The front door hits the wall with a bang before falling shut, and James only just catches the bag of groceries from toppling out of his arms as he toes off his shoes. Disaster averted, he wonders why there are no lights on, nor any other sign from Sirius. Usually, he’s impossible to miss in their small flat.
He tries to remember if Sirius had mentioned having plans for today but comes up with nothing, and frowns to himself. After he’d spent the night with Lily, he was looking forward to catching an hour with Sirius before they need to leave for the Order meeting.
The kitchen still looks the same as he’d left it yesterday; magazines and unopened letters are cluttering the table that’s pushed under the window, empty coffee mugs and take-out boxes on the counters, and the few plants they have could definitely need some care.
James only packs away the groceries though before he walks past the equally messy living room and down the corridor to knock on Sirius’ door, tapping his foot in impatience.
When there’s no answer, he silently slips into the dark room. The heavy red curtains only leave a faint trickle of the weak autumn sun in and it takes a moment for his eyes to adjust, but he can already make out the curled-up figure underneath the blanket and affectionately rolls his eyes.
He nearly stumbles over a heap of clothes on the floor and unceremoniously flops down on the bed that’s tugged into the corner, the movement only getting a faint growl out of Sirius as he tries to bury himself deeper into the sheets.
James smiles to himself but rolls closer and throws an arm over Sirius’ middle anyway. “Oi Pads, it’s 4 pm you lazy sod,” he says, emphasizing it with several nudges that are probably rather annoying.
There’s some more growling, not that different from the sounds Sirius makes as a dog, before he lifts his head and glares at James. Or well, tries to; his eyes are still small, and his hair is standing up in every direction, so it doesn’t really have the desired effect.
“What do you want?” Sirius mutters, letting his head drop again and hiding his face in the crook of James’ neck, his voice still heavy with sleep.
“We have an Order meeting in an hour,” he says and sits up to prevent Sirius from falling asleep on him. “Come on, I'll make you coffee.”
There’s a whining sound and Sirius pulls at his arm, but he ignores the treacherous part of his brain that’s telling him just how comfortable it would be to stay here for ten more minutes and instead gets up, tugging at the sheets and flicking his wand to spell the curtains open.
“I hate you,” Sirius groans from underneath the arm that he’s thrown over his eyes.
“Nah you don’t,” James says with a grin. “Get up, or I’ll hit you with a Tickling Charm instead of making coffee. Your choice.”
Sirius sighs but slowly pulls himself up, still muttering under his breath. James watches as he pulls on a jumper that’s a few sizes too big and traipses into the kitchen where he instantly plops down into one of the chairs and buries his head into his crossed arms.
“What has you so tired, anyway?” James asks while making the promised coffee, silently hoping that Sirius hasn’t been out drinking and pulling a guy again. Not that he has any right to feel so weirdly grudging whenever that happens, and he puts it down to missing those careless nights in favour of spending time with Lily when he doesn’t manage to straight-out ignore it.
Sirius lifts his head and props it on one hand, watching as James fills two mugs and sits down across from him. “I was at a stakeout, some Manor Dumbledore thinks might be used as a base.”
“Alone?” he asks with a frown as he tries to remember if he actually knew about it. Their schedules over the last two weeks were so chaotic that he’s barely keeping up with his own shifts.
Sirius raises a brow. “No, together with Peter. I don’t think Dumbledore ever gives us missions on our own? Though I would have preferred that to Pete’s never-ending whining, to be honest,” he says, rolling his eyes before he takes a sip of his coffee and sighs contentedly.
“Come on, give him a break. You know this stuff is hard on him,” James says with a sigh and a shake of his head, choosing not to comment on the rest of it.
Sirius’ shoulders drop and he grimaces. “Yeah yeah, I know. Sorry. How was your date with Lily?”
He shrugs and studies his hands to avoid looking at Sirius for a reason he can’t quite name. “Alright, I guess.”
“Alright?” Sirius asks, and when he looks up, he has one brow raised in disbelief. “You’ve pined after her for seven years and now that she’s finally going out with you, it’s alright?”
