Chapter 1 : Day 1
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“Together, whatever this test is?” Sirius muttered. James gave him a look. “Right, stupid question,” Sirius said, managing a grin despite the circumstances.
“Stupid,” James agreed, his eyes not quite focused; he was obviously thinking very hard about something.
“You look like you’re getting ready for N.E.W.T.s,” Sirius said with a small smile.
“Feels a bit like it,” James said wryly.
“I don’t know why everyone else here looks so nervous,” Sirius said quietly. Very quietly; he did not want to piss off a room full of stressed and highly competent wizards. “They’ve had twice as long to get ready for this.”
“Wishing you’d had longer, Padfoot?” James said lightly, truly meeting his eyes for the first time. Behind his glasses, James’ hazel eyes were bright, waiting to see if Sirius would rise to his bait.
Not a chance, Prongsie. “Nah. Together, remember?” he said.
“If I could have your attention, please,” said a witch’s cool, professional voice. Everyone in the room stiffened. “The final component of your Auror Examination is about to commence. You will spend two nights-” Sirius saw James pale at that - no doubt dreading Lily’s wrath for his unexplained absence when he got home, “-inside the testing arena which has been specially designed to mimic a real battle. As a real battle would, this arena will test you physically and mentally. As you would in a real battle, you will be fighting enemies and, as in a real battle, you will need to know when to have allies and when to work alone. As in a real battle, you will need to form strategies and you will need to know what spells to use and when. Points will be awarded for your ability to cope with challenges presented inside the arena, for successful application of the skills you’ve obtained in the Program and for your general ability to survive. You need two-hundred points to graduate from Trainee to Auror.”
“Who are we fighting?” James mouthed, frowning. Sirius shrugged.
“Inside the arena,” the witch’s voice continued, “you have no friends. Inside the arena, it is every trainee for themselves.” Everyone looked around, trying to decide who the biggest threats were. “For every confrontation where you are the successor, you will receive points. The number of points depends on how spectacular the defeat is. You may do whatever is necessary to incapacitate your fellows but be warned; you are being watched, and use of the Killing or Cruciatus Curse or any other spell that results in actual death or permanent harm to the victim will be treated as it would in the outside world: You will be expelled from the Program and hand-delivered to Azkaban.”
“No friends in the arena?” James breathed, glancing at Sirius, while everyone chattered about Azkaban and the Unforgivables.
“Dragon dung,” Sirius muttered.
“Together anyway?” James asked hopefully. Sirius nodded.
“Before you are admitted into the arena you will be checked by a Healer. They will explain everything else that you need to know. When your name is called, go through the door on your left and then through the door – also on the left - with your corresponding number. Benjamin Ackerly, number one. Caroline Austen, number two. William Baddams, number three. Sirius Black, number four. Peter Blackburn, number five...”
Sirius nodded to James who was looking pale but determined and then followed Peter Blackburn through the door on the left of the waiting room. He found himself in a narrow corridor, where he could go either left or right. The trainees before him had all gone right, so he followed. That’s door number one, Sirius thought as he passed it. He walked for almost a minute where he passed staircases – though they were on the right – until he came to door number two. Interestingly, the corridor seemed to be curving, and he suspected that if he followed it long enough, he’d end up back at the door to the waiting room. And there’s door number three... After another few minutes, he arrived at door number four. This is it...
He pushed it open into a small but brightly lit room with a bed in one corner, a fireplace in another and a door directly opposite the one he’d just come through. Next to the bed was a table, equipped with a tray of food and drink and waiting on the bed was a very familiar witch whose eyes were as vivid a green as the Healer’s robes she was wearing. “Hello,” she said, grinning at Sirius’ stunned look. “I’m Healer Potter and I’ll be taking care of you for the duration of your examination.”
“Lily!” Sirius exclaimed, rushing forward to hug the laughing red-headed witch. “I didn’t know you’d be coming!”
“Neither did I until this morning; this is part of my test to be a Healer about judgement and performing under pressure. Thankfully I had time to speak to Dumbledore. He’s cleared us – you, me and James - from Order duty for the week.” She grinned. “Remus is grumpy about having to take some of your shifts.”
