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Remus had been right. From the very moment Fudge’s head had appeared in the fireplace and James had expressed his desire that Sirius be released quite promptly, thank you very much, James could see the blustering man pale and shake with nervousness.

Rufus Scrimgeour tried to argue that James’ mind may still be addled after the attack, however James had curtailed that line of thinking by reminding him that the Prophet might be very eager to hear how the best friend of James Potter had sought revenge against the traitor who had betrayed their whereabouts and been thrown into prison for it, no trial or any sort of investigation to see if they’d caught the right man.

Wouldn’t it be interesting, James remarked, to see how the public felt about the Ministry after that.

James coolly requested that Sirius be escorted to St. Mungo’s, never allowing the disgust and anger he felt towards those who had imprisoned him get the better of his ability to reason. Remus had no other reason to believe that Sirius was innocent, they planted the lie in his head that he was to be Secret Keeper on purpose, but the Ministry had a job to do and they failed in every respect.

Sitting quietly in Ted Tonks’ office, he had time to reflect on how many other times they’d let their eagerness for an arrest get ahead of their duty to protect. Harry was being watched by various members of the Order and when last James had checked, soundly asleep which was unlike him, seeing as James couldn’t remember one night of the past three months that had gone uninterrupted; Harry had been teething and it was a struggle to get him to stop crying at the best of times.

The candlelight flickered on Remus’ face, casting deep shadows across it. He almost laughed because it was an old joke that Remus’ sizeable nose created enough shadow to engulf half of the room, but he remembered where he was and only let a smile slip through, hiding it behind his hand.

Ted was bouncing up and down on his feet; just as shocked as Remus had been to find out Sirius was innocent. Andromeda had adored Sirius when they were children, taken him under her wing as one of the only three Blacks with any common sense and when Sirius had run away from home; she and Ted had been there to offer support and congratulations. It must have been a blow to think of Sirius as a murderous traitor, someone who they’d left their daughter alone and had round for dinner. Someone they’d loved and trusted.

Just like Peter.

Actually, no, he was fairly sure he knew exactly how that felt. He couldn’t even imagine what Remus had felt after being told that Sirius had murdered Peter. Perhaps when enough time had passed for James to wrap his head around all of it, they’d talk. Of course, they’d all be old and senile by then, unable to remember what happened three minutes ago, let alone the details of what happened in the weeks before and after October 31st.

Pacing anxiously, Ted accidentally bumped into the corner of his desk and cursed loudly. He was a good man, Ted, having treated many of James’, Sirius’, Remus’, Peter’s and Lily’s injuries himself so as not to alert the Ministry to some of their activities. He never wanted to get involved directly in the war, laughing it off as being a liability to their cause because of his clumsiness. But James had always known he’d kept his distance because his family was already at such risk – the daughter of notorious Voldemort supporters and her muggle husband could not afford to further tar themselves with that of the Order’s brush. After one particularly brutal attack last year in which the amount of casualties was so high that Ted had been up for twenty-seven hours straight when James had found him in an empty broom closet, exhausted and emotional. Pale and bleary eyed, Ted had looked up at him desperately. “I’ve a daughter to consider,” he’d whispered in a scared, small little voice. James hadn’t been so kind then, having been up almost as long as he had, bloodied and beaten from a battle that had not gone their way and in which he and Lily had barely escaped with their lives. He’d sneered at Ted and told him he had a son at home and he wasn’t coward enough to hide behind that excuse, Sirius had smacked James upside the head and spent the better part of the next hour reassuring Ted that he was doing his part.

He wanted to offer some sort of condolence and assurance that it was all okay to have thought of him that way. He knew Sirius wouldn’t hold it against them for believing the front he, Lily and James had conspired to put up.

But he was already weary from the effort it had taken not to reach through the grate and grab Scrimgeour by his collar to beat the snot out of him for even suggesting that he wasn’t in the right mind to make any accusations, or to even offer his sympathies while belittling him like a schoolboy.

They had all grown used to being treated like naughty children by the Ministry, their tip offs and complaints always seemed to fall on deaf ears until Dumbledore had backed them up. James had fought in just as many battles, ran as many sieges and commanded his own groups of soldiers as any Ministry trained Auror but they saw nothing of that, just a kid playing at war: untrained and inferior.

It had bothered him for a while, but he accepted it. It was necessary to forget the slights so as to not lose their minds over the frustration of knowing if they combined forces and came around to the Order’s methods, the war might have been ended months ago. Maybe then Lily would still be here, holding his hand as they finally breathed in and no longer felt the pressure of a war, free to start their lives as civilians who didn’t discuss duelling strategies as they cradled their son to sleep, or go into hysterics when the other was home an hour late.

