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My Sun Sets to Rise Again

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“Have you found your life distasteful?

   My life did and does smack sweet.

Was your youth of pleasure wasteful?

   Mine I saved and hold complete.

Do your joys with age diminish?

   When mine fail me, I’ll complain.

Must in death your daylight finish?

   My sun sets to rise again.”

 

~from “At ‘The Mermaid,’” by Robert Browning

 

Sirius doesn’t feel as though he’s dying, and he’s come close to it a time or two, but the curse Bella hits him with isn’t avadakedavra. He knows he’s falling through the Veil, is aware enough to meet Harry’s eyes, to apologize without saying the words.

 

In that moment, his regret is all encompassing, mostly because of Harry, the look of horror and grief on Harry’s face, and the promises Sirius made and won’t be able to keep.

 

Dying, he thinks, is easy. It’s having to live with all the things he could have done, and should have done, that’s hard. He would have liked to see Harry grow up, to see Harry’s children—if he had any—to become the godfather James and Lily would have wanted Harry to have. He would have liked to clear his name, and have Harry live with him, and to find some way to protect him from Voldemort.

 

Still, Sirius has some hope that he’ll be reunited with Lily and James, and he’s weary. Being able to rest has a certain allure.

 

Sirius isn’t sure what he expects to happen, but he seems to fall for a long time through mist and darkness. And then, between one blink of an eye and the next, he’s standing in the living room of a cozy flat, afternoon sun painting the walls gold.

 

He recognizes the flat as one he let after graduating from Hogwarts. It’s a cozy place, not too far from the Ministry, a couple of bedrooms and a cramped kitchen, made to seem bigger with doors that open up onto a tiny balcony.

 

He never would have been able to afford the place without the money left to him by Uncle Alphard, but Sirius remembers relishing the freedom of getting his own place, sharing with James the first few months after graduating, up until James and Lily’s wedding. He also remembers the delight he took in offering the second bedroom to Remus.

 

Remus insisted on paying a share of the rent, but Sirius never minded if Remus was late in paying, or came up short, since he tended to lose jobs as quickly as he found them, usually just after the full moon.

 

As much as he liked the place, as many good memories as he has, Sirius wonders why he’s here. He assumes Remus let it go after the Ministry sent Sirius to Azkaban, that he either binned Sirius’ things or sold them. Certainly, Sirius isn’t aware of anything from his past that survived, unless it was in Grimmauld Place.

 

Sirius slowly turns around, and it’s not a memory he’s found himself in, because Regulus is there, sitting at the tiny kitchen table. His long legs stretch out in front of him in that arrogant pose Sirius knows so well. “Hello, Sirius.”

 

“Reg?” Sirius asks. “What are you doing here?”

 

Regulus had never been to his flat. As far as Sirius can remember, they hadn’t spoken since he was sixteen and fled his home for the safety and warmth of the Potters’.

 

Regulus shrugs. “I wanted to see you, and it’s not very often that someone steps through the Veil. They tend to frown on that.”

 

“In my own defense, Bella cursed me,” Sirius replies lightly, sitting down across from Regulus. “It wasn’t suicide.”

 

Regulus snorts. “It might be a little-known fact, but stepping through the Veil doesn’t actually kill you. It’s more like a portal than an end.”

 

“A portal to where?” Sirius asks.

 

Regulus raises an eyebrow. “That would depend entirely on you.”

 

Sirius always hated Regulus’ superior attitude. He’d been a very sweet little boy, right up until Sirius left for Hogwarts, and then he’d become every inch a Black.

 

“Don’t be a wanker,” Sirius replies, his tone sharpening. “I’m pretty sure we’re both dead, and we didn’t part on the best of terms.”

 

Regulus smiles gently, and Sirius can suddenly see the boy he was, the brother Sirius had loved. “I’m dead, but you’re not, not yet anyway.”

 

Sirius frowns. “I don’t understand. Why are we in my old flat?”

 

“It’s a liminal space,” Regulus replies. “If you need me to define that for you--”

 

“I know what liminal means,” Sirius snaps. “But why here?”

 

“This was the jumping off point, wasn’t it?” Regulus asks. “Between Hogwarts and what came next.”

 

What came next was his work for the Order, the war, the deaths of so many, imprisonment in Azkaban, and life as a fugitive. But Sirius remembers his first night here, and the sense of freedom and possibility, the belief that anything could happen.

 

“Yes, it was,” Sirius agrees shortly, emotion rising up to choke him. “Is that what this is?”

 

“Anything is possible,” Regulus replies. “Or almost anything, including the decision to move on.”

 

Sirius clears his throat. “Is that what you decided to do?”

 

“I knew what I was getting myself into, Sirius, or what I was getting myself out of,” Regulus replies, weariness and regret in his eyes. “I saw the error of my ways in the end, and I did what I could to thwart the Dark Lord’s plans.”

 

“Did you now?” Sirius asks archly. “I thought you got cold feet.”

 

Regulus gives him a long look. “You never thought much of me.”

 

“You were always the perfect son, the perfect pure-blood heir,” Sirius replies bitterly. “And you always took great pleasure in rubbing that in my face.”

 

“Always?” Regulus counters. “Was there never a time we were brothers?”

 

Sirius glances away. “We were always brothers.”

 

“I remember before you went to Hogwarts,” Regulus says. “Things were different.”

 

“That was before our parents’ hopes for me were dashed.”

 

Regulus sighs. “I always wished you’d been sorted into Slytherin, but then, my ending was very Gryffindor.”

 

“You want to clue me in, brother, dear?” Sirius asks.

 

Regulus shakes his head. “All I can tell you is that I tried to stop him.”

 

“Why?” Sirius demands. “It wasn’t for me.”

 

“It was for Kreacher,” Regulus admits.

 

Sirius snorts. “For fuck’s sake, are you kidding?”

 

“Kreacher was kind to me after you left for Hogwarts,” Regulus replies defensively. “You know, you have a very pure-blood attitude towards house elves.”

 

“Kreacher got me in trouble with Mother more times than I can count,” Sirius counters. “And you know what happened at that point.”

 

Regulus sighs. “What is it the Muggles say? ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’”

 

“The Muggles know a thing or two,” Sirius replies. He doesn’t want to rehash ancient history. His feelings for Regulus are complicated at best, and he harbors a lot of regret there, too.

 

He could have tried harder at Hogwarts, could have tried to influence Regulus away from Voldemort and the Death Eaters. If he had done so, maybe Regulus would have at least remained neutral. Although, given how many other Blacks were marked Death Eaters, he doubts it.

 

Being sorted into Gryffindor gave him much-needed distance from his family, and Sirius hadn’t looked back.

 

Regulus had been a casualty of Sirius’ decision to rebel against his family’s pure-blood politics, but not the first, or the last.

 

“What are my choices here?” Sirius asks.

 

“You could move on,” Regulus replies. “You’d see your friends again. You’d know peace.”

 

That option is more tempting that he’d like to admit, but there are other considerations. “Or?”

 

“Or you choose a door,” Regulus replies. “Go down the hall. You’ll see.”

 

Based on Regulus’ inscrutable expression, he’s not going to answer any additional questions, so Sirius doesn’t bother asking.

 

Sirius’ old bedroom is at the end of the hall, and when he enters, there are five doors, even though there really shouldn’t be any. His bedroom hadn’t even had a closet.

 

Each door has a number inscribed above it—1975, 1981, 1988, 1994, 1996—and it doesn’t take a genius to realize what they are.

 

“To be honest, I have grave doubts about your ability to make choices that will actually make a difference, but those are the rules. That, and you’re not allowed to tell anyone.”

 

Regulus has followed him, and he stands in the doorway behind Sirius, his arms crossed over his chest.

 

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, brother,” Sirius says sarcastically.

 

Regulus shrugs. “I think your record speaks for itself.”

 

“Any thoughts on which door I should pick?” Sirius asks.

 

“That would depend entirely on how many of your bad decisions you’d like to relive,” Regulus replies snottily.

 

Sirius snorts. “Very helpful. Will I remember everything?”

 

Regulus shrugs. “I think so, but it’s not as though I’ve ever done this before.”

 

“I guess it wouldn’t make much sense to send me back if I didn’t know to do anything differently,” Sirius mutters.

 

His choice is easy, though. If he goes back to 1981, he has a chance to save James and Lily. He can give Harry the parents he always should have had.

 

Sirius touches the knob—

 

1981

 

Sirius blinks and curses bitterly as he realizes where he is and whenhe is. He hadn’t stopped to think about what point in 1981 he’d arrive. He should have chosen 1975, but he really hadn’t wanted to relive his teenage years, no matter how much he enjoyed his time at Hogwarts.

 

The small cottage in Godric’s Hollow looks just as it did when he’d shown up on October 31, 1981, desperate to see James and Lily after finding Peter missing from the safe house. If he’d arrived in time to save them, Sirius would not have been able to locate the cottage. Instead, he can see it and the spell damage that mars the front and the first storey.

 

The front door hangs off its hinges, scorch marks darkening the wood in places. Sirius feels the same sick sense of dread, and he thinks this must be a nightmare. He’s asleep in Grimmauld Place, reliving that night yet again.

 

Or perhaps he’s in hell.

 

Sirius feels bile rise up in his throat as he steps through the damaged door, once again finding James’ lifeless body at the foot of the stairs, eyes open and senseless.

 

He closes James’ eyelids with a trembling hand. He doesn’t want to go upstairs, knowing what he’s going to find, but Harry is there. Sirius takes each step slowly, a far cry from the first time he’d done this, when he’d taken them two at a time in his haste.

 

He can hear Harry’s wails, and the sound seems to echo in his brain, the present echoing the nightmarish past.

 

Lily is on the floor, her eyes open as well, and Sirius kneels next to her, brushing her cheek with his thumb, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I’m so sorry, Lily.”

 

Sirius feels tears burning his eyes, and he dashes them away impatiently. He gets to his feet smoothly, and realizes that he’s moving better than he has in years. His joints don’t ache, and he doesn’t feel the perpetual exhaustion he felt after Azkaban.

 

Harry’s cries taper off, and he gulps back sobs as Sirius approaches his crib. Blood streaks his forehead, and Sirius casts a quick scourgifyand a healing spell to close the wound.

 

“Hey, Pronglet,” Sirius calls. “I’m here, love.”

 

Harry stretches up his arms, and Sirius picks him up and cuddles him close. Harry presses his face against Sirius’ neck, and Sirius turns back towards the stairs. Hagrid will be arriving shortly, and Sirius will hand Harry off again, knowing Harry will be safe.

 

He’ll go after Pettigrew, but he’ll do it the right way. He knows Peter’s plans and can therefore thwart him. He knows where Peter will be, and he can anticipate his every move.

 

Harry snuffles against Sirius’ neck, and Sirius holds him a little closer. He stops in the doorway of Harry’s room, his eyes unwillingly drawn to Lily’s still figure again.

 

He’s meant to make different choices, and going after Peter had been what landed him in Azkaban—and Harry in the care of the Dursleys—in the first place. Sirius needs to think this through, to make a plan, and not go off half-cocked again.

 

If Sirius can’t give Harry his parents back, he can at least be the sort of godfather James and Lily would be proud of. Knowing what waits for Harry at the Dursleys’, he won’t risk Harry going there again.

 

And possession, as they say, is nine-tenths of the law.

 

He tucks Harry into his coat, pulling it securely around them both. “Hold on tight, Pronglet,” Sirius mutters. “We’re going on an adventure.”

 

Hagrid is on the front lawn when Sirius emerges from the house. “What’s happened?” Hagrid asks, although Sirius is certain he already knows, even without the Dark Mark floating above the house. Voldemort didn’t have a chance to cast it, and with his defeat, the Death Eaters will be scrambling to find cover.

 

“Voldemort got James and Lily,” Sirius replies shortly, not wanting to waste any time getting away. “I switched with Peter as the Secret Keeper to throw the Death Eaters off track, and he’s betrayed them.”

 

Hagrid frowns, clearly trying to make sense of the information. “Peter Pettigrew?” His voice reflects the incredulity Sirius originally felt as well.

 

That’s probably why no one even considered the possibility that Sirius might have been the one betrayed, and not the betrayer. That, and the Black family name.

 

“Peter is the spy,” Sirius replies, talking quickly. “He’s betrayed us all.”

 

Someone else—Dumbledore, McGonagall, Moody, or any of the Order, really—would have asked more questions, and they wouldn’t just take his word for it. Hagrid is trusting, though, and if Sirius plays his cards right, he’ll be off and away before anyone is the wiser. “I have to get Harry somewhere safe. Voldemort’s followers will be looking for him.”

 

“Who?” Hagrid asks.

 

“For Harry,” Sirius replies. “Voldemort is gone, at least for now, and they’ll want revenge.”

 

Hagrid stares at Harry, who turns his face away shyly. “Harry killed You-Know-Who?”

 

“I’m not sure what happened,” Sirius lies. “But I think Voldemort tried to kill Harry and the curse was reflected back at him. Maybe Lily found a protective spell that worked against the killing curse. She—she wasthe brightest of our age, after all. If anyone could do it, Lily could.”

 

Hagrid nods, his expression sorrowful as he takes in the news. “What do you need me to do?”

 

“Tell the Order that Peter has betrayed us, and that I’m going to keep Harry safe,” Sirius replies. “I’ll be in touch once we’re secure.”

 

And then he gets on his motorbike and takes off before Hagrid can even think about stopping him. His first thought is his apartment, but that’s expected. People will look for him there.

 

But Sirius remembers a place in the Lake District where he’d taken Remus, right after James and Lily’s wedding. With Lily and James on their honeymoon, and Peter already working at the Ministry, it had just been the two of them. One last holiday before the rest of their lives began. A stolen week where they could forget about the worsening war, and fear for their futures.

 

Harry falls asleep somewhere over Swansea, tucked against Sirius’ chest, and he sleeps all the way to Keswick. There’s a wizard-run bed and breakfast there, and Sirius lands in front of it in the early morning hours.

 

He needs to get supplies for Harry, diapers and food and the like, but he doesn’t have Muggle money on him. He should have, but he doesn’t, and he’s hoping that Mary will be able to help.

 

She comes out in a quilted pink robe that’s cinched tightly, dark hair in a long braid down her back, blinking at him behind large glasses. “Sirius?”

 

“Hi, Mary,” Sirius replies. “I hope you have room.”

 

“Do you have a baby with you?” Mary asks incredulously.

 

Sirius summons his most charming smile. “My godson. I need your help.”

 

It’s probably an indicator of just how much chaos the war has caused, because her lips tighten, and she gives a little shake of her head. Then, Mary opens the door wide. “Come in, come in.” Harry starts to fuss, and Mary adds, “Do you have anything for him?”

 

“No,” Sirius admits. “I was in a hurry to get him somewhere safe.”

 

Mary frowns. “I’ll get my boy to run to the store once it opens. Let me see what I can find in the meantime.”

 

Sirius breathes out a sigh of relief. Mary and her husband had been quite kind to him and Remus, but he hadn’t been entirely certain how welcoming she’d be this time, especially under these circumstances.

 

He hates to ask for additional favors, but there’s something he knows must be done, and done quickly. “That would be amazing, but do you have an owl? I need to send a message to Remus.”

 

“Of course,” Mary replies. “I’ll get the owl first.”

 

She also provides a quill, inkpot, and parchment, and Sirius quickly scratches out a message while sitting at their large kitchen table.

 

Moony,

 

I switched with Peter. I thought I’d lead those wankers on a merry chase, but Peter betrayed us. I’m where we went after the wedding. You remember the spot. I have Harry with me. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.

 

Padfoot

 

PS The Longbottoms are in jeopardy. Ensure their safety first.

 

He attaches the note to the owl’s leg. “Take this to Remus Lupin.”

 

Sirius doesn’t have much money on him, and he’s not sure how he’ll pay if he has to stay for more than a couple of days, not unless he can get to a branch of Gringotts soon. At least with Uncle Alphie’s money, Sirius will be able to take care of Harry.

 

Sirius grimaces as he checks Harry’s diaper, finding a right mess, as Mary bustles back into the kitchen. “I still have some cloth diapers from when my son was a baby. That should do for now.”

 

Sirius gratefully accepts the offered bundle. “Lily—Harry’s mum—always uses—used—cloth diapers.”

 

“Do you know what you’re doing?” Mary asks, looking a bit amused.

 

Sirius grimaces. “I usually let Lily handle it.”

 

“Well, just this once, I suppose,” Mary replies and Sirius gratefully allows her to take over. Harry giggles when Mary tickles his bare stomach. “Aren’t you a handsome boy?”

 

She glances at his forehead. “What happened here?”

 

“It’s why I had to get him out of there,” Sirius replies. “Voldemort tried to kill him.”

 

Mary frowns and clucks disapprovingly as she cleans him up. “But he’s just a baby! And his parents?”

 

“They tried to protect him,” Sirius replies. “They didn’t make it. James and Lily Potter.”

 

“Those are your friends who got married right before you stayed here?” Mary asks.

 

Sirius nods. “You have a good memory.”

 

She murmurs, “I’m so sorry. And You-Know-Who? Do you think he’ll follow you?”

 

“He’s gone,” Sirius assures her. “The Killing Curse reflected back on him. I’m sure it will be all over the wireless this morning.” He forces a smile. “Harry only has me now. I have to figure out what that means.”

 

“You will,” Mary assures him. “Children have a wonderful ability to clarify matters very quickly. Now, you’ll stay here for the time being, of course, and free of charge. It’s the least I can do.”

 

Sirius shakes his head. “I can’t accept.”

 

“Nonsense, of course you can,” Mary says briskly. “It’s the least I can do. You’ll both be wanting breakfast.”

 

Sirius knew that Mary had taken a shine to them when they’d spent the week with her, but this is above and beyond what he expected. “Thank you.”

 

“Don’t you worry about a thing,” Mary replies, beginning to bustle around the kitchen, putting a kettle on the hob and lighting an additional lantern. “I imagine you’ll want to lay low for a bit. Just about everyone will want a chance to see the savior of the wizarding world.”

 

Sirius takes a deep breath. “I know. No one is going to think about the fact that he’s a baby.”

 

“Which is why I will conveniently forget that you’re staying here,” Mary replies with some humor as she moves around the kitchen. “What youneed is a good fry-up, and we’ll get some porridge for Harry here. You’ll both feel better with a full stomach.”

 

Sirius takes a seat at the table and sits Harry on his lap, and Harry cuddles close. Sirius rubs his back and presses a kiss to the top of his head.

 

Now that he has a moment to think, he can marvel at how small Harry is. He had almost forgotten that Harry had ever been this young, having lost so many years to Azkaban.

 

Sirius has no idea how to be a father, and he certainly hadn’t been that great of a godfather the last go ‘round, but he has another chance now. He’s going to be the best bloody godfather Harry could have.

 

~~~~~

 

Harry is crying again, and Sirius bounces him in his arms. He’s exhausted, and Harry is as well, which is a big part of the problem. The other part, of course, is that every time Harry falls asleep, he wakes up screaming with night terrors.

 

Sirius shushes him gently and begins to hum under his breath, a Muggle song that accurately reflects his current feelings. “I wanna be sedated, nothin’ to do, nowhere to go, I wanna be sedated.”

 

Harry’s sobs begin to taper off, and Sirius continues to sing since that appears to help, and paces the floor, careful not to trip on the colorful rug spread out over the hardwood floor. The afternoon sunshine pours through the large window on one side of the room, warming the air, and Sirius wants badly for Harry to nap.

 

“I never thought someone would actually enjoy your singing.”

 

Sirius turns to see Remus standing in the doorway, hands in his pockets, his posture deceptively relaxed. Sirius knows better; he knows Remus well enough to know he’s upset.

 

Whether it’s anger or grief or something else, Sirius isn’t sure. The only reason Remus believed Sirius to be innocent before had been because he’d seen Peter’s name on the Marauders’ Map. They’d been friends again after that, but never as close as before.

 

This time, Sirius thinks he might see a bit of affection in Remus’ eyes, even if it’s mixed with suspicion.

 

“You got my message,” Sirius says inanely.

 

“You could say that.” Remus straightens up, brushing sandy hair out of his eyes. “How did you know the Longbottoms would be in danger?”

 

Sirius opens his mouth, planning on telling Remus the truth, but the words get stuck in his throat. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t spit them out, or tell Moony that he’s seen the future. Finally, he settles on, “It stands to reason?”

 

“Try again,” Remus replies, a sharp note in his voice. “That was very specific information, Sirius.”

 

Sirius sighs. “James and Lily went into hiding because of the prophecy, which could apply to Neville, too. I made an assumption after what happened to James and Lily. With Voldemort gone, I knew his followers would want revenge.” He hesitates. “What’s the feeling in the Order?”

 

“Decidedly mixed,” Remus replies wearily. “Peter disappearing helped your cause, as did your very timely warning. The fact that you’ve disappeared with Harry has upset quite a few people, though. Dumbledore is beside himself.”

 

“I’m his godfather, Moony,” Sirius says hotly. “Where would Dumbledore take Harry? To Lily’s sister?”

 

“She ishis family,” Remus points out.

 

Sirius holds Harry a little tighter. “So are we.”

 

Remus blows out a breath, his shoulders slumping under his shabby jacket, probably one he picked up at a charity shop. “Fuck me, Padfoot. This is a right mess.”

 

“Fuck!” Harry says gleefully, demonstrating an unerring ability to focus on the one word they don’t want him repeating.

 

But it breaks the tension, because Remus starts to chuckle, and Sirius laughs, maybe a little hysterically.

 

“How long has it been since you slept?” Remus asks, his tone softening.

 

Sirius shrugs. “I don’t know. Harry isn’t sleeping, so I haven’t been.”

 

“Give him to me,” Remus says. “I’ll watch him.”

 

Sirius isn’t ready to let Harry go. He also isn’t sure he can trust Remus not to leave with him.

 

“I’m not going to kidnap him, Pads,” Remus says gently. “We’ll make a plan together.”

 

“You believe me?” Sirius asks plaintively.

 

“I believe you, because switching with Peter and acting as bait is exactlythe kind of plan you’d come up with,” Remus replies fondly. “And I know how persuasive you can be.”

 

Sirius blinks back tears as he stares at his old friend. “I’m sorry I ever doubted you.”

 

“Me, too,” Remus replies, and then closes the distance between them, pulling Sirius close, Harry sandwiched between them. “I know you wouldn’t betray James and Lily.”

 

“I could never,” Sirius says. “I should have told you.”

 

Remus kisses his forehead. “It’s okay. You should sleep. We’ll be here when you wake up.”

 

“Do you want to go to your Uncle Moony, Pronglet?” Sirius asks.

 

Harry clings to Sirius a little tighter.

 

“It’s okay,” Sirius croons. “It’s okay, love. Moony is going to look after you.”

 

Harry lets go, but reluctantly, and Remus holds him close. “You’re okay,” he says. “We’re just going to let Padfoot get some sleep.”

 

Harry hiccups and then lays his head against Remus’ shoulder, and Remus sighs. “I can certainly see why you don’t want to let him go.”

 

Sirius notices that Remus doesn’t make any promises, beyond the fact that he won’t leave with him, and they’ll make a plan together. But Sirius is well aware that most people in the Potters’ lives had thought it sheer madness to make Sirius Harry’s godfather. He was too irresponsible, too reckless, and too immature.

 

And he had been back then, but he’s not the same man. He just hopes he can convince Remus of that.

 

~~~~~

 

When Sirius wakes up again, it’s to the low rumble of Remus’ voice. “And the third brother meets Death willingly at the end of a long life with open arms.”

 

“Beedle the Bard?” Sirius asks sleepily.

 

“I have those stories memorized, and I stupidly didn’t bring any books with me,” Remus replies with a crooked smile. “Or anything for Harry, really, and I should have.”

 

“You didn’t know what you were going to find,” Sirius replies, sitting up slowly, smoothing out the patchwork quilt. One of the things he likes best about Mary’s place is the homey feel. “I didn’t bring anything other than Harry, so you’re certainly not alone. We’re lucky Mary had some of Daniel’s old things.”

 

Remus shakes his head. “What I said--”

 

“Water under the bridge,” Sirius insists, because it had been so long ago that he’s not sure he can even remember what was said.

 

That’s a lie; he remembers every word. They’d echoed in his head for all the years spent in Azkaban. He doesn’t want to relive them now.

 

Remus shakes his head. “We should be honest with each other.”

 

Sirius sits up, and Harry holds out his arms. “Pad!”

 

“Hey, Pronglet,” Sirius replies. “Come here, love.”

 

Harry settles in his arms and is asleep a few minutes later.

 

“You’re good with him,” Remus says quietly, sitting back in the rocking chair that Mary had set up near the bed.

 

“He’s all of James and Lily that we have left,” Sirius murmurs. “And I’ve had a few days to get used to the idea.”

 

Remus sighs, the sound seeming to come up from his toes. “What are you going to do?”

 

“I was hoping it would be we,” Sirius counters, although he’s not holding out much hope.

 

“That’s a terrible idea,” Remus replies firmly. “And you know why. I can help you come up with a plan, but the danger I pose to Harry is too great for me to stay very long.”

 

Sirius takes a deep breath. “Doesn’t Harry deserve to grow up knowing he’s loved? Doesn’t he deserve to grow up with those who knew and loved his parents best?”

 

He doesn’t mention Peter. Peter doesn’t enter into the equation any more.

 

“Harry isn’t safe around me,” Remus insists.

 

“Look, I get it,” Sirius replies, wheedling. He wants—no, needs—Remus by his side. He’s too afraid he’ll fuck this up if he does it on his own. “We’ll have to be careful. We can—we can travel, maybe find people who have a better understanding on how to deal with your furry little problem. We’ll teach Harry how to be an animagus. We can make this work!”

 

Sirius will raise Harry single-handedly if he has to, but he wants Remus’ trust and friendship back. He wants the support.

 

Remus scrubs his face with his hands and offers a half-hearted glare. “Don’t think I haven’t realized that we haven’t talked about any of this.”

 

“But you believe me.” Sirius feels a flash of hope. If Remus believes him, then he might eventually agree to stay with them.

 

Remus sighs. “Yes, I do. You brought Harry here, not to Voldemort or his remaining Death Eaters, and you contacted me.”

 

Sirius glances away. “I thought you’d be the one least likely to hex first and ask questions later.”

 

“After the way we left things, I’m not sure why,” Remus admits.

 

“It’s Voldemort who’s to blame,” Sirius replies. “Sowing dissension.”

 

Remus nods. “Okay. I’ll accept that for now, but we willhave to talk about all this eventually.”

 

There’s a knock on the door, and Sirius calls, “Come in.”

 

Mary pokes her head in. “If you boys are hungry, dinner is ready.”

 

“Thank you, Mary,” Sirius replies. “We’ll be right down.”

 

“We’ll finish this after dinner,” Remus says once she’s left. “We need to come up with a viable plan.”

 

Sirius agrees. “Food first, though.”

 

“Since I remember Mary’s cooking, yes. Food first.”

 

They sit down at the table with Mary and her husband, Jim, along with their son, Daniel. “It’s good to have you back with us, Remus,” Jim says. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

 

Remus manages a smile. “Thank you. It’s good to be back, although I wish it were under better circumstances.”

 

“As do we, although we’re grateful to young Harry there for what he did,” Mary says.

 

And that, right there, is all the reason Sirius needs to get Harry out of merry old England. Jim and Mary have treated Harry like they would any other baby, but not everyone will. Sirius wants him to grow up loved, but not in the way that celebrity will bring.

 

Dinner is good, a roast chicken and vegetables and mash, and Daniel seems to have taken a shine to Harry, making faces and cutting up the softer vegetables for Harry to gum and feeding him mashed potatoes off his own plate.

 

“Dan!” Harry shouts.

 

“Yeah? You want more potatoes?” Daniel asks. “Okay, Harry. Happy to help.”

 

Harry crows in delight as he buries a fist in the spoonful of potatoes. Some of it winds up in Harry’s mouth, but a lot of it ends up in his hair and on his front, too.

 

Sirius snorts. “Well, I know one young man who’ll need a bath later.”

 

Harry likes baths, and he shouts, “Bath! Fuck!”

 

Sirius groans. “That was not my fault.”

 

“No, it was mine,” Remus readily admits. “Lily would have my hide.”

 

Sirius laughs, but not without a tinge of sadness. “She would have.”

 

She’d been on Sirius’ case enough to watch his language. She threatened to start a swear jar and make him put a galleon in every time he swore in Harry’s presence, but she never carried out the threat.

 

Sirius had been on his best behavior around Harry, though. At least, outside giving him the broom for his first birthday.

 

He has no regrets about that. Harry is a natural. He wonders where the broom is now, and wishes they could go back for it.

 

There’s treacle tart for dessert, and Harry consumes a small piece enthusiastically, and then his eyelids begin to droop. “Well, there’s the sugar crash,” Remus comments with a chuckle.

 

Mary laughs. “I just hope he doesn’t wake you boys up too early.”

 

“I’ll be happy if he sleeps through the night,” Sirius admits. “He can wake us up as early as he wants to if he gets a decent amount of sleep.”

 

He carries Harry upstairs to the bathroom and quickly gets him stripped and cleaned up. Harry’s practically asleep by the time Sirius gets him diapered and redressed, Remus looking on.

 

“You’rereallygood at this,” Remus comments.

 

Sirius grimaces. “I’m not. I feel as though I might ruin him.”

 

“I highly doubt that,” Remus replies with the same expression he always wore when he thought Sirius was being overly dramatic.

 

“It’s not like I had great role models.”

 

Remus glances at the floor, then back up at Sirius, his blue eyes fond. “Yes, you did. You had James and Lily.”

 

Sirius clears his throat. “Yes, well. We should get him to bed.”

 

Mary has provided a small cot, and Sirius gets Harry tucked in, kissing him on the forehead. Remus does the same, and pauses. “It looks like there’s just the one bed.”

 

“I think we’re both mature enough to share,” Sirius replies dryly.

 

There’s a level of comfort with Remus that Sirius has never had with any of his other partners, and when they both crawl into bed, it’s without touching, but even having someone close is nice.

 

“I guess the question is what we’re going to do next,” Remus says quietly.

 

“It’s definitely ‘we?’” Sirius asks.

 

Remus sighs. “You’d be fine without me, you know.”

 

“I might be,” Sirius agrees, knowing that Remus is evading the question. “But the Marauders were always better together, and we can’t stay in England.”

 

Remus grimaces. “If you run, they’ll think you’re guilty. You know that.”

 

“I’ll write to Dumbledore,” Sirius replies. “I have Uncle Alphard’s money, so I can take care of Harry.”

 

“Where?” Remus asks.

 

“Somewhere far away from here,” Sirius replies. “Where no one knows us or Harry, where we can be anonymous.”

 

He doesn’t want Harry to grow up as “the Boy Who Lived,” known only for his relationship to his dead parents. He wants Harry to be able to be Harry, and he doesn’t want anybody deciding that Harry will be better off with the Dursleys. The farther away they are, the safer they’ll be.

 

“And somewhere there’s a good school,” Sirius adds, because he’s not at all certain that Harry needs to be around for Voldemort’s return.

 

Remus blinks. “What about Hogwarts?”

 

“What about it?” Sirius asks, deliberately playing dumb.

 

“James and Lily would have wanted Harry to go there,” Remus replies. “Sirius, let’s just hold on a second. We can’t go off half-cocked here.”

 

Sirius takes a deep breath. “Okay. You’re right. We have to make a plan.”

 

“I think we should at least let Frank and Alice know,” Remus says, and Sirius knows that informing Frank and Alice is just step one in letting the entire Order know, and from there, it’s not much of a leap to Dumbledore arranging things to his liking.

 

“They’re not going to like any plans that involve Harry leaving the country,” Sirius points out. The Longbottoms will likely offer to raise Harry themselves, and while Sirius isn’t entirely opposed to that idea, they’re also loyal to Dumbledore, who might manage to convince the Order that Harry would be better off in the Muggle world with the Dursleys.

 

“Neville is Harry’s godbrother,” Remus counters. “And Alice is his godmother. You’re not the only person with a stake in this, Padfoot.”

 

And Ron and Hermione are his friends,Sirius thinks, but doesn’t say out loud. Maybe in ten years, he’ll consider sending Harry to Hogwarts, but there’s a chance that, if Harry stays away, Voldemort will never reappear.  Sirius would rather like to at least test that theory.

 

Still, he has to give Remus something. “Okay,” Sirius agrees. “We’ll talk to Frank and Alice before we leave. I don’t want Dumbledore knowing our plans, though.”

 

Remus raises his eyebrows. “I thought you were Dumbledore’s man.”

 

“I am, but you know he’ll arrange things to suit himself,” Sirius replies, keeping his voice low, even as he feels his temper spike. “And he’d manipulate us until we went along with him.”

 

The truth is that Sirius had entirely too much time on his hands to think while stuck at Grimmauld Place, chafing at the isolation. And during that time, he began to wonder why Dumbledore didn’t try just a little harder to clear Sirius’ name, or even open an investigation to get him a trial. He began to wonder if keeping Sirius on a short leash suited Dumbledore’s plans, making it impossible for Harry to stay with him, rather than the Dursleys.

 

And maybe his suspicions are unfounded and the product of too much time in a moldering old wreck of a house, surrounded by unhappy memories. Or maybe he’s right to have his doubts.

 

“And you’re so sure you know what’s best for Harry?” Remus presses.

 

“I’m sure I’m the one James and Lily trusted to make those decisions,” Sirius insists. “I’ll probably make mistakes, but at least he’ll be cared for. Lily’s sister and her husband are the worst sort of Muggles, and you know it.”

 

“I do,” Remus agrees. “I just—I want us to be sure we’re doing what’s right.”

 

“Dumbledore was the one who sent you out to the packs,” Sirius argues in a low, fierce voice. “If he hadn’t—”

 

He stops himself, because he doesn’t blame Remus for agreeing to go. How could he? Remus had answered the call, and he’d done his best. Sirius had done the same.

 

“We wouldn’t have lost faith in each other?” Remus asks quietly.

 

Sirius winces. “I didn’t—”

 

“Don’t lie, not right now.”

 

Here, under the cover of darkness, with Harry sleeping nearby, Sirius can be honest. “I thought you might be the spy,” Sirius admits. “You kept leaving, and you couldn’t tell me where you were going, just that you were on a mission for Dumbledore.”

 

“I was,” Remus says.

 

“I know that now,” Sirius replies with the hindsight that more than a decade brings.

 

Remus sighs. “You weren’t much better.”

 

“I was trying to get over you, you berk,” Sirius replies. “You made it pretty clear that you weren’t interested in anything serious.”

 

“Why hitch yourself to a losing proposition?” Remus asks fatalistically.

 

Sirius sighs. “I could say the same about you now. You’re still in good stead with the Order. You could give me up. Let me take my chances. Let Dumbledore carry out his plans.”

 

“And what do you think is going to happen if I did?” Remus asks with a troubled expression.

 

“I’d have a trial, and a lot of people would refuse to believe that I wasn’t the Secret Keeper, and I didn’t betray the Potters,” Sirius admits. “The Black name carries its own weight.”

 

Remus hesitates. “Maybe you shouldhave a trial. There will always be those who have their doubts if you don’t. There are things we could do to ensure it’s a fair one.”

 

Sirius shakes his head. “I’ll swear on my magic that it wasn’t me. I’ll swear an Unbreakable Vow, and you can take that to Dumbledore and the Order. You can give them that memory. But I’m not giving up Harry.”

 

He can’tgive up Harry, not for a moment, because it wouldn’t be hard to ensure he disappears into the Muggle world. Sirius isn’t losing Harry again.

 

Remus nods. “What are you going to do?”

 

“I’m going to visit the Paris branch of Gringotts to get as much money as I can to support the two—or three—of us, and then arrange transportation to wherever we decide to go,” Sirius replies.

 

He trusts Remus, he does, but he also knows Dumbledore. Remus is a soft touch, and Dumbledore has convinced Remus to run his errands in the past. Sirius won’t trust that Remus is on board with this plan until he swears to it.

 

He just wants Harry to be safe.

