Title: My Sun Sets to Rise Again
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Time Travel, Drama
Relationship(s): Sirius Black/Remus Lupin
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Torture, Violence – Canon Level, Major Character Death (canonical and temporary)
Author Notes: Many, many thanks to our mods, Keira Marcos and Jilly James, for running such a great challenge, and thanks to my artist, Starkindler, and my beta, shallanelprin. You guys are the best.
Word Count: 67,700
Summary: Going through the Veil opens up doors for Sirius. Pretty much literally. Artist: Starkindler
Regulus is saying, “Sirius! Sirius! Breathe!”
He takes in a great, gasping breath, and feels the remembered pain in his nerves, the lingering pain from Azkaban and a thousand nights on a hard, cold floor. He feels—alive, sick, like a failure.
And then he realizes that Regulus must know. Must have known from the first.
“You knew,” he says, still trying to catch his breath.
“You stared at the first door far longer than a Gryffindor would if it was merely an issue of making a choice,” Regulus replies, and sits down next to Sirius on the floor. “The second door confirmed my suspicion.”
“You didn’t stop me,” Sirius points out.
“I’d rather you pick the door most likely to ensure your survival and that of the Black family name,” Regulus says.
Sirius takes a breath and slowly clambers to his feet. “And if I tell you that it’s unlikely I’ll ever marry or father children, and Harry will be my heir?”
“Then I’ll tell you to adopt him,” Regulus replies. “Give him the protection of the House of Black. At least he has Black blood in his pedigree.”
“I’m surprised at you, Regulus,” Sirius replies. “I thought you’d rail against his Muggle-born mother.”
Regulus is quiet for a moment. “I liked Lily. We only interacted a few times, and she was always kind and fair.”
Sirius hears the words, “unlike you,” echo in his brother’s comment. “She was.”
“I’m sorry you couldn’t save them.”
Sirius takes a breath. “I still could. I could choose that door, and then make different choices.”
“You could,” Regulus agrees. “I don’t know how it works. Maybe you would make other, better choices if you stepped through.”
“I’d find a way to kill Peter, that’s for sure,” Sirius says, and wonders why he hadn’t.
He knows why he hadn’t, though. He’d hoped, deep down, that Peter would do the right thing, and there was no way to explain why he would take such an action.
“What will you do now?” Regulus asks.
“I have to look at all my options, don’t I?” Sirius asks, but his mind is working through the possibilities.
The prophecy might be a foregone conclusion. Maybe James and Lily’s deaths were, too.
Or maybe he shouldn’t have been a selfish wanker and should have fled to Australia or some such. Granted, that would have left England in the throes of a civil war, and James and Lily cut off from the rest of wizarding England.
There are other options, other things he could have done or suggested they do, and none of them would have flown, not really.
Now, he’s left with the choice of three doors.
“What if I went back to one of the other doors?” Sirius asks.
“I don’t think you’ll see but the one possible future,” Regulus replies, “although I don’t know that for sure.”
Sirius considers his options, and then he clambers to his feet. “I’m ready.”
He reaches out and touches the knob—
He dodges the spell Bella meant for him. It’s chaos in the DOM. He sees Harry holding off a Death Eater in a mask, Harry’s friends doing the same. They’re fighting like warriors, like they’ve been training a lot longer than is really possible. They’re fighting like they’re already members of the Order.
And it’s too late, and not enough, and these children shouldn’t be in this position.
Sirius fends off a couple of curses, even as his mind is racing. The government hasn’t been on board or very helpful. The Wizengamot is full of old men and women who don’t want to admit that Voldemort has returned. Sirius is still a wanted man.
This is the wrong time. There’s no room to maneuver. They’re wrong-footed from the very beginning.
* * *
Sirius steps away from the door, and Regulus frowns at him. “That was rather fast.”
“I need to plan better,” Sirius replies. “I need more time.”
“You’re finally thinking strategically,” Regulus says approvingly. “It’s about time.”
“I need to be able to seize control,” Sirius continues. “To prove my innocence and be a force within the Ministry, rather than trusting Dumbledore.”
He doesn’t want to return to a time where he’s in Azkaban, which leaves him one option, although he has no idea what he’ll do with it.
But he reaches for the doorknob.
He dismounts Buckbeak and falls to his knees, briefly, gratefully, unutterably weary. Sirius hadn’t allowed them to stop until they reached France, and one of the Black holdings there. There’s an old farmhouse that’s been vacant for years, and Sirius slowly climbs to his feet. He dispels the stasis charm on the house and walks inside, Buckbeak following.
They’ll both need food and water, and Sirius will need to—
His thoughts are jumbled, and Sirius struggles to orient himself to whenand wherehe is. He takes a deep breath, and then another. He glances over at Buckbeak, who’s looking away from Sirius, maybe to save his dignity.
Sirius isn’t entirely sure how he’d managed to wind up at a Black property; originally, he’d hidden out in the French Riviera. He’d been so intent on escaping, so fearful of being Kissed, he’s not sure when he’d landed in the past.
The first time around, he hadn’t realized he was the Black heir until he accessed Grimmauld Place after Voldemort returned. Thathad mostly been by Dumbledore’s urging that Sirius find a place to hide and Sirius’ desire to contribute to the Order.
Looking back, Sirius isn’t entirely sure why he hadn’t fought harder to clear his name and get custody of Harry, but that’s not a problem this time. He has a clear goal in mind, and an understanding of how little time they have.
In a year’s time, unless Sirius finds some way of stopping it, Voldemort will return, and Harry will be fighting him.
He has an opportunity now to do something to change all of that.
First things first, though: food and water, then sleep, then plans.
There’s no food in the larder, of course, but there’s a village down the road, and he can get something there.
Not that he has any money, which means he’s going to have to pilfer unless his grandmother left some in the house. Sirius hates stealing, but there may not be an alternative right now.
Sirius is no stranger to doing distasteful things in order to find a way to survive.
His first stop is the study. The old farmhouse has a family safe, where his grandfather stored odds and ends, including a spare wand.
Arcturus Black believed that while the wand might choose the wizard, a wizard should never risk being unarmed. And a powerful wizard can make just about any wand submit to his will.
In this case, the wand had originally belonged to Sirius’ great-grandfather on his mother’s side, which isn’t surprising, since they’d been the ones to contribute the house to his grandmother’s dowry. Sirius gives the wand a swish, and cheerful sparks spill from the tip.
And, much to Sirius’ surprise, there’s both muggle money and a pouch of mixed galleons and sickles. “Looks like I won’t be stealing after all,” Sirius mutters. “Thank you, Arcturus.”
In one of the bedrooms, Sirius finds some clothes that are decently clean, and he has a chance to get cleaned up. No one had cleared out the house; they’d just closed it up. There are even some toiletries in one of the bathrooms, and Sirius takes a shower with relief. He’s still shaggy, but at least he’s clean, and wearing clean clothing.
He takes the wand and some of the money, and then walks down to the village, about a kilometer away. He’s weary and sore, but his hunger is such that he makes the trek. It’s not a wizarding village, and he doesn’t know the area well enough to apparate there.
It’s mid-morning in the village, and Sirius buys bread, ham, cheese, and raw steak for Buckbeak. He buys a bag of apples, too, and then walks far enough away to apparate to the farmhouse. Buckbeak seems to appreciate the raw meat, and Sirius makes a rough sandwich and munches on an apple. He finds a bed, and collapses into it.
His weariness is such that he passes out immediately, and safe behind Black wards, however weakened, he sleeps well.
The next morning, Sirius wakes up, and he eats again—he thinks it will be a while before he’s not hungry—and then he starts planning.
First things first, he needs to clear his name. And then he needs to get custody of Harry. And then he needs to prevent Voldemort from returning.
Clearing his name is going to be the most pressing problem, though. Everything else will follow after that.
Sirius has given this some thought. He thought that without Peter, there would be no way of proving his innocence, but he has an idea.
Hunting Peter down hadn’t worked in the future, so he’s going to have to come up with a different plan. Right now, that involves testimony given under veritaserum with someone Sirius can trust to at least listen, and not immediately order him to be Kissed. As far as he knows, Crouch Jr. won’t replace Moody until towards the end of the summer, and he’d worked with Moody in the past.
Moody is retired, and he’s not afraid of bending the rules, so there’s at least a chance he’ll hear Sirius out, or at least agree that Sirius deserves a trial. Dumbledore has given no sign that he’ll use his influence to help, so it’s up to Sirius to figure it out.
Sirius isn’t sure who else might be willing to help him, although he can probably leverage the Black fortune, since he’s the Black heir.
Sirius frowns and realizes that he’s thinking like a Gryffindor, and that’s what got him chucked in Azkaban in the first place. He has to be sneaky, to build an unassailable case, to prevent the British Ministry from sweeping his imprisonment without a trial under the rug.
Moody should be a part of his plan, if only to prevent Crouch Jr. from taking his place, but he has to have more than just the one.
This is too important to leave to chance.
He needs Moony.
Two heads are always better than one, and Sirius owes him, especially after his actions essentially cost Remus his teaching position. Sirius knows how much being a professor at Hogwarts meant to him, and how much Remus later regretted losing it. He never blamed Sirius for what happened, but Sirius blames himself.
Besides, Moony is the planner, and he’ll have some ideas.
He’ll have to go down to the village to hire an owl, and he should send Moony money for the train. Since he has Muggle money, he can send a few pounds. He can send Harry a letter, too, let him know that he’s safe with Buckbeak.
And maybe, just maybe, they’ll figure out how to get Harry away from his terrible relatives.
He gets a few more things from the store and sends out his two letters, one to Remus, and the other to Harry. Sirius has money enough to live on for a bit, and a safe place to stay. If he can get to the Paris branch of Gringotts, he can get more money, and British law enforcement tends to be fairly insular. Sirius doubts that the Aurors have shared his wanted status outside the country.
Besides, as far as those in the village are concerned, he’s a Black who has returned to his family’s summer home, even if it had stood empty for the better part of two decades.
Sirius includes the location of the house in his letter to Remus, so he’s not exactly surprised when he doesn’t get a reply, although Hedwig turns up a couple of days later with a letter from Harry.
The Muggles haven’t been too horrible yet, but it’s early days. I’m glad you and Buckbeak are safe, though. I wish I could visit you. I think anywhere would be better than here.
Sirius hears the aching loneliness in Harry’s words, and he knows that his schemes need to include the possibility of getting Harry that summer, if possible. If they can figure out the logistics, maybe Moony could escort him to France.
He thinks Harry would like the country house, and he thinks it might be good for him to learn more than the rudimentary French he was taught in primary school. He also thinks it might be a good idea to take more of an interest in Harry’s achievements in school. Lily had at the top of their year, and James had been right up there as well.
Maybe if someone demonstrates they care, Harry will be a little more motivated.
Sirius is going to be a better godfather this time around. He’s going to be mature and responsible, and he’s going to remember that Harry isn’tJames.
He thinks it might be easier now. He had seen James and Lily not that long ago. He might be slightly more stable now than he had been before.
He’s even less surprised that Remus turns up two days after Harry’s letter, hiking up the road to the house with a battered valise in hand.
“H’lo, Moony,” Sirius says from the front porch, alerted to a stranger’s presence by the wards he’s been shoring up.
“Padfoot,” Remus replies with a crooked smile. “I’m glad to see you in one piece.”
“Harry and Hermione were instrumental in that,” Sirius admits. “Dumbledore, not so much.”
Remus grimaces. “He couldn’t help?”
“That’s what he said,” Sirius replies. “But I have to clear my name if I’m going to do Harry any good.”
Remus raises his eyebrows. “Do you have a plan, with Peter having escaped?”
“That’s what you’re here for,” Sirius replies. “I have a general idea, but I need your help.”
“To be honest, I find myself between positions right now, so I’m on board,” Remus replies, walking up the steps and setting his bag down on the porch. “What are you thinking?”
“First, we need allies, and then I think I need to marshal my own resources,” Sirius says, “because I’m apparently the Black heir.”
Remus chokes out a laugh. “Are you serious?”
Sirius grins. “I’m always Sirius.”
“I can’t believe I walked into that,” Remus mutters.
“And yet you definitely did,” Sirius says. “But yes, I’ve got the Black estates, the Black money, and if I play my cards right, I can gather up some of the old Black allies as well.”
“Most of the Black allies went in Voldemort’s direction,” Remus points out.
“But not all of them,” Sirius replies. “And they might not be terribly happy at the thought of a scion of an Ancient and Noble house, one well known for his anti-Voldemort stance, to have been put in Azkaban without so much as a trial or even a thorough investigation.”
Remus’ expression turns thoughtful, and Sirius remembers that look. It’s a little-known fact, but Remus had been the one to come up with the best pranks. It didn’t happen often, not compared to him and James, but it did happen.
And when it did, it was glorious.
Then Remus smirks, and Sirius knows he’d done the right thing by sending for him. “I have an idea.”
“You always had the best ideas, Moony,” Sirius replies.
* * *
The first step, according to Remus, is hiring a solicitor. Sirius has no idea why he didn’t do that last time, as it seems rather obvious now. Not only is he going to need legal advice to clear his name, but also to get custody of Harry.
Or at least make sure that Harry spends as little time with the Muggles as possible.
Sirius has no idea where to begin looking for one, but Remus has a few ideas. Apparently, one of their old schoolmates is a solicitor, and has a reputation for being a zealous advocate with a soft spot for somewhat hopeless cases.
Since Remus is going on the behalf of the Black estate, Sirius insists on paying for new, sharp clothing. “I don’t see why this is necessary,” Remus complains.
“As the representative of the scion of the House of Black, you have a certain image to maintain,” Sirius points out. “Or I do.”
“You never cared about images before,” Remus complains.
Sirius shrugs. “Of course, I did. I cared about completely flouting the Black family traditions. Now I need to project a certain image because it will help me gain allies and therefore Harry.”
Remus gives him a look. “Very well. But you’re not putting me on the payroll.”
“Moony, of course I am,” Sirius replies. “Because I’m putting you to work. I’m not going to treat you like a house elf.”
A smile plays around the corners of Remus’ mouth. “Hermione has strong feelings about house elves.”
“Most Muggle-born do,” Sirius replies. “If the subject comes up, I’ll give her one of the books from the Black family library. That should take care of the matter.”
“More like, she’ll be asking you to lobby for stronger laws on creature rights,” Remus corrects him.
“I’ll be doing that anyway,” Sirius replies. “Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
Remus smooths the non-existent wrinkles from his new robes. They’re of a flattering cut, and in a dark blue that doesn’t give any hint to his allegiances. Sirius thinks it’s for the best. He doesn’t like not going with him, but Remus pointed out how foolhardy it would be, with everyone in Britain still looking for him, and Sirius hadn’t been able to disagree.
“I’m not the one who’s wanted by the Dementors,” Remus points out. “I’ll be fine. I’ll make sure the contract is clear and signed before I reveal anything. She’ll be bound by rules of confidentiality, even if she decides not to take the case.”
“How do you know her?” Sirius asks. “I barely remember a Miriam Rogers.”
“Muggle-born, one year below us, and a Ravenclaw,” Remus replies. “We spent more than a few evenings in the library together while I was busy avoiding you.”
Sirius winces. He’d half-forgotten that he still would have nearly caused Snape’s death in this time line. “I really am sorry about that.”
“I’m aware,” Remus replies. “And I know that Snape brought some of it on himself.”
“But I shouldn’t have put you at risk, Moony,” Sirius insists. “That was thoughtless and cruel.”
Remus blinks, and then a smile warms his face. “Yes, well, it’s water under the bridge, and I forgave you a long time ago. Anyway, Miriam was always kind to me, and I’ve followed her exploits since we left Hogwarts. She’s even given me work from time to time.”
“What sort of work?” Sirius asks, honestly curious.
“Investigative work, mostly,” Remus replies. “Following people around, or research. It was a kindness.”
“Does she know?”
“I told her,” Remus admits. “After Hogwarts, though. I ran into her a couple of years after—well, after the war ended.”
Sirius knows what that means. After James and Lily died, after Sirius was thrown in Azkaban. After.
“Let me guess, she asked you out,” Sirius says.
Remus smiles gently. “There are some lines I’m not willing to cross, Padfoot, and that’s one of them.”
“You deserve to be happy, Moony,” Sirius counters.
Remus shakes his head, but replies, “Who says I’m not?”
“Be careful anyway,” Sirius replies. “I don’t particularly want to lose you.”
“I don’t want to belost,” Remus says, although he has a pleased expression on his face.
Remus is taking the Muggle train to London, to throw people off the scent. Remus has become familiar with Muggle transport over the last decade, because it’s sometimes safer and cheaper for him than magical.
The house feels empty after he’s left, and Sirius tries not to mope. Remus had only been there a week while they made their plans and ordered new clothes for the both of them, but the place echoes strangely in his absence. Harry should be here, Sirius thinks, and wonders if Remus would be up for a bit of kidnapping.
Based on what Harry said, few people really looked in on him the summer after his third year, and they might assume the Dursleys were being especially horrid if Harry doesn’t reply.
Harry could tell his aunt and uncle that he’d been asked to stay with a friend for the rest of the summer, and Sirius doubts they’d mind terribly. No one would have to know.
Sirius spends the next couple of days daydreaming ways to get Harry there without anyone being the wiser, ways to get custody, ways to take the wizarding world by storm. He doesn’t hear from Remus, but that’s not terribly surprising. They’d agreed it would be for the best, since the Aurors might end up watching Remus in order to capture Sirius.
Although, given the manhunt last year right after his escape, the Ministry seems to have relaxed their guard considerably.
Finally, Remus returns four days after leaving, a little disheveled from his travels, but appearing pleased.
“Did you see Harry?” Sirius demands.
“Miriam and I agreed it was better if I didn’t try,” Remus replies with a frown. “We’re not sure who’s watching him.” Sirius opens his mouth to ask another question, and Remus cuts him off. “Harry running away from home is still on the table. We’ll just have to be careful about it.”
Sirius subsides. “Judging from your expression and what you just said, she’s agreed to help us.”
Remus smirks. “Oh, she’s salivating over the opportunity. Apparently, there were a few people sent to Azkaban without a trial, and she finds that terribly galling.”
