Author:  The Wanlorn

Title: Apocalypse Return 6/6

Summary: It's all over.  But there's a surprise in it for Harry.

Rating: PG13

Spoilers: Definitely The Death.  I mean, that's what spurred the whole thing. 

Pairing: Ron/Hermione, Harry/Ginny

Distribution: Anywhere, just ask first, okay?

Disclaimer: Everyone and all the places belong to JK Rowling.  Except for Lexi.  That character's mine.  The plot belongs to me.  No money is being made off of this.  It's purely because I enjoy doing useless things that will never get me any cash.

Thank Yous: Thank you Lexi for beta'ing.  I heart the way you edit my stuff!!!  :-P  Thanks to April for giving it a second once-over.  :-D  I heart you both!!!  Many thanks!

Author's Note: Well, then, this is the end.  All finished.  And contrary to what Lexi says, it's a FINE ending.

Chapter Six

            Harry always thought that leaving a hospital, being 'better', was a happy thing.  Everyone he knew always complained about being in a hospital and spouted afterwards about how good it was to be home.

            Of course, they all had a home to go to.

            He couldn't go back to the Dursleys', not after being thrown almost bodily onto the train with all of his meager belongings and told not to come back.  Ever.  Not that he was complaining – he was as glad that it was his final year as they were.  Had none of this happened, he wouldn't care that they had thrown him out.

            He couldn't impose on the Weasleys for much longer.  Off and on for the past years, he stayed with them for a while.  But even with most of the kids gone, there still wasn't much room in the house.  Besides, money was still tight for them, always tight, and they wouldn't let him pay any sort of rent when he stayed.  He couldn't do that to them any longer.

            But where else could he go, now that he was standing at the front desk as the witch there checked over his release forms, Ginny at his side.

            "Harry, honey, come on."  Ginny could see he was distracted and thinking hard, so she took the papers the witch was holding out and herded Harry towards the door, respecting his need to figure out whatever he was thinking about.

            For now, he would go with Ginny, go back to the Burrow.  Then from there, he could search for an apartment somewhere, in the wizarding world or not. But he didn't want to do that, didn't want to come home to an empty space for a year.  Ginny would move in with him once she finished at Hogwarts, as she always told him, that was a given.

            After the summer, he would be training to be an Auror.  Call him pathetic, lazy, or just plain lonely, he didn't want to return to his house every night (or weekend or holiday) and have to think about how the front door needs to be fixed, the dishes done, bills paid, or whatever.  Next year, he could talk to Mr. Weasley, then ask Ginny to marry him, and pray she'd say yes.

            But for now, he wanted to know what it was like to have a family.  Not the Weasleys, where he was just sleeping over his best friend's house for an extended period of time but a place where he was the actual son.

            In other words, he wanted to stay with Sirius.

            Just for a year, just until Ginny finished Hogwarts and he had fallen into the routine of Auror training.  That was all he was asking for.  Or, was trying to ask for.

            The problem was, he didn't know how to ask.  Why would a grown man want an eighteen-year-old staying with him?  As soon as Sirius was released, Harry was pretty sure that this would be the first time since before Azkaban that Sirius would have a place all to his own, not be on the lam in any way, not have a horde of people underfoot, just be able to sit back and relax.  So why would he want a kid who was certainly old enough to be living on his own, living with him?  It wouldn't hurt to ask, he supposed.

            Truth be told, there was another reason.  He wanted to keep his eye on Sirius until the paranoia faded.  For the first couple days after the shock wore off, he sat talking to Sirius for hours at a time, not wanting to let him out of his sight for fear of it all turning out to be a dream.  Luckily, by the time Dumbledore realized that Ginny was sneaking Harry out, the headmaster realized that he had been wrong.  Or just didn't care anymore.

            It was a hard choice between which Harry was more fearful of - Sirius disappearing, or the rest of the people disappearing.  In the end, his guilt over being the more direct cause of Sirius' death as opposed to the rest of them won out.

            Sometimes, he could see the same fear in the older man's eyes, quickly hidden behind a laugh or a joke.  Sirius was just as afraid that this would all turn out to be a pleasant dream and he would find himself in the land of darkness again.

