"James. Prongs! C'mon, answer! You can't be in bed already...JAMES!"
Sirius refused to give up. He shouted into the mirror over the roar of his motorbike. It was absurd that James would be in bed before midnight. James rattled on about all his new responsibilities, but Merlin's beard, this was Halloween. He and James had painted the town red (black?) every Halloween since they were able to sneak out of Hogwarts. They never made plans or set up a time or place to meet; getting together on Halloween was simply a given, an incontrovertible law of nature.
Of course the new baby and the house made things a little different. Sirius understood that. Last year, James and Lily had dressed up the little fellow as a ladybug and taken him around to each of the neighbors for the requisite cooing and gushing. Then they handed out candies to everyone else's children until eight o'clock. Such was the price of having a family in a Muggle neighborhood, and even that was fine; the best parties never started before ten anyway. James had bathed the baby and helped tuck him in, then showed up at Sirius's door in plenty of time, even if he did quit for the night far too early.
When James still hadn't Apparated to Bristol by 9:30, Sirius decided some pressure was in order. He knew that James (well, Lily, really) didn't like it when he came to their house on the chopper because the neighbors complained about the noise, but at least if he arrived on the motorbike, he could be sure that someone would answer the door. There wouldn't be any hiding in bed and pretending not to be home if "The Hog" was rumbling outside the baby's window. Not that little Harry seemed to mind it a bit--the tot slept like a log once he was out. Getting him to sleep was the tricky part.
About halfway to the Hollow, a more evolved portion of Sirius's brain reasoned that James's absence might indicate some sort of controversy within the Potter household, and if that was the case, showing up late at night on the chopper could conceivably add to the problem, rather than solve it. Leaning back, Sirius steadied the handlebars with one ankle and poked through various pockets until he found the mirror. He nearly dropped it as he realized that releasing the throttle made him lose considerable altitude, and he was now heading straight for a steeple. Fortunately, he had time to shove the mirror into his lap before he lunged for the controls, and kept an awkward grip on it with his legs while he revved up the engine and turned hard to the left. Aside from a slight scratch in the chrome from the weather vane, the manuever went off flawlessly.
"Yo, Jimbo," he taunted into the mirror. "I know you can hear me. Get off your--"
"All right, all right, I'm here, you big git!" The mirror lit up as James's face appeared, Muggle-style electric lamps in the background. He looked both annoyed and pleased to see Sirius. "You're lucky you didn't finish that sentence, chump. We have a new rule here, now that Harry's talking: every time you swear, you have to put a Sickle in the piggy bank. Kid's going to be the richest boy in England between you and Peter."
Sirius laughed. "Bloody brilliant! Using your child to extort your friends--you always had the best head for business, James."
"Wasn't my idea," James said glumly. "Lily's. I'm already in the damn thing for three Galleons."
"I heard that," said Lily's distant voice. James grimaced painfully, but dutifully reached into a pocket of his robes and pulled out a silver coin, which made a metallic clunk inside the little ceramic pig on the countertop.
"A necessary evil," sighed James. "Harry's picking up a new word every few days now, and Mum doesn't want her darling boy talking like a stevedore's poltergeist if she can help it."
"Nothing to fret over, Uncle Sirius'll teach him the ropes in good time. Talking of which, I'll start with you: what are you doing milling about the house on Halloween?"
James averted his eyes but set his jaw. "I know, I know. I should have at least said something--"
"Said something!" interrupted Sirius reprovingly. "Nothing to say, mate. We made a promise and we're sticking to it. That's that. I'll be there in fifteen and you'd better be ready."
James hung his head. "Sirius, I can't do it. I know, I know," he said, looking at his friend with pleading eyes. He recited in a sing-song voice: "Their greatest victories are when they scare us out of living our normal lives. But this is different! Dumbledore knows we've been targeted. Specifically! I'm not hiding in fear of a random strike, Sirius, I'm..." James paused and looked away, apparently at a loss for an appropriate description.
Sirius sighed. "All right, mate, no need to drag it out. I'll just bring the party to... James?" Raw adrenaline suddenly flooded Sirius's body; James was staring intently in the direction of their front door.
"An automobile just pulled up, Sirius," said James, his voice deepened by his own rush of adrenaline. James set the mirror on the kitchen counter, propping it against a canister. Sirius still had a view of the kitchen and foyer, but James flicked a switch on the wall and the mirror went dark. Sirius's mouth went dry as he opened the throttle of the chopper as far as it would go.