 

~~~~~

 

Mary and Jim have their hands wrapped around their mugs of tea, and Jim says, “We have family in New Zealand. It wouldn’t be too hard to emigrate.”

 

“And we have that cousin in Dover,” Mary adds. “Who has a boat, and could cross the Channel.”

 

Sirius perks up at that. His motorbike is too conspicuous, and he’s already planning to ditch it before heading for France. “Would they help?”

 

“If we asked,” Mary says. “They’re Muggles, though.”

 

Sirius shrugs. “That’s okay. I love Muggles. I don’t have a problem with that.”

 

Jim seems to be thinking. “I can call my nephew. I think he said something about a farm being for sale, somewhere near him.”

 

“They have good schools in New Zealand?” Sirius asks.

 

Mary shrugs. “I think so. At least through primary. Most wizards and witches teach their kids at home.”

 

“You’ll help us, then?” Sirius asks, feeling a wave of relief.

 

Jim smiles. “I liked you boys when you first showed up here, and you’re with the Order, aren’t you?”

 

Sirius nods.

 

“My brother was a supporter,” Jim says. “I’m not saying everybody who follows Dumbledore is a good person, but I’ve seen you with Harry. You’re a good father, and a good man. Your Harry deserves to have a safe, happy life.”

 

“And you think he’ll get that in New Zealand,” Remus comments.

 

Mary smiles. “Well, Jamie’s boys do well enough, and the youngest isn’t much older than Harry. You might be surprised at how well rural life agrees with you.”

 

Remus shoots Sirius a look that clearly indicates how dubious he is that Sirius would enjoy a rural life, and maybe that was true once. But that was before Azkaban, before being on the run, before being stuck inside Grimmauld Place for months on end.

 

A life in the country sounds pretty good right now.

 

“That sounds pretty great, to be honest,” Remus says. “After the last few years, a quiet life is probably just what we need. Hey, Pronglet?”

 

“Yeah!” Harry cheers.

 

Sirius grins. “Okay, well, his majesty has spoken.”

 

Remus laughs, although he still looks troubled, and Sirius knows he’s having second thoughts, although about what is hard to say. He resolves to be on his guard.

 

“I don’t want to put you guys out much longer,” Sirius says. “If you could check for us—”

 

Mary glances between them and says, “We’ll make some calls, and see if we can make some arrangements.”

 

“You’re really intent on this,” Remus says later, once they’re back upstairs.

 

“I’m really intent on making sure that Harry is safe,” Sirius retorts. “I don’t think he’ll be safe in England.”

 

“It seems like you can’t get out of the country fast enough,” Remus accuses. “What happened to talking with the Longbottoms?”

 

Sirius wonders if there’s ever going to be a point where they aren’t leaping to the worst conclusions.

 

“We’re just exploring options right now,” Sirius counters defensively. “There’s still time to talk to them, and explain why we need to leave. They’re reasonable people. I’m sure they’ll understand.”

 

Remus shakes his head. “I think it’s foolish to start down this path, Sirius. You’re moving awfully fast.”

 

Sirius begins to get a bad feeling, like Remus came here with a specific agenda, and he doesn’t want to talk about the option of leaving England because he’d never intended to allow Sirius to keep Harry.

 

Suddenly, Remus’ comments about Sirius being good with Harry, and how he could understand why Sirius wouldn’t want to let him go, make another kind of sense.

 

“And when we talk to the Longbottoms?” Sirius asks, making sure that he’s between Remus and Harry. “What are the chances that I’ll be able to keep him with me?”

 

Remus’ expression is—well, Sirius can tell that he’s at least conflicted, but he’s also determined. Remus has been given a mission, and he’s intent on carrying it out.

 

“There are others more suitable to raise Harry,” Remus argues. “Surely, you see that! The Longbottoms, for one, or Harry’s relatives.”

 

“Do you really think so little of me?” Sirius asks, betrayal bitter on his tongue.

 

“Dumbledore has a plan.” Remus doesn’t answer the question. “And Harry will be safe, and where he belongs.”

 

Sirius gauges his next words—his next moves—very carefully. “And he doesn’t belong with me.”

 

“No, he doesn’t,” Remus says bluntly. “Not least because you’re not making any sense! You’re talking about leaving the country, taking Harry away from his home, and not coming back? Without even answering to the Order?”

 

Of course, Remus would think that Sirius is acting rashly, making reckless plans and then winging it. He doesn’t know what Sirius does. He doesn’t know whySirius would do everything in his power to avoid Azkaban, or why even the possibility of Harry winding up with the Dursleys would spur him to do everything in his power to prevent it from happening.

 

Sirius fought Death Eaters side-by-side with many in the Order, who should have known he’d never betray James and Lily, and yet not one had lifted a voice or a finger in his defense. Not one had even protested the lack of a trial.

 

As near as Sirius can tell, not onehad ever bothered checking on Harry, just to make sure he was well cared for.

 

Sirius will do what’s best for Harry, and hang the rest.

 

“I have good reasons for it, but I don’t think you’re ready to listen to them yet,” Sirius replies, and then he casts a wandless stunner.

 

Remus goes down like a ton of bricks, and Sirius closes his eyes. He really, really wanted Remus to be with him, or at least be on his side.

 

He’s not sure what to do next. Perhaps he could apparate with Harry to Gringotts? He might be able to get the money and get an international portkey to France. From there, he’ll have a few traveling options. He had rather liked the idea of New Zealand, if only because he might have a contact there, but that’s right out.

 

Harry’s watching Sirius with wide eyes, and his lower lip trembles a bit.

 

“Don’t worry, Pronglet,” Sirius murmurs. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

 

“Sirius? Is everything all right up there?” Mary calls. “I thought I heard a thump.”

 

“I just dropped something,” Sirius replies, and stifles a rather hysterical chuckle at the truth to that statement.

 

Remus stirs slightly, and Sirius winces and hits him with a sleeping charm he sometimes used on Death Eaters while out in the field, the one that will put them out for a good long while.

 

He moves Remus to the bed and tucks him in, and then resolves to leave that day. He’ll get the money they need, and he’ll take Harry somewhere far away from here, somewhere safe.

 

Somewhere they can be together.

 

And then he hears someone calling his name.

Chapter Text

Now

 

“Sirius! Sirius! Are you going to make up your mind sometime soon?”

 

Sirius blinks, realizing that he still has his hand on the knob, and he hasn’t actually stepped through the door. “I changed my mind,” he says slowly. “I, uh, I think I need to go earlier.”

 

“Well, there’s only one door that lets you do that,” Regulus replies dryly. “You were standing there for quite a while.”

 

“Do you have somewhere else to be?” Sirius snarks.

 

“No, I just would like to see you make a decision,” Regulus replies, although there’s an odd light in his eyes. “And I thought you wanted to save James and Lily.”

 

“I don’t know when during 1981 that door leads,” Sirius lies. “James and Lily died in October of that year.”

 

He has no idea if Regulus knows that Sirius can get a preview by touching the doorknob, or if it matters, but he’s not going risk him finding out. At least under their parents’ roof, Regulus had been very intent on following the rules.

 

“I’ll go with door number one,” Sirius says, and reaches for that knob, although he doesn’t turn it, hoping once again to get a sense of what he’s in for.

 

1975

 

Sirius glances around and knows exactly when and where he is. Hogwarts, just before the full moon, and just before the prank they played on Snape. He isn’t particularly sorry for nearly getting Snivelus killed, but he issorry for the position they’d put Remus in.

 

Remus hadn’t spoken to them for months afterward, which had been painful. Remembering it now makes his stomach twist uncomfortably.

 

“I know you’re hiding something.”

 

Snape’s voice grates, and Sirius remembers how it happened the last time. Snape managed to catch him alone, pushing until Sirius told him how to access the secret passage under the Whomping Willow.

 

It had barely been a plan, more of a whim. Sirius hadn’t even been sure that Snape would attempt it during the full moon, but he knew there was a chance that Snape would be dumb enough to try catching Remus in the act, so to speak. Snape was so intent on proving Remus was a werewolf, Sirius doubts that he thought through the consequences.

 

For a moment, Sirius is tempted all over again, but this time he’ll prevent James from riding to the rescue. A world without Snape doesn’t seem like a bad prospect.

 

But that would still turn Remus into a murder weapon, and could get him banned from Hogwarts. Sirius won’t take that chance.

 

Instead, he says, “Bugger off, Snivelus.”

 

“I’m going to find out what it is!” Snape threatens. “I’ll get you lot expelled.”

 

Sirius rounds on him. They’re in a deserted hallway, but probably not for long. Sirius is planning on meeting Linda Belmont—a Muggle-born student—in a broom closet, and he feels an echo of the irritation he originally experienced at the delay. “Do whatever the hell you want, but stay away from us, or you won’t like what happens.”

 

Snape gets right up into his face. “You don’t scare me.”

 

“No, well, someone should,” Sirius snaps. “Fuck off.”

 

“I know you all go somewhere!” Snape calls after him.

 

Sirius gives him the two-fingered salute over his shoulder. Linda’s probably still waiting for him, unless she got bored.

 

He groans, realizing that Linda is also sixteen, and while he might look like a teenager, he isn’t one.

 

This was one of the reasons he hadn’t wanted to go back this far; it’s just too awkward.

 

Still, he’s going to have to tell Linda something, and he can make out with her a bit and then find a reason to escape. Granted, he has no idea what to tell her since he’s been trying to get her in a broom closet for weeksnow, but he’ll think of something.

 

He always does.

 

“I thought you were never going to get here,” Linda says as Sirius ducks inside. “Where were you?”

 

“I got waylaid by Snape, threatening to get me expelled,” Sirius replies. “He’s a git.”

 

“Come here,” Linda orders, a predatory look in her green eyes. “Forget about Snape.”

 

“Easy to do with you here,” Sirius replies, with the sort of charm that always seemed to ease the way.

 

Her lips are warm, and she smells good and is nicely shaped, but her blonde hair keeps getting in his mouth, and Sirius is very much aware that she’s young enough to be his kid, and that’s just weird. He’s not at all turned on, although he remembers how horny he’d been the first time; all he wants right now is to find a reason to leave.

 

He’s desperately running through a list of excuses when the door flies open. Sirius hates leaving his back exposed, so he’d turned them sideways to keep an eye on the door. He immediately reaches for his wand, but Linda is quick as a snake, for all that she’s a Hufflepuff. She hits Snape with a jelly-legs hex, and then a silencio.

 

“You git,” she snaps. “We were just getting somewhere!”

 

Sirius never thought he’d be grateful to Snape, but he’s an effective mood-killer. “We’re getting close to curfew,” he says. “We should get back to our dorms.”

 

She sighs. “Fine. You have a point.”

 

“Should we cancel the hex?” Sirius asks.

 

Linda smirks. “He was the one who interrupted us. And, as you said, curfew is close.”

 

There’s a part of Sirius that thinks better of it, but he hadn’t been the one to cast the spells, and he’s not inclined to help Snape out.

 

“Are you available tomorrow?” Linda asks, and she licks her lips.

 

“No, I have a thing with Lupin and Potter,” Sirius replies, deeply uncomfortable and trying very hard not to show it.

 

“Where do you go?” Linda asks. “You always disappear.”

 

He grins. “Just guy stuff. Nothing that would interest you.”

 

Linda rolls her eyes at that and flounces off, and Sirius hopes that he’s insulted her enough to turn her off him.

 

Sirius realizes that he’s going to have to see Peter. Not only that, he’s going to have to sleep in the same room, and not let on that he’d like to see him dead.

 

He wishes that he could somehow turn Peter away from joining Voldemort, but he’s not sure how. At some point, Peter had believed that the Order would lose, and Voldemort would win, and he joined what he thought would be the winning team.

 

Sirius can’t cure that sort of cowardice. He’s not sure he even wants to try.

 

He gives the Fat Lady the password—fortitudo—and slips inside. “How was Linda?” James asks, from his indolent sprawl in the common room.

 

The sight of him nearly takes Sirius’ breath away. He’s young and cocky and brash. He’s as much Sirius’ brother as Regulus, and Sirius has missed him more than words could express.

 

He swallows that emotion, remembering how he tried to explain things to Remus the last go-round. It’s unfortunate, because he thinks Remus might have gone along with his plan if he’d been fully informed, if Sirius could have explained all the things he knew were coming.

 

“She was lovely, as expected,” Sirius replies. “Snape interrupted us.”

 

“That snake,” James snorts. “Did you hex him into next week?”

 

“Linda did,” Sirius replies. “She’s quick with a wand.”

 

James puts a hand on his heart. “You know—”

 

“Don’t say it,” Sirius warns him. “She’s lovely, and brilliant, but she’s no Lily.”

 

It had been a running joke between them, that Sirius would have pursued Lily if James hadn’t been immediately infatuated, but it had only been a joke. Lily wouldn’t give James the time of day until—well, until next year sometime, after an irreparable breach opened up between her and Snape. Lily had never told anyone what happened, but she’d stopped speaking to Snape at some point during fifth year.

 

This year. Lily would stop speaking to Snape this year, and take up with James later. Whatever happened between them could have been precipitated, at least in part, by Sirius’ prank.

 

At some point, Sirius knows, Snape will call Lily a mudblood, and will begin running around with proto-Death Eaters. Lily will stop trying to defend him, and will instead treat him with a chilly silence.

 

James can’t help but act like an idiot around Lily, but maybe Sirius can rein him in. He can at least give his friend the benefit of a maturity he decidedly does notpossess at the moment.

 

“No one is Lily,” James says. “Do you think she’ll ever give me the time of day?”

 

Sirius sighs. “I think if you lay off hexing people and focus on your studies, you might win her favor. Lily likes smart people.”

 

“That’s your advice,” James says flatly.

 

Sirius gives him a look. “You asked, and that’s my answer. Clearly, what you’re doing isn’t working, so maybe try something new.”

 

If he wants Harry to exist, he’s going to have to make sure Lily changes her tune.

 

Then again, he remembers the lines had already been drawn, with students choosing their sides in the war to come, or pointedly notchoosing, hoping that neutrality would be honored.

 

It rarely was, and Sirius isn’t looking forward to the years ahead. That dread is why this door wasn’t his first choice.

 

“How’s the project coming?” James asks.

 

“Oh, I managed a full transformation,” Sirius says casually, and then thinks better of it. Too late, though; the words are out, and James straightens.

 

“What?”

 

“I figured it out,” Sirius replies. “Once you get the full transformation the first time, it’s pretty easy.”

 

In reality, Sirius hadn’t managed until the end of fifth year, after the disastrous prank on Snape, and the months where Remus hadn’t spoken to him. Sirius made the last big push in a desperate attempt to win his affection back.

 

Then again, transforming into his animagus form is so instinctual at this point, Sirius doesn’t trust himself not to do so. It’s better to come clean now.

 

“And you didn’t say anything?” James demands.

 

Sirius grimaces. “Well, since I justfigured it out, and I didn’t want to make Peter feel bad, no. You know he thinks he’s never going to manage it.”

 

He’s rather hoping there’s something he can do to prevent Peter from finding his form. It might prevent a whole host of problems.

 

“Well, let’s see it, then,” James replies.

 

Sirius glances around. The common room is deserted except for the two of them. He has no intention of anyone other than the Marauders knowing about Padfoot, but it’s late enough that they’re alone.

 

“Quickly, then,” Sirius says. “Because I don’t plan on getting caught.”

 

James leans forward, hazel eyes gleaming. “Put your money where your mouth is.”

 

Sirius glances around once again, and feels the transformation. His apparent age doesn’t mean much. The memory is there, ingrained in whatever part of the brain that controls that sort of thing.

 

In a moment, he’s Padfoot again. He hadn’t really counted on the simplicity of emotion as a dog, because his front feet are on James’ shoulders and he’s licking James’ face before he can think better of it.

 

“Hey!” James protests, but he’s laughing in a familiar way, the way most do when confronted with his doggy self.

 

Unless they think he’s a Grim, in which case they’re usually frightened.

 

James leans back. “Jesus, Sirius. You realize you look like a Grim, right?”

 

Sirius transforms back. “I’ll strike fear into the hearts of everybody who doesn’t know better.”

 

“How the hell did you manage that?” James asks.

 

Once again, Sirius wants to tell him the truth, but the words get stuck in his throat. “Just had an epiphany, that’s all. I don’t know. Maybe you should meditate more.”

 

James groans. “I keep seeing a stag. What’s up with that? It’s not nearly as useful as your form.”

 

Sirius shrugs. “Everything we’ve read says we don’t choose our form, our form chooses us. So, you were apparently meant to be a stag.”

 

James snorts. “Yeah, well, it’s not the most useful.”

 

“But no one will look twice at you in the woods,” Sirius points out.

 

James gets to his feet. “I’m going to bed. You coming?”

 

“Right behind you,” Sirius replies.

 

He stays in the common room for a long time, though, soaking in the atmosphere. In many ways, his years at Hogwarts had been the best of his life. Away from his family, among his friends, he’d been popular and well regarded—at least by everyone other than the teachers.

 

He’s not sure how he’s going to deal with Peter. If he thought Peter could be saved, it would be one thing, but Sirius thinks it’s a deeply ingrained character flaw that caused him to take the Mark. If Peter had gone through seven years of school with them, benefitted from James’ protection and camaraderie…

 

Sirius doesn’t think there’s anything he can do to save him. And he really doesn’t want to try.

 

Maybe that’s a character flaw of his own, but he’s fine with it.

 

~~~~~

 

Sirius is grateful for both his younger body and advanced knowledge the next day. The lack of sleep doesn’t affect him as much as it would have before, and he can do fifth-year spells in his sleep.

 

Thankfully, he manages to avoid Peter for most of the day, other than for meals.

 

Sirius pulls Remus aside after dinner. “That thing we talked about, I can do it. I’ll join you during the next full moon.”

 

“Which is the day after tomorrow,” Remus replies tartly. “Also, I don’t know that I believe you.”

 

“You’ll believe me when I show up in my animagus form,” Sirius counters. “You’re not going to spend another full moon alone.”

 

It’s a reckless promise, and Sirius thinks better of it a moment later because there’s no way he can keep it, much like when he’d promised Harry he could live with Sirius.

 

Still, he means it, and Remus’ expression softens. “I thought you were still working on it.”

 

“James and Peter are,” Sirius admits. “I figured it out.”

 

Remus’ expression is reluctantly impressed. “Have you told the others yet?”

 

“James, yes, Peter, no,” Sirius replies.

 

Remus gives him a sharp look. “You’ve been avoiding Peter.”

 

Sirius winces. “Not on purpose.”

 

That’s a lie, but it’s not as though he can tell anyone the truth.

 

Remus nods. “You’re going to sneak out?”

 

“We know how to get past the Whomping Willow,” Sirius replies. “If I go as a dog, no one will notice.”

 

Remus smiles. “Somehow, I’m not surprised at your form.”

 

Sirius gives him a half-hearted glare. “Make all the jokes you want. Wait until you see it.”

 

“Thank you, Sirius,” Remus says quietly. “It means a lot that you’d even try.”

 

Becoming animagi was James’ idea, and he’d been the first to manage it last time. Sirius’ form had come easily once he nailed it, though, and it had only taken him another month or so after James mastered the transformation.

 

Granted, Sirius hadn’t really grown close to Remus until seventh year, when James and Lily began dating, and James had less time for his friends. So, it makes sense that Remus would be surprised, both that Sirius had been first to manage it, and that he would risk so much to be with Remus during the full moon.

 

Sirius has to remember how much had changed between fifth year and the end of the war, or his friends might get suspicious.

 

“Of course,” Sirius replies, and turns away.

 

“Where are you going?” Remus asks.

 

“The library,” Sirius replies with a wave. “I have some studying to do.”

 

It’s not completely out of character for him to study, of course. Sirius is near the top of his class, and while he’s intelligent, he has to put some work in. James is slightly less diligent, but still dedicated to doing well, even if they try to look good while doing it.

 

Remus, of course, is the swot. Peter is the middling one.

 

At least, that’s what Sirius assumed in the past; he won’t make that mistake again. He won’t underestimate Peter.

 

But he has another task in mind. Someone created Wolfsbane in the future. Sirius doesn’t remember who, though, if he ever knew. He wishes he’d paid a little more attention now, since he might have been able to contact them and see if he could get something to help Remus earlier.

 

If Sirius can’t find the person who made Wolfsbane, maybe he can come up with something just as good.

 

Or at least a substitute until whoever created Wolfsbane comes up with it again.

 

If they do. Sirius kind of hates time travel right now.

 

The problem is that while Sirius is decent at potions, or at least not utter pants, he hadn’t expanded his knowledge of potions theory since leaving Hogwarts after seventh year. Snape might be the only one in their year with the knowledge to help, but there’s no way in hell that Sirius is going to ask for it.

 

Well, Lily might be able to help. She’s best with Charms, but she knows her way around a cauldron. They would have to tell her the truth, though. Sirius doesn’t think they told Lily about Remus’ condition until after leaving school.

 

He has too many options right now, too many choices before him, without any idea what will make the most difference. Obviously, when the time comes, he’ll be the Secret Keeper, as he was meant to be the first time around.

 

But he has no idea whether he should even try to save Regulus or Peter, no idea what choices will save Lily and James, and best serve Remus. What he does know is that the Wolfsbane potion will only help. Even if he can’t figure it out, he has to try.

 

Sirius hasn’t made much progress by curfew, and he heads back to Gryffindor Tower. James, Peter, and Remus are sprawled out in the common room, a tight grouping that doesn’t admit interlopers.

 

Sirius has missed these days, but his knowledge of what’s to come taints the enjoyment he might have otherwise experienced in being back with his friends again.

 

Still, he pastes on a smile and throws himself onto the lounge next to James.

 

“You were in the library for hours,” James complains. “I thought we were going to play Exploding Snap.”

 

“Sorry,” Sirius says quickly. “I was working on a problem for Potions.”

 

James raises his eyebrows. “Are you gunning for a spot in Slug Club?”

 

“Not even if you paid me,” Sirius replies with a grimace. “Besides, Slughorn wouldn’t ask a disgraced Black to join his precious club, no matter how good I am. Regulus will be the one he invites.”

 

“Do you think he’d ask me?” Peter asks, a little wistfully.

 

Sirius turns his snort of disdain into a cough at the last moment, and James says kindly, “I think you have as much chance as the rest of us, Peter.”

 

That kindness is very much like James, at least among friends.

 

“Which is to say, likely none at all,” Remus adds dourly.

 

“Oh, don’t be such a wet blanket,” James replies. “I meant that we all have a chance of getting in. Except for Sirius. I think he’s right about that.”

 

Sirius offers a lazy salute. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the only good Black is a disgraced Black, even if it does keep me out of the Slug Club.”

 

“They say being invited can set you up for life,” Peter protests. “Some of us don’t have the backing of an Ancient and Noble house.”

 

Sirius rolls his eyes. “Right. Some backing.”

 

Although Peter isn’t wrong about one aspect, at least. Sirius did wind up with money from Uncle Alphard, which is more than Peter will have.

 

That’s still no excuse for what Peter did—or will do. Going back in time really is hell on verb tenses.

 

Peter’s expression is discontent, and he looks as though he’d like to argue and can’t. All of his friends know about Sirius’ rotten home life, and Peter, at least, has good, decent parents, even if they’re not wealthy or otherwise remarkable.

 

He and James would have shared if Peter had needed it; they’d taken care of Remus, after all.

 

“I’m for bed,” Remus announces. “Anybody else?”

 

“Me, too,” Peter replies. “James?”

 

“I’ll be along shortly,” James replies. “Me and Sirius.”

 

They leave, and he and James are alone in the common room.

 

“I know you like to take the piss out of Peter, but tonight was not on,” James says severely. “You know he’s insecure.”

 

Sirius bites back his first response for something more conciliatory. “I do. It was a knee jerk response.”

 

He can’t tell James the truth, but he doesn’t want to alienate him either. It’s a delicate line he walks right now.

 

“Look, I know that you and Peter haven’t always been close, but he’s still our friend,” James argues.

 

Sirius bites his tongue, quite literally. “I know. I’ll keep my opinions to myself in the future.”

 

James frowns at him. “What happened?”

 

Sirius takes a deep breath. “A premonition, nothing more.”

 

“You never talked about that sort of thing before,” James replies.

 

Sirius shrugs. “Maybe that was before I learned my form was a Grim.”

 

“And what is your premonition?” James asks, in a deceptively light tone.

 

“That jealousy is a very dangerous emotion,” Sirius replies. “And that we probably shouldn’t trust anyone who’s suffering from it.”

 

James frowns, clearly skeptical. “Is that what’s making you act so strangely around Peter? Your animagus form?”

 

Sirius shrugs. “Maybe that’s it.” He almost says something about dogs and rats not getting along, but no one knows what Peter’s animagus form will be yet.

 

James shakes his head. “You know what they say about prophecy, Sirius. Be careful that you don’t fulfill it by your own action or inaction.”

 

Like Sirius, James grew up pureblood, and he knows the power of true prophecy. Lily had been slightly more skeptical, but she also knew they’d be targets for Voldemort solely based on their work for the Order and James’ status as a blood traitor. She’d gone into hiding for Harry’s sake.

 

James makes a good point, though. Sirius doesneed to be careful that he doesn’t alienate Peter so much that he ends up being the root cause for his defection.

 

“I will,” he says.

 

James gives him another look. “I don’t think you’re telling me everything.”

 

Sirius offers an elegant shrug. “I would if I could.”

 

James doesn’t look terribly happy, but he rises gracefully. “Get some rest tonight,” James advises. “You’ll be up all night with Remus night after next.”

 

He sounds wistful, and Sirius feels regret, knowing that James had been the first to accomplish the transformation the last time, and that he’d been working hard on it. “It’s not anything to do with you,” Sirius says, wanting to offer some reassurance. “As I said, I had a bit of a premonition, and I figured out how to bridge the gap. You’ll get there.”

 

James smiles. “Well, I’m glad one of us will be with Remus anyway. Are you coming?”

 

“I think I’ll stay up a little longer,” Sirius says.

 

“You do need sleep,” James reminds him.

 

Sirius shrugs. “Sure, but I’m not tired right now.”

 

That’s a lie, because he’s fucking exhausted, but it’s a small lie. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to sleep, and he wants to sit for a bit, alone with his own thoughts.

 

James gives him a look, like he knows Sirius is lying, but he just shrugs. “Sleep well, when you get there.”

 

And Sirius stares into the flames, thinking through all the possibilities.

 

~~~~~

 

He sleepwalks through his classes, still having a hard time getting any kind of rest. In the darkness of his curtained four-poster, he hears Peter snuffling, or James shifting, or Remus tossing restlessly.

 

Sirius wants to murder Peter, wants to wrap James and Remus up in cotton-wool, but he can’t do any of that.

 

He gets through the next couple of days only because he has enough experience and knowledge to do it in his sleep.

 

Which he’s doing. Almost literally.

 

He’s afraid that he’ll be too tired when he meets Remus the night of the full moon, but as soon as he transforms, he feels more alert, although he does yawn. He stayed outside the castle, near the lake once he’d eaten dinner, then transformed once dusk fell. He trots across the lawn and manages to dodge the lashing branches of the Whomping Willow and presses the knot that opens the secret passage.

 

Once inside, Sirius pauses long enough to ensure the door closes behind him, and heads down the tunnel towards the Shrieking Shack.

 

Remus has already transformed by the time Sirius emerges, and he moves cautiously knowing that the werewolf will view Sirius as encroaching on his territory.

 

He hears the growls first, and Sirius slinks along the floor, maintaining a submissive posture.

 

Remus appears, growling at him, and Sirius rolls over.

 

The werewolf glares and snorts, but then curiosity gets the better of him, and he sniffs at Sirius. After a moment, he whuffs and noses Sirius’ side.

 

Sirius scrambles to his feet and licks Remis’ muzzle, whining softly.

 

Remus sneezes and shoves Sirius with his head, and that’s the end of that. Sirius thinks that Remus recognizes him, and their other friends, as pack, as family, and so Sirius’ smell is familiar to him, and therefore not alarming.

 

Sirius, at least, is used to the dynamics, and he initiates a play session, nipping at Remus’ heels and darting away. It takes the werewolf some time to get with the program, but then Remus snaps and begins chasing Sirius.

 

They race around the shack for a couple of hours, and then Remus collapses onto his side, panting, with a wide, doggy grin. Sirius drops down next to him, resting his head on Remus’ flank. Remus licks his ears.

 

Sirius sleeps deeply and contentedly, and only wakes when Remus begins to whimper, the transformation reversing itself. Sirius watches, maintaining his form, and then licks Remus’ face.

 

Remus groans. “What—” He blinks. “Sirius?”

 

Sirius offers a doggy grin, then transforms back. “What do you think?”

 

“I think I need to get dressed.” Remus glances at the window and the weak pre-dawn light. “We need to get back to the castle.”

 

“That’s all you have to say?” Sirius asks, disappointed at his non-reaction.

 

A sly smile tilts Remus’ mouth. “You’re too easy, you know that?”

 

“Was it better?” Sirius asks, already knowing the answer.

 

Remus sighs. “It was. Thank you.”

 

Sirius transforms back and sits by entrance to the tunnel, waiting for Remus, and then leads the way back to the castle. He peeks out, making sure the coast is clear, sniffing the air, growling when he scents Snape near the tree.

 

Remus keeps his silence next to him, and Sirius considers his options. He doesn’t want to reveal his form, although the temptation to appear and possibly scare the hell out of Snape is tempting.

 

“Severus, what are you doing out here so early?”

 

That’s Dumbledore’s voice, and Sirius lets out a whuff.

 

“I was just—”

 

“Come along,” Dumbledore says inexorably. “They’ll be serving breakfast soon. There’s no reason for you to be loitering outside.”

 

Sirius transforms back and glances at Remus, who offers a brief, relieved grin, and then they quickly head back to the Gryffindor Tower.

 

The Fat Lady peers at them. “You were out late.”

 

Remus ignores the comment, as he always does. “Fortitudo.”

 

Sirius stretches as they make their way through the common room. “I need a shower.”

 

“As do I,” Remus agrees. “Sirius—thank you.”

 

Sirius shrugs off the gratitude. “Of course. It was James’ idea anyway. I was just lucky enough to figure out how to transform first.”

 

Remus gives him a sharp look, but nods. “Still.”

 

“Still,” Sirius echoes, and he doesn’t think he’s mistaking the emotion they share.

 

~~~~~

 

Linda accosts him after breakfast. “Where have you been?”

 

“I’ve been working on a project,” Sirius replies, knowing that answer won’t satisfy her. Granted, he thinks their relationship lasted about two weeks the first time around.

 

Linda glares at him. “Is that all you have to say?”

 

Sirius shrugs. “You deserve better than me right now.”

 

Linda rolls her eyes. “Well, you’ll get no argument from me on that front.”

 

She stalks off, and Sirius breathes out a sigh of relief. At least she didn’t slap him.

 

James smirks at him. “I take it that didn’t go well.”

 

“Better than I thought, actually,” Sirius admits. “It was never going to work.”

 

James shakes his head. “I thought it would last a couple of weeks anyway.”

 

“It might have, if I hadn’t blown her off,” Sirius says candidly. “I told her she deserved better, and she agreed with me.”

 

James grabs a sausage. “Iagree with you.”

 

Sirius rolls his eyes, but doesn’t argue. He might have to feign interest, to avoid suspicion at the sudden personality change. He digs into his own breakfast, famished after the activities of the night.

 

“How did Remus fare last night?” James asks in a low voice.

 

“Well enough,” Sirius replies. “It’s a difficult thing to see up close. I hate that it causes him so much pain.”

 

James grimaces. “Is he still showering?”

 

“You know hot water seems to help,” Sirius replies. “I’m trying to find something else that will help, too.”

 

“Like what?” James asks. “There’s no cure for what he has.”

 

“A potion might ease the transformation,” Sirius replies.

 

James frowns. “You’d think someone would have found it by now.”

 

“Who cares enough to try?” Sirius counters. “Except for us?”

 

James stares at him. “I don’t disagree, but what’s gotten into you, mate?”

 

“I’ve just realized where my priorities need to be,” Sirius replies. “That’s all.”

 

Remus slides into the seat next to Sirius, snatching a piece of toast, which is about the only thing he can stomach the morning after. “What are we talking about?”

 

“About how we’re going win our Quidditch match next weekend,” James says smoothly.

 

Sirius is grateful for the lie, because he doesn’t want to get Remus’ hopes up. There’s no guarantee he’ll be able to replicate the potion, considering that he hadn’t been paying nearly enough attention.

 

“Up against Slytherin,” Peter comments, sitting down next James. “It’s going to be tough.”

 

Regulus is playing his first year as the Slytherin Seeker, and he’s good, but not as good as James. Gryffindor will win, if history repeats itself.

 

Then again, Gryffindor doesn’t lose many games during James’ tenure as Seeker.

 

He’s looking forward to playing Quidditch again. He hadn’t minded being banned from the field after the trick he played on Snape, not at the time, but he’s grateful not to face the same consequences again.

 

Mostly, he’s glad that Remus isn’t freezing him out with the silent treatment.

 

“We have practice tonight,” James says. “You won’t be able to hole up in the library.”

 

Sirius shrugs. “The library will still be there.”

 

Classes are fine that day. Sirius is exhausted—again, or still, he’s not really sure—but he participates where he’s able. After classes are done, but before Quidditch practice and dinner, they’re walking back to the castle from the greenhouses.

 

It’s a beautiful fall day, and there are a lot of students outside enjoying the sunshine. Sirius isn’t paying much attention, so he doesn’t see Snape, but James does. Sirius doessee the ugly expression cross James’ face, the unholy glee at the chance to wind him up.

 

Sirius would have worn the same expression once upon a time, and he would have been willing to have a go at Snape as well, but he’s seen himself through Harry’s eyes. He remembers how stung he’d been by Harry’s disappointment.

 

If James survives, if Harry’s ever in a position to know about their schoolboy hijinks, he doesn’t want James to feel that same hurt.

 

Sirius grabs James’ arm. “Let it go.”

 

James gives him an incredulous look. “Are you serious?”

 

Remus’ expression is inscrutable, whereas Peter just seems confused.

 

“He’s Lily’s friend,” Sirius replies in a low, urgent voice. “He’s a greasy git up to his eyeballs in dark magic, yes, but he’s still her friend. If you want to impress her, this isn’t the way.”

 

James glances at Snape, who’s looked up and spotted them by now, his eyes wary. “What’s gotten into you?”

 

“I’ve caught a glimpse of the future, and I’d rather you not shoot yourself in the foot,” Sirius replies. “Lily will see him for what he is eventually. He’ll call her a nasty name, or one of his cronies will. She’ll see what they are, and she’ll ask him to choose, and he’ll choose wrongly. But you don’t have to hurt him for her to learn that lesson.”

 

James blinks. “Okay, if you say so.”

 

Remus is still watching him, his expression turning speculative, before he nods once, and Sirius thinks it’s in approval. Peter just looks disappointed. “What are we doing, then?”

 

“We’re getting ready for Quidditch practice,” James says, turning away from Snape. “We should get changed.”

 

Maybe it won’t make any difference at all, Sirius thinks. Maybe it’s too late.

 

But maybe it isn’t, or maybe at the very least James will be able to be honest with Harry about his time at Hogwarts and not feel ashamed.

 

~~~~~

 

As time goes on, Sirius tends to forget where he’s come from, although the knowledge lingers in the back of his mind. He goes to classes, and plays Quidditch, and researches Potions.

 

The bad news is that he’s no closer to a version of Wolfsbane than he was before; the good news is that he’s improving his Potions grade to such an extent that Snape starts giving him dirty looks that have nothing to do with how they’ve treated him, and Slughorn looks at him speculatively.

 

That doesn’t matter to Sirius; he wants to help Remus first and foremost.

 

He catches Regulus alone towards the end of the year. He’s been trying to talk to him privately for the last couple of months, without any luck. Regulus is always with friends, pure-bloods from Slytherin, and Sirius wants to talk to him alone.

 

He wants to at least tell Regulus that he’s planning to spend the summer with James, rather than going home.

 

“What do you want?” Regulus demands suspiciously.

 

“I wanted to let you know I’m not coming home this summer,” Sirius replies. “I thought I owed you that much, at least.”

 

Regulus snorts. “Like I didn’t already know, you blood traitor?”

 

“Just because I’m Gryffindor—”

 

“You were a blood traitor long before that,” Regulus snaps, and Sirius hears the echo of their mother’s words. “You were always a traitor, right from the womb.”

 

“I’m sorry you believe that,” Sirius replies. “If you change your mind, if you realize that the life you’ve chosen isn’t the one you want, come and find me.”

 

Regulus sniffs and stalks off, his spine straight, and Sirius curses silently, but he always knew he’d never be able to convince Regulus to stop being such a Black, not at this late date.

 

The pure-bloods have him. Voldemortwill have him.

 

Maybe Sirius should try harder to save him, but he lost Regulus a long time ago, and some people don’t want to be saved.

 

That’s the hard truth he’s learned over the years.

 

That’s the truth he learned as a child. Sirius lost his brother the day he left for Hogwarts.

 

Sirius scrubs his hands over his face, and then he takes a deep breath. School ends in a few days, and he’ll take his OWLS. He’s not worried about doing well. In fact, quite the opposite, given how hard he’s been studying Potions, which had been his weakest subject in the past.

 

He goes back to the common room, finding the others waiting for him. “Did you find him?” James asks.

 

Sirius should have known that James would know what he intended. “I did. He called me a blood traitor, but I don’t know why I expected anything else.”

 

“Hope springs eternal,” Remus replies quietly.

 

“That it does,” James agrees. “You’ll always have a place with us, Sirius. I hope you know that.”

 

“Of course,” Sirius replies with a smile he hopes is careless.

 

He hadn’t felt much regret for breaking with his family entirely the first time around, and he’s not sure he does now. At sixteen, he hadn’t been able to stomach another night under his parents’ roof. Right now, he’s not sure he could refrain from hexing them into next week, and he’s got the skill and experience to do so at this point.

 

He might just react without thinking.

 

“Are you ready for OWLS?” Peter asks.

 

The urge to kill him isn’t as great as it was at first, but that’s mostly because Sirius has resolved that Peter will never be in a position to harm James. He can’t do much more than that right now.

 

“I’ll be fine,” Sirius replies. “We all will be.”

 

Peter will do middling well, and Remus and James will each take home enough O’s to have their pick of jobs in the future—or Remus would if he weren’t a werewolf.

 

OWLS are certainly less stressful the second time around, and Sirius skates through easily, particularly with Potions and DADA.

 

And at the end of it, Sirius can look forward to a summer with James.

 

He’s leaving the examination room when he spots Lily and Snape. She hasn’t warmed to James much this year, but Sirius isn’t worried. There’s still time for that to change.

 

Sirius is curious, though, and he glances around quickly, knowing he’s taking a risk, but unable to help himself. He quickly casts a “notice-me-not” charm and sidles closer.

 

“How can you spend time with them?” Lily is demanding. “You know what they are.”

 

“They’re my classmates,” Snape argues.

 

“Mulciber tormented that poor girl, while you stood by and laughed with the rest of them,” Lily snaps. “And you’ve been following James and the others around all year—”

 

“Lupin disappears every month around the full moon,” he begins.

 

“I know what your theory is,” she says, her tone cool. “And even if you’re right, they’ve said he’s ill, and he is. I don’t know what your excuse is for hanging about with want-to-be Death Eaters.”

 

“I told you, they’re my friends,” Snape says hotly.

 

“They hate me because of who my parents are, and that’s who you are aligning yourself with,” Lily snaps. “We’re not friends. We’ll never be friends. You chose your side, and it’s not mine.”

 

She stalks off, and Sirius holds his breath, not wanting to be noticed. Snape’s expression, when he stares after her, is a mixture of anger and devastation.

 

Sirius realizes that Snape is in love with her, and he could almost feel sorry for him.

 

Almost, because he remembers how Snape treated Harry, and his inability to transfer any of his regard for Lily to her son tells Sirius that it’s not true love, not really.

 

If Snape truly loved her, he would have treated Harry like his own. He would have at least been kindto him.

 

Snape stalks off, but doesn’t appear to see Sirius, and he breathes a sigh of relief. He’s pretty sure Snape would have hated him even more if he’d known Sirius witnessed his argument with Lily.

 

“That was the worst,” James groans when he joins Sirius in the common room. “How do you think you did?”

 

“Well enough to have my pick of subjects next year,” Sirius replies. “You?”

 

James shrugs. “Fine, I think, but I guess we’ll see.”

 

“I have faith in you,” Sirius replies easily.

 

“I hope you had faith in me before I took my OWLS, because it’s a little late now,” James comments.

 

“I will always have faith in you,” Sirius says sincerely.

 

James’ quick grin is recompense enough. “Thanks, Padfoot.”

 

James managed his first transformation a few weeks after Halloween, and Sirius wonders if it’s not at least partially because James hadn’t liked Sirius going somewhere he couldn’t. His nickname had come quickly, as had James’ and Remus’. If the timing holds true, they’ll create the Marauders’ Map early next year, mostly to protect themselves from Snape, who hasn’t stopped trying to reveal Remus’ secret.

 

“I’m glad you’re coming home with me,” James says suddenly. “I won’t have to worry about you this summer.”

 

“You worry about me?”

 

“Uh, yeah, with your parents?” James comments. “Of course, I worried about you, mate. I always worry about you when you go home. Just as well you don’t have to go back.”

 

“Just as well,” Sirius echoes.

 

“You having second thoughts?”

 

Sirius sighs. “I worry about Regulus.”

 

James is quiet for a long moment. “I think you’re right to worry about him, but there’s nothing more you could have done for him, Pads.”

 

“Do you say that because he was sorted into Slytherin and the Snakes are hopeless, or do you really mean that?” Sirius asks.

 

“I really mean that,” James replies. “Regulus has made his own choices, and it’s not your fault that he fell into line with your mother’s thinking.”

 

Sirius wonders if James would feel the same way if he knew what Sirius knows about the future, but then again, Sirius has always defined his family by choice, not by blood. It’s an attitude that drove his mother crazy, although his Uncle Alphard understood.

 

Remus joins them next, collapsing next to Sirius on the couch. “How did you two make out?”

 

“According to Sirius, we did just fine,” James jokes.

 

Remus gives him a sideways look. “And you have some idea how we did?”

 

“Very well,” Sirius replies, “because of course we did.”

 

He’s always been cocky, and he uses that to his advantage now. Remus clearly senses that something is off, because he’s been asking questions. What he’s thinking, what he senses, Sirius isn’t sure, but he’s unwilling to open the door, so he pretends not to notice Remus’ interest.

 

Remus gives him a look, but doesn’t say anything else.

 

Peter is the last to arrive, looking absolutely exhausted. “That was horrible.”

 

“Sirius thinks he did well,” James says.

 

“Well enough to be useful to the Order, anyway,” Sirius replies. “Or maybe I’m being optimistic.”

 

“Nothing wrong with optimism,” Peter says glumly. “I have none.”

 

Sirius doesn’t try to make him feel better. “I’m sure you did just as well as the rest of us,” Remus says kindly.

 

Sirius knows better, but he figures that Peter can learn the truth when OWL letters are sent out later in the summer. Thankfully, if history repeats itself, he’s going to have a summer with James, punctuated with a couple of visits from Remus during the new moon, but they won’t see Peter until school starts again.

 

He’s looking forward to the break.

 

~~~~~

 

Summer at the Potters’ country estate is as relaxed as Grimmauld Place isn’t. As the sole heir, a late-born son to parents desperate for a child, James is probably a little spoiled, but Sirius doesn’t see it like that.

 

Besides, the Potters open their home to Sirius without question. Mrs. Potter gives him a hug as soon as he gets off the train. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re staying with us this summer,” she exclaims. “I know James worries about you terribly over the holidays.”

 

Mr. Potter claps him on the shoulder. “It’s good to have you with us, my boy. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like, of course, and I hope you’ll consider spending all future holidays with us.”

 

“I would appreciate that,” Sirius admits. “Thank you for your hospitality.”

 

“Nonsense,” Mrs. Potter replies. “You’re as much our son as James’ brother, and you are very welcome.”

 

“We’re going to have a great summer,” James says, clapping Sirius on the back.

 

And it isa great summer, just as good as the first time around, if a little bittersweet. Sirius can sometimes forget that James is dead in some version of the future, and just enjoy being with his friend—and then he’ll remember, and he’ll want to savor every second.

 

When he gets those moments of melancholy, James will give him a sharp look, like he can sense Sirius’ mood. After the first time he probes, and Sirius tells him that someone must have walked over his grave, he doesn’t ask again.

 

Sirius can’t talk about it, but he wishes he could, and is also glad he can’t. He’s not sure what he’d say.

 

How could he tell James what’s to come? He can’t blight the upcoming years like that, or risk stealing any of James’ joy at being married, or having Harry.

 

When Remus visits, they spend time by the pond, ambling around the countryside, and generally being idle teenagers. Next summer, they’ll start training for war.

 

This summer, though, they’re still kids.

 

The magic of Hogwarts means that his OWL results come to the Potters’ residence, addressed to Sirius, and he does even better than anticipated. He gets an O in Potions, DADA, Charms, and Ancient Runes. He gets an E in his other courses, except for his A in History of Magic. James does almost as well, with Os and Es in most everything but History of Magic, in which he also gets an A.

 

That’s not surprising, given how Binns tends to drone on. Sirius thinks the only people who do well in that class are those who have an interest in history and study on their own.

 

Sirius has other things on his mind, and History of Magic isn’t going to help him with his future plans.

 

Peter writes to them over the summer to let them know he’s found his animagus form, and Sirius and James start working on the map. Remus is a willing assistant during his visits, since they’re all a little tired of Snape sneaking around and attempting to reveal Remus’ secret.

 

He and James have the map finished by the time they get back to Hogwarts, and just like last time, Peter is disappointed to be left out and irritated at the nickname.

 

And maybe that’s where things started going wrong, but Sirius has a hard time caring about Peter’s feelings, not after what he did.

 

Sixth year passes in a blur of classes and Quidditch and pranks. They mostly manage to avoid Snape because of the map, and James seems to buckle down and focus on proving to Lily that he’s not the arrogant toerag she thinks he is.

 

Sirius remembered sixth year as one of the best years, and the same is true this time as well. They don’t have to worry about OWLs or NEWTs, or what they’re going to do next, and if there’s the understanding that they’ll soon need to take sides in the war, they’re not there yet.

 

And at the end of sixth year, James walks into the common room with a goofy grin on his face. “She kissed me,” he says, collapsing next to Sirius.

 

“Did she now?” Sirius asks. “Good job, mate.”

 

“You don’t seem surprised,” James says.

 

Remus doesn’t look up from his book, but Sirius knows he’s paying attention; if he weren’t, he’d have turned the page by now.

 

“I knew she’d come to her senses eventually,” Sirius jokes. “Besides, she’s certain to be chosen to be Head Girl, and if you’re Head Boy, there’s a certain poetry in that.”

 

James snorts. “I’m not a prefect.”

 

“There’s no rule that says you have to be a prefect in order to be Head Boy,” Sirius replies.

 

James gives him a strange look. “You sound so sure of yourself.”

 

Sirius shrugs. “That’s my thing: supreme confidence.”

 

James’ eyes narrow. “True, but that was an oddly specific thing to have supreme confidence in.”

 

Sirius shrugs. “I have a feeling.”

 

Remus isn’t even pretending to read anymore, watching them with sharp, wary eyes.

 

“You’ve had a lot of feelings,” James observes. “Remus and I both have noticed. You’re different.”

 

Sirius shrugs. “I’ve had to grow up. I knew that as soon as I left home I would.”

 

“That’s not it,” James argues. “You found your form faster than the rest of us, and it was my idea. I thought I’d be the first.”

 

“I didn’t think you minded that I figured it out,” Sirius objects.

 

“I don’t mind,” James protests. “It’s just one more thing I noticed.”

 

Sirius sighs. “I don’t know what to tell you, Prongs. It just kind of happened.”

 

“There’s something you’re not telling us,” James replies.

 

Remus clears his throat. “We’re worried.”

 

Sirius takes a deep breath, feeling the words get stuck in his throat. “I’d tell you if I could.”

 

James frowns, clearly hurt. “You can tell us anything.”

 

But Remus sits up, understanding dawning. “You really can’t.”

 

Sirius nods tightly. “I just—know things.”

 

“You’veseenthings,” Remus corrects.

 

Sirius shrugs, unable to force words out around the lump in his throat.

 

James’ hurt turns to worry. “Are you all right?”

 

“I hope I will be,” Sirius replies. “I hope we all will be.”

 

“We have each other, Pads,” James says easily. “Of course, we will be.”

 

But Remus doesn’t appear reassured, and Sirius thinks that’s probably because Remus is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. He always expects the worst, and he’s not wrong.

 

Later, James goes to bed, as does Peter, but Remus stays put, watching Sirius as he stares into the flames of the fireplace. “Ask whatever you like,” Sirius says quietly without looking at him.

 

“Is there anything I can ask?” Remus counters.

 

Sirius sighs deeply. “I don’t know. I haven’t really tested the bounds.”

 

“Is it a curse?”

 

“Some might call it that, but no,” Sirius replies.

 

“A vision of the future?”

 

Sirius manages to force a “yes” through his lips.

 

Remus leans in and asks, “Have you lived the future?”

 

And Sirius closes his eyes tightly, hardly able to breathe. He can’t even nod, the magic of the Veil preventing even that much, but Remus puts an arm over his shoulders and pulls him in close.

 

“You seemed older to me,” Remus murmurs. They’re alone in the common room, and Sirius curls into Remus, feeling the warmth from his body. “I think I knew from that first night in the Shack, but I wasn’t sure. It was crazy, but I knew you were different, especially when you stopped James from going after Snape.”

 

“That slimy git,” Sirius manages to say. “Still, he wasLily’s friend.”

 

“I noticed they weren’t really talking,” Remus says lightly, apparently accepting the change in subject. “Do you know what happened?”

 

“She called him out on his choice of friends and said he’d already picked his side,” Sirius replies. “She doesn’t know I saw.”

 

“Probably better she doesn’t,” Remus says. “I know you can’t talk about it, but is there anything I can do?”

