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The Way It Should Have Been

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They live in a small cottage on the edge of a patch of woods. The nearest wizarding village is miles away, the closest human one even further. Remus has no idea what he is doing. He is alone, more alone than he has ever been. As the world settles back into a life postwar, Remus starts a new one with a cottage and a garden and a baby. Remus has trouble finding work, and the jobs come and go, Harry’s inheritance there to cover the gaps. He may be two parents short, but the one thing his Moony tries to give him is a sense of normalcy. When the time comes, Remus enrolls Harry in a Muggle primary school, and things are good.

Harry is nine when Remus loses another job after someone puts together his monthly absences. Hearing voices one afternoon, he finds Remus in the sitting room with Minerva McGonagall. This is not the first time Harry has met the kind but imposing headmistress of Hogwarts. Her presence in their cottage always puts Harry on his best behavior, and he usually gets a semi sweet caramel from the folds of Minerva’s robes after she has given him a good once over. Harry stands in the kitchen chewing his candy and listening to her offer Remus a teaching position.

It is within the walls of Hogwarts that Harry hears the whispers for the first time. He is only there occasionally, when Remus needs to stay late for office hours or something of the like. Harry takes to wandering the halls, watching the happenings with wonder. He has never made many Muggle friends, given the many secrets he holds already. And the truth is that he has only been around a handful of wizards over the years. Remus and Harry keep to themselves, the way they both like it. It isn’t until he explores the castle, skinny with a mess of black curls and crooked glasses, that he begins to feel out of place. Some of the professors do a double take when they see him. More than a few share glances. Harry knows the story of his parents’ deaths, has always known it. But Remus seems to have glossed over what the rest of the world considers the most important detail. That Harry defeated the Dark Lord by merely surviving. That he was famous from almost the very beginning of his life.

Harry boards the Hogwarts Express for the first time armed with stories of his parents’ youth and a familiarity with the castle but is not fully prepared for just how much weight his name carries. He is nervous to leave home but excited to be headed for the place he has waited his whole life to go. And a part of home will have a conveniently located office in the east wing.

Harry meets a red-headed boy in shabby clothes and a curly-haired girl who seems to know everything. He eats chocolate frogs and waits impatiently for it all to begin.

 

Remus is eleven years old when he falls asleep on the Hogwarts Express and wakes up to find two boys in his compartment arguing about Quidditch teams. He pulls the sleeves of his sweater down to cover the scratches on his arms as the boys introduce themselves. Remus tries to pretend that he is as excited as the others and not terrified of what might happen when he pretends that he can be normal.

 

Hogwarts is the backdrop to almost every story Harry has ever been told about his parents, the ones he knows by heart and reruns in his head whenever he feels disconnected from them. When the Sorting Hat senses a division, Harry asks for Gryffindor because it was his parents’ house. As he walks towards the mass of cheering Gryffindors, he glances at the staff table and catches Lupin’s smile.

The first year is slow, a learning process that stretches for months until all of a sudden it passes in a blur and it is already April. The rumors and whispers and glances have died down, and Harry feels like just another student, albeit one who accidentally calls his DADA professor Moony on occasion, thoroughly embarrassing himself. But with Ron and Hermione by his side and a continuous stream of homework to do, afternoons spent in Hagrid’s hut and weekly tea in Remus’ office, the first few years at Hogwarts come and go.

Harry is sprawled out on the bed listening to Ron complain about summer being over. He is spending the few weeks before school starts at the Burrow, just like he did last summer. In a few days, Hermione will arrive. After a few months into the summer, Harry is always itching to be back at school. The cottage will always be home, but there is something about having so many people around that he gets used to during the year. The Burrow always manages to capture that because it feels like there are about a hundred people running in and out of the small home each day. Harry is laughing at something Ron says about Percy when the door of the cramped bedroom opens.

“Could I have a minute, Harry?” Remus asks, poking his head in.

“Sure,” Ron says with a shrug, leaving them alone.

Remus closes the door and sits next to Harry on the bed. There are purple moons beneath his eyes, and they carry a heaviness that isn’t normally there. He tries for a smile and begins to worry his hands in his lap.

“What is it?” Harry asks, nervous at his nervousness.

“Last week, Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban.”

It takes Harry a moment to process these words.

“But I thought that was impossible.”

