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The Maddest House

Chapter Text

Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change? And did you exchange
a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?

Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd

It had all been so very confusing, in those first few wild hours and days after James and Lily died.Sirius Black found himself with a bundle of baby boy, whisked through a country celebrating the end of the terror and given the keys to an ugly modern house in South Yorkshire. And standing at Dumbledore's side was–not the traitor, no–not the traitor after all, the Aurors were still tracking down the rat-traitor Peter.

Remus, he wanted to say, how did we come to this; and he wanted to say, forgive me; he wanted his friend. But Remus' face, still dirty with soot, was blank and unreadable. As if he had ever read Remus right. The spell came down to the last word, and Remus met his eyes as he spoke it.


Remus' and Dumbledore's outlines blurred, as the charm sealed the secret of Sirius, Harry, and their house inside Remus and made them unknowable to wizards and to magic. This would be no short-term hideaway, unless things went drastically right for a change. Harry might need hiding for years. Sirius would raise him in this house, in the Muggle world, hidden from the Wizarding world's searchers. Even Dumbledore himself would have to find Remus in order to be allowed back here.

Finding Remus was not easy these days.

Dumbledore raised one hand in vague farewell; Remus merely nodded and turned his back, walking with the Headmaster to where the Portkey waited, down by the gate. Sirius watched them leave with a feeling of rising panic, and would have called out to them to turn back. But he knew that the only one of them who could see him in the doorway owed him no sympathy, and his arms trembled around the sleepy weight in his arms.

And then he went inside.

The front room was sparsely furnished with things that looked as if they'd come directly from someone's attic without the benefit of a good dusting. Sagging sofa in a cabbage-rose print, scarred table by the door, covered in boxes. Two metal chairs with faded red vinyl seats had been pushed up against the wall.

A bin-bag next to the sofa had a paper pinned to it reading Harry in Remus' spiky handwriting. Sirius set Harry down and tipped out a battered collection of toys, threadbare plush animals and mini-cars, a skipping rope and a carton marked Lego, which he looked into and then set up on the mantelpiece. Harry dropped down heavily onto his well-padded bum and began exploring his new possessions (a process that involved alternate mouthing and pummelling, as far as Sirius could see). Sirius' parents had not believed in toys (or in childhood, really), but he could see the appeal. Anything that kept Harry occupied for more than five minutes was brilliant.

He turned to the boxes on the table.

Someone, and Sirius really suspected Remus' hand here as well, had filled a box with mementoes, the kind of clutter without which things were hard to explain. Copies of death certificates for Harry's parents, dated not days before but months, and official adoption papers. Sirius winced as he realized that he now had to answer to Christopher Black, and Harry was the highly improbable Harley James Black. Remus had always had a ready hand for forging notes and permissions in school, Sirius reflected, but he'd like to have words with him about the damn names.

He'd probably not see Remus again for, oh, ten years or so. He shut his mind and kept his eyes on the open box.

There were framed pictures to go on the mantelpiece, and Sirius knew they were Remus'. He had taken them with his ridiculously heavy Muggle camera because Lily couldn't send moving photos to her friends and family. Here were James and Lily at the wedding. Here the christening, with little Harry in an impossibly frilly white gown and bawling his head off about it. Here one creased and discoloured snap of Sirius, James, and Lily (and a ragged edge where Peter had been removed).

There was not one picture of Remus, but everywhere Sirius looked he felt his presence.

He opened the next box. Finally, something store-bought and new, he thought and nearly laughed as he unpacked tins of baby milk, soft thick packages of nappies, and a bright pink paper-bound book with the title "Baby Magic: Spells for the New Mum! And Dad!"

He thought that crying would be an inauspicious start to his new life; so he settled onto the sofa in a puff of dust, sneezed for a few minutes, and started reading at the chapter on "Nutritious Meals, Charmed I'm Sure!"