They had worked many long hours developing the charm for those mirrors. Sirius knew full well that only James could see or hear him; anyone else would see only their own reflection. Nonetheless, his voice dropped to a whisper. "Who is it? James!"
A light came on from somewhere behind the countertop. Sirius caught a brief glimpse of James standing beside the foyer window, peeking out from the edge of the curtain with his wand in hand. Lily started to speak, but before she could complete a word, James spoke over her. "Turn it off!" he hissed sharply, never taking his eyes off the window, and the light immediately disappeared. There were quick, noisy footsteps as though Lily had run down the stairs, but there was nothing at all to be seen in the mirror.
"Talk to me, James," said Sirius urgently.
"I don't know. It's from the Ministry. Nothing's happening, it's just sitting there. No one's getting out. I don't like this, Sirius. Do you think maybe it's about Remus? It'd be just like those zealots at the Werewolf Registry to be working at this hour on a holiday."
Sirius hoped with every fiber of his being that it was the Werewolf Registry. Remus knew where the Potters lived, obviously, and could have guided the Ministry to their home even after the Fidelius charm had been cast. And those prats never seemed to tire of harassing Remus--it would be typical of them to detain him on Halloween and demand proof of his location during the last three full moons.
"All right, I'm nearly there," began Sirius, but James suddenly spoke, in a tone of controlled terror that shot through Sirius's chest like an arrow.
"Lily, take Harry and go! It’s him! Go! Run! I’ll hold him off."
Lily's footsteps dashed back up the stairs. The front door smashed open, briefly framing the silhouette of a tall figure against the faint moonlight outside. James immediately cast the "Expelliarmus," but another voice, louder, quicker, was already incanting "Avada Kedavra."
For a split second, the mirror flashed with green light, then showed only the reflection of the stars.
It was impossible. Unthinkable. Something had happened, but it couldn't possibly be what it seemed. They were hidden behind the Fidelius curse. Doubly so, even. Peter was made the Secret-Keeper, just to put another layer of confusion between the Potters and the Dark forces. No one would ever suspect that Peter was the Secret-Keeper; he was too far down the food chain for anyone to entrust him with so much. Which is exactly why Sirius had insisted he do it--what better way to hide the Secret in plain sight?
No. Voldemort could not possibly have found them, it was just... impossible. It had to be. Some slick little Death Eater trailed them home somehow, someone James could handle. James was already Disarming them when they cast that curse at him. Obviously their wand was not under their control when the spell discharged; it must have flown off at a crazy angle and smashed right into the mirror. In minutes, Sirius would arrive at the house and find the shards of the mirror all over the kitchen, and whoever James was pinning down to the tile in the foyer would get the beating of his life.
By the time Sirius's sensible side broke through the horror and disbelief, he was so close to Godric's Hollow that he would waste more time trying to land the bike and Apparate straight to the house than to simply keep driving. He could see the lights of the Hollow dead ahead. Sirius did not descend until he was practically on top of their house, not wanting any bother from treetops or power lines in his haste. Dropping steeply, he noticed that the house looked a bit strange from above and he could see no sign of a car. Still, it was pretty dark out, perhaps once he got on the ground he...
With a violent wrench of nausea, Sirius realized that he was less than ten meters from the ground and the roof of the house was still well below him.
How he managed to land the bike, Sirius couldn't remember. His body was acting on some sort of autopilot. He did not recall dismounting from the chopper either. When he heard his name, he simply found himself standing beside the bike, staring at the heap of rubble that had once been his favorite place in the world.
It wasn't James or Lily, but a familiar voice nonetheless. Sirius tried several times to answer, but in his shock he couldn't manage a coherent reply. There was someone moving inside the wreckage, and--wait--the baby! The baby was crying!
His heart began to pound even harder; maybe they were okay, maybe the impact of the spell had brought down the house (and broken the mirror) but they were simply trapped. There was Harry and... Hagrid? Merlin, Mordred and Morgana, what was Hagrid doing here? "Where are they? Where's James?" he heard himself say.
"I dunno, Black, I dunno what happened. Someone's been dragged out, maybe it was James pullin' Lily, I dunno."
Dragged. No one would be so stupid. Not James. If Lily were hurt, he would Apparate her straight to St. Mungo's, not drag her through broken beams and plaster. That single word snapped something inside Sirius's mind, broke through the desperate denial and brought home the reality.
"It wasn't James," he said, choking on the words. "James is dead."
