A/N: This story is a sequel. If you read it having NOT read my other story, Choices, it will make very little sense at all. If you decide to read it anyway, despite that warning, that's up to you, but a polite request: don't leave me reviews telling me you didn't understand it, okay?
If on the other hand, you HAVE read Choices, I really hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed writing it. You may recognise the bit in italics.
She was not a baby. She was starting Hogwarts in September, just a few months away. She would be getting her wand. She was the oldest, and her little brothers looked up to her (at least they ought to).
So she was not afraid.
She was happy. Happy and excited. That was right – that was what she ought to be. But she didn't think that happy and excited explained her sweating palms and thumping heart and the sick feeling in her stomach.
Maybe she'd eaten something bad. She could have done. Her and Maisy had made those sandwiches the other day, and they'd used everything they could find in the fridge (including some things that had been being saved for other things, so they'd got into trouble about that), so something could have been off. Maybe she should tell Grandma she wasn't feeling well. Then somebody would take her home.
But then they'd think she was afraid. And it would only put it off.
Erica squared her jaw and continued to stare out of the window, uncharacteristically ignoring her small brothers, who were racing each other up and down the corridor (Leo was winning, of course, because his legs were significantly longer), and playing with the lift. Normally Grandma would have put a stop to this sort of behaviour, but she seemed almost as distracted as Erica and kept glancing at the closed door of the hospital ward.
Erica suddenly wondered whether there was any possibility that it was not all going to be okay after all. The thought was like a cold hand on her heart.
There was a clunk, and a large amount of smoke issued from the lift. The next moment, two small boys, one black-haired and the other red, emerged from it, guilty expressions on their faces.
"I didn't mean to!" red-haired Leo exclaimed swiftly, "It wasn't me!"
It was his stock answer to every situation. Erica had thought about telling him that all it did was make people suspicious, but she hadn't done it. It was more amusing to watch him digging himself holes. He'd work it out for himself soon enough.
Grandma got up with a sigh, and went over to investigate, but Erica stayed where she was, unable to really tear her thoughts away from that closed door. Leo and Jugs (that was not his name, but it was what Erica called him) were too young, really, to understand. Leo knew what was happening, but he was young enough to shrug it off and forget about it until it actually came to it. Jugs was too young to understand at all.
The door to the ward opened, and Erica froze, staring at the man who emerged and trying to gauge his expression.
"Uncle Al," she croaked, and Grandma looked round, forgetting about the broken lift. Leo too became still, waiting for their uncle to speak. Jugs looked from one of them to the other, unsure of himself.
Albus Potter smiled wearily.
"All right. He's fine. You can all come in."
Grandma's face broke into a relieved smile, and she took Jugs by the hand, and swept towards the door.
"Come on, you two," she told Erica and Leo, and indicated that they should go through first. They exchanged glanced, and Erica wondered for the first time whether maybe her brother was nervous as well. He was eight now – he had been only five when... it had happened, but he must remember.
Slowly, they moved together towards the door.
It was dark. That was the first thing he was aware of. Very dark.
It was dark. That was the first thing he was aware of. Very dark.
Then he realised that this was because his eyes were closed. Opening them seemed like a huge effort though. It felt as if he were coming up from somewhere deep underground. With a huge exertion of will, he moved his head.
"He's coming round."
The voice was familiar, but for a moment, he couldn't place it. A man's voice. Who was it? Where was he?
He was gradually getting the movement back in his muscles.
With another great effort, he opened his eyes.
There was something wrong. He couldn't focus on anything. He blinked, and his eyes dragged open again, seeing blurred shapes.
Faces. There were faces leaning over him.
"Give him some space," the voice spoke again, and some of the shapes receded. One stayed where it was, a face with a frame of orange. Behind it, everything was very white.
He blinked again, and felt a hand grasp his own.
"Sirius?" another voice whispered, "Sirius, can you hear me?"
Slowly, his vision swam into focus, and the heavy feeling faded.
He swallowed. His throat was very dry. He wanted to say her name, but he couldn't make the words come.
She looked up at somebody beyond his line of vision, her face twisted with worry.
"Is he going to be okay?"
"I think so," the first voice said quietly, "Give him a minute or two. He's been under for a while. He hit his head as well as being hit with the stunning spell."
Albus. Sirius finally identified the voice. And the white room he was in was a hospital ward. St Mungo's, where Albus worked.
