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Year Three

Chapter Text

The big, shaggy, black dog crept towards the Shrieking Shack, nose in the air. There was something in the air that seemed to make it nervous, but it snuck forward all the same. Once inside, the dog sniffed around, poking into various rooms until it seemed satisfied. Then, it retreated into the bowels of the house. 

It wasn’t until the dog had settled into a room with no view of the outside that the dog became a man. The man slumped back against the wall, closing his eyes a moment. He was dressed in loose, ill fitting clothes in thick stripes - a prison garb. His dark hair was greasy and hung to his shoulders in stringy waves, his cheeks gaunt. 

A sharp click broke the silence and the man’s eyes flew open, grey nearly silver in the moonlight. He stared right into the barrel of the gun with no fear, instead, he lifted a sardonic brow. 

“Now this would be how I died. Spent all that time being blamed by my own kind, only to die at the end of a muggle’s gun.” He gave a near hysterical laugh, body shaking. It was almost as if he were in withdrawal. The figure in the doorway just stared right back.

“Who are you?”

“Oh me? I’m Sirius Black. Former prisoner of Azkaban.” his eyes, though wild, were unyielding. “Turns out my godson is going to Hogwarts and nearly died twice. Turns out the man who murdered my best friend and his wife is coming back. I’ll bet you anything that the rat that betrayed us to him is back too.” He was raving, tone half mad, but the gun actually lowered a notch.

“Sirius Black.” The man in the doorway repeated, and the man - Sirius - stilled for almost an entire second before he couldn’t contain the shake in his limbs anymore. “You're Harry’s godfather. Natalia’s nephew.” 

“I don’t know a Natalia. But my godson’s name is Harry.” the man in the doorway gave a sharp nod. 

“Are you using?” that earned him a questioning look, and the man gestured at how he shook, gun no longer pointed directly at him but at the floor between them.

“Using what?”

“Drugs.” the man snorted, crazed glint back in his eyes.

“Oh this?” with a dramatic wave of his hands, he put himself on display. “This is the after effects of Dementors. Soul sucking demons. Guards of Azkaban. They suck every happy memory out of you before they suck out your soul.” there was a bitter twist to his mouth. “Twelve years I spent in there with them. Twelve years for a betrayal that wasn’t mine. Not even the thought of a trial.” he snarled. “I would never have betrayed James and Lily. Never. I would have died first.” the mad glint was back in his eyes. “I’ll die before I let that rat get to Harry.” the gun disappeared as the man in the doorway sighed, stepping further into the room to reveal piercing blue eyes and sharp features. 

“You can’t help anyone like this.” was the blunt reply, and Sirius all but growled. The response was a roll of blue eyes. “There’s a bed upstairs.” was what he said instead. When Sirius only stared at him he moved closer, hands up to show he wasn’t a threat. When he reached down to heft Sirius off the ground, Sirius let him. 

“Why are you helping me?”

“Kid’s worse trouble than Stevie was. Natalia will need all the help she can get looking out for him.” that earned him a bemused look, but Sirius didn’t argue. He didn’t really know who these people were, but he was in no place to question it. “Name’s James by the way.” Sirius snorted out a laugh.

“Of course it is.” as soon as James had helped him settle on the bed, he met his gaze once more, wary.

“What would you have done if you didn’t believe me?” James’ piercing gaze held no sympathy.

“You’d be dead.”

Sirius gave a tired laugh. 

“Why did you believe me?” James rolled his shoulders, expression almost pained. 

“Nobody puts themselves through this on purpose.” Sirius looked down at himself and gave a slow nod. 

“Right. Cheers.” That earned him an almost smile before James disappeared. With a huff, Sirius settled down to sleep. He was pretty sure nothing James didn’t want inside would ever see the inside of the house and felt the safest he’d felt in years. He fell asleep between one breath and the next. 

 

>>>

 

Natasha wondered what it said about her that when she received the vial labeled basilisk poison she understood it for the apology it was. She wondered what it said about the sender considering it was not only an apology but a request. It only took her 12 hours to respond to the summons, and she did so by showing up in his private chambers. 

When he returned from his potions lab he found her sitting in the same chair she’d taken last time, leaving his preferred seat free, and he only hesitated a moment before joining her.

“Severus.” she greeted, though her expression was blank. It grated at him. 

“Tea?” he found himself offering, and she inclined her head, leaning back in the chair. She was silent and assessing as he called for a house elf, requesting tea, and watching it appear moments later. As soon as they each had a cup in hand, she spoke.

“Thank you for the gift.” he inclined his head. 

“You provided the material, I simply extracted it for you.” but she understood that was his way of saying you’re welcome. 

“I’m not looking for an apology.” she said then, because she had no interest in that. She knew perfectly well why he’d done what he’d done, understood it even if it’s not what she would do. “I’m more than willing to continue on as we were.” 

“You mean threatening me in my classroom?” but the sneer was near non existent. She smirked. 

“I haven’t threatened you since Harry’s first year.” she shot right back. She finally relaxed, slouching a bit into the chair, twisting to tuck her feet up under her. Severus blinked for a moment, never having seen her so comfortable before, but recovered quickly. “So, why did you reach out?” she asked, curious. She was careful to make sure her tone was not at all accusing. She really didn’t mind that he’d reached out after all. 

“Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban prison.” he didn’t bother hiding his distaste. At the slight frown that marred her brow, however, he elaborated. “Sirius Black was supposed to be the Secret Keeper for the Potter’s. Only the Secret Keeper can reveal the location of that which is hidden.” he didn’t have to explain what that meant. Tom Riddle had, after all, found where James and Lily had hidden with Harry. “After the attack, he killed 12 muggles as well as another of their group of friends - Peter Pettigrew. All that was left of him was a single finger.” Natasha took a sip of her tea as she digested the information. Her gaze was sharp when it lifted once more. 

“You aren’t sure it was him.” Severus’ sneer was more born out of his hatred for Sirius then anything else. 

“Sirius Black abandoned his own family for Potter. He was all but disowned by his mother. But he was also loyal. To a fault.” The curl of his lip remained. Natasha did her best to hide her smirk at his obvious distaste even as he defended the moral character of someone he clearly detested. “The Sirius Black I knew would have died before he let anything happen to James, and Lily. He was overjoyed when Harry was born.”

“But he was supposed to be the Secret Keeper.” she echoed his earlier words, frowning once more. “You don’t think he was?” 

“He was the obvious choice.” and they both knew what that meant. The most obvious was rarely the best option. 

“They had another close friend. Remus Lupin.” Severus immediately shook his head. 

“Impossible. The man is a werewolf. He never would have agreed, even if they had asked. Which I doubt they would have.” At Natasha’s lifted brow, he huffed. “To save themselves from the confrontation. Not lack of trust.” 

“Which leaves Peter Pettigrew.” She mused. “What do you remember about him?” Severus’ sneer returned.

“He was often where he shouldn’t have been. Easy to overlook. Unremarkable.” She nodded, taking another sip of tea. She didn’t have to tell him that was more of an asset than almost anything else. The ability to pass unseen. 

“If he’s alive he’ll have had to keep a low profile.” She mused, turning the thought over in her head. “Was he from a wizarding family?” Snape nodded, watching. 

“12 years is long enough to learn how to function in the muggle world.” 

“But not long enough to do it without leaving a trace.” She countered. “It’s nearly impossible to exist without a digital fingerprint and he can’t know enough to avoid that altogether.” She pulled out her phone, tapping out a few things before tucking it away again. “If he’s out there, Tony will find him. What I want to know is if he’s not. If he’s in the wizarding world.” Severus tilted his head, considering, eyes never leaving her face. 

“You really don’t think he’s dead?” 

“Nobody’s ever dead until there’s a body.” 

 

>>>

 

Sirius woke up shaking and barely managed to tip himself towards the edge of the bed before he vomited up the entire contents of his stomach. An arm caught him as his own gave out from the shaking, pressing a glass of water to his lips which he gulped at greedily. The glass was immediately pulled away. 

“Slowly.” Sirius blinked owlishly at James hovering over him, but gave a nod, sipping slowly when the water was returned. When he finished the water, he was guided back down to the bed, a cool cloth pressed against his forehead. He could barely hold in the groan. His whole body felt like it was on fire. 

“If this is the muggle way of dealing, I can’t say I like it.” that earned him a snort. 

“If you want to magic your way out of it, feel free.” Sirius’ eyes opened to narrow slits and he was faced with a smirk. 

“Bugger off. I don’t have a wand.” James’ head tilted. 

“Do you need one?”

“Not always. But my magic’s a bit weak. I haven’t had my wand in over a decade. My ability to do wandless magic is a bit lacking at the moment.”

“But you can do it.” Sirius cocked a brow. 

“Some. In theory.” James just stared back at him. He huffed out a breath. Lifting a shaky hand, brow crinkling in concentration, he flicked his wrist. All the candles in the room went out. Sweat beading on his brow, he gave another wave, and they all lit once more. He was nearly green from the effort, skin waxy, but James gave a pleased nod. 

“Good.” Sirius just tilted over to vomit in the bucket again.

“Bugger off.” he said with a bit more heat. 

“If you can use wandless magic it means you’re recovering faster than we expected.” and that had Sirius’ eyes brightening. “But it would still be beneficial to get you a wand.” 

“My wand.” 

“Does it matter?” Sirius’ mouth twitched into an almost smirk. 

“The wand chooses the wizard.” and his tone made it clear he was quoting someone. James frowned at him.

“Are they - sentient?” and he sounded sceptical. One of Sirius’ shoulders shifted in an attempt at a shrug. 

“I’m not actually sure. Though a wandmaker would probably say yes. All I can say is it’s a particular art. Every wand is a different wood, length, design, core, flexibility.” he trailed off, breathing slowing, eyelids drooping as he struggled to stay awake. “Different combinations compliment different types of magic - different people. You could say they reflect the personality of their owner.” His eyes were only slivers now, smoke grey and exhausted. James huffed and stood.

“Rest. We’ll get you a wand when you’re better.”

“I won’t be able to get into Diagon Alley. They’ll recognize me.” James shot him an offended look. 

“No they won’t.” Sirius didn’t have a chance to ask what he meant because exhaustion dragged him back into oblivion. 

 

>>>

 

Sirius wobbled on his feet but forced himself to stand tall as James watched him from the doorway, expression unreadable. Sirius grit his teeth but forced himself to walk, albeit stiffly, across the room and back.

“So. What brought you to the Shrieking Shack?” Sirius asked, trying to distract himself from the discomfort in his limbs, the shakiness that threatened to knock him over. When James didn’t answer, he glanced over to confirm the man was still standing there. 

“Shrieking Shack?” Sirius rolled his eyes at the obvious evasion. 

“They say it’s haunted.” James lifted a brow at his smirk. 

“Is it?” Sirius shrugged.

“Might be. But not as far as I’m aware.”

“Something tells me there’s more to it.” Sirius’ smirk widened. 

“People did used to hear screams and howls from here.” the deadpan look James shot at him had him snickering and then grimacing as it shot pain through his side. His arm shot out to brace himself against the wall as he caught his breath. He shot a glare at James but the other man’s face was carefully blank. Sirius had known him long enough now though to see the carefully hidden amusement. He shook his head, taking a careful breath.  

“Will you ever tell me how you know them?” Sirius asked, no longer joking. He didn’t look away from the other man because he knew if he did, he was likely to disappear. For a moment, they just stared at each other and Sirius wondered if the other man would walk away anyways. Then James sighed. 

“I knew them. Before.” And there was a world of pain in James’ gaze. “Steve. And Natalia.” 

“Natalia. That’s Harry’s aunt. Lily’s younger sister.” Because James hadn’t denied him the information he’d requested about his godson though they’d yet to speak of it. James just nodded, and Sirius fought to speak through the tightness in his chest. “How did you know them?” it took nearly all of his courage to tamp down on the nerves that came with finally asking. James’ eyes went practically opaque - an icy blue rather than the storm colour Sirius was more used to. He knew it meant the other was remembering something. He didn’t have to experience memory problems himself to recognize them. He had ben an auror for a few years before - well. Before. 

“Steve and I met before the second world war. In Brooklyn.” James finally said, and Sirius blinked. 

“That was decades ago.” James’ smirk was humourless. 

“Yeah.”

“How?” and even asking he knew he wouldn’t like the answer.

“They froze my body. Cryogenics. They would wipe my memories and then send me under.” Sirius’ face was pale with horror.

“Who?” because once he had his strength back - a wand - he would tear those bastards apart. Even if he hadn't now considered James a friend, people who did such monstrous things didn’t deserve to continue. 

“Hydra.” James grimaced. “They were Nazis. But more focused on experimentation. Augmentation. Ended up breaking away from Hitler’s campaign to continue their good work because their interests no longer lined up.” There was no missing his bitterness.

“Did they do that to Steve too?” Because he’d seen pictures of Harry’s adoptive family now - seen the Steve that James was describing. He looked no older than Bucky did - no older than Sirius himself if even. 

“No.” and Sirius couldn’t help the wash of relief that James at least hadn’t had to witness that horror happening to his best friend. He didn’t know if he could have survived seeing his own James used like that. He wasn’t really certain how he’d survived losing him. “Punk crashed a plane into the ice. He has this super serum. Made him stronger, more durable. It kept him alive even in the ice. Luckily, it was the good guys that found him.” 

Sirius nodded, not really sure what a super serum was though he could hazard a guess. It made him nervous to ask about Natalia, but now he had to know. now James just looked tired. 

“Natalia was kidnapped as a baby by an organization known as the Red Room. They trained girls into the perfect assassin and spy for Mother Russia.” his lips curled in disgust and Sirius understood the feeling. He’d always hated the idea of child soldiers. “Hydra loaned me to them to help train the girls. I met Natalia.” There was a wealth of emotion that passed through his eyes and Sirius knew what it meant. Whoever Natalia was, or had been at least, James had loved her. Might even still. 

“Then what?” he couldn’t help but ask, because if it had gone well, they wouldn’t be here right now. 

“We broke our programming.” the phrase left a bad taste in Sirius’ mouth. “And then they caught us.” James shrugged, restless, and so Sirius pushed on.

“And now?” James’ gaze was sharp but not mean.

“Now there’s nobody left to catch us.” his lips twisted in the parody of a smile. “Come on,” and he pushed off the doorframe. “You need to eat something.” 

Sirius accepted the shift in conversation and offer of support in the form of James just stepping right in and pulling his arm across his shoulders, wrapping his own arm around Sirius’ waist. Even as James helped him from the room though, Sirius couldn’t help but wonder why this man was putting so much effort into hiding from the people he obviously wanted to be near.

 

>>>

 

Bucky didn’t know why he’d decided to help Sirius at first. He could’ve left the dog who’d turned into a man on his own - but he’d heard about the escaped mass murderer - heard who he’d been blamed for betraying. Yet when he’d looked at the man slouched on the floor, there’d been something about him that told Bucky something wasn’t quite right. Truth be told, he’d had no intention of shooting Sirius the moment he’d shown himself, but it hadn’t hurt to learn more about the other man’s motives and it was certainly enlightening to find out some of the truths Sirius had shared. 

He’d actually been surprised that Sirius had waited so long to start prying. He’d seen the curiosity burning in his gaze, but he’d allowed Bucky his secrets, and had answered as many of Bucky’s questions as he could. 

He was pretty sure that was one of he reasons he hadn’t minded helping Sirius get a new wand. Both he and Sirius had ignored the tears that had pooled in Sirius’ eyes when they’d gone to the wand shop. 

The wand maker, a man named Mr. Ollivander, had looked at them both for a long moment before modding and hustling back into his shop. 

“I can’t say I’m not disappointed of your need to come back to my shop.” the man said when he returned with a box. Sirius gave a sharp nod.

“Can’t say I disagree.” the wizard managed to reply. The wand maker gave a wry smile. 

“Try this, Mr. Black.” and there’d been obvious surprise on Sirius’ face, though it hadn’t been at the recognition, it had been at the wand. He still accepted it though, giving it a wave. The temperature in the warmed dramatically and Sirius shuddered.

“Thank you, Mr. Ollivander.”

 

Now, as they sat by the fire that Sirius had conjured outside, Bucky watched as Sirius toyed with magic, expression relaxed in a way Bucky had never seen before. 

“Want to see something really neat?” Sirius asked, eyes sparkling with mischief. Bucky didn’t bother hiding the smile that mirrored itself on his own features. Though he couldn’t help but notice that Sirius never used his name. Considering all the time they’d spent together, how close they’d become purely just from regular contact, Bucky realized it was a bit odd.

“You never use my name.” The words were out before he could help himself, but he figured that was another sign of their friendship - that he felt able to be so free with his words. Felt able to ask without thinking. Sirius froze, the smile slipping from his features. He swallowed, obviously uncomfortable, but didn’t deny Bucky his curiosity. He never did.

“It’s hard. Calling you James.” And even as he said it, there was the slightest of flinch in how the skin around his eyes tightened. “James was my best mate. He was - he was family to me. But now he’s gone.” 

“I’m not him.” His voice was low, hurt, but Sirius’ nod was emphatic.

“Exactly. And I’d never want you to be. Honestly, no offence, but you couldn’t be. Nobody could be.” He sighed, shaking his head. “Even if he were to come back from the dead right now he still wouldn’t be James - not my James.” His shrug was helpless. “I’d probably have to call him something else, honestly.” 

Bucky just blinked at him. That hadn’t been the reaction he’d expected, but he found he didn’t mind it. 

“You could call me Bucky.” He found himself offering, again without thinking, and Sirius quirked a brow at him. He waited for the inevitable reaction that name always seemed to gain, but once again Sirius just shrugged, smirk sliding back into place. 

“Bucky.” He said, And it sounded a little funny with Sirius’ accent, but he didn’t mind. “I like it.” Bucky found himself smiling back once more. 

“What were you saying about showing me something cool?” And Sirius’ smirk widened to a grin, humour back, none the wiser of just how monumental of a moment that had been for Bucky - how easy Sirius had made it by just accepting him. 

 

>>>

 

“We haven’t been able to find anything about where Sirius might be.” Natasha’s voice floated out from the shadows, and Severus didn’t bother looking up from his potion. When he didn’t respond, Natasha slipped forward, moving to peer over his shoulder into the cauldron, though she didn’t so much as brush against him. 

“There hasn’t been so much as a sighting of a stray dog.” Severus finally confirmed when his attention was no longer needed on the brew. The slight scrunch of her brow was the only outward sign of her displeasure. 

“Where could he be hiding?”

“I think, perhaps, a better question would be, is there anyone who would help him?” For the first time since he’d known Natasha, she opened her mouth to speak, and then broke off, blinking. “You know who it could be.” And it wasn’t really a question. Natasha didn’t answer though, lips pursed, face paler than normal. She stepped back, towards the door, and there was a faint tremor in her hand that she hid by clenching them into fists. Severus found an unexpected rush of worry slide through him. 

“Natasha.” And her gaze snapped to his face, but he could tell her thoughts were elsewhere. He found himself getting an unexpected glimpse of a man with dark hair and piercing blue eyes and blood - a flash of pain and so much blood - 

He blinked, shaking the image free, shuddering at the lingering pain from the unexpected memory. He’d met Natasha’s gaze many times and never before had he seen a piece of her memory. He found himself staring into her eyes once more and she took another step back. 

“I have to go.” 

“Be safe.” And he regretted the weakness of saying such things as soon as the words left his mouth, but Natasha offered him just the smallest flash of a smile which almost made such foolishness worth saying out loud. 

Chapter Text

Harry didn’t want to go back to Hogwarts. He’d been for two years already, and on both occasions his life, and the lives of his friends - his family - had been threatened. He was pretty sure that sort of thing wasn’t supposed to be normal, and yet for him, it had become the norm. He didn’t like that one bit. In fact, it made him fairly certain that Hogwarts wasn’t the best place for him. The only thing holding him back from just telling his aunt he never wanted to go back was the fact that if he did, he would rarely, if ever, get to see his friends again. He loved his friends, and the thought of not being able to see them regularly was a terrifying one. 

Harry huffed out a breath, flopping back on the grass in the mock quidditch pitch uncle Tony had put in for him behind the house, staring up at the clouds floating across the sky. It would be so much easier if he wasn’t so sure that Voldemort was alive and trying to get back; because he was the reason Harry was in this pickle in the first place. 

“Hiya Harry,”

“What are you doing”

“Down there?” Came the sing song back and forth of Fred and George, both standing over him and blocking out his view of the sky. Harry just rolled his eyes. 

“Thinking.” 

“Dangerous pass time, that.”

“What’s troubling you, Harry?” 

Harry sighed. 

“Hogwarts is dangerous.” He admitted, unable to help but watch the twins’ expressions for their reaction. Neither of them were in the least bit surprised, but they did both then choose to flop down on the ground as well, one one either side of him. 

“Never a dull moment with you around, Harry.” Fred agreed.

“Before you were there it was practically dreary.” George put in. 

“That doesn’t actually make me feel any better.” Harry tossed back. He found himself in a tangle of limbs as both twins set upon him. He gasped for breath, laughing despite himself as they tickled him mercilessly, and when they finally let up, they all fell back in a tangle of limbs, no longer just taking up their own space. Harry shook his head at their antics, even as he got his breath back.

“What’s really eating you?” George asked them, and it was obvious from his tone that the question now was serious. 

“Every year someone gets hurt. Every year its worse. Uncle Tony nearly died. So did Ginny.” So did I. He thought, but he didn’t say it out loud. “What if this year that finally happens? Whatever sort of magic is making it possible for Voldemort to come back, it keeps getting stronger, and I don’t know anything. What if someone breaks into the castle and we’re none the wiser? What then?” He was working himself into a bit of a panic and it was only the close contact of two people he now considered some of his closest friends that helped him not fall apart completely. 

When the twins didn’t speak right away though, he couldn’t help but shift so he could look between their faces. 