 

Sirius takes a deep breath. “No, nothing other than what you’re already doing.”

 

“Well, tomorrow is Saturday, so there are no classes,” Remus says. “We can just stay here for a bit if you’d like.”

 

And Sirius wouldlike. The girls at Hogwarts are all too young for him, but Moony is always Moony. “Thanks.”

 

“I know what it’s like to have a secret you can’t tell,” Remus murmurs. “Don’t worry about it, Pads.”

 

It’s exactly what Sirius needs to hear.

 

~~~~~

 

The summer between their sixth and seventh years passes quickly, and it’s less carefree than the previous one. Mr. Potter gives them both Apparition lessons, since they’ll be turning 17 that year, and will be eligible to take the test. They also get serious about learning defensive and offensive magic, and James joins him in his quest to find a potion that will help Remus.

 

“Is there a reason you haven’t told me about this until now?” James asks after Sirius tells him about the project.

 

Sirius sighs. “I was hoping I could figure it out, and I don’t want to get Moony’s hopes up.”

 

“Is this part of the thing that you can’t tell us?” James asks. “Because you’re not a Potions Master.”

 

“If I were a better friend, I’d have it sorted by now,” Sirius admits.

 

“That’s not true,” James replies, indignant. “You’re the best friend anybody could ask for.”

 

Sirius shakes his head. “I try to be, but I have fucked a few things up.”

 

James pulls him in for a hug. “Then don’t fuck things up again.”

 

“That easy, huh?” Sirius asks. “Chances are good that there will be something else I do, some other way I fail.”

 

“And I won’t?” James counters. “We’re going to make mistakes. That’s called life.”

 

“I just want to make up for it somehow,” Sirius replies. “You know Remus is going to have a harder time of it. Sure, Dumbledore let him go to Hogwarts, but an education isn’t going to make much of a difference to how most people will look at him if and when they find out.”

 

James snorts. “Well, it’s lucky for him that he has us, then, isn’t it? I’ve got enough money to support him, and with your inheritance from Uncle Alphard, so can you.”

 

That, of course, assumes that one or both of them is around. When Sirius went after Peter, blinded by grief and a thirst for revenge, he also deprived Remus of his sole remaining friend and source of support.

 

He had deprived Harry of his godfather, and his Uncle Moony, too.

 

Sirius isn’t going to let that happen again.

 

“We’ll look out for him,” Sirius agrees. “Always.”

 

Sirius has a plan, and it’s just as well that he can’t tell anybody about it, because he knows James and Remus will absolutely hate it.

 

But there’s one way to make sure that James and Lily are around to raise Harry, and look after Remus. The personal cost doesn’t matter.

 

When James’ letter comes at the end of the summer, enclosing his Head Boy badge, James goes a little pale, looking at Sirius, who just tilts his head.

 

Mrs. Potter exclaims over the letter, and the badge, and Sirius knows they’d been a little disappointed that James hadn’t been made prefect.

 

“Well done, my boy,” Mr. Potter says, clapping James on the shoulder. “Very well done, indeed. Captain of the Quidditch team andHead Boy? We’re proud of you.”

 

A little color comes back into James’ face, and he grins, obviously pleased. “Thank you. It’s a bit of a surprise, to be sure.”

 

“Not that we aren’t proud of you as well, son,” Mr. Potter adds, patting Sirius on the shoulder.

 

If it had been anybody else saying that, Sirius would have bristled, but instead he feels a warm glow. “You know they’d never put me in charge of anything,” he comments cheerfully.

 

“Oh, I think you might end up surprised, Sirius,” Mrs. Potter comments. “I think you might wind up in charge of quite a bit eventually.”

 

Sirius rather hopes things never get that desperate. If he has to take over the Black family, things will have gone very wrong indeed.

 

Later, though, when they’re alone, James asks, “Did you know for certain?”

 

“Not for certain,” Sirius replies. “But—I was fairly sure, since you hadn’t cocked things up worse than—”

 

The words get stuck in his throat, and Sirius chokes on them, James pounding him obligingly on the back.

 

“That was weird,” James mutters. “Is that what you meant?”

 

Sirius nods, not trusting his voice.

 

“Well, don’t try it again,” James orders. “You looked like you were choking.”

 

“I was,” he replies hoarsely. “I was honest when I said I couldn’t talk about it.”

 

“Clearly,” James replies. “Okay, well, then, I’ll be Head Boy, and youwon’t make my life any harder than it has to be.”

 

Sirius smiles. James had said something similar the first time around. “Deal.”

 

“You don’t mind that I’ll be dating Lily next year, do you?” James asks anxiously.

 

“I’ll spend more time with Moony,” Sirius assures him. “It’s fine.”

 

“But not Peter?” James asks sharply. “You haven’t been the same around him since—” He stops. “Ah.”

 

“Yes, ah.”

 

James takes a deep breath. “But it might not happen, right?”

 

“I don’t know,” Sirius replies. “I suppose it might not. If I knew why to begin with, I might be able to stop it, but I don’t.”

 

Apparently, he can talk around the issue just fine.

 

“I’ll keep an eye out,” James replies. “And maybe we can steer him in the right direction.”

 

Privately, Sirius thinks that James will likely be too caught up in Lily and then seventh year and their work for the Order, but James is fiercely loyal. Sirius is the one holding the grudge, but then he’d lived an entire life after James.

 

~~~~~

 

Sirius knows that Lily doesn’t like him, or at least, it took her until the end of seventh year to warm up to him. The thaw seems to happen a little faster this time. Sirius still isn’t really dating, and when he’s not with the other Marauders, he’s working on defense and potions, and the things he knowshe’ll need in order to fight a war.

 

He has no intention of going for Auror training, but he wants to be as fierce as a Hit Wizard, and just as deadly.

 

To his surprise, a month into the school year, Lily plops down across from him at a table in the library. “James says you’re working on something for Remus.”

 

Sirius frowns. “Not here,” he hisses.

 

“Then where?” She glances around pointedly, and they’re alone. This early in the year, only the real swots would be spending a beautiful Sunday morning in the library.

 

And no one has ever been able to accuse Sirius of being one of those, not to his face, anyway.

 

“Just—not here,” he replies, and begins to gather up his things.

 

Sirius is fairly certain that the only people who know Hogwarts better than the Marauders are the house elves, and maybe the ghosts. There’s a room they found last year, trying to hide from Filch after one of their more harmless pranks.

 

Not that Filch thought that conjuring up a toy mouse for Mrs. Norris and driving her to distraction was harmless, but really, they’d done far worse things, and it was a very successful means of distracting her.

 

Sirius leads her to the seventh-floor corridor in front of the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, and wishes very hard for a private place to have a conversation and perhaps some potions books.

 

“What is this place?” Lily asks when they enter to find a very cozy study space and a pretty decent potions lab.

 

“I’m not sure what it is,” Sirius admits. “It doesn’t really show up on the map as anything at all.”

 

“The map?”

 

Sirius sighs. “Ask James to show you sometime.”

 

Lily stares at him, her hands on her hips, and she finally says, “You’re not the same person you used to be. James tried to tell me you’d changed last year, but I didn’t believe him.”

 

“And now you do?” Sirius asks. He’s finding it difficult to maintain his mask in front of her.

 

This is Lily. This is the woman who became like a sister to him, James’ beloved, Harry’s mother. She’d always liked Remus best of the Marauders, and she’d grumbled at the toy broom Sirius gave Harry for his first birthday, but she’d been the one to ask him to stand as godfather when James stumbled over his words.

 

Of course, James had been so chuffed to be a father, after losing both of his parents so recently.

 

And Lily had always been able to see below the surface.

 

“No, now I believe that you’re an entirely different person, and I’m not sure how that could be,” Lily counters.

 

Sirius isn’t sure what to tell her. “I would love to tell you everything, but I can’t. I physically can’t do so, and I choke when I try, and James told me not to do it again.”

 

“Then it’s true, you do know things,” Lily replies shrewdly. “James said you knew he’d be Head Boy.”

 

“I had a very strong suspicion,” is all Sirius can say.

 

Andhe says you were the one with the idea for the potion for Remus, to help him with the change,” Lily presses.

 

Sirius shrugs. “I’d have been a better friend if I actually knew what I was doing.”

 

“Potions was never your strongest subject,” she points out. “Did you ever make it yourself?”

 

Sirius shakes his head. “And I wasn’t in the position to do more than hear about it vaguely. It was—a very difficult time.”

 

Lily nods briskly. “Very well, I’ll help.” She falters slightly. “Unless you don’t want my help.”

 

“No, that’d be brilliant,” Sirius admits. “I’d have asked Moony, since he’s decent at Potions, but I can’t get his hopes up.”

 

“No, I can see why you wouldn’t,” Lily says, giving him a considering look. “James showed me what his form was, by the way. Could I see yours?”

 

She’d asked him that before, but much later in the year, and Sirius tries not to read too much into it. “Sure.”

 

Being Padfoot is still easier than being human much of the time. His emotions are simpler, and easier to manage and express. A wag of the tail, a gentle nuzzle, belly low—those gestures said more than a thousand words, and managed to clarify his own mind, too.

 

“Well,” Lily says on a laugh. “It’s a good thing I’m not superstitious. You look just like a Grim.”

 

Sirius whines low in his throat.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she says. “Of course, you’re not a harbinger of death. You’re a massive black dog—although you look a bit like a wolf, too, in a way.”

 

Sirius whines again.

 

“Come over here,” she says, and scratches behind his ears. “You know, Grims are sometimes considered benevolent, not that you are one.”

 

He shakes himself all over and is on two feet again.

 

Lily is watching him closely, and she says, “You’re not at all what I thought.”

 

“Sure, I am,” Sirius replies. “I’m exactly what you thought—or I was.”

 

Lily sighs. “I hope that you can someday tell me what exactly happened. But in the meantime, let’s see what you’ve got. I’m surprised you’re not playing Quidditch this year, you know.”

 

“James can field far better Chasers than me,” Sirius replies. “It’s his year to shine, and I won’t hold him back.”

 

There’s a new respect in Lily’s eyes, and Sirius can tell that maybe the thaw is going to come early.

 

~~~~~

 

Sirius isn’t at all surprised by the owls going back and forth between Hogwarts and Potter Manor, and he knows the contents only because James is sticking strictly to schedule. The parcel that arrives two days before the Halloween feast is smaller than his fist, and he knows what it contains.

 

James, after swearing them all to secrecy that night, shows them the engagement ring his parents sent. “It’s not much, not right now,” James explains. “More of a promise that there’s another in her future that’s a bit more substantial.”

 

The ring is pretty—a gold setting with a respectable sized emerald and diamonds on either side. Enough to show he’s serious, but not so obtrusive as to draw unwanted attention.

 

“It’s lovely,” Remus comments wistfully.

 

“Perfectly lovely,” Peter echoes dutifully.

 

James looks at Sirius, who is feeling a sense of déjà vu so profound he can hardly catch his breath. “Green for her eyes, huh? You’re such a sap, mate.”

 

James rolls his eyes, but he’s grinning. “You berk. You only wish.”

 

“Not my type, as she’s yours,” Sirius replies. “But you’re lucky to have each other.”

 

And he means that with all his heart.

 

“She hasn’t said yes yet,” James objects. “I’m hoping she’ll be willing to come home for Christmas with us, and I can go meet her family as well. It seems a bit grim to be stuck here.”

 

Sirius has spent more than one holiday at Hogwarts, and while it can be quiet, it’s definitely not grim. “It’s not so bad, but I’ll bet your parents will be happy to have her.”

 

“And you,” James says with a frown. “That’s not meant to leave you out, Pads.”

 

“Never thought you were trying to,” Sirius replies breezily. “Besides, your parents love me for some unfathomable reason.”

 

Remus clears his throat. “Not thatunfathomable.”

 

Sirius feels heat creep up his face. He’s heard Remus make a few comments like that—unremarkable, really, except for how they make him feel. It’s probably not even flirting. Remus has always held himself aloof for good reason.

 

“I’ll be going home, as always,” Peter announces.

 

Sirius is never certain whether he’s angling for an invitation, or if he’s reminding the others that he has very normal parents. Not that James doesn’t have normal parents, but they had him late in life, and sometimes seem more like grandparents as a result.

 

There’s every possibility that he’s trying to rub Sirius’ nose in it, though.

 

“Well, I think it’s just Lily and her sister,” James says, breaking the awkward silence. “We might go visit her and her fiancé then.”

 

“Full moon over Christmas,” Remus says shortly. “It’s probably for the best.”

 

“I can come keep you company, Moony,” Sirius offers. “I’m happy to.”

 

Remus shakes his head. “I’m grateful for the offer, but while I understand that someone in animagus form can’t be harmed, or at least turned, my parents are understandably wary. They won’t stand for it.”

 

From his expression, it’s clear that he’s worried about post-graduation, when there’s no Whomping Willow, no Shrieking Shack, no way to protect others from himself.

 

“Potter Manor’s grounds are extensive,” James says quietly. “It’s a bit of a train ride away from London, but certainly can be done once a month.”

 

“I might take you up on that,” Remus replies, and Sirius feels the heavy weight of reality—that the end of Hogwarts is upon them, and then there will be the war, and then Sirius will die if he has to.

 

Lily and James walk into the Halloween feast hand in hand, and those sharp-eyed in the room can immediately see the ring.

 

Sirius isn’t watching them; he’s watching Peter, who wears an expression of raw envy. Sirius doesn’t think he’s in love with Lily—he wouldn’t have sold her out if he were, assuming he’s even capable of love. No, he wants the trappings of what James has—Head Boy, Quidditch Captain, beautiful girlfriend, and rich, doting parents.

 

Snape, though—Sirius catches the expression on Snape’s face before he quickly turns it into his customary sneer. Sirius has never seen a clearer picture of naked jealousy, and he’s fairly certain that if Snape could have challenged James to a duel to win Lily’s hand, he would have done so right there.

 

Granted, Lily would have hexed him so hard his grandparents would feel it, but emotions aren’t entirely logical, as Sirius knows all too well.

 

But Snape could do some damage to one or both of them, and Sirius resolves to make it impossible for Snape to touch them, for anybody to touch them.

 

If he has to be a one-man army, so be it.

 

~~~~~

 

Christmas is a rather jolly affair. Lily is a bit shy with the Potters at first, but they welcome her as effusively as they welcomed Sirius, exclaiming over her ring as though Mrs. Potter hadn’t removed it from the family vault herself.

 

“You’ll probably want to start planning your wedding immediately,” she gushes. “For after you leave school, of course. Do you have family that will help you, darling?”

 

Lily’s smile is a little forced. “Just my older sister, and she’s also engaged, but she’s a Muggle. I have no idea how to plan for a magical wedding.”

 

Mrs. Potter—who insists on Lily calling her mum—pats her hand. “Wizard weddings aren’t that much different, I daresay, although I haven’t been to a Muggle one since the end of the last war, to be quite honest with you. Well, we’ll find a nice blend of traditions. Do you think your sister will attend?”

 

Lily takes a deep breath. “I’m not sure. She wasn’t terribly happy when I received my Hogwarts letter, you know, but we’re going to visit over the holiday, and I guess we’ll see what happens after that.”

 

What happens is that James returns looking like a thundercloud and announcing that he’s going for a ride on his broom. He doesn’t ask for Sirius’ company, so Sirius stays behind with Lily, because her expression suggests that her world is ending.

 

Her eyes are red, and she’s obviously been crying, but she tries to keep a stiff upper lip around Sirius.

 

“I take it things didn’t go well,” Sirius says gently, sitting down next to her on the settee. They’ve been getting to know each other over the last few months, working on Remus’ potion together, sometimes with James, sometimes not.

 

Sirius is grateful for the opportunity. He doesn’t anticipate anything happening to James or Lily, but he knows all too well that things happen in war, and he might not be able to save them.

 

And if the worst happens, he wants to be able to tell Harry about his mum, just as much as his dad. And if Sirius dies for them, as he fully intends to do, Lily and James will both be able to tell Harry about him.

 

“Her fiancé is a complete boor,” Lily says. “He hated James on sight, I think. He kept trying to impress James with how much money he had, and how much he’ll make, and that just got James going, of course.”

 

Sirius winces. “I could see how that would lead to an upset.”

 

“They stormed out of the restaurant,” Lily says, sniffing. “Petunia and I haven’t been close, not since I left for school, but I didn’t think it would be thatmuch of a disaster.”

 

“Family can be tricky,” Sirius replies diplomatically.

 

She lets out a watery laugh. “Well, I suppose you’d know. Have you been home at all?”

 

“Not since the summer before sixth year,” Sirius admits. “I stayed at Hogwarts that Christmas, and broke entirely with the whole blasted clan. I’d be penniless if it weren’t for Uncle Alphard.”

 

“You’ve been disowned?” Lily asks.

 

Sirius snorts. “No, my grandfather wants the Black family line to continue too badly to risk it. But they can cut me off from the family resources, in the hopes that I’ll come crawling back with my tail between my legs.”

 

“Literally, in your case,” Lily teases, and Sirius is relieved to see a smile break out on her face.

 

“Quite literally,” Sirius agrees. “Sometimes, family is the one you choose, Lils.”

 

She tucks her arm through his and leans her head against his shoulder. “Sometimes, it is. I just wish being a witch didn’t mean I also lose my sister.”

 

“What will you do after school?” Sirius asks.

 

“Marry James, and work for the Order,” Lily replies. “It seems silly to plan for much more than that until You-Know-Who is dead and gone. Once we know we have a future, then we can think about jobs and the rest of it.”

 

“Not that you’ll have to worry about money as James’ wife,” Sirius points out.

 

Lily gives him an exasperated look. “I don’t want to just be someone’s wife, or someone’s mother, Sirius.”

 

“No, of course not,” Sirius replies. “I’m just saying that the whole world is your oyster.”

 

“I think I’d like a mastery, probably in charms,” Lily admits. “I’d like to do something meaningful, like what we’re doing for Remus.”

 

Sirius hesitates before broaching what’s probably another painful subject, but his curiosity gets the better of him. “You never mentioned asking for Snape’s help.”

 

Lily is quiet. “We can’t risk it. If he’s not already marked as a Death Eater, he will be, given the company he’s been keeping. Besides, Severus has been trying to prove that Remus is a werewolf for ages now, and I’d hate to give him the satisfaction.”

 

“I’m sorry for any part I might have had in that,” Sirius says quietly.

 

“You could tell him that, not that he’d listen to you, anyway,” Lily says. “But no. He made his choice. I’m sorry for it, because he was my first magical friend, and he taught me a lot that made it easier to come to Hogwarts as a Muggle-born. But he’s not the boy I knew.”

 

“Or maybe he is,” Sirius counters. “I could say the same thing about Regulus.”

 

“Do you think he’ll take the mark?” Lily asks.

 

Sirius sighs deeply. “I’m certain of it, and I haven’t done enough to dissuade him.”

 

“Maybe there was nothing you could do,” Lily replies. “You know Slytherin’s reputation.”

 

“I do, which is why I begged the Sorting Hat to make me a Gryffindor,” Sirius says dryly. “Do you want me to go drag James inside?”

 

Lily shakes her head. “No, please don’t. He needs to cool off, and Petunia and that lout really were awful to him. Let’s just sit here for a bit.”

 

And that’s what they do—sit on the settee and stare into the flames, two quasi-orphans who at least have the family they chose.

 

~~~~~

 

The war heats up during their seventh year, as Sirius knew it would, and all the Marauders have been inducted into the Order by the time they graduate. There are a few months between graduation and the wedding, and so Sirius and James go in together on a flat. Peter has his own place, near the Ministry for his new job.

 

Unlike James and Sirius, who have plenty of money to live off of and can devote themselves to the Order full time, Peter has to work for a living.

 

James tries to make up for it by inviting Peter around as often as possible, and Lily is often there as well. Remus turns up on a regular basis, sometimes crashing on the couch, and other times insisting that he has another place to stay.

 

A month before the wedding, it’s a rare night that James and Sirius don’t have an Order meeting or a mission, and Lily and Remus can be there as well. They get takeaway and crack open the Fire Whiskey.

 

“How is life after Hogwarts, Remus?” James asks. “We barely see you anymore.”

 

Remus shrugs, his eyes a little glassy from the alcohol. “Dumbledore has me going out on missions for the Order.”

 

“Just stay away from Grayback,” Sirius advises. “He’s a monster.”

 

Remus snorts. “Yes, I’m well aware. That’s the point, to pull support away from Grayback and at least convince the packs to stay neutral.”

 

Sirius and James have never hidden their Order work from each other, nor has Dumbledore ever asked them to. Once Remus realized that Sirius already knew what he was doing, he’d stopped trying to hide anything but the most minor of details.

 

“Do you think you’ll have any luck?” Lily asks, leaning in to pour another drink.

 

Remus shrugs. “Neutrality might be an option. Joining the fight against Voldemort is highly unlikely. Why should they want to get involved given how ordinary wizards treat them?”

 

“And Voldemort is making promises he’s unlikely to keep,” James says glumly. “Using the likes of Grayback to terrify Muggles and wizards alike, but promising a brave new world where werewolves have more rights than the Muggles do, at least.”

 

“Something like that,” Remus says on a sigh. “A number of packs prefer to hide and watch from the shadows, waiting to see who the prevailing party is before they make up their minds. I’ve been trying to convince them that if they throw in with the Order, we might be able to get some of the restrictions lifted, but no one is buying that argument.”

 

Lily snorts. “And how many times has there been one nasty incident that sets werewolf rights back by a decade or more?” When they all turn to look at her, she raises her hands. “I’m not saying it’s right! I’m saying they’re right to be dubious of any lasting change.”

 

“And werewolves like Greyback might agree to act in concert with Voldemort,” Remus agrees. “It’s a delicate balancing act, and even if I am successful, there’s no telling whether I’ll make things worse in the long run.”

 

Sirius gives James a significant look, and James shrugs. “Now’s as good a time as any.”

 

“We think we might have come up with something to help you, a potion to make the transformation easier and give you more control during the full moon,” Sirius says. “And by ‘we,’ I mean that Lily made the breakthrough.”

 

Lily rolls her eyes, definitely a little tipsy. “You were the one who had the idea, Sirius, and you and James had a lot of the theory worked out. Which surprised me, given how you never really put your mind to Potions in school.”

 

“I never appearedto put my mind to it,” Sirius counters. “My marks were always good.”

 

“Much to the irritation of everyone else who worked their arses off to do half as well,” Lily agrees. “Just you watch, Black. You’ll end up being forced to be mature and responsible someday.”

 

“Someday, I am certain I will,” Sirius agrees. “Thankfully, I have a bit of time yet. Once the war is over, I can figure out what’s next.”

 

James clears his throat loudly. “That being said, we won’t know until we test it, I’m afraid, so it’s a bit of a risk.”

 

Remus shrugs, but he can’t hide the wary hope kindling in his eyes. “It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

 

“You’ll need to take it several days before the full moon, as well as the day of, but if it works as we expect, it will render you nearly harmless,” Lily says pertly, or as pertly as she can when she’s this tipsy.

 

Remus’ eyes widen. “Are you serious?”

 

Sirius grins. “I’m always Sirius.”

 

James rolls his eyes. “You walked right into that one, Moony.”

 

“It should make it so you’re of your right mind,” Sirius adds. “We can’t cure you, and we can’t prevent the transformation, but we can keep you and others safe. We think.”

 

“If there’s even the chance…” Remus breathes out a sigh. “Yes, of course, I’ll try.”

 

“And if it doesn’t work this time, we’ll adjust it until it does,” Lily insists.

 

Sirius might mind the way that Remus’ gaze is just a bit adoring, except he’s pretty sure his is, too. Once Lily decided and they weren’t all bad, they’d grown quite close, especially after that disastrous trip to visit her family on the Christmas break.

 

Sirius has vague notions of what he might do should he survive the war. His grandfather, the Black patriarch, hasn’t (and won’t) formally disown him, not when he and Regulus are the only ones who can carry on the family name.

 

After his mother dies, Sirius could take the reins, and when he does that, he can start amassing favor for his own political agenda, one that serves his friends a little better. He can root out corruption, work to make things a little fairer for people like Remus, ensure that the law doesn’t disproportionately favor purebloods…

 

And he can insist that everyone sent to Azkaban get a trial, a real one, with honesty hexes and veritaserum, and accuratereconstructions of the crimes.

 

Sirius isn’t entirely sure what that will look like, but the Blacks have a hereditary seat on the Wizengamot, and that will certainly be a place to start.

 

“We’ll make it,” James insists. “We’re not letting that old wanker win.”

 

“Here, here!” Remus says, sounding just a bit drunk.

 

Lily smiles and leans against James. “It’s too bad Peter couldn’t be here tonight.”

 

Sirius doesn’t miss him a bit, although he bites his tongue.

 

“Working late at the Ministry, I expect,” James says lightly, although there’s a bit of worry in his eyes.

 

“Speaking of, I have a job to get to first thing tomorrow,” Remus says, getting unsteadily to his feet. “However awful it might be, and however soon they’re likely to fire me.”

 

“Stay here tonight,” Sirius urges him. “You can apparate from here just as easily as your place.”

 

Remus looks a little shifty. “I couldn’t possibly—”

 

“Of course, you can!” James says. “The sofa is yours, mate.”

 

James and Lily retreat to his bedroom while Sirius gets out sheets and blankets for Remus. “’fess up,” Sirius murmurs. “You don’t have a place to sleep right now.”

 

“I’ve been looking, but everything in London is expensive, and Dumbledore wants me here to contact a few of the werewolves he knows of without packs,” Remus replies softly. “I have other friends, though, and I haven’t been sleeping rough, I promise you that.”

 

Sirius reaches out and grabs the back of Remus’ neck. “You’d better not. You know James and I don’t mind having you here, and we’d rather you here and safe than on some bench somewhere, nicked for vagrancy.”

 

Remus snorts. “I can use a Disillusionment charm just as well as you.” He pauses. “You really think you might have something that helps.”

 

Sirius hesitates. “If we got the formula right, then yes. And it’s Lily, so you’ve a better chance than if James and I hadn’t enlisted her assistance.”

 

“You know, this could turn the tide with some of the packs,” Remus says hesitantly. “If we could offer it for free, after we prove that it works, they would at least promise neutrality, I think, and maybe throw in with our side.”

 

Sirius nods. “And it might prove that our side is the better one, that we’re actually offering something that helps.”

 

“Better than most,” Remus says bitterly.

 

“You know you have James and me,” Sirius says quietly. “It’s not charity, Moony. It never has been.”

 

“I know, but I can’t help how it feels,” Remus replies.

 

Sirius nods. “Sleep well. If you’re gone before we get up, we’ll understand.”

 

“I am grateful,” Remus insists.

 

“Your gratitude is noted and unnecessary,” Sirius replies. “We both know you’d do the same for us if our positions were reversed. That’s what family does.”

 

Remus smiles gently. “I know. That’s what makes it both easier and harder.”

 

Sirius hesitates, remembering how he’d broached the subject the first time, and it hadn’t been when they were both a little tipsy and still a month out from the wedding. It had been just a few days before, and they’d both been roaring drunk. Maybe now is a better time to ask.

 

“Look, Peter’s busy with his job at the Ministry, and James and Lily are going on their honeymoon,” Sirius begins. “As soon as they’re back, we’re going to be diving full time into Order work. We don’t have much time before we’re past the point that we can have any R&R.”

 

Remus frowns. “What are you suggesting?”

 

“Let’s get away, just the two of us,” Sirius suggests. “There’s a place in the Lake District I know of.”

 

Remus gives him a long look. “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

 

Apparently, Sirius hadn’t been mistaken about the growing attraction between them. “The war is going to be hard. Let’s enjoy what we can while we can.”

 

Remus takes a deep breath. “Okay. It’s a deal.”

 

“I’ll make the arrangements,” Sirius says, knowing that it might be the only time they ever get, especially if Sirius’ plan is carried out as he expects.

 

Maybe Sirius is being selfish, but he wants the time with Remus. He remembers that time in the Lake District with a sort of wistful fondness. This time he knows the score, and he knows that Peter is the spy. He’ll take what he can get, knowing that he’s unlikely to survive.

 

A week later, Remus is back for his first dose of wolfsbane potion. Even Peter is there, although Sirius has mixed feelings about him knowing about the potion.

 

Remus takes a cautious sip, and when he doesn’t start choking, or turn blue, or otherwise show any ill-effects, he swallows the rest of it down. “Seems fine so far,” he says.

 

“Well, at least it didn’t kill you,” Lily says brightly. “The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work.”

 

“True,” Remus says. “In which case, I’ll be no worse off than I already am.”

 

“We’ll stay with you,” Sirius promises. “We’ll know if it works.”

 

Remus nods. “That sounds good.”

 

He takes the potion every day for the week leading up to the full moon, and they apparate to Hogsmeade, to the Shrieking Shack, just like when they were in school.

 

Well, not just like, since they took the tunnel under the Whomping Willow, and Peter can’t get away from his Ministry job, but James, Sirius, and Remus are there.

 

The Shack isn’t great for James, who prefers more room when he’s in his stag form, but Sirius doesn’t mind. He changes and sits back on his haunches, waiting to see what happens.

 

Sirius can tell that Remus fights the change, fights the wolf, but in the end, Remus whines and sneezes, and then licks Sirius’ muzzle.

 

He returns the favor, nuzzling Remus’ neck, and Remus whines low in his throat.

 

James stamps his hoof impatiently, and Sirius snaps at him, although not seriously. James whinnies, just to show how not worried he is, and Remus dips his head.

 

Remus curls up in a ball, and Sirius curls around him, and James lays across the threshold as a sentry.

 

And for the first time, they all sleep through the night.

 

Remus returns to his usual form, and they sit on the floor. “How was it?” James asks.

 

“I had to fight for control, but I got it,” Remus replies.

 

“I’ll tell Lily,” James replies. “She might have some alterations to make.”

 

“Tell her thank you from me,” Remus says, “since you’ll see her before I will.”

 

“It was Sirius’ idea,” James says.

 

Remus gives Sirius a look that might be heated if he weren’t so exhausted from the transformation. “Thank you.”

 

“It’s the least I could do.”

 

Sirius might feel a little bad about stealing the idea from the original potions master, but Remus needs the Wolfsbane now.

 

“Lily will want to quiz you,” James warns. “So she knows what to add.”

 

“Of course,” Remus agrees. “I’ll be by in a couple of days.”

 

James nods. “I’ll see you then. Was it easier at least?”

 

“Couldn’t you tell?” Remus asks. “I was myself. I felt at peace with the wolf for the first time.”

 

Sirius feels like that’s a job well done.

 

~~~~~

 

James and Lily’s wedding is beautiful this time around, too. Sirius stands as best man, and Alice Longbottom is the matron of honor. Lily is resplendent in a cream-colored gown, and Mr. Potter walks her down the aisle with Mrs. Potter dabbing tears from her eyes. James beams proudly, and Remus and Peter sit in the front row next to Mrs. Potter.

 

The officiant is a wizard who’s a cousin of Mr. Potter’s, and he talks about the enduring nature of love, and how love builds a foundation on which to build a life.

 

“We can face anything if we have love,” Merton Potter says. “Love endures all things, and bears all things. Children born of love flourish, even in trying circumstances. James and Lily know each other, and they love each other. They’re ready to bear whatever trials life brings together.”

 

Sirius thinks of James and Lily, united in death together, and he has to blink back tears, even as he reminds himself that it’s not going to happen that way again.

 

The wedding brunch is tasteful and Sirius gives the toast as best man. “James is as true and loyal a friend as anyone could ask for, and he’s got the best parents in the world. Lily is lucky to have him, and he’s been head over heels for her since our first year at Hogwarts.

 

“But James became the luckiest man in the world when Lily agreed to marry him. I’ve gotten to know her over the last year, and she is bright and beautiful, and so very kind. She is generous with her time and her intellect, always willing to help those less fortunate. Obviously, Lily is the brightest witch of our generation, which explains why she agreed to marry James. And Lily represents the best of us, as does James, and they deserve each other,” Sirius says. “To Lily and James.”

 

The guests echo him, and Sirius sits down, giving way to Mr. Potter, who also offers a toast, and to Alice Longbottom, who tells an amusing story of their days at Hogwarts, when she’d served as a mentor to Lily, and Lily had been completely terrified of the moving stairs.

 

In the end, James and Lily run off to go on their honeymoon in France, and Sirius grabs Remus, and they take the train to the Lake District.

 

The bed and breakfast is an easy walk from the station, which is one of the reasons Sirius had chosen it in the first place. Mary is standing in front when they stroll up with their bags over their shoulders, still dressed in their wedding finery.

 

“Well, don’t you boys look nice,” Mary says cheerfully, the same words she first spoke to them. “Did you come from a wedding?”

 

“Our best mate, James, got married to the love of his life today,” Sirius replies.

 

“And was it a good ceremony?” Mary asks. “I’m Mary, by the way.”

 

“Sirius,” he says. “And Remus. And yes, the wedding was lovely.”

 

“As all weddings should be,” Mary replies. “Come on in, and I’ll show you to your room. It is just the one room, right?”

 

Sirius glances at Remus, who shrugs. “Just the one.”

 

“I’m not one to judge,” Mary declares. “I’m just happy you boys decided to stay with us for the week. Breakfast is served from 6 to 10, and you’re welcome to eat with us for dinner if you like, but it’s a bit extra. Just let me know at breakfast if you’ll be around, so I can make adjustments if necessary.”

 

She opens a door at the top of the stairs on the first storey. “Well, here you are!”

 

Sirius feels a blinding sense of déjà vu, having been here—or imagined being here—not that long before, only with a baby in his arms.

 

“It’s perfect,” Remus says warmly as the silence stretches on, with Mary clearly waiting on them to say something about the accommodations.

 

“Lovely,” Sirius manages to echo. “Just lovely.”

 

“I’ll let you get settled,” she replies with apparent satisfaction, and Remus nudges him through the door, closing it gently behind him.

 

Remus clears his throat. “Have you been here before?”

 

“A couple of times,” Sirius admits. “I thought—well, I don’t know what I thought exactly.”

 

Remus puts his hands on Sirius’ shoulders. “Good memories, or bad?”

 

“Mostly good,” Sirius replies. “I’d hoped to recreate a little of the magic of the first time I was here.”

 

He’s getting good at talking around things.

 

“We can do whatever you like,” Remus replies. “We can do nothing at all.”

 

“Now why would I want to do that?” Sirius asks, shaking off the memories.

 

Remus shrugs. “You’re the one who’s been living like a monk these last few years.”

 

“There’s a reason for that,” Sirius replies.

 

“I thought as much,” Remus says. “Anything to do with me?”

 

“Let’s just say that you don’t fall into the category of people that makes me pause,” Sirius replies. “You’re my friend, as you’ve always been.”

 

“As I’ll always be,” Remus counters.

 

Sirius wants the human contact, the reassurance, and he turns to Remus. Remus’ kiss is a little desperate, a little needy, probably wanting the same things Sirius does, just for slightly different reasons.

 

And it’s Remus—kind, clever Remus—and it’s just as good as it was the first time, but a little bit bittersweet, because unlike that first time, Sirius knows how it’s going to end.

 

That doesn’t mean he won’t enjoy it, though. He’s in his younger body, and he hasn’t even wanted sex in so long, or at least he hasn’t been with someone he’s wanted in that way.

 

Remus pulls back. “Are you sure? If people ever find out—”

 

“They can go fuck themselves,” Sirius replies. “Really and truly.”

 

They kiss again, and it quickly turns heated. Sirius loses his jacket and pushes Remus’ off his shoulders. They’ve long since undone their ties, which are in their pockets, and their shirts are next, then shoes and pants.

 

And then it’s all bare skin against bare skin, and since they’re both eighteen, it’s all over very quickly.

 

Remus laughs against Sirius shoulder. “I’m not sure if that went better or worse than I anticipated.”

 

“We both got off,” Sirius points out. “I’d say that was pretty successful.”

 

“That’s one way of looking at it,” Remus admits. “That was my first time.”

 

“Well done, you,” Sirius replies.

 

Remus frowns. “Pads.”

 

“That wasn’t mocking!” he protests. “That was a legitimate congratulations for losing your virginity so successfully. And also, trusting me with it.”

 

He hadn’t been quite so kind the first time around, which had probably caused problems in retrospect.

 

God, Sirius really had been an utter wanker.

 

Remus smiles. “Yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” Sirius replies. “I just want this week to be good for you.”

 

“I think we’re there already,” Remus replies. “I really thought, once we left school, things would change.”

 

That explains so much, and Sirius says, “No, never. Of course not. You’re our friend.”

 

“You haven’t been the same around Peter,” Remus counters.

 

Sirius sighs. “Didn’t James talk to you about that?”

 

“He did,” Remus replies.

 

“Then you know why.”

 

“But it’s Peter,” Remus protests.

 

Sirius shrugs. “I would love to be wrong about this, for the record.”

 

“Okay,” Remus says. “Then we’ll hope you’re wrong, but I’ll keep an eye out.”

 

Since that’s pretty much what James said, he can live with that.

 

For a week, the war doesn’t exist. He and Remus go on long, rambling walks, and sleep late, and make love, and eat breakfast, and usually eat dinner with Mary, Jim, and their two sons. Neither of the boys went to Hogwarts, although Sirius knows they aren’t squibs or Muggles. Sirius assumes they opted to homeschool them, as some parents prefer not to send their kids away.

 

Sirius doesn’t blame them. Here in the Lake District, it feels very far removed from Voldemort and his ilk. It’s safe and pleasant, and Mary and Jim’s warmth fills the home to the brim.

 

Sirius wouldn’t want to leave either. As a matter of fact, he doesn’twant to leave at the end of the week, doesn’t want to separate from Remus, doesn’t want to go back to the war, although he knows he must.

 

As they’re packing, Remus keeps glancing at him. “Are you okay?”

 

“I didn’t realize it would be so hard to leave,” Sirius admits.

 

“Neither did I,” Remus says. “You understand, though.”

 

“The war beckons,” Sirius replies. “I understand better than you think.”

 

Remus nods. “I expect you do.”

 

When he kisses Sirius, it feels like a goodbye.

 

~~~~~

 

The Order meeting is at a safe house in London, crowded with those Dumbledore has asked to be present. Remus sits across the room from him and James, his arms crossed tightly over his chest, looking pale.

 

The full moon was two days prior, and even though the wolfsbane potion makes the change easier to bear, he still looks a bit peaked after.

 

“Remus, you have your instructions,” Dumbledore says.

 

Remus nods. “Of course.”

 

“James, Sirius, we have news of a group of Death Eaters planning to attack a family in Surrey,” Dumbledore says. “Frank and Alice are providing protection, but they could use your assistance.”

 

James nods. “We’ll be there.”

 

They discuss the recent attacks against Muggles and what the Death Eaters call blood traitors, as well as who has taken the mark that they know of. Voldemort and his followers are terrorists, pure and simple, and they’re remarkably effective.

 

Sirius wishes he remembered more, that he could offer more, but the specifics of those days are lost to time and memory and 12 years being preyed upon by Dementors, and the need to block out the worst of it. When he remembers anything, it’s usually in the heat of the moment, his senses firing.

 

But maybe it’s for the best. He’d have no way to explain why he knows what he does.

 

Dumbledore calls an end to the meeting, and Sirius walks out with James and Lily. “You know he sent a messenger to recruit us, don’t you?” James says in a low voice.

 

“Who? Voldemort?” Sirius asks.

 

“On our honeymoon, no less, that wanker,” Lily comments. “We said no, obviously, but I was rather put out.”

 

“Who did he send?” Sirius asks.

 

James shrugs. “Wilkes, although Merlin knows why. Just because he was several years ahead of us, and popular, doesn’t make us any more likely to agree to join.”

 

“Wilkes isn’t a pureblood, that’s why,” Lily points out. “His grandmother was Muggle-born. Voldemort sent him because he thought Wilkes could persuade me that his policies aren’t completely odious.”

 

“Did you hex him into next week?” Sirius asks.

 

“What do you think?” Lily asks. “Of course, I did. I wasn’t going to leave him hoping that we’d be persuaded to join his side.”

 

Sirius knows that’s the first time they’ve defied the Dark Lord, and he carefully hides his wince. He supposes there’s at least a chance that they won’t defy him three times, and therefore escape the prophecy, but with them being in the Order, it’s not likely.

 

They’ll have plenty of opportunities to oppose Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

 

“Funny how Voldemort will surround himself with blood purists, but would accept a Muggle-born into his ranks if it helps him,” James says.

 

“Blood purists are hypocrites,” Sirius replies. “As we all know.”

 

“And you would know better than most,” James agrees.

 

They apparate to the predetermined location, finding Frank and Alice waiting for them in their Auror uniforms. “We appreciate you being here. The Ministry keeps losing Aurors faster than they can be trained,” Frank says.

 

“We could use you in our ranks,” Alice adds.

 

“You know how bad I am at following orders,” Sirius replies lightly. “And I have a real problem with authority.”

 

Frank chuckles. “I heard that about you, although you seem to follow Dumbledore’s willingly enough.”

 

“We’re Dumbledore’s men through and through,” James says.

 

“And woman!” Lily protests.

 

“And woman, my love,” James replies.

 

Alice and Lily share a look. “We’ll talk to the family,” Alice says. “If you’ll set up a perimeter.”

 

As far as Sirius can remember, they can expect four Death Eaters, which would have meant certain death for the family, whose oldest son is a member of the Order. They’re no match for a couple of Aurors and the three of them.

 

In the thin light of a waning moon, the streetlamps take on a fuzzy quality, not giving nearly enough light.

 

Sirius hears the rustle of cloth, the sound of silent, skillful apparating, and feels the surge of adrenalin. In a moment, a Death Eater will fire a curse at him, and Sirius will dodge, and they will fight a duel that leaves the Death Eater stunned unconscious, but that is in a moment.

 

Sirius feels the anticipation build, and the sense of having been here before is so strong and so strange that he can hardly catch his breath.

 

And then James yells out a warning, and Sirius dodges, and the Death Eater strides towards him out of the darkness, the black robe melding in with the night, the metal mask covering his face.

 

“Too much of a coward to show your face?” he taunts.

 

The Death Eater doesn’t reply, just sends another curse towards Sirius, who dodges it easily and fires off one of his own.

 

It’s not really much of a battle. Lily is quick with her wand and plenty powerful, and James and Sirius have been practicing since the summer before sixth year, when they’d known what waited for them after Hogwarts.

 

There had never been any question that they would join the Order and take up arms against Voldemort full-time. Unlike some, they had money to spare, and could devote themselves to the war.

 

Sirius sends a reductoat his opponent, putting as much strength behind the hex as he can, and nearly takes off his wand arm. The Death Eater lets out a wordless cry and apparates away.

 

James and Lily subdue their opponent, and Alice makes quick work of hers as well.

 

“Looks like our intelligence was correct,” Frank comments. “I’d love to know Dumbledore’s source.”

 

Sirius shakes his head. “It wouldn’t be safe for them or us.”

 

“Too true,” Alice replies. “I know they’ve got spies in the Ministry. They must have, given how the Death Eaters seem to know where we’ll be before we do sometimes.”

 

Sirius doesn’t know the names of the most dangerous moles, because they were never caught or put on trial. Plenty of the Death Eaters claimed to be under the Imperius after Voldemort was defeated, and there was never any evidence given that they weren’t.

 

But then, some of those families wouldn’t hesitate to Imperius their child to get them to swear allegiance to Voldemort.

 

“Are we staying here tonight?” Sirius asks.

 

Frank shakes his head. “No need. Alice and I will be here until our relief arrives at dawn, but I doubt they’ll try again tonight, not after you nearly took his arm off.”

 

“I guess we ought to see who decides not to go out in polite society for a bit,” James says. “They won’t be able to go to St. Mungo’s, not with that wound, so it will take longer to heal.”

 

 “It would be nice to learn their identities,” Lily says pertly. “Cowards, the lot of them, hiding behind those masks.”

 

“One of these days we’ll come up with a way to detect the dark wizards,” James promises. “Until then, we’ll see you lot later. Sirius, you heading home?”

 

“That’s the plan,” Sirius replies. “I’ll see you day after tomorrow, though. We’re due to meet with Dumbledore.”

 

“That we are,” James replies. “Good night, all.”

 

He and Lily apparate away, and Sirius goes back to the apparition point nearest his flat. It’s dark and quiet, and he puts the kettle on. He wants to ready himself for their meeting with Dumbledore tomorrow. So far as he knows, Dumbledore has no idea that Sirius isn’t precisely who he seems to be, but then they haven’t had nearly as many interactions this time around.

 

Sirius had been in the headmaster’s office on a semi-regular basis up until he came back. He’d deliberately stayed out of trouble, not wanting to risk Dumbledore finding out what he knew.

 

He trusts Dumbledore, for the most part, but some instinct tells him that he can’t allow Dumbledore to know what he knows. He’d probably insist that events play out just as they had before, and Sirius can’t allow that.

 

No, he’ll keep his own counsel in the days to come, he has to.

 

