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Chapter 30: Starting again
Author’s note: This is the final chapter of this collection, and for those who wanted it, your happy ending. A huge thank you to everyone who has supported HTM and these one-shots over the past couple of years; it has been a wonderful experience for me to share them with you and your feedback has been incredibly useful. Thanks again. :)
Cheers, Mel xxx
Also, thanks must go to theelderwand for his amazing beta work on this chapter.
Disclaimer: Dialogue in bold is taken from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, p710 UK ed, paperback.
Sirius watched Snape’s lip curl with satisfaction as he gazed at him, the instruction to stay behind to brief Dumbledore on what had happened utmost in his mind. No, he thought angrily, Snape wouldn’t win this time. He would delegate the task; Kreacher could earn his keep for once. He had to get out, had to get to Harry before it was too late. The alternative was too awful to contemplate, and he was determined that would never happen again – he wouldn’t lose someone else he loved because of his own stupidity or inaction.
As many fighters as were available hurried to the Department of Mysteries to find Harry and his friends surrounded by Death Eaters, and once the kids were safely out of the way the fighting became thick and fast on all sides. Sirius, high on adrenaline now he had finally got out of Grimmauld Place, found himself duelling his cousin Bellatrix in the Death Room. Bella’s skills had not diminished during her stay in Azkaban. Wands flashing faster than you could see them, their duel reminded him of those they had fought when he was a teenager, taunting each other as they went.
“Come on, you can do better than that!” he shouted, easily blocking the Stunning spell she sent at him. However, in that one moment as he laughed his guard lifted, and she used that split second opportunity to drop all pretence and hurl an Avada Kedavra his way. He felt the vague sensation of surprise before his body, hurtling backwards, fell through the veil.
Immediately everything went black. When he regained consciousness, he realised he was no longer in the Department of Mysteries. Bellatrix had disappeared, as had the other Death Eaters, as well as Moony, Tonks, Mad-Eye and Kingsley. Nowhere could he see Harry or his friends. It was barely a moment before he realised what must have happened.
“So this is death,” he mused to himself. “Simpler than I’d thought.” He became aware of people around him, voices and faces from times long past, and looking around found he was able to recognise some of them. That was unmistakeably Edgar Bones and his wife over on the left, and it looked like Dorcas Meadowes in the distance.
Some of the people there were looking at him with surprise and revulsion, and it occurred to him that many of them may have died thinking he was the traitor, that he had been Voldemort’s spy in the Order, even that he had betrayed James and Lily. Which reminded him, they must be here somewhere too, if this was really the Home of Lost Souls. He’d have to find them, he’d tell them how well Harry was doing, how much like them he was, how at fifteen he’d managed to get through more than any of them ever had. How proud of him they should be.
He wandered through the crowds for a long time before he saw the unmistakeable shoulder-length auburn hair that was Lily’s. It was harder to reach them than it appeared; there were more people in between than he had anticipated and not all of them were happy to let him pass. But at last he caught up with them.
Lily saw him first. “Padfoot!” she cried in surprise. “We didn’t expect to see you for years yet.” Hers was the first genuine smile he’d seen since he’d arrived.
James was equally pleased. “Sorry we had to meet again like this,” he said, putting an awkward hand on Sirius’ back. “How’d it happen?”
“Got an AK from cousin Bella,” he said bitterly. “Nice of her to keep it in the family. There was a big fight at the Ministry: Voldemort’s back.”
“We’d heard bits and pieces,” Lily said, nodding. “It’s so hard to get any reliable information here. James was almost hoping Dumbledore would cark it so we would actually know what’s going on.”
“What year is it out there?” asked James.
“1996,” said Sirius.
“So Harry’s sixteen now,” James said.
“Almost,” he corrected. “It’s still June.”
“So how is he? Have you seen him recently?” Lily asked eagerly.
“He’s great. He’s more than great,” he said, and he started to tell them how Harry had been doing, what he’d been up to, how much he had achieved.
James interrupted before he’d got very far. “We heard you were in Azkaban.”
“I was,” he said grimly. “Twelve years, no less.”
Lily looked horrified. “But why?”
“Peter,” he spat, regretting but unable to change the bitterness in his voice. “Set me up. Framed me for what he did. And since no one knew about the switch, off I went.” He went on to fill them in on an outline of everything else but he wasn’t really concentrating on the task – something else had occurred to him and he was eager to get away. In the end he cut the narrative short and asked the question he really wanted the answer to. “Is Laura here?”
