Sirius knocked gently on his old bedroom door. “Harry?” There was no response. “Can I come in, kiddo?” He waited out on the landing for a few seconds and then got impatient. If he didn’t want me to come in, he would have said something. Let's just hope he's a brooder like Prongs and not a shouter like Lils... or me for that matter.
“Harry, I’m coming in,” he said, reaching for the doorknob. Sirius twisted it, only to find it stuck. He frowned and tried again, but this time, the snake’s head bit him. What in the name of Merlin’s skinny ankles...? “Did you lock the door? Harry?” He tried the door again. “This isn’t funny, kid.” With a loud sigh, he pulled his wand and tapped the door. There was a click and then it swung open.
Sirius stepped into the room as Padfoot and took a cautious sniff. He smelled dust, and a faint trace of both his and Harry’s scents, but those were at least a day old. The window wasn’t open and a glance told Sirius that it was still rusted shut. He checked under the bed and desk without hope, and even went through his old wardrobe and dressers.
“Harry?” he called after changing back. Maybe he went into Reg’s room, but I don’t think either of us have gone in there since we came here... Sirius had no sooner stepped out onto the landing when his bedroom door swung shut and locked again. He jumped a foot in the air, and immediately glanced around to make sure no one had seen. He was sure that – wherever he was - James was laughing. “Kreacher!” he called irritably. CRACK! “Are you the one locking the doors? And I order you to tell the truth.”
“Kreacher’s been tending his Mistress,” Kreacher croaked, sinking into a bow. “Kreacher likes his Mistress, oh yes, Kreacher’s Mistress doesn’t ask Kreacher foolish questions, oh no.”
“A yes or no was all I wanted,” Sirius said coolly. “Have you seen Harry? I know he came up here but he’s not where I thought he was.”
“Kreacher hasn’t seen the brat.”
“Unhelpful little bastard,” Sirius muttered. “Bugger off then, back to my hag of a mother.”
“You shouldn’t talk to him like that,” said a quiet voice. Definitely Lily’s son.
Sirius looked up immediately, ears twitching to find the source of the sound. There was a CRACK! as Kreacher Disapparated – Sirius glared at the spot where he’d vanished – followed by three loud clicks. He tried the door to his room and found it had unlocked again, and that the doorknob was just plain silver. There were several faint clicks downstairs that echoed up – presumably more doors unlocking – and then Sirius said, “So it was you locking the doors?”
“I didn’t mean to,” Harry said, his voice trembling slightly.
But you obviously didn’t want to be found until now... so you accidentally locked every door in the house. James would be proud. With a quiet chuckle, Sirius crossed the landing and pulled open the door of the cupboard opposite his bedroom. Sitting there, amidst a hell of a lot of dust and some moth-eaten pillowcases, was Harry. Sirius didn’t even bother to hide how relieved he was to find him.
“What are you doing in the cupboard?” he asked gently, taking in the tight set of Harry’s jaw – very similar to James’ – and the resigned scent that was coming off him in waves. Definitely a brooder.
“Sitting,” Harry said, fiddling with his shoelace.
“Why in here, though?” Sirius asked, sitting down opposite him. Harry seemed to think about answering but then shook his head. “All right, then,” he said. “We’ll skip that one. When are you coming out?” Harry stared at him oddly and then mumbled something. “Sorry, kid, didn’t quite catch that.”
Harry’s cheeks were slowly turning red. “I said that’s not usually up to me,” he said, staring at the floor of the cupboard.
Sirius closed his eyes as a picture of a small cupboard filled with dust, spiders and - most noticeably - a small bed, popped into his head. “I see.”
“Sorry,” Harry said hastily. Sirius opened his eyes and was shocked to see his godson looking anxious.
“What for?” he asked calmly.
“Er...” Harry said, looking lost, “I’m not really sure. Sorry’s usually enough.”
Sirius sighed. “You don’t have anything to apologise for, kiddo, that’s why you can’t think of a reason.”
