Title: Absurdist’s Road
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Time Travel, Established Relationship
Relationship(s): Sirius Black/Caradoc Dearborn
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Canon character death, Discussion -historic child abuse, Torture – non-graphic, Canon level violence, Murder and Temporary character death
Author Notes: I had a great time during this challenge, I didn’t think that I would enjoy writing a secret story quite so much!
Beta: PN Ztivokreb
Word Count: 67,916
Summary: When offered the choice do you go back to protect those around you or save yourself?
Thrown into Death before his time, Sirius Black is told he must choose a single moment to return to. But instructions shouldn’t be followed blindly and a single moment isn’t enough to fix a lifetime of errors.
Sirius found himself stood in front of the house that he had come to finally consider home. Even from across the street he could feel the wards repulsing him, his mother’s tight grip on them fuelled by her madness and grief for the one child she had loved.
It started to rain, a stark reminder that it was January. He pulled the collar of his leather jacket up and hunched down into it, hands pressed deeply into his pockets as he turned his back on his ancestral home.
He wandered the London streets aimlessly, not really sure what he had hoped to achieve arriving so early. Any hope he had of making a change was lost, his mother would oppose him at any turn and despite her madness others in power would follow the path she set. His thoughts spiralled, and by the time he dragged himself out of them he found himself in the middle of wizarding London.
He looked up at the townhouse he was in front of and realised that his feet had brought him to a familiar door. He searched through his pockets until he found a set of keys and unlocked the main door. He jogged up the stairs, refusing to let himself over think it, he stopped on the top floor and lifted his keys to the lock.
He stopped before he could slide the key in and put them back in his pocket, knocking on the door before he could talk himself out of it. After a moment he knocked again, a little louder this time, but no answer came.
He pressed his ear to the door and listened carefully before letting himself slide down the wall and stretching his legs out. Even as he enjoyed how easily his body moved, the scars and stiffness of years of wasting away in a cell gone for the first time in any of his returns, he hoped that Caradoc hadn’t just left for a night shift.
He settled in and shifted a little, so he was resting in a slightly more comfortable position dropping his head back to rest on the wall and shutting his eyes for a moment. He contemplated simply going into the apartment and waiting on the sofa, but even as he started to tug his keys out of his pocket again he remembered that Caradoc had outfitted the wards with a good range of painful detergents for thieves and unwelcome guests.
He crossed his feet at the ankle and began to plan how to get the best out of where he had found himself. He spent a while planning out the letter, he intends to send to the chief healer at St. Mungo’s and then the best way to find out where the Dursleys lived so he could retrieve his godson.
– – –
Caradoc trudged up the stairs to his flat with the bone-deep exhaustion of too many shitty shifts and the frustration of finding himself back at the bottom of the pile.
He swung his way around the last turn in the stairs and into the comforting edges of his wards.
He jogged up the last few steps tugging his key ring from his pocket and hunting for the correct key out of the dozen almost identical ones. Just as he found the right one his boot caught on something and he glanced down to find Sirius curled up against the bannister rail. He looked down at him for a moment, reminded of the dozen times that he had come home or left for work in the morning to find his boyfriend drunkenly waiting to be let in after leaving his keys at work but not wanting to wake him up in the middle of the night.
He sighed and unlocked the door before kicking the sole of Sirius’ shoe and walking away.
As he stripped off his heavy outer robes and worked his boots off his feet, he heard Sirius scramble to his feet gracelessly only to hesitate at actually coming through the door. “You might as well come in. Downstairs is still pissed off that the ‘police’ spent three days searching the flat. I’d rather not get evicted because my boyfriend is an arsehole who wants to do this in the stairwell.” Caradoc shouted, knowing that his wards would keep the noise from travelling into the flat below.
Sirius crept in and tucked himself into a corner of the sofa as though he expected Caradoc to curse him or throw something.
He rested his elbows on the mantelpiece for a moment before sighing deeply. He tugged his wand from its holster and dropped it down behind him before moving to perch on the opposite arm of the sofa.
He watched Sirius shrink away from him and realised that every inch of his 6 foot 5 frame was locked tight and he was scowling, jaw clenched. He shut his eyes and took a moment to relax, forcing his muscles to stop clenching and letting his shoulders soften. He dropped down off the arm and sank into the sofa cushions, letting his position mimic Sirius’.
Sirius didn’t exactly relax but he stopped looking quite so much like he expected to be punched in the face.
“I nearly lost my job you know?” Caradoc said.
“Too fucking right you better be sorry, Jame was my partner and I’m a fucking Auror. You broke your healers’ oath and fucked our lives to kill Pettigrew. You could have called for me and I would have merrily killed the shitty little bastard for you.” Caradoc shouted, not even regretting it when Sirius flinched away before a truly realising what he was shouting about.
“You don’t think I did it?” Sirius whispered, and Caradoc wondered exactly what he had done to make it so easy for Sirius to doubt him.
“Like you could have actually kept it from me that you were their secret keeper, besides you were working when James said they were doing it.”
“I… I didn’t kill Peter.” Sirius whispered, looking down at the carpet before adding, “I just chased him, I needed to know why. He just turned so quickly and the… There was nothing left. Just blood and screaming. I couldn’t even clear my head to help people before they arrived.”
Caradoc eased himself from his seat at the lost tone to Sirius’ voice, he came to crouch in front of him and gently placed his hands on Sirius’ knees.
“Ok, that’s ok. You aren’t trained to deal with something like that. It’s fine that you chased him, you thought he was your friend. Why didn’t you tell them that when you were questioned?” He asked, suddenly aware that he was dealing with something very different to the excuses and privilege of money that he had thought had had Sirius released.
“Questioned? Why the fuck would they question me? I’m a Black, of course, I was guilty.” Sirius said hysterically, laughing brokenly as he finally looked up and into Caradoc’s eyes. “You don’t give rich, dark fuckers a chance to talk their way out of the trouble they made themselves.”
Caradoc just nodded, not really sure what else he could do in the face of his own stupid words being thrown back at him. He stayed knelt in front of Sirius for a long moment, not sure what he should do and falling back on old habits he patted his knee and said, “let’s have a nice cup of tea and you can tell me what happened,” cursing himself silently as he realised he was acting like he was taking a statement.
Sirius nodded, clearly on autopilot as he said, “a squeeze of lemon and just a dash of sugar,” as though they hadn’t been together for years.
Caradoc nodded and climbed to his feet, squeezing Sirius shoulder on his way to the kitchen. He went through the process of boiling the kettle and fruitlessly searching for a lemon before remembering that he hadn’t bought one since he had tossed the whole bowl full out barely a month ago.
“Sirius, I don’t…” Caradoc stopped midway through the sentence as he realised that Sirius was fast asleep, chin dropped down onto his chest so that he snored with every inhale.
He sloshed hot water into his mug and left it to stew as he gently lifted Sirius up, tucking him against his chest carefully. Muttering comforting nonsense as he flailed a little. He carried him into the bedroom, shocked at how much lighter he seemed that last time he had attempted to haul him across the flat, and placed him into bed. He brushed scruffy, dirty locks of hair out of his face and numbly walked back into the kitchen.
Almost an hour later he found himself sitting on the sofa with a cold cup of tea clenched between his hands and his eyes stinging from where he had been blankly staring at the far wall.
He staggered off the sofa and dropped to his knees in front of the fireplace. He tossed a handful of Floo powder in and stuck his head in saying, “Head Auror office, the ministry of magic, London.” He waited for a moment and when his boss’s office appeared he said, “I need some time off, at least a week. Maybe more…” he ways about continue babbling when his boss just waved a report at him and said,
“I figured, you have months of leave accumulated. Merlin knows no one was taking it during the war, besides it might be best if you let this blow over before you come in.”
“I understand that, sir.” He said politely before pulling his head back out of the fire and clambering to his feet. He staggered into the bedroom and paused to watch Sirius frowning and shivering in his sleep. He tugged the covers out from under him and after simply shrugging out of his shirt and trousers he dropped into bed and pulled the blankets up to cover them both.
– – –
Sirius woke when the sun finally hit the bedroom window in the late afternoon and for a moment he was disorientated by the warm pressure against his back. Half of him still expecting to wake up frozen by the sea breeze and stiff from sleeping on a thin mattress that barely cushioned the flags, it was an old habit that the few years since he had left prison hadn’t managed to shake and that had been renewed by his recent visits to Azkaban. He lay in bed for a while enjoying the feel of Caradoc plastering himself to his back, fingers curling over his hip and breath huffing steadily over his neck.
Eventually, he forced himself to move, sliding from the bed and turning to watch as Cradock snuffled into the hollow he had left. He cracked his neck and stretched his arms over his head before wincing as he realised exactly how long it had been since he showered. He made his way through his morning ablutions easily, a little surprised that his toothbrush was still on the windowsill and his hair products were still scattered around the countertop.
Eventually, he sat at the tiny kitchen table with a cup of plain black tea, twirling a quill between his fingers as he tried to think of anything else he needed to add to the short list he had written. He flinched and looked up as a shadow fell over him, he forced a smile before looking back down at his list.
“I can do that one, you just focus on trying to get things back to normal,” Caradoc said into the top of his head, pointing at the list of potions as he kissed the top of Sirius’ head.
“Not that things will be normal,” Sirius replied easily, “You hate making potions between shifts, I’ll just buy them.”
Caradoc dropped into the chair next to him and poured himself a cup of tea from the pot, summoning the milk and not bothering to stir before taking a drink.
“I have some leave, figured this might be the right moment to take it. You hate buying potions, so I’ll make them while you are…” Caradoc tilted his head and turned the page before saying, “mothering Emir or foaling harpies?”
Sirius glared at him for a moment before giving in and snorting with laughter, “Thanks, I already requested a meeting and finding Harry is something we should probably…”
“Do. Yes absolutely, if I’d been in James’s will he would already be here. Shouldn’t take much finding, though Albus said that Lily’s sister offered to take him in. I didn’t think they were that close but then if my sister died, I wouldn’t let her kids be homeless. ”
“What all 6 of them? Even the one who bit you?” Sirius asked, “besides you love your sister. Petunia hated Lily and hated James even more.”
“Even Francis, although he was definitely old enough to know better. But actually, I meant Laura, not Sarah, Laura hasn’t spoken to me since…. But I would take her kids in.”
“I kinda hate Laura.” Sirius said trying to remember what she looked like, “and that is because you are a good person. Petunia is a vapid narcissist, and Harry would ruin her carefully curated image.”
“You’ve never met Laura, but she would hate you, you’re so….” Caradoc gestured with a hand before flicking Sirius’ hair, “Gay.”
“Muggles are weird.” Sirius muttered before sighing, “I don’t know where to start. If I get my job back then who is going to take care of Harry during the day? And if I don’t have my job then people will claim that I’m incapable of being a healer and they will use that to try and take him…”
“Then do what normal people do and put him in nursery or take a year or two off until he’s old enough to go to school. It’s not like you couldn’t afford it.” Caradoc soothed,
“He’s never going to be a normal kid, and until every death eater is gone and we’re certain that the Dark Lord won’t return Harry will be in danger – and even when they are gone he’s going to be a celebrity.”
“You’ve been out of prison for what a day? And you’ve already perused the gossip rags… What about Frank and Alice’s kid, he’s Harry’s age, couldn’t we ask if they could share childcare, and Lady Longbottom doesn’t seem the type to fuss about a kid.”
“Because I’m sure that Lady Longbottom is really going to want to hear from me,” Sirius muttered, but after a moment he added a note to the bottom of his list to write to her.
“Harry is safe where he is for now, or Albus wouldn’t have left him there. Get your healer’s licence back, do a few shifts to ‘prove’ yourself and then we’ll fetch Harry. We can work things out from there.” Caradoc said calmly, leaning backwards to push the window beside him open as an owl tapped on it. The owl hopped across the table and inspected the sugar bowl before letting out a disappointed hoot and offering Sirius the letter it had, “Sorry, I don’t have any treats for you. But this letter shouldn’t need an answer so you can go straight home to pester your owner.” Sirius said, petting a single finger over the owl’s broad forehead. It puffed its feathers at him disdainfully and hopped back out of the window.
Sirius ripped open the letter carelessly and tossed the envelope down so he could use both hands to unfold it and hold it flat. The emblem for St Mungo’s flared slightly as a sign of authenticity as he laid it on the table. He scanned the contents quickly before pushing to his feet. “The chief wants to see me now, I need to go before he gets called into some emergency and I have to wait all day to see him,” Sirius said, rushing to the bedroom to change into something a little more professional looking.
“Madam, your daughter had ingested a large amount of appetite reducing elixir over a very long period of time. Now, any one of my colleagues is going to suggest exactly the same regime of potions and charms as I am. Now please could you step out of the way so I can begin my treatment.” Sirius said calmly, well aware that sometimes patient’s family took some time to get over the shock of their child being so ill. As he waited, he carefully lined up the handful of vials in the correct order and carefully made note of the timings of his treatments plan in preparation for filling in the actual time once he administered the first potion.
“No. No, I shall not.” The witch said, going so far as to stamp her foot, “You are not treating my daughter, she deserves a proper healer.” She sniffed.
“Madam, I am a proper healer. As you can see, I am wearing I have a black band to designate that I am a journeyman healer and this emblem means that I have specialist training in spell and potion damage, that is to say, I am fully qualified.” Sirius took a steadying breath, already knowing where this was going.
“Yes well, I want a Master healer or what about that nice young man in the room opposite?” She asked, pointing at the apprentice who was checking the vitals of one of Sirius’ other patients.
Sirius shut the glass front of the medicine table he had been working on and with a polite nod stepped out of the room. He strode up the corridor and stuck his head around the open door of one of the critical patients on the ward.
“Healer Hargrove, could I borrow you for a moment, just one moment and no longer,” Sirius asked apologetically, Hargrove waved at him and Sirius ducked back out to wait for her.
“Another one?” She asked as she motioned for him to lead her down the corridor.
“This one wanted my Apprentice to give his opinion because he looked like ‘a nice young man'” Sirius grumbled, paint a smile on his face as he swept back into his patient’s room, “Master healer Hargrove.” He announced, handing her the chart he had prepared,
“A rather straightforward case, and this is exactly what I would recommend as a treatment plan. I see that you’re planning to review in 3 days which is a …”
“I knew it! I knew it, he is negligent and is just trying to eliminate that light.” The patient’s mother shouted shrilly, going so far as to swing her handbag at Sirius hitting him on the arm,
“As I was saying, a little more precautionary than I would usually go for, I would leave it a week,” Hargrove said arching her eyebrow at the woman as she stuttered nonsense words.
“Oh well, if you look there, you’ll see that when she was in last year, I used the same treatment plan so…” Sirius said tapping on the notes he had made, following Hargrove as she swept out of the room with his chart.
“I would still leave it a little longer but it’s fine. Who brought her in last year?” She asked as soon as they were out of hearing.
“Her father, the mother came and glared at me for a few days when we were about halfway through the treatment but she wasn’t this bad.”
“Right well, Healer Black you had better get back to your patient.” Sirius sighed at Hargrove’s words and forced himself to put on a professional face as he walked back into the room.
He opened his potion cabinet and took out the first vial, carefully waking the girl from her charmed sleep and coaxed her into swallowing the flavoured potion. He smiled at her when she looked up at him before looking away from the shame and frustration clear in her eyes. He talked her into finishing the next, far less pleasant tasting potion and when she was done she whispered,
“Hi, Healer Black. I don’t need that, I’ve got it under control.” As she pushed the next vial away. “Maybe you should take it,”
“I took mine this morning, besides I went and got this one especially for you, it’s cucumber flavoured!” He said waggling the nutria potion temptingly. Ignoring the annoyed huff from the woman behind him.
“Don’t pander, just give it to her and get out.” The girl paled at her mother’s words and took the vial with a shaking hand, quickly drinking it while Sirius noted the time down on his chart.
“One of the apprentices will be in to give you the next round in two hours. Don’t be giving them trouble.” Sirius said with a grin before nodding politely and stepping out of the room.
“You’ve got it under control? Under Control! You passed out in the middle of a recital, you have cost yourself the entire years’ worth of Charming Charms Competitions. You were meant to get a gold this summer! Now I have to go and beg the judges to score you on what little you got done…” Sirius shook his head and walked down the length of the ward to lean on the nurse’s desk and gossip as he collected his next file.
“Hey Lydia,” he said as he propped his elbow up next to her head and reached over the desk to grab the file from his in-tray, “do me a favour, see if you can convince room 9’s mother that she should visit less. Poor girl could do with a break.” He muttered quietly, ducking into the small kitchen behind the desk as the woman in question clattered up the hall.
He flicked through the file, tugging his chewed up self-inking quill out from behind his ear and making a handful of notes as he half listened to Lydia charming the complaining mother. A few moments later Lydia wheeled her chair back into the doorway and sighed deeply as she rolled her eyes before getting back to her desk and directing the porters to deposit the patient they had in room 52.
He poured two cups of coffee and floated one out to Lydia as he carried his, and came to stand next to her again.
“Lyds. Could you let reception know that memory charms go to the oblivation ward, not spell damage. I swear that’s the third one this week!” one of the other Journeyman healers said as they tossed the file they were carrying into the ward outtray and snatched up Sirius coffee and taking a long gulp cursing about it being too hot as he handed it back.
“Sure, just help yourself. My coffee is your coffee, Flizwarter.” Sirius grumbled.
“Hey, Black, you’re back? Does that mean you’re going to be taking lead on the ward again because I have it down and all, but I really want to go back to Curse damage.”
“Quit whining, the experience will have done you good. Jenkins is never going to leave and let you take lead on Curse so…” Sirius started
“That is a good thing. I like not being in charge, I get to just bumble along with my patients, working on my research and all that. It’s good.”
“And when you are still a journeyman in 30 years?” Sirius laughed as Flizwarter started to nod enthusiastically while he was still speaking.
“It will be great, I’ll have a ton of experience, and I will be really good at my job, and I will have half the paperwork.”
“Huh, you have a point, but I think you are keeping lead for the moment. You might not have noticed but I’m not exactly very high on the popular list at the moment. Besides, I’ve got my mastery trials coming up with Truefind, it’s probably easier to just not make me lead again.” Sirius said distractedly watching the porters guide a screaming man out of the elevator. “I think that might be my patient.” He said tucking the file under his arm and moving to intercept them.
“NOOOOOOOOO, HE’S GOING TO BLOW ALL MY BITS UP AND KEEP MY TOES AS TROPHIES!” The wizard howled, scrambling to get away from Sirius even as the powers kept a tight grip and guided the man passed Sirius, who was frozen in place, “SAVE ME! LOCK HIM AWAY! CALL THE DEMENTORS!”
Sirius turned on his heel and marched down the corridor, slamming the file on to Flizwarter’s chest as he passed him without pausing to say a word. He slammed through the double doors at the end of the corridor and clattered down two flights of rarely used stairs before his knees gave out and buckled sending him tumbling down the last couple of steps to the landing. He pulled himself up a little and slumped sideways to rest against the wall, his heart pounding and hands shaking.