James leaned back in his chair and felt a hand upon his shoulder, gripping it. “I am so sorry for your loss,” Ted told him solemnly. “Lily was…she was...”

“Thank you,” James said quickly, irritated and not really understanding why. It just seemed pointless to focus on it when there was still so much murky aftermath to sort through and oughtn’t Sirius have been the focus of the present moment?

He caught Remus watching him, furrowed brow and a frown indicating his concern and curiosity. James ignored it and searched for a way to throw the focus from him. A question occurred to him suddenly and he was surprised it had taken him this long.

“Has Dumbledore been?”

Remus shook his head. “Hagrid told me he called a meeting just after…” he let it hang. Smart one Remus was, already caught on to James not being fond of any mention of what had happened. “Told everyone to be on high alert as he suspected the worst was yet to come and then left on what he said was ‘urgent business’. No one knows where or what it pertained to.”

James nodded though he didn’t actually understand. It felt as though trying to comprehend any of the events of the past few days was something akin to wading through a giant vat of molasses. “Hagrid told you? Why weren’t you there?”

A grim expression crossed Remus’ face. “I was detained,” he replied softly.

James gave him a confused look and was about to ask what he meant by that when the sound of swift footsteps and murmured discussion interrupted the moment. All three men in the room stood to attention and James automatically reached for his wand, which wasn’t on him, of course. He wondered if it had even survived the collapse.

There was a knock on the door and deciding that generally Death Eaters didn’t possess the common courtesy to knock before killing you, James relaxed. Ted rubbed his hands together anxiously and opened the door.

Sirius rushed forward, breaking free of his companions and nearly tackling James to the ground, James nearly laughed out of relief; he was here now and if nothing would ever be as it was, at least Sirius was here, some remnant of a time when things were all in place, the one constant in his life since he was eleven.

James held on to him as tightly as he could manage, minding the foreboding figures in the background or Remus and Ted milling about guiltily in the corner of his eye. Sirius grasped desperately at him, hugging him fiercely as though he’d be quite content with never letting go and only backed off when James let out an involuntary groan of pain. The awkwardness of the release brought about a desperate urge to crack some joke about wandering hands or something equally mature but as James fell back, leaning against the chair for support and Sirius moved away, shaking fidgeting with his hands and shaking as though something had crawled beneath his skin, James was struck dumb.

He could see the mess Sirius was: his robes were torn and bloodied, his face had that same hollowed look that Remus often wore after a full moon but his eyes were livid and panicked. Deep cuts around his wrists and ankles from the shackles were visible and James felt another surge of fury. Sirius looked smaller somehow, as though something had been beaten from him. That they dared do this to Sirius and take away his pride, his dignity and force him into the role of villain, mentioned with the likes of Voldemort and his pathetic little minions – he wouldn’t let the Ministry get away with it.

“What did they do to you?” he asked through clenched teeth, fists balling at his sides. That urge to hit someone looking far more tempting.

Sirius shuddered but managed a sideways smile, a shadow of his best friend creeping into his appearance. “Three day retreat,” he said gutturally, “Fed on pears and honey by beautiful women wearing nothing but wristwatches.”

They’d always joked after near death experiences, better to laugh than give in to the fact that they were complete emotional wrecks.

But James couldn’t laugh not when Sirius was here, looking like he did. Standing over to the side of the room, silhouetted by the candlelight behind him, looking like some ghostly figure returned to haunt men for their sins. Sirius shook his sleeves down over his wrists and the smile faded. “He isn’t dead,” he said in a low, serious tone.

James stepped closer, hobbling on a leg that resisted any sort of movement. Sirius stared at it momentarily, looking troubled. But he shook it off; his eyes were wild when they met with James’, his hands trembled as he reached out the grip his forearm, claw like fingers dirty and calloused wrapped around him. His breath rattled ominously and James felt the dawning sense of understanding. His stomach seemed to bottom out and he could feel the blood draining from his face. One of those moments where either the world slips away or you become hyper aware of everything around you.

“Peter’s alive.”

A/N: So, so sorry about the long wait! This has been sitting on my computer for ages. I'm actually up to Chapter 9 now (just sat down and wrote Chapter 8 very quickly), so, to make up for the wait, I'm posting Chapters five and six together. Hope you'll forgive me!

Oh, and thankyou for all the responses to my question last chapter, I have come to a decision that Hollow Bones will follow the first year of the events after Halloween '81 and then I'll write a sequel that will start when Harry gets his Hogwarts letter. I hope this will satisfy everyone! I really have loved everyone's comments on this story and I actually love writing it, so thank you for enjoying it, it makes me enjoy it more!

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