“Did he really put Harry with them?”
Sirius looked up. Remus was sitting on the opposite side of the table, reading what Sirius had thought was the local Muggle newspaper. Remus collected them as a sort of curiosity, because he thought the Muggle world was fascinating.
But it turned out to be a letter. Sirius leaned forwards in interest. They didn’t have a lot of people writing to them since they’d become fugitives. “Who is it from, Moony? How would he know where they put Harry?”
Sirius bristled all over, an inch from turning into a dog. He understood why Remus wanted to forgive Dumbledore and say that he’d done a lot that was good for the world, but Dumbledore was the one who had looked the other way when he could have insisted on a trial, with his power in the Wizengamot.
Sirius didn’t think he was evil. But he wasn’t infallible, either, and Sirius had once thought he was. So now he didn’t like him.
“He wrote to you?” Sirius tried to shake his own dislike aside and focus on the important part. “Did he really tell you where he put Harry? Why? He must at least suspect that you’re with me.”
Remus shook his head a little. “Not directly. But he says Harry is growing up safe, with family, not in our world. I thought maybe he meant a Squib household at first, but he didn’t say a family. He said family.” Remus looked at Sirius over the top of the letter, his face paler than it should be even the day after a full moon. “And what family does he have left, except Lily’s sister?”
“But—he can’t be,” said Sirius, because the thought was ridiculous, and he wouldn’t allow it to enter his head. “Lily despised Petunia. Dumbledore would never have left Harry with her.”
“What if he thought Harry growing up without his fame was more important than whether Petunia and Lily hated each other?” Remus propped his chin in his hand and shook his head. “You know how big a proponent of family Albus has always been. If he thought that blood family should raise Harry…”
Sirius wanted to bark. Instead, he said, “I think you’re right. And that means we have to get him away.”
Remus wavered. “Do we? I mean, if Harry’s grown up with the Dursleys, he probably thinks of them as family, and he probably knows enough about magic to know what he’ll be when he gets his Hogwarts letter…”
“Because Petunia doesn’t deserve him,” Sirius snapped back at Remus. Honestly, sometimes Remus just made it so complicated. “We’re the ones who should be standing with him when he gets his Hogwarts letter. And if you can look at me and tell me honestly that you don’t believe that, then you’re not the Remus I know.”
“Of course I believe that,” said Remus softly, in the way that meant he was hurt. But Sirius ignored it for now. This was too important. Remus leaned back against the wall behind him, tilting his chair. Sirius still instinctively tensed for a house-elf to shriek when that happened, but there were none in these Muggle hovels. “But I have to think that Dumbledore put him where he was for a reason.”
“The way he let me go without a trial for a reason?”
Remus’s frown deepened, and Sirius grinned. He knew Remus was weak on that point, and so he only had to push a little more and Remus would cave.
“We don’t know what it is.”
“No, we don’t,” Sirius promptly agreed. “Since every letter I write to him about it gets returned unopened.”
Remus looked down at his hands and tried one more time. “Can you even figure out where the Dursleys live? You know that you don’t know the Muggle world that well.”
“Lily showed us that letter Petunia wrote her, bragging about Dursley.” It was burned into Sirius’s mind, as were all the memories of his last few weeks with James and Lily. “She said they were living in Little Whinging, Surrey. I’ll have to find the street, but if I can’t do that, then I don’t deserve to be called a dog.”
Remus’s eyes were huge and sensitive. “I wish I could go with you.”
It was so little time after his change that Remus was weak and didn’t trust himself outside the hovels even though Sirius thought he could. He leaned forwards to kiss Remus’s arm instead. “I know. But I’ll find him, and I’ll bring him back here, and then we can enjoy Christmas together.”
Remus still looked as if he could turn back time when he smiled, as if he was the young man—the young werewolf—who had been friends with James and Sirius in Hogwarts. “All right. If you can persuade him to come with you—no kidnapping.”
“Of course not! If I can’t make our house sound better than the bloody Dursleys, then I also don’t deserve to be called a Black.”
Sirius left the room. He would have to make sure that he Apparated as close as he could to Little Whinging before he transformed. He didn’t know how much distance he would have to run, but it would be weary to cover miles on four paws.
