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July 31, 1980

"He's an ugly little thing, isn't he?"

"Most people lie, you know, to the person who's just spent seven hours in labor."

"Oh, relax, Evans," Sirius glanced up and away from the newborn for the first time in a long while to meet her amused smirk. "I can already tell he takes after cry baby over there. Your pretty genes couldn't survive past his, I'm afraid."

"That's not funny, Padfoot," James muttered from his chair next to Lily. He'd been crying (manly, fatherly tears) since Harry had been born and didn't appreciate the stab. Lily squeezed his hand affectionately in return.

"He's small," Sirius noted. Of course he was small. Harry was early by a full three weeks. And of course Sirius knew why- Lily and James had only left the cottage for lunch in Diagon Alley when the explosion happened, the stress of the moment triggering the labor. While the Healers had assured James that both Lily and the baby would be fine, James was still shaken from the fear of losing everything in his life all at once. 

So of course Sirius understood James' tears. But he still had to take the mickey on him.

"Harry James," Lily told him, her voice soft. Sirius could hear her the pride radiating through the gentle tones. 

"That's a good name," he nodded, staring intently at the baby in his arms. At Harry. At little Harry James Potter, his godson. He’d never been one for babies-- he’d met Andromeda’s daughter not too many years ago and didn’t care for the sounds and smells that accompanied infants, but something about this one was different. This one was James’. This one was his.

"I'm sorry Moony and Wormtail aren't here," Sirius told James, needing to talk again, because looking down at Harry might make him also shed some manly tears, which didn’t really fit with his whole look. "Leave it to your offspring to ruin our carefully laid plans." 

James smiled.

"When do you think they'll be able to come around?" he asked. James had half his mind wanting to hide Harry away, to keep him safe until after the war while the other half told him to go strutting through the wards, parading his son for all to see. The absence of two of the Marauders brought him down, but he understood that Order business made everything difficult.

"Moony doesn't plan on coming back from under until the day before Harry's actual due date," Sirius explained, "but I couldn't get in touch with Peter. I was in a rush to get here myself." Sirius had left his post as soon as he got word from James through the mirror, reconnaissance be damned.

"They'll come around," Lily assured James with another squeeze of her hand. There was a brief silence in which all that could be heard was the muffled voices through the door and the distant cry of other infants through the ward. Sirius stood up carefully so as not to wake Harry, who had been sleeping the entire time Sirius held him. James stood too, reaching for his son.

"You really think he looks like me?" James asked, a stupid sort of  smile plastered on his face. Sirius had never seen him look at something like that. Sirius found himself grinning, too. 

"My poor godson will have to look like you all his life," Sirius replied, clapping James on shoulder. "I have to go back before anyone notices how long I've been missing.”

James nodded solemnly and Lily made a pitying face. Her eyes started to water, and she thumbed a tear away quickly.

“Stupid hormones, ” she muttered, but then she continued. “I’ve been so worried about you back out there. Tell Dumbledore you’re busy. Whoever exploded the shop is long gone.”

James spoke the words to Harry, but was talking to Sirius. “She’s right. The damage is done. It’s a pointless assignment.”

Sirius didn’t argue. He knew James was starting to question some of Dumbledore’s choices, having been out of the field for a month now. He knew Lily had been questioning Dumbledore even longer. 

“I’ve got the Cloak,” he assured Lily, kissing her on the cheek, an apology for her request being denied. “We’re short a few too many boots on the ground.”

“Be careful,” Lily requested, tugging at his hand before he left. Sirius nodded, then ruffled James’ hair as he made his way to the door. 

He had to go back out. He had to put in double to the Order, now. The war had been personal from the start. He’d been fighting his family for longer than he could remember, fights that started as arguments and Muggle posters torn down to punches and abuses and now to Unforgiveables.

He’d been fighting family for too long. Maybe it was time to fight for family. 

 

July 31, 1981

"Where's Harry?" Sirius burst through the door, striding right past James, who had opened it with the intention of greeting his guest with some semblance of politeness. 