Talking still seemed like too much effort. Thinking was quite an effort too.
Instead, he lifted a hand and found her cheek.
His hand wasn't under as much control as usual, so he wasn't as gentle as he'd have liked to be, but he was touching her... she was real.
"Lily," he muttered hoarsely.
"Hey there," she said quietly, "Welcome back, Sirius. I missed you."
It was some time before there were any more words. His head ached, and the weakness remained, but after a few moments, he was able to sit up a little bit, and when Albus gave him a drink of something that tasted foul, he was even able to pull a face.
There were a few other people in the room, he realised. A couple of medi-witches, and Harry. His throat constricted slightly as he looked at Harry. He was an elderly man now. He was not the same person as the teenage boy whom Sirius Black had left behind in the Department of Mysteries when he used the Time Turner. Sirius had never been able to think of them as the same person. That Harry had been his godson; James' kid, and as good as a son to him. This one... this one was the grandfather of his children.
And yet, this Harry remembered that day in the Department of Mysteries too. The day that his godfather had died.
He closed his eyes, feeling almost as he had the night James had died. He had lost that Harry too...
"But I'm still alive," Harry's voice broke into his thoughts, as if he knew perfectly well what Sirius had been thinking, "And so are you."
Sirius opened his eyes, and looked up at the older man. He looked very different. His hair was grey and his face was lined. But his eyes were the same behind their glasses.
"I'm sorry," he said hoarsely.
"I forgave you a long time ago," Harry said seriously. They looked at each other for a few moments, then Sirius nodded and turned his head to the woman who sat beside him, her eyes glittering with tears.
"Lily," he said again, repeating her name almost wonderingly.
"Well done," she said, her mouth starting to turn up in a smile, "You weren't too late."
"I wouldn't have dared to be," his mouth twitched too, "You gave me very strict instructions not to be."
She leaned over and kissed him then. Not the kiss she really wanted to give him (that could wait until her father and brother weren't in the room), but his hand came up to the back of her head and held her against his lips for a moment, and the words that remained unvoiced were spoken through that kiss.
"Think you're ready for a few more visitors?" Albus asked, when they broke apart.
Sirius looked at him, and then around the ward.
"Where are they?"
His voice cracked slightly. Children change in three years.
"Outside the door," Harry said, just as there was an ominous clunk from somewhere in the corridor, "I expect that that's them."
Albus moved to the door. Lily looked down at Sirius and saw the nervousness in his eyes.
"They're still the same kids," she said softly.
"I know," he smiled slightly, "But... they'll hardly know me."
Her eyes were sad and sympathetic. It was true. Even for Erica, three years was more than a quarter of her lifetime.
"They remember you perfectly well though," she told him, "At least, Erica and Leo do. They're excited to see you again. Although they're a bit nervous as well."
"I'm not nervous," he said quickly, "They're my kids," he added, as if trying to convince himself, "Of course I'm not nervous of seeing them again."
Erica stepped into the hospital room and stopped. The sun was shining in through the window and dazzling her slightly, and she couldn't see the bed or the people around it very well. She felt Leo's hand slip into her own, something he hadn't done for a very long time. She squeezed it reassuringly (although she'd tease him for being a baby later on), and walked further into the room.
"Hello, sweeties," her mother spoke reassuringly from her seat beside the bed, "Come on then."
Jugs let go of Grandma's hand and ran to their mother. He stood beside her and looked at the man in the bed.
"Hello, James," the man said quietly. The little boy looked uncertainly at his mother.
"Hello," he said, at her encouraging nod.
"It's Jugs," said Erica, suddenly finding her voice and advancing to within a few steps of the bed.
The man turned quizzical eyes on her, and her heart leaped because he still looked the same. A little bit different, but that was mostly the big cut on his head that hadn't finished healing yet. He was still Dad. She grinned lopsidedly at him.
"Jugs. It's what I called him, and now everyone does. It's because he's James Regulus. I started calling him Jugulus, and then I shortened it to Jugs."
He stared at her for a moment, and she wondered for a horrible moment whether he had somehow lost his sense of humour.
Then he gave a bark of laughter, his whole face lighting up, and he held out an arm to her. The next moment, she was in his arms, and he was holding her tight, and the boys piled in behind because they didn't want to be left out, and suddenly three years didn't matter because he was Daddy, and he was home.