“Have you found your life distasteful?
My life did and does smack sweet.
Was your youth of pleasure wasteful?
Mine I saved and hold complete.
Do your joys with age diminish?
When mine fail me, I’ll complain.
Must in death your daylight finish?
My sun sets to rise again.”
~from “At ‘The Mermaid,’” by Robert Browning
Sirius doesn’t feel as though he’s dying, and he’s come close to it a time or two, but the curse Bella hits him with isn’t avadakedavra. He knows he’s falling through the Veil, is aware enough to meet Harry’s eyes, to apologize without saying the words.
In that moment, his regret is all encompassing, mostly because of Harry, the look of horror and grief on Harry’s face, and the promises Sirius made and won’t be able to keep.
Dying, he thinks, is easy. It’s having to live with all the things he could have done, and should have done, that’s hard. He would have liked to see Harry grow up, to see Harry’s children—if he had any—to become the godfather James and Lily would have wanted Harry to have. He would have liked to clear his name, and have Harry live with him, and to find some way to protect him from Voldemort.
Still, Sirius has some hope that he’ll be reunited with Lily and James, and he’s weary. Being able to rest has a certain allure.
Sirius isn’t sure what he expects to happen, but he seems to fall for a long time through mist and darkness. And then, between one blink of an eye and the next, he’s standing in the living room of a cozy flat, afternoon sun painting the walls gold.
He recognizes the flat as one he let after graduating from Hogwarts. It’s a cozy place, not too far from the Ministry, a couple of bedrooms and a cramped kitchen, made to seem bigger with doors that open up onto a tiny balcony.
He never would have been able to afford the place without the money left to him by Uncle Alphard, but Sirius remembers relishing the freedom of getting his own place, sharing with James the first few months after graduating, up until James and Lily’s wedding. He also remembers the delight he took in offering the second bedroom to Remus.
Remus insisted on paying a share of the rent, but Sirius never minded if Remus was late in paying, or came up short, since he tended to lose jobs as quickly as he found them, usually just after the full moon.
As much as he liked the place, as many good memories as he has, Sirius wonders why he’s here. He assumes Remus let it go after the Ministry sent Sirius to Azkaban, that he either binned Sirius’ things or sold them. Certainly, Sirius isn’t aware of anything from his past that survived, unless it was in Grimmauld Place.
Sirius slowly turns around, and it’s not a memory he’s found himself in, because Regulus is there, sitting at the tiny kitchen table. His long legs stretch out in front of him in that arrogant pose Sirius knows so well. “Hello, Sirius.”
“Reg?” Sirius asks. “What are you doing here?”
Regulus had never been to his flat. As far as Sirius can remember, they hadn’t spoken since he was sixteen and fled his home for the safety and warmth of the Potters’.
Regulus shrugs. “I wanted to see you, and it’s not very often that someone steps through the Veil. They tend to frown on that.”
“In my own defense, Bella cursed me,” Sirius replies lightly, sitting down across from Regulus. “It wasn’t suicide.”
Regulus snorts. “It might be a little-known fact, but stepping through the Veil doesn’t actually kill you. It’s more like a portal than an end.”
“A portal to where?” Sirius asks.
Regulus raises an eyebrow. “That would depend entirely on you.”
Sirius always hated Regulus’ superior attitude. He’d been a very sweet little boy, right up until Sirius left for Hogwarts, and then he’d become every inch a Black.
“Don’t be a wanker,” Sirius replies, his tone sharpening. “I’m pretty sure we’re both dead, and we didn’t part on the best of terms.”
Regulus smiles gently, and Sirius can suddenly see the boy he was, the brother Sirius had loved. “I’m dead, but you’re not, not yet anyway.”
Sirius frowns. “I don’t understand. Why are we in my old flat?”
“It’s a liminal space,” Regulus replies. “If you need me to define that for you--”
“I know what liminal means,” Sirius snaps. “But why here?”
“This was the jumping off point, wasn’t it?” Regulus asks. “Between Hogwarts and what came next.”
What came next was his work for the Order, the war, the deaths of so many, imprisonment in Azkaban, and life as a fugitive. But Sirius remembers his first night here, and the sense of freedom and possibility, the belief that anything could happen.
“Yes, it was,” Sirius agrees shortly, emotion rising up to choke him. “Is that what this is?”
“Anything is possible,” Regulus replies. “Or almost anything, including the decision to move on.”
Sirius clears his throat. “Is that what you decided to do?”
“I knew what I was getting myself into, Sirius, or what I was getting myself out of,” Regulus replies, weariness and regret in his eyes. “I saw the error of my ways in the end, and I did what I could to thwart the Dark Lord’s plans.”
“Did you now?” Sirius asks archly. “I thought you got cold feet.”
Regulus gives him a long look. “You never thought much of me.”
“You were always the perfect son, the perfect pure-blood heir,” Sirius replies bitterly. “And you always took great pleasure in rubbing that in my face.”
“Always?” Regulus counters. “Was there never a time we were brothers?”
Sirius glances away. “We were always brothers.”
“I remember before you went to Hogwarts,” Regulus says. “Things were different.”
“That was before our parents’ hopes for me were dashed.”