"Yes, welcome, Sirius," James drawled, "I'll take your coat, Sirius. Oh, the Puddlemere match was fantastic, wasn't it?"

Sirius simply ignored him and walked on into the living room, placing a package in the corner of the room before plopping down onto the floor next to Peter, who was watching Harry walk across the floor in his baby buggy shaped like a hippogryff. The moment Sirius passed the threshold, Harry jumped up and down, babbling loudly, reaching his arms up to be picked up.

"I swear it's like we don't even live here," Lily told Remus in the kitchen as she grabbed another Butterbeer from the fridge, "Just Harry."

"I think I used to be friends with Sirius," James chimed, "but I don't remember."

"Oh, quit your complaining," came Sirius' defense, holding a Harry who was screaming in delight at being held like a sack of potatoes over his godfather’s shoulder. He walked over to the oven, where Lily was pulling out a simple cake, and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Better?”

"I think you owe James more than me, Padfoot."

"Right!" Sirius exclaimed, righting Harry in his arms and spotting James stand leaning against the kitchen door frame with his eyebrows raised. "Give us a kiss, won't you, mate?" James ducked, laughing, quickly getting out of the way as Sirius dipped dramatically for Harry's sake, who gave another shriek of enjoyment. Setting the cake to cool, Lily pulled out two Butterbeers from the ice box, handing one to Remus as they followed the others into the living room. 

"Can't believe it's been a whole year," Remus told her, watching James run comically away from Sirius and Harry. Children, all three of them. Remus spoke again, looking away from Lily, voiced strained. "I couldn't get a present, I'm sorry. You know how things are..."

“You’re here. That’s enough.” Lily spoke quietly, though she knew the others were distracted. Peter had transformed into his Animagus and Harry was trying to crawl around to catch him. It sounded like Sirius and James were about to place a wager on how long Wormtail could hold out. 

“How have you been, Remus? The honest and ugly version,” Lily pressed, knowing Remus was too polite to not try to hide raw truth. She got her answer in the deep sigh he let go, in how he leaned against the sofa, a collapsed man.

“I’m miserable,” he admitted, the anger coming through his low voice. “You can’t imagine the conditions the community’s been forced into. And there’s talk of new legislation coming. Some hag named Umbridge. She’s got a whole docket of restrictions that she’s lobbying for and I can’t say I blame the others when they…” He shook his head. “The werewolves aren’t doing well. When the Ministry is the one calling us half-breeds but Voldemort the one offering freedom of movement-- hell, offering food and shelter-- I can’t say I don’t sympathize with the others’ temptations.”

She let the confession hang in the air. She knew he didn’t mean it like it sounded out loud, didn’t mean the wistfulness that came into his voice when he spoke of freedom for werewolves under Voldemort. She knew it was just the strain of being isolated for so many moons. 

“I know you asked us not to,” Lily hesitated, wanting to talk about literally anything else but this. “But we altered the will. If something happens to us, you’re taken care of…. And Harry, too, obviously.” She refused to acknowledge that if “something happened” to them, then “something happened” to Harry. She refused to see a time where her baby is not alive and happy like he is now, babbling nonsense in response to James and Sirius egging him on. 

Remus Lupin smiled. Sad and weary, because that’s how he looked most of the time. Remus Lupin tried to hide in the smile the fact that he knew inheritance laws were the exact sort of legislation the Ministry was updating.

“Thank you,” he said, quiet, because there was nothing else to say.

“It’s nothing. It’s nothing at all,” Lily tried to comfort him, saved from saying too much else as their fat, old cat Mortimer had chosen this moment to wander into the room and spot Wormtail. He meowed loudly, which drew Harry’s attention to Mortimor instead of Wormtail. Sirius swore, yelling something about calling a rematch for unforeseen interference. 

Remus gladly jumped on the change of subject. 

“Did Sirius tell you what he was planning on getting?”

“No, he didn’t,” Lily said, apprehension rising as a genuinely mischievous smile spread across Remus’ lips. “Should I be concerned?”

