Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
When he turned twelve, his birthday gift had been a hastily assembled array of cupcakes one James Potter had nicked from the kitchens and tried not to nibble at along the way. He had started out with ten cupcakes, he admitted sheepishly to his friend, and ended up with only five. Sirius had laughed and said it was perfectly fine, and they had then proceeded to sneak down to the kitchens together.
Back then, Sirius Black did not know James Potter very well, but he thought he would make a wonderful friend one day.
His thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth birthdays were not any more remarkable than the first he'd had at Hogwarts, reason being that they usually ended up with a month's worth of detention every time James tried to make the celebrations even slightly 'special'. Once, he bewitched the tapestries to turn bright pink; they were meant to sing 'Happy Birthday' loudly every time Sirius passed, but an unfortunate glitch had resulted in them singing 'Harpy Bastard' instead.
Sirius didn't mind the detentions. At least he got to spend them with his best friend.
On his sixteenth birthday, they made a nighttime trip to Hogsmeade. The next day, all the Gryffindors slept in the Great Hall because a rogue firework had damaged the common room and the dormitories smelt vaguely of bat poop.
On his seventeenth birthday, Sirius calmed a frantic James down as he related the details of when, where and how exactly he had succeeded in asking Lily Evans out. Sirius didn't mind that James was startled into remembering his birthday later on in the day--not at all, because he was his best friend, and Sirius liked seeing his best friend happy.
They took a tromp through the grounds that night, the two of them. James gave him his grandfather's golden watch ('He got it for his seventeenth birthday') and they sat for a while by the lake, just two friends, doing nothing-in-particular together.
They stayed there for half the night, talking about trees.
Part 1/2: Not a soliloquy//1980
It was the third of November and the Leaky Cauldron was a bizarre mess of upended chairs and casually discarded trunks that blocked the way upstairs. Tom the barman was preoccupied with rubbing at his eyes blearily; he oscillated between this and laying his head against the cold wall, his eyes bloodshot. It looked as though he was drunk.
It can be reasoned that he probably was.
All was quiet outside. Charing Cross was not a bustle of activity this early in the morning, and it showed--you could have heard a leaf break a transdimensional barrier as it fluttered to the ground, or seen an invisibility cloak flicker against the walk.
Yes, there was nothing particularly spectacular to be seen on a road--and on a Muggle road, at that--at five in the morning on the third of November, 1980.
Inside the Leaky Cauldron, someone banged relentlessly at a door.
This door belonged to room number 9, which was currently playing host to one Sirius Black. And the someone rattling a tuneless symphony on said door was tall, thin and bespectacled, with a rather conspicuous mop of untidy black hair. An invisibility cloak was gathered untidily in the crook of his arm. The tall, thin, bespectacled man let out a short, exasperated breath and kicked at the door again. When no one answered, he stuffed his hands in his pockets and glared at the floor, jumping slightly as the bartender downstairs dropped a goblet.
Outside a narrow window, a patch of sky was visible--dull, grey, lifeless.Thin clouds covered its length like an especially receding hairline.
London was a receding hairline that morning, James Potter decided, the houses especially dank. The streets especially cramped. The traffic especially sluggish, like someone had cast a full-body bind curse on it during their morning walk past Trafalgar Square.
But it was the third of November. He knocked on the door again, gritting his teeth. He hadn't seen his friend in a month. Such silence from Sirius was unexpected. Such monotony from Sirius, on his birthday of all days, was also highly unexpected. James had half-expected him to come storming into the house at midnight the night before, armed with firewhiskey and chocolate cauldrons--which, he insisted, made for an absolutely bedazzling mix.
Sirius had failed to bedazzle this year. James was most displeased.
Everything--yes, everything--was a great big heap of monotony today. On the roads, on the pavement, on Tom's face as he wiped glasses with a rag that had probably never seen actual soap in the entirety of its meagre existence. James Potter noticed this--the monotony. His hands dug deeper into his pockets and he wished he could smile more at people--stop more than once to ask them how their families were. He wished he didn't have to live underneath an invisibility cloak all the time. He harrumphed at the thought of this being the rest of his life, and he drummed his fingers against the waistband of his jeans.
People were afraid, James thought. Sirius was afraid. It was a palpable, bursting fear. It was evident in everything, from people's facial quirks to the whispers that serenaded his ears every time he walked into the pub. Tiny things. Small. Obscured by forced laughter and overzealous jokes.
James rapped at Sirius' door--harder. 'Open up, Pads,' he hissed through the keyhole. 'Damn.' He pulled his wand out, his ungloved fingers sliding slightly on its surface. 'Alohamora,' he whispered.
The door didn't open. It looked like Sirius had set up security charms around the place. Another tiny thing--one he would have noticed, perhaps, had he made regular visits to see his best friend in the first place. He leaned against the door, listening for a sound--any sound--and ran a hand through his hair in irritation.
He thumped on the door. He whispered another incantation. The door did not budge and his palms were clammy as he stood there, wishing he could bore a hole through the door with his eyes. Sirius coming to see him and Lily less often--a tiny thing. Remus and Sirius' latest spat--a tiny thing. Sirius not showing up at Godric's Hollow for his birthday.
A tiny thing.