Sirius sprawled on the pavement, his tongue hanging out. He had run so far and so fast that he was no longer sure exactly where he was, except he hadn’t left Little Whinging. There had been a huge dog left to roam around a Muggle house some distance back from the street, and the dog had been at least twice Sirius’s weight. Sirius had torn past startled and amused Muggles, not daring to turn back and Apparate.
The Ministry had no idea that he was an Animagus, or how he’d escaped Azkaban. Sirius was not going to risk exposing that information just to get away from a stupid canine.
But he’d outrun the shaggy beast at last, and he was at the beginning of a new street. Sirius stood upright and shook his coat, then limped over to drink from a puddle in the corner of the pavement. Then he sat back and looked at the sign that loomed overhead, focusing his eyes hard. It was more difficult to read as a dog, but that was more a matter of using muscles that didn’t normally function that way than because he couldn’t concentrate.
Sirius surged to his feet, his hackles bristling. Hadn’t Lily said something about Privet Drive once? Only Sirius had remembered it as Private Drive, and that was why he’d been investigating all those different streets with “Private” in their names, and even houses that had posted signs with the word.
But now…now he thought he might have misremembered. This was the right street, he was sure of it!
As he trotted down the pavement, slinking when he passed lighted windows, a soft snow began to fall. Sirius whined a little. He would smell like wet dog when he came home, and Remus would make him take two baths, one in either form.
But when he came to a house with a generically neat garden in front of it, Sirius forgot all about the horrors of bathing.
There was a tingle of familiar scent here, scent he probably wouldn’t remember if he’d spent the last ten years free. But all those burned-in memories made him know, still, exactly what James had smelled like.
This scent was very similar.
Sirius trotted along with his nose to the ground, circling the fence that surrounded the garden, doing his best not to whine as he did it. He didn’t want to alert anyone until he absolutely had to. It was too early in the evening for most Muggles to be asleep, even if they had young children.
He had come to the back of the house when he jerked his head up. There was a scent here, too, the way there was all the way around, but there was a soft, confused whimpering noise, too. And Sirius doubted the Muggles had a new puppy. The neat garden argued against it.
Sirius hesitated, then took a chance, jumping up and thrusting his head hard at a slat between the boards of the fence. They gave enough for him to stick his nose through, and then tilt his head awkwardly so he could put an eye to the gap.
There was a little boy lying on the ground, staring dejectedly at the sky and holding his ribs. Sirius could smell pain.
He might have doubted, might have wondered if this was Petunia’s son, but then the boy turned his head. Shaggy black hair Sirius could never forget, and green eyes that he’d last seen glazed in death.
And he was miserable, and in pain.
Sirius didn’t hesitate any longer. He backed up, concentrated, and summoned, with enough strength that it nearly drained him, magic to strengthen his muscles. Using wandless magic this way was beyond difficult, but he didn’t care. Harry was in there.
When he ran at the fence and jumped, he sailed lightly over it, and came down in the middle of the grass beside Harry. Harry immediately jerked back and turned wary eyes on Sirius, who wagged his tail.
Harry smiled back almost in spite of himself, it looked like, but then he turned his head to the side and his face fell. Sirius turned to see he was looking at the house.
“You can’t stay here, dog,” Harry whispered. “Dudley will beat you up.”
That only confirmed Sirius’s fears about what was happening here, and about what he had to take Harry away from. He locked his teeth in a corner of the trousers Harry was wearing—hard Muggle cloth, denim—and tugged on them, pulling him towards the fence. When Harry only blinked at him, Sirius let go and barked, but softly, glancing at the house.
“I told you to go away,” Harry whispered.
He was really too small for a ten-year-old. And even if he was outside because he wanted to be instead of because it was a punishment, he was too skinny and wearing thin clothes, too. Petunia didn’t care for him at all. Sirius sniffed again and picked up the scent of hunger. Yes, she’d starved him.
That decided him. Even if he had to reveal he was an Animagus, Harry was going to come with him.