Lily nodded, an understanding smile on her face. “We haven’t seen her for a while, but yes, she is around. It’s so big here, though, and crowded, it can be hard to find people to catch up.”
“And it’s probably going to get even more crowded in the next couple of years if I’m not mistaken,” he said ominously. “I’ll see if I can find her.” And, waving, he took off through the crowds.
He wandered around, searching for what must have been hours. Eventually he gave up just looking for her, and started calling her name out across the vast area that she could be in. Several other people, probably also called Laura, turned around and looked at him with confused expressions, and finally, after calling for her what felt like a million times, he sank defeated onto a nearby bench.
Then he heard it. The voice he’d been wanting to hear for so many years, for so long he’d almost forgotten how it sounded. “Sirius?” it said hesitantly. He loved the way she said his name, the Welsh lilt still evident even though she’d spent more than half her short life in England and Scotland. “Sirius? Is that you?”
He looked up and there she was, looking just like she had the last time he’d seen her, before she’d been cursed. He took her all in – the soft clear skin, the treacle-coloured eyes, the amazing figure, the hair that he knew she thought was mousy but that he could see a thousand golden lights in. He had forgotten just how beautiful she was in reality, something that photographs had never seemed to capture adequately, and it hit him like a ton of bricks. Gratified, overjoyed, elated, he rose from the bench and went to her, looking deeply into those eyes that he had lost himself in so many times. The thing he wanted most in the world at that moment was to be able to touch her again, to hold her, to feel her body pressed against his and to taste her once again, and as she looked up at him he realised that for once, at long last, something might actually go right.
A tear came to his eye as he felt her arms wrap around him, but for once it was from happiness rather than misery and despair. Fifteen years had passed since he’d had the experience of being held like this, the past three years providing only awkward hugs from Moony and Harry, and he had forgotten what it felt like and that it had once been normal. That was something else the Dementors had taken from him, and he struggled not to lose himself in the sensation. He held her tightly, not wanting to let go, not wanting to risk losing her again, trying to hold onto the moment forever. He caught the distinctive scent of her hair, something else he thought he’d forgotten, and found himself burying his face in it, breathing it in deeply. After a minute he leant in to kiss her, but she shook her head and began to pull away. He was hurt and bewildered, but he let her. She was looking up at him with a strange expression on her face: it seemed she was trying to take him in as deeply as he was her.
“You look amazing,” he said, drinking her in with his eyes, not able to stop himself saying the words.
“You’re older,” said Laura, surveying him critically, and he was suddenly uncomfortably aware of his unshaven face, of the fact he probably still smelled a little of stale liquor and maybe even of Hippogriff. “You’ve been through a bit, haven’t you?” she went on, looking concerned. He nodded mutely, smiling a little at her characteristic understatement. “You look so different. What year is it?”
“1996,” he said for the second time that day. “June.”
“It’s been a long time,” she said, watching him closely with a sad look on her face. “You can’t have been here long,” she added suddenly. “You’re changing.”
“What?” He had no idea what she meant.
“That’s how it works here,” she explained. “Your soul puts you back in the body you choose, not the one you were in when you died. You’re getting younger, more like the Sirius I knew.” And she smiled, a small, sad smile, but a smile nonetheless.
“You haven’t changed at all,” he told her quite honestly, not knowing what to think, wondering what was going through her mind. “You’re just as lovely as I remember. If not more so.”
“I couldn’t change,” she said. “The way the magic works is that you need to have had your wand with you when you died if you’re to change. I didn’t have mine - they took it off me in the hospital.” She shook her head ruefully. “They took everything. I had a picture of us I carried around with me, they took that, and they took the jewellery you gave me and the letters you sent. So I had nothing to remember you by.” She swallowed, then changed the subject abruptly. “What happened? Why are you here?”
“Had a duel with some Death Eaters at the Ministry,” he said. “I came off second best to Bellatrix.”
“I was thinking that,” she said slowly. “You were fighting against the Death Eaters. And you’re here, so that means you can’t be a Death Eater. Oh, thank goodness!” She looked like she was about to collapse so he put an arm around her and sat down with her on the bench he had recently vacated.
“Not you,” he said, crestfallen. “You didn’t honestly think I could be a Death Eater?”
