to think about that.) and various words for food, it was really one of the only things he said.
James shifted Harry higher up on his hip, still tender muscles protesting under the strain of holding his increasingly chubby little boy for so long.
“Please don’t stand on my account, James,” Dumbledore said softly, sweeping his wand elegantly and conjuring several very comfortable looking chairs that had it tops over the worn hospital chairs that James had spent so many hours waiting in, often leaving him with imprints and he suspected a strange chair shaped curvature to his spine.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sirius and Remus both step forward and then hesitate as he awkwardly set about trying to sit down. Which was now quite a complicated feat with a cane in one hand, a leg that didn’t move properly and a baby in the other arm.
He finally sat down and relaxed against the cushy backing of the chair. Harry sat quietly and in awe, as though expecting to be entertained. Dumbledore didn’t say anything, nor did he appear to make any sort of movement. He kept his long fingers steeped in front of his chest and stared down his crooked nose at James.
James looked away.
“I know that nothing I can say or do will be of any help James, but please know that I am truly sorry for your loss,” Dumbledore murmured softly, his voice tinged with genuine sorrow.
James was beginning to feel a little sick of it being referred to as ‘his loss’. Lily had lost her life and it seemed as though they were already forgetting she’d ever been alive, she wasn’t just some casualty of war, another dead woman.
She wasn’t just a loss.
Lily had been…so wonderful and silly. She’d blown raspberries on Harry’s belly to make him laugh, told incredibly bad jokes and could swear vulgarly at the best of times. She’d been a prude when they were younger, an occasional killjoy, she’d been stubborn and selfish and sweet all at once. She had been alive and real as little as three days ago and it seemed as though everyone was just so bloody prepared to accept that she wasn’t anymore and now the most important thing about her was that she was dead.
James bit his tongue and clenched his fists. Wisely, Dumbledore had stopped speaking about anything to do with Lily and had moved onto other issues, such as his whereabouts in the time after James’ home had been attacked.
“I profusely regret that I was unable to foresee the possible consequences of Voldemort’s fall, I should have known that there might be desperate attempts to recover any possible information about,” he paused momentarily and nodded towards Remus and Sirius. “About the Prophecy.”
James craned around to see their reaction. He had completely forgotten that they hadn’t told either of them a lick about the Prophecy – though for very different reasons: Remus he had believed to be a traitor and with Sirius he figured that the less he knew, the better.
Both of them reacted with confusion and curiosity, looking in askance from Dumbledore to James. James nodded at them and turned his attention back to Dumbledore.
“James will explain later, I’m sure,” Dumbledore reassured them. “But for now I wish to explain what urgent business took me away from Hogwarts and contact with the Order. I was meeting with a source from inside the Death Eaters. He deferred from their ranks just before the attack, James and turned spy for the Order. He had gone into hiding and I feel now as though the meeting could have waited but…I allowed my own foolishness to interfere with my reason and Frank and Alice have paid the price,” he explained sombrely. “Sirius and Remus I also feel as though your incarcerations could have been prevented if I had possessed a shred of rationale and stayed for a few hours after the attacks, instructed the Order more thoroughly and prepared them for the coming situation. I can only apologise to all of you for my failings as leader for the Order and as your friend.”
James managed a smile and hoped it came off without looking too forced or weak, the last thing he wanted to do was give Dumbledore the impression that he couldn’t handle himself and Harry. He wanted Dumbledore to understand that he knew, that he understood
As though reading his mind, Dumbledore peered down at Harry who was still staring up in wonderment at him, James had never been able to figure out if he’d been hypnotised by the beard or if he genuinely liked and admired him. Long strands of silver hair swayed as Dumbledore leaned over with remarkable ability for a man of his age. He stared deeply into Harry’s eyes and then looked up at James. “May I?” he asked, fingers poised above his forehead.
James gave his consent and tried to watch the headmaster’s reactions, thinking that he might give something away.
“Curious,” he mumbled. His brow wrinkled as he tenderly prodded at the scar and the area surrounding, Harry, who would never grant any one but his own parents and Sirius to be that close to him, sat like a perfect little trooper. “Ted Tonks has seen to him?”
“Yes,” James replied dully. “Apart from residual trace magic, there’s nothing strange about it.” Of course, James had heard Ted say these words but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was incredibly wrong. The words of the Prophecy kept returning to him, through the haze of emotions and distractions: “Mark him as his equal.”
“Any theories?” Sirius asked, breaking his silence.
Dumbledore straightened Harry’s hair as well as he could over the scar and brushed his cheek lightly as he stood up. “Oh, I wouldn’t presume to guess, Sirius. If Ted has deemed the scar safe then there is no reason to believe otherwise, however – we may wish to keep a close eye on young Harry, he is an enigma, there is no precedent for surviving the Avada Kedavra and it may have as yet unforseen consequences.”
James swallowed and unconsciously his grip on Harry tightened. Dumbledore was only confirming that his paranoia wasn’t unfounded, but to hear another tell him that his son might suffer in the future because of what Voldemort had done to him was enough to drive him into absolute parental protective mania.
“I don’t mean to alarm you James,” Dumbledore said firmly, once again seeming to possess the ability to guess at his thoughts. “But it would be wise for all of us to be vigilant.”
Harry squirmed in his seat, impatient that no one in the room was entertaining him in any way and James stood him up on his lap. Harry balanced unsteadily in his father’s hands and leaned forward, smudging his dirty fingers across James’ glasses and proceeding to jam his fist into his mouth.
James wanted to smile at his antics, but as he watched his son bounce eagerly on his lap, sucking on his fist, he could only see the ugly scar on his forehead and wonder at what it might mean for him.
A/N: Again, again, sorry for this long gap between updates. To make up for it, it's another two in a row this time, but it will be the last for at least 10 days as I have a holiday down the South Coast to attend. I promise to sit on the shore on write pretty things and torture James some more.
As it stands I have another chapter complete after these two go up, however, silly as I am, I started to write a flashback and then realised that it didn't make sense after Chapter 9, so I wrote this one instead. The topic has to drift to Lily before the other one gets posted...and it will.
So, Chapter 13 and some of 14 have been written, Chapter 12 needs writing but I know where I'm going. Hopefully it won't be too long before I get it done and get it posted, because there are a few cetain scenes that I'm really looking forward to (involving Lily *coughs*)
Any comments on Dumbledore? I can't write the man to save my life. Also, yes, James is a dunderhead to say something like that to Sirius. Those two, eh?
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