~~~~~

 

“I haven’t seen much of you boys lately,” Dumbledore says. “I appreciate you agreeing to meet with me.”

 

“Of course, sir,” James says readily. “How can we be of assistance?”

 

Dumbledore looks over the rim of his teacup. “We find ourselves in a bit of a precarious situation, where Voldemort and his ilk seem to know precisely who’s in the Order, and we know very little of them.”

 

“They wear masks, and we don’t,” Sirius points out. “Which makes them the cowards.”

 

“Perhaps, but just because one is a coward, doesn’t mean one isn’t also quite clever,” Dumbledore replies. “We lost two more Order members last night—Fabian and Gideon Prewett.”

 

James closes his eyes. “That’s a blow. Do we know who did it?”

 

“Dolohov was caught and is in custody,” Dumbledore replies. “We doubt he’ll talk or give up any of his compatriots, but Moody will question him. There’s a slim chance we’ll get some intelligence from him.”

 

“What do you need from us, sir?” James asks.

 

“From you and Lily, the same as you’ve been doing, guarding those regarded as blood traitors, and providing additional support to the Aurors where necessary,” Dumbledore replies.

 

“And from me?” Sirius asks, and this is a new development.

 

Dumbledore hesitates. “It’s quite dangerous.”

 

“These are dangerous times,” Sirius counters. “Just tell me what you need me to do.”

 

Dumbledore sighs. “I believe you have some experience in France?”

 

“The Blacks are closely allied with the Lestranges and the Malfoys,” Sirius replies, knowing that this isn’t news to Dumbledore.

 

“We believe that Voldemort’s followers are attempting to collect a number of dark artifacts that we cannot allow them to have,” Dumbledore replies. “A young man such as yourself, who can speak fluent French, can infiltrate some of those circles that older Order members could not.”

 

What Dumbledore means, Sirius thinks, is that Sirius is young and unattached, without any family that will claim him other than James and his parents. He’s expendable.

 

“There’s dangerous, and then there’s what you’re proposing!” James protests. “You’re sending him alone, without any kind of back up?”

 

Dumbledore shakes his head. “It can’t be helped, I’m afraid, although I believe Remus will be there at the same time. You might try to coordinate with him.”

 

“You sent him to the packs again,” Sirius says grimly.

 

“The Wolfsbane potion is a powerful bargaining chip, and it’s something that Voldemort cannot offer them,” Dumbledore says. “I still find it quite curious that the two of you—”

 

“And Lily,” James says loyally.

 

“And Lily, came up with the idea on your own,” Dumbledore finishes. “Not that loyalty to your friends was ever in question with you.”

 

Sirius swallows the first retort and says only, “As you say, our loyalty was never in question, and Remus suffers with every transformation. We only wanted to make it easier on him.”

 

“And so you’ve done,” Dumbledore says cheerfully, although he’s still eyeing Sirius with speculation. “Will you go?”

 

“Of course,” Sirius replies. “I’ll leave tonight, in fact. I just need the details.”

 

Dumbledore nods gravely. “My thanks, Sirius. And, of course, if you do need assistance, contact one of the members of the Order.”

 

“I don’t like this,” James says as they leave the safe house. “Based on what Dumbledore said, this could very well be a suicide mission, Pads.”

 

“But it’s not, because I have no plans on dying,” Sirius replies. “I’ll be fine.”

 

“He shouldn’t be sending you alone,” James gripes. “Why wouldn’t he send both of us?”

 

“Because you’re newly married, and I’m a bachelor with no troublesome relatives to protest my actions,” Sirius replies easily. “Obviously.”

 

James grips his shoulder. “You have the communication mirror, right? You’ll contact me if you need help? Lily and I will come running.”

 

“I know you will,” Sirius replies. “Don’t worry about it, Prongs. I’ll be fine.”

 

Those are famous last words.

 

~~~~~

 

Sirius is familiar with Paris, with its streets and bridges, having spent a fair amount of time here as a young man, and then on Order business before the Potters’ deaths, and even some time while on the run after escaping from Azkaban. He slips into a wizarding bar he knows that caters to a more dubious sort of clientele.

 

Having been here before helps Sirius to know where to start, in spite of the lack of detail Dumbledore provided.

 

This mission didn’t happen the last time around, and Sirius wonders what Dumbledore knows. He’s been avoiding the man, and for good reason. Dumbledore is an experienced Legilimens, and might easily pluck the truth of things out of his head if he’s not careful. Assuming, of course, that the magic of the Veil doesn’t prevent that.

 

James’ words linger in the back of Sirius’ mind, about this being a suicide mission, but he banishes that concern. He’s made some changes to the timeline, and that’s necessary, and to be expected. There will be ripple effects, of course, and that might mean he goes on a few missions that are unfamiliar to him.

 

He just has to survive long enough to be the Potters’ Secret Keeper, and then he has to keep his mouth shut, even if it means dying.

 

It should be a piece of cake.

 

He lingers in the bar, drinking wine and wearing a disguise that obscures his identity. The glamor has turned his hair blond and his eyes blue, although he’s taken pains to make his features so ordinary as to be unremarkable.

 

By the end of the third day, Sirius has heard the whispers that the Death Eaters are active and looking to retrieve objects used in the last war. He doesn’t know what those objects are, but there are plenty of cursed items and other dangerous things that the Death Eaters have at their fingertips.

 

The truth is, they don’t know who Voldemort has marked, and who is merely sympathetic to his cause and willing to provide supplies, among other things.

 

Really, if Sirius can get names and identities, he’ll be helping the Order considerably, particularly later, when they can reveal the names of Death Eaters and their sympathizers.

 

Maybe Sirius isn’t playing the long game, but he can feed information to James and Remus so that they can.

 

If Sirius does survive, he may be able to take his family’s seat on the Wizengamot, and he can convince James to try for one of the open seats as well. If they’re careful and smart, they could create an entire voting bloc.

 

There are times when Sirius allows himself to think about what he might do after the war. He never expected to take on the Black title, but he’s beginning to think it would be best if he did. He could do some real good that way.

 

But first he has to get through this mission.

 

On the fourth day, he goes to the local owlery and pays for an owl to take a message to Remus. He cautions Remus against joining him, wishes him well, and keeps it simple.

 

Two days later, Sirius gets his first opportunity to infiltrate the group. He purchases a necklace and puts a fake curse on it. The necklace will appear cursed to anyone who gives it a cursory review, but won’t actually do anybody harm.

 

Sirius creates a few more items, things that look dark but are harmless, and then slowly begins to noise it about that he has items to sell to the right buyer.

 

His persona is that of a penniless third son, trying to make a galleon and his way in the world, without much luck.

 

As Marius Therriot, he has kept his identity as a poor relation secure, selling off familial artifacts that he’s stolen.

 

Sirius always had a flare for this work. In the past, before James and Lily were killed, he toyed with the idea of becoming a Hit Wizard for the ICW after the war. He could gild the lily, so to speak, if he builds up his reputation abroad.

 

He meets with a couple of men who express interest in buying what he has to sell, and they lead him to the back room of a bar where he’d first started his mission. He doesn’t think too much of it, until a third person drags a struggling young woman into the room.

 

Sirius’ heart sinks. He knows they have her here as a test subject, and the test is going to fail. And when that happens, his cover is blown, and he’ll have no choice but to fight his way out of here, without much in the way of intelligence.

 

“What is this?” Sirius asks, forcing his voice to go high.

 

“We need to know that it works,” Morton Lodge protests.

 

“And I don’t have to be here for this,” Sirius replies. “Look, I’ll knock a few galleons off the price. I don’t want to see what they do.”

 

“You’re a coward,” the third man accuses.

 

“Yeah, tell me something I don’t know!” Sirius says belligerently. “I just want money to live on, enough to attract a pretty witch and settle down.”

 

The third guy snorts. “Fine, whatever. Get out of here, then. Give the man his payment. We don’t need him getting cold feet.”

 

Sirius is well aware that if he doesn’t get out of there, and doesn’t do it soon, he’s going to be hunted.

 

And that poor girl is good as dead.

 

Sirius strides out and stops right outside the door. He can’t leave the girl to her fate, but he also has no back up, and he could easily get hurt or killed. He has no idea what to do; he doesn’t know how this will play out.

 

Sirius takes a deep breath, and then summons a Patronus, which takes on the same form as his animagus—although it looks even more like a Grim. “Find Remus. Tell him where I am, and that I’m about to do something really stupid, and I’ll probably need help. If he can’t get to me, he should notify James.”

 

His Patronus runs off, and Sirius bursts back into the room, sending out the kind of stunner that will subdue a room. He hadn’t learned that spell until much later in the original timeline, and he’s not upset that the girl also falls unconscious.

 

Sirius tosses her over his shoulder and leaves out the back door that he’d identified long before this deal takes place. He takes her to a place he’d created as a safe house before he hits her with a renervate.

 

“What? Oh, god, what?” she asks in French.

 

“Easy,” Sirius replies in the same language. “My name is Sirius. What’s yours?”

 

“Marie,” she replies. “They were horrible.”

 

“They were,” Sirius agrees. “I’m sorry you were in that position. Can I take you to a safe place? Is there anyone I can call?”

 

She shakes her head. “No, he was—he was my fiancé. My parents gave me to him in a marriage contract, and he was displeased by me.”

 

“Oh, fuck,” Sirius says. “Okay, look, I have some friends—married friends—and they can help you. Maybe we can fake your death.”

 

She begins to cry on his shoulder. “Oh, yes, please, please. I just want a life.”

 

“We’ll make sure that happens.” Sirius pats her shoulder. “I will protect you.”

 

Sirius manages to get her to a portkey office, and he sends her to James and Lily with a note.

 

“She’s engaged to a Death Eater against her will, and wants to fake her own death,” Sirius writes. “Take care of her.

 

He hands over the money for the portkey, out of his own vault, and he says, “My friends will take care of you. Don’t worry about a thing.”

 

“What about you?” she asks. “They will hunt you.”

 

“I’m hard to find when I want to be,” Sirius replies. “Don’t concern yourself.”

 

He sends her off, and then immediately goes to the alley behind the office and transforms. The Death Eaters will know that he didn’t leave, and so will be hunting him, rather than Marie. If he can give her a couple of days’ head start, James and Lily should have plenty of time to make certain she disappears.

 

Besides, the Death Eaters don’t know about his animagus form, and he can hide as Padfoot indefinitely. He’s done it before. He’s an expert at it.

 

He soon finds out that he was in the nick of time to get Marie out of the country. A few hours later, the portkey office, the apparition points, even the Muggle train stations and airports are being watched by Death Eaters.

 

Sirius whines when he spots a Death Eater outside the Paris branch of Gringotts, because they’ve apparently covered all bases. They’ve probably figured out that Marius Therriot has been selling fakes.

 

Much like Diagon Alley in wizarding London, there aren’t that many places in Paris for wizards to act openly. The wizarding area in Paris, with its owl post and portkey office and shops and its apparition point, are all surrounded by Death Eaters every time Sirius considers making a break for it.

 

He can’t risk apparating across the Channel; it’s right on the edge of the acceptable range, and Sirius knows of more than a few wizards and witches who had splinched trying to cross that kind of distance.

 

He doesn’t have Muggle money, so he can’t go by Muggle means, and he’s starting to feel hemmed in.

 

After a week, he decides to take a chance. He heads to the portkey office, finding a back alley to transform back from his animagus form. If he can just get into the office and get a portkey, he can get back to where he might have some backup, since he can’t seem to reach Remus.

 

He’s reaching for the door when the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, and he dives to the side, dodging the slashing curse aimed at his back.

 

Suddenly, there’s a barrage of spells aimed his direction, and Sirius scrambles down the alley, with every intention to dive behind the shelter of a couple of bins and transform. Instead, he catches a stunner and is down for the count.

 

When he comes to, he’s tied up in a chair in a room he doesn’t recognize, and his wand is definitely gone.

 

Things are not looking good. He might end up being one of those wizards that just up and disappears, and he can’t have that, not before he can protect James and Lily.

 

“Well, Mr. Black, it seems that you’ve stumbled on our little operation,” the wizard who strolls into the room says. Sirius isn’t certain of his name, but he knows him as a distant relative of the Lestranges.

 

Sirius grins brightly. “I really have no idea what you’re talking about. I was on vacation.”

 

“I highly doubt that,” he replies. “You’re Dumbledore’s man.”

 

“I do some side work,” Sirius replies. “I’m a bored scion of an Ancient and Noble House, don’t you know? I vacation in France, I poke my nose in where it doesn’t belong, I don’t need a reason for that.”

 

“You deprived me of my fiancée,” he counters.

 

Sirius frowns. “Are you talking about the girl? My understanding was that they’d be testing a cursed object on her.”

 

“An accident,” the man replies. “A tragic event, which would still have entitled me to her dowry.”

 

Sirius feels pretty damn good about rescuing the woman. He would have been pleased anyway, but this arsehole he’s happy to thwart. “Well, now I feel just terrible about helping her escape.”

 

He expects the punch to the face, and he spits blood onto the floor. “That stung a bit, I’ll admit, but my best mate’s wife punches harder than that.”

 

He doesn’t want them asking questions. If he can piss the man off enough, they’ll probably beat him to a pulp and then come back later, giving Sirius precious time to escape, or for help to arrive.

 

He just hopes he can find a way to get out of the country if he does manage it.

 

Sure enough, the punches keep raining down, and they leave Sirius half-conscious and bleeding. He’ll probably need a lot of pain potions and some Skelegro to replace the teeth he’s lost, or whatever potion the healers use for that sort of thing. When he’s left alone, Sirius works on breathing shallowly, his swollen nose dripping blood.

 

What his captors don’t know is that Sirius has some skill with wandless, wordless magic, lessons hard-won during the first war, and just a bit later than this.

 

The throbbing pain in his face distracts him, but Sirius is used to pushing past pain and despair and other negative emotions, and he gradually is able to focus on the knots of rope around his wrists enough to feel the shape of them.

 

Sirius focuses his magic and feels the knots unravel. It’s a start, but he’s not going to be able to do much more without a wand. Still, they won’t expect him to be free when they come back, and Sirius has a chance to get the drop on them.

 

He tries the door and finds it locked, so he uses his shirt to mop some of the blood off his face and takes a position on one side of the door, the side that will keep him hidden from anyone who enters.

 

Sirius sees the knob turn, and he braces himself to throw a punch. He’s found that wizards rarely expect a physical attack, so he’s hopeful that he’ll catch them off guard.

 

His fist stops just short of Remus’ nose.

 

“You look like hell,” Remus comments as Sirius sags, and he quickly takes Sirius’ weight. “Are you okay?”

 

“Nothing that a pain potion and Skelegro can’t fix,” Sirius tries to joke. “Did you see anybody on the way in?”

 

“A couple of men, and I stunned them,” Remus replies. “There are Death Eaters all over Paris, Padfoot.”

 

Sirius hisses in pain. “Tell me something I don’t know. I’ve been trying to get out of the city for days now.”

 

“I have friends here,” Remus says. “We’ll stay with the pack until the heat is off. They won’t expect that.”

 

Sirius laughs wetly. “No, they won’t. I need my wand.”

 

“We’ll look for it on the way out,” Remus promises. “One of the guards probably has it.”

 

They find his wand on the second guard, and then rendezvoused with a man and a woman guarding the entrance.

 

“Remus,” the man says. “Is this him?”

 

“It’s him,” Remus replies. “We should get out of here quickly.”

 

“The car is just around the corner,” the woman replies. “They won’t expect that.”

 

“Blood purists never expect Muggle transport,” Sirius agrees.

 

The woman smirks at him. “That’s the idea.”

 

Remus doesn’t introduce them, just hustles Sirius into the backseat of a very small car. Sirius can understand that they wouldn’t want their identities known. “Better hunker down,” Remus advises him. “We can’t risk you being seen, and they don’t want you knowing where the pack is.”

 

Sirius obligingly slumps down, closing his eyes, exhaustion overtaking him. He knows he’s safe with Moony. “Yeah, think I’ll just rest my eyes for a bit.”

 

“Sleep then,” Remus says fondly, running a hand through Sirius’ hair. “You’re safe now, Pads.”

 

Sirius believes him, and he sleeps until Remus shakes him. “We’re here. You can stay in the room I’ve been using. I’ve asked them to bring the potions we need. The full moon is tomorrow night, but you should be healed enough to transform by then. That’s what I’ve told them.”

 

“Me being here doesn’t put your mission in jeopardy, does it?” Sirius asks.

 

The others must have already left the vehicle, and they’re parked in front of a large farmhouse.

 

“It wouldn’t matter if it did,” Remus asserts. “But no, the deal has been made. They’re going to stay neutral and provide shelter for those who want to get out of Grayback’s clutches in exchange for Wolfsbane.”

 

“They don’t mind me being here?” Sirius asks.

 

“Well, they’re not happy about it exactly, but they agreed to provide you sanctuary,” Remus replies. “I agreed that you’d stay in our room, and that the night of the full moon, you’d stay as Padfoot.”

 

“Do you have enough Wolfsbane?” Sirius asks.

 

Remus shakes his head. “I have enough for myself, but not anybody else. I told them you’d be fine with it.”

 

“I am fine with it,” Sirius replies and allows Remus to help him into the house, down a hall and into bed.

 

“Let’s get you out of these clothes,” Remus says. “I’ve got spares you can borrow.”

 

He’s gentle, but Sirius is bruised all over, and he can’t help the groans that escape him. “The pain relief potion is coming,” Remus promises. “That should knock you out and help with the Skelegro.”

 

“I hate that stuff,” Sirius mutters.

 

“I know,” Remus replies. “But that should take care of the missing teeth, and any fractures you might have.”

 

Sirius knows that, but he still hates the stuff, even if it has its uses.

 

There’s a knock on the door once Sirius is under the covers, and Remus answers the door, taking the tray that’s offered with its vials of potions. “Thank you,” he says, still not using any names. “I appreciate it.”

 

“Skelegro first, then the pain reliever, then the draught for dreamless sleep,” Remus orders.

 

Sirius doesn’t argue with him, taking the potions in the order Remus dictates, and he feels the Skelegro just beginning to work when he knocks back the vial of Dreamless Sleep.

 

“Sleep well,” Remus says. “I’ll stay here with you and keep watch. You don’t need to worry.”

 

And Sirius believes him.

 

~~~~~

 

When he wakes again, he feels about 100 percent better, and Remus is still sitting by his bed, his feet propped up on the mattress.

 

“You look better,” Remus comments.

 

“I feel better,” Sirius admits. “Thanks, in case I haven’t said it yet.”

 

“That goes without saying,” Remus replies. “I only wish I could have been there sooner. Did Dumbledore send you alone?”

 

“I’m unattached, and I don’t have a family who will wonder about me,” Sirius replies. “So, yes.”

 

Remus frowns. “Dumbledore actually said that?”

 

“I can read between the lines,” Sirius replies. “He knew that I could get in, and I did.”

 

“And you were also nearly killed,” Remus points out.

 

Sirius shrugs. “I wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t saved the woman. Did you send a message to James?”

 

“Of course, I did,” Remus replies. “Right after you passed out.”

 

“Good, because I sent said person I saved to them, so James definitely knows I ran into trouble by now,” Sirius admits.

 

Remus rolls his eyes affectionately. “It’s a day ending in ‘y,’ Padfoot. I’m pretty sure that you getting into trouble was a foregone conclusion.”

 

“That’s rude,” Sirius replies. “True, but rude.”

 

Remus smirks, but his expression holds more than a little relief. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”

 

“I’m glad you came so quickly,” Sirius replies. “How did you know where to find me?”

 

“There are members of the pack that frequent those locales,” Remus replies. “They heard rumors about you selling cursed objects, and it was fairly easy to track you from there.”

 

“Lucky me,” Sirius replies.

 

Remus shrugs. “Lucky for the woman you saved that you were involved. You broke your cover.”

 

“Yeah, well, if I hadn’t, they’d have found some other way to kill her,” Sirius replies. “Her so-called fiancée said that if she died by accident, he could still collect the dowry.”

 

Remus’ eyes burn. “That fucking arsehole.”

 

“That’s what I said,” Sirius replies. “Or thought, anyway, right before I pissed him off enough to stop asking questions.”

 

Remus shakes his head. “Only you. The pack has asked you to stick to this wing while you stay here.”

 

“I’m obliged for their shelter,” Sirius replies. “I understand.”

 

Remus smiles. “I knew you would. I gave them assurances.”

 

“They helped you save my life,” Sirius says. “And they don’t know me, and they don’t have any reason to trust me.”

 

“I told them that you helped come up with the Wolfsbane potion, so they do, at least a little bit,” Remus replies. “You wouldn’t be here if they didn’t.”

 

“Well, that’s something,” Sirius replies. “Anything else I should know?”

 

“Nothing, really,” Remus replies, and he reaches out to clasp Sirius’ hand. “I’m just glad you’re here.”

 

And Sirius is relieved by the fact that things are already different. His friendship with Remus is solid, and not fractured. He had gone on and survived a mission from the Order that didn’t take place previously.

 

It gives him hope that he can still save James and Lily.

 

Sirius spends the full moon with a pack of werewolves, and then heads back to England in Remus’ company. One of the werewolves—and Sirius doesn’t ask for a name—arranges for a boat to take them across the Channel. James and Lily meet them wearing Muggle clothing, and Lily flings herself at Sirius.

 

“I’m so glad you’re in one piece,” she says. “We were worried.”

 

“Remus’ timing is impeccable,” Sirius murmurs into her hair.

 

“Thank Merlin,” James says. “Moony, Pads, you’re both coming home with us. We insist.”

 

“I will let you insist,” Sirius replies. “Because I have eaten Lily’s cooking, and it’s certainly better than mine. Or Remus’.”

 

“Now who’s being rude?” Remus asks, although he mostly seems amused.

 

Sirius shrugs. “It’s the truth.”

 

“Fair enough,” Remus replies.

 

James gives them both a sharp look, as does Lily, but they don’t say anything. Sirius isn’t sure how much they know about their relationship, and how far it’s gone.

 

Not that it really matters. He and Remus are just friends these days, whatever the lingering tension might indicate.

 

Remus has his mission to convert the packs, and Sirius has to save James and Lily.

 

“Well, insults aside, we’re glad to have you both back,” Lily says. “Peter said he might be able to come, too, if he’s not too busy with his Ministry job.”

 

Sirius shoots James a look, and he shrugs. Clearly, James doesn’t know for sure what’s going on with Peter, but there’s some concern.

 

He’s not going to think about Peter right now. He’s just going to enjoy the time spent with his friends.

 

~~~~~

 

“I really appreciate you letting me stay here,” Remus says, setting his bag down just inside the door. “I know it’s an imposition.”

 

“It really isn’t,” Sirius replies easily.

 

And it’s not an imposition. He has the second bedroom, and he misses having company a lot of the time. Remus has been away a lot on business for Dumbledore, and he doesn’t see that changing. He can use that as an excuse for Remus not paying rent. He can call it part of his war efforts.

 

“I don’t see why you aren’t dating someone,” Remus admits. “I feel like I’ll be crimping your style.”

 

“I’d have to be dating someone for that to be true, and I’m not,” Sirius replies.

 

Remus looks at him. “Sirius—I can’t help but think there’s a reason for that.”

 

“James has Lily, and he’s been in love with her from day one,” Sirius replies. “When the war is over, and I know I won’t leave someone a widow—or widower—I’ll start thinking about dating again.”

 

“And it’s not because you don’t think you’ll survive?” Remus asks.

 

Sirius refuses to lie to him. “We’re in a war, Moony. None of us are guaranteed to get out alive.”

 

“That’s not reassuring,” Remus says.

 

“I don’t want to lie to you.”

 

“That’sreallynot reassuring.”

 

Sirius shrugs. “Well, you’re going on missions to the packs, and I’m going on missions for the Order. The outcome isn’t guaranteed for either of us.”

 

“There’s a difference between not planning to get out of this alive, and understanding the risks we take,” Remus points out quietly. “I’m worried about you.”

 

Sirius sighs. “What if you knew that something bad was going to happen, and there was something you could do to stop it? Wouldn’t you do whatever it took to prevent it?”

 

“And you can’t ask for help?” Remus asks.

 

“It’s something only you can do,” Sirius counters. “And you have to do it alone. Kind of like your missions to the packs.”

 

Remus sighs deeply. “You make a fair point.”

 

“Do you want a butterbeer?” Sirius asks.

 

“I’d take one,” Remus replies. “Thanks.”

 

“When do you have to head out next?” Sirius asks.

 

Remus smiles crookedly. “Next week. Dumbledore was very kind to give me a week off.”

 

Sirius hands him a bottle and flings himself down on his overstuffed couch. “Good. I don’t have another mission right away either. You want to get takeaway tonight?”

 

Remus’ smile grows. “Yes, I would.”

 

It’s almost like the old days, almost like when they stayed with Mary and her family in the Lake District. They don’t have sex, and Sirius doesn’t even flirt, at least not more than he usually does with everybody.

 

Sirius knows he doesn’t have much time. James and Lily are going to announce their pregnancy any day, and Sirius anticipates getting called up on a mission. With James and Lily expecting, they’ll be more cautious, and Dumbledore will start using Sirius more and more.

 

He doesn’t blame Dumbledore for that. Sirius has no family to question Dumbledore, no dependents to leave behind, and he’s known as something of a reckless thrill-seeker. Remus is uniquely suited to be emissary to the packs, and Sirius is suited to going on dangerous missions.

 

Sirius doesn’t have to think very hard to remember the names of the fallen, those in a similar position as him who have been murdered.

 

But Voldemort and his Death Eaters have murdered plenty of people, most of them innocent, and they didn’t deserve it either. If Sirius can save any of them, he will.

 

Unfortunately, Sirius hasn’t been able to prevent James and Lily from fulfilling that part of the prophecy about them defying Voldemort three times, not that he expected that he would.

 

Sirius doesn’t pretend to know how prophecies work, but he doesn’t think anything he can do will prevent it being made.

 

The night before Remus leaves to go back to the packs, James and Lily invite them over for dinner, along with Peter, who’s actually able to make it this time. Sirius is fairly certain that he’s already been marked, but he doesn’t say anything about it.

 

It’s January and cold, and so it’s no wonder that Peter keeps his sleeves rolled down. Even though the Order asks everybody to roll up their sleeves before meetings, Peter stops coming at some point, pleading his Ministry job.

 

But then, it’s Peter, and no one really expects him to take on the dangerous missions. He might be a member of the Order, but he was never much of a dueler.

 

James claps Remus on the back when they arrive, and gives Sirius a hug. “Good to see you, mate. How are you?”

 

“I’m well,” Sirius replies. “What about the two of you? I feel like it’s been too long.”

 

“Weeks, anyway,” James says. “Too long, for sure. I’m sorry I haven’t been available for missions. I know that’s left you in the lurch.”

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Sirius insists. “I know you have other responsibilities. How are you, Lily?”

 

“I’m good,” she replies, and her hand strays to her abdomen.

 

Sirius missed it the last time, but this time, he raises his eyebrows. “Is there something you want to tell us?”

 

She frowns. “I was hoping to keep it a surprise. Peter isn’t here yet.”

 

Sirius shrugs. “I can’t help it that I’m brilliant.”

 

Remus rolls his eyes and James snorts. “Well, you can keep it quiet for now.”

 

“I promise to act very surprised,” Sirius replies.

 

Dinner that night is convivial, and Sirius can almost forget once again, he can consider that other life one long, terrible dream—except he can’t.

 

James clears his throat when they’re through with dinner, and he stands. “We have an announcement to make. Lily is pregnant. It’s unexpected, but ultimately, we’re very excited.”

 

“As you should be,” Sirius says grandly. “You two have just started the next generation of Marauders.”

 

“Well, I’d hope that our children would be slightly less trouble than the four of you,” Lily says with a smile.

 

James laughs. “I doubt we’ll get that lucky, not with—what I mean to say is—”

 

He stumbles over his words, and Lily says smoothly, “With you as godfather, I’m sure that he or she will learn all kinds of pranks.”

 

Sirius is warmed by the offer, as he’d been warmed before. “I’m honored.”

 

“Then you’ll be his godfather?” James asks.

 

“Of course,” Sirius replies. “Although I’m not sure I’m the role model sort.”

 

“No, but your loyalty is unquestionable,” James replies. “Alice Longbottom will be his or her godmother, and we’ve already spoken to her.”

 

Lily adds, “She’s pregnant as well, and we’ve agreed that should something happen to us, they’ll raise our child. We’ll do the same for them.”

 

“Is that really necessary?” Peter objects.

 

“We’re in the middle of a war, Wormtail,” James replies. “We’d be irresponsible if we didn’tmake these sorts of arrangements.”

 

“James is right,” Remus says. “We could look after the child, but what do we know about babies?”

 

“Less than nothing,” Sirius admits easily. “But we can learn.”

 

Peter shifts uncomfortably. “Babies need a lot of things.”

 

“And we’ll figure that out, too,” Remus replies.

 

Peter doesn’t appear convinced, and Sirius wonders if that’s part of it. Sirius fell in love with Harry on sight, and he thinks that Remus might have felt the same, but kept his distance because of his furry little problem.

 

He doesn’t think Peter was ever especially fond of Harry, which may have made it easier for him to betray James and Lily.

 

How anyone could betray a baby, though, let alone their friends, Sirius will never understand.

 

“Pronglet will have no shortage of protectors,” Sirius says.

 

“We’re not calling the baby Pronglet,” Lily objects.

 

“I don’t see why not,” Sirius teases. “At least until we know whether it’s a boy or girl.”

 

“Fair point,” James replies. “Pronglet will do for now. Not many people will know what we’re referring to, and Lily is going to lie low. I’m sure they’ll find out that she’s expecting, but we’d like to keep it as quiet as possible.”

 

Lily sighs. “I suppose it’s the prerogative of the godfather to settle on a nickname.”

 

Sirius laughs and raises a cup. “To the two of you, and to the new addition. May you have many happy years to come.”

 

He’s going to make sure of it.

 

~~~~~

 

Sirius races through the alley, dodging the curse hurled at his back, and he swears as he decides to do something rash. He apparates to a spot behind his pursuers and sends a couple of stunners. He gets one of them, but the other apparates away, probably because he’s not going to risk getting captured.

 

Sirius removes the Death Eater’s mask and sneers at the still form of Augustus Rookwood. They had suspected him of passing Ministry information to the other Death Eaters, and now Sirius has captured him.

 

“One down, who knows how many to go?” Sirius mutters, and send a message via Patronus to Alastor Moody.

 

It’s 30 July, and Sirius is anxious to get this mission finished so he can be available to attend Harry’s birth. Remus is back in town, too, probably at their shared flat. When the news comes, Remus will go over to the Potters’ cottage because St. Mungo’s won’t allow a werewolf to be around new mothers and infants.

 

Moody comes running up a few minutes later, and he lets out a low whistle when he spots Rookwood. “Good catch, Black. With Rookwood out of the picture, we might manage to stem the flow of information out of the Ministry.”

 

“They’ll be looking for another source,” Sirius says, even as the realization dawns. The Aurors nicked Rookwood around this time the first time around, and that means they’ll be looking for a new source of information inside the Ministry.

 

If Peter hasn’t been marked already—and Sirius isn’t certain one way or the other—they might go after him for this. Peter could provide the inside source the Death Eaters need.

 

“They’ll need one,” Moody replies.

 

Sirius takes a deep breath. “Right, well, I’m for home unless you need me.”

 

“Get out of here. Enjoy the rest of your night, what remains of it,” Moody orders.

 

Sirius apparates home, and finds Remus waiting for him, forearms resting on his legs. “I heard from James. Lily’s gone into labor.”

 

“Is she at St. Mungo’s?” Sirius asks.

 

Remus nods. “They’ve admitted her. James wants you there.”

 

“He wants both of us there,” Sirius counters. “Maybe you should go over to their house, make something for when they’re released. Lily won’t be up for cooking for a few days, and you’re the one with the most talent in that area.”

 

“Fair enough,” Remus replies, clearly grateful for something to do. “Give them my love.”

 

“Of course,” Sirius says, and he forgets for a minute, forgets that they’re not together, and that it’s for very good reasons, and he drops a kiss on Remus’ forehead.

 

Remus glances at him, startled, and Sirius coughs nervously. “Sorry. Sorry. Just—forgot for a minute.”

 

“No, it’s—thank you,” Remus replies.

 

He doesn’t say what he’s thankful for, but Sirius knows. Remus is touch-starved at the best of times, and all Sirius wants is to wrap him up and keep him safe.

 

Since that’s not possible, Sirius will take what he can get.

 

“I’ll see you later,” Sirius promises.

 

Lily’s in a private room at St. Mungo’s, and James is by her side when Sirius pokes his head in. “You all right?”

 

“We’re doing about as well as can be expected,” Lily manages, her red hair damp with sweat. “How is Remus? Did you see him?”

 

“He’s going to put some food together at your house,” Sirius deflects, knowing that just as Remus is disappointed not to be present, James and Lily are disappointed as well. There’s no changing it, though, so it’s best to focus on the positive.

 

James smiles. “Thank you, Padfoot.”

 

“Other than Lily, he’s the best cook,” Sirius says. “You wouldn’t want me to put a meal together.”

 

“Very true,” Lily agrees with a weary smile.

 

“Where’s the littlest Marauder?” Sirius asks, remembering not to call Harry by name, since he shouldn’t have that information yet.

 

“The Healer took him to clean him up,” James replies. “They should be back shortly.”

 

“And here he is,” the Healer says, bustling into the room, an infant in her arms.

 

Sirius opens his arms. “May I?”

 

“Sirius is the godfather,” James explains.

 

Sirius takes Harry in his arms, remembering how he fumbled it the first time around, but he knows how to hold him, how to support his head and cradle him close. “Hello, Pronglet,” he murmurs.

 

“His name is Harry James,” Lily informs him.

 

Sirius smirks at her. “That’s what I said.”

 

“Only you, Padfoot,” James murmurs. “How does it feel?”

 

Sirius sighs. “It feels as though I’ve been handed the whole world.”

 

“That it does,” James agrees.

 

Reluctantly, Sirius hands him over to Lily to be fed, and James leads him out of the room. “Have you seen Peter?”

 

“No, not yet,” Sirius replies. “But I’m going to have to talk to him. We captured Rookwood, and we know he’s been feeding Ministry secrets to the Death Eaters. They’ll be needing a new source.”

 

“And you think that might be Peter?” James asks. “He’ll be insulted if you tell him that you expect him to betray us.”

 

Sirius knows that. “He’ll have to be handled carefully, I agree.”

 

“I don’t think you should say anything to him,” James objects. “I know you think he’s weak. Merlin’s pants, I’m certain that Peterknows you think him weak. You could end up doing more harm than good.”

 

Sirius runs a hand through his hair. “You really think so?”

 

“I think it would be safer, unless you’re going to be able to convince Peter that you actually care about him, and you trust him to do the right thing,” James says. “Withoutinsinuating that there’s any doubt about his loyalty.”

 

Sirius sighs. “You’re right. There’s no way to have that conversation without casting aspersions on his character.”

 

“I know that you have knowledge that I don’t, but this isPeter we’re talking about,” James protests. “He’s not a fighter, and you and I both know what people do to be Marked.”

 

“I know that he’s always been interested in his own skin,” Sirius mutters. “And the war is going badly, with no end in sight.”

 

James heaves a sigh of his own. “It’s not so bad as that.”

 

“It is precisely that bad,” Sirius counters. “The Ministry is in shambles, we can’t identify all the Death Eaters, Voldemort continues unchecked, and no one really knows who to trust.”

 

“I trust you and Remus,” James replies.

 

“Just as I trust the two of you,” Sirius replies. “That’s not in question. But the bonds between us are different.”

 

“You’re excluding Peter from that equation,” James says.

 

“He excluded himself,” Sirius replies hotly.

 

James frowns. “You don’t know that he has.”

 

“No, I don’t,” Sirius replies. “But I know what he’s capable of.”

 

James shakes his head. “I know you have your reasons to doubt him. I just don’t think we should do anything that will push Peter in a direction that we don’t want him to go.”

 

Sirius nods. “I’ll let Peter be then, because I will accept that I am not the most objective person where he’s concerned.”

 

“Maybe go and make sure Remus is all right?” James asks. “I hate that he’s not able to be here, but—”

 

“Some rules aren’t worth breaking,” Sirius agrees. “And there would be those that would kill him for setting foot onto this floor. Moony knows that.”

 

“I don’t like the thought of him being alone,” James replies.

 

Sirius nods. “I’ll see to him. When do you think they’ll release Lily?”

 

“They said tomorrow, if everything looks good,” James replies. “She came through like a true warrior.”

 

“No surprise there,” Sirius replies.

 

James smiles. “No, it’s not. See you tomorrow?”

 

“We’ll keep the home fires burning,” Sirius promises.

 

Remus has made himself at home in the small cottage in Godric’s Hollow, and Sirius looks around with a sense of nostalgia, smelling soup and toasted bread. “How are they?”

 

“Lily came through just fine, and Harry is healthy,” Sirius replies.

 

“They named him Harry?” Remus asks.

 

“Harry James Potter,” Sirius replies. “And if I’m right, he’s going to be the spitting image of his father.”

 

“That’s too bad,” Remus jokes. “Harry would be better off if he took after Lily.”

 

Sirius thinks of the Harry he’d known. “I’m sure he’ll have her heart. Are you all right?”

 

“Fine,” Remus says lightly. “I made soup. When will they release her?”

 

“Tomorrow, James says,” Sirius replies. “I think we can make sure the house is ready for them when they arrive.”

 

“I think we can manage that much,” Remus replies. “Thank you.”

 

Sirius claps him on the shoulder. “Of course.”

 

They’re both at the house the next day when James and Lily turn up mid-afternoon, having hired a Muggle car to drive them. Lily, Sirius remembers, hadn’t wanted to risk splinching Harry, or having him respond poorly to apparition, and she’d insisted.

 

But then, Lily will do anything for her son, and James will do anything for his wife and child, so they take the train from London to the station nearest Godric’s Hollow, and hire a car to take them the rest of the way.

 

Remus makes a roast that’s only slightly dry, and that’s not even noticeable with the gravy, and the mash and roast veg is great. Peter shows up around dinnertime, and Sirius wonders if he’s imagining Peter’s discomfort as he holds Harry.

 

Does he already know that he’ll betray the Potters, or is he just uncomfortable around an infant? Remus is hesitant, too, and Sirius knows he had been the first time as well, but he isn’t anymore.

 

He claims Harry as often as possible, and James jokes, “I really thought that babies might be the one thing that would terrify you, Pads.”

 

“Please, I’m his godfather,” Sirius replies, bouncing Harry in his arms. “It’s my sworn duty not to be terrified of him.”

 

He wrinkles his nose as the smell hits him. “Diapers, on the other hand…”

 

He hands Harry off to Lily, who rolls her eyes. “Eventually, you aregoing to change a diaper, Sirius.”

 

“Of course,” Sirius replies, and doesn’t mean a word.

 

James watches as Lily takes Harry upstairs. “I wish Mom and Dad were here to see this.”

 

“They’d be besotted,” Sirius says, a little choked up. “I know how much they loved Lily, and they’d have adored Harry.”

 

James shakes his head. “Harry doesn’t have anybody, not outside those here, anyway.”

 

“There’s Lily’s sister,” Sirius points out.

 

James shakes his head. “No, and we’ve agreed that Petunia is our last choice for a guardian. We’d rather see Harry fostered by a wizarding family than go to her.”

 

“Lily was fairly upset the last time she saw her,” Sirius agrees.

 

Peter and Remus are listening, but not contributing.

 

“It might not have been so bad without that husband of hers,” James replies. “He’s the worst sort of Muggle.”

 

“Well, it’s not as though there aren’t more than a few arseholes in our own world,” Sirius points out, as someone who has always really liked Muggles. “I mean, look at my own family.”

 

James smiles. “Point.”

 

“We all know the plan,” Remus says quietly. “We’ll make sure your wishes are carried out, although we all hope that it’s not necessary.”

 

Sirius hopes that it really never comes to pass. No one is going to listen to Remus at the end of the day, not with the prejudice against werewolves. Alice and Frank have a better shot, assuming nothing happens to them.

 

He just hopes that someone has a copy of the Potters’ will other than Dumbledore, who will undoubtedly try to arrange things to his own liking.

 

For perfectly understandable reasons, of course, but it’s not going to serve Harry well in the long run.

 

“We have plenty of contingency plans,” James says. “But we’ll be fine. We aren’t going anywhere, not if we can help it.”