Sirius paused and looked hard at the house. But no one was coming out here right now, and he really couldn’t sense any magic other than Harry’s. That didn’t mean a lot—his senses were still so dull from Azkaban, sometimes—but Harry gave him another little shove towards the fence, and he had to choose.
Sirius moved back and whined. Harry looked at him and smiled.
“Have a good life, dog. I think there are some people down the street at Number 8 who have good food in their bins. I hope you find it.”
Sirius closed his eyes and carefully transformed back. Then he snatched his wand and conjured a robe for himself before Harry could start running away because there was a naked bloke in the back garden.
He opened his eyes to find Harry staring at him with his mouth open so wide Sirius thought he could see his tonsils.
“Please,” Sirius whispered. “I’m a wizard, just like you, and I knew your parents. I was James’s best friend. People thought I betrayed them, but I didn’t really do it. Can you come with me? Please? I know I can give you a better life than these people.”
Harry went right on staring at him. Then he said, “I’m a wizard?”
Petunia couldn’t even tell him that much? Dumbledore was delusional. Sirius didn’t slap his hand to his face, but only because they didn’t have time. He nodded quickly. “Have you ever done anything strange? Made things disappear or transform? Or fly around the room? Or you had something you really, really wanted, and it happened?”
He saw the moment when Harry believed, because his eyes shone brighter than the fairy lights that the neighbors had strung up. “Yes,” Harry whispered, and swallowed hard. “Sometimes I want to be somewhere, out of range of Dudley’s hunting, and—I am. Or I wanted my hair to grow back when Aunt Petunia cut it away and it did. That’s magic?”
Sirius nodded. “She knows about it.”
“Aunt Petunia? But she wants everything to be so normal all the time.”
“That’s probably why she hates it,” Sirius confirmed with a grimace. “Come on, though. You have to choose. I’m your godfather, and I really want to take care of you.”
“Where were you?”
“In prison. But I was innocent,” Sirius added, when he saw the way Harry’s eyes widened. “They thought I betrayed your parents, like I said.” Sirius glanced around again. He didn’t see any flickers of movement out of the corners of his eyes, but Dumbledore would be mad not to have someone watching the house. And Sirius thought he was delusional, not mad.
“You were in prison? Did you get declared innocent?”
“Um. No. I broke out.” Moony, I wish you could have come with me. I really didn’t think this out well.
But instead of turning his back on Sirius and running away screaming like any normal kid would have, Harry just breathed, “Wicked,” and glanced over his shoulder again. Then he turned back and fired questions rapidly at Sirius. “Would you buy me clothes? Would you feed me? Would I have to do chores? Would I ever have to come back here again?”
Sirius blinked and tried to keep up. “Yes, I can buy you things. Of course. And yes—I mean, I would make you keep your room clean. Pick up your toys. And you would never have to come back if you didn’t want to.”
“I would get toys?”
I am going to write a very long letter to Albus Dumbledore.
“Yes, of course you would,” Sirius said firmly. “Come with me, and you can have all the toys you want.” He held out his hand.
“And I’m magic, and you’re my godfather,” Harry said, and took a step towards him. “What’s your name, anyway?”
Oh, brilliant, Sirius, you break in to take the boy away, and you forget your bloody name. “Sirius Black.”
“I’m coming,” Harry said, and slipped his hand into Sirius’s, and walked away from the Dursleys’ house without looking back.
Sirius Apparated them home. There was no reason to think anyone would notice right away that Harry was gone, not when they hadn’t noticed how thin he was and how unhappy living with the Dursleys.
Harry gasped as they appeared outside the Muggle hovel. He looked around in wonder, and showed no surprise at the dilapidated building or the unkempt grass around it. He was simply gaping because it was magic, and a place he’d never been.
Sirius knew that as if Harry had spoken his thoughts.
He reached out and tightened his hold on Harry’s wrist, bringing his gaze back to Sirius. “Come on. Moony will be waiting for us.”
“Moony?” Harry trotted beside him as they approached the door. His eyes were misty.
“Remus Lupin. The man I live with. He knew your parents, too.” Sirius hesitated, but it wasn’t as though it was a worse secret than the one that Sirius had escaped from Azkaban and had just stolen his godson back. “He’s a werewolf.”