“Well,” he mutters, running a hand through his hair as he ponders how to explain the weird feeling that has been brewing over the last few months. “I don’t know, really. I mean you’re right; I should be over the moon but somehow, it’s - don’t get me wrong, it’s nice and I love spending time with her, but I just thought…” He shrugs again and sends Sirius a pleading look, begging him to just understand.
Sirius hums, one finger drawing invisible patterns over the worn wood of the table. “Maybe you simply have unrealistic expectations. Conjured up this perfect picture over the years that nothing could live up to. Give it time.” He downs the rest of his coffee and unfolds himself from his chair. “I’m going to take a shower, don’t worry so much. It’s going to be fine,” he says and squeezes James’ shoulder in passing.
Before he can answer, Sirius is out of the kitchen. He lets out a harsh breath and slouches in his chair, turning his head to stare out of the window and trying to determine why he’s feeling so out of sorts. No matter how much sense Sirius’ theory makes, it somehow just doesn’t feel like that’s the problem, but he can’t quite put his finger to it. Whenever he’s spending time with Lily, he feels like he’s missing out on something else which, more often than not, involves Sirius.
He might just be too used to spending every waking – and often also sleeping – minute with Sirius, and not for the first time does he shove the doubts away and decides to heed Sirius’ advice. Just give it time. The first few months were great, after all, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t go back to that.
He busies himself with washing the dishes and frying some eggs and bacon for Sirius as breakfast and himself as a late lunch, grinning when he hears Sirius sing loudly in the shower.
The food is just finished when Sirius comes back into the kitchen, dressed in jeans and the same jumper, a towel wrapped around his head. James’ eyes linger on his flushed face, and he wonders if Sirius still turns the water so hot that it fogs the whole bathroom within seconds like he used to do after Quidditch practice.
“Do you have any plans for your birthday next week?” he asks as he puts down the plates and sinks back into his chair.
Sirius tilts his head and draws his brows together. “No idea, but nothing special, I think. Maybe get some drinks, go to Camden or something. It depends on what Dumbledore has in store for me next week, if I have stakeouts at night again, probably nothing much.”
James hums in response, making a mental note to keep the day free of any other commitments and to think of something as soon as they know their schedules for next week.
“Oh, and Peter gave me a note last night, apparently they’ve changed headquarters again. We have to meet Moody at the Alexandra Docks in Newport, so he can take us,” Sirius says between two bites of food.
“Again? Didn’t we change headquarters like, a month ago?” he asks with a frown, but Sirius only shrugs and waves a dismissive hand.
“No idea, honestly.”
When they’ve finished their food, they apparate into a small group of trees and walk the remaining distance to the docks. It’s colder than in London, the wind that’s coming from the sea is rough and biting into his skin, and a dark-grey bank of clouds is hanging so low in the sky that it feels vaguely oppressive. James pulls his jacket closer around himself and smiles gratefully when Sirius shoots a Warming Charm at him.
“Sometimes I wonder if you forget that you’re a wizard,” Sirius grins as he’s pocketing his wand and nods to Moody, whose grim expression kind of fits their surroundings.
“Come on then, you’re nearly late,” Moody says with a huff, turning on his heel and walking into the direction of the beach until they arrive at an old, little house that looks like it might collapse if you take a wrong step.
Most of the Order members are already there, sitting around a large table in a dusty kitchen and greeting them with nods and muttered words.
The atmosphere is tense, everybody looks tired and the two of them quickly take their seats close to Peter, Lily, Marlene, and Dorcas.
“Is Remus still not back?” James asks Sirius in a low tone that doesn’t help to mask his worry, but he only gets a shake of the head in response, and then they all focus on Dumbledore when he enters the room.
The meeting doesn’t lift their spirits; most reports go along the lines of mere hints and missed opportunities, of attacks they had heard of too late and too many casualties, and James thinks that they’re in desperate need of a striking success to not completely lose their hope.
At least Dumbledore assigns him as Sirius’ partner for another round of stakeouts the following week. It makes him happier than it probably should, but if he has to spend his nights in some dreary alleyway or hidden between trees, then doing it with Sirius is the least miserable and boring way it can possibly go. And they get some time together, which is rather overdue as far as he is concerned.
