A/N: This week I posted a January 1982 calendar on insta that should clear up the trial timeline. If you check it out, be on the lookout for the single easter egg I dropped in. Also wanted to say thank you for your reviews and messages— they make my day, and I really appreciate your feedback and thoughts!
February 2, 1982
Chateau Black, France
Less than fourteen hours after being declared a freeman, Sirius Black had become the talk of the wizarding world.
Rita Skeeter at the Daily Prophet had already arranged for an exclusive interview with him later that afternoon. Requests from a half dozen of the Prophet's other free-lance reporters had been denied or postponed based on profiles provided by Cassiopeia's house elf.
Xenophelius Lovegood had owled for an interview about, of all unholy things, his life in Azkaban. The enthusiastically eccentric reporter had focused on his wife's own impressive appearance and work during the trial rather than the results of the trial itself, and was now ready to begin a journalistic campaign designed to reform the Ministry's position on utilizing dementors.
Witch Weekly had sent over a copy of their newest issue, featuring a slightly younger Sirius winking from the front cover. (The image had been taken by Marlene McKinnon just after graduation. Sirius had no clue how they had obtained a copy of it.) Inside was a four page recount of the reasons that Sirius was now, supposedly, the most eligible bachelor in all of the United Kingdom.
Albus Dumbledore sent an owl asking about lunch later in the week.
Narcissa Malfoy sent a note that said she was taking him shopping so he wouldn't embarrass her.
Alphard ordered a seven layer wedding cake and brought out two bottles of ridiculously old scotch to celebrate.
People of all ages gathered around their kitchen tables the morning after the trial, pouring through the news and chattering excitedly about how they had known all along that Sirius was innocent. They toasted his name, the tragic hero, and whispered about what he would do now, now that he was free, now that he could potentially gain custody of the hero of the wizarding world.
But talk of the town or not, most eligible bachelor or not, Sirius Black still got only a few hours of sleep before being summoned to Chateau Black.
"A bit early for a social call, isn't it Aunt Cass?" The former felon yawned widely as he stepped through the floo, pausing to give his Materfamilias an obligatory peck on each cheek.
"I wouldn't know— personally, I've always preferred to work on my projects first thing in the morning and save socializing for later." Cassiopeia paused. "Or for never."
"Either way, nephew, this is hardly a social call."
With a subconscious step backward towards the relative safety of the fireplace: "Isn't it?"
"Of course it's not. If you'd please follow me?"
Cassiopeia swept out of the receiving hall in a cloud of soft mint velvet, her wary great nephew trailing behind her all the way to the conservatory. The pair stepped into the room just as Pip finished levitating large platters of breakfast onto a small table laid with only two place settings.
Sirius raised a single brow at the sight. "I thought this wasn't a social call?"
Mistress and elf exchanged a long, surprised look. Carefully, as if to a particularly slow child, Pip pointed to the table. "Breakfast is sacred."
"Social call, business call, invasion…. I can't think of any type of visit that doesn't warrant a proper meal," Cassiopeiua agreed. "Surely we're all civilized enough to agree on that."
Sirius, whose brutal education in etiquette had not touched on this particular definition of civility (though, what Walburga Black knew about civility wouldn't fill a thimble), gave a mental shrug and held his great-aunt's chair out for her before settling into his own.
Cassiopeia gestured broadly to the piles of pancakes, pastries, eggs, toast, and fruit before them. "Help yourself. Tea? It's Lady Gray."
"Milk or sugar?"
"Both, please– extra sugar."
"Lovely. Sugar does make everything better, doesn't it?" Cassiopeia handed the warm cup over before turning to her own plate, loaded with two perfectly boiled eggs and soldiers. "Nephew, my reports suggest you are still quite fragile— understandably so, dementor exposure has several long term effects. I added it to my list of things to research later, though of course this current project takes up the majority of my time."
"Why, the family of course. I don't know what else you would call my mission to restore our name after that ridiculous PR nightmare Arcturus allowed."
Sirius' eyebrows flew towards the ceiling. "PR…. as in public… relations…?"
"Obviously. I know it's early, but do try to keep up, nephew. Now– your current emotional state. I have, of course, already ascertained an opinion from your care team, but I'd quite like to hear from you as well– are you mentally capable of making decisions right now?"
"A bit more confidence, if you would."
"Yes, Aunt Cassie."