“It’s never happened before. But he’s out. The Ministry will be releasing the news soon, but I wanted you to know first.”

“Are they going to find him?”

“They are going to try. Sirius was— well, he was quite a skilled wizard, but after all that time in Azkaban, he won’t have the wits to get very far. Regardless, I want you to be careful.”

“You don’t think he’ll go to Hogwarts, do you?”

“That school is a fortress, and McGonagall is already taking extra precautions. You’re perfectly safe. There is just no need to take unnecessary risks. Stay in the castle unless you are with an adult. Don’t go out alone. And absolutely no trips into the Forbidden Forest.” He gives Harry a pointed look. Harry pretends not to know what he is talking about. It was Remus who gave him the invisibility cloak last year, after all. Breaking school rules is his family legacy.

“This doesn’t mean that I can’t go to Hogsmeade, does it?”

“We’ll see,” Remus says. Harry gets a bad feeling in his stomach. So much for being a normal third year.

“Moony?” he asks, and Remus’ face goes soft. “Why do you think he escaped now?”

“I don’t know, Harry. I don’t know.”

The one thing he had always been able to assure Harry was that his parents’ killers were both either dead or imprisoned, but after all this time, Sirius is out there again. The news of the escape is all the wizarding world cares to talk about that autumn, causing the students of Hogwarts to become abuzz with Harry’s status once again.

“I was a baby,” he tries to explain one morning in the Great Hall to Ron, who doesn’t understand his aversion to the attention. “I didn’t do anything!”

“By October they will have all moved on to talk about something else,” Hermione assures him.

Harry tries to imagine Sirius Black, the villain from his childhood, out there in the world. What is he doing at that moment, Harry wonders. The truth is that Sirius has always been a conflicted figure in his mind. When Remus tells stories about James, Sirius is always there. You can hear it in Remus’ voice, trying to brush over Sirius’ existence as he recounts something they did at Hogwarts, the four of them. James, the tragic hero, the father he will never know. Remus, the man who raised him, who Harry can hardly imagine as a teenager. Peter, the one who died. Sirius, the one who betrayed them, who took Harry’s family away. He knows that Voldemort was the one who did it, but maybe it is because Sirius is still alive that Harry thinks of him the most as his parents’ killer. Maybe it is the betrayal, the knowledge that the man who took them was supposed to be his godfather. When, Harry wonders, did he go from rebellious teenage boy to murderous traitor?

These are not the only stories Remus tells. When Harry starts to think too much about that night, a dull pain emerging in his forehead, he thinks about Lily instead. Remus talks about her, and his eyes light up. She is like sunshine in his stories, coloring them golden.

 

Remus meets Lily Evans in Herbology during the second week of school. At eleven she already has a sharp voice and quick wit. Remus likes her immediately. By the time he starts to feel bad about keeping his secret from his new friends, Lily has already figured it out. Remus is terrified when she asks him about it, his stomach turning into solid ice, but Lily is more intrigued than anything. She asks a hundred questions and never speaks of it to another soul. Remus’ gratitude is deep, and the comfortable familiarity that comes when they are together only grows.

 

Harry does not mention Hogsmeade again, hoping that Remus will come around to the idea on his own. Each day the trip goes nearer, and Harry becomes certain that he will be the only third year in Gryffindor left behind. On Halloween, Ron, Harry, and Hermione walk down the steps together. They catch sight of the line that snakes through the Front Hall, at the front of which Filch checks names off of a long list. This day is rough enough, and the trip would have been a welcomed distraction. Harry is about to tell Ron and Hermione to go ahead when Remus appears from behind the staircase.

“I suggest you three get in line if you want to leave the castle today,” he says.

“But my permission slip,” Harry questions.

“Is signed and in the Headmistress’ office. Unless you don’t want to go…”

“We’re going,” Ron nearly shouts, pulling Harry towards the line with a grin.

The streets of Hogsmeade are covered with leaves in various stages of devolving from bright golds, maroons, and oranges into shades of brown. Hermione pulls a bright red hat down over her unruly hair, and Harry wraps his scarf around his neck.

“Why are there so many professors here?” Ron says as they emerge from Honeydukes, pockets full of sweets. “I feel like I’m still at school.”

