Chapter 31 : Life After Death
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“No problems,” Remus said, accepting a drink from Kreacher. “Debbie’s spending the night there just in case but no one’s seen or heard anything of Greyback since the attack.”
That had been a week ago; Sirius had been up early - something he hadn’t done regularly since before Azkaban - when Remus stumbled out of the fireplace and startled Sirius into spilling his tea. Remus had launched into a long, complicated and only semi-coherent explanation of the previous night’s events. They hadn’t seen much of him since, because he’d been with the search during the days, and at Matt’s bedside in St Mungo’s until late at night.
“Well, where Greyback’s concerned, no news is good news,” Sirius said. He gestured to Kreacher to bring him a second helping, which Harry had already started on.
“I certainly hope so,” Remus agreed.
“Is Debbie still mad?”
“Furious,” Remus said, with a slight smile. “He had the nerve to invite himself into my own home and try to tell me what to do and then he goes and nearly kills Matthew!” he said in a poor imitation of a woman’s shrill, angry voice. “Honestly, I thought he wanted to convince me to join, him, not turn me against him!”
“You’re terrible at voices,” Sirius said, smirking. Remus poked his tongue out, causing Kreacher to tut. Remus gave him an apologetic look and Sirius’ smirk widened.
Dinner was a quiet affair; Harry and Sirius had finally given in and spent the past few days rearranging the library, so there wasn’t much to talk about. Sirius had even – after being caught up in one of his fussy moods – conjured little labels for the shelves. After the intensive research required to help him cast his mental Patronus, and the days spent stacking, sorting and re-shelving books, Sirius would be quite happy to not touch another book for quite some time.
Harry’s lessons, therefore, consisted of brewing and spellwork, which Sirius thought suited him just fine; Harry did a lot better with practical work than he did with theory. They’d duelled a little bit today, using only the spells he’d been taught so far. Harry had lost spectacularly, but his reflexes were impressive and so was his ability to think on his feet. He’d be good with practice, Sirius was sure of it.
By the time Kreacher brought out pudding – chocolate mousse, which Sirius declined – they’d told Remus all of this, and he, in turn, had filled them in on the happenings in the search. There was very little to report, Sirius was pleased to note.
“I’ve managed to get tomorrow afternoon off,” Remus said.
“Are we still going, then?” Harry asked, pausing with his spoon halfway to his mouth.
“Do you still want to?” Sirius asked. Harry nodded emphatically and Sirius grinned and reached over to ruffle his hair. “Then we’ll go.” Harry smiled.
“He’s in serious danger of being spoiled rotten,” Remus commented, much later that night, when Harry had gone to bed.
“In serious danger, is he, Moony?” Sirius asked slyly and then shook his head. “Nah, he’s not.” Sirius’ eyes narrowed and he felt a surge of loathing. “His aunt and uncle saw to that. I couldn’t spoil Harry if I tried.”
“And you are trying,” Remus said, grinning.
“Am not! We don’t get out enough for me to buy him much and when we do, he insists on paying with his own pocket money.” Sirius shook his head. “We went out for ice cream the other day and he paid for my cone!” Remus chuckled. “Trust me, it’s not actually possible to spoil him.”
“I didn’t say spoiling him was a bad thing,” Remus said.
“You made it sound that way,” Sirius told him. Remus grinned. “Speaking of spoiling...”
“What?” Remus asked in a tone that Sirius knew came from years of experience of dealing with Sirius when he had an idea.
“Can we have Christmas at your house?”
“At my-?” Remus looked stunned. “Why? Neither of us can cook without magic and it wouldn’t be fair to ask Harry to do it again.” He’d had to cook most of their meals while he and Sirius were staying there after the incident with Marlene in September.
“We can eat here,” Sirius said immediately. “Kreacher wants to do the cooking anyway, I think, but maybe we could spend the afternoon at your place?”
“Why?” Remus asked. “What do I have that you don’t have here? This place is huge!”
“Is that a no?” Sirius asked.
“No,” Remus grumbled. “I just don’t understand.”
“So it’s a yes?”
“Yes,” Remus sighed.
“Brilliant,” Sirius said happily.
“Are you going to explain now?” Remus asked, when he didn’t say anything more on the matter.