“Some of them probably deserved it,” Sirius mutters.
“Some of them probably did,” Remus agrees. “The problem is, we don’t know which ones. How many were like you, caught in the wrong place in the wrong time and framed for a crime they didn’t commit? Just as there are more than a few people who deserve to be there and aren’t.”
Sirius doesn’t disagree with any of that. “Did you renew your acquaintance?”
Remus rolls his eyes. “She’s married, and she has a small child, just in case you’re referring to anything other than our friendship.”
Sirius shrugs, unwilling to admit that he’s a bit jealous of the woman. He’s fancied Remus since Hogwarts, and that feeling has only grown with his glimpses into other, possible timelines.
“But she’s agreed to help,” Remus says briskly. “The first step is to make contact with someone in the Auror department who might be willing to help, or at least to listen. Next, they’ll have to question Harry, Ron, and Hermione, along with others who might have useful testimony. That should be enough to open an investigation.”
“And if the investigation doesn’t go our way?” Sirius asks.
Remus grins wryly. “Fleeing the country isn’t out of the question. We could even bring Harry with us.”
Sirius is a little surprised by that. “You’d do that?”
“Of course, I would,” Remus replies, looking befuddled. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“I just thought—” Sirius stops. “Never mind.”
His first choice of a door brought him to a Remus still firmly enmeshed in the Order, and convinced that Dumbledore knew best when it came to Harry’s safety. Next had been a young Remus whom Sirius never betrayed. This Remus—
Well, this Remus had been quick to throw in his lot with Sirius when it became clear that Peter had been the one to betray the Potters. This Remus had a lot of lonely years behind him, a lot of friendless ones.
“But Sirius,” Remus says slowly. “You’ve—you’ve been through a great deal. I’m not opposed to running off with Harry, but…”
“I’ve had a little time,” Sirius says slowly. “More time than you’d think, time to consider all the ways I’ve failed him, and James and Lily.”
“It’s not your fault that Peter betrayed them,” Remus says hotly. “You did what you thought was right.”
“Perhaps,” Sirius agrees, although he’s not certain that’s true. He remembers the feel of the Cruciatus in his bones, the utter shock and betrayal of finding out that Peter had managed to trick Remus, to get something off him to use in Polyjuice.
Or had he? Sirius wonders. He had only Peter’s word for it. It’s possible that he’d killed Remus, or—
“Padfoot!” Remus’ sharp tone indicates that’s not the first time he called Sirius’ name, and Sirius rubs his eyes. “Where did you go just then?”
“Another life,” Sirius replies.
“Not a very pleasant one,” Remus observes.
Sirius shrugs. “I have been better.”
“Still, once we’re a little more secure, you might think about a mind healer,” Remus offers. “It might help Harry, too. He was badly affected by the Dementors’ presence.”
Sirius shudders. “I’ll consider it.”
“That’s all I ask,” Remus replies. “Anyway, Miriam thought it would be a few days at least before she had any information. Maybe we should spruce this place up a bit.”
Sirius glances around at the fading paint and scuffed floorboards, the peeling wallpaper and other signs that no one had lived here or cared about this place in a very long time. “I hope you remember your household charms, Moony, because I think I’ve forgotten most of them.”
* * *
For three days, they clean the house top to bottom, get rid of rubbish and cast cleaning and brightening charms on the walls. Sirius likes to think that the place has character, with its outdated décor and threadbare furniture. No recently-living Black had liked this place all that much. The last person to spend much time here had been his grandmother, and Sirius remembers her well.
Her marriage to Arcturus had been arranged, but they’d made a real love-match out of it. She’d been kind and funny and ruthless in her own way. She hadn’t stood for any mistreatment of her grandchildren.
She died two years before Sirius left for Hogwarts, and he thinks his life might have been very different if she hadn’t.
He stumbles across a photograph that was clearly taken at their wedding, his grandmother in her dress, his grandfather in tails and robes. Arcturus looks proud, and maybe a little softer than Sirius had ever seen him, and his grandmother smiles shyly.
They look happy.
“Sirius?” Remus enters the study. “I thought I heard—oh. Isn’t that your grandparents?”
Sirius isn’t sure what he’d planned to ask, but thinks he probably changed mid-sentence. “Yes, that’s them.”
“I don’t remember meeting your grandmother,” Remus says.
Sirius snorts, knowing that Remus met his grandfather during their third year. “You’d remember her if you had,” he says. “She was—she was the best of us. After she died, things got so much darker.”
He wonders if he’d have broken so completely with his family if his grandmother had been around. He thinks not.
“What happened to her?” Remus asks.
“Dragon pox,” Sirius says shortly. “Same as what happened to James’ parents.”
“Are you all right?”
“No,” Sirius admits roughly. “No, I’m not.”
Remus makes a soft sound, and then he plucks the photograph out of Sirius’ hand and pulls him in for a hug. He holds him tightly, and then moves one hand to the back of Sirius’ head and scratches in that way that drives Sirius absolutely crazy.
Sirius doesn’t even realize that the broken sounds he hears are coming from him.
“You’re okay,” Remus murmurs. “You’re fine, Pads, or you will be.”
Sirius isn’t so sure about that, so he lets Remus’ faith carry the both of them.
The place is looking more like what Sirius remembers by the time the great horned owl shows up with a thick letter, and he’s pleased with their progress, especially now that they have a bedroom set up for Harry.
They’re in the kitchen, celebrating their progress with a couple of butterbeers, when the owl pecks impatiently at the kitchen window. Sirius slides up the sash, and the owl goes to Remus. When Sirius raises his eyebrows, Remus just shrugs. “I told her I knew where you were, but not that we were staying together. I’m sure she probably assumes as much, but I thought it might add a layer of protection.”
Sirius can’t argue with that, and he waits nervously as Remus opens the letter, and quickly scans it. “Well?” he prompts.
“Miriam contacted Amelia Bones directly,” Remus says, “and she was rather appalled at the idea of anyone being in Azkaban so long without a trial, or formal charges being brought.”
Sirius raises his eyebrows. “What? They didn’t even bother with formal charges?”
“Apparently, Director Bones discovered that in the chaos of the end of the war and Voldemort’s defeat, Crouch Sr. and the Ministry were interested in cleaning up the mess as quickly as possible,” Remus reads. “And, since everybody knew what had happened, and no one protested you getting chucked in Azkaban, everybody also assumed that due process had been met.”
“Except for those who weren’t interested in following appropriate procedures,” Sirius says sourly.
Remus glances up with a grimace. “I’m sorry, Sirius. Someone should have looked into things. Ishould have.”
“What could you have done?” Sirius asks. “There’s no way they’d have let you visit me in Azkaban, and after that first night, no one ever asked me any questions. If I hadn’t gone after Peter half-cocked, or if I’d stayed with Harry, I wouldn’t be in this mess now, and we both know it.”
Remus sighs. “And maybe if I’d actually talked to you, I would have known Peter was the Secret Keeper.”
Sirius can remember every excruciating detail of that last argument with Remus. Looking back, a big part of their fight had been unresolved tension from both of them wanting what they couldn’t have.
Or wanting what they thoughtthey couldn’t have.
“There are things we could have done differently, Moony,” Sirius says. “But it’s in the past, and you’re here now. That’s what matters.”
Remus nods unhappily. “In any event, Director Bones has personally opened an investigation, although Fudge apparently protested. Miriam will keep us apprised of the results.”
“I suppose that’s progress,” Sirius says, and is surprised when another owl swoops in through the open window. He recognizes it immediately, of course. Hedwig is very distinctive. “Hello, Hedwig. Do you have something for me?”
She holds out her leg and gives an imperious hoot, and Remus laughs. “I’ll get some owl treats.”
Sirius opens the letter eagerly and reads:
I don’t want to be a bother, but I had to send Hedwig out. Two Aurors from the Ministry were here yesterday, and that really irritated Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. They (the Aurors) had all sorts of questions about you, and what happened, and whether I’d seen Pettigrew. I think they actually listened to me, and maybe even believed me when I told them what really happened.
I hope you’re well and safe. Don’t worry about me. Every time the Muggles get cross, I mention my godfather who’s wanted for murder. Thankfully, they haven’t figured out you’re innocent yet, and the Aurors insisted on speaking to me alone. The worst thing about this summer is Dudley’s diet, but everybody’s been good about sending me food, so I won’t starve.
“Are the Muggles mistreating him, Hedwig?” Sirius asks.
She offers a low hoot in return, and Sirius sighs. “I suppose kidnapping is out of the question at this stage.”
“Well, it certainly wouldn’t help your case to clear your name,” Remus replies. “Besides, if we canclear your name, you can send for Harry and keep him here the rest of the summer.”
Sirius can’t disagree, and it’s only been three weeks since he escaped getting Kissed. He knows these things take time, and he’s further along than he had been. “True.”
“We’re going to get there, Padfoot,” Remus assures him.
Sirius hums. “I wonder who Bones sent.”
“That’s hard to say,” Remus replies. “I don’t know most of them these days.”
“Neither do I,” Sirius says, although he’d once known most of them, since quite a few belonged to the Order during the war.
“Harry might remember their names, and if they’re fair-minded, it would be worth knowing,” Remus points out.
Sirius grabs parchment and a quill and quickly scratches out a note.
There’s no way you could ever be a bother. Don’t ever hesitate to write, and if the Muggles are horrible to you, let me know. I have a plan, but I’ll revise it if necessary.
Remus and I are working on clearing my name. Remus found a solicitor, and the Director of Magical Law Enforcement is involved now. It’s early days yet, so I’m trying not to get my hopes (or yours) up, but things might yet change for the better.
Do you remember the Aurors’ names? It might be smart to keep an eye out for the fair-minded ones in the days to come.
He hands the note to Remus, who quickly writes a message of his own at the bottom, and then they tie the parchment to Hedwig’s foot, and she’s off again.
“It’s a good thing the Muggles aren’t particularly bright,” Remus comments. “Or they might pick up on the fact that the Ministry thinks you might be innocent.”
Sirius is just thankful that he can keep Harry safe in some small way, even if he can’t be there in person. “Can I read Miriam’s letter?”
“Of course, it’s all about you anyway,” Remus replies.
From what Sirius can tell, Miriam is cheerful and businesslike, offering hope, but tempering that with a brisk pragmatism. She thinks it’s a positive sign that Director Bones has been willing to open an investigation, but without Peter, there’s no guarantee that Sirius will be cleared.
The last lines of her letter give him pause.
If he would be willing to give testimony under veritaserum with some serious honesty hexes, we could arrange that, and it might go a long way towards clearing him. I could arrange to have it done at a neutral location, perhaps at ICW headquarters or one of the branches of Gringotts. That being said, if he’s shading the truth, or ends up incriminating himself, there won’t be much I can do for him.
Sirius sighs. “It’s my reputation that’s going to be most difficult to rehabilitate.”
Remus hums thoughtfully. “Who says you need to?”
Sirius glances at him, startled. “What?”
“Well, Harry’s relatives are treating him better because they think you’re a murderer,” Remus points out. “If the entire Wizarding world thinks you’ll be a ruthless bastard where Harry’s concerned, that might give him some protection.”
“I willbe a ruthless bastard where Harry’s concerned,” Sirius protests. “He’s all I have left of James and Lily, and I’m not going to fail him again if I can help it.”
“I’m sure you won’t, Pads,” Remus replies. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m going to offer to testify,” Sirius replies. “It seems the quickest way to put this to rest.”
“Are you worried about something coming out that shouldn’t?” Remus asks.
“I’m not very proud of some of my actions,” Sirius admits. “And I hate that there are things I did that frightened Harry and his friends. But no, I’ve been honest about everything.”
Remus nods. “I think the Paris branch of Gringotts may be our best bet. If you have a promise of safe passage, they’ll at least let you leave unobstructed if things don’t go our way.”
“Are you worried about that?” Sirius asks.
“I question whether Fudge will accept the findings from the Aurors,” Remus admits. “That’s the real issue. He had a Kiss-on-sight order on you, and he was very invested in Harry. If he thinks you’re a threat to Harry—”
“Unless he realizes that I’m not a threat,” Sirius points out. “We could court his support.”
Remus nods thoughtfully. “And if you pull in enough support from the other members of the Wizengamot, Fudge will have to at least make a show of going along with you.”
“My reputation might be helpful on that front,” Sirius points out. “Not dark, not light, but somewhere in the middle.”
Remus snorts. “Your last name doesn’t make you neutral, no matter what anybody ever thought.”
“But my actions during the war—”
“Killing Death Eaters who were trying to kill you or others—”
“I’ve taken lives, Moony,” Sirius says.
“As have I,” Remus replies. “That doesn’t make you dark. That makes you a soldier.”
“Perhaps,” Sirius says, knowing the darkness that lingers in his soul. “Well, write Miriam back and tell her I’m willing to testify, assuming that it will be accepted in good faith. We’ll contract with the goblins, as I know they’ll keep their word.”
Remus nods, pulls out a fresh sheet of parchment, and begins writing. “Anything else you’d like me to say?”
“We’ll need to put something together to announce my innocence and entry back into Wizarding society,” Sirius says with a grimace. “That probably means an official party.”
Remus grimaces. “You won’t need me for that.”
“Bite your tongue, Moony,” Sirius replies. “I’m going to need you for all of this. You are officially on the Black payroll from now until you tell me to get fucked.”
“I don’t need your charity,” Remus says sharply. “And while you need me now—”
“I need you always,” Sirius says simply. Because if there’s anything he’s learned, it’s that.
Remus blinks at him. “Sirius…”
“I’m not saying we should—I just…I’m afraid of fucking things up with Harry, and I know you won’t let that happen,” Sirius says. “And I’ve missed you terribly.”
Remus closes his eyes. “I can’t give you what you need.”
“Why?” Sirius asks. “And what do you think I need?”
“You’ll need to marry,” Remus points out in a reasonable tone that puts his teeth on edge. “Have an heir. If you’re truly going to take the Black legacy—”
“Harry will be my heir,” Sirius says simply.
“The Black bloodline—”
“Harry has Black blood,” Sirius says. “James and I were distantly related, as most pureblood families are.”
Remus makes a deeply frustrated sound. “You might want a normal marriage with a witch and children and—”
“And I really don’t,” Sirius insists. “I’m not sure I ever really did. I was happy for James and Lily, but I was never envious of them, Moony. Were you?”
“I—yes,” Remus admits. “But not because I wanted a witch.”
He meets Sirius’ eyes, and Sirius feels the heat between them. “You could have said something.”
“We were going to war, and I knew it would be difficult,” Remus defends. “Besides, with all the girls you were with at Hogwarts, I thought our time together was just a bit of fun for you.”
“It wasn’t,” Sirius replies. “It never was.”
Suddenly, the last argument they had makes so much sense, and Sirius groans. “That’swhat that was about?”
“I thought you were having me on,” Remus admits roughly. “I thought it was just convenient for you.”
“I have fancied you a very long time,” Sirius says simply. “When you said we shouldn’t be together, I took a step back, but that night I wanted—I just wanted some comfort.”
It had been shortly after Sirius convinced Peter to be the Secret Keeper. Peter had been reluctant, and Sirius thought it was cowardice at the time, but maybe Peter was reluctant to betray them. Peter probably wanted to sit on the fence as long as possible, a marked Death Eater who was unknown to the Order.
Sirius had been in his cups, and he’d made a drunken pass at Remus, who had flared up in an unusual show of temper.
They had known each other a long time, and they both knew just what to say to wound deeply. Remus accused him of being a daredevil and a rebel, interested in the Order only to flout his family’s deeply-held pureblood politics, not because Sirius had any strong beliefs of his own. Sirius accused Remus of having a death wish, of not having enough self-esteem to think for himself, or question Dumbledore’s orders.
In retrospect, they’d both been a little bit right, which is probably why the words had stung so much, and why the wound festered between them. Sirius assumed they’d make up eventually, that Moony would be the first to break and apologize. He always had before, and he was living in Sirius’ flat.
He’s ashamed of that attitude now, ashamed that he would even be tempted to hold that generosity over Remus’ head, ashamed that he hadn’t offered a sincere apology as soon as he realized he was in the wrong.
He’s ashamed of the drunken pass, too, because it had been stupid and selfish, and Remus had been very clear about his boundaries.
But then, he’d been drunk and missing James and Lily and Harry. He wanted the comfort of a friendly ear and a warm body. He wanted to be held.
Maybe some or all of that shows on his face, because Remus sighs and shakes his head, and he says, “We’re a couple of fools, aren’t we?”
“Me more so than you, I’d say,” Sirius admits. “I don’t always make the best decisions. I’m rash, and impulsive, and I don’t think things through. If I have any shot of not completely screwing this whole thing up, it’s you. And if all I can have is your presence and your friendship, it will be more than enough.”
There’s a smile playing around the corners of Remus’ mouth, and he says, “All the reasons I gave in the past for not taking up with you are true still. If you’re going to take on the Black seat on the Wizengamot, and the Black allies—”
“Then all they need to know is that my very dear friend is helping me, and my main focus is on Harry, and him staying alive and defeating Voldemort,” Sirius points out. “Once I’ve officially announced that Harry is the heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black—”
“You’ll have women throwing themselves at you,” Remus points out dryly.
“And I can keep them all guessing,” Sirius replies. “It will be the best prank ever.”
Remus’ expression turns thoughtful. “You’re going to do that anyway, aren’t you?”
“Right up until the ladies stop throwing themselves at me,” Sirius admits cheerfully. “At which point, I’ll probably be dead.”
Remus snorts, but the sound is more fond than exasperated. “You and your ego.” He takes a deep breath. “Let me think on it, Padfoot. I’m not saying no, but it’s—a lot to take in.”
That’s more of a yes than Sirius thought he’d get, so he nods eagerly. “But it’s a yes to helping me with the Black estate and the rest of it.”
“Of course,” Remus says easily. “You’re right. Harry is all we have left of James and Lily. I never should have allowed Dumbledore to convince me to stay away. I can’t help but think that Lily would never forgive me.”
Remus and Lily had been the closest out of all James’ friends. They’d shared the same academic bent and quiet fierceness.
