Chapter 1 : With Each Breath
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Nausea threatened to overcome Lily Potter as she sat down heavily in one of her kitchen chairs. Running a hand over her stomach, the other supporting her head, she lowered her voice to a whisper.
'Not now, baby darling, Mummy doesn't need that.'
As if the child inside her had heard the words, the nausea suddenly vanished. Lily remembered what James had told her, trying to relax, but the chair seemed hard against her back. She couldn't be bothered to move. It was somehow reassuring that she was safe from the thunder raging on outside, but what did that matter when she was not safe from her worry?
This worry that Lily had tried to repress since James had left that morning returned to her in one fluid motion at the sound of the rattling windows. It was not enough that it had been snowing since sunrise; now Merlin had to play with her and use a bloody storm to enhance the drama. The questions rang in her ears as loud as the howling winds: was he all right? Had the Order been captured? Would she see a Patronus, soon, to inform her that something was dreadfully wrong?
With a stab of regret, she realized that were it not for this baby, she would be out there fighting right now. As soon as the Healer had confirmed that she was expecting, James had ordered - not even insisted politely, but downright ordered - that she stay at home and leave the Order of the Phoenix business to him. She had done enough, for now, what she had to do at the moment was focus on herself and their baby. But that left the never ending nights of incessant worry, the absence of her husband as he risked his life every day. How could that possibly be any good to her or their baby?
Lily stood up with a sigh and walked over to their tiny kitchen. The little money they had saved had been invested in this, their tiny cottage, practically buried in snow in the snug little village of Godric's Hollow. Lily liked it here, had always liked it; its safety and merriness made her feel oddly at home. It was in fair proximity of some respectable wizarding families, and the small high street provided her with daily shopping excursions. Everyone knew everyone in this village, which was how she thought things should be.
Her eyes wandered over to the kitchen counter. Wondering if she should make herself a snack, she suddenly noticed a note she had not read yet. It was from James, she saw, by the untidy scribble of his hasty hand. Her heart filled with emotion and laughter as she read the short lines:
Sexiest pregnant woman of the universe,
Thought up some names for the future little Potter. How about it?
Baby girl: Amelia, Lily, Scarlett (if she's got your hot temper)
Baby boy: Jamie, Harry, Sirius
See you later. Stop worrying.
Lily gave a weak chuckle and dried the sudden dampness from her eyes. Her fingers lingered over the boy names he had suggested, her heart swelling once more at the suggestion of Sirius. So typical of him.
To distract herself, she opened a draw and selected a pan, slamming it on the stove and reaching for the butter; it made hissing sounds when it hit the hot surface, as it melted and filled the room with its salty smell. She lowered the heat on the stove and opened the fridge, determined to cook a nice dinner for her husband, who would come home soon. Sure enough, as if he had heard her wishes, the key to the door was suddenly inserted, unlocked and opened; Lily flew over to the small entrance hall to greet her husband, but found to her utter dismay and dread that it was the not the familiar build she was staring at - but another, taller, more muscular man -
She grabbed her wand from inside her pocket and flung it at his direction; the man turned, lowered his drenched hood, raised his eyebrows and his hands in a gesture of mock surrender.
'It's me, Lily, calm down,' Sirius said reassuringly. Lily's heart jumped hyperactively as she dropped her wand to the floor and strangled a sob.
'He's fine, isn't he,' she cried, choking on her tears, 'tell me he's fine, Sirius!'
In a flash, before she was even aware of it, Sirius had reached her and enveloped her in his arms, pressing her head gently against his chest as he breathed into her ear, 'James is perfectly fine, Lily. He sent me to tell you.'
She slumped in his arms, letting go of her anxiety as her heart ceased its irregular beat. The tears could not be prevented, but she angrily brushed them away and took a step away from Sirius. He was staring at her concernedly.
'I hate this,' she mumbled. He nodded.
'All this worrying can't be good for the baby, woman,' he said, his tone of voice suddenly full of mocking scorn. Lily smiled weakly and eyed him more carefully now that the worst had passed. He was wearing a very wet cloak and his long dark hair was tied back into an equally drenched ponytail; he stared apologetically at his boots, forming a puddle on the carpet.
'You're soaking,' Lily said, a hint of reproach in her voice. 'Let me.'
'No, I'll do it,' Sirius hurriedly said, removing his boots and his cloak. He flung them over an arm and followed Lily as she led him into the joint kitchen and living room. He pulled up a chair near the fireplace, as he had done so many times before, and hung his cloak on it so it could dry. Lily watched him, seemingly fascinated, as he freed his hair from its ponytail and shook it around his face. There was something so sensual about that man, even she had always felt it. James had been a lady's man from the beginning, but his attentions had always been directed specifically towards her; Sirius, on the contrary, had never been satisfied with one woman, and if he had, that woman was never a lover, but a friend. Lily realized that she fit into that category, and, surprisingly enough, it depressed her.