“I didn’t know what to think,” she said, her eyes wide. “It’s really hard to work out what’s true and what’s gossip. And Dad came and he told me that … that you’d been spying for V-V-Voldemort, and once he went down you … you killed Peter and a stack of Muggles and got sent to Azkaban. But that wasn’t possible, the Sirius I knew couldn’t have done that.” She paused, and he rubbed her shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting way. He was so long out of practice with this sort of thing. “But then, when you have too long to think about things, you start to second-guess everything. So I was thinking, you changed from fourteen to seventeen, and so maybe you changed from eighteen to twenty-one. I mean, I wouldn’t know, would I? Maybe something awful happened to you and you swapped sides. Or maybe you’d been Imperiused or something. And then I thought that maybe if I’d still been around you wouldn’t have changed, and then Peter and those Muggles would still be okay, and …” Her voice trailed off, and he was troubled to notice tears in her eyes.
“I can promise you,” he said gently, “that I am not and have never been a Death Eater.”
She swallowed again, looking like she was determined not to let those tears take over. “I probably sound so selfish. But it’s been hard, knowing you were out there, for so long. Because who we are doesn’t change once we get here, you know. And I love you so much, and I knew I could never have you again. Because, either you were a Death Eater, in which case I’d never see you again, and I wasn’t sure I would want to because that could never have been the Sirius I knew, or – ” She paused, taking another breath.
“Or what?” he asked.
“Or you were still the right Sirius, my Sirius, but you were out there making your own life, without me, and most probably with someone else. Maybe even a family of your own.” She paused again, swallowing hard. “And I wasn’t sure which would be worse. I mean, I loved you, and I wanted you to be happy, and if you were going to be happy with someone else then I would try to be happy for you. But then the selfish part of me, the petty part, kept pointing out that if that was the case, then when you eventually got here you’d want to be with her, whoever she was, and not with me. You’d have moved on. And that was tearing me apart.”
He felt her shoulders shake slightly beneath his arms. “I didn’t have a life, Laura,” he murmured. “I had an existence. And I never got over you.”
She looked up at him sadly. “Oh, Sirius,” she said, shaking her head, “it’s been eighteen years. You’ve had more than enough time.”
He closed his eyes and held her tightly, feeling her warmth against him. She hadn’t understood, he needed to explain. “Not really, I haven’t.” And he kissed her forehead lightly, the way he used to all those years ago, and tried not to notice that she tensed slightly and pulled away.
She shook her head again. “We were only nine months, and you’ve had eighteen years out there without me. If you weren’t in Azkaban, you’ve had so much time. I can’t believe you, I can’t get my hopes up.”
He started at her last sentence. Get her hopes up? She must really believe that she’d lost him. He would have to explain everything. How it had all gone wrong, how he had lost everyone he had cared about and it had all been his fault.
“Well,” he said, opting to start at the beginning, “for the first three years after you died, I did try to get over you. I even had a few girlfriends and everything, but none of them lasted longer than a couple of weeks. They weren’t you,” he explained simply, in response to her questioning look. He smiled slightly, remembering Electra Malkin snapping, ‘How about you send me an owl once you finally get over Laura Cauldwell,’ before storming out on him.
He continued. “And Prongs and Lily had everything I’d wanted for us, they got married, they had a nice house in a village with a decent wizarding community, they had a baby. And it was everything I’d wanted, but I’d wanted it with you and that wasn’t going to happen, so I fought like hell to protect them, to make sure they didn’t go through what I’d been through.” He paused, shaking his head slightly. “I should have known I’d never have that, I was never going to have the happily ever after. That doesn’t happen to people like me.”
His arm was around her shoulder and she squeezed his free hand, and he noticed that the ugly scar that had trailed down her left arm had disappeared. At least she didn’t have that reminder any more. “It could have happened,” she said quietly. “You know that I wanted that too.”
“You were a catalyst for them, actually,” he said, sidetracked momentarily. “For James and Lily. They came with me when I went to St Mungo’s to see you – well, at the time we didn’t know why they’d summoned me, but that was what it was – and they left me alone with you for a while. Turned out they’d gone back to the waiting room and James proposed on the spot: he’d suddenly realised how fragile life is and how little time they might have. They got married within a year.”
That sad smile crossed her face again. “At least I could be responsible for some good in the world.”
