Chapter 2 : Chapter Two.
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~ Of Fathers and Brothers ~ Falling Away ~
‘Where’s Peter?’ asked Sirius, drawing up a chair at the small kitchen table. ‘I sent him a note yesterday.’
‘Not coming,’ shrugged Frank Longbottom, who was poring over a pile of well-thumbed books. Remus was sitting next to him with parchment and quill, making notes. He looked up with concern in his eyes.
‘He’s been acting strangely,’ he said. ‘I think something’s up.’
‘Looking lovely as always, Alice,’ Sirius winked cheekily at her as she passed him a steaming mug of tea.
‘Oh very funny,’ she said, eyes narrowed - although the corners of her lips twitched upwards. ‘I’m the size of a house.’
‘You’re beautiful, darling,’ murmured Frank, as he dog-eared a page in one of the books.
‘Yeah, you’re positively glowing,’ Sirius said, reaching out to pat Alice’s rounded tummy.
She laughed and dodged out of the way. ‘Don’t get sarcastic with me, Black; I’ll sit on you and then you’ll know the meaning of pain.’
Remus made an impatient noise and looked up from his papers. ‘Could you two please stop flirting so that we can get on with this?’
Alice laughed and took a seat next to Frank, planting a quick kiss on his shoulder. Summer was just beginning to bloom, and the suburban street on which the Longbottoms lived was ringing with the shouts and laughter of children playing in the evening warmth. Sirius thought the noise would probably drive him crazy if he lived there, but then he could hardly get his head around the fact that his own friends were having babies. He’d been thrilled when James and Lily had given him their news, and was sure that he’d quite like the kid once it was old enough to play with him... at least, he hoped so. He didn’t want to lose James.
‘Sorry,’ Sirius said, spreading his hands on the table. ‘You were saying something.’
Remus nodded. ‘Peter said he’d forgotten about tonight, which isn’t like him; usually he jumps at the chance to meet up. He’s been getting more and more forgetful lately.’ Remus frowned, his scars barely visible in the soft sunlight of the kitchen. ‘He’s just been really distracted.’
‘Maybe he’s got a girlfriend,’ suggested Alice. Sirius and Frank snorted at the suggestion, prompting Remus to frown again. ‘Don’t worry about it, Remus,’ she continued. ‘Peter’s always been a bit jumpy, don’t you think?’
Remus grumbled his assent, and then placed his quill on the table.
‘Frank and I have been trying to work out if there’s some way that we could track the Death Eaters without them knowing, and without endangering any of our own people,’ he said, gesturing at the stack of books. ‘Dumbledore’s hinted that he’s considering having the Lestranges shadowed.’
‘But... Benjy...’ said Sirius, thinking of the last person who had tried to track the Death Eaters back to their lair. His brow creased; everyone in the Order of the Phoenix was prepared and willing to endanger themselves for their cause. But Benjy Fenwick had walked straight into a trap, had probably been tortured... they couldn’t be sure, as an entire body had never been found.
‘I know. And Dumbledore hates it... but he and Moody both say that there’s no magic undetectable enough that we could track them from a distance,’ said Frank grimly. He’d been one of the Aurors called to the scene when a Muggle had stumbled across the few pieces of Benjy the Death Eaters had left. ‘We’re trying to prove them wrong, but I don’t think there’s much hope.’
‘Ah, there’s always hope!’ said Sirius, reaching out and taking Remus’s notes, scanning them quickly. ‘See, here’s a -’
He was interrupted by a scratching noise at the kitchen window. He glanced up at the owl sitting outside, saw a couple of Muggle children pointing and laughing at the sight, then turned back to the parchment as Frank got up to let the owl inside.
‘Hey, isn’t that Tolly?’ asked Alice suddenly.
Sirius’s head snapped up. The Potters’ owl was far from home. He stood up and took the small envelope from Frank; the sole word ‘Sirius’ was scrawled in a blotted parody of Lily’s handwriting. He felt the eyes of the room on him as he tore into the paper.
We need you. Don’t worry - it’s not the baby. It’s James’s dad. He’s sick... James is trying to be brave but I know he needs you here. I need you here. William is asking for you and I don’t know if he’ll last much longer.
