Disclaimer: Both Harry Potter and its characters created and owned by J.K. Rowling, and I do not claim any ownership over them or the world of Harry Potter. The story I tell here is my own invention, and it is not purported or believed to be part of J.K. Rowling's story canon. This story is for entertainment only: no profit will be gained from the creation of this story.


We Can Pretend (Until Time Runs Out)

Chapter 3

"Fuck."

"A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad."

~ Theodore Roosevelt

Date: September 2, 1996

Sirius woke up to find himself in Dumbledore's office, lying awkwardly in one of the armchairs in front of the Headmaster's desk. Fawkes greeted him with a light shrill.

Sirius nearly fell out of the chair in shock.

"Sirius Black?"

Sirius stood up and nearly tripped over his own two feet, "Professor! What?"

He watched, frozen, as Dumbledore raised his wand and speaks softly as if he were struggling for control, each word minced. "What. Are. you?"

Sirius shrugged, helplessly. "Honestly, Professor?" and here he could feel the hysteria creeping into his voice, "I haven't a clue."

This seemed to catch the Headmaster at surprise, but his wand did not waver and Sirius felt something along the edge of his mind and forced himself to let it in, identifying it as Dumbledore. They stood in a starring contest until Dumbledore was satisfied.

"And so you are dead and yet not so alive," Dumbledore remarked, lowering his wand and taking his seat behind his desk. By his perch Fawkes cooed before taking off only to land on the arm of Sirius' chair. Sirius lifted a hand to gently pet the beak of the phoenix and focused on his breathing, trying to keep it under control.

"I…I don't quite understand sir," Sirius accepted a lemon drop when offered. "But professor, I think its real. I tried at first. I was sure I was dead but now… I don't know. I just don't know."

Dumbledore pinched the bridge of his nose and it was only then that Sirius noticed his blackened hand, "Professor, what happened to you?"

"It is no concern," Dumbledore waved his question away with his good hand. "What we need to focus on is understand what is going on and… how what you do in your time will affect how we handle things here."

"So you believe me?" Sirius asked. "Because I barely believe me."

"I see no way to disprove you."

Sirius opened his mouth to respond when he felt the world tilt and he stumbled before falling to his knees.

"Sirius? Sirius!"

Date: September 2, 1973

In his defense, it was instinctual.

As Sirius settled back into his body, reawakening to the feeling of red cotton sheets and a heavy comforter, he also felt the push of hands on him, hands holding too tight. Hands on his shoulder moving him, shaking him, and his mind flew backwards (forwards?) to Azkaban and the guards and their jeers: "Looks like the dementors 'er comin' for ye today, Blackie-boy~." With a scream, Sirius pushed back whoever was holding him down with a wandless wordless blast of near-accidental magic that threw whatever was holding him away (far away, he needed to get away, away, save him! Save him, kill him. He couldn't do this anymore) and immediately threw up a shield charm until he heard the sound of a body hit the wall and two children scream that brought him back to reality.

Blinking furiously, he forced himself to look past the shadowed walls of Azkaban and see the red and gold and warmth of the Gryffindor dormitory. "Merlin!" Sirius cried. Jumping out of bed and letting the shield charm crash around him with the audible sound of breaking glass. "James? James, are you all right? I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry." Scrambling to his friend's side, he immediately started checking for injuries, the few months he spent training to be a medi-wizard coming back to him as he examined his friend.

"Er gerouff," James scowled, pushing Sirius away and pulling himself up until he was sitting, cross-legged on his ass. "You." He pointed at Sirius, "You are….what was that?"

"Sorry?"

James gave him an unimpressed look.

"That was some spectacular accidental magic, Sirius," Remus cut in, walking over with a cold towel, which he pressed into the back of James' head. When James made to push him away, Remus just gave him a look and he stilled.

"Spectacular," James grumbled under the towel, "Yeah right … see how you … against a bloody wall."

"You have a concussion," Sirius added, "You should see Madame Pomfrey."

James grunted and Peter asked, "Where'd ya learn that sort of magic, Siri?"

