Disclaimer: The Potterverse belongs to its original author, J.K. Rowling, and to her publishers worldwide. If you don't recognize it, I probably made it up.
Author's Note: Please don't go any further without reading Unwritten (M, see my user page)! The author leaves a trail of cookies to tempt you back to Volume One.
Sirius Black panted under the weight of an enormous cardboard box. A stuffed snowy owl tumbled out of the top, bounced off Sirius's head, and landed on the brown grass. Harry's froggy, infectious laugh made Lily smile.
"Lily, I'm sorry you never found your cat."
His friend sat on the stone step and leaned back against the doorframe. Harry sat down at her feet and played with his owl. "Oh, Sirius, thank you. I feel terrible, I forgot all about poor Stanley. I'm fairly certain he was outdoors… on Halloween night."
Sirius noted the false nonchalance in her voice. How about "When Severus kidnapped me and Harry and made you think we were dead?" That would have been a bit more accurate. Sirius was still ashamed of how berserk he'd been, and he was relieved Lily hadn't been around to see it.
"Don't give up yet. Maybe put an advertisement in Witch Weekly. I bet somebody took him in for the winter. That happens a lot, you know. People let strays inside in the winter, and then when the weather gets nice, boot them right out again. Regulus was always trying to take in stray cats, but I kept letting them out; Merlin knows what could have happened to a cat at our house." He chuckled morbidly.
Lily didn't answer; her green eyes stared vacantly at the shattered upper floor of the cottage where Harry's nursery once stood. The stone cottage was only partly standing, shielded from the winter elements by a few very clever charms. You-Know-Who sure could throw a tantrum when he put his mind to it.
"Lily, you have to give me one more chance to talk you out of moving to Wales. We could fix this house, you know. You don't have to live in the back end of nowhere."
"It would take weeks to get this place habitable. Melora needs to be in her own home where it's quiet."
"You've got gobs of gold in the bank. I know some guys who could get the house done in a week, tops."
Harry scampered across the dead lawn, tripped, and fell on his face. Lily moved to scoop him up, but the little boy sprang to his feet and ran in uneven circles around his mother.
"Sirius, the money's not the point. If it were just us, I'd come home in a heartbeat. This is for Melora."
Sirius knew he'd never change Lily's mind about taking over Melora's care. James told him that his wife had to be managed in a certain way; everything had to be her idea, and the process of planting an idea in her head was both risky and intricate.
"You see," James once said on a summer evening, setting down his beer glass and putting his bare feet up on the kitchen table, "Lil's brilliant, obviously, but highly subject to flattery. You just have to manage her the right way and she'll never know it. She thinks I'm a little deficient, to tell you the truth." Peter and Remus laughed. Lily, heavily pregnant at the time, lumbered in and smacked James in the back of the head.
Sirius smirked at the memory and put the box down. Harry immediately rushed to the top and started flinging his toys. "Colloportus!" The box flaps sealed themselves together and the toddler squealed with frustration. "Sorry, I'm not picking them up again. Twice was enough."
"Sirius," Lily reprimanded, "My neighbors are Muggles."
"Huh, maybe it won't be so bad after all if you're living in Crazy Hermit Witch Central. Just don't go turning into one yourself, all right?"
"You're a bloody git."
"You love it."
"Bloody git!" sang Harry, jumping up and down on the dead grass. "Bloody git, bloody git!"
Lily's face went white at first, then a violent shade of rose that clashed with her hair. "Sirius Black!"
"You said it, not me!" Lily swatted at Sirius with an open palm. "Seriously, you're going to have to clean up your language, Mummy. Harry's like a parrot these days."
Lily captured Harry and redirected him toward the cottage. "He's more like James every day. I shudder to think what he'll be like when he's two. And three? Heaven save us."
Sirius hugged Lily close with one arm. Harry ran up to them, tugging on their hands to be picked up. "You know I love you both: just please, please be careful. Are you sure you're qualified to take care of that kind of curse on your own?"
"Melora's conscious now; she's doing much better. I'm only an owl away from Poppy and Severus if I need help. Professor Dumbledore said he'd consult with us any time."