“Damn it.” He punched the floor in frustration, the pendant against his chest warming as it fought to calm him and help him rationalise before he spiralled. “He was just an idiot who got caught in an overly strong hysteria charm, no need for panic or anger. Just a patient who will be fine when he had had the spell reversed.” He muttered to himself even as his thoughts ran wild with how this man would attack him, manage to summon a Dementor or call the Aurors to arrest him for assault as soon as he started his treatment. And then he would be arrested, and then he would end up in prison, and he wouldn’t get out again, he would be locked away forever and Caradoc would have him and Harry would starve…in an endless litany of uncontrollable thoughts that had him pressing his face into the wall as his fingers scratched against the fabric of his trousers.
A hand landed on his shoulder and Sirius shot to his feet, spinning to face the person. He backed away blindly until his back hit the wall and he realised he should open his eyes. Hargrove was stood in front of him with a concerned look on her face.
“I’m fine,” Sirius said in a panicked tone. “Well I’m not but it’s not usually this bad I just..” Sirius stuttered to a halt as she shook her head.
She motioned for him to settle with her hand as she soothed, “and you have been fine for a dozen shifts over the last two weeks. But today has been rough and everyone is feeling the pressure. Go home, take a calming draft and rest, actually take the draft before you leave. We’ll talk it over tomorrow and come up with a plan for the bad days.” She wrapped her arm around his shoulders, easing him away from the wall and starting to walk him down the stairs.
“It wasn’t work, I … We’re going to get Harry tonight and I guess I’m worried about it going wrong.”
“Honestly? I’ve wanted to march away from patients who scream personal stuff at me. In fact, if you go and ask the chief nicely, he might even tell you the story of when he had to haul me out of a patient’s room before I stunned their parents for being so rude to me.” Hargrove laughed, “It’s been a rough few months, it’s ok to take your time. I just don’t want to have to explain to your boyfriend that you broke yourself falling down a dozen flights of stairs running away from a situation we could have avoided.” She pushed him through the doors of the locker room and produced a calming draft from one of the dozen pockets in her robes, that she pressed into his hands, before leaving him to get changed.
Sirius apparated into the small park just off Privet Drive silently, dressed in what he had been informed was ‘business casual,’ the definition of which seemed to be an overly stiff shirt tucked into jeans that had clearly never been worn for anything other than slowly plodding around an office. He tugged uncomfortably at the suit jacket he had been forced into and double checked the folder he had under his arm.
He quickly made his way onto the street and made his way down the street, peering at the doors to make out the numbers on them.
“14, 12, 10, 8, 6… 4.” He stopped and looked at the SOLD sign that was hammered into the centre of the pristine lawn, his breath visible in the chilly evening air as it came a little quicker. He pushed the garden gate open and jogged down the path. He peered through the window into the empty room beyond and swore under his breath.
He knocked on the door.
He waited and knocked again harder this time.
“Fuck!” he kicked the door and marched back down the path only to pause when he heard a door open behind him, he spun back around to find the next door neighbour leaning out his house.
“They moved yesterday, quite a big rush. They only put the house up for sale two weeks ago. They said that he got a new job, but I heard that they got caught up with some funny sorts.” The man tutted and motioned Sirius a little closer when they were stood almost side by side with only the garden wall between them the man added, “A lot of nonsense from them you know, they left their nephew out on the doorstep in November! The poor little boy would have been out there all night if I hadn’t heard that cat kicking up a racket and gone to see what was going on. And then they’ve had these strange men coming around all times of the day and night knocking them up. They always refuse to answer the door, with her pretending to not be in and now moving in a big rush… Drugs is what the misses thinks, but next-door on the other side thinks that they’ve got some nasty business going on with the children.”
Sirius blinked at the man and took a moment to pick the important out from the nasty gossip before asking,
“Did they give any hint of where they were going? If they said he had a new job, did they mention where?”
“Up north was what he said, she told them across the road that it was on the continent. Couldn’t even tell a good lie between them.” The neighbour said with disdain, “Post office might know, or you could ask down at the factory, they’ll have to post his last check with how fast they left.”
“Thanks, you’ve been very helpful. I hope your new neighbours are better people.” Sirius said leaving quickly before the man decided to gossip more. He walked quickly back to the park, and after checking the coast was clear he balanced his wand on his palm and cast a location charm. It span idly for a moment before flipping up on one end to show that the person was hidden. He snatched it out of the air and appeared home.
He sank down onto the sofa and wished that he hadn’t encouraged Caradoc to go out with his friends, the idea of having time to settle Harry in on his own had been too tempting. He picked up the list that he had written all those weeks ago, everything crossed off except for retrieving Harry and talking to Augusta Longbottom. He scrumpled the list up and tossed it into the fireplace, watching it catch and burn instantly before the fire went back out.
He quickly got changed, making sure to slide one of Caradoc’s curse protection vests on under his shirt. He considered leaving a message but decided that if he didn’t return then it would make no difference in the end. A quick apparition had him standing in the locker room at St Mungo’s and with a quick hello to a couple of healers getting changed he jogged over to the Fireplace and tossed some Floo powder into it as he stepped in saying “Hogwarts, infirmary.”
He arrived in an empty office and without waiting he ran through the school and demanded that the statue protecting the headmaster’s office ‘get out of his way before it became dust’.
He rushed into the headmaster office and moving quickly managed to trap him in the armchair that he was reading in.
“Where did you move them to?” Sirius snarled.
“I don’t know what you mean my dear boy, of whom do you speak and why would I have moved them?” the Headmaster said benignly, his eyes twinkling.
“Don’t play senile, old man. The Dursleys! You had no right to give Harry to them, there was a will and they weren’t on it anywhere, and now they are not where they should be.” Sirius shouted, gripping Albus’ garish robes and shaking him a little.
“The Dursleys are gone?” Sirius dropped him at the genuine confusion in the headmaster’s voice.
“Completely, sold up and moved out. They put the house up for sale the day I got out of prison. How would they even know that, and why would they be worried that I would come to visit? Merlin knows Petunia wouldn’t have grown attached to the boy.”
“I… I am unsure, no-one on our side was to have contact with them.” Sirius dropped into one of the chairs across from him, his hands shaking once more even though the last dregs of the calming draft he had taken earlier. “There was no one who even knew that she was Lily’s sister. Hagrid and Minerva thought I had chosen the family at random. There were only your friends that knew who she was, James and Peter are dead, Remus is… away and that leaves you.”
“Right, just me.” Sirius clenched his hands into fists and took measured breaths to keep himself under control. “Were you the one who placed the location hider on him?”
“Yes, it would hardly be safe if anyone with an attachment to the boy could find him. Half the wizarding world adore him.” The headmaster said, shaking his head as though Sirius was a Naive child again.
“Can you remove it?” Sirius said, rising to his feet and already planning what to do next.
“Unfortunately not, I tethered it to the boy’s magic.” Dumbledore actually managed to sound contrite and Sirius just glared at him before using the office fireplace to leave.
– – –
He arrived in the flat for just long enough to search through his various trunks and boxes of trinkets until he found an essay that had somehow ended up in with his stuff at the end of their seventh year at school and somehow, he had never got around to throwing away.
He searched one of the overly full bookcases until he managed to find one of the dozen or so Auror’s progress handbooks that had been squeezed in between medical texts.
He double checked that it was the right one and quickly flicked through until he found the section on fugitive hunting. Flicking passed the glowing warning about needing a licence and approval from two judges, he searched for the spell he knew he had seen James practising a dozen times, arriving in the flat only to pull out Lily’s scarf, to focus on, and head back in the opposite direction.
He held the essay in a firm hand and muttered the incantation twice before doing the same with the complicated wand motion. Finally, he combined the two and felt the pull and tug of his magic dragging him to wherever Peter was hiding.
Sirius landed neatly only to take one step in the gloom he had found himself in and trip straight over something heavy.
“Lumos,” he said, a ball of light slowly floating from his wand to light up the crowded shed he was in. A car lay in pieces, the engine exploded out in a way that made Sirius think that it was beyond repair. A dozen kettles hung by their leads from the roof like some odd hunting trophies. Muggle electronics were scattered about haphazardly in a fashion that could only belong to Arthur Weasley. Sirius managed to find a bit of clear ground and clambered to his feet carefully.
“Peter, come out and show yourself. There’s no need for this to be difficult unless you make it” he hissed, suddenly aware of the playful screaming of young children in the garden.
He waited a moment, tapping his wand against his palm absently until he finally snapped, “Fine, accico Peter Pettigrew.” And held out his palm, snatching the rat from the air and shoving him into a pocket before apparating away with a clumsy crack of magic.
He span off balance and cracked his head on the fireplace as Peter shifted back into his human form mid apparition.
Half a dozen voices yelled, “Stupefy,” before someone said,
“Is that Pettigrew?”
Sirius scrambled to his feet and shouted, “You can arrest him in a minute,”scrambling forwards to wake the man from the multitude of Auror strength stunners.
“Where is he, Peter?” He asked pressing his wand firmly against Peter’s throat. Behind him, he could hear people muttering and Caradoc firmly reminding them that Sirius hadn’t killed Peter. Yet.
Peter squeaked and then cleared his throat, “Nowhere you will find him.” Peter blinked at the crowd behind him and seems to realise that they weren’t going to buy whatever lie he could come up with added, “I was just a pawn, I was being used Sirius, why would I ever want to hurt James? Or poor little Harry. I was cursed into it!” He shouted the last bit triumphantly.
Sirius just shook his head before leaning forwards and whispering darkly, quiet enough that only Peter would hear, “I went to prison for murdering you once and I’m beginning to feel a little like it might be worth going again if you don’t tell me who you told about the Dursley’s and where they sent them.”
Peter paled even more than his normal pallor, something that Sirius hadn’t thought was actually possible, and like the turncoat he was he whispered back,
“Malfoy paid for it all but only I know where they went. There’s a plan, He planned for this. He can never die, and he plans to return but I can help you oppose him.”
Sirius pushed his former fried away from him in disgust,
“You were the worst monster of them all. At least the rest of them could claim they were doing what they thought was right, but you lived in the heart of the light and then sold your friends for a hint of power. Tell me, did he love you as we did? Would he have taken the time to tutor you through every single spell you needed to pass charms or transfiguration, tutored you for the entrance exams for the Department of Mysteries? Did he make sure that you never got left behind? Tell me. Was it worth it?” as he spoke Sirius was frisking Peter’s filthy robes until he came up with a bundle of Muggle style letters. “You always were so undeniably stupid!” He pushed Peter away and let the Aurors swarm him, happy to let them find out every detail of his betrayal. He walked away from the crowd flicking through the papers.
Caradoc followed him saying, “When you weren’t here I went to Privet drive. I was worried…” he waved at the still squabbling Aurors as though that explained them. Which in a way Sirius supposed it did.
“They think they can use Harry to resurrect the Dark Lord, it is an old and truly dark spell,” Sirius muttered distractedly, not caring that he couldn’t explain how he knew that.
“God, seriously?” Sirius just hummed confirmation as he found a letter that looked like it was from a lawyer, “at least he didn’t tell anyone where he took Harry.”
“I love you, but if you believe that you’re an idiot. Peter doesn’t know how not to lie. He says whatever he thinks will keep him from getting into too much trouble regardless of the consequences for anyone else.” Sirius said finally managing to find the address that the Dursleys had been moved to. “Damn it, I have no idea where that is. Peter, you’re going to take me to this place, or I swear to Merlin I will tell these gentlemen exactly how James died.” Sirius threatened, shoving his way through the huddle and shoving his own wand into Peter’s hand.
Peters’ eyes shot up to meet his, suddenly sharp and certain. Sirius realised his error seconds too late as the odd sensation of being squeezed and dragged let him know that he was being apparated, the look Peter gave him letting him know it wasn’t to somewhere where he wanted to be.
They landed harshly, Peter had never mastered the art of making his magic elegant. And as he rocked on the balls of his feet Sirius caught a glimpse of familiar dark walls.
“I might be weaker than you, I might take a little more time. But I was never STUPID” Peter said pushed Sirius sharply, Sirius flailed as he fell and even as he tumbled into the familiar chill of the veils grip he felt Peter fall with him.
Sirius landed on his back and rolled instinctively so that he could throttle the Rat as soon as he landed but after a second Sirius realised that Peter was nowhere to be seen.
Sirius dropped down to sit looking at the scene he had fallen through and, much like the first time, the image of Peter tumbling gracelessly after him froze and cracked shattering and falling to the ground as he watched.
He felt numb, his heart felt like it was almost stopped in his chest and where he would have expected his thoughts to be racing they were crawling along. The world seemed distant and he hardly felt the burning cuts as he pressed his palms harshly into the sand. His breath barely moved his chest with each inhale.
Slowly he realised he was alone and looked around to check, the realisation seeming to force him out of his numbness. He rolled onto his knees so he could see a little more easily, squinting into the shadowy corners.
“You cannot rest here forever and you cannot continue to endlessly return to point after point and cheat death by refusing to remain where you have gone.” Death’s creature said, appearing before him and striding across the hall to him in sharp unearthly motions.
Sirius rolled to his feet and backed away from it, it walked steadily but Sirius almost fell in his haste to get away from it. He hit a wall and scrambled to his feet, he held his hands out, palms facing towards the creature.”And if I refuse?” he said, his words bold even as he glanced around for an escape, “If I refuse to stay where I choose to go? You said that stepping through the veil meant that I was dying out of time and so I had to go back, that’s all I’ve done! I’ve only done what you told me, and perhaps I came back to Death a few times because I got it wrong, but I only did it by dying when I wasn’t meant to be dead.” Sirius said desperately.
“You must choose a time and a place. You must pick a path and walk it, own the destiny you fall into.” The creature said, coming to a halt inches from Sirius’ outreached hands.
“But I don’t want to, I don’t want to be the one who picks his own life, who chooses the moment he can return to that is the best for him. I want the best for them all, my godson, my nephew, my lover, my colleagues. I don’t want to live in a world where I have a reasonable life but those around me suffer.” Sirius said he faded to a halt more because his voice ran out than that he ran out of thoughts. He paused and looked up at the creature, staring deeply into its hood as though there were eyes there to look into. “I don’t want to live in a world where people who aren’t like me suffer. My godson, his friend, my partner, shouldn’t suffer because they aren’t pureblood. My nephew shouldn’t be condemned because his family, his father, decided to be evil… I could keep going but it remains the same thing. I keep going not because each time I bring war sooner, but because I haven’t found a way to make it work. To make it fair.” Death’s creature backed away, it turned and walked away, it’s voice echoing back to him.
“Humans, so idealistic. I remember being like that once, desiring to ensure that which I believed was important came true, that any price was worth paying. That everyone ended up in the place they belonged.” The creature reached inside its hood as though it was pressing a hand to the side of its head but none of the robes moved in a way that said they were accommodating its hand. Then the creature added, “Sirius, you cannot…. You cannot make the world perfect. You can only preserve those who do not have another purpose.”
Sirius’ blood ran cold and he lurched forward, his mind half searching for something to say even as he tried to catch this person he was certain he knew. Before he could place them, the creature disappeared and Sirius was left alone.
He staggered to a halt, his hand falling to his side as he whispered,
“Show me your face…”
Sirius stood in the silent hall staring at the space where the creature usually stood for a long moment before shaking himself. He wasn’t sure if he truly knew who the creature was or had once been and he supposed there was no way of checking. But the feeling that he knew it was unshakable.
Sirius stood there worrying about the damage Peter could be causing if he had been given the same offer as Sirius. Would he return and warn Voldemort of the risks? Would he take it into his own hands to ensure that his master was safe?
Realising that he had no way of knowing without going back to another point and seeing if something had changed Sirius decided to walk the hall and see what changes he had made. He crossed the hall and swept off one of the veils that he knew had covered a broken window,
“Yes!” he slapped his hand into the frame as he saw that the window was once more showing a scene, he watched it carefully and realised that it showed him in St. Mungo’s hospital treating a patient. He jumped in the air and took a moment to bounce around, happy that despite the fact he had failed to achieve what he wanted, he had managed to improve the possible future. He was amazed that he had managed to make a difference, the creature had almost had him thinking that whatever he did there was some set destiny that would keep him from making things work better.
He turned to the rest of the room and ignoring the windows that he knew showed scenes that couldn’t have been changed he dragged each veil off and watched the scene play out.
One showed him playing quidditch with a preteen Harry, another showed him out to dinner with Caradoc, a dozen showed scenes of him dressed in healers robes in the hospital, or at Truefind’s side. And then he stumbled across one that showed him dressed in ragged robes, blood splattered across his hands, his hair matted and every inch of him coated in dust as he stood before a backdrop of a shattered castle. He drew away from the scene in horror and after a moment dragged his eyes away. It seemed unavoidable that Hogwarts would fall and hundred would die at the whim of a mad bigot.
“So it worked, mostly, I need to worry about Peter,” Sirius muttered to himself turning to pace the hall, stepping carefully to avoid cutting his feet on the sand. “Perhaps that’s it, it was Peter who betrayed us every time.”
He looked at each moment in turn before taking a deep breath and decisively pulling the veil off an early scene, earlier than he had dared to tread before. He watched the image play out. He pressed his hand against the glass and then snatched it away.
Sirius strode to the other side of the hall and slid down the wall, watching the short montage play out over and over. “If he was gone what difference would it make?” Sirius asked himself, “He was such a familiar presence that we couldn’t imagine cutting him out, but we barely spoke to him. Just study groups and the odd class we shared. Hardly a bosom buddy any more…” Sirius sucked his breath in through his teeth and looked up at the ceiling. For the first time noticing that it was a sea of stars, an abnormal night sky dancing above his head. He watched the stars dance for a while before rising to his feet and whispering,
“It is not going to change anything. You just have to do nothing, and nothing will change except he won’t be there. A dead man can’t return.”
– – –
James laughed, the sound startling and painful, as one of the Hufflepuffs they shared 4th-year potions with tripped on her robes and launched her armful of ingredients into the air. Sirius grabbed the back of James’ robes and heaved him towards the front of the classroom and well out of the splash zone.
“Out to the way boys!” Yelled Professor Slughorn, barrelling past them with a hasty containment spell. The girl’s ingredients splashing down in an already bubbling cauldron and setting it off into a volcano like bloom.
Knowing that last time he had watched the chaos and laughed along with everyone else at the mess before helping to banish the tarry mess and copying the spell to repair the pitted flagstones. Sirius did exactly that.
“Well, every event is a lesson! Now any potion can quickly go from a healing elixir to a highly dangerous compound with the wrong treatment and so it is essential that we…”
The professor waved his hands and the class chanted, “Take our time and avoid accidents.”
“Excellent, class dismissed! I think one near-death experience a day is enough for me and one of you is bound to blow something up with all the excitement you have coming up.” Sirius grabbed his bag and followed his classmates out of the hall, trying to remember what he had done all those years ago.
“Hey, let’s see if we can convince the house elves to give us a picnic lunch and go feed the squid,” James announced, already dragging Sirius towards the kitchens, his other arm looped around Remus’ neck.