Sirius rolled his eyes, "Didn't go learning it, Wormtail. 'ts why it's accidental. Merlin, Pete." At least the boy still had the potential to be as dumb and annoying as he remembered, Sirius thought darkly as he tried to keep his thoughts in the present instead of slipping backwards? (Forwards?) into memories best left alone.

"Wormtail?" James asked but his voice was lost under Peter's disgruntled huff, "Yeah well yah don't have to be such an ass about it."

Sirius snorted and then scowled when James tried to get up. "Stubbornness doesn't stop the fact that you've got a concussion."

James pushed him off, "Where'd you learn that line? My mum."

Remus cut in, "Sirius is still right, James. You should go see a healer for yer head." When it looked like James was going to argue, Remus added, sharply, "Before we miss the rest of breakfast."

Class was unexpectedly boring. It wasn't that Sirius remembered it being rather fascinating, but still … this was a bit excessive. At least, he remembered learning something. Now … now he was a 37 year old man trapped in a 14-to-15 year old body studying spells he could do both wandless and wordless thanks to a man who once took out 17 Death Eaters in twenty minutes, winning the Battle for London during the first War of Terror (not that the Muggles knew, of course, and how the Muggle Ministry managed to hide that one was something Sirius never bothered to learn, too busy recovering in a private hospital wing to give a rat's ass). But still he vowed to try to stay awake for most of it. After all, it wasn't like he couldn't do with some review.

Azkaban … had taken so much from him. Time, health, his reputation, but it had also taken his magic. And to have one's magic compressed for so long only made it volatile and for the first weeks after accepting this place as reality, he had struggled to keep control of simple spells. His Lumos could blind. His Wingardium Leviosa was more of a blasting charm and he didn't even want to consider what would happen if he tried any basic healing or repairing spells. But over time he'd practiced and with the help of a tutor who specialized in magical recovery named Professor Asumi (also paid to stay quiet) had begun to recover.

But really it was Regulus who had retaught him how to hold his wand that first week after he went to bed frustrated that wandless came so easily and wordless even faster, but his wand felt dead and heavy in his hand like a concrete lock wrapped around his magic. And it was Regulus who suggested a change in wand when his magic refused go in the direction he commanded and he broke three vases and slashed a portrait in an attempt to do a Reparo when he broke a pair of glasses.

(But it wasn't until Sirius threw his wand at the wall in frustration and it glowed an angry red that burnt to the touch when he attempted to pick it back up that his parents agreed to try a new wand.)

And it was Regulus held his hand when he entered Ollivander's after so long (longer if you counted his reality) and comforted him when Ollivander had confirmed it was not just his recovering magic (so strong and so much after so long without anything) that made his spells volatile.

"Curious…" he had said, examining the wand with the same beady eyes that had stricken fear into every witch or wizard ages 11 and up. And Sirius was no exception, "Very curious…"

"Excuse me," his father asked through gritted teeth because every Wizard knew to treat a wandmaker with respect even when they were being rather difficult, "But what, exactly, is so curious?"

Ollivander glanced at his father before setting the wand down and wandering into the stacks, "It seems," he called out from somewhere in the back of his shop, "That the wand no longer sees you as a match, young Master Black."

Regulus squeezed his hand but Sirius kept looking at his shoes, scuffed and splattered with mud from the wet cobblestone streets that wandered their way through Daigon Alley.

"Ah … this might do it," the wandmaker muttered before returning to the front with a dusty, red box marked with a peculiar orange triangle. "Your wand hand, please."

Sirius held out his right hand and accepted the offered wand. The wand hissed and spluttered and Sirius dropped the wand as soon as his fingers wrapped around the warm wood, allowing it to the drop the floor. Regulus bent down and picked it up and returned it to the wandmaker as Sirius continued to glare at the floor.

Olivander hummed and went back into the stacks. "Interesting…."

His father's lips pulled down into a sneer and his mother sighed.