“Oh,” was all Harry said. They sat in silence for a few minutes, Sirius trying to decide how to bring up whatever had upset his godson, and Harry staring at his shoes. “So I can come out of here, then?” Harry asked finally.
“Of course,” Sirius said, chuckling. “I’m still not sure why you came in here in the first place.”
Harry smiled for a moment, but that quickly developed into a thoughtful look. “Habit, I suppose,” he mumbled, getting up.
Sirius nodded. “As soon as the bathroom’s decent, we’ll see about fixing you a bedroom. That way, if you want to be alone, you don’t have to sit in a cupboard.” He didn’t manage to stop his lips from twitching as he said that, though it really wasn’t funny.
Harry watched him curiously. “So you aren’t taking me back to the Dursleys?”
“No,” Sirius said, frowning. “Why would I do that?”
“In the kitchen... you said you should have left me there,” Harry said, staring at his feet again.
Aha. “I didn’t mean I don’t want you around,” Sirius said, ruffling his godson’s dusty hair. “I meant that you deserve better than to be stuck in this dreary old place with only me and Kreacher for company.” Harry stared at him, mouth agape. “Don’t you agree?” Harry shook his head vigorously, displacing the dust and making Sirius sneeze. “All we’ve done for three days is clean,” Sirius said, frowning as they descended the stairs. “Kreacher’s rude to you and I have no idea how to be a parent figure. How can this possibly be better?” Harry was laughing now. “What?” he asked. Harry stumbled down the last step and landed on the floor. “Harry!?”
“I’m okay,” Harry said, still laughing.
Sirius grumbled to himself, feeling a little left out of Harry’s joke. Harry picked himself up off the landing and - with a massive grin on his face – continued down the stairs. “What’s so funny?” Sirius whined as they reached the first floor landing.
“It’s not really funny,” Harry said.
“You’re laughing,” Sirius pointed out.
“Better to laugh than cry, I guess,” Harry said with a shrug. He said this with maturity far beyond his eight-and-a-half years and Sirius had to make an effort to keep his mouth from falling open.
“I think we’re overdue for a talk,” Sirius said slowly.
Harry’s eyes brightened and he assumed an expression much more appropriate for his age. “Really?” he asked excitedly. “What about?”
“What it was like for you growing up,” Sirius said shrewdly.
Harry’s expression changed from open and eager to unreadable before Sirius could fully comprehend it. “It was boring,” Harry said carefully, not moving from his place at the top of the next flight of stairs. “Like I said, I’m happier here.”
Sirius might have been convinced if he hadn’t said something very similar to Remus seventeen years earlier; early in second year after the truth about Remus’ Furry Little Problem came out, Sirius had asked him what it was like to grow up with his condition. Remus had answered and then asked Sirius the same question in regards to his Dark family.
Sirius had told him eventually – after a considerable amount of prodding – and had actually felt better, though he’d been embarrassed to learn James had woken up midway through Remus’ story and heard all of his. In the end, it had brought them – him, Remus and James – closer. Merlin I miss them. He turned back to his evasive-looking godson. “How about this: you tell me about growing up Dursley, and then you can ask me something.”
“It’s like I said,” Harry muttered without meeting his eyes. “Boring.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Sirius said in a tone appropriate for trying to settle a cornered wolf. “You obviously aren’t one to share everything with someone just because they ask and that’s not a bad way to be-”
“Then what’s the problem?” Harry asked.
“You can’t go around keeping everything to yourself either,” Sirius said gently. “Maybe you’ve had to until now, but since we’re all each other’s got for the foreseeable future, it might be nice if we were on the same page.” Trust, he added silently, watching Harry think. You’ve never had anyone trust you before, have you, or had anyone to trust?
His former comparison to a cornered wolf suddenly seemed all the more appropriate; Harry assumed an expression uncannily similar to one of Remus’ during first year. It only seemed natural that his thought processes would follow the same line; he could like someone, and deem them a friend without necessarily trusting them. And Sirius knew all too well that Remus’ attitude had come from relying on himself, and himself alone until it had become instinctive. What did they do to you? he thought toward his godson.