"All that groaning and screaming in her sleep… it gives me the creeps, Lil. That won't be good for Harry to listen to all night." Lily started to interrupt him but Sirius plowed forward. "I know you're a mum now, but you don't have any serious background as a Healer."
"Will you stop? Melora is my responsibility. I'm the closest thing she has to a family right now."
"No, that's Snape… If you count 'her dead mother's apprentice' as family," Sirius amended.
"All the same!"
"And that's something else you're going to have to watch out for!"
Lily shot a warning look at Sirius as she swung the eighteen-month-old up on her hip. "Come on, Harry. Let's go inside. The Floo movers will be here any minute."
"Lily, I'm sorry."
"Listen, I'll Owl you when we're settled. Come up for tea next time you're free."
Sirius exhaled a sigh of relief. "Sure. I think we've got a free weekend in March. That ought to give you time to get the place ship-shape."
"James would be really proud of you, you know." Lily's voice was raspy. He closed the distance between them and put his arms around her, kissing her cheek. "And Dorcas too… the poor woman, I can't believe she's still in Azkaban. God knows if they knew half of the stuff Sev and I did, we'd be right there with her."
Sirius really didn’t like the way Lily spoke of Snape. "Sev and I…" Ugh. It made him feel like he'd just thrown up in the back of his mouth.
Lily walked him inside and closed the door so he could depart without alarming the neighbors. Even though the house bore Disillusionment and Muggle-Repelling charms, Lily adhered strictly to proper mixed-neighborhood etiquette.
"Dumbledore still hasn't gotten them to drop the charges?" Lily asked.
"Not yet. He's too noble to bribe anybody or it'd have all been done ages ago. Dorcas and Hagrid could have eloped to Spain by now." Sirius grinned. "Did I tell you what Dumbledore said when I told him I was going into the Auror program?"
"He said Mad-Eye owed him fifty galleons and a box of Custard Creams. Guess who bet I would never, ever get a real job."
Lily's laughter was the last thing Sirius heard as he Disapparated.
Seconds later, Sirius dropped into Hagrid's dooryard. At Hogwarts it was snowing horizontally; the wind blew his old black work robes almost up over his head. "Holy mother of Gryffindor!"
"Get inside, Black!" Hagrid roared from behind the thick oak door. Teeth chattering, Sirius swept his robes around him before they took off on their own like a skinny, underfed Dementor.
It took Sirius about half an hour to warm up by the fire. Hot tea with a generous pour of brandy helped stop the shakes. "I can't ever remember getting a snowstorm like this when we were in school."
Hagrid poked at the fire. When the massive man turned around, Sirius noticed how pale he was and how much weight he'd lost. Even his beard looked thin.
"Yeh, this's one for the record books, even the Fat Friar says so." Hagrid snuffled. "Gotta be real cold over to Azkaban. I sent Dorcas a fur blanket last week fer her birthday, an' they sent it right back to me, same owl. Real rude note with it, too. Blighters."
"Hagrid, you can't send birthday presents to Azkaban."
Hagrid blew his nose. "I'm not stupid, Black, but I thought I'd try. Everybody knows Dumbledore's tryin' to get 'er outta there as quick 'as he can. Isn't 'e?"
"Yeah. I'm sure." Sirius wished he could wholeheartedly agree, but he just couldn't say so in front of the sorrowing Hagrid. He drained his tea and Hagrid refilled it, adding another measure of apple brandy.
More and more, it seemed like Professor Dumbledore was following a master plan that had little to do with the Order of the Phoenix. Admittedly, You-Know-Who had vanished during his duel with Myra Spring, and the Death Eaters scattered like spiders from a feather duster. There wasn't much for the Order to do other than pass tips to the Ministry and testify in the endless succession of trials. Still, it felt like Dumbledore ought to be doing a whole lot more to get Dorcas out of prison. She was a tough old bird, but even the toughest mind would crack in Azkaban with Dementors all around and not even a Patronus to scare them off.
Sirius sighed and lay his head down on his elbow. Hagrid gave his shoulder such a hard pat, his jaw cracked on the surface of the table. "I think I'm gettin' a puppy," he said out of the blue.
"That's great. It'll give Dorcas something to look forward to."
"That's what I was thinkin'," said Hagrid with false cheer as he began washing the dishes.
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