 

~~~~~

 

Sirius is almost too busy to sleep the next six months. Remus is aggressively recruiting the packs, at least to stay neutral, with the promise of free Wolfsbane for anybody who wants it. Quite a few do, and Sirius hears from James that he and Lily made their own visits with Harry in tow.

 

The Potters’ willingness to visit, even to contemplate Harry meeting additional werewolves—on neutral territory, of course—is creating more goodwill than has existed in a very long time.

 

“We’re making real progress,” Remus says over their communication mirrors one night. “Harry charms the pants off everybody he meets.”

 

“Pretty hard to say no to that face,” Sirius admits, stifling a yawn.

 

“What about you?” Remus asks. “You look exhausted, and also bruised.”

 

Sirius touches his swollen lip. “Got into a bit of a scuffle with a Death Eater who wanted a piece of me. No big deal.”

 

“You’ve been gone for weeks now,” Remus says. “I can’t believe that I’m seeing James, Lily, and Pronglet more often than you are.”

 

“Death Eaters are arseholes, and the more of them we can identify, the better off we’ll be,” Sirius replies. “I want every single one of them bunged up in Azkaban.”

 

Remus sighs. “I know that. I just worry about you.”

 

“Likewise,” Sirius replies. “But I’m glad to hear that your mission is going so well.”

 

Better than it had the first time around, that’s for sure. Introducing the Wolfsbane potion has been a game changer, and Sirius thinks it’s going to do a lot of long term good.

 

But Sirius has to take out as many Death Eaters as he can because it will only help the Potters and Harry down the road.

 

Obviously, Voldemort is going to be short quite a few supporters if they’re all dead. And maybe Sirius is picking fights to lure them out in the hopes of getting into a duel to the death, but it’s a strategy.

 

Maybe it’s a terrible strategy, but it’s what Sirius has right now, because it won’t be long now before he’s called back to take the vow of a Secret Keeper to hide the Potters. And once he does that, it will be on him to remain out of the Death Eaters’ hands, but to also make it clear that they’ll have to capture him to discover where the Potters are located.

 

And if he riles them up enough, they’ll chase him without ceasing. He’ll just have to stay out of their hands.

 

“Be careful,” Remus advises. “I know that’s not your usual plan, but we need you in one piece.”

 

Sirius smiles. “I knew you loved me.”

 

“Don’t push your luck,” Remus advises, but he wears a smile as he says it. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

 

“Of course,” Sirius promises. “Give the others my love.”

 

“Even Peter?” Remus asks.

 

“Are you going to see Peter?” Sirius counters.

 

Remus sighs. “No, probably not. He’s been avoiding us. He hasn’t really responded to any of Lily’s invitations when we’ve been in town.”

 

Sirius sighs. “Does he have a good reason?”

 

“Busy with work,” Remus replies. “The same excuses as usual. Do you think it’s something we need to worry about?”

 

“Hard to say,” Sirius replies. “Maybe I’m just paranoid.”

 

Remus makes a face. “Better safe than sorry. Stay in touch.”

 

“You, too,” Sirius replies.

 

He’s heading to Munich next, where some of Voldemort’s followers have dug in, spreading their pure-blood agenda across the continent. Sirius has received reports that there have been incidents of Muggle-baiting, as well as reprisals against half-bloods and those regarded as blood-traitors.

 

Dumbledore advised Sirius to meet a friend who is well-connected in Germany and know the additional potential targets, or who might know.

 

Sirius slips into the beerhall where he’s meeting Dumbledore’s friend, wearing Muggle clothing as instructed. No one gives him a second look, and he understands why so many people opposing Voldemort end up choosing Muggle spaces to meet. The Death Eaters, with their pure blood politics and prejudices, are that much more easily spotted.

 

A woman slides into the seat across from Sirius after he’s ordered his lager. “Guten Abend,” she murmurs.

 

Sirius returns the favor. “I’ve been craving the open skies of Austria,” he says in German.

 

She snorts. “And I have been looking forward to the sunny skies of England,” she replies in English.

 

“They’re sunny sometimes,” Sirius replies. “Although not often enough to make that a poor signal. Sirius.”

 

“Marta,” she replies, and he’s fairly certain that’s not her actual name. “Welcome to Munich, Sirius. You’re a long way from home.”

 

“I need to find out how bad the situation is here,” Sirius replies.

 

Marta shrugs. “What situation isn’t bad? Our country is divided, and we have violent skinheads roaming the streets. One more fanatic pushing some ideal of blood purity—whatever that means—will be right at home.”

 

Sirius hasn’t really kept up on the issue of international politics—he’s been too busy with the war at home—but maybe he should have. “I’m sorry I don’t know more.”

 

Marta shrugs. “You have enough to worry about. I do have a list of targets, as requested.” She hands him a folded piece of parchment. “Mostly what these lunatics would call blood traitors, but there are a few non-magic-born on there, too.”

 

“We call them Muggle-born,” Sirius says.

 

Marta smirks at him. “We just call them wizards and witches.”

 

“How very forward-thinking of you,” Sirius replies.

 

Marta’s expression softens. “Well, the other terms aren’t fit for polite company. Germany has its share of bigots as well. Good luck to you.”

 

“Thanks,” Sirius replies. “I appreciate the information.”

 

“Dumbledore knows how to get in touch with me should he need additional information,” Marta says, and then gets up and melts away into the pedestrians moving down the busy street.

 

Sirius has his list, which means the next step is to meet with the others assigned to protect the targets. He heads to the safe house to hand out assignments to those from England and other places in Europe who have volunteered to help.

 

The problem is that there are half a dozen targets on the list and only four volunteers, including Sirius.

 

“There aren’t enough of us,” Mueller objects.

 

“Then we’ll gather them up,” Sirius replies. “I’m sure once they know why we need them to gather, they’ll be cooperative.”

 

“They don’t even know us,” Ironback protests. “Why would they listen to us?”

 

“That’s why you’ll be very persuasive,” Sirius says.

 

They all frown at him, and Sirius rolls his eyes. “They’re prospective victims. Either they accept our help, or they don’t, but we have a duty to warn them anyway.”

 

There are grumblings, but Sirius ignores them. It’s a tough mission, maybe impossible, and people always grumble about that. They don’t always have all the time in the world, or the people that they need, but they have to do the best they can.

 

Still, Ironback is definitely not a charmer, although Mueller has potential and Kim just smiles in a way that tells Sirius she’s probably ten kilometers ahead of them.

 

Sirius looks through the list, and realizes that Marta left notes. Some of the intended victims are families with small children, and Sirius decides they have to be a priority. They’ll also be easier to convince. Mueller and Kim speak fluent German, and there are four families on the list. If they can gather them into one location, they’ll have cut down on the number of locations they have to defend.

 

“Four families, Mueller and Kim will take two each,” Sirius decides. “You can each take the first one and try to convince them to come with you. You can bring them back here, since it’s defensible.”

 

“What are you going to do?” Mueller asks, in a clear challenge.

 

Sirius gives him a cool look. “I’m going to work on what’s likely our most stubborn target, and Ironback, who has no charm, is going to talk to the couple who is likely going to be the easiest to convince.”

 

There are snickers from the others, and even Ironback cracks a smile. “Thanks so much for that, Black.”

 

“You were the one who needed an instruction manual,” Sirius counters.

 

“Do we bring everybody back here?” Ironback asks.

 

Sirius hesitates. The safe house really isn’t big enough for all those people, but there aren’t a lot of options.

 

“Let’s reconnoiter here, and if we can, let’s leverage one of their homes,” Sirius replies. “If there’s one that’s big enough for everybody and defensible with good wards, and there’s agreement, we’ll all go there.”

 

~~~~~

 

“So, that’s what we did,” Sirius tells James and Mary. “Kim and Mueller were great, and Ironback was basically useless, but he did manage to get his single target to the safe house.”

 

James snorts. “He was always short on charm.”

 

“Clearly,” Sirius replies. “But everybody was safe, and the Death Eaters were left empty-handed, so it was a good mission.”

 

James glances at Lily and clears his throat. “We asked you here for a reason.”

 

“I figured as much,” Sirius replies. “What’s up?”

 

He knows what’s up. He knows that they’re going to tell him that they’ve heard a prophecy about Harry, and they need to go into hiding. They’re going to ask if he’ll be their Secret Keeper, and he’s going to agree this time.

 

“Dumbledore told us about a prophecy, and it might be about Harry,” James says. “He thinks we should go into hiding, and we should put a Fidelius on the cottage.”

 

Sirius nods. “I’ll be your Secret Keeper, and if it’s not me, it should probably be Moony.”

 

“You,” James says quickly. “I trust Moony. I’m sure he’d keep our secrets, but his position with the packs means he might end up compromised.”

 

Sirius inclines his head. “Then you don’t even need to ask.”

 

James lets out a breath. “We’ll have to talk to Peter and Remus, let them know what’s going on, and we should do that soon.”

 

“I don’t think we should wait,” Sirius replies. He knows they have time, but he can’t predict everything. “Let me talk to them.”

 

James’ eyes narrow. “Are you going to be civil with Peter?”

 

“Yes, of course,” Sirius says easily.

 

Lily raises her eyebrows. “Padfoot, please, we know you.”

 

“I will be civil,” Sirius says. “I’ll swear it on my magic if you like.”

 

“That’s not necessary,” James says. “I trust you, Pads.”

 

Which means that Sirius will have to keep his end of the bargain. He can’t risk disappointing James.

 

“Then we’ll do the oath tonight,” James replies. “But Sirius, Dumbledore thinks that it’s too much of a risk for our Secret Keeper to visit regularly.”

 

That’s another reason that Sirius had advocated for Peter being the Secret Keeper the first time around: he hadn’t wanted to give up seeing James, Lily, and Harry. He had tactical reasons for the decision as well, reasons that made a lot of sense

 

And now he has to give that up.

 

“Yeah, I know that,” Sirius sighs.

 

“We don’t like it either,” Lily says softly. “And I’m certain that Harry will be inconsolable. You’re his godfather, and he loves you.”

 

“Bugger that,” James snaps. “No one knows about Sirius’ animagus form other than the Marauders, and none of themwill know the secret, other than Sirius. You can still visit if you’re careful.”

 

Lily’s expression lightens. “That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of that.”

 

“And Dumbledore doesn’t know, which is probably for the best,” James says. “No one needs to know.”

 

Sirius nods. “Shall we, then?”

 

“We’d better, for Harry’s sake,” James replies.

 

Lily nods. “I’m glad you won’t be a stranger, Padfoot.”

 

“You couldn’t keep me away,” Sirius replies. “I have to teach my godson the Marauder’s way.”

 

“What? You don’t trust me?” James jokes.

 

Sirius shrugs. “Lily has been a very civilizing influence on you.”

 

“Thank you,” Lily says primly. “I like to think so.”

 

Sirius takes the oath to become the Secret Keeper, and the he hugs them both, and cuddles Harry, who has just woken from his nap. “Pa’s,” Harry says, patting his cheek.

 

“Hello, little love,” Sirius murmurs. “I’ll see you soon.”

 

And he will. That’s a promise.

 

~~~~~

 

Sirius meets with Peter the following day, and he doesn’t think he’s imagining things when Peter seems twitchier than usual.

 

“It’s been a while,” Sirius says easily, keeping an air of insouciance.

 

Peter shrugs. “It’s not like it was when we were in school, seeing each other every day.” He won’t quite look Sirius in the eye. “And I’ve been busy at work.”

 

“Department of transportation, right?” Sirius asks.

 

“It’s a foot in the door,” Peter says defensively.

 

What it is, is a very junior position procured for Peter by a family friend, which is how just about everybody winds up at the Ministry. Very few gain positions solely on the basis of their own merit, and most don’t rise through the ranks without political connections, or ties to someone in the Wizengamot.

 

Sirius doesn’t hold any of that against Peter. What he does blame Peter for is caving to the Death Eaters and taking the Mark.

 

“I’m glad you found a position,” Sirius replies as sincerely as he can. “I really am. I just wanted to let you know that James and Lily have gone into hiding with Harry.”

 

“Really?” Peter asks, and twitches again. “I didn’t think James would ever back down.”

 

“He did it for Harry,” Sirius replies. “There was a prophecy. I don’t know all the details, but they think Harry might end up being a target.”

 

Sirius hadn’t told James about this part of the plan, the part where he deliberately baits the trap with himself.

 

“I suppose you’re the Secret Keeper,” Peter says.

 

Sirius nods. “I’ve been careful. No one is going to get that information out of me, not while Harry remains in danger.”

 

“Be careful, Padfoot,” Peter says. “Things are pretty bad right now.”

 

“I’m well aware, Wormtail,” Sirius says dryly. “I’ve been fighting Death Eaters for the last few years.”

 

Peter finally meets his eyes. “You don’t have to rub it in my face.”

 

“Was I?” Sirius asks mildly. “It was a statement of fact.”

 

Peter scowls. “Just because I don’t have time to devote to the Order—”

 

“I wasn’t trying to shame you, Peter,” Sirius says, interrupting him. “We all do our part, in our own way, and in our own time. If you’re feeling as though you’re not contributing enough, you can always talk to Dumbledore, see if there’s something else you could do.”

 

Sirius can think of half a dozen things Peter might be able to do, particularly if he told Dumbledore about his animagus form. A rat could go just about anywhere in the Ministry, could bring back valuable intel. But to do that, Peter would have to reveal his form.

 

Sirius is no oath-breaker; he won’t reveal Peter’s secret without his permission, not until he’s certain that Peter has done something in to deserve it—this time.

 

“It’s always been easier for you and James,” Peter says, and there’s a faint whine in his voice that gets on Sirius’ last nerve, even though he tries not to show it.

 

“Maybe it has been,” Sirius admits. “As I said, we all have our parts to play. And I still have another person to see before my day is over.”

 

“Of course, it was good to see you, Sirius,” Peter says, and he’s back to avoiding Sirius’ eyes again.

 

“And you,” Sirius replies. “I’ll let you know if there’s any news from James and Lily.”

 

Peter nods. “Thank you, Padfoot.”

 

From there, Sirius heads back to his flat, where he’s arranged to meet Remus, who is back from his latest mission to the packs. He could have spoken to Remus and Peter together, of course, but he wants to pass along a warning to Moony not to trust him.

 

And he wants an evening alone with Remus, because he’s certain that things are going to come to a head soon, and he’s not sure whether he’ll see him again.

 

The flat is cold and dark when he enters, and Sirius lights a fire and the lamps. He isn’t much good in the kitchen, but there’s bread and cheese and tins of soup. He has the soup warming, and the bread and cheese ready to go under the grill.

 

He hears Remus’ key in the lock, and he slips inside, his manner diffident as always.

 

“Did you already see Peter?” Remus asks.

 

Sirius nods, putting the bread in under the grill. “I did. He wouldn’t look me in the eye most of the time, and then took offense when I told him I’d been fighting the Death Eaters for years. He seemed to think that a mere statement of fact meant that I was calling him a coward.”

 

“Well, in fairness, he was always a bit of one,” Remus says reasonably. “Not that we ever held it against him.”

 

Sirius shakes his head. “No, we protected him. I just hope he makes the honorable choice and returns the favor.”

 

“Do you really think he’ll betray James and Lily?” Remus asks.

 

“He knows they’ve gone into hiding because of the prophecy, and he knows I’m the Secret Keeper,” Sirius replies. “He has the information he needs to do so, or not to do so.”

 

Remus sighs. “Why am I not surprised that you’re using yourself as bait?”

 

“It was always going to be that way,” Sirius replies. “If there was anyone I trusted to be the Secret Keeper, I’d have them do it, and I’d still noise it about that I was, for that added layer of protection.”

 

“You mean you’d still be bait,” Remus replies grimly. “Even the strongest minds can break under torture, Sirius.”

 

Sirius hitches a shoulder. “No doubt, but I think I like my odds.”

 

“I know that,” Remus replies. “But maybe you should go into hiding, just to be on the safe side.”

 

“I promise to be careful,” Sirius replies. “And I won’t go out of my way to meet up with Death Eaters, or invite capture.”

 

Remus shakes his head. “You know, I believe you. I wouldn’t have, once upon a time, but you’ve grown up.”

 

“That’s the idea,” Sirius replies. “But Remus, if anything happens to me, will you look after Harry?”

 

Remus frowns. “Pads—”

 

“Forget your condition,” Sirius says, his voice hot. “You have the Wolfsbane potion for a reason, and I think we both know that if the worst happens, it won’t matter. He’ll need someone like me, or like you.”

 

“He’ll have his parents,” Remus argues.

 

“I said the worst,” Sirius replies. “And it could get a lot worse.”

 

Remus glances at the oven. “I think your bread might be burning.”

 

“Dammit,” Sirius swears and pulls it out. It’s black around the edges and well-browned on top, but still edible. “Could be worse.”

 

“I’veeatenworse,” Remus counters. “It’s fine. Also, I wish you were still just predicting James making Head Boy.”

 

“So do I,” Sirius replies.

 

He doesn’t say that they’re at war, because Remus knows that just as well as he does. He doesn’t have happy predictions at this point.

 

Sirius doesn’t really know anything, anyway. It’s different now.

 

“I know that James is your brother in all but blood,” Remus says quietly. “And I know that we can’t be more than friends, not—not right now.”

 

Sirius feels his heart leap. “Not right now?”

 

“You have to survive in order to make good on that,” Remus points out. “If you die, there will never be anything more than friendship—but you will always have that.”

 

This is a far cry from where they’d been the first time around, bitter recriminations hanging between them, poisoning whatever love had sparked between them once upon a time.

 

“I feel the same way,” Sirius replies. “And that’s a hell of an incentive.”

 

“And if you get into trouble, I will do whatever I can to get you out of it again,” Remus promises.

 

“We have the communication mirrors,” Sirius says. “And there’s—there’s something else we could do.”

 

Remus frowns. “What’s that?”

 

“I’ve been thinking of the Marauder’s map, and how we might use the same thing to communicate over distances,” Sirius admits. “If someone is searching a prisoner, they’ll take a mirror, but they might overlook a scrap of parchment and a pencil stub.”

 

Remus considers, his expression thoughtful. “Well, we have the night. I believe we can figure it out.”

 

“Thank you,” Sirius says.

 

“I don’t like that you’re ready to sacrifice yourself, but I understand it,” Remus says. “Just as I understand why. I need you to know that you have something to live for as well.”

 

“I have many things to live for,” Sirius replies. “You, and James, and Lily, and Pronglet. I just want you all to be safe.”

 

“At the expense of your own life?”

 

“If need be,” Sirius admits.

 

“Then maybe think about the people who would count their lives worse with you gone,” Remus replies. “And let’s work on that parchment.”

 

~~~~~

 

Sirius tries to stop in to see the Potters at least once a week, although it’s probably more like every other. He always approaches as Padfoot, and he tends to keep the form at least for a bit, mostly because it absolutely delights Harry. Harry will toddle over to him, drape himself over Sirius’ back, pull on his fur, and ride him like a pony.

 

Not that he minds. He knows that Harry won’t always be so small, and Sirius won’t always be around.

 

Every moment that Sirius has with them, he treasures. He can feel the tension build as the war intensifies. More and more Muggle-borns and so-called blood traitors are disappearing or are dying, the Dark Mark floating in the sky, lest anyone be confused as to the culprits.

 

He sees Remus when he can, too, and even visits with Peter a couple of times, to pass along greetings from James and Lily and Harry. Sirius tries to be careful, varying his route home, setting up wards, doing whatever he can to stay safe and out of the hands of Death Eaters.

 

The Death Eaters will have to come through him to get to Harry; they have no choice.

 

Sirius has just reached the outer door of his building, outside the protection of the wards, when he feels the air shift. He throws up a wandless, wordless shield, and a widespread stunner, meant to take out several assailants at once, although it’s not as effective as a single shot stunner.

 

The others also have shield spells, though, and they’re all wearing masks. There are six of them, and they send a series of vicious hexes at him, so it’s all Sirius can do to dodge them and try not to get hit.

 

He sends off a few blasting hexes, and dodges one of theirs.

 

“We need him alive, you idiot!” one of them snaps. “The Dark Lord will have your head if he’s killed before we get the information out of him.”

 

Sirius attempts to apparate, but is blocked, which means they’ve got an anti-apparation ward up. That keeps them in place as well, but it means that Sirius can’t easily get away.

 

Crucio!”

 

Sirius feels the curse hit him, pain singing along his nerves, and he falls to one knee, able to keep his feet under the unrelenting agony.

 

And then everything goes black.

 

~~~~~

 

When he wakes, he’s in what appears to be a basement cell, probably in someone’s manor house. They’ve stripped him of his robes, his shirt, and his shoes, leaving only his trousers. Sirius checks his pockets and finds the scrap of parchment and stub of pencil.

 

Just as he and Remus hoped.

 

The only light is from a torch flickering in the hall, coming through a small, barred window set at head-height in the thick, wooden door. It’s just enough to see by, to scribble out a short, cramped message to Remus.

 

They took me. I don’t know where.

 

The words disappear as soon as he writes them, and he hears footsteps. He hastily shoves both parchment and pencil into his pocket and scrambles to his feet, prepared to fight.

 

Two masked men enter, and the door swings shut behind them. Without his wand, he doesn’t have much chance against them, and he knows it. His best bet is to hold out as long as he can, long enough for Remus to stage a rescue.

 

He’s not surprised when they hit him with another Cruciatus. The pain brings him to his knees, but he grits his teeth against it. “Where are the Potters?” one of them asks.

 

Sirius spits onto the floor. “Sod off.”

 

Another Cruciatus, and Sirius bites the side of his cheek to keep from crying out, and he draws blood.

 

“Where are the Potters?”

 

He spits blood onto the floor and doesn’t respond.

 

Sirius isn’t sure how long it goes on. He’s not sure he wants to know, considering that he doesn’t know when it will end.

 

When they finally leave his cell, he feels the remnants of the curse deep in his bones, a pain that is like no other. Sirius knows people who have gone mad from the pain, but he thinks he can withstand it.

 

He survived twelve years in Azkaban, after all. Twelve years of exposure to the Dementors had put cracks in his sanity, but hadn’t broken him.

 

Someone delivers bread and water, and Sirius drinks and eats. They might try giving him Veritaserum, or poison, but the Secret Keeper must willingly tell the secret. The secret can be tortured out of him, or tricked, or he can offer it up, but they aren’t going to get it via potion.

 

Sirius surreptitiously glances at the scrap of parchment and sees Remus’ handwriting. Working on it.

 

He has nothing else to offer Remus, no way to tell him where he is. His captors have given nothing away so far—no names, no faces, and no identifying features. He has no idea how Remus will manage to find him.

 

There are more rounds of torture, not all of them using crucio. There are a lot of things that can be done to the human body, spells that can keep him from bleeding out or dying, while continuing the pain. Sirius loses himself in the pain, but says nothing.

 

They can break him, and he won’t tell them anything.

 

Not ever.

 

The two Death Eaters leave the cell again after another round of torture—crucioagain, and Sirius thinks that he might be able to distinguish between the Death Eaters based on their preferred torture methods. If he ever faces them in battle, he’ll know them, and he’ll remove their masks and see them all consigned to Azkaban as fodder for the Dementors.

 

He just has to survive.

 

Sirius pulls out the scrap of parchment, but there aren’t any new words. He feels as though Remus would give him some word, some sign if rescue were imminent. He’d thought he might get some words of encouragement at least.

 

But there’s nothing.

 

More time passes, more torture. Sirius sees his grandfather standing in a corner of his cell, and he says, “Well, this is a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into, boy.”

 

He’s delirious. He’s aware enough to know that, and also aware enough to know that his condition is only going to get worse, until he doesn’t know fact from delusion.

 

Sirius pictures James and Lily and Harry. They’re the ones he’s protecting; they’re the ones he’s doing this for.

 

And then the door opens again. Sirius pushes himself into a sitting position—he’d been curled up in a ball on the floor, trying to ride out the waves of pain. He expects more torture, but instead he sees Remus’ familiar face.

 

“There you are,” Remus says with clear relief. “You look terrible.”

 

Sirius is certain that this is another delusion. “You’re not real.”

 

“Of course, I am,” Remus replies. “Did you think I wouldn’t come for you?”

 

“How did you find me?” Sirius asks, not quite willing to believe that Remus is actually here.

 

Remus shrugs. “Peter told me. He feels terrible about betraying you, and he came to tell me where you were.”

 

That—that seems right. If Peter betrayed them, Remus is the one he’d approach.

 

It doesn’t enter Sirius’ mind that Remus is the only one he couldapproach, with James and Lily behind the Fidelius and Sirius captured. But then, he is about half-dead, and it’s probably a miracle that he’s capable of coherent thought at all.

 

But Remus is the most forgiving of them, the most level-headed. Peter wouldgo to Remus. Remus knows that Sirius has been captured, and would be looking for him. Of course, once Peter went to Remus, Remus would come for Sirius.

 

He promised, and he’d done it once before.

 

“Come on,” Remus says, “we have to get you out of here. We need to move quickly.”

 

“Where are we going?”

 

“We have to go to James and Lily,” Remus says. “You’ll be safe behind the Fidelius.”

 

Sirius shakes his head. “No, we can’t. We can’t.”

 

“We have to,” Remus counters. “They’ll be looking for both of us, Pads. We’ll be careful, we’ll stay with them—you need time to recover anyway.”

 

“I can’t,” Sirius says, agonized. “I swore an oath.”

 

“Don’t you trust me?” Remus demands.

 

Sirius quickly says, “Yes, of course I do. I trust you more than just about anybody, Moony. I love you.”

 

The words fall from his mouth without his bidding, and he’s expecting the disconcerted expression on Moony’s face.

 

“Then trust me with this,” Remus says. “Trust that I’ll keep the secret, too.”

 

He wrestles with the request. There’s a part of him that knows it’s a terrible idea, but he’s exhausted and hurting and half out of his mind with hunger and pain and the knowledge of his own death.

 

“The location is Potter Cottage in Godric’s Hollow,” Sirius finally says.

 

Remus releases him, and Sirius collapses onto the floor in a heap. “That was easier than I thought it would be.”

 

Too late, Sirius realizes that it’s not Remus at all. “What—who are you?”

 

“Moony was quite despondent at your capture,” the stranger wearing Remus’ face says. “I went over to comfort him, and he left a few hairs on my robe. We’ve been planning this for months, you know. I thought you’d be harder to break, the great Sirius Black.”

 

“Peter,” he spits out.

 

“Then you already suspected me,” and Remus’ expression is cold, colder than Sirius ever remembers it being. “I should have known, and you should have acted sooner.”

 

“Fuck you,” Sirius says, because he can’t think of anything else to say. “Where’s Remus?”

 

“Sleeping off the potion I gave him,” Peter replies. “You know, I always liked Remus, and the Dark Lord still thinks he might be of some use.”

 

Sirius tries to spring forward, but pain and exhaustion mean he’s uncoordinated and slow. “I’m going to kill you,” he promises.

 

“No, you won’t,” Peter says shortly. “You’ll be dead in a minute, and the Potters will be dead within the hour.”

 

“Why?” Sirius asks.

 

Peter’s expressions softens slightly. “It’s about who’s winning, Padfoot. And you’re not. You can’t.”

 

And then he points his wand at Sirius and says, “Avada—”

Chapter Text

Regulus is saying, “Sirius! Sirius! Breathe!”

 

He takes in a great, gasping breath, and feels the remembered pain in his nerves, the lingering pain from Azkaban and a thousand nights on a hard, cold floor. He feels—alive, sick, like a failure.

 

And then he realizes that Regulus must know. Must have known from the first.

 

“You knew,” he says, still trying to catch his breath.

 

“You stared at the first door far longer than a Gryffindor would if it was merely an issue of making a choice,” Regulus replies, and sits down next to Sirius on the floor. “The second door confirmed my suspicion.”

 

“You didn’t stop me,” Sirius points out.

 

“I’d rather you pick the door most likely to ensure your survival and that of the Black family name,” Regulus says.

 

Sirius takes a breath and slowly clambers to his feet. “And if I tell you that it’s unlikely I’ll ever marry or father children, and Harry will be my heir?”

 

“Then I’ll tell you to adopt him,” Regulus replies. “Give him the protection of the House of Black. At least he has Black blood in his pedigree.”

 

“I’m surprised at you, Regulus,” Sirius replies. “I thought you’d rail against his Muggle-born mother.”

 

Regulus is quiet for a moment. “I liked Lily. We only interacted a few times, but she was always kind and fair.”

 

Sirius hears the words, “unlike you,” echo in his brother’s comment. “She was.”

 

“I’m sorry you couldn’t save them.”

 

Sirius takes a breath. “I still could. I could choose that door, and then make different choices.”

 

“You could,” Regulus agrees. “I don’t know how it works. Maybe you would make other, better choices if you stepped through.”

 

“I’d find a way to kill Peter, that’s for sure,” Sirius says, and wonders why he hadn’t.

 

He knows why he hadn’t, though. He’d hoped, deep down, that Peter would do the right thing, and there was no way to explain why he would take such an action.

 

“What will you do now?” Regulus asks.

 

“I have to look at all my options, don’t I?” Sirius asks, but his mind is working through the possibilities.

 

The prophecy might be a foregone conclusion. Maybe James and Lily’s deaths were, too.

 

Or maybe he shouldn’t have been a selfish wanker and should have fled to Australia or some such. Granted, that would have left England in the throes of a civil war, and James and Lily cut off from the rest of wizarding England.

 

There are other options, other things he could have done or suggested they do, and none of them would have flown, not really.

 

Now, he’s left with the choice of three doors.

 

“What if I went back to one of the other doors?” Sirius asks.

 

“I don’t think you’ll see but the one possible future,” Regulus replies, “although I don’t know that for sure.”

 

Sirius considers his options, and then he clambers to his feet. “I’m ready.”

 

He reaches out and touches the knob—

 

1996

 

He dodges the spell Bella meant for him. It’s chaos in the DOM. He sees Harry holding off a Death Eater in a mask, Harry’s friends doing the same. They’re fighting like warriors, like they’ve been training a lot longer than is really possible. They’re fighting like they’re already members of the Order.

 

And it’s too late, and not enough, and these children shouldn’t be in this position.

 

Sirius fends off a couple of curses, even as his mind is racing. The government hasn’t been on board or very helpful. The Wizengamot is full of old men and women who don’t want to admit that Voldemort has returned. Sirius is still a wanted man.

 

This is the wrong time. There’s no room to maneuver. They’re wrong-footed from the very beginning.

Chapter Text

Sirius steps away from the door, and Regulus frowns at him. “That was rather fast.”

“I need to plan better,” Sirius replies. “I need more time.”

“You’re finally thinking strategically,” Regulus says approvingly. “It’s about time.”

“I need to be able to seize control,” Sirius continues. “To prove my innocence and be a force within the Ministry, rather than trusting Dumbledore.”

He doesn’t want to return to a time where he’s in Azkaban, which leaves him one option, although he has no idea what he’ll do with it.

But he reaches for the doorknob.

1994

He dismounts Buckbeak and falls to his knees, unutterably weary. Sirius hadn’t allowed them to stop until they reached France, and one of the Black holdings there. There’s an old farmhouse that’s been vacant for years, and Sirius slowly climbs to his feet. He dispels the stasis charm on the house and walks inside, Buckbeak following.

They’ll both need food and water, and Sirius will need to—

His thoughts are jumbled, and Sirius struggles to orient himself to when and where he is. He takes a deep breath, and then another. He glances over at Buckbeak, who’s looking away from Sirius, maybe to save his dignity.

Sirius isn’t entirely sure how he’d managed to wind up at a Black property; originally, he’d hidden out in the French Riviera. He’d been so intent on escaping, so fearful of being Kissed, he’s not sure when he’d landed in the past.

The first time around, he hadn’t realized he was the Black heir until he accessed Grimmauld Place after Voldemort returned. That had mostly been by Dumbledore’s urging that Sirius find a place to hide and Sirius’ desire to contribute to the Order.

Looking back, Sirius isn’t entirely sure why he hadn’t fought harder to clear his name and get custody of Harry, but that’s not a problem this time. He has a clear goal in mind, and an understanding of how little time they have.

In a year’s time, unless Sirius finds some way of stopping it, Voldemort will return, and Harry will be fighting him.

He has an opportunity now to do something to change all of that.

First things first, though: food and water, then sleep, then plans.

There’s no food in the larder, of course, but there’s a village down the road, and he can get something there.

Not that he has any money, which means he’s going to have to pilfer unless his grandmother left some in the house. Sirius hates stealing, but there may not be an alternative right now.

Sirius is no stranger to doing distasteful things in order to survive.

His first stop is the study. The old farmhouse has a family safe, where his grandfather stored odds and ends, including a spare wand.

Arcturus Black believed that while the wand might choose the wizard, a wizard should never risk being unarmed. And a powerful wizard can make just about any wand submit to his will.

In this case, the wand had originally belonged to Sirius’ great-grandfather on his mother’s side, which isn’t surprising, since they’d been the ones to contribute the house to his grandmother’s dowry. Sirius gives the wand a swish, and cheerful sparks spill from the tip.

And, much to Sirius’ surprise, there’s both Muggle money and a pouch of mixed galleons and sickles. “Looks like I won’t be stealing after all,” Sirius mutters. “Thank you, Arcturus.”

In one of the bedrooms, Sirius finds some clothes that are decently clean, and he has a chance to get cleaned up. No one had cleared out the house; they’d just closed it up. There are even some toiletries in one of the bathrooms, and Sirius takes a shower with relief. He’s still shaggy, but at least he’s clean, and wearing clean clothing.

He takes the wand and some of the money, and then walks down to the village, about a kilometer away. He’s weary and sore, but his hunger is such that he makes the trek. It’s not a wizarding village, and he doesn’t know the area well enough to apparate there.

It’s mid-morning in the village, and Sirius buys bread, ham, cheese, and raw steak for Buckbeak. He buys a bag of apples, too, and then walks far enough away to apparate to the farmhouse. Buckbeak seems to appreciate the raw meat, and Sirius makes a rough sandwich and munches on an apple. He finds a bed, and collapses into it.

His weariness is such that he passes out immediately, and safe behind Black wards, however weakened, he sleeps well.

The next morning, Sirius wakes up, and he eats again—he thinks it will be a while before he’s not hungry—and then he starts planning.

First things first, he needs to clear his name. And then he needs to get custody of Harry. And then he needs to prevent Voldemort from returning.

Clearing his name is going to be the most pressing problem, though. Everything else will follow after that.

Sirius has given this some thought. He thought that without Peter, there would be no way of proving his innocence, but he has an idea.

Hunting Peter down hadn’t worked in the future, so he’s going to have to come up with a different plan. Right now, that involves testimony given under veritaserum with someone Sirius can trust to at least listen, and not immediately order him to be Kissed. As far as he knows, Crouch Jr. won’t replace Moody until towards the end of the summer, and he’d worked with Moody in the past.

Moody is retired, and he’s not afraid of bending the rules, so there’s at least a chance he’ll hear Sirius out, or at least agree that Sirius deserves a trial. Dumbledore has given no sign that he’ll use his influence to help, so it’s up to Sirius to figure it out.

Sirius isn’t sure who else might be willing to help him, although he can probably leverage the Black fortune, since he’s the Black heir.

Sirius frowns and realizes that he’s thinking like a Gryffindor, and that’s what got him chucked in Azkaban in the first place. He has to be sneaky, to build an unassailable case, to prevent the British Ministry from sweeping his imprisonment without a trial under the rug.

Moody should be a part of his plan, if only to prevent Crouch Jr. from taking his place, but he has to have more than just the one.

This is too important to leave to chance.

He needs Moony.

Two heads are always better than one, and Sirius owes him, especially after his actions essentially cost Remus his teaching position. Sirius knows how much being a professor at Hogwarts meant to him, and how much Remus later regretted losing it. He never blamed Sirius for what happened, but Sirius blames himself.

Besides, Moony is the planner, and he’ll have some ideas.

He’ll have to go down to the village to hire an owl, and he should send Moony money for the train. Since he has Muggle money, he can send a few pounds. He can send Harry a letter, too, let him know that he’s safe with Buckbeak.

And maybe, just maybe, they’ll figure out how to get Harry away from his terrible relatives.

He gets a few more things from the store and sends out his two letters, one to Remus, and the other to Harry. Sirius has money enough to live on for a bit, and a safe place to stay. If he can get to the Paris branch of Gringotts, he can get more money, and British law enforcement tends to be fairly insular. Sirius doubts that the Aurors have shared his wanted status outside the country.

Besides, as far as those in the village are concerned, he’s a Black who has returned to his family’s summer home, even if it had stood empty for the better part of two decades.

Sirius includes the location of the house in his letter to Remus, so he’s not exactly surprised when he doesn’t get a reply, although Hedwig turns up a couple of days later with a letter from Harry.

The Muggles haven’t been too horrible yet, but it’s early days. I’m glad you and Buckbeak are safe, though. I wish I could visit you. I think anywhere would be better than here.

Sirius hears the aching loneliness in Harry’s words, and he knows that his schemes need to include the possibility of getting Harry that summer, if possible. If they can figure out the logistics, maybe Moony could escort him to France.

He thinks Harry would like the country house, and he thinks it might be good for him to learn more than the rudimentary French he was taught in primary school. He also thinks it might be a good idea to take more of an interest in Harry’s achievements in school. Lily had been at the top of their year, and James had been right up there as well.

Maybe if someone demonstrates they care, Harry will be a little more motivated.

Sirius is going to be a better godfather this time around. He’s going to be mature and responsible, and he’s going to remember that Harry isn’t James.

He thinks it might be easier now. He had seen James and Lily not that long ago. He might be slightly more stable now than he had been before.

He’s even less surprised that Remus turns up two days after Harry’s letter, hiking up the road to the house with a battered valise in hand.

“H’lo, Moony,” Sirius says from the front porch, alerted to a stranger’s presence by the wards he’s been shoring up.

“Padfoot,” Remus replies with a crooked smile. “I’m glad to see you in one piece.”

“Harry and Hermione were instrumental in that,” Sirius admits. “Dumbledore, not so much.”

Remus grimaces. “He couldn’t help?”

“That’s what he said,” Sirius replies. “But I have to clear my name if I’m going to do Harry any good.”

Remus raises his eyebrows. “Do you have a plan, with Peter having escaped?”

“That’s what you’re here for,” Sirius replies. “I have a general idea, but I need your help.”

“To be honest, I find myself between positions right now, so I’m on board,” Remus replies, walking up the steps and setting his bag down on the porch. “What are you thinking?”

“First, we need allies, and then I think I need to marshal my own resources,” Sirius says, “because I’m apparently the Black heir.”

Remus chokes out a laugh. “Are you serious?”

Sirius grins. “I’m always Sirius.”

“I can’t believe I walked into that,” Remus mutters.

“And yet you definitely did,” Sirius says. “But yes, I’ve got the Black estates, the Black money, and if I play my cards right, I can gather up some of the old Black allies as well.”

“Most of the Black allies went in Voldemort’s direction,” Remus points out.

“But not all of them,” Sirius replies. “And they might not be terribly happy at the thought of a scion of an Ancient and Noble house, one well known for his anti-Voldemort stance, to have been put in Azkaban without so much as a trial or even a thorough investigation.”

Remus’ expression turns thoughtful, and Sirius remembers that look. It’s a little-known fact, but Remus had been the one to come up with the best pranks. It didn’t happen often, not compared to him and James, but it did happen.

And when it did, it was glorious.

Then Remus smirks, and Sirius knows he’d done the right thing by sending for him. “I have an idea.”

“You always had the best ideas, Moony,” Sirius replies.

~~~~~

The first step, according to Remus, is hiring a solicitor. Sirius has no idea why he didn’t do that last time, as it seems rather obvious now. Not only is he going to need legal advice to clear his name, but also to get custody of Harry.

Or at least make sure that Harry spends as little time with the Muggles as possible.

Sirius has no idea where to begin looking for one, but Remus has a few ideas. Apparently, one of their old schoolmates is a solicitor, and has a reputation for being a zealous advocate with a soft spot for somewhat hopeless cases.

Since Remus is going on the behalf of the Black estate, Sirius insists on paying for new, sharp clothing. “I don’t see why this is necessary,” Remus complains.

“As the representative of the scion of the House of Black, you have a certain image to maintain,” Sirius points out. “Or I do.”

“You never cared about images before,” Remus complains.

Sirius shrugs. “Of course, I did. I cared about completely flouting the Black family traditions. Now I need to project a certain image because it will help me gain allies and therefore Harry.”

Remus gives him a look. “Very well. But you’re not putting me on the payroll.”

“Moony, of course I am,” Sirius replies. “Because I’m putting you to work. I’m not going to treat you like a house elf.”

A smile plays around the corners of Remus’ mouth. “Hermione has strong feelings about house elves.”

“Most Muggle-born do,” Sirius replies. “If the subject comes up, I’ll give her one of the books from the Black family library. That should take care of the matter.”

“More like, she’ll be asking you to lobby for stronger laws on creature rights,” Remus corrects him.

“I’ll be doing that anyway,” Sirius replies. “Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

Remus smooths the non-existent wrinkles from his new robes. They’re of a flattering cut, and in a dark blue that doesn’t give any hint to his allegiances. Sirius thinks it’s for the best. He doesn’t like not going with him, but Remus pointed out how foolhardy it would be, with everyone in Britain still looking for him, and Sirius hadn’t been able to disagree.

“I’m not the one who’s wanted by the Dementors,” Remus points out. “I’ll be fine. I’ll make sure the contract is clear and signed before I reveal anything. She’ll be bound by rules of confidentiality, even if she decides not to take the case.”

“How do you know her?” Sirius asks. “I barely remember a Miriam Rogers.”

“Muggle-born, one year below us, and a Ravenclaw,” Remus replies. “We spent more than a few evenings in the library together while I was busy avoiding you.”

Sirius winces. He’d half-forgotten that he still would have nearly caused Snape’s death in this time line. “I really am sorry about that.”

“I’m aware,” Remus replies. “And I know that Snape brought some of it on himself.”

“But I shouldn’t have put you at risk, Moony,” Sirius insists. “That was thoughtless and cruel.”

Remus blinks, and then a smile warms his face. “Yes, well, it’s water under the bridge, and I forgave you a long time ago. Anyway, Miriam was always kind to me, and I’ve followed her exploits since we left Hogwarts. She’s even given me work from time to time.”

“What sort of work?” Sirius asks, honestly curious.

“Investigative work, mostly,” Remus replies. “Following people around, or research. It was a kindness.”

“Does she know?”

“I told her,” Remus admits. “After Hogwarts, though. I ran into her a couple of years after—well, after the war ended.”

Sirius knows what that means. After James and Lily died, after Sirius was thrown in Azkaban. After.

“Let me guess, she asked you out,” Sirius says.

Remus smiles gently. “There are some lines I’m not willing to cross, Padfoot, and that’s one of them.”

“You deserve to be happy, Moony,” Sirius counters.

Remus shakes his head, but replies, “Who says I’m not?”

“Be careful anyway,” Sirius replies. “I don’t particularly want to lose you.”

“I don’t want to be lost,” Remus says, although he has a pleased expression on his face.

Remus is taking the Muggle train to London, to throw people off the scent. Remus has become familiar with Muggle transport over the last decade, because it’s sometimes safer and cheaper for him than magical.

The house feels empty after he leaves, and Sirius tries not to mope. Remus had only been there a week while they made their plans and ordered new clothes for the both of them, but the place echoes strangely in his absence. Harry should be here, Sirius thinks, and wonders if Remus would be up for a bit of kidnapping.

Based on what Harry said, few people really looked in on him the summer after his third year, and they might assume the Dursleys were being especially horrid if Harry doesn’t reply.

Harry could tell his aunt and uncle that he’d been asked to stay with a friend for the rest of the summer, and Sirius doubts they’d mind terribly. No one would have to know.