Sirius felt a momentary stab of worry. The war hadn’t stopped simply because he, James and Lily were taking a break. Remus would have Peter for moral support, of course, but Peter never duelled much these days; he was too much of a liability. Remus could handle himself, there was no doubting that, and there would be Order members with him but Sirius still didn’t like the idea of him out there without the rest of them.
Lily read his expression. “He’ll be fine, I’m sure.” She checked her watch and frowned. “You won’t be, though, if I don’t start explaining,” she said, with her Head Girl face on, “and neither will James because I have to brief him as soon as I’m done here. Basically, you have to survive for three days in conditions that have been designed to replicate an actual battle. You’ll have to find your own food and water; some is natural – you’ll see what I mean once you’re in – and some of it is kept in storerooms. The storerooms,” she continued, seeing Sirius’ questioning look, “are designed to trigger confrontation between trainees. If you find food and water, you get points. If you defeat someone in a duel and take their food and water, you’ll also get points.”
Sirius nodded, beginning to see how this worked. “If you form an alliance,” Lily continued, “the Aurors who watch will award you points depending on how strong it is, and how well you’re able to work together. You’ll lose points for betraying that alliance and you’ll lose points if one of your team-members gets hurt. Alternatively, if you play alone, you’ll gain and lose points depending on how well that works.” She hesitated, losing her professional tone. “I know you aren’t the type, but do not use the Killing or Cruciatus Curses.”
She pursed her lips. “You are permitted to use the Imperius Curse.” Sirius could see she disapproved of this and couldn’t blame her; he didn’t like it either. “You will, however, be penalised for over-use. To replace the other two, there’s a curse that inflicts momentary pain – a bit like being electrocuted. The incantation is ‘Dolorus’. There is also a Killing Curse.” Lily’s wrinkled her nose as if the concept was distasteful. “It’s harmless – it tickles a bit but it reacts with the charm that you and the other trainees need to wear. It will ‘kill’ your opponent in the arena. The incantation is ‘Meridiem Nox’.” Her expression darkened. “It’s not something to use lightly. ‘Killing’ and opponent in the arena means they’ll fail their test.”
“I won’t be killing anyone,” Sirius said.
Lily bit her lip. “I don’t think the other trainees will be thinking the same way.”
“They aren’t all as noble as you and James are...”
“Lils, you’re making me blush,” he said, batting his eyelashes at her.
“Sirius!” Lily said, a little louder than she’d probably meant to. “This isn’t a joke! You need to be careful. You’ll all be scared of failing and scared of each other and you’ll be hungry and tired. Accidents happen.”
“I’ll be careful.”
“I hope so,” Lily said, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Anyone would think you liked James and I now, Lils!” Sirius teased.
She gave him a half-smile and she brushed a finger over her wedding ring. “Look after him, Sirius.”
“What are brothers for?” he asked. Lily smiled. “Have you seen the arena?”
“Aurors and Healers have platforms that are suspended above it,” she said. “I was up there earlier.”
“What’s it like?”
“Huge,” she said. “About a mile in diameter. Now,” she said, drawing his attention back with her Head Girl voice, “I’m your Healer, and James’, for the next three days.”
“Isn’t there a rotation?” Sirius asked, surprised.
Lily shook her head, looking truly worried for the first time. “No. I have to be ready to tend you – either of you – at a moment’s notice; that’s why this is part of my exam too.”
“When do you sleep?”
“I wanted to talk to you about that,” she said. “You and James will stick together, right?”
“Stupid question,” Sirius said.
Lily smiled. “I thought so. When you and James are in a place where you feel safe, tap your arms with your wands and say ‘Hiyacintho Lux’. That’ll tell me that you think you’re safe enough for me to not be watching and I can sleep.” Sirius nodded. “If at any point you feel like you need medical help, you need to come back to the door you enter the arena through.”
“Where is it?”
Lily’s eyes glittered and she raised a hand. “Right there,” she said, pointing at the door opposite the one Sirius had entered through.