“You said I get one question for answering yours?” Harry said.
“A question, a favour, whatever.”
“And it can be anything?”
“Anything at all.”
Harry frowned, looking thoughtful. Sirius would have bet anything that he was deciding if it was worth it. “Can I save it?”
“If you’d like to,” Sirius said.
“Okay,” Harry said.
“Okay,” Sirius said a little surprised. He’d honestly expected Harry would need more time to adjust to the idea of sharing.
Harry sat down on the carpeted landing and pulled his knees to his chest. “What do you want to know?” he asked warily.
Sirius followed his example and sat with his back pressed against the banister that overlooked the entrance hall. “What are you willing to tell me?” Harry shrugged, a gesture Sirius was beginning to recognise as an evasive technique. “How about you start with your cousin?”
Harry’s mouth twitched. “Dudley and I don’t get along very well. I think we did when we were little; I remember playing hide and seek around the house and I remember we used to build blanket forts in the living room. Dudley was always treated better though. He never had to do jobs around the house and he always got presents for his birthdays and for Christmas...” Sirius wondered if that meant Harry had never had presents before. When he thought about how little Harry had brought from Petunia’s, he decided - grimly - that he probably hadn’t. “-he’s allowed to watch television and I’m not... that sort of thing.”
“I know what television is,” Sirius said proudly. Harry gave him an odd look. Sirius hid a smile, wondering how long it would take Harry to work out that wizards couldn’t use ecklictricky like muggles. “Dudley got new things, while you got hand-me-downs,” Sirius said, remembering their conversation at the playground. “Is that right?”
Harry nodded. “And if I hit him, I’d get in trouble, but if he hit me, he wouldn’t. I- he- At school, he’s-” Harry paused, looking thoughtful. “Er... Padfoot? Am I going back to school?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, St Grogory’s is back in Little Whinging and we’re... er... well, in London.”
“Bloody hell,” Sirius said aloud. He’d completely forgotten that Harry, who was raised as a muggle, would have gone to a muggle school. “Erm... Do you want to go to school?”
“Er... well, not really,” he said.
“You won’t miss your friends?” An odd expression flickered over Harry’s face and he shook his head. Sirius wondered at that didn’t say anything. Not yet. “That’s easy then. No more school.”
For a moment, Harry looked delighted but then a look of horror flickered over his face. “What about Hogwarts?”
“What about it?”
“Will they still let me go? I’ll be behind everyone.”
“You can have lessons with me,” Sirius said. “That’s what pureblood kids do and none of them ever have problems.” Harry looked relieved. “Now, what were you saying about school? This St Gargoyle place.”
Harry laughed. “St Grogory’s,” he said. “Er... well, Dudley and his gang had it out for me a bit.”
“How so?” Harry shrugged. Sirius’ eyes narrowed. “Did they ever punch you or your friends, or try to drown you in a toilet?”
“No, they never tried to drown me,” Harry said with an edgy laugh.
“Punches?” Sirius pressed.
“Sometimes,” Harry said shrugging.
“Your friends too?”
His cheeks took on a red tinge. “Just me.”
Aha. “Tell me about your friends,” Sirius said, watching Harry carefully out of the corner of his eye.
Harry fidgeted. “There... er... there isn’t much to tell,” he said finally.
There were several questions Sirius wanted to ask but didn’t; he’d save them for another time. “What were the teachers like?” he asked instead.
“I had Mrs Baddams the year before last and she was all right. She liked me better than Dudley, I mean. Aunt Petunia talked to Mrs Peterson before term started.” He wrinkled his nose. “She never liked me.”
“She’s the one with the blue wig, right?”
“Yeah,” Harry said looking sheepish.
Sirius didn’t bother to hide his grin. “You’re quite the wizard, kid. You’re eight-and-a-half and you’ve already flown or Apparated, changed the colour of your teacher’s hair, almost blinded Privet Drive and locked every door in the house.”