“It was the beginning of the end for me though,” he went on. “That trip to St Mungo’s. After you died, everything fell apart. I’d failed you, and then I failed James and Lily too. They died and it was my fault.”
“You never failed me,” Laura protested. “There was nothing you could have done for me.”
“I wasn’t there,” he said simply. “I’d promised to protect you and I didn’t do it. If I’d been looking after you properly I would have been there, and I could have saved you. I should never have stayed away as long as I did. So yes, I did fail you.”
She sat up straight and looked at him fiercely. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, her eyes flashing. “Don’t tell me you’ve been blaming yourself all these years. You were off doing your things for the Order, which was far more important than babysitting me, and what I was doing should have been safe enough. We weren’t to know that the Death Eaters would try to recruit Bea.”
“That was the whole point though,” he explained. “That is, obviously I would have joined up anyway, even if I’d never met you, but the whole reason for fighting was to make it a world where you’d be safe, where you’d never have to worry about whether the Death Eaters might have found something someone in your family did offensive. I didn’t want to have to be worried about you.”
“And you were working on the bigger picture stuff, which is what you should have been doing,” she said sternly. “Making it a safer world for everyone, not just for me. I told you, you didn’t need to fight my battles for me. And I did pretty well anyway, it was five against two and I took at least two of them out before they got me.”
He shrugged. It would take a lot more than that to relieve him of the guilt he felt for her death. “James and Lily were my fault,” he said in a tone that he thought would book no opposition.
“No they weren’t,” she shot back. “They told me what happened, with the Fidelius Charm and everything. I saw them not long after they got here, they were standing near the entry point waiting for their little boy. Lily was crying so hard she could hardly speak, they thought they’d let him down by not protecting him. But he never came.” Sirius smiled to himself, thinking of what Harry had achieved in the meantime. Laura went on. “James said they made Peter their Secret Keeper and he must have betrayed them. That had nothing to do with you.”
“But I convinced them to use Peter,” he said. “They were going to use me. And if they had, they might still be alive. I thought Peter would be the perfect foil, that no one would even think it might be him. But no, within a week of Lily casting the charm, Voldemort had got to them. He killed James and Lily, and he tried to kill Harry.”
“That’s what I don’t understand,” she said, shaking her head and relaxing into his arms again. “Why would he go after a baby in the first place?”
“Because he’d heard part of a prophecy that a boy born at the time Harry was would bring him down,” Sirius explained. “But he couldn’t kill him. The curse rebounded, and Voldemort disappeared. Until last year, that is, but that’s another story.”
Laura was looking up at him solemnly and he noticed that tears had again formed in her eyes. He wanted nothing more than to kiss them away, to hold her and comfort her, to make sure she never cried again, but he could tell she wasn’t ready yet. So he continued.
“Anyway, I was probably taking on more for the Order than I should have, but when I was busy I felt less … empty, I guess. It took my mind off things. I always took the most dangerous missions, the riskiest, and I think I was a bit disappointed when I came out of them okay. And then we found out James and Lily and Harry were being targeted, so I came back and we worked out the best strategy to protect them. Like I should have done with you: I wasn’t going to make that mistake twice. And when the time came to cast the Charm I convinced them not to use me as Secret Keeper ’cause I’d be the first one Voldemort would go for, and if they killed me they’d be left with nothing. I was going to be the bait.”
He felt her gasp, the sharp intake of breath. “They’d never agree to that,” she said. “Risking your life like that.”
“They didn’t want to,” he agreed. “But what was my life worth? I had no reason to live any more. They did – they had each other and they had Harry. Whereas me, I kept fighting all the time because that meant I didn’t have to go home, because I had nothing to go home to.” He took a breath and looked at her – she would have to understand what he meant by that. “Anyway, it didn’t work out like it was supposed to, nothing ever did. The night they died, I went to check on Peter in his hiding place, and he wasn’t there. And there was no sign of a struggle. It didn’t feel right, so I went to James’ place to make sure they were okay. And the top part of the house had blown up, just where Harry’s room was,” he said, his stomach in knots at the memory. “I could see James’ body lying there in the hall. It was awful.”
He swallowed hard, then continued, his own eyes now damp. “Hagrid was there, he had Harry, who had miraculously survived. And I asked him to give him to me, I was his godfather, but he said Dumbledore’s orders were that he had to go to his aunt, to Lily’s sister in Surrey. So that was wrong too – I’d promised Prongs and Lily that if anything happened to them I’d take care of Harry, and Dumbledore took him away from me. Anyway, I knew Hagrid had trouble travelling long distances, he’s too heavy for a broom or a Thestral, so I offered him my motorbike.”