Sirius was on his feet in an instant. “The arena’s through there?” he asked, eager to see what it looked like.
Lily put herself between him and the door and planted her hands on her hips. “Sit,” she said firmly. “There’s a lot more I need to get through before you can so much as touch that handle and I need to do that as quickly as possible.”
“Why?” Lily’s eyes narrowed dangerously. Sirius sat back down. “Keep talking,” he said hastily.
She waited for a moment, likely checking if he was going to keep interrupting. When he stayed quiet, she smiled. Bet she didn’t know I’m capable of paying attention, he thought smugly. “Before you go out, I’ll put a charm on you. It’s a health indicator, designed specifically for this exam to show how healthy you are. You’ll be able to see it, and so will I because I cast it, but no one else will be able to. It’s something of a safety measure, so you don’t accidentally die because you’re too stubborn to find a Healer. Bright green is healthy and that’s what I’ll restore you to if you come through that door. Yellow is also healthy, but the greener it is, the better. Yellow might mean you’re tired or hungry, or that you have a headache. If you come through that door to be healed, you have to stay until I heal you, and then you have a two hour time penalty after that.”
“So I just sit here for two hours?”
Lily nodded grimly. “Orange is a worry. It means you’re sick, you’ve broken a bone, you’re dehydrated, or that you’re sleep deprived to the point where it’s affecting your performance in the arena. That’s a six hour penalty. Red is a problem. It means that not only is your performance slipping, but that your injury is starting to affect your health. Red generally arises if something orange has been left untreated but unlike orange or yellow, red won’t go away on its own; you’ll keep getting worse. At any time you’re red, I can retrieve you from the arena without you coming to the doors.”
“Collect us as soon as we’re red, then.”
Lily raised an eyebrow. “If you’re retrieved by a Healer, you’re out of the arena and kept in here-” she gestured around the tiny room, “-for twenty-four hours before you’re allowed back out again.”
“But that’s a quarter of the time!”
“It’s an incentive not to get hurt,” she said. “In a real battle, like we’ve done with the Order, you getting sent to St Mungo’s means we’re down by a fighter. That could mean the battle.” Sirius nodded under her strict, rather McGonagall-ish, expression. “If you come to me before I decide to retrieve you, you’ll have a ten hour penalty.”
“Noted: If I go red, come straight here.”
“Or fix it yourself,” Lily said. Her tone changed. “I’ve seen what you can heal, Sirius.” Sirius’ mind jumped back to the full-moon-gone-wrong incident in their seventh year, where James had arrived in their dormitory, minutes from death, and Sirius had had to fix him because the alternative meant taking him to Madam Pomfrey and explaining that James was an illegal Animagus who’d been mauled by their Werewolf roommate. Sirius was sure Lily was thinking of that night too; she was twisting her wedding ring with a pained expression. “Lastly, it takes between three and eight hours for your red to become purple. Once your aura is purple, it’ll render you unconscious and you’re considered ‘dead’. You’ll be retrieved immediately and won’t be allowed back into the arena.”
“Is that everything?”
“If I have to retrieve you when you’re red, you lose twenty-five points, because you’ve delayed coming to a Healer and are at risk of dying. I think you gain five points for coming to be healed but you lose three points every time you come after that.” Sirius nodded. Fair enough too, or you might spend all your time being healed and not get anything done... still, if it’s that or die... “And,” Lily said, as if she’d heard his thoughts, “if you die, you lose two hundred points.”
“So you fail the exam.” Lily nodded. Sirius let out a loud breath. Note to self. Don’t die.
“If you’re still inside the arena at the end of the three days, you’re awarded ten points. If your aura is green when the last day ends, and has been green for several hours before that, you earn fifty points... I think that’s everything I was told to tell you,” she said. “Hold still for a moment.” She tapped his arm with her wand and then smiled.
Sirius held it up for inspection. “I’m glowing,” he said, bemused.
