Book I: A Marauder's Plan (Basic Pranks)
Part 1: Initiating Operation Pronglet (The Lord Padfoot Prank)
June 9th 1994
Sirius landed by the ruin of the Potters' home in Godric's Hollow. He dismounted the hippogriff, fighting against the urge to get back on and continue flying. The hippogriff snorted and backed away, heading towards a nearby puddle of water for a drink. There had been no clear destination in mind when Sirius had flown away from Hogwarts but something had pulled him to the Potters' old home.
The house was a crumbling wreck, shrouded in darkness. The cottage had been a wedding present from James's father to his son, an acknowledgement that unlike times of old, the newly married couple were not expected to live at Potter House with James's father, his mother having died when James was seventeen. Sirius could see in his mind's eye the way it had looked in its prime; the outside walls covered with ivy with the whitewashed stone peeking out in between the green periodically; the tidy front garden with its lavender and honeysuckle; the gleaming windows underlined with their boxes of flowers and herbs – Lily's pride and joy.
He let out a shuddering breath, a sob catching at the back of his throat. He shouldn't have come back, Sirius thought tiredly, but where else was there to go when there was nowhere else to go but home. And the cottage with its bright blue door with the griffin knocker had once been his home as much as James's and Lily's. He had always been welcome there; had lived there for a time while he recovered from tangling with Death Eaters and almost dying. Of course when James had lost his father, he'd moved himself, Lily and Harry to Potter House, but they had soon moved back when they'd needed to go into hiding.
Sirius closed his eyes against the wave of memories; the bright sunny rooms, Harry in his crib gurgling with laughter, James grinning about some prank, Lily teasing them both with a glint in her eye…
He rubbed at his forehead. It felt like years of fog were beginning to clear. Twelve years in Azkaban had left its mark, Sirius determined, that and his own blind rage at Peter. And that had started right where he was standing.
The memory of that night cut through his mind; sharp images of loss, the overwhelming panic when he'd realised Peter was missing; the shock of grief and terror at the sight of the house, and James dead…James, his best friend…
The grief sent him to his knees again just as it had on that terrible night.
Then, there had been Hagrid with Harry and orders to take Sirius's godson to Dumbledore and Lily's sister, Petunia. In hindsight, Sirius should have gone with him and told Dumbledore about Peter. He shouldn't have let Harry out of his sight. But he'd truly believed Harry would be safe with Dumbledore, and he had been fiercely pleased that it left him free to go after Peter. He'd been so stupid.
He opened his eyes and took in the sight of the battered house again. "I screwed up, James. I suggested Peter as Secret Keeper and he knew I'd come after him for betraying you. He was ready for me."
He shook his head. He could remember the confrontation as though it had happened the day before; the cold of the air, the smell of rain, Peter's smug expression as he'd made his accusation and the heat of the explosion.
He'd been blown backwards, landing in a heap, blood pouring from a wound on his head. Had he actually been concussed? His thoughts had been cloudy and muddled, all over the place. He couldn't remember much of anything either…couldn't remember his trial – had there actually been a trial? – couldn't remember anything except waking up days, weeks, maybe months later in Azkaban with no way of contacting anyone who might have helped him. He'd taken refuge in the knowledge that he was innocent and the small comfort that Harry was safe. And he'd lost track of time after that until…until the Minister had stopped by and actually given him a newspaper. After that, his only thought had been to protect Harry from Peter.
Sirius paused for breath, realising belatedly that he'd continued talking out loud. "Talking to yourself – first sign of madness, isn't that what you always told me, James." He said softly. He sighed and stared blankly at the ruined house. He could feel the urge to leave nudging at him again; to get back on Buckbeak and head for somewhere warm and sunny where he could recover from Azkaban. But that would mean leaving Harry…
"Harry's living with your sister, Lily," Sirius said, "I went to see him there when I got out of prison." It had been the first thing he'd done – he'd wanted to check on his godson before heading North to wait for Peter at Hogwarts. Seeing Harry running away had changed his plans. "He's…he's not happy. I mean, he's brilliant, James; really brilliant – he saved my life! But he's…he's too thin and small. He wanted to come and live with me straight away! Who wants to live with someone they don't know unless they hate where they are? I think your sister and her family treat him badly, Lily. I need to get him away from them. Of course, I can't until I'm cleared and no longer on the run, and that's not likely to happen any time soon."
He got to his feet, crossed his arms over his chest and pushed the urge to leave away again. He frowned, his brow lowering as he mulled over the issue.