"James'll love it. Harry will love it. You... maybe not so much. The cat? Definitely not." Remus laughed as he watched Lily's expression darken. Her eyes found the long, thin package at the entrance of the living room where Sirius had abandoned it when he first burst through the door. The wrapping gave some away, the thin gold stamp against the brown paper reading Quality Quidditch Supplies. 

“Black,” Lily said loudly, “ What have you brought into my home?”

Sirius looked up, holding an unhappy looking Mortimer in his arms, whose chubby paws were trying to make swipes at Wormtail.

“What’s that?” He asked, distracted as Mortimer gave a yowl in surprise when Peter returned back to normal. Harry clapped in approval and amusement. Dropping the cat, Sirius followed her gaze over to his gift, then held his hands up in innocence.

“Before you cast judgment, Evans, I’d like to remind you that Harry likely wouldn’t be here in the first place if you weren’t such an avid Quidditch fan.”

Remus snickered. She smacked him gently on the arm. “That is not--

“Oh?” Remus took on that airy tone of his he reserved for pleasant mockery. “It was not long ago in the least that I had to do rounds with you complaining about idiot Potter in his stupid Quidditch robes--”

“That’s not even close to a good impersonation-”

“You went to more Quidditch matches than me, Evans-”

“For study! I was learning wizard culture!”

“Why are we-- ouch, Harry, give Daddy back his glasses, your tiny little fingers are sharp-- why are we riling up Lily?”

“They’re not riling Lily up,” Peter explained reasonably, “They’re just trying to prove that Quidditch gets Lily riled up.”

James gave a big bark of laughter, tilting his head back, which Harry used to his advantage to try to swipe for his glasses again, crawling up his father with all the strength his little legs could muster. 

“Good luck with that. She still won’t admit she visited me in the Hospital Wing fifth year after the Hufflepuff match just to tell off Smotherby for having shite aim when he knocked me off my broom.”

“Well, he did have shite aim, especially for a Beater,” Lily mumbled bitterly. “And you were supposed to be unconscious, not eavesdropping.”

James just grinned in satisfaction. “And you were supposed to be spitting on the ground at mention of my name, not crying over my unconscious body.”

“You’re a bloody liar, lying there awake, letting me make a fool of myself.”

James’ smile turned big and goofy. “In my defense, I thought I was unconscious and dreaming, especially when I heard you telling McKinnon you liked my style.”

“You’ve a unique form for a Chaser, it had nothing to do with liking you.”

“Yeah, but you did.”

“Did not ,” Lily Potter insisted, but the impact was softened somewhat by the fact that James Potter, her husband, was carrying over their son to sit on her lap. 

“We can rehash Evans’ years spent in repression all day,” Sirius cut them off. “But since Harry isn’t old enough to be scarred by tales of their school-age flirtations, I say we table this for another day.”

Meeting no objections aside from a light huff from Lily, Sirius smiled with some satisfaction. “Brilliant, then. Are we ready?”

Even Lily couldn’t stop to be made nervous about what Sirius had brought them: a miniature Cleansweep, the same model James had flown in school. James was beside himself, talking about what Harry’s future on the Gryffindor (obviously) Quidditch team would be like and repeating several times, “Wait until I tell McGonagall about this.”

Harry could really only use the broom as another walk-aid until he was a little older and a little more stable on his own, but the sight of him toddling about clumsily with the broomstick was enough to bring bittersweet tears to Lily’s eyes as James and Sirius start building an obstacle course in the living room for Harry to navigate. Eventually, though, the day comes to an end. Harry doses off in his high chair, frosting from his birthday cake painting his cheeks. Remus puts on a brave face when he bids them farewell and Peter just goes kind of quiet, lost in thought. He barely remembers to bid Harry good-bye on his way out. Sirius is last to leave, as usual. He’s who puts Harry upstairs in his crib.