Harry looks around. It is true that there are a number of professors present throughout the village, but he knows that it isn’t odd for staff to attend to their own business there. He had seen Remus wandering into the quillshop earlier that morning.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Hermione asks. The boys turn and wait for her to explain, as usual. “They’re here for Harry,” she says matter-of-factly.

“Me?”

“Why do you think Professor Lupin let you come?” she says, rolling her eyes. “Sirius Black breaks out of prison, and you think they’re just going to let you walk around by yourself? There isn’t a part of town that doesn’t have at least one of them hovering around.”

Harry takes a second look and finds that Hermione is right. If anyone wanted to approach him, there isn’t a direction they could walk in without running into three different professors. The realization makes him feel strange. The candy in his mouth is no longer sweet, and he suggests that they head back to the castle.

Having so many people pulled out of their days to watch him made Harry uncomfortable, but what is most disconcerting is figuring out why. Nobody has seen Sirius Black since his escape, and there is no suggestion as to what he is doing. At least not any that the public or Harry know. But Remus and Professor McGonagall obviously think that there is a good chance that Sirius is headed for Hogwarts. For Harry.

After a dinner under floating jack o'lanterns, Harry has finally managed to push the thought from his head. It’s like Remus said. Where could he be safer than at Hogwarts? This is Harry’s train of thought until he arrives at the entrance to Gryffindor tower that night. There is a crowd huddled around the portrait hole, a sense of chaos among them. McGonagall, Flitwick, and Lupin had arrived at the doorway a moment before Ron, Harry, and Hermione. McGonagall sends Flitwick to find the Fat Lady, whose portrait is ripped apart, pieces of canvas hanging in shreds. Harry feels a number of eyes land on him as Peeves explains that Sirius Black has quite a temper.

 

It is Halloween, and they barely make it to the feast in time to eat anything. Peter’s hair is singed, James has holes in his robes, and Sirius has a month’s worth of detention. McGonagall must know that he wasn’t acting alone—when has a prank implicating one of them ever not involved the rest?—but she had only caught Sirius, and he wasn’t one to betray his brothers. Remus watches him dig into what is left of the holiday desserts, radiating a post-adrenaline excitement as he and James begin to fight over the last pumpkin pasty. Sirius successfully wrestles the pastry away and turns to grin at Remus, offering him half. It isn’t the first time the feeling surfaces, but it is the first time Remus is unable to ignore it. A gnawing feeling in his stomach, one part joy, two parts terror, with an overlay of guilt. He takes a bite, sweet pumpkin filling his mouth, and smiles at his best friend. The boy who is more interested in tricks than schoolwork, who leaves his clothes all over the dormitory and wakes Remus up whenever he can’t sleep at night because he doesn’t want to be alone, the boy who became an animagus for him, who makes him feel brave.

 

The lantern light of the library makes Harry grow tired as he finishes his essay. Hermione is attempting to tutor Ron on Potions, an endeavor which is fun to watch but makes it difficult to study in the common room. He reaches the end of the scroll and begins packing books and quills into his bag just as Ginny appears in the deserted corner of the library. He smiles at her, and she sits across from him.

“Tired of listening to Ron and Hermione argue?” he asks. Ginny laughs and nods, but she seems off. He wouldn’t tell Ron, but Harry likes when Ginny hangs around. She’s funny and smart and provides a sort of balance to their group whenever Ron doesn’t run her out of a room. And after she got over her crush on him. Now, instead of blushing, he sees conflict on her pale face.

“We’re friends, right?” Ginny asks.

“Sure,” Harry replies. “I mean, yeah. We’re friends. Why?”

“Do you fancy anyone?” she asks in quiet voice. Harry’s heart jumps into his throat. So much for being over her crush.

“Um, no, not really.”

“What do you think about Hermione?” This throws Harry for a loop.

“Uh, she’s a little bossy, but she’s a good friend. I mean, I like having her around. But just as a friend.”

She watches him stammer and nods, looking down. Harry’s brow furrows as she picks at the edge of the table.

“You’re not jealous, are you?” Harry asks.

“Jealous? Of who?” Ginny looks confused, which only confuses Harry. Why would she ask how he feels about Hermione unless…

“Wait, do you fancy Hermione?”

Ginny’s eyes grow wide.

“Please don’t tell anyone,” she says, the words tumbling out of her mouth as her face is covered with fear. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“It’s okay,” Harry says, but he can’t find any words after that. Mostly, he’s relieved that she isn’t still infatuated with him.

