Tapping lightly on the doorframe to announce himself, James peered into the room Sirius resided in. His best friend was sprawled out on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. Completely in the dark. A position James had already found him in many times this summer. He stifled a laugh from the melodrama of it all and ran his fingers through his already messy hair. ‘You okay, mate?’
‘Yeah,’ Sirius paused before answering, ‘I’ve just got a lot on my mind.’
That much was obvious. Even if they hadn’t been living in the same house all summer, James would have been able to tell by his haggard appearance something was eating at him. Sirius always went through extreme mood changes during the summers when he was away from Hogwarts and closer to his family; but James was under the assumption that this summer would have been different now that Sirius had ran away and was now living here. Remembering back on the end of last term, James knew that it wasn’t his family that was making him spiral downwards this time. He also knew what today was for Sirius. He was the only person Sirius had ever confided in about that. But he definitely wasn’t going to bring that up. James had already learned that lesson. He pinched the bridge of his nose as he stepped into the dark room. ‘Padfoot, you have to stop beating yourself up over what happened. It’s over and done with. You’re fine, Moony’s fine, Snape’s fine. Everybody’s fine.’
Sirius barked a short, humorless laugh. ‘If you’re so fine, why haven’t you talked to – ‘
‘I will when the time is right.’ James snapped before he could mention a certain red-head that had already been in his every thought this summer. He just wanted to wait until they were both back at Hogwarts. He wanted to see her in person, to see her reaction to him, to make sure this whole thing had blown over. The timing had to be perfect and then everything could go back to normal. Or maybe he was just scared that he finally wouldn’t be able to take her rejection this time knowing that he had been so close to having her. Shaking off thoughts of her and knowing that Sirius still felt partly responsible for his falling out with her, James continued to try to reassure him. ‘You’ll see. The moment we get on the train, it will be like nothing has changed.’
‘You’re right.’ Sirius agreed as he sat up on the bed. ‘But I won’t believe you until I see you trying to show off with that blasted snitch again.’
James gave him a wicked grin, ignoring the jibe. ‘Now that’s more like it. Is Dr. James’s job done or I can on move on to the other patients who also like to sit alone in the dark and contemplate the past?’
‘I wasn’t sitting, I was laying.’ Sirius corrected him scathingly. ‘As a doctor you should know the difference.’
‘Well it’s a good thing I’m not a doctor then.’ He countered, still grinning. ‘I’m flattered you think that highly of my intelligence to think that though.’
Sirius glanced at him pathetically. ‘Your wit never ceases to amaze me.’ He deadpanned as he stood up and grabbed his wand off the bedside table. ‘Diagon Alley?’
Sirius gave him a large, conniving smile. ‘Talk to Evans, yet?’
James immediately felt himself get annoyed that this was being brought up again and shut his mouth. He stopping following Sirius and turned to look at the cats again in an attempt to stop himself from saying something he might regret. The little white cat that had almost bit his hand off before was staring at him with a mischievous glint in its eyes; James immediately backed away, careful not to break eye contact, and decided he was over being annoyed.
He made his way to the back corner where he could see Sirius standing. ‘Padfoot!’ James called, trying to get his attention. Sirius ignored him though and continued to stand there, staring at something, as if he were frozen. James furrowed his brows in confusion. Sirius had the strangest look on his face. ‘Sirius?’ He asked with more concern as he came up right next to him.
Sirius blinked in response and just as James was turning his head to see exactly what he had been staring at, he saw a girl with long black hair start to run. Within the next second, Sirius began to run after her and James had never been more confused in his life.
‘Who is that?’ He yelled at Sirius as he followed suit. Before he received an answer, however, the girl stopped suddenly. Without a backwards glance, she kicked a shelf of empty owl cages over, causing them to fall right into Sirius’s path and then kept on trying to find a way out of the store. Not reacting fast enough, Sirius gave a strangled cry of pain as he tripped over one of the cages, falling onto the lot of them with a loud clash. James mentally started adding up how many galleons they were going to owe Magical Menagerie after this.
‘Can you please tell me what the fuck is going on?!’ James demanded as he bent down to try to help him up. He could see blood coming from Sirius’s hands; and if he had not been so confused, he would have found this situation and the image of Sirius tangled up in empty owl cages hilarious.
Sirius frantically swatted him away. ‘Stop! Go after her.’ He huffed, groaning as he tried to untangle himself. ‘It’s her.’