There was a tense moment of silence as Cassiopeia intensely scrutinized the young man's bewildered face before breaking into a wide grin. "Excellent! Then we can get straight to business."
Sirius' face twisted into an ugly scowl, his hands clenching in his was that word– business. And now she was saying that this all had to do with the family.
He should have known.
Should have expected payment to be demanded for loyalty shown and services rendered.
He'd been a fool to trust it even for a minute.
To trust family for even a minute.
"Business. Of course. You want me to make myself useful to repay my debts to you, don't you? That's the only reason you've done any of this, isn't it? Go on, you may as well own up to it now when it's just the two of us– bread and circuses, that's all this family has ever cared about. Bread, circuses, and the power to make everyone around you miserable. I bet you—,"
"Sirius, do you wish to continue on as a member of House Black?"
Sirius blinked at the interruption, awkwardly realizing that he had stood and begun pacing at some point during his tirade. He huffed, glaring hard at the grammatophyllum speciosum floating above Cassiopeia's head. "As if I have a choice."
Cassiopeia rolled her eyes towards the ceiling, wistfully remembering the years she'd spent living a country over from her family's theatrics. Bolstered by such pleasantries (and by the chocolate pastry she'd snuck onto her plate), the Black materfamilias managed to keep her tone even when she finally returned her attention to the pouting man– child, really– in front of her. "I'm giving you the choice. The decision is completely yours."
Sirius squinted suspiciously. "You definitely aren't."
"I've now stated twice that I, in fact, am."
"Logically possible. Theoretically possible. Hypothetically possible. Currently happening, so additionally plausible."
"I don't believe you."
One pair of stormy eyes met another in a tense battle of wills for a long moment before Sirius, scoffing, finally returned his gaze to the oversized orchid hovering in the air.
"Of course you don't," Cassiopeia finally sighed. "It's the Crabbe in you, I swear. Shows right through even when it's a generation removed. Honestly, you're worse than Arcturus."
"Listen, it's nothing personal— but I'm not an idiot. I'd rather you just admit that you only got me out of Azkaban because you need something from me, and that you're going to hold it over my head. I told you what I dealt with from my parents. I know first hand how self-serving this family is. You don't have to worry about…. About emotionally breaking me or something stupid like that."
"Your care team's reports suggest that I only don't have to worry because you're already 'emotionally broken' as you so crassly put it."
"Contrary to your beliefs, I did not seek justice for you in order to gain your servitude."
"Then why? Why spend hundreds of galleons–,"
"Thousands, actually, more if you count the cost of wine for Agnes, she's terribly particular—,"
"Fine, thousands, thousands of galleons, why did you spend thousands of galleons on getting me released and—,"
"Really, I suppose by the time all is said and done it will be more than thousands. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps? I hate to assume—,"
"Hundreds of thousands of—?!"
"Inflation. That's the tricky bit to calculate— I wonder if I could borrow Marius' accounting department to determine—,"
A sharp crack! of magic interrupted the veritable shouting match occurring, and Pip cleared her throat loudly in the sudden silence that followed. "Pip is thinking that this breakfast is not being productive. And Pip is knowing that Missy Cassiopeia's great nephew is needing to be eating much, much more."
"Pip is thinking it would be best for Missy Cassiopeia and her great nephew to sit down and settle down," the house elf continued loudly, eyes locked firmly on the colorful glass ceiling. "Because if they do not start behaving like proper people should, then Pip would have to put them in time out until they-,"
Jabbing a finger at Sirius: "Find their manners, or–,"
Shaking her head exasperatedly at her mistress: "Remember to stick to the topic!"
Sighing, Cassiopeia waved a dismissive hand at her elf. "Very well– sit down nephew, Pip has a decent point. Though really, Pip, time out? What are we, children?"
(Pip coughed, the sound oddly similar to that which would be made if someone were to quietly mutter, "Could have fooled Pip.")
Cassiopeia waited for Sirius to begrudgingly drop into his chair to begin anew. "As I mentioned prior: I did not seek justice for you in order to gain your servitude. Did doing so benefit me? Yes. But had you been guilty I would have disowned you and left you to rot with Bellatrix."
When Sirius didn't immediately interrupt, she continued. "I wasn't comfortable with the accusations lodged against you from the moment I read about them in the paper— I had the exact same feeling I have when a potion turns itself into sour milk or develops a personality. Call it instinct. When Alphard petitioned me to look into the matter further, I was happy to. It resulting in me gaining his vote when I most needed it to take over the family was just a cherry on top."