Sirius spends the next couple of days daydreaming ways to get Harry there without anyone being the wiser, ways to get custody, ways to take the wizarding world by storm. He doesn’t hear from Remus, but that’s not terribly surprising. They’d agreed it would be for the best, since the Aurors might end up watching Remus in order to capture Sirius.

Although, given the manhunt last year right after his escape, the Ministry seems to have relaxed their guard considerably.

Finally, Remus returns four days after leaving, a little disheveled from his travels, but appearing pleased.

“Did you see Harry?” Sirius demands.

“Miriam and I agreed it was better if I didn’t try,” Remus replies with a frown. “We’re not sure who’s watching him.” Sirius opens his mouth to ask another question, and Remus cuts him off. “Harry running away from home is still on the table. We’ll just have to be careful about it.”

Sirius subsides. “Judging from your expression and what you just said, she’s agreed to help us.”

Remus smirks. “Oh, she’s salivating over the opportunity. Apparently, there were a few people sent to Azkaban without a trial, and she finds that terribly galling.”

“Some of them probably deserved it,” Sirius mutters.

“Some of them probably did,” Remus agrees. “The problem is, we don’t know which ones. How many were like you, caught in the wrong place in the wrong time and framed for a crime they didn’t commit? Just as there are more than a few people who deserve to be there and aren’t.”

Sirius doesn’t disagree with any of that. “Did you renew your acquaintance?”

Remus rolls his eyes. “She’s married, and she has a small child, just in case you’re referring to anything other than our friendship.”

Sirius shrugs, unwilling to admit that he’s a bit jealous of the woman. He’s fancied Remus since Hogwarts, and that feeling has only grown with his glimpses into other possible timelines.

“But she’s agreed to help,” Remus says briskly. “The first step is to make contact with someone in the Auror department who might be willing to help, or at least to listen. Next, they’ll have to question Harry, Ron, and Hermione, along with others who might have useful testimony. That should be enough to open an investigation.”

“And if the investigation doesn’t go our way?” Sirius asks.

Remus grins wryly. “Fleeing the country isn’t out of the question. We could even bring Harry with us.”

Sirius is a little surprised by that. “You’d do that?”

“Of course, I would,” Remus replies, looking befuddled. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“I just thought—” Sirius stops. “Never mind.”

His first choice of a door brought him to a Remus still firmly enmeshed in the Order, and convinced that Dumbledore knew best when it came to Harry’s safety. Next had been a young Remus whom Sirius never betrayed. This Remus—

Well, this Remus had been quick to throw in his lot with Sirius when it became clear that Peter had been the one to betray the Potters. This Remus had a lot of lonely years behind him, a lot of friendless ones.

“But Sirius,” Remus says slowly. “You’ve—you’ve been through a great deal. I’m not opposed to running off with Harry, but…”

“I’ve had a little time,” Sirius says slowly. “More time than you’d think, time to consider all the ways I’ve failed him, and James and Lily.”

“It’s not your fault that Peter betrayed them,” Remus says hotly. “You did what you thought was right.”

“Perhaps,” Sirius agrees, although he’s not certain that’s true. He remembers the feel of the Cruciatus in his bones, the utter shock and betrayal of finding out that Peter had managed to trick Remus, to get something off him to use in Polyjuice.

Or had he? Sirius wonders. He had only Peter’s word for it. It’s possible that he’d killed Remus, or—

“Padfoot!” Remus’ sharp tone indicates that’s not the first time he called Sirius’ name, and Sirius rubs his eyes. “Where did you go just then?”

“Another life,” Sirius replies.

“Not a very pleasant one,” Remus observes.

Sirius shrugs. “I have been better.”

“Still, once we’re a little more secure, you might think about a mind healer,” Remus offers. “It might help Harry, too. He was badly affected by the Dementors’ presence.”

Sirius shudders. “I’ll consider it.”

“That’s all I ask,” Remus replies. “Anyway, Miriam thought it would be a few days at least before she had any information. Maybe we should spruce this place up a bit.”

Sirius glances around at the fading paint and scuffed floorboards, the peeling wallpaper and other signs that no one had lived here or cared about this place in a very long time. “I hope you remember your household charms, Moony, because I think I’ve forgotten most of them.”

~~~~~

For three days, they clean the house top to bottom, get rid of rubbish and cast cleaning and brightening charms on the walls. Sirius likes to think that the place has character, with its outdated décor and threadbare furniture. No recently-living Black had liked this place all that much. The last person to spend much time here had been his grandmother, and Sirius remembers her well.

Her marriage to Arcturus had been arranged, but they’d made a real love-match out of it. She’d been kind and funny and ruthless in her own way. She hadn’t stood for any mistreatment of her grandchildren.

She died two years before Sirius left for Hogwarts, and he thinks his life might have been very different if she hadn’t.

He stumbles across a photograph that was clearly taken at their wedding, his grandmother in her dress, his grandfather in tails and robes. Arcturus looks proud, and maybe a little softer than Sirius had ever seen him, and his grandmother smiles shyly.

They look happy.

“Sirius?” Remus enters the study. “I thought I heard—oh. Isn’t that your grandparents?”

Sirius isn’t sure what he’d planned to ask, but thinks he probably changed mid-sentence. “Yes, that’s them.”

“I don’t remember meeting your grandmother,” Remus says.

Sirius snorts, knowing that Remus met his grandfather during their third year. “You’d remember her if you had,” he says. “She was—she was the best of us. After she died, things got so much darker.”

He wonders if he’d have broken so completely with his family if his grandmother had been around. He thinks not.

“What happened to her?” Remus asks.

“Dragon pox,” Sirius says shortly. “Same as what happened to James’ parents.”

“Are you all right?”

“No,” Sirius admits roughly. “No, I’m not.”

Remus makes a soft sound, and then he plucks the photograph out of Sirius’ hand and pulls him in for a hug. He holds him tightly, and then moves one hand to the back of Sirius’ head and scratches in that way that drives Sirius absolutely crazy.

Sirius doesn’t even realize that the broken sounds he hears are coming from him.

“You’re okay,” Remus murmurs. “You’re fine, Pads, or you will be.”

Sirius isn’t so sure about that, so he lets Remus’ faith carry the both of them.

The place is looking more like what Sirius remembers by the time the great horned owl shows up with a thick letter, and he’s pleased with their progress, especially now that they have a bedroom set up for Harry.

They’re in the kitchen, celebrating their progress with a couple of butterbeers, when the owl pecks impatiently at the kitchen window. Sirius slides up the sash, and the owl goes to Remus. When Sirius raises his eyebrows, Remus just shrugs. “I told her I knew where you were, but not that we were staying together. I’m sure she probably assumes as much, but I thought it might add a layer of protection.”

Sirius can’t argue with that, and he waits nervously as Remus opens the letter, and quickly scans it. “Well?” he prompts.

“Miriam contacted Amelia Bones directly,” Remus says, “and she was rather appalled at the idea of anyone being in Azkaban so long without a trial, or formal charges being brought.”

Sirius raises his eyebrows. “What? They didn’t even bother with formal charges?”

“Apparently, Director Bones discovered that in the chaos of the end of the war and Voldemort’s defeat, Crouch Sr. and the Ministry were interested in cleaning up the mess as quickly as possible,” Remus reads. “And, since everybody knew what had happened, and no one protested you getting chucked in Azkaban, everybody also assumed that due process had been met.”

“Except for those who weren’t interested in following appropriate procedures,” Sirius says sourly.

Remus glances up with a grimace. “I’m sorry, Sirius. Someone should have looked into things. I should have.”

“What could you have done?” Sirius asks. “There’s no way they’d have let you visit me in Azkaban, and after that first night, no one ever asked me any questions. If I hadn’t gone after Peter half-cocked, or if I’d stayed with Harry, I wouldn’t be in this mess now, and we both know it.”

Remus sighs. “And maybe if I’d actually talked to you, I would have known Peter was the Secret Keeper.”

Sirius can remember every excruciating detail of that last argument with Remus. Looking back, a big part of their fight had been unresolved tension from both of them wanting what they couldn’t have.

Or wanting what they thought they couldn’t have.

“There are things we could have done differently, Moony,” Sirius says. “But it’s in the past, and you’re here now. That’s what matters.”

Remus nods unhappily. “In any event, Director Bones has personally opened an investigation, although Fudge apparently protested. Miriam will keep us apprised of the results.”

“I suppose that’s progress,” Sirius says, and is surprised when another owl swoops in through the open window. He recognizes it immediately, of course. Hedwig is very distinctive. “Hello, Hedwig. Do you have something for me?”

She holds out her leg and gives an imperious hoot, and Remus laughs. “I’ll get some owl treats.”

Sirius opens the letter eagerly and reads:

Dear Sirius,

I don’t want to be a bother, but I had to send Hedwig out. Two Aurors from the Ministry were here yesterday, and that really irritated Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. They (the Aurors) had all sorts of questions about you, and what happened, and whether I’d seen Pettigrew. I think they actually listened to me, and maybe even believed me when I told them what really happened.

I hope you’re well and safe. Don’t worry about me. Every time the Muggles get cross, I mention my godfather who’s wanted for murder. Thankfully, they haven’t figured out you’re innocent yet, and the Aurors insisted on speaking to me alone. The worst thing about this summer is Dudley’s diet, but everybody’s been good about sending me food, so I won’t starve.

Harry

“Are the Muggles mistreating him, Hedwig?” Sirius asks.

She offers a low hoot in return, and Sirius sighs. “I suppose kidnapping is out of the question at this stage.”

“Well, it certainly wouldn’t help your case to clear your name,” Remus replies. “Besides, if we can clear your name, you can send for Harry and keep him here the rest of the summer.”

Sirius can’t disagree, and it’s only been three weeks since he escaped getting Kissed. He knows these things take time, and he’s further along than he had been. “True.”

“We’re going to get there, Padfoot,” Remus assures him.

Sirius hums. “I wonder who Bones sent.”

“That’s hard to say,” Remus replies. “I don’t know most of them these days.”

“Neither do I,” Sirius says, although he’d once known most of them, since quite a few belonged to the Order during the war.

“Harry might remember their names, and if they’re fair-minded, it would be worth knowing,” Remus points out.

Sirius grabs parchment and a quill and quickly scratches out a note.

Dear Harry,

There’s no way you could ever be a bother. Don’t ever hesitate to write, and if the Muggles are horrible to you, let me know. I have a plan, but I’ll revise it if necessary.

Remus and I are working on clearing my name. Remus found a solicitor, and the Director of Magical Law Enforcement is involved now. It’s early days, so I’m trying not to get my hopes (or yours) up, but things might yet change for the better.

Do you remember the Aurors’ names? It might be smart to keep an eye out for the fair-minded ones in the days to come.

Yours,

Sirius

He hands the note to Remus, who quickly writes a message of his own at the bottom, and then they tie the parchment to Hedwig’s foot, and she’s off again.

“It’s a good thing the Muggles aren’t particularly bright,” Remus comments. “Or they might pick up on the fact that the Ministry thinks you might be innocent.”

Sirius is just thankful that he can keep Harry safe in some small way, even if he can’t be there in person. “Can I read Miriam’s letter?”

“Of course, it’s all about you anyway,” Remus replies.

From what Sirius can tell, Miriam is cheerful and businesslike, offering hope, but tempering that with a brisk pragmatism. She thinks it’s a positive sign that Director Bones has been willing to open an investigation, but without Peter, there’s no guarantee that Sirius will be cleared.

The last lines of her letter give him pause.

If he would be willing to give testimony under veritaserum with some serious honesty hexes, we could arrange that, and it might go a long way towards clearing him. I could arrange to have it done at a neutral location, perhaps at ICW headquarters or one of the branches of Gringotts. That being said, if he’s shading the truth, or ends up incriminating himself, there won’t be much I can do for him.

Sirius sighs. “It’s my reputation that’s going to be most difficult to rehabilitate.”

Remus hums thoughtfully. “Who says you need to?”

Sirius glances at him, startled. “What?”

“Well, Harry’s relatives are treating him better because they think you’re a murderer,” Remus points out. “If the entire Wizarding world thinks you’ll be a ruthless bastard where Harry’s concerned, that might give him some protection.”

“I will be a ruthless bastard where Harry’s concerned,” Sirius protests. “He’s all I have left of James and Lily, and I’m not going to fail him again if I can help it.”

“I’m sure you won’t, Pads,” Remus replies. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m going to offer to testify,” Sirius replies. “It seems the quickest way to put this to rest.”

“Are you worried about something coming out that shouldn’t?” Remus asks.

“I’m not very proud of some of my actions,” Sirius admits. “And I hate that there are things I did that frightened Harry and his friends. But no, I’ve been honest about everything.”

Remus nods. “I think the Paris branch of Gringotts may be our best bet. If you have a promise of safe passage, they’ll at least let you leave unobstructed if things don’t go our way.”

“Are you worried about that?” Sirius asks.

“I question whether Fudge will accept the findings from the Aurors,” Remus admits. “That’s the real issue. He had a Kiss-on-sight order on you, and he was very invested in Harry. If he thinks you’re a threat to Harry—”

“Unless he realizes that I’m not a threat,” Sirius points out. “We could court his support.”

Remus nods thoughtfully. “And if you pull in enough support from the other members of the Wizengamot, Fudge will have to at least make a show of going along with you.”

“My reputation might be helpful on that front,” Sirius points out. “Not dark, not light, but somewhere in the middle.”

Remus snorts. “Your last name doesn’t make you neutral, no matter what anybody ever thought.”

“But my actions during the war—”

“Killing Death Eaters who were trying to kill you or others—”

“I’ve taken lives, Moony,” Sirius says.

“As have I,” Remus replies. “That doesn’t make you dark. That makes you a soldier.”

“Perhaps,” Sirius says, knowing the darkness that lingers in his soul. “Well, write Miriam back and tell her I’m willing to testify, assuming that it will be accepted in good faith. We’ll contract with the goblins, as I know they’ll keep their word.”

Remus nods, pulls out a fresh sheet of parchment, and begins writing. “Anything else you’d like me to say?”

“We’ll need to put something together to announce my innocence and entry back into Wizarding society,” Sirius says with a grimace. “That probably means an official party.”

Remus grimaces. “You won’t need me for that.”

“Bite your tongue, Moony,” Sirius replies. “I’m going to need you for all of this. You are officially on the Black payroll from now until you tell me to get fucked.”

“I don’t need your charity,” Remus says sharply. “And while you need me now—”

“I need you always,” Sirius says simply. Because if there’s anything he’s learned, it’s that.

Remus blinks at him. “Sirius…”

“I’m not saying we should—I just…I’m afraid of fucking things up with Harry, and I know you won’t let that happen,” Sirius says. “And I’ve missed you terribly.”

Remus closes his eyes. “I can’t give you what you need.”

“Why?” Sirius asks. “And what do you think I need?”

“You’ll need to marry,” Remus points out in a reasonable tone that puts his teeth on edge. “Have an heir. If you’re truly going to take the Black legacy—”

“Harry will be my heir,” Sirius says simply.

“The Black bloodline—”

“Harry has Black blood,” Sirius says. “James and I were distantly related, as most pureblood families are.”

Remus makes a deeply frustrated sound. “You might want a normal marriage with a witch and children and—”

“And I really don’t,” Sirius insists. “I’m not sure I ever really did. I was happy for James and Lily, but I was never envious of them, Moony. Were you?”

“I—yes,” Remus admits. “But not because I wanted a witch.”

He meets Sirius’ eyes, and Sirius feels the heat between them. “You could have said something.”

“We were going to war, and I knew it would be difficult,” Remus defends. “Besides, with all the girls you were with at Hogwarts, I thought our time together was just a bit of fun for you.”

“It wasn’t,” Sirius replies. “It never was.”

Suddenly, the last argument they had makes so much sense, and Sirius groans. “That’s what that was about?”

“I thought you were having me on,” Remus admits roughly. “I thought it was just convenient for you.”

“I have fancied you a very long time,” Sirius says simply. “When you said we shouldn’t be together, I took a step back, but that night I wanted—I just wanted some comfort.”

It had been shortly after Sirius convinced Peter to be the Secret Keeper. Peter had been reluctant, and Sirius thought it was cowardice at the time, but maybe Peter was reluctant to betray them. Peter probably wanted to sit on the fence as long as possible, a marked Death Eater who was unknown to the Order.

Sirius had been in his cups, and he’d made a drunken pass at Remus, who had flared up in an unusual show of temper.

They had known each other a long time, and they both knew just what to say to wound deeply. Remus accused him of being a daredevil and a rebel, interested in the Order only to flout his family’s deeply-held pureblood politics, not because Sirius had any strong beliefs of his own. Sirius accused Remus of having a death wish, of not having enough self-esteem to think for himself, or question Dumbledore’s orders.

In retrospect, they’d both been a little bit right, which is probably why the words had stung so much, and why the wound festered between them. Sirius assumed they’d make up eventually, that Moony would be the first to break and apologize. He always had before, and he was living in Sirius’ flat.

He’s ashamed of that attitude now, ashamed that he would even be tempted to hold that generosity over Remus’ head, ashamed that he hadn’t offered a sincere apology as soon as he realized he was in the wrong.

He’s ashamed of the drunken pass, too, because it had been stupid and selfish, and Remus had been very clear about his boundaries.

But then, he’d been drunk and missing James and Lily and Harry. He wanted the comfort of a friendly ear and a warm body. He wanted to be held.

Maybe some or all of that shows on his face, because Remus sighs and shakes his head, and he says, “We’re a couple of fools, aren’t we?”

“Me more so than you, I’d say,” Sirius admits. “I don’t always make the best decisions. I’m rash, and impulsive, and I don’t think things through. If I have any shot of not completely screwing this whole thing up, it’s you. And if all I can have is your presence and your friendship, it will be more than enough.”

There’s a smile playing around the corners of Remus’ mouth, and he says, “All the reasons I gave in the past for not taking up with you are true still. If you’re going to take on the Black seat on the Wizengamot, and the Black allies—”

“Then all they need to know is that my very dear friend is helping me, and my main focus is on Harry, and him staying alive and defeating Voldemort,” Sirius points out. “Once I’ve officially announced that Harry is the heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black—”

“You’ll have women throwing themselves at you,” Remus points out dryly.

“And I can keep them all guessing,” Sirius replies. “It will be the best prank ever.”

Remus’ expression turns thoughtful. “You’re going to do that anyway, aren’t you?”

“Right up until the ladies stop throwing themselves at me,” Sirius admits cheerfully. “At which point, I’ll probably be dead.”

Remus snorts, but the sound is more fond than exasperated. “You and your ego.” He takes a deep breath. “Let me think on it, Padfoot. I’m not saying no, but it’s—a lot to take in.”

That’s more of a yes than Sirius thought he’d get, so he nods eagerly. “But it’s a yes to helping me with the Black estate and the rest of it.”

“Of course,” Remus says easily. “You’re right. Harry is all we have left of James and Lily. I never should have allowed Dumbledore to convince me to stay away. I can’t help but think that Lily would never forgive me.”

Remus and Lily had been the closest out of all James’ friends. They’d shared the same academic bent and quiet fierceness.

“Don’t blame yourself, Moony,” Sirius replies. “Dumbledore managed to convince a lot of people that Harry would be safest where he was at, and without contact with the Wizarding world. Who knows? Maybe he was right at the time, but things have changed dramatically.”

“Time for us to change with them?” Remus asks, but he’s nodding. “Very well. Although it’s going to scandalize everyone, you having a werewolf working for you.”

Sirius bares his teeth in a grin. “Well, I am a Grim, and a mass murderer, you know. Why wouldn’t I hire a werewolf?”

~~~~~

Although events seem to move too slowly after that, it’s really only a few days before they receive confirmation from Miriam that the DMLE has accepted his offer, and Gringotts has agreed to his terms.

He’ll turn up at the Paris branch at the appointed hour to swear an oath on his magic to provide truthful testimony, and take a dose of veritaserum while sitting in a chair with an honesty hex. Director Bones will take his testimony into consideration for the purposes of her investigation, and Sirius will have safe passage to leave.

It doesn’t mean that they won’t start hunting him as soon as he leaves the bank, but it does mean that Sirius will have a head start.

Sirius isn’t too worried, mostly because they still don’t know about his Animagus form. Worst case scenario, he survives as Padfoot for a bit. Now that Remus has authority to access the Black accounts, he’ll have money to help Sirius survive, too.

He doesn’t say anything about the plan to Harry, not wanting to get his hopes up too far. Harry seems to be having a slightly better summer than he has in the past, at least, and Sirius and his friends are sending food so that he doesn’t wind up subsisting on a quarter grapefruit and carrot sticks.

Sirius remembers his glimpse of Harry right before he got on the Knight Bus. It’s different when he’s at Hogwarts, of course, since he has plenty to eat, but he had a look about him at the end of that summer that Sirius is far too familiar with—underfed and wary.

Sirius doesn’t want that for him, and even if things don’t go according to plan, he’s considering his options for whisking Harry away to the house in France, even if just for a week.

On the appointed day, he and Remus take Muggle transportation to Paris. There’s a bus, then a train, and it’s lucky that they both know how the Muggle world works, since so many wizards don’t.

Magical Paris is located near the seat of government, in the 6th arrondisement, near the Place de Furstemberg. Not wanting to take any chances, Sirius cast a disillusionment spell on himself and followed Remus through the portal.

It’s just as he remembers it, full of wizards and witches in robes, darting down the streets and in and out of various shops, many of them high-end. The best shopping is in the 20th arrondisement, but there’s plenty to find here, near the center of banking and business.

Sirius follows Remus into the bank, admiring the way Remus looks in his new, smart robes that have been tailored to him. Remus insisted that nothing be flashy, but the dark blue robes are well tailored and suit him tremendously. Sirius is wearing something similar, but black robes with hints of red and gold in the lining and the cuffs.

They’re met immediately by one of the goblins. “This way, Mr. Black, Mr. Lupin,” he says. “I’m Magnok, and I will be your escort today.”

“Pleasure,” Sirius says shortly.

“The honesty hexes on the chair you’re to sit on are very strong,” Magnok says shortly. “So, I very much doubt it.”

He has a slight French accent, although it’s always hard to tell with Goblins. Their first language is always Gobbledegook, and they learn whatever human languages necessary to their profession.

Remus clears his throat. “We appreciate your escort.”

“Our Chieftain is rather hoping that they’ll clear Mr. Black, as there are vaults that have sat idle for over a decade,” Magnok admits. “With no one to tend them, the money works for no one.”

“And you don’t earn a profit,” Sirius says.

“What’s the point of that?” Magnok asks, and the question is clearly rhetorical. “Money ought to be earning more money. Here we are.”

The room he’s led them to is in the back of the bank, and Sirius can sense the heavy shielding. It feels almost oppressive, although he voices no complaint, since this is precisely what he asked for in his original inquiry.

“The others will be arriving shortly,” Magnok says. “You can sit in the chair or not until they arrive.”

Sirius wonders if he’ll get used to it, the longer he’s there, but he’s not sure he cares to find out.

“Are you ready for this?” Remus asks.

Sirius shrugs, wandering around the perimeter of the room, feeling an old sense of panic rise up, the sense of being hemmed in. “Are you worried about hearing the truth, or something else?”

Remus sighs. “Truthfully, I’m worried that the truth will be told, and it will make no difference at all. I understand that—I understand there are politics, and humans are fallible, but…”

Sirius understands what he means. Remus has very little reason to believe that if you follow the rules, you’ll be rewarded, but then no one has ever promised him anything, other than a Hogwarts education. The deck has been stacked against Remus for as long as he’s been alive almost.

But that’s different. There are rules for Remus, and his relationship to polite society, just as there are rules for Sirius.

If the truth comes out, and Sirius is still buggered, what possible hope is there for Remus?

“They don’t know about Padfoot,” Sirius says. “Or where we’re staying. We have safe passage out of the bank, and we can manage the rest.”

Remus shakes his head. “I know.”

Sirius doesn’t try to reassure him after that, too caught up in his own anxiety to even attempt to help. He thinks he can feel the walls closing in by the time the delegation from the British Ministry arrives, and he wishes he’d thought to take a calming draught before their arrival.

The woman leading the way has a severe expression, although she’s beautiful in a strong sense. She’s dressed in well-tailored robes in a dark purple, and she puts out her hand. “Director Susan Bones.”

Remus is closest, and shakes her hand first. Even though she must know what he is, she doesn’t flinch away. “Remus Lupin.”

“Pleasure,” she says, without a trace of sarcasm.

Sirius holds out a hand. “Sirius Black.”

She doesn’t flinch from him either. “Your godson is a most interesting young man.”

Sirius blinks. “You were one of the ones to visit Harry then?”

“I thought it wise,” Bones replies. “I did a bit of poking around and determined that his Muggle family isn’t entirely comfortable with wizards, and I’ve had enough experience with them to pass. The Dursleys thought I was a social worker, come to check on Harry because he’s a delinquent.”

There’s a hint of sardonic humor in her face, and Sirius finds that he doesn’t know how to respond to that. He senses that there’s more to the story, that maybe she’d been familiar with Harry before, and he’s frustrated that he doesn’t know how. He hasn’t received a response from Harry about the Aurors who visited yet.

“Let me introduce Rufus Scrimgeour, Head of the Auror Department, and Kingsley Shacklebolt,” Bones says.

Sirius knows Kingsley—at least somewhat. They had only barely made the others’ acquaintance during the first war, and hadn’t known each other well in the other time. Scrimgeour, he’s had a few dealings with during the first war, when Sirius had been known to take down Death Eaters for fun.

While he’s not entirely certain why Bones is here, or why she selected these two to accompany her, he can guess. They each have political clout and a reputation for being impartial.

If things go their way today, Sirius thinks that Bones might be getting ready to take on the Ministry.

“If you’ll take your seat, we have the veritaserum,” Bones adds.

Since that’s why they’re here, Sirius sits without protest, and knocks back the potion without fanfare. He’s here for Harry and to set the record straight.

“Did you kill Peter Pettigrew?” Bones asks, diving right into it.

Sirius has to admire her moves, but then the potion and the chair mean there really isn’t any way for him to lie, and catching him off guard means it hard to shade the truth.

“No.”

“What was the last curse you hit him with?”

Sirius replies honestly, “I don’t remember. It might have been a reducto, or maybe a slashing hex. I was pretty brassed off at the time.”

“Were you the Potters’ Secret Keeper?”

Sirius feels the words forced from him, even as he shakes his head. “No. I convinced the Potters and Peter that he should be the Secret Keeper.”

“Why?” she asks, and it’s the first truly open-ended question she’s asked. He realizes her strategy a moment later. The potion has had time to take effect, and now he’s inclined to spill everything.

There’s a reason she’s head of the DMLE.

“Because no one would pick him as the Secret Keeper,” Sirius replies. “He was weak, and not particularly powerful, and he was an Order member but not particularly involved in Order business.”

She glances at Scrimgeour, who nods.

“I was an arrogant piece of shit who thought I could lead the Death Eaters on a merry chase, and they’d be none the wiser,” Sirius says bitterly. “I thought that if I got caught, I would be able to hold out.”

“Were you caught?” Bones asks, pouncing on his phrasing.

Sirius can’t tell her the truth, and he doesn’t feel the same push to tell the truth as he has with the other questions, so he says, “No. Not that time.”

He’d been caught by the Death Eaters before, but he’d escaped, and maybe they’ll hold it against him. Maybe they’ll decide that he’s compromised and shouldn’t have custody of Harry.

“Kingsley,” she says.

Shacklebolt offers an apologetic look. “I’m the best in the department at looking for compulsions.”

Sirius shrugs, accepting that it’s necessary. If he’s going to get Harry, he’ll have to jump through all the hoops.

After a moment, Shacklebolt says, “He’s free and clear of compulsions. If there was one on him, it’s long gone and left no trace.”

“What happened the night of October 31, in your own words?” Bones asks.

“I went to check on Peter in the safe house,” Sirius recites dully. “When he wasn’t there, I went straight to the Potters’ house. I found James and Lily dead, and Harry bloody. I cast a cleaning charm and a healing charm, and I was carrying him out when Hagrid appeared. I don’t know why he was there. I offered him my motorbike and asked him to take Harry. I planned to track Peter down and bring him in as a traitor. We all know what happened after that.”

He’s not sure what he expects, but there’s a conference after that, with the three of them murmuring behind a privacy charm, and then Bones says, “That’s in line with our own investigation, Mr. Black. We understand that the terms of the Potters’ will have been suspended, but that will need to be revisited. Should we determine your innocence, would you like the original intent of their will carried out?”

Sirius realizes that his throat is dry, and he has to swallow several times. “Yes. I—yes. I am Harry’s godfather, and my country house in France is ready for occupancy and ideal for a summer holiday.”

Bones nods, clearly satisfied. “Very well, Mr. Black. We’ll be in touch.”

And then, per the terms of their agreement, Sirius and Remus leave first, and immediately leave Magical Paris. Sirius feels as though he can’t breathe, and Remus pulls him into the closest alley and apparates them both away.

They wind up at a little café that Remus seems to know, and after a quick word with a waiter, they get a table in the corner. Remus makes sure that Sirius gets the seat that puts his back to the corner, and Remus puts himself between Sirius and the rest of the café as well.

“Take a deep breath,” Remus advises. “And another.”

“Did that—did that go as well as I thought it did?” Sirius asks. “I wasn’t dreaming it, was I?”

“I think they believed you, they have corroborating evidence, and they’re already bringing up James and Lily’s wishes,” Remus replies. “So, yes, I think that went very well indeed.”

Sirius tries to take another deep breath, still finding it difficult to breathe, because now he’s thinking about the ramifications.

With hindsight, he knows why he’d chosen to run, rather than to fight his conviction and clear his name. He’d been scared of what it would mean if he lost, of course, but also what would be demanded of him.

He will have to parent Harry, and take the Black seat, and probably take on the Black legacy in a way he never intended to do. There are political considerations and relationships that will need to be cultivated.

Sirius has a hell of a lot of work to do.

“You can do it,” Remus says, and Sirius realizes that he’d said most of that out loud. “You have me, and I’ll help all I can, Padfoot.”

“What if I bugger Harry up?” Sirius moans.

Remus hesitates. “Do you love him?”

“I have from the moment I saw him,” Sirius says immediately, because he knows that much to be true.

“And the Dursleys never have,” Remus says. “From what we know, they’ve never asked about his school friends or grades. They’ve never really celebrated holidays or birthdays, or given him presents. They haven’t fed him properly. Frankly, Harry has no idea what proper parenting is, and if you put some effort in to it, you’ll still be heaps better than them.”

“Low bar,” Sirius comments. “I want to be the kind of father James and Lily would be proud of.”

Remus smiles. “You will be. You care, and that’s most of the battle.”

“Do you think Harry will want to come live with us?” Sirius asks.

“I think he’s been writing to you frequently, and you should have time to get to know each other,” Remus says. “Maybe he won’t want to visit you over the holidays, and maybe he’ll want to go back to the Dursleys, but we can offer him an alternative.”

Remus’ reasonable response quiets the panicky feeling in Sirius’ chest, at least to a certain extent. He won’t force anything on Harry, but he can offer options.

“Okay, I can do that,” Sirius says.

“We’ll make a plan for the rest of it,” Remus promises. “Complete with plenty of contingency options.”

Sirius takes another deep breath. “I couldn’t do this without you, Moony.”

“You won’t have to,” Remus promises.

They have a light meal and talk through their next steps. Assuming that he does get custody of Harry, he’ll need to be collected from the Dursleys’ house, and they’ll have to arrange for transportation. Sirius will need to arrange an appropriate event to announce his rejoining polite society, and making Harry his heir. He’ll have to decide who to approach for an alliance.

“Maybe just take things one at a time,” Remus advises. “We’ll wait for the outcome of the investigation. If you can get Harry, we’ll make sure we can get him here safely. And then we’ll take each step one at a time.”

Sirius finds it easier to think about it like that, as a series of steps, rather than the huge project that it will be.

“Okay,” Sirius replies. “I will try not to panic too much.”

“Panic as much as you like,” Remus replies. “Harry might actually appreciate the fact that you don’t know everything.”

“Maybe so,” Sirius replies.

They make their way back to his house via the same route they’d taken that morning, arriving late in the evening.

“Would you stay with me?” Sirius asks.

Remus frowns. “I’m not sure—”

“Just to sleep,” Sirius is quick to say. “I don’t want to be alone tonight, Moony.”

He expression softens. “Sure. I think that can be arranged.”

They eat warmed up soup that comes from a tin, and then they fall into bed together. They know how the other person operates, so Remus takes the position as a little spoon, and Sirius relaxes.

He sleeps well that night, his nose pressed up against the back of Remus’ neck, smelling the deep, wild musk of him. He smells of parchment and old books and the woods, and Sirius remembers that smell, remembers how it felt to curl up around him and think that perhaps he would get to have this.

Perhaps he would have some small measure of happiness.

He sleeps that night and dreams of running under the light of a full moon.

~~~~~

“We need to talk about what we’re going to do if Harry is able to come here,” Remus says over coffee the next morning.

Sirius frowns. “His room is ready.”

“I mean, what we’re going to do about me,” Remus replies.

Sirius blinks. “Moony, I ordered the Wolfsbane potion. I knew you’d want it.”

Remus blows out a breath. “Oh. I didn’t—”

“I put in the order last week,” Sirius says. “It should arrive today, in fact. I know it’s cutting it a bit close, but the Potions Master said this was the earliest he could get it done, and I thought it would at least arrive in time. But we also have a cellar.”

Remus shakes his head. “No, I’m sure—well, if I have the potion—it’s just expensive.”

“It shouldn’t be,” Sirius says shortly. “The ingredients aren’t that hard to come by, and while it requires a certain level of expertise, the good it could do, and the harm it would prevent are considerable. If the government made it widely available, and for free, how many do you think would willingly take it?”

Remus seems a little taken aback. “Plenty would agree to take it, but who would pay for it?”

“The government?” Sirius suggests. “If the werewolf laws were loosened, and the government paid for the Wolfsbane potion, many wizards and witches would be able to hold down jobs and be a part of society.”

“Is that your agenda?” Remus asks.

“Part of it,” Sirius admits. “I’m not saying that we don’t kill monsters like Greyback, but no one has suggested that we not kill dark wizards like Voldemort. I think enforcement would be easier if we made Wolfsbane widely available. If you don’t take it, and you bite someone or kill someone, then the legal response would be just, unlike how it is today.”

Remus is nodded. “You’d have to make sure that it’s not used as another tool of oppression.”

“Agreed, but it’s possible to provide the potion, and when it becomes obvious that it works, and prevents more harm being done, we can move on to other goals.”

Remus gives him a long, considering look. “You’ve given this a lot of thought.”

“My primary goal is to take care of Harry,” Sirius admits. “But I failed you, too, Moony. I want to make it right.”

“You didn’t fail me,” Remus argues.

“Of course, I did,” Sirius replies. “I didn’t trust you, and when I managed to play right into Peter’s trap, I also deprived you of any support.”

Remus swallows audibly and doesn’t try to argue. Sirius knows that it hadn’t been only financial support he and James offered. Remus’ parents died shortly after he left Hogwarts, and he hadn’t had any family other than them. Once Sirius went to Azkaban, Remus didn’t have anyone willing to advocate for him.

Neither did Harry, really. Sirius means to change all of that.

The Wolfsbane potion arrives by owl that afternoon, as does a letter from Harry.

Dear Sirius (and Professor Lupin?),

I’m glad neither of you are alone. I was kind of worried, and I think it’s great that you’re spending time together. Was it just a visit, or is it a more permanent arrangement?

The Muggles haven’t caught on to the fact that you’re innocent yet, which is good. I let them think that the Aurors were here to question me about current criminal behavior. Since they would love it if I were a juvenile delinquent, they accepted it. Apparently, the idea that my godfather would be a murderer is too delicious to question. So, thanks again!

Thanks for the suggestion on the charm for the space under the floorboard. Mrs. Weasley’s food stays fresh now, so there’s no chance I’ll starve. I’ll probably have food to take to Hogwarts with me, actually.

Nothing else to report, only you said you didn’t mind me writing.

Yours,

Harry

Sirius sighs. “He’s lonely.”

“He knows how to deal with that, and it’s good that he’s happy you’re not,” Remus point out. “He’s a kind boy.”

“I just wish I knew the outcome of the investigation,” Sirius admits. “And before you say it, I’m not expecting any news. I just wish we knew so we could start planning in earnest.”

Remus nods. “Let’s focus on the positive outcome: you’re cleared, and Harry is entrusted to your custody.”

“We’ll need an international portkey,” Sirius says easily. “Bones is a straight shooter. She’ll let us know, and we can collect Harry and bring him here before the news hits. Otherwise, the Death Eaters will be after him.”

“I think that’s a given,” Remus admits. “We’ll have to make sure that allowances are made for Harry’s friends.”

“Of course,” Sirius says quickly. “I imagine that the Weasleys will need to be told where Harry is, as will Hermione. I owe her a debt anyway.”

“And after that?” Remus asks.

Sirius shrugs. “We’ll have to see, but—we’ll need to do something about Alastor Moody.”

“Do what?” Remus asks.

“Dumbledore will ask him to be the DADA instructor this year, and he’s going to be targeted by Death Eaters,” Sirius says bluntly. “And before you ask, I can’t tell you how I know. I just do.”

There’s an expression that flits across Remus’ face and is gone. “Do you know, I had the weirdest sense of déjà vu just now.”

“That’s not actually surprising,” Sirius admits.

“We’ll get word to him,” Remus replies. “Do you know when?”

“No, but I do know who,” Sirius admits. “I just don’t know how to pass that information along without giving myself away, or putting the investigation at risk.”

Remus drums his fingers against the table. “An anonymous letter might do it. I can make sure it’s sent from somewhere that isn’t here. Will that do?”

“Moody is paranoid enough already,” Sirius comments. “I hate making him more paranoid, but it’s necessary. If—well, Harry’s safety depends on it.”

If he can stop Moody being impersonated and prevent Harry from being entered into the Triwizard Tournament, then he can maybe stop Voldemort from being resurrected. Knowing Voldemort, he’ll find another way, but Sirius doesn’t have to make it easy on him.

Remus nods. “We can send letters to both Moody and Bones. We can’t control whether they’ll listen or not, but we can do our best.”

“After that…” Sirius thinks about it. He knows that Harry had gone to the Quidditch Cup before, and that the Weasleys would likely invite him again. On the other hand, the Cup is an ideal opportunity to make a grand entrance back into society. “I think we should get tickets to the Quidditch World Cup.”

“As the newly announced head of the Black family, it shouldn’t be hard,” Remus admits. “But why?”

“Harry will enjoy it, his friends will likely be there, and it’s a good time to get everyone used to me rejoining polite society,” Sirius replies.

“True,” Remus agrees. “I’m more than happy to keep things under control here.”

Sirius gives him a look. “That won’t be necessary. I want people to get used to seeing you in my company, Moony.”

“Word will get out,” Remus objects. “I’m certain most of the Slytherins already know.”

Sirius snorts. “So? They can get buggered. It will keep them off balance.”

Remus sighs. “I think you’re being foolhardy.”

“And I think you’re underestimating how little I care about their petty hang-ups,” Sirius replies. “I’m going to write Harry back. Any objection to telling him that you’re here full time?”

“None,” Remus says with enough finality to put Sirius’ mind at ease. “I’m looking forward to seeing him again.”

“I’ll tell him as much,” Sirius promises, and Remus wanders off to do whatever he does when Sirius is engaged in a solitary task.

Dear Harry,

I’m glad the charm worked. There were times I had to keep food fresh in my room as well, and I always appreciated that option.

Remus (you can call him that, it’s fine) is staying with me for the time being. I needed his big brain to help me figure out how to clear my name, and he’s been immensely helpful, although we’re not sure whether our efforts will bear fruit. If they do, I will let you know. I haven’t wanted to get your hopes up, but if I am cleared, would you want to spend the rest of the summer with me? I have a place. I won’t tell you where it is, just in case, but there’s a room waiting for you.

Remus says hello and that he’s looking forward to seeing you. I’m procuring the Wolfsbane potion, so you’ll be safe. I won’t be mad if you’d rather stay with the Muggles.

Love,

Sirius

~~~~~

Sirius isn’t sure which missive he’s more nervous to receive: the letter from Director Bones with the results of her investigation, or Harry’s response to his last note. Probably the latter, because while Sirius would like to not be a fugitive, he would hate to find out that Harry has no interest in staying with him.

Harry’s reply comes a few days later, Hedwig swooping in through an open window and landing on the kitchen table with an impatient bark. “Yes, your majesty,” Sirius says with a laugh, providing a few owl treats.

Hedwig tucks her head under her wing, and appears to go to sleep. Sirius wonders if she just needs a rest, or if maybe she’s waiting on a response.

With a sense of trepidation, Sirius opens Harry’s letter.

Dear Sirius,

Of course, I want to come stay with you! That would be brilliant. Even if it’s not for the entire summer, I would love to visit for as long as you like. Do you know when you’ll find out?

Things here are fine. I’ve been avoiding the Muggles as much as possible, and they’ve been returning the favor. Please let me know as soon as you find out. You can keep Hedwig with you if that will make it easier, and you don’t think it will be too long.

Love,
Harry

Sirius breathes out a sigh of relief, and a smile breaks out over his face. Assuming he can clear his name, he’ll have Harry with him. He remembers the relief he felt when he left his parents’ home, and the relief James expressed in knowing he wasn’t going back.

He understands it from both sides now.

“Is that from Harry?” Remus asks.

“It is,” Sirius says and hands him the letter.

Remus grins. “I’m sure you’re relieved.”

“I’ll be more relieved when my name is cleared and we have him here,” Sirius replies. “But yes, it’s a weight off.”

“I’m going down to the village for groceries,” Remus says. “Do you want to come along?”

Sirius could sit around and wait for a letter from Director Bones, or he could take a walk down to the village with Remus. “I could stand to stretch my legs.”

“No sense in waiting around here when we don’t know when the letter from Director Bones or Miriam will come,” Remus says sympathetically.

“If I didn’t think Director Bones was taking the investigation seriously, I’d probably help Harry run away,” Sirius admits.

Remus chuckles. “I suppose it’s not kidnapping if Harry is willing to come with us.”

“I can be patient, for now,” Sirius says. “It would be different if Harry were being mistreated.”

“Of course,” Remus agrees easily. “Kidnapping would be on the table if that were the case.”

Sirius is grateful to have a partner in crime again, to have the company of a friend. They stroll down to the village and pick up food for the next few days, as well as a few other items that Sirius has the money to pay for now that he’s been to Gringotts. He also sends off an order for some additional clothing for the both of them.

Harry will need additional clothing as well, but he’ll need his measurements taken, and Sirius believes that he should make his own decisions as far as that goes. Sirius figures he can get Harry properly kitted out as a birthday gift, assuming the investigation clears him, and they can get Harry to France.

They’re in the process of making dinner that night—Remus makes a mean chicken curry—when another owl appears. Miriam’s great horned owl is familiar by now, and Sirius takes the parchment from its leg, his heart beating fast.

“Do you want me to read it?” Remus offers.

Sirius shakes his head. “No, that’s fine. I can take it.”

