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Chapter 23 : Dark days
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“Has anyone seen Padfoot lately?” James asked, half a sausage still in his mouth. They were having breakfast at the Potters’ house – Remus, James and Lily – and James had obviously just had an idea.
“The funeral was only three days ago,” Remus pointed out. “I thought we agreed to give him some space.”
James seemed to consider that. “Yeah, we did, didn’t we?” he agreed, fortunately having swallowed his sausage. “But I think we should go check on him. He might have been drinking non-stop since then and I don’t want him to kill himself.”
“He has been working, remember,” Lily said. “Put his hand up for a couple of errands for Dumbledore, didn’t he?”
James nodded slowly. “Yeah, but he’s probably back now. What do you say we pay him a surprise visit?”
“Just to make sure he’s okay?” Lily prodded. Remus could tell that she didn’t want to invade Sirius’ privacy too much, but also wanted to ensure he was getting through this difficult time intact.
“Yep, just that,” James agreed. “We’ll grab Wormtail on the way. What do you reckon?”
“I’m worried about him,” Lily admitted. “I’m in.”
Remus nodded. “Yes, me too,” he agreed. “I remember what he was like when they broke up at the start of the year. He could be worse now.”
James nodded too, looking serious. “Good point, Moony. Right, I’ll get onto Wormtail and let him know to expect us.”
An hour later, the four of them were outside Sirius’ flat in London. They’d all been given wand access (except Lily, of course) so any of them could get in; however, they looked at James to lead them, as they always did. James, for his part, looked at them all in turn. “Ready?” They nodded, and he tapped his wand a couple of times on the door and opened it.
The room was dark and they could just see Sirius was sitting against the far wall, his head resting on his knees and his shoulders shaking. On the floor next to him were at least a dozen photographs of Laura and a half-empty bottle of Firewhisky. When he heard them he looked up, his face wet and his eyes bright and bloodshot, and whipped out his wand to cast a feeble Shield Charm.
“You’ll have to do better than that, mate,” James said lightly, clearly trying to cheer his friend up just a little. “If we were Death Eaters you’d be dead already.”
Sirius shrugged. “So what?” he asked bitterly. “Got nothing to live for now anyway.” He wiped his face hurriedly and put the top back on the whisky bottle.
“Don’t say that,” Remus said placatingly. “You’ve got plenty to live for. A world without Voldemort, for one thing.”
“Yeah, great,” Sirius said, still bitterly. “Brilliant for you lot.”
“Look,” Remus said, going over to him and reaching for a photograph, “it’s not –”
“DON’T,” Sirius said sharply, snatching up the photos around him as his friend approached, and flicking through them until what must have been his favourite was on top. “Don’t touch them,” he went on, his voice threatening. Then he fell back against the wall and stared at them, obviously making a point of not looking at his visitors. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet and resigned. “They’re all I’ve got.”
Lily and Peter were busying themselves with cleaning up, though they drew a blank in the kitchen. There were no dishes to do or put away, because there was no food to be eaten.
“Mate, when was the last time you ate?” James asked, sitting down next to Sirius, though not too close in case it set him off again.
Sirius shrugged. “Not sure,” he admitted. “Day before yesterday? The funeral?”
Peter looked scandalised. “Not even when you’ve been working?” They had thought that those odd jobs he’d been doing for Dumbledore might have had some degree of success in taking his mind off things.
He just shrugged again. “Had other things to do then,” he said simply. “I didn’t think of it.”
“Well, we’re taking you out for a feed,” James said firmly. “You’ll kill yourself otherwise. Man cannot live on drink alone.”
“I reckon I can give it a good shot,” Sirius muttered under his breath.
“Look, I know this is hard,” James went on. “But you have to at least try to keep going. When Dad died …”
“Yeah, when your dad died,” Sirius said scornfully. “Your dad. It’s completely different.”
“Not for Mum it wasn’t,” James said quietly.
