"Back already?" Alphard asks, looking up from a stack of manuscript.
"It's been a week," he points out, closing the door behind him.
"My apologies," Alphard says, without actually sounding apologetic at all. Still, he marks his place in the book he was reading with a quill before turning to face Sirius properly. "Time must slow down when I don't have a visitor."
"Well, as long as you don't feel that time slows down while you have a visitor," he says, Summoning a chair before Alphard responds. He doubts that his uncle is going to ask him to leave, but he waits for permission before actuallly sitting.
"Go ahead and sit," Alphard says, not bothering to stand up himself. "You'd only get covered in paint if I tried to hug you."
"Of course. Nothing to do with the fact that you can't move without tripping over scrolls," he says. Alphard has never been a particularly tidy person -- one of many ways in which he's different from most of Sirius' family.
"Just for that, I won't offer you any tea," Alphard says, flicking his wand at a nearby tea service. Steam rises from the pot's spout after a bit.
"It'd only taste like paint, anyway. How can you stand it?"
"You get used to it eventually," Alphard says, managing to drink from the cup without pulling a face.
"Have you been -- "
"Why are you here, Sirius?" Alphard asks, clearly tired of waiting for Sirius to gather up the courage to talk about the real issue.
He hesitates, and then says, "It wasn't the Prewetts."
"So that brings it down to you, Lily, Remus and Peter."
"Yes," he says again, struggling to say more.
"Give me one good reason why it can't be Lily," Alphard says casually.
"Lil- ! She's his wife," he says, finally overcoming his reluctance to discuss this (and it occurs to him that that may be exactly why Alphard asked about Lily first). "And she's Harry's mother."
"I asked for a good reason," Alphard points out, setting his saucer down on a stack of manuscript.
Sirius rolls his eyes, and then says, "If she was the one who wanted them dead, they'd be dead already."
"Much better than your first try, but far from perfect. Now give me one good reason why it isn't -- "
"This isn't some puzzle for you to solve! Voldemort wants to murder by best friend and his son, and someone is passing him or someone close to him critical information."
"And I'm trying to help you work out who that is," Alphard says, getting up from his desk and stretching before picking his cup up again. "I might not be good for much, these days, but I can still think objectively, and -- "
"What if it's me?" he whispers. He can't imagine that it's Lily, or Remus, or Peter. It certainly can't be Harry.
"We've been over this. It's not possible to avoid the Imperius entirely, but it is possible to manage the condition. What is the first sign of Imperius?"
"Do you keep your diary with you? And update it every hour?"
"Except when I'm asleep."
"It is very difficult to use the Imperius on a sleeping wizard. Do you read over your entries?"
"And are there hours you cannot account for?"
He doesn't have to think very hard about this. "No."
"Then for now, let us assume that it isn't you. All right. So it comes down to Peter, Lily and Remus. Give me one good reason why it can't be Peter."
"Who do you think it is?" he asks, ignoring Alphard's question.
"You won't like my answer."
"Just tell me."
"I don't know."
"I said you wouldn't like it. Look. Let's take Lily. Unless there's some sort of massive reward, she doesn't have anything to gain from selling out her husband and son. And as you said, if she wanted to, it's likely that they'd be dead already. Either by her hand, or by her letting someone else past their wards.
"Next. Peter. Same again -- unless there's some sort of reward, he doesn't personally gain anything from selling out the Potters. Particularly since he doesn't dislike either of them. That and... Didn't you say his family was wiped out by Death Eaters?"
"His girlfriend's family," he clarifies, feeling his stomach lurch when he thinks about it. "They murdered her, as well."
"Marlene McKinnon," Alphard says dispassionately, waiting for Sirius' confirmation that he has the right name. "She was also Lily's best friend, wasn't she?"
"Yes," he says, annoyed with himself for forgetting that. She and Lily had even lived together in London before Lily had married James. McKinnon had moved back in with her family after that, when it became clear that Peter was oblivious to her hints.
"So. Who does that leave us with?"
"It isn't Remus. What proof do you have that -- "
"What proof do you have that he isn't?" Alphard says sharply, before sighing. "Why do you keep coming to see me if you're just going to ignore everything I say?"
Sirius snorts before looking back up at Alphard. "Who else can I tell?"
Alphard gives him a half-smile at that. "When do you need to decide by?"
"No idea. It'll need to be for the next time they move."
"And then they'll put the new place under Fidelius?"