Of late, James Potter had begun to notice 'tiny things', like Harry making a certain face when he saw bright, glittering objects, or when he was hungry, or when he was having indigestion. James had informed Sirius of all these developments--and more, but his best friend had merely rolled his eyes and called him a ninny for being so fascinated by a lump of human flesh.
It was quite hypocritical of him, all things considered, James thought. He had never seen Sirius more cautious around a human being before Harry--although calling him a 'human being' was as of yet still debatable: Harry struck James as being a potato. A potato with hair and arms and legs. And eyes. He musn't forget the eyes. He had run this theory--the your-son-is-a-potato theory--past Lily that morning.
It had resulted in a rather large pan colliding with his side. James wasn't sure if he wanted to run any more theories past Lily any more. She had been quite vicious of late ... although that could be the stress, he reasoned. All of them were taking quite a lot of it these days.
And that was all the more reason for him to bang at Sirius' door harder.
It was only after a rather disgruntled-looking birthday boy--man? wizard?--snapped the door open that it occurred to James that he could have used a messenger patronus to wake him up instead.
Part 2/2: Not a soliloquy either
He wondered why his best friend couldn't have used a messenger patronus to wake him up instead.
It was the third of November and Sirius Black had had a rough night of it. His bed appeared to be all wrong sides that day, and he had happened to wake up on the most unfortunate, wrongest side of them all.
He got to his feet with all the clumsy grace of a drunk antelope and stumbled towards said door, the object of his intense aggravation. He leaned against it heavily, swearing under his breath before he swung it open.
'Mate,' James said, thumping his friend hard on the back and grinning widely. 'Happy birthday!'
Sirius Black merely grunted. 'Today's what?' He leaned against the door heavily and yawned, his head pounding.
'Birthday,' James enunciated into his ear. 'Birth. Day.'
'Oh,' Sirius said, blearily. Then, blinking, he stared at James' face for a while. James pushed past him and entered the small room, locking the door magically behind him. Sirius continued staring at him, before realising suddenly--
'What are you doing here?'
James plopped down on Sirius unmade bed. 'Coming to see my best mate, o'course.'
'You shouldn't be here,' Sirius growled, rubbing his forehead. 'You should be at the cottage, laying low--staying alive.' He sighed and proceeded to collapse on the bed as well, his voice muffled against the bedspread as he spoke. 'Look--Prongs, I really appreciate that you remembered my birthday and all, it's great to see you--you know I'm always up for a little adventure, sizzle, fun, whatever, but the point is'--he straightened up and glared at James--'that you need to go home.'
James frowned. 'You've been odd, Pads, lately. You don't come over any more, you're always down, you and Moony ... well, you've been more than snappy with everyone, lately. Are you--' He hesitated slightly. 'Are you OK?'
'No,' Sirius said shortly. 'I'm not. The Order--Voldemort--it's driving me barking, raving mad.'
They sat quietly on Sirius' creaking mattress for a while, staring at their hands. Then James pulled Sirius into a hug.
'Damn, don't make me cry now--I'm sorry, I'm just--drunk and last night--tough. You bloody idiot, James, don't tickle me!'
They ended up apparating to the Potters' Cottage, where Lily had made a giant cauldron-shaped cake and turned the tablecloths pink.
If James had looked closer at his friend, he would have seen that his laughter was slightly forced, that he twitched every time someone pulled out a chair or Lily dropped something on the floor. He would have noticed how Sirius was more than eager to spend the night, how he cast a couple of extra protection spells before collapsing on the sofa and falling into a deep sleep.
They were, after all, tiny things.
Part Three: 1981
On the third of November, 1981, a man sat huddled in the darkest corner of a cell in Azkaban. His eyes were hollow, grey like the London skies from a morning that seemed decades away--though in reality, it had only been a year.
It was quiet. He could hear the ticking of his pulse--like a clock, counting down the beats until he died. He wished death would come sooner. He'd be much happier that way.
There was no light in the cell. No light--nothing to dissuade him from drowning in himself. He wondered if all his birthdays would be like this, now, wondered if his birthday would consist of a pair of bright eyes--of a knock at the door--ever again.
He sat--still, quiet. His dark hair was plastered to his cheeks in a mixture of grime, sweat and tears. He would stay hunched in this position for years, until he remembered that his best friend had a son, and his son had had a name, and he was probably more distinctive than the potato that he had been years ago.
He sat--still, quiet. Waiting. Waiting.
No one knocked at his door.
He celebrated his thirty-sixth birthday quietly, Remus having brought a box of Honeydukes' best chocolate to celebrate. Molly popped in later that day, bringing in tow with her Arthur and Bill. Tonks sent an owl. There was light and there was laughter, but it wasn't the same.
The thing that made Sirius happiest was a tawny owl that arrived ten minutes before midnight. It was scratching at his window when he went upstairs, and it hooted gleefully upon seeing him.
He pulled a letter out from beneath the owl's wing. He smiled--a genuine, wide smile.
Harry had sent a piece of parchment hastily folded over as a card, ''happy birthday'' in flashing letters scribbled on the inside. It was very much like something James would have done.
The card found a new perch next to his Hogwarts' photographs. He looked at it fondly before he went to sleep.
Sirius Black never made it to thirty-seven.