Regulus sighs. “I always wished you’d been sorted into Slytherin, but then, my ending was very Gryffindor.”
“You want to clue me in, brother, dear?” Sirius asks.
Regulus shakes his head. “All I can tell you is that I tried to stop him.”
“Why?” Sirius demands. “It wasn’t for me.”
“It was for Kreacher,” Regulus admits.
Sirius snorts. “For fuck’s sake, are you kidding?”
“Kreacher was kind to me after you left for Hogwarts,” Regulus replies defensively. “You know, you have a very pure-blood attitude towards house elves.”
“Kreacher got me in trouble with Mother more times than I can count,” Sirius counters. “And you know what happened at that point.”
Regulus sighs. “What is it the Muggles say? ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’”
“The Muggles know a thing or two,” Sirius replies. He doesn’t want to rehash ancient history. His feelings for Regulus are complicated at best, and he harbors a lot of regret there, too.
He could have tried harder at Hogwarts, could have tried to influence Regulus away from Voldemort and the Death Eaters. If he had done so, maybe Regulus would have at least remained neutral. Although, given how many other Blacks were marked Death Eaters, he doubts it.
Being sorted into Gryffindor gave him much-needed distance from his family, and Sirius hadn’t looked back.
Regulus had been a casualty of Sirius’ decision to rebel against his family’s pure-blood politics, but not the first, or the last.
“What are my choices here?” Sirius asks.
“You could move on,” Regulus replies. “You’d see your friends again. You’d know peace.”
That option is more tempting that he’d like to admit, but there are other considerations. “Or?”
“Or you choose a door,” Regulus replies. “Go down the hall. You’ll see.”
Based on Regulus’ inscrutable expression, he’s not going to answer any additional questions, so Sirius doesn’t bother asking.
Sirius’ old bedroom is at the end of the hall, and when he enters, there are five doors, even though there really shouldn’t be any. His bedroom hadn’t even had a closet.
Each door has a number inscribed above it—1975, 1981, 1988, 1994, 1996—and it doesn’t take a genius to realize what they are.
“To be honest, I have grave doubts about your ability to make choices that will actually make a difference, but those are the rules. That, and you’re not allowed to tell anyone.”
Regulus has followed him, and he stands in the doorway behind Sirius, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, brother,” Sirius says sarcastically.
Regulus shrugs. “I think your record speaks for itself.”
“Any thoughts on which door I should pick?” Sirius asks.
“That would depend entirely on how many of your bad decisions you’d like to relive,” Regulus replies snottily.
Sirius snorts. “Very helpful. Will I remember everything?”
Regulus shrugs. “I think so, but it’s not as though I’ve ever done this before.”
“I guess it wouldn’t make much sense to send me back if I didn’t know to do anything differently,” Sirius mutters.
His choice is easy, though. If he goes back to 1981, he has a chance to save James and Lily. He can give Harry the parents he always should have had.
Sirius touches the knob—
Sirius blinks and curses bitterly as he realizes where he is and whenhe is. He hadn’t stopped to think about what point in 1981 he’d arrive. He should have chosen 1975, but he really hadn’t wanted to relive his teenage years, no matter how much he enjoyed his time at Hogwarts.
The small cottage in Godric’s Hollow looks just as it did when he’d shown up on October 31, 1981, desperate to see James and Lily after finding Peter missing from the safe house. If he’d arrived in time to save them, Sirius would not have been able to locate the cottage. Instead, he can see it and the spell damage that mars the front and the first storey.
The front door hangs off its hinges, scorch marks darkening the wood in places. Sirius feels the same sick sense of dread, and he thinks this must be a nightmare. He’s asleep in Grimmauld Place, reliving that night yet again.
Or perhaps he’s in hell.
Sirius feels bile rise up in his throat as he steps through the damaged door, once again finding James’ lifeless body at the foot of the stairs, eyes open and senseless.
He closes James’ eyelids with a trembling hand. He doesn’t want to go upstairs, knowing what he’s going to find, but Harry is there. Sirius takes each step slowly, a far cry from the first time he’d done this, when he’d taken them two at a time in his haste.
He can hear Harry’s wails, and the sound seems to echo in his brain, the present echoing the nightmarish past.
Lily is on the floor, her eyes open as well, and Sirius kneels next to her, brushing her cheek with his thumb, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I’m so sorry, Lily.”
Sirius feels tears burning his eyes, and he dashes them away impatiently. He gets to his feet smoothly, and realizes that he’s moving better than he has in years. His joints don’t ache, and he doesn’t feel the perpetual exhaustion he felt after Azkaban.
Harry’s cries taper off, and he gulps back sobs as Sirius approaches his crib. Blood streaks his forehead, and Sirius casts a quick scourgifyand a healing spell to close the wound.
“Hey, Pronglet,” Sirius calls. “I’m here, love.”
Harry stretches up his arms, and Sirius picks him up and cuddles him close. Harry presses his face against Sirius’ neck, and Sirius turns back towards the stairs. Hagrid will be arriving shortly, and Sirius will hand Harry off again, knowing Harry will be safe.
He’ll go after Pettigrew, but he’ll do it the right way. He knows Peter’s plans and can therefore thwart him. He knows where Peter will be, and he can anticipate his every move.