Sirius Black was happy here in Godric’s Hollow, something he couldn’t say outside of this charming cottage housing this charming family. The truth was, Sirius had never been so bored without James and Lily keeping him company. He barely saw Remus and Peter was never a fighter, so even duels were lonesome. 

He’d never been so bored but Order business had never before seemed so severe, so consequential. Now Sirius’ dreams were haunted by burning buildings that looked too much like this cottage to stomach. He brought the Potter’s less and less news of victory and only news of delays, of something’s gotta give soon enough. Soon enough seemed eons away, its cost insurmountable.

The war had always been personal for Sirius. It had always been about family. It’s just that before now, Sirius Black had nothing to lose. Sirius Black had no idea how this was going to end. All he knew was that he would be cold and dead before anything happened to the Potter’s, and if that didn’t work out, he’d be cold and dead pretty soon after something happened to them. But that’s a problem for another day and another time, because right now James is hugging him good-bye and Lily’s kiss is seared onto his cheek, and Sirius Black is happy.

October, 1981

Lily’s sobbing. He’s never seen her like this, even when James had been down for the count during their days in the Order. He’s never seen her absolutely lose it like she is now. He’s just grateful this is far past Harry’s bedtime. He wouldn’t be able to stomach the both of them losing it. 

“Lily,” James tries to soothe her, his hand moving up and down her arm, whispering to his wife as if Sirius weren’t there. “Love, please, it’s going to be okay.”

“None of this is going to be okay,” Sirius manages to understand, her words slightly garbled. Looking at James and not at Sirius, she tells James, “We’re asking him to die . But if we don’t--” she tries several times to finish her statement, but Sirius understands what she’s saying before she can articulate the words between sobs, “If we don’t, then Harry dies.”

Don’t,” James cuts her off, his voice a harsh and sharp reprimand at Lily. Sirius has never seen him like this, like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. Sirius has known him better than a brother long enough to see that he is crumbling at the edges. 

Sirius Black has never been one for emotional displays. Sirius Black has never been able to comprehend the needs of others, but he’d somehow figured James out years ago. He usually knew what he needed to do for James, but that skill is failing him now as he watches the family whose kept him steady break down before him.

He needed a solution. He needed a plan.

When James pulls his eyes away from Lily, he doesn’t need to ask the question again. He’s begging Sirius for salvation, and Sirius thinks he can grant it.

“No,” is Sirius’ answer, shaking his head slowly and deliberately. “I can’t be your Secret-Keeper.”

The Potter’s look appropriately shocked. James opens his mouth to plead. “There’s no one else I--”

“Lily’s right, James. They’ll know it’s me.” 

But that’s not a huge problem. A plan had formed in his head, a brilliant twist, a literal lifesaver. 

“Ask Peter. No one will suspect him. I’ll lead them off his trail, they’ll find me and torture me and kill me, but no one will suspect Peter.”

James doesn’t look certain about it. Doesn’t look certain in the least. 

“Don’t you remember the first rule of Maraudering, the first rule of a heist when caught? Make them think you’ve given them what they want.”

James starts to nod. Slowly, hesitantly, but the gears are turning in his head, too. They’ve spent too many years plotting against expectations to not know how to play the game now.

“Prongs,” Sirius smiles to get the rest of James’ confidence on board, a bold smile, like it used to be. Arrogant like it used to be. Young, like they used to be. “Everything’s going to be fine.”

James regards him from above his interlaced fingers, like he used to when Sirius pitched a plan to him. “You’re sure about this?”

“On my life.”

“If Wormtail agrees,” he consents, old and weary and heavy, because James isn’t the Marauder Sirius wants him to be but a father terrified to death for his son. “We should let the others know.” 

For the first time in a while, Lily interjects with a calm voice, staring down at the ground.

“No,” she says, echoing the finality Sirius had used before her when uttering that word. “No. I trust Sirius, James. I trust his plan,” she whispers, tugging at his sleeve, fearful and young in a way Sirius had never seen in her before, because she isn’t just the warm mother he’s come to know lately but a girl caught in a war that was always bigger than herself. God, they were all young. They were all just twenty-one. 