“A real one?”
There was nothing but awe in Harry’s face, and Sirius knelt down in front of the boy. He needed him to understand this. “You have to know that werewolves are dangerous sometimes. Remus sometimes takes a special potion that makes him less dangerous, but we can’t always afford it. So he locks himself away on the full moon. You must never open that door. All right?”
“I can understand,” said Harry, and his face twisted. “I’m not some little kid.”
Sirius chuckled and ruffled his hair. Harry didn’t look as though as he knew whether to be delighted or indignant. “I know, Harry. But I didn’t know that until I found you. I thought you were an ordinary wizarding kid.”
“No.” Sirius looked at the scar on Harry’s forehead and winced a little. It would make him hunted even more than the mere sight of Sirius would. But Sirius had made his choice, and there was no way he was taking Harry back to the Muggles. I never could anyway, not if I wanted Harry to ever trust me again. “Come on. Let’s meet him.”
Remus opened the door before they could get there. He had to lean on the wall, but his eyes didn’t hold any less wonder than Harry’s. “You found him. And he wants to live with us?” He looked at Sirius as if he was expecting pain more than joy. Then again, that was also pretty consistent with the way Harry looked.
Sirius made a silent vow right then, and he meant it every bit as much as his mother had meant hers to try and turn Sirius into the son she wanted. He was going to make Remus and Harry happy. And he was going to pour all his effort into that, the effort he had once thought he would use to get himself declared innocent.
“Of course I do,” said Harry. “You must be Moony. Hi. I’m Harry.” He held out his hand to shake.
Sirius watched Remus fall for the boy as he gripped that thin wrist, and he added, to whatever powers watched over vows, I mean it.
“What is this place?”
Remus’s voice was low and a little worried. Harry was too busy gaping in awe to be worried. Then again, Sirius thought with a smile he couldn’t suppress, Harry still gaped in awe at a Lumos Charm, so he wasn’t a good standard for comparison.
“It’s one of my family’s homes,” Sirius said, and gingerly shut the door behind them. It wasn’t a slam, but it echoed like one in the still corridors of the house. Cygnus House, it was known as, after one of Sirius’s ancestors. The walls were made of black marble, and the huge empty hall they were in had traces of rotted carpet on the floor. “One that hasn’t been opened in a long time.”
“We could have been staying here?” Harry let go of Remus’s hand to wander up and stare at a polished, hammered mirror set so firmly between two slabs of marble Sirius knew no spells for getting unstuck.
“We could be staying here,” Remus said, and looked at Sirius. He knew there would be reasons they hadn’t come to Cygnus and had stuck with Muggle flats and huts so far.
Sirius sighed and nodded. “I didn’t want to pay the price necessary to claim it.”
“In Galleons?” Harry still said the word with fascinated pride, and as often as he could. He used all wizarding words as often as he could, even if they were rare.
“No, in blood,” said Sirius, and turned his hand when both Harry and Remus stared at him. There was a brand-new scar on the back of his right wrist, one clearly made by raggedly chewing teeth. “It’s Dark magic, the blood price. This place doesn’t care about what you’ve done in your life or whether you’ve followed Black family tradition. It wants the taste of the blood. As long as you’re related to the Cygnus Black it’s named after, then it’s fine. If not…” Sirius shivered a little. Harry often begged for wizarding bedtime stories, but Sirius was not going to tell him about what had happened when the illegitimate son of a Black wife had tried to gain entrance to the house.
“This place is amazing!” Harry yelled, interrupting whatever question Remus was in the process of asking.
Sirius turned around and watched Harry making faces into the mirror. There was a blurred, dim shape there making them back. Family gossip said it was a trapped ancestor’s spirit, but no one had ever agreed on exactly who.
“And that’s why you did it,” Remus murmured. “Why you changed your mind.”
“He’s the center of everything, now,” Sirius agreed, and reached out to entwine his fingers with Remus’s. “But other people can stand beside him there.”
Remus smiled, shy and startled and intrigued, and he probably would have said something else, but Harry had discovered that he could slide down the smooth ebony bannister with no obstacles stopping him, and nobody could hear anything over his cries of “Brilliant!”