Harry snuffles against Sirius’ neck, and Sirius holds him a little closer. He stops in the doorway of Harry’s room, his eyes unwillingly drawn to Lily’s still figure again.
He’s meant to make different choices, and going after Peter had been what landed him in Azkaban—and Harry in the care of the Dursleys—in the first place. Sirius needs to think this through, to make a plan, and not go off half-cocked again.
If Sirius can’t give Harry his parents back, he can at least be the sort of godfather James and Lily would be proud of. Knowing what waits for Harry at the Dursleys’, he won’t risk Harry going there again.
And possession, as they say, is nine-tenths of the law.
He tucks Harry into his coat, pulling it securely around them both. “Hold on tight, Pronglet,” Sirius mutters. “We’re going on an adventure.”
Hagrid is on the front lawn when Sirius emerges from the house. “What’s happened?” Hagrid asks, although Sirius is certain he already knows, even without the Dark Mark floating above the house. Voldemort didn’t have a chance to cast it, and with his defeat, the Death Eaters will be scrambling to find cover.
“Voldemort got James and Lily,” Sirius replies shortly, not wanting to waste any time getting away. “I switched with Peter as the Secret Keeper to throw the Death Eaters off track, and he’s betrayed them.”
Hagrid frowns, clearly trying to make sense of the information. “Peter Pettigrew?” His voice reflects the incredulity Sirius originally felt as well.
That’s probably why no one even considered the possibility that Sirius might have been the one betrayed, and not the betrayer. That, and the Black family name.
“Peter is the spy,” Sirius replies, talking quickly. “He’s betrayed us all.”
Someone else—Dumbledore, McGonagall, Moody, or any of the Order, really—would have asked more questions, and they wouldn’t just take his word for it. Hagrid is trusting, though, and if Sirius plays his cards right, he’ll be off and away before anyone is the wiser. “I have to get Harry somewhere safe. Voldemort’s followers will be looking for him.”
“Who?” Hagrid asks.
“For Harry,” Sirius replies. “Voldemort is gone, at least for now, and they’ll want revenge.”
Hagrid stares at Harry, who turns his face away shyly. “Harry killed You-Know-Who?”
“I’m not sure what happened,” Sirius lies. “But I think Voldemort tried to kill Harry and the curse was reflected back at him. Maybe Lily found a protective spell that worked against the killing curse. She—she wasthe brightest of our age, after all. If anyone could do it, Lily could.”
Hagrid nods, his expression sorrowful as he takes in the news. “What do you need me to do?”
“Tell the Order that Peter has betrayed us, and that I’m going to keep Harry safe,” Sirius replies. “I’ll be in touch once we’re secure.”
And then he gets on his motorbike and takes off before Hagrid can even think about stopping him. His first thought is his apartment, but that’s expected. People will look for him there.
But Sirius remembers a place in the Lake District where he’d taken Remus, right after James and Lily’s wedding. With Lily and James on their honeymoon, and Peter already working at the Ministry, it had just been the two of them. One last holiday before the rest of their lives began. A stolen week where they could forget about the worsening war, and fear for their futures.
Harry falls asleep somewhere over Swansea, tucked against Sirius’ chest, and he sleeps all the way to Keswick. There’s a wizard-run bed and breakfast there, and Sirius lands in front of it in the early morning hours.
He needs to get supplies for Harry, diapers and food and the like, but he doesn’t have Muggle money on him. He should have, but he doesn’t, and he’s hoping that Mary will be able to help.
She comes out in a quilted pink robe that’s cinched tightly, dark hair in a long braid down her back, blinking at him behind large glasses. “Sirius?”
“Hi, Mary,” Sirius replies. “I hope you have room.”
“Do you have a baby with you?” Mary asks incredulously.
Sirius summons his most charming smile. “My godson. I need your help.”
It’s probably an indicator of just how much chaos the war has caused, because her lips tighten, and she gives a little shake of her head. Then, Mary opens the door wide. “Come in, come in.” Harry starts to fuss, and Mary adds, “Do you have anything for him?”
“No,” Sirius admits. “I was in a hurry to get him somewhere safe.”
Mary frowns. “I’ll get my boy to run to the store once it opens. Let me see what I can find in the meantime.”
Sirius breathes out a sigh of relief. Mary and her husband had been quite kind to him and Remus, but he hadn’t been entirely certain how welcoming she’d be this time, especially under these circumstances.
He hates to ask for additional favors, but there’s something he knows must be done, and done quickly. “That would be amazing, but do you have an owl? I need to send a message to Remus.”
“Of course,” Mary replies. “I’ll get the owl first.”
She also provides a quill, inkpot, and parchment, and Sirius quickly scratches out a message while sitting at their large kitchen table.
I switched with Peter. I thought I’d lead those wankers on a merry chase, but Peter betrayed us. I’m where we went after the wedding. You remember the spot. I have Harry with me. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.
PS The Longbottoms are in jeopardy. Ensure their safety first.
He attaches the note to the owl’s leg. “Take this to Remus Lupin.”
Sirius doesn’t have much money on him, and he’s not sure how he’ll pay if he has to stay for more than a couple of days, not unless he can get to a branch of Gringotts soon. At least with Uncle Alphie’s money, Sirius will be able to take care of Harry.