“Nope,” Sirius said, grinning. “I’m being mysterious.”
“You’re being annoying,” Remus muttered.
“Mysterious,” Sirius argued.
“Annoy- Urgh, never mind,” Remus sighed, leaning forward to hit his forehead against the wood of the kitchen table. Sirius glanced at him and sniggered. “How are we getting there tomorrow?” Remus asked, his face still pressed against the table.
“Portkey, maybe?” Remus looked up. “I haven’t really thought about it.”
“Fine for the way there, but wouldn’t that set off the Trace on the way home?”
“Damn it!” Sirius muttered. “Whose idea was that stupid tracking spell anyway? I’d like to give them-”
“A talking to?” Remus suggested.
“No, a good hard kick in the-”
“Padfoot!” Remus said, looking appalled.
“What? Harry’s not here to be corrupted, so I figure it’s fine.” Remus chuckled and shook his head. “Do you have any suggestions for travel?”
“In costumes?” Sirius asked skeptically. He knew the Knight Bus had odd customers but costumes was pushing it. If nothing else, people would remember them.
“Forget I mentioned that one,” Remus muttered. He was wearing an odd expression and Sirius would have bet a substantial amount of gold that Remus was imagining himself on the Knight Bus, in a costume. They were both silent for several minutes. “We could Floo,” Remus suggested reluctantly.
Portkey, no. Apparition, no. Knight Bus, no. Brooms, no – even if we had brooms, Harry’s never flown before. Muggle transport, no – it’d take too long. Flooing... could work, Sirius was forced to concede.
“Damn,” he muttered.
“Damn indeed,” Remus said, massaging his temples. “But what choice do we have?”
* * *
Never once did he look at the statue as he walked through the village. He saw it change out of the corner of his eye but didn’t look back, keeping his eyes fixed firmly on the church and the graveyard beyond.
He approached the graves silently. It was a cold morning, so there was no one around. That was good. Some people might react oddly if they saw him there.
He didn’t kneel. He hadn’t, not once, in all the years he’d been coming here. He just stood and read the inscriptions on the headstone. This was more a habit than anything, since he knew every word on them, now.
He didn’t allow himself to think of the people that lay beneath the ground. Not their faces, not their voices. Not any of the memories he had of either of them.
“It-” His voice caught. Not out of grief or anything like that, but merely because he hadn’t spoken in a long time. He cleared his throat and tried again. “It was nothing personal.”
That was all he ever said while he was here. He didn’t apologise – why should he? He didn’t have anything to apologise for. He didn’t try to explain, either. There wasn’t any point to that. But, somehow, it seemed important that they knew it wasn’t personal.
It hadn’t been. It had been survival, nothing more, nothing less. And he was good at surviving.
He nodded once at the graves and then turned and walked away, out of the graveyard. He needed to get back before he was missed. Not once did he so much as glance at the statue on the way to his Apparition point.
* * *
The statue made him cry every time he saw it and this time was no different.
So young... Theyd been so young when they’d died. It wasn’t fair. Lily and James had been good people. The best people. And Harry... poor, little Harry, had been sent to live with muggles. And he’d have stayed there, too, if Sirius hadn’t come for him. Poor, poor Harry. He pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at his eyes on his way to the graveyard.
He walked carefully between the rows and, when he arrived at the familiar one, bent down. He pulled a bunch of flowers out of his coat pocket and arranged them on the bare grave.
He’d been given the morning off to collect the flowers and the afternoon off to bring them here. They were nice flowers. Nice flowers for nice people.
He found himself needing his handkerchief again.
* * *
He paused in the village square to give the war memorial time to change. When it had, he edged forward, slowly, to rest his hand on a smaller, cold, stone hand. He stood there in silence for a long time – probably too long, but no one was paying him any attention anyway.
Eventually, he pulled away and continued toward the church. He strode toward the kissing gate, not paying even the slightest bit of attention to any of the costumed muggles. They would assume he, too, was in costume, and ignore him in turn. If they did glance his way, it would be to try to work out what he was dressed as. They could form whatever conclusions they liked. He didn’t care. He had other things on his mind today.