“What?” He couldn’t help but ask, because their silence always meant they knew more than they’d thought to share. “What is it?”

“What if”

“There was a way”

“To know who was in the castle”

“And where exactly they went?”

Harry sat up, twisting around so he could look at them both at the same time. 

“Is there?” The twins exchanged a look, and Harry could practically see the conversation flying back and forth between them before they nodded, pushing to the feet and pulling Harry after him. Harry didn’t argue, just let himself be pulled along. 

They dragged him all the way to the room they shared every time they visited, pulling him in and shutting the door behind them. 

“Jarvis?” Fred called out. 

“Right away, Mr. Weasley.” Harry tilted his head, curious. It was George who answered.

“He lets us know when anyone’s coming.” Harry couldn’t help but roll his eyes again. If they needed Jarvis to make sure nobody interrupted them, it was probably something they shouldn’t be doing anyways. Not that Harry minded, really, it just seemed to be a habit of theirs. 

“We found it in Filch’s office.” Fred said then, grinning from ear to ear even as George pulled a piece of parchment out from a hidden pocket in one of his bags. Harry only knew it was there because Fred and George had gifted him with one of his own as a thank you after the whole fiasco with the diary the year before. 

They all agreed that if Harry had somewhere to hide things he didn’t want found, that sort of situation could be avoided again. 

George took out his wand and Harry felt the moment that Jarvis reacted, a frisson of electricity sliding over his skin. They’d discovered over the summer that Jarvis could emit a sort of signal that hid all uses of magic from the outside world, and they’d used it to get around the trace on underage magic. 

With what had been going on, his entire family agreed that it would be better if he could practice over the summer as well, and he had to admit it was fun running experiments with his uncle Tony and uncle Bruce. 

Harry watched carefully as George touched the tip of his wand to the map.

“I solemnly swear I am up to no good.” before Harry’s eyes, ink spread out across the parchment from the point of George’s wand. Harry saw the words curling out on the front and leaned closer for a better look. 

 

Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs

Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief-Makers

are proud to present

THE MARAUDER'S MAP

 

“The Marauder’s Map.” Harry read allowed, brow furrowing in confusion. “But who are they? These Marauder’s?”

“Dunno really.” Fred admitted. 

“But they were bloody brilliant.”

“Pranksters too.”

“Should see what it says”

“To people it doesn’t want to be read by.” They both snickered before offering the map to Harry. Harry accepted it gingerly, unable to help his curiosity and opening the self-proclaimed map carefully, peering at the contents. His eyes widened in surprise. Not only was it a map - but it was moving - and there were little footprints for everyone on the map with little tags to display who each set of footprints represented. Harry’s eyes darted over the map, taking in every detail as fast as he could, noting the position of the different teachers before blinking owlishly up at the twins.

“You’re just giving it to me?” he couldn’t help the disbelief in his tone. This was an incredibly useful tool. 

“We’ve already memorized all of the secret passages listed,” Fred admitted. 

“And we’re very good at getting around unseen,” George continued.

“And really, we’d rather you had it so you’ll come back to Hogwarts.” Fred finished. Harry shot them an exasperated look.

“How did you know I was thinking of not going back?”

“Easy, mate. You looked sad every time you looked at any of us.” 

“Not that anyone else noticed.” George assured. 

“You did.” Harry noted, rueful. The twins shrugged.

“Of course.” they admitted, in tandem. Harry shook his head, looking back down at the map. This was brilliant. As long as he made sure to check the map regularly, he would never have to worry about being caught unawares by someone in the castle who shouldn’t be there. 

“Right - you’ll be wanting to hide it, I’m sure.” Fred cut in. George flourished his wand again, bringing the tip right over the map once more.

“Mischief managed.” and just like when it had appeared, the ink all seemed to drain away back into the centre of the page. 

“Brilliant.” Harry couldn’t help but murmur, awed. This was an incredible feat of magic. 

“We know. We hope you’ll use it well, Harry.”

“I will. Promise.” then he looked up, grin splitting across his features. “And if you ever need to borrow it, you know where to find it.” Harry folded it up carefully, tucking it away. He couldn’t wait to explore more of the castle with the help of the map, and for the first time in months, looked forward to going back to school. 

 

>>>

 

“Harry, can I speak with you a moment?” His aunt called from the backdoor, and Harry immediately landed his broom, hair windblown, cheeks flushed, grinning wide. He waved at the rest of the Weasley children, still on their brooms, carrying his over his shoulder to meet his aunt in the doorway. 

“Fred and George think I’m good enough for the team.” he blurted out as soon as he was within earshot. “They’re pretty sure I’d make a great seeker.” His aunt Tasha smiled indulgently at him, but there was a tightness to her expression that told him something was wrong. The euphoria he’d felt from flying immediately started to fade.

“What is it? What’s happened?” he asked immediately, following her inside the house and propping his broom against the doorframe. As soon as the backdoor was closed, she turned to face him, worry more prominent. 

“Have you been keeping up with the news lately?” she lead with, and Harry frowned. His aunt didn’t often dance around the point. 

“Not really. I’ve mostly been studying. And working on my summer assignments.” he shrugged, nose scrunching in distaste. “And the regular news is always trying to criticize you guys.” his aunts expression softened some.

“That’s true. But you know we aren’t in any real trouble.” 

“I know. But it’s still stupid. You’re always fighting to protect everyone - risking your lives - but as soon as even the smallest thing goes wrong you’re practically the villains.” he shook his head but his expression didn’t lose the belligerent edge. “Is that what this is about? Have they said something else?”

“Not exactly. Not about us anyways.” Harry felt a chill go down his spine.

“About me?” Natasha sighed. 

“Sort of.” Natasha sat down in one of the arm chairs and Harry copied instinctually. 

“Why don’t you want to tell me?” he couldn’t help but ask as she hesitated once more. This time, she reached over to take his hand, squeezing it gently.

“A man named Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban prison.” she told him evenly, eyes never leaving his face. “He’s said to have killed over a dozen people, including one of his close childhood friends.” her expression was so somber that Harry felt the dread pool in his gut. 

“What else?” his mouth was dry. He knew whatever she was leaving for last had to be the worst news. 

“He was also accused of alerting Voldemort to the location of the Potters.” Harry’s entire mind went blank.

“What?” he asked, though he’d heard her perfectly well. His hand tightened reflexively on hers. The man who’d sold his parents out to Voldemort had escaped prison? 

“Harry.” and his aunts voice was urgent, drawing his attention back to her. He blinked and realized she must have said his name more than once if the worry on her face was anything to go by. 

“I don’t understand.” he finally managed. “Who-” he began to ask, before shaking his head, trying to focus. “Why?”

“He was best friends with your father.” she told him slowly, as if she were talking to a frightened animal, eyes never leaving his face. He wondered if it were possible to go into shock from this sort of news. “But I may have evidence that he wasn’t guilty.” Harry felt like the floor had been ripped right from under his feet. He felt the tears pool in his eyes, unwelcome. 

“Why are you telling me all this?” he all but demanded, even though he knew exactly why. She would never keep this sort of thing from him. 

“Because he might be looking for you. If he’s guilty, you could be in danger. If he’s not guilty, you’re technically his godson.”

“He practically murdered my parents.” and even Harry was surprised by the fury in his voice. 

“We don’t know that for certain. And the evidence we have so far actually implies that he was innocent. That it was someone else who betrayed your parents.” Harry could hardly breathe around the lump in his throat. 

“I don’t know what you want me to say.” Harry finally managed, and for the first time he could really remember, his aunt looked hurt, though the expression disappeared quickly. Harry pushed to his feet, drawing away, feeling disoriented. “Thank you for telling me.” he managed to say before he all but sprinted down the hall to his room, bursting inside and then locking the door. Chest heaving. What exactly was he supposed to do with this information? The man who had given up his parents hadn’t given up his parents? Who’d murdered people hadn’t actually murdered anyone? It was all running circles in his head and he didn’t even know where to start.

“Jarvis, give me everything you have on Sirius Black. Including whatever notes aunt Tasha’s made. She seems to think he’s not guilty of his crimes.” and he couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice. 

“Right away, sir.” Even as the words began to compile on a suspended list in front of him, Harry’s mind reeled. What if he was actually behind the death of his parents and coming after Harry now? What would he do? He realized even as he had the thought that there was no way his aunt would let a convicted murderer anywhere near him. Despite the difficulty of keeping safe at Hogwarts so far, something as simple as a convicted murderer would definitely be something his aunt could handle without any outside force. 

Then the thought hit him.

Shat if Sirius Black really wasn’t guilty? Then what?

He decided immediately that was something better solved when he had more information. 

 

Thoughts settling, Harry began to go through the information Jarvis had provided, and the longer he did so, the guiltier he felt. He hadn’t meant to pull away from his aunt like that - hadn’t meant to be so distant. It had happened faster than he’d been able to process, really, and now he was at a loss. The knock on his door came as a ready distraction but he hesitated, unsure of what to say. 

“Come in.” he finally called out, and his bedroom door pushed open, revealing his uncle Clint. 

“How’s it going, kid?” Harry flushed. 

“Is aunt Tasha okay?” Clint came right into the room, flopping down on the bed next to where Harry sat. 

“She’s fine. Worried about you.” 

“Do you think Sirius Black is guilty?” Clint glanced at the information hovering in front of where Harry sat, eyes tracking the information. 

“No.” 

“Why?”

“Because if he was guilty, he wouldn’t have made the mistake with that massacre.” Harry blinked, turning to look at his uncle. 

“What?”

“Anyone who was actually guilty wouldn’t have gone on a rampage like that. He would’ve hidden. Only people who do something this big and violent are people who aren’t thinking straight. Who are angry.” Harry shot to his feet, fingers flipping through the information.

“Peter Pettigrew.” Harry breathed, spinning around to look at his uncle. “Was that the real killer?” his voice shook. Clint pushed to his feet, putting a hand on Harry’s shoulder. 

“No. Voldemort killed your parents.”

“But Pettigrew betrayed them.” Clint ran through his hair, squeezing Harry’s shoulder with the other. 

“Yeah, he did.” Harry felt the tears in his eyes and scrubbed them away with his knuckles. Clint pulled him in, hugging him tight. 

“Why do you think Sirius is coming after me then?” he asked, face pressed against Clint’s sternum. He always felt so small like this, but safe. 

“I don’t think he’s coming after you, Harry.”

“Then why escape?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it?”

Chapter Text

“How’s he doing?” Natasha asked when Clint found her on the roof. 

“Shaken up. But fine.” he settled down next to her, offering her the second bottle in his hands. She accepted the beer gratefully, taking a slow pull. 

“Maybe I should’ve waited to tell him.” 

“If he’d found out we’d been hiding it from him, it would’ve been worse.” Natasha hummed, not disagreeing, but obviously unhappy with it. 

“We don’t know he’ll come after Harry.” 

“We don’t know he won’t.” Clint countered. “Plus you know as well as I do it’s 90% likely he’s not a murderer.” 

“Why’s he hiding from us then?” she snapped, frustrated, rolling the bottle between her hands. 

“Who says he is?” Natasha gave him a flat look. 

“You know just as well as I do.” She tossed his own words back at him. Clint grimaced. 

“You still think Barnes is out there? That he’s helping Black hide?” Natasha’s grip grew tighter on the bottle, knuckles going white. 

“I know he is. Nobody else would be able to keep him from me.” but under her frustration, Clint heard the tremor. 

“What are you scared of, Nat?” and he turned to look at her, eyes sharp on her face, beer ignored on the rooftop. “What about him has you so rattled?” she turned to meet his gaze, and there was a rawness there he hadn’t expected. 

“I knew him.” Clint frowned, because he knew that. He knew the Winter Soldier had helped train Red Room operatives. Just as soon as he had the thought, he realized that wasn’t at all what she meant. His eyes went wide.

“Oh. Oh.” he rocked back, gaze blank for a moment, picking up his drink to take a long drink. “Well shit.” she gave a humourless laugh.

“Sums it up nicely.” Clint shot her a hard look.

“You don’t remember, do you?” She lifted a single shoulder in a shrug, but it wasn’t at all comforting. 

“Not really. Bits and pieces at best.” Clint’s jaw tensed, the line of his shoulder setting as his muscles bunched to reflect his unease. 

“I could take him out. Steve would never have to know.” because if Natasha was afraid - if Barnes had done something to her to make her this afraid-

His thoughts were cut off by her hand covering his, easing some of his tension as she offered a tired smile.

“You’d regret it and you know it.” he opened his mouth to argue but she beat him to it with a soft, though self-deprecating smile. “It’s not that I’m afraid of him. I’m afraid of what I feel when I think about him.” her expression wavered, making her look almost lost. Clint flipped his hand over, twisting their fingers together. 

“Whatever the truth is, I’ll help you find it.” and the soft smile was more genuine now, less hurt. 

“I know.” she tilted over then, resting her head on his shoulder. Clint just brushed his thumb across her knuckles, mind racing. Whatever Natasha and Barnes had been to each other, it was definitely going to complicate things, especially with Steve. His gaze hardened as he stared over the fields behind the house. Whatever happened, he’d never let anything or anyone hurt his family. 

 

>>>

 

Harry’s eyes were bright with excitement when he ran into the living room, letter in hand. 

“Neville said his gran’s alright with meeting us in Diagon this year!” he exclaimed, thrilled, immediately handing his aunt the letter. “He said she wants you to write her directly,” he admitted, “But that’s easy, right?” he was beaming at her ear to ear so Natasha nodded, though her brow furrowed as she read the letter over. It was slightly too vague for her liking and she got the feeling that Neville’s grandmother very much wanted to size them up. She looked at Harry who was waiting patiently for her verdict and didn’t resist returning his smile. 

“Alright. Get me some paper. I’ll write back now. What do you think of this weekend?” Harry’s eyes lit up.

“Perfect!” and he pulled out his wand, giving it a flick towards the other side of the room where paper and pen floated over easily. Ever since the incident where she’d told him about Sirius Black, Harry had been trying really hard to pretend as if nothing was wrong, and while she appreciated his effort, it worried her a bit that he wanted to avoid the issue so desperately. 

“When do you want to meet with them?”

“As soon as possible.” Harry responded immediately. “I haven’t seen him yet this summer and it’s already July!” Natasha smirked. the span of just over a month was still so monumental to Harry, and it warmed her. She appreciated the fact that he was still able to be so young and innocent to some things. 

“Alright. I’ll let them know we’re free this weekend, and early next. We’ve got Narcissa and Draco coming for dinner next Thursday, and Hermione and her parents are coming over on Friday.” Harry nodded eagerly, eyes bright. The Weasleys had left two days earlier, heading to Egypt to visit their second eldest son Charlie, who was there researching dragons. They’d promised to visit once more upon their return, but it left their house much quieter for the next few weeks. 

“I’m coming this time.” Tony announced as he came in the room, pout on his features. He’d missed almost every trip to Diagon Alley so far, something intentional on Natasha’s part, as they only went twice or so a summer, but it looked like now it was unavoidable. She lifted a brow at him but he just crossed his arms firmly over his chest. “We’ve already experimented with the reactor and magical environments and know it’ll be fine. Plus most wizards won’t have any idea of who I am. The risk is minimal.” He was all but glaring at Natasha and she rolled his eyes. Everything he’d listed made perfect sense, but the other reason she’d been concerned was because he was almost incapable of not drawing attention. She shrugged though, knowing it wasn’t worth the argument.

“You’re welcome to join us Tony as long as you promise to behave yourself.” Tony rolled his eyes.

“It’s not my fault interesting things always happen when I’m around.” which earned a muffled laugh from Harry. Tony shot him a wink. Natasha shook her head, turning her attention back to the letter. She wondered if either of them were capable of behaving long enough to not draw attention, and then wondered why she bothered thinking about it. With their luck, she’d be surprised if they didn’t somehow end up on the front page.

 

>>>

 

“Neville!” Harry shouted, thrilled, and he raced forward from where he’d been walking between Natasha and Tony, throwing his arms around Neville in a hug. They both watched Neville jolt in shock before he hugged Harry back just as tightly, blushing but obviously thrilled by the action. “I’ve missed you! How’s your studying been going? I read that book on herbology you suggested. It was fascinating. Uncle Tony already said we could plan a garden so I could try growing some of the plants! You’ll have to help me pick the seeds. And then maybe you can come over and show me how to take care of them properly!” Despite his obvious surprise at Harry’s enthusiastic greeting, he didn’t look at all surprised by Harry’s rambling. 

“I’d love to help.” was what he said instead before he seemed to remember his grandmother, and then he all but shrunk in on himself, glancing back up at the matronly woman. Natasha and Tony exchanged a glance before stepping forward. 

“You must be Mrs. Longbottom. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Natasha greeted, meeting the older woman’s gaze head on. “I’m Harry’s aunt, Natasha Romanov, and this is one of his uncle’s, Tony Stark.”

“I’ve heard plenty about you, Ms. Romanov. Mr. Stark.” the woman replied, though from her tone it was impossible to tell if that was a good or bad thing. From the way Neville’s ears went pink though, it was clear she didn’t mean it to be flattering. Natasha allowed a smile to grace her features, as polite as it was sharp. 

“We’re so glad you and Neville were able to join us today. Harry’s been so excited.” and that seemed to soften the woman ever so slightly as she looked down at Harry who beamed right back up at her.

“Is it alright if Neville and I go to apothecary first, Mrs. Longbottom? Uncle Tony will come with us, right uncle Tony?” he requested politely, and the woman nodded her head even as Tony did. Harry immediately hooked an arm through Neville’s, dragging him along, chattering a mile a minute. Caught up by his friend, Neville didn’t even have the chance to look back at them with worry. Natasha met Tony’s gaze and nodded as the man followed the boys off. Then she let the smile fall from her features. 

“No need for that, Ms. Romanov.” the woman waved away her words before she could even open her mouth. “What do you think you’re doing, bringing Harry around like this when Sirius Black is on the loose?” she demanded, voice and eyes hard. “That madman will do anything he can to get to Harry.”

Natasha lifted a brow, allowing some of her surprise to show. Whatever she’d expected, it hadn’t been this. 

“Harry’s perfectly safe with us. I’m fully aware that Sirius Black escaped Azkaban. Just as I’m aware that the likelihood of him being responsible for the Potter’s death is unlikely.” The woman in front of her stared. Then she drew herself up and Natasha could see why she was well respected within the wizarding community. 

“I think it would be best if you told me everything.”

Chapter Text

“I never believed Sirius capable of such a thing.” was the eventual reply once Natasha had started speaking. Natasha just stared. “You may not have known this, but my son and his wife were quite close with them. Lily and Alice were particularly close, both expecting at the same time as they were.” Natasha nodded. She’d heard as such from Molly.

“He still escaped though.” she couldn’t help but say. “And he didn’t approach us.” 

“Are you so sure he hasn’t?” that had alarm bells ringing in Natasha’s mind. “He’s a very skilled wizard. Even after the horrors he would’ve been subjected to in Azkaban, that doesn’t change.” she lowered her voice, eyes sharp. “Do you know what animagi are?” 

Natasha gave a slow nod, trying to remember everything she’d learned about them.

“People who can turn into animals. One specific animal. Minerva’s an animagus. A cat.” 

“Indeed. While they were all unregistered, I do believe those boys were animagi as well.” and that - that changed things.

“Do you have any idea what they were?” she asked, and the older woman shook her head, looking almost apologetic. 

“I don’t. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s kept closer than you thought. Sirius adored that boy with everything he was. I think it would be better to consider just what sort of danger Harry might be in if he found it worth escaping.” 

That hadn’t even crossed Natasha’s mind and she cursed herself for it. 

“Now then. I do believe my grandson and your nephew have been left alone for long enough.”

“Tony’s with them.” Mrs. Longbottom lifted a brow.

“He is much too curious to be of much good.” Natasha cracked a smile. It was certainly true. 

 

>>>

 

“If you keep following her, one day she’ll notice.” Sirius pointed out from his spot at the table, taking a sip of his coffee. Bucky shot him a flat glare but Sirius was far too used to the look to be even remotely perturbed. He raked a critical eye over Bucky’s glamour despite the fact that he knew it was perfect since he’d done it himself. Then he shifted to see out the window out of the corner of his eye. He could never resist getting a look at Harry, even if he couldn’t approach him yet. He looked just like his father; the hair, the bone structure; and those eyes were Lily’s eyes; but the way he carried himself, the way he acted, that was all this new family. Sirius thought it suited him. He glanced at the woman, the one Bucky called Natalia, and was once again struck by her likeness to her older sister. It was only at first glance; Lily never could’ve moved with such deadly grace; and she’d been slimmer in build like Petunia. But there was something in the eyes, he thought. Something about those Evans genes that seemed to just strike through. 

“Why not just say hello?” Sirius asked, not for the first time. He understood wanting to be cautious, he too was a wanted man after all. What he didn’t understand was all the extra cloak and dagger. Why not just approach this Natalia? 

“It’s not the right time.” even as he said it, there was a fragility to his gaze that Sirius understood well. 

“No worries, mate. Best to be well informed, after all.” Bucky just offered a weak smile in answer, eyes still tracking Natalia through the window. 

Sirius wondered if maybe all James’ were weak for strong-willed redheads. 

 

>>>

 

“Steve, do you have a moment?” Natasha requested, hovering in the doorway. Steve glanced up from his sketchbook though she knew he’d spent more time frowning at it than drawing. 

“Of course.” he closed the book, setting it aside, standing unconsciously as she stepped in the room, wiping his hands on his pants. She moved forward, settling on the edge of one of the chairs and Steve sat again. She always found it endearing that he couldn’t seem to shake the habit of rising when a woman entered the room and waiting for her to sit before he did. 

He took one long look at her, a frown slowly creasing his brow.

“Is everything okay, Nat?” and she didn’t know how to answer that. 

“I wanted to talk to you about your search.” she lead with, and felt a rush of guilt when pain flickered across his features. 