“Don’t blame yourself, Moony,” Sirius replies. “Dumbledore managed to convince a lot of people that Harry would be safest where he was at, and without contact with the Wizarding world. Who knows? Maybe he was right at the time, but things have changed dramatically.”
“Time for us to change with them?” Remus asks, but he’s nodding. “Very well. Although it’s going to scandalize everyone, you having a werewolf working for you.”
Sirius bares his teeth in a grin. “Well, I ama Grim, and a mass murderer, you know. Why wouldn’t I hire a werewolf?”
* * *
Although events seem to move too slowly after that, it’s really only a few days before they receive confirmation from Miriam that the DMLE has accepted his offer, and Gringotts has agreed to his terms.
He’ll turn up at the Paris branch at the appointed hour to swear an oath on his magic to provide truthful testimony, and take a dose of veritaserum while sitting in a chair with an honesty hex. Director Bones will take his testimony into consideration for the purposes of her investigation, and Sirius will have safe passage to leave.
It doesn’t mean that they won’t start hunting him as soon as he leaves the bank, but it does mean that Sirius will have a head start.
Sirius isn’t too worried, mostly because they still don’t know about his Animagus form. Worst case scenario, he survives as Padfoot for a bit. Now that Remus has authority to access the Black accounts, he’ll have money to help Sirius survive, too.
He doesn’t say anything about the plan to Harry, not wanting to get his hopes up too far. Harry seems to be having a slightly better summer than he has in the past, at least, and Sirius and his friends are sending food so that he doesn’t wind up subsisting on a quarter grapefruit and carrot sticks.
Sirius remembers his glimpse of Harry right before he got on the Knight Bus. It’s different when he’s at Hogwarts, of course, since he has plenty to eat, but he had a look about him at the end of that summer that Sirius is far too familiar with—underfed and wary.
Sirius doesn’t want that for him, and even if things don’t go according to plan, he’s considering his options for whisking Harry away to the house in France, even if just for a week.
On the appointed day, he and Remus take Muggle transportation to Paris. There’s a bus, then a train, and it’s lucky that they both know how the Muggle world works, since so many wizards don’t.
Magical Paris is located near the seat of government, in the 6tharrondisement, near the Place de Furstemberg. Not wanting to take any chances, Sirius cast a disillusionment spell on himself and followed Remus through the portal.
It’s just as he remembers it, full of wizards and witches in robes, darting down the streets and in and out of various shops, many of them high-end. The best shopping is in the 20tharrondisement, but there’s plenty to find here, near the center of banking and business.
Sirius follows Remus into the bank, admiring the way Remus looks in his new, smart robes that have been tailored to him. Remus insisted that nothing be flashy, but the dark blue robes are well tailored and suit him tremendously. Sirius is wearing something similar, but black robes with hints of red and gold in the lining and the cuffs.
They’re met immediately by one of the goblins. “This way, Mr. Black, Mr. Lupin,” he says. “I’m Magnok, and I will be your escort today.”
“Pleasure,” Sirius says shortly.
“The honesty hexes on the chair you’re to sit on are very strong,” Magnok says shortly. “So, I very much doubt it.”
He has a slight French accent, although it’s always hard to tell with Goblins. Their first language is always Gobbledegook, and they learn whatever human languages necessary to their profession.
Remus clears his throat. “We appreciate your escort.”
“Our Chieftain is rather hoping that they’ll clear Mr. Black, as there are vaults that have sat idle for over a decade,” Magnok admits. “With no one to tend them, the money works for no one.”
“And you don’t earn a profit,” Sirius says.
“What’s the point of that?” Magnok asks, and the question is clearly rhetorical. “Money ought to be earning more money. Here we are.”
The room he’s led them to is in the back of the bank, and Sirius can sense the heavy shielding. It feels almost oppressive, although he voices no complaint, since this is precisely what he asked for in his original inquiry.
“The others will be arriving shortly,” Magnok says. “You can sit in the chair or not until they arrive.”
Sirius wonders if he’ll get used to it, the longer he’s there, but he’s not sure he cares to find out.
“Are you ready for this?” Remus asks.
Sirius shrugs, wandering around the perimeter of the room, feeling an old sense of panic rise up, the sense of being hemmed in. “Are you worried about hearing the truth, or something else?”
Remus sighs. “Truthfully, I’m worried that the truth will be told, and it will make no difference at all. I understand that—I understand there are politics, and humans are fallible, but…”
Sirius understands what he means. Remus has very little reason to believe that if you follow the rules, you’ll be rewarded, but then no one has ever promised him anything, other than a Hogwarts education. The deck has been stacked against Remus for as long as he’s been alive almost.
But that’s different. There are rules for Remus, and his relationship to polite society, just as there are rules for Sirius.
If the truth comes out, and Sirius is still buggered, what possible hope is there for Remus?
“They don’t know about Padfoot,” Sirius says. “Or where we’re staying. We have safe passage out of the bank, and we can manage the rest.”
Remus shakes his head. “I know.”
Sirius doesn’t try to reassure him after that, too caught up in his own anxiety to even attempt to help. He thinks he can feel the walls closing in by the time the delegation from the British Ministry arrives, and he wishes he’d thought to take a calming draught before their arrival.
The woman leading the way has a severe expression, although she’s beautiful in a strong sense. She’s dressed in well-tailored robes in a dark purple, and she puts out her hand. “Director Susan Bones.”
Remus is closest, and shakes her hand first. Even though she must know what he is, she doesn’t flinch away. “Remus Lupin.”
“Pleasure,” she says, without a trace of sarcasm.
Sirius holds out a hand. “Sirius Black.”
She doesn’t flinch from him either. “Your godson is a most interesting young man.”
Sirius blinks. “You were one of the ones to visit Harry then?”
“I thought it wise,” Bones replies. “I did a bit of poking around and determined that his Muggle family isn’t entirely comfortable with wizards, and I’ve had enough experience with them to pass. The Dursleys thought I was a social worker, come to check on Harry because he’s a delinquent.”
There’s a hint of sardonic humor in her face, and Sirius finds that he doesn’t know how to respond to that. He senses that there’s more to the story, that maybe she’d been familiar with Harry before, and he’s frustrated that he doesn’t know how. He hasn’t received a response from Harry about the Aurors who visited yet.
“Let me introduce Rufus Scrimgeour, Head of the Auror Department, and Kingsley Shacklebolt,” Bones says.
Sirius knows Kingsley—at least somewhat. They had only barely made the others’ acquaintance during the first war, and hadn’t known each other well in the other time. Scrimgeour, he’s had a few dealings with during the first war, when Sirius had been known to take down Death Eaters for fun.
While he’s not entirely certain why Bones is here, or why she selected these two to accompany her, he can guess. They each have political clout and a reputation for being impartial.
If things go their way today, Sirius thinks that Bones might be getting ready to take on the Ministry.
“If you’ll take your seat, we have the veritaserum,” Bones adds.
Since that’s why they’re here, Sirius sits without protest, and knocks back the potion without fanfare. He’s here for Harry and to set the record straight.
“Did you kill Peter Pettigrew?” Bones asks, diving right into it.
Sirius has to admire her moves, but then the potion and the chair mean there really isn’t any way for him to lie, and catching him off guard means it hard to shade the truth.
“What was the last curse you hit him with?”
Sirius replies honestly, “I don’t remember. It might have been a reducto, or maybe a slashing hex. I was pretty brassed off at the time.”
“Were you the Potters’ Secret Keeper?”
Sirius feels the words forced from him, even as he shakes his head. “No. I convinced the Potters and Peter that he should be the Secret Keeper.”
“Why?” she asks, and it’s the first truly open-ended question she’s asked. He realizes her strategy a moment later. The potion has had time to take effect, and now he’s inclined to spill everything.
There’s a reason she’s head of the DMLE.
“Because no one would pick him as the Secret Keeper,” Sirius replies. “He was weak, and not particularly powerful, and he was an Order member but not particularly involved in Order business.”
She glances at Scrimgeour, who nods.
“I was an arrogant piece of shit who thought I could lead the Death Eaters on a merry chase, and they’d be none the wiser,” Sirius says bitterly. “I thought that if I got caught, I would be able to hold out.”
“Were you caught?” Bones asks, pouncing on his phrasing.
Sirius can’t tell her the truth, and he doesn’t feel the same push to tell the truth as he has with the other questions, so he says, “No. Not that time.”
He’d been caught by the Death Eaters before, but he’d escaped, and maybe they’ll hold it against him. Maybe they’ll decide that he’s compromised and shouldn’t have custody of Harry.
“Kingsley,” she says.
Shacklebolt offers an apologetic look. “I’m the best in the department at looking for compulsions.”
Sirius shrugs, accepting that it’s necessary. If he’s going to get Harry, he’ll have to jump through all the hoops.
After a moment, Shacklebolt says, “He’s free and clear of compulsions. If there was one on him, it’s long gone and left no trace.”
“What happened the night of October 31, in your own words?” Bones asks.
“I went to check on Peter in the safe house,” Sirius recites dully. “When he wasn’t there, I went straight to the Potters’ house. I found James and Lily dead, and Harry bloody. I cast a cleaning charm and a healing charm, and I was carrying him out when Hagrid appeared. I don’t know why he was there. I offered him my motorbike and asked him to take Harry. I planned to track Peter down and bring him in as a traitor. We all know what happened after that.”
He’s not sure what he expects, but there’s a conference after that, with the three of them murmuring behind a privacy charm, and then Bones says, “That’s in line with our own investigation, Mr. Black. We understand that the terms of the Potters’ will have been suspended, but that will need to be revisited. Should we determine your innocence, would you like the original intent of their will carried out?”
Sirius realizes that his throat is dry, and he has to swallow several times. “Yes. I—yes. I am Harry’s godfather, and my country house in France is ready for occupancy and ideal for a summer holiday.”
Bones nods, clearly satisfied. “Very well, Mr. Black. We’ll be in touch.”
And then, per the terms of their agreement, Sirius and Remus leave first, and immediately leave Magical Paris. Sirius feels as though he can’t breathe, and Remus pulls him into the closest alley and apparates them both away.
They wind up at a little café that Remus seems to know, and after a quick word with a waiter, they get a table in the corner. Remus makes sure that Sirius gets the seat that puts his back to the corner, and Remus puts himself between Sirius and the rest of the café as well.
“Take a deep breath,” Remus advises. “And another.”
“Did that—did that go as well as I thought it did?” Sirius asks. “I wasn’t dreaming it, was I?”
“I think they believed you, they have corroborating evidence, and they’re already bringing up James and Lily’s wishes,” Remus replies. “So, yes, I think that went very well indeed.”
Sirius tries to take another deep breath, still finding it difficult to breathe, because now he’s thinking about the ramifications.
With hindsight, he knows why he’d chosen to run, rather than to fight his conviction and clear his name. He’d been scared of what it would mean if he lost, of course, but also what would be demanded of him.
He will have to parent Harry, and take the Black seat, and probably take on the Black legacy in a way he never intended to do. There are political considerations and relationships that will need to be cultivated.
Sirius has a hell of a lot of work to do.
“You can do it,” Remus says, and Sirius realizes that he’d said most of that out loud. “You have me, and I’ll help all I can, Padfoot.”
“What if I bugger Harry up?” Sirius moans.
Remus hesitates. “Do you love him?”
“I have from the moment I saw him,” Sirius says immediately, because he knows that much to be true.
“And the Dursleys never have,” Remus says. “From what we know, they’ve never asked about his school friends or grades. They’ve never really celebrated holidays or birthdays, or given him presents. They haven’t fed him properly. Frankly, Harry has no idea what proper parenting is, and if you put some effort in to it, you’ll still be heaps better than them.”
“Low bar,” Sirius comments. “I want to be the kind of father James and Lily would be proud of.”
Remus smiles. “You will be. You care, and that’s most of the battle.”
“Do you think Harry will want to come live with us?” Sirius asks.
“I think he’s been writing to you frequently, and you should have time to get to know each other,” Remus says. “Maybe he won’t want to visit you over the holidays, and maybe he’ll want to go back to the Dursleys, but we can offer him an alternative.”
Remus’ reasonable response quiets the panicky feeling in Sirius’ chest, at least to a certain extent. He won’t force anything on Harry, but he can offer options.
“Okay, I can do that,” Sirius says.
“We’ll make a plan for the rest of it,” Remus promises. “Complete with plenty of contingency options.”
Sirius takes another deep breath. “I couldn’t do this without you, Moony.”
“You won’t have to,” Remus promises.
They have a light meal and talk through their next steps. Assuming that he does get custody of Harry, he’ll need to be collected from the Dursleys’ house, and they’ll have to arrange for transportation. Sirius will need to arrange an appropriate event to announce his rejoining polite society, and making Harry his heir. He’ll have to decide who to approach for an alliance.
“Maybe just take things one at a time,” Remus advises. “We’ll wait for the outcome of the investigation. If you can get Harry, we’ll make sure we can get him here safely. And then we’ll take each step one at a time.”
Sirius finds it easier to think about it like that, as a series of steps, rather than the huge project that it will be.
“Okay,” Sirius replies. “I will try not to panic too much.”
“Panic as much as you like,” Remus replies. “Harry might actually appreciate the fact that you don’t know everything.”
“Maybe so,” Sirius replies.
They make their way back to his house via the same route they’d taken that morning, arriving late in the evening.
“Would you stay with me?” Sirius asks.
Remus frowns. “I’m not sure—”
“Just to sleep,” Sirius is quick to say. “I don’t want to be alone tonight, Moony.”
He expression softens. “Sure. I think that can be arranged.”
They eat warmed up soup that comes from a tin, and then they fall into bed together. They know how the other person operates, so Remus takes the position as a little spoon, and Sirius relaxes.
He sleeps well that night, his nose pressed up against the back of Remus’ neck, smelling the deep, wild musk of him. He smells of parchment and old books and the woods, and Sirius remembers that smell, remembers how it felt to curl up around him and think that perhaps he would get to have this.
Perhaps he would have some small measure of happiness.
He sleeps that night and dreams of running under the light of a full moon.
* * *
“We need to talk about what we’re going to do if Harry is able to come here,” Remus says over coffee the next morning.
Sirius frowns. “His room is ready.”
“I mean, what we’re going to do about me,” Remus replies.
Sirius blinks. “Moony, I ordered the Wolfsbane potion. I knew you’d want it.”
Remus blows out a breath. “Oh. I didn’t—”
“I put in the order last week,” Sirius says. “It should arrive today, in fact. I know it’s cutting it a bit close, but the Potions Master said this was the earliest he could get it done, and I thought it would at least arrive in time. But we also have a cellar.”
Remus shakes his head. “No, I’m sure—well, if I have the potion—it’s just expensive.”
“It shouldn’t be,” Sirius says shortly. “The ingredients aren’t thathard to come by, and while it requires a certain level of expertise, the good it could do, and the harm it would prevent are considerable. If the government made it widely available, and for free, how many do you think would willingly take it?”
Remus seems a little taken aback. “Plenty would agree to take it, but who would pay for it?”
“The government?” Sirius suggests. “If the werewolf laws were loosened, and the government paid for the Wolfsbane potion, many wizards and witches would be able to hold down jobs and be a part of society.”
“Is that your agenda?” Remus asks.
“Part of it,” Sirius admits. “I’m not saying that we don’t kill monsters like Greyback, but no one has suggested that we not kill dark wizards like Voldemort. I think enforcement would be easier if we made Wolfsbane widely available. If you don’t take it, and you bite someone or kill someone, then the legal response would be just, unlike how it is today.”
Remus is nodded. “You’d have to make sure that it’s not used as another tool of oppression.”
“Agreed, but it’s possible to provide the potion, and when it becomes obvious that it works, and prevents more harm being done, we can move on to other goals.”
Remus gives him a long, considering look. “You’ve given this a lot of thought.”
“My primary goal is to take care of Harry,” Sirius admits. “But I failed you, too, Moony. I want to make it right.”
“You didn’t fail me,” Remus argues.
“Of course, I did,” Sirius replies. “I didn’t trust you, and when I managed to play right into Peter’s trap, I also deprived you of any support.”
Remus swallows audibly and doesn’t try to argue. Sirius knows that it hadn’t been only financial support he and James offered. Remus’ parents died shortly after he left Hogwarts, and he hadn’t had any family other than them. Once Sirius went to Azkaban, Remus didn’t have anyone willing to advocate for him.
Neither did Harry, really. Sirius means to change all of that.
The Wolfsbane potion arrives by owl that afternoon, as does a letter from Harry.
Dear Sirius (and Professor Lupin?),
I’m glad neither of you are alone. I was kind of worried, and I think it’s great that you’re spending time together. Was it just a visit, or is it a more permanent arrangement?
The Muggles haven’t caught on to the fact that you’re innocent yet, which is good. I let them think that the Aurors were here to question me about current criminal behavior. Since they would love it if I were a juvenile delinquent, they accepted it. Apparently, the idea that my godfather would be a murderer is too delicious to question. So, thanks again!
Thanks for the suggestion on the charm for the space under the floorboard. Mrs. Weasley’s food stays fresh now, so there’s no chance I’ll starve. I’ll probably have food to take to Hogwarts with me, actually.
Nothing else to report, only you said you didn’t mind me writing.
Sirius sighs. “He’s lonely.”
“He knows how to deal with that, and it’s good that he’s happy you’re not,” Remus point out. “He’s a kind boy.”
“I just wish I knew the outcome of the investigation,” Sirius admits. “And before you say it, I’m not expecting any news. I just wish we knew so we could start planning in earnest.”
Remus nods. “Let’s focus on the positive outcome: you’re cleared, and Harry is entrusted to your custody.”
“We’ll need an international portkey,” Sirius says easily. “Bones is a straight shooter. She’ll let us know, and we can collect Harry and bring him here before the news hits. Otherwise, the Death Eaters will be after him.”
“I think that’s a given,” Remus admits. “We’ll have to make sure that allowances are made for Harry’s friends.”
“Of course,” Sirius says quickly. “I imagine that the Weasleys will need to be told where Harry is, as will Hermione. I owe her a debt anyway.”
“And after that?” Remus asks.
Sirius shrugs. “We’ll have to see, but—we’ll need to do something about Alastor Moody.”
“Do what?” Remus asks.