And from the maniacal look in Sirius’s grey eyes, James knew exactly who her was. ‘You can count on me, Padfoot!’ James told him in a loud, determined voice as started scanning the aisles for her.
He ran down the side of the store, making a beeline for the front, hoping to cut her off before she found her way out. If he could catch a snitch, he could catch a girl. Seeing a flash of black hair to his right, James took off down the first aisle, peering through the shelves to see if he could spot her again.
And then he was on the floor.
Glancing up to see what he had run into, he saw her lied out on the ground too, looking a little dazed. When she spotted him, they both jumped up simultaneously. And thus began their staring contest. Ashir, that was her name, James remembered. She was tall for a girl and had long, black hair and pale skin. He started wondering if that was why Sirius had always had a thing for brunettes. But her freaky amber eyes, James had already decided that they were unnatural looking, were now looking at him like she was scared. What? James started to give her a puzzled look before a hiss came from his left. The white cat straight from hell was perched up on its cage, ready for attack. Of course, it just had to be the cat aisle. Without meaning to, James gave the cat a nervous glance and when he looked back at Ashir, he knew that it didn’t go unnoticed. Seeing her lunge for the cat, James gave out a strangled, horrified ‘No!’ and before he knew it, she had thrown the cat on him and he could feel its claws seeping into his skin.
‘Ah!’ James started screaming as he wildly tried to pull the cat off of him. He could see that she had already started running toward the door, but he wasn’t too concerned with honoring Sirius’s wishes at this point anymore. Why couldn’t it have been the canary aisle?
He felt someone grab his shoulders and pry the cat off of him. ‘It’s a kitten for Merlin’s sake!’ Sirius yelled exasperatedly before heading for the door.
‘Those were not the claws of a kitten!’ James argued through gritted teeth as he followed Sirius out the door. He spotted her head in the crowd, having not gotten very far due to all the traffic of people going from store to store. ‘There! Circle around and stop her from the front. I’ll take back.’
Keeping an eye on her, he pushed his way through the hordes of people. Sooner than he had expected, him and Sirius had her. As she struggling against them, they pulled her back into a less crowded side alley before letting her go.
She tried to run past them again but this time only Sirius grabbed her arms, stopping her. ‘Ashir, stop!’ Sirius pleaded, clearly still confused to why she kept running.
‘Let me go, Sirius.’ Ashir begged. James could still see the look of pure fear in her eyes.
Sirius looked her disbelievingly. ‘No, I –'
‘Please, Sirius! Don’t take me to them,’ Her voice was becoming more desperate as she continued to struggle against him, ‘They can’t know I’m here. Please let me go. Please just forget you saw me.’
‘What?’ Sirius asked with shock etching his face and confusion in his voice.
And James finally put the pieces together. She still had no idea what had happened after she ran away. She didn’t know that Sirius had been sorted into Gryffindor or that he had been disowned. For all she knew, he was still a proud member of the Black family.
‘Ashir!’ A deep, gruff voice called out from the main alley. Both James and Sirius turned their heads to see who was calling her but the voice belonged to someone still lost in the crowd. A whole new look of fear crossed Ashir’s face.
‘I need to go. I’m sorry.’ Ashir choked out. ‘I need to go now.’
James could see Sirius tighten his grip on her arms. ‘Who is that?’
‘Padfoot…’ James warned and took a step toward Sirius, who turned his head slightly toward him, listening to the reasoning in his voice. Or, that's what James hoped he was doing.
‘Just let me go, Sirius!’
James didn’t know if it was the strangled, desperate tone in her voice begging him to or the dawning realization of why she was scared, but Sirius finally loosened his hold. The second she could get free, Ashir ran and disappeared into the crowd.
After a few seconds, James walked up to Sirius who was still just standing there, facing where Ashir had been moments before with a look of utter defeat on his face.
'She probably doesn't know, Padfoot.' James told him in a quiet, understanding voice. 'About you or anything that's happened.'
Sirius mirthlessly chuckled. 'I probably should've realized that before I started chasing her like a mental escapee from Azkaban.'
James could see Sirius blanch after he said those words but he didn't know why.
He instead just asked: ‘What now?’
Sirius swallowed hard before narrowing his eyes in determination. ‘We need to talk to Dumbledore.’
Letting out a huge sigh, James watched Sirius storm off toward the owl post before he dragged himself after him. Having another thing to obsess over was the last thing Sirius needed. He just had to pick today of all days to want to come to Diagon Alley.