“Sirius, what is this?”
“A place you aren’t supposed to be in, because then Harry might think he should be in it, too,” Sirius said firmly over his shoulder, and went back to wrapping yet another of the Christmas gifts he intended to give Harry.
Remus at least had the decency to shut the door, and since it was early morning, Harry wouldn’t be awake anyway, most likely. He took great pleasure in sleeping in since the Dursleys had always made him get up early. “Sirius, what is this?”
“I told you.” Sirius placed the carefully-wrapped training broom over to one side. He then sat back and rolled his head and stretched his arms and shoulders. Only half of this mound to go, and then he would take a short break.
“That mound of gifts is higher than your head.”
“I’m kneeling down.”
“It would be higher than your head if you were standing on my shoulders.”
Sirius leaned back and rolled his eyes the way he used to do when Remus said why it wasn’t a good idea to stalk Hufflepuffs through the corridors pretending to be the Bloody Baron. “I want to make up for all the Christmases Harry’s missed. You know how he said he didn’t usually get anything but maybe a sock with a hole in it or a blade of grass.”
“I know, but the best way to make up for not being there is your presence, Sirius.” Remus sat down on the ratty carpet of the old drawing room next to him. There was just nothing for it, Sirius had decided. He would have to get a house-elf from one of the other Black properties and get this place cleaned up that way, or it would never improve. “And you’re there every day. That’s all he needs.”
Sirius turned to stare at him in disbelief. “You remember being a ten-year-old boy, right?”
“I remember that I was happy without mounds of presents.”
Sirius rolled his eyes. “But you got regular Christmas celebrations, and you had presents when you wanted them. Your parents didn’t deprive you of them. And this is a use I can put the Black money to.”
Remus blinked. “I thought you were having trouble accessing some of the funds?”
Sirius laughed. “Why do you think some of my ancestors came and stayed here despite the incredible pain they had to suffer to get in?” He ignored Remus’s look of concern and the way he reached for his wrist, and went on. “There are piles and piles of Galleons here. Old Cygnus never did trust goblins.”
Remus leaned back with a stupid grin on his face. “So we could live off the money here for a long time.”
“Of course. And I’m the only Black left.” Sirius shrugged. “Well, except Cousin Cissy, but she would never come here and pay the price to enter, not when it would mar her pretty white skin so. I’m going to send some Christmas gifts to Andy and her daughter, though.”
Remus relaxed against him. “It’s so nice to know that we have a home we can’t be driven from.”
“Right.” Sirius grinned as he thought of something else: the increasingly frantic headlines in the Daily Prophet now that they knew Harry had disappeared. “And I’ve got a special gift for Albus on Christmas morning, too.”
Remus stared at him. “Sirius.” Sirius grinned. “What are you going to do?”
“Just watch,” Sirius said, and turned back to wrapping some of the toys and cards and sweets and books and incredibly powerful magical artifacts that he hadn’t wrapped yet. “It’s going to be pretty spectacular. I only wish I could be there to see the look on his face when he gets it.”
Unstated, he thought as Remus settled down beside him to wrap, was that both of them would rather spend the moment with Harry.
“Harry, you need to get up.”
“I thought children were supposed to be the ones eager to get up on Christmas morning,” Harry muttered into the pillow. Or something like it. Sirius couldn’t be sure because it was, of course, muffled by the fact that Harry was speaking into a pillow.
“I’m a child at heart, what can I say?” Sirius said, and grinned again as he thought of the letter he’d sent to Albus. Then he ran across the room, jumped into the bed, and started tickling Harry so suddenly he let out a shriek of surprise and rolled away. That meant he crashed into the floor, still covered with blankets.
“Let’s go,” Sirius said, pulling the edge of the blanket and unrolling Harry like he was a carpet. “Or I’m going to unwrap all your presents.”
“Presents? For me?”
Sirius hated the Dursleys more than ever at that moment, but at least he was the one who got to put that look in Harry’s eyes. “Of course presents for you,” he said gently. “Are you going to eat breakfast first, or—”
Harry ran straight past him and jumped onto the banister to slide to the bottom of the steps.