“Dumbledore will ask him to be the DADA instructor this year, and he’s going to be targeted by Death Eaters,” Sirius says bluntly. “And before you ask, I can’t tell you how I know. I just do.”
There’s an expression that flits across Remus’ face and is gone. “Do you know, I had the weirdest sense of déjà vu just now.”
“That’s not actually surprising,” Sirius admits.
“We’ll get word to him,” Remus replies. “Do you know when?”
“No, but I do know who,” Sirius admits. “I just don’t know how to pass that information along without giving myself away, or putting the investigation at risk.”
Remus drums his fingers against the table. “An anonymous letter might do it. I can make sure it’s sent from somewhere that isn’t here. Will that do?”
“Moody is paranoid enough already,” Sirius comments. “I hate making him moreparanoid, but it’s necessary. If—well, Harry’s safety depends on it.”
If he can stop Moody being impersonated and prevent Harry from being entered into the Triwizard Tournament, then he can maybe stop Voldemort from being resurrected. Knowing Voldemort, he’ll find another way, but Sirius doesn’t have to make it easy on him.
Remus nods. “We can send letters to both Moody and Bones. We can’t control whether they’ll listen or not, but we can do our best.”
“After that…” Sirius thinks about it. He knows that Harry had gone to the Quidditch Cup before, and that the Weasleys would likely invite him again. On the other hand, the Cup is an ideal opportunity to make a grand entrance back into society. “I think we should get tickets to the Quidditch World Cup.”
“As the newly announced head of the Black family, it shouldn’t be hard,” Remus admits. “But why?”
“Harry will enjoy it, his friends will likely be there, and it’s a good time to get everyone used to me rejoining polite society,” Sirius replies.
“True,” Remus agrees. “I’m more than happy to keep things under control here.”
Sirius gives him a look. “That won’t be necessary. I want people to get used to seeing you in my company, Moony.”
“Word will get out,” Remus objects. “I’m certain most of the Slytherins already know.”
Sirius snorts. “So? They can get buggered. It will keep them off balance.”
Remus sighs. “I think you’re being foolhardy.”
“And I think you’re underestimating how little I care about their petty hang-ups,” Sirius replies. “I’m going to write Harry back. Any objection to telling him that you’re here full time?”
“None,” Remus says with enough finality to put Sirius’ mind at ease. “I’m looking forward to seeing him again.”
“I’ll tell him as much,” Sirius promises, and Remus wanders off to do whatever he does when Sirius is engaged in a solitary task.
I’m glad the charm worked. There were times I had to keep food fresh in my room as well, and I always appreciated that option.
Remus (you can call him that, it’s fine) is staying with me for the time being. I needed his big brain to help me figure out how to clear my name, and he’s been immensely helpful, although we’re not sure whether our efforts will bear fruit. If they do, I will let you know. I haven’t wanted to get your hopes up, but if I am cleared, would you want to spend the rest of the summer with me? I have a place. I won’t tell you where it is, just in case, but there’s a room waiting for you.
Remus says hello and that he’s looking forward to seeing you. I’m procuring the Wolfsbane potion, so you’ll be safe. I won’t be mad if you’d rather stay with the Muggles.
* * *
Sirius isn’t sure which missive he’s more nervous to receive: the letter from Director Bones with the results of her investigation, or Harry’s response to his last note. Probably the latter, because while Sirius would like to not be a fugitive, he would hate to find out that Harry has no interest in staying with him.
Harry’s reply comes a few days later, Hedwig swooping in through an open window and landing on the kitchen table with an impatient bark. “Yes, your majesty,” Sirius says with a laugh, providing a few owl treats.
Hedwig tucks her head under her wing, and appears to go to sleep. Sirius wonders if she just needs a rest, or if maybe she’s waiting on a response.
With a sense of trepidation, Sirius opens Harry’s letter.
Of course, I want to come stay with you! That would be brilliant. Even if it’s not for the entire summer, I would love to visit for as long as you like. Do you know when you’ll find out?
Things here are fine. I’ve been avoiding the Muggles as much as possible, and they’ve been returning the favor. Please let me know as soon as you find out. You can keep Hedwig with you if that will make it easier, and you don’t think it will be too long.
Sirius breathes out a sigh of relief, and a smile breaks out over his face. Assuming he can clear his name, he’ll have Harry with him. He remembers the relief he felt when he left his parents’ home, and the relief James expressed in knowing he wasn’t going back.
He understands it from both sides now.
“Is that from Harry?” Remus asks.
“It is,” Sirius says and hands him the letter.
Remus grins. “I’m sure you’re relieved.”
“I’ll be more relieved when my name is cleared and we have him here,” Sirius replies. “But yes, it’s a weight off.”
“I’m going down to the village for groceries,” Remus says. “Do you want to come along?”
Sirius could sit around and wait for a letter from Director Bones, or he could take a walk down to the village with Remus. “I could stand to stretch my legs.”
“No sense in waiting around here when we don’t know when the letter from Director Bones or Miriam will come,” Remus says sympathetically.
“If I didn’t think Director Bones was taking the investigation seriously, I’d probably help Harry run away,” Sirius admits.
Remus chuckles. “I suppose it’s not kidnapping if Harry is willing to come with us.”
“I can be patient, for now,” Sirius says. “It would be different if Harry were being mistreated.”
“Of course,” Remus agrees easily. “Kidnapping would be on the table if that were the case.”
Sirius is grateful to have a partner in crime again, to have the company of a friend. They stroll down to the village and pick up food for the next few days, as well as a few other items that Sirius has the money to pay for now that he’s been to Gringotts. He also sends off an order for some additional clothing for the both of them.
Harry will need additional clothing as well, but he’ll need his measurements taken, and Sirius believes that he should make his own decisions as far as that goes. Sirius figures he can get Harry properly kitted out as a birthday gift, assuming the investigation clears him, and they can get Harry to France.
They’re in the process of making dinner that night—Remus makes a mean chicken curry—when another owl appears. Miriam’s great horned owl is familiar by now, and Sirius takes the parchment from its leg, his heart beating fast.
“Do you want me to read it?” Remus offers.
Sirius shakes his head. “No, that’s fine. I can take it.”
Dear Remus and Sirius,
First, the good news: Sirius has been cleared of all charges related to the death of Peter Pettigrew and the twelve Muggles. The investigation has determined that Pettigrew is alive, and he is primarily responsible for the deaths. The Aurors are actively searching for him.
The bad news is that the Minister is insisting on holding a trial for Sirius’ escape from Azkaban, and insisting that he poses a security risk. Sirius will have to explain how he managed to escape. If there’s any punishment to be levied, it will likely be time served. But if there are any other violations I should know about, let’s get that out in the open now.
The trial will be held next week. We should meet before the trial to discuss your testimony and any pitfalls.
“I suppose that’s not a surprise,” Sirius mutters when he finishes reading the letter out loud. “At least I’ve been cleared of the most serious charges.”
“Yes, but you’re going to have to explain how you escaped, which means you’ll have to admit to being an unregistered animagus,” Remus points out.
Sirius shrugs. “I looked into that a long time ago, Moony. I’ll pay a hefty fine, but I can afford it. My main complaint is that my form is useful, and it’s saved my life a few times now. I don’t really want my enemies to know about it.”
“Better that they know, and you’re cleared and get Harry back than trying to lie,” Remus points out.
“I wasn’t going to lie about it,” Sirius protests. “I was going to register prior to the trial, as long as Miriam doesn’t think it’s a bad idea.”
Remus nods. “I think that’s the right decision. However you wish to handle the trial, you know I’ll support you.”
“Well, there is one small lie that I will probably tell,” Sirius admits. “Although it’s more half-truth, I suppose.”
“That you escaped for Harry, and not for revenge on Wormtail?” Remus guesses.
“I can’t say I was terribly happy about the thought of Peter being so close to Harry, but yes. I escaped for revenge, and no one is going to want to hear that answer.”
“Maybe not, but I think they’d understand.”
“To an extent,” Sirius agrees. “But I suppose that just builds upon my already wicked reputation.”
“I suppose so, but I worry about you, Pads,” Remus admits.
“Well, the only way out is through,” Sirius says gamely. “If I have to go through a trial, then I will. If the Ministry is smart, they’ll use the opportunity to tighten security on the Death Eaters they have in custody, and those they capture later.”
Remus snorts. “Unlikely. Regular wizards find Azkaban nearly intolerable, and most of the security is still left to the dementors.”
“Then you can’t say they weren’t on notice,” Sirius replies. “I suppose I had better plan on what I’m going to wear.”
“What kind of look are you going for?” Remus asks.
“Dangerous, I think,” Sirius replies. “But elegant.”
“Is it wise to remind them of how much of a threat you are?” Remus asks.
“Perhaps not,” Sirius admits. “But it will be useful once I have custody of Harry, and they realize they’ll have to go through me to get to him.”
Remus nods. “I suppose so.”
Sirius’ clothing order arrives before the date of the trial, so when they leave, choosing to take an international portkey this time, Sirius is wearing dragonhide trousers in black, and a fine black shirt, and fine black dress robes open at the front.
He ties his hair back with a leather thong, and uses his wrist holster for his wand. “How do I look?”
“Dangerous,” Remus says dryly. “And as though you could take on the entire Wizengamot and win.”
Sirius grins. “That’s the idea.”
The portkey takes them directly to the location outside the Ministry, and Sirius straightens his robes, glancing at Remus, who’s doing the same. He’s wearing a similar outfit to Sirius, without the dragonhide, and his robes are burgundy with subtle gold accents.
The full moon was two days before, so he’s pale, but otherwise composed. They get their visitors’ badges, and Sirius is a little disappointed when they’re just the standard. Well, they are until he takes a closer look, and sees, “Sirius Black, Lord Ascendent.”
“What does yours say?” Remus murmurs.
Sirius shows him. “Funny, mine says Chamberlain to the House of Black,” Remus comments. “I don’t remember you giving me an official title.”
“That one seems like a pretty good one,” Sirius comments.
“I don’t think I agreed to be your chamberlain,” Remus objects.
Sirius smirks at him. “I’m well aware. Maybe you’d like to agree to be something else, and next time we can truly scandalize them.”
Remus just rolls his eyes. “An Ancient and Noble House requires a chamberlain, not a boyfriend.”
“I have an heir already,” Sirius replies. “I don’t need another.”
“Padfoot,” Remus warns him.
“I’m just saying, I will probably already scandalize them, so why not go all the way?” Sirius asks. “Assuming I make it through this trial. For the record, I’m not going back to Azkaban.”
Remus sighs. “Well, if there’s anybody I’m willing to risk Azkaban for, it would be you.”
“Aw, that’s true love,” Sirius teases.
And then they’re walking into the Wizengamot. “The Chief Warlock recognizes the heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black,” Dumbledore says, although he doesn’t appear very happy about it. “The trial over his escape from Azkaban is our first order of business today. Mr. Black, please take a seat.”
Sirius is somewhat mollified that they don’t ask for his wand or otherwise threaten him, and when he sits, he isn’t restrained.
“Let it be noted on the record that Mr. Black has been cleared of the charges of killing Peter Pettigrew, who is still alive, and of the twelve Muggles, as that has been determined to be not his fault. However, there is the matter of his escape from Azkaban, which is an illegal act in itself.”
There are murmurs from those assembled, and Sirius hides a smirk. He’s fairly certain that most of those present would escape Azkaban if they could, particularly if innocent, and so public opinion is already on his side.
Director Bones clears her throat. “Our investigation showed without question that Peter Pettigrew was a marked Death Eater who betrayed the Potters and arranged for their deaths. Not only do we have eyewitness testimony, but certain spells that should have been performed at the time demonstrate that Pettigrew is alive.”
The murmurs swell, but Sirius keeps his mouth shut.
“There’s still the question of how he escaped from Azkaban,” Fudge says querulously. “That shouldn’t be possible!”
“And that is why we have asked Mr. Black here today,” Bones says. “The term of years for escape is no more than 5, and Mr. Black has served 12 years for a crime he did not commit. He is here as a courtesy, so that we might plug any holes in our security.”
Sirius has no idea how Bones had managed to limit his trial, such that it is, to this extent, but he knows that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe. She’d died shortly after Voldemort returned the last time, so he’ll just have to make sure that Voldemort remains a shadow.
“I was an unregistered animagus,” Sirius admits. “I have since registered and paid the fine. I would prefer to keep my form a secret, as I believe that will afford more protection to myself and my godson should the Death Eaters target us.”
There are some grumbles, but then Griselda Marchbanks asks to be recognized. Once she is, she asks, “Could any animagus escape Azkaban?”
“No,” Sirius replies. “I believe the thing that allowed me to escape was not my form, but my belief in my own innocence. It was not a happy thought, and the dementors could not feed on it.”
His animagus form hadn’t hurt, certainly, and he could see that certain animagi might be able to escape immediately, depending on their form.
But that depended on the individual. James would have been stuck, and Peter would have likely escaped within the first week.
“And why should we trust you?” someone asks, and Sirius can’t tell who’s asking. “You’re a blood traitor, and you’ve never proclaimed your innocence.”
“No one ever asked me,” Sirius spits, remaining seated, knowing there are honesty hexes on the chair. “When I was found, I was half-mad with grief and betrayal. I thought it my fault because I recommended Peter as Secret Keeper. It should have been me, but I thought they would be safer in Peter’s hands. I would have been right if Peter hadn’t been a traitorous bastard.
“After that night, no one ever asked me anything, not ever. No one came to visit me in Azkaban, no trial was held, no accusers were brought forth,” Sirius continues. “In fact, no one seemed to remember that I had used my own money to fight Voldemort and his followers. I ended up in Azkaban for something I didn’t do, although I acknowledge my own culpability in trusting Pettigrew. Can you blame me for wanting to cut off his access to my godson when I discovered that he was alive, and had assumed the identity of a pet rat to the Weasley family?”
Sirius knows that he has them in the palm of his hand, that they’re hanging on his every word. “Whatever I have done, whatever I will do, I wish to serve the good of the Wizarding world,” Sirius says, and with the hexes on the chair, no one can accuse him of dishonesty.
“We will put it to a vote,” Dumbledore says after a long, pregnant pause. And to a person, the vote is not guilty.
Sirius know that means they understand he had reason to escape Azkaban, as someone unfairly imprisoned, and he begins to work the room. He shakes hands and exchanges pleasantries, and then Remus leans in close and whispers, “Harry is in the hall, waiting for you.”
Dumbledore catches Sirius as he’s leaving the chamber. “I know you’ll want to keep Harry with you this summer, and it’s your right as his godfather, but there’s something you should know about the protection that his Muggle relatives provide before you make future plans.”
Sirius frowns. “I don’t want Harry going back there.”
“You might change your mind after you hear what I have to say,” Dumbledore replies.
“I doubt it,” Sirius says. “But I’ll hear you out. Now, if you’ll excuse me?”
“Of course, my boy,” Dumbledore replies. “And I am relieved at the outcome.”
Sirius quickly makes his excuses after that, knowing that he’s leaving some unsatisfied, but there Harry is, wearing his school robes and looking fairly smart, sitting between two people Sirius recognizes as Arthur and Molly Weasley.
“Hello, Harry,” he says.
“Sorry, I didn’t have other robes,” he admits as he shoots to his feet, and his voice is still changing, but he looks and sounds so much like James, it’s startling. “It’s just—the trial has been in all the papers, and I asked Mr. and Mrs. Weasley if there was any way I could be here. I did lie to my aunt and uncle, but they think I’m in trouble for something or other, so I doubt they’ll mind.”
He’s babbling, and Sirius knows why, so he holds out an arm in invitation. “I’ve been found innocent of all charges.”
Harry hesitates a split second, and then he hugs Sirius fiercely, although he immediately backs away, looking embarrassed. “It’s settled then? You’re innocent?”
“It’s settled,” Sirius replies with a reassuring smile. “Completely innocent, and ready to rejoin the Wizarding world.”
Harry’s smile seems a little forced. “Oh, well, that’s great news!”
“With you at my side, of course,” Sirius says. “You and Remus. What do you say?”
Harry blinks. “Do you mean it?”
“Well, there’s the place in France for this summer,” Sirius says. “I thought it might give us a chance to get to know one another better. Moony will be there as well, of course.”
Mr. Weasley clears his throat. “Now that you’ve been cleared, and I understand that you were Harry’s named guardian in the Potter’s will, we thought, well, that is—”
“What Arthur is trying to say is that he expects to get tickets to the Quidditch World Cup, and we would love for Harry to join us, if that’s all right with you,” Mrs. Weasley says, interrupting.
Harry glances up at him, and Sirius can see the hope warring with fear. He’s not sure if Harry is worried he’ll say no, or if he’s worried about disappointing Sirius by cutting their time together short.
“You know, I’d planned on getting tickets,” Sirius says lightly. “For all three of us. It’s an excellent opportunity to reintroduce myself. If Harry doesn’t mind me tagging along, of course.”
Harry grins. “That would be brilliant!”
“Not that I’d dream of keeping you from your friends, Pronglet,” Sirius says. “You can tell me to get lost if you’d like.”
“No, I’d never,” Harry protests. “It’s great that you’ll be there.”
“You’d be more than welcome to join us,” Mr. Weasley offers. “I’ll be borrowing a colleague’s tent.”
“I imagine that Harry will want to stay with his friends, and Remus and I have yet to sort out our accommodations, but thank you for the offer.” Sirius hesitates. “What did you tell the Muggles?”
“That I’d been in trouble for doing magic outside of school, and they were bringing me in for disciplinary reasons,” Harry admits. “They seemed to like that idea.”
“And how do you think they’d feel if I showed up with you and collected your things?” Sirius asks.
“I think it would be brilliant, and I wouldn’t care what they thought,” Harry says forthrightly.
Sirius grins. “Well, then, let’s get our transportation sorted, and we’ll be on our way.”
“I do know where they live,” Mr. Weasley offers. “And I have a colleague who might let us borrow his car.”
“There won’t be room for Professor Lupin,” Mrs. Weasley frets. “And you know Ron was hoping that we’d be able to bring Harry around for dinner tonight. He’s too thin.”
Sirius turns his laugh into a cough at the last second.
Remus sidles up to him. “Minister Fudge would like a word, Padfoot.”