Sirius noticed her watching.
'Something's burning,' he informed her, his gaze directed at the stove.
'Damn,' she muttered, and hurried over to the pan where, sure enough, the butter had formed a dark brown crust. She scraped most of it away and reached for the boiled potatoes from yesterday; with a flick of her wand, they were chopped in neat pieces and she hovered them onto the pan, where they sat toasting and sizzling. She eyed Sirius through the corner of her eye once more. He was leaning in his chair, head back, his eyes closed, enjoying the warmth of the fire, though Lily was almost certain that he was not asleep. His breathing was too irregular, his body language still too tense.
Lily bent down to one of the small cabinets and opened it, taking out a fluffy white towel which smelled wonderfully of soap. She hugged it to her for a moment, then crossed the short distance and stood behind Sirius' chair. She started rubbing the towel against his wet hair and he opened his eyes, looking at her as she did so. Strangely, her nerves tingled. Merlin, he was handsome. He was irresistible. She suddenly felt like a 16 year old again.
'I can do that,' he said quietly, reaching for her wrists. She let go of the towel and pretended to attend to his boots and cloak as he finished drying his hair. This felt so familiar. As if he were James, as if the seat he was sitting in belonged to him.
It felt good.
'What happened?' she finally breathed. 'Did you find what Dumbledore was looking for?'
Sirius shook his head, finished with the towel. He folded it and laid it on the other seat.
'We didn't even meet any Death Eaters,' he sighed, and a note of disappointment was almost detectible in his musical voice. Lily gazed at him momentarily, lost in his sombre appearance. How could a man so deep, so dark, be so determined to do right? He was so willing to destroy for the sake of good, yet he seemed so... driven by it. Where was the source of this drive, how did he get the energy, the power?
'So James sent you to tell me,' she continued slowly. Sirius nodded.
'He and Dumbledore had to go back to Head Quarters to finish up something. I don't think they'll be going out again tonight.' He sighed once more. 'I'm sorry, Lily, it should be me with Albus and James with you right now. James wouldn't hear of it.'
'He's so reckless,' Lily muttered a little angrily, avoiding Sirius' persistent eyes. She heard him chuckle.
'Funny... That's usually the description I'm given.'
'You? Reckless? Hardly,' Lily scoffed. 'You're a piece of cake compared to James. He acts like he doesn't have a wife or a child.' Sirius stayed silent and Lily bit her lip in regret. 'I shouldn't have said that. It's not true. Sometimes I just... I wish he didn't...' She shook her head. 'You would never do that, I know you never would - leave me or the baby... Not - not if you loved us, you wouldn't...'
'I do love you,' Sirius whispered, running a hand over his brow. He looked frustrated. 'I love you and James. You're my family.'
Lily turned around, a part of her angry, another disappointed. It was not the answer she had hoped for, even expected. She returned to the potatoes, suddenly fuming with herself, and guilty, too: how could she possibly be thinking this with James risking his neck every day? Stupid, stupid woman... She was the reckless one. Reckless and irresponsible.
She turned the stove off and put the oily, roasted potatoes on a plate, wondering what to serve with them. The scent of the oil and butter suddenly seemed overwhelming, and she gave a tiny moan as the nausea returned, this time stronger than before - not by worry, but by the conflict of emotions and the pregnancy combined. Sirius was suddenly by her side again, supporting her elbow.
'The baby?' he asked. She nodded. He guided her to one of the kitchen chairs and kneeled by her side. She had broken into a sweat as she resisted the urge to throw up.
'You shouldn't be cooking when you feel like this,' he said gently. With a frown of mingled disapproval and concern, he pushed the potatoes as far away from her as possible.
'You're hungry,' she protested, clamping her hands over her stomach.
'You're three months pregnant,' was his prompt answer, 'who cares if I'm hungry?'
She did not have the strength or the will to answer; she laid her head back and closed her eyes, hating her body at the moment. She wondered if she had time to get a bucket or whether she would just puke all over Sirius right there. It would serve him right, come to think of it. The stupid idiot.
All thoughts vanished as she suddenly felt cool hands on her brow and forehead, pushing her red hair back and cooling her down instantaneously. Even the nausea seemed diminished.
She refused to open her eyes, it felt too good; she nodded slightly, and the hands went further down, tracing her temples to her jaw, down to her neck which she was sure must be throbbing with the intensity of her heart rate. The cool hands passed behind her neck now, at the base of her head, supporting it; she allowed a sigh of pleasure to escape her as she relaxed and the nausea vanished completely. She opened her eyes.