The wandmaker returned with three more boxes, each rejected upon contact and Sirius started to feel a certain level of despair wrap its way around his throat. He was breathing hard.

Finally, twelve wands later and a tension as thick as fog had settled around the shop and Sirius was clutching Regulus' hand like a lifeline (and when had be begun to rely so heavily on his brother when before the thought of relying on his family would have set him heaving in disgust?).

"Perhaps…" Olivander whispered, and disappeared into the back of his shop once again to return with a box of dark blue-nearly-black and pulled out a wand of dark wood with an unfinished handle and handed it to Sirius. With shaking fingers for Sirius knew this wand, he knew it because he had seen it before, handled with precision that came from a natural connection and confidence that he could not conjure in that moment.

This time the connection was near instant. With a quick flip and a muttered "Wingardium Leviosa" he levitated the blue box with a near perfect control before setting it back into place. Regulus grinned. His mother sighed softly and his father's shoulders relaxed.

Sirius could not find it in himself to smile.

"11 inches, holly, and phoenix feather." Ollivander described and Sirius focused on keeping his breathing steady as he gripped his new wand close, the hum of connection warm in his chest. Closing the box and handing it to his father, Olivander continued, "Free of charge in return for the previously owned wand."

"Why do you want it?" Sirius had been unable to keep himself from asking.

"Something…happened to you, didn't it, young Master Black?" the wandmaker guessed, leaning closer as if departing a great secret. His father glared and his mother finally moved away from the door and placed a hand on Regulus' shoulder who continued to hover close by.

Sirius cleared his throat awkwardly, "Why do you say that?"

The wandmaker tilted his head as if examining a fine specimen before stating with absolute certainty, "Your wand mourns for you, young Sirius Black. 11 and a half inches, vine and dragon heart's string, I remember how hard your wand fought for you."

"Nearly jumped out of the box," Sirius agreed, thinking back to the first time he had stepped foot into the wand maker's shop 26 years ago.

"For it to give you up is near unimaginable." Ollivander agreed. "So one can only wonder … yes, wonder why …"

"That is quite enough," his mother snapped, cutting off the wandmaker. "You may have the wand. Sirius, come."

Nodding quickly, Sirius nearly ran from the shop, only Olivander's voice stopping him in his tracks, "That particular phoenix has only given two cores, dear Sirius. I would be careful not to fall into the footsteps of that wand's brother," Olivander warned, "Careful, indeed."

Sirius nodded and licked his lips, "I'll do my best, sir." He promised, smiling shakily, before joining his mother on the street.

"See you do."

"Sirius, oi! Sirius," James snapped, waving a hand in front of his face, bringing him back to this reality. "You there?"

Sirius pushed James' hand away with a soft huff, before glancing down at his page where he had doodled, to his near horror, a rather detailed drawing of his former wand. Slamming the book shut and corking his ink, he asked, "Your head all right?"

"Yes, mum," James sighed, grabbing Sirius' bag out of his hands and slinging it over his shoulders. "Are you coming? LUNCH TIME!" he roared.

Sirius chuckled softly and hurried after him, tucking the quill he still held behind his ear.

"Nice look," Peter teased.

"Don't you know, Pettigrew," Sirius said with an exaggerated French accent, "It's the latest fashion in Paree."

"Careful, Sirius," Remus warned, "You'll start a trend."

Sirius laughed, "Please. I'm good but I'm not that good." He said before taking a running jump and catching the staircase just as it began to move with James and the others right on his heel.

James leaned over and caught Peter just as he began to tip backwards and pulled him firmly onto the staircase. "Remember that time you convinced everyone that daisy chains were the next best thing?"

"Okay, first of all, who doesn't love flower crowns," Sirius said, sitting on the railing as the staircase finished it's last turn and began to descend downwards, "And I didn't convince anyone to do anything. I just wore it." Or at least that was how he remembered it, but the memory was a bit hazy as all memories from childhood usually were.

"How about the three ties?" Remus asked.