“You’re loads better,” Harry said. “You could do all of that if you wanted to and you’re an Animagus.”
“I couldn’t do any of that at eight,” Sirius said.
“Eight-and-a-half,” Harry said.
“Irrelevant.” Harry scowled but when he glanced away, his mouth twitched. “What about at home?”
“What’s your aunt like?”
Harry shrugged. “My hair bothered her.”
“She used to complain about James’ hair too,” Sirius said. Harry’s eyes lit up. “She wouldn’t let him in any of her wedding photos because his hair was ‘as freaky as the rest of him’. Lily was rather put out with her about that. I think Vernon was only allowed in one of Lily’s wedding photos, right at the back and that’s only because Lily was too nice to cut him out altogether.” That drew a laugh out of Harry. “What about your Uncle?”
“You saw what he’s like,” he said with another shrug.
“He’s never abused you, has he?” Sirius asked cautiously, thinking back to the looming figure of Vernon Dursley shaking his nephew.
Harry shook his head vigorously. “He didn’t like me but he never, I dunno, beat me or anything.” Harry hesitated and then added, “Dudley hit me every now and then.”
“A few bruises.”
“Ever had a broken bone?” Harry shook his head. Sirius let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. “Whose idea was the cupboard?”
“Dunno,” Harry said.
“Why don’t you have one of the upstairs rooms?” Sirius had stayed at Number Four several times, back when it had belonged to Lily’s parents, not her sister and knew they had at least two spare bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs.
“I’d be in the way,” Harry said with an odd expression. “I’m always in the way.”
“Not here you’re not,” Sirius said firmly. “So you just slept in the cupboard?” Harry’s expression became thoughtful, as if he were trying to decide how to word what he was about to say. “You’d better not lie to me,” Sirius warned.
Harry’s expression and scent became guilty. “I wasn’t supposed to talk about it,” he said by way of explanation. Sirius waited. “Yeah,” Harry said finally.
“You slept there?”
“I spent most of my time there,” he admitted. “If I wasn’t doing housework or at school, anyway.” Sirius wasn’t sure what his face looked like but Harry was compelled to add, “I didn’t have to talk to them and they didn’t have to talk to me.”
“Sounds like a good system,” Sirius said after a pause.
Harry shrugged. “It worked.”
“You mentioned housework?”
“Cooking, cleaning and gardening, but only in the back garden.” Sirius lifted an eyebrow. It was a gesture Remus had used against him and James, and one that always seemed to get results. “Aunt Petunia didn’t want the neighbours talking.”
For some reason, that made Sirius smile. It wasn’t that it was funny, or that he agreed that neighbours couldn’t be trusted. It was that, despite everything else that had happened, Petunia Evans - now Dursley - was exactly the same woman that Sirius had terrorised the first time they’d met.
“Did you earn much pocket money?” he asked, grinning. Harry’s pause was enough of an answer. Sirius’ smile started to slip but he caught it and fixed it in place. “No? Well, as of now, you get a galleon a week.”
“But- Why?” Harry looked stunned.
“Because we’ve got a lot of cleaning ahead of us and you deserve a reward for helping.” From the look on his face, Sirius could see this was a completely new concept for his godson. “It’ll be good for you; you’ll learn how to manage money and how to save up for things.”
“A galleon’s too much,” Harry said at once. “Gurbock said that was five pounds!”
“I know what a galleon’s worth, kiddo,” Sirius said, grinning.
“But nothing,” Sirius said, still grinning. Harry kept mumbling his disagreement. “Otherwise I’ll make it two galleons a week.” That shut his godson up. Another thought that had evaded him recently brought itself to his attention again. “Speaking of galleons, we need to hide them.”
Harry cocked his head. “Them?”
“The money we took out on Tuesday night. We can’t just leave a fortune sitting in your rucksack,” Sirius said. “We’ll leave some of it there, obviously, but we should spread the rest around a bit.”