I’m so sorry to ask this of you, and I’m sorry I’ve had to send Tolly to tell you this; I didn’t know where you would be, so didn’t want to send my patronus.
Gentle hands touched Sirius, took the note from his unresisting fingers and guided him into a chair.
‘Get him some water,’ murmured Alice, her eyes searching Sirius’s pale face.
‘Sirius, what is it?’ Remus asked, hurrying to his friend’s side, his papers and parchments quite forgotten. A cold glass of water was pressed into Sirius’s hands, but he did not drink. He felt as though he might vomit.
‘I have to go,’ he said, trying to get to his feet.
Frank placed strong hands on his shoulders and pressed him gently but firmly back into his seat. ‘No you don’t, not yet. You look awful.’
Remus had picked up the letter, threw a glance at Sirius, who nodded.
‘It’s from Lily...’ said Remus, who was quickly reading the note. His face paled. ‘James’s dad is very ill.’
Alice closed her eyes briefly, her hand tightening on Sirius’s forearm. It was barely a year since James had lost his mother. ‘Is she asking for you?’
‘Yes,’ croaked Sirius. ‘I have to go. I’m sorry. I have to go.’
Frank and Alice practically forced the glass of water down Sirius’s throat, Remus gave him a firm hug, and minutes later a shining motorcycle roared down the leafy street, the children whooping with excitement as the engine revved and the bike disappeared into the distance. Night finally began to fall as Sirius tore along an empty motorway; he flicked a switch beneath the ignition, and the motorbike zoomed into the air, the engine growling with joy. Sirius felt numb, thinking of nothing but his destination, focusing on the scattered lights of the countryside below him. After a few hours, he saw a familiar constellation nestled in a valley below him, and dived towards it. The bike screeched to a halt outside a large cottage; the tires sprayed gravel into the rose bushes. Light spilled from the front door as it opened, and Sirius could see the relief on Lily’s pale face as he took off his helmet and ran up the path.
‘He’s still holding on,’ said Lily, answering the question in her friend’s eyes. ‘James is with him.’
Sirius kissed her cheek quickly, and then hurried into the cottage. He took the stairs two at a time, and then paused at the top to catch his breath; he didn’t want to burst in and scare William to death. Sirius shook his head wryly at the gallows humour that inevitably popped into his head at times of despair.
He made his way towards the smallest bedroom; William had given up the master room when Olivia died, saying that it felt empty without her. And anyway, he’d added with a wink, James and Lily are married now, and I want grandchildren. Two lanterns were burning low in William’s room, but even through the dim orange light, Sirius could see that the old man propped up in bed was grey-faced, his breathing laboured.
James had fallen asleep in an armchair, his head resting on the bed, his hand wrapped around his father’s wrist. He had shadows under his eyes, even in sleep, and his eyelids were fluttering restlessly. Sirius perched on the arm of the chair, and was reaching down to rouse James when a tiny voice croaked, ‘Don’t.’ William’s rheumy eyes were open and, though cloudy, were focused on Sirius. ‘He hasn’t slept in days. He seems to think...’ the old man paused, gasped for air. Sirius felt a lump form in his throat, and momentarily found himself struggling for air too. ‘...he seems to think that by watching over me constantly, he might prevent me from dying.’
Sirius bit his lip and stared down at the embroidered coverlet. He did not speak for a moment, feeling sure he would be unable to form actual words. Eventually he looked up, and gave William a weak grin. ‘You never know; James is very single-minded.’ He thought of the way James had driven his Quidditch team, the way he had never given up on winning Lily’s love, the way he had persuaded his parents to let Sirius come and stay with them for the first time. William and Olivia had made running away easy; really, he’d been running home. ‘What James wants...’
‘...he gets,’ completed William with a tiny nod. ‘Yes, I’m afraid he is rather used to getting his own way.’ The old man’s gaze fell onto the face of his sleeping son; twenty years old, but still a precious child to him. ‘Olivia and I indulged him,’ he added fondly.
‘Classic only child,’ said Sirius, repeating an old joke that never failed to get a rise out of James.
The old man chuckled; the sound coming from his chest was like twigs being snapped. He smiled at Sirius, although his breathing had grown more laboured, a cracking wheezy noise accompanying each inhalation.
‘Sirius, my boy,’ William patted the young man’s knee with a frail and shaking hand. ‘James has had a brother since the day he first met you.’