“Tony thinks I should stop looking.” he muttered, and it was clear by how tight the muscles in his jaw again that he was still angry about it. Natasha thought about all the programs Tony constantly had running in the background focusing solely on finding James, and wondered if Steve was really so absorbed in his self imposed quest that he couldn’t see Tony had said it because he was worried that Steve was running himself into the ground; and he was right to worry. Steve looked worse than she’d ever seen him. Even the serum couldn’t seem to keep up with him anymore. There were dark bags under his eyes and a strain to him that said he probably hadn’t slept properly in weeks if not months. She felt a rush of frustration and her back straightened.

“It’s because he’s worried.” she told him, voice flatter then she’d intended, but she didn’t like that Steve was taking out his frustration on Tony. Steve immediately deflated, sagging back into the chair. 

“I know.” He admitted, guilt evident as was the apology as he met her gaze. “But I’ve been searching for months. He’s always just out of reach.” He sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. “I don’t know what to do Nat. I can’t stop looking, but it hurts that he doesn’t want me to find him.” 

Natasha sat quietly for a moment, and then realized that she was just as much in the wrong as Steve was if she wasn’t more honest with him. They were family and she needed to treat him as such. 

“Where was the last place you found a trace?” 

“Germany.” 

“How long ago was that?” 

“two weeks.” and the frown was back, this time suspicious. It hurt to see that look aimed at her. “Why are you asking all of a sudden? You’ve been pretty careful to stay out of this.” She met his gaze evenly.

“He’s in Scotland. Or at least somewhere between here and London.” She watched the tension flood Steve’s frame as he went absolutely still.

“How do you know?”

“I saw him.” The anger was immediate but he still didn’t move a muscle.

“When?” 

“In the spring. After the basilisk. He stopped Lockhart from casting a memory spell on me.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Natasha’s chin went up. 

“He disappeared right after. I didn’t follow him.” 

“Why not?” 

“Because he helped me. It didn’t seem right to betray that.”

“God damnit Nat.” Steve burst out, surging to his feet only to pace away, shoving a hand through his hair before spinning back. “Is there anything else you’ve been hiding from me?” She didn’t stand, but her eyes frosted.

“Yes.” 

“Would you care to share?” and his tone was biting. Natasha had never been one to back down from a challenge. 

“I knew him.” Steve’s eyes narrowed. “In the Red Room. The memories - they’re complicated.” and she refused to show any emotion in the face of Steve’s anger no matter how much it hurt to talk about. “But I started to remember him after D.C.. Just flashes then. I think he remembers me too.”

“All this time.” Steve started, voice low, furious. “All this time I’ve been chasing him all over the world and he’s been right here. With you.” Natasha stood then, facing him head on. 

“Do you see him here?” she asked, deceptively mild. 

“No. But I wouldn’t expect to. You’re both very good at hiding things after all.” Natasha’s eyes narrowed to slits. He might as well have taken a swing at her. It would have hurt less. 

“That’s enough.” Both their gazes snapped around when Sam walked in the room, expression stormy. He stood right beside Natasha, crossing his arms over his chest, but his position clearly said who he sided with. “You’re way out of line.” he said to Steve, and Steve actually looked betrayed. 

“Did you know?”

“Not until just now. Jarvis seemed to think there was a problem here and I’m inclined to agree. He even gave me a rundown of what I missed.” he shot an apologetic look at Nat. She did her best to relax in answer though she wasn't very successful. “What I heard was that our friend has been hurting and hasn’t wanted to burden you with it. And when she tried to, you threw it back in her face.” 

“You’ve been with me this whole time,” Steve began, but Sam didn’t let him continue.

“Did you even ask how they knew each other? Or had you already stopped listening when she said the Red Room?” he looked at Natasha then, asking but also offering even while Steve fumed. 

“Hydra let the Soviet’s borrow him to train the girls. To train me.” The colour that had risen in Steve’s cheeks in his rage started to drain out. Sam reached out, placing a hand of comfort on her back even as he shot another glare at Steve.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, man, but this right here?” he waved at where Steve was standing. “This is not the Captain America I chose to follow. This is not the man I chose as my friend. My family. Until he comes back, we’re done here.” and with that, he gently took Natasha’s arm, guiding her from the room. 

The door closed behind them and the silence rang in her ears. She opened her mouth - to apologize she thought - but Sam put up a hand.

“Please don’t.” and his other hand was still on her arm. “Take some time. I’ll deal with Steve. He’ll come around. I’m sorry though.” Natasha just nodded, throat tight with emotion. Not trusting her own voice, she just touched a hand to Sam’s cheek, a silent thank you, and then disappeared. 

 

Sam watched her go and heaved a sigh. He looked back at Steve’s door and felt a new wave of frustration. Whatever was going on with Steve was starting to seriously affect what they’d built here, and if it didn’t stop, it would end up affecting Harry. As much as he hated that it had come out against Natasha like this, he knew it would be a million times worth if it even so much as brushed against the kid. Shaking his head, Sam went to find Tony. With Clint out with Harry, he knew Tony was the next best when it came to Natasha. He also knew that Tony would be livid when he found out what happened. With another sigh, he resigned himself to at least a few days of playing referee. 

 

Natasha crept into her rooms and into the bathroom. Numb, she started to strip, turning on the shower. She let the hot water rush over her skin, even as it scalded her. She didn’t realize she was crying until the first sob shook her. She clapped a hand over her mouth in shock, the other pressing to her chest. Then her body shook with a second one. Against her will, her knees buckled, and she sank down to the floor, water rushing the tears away as fast as they fell. 

Alone, she let the sobs overtake her. 

Chapter Text

Tony was on a rampage. Jarvis had warned him that there’d been some sort of incident, but it wasn’t until Sam found him shortly after that he realized the severity of it. 

He’d been helping Natasha work through her memories. The system he’d been working on a to help deal with traumatic memories had progressed in leaps and bounds and he’d offered it to her to try and piece together more of her past. He’d yet to decide on a name, but he’d already used it himself a few times, and he’d guided Natasha through using it as well. He hadn’t invited himself along either, but Natasha, in an uncharacteristic moment of vulnerability, had asked for him to stay with her. They’d been spending weeks going through her memories; some of them so painful that Tony had struggled not to resurrect the bastards just to kill them slowly and with excruciating precision. 

He’d known she was planning on going to Steve at some point. To tell him that she had a connection to Barnes as well. He hadn’t been sure how he’d felt about it in all honestly, but he understood why she would want to. 

The fact that Steve hadn’t even bothered to listen to her, and instead thrown her past in her face with some backhanded, passive aggressive remark, pushed him over the edge. 

Steve was beyond lucky that Clint wasn’t home. He was pretty sure the super soldier would have ended up in medical with arrows in unfortunate places if he had been. 

“Sir.” Jarvis interrupted his warpath, and the tone had him pausing in his step.

“Make it quick, J.”

“I would advise you see to Ms. Romanov.” He didn’t have to be told twice. He turned and dashed in the other direction. 

He found Natasha in the bathroom, curled up on the shower floor, skin red and raw, hair plastered to her head and steam billowing. With quick, efficient movements, he grabbed one of the oversized towels, and with a word turned the water off. The moment the water was off he was in the shower, wrapping the towel around her. Carefully, he helped her to her feet. He could tell by the blank, glassy look in her eyes that she was back in another memory, and internally cursed Steve to hell and back even as he murmured soothing nonsense to Natasha. Wrapped in the plush towel, he guided her to the bed. He ran back for a second towel, using it to carefully dry her hair. Her own hands had a white knuckle grip on the towel around her now, despite the blank gaze and Tony knew it meant she was at least starting to come back. Since he knew the contents of some of her memories, he wasn’t surprised it took some effort to crawl out of them. once she was no longer dripping wet, he pulled back the covers, guiding her under them, towel and all. Then he settled down next to the bed, and waited. 

He wondered how unpatriotic it was to plan the demise of Captain America. 

 

The first thing Natasha noticed was that her skin was touching something soft. It relaxed her even before she was consciously aware of just what was so soft, and she realized her body was sore even as she pressed closer to the soft thing. She blinked, trying to clear her vision, and shifted her head. She realized then she was laying down, and her hair was damp.

The memory rushed back but it was dulled by what had come next, and despite the ache in her hands, she found them gripping tighter. She realized they were gripping a towel, and that she was laying in her own bed, wrapped in both towel and blankets. Blinking further, she saw the back of Tony’s head, his shoulders hunched forward over whatever was in his lap. She reached out a hand, watching as it shook but not pulling back. She brushed the tips of her fingers against Tony’s shoulder and his back immediately straightened even as he twisted around, expression a mask of concern. 

His touch was gentle when he took her hand in his, stilling the shakes even as his eyes searched her face. 

“How are you feeling?” 

“A little rough around the edges.” she admitted softly. Tony’s smile was pained but genuine. “How long?” 

“Less than an hour.” he told her immediately, and she nodded, giving his hand a careful squeeze. 

“I’m sorry.” but even as she said the words, he scowled at her. 

“The only person who should be apologizing is Capsicle.” and Natasha knew Tony was livid. He only reverted to the old nicknames when he was feeling especially bitter. 

“I knew he’d be angry.” Tony’s expression clouded but he didn’t argue with her and she was grateful. 

“Clint and Harry are supposed to be home soon. What do you want me to tell them?” 

“That we’re going out for dinner.” she said immediately. 

“J, hear that?”

“I have already sent Mr. Barton a message that they should remain in town and that you will be meeting them in an hours time.” Tony nodded, but still didn’t move. Natasha offered him the biggest smile she could muster. He just rolled his eyes at her but his lips twitched. 

“Fine. Get dressed.” he stood, though he still kept a grip on her hand. He gave it one final squeeze before making his way to the door. There, he paused to glance back at her. “But Nat?” she met his gaze, and there was none of the levity there anymore. “I’m not letting this go.” She knew he meant Steve’s actions, but she couldn’t think about it right then. Instead, she nodded, and accepting that, he left. 

Natasha only gave herself one moment to close her eyes and press her cheek to her pillow before she forced herself to get up. 

 

>>>

 

He knew something was wrong the moment he saw her. He’d left Sirius back at the Shack, knowing the wizard would judge him, and even as he had the thought he felt a niggling sense of guilt. Scowling, he shrugged off the voice that sounded suspiciously like Sirius telling him to just talk to her you idiot and tried to figure out what was wrong. 

She was smiling, walking with her arm around Harry’s shoulders, smiling as he told her about his day. 

His gaze darted to Stark and Barton, who were trailing behind, also talking in low voices, and Bucky narrowed his eyes as he focused on them. 

He saw Stark mouth Steve and his eyes shot back to Natalia - to the tension in her shoulders, the tightness around her eyes. Whatever happened, Steve had caused. In his glove, his metal hand clenched into a fist. 

He wasn’t ready to talk to any of them yet; least of all Steve and Natalia. At least with her, he’d already come into contact with her; but the difference was when she’d seen him, she’d let him walk away. He knew Steve would never do that without a fight. 

He wondered what had happened to Steve in the years since he’d known him that had made him unable to let go even when it was the right thing to do. 

It didn’t take a genius to know Steve must have found out Natalia had seen him; and had somehow punished her for it. Frustrated, but unable to do anything about it, Bucky slipped back into the shadows, but the fragility he’d seen in Natalia’s gaze haunted him. 

 

>>>

 

Harry was finally excited to go back to school. He’d been studying the map non-stop, and it occurred to him that it was a bit of a breach of privacy, but he figured after the last two years he’d had, he was entitled to a little bit of an assurance of safety. 

His aunt and professor McGonagall had agreed that he wasn’t to take the train this year; instead he would be using the floo directly into professor McGonagall’s office. It felt a bit weird to him, and it made him slightly uncomfortable that he was getting special treatment, but he also couldn’t deny the fact that his track record was less than stellar. 

He fixed his robes, looking at his aunt who was watching him with a fond half smile on her face. Without thinking, he rushed forward to hug her tightly, and felt her arms squeeze back around him in return. He knew something had happened with her. She’d looked sadder than normal lately, and it worried him. He also hadn’t seen his uncle Steve at all. He’d left without even a real goodbye, just a letter of apology. 

It had him even more worried, because when he’d asked his uncle Clint about it, his uncle had looked angry for a moment before he’d assured Harry not to worry. 

“Are you ready?” His aunt asked then, pulling back and trying to smooth his hair down. He grinned up at her.

“Definitely. I can’t wait to see everyone.” she returned his smile, moving to take the handle of his trunk. 

“You should say your goodbyes then.” Harry nodded, but he didn’t rush ahead, instead he stayed beside her as they made their way to the living room. 

“Aunt Pepper!” he shouted in surprise the moment he stepped into the room, and he was across the room in an instant, hugging her tight. “I didn’t think you could make it!” he exclaimed, thrilled, and Pepper smiled back, keeping an arm around his shoulders. 

“I didn’t want to miss another send off.” she told him, kissing the top of his head. “And I also wanted to announce that I’ve already organized the schedule around so that I can be here for Christmas.” Harry beamed, delighted, and hugged her tightly once more. 

“I’m glad I got to see you.” he murmured, and then he turned to make his goodbyes to the others. He hugged uncle Sam quickly, and then launched to tackle his uncle Clint. He ended up in a headlock with his hair being ruffled out of whatever order his aunt Tasha had managed to smooth into it earlier, but he was grinning from ear to ear. When he finally escaped, he was wrapped in a bear hug from his uncle Tony. 

“Stay out of trouble.” he pleaded, only half joking. Harry rolled his eyes.

“I will when you do.” his uncle Tony scoffed.

“Keep dreaming, kiddo.” 

“Right back at you, uncle Tony.” then he couldn’t help but turn to give his aunt Tasha one last hug. 

“Call us tonight, okay?” She asked, and he nodded against her shoulder.

“As soon as we’re back from dinner.” he promised and she smiled, kissing both his cheeks.

“Say hello to everyone for me.” and he nodded, turning back to give everyone one last bright smile before he moved towards the fireplace. 

He grabbed a handful of floo powder and stepped in. 

 

>>>

 

“Harry!” he turned even as he heard his name, and saw his friends hurrying towards him, bright smiles present. He beamed right back, meeting them halfway, just outside the great hall.

“It’s good to see you all!”

“We were worried when we didn’t see you on the train.” Ron put it, even as Hermione elbowed him. 

“But then Draco remembered you said you weren’t taking the train this year.” 

“How did you get here?” Draco put in, and it was Neville who answered.

“Floo, wasn’t it?” when Harry nodded, Neville blushed. 

“There’s a bit of soot still on your shoes.” with a wave of his wand, he cleaned it off and Harry laughed.

“Thanks, Nev. How were your last weeks of summer?” he asked, even as he started towards the great hall. He was famished. 

“No, tell him about the professor on the train!” Ron interrupted before anyone could properly answer. Harry lifted a brow. 

“Professor on the train?” His four friends nodded furiously. 

“Professor Lupin. The new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor.” Ron informed him quickly, eager to share the news.

“But that’s not the most interesting part.” Hermione interrupted, shooting Ron a look. 

“What was?” Harry couldn’t help but ask. 

“Dementors.” it was Neville who answered, and he did so with a shudder. Hermione immediately rubbed a hand for comfort along his arm. Harry frowned, confused. He felt like he knew what Dementors were but he wasn’t quite certain. At his look of confusion, Draco spoke up.

“They’re the guards of Azkaban.” Draco told him quickly. “They feed on peoples memories. Happy memories. They leave only horrible feelings.” his gaze was solemn as he finished. “And sometimes, for the worst criminals, they’ll sentence them to a Dementor’s kiss.” All of the hairs on the back of Harry’s neck prickled at his tone. 

“What does that mean?” nobody answered right away, and it was Ron who finally answered. 

“They suck out their souls.” 

“But why are they here?” even as he asked, he knew the answer. It was Hermione who frowned in concern. 

“Because of Sirius Black.” 

With that, they stepped into the great hall, but the excitement Harry had felt previously dimmed minutely behind his worry of what this year was to bring. 

 

As they settled at their tables, Harry saw Ginny walk in with a girl dressed in Ravenclaw blue, with white blonde hair and what looked like radishes hanging from her ears. As if sensing his gaze, she looked over and offered him an easy smile. He smiled right back. When Ginny hurried over to join them, he couldn’t help but ask after her.

“Who was that?” he asked the moment she sat down, and Ginny looked over in surprise.

“Oh, that’s Luna. She’s in my year.”

“She’s a bit weird.” Ron noted, and Ginny shot him a glare. From his wince, it seemed she’d kicked him under the table. 

“She’s just got a different view on things is all.” Ginny defended, and Harry nodded agreeably. After all, who were they to judge really? He glanced around the hall, taking in all the familiar faces, and found himself looking up at the head table. Sitting right next to professor Snape was a new professor, and Harry could only guess that it was professor Lupin. Even as he watched them, professor Lupin glanced in his direction, and he didn’t miss the surprise that flashed through his gaze; the pain. 

Harry was once more forcibly reminded that he was, in appearance at least, an echo of his parents. He couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take for that to be something that he hated rather than appreciated. 

 

Chapter Text

“How’s Natalia doing?” Sirius asked the moment Bucky walked back into the shack, and the man shot him a scathing look. Sirius’ eyebrows shot up. Bucky never got that angry unless something went really wrong. He pushed himself out of his chair to follow Bucky as he stalked through the house. The other man was checking his guns and knifes, stashed throughout the house, sweeping the perimeter. Sirius knew by now this was how Bucky dealt with anxiety of any kind.

“What happened?” he asked, leaning in the doorway as Bucky checked the last room, and Bucky spun around, all but snarling. 

“Get out of my way.” Sirius put his hands up, moving easily, but not leaving the other man alone. When Bucky went to move past him, he obviously found Sirius too close, because he grabbed him by the shirt and shoved him against the door. Sirius didn’t move; didn’t fight it; just let his friend do what he needed; because damnit, they were friends now. 

As soon as Sirius didn’t lash back, Bucky released him as if burnt, the guilt so deep even Sirius could almost drown in it. 

“Look,” Sirius murmured then, eyes tracking Bucky’s every movement. “Whatever happened, I don’t care. I don’t know her. Or them. I know you. Something happened. Let me help you like you’ve been helping me.” For a moment, Bucky just stared, blue eyes opaque, but then his expression crumpled. 

“She’s hurt.” that had Sirius’ full attention. 

“What? How?”

“Steve. And probably me.” 

Sirius frowned, confused. 

“But you haven’t approached her.” 

“Not recently.” he admitted, and Sirius actually rolled his eyes. 

“When?” 

“At the end of the school year. She went after a wizard. He was going to hurt her. I stopped him.”

“And she saw you?”

“We spoke.” Bucky admitted, but Sirius could tell by the look on his face that ‘spoke’ probably meant addressed each other and then disappeared. 

“What does that have to do with Steve?” then his eyes widened as he realized just what had probably happened. “He found out. That you spoke. And he got angry because he wanted to be the one to speak to you.” Bucky’s shoulders shrugged in a restless motion. 

“I can’t know for sure.” 

“Not without talking to them you mean.” and when Bucky met his gaze, it was haunted. He reached out, slow as he could, to clap a hand on Bucky’s shoulder. When the man shuddered under the touch but didn’t shrug it off, he gripped tight. 

“We’ll figure it out, okay?” and Bucky nodded, shoulders drooping, strings cut. Sirius stepped right in, tucking himself under Bucky’s arm to help the other move now that the results of his anxiety were crashing back around him. 

“I’m sorry.” Bucky muttered, self-disgust evident in his tone, but Sirius scoffed.

“Please. You don’t have anything to apologize for. We’ll figure it out and face them both, okay? And if Steve wants to be angry that you took the time to heal yourself before dealing with whatever problems he’s got, then he’ll have me to deal with.” Bucky gave a startled laugh that brought a grin to Sirius’ face. 

“What did you expect? You know how dogs are. Loyal to a fault.” he didn’t miss how Bucky leaned into him, but he didn’t say a word, just kept helping him along. Truth was, he had no intention of letting Bucky suffer anymore than he already had. 

 

>>>

 

Harry was wandering the edge of the forbidden forest. He knew he shouldn’t be, but he hadn’t been able to sleep, and now that he knew what lurked in the darkness, it was hard to find the same level of fear as before. He was pretty sure that was technically backwards, since knowing there were hundreds of thousands of spiders in there willing to eat human flesh should be extremely disconcerting, he just felt glad to know what was probably the most dangerous creature in there. 

He was just passing through another edge when he caught sight of a shock of blonde hair in the shadows. 

“Hello?” he called out, ignoring the fact that if it was someone bad, he’d just given himself away. He didn’t have to worry though, because the girl turned, immediately showing herself to be the other second year Ginny had been talking about; Luna Lovegood. 

“Oh, hello, Harry. Have you also come to search for gnomes? I hear they have a cure for getting rid of wrackspurts so I wanted to ask them.” while most would probably find her explanation odd, to Harry it made perfect sense. 

“If anyone were to know, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were gnomes. They do find themselves in odd places after all. They’re bound to know all sorts of strange things.” Luna beamed at him. 

“I thought the very same. So, why are you out here then?” 

“I only happened to be looking for fresh air.” he admitted, “And time to think.” 

“And did you find it?”

“I think so.” he admitted, “Though I haven’t come to any conclusions yet.” Luna hummed noncommittally. 

“What did you come out here to think about?”

“Sirius Black.” 

“Do you think he’s guilty?”

“No.” Harry admitted without even a moments hesitation. Luna didn’t look the least bit surprised.

“What do you think then?”

“I think that even if he’s not guilty, he still abandoned me to get revenge instead of staying to take care of me. If he hadn’t run, then he never would’ve been accused of killing all those people. Pettigrew never would’ve been able to frame him like that. But instead of taking care of me, he ran.” he kicked a rock, frustrated, but when he looked up at Luna she didn’t look to mind in the slightest. 