His best friend, dead. It should have been him. In a flash of insight, he realized that he should have been in the house in the Hollow with the Fidelius charm. James and his family should have run even further, hidden even deeper, left him in their place with a barrel of Polyjuice potion and a toy doll to carry past the windows. He should have been inside the house, a decoy, to suss out whether Voldemort really had a traitor deep enough inside the Order to betray their secret.
A brilliant plan that was only an hour too late.
Hagrid spoke. "Lily." Sirius understood immediately. Little Harry had survived; if Voldemort came only for James, Lily might still be alive. Give me Harry and go find her! Sirius thought desperately, even as Hagrid said, "Take the lad." Sirius squeezed the little fellow as hard as he dared, finding sudden, unexpected comfort in this warm wiggly bundle that represented all the best in James and Lily.
As Hagrid plowed through the rubble, Sirius took a closer look at Harry's little face. His forehead had been gashed, but Sirius had seen enough combat to recognize a superficial wound. He pulled out his wand and pointed it at the laceration. "Consutum," he murmured, and the bleeding quickly stopped as the edges of the wound reapproximated. This was only the first of a series of spells to close wounds without scarring, but Sirius had learned only the most basic healing spells for emergencies. It would do for now, until he could get the baby to a Healer.
He realized, too late again, that he had not used any sort of anesthetic spell; the closure of the wound must have been painful. Crushing guilt struck him anew, that he had hurt his precious godson out of carelessness and distraction. A fine first step as the caretaker for this child. Sirius burst into tears.
He knew as soon as he saw Hagrid's face that the giant had found Lily and she was gone. It should have been me, he thought again, sobbing harder as the last threads of hope were cut. But Hagrid was trying to help him to his feet, and there were sirens approaching. The last thing any of them needed was a bunch of Muggles swarming around right now; the grief would have to wait. Sirius was a soldier and he knew that none of them were safe here. He had to get Little Harry far, far away.
Hagrid seemed to be reaching for the baby. "I'll take him," Sirius said, though he immediately realized he wasn't quite sure how he might carry Little Harry on the motorbike. It wasn't considered safe to Apparate children under the age of four; their little skulls hadn't fused solid yet and the pressure could hurt them.
"Maybe he oughter come with me, ter Hogwarts... Dumbledore might--" began Hagrid, but Sirius had heard enough. Dumbledore had suggested the Fidelius Charm, and look at what good it had done.
"I'LL take him," he said defiantly, daring Hagrid to contradict him. But this was ridiculous, Hagrid wasn't the enemy. The man couldn't squash a gnat without doing penance to the entire Gnat Nation. Sirius forced himself to slow down and speak with reason. "I'm his godfather. I'm all he has left. He's all I--"
James. James was gone, dead, and Little Harry was his only legacy. No more crying, there's no time. Focus. Whimpering, Harry put his head on Sirius's shoulder and touched his throat with his tiny fingers; they were cold. All he had on were jammies and a thin yellow blanket. All right. Sirius could kill all the birds with one stone by tucking the little fellow into his coat. Harry would be warm and cozy, and Sirius would have both hands free to operate the chopper.
Sirius heard Hagrid say something as he jumped onto the motorbike, but he knew the Muggles were practically on top of them. Only after he had cleared fifty meters of altitude did he realize he ought to have offered Hagrid a lift. The Muggle police would have a heyday with him, until the Aurors arrived and made things even harder.
Nobody would be looking up in the sky at the moment. Sirius cast a Silencing Spell about the chopper and doubled back to check for Hagrid. The giant was nowhere to be seen. Sirius circled the scene a few times just in case Hagrid tried to signal him from some hiding place, but apparently he had his escape route planned in advance. When Sirius was satisfied that he wasn't abandoning Hagrid to the mercy of the Muggles and the Ministry, he fingered the throttle lever, then paused.
What if, what if... Denial and doubt began to rear their desperate heads again in his mind. James could still be alive down there. Lily was gone, but maybe the curse had missed him. Maybe it hit Lily instead, or maybe it just detonated and brought the house down around them before she had time to get her wand and protect herself. James had his wand; he might only be trapped under the rubble.
Muggles were swarming like ants, and he suspected some of them were scouts from the Ministry already--especially since one of them had escorted Voldemort here in a bloody official car! Sirius vehemently wished he had James's Invisibility Cloak on him, but he realized he had something almost as good: the mirror. He pulled it from a pocket of his leather jacket.