Sirius grimaces as he checks Harry’s diaper, finding a right mess, as Mary bustles back into the kitchen. “I still have some cloth diapers from when my son was a baby. That should do for now.”
Sirius gratefully accepts the offered bundle. “Lily—Harry’s mum—always uses—used—cloth diapers.”
“Do you know what you’re doing?” Mary asks, looking a bit amused.
Sirius grimaces. “I usually let Lily handle it.”
“Well, just this once, I suppose,” Mary replies and Sirius gratefully allows her to take over. Harry giggles when Mary tickles his bare stomach. “Aren’t you a handsome boy?”
She glances at his forehead. “What happened here?”
“It’s why I had to get him out of there,” Sirius replies. “Voldemort tried to kill him.”
Mary frowns and clucks disapprovingly as she cleans him up. “But he’s just a baby! And his parents?”
“They tried to protect him,” Sirius replies. “They didn’t make it. James and Lily Potter.”
“Those are your friends who got married right before you stayed here?” Mary asks.
Sirius nods. “You have a good memory.”
She murmurs, “I’m so sorry. And You-Know-Who? Do you think he’ll follow you?”
“He’s gone,” Sirius assures her. “The Killing Curse reflected back on him. I’m sure it will be all over the wireless this morning.” He forces a smile. “Harry only has me now. I have to figure out what that means.”
“You will,” Mary assures him. “Children have a wonderful ability to clarify matters very quickly. Now, you’ll stay here for the time being, of course, and free of charge. It’s the least I can do.”
Sirius shakes his head. “I can’t accept.”
“Nonsense, of course you can,” Mary says briskly. “It’s the least I can do. You’ll both be wanting breakfast.”
Sirius knew that Mary had taken a shine to them when they’d spent the week with her, but this is above and beyond what he expected. “Thank you.”
“Don’t you worry about a thing,” Mary replies, beginning to bustle around the kitchen, putting a kettle on the hob and lighting an additional lantern. “I imagine you’ll want to lay low for a bit. Just about everyone will want a chance to see the savior of the wizarding world.”
Sirius takes a deep breath. “I know. No one is going to think about the fact that he’s a baby.”
“Which is why I will conveniently forget that you’re staying here,” Mary replies with some humor as she moves around the kitchen. “What youneed is a good fry-up, and we’ll get some porridge for Harry here. You’ll both feel better with a full stomach.”
Sirius takes a seat at the table and sits Harry on his lap, and Harry cuddles close. Sirius rubs his back and presses a kiss to the top of his head.
Now that he has a moment to think, he can marvel at how small Harry is. He had almost forgotten that Harry had ever been this young, having lost so many years to Azkaban.
Sirius has no idea how to be a father, and he certainly hadn’t been that great of a godfather the last go ‘round, but he has another chance now. He’s going to be the best bloody godfather Harry could have.
Harry is crying again, and Sirius bounces him in his arms. He’s exhausted, and Harry is as well, which is a big part of the problem. The other part, of course, is that every time Harry falls asleep, he wakes up screaming with night terrors.
Sirius shushes him gently and begins to hum under his breath, a Muggle song that accurately reflects his current feelings. “I wanna be sedated, nothin’ to do, nowhere to go, I wanna be sedated.”
Harry’s sobs begin to taper off, and Sirius continues to sing since that appears to help, and paces the floor, careful not to trip on the colorful rug spread out over the hardwood floor. The afternoon sunshine pours through the large window on one side of the room, warming the air, and Sirius wants badly for Harry to nap.
“I never thought someone would actually enjoy your singing.”
Sirius turns to see Remus standing in the doorway, hands in his pockets, his posture deceptively relaxed. Sirius knows better; he knows Remus well enough to know he’s upset.
Whether it’s anger or grief or something else, Sirius isn’t sure. The only reason Remus believed Sirius to be innocent before had been because he’d seen Peter’s name on the Marauders’ Map. They’d been friends again after that, but never as close as before.
This time, Sirius thinks he might see a bit of affection in Remus’ eyes, even if it’s mixed with suspicion.
“You got my message,” Sirius says inanely.
“You could say that.” Remus straightens up, brushing sandy hair out of his eyes. “How did you know the Longbottoms would be in danger?”
Sirius opens his mouth, planning on telling Remus the truth, but the words get stuck in his throat. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t spit them out, or tell Moony that he’s seen the future. Finally, he settles on, “It stands to reason?”
“Try again,” Remus replies, a sharp note in his voice. “That was very specific information, Sirius.”
Sirius sighs. “James and Lily went into hiding because of the prophecy, which could apply to Neville, too. I made an assumption after what happened to James and Lily. With Voldemort gone, I knew his followers would want revenge.” He hesitates. “What’s the feeling in the Order?”
“Decidedly mixed,” Remus replies wearily. “Peter disappearing helped your cause, as did your very timely warning. The fact that you’ve disappeared with Harry has upset quite a few people, though. Dumbledore is beside himself.”
“I’m his godfather, Moony,” Sirius says hotly. “Where would Dumbledore take Harry? To Lily’s sister?”
“She ishis family,” Remus points out.