Sirius stumbled over his own feet and found himself sitting in the corridor, he watched Remus fuss as James made stupid jokes and nudged Peter.
“You’re all so young…” the words falling from his lips almost silently as he realised that perhaps it was Harry and his friends who were old.
“Sirius? Come on let’s get some lunch in you, can’t have you fainting away on us.” James laughed, dramatically pressing the back of one hand to his forehead.
Peter gasped and lept into action, fanning him with the textbook that had been tucked under his arm. They both laughed, Friday, post-potions madness making everything twice as funny until they were leaning on each other sobbing with laughter.
Sirius’ gut twisted and something must have shown on his face.
“You alright?” Remus asked quietly, always the calm one who saw too much.
“I’m going to throw up,” Sirius said sharply, using Remus’ arm to heave himself off the floor, his body oddly light, and then bolting for the toilets as the James and Peter turned to look at him in concern.
– – –
Sirius blinked into the pillow he was face down in and rolled over to look at the overly bright white of the infirmary.
“Ah, back with us, Mr. Black? Well, there seems to be nothing more than the usual for a boy your age wrong with you.” The nurse said with a slight smile. “Decent meal, some good sleep and a day or two away from your homework is what I recommend.”
“Good thing that it’s the hols then,” Sirius said with a charming grin.
“Exactly,” the nurse settled herself into the chair beside his bed with a slightly more serious look, “and where exactly were you planning on spending Christmas?”
Sirius pushed himself up the bed and thought about it for a moment, looking around to check who was about.
“Well, the Potters invited me – well all of us, actually. But with Dad going this summer, and Mother…” Sirius looked away pretending that he genuinely was considering going home despite the fact he hadn’t even thought of it originally, “…Reg will need me home.”
“Sirius, we discussed this. He is your brother and I know you are worried about him, but your mother dotes on him, and I’m not sure it would be best for anyone.” The nurse said, her face filled with concern. As a healer, Sirius sympathised, knowing that she would be recalling him arriving back at school from his father’s funeral with a broken arm and curse damage.
“I don’t know,” Sirius said, suddenly doubting his plan. “Maybe I… Maybe I should stay here? A middle ground, Mother can’t be offended by me staying with the Potters and no-one has to worry about me staying with Mother.”
The nurse smiled at him softly and patted his arm, “Think it over, Sirius, and remember it isn’t your responsibility to worry about adults being offended. Besides all your friends are going to the Potters, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to miss out on that fun. Now I’ll bring your tea in a little while, and once you’ve eaten you can go.”
Sirius watched her leave and settled back into the pillows with a sigh. He reached for his wand only to be deflected by a shielding ward and a pointed cough from the small office, he looked out of the window opposite and watched the trees of the forbidden forest shiver and sway in the fierce wind that was howling around the school.
He laughed a little as he remembered the ridiculous picnic they had eaten, the wind catching the surface of the lake and soaking them to the skin by the time they were done. They had raced back to the castle begging Remus to let them into the prefects’ bathroom so they could soak in the hot water. With a jolt, he realised that he couldn’t face seeing his friends again, their naive jokes and youthful laughter too much to take when he knew that in three short years they would be fighting in a war that would see them all dead, whether it put them in the ground or not.
“Nurse?” he heard a chair roll over the floor of the office and glance over to see her leaning out of the doorway, “I think I’m too ill to go anywhere. I still feel sick and I think I breathed in some of that explosion in potions earlier.” He coughed pathetically for effect and pouted.
“Oh dear! Too ill for Christmas?” The nurse said laughing a little at his play acting. “Well, if you are sure that you breathed in that gas, and you did feel sick straight away afterwards, then I’m afraid I can’t let you travel, Mr. Black. You will have to stay right here where I can keep an eye on you. Misbrewed girding potion can be quite terrible for the nervous system. I’ll write to your mother with my apologies.” She waited a moment until Sirius nodded at her enthusiastically.
She shook her head at his antics and rolled back into her office. Sirius watched her go, and curled on his side miserably wishing he had never come here.
His friends trooped in after dinner full of plots to sneak him out of the infirmary and onto the train in the morning. Sirius nodded and laughed along, his stomach tying in knots, and the urge to punch Peter in the face growing every time he reminded them how nice it would be to be with friends instead of at home alone as his mother worked over Christmas.
“…and of course we’ll all keep some presents back so that we can open them with you when we get back to school, in case you’re too sick to do Christmas properly,” James said as they were getting ready to leave.
“Maybe we should all stay here?” Peter asked in his still squeaky voice, “Wouldn’t do for us to abandon one of the marauders. In fact, I think leaving him all alone is the greatest betrayal we could ever manage.”
Sirius felt an odd pressure in his chest and lurched forwards to throttle the little bastard before he could help himself. He caught himself just in time and changed the motion to a lunge for the bin at the end of the bed, the churning and knotting of his stomach overtaking the blind fury.
“I don’t think he’s going to be great company, Peter, ” Remus said, patting Sirius on the back comfortingly.
“And I think that that is your cue to leave gentlemen.” The nurse said firmly as she pressed a hand to the back of Sirius’ neck to take his temperature, even as she ran a diagnostic spell.
“I’ll see you in the new year,” Sirius muttered, barely lifting his head as his friends clattered out of the infirmary. The nurse patted him on the back gently as she left him alone, willing to indulge what she thought was teenage anxiety ramped up by loss and fear.
Sirius woke up in the dead of night on the 29th, one of those odd days in the lull between Yule and the New Year. The full moon was shining through the window, echoing the over saturated images of his nightmare until the true memory replaced the ghostly dreamscape.
The Potters had a rarely visited estate out on the coast, near Grange-on-the-Sands. James had thought that it would be fun to see if Werewolves liked the sea as much as Hounds. Remus had just appreciated the chance to run for miles on coastline secured with strong and ancient wander-not charms and even stronger Muggle-repelling ones. Sirius remembered just being glad that the Potters were still willing to let him stay given the dark ritual his father had died conducting.
It had been fun, Peter clinging to Sirius’ fur or scrambling up James’s horns as the Dog and stag chased the waves. Remus alternating herding them towards the sea then turning them and harrying them back towards the cliffs in an endless game of catch.
None of them had seen the storm blowing in or the tide began to turn, it had just become another part of the game. Racing up the cliff path, through the fields, leaping over the ha-ha at leg snapping speeds. The rain had been coming down in icy sheets, hail more often than not and if the path was slick the top of the ha-ha was polished glass, hooves and paws skidding akimbo alike.
Peter wouldn’t make it that far tonight though.
Hooves and ice make poor bedfellows and werewolves hate hunting in the rain.
Remus had abandoned them at the first splash, out of sight and hearing in moments. He had slunk back in after dawn, hair plastered to his head and thick scratches on his skin from the thorn bush he had woken under.
Sirius had stuck close to James, none of them daring to turn back to human and risk tempting the werewolf out of hiding. The rationality of their caring friend lost to the beast. The mud wasn’t too bad but the hailstones on the odd carved step had James’ hooves coming out from under him, driving him to his knees more than once. Peter would squeak pitifully each time as he was jolted violently about.
The top of the cliff was a run of narrow stairs, the rock similar to that of the island Azkaban rested upon he realised. James had nudged him ahead with Peter finally leaping down to burrow into his fur.
Even Sirius skidded on the steps, heavy paws scrambling to grip. When he reached the top he bobbed his head and barked a little to encourage James up.
The stag Shook his head, settled into his hindquarters and bounded. His front feet landing close to Sirius’ head. He snorted in self-satisfaction as he landed but even as he did, the whites of his eyes showed, and his hind feet slipped off the narrow edge he was clinging to. Sirius changed back to human in an instant and grabbed James’ hands as panic drove him back to human.
They clung to each other, Sirius lying naked in the freezing mud as James heaved in great breaths, his feet and one leg hanging down the face of the tall cliff.
Peter chittered at them in warning and James rolled himself to one side and clambered up. Both of them changing back to their animal forms as a deep roar echoed through the brush.
Sirius snatched Peter from the ground and they raced for the house.
Sirius shook his head to clear the image, but it looped back around. James startling, rearing back as he changed to human.
Sirius pushed up to sitting and knocked his head against the wall behind his bed sharply.
The image looped, his brain mockingly placing a rat in the great crown of bone, he reared back and changed. The rat slipping and sliding. Peter so much less confident in transforming than the others. So much slower. Sirius groaned and rocked forwards, slamming his head into his hands as he tried to force the imaged from his head.
The stag reared, the rat tumbled.
“PETER!” James screamed, twisting unnaturally to grab the other boy. Sirius shouted something, he didn’t even know what.
The Stag. The Rat. The Scream. Reaching. Sobbing as Peter fell away from him. Sirius rocked and scraped his fingernails along the fabric of the bed sheets.
The Stag. The Rat. The Scream. The Scream. The scream and James went tumbling after.
Sirius lurched from the bed and scrambled on his bedside table for the potion he had managed to convince the nurse to give him. The glass cap of the calming draft went skittering away, bound to be lost under James bed for eternity, and Sirius took two large mouthfuls. Before shakily letting the bottle drop down to spill the rest of its contents out on the flags. He dropped to his knees and pressed his forehead to the ground as the draught took effect.
“Tempus,” he whispered when he had gathered himself enough to collect his wand. 4am.
The journey from the coast would take just less than half an hour. They had arrived at the house a little after half four and Remus had returned at just past six. If they had stuck to that plan, then the storm had just hit, and James was moments from starting his dash up the cliff.
Sirius dressed quickly, gathered up his supplies and snuck through the halls and out of the main doors, as grateful as he was horrified at how easy it was proving to just slip away in the night. Once he was out of the castle, he mounted the broom he was carrying and raced out of the castle wards.
He dropped to the ground and quickly apparated to just outside the wards of Potter Manor, knowing that doing so inside would wake James’ parents. He mounted his broom again and cut along the coast, hunching low to avoid the worst of the rain. In the distance, a wolf howled, sharp and eerie. Remus was hunting.
“Peter? PETER!” James called from nearby. “Damn it this isn’t funny. Change back! PETER!”
Sirius spotted the glow of a wand light and dropped down to snatch James from the ground.
He fought until he realised who it was,”Peter fell. I slipped, I didn’t mean to. He has to just be hiding. Right. Right?” James asked clinging to him tightly as Sirius directed the broom towards the house.
“I…” Sirius started but couldn’t finish, he didn’t even know what he planned to say. Instead, he simply wrapped his arms around James and pulled his cloak tight around him to dry a little of the rain off.
They landed at the manor and Sirius hushed James as he hustled him through the halls and into the bathroom they had shared last time he visited. He started a hot bath and turned to look at James.
He was standing exactly where Sirius had let go of him, mud plastering every inch of him even his hair where he had pushed his fingers through it roughly at some point. He wasn’t even blinking.
“James. There’s nothing we can do. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.” Sirius soothed, earning himself a blink and sudden eye contact.
“How do you know that? You weren’t there. How do you… I was meant to keep him safe.” James said, his voice a little empty until he snapped the last word sharply.
“It was wet, the stairs were slick. He could have jumped off when you started to slide but like everything else he waited for someone else to solve it.”
“Don’t blame him.” James growled, “You weren’t here. I let him fall, I shouldn’t have taken the risk. I did it. I killed Peter.”
Sirius shut his eyes and took a deep breath at the simple acceptance of blame, the teenage simplicity that everything could only have one cause.
“I just meant that you shouldn’t blame yourself, the weather was bad. You could have both been hurt, or Lupin could have found you while you were searching. It is not your fault. You can’t blame yourself for fate.” He prodded James into the bath as he started to shiver and carefully cast a charm to ease the worst of his shock.
The sat in silence for a while, Sirius occasionally letting the dirty water out and the fresh in. He watched the clock on the wall tick around to half five before James spoke again.
“Sirius? Why are you here?”
“I saw something, it was just a dream but it felt so real. I had to come and check on you all.” Sirius half lied, his planned excuse sounding a little half-hearted even to his ears.
“Merlin,” James breathed sharply, “Peter! We need to go and find Peter. He must be hurt, and what if Remus found him… He would never forgive himself.” Sirius caught his friend’s wet elbow and eased him back into the bath before he could slip in his desperation to go find Peter.
“He’s dead,” Sirius said bluntly, seeing no reason to obfuscate. “It wasn’t your fault, but Peter is gone and we need to come up with a decent excuse. You should let me talk to your parents.”
James pushed up once more, shaking off Sirius’s hand and grabbing a towel.
“No, we have to go look for him, this was all my fault and now we’ve just left him there. Alone, hurt. Merlin, the tide!” James shoved Sirius out of his way, his voice rising to a half shout when Sirius refused to let him passed. They wrestled for a moment and Sirius took an elbow to the face as James scrambled out of the door.
Sirius raced after him, leaping down a few steps of the long staircase to catch up. James heaved open the front door to a face full of snarling werewolf.
“Stupefy!” Sirius shouted, the powerful spell blasting the wolf down the porch steps, “Obliviate.” He said quietly, mournfully pointing his wand at the boy he considered to be his brother.
– – –
“Morning, Mrs. Potter. I’ve got to send an owl to Professor McGonagall could I borrow Edmund?” Sirius said, stretching as he walked into the formal breakfast room a little after 10am.
“Sirius, how are you feeling. James said that you were left quite ill after potions.” The elderly but far from frail Witch said, summoning a writing kit for Sirius and sliding it across the table.
“Yes, very unfortunate, I forgot to hold my breath while dragging James away from the exploding potion. But feeling much better now.” Sirius said falling into the formal form with ease, he quickly dashed out a letter and sealed it quickly. “Sorry for my unexpected arrival but I had the most dark of dreams last night, I couldn’t shake the feeling so I came to check everything was well.” Sirius handed his letter to the owl and packed up the writing kit.
“And all is quite well, we have been having a very merry time although your company has been missed.”
“Yes, everyone was sleeping soundly in their beds when I arrived. I appreciate that you added me to the wards, very kind considering I wasn’t planning on coming for the season.”
“I could hardly leave you out, besides where James is you aren’t far behind.” She said with a gently mocking tone as James dropped into the seat beside Sirius with a tired yawn.
“Remus doesn’t feel well, mum, I think he has a cold. I got one of the house elves to take him some potions.” He yawned again. “And breakfast. Where’s Peter? He wasn’t in bed when I knocked.”
“He can’t have gone far,” Sirius laughed, “he was in bed when I arrived earlier.”
“It started snowing overnight, perhaps he decided to take a walk before breakfast. I’ve been encouraging him to take more interest in his constitution.” Mrs. Potter said seeming to dismiss the matter from her mind as she turned back to her newspaper, assessing the financial section with care.
“We should go look for him,” James said, his face a little pale as he tugged Sirius from the room. “It was full moon last night, the weather was awful, so we decide to stay in but what if Lupin…” James trailed off biting his lip nervously as he trailed off.
“Moony was napping when I arrived and the room was firmly locked. Peter was fast asleep, and it was nearly dawn.” Sirius reassured him, the lies leaving a bitter taste in his mouth even as he knew it was for the best. “We should just wait and see if he comes back.”
“It’s Peter,” James said exasperatedly, “If he did go for a walk he probably did it to prove to my mother that he’s fit as a wizard can be and marched around in a huff. He’s as clumsy as can be, we’ll probably find him at the bottom of the ha-ha.”
“Don’t be daft, he’s not going to have broken his neck in the bloody ditch.” Sirius laughed, dropping his arm around James’ neck. “How about we take a fly in the snow and see if we spot him.”
“Yeah,” James’ sighed, “Probably better than chasing around after him and ending up falling ourselves.”
James shrugged Sirius’ arm off and jogged to the broom cupboard under the stairs, climbing in and rooting through for the least ancient of the brooms. As he looked, Sirius wondered if the tide had come high enough to carry Peter away, with the sudden need to stage Remus spending the night inside and having to wipe both of their memories he hadn’t had a chance to go back to the cliff and check if Peter had remained a rat or if there was a gristly body waiting for them.
He forced a smile when James handed him the broom and made stupid jokes as they looped over the formal lawns. When James turned his back for a moment Sirius swept low and grabbed a handful of snow, he pulled back up and quickly tossed the snowball at him. He could only have seen the movement out of the corner of his eye, but James snatched the snowball out of the air inches from his shoulder. His whole body curved as he grabbed it with the opposite hand.
They threw snowballs back and forth for a while before James seemed to remember their task and began to search in earnest. When he suggested that they split up, Sirius agreed quickly and set off for the coast, hoping to spare James the horror.
He dropped low by the steps and inspected the cliff face carefully. There were no signs of someone grabbing as they fell and the snow at the foot was too thin to hide a body. Sirius hopped off his broom and searched in the snow for a moment before drawing his wand and pulling the glove he had stolen from Peter’s room from his pocket he cast the Auror grade location spell.
He took a deep breath and waited for the pull and tug. It didn’t come. He cast it again, this time adding the word corpus in at the end. The spell tugged at him sharply towards the sea and Sirius cut it off, refusing to let it drag him away. He shoved the glove back in his pocket, got back on his broom and flew back to meet James.
“No sign of him down the beach or on in the woods. The weather’s turning bad again, we should head back.” Sirius shouted as he got close enough to see James through the thickening snow.
“Yeah, I couldn’t even see any footsteps before it started snowing. We should call the Aurors, maybe they can find him.” James shouted back, turning to the house seeming almost grateful that Sirius was as keen to get out of the cold.
– – –
Sirius waited for the Auror questioning him to leave, assuring him that they would do everything they could to find his friend, before telling Mrs. Potter that he needed to use the bathroom.
He made a show of asking one of the Aurors where to go before heading in vaguely the right direction. He waited until he was out of sight and then quickly made his way through one of the hidden doors that the cleaning elves used.
He ran through the narrow corridor, dodging a few house elves until he was on the path he had used before. He crept through the door into the department of mysteries and snuck towards the veil room, having to hide a couple of times as those who worked there passed him.
He made it into the room and paused looking at the veil, he frowned and considered it for a moment. Eventually, he shook his head, dismissed his thoughts and stepped through the veil. Happy to leave trying to survive as a teenager to someone less aware of how soon these days would fade away.
Sirius shut his eyes and took a deep breath as he arrived, the chamber was silent, but as he stood there Sirius realised he could hear the faint sound of sand shifting and a faint echo of whispers and footsteps. The noises were so quiet and so distant that they seemed to almost add to the silence giving it weight. He breathed long deep breaths that he hadn’t been able to take in the rush of failing to save Peter. With each breath, the weight of what he had done finally seeped into his bones and he wondered what Truefind would do when they discovered that his oath was broken.
“Will there always be a price?” Sirius asked, “Is there a price for every life I preserve? Was Peter the ferryman’s bribe, the cost of keeping Harry in life for a few decades more? Will I be allowed a little success now?”
Sirius opened his eyes and realised he was alone. Death’s creature for once not reminding him to leave,
“Or did I just buy myself the freedom to enter this chamber in peace a dozen more times?”