Dear Remus and Sirius,

First, the good news: Sirius has been cleared of all charges related to the death of Peter Pettigrew and the twelve Muggles. The investigation has determined that Pettigrew is alive, and he is primarily responsible for the deaths. The Aurors are actively searching for him.

The bad news is that the Minister is insisting on holding a trial for Sirius’ escape from Azkaban, and insisting that he poses a security risk. Sirius will have to explain how he managed to escape. If there’s any punishment to be levied, it will likely be time served. But if there are any other violations I should know about, let’s get that out in the open now.

The trial will be held next week. We should meet before the trial to discuss your testimony and any pitfalls.

Respectfully,

Miriam

“I suppose that’s not a surprise,” Sirius mutters when he finishes reading the letter out loud. “At least I’ve been cleared of the most serious charges.”

“Yes, but you’re going to have to explain how you escaped, which means you’ll have to admit to being an unregistered animagus,” Remus points out.

Sirius shrugs. “I looked into that a long time ago, Moony. I’ll pay a hefty fine, but I can afford it. My main complaint is that my form is useful, and it’s saved my life a few times now. I don’t really want my enemies to know about it.”

“Better that they know, and you’re cleared and get Harry back than trying to lie,” Remus points out.

“I wasn’t going to lie about it,” Sirius protests. “I was going to register prior to the trial, as long as Miriam doesn’t think it’s a bad idea.”

Remus nods. “I think that’s the right decision. However you wish to handle the trial, you know I’ll support you.”

“Well, there is one small lie that I will probably tell,” Sirius admits. “Although it’s more half-truth, I suppose.”

“That you escaped for Harry, and not for revenge on Wormtail?” Remus guesses.

“I can’t say I was terribly happy about the thought of Peter being so close to Harry, but yes. I escaped for revenge, and no one is going to want to hear that answer.”

“Maybe not, but I think they’d understand.”

“To an extent,” Sirius agrees. “But I suppose that just builds upon my already wicked reputation.”

“I suppose so, but I worry about you, Pads,” Remus admits.

“Well, the only way out is through,” Sirius says gamely. “If I have to go through a trial, then I will. If the Ministry is smart, they’ll use the opportunity to tighten security on the Death Eaters they have in custody, and those they capture later.”

Remus snorts. “Unlikely. Regular wizards find Azkaban nearly intolerable, and most of the security is still left to the dementors.”

“Then you can’t say they weren’t on notice,” Sirius replies. “I suppose I had better plan on what I’m going to wear.”

“What kind of look are you going for?” Remus asks.

“Dangerous, I think,” Sirius replies. “But elegant.”

“Is it wise to remind them of how much of a threat you are?” Remus asks.

“Perhaps not,” Sirius admits. “But it will be useful once I have custody of Harry, and they realize they’ll have to go through me to get to him.”

Remus nods. “I suppose so.”

Sirius’ clothing order arrives before the date of the trial, so when they leave, choosing to take an international portkey this time, Sirius is wearing dragonhide trousers in black, and a fine black shirt, and fine black dress robes open at the front.

He ties his hair back with a leather thong, and uses his wrist holster for his wand. “How do I look?”

“Dangerous,” Remus says dryly. “And as though you could take on the entire Wizengamot and win.”

Sirius grins. “That’s the idea.”

The portkey takes them directly to the location outside the Ministry, and Sirius straightens his robes, glancing at Remus, who’s doing the same. He’s wearing a similar outfit to Sirius, without the dragonhide, and his robes are burgundy with subtle gold accents.

The full moon was two days before, so he’s pale, but otherwise composed. They get their visitors’ badges, and Sirius is a little disappointed when they’re just the standard. Well, they are until he takes a closer look, and sees, “Sirius Black, Lord Ascendent.”

“What does yours say?” Remus murmurs.

Sirius shows him. “Funny, mine says Chamberlain to the House of Black,” Remus comments. “I don’t remember you giving me an official title.”

“That one seems like a pretty good one,” Sirius comments.

“I don’t think I agreed to be your chamberlain,” Remus objects.

Sirius smirks at him. “I’m well aware. Maybe you’d like to agree to be something else, and next time we can truly scandalize them.”

Remus just rolls his eyes. “An Ancient and Noble House requires a chamberlain, not a boyfriend.”

“I have an heir already,” Sirius replies. “I don’t need another.”

“Padfoot,” Remus warns him.

“I’m just saying, I will probably already scandalize them, so why not go all the way?” Sirius asks. “Assuming I make it through this trial. For the record, I’m not going back to Azkaban.”

Remus sighs. “Well, if there’s anybody I’m willing to risk Azkaban for, it would be you.”

“Aw, that’s true love,” Sirius teases.

And then they’re walking into the Wizengamot. “The Chief Warlock recognizes the heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black,” Dumbledore says, although he doesn’t appear very happy about it. “The trial over his escape from Azkaban is our first order of business today. Mr. Black, please take a seat.”

Sirius is somewhat mollified that they don’t ask for his wand or otherwise threaten him, and when he sits, he isn’t restrained.

“Let it be noted on the record that Mr. Black has been cleared of the charges of killing Peter Pettigrew, who is still alive, and of the twelve Muggles, as that has been determined to be not his fault. However, there is the matter of his escape from Azkaban, which is an illegal act in itself.”

There are murmurs from those assembled, and Sirius hides a smirk. He’s fairly certain that most of those present would escape Azkaban if they could, particularly if innocent, and so public opinion is already on his side.

Director Bones clears her throat. “Our investigation showed without question that Peter Pettigrew was a marked Death Eater who betrayed the Potters and arranged for their deaths. Not only do we have eyewitness testimony, but certain spells that should have been performed at the time demonstrate that Pettigrew is alive.”

The murmurs swell, but Sirius keeps his mouth shut.

“There’s still the question of how he escaped from Azkaban,” Fudge says querulously. “That shouldn’t be possible!”

“And that is why we have asked Mr. Black here today,” Bones says. “The term of years for escape is no more than 5, and Mr. Black has served 12 years for a crime he did not commit. He is here as a courtesy, so that we might plug any holes in our security.”

Sirius has no idea how Bones had managed to limit his trial, such that it is, to this extent, but he knows that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe. She’d died shortly after Voldemort returned the last time, so he’ll just have to make sure that Voldemort remains a shadow.

“I was an unregistered animagus,” Sirius admits. “I have since registered and paid the fine. I would prefer to keep my form a secret, as I believe that will afford more protection to myself and my godson should the Death Eaters target us.”

There are some grumbles, but then Griselda Marchbanks asks to be recognized. Once she is, she asks, “Could any animagus escape Azkaban?”

“No,” Sirius replies. “I believe the thing that allowed me to escape was not my form, but my belief in my own innocence. It was not a happy thought, and the dementors could not feed on it.”

His animagus form hadn’t hurt, certainly, and he could see that certain animagi might be able to escape immediately, depending on their form.

But that depended on the individual. James would have been stuck, and Peter would have likely escaped within the first week.

“And why should we trust you?” someone asks, and Sirius can’t tell who’s asking. “You’re a blood traitor, and you’ve never proclaimed your innocence.”

“No one ever asked me,” Sirius spits, remaining seated, knowing there are honesty hexes on the chair. “When I was found, I was half-mad with grief and betrayal. I thought it my fault because I recommended Peter as Secret Keeper. It should have been me, but I thought they would be safer in Peter’s hands. I would have been right if Peter hadn’t been a traitorous bastard.

“After that night, no one ever asked me anything, not ever. No one came to visit me in Azkaban, no trial was held, no accusers were brought forth,” Sirius continues. “In fact, no one seemed to remember that I had used my own money to fight Voldemort and his followers. I ended up in Azkaban for something I didn’t do, although I acknowledge my own culpability in trusting Pettigrew. Can you blame me for wanting to cut off his access to my godson when I discovered that he was alive, and had assumed the identity of a pet rat to the Weasley family?”

Sirius knows that he has them in the palm of his hand, that they’re hanging on his every word. “Whatever I have done, whatever I will do, I wish to serve the good of the Wizarding world,” Sirius says, and with the hexes on the chair, no one can accuse him of dishonesty.

“We will put it to a vote,” Dumbledore says after a long, pregnant pause. And to a person, the vote is not guilty.

Sirius know that means they understand he had reason to escape Azkaban, as someone unfairly imprisoned, and he begins to work the room. He shakes hands and exchanges pleasantries, and then Remus leans in close and whispers, “Harry is in the hall, waiting for you.”

Dumbledore catches Sirius as he’s leaving the chamber. “I know you’ll want to keep Harry with you this summer, and it’s your right as his godfather, but there’s something you should know about the protection that his Muggle relatives provide before you make future plans.”

Sirius frowns. “I don’t want Harry going back there.”

“You might change your mind after you hear what I have to say,” Dumbledore replies.

“I doubt it,” Sirius says. “But I’ll hear you out. Now, if you’ll excuse me?”

“Of course, my boy,” Dumbledore replies. “And I am relieved at the outcome.”

Sirius quickly makes his excuses after that, knowing that he’s leaving some unsatisfied, but there Harry is, wearing his school robes and looking fairly smart, sitting between two people Sirius recognizes as Arthur and Molly Weasley.

“Hello, Harry,” he says.

“Sorry, I didn’t have other robes,” he admits as he shoots to his feet, and his voice is still changing, but he looks and sounds so much like James, it’s startling. “It’s just—the trial has been in all the papers, and I asked Mr. and Mrs. Weasley if there was any way I could be here. I did lie to my aunt and uncle, but they think I’m in trouble for something or other, so I doubt they’ll mind.”

He’s babbling, and Sirius knows why, so he holds out an arm in invitation. “I’ve been found innocent of all charges.”

Harry hesitates a split second, and then he hugs Sirius fiercely, although he immediately backs away, looking embarrassed. “It’s settled then? You’re innocent?”

“It’s settled,” Sirius replies with a reassuring smile. “Completely innocent, and ready to rejoin the Wizarding world.”

Harry’s smile seems a little forced. “Oh, well, that’s great news!”

“With you at my side, of course,” Sirius says. “You and Remus. What do you say?”

Harry blinks. “Do you mean it?”

“Well, there’s the place in France for this summer,” Sirius says. “I thought it might give us a chance to get to know one another better. Moony will be there as well, of course.”

Mr. Weasley clears his throat. “Now that you’ve been cleared, and I understand that you were Harry’s named guardian in the Potter’s will, we thought, well, that is—”

“What Arthur is trying to say is that he expects to get tickets to the Quidditch World Cup, and we would love for Harry to join us, if that’s all right with you,” Mrs. Weasley says, interrupting.

Harry glances up at him, and Sirius can see the hope warring with fear. He’s not sure if Harry is worried he’ll say no, or if he’s worried about disappointing Sirius by cutting their time together short.

“You know, I’d planned on getting tickets,” Sirius says lightly. “For all three of us. It’s an excellent opportunity to reintroduce myself. If Harry doesn’t mind me tagging along, of course.”

Harry grins. “That would be brilliant!”

“Not that I’d dream of keeping you from your friends, Pronglet,” Sirius says. “You can tell me to get lost if you’d like.”

“No, I’d never,” Harry protests. “It’s great that you’ll be there.”

“You’d be more than welcome to join us,” Mr. Weasley offers. “I’ll be borrowing a colleague’s tent.”

“I imagine that Harry will want to stay with his friends, and Remus and I have yet to sort out our accommodations, but thank you for the offer.” Sirius hesitates. “What did you tell the Muggles?”

“That I’d been in trouble for doing magic outside of school, and they were bringing me in for disciplinary reasons,” Harry admits. “They seemed to like that idea.”

“And how do you think they’d feel if I showed up with you and collected your things?” Sirius asks.

“I think it would be brilliant, and I wouldn’t care what they thought,” Harry says forthrightly.

Sirius grins. “Well, then, let’s get our transportation sorted, and we’ll be on our way.”

“I do know where they live,” Mr. Weasley offers. “And I have a colleague who might let us borrow his car.”

“There won’t be room for Professor Lupin,” Mrs. Weasley frets. “And you know Ron was hoping that we’d be able to bring Harry around for dinner tonight. He’s too thin.”

Sirius turns his laugh into a cough at the last second.

Remus sidles up to him. “Minister Fudge would like a word, Padfoot.”

Sirius does a quick mental calculation. He knows how much the Weasleys care about Harry, and how Harry feels about them. Cultivating a positive relationship with them is important. On the other hand, he’d like to be the one to collect Harry’s things from the Dursleys himself.

He grins. “I would really hate to be an imposition for dinner, Mrs. Weasley—”

“Call me Molly,” she says.

“Molly,” Sirius echoes. “But you’d be doing us a great favor if you would keep Harry at your house for a bit. If Mr. Weasley doesn’t mind, we’ll use his colleague’s car to collect Harry’s things, unless Harry would rather say goodbye in person.”

Harry hesitates. “Well, I don’t particularly want to see them again, but there’s my trunk, and all my things, and Hedwig, and a few things under the floorboard…”

“Here’s an idea,” Arthur says. “Molly will take Harry back to the Burrow, so he can spend some time with the other children, and after dinner, we’ll take Harry to collect his things. Are you on the Floo, Mr. Black?”

“Sirius,” he says. “And no, we didn’t think it would be secure. We’ll have to take Muggle transport back to France.”

“That seems like such a long journey,” Molly fusses. “Why don’t you stay with us tonight, and then leave tomorrow?”

Sirius glances at Remus, who shrugs. “We could find a room somewhere.”

“Nonsense, there are spare beds at the Burrow, as long as you don’t mind sharing,” Molly replies.

Sirius glances at Remus, fighting to keep his expression completely innocent. “Do you mind, Moony?”

“Well, I suppose it would be good for Harry to spend time with Ron,” Remus says. “I know I always enjoyed those times in the summer when I could visit you and James.”

“Then that’s settled,” Molly says firmly, putting a motherly arm around Harry’s shoulders. “Arthur?”

“I’ll make sure they make it safely,” he promises.

Sirius looks to Remus. “Once more into the breech, I suppose?”

“Seems that way,” Remus replies.

“I’ll show you gentlemen to the chamber,” Arthur says, and the hurries down the hall.

Fudge is in a smaller room just off the Wizengamot chamber, mostly used for closed judicial tribunals and formal meetings. Bones is there, too, as is Moody. Sirius wonders if Barty Crouch, Jr. has already taken his place, and knows he needs to find out and prevent that from happening if at all possible.

“So, we have a rat to catch,” Moody growls, taking a swig out of the flask he always has on hand.

Sirius wonders if there were any possibility of banishing the liquid in a way that won’t make Moody suspicious, or of warning him. He rather doubts it.

“That was our take,” Remus replies diplomatically. “And we have to assume that Harry will once again be a target.”

Sirius tries to think of a way to suggest identity checks that won’t come across as too paranoid, and then remembers the company he’s keeping. “I think anyone who’s going to be around Harry should have an identity check,” he says. “There’s Polyjuice and glamours, and any number of spells that could hide a Death Eater’s identity enough to fool a teenage boy.”

“You ought to work with him on situational awareness,” Moody growls. “Since he’ll be staying with you part of the summer. Always thought you’d make a grand Auror before.”

That’s a high compliment, and Sirius nods. “I appreciate that. What I’d appreciate more is if you agreed to a few private lessons. I’m rusty.”

If Moody is in France, he will likely be out of Crouch’s reach. And if he agrees to the identity checks, they’ll scupper Voldemort’s plans in that way.

Moody’s artificial eye twirls madly. “I might do. I’d like to see what the boy is made of before the start of the term. I always liked you and James. Couple of madcap rascals, you were, but you were solid members of the Order.”

“I don’t want Harry thrown into something he’s not ready for,” Sirius insists. “But at the same time, if war is coming, he should be ready.”

“Sensible,” Moody says. “Thought you might be. I’ll stop by your place next week.”

“Only if you undergo an identity check,” Sirius insists.

Moody grins. “Constant vigilance!” he shouts, causing Fudge to jump. Everyone else appears to expect it. “All right. I’ll send you an owl with the details.”

Sirius exchanges a look with Remus and feels cautiously hopeful. Maybe they’ll be able to prevent Harry being entered into the Triwizard Tournament entirely. That might not be ideal—considering that Sirius knows Voldemort is using the tournament in order to kidnap Harry at the end of it, and Sirius has no idea how he’ll accomplish his goal otherwise. But Sirius believe it will be better for Harry to have a normal year, where he can focus on his studies and maybe on a girlfriend, and just being a student.

And if Sirius isn’t absolutely certain that Moody is still Moody by the beginning of the schoolyear, he can’t see how he could send Harry back to Hogwarts in good conscience. At least until after the Champions are chosen.

Fudge fidgets. “I am, of course, prepared to offer a formal apology on the part of the Ministry for the—”

Sirius knows where this is going, and he and Remus have talked it through. “I don’t think it will be necessary, as long as there’s a formal acknowledgment of my innocence,” Sirius says. “I know what it was like at the end of the war, and I made my own share of mistakes. We all did. You weren’t Minister then, and you had no reason to know.”

Fudge’s sigh of relief is hard to miss. “Of course. If I’d known, I would never have stood for it!”

Sirius knows he wanted it swept under the rug, so that’s patently untrue. But if he offers Fudge a chance to save face, he’ll have gained a political ally, and a favor. Maybe even some influence.

“I’m certain that’s true, Minister,” Sirius lies cheerfully. “But if I may be so bold as to make a suggestion?”

“Yes?” Fudge asks warily, so he’s not a complete imbecile.

“Perhaps announce that you’re conducting an investigation into all imprisonments during that period of time, just to make sure everything is on the up-and-up,” Sirius says. “You’ll be regarded as proactive and fair-minded.”

Fudge nods. “Yes, yes, the idea has merit.”

“You can take charge of the narrative that way,” Sirius adds.

Fudge smiles. “Yes! That’s a good way of putting it. I’m glad that you were exonerated today, Mr. Black. I’m sure I’ll see you again soon.”

As soon as he leaves, Bones rolls her eyes. “That wanker. He’s the one who wanted everything swept under the rug in the first place. You could have said something.”

“I could have,” Sirius agrees. “But he would likely still be the Minister, and then he’d be my enemy. This way, he owes me a favor, and he leaves here thinking that I don’t hold a grudge.”

Bones snorts. “You’re a Black. Blacks are known for holding a grudge.”

“And in that sense, I’m entirely a Black,” Sirius admits. “And if I think he’s a danger to me or mine, he will cease to be useful, and I will do everything in my power to see him ousted.”

Bones inclines her head. “No more than I’d do for my Susan. I did want to offer my own sincere apologies for the miscarriage of justice, Lord Black. You were entitled to a trial and due process of law, and none was provided.”

“Everyone is entitled to such,” Sirius points out.

“And I have a team of Aurors looking over past imprisonments to ensure that trials did occur, and that we did not violate any rights,” Bones says. “Whether the Minister agrees or not, we’ll conduct our own review and publish the findings if necessary.”

Sirius nods. “Be careful, Director. Those sorts of actions tend to put a target on your back, and I find myself rather liking you at the moment.”

Bones laughs. “And you should! Especially since I also filed a formal protest with the office that places orphaned children. I interviewed your godson myself, and he was—well, let’s just say that I’ve interviewed enough traumatized children in the past to recognize one. They’re remarkably free with the details when they don’t quite understand that their experiences are not normal.”

Sirius keeps his temper with some effort. “What will that do?”

“The report itself is confidential, but should someone raise an issue with your custody of Harry, the report will indicate that the Muggles are not a suitable placement,” Bones says. “And, since you’ve been cleared, and the Potters’ wishes were quite clear, there shouldn’t be any issue at all.”

That’s more help than Sirius really expected to get, so he says, “Thank you, Director. I appreciate the fact that there are others looking out for Harry, too.”

“There should be more than that,” Bones growls. “Based on what I saw—well. All’s well that ends well, right?”

Sirius isn’t sure it’s going to end well yet, but there are at least some safeguards. “Again, you have my thanks.”

When she leaves, Arthur clears his throat. “We approached Headmaster Dumbledore about Harry staying with us, at least for summers, but he assured us there was a reason that Harry needed to reside at his aunt’s house for a period of time.”

Sirius wishes he’d been a little more demanding the last time, so he knew Dumbledore’s reasoning. But then, he doesn’t have any reason to know it now. “I don’t know what those reasons are,” Sirius admits. “But I know that Harry isn’t happy there, and I’d like the chance to make him happy. Perhaps Dumbledore’s reasons will persuade us that he should spend a certain amount of time with the Dursleys next summer, but that is a conversation for a future date.”

Arthur nods. “Good enough for me. I think Molly should have dinner ready by now if you would like to accompany me to the burrow.”

No one comments on the title Bones offered, and while noble titles aren’t generally used in the Wizarding world—there’s a general assumption that it’s more of a meritocracy, even if that’s inherently untrue—they do exist.

All of the descendants of the Sacred 28 could claim some noble title. Depending on the family, some of them could claim two: one in the Wizarding world, and one in the Muggle one. The Black title is equivalent to that of an Earl, and there’s an earldom in the Muggle world that has languished.

He believes the Malfoy family has a marquis, and most of the others do as well. But, some of those 28 original lines have died out, and others have given up all rights to their ancestral seats, and no one makes a big deal out of their noble titles, not even the purebloods.

And, since most of the remaining 28 houses adhere to pureblood politics, they don’t bother with anything in the Muggle world.

Sirius could change that, or he could pave the way for Harry to do so.

Not that he particularly wants to claim any of that, including the seat on the Wizengamot, but he needs the authority that power will give him. He needs every ounce of power he can get if he’s going to protect Harry.

They take the Floo to the Burrow, Arthur going first, followed shortly by Sirius and then Remus. Sirius tries to let Remus go first, but he shakes his head. “I’ll watch your back, Padfoot.”

“I hardly think I need to worry about a curse to the back,” Sirius objects.

“Better safe than sorry,” Remus counters. “And you’re the one who can take custody of Harry.”

Sirius decides not to argue. He steps out of the Floo and banishes any soot with a gesture. Harry’s watching him with an expression on his face that Sirius can’t quite figure out.

“Will you teach me how to do that?” Harry asks a trifle wistfully.

Sirius grins. “Of course, Pronglet! We’ll work on it this summer. It’s never a bad idea to know how to do wandless, wordless magic.”

“You can do wandless magic?” Ron pipes up, watching Sirius warily.

“I can, yes, and if you have the power and the control, you can learn it, too,” Sirius replies. “It’s very handy if you ever lose your wand during a battle.”

“They’re not going to need that,” Molly huffs. “They’re not going into battle.”

“It’s also useful when you want to open the curtains in the morning and don’t have your wand handy,” Sirius adds.

Ron grins. “That would be.”

Molly gives him a look. “Laziness is not a virtue, Ronald.”

“But what if I get caught by the Slytherins in the hall, and they try to curse me?” Ron asks. “And I don’t have my wand, or they disarm me?”

“Maybe don’t fight in the hallway,” Molly says severely, and Ron and Harry exchange a look that clearly indicates they don’t think Molly understands.

Molly sighs. “Just be careful.”

“You know, wandless magic can help with control, and that can improve marks, especially in the practicals,” Remus says gently.

Sirius hides a smirk. Trust Remus to know exactly the right thing to say.

“Then that’s a good reason to work on it,” Molly says. “You could stand to be more focused, Ron.”

Ron slumps. “Mum!”

“I’m just saying,” Molly says. “Now, let’s sit down and eat.”

Sirius notes that Ginny seems a little awkward around Harry, and the twins have their heads together for most of the dinner, which promises to be entertaining. Sirius makes a mental note to keep an eye on them, because he knows enough to know that he might want to bankroll them eventually.

They’d been making a go of things in the first timeline, but funded from Harry’s Triwizard winnings. Sirius doesn’t plan on Harry competing this time around.

Molly asks, “What are your plans for the rest of the summer, Sirius?”

Sirius shrugs. “We have a place in the French countryside. My intention is to make sure Harry’s prepared for his fourth year, and to get to know each other better. And then, of course, attending the Quidditch World Cup.”

“It’s going to be brilliant!” Ron exclaims, although he falls silent under Molly’s pointed look.

“Well, I’m just glad to know that Harry will be staying with someone other than those Muggles,” Molly says, although her tone suggests that she doesn’t know whether Sirius will be any better.

“Remus is staying with us as well,” Sirius offers. “He was very helpful in making sure I received a fair trial.”

“I don’t think it’s fair that he can’t be our instructor next year,” Ron says forthrightly. “You were loads better than anybody else.”

“That’s a rather low bar to clear,” Percy replies, earning a glare from just about everybody else around the table other than Remus. He flushes. “Sorry. You were a very good instructor.”

“It was a rather low bar,” Remus says evenly. “I think it was one of the reasons the headmaster thought no one would raise much fuss.”

“No one would have if it hadn’t been for Snape,” Harry mutters.

“Professor Snape,” Remus corrects.

Harry’s expression is momentarily mutinous, and then he glances at Sirius, and his expression relaxes into a smile. “Fine. Professor Snape.”

Sirius thinks that might have something to do with the fact that Snape hadn’t ruined Harry’s chances of living with him this time around.

Or, to be perfectly fair, that Sirius had been able to take matters into his own hands, and he’d scuppered Snape’s finagling.

“He’s really awful to Harry, though!” Ron protests. “And we barely learn anything in his class. He takes points off Gryffindor for breathing.”

“He’s like that with all his classes,” Percy agrees, and from the expressions of the others, Percy agreeing with Ron is almost unheard of. “Although he’s particularly bad with Harry’s year. There’s been a marked increase in the number of points Professor Snape has taken from Gryffindor with regards to Harry’s class as to any other. Even Fred and George’s.”

Ron stares at him. “What?”

“I did the maths,” Percy says. “You kept complaining about how unfair he was in comparison to the other professors, and I wanted the facts.”

Ron grimaces. “Thanks?”

“Don’t thank me,” Percy says primly. “It’s all in the numbers.”

“He does—”

“Have a real—”

“Hard on for Harry.”

Sirius isn’t entirely sure which twin said what, but Molly snaps, “Fred and George! That was crass, and in front of company!”

“It is a real problem, though,” Percy adds. “Unless a student is particularly gifted at Potions, or inclined to study on their own, a lot of students do much more poorly on their OWLS and NEWTS than they might have otherwise. I, of course, have undertaken some independent study—”

The twins both start making gagging noises, Harry and Ron roll their eyes in unison, and Sirius glances at Remus with raised eyebrows.

Remus hitches a shoulder, and Sirius knows that means there’s some truth to the complaints, and Harry will probably need some independent study and help this summer.

Getting a high mark on the Potions OWL is a precursor for a lot of professions that Harry might be interested in, anything from Auror to Healer, to Potions Master, although Sirius thinks that last is unlikely. Hell, Sirius isn’t sure that anybody has even sat Harry down for a chat about what he might want to do in the future, and what qualifying for such a job would entail.

The Muggles wouldn’t have, and Sirius hadn’t much the first time around. He suspects that the Weasleys are more the sort to encourage their kids to get good marks and then follow their passions.

Harry will have the money from his parents, and the money from the Black estate. He wouldn’t have to work at all if he so chooses, but Sirius doesn’t think Harry’s the type to be a dilettante.

Not like him.

Then again, Sirius stayed busy with the war efforts, and he knows he and James had a unique advantage in being free to help.

When dinner has been finished, Sirius says, “Why don’t we collect your things, Harry? It shouldn’t take us long.”

Harry nods and wipes his hands on his school uniform trousers, because those are apparently the only decent clothes he owns at the moment. “They might be upset at the interruption.”

Sirius grins. “I’m a suspected murderer, remember? I doubt they’ll give us too much trouble.”

“And we can give you—”

“—a few of our demonstration items,” the twins say.

Molly frowns. “Fred and George, you’re not risking getting into trouble with the Ministry to torment Harry’s cousin.”

“He tormented Harry first!” Ron says loyally.

“It’s not right,” Molly insists. “Muggle-baiting is a crime.”

Arthur clears his throat. “We should get going. I don’t want to arrive too late, and upset them that way.”

“I think I’ll stay here,” Remus says. “Unless you think there’s a reason I should go.”

Sirius has an idea of what Remus means. “No, that’s quite all right, Moony. Arthur and I will collect Harry’s things.”

Harry appears a little troubled, and as they head out of the house. “Moony doesn’t trust himself around the Muggles,” Sirius murmurs. “Especially if they say something untoward.”

“And you do?” Harry asks.

Sirius snorts. “Oh, Pronglet, I know all manner of hexes and jinxes that will keep them miserable for a very long time to come, and Moony knows that. Trust me, you only need one Marauder in this situation.”

Harry smirks. “Yeah?”

“Yeah, not that they’ll look at you sideways with a convicted murderer in tow, even if I have been found innocent,” Sirius replies with a wink.

Arthur’s coworker apparently lives nearby, and they only have to walk a short distance, before they stroll up the drive to another house, which is considerably less haphazard than the Burrow. It’s a neat two-storey house with wood shakes and a thatched roof. How they managed to keep a thatched roof, Sirius has no idea, but it’s picturesque.

The man who comes out to greet them is probably a good 20 years older than Arthur. “H’lo, Arthur. Got your message.”

“Thanks for doing this, Keith,” Arthur says. “This is Sirius, and Harry.”

Keith gives Sirius a wary look and a nod, but smiles broadly at Harry. “Pleasure to meet you, young Harry.”

“Thank you for helping us out on such short notice,” Harry says sincerely. “Only, we’re collecting my things, and it’s a relief to spend the rest of my summer in the Wizarding world.”

Sirius doesn’t know Harry well enough to tell if he’s doing that deliberately, or if he’s just that guileless. Sirius would guess that he knows what he’s doing. Sirius had been, and he’d grown up in a similarly abusive environment.

The car is a small Mini, but it’s definitely bigger on the inside than on the outside. Harry climbs into the backseat, which should be cramped and isn’t.

Sirius can drive, and so he does, although he doesn’t have a Muggle driver’s license. Not that it really matters, since he can produce one if they’re stopped, or something that looks like one.

The car, which has a bit more under the hood than a typical Muggle vehicle, makes the journey in half the time, zipping between and around other cars in a way a bit like the Knight Bus. “Keith must have a gift,” Sirius comments.

Arthur laughs. “We bonded over Muggle artifacts. Keith is brilliant, and he has a talent for making things work.”

“Where does he work?” Sirius asks, since Harry doesn’t seem interested in making conversation at the moment.

“At the Ministry, in transportation,” Arthur says. “As you might expect from someone with a car like this one.”

“You okay back there, Harry?” Sirius asks.

Harry nods. “I’m good.”

Sirius decides not to press. A lot has changed for Harry in a very short period of time, and he might be feeling a little off-kilter.

They pull up in front of the neat little house on Privet Lane. Sirius has actually been there before, and not too long ago.

Harry seems to be very reluctant to get out of the car.

“You don’t have to come inside,” Sirius says. “We can gather your things if you’ll give us instructions.”

Harry shakes his head. “No, it’s fine. It’s just—not going to be pleasant.”

“Don’t worry, Harry,” Sirius says sympathetically. “They probably aren’t worse than my relatives.”

That prompts a smile from Harry. “I don’t know. You haven’t met them yet.”

Sirius has never met the Dursleys, but he remembers Lily’s stories. “Your mum talked about them sometimes.”

“Did she?” Harry says, sounding a little hopeful.

“We have all summer to talk about your parents, and I’ll tell you everything I know,” Sirius promises.

Harry nods. “Okay. I guess we’d better get it over with.”

Arthur opts to stay in the vehicle, but Sirius keeps a hand on Harry’s shoulder.

A thin woman answers the door when Harry trudges up the walk. “We expected you hours ago!”

Sirius wishes he could believe that the woman was concerned, but her displeased expression suggests otherwise.

“My friend invited me over for dinner, and they don’t really have a phone,” Harry explains awkwardly.

She frowns even more severely. “Then you might have returned right away.”

Sirius decides to short-circuit the situation. “I’m Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather. He’s going to stay with me for the rest of the summer.”

She blinks at him. “I don’t know that’s appropriate, given what I’ve heard.”

“I was found innocent today,” Sirius replies. “I hadn’t had a trial before.”

After a pause, she says, “That seems barbaric.”

Harry winces, and Sirius grins. “I agree. Now, if you don’t mind, we’ll collect Harry’s things, and take him off your hands for the rest of the summer.”

Reluctantly, she steps away from the door. “If you must. It’s quite late.”

“We’ll be quick,” Sirius promises.

A large, burly man shuffles into the hallway. “What’s going on here?”

“Harry’s godfather is here to collect him and his things,” the woman replies.

The man glowers. “It’s late, boy!”

“I think we can let them go, Vernon,” the woman says. “He wants to take Harry for the rest of the summer.”

The man glares. “I don’t see what that—”

The woman leans in and whispers in his ear. Sirius can make out a few words—adults and magic and murderer—and Vernon pales. “Well, you’d best collect your things then,” he mutters.

Harry’s bedroom is nothing special. His things are scattered about—his trunk, school books, parchment and quills—but there are few other personal touches. There are no pictures on the walls, or posters, or anything like what Sirius had at Harry’s age.

“Sorry it’s a bit of a mess,” Harry says.

“Hardly,” Sirius replies, flicking the door closed. “Let’s get you packed up.”

He flicks his wand, and Harry’s things sort themselves into his trunk neatly.

“Under the floorboards, too,” Harry says, and pries it up.

Sirius sees a variety of sweets and other food items sent to Harry by his friends or the Weasleys. He casts a preservative charm on them once they’re in the trunk, and says, “Well, that’s that. Anything else?”

“Hedwig,” Harry says, and he holds out an arm for her. “I’m going to Sirius’ house, girl. Maybe you could meet us there?”

Hedwig barks at him, nips Harry’s fingers, and then flies out the window.

“I guess that’s that,” Harry says quietly.

“Do you want us to give you time to say goodbye?” Sirius asks.

Harry shakes his head vehemently. “No. I don’t—please.”

“Well, let’s get going, then,” Sirius says. He casts a charm on the trunk to make it float, and he finds the Dursleys crowded around the front door. Sirius isn’t sure whether they want to say goodbye or just make sure they’re seeing the back of Harry for the next year or so.

“Goodbye,” Harry says awkwardly.

The large boy, who must be Harry’s cousin, says, “Bye. Have a good summer.”

His words sound strangled, and Sirius suspects that Mrs. Dursley has spoken to both of them.

“Goodbye,” Mr. Dursley says.

“Bye,” Harry replies, and then he hustles out the door.

Sirius brings Harry’s trunk and puts it in the trunk of the Mini. He climbs behind the wheel, and glances back, “Okay, there, Harry?”

“That went better than I thought,” Harry admits.

“It pays to have an accused murderer as a godfather,” Sirius teases.

Harry shrugs. “It would have been better if you’d been given a trial in the first place.”

Sirius would have expected Harry to be happier, but he doesn’t want to press. He exchanges a look with Arthur, who shrugs, and they head back for the Burrow.

It’s late when they return, and Molly fusses over them in her robe. “Are you hungry, Harry? Do you want anything?”

“Just bed,” Harry murmurs.

“Well, you’re in Ron’s room, and you know where that is,” Molly replies. “Sirius, I’ll show you where you’re staying.”

Sirius has no idea who he’s displaced, but Remus is in the full-size bed already and asleep. He casts a cleaning spell on his teeth and climbs into bed behind him.

Remus turns over, and murmurs sleepily, “How did things go?”

“Surprisingly fine, although I can’t get a read on Harry,” Sirius confesses.

Remus throws an arm over him. “How so?”

“He’s not happy, and I don’t know why,” Sirius admits. “I don’t think he’s upset about spending the summer with us, but it’s something.”

Remus hums. “He’s a teenager. Most of them are unhappy. We have the rest of the summer to figure out why.”

“I suppose,” Sirius replies, but he decides not to worry about it for the moment. As Remus shifts closer to him, he relaxes and falls into sleep.

The next morning, breakfast is fairly chaotic. Arthur and Percy have to leave early, and are gone by the time Sirius and Remus turn up. The rest of the kids are filtering in, including Harry, as Molly dishes up porridge and sausage patties.

Harry doesn’t look at Sirius or Remus, and Sirius wonders what’s going on, but doesn’t want to ask.

“I wish you could stay a little longer,” Molly frets once breakfast is finished up.

“We’ll see you soon enough,” Sirius replies. “Maybe next month once Harry gets settled. How does that sound, Harry?”

“Fine,” Harry replies. He’s not quite sullen, but he’s definitely subdued.

Remus frowns, his concern clear, but while he exchanges a significant look with Sirius, he doesn’t say anything.

“We’ll send an owl,” Molly says and gives Harry a hard hug. “Have fun, dear.”

Harry musters a smile. “I’m sure I will.”

Sirius shrinks Harry’s trunk and Hedwig’s cage, and Harry pockets them both. “Have you ever traveled by side-along apparition, Harry?”

Harry shakes his head. “No.”

“Well, there’s nothing to it, although it might feel a bit strange,” Sirius says.

Harry nods. “Got it. I’ll be fine.”

“See you later, mate,” Ron says.

“See you,” Harry echoes. In a moment, they’re at the designated apparition point near the Feniton Railway Station.

Remus appears next to them. “Do you want to sort our tickets, or shall I?”

“I’ll take care of it,” Sirius replies. “Won’t take but a minute.”

The journey takes the better part of the day, since they have to first take the train to London, then the train from London to Paris. Once in Paris, Sirius leads the way to the 6th arrondisement and the Portkey Office.

Portkeys are a little pricey, which is why most people save them for special occasions, or when there are really no other options. Sirius could have arranged for a portkey to take them directly from the Burrow to the Black farmhouse, but international portkeys are highly regulated and even more unsettling than those used to travel shorter distances.

“Portkeys are worse than side-along,” Sirius warns Harry. “If you get sick, I won’t hold it against you.”

Harry grimaces. “Really?”

“It’s been known to happen,” Remus confirms.

The portkey, a length of rope long enough that all three of them can put a hand on it. A minute passes, and the portkey activates, depositing them on the driveway of the farmhouse. Harry would have fallen had Remus and Sirius not been expecting that, and they both steady him.

“It’s not the most glamorous of the Black properties,” Sirius says apologetically. “But it was the one least likely to have a bunch of dark artifacts.”

“No, it’s great,” Harry says, and he sounds a little more cheerful now.

“Come on inside,” Sirius says. “I’ll show you your room.”

Thanks to his and Remus’ hard work, the house is clean, the paint a little brighter than it was, and even though it’s late, and the sun is setting, there’s a homey feel.

“I’ll see what we can do about dinner,” Remus offers. “I think there’s stuff for sandwiches still.”

Harry’s bedroom is the one just at the top of the stairs, and Sirius resizes Harry’s trunk and Hedwig’s cage for him. “I hope it’s okay.”

Harry’s looking around with a strange expression on his face. “This is for me?”

“Of course,” Sirius replies. “My room is at the end of the hall, and Remus is—well, he has his own room but he’s been sleeping in my bed. I hope you don’t mind.”

Harry frowns. “Why should I mind?”

“Some people do,” Sirius replies.

“I don’t,” Harry says shortly. “I didn’t expect it, but it’s not a big deal.”

“Okay, good,” Sirius says. “I’ll let you get settled, and you can join us downstairs once you’re ready.”

Remus is putting together three sandwiches when Sirius steps into the kitchen. “Is Harry okay?” Remus asks in a low voice.

Sirius shakes his head. “I don’t know. He seems upset about something, but I don’t want to push, not right now.”

“We’ll give him some time and space,” Remus murmurs. “A lot has changed in a very short period of time.”

“True,” Sirius replies, and lets out a long breath. “For all of us.”

He still can’t quite believe that he’s been found innocent, or that he doesn’t have to worry about the Ministry coming after him. He can’t quite believe that Harry’s here and safe, and he’ll be safe for the rest of the summer.

Harry emerges, wearing the oversized castoffs from Dudley that Sirius has every intention of replacing.

“Sandwiches okay?” Remus asks kindly.

Harry nods. “Sounds great.”

“We’ll walk down to the village tomorrow and get some groceries,” Sirius promises. “And order you some new clothes—unless you’d rather go to Paris.”

Harry appears startled. “Paris?”

“There are some nice shops in magical Paris where we could get you kitted out,” Sirius says. “Or we could order it through the mail. It just depends on what you’d like to do.”

“I don’t really like shopping all that much,” Harry admits.

“Then we’ll stick to mail order,” Sirius replies. “With the right tailoring charms, the fit will be perfect, and they’ll grow with you up to a point.”

Harry nods. “Thank you.”

“Of course,” Sirius says. “Although if you change your mind about going to wizarding Paris—”

“I’d like to some time,” Harry says quickly, sitting down at the table. “Just—maybe not clothes shopping.”

“There are some very nice bookstores,” Remus offers.

“And a broom store,” Sirius adds. “I don’t know that there’s a French model that can beat the Firebolt, but we should check it out.”

That pulls a real smile out of Harry. “That would be great.”

“And, of course, we have privacy charms up, so you can fly here all you want,” Sirius offers.

“That’s amazing,” Harry replies, sounding a little stunned.

“And the trace doesn’t work internationally, so you can practice magic here as well,” Remus adds. “You can get a bit of a jump on next year’s lessons that way.”

Harry looks momentarily overwhelmed. “Really? I won’t get into trouble?”

“Not here,” Sirius replies. “You’ll be safe here.”

Harry stares down at the table. “I don’t understand.”

“What don’t you understand, Harry?” Remus asks gently.

“Why didn’t you get a trial before?” Harry demands. “Because if you had, I never would have had to live with the Dursleys.”

Sirius takes a deep breath. “I shouldn’t have left you to go after Peter.”

“No!” Harry says, his voice rising. “You went after the man who betrayed my parents, and I don’t blame you for that. I want to know why you didn’t get a trial in the first place!”

“Things were very chaotic at the end of the war,” Remus begins.

“That’s a stupid reason,” Harry snaps. “The Muggles at least give people a trial before they chuck them in prison.”

Sirius doesn’t really know what to tell Harry, because he’s right. Although Sirius had appeared guilty, and he’d been too traumatized at the time to demand a trial, no one had intervened. No one had suggested an investigation or even a show trial. Death Eaters who had killed and tortured dozens received a trial, but he hadn’t.

“You’re right,” Sirius says hoarsely. “I should have had a trial, although there’s no guarantee I wouldn’t have been sent to Azkaban. No one knew about Peter then, other than me. There were no witnesses. And if I’d had a trial and been found guilty then, I wouldn’t have been given another one without more evidence than what we had now.”

“It’s still not fair,” Harry protests. “I shouldn’t have had to stay with the Dursleys.”

“It isn’t fair,” Sirius agrees. “And I wish you didn’t have to stay with them. I wish things could have been different, too.”

Harry is breathing heavily, and Sirius wishes he could reach out, but he’s not sure that the gesture will be well received.

“You spent twelve years in prison with Dementors. And you were innocent,” Harry says, and Sirius knows how badly Harry responds to Dementors.

“It’s going to take us both time to recover,” Sirius says quietly. “None of this is fair. It’s not fair that Remus was bitten by a werewolf, or that the laws discriminate against him. There are a lot of things we can’t change right now, but we might be able to change in the future.”