“If Sirius had raised you, you would never have moved to America.” she pointed out then. He blinked at her. “You would never have the family you have now. Not like this anyways.” she tilted her head, curious. “Are you unhappy with them?”

“Of course not.” 

“Then why do you wish you’d been raised by other people?” 

Harry huffed out a laugh, dropping down to sit on the ground next to Luna. 

“Because it’s not that I want to have been raised by him over them. It’s that - everyone always talks about my parents. How much they loved me. Sacrificed for me. And people talk about Sirius too. About how he was best friends with my parents, and adored me too. Thought of him as family.” he took a deep breath, because he’d never admitted this to anyone before. 

“Aunt Tasha chose to love me. She didn’t have to. Same with the rest. They chose to love me and I chose to love them.” Luna hummed once more. 

“I think that it’s impossible to really know what happens in a persons mind. Especially when two of the people they love most are taken from them.” she looked up at the sky, squinting through the bows. “My mother was taken from me. Luckily I still have my father. But he was never the same without her around.” 

It was Harry’s turn to hum now, leaning back so he could look up at the stars. 

“It doesn’t make it right.” He finally decided on. “If people are going to romanticize them, they can’t ignore the bad. His choice was the bad. And they still romanticize my life.” Luna tilted her head back as well, tilting it so it touched Harry’s shoulder.

“Romance is overrated.” she noted, blinking wide eyes up at the sky. Harry laughed. 

“It really is.” 

They sat there together until the sky started to lighten again, not exchanging a single word but communing in their silence. 

Chapter Text

“Not the best place to fall asleep, mate.” Harry blinked his eyes opened to see two red heads peering down at him with matching grins. He looked around and caught sight of Luna waking as well, curled in on herself on grass. 

“What time is it?”

“Halfway through breakfast.” Fred announced. 

“Ron and Neville were worried”

“When they saw you weren’t”

“In your own bed”

“This morning”

“So we promised”

“We’d go looking,”

“And here you are!”

Harry just rolled his eyes. 

“As you can see, I’m perfectly fine.” then he looked at Luna who was staring at the twins with a pensive expression.

“You’ve been twins for a very long time.” she announced, and the twins exchanged a look.

“That’s one way”

“To put it.” they agreed amicably. Luna smiled brightly at them before standing. 

“Thank you for waking us.” then she turned to Harry. “Good luck, Harry.” and then she wandered back towards the castle. The twins both looked back to Harry.

“What do you need luck for?” they asked simultaneously. Harry sighed. 

“Sirius Black.” the alarm was immediate. Harry waved them off as he pushed to his feet, brushing off his clothes. “We were talking about family.” Harry admitted. “And how complicated it can be.” 

The twins exchanged a glance before boxing him in, each throwing an arm around him. 

“Don’t worry, Harry,”

“You’ve got us.” and Harry grinned up at them, allowing them to lead him back to the castle. He didn’t see the worried look they exchanged over his head. 

 

>>>

 

Natasha found Tony in his workshop, tinkering on a something small enough that it was blocked by his shoulders. She moved into the room, settling down on a bench close by but not in his immediate space. 

She liked coming down to the workshop. For years it had made her uneasy; all of this technology she couldn’t understand but that could easily hurt her. Not because she thought Tony would hurt her; regardless of what people said, Tony didn’t really want to hurt anyone; but that didn’t change the fact that it could. 

She saw a pair of her own bracers resting on a table top and noticed they were slimmer than her last pair. She stood, moving to pick them up, and that’s when Tony spoke up.

“Careful, I haven’t been able to properly contain the electrical currents yet. They power on on their own sometimes.” and Natasha pulled her hand back before she could find out if this was one of those times. She settled back down instead, this time in Tony’s line of sight. He squinted up from his project and Natasha didn’t fight the fond smile that spread across her features. 

“How do you feel about ice cream?” she asked, and Tony tilted his head, thoughtful. 

“That depends. How many flavours we talking?” he countered. Her smiled widened. 

“52.” 

“I’m in.” and he shoved back from the desk, shoving his hands through his hair. “Blue or silver?” he asked, and she stood as well. 

“Blue. Top down.” she decided, and he snapped his fingers in her direction. 

“You got it. Hear that, J?” 

“It is already being brought to the front gate.”

Tony grinned, turning to Natasha, and offered his arm. 

“Shall we?” she tucked her hand into his arm, smiling back.

“We shall.” 

 

They were halfway to the ice cream shop Natasha had chosen when Tony switched from meaningless banter. 

“Is Steve back?” he asked, because he’d been purposefully ignoring the whereabouts of the super soldier, only wanting to hear about it if he was trying to approach Nat or himself. He glanced over to see her give a stiff nod, bringing a knee up so she could rest her chin on it. Her hair was flying in the breeze, a burst of colour against the green background. 

“Last night.” 

Tony hummed in response, mind whirring. It was sooner than he’d expected, in all honesty. After the blowout over Natasha, Steve had stormed out, gone by the time they’d returned from dinner. The only redeeming choice he’d made had been the letter he’d left for Harry, but even that seemed weak. 

“He hasn’t said anything to you.” and it wasn’t really a question, but she answered anyways. 

“No. He’s avoiding me.”

“Do you want him not to?” when Natasha didn’t answer, he glanced her way again and found her staring out at the countryside. 

“I don’t know.” and that was fair really, so Tony decided now wasn’t the time to push. 

“I’m thinking today might be the day to experiment. I need new flavours in my life.” Natasha reached over and gave his free hand a squeeze, and he tangled their fingers together, gripping her hand back just as tightly. 

 

>>>

Harry wasn’t at all surprised to find Draco and Hermione in the library, heads bent together as they studied, muttering back and forth. It brought a smile to his face even as he dropped into the chair across from him. They both looked up with matching looks of irritation which melted into smiles at the sight of him. It only had him grinning wider. 

“What are you working on?” and watched the two of them exchange pleased looks. 

“Have you ever heard of the Patronus charm?” Hermione asked, and when Harry shook his head, she looked to Draco. 

“It’s the only spell that can counter a Dementor.” he explained. “Dementors feed on your worst emotions. The Patronus charm can only be created by happy memories - the happiest memories.” Harry blinked. 

“Seems easy enough.” he noted slowly, because the sly look in their eyes told him that it wasn’t as easy as he thought. 

“Did you know you-know-who could never cast a patronus charm?” Hermione informed him. Harry blinked in surprise, shaking his head. 

“In fact, many wizards have trouble casting the charm. Apparently it’s very difficult.” 

“Then why do you look so pleased?” he couldn’t help but ask. Draco and Hermione traded pleased looks again. 

“We think we may have figured out how to be able to focus on the good memories. After all, the Dementors bring the worst to the surface. It would make sense that it would be difficult to think happy thoughts with a soul sucking creature breathing down your neck.” Hermione noted, and Harry laughed at the muggle reference. 

“But then we realized there must be a way to focus.” Draco added, pausing. 

“Well?” Harry prompted, curious. He was given matching smug smiles. 

“Occlumency.” they said together. 

Harry sat back in his chair, mind whirling. That made perfect sense really. What better way to project certain thoughts than with mind magics? Then his thoughts were derailed. 

“Wait. Why have you been trying to figure out how to fight Dementors?” the smiles immediately slipped from his friends faces, replaced by worry. 

“They’re patrolling the grounds, Harry. And not only that, but Hogsmeade. Our first Hogsmeade visit is coming up.” Draco reminded him, and Harry just stared at them both. He’d completely forgotten about Hogsmeade. 

“I fell asleep at the edge of the forest the other night and they didn’t bother me.” he admitted, and received matching scolding looks. It was beginning to creep him out. 

“That was incredibly dangerous, Harry.” Hermione informed him, but he just rolled his eyes. 

“I was fine. I’m still fine.” then he waved away any further comments. “But it doesn’t really matter. How do we learn occlumency?” 

 

>>>

 

Harry quite liked professor Lupin. He was quirky and had a dry sense of humour Harry appreciated, and he actually taught them useful things. He spent more time on the practical than the academic in class, because they were expected to learn the academic on their own time as homework, and if they didn’t, they didn’t get to participate in the practical. A good way to make sure everyone did their homework in Harry’s opinion. 

He’d learned early on that professor Lupin had been good friends with both his parents as well as Sirius Black, and he’d noticed around the same time Snape’s disdain for the other wizard. It wasn’t hard to figure out they’d been in the same year at school, but Harry thought it was rather silly to hold a grudge even still. After all, professor Snape didn’t look like he’d had nearly a rough a time as professor Lupin. The dark arts professor had all sorts of scars, and his robes were well-maintained but also well worn. 

Harry also liked that beyond the initial surprise, professor Lupin hadn’t once compared him to his parents, or treated him any different from any of the other students. 

It was this that pushed him to approach the professor outside of class. 

He knocked on the office door to find professor Lupin marking tests, and at the sight of him, the professor looked surprised. 

“Mr. Potter. What can I do for you?”

“I was wondering, professor, can you cast a patronus charm?” he decided to come right out and ask. The professors brow shot up. 

“I can. Though, I’m surprised you’ve learned about it. It’s not exactly a 3rd year spell.” Harry gave a sheepish grin. 

“I know. Hermione and Draco found it. We thought it would be a good idea to learn. With the Dementors and everything. But we need someone to teach us.” it seemed that was the last thing the professor had expected. 

“The patronus charm is a very difficult,” the man began, but Harry interrupted.

“We already read all the theory, professor. We even started practicing occlumency to help clear our minds. It’s more difficult than I thought it would be, to be honest, but not too bad. And we’ve practiced the wand movement and the incantation. But we thought it would be easier with someone who actually could cast it to make sure we were actually doing it right.” he blurted, and now the professor looked more amused than anything else. 

“That’s very clever of you; using occlumency to enhance your ability to focus your spellcasting.” when he smiled, he looked years younger. “Very well. After the first Hogsmeade visit, before dinner. The three of you can meet me here, in my classroom.” 

“Would it be alright if we brought a few more people?” Harry asked, and the professor just laughed. 

“Why not?”

Chapter Text

Hogsmeade was much cooler than Harry had expected it to be. He’d expected to enjoy it, but he hadn’t expected it to be nearly as interesting as it was. It was clearly aimed at not only students, but locals, and so had more than just shops for school children. 

He, along with Draco, Ron, Hermione, and Neville, explored everywhere they could; filling their pockets with sweets and other baubles. Hermione of course couldn’t help but look at the bookstore, but that was fine because they all found something to interest them on the shelves. 

Ron was the first to get bored and so Neville dragged him out to check out another shop, and with Draco and Hermione buried in books, Harry decided to explore a little further on his own. 

He wandered through the town, waving at the other students he passed, and when he came to the edge of town, he caught sight of a house a ways down, backing onto the forbidden forest, and just looking at him gave him chills. 

Curious, he made his way closer, all the way to the fence that clearly blocked the house from the rest of town and kept people a ways off. He wondered just why it was so separated and then caught sight of a sign propped against the fence.

“The Shrieking Shack.” he read aloud, and then couldn’t help but grin. How curious. He dipped under the fence, but even as he did so, a prickle went over his skin. He looked around and that’s when he saw them; just a blur of darkness in the edge of the trees; what looked like a floating cloak covering a skeletal body. He shuddered and the thing slipped forward, leaving the treeline. 

Harry retreated before he could even consider what he was doing, unconsciously backing away, but by doing so also moving further away from both the town and the fence. The Dementor came just that little bit closer and Harry felt it like a slap of cold wind, biting at his skin. 

He sucked in a breath, all his insecurities floating to the surface; his thoughts about his family, Sirius Black, and even professor Lupin. 

After all, if professor Lupin had been such good friends with his parents, why hadn’t he tried to contact Harry? 

He pushed the thoughts off, gritting his teeth against the onslaught of doubt that he didn’t even really feel. 

He realized in his moment of worry, the Dementor had grown closer, and not only one, but he could see two more in the tree line now. 

Heart in his throat Harry turned and bolted for the house. Even as he ran, he saw the frost crawling over the ground, his breath puffing out in front of him. He leapt the fence right around the house, gasping for breath, but then a hand touched his shoulder and it was like it sucked the energy right out of him. His breath caught and his whole body shuddered, sending him to his knees. 

A shape burst over his head, a shaggy black dog made of pure light, lunging at the Dementor who’d grabbed him and chasing it off. Even as it did so, he felt the chill leave him, leaving him desperately sucking in air. He pushed himself off, watching as the dog came back, moving right in to snuffle up against him. Harry couldn’t help the huff of laughter, even as he buried his hands in its fur, leaning into it gratefully. 

“Thank you.” he murmured into its fur. It huffed against his shoulder before disappearing into a thin mist. 

He felt the shift in the air first and sprang to his feet, his own wand in hand, heart pulsing in his throat. 

Standing in front of him was a man who actually struck him as vaguely familiar. He had ice blue eyes, dark hair, bulky frame. He was built kind of like his uncle Steve; and that’s when it clicked. 

“You’re James.” he didn’t meant to call him that; his uncle Steve always calls him Bucky; but that just seemed wrong. It was clear James was surprised too because he blinked but didn’t argue. 

“You’re Harry.” Harry nodded, glancing back at the woods. 

“Are they really gone?” he couldn’t help but ask. 

“Yes.” then he reached into his pocket, pulling a chocolate bar free. “Here. Eat this. It’ll help.” and he tossed it at Harry. 

Harry caught it easily, looking at in in surprise. Then he opened it and took a bite. Surprisingly, he did feel better. 

Then he went back to looking at James. 

“What are you doing here?” he asked, looking around again, curious.

“Seems like I should be asking you that.” 

“I was just exploring. Then the Dementors showed up.” he bit into the chocolate again when he wanted to shake. “But you avoided my question.” he tilted his head, regarding the man. 

“Are you following me?” Harry asked, not at all frightened, but a bit surprised. “That would be a bit weird since we’ve never met, but I do know that you know uncle Steve. And I know you know aunt Tasha.” 

 

James listened as Harry rambled, just a bit amazed by this boy. He was not in the least bit scared, or surprised really. He was just curious, and had no shame in acting on it. 

“You know, aunt Tasha and uncle Steve got in a fight because of you. They don’t think I know because I wasn’t there, but I talked to Jarvis and he told me the truth. Aunt Tasha was really upset.” James winced. Leave it to the 13 year old to rub it in none too gently. 

“I know.”

“But you didn’t do anything about it.” those green eyes were sharp; sharper than they had a right to be, and James felt bare under them. 

“I didn’t.” 

“Are you going to?”

“Was plannin’ on it.” Harry nodded, a sharp motion, and he seemed years older than his age. Then those eyes sharpened until James was surprised he wasn’t bleeding. 

“You know where Sirius Black is, don’t you?” 

“Yes.” and they were both surprised by his honesty. They stared at each other for a moment before Harry huffed out a laugh. 

“Are you going to tell me where he is?”

“No.” the boys eyes narrowed.

“Why?”

“He wanted to talk to you. But I don’t trust the system.” 

“The system?”

“The one that speaks. In the walls. You call him Jarvis.” Harry’s mouth dropped open in shock. Then he muffled a laugh behind his hand. 

“Jarvis. Right. I suppose that’s fair. He used to make me a bit nervous too. When I was little.” 

James rolled his eyes. He knew a dig when he heard one. 

“So now what? Does he still want to talk to me?” Harry inquired, and there was a fragility now in those green eyes that proved he really was still a child. 

“Yes. But it’s probably not a good idea if you’re by yourself.” Harry frowned.

“I’m by myself now.”

“And Natalia will be very angry because of it.” James pointed out. Harry flushed. Then his expression turned wry. 

“Well, I should probably call her then.” James winced. “But just aunt Tasha. I think it would be best just to do one at a time. Don’t you?” and he didn’t have to say ‘not Steve’ for James to hear it. When he didn’t answer right away, Harry took a cautious step forward.

“If that’s okay with you?”

“Call your aunt.” he said instead, and Harry beamed at him. Then he pulled out his phone. James heard it ring twice before he heard Natalia’s voice. 

“Hey aunt Tasha. I met a friend of yours. He wants to meet you. We’re at the Shrieking Shack. Will you meet us?” There was no pause in her answer, only an affirmative, and then Harry was hanging up. He glanced back up at the town and then rubbed his arms for warmth. 

“Any chance we can go inside? I don’t think it would do to be seen out here.” 

Since he could see the goosebumps on the boys arms, he felt guilty for not allowing him in earlier. 

“I’ll start a fire.” 

Harry just offered a cheeky grin. 

“I can do it.” and he brandished his wand. In that moment, James saw Sirius; and he wondered if that’s what James Potter had looked like too with mischief in his eyes. 

The thought was followed by how much it must hurt Harry to constantly be compared to the dead; because if it was anything like he felt when he was compared to Bucky Barnes of old, it made him regret even having the thought. 

He vowed to try and not make such comparisons again. 

 

Chapter Text

Natasha’s heart was in her throat. She knew exactly who Harry was talking about when he said he’d met her friend. Knew exactly what it meant that he was asking her to come join them. It twisted her up so tightly she could barely breathe. 

She was by herself, because she knew that was best, but she’d still told Tony where she was going. There was no way she’d enter into this situation completely blind and without backup. 

It wasn’t that she thought that he would try to hurt her, or Harry, but if her episode after the confrontation with Steve told her anything, it’s that she wasn’t as unflappable as she’d hoped. 

 

When she’d told Tony what she was doing, he’d looked more than a little concerned, but he hadn’t tried to stop her, just pressed a kiss to her cheek and waved her off, but she knew without a doubt that any surveillance that could keep an eye on her, would be doing just that. 

It made her felt loved and cared for and she vowed to tell Tony at some point that she loved him; because even platonically he didn’t hear those words enough. 

 

She approached the Shrieking Shack and instinctively knew there were eyes on her. She lifted her chin but didn’t otherwise react, moving right up to the front door. She knocked before letting herself in, and immediately had an armful of Harry.

“Aunt Tasha!” she hugged him back just as tightly, but her gaze was on the man in the doorway Harry had come from. He didn’t step into the hall, didn’t intrude, but when he met her gaze she saw all the same fears she felt. 

It gave her strength. 

“James.” she greeted, and he offered a nod. 

“Natalia.”

Harry huffed, pulling away from her to look back at James and roll his eyes. James’ expression flickered with something close to fondness and it surprised her. Then he was meeting her gaze again. 

“I’m sorry for what happened between you and Stevie.” she glanced down at Harry but he was just smiling up at her. Her own smile felt shaky when she returned it, wrapping an arm around his shoulders before looking back up at James and offering a nod. 

“It’s alright.” he nodded back and Natasha had the sudden urge to bolt. She wasn’t ready to face this; whatever this was; and then she looked at Harry. At Harry who stood beside her, who, now that she was looking, was drawn and pale, and yet standing firm beside her. She pressed a kiss to the top of his head before once more looking back at James, standing tall. 

“You wanted to speak with me?”

“He knows where Sirius Black is.” Harry blurted, and Natasha nodded, though she didn’t look away from James. 

“I know.” Harry jolted beside her, but stayed otherwise quiet. “Is that why I’m here?” and she hoped her voice was stronger than she felt. 

The shift was so minimal that she was sure nobody else would see it; but she did; saw the slightest shake of his head even as he spoke. 

“He wanted to speak with Harry. And you.” she nodded, eyes already tracking where Sirius could come from. 

“Why didn’t he come to us directly?” she asked, though she could think of dozens of reasons. The look James sent her had her fighting a smile. She won, though just. 

“I don’t trust Jarvis.” he said with a pointed glance at Harry who just looked right back, innocent as you please. Natasha didn’t believe it for a second but she didn’t mind. 

“Is he here?”

“Yes.” 

At that, she just lifted a brow, and James stepped into the hall. Natasha tensed, unable to help herself, and wondered if the regret she saw in James’ gaze was real or just wishful thinking. From the room he’d been blocking, a man stepped forward. He was tall and slim; too slim; though Natasha was sure he looked miles better than he had when James had found him. His brown hair sat at his shoulder in smooth waves, and his grey eyes were like smoke, watching them carefully. 

“It’s nice to finally meet you.” he offered with a charming smile, and Natasha’s gaze cut to James who looked almost - embarrassed. She wondered how long he’d been following her but found she couldn’t bring herself to mind too much. “And Harry,” there was a world of regret; of guilt now. “You’ve grown.” 

Harry was stiff as a board at her side, expression frozen as he stared at Sirius. 

“You - you cast the patronus. Didn’t you?” was what he finally said, and Sirius nodded. 

“I did.” 

Harry was frowning now, but not only that, he looked confused. 

“Can you-” he broke off, shaking his head. Natasha wanted to grab him and take him as far from here as possible. “Can you turn into that dog?” He finally asked, brow scrunched. Sirius’ eyes went comically wide before he gave a sharp nod.

“I can.” 

Harry didn’t respond, just stared, waiting, and when Sirius looked at James, Natasha realized that this wasn’t just two fugitives hiding together; this was two friends supporting each other. It made her respect Sirius a little more despite herself. James’ shrug was minuscule but as soon as he gave it, Sirius turned back to Harry. 

Before their very eyes, his whole form shifted, growing more compact and landing on 4 legs instead of 2. The whole process took less than 10 seconds and left both Natasha and Harry staring.

“Padfoot.” and Harry’s voice was soft, nearly pained. Sirius moved forward, a black dog with shaggy black fur, glancing at Natasha as if for permission before creeping closer. When he was right in front of them, he settled back on his hind legs, tongue lolling in a doggy grin. Harry reached out a tentative hand, fingers brushing through soft fur, and that’s when his eyes filled with tears.

“I remember you.” and with that, he stepped back, swallowing hard. He looked up at Natasha, eyes swimming, and she nodded. He hugged her quickly but tightly before he made for the door without another word. The moment he was gone, Sirius shifted back, stepping back from Natasha. He was staring brokenly after Harry, but Natasha didn’t move from her position in front of the door. 