“You don’t think it’s weird?” Ginny whispers.

“You and Hermione? Maybe a little. But not you fancying her, no. Even if she is bossy.”

She still looks scared of having let the truth out, but Harry promises not to tell. He shares almost everything with Ron and Hermione but not this. It’s not the first secret he has kept from them, after all. He is the only student who knows that the DADA professor is a werewolf.

He finishes packing his stuff, and they walk back to the common room and through the portrait hole together. Hermione is working on her own scroll in a plush gold armchair, but Ron seems to have retreated back to the dormitory. Harry and Ginny part ways and head for their respective staircases. She gives him a grateful look, and he smiles. The more he thinks about it, the less strange it seems. Maybe it’s not difficult to grasp because even though it goes unspoken, Harry has always been sure that his Moony is like that too. Or maybe he just likes imaging Ron’s face at the idea of Ginny and Hermione snogging.

Winter descends upon the castle, and Harry starts wearing the sweater Mrs. Weasley made him under his robes. A heavy layer of snow appears outside their windows overnight, and the thought of break runs through the students like a hum. Harry is looking forward to going home for the break. The smell of pine and ginger always fills the cottage for Christmas, and this year he has found the perfect gift for Lupin. Then they have been invited to spend New Year’s with the Weasleys. Only a few more weeks and about twenty scrolls stand between him and the holiday. The only thing that brings down his cheer is the news that he is no longer allowed to visit Hogsmeade.

“It’s just not a good idea, Harry,” Remus explains, eyes bright in the dim light of his office.

“That’s not fair.” Harry sets his teacup down in exaspertion. “Everyone else is in just as much danger, and they get to go.”

“I know that you’re smart enough to figure out why he tried to get into Gryffindor tower. I don’t want to frighten you because I won’t let anything happen, but that means no Hogsmeade. As soon as they catch him, you can go as much as you like.”

The days leading up to the trip have Harry in a bitter mood. Then Fred and George pull him into an empty classroom one day to present him with an early Christmas present. They dramatically reveal a large piece of parchment that is very worn but blank, setting it on the desk in front of them. Harry stares at it, expecting one of their jokes.

“What’s that supposed to be?”

“This, Harry, is the secret of our success,” says George, giving the paper a fond look. Fred adds that they were hesitant to give it away but that, having memorized it anyway, they figured that Harry needs it more right now. He listens to the twins detail how they acquired the parchment they are treating like a treasure, still thinking that they are playing a trick somehow.

Then George taps the paper with his wand and says, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” and ink begins to spread across the parchment. Harry watches as an intricate map of Hogwarts reveals itself, complete with the current movements of every person inside and a series of passageways that Harry has never seen. Fred instructs him on which tunnel can be used to sneak past Filch into Honeydukes.

“Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs,” George sighs at the title. ‘We owe them so much.”

“Noble men, working tirelessly to help a new generation of law-breakers,” adds Fred solemnly.

Harry traces his fingers over the map as the twins leave the room and grins. Fred and George might not know who created this map, but he does. He spends most of that night staring at the parchment surface by wandlight with the curtains of his bed drawn. It explains how his father and Remus had been able to pull off the pranks in all the stories he had heard. It seems only fitting that Harry use Moony and Prongs’ map to make his way to Hogsmeade the following weekend.

“Did Professor Lupin give that to you?” is the first thing Hermione asks when she sees the map.

“Why would he?” Harry asks. “Fred and George did.”

“Why would they give it to you and not me?” Ron complains. He gives the map an angry look. “Moony, that’s what you call Lupin, isn’t it?”

“When I was a kid,” Harry says, his face flushing. It was nickname from when his father knew him, and Harry couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t call Remus by it.

“A bit on the nose, isn’t it?” Hermione says, almost to herself. Ron and Harry give her puzzled looks. “I just meant...well…”

“You know?” Harry whispers.

“Well, it wasn’t very difficult to figure out.” Harry panics, sure that he must have said something to tip her off to Remus’ condition unknowingly. He had always been so careful. “I mean, he does seem to get sick nearly every month around a certain time. I was doing some advanced reading late first year when I realized.”

“Realized what?” Ron asks in an annoyed voice.

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” Harry says, ignoring him.

“It wasn’t my secret to tell,” Hermione says with a shrug. “Besides, Professor Lupin is one of the best teachers here.”