“Really?” He could tell she was impressed, she understood that there wasn’t much that would have made him part with that.
“Yes, really. I was determined to find Peter, and that would be easier by Apparition anyway. And I tracked him down, but he’d set it all up, he framed me for what he’d done. We were in the middle of a Muggle street and he yelled out, ‘James and Lily, how could you!’ or something like that, and then with his wand behind his back he blew up the street, and transformed and ran off into the sewers where he belonged.”
“Goodness,” she said, engrossed by his narrative. “Then the story was partly true, but they had the details all wrong. A few people here were convinced that you had betrayed them, that you’d sold them to V-Voldemort. I knew it couldn’t be right, though, the Sirius I knew would never do that to his friends.”
“Well, Peter did a good job,” Sirius agreed. “The Hit Wizards caught up with me and dragged me off to Azkaban without a trial.”
She caught her breath. “What!?!?”
“That’s right,” he said dryly. “Well, I’d lost everything. I’d lost you, I’d lost James and Lily, it was my fault you’d all died. And they’d taken Harry away from me, and Moony, who until a day or so before I’d thought was the spy, was off with the werewolves for the Order. I felt like I had nothing left to fight for.” He took a breath. “I let them take me.”
“Why would you think Moony was a spy?” she asked, clearly distracted by that little detail.
“We knew someone was,” he explained. “Process of elimination. They had to be close to Prongs and Lily, because their hiding places kept getting leaked to the Death Eaters. It wasn’t me, I figured it wasn’t Wormtail because honestly who would bother recruiting him, so that left Moony. I wasn’t happy with that conclusion, but I couldn’t see a way out of it.”
“Fair enough,” she said, moving a little closer to him. Hopefully that meant her hesitance was fading. “But you really went to Azkaban? I mean, I’d heard it, but I didn’t really credit it because I knew you couldn’t have betrayed them, you couldn’t be a Death Eater, and if neither of those were true then you couldn’t have gone there. And then I asked Lily and James and they agreed with me, so I thought it was just one of those weird rumours we get here.”
“I was in there for twelve years,” he said, his voice now bitter. He was remembering that dreadful time, when he had nothing but his memories to keep him company, and his guilt to keep him going. And the constant presence of the Dementors sucked any happy memories from him, so all he could think about were the dead bodies of those he loved, and how Peter had betrayed them.
“That must be what happened to you,” said Laura, almost to herself.
“What do you mean?” he asked, looking down at his body – the transformation to his younger self seemed to be complete.
“Your eyes. They’re different. Colder, maybe. It’s like something’s died inside of you, the sparkle’s not there any more. I wondered if the Death Eaters had got you and tortured you or something, because it would take something huge to do that to you, but it was the Dementors, wasn’t it?”
“It would be,” he agreed. “Twelve years they were outside my cell, day and night, until I got out. They drained all my happy memories away, and of course that meant they took you from me, because those were the happiest memories I had. I could remember so little about you – it was pretty much limited to you leaving me way back at the start, and me finding out what had happened to you and knowing that I could have stopped it, and then watching you die in that hospital bed, knowing that I loved you more than anything but not being able to remember why. It was torture. And because I’d been in there so long, by the time I got out it took at least a couple of weeks for the good memories to come back, because I’d forgotten how to be happy. And I don’t think I ever really recovered that, because I was never really happy again afterwards. There were moments, of course, but nothing lasting, nothing like what I’d had before.”
She gave him a squeeze. “But that was all I ever wanted for you, for you to be happy. You needed it. Goodness, you deserved it.” She paused. “But how did you get out? Did they release you?”
He laughed, hearing the bark-like sound it made. This had become much more prominent since he’d spent the best part of two years as a dog, just after he had escaped. “Why would they do that?” he asked, still bitterly. “The Ministry thought I was Voldemort’s right-hand man, they weren’t letting me out if they could help it. No, I escaped, I slipped past them as Padfoot when they opened the cell door one day, and swam to the mainland as Padfoot.”
“Why did it take twelve years?” Her confusion was clear.