“Give him time.” she comforted, against her better judgment. Those grey eyes settled on her, and they were hard as granite.

“Isn’t 12 years long enough?” Her back went up, her own eyes narrowing.

“Don’t blame him for your poor judgment.” Anger flared turning the grey into near silver. She wondered if it was magic that did such a thing. 

“Going after that traitor-

“Wasn’t the mistake.” Natasha interrupted. “Being stupid enough to get caught was.” 

James’ cough sounded suspiciously like a laugh but Natasha didn’t look away from Sirius. 

“Do you have any idea how I found him?” she demanded, voice barely a whisper in her rage. “I found him living in a cupboard under the stairs. I found him flinching from every loud noise or too fast movement. I had him apologizing for being a bother for something as simple as being hungry.” she watched all the colour drain from his face with almost vindictive pleasure. “I wouldn’t give up a single second I’ve had with him. You gave up every second you could have had.” 

For a moment she thought he was going to argue - could see everything raging in his gaze, but then it all drained out of him and he looked simply wrecked.

“You’re right. I’m sorry.” 

Since she’d been more ready for a fight than an apology, she could only give a stiff nod. 

“With your permission, I’d like to be able to get to know him.” the again was unspoken, but she appreciated the omission. Once again, she nodded, not trusting her voice. Sirius returned the gesture before glancing at James. Then, without a word, he too left the hall, disappearing back into the room he’d come from. 

Natasha closed her eyes for a moment, feeling out of sorts. She only allowed herself the single moment of weakness though before she opened them again, and found James staring. She stared back, unsure of what to say. 

“Do you remember me?” he finally asked, and the question was like a punch to the chest. 

“Some.” and her voice was even. “Do you?” 

“Bits and pieces.” but he never once looked away. “Sirius has been helping me.” Natasha’s throat felt tight. 

“Tony’s helped me.” 

The smile that curved James’ lips was as self-deprecating as it was sad. He still hadn’t broken their gaze. 

“Not much of it is good.” but she heard that qualifier. She waited. “I want to remember what was.” 

It was too much. She’d taken a step back despite herself, but James didn’t look in the least bit angry or upset. 

“Harry’s probably worried about you.” he paused, obviously testing his words. “He’s a good kid.” 

“The best.” she managed to respond. 

Then she fled. 

Chapter Text

Harry loved flying. There was nothing as freeing as being on a broom, wind whipping through his hair. It made him feel alive in a way nothing else could. It cleared his mind in a way nothing else could. 

It was the first thing he’d thought of when they’d started to learn occlumency and it told them to clear their mind; he’d just thought of those moments in the air; and he’d succeeded fastest in their group. 

Now, as he soared above the Quidditch pitch, he considered trying out. He could now, after all, only first years were excluded, but he wondered if playing would take away some of the enjoyment of a leisurely fly. As he sped into another spin, he realized that wouldn’t be the case. After all, there was nothing leisurely about the way he flew; and his competitive nature would make the race for the snitch a thrill. He knew he’d only want to be a seeker; knew it was the single minded focus like that he excelled at. It also helped that he was small and fast. Faster than most, he knew. 

He knew Draco was planning on trying out for the Slytherin team this year, and wondered if he’d mind playing against Harry. He also knew the only way to find out was to ask. 

He looped into another arc, shooting up into the clouds. He could feel the rain coming, and he wanted to get everything out of his system before he had to head back to the ground. 

Even as he had the thought, the clouds started to swirl around him, and a shiver went down his spine. Alarmed, he righted himself, tilting his broom to shoot back towards the ground. A bolt of lightning cut through the sky, and it lit up the clouds; the shape of a dog clear as day.

Harry blinked at the sight. 

He hadn’t even been thinking of Sirius until that moment, but now it was all he could think about. He was a bit ashamed of leaving that day, and now that it had been nearly a week, he could admit that he did actually want to talk to Sirius. His aunt had told him she had a way to contact them without going to the shack, and he couldn’t help but wonder if James had just given her a phone number. He would’ve laughed at the thought if he wasn’t hit by a sudden cold front, and dread started pooling in his stomach. He leaned closer to his broom, pushing it faster. 

Right as he cleared the clouds, the stadium coming back into view, and a Dementor swooped up in front of him, forcing him to pull back at the last moment or be caught by it. He spun the broom around, darting and weaving his way towards the ground. There were more Dementors than the last time - 5 of them circling this time - and Harry actually felt his hands shaking on the handle of his broom. 

In dodging one, it brought him close enough to another for it to reach out, and the moment it touched his skin, a high pitch scream sounded in his ears. 

He didn’t realize he must’ve fainted for a moment until he was falling through the air, the high pitch sound now the wind rushing past. He looked around wildly, searching for his broom, and was relieved to see it just there, just out of reach. At this speed, he knew he had no time to panic, so he drew his wand, forcing back the terror that threatened to overwhelm him. 

“ACCIO NIMBUS 2000!” He shouted, and the broom shot towards him. He grabbed it as soon as it was in reach and then nearly let go as it slowed his fall so quickly he jolted in the air. He barely managed to remount his broom, that freezing terror creeping further along his skin, and he saw the Dementors approaching again. 

He couldn’t help but wonder just why they kept coming after him, but he figured that was just his luck at this point.

A bright white light burst past him, and he spun out of the way, rolling through the air, gripping his broom as tightly as possible. He turned just in time to see what looked like an actual werewolf clawing into the Dementors before he reached the ground, collapsing the moment he was close enough to touch it. 

He’d barely fallen to his hands and knees when his lunch decided it no longer wanted to reside in his stomach, and he lost it to the grass. 

“Harry!” he looked up blearily, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. He could see professor Lupin running towards him, and he wondered just how the professor had known where he was and that he needed help. 

Then he realized that the patronus must have been his. 

Having already figured out that his defence professor was a werewolf, he was only surprised that he’d allowed it to show in his patronus. 

That was his last thought before unconsciousness claimed him. 

 

>>>

 

Severus Snape detested using the floo. He much preferred apparition as a form of travel, but seeing as one could not apparate on school grounds, he was forced to use one of his least favourite modes of wizarding travel. 

He stepped out of the floo into an extremely modern living space, and seeing as there was nobody around, he allowed himself a moment of awe for it. 

“May I help you, professor Snape?” a disembodied voice asked him, and he raised a brow, only casting a brief glance for the source of it. 

“I’m looking for Ms. Romanov.” 

“Ms. Romanov is currently indisposed.” the voice said then, and even as Snape scowled, another man entered the room. He recognized him as Tony Stark. 

“It’s okay, J, let him in. I’m sure it’s important since he’s never visited before.” and then he moved right in, offering his hand. “Good to finally meet you. Tony Stark.”

Snape accepted the hand, shaking it briefly. 

“Severus Snape.”

“Potions, right? Harry says you’re one of the best potions masters in the world.” Tony said with a casual wave of his hand to gesture him further into the house. Snape followed more because he was in shock than anything else. “In fact, he actually said only one person is ahead of you in the field, and he’s in his hundreds or something and living Stateside.” 

“Indeed.” was all he managed, struggling to keep his face impassive as Tony lead him through the impossibly advanced home. Snape could all but feel the technology humming against his skin, almost like a magic of its own. 

“Also, that poison you sent? Very useful. I managed to break it down to its base components. I can’t recreate it perfectly, not without Brucie-bear, after all, biology is more his forte, but I’m pretty confident that I’ve managed to create an anti-toxin. I was hoping you’d have a look.” Snape couldn’t hide his surprise then. 

“Of course.” the smile Tony offered him was nearly blinding and he felt ridiculously uncomfortable in the face of it. 

“Great.” They’d reached a set of glass walls then, looking into what was clearly a workshop of some kind. The whole glass lit up with images, and instantly an image of Tony was looking back at him, and then one of himself moments later.

“You have been granted secure access to the labs, professor Snape.” the voice from before informed him, and he found himself staring at Tony. Tony’s response was to smirk, and it was cocky enough to be slightly infuriating. Instead, he just lead Snape inside, weaving confidently through all the technology.

“Nat! We’ve got a visitor!” he shouted, and moments later she was in view, eyebrows winging up at the sight of him. She wasn’t dressed at all how he was used to seeing her. Here, she looked nothing like the intimidating force of nature he’d grown used to. She was wearing large wool socks that had slipped to slouch around her ankles, loose sweatpants pushed up around her knees, and an oversized t-shirt with a logo that from the looks of it probably belonged to Tony seeing as it was similar to the one the man in question was wearing. 

“Severus.” and the surprise was in her voice as well. “I wasn’t expecting you.” 

Snape didn’t bother hiding a smirk of his own. 

“Clearly.” 

Natasha just rolled her eyes, waving him further in, and Snape followed her, Tony meandering past them. He found there was another living space down here; two couches and an armchair that looked comfortably worn, a it was clear that this was where she and Tony had been before he’d arrived. Tony was already sprawled on one side of the couch, tablet in hand, and Natasha just curled up at the other end. He watched as Tony wiggled around the moment she was settled, like a puppy, until he could tuck his feet against her leg. Natasha’s expression was surprisingly fond before she turned to look up at him expectantly. 

In response, he settled onto the edge of the arm chair. 

“The Dementors are becoming an issue.” he said slowly, already wondering why he’d bothered coming all the way here in person when he could’ve easily sent an owl. Natasha sat up straighter and he noted Tony had tensed as well.

“What happened?”

“They approached Harry again. He’s fine.” he assured, seeing as Natasha’s knuckles had gone white in her lap. “But they seem unusually interested in him. Professor Lupin,” he said with distaste, “Has already agreed to teach him how to defend himself, but I think it would be best if your home had a similar protection.” 

Tony had abandoned his tablet then, looking at Snape too. It made him almost self-conscious, to have both gazes watching him steadily, despite the fact that there was no threat in them. 

“Are you offering?” Tony asked, and it was a fair question, but it still made Snape uncomfortable. 

“I am adequate at wards. It would be best if you had multiple layers, but it would be better than nothing.” he watched them exchange a glance before Tony sat up, turning to properly face him. 

“These wards, would they be adverse to technology? We’ve been working on a few methods to make sure the two can mesh properly, but we can’t have anything that would block technology.” 

Snape frowned. 

“It won’t interfere if the technology is already inside,” he said slowly, but Tony shook his head. Then, to Snape’s surprise, he lifted his shirt to reveal a circle of electricity embedded in his chest. It was surrounded by scarring and Snape paled at the sight. He couldn’t imagine the kind of trauma it would have caused to have that thing inserted. When the shirt dropped back down, blocking his view, he forced himself to meet Tony’s gaze. 

“I don’t want to be under house arrest.” Tony said drily, and Snape nodded sharply.

“Understood. Perhaps if you could share your notes on how you managed to combine the two,” he began, but Tony waved a hand to interrupt him.

“Honestly? It was mostly trial and error. Harry and I figured it out together. The way Arthur and Molly explained it, Harry actually alters his magical signature. It would honestly be easiest if you asked him how he did it, because we haven’t quite figured it out.” 

Snape offered another sharp nod. 

“Very well.” then he stood.

“He’s really alright?” he looked back at Natasha then, who looked nearly lost in the oversized clothes she was wearing. It made her appear uncharacteristically fragile. 

“He is.” She nodded, though he noted her grip hadn’t loosened. 

“Thank you.” 

Tony pushed to his feet then. 

“I’ll show you out.”

Chapter Text

From: J

Heard there was another 

attack

 

To: J

Yes. He’s safe.

 

From: J

Pup’s getting stircrazy

 

Natasha couldn’t help but smile at the words, feeling safe behind her phone. She’d sent a secure mobile by owl, her own number the only one programmed, and when the first message had come in she’d felt as nervous as she had relieved. 

 

From: N

Maybe he needs better 

kibble

 

James snorted out a laugh which had Sirius leaning against his back to read his phone over his shoulder. He made an offended noise the moment he finished. 

“I’m not an actual dog. Tosser.” 

“Mutt.” 

“Twit.” 

“Fleabag.” 

He caught the fork thrown at his head and smirked. Sirius just rolled his eyes. 

“When are you going to stop flirting over text and just call her?”

“I was checking on Harry. He was attacked by Dementors again.” Sirius’ expression dropped.

“Is he okay?”

“He’s fine.” 

Sirius opened his mouth to ask another question, before snapping it closed, moving sullenly around the kitchen as he started making lunch. James watched him, sympathetic, before turning back to his phone. 

 

To: N

Maybe he just needs 

more exercise. 

 

He didn’t expect an answer, not right away, especially because he understood how protective she was of Harry, but he knew at least that she’d think about it. 

 

>>>

 

Bruce was exhausted. He’d been travelling nonstop for the last 2 days to finally make it home, and now that he was here he was ready to drop. 

“Welcome home, Dr. Banner.” Jarvis greeted the moment he walked in the door, and he managed a small smile.

“Thanks, Jarvis. Is anyone else here?”

“Mr. Barton and Ms. Romanov are in the gym. Mr. Stark is in his lab. No one else is currently on site though Mr. Rogers is due to arrive home again this evening.”

“Great. Thanks. Will you let Tony know I’m here? I’m just going to sleep for a bit.”

“Of course, Dr. Banner.”

 

Bruce opened his eyes hours later to find Tony sprawled on the other side of his bed and he wasn’t in the least bit surprised. In fact, he could feel the fond smile already forming and didn’t even want to get rid of it. 

He shifted, rubbing his eyes, and that’s when he caught sight of Clint and Natasha sitting on the end of the bed playing cards. 

It was a testament to just how big the beds were that he hadn’t even noticed the extra people. It was also a testament to how much he’d missed them; how comfortable he felt with them; that the hulk hadn’t even so much as grumbled at their presence. 

“If I’d known this was a sleepover I would’ve brought snacks.” he mumbled, voice gravelly with sleep. Clint grinned though he didn’t look away from his game.

“Lucky for you, Tony’s a snack master.” Tony reached down off the bed and brought back two plastic bags filled with assorted snacks. 

“How was Brazil?”

“Hot.” Bruce announced, earning an eye roll from Natasha. “What’ve I missed around here?”

“Nothing too exciting. Just some Dementors which are basically soul sucking demons from hell. A jail break. Oh and Capsicle has hit puberty and is angsting it up.” Tony announced glibly. He noticed that at the mention of Steve, Natasha had gone momentarily still, but Bruce let it go for now. 

“Nothing new then.” he replied instead, and Clint threw his cards down with a noise of disgust, Natasha smiling smugly as he turned.

“Same old, same old.” Clint agreed, and Bruce smiled. It was good to be home.  

 

>>>

 

Harry stared at his wand in frustration. They’d been practicing the Patronus charm with professor Lupin for nearly 3 weeks now, and he still hadn’t gotten it. Mind, neither had anyone else, but it was still frustrating. 

Every time he thought he had a good memory chosen, he would remember the awful chill, that earsplitting scream. The last few tries with the boggart, he’d actually seen a flash of green light as well. 

It was more than a little unnerving. 

He accepted the piece of chocolate when professor Lupin offered it and bit into it aggressively. 

“Cheer up, Harry. The three of you are doing better than most adults.”

“Most adults aren’t being attacked at every turn.” he said bitterly. 

“We’ll get it, Harry, don’t worry.” Draco assured, bumping their shoulders together. From Draco's other side, Hermione nodded emphatically. 

“Absolutely! You even got a wisp that time!” Harry smiled faintly at his friends encouragement, looking around at the others as well. Ron was practicing the wand motions with Neville while the twins were trading jinxes in the corner. Luna was serenely braiding Ginny’s hair against the far wall, and from the looks of it, Ginny had nearly dozed off under the administrations. 

“It’s just, I’ve got so many happy memories.” and he wondered if he sounded as desperate as he felt. “Wonderful memories. Why aren’t they enough?” Hermione came up and around to settle on his other side then, and both she and Draco took one of his hands, twisting their fingers together. Their support made him want to cry.

“You also have the most bad memories.” Hermione told him gently, squeezing his hand. 

“You’ve been through things the rest of couldn’t even imagine.” Draco agreed, voice just as soft. “Wouldn’t want to imagine.”

“You’ve also come the closest to managing the spell.” professor Lupin reminded him from where he was crouched in front of the three of them. He looked up at his professor, at the soft understanding there, and set his jaw. 

They were right. He had experienced bad things, but they shouldn’t outweigh the good. He wouldn’t let them. 

“I want to try again.” He hadn’t realized how loud he’d spoken until he realized everyone else was staring at him. He let go of both Hermione and Draco, drawing his wand. “Please, let me try again.” Professor Lupin had stood as well and was regarding Harry carefully. Then he nodded. 

“Very well.” 

Harry was determined that this time he would succeed. No matter what. 

 

>>>

 

“That was incredible!” Ron burst out, practically leaping around them in amazement. “You actually managed to force the boggart back! You cast it!” Harry was grinning from ear to ear, though he could feel the heat in his cheeks and was sure he was bright red. 

They were sitting down by the lake, and Ron couldn’t keep still for a second. Draco rolled his eyes. 

“Bloody Gryffindors.” he muttered, but there was no heat behind it. Harry just grinned at him. 

“Do you think any of us will ever manage a corporeal patronus?” Hermione asked, curious, and Harry shrugged, thinking back to the two he’d already seen. 

“I don’t know. Even just the light was exhausting.” 

“But if we did, what do you think they would look like?” 

“I heard your dad’s patronus was a stag.” Neville said quietly, it had everyone looking over at him. 

“How did you hear that?”

“My parents - they used to be aurors. With him.”

“I think mine would be a dragon.” Draco announced then, changing the subject, for which Harry and Neville were both very grateful. Ron snorted in disdain. 

“Please. I don’t think anyone’s patronus has ever been a dragon.”

“Most people don’t have magical animals.” Hermione piped up, “Apparently only extremely powerful witches and wizards have magical animals as their patronus. It’s very special.” 

“Mine’s probably a toad.” Neville said glumly, and Ron waved him off. 

“Nah, mate. It’ll be something cool, I’m sure of it.”

“Our patronus is something that represents us. Who we are as people. I’m sure none of us will be disappointed.” 

Harry nodded, staring off at the lake. He wasn’t sure why, but he hoped desperately his patronus wasn’t a stag like his father’s had been. 

Chapter Text

Sirius burst into the shack like the hounds of hell were on his heels. His expression was pinched, his eyes wild, and pale as a ghost. Bucky was on his feet, gun in hand, before he’d even registered a threat. 

“Remus is teaching at Hogwarts.” Bucky lowered his gun, brow furrowed. 

“And?”

“Remus Lupin. My other best mate. Who also happens to think I murdered our two other best friends.” 

“It’s not like he saw you.” and even as he said it, he realized that’s exactly what must have happened or Sirius wouldn’t be panicking. 

“I don’t think he did. I was careful. But he wouldn’t need to see me.” James growled. 

“Get down.” 

Sirius dropped without hesitation, just missing the spell that blast through the door. He scrambled back, ducking into one of the rooms as Bucky did the same in another doorway.

“I know you’re in there, Sirius.” came a low growl from the doorway, and Bucky peaked around the corner to see the man that must be Remus, wand raised and a deadly gleam in his eyes. 

“Remus, listen to me. I didn’t kill James and Lily.” the words were followed by an animal snarl from Remus, and Bucky was beginning to understand what Sirius had meant when he’d said Remus wouldn’t need to see him to know. 

“What about Peter?”

“He’s lucky he escaped me.” Sirius snapped out. “He was the secret keeper, Remus. Not me. We knew I was too obvious a choice. That you’d say no.” and Bucky watched from the shadows as Remus crept forward, though the murderous look had faded some. His wand, however, stayed raised. 

“If Peter was the secret keeper why did you confess?”

“I was mad with grief.” and even Bucky could hear the regret in his voice, the grief that still lingered. 

“It was my idea to choose Peter. I as good as betrayed them myself.” He stepped out of hiding then, putting himself right in Remus’ sights. The other wizard froze, wand aimed squarely at Sirius. 

“Why should I believe you?” 

“Because Peter’s not dead. He’s alive. That’s why I escaped.” 

“Proof?” 

“The Weasley’s have a rat. It’s missing a finger. The same finger.” Remus’ wand lowered before he froze, cocking his head to the side.

“Who else is here?” he demanded, wand raised once more, and Sirius blinked. 

“He’s a friend. He helped me get better. I was in a rough place when I got out of Azkaban.” 

“Where is he?” Sirius’ gaze didn’t so much as flicker in his direction, and as thankful as Bucky was for that, he wasn’t going to let Sirius take any extra heat for him. He stepped out of the shadows, gun down but still in hand. 

“Right here.” Remus shifted back so he could have his sights on them both, and his gaze went from the gun, to the metal arm, to his face.

“You’re a muggle.” 

Bucky grimaced. 

“I prefer Bucky.” he watched Remus’ lips twitch. 

“How do I know you’re not under Sirius’ control?” Bucky snarled, and Remus blinked in surprise. “Right. And you believe him?”

“I know some people. They proved it.” Remus stared another moment before his wand dropped. The relief on Sirius’ face was almost overwhelming. Then he turned his back on Bucky, turning to Sirius. 

“I didn’t want to believe it.”

“Now you don’t have to.” 

Bucky almost didn’t see them move before they were gripping each other in a tight bear hug. He also instantly felt like he was intruding. 

Even as he made to step back - to give them some privacy, Sirius pulled back, keeping an arm around Remus but turning him so they were both facing Bucky. 

“Remus, meet Bucky. He’s an old friend of Natalia’s. Harry’s aunt.” And that had Remus’ eyebrows shooting up. 

The animal glint had faded from his eyes, and now that Bucky could see him fully, he was given full view of the scars on him. The prickle along the back of his neck also told him that whatever Remus was, it wasn’t just a wizard. 