Sirius had thought that he wouldn't have time to brood, and for the most part he was right. There were nappies to change and vegetables to mash and Harry to keep away from such household perils as sharp knives and motor oil. All the things he meant to do when Harry took a nap got postponed when he himself fell asleep on the bed next to the boy. And it was worse when Harry started really walking (and running and climbing the stairs). There wasn't a spare minute to sit down and consult Penelope Leach about developmental stages.The house was one of three identical houses built down the back of his landlord's tottering farmhouse, and his neighbours were older women, relations of some kind to the farmer, with fondnesses for china figurines and large carpet bags that bristled with knitting needles, respectively. Each house had a small, neat yard in front (Sirius' was the only one without masses of perfect flowers; he had a begonia, but it didn't try very hard), with gates opening onto the road past the farmhouse. In back, each house had a fenced garden plot and a few trees. Beyond the trees there was a gully with a cool, dark stream, and a forest that led away on the other side. It seemed like the perfect place to raise a boy, but delicate questioning of Sirius' neighbours indicated they'd expected the house to be let to a bearded gentleman in knickerbockers and pockets rattling with sweets. Not that they minded little Harry, they assured him, such a quiet little boy.

There were no restrictions on the use of magic within the house; Sirius had applied several silencing charms from Baby Magic and was glad that they were effective.

The one disturbing aspect of the Fidelius which he had discovered, accidentally, while trying to sneak out during a nap to buy milk, was that he experienced nausea, panic, and dizziness if he went too far from Harry. The magical equivalent of a choke chain. Dumbledore's little joke, he supposed.

On the whole, though, not having to go out to work and being able to roam around the countryside introducing Harry to the wonders of caterpillars and dirt and things you don't want to step in and things that you can put in your mouth–well, it was brilliant. And the kid was a natural mimic and talking up a storm, even if every other word out of his mouth was "bugger" at the moment. Harry was a natural charmer. Whenever Sirius took him into town people queued up to coo at him and laugh at how he called his father "Pads". It made him proud the first time Harry said "no" to his mushy carrots and they flew across the room. Just like magic.

As part of his self-inflicted self-rehabilitation program, Sirius had decided that Harry didn't need lying to. He set up an offering dish and kept it in the kitchen, visible from the table. He remembered the prayers for intercession with the dead (as a child he hadn't been allowed to eat without making a formal offering first, but once he had learned who his ancestors were sheer terror made him honour them so they wouldn't reappear and torture him in the night), but usually he just included Lily and James in the evening conversation.

He wasn't sure, of course, how much a child with a vocabulary of fewer than one hundred words understood, but he knew the power of things left to ferment in secrecy.

Sometimes when Harry played Sirius caught the words "mum" or "da". It filled him with a great terrible longing. Harry had stopped crying for Lily after a week, had amicably entrusted all his needs and desires to his Uncle Padfoot. Sirius thought that Lily and James' love must have formed some crucial and fundamental base of love (and perhaps a lasting fondness for breasts) but Harry would not remember his parents. So he'd have to do it for him.

Sirius used some of their rapidly dwindling petty cash (a problem he resolutely did not think about) to buy blank notebooks and started writing down some of the stories he told, filling in the blank spaces and margins with pictures. Harry liked the pictures, and soon the words barely fit on the pages for the riot of images that flooded through Sirius.

He would read a bit, and hug Harry and tell him he loved him. It was, he found, a different kind of love from when he'd been a godfather, bringer of inappropriate gifts and occasional baby-sitter. He felt, well, parental.

It was like one of those good-bad-good-bad jokes that never ended: The good news is, you'll have a son. The bad news is, your best friend and his wife will die to give him to you. The good news is, you'll have that house in the country and beloved by your side, just like you always dreamed. The bad news is, the house is a refuge from a war that the man you love (and whose feelings you'd ruthlessly killed) is still fighting, and the beloved, unfortunately, isn't out of nappies yet. He poured all the emotion his heart could hold into Harry, who was all he had, all he would ever have, and shut his eyes to the future.