“I’d found Peter,” he said, and there was a hardness and malice in his voice that he was sure hadn’t been there last time he’d seen her. Life had done that to him in the years since. “Fudge – he became Minister for Magic – he was doing his annual inspection of the prison, and I asked him for the Daily Prophet he was carrying. I thought I’d do the crossword,” he added, smiling as he remembered those lazy nights in his London flat when he and Laura had done just that. She smiled too, through the tears that were silently rolling down her cheeks, and squeezed him again. “He was so surprised I even asked that he handed it over on the spot.
“Anyway, there he was, that rat, on the front page, on the shoulder of a boy who I thought would be about Harry’s age. And the article said the boy would be going to Hogwarts that autumn. So I knew he’d be ideally placed to finish the Potters off once and for all, once he got a whiff of an idea Voldemort might come back. I had to do something,” he said, still viciously, “’cause I was the only one who knew he was still alive, and only Moony and I knew he was an Animagus.”
“Did you catch him?” asked Laura, lost in the story.
“Yes and no,” he replied. “Turned out Remus was teaching at the school that very year, what were the chances? Anyway, between us we managed to convince Harry what had really happened, and we revealed Peter for what he was. Only trouble was it was the full moon that night, and before we could get him back to the castle Moony had transformed, so Peter made the most of his opportunity and turned into a rat and hightailed it out of there. I would have ended up getting the Kiss if Harry hadn’t found a way for me to escape that, too.”
“Harry? This is Lily and James’ Harry? He saved you?”
“He’s done a hell of a lot more than that, but yes, he saved me. Thirteen years old at the time, would you believe it? He and a friend showed up outside the room they were keeping me in, with a Hippogriff, no less, which they gave me to escape on. It’s a bit of a long story.” He smiled, and it was clear now that her reserve was fading, that she was warming to him.
“That was two years ago,” he went on. “I’d been out for a year, mostly as Padfoot, setting up camp in the forbidden forest so I could keep an eye on the castle. And then I was on the run for another year, partly abroad, partly around Hogwarts so I could keep an eye on Harry and fulfil my duty as a godfather. I was living mostly on rats, which I must say had a nice irony to it.”
He felt her arms around him again, which gave him a bit more strength to go on. “And then, last year, about this time, Voldemort returned, he got his body back, thanks in part to Peter,” he said viciously. “He’s definitely showing his true colours now. So Dumbledore got the Order back together, and I offered them my parents’ place as headquarters. They’re all dead now,” he went on, “so it was mine – they didn’t disinherit me as well as they’d thought. Only thing is, with Wormtail on the other side my big disguise is useless, and so I’ve been holed up in that horrible house for the past year, trying to make it liveable again, not able to go out. It’s been driving me round the twist. And meanwhile the Ministry is refusing to believe Voldemort’s back so they’ve been trying to discredit Dumbledore and interfering at Hogwarts, and Harry’s had a pig of a year ’cause they’re trying to discredit him as well, so it’s been incredibly frustrating.”
Laura was holding him tight now, and he could feel her breathing, if that’s what it was. It’s hard to know what to call things like that when you’re dead, he reflected. “Sirius,” she murmured, “I’m so sorry. If I’d known you’d have such a horrible life …”
“And what could you have done?” he asked gently, pushing her away slightly so he could look at her. “You did nothing wrong. It was my fault. I was too busy running around for the Order when I should have also been protecting what was most important to me. I lost you, and I’ve never been the same since. Anyway, tell me,” he went on, his eyes fixed on her face, “now you know the story, at what point in the past eighteen years do you think it would have been a good time for me to stop loving you?”
“You really never stopped?” She looked at him keenly, her eyes more alight than he had seen them since he arrived.
“Never,” he reassured her. “That time we were together was the best time of my life. Bar nothing.”
She frowned slightly and raised her eyebrows, clearly still not convinced. “Weren’t there any women in the Order once it re-formed? You’d still be on the wish list of anyone from school.”
He laughed, hearing how sour it sounded. “Laura, there aren’t many people in the Order this time around. Because the Ministry’s in denial, it’s a banned organisation. I can count on one hand the number of single women who don’t think I’m a psychopathic mass murdering Death Eater, and one of those is Minerva McGonagall.”
She smiled, not the small, sad smile she had given him before, but an actual happy smile that made her face light up. The smile he remembered. “Do you really mean that? I’m not just getting my hopes up?”
“Of course I mean that,” he told her. “You know me. I couldn’t lie to you, especially not about something this important.”