Remus stepped forward and offered his hand. 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” All manners now. Bucky didn’t call him on it though, accepting the gesture. Then he looked back to Sirius, drawing Bucky’s gaze back to the other man as well. “If you escaped because you knew Peter was alive, I assume you have a plan.” Sirius nodded, lips peeling back in a feral smile. 

“Catch him.” And there was no mistaking what he meant to do once he caught him; kill him. 

 

>>>

 

“So this is where you’ve been hiding.” Fred’s voice called out, startling Harry and nearly sending him toppling out the window. A strong set of hands caught him, yanking him back and off the sill completely as his stomach lurched, his heart pounding in his chest. 

“No need to leap out the window on our account.” George joked, though both his and Fred’s expressions were concerned. 

“You startled me.” He tossed back, gripping George’s hands just as tightly, grounding himself. Fred came around to put his hands no Harry’s shoulders, grounding him further, and he leaned back into him, breaths finally slowing. 

“What brought you up to the astronomy tower?” Fred asked, neither him nor his brother moving back or releasing Harry. 

“I just wanted to clear my head.”

“What’s got it all cluttered?” George followed up, and Harry’s shoulders slumped. 

“I wanted to go flying.” He admitted, and the twins understood instantly. 

“We could go with you.” Because though they also hadn’t managed full fledged patronus’, they had also eventually managed the same wisps of light which professor Lupin had assured all of them would be more than enough to stop a Dementor should they be approached. Harry managed a smile for both of them, but shook his head. 

“That’s alright. I’m okay here.” He watched the twins exchange a look over his head before he was being pushed and pulled from the astronomy tower. 

“No you’re not,”

“And we’re not going to let you”

“Mope all by your lonesome.”

“If flying is what you want,”

“Flying is what you’ll get.” 

They informed him, but despite their gentle tone, their grips were like iron. 

“Guys, it’s really okay.” He assured, but neither released their hold.

“It’s really not.” Fred returned. 

“Nothing should keep you from doing something you love,” George continued. 

“Not if we can help it.” Fred concluded. Harry sighed, but resigned himself to being dragged to the Quidditch pitch. 

What he found wasn’t just their brooms, but their friends. Ginny, Ron, and Draco all had brooms in hand. Even Blaise was there, and though Harry hadn’t interacted with him much, he was grateful for the other boys presence as well, knew it made Draco happier. 

Hermione, Luna, and Neville were also present, but they were clearly there to spectate. The final surprise was when professor Lupin strolled out onto the pitch. 

“Alright, then. Who’s ready?” Harry felt the tears of gratitude burning his eyes but quickly scrubbed them from his eyes, accepting his broom when Draco handed it to him. 

 

>>>

 

“Natasha.” She froze, turning to look at where Steve was waiting, leaning on his motorbike, watching her. She realized he must’ve chosen to wait outside on purpose, because Tony had only just left and Jarvis hadn’t said a word. Since she was well aware Jarvis and Tony had been working hard to keep them separate, she knew the only way Steve would’ve been able to approach her was to find a way to circumvent them both. 

She knew full well Tony would be furious. 

“Steve.” She greeted, though she didn’t move a muscle. He winced, pushing off his bike then, shoving his hands in his pockets, shoulders hunching. 

“Look, Nat, I owe you an apology.” He admitted, meeting her gaze. “I haven’t been thinking straight - I never do when Bucky’s involved. I realize that’s an issue.” He swallowed, looking like he’s just swallowed something sharp. “It’s probably why he won’t talk to me.” 

She couldn’t even feel guilty that she had a line on James anymore, though she did feel a twinge of sympathy for him. 

“Thing is, I didn’t care that you two knew each other.” When she lifted a brow, he hastened to explain. “I mean, I obviously did care. But I didn’t care that it made sense. I was just-”

“Jealous.” She supplied. Steve winced again, but nodded.

“Yeah. The one connection to my past - to everything I lost - and turns out its not a two way connection.” 

“He remembers you too.” She said then, unable to help herself. Steve’s eyes lit up with hope. “But he’s not who you remember. He’s not who I remember either. He’s... someone knew.” 

“You’ve spoken to him?” And it was only the lack of bite that allowed her to answer. 

“Yes. Harry ran into him.” Steve looked immediately alarmed. “There’s a lot you’ve missed. He was helping Sirius Black hide. Harry ran into him and he allowed Harry to contact me. We’ve kept in touch.” 

She saw the frustration; saw the hurt; and saw him push it all back. 

“I - I’m glad he’s safe.” He finally said. “And I’m sorry. I really am, Nat.” 

She watched him for another moment, and realized she didn’t have it in her to stay angry at him. In her own worst moments she’d said and done a lot worse to the people she loved. 

She walked right up to him, and when he stared back, nerves and worry clear on his expression, she hugged him. He all but lifted her off her feet in his enthusiasm to return the embrace, holding her close.

 

Later that night, long after Tony had come back and she’d explained what had happened and he’d reacted just as he’d expected; furious, then resigned, then relieved; when they were curled up together on the couch, Clint, Bruce, and Steve sprawled in armchairs around the room watching old movies, she pulled out her phone. 

Tucked up against Tony, she opened the messages between herself and James, and typed out a new message, despite the fact that he hadn’t responded to her last one. 

 

To: J

Steve is back.

 

She didn’t expect a response, so she was surprised to see one pop up seconds later. 

 

From: J

Pup’s been itching for

a visit.

 

She stared at the screen and then tilted it up to Tony, despite the fact that she knew he’d been reading it over her shoulder regardless. She tilted her head back to meet his gaze and he stared right back, brow scrunched as his gaze flickered between her face and the screen. When he focused back on her, there was a question in his eyes. 

In reply, Natasha just looked back at her phone. 

 

To: J

We have a garden. 

How about Tues?

 

The reply was instant. 

 

From: J

We’ll be there. 

Chapter Text

“Harry, the headmaster wants to see you in his office.” Percy informed him the moment he stepped through the portrait. Harry stopped short, frowning. He hadn’t really heard from the headmaster all year, why summon him now?

“If you want, I could go with you. As your prefect, I’m allowed to be there during meetings with teachers. Or professor McGonagall as your head of house.” Harry blinked up at him. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Percy, but they’d never been particularly close. He did, however, nod. 

“I would appreciate that, actually. I don’t know why he’s asking for me. I swear I haven’t put a toe out of line.”

“I can’t say I know the reason for it either.” Percy admitted, motioning him back towards the portrait. “But it does seem a bit odd.” he paused, and his ears actually went red. “Plus, Fred and George would kill me if I made you go alone.” that had Harry staring up at him in disbelief. 

“Why?” Percy just rolled his eyes, leading him through the halls. 

“Well. Hermione might as well. Come to think of it, Malfoy would also probably retaliate in some way. I know you’ve made friends, but sometimes those Slytherins are still rather vicious.”

“They’re protecting their own.” Harry immediately defended. “Plus, if we wanted to talk about the most vicious when backed in a corner, honey badgers aren’t exactly soft and cuddly.” Now it was Percy’s turn to blink at him before offering a wry grin. 

“I suppose that’s true.” then he paused, frowning. “Would you like me to get professor McGonagall?” he asked, and Harry hesitated. Not because he didn’t trust Percy, but because maybe the prefect was right and it would be best to have a professor on hand, just in case. 

“Maybe that’s a good idea.” Harry admitted. It wouldn’t do to accidentally end up in an unfortunate situation and have to tell his aunt he’d made a mistake just because he didn’t ask for help. 

With a flick of his wrist, Percy conjured a piece of paper, scribbled out a note, and then with another wave, sent it flying off in the form of a paper airplane. At Harry’s staring, he gave a shy smile. 

“Dad taught me. It’s a spell they use at the ministry for departmental memos and such.”

“Cool. Will you teach me sometime?” Percy was obviously surprised by the request, but he nodded immediately. 

“Of course.” 

They made it to the entrance to the headmaster’s office only moments before professor McGonagall, and she nodded at them both. She didn’t say a word beyond a simple greeting, but the tightness around her mouth told Harry she was less than pleased. He wondered why she was so frustrated with the headmaster’s summons, because he knew this wasn’t her reaction to Percy asking after her. She cared too much for all of the students to be even remotely upset that they wanted her help with something. 

Together, they rode the staircase up to the office, and professor McGonagall strode in ahead of them, pace brisk. 

“Minerva, I wasn’t expecting you.” was the pleasant greeting moments before Harry himself walked in, Percy at his heels. 

“Yes, I know. You requested Mr. Potter.” her tone was sharp, reprimanding. “Which is why I’m surprised I didn’t hear from you, as he’s in my house.” 

Harry stepped out from behind her then, though he stuck close to her side, glancing up at her before he looked towards the headmaster. 

“If I had known Mr. Potter did not feel comfortable speaking with me, I would, of course, have contacted you.”

“I’m perfectly comfortable speaking with you, professor.” Harry pointed out immediately. He didn’t like the implication that he’d only asked for company because he was afraid. He did have his pride after all. “But I’m only 13, and if there are serious choices that need making, then shouldn’t my head of house be present? As my parents aren’t here, or my legal guardian.” he looked up at professor McGonagall. “You are technically my legal guardian while I’m here, aren’t you?” he asked, and she nodded. He fought to keep the smile off his face as her own lips quirked ever so slightly at his observations. 

“I am, Mr. Potter.” 

“Then you’re supposed to be here, aren’t you?” he asked, as if he hadn’t already said that.

“Yes, I am.” he nodded, turning to beam at the headmaster. 

“My uncle Phil thinks it’s very important to follow the rules.” he announced to the room, and was pleased that professor Dumbledore couldn’t really say much to that at all. 

“Of course, Mr. Potter.” was the agreeable response, though even Harry could tell he wasn’t exactly pleased. 

“So, what did you want to talk to me about, professor?”

“I wanted to ask how you were fairing this year.” he said amiably, and Harry tilted his head, curious, as if he didn’t know exactly what the headmaster meant. 

“Professor? I think my grades are good. I’m getting along well with my classmates.” he said, tone confused. He wondered if his aunt would be proud or exasperated by his manipulation. 

“Of course, of course. But the Dementors. I have made it very clear they aren’t to be directly on school grounds, but I understand you’ve had a number of encounters with them.” 

Harry gave a slow nod. 

“They got a little close on the quidditch pitch, but professor Lupin is helping with that. He sits in on our practices now.”

“That’s very kind of him.” professor Dumbledore agreed. He knew, however, that he’d only had an issue with them once on school grounds; the other encounter having been when he found James and Sirius. However, the headmaster wasn’t supposed to know about that. It made him uneasy that he may be aware of it. 

“He’s also been teaching you and a few other students how to cast the Patronus charm, has he not?” Harry could tell that he’d been hoping to shock someone with the words, but as both professor McGonagall and Percy were already aware, they all just stared at him. 

“Yes, professor.” Was all Harry said. 

“You know why they’re here, don’t you?” The headmaster said next, and Harry dipped his head.

“You told us at the feast, sir. He’s here because Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban.” 

“Do you know why he would’ve done such a thing?” Professor McGonagall immediately cut in.

“Albus. This is hardly appropriate.”

“I only wish for Mr. Potter to take care.” The headmaster said, but Harry shook his head.

“I already know he’s my godfather, sir. And I also know he’s probably innocent. Does the wizarding world not hold trials?” He asked then. The headmaster was frowning at him.

“Of course it does, Mr. Potter. Why would you think otherwise?”

“Because if it did, why would a possibly innocent man go to prison?” He asked.

“Dear boy, he confessed to the crimes.” 

“If he was guilty, why escape now? After all this time? I started at Hogwarts 2 years ago. The only thing that would make any sense is if he wasn’t coming to hurt me, but protect me. Why would someone who’d apparently murdered my parents want to protect me?”

“That is a lot of guesswork.” The headmaster told him gently, but he was regarding Harry carefully. “Do you have any proof?”

The problem was, he didn’t. Not without giving away that he knew where Sirius was, and that he was fairly certain Peter Pettigrew was alive; but he didn’t want to show their hand too early.

“No, professor.” He finally admitted.

“Very well, then. As it is, the dementors are here for everyone’s protection. Especially yours. Perhaps it would be best if you didn’t visit Hogsmeade on the next visit.” Harry’s mouth dropped open in disbelief. He felt the outrage bubble up in his chest but professor McGonagall’s hand on his shoulder had him holding his tongue. Instead, he just settled for glaring murderously at the headmaster. With a brisk nod, he turned on his heels and left the office, Percy by his side.

“I’m sure professor McGonagall will figure things out, Harry.” Percy assured as they waited at the bottom of the stairs, but Harry just scuffed his shoe against the floor. 

“If it’s what the headmaster wants, there’s no way to get around it. It’s like he wants me to break the rules.” He muttered, and Percy looked alarmed. 

“He’s not wrong, Harry. Sirius Black aside, the Dementors do seem drawn to you. It really is dangerous.” 

Because Percy wasn’t wrong, Harry’s shoulders sagged. 

“But I can protect myself. And it’s not like there aren’t adults around who will help me too. He’s doing this on purpose, I just don’t understand why.” 

Moments later, when professor McGonagall approached, it was clear that she hadn’t managed to change the headmaster’s mind. 

“I’m sorry, Mr. Potter, but it looks like you won’t be accompanying your friends this weekend.” Harry just sighed. 

“Thank you for trying, professor.” She nodded, though her mouth was pressed in a firm line that continued to display her displeasure. 

“I’ll be writing to your aunt, I think. This shouldn’t continue.” And he nodded. 

“Thank you, professor.” She placed a hand on his shoulder before striding down the hall, and Harry turned to Percy.

“Best head back then and break the news.” But even as they walked, the frown didn’t leave Harry’s features. 

 

>>>

 

Ron was staring in outrage.

“You mean he’s just banned you?” He demanded in disbelief, and Harry nodded. Hermione was frowning in turn, but she didn’t look any more pleased.

“He isn’t wrong that it could be dangerous, but this is hardly the worst that you’ve faced here.” She pointed out. “Everyone knows about the Basilisk after all. Not to mention You-Know-Who.” 

“It does seem strange though,” Neville pointed out quietly. “Especially after he pointed out that we’ve been learning the Patronus with professor Lupin.”

“But it almost seems like he’s trying to stop you from visiting Sirius. It isn’t as if you know where he is.” Hermione said. Harry immediately felt guilty. Before he could say anything though, Ron cut in.

“It’s so unfair. What are we going to do? You can’t miss out.” Harry pushed his guilt aside to think of a plan. How could he get out of the castle without being caught? 

He shot to his feet, grin in place.

“I have an idea.”

Chapter Text

“I would like to make it very clear that I think this is a terrible idea.” Hermione hissed, though she didn’t actively try and stop him. 

“It’ll be fine, Hermione, trust me.” Harry assured her, tugging the cloak around his shoulders. He had the Marauder’s Map tucked into his back pocket and the cloak secured; he was ready. “I’m not even going to be with you. You’re going to Hogsmeade with Ron and Neville. Draco’s going to meet me at Honeydukes and help me sneak out.”

“But what’s the point? We can’t be seen with you.”

“The point is, he’s trying to manipulate me and I don’t like it.”

“Did you consider that he might want you to sneak out?”

“Yes. But if anything, he wants me to lead him to Sirius.” Hermione gave him a hard look, and he knew she’d probably figured out he knew more than he was telling. “Trust me, okay?” and her shoulders slumped. 

“Of course I trust you.” she assured him. “But it’s not about trust, or even you really. What if he’s tricking you?”

“Do you really believe that?” Harry couldn’t help but ask. His own doubts of the headmaster had always been clear; as had that of his family; but it had never come to this before really. Never come to his friends doubting the headmaster as well. Hermione met his gaze evenly. 

“I think there are too many coincidences.” was what she finally decided on. Harry certainly couldn’t argue that. He’d had the same thought too many times. 

“I promise I’ll be careful.” was what he responded, and Hermione didn’t argue further.

 

>>>

 

Getting into Hogsmeade was as easy as he’d hoped. The map had helped him seamlessly avoid all the teachers and ghosts, and Draco had been in Honeydukes waiting as promised. Harry had just kept close to his heels and managed to avoid all the swarming students. 

Together, Draco and Harry had met up with Ron, Hermione, and Neville, and the four had provided ample cover for their fifth member. 

It was an all together enjoyable afternoon right up until Harry caught sight of the Shrieking Shack. 

“I have to go.” he murmured, and he was off before his friends could so much as protest. He walked all the way to the fence, and then clambered onto it. 

Moments later, a shaggy black dog settled at his feet. They stared towards the shack together for a few minutes before Harry finally spoke. 

“I don’t remember them.” his voice felt too loud, but he wouldn’t force himself to quiet. “I only know what they look like because I’ve been given photos. I have no actual memories.” He took a deep breath, feeling stronger for being able to admit this. 

“I remember the family I have now. I remember going to the park with uncle Steve and building robots with uncle Tony. I remember aunt Tasha singing me to sleep, and uncle Clint hiding with me when everything was too much for me to handle. I remember uncle Bruce reading to me, Hulk protecting me, and uncle Thor showing me magic for the first time.” He didn’t look away from the Shack but he could feel the dog’s gaze on him.

“Uncle Phil taught me sign language, aunt Pepper taught me confidence. They’re my family and I love them. I don’t remember James and Lily Potter. They may be my parents but they’re not my family.” He finally looked down and found the dog watching him, eyes big and sad. Harry scrubbed his own fists across his damp eyes. 

“You’re not my family either. Not yet. But I’d be okay if you wanted to be. But I’m not them. I’ll never be them. I can’t replace them. And I don’t want to. So if that’s what you want, I don’t want you to stay.”

The dog gave a whine before shuffling closer, and Harry ran gentle fingers through the fur on the top of its skull. He took another deep breath. 

“Maybe one day though - you can tell me about them.” the dog just leaned further into his leg, and for the first time since he’d found out about Sirius Black, the weight on his chest lifted. 

 

>>>

 

James was sitting on the couch phone cradled in his hands when Sirius stumbled into the room on four legs. He shifted back, the magic fluid and seamless, but James didn’t have time to appreciate it because he was too distracted by Sirius’ expression. His face had crumpled, tears streaking down his cheeks, and James was immediately on his feet, catching him as Sirius all but launched towards him, clinging as the first sob shook his frame. 

“What happened?” James all but demanded, checking frantically for any sign of injury. Then he realized where Sirius had been. “Was it Harry? Is he okay?” he felt the ice slip down his spin at the thought of having to tell Natalia that Harry had been hurt. Sirius shook his head from where it was pressed to James’ neck. 

Then, he did pull back, grey eyes dark as storm clouds. He lifted his hands to frame James’ face and murmured

“Legilimens.” 

James found himself tumbling, literally, into Sirius’ mind; tugged until he found himself in the other man’s memory from only an hour before. 

He watched the scene play out, still very aware of Sirius’ hands framing his face, but couldn’t help but ache for this kid. He knew exactly what it felt like to have all the people he was meeting only know him for who he’d been; or who he’d come from. Since he too was neither of those things, albeit from a far more painful experience; he knew exactly how the kid felt. But he could also understand how Sirius felt as it was exactly how he felt every time he set his gaze on Natalia. 

When he felt himself falling into his own thoughts once more, he found himself staring into Sirius’ gaze. 

“What do you want to do?” he asked, voice hushed, not making any move to pull away. 

“I want to be a part of his life.” was the reply, without an ounce of hesitation. 

“Are you ready to let them go?” 

“I am for him.” and there was a resoluteness to Sirius’ gaze that told James all he needed to know. Almost as if Sirius had read his thoughts, he gave a small, pained smile.  “You prefer James, don’t you?”

James shrugged. He wasn’t going to lie to Sirius, but,

“I don’t mind Bucky.” If anything, his words had Sirius looking even sadder. It made him feel bad for not being completely honest. “Bucky is who I was to Steve. Before everything. I can’t ever be him again.” 

Sirius’ eyes slipped closed but he didn’t release his grip on James. When he opened them again, the storm grey had softened. 

“Then I don’t want you to be that person.” he stepped back, and when his hands slipped from James’ face, it left a chill. He blinked when Sirius offered him a hand. 

“Hi, I’m Sirius Black. Sole heir to the noble house of Black. I’m an ex con, wrongly accused, and I’m a wizard.” 

James felt affection bloom in his chest and he reached out in return, clasping Sirius’ forearm. 

“I’m James Barnes. Former sniper for the 107th. Former assassin for Hydra. Currently recovering from brainwashing, and I’ve got a metal arm.”

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, James.” Sirius said, grinning wide, and James couldn’t help his own grudging smile. It did feel good to be able to choose. He tugged Sirius closer, throwing an arm around his shoulders and leading him towards the door.

“Come on, let’s grab dinner.” Sirius just leaned into his side. James couldn’t say he minded one bit. 

Chapter Text

“I know where Sirius Black is.” Harry blurted out to his friends where they all sat sprawled by the lake. All eyes turned on him in varying levels of shock. 

How?” Draco hissed in response, leaning forward, Harry winced. 

“I sort of - found him? But I already told you we don’t think he’s guilty.”

“He’s still a fugitive.” Hermione returned, brow scrunched with worry. “What if he’s tricking you?”

“And my aunt Tasha?” He pointed out, and she did relax a bit at that.

“Well, no.” 

“He spoke to us both.” He told them then. “And I’ve seen him again since. And I think he’s telling the truth.” The twins were suddenly both on their feet and Harry startled, looking over. 

“Just remembered” Fred announced, 

“We’ve got an essay” George continued,

“We’ve got to finish.” They said together. And then without another word they disappeared. 

Harry stared after them, frowning, before Ron drew his attention back.

“Do you really think you can trust him?” Ron asked, and Harry shrugged. 

“I think I’d rather try.” 