"That one was a bet," Sirius clarified, "And the people just followed." He grinned, "I can't help being a role model," he added as he stepped off the staircase and onto the first floor, barely dodging a group of giggling firsties that managed to barely avoid stepping on Peter's toes, as he complained later.

"Uh-huh."

"What? It was!" Sirius insisted.

Stepping back to allow James to open the doors to the Great Hall with a bit of a unnecessary flourish, he followed the other's to their seats where he sat next to Frank Longbottom and Mary Macdonald, both of which made Sirius eyes feel wetter then they should have.

"Hey, Sirius," Frank greeted and it took a moment for Sirius to find his voice.

"How was your summer?" he asked, tracing a finger around his goblet.

"Not as exciting as yours," Frank near whispered with an exaggerated grin before saying in a louder voice, "We went to America."

Sirius felt his eyes widen, "America?" he asked, his voice a slight octave too high, catching the attention to Remus who was now studying him with narrowed eyes (but he'd been doing that nearly all morning and it made Sirius itch to know what he knew). Picking up the goblet, he took a sip of water before adding, "I've only gone to New York."

"Oh yeah? We went down to Florida. I got to…"

"Sirius," Remus cut in, "I didn't know you got a new wand."

Sirius felt his cheeks heat up and he prayed it wasn't as visible as it felt as nearly everyone at the table turned to look at him, "Over the hols." He clarified, holding out his wand for Remus and James, who was sitting to his right, to see.

"It's a beauty," Frank grinned. "Though more fluid then your last."

"Rude, Longbottom," James teased, "What would the Matriarch of the Longbottom family be saying about you making comments on other wizard's wands."

Frank held out his hands in surrender, "Just don't be tell her, please? She actually would send me a howler for something like that."

"A bit strict," Peter teased.

Frank grinned, "You have no idea."

Remus hummed, "He does have a point. It's a different wood?"

Sirius shrugged.

"Yours snap?" Peter asked around a mouthful of mash and Sirius just noticed there was food on his table and food on his plate and he glared at James with a silent 'I can feed myself'.

James gave a lopsided grin and shrugged, 'I know, but who cares.'

"My da did that once and my gran'mum near blew a howler cause it used to my da's da." Peter added, seeming not to notice the exchange.

"Blacks used to do that until we'd figured out a personal wand was better than a heirloom," Sirius added, tucking his wand away before taking a bite of salad, somewhat lost in thought of the last time he had been around such a loud and lively table. There was no meat on his plate and he nudged James with his shoulder in thanks. "Also, mouth shut when ya eat, Pete. Don't need to see your food, please and thank you."

"Merlin's soggy pants," Peter huffed, swallowing before continuing, "You do sound like James' Mum."

Sirius rolled his eyes, "Not my fault I'm maturing, Petee. Maybe you should try it."

Mary paused her conversation with Lily (and how he had forced himself to ignore her. They weren't friends. Not yet. And he didn't know what to say to her, how to explain that he had failed her son, had failed her, had seen her as a sister and lost her so abruptly, don't think about it, donthingaboutitdon'th-) to add, "The day you mature, Black, is the day I find myself failing Potions."

Sirius buried his thoughts as far down as they'd go and gave an exaggerated sigh, "Poor, Sluggie. How much he'll be missing you in his club this year, Macdonald." He said much to the amusement of James and Peter and Mary (and Remus, he could tell. Even if the boy just rolled his eyes and smiled).

And he had missed this. He had. He had missed the lightness of this time, the jokes, and the comradely. He had missed the way he just seemed to fit with these people. And he knew, every time he looked at them, that he was looking at ghosts. He knew it, but he didn't want to think about it. He couldn't. Instead he thought about how happy he was and how happy they were and the way the sun seemed to shine brighter than normal and the way the world seemed to just breath easy. And he could think about that for now. Just for now, he could be happy.

He would deal with Dumbledore and the wand and the future later. He could think about it later. About what it meant that he now held Harry's wand…

Mary groaned, "I wish. You know he's already sent out invitations?"

Peter nodded, "I received one in the morning. Did it have to be this weekend?"