He pushed the kissing gate open and continued along a familiar route. A bright bunch of flowers already rested there and he felt the slightest smile creep onto his face.
He knelt to the right of the headstone and bowed his head, murmuring things – apologies, mostly, but also promises and every now and then, a curse, but those had no real force behind them. He conjured a flower which he lay down to the right of the others and then moved to the left side of the grave. He murmured a few more words – there were no apologies or promises this time, only curses – and then stood and made his way out.
His fingers brushed stone fingers again, before he left for good.
* * *
She paused by the statue and looked at it. She’d never been able to do that before. It was nice, in a sad way. She stared into the stone eyes of the statues and whispered an apology, and then a promise.
She repeated the same words to the grave, which felt more binding - since that was where they were buried - but less personal, since she didn’t have to hold eye contact with something that couldn’t blink.
She conjured a bunch of lilies to add to the flowers that already covered the grave and lay them just to the left, since there was already a flower –separate from the others – on the right.
She began to talk about her life – where she was living, who her friends were, where she was working – just in case they could somehow hear her. She’d want news too, or death would be frightfully boring.
“I’ll get him,” she murmured, arranging the leaves of one of her flowers. When it looked the way she wanted it to, she stood and brushed dirt off of her jeans.
As she walked back past the statue, back in the village square, she stopped again and cupped a tiny, chubby, stone cheek in her hand. She rested her other hand on the place where two hands – one of which was smaller than hers, the other slightly bigger – met. “I promise... and... I miss you.”
Unsurprisingly, there was no answer. She wiped her eyes – which were suspiciously damp – on the back of her glove and left.
* * *
A man and a woman approached the grave and smiled sadly at the flowers resting there, and then at each other. The woman transfigured a stick that was lying nearby into three lilies. There were already quite a few of those; a few pale pale pink lilies with spotted throats and a single white one. None were a bright orange-yellow with red throats, like hers.
The woman set them down and bowed her head, thinking of the people that lay beneath the stone. Beside her, the man murmured a string of apologies and conjured a cluster of purple hyacinths. He knelt and placed them beside hers but didn’t stand for several minutes. He ran his hand over the names cut into the marble, and the words along the bottom of the headstone before he stood slowly.
She didn’t comment on his tears, nor he on hers. She simply inclined her head to tell him she was ready to go and strode over to visit the statue near the kissing gate. The man made his way there too, but took a different route, one that bypassed two other graves. He conjured flowers for them too – the same purple hyacinths – murmured more apologies and then joined the woman outside the graveyard, by the statue.
He offered her his arm and they left together.
* * *
“Here,” Padfoot said, holding out a hand. “Let me do that.”
“Thanks,” Harry mumbled, passing his tie over. Padfoot untangled it, wrapped it around his own neck and, with all of the ease of experience, tied it, took it off, and passed it back.
Harry secured it around his neck and then pulled on the dark cloak he’d been given to wear; it had belonged to Regulus when he was a bit younger than Harry – who was still short for his age – and Padfoot had given it a higher collar for tonight’s purposes, and also charmed the inside to be the same red as the tie. Harry was also wearing a pair of Regulus’ old dinner clothes; a white ruffled shirt, a black and silver waistcoat and a set of black trousers.
“Smile,” Padfoot told him, pulling out his wand. Harry found he couldn’t, so he bared his teeth instead. Padfoot muttered something and Harry felt an odd tingling in his mouth. “Just watch your tongue and lips,” Padfoot said. Harry used his tongue to trace his newly-sharpened canines.
“They’re sharp,” he said, testing the words out. His teeth didn’t really change the way he spoke, though they would catch on his lip if he wasn’t careful. Still, if he had blood on his mouth, he’d look even more vampirish...
“They’re supposed to be.” Moony, like Harry, was wearing a set of old dinner clothes, though his had belonged to his Padfoot’s dad. Moony had made them a little baggier, conjured himself a heavy leather coat and also a hat and eyepatch. He’d also used the charm that Padfoot had once jokingly threatened Harry with to give himself a beard, and had done something to make his hair longer. It rested just below his ears, now, which Harry was used to seeing on Padfoot, but thought looked strange on Moony.