“I think you should do it.” Neville murmured, staring at his book. He took a deep breath before lifting his gaze to meet Harry’s. “I’d do anything for another tie to my parents.” Hermione leaned into Neville’s side, a comfort, and Neville leaned right back, looking back down at his homework. 

Draco caught Harry’s gaze.

“You know, my mother is cousins with Sirius Black. She was a Black before she was a Malfoy.” Harry blinked. 

“I didn’t know that.” Draco nodded.

“So technically, he’s my cousin too.” Draco noted, and Harry just shook his head, though a small smile had formed.

“You know, the more you guys tell me about the wizarding world and pureblood families, the more worried I am. Everyone is related to everyone.” 

Ron snorted out a laugh. 

“That’s one way to put it, mate. But you’re not free and clear there either. Potter’s are old blood too.” 

“Don’t remind me.” Harry said, wrinkling his nose. Ron snickered. 

“Really, if you look back far enough, we’re all related.” Harry just stuck his tongue out at his friend. Hermione reached over to swat them both on the back of their heads. 

“Boys. Focus.” She scolded, though she was smiling too. “Where is he then?” She asked, voice soft, and everyone was watching Harry again, expression sober. 

“You can’t tell anyone.” He couldn’t help but remind them. “Aunt Tasha is looking into it. I don’t want to ruin whatever she’s got planned.”

“We won’t.” Draco promised, and the others nodded as well. 

“He’s in the Shrieking Shack.”

 

>>>

 

Natasha couldn’t help the nerves as she waited for James and Sirius to arrive. She knew it was a good idea to have them here, but she was still beyond nervous. 

The arm swung around her shoulders and she leaned into the touch, tilting her head to meet Tony’s gaze.

“Where’s hawkguy?” 

“Roof.” 

“Doesn’t he want to meet robocop and the mutt?” Natasha huffed out a laugh. 

“He’ll join us later.” Then she asked the question that had been bothering her all morning.

“Where’s Steve?”

“Cap’s in the kitchen.” But he didn’t expand on that. It made Natasha nervous. They’d told Steve that James had agreed to meet them; to bring Sirius to the house; but he hadn’t really reacted beyond a curt nod. Now, just having him in the house was feeling like an oppressive weight. 

The knock on the door had her instantly on her feet, but Tony beat her to the door, swinging it open and leaning in the doorframe. She didn’t bother moving closer; she could see them both perfectly from where she stood a few steps back. 

Sirius was just blinking at Tony in surprise, but James’ gaze had immediately shot past him to land on her. The tension that had gathered in his shoulder’s loosened and she couldn’t help her own relief that followed. 

She didn’t want there to be a confrontation; especially not with Tony or Clint. 

As if on cue, she saw Clint drop down behind them on the front step and watched James spin around, gun in hand. 

“You guys coming in or what?” Clint asked, ignoring the gun completely. Sirius had spun around, following James’ reaction, and he had his wand out. He just blinked at Clint though, staring.

“Is that a bow and arrow?” He asked, shocked, and Clint smirked.

“Yup.” And he sauntered by. “You know what I would kill for? Pizza.” Natasha rolled her eyes. 

“You always want pizza.” 

“That one time I wanted churros.” He countered. She heard Sirius snort out a laugh. 

“So you’re that sort, are you.” When she glanced back, there was a wicked glint in his eyes. “We’ll get on just fine, mate.” He didn’t move by her though, not until she offered a nod, and she was grateful for that. 

“Come on then, let’s see what we’ve got in the kitchen.” Clint offered and Sirius strolled right after him. She didn’t have to warn Clint that that’s where Steve was, and she wondered if he was doing that on purpose. 

She decided not to worry though, turning back to where Tony was still facing off with James. 

“Are you going to let him in?” She asked, loud enough that the would both hear. Tony didn’t move. 

“You know you’ve created a lot of problems around here.” Was what he said instead. James’ gaze didn’t even flicker.

“I know.” 

“Planning on pulling that shit again?”

“I never asked for my brain to get scrambled.”

“No. I guess you didn’t.” Then he was stepping back, relaxed once more, all but inviting James in. “I’ve got a lot of questions about that arm.”

“I don’t have a lot of answers.”

“Mind if I find my own?” And that’s when James’ gaze met hers once more.

“Not at all.” 

 

The three of them wandered towards the kitchen together and the moment they stepped in the door, Sirius was there, sliding between where James and Natasha stood, pressed shoulder to shoulder with James. It left his arm brushing against hers, but since he didn’t pull back, neither did she. 

Steve was standing across the room, expression tight, and it was clear that whatever had been discussed before they’d entered the room was something he found irritating. 

Now, however, with all of them in the room, he seemed to have lost whatever he wanted to say. 

“Steve here was just telling me that they’ve been living in Scotland since Harry’s first year. That they often summer Stateside but spend most of the school year here. Doesn’t that make being an international spy difficult?” Sirius asked, looking at Natasha. 

“We don’t take as many domestic missions.” Natasha agreed, “and we try to not be all away at the same time. Just in case.” 

“Rumour has it you’ve been able to get through the wards.” And Natasha blinked before glancing at James. 

“Really?”

“I’m very impressed. I’ve run into a bit of trouble with Hogwarts’ innate magic before.” That also surprised her.

“I’ve visited, yes.” 

“You’ll have to show me how you got in. It took us years to find all the passages. You found them in weeks.”

“Weeks?” She tossed back, small smile gracing her features. She could definitely appreciate Sirius’ presence now, especially with the growing tension between Steve and James.

“Nat was in within a day. We’ve got a full security system in place.” Tony bragged, and Sirius blinked.

“Rubbish.” 

Tony grinned. 

“I’ll take that bet. Jarvis, my man, pull up the schematics.” 

A 3D rendition of Hogwarts’ blueprints filled the middle of the kitchen, floating at about chest level. 

“Wicked.” Sirius murmured, stepping closer to dance his fingers through the hologram. He glanced back at James’ grin wide with childlike glee. “Can you see this?” and James’ answering smile was small but fond. 

“Got eyes, don’t I?” 

The tension in the room racketed. 

“Bucky-” Steve began, stepping forward, and before anyone else could say anything; before anyone else could even think to react; Sirius spun on Steve, smile gone from his features. 

“He doesn’t like to go by that name.” and Sirius’ voice was sharp as a knife. Steve immediately bristled. “You must be Steve Rogers.” and there was a disdain in his voice Natasha hadn’t expected. She couldn’t help herself, she looked at James, and found him staring right back. As soon as he met her gaze, his own flickered to Sirius and she couldn’t help her surprise. 

“Who knew tasty-freeze was such a gossip.” Tony cut in with a smirk, leaning against the counter. Steve shot him a look of betrayal. Tony just raised a sarcastic brow in return. “What? Don’t like the way he’s talking to you? Funny. Wonder how that must feel.” 

Steve’s gaze cut over to her.

“Is this how we’re doing this?” He asked. She never got the chance to answer.

“Stevie, whatever problem you’ve got with me, it’s got nothin’ to do with her.” James cut in, voice gruff. “If someone had tried to kill you in the woods i mighta stepped in too.” 

“That’s a step up from me.” Sirius noted, “I got a death threat.” 

Clint snorted out a laugh. 

“Sounds about right.” 

“Why didn’t you come back sooner?” Steve asked, cutting through the humour, and there was no ignoring the pain in his voice. 

“There wasn’t someone to come back.” James bit out. 

“Bu-” but at Sirius’ sharp glance, quickly caught himself. “James. I would’ve helped.”

“You would’ve helped me be Bucky. I wanted to choose who I was going to be.” 

“I’m sorry.” was all Steve managed. James immediately bristled. 

“For what?” and everyone could hear what he was accusing. Was he trying to take responsibility for everything he’d been through?”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t help. Couldn’t be here for you.” Then he looked at Natasha. “For either of you.” She was close enough to reach out and put a hand on his arm. Then she looked at Tony. 

“Let’s order that pizza.” 

 

From that point, the evening relaxed considerably. Sirius asked a lot of questions about Harry, happy to learn as much as he could about the boy that had brought them all together. 

After dinner, Sirius having devoured nearly an entire pizza, transformed into a dog and flopped to the floor at James’ feet, dozing off. 

Steve retired early, tearing up a little when James offered him a gripping hug, murmuring something in his ear quiet enough that not even Natasha heard it. Sirius had moved then, shuffling around to lean again her leg instead. 

Tony dragged Clint not soon after, citing new arrows, and James settled on the other end of the couch Natasha had chosen with a huff of laughter. 

“Not very subtle are they?” 

Natasha didn’t fight her fond smile.

“Not in the least.” 

They settled in content silence until James purposefully leaned forward to catch her eye. 

“Thank you.” 

She glanced down at Sirius before she could help herself but the dog was watching James as well. When she looked back at James, he met her gaze evenly. 

“Why?” she asked despite herself, despite how much it grated not to know something. James gave an easy shrug, small smile playing at the corner of his mouth, lighting up his eyes. It struck a memory in her that she couldn’t quite reach. 

“You showed me it was possible to move forward.” 

Sirius shifted then, moving to lay his head on her leg and look up at her with soulful eyes. She huffed out a breath, but didn’t fight the smile. Instead she scratched him behind the ears, earning a pleased woof. 

“Don’t thank me for that.” she admitted, looking between them both. “Thank Harry.” 

 

Chapter Text

When Harry went back to the dorms, he found the twins sitting on his bed, waiting for him. 

“What are you doing here?” He asked, and he expected some sort of joke in response. Instead, he got two matching looks of concern. 

“That friend - the one who actually betrayed your parents.” George began quietly. 

“What was his name?” Fred asked. Harry frowned. 

“Peter Pettigrew.” They exchanged a look, and then he saw the map in Fred’s hands. 

“How often do you check the map, Harry?” And come to think of it, he’d actually forgotten it. Other than the one brief glance on the way to Hogsmeade, he hadn’t had the need to sneak around really this year.  

“I haven’t really.” He admitted. “But what does that have to do with anything?”

“We’d forgotten really. About that name.” George told him. 

“We’d seen it a few time before, but it was always just sort of wandering about. And even the ghosts show up on the map.” Fred continued. 

“But then when you mentioned Sirius Black,” he looked at his twin.

“It clicked.”

“What clicked?” Harry asked, dread pooling in his stomach. 

“Peter Pettigrew.”

That’s when George brandished his wand. With a flick of his wrist, Ron’s rat, Scabbers, floated out from behind them, the tiny body in a full body bind. 

“Harry, meet Peter Pettigrew.” 

Harry stared. 

He stared 

and stared 

and stared - 

opening his mouth and closing it again as he struggled. 

“He’s an animagus.” And it made so much sense now. 

“We have to speak to professor McGonagall.” He was backing to the door, mind whirling. He moved quickly because he knew if he stopped he’d probably panic. “Come on. Quick. He’s been hiding this long - who knows how long that spell will last.” 

The twins didn't hesitate for a second, staying right on his heels. 

They’d barely made it down 2 corridors when Harry ran full tilt into someone. He stumbled back, steadied by a hand on his shoulder, and found himself facing professor Lupin. 

“What’s the rush, Harry?” He opened his mouth to tell the truth, but then felt his throat tighten. 

“I need professor McGonagall.” He blurted out. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust professor Lupin, but he’d also been good friends with his parents; and he didn’t want to risk anything. The professor looked past him to see the twins and frowned.

“Harry-”

“Please, professor. It’s urgent.” 

“Is there a problem here?” Professor Snape’s voice floated towards them, and Harry just winced. These were the two absolute worst people to have here; but it looked like he had no choice. 

“We found Peter Pettigrew.” He blurted out. “And we don’t want anything going wrong. And professor McGonagall knows the most about transfiguration.” 

Professor Snape brandished his wand, expression flat, but Harry trusted him to react appropriately.

“Show me.” 

George flicked his wand forward, floating the rat forward, and the bind had already worn off leaving the rat wiggling in the air, trying to escape. Professor Snape didn’t say a word. Instead, he stepped forward, pressing his wand to the rat. 

Before their very eyes, he transformed into a man, and Harry found himself once again unable to do anything but stare. 

Before the man could even react, he was hit by a collection of spells and he fell flat on his back, unconscious. 

“It would be best to contact the headmaster.” Then he turned a look on Harry. “And your aunt.” 

Harry nodded, feeling numb. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his cellphone; having forgotten about it until then. He dialled without looking and waited as it rang in his ear. He watched professor Snape and professor Lupin discussing the unconscious man between them in heated whispers, but he was couldn’t shake the numbness. 

“Harry? It’s the middle of the day.” Her voice was concerned. He couldn’t even really react to it. 

“We found him.” 

 

>>>

 

Natasha walked into the shack without an invitation. She was immediately face to face with James, but she didn’t so much as flinch. 

“Where is he?” She asked, and moments later, Sirius appeared behind James, frowning. 

“What are you doing here?” 

“They found him.” She didn’t have to specify who. 

“Let’s go.” And Sirius made to push forward, but James stood in the way, turning to block him from coming forward. 

“You’re still a wanted criminal.” Sirius’ lips pulled back in a snarl.

“Who knows if he’ll be able to escape again.”

“They contacted both Minerva and the headmaster. He’s well contained. Apparently the Dementors have even been called.” Sirius just stared. 

“They’re going to give him the kiss?” she just watched him.

“Isn’t that what you wanted?” 

Sirius stared into space and now James shifted to clap a hand to Sirius’ shoulder. Sirius focused again, staring at James’ face, and Natasha felt like she was intruding as the tears filled Sirius’ gaze. He leaned forward, pressing into James’ side, and when the first sob wracked his frame, Natasha wanted to step away. 

Instead, when James met her gaze over Sirius’ head, she found herself walking closer. She placed a hand on Sirius’ shoulder and his breath hitched, before he shuddered, leaning into her touch as well. 

 

Once he’d calmed enough to speak once more, Sirius pulled back so he could see them both; he did not, however move completely out of either of their spaces. 

“I never actually believed this would happen.” Sirius admitted, voice hoarse. “I thought I would die before I saw this day.” Natasha actually felt James stiffen at the words. “I was imprisoned without trial - and the only person who could prove my innocence was him.” 

Natasha let out a breath, knowing this was probably a bad idea. 

“I can get you in.” both sets of eyes were immediately on her. “But you can’t be seen. No confrontations. In and out.” 

“I won’t be.” he immediately promised, but Natasha was looking at James. He knew Sirius far better than she did. He nodded and she returned the gesture, stepping back. 

“Let’s go.”

 

>>>

 

From: Aunt Tasha

We’re coming. Are you 

okay?

 

Harry’s thumbs hovered over the screen, unsure how to respond. He could guess who the ‘we’ was, but he wasn’t sure how he felt about it. He knew for a fact that his aunt had been spending more time with both James and Sirius, knew that’s probably who was coming with her, but it didn’t sit very well with him. 

He was so used to their family as it was, so used to it just being them; the same people who’d been there the day his aunt Tasha had brought him home; that the thought of letting more people in permanently had his chest going tight. 

He knew that wasn’t really fair, especially since there were absolutely new people in their lives; he had friends after all and he knew his aunts and uncles had made friends with some of his professors and some of his friends parents; but it wasn’t the same. 

Some selfish part of him wondered if it’s because all of those other people were only involved because of him. It was disconcerting to feel so out of the loop. 

A chill passed over him and he shuddered, finally typing back. 

 

To: Aunt Tasha

Be careful. There are 

more Dementors. The

Minister for Magic 

came. 

 

He hesitated and then sent another message; 

 

To: Aunt Tasha

Dumbledore is 

acting weird. 

 

He hesitated again.

 

To: Aunt Tasha

I think he knew.

 

Another chill passed over him and this time it was the twins beside him who shuddered. 

“Something’s not right.” Fred’s tone was dark. George got their attention with a gasp, drawing their gaze out towards the forest. They could see the Dementors descending in what almost seemed like droves, and Harry realized the chill hadn’t been for himself; he’d sensed the danger. 

“Aunt Tasha’s out there.” he said, and then his want was in hand, his breath coming in gasps. “Aunt Tasha’s out there and she’s with Sirius Black.” 

He didn’t even realize his magic had lashed out until the twins were both grabbing onto him, grip tight, and the hall seemed to swirl around them. 

With an ear shattering boom, they disappeared from sight. 

 

Professor Snape and Lupin both burst into the corridor at the sound, professor McGonagall only moments behind them, and they were all nearly sent staggering back by the residual wild magic lashing through the corridor. 

Having taught him for 3 years now, both Snape and McGonagall recognized just who the magic belonged to, and it had them looking around frantically for what could have caused such an outburst. 

Their gazes caught at the same moment as Lupin stumbled to the window, and the strangled sound in his throat had them both freezing.

“Dear God.”

Chapter Text

Sirius felt the chill first and it had him freezing in his tracks. 

“They’re here.” there was no missing the terror in his voice and it had ice snaking down Natasha’s spine.

“Who?” James’ demanded, voice low, but even as he asked, it was like frost crept through the forest, settling over their skin. 

A hush fell, not even the boughs creaking any longer; and it was like the entire forest was holding it’s breath, waiting for the inevitable. 

Natasha’s gun was in hand and she’d let off a shot before she’d even made visual confirmation of threat her instincts screaming. There was a hiss of breath that set her teeth on edge and the it was like her vision was tunnelling into as something flew at her. 

She only vaguely heard James calling out for her before it felt like she was being yanked out of her body, and everything went black. 

“Natalia!” He let off a series of his own shots, but they only seemed to sting the creatures. He felt it the moment one got too close - like everything was being pulled from his body - and he grit his teeth against it. He’d had enough stolen from him. Instinct had him swinging out with his metal hand and it connected: hard. He felt the creatures skull collapse under the force and watched it drop like a stone. The following echoes of screaming that came from the approaching creatures had every hair standing on edge. 

“Can you wake her?” He demanded of Sirius, even as he lashed out again, but when he looked over he saw Sirius crouched over Natalia, pale as a ghost. 

“There’s too many of them. Even if I could wake her, it won’t hurt if she’s unconscious.” The grey of his eyes were opaque as they met his own gaze, and there was a world of pain in them. “I’m so sorry.” 

 

The sound was like a thunder clap and James barely held himself back from shooting when Harry appeared out of nowhere, two red headed twins gripping a shoulder each and looking a bit green around the edges. 

It all happened instantly; Harry’s gaze falling on where Natalia had fallen, where Sirius was crouched over her, deathly pale and wand drawn, and then eyes that were now glowing green met his own. 

It was like getting sucker punched. 

He staggered back under the weight of it, and couldn’t even feel shame at the action because he was fairly certain nobody could stand strong under the weight of that gaze. 

Then Harry was darting forward, he planted himself in front of Natalia and Sirius, raising his wand into the air. 

The Dementors swarmed in, far too many for them to handle, but James could feel the magic crackling off Harry like an itch across his own skin. 

Expecto Patronum!” It was not only Harry’s voice but an echo of millions. A massive shape burst from the end of his wand, and when the lion landed in front of Harry, James had to blink to confirm his eyes weren’t tricking him. 

He watched, as if in slow motion, as the lions muscles bunched as it gathered to leap, before letting out a deafening roar. 

The world froze for a single moment before the Dementors all but fell over themselves to escape, but the lion didn’t allow them to escape, pouncing. 

Moments later, two echoes of 

“Expecto Patronum!” followed, and two magpies burst forth as well, helping the lion push the Dementors back. 

James stood, rooted to the spot, as the chill faded and the light seeped back in. As the massive lion padded up to Harry and nuzzled against him. As the two magpies landed on his shoulders and preened his hair before fading back into wisps of light. 

The lion disappeared last, all but bowing in front of Harry, and when it faded, Harry slumped back. It was thanks to the twins that he didn’t hit the ground. 

He shook them off gently though, turning to drop down next to Sirius, next to his aunt. The moment his hand touched her shoulder her eyes flew open, landing on him immediately. 

“Harry.” he hugged her tightly, and James watched as they clung to each other. 

“I was so scared.” Harry was saying, and it seemed impossible to combine the image of the scared child now in front of him and the one who’d been a literal whirlpool of power and energy. 

“We’re okay.” Natalia soothed, and James found he couldn’t watch anymore. Instead he reached for Sirius, helping him to his feet. 

“Whoa!” Came the exclamation from behind them, and he turned to see the twins staring at them. With his metal arm on full display, he resigned himself to the question. 

“Is that,”

“Sirius Black?” 

James blinked even as Sirius smirked, giving James a playful nudge. 

“I am.” He confirmed. The twins exchanged a glance before grinning. The expression made James uneasy. 

“Wicked.” 

Out of the corner of his eye he caught movement, and saw Natalia was on her feet once more, an arm around Harry’s shoulders. 

“We should go.” even as she said it, 3 cracks appeared one after the other. 

 

Natasha looked over as Severus, Minerva, and Remus all appeared in the forest, wands brandished, and gave a tired smile.

“You’re a bit late to the party.” For a moment all three of them stared before Severus’ gaze slid to Sirius and his eyes narrowed. Natasha watched James shift ever so slightly in front of him and spoke up before spells could start flying. 

“What happened to Pettigrew?” she asked, drawing everyone’s gaze. 

“He’s still with the Headmaster and the Minister. He’s been given Veritaserum and he’ll be spilling the truth by now.” Severus replied promptly, and he was looking at his students now, brow raised. “However, there was a large magical disturbance that drew us away.”

Harry flushed but didn’t say a word. 

“We should get you to the hospital wing in any case.” Minerva stepped in then, expression pinched with concern. “You look a fright.”

“I feel it.” Natasha allowed, knowing it would make the other woman feel better to know she could help. “But I think we all need a little peace of mind, don’t you?” she looked at Sirius and Minerva followed her gaze, eyes softening. 

“Professor.” Sirius greeted, ducking his head, and therefore missing the fond smile on her features. 

“Sirius.” and his head shot up. “I do believe that the confession being made at this very moment should absolve you of all charges. Come along then.” 