Sirius does a quick mental calculation. He knows how much the Weasleys care about Harry, and how Harry feels about them. Cultivating a positive relationship with them is important. On the other hand, he’d like to be the one to collect Harry’s things from the Dursleys himself.
He grins. “I would really hate to be an imposition for dinner, Mrs. Weasley—”
“Call me Molly,” she says.
“Molly,” Sirius echoes. “But you’d be doing us a great favor if you would keep Harry at your house for a bit. If Mr. Weasley doesn’t mind, we’ll use his colleague’s car to collect Harry’s things, unless Harry would rather say goodbye in person.”
Harry hesitates. “Well, I don’t particularly want to see them again, but there’s my trunk, and all my things, and Hedwig, and a few things under the floorboard…”
“Here’s an idea,” Arthur says. “Molly will take Harry back to the Burrow, so he can spend some time with the other children, and after dinner, we’ll take Harry to collect his things. Are you on the Floo, Mr. Black?”
“Sirius,” he says. “And no, we didn’t think it would be secure. We’ll have to take Muggle transport back to France.”
“That seems like such a long journey,” Molly fusses. “Why don’t you stay with us tonight, and then leave tomorrow?”
Sirius glances at Remus, who shrugs. “We could find a room somewhere.”
“Nonsense, there are spare beds at the Burrow, as long as you don’t mind sharing,” Molly replies.
Sirius glances at Remus, fighting to keep his expression completely innocent. “Do you mind, Moony?”
“Well, I suppose it would be good for Harry to spend time with Ron,” Remus says. “I know I always enjoyed those times in the summer when I could visit you and James.”
“Then that’s settled,” Molly says firmly, putting a motherly arm around Harry’s shoulders. “Arthur?”
“I’ll make sure they make it safely,” he promises.
Sirius looks to Remus. “Once more into the breech, I suppose?”
“Seems that way,” Remus replies.
“I’ll show you gentlemen to the chamber,” Arthur says, and the hurries down the hall.
Fudge is in a smaller room just off the Wizengamot chamber, mostly used for closed judicial tribunals and formal meetings. Bones is there, too, as is Moody. Sirius wonders if Barty Crouch, Jr. has already taken his place, and knows he needs to find out and prevent that from happening if at all possible.
“So, we have a rat to catch,” Moody growls, taking a swig out of the flask he always has on hand.
Sirius wonders if there were any possibility of banishing the liquid in a way that won’t make Moody suspicious, or of warning him. He rather doubts it.
“That was our take,” Remus replies diplomatically. “And we have to assume that Harry will once again be a target.”
Sirius tries to think of a way to suggest identity checks that won’t come across as too paranoid, and then remembers the company he’s keeping. “I think anyone who’s going to be around Harry should have an identity check,” he says. “There’s Polyjuice and glamours, and any number of spells that could hide a Death Eater’s identity enough to fool a teenage boy.”
“You ought to work with him on situational awareness,” Moody growls. “Since he’ll be staying with you part of the summer. Always thought you’d make a grand Auror before.”
That’s a high compliment, and Sirius nods. “I appreciate that. What I’d appreciate more is if you agreed to a few private lessons. I’m rusty.”
If Moody is in France, he will likely be out of Crouch’s reach. And if he agrees to the identity checks, they’ll scupper Voldemort’s plans in that way.
Moody’s artificial eye twirls madly. “I might do. I’d like to see what the boy is made of before the start of the term. I always liked you and James. Couple of madcap rascals, you were, but you were solid members of the Order.”
“I don’t want Harry thrown into something he’s not ready for,” Sirius insists. “But at the same time, if war is coming, he should be ready.”
“Sensible,” Moody says. “Thought you might be. I’ll stop by your place next week.”
“Only if you undergo an identity check,” Sirius insists.
Moody grins. “Constant vigilance!” he shouts, causing Fudge to jump. Everyone else appears to expect it. “All right. I’ll send you an owl with the details.”
Sirius exchanges a look with Remus and feels cautiously hopeful. Maybe they’ll be able to prevent Harry being entered into the Triwizard Tournament entirely. That might not be ideal—considering that Sirius knows Voldemort is using the tournament in order to kidnap Harry at the end of it, and Sirius has no idea how he’ll accomplish his goal otherwise. But Sirius believe it will be better for Harry to have a normal year, where he can focus on his studies and maybe on a girlfriend, and just being a student.
And if Sirius isn’t absolutely certain that Moody is still Moody by the beginning of the schoolyear, he can’t see how he could send Harry back to Hogwarts in good conscience. At least until after the Champions are chosen.
Fudge fidgets. “I am, of course, prepared to offer a formal apology on the part of the Ministry for the—”
Sirius knows where this is going, and he and Remus have talked it through. “I don’t think it will be necessary, as long as there’s a formal acknowledgment of my innocence,” Sirius says. “I know what it was like at the end of the war, and I made my own share of mistakes. We all did. You weren’t Minister then, and you had no reason to know.”
Fudge’s sigh of relief is hard to miss. “Of course. If I’d known, I would never have stood for it!”
Sirius knows he wanted it swept under the rug, so that’s patently untrue. But if he offers Fudge a chance to save face, he’ll have gained a political ally, and a favor. Maybe even some influence.
“I’m certain that’s true, Minister,” Sirius lies cheerfully. “But if I may be so bold as to make a suggestion?”
“Yes?” Fudge asks warily, so he’s not a complete imbecile.
“Perhaps announce that you’re conducting an investigation into all imprisonments during that period of time, just to make sure everything is on the up-and-up,” Sirius says. “You’ll be regarded as proactive and fair-minded.”
Fudge nods. “Yes, yes, the idea has merit.”
“You can take charge of the narrative that way,” Sirius adds.
Fudge smiles. “Yes! That’s a good way of putting it. I’m glad that you were exonerated today, Mr. Black. I’m sure I’ll see you again soon.”
As soon as he leaves, Bones rolls her eyes. “That wanker. He’s the one who wanted everything swept under the rug in the first place. You could have said something.”
“I could have,” Sirius agrees. “But he would likely still be the Minister, and then he’d be my enemy. This way, he owes me a favor, and he leaves here thinking that I don’t hold a grudge.”
Bones snorts. “You’re a Black. Blacks are known for holding a grudge.”
“And in that sense, I’m entirely a Black,” Sirius admits. “And if I think he’s a danger to me or mine, he will cease to be useful, and I will do everything in my power to see him ousted.”
Bones inclines her head. “No more than I’d do for my Susan. I did want to offer my own sincere apologies for the miscarriage of justice, Lord Black. You were entitled to a trial and due process of law, and none was provided.”
“Everyone is entitled to such,” Sirius points out.
“And I have a team of Aurors looking over past imprisonments to ensure that trials did occur, and that we did not violate any rights,” Bones says. “Whether the Minister agrees or not, we’ll conduct our own review and publish the findings if necessary.”
Sirius nods. “Be careful, Director. Those sorts of actions tend to put a target on your back, and I find myself rather liking you at the moment.”
Bones laughs. “And you should! Especially since I also filed a formal protest with the office that places orphaned children. I interviewed your godson myself, and he was—well, let’s just say that I’ve interviewed enough traumatized children in the past to recognize one. They’re remarkably free with the details when they don’t quite understand that their experiences are not normal.”
Sirius keeps his temper with some effort. “What will that do?”
“The report itself is confidential, but should someone raise an issue with your custody of Harry, the report will indicate that the Muggles are not a suitable placement,” Bones says. “And, since you’ve been cleared, and the Potters’ wishes were quite clear, there shouldn’t be any issue at all.”
That’s more help than Sirius really expected to get, so he says, “Thank you, Director. I appreciate the fact that there are others looking out for Harry, too.”
“There should be more than that,” Bones growls. “Based on what I saw—well. All’s well that ends well, right?”
Sirius isn’t sure it’s going to end well yet, but there are at least some safeguards. “Again, you have my thanks.”
When she leaves, Arthur clears his throat. “We approached Headmaster Dumbledore about Harry staying with us, at least for summers, but he assured us there was a reason that Harry needed to reside at his aunt’s house for a period of time.”
Sirius wishes he’d been a little more demanding the last time, so he knew Dumbledore’s reasoning. But then, he doesn’t have any reason to know it now. “I don’t know what those reasons are,” Sirius admits. “But I know that Harry isn’t happy there, and I’d like the chance to make him happy. Perhaps Dumbledore’s reasons will persuade us that he should spend a certain amount of time with the Dursleys next summer, but that is a conversation for a future date.”
Arthur nods. “Good enough for me. I think Molly should have dinner ready by now if you would like to accompany me to the burrow.”
No one comments on the title Bones offered, and while noble titles aren’t generally used in the Wizarding world—there’s a general assumption that it’s more of a meritocracy, even if that’s inherently untrue—they do exist.
All of the descendants of the Sacred 28 could claim some noble tile. Depending on the family, some of them could claim two: one in the Wizarding world, and one in the Muggle one. The Black title is equivalent to that of an Earl, and there’s an earldom in the Muggle world that has languished.
He believes the Malfoy family has a marquis, and most of the others do as well. But, some of those 28 original lines have died out, and others have given up all rights to their ancestral seats, and no one makes a big deal out of their noble titles, not even the purebloods.
And, since most of the remaining 28 houses adhere to pureblood politics, they don’t bother with anything in the Muggle world.
Sirius could change that, or he could pave the way for Harry to do so.
Not that he particularly wants to claim any of that, including the seat on the Wizengamot, but he needs the authority that power will give him. He needs every ounce of power he can get if he’s going to protect Harry.
They take the Floo to the Burrow, Arthur going first, followed shortly by Sirius and then Remus. Sirius tries to let Remus go first, but he shakes his head. “I’ll watch your back, Padfoot.”
“I hardly think I need to worry about a curse to the back,” Sirius objects.
“Better safe than sorry,” Remus counters. “And you’re the one who can take custody of Harry.”
Sirius decides not to argue. He steps out of the Floo and banishes any soot with a gesture. Harry’s watching him with an expression on his face that Sirius can’t quite figure out.
“Will you teach me how to do that?” Harry asks a trifle wistfully.
Sirius grins. “Of course, Pronglet! We’ll work on it this summer. It’s never a bad idea to know how to do wandless, wordless magic.”
“You can do wandless magic?” Ron pipes up, watching Sirius warily.
“I can, yes, and if you have the power and the control, you can learn it, too,” Sirius replies. “It’s very handy if you ever lose your wand during a battle.”
“They’re not going to needthat,” Molly huffs. “They’re not going into battle.”
“It’s also useful when you want to open the curtains in the morning and don’t have your wand handy,” Sirius adds.
Ron grins. “That would be.”
Molly gives him a look. “Laziness is not a virtue, Ronald.”
“But what if I get caught by the Slytherins in the hall, and they try to curse me?” Ron asks. “And I don’t have my wand, or they disarm me?”
“Maybe don’t fight in the hallway,” Molly says severely, and Ron and Harry exchange a look that clearly indicates they don’t think Molly understands.
Molly sighs. “Just be careful.”
“You know, wandless magic can help with control, and that can improve marks, especially in the practicals,” Remus says gently.
Sirius hides a smirk. Trust Remus to know exactly the right thing to say.
“Then that’s a good reason to work on it,” Molly says. “You could stand to be more focused, Ron.”
Ron slumps. “Mum!”
“I’m just saying,” Molly says. “Now, let’s sit down and eat.”
Sirius notes that Ginny seems a little awkward around Harry, and the twins have their heads together for most of the dinner, which promises to be entertaining. Sirius makes a mental note to keep an eye on them, because he knows enough to know that he might want to bankroll them eventually.
They’d been making a go of things in the first timeline, but funded from Harry’s Triwizard winnings. Sirius doesn’t plan on Harry competing this time around.
Molly asks, “What are your plans for the rest of the summer, Sirius?”
Sirius shrugs. “We have a place in the French countryside. My intention is to make sure Harry’s prepared for his fourth year, and to get to know each other better. And then, of course, attending the Quidditch World Cup.”
“It’s going to be brilliant!” Ron exclaims, although he falls silent under Molly’s pointed look.
“Well, I’m just glad to know that Harry will be staying with someone other than those Muggles,” Molly says, although her tone suggests that she doesn’t know whether Sirius will be any better.
“Remus is staying with us as well,” Sirius offers. “He was very helpful in making sure I received a fair trial.”
“I don’t think it’s fair that he can’t be our instructor next year,” Ron says forthrightly. “You were loads better than anybody else.”
“That’s a rather low bar to clear,” Percy replies, earning a glare from just about everybody else around the table other than Remus. He flushes. “Sorry. You were a very good instructor.”
“It wasa rather low bar,” Remus says evenly. “I think it was one of the reasons the headmaster thought no one would raise much fuss.”
“No one would have if it hadn’t been for Snape,” Harry mutters.
“ProfessorSnape,” Remus corrects.
Harry’s expression is momentarily mutinous, and then he glances at Sirius, and his expression relaxes into a smile. “Fine. Professor Snape.”
Sirius thinks that might have something to do with the fact that Snape hadn’t ruined Harry’s chances of living with him this time around.
Or, to be perfectly fair, that Sirius had been able to take matters into his own hands, and he’d scuppered Snape’s finagling.
“He’s really awful to Harry, though!” Ron protests. “And we barely learn anything in his class. He takes points off Gryffindor for breathing.”
“He’s like that with all his classes,” Percy agrees, and from the expressions of the others, Percy agreeing with Ron is almost unheard of. “Although he’s particularly bad with Harry’s year. There’s been a marked increase in the number of points Professor Snape has taken from Gryffindor with regards to Harry’s class as to any other. Even Fred and George’s.”
Ron stares at him. “What?”
“I did the maths,” Percy says. “You kept complaining about how unfair he was in comparison to the other professors, and I wanted the facts.”
Ron grimaces. “Thanks?”
“Don’t thank me,” Percy says primly. “It’s all in the numbers.”
“Have a real—”
“Hard on for Harry.”
Sirius isn’t entirely sure which twin said what, but Molly snaps, “Fred and George! That was crass, and in front of company!”
“It is a real problem, though,” Percy adds. “Unless a student is particularly gifted at Potions, or inclined to study on their own, a lot of students do much more poorly on their OWLS and NEWTS than they might have otherwise. I, of course, have undertaken some independent study—”
The twins both start making gagging noises, Harry and Ron roll their eyes in unison, and Sirius glances at Remus with raised eyebrows.
Remus hitches a shoulder, and Sirius knows that means there’s some truth to the complaints, and Harry will probably need some independent study and help this summer.
Getting a high mark on the Potions OWL is a precursor for a lot of professions that Harry might be interested in, anything from Auror to Healer, to Potions Master, although Sirius thinks that last is unlikely. Hell, Sirius isn’t sure that anybody has even sat Harry down for a chat about what he might want to do in the future, and what qualifying for such a job would entail.
The Muggles wouldn’t have, and Sirius hadn’t much the first time around. He suspects that the Weasleys are more the sort to encourage their kids to get good marks and then follow their passions.
Harry will have the money from his parents, and the money from the Black estate. He wouldn’t have to work at all if he so chooses, but Sirius doesn’t think Harry’s the type to be a dilettante.
Not like him.
Then again, Sirius stayed busy with the war efforts, and he knows he and James had a unique advantage in being free to help.
When dinner has been finished, Sirius says, “Why don’t we collect your things, Harry? It shouldn’t take us long.”
Harry nods and wipes his hands on his school uniform trousers, because those are apparently the only decent clothes he owns at the moment. “They might be upset at the interruption.”
Sirius grins. “I’m a suspected murderer, remember? I doubt they’ll give us too much trouble.”
“And we can give you—”
“—a few of our demonstration items,” the twins say.
Molly frowns. “Fred and George, you’re not risking getting into trouble with the Ministry to torment Harry’s cousin.”
“He tormented Harry first!” Ron says loyally.
“It’s not right,” Molly insists. “Muggle-baiting is a crime.”
Arthur clears his throat. “We should get going. I don’t want to arrive too late, and upset them that way.”
“I think I’ll stay here,” Remus says. “Unless you think there’s a reason I should go.”
Sirius has an idea of what Remus means. “No, that’s quite all right, Moony. Arthur and I will collect Harry’s things.”
Harry appears a little troubled, and as they head out of the house. “Moony doesn’t trust himself around the Muggles,” Sirius murmurs. “Especially if they say something untoward.”
“And you do?” Harry asks.
Sirius snorts. “Oh, Pronglet, I know all manner of hexes and jinxes that will keep them miserable for a very long time to come, and Moony knows that. Trust me, you only need one Marauder in this situation.”
Harry smirks. “Yeah?”
“Yeah, not that they’ll look at you sideways with a convicted murderer in tow, even if I have been found innocent,” Sirius replies with a wink.
Arthur’s coworker apparently lives nearby, and they only have to walk a short distance, before they stroll up the drive to another house, which is considerably less haphazard than the Burrow. It’s a neat two-storey house with wood shakes and a thatched roof. How they managed to keep a thatched roof, Sirius has no idea, but it’s picturesque.
The man who comes out to greet them is probably a good 20 years older than Arthur. “H’lo, Arthur. Got your message.”
“Thanks for doing this, Keith,” Arthur says. “This is Sirius, and Harry.”
Keith gives Sirius a wary look and a nod, but smiles broadly at Harry. “Pleasure to meet you, young Harry.”
“Thank you for helping us out on such short notice,” Harry says sincerely. “Only, we’re collecting my things, and it’s a relief to spend the rest of my summer in the Wizarding world.”
Sirius doesn’t know Harry well enough to tell if he’s doing that deliberately, or if he’s just that guileless. Sirius would guess that he knows what he’s doing. Sirius had been, and he’d grown up in a similarly abusive environment.
The car is a small Mini, but it’s definitely bigger on the inside than on the outside. Harry climbs into the backseat, which should be cramped and isn’t.
Sirius can drive, and so he does, although he doesn’t have a Muggle driver’s license. Not that it really matters, since he can produce one if they’re stopped, or something that looks like one.
The car, which has a bit more under the hood than a typical Muggle vehicle, makes the journey in half the time, zipping between and around other cars in a way a bit like the Knight Bus. “Keith must have a gift,” Sirius comments.