“Why?” Harry asked.
“Just in case we have to leave in a hurry.”
“But we’re safe here, aren’t we?”
Sirius debated between being honest, or being comforting. He’s just spent the past Merlin-know-how-long being honest with me. Besides, I’ve been honest with him so far, he thought, and he’s still coping. “I don’t know,” he said. “Anyone that knows me knows I hated this place but after they finish searching the places I do like, they’ll start searching anywhere else I’m associated with. After that it’s only a matter of time before they stop by.”
“What’ll we do?” Harry asked.
“Make it safe.”
* * *
Shortly after their conversation on the landing, Padfoot and Harry returned to the kitchen. Padfoot went straight to Harry’s rucksack - which had been resting in a chair at the table since they moved in - and retrieved his bags of money. “Are you up for hiding?” he asked.
Harry’s eyes widened. “Me?”
“No, the kid behind you,” Padfoot said, smirking. “Yes, you,” he said, ruffling Harry’s hair.
“I s’pose,” Harry said.
“Excellent. Try to put an equal amount on each floor so-”
“Padfoot, there are two thousand galleons in each bag,” Harry said.
“Fifty galleons and a few muggle bank notes is plenty. You can leave what’s left in here and I’ll sort it out later.” Padfoot’s expression flickered as he thought of something. “And don’t hide each coin individually.” Harry laughed. “Got all that?” Harry nodded. “Good. I’ll be in the library if you need me.”
“It’s a place with books,” Padfoot said seriously. “Very dusty books, I might add and-”
“I know what a library is,” Harry said, exasperated.
“One would hope so.” Harry made a face. “I’ll be researching,” Padfoot said. “I want to make sure we don’t end up with any surprise visitors.”
It took Harry longer than he’d expected to hide the coins around the house but he was happy with the results. He’d even had the foresight to borrow a piece of parchment and a quill from the study on the ground floor to record all of his hiding places.
“All done?” Padfoot asked when he walked into the library. Harry made his way to the large, curved couch where his godfather was sitting surrounded by dust and books and passed him the piece of parchment. One sleeve of Padfoot’s jumper was smeared with dust; he’d obviously used it to clean the table he was working at. “What’s this?”
“A list of where I hid everything,” Harry said, leaning on the arm of the couch. He’d never have dared do it at the Dursleys.
“Smart kid,” Padfoot said, looking pleased. He marked the page of the heavy book he was reading and looked at the parchment. “Tin in the pantry,” he read aloud, “filing cabinet in the ground floor study, vase on the drawing room bookshelf, dresser in the guest bedroom, bedside table in the master bedroom and,” Padfoot smiled, “a pillowcase in the cupboard on the fourth floor.”
“Are they good?”
“Very,” Padfoot said, nodding. “One suggestion though: move the stash from the dresser in the bedroom to somewhere in here. It’s easier to get to that way.”
Harry shrugged. “All right.” Then he frowned. “Why?”
“There’s a fireplace in here,” Padfoot said, gesturing to it, “and it and the one in the drawing room aren’t connected to the Floo Network but they’re connected to the kitchen fireplace which is connected to the Floo Network. If we have to leave-”
“What’s the Floo Network?”
“I suppose it’s a bit like the muggle underground,” Padfoot said after a moment of thought. “Except we use fireplaces, not stations.”
“How do trains fit in a fireplace?” Harry asked.
Padfoot laughed. “They don’t.”
“Then what carries you?”
“But- don’t you- I mean- fire’s hot,” he finished lamely.
Padfoot didn’t laugh as Harry half-expected and a small grateful smile touched his face. “It is,” he agreed. “We use Floo Powder to make it harmless. It’s still warm, obviously, but it can’t burn you. You throw it in, say where you’re going and the fire... takes you there... it’s sort of hard to explain.”
“Do we have any Floo Powder?” Harry asked eagerly.