Sirius waited for a response, waited for the creature to return and try to convince him to leave its realm forever. After a long moment of waiting he walked to the centre of the room and looked down at the sand where it usually stood, there were no footprints, no marks in the sand where it usually stood, where its robes scrapped against the sand.
He stood in its place and turned about, looking at the shrouded windows that surrounded him. He tilted his head as he realised that this position let him see just beyond each shroud, to see a glimpse of each moment of near death. He looked at a window that bought to contain the moment that he escaped the Dementors at Hogwarts in Harry’s third year and realised that the sand rose shortly before it.
His breath caught in his throat and he looked further back to a moment that ought to be filled with a bright full moon over a shimmering sea but even there the sand was higher than before.
“No,” he breathed sharply, he looked back further turning more and more until he was moving swiftly across the sand to the first window he spotted with an image filling it.
The window was close to the start of the hall, barely a double handful of windows further on than the one he had used most recently and Sirius almost dreaded what he would see beyond. He reached out for the shroud, his fingers brushed against it softly.
The Creature spoke from behind him, “You tangle your path tighter and tighter until it has become a web, each movement you make forces you to step more carefully ‘less you undo that which you have laid out. The players are in their place and you have made each of your moves out of turn of late. Play out the game.”
“No, You made me an offer and I am making the same choice each time. I will return and mend this. ” Sirius said quietly, clenching the shroud tightly,
“And when will you be done?” The Creature said calmly as ever,
“When I have banished the Dark Lord and set the world upon a better path.” He snatched the shroud up and away from the window and watched the moment play out.
He was running, the street seemed familiar but in a vague kind of way. He watched himself turn to look back over his shoulder and saw chaos. A quaint cottage garden was backlit by a green blaze of light, Sirius could hardly breathe at the sight. His cousin Bella was frozen her wand arm outstretched and her other hand clinging to her forearm. She slowly raised her wand, eyes locking onto his. The scene was slowing and as a bolt of vibrant purple raced towards him it stopped.
Sirius backed away from the moment, letting the shroud fall back to cover the scene. His skin crawled and he took a few heaving breaths. He reached out for the next window, a little earlier and flicked it away from covering the window only to watch himself half fall down a set of stairs in a moment he had practically forgotten as soon as it was over, and that was too early to be of use.
Sirius steeled himself, took a deep breath and launched himself at the window he had originally chosen.
– – –
Sirius stumbled over his own feet as he arrived a blast of light shimmering inches from his chest as he did, momentum carrying him a few paces before he managed to catch himself and abruptly change directions, swinging himself between two houses and changing into a dog smoothly. Bella raced straight passed him as he hunched into a shadow. She looked around the high street she had found herself upon, the Muggle street lights making it obvious in seconds that Sirius wasn’t there. Sirius wavered on is paws, something deep in his chest aching. He looked around at himself but saw nothing, perhaps a chard patch of fur where Bella’s curse had slid passed him but no real damage.
His cousin screeched in anger and span around several times, running towards one ally and then another calling for him. She stilled and called out, “Sirius… Siri, Siri, Sirius, dearest cousin, hide and seek is over. We don’t play childrens games anymore. Out you come!” she swayed and twirled in the street a macabre grin on her face. “Sirius, come here dear. I’LL ONLY KILL YOU A LITTLE! I’ll even leave enough for your mother to curse when she buries you like your brother, the traitor, he made me look bad and now you are too.” She yelled before dropping to almost a whisper, the last rambling comments clearly meant to be to herself.
She paced a few times and then clearly growing bored of waiting she raised her wand and smashed a car through the front of a house, following it with a blasting spell. Sirius watched Bella start blasting houses, Muggle and wizarding alike, in her grief twisted madness and where he once would have tried to stop her, he slipped passed her and raced up the street.
He ran back to the cottage that Lily and James had spent their last few months in and ignoring the evil marking floating above the wreckage he picked his way through the house. Once he was out of the sight of the street he changed back to human and almost immediately crouched down. He had never seen James at this moment, too busy chasing Peter, too desperate to find out why. He reached out with a shaking hand and laid a hand on his forehead quietly whispering an ancient blessing to hurry his soul on its way even though he knew that Death’s creature would already have led him towards his future.
He forced himself to his feet and made his way further into the house. He carefully heaved a broken door out of his way and froze as he saw Severus kneeling on the ground with Lily’s head cradled in his lap. The sound of the door falling must have jolted him out of his reverie, he looked up at Sirius, tears in his eyes and anger marking his face.
“He said he would spare her,” Severus muttered, his voice breaking as he pulled Lily closer.
“And you believed him? You honestly thought that he would care about your little crush on another man’s wife? That he would really spare a Muggle-born who dared to oppose him?” Sirius said, disgust filling every word.
“No, but he offered her the choice and she threw her life away. We could have been happy, we could have finally had what we deserved.” Severus muttered brushing lily’s hair off her face his words more for her than in response to Sirius.
“She was happy, she had what she deserved – no she had the life she wanted. You stole it from her. She died for the men she loved, and I’m going to make sure that sacrifice was worth it.” Sirius stepped over Lily’s legs and pushed through into the only room left mostly standing. Behind him, Snape continued to mutter and coo.
In all the chaos that surrounded it, the ash, bricks and mortar that were scattered over everything, it was strange to see that not even a speck of dust or ash had drifted onto he pale sheets that covered Harry. The baby was fast asleep, protected from the fight that raged around him by the sleep-well and safe-rest charms that Sirius had layered over the crib before giving it as a gift.
He reached into the crib and carefully wrapped the blankets around the boy, muttering nonsense words at him soothingly as he lifted him to his chest and tucked him into the safe warmth of his jacket. Harry let out a sleepy protest at the chilly air that blew around him for a moment before gripping Sirius shirt and grizzling against his chest. Sirius rocked him for a moment before reaching down to collect the lion toy that was patrolling the end of the crib, shoving it under his arm as he began to pick his way back through the house and to the street.
He glanced down to where Bella was now surrounded by Aurors and carefully Apparated away.
He landed in the foyer of the ministry and glanced around at the lack of rushing that was going on. The Auror meeting points were empty and the few staff who were still working into the early evening barely seemed to notice his arrival. One witch turned to glare at him when Harry began to sob pitifully inside his jacket but beyond that, it was as though he wasn’t even there. For a moment he was taken aback by the lack of interest but then he realised that these people had no reason to question him being there, he was just another wizard visiting the ministry to see to his business.
He gently patted Harry on the back, rocking side to side for a moment until the child settled before making his way to the reception desk.
“I would like to speak to Head Auror Scrimgeour if he’s available. If not then whomever he has left in charge in his stead.”
“Of course, if I could take a name?” the receptionist said with a professional smile even as she started to fill in a badge for him,
“Sirius Black,” he answered after she had finished writing his name and she was looking at him expectantly.
“Brilliant, lift is on your left, the floors are clearly marked. Or would you like me to get someone to show you the way.”
“That’s fine, I know where it is.”
“Lovely, have a good visit and let me know on the way out if you don’t manage to achieve the purpose of your visit.” She said, fake smile widening and words seeming to fall from her lips automatically as she moved on to another job.
Sirius backed away from the desk, shoving the badge into his pocket as he made his way to the bank of lifts. He leaned back against the far wall and shut his eyes for a moment as he waited for the lift to descend. He yawned deeply, another yawn following on the back of it as soon as he was done and he wondered how long it had been since he slept.
Eventually, the lift jolted and began to descend,
“Sirius Black… here to confess to something or are you just pretending to be collecting your boyfriend again.”
“Evening Alastor,” Sirius said opening his eyes to look at the grizzled Auror. “Neither I’m afraid, I’m here to report a crime.”
Alastor Moody curled his lip at him as his magical eye whirled and tried to penetrate the concealing magic on his jacket.
“Is that crime that you sold out James and Lily Potter? That you left them dead on the ground, abandoned them like you did that Pettigrew boy?”
Sirius frowned at him, wondering if that was Moody’s usual belief that every suspicion he had was true or if he had actually been found to have something to do with Peter’s death.
“Don’t smart at me, boy, the only person in that house dark enough to throw that idiot off a cliff and make sure we never found him was you. Creeping in in the middle of the night to do your dirty work…. Oh, you might have had everyone else fooled into believing he ran away because he was failing at school, but I saw right through it.”
“Peter was failing at school, I was tutoring him every evening, Remus was helping him with his homework and he was still falling behind. He used to talk about just leaving it all behind but he’d stopped once his grades started to get better. They were still bad but… it was a long time ago now, no use in guessing what he did or why he did it.” Sirius said repeating what he had talked about when he had been interviewed, leaving any speculation out of it in case it contradicted something he had said since he left. “I already lost one friend, why would I ever do anything that would cost me two more.”
Alastor just glared at him and Sirius looked away, looking down at Harry and smiling at the little boy when he realised he was awake.
“Hey, do you remember me? It’s been a couple of months but how could you forget Uncle Sirius .” He muttered, bouncing the baby to make him giggle. “Bet you slept right through everything, snug as a bug. Hey, cheeky!” he gasped, grinning as Harry used a little childish magic to tug his ponytail undone and pull the hair towards him so he could play with the ends.
Alastor tutted and muttered something darkly under his breath as the lift came to a stop and Sirius strode passed him with a curt nod. “I know you, Black. Never forget that I’m watching you.” Alastor called after him as the lift shut and began to travel down to the next floor.
“Silly, crazy old Moody, we don’t pay any attention of old Aurors with silly ideas. No, we don’t. No, we don’t” Sirius said leaning forwards to press a kiss to his godson’s forehead.
“What about young Aurors, we still thinking their ideas are stupid?” Sirius jumped as Caradoc spoke from beside him, he was dressed in heavy dragonhide robes and had a deep red gouge running across his neck and up onto his cheek.
“Car. You should have had that looked at properly. ” Sirius said ignoring the question that he didn’t really understand. “Did whoever healed that even know the first thing about curse wounds.” His fingers twitched to prod against the wound and check if it was already too far gone, the scar too set by the lingering curse for him to fix more neatly.
“I would hope he did,” Caradoc laughed waggling his fingers. “You trained him”
“You’re an idiot! That was not what I taught you that spell for. No one can heal themselves well enough. Not with that sort of wound. Sit down.” He instructed even as Caradoc curled his fingers around Sirius’ to keep him from reaching for his wand.
“Bella got a good hit in, Should have known better. I can live with a scar, at least I’ll get to come home.” Caradoc said gently. “Damage is done, was done as soon as she hit me.”
Sirius flexed his fingers in Caradoc’s grip and glanced down sharply before saying, “You did a good job of it then, it’s hard to heal anyone when you’re in that much pain and blood loss from that sort of injury…. You must have been quick and precise.” Sirius was Suddenly aware of how much he had changed by removing Peter from the playing board, Peter had been a traitor but he was predictable and, even when cornered, mostly harmless. The explosion that he had set off had been a simple spell aimed to distract not harm.
“Hey, I had a good teacher. Couldn’t do poorly when I knew I was going to get graded at the end of the day.” Caradoc laughed, before suddenly becoming serious, “Scrimgeour is still as the scene but he should be back in an hour. Do you need anything?” he asked nodding towards Harry.
Sirius simply shook his head and as Caradoc muttered apologies about doing paperwork Sirius quietly said, “… A hug?”
Caradoc swept him into his arms and held him tightly, space carved out where Harry rested quietly against his chest.
“I’m sorry, I should have said yes when he asked me to be their secret keeper, I can’t believe they asked Snape.”
“Lily always believed that he had potential to be a good man and you weren’t any better a choice than me. I didn’t know that was who they had asked, I assumed it was Remus.” Caradoc replied softly. “He confessed, right there and then. Holding Lily in his lap like he had the right and confessing to causing her murder like it meant nothing to him. He asked us about Bella, and when we said she was dead he just told us. I thought he was going to claim that she was controlling him, tortured it out of him…”
“You should do your paperwork, I should feed Harry and let him play. Best to keep things as normal as we can.” Sirius said, falling back on training, cutting his emotions off to care for his ward.
“Sirius,” Caradoc said as Sirius pulled away and headed to the office, “I love you.”
Sirius glanced back at him and smiled tightly, “I’ve never forgotten and I couldn’t stop loving you if the world ended.”
Harry was lying on his back in front of the fire, Sirius dancing the enchanted lion on his chest when Scrimgeour arrived, with no consideration for the child he said,
“We’ll need a family member to sign for her body, acknowledge that her death was a result of resisting lawful arrest.”
“Of course, I don’t think anyone else would anyway,” Sirius said easily.
“And James had you listed as his next of kin in the eventuality that Lily was also…” The Auror trailed off seeming to finally notice Harry playing on the rug in front of his fire.
“I know, I’ll see to all three of them when I find someone to watch Harry,” Sirius replied almost absently, part of him deciding that if he didn’t engage with the words he was saying then it wasn’t really happening.
Scrimgeour cleared his throat and then to Sirius’ surprise dropped to his knees next to him and began to play peek a boo with Harry. “I have kids!” he said gruffly at Sirius’ look. “Have you checked him over? You should probably take him to the hospital to get a workup, and for you too. The whole damn place was soaked in dark magic. Stray shit that was just sat around waiting to catch up around people. Snape’s half gone from it, bastard’s mind will probably never recover, even if his conscience decides to take a permanent break.”
“Your kids swear like you?” Sirius said tiredly before blinking sharply and sitting up, “I… I didn’t think. I should have thought of that…”
“It’s been a long week, have you even slept? You’ve been working every time I’ve been in to check on one of my chaps.” Scrimgeour asked bluntly. “Hell I think I’ve sent my lot home to sleep more often than the hospital’s managed.”
“That’s because when your fight is over, ours is a quarter of the way through, and we started when you did,” Sirius muttered, reciting something that one of his trainers had said. His thoughts felt thick as treacle now that he was aware that he had gone so long without sleep. His body exhausted and his soul quickly reminding him that it had been days since he had managed to catch a few hours sleep that hadn’t been interrupted by a sharp return to reality.
“Come on lad, up you get.” Scrimgeour said from beside him.
Sirius jolted and lashed out, only to find his hands being caught gently as he was guided to his feet. Body sleepily following the tug upwards even as his muscles felt like jelly.
“Come here,” Caradoc muttered, hauling him into his arms with a grunt. “Jeez, you always look so skinny…” Scrimgeour laughed from somewhere nearby and Sirius glared, nearly opening his eyes.
He felt the burnless heat of a Floo and heard the familiar chatter and shouts of the emergency department at St. Mungo’s. He yawned into Caradoc’s chest as he felt the rumble of his chest his brain refusing to parse the noise into intelligent word before it was over and they were moving again.
He managed to wake up a little when he was deposited onto a bed and he heard Harry whimper unhappily from somewhere nearby.
“Harry?” he asked, sitting up sharply.
“He’s just there, give us a second to get one of the paediatrics guys up here and check you both out properly. Why don’t you grab a catnap? You were meant to be going home for some proper sleep.” Hargrove said a little accusingly, as though she was holding him personally responsible for not sleeping through his best friend’s call for help. She stared at him with raised eyebrows for a moment and then in a more gentle tone said, “the next few weeks are going to be rough, and this week had been hell. Get some damn sleep, I’ve tied you into the room wards so you’ll know as soon as anything changes.”
Something inside Sirius – some deep-down feeling that he was going to mess up and lose Harry, that someone would just steal him away or snatch Sirius out of the room and lock him away forever – eased. Harry was safe. Nothing could ever hurt him, no Dursleys, Dumbledore’s nonsense cut off before it could start, good food, good friends, and family. As he sank into sleep he murmured,
“Just focus on Harry, I’m fine. Barely spent any time in the house, I’ll do a purifying ritual when I get home.” The curse that had caught him completely slipping his mind, insignificant compared to the rest of the night.
Sirius smiled and relaxed back into the pillows. His eyes falling shut even as one of his colleagues rushed in with a muttered greeting, heading straight for her patient.
– – –
Sirius coughed, the cold air damp air in the graveyard seeming to catch in his lungs oddly. He rubbed over the top of his sternum at the ache that was developing with each cough.
They lowered the coffin into the ground with little fanfare. Bella’s family were mostly in prison, rounded up with the other remnants of Voldemort’s cause. Sirius was the last person to stand for her and see her on her way, he might have had little love for her, but family was family and a part of him wanted to be sure that she was actually gone. Buried and sealed into her grave, her soul no more to roam as the blessing went.
Sirius stepped forwards and sprinkled that handful of silver coated sand, the thorny branch and a sprig of rosemary into the open casket, “Travel your path true and fast, linger not, for all that you ought to have done in life has been accomplished. Your family ushers you on your way and welcomes your magic to bless out homestead ground. Let your strength become once more our strength. Our magic always pure.”
He nodded to the gravedigger and the woman nodded back. The top of the casket dissented and was sealed tightly. The earth poured back in and smoothed, grass springing up and making it seem although Bella had laid to rest for years.
Sirius turned to the headstone and raised his wand, a single blast of magic split the rock and sheared it in half. Bella’s grave permanently marked as that of a traitor.
“Thank you for your service, you will have to see yourself out, I must… I have other commitments.” Sirius said handing the woman the traditional piece of silver before apparating away.
He landed on the outskirts of Potter manor and followed the trickle of witches and wizards across the rose packed cottage garden that had replaced the formal lawns when Lily had called them ‘stuffy and stifling’. It was nice to see that even after Peter’s death, and all that must have done to change how James felt about this house, he had still chosen to make it his home.
He reached the family graveyard and began the rounds, greeting old friends, colleagues and members of the Wizengamot alike until he arrived at the small huddle of people who had been close to Lily and James in the last few years. Lady Longbottom inclined her head at him gracefully before formally introducing him to her grandson. “And of course, with all that they will share, growing up with no parents, it would be best if they could at least have friends with whom they can discuss such unpleasantness with.”
“Harry has parents and I have no intention of treating him as some burden I would rather I had never had passed onto me. He will always know that James and Lily existed, but he will have a life like any other little boy.” Sirius held one hand up delicately and turned away to cough, the fit taking him so hard that he could only suck in desperate gasps until it let him go. He delicately lifted his handkerchief from where he had pressed it to his lips and shoved it into a deep pocket. He forced himself to take a deep breath before turning back to the conversation at hand, only to find that Lady Longbottom had swept away to talk to Madame Bones, the matriarch of a soon to be ancient family of formidable lawyers.
He looked around a few times before deciding that he had treated enough people and he could finally concentrate on the funeral instead of hosting.
He made his way to the graveside and looked down at where James and Lily lay, their hands bound together with the soft golden cord they had used for their handfasting, another ‘old fashioned’ tradition that Lily had protested before accepting with apologetic grace when it was explained to her. Sirius wondered how much more difficult it had been for his friends and him to explain wizarding traditions to her without Peter there as a ‘wizarding’ to ‘Muggle’ dictionary. How many arguments had blown out of proportion without Peter there to calmly explain that ‘Handfasting was a way of giving a witch a chance to leave a fruitless or hateful marriage with no consequences to her honour while leaving her partner looking rather unfavourable to others. A year and a day for passion to burn out and all of someone’s worst habits to be shown in all their glory.’ Or whatever daft difference they had got caught up in.