“You’re green too,” Lily said. “Try to stay that way. Remember, when you’re in a safe place, say ‘Hiyacintho Lux’. That’ll turn you blue for a few seconds and I’ll know I can sleep. Now, advice: James’ door is door twenty-seven.” Sirius stored that information away. “You can’t Apparate or use Portkeys,” Lily said quickly, obviously trying to say as much as possible before she left. “You can’t conjure water and you can’t conjure food but you can make more once you’ve got it. Don’t do anything in the next three days that you don’t want the Aurors seeing,” she said. “You’ll be watched constantly, and while Padfoot might be a good way to earn points, it’s also a good way to end up in Azkaban.” She checked her watch and jumped. “I’ve got to go – I need to talk to James! Good luck!” she said, kissing his cheek. She gave him a quick hug and then pinned him with her eyes. “Don’t go through that door, don’t even look through it until you’re called.”
Lily’s eyes widened and she made a funny little noise. “How-?” she began and then shook herself. “I have to go.”
“Hopefully I won’t see you for three days,” Sirius said.
Lily laughed and shook her head. “It would be nice but I know you too well.”
He laughed as she threw Floo Powder into the fire and vanished. “James’ll probably miss her so much that he’ll make me hex him, just so he can visit her,” he told the room, with a grin. The white walls disdained to reply. Sirius shrugged and settled onto the bed to wait.
After half an hour Sirius was extremely bored. He’d eaten everything on the food tray, and the jug that had been full of water was empty too. He’d already gone through good spell combinations, for duelling, for defence and for protection but it was hard to know what he’d need without knowing where he’d be fighting. Finally, the announcement came. “Would Auror trainees please stand behind their arena doors with their wands in their pockets,” the cool female voice said. There was a ten second pause, presumably to let Healers say their goodbyes and then the voice spoke again: “In a moment, the door will open, but you are to remain in the room until told to run. Anyone who disobeys will be deducted twenty-five points.” There was another pause and then Sirius’ door slowly swung open.
He peered out, a little tentatively since he didn’t know what to expect. Sirius’ door was built in to the east side of a smooth, white, brick wall which was probably around three storeys high and formed the boundary of the arena. He had been right before about it being circular; he could see it curving around and could make out the other trainees standing at their doors. In front of him was six feet of stone, a path which wrapped around the arena, and then there was a vast field of knee-high brown grass. He could see a clump of trees about six-hundred yards away, the green a stark contrast to the brown and beyond that he could make out the other side of the white wall and the tiny figures of trainees. To his right he could see more grass and a thick wall of trees that no doubt served as a divider from the rest of the arena. The tree-wall continued all the way to the other side, broken only by a small white cottage. Probably one of the storerooms Lils was talking about. Go there first, I think. I’m not hungry now but I will be and it could take hours to find James, while this will only take a few minutes.
“Healers and Aurors to your stations, please,” the female voice said. “Omnioculars are available for collection from your superiors. Trainees, we wish you the best of luck. Your examination commences now.”
Sirius was already running. He made a beeline for the storeroom, wishing he could run as Padfoot – he was so much faster in dog form – but he got there before any of the other trainees so he had the pick of the supplies. He grabbed an empty rucksack, which he did a quick Undetectable Extension Charm on and then threw in two sleeping bags, two loaves of bread, a box of mince pies, a small pot, two water bottles and two spare jumpers. He did a quick scan of the room and upon finding nothing else of real value, raced out the door again.
It was mayhem outside. Some trainees, like Sirius, had headed straight for the storeroom, only to be caught up in duels. Others were only a few feet from their doorways. Sirius was itching to join them, but he managed to restrain himself: No duelling until you find Prongs, and maybe not even then. His reckless side rallied against that thought. No duelling until I find Prongs, his logical side repeated. I need someone to haul my sorry arse out of there when things go wrong.
Sirius blocked a jet of blue light and ducked around the back of the cottage and into the line of trees. As soon as he was inside the leafy shelter, the noises from the field ceased. It’s probably charmed to block sound. Which is good but it means I don’t know what’s coming and I can’t see a thing either.