"James? James, mate, I'm right above you, if you can make any sound at all, do it. I'll get you out if I have to break every law in the books." No response. "James!" Sirius shouted as loud as he could into the mirror. "JAMES!" Nothing.
It doesn't matter, thought Sirius. He could still be down there. Maybe the mirror is broken. He envisioned the flash of green light before the mirror went dead. That was an ironic phrase. Either the mirror had died, or James had; this was the nature of the charm they had placed upon it so carefully. It suddenly dawned on Sirius that he could check whether the mirror was whole or not. Descending again as low as he dared over the Potters' former kitchen, Sirius pointed his wand straight down and murmured, "Accio James's mirror."
When it floated up to his hand unbroken, he opened the throttle on the bike and pointed it at the stars.
Not Bristol. Not London. Sirius knew he couldn't fly around on the bike forever, but he was at a loss for a destination. Dumbledore had been right; there was a traitor, someone so far inside that they had prepared this strike before the Fidelius charm was cast. Either that, or Peter had been tortured into surrendering the Secret and was probably dead.
Now there's a thought. If they simply killed Peter, the Fidelius charm would be broken and anyone could have led a parade to Godric's Hollow if they had an inkling of the Potters' address. If someone had tortured it out of Peter, or killed him and then tortured it out of Remus... Sirius shuddered. The thought that he could very well be the last living Marauder turned his stomach violently.
His head was swimming from altitude, grief, and shock, but he knew that remaining in motion would protect him (and Little Harry) better than anything else until he could figure out a plan. The baby was sleeping soundly inside his jacket, despite the fact that he was crumpled and twisted in what had to be the most uncomfortable position ever devised outside of a torture chamber. Sirius gazed down at him fondly; the little sprat was tough.
Not tough enough to take into a danger zone, however. Peter and Remus might be in dire peril or dead, but there was nothing Sirius could do for them until Harry was tucked away someplace safe. And where, exactly, would that be? It all came back around to that. Voldemort had used information from a traitor in the Order of the Phoenix, and someone from the Ministry had helped him. That seemed to eliminate all of England, if not the entire UK.
I've got to go somewhere I've never gone, he thought. Somewhere no one will recognize me. The people I trust cannot be trusted, therefore I have to find strangers to trust. Ugh. The doublespeak alone was enough to drive him crazy.
"Never been to Wales," he muttered out loud. "Fancy a trip, Harry?" He had flown in a vaguely northeast direction from the Hollow; setting a new course would be wise at this point anyway. Banking the motorbike sharply to the left, Sirius reckoned he could be over Gwynedd in an hour. Gwynedd was the Bohemian sector of Wizarding Britain, reknown both for its size and its eccentricity. Many of these "freaks and Druids" (as his parents had called them) had probably never heard of Voldemort, much less Sirius Black. Find an inn, get a room with a Floo, and put your head together.
He grounded the bike in some town near the coast, intending to search the along the main street for the subtle signs that indicated a Wizard-friendly business. To his surprise, however, it seemed as though he'd somehow ended up in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade. Wizarding folk were everywhere, dancing on sidewalks, shouting from windows, their wands out in the open with no apparent thought for Muggles. He pulled off the road and just sat, watching the revelry in disbelief and wondering if the strain was making him hallucinate. Okay, it was Halloween, but no holiday party in history had ever been this much fun.
A trio of pretty witches passed the bike, singing something in the Welsh tongue. If there was one thing Sirius did without planning or forethought, it was chatting up the ladies, and he was certainly desperate for information. One of them turned her head to admire the bike, and his instincts kicked in automatically.
"You ride?" he asked, not quite smiling, but tipping his head invitationally. She stopped singing and nudged one of the other chanteuses, who glanced at him, giggled and winked at her friend, and went off with the other. The first witch came over and smiled at him.
"Never have, but tonight I'm ready for just about anything," she said. There was Firewhiskey on her breath.
Oh, for the love of Merlin, why does this kind of thing only happen during times like these? "That so? Why tonight?" Sirius crossed his fingers, hoping that Little Harry would remain asleep for a few more minutes.
"Haven't you heard, handsome? You-Know-Who's been killed! Not two hours ago! The Dark Times are over!" She twirled in a pirouette, flaring out her maroon robes but then breaking into a distinct wobble, demonstrating the effects of the Firewhiskey. Fortunately, she righted herself against the handlebars and Sirius was not forced to jostle Harry in order to catch her. She laughed at her own unsteadiness, and Sirius wished he could laugh with her.