            Harry was distracted from his musings by the feeling of Ginny's arm slipping around his waist.  Later, he could think about all of this again, figure things out.  He would be back here soon, anyway, coming to visit Sirius until his godfather could go home, to wherever home was for him.  Now he could concentrate on Ginny and his freedom from everything.

----

            Sirius picked up the 'Daily Prophet' yet again to flip through it.  He had already read the articles a couple times - it sounded like Dumbledore had his work cut out for him - but there was nothing else to do.  Lupin just left.  None of the nurses were around to flirt with.  He had no clue when Harry was coming, if he was at all.

            This hospital was driving him insane.  He was well enough to leave, well enough to go to his house.  The place survived the war, unfortunately.  If he couldn't come up with a way to remove the paintings, especially the one of his mother, then the place would be sold.  Even if he could… That building made him miserable.  No sense staying somewhere that left a perpetual knot tightening in his stomach.

            Too much time to think.  He needed people to be around to keep his mind busy and off of his thoughts.  His mind kept going back to the night, so soon after he escaped from Azkaban, when he asked Harry if he would like to come and live with him.  How nervous he had been, expecting Harry to say no but hoping that he wouldn't.  The boy was James' son, and Sirius promised he would take care of him in the event of his best friend's untimely death.

            It was important to him to uphold that promise and honor his friend's memory.  But even more important was, whether he made that promise or not, he wanted Harry to stay with him.  After knowing him for only a few days, Sirius could see that Harry was miserable living with his aunt and uncle.  Knowing him longer, Sirius realized that he would be proud to have Harry as a 'son' and a friend.

            Now, he was a lonely old man and he made no bones about it.  Anywhere he lived now would seem too big, even after he found Buckbeak again.  The hippogriff had certainly become his best friend in his years of exile.  Dumbledore claimed that Buckbeak was informed that Sirius was alive, but Sirius wasn't sure if he was telling the truth.

            He was dancing around the main desire that his heart was trying to thrust forth.  He wanted to regain the lost years of his life.  That was impossible, but what he did want that had a slight possibility of being attainable, was he wanted another body in the house until he sold it, another human.

            He wanted to ask Harry because his godson was probably the only one who would truly understand the why and not ask questions, not find it strange.  Harry wouldn't mind when Sirius woke up screaming in the middle of the night, because odds were, Harry would be up, too.

            But the boy wasn't a boy anymore.  He was eighteen, toeing the threshold between being a child and a man.  This was the time when Harry would want to be out on his own, rejoicing in his newfound freedom.  He would never want to live with a pathetic man, once convicted (even if wrongly) of an unforgivable crime.  If anything, Harry would want to stay with the Weasleys from the way he talked.  Sirius and Mrs. Weasley had never gotten along, never agreed, and he feared that had rubbed off on Harry.  Admittedly, he hadn't shown any signs of it… yet.

            But he had nothing left to lose, so he might as well ask.

----

            "Remember when-"

            "Can I ask y-"

            "You go first," Sirius said as though he were doing Harry a favor.  But he was just glad that he would have even more to gather his thoughts.

            "Can I ask you something?" Harry tumbled right in, trying to get this over with so his stomach would return to normal.

            "Of course."

            Now, Harry fumbled for words.  "Well, uh… Remember how… When I as a Third Year… You said… Well, asked… if I ever wanted to leave the Durselys' I could come live with you?" he finished in a rush, staring at his feet.  He felt like a five-year-old again, asking for something and knowing that the answer was going to be a scathing no.  Except this time, it would be phrased more gently.

            Sirius' throat closed up, tears springing into his eyes.  "The offer's still open," he finally forced out.

            Slowly, Harry raised his head and met Sirius' eyes.  "Really?  It'd only be for a couple weeks, once you get out of here.  I just don't want to impose on the Weasleys any longer." He was babbling, he knew, and forced himself to stop.

            "Really," Sirius reassured him, beginning to smile a little.  "You can stay for as long as you want."

            A grin spread across Harry's face.  Things were looking up.

*Fin*

~~September 28, 2003~~