“Still, they’d had years,” Sirius said, his voice bitter. “And she still has you. It’s not the same.”
“Hey, I lost someone too,” James said defensively. “You have to recognise that. Death is death, Padfoot. We all have to deal with it at some point.”
“It’s not the same,” Sirius repeated stubbornly. “Wow, you lost a parent.” He paused, generous enough not to say the words that everyone knew he was thinking. Big deal. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet, mournful, and it was clear that he was struggling to get the words out. “I lost everything.”
A couple of days later they went to see him again, this time with high hopes of pulling him out of his despair. “Guess what?” James said as he easily deflected the Shield Charm that was sent his way as they entered. “We’ve got a job to do.”
Sirius, in almost an identical position as the last time they’d done this, actually seemed to perk up at this news. “Work?”
“Yep,” James said confidently. “So you might be able to get some of that frustration out on a Death Eater or two. Sound good?”
Sirius was starting to pull himself up to standing, all the while putting the photos in his hand in his preferred order. “I’d like that,” he admitted.
“First things first though,” Remus said sternly. “You’re not going out fighting on an empty stomach. Have you bothered getting any food yet?”
“There’s some bread, I think,” Sirius said vaguely. “You know, the stuff Lily got the other day.”
James looked shrewdly at him. “You haven’t touched it, have you?”
Sirius shrugged. “Didn’t feel like it,” he said. “Needed too much effort.”
“You have to start looking after yourself,” James said sternly. “Look, the Order could really use someone like you at the moment, but you have to be in decent shape to do it. And don’t you want to get out there and find out who did this to her? You could get some revenge.”
Sirius’ dead-looking eyes started to light up. “Make them suffer like I’ve suffered,” he muttered. “Yeah, sounds good.” He pulled his robes further up his shoulders and started to make his way to the kitchen. “Okay, Prongs, you win. I’m in.”
“Are you sure you should be signing up for so much?” James asked hesitantly. They were leaving an Order meeting a week or so later and Sirius had put his hand up for what seemed like half the missions on offer, most of which were very dangerous.
Sirius shrugged. “What else am I going to do? If I’m out there, I might get a clue on who did it, and I’d hate to be them when I get that info.”
Remus looked at him. It was still about revenge and, he suspected, about keeping busy. James, however, didn’t seem to get that.
“Mate, you’re going to find yourself locked out of your place if you’re not careful,” he warned. “If you go too long without going back in it might seal the doors against you.”
Sirius shrugged again. “I managed to get in after a full term away during school,” he pointed out. “Besides, I don’t really want to go back there too much. I like working.”
Remus nodded; Peter just looked confused. “Why don’t you want to go back? You live there, don’t you?”
“What’s there for me now?” Sirius asked simply, his eyes in front of him. “Couple of empty rooms and too many memories. Not much incentive in that, really. Nope, I’d rather be out on the job, doing some good. Seems the least I can do now.”
Remus understood. At home there were the photos of Laura and the bottles of Firewhisky. It was much healthier for Sirius to be out working for the Order, even if he was volunteering for the suicide missions. Then again, if anyone could pull those off, it’d be Sirius.
He was forced to reconsider this a few days later, though, when they went to collect Sirius from St Mungo’s.
“What on earth happened to you?” James asked. Even though he’d been discharged Sirius looked a mess. Covered in cuts and bruises, he was clearly recovering from some recently-fixed bones and damage from more than one curse.
“Walked into an ambush,” he said simply. “They’d heard we were coming. I was lucky to get out with this.”
“Anyone else hurt?”
Sirius looked at James scornfully. “Mate, we were all hurt. It was an ambush. No one died, though, which is a good thing. Well, none of us, that is. I think Moody got one of them before he got hit.” He looked at his bruised arm. “Could have been much worse.”
“Well, we’re taking you home,” James said firmly. “You need rest, and the Healer told us that you have to stay put for a couple of days while those bruises heal.”
“Great,” Sirius muttered. “Home.”