Sirius holds Harry a little tighter. “So are we.”
Remus blows out a breath, his shoulders slumping under his shabby jacket, probably one he picked up at a charity shop. “Fuck me, Padfoot. This is a right mess.”
“Fuck!” Harry says gleefully, demonstrating an unerring ability to focus on the one word they don’t want him repeating.
But it breaks the tension, because Remus starts to chuckle, and Sirius laughs, maybe a little hysterically.
“How long has it been since you slept?” Remus asks, his tone softening.
Sirius shrugs. “I don’t know. Harry isn’t sleeping, so I haven’t been.”
“Give him to me,” Remus says. “I’ll watch him.”
Sirius isn’t ready to let Harry go. He also isn’t sure he can trust Remus not to leave with him.
“I’m not going to kidnap him, Pads,” Remus says gently. “We’ll make a plan together.”
“You believe me?” Sirius asks plaintively.
“I believe you, because switching with Peter and acting as bait is exactlythe kind of plan you’d come up with,” Remus replies fondly. “And I know how persuasive you can be.”
Sirius blinks back tears as he stares at his old friend. “I’m sorry I ever doubted you.”
“Me, too,” Remus replies, and then closes the distance between them, pulling Sirius close, Harry sandwiched between them. “I know you wouldn’t betray James and Lily.”
“I could never,” Sirius says. “I should have told you.”
Remus kisses his forehead. “It’s okay. You should sleep. We’ll be here when you wake up.”
“Do you want to go to your Uncle Moony, Pronglet?” Sirius asks.
Harry clings to Sirius a little tighter.
“It’s okay,” Sirius croons. “It’s okay, love. Moony is going to look after you.”
Harry lets go, but reluctantly, and Remus holds him close. “You’re okay,” he says. “We’re just going to let Padfoot get some sleep.”
Harry hiccups and then lays his head against Remus’ shoulder, and Remus sighs. “I can certainly see why you don’t want to let him go.”
Sirius notices that Remus doesn’t make any promises, beyond the fact that he won’t leave with him, and they’ll make a plan together. But Sirius is well aware that most people in the Potters’ lives had thought it sheer madness to make Sirius Harry’s godfather. He was too irresponsible, too reckless, and too immature.
And he had been back then, but he’s not the same man. He just hopes he can convince Remus of that.
When Sirius wakes up again, it’s to the low rumble of Remus’ voice. “And the third brother meets Death willingly at the end of a long life with open arms.”
“Beedle the Bard?” Sirius asks sleepily.
“I have those stories memorized, and I stupidly didn’t bring any books with me,” Remus replies with a crooked smile. “Or anything for Harry, really, and I should have.”
“You didn’t know what you were going to find,” Sirius replies, sitting up slowly, smoothing out the patchwork quilt. One of the things he likes best about Mary’s place is the homey feel. “I didn’t bring anything other than Harry, so you’re certainly not alone. We’re lucky Mary had some of Daniel’s old things.”
Remus shakes his head. “What I said--”
“Water under the bridge,” Sirius insists, because it had been so long ago that he’s not sure he can even remember what was said.
That’s a lie; he remembers every word. They’d echoed in his head for all the years spent in Azkaban. He doesn’t want to relive them now.
Remus shakes his head. “We should be honest with each other.”
Sirius sits up, and Harry holds out his arms. “Pad!”
“Hey, Pronglet,” Sirius replies. “Come here, love.”
Harry settles in his arms and is asleep a few minutes later.
“You’re good with him,” Remus says quietly, sitting back in the rocking chair that Mary had set up near the bed.
“He’s all of James and Lily that we have left,” Sirius murmurs. “And I’ve had a few days to get used to the idea.”
Remus sighs, the sound seeming to come up from his toes. “What are you going to do?”
“I was hoping it would be we,” Sirius counters, although he’s not holding out much hope.
“That’s a terrible idea,” Remus replies firmly. “And you know why. I can help you come up with a plan, but the danger I pose to Harry is too great for me to stay very long.”
Sirius takes a deep breath. “Doesn’t Harry deserve to grow up knowing he’s loved? Doesn’t he deserve to grow up with those who knew and loved his parents best?”
He doesn’t mention Peter. Peter doesn’t enter into the equation any more.
“Harry isn’t safe around me,” Remus insists.
“Look, I get it,” Sirius replies, wheedling. He wants—no, needs—Remus by his side. He’s too afraid he’ll fuck this up if he does it on his own. “We’ll have to be careful. We can—we can travel, maybe find people who have a better understanding on how to deal with your furry little problem. We’ll teach Harry how to be an animagus. We can make this work!”
Sirius will raise Harry single-handedly if he has to, but he wants Remus’ trust and friendship back. He wants the support.
Remus scrubs his face with his hands and offers a half-hearted glare. “Don’t think I haven’t realized that we haven’t talked about any of this.”
“But you believe me.” Sirius feels a flash of hope. If Remus believes him, then he might eventually agree to stay with them.
Remus sighs. “Yes, I do. You brought Harry here, not to Voldemort or his remaining Death Eaters, and you contacted me.”
Sirius glances away. “I thought you’d be the one least likely to hex first and ask questions later.”