Sirius isn’t as elated about it as he is, muttering about uselessly wasting sleep, but he manages a crooked smile when James nudges him and whispers that he at least doesn’t have to listen to Peter’s whining for another night.
It’s not like he doesn’t understand though. Neither of them thought that fighting in a vigilante group would include so much sitting around and waiting, so much repetitiveness or the general impression of fighting an uphill battle.
When the meeting is over, they share a smoke with their friends in an attempt to catch up, but they’re all ready to get home and just promise each other to meet up soon. James has lost track of how many times they've done this just to never manage to follow through; they’re all tired and worn out, and it’s close to impossible to find a day where they all have time.
He shoves the thought away when they get home. There’s barely an hour left to prepare food, drinks, and to put on several layers of clothes before they have to apparate to the address in Yorkshire that Dumbledore gave them.
It’s as exciting as Sirius predicted – they’re huddled in thick cloaks, hiding in a small group of trees near the entrance of a Manor that, even in the dark, looks run-down and completely abandoned. Some of the windows are shattered and the garden is so overgrown that it’s nearly impossible to make out the path that’s leading up to the entrance.
They have a thermos with coffee with them, but after 3 am, that is about as useful as a butterbeer against dehydration, and he’s leaning heavily against Sirius by now who has his head propped onto his. He’s currently telling James about the history behind the names of some of the constellations they can see on the clear night sky above them, only the twisted skeletons of old, bare trees obstructing the view.
It’s one of the reasons why he loves working with Sirius most; the familiar closeness, knowing with one look what the other is thinking, and Sirius' uncanny ability to get them through whatever tedious, monotonous task they have to deal with.
He nearly jumps out of his skin when Sirius stiffens so violently that he dislodges James’ head from his shoulder. Before he can say anything, Sirius is already pressing a hand over his mouth to keep him silent and jerks his head in the direction of the gates.
It’s a good thing he does – and that’s exactly what James meant, he thinks, inwardly patting himself on the shoulder – because he probably wouldn’t have kept silent at the sudden appearance of a group of five people in black robes and white masks that gleam ominously in the darkness.
He carefully pulls out his Invisibility Cloak and wraps it around the two of them, while Sirius throws up a Silencing Charm and adds two Disillusionment Charms for good measure.
“Should we try to get closer?” Sirius whispers into his ear, and James only nods slightly, the controlled movement at odds with the way his heart is pounding in his chest at the prospect of some action.
They wrap their arms around each other and press together, a technique they’ve long since developed to be comfortably covered by the cloak despite their height, and slowly creep down the narrow trail.
The Death Eaters are obviously certain that they’re alone, seeing that they don’t bother to keep their voices down while they’re lingering in front of the iron gates, staring up at the abandoned Manor.
“Are you sure we’re at the right place?”
“Yes, it’s supposed to serve as an occasional base.”
“It looks so run-down, though.”
“Are you questioning his decisions?”
“Of course not! I just – “
“Well, what do you think?”
The last question is directed at a tall, thin person who is standing a bit aside from the rest of them and hasn’t said anything up until now. He visibly startles at being addressed, head whipping around and shoulders tensing.
They’re as close as they can dare to be, maybe 20 feet left between them and the group. James is aware that they’re already gambling here, but they don’t need to speak to know that they’re both thinking the same thing – the closer they are, the smaller the chances of missing something important.
“I think the state of a building is rather irrelevant in regards to its actual usefulness as a base,” the one who was spoken to says quietly, and Sirius freezes next to him, every muscle of his body suddenly tight and trembling underneath James’ hand.
He frowns and nudges him softly, but a look at Sirius only shows him that his eyes are wide and fixed on who spoke last, his face set into hard lines. He has one hand pressed against his mouth though, betraying the horror he’s obviously feeling.
Mind racing, he tries to come up with a reason, anything that would warrant this reaction to a group of Death Eaters quarrelling about their worshipping issues, but he comes up blank.