Lily even seems small when she whispers, “I don’t trust anyone else.”

“But Dumbledore--”

“Wasn’t completely honest with us this evening. He’s hiding something, too, and I don’t trust it.”

James looks distraught, his hand jumping to his hair, pulling at its roots. If he hadn’t been on the edge before, he was standing on the precipice, staring down into his own hell. “Moony--”

Lily doesn’t hesitate. “Has been spending too much time with the werewolves.”

James nearly rips his hair out. Better that than his heart, which is ripping apart. James Potter has always been defined by the friends he kept and this was an admittance of disloyalty, of suspicion, of betrayal. 

He doesn’t have time to break down. They need to act. They need to set the Fidelius Charm in motion, they need to--

“You need to go get Peter,” James instructs Sirius in a strangled voice. Lily starts to cry again, this time in some level of relief. They have a plan. They have a plan and maybe they won’t lose everything.

Sirius nods, heading towards the door. James and Lily’s eyes follow him carefully, but before he can leave, Lily stands up, rushing towards him, throwing her arms around his shoulders in a hug.

“Thank you, Padfoot,” she whispers into the crook of his neck. He tries not to lose it then, too, hugging her back with all of the strength he can manage. She lifts her head, giving him a kiss on the cheek like she always does before he leaves. 

Sirius can’t help but rustle her hair a bit, begging some of the Lily Evans he knew to come forth, to make it through. “It’s going to be alright,” he says softly, then, for old time’s sake, hits her with a light tease. “Go, get ready. Time to settle some old scores, Evans, and see which of us really did deserve the top seat in Charms.” 

To James, his brother, he says, “We’ve got it handled, mate. What could go wrong?”

****

A cold Halloween. This was the kind of day that Sirius Black used to relish with the promise of something good in the crisp autumn air. Halloween’s came with the allure of warm food in the Great Hall, the last minute preparations for an intricate prank, the promise of time with the boys. Sirius Black loved Halloween. 

Zipping up his jacket and putting his hands in his pockets, he could feel the miniature Snitch he'd found for Harry buzzing lightly against the leather. It was the perfect size for his baby hands and reminded Sirius of the Snitch James had nicked from Madame Hooch all those years ago. He knew it would drive Lily up a wall, and smiled at the image. 

He’d take his motorbike to Peter’s, driving it surface level. The less magic used around someone who doesn’t want to be found by Dark wizards, the better. 

The Muggle flat they’d found for Peter wasn't much, and that was the idea. Wormtail could easily blend in with the nobody-Muggles, either as himself or as a rat. It didn't have to be permanent- just until the threat on the Potter's passed or they found a way to flee the country. That’s the idea Sirius wanted to run by James this evening. If there was a way with minimal danger, he'd tell them to flee. There were safe havens in the Alps the Order knew of. If they could get past this initial threat, the Potter's could be safe. They'd all live.

It didn’t take long to reach the flat and nothing appeared out of place. Parking the bike and walking up the dark landing, Sirius was met with a door still intact, nothing out of the ordinary. He let out of breath of relief he didn’t know he was holding in. The plan was working. 

Sirius knocked on the door twice, then once, then twice. Their code. 

Peter didn't answer the door. Sirius tested the lock.

The door swung open.

"Peter?” Sirius called, apprehension rising. The one room flat was empty. There was no sign of a struggle.

That's when he understood everything in mortifying, horrifying, maddening realization. 

He doesn’t remember the motorbike ride flying to Godric’s Hollow, but that’s where he lands. He lands directly in front of their cottage, but that shouldn't be possible. The protection charm should have prevented that.

The front door shouldn’t be hanging open like that, but it is.Tthrough the door he sees the first signs of his carnage, the first one he killed. 

James Potter lies in an undignified heap on the ground. 

James, who had given Sirius a life when he had none, was dead by his hand. Dead by his foolishness. There is nothing else in the world except for the knowledge that this was his family, these Potter's in Godric's Hollow, and that they are dead. Brother and sister and nephew, gone. 