 

After they graduate, the world seems to grow darker each day. Every celebration, every success, is overshadowed by the tension of a war that takes over all of their lives. Lily tells him to look for the good, but nothing is as easy as it was in school. He watches her get married and before long, their little family grows. He is sitting at their kitchen table, watching an exhausted James trying to feed Harry. He was hoping to talk to Lily, but she is asleep in the other room.  Remus has barely said a word when James says, “Wouldn’t it be easier if you just told him?” For a moment, Remus thinks he is talking to the baby. Then his eyes grow wide, and his face turns hot.

“How did you…?”

James sets down the spoon and runs a hand over his face. “It’s not that hard to tell, mate. Just give it a chance. He might surprise you.” Remus doesn’t know what to say. James gives a tired smile and picks up the baby food again.

 

Ron’s screams wake half of the boys dormitories. Harry jumps from his bed, but by the time Dean has switched on the light, the room is empty and Ron’s bed hangings are torn so wide that they can see Ron’s terrified face through the gaps.

“Black! Sirius Black! With a knife!”

The house becomes a confused mess, with students filling the common room, many thinking that the Quidditch celebration has started up again. Remus appears in his pajamas and listens to Ron insist that he hasn’t had a nightmare. Harry watches him interrogate Sir Cadogan and confirm that Sirius Black has just snuck in to the tower, presumably to murder Harry. The knowledge does not scare Harry as much as it should. Once the castle has been thoroughly searched again, the panic dissipates. More than anything, he is angry. He wishes that Black had never made it to Azkaban. Harry does not hate the idea of killing him. What is the point of being the Boy Who Lived when he cannot even stop the mass murderer who betrayed his parents?

Neville stops him the next day in the hall, desperate to apologize for losing the list of passwords that Sirius had used to get past the portrait.

“It’s alright, Neville, really.”

The detention is punishment enough. Neville is the last person who would want to do him harm. Harry continues on to Remus’ office but stops outside the door when he hears voices.

“This wasn’t supposed to be able to happen,” comes Remus’ voice. Harry peeks inside the doorway and sees him leaning against his desk, running a hand through his hair, eyes tired. Professor McGonagall stands a few feet away with a pained face.

“We are assessing whatever flaws that may have allowed him in,” she says. “Harry will be safe.”

“He was in his room, Minerva,” Remus says, voice rising. “If he hadn’t chosen the wrong bed, Harry would be dead right now!”

Remus’ anger deflates into something else. His head falls into his hands, and he sits wordlessly. McGonagall sets a hand on his shoulder, and he begins shaking.

“After all this time I thought he couldn’t hurt me anymore. I thought I knew who he was, but it still takes me by surprise. The idea of him in that room—”

“Sometimes,” McGonagall says in a solemn voice, after Remus is unable to finish, “it is still difficult to reconcile this Black with the boy who once cried in my office when his owl died.”

The two fall into silence. Harry steps away from the door and starts in the opposite direction.

 

Remus is twenty-one when he loses everything. The war is won, but in its wake he is left carved out, hollow. James and Lily and Peter are gone. And Sirius. They had been distant over the preceding months, a sense of unease thickening when Remus was sent North on Order business. But Remus could never have expected this, to be left with everyone who loved him ripped away, alone and unable to trust himself.

 

Barely a week has passed since the attack, and the castle has only started to return to normal. All of Harry’s classes seem to drag, except for his private lessons with Remus. Harry doesn’t bother asking for permission to go to Hogsmeade. Hermione threatens to tell if Harry uses the map to sneak out, but Ron tells her off. Harry agrees to go and, wearing his father’s invisibility cloak, meets Ron outside of Honeydukes the morning of the trip. They manage to avoid Hermione, but the village still has a suspicious number of Hogwarts staff visiting that day. Ron and Harry catch a glimpse of Remus and Hagrid headed into the Hog’s Head, so they wander off towards the edge of the shops. They settle on a few large rocks and sit for a moment to eat their sweets and kick at the snow.

“I must be spending way too much time listening to Trelawney,” Ron groans.

“What are you talking about?” asks Harry.

“I swear I just saw a grim over there. A death omen is the last thing I need. Or maybe it’s not too bad since exams are coming up.” He pops another chocolate frog into his mouth.

“What did you see?”