“After the way we left things, I’m not sure why,” Remus admits.
“It’s Voldemort who’s to blame,” Sirius replies. “Sowing dissension.”
Remus nods. “Okay. I’ll accept that for now, but we willhave to talk about all this eventually.”
There’s a knock on the door, and Sirius calls, “Come in.”
Mary pokes her head in. “If you boys are hungry, dinner is ready.”
“Thank you, Mary,” Sirius replies. “We’ll be right down.”
“We’ll finish this after dinner,” Remus says once she’s left. “We need to come up with a viable plan.”
Sirius agrees. “Food first, though.”
“Since I remember Mary’s cooking, yes. Food first.”
They sit down at the table with Mary and her husband, Jim, along with their son, Daniel. “It’s good to have you back with us, Remus,” Jim says. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Remus manages a smile. “Thank you. It’s good to be back, although I wish it were under better circumstances.”
“As do we, although we’re grateful to young Harry there for what he did,” Mary says.
And that, right there, is all the reason Sirius needs to get Harry out of merry old England. Jim and Mary have treated Harry like they would any other baby, but not everyone will. Sirius wants him to grow up loved, but not in the way that celebrity will bring.
Dinner is good, a roast chicken and vegetables and mash, and Daniel seems to have taken a shine to Harry, making faces and cutting up the softer vegetables for Harry to gum and feeding him mashed potatoes off his own plate.
“Dan!” Harry shouts.
“Yeah? You want more potatoes?” Daniel asks. “Okay, Harry. Happy to help.”
Harry crows in delight as he buries a fist in the spoonful of potatoes. Some of it winds up in Harry’s mouth, but a lot of it ends up in his hair and on his front, too.
Sirius snorts. “Well, I know one young man who’ll need a bath later.”
Harry likes baths, and he shouts, “Bath! Fuck!”
Sirius groans. “That was not my fault.”
“No, it was mine,” Remus readily admits. “Lily would have my hide.”
Sirius laughs, but not without a tinge of sadness. “She would have.”
She’d been on Sirius’ case enough to watch his language. She threatened to start a swear jar and make him put a galleon in every time he swore in Harry’s presence, but she never carried out the threat.
Sirius had been on his best behavior around Harry, though. At least, outside giving him the broom for his first birthday.
He has no regrets about that. Harry is a natural. He wonders where the broom is now, and wishes they could go back for it.
There’s treacle tart for dessert, and Harry consumes a small piece enthusiastically, and then his eyelids begin to droop. “Well, there’s the sugar crash,” Remus comments with a chuckle.
Mary laughs. “I just hope he doesn’t wake you boys up too early.”
“I’ll be happy if he sleeps through the night,” Sirius admits. “He can wake us up as early as he wants to if he gets a decent amount of sleep.”
He carries Harry upstairs to the bathroom and quickly gets him stripped and cleaned up. Harry’s practically asleep by the time Sirius gets him diapered and redressed, Remus looking on.
“You’rereallygood at this,” Remus comments.
Sirius grimaces. “I’m not. I feel as though I might ruin him.”
“I highly doubt that,” Remus replies with the same expression he always wore when he thought Sirius was being overly dramatic.
“It’s not like I had great role models.”
Remus glances at the floor, then back up at Sirius, his blue eyes fond. “Yes, you did. You had James and Lily.”
Sirius clears his throat. “Yes, well. We should get him to bed.”
Mary has provided a small cot, and Sirius gets Harry tucked in, kissing him on the forehead. Remus does the same, and pauses. “It looks like there’s just the one bed.”
“I think we’re both mature enough to share,” Sirius replies dryly.
There’s a level of comfort with Remus that Sirius has never had with any of his other partners, and when they both crawl into bed, it’s without touching, but even having someone close is nice.
“I guess the question is what we’re going to do next,” Remus says quietly.
“It’s definitely ‘we?’” Sirius asks.
Remus sighs. “You’d be fine without me, you know.”
“I might be,” Sirius agrees, knowing that Remus is evading the question. “But the Marauders were always better together, and we can’t stay in England.”
Remus grimaces. “If you run, they’ll think you’re guilty. You know that.”
“I’ll write to Dumbledore,” Sirius replies. “I have Uncle Alphard’s money, so I can take care of Harry.”
“Where?” Remus asks.
“Somewhere far away from here,” Sirius replies. “Where no one knows us or Harry, where we can be anonymous.”
He doesn’t want Harry to grow up as “the Boy Who Lived,” known only for his relationship to his dead parents. He wants Harry to be able to be Harry, and he doesn’t want anybody deciding that Harry will be better off with the Dursleys. The farther away they are, the safer they’ll be.
“And somewhere there’s a good school,” Sirius adds, because he’s not at all certain that Harry needs to be around for Voldemort’s return.
Remus blinks. “What about Hogwarts?”
“What about it?” Sirius asks, deliberately playing dumb.
“James and Lily would have wanted Harry to go there,” Remus replies. “Sirius, let’s just hold on a second. We can’t go off half-cocked here.”
Sirius takes a deep breath. “Okay. You’re right. We have to make a plan.”
“I think we should at least let Frank and Alice know,” Remus says, and Sirius knows that informing Frank and Alice is just step one in letting the entire Order know, and from there, it’s not much of a leap to Dumbledore arranging things to his liking.