“I never really gave up,” she said. “Not properly. I mean, I told myself I had, and the longer it went on without you here the less likely it was that I could get you back, but I always hoped. Even with what Dad said …”
“I heard what happened to them,” he said, squeezing her shoulders. “So they’re here?”
“Just Dad,” she replied. “Mum was a Muggle, remember, and they can’t come here. And apparently there’s somewhere else for the Death Eaters, none of them are here at all, something to do with their souls being too damaged, which is why when I saw you I knew you couldn’t have been one of them. Which reminds me, didn’t your brother join them?”
“Yes, he did,” he said. “He even dropped out of school to do it, with our parents’ blessing I believe, but I think he got cold feet in the end.”
She nodded. “That would make sense,” she said, “because he’s here too. He can’t have done too much terrible stuff while he was with them if his soul is still okay. He came to find me, not long after he’d arrived, to apologise. He’d realised you’d been right all along and he was sorry for the things he’d said about me. It was almost endearing.” She smiled, apparently at the memory, and he felt a rush of satisfaction that Regulus had turned out okay after all. “Peter’s not here, though,” she went on. “I should have realised that if he wasn’t here, then what they said about you couldn’t have been true. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that!”
“I can’t believe I’ve finally got you back,” he said. “After all this time. If I’d known this could happen, I think I’d have died years ago.”
“Don’t say that,” she said, but she couldn’t keep the smile from her face. She was almost radiating happiness. “You had things you needed to do out there. Harry needed you more than I did.”
Sirius found himself reaching for her face, testing her, seeing whether she would accept or reject the implication of the action. The smile didn’t leave her face, and she held his gaze without hesitation. He drank in her appearance, losing himself once again in those impossibly deep brown eyes, then leaned in and kissed her, tenderly, a little hesitantly, like it was the first time all over again, and trembled with relief that she didn’t pull away. Memories came flooding back as he savoured her taste once more, and it was all he could do to stop the raw longing that he was feeling from overwhelming him. She reached up and pulled him closer to her, the way she used to do all those years ago, and he held her tightly, feeling her closeness, wanting never to let go. This was it. He’d been given a second chance. They could start again.
James found the hours unbearably long – he felt that he had to find Sirius again and learn everything he could about Harry. The suspense was driving him mad. That glimpse they’d had a year ago, when their son was duelling Voldemort (of all people!! How had that happened?), just wasn’t enough. He had to know …
He grabbed Lily’s hand. “Come on,” he said, “let’s go find Padfoot. He and Laura have had long enough for a reunion, and I want to hear about Harry.”
Lily frowned. “I’m not so sure,” she said. “I think we should give them a bit longer. He’ll have to convince her he was never a Death Eater and that he never replaced her.”
James looked down at her, confused. “What do you mean?”
Lily sighed. “That’s why she’s been so sad,” she explained. “If you think we were confused by all those stories about Sirius being a Death Eater, imagine how she felt. And it’s been such a long time, she was convinced that either way he’d have got over her and found someone else by now. Though I’m not so sure he has,” she added, her brow furrowed. “Twelve years in Azkaban …”
James could see her point but wasn’t convinced. He recognised that his eagerness for information about his son might be clouding his judgement, but still he urged her. “Let’s go find out, then.”
Lily looked torn, and he could tell she was wrestling with wanting to give their friends some space, and her own desire to find out as much about Harry as she could. “Okay,” she finally agreed, “but if they’re still catching up, we won’t interrupt them.”
They searched for ages, not wanting to call out in case they did interrupt something. Finally, James felt his wife stop still next to him, and she drew his attention to a bench barely thirty yards away.
There sat Sirius and Laura, looking like they were half way between embracing and talking something through. They were completely engrossed in each other, oblivious to the rest of the world, much like they had been at school so many years ago. James guessed that Voldemort himself could dance by, wearing a pink tutu and a Gryffindor flag and throwing rose petals at them, and they wouldn’t notice.
“Look at that,” Lily said softly. “I haven’t seen her so happy since we got here.”
He looked at Laura again. As always Lily was right – she was glowing with happiness. He saw Sirius reach for her and gently trace her jawline with his finger, before leaning in to kiss her. James felt distinctly uncomfortable, knowing this was something they shouldn’t be witnessing.
“You were right, Lils,” he conceded. “I think they need more time.” And, reaching for her hand again, he led her away.