“No,” Padfoot said. “I threw it all out a few days ago.” Harry’s face fell. “It has a use-by date and I’ve seen some nasty results when people use it without realising that.”
“Like worse than Splinching,” Padfoot said grimly.
“When people Apparate – disappear from one place and appear almost instantly in another-” he said, forestalling Harry’s next question, “-sometimes, if they aren’t concentrating, they leave pieces of themselves behind.” Harry felt a disgusted expression settle itself on his face as he pictured a pair of legs lying abandoned in the middle of a street that resembled Privet Drive. “It’s not pretty,” Padfoot said grimly. “I saw it quite a bit when I was an Auror; we’d be chasing someone who’d be so desperate to get away that they wouldn’t be focused enough and... well...”
“Urgh,” Harry said, wrinkling his nose.
Padfoot made a face and then frowned suddenly and scribbled something down on his own piece of parchment. “I remembered a ward,” he said in response to Harry’s confused look. He wrote something else. “And we’ll need to buy more Floo Powder,” he added with a grin before Harry could ask. Then he sighed. “I think we’ll have to go back to Diagon Alley soon.”
“Really?” Harry asked excitedly. Padfoot nodded. “Can we have more of a look around this time?”
“I’d like to take you to Quality Quidditch Supplies,” Padfoot said thoughtfully. “Eight-and-a-half and you probably don’t know what a Bludger is!”
“Is that bad?” harry asked tentatively.
“James is probably rolling in his grave,” Padfoot said, his lips twitching. “And Lily will be furious that we’ve been living together for almost a week and I haven’t taught you anything.”
“You’ve taught me loads!”
“Not really,” Padfoot said. “I’ve taught you things that any wizarding kid knows from birth. You were just behind... Tell you what; we’ll get wards and maybe even a Fidelius Charm up today or tomorrow and after that, I’ll start giving you lessons.”
“Magic lessons?” Harry asked excitedly.
“Amidst other things. Here, you’ll need this.”
Harry accepted his godfather’s wand with an eager smile and resisted the urge to wave it and see what would happen. “What for?”
“Fidelius Charm,” Padfoot murmured, flicking through a heavy book.
“The charm my parents used?” he coughed.
“That’s the one- Aha.” Padfoot started skimming through a page of tiny writing.
“How does it work?”
“It’s like an Unbreakable Vow,” Padfoot said, and then sighed. “An Unbreakable Vow is-”
“Pretty self-explanatory, I’d think,” Harry said.
Padfoot smiled. “There are three sets of people. There’s the Secret - the person or people the charm’s protecting - the Secret Keeper and there’s a- well, in Unbreakable Vows they’re called Bonders but that’s the wrong word in this scenario. More like... a witness. They leave midway through so they aren’t actually in on the secret.”
“So who’s what?” Harry asked.
“You’re the Secret,” Padfoot said. “I’m the Secret Keeper and Kreacher can be our witness.”
Harry shifted one of the books surrounding Padfoot and sat down on the edge of the table. “Is he allowed to be?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Does it only protect the house? The charm, I mean.”
“Unfortunately, yes. Once we – or you, in this case – leave the boundary - I’m thinking that’ll be the front steps - we’re fair game again.”
“So we’re stuck here?” Harry asked. He’d rarely been allowed out at Number Four and he certainly preferred Padfoot’s company to the Dursleys’, so he didn’t think that would be too bad. Padfoot had just mentioned a trip to Diagon Alley though, and Harry was eager to go. He brightened, however, when Padfoot answered.
“No. I think we’ll just have to be careful,” Padfoot said. “It’ll mean disguises when we go out and we’ll need some sort of back-up plan if either of us is recognised.”
“But can’t you Apparate like Kreacher?”
“I can. You can’t.”
“I’ll just stay next to you then,” Harry said, shrugging.
“That might not always be possible. What if we were somehow separated, or if there was a duel?”
“Dunno,” Harry said. “Couldn’t I help?”