Arthur laughs. “We bonded over Muggle artifacts. Keith is brilliant, and he has a gift with making things work.”
“Where does he work?” Sirius asks, since Harry doesn’t seem interested in making conversation at the moment.
“At the Ministry, in transportation,” Arthur says. “As you might expect from someone with a car like this one.”
“You okay back there, Harry?” Sirius asks.
Harry nods. “I’m good.”
Sirius decides not to press. A lot has changed for Harry in a very short period of time, and he might be feeling a little off-kilter.
They pull up in front of the neat little house on Privet Lane. Sirius has actually been there before, and not too long ago.
Harry seems to be very reluctant to get out of the car.
“You don’t have to come inside,” Sirius says. “We can gather your things if you’ll give us instructions.”
Harry shakes his head. “No, it’s fine. It’s just—not going to be pleasant.”
“Don’t worry, Harry,” Sirius says sympathetically. “They probably aren’t worse than my relatives.”
That prompts a smile from Harry. “I don’t know. You haven’t met them yet.”
Sirius has never met the Dursleys, but he remembers Lily’s stories. “Your mum talked about them sometimes.”
“Did she?” Harry says, sounding a little hopeful.
“We have all summer to talk about your parents, and I’ll tell you everything I know,” Sirius promises.
Harry nods. “Okay. I guess we’d better get it over with.”
Arthur opts to stay in the vehicle, but Sirius keeps a hand on Harry’s shoulder.
A thin woman answers the door when Harry trudges up the walk. “We expected you hours ago!”
Sirius wishes he could believe that the woman was concerned, but her displeased expression suggests otherwise.
“My friend invited me over for dinner, and they don’t really have a phone,” Harry explains awkwardly.
She frowns even more severely. “Then you might have returned right away.”
Sirius decides to short-circuit the situation. “I’m Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather. He’s going to stay with me for the rest of the summer.”
She blinks at him. “I don’t know that’s appropriate, given what I’ve heard.”
“I was found innocent today,” Sirius replies. “I hadn’t had a trial before.”
After a pause, she says, “That seems barbaric.”
Harry winces, and Sirius grins. “I agree. Now, if you don’t mind, we’ll collect Harry’s things, and take him off your hands for the rest of the summer.”
Reluctantly, she steps away from the door. “If you must. It’s quite late.”
“We’ll be quick,” Sirius promises.
A large, burly man shuffles into the hallway. “What’s going on here?”
“Harry’s godfather is here to collect him and his things,” the woman replies.
The man glowers. “It’s late, boy!”
“I think we can let them go, Vernon,” the woman says. “He wants to take Harry for the rest of the summer.”
The man glares. “I don’t see what that—”
The woman leans in and whispers in his ear. Sirius can make out a few words—adults and magic and murderer—and Vernon pales. “Well, you’d best collect your things then,” he mutters.
Harry’s bedroom is nothing special. His things are scattered about—his trunk, school books, parchment and quills—but there are few other personal touches. There are no pictures on the walls, or posters, or anything like what Sirius had at Harry’s age.
“Sorry it’s a bit of a mess,” Harry says.
“Hardly,” Sirius replies, flicking the door closed. “Let’s get you packed up.”
He flicks his wand, and Harry’s things sort themselves into his trunk neatly.
“Under the floorboards, too,” Harry says, and pries it up.
Sirius sees a variety of sweets and other food items sent to Harry by his friends or the Weasleys. He casts a preservative charm on them once they’re in the trunk, and says, “Well, that’s that. Anything else?”
“Hedwig,” Harry says, and he holds out an arm for her. “I’m going to Sirius’ house, girl. Maybe you could meet us there?”
Hedwig barks at him, nips Harry’s fingers, and then flies out the window.
“I guess that’s that,” Harry says quietly.
“Do you want us to give you time to say goodbye?” Sirius asks.
Harry shakes his head vehemently. “No. I don’t—please.”
“Well, let’s get going, then,” Sirius says. He casts a charm on the trunk to make it float, and he finds the Dursleys crowded around the front door. Sirius isn’t sure whether they want to say goodbye or just make sure they’re seeing the back of Harry for the next year or so.
“Goodbye,” Harry says awkwardly.
The large boy, who must be Harry’s cousin, says, “Bye. Have a good summer.”
His words sound strangled, and Sirius suspects that Mrs. Dursley has spoken to both of them.
“Goodbye,” Mr. Dursley says.
“Bye,” Harry replies, and then he hustles out the door.
Sirius brings Harry’s trunk and puts it in the trunk of the Mini. He climbs behind the wheel, and glances back, “Okay, there, Harry?”
“That went better than I thought,” Harry admits.
“It pays to have an accused murderer as a godfather,” Sirius teases.
Harry shrugs. “It would have been better if you’d been given a trial in the first place.”
Sirius would have expected Harry to be happier, but he doesn’t want to press. He exchanges a look with Arthur, who shrugs, and they head back for the Burrow.
It’s late when they return, and Molly fusses over them in her robe. “Are you hungry, Harry? Do you want anything?”
“Just bed,” Harry murmurs.
“Well, you’re in Ron’s room, and you know where that is,” Molly replies. “Sirius, I’ll show you where you’re staying.”
Sirius has no idea who he’s displaced, but Remus is in the full-size bed already and asleep. He casts a cleaning spell on his teeth and climbs into bed behind him.
Remus turns over, and murmurs sleepily, “How did things go?”
“Surprisingly fine, although I can’t get a read on Harry,” Sirius confesses.
Remus throws an arm over him. “How so?”
“He’s not happy, and I don’t know why,” Sirius admits. “I don’t think he’s upset about spending the summer with us, but it’s something.”
Remus hums. “He’s a teenager. Most of them are unhappy. We have the rest of the summer to figure out why.”
“I suppose,” Sirius replies, but he decides not to worry about it for the moment. As Remus shifts closer to him, he relaxes and falls into sleep.
The next morning, breakfast is fairly chaotic. Arthur and Percy have to leave early, and are gone by the time Sirius and Remus turn up. The rest of the kids are filtering in, including Harry, as Molly dishes up porridge and sausage patties.
Harry doesn’t look at Sirius or Remus, and Sirius wonders what’s going on, but doesn’t want to ask.
“I wish you could stay a little longer,” Molly frets once breakfast is finished up.
“We’ll see you soon enough,” Sirius replies. “Maybe next month once Harry gets settled. How does that sound, Harry?”
“Fine,” Harry replies. He’s not quite sullen, but he’s definitely subdued.
Remus frowns, his concern clear, but while he exchanges a significant look with Sirius, he doesn’t say anything.
“We’ll send an owl,” Molly says and gives Harry a hard hug. “Have fun, dear.”
Harry musters a smile. “I’m sure I will.”
Sirius shrinks Harry’s trunk and Hedwig’s cage, and Harry pockets them both. “Have you ever traveled by side-along apparition, Harry?”
Harry shakes his head. “No.”
“Well, there’s nothing to it, although it might feel a bit strange,” Sirius says.
Harry nods. “Got it. I’ll be fine.”
“See you later, mate,” Ron says.
“See you,” Harry echoes. In a moment, they’re at the designated apparition point near the Feniton Railway Station.
Remus appears next to them. “Do you want to sort our tickets, or shall I?”
“I’ll take care of it,” Sirius replies. “Won’t take but a minute.”
The journey takes the better part of the day, since they have to first take the train to London, then the train from London to Paris. Once in Paris, Sirius leads the way to the 6tharrondisementand the Portkey Office.
Portkeys are a little pricey, which is why most people save them for special occasions, or when there are really no other options. Sirius could have arranged for a portkey to take them directly from the Burrow to the Black farmhouse, but international portkeys are highly regulated and even more unsettling than those used to travel shorter distances.
“Portkeys are worse than side-along,” Sirius warns Harry. “If you get sick, I won’t hold it against you.”
Harry grimaces. “Really?”
“It’s been known to happen,” Remus confirms.
The portkey, a length of rope long enough that all three of them can put a hand on it. A minute passes, and the portkey activates, depositing them on the driveway of the farmhouse. Harry would have fallen had Remus and Sirius not been expecting that, and they both steady him.
“It’s not the most glamorous of the Black properties,” Sirius says apologetically. “But it was the one least likely to have a bunch of dark artifacts.”
“No, it’s great,” Harry says, and he sounds a little more cheerful now.
“Come on inside,” Sirius says. “I’ll show you your room.”
Thanks to his and Remus’ hard work, the house is clean, the paint a little brighter than it was, and even though it’s late, and the sun is setting, there’s a homey feel.
“I’ll see what we can do about dinner,” Remus offers. “I think there’s stuff for sandwiches still.”
Harry’s bedroom is the one just at the top of the stairs, and Sirius resizes Harry’s trunk and Hedwig’s cage for him. “I hope it’s okay.”
Harry’s looking around with a strange expression on his face. “This is for me?”
“Of course,” Sirius replies. “My room is at the end of the hall, and Remus is—well, he has his own room but he’s been sleeping in my bed. I hope you don’t mind.”
Harry frowns. “Why should I mind?”
“Some people do,” Sirius replies.
“I don’t,” Harry says shortly. “I didn’t expect it, but it’s not a big deal.”
“Okay, good,” Sirius says. “I’ll let you get settled, and you can join us downstairs once you’re ready.”
Remus is putting together three sandwiches when Sirius steps into the kitchen. “Is Harry okay?” Remus asks in a low voice.
Sirius shakes his head. “I don’t know. He seems upset about something, but I don’t want to push, not right now.”
“We’ll give him some time and space,” Remus murmurs. “A lot has changed in a very short period of time.”
“True,” Sirius replies, and lets out a long breath. “For all of us.”
He still can’t quite believe that he’s been found innocent, or that he doesn’t have to worry about the Ministry coming after him. He can’t quite believe that Harry’s here and safe, and he’ll be safe for the rest of the summer.
Harry emerges, wearing the oversized castoffs from Dudley that Sirius has every intention of replacing.
“Sandwiches okay?” Remus asks kindly.
Harry nods. “Sounds great.”
“We’ll walk down to the village tomorrow and get some groceries,” Sirius promises. “And order you some new clothes—unless you’d rather go to Paris.”
Harry appears startled. “Paris?”
“There are some nice shops in magical Paris where we could get you kitted out,” Sirius says. “Or we could order it through the mail. It just depends on what you’d like to do.”
“I don’t really like shopping all that much,” Harry admits.
“Then we’ll stick to mail order,” Sirius replies. “With the right tailoring charms, the fit will be perfect, and they’ll grow with you up to a point.”
Harry nods. “Thank you.”
“Of course,” Sirius says. “Although if you change your mind about going to wizarding Paris—”
“I’d like to some time,” Harry says quickly, sitting down at the table. “Just—maybe not clothes shopping.”
“There are some very nice bookstores,” Remus offers.
“And a broom store,” Sirius adds. “I don’t know that there’s a French model that can beat the Firebolt, but we should check it out.”
That pulls a real smile out of Harry. “That would be great.”
“And, of course, we have privacy charms up, so you can fly here all you want,” Sirius offers.
“That’s amazing,” Harry replies, sounding a little stunned.
“And the trace doesn’t work internationally, so you can practice magic here as well,” Remus adds. “You can get a bit of a jump on next year’s lessons that way.”
Harry looks momentarily overwhelmed. “Really? I won’t get into trouble?”
“Not here,” Sirius replies. “You’ll be safe here.”
Harry stares down at the table. “I don’t understand.”
“What don’t you understand, Harry?” Remus asks gently.
“Why didn’t you get a trial before?” Harry demands. “Because if you had, I never would have had to live with the Dursleys.”
Sirius takes a deep breath. “I shouldn’t have left you to go after Peter.”
“No!” Harry says, his voice rising. “You went after the man who betrayed my parents, and I don’t blame you for that. I want to know why you didn’t get a trial in the first place!”
“Things were very chaotic at the end of the war,” Remus begins.
“That’s a stupid reason,” Harry snaps. “The Muggles at least give people a trial before they chuck them in prison.”
Sirius doesn’t really know what to tell Harry, because he’s right. Although Sirius had appeared guilty, and he’d been too traumatized at the time to demand a trial, no one had intervened. No one had suggested an investigation or even a show trial. Death Eaters who had killed and tortured dozens received a trial, but he hadn’t.
“You’re right,” Sirius says hoarsely. “I should have had a trial, although there’s no guarantee I wouldn’t have been sent to Azkaban. No one knew about Peter then, other than me. There were no witnesses. And if I’d had a trial and been found guilty then, I wouldn’t have been given another one without more evidence than what we had now.”
“It’s still not fair,” Harry protests. “I shouldn’t have had to stay with the Dursleys.”
“It isn’t fair,” Sirius agrees. “And I wish you didn’t have to stay with them. I wish things could have been different, too.”
Harry is breathing heavily, and Sirius wishes he could reach out, but he’s not sure that the gesture will be well received.
“You spent twelve years in prison with Dementors. And you were innocent,” Harry says, and Sirius knows how badly Harry responds to Dementors.
“It’s going to take us both time to recover,” Sirius says quietly. “None of this is fair. It’s not fair that Remus was bitten by a werewolf, or that the laws discriminate against him. There are a lot of things we can’t change right now, but we might be able to change in the future.”
Sirius figures that the only way for them to heal is to focus on the future, not the past.
Harry takes a deep breath, and then another. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize,” Sirius orders. “You’re allowed to be angry. So am I, for that matter.”
Harry nods. “Thanks.”
He goes to bed after finishing his sandwich, and Sirius makes a pot of tea, because he’s not ready to sleep yet.
“You handled that well,” Remus comments quietly.
“Did I?” Sirius sighs. “I have so many regrets, Moony.”
“I do, too,” Remus replies. “There are a lot of things I could have done differently, too.”
That night, Remus opts to sleep in his own bed, which is fine with Sirius, because he doesn’t think he’ll get much sleep.
Sirius is pretty happy with the way things have turned out—he has his freedom, he has Remus—mostly, and he has Harry. But Harry spent years living with people who didn’t love him, and Sirius knows the damage that causes.
He hasn’t made his choice yet, and there’s another door, another road he could take, one that might allow him to get Harry sooner.
Sirius doesn’t want to spend another moment in Azkaban; the thought makes him shudder.
And yet—in 1988, Harry will only be eight, young enough that Sirius might prevent some of the damage, old enough to be able to go on the run with Sirius.
He should probably know all of his options before he chooses, as much as he hates the idea. And if he stays here any longer, he’ll never want to leave.
* * *
Sirius lets go of the door handle with regret.
“Did you get killed that time, too?” Regulus asks, in a tone that says he’s honestly curious and isn’t being snide.
“No,” Sirius replies. “It was probably the best option of all of them to date.”
“Why didn’t you step through?” Regulus asks.
Sirius shakes his head. “Harry—Harry suffered tremendously at the hands of the Muggles, and the wizarding world. I was happy there, but he wasn’t—although maybe he would be happy in time. I thought it might be best to see what my last option is, and then make my choice.”
He wishes he’d been able to see a little further down the road in 1981, to know what that future might hold for him. A future far away from England, Harry growing up in his custody, away from Voldemort and the Death Eaters.
Maybe that’s the best option, where he tells the whole of wizarding Britain that they can go hang.
But there’s one more possibility, and Sirius hates it, but he wants to do what’s best for Harry.
“You’d go back to Azkaban for the boy?” Regulus asks incredulously as Sirius reaches for the knob of the door marked 1988.
“I’m all he has,” Sirius replies simply. “And he’s all I have left of James and Lily. If I can’t save them, and apparently I can’t, then I’ll do whatever I can for Harry.”
Maybe that’s nothing, maybe Harry will always be damaged just as Sirius will always be. The only thing Sirius can do is to minimize the hurt. He won’t know if that means choosing to whisk Harry away as a baby, or raising him as an angry teenager until he sees what this potential future holds.
“It’s not your fault,” Regulus says suddenly. “What happened to me, what I chose, it wasn’t on you.”
“It was, at least a little,” Sirius corrects him gently. “I was so ready to get away from the Blacks, I forgot that I was leaving you behind.”
He can see it a little more clearly now, how his leaving hurt Reg, and how his brother had made the choice that kept him safe.
There were only ever two choices in their house, two roads open to them, and neutrality wasn’t one of them.
“Before you leave, before you make your final decision, I have some information for you,” Regulus says. “Or at least a suggestion.”
Sirius nods. “I’d welcome it.”
His hand is near the knob, but he’s frozen. He remembers what Azkaban was like, and he can’t—he doesn’t think he can handle it again.
“You don’t have to do this,” Regulus says gently. “You can make another choice.”
“But what if this is the best choice for Harry?” Sirius asks, hearing his own voice shake. “What if this is the best choice for everybody?”
Regulus shrugs, and there’s an expression on his face that Sirius remembers from when he’d take a beating for Reg, when he’d solicit their mother’s ire to spare his brother. It’s a look of helpless love mixed with anguish. There’s something about that expression that gives him the strength to touch.
He doesn’t know how long it takes him to get his bearings, but he hopes that not too much time has passed. The longer he’s here, surrounded by Dementors, the less chance he’ll have the wherewithal to escape. He has to get out, has to get to Harry. Every moment that he’s here, in Azkaban, is one that Harry spends with the Muggles.
Sirius has forgotten—repressed—so much of his time in Azkaban, hiding it under a devil-may-care attitude, or a thirst for revenge, or the desire to care for Harry.
Not that he’d done a bang-up job of it, no. He’d failed.
He loses more time. He has more regrets now. His innocence isn’t the only thought in his head. He has regrets from half-a-dozen lifetimes now. So many more failures and—
Sirius changes into Padfoot, and thinks about Harry, and nothing but Harry. It’s not exactly a happy thought—there are too many regrets, too many missed chances, for that, but it’s not despair either.
As Padfoot, his emotions are simpler, and once he has his feet under him, to speak, Sirius can think about escape. He knows the trick of it now, and he’s as thin as he ever was, so he slips between the bars of his cell and stows away on the ship that carries supplies to the island, just like the last time.
Sirius knows that he has a little time before his absence is noticed, and he burrows under a tarp. He’ll jump out and swim for it before they make landfall, and he’ll take stock then.