Sirius took another bite of his food, picking around the olives. "I haven't checked my mail yet."

"You know you've got one," Mary sighed, "The only kid he's dropped was that Fredrick fellow in Ravenclaw and that was because he set the private stores on fire. No way he'd drop you."

"One can dream."

James added, "I'm thinking of wearing my purple robes this time."

Mary actually gagged and Frank roared with laughter, "The one-ones with the peacocks on 'em?"

James grinned. "Might as well have some fun with it."

"Maybe I can order something horrid before it's time," Peter mused.

"Go as a matching set?" Mary suggested. "Slughorn's head will spin. You know how he likes to take pictures at the first meeting."

"Maybe I'll even buy this one," Peter joked. No one ever bought those pictures. It wasn't that Slughorn was actually a terrible person or a terrible teacher. In fact, the Professor was actually quite nice to joke around with once you got to know the guy, but the way he tried to rub elbows with people…it was just bloody damn annoying.

Sirius looked over at Remus who had been oddly quiet to see what he thought when he noticed his friend was missing. "Where's Remus gone to?" he asked.

"He said he was going to the library," Mary offered, "Right, Lils?"

Lily turned from where she was talking with Alice and nodded, "We've got a project in Muggle Studies and I guess he went on ahead. I guess I should go join him," she pouted, before downing her goblet. "Tell the other's I'll see them in Herbology, kay?"

"All right," Mary promised.

As Lily left, Sirius saw Professor McGonagal walking over and he felt a pit of dread settle in his stomach thanks to the way her lips were pulled down. "Mister Black," she called and was cut off by a hurried, "He didn't do it," from James.

The table laughed.

She hummed in disagreement and continued, "The Headmaster would like to see you. You'll be having lunch in his office."

"Oh…"

"Now, Mister Black."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Toffee bit, Mister Black?" Dumbledore offered, which Sirius declined. Next to him his mother took another sip of her tea. "The elves will be by with lunch in only a moment."

"Thank you, Professor," Sirius said, stirring his own tea before taking a sip.

"How have your classes been?" Dumbledore asked when his mother still didn't say anything (and why was she here? And why was he here?) Never before had the homely office of the headmaster felt so stifling.

"Good, professor. I've only had Charms and Transfiguration." Sirius said, "Tuesdays are a late day for me," he clarified. "After this, I will have Arithmancy and Herbology."

"Good, good." Dumbledore nodded, "I am glad you are enjoying your classes. OWLS is a stressful time so it is important to find all the fun and enjoyment once can."

His mother added, "I am sure Sirius will do wonderfully on his OWLS. He is, after all, one of the top students in his grade."

Sirius fought the urge to blush because this was all strange and new because since when had his mother ever bragged about his grades and accomplishments without a backhanded insult to turn a crease into a slap. And it was putting him on edge as he waited for the other shoe to drop, for the mind game he'd missing to finally present itself.

Finally, Auror Ashworth and Baggins entered the room, each looking oddly ruffled. "We apologize for our lateness, Headmaster, Madame Black," Baggins greated, bowing her head to first his mother and then to the headmaster. "There was some trouble between a few of the sixth years that needed handling."

"It is in our report," Ashworth said before greeting his mother and then the headmaster. He took a seat next to his partner and accepted the cup of tea the house elf made for him. "Thank you, Whistle."

The house elf bowed before disappearing as quietly as they had arrived.

"Now that we are all here, we can move on to the business of finalizing what safety measures are being taken to protect my son." His mother started, "I thank you for your patients on this matter, Albus."

The headmaster took a sip of his tea, "And I thank you for agreeing to compromise with me. I understand this is a very private family matter."

"We've been able to double the wards on most of the main entrances so far, adding several detection spells—some experimental—to detect polyjuice or Imperius," Baggins reported, "And because of the added threat on the school, the Minister is pushing for dementors to…"

"The Minister has already received my answer on that matter. This is a place of learning. I cannot afford to scare my students." Dumbledore said with a finality that made Ashworth's jaw clench.