Padfoot was dressed as a werewolf, since Moony had refused to do it himself. He’d cast a charm to put an illusion of a scar on his face and was wearing a shredded shirt that showed off the real scar on his neck and a pair of scruffy jeans. He’d done a partial transformation – like he had when Snape visited – to give himself pointy teeth and hairy hands and feet. He’d used his wand to make his fingernails grow and to make his ears pointed, which had amused Moony.
“Werewolves do believe in personal hygiene, you know,” Moony said, glancing at the fingernails. “You could take someone’s eye out with those.”
“Now that could be fun...” Padfoot said, grinning scarily; his teeth were quite disconcerting. Harry felt a momentary stab of pity for Snape, but it vanished quickly. Moony secured a pouch to his belt; inside, was enough Floo Powder to get the three of them home again.
“Let’s go, then,” Padfoot said, leading the way down to the kitchen. He patted the back pocket of his jeans, where his mirror was. “I’ll go through first and tell you when it’s safe to follow.” Harry held James’ – well, it was his now – mirror up.
“Be careful,” Moony warned.
“When am I ever not?” Padfoot said, scooping up a handful of Floo Powder from the box on the mantel.
“Well,” Harry and Moony said simultaneously, “there was-”
“Potter Cottage,” Padfoot said. He stuck his tongue out at them as he was swallowed by the flames.
“Which time were you going to mention?” Moony asked, with a wry smile.
“Dunno,” Harry said sheepishly. “Probably the time-”
“Kiddo? Moony?” Padfoot’s face appeared in the mirror. Behind him was a wall covered in peeling, creamy yellow wallpaper.
“We’re here,” Harry said, positioning the mirror so that Padfoot would be able to see both him and Moony.
“Everything’s fine here. Count to ten and come through.” The mirror went blank. Harry tucked his into a pocket on the inside of his cloak and then stepped forward to grab a handful of Floo Powder. He used his other hand to tuck his glasses into the pocket of his trousers, where his wand was.
He tossed the Floo Powder into the fire, smiled at Moony, and then said, “Potter Cottage!” He was tugged away by the fire – he remembered to keep his elbows tucked against his side, but they got bumped anyway. The fire spat him out and he tripped on the hearth and would have landed face first on the carpet if Padfoot hadn’t predicted that and darted forward to catch him.
“Thanks,” he said, rubbing ash off his face. He pulled his glasses out and pushed them back into their usual place. The room came into focus. The walls were those he’d seen through the mirror, and the carpet was as dusty as Grimmauld’s had been when they first moved in.
To his right were three dusty armchairs and a couch – wide enough for two, maybe three people – behind which was a large window that looked out on an overgrown front garden. To his left was a door, through which he could see a kitchen and a dining table and straight across from him, on the other side of the sitting room was an empty bookcase – it was likely that the books had all gone into Moony’s box - and another armchair. To the right of those was an archway which led into a hallway.
“Out of the way, kiddo,” Padfoot said, steering Harry away from the fire as Moony stepped out of it. His exit was far more dignified than Harry’s had been. Harry shook Padfoot loose – gently – and walked out of the sitting room and into the hallway, where he was immediately met by the side of a small staircase.
The stairs took up most of the hall-space, but there was a pram pushed up against the wall to the left of the front door. Harry walked around to the front of the staircase and looked up. It was very quiet upstairs.
No surprises there, he thought wryly.
Harry glanced back the way he’d come. There were five doors coming off of the hall; the first led into the sitting room where he could hear Padfoot and Moony talking quietly. The second was the front door and the third was to the cupboard under the stairs. The fourth led into the kitchen, which he’d already had a peek at from the sitting room and the fifth looked like it led to a bathroom; he could see a dusty floor and tiled walls.
With one last, cautious glance over his shoulder, Harry gripped the banister and made his way up the stairs. He was careful to test every step before he trusted it with his weight – slight as that was – because they probably hadn’t been used in eight years.
Up the top was a landing with three doors coming off it. The far left door was open and showed what Harry thought must have been his parents’ bedroom. The middle room had two, large bunk-beds squeezed into it. On the right, closest to the stairs, was a closed door; the only closed door in the cottage.