“Perlucidus,” he muttered, tapping the rucksack and then his arm. And now they can’t see me. He frowned. But I can see me. This glowing green thing is going to take some getting used to... though I suppose I should be happy I’m still green. Lily’s probably shocked I’ve lasted even this long. With that thought to amuse him, he hoisted his rucksack onto one shoulder. And now to find Mr Lily. Sirius thought with a chuckle as he headed west. Prongs won’t have gone straight for cover... he’ll have headed for supplies too and since he wasn’t at my storeroom, there’s got to be another one closer to his door.
It took Sirius five minutes to get to the west side of the arena. He was careful to touch a tree every few feet so that James could track him by scent if he was so inclined. He stuck mostly to the trees, but when he did come out he spotted a white cottage similar to the storeroom he’d visited. I’ll bet anything I own that James went there first... then what? Sirius squinted. The cottage was in the middle of a flat, flowery field with very little cover. Sirius was fairly sure James wouldn’t have stayed out in the open once he had supplies and the trees where he was standing was the closest shelter; there was another forest-like region to the north, and to the north-east was a castle-like structure. So he’s here somewhere... I just need to find him.
Sirius briefly considered a Patronus message but that was risky because it was something only Order members knew and was not something Dumbledore would want shown off to the majority of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Sirius toyed with a number of other plans like setting off sparks, but in the end, he settled for the easiest and most direct option. He walked out of the line of trees, tapped his throat with his wand and shouted, “JAMES!” three or four times. He could imagine the look of disgust and embarrassment that would surely be on Moody’s face, but so long as he found James, he didn’t really care what Moody thought.
“PRONGS! OVER HERE! OH, FUCK!” Sirius hastily removed his Sonorus Charm as James bounded into view, a rucksack like Sirius’ on his back. “Sorry, didn’t realise it was still on.”
“Are you Disillusioned?” James asked, squinting at a spot three feet from where Sirius actually was.
“Over here, prat,” Sirius said.
“That’s a yes,” James muttered. He stiffened and turned his head to the side, listening.
Sirius did the same but couldn’t hear anything. “Trainees,” James said, blinking. “Three or four of them, from the east.” He grinned. “Probably coming to see why you were shouting.”
“I didn’t mean to.” He scowled as his ears picked up on noisy footsteps that were probably a hundred yards away. “Nosy bastards. I wasn’t calling them.”
“Could be James Gutnich,” James suggested, heading for the cover of the trees. Sirius followed.
“Or it could be some git trying to earn points even if it means ‘killing’ us.”
“Sorry,” James said, “it’s definitely Gutnich.” They both laughed. “Shall we run or shall we fight?” James asked after a pause.
“Fight and then run?” Sirius suggested.
“You should have been in Slytherin.”
“My mother would disagree.”
“Your mother disagrees with everything.”
“Point.” Sirius grinned. “If we’re playing Slytherin, we should do it properly.”
“You’re Disillusioned, and have a plan to attack and run. How could this plan be any more Slytherin?”
“We Disillusion you.”
James chuckled. “I stand corrected. Go ahead.”
“Perlucidus,” Sirius said, tapping James’ head. “Hold on, your rucksack’s still showing.”
“Bet that looks funny.”
“A bit, yeah. Perlucidus.”
“No problem. Did you get anything good?”
“Food,” James’ voice said from somewhere in front of Sirius. “I got a sack of apples, a couple of loaves of bread and a basket of cakes and biscuits and things. And a Healer’s kit.”
“Anything useful in that?”
“A few bandages,” James said with a smile in his voice. “A bottle of Dittany, a phial of that Murtlap stuff, two Blood-Replenishing Potions and a handful of teabags that stop headaches, fever, infection and help people sleep.”
“I thought so. Wands only get you so far after all. What about you?”
“How’d you know I went for a supply room?” Sirius couldn’t actually see him but he knew James was giving him a flat look. He laughed. “Two sleeping bags, more bread and some mince pies, a pot, two jumpers and two water bottles.”
“Do the water bottles have anything in them?” James asked, his voice dropping to a whisper; whoever was coming was getting closer. Sirius squeezed his wand for reassurance.
“Didn’t check,” Sirius whispered back. “We’ll do that later.” He thought he heard James nod but he wasn’t sure. “Did you say there were four of them?”
