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He was still laughing as the curse hit him in the chest, and he stumbled backward, falling down and down as though from a great height into complete blackness. He had the strange feeling that there was someone behind him with their arms ready to catch him, and then there was nothing but a bright white darkness.

He blinked. The room had changed, the sounds of the fighting echoing around the stone dais gone. Everything was white, and clean, and, to his mild surprise and embarrassment, he was naked. It didn’t even occur to him that it must have been some spell she hit him with, he simply wished he had robes, and then he had some.

He put them on, noticing vaguely that his body was fuller than it had been these last fourteen years, and that as he pulled the robes over his head he felt his hair softer and shorter and neater than it had been for a very long time indeed. He looked around; he must be hallucinating. The street he was standing on was empty and calm and white, melting into a soft mist, but was uncommonly familiar to him. He dropped down off the kerb and into the road, noticing the harder he looked the railings, and the unkempt square of grass. Something horrible was dawning on him.

‘Sirius.'

He turned, and by the post of the bus stop, he saw him, and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. 'Harry! Are you all right? What’s going…’ But he trailed off as he realised it was not Harry.

James gave a small, sad smile. 'Hello, my old friend,’ he said.

Sirius walked towards him as though in a daze, and as he approached and saw the hazel eyes, gave a strangled cry as they embraced like brothers. Sirius screwed his eyes shut and felt his heart might burst from the old, agonising grief that had swelled back into life, his hands gripping the back of James’s robes.

They broke apart, but kept their arms gripping each other, James smiling at him once again. But Sirius was devastated. 'I let you down.'

There it was, that amused, quizzical, joking expression he remembered from another lifetime. 'I think it was Peter that let me down.'

'No, I have so much to tell you-’

'You don’t have to tell me anything,’ James said calmly. 'I know it all.'

'You do?'

'Of course. I’m very clever.'

He stepped to the side, gesturing to the bench of the bus stop, a guiding hand on Sirius’s back. Sirius followed his lead and sat there, James sitting quietly beside him, and they looked out across the square. 'This is it, then?’ said Sirius abruptly. 'I’m stuck outside Grimmauld Place for the rest of eternity?'

James looked sideways at him, still with that mildly amused look. 'Is that so?'

'Well… yeah,’ said Sirius baffled, glancing between James and the strange, misty world around them. 'Don’t you recognise it? This is the bus stop on the far corner of the square-’

'Oh yes?’ asked James pleasantly. 'Well, when was the last time you sat at this bus stop?'

'On my way to yours,’ said Sirius slowly. 'When I left home.'

'By getting the number 77, truly glamourous.'

Sirius found himself laughing lightly too. 'I went by Muggle transport the whole way. Just to spite her. Not that she ever knew, I suppose.'

James grinned. 'In the snow. Without a coat. You plonker.'

'I didn’t know where else to go,’ Sirius said softly, frowning out at the square. 'I was… I don’t know how I felt. Scared, I suppose. A bit excited too.'

'Well, that seems reasonable to me. You were on the cusp of a grand new adventure,’ said James. 'And you are again.'

'Yes,’ said Sirius blankly. He looked down at his hands, his palms up. They were clean and smooth, the nails neat, and surprisingly steady. 'I am dead, then? This isn’t some hallucination?'

‘Dead as a door nail, mate,’ said James casually.

‘Well, that wasn’t too bad,’ said Sirius, frowning as he tried to remember. ‘I assumed it would be… more traumatic.’

‘Nah, pretty quick and easy. I used to have a harder time falling asleep,’ said James.

Sirius rubbed his eyes. ‘I’m still having problems figuring out what happened. I mean clearly it was my cousin, but that spell was red, it wasn’t…’

'Hmm, yes, I suppose your death is a little more abstract than mine,’ said James, as though thinking about something as mundane as a crossword clue. 'I knew immediately what had happened - there weren’t really any alternatives.’ He looked at Sirius carefully, and his voice was gentler. 'You fell through the Veil of Death in the Department of Mysteries, into the abyss beyond.'