I wonder why they’ve closed it, he thought, brushing dust off the doorknob. He felt a stab of guilt for being curious about what was behind it, and then shook himself. This is- was my home. If anyone has a right to look inside, it’s me... Harry twisted the knob and pushed the door open. Cold air blew into his face.
“...thought he was in the bathroom,” he heard Padfoot say from downstairs, and then, more loudly, “Harry?”
It very dark inside, but his eyes adjusted quickly and Harry found himself frozen in the doorway staring at the destroyed nursery. There was a crib in the back, right corner, its sides bowed as if something had exploded inside of it. The roof was missing in places – pieces of rubble still littered the worn, mouldy carpet but Harry got the impression that most if it had been cleaned up. The walls adjacent to the crib were in a similarly ruined state and that was where the cold night air was coming in.
Boxes and a comfortable looking chair had been shoved to one side of the door, and toys and children’s books from a ruined shelf above the crib had been placed wherever there was room for them. A tiny broomstick which was snapped half had been shoved under the crib, and a mobile – with little wooden Quidditch players – lay inside the crib, in several pieces.
There were noisy footsteps behind Harry, who started and whipped around. It was Padfoot, with Moony just behind him. Padfoot looked from Harry to the nursery and the colour drained from his face.
Harry found himself wrapped in a tight hug – a hug which just so happened to steer him out of the doorway and enable Moony to close the door again. Harry was grateful. He’d had no desire to stand there any longer, but hadn’t been able to tear his eyes away, or get his legs to move.
How in Godric’s name did I live through that?
“You don’t need to see that,” Padfoot said gently, but firmly.
“That- that was my room, wasn’t it?” Harry said, when he’d found his voice. He still hadn’t let go of Padfoot, though; he didn’t think he could, yet. Hearing Padfoot tell the story was one thing. Seeing the room – the room he’d blow apart when he’d destroyed Voldemort – and the relics of his old life, the life he’d never had the chance to live, was another thing altogether. And, until he’d calmed down, Padfoot was a safe thing to hold on to. “That’s where Voldemort tried to k-kill me.” Harry felt Padfoot’s upper body twist, as if he’d turned to look at Moony.
“Yes,” Padfoot said in a very muted voice, and shifted again. “Are you still all right to go to the graveyard?”
“Yeah,” Harry said, releasing Padfoot a little. When he was certain his legs would hold him, he released Padfoot completely.
“Are you sure?” Moony asked. Harry noticed his nostrils were flaring slightly. Harry looked away from Moony but Padfoot was doing the same thing.
“I said I’m fine,” Harry said. This time, he saw the look they exchanged – though Moony’s was only half a look, with his eyepatch - and panic prickled inside his chest. “C’mon,” he said, worried Padfoot might send him home.
“I know you’re lying, you know,” Padfoot said, almost conversationally. Harry was reasonably sure his heart had taken up residence in his shoes, along with his feet. He considered lying about lying, but Padfoot would smell that. And, if he didn’t, Moony would.
“I know,” Harry muttered.
“As long as we’re clear,” Padfoot said and gestured for Harry to head downstairs. Harry didn’t know whether to feel relieved that he was still allowed to go, or disappointed that he hadn’t been sent home; if he’d reacted that strongly to his old nursery, how would he react to the place where his parents were buried? Moony seemed to know what he was thinking; he placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.
In the hallway at the bottom of the stairs, Moony took his hand off Harry’s shoulder and paused to dig through the pockets of his leather coat.
“Aha,” he said, showing Harry and Padfoot a rusty house key. “I found my old set this morning,” he explained, shoving it into the lock. He twisted it and the door groaned as it opened.
They filed out into the front garden while Moony locked the door again, just in case, and then carefully navigated through grass that was up to Harry’s waist. They took the most direct route to the front fence, knowing they were likely to be noticed if they dawdled. Padfoot vaulted over first. Moony gave Harry a leg-up and Padfoot helped him down on the other side, while Moony jumped like Padfoot had.
From there, it was a simple matter of blending in with the other costumed muggles; Harry spotted a boy in a lion suit, a girl dressed like a rabbit and a man wearing a clown costume so colourful it was almost hard to look at.
“Look!” said a boy dressed like a ghost. His mother, who was a witch, peered into the bag he was holding. Moony’s nose twitched.