“Not yet. But we’ll add that to the list of things I have to teach you: Duelling.” Padfoot grinned. “We can clean the dining room – it’s not like we’ll be having people over anyway – and use that as a training room... You’ll probably need a wand, too.” Harry’s eyes brightened at the idea. A wand! Padfoot pulled another book toward him and read a few paragraphs. “I suppose there’s always the Floo,” he said, more to himself than Harry. “But you’d have to find a fireplace and then you’d have to say ‘Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place’.” His godfather snorted and snapped the book shut. “On second thoughts, perhaps not.”
“Would it break the Fidelius Charm?”
“It would mean they know where to find us-” Padfoot said. He reached into his pocket, frowned and then extended a hand to Harry. Harry passed his wand back and Padfoot flicked it, making a book fly out of the shelves and land with a thump on the table. They both coughed in the resulting cloud of dust. “-but I don’t think they’d be able to get to us. They’d probably block the Floo Network and catch us the next time we went out.” To himself more than Harry he muttered, “I suppose there are always Portkeys...”
“What’s a Portkey?”
“Portkey,” Padfoot said. “It’s sort of like Apparition but you need to be touching something. Unfortunately, if someone got a hold of the Portkey, it would bring them straight here... there are ones with passwords but they’re more to stop the Portkey triggering before you want it to.”
“But if they didn’t know the password they couldn’t use it.”
“No, but they could find out where it was going.”
“When you create a Portkey – you’re supposed to register them, firstly, but no one does – you have to imagine the place you it’ll take you. It’s a lot like Apparating in that way. And, since you put so much energy into picturing that location, anyone with a bit of training - an Auror for instance - can see where it is and that would break the Fidelius Charm, since I’d be the one making the Portkey.”
“So we’re trapped, basically?”
“As long as we aren’t seen by anyone when we go out, we’re fine.”
“And if we are?”
“Then we’re trapped,” Padfoot said, grumpily. “But if we don’t do this, it’s only a matter of time before someone realises this is the only place with a connection to me that hasn’t been checked, and unfortunately, no ward’s strong enough to keep the Aurors out when they come looking.”
Harry absorbed this and then frowned thoughtfully. “Hey, Padfoot?” Padfoot raised an eyebrow. “D’you think maybe I could be Secret Keeper? We could swap-”
“No! No! No, absolutely not!” Padfoot shouted, leaping to his feet, his eyes wild and not quite focused.
“Sorry,” Harry said in a small voice. “I was just-”
“I know,” Padfoot said, seeming to remember where he was. He took a deep breath and sank to the floor, right where he was, despite the couch being only a few inches away. “Sorry,” he said in a flat voice. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have shouted.”
“It’s fine,” Harry said, a little anxiously.
“No, it’s not. It’s not your fault...” he managed to get out. “I shouldn’t have... I mean... it’s just...”
“Just what?” Harry asked tentatively.
Padfoot looked up with haunted grey eyes. “The switch didn’t go so well last time,” he said, his voice catching slightly.
Suddenly, Padfoot’s reaction seemed far more understandable.“Right,” Harry said, feeling incredibly guilty for even suggesting it. “Sorry... didn’t think about that.”
“I know... it’s not your fault. It’s just- urgh!” He aimed a kick at the couch. “Stupid Peter! And stupid me for even suggesting the whole damn thing in the first place!” The bookshelves trembled and Harry could feel something thrumming in the air around them. “I’m sorry, all right!” Padfoot shouted at the roof. “I’m sorry I didn’t get there earlier and I’m sorry I trusted him! I’m s-sorry I made you t-trust him!” Everything around Harry – the books, the parchment, the ink wells – flew off the table and crashed against the bookshelves. The chairs and desks that lined the wall by the door fell noisily and the fireplace made a rumbling sound.
“Padfoot?” Harry asked.
Padfoot’s eyes focused on him and his lower lip trembled once. The library stilled again. “I’m so sorry, Harry,” he croaked. Something in his tone made Harry fairly sure he wasn’t apologising for shouting. A single tear ran down Padfoot’s cheek. He brushed it away, looking astounded. Padfoot stared at the water on his hand and then he closed his eyes. More tears leaked out and his shoulders shook, but he didn’t make a sound.