He looked down at Lily’s face and for a moment wondered if he should have invited Petunia, for all that they had hated each other they had been sisters and one should always have family there to send you on your way. He shook the thought from his head as Remus came to stand beside him,
“Am I doing this right?” He asked, Remus had arranged all their funerals originally and despite knowing that he didn’t have that experience he couldn’t help but ask.
“You are doing your best, and that is all that they would ever have asked,” Remus replied with a shrug.
“She has no family here. James would have expected that that for his darling,” Sirius said, having to pause to breathe halfway through the sentence.
“Petunia wouldn’t have come, she thought their wedding was barbaric… this would have had her trying to set up witch trials. Besides family is family whether you are blood or brethren.”
Sirius huffed out a little laugh and looked up at the official overseeing the funeral. A single nod was all that was needed to start the process, a chime was sounded and the guest gathered around the hole.
Every person took a moment to speak their piece, telling of how Lily or James had been loved in life. The retelling of their good deeds, their bravery and how many lives they had touched supposed to encourage the old gods, or the lord and lady of magic to carry their souls to the next great adventure. As they finished speaking their piece each person left until it was just Sirius, stood by the grave alone. He reached for a story to tell but found himself unable to speak, a pain grating through his chest as though his heart was trying to tear itself in two.
Eventually, he said, “You were my brother, when I needed help the most you were always there and Lily was the sister I always wished I could have had, brave, strong, clever…” Sirius sniffed and shut his eyes, “I never forgave you, and I hated you for dying. You left me alone, no one else really believed in me, they let themselves be convinced that I had played them. You left me to carry your burdens, to keep proving people wrong, to change the damned world and I failed. You made me a failure and I never forgave you.” Sirius tossed the handful of silver coated salt, the thorny branch and the sprig of rosemary before sighing and saying, “May your path be smooth, Death carry you swiftly and all that you left unfinished passed to others. Your family ushers you on your way and welcomes your magic to strengthen our lives. Walk your path well and don’t look back May your magic run through us with Strength, Faith and Heart.”
He walked away from the grave with a weight lifted from him, an anger he had never recognised in himself faded a little.
He handed the gravedigger two pieces of silver and apparated away without a word, content that the man would see himself out.
– – –
Sirius watched Harry try to catch the tiny sparks of magic that were drifting off Truefind’s desk as they waited for the Goblin to finish searching for evidence of any darkness lingering in him.
“The shard is weak, poorly formed and tetherless at the moment. Voldemort is weakened but not gone, you knew that of course.” Truefind said looking up sharply.
“I knew he was connected to him, it…. became difficult for him to block out when he grew older.”
“You should have asked before, I’m surprised my brother tolerated having the boy even visit his vaults. To let such darkness in the bank.” Truefind muttered
“I should have, there are a lot of things I should have done but I was scared,” Sirius said, finally looking up from watching Harry. “Can you do something about it?”
“No,” Truefind said bluntly, glancing down at their hands. “You never were very good at taking care of yourself, Sirius.”
“And what does that have to do with Harry? Do I have to do this all over and save Peter? Find a different way… I know that you must be disappointed that I broke my oath but there was no other way. I had to save Harry, nothing else is important.”
“You are an idiot, your oath is fine, but I need the strength of a parent to draw from and you are dying. The child doesn’t have the strength to survive a ritual cleansing and your foolish determination that saving the boy would solve all your problems had you ignoring your own well-being.”
“Bella,” Sirius said quietly, with sudden realisation, “she missed me, well barely grazed me. I’ve been fine, just a cough…” He trailed off, “Heart failure?” he asked thinking of the cough that wouldn’t leave him and the tightness in his chest that seemed to come and go.
“Curse damage is complex and when left too long not even the most talented healer could reverse it. You will live a reasonable life, most likely you will see him grow into a man.”
“But he’ll grow into a man who will still have to face the Dark Lord.” Sirius said softly, “I have to go.”
“Sirius, you cannot do this forever. You cannot fix everything, there will always be darkness to overcome or harm that will befall people.”
“I… But I can do better. If the cost is me then I will just have to make sure that there are other people… that he has his parents to help him fight. To fight for him.” Sirius scooped Harry up and hurried through Gringotts.
He appeared to Longbottom manor, apologising a dozen times as he left Harry to play, returning to press a kiss to the boy’s head before leaving.
He arrived in the hall settled and calm, he looked at Death’s creature and said, “I know! I’m nearly done, this will be the last time and I will be gone in just a moment.” Sirius strode over to the window that he knew would take him to a few months before the last point he returned to. He swept the veil off and watched himself walk backwards through a set of double doors in St Mungo’s.
“At least I didn’t actually die, what a fucking stupid way to go that would have been.” He muttered moving to step through, but he paused and gave in to the urge to see how it would have played out if he stayed. A moment of doubt taking over as Truefind’s words echoed through his head.
He stepped back and walked around the hall, he tugged the through away from the window and watched as a pre-teen Harry raced ahead of him towards a Muggle theatre, Caradoc at Sirius’ side looking over at him in concern as his knees buckled. Sirius threw the shroud back over not needing to watch to know what came next.
Curiosity drew him on and he looked through the next window, he watched for long enough to see the creases around Remus’ eyes and a familiar pattern of grey hair on his head before drawing away.
He considered looking at more but decided that he didn’t want to watch himself grow frailer, he didn’t need to watch the toll it would take on those around him. He had seen it play out in enough of his patients’ families.
“Will you tell me how he died? How old would I have lived to if I stayed.” He asked Death’s creature, not even sure that the creature would give him an answer.
“Not as an old man,” the creature said sharply, “but not as a young man. He considered his life well lived but regretted being unable to help in the War.” It added, voice softening a little suddenly sounding almost human.
“Thank you,” Sirius said quietly, moving back to the original window. As he stepped through he heard the creature say,
“You were a good man, Sirius. I should have regretted what I did to you more.”
– – –
Sirius stepped out into life trying to turn back, he tripped and missed the top step of the staircase. The apprentice with him dropped her files and grabbed at him, managing to catch his robes even as he grabbed the handrail. They both froze looking at each other in shock after a few shaky breaths Sirius managed to pull himself upright. He kept a tight grip on the handrail and stepped back up onto the landing, raising his eyebrows and puffing out a breath before ducking down to help pick the files up.
“We are never going to mention that to anyone. Ever.” He said making the apprentice laugh. “I am too graceful and charmed to fall down stairs, no-one would believe you anyway.” Sirius grinned at her and jogged away, knowing that he was already late to lunch with James.
He reached the ground floor and raced through, tugging his robes off in the locker room, before bolting down the hall and out into the street.
“I know, I know, I had a patient decide to burst into flames.” He said as soon as he was close enough to James to be heard.
“It’s fine, I just got here. Harry’s got a cold and Lily was taking a nap.” James replied easily flinging an arm around Sirius’ neck and pulling him towards a different cafe than he was expecting.
They managed to get all the way through ordering food and their tea arriving before Sirius said, “What’s got you all twitchy. You look like you are about to crawl out of your skin, you looked less nervous when you asked Lily to marry you.” James flinched and then waved a hand at Sirius.
“I haven’t slept and well, there’s no good way to say this really. Dumbledore thinks that He is going to come for us or send someone after us like he did with Alice and Frank.” James said Sirius held back a frown when he realised that that must mean that Bella had attacked the Longbottoms months earlier than she had originally.
“What are you going to do, the wards are pretty tight around the manor and I’ve never been much of a wardsmith, I guess I could ask Truefind for a favour but you know what the goblins are like with that sort of stuff.”
“Actually, we were thinking that we would go into hiding. We talked it over and Lily and I would like you to be our secret keeper. You’re the most trustworthy person I know but I don’t think that anyone would actually believe that we would be stupid enough to ask you.” James said, shrugging apologetically.
“I guess I’m the obvious choice,” Sirius said slowly,
“Which makes you tactically a poor choice.” James winced
“Yes, but also I’m a Black. Who would actually trust me with their top secret location to avoid a Dark Lord.”
“You know it’s shit like that that doesn’t help your case,” James said exasperatedly.
“Dark Lord, Dark Lord, Dark Lord,” Sirius said sticking his tongue out childishly, unable to resist it and easily falling back into old habits, now that he was around his old friend. “Better than ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’…”
“Sirius, Merlin, it horrifies me every day that someone thought you were mature enough to have a healer’s licence.”
“Yeah well, I nearly broke my neck falling down some stairs today, so it is entirely possible that my boss saw me and right now is regretting every life choice that led to her hiring me,” Sirius said dryly as their food arrived.
“Like I was going to say no. We all acknowledged that I’m a stupid choice but at least I’m the choice that everyone will think is stupid.”
“I’ve changed my mind, do you know where Remus is?” James said in an overly serious tone before breaking a smile.
“On a serious Remus note though, have you heard from him?”
“Not since the naming ceremony, he hasn’t even been making it to Order meetings. The last thing he told me was that Dumbledore had him on some ‘special project.'”
“Yeah, special let-us-get-you-murdered project,” Sirius snapped, catching himself as soon as the words slipped out of his mouth. “I meant your social life. Let us get your social life murdered… You aren’t the only one who hasn’t slept recently.” Sirius muttered shoving a mouthful of salad into his mouth quickly as James laughed at him.
“New moon is meant to be best. Or so my genius of a wife tells me,” James said an adoring smile creeping onto his face as he mentioned Lily.
“Next Wednesday, right?” Sirius asked.
“Yeah, now are you actually going to eat those chips or…”
“Merlin, you’re a horror. You realise that you are going to end up taking cholesterol clearing potions from the day you turn 30 at this rate? And I will make sure you get the nastiest ones you can get,” Sirius bitched, quickly falling back into the habit of nagging his friend about his health.
“Whatever, I’m rich. I’ll just buy myself tasty ones and keep eating what I want!” James said, grinning with a mouthful of food.
– – –
The ritual was simpler than Sirius had expected, for something that he had built up so much in his mind, for such a pivotal point in his life it was minute. Barely fifteen minutes of holding hands and marking out runes and Godric’s Hollow was gone. Sirius screwed his eyes up tightly and opened them again while thinking about the address.
The cottage was sat in front of him when he opened his eyes, Sirius popped through the front door and quickly announced the full address to the room, Lily smiled at him and James slung his arm around his shoulders as he offered him a bottle of ale.
“See, nothing to worry about. Just a simple ritual, no expertise needed.” James said quietly,
“You were right about the new moon, even puzzled me for a moment,” Sirius said, catching Lily’s eye.
“How shocking, someone who has dedicated their career to understanding how nature affects magical practice was right about some basic lunar interactions!” Lily said dryly, barely looking up from the document she was working on.
“She’s still kinda scary you know,” Sirius muttered to James.
“Yeah? Well, I’m married to her, I question every spell I cast…” James muttered back.
“Right, well it is the middle of the night and I am assured that my boyfriend is going to be in bed enjoying the first evening off he has had in months.” Sirius grinned as James made vomiting noises at him. “What, apparently he is annoyed that his partner decided to take a whole year of paternity leave.”
“Well, James was the one who wanted babies!” Lily said sharply, “I’m quite happy to go back to my research lab as soon as I can. Stupid postpartum magic fluctuations. If he could have just been born on a quarter moon in Sagittarius…” Lily trailed off and reached for a different roll of parchment.
Sirius shared a look with James as he passed the half-drunk bottle of ale back and backed out of the room mouthing ‘good luck with that.’
He walked backwards as far as he could, drinking in the sight of Lily berating James while at the same time informing him exactly when and how they would be conceiving their next child. He smiled and turned away as Lily tilted her head back to frown at James only for James to lean forwards and press a sweet kiss to her lips.
The flat was cold when Sirius woke, and he staggered from the bed to shut the window. His arms curling around himself for the few seconds it took to fumble through the thick curtains while cursing Caradoc and his love of fresh air. He threw his hand out to grab the bottom of the window and punched glass, the shatterproof charm keeping it from breaking even as Sirius cursed it for breaking his damn fist.
The pain was enough to drive off the last fragments of sleep that had survived the cold that had woken him and Sirius realised that the cold was coming from somewhere deeper in the flat.
He looked around the bedroom carefully and collected his wand from the bedside table, moving on nearly silent feet as he did.
He cast a silent ward detector and felt for Caradoc’s thick and usually fast to respond wards. He paused for a moment and then cast it again. No response came. Sirius made his way to the wall and laid his hand on it, pushing a thread of power out. The strand caught and tangled in the ragged remains of the wards.
Sirius felt his blood run cold and he felt his breath lock in his throat as he realised that someone had silently eradicated a master wardsmiths personal defence without allowing so much as an ounce of power to leak into the rest of the flat. Someone with a great deal of power and more control than most Wizards would ever manage was waiting for him.
The cold was a warning, but Sirius knew that if he took it and tried to run the other would know. He was alive and that alone was a message, he was wanted alive and it would be best if he just gave in.
Sirius had never had the pleasure of meeting the Dark Lord face to face before, but he had heard others describe the way that his presence was like a seeping chill, the raw dark magic that he had gathered a veritable presence around him. Sirius felt that power billowing into the room, following in the wake of the chill, there was frost creeping up the windows and his next exhale was visible.
There was a powerful charm to being so close to so much power. Sirius felt it calling to him, some dark corner of his soul telling him that if he tried he could earn a fraction of it. The idea was beautiful, and his mind ran down a dozen paths each more wondrous than the last until he saw himself returning home, blood making the hem of his robes heavy and stiff, his mother weeping with pride in the doorway as the prodigal child returned to her.
Sirius blinked hard and shook his head to clear the image before calling, “My mind isn’t that weak, Tom. You can’t win me over with childish dreams and Oedipal desires. I know that my mother never loved me, it is old news.”
“And yet your brother found it such an entrancing idea, he was a lost soul before I brought him to my side. He had so much potential and so little understanding of how to achieve it.”
“But you wasted him. Threw him away like so many other pawns in your great game of chess.”
“None of my followers are wasted. Each in their turn becomes part of something greater. They become part of me, and what greater achievement could any of them wish for but to become this powerful. I hold the world in my palm, and anyone can become a part of that.”
“Sure, if they give up every single thing that has ever made them human, only if they sacrifice everything to you and hope that they survive long enough to see your new world order come true.”
“All my followers will be with me, each of them will be integral to what we will achieve…”
“At the cost of their own lives? Of the lives of those they love? I’ve seen this a dozen times, you charm in those with power, those with money and the others that come to you, the ones who you didn’t charm and cajole, the ones to whom you didn’t offer power and fame? They were drawn to you like a moth to a flame, the desperate, the lonely, the outsiders, the weak minded. And like a flame you burnt them up. Fuel for your endless campaign.” Sirius panted, his words coming in uneven gasps as the Dark Lord slowly backed him against the wall, never actually getting any close to him but the weight of the magics he wielded pressing down on Sirius. “Do you want to know what happens? You lose.”
The Dark Lord roared in anger and finally dove forwards, the wall behind Sirius fractured and gave, Sirius tumbled back into the dark night and as he fell, he shouted,
“You die, you are defeated by an infant. And we all mock you forever.” He jerked in the air, a spell wrapping around him and dragging him level with Voldemort. The Dark Lord smiled at him kindly, the man strikingly handsome in a way that Sirius had long forgotten. His memory of the man warped and twisted by the years of remembering the evil he wrought.
“The Potter boy, you know where he is? Take me to him and I will free your brother’s soul, let his magic return to your family.” The Dark Lord offered, his tone genial and easy.
“He knew what he was getting himself into,” Sirius said,
“Very well.” There was a burst of magic so loud and large that it stunned him, the Dark Lord’s magic was unrefined, the lack of control made up for by sheer raw strength. Sirius felt the magic rip at him and launch him towards their destination. He slammed into the ground and rolled several times before realising that he was lying on the village green in Godric’s Hollow. “Lead me to where they hide.” The Dark Lord ordered as Sirius scrambled to his feet.
“Never. I would never betray my friends like that.” Sirius said, holding his head up proudly.
Voldemort tilted his head and looked at him appraisingly, Sirius bit back the urge to step backwards and even as he desperately thought that this was it, for all his planning, for all his attempts, all the tweaking and changes, all the healing he had done. This was it, he would die barely yards from the very people he had been trying so hard to save, and he would carry their secret to his grave.
“Bella, darling. Draw them out.” The Dark Lord ordered coldly, stepping away to haunt the shadows of the street as Bella rolled up her sleeves and smiled.
– – –
James couldn’t have said what woke him, the wards were heavy. Layers upon layers of his magic, Lily’s magic woven Caradoc’s carefully planned and meticulously cast wards. All of it held together with the warm and bright magic that was as familiar to James as his own, Sirius’ binding covering the whole plot like a shroud. The house was silent, Lily was breathing smoothly beside him and through the minding charm, he could hear that Harry was burbling to himself in his cot. And yet something was wrong.
He slid from the bed and dressed quickly, unwilling to face whatever had woken him in anything less than his full uniform. Willing to take the embarrassment of restacking Lily’s notes in battle armour if it turned out that it was the crash of falling paper that had roused him. He walked through the single-story cottage with care, checking every room and keeping his wand at the ready.
He paused at the end of the hallway, leading to the open room that made up kitchen, office and lounge. The room was brightly lit and yet James was looking directly at the unlit bulb of the ceiling light. He readied himself and crept closer and closer to the door, drawing a mirror from his pocket to glance around the corner. The room was empty. Nothing in the house could have woken him, and yet nothing outside the house could reach them.
He walked across the kitchen carelessly, no one in the street would be able to see him. And as he squinted at the light, trying to work out what could possibly be causing it he saw long brown hair waft through the air.
“Sirius…” he breathed, unable to look away as he realised that Sirius was knelt in the centre of the green being blasted with spell after spell. Through the glare, he saw a familiar form and with a curse, he staggered back from the window. “LILY! GET UP,” he raced back through the house, carefully gathering Harry from the cot and bundling him into clothes. As he tugged the thick winter coat over his son’s arms, Lily arrived beside him.
“What’s going on?” she asked sleepily,
“Lily, You need to take Harry and go. You need to run, run as far as you can. To your cousin in America perhaps and if I don’t join you… change your name, make a life for yourself and never forget that I love you.” He said pressing a desperate kiss against her lips even as she tried to speak.
“James!? I’m not going anywhere without you.” She finally managed to say as he pressed Harry into her arms.
“For once in your life, Lily, don’t question this. Please, Please,” the last word almost a sob, “I can’t do this if you are here and I can’t abandon him. Please for Harry’s sake. Go.” He reached into his pocket and handed her his spare wand, she never had quite shaken the habit of not carrying her’s with her all the time. Trusting that she would do the right thing James turned his back and ran through the house and out of the doors, as soon as he hit the street he cast a patronus, sending the ghostly messenger on its way with a call of, “To the ministry, He is here!” before raising his wand and casting an offensive spell at Bella.