There are no tears of mercy or pity to be shed here. He can’t will them from his body because he deserves neither, since James deserved the world. Sirius Black stands up, away from the only person who had stayed by his side even when he didn’t deserve it. He stands up because he has to, because he knows that the path of destruction leads directly up to the charming little yellow nursery, whose walls he had helped paint for the baby. He has to see Lily and Harry. He has to see what he has done, what Pettigrew has done.

The room is in shambles. Voldemort exploded a room just to kill an infant, one whole wall exposed to the cold, dark night. There are boxes scattered on the floor blocking the door. He and James were supposed to move those into the attic months ago. Lily's on the floor, too. Dead, like her husband. Sirius takes no comfort that they are together, because he is alone. There’s something else right in front of her, some mound of black cloak. He goes to kick it—

But something isn’t right. Something impossible.

A baby is crying. 

"Harry?" Harry's eyes are greener than usual, the exact color of a Killing Curse. He’s crying because his mother won’t pay attention to him and he’s got a cut streaming blood down his soft forehead, but he lifts his arms up to be picked up by Sirius as he has done countless of times for his godfather.

Sirius obliges. Sirius picks up his godson the way his father would have, the way his mother would have, taking some of his bedding to wipe at the oddly shaped cut hiding behind his thick black hair. Harry stops crying, putting his head on Sirius’ shoulder the way he has countless times. He bundles him up in whatever he can, taking whatever he can from his home, and holds Harry close to his chest, shielding him from seeing what is burned to the back of Sirius’ eyes forevermore. 

He steps over Lily’s body. There is no other way out of the nursery except over the corpse of Lily Evans, who used to dock points from her own house just to take him and James down a few pegs. 

He can’t go through the front door. He can’t see James. 

Sirius exits the house through the back.

"Whose there?" growls a voice, but Sirius isn't startled. It's only Hagrid. 

"Ay, Sirius," Hagrid mutters, looking at the cottage with water in his eyes, "Dumbledore sent me, he says- it can't be true- he said-"

"It's true.” There is no emotion in his voice. He's a void of space, nothing.

"And Harry?"

"Safe," he replies, still holding his nephew tight.

Hagrid still looks at the cottage, whose upstairs is nothing but destruction, and blows his nose on his handkerchief again. "I’ve me orders. Professor Dumbledore'll be expecting me. He said- he said me an’ whoever else I could save.”

Hagrid’s big hands reach out, waiting.

"No," Sirius hears his voice say, "He’s my godson. I'll take Harry. I need to get him out of here, out of-"

"I'm sorry, Sirius," Hagrid replies, "but I've got orders from Dumbledore. I'm sure you could talk to him after."

Right. Talk to Dumbledore. Dumbledore who didn't know that Sirius' greatest stroke of genius cost the lives of the two greatest people in his life. Dumbledore who didn't know that Pettigrew was the Secret Keeper and not him.

James was dead. He could not take his godson.

Sirius Black had nothing left to lose.

So he gives Hagrid his nephew and his motorbike- the one he and James would go on and on about, the one Lily hated more than anything- because he has no need for it. Hagrid has Sirius' last treasures and he's glad they'll be taken care of. He looks one last time into his godchild's face. The eyes, his mother's, but the rest is so distinctly James that he can't bear to look any longer. Harry reaches his arms out, protesting and whimpering against his blankets for Sirius to take him back, because he’s never met Hagrid, this strange man whose whisking him away from his home. Harry wants his uncle to run around with him and play with him like always, but Sirius won't, he won't. He's walking away when he hears Harry start to cry once more, but he doesn’t let it get to him. He is a dead man walking.

Inside he is nothing but his one new purpose in life. He's never felt more powerful than in this moment. Maybe his family was right. Maybe there was pleasure in the Unforgivable.

Those are a lot of maybe's, but Sirius Black is sure of one thing.

Murdering Peter Pettigrew will be the best and greatest thing he's ever done.