“They’re not going to like any plans that involve Harry leaving the country,” Sirius points out. The Longbottoms will likely offer to raise Harry themselves, and while Sirius isn’t entirely opposed to that idea, they’re also loyal to Dumbledore, who might manage to convince the Order that Harry would be better off in the Muggle world with the Dursleys.
“Neville is Harry’s godbrother,” Remus counters. “And Alice is his godmother. You’re not the only person with a stake in this, Padfoot.”
And Ron and Hermione are his friends,Sirius thinks, but doesn’t say out loud. Maybe in ten years, he’ll consider sending Harry to Hogwarts, but there’s a chance that, if Harry stays away, Voldemort will never reappear. Sirius would rather like to at least test that theory.
Still, he has to give Remus something. “Okay,” Sirius agrees. “We’ll talk to Frank and Alice before we leave. I don’t want Dumbledore knowing our plans, though.”
Remus raises his eyebrows. “I thought you were Dumbledore’s man.”
“I am, but you know he’ll arrange things to suit himself,” Sirius replies, keeping his voice low, even as he feels his temper spike. “And he’d manipulate us until we went along with him.”
The truth is that Sirius had entirely too much time on his hands to think while stuck at Grimmauld Place, chafing at the isolation. And during that time, he began to wonder why Dumbledore didn’t try just a little harder to clear Sirius’ name, or even open an investigation to get him a trial. He began to wonder if keeping Sirius on a short leash suited Dumbledore’s plans, making it impossible for Harry to stay with him, rather than the Dursleys.
And maybe his suspicions are unfounded and the product of too much time in a moldering old wreck of a house, surrounded by unhappy memories. Or maybe he’s right to have his doubts.
“And you’re so sure you know what’s best for Harry?” Remus presses.
“I’m sure I’m the one James and Lily trusted to make those decisions,” Sirius insists. “I’ll probably make mistakes, but at least he’ll be cared for. Lily’s sister and her husband are the worst sort of Muggles, and you know it.”
“I do,” Remus agrees. “I just—I want us to be sure we’re doing what’s right.”
“Dumbledore was the one who sent you out to the packs,” Sirius argues in a low, fierce voice. “If he hadn’t—”
He stops himself, because he doesn’t blame Remus for agreeing to go. How could he? Remus had answered the call, and he’d done his best. Sirius had done the same.
“We wouldn’t have lost faith in each other?” Remus asks quietly.
Sirius winces. “I didn’t—”
“Don’t lie, not right now.”
Here, under the cover of darkness, with Harry sleeping nearby, Sirius can be honest. “I thought you might be the spy,” Sirius admits. “You kept leaving, and you couldn’t tell me where you were going, just that you were on a mission for Dumbledore.”
“I was,” Remus says.
“I know that now,” Sirius replies with the hindsight that more than a decade brings.
Remus sighs. “You weren’t much better.”
“I was trying to get over you, you berk,” Sirius replies. “You made it pretty clear that you weren’t interested in anything serious.”
“Why hitch yourself to a losing proposition?” Remus asks fatalistically.
Sirius sighs. “I could say the same about you now. You’re still in good stead with the Order. You could give me up. Let me take my chances. Let Dumbledore carry out his plans.”
“And what do you think is going to happen if I did?” Remus asks with a troubled expression.
“I’d have a trial, and a lot of people would refuse to believe that I wasn’t the Secret Keeper, and I didn’t betray the Potters,” Sirius admits. “The Black name carries its own weight.”
Remus hesitates. “Maybe you shouldhave a trial. There will always be those who have their doubts if you don’t. There are things we could do to ensure it’s a fair one.”
Sirius shakes his head. “I’ll swear on my magic that it wasn’t me. I’ll swear an Unbreakable Vow, and you can take that to Dumbledore and the Order. You can give them that memory. But I’m not giving up Harry.”
He can’tgive up Harry, not for a moment, because it wouldn’t be hard to ensure he disappears into the Muggle world. Sirius isn’t losing Harry again.
Remus nods. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to visit the Paris branch of Gringotts to get as much money as I can to support the two—or three—of us, and then arrange transportation to wherever we decide to go,” Sirius replies.
He trusts Remus, he does, but he also knows Dumbledore. Remus is a soft touch, and Dumbledore has convinced Remus to run his errands in the past. Sirius won’t trust that Remus is on board with this plan until he swears to it.
He just wants Harry to be safe.
Mary and Jim have their hands wrapped around their mugs of tea, and Jim says, “We have family in New Zealand. It wouldn’t be too hard to emigrate.”
“And we have that cousin in Dover,” Mary adds. “Who has a boat, and could cross the Channel.”
Sirius perks up at that. His motorbike is too conspicuous, and he’s already planning to ditch it before heading for France. “Would they help?”
“If we asked,” Mary says. “They’re Muggles, though.”
Sirius shrugs. “That’s okay. I love Muggles. I don’t have a problem with that.”
Jim seems to be thinking. “I can call my nephew. I think he said something about a farm being for sale, somewhere near him.”
“They have good schools in New Zealand?” Sirius asks.