Remus had been right behind Sirius, and he staggered a little in the wind of Harry’s speed. Then he turned to look over his shoulder after him. His eyes were sad in the way that Sirius thought was sadder than anyone else’s in the whole world. “He never even thought that we would get him gifts,” he whispered.
“It takes a while to get over bad old habits,” Sirius said, and leaned sideways to kiss Remus on the cheek. “Come on. We ought to get to see him open at least some of them.”
Remus chuckled, and that salved some raw wounds in Sirius’s own heart as they followed Harry down.
Harry had, surprisingly, been patient enough to wait until they entered the large sitting room, which Sirius had smuggled the gifts into last night after Harry went to bed, before he started tearing off the paper. Or maybe he had been distracted by the sight of the tree, which Sirius had enchanted to grow until it scraped the ceiling. The glittering fairy lights that covered it winked red, and white, and then madly orange and blue like a trapped phoenix, and on top, instead of an angel or star, was a figurine of a leaping dog and wolf, made of ebony and silver. Sirius had combined them from old heirlooms in the Cygnus vault, chuckling all the while as he thought of what his ancestors would say if they knew of the outrage.
Harry started making the paper fly once Sirius and Remus took their comfortable seats, though, and poured through the gifts like acid, only pausing now and then to shout, “You saw I wanted that book, didn’t you?” or “Robes with gilt edgings, brilliant!” And he even laughed about the red pants with golden Snitches on them that Sirius had bought mostly as a joke.
But when he opened the new broom, Harry’s breath flew down his throat and get stuck in his lungs. He turned around and said, “This must have been really expensive.”
“All of it was really expensive, pup. But you’re worth more than money.”
Harry’s expression wavered so hard that for a second Sirius was afraid he was going to cry, although he didn’t know why. Then Harry settled somewhere in the middle between crying and happy and said, “Well. I just wanted to make sure you knew, that was all.”
And he sat the broom aside with a tender pat. Sirius had to turn and stare into the fire hard himself for a few seconds.
Remus squeezed his hand.
It was clear Harry’s favorite gift by far was the broom, from the glances he kept sneaking it, but when he opened the swivel picture frames that Sirius had put photos of James and Lily in, he became very still. Sirius actually had to stand up and edge around him to make sure the frames hadn’t broken or the pictures hadn’t fallen out or something like that.
He saw Harry’s eyes closed, and the tears on his cheeks after all as James and Lily waved madly at their son, and Sirius turned away to give Harry a bit of privacy.
It wasn’t long before Harry put the picture frames away and said, “Thanks,” with a sniffle, and then he started tearing through the rest of the gifts as fast. They were almost near the bottom of the pile, and Sirius was starting to wish he had bought a few more books or something, just because it might not be enough for Harry.
But by the time Harry bounced to his feet and turned around again, he didn’t look upset at all. “Can I go fly?” he asked, picking up the broom.
“When you’ve had some breakfast,” Remus said, and his voice was so firm that Sirius remembered Euphemia Potter saying the same thing to James and snickered. Remus swung around and stared severely at Sirius. “And that goes for you, too, Mr. Black.” He turned around and called for the new Cygnus house-elves.
“They made some porridge for us,” Sirius confessed to Harry as they trailed towards the kitchen. “They’ll have to make some more, though. It’ll have gone cold by now.”
“Is that going to hurt them?” Harry had stiffened the way he still did at odd moments, his eyes dull with pain.
Sirius kissed the top of the forehead. “No. They’re treated well, not like some of the other families that have house-elves.” Living in the wizarding world hadn’t been all fun and glory for Harry, especially when Sirius had had to tell him about some of the things people thought about him because he was the Boy-Who-Lived.
“No. I mean, is it going to hurt their feelings?”
“No. House-elves love making more food. They would have cooked a complete feast for us for each meal if I’d let them.”
“Oh. That’s all right, then.” Harry relaxed and ran into the kitchen, where there were dried cranberries and blueberries and honey and sugar and milk and some fruits that Sirius couldn’t even name to put on their porridge, and huge stacks of toast already gleaming with butter, and some scrambled eggs fluffy enough to make Sirius think of them as golden clouds.