"You said it benefitted you."
"Of course it did! The press coverage our family has received due to your trial has been an absolute delight. The public's opinion of House Black is swaying, and its partially thanks work with the Longbottoms, the public reunification of Andromeda and Narcissa, Alphard's choice to swoop in and bail out the Ministry…. and tying it all together nicely is the juxtaposition presented by our fierce pursuit of true justice for you and for Bellatrix."
"Then why are you asking me if I want to remain a member of House Black?" Sirius demanded. "If I'm useful to you then–,"
"Morganna, you truly are worse than Arcturus. I'm not kicking you out of the family, nephew– I'm trying to give you a choice."
Cassiopeia huffed. "Yes, nephew, a choice. Defined as a decision between two or more possibilities. In this particular case your choices are as follows: continue on as a member of House Black, or be freed from House Black amicably."
"Defined as being in a friendly or peaceful manner."
"I know what— ok. Ok. Look, let me try again. I didn't think you could amicably separate from the family."
"Why ever not? Andromeda did, for years. My twin brother did for decades longer."
Lost for words, Sirius stared as he considered the implications of this.
"My understanding from Pip, who is rarely wrong about these things, is that you have spent the majority of your life trying very hard to escape what you were told it meant to be a Black, and being punished for being yourself. But that's not how I intend to run this House. So I'm giving you a choice."
"Do you… does anyone… even… want me to?" The tremor in Sirius' voice would have tugged at the heart strings of a much colder woman than Cassiopeia (as it was, she made a mental note to have Pip ship Walburga a box of dung bombs at the soonest opportunity).
Tilting her head, Cassiopeia reached across the table to pat Sirius' hand in a rare gesture of affection typically reserved for Isla or her siblings. "Of course we do. Except for Cygnus, perhaps, but he's an absolute idiot. And he's still part of the family despite that, isn't he?"
Sirius barked out a laugh, startled from his melancholy by the observation.
"Your grandparents, your cousins… your other aunts and uncles….. We do care about you Sirius. We're proud, especially after yesterday, to call you a Black." Cassiopeia paused, then soldiered on. "And because you'll be irrational about it later if I don't point out the obvious now— yes, there is one other important reason that I personally hope you remain a Black."
There was a moment of tense silence, which Cassiopeia chose to consider encouragement. "I'd prefer to have direct oversight of whoever is to raise Dorea's grandchild, and you're the best candidate."
To say that Sirius "blew up" would be a litote of such extremity as to circle back around to near hyperbole. It would be akin to telling the poor Europeans of the 1300's that the Black Death killed "a couple of people", or the good people of India that the Taj Mahal "looks ok, I guess", or even telling Cassiopeia Black that "biscuits are highly overrated". However, while the amount of pacing and flailing and screeching that Sirius went on to engage himself in was no more akin to "blowing up" than chocolate is to asparagus, it is certainly the most politic way to describe it.
Finally, enticed by a sticking spell on his chair and a clever little petrification spell that Cassiopeia normally only used on unwilling potions guinea pigs, Sirius' rampage came to a particularly quiet end.
"We risk my own mother resurrecting herself to hex me if I repeat the majority of what you just said— though I do applaud your creativity, nephew, I'd have never thought to utilize a pancake in quite that way— I did seem to pick up on some recurring themes throughout that delightful…. Speech. Shall we address them?" Cassiopeia stood cheerfully, not waiting for an answer (Sirius couldn't speak anyways) before calling for her house elf to bring her beloved case board.
"Now, I believe the first thing you said was something like, 'I won't let any of you harm a hair on my godson's head!'" Cassiopeia tapped the white board, and the words appeared across the top in bright purple marker. "Allow me to sub bullet the reasons this is not an issue. First, I am personally concerned about every single hair on Dorea's grandchild's head. It is my duty, first as her older sister, second as the materfamilias of this family. Second, I can personally attest that no one in this family will be allowed to harm any child who belongs to this family, ever again, for as long as I live— longer, if I ever get a chance to read the instruction manual and build new wards to prevent what happened to you and your brother."
In his current position, Sirius couldn't move anything other than his eyes— however, those rolled around wildly at these statements.