After that first spell, it became a blur of offence, defence, back to offence and round and round in the usual, practised and yet unpredictable, back and forth of fighting for your life.
At some point, he felt Caradoc slid into place at his side and they fought almost as one, years of experience letting them know where the other would move and how to avoid stray spells or elbows.
Fell lights lit the night sky as more Death eaters appeared to defend their leader, every time one fell it seemed that two or three or a dozen took their place. Houses crumbled and the village green’s frozen surface was churned to thick mud. Healers appeared through the chaos and snatched fallen combatants at random, uncaring if they wore the deep red of the Auror core or the black hoods of the Death Eaters.
The fight seemed endless and then came an odd lull, James found himself pushed into the middle of the battlefield and yet found no opponents facing him. He looked around sharply, taking the moment to catch his breath and ready himself. He checked for injuries and acknowledged his pain, accepting that it was there and that it was survivable so that he could return to blocking it from his thoughts.
He moved to step back into the fray when a smooth, educated, and entirely fake voice cut through the noise,”James Potter, we meet again.” Voldemort said, stepping out of the rubble of a house, “I had hoped to see your son so that I could bless him with a gift.” The Dark Lord smiled, and James felt his stomach turn with revulsion.
“You will never see him,” He said simply, keeping his breathing steady and remembering to not let himself be drawn into the monster’s mind games.
“If you hide him from me as a child then I will find him as an adult. I have a great deal of patience,”
“No, you will never see my son, any of my children or their peers, you will never see them grow or find them as adults because I will end you.” James fought for control of himself even as fury and protectiveness took over and he raged, “I will end you, tonight, tomorrow. In a year… I will see you dead.” James took a sharp breath and loosened his grip on his wand so that he could keep his movements smooth and elegant, he waited not willing to waste energy on an attack is enemy could easily deflect. His trainers’ constant reminders ‘to let your opponent be drawn out, wait until they focus on an attack to strike.’ Running through his mind like a mantra.
Voldemort laughed, a deep, loud vulgar laugh and as he did he mocked James, “Light wizards with your fascination with protecting people! Don’t you see that is your weakness, you won’t kill me. None of you will because you waste your lives giving to others instead of building yourself, you waste your strength protecting those weaker than you and their weakness becomes yours.”
“And yet your forces are losing this battle. ” James said as the sea of black slowly gave way to red.
“Foot soldiers, sinkholes for you to waste your strength on. How weak the ministry will be tomorrow… Do you want me to tell your wife that you loved her before I kill her?” Voldemort offered suddenly, the dark wizard levelling his wand at James’ head and casting a killing curse. James was frozen and the world seemed to move slowly before him.
Something slammed into him and he slammed into the mud as the bolt of green rattled away. A dozen stunners, hexes and other offensive spells shot over his head as the ranks of the Auror core finally managed to carve a path to the Dark Lord.
Voldemort cursed and with a bone-rattling crash of power apparated away, abandoning what remained of his followers.
Sirius took a breath, the queer pressure in his chest making it obvious something was broken. He tried to open his eyes only for them to fall shut again as soon as a crack of light appeared. He opened his mouth to speak but no words made it out.
“Settle, Just give yourself a moment.” Someone said from the left of him, their voice muffled and oddly distant, a sudden weight on his shoulder letting him know that they were touching him.
Sirius tried to force his eyes open again, finally succeeding in getting one to lift halfway, he rolled his head to one side, an effort that felt like turning some ancient Muggle boat. He blinked at the fuzzy shape and finally made out the slender hand that rested on his shoulder.
“Truefind?” he croaked, his throat raw and his voice breaking so the name was barely audible.
“This is hardly an improvement you know…” They drawled from above his head, managing to sound emotionless and yet deeply concerned at the same time, “You are fortunate that our agreement binds me to ensure that you survive long enough to fulfil it.”
“I thought I could save them all…” Sirius said, his chest suddenly aching as something crept down his cheek, a tear he realised when Truefind dabbed at it with a handkerchief.
“And you may well succeed, but you almost lost yourself in the process.” Truefind replied, easing a vial to Sirius’ lips and as the potion poured into his mouth they said, “I must go, there are many who will need my care this night. Be well Sirius.”
The world grew dark as his eyes closed without him wanting them to and slowly he felt himself sinking into the mattress as the potion whisked him away from the world.
“Sirius? Sirius! Come on it is time to wake up, quit being boring.” James muttered, poking at Sirius’ sore ribs as though they were still teenagers.
Sirius growled and rolled over smacking out at the annoyance to see if he could make him leave.
“Come on, that’s it. Up and at ’em you little ray of sunshine.” James called with a laugh.
Sirius forced his eyes open and realised that the hand he had thought had smacked James was caught up under heavy blankets. He twisted his head a little and glared at the man in question before shutting his eyes again and trying to get back to sleep, certain that if he ignored him for long enough he would go to bother Lily.
That thought took a moment to sink through his woolly brain but eventually, Sirius managed to ask, “Harry?” in a garbled tone.
“No… James… how long do you fucking think you were asleep for?” James joked before more seriously asking, “Should I be worried that you seem to have forgotten your best friend and think my son is old enough to watch you fart in your sleep all morning? Is that Brain damage?”
“Are you really asking the guy in a hospital bed if he has brain damaged? Nice, Potter, real nice…” Sirius’s eyes snapped open at the sound of Caradoc’s voice.
He looked exhausted, under his eyes stained and thick bruises curling across his arms and up his neck in a way that spoke of deeper bruises lurking under the vest top he was wearing.
“Well yeah, he’s a healer. I’m not going to find a new one, this one’s used to my stupid questions.” James replied even as he made it clear that he didn’t mean it, rising to his feet and easing out into the hallway.
“He’ll be gone a while, it’s chaos out there,” Caradoc said softly, dropping into the chair by the bed with a heavy thump.
“Practiced chaos, and besides that’s not chaos level shouting,” Sirius muttered, frowning at the blanket over him as though it would help him work out which ward he was on and therefore how much shouting and running he should be expecting.
Even if it was fairly calm out there James arrived back far quicker than expected, although the healer that followed him through the door was a senior apprentice, not a Journeyman healer.
“Healer Black,” the apprentice said with a smile, moving efficiently to check his vitals before transcribing it to the chart. He cast a charm that Sirius only half recognised and squinted at the results for a moment. “Master Truefind has a great deal of skill, but I’m not quite sure whether this is what I should be expecting at this stage in the process. They said a week, I must assume that they would not have left if anything was happening incorrectly.”
“They wouldn’t, and goblin healing rituals work differently,” Sirius said arching his head back a little to frown at the image of his own brain, he squinted at it and shrugged. “There’s a patch job over the area that is healing, enough to let me wake up and speak but it’s artificial wellness.” He said clinically, part of him screaming at the underlying damage he could see even as he fell into teaching mode explaining the unusual reading.
“Right, I should have seen that. The layers are obvious now I know what to look for.” The apprentice said with a nod, “He will need sleep and he should stay in bed even if he feels well…” He trailed off at the arched eyebrows that James and Caradoc were both directing at him, after a moment James said,
“Should we need consultation on his recovery we’ll ask the healer in the room who seems to know what’s going on.” He nudged Caradoc as the apprentice flushed red and left with a polite nod to Sirius, “Hey, told you it wasn’t worth fetching a different healer, Merlin, you don’t even believe in your own boyfriend…”
“Well, of course I don’t. Not when he decides to play with his cousin, what kind of stupid move is that.”
“I don’t know, possibly more clever than taunting a Dark Lord into smashing me through a wall,” Sirius muttered, still watching the projection of his brain spinning slowly. He heard Caradoc and James begin to ask questions but as they did, he began to spiral, his mind tumbling down a dark route of never healing, never walking, losing fine motor control, the indignity of losing words and stumbling over his sentences. The Goblin ritual to patch and protect while healing happened only effective so many times before it began to damage and the spell to heal the brain would only work once, the healing achieved all that was possible. He felt his heart rate begin to rise and knowing that he was falling out of control he reached for something to hold on to,
“Tell me about how we met,” he asked desperately.
Caradoc and James looking at each other in surprise before James said, “We were at the Malfoy Solstice ball and your father told you to go play in the garden so you wouldn’t make a scene. You were barely 7 and already so pretentious that if I saw you now I would think it was adorable, the spitting image of your dad right down to the button boots and three-quarter cape.” James said as though it was the cutest thing he had ever seen. “My mother was horrified, it was snowing and the Malfoys never use climate charms on their gardens. So she sent me out to keep you company, and to give her an excuse to cast a warming charm over the pair of us.”
“I told you to go away, I wasn’t allowed to talk to weakling little lighties. You pushed me off the bench for being rude.” Sirius said after James had been silent for too long, the memory managing to push back the anxiety and fear a little.
“My mother was delighted that we damaged the roses in our fight, she always was jealous of them,” James said. Somehow managing to sound like he disproved of his mother’s method of dealing with the destruction they had caused.
“My father locked me in my room for a week and then he made me go and help repair the rose beds…” Sirius muttered, still annoyed after all these years that James has got away with it entirely.
“I told my mother that I hated you and was going to never, ever, ever speak to you. I think I even cried when she said you were going to be in my year at school.” James laughed and Sirius smiled back, remembering how their feud had managed to last through every meeting they had had until they were on the train to Hogwarts and James well-bred manners forced him to lend Sirius a handkerchief to mop up the blood of his freshly broken nose.
Sirius took a deep breath as James turned to Caradoc and started to explain the competitive rose growing that half of the noble-born women of a certain age seemed to have engaged in during their childhood, only outdone by the ever-escalating greenhouse competition that Sirius’ Grandfather and the late Lord Longbottom had come to physical blows over on multiple occasions. The familiar cadence of James poking fun at the nonsense of upper class magicals, and Caradoc making more and more fake sounding impressed sounds in an accent that became more and more northern, soothed the last of the panicked thoughts out of his mind. Eventually, they began to chat and despite Sirius trying to force himself to join in every now and again he slowly slipped into sleep.
– – –
James woke up as a giant stack of newspapers were dropped into his lap by an entire parliament of annoyed looking owls, he belatedly remembered that he had forgotten to cancel his subscription before going into hiding. He caught a few of the slipping papers and carefully lowered the mound to the floor as one of the owls fluttered proudly around his head with the current morning paper. James let it fly around a few more times, proudly hooting at its colleagues, and then held out his hand for the paper and firmly glared at the entire gang until they scooted out of the room.
He dragged the bed tray over with his foot and flicked the paper open with a practised wrist movement before laying it down to inspect the packed front page. He glanced over the expected fuss over the destruction of Godric’s Hollow and analysis of the fight that had taken place. Eventually, one of the smaller articles caught his eye, ‘MUGGLE PAPERS REPORT ATTACKS! Has He Who Must Not be Named gone too far this time?’ he snorted at the ridiculous phrasing and shook his head at the clear allegiance of the writer. He glanced up at Sirius to ensure he hadn’t woken him and then began to read the article in true, by the time he had reached the end his blood was running cold. Voldemort was out of control all of his previous calculating seemed to have been disregarded and he was spiralling to the sort of destruction that would soon spread beyond Britain’s shores.
It seemed that in the last day Voldemort had wiped out half of the Midlands, sinking Liverpool, burning Birmingham and destroying Manchester along with the various towns and villages that had been literally blown from the map in an extreme show of power. If he hadn’t believed that Voldemort had followers to burn that the bodies of loyalists that littered the photos would have ensured that he was aware. He was moving faster than the Ministry’s Obliviators could cope with and by all accounts, the Muggles were reporting everything from mass hallucinations caused by trauma to a new form of religious terrorism.
As James flicked through the paper to find the Letters to the Editor, always a good source of rumours, gossip and unreportable facts. He read through one of the ongoing arguments that he had been following before he went into hiding, before finding one that mentioned the chaos that had been happening. The letter painted a stark picture, family estates were being razed, businesses that were owned by the light had been destroyed and thousands of people were missing and assumed dead. Some letters spoke of running for the content while others claimed that this madness would engulf the world bringing about the end of days, the Ragnarok of the wizarding world.
“What’s the assessment?” Sirius croaked from the bed.
“We’re doomed, either the whole of the wizarding world, Britain alone or the whole of Europe depending on the anxiety level of the writer,” James replied evenly flicking to the second page of letters.
“And your thoughts? You know I always trust you to cut through the nonsense in the letters and bring me the facts.” Sirius said, pushing up to rest against the headboard.
“Britain had already fallen, we just never have known how to not fight to the bitter entrails, Europe is heavily threatened, but the influx of refugees will force the hand of the European Council and with them will come the rolling of the World council. He has become too much of a threat to ignore, he is attacking Muggles and magical alike with no respect for maintaining secrecy. There will be a far bigger war. And I am not sure we will survive it. ” James said without looking up, each word spoken precisely in a way that he knew was cold, it was the only way to keep from cracking.
“Where’s Lily? Did she take Harry somewhere safe or did she just head to the continent?”
“I don’t know, I told her to run and not look back. We had discussed it, that if we had enough warning, if someone was attacking the house, she would take Harry and go, and I wouldn’t know what she had planned.” James looked up at his friend, chewing his lip to hold his composure. “She wanted me to take him, said that I had a better knowledge of our world so I could take him somewhere safer, but I insisted. She has a better chance of hiding, who could turn away a witch with her brilliance? Even if her name was as fake as they come.”
“You sent her away with no plan to find her? James, Harry deserves to know his father and grow up with both his parents.” Sirius snapped, seeming oddly angry about it.
“Harry deserves to grow up!” James shouted back, “My son deserves to live in a world where he is treated like an equal, his blood status should be irrelevant not a cause of persecution. He deserves to grow up without some bastard dark lord hanging over his head, or a war waging on his doorstep, he deserves to not be a refugee waiting to see if today is the day that he becomes a citizen of some new state or if it is the day he is to be executed. So, yes, I sent Lily away, I gave her everything she needed to hide in our world, and I hope that she uses it well enough that even I cannot find her.” His voice broke on the last words and James turned to punch the wall. He took sobbing breaths before darkly saying, “I am sick of my family being hunted, and if it costs losing my son to let him be free of this damned war than let that be the cost. I would give my life for him a dozen times and so would Lily, losing each other be it forever or until this is over is hardly worth weeping over.”
Sirius made an odd noise behind him as though he was choking back words but when James turned back his friend simple nodded at him, face blank and whatever he had intended to say rethought.
“You and Lily really consider your lives a fair cost for Harry’s life?” Sirius asked
“Every moment that we would lose, I would give a thousand times to watch my son live a good life,” James replied, Sirius nodded, the words seeming to settle some argument his friend was having in his own head. “I would want him to live a life free of evil but it seems that we are cursed so that each generation will end up warring against its own dark lord, but at least is He was gone then there is some chance that another country will have to take its turn next.
“Even if you don’t know where Harry is, He is going to come for you.” Sirius said “He intends to end the boy”
James looked at his friend sharply, trying to remember exactly how much he had told him when the building shuddered and some distant alarm began to wail.
Sirius straightened from his slump sharply as though he intended to race off to somewhere before seeming to think better of it and saying, “James, pass me those slippers and the housecoat would you.”
James passed them to him quickly before leaning out of the door to ask if he could help.
Outside the room was madness, Healers seemed to apparating back and forth, grabbing patients and whisking them away with their charts before returning quickly to grab the next, and yet when James reached out to apparate, the wards held him fast and refused to let him go anywhere. When one of the healers landed close to him James shouted, “What’s going on? I’m an Auror, how can I help?”
The healer looked at him for a half second before shouldering him out of the way and striding into Sirius’ room, “You can help by taking this, ” The healer snatched the amulet that was almost always around Sirius’ neck off the bedside table, “Take him first to get a bearing for where it is sending you and the comeback and take as many as you can stand to carry. The hospital is under attack.” The healer nodded to Sirius and ran out of the room.
“Sirius?” James said as he collected the chart from the end of the bed,
“It’s kind of true.” Sirius said quietly, looping his arm around James’s neck so that they could apparate, “The hospital is under attack, but that alarm means that the wards have been breached and patients are already dying. He must have worked quickly.”
James wrapped his arm around Sirius and focused on letting the Amulet lead him to where ever had been arranged, magic drawing him alone and vicious tendrils sweeping over him multiple times to feel for the amulet’s permissions.
“This way, we must clear the area.” A sharp German woman said, inserting herself under Sirius’ other arm before adding, “Well, I have him, go, go. Fetch the next!” James blinked at her for a moment, moving automatically out of the way of the healer who was landing beside him. He watched her tow Sirius towards a long row of constantly shifting beds before shaking himself and apparating back to the hospital.
He worked for hours moving patient after patient as the hospital shuddered and crumbled below his feet, the last time he landed in the safe place that had been arranged someone grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the way. He was handed a pepper up potion and half shoved half poured into a chair as someone said, “There are no more we can save. The last floor has been breached.”
“Have we heard from the ministry? The Auror Core? The Wizengamot? Anyone?” James asked, his whole body slightly numb from the constant use of magic after months of sitting at home.
“The ministry has fallen, what remains of the Auror core withdrew to the international training ground. Do you know where you are?”
“I thought Germany, but you’re Swiss? And that man is South African?” James pointed at the healer deep in discussion with the healer beside him, he floundered for a moment and then finally said, “Merlin, we are in the international court space. Britain has fallen.”
“Have you seen a Potter? James Potter… 5″ 10′, dark very scruffy hair, he was wearing dragonhide last time I saw him. He would have a healers Amulet…”
“Healer’s amulet and dragonhide? Rings a bell, he was down near the court trying to find any remaining British officials.” The South African Healer said to Sirius as he read the notes clipped to his housecoat. “You should be in bed, I would hate to Truefind to get pissed that we messed with your healing. Little fucker never works with Wizards so you must be special.”
“Not until I find him,” Sirius said the gently sway that overcame him undermining his words a little.
“Fine, we’ll find your boyfriend but then you are staying where I put you until we can find someone to assess you.” The healer said firmly.
“He’s not my… he’s my best …. Never mind. Fine, for as long as it takes for you to find someone as long as we find James first.” Sirius spluttered.
The South African pointed firmly at a floating chair and Sirius sank into it without an ounce of hesitation. He was whisked through the halls until they reached an antechamber for the main international court. Sirius heard James long before he could see him and the words he could hear were deeply worrying.
“Look, all I need you to tell me is has Hogwarts been evacuated. It’s a school. Children and the infirm first, that is what international law states! You have everyone who could be saved from St. Mungo’s here, but I haven’t seen a single child.” James was half stating firmly and half shouting at some senior member of the court.
“Lord Potter, much as I would like to answer your query you are not one of the designated professionals who can make such demands, and from our last records, you are not an official of the British Wizengamot. I cannot tell you,” The official replied
“My father died 6 months ago, my family have been hunted by a dark lord for months longer than that. My best friend had to arrange his funeral because I couldn’t risk going, when was I meant to officially join the Wizengamot. There is no one left, and my family have a seat, which I am the only person left to hold. Please just tell me,” James begged, Sirius rose to his feet and walked up behind him.