Definitely a nod this time. “Two each?” James asked.
“You should have been in Hufflepuff.”
“My mother would disagree,” James sniffed. Sirius laughed.
“They’re over here!” a woman’s voice said. “I just heard them.” Sirius could just see the dark outlines of people making their way through the trees.
Sirius covered his mouth to stop his laughter. “Where are we running to?”
“East,” James whispered. “West is a few more trees and then the wall.”
“East,” Sirius agreed.
“Where are they, Klenner?” a man’s voice asked. Sirius could make out the faces of their supposed-enemies. There was, as James had joked, James Gutnich, along with a stocky male trainee Sirius didn’t know, a man who went by Hunter and a tall woman named Susan Klenner.
“I don’t know,” she said, frowning. “They were definitely here.”
Still are, Sirius thought cheerfully. You just don’t know it.
There was a quiet shuffling behind him and then he was aware of James at his side. “Now,” James breathed.
“Stupefy!” Sirius shouted. Hunter dropped with a grunt. Gutnich was growing a number of unpleasant looking tentacles which were slowly wrapping around him; trust James to find the pranking equivalent of a Binding Spell. Klenner and the wizard Sirius didn’t know had been quick enough to take shelter behind a large tree trunk. They appeared every few seconds to cast a spell which was fairly pointless since they didn’t know what they were aiming for. Sirius saw leaves stirring at a place to his left and knew that was James.
“Where are you?” he heard James whisper.
Something – a hand – reached out and found his shoulder. “I’ve got a plan.”
“Do share,” he said, blocking one of Klenner’s spells with an absent wave of his wand.
“He’s other there!” she shrieked, pointing to the place where Sirius’ Shield Charm had just vanished. Damn.
“Meridiem Nox!” the wizard Sirius didn’t know shouted in his deep voice.
James’ hand vanished from his shoulder and Sirius dove out the way as a jet of violet light passed through where he’d been. “Bastard,” Sirius said emphatically, spitting out a mouthful of leaves. “We’re an hour in and he’s using Killing Curses. Still alive, Prongs?” James didn’t answer. Oh, no way, Sirius thought, picking himself off the ground. No, he can’t be dead yet. “Jamie?!”
“Stupefy,” James’ voice said from behind Klenner and the other wizard. Sirius slumped with relief. The wizard slumped with unconsciousness.
“Expelliarmus!” Sirius shouted as Klenner stepped away from James and directly into Sirius’ line of sight. Her wand went whizzing into the trees.
James became visible behind her, wand trained on her chest. “Take a seat next to Louisson,” he said mildly.
Klenner’s eyes darted around and she suddenly launched a punch at James, just as Sirius shouted a warning. He ducked but the distraction was enough; she ran past him, dodged Sirius’ Stunner and dove for her wand. “Sectum Altum!” she screamed, bringing her wand around in a slashing motion.
A line of blood sprang up on James’ shoulder and on his opposite forearm. His face contorted in pain. Sirius felt his own skin split along his collarbone and on his forehead. He staggered backward. “Stupefy!” James shouted. She crumpled. “Padfoot?” James asked urgently, pressing a hand to his own forearm.
“I’m here. Finite Incantatem,” he murmured.
“Merlin,” James said, running forward to inspect the damage. “If you were any shorter, she’d have got your throat.” Sirius pressed a hand to his collarbone and was annoyed but not surprised when it came back bloody.
“Cow,” Sirius said. He stepped forward and lifted Klenner over to the tree where the other wizard – the one James had called Louisson - was slumped “Incarcerous Infirma,” he muttered. Ropes wound around their two limp forms, securing them there. They’d fade after an hour but he and James would be long gone by then. “Ah, bloody hell,” Sirius said, staring at his hand.
“What?” James asked, sounding worried.