"I believe the next thing you stated was, 'You're just like Dumbledore, and want to use him!'- we can break this one into two parts." A sharp line separated the words "just like Dumbledore" from the words "want to use Harry" on the white board. Cassiopeia then used her wand to trace an arrow from Dumbledore to the next set of bullet points to appear as she spoke. "First of all, Albus Dumbledore and I have very little in common other than a shared love of good research. But shall I tell you the real difference between us, nephew? It's that I have class when meddling, and he does not. He has yet to learn that changing the world at your pawn's expense every single time is both costly and unsustainable, and he does a pitiful job of protecting those most loyal to him."
Cassiopeia did not directly say the words, "Like you and your friends," but the weight of the accusation hung heavy in the air regardless.
After a long pause, the Black matriarch drew another line down from the words "want to use Harry" and moved on. "I would never allow a child to be used in a way that does not benefit themself. Would I let it be known that the savior of the wizarding world is being raised by the Blacks? Absolutely. Would I allow that child to be spoiled for a tragic event he can't remember? No. Would I allow that child to become a public idol before he could even walk? Certainly not. There are less bloody ways to skin a kneazle, nephew."
She debunked his next three broad complaints in short order: financial blackmail (had she not offered to let him leave amicably?), plans to resurrect the British Dark Lord (wasn't the creature the root of all her current problems already? Why would Cassiopeia want to ask for more?), a desire to experiment on Harry (well, Cassiopeia couldn't deny that one, but hadn't she promised to not hurt him? Surely that counted for something— Cassiopeia was a very conscientious researcher, after all), and even cradle betrothals (which, honestly, were terribly outdated and never really worked out well, so why bother? Had Sirius never heard of what happened to Pollux?).
Finally: "I'm going to end the enchantments on you now, but do behave civilly nephew. I'd rather not have to find out what Pip meant when she suggested one or both of us needed a time out."
Sirius sprung to life instantly, shoving himself out of the chair and striding directly to the whiteboard to stare at all of the swirling purple text running across both the main body of the board and on tiny little panels that had magically extended from it as needed.
A year ago he would have scoffed and walked out the door, never to be seen again, pleased to have parted from the family he hated and headed straight towards Lily and James' front door for a round of drinks to laugh at it all.
Four months ago he would have raged, destroying the board with his bare hands if needed, hopelessly unable to direct his deeply felt despair at anything other than his family without losing even more of his mind.
A month and a half ago he would have been hopeful, but bitterly angry and unwilling to do anything about it. It was hard to say what that half mad self would have done. Cried? Broken things? Silently left?
But on that day, armed with skills developed during over seventy separate sessions with his mind healers and full of the knowledge he had been given during family councils and his own trials, Sirius took a deep breath and considered. He considered what being a Black had meant, versus what it meant now. He considered how he could best protect his godson— his fragile godson, who had already experienced so much— and what would make the child the happiest. What could possibly even begin to replace everything he had lost.
And finally, he nodded.
Please, Cassiopeia settled back down into her chair and snagged a celebratory biscuit. "Wonderful, it's decided then. Nephew, our next priority is obtaining custody of Dorea's grandson. It's going to be a battle."
"What? Why? I'm legally free now, shouldn't it be—,"
"The Potter will was sealed by Albus Dumbledore in an effort to keep Harry from anyone that he did not approve of after yourself and Alice Longbottom were both declared unfit guardians. We absolutely must have it reopened in order to establish that you are first in line of custody."
"Shouldn't that be a walk in the park for Madam Auntie Arse Kicker?"
"Does Agnes know you call her that? Yes?" The sheer delight on Cassiopeia's face directly contradicted her mildly chiding tone. "You should definitely not do that every single time you see her for the rest of your natural life. I'm certain it would be rude."
"Yes, ma'am," Sirius saluted snappily. "But can she do it?"
"Either her, or one of the others we keep on retainer. However, even if they do, Harry Potter is technically still missing."
"I thought you said he was safe?!"
"Of course he is— Pip even checked in on the child recently. He's just been hidden away by Minerva McGonagall."
"Well it was she and Filius Flitwick who freed him from the Dursleys, hid him away in the countryside, and have been protecting his location from both the public and Albus Dumbledore ever since."
"It's why she's in the hospital while Andromeda tries to help her recover some of the memories Dumbledore altered while trying to find out Harry's location— well, and until she decides how she wants to handle Dumbledore. Fair is fair, after all. Her mind, her vengeance."