"The problem is that, as much as I hate to admit it, I've been acting too much like a Gryffindor." Sirius said with a huff of exasperation. "I went running off after Peter when you died, and this year all I've done is try and get to Peter again even if it was so he wouldn't hurt Harry. And I failed both times." He sighed heavily. "If I want to protect to Harry properly, I need to start thinking and stop reacting."
The niggle at the back of his mind to leave Britain, to leave Harry, shivered and disappeared abruptly. He'd shaken off a compulsion spell, Sirius realised. Probably Dumbledore. The old coot had no doubt thought compelling Sirius to get as far as possible was for his own good so he wouldn't get caught by the Ministry. Or maybe so that he wouldn't stay too close to Harry.
That thought arrested him for a long moment.
He shook himself as though he was Padfoot, trying to dislodge the idea. But he had promised to start thinking and so he did, pacing back and forth to give into his need for movement.
Why would Dumbledore want Sirius to stay away from Harry? OK, Sirius could acknowledge that he needed to heal from the effects of Azkaban and that there could be reasonable doubts about his ability to care for a young teen. But, Sirius was Harry's godfather.
He could understand Dumbledore taking baby Harry with Lily's sister in the immediate aftermath of James's and Lily's death – had even reluctantly agreed with the plan by handing over Harry to Hagrid in fact. Very few people had known where Lily's sister resided in the muggle world and Sirius knew Lily had placed wards around the place. He could also understand why Dumbledore had left him there once Sirius was imprisoned and Harry's godmother, Alice Longbottom, had been attacked. There was an automatic belief that blood relations were best and maybe Dumbledore had assumed that Petunia was the named guardian for Harry – Sirius couldn't remember if Dumbledore had ever seen the Potters' will. Dumbledore probably had little knowledge of how much Petunia disliked magic, and even if he had, he'd possibly made the assumption that Petunia would care for Harry regardless because he was family. Still, Sirius mused thoughtfully, it didn't excuse Dumbledore for seemingly missing all the signs of an abused child when Harry had gotten to Hogwarts or, worse, disregarding them and leaving Harry with the Dursleys anyway.
He stopped pacing. Why would Dumbledore have disregarded signs of abuse? No. Sirius couldn't believe that. He could believe that abuse had been missed – hadn't his own abuse at the hands of his dear mother been overlooked until he'd run away from home? But he couldn't quite dismiss his underlying notion that Dumbledore wanted distance between Sirius and his godson. Possibly Dumbledore thought Harry's muggle relatives provided a safer environment than Sirius – and OK, it wasn't as though Sirius could provide a home while he was on the run.
Or Dumbledore might just not trust Sirius.
Which sounded more likely because Dumbledore had always had trouble seeing beyond the Black name Sirius carried.
Wasn't that why he hadn't even rated a visit from the leader of the Order of the Phoenix after being imprisoned? Everybody got a second chance with Dumbledore except for Sirius it seemed. Sirius wondered if Dumbledore would have stood by and let him be kissed. Certainly it seemed like the kids had gained some kind of approval from the Headmaster to save him but…but just why was it that the kids had needed to save him? Why couldn't Dumbledore guarantee him a fair trial? Wasn't he the Chief Warlock? Sirius was aware that the old wizard didn't like to wield the power the wizarding world had given him too often but he had power.
Power was something that the House of Potter and the House of Black had once enjoyed; magical power aplenty certainly, but both families had also built financial and political alliances. And it was that kind of power that Sirius truly needed if he was going to protect Harry; from the Death Eaters, from Peter, from the possibility of Voldemort rising again. It was that kind of power which would get Sirius what he wanted from the Ministry, namely his name cleared and guardianship of Harry so he could ensure his godson had everything he needed – love, happiness, fun, security.
And he evidently needed that same power to ensure that Albus Dumbledore couldn't stop Sirius from being with Harry, if that was Dumbledore's plan.
Sirius looked up at the night sky and shook his head in denial of where his thoughts were leading him.
A rush of wind touched him and he breathed in the scent of lilies. At least he knew he had her approval. "You always said that you would do anything to keep Harry safe, Lily-flower. I always said I would do the same but I didn't get it until now that anything means anything."
Another breeze brushed over him. It felt comforting and familiar; affection, safety and family all tangled together in a way that spoke of love.
Sirius closed his eyes again, grief rocking through him. James. He gave a short, humourless laugh. "You shouldn't approve too soon, James, because you're not going to like my plan. Merlin knows I don't like my plan."
But if it was power Sirius needed…he looked back at the house and whistled for Buckbeak. It was time to retreat to the one place Sirius had never called home.