Harry, without thinking, slid off the arm of the couch and went to sit on the carpet beside his godfather, who was holding his head in his hands. Padfoot didn’t move. “It’s not- I don’t blame you,” Harry said.
“You should,” Padfoot said, without looking up.
I don’t think he’s had a chance to be upset since they died... Harry realised with a little jolt. He was chasing Peter and then he went to Azkaban... and from what he’s told me about prison, he was too busy trying to remember that he was innocent to be properly sad about them. And he hasn’t cried here... we’re both still in the kitchen at night and I haven’t heard him. “I don’t remember my parents, but from what you’ve told me of them, they wouldn’t want you to blame yourself,” Harry said in the same tone, trying to be as calm as Padfoot had been when he’d found him in the linen cupboard.
“Probably not,” Padfoot said, his voice muffled. “Lils would have smacked me and told me enough was enough by now. And Prongs...” He laughed weakly, but it didn’t seem forced. “Prongs would have told me I was a prat and done or said something to make me laugh.” He finally looked up and his eyebrows rose as he took in the room. “Oops,” he said sheepishly, taking in the mess. Harry laughed. “I’m sorry for shouting,” Padfoot said.
Harry shrugged. “It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not,” he said, drying his eyes with the back of his hand. He sniffed once and then blinked. “I’m sorry.” He offered Harry a small smile which Harry returned. “I think I’m going soft.” He shook his head, apparently bemused. “If Prongs and Moony were here, I’d never hear the end of it,” he said, and then paused, as if waiting for them to speak.
The silence was almost unbearable.
“So,” Harry said, hesitantly in a quiet voice that seemed far, far too loud, “er... Secret Keepers...?”
“Yes,” Padfoot said, keeping his voice steady, though Harry sensed it took a little effort. “Why do you think it should be you?”
Harry opened his mouth to say ‘because I’m the last one anyone would suspect’ and then clamped it shut again. “Well,” he said seriously, “when it comes down to it,” he said instead, “I’m not the one who needs protection.”
“It is,” Harry insisted. “The worst they’ll do to me is send me back to the Dursleys or foster me out to a wizarding family. I’d survive - I might not like it, but I’d be safe and looked after until I go to Hogwarts. If you’re caught, you’ll go straight back to Azkaban. This way, even if they catch me, you’re still safe.”
“It’s a huge commitment for you to take on,” Padfoot pointed out.
Harry shrugged. “I can keep a secret.”
“Can you now?” Padfoot asked, lifting an eyebrow.
“Well, yeah,” Harry said. “I do it all the time.”
“What secrets?” Padfoot demanded.
“Not from you,” Harry said, grinning and rolling his eyes. “I meant from the Dursleys.”
“Like what?” Padfoot repeated, curious now.
Harry shrugged. “I used to sneak out of my cupboard to get food, or watch television when they went out.”
“James’ son through and through,” Padfoot said proudly. “This is a big secret, though, not something like sneaking food. Are you sure you can be trusted?”
“Of course! Even if I couldn’t It’s not exactly like there’s anyone for me to tell, is there?”
Padfoot nodded thoughtfully. “All right,” he said finally, looking serious. “You’ll be Secret Keeper, at least until you start school, and then we’ll reassess it... you’re sure about this?” Harry nodded. “All right. See that book there - the big green one?”
“Chapter seven. Get reading.”
“Yes, Master!” Harry said in what he thought was a fairly good imitation of Kreacher.
“Don’t call me ‘Master’... Catch.”
Harry looked up just in time to catch the green book. “Defensive Measures for the Paranoid?” Harry read, laughing.
“You never met my father,” Padfoot said darkly. “Of course, he’d never say ‘paranoid’. ‘Prepared’ was his favourite word. Anyway, chapter seven’s for the Secret Keeper.”