“This way,” he said, nudging Harry and Padfoot toward the house the boy had just walked away from.
“What did he get?” Harry asked curiously.
“Chocolate,” Moony said.
“We have chocolate at home- Gah!” Padfoot jumped – making Harry jump - and pulled his wand out. The skeleton he’d brushed swang harmlessly in the breeze, its plastic bones clicking quietly. Moony chuckled and Padfoot put his wand back into his pocket.
“Bit twitchy are we, Padfoot?” Moony asked lightly, ringing the doorbell.
“I am a wanted criminal,” Padfoot muttered; there were footsteps inside. “And, in case you need reminding, my last few outings haven’t ended terribly well.”
“Hello!” a plump muggle woman said. Padfoot – who’d been looking rather grim – gave her a winning smile. Harry glanced at Moony, who was smiling too, and followed suit; he’d never dressed up for sweets on Halloween, so he wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.
You would have, if you’d grown up here, a little voice whispered. Harry told it to shut up.
“Well, don’t you three look dashing!” she said, beaming at them. She vanished inside for a moment and then returned with four Mars Bars; Harry and Moony got one each and the woman blushed before shoving two into Padfoot’s hands and hurrying back inside. There was a breathless giggle on the other side of the door. Harry, Moony and Padfoot exchanged bemused looks – Padfoot actually looked quite pleased with himself – and retreated back to the street.
“Unbelievable,” Moony said, as Padfoot gave each of them one of his chocolate bars; he still wasn’t eating chocolate again after his Dementor’s Draught ordeal. Harry, however, had no problems with chocolate and unwrapped one of his.
They stopped twice more because Padfoot wanted sweets that weren’t chocolate. One of the houses was a muggle one, and they got a handful of boiled lollies each and the other house belonged to a woman dressed like a witch.
“Abra Kadabra!” she said, waving her wand. Padfoot and Moony flinched but recovered quickly. Harry stared at them, confused.
“Sorry,” Moony said smoothly. “We thought you said something else.”
“Something unforgivable,” Padfoot said, watching her closely. The woman clapped a hand to her mouth and Padfoot nodded, as if to himself. Moony, likewise, seemed to know what was going on. Harry still had no idea. “Particularly in this village.”
“Sweet Merlin!” she said. Harry realised she must be a real witch. “I’m so sorry! Most of my visitors are muggles and those that aren’t don’t know about- I thought you were muggles,” she finished in a whisper. “Otherwise I would never have-”
“It’s quite all right,” Moony said calmly. “You just took us by surprise.”
“Well, I imagine so!” She peered down at Harry. “I should have guessed... those fangs look a little too realistic to be those silly plastic teeth muggle children put in their mouths.” Her eyes flicked to Padfoot and she cleared her throat nervously. “You- you’re not really...?”
“A werewolf?” Padfoot asked. The woman leaned away from him and nodded. “No. I’m not.” The smile she gave them was much friendlier.
“Just hold on,” she said, and turned back into the house.
“Cow,” Padfoot muttered.
“Padfoot!” Moony hissed.
“What’s wrong with saying Abra-?” Harry started, but then the witch was back and he had the sense to stay quiet.
“Here,” she said, giving them each a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. “Now-”
“Thanks for the sweets,” Padfoot said abruptly. “Have a good night.”
“Oh,” she said, her face falling a bit. “Well, good night, then.” She went inside and they trooped back down the path. Padfoot muttered insults under his breath as he tore his box of Bertie Bott’s open. Harry couldn’t actually hear what he was saying but his scowl was ferocious and every now and then Moony would look up, startled. Harry found himself wishing he had better hearing.
“Padfoot!” Moony said, glancing around to make sure no one had heard. “Aside from being rude, I’m reasonably sure that’s anatomically impossible.”
“Yes, but it’s an interesting concept,” Padfoot said darkly. “Honstly, who talks about that spell here? And asking if I was a werewolf before she brought us sweets! What would it matter? She-”
“What’s wrong with Abra Kadabra?” Harry asked, when his curiosity smothered his amusement at Padfoot’s indignant speech.
“It sounds like a real spell,” Moony said.