Remus waved the twins closer and they both moved in easily, putting a hand on the outstretched arm. 

With duo cracks, that left just Harry, Natasha, James, and Severus. 

“If you continue to display such acts of magic, you run the risk of severely damaging your magical core.” Severus warned, and Harry frowned. 

“It wasn’t on purpose, professor. It just happened.” Severus sighed, looking at Natasha then. 

“Minerva is right. You don’t look well.” 

“Is that how you talk to all the girls?” she shot right back, and got the barest of smiles in return. Then he looked at James, expression souring. 

“You must be the one who hid Black from us.” 

James chin tilted in defiance and as he shrugged his shoulders, the sound of his arm recalibrating filled the silence. 

“Maybe you just weren’t looking very hard.” 

Severus sneered. 

“Professor, can you take us to the castle?” Harry interrupted. Severus turned his gaze on Harry, giving a sharp nod.

“I will take you, and your aunt. But I think that will be enough people in the school who don’t belong.” 

Harry opened his mouth to protest, but Natasha just glanced at James, before squeezing Harry’s shoulder. 

“That’s fine.” When Severus reached out, she put more of her weight on him than she’d let Harry take, relieved at the support. She looked over at James.

“I’ll get him back to you when it’s done.”

With a crack, James was left alone in the forest. 

 

>>>

 

Natasha blinked the spots from her vision as they reappeared in the school, and she recognized the hospital wing. Minerva and Sirius were there as well, and she let Severus help her onto a bed, where Harry scrambled up next to her, leaning into her side. 

“What about Pettigrew?” she heard Sirius snap, and looked over to see him facing off against Remus. 

“The Headmaster-”

“Never did a thing before now. He knew I wasn’t the secret keeper.” and Sirius wasn’t even bothering to keep his voice down. Natasha looked up at where Severus stood over her, at how all the colour had drained from his cheeks. 

“Sirius,” Remus tried to cut in, but Sirius slashed a hand threw the air.

“No. He knew and he did nothing. I don’t trust him to do something now.” and he was livid now. “You know as well as I do that Harry would’ve come to me instead of that woman if I hadn’t ended up in Azkaban for a crime I didn’t commit. He wanted Harry to end up with Lily’s sister, and not the one he ended up with. What I want to know, is why. Until then, I won’t trust him. I can’t.”

Remus was at a loss for words and it was Minerva who responded, looking shaken.

“If he did know about the secret keeper, there is only one way to find out.” She murmured, and Sirius’ gaze met hers, eyes like granite.

“Veritaserum.” then he looked at Severus, none of the earlier distrust in his gaze, only conviction. “Do you have any left?” 

 

Chapter Text

"It’s good to see you, dear boy.” the headmaster greeted as Sirius followed Minerva into his office, Severus on his heels. He’d never thought he’d feel so comfortable with Snape of all people at his back, but there’d been a trust between him and Natasha that told him Severus was not the same boy he’d been all those years ago. 

“It’s good to be seen, professor.” he returned easily, but he kept the barriers around his mind strong. It wouldn’t do to give them away too soon. 

“I hear it was Harry’s aunt, who found you. Are they still in the hospital wing?” Sirius glanced at Severus, who dipped his head. 

“Perhaps a spot of tea, while we discuss what comes next.” Dumbledore suggested, waving towards the stairs, and they dutifully followed him up the steps, settling at the table there. 

“What happened with Mr. Pettigrew? And the Minister?” Minerva inquired, and Dumbledore nodded, expression downcast. 

“Of course. You must have many questions.” He waited until the tea set was settled on the table, and nodded pleasantly at Severus when he moved to pour the tea. Once tea was poured, and he’d added 3 lumps of sugar before taking a sip, he gave a satisfied sigh before turning his attention to the table once more. 

“With all the business at hand, I’m not surprised you want answers.” he allowed, smiling kindly. “The Minister has accompanied Mr. Pettigrew’s body of school grounds.”

“His body?” Minerva’s voice was thin.

“Of course. After the crimes he committed, it should come as no surprise that he was given the kiss.” and the frankness of the statement startled all four of them. Dumbledore paused, as if to collect his thoughts. 

“But he confessed first, right?” Sirius blurted out. “He gave the Minister proof that I’m not guilty.”

“You did escape from Azkaban.” Dumbledore pointed out mildly, and it took all of Sirius’ control not to bare his teeth in frustration. 

“After being wrongfully imprisoned for over a decade.” was Severus’ reply, and Sirius looked over sharply at him. Severus, however, didn’t so much as glance in his direction, gaze pointedly on the headmaster. 

“It served its purpose.” was the reply, and the headmaster stopped once more. He looked from his cup to Severus and the mildness slipped from his features. “Veritaserum.” 

Severus didn’t bother to deny it, instead, he reached for his own cup and took a sip.

“Imagine my surprise when I learned you were the one who cast the spell to make Pettigrew the secret keeper.” Dumbledore opened his mouth to protest but stopped himself when he realized he couldn’t. 

“You must understand,”

“I understand that you allowed me to believe Sirius Black was behind the death of the Potters’ when you knew the truth all along.”

“Voldemort killed the Potters’.” Dumbledore argued immediately. 

“But you knew.” and Severus’ voice was sharp as a whip. “You knew the truth. Tell me, Headmaster. Did you intend for Harry to go to Petunia?”

“Yes.” and he sat up straighter, leaning forward to balance his arms on the table. “In order to properly defeatVoldemort, we need someone who can understand him. Someone who knows, intrinsically, what it was liked to be raised as he was.”

“Abused.” and Severus’ spat the word out like it was poison. Dumbledore didn’t so much as blink.

“That wasn’t the case. He was, after all, taken in by Ms. Romanov.”

“You let me rot in that place.” Sirius’ voice was soft but laced with steel. “You would’ve let me die there. All to build the perfect saviour.”

“What is one life compared to a thousand?” and Dumbledore sounded honestly saddened by this, but convicted all the same. 

Minerva was on her feet, wand drawn, and her hand all but shook in her fury. 

“Minerva, please.” Dumbledore murmured, hands out to the side in a plea for understanding. “You must understand it was the only way.”

“I understand just fine.” was the sharp reply. “And I won’t let you use that boy or anyone else for that matter in order to fulfil whatever plan you’ve set.”

“There’s a prophecy.” Dumbledore admitted then, and the other three in the room froze. 

“About Harry?” Sirius demanded, and Dumbledore nodded. 

“Yes. I was there, when it was spoken. He’s the only one who can defeat Voldemort.” 

The silence that followed the statement was deafening. 

“No.” Sirius was on his feet now too, teeth bared in a furious grimace. “No! I won’t let you use him like that. Prophecy be damned. We all know most prophecies are self-fulfilling anyways.”

“This one has already been triggered. It was the moment Voldemort marked Harry as his equal.” 

“We’ve heard enough.” Minerva cut in. “As Deputy Headmistress, I will be addressing the board. You have endangered lives, Albus.” and she looked heartbroken, tears swimming in her eyes. “You’ve endangered the lives of our students, past and present. This cannot continue. It will not. I will submit my memory for review, but you will no longer be headmaster of Hogwarts.”

“Minerva, please,” he implored, but she shook her head, lifting her wand once more. 

The flash of light was so sudden that she cried out, throwing a hand up to cover her eyes, and it was only Sirius standing at her side that steadied her. 

In the flash, Fawks had appeared, and they saw only a glimpse of Dumbledore’s apologetic expression before he flashed out of existence in a burst of flame, leaving the office empty. 

Minerva sank into her chair, staring blankly at where Dumbledore had just stood. 

Then the steel entered her gaze once more, and her chin tilted. She looked at Severus, now also on his feet, and Sirius who hovered at her shoulder. 

“Send word to the Minister.” she directed at Sirius. “And the board.” she directed at Severus. “This is to be resolved immediately.” 

Both nodded without an ounce of hesitation. Minerva pushed to her feet then, brushing a hand over her robes. With a sharp nod, she lifted her wand, and her magic began to float around the room. 

“It’s time we learn the secrets that were kept from us.”

 

>>>

 

Harry opened his eyes on a yawn. He hadn’t meant to doze off, but it was so comfortable curled up next to his aunt he hadn’t been able to help it. He felt her fingers carding through his hair and tilted his head back to look up at her.

“Are you alright?” he asked, and she offered him a soft smile.

“Of course. How do you feel?” he thought about the question before he answered, wanting to be honest, but realized he felt just fine. 

“I feel fine.” then he sat up, looking around. The twins were sitting on another bed close by, and professor Lupin in a chair between them all. The moment he looked around, the twins were speaking.

“Holy Hell, Harry,”

“Who knew you”

“Were capable”

“Of producing”

“A corporeal”

“Patronus!” they spoke so quickly that it actually sounded like just one person despite the fact that they switched practically every other word. Harry flushed, looking between the two adults. 

“It wasn’t on purpose.” he muttered. He glanced at his aunt, sheepish. “I was just so scared for you.” His aunt just wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him in to press a kiss to his hair.

“You were great.”

“You were more than great, mate,”

“You were brilliant!” the twins exclaimed. That’s when professor Lupin stepped in. 

“From what the twins were saying, your patronus manifested as a lion.” Harry gave a slow nod. 

“That’s incredibly rare.” Lupin admitted. “The last known wizard to cast a lion as their patronus was Godric Gryffindor himself.” 

Harry groaned, leaning into his aunt and throwing an arm over his face.

“This is the worst.” he muttered. “Why couldn’t it have been something normal like a… dog or something?” he complained. He was met by laughter from every direction and felt his aunt place another kiss to his hair. 

“Because you’ll always be extraordinary.” she promised, voice a whisper as the others started discussing corporeal shapes, and the twins spoke excitedly about their own. Harry lifted his arm to look up at her, and met he smile with one of his own. 

“I’m glad you’re okay, aunt Tasha.” 

“I’ll always be okay.” she promised, and he couldn’t help but believe her. 

 

Chapter Text

James knocked on the door to the mansion, tension tightening the muscles of his shoulders. His left shoulder ached, where metal connected with flesh, had since he’d punched that creature, and the ache had slowly grown in pain until it was almost searing. 

The door swung open to reveal nobody behind it, and James took a cautious step inside.

“Welcome Mr. Barnes.” and he froze at the voice, gritting his teeth against the pain in his shoulder. “Mr. Stark is in his labs and invites you to join him. If you’ll step into the elevator.” He did as directed, stepping into the elevator, and leaning against the wall as it immediately glided down a few floors. It opened to reveal a huge lab, and he took a moment to orient himself, blinking in surprise.

He’d always known Stark was a genius, but seeing his ideas all out in the open like this put it on another level. 

“You coming in or just gonna stand and stare?” Stark’s voice called out, and seconds later the man came into view. The moment he set eyes on James’, the concern was immediate.

“What’s wrong?”

James cocked his head in surprise. How had he known anything was wrong? Stark actually rolled his eyes.

“Natasha is my best friend. You’re an open book to me, pal.” then he stepped towards the elevator, hands raised like he was approaching a wild animal. With the amount of pain he was in, James was fairly sure he wasn’t far out. If it were anyone else but someone he knew Natasha trusted so dearly, he probably would have lashed out. 

“My arm. We got into a fight with these - Dementor things. Bullets couldn’t hit them but my arm...” he flexed it and grit his teeth against the pain.

“You have full pain sensors?” Stark demanded, alarmed, and James was actually caught off guard.

“Yes.” Stark swore colourfully and then he was guiding him into the lab, all but pushing him onto a stool. 

“Jarvis. Full scan.” and he was all business now, eyes focused, brow creasing in concentration. James waited for the light show, but moments later, a holographic image of his shoulder down to his fingertips just appeared next to where Stark had dropped onto a second stool, and he stared in wonder. He’d expected something a lot more invasive. With only a glance at his face, a flash of fury passed over Stark’s. 

“Anything that happens in my lab is with full consent and with a full scale of what hurts and what doesn’t. I’m not about to torture you.” he bit out, but it was clear he wasn’t mad at James. Somehow, it relaxed him. “Mind if I open it up?” James nodded. He barely even felt the panel at the back of his arm open, and moments later, all the pain he’d been feeling disappeared. The sudden change actually made him nauseous. 

The bucket was in front of him in an instant and he couldn’t help himself as his stomach heaved. 

The moment he was finished, a bottle of water was passed to him and the bucket was shoved away. When he looked up, Stark was watching him, concerned once more, that same fury lurking in his gaze. 

“You good?” James nodded, pushing his hair from his face with his flesh hand. “Alright.” then he leaned forward, keeping full eye contact. James realized now that Stark had never actually looked him in the eyes for this long before. In flashes, yes, but he was one of those people who’s gaze darted to yours and back. He hadn’t realized just how pointed Stark’s gaze was when it was actually focused. 

“What I’m about to say? You can say no.” and Stark’s voice was firm. James nodded, already feeling queasy again. “I can see what’s wrong, but it’s going to be hard to fix with your arm still attached. Not without causing you more pain. And that’s a no for me.” He didn’t move, didn’t move away, just held James’ gaze while his mind whirled. James took another sip of the water, mouth suddenly dry.

“How - how long?” Stark’s expression softened. 

“Few hours at most. J’s already been running the numbers. I can probably do it in two.” James nodded slowly, thinking it over. 

“Can I stay here?” Stark stared right back at him, and for the first time he could remember in a long time, James actually wanted to look away. 

“I don’t want you going anywhere. I need your input after all. It’s your arm.” and the relief crashed over him in a wave. His nod was more sure now. 

“Okay.” but Stark still didn’t move. He just stared a bit longer. James realized it was because he really wouldn’t cross the boundary if he wasn’t sure. His respect for the man in front of him tripled. 

“Okay.” Stark finally agreed, leaning back to grab some tools. Then he was smirking, levity back. “Also, call me Tony.”

“Only if you call me James.”

“No can do tasty freeze. I’m not even a quarter of the way through my nicknames for you.” Then he moved back in, expression gentle. “Ready?” James took a breath, and nodded. 

 

>>>

 

“Dumbledore’s gone.” Sirius announced the moment he stepped through the door, and it had Natasha’s arms tightening around Harry. 

“Where?”

“We don’t know.” he met her gaze and she didn’t like the apology she saw there. “But McGonagall will be taking over as Headmistress.” Natasha nodded, she was the best choice really, though it made her uneasy that Dumbledore was in the wind.

“Severus?” she inquired, realizing the man hadn’t followed him. Sirius raised a brow at the familiarity. 

“Helping her sort things out.” She nodded, standing. She looked at Harry and the twins and set her jaw. “Finish your year. Then we’ll talk.” she was given nods from all around and then turned to Lupin.

“Keep an eye on them.” she warned, and watched something flare in his gaze, but he too nodded. When she looked back at Sirius, he was watching Remus, looking impressed when he looked back to her. “Come on. I promised I’d return you.” Sirius just rolled his eyes. 

“I’m not an actual dog.” that earned a chuckle from Remus. 

“Liar.” Sirius flipped him off. 

“Let’s find a fireplace. I don’t fancy going through the forest again.” 

Since Natasha couldn’t argue that, she hugged Harry one last time, ruffling the twins’ hair before she followed Sirius out. 

She couldn’t fight the dread that the missing headmaster would cause a lot of trouble in the future. 

 

>>>

 

Natasha stumbled from the fireplace, brushing soot from person. She hated using the floo network. She glanced at Sirius who stepped gracefully out behind her and scowled at the smirk he sent her. 

“Ms. Romanov, Mr. Black; Mr. Stark and Mr. Barnes are in the lab.” Natasha was moving even before Jarvis had even finished speaking. Sirius dashed after her, but she didn’t look back. 

She found Tony and James in the lab, James’ arm on the bench in front of Tony, and James sitting comfortably next to him, a hoodie on, pinned at the shoulder where the arm should’ve been connected.

“What the bloody hell is going on here?” Sirius demanded, but Tony just waved him off, even as James offered him a wary smile. 

“He’s fixing it for me.”

“It was broken?” If anything, Sirius sounded angrier. “Was it - were you injuring yourself?” Natasha hid a smile behind her hand as James’ mouth opened in surprise in the face of Sirius’ outrage. 

“It was manageable.” 

“You. Utter. Bastard.” Sirius snarled. James’ expression was slack with shock. Without another word, Sirius turned on his heels and stormed out. 

The second he was gone, Tony snorted out a laugh.

“Sucks to have friends, doesn’t it?” James scowled, reaching out to shove him with his flesh hand. Tony snickered, dodging out of reach. 

“Careful, I’m almost done. 5 more minutes and we can reattach it.” 

James rolled his eyes, but the worry still lurked in his gaze as he stared at the door Sirius had disappeared through. Then he looked at Natasha.

“What happened at the school?”

 

>>>

 

Sirius had found the bar and was brooding behind it with a drink in hand. He wasn’t really drinking it, the first sip reminding him that it had been ages since he’d had a drink and it didn’t taste as good as he remembered it. 

Considering the fact that he knew there would be nothing but the best in this house, he knew it was his tastes and not the quality of the drink that had suffered. 

Of course, it was scowling into his drink that the last person in the house he wanted to see walked in. 

It wasn’t that he disliked Steve, in all honesty he understood where the guy was coming from, but he had no stakes in Steve - all his stakes were in James. More than he’d realized even. The thought had him glaring at the golden liquid in his glass. 

“I’m not going to ask if everything’s okay, because I think that’s pretty clear.”

Surprised that Steve was addressing his mood, Sirius looked up and caught sight of his wry smile. 

“I’m also pretty sure I’m the last person you want to talk to.” 

And damnit, Sirius didn’t want that guilt. He grimaced and Steve actually chuckled. 

“It’s just - James.” he admitted, because maybe if anyone would get it, it would be Steve. The smile fell from his face, but he didn’t go anywhere. Instead, he reached for the bottle, pouring himself a glass. Sirius lifted a brow.

“Can’t you not get drunk?” 

Steve nodded, but then he was reaching under the counter for a small flask, and he added a drop to his glass. At Sirius’ look, he smirked. 

“Asgardian. Trust me, I’ll feel this.” 

Sirius returned the expression.

“Cheers then, mate.” and he clinked their glasses together. 

 

“He’s just so stupid.” Sirius exclaimed. “His arm was hurting him. And he didn’t say a word!” 

Steve’s chin dipped in agreement.

“Such a jerk. Nothing new there.” 

“Exactly! I’m a wizard for Merlin’s sake! I could’ve at least done something!”

“He’s never been good at asking for help.”

“See that’s the thing! He must’ve asked Stark.” and he didn’t mean to sound so bitter. He liked Stark. Steve was blinking at him in surprise. “That’s right. He’s down there right now, arm on the table and just happy as you please. ‘It’s no problem, Sirius, I was only mildly in pain’.” he mimicked mockingly, scowling once more. He looked at the bottle and realized it was near empty and blinked between his glass and Steve’s. With a sigh, he topped off their glasses, adding the extra drop to Steve’s before he slumped over from where they were sitting on the floor in front of the couch to lean against Steve’s shoulder. 

“I was in a rough spot when he found me.” Sirius admitted. “I dunno if I coulda gotten better without ‘im.” 

“He used to pull my ass out of dumpsters.” Steve agreed easily. Sirius tilted his head to give Steve a disbelieving up and down. Steve snickered. “I was maybe Harry’s size if we’re being generous.” Sirius shook his head, reaching out to poke Steve’s stomach. 

“That’s one hell of a growth spurt.” Steve’s snickering grew louder and he leaned back into Sirius. 

“I’m glad he found you.” Steve said suddenly. Sirius took a swig of his glass, not really sure what to say. “It hurts that it couldn’t be me.” he admitted, “But I’ve had a lot of good people around. People that weren’t him either. It’d be real unfair of me to not want him to have the same.” 

“Mighty big of you.” Sirius couldn’t help but say, and Steve rolled his eyes. 

“Yeah well, when pretty much all your friends tell you you’re being an asshole, it’s hard not to take a hard look. Harder when you realize they’re right.” 

“Here here.” Sirius agreed, clinking their glasses together. They both tossed back the last of their drinks. 

“S’okay though. He’s still such a tosser.” Steve snorted out a laugh. 

“Say that to his face.”

“Oh he has.” 

Sirius dropped his head back on the couch to look at where James stood, smirking down at him from behind the couch. He had both arms and they were crossed in front of his chest as he came around the couch to stand in front of them, taking in the two of them. 

“Hey Buck.” Steve greeted, but Sirius didn’t correct him, because James actually looked fond as he stared at the two of them. Sirius cackled when James’ eyebrows started raising into his hairline though and his arms unfolded.

“Are you drunk Stevie?” 

“Sure am.” Steve agreed amiably, swinging an arm around Sirius’ shoulders. “We bonded over how much of a jerk you are.” 

James rolled his eyes. Hard. 

“That’s rich coming from a punk like you.” He glanced over their heads but the room was starting to spin so Sirius didn’t bother checking who it was. “Give me a hand with these two idiots, will ya?” and then James was pulling him off the floor, passing him off. He found his arm thrown around Natasha’s shoulders, her arm around his waist. He watched James heave Steve off the floor and couldn’t help but look away, pressing his face into Natasha’s hair. He hadn’t realized just how petite she was until she fit under his arm like this. She always seemed to fill a room when she entered it. He felt her breath of laughter and groaned as she started to guide him along. 

“Don’t be mean to me. I haven’t had a drink in 13 years.” 

“I hope you didn’t try any of what Steve was drinking or you won’t want to drink for another 13.” 

“Nah, I left that to him. I know some limits.” 

“Sure you do, hotshot.” 

“You’re not going to make me crawl home, are you?” he all but begged, and he felt her laugh again. Instead of answering he was shoved and he yelped as he fell back. He landed on something soft and found himself staring up at the ceiling. He was manhandled until he was under the covers and the last thing he saw was Natalia watching him, expression gentle.

“Get some sleep.” 

He only had to close his eyes to follow her orders.