“Me too,” James said with a sigh. “Come here, I’ll heal you.” Sirius walked over gratefully. “Figere Sectum Altem,” James said, tracing his wand over the cut on Sirius’ head and the one on his collarbone. “Sana, Simul, Figere Sectum Altem.” Sirius hissed as he felt his skin healing; it was an extremely unpleasant sensation, like his skin was stretching and it itched terribly. “Tergeo. Done,” James said, sounding tired. Sirius’ aura was a lime green colour; not as green as before, but he was fairly sure he’d be back to full health soon.
“Thanks. Your turn. Figere Brachium, Humerum. Novum Cutis.” James waited patiently without so much as flinching as his arm and shoulder knitted back together. “Tergeo,” Sirius said. “How do you stand still for that? I always fidget.”
“I’ve had worse,” James reminded him in the embarrassed, slightly bitter tone he always used when he was referring to his month held captive by Death Eaters.
“Right,” Sirius said. “East did we say?”
James nodded. “Do those water bottles have anything in them?” Sirius pulled his rucksack off, dug through it and then shook his head. “We’ll find water first then,” James said.
* * *
“Feeling safe?” James asked.
“Safe enough,” Sirius said. They’d found a shelter of sorts, a few hundred yards from the storeroom Sirius had first visited. They were right at the edge of the line of trees looking out over the flowery field but they were within a minute’s walk of a lake and also of a fence about a storey high that sectioned off another part of the arena.
“Safe enough for Lily to not be watching?”
“Sure,” Sirius said. James muttered the incantation and tapped his arm with his wand. “Pass the water bottle would you, Prongs?” Sirius asked, shifting in his sleeping bag.
“What’s the magic word?”
Git, Sirius thought fondly. “Accio,” he said. The bottle flew into his hand.
“Not quite the magic word I was thinking,” James told him.
Sirius shrugged, swallowed and then wiped his mouth. “I got my drink, didn’t I?”
“The lengths you’ll go to not have to use manners,” James said, leaning back with a grin. “Are you still green?”
“Yeah,” Sirius said, admiring the bright glow of his skin. “You?” James smiled, his eyes becoming distant and nodded. “What?”
“Nothing,” James said, going red.
“Spit it out, Jamie,” Sirius said, giving his brother a shove.
James buried his face in his own sleeping bag. “I’m not saying it,” he said, his voice coming out muffled.
“You can’t make me,” James said. “It’s not worth it.”
“I’ll hex you,” Sirius warned, brandishing his wand.
“No you won’t,” James said, peeking out from the folds of his bedding with a confident grin. “You’d lose points for betraying an ally.”
“Tell me then.”
“You’ll say I’m a sap!” James said, still red-faced. “I’m embarrassed for having thought it!”
“Please, Prongs. I promise I won’t laugh.”
James stared at him for a long moment and then mumbled something. Sirius burst out laughing. “You promised,” James said in an injured tone.
“You-You’re the colour of Lily’s eyes!?” Sirius choked. “You’re right, you’re a sap. A big, big sap and you should be embarrassed for thinking it! I’m embarrassed you thought that!” James grumbled indistinctly into his sleeping bag. A beautiful thought danced across Sirius’ mind. “Wait until I tell Moony!” he said, barely able to contain his glee.
James made a horrified sound and dove at him. The two wrestled, and somehow - Sirius wasn’t sure how it happened since he was bigger and stronger - James managed to pin him. “You are not telling Moony,” James said firmly, though his voice had a slightly panicky undertone. “I’ll never live it down!”
“Gerroff,” Sirius said, trying to push him. He scowled when James didn’t budge. “When did you get so fat?”
“I’m not fat. You’ve gone soft,” James said, prodding his arm.
“Have not!” Sirius said indignantly. “I’m in my prime!”
James shrugged. “I’m still not moving until you promise not to tell Moony.”
“You’ll get bored eventually,” Sirius said. There’s no way Moony’s missing out on this snippet of information. I’ll tell Wormtail too but he probably won’t care as much. James stretched and lay down so that his back was covering Sirius’ face. “If you smother me, Prongs,” he said into James jumper, “I’m coming back as a ghost just to tell Moony.”
James sighed and rolled off. “You’re a prat.”
“That’s not new.”
James nodded thoughtfully. “Would you really come back as a ghost?” his tone serious now.