“A big black wolf in the woods over there.” Harry follows Ron’s outstretched hand to a treeline behind a few houses across the way. Barely visible among the trees is the shadow of a large dog. It takes a second for Harry’s eye to catch it.

“Go get Lupin,” he says in a low, urgent voice.

“What?”

“Get Lupin! Go!”

He pushes Ron, who runs off towards the main part of the village. Harry stands and begins to fumble for his wand underneath the invisibility cloak, his eyes straining to keep the dark shape in sight. The longer he looks, the more sure he is that it is him. Just as Black disappears into the trees, Remus appears, breathless, Ron and Hagrid trailing behind.

“Harry?” Remus yells in a wild voice.

Harry yanks the cloak off.

“He’s here!”

“Where?” Remus demands.

“Behind those buildings,” he says. Remus runs in the direction that he points, wand already in hand, disappearing into the trees.

“Let’s get you kids back ter the castle now.” Hagrid escorts them away, and Harry is sure he would drag them back to Hogwarts if needed. It is all they can do to convince him that they are not up for tea in his hut. He sees them up the staircase and heads off to tell McGonagall the news. Harry tells Ron to go on ahead to the tower and finds his way instead to Remus’ office.

It is the same office he has had since he started working there years ago. The cobblestones are familiar; Harry used to make a game of stepping through them carefully, never touching any of the cracks, while Remus sat grading work. It is the same office that, more recently, they had their lessons in and that Harry had been going to for tea once a week for three years. He sits in the worn armchair behind the desk and waits for Remus to return.

His eyes wander the room, noticing all of the small things that had grown into a larger familiar picture over the years: an assortment of DADA related books and objects, many of which were foreign to Harry and which he knew better than to mess around with; photos framed on his desk of Harry at various ages and one of Remus, James, and Lily, folded so that the fourth person moving in the frame is hidden from the photo.

The longer Harry sits in the office, the more heavy his chest grows. He pulls open the second desk drawer and tears a piece of chocolate off of the bar inside, nibbling on it and letting the sweetness temper his nerves. Finally, when Harry’s eyes have grown tired and his stomach has begun rumbling with hunger, Remus walks through the doorway.

“There you are,” he says, closing the door behind him and falling into one of the chairs on the other side of the desk, exhausted.

“Did you find him?” Harry asks with his eyes closed.

“No,” Remus answers in a quiet voice. When Harry opens his eyes, he is staring at him. Harry expects a lecture, for Remus to yell at him for being so stupid, but something in Harry’s face must ward it off. Instead, Remus takes a deep breath and speaks in a soft but sure tone. “Harry, I promise that I will not let anyone hurt you.”

“That’s not what I’m afraid of.” Remus looks at him, head tilted a degree to the left. “You just went after him by yourself. What if you had found him and he killed you? Then who would I be left with?”

“Oh.” Remus shakes his head slightly as he digests this. “Harry, I am truly sorry. I didn’t think...I won’t do anything like that again. All I want is to keep you safe.”

“All I want is for you to be here. Just be my Moony.”

“I will,” Remus assures him, walking over to the chair and pulling Harry into a hug. “I promise. But Harry?” Harry looks up at his brown eyes. “You have to promise not to sneak off like that again.”

“I won’t,” he promises.

“And you’ll be leaving the cloak with me.” Harry nods.

 

Everyone he loves is taken away, and Remus is left with a baby. A small, curly-haired baby with a lightning scar and haunting green eyes. Remus barely knows how to take care of himself. His body still aches with the loss, and the responsibility weighs too much. But he finds a cottage far away from the world he knows. When Harry cries out in the middle of the night, Remus is usually already awake. And slowly, he learns how to smile, for Harry’s sake. He watches him grow, and each day is less terrifying than the last. He tells him stories and shows him magic and loves him fiercely, the way his mother did. And slowly, things become alright.

 

Harry keeps his promise and stays within the castle grounds for the rest of the year, never travelling beyond Hagrid’s hut. He tries to focus on Quidditch instead of Black or the growing tension in Gryffindor tower between Ron and Hermione over their pets. Exams arrive as suddenly as they always seem to and before he knows it, Harry is leaving Hagrid’s final exam celebration one night with Ron and Hermione. They’ve stayed later than usual, and Hermione is already berating them for not leaving when she suggested a few hours ago. Much longer and they will all miss dinner. But then Crookshanks appears, Scabbers leaps out of Ron’s pocket and into the emerging night, and Ron runs after the pair. Harry and Hermione have no choice but to follow.