Sirius was incredibly close; she was amazed that she had not felt his breath on her face, and wondered if he had been holding it. The intensity of his eyes was astonishing, enough to make her stop breathing, the tiny distance separating them infuriating. She had not felt like this in years - not since that first time she had forced James to go to a Muggle cinema when she was 16 and on their first date, and the darkness and romance of the film completely overwhelmed them and made their bodies tingle with anticipation. And yet here he was, another man, Sirius, James' best friend, inches from her, his right hand at the base of her head, his left frozen on her cheekbone. Lily was suddenly aware of a sharp pain in her ribs and realized that she was not breathing; she exhaled sharply.
The noise seemed to bring Sirius back to his senses and he let go of her, standing up and backing away both hurriedly and confusedly. Their eyes were still locked, the intensity as conscious as always.
'Don't, Lily, don't,' he mumbled forcibly, turning around to avoid her persistent gaze. His eyes seemed to focus on the note James had left and his body language suddenly portrayed some form of defeat.
'Sirius -' she began again, but he shook his head violently and turned around to meet her eyes again, the note in his hand.
'I can't, Lily, I can't,' he choked out furiously, 'I won't be able to control myself. I can't do this to James.'
He held up the note as if it demonstrated his argument, but Lily simply shook her head, her eyes damp again as she struggled with the truth - the truth she had only just comprehended.
'How long?' she asked mutely. Sirius held her gaze for lasting moments, then suddenly sighed.
'Does it matter?'
'Yes. Yes, it does to me.'
'Too long,' he went on, casting the note aside, 'anyway, I always knew I couldn't have you. You were always James'. He loved you first.'
'You idiot,' she breathed furiously, getting up. She wanted to shake him. 'Was it just a game of 'Finders, Keepers'?'
'Of course not -' blurted Sirius out in horror. 'No, he - he deserved you -'
'And me? Was I never to have a say?'
He simply stared at her, his lips forming a straight line. She remembered dreaming of those lips, well aware that he would never touch her with them; she had always, always, felt sure that he didn't want her. The distance between them, his slight hostility towards her at Hogwarts - she had eternally believed that it was because she was taking away his best friend, not because James was taking her from him. And then the war happened, and it brought them closer, but she had only believed it to be friendship - never had he even hinted at anything more. She had put her desires away from him, repressed her true emotions in order to better accommodate her slightly less intense feelings for James - because she believed him to be indifferent.
'You decided for me,' she exclaimed angrily, 'you left me no choice. Always, James, always. What if I wanted you more?'
Sirius broke away from her furious glare, shaking his head and placing the note back on the kitchen counter. It was difficult to guess what he was thinking; his expression was unreadable. His body language, however, seemed to convey some form of defeat, of cowardice, of utter regret.
'Why did you have to think of James first?' she continued in despair, taking steps closer to him. 'Why not of me?'
'It's no use talking about that now,' he muttered slowly. His eyes roamed over her as she approached him and his breathing was more irregular than ever, coming out in husky breaths. Three months of pregnancy had done nothing but good to Lily - her shapes and curves were more defined, her expression was luminous. Even in a checkered apron and bare feet she could look sexier than any woman he had even been with. It was maddening. How long had he tried to repress this? Why had he had to lose self control now?
She stopped within inches of him. Suddenly the anger had vanished from her face, only to be replaced with a sadness so intense that it made his heart ache and yearn to hold her.
'I kept waiting,' she whispered. 'All those times I turned James down. I kept waiting for you to say something. Don't you understand?' she repeated a little forcibly, 'I waited for you. All those girls you were with... And James kept asking and asking. I felt sure you didn't want me. Why didn't you tell me you didn't want me, you bastard!'
She flung herself at him, her hands balled into fists; he wasn't sure if she was going to hit him or kiss him. He felt the tears running down her face as she struggled against his hold around her; he merely pulled her closer to him, inhaling her scent, keeping this memory for years to feast on.
'Because that would have been a lie,' he whispered into her ear, letting one hand tuck itself in between the curls of her hair. She stopped struggling.
'But I would have believed it,' she breathed against his chest, 'yes, I think I would have believed it.'
'You won't ever believe it now.'
He buried his nose in her red curls, the scent even sweeter here: so typically Lily, to smell of florals and fruit. The feel of her body against his was exciting, new, exhilarating even. It was enough for the time being, but how long until he yearned for more, until he would cross the limit and press his lips against hers? How great was his self-control? Even now, the anticipation was mounting. For her too; not a stranger to the body language of women, he felt her curves move closer to his, now relaxing her face against his neck. It was getting difficult to resist - so difficult.
'We can't do this to James,' he managed to choke out. Her breathing stopped for a moment before becoming heavier. 'I can't, Lily.' He was trying to convince himself, trying to escape from that round, soft pleasure, all the while welcoming it by not letting her go. How he had wanted this. 'You'll regret it. You will, Lily.'