“Of course. Snivelly wouldn’t know what hit him.”
“No,” James said laughing. “I’m genuinely asking here.”
Sirius stared at the shadowy trees for a moment before answering. “I don’t think I’d hang around,” he said finally. “I’d rather be properly dead than stuck half-way.” James didn’t say anything. “How about you?”
“I don’t know,” James said and Sirius was surprised to hear him sounding genuinely uncertain.
“You’d go on, Prongs,” Sirius said, sitting up to face him. “Wouldn’t you?”
“I don’t know,” James said again. “I’m not scared of dying... it’s just... I’ve got new priorities now...”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m married now,” James said, staring at the trees that towered over them.
Lily’d never come back as a ghost though and you know it. Sirius scanned his face. “That’s not all this is about,” he said, “is it?”
“Lily’s pregnant,” James said, looking thrilled and terrified at the same time.
“What?!” Sirius shouted. “Good Godric, Congratulations!” He hugged James and looked around expectantly before he remembered Lily wasn’t with them.
“Thanks,” James said looking dazed.
“Are you excited? You always wanted a kid.”
“It’s starting to sink in now, so pretty excited, yeah,” James said, grinning hugely. “Scared too.”
“Of being a dad?”
“A bit,” James admitted, “but more because of the war. This war’s been going since we were ten, Paddy, and I haven’t felt truly safe since then. I don’t want my kid being scared every day of his or her life.”
“That’s good incentive to hurry up and finish this, then,” Sirius said quietly. He and James both thought about that and then Sirius smiled. “How far along is she?”
“Three months. Expected due-date is the seventh of August.”
“Boy or girl?”
“No idea,” James said. “I always imagined a boy, though.”
“He’ll have the Potter hair,” Sirius said.
James laughed. “Poor kid. I hope he – or she – has Lily’s eyes.”
“You’re such a sap. The kid’s lucky I’ll be around or he’d be without a male role model.”
James scowled, then grinned. “Lily’s worried about too many male influences.”
“So she should be. The kid’ll be a Marauder by two.”
“An Animagus by three,” James laughed.
“International Quidditch Player by seven.”
“And he or she will have Lily’s-”
“Eyes?” Sirius suggested innocently.
James scowled. “I was going to say brains.”
“That works too,” Sirius said. “Have you chosen names yet?”
“Not really. I suggested we continue with the flower theme if it’s a girl.”
“Bet Lily loved that idea,” Sirius said dryly.
They both had a good laugh. “We both like Harry for a boy,’ James said after a moment.
Harry Potter, Sirius thought. It certainly has a ring to it. “Short for Harold, like Lily’s dad?”
“No, just Harry,” James said, “but we’re not sure yet.”
“You could always go for unisex names.” James looked thoughtful. “There’s Elvendork, Wilberforce, Bathsheba...”
“Really, Padfoot?” James asked, laughing.
“I quite like Elvendork,” Sirius said, shrugging. “Elvendork Potter.”
“I’d be worth this just to see Minnie’s face when he or she shows up at school in eleven years.”
Sirius laughed. They were quiet, both keeping to their own thoughts and then Sirius sat up. “Can I be Godfather?” he blurted. “Please?”
“You’re seriously asking?”
“Of course you’re Godfather!” James exploded. “Lils agrees, of course; Peter wouldn’t know one end of a kid from the other and Moony’d be brilliant too-” Too, Sirius thought, touched. So he thinks I’ll be a good Godfather. He sniffed, hoping James hadn’t heard. “-but we don’t want to list him as an official Godfather because of all the custody laws about Werewolves. The last thing we want is something happening to us and having the kid shipped off to live with Petunia and Vernon- Padfoot?”
“Yeah?” Sirius said, his voice catching slightly.
“Are you crying?”
“I suppose that makes me a sap too, doesn’t it?”
“A little bit,” James said agreeably. Then he smiled the mischievous smile that had ended with so many detentions when they were in school.
“What?” Sirius asked apprehensively.
“Wait until I tell Moony!”
Sirius wiped his eyes, growled, and launched himself at a gleeful James.