“A very bad spell,” Padfoot added. Harry didn’t ask for any more details - both of their tones suggested that was a bad idea – and they didn’t offer any.
Padfoot continued to mutter under his breath – this, at least, was conscious and not at all like the muttering he’d done under the influence of the Dementor’s Draught. Moony, meanwhile, had opened his box of beans and was sniffing them. When he’d found and separated two blue ones – Harry’d never seen ones that colour before – he tossed them at Padfoot, who caught them in his mouth.
“Eurgh!” Padfoot spluttered, while Moony tucked the box back into his pocket. “Soap? You gave me soap?”
“Serves you right,” Moony said. The corners of his mouth twitched and he winked at Harry. “Without magic, it was the next best thing.” Padfoot smiled reluctantly. They rounded a corner and came into a town square. Its only real distinguishing feature was a war memorial, which costumed muggles walked around without really noticing. Harry supposed they saw it every day. “Ah,” Moony said, staring at it. “Padfoot, I should warn you...”
“Warn me about what?” Padfoot asked.
“The war memorial,” Moony said slowly. “It... changes.” Padfoot gave it a curious look and strode forward. Harry made to follow but Moony’s hand stopped him. “Just give him a moment,” Moony said gently.
“What is it?” Harry asked, watching Padfoot, who’d just gone very still and had reached out to touch the obelisk, which - now that they were a bit closer - Harry could see was carved with names.
“You,” Moony said, giving his shoulder a squeeze.
“Moony, I- Oh.” As they drew level with the war memorial, it changed into a statue of two- three people; he’d only just noticed the baby in the woman’s arms. James was tall – roughly Padfoot’s height, and maybe a tiny bit shorter than Moony – with hair as messy as Harry’s was. And, as he looked at his father’s face in person – stone, admittedly, but still – he could very well understand why people said they looked alike.
Unlike most of the photographs Harry had seen, James wasn’t grinning. He was smiling, a gentle, contented smile and had one arm around Lily’s shoulders and one of his hands resting on top of hers. Lily’s face was almost as familiar to Harry as James’ after sorting through the box of their old things; he had quite a few pictures with her in them in his bedroom.
Even with her hair and eyes coloured the grey of the stone they were carved into, she was still very pretty. Her smile, like James’, was a little more subdued than Harry was used to, but no less happy. And she was smiling down at the messy-haired toddler in her arms.
Harry recognised himself immediately - he had a few of his baby photos now too – and felt his face fall. Here, even more so than in the photographs, he looked just like every other baby he’d ever seen – though with James’ hair. Here, his statue-self was wearing the same contented smile as his parents. Here, he still had his parents, and – though they weren’t part of the statue – he’d also had Padfoot and Moony.
That Harry’s gone, though. He died with Mum and Dad.
Harry hugged himself and glanced around to see what Moony and Padfoot were doing. Padfoot was staring at the statue with a sad sort of intensity and had one of his hands resting on the place where James and Lily’s hands met, over statue-Harry’s knee. With a jolt, it occurred to Harry that he was allowed to touch the statue and he tentatively reached out to do so. His mother’s other hand – the one that was supporting statue-Harry’s back and legs – was cold and smooth.
He curled his fingers over hers and reached for James’ hand, which was resting on Lily’s upper arm. All the while, statue-Harry smiled happily, mocking him.
“Kiddo?” Padfoot said softly. Harry jumped and let go. “Moony says the church-” He paused to clear his throat. “The church is this way.” He held out one arm and Harry ducked under it and hugged Padfoot hard around the waist. “I know,” Padfoot said, ruffling his hair. “I know.”
“I hate him,” Harry said into the side of Padfoot’s shredded shirt. Tears pricked his eyes but refused to fall. Harry didn’t know whether he meant Voldemort or Peter or even baby-Harry, for looking so stupidly happy.
All Padfoot said was, “I know.”
* * *
“They’re here,” Remus said quietly. Sirius thought he would have noticed it without his help; it was a large, white marble headstone with James and Lily’s names and dates. There were also what appeared to be several fields worth of flowers; there were some brightly coloured wildflowers, a cluster of pink lilies, some purplish flowers, a single white lily and a bunch of red and gold lilies.