“I’m a healer, which makes me a designated professional by order of the international court’s own law, even if the British government didn’t state it directly. So you can tell me and my proxy, James Potter.”
“Very well, it certainly is a solution to the issue at hand. Hogwarts was evacuated upon the death of its headmaster. The students have been relocated to Beaubaxtons until their parents can be located. I am afraid Britain has been left without defence, all but a few of your Auror core fell in the battle this morning or during the attacks last night, the Wizengamot is half declared followers of Him and the other half are homeless or dead. Albus Dumbledore faltered at the last moment and was unable to deal the blow we had hoped he could.”
“Merlin,” Sirius breathed, collapsing back into the chair that was hastily whisked under his failing knees.
“Indeed, while he was content to pick at the British ministry and fight for control within the restriction of the law he was controlled, manageable. Terrible, and destructive but manageable. He seems to have come across a ritual, an old one, where he can use the sacrifice of those around him to grow his own power. Traditionally it was used when one intended to fight your greatest foe, to steal their power at the moment of their death but he seems to have used it on his followers.” The official said, her voice measures and showing none of the horror that her words entailed. “Great power, huge amounts of unmanaged power often bring madness, and it would seem that Voldemort had fallen into that trap of letting the need for power and the hunger it brings drive you.”
“What can we do about him? Will he weaken when he runs out of followers?” James asked quietly,
“We do not know, the last time that a Dark Lord took this path, drew this much-stolen power to himself was at the Fall of Atlantis.”
“Seal the country and sink it? That worked for an island but for a country the size of Britain? Surely not.” Sirius said sharply catching on to her meaning before James.
“The International court shall debate the best way to deal with Him but given the path he has taken and the cost of life already lost, we cannot afford to let his power spread to the rest of Europe.” The official said with a half bow, turning and walking away into the courtroom.
Sirius’s breath came shallowly and he looked up at James, blinking a few times before asking, “Have you heard from Caradoc?”
James blanched and glanced away, “He left yesterday to get his sisters out when we heard about the attacks in the north. He didn’t come back and I tried to apparate to him earlier, but I couldn’t find him. My patronus just circled when I sent it to him…”
Sirius watched James try to talk his way around it but after a moment he took pity and said, ” So he’s dead and Lily is beyond reach with Harry, Britain is going to sink and even if it doesn’t life as we know it is gone. And if they wait too long to decide then he will attack beyond our borders and the world will face the same fate as Britain until civilisation crumbles or some great sacrifice is made.” James watched him with trepidation as Sirius fell into silence.
The silence stretched on for uncomfortably long, no-one seeming willing to break it until James eventually asked, “What do you want to tell me? I know that look, Sirius, I’ve been watching you make it for more than half our lives.”
Sirius just sighed and glanced around at the Healer who was still hovering in the doorway, “You might as well go, Truefind knows me well enough that they will only berate me if I ruin their healing. Someone else will benefit more from your help than I can.” He waited for the healer to leave before looking up at James and after a few false starts he confessed everything that he had done since he fell through the veil.
– – –
James handed Sirius the handful of potions that he had managed to procure from various unattended trolleys about the makeshift hospital, Sirius checked each one and knocked them back in quick succession.
“Ready?” James asked offering Sirius his arm to help him out of the chair.
“Are you? I don’t know how this will go. I’ve seen that each cycle continues on until I make a change further back. You could end up stuck.” Sirius said even as he allowed James to take most of his weight and lead him to the edge of the Apparition point.
“It will be worth it, we can do better. You can end this war and me being stuck in London as it burns is hardly a cost I’m unwilling to pay.” James tugged Sirius tighter against him, wrapping his best friend into a bear hug and carefully visualising the outer edges of the Department of Mysteries.
James fought through a moment of unease as they were pulled towards their destination, half expecting to end up being bounced off the wards to somewhere else nearby. Even as he began to half form a new plan for getting into the ministry they arrived in a black tiled corridor.
Sirius tapped him on the shoulder and pointed towards a doorway on one side of the corridor, around them they could hear rooms being ransacked and the odd researcher who had managed to survive to this point fighting against the invaders. James shouldered a little more of Sirius weight and quickly helped him through the doorway and through the large hall of memory orbs.
James was pulled to a halt just before they stepped into a long narrow corridor, Sirius had grabbed the corner and pulled himself out of James grip. James dropped back against the opposing wall and waited for Sirius to speak.
“We can go back, leave now, while it’s safe and help the Council make the right choice. Maybe we stand a chance of ending this war here and we’ll search for Lily.”
James rolled his eyes at him and shook his head, stepping forward to pull him away from the wall.
“You’re getting worse, do you think I can’t see you getting weaker. We wouldn’t be looking for Lily. I would and you will be… gone for all purposes.” James towed Sirius down the corridor and out into the chamber that held the informal Veil. “If I have to lose my home, my brother, my friends and spend the next few years hoping to find my brilliant wife. Then I would rather lose it knowing that you are trying to make it better, that perhaps everything will be reset.”
James helped Sirius up the steps and stopped inches from the Veil.
“Come with me,” Sirius said simply, James’ heart broke a little but the thought of going back and trying again hurt even more.
“I couldn’t do it, knowing what I know, how could I let her stay, how could I make myself stay and wait for Him to come. There’s no other way but I couldn’t do it.”
“But you’re asking me to?”
“You’ve tried everything else and it didn’t work. This is our last option. I don’t want to ask you to do this but I’m giving you permission. I’m sorry, I am so sorry that I’m leaving you literally holding the baby. And I forgive you, if you need that, I forgive you for not saving us.”
“James…” Sirius began to speak but there was a loud crash and a rattle of thousands of voices echoes as the memory orbs were destroyed.
“Go. Go now,” James said, pushing Sirius towards the Veil and turning his back on him to face the oncoming Death Eaters.
– – –
Sirius staggered through the veil backwards, his strength failing him more quickly than he had thought it would when he realised that Truefind’s spell was faltering. He hit the sand harshly, the breath knocked from him as he slammed down.
He took a breath and pushed himself up on strong arms, the window already broken into shards at his feet and Sirius refused to torture himself by looking at any of the windows that lay in the future. He sat all the way up and pulled his knees into his chest, resting his forehead on top of them so he could block the world out.
“You cannot stay here.” Death’s creature said from a few feet behind him.
“I know, I know that and I have done this enough times to know that even if I wanted to stay I would be tempted to see if this time I can fix it,” Sirius said wearily without lifting his head, his words muffled in the hollow between legs and chest.
“Then avoid the wait and simply pick your moment and go,” The creature said firmly,
“I will leave when I am ready, I am tired and I know what I must do next, but I have no desire to rush towards it,” Sirius said, shutting his eyes and ignoring whatever the creature said next.
He let his mind wander, remembering the upset and anger that James had done a poor job at hiding as Sirius confessed all the ways that he had failed his family. Part of him wanted to doubt the assurances that James had given that the anger was at how Sirius had suffered, the upset was at the way that Sirius had been betrayed and left with no-one to call upon for help. Sirius knew that he had been abandoned but he had never really considered that he hadn’t deserved it, he had pushed away from the thought that he could deserve better every time it crossed his mind.
He rose to his feet and walked to a window early in his life, he drew back the shroud and watched as his mother screamed, curses flying as he cried on the library floor. His father sat in the background ignoring the chaos as he always did, raising children was the work of wives and servants. He couldn’t remember what had set her raging, but he remembered that it was his fault, it was always his fault even when it wasn’t.
“You saw it, but you never said that I didn’t deserve it,” Sirius said, dropping the shroud back down and turning to face the creature.
“You were the only friend I had who didn’t, you were the only one who saw it for what it was from the moment we met, and you were the only one who didn’t care.” Sirius looked at the creature, its hood moved and while the shadows still hid its face it was clear that it was looking at him. “I should have known you would betray us, I should have seen the callus and cold soul in you. But I thought I knew Evil.” He gestured back at the window and his mother’s spitting image.
“It is not my place to speak of what has come before, I am here to guide you on your journey and your journey alone.” The creature said carefully.
“I used to think you were a coward, then that you only cared for power, for a while I pitied you. But you never felt anything, did you. Your entire life was about control, even now you have taken a post that allows you to manipulate people and control things while making it look like you are a pawn.” Sirius took a deep breath and moved to the window he had used last. He reminded himself of James’ words and braced himself for the task ahead.
“You did one good thing, Peter, you accepted an offer that removed you from destroying your friends’ lives. I suppose I should thank you for that,” Sirius said as he pressed against the window and instantly reached out to steady himself on the bannister rail as he laughed at whatever his apprentice had just said.
Sirius woke in the middle of the night, alone and with nothing to have disrupted his sleep. Even the road outside the flat was empty, the usual dull roar of Muggle cars absent at this late an hour. He brushed his magic against the wards and let them push back against him warmly, assuring him that they were strong and able to protect.
He pushed up to rest against the headboard and snatched up his wand to cast a tempus, the time glowing brightly in the darkness of the room. It was 11pm on the 31st of October.
Sirius shut his eyes and let his head fall back to rest on the wall, somewhere out there Severus Snape would be whispering the location of the Potters to his precious master in the hope of exchanging the life of a child for that of a woman who would never love him. Peter had spilt his secret in a show of usefulness at one of Voldemort’s rituals, to keep from dying. Snape would do the same to assure the Dark Lord of his obedience in the face of the rumours that Sirius had asked Remus to spread and the ones that he had planted in the ears of Malfoy, Nott and any other follower he had managed arrange to meet.
Sirius felt the monitoring spell he woven into the plants that bordered the Potter’s cottage wail a desperate alarm before fading away as the plants were destroyed.
He rolled from the bed and dressed quickly, sinking down to perch on the end of the bed as he waited. The spell on the kitchen garden flared and faded. He cast another tempus, 11:30. He forced himself to breathe through the next few minutes before pushing away the urge to apparate to Godric’s Hollow and carefully picturing the foyer of the Ministry.
He landed neatly and instantly cast a firework spell into the air, harmless but showy and noisy to attract attention. Aurors arrived in seconds to see who was attacking the ministry and as they flooded the space he yelled,
“He is attacking Godric’s Hollow. He’s attacking the Potters.”
Summoning charms filled the air as the Aurors dressed with haste, scrambling too ready for the attack. Caradoc paused to pat him on the arm and shout, “You were right to come here first. Get Harry and get out.” before rushing to apparate away.
Sirius waited for the last Auror to disappear before counting to ten and finally letting himself apparate directly into Harry’s nursery.
He refused to look back through the broken door and the room where he knew Lily would lie. He brushed a finger over Harry’s forehead and the scar that marred it before wrapping the squalling baby in his blanket, snatching up his toy lion and tucking both inside his jacket to protect them from both the cold night air and the drag of magic as he apparated away. He landed in St Mungo’s to find the entire emergency team waiting.
“I didn’t hear any fighting. He is gone and He came alone. There was only Harry left.” He said, the words falling from numb lips, he had known that it was coming, he had planned this, he had arranged it all and yet somehow it was still a shock, his body reacting as though this had come from nowhere.
Hargrove stepped forwards and the team suddenly swung into action, two of them quickly guiding him to sit on a bed as another raced off to grab potions. Hargrove gently unbuttoned his jacket and rocked Harry against her chest as she cast a diagnostic charm. Sirius blinked as he realised that Harry had been wailing the entire time. He reached out for him only to be handed a potion as Hargrove called for a curse specialist. He pushed the potion away and managed to say,
“Truefind, call Truefind,” before allowing the healer beside him to force the vial into his hand.
He twisted the vial to read the label and place it down beside him, “You aren’t sedating me.”
“You are in shock, Sirius, it will take the edge off it,” someone whose name he had long forgotten said from beside him.
“I may well be but I’m fine… I’ll be fine. Hargrove, give him here,” he said She looked at him assessingly before carefully shooing him back to sit on the bed properly before placing Harry in his lap.
Sirius looked at him for a second before scooping him up and tucking him against his shoulder, nonsense words falling from his lips and he rocked back and forth. As Harry’s wailing settled and he sleepily yawned against Sirius’s shoulder, Hargrove ushered her team away and pulled the thin privacy curtain around. She stepped back in to silently hand him a handkerchief and sit beside him, her shoulder warm against his.
“Truefind is on their way, apparently this is an ‘at damned last’ situation, just so you know.” She muttered when he had finally mopped his face and was managing to take even breaths
“Yeah, I expected that. In fact, I think I’m going to get quite the telling off, and I suspect that I entirely deserve it.” Sirius replied, pausing to clear his throat when his voice caught.
“Well that sounds like there is a story behind it but if it is the kind of story that would make Truefind annoyed at you then I am certain that I never want to hear it.”
“That is probably pretty accurate, you really don’t want to know. I don’t even think I want to know. I would rather just forget it all, but I suspect that I don’t have that privilege.” Sirius muttered.
“We don’t have to suffer alone, I know it’s an old school, stiff upper lip pureblood tradition to let your ills fester but…”
“I don’t have to, I know. I don’t think I ever really believed that before, but I think I’m starting to understand the concept these days.” Sirius interrupted her,
“These days? These days, he says like he’s some old man reflecting on his life. These days!” Hargrove mocked lightly grinning at him as she stood, “There will be hard days ahead, remember that you still have friends, Black.”
Sirius looked at her and she winced at her choice of words and sighed before patting him awkwardly on the opposite shoulder to Harry and leaving him alone.
– – –
Truefind arrived and made a show of inspecting Harry before looking at Sirius with a speculative eye.
“What? I apparated in and straight back out, no running into someone who could curse me or risking being contaminated by lingering magic, I even got the protective spells on my jacket updated to include a set of magic absorbing runes in case the Magic was clinging to Harry or something!” Sirius blurted out after a tense moment, the frustration and worry over having somehow got this wrong again spilling out in hurried words.
“Yes, you are perfectly fit and healthy, in need of good sleep but that is of little concern. I was considering what I should charge you for the wasting of my ritual?” Truefind said dryly, tapping their fingernails together in a Goblin display of self-amusement.
“My apologies for returning myself to perfect health bypassing the need for the ritual you kindly provided.” Sirius replied, “So you can get that soul shard out of Harry this time? I’m healthy enough and I’m his godfather, which makes him my family in all the ways that matter.”
“Yes, I can although we will need a true ritual space. This is not something that can be made to fit a wizarding ritual space, as I would usually attempt when healing a wizard. And only those who are undertaking an education with a goblin master crafter are allowed to enter the ritual spaces of my kind.”
“Then so be it, you shall have my promised time. I had intended to wait until he was a little older until things were more… settled, but if that is the cost to be rid of the Dark Lord, the cost of Harry’s health, then there is no better option,” Sirius said evenly offering his hand to Truefind.
Truefind looked at him firmly, they raised an eyebrow and then took Sirius’s hand. With no words being exchanged, a golden glow settled over their hands as a sign of a formal vow being observed and witnessed by their magics.
“You should rest, go home and find comfort in knowing that your task is nearing its end. Once we have banished this soul fragment the others shall crumble under the weight of our magics.” Truefind bared their teeth in pleasure at the thought.
“I delight to be able to lay such a terrible foe at your feet so you might have the pleasure of laying him to waste,” Sirius replied formally.
Truefind pulled a small amulet from their pocket and placed it gently around Harry’s neck.
“I gift you with my youngest child’s charm for health and sharp-mindedness, may it let you bring honour and riches upon your family.” They said to Harry before looking up at Sirius, “It will hold at bay any solution of his mind from the dark magics for a short time, but you will need to perform magic cleaning rituals daily until we are prepared to extract the shard. “
Truefind nodded sharply without waiting for a reply then brushed their way passed the curtains, repeating their instruction to simply send them home to whoever was waiting for their assessment.
Sirius tucked the amulet into Harry’s clothes and nestled him back into the protective warmth of his jacket once he had shrugged it back on. He looked around the makeshift cubicle and collected the stuffed lion that had fallen off the bed before opening the curtain.
The emergency ward was half empty, the usual collection of drunkards and clumsy researchers who had managed to have an experiment go astray in the middle of the night littering it. A few Aurors were perched on beds, healers treating their burns or assessing their injuries or lounging in the waiting room chairs for their partners to be released, hoods pulled up so they could nap under the glaring lights.
One of the Aurors looked up sharply and knocked their hood back as Sirius made his way towards the main doors. Caradoc rose to his feet clumsily, clearly half awake, and made his way over to them.
“Home?” he asked softly, tugging Sirius’ jacket aside to look at Harry sleeping.
“Home,” Sirius said, leaning his shoulder against Caradoc’s until the other man looped his arm around his shoulders and squeezed.
“I don’t think I can focus enough to apparate, it’s been a long night.”
“It’s been a long week,” Sirius replied softly, thinking of the string of attacks that had kept most of the Auror core hopping from crisis to crisis. “Let’s go to bed before someone decides they need one of us to work.” He said leading the way out of the hospital quickly.
“I am not going to work unless someone sets half of Britain alight!’ Caradoc said dryly.
Sirius stiffened and sharply said, “Don’t joke, until every Death eater is rounded up there’s still a risk that…”
“They are a leaderless rabble, half of them are running around like mad march hares trying to figure out what He would want them to do and the other half are slinking back to their mansions and colluding over the best way to claim that they had no choice,” Caradoc replied as they crossed the park opposite St Mungo’s.
“How long until…” Sirius cleared his throat and tried again, “How long until they’ll be done with the cottage?”
Caradoc pulled away a little as they left the park, a noisy group of Muggles were stood across from them waiting to cross the road. Sirius looked at him as they waited for the lights to change.
“I brought them to the morgue myself, the grounds that the cottage was on are probably never going to be safe to inhabit again.”
Sirius just nodded as they crossed the road waiting for the Muggles to be out of hearing before he said, “We’ll need to arrange a funeral, but I think I know what we need to do for that, it’s all very formalised.”
“You just hire someone, and they do it all sort of formalised or there is a very strict and very strange etiquette where you have to personally do everything in order for it be proper?” Caradoc sighed, Sirius could tell that he was attempting to lighten the tone with a well-worn mocking argument but too tired to put any real effort into it.
“Actually, it is a really strange mixture of the two, but I’m not sure I care if I offend people.”
Caradoc snorted and dropped his arm back over Sirius’ shoulder to triumphantly hiss, “I win, I have corrupted you with my disrespectful Muggle-born lack of giving a damn.”
Sirius leant against the wall of their building as Caradoc fumbled with his keys for a moment before unlocking the door and they traipsed up the stairs to their flat in silence.
Caradoc dropped onto the couch as Sirius started transfiguring one of the desks, hastily cleared by way of scraping everything onto the floor, into a cot. As Sirius cursed the stubborn leather writing top that refused to change into something a little more fitting, Caradoc said, “Should we move?”
Sirius looked at him like he was insane and said, “What? No, why would we move? We have a great ward set up, the neighbours only complain if someone gets arrested, we have a spare room and…” he trailed off as he placed Harry in the cot, placing a hushing ward over it to block the sound from disturbing him.