The night is dark and stormy, the sky spitting rain, and the farther they get from Azkaban, the more Sirius’ mind clears. He doesn’t have a lot of options. He’ll have to figure out how to clear his name; he won’t be able to rely on Moony this time around.
First, he needs to check on Harry, and then he can track down Peter. He’s not sure what time of year it is, but if it’s summer—
If it’s summer, he can check in with Harry, and maybe capture Peter himself. He knows where the Burrow is now, and he can find Peter. He’s been inside the house, and he knows where Peter is likely to be.
But the first thing is to check in with Harry.
That’s why he’s here, after all.
When he sees the shore, Sirius slinks overboard as quietly as he can, minimizing the splash, and then paddles to the beach. He shakes the excess water out of his fur, and scents the wind, getting a feel for the time of year and location.
Sirius quickly gets his bearings. Based on the temperature and the smells in the air, it’s probably early summer. He knows it’s going to take days if not weeks to reach the Dursleys’ house as a dog, but he’s not sure if he dares apparate.
On the other hand, they might not have noticed his absence yet, which makes it the perfect time to travel by the fastest possible method.
But first, he needs to find a place to get cleaned up, including different clothing. He doesn’t want Harry seeing him in his current state should he need to transform. Feeling slightly guilty, Sirius finds an empty house and breaks in. He’s fairly certain it’s a Muggle residence, but they have running water, tins in the cupboard, and he manages to find clothing that fits well enough to get by.
By the time he gets cleaned up, trims his hair and beard, and puts on clean clothes, he feels much more like himself. Sirius eats beans straight from the tin along with a couple of pieces of stale bread he finds on the counter, and then he does his best to minimize signs he’d ever been there. It would be easier to do with a wand, but he makes do.
Then, once the sun has set and it’s completely dark, he apparates to the Dursleys’ garden, falling asleep under their back hedge. It’s a fitful rest, broken up by nightmares that leave his heart in his throat, certain that the Dementors have found him and are prepared to give him the Kiss.
He’s just fallen back into a restless doze when he’s startled by the sound of a woman’s shrill voice.
“And don’t bother coming inside until the entire back garden is weeded!”
Sirius is in a low crouch, teeth bared in a silent snarl before he can help himself, but he freezes at what he sees.
A very young Harry trudges over to a flower bed, wearing oversized clothing and barefoot. Harry begins pulling weeds desultorily, and Sirius moves forward on his belly, not willing to alarm Harry or draw attention from the Muggles.
Harry glances up, and he freezes when he sees Sirius, who whines softly.
“I don’t have any food for you,” Harry whispers. “I’m sorry. They’ll get mad if I take any.”
Sirius doesn’t want Harry starving himself on Sirius’ behalf, so he edges closer and noses his head under Harry’s hand.
“Oh, you want pets,” Harry says softly, with the fearless wonder of a child. “I can do that as long as my aunt and uncle don’t see you. If they do, they’ll call animal control.”
Sirius pushes his head against Harry’s stomach.
“You are amazing,” Harry murmurs. “Do you have a home? I hope no one is missing you. If you have a family, you should go to them.”
Sirius whines and presses closer, and then he starts pawing at a weed.
Harry giggles in delight. “You’re a clever boy.”
Sirius keeps pawing at weeds, which makes Harry laugh, although he tries to stifle the noise. Sirius wishes he could laugh freely, but then Harry muffles his laughter by pressing his face into Sirius’ fur, and it’s the best feeling in the world.
“Boy! Are you done?”
Harry shoots an alarmed look at Sirius, who quickly slinks back under the hedge.
“I’m done, Aunt Petunia,” Harry says dutifully as he approaches the back door, shooting a look at Sirius over his shoulder.
Petunia pokes her head out and sniffs. “Well, you’re filthy. You can just stay outside for the rest of the afternoon, then. And rinse off with the hose before you come in!”
And with that, she thrusts a sandwich through the door.
Harry’s shoulders slump, and he goes to the back corner where Sirius has disappeared under the hedge. “Hey, boy? You there? I have food now.”
Sirius crawls out, and sees that Harry’s sandwich isn’t much more than a slice of cheese and two slices of bread.
“I’ll give you half,” Harry offers.
Sirius whuffs and turns his head away.
“It’s just bread and cheese,” Harry says. “It’s not that bad.”
There’s no way Sirius is going to take any of his food, though, so he keeps his nose stubbornly in the air.
“Are you—oh. It’s okay, you know,” Harry says earnestly. “I don’t mind being a little hungry.”
Sirius nudges Harry’s cheek with a cold nose, and Harry smiles. “Okay. I’ll eat it.”
Sirius puts his head in Harry’s lap and lets Harry scratch his ears as he eats his cheese sandwich.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” Harry asks. “Theywon’t mind, as long as I don’t get their floors dirty when I come back.”
That day, Sirius gets a sense for Harry’s life. He knows the neighborhood fairly well, and Sirius wonders what the neighbors think when they see Harry in his shabby castoffs. He rather doubts their neighbors like the Dursleys all that much, and maybe some of them have seen things that alarm them.
Or maybe part of the protection that Dumbledore hinted at comes into play. Maybe people just—don’t really notice him.
Sirius can’t tell one way or another as they wander through the neighborhood, Harry’s hand resting on his shoulder, tangling in his fur. Harry keeps up his chatter, though, talking about his life at the Dursleys and school, and the rather odd occurrences that have happened around him.
He talks, and Sirius soaks in every word, because this is a Harry he’s never known before—this bright, cheerful boy who could have been hardened, and isn’t. A boy who will offer to share his cheese sandwich with a stray dog, even though it’s apparent he could be better fed.
Sirius has always loved Harry—the baby, the toddler, the moody teenager—but he finds himself falling deeper in love now.
Sirius will do anythingfor him. Anything at all.
When they get back to the Dursleys’ garden in the late afternoon, Harry throws his arms around Sirius’ neck. “I know you can’t stay,” he whispers. “’cause if you do, they’ll hurt you, but today has been the best day ever.”
Sirius licks his face, hears Harry giggle, and then slinks off under the hedge. They’ll be looking for him by now, and someone will probably be watching the area around the Dursleys’ house. Harry’s right—he can’t stay there—although not for the reasons he thinks.
But it’s summer, and although he isn’t certain, the Weasleys will likely be at the Burrow, and Sirius knows where that is now. He can go straight there, capture Peter, and prove his innocence.
He’s fairly sure that not even the fact that he hadn’t received a trial will do much good, not without some proof, and Peter is about the only proof he has.
In that other timeline, there had been witnesses, and statements taken under oath, and a few other things. And if he can’t get Peter, if there’s no way of proving his innocence, then Sirius will know it’s not a viable option.
Even though this all feels very real, Sirius can take his hand off the doorknob and make another choice. He doesn’t have to stay here; he doesn’t have to go back to Azkaban.
Sirius has to be careful not to be seen at this point, and he can’t take Muggle transport or the Knight Bus. He’s on foot, and it takes him three days to get to the Burrow, and he pushes himself to get there that fast, stealing food from bins and wherever else he can.
The Burrow is outside the village proper, and there’s plenty of cover for Sirius to lay low. He knows the general lay of the land, and he even knows the house. He doesn’t want to break in, but he will if necessary.
Sirius has never really considered how to get into the Weasleys’ home as a dog, but he knows that Molly has a soft spot for strays, given how she responded to Harry. Then again, Peter knows his animagus form, and might recognize him. He doesn’t think he can risk Peter bolting.
So, he’ll just have to wait for his chance.
Sirius watches the Weasleys’ house surreptitiously for days. He’s there for nearly a week before the opportune time presents itself.
Arthur is at work, and most of the kids have left for the day, although Sirius couldn’t say why. And then Molly ushers the two youngest out of the door, which leaves the house wide open. He doubts anybody took Peter with them, and the wards are unlikely to alert to his presence as Padfoot.
He can go in, grab Peter, and take him somewhere. Sirius isn’t sure where yet, but as far as the Weasleys are concerned, their pet rat got loose and ran away. It’s the simplest explanation, and the most likely, unless someone needs to tell them about Wormtail eventually.
The latch on the door is one he can easily nudge open with his nose and paw, and he slips inside and then heads upstairs, moving as silently as possible. He can smell the rat as soon as he enters the house, Peter’s scent familiar and overwhelming, and Sirius feels his hackles rise. It’s hard to stifle the growl he feels crawling up his throat, but he somehow manages.
He hasn’t been this close to Peter in any timeline, and he’s not going to miss his chance, not by being stupid.
Sirius follows his nose up to a bedroom on the first-floor landing. The door would have been difficult for him to open had it been completely latched, but it’s just slightly ajar. He can’t risk transforming back, because it might alert the wards, and therefore the Weasleys.
Sirius ignores the room itself, which is neat as a pin, and instead relies on his sense of smell as Padfoot. The stench is easy to follow, familiar as it is. Peter’s in this room, and he hears a squeak. He bares his teeth and sees movement out of the corner of his eye.
Sirius is desperate, and quick with his desperation, remembering Harry’s thin arms wrapped around him, the feeling of small fingers buried in his fur, and Harry’s words about it being the best day ever. He wants more of those days, more time with Harry, and he can’t have that unless he brings Wormtail to justice somehow.
His teeth close around the rat’s neck. Peter flails and squeaks, and Sirius shakes him viciously, not to kill him, just to stun him enough to get him out of the house.
Peter goes limp, and Sirius would grin in satisfaction if it didn’t mean dropping Peter. Instead, he slinks out of the house, as stealthily as possible.
It feels too easy, but Sirius will take easy at this point. He doesn’t get easy all that often.
Once he’s away from any wards, he acts swiftly: transforming back, casting a hex to reveal Peter’s true form and then a stunner and a full body-bind in quick succession. Once Peter is subdued, Sirius side-alongs him to the Shrieking Shack, because that’s familiar territory.
Of course, now he has to announce his prize to someone, and he’s not sure that he trusts the Ministry for that.
Remus is the only one he can think of who might help him, but he can’t be certain that Moony won’t bring back up in the form of other Aurors. That said, Moony is the only one he trusts even a little bit right now.
After all, Remus had known Sirius was innocent almost as soon as he saw Peter on the Marauders’ Map, and it hadn’t taken much to convince him that Peter was the traitor. Sirius hopes the same will be true this time around.
After some thought, Sirius sends his patronus to Remus, not knowing whether he’s in the country or not, or whether the message will reach him. Still, it’s really his only option at this point; he doesn’t have access to an owl, or any other means of communication.
Peter stirs a couple of hours later, when Sirius is still waiting on a response or Remus’ presence. Sirius allows him to wake, and Peter immediately begins whining. “I had no choice! I had to tell them. They were threatening me.”
“Then you should have come to one of us!” Sirius snaps. “We would have protected you!”
“I thought the Dark Lord would win!”
“You were our brother!” Sirius roars, and then decides he can’t deal with Peter’s whining and casts a silencio.
Sirius waits another couple of hours, and then he hears a creak from the front of the house that has nothing to do with the house settling.
He doesn’t have a wand, but he has a few wandless spells at his disposal. There are a few places he can go to get one.
Sirius half-expected Remus to bring Aurors, or at least some sort of backup, but he’s alone, his wand drawn and a wary expression on his face. He’s younger than the last time Sirius saw him, with slightly fewer scars, although his clothing is still shabby and worn.
Sirius wants nothing more than to throw his arms around Remus, to kiss him, to beg Remus to believe in his innocence. He forces himself to be still, to keep his hands spread to show he’s unarmed.
Remus has always been the clever one, and he glances around the room, taking in Sirius and Peter, then looking back at Sirius, relief in his eyes. “You were telling the truth.”
“I switched with Peter as Secret Keeper,” Sirius admits. “I thought James and Lily would be safer. Peter betrayed them.”
Peter is shaking his head wildly.
“He kept whining about Death Eaters and the ‘Dark Lord,’” Sirius replies, and cancels the hex.
“I didn’t know!” Peter whines. “I didn’t want to be marked, but they gave me no choice. I thought you were going to lose!”
Remus stuns him. “I see what you mean. This changes everything. We’ll alert the authorities, maybe Kingsley Shacklebolt? He has a cool head.”
“You didn’t notify the Aurors already?” Sirius asks. “I know they’re searching for me, and you could get into trouble.”
Remus hesitates, and then sighs. “I hated you, you know. When I heard what you’d done, I hated you. But there was always a part of me that wondered. I knew how you felt about James and Lily, and Harry.”
Sirius smiles. “I always knew you had a soft spot for me, Moony.”
“It was more than a soft spot,” Remus says softly. “Why do you think I hated you? It wasn’t justbecause I thought you betrayed our friends.”
Sirius swallows hard, remembering that other life where he had Remus. He’s not sure he has any future with Remus this time around, not with what he’s planning to do. “I would hug you right now, but I’m pretty sure you’ll never forgive me.”
Remus hugs him anyway. “You do smell a bit like a dog, just so you know.”
“I warned you,” Sirius replies and clings a little harder before he lets go with a final clap on Remus’ shoulder. “To be honest, I’m surprised there aren’t Aurors here.”
“I thought they might curse first and ask questions later,” Remus replies. “I really wanted you to be telling the truth.”
“And that’s why I can’t go with you to bring Peter in,” Sirius says. “I don’t trust the Ministry to do the right thing.”
Remus frowns. “Without your testimony, Peter’s survival won’t mean much.”
“And why would they trust my testimony?” Sirius asks. “What will they do with me, Moony? I represent a failure. I didn’t have a trial, and that fact is sure to become public knowledge. Or, they could chuck me back in Azkaban, and maybe Peter, too, and who’s going to complain?”
“They wouldn’t do that!” Remus protests.
“Are you so sure about that?” Sirius asks, staring him in the eye, willing him to understand. Sirius has thought this out.
Remus opens his mouth, and then closes it again. He might be thinking of the laws around werewolves, or the fact that Sirius didn’t get a trial, or just the unfortunate reality that the government will be more interested in protecting its reputation than in doing anything productive.
“I can’t risk it,” Sirius says. “I can’t risk going back to Azkaban.”
Remus blows out a breath. “Okay, I can understand that. What’s the plan?”
“The plan is for you to tell the Aurors that you interrupted me interrogating Peter, and I overpowered you and escaped,” Sirius replies. “And then you’re going to tell them that I’ve probably fled to Black Manor.”
Remus raises his eyebrows. “Do you think they’ll believe that story?”
“The Black Manor is unplottable,” Sirius points out. “And enough of them will believe it not to have any idea where I’m actually going.”
“And where areyou going?” Remus asks.
“I want you to be able to say that you have no idea,” Sirius replies, with a Marauder’s grin.
Remus groans. “Do I want to know what you’re going to do?”
“You definitelydon’t want to know,” Sirius replies.
Remus frowns. “Sirius—”
“You’ll understand eventually,” Sirius promises. “I’ll explain everything, or at least as much as I can.”
“Just don’t do anything that will result in another stint in Azkaban,” Remus warns him. “You can only trade on your innocence for so long.”
“I promise not to kill anybody,” Sirius replies. “I didn’t kill Peter, did I?”
Remus snorts. “The only reason you didn’t kill him is because you needed him alive.”
“True,” Sirius admits. “I was strongly tempted.”
Remus smiles ruefully. “You’d better punch me and make it good. You don’t want to risk a stunner when Peter could wake up.”
“I really don’t want to punch you,” Sirius replies.
Remus shrugs, and then hauls off and hits him. It’s a solid punch, and Sirius stares at him. “That was for being stupid enough to go after Peter and getting yourself thrown in Azkaban.”
Sirius punches him in the nose, hard. “That’s for thinking I’d ever join Voldemort.”
“Fair enough,” Remus replies. “Now, get out of here, and keep your head down.”
“I’ll owl you when I’m safe,” Sirius promises.
“Don’t tell me where you are,” Remus orders. “And I’ll contact a barrister for you.”
“I’m going to need one,” Sirius admits.
Remus gives him one last hug. “Go.”
It’s a wrench to leave, and he apparates away, straight into his old bedroom at Grimmauld Place. His mother died in 1985, and the house is empty. Sirius has no intention of ever living in this place again, but he knows he’ll be able to get cleaned up a bit, and probably find clothing that fits a bit better, and a wand.
He’s going to need money, too, and he knows his parents kept some in the house. He knows what he’ll find in the farmhouse, but there are a few things he has to do before he can go there.
Sirius knows his plan is half-baked, and very Gryffindor, but he’s been successful so far, and he’s all in this time, and he can’t leave Harry with the Dursleys one moment longer.
He doesn’t have time to sort out the legalities—or he can sort them out later. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, after all, and he’s Harry’s godfather. He’s Harry’s legal guardian, even if no one knows it yet.
Remus will disapprove, but Sirius thinks he’ll eventually understand, especially when he finds out about the cupboard under the stairs.
The nice thing about magical houses is that he can easily trigger the hot water charm, and Sirius can get clean again after days without a shower. He finds clothing that fits in Regulus’ room, and a box with two spare wands in his father’s study.
Sirius gives each wand a flick. The first lets out a bang, and Sirius recognizes his mother’s wand. He puts it back in the box with a grimace. The second wand lets out a series of sparks and feels fairly comfortable.
He’s not entirely certain which relative had used this wand in the past. There’s no label, and it doesn’t look familiar. It probably belonged to a great-uncle or something.
There’s a safe in the study, controlled by blood, of course. Sirius finds a knife and pricks his left thumb, pressing it against the locking mechanism, and it clicks open.
He finds enough galleons and sickles to get him by for a bit, but no Muggle money, not that he’s surprised by that. He grabs a pouch and starts filling it, startling when he hears a pop, and turning with his new wand raised.
“Master Sirius is a thief,” Kreacher hisses.
“Master Blackowns all of this, I’ll thank you to remember,” Sirius snaps. “I’m the last of the Blacks, therefore this house is mine, and everything in it.”
Kreacher sneers. “Master Regulus was the true heir.”
“And now Regulus is dead, and I’m not,” Sirius replies shortly. “And I won’t be here much longer. As far as I’m concerned, you can have the house. You can tend to Mother’s portrait and mount your own head on the wall when you die.”