“See, Black has the right idea,” the first one says with a nod, and James has to bite his tongue to keep from cursing loudly. Of course, that would do it. He tightens his grip on Sirius and shifts his weight, ready to keep him from running off with any means necessary if he has to.
It’s a good thing he does because he has barely finished the thought when Sirius tries to take a step forward. His expression morphs from disbelief into anger, and the hand he has around James’ hip clenches painfully.
“You can’t,” James hisses through clenched teeth, wincing when Sirius whips his head around to glare at him with fury blazing in his eyes. He can make out the pain underneath it though, the slight downturn of his mouth and the pleading edge to his expression.
Sirius keeps struggling against him but while he’s taller, James knew what was coming, and also likes to think that he’s a bit stronger. He just begs whoever is listening that the Silencing Charm will hold.
“Let me go! He’s – I can’t – that’s my brother, for Merlin’s sake!” Sirius finally snaps at him, not bothering to keep his voice down. And really, James understands, knows perfectly well that however much Sirius likes to pretend that he cares about none of his rotten family, that never really applied to Regulus. But it doesn’t matter how much he normally thinks that it’s not necessarily a bad thing, he still can’t let him barge into a group of bloody Death Eaters.
“Fuck, I know Pads. But what are you going to do, take him home and ground him?” he tries, still speaking lowly through his laboured breathing.
He’s not prepared for the sharp elbow hitting him in the stomach and he involuntarily loosens his grip on Sirius for a second, but it’s enough for the idiot to wrench himself free and take a step away, to brush off the cloak and raise his wand while his lips draw back in a snarl.
James does the only thing he can think of; he grabs Sirius’ wrist and apparates them away, praying that there aren’t any wards up. The last thing he hears is a surprised, slightly horrified noise from Regulus.
They land in a pile of limbs with Sirius on top of him, and before he can even start to get his bearings back, Sirius is already hitting him, punching his chest and his arms and spouting a litany of curses and accusations, his voice rough and breaking over every second word.
Somehow, James gets a hold of his wrists and tugs, once, and all the fight leaves Sirius in an instant. He just slumps forward, buries his head under James’ chin and clenches his fingers in his cloak while his whole body is shaking.
With a sigh of half relief, half sympathy, James hugs him close and runs a hand through his hair while the other stays steady on his back. He stubbornly ignores how the smell of Sirius, of leather and pine, shampoo and, somehow, fire – he has no idea how, but there’s always a distinct note of fire that fits him so perfectly well – instantly calms his own fraying nerves, loosens the knot in his chest and makes him think that he’d like to never let go, to just stay in this moment, safe and content and just the two of them.
Alright, maybe content is a bit of a stretch and safe might be debatable; he has no idea where he has apparated them to, and it’s too dark to see much. But at least it’s silent, and he can feel stones and branches digging into his back, so he just hopes that they’re fine for now.
It takes a while for Sirius’ breathing to calm down and his muscles to relax, but eventually, he gives a long sigh and rolls down from him. James instantly misses the weight and warmth, but simply turns his head to look at Sirius, who’s staring upwards and biting his bottom lip.
“I’m sorry,” Sirius says, and he sounds so defeated that James’ heart clenches.
He wraps his fingers around Sirius’ wrist, pressing his thumb into the pulse-point. “It’s alright, I get it. We just need to come up with an excuse why we were discovered, I doubt they’re going to use it as a base after this.”
Sirius groans and runs a hand over his face before he sits up and tugs at his hand. “We can go with Homenum Revelio, nobody knows that it doesn’t work on your cloak. I’m more annoyed that I fucked that up, thanks for getting us out of there.”
Sitting up as well, he bumps their shoulders together. “Well, it’s not every day that you have a family reunion at a Death Eater meeting. Come on, we should go home, I think I apparated us into the forest by Godric’s Hollow.”
It would make sense, at least, it’s where he spent half of his childhood and all he thought about was that they needed somewhere safe.
Sirius doesn’t look convinced, but obviously doesn’t want to talk about it either, and James knows better than to push. He’s going to come around at some point and they’re both freezing, tired, and done with the night.
He completely forgets that he had promised to call Lily when he makes it home.