Sirius figures that the only way for them to heal is to focus on the future, not the past.

Harry takes a deep breath, and then another. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Sirius orders. “You’re allowed to be angry. So am I, for that matter.”

Harry nods. “Thanks.”

He goes to bed after finishing his sandwich, and Sirius makes a pot of tea, because he’s not ready to sleep yet.

“You handled that well,” Remus comments quietly.

“Did I?” Sirius sighs. “I have so many regrets, Moony.”

“I do, too,” Remus replies. “There are a lot of things I could have done differently, too.”

That night, Remus opts to sleep in his own bed, which is fine with Sirius, because he doesn’t think he’ll get much sleep.

Sirius is pretty happy with the way things have turned out—he has his freedom, he has Remus—mostly, and he has Harry. But Harry spent years living with people who didn’t love him, and Sirius knows the damage that causes.

He hasn’t made his choice yet, and there’s another door, another road he could take, one that might allow him to get Harry sooner.

Sirius doesn’t want to spend another moment in Azkaban; the thought makes him shudder.

And yet—in 1988, Harry will only be eight, young enough that Sirius might prevent some of the damage, old enough to be able to go on the run with Sirius.

He should probably know all of his options before he chooses, as much as he hates the idea. And if he stays here any longer, he’ll never want to leave.

Chapter Text

Sirius lets go of the door handle with regret.

 

“Did you get killed that time, too?” Regulus asks, in a tone that says he’s honestly curious and isn’t being snide.

 

“No,” Sirius replies. “It was probably the best option of all of them to date.”

 

“Why didn’t you step through?” Regulus asks.

 

Sirius shakes his head. “Harry—Harry suffered tremendously at the hands of the Muggles, and the wizarding world. I was happy there, but he wasn’t—although maybe he would be happy in time. I thought it might be best to see what my last option is, and then make my choice.”

 

He wishes he’d been able to see a little further down the road in 1981, to know what that future might hold for him. A future far away from England, Harry growing up in his custody, away from Voldemort and the Death Eaters.

 

Maybe that’s the best option, where he tells the whole of wizarding Britain that they can go hang.

 

But there’s one more possibility, and Sirius hates it, but he wants to do what’s best for Harry.

 

“You’d go back to Azkaban for the boy?” Regulus asks incredulously as Sirius reaches for the knob of the door marked 1988.

 

“I’m all he has,” Sirius replies simply. “And he’s all I have left of James and Lily. If I can’t save them, and apparently I can’t, then I’ll do whatever I can for Harry.”

 

Maybe that’s nothing, maybe Harry will always be damaged just as Sirius will always be. The only thing Sirius can do is to minimize the hurt. He won’t know if that means choosing to whisk Harry away as a baby, or raising him as an angry teenager until he sees what this potential future holds.

 

“It’s not your fault,” Regulus says suddenly. “What happened to me, what I chose, it wasn’t on you.”

 

“It was, at least a little,” Sirius corrects him gently. “I was so ready to get away from the Blacks, I forgot that I was leaving you behind.”

 

He can see it a little more clearly now, how his leaving hurt Reg, and how his brother had made the choice that kept him safe.

 

There were only ever two choices in their house, two roads open to them, and neutrality wasn’t one of them.

 

“Before you leave, before you make your final decision, I have some information for you,” Regulus says. “Or at least a suggestion.”

 

Sirius nods. “I’d welcome it.”

 

His hand is near the knob, but he’s frozen. He remembers what Azkaban was like, and he can’t—he doesn’t think he can handle it again.

 

“You don’t have to do this,” Regulus says gently. “You can make another choice.”

 

“But what if this is the best choice for Harry?” Sirius asks, hearing his own voice shake. “What if this is the best choice for everybody?”

 

Regulus shrugs, and there’s an expression on his face that Sirius remembers from when he’d take a beating for Reg, when he’d solicit their mother’s ire to spare his brother. It’s a look of helpless love mixed with anguish. There’s something about that expression that gives him the strength to touch.

 

1988

 

He doesn’t know how long it takes him to get his bearings, but he hopes that not too much time has passed. The longer he’s here, surrounded by Dementors, the less chance he’ll have the wherewithal to escape. He has to get out, has to get to Harry. Every moment that he’s here, in Azkaban, is one that Harry spends with the Muggles.

 

Sirius has forgotten—repressed—so much of his time in Azkaban, hiding it under a devil-may-care attitude, or a thirst for revenge, or the desire to care for Harry.

 

Not that he’d done a bang-up job of it, no. He’d failed.

 

He loses more time. He has more regrets now. His innocence isn’t the only thought in his head. He has regrets from half-a-dozen lifetimes now. So many more failures and—

 

Harry.

 

Sirius changes into Padfoot, and thinks about Harry, and nothing but Harry. It’s not exactly a happy thought—there are too many regrets, too many missed chances, for that, but it’s not despair either.

 

As Padfoot, his emotions are simpler, and once he has his feet under him, so to speak, Sirius can think about escape. He knows the trick of it now, and he’s as thin as he ever was, so he slips between the bars of his cell and stows away on the ship that carries supplies to the island.

 

Sirius knows that he has a little time before his absence is noticed, and he burrows under a tarp. He’ll jump out and swim for it before they make landfall, and he’ll take stock then.

 

The night is dark and stormy, the sky spitting rain, and the farther they get from Azkaban, the more Sirius’ mind clears. He doesn’t have a lot of options. He’ll have to figure out how to clear his name; he won’t be able to rely on Moony this time around.

 

First, he needs to check on Harry, and then he can track down Peter. He’s not sure what time of year it is, but if it’s summer—

 

If it’s summer, he can check in with Harry, and maybe capture Peter himself. He knows where the Burrow is now, and he can find Peter. He’s been inside the house, and he knows where Peter is likely to be.

 

But the first thing is to check in with Harry.

 

That’s why he’s here, after all.

 

When he sees the shore, Sirius slinks overboard as quietly as he can, minimizing the splash, and then paddles to the beach. He shakes the excess water out of his fur, and scents the wind, getting a feel for the time of year and location.

 

Sirius quickly gets his bearings. Based on the temperature and the smells in the air, it’s probably early summer. He knows it’s going to take days if not weeks to reach the Dursleys’ house as a dog, but he’s not sure he dares apparate.

 

On the other hand, they might not have noticed his absence yet, which makes it the perfect time to travel by the fastest possible method.

 

But first, he needs to find a place to get cleaned up, including different clothing. He doesn’t want Harry seeing him in his current state should he need to transform. Feeling slightly guilty, Sirius finds an empty house and breaks in. He’s fairly certain it’s a Muggle residence, but they have running water, tins in the cupboard, and he manages to find clothing that fits well enough to get by.

 

By the time he gets cleaned up, trims his hair and beard, and puts on clean clothes, he feels much more like himself. Sirius eats beans straight from the tin along with a couple of pieces of stale bread he finds on the counter, and then he does his best to minimize signs he’d ever been there. It would be easier to do with a wand, but he makes do.

 

Then, once the sun has set and it’s completely dark, he apparates to the Dursleys’ garden, falling asleep under their back hedge. It’s a fitful rest, broken up by nightmares that leave his heart in his throat, certain that the Dementors have found him and are prepared to give him the Kiss.

 

He’s just fallen back into a restless doze when he’s startled by the sound of a woman’s shrill voice.

 

“And don’t bother coming inside until the entire back garden is weeded!”

 

Sirius is in a low crouch, teeth bared in a silent snarl before he can help himself, but he freezes at what he sees.

 

A very young Harry trudges over to a flower bed, wearing oversized clothing and barefoot. Harry begins pulling weeds desultorily, and Sirius moves forward on his belly, not willing to alarm Harry or draw attention from the Muggles.

 

Harry glances up, and he freezes when he sees Sirius, who whines softly.

 

“I don’t have any food for you,” Harry whispers. “I’m sorry. They’ll get mad if I take any.”

 

Sirius doesn’t want Harry starving himself on Sirius’ behalf, so he edges closer and noses his head under Harry’s hand.

 

“Oh, you want pets,” Harry says softly, with the fearless wonder of a child. “I can do that as long as my aunt and uncle don’t see you. If they do, they’ll call animal control.”

 

Sirius pushes his head against Harry’s stomach.

 

“You are amazing,” Harry murmurs. “Do you have a home? I hope no one is missing you. If you have a family, you should go to them.”

 

Sirius whines and presses closer, and then he starts pawing at a weed.

 

Harry giggles in delight. “You’re a clever boy.”

 

Sirius keeps pawing at weeds, which makes Harry laugh, although he tries to stifle the noise. Sirius wishes he could laugh freely, but then Harry muffles his laughter by pressing his face into Sirius’ fur, and it’s the best feeling in the world.

 

“Boy! Are you done?”

 

Harry shoots an alarmed look at Sirius, who quickly slinks back under the hedge.

 

“I’m done, Aunt Petunia,” Harry says dutifully as he approaches the back door, shooting a look at Sirius over his shoulder.

 

Petunia pokes her head out and sniffs. “Well, you’re filthy. You can just stay outside for the rest of the afternoon, then. And rinse off with the hose before you come in!”

 

And with that, she thrusts a sandwich through the door.

 

Harry’s shoulders slump, and he goes to the back corner where Sirius has disappeared under the hedge. “Hey, boy? You there? I have food now.”

 

Sirius crawls out, and sees that Harry’s sandwich isn’t much more than a slice of cheese and two slices of bread.

 

“I’ll give you half,” Harry offers.

 

Sirius whuffs and turns his head away.

 

“It’s just bread and cheese,” Harry says. “It’s not that bad.”

 

There’s no way Sirius is going to take any of his food, though, so he keeps his nose stubbornly in the air.

 

“Are you—oh. It’s okay, you know,” Harry says earnestly. “I don’t mind being a little hungry.”

 

Sirius nudges Harry’s cheek with a cold nose, and Harry smiles. “Okay. I’ll eat it.”

 

Sirius puts his head in Harry’s lap and lets Harry scratch his ears as he eats his cheese sandwich.

 

“Do you want to go for a walk?” Harry asks. “Theywon’t mind, as long as I don’t get their floors dirty when I come back.”

 

That day, Sirius gets a sense for Harry’s life. He knows the neighborhood fairly well, and Sirius wonders what the neighbors think when they see Harry in his shabby castoffs. He rather doubts their neighbors like the Dursleys all that much, and maybe some of them have seen things that alarm them.

 

Or maybe part of the protection that Dumbledore hinted at comes into play. Maybe people just—don’t really notice him.

 

Sirius can’t tell one way or another as they wander through the neighborhood, Harry’s hand resting on his shoulder, tangling in his fur. Harry keeps up his chatter, though, talking about his life at the Dursleys and school, and the rather odd occurrences that have happened around him.

 

He talks, and Sirius soaks in every word, because this is a Harry he’s never known before—this bright, cheerful boy who could have been hardened, and isn’t. A boy who will offer to share his cheese sandwich with a stray dog, even though it’s apparent he could be better fed.

 

Sirius has always loved Harry—the baby, the toddler, the moody teenager—but he finds himself falling deeper in love now.

 

Sirius will do anythingfor him. Anything at all.

 

When they get back to the Dursleys’ garden in the late afternoon, Harry throws his arms around Sirius’ neck. “I know you can’t stay,” he whispers. “’cause if you do, they’ll hurt you, but today has been the best day ever.”

 

Sirius licks his face, hears Harry giggle, and then slinks off under the hedge. They’ll be looking for him by now, and someone will probably be watching the area around the Dursleys’ house. Harry’s right—he can’t stay there—although not for the reasons he thinks.

 

But it’s summer, and although he isn’t certain, the Weasleys will likely be at the Burrow, and Sirius knows where that is now. He can go straight there, capture Peter, and prove his innocence.

 

He’s fairly sure that not even the fact that he hadn’t received a trial will do much good, not without some proof, and Peter is about the only proof he has.

 

In that other timeline, there had been witnesses, and statements taken under oath, and a few other things. And if he can’t get Peter, if there’s no way of proving his innocence, then Sirius will know it’s not a viable option.

 

Even though this all feels very real, Sirius can take his hand off the doorknob and make another choice. He doesn’t have to stay here; he doesn’t have to go back to Azkaban.

 

Sirius has to be careful not to be seen at this point, and he can’t take Muggle transport or the Knight Bus. He’s on foot, and it takes him three days to get to the Burrow, and he pushes himself to get there that fast, stealing food from bins and wherever else he can.

 

The Burrow is outside the village proper, and there’s plenty of cover for Sirius to lay low. He knows the general lay of the land, and he even knows the house. He doesn’t want to break in, but he will if necessary.

 

Sirius has never really considered how to get into the Weasleys’ home as a dog, but he knows that Molly has a soft spot for strays, given how she responded to Harry. Then again, Peter knows his animagus form, and might recognize him. He doesn’t think he can risk Peter bolting.

 

So, he’ll just have to wait for his chance.

 

Sirius watches the Weasleys’ house surreptitiously for days. He’s there for nearly a week before the opportune time presents itself.

 

Arthur is at work, and most of the kids have left for the day, although Sirius couldn’t say why. And then Molly ushers the two youngest out of the door, which leaves the house wide open. He doubts anybody took Peter with them, and the wards are unlikely to alert to his presence as Padfoot.

 

He can go in, grab Peter, and take him somewhere. Sirius isn’t sure where yet, but as far as the Weasleys are concerned, their pet rat got loose and ran away. It’s the simplest explanation, and the most likely, unless someone needs to tell them about Wormtail eventually.

 

The latch on the door is one he can easily nudge open with his nose and paw, and he slips inside and then heads upstairs, moving as silently as possible. He can smell the rat as soon as he enters the house, Peter’s scent familiar and overwhelming, and Sirius feels his hackles rise. It’s hard to stifle the growl he feels crawling up his throat, but he manages.

 

He hasn’t been this close to Peter in any timeline, and he’s not going to miss his chance, not by being stupid.

 

Sirius follows his nose up to a bedroom on the first-floor landing. The door would have been difficult for him to open had it been completely latched, but it’s just slightly ajar. He can’t risk transforming back, because it might alert the wards, and therefore the Weasleys.

 

Sirius ignores the room itself, which is neat as a pin, and instead relies on his sense of smell as Padfoot. The stench is easy to follow, familiar as it is. Peter’s in this room, and he hears a squeak. He bares his teeth and sees movement out of the corner of his eye.

 

Sirius is desperate, and quick with his desperation, remembering Harry’s thin arms wrapped around him, the feeling of small fingers buried in his fur, and Harry’s words about it being the best day ever. He wants more of those days, more time with Harry, and he can’t have that unless he brings Wormtail to justice.

 

His teeth close around the rat’s neck. Peter flails and squeaks, and Sirius shakes him viciously, not to kill him, just to stun him enough to get him out of the house.

 

Peter goes limp, and Sirius would grin in satisfaction if it didn’t mean dropping Peter. Instead, he slinks out of the house, as stealthily as possible.

 

It feels too easy, but Sirius will take easy at this point. He doesn’t get easy all that often.

 

Once he’s away from any wards, he acts swiftly: transforming back in the hope that Peter will do the same, wanting to defend himself, to whine about how he didn’t have a choice, as he had in the past. Sirius is right about that, although he doesn’t give Peter a chance to do more than open his mouth. As soon as Peter is no longer a rat, Sirius casts a wandless stunner. He’ll find something to tie him up with later. Sirius side-alongs him to the Shrieking Shack, because that’s familiar territory. His luck is holding, because he finds a length of rope sufficient to secure Peter’s hands behind his back.

 

Of course, now he has to announce his prize to someone, and he’s not sure that he trusts the Ministry for that.

 

Remus is the only one he can think of who might help him, but he can’t be certain that Moony won’t bring back up in the form of other Aurors. That said, Moony is the only one he trusts even a little bit right now.

 

After all, Remus had known Sirius was innocent almost as soon as he saw Peter on the Marauders’ Map, and it hadn’t taken much to convince him that Peter was the traitor. Sirius hopes the same will be true this time around.

 

After some thought, Sirius sends his patronus to Remus, not knowing whether he’s in the country or not, or whether the message will reach him. Still, it’s really his only option; he doesn’t have access to an owl, or any other means of communication.

 

Peter stirs a couple of hours later, when Sirius is still waiting on a response or Remus’ presence. Sirius allows him to wake, and Peter immediately begins whining. “I had no choice! I had to tell them. They were threatening me.”

 

“Then you should have come to one of us!” Sirius snaps. “We would have protected you!”

 

“I thought the Dark Lord would win!”

 

“You were our brother!” Sirius roars, and then decides he can’t deal with Peter’s whining and casts a silencio.

 

Sirius waits another couple of hours, and then he hears a creak from the front of the house that has nothing to do with the house settling.

 

He doesn’t have a wand, but he has a few wandless spells at his disposal. There are a few places he can go to get one.

 

Sirius half-expects Remus to bring Aurors, or at least some sort of backup, but he’s alone, his wand drawn and a wary expression on his face. He’s younger than the last time Sirius saw him, with slightly fewer scars, although his clothing is still shabby and worn.

 

Sirius wants nothing more than to throw his arms around Remus, to kiss him, to beg Remus to believe in his innocence. He forces himself to be still, to keep his hands spread to show he’s unarmed.

 

Remus has always been the clever one, and he glances around the room, taking in Sirius and Peter, then looking back at Sirius, relief in his eyes. “You were telling the truth.”

 

“I switched with Peter as Secret Keeper,” Sirius admits. “I thought James and Lily would be safer. Peter betrayed them.”

 

Peter is shaking his head wildly.

 

“And him?”

 

“He kept whining about Death Eaters and the ‘Dark Lord,’” Sirius replies, and cancels the hex.

 

“I didn’t know!” Peter whines. “I didn’t want to be marked, but they gave me no choice. I thought you were going to lose!”

 

Remus stuns him. “I see what you mean. This changes everything. We’ll alert the authorities, maybe Kingsley Shacklebolt? He has a cool head.”

 

“You didn’t notify the Aurors already?” Sirius asks. “I know they’re searching for me, and you could get into trouble.”

 

Remus hesitates, and then sighs. “I hated you, you know. When I heard what you’d done, I hated you. But there was always a part of me that wondered. I knew how you felt about James and Lily, and Harry.”

 

Sirius smiles. “I always knew you had a soft spot for me, Moony.”

 

“It was more than a soft spot,” Remus says softly. “Why do you think I hated you? It wasn’t justbecause I thought you betrayed our friends.”

 

Sirius swallows hard, remembering that other life where he had Remus. He’s not sure he has any future with Remus this time around, not with what he’s planning to do. “I would hug you right now, but I’m pretty sure you’ll never forgive me.”

 

Remus hugs him anyway. “You do smell a bit like a dog, just so you know.”

 

“I warned you,” Sirius replies and clings a little harder before he lets go with a final clap on Remus’ shoulder. “To be honest, I’m surprised there aren’t Aurors here.”

 

“I thought they might curse first and ask questions later,” Remus replies. “I really wanted you to be telling the truth.”

 

“And that’s why I can’t go with you to bring Peter in,” Sirius says. “I don’t trust the Ministry to do the right thing.”

 

Remus frowns. “Without your testimony, Peter’s survival won’t mean much.”

 

“And why would they trust my testimony?” Sirius asks. “What will they do with me, Moony? I represent a failure. I didn’t have a trial, and that fact is sure to become public knowledge. Or, they could chuck me back in Azkaban, and maybe Peter, too, and who’s going to complain?”

 

“They wouldn’t do that!” Remus protests.

 

“Are you so sure about that?” Sirius asks, staring him in the eye, willing him to understand. Sirius has thought this out.

 

Remus opens his mouth, and then closes it again. He might be thinking of the laws around werewolves, or the fact that Sirius didn’t get a trial, or just the unfortunate reality that the government will be more interested in protecting its reputation than in doing anything productive.

 

“I can’t risk it,” Sirius says. “I can’t risk going back to Azkaban.”

 

Remus blows out a breath. “Okay, I can understand that. What’s the plan?”

 

“The plan is for you to tell the Aurors that you interrupted me interrogating Peter, and I overpowered you and escaped,” Sirius replies. “And then you’re going to tell them that I’ve probably fled to Black Manor.”

 

Remus raises his eyebrows. “Do you think they’ll believe that story?”

 

“The Black Manor is unplottable,” Sirius points out. “And enough of them will believe it not to have any idea where I’m actually going.”

 

“And where areyou going?” Remus asks.

 

“I want you to be able to say that you have no idea,” Sirius replies, with a Marauder’s grin.

 

Remus groans. “Do I want to know what you’re going to do?”

 

“You definitelydon’t want to know,” Sirius replies.

 

Remus frowns. “Sirius—”

 

“You’ll understand eventually,” Sirius promises. “I’ll explain everything, or at least as much as I can.”

 

“Just don’t do anything that will result in another stint in Azkaban,” Remus warns him. “You can only trade on your innocence for so long.”

 

“I promise not to kill anybody,” Sirius replies. “I didn’t kill Peter, did I?”

 

Remus snorts. “The only reason you didn’t kill him is because you needed him alive.”

 

“True,” Sirius admits. “I was strongly tempted.”

 

Remus smiles ruefully. “You’d better punch me and make it good. You don’t want to risk a stunner when Peter could wake up.”

 

“I really don’t want to punch you,” Sirius replies.

 

Remus shrugs, and then hauls off and hits him. It’s a solid punch, and Sirius stares at him. “That was for being stupid enough to go after Peter and getting yourself thrown in Azkaban.”

 

Sirius punches him in the nose, hard. “That’s for thinking I’d ever join Voldemort.”

 

“Fair enough,” Remus replies. “Now, get out of here, and keep your head down.”

 

“I’ll owl you when I’m safe,” Sirius promises.

 

“Don’t tell me where you are,” Remus orders. “And I’ll contact a barrister for you.”

 

“I’m going to need one,” Sirius admits.

 

Remus gives him one last hug. “Go.”

 

It’s a wrench to leave, and he apparates away, straight into his old bedroom at Grimmauld Place. His mother died in 1985, and the house is empty. Sirius has no intention of ever living in this place again, but he knows he’ll be able to get cleaned up a bit, and probably find clothing that fits a bit better, and a wand.

 

He’s going to need money, too, and he knows his parents kept some in the house. He knows what he’ll find in the farmhouse, but there are a few things he has to do before he can go there.

 

Sirius knows his plan is half-baked, and very Gryffindor, but he’s been successful so far, and he’s all in this time, and he can’t leave Harry with the Dursleys one moment longer.

 

He doesn’t have time to sort out the legalities—or he can sort them out later. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, after all, and he’s Harry’s godfather. He’s Harry’s legal guardian, even if no one knows it yet.

 

Remus will disapprove, but Sirius thinks he’ll eventually understand, especially when he finds out about the cupboard under the stairs.

 

The nice thing about magical houses is that he can easily trigger the hot water charm, and Sirius can get clean again after days without a shower. He finds clothing that fits in Regulus’ room, and a box with two spare wands in his father’s study.

 

Sirius gives each wand a flick. The first lets out a bang, and Sirius recognizes his mother’s wand. He puts it back in the box with a grimace. The second wand lets out a series of sparks and feels fairly comfortable.

 

He’s not entirely certain which relative had used this wand in the past. There’s no label, and it doesn’t look familiar. It probably belonged to a great-uncle or something.

 

There’s a safe in the study, controlled by blood, of course. Sirius finds a knife and pricks his left thumb, pressing it against the locking mechanism, and it clicks open.

 

He finds enough galleons and sickles to get him by for a bit, but no Muggle money, not that he’s surprised by that. He grabs a pouch and starts filling it, startling when he hears a pop, and turning with his new wand raised.

 

“Master Sirius is a thief,” Kreacher hisses.

 

Master Blackowns all of this, I’ll thank you to remember,” Sirius snaps. “I’m the last of the Blacks, therefore this house is mine, and everything in it.”

 

Kreacher sneers. “Master Regulus was the true heir.”

 

“And now Regulus is dead, and I’m not,” Sirius replies shortly. “And I won’t be here much longer. As far as I’m concerned, you can have the house. You can tend to Mother’s portrait and mount your own head on the wall when you die.”

 

As an afterthought, he adds, “And you’ll tell no one I’ve been here, and follow no one’s orders but mine.”

 

Kreacher huffs. Sirius isn’t sure who Kreacher might have told of his stopover, but either Bella or Narcissa could give him orders and be obeyed. Kreacher had never liked Sirius, and the feeling had been decidedly mutual.

 

The truth is that Sirius had always been vaguely embarrassed by Kreacher, and by the fact that his family had house elves at all. Kreacher had done everything in his power to get Sirius in trouble, viewing him as a disgrace to the Blacks.

 

“What are you doing?” Kreacher asks, sounding deeply distrustful.

 

“I’m going to prevent Voldemort from returning, and I’m going to make my godson happy,” Sirius replies absently, as he searches the shelves for anything that might be useful. “I’d say not in that order, but since preventing old Voldie from coming back will make Harry happy, it’s really one and the same.”

 

“You’re fighting him?” Kreacher asks.

 

“That is the plan,” Sirius replies absently.

 

He doesn’t want to give any more orders, knowing that Kreacher will be able to use his words against him. The current orders will keep Kreacher in the house, and Sirius never plans to return. He would offer Kreacher clothes, but the liability is too great.

 

Sirius has some small pang of conscience over Kreacher’s fate, but the house-elf is too bound up in the House of Black for him to be useful, and Sirius doesn’t plan on offering Grimmauld Place up to the Order, or even joining the Order this time.

 

Harry has to be his focus.

 

Sirius has a wand and relatively clean clothing and money, and while some of the books might be helpful, he doesn’t have a place to store them.

 

There is nothing left for him here, and so he leaves, apparating outside a small house in Little Whinging, and immediately transforming. Sirius finds a spot under the hedge to curl up, and he sleeps.

 

~~~~~

 

Early the next morning, Sirius hears Petunia Dursley say, “It’s no good whining about it. Vernon has people coming over today, and they’re not going to want to see you. You can come back after dark, but use the back door! Just in case they’re still here.”

 

Sirius pokes his head out from under the hedge, and he’s glad to see that at least Harry has a brown paper sack clenched in a small fist, but his shoulders droop, and he wanders into the back garden with a dejected expression.

 

Sirius does a belly crawl out from under the hedge and whines to get his attention.

 

“You’re back!” Harry whispers joyfully, and he drops the sack and throws his arms around Sirius’ neck. “I didn’t think you would be.”

 

Sirius whuffs and licks Harry’s face, and Harry giggles. “They won’t like it if they catch you.”

 

He responds by grabbing the hem of Harry’s oversized t-shirt and tugging him towards the street.

 

“Wait,” Harry says. “I need my lunch.”

 

Sirius waits patiently, and then nudges Harry along, as though he’s a sheep-herding dog and Harry is his sole charge.

 

It’s not far from the truth, except for the sheep-herding bit, although Sirius thinks he could do it.

 

“Do you want to go to the park again?” Harry asks eagerly. “Only, they aren’t going to let me come back until after dark. At least Aunt Petunia gave me a sack lunch this time. I can probably share if you want.”

 

Sirius barks, but quietly, so as not to draw attention.

 

“Well, if you’re hungry, I’ll share,” Harry says decisively. “It’s no fair if I get to eat and you don’t.”

 

Sirius presses against him.

 

“I missed you,” Harry admits, and buries a hand in Sirius’ fur as they walk. “I know that it’s stupid, but it’s like I remember you. But I’ve never had a dog.”

 

Sirius whines, thinking of James and Lily, and transforming to allow Harry to crawl all over him as Padfoot.

 

“Maybe my parents had a dog,” Harry wonders aloud. “Maybe that’s why you seem so familiar.”

 

Sirius nuzzles Harry’s side, and Harry grins. “It doesn’t matter. I’m just glad you’re going to keep me company today.”

 

And Sirius does keep him company, playing an improvised game of tag, and napping under a tree, and sharing Harry’s cheese sandwich, although that bit makes Sirius feel guilty. He’s starving, but he doesn’t want to take anything from Harry.

 

He can feel Harry’s disappointment and reluctance as the afternoon draws to a close, and the sun begins its descent. It’s late enough that it’s past dinnertime, and he knows that Harry must be hungry, but Harry is clearly uninterested in heading home.

 

Sirius sees a copse of trees in one corner of the park, and there’s no one around. He grabs Harry’s t-shirt and starts tugging him in that direction.

 

“I should really get home,” Harry says glumly, although he doesn’t resist. “I doubt they’ll be wondering where I am, but Aunt Petunia did say to come back after dark.”

 

Sirius kept tugging until he was certain they were hidden from sight, and no one can see them, and then he transforms.

 

Harry gasps and takes a couple of steps back, but he doesn’t shout, and he doesn’t run away. “How did you do that?”

 

“Easy,” Sirius replies. “I’m magic. Do you remember me, Harry?”

 

Harry gives him a skeptical look. “Should I?”

 

“I’m your godfather,” Sirius replies. “When you were a baby, you would crawl all over me. Your dad called me Padfoot.”

 

Harry blinks. “Padfoot?” he says in a small voice. “I—don’t remember?”

 

But there’s an inflection at that end that says he isn’t entirely sure about that. “You were very small,” Sirius replies. “It’s okay if you don’t.”

 

“What—what do you want?” Harry asks.

 

“It’s kind of a long story,” Sirius admits, “and there might be people looking for me, so I’m not sure how long I can stay here.”

 

Harry’s lower lip wobbles. “You have to leave?”

 

Sirius settles on the grass, sitting cross-legged, trying to appear as nonthreatening as possible. “You could leave with me.”

 

Harry shakes his head. “I can’t! I’ll get into trouble!”

 

“What if I told you that no one would find us,” Sirius says. “That there’s a farmhouse in France that needs a lot of work, but will be a fine home. What if I told you that you’re magic, and you can do magic?”

 

Harry shakes his head. “I’m just ordinary.”

 

“Hasn’t anything happened that no one could explain?” Sirius asks gently.

 

Harry’s hand goes to his hair, his green eyes going wide—Lily’s eyes.

 

“So, something hashappened,” Sirius says, although he already knows the answer; Harry had already told him.

 

“Aunt Petunia gave me a haircut, and it was horrible,” Harry whispers, as if telling some terrible secret. “But my hair was back to normal when I went to school.”

 

“That’s magic,” Sirius says. “All those times that something odd happened, and no one could explain it, that doesn’t make you weird or a freak, it just means you can do magic.”

 

“And my parents?” Harry asks. “You knew them?”

 

“Yes, and they died protecting you from a very bad man,” Sirius replies. “They asked me to watch over you, but I—some people thought I’d done a very bad thing, and that I shouldn’t see you.”

 

“Did you?” Harry asks guilelessly.

 

“No,” Sirius replies. “They thought I hurt your parents, but I never would. Your dad was like my brother. He protected me, and gave me a safe place to stay when I couldn’t stay with my parents anymore. And your mum, she had green eyes, just like yours, and she was kind and made me eat my vegetables.”

 

That makes Harry giggle. “But won’t you get in trouble if I run away?” he asks anxiously after a moment.

 

“I might,” Sirius admits, wanting to be honest. “But your parents always wanted you to stay with me if something should happen to them, not your aunt and uncle. And I don’t want you to go back there, Pronglet. If you do want to go back, I’ll stick around as Padfoot, but it’s too dangerous for me to be human.”

 

“I can’t feed you!” Harry protests.

 

“That’s not your job,” Sirius replies firmly. “I’ll take care of myself.”

 

Harry stares at the ground, worrying his lower lip with his teeth. “Why did you call me that?”

 

“What?”

 

“Pronglet.”

 

“Because your dad’s nickname at school was Prongs,” Sirius replies. “He was magic, like you are, and like I am. He could turn into a stag when he wanted. It’s what I called you from the first minute they put you in my arms, when you were brand new.”

 

Harry looks up, and there’s determination in those green eyes. Sirius remembers seeing that expression on James’ face, remembers seeing that light in Lily’s eyes. “I want to go with you.”

 

“We’ll have to be careful,” Sirius warns him. “I’m working on making sure everyone knows I didn’t hurt anybody, but they don’t yet. I just wanted to make sure you didn’t have to stay with the Muggles any longer than you wanted.”

 

“What are Muggles?” Harry asks.


“People who don’t have magic,” Sirius explains. “People like the Dursleys.”

 

“They hate me,” Harry confides. “They make me sleep in the cupboard under the stairs.”

 

“There are several bedrooms in the house in France,” Sirius says. “You can have a room of your own. You can learn magic, and learn to ride a broom, and maybe you can teach me how to cook, because I’m completely rubbish at it.”

 

Harry laughs at that, but then quickly sobers. “You really want me to come with you? Even if you’ll get in trouble?”

 

“There’s nothing I want more,” Sirius says honestly. “And we’ll deal with the trouble together.”

 

“What do I have to do?” Harry asks.

 

Sirius has been thinking about this a lot. “Well, I’m going to have to cast a couple of spells on the both of us, so that no one will recognize us, or even notice us. I’ll get us to London, where we can take a train to Paris, and then I can get us to the farmhouse.”

 

“How will you do that?” Harry asks.

 

“It’s called apparition,” Sirius replies. “When you’re old enough, you can learn how to do it, too, but you have to be seventeen before you can take the test. We’ll start in one place and pop up somewhere else.”

 

Sirius has honestly expected it to be a little harder to convince Harry to go along with him, but maybe Harry does harbor some dim memories of his Uncle Pads, or maybe he dislikes the Dursleys enough to think that anything would be better.

 

Or maybe no one ever thought to talk to Harry about the danger of trusting strangers.

 

The first explanation is the only one that doesn’t make Sirius inexpressibly sad, so that’s the one he’s going to go with.

 

“Will it hurt?” Harry asks, his chin tilted up in an expression Sirius knows very well indeed.

 

“No,” Sirius replies. “You might feel a little dizzy, but it won’t hurt.”

 

“I want to go,” Harry insists. “I really want to go.”

 

Sirius isn’t quite sure what’s going through his head in that moment, but he can see the determination on Harry’s face, and he doesn’t have the heart to refuse.

 

If he had any questions as to whether he was doing the right thing, they’ve all been wiped away.

 

“Hold still,” Sirius replies. “This might feel a little funny.”

 

The wand isn’t as responsive as his old one had been, but maybe it will get better as they got used to each other. It takes a fair bit of concentration to create the glamour, but then the boy standing before him has dirty blond hair, blue eyes, and a rounder face. The scar is gone, too, although his hair still has the cowlicks that cause it to stick up in places.

 

“Now me,” Sirius says, and he hears Harry gasp. “Do I look different?”

 

Harry nods. “Yes! You look—”

 

He falters, and Sirius says, “You can tell me.”

 

“Your hair is blond now, and you look—more ordinary,” Harry finishes.

 

“That’s the whole point,” Sirius replies. “Are you ready?”

 

He stands and holds out a hand for Harry, who readily accepts it. “What do I have to do?”

 

“You just hang on to me,” Sirius replies.

 

He apparates them both to Dover, and waits while Harry gets his bearings. “Where are we?” Harry asks.

 

“The Dover ferry station,” Sirius says in a low voice. “But I don’t have Muggle money, so we’ll have to be sneaky, Harry. Can you do that?”

 

Harry nods, his eyes shining. “Yes!”

 

Sirius suspects that Harry feels like he’s on an adventure, and he’d agree to just about any of Sirius’ schemes. “Good lad. You’ll need to stay quiet as a church mouse.”

 

He has no way to buy Muggle tickets, and magical means of travel will be closely watched, so he casts a disillusionment charm on the both of them as they wait for the next available ferry to Paris.

 

Harry is remarkably well-behaved for a child. He stays quiet, doesn’t whine about being hungry, and just seems to take everything in with wide eyes.

 

Sirius ushers Harry onto the ferry just before it leaves the dock, and finds a couple of empty seats. “It’s about an hour and a half,” Sirius whispers into Harry’s ear. “If you can sleep, that might be for the best. We won’t be able to make any noise, but we’ll get some food in Calais.”

 

Having been the caster of the spell, Sirius can see Harry, who’s blinking sleepily. So far, everything has gone according to plan, if not better. In retrospect, he probably shouldn’t be surprised that Harry was so eager to go along with him. He’d been happy enough to accept Sirius’ offer to live with him at thirteen, and Sirius knows he’d been happy to attend Hogwarts and reluctant to go home on holidays.

 

At eight, a man who can turn into a dog who is Harry’s best—and maybe only—friend is probably very attractive.

 

Not that Sirius feels particularly good about that. A Death Eater could have shown up and lured Harry away, maybe even turned him towards Voldemort if they’d shown him a little kindness.

 

When they reach Calais, Sirius waits until most people have disembarked, and then shakes Harry awake. He puts a finger on Harry’s lips to caution quiet, and then leads him out.

 

Calais is a busy port town, and Sirius quickly cancels the disillusionment spell, but leaves the glamour. “Let’s get something to eat,” he says. “Is there anything you like?”

 

“I don’t know,” Harry says thoughtfully. “We don’t get take away really.”

 

“Do you like fish and chips?” Sirius asks.

 

Harry shrugs. “It’s okay. I’ll eat anything.”

 

“Does that mean you like it but it’s not your favorite, or does that mean you don’t like it but won’t complain if we get it?” Sirius asks carefully.

 

Harry glances at him, clearly startled. “I like it, but it’s not my favorite.”

 

“Pizza?” Sirius asks.

 

“I like it,” Harry says definitively.

 

“Hamburgers?”

 

“Good.”

 

“Curry?”

 

“Too spicy,” Harry admits.

 

“Well, let’s see what we can find,” Sirius says.

 

There’s a magical part of Calais, and Sirius is grateful that they’ll take his sickles and galleons, even though he hasn’t been able to exchange them for the French equivalent. There are plenty of British wizards and witches who visit and don’t have the local currency, so that it makes sense for them to accept foreign currency.

 

Sirius finds a shop that sells grilled sandwiches, and they both buy a thick ham and swiss, although Harry nixes the mustard. It’s late, but since it’s the last ferry of the night, the restaurants and shops near the terminal are crowded. That’s all the better for them, because they can eat, and Sirius can wait for a quiet moment or a quiet corner where no one will see them apparate home.

 

Harry eats his sandwich with obvious relish and licks his fingers clean of grease until he realizes Sirius is watching. “Sorry,” he mutters, and reaches for a napkin.

 

“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” Sirius replies. He won’t reprimand Harry, but he also knows that good manners will be important in the future. “And you needn’t stand on ceremony with me.”

 

Harry grimaces. “Aunt Petunia would have yelled.”

 

“I don’t think yelling really helps,” Sirius replies. “My parents yelled a lot, and most of the time I did the exact opposite of what they wanted.”

 

Harry laughs. “What about my dad?”

 

“His parents didn’t yell,” Sirius replies, smiling fondly. “In fact, they adored James. I’m not sure they ever said a cross word to him, and he mostly followed their rules.”

 

Harry’s expression was hungry. “You knew my dad’s parents?”

 

“Sure,” Sirius replies. “They took me in when I was sixteen. My parents were horrible, worse than your Muggles, and James asked. They treated me like their second son.”

 

“What were they like?” Harry asks eagerly. “It’s just—Aunt Petunia and Uncle Dursley said they died in a car accident, and it was their fault. They said my dad was a failed magician.”

 

Sirius laughs out loud. “Jealous, I expect. Your dad was well off. His dad made a great match and married an heiress. Your dad was—well, he wasn’t perfect, but he was a good man, and he was loyal to his friends. He was smart and did well in school, and was popular with other students. He was Head Boy in his final year. You mum, now—she was brilliant. The brightest witch of our age, some called her, and they’d be right. She was Head Girl, and she wouldn’t give James the time of day for the first few years.”

 

He spins the tale, leaving out the more salacious bits and Peter. He’ll have time to tell Harry the rest of the story later, but right now Harry is hanging on his every word.

 

“They were good people, Pronglet,” Sirius says finally. “They were the best of us, and I miss them every day they aren’t here.”

 

“I miss them, too,” Harry says wistfully. “Even though I didn’t know them.”

 

“They adored you,” Sirius says insistently. “Their world revolved around you. And they would have moved heaven and earth to keep you safe, as would I. Remember that, Pronglet. You are loved.”

 

Harry blushes, and Sirius thinks that might have been too much too soon, but there’s pleasure on Harry’s face, and Sirius wonders if anybody had ever said that to him. He thinks not, at least not in Harry’s memory.

 

“Shall we go?” Sirius asks. “It’s a quick apparition from here.”

 

Harry nods eagerly. “I want to see it.”

 

Sirius keeps a tight grip on Harry as they land, preventing him from stumbling. There isn’t much light from the moon, so Sirius casts a lumos.

 

“It’s not much, not yet,” Sirius warns him. “It will need a lot of work to make it presentable, but I think it will be a good project for us. I can teach you magic and how to fly, and probably French. And maybe German. I think that might come in handy, as well.”

 

Harry’s eyes are huge as he looks around. “This is amazing!”

 

“It’s a lot of space,” Sirius says. “And it’s probably dusty, and there’s probably just the bare minimum, so we’ll have to go to the village tomorrow, but—”

 

“Sirius,” Harry says, interrupting him. “This is awesome.”

 

Sirius glances down at him and realizes that he hasn’t dispelled the glamour and does so. Harry is looking at him like hung the moon, and Sirius isn’t sure why, but he grins. “I’m glad you like it, Pronglet.”

 

“I want to stay here forever,” Harry announces.

Chapter Text

Maybe Sirius should have stuck with it, but he knows he needs to make a choice. He got the information he needed: he escaped from Azkaban, and he has Harry. Plus, Remus is mostly on his side.

 

“Did you get what you needed?” Regulus asks.

 

“I did,” Sirius says. “I’m pretty sure Kreacher adores you.”

 

“You could be nicer to him,” Regulus replies.

 

“And I’m quite sure Kreacher hates me and would betray me given the chance,” Sirius counters. “But whatever I decide, I will treat him fairly for your sake.”

 

Regulus shifts, his expression unreadable. “Kreacher holds my secrets. And if you are the head of the Black family, you can command him. Remember that.”

 

“I will,” Sirius replies.

 

“Do you know which door you’ll choose?” Regulus asks.

 

“I think I do,” Sirius replies. “Two are not possibilities, so it’s one of three. Thank you for letting me catch a glimpse of the future.”

 

Regulus smirks. “I had to give the Black line the best chance of continuing, as you know.”

 

“It was more than that,” Sirius insists.

 

“Maybe it was,” Regulus replies, like a true Slytherin. “Does it matter?”

 

“It does to me,” Sirius replies. “You’re my brother, and I love you.”

 

That’s the Gryffindor in him, but Regulus flushes, and he says, “You are ridiculous, and you are my brother. It’s a conundrum.”

 

He smiles at Sirius with a warmth that’s long been absent, though, and Sirius is grateful for the chance to have made some amends with his brother. He’d hug him, but Regulus was never the hugging type.

 

So, instead, Sirius grins. “Have a nice afterlife.”

 

And then he reaches for a door knob.

Chapter Text

For those who asked, here's your official notification that the sequel has started posting. One chapter per week on Sundays. It's complete in 7 parts.