"Wait, wait, wait," Sirius demanded, "Is all of this because of what happened last summer?" He hadn't thought…well…his lie seemed to be getting more and more complicated at the moment, wasn't it? What was he supposed to do when they found out that no one had made him walk out that window?

There was a niggling feeling in the back of his mind like an itch and before he could even consciously consider his actions, he pushed it from his mind with a force that made the Headmaster's hold on his tea cup tighten and his blue-blue eyes narrow.

"Not all of it," the headmaster reassured him as if nothing had happened and Sirius became busy starring at the tablecloth. "But precautions are necessary for both the sake of yourself and your peers."

"You don't think they'd go after my friends, do you?"

"As the headmaster said, all precautions are being taken to ensure that that does not happen," Ashworth assured him.

Sirius frowned but relented.

"I was wondering what you had to say about our ask for an escort," his mother asked.

"The portraits and ghosts have been informed to keep an eye on Master Sirius," Baggins said, "Seeing as our roles are to be more covert, following around Master Sirius would be an overstepping of boundaries."

Great. First the Marauders and now every pair of eyes in Hogwarts would be following him. How was he going to keep from messing up?

So lost in thought, he didn't notice the food had arrived until his mother set a sandwich on his plate that he proceeded to pic up and eat as if on autopilot. Meatless. Glancing up at his mother, he watched as she made no move to acknowledge him, instead seeming to argue with Dumbledore over something. How had she known? House elves perhaps?

"There is also a matter of Master Sirius' spell work," Ashworth suddenly added and Sirius tuned back into the conversation. "I was thinking private studies in Defense against the Dark Arts on top of Baggin's mind strengthening should be considered."

His mother thinks this over as Dumbledore hums in neither agreement nor refusal. Favoritism was always a danger when an old family heir was being considered. Sirius could remember that much from his school days, the way the teachers did their best to treat him no different from the average student despite his good academics and more than sufficient athletic career.

Finally his mother relents, "For his safety as long as it is kept private."

Dumbledore nods in agreement.

Sighing, Sirius made his way back to the dorm with heavy thoughts and heavier limbs as sleep tugged at the edge of his thoughts. This is what he got for losing track of time in the library. Maybe he should have gone up with the others as they had asked but really he needed some time alone to just breath, some time to just think.

Not that it had helped. He was as tired and confused as ever and he doubted there was a book or a spell out there that could give him the answers he was looking for. What had it meant when he'd slipped through that gate? Why was he here? Why could he see Dumbledore?

Deciding to take a short cut, he turned left instead of right on the fourth floor and headed towards the secret passageway behind the blue armor that would allow him to bypass the funky sixth floor staircase and make getting to the other side of the castle much, much faster. As he walked, he tried not to think about how Baggins had said the portraits and ghosts of Hogwarts had been tasked with keeping an eye on him. It was overall rather unnerving, the idea of all those eyes on him, watching him, following him…. He had been in enough prisons to know what that could do to his psyche and desperately tried not to think on it.

As he made his way through the secret passage, his feet aching (and how he had forgotten how big this castle was) he froze when he heard hissed whispers through the war. "The dark lord…"

Pressing his ear against the wall, he strained to make out more of the conversation. It sounded like three voices though he couldn't make out who it was. "He…they warned…..Dumbledore…"

"Did he…deadline…"

"….afraid…"

A sudden "ENOUGH!" caused Sirius to stumble backwards, the books he held in his hands tumbling to the ground.

Footsteps from the other side of the wall caused Sirius' heartbeat to race as he quickly grabbed the books he had dropped. Sudden knocking made his heart stop and he scrambled to get up and get out.

"This wall is hollow."

He got up and started running through the secret passage, holding his books close, as he heard a sudden pounding on the wall.

"We'll find you," one of the voices screamed as if they were right next to him and Sirius only ran faster. "Better keep your mouth shut or we'll find you!"

"Fuck." Sirius gasped as he slammed the secret passage shut behind him and scrambled up the last staircase to the Gryffindor common room. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."