The blast threw Sirius a few feet into the air, and he was only prevented from being blown through the shattering glass of a shop window by a lamp post. His head snapped back and struck the metal so hard that he was momentarily blinded. Sirius fell to the ground, and lay there motionless for a few moments. He lifted his head, which sang with pain. Blood was everywhere, mixing with the dust and rubble of what had, moments before, been an ordinary shopping street. There was a silence that lasted for one awful, eternal heartbeat... and then the screaming started.
Blinking gritty blood from his eyes, Sirius pulled himself to his feet and cast around to find Peter - but he was gone. The coward had ended it, and... Sirius looked down the street; saw scattered bodies and grey-faced Muggles staring in shock at the carnage... the bastard had taken more innocent people with him. Sirius sank to the floor as his legs gave way. Gulping air, he scrabbled towards a middle-aged woman whose leg was jutting at a horribly unnatural angle.
‘Are you alright?’ Sirius asked, not knowing what else to say. The woman gazed up at him, her eyes glassy and her breathing shallow. ‘Can you hear me?’
She blinked, her brow furrowed, and her eyes focused on Sirius’s face. Her lips moved, but Sirius could not hear what she was saying... she looked extremely frightened.
‘You’re okay, don’t - don’t worry,’ he said, placing a shaking hand on her shoulder. The woman shrank back, her expression wild with fear.
‘Don’t touch me!’ she croaked. ‘It - it was you!’
‘What was me?’ asked Sirius, not understanding. He glanced at the woman’s broken leg; it looked awful, but the shock seemed to be suppressing the pain. He considered using his wand to try and heal it before her nerves reawakened... he could always obliviate her afterwards... he had to do something...
‘You did this!’ The woman gestured at the destruction surrounding them. ‘Get - get away from me!’
Sirius blinked at her; what was she going on about?
‘What? No - you’re in shock, don’t try to get up, please -
‘Get away from me!’ shrieked the woman, as she tried desperately to scrabble away from Sirius's outstretched hands.
Sirius stood quickly, swaying on the spot as he tried to understand. Faces were turning towards him, an undercurrent of anger beginning to rush towards him beneath the deep wave of shock permeating the scene. A series of loud popping noises provoked a fresh outbreak of screaming; the injured and terrified Muggles stared, wide-eyed, at the witches and wizards Apparating in their midst. A young wizard in smart robes appeared a few feet from Sirius, looked down at the ground where a particularly large reddish stain was soaking the paving stones, and vomited. Three people wearing the gold badges of Aurors made their way through the wreckage towards Sirius, who was now holding onto the lamp post for dear life. His legs wouldn’t hold him up much longer; it was all over. Peter was dead, and with him had died the truth about what had happened to Lily and James...
‘Sirius Black,’ said a voice over the screams of the injured, the shouts of the rescuers. Sirius tried to focus on the face in front of him, but blood was still trickling into his eyes. ‘You are being arrested under the suspicion of complicity in the deaths of James and Lily Potter,’ ...my friends... ‘reckless endangerment in the supplying of information to known Dark wizards’ ...oh God, they’re really dead... ‘dangerous violation of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy,’ ...this is really happening... ‘destruction of Muggle property,’ ...Lily... ‘assault,’ ...James...oh God oh God oh God... ‘and murder, the count of which will inevitably increase as we further investigate this scene.’
Sirius reached up to wipe the blood from his eyes, and the Aurors started forward, ready to tackle him if he made a false move. They think I’m dangerous, he thought, as the world began to fall away. The only person I’ve ever truly wanted to kill just did the job for me... and now what do I have? The world was spinning too fast; it was flying out of control. Nobody left to love... nobody left to hate... Sirius looked up into the darkening November sky, and saw the familiar constellation flash back at him. ‘...look a little below and to the right, there’s that big bright star - that’s Sirius. Me.’
Suddenly, far away, far below the stars and the constellations, far below Sirius, someone was laughing.
So, this is a bit of a shorter chapter, but I promise the next two are nice long chapters again! 'William' and 'Olivia' are the names JChrissy gave to James's parents in her story, 'Before They Fall', and as I wrote this story for her, it seemed right to use those names again.
Again, thank you for reading 'Skywards' and please do consider leaving a review!
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