When a giant black dog appears to shove Harry out of the way and attack Ron’s leg, Harry loses his breath. He doesn’t know what to do. Then they are emerging into the Shrieking Shack, horrified at the state of destruction until they find Ron.

“It’s a trap!” he warns, but Harry is already looking when Sirius emerges from the shadows. His face is gaunt with deep purple bruises beneath his eyes and barely any substance to his figure. He disarms Harry and Hermione, sending their wands flying with a manic grin.

Harry forgets that he is thirteen and skinny and wandless. He forgets that Black is powerful and has killed before. All Harry can think of is that the man responsible for his parents’ deaths is in front of him, and he throws himself at Black, hands reaching for his face. Sirius pushes Harry off, raising an arm to protect his dark eyes. Harry tumbles hard into the broken floorboards of the Shrieking Shack.

“Are you going to kill me, Harry?” Sirius asks.

“Why shouldn’t I? You might as well have done the same to my parents!” Harry can feel his temperature rising as he looks up from the ground.

“You don’t know the whole story, my boy,” Sirius replies, stepping towards him. “Let me tell you the truth.”

Before he can continue, Remus bursts through the door, drawing everyone’s attention.

“Stay away from him,” he yells, stepping in front of Harry and raising his wand.

“Remus,” Sirius’ eyes are wild. “Please, I have to finish this.”

“I won’t let you hurt him.”

Remus pushes Harry towards the bed where Ron and Hermione are still sitting in shock, stepping to remain between them and Sirius.

“There is only one person I will be hurting tonight,” Sirius croaks. He takes a step forward. Remus raises his wand but hesitates for the briefest moment. “Moony, trust me. Let me finish this.”

“Do not call me that,” Remus spits. In the second of anger, Sirius is able to disarm him and leap towards the bed. Remus jumps after him, but Sirius has already yanked Scabbers out from his hiding place. Ron and Hermione yell out in fear. By the time Remus can retrieve his wand, a look of understanding crosses his face. Harry watches him stand there and waits for him to do something, but Remus just moves towards Sirius and the rat in a detached way.

Then they are both threatening Scabbers, and Ron is whimpering behind him, and then Peter Pettigrew stands before them all.

“Sirius,” Remus beams. “I’m so sorry.”

Behind a curtain of mangy black hair, Sirius smiles.

 

***

 

Harry watches them move around the house like shadows, afraid to get too close, to say the wrong thing. He catches Remus looking at Sirius like he expects him to disappear. It is strange to have anyone here in their space, after years of it being just the two of them, but it is also strange to see Sirius at all. Harry watches the man he once hated come back to life, slowly. His face is still pale, no matter how much time he spends in the summer sun. His body is less angular, his eyes more keen. It takes Harry a while to see him without the hate growing in the pit of his stomach. It is easier when he is Padfoot, and Harry can remember the stories of the boy his father knew. They are sitting one afternoon, not doing anything in particular, when Harry catches him staring again.

“You look so much like him,” he says in a low voice. Harry doesn’t know what to say.

“Not the eyes, though,” Remus says, smiling at Harry from across the room. Harry smiles too, at ease again.

“No, those are all Evans,” Sirius agrees before letting off a laugh. “Guess she got her way in the end, didn’t she? You were godfather after all.”

Remus looks nervous for a second, but he chuckles too.

“What do you mean?” Harry asks.

“Your mother didn’t think I was up to the task,” Sirius explains. “James had to convince her to let me be your godfather.”

“Only because she knew you were too much of a child yourself,” Remus teases. Sirius grins at him.

Harry tries to imagine it. He’s thought a million times about growing up with his parents alive. It had always seemed strange that his Moony would have just been some family friend, and he certainly never thought about Remus and Sirius raising him.

“She knew we were a package deal,” Remus says in a quiet voice. “And James figured we would balance each other out.”

“The best laid plans,” Sirius says.

When Harry leaves his room that night to get a glass of water, he sees them through the window and stops. They sit in the back garden, neither saying anything. He can’t tell if they are looking at anything or nothing, but they sit shoulder to shoulder in the grass, holding each other’s hand.