“And Lily wanted a garden so he would grow up with greenery, James wanted to be in the countryside so he would know the freedom that he did as a kid. And you hate London so much that only the fact that my flat was close enough for you to walk home from work convinced you to move out of Potter Manor.” Caradoc said in a stunned tone.
Sirius frowned at him for a moment and stopped to consider how he had felt as a young man, remembering the arguments that had raged as Caradoc refused to move into Potter Manor, and in with James’ parents, and he had refused to move to London, especially into a Victorian townhouse. After a moment he shrugged and said, “London’s grown on me and you love living in a city.”
“I loved living in a city and then I realised that I can apparate anywhere I want. Live 4 hours from work, not a problem, just apparate in. Don’t want to apparate, just use the floo,” Caradoc said easily and Sirius looked at the way that he was kneeling up on the sofa, young and despite all the horror of the day finding it in himself to look to the future.
He smiled, took a long cleansing breath and said the first thing that came into his mind, “I want a greenhouse,” Caradoc grinned back at him and he added, “And I have to finish my mastery but after that, I want to work part time and stay at home with Harry.”
The ritual space seemed to be deep below Gringotts, but Sirius knew that they had passed into the Goblin realm the instant that they had left the main floor of the bank. If he hadn’t realised that, then the unearthly gems, beautiful but disquieting, that took the place of standing stones would have been a clear hint.
The chamber was glorious, a tall arching ceiling threaded with opal and gold, Gems shooting from the floor of the chamber as though they had been grown in the perfect position and the entire place sang with ancient magics. The power was a visceral, writhing creature curling up against him with interest before darting away. If this was the power that Goblins called on, then it was hardly surprising that their rituals could so easily outmatch Wizarding ones.
“There are few Wizards who would fascinate her so, but Gaia has always enjoyed Healers who have danced with Death. That is why many of our healers are those who have birthed a child or taken a great wound in a war of a different kind.” Truefind said as the magic pushed against Sirius again.
“She feels so old, so much older than even the ancestral magics that inhabit our oldest ritual spaces,” Sirius said quietly.
“Time for my people moves differently to yours, but you knew that,” Truefind said carrying a smooth hollowed out gem to the centre of the circle, they filled it with water and dropped a clear orb into the water. “Place the child into the water, and we shall call upon her power to separate the broken Dark Lord from the true inhabitant of the body.”
Sirius turned and lifted Harry from the blanket he was playing on quietly, he gently placed him in the water and splashed a little until he giggled. He glanced at Truefind and at the nod, he was given he carefully cast a spell that would ease Harry into an ensorcelled, dreamless sleep.
“He’s sleeping, now what?” Sirius asked softly,
“Now you appeal to Gaia, I had thought that until you had completed your mastery you would need help to encourage her close enough, but it would seem you have a true healer’s soul.”
“What do you mean? I always wanted to be a healer, to fix people and make them well but that hadn’t changed,” Sirius said in confusion. Truefind looked at him like he was a naive child.
” No, no, you have a healer’s soul. You have walked into the arms of death and found the strength to heal what ills you. Healer, you have healed yourself and so have completed the most difficult task that could be laid at your feet.”
Sirius knew that to argue with Truefind was a fool’s task, but he put that to one side to discuss later and instead asked,
“Is there anything I should say? A particular ritual I should use?”
“No, reach inside and find your strength. That will tell you how to call on her.” Truefind replied easily, stepping back out of the circle. “When it has been banished, I shall help to capture it in the orb.
Sirius looked down at Harry, shut his eyes and reached for the anger, fear and pain that years of dealing with Voldemort and the aftermath had brought. Any words that he could have thought to say were lost to him and as he focused, he felt his magic build and flow out of the wand he hadn’t truly realised that he was holding. He felt the magic rush up to him, pause and then turn. And like an arrow it flew away from him towards the cause of the hurt, that something deep inside him claimed removing from his patient would ease it.
Sirius fell to his knees, the raw power that was coiling and flowing around him overwhelming until suddenly it was gone.
Beyond the circle, he could hear Truefind calling out some chant in an ancient tongue and he forced himself to look up at the bath where Harry lay. He saw a writhing ethereal mass rising from the basin and something drove him forwards. He reached into the basin and grabbed the clear orb that Truefind had placed there; he tossed it upwards into the centre of the cloud and watched as it seemed to pause.
As the orb floated he lifted Harry from the water, letting the magic prod him into doing what it wanted, and as soon as he had done so, Truefind’s chanting grew louder, more forceful and warlike until the mass seemed to shrink in and in until it was contained in the orb. The orb crashed down into the water and Sirius span so that his back was towards it, the water splashing against his heavy robes rather than skin.
There was an unfathomable silence, heavy and yet somehow not true silence, a gentle hiss of sand, a hiss of whispers and tread of feet. Sirius spun around half expecting to see Death’s creature lurking behind him and yet all there was, was a basin of still water and Truefind waiting with crossed arms.
“Break the circle,” Truefind instructed,
“Our work is done, let all return to the earth, let the powers we seek and find rest, our work is done,” he said, the formal words falling easily from his lips regardless of if they were the right ones for the moment or the place. The silence lifted, and Sirius heard his breath and the pounding of his blood, suddenly aware of their previous absence.
The magic swirled around the space as it had before and when it coiled around him like a restless cat Sirius smiled, “Thank you, Gaia, may we meet again.”
“I never choose wrong, you have instinct, Wizard.” Truefind said sharply. “I shall give you a book to study, it is a guide to our rituals and chants, but the hardest work is done. I shall summon you when I require your aid, and such shall be your mastery trials.”
“What about…” he faltered over how to describe it and gestured back at the basin.
“I am a healer, it is for the war mages to deal with that one.” Truefind replied. “Worry not, when we capture a Dark Lord or a piece of their work, the Goblin hoard will not rest until they are eradicated from this earth in their entirety.”
Sirius looked back at the basin one more time as Truefind pressed a slender hand to his back and guided him out of the chamber. As they left a heavily armoured goblin entered the chamber and a new chant was taken up. Sirius felt something akin to Gaia brush passed him but it felt like rage rather than playfulness. He shuddered and let himself be hurried back towards the elevator to the main bank.
“How long will their work take?” Sirius asked as they rose a dozen floors and through the joining of realms.
“Hours, Days perhaps even months or years. There is no telling, he spread himself thin and yet he carried much power, he marked his followers with a slither of his magic, all these things could shorten or elongate the time it takes to truly end him.” Truefind said easily.
“Eleven years,” Sirius said, “if not too much of how he worked has changed then we have eleven years before he comes into enough strength to affect our world again.”
“Do not fret over it, we have a power over him that he could not have planned for. He made an error in so easily splitting his soul,” Truefind bared their teeth victoriously. “Go home, raise your son. Study and heal, do not fret over soon to be dead Dark Lords.”
The elevator arrived at the main floor of the bank and Sirius found himself being guided out and pushed towards the doors. As the doors swung shut behind him, leaving him blinking in the predawn light, he turned back and asked, “What about the book?”
– – –
Sirius watched the last guest at the greatly delayed funeral say their piece and leave, Caradoc had spoken early so that he could take Harry in out of the cold and so Sirius was once more alone at the graveside.
“I don’t know what to say, you sent me here to see this through and yet if you hadn’t then it seems we would have ended up here anyway.” Sirius took a deep breath of icy air, letting it billow back out slowly like smoke rising from the mouth of a dragon. “I wish I could still say I was angry, perhaps anger would make this easier. But I’m not angry, I’m not even upset. I’m just numb. Although I am sorry Lily, you deserved a choice in this, but you always did seem to agree on things once you were both adults.”
He tossed the silver coated salt, the thorny branch and sprig of rosemary into the grave, “May your path be smooth, Death carry you swiftly, and all that you left unfinished passed to others. Your family ushers you on your way and welcomes your magic to strengthen our lives. Walk your path well and don’t look back. May we all meet again in the lands beyond Death. May your magic run through us with Strength, Faith, and Heart.”
He nodded to the gravedigger and handed them two pieces of silver as they came to stand beside him. As they sent the earth tumbling back down to fill the grave Sirius turned away and walked back towards the main house.
He walked through the beautiful gardens, blooming under the climate charm that he had lovingly restored so that Lily’s garden could flourish all year around. The orangery doors opened for him as he walked up to them and from behind a bed, he could hear Kreacher muttering as he wrestled some seedlings into new pots. Sirius brushed his fingers over a blooming aconite plant before heading deeper into the house, carefully ensuring the doors were firmly shut to keep Harry from making his way in with the plants.
He followed the quiet hum of voices into the kitchen and smiled at Caradoc when he looked up at him before turning back to his conversation.
“Remus was just telling me that he’s leaving the county, where did you say you were heading,” Caradoc said,
“I didn’t,” Remus replied, as always he seemed thin and tired, “It’s too risky to stay, perhaps in a few years when the memory of the war starts to fade a little and attitudes begin to relax again, I’ll return. But for now, people are still scanning every customer for a hint of dark magic and that includes curses on people.”
“It was always a risk, but I can understand why you would go. There’s always the risk that someone would remember the role you played in the war and throw you under the bus to save their own hide.”
Remus looked at him in surprise, “I didn’t know that you knew where Dumbledore had sent me,” he said after a while,
“I wasn’t told but you disappeared and suddenly the Aurors were somehow arresting Dark creatures who sympathised with Voldemort,” Sirius said bluntly.
“Right, I guess that was obvious to you, well and James I suppose.”
“When were you planning on leaving, I can brew you some wolfsbane if you wait a few days,” Sirius offered realising how harsh his words must have seemed.
“I’m going to Australia, they have a closed reserve – it’s not ideal but it is a modicum of freedom. There’s a research centre, I’ll be able to finish my degree and work without having to worry,” Remus said tightly. Sirius caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and glanced in the direction that Caradoc had gestured, a carpetbag lay in the corner and Sirius looked at his old friend.
“I guess this is a farewell then, I would ask you to write but you have always hated that.” Sirius swallowed down the lump in his throat, “End of the Marauders, I guess we should have realised that once we weren’t school boys anymore.”
“No one ever wants to admit their childhood is over,” Caradoc said before excusing himself, “I should check on Harry, Kreacher was muttering about milk thistle for his pallor earlier.”
Sirius and Remus looked at each other for a long moment until eventually Remus pushed back from the table and stood, “We aren’t children anymore Sirius, we can’t pretend that the world is going to suddenly accept me, and I can’t spend the rest of my life waiting to be given an opportunity. This is my chance to do some good with my life. Things were never the same after Peter, it was always you and James really.”
Sirius shook Remus’ hand when he offered it to him, but he couldn’t find the words to say anything to him, he couldn’t pretend to be the friend that he had been when he was younger and in truth, he and Remus had barely been acquaintances after Azkaban. As he opened the front door for him, Sirius finally said,
“Perhaps this is for the best, life turned out rather different from what any of us had thought. Call on me if you need anything.” He offered, knowing that it was a gesture that would never be taken up. Remus smiled at him tightly and made his way down the long drive before apparating away.
Sirius smiled at his patient tightly and quickly made a handful of notes in the chart before saying,
“As I am sure you are aware, I am obliged to report every case of someone suffering from damage due prolonged dark magic exposure, or who come in for an attempted Taint removal to the ministry and the Goblin Horde.” He tapped the silver badge that was attached to the coloured trim of his healer’s robes.
“Healer Black, I pay for private care so that it is private. Had I chosen to use the usual facilities offered by St. Mungo’s then I would have fully expected such nonsense but really, how can it be expected that we pay for our care and allow the ministry into our business.”
Sirius bit his tongue to refrain from telling his patient that it didn’t make an ounce of difference to him whether his patient was paying or not and instead calmly said, “The law is the law, your payment only withholds your name and pays for the identity charms on the room. I have no idea who you are and even if I did I would hold my silence but it is my duty to report an occurrence of those things along with a recording of the dark magic and only the dark magic. I am simply making you aware of my legal duties before we commence with your pre-treatment assessment.”
His patient shifted uncomfortably in the chair he was in before eventually asking, “What would happen if, hypothetically, I was suffering from either of those conditions and did not seek treatment?”
Sirius looked down the chart and tapped the feather end of his quill against it a few times before eventually saying, “Potentially, with a careful diet and rigorous management of the nature of the spells the patient uses, along with regular magical cleansing spells it is possible that they would lead a perfectly normal if somewhat shortened life. On the other hand, Dark magic corrodes your natural magical pathways, it can be a painful and degenerative condition. We usually see it in those who have spent a lot of time exposed to Dark creatures such as Dementors or curse breakers who regularly work with Dark objects,” Sirius said plainly, massaging his thumb over the inside of his wrist to chase away a phantom pain.
“Can you tell which is most likely, theoretically?” the patient asked leaning forwards with interest before catching himself and casually leaning backwards and crossing his ankles.
“For someone your age, general health and such, hypothetically of course?”
“Yes,” the patient sand quickly, “Yes exactly, someone like me, say I had a friend. A former friend…”
“No, not without a full health scan, and even then there is a risk that the patient simply hadn’t presented with the symptoms we would usually expect yet,” Sirius said. After a moment of silence he asked, “Should I give you a while to consider your options?” And rose to his feet to leave.
“Wait, you only give a record of the dark magic? No impression of my… the person’s magical core.”
“It is entirely anonymous,” Sirius said glancing down this watch to check the time. He started to head for the door, hoping that the patient’s indecision would give him a chance to leave on time for once.
“Healer Black,” the patient said as he put one foot through the doorway, Sirius took a deep breath and looked skyward for a moment before turning with a genial smile on his face.
“Yes, how can I help?”
“I think that I would like to… on the proviso that I will not be identified in any way, like to have the pre-procedure assessment.”
“Lovely,” Sirius said. “If you could undress and pop on the robe provided, I will be right back.”
Sirius stepped out of the door and leaned on the wall of the corridor with his eyes shut, “Thought you were ‘leaving exactly the moment that my shift ends and not a second more’ today.” Healer Tewksbury laughed.
“I am, I so am, and this is going to be the fastest magical assessment ever performed. It is Harry’s birthday tomorrow, and I have every single magical three-year-old in the country descending on my house. I have poisonous plants, and non-poisonous but definitely not friendly herbs in every corner of my garden that I have to individually ward because my House Elf is a horror who simply asks me ‘how will the children learn if the odd one doesn’t die from eating things they haven’t been told to eat’!” Sirius ranted at the ceiling as Tewksbury just clapped him on the shoulder and continued to laugh as he wandered off to his next patient. “I work one day a week and I am always here late.” He muttered before brushing down his robes and checking his hair was still fastened back neatly before heading back into doing the assessment.
He cast the charm with none of his usual chitchats and took the required recording, filling an orb with an impression of Dark magic. He used a copying charm to record the raw data rather than transcribing them as he normally would and quickly said,
“You can get dressed now, you will be sent a letter with a confirmation of your treatment plan and the clinic to attend. Excuse me,” before hurrying back out of the room, he ran down the corridor and tossed the patient file into the in tray and pressed the elevator button before racing off to Hargrove’s office.
“Dark magic recording for Truefind, I’m leaving. I’ll see you tomorrow?” he asked already heading back out of the door,
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, you and nearly a hundred toddlers in your precious plants is going to be hilarious,” Hargrove shouted after him as the elevator pinged.
Sirius reached it just in time to slide through the closing doors and hit the button for the ground floor. He bolted out of the elevator as it stopped and quickly skidded through the door that led to the basement stairs. He jumped down them four at a time and made it into the locker room with his robes halfway over his head already. He tossed them into the laundry cart, grabbed his belongings and stepped through the Floo as the second hand hit the hour.
“See, I can make it home on time,” he announced as he arrived in the kitchen before looking around and discovering that the only person who had seen his triumphant arrival was the House Elf who was cooking, “You’re impressed aren’t you Mims?”
“Master Black is very impressive with his telling the time skills.” She sniffed before turning back to the cake she was working on. Sirius pouted at her back and went hunting for his family.
He glanced into the living room and the office before heading out into the garden. He walked through the recently cleared path in the orangery, with tall fences down either side to keep curious fingers off the leaves. And out onto the patio, he paused at the top of the gentle slope that led to Lily’s cottage garden and watched as Harry chased a butterfly, behind him Caradoc was crouched down in a deep if somewhat frustrated looking conversation with Kreacher.
“Master Black ate one plant and then he never ate plants without checking again. It is good for brats to be puking and having nasty medicine to learn to not touch.” Kreacher was insisting as Sirius got close enough to hear.
“Right so if you tell me which ones are not poisonous then I can ward those and the children will only be able to eat the ones that will teach them a lesson,” Caradoc said in the voice of a man who was on the last variant of his argument before simply shaking the person in front of him.
“Kreacher is not stupid,” Kreacher declared, turning to give Sirius a ‘you deal with him’ look before popping away down an elf path. Caradoc slumped down to sit on the grass before noticing Sirius,
“Yeah, I said I would be on time. I thought you were working, and I had to be home on time,” Sirius said with a slightly confused tone
“You had to come home on time because I am going to murder your master gardener. And my shift starts in an hour and a half, I figured you would be late.”
“Yea of little faith, and honestly I’m just going to ward everything except the fruit bushes,” Sirius said with a laugh.
“Right, that’s a much better idea. I did the houseplants, I used my herbology book from 7th year.” Caradoc said in a defeated tone before adding, “You were just going to ward them all weren’t you?” Sirius nodded silently before offering Caradoc a hand up off the ground.
“I came home on time and all that happened was that my kitchen Elf gave me sass, and my fiancé has threatened to murder my treasured master gardener in front of our impressionable soon to be three year old.” Sirius lamented dramatically.
“I am very proud that you can tell the time, Sirius. I know it is a skill that many healers struggle with.” Caradoc grinned at him, Sirius narrowed his eyes at him and punched him lightly on the arm.
“Violence, violence before our impressionable, darling child… who is eating a butterfly,” Caradoc trailed off.
“You started it,” Sirius muttered hurrying across the lawn, “Harry, Harry, spit that out immediately. We do not eat bugs!”
– – –
Sirius settled into his favourite armchair with a tumbler of aged whisky and the late edition evening paper, Harry was safely in bed and every plant had been charmed and warded into harmlessness. The kitchen was filled to the brim with food that he had been strictly instructed to not touch, presents were wrapped and placed out of the reach of little fingers and he had finished the chapter in his ritual studies book that he had promised to have done before the weekend.
He popped his feet up to rest on the table and flicked open his paper. The headline was some usual nonsense but the one below stood out, “Recently cleared Death Eater suspects found dead in own homes.” Sirius read through the article, a shaking finger running under each word, he checked off each name until he reached Malfoy. He dropped the paper to the floor and used his want to light a fire, hands trembling with trepidation. He tossed a hand full of Floo powder in and knelt down to pop just his head through.
“Yes, Sirius. I am busy.”
“Did they do it? Did they actually do it?”
“Ahh, yes. We weren’t too sure there would be a response.”
“His followers are gone. All of them the whole damned lot. We won,” he sobbed, “we finally won the war.”