As an afterthought, he adds, “And you’ll tell no one I’ve been here, and follow no one’s orders but mine.”
Kreacher huffs. Sirius isn’t sure who Kreacher might have told of his stopover, but either Bella or Narcissa could give him orders and be obeyed. Kreacher had never liked Sirius, and the feeling had been decidedly mutual.
The truth is that Sirius had always been vaguely embarrassed by Kreacher, and by the fact that his family had house elves at all. Kreacher had done everything in his power to get Sirius in trouble, viewing him as a disgrace to the Blacks.
“What are you doing?” Kreacher asks, sounding deeply distrustful.
“I’m going to prevent Voldemort from returning, and I’m going to make my godson happy,” Sirius replies absently, as he searches the shelves for anything that might be useful. “I’d say not in that order, but since preventing old Voldie from coming back will make Harry happy, it’s really one and the same.”
“You’re fighting him?” Kreacher asks.
“That is the plan,” Sirius replies absently.
He doesn’t want to give any more orders, knowing that Kreacher will be able to use his words against him. The current orders will keep Kreacher in the house, and Sirius never plans to return. He would offer Kreacher clothes, but the liability is too great.
Sirius has some small pang of conscience over Kreacher’s fate, but the house-elf is too bound up in the House of Black for him to be useful, and Sirius doesn’t plan on offering Grimmauld Place up to the Order, or even joining the Order this time.
Harry has to be his focus.
Sirius has a wand and relatively clean clothing and money, and while some of the books might be helpful, he doesn’t have a place to store them.
There is nothing left for him here, and so he leaves, apparating outside a small house in Little Whinging, and immediately transforming. Sirius finds a spot under the hedge to curl up, and he sleeps.
* * *
Early the next morning, Sirius hears Petunia Dursley say, “It’s no good whining about it. Vernon has people coming over today, and they’re not going to want to see you. You can come back after dark, but use the back door! Just in case they’re still here.”
Sirius pokes his head out from under the hedge, and he’s glad to see that at least Harry has a brown paper sack clenched in a small fist, but his shoulders droop, and he wanders into the back garden with a dejected expression.
Sirius does a belly crawl out from under the hedge and whines to get his attention.
“You’re back!” Harry whispers joyfully, and he drops the sack and throws his arms around Sirius’ neck. “I didn’t think you would be.”
Sirius whuffs and licks Harry’s face, and Harry giggles. “They won’t like it if they catch you.”
He responds by grabbing the hem of Harry’s oversized t-shirt and tugging him towards the street.
“Wait,” Harry says. “I need my lunch.”
Sirius waits patiently, and then nudges Harry along, as though he’s a sheep-herding dog and Harry is his sole charge.
It’s not far from the truth, except for the sheep-herding bit, although Sirius thinks he could do it.
“Do you want to go to the park again?” Harry asks eagerly. “Only, they aren’t going to let me come back until after dark. At least Aunt Petunia gave me a sack lunch this time. I can probably share if you want.”
Sirius barks, but quietly, so as not to draw attention.
“Well, if you’re hungry, I’ll share,” Harry says decisively. “It’s no fair if I get to eat and you don’t.”
Sirius presses against him.
“I missed you,” Harry admits, and buries a hand in Sirius’ fur as they walk. “I know that it’s stupid, but it’s like I remember you. But I’ve never had a dog.”
Sirius whines, thinking of James and Lily, and transforming to allow Harry to crawl all over him as Padfoot.
“Maybe my parents had a dog,” Harry wonders aloud. “Maybe that’s why you seem so familiar.”
Sirius nuzzles Harry’s side, and Harry grins. “It doesn’t matter. I’m just glad you’re going to keep me company today.”
And Sirius does keep him company, playing an improvised game of tag, and napping under a tree, and sharing Harry’s cheese sandwich, although that bit makes Sirius feel guilty. He’s starving, but he doesn’t want to take anything from Harry.
He can feel Harry’s disappointment and reluctance as the afternoon draws to a close, and the sun begins its descent. It’s late enough that it’s past dinnertime, and he knows that Harry must be hungry, but Harry is clearly uninterested in heading home.
Sirius sees a copse of trees in one corner of the park, and there’s no one around. He grabs Harry’s t-shirt and starts tugging him in that direction.
“I should really get home,” Harry says glumly, although he doesn’t resist. “I doubt they’ll be wondering where I am, but Aunt Petunia did say to come back after dark.”
Sirius kept tugging until he was certain they were hidden from sight, and no one can see them, and then he transforms.
Harry gasps and takes a couple of steps back, but he doesn’t shout, and he doesn’t run away. “How did you do that?”
“Easy,” Sirius replies. “I’m magic. Do you remember me, Harry?”
Harry gives him a skeptical look. “Should I?”
“I’m your godfather,” Sirius replies. “When you were a baby, you would crawl all over me. Your dad called me Padfoot.”
Harry blinks. “Padfoot?” he says in a small voice. “I—don’t remember?”
But there’s an inflection at that end that says he isn’t entirely sure about that. “You were very small,” Sirius replies. “It’s okay if you don’t.”
“What—what do you want?” Harry asks.
“It’s kind of a long story,” Sirius admits, “and there might be people looking for me, so I’m not sure how long I can stay here.”
Harry’s lower lip wobbles. “You have to leave?”
Sirius settles on the grass, sitting cross-legged, trying to appear as nonthreatening as possible. “You could leave with me.”
Harry shakes his head. “I can’t! I’ll get into trouble!”
“What if I told you that no one would find us,” Sirius says. “That there’s a farmhouse in France that needs a lot of work, but will be a fine home. What if I told you that you’re magic, and you can do magic?”
Harry shakes his head. “I’m just ordinary.”
“Hasn’t anything happened that no one could explain?” Sirius asks gently.
Harry’s hand goes to his hair, his green eyes going wide—Lily’s eyes.
“So, something hashappened,” Sirius says, although he already knows the answer; Harry had already told him.
“Aunt Petunia gave me a haircut, and it was horrible,” Harry whispers, as if telling some terrible secret. “But my hair was back to normal when I went to school.”
“That’s magic,” Sirius says. “All those times that something odd happened, and no one could explain it, that doesn’t make you weird or a freak, it just means you can do magic.”
“And my parents?” Harry asks. “You knew them?”
“Yes, and they died protecting you from a very bad man,” Sirius replies. “They asked me to watch over you, but I—some people thought I’d done a very bad thing, and that I shouldn’t see you.”
“Did you?” Harry asks guilelessly.
“No,” Sirius replies. “They thought I hurt your parents, but I never would. Your dad was like my brother. He protected me, and gave me a safe place to stay when I couldn’t stay with my parents anymore. And your mum, she had green eyes, just like yours, and she was kind and made me eat my vegetables.”
That makes Harry giggle. “But won’t you get in trouble if I run away?” he asks anxiously after a moment.
“I might,” Sirius admits, wanting to be honest. “But your parents always wanted you to stay with me if something should happen to them, not your aunt and uncle. And I don’t want you to go back there, Pronglet. If you do want to go back, I’ll stick around as Padfoot, but it’s too dangerous for me to be human.”
“I can’t feed you!” Harry protests.
“That’s not your job,” Sirius replies firmly. “I’ll take care of myself.”
Harry stares at the ground, worrying his lower lip with his teeth. “Why did you call me that?”
“Because your dad’s nickname at school was Prongs,” Sirius replies. “He was magic, like you are, and like I am. He could turn into a stag when he wanted. It’s what I called you from the first minute they put you in my arms, when you were brand new.”
Harry looks up, and there’s determination in those green eyes. Sirius remembers seeing that expression on James’ face, remembers seeing that light in Lily’s eyes. “I want to go with you.”
“We’ll have to be careful,” Sirius warns him. “I’m working on making sure everyone knows I didn’t hurt anybody, but they don’t yet. I just wanted to make sure you didn’t have to stay with the Muggles any longer than you wanted.”
“What are Muggles?” Harry asks.
“People who don’t have magic,” Sirius explains. “People like the Dursleys.”
“They hate me,” Harry confides. “They make me sleep in the cupboard under the stairs.”
“There are several bedrooms in the house in France,” Sirius says. “You can have a room of your own. You can learn magic, and learn to ride a broom, and maybe you can teach me how to cook, because I’m completely rubbish at it.”
Harry laughs at that, but then quickly sobers. “You really want me to come with you? Even if you’ll get in trouble?”
“There’s nothing I want more,” Sirius says honestly. “And we’ll deal with the trouble together.”
“What do I have to do?” Harry asks.
Sirius has been thinking about this a lot. “Well, I’m going to have to cast a couple of spells on the both of us, so that no one will recognize us, or even notice us. I’ll get us to London, where we can take a train to Paris, and then I can get us to the farmhouse.”
“How will you do that?” Harry asks.
“It’s called apparition,” Sirius replies. “When you’re old enough, you can learn how to do it, too, but you have to be seventeen before you can take the test. We’ll start in one place and pop up somewhere else.”
Sirius has honestly expected it to be a little harder to convince Harry to go along with him, but maybe Harry does harbor some dim memories of his Uncle Pads, or maybe he dislikes the Dursleys enough to think that anything would be better.
Or maybe no one ever thought to talk to Harry about the danger of trusting strangers.
The first explanation is the only one that doesn’t make Sirius inexpressibly sad, so that’s the one he’s going to go with.
“Will it hurt?” Harry asks, his chin tilted up in an expression Sirius knows very well indeed.
“No,” Sirius replies. “You might feel a little dizzy, but it won’t hurt.”
“I want to go,” Harry insists. “I really want to go.”
Sirius isn’t quite sure what’s going through his head in that moment, but he can see the determination on Harry’s face, and he doesn’t have the heart to refuse.
If he had any questions as to whether he was doing the right thing, they’ve all been wiped away.
“Hold still,” Sirius replies. “This might feel a little funny.”
The wand isn’t as responsive as his old one had been, but maybe it will get better as they got used to each other. It takes a fair bit of concentration to create the glamour, but then the boy standing before him has dirty blond hair, blue eyes, and a rounder face. The scar is gone, too, although his hair still has the cowlicks that cause it to stick up in places.
“Now me,” Sirius says, and he hears Harry gasp. “Do I look different?”
Harry nods. “Yes! You look—”
He falters, and Sirius says, “You can tell me.”
“Your hair is blond now, and you look—more ordinary,” Harry finishes.
“That’s the whole point,” Sirius replies. “Are you ready?”
He stands and holds out a hand for Harry, who readily accepts it. “What do I have to do?”
“You just hang on to me,” Sirius replies.
He apparates them both to Dover, and waits while Harry gets his bearings. “Where are we?” Harry asks.
“The Dover ferry station,” Sirius says in a low voice. “But I don’t have Muggle money, so we’ll have to be sneaky, Harry. Can you do that?”
Harry nods, his eyes shining. “Yes!”
Sirius suspects that Harry feels like he’s on an adventure, and he’d agree to just about any of Sirius’ schemes. “Good lad. You’ll need to stay quiet as a church mouse.”
He has no way to buy Muggle tickets, and magical means of travel will be closely watched, so he casts a disillusionment charm on the both of them as they wait for the next available ferry to Paris.
Harry is remarkably well-behaved for a child. He stays quiet, doesn’t whine about being hungry, and just seems to take everything in with wide eyes.
Sirius ushers Harry onto the ferry just before it leaves the dock, and finds a couple of empty seats. “It’s about an hour and a half,” Sirius whispers into Harry’s ear. “If you can sleep, that might be for the best. We won’t be able to make any noise, but we’ll get some food in Calais.”
Having been the caster of the spell, Sirius can see Harry, who’s blinking sleepily. So far, everything has gone according to plan, if not better. In retrospect, he probably shouldn’t be surprised that Harry was so eager to go along with him. He’d been happy enough to accept Sirius’ offer to live with him at thirteen, and Sirius knows he’d been happy to attend Hogwarts and reluctant to go home on holidays.
At eight, a man who can turn into a dog who is Harry’s best—and maybe only—friend is probably very attractive.
Not that Sirius feels particularly good about that. A Death Eater could have shown up and lured Harry away, maybe even turned him towards Voldemort if they’d shown him a little kindness.
When they reach Calais, Sirius waits until most people have disembarked, and then shakes Harry awake. He puts a finger on Harry’s lips to caution quiet, and then leads him out.
Calais is a busy port town, and Sirius quickly cancels the disillusionment spell, but leaves the glamour. “Let’s get something to eat,” he says. “Is there anything you like?”
“I don’t know,” Harry says thoughtfully. “We don’t get take away really.”
“Do you like fish and chips?” Sirius asks.
Harry shrugs. “It’s okay. I’ll eat anything.”
“Does that mean you like it but it’s not your favorite, or does that mean you don’t like it but won’t complain if we get it?” Sirius asks carefully.
Harry glances at him, clearly startled. “I like it, but it’s not my favorite.”
“Pizza?” Sirius asks.
“I like it,” Harry says definitively.
“Too spicy,” Harry admits.
“Well, let’s see what we can find,” Sirius says.
There’s a magical part of Calais, and Sirius is grateful that they’ll take his sickles and galleons, even though he hasn’t been able to exchange them for the French equivalent. There are plenty of British wizards and witches who visit and don’t have the local currency, so that it makes sense for them to accept foreign currency.
Sirius finds a shop that sells grilled sandwiches, and they both buy a thick ham and swiss, although Harry nixes the mustard. It’s late, but since it’s the last ferry of the night, the restaurants and shops near the terminal are crowded. That’s all the better for them, because they can eat, and Sirius can wait for a quiet moment or a quiet corner where no one will see them apparate home.
Harry eats his sandwich with obvious relish and licks his fingers clean of grease until he realizes Sirius is watching. “Sorry,” he mutters, and reaches for a napkin.
“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” Sirius replies. He won’t reprimand Harry, but he also knows that good manners will be important in the future. “And you needn’t stand on ceremony with me.”
Harry grimaces. “Aunt Petunia would have yelled.”
“I don’t think yelling really helps,” Sirius replies. “My parents yelled a lot, and most of the time I did the exact opposite of what they wanted.”
Harry laughs. “What about my dad?”
“His parents didn’t yell,” Sirius replies, smiling fondly. “In fact, they adored James. I’m not sure they ever said a cross word to him, and he mostly followed their rules.”
Harry’s expression was hungry. “You knew my dad’s parents?”
“Sure,” Sirius replies. “They took me in when I was sixteen. My parents were horrible, worse than your Muggles, and James asked. They treated me like their second son.”
“What were they like?” Harry asks eagerly. “It’s just—Aunt Petunia and Uncle Dursley said they died in a car accident, and it was their fault. They said my dad was a failed magician.”
Sirius laughs out loud. “Jealous, I expect. Your dad was well off. His dad made a great match and married an heiress. Your dad was—well, he wasn’t perfect, but he was a good man, and he was loyal to his friends. He was smart and did well in school, and was popular with other students. He was Head Boy in his final year. You mum, now—she was brilliant. The brightest witch of our age, some called her, and they’d be right. She was Head Girl, and she wouldn’t give James the time of day for the first few years.”
He spins the tale, leaving out the more salacious bits and Peter. He’ll have time to tell Harry the rest of the story later, but right now Harry is hanging on his every word.
“They were good people, Pronglet,” Sirius says finally. “They were the best of us, and I miss them every day they aren’t here.”
“I miss them, too,” Harry says wistfully. “Even though I didn’t know them.”
“They adored you,” Sirius says insistently. “Their world revolved around you. And they would have moved heaven and earth to keep you safe, as would I. Remember that, Pronglet. You are loved.”
Harry blushes, and Sirius thinks that might have been too much too soon, but there’s pleasure on Harry’s face, and Sirius wonders if anybody had ever said that to him. He thinks not, at least not in Harry’s memory.
“Shall we go?” Sirius asks. “It’s a quick apparition from here.”
Harry nods eagerly. “I want to see it.”
Sirius keeps a tight grip on Harry as they land, preventing him from stumbling. There isn’t much light from the moon, so Sirius casts a lumos.
“It’s not much, not yet,” Sirius warns him. “It will need a lot of work to make it presentable, but I think it will be a good project for us. I can teach you magic and how to fly, and probably French. And maybe German. I think that might come in handy, as well.”
Harry’s eyes are huge as he looks around. “This is amazing!”
“It’s a lot of space,” Sirius says. “And it’s probably dusty, and there’s probably just the bare minimum, so we’ll have to go to the village tomorrow, but—”
“Sirius,” Harry says, interrupting him. “This is awesome.”
Sirius glances down at him and realizes that he hasn’t dispelled the glamour and does so. Harry is looking at him like hung the moon, and Sirius isn’t sure why, but he grins. “I’m glad you like it, Pronglet.”
“I want to stay here forever,” Harry announces.
Maybe Sirius should have stuck with it, but he knows he needs to make a choice. He got the information he needed: he escaped from Azkaban, and he has Harry. Plus, Remus is mostly on his side.
“Did you get what you needed?” Regulus asks.
“I did,” Sirius says. “I’m pretty sure Kreacher adores you.”
“You could be nicer to him,” Regulus replies.
“And I’m quite sure Kreacher hates me and would betray me given the chance,” Sirius counters. “But whatever I decide, I will treat him fairly for your sake.”
Regulus shifts, his expression unreadable. “Kreacher holds my secrets. And if you are the head of the Black family, you can command him. Remember that.”
“I will,” Sirius replies.
“Do you know which door you’ll choose?” Regulus aks.
“I think I do,” Sirius replies. “Two are not possibilities, so it’s one of three. Thank you for letting me catch a glimpse of the future.”
Regulus smirks. “I had to give the Black line the best chance of continuing, as you know.”
“It was more than that,” Sirius insists.
“Maybe it was,” Regulus replies, like a true Slytherin. “Does it matter?”
“It does to me,” Sirius replies. “You’re my brother, and I love you.”
That’s the Gryffindor in him, but Regulus flushes, and he says, “You are ridiculous, and you are my brother. It’s a conundrum.”
He smiles at Sirius with a warmth that’s long been absent, though, and Sirius is grateful for the chance to have made some amends with his brother. He’d hug him, but Regulus was never the hugging type.
So, instead, Sirius grins. “Have a nice afterlife.”
And then he reaches for a door knob.