"Yeah. I'm the obvious choice for it, but then I'd need to tell the others where James has moved to, otherwise they won't be able to see him. And if I do, then if..." He takes a deep breath before continuing. "If Remus is a Death Eater, and I refuse to tell him where James is living, then Remus will know I suspect him. If I do tell him, then Remus could... Could kill me, and then he'd be one of the Secret Keepers, and he could tell Voldemort." Something occurs to him. "But if... If I wasn't the Secret Keeper, and if... If Lily was. And Lily and I told Remus at the same time, then Remus would know where James and Harry were, and he'd think it was because I was the Secret Keeper. And so if something happened to me -- "
"You mean, if he killed you. Or had you killed."
" -- then the Fidelius would still hold, and they'd know who the spy was. So I don't need to think about who the most likely candidate is. I need to think about who the least likely candidate is, and have that person be the Secret Keeper."
Whoever that is, they and James and I would be the only people who could know the truth.
"You still haven't given me one good reason why it can't be Remus."
"Because I don't want it to be Remus," he says simply, standing up and straightening out his robes.
I didn't want it to be Regulus, either. Everybody tried to tell me he was a Death Eater, and I kept saying that there was no way he'd follow Voldemort.
He's still not sure whether he was unable to see that Regulus was a Death Eater because there was never any actual proof, or whether it was because he was blinded by his love for his brother.
But I wasn't living with Regulus. I didn't see him everyday, like I do with Remus.
"I said a good reason, Sirius."
"I don't have one."
"Then try to work out who's least likely to be the spy. And remember: nobody ever said there was only one spy."
"I try not to think about that."
Alphard sighs. "You're too closely involved with all of the people we've discussed to think about this objectively."
"What should I do then?"
"What does Dumbledore say?"
"He's offered to be the Secrcet Keeper himself."
"Then why don't you just -- "
"James doesn't want to. If it's Dumbledore, then he won't tell anybody else where the Potters are, and none of us will be able to see them."
"But isn't that the safest -- "
"He hasn't said how long they'll have to be in hiding for," he says quietly. "What if it's for weeks? Or months? You can't lock people up like that."
Alphard shrugs. "Freedom's the price you pay for safety."
"Then what's the point of being safe?"
"That's easy for you to say, since you're not the one who's being hunted by -- "
"James agrees with me."
"And what about Lily?"
He bites his lip, thinking, since he isn't sure what she would say if it were put to her like that. "She was the one who asked me to be Secret Keeper. But if she's the spy, then -- "
"You were right, you know. This isn't a puzzle to solve. If it was, we'd have just enough clues to solve it. But I don't think we're anywhere near as fortunate here. Do you?"
"Then let me simplify it for you. This is my advice: who do you trust?"
"All of them!"
"Even though it's clear that one of them is the spy?"
"I -- "
"Who do you trust the least?"
"I can't -- "
"From what we discussed earlier, your answer should be Remus. Unless there's something you haven't shared with me?"
"There's not, but -- "
"Do you trust Remus?"
"Yes," he says at once."But... I don't trust my own judgement. What if I'm wrong to trust him?"
I was wrong about Regulus. What if I'm wrong about Remus, too? I can't afford to make the same mistake this time. Even if there's no reason to believe that Remus is a Death Eater, I can't trust him until I have proof that he isn't. It's not my life at stake here.
"You had the right idea before, let's try it that way for now. Who do you trust the most? Who's least likely to sell your friend out to Voldemort? Whoever that is, that's your Secret Keeper." Alphard smiles, and adds, "Your secret Secret Keeper."
"Okay," he says slowly, taking all of that in. "Okay. Thank you."
"Was there anything else?" Alphard asks, sitting back down at his desk and reaching for his book.
"No, that was all. Thank you."
"You never ask how I am, you know."
"I would if anything ever changed."
"Things do change! I'm almost out of manuscript, in case you hadn't noticed."
"Doesn't look that way to me," he says, playing along. "Aren't you knee deep in it?"
"I'm almost out of fresh manuscript. You said you'd asked them to give me a years' supply? It's only been two weeks!"
"It's been five months. They'll send the painters 'round for maintenance in another month. If there's anything else you want -- "
"Yes, there is. When they fix up the tea service, could you specify that I want them to paint in hot water, and a tin of loose leaf, China Black Tea? I don't want them painting brown water directly into my cup. For one thing, I have to make that cup last for six months, and for another, sometimes it's coffee rather than tea. And for that matter -- Are you writing this down?"
"Er... no, sorry. Should I?"
"Well I can hardly write out a list and pass it to you out of the portrait, now can I? Sit back down. This might take a while."
Alphard waits until Sirius has taken out parchment and quill before continuing.
"I've put all of the books I've finished on the top shelf, so ask them to paint over those with the latest titles -- by the same authors, please. Which reminds me! The light in this room. I want a window painted in over the desk -- showing a sunny day, if you please -- and with heavy curtains so that I can cover it up and get some sleep. Are you getting all of this down?"
"Right. Next -- "