Cassiopeia frowned. "You really haven't been paying attention to much other than your own trial, have you?"
Sirius spluttered, finally reaching for his tea cup.
"Alright, a quick summary then," sighing, Cassiopeia flicked her fingers at the caseboard to send it spinning in circles, stopping finally on a pin board with several images across it.
The first was, oddly, of Elvira Zabini. "We find a way to ensure that you seem respectable and capable of raising a child."
The second was of the Potter family. "We need to open the will, and arrange for a custodial hearing."
The third was of Albus Dumbledore. "We use Albus' plan to use you to get to Harry against him to rush through the custody case."
The third was of Minerva McGonagall. "We convince Minerva that Harry is better in your hands, and we set her on Albus as she sees fit."
The fourth was of little Harry, taken at some point over the past few weeks. "And then we bring Dorea's grandson home."
Entranced by the image of the little boy laying across the back of a huge fluffy kneazle, laughing, Sirius grinned widely. "Now that sounds like the kind of plan I was looking for. Let's do this, Aunt Cassie."
February 2, 1982
Hackney Borough, London
Less than fourteen hours after Sirius Black was declared a freeman, Peter Pettigrew had become the most notorious fugitive in the wizarding world.
He had absolutely no idea.
Three months prior, sheer panic had sent him scurrying through the sewers in his animagus form, running as far and fast as possible from the chaos he had caused in the wizarding world. There had been no one left to turn to— absolutely no hope of friendship to be found from either the Order of Phoenix or the Death Eaters— and survival was the only thing he had left to focus on.
Fortunately, survival was something easy for his rat-self to understand.
He had made his way across London, rapidly realizing that the cozy homes and shops he would prefer to restart his life in were almost completely inaccessible— these places did not tolerate rodents, and cats weren't worth the risk. Peter had briefly considered fleeing the country entirely, however, with no money, legal documents, or even general knowledge of the world at large he would have to go as a rat, likely on a ship, and that meant potential death by cats or starvation.
Desperate, Peter had eventually made a home in one of the dozens of burnt, busted, boarded up buildings lining the streets of Broadway Market, equal parts reassured and horrified by the painted words lining one desolate building front: Why pay rent when they don't give a damn about you?*
He'd never been the best at the practical application of charms— he much preferred Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures— but desperation had driven him to nearly master heating charms through the brutally cold and wet winter. Peter used his rat form to steal food, working nearly all day every day to find enough to sustain his human body, slimming down to the point of gauntness over a matter of mere weeks.
Twice he attempted pick pocketing, only to be caught by the muggles he attempted to rob— he escaped each time, but never with their wallets. He gave it up as a bad game and lost cause. Once, he found a wallet, but it had no cash in it and Peter had never learned about credit cards in Muggle Studies (likely for the best, as he would have almost certainly been arrested if he had attempted to use it).
By the time Sirius Black was freed from Azkaban, Peter was hungry, tired, cold, and incredibly angry— after all, he had done nothing wrong! Why should he suffer? It wasn't his fault that the Dark Lord saw his potential. It wasn't his fault that the Dark Lord had wanted to remove James' kid from the planet— it was just a kid, if James and Lily hadn't been so stubborn, they could have still been alive to have a new one! And it wasn't like he had volunteered to be Secret Keeper— he had offered them all plenty of outs, but had they listened? Of course not! He had tried to protect them while still serving his Lord, but they had made it impossible. It was their fault— especially Sirius! Sirius had messed up everything back in six year, and he'd messed everything up after James died, too. Peter could have been a hero– should have been a hero!- but instead he was in hell. Possibly literally.
The more time that passed, the angrier Peter became. The colder, the hungrier, the more unhealthy. Until suddenly, on February 2nd of 1982, Peter Pettigrew had an idea.
A wonderful idea.
A terrible idea.
A horribly perfect idea.
His rat form, honed for survival, was the perfect disguise for the wizarding world. No one knew of it, and plenty of people kept rats as pets— even people conveniently close to the seat of power. If he could just tolerate living as a rat, just for a while….. until he could get money, or information, or…. Anything at all…
Well, it would be better than his current situation if nothing else.
Peter transformed and left muggle London behind him.
A/N #2: * is from a Inside the Inner City by Paul Harrison