“How about our place, then?” James offered. “You can have the spare room. Not your old one, Moony’s got that, but the other one. The one …”
“The one Laura stayed in,” Sirius finished for him. “I think that’d be just as bad.” He pulled himself to standing with obvious effort. “But, then, it’d probably do me good to have your mum fussing over me for a bit, wouldn’t it?” He was clearly making an effort to act normally, to not dwell too much on his loss, and Remus was keen to make the most of this.
“Do you the world of good,” he said calmly. “And you can always go for a run out the back when you need to blow off some steam.” There was a woodland over the back fence that they used for full moons, and he was sure that letting out some pent-up energy as Padfoot would do more for Sirius than almost anything else would.
Sirius’ eyes lit up for a moment, confirming Remus’ thoughts. “Yeah, I could do that,” he admitted. “Okay, you’ve convinced me. The Potter house it is.”
It appeared Mrs Potter was thrilled to have the opportunity to baby Sirius for a while. “He never lets me do this normally,” she confided to Remus as she bustled around the kitchen assembling a plateful of comfort food for him. “But I think it’s helping.”
Remus thought he agreed, but it could be hard to tell with Sirius. Mrs Potter was encouraging him to talk about Laura and what she’d meant, all the time showering him with food, (non-alcoholic) drink and, when he would let her, the occasional motherly hug. Her theory was that once he’d got it all out of his system he’d be able to cope better. Remus wasn’t sure about that, but early indications were at least vaguely encouraging.
“It’s just so hard,” he heard Sirius say one day through the open door of the drawing room. Remus paused, unsure if him walking past the door would interrupt the conversation too much. “Knowing that no matter what, I’m never going to see her again. It shouldn’t have happened this way.”
“It is hard,” Mrs Potter said comfortingly. “But you’re strong. You’ll manage.”
“It’s just … it’s like I had my whole life planned out,” Sirius went on quietly. “And she was in it, you know? So now, with her gone, I’ve lost all of that. My whole life, gone.” He paused, and Remus decided that backtracking to where he’d come from was by far the more desired option. The kitchen could wait. He just heard Sirius say something about not having anything to look forward to any more as he headed back upstairs.
“How’s he getting along?” James asked as they passed on the stairs.
“Having a heart to heart with your mum at the moment,” Remus told him. “Steer clear of the drawing room, okay?”
James nodded. “Right. Well, I hope it’s working.”
Remus shrugged. “If we can just get him to stay off the Firewhisky for a while I’ll count it as a victory. But yeah, I think that if anything might work, it’d be this.”
James paused. “The drawing room, you say? Right, I’ll stay out of the kitchen for now too so I don’t disturb them. What do you say to a spot of Quidditch out the back?”
Remus grinned. “Excellent idea, mate. I’ll go and get my broom.”
Half an hour later, Sirius came out to join them. James flew to the ground to greet him.
“How’re you doing?”
Sirius looked at his healed arms. “All fixed, I’d say.”
Remus knew that wasn’t what James had meant, but he also thought Sirius probably knew that too and was choosing not to answer the unspoken question. That was like Sirius, he thought, keeping it all in for as long as he could.
“Up for a game, then?”
Remus landed next to him. “Uh, Prongs, there are only three of us. How exactly were you planning on getting a game going?”
“Call Wormtail, of course,” James said smugly. “Don’t you think it’s time the four of us had a bit of fun again? It’s been long enough.”
Remus looked anxiously at Sirius, wondering how he’d take this suggestion. To his relief, he seemed in favour. “Yes … fun,” he said slowly. “It sounds good. How do I have that again?”
James laughed and handed over a spare broom. “Well, mate, you get on the broom and forget that life on the ground even exists. Then we try to kill you with a Bludger. It’s brilliant.”
Sirius grinned, a sight none of them had seen for a while. Maybe, Remus reflected, Mrs Potter’s form of counselling was actually working. “Sounds good,” he said again. “When can Wormtail get here?”
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