'I don't care,' she murmured truthfully, 'this moment is eternal.'
The words shook him out of his trance and he yanked her back, his grip on her upper arms almost painful as his face grew uncharacteristically serious. For a moment, her expression was filled with fear.
'It's not eternal, Lily,' he exclaimed angrily, 'and it will never be enough. James could come walking through that door right now, any minute, and the moment would stop. But we can make it stop now, before we do something we'll never stop feeling guilty about, something that will ruin James - because it will, Lily. I've never seen a man love someone as much as James does you.'
Her eyes were round, unwilling to admit the truth. She placed a hand on his long and smooth cheek and he leaned into it, his lips grazing her palm wistfully.
'Let's do the right thing, Lily.'
She nodded, defeated. But she could not stop the tears running down as she strangled a sob, raising her hands to her eyes and drying them - damn pregnancy, why did she always have to be so emotional? She felt Sirius hugging her again, but it was a different hug: a friend's hug. He suddenly lifted her in his arms and carried her to the couch, laying her gently down. She was overwhelmed, exhausted, hardly able to move at all and not particularly wanting to either. She saw Sirius begin to stand up again but tugged at his wrist; he moved closer hesitantly.
'Sirius,' she murmured, 'will you please... once more?'
He stared at her, his expression unreadable - or was it empathy? - and then he nodded. Closing her eyes, she sighed as she felt his cool hands once more on her brow, forgetting everything else as she slowly dozed off.
She woke when the door opened again, although she was too comfortable to open her eyes; somehow, knowing Sirius was there was enough - she knew she was safe. She listened lazily as Sirius stood up from his seat next to her and walked over to the entrance hall. Her heart beat more quickly when she heard it was James.
'Everything all right, Padfoot?'
'Yeah - yeah, everything's fine. Lily's asleep.'
She heard James chuckle affectionately.
'With the load she's carrying, I'm not surprised. My boy is going to be a strapping young lad like his father.'
Sirius gave a bark of laughter, and Lily's heart beat hyperactively once more - it was a beautiful sound, harsh though it was. She heard them move in the kitchen. The scraping of plates and the clatter of forks as they made light conversation.
'You read this?' James asked.
'Yeah,' was Sirius' reply. 'I'm honored, Prongs. But I don't want the child to be called Sirius. It would be bad luck.'
'Would it now, I wonder.'
'Anyway, during babysitting it would be too confusing - imagine Lily yelling at us, I wouldn't know whether it was me or the kid she was telling off.'
They chuckled. Lily smiled despite herself, a few tears leaking from her closed eyes.
'Well, godfather is non-negotiable. Lily agrees.'
There was a moving silence as the air, thick with emotion, seemed to swell with unspoken thoughts.
'Prongs... There's no - I can't - Thank you, friend.'
'Friend?' James' voice being so serious was as uncharacteristic as Sirius' face being grave. 'Brother. Nothing less.'
She heard them grasp each other and was certain they were hugging; moments later, they entered the living room. Guilt squirmed uncomfortably at the pit of her stomach. She hoped the traces of her tears weren't too noticeable in the firelight. The silence grew louder as she imagined them watching her seemingly sleeping figure.
'I still can't get over it,' James murmured, 'that she chose me.' Silence. 'I think it's a boy. I can feel it.'
'Harry is a nice name,' Sirius said. His voice was dull, perhaps strangled with emotion. 'Harry James Potter.'
'I like it,' James grinned, 'I think Lily will too. I'd better get her off to bed - she's not waking up anytime soon.'
She heard his feet shuffle towards her, then stop.
'I'll take her,' Sirius said, and her heart missed a beat as she listened harder. 'You've had a long day, Prongs.'
She could imagine James' grateful smile and heard him walk back into the kitchen; before she knew it, a pair of strong arms were gently lifting her from the couch, pressing her gently to a chest. The swaying motion of the walk would normally have made her feel sick, but she knew that it was Sirius carrying her, and nothing seemed to bother her. She felt him push down the door handle to the bedroom with his elbow and swing her into the room, laying her gently on the bed. She still feigned sleep, curious to see what he would do.
His soft hands grazed her face once more. She did not have to wait long until his lips were pressed against her forehead. She opened her eyes, put her hand behind his head and pulled him to where his lips really should have been; on hers. He did not struggle, but he did not respond; she deepened the kiss and he relaxed against her lips, sliding a hand behind her neck and pulling her closer.
She was the one to pull away. A part of her was afraid that she could not control herself; he seemed to be thinking the same thing, his eyes filled with anguish.
'You did the right thing, Lily,' he whispered in her ear, before pressing his lips against it and retreating. 'Go to sleep.'
He closed the door behind him, leaving the room in darkness. Lily rolled over on her other side, pulling the covers up to her chin.
She did not have to cry. There really was no need to cry.
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