Remus held him back for a second, and Sirius had just started to frown at him when Remus leaned in and kissed him gently on the lips. “You’ve done really well with Harry.”
“I know I have,” Sirius said, and tugged him in to kiss him even more firmly and make Remus gasp and splutter a little. “But I couldn’t have if I didn’t have help.” Remus was the one who made sure Harry had a firm bedtime and didn’t eat too many sweets and could deal with those unpleasant truths about the wizarding world—all things that Sirius didn’t have the heart to enforce.
“Are you done snogging yet so we can eat?” Harry yelled impatiently from the kitchen, and there was a sound like the thump of a spoon on a tabletop.
Sirius chuckled, and led Remus in. There was food to be eaten, and some gifts for him and Remus to open later. They had wanted the morning to be just focused on Harry, but that didn’t mean they hadn’t got each other things.
“You shouldn’t snog where impressionable children can see,” said Harry primly, and attacked his porridge before Sirius could think of any good response to that.
Not that he needed to, not when Harry’s gleaming smile and Remus’s gleaming flush were saying so much for him.
“Sirius, what did you send Dumbledore?”
Sirius looked up. He was still playing with the puzzle box that Remus had got him, something he’d probably made himself out of ingredients he’d ordered with some of Sirius’s Galleons. It was made of shining cherry wood and metal bars, and when you got the bars and the blocks of wood in the right configuration, it would open. So far, Sirius hadn’t managed to figure it out.
“How did you know we sent him something?”
“I listened outside the door of the gift room,” said Harry without a trace of shame as he came into the study and sat comfortably on the floor next to Sirius, leaning his head on his leg. “I had to know.”
Sirius grinned and ruffled his hair. “You’re going to be such a Marauder when you get to Hogwarts.”
“Yes. So, what was it?”
“You know what a Howler is?”
“Yeah. Remus gave me a book that mentioned them.”
“Well, this was sort of a Howler. Only it looked like an ordinary letter from outside, and Dumbledore knows my handwriting. So I think he would probably open it right away. He’s frantic to know where we took you.” Sirius grinned. “But opening the letter would set off the prank. I call it a Chortler.”
“What does it do?” Harry sounded breathless.
“Lets me yell at him about what a horrible person I think he is for leaving you with the Dursleys, and sends out a huge cloud of red and orange glitter and scarlet feathers that cover the hair of anyone in sight and stick to it. And Dumbledore has a huge beard, so…”
Harry laughed, but said, “Can’t he just Vanish it?”
“No. It resists spells like that.” Sirius lowered his voice. “But there’s something even better than that. I told you once that Dumbledore has a pet phoenix, right?” Harry nodded, his eyes wide. “Well, I made this glitter and feathers irresistible to phoenixes. Fawkes is going to be trying to, er, court Dumbledore’s head and beard for weeks.”
Harry burst out laughing. Sirius ruffled his hair again, and thought how different the laughter was from the night he had brought Harry home from the Dursleys. He was laughing like a normal child, now, not like someone was going to overhear him and get angry.
“I made something for you,” Harry said, in an abrupt change of mood, and held out a folded pierce of parchment. “I already gave Moony his.”
Sirius unfolded it with shaking fingers. There was a shaky but amazingly good drawing of Cygnus House from the outside, with smoke rising from its chimney, and Sirius and Harry sitting together on the bench in front of it. Their heads were leaned together and Harry had drawn his smile so big that it extended off his face to the sides.
He’d drawn Sirius with his arm around Harry.
Sirius shook his head. He couldn’t say anything. He knew that. He settled for throwing his arms around Harry and hugging him so hard that he nearly crushed the puzzle box between them. Harry squirmed and laughed.
“Happy Christmas,” Sirius breathed out when he thought he could. “Oh, it’s the happiest Christmas I’ve ever had, Harry.”
“Me, too, Sirius.”
And other than the fact that they were inside Cygnus House and Sirius was sitting on a chair instead of a bench, they reenacted the picture right there.