"You're joking!" he said. "How did it happen?"
Her eyes lit up at the prospect of breaking the news to an uninformed stranger. "Down in the West Country. He attacked a family, killed the parents, but somehow their baby survived! It's a miracle, don't you see? You-Know-Who tried to kill the baby too, but the curse bounced back and killed him instead. A baby killed You-Know-Who! The little chap must be the strongest wizard in history!" She laughed again, but did not attempt another pirouette.
This was more than Sirius could handle while maintaining a cool composure, but fortunately a dropped jaw was the fashionable response to the news. "Impossible," he croaked, though he didn't doubt the story one bit, just the fact that it had spread so widely and so accurately.
"No, it's true! It came straight from the Ministry in London! They have the baby, there'll be photos in the Prophet tomorrow of the Boy Who Lived."
Sirius felt like a tube of toothpaste which had been handed to a gorilla. The girl stepped back in alarm at his expression. "What's the matter with you?" she said heatedly, backing away. "You look downright disappointed!"
"No, no--hey, I'm not one of them," he managed to sputter, raising up the cuff of his jacket to reveal his forearm, emphasizing his point. "I'm just... wow. A bit taken aback. I mean, really, a baby... How could that be true? Maybe it's all an elaborate plot of some kind." Maybe?? Morgan le Fay, what have I stumbled into here?
The witch frowned at him, then grinned again and gave him a dismissive wave. "Oh, don't be such a killjoy! It's true, our Ministry rep confirmed it from London. Come on," she said, tugging his hand playfully, "this is the happiest night in fifty years! Get up and celebrate!"
"Okay, okay," Sirius said, thinking quickly. "I just need to find a tavern and put my bike away. Can you help--"
She cut him off in mid-inquiry. "Oh, just up the street, then, the Hound and Child. Better hurry, everyone's coming into town tonight. I'll look for you in a bit!" She gave him a lovely smile and capered off with a new group of passing witches.
He found the tavern easily enough, though the proprietor was downright peevish about being asked to let a room. He had his hands quite full with orders from the bar. Sirius opened his jacket enough to reveal the back of Harry's little head and the fellow changed his tune, clearly aware that a squalling baby would disrupt his business far more than a few delayed drinks. He handed Sirius a key and told him rather kindly how to find the kitchen if the baby needed anything.
The room was quiet despite the noise in the pub below and in the street. Sirius tucked Harry into the day-bed, then collapsed for a few moments on his own feather mattress.
What in the name of Merlin was happening?
In the end, he was forced to pilfer a roll of parchment and a quill from a rolltop desk just outside the kitchen and write it all out. His head was still whirling with grief, and he couldn't afford to leave out any details. After twenty minutes, he had to go get another parchment, as he had so many insertions, margin notes, and arrows, it was like reading a maze. He copied it in proper order onto the new parchment.
It's too big to fit in the HPFF image guidelines.
Cut and paste the link to see the picture.
Sirius stared at the list for several minutes, trying to decide what was most important. Would that be the Ministry traitor that helped Voldemort? The Ministry conspiracy to present a phony "boy who lived" to the public? Or the fact that Harry somehow killed the Darkest wizard on Earth--the sort of thing that's generally done by a Darker wizard? He looked over at the sleeping baby. Little Harry certainly didn't look like a fearsome Dark wizard, snoozing peacefully under a teddy-bear blanket with his hands flopped on either side of his head. But Voldemort had once been handsome too, and Sirius gritted his teeth at the sight of the wound on Harry's head. Voldemort's magic had touched the boy, of that he was certain; whether it went deeper than the physical wound was a separate and terrifying matter.
Sirius bit his lip. He wanted desperately to find out if Peter and Remus were safe, but ultimately it didn't matter; with Voldemort dead, they were probably not in danger, and therefore they could wait. That the Ministry was corrupt was certainly no news to him. Only people with an unslakable thirst for power would spend so many years clawing and stabbing their way up through the ranks. Sirius had always felt that anyone who desired to hold an office should automatically be disqualified for the position. The only competent blokes in the whole Ministry building were the ones that quietly went to their office every day and-gasp-did their jobs. There was at least one conspiracy going on, perhaps more, but it would all be well hidden behind lies, scapegoats, and "plausible deniability." Someone else would have to untangle that web.
He knew what he must do. Harry was his godson. He had vowed to protect this boy as his own flesh and blood. And no son of Sirius Black would live to see another dawn if he were poisoned with the Dark magic of Voldemort.
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