“Minnie,” Sirius croaked, drawing Remus’ attention to the red and gold flowers.
“Probably,” Remus said, and Sirius had to admire his composure; Remus had remained calm all night, while Sirius had been struggling to control his mood. He’d even got a bit teary at the sight of the statue, but didn’t think either of the other two had noticed.
“Should we have brought flowers?” Harry asked in a slightly panicky voice. Sirius couldn’t believe he’d forgotten.
Just as he himself was starting to panic, Remus said, “No. Look, they’ve got plenty there already.” Sirius thought he was rather missing the point.
“Bring some next time,” Remus said pointedly, his eyes flicking to Harry.
“Yeah,” Sirius said, trying to sound convincing. “You can be in charge of remembering that, kiddo.” Harry - who seemed to have calmed down - nodded determinedly. Even if Harry forgot, Sirius wouldn’t.
They’re going to be the best damn flowers anyone’s ever had, he promised. Harry, meanwhile, had knelt down in front of the headstone, to read an inscription that had been hidden by the other tributes. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death, Sirius read and then glanced up.
“You chose it?” he asked Remus, who was surreptitiously trying to wipe his eyes on his sleeve.
“Yes,” Remus said, grimacing because he’d been caught.
“What does it mean?” Harry asked.
“It means that they embraced death,” Remus answered after a pause. And they had; James had been found in the hallway, wandless, and Lily had been upstairs in front of Harry’s crib. While no one but Voldemort or Harry had truly been there that night to see what had really happened, Sirius didn’t think it took a genius to work out the rough order of the night’s events. “That they were brave, that they defeated death by dying.”
Death was a friend for them, Sirius thought, remembering one of the tales from his and Regulus’ old storybook. He shook himself. Well, not quite, but they weren’t afraid... A conversation from his and James’ Auror exam drifted through his memory, one where James had seriously contemplated coming back as a ghost to watch over his son. Of anything but abandoning Harry, that is.
And he’s not abandoned. He’s got me and Moony now, Prongs, don’t worry. And then, the volume of Sirius’ thoughts dropped, until it was almost a whisper. And I know I can’t replace you, or be what you would have been. But I can be there for him. I can take care of him, make sure he knows how brilliant you were. Sirius swallowed.
You bought him life, both of you. He wiped his eyes, not because he was ashamed of his tears, but because he could no longer see and it was uncomfortable. I’m going to make bloody sure that it’s a life worth living. Sirius’ eyes flicked to Harry, who was still tracing Lily and James’ names, and then back to the grave. I promise you.
“I promise,” he heard Remus murmur. Sirius glanced over; Remus was watching the back of Harry’s head and had tears running down his pale cheeks. Sirius was reasonably sure that he’d just promised something similar. On the ground, Harry had started to tremble and Sirius didn’t think it was from the cold.
He knelt down at his godson’s side and gripped his shoulder. As he had by the statue, Harry leaned closer and wrapped his arms around Sirius. Harry sniffled and for a moment, Sirius saw tears dribbling out of Lily’s eyes, behind James’ glasses. Then, Harry hid his face in Sirius’ shirt, and unlike at the statue, or on the landing in James and Lily’s cottage, he didn’t seem inclined to let go.
“You ready?” Sirius asked Remus over his shoulder. Remus nodded, wiping his cheeks. Sirius adjusted Harry’s arms around his neck and scooped him off the ground.
It’s not as easy as parents make it look, he thought, trying not to drop Harry as he stood up. Remus was hovering nearby, just in case, but his help wasn’t necessary.
Sirius didn’t think or whisper a goodbye; he spoke to James and Lily every night before he fell asleep. He’d probably talk to them again tonight. And maybe he was a little bit mad – everyone had always said so, after all – but sometimes, he’d swear they could hear him, and that they were talking back, somewhere he couldn’t hear them.
Remus slung an arm over his shoulders – careful not to knock Harry, who Sirius thought might actually have fallen asleep – and they made their way toward the kissing gate.
A gust of wind – and a warm one at that, considering it was October – blew gently against their faces and Harry shifted slightly, his head lolling back into Sirius’ shoulder. His tears had not yet dried on his face but he wore a slight smile, which widened as a second gust of wind ruffled his dark hair.
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