'Harry,’ Sirius blurted out, suddenly remembering, 'he-’

'Witnessed the whole thing,’ said James calmly. He looked away from Sirius, gazing ahead into the middle distance with a distant look in his eyes. 'Remus is holding him back to stop him running in after you. He’ll be all right.'

Sirius’s heart plummeted, and he buried his face in his hands, leaning forward to try and suppress the low, sobbing groan of pain that seemed to cripple him. 'I’m such a fool,’ he said bitterly. 'What have I done?'

'Hey,’ said James sharply. 'Didn’t you hear me? He’ll be all right.'

'He needs me, I’ve left him alone-’

'Will you stop? How do you think I feel?'

Sirius turned his face and looked through his fingers at him. James’s expression was stony, guilty, tense - more like the James he had known for those last few weeks. More like Harry. Sirius let out a sighing, shuddering breath. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said.

‘I mean at least you got to have a good scrap before you died,’ said James, a little tersely. ‘Got to throw a few spells, a bit of witty banter… Not just, you know…’ James waved his hands in front of his face and pulled a comically terrified expression, along with a soft, ‘aaah!’

Sirius stared at him for a moment, eyebrows raised, before wheezing into laughter, which set James off too.

‘I shouldn’t laugh,’ said James, shaking his head and swallowing down his chuckles. ‘It’s the worst thing that ever happened to my family. That and that fucking book about the blue dragon that comes to tea that you bought for Harry.’

‘The present was for the baby, James, not you.’

‘Hmm.’

Sirius looked around again. ‘So… What am I doing, waiting for a bus?’

‘If you want.’ James settled into the bench more, slouching. ‘Or you could be a ghost,’ he suggested bluntly. When Sirius simply looked his bewilderment, James tilted his head with a slight smile. ‘That’s what this in-between bit is for. Decision time.’

Sirius looked away again, straight ahead at the soft mist. ‘Ghosts always seem to regret it,’ he said, after a few moments of silence. ‘They always seem lonely.’

‘Yeah,’ said James. ‘And really I suppose I shouldn’t be influencing you one way or the other, but it seems to me that you’ve done your fair share of being lonely.’

This was true, certainly, and Sirius could not deny the overwhelming feeling of contentment he felt now, nor could he deny the utter joy at having his friend back by his side. But…

‘I could still… ‘ he sighed. ‘I couldn’t help or anything, but I could talk, give advice-’

‘Harry has suffered another great loss,’ said James patiently, and Sirius looked back to him to see that somber expression again. ‘And he is suffering now, greatly. And I am sure he will suffer more in the coming storm.’ James’s hazel eyes grew distant again. ‘And Remus, too. He is… in a world of pain.’ He suddenly, so suddenly that it made Sirius start slightly, shifted, tucking one leg onto the bench so that he was facing Sirius, leaning close. He was smiling. ‘But we shall have eternity. And so shall they. And we can argue later about who gets to bring them to it.’ He wobbled his head in considered thought. ‘Hopefully under better circumstances than either of us.’

Sirius continued to stare at him, studying that familiar face with the glasses slightly askew and the mischievous eyes behind them, and the cocky grin and the mess of uncontrollable hair.

‘And we can… Watch? Know? You seem to know what’s going on. It must be hard. Or is it? What’s it like?’ Sirius asked him.

James looked alarmed. ‘I’m not going to spoil the surprise.’

There was a noise - a slight screeching of brakes, a rumbling and gentle splash. Sirius looked up to see a double-decker bus slowing down as it approached them, a flurry of snow visible in it’s headlights, though he and James were quite warm and dry. On the front was the number, and beside that was the destination.

‘Well?’ asked James, as it halted in front of them. Sirius could see shadowy silhouettes on the seats ‘Are we boarding?’

‘Yes,’ said Sirius, nodding as he rose. ‘As long as you’re with me.’

‘Of course I am - the whole way.’