Mary shrugs. “I think so. At least through primary. Most wizards and witches teach their kids at home.”
“You’ll help us, then?” Sirius asks, feeling a wave of relief.
Jim smiles. “I liked you boys when you first showed up here, and you’re with the Order, aren’t you?”
“My brother was a supporter,” Jim says. “I’m not saying everybody who follows Dumbledore is a good person, but I’ve seen you with Harry. You’re a good father, and a good man. Your Harry deserves to have a safe, happy life.”
“And you think he’ll get that in New Zealand,” Remus comments.
Mary smiles. “Well, Jamie’s boys do well enough, and the youngest isn’t much older than Harry. You might be surprised at how well rural life agrees with you.”
Remus shoots Sirius a look that clearly indicates how dubious he is that Sirius would enjoy a rural life, and maybe that was true once. But that was before Azkaban, before being on the run, before being stuck inside Grimmauld Place for months on end.
A life in the country sounds pretty good right now.
“That sounds pretty great, to be honest,” Remus says. “After the last few years, a quiet life is probably just what we need. Hey, Pronglet?”
“Yeah!” Harry cheers.
Sirius grins. “Okay, well, his majesty has spoken.”
Remus laughs, although he still looks troubled, and Sirius knows he’s having second thoughts, although about what is hard to say. He resolves to be on his guard.
“I don’t want to put you guys out much longer,” Sirius says. “If you could check for us—”
Mary glances between them and says, “We’ll make some calls, and see if we can make some arrangements.”
“You’re really intent on this,” Remus says later, once they’re back upstairs.
“I’m really intent on making sure that Harry is safe,” Sirius retorts. “I don’t think he’ll be safe in England.”
“It seems like you can’t get out of the country fast enough,” Remus accuses. “What happened to talking with the Longbottoms?”
Sirius wonders if there’s ever going to be a point where they aren’t leaping to the worst conclusions.
“We’re just exploring options right now,” Sirius counters defensively. “There’s still time to talk to them, and explain why we need to leave. They’re reasonable people. I’m sure they’ll understand.”
Remus shakes his head. “I think it’s foolish to start down this path, Sirius. You’re moving awfully fast.”
Sirius begins to get a bad feeling, like Remus came here with a specific agenda, and he doesn’t want to talk about the option of leaving England because he’d never intended to allow Sirius to keep Harry.
Suddenly, Remus’ comments about Sirius being good with Harry, and how he could understand why Sirius wouldn’t want to let him go, make another kind of sense.
“And when we talk to the Longbottoms?” Sirius asks, making sure that he’s between Remus and Harry. “What are the chances that I’ll be able to keep him with me?”
Remus’ expression is—well, Sirius can tell that he’s at least conflicted, but he’s also determined. Remus has been given a mission, and he’s intent on carrying it out.
“There are others more suitable to raise Harry,” Remus argues. “Surely, you see that! The Longbottoms, for one, or Harry’s relatives.”
“Do you really think so little of me?” Sirius asks, betrayal bitter on his tongue.
“Dumbledore has a plan.” Remus doesn’t answer the question. “And Harry will be safe, and where he belongs.”
Sirius gauges his next words—his next moves—very carefully. “And he doesn’t belong with me.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Remus says bluntly. “Not least because you’re not making any sense! You’re talking about leaving the country, taking Harry away from his home, and not coming back? Without even answering to the Order?”
Of course, Remus would think that Sirius is acting rashly, making reckless plans and then winging it. He doesn’t know what Sirius does. He doesn’t know whySirius would do everything in his power to avoid Azkaban, or why even the possibility of Harry winding up with the Dursleys would spur him to do everything in his power to prevent it from happening.
Sirius fought Death Eaters side-by-side with many in the Order, who should have known he’d never betray James and Lily, and yet not one had lifted a voice or a finger in his defense. Not one had even protested the lack of a trial.
As near as Sirius can tell, not onehad ever bothered checking on Harry, just to make sure he was well cared for.
Sirius will do what’s best for Harry, and hang the rest.
“I have good reasons for it, but I don’t think you’re ready to listen to them yet,” Sirius replies, and then he casts a wandless stunner.
Remus goes down like a ton of bricks, and Sirius closes his eyes. He really, really wanted Remus to be with him, or at least be on his side.
He’s not sure what to do next. Perhaps he could apparate with Harry to Gringotts? He might be able to get the money and get an international portkey to France. From there, he’ll have a few traveling options. He had rather liked the idea of New Zealand, if only because he might have a contact there, but that’s right out.
Harry’s watching Sirius with wide eyes, and his lower lip trembles a bit.
“Don’t worry, Pronglet,” Sirius murmurs. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
“Sirius? Is everything all right up there?” Mary calls. “I thought I heard a thump.”
“I just dropped something,” Sirius replies, and stifles a rather hysterical chuckle at the truth to that statement.
Remus stirs slightly, and Sirius winces and hits him with a sleeping charm he sometimes used on Death Eaters while out in the field, the one that will put them out for a good long while.
He moves Remus to the bed and tucks him in, and then resolves to leave that day. He’ll get the money they need, and he’ll take Harry somewhere far away from here, somewhere safe.
Somewhere they can be together.
And then he hears someone calling his name.