(A/N: Honestly, if they were mine, you think I'd be writing fan fiction? I disclaim all characters and ideas created by J.K. Rowling.)
24 December, 1990
Sirius Black sat by the fireplace in the music room of his family's home, the Marauders' Den, a cardboard box filled with file folders beside him. He picked up the first of them, opened it, read a few words from the first page therein, and closed it again with a sigh.
It's over, he told himself. The world knows the truth. It's time to let go.
But he couldn't. Not yet. It seemed as if something was missing...
Aletha Freeman-Black roused from her sleep. Something was missing.
She turned over and realized that it was her husband. The rest of their family, the Pack as they called themselves, was still fast asleep, lying here and there on the mattresses that covered the floor of their "den room", which was currently dominated by a Christmas tree with an incredible number of packages piled under it.
But our best present came today. Finally, after all these years of hiding, the truth is known – and my beloved is free.
And by Sirius' exoneration, the rest of the Pack was freed as well.
She looked fondly at Remus Lupin, who had chosen a life in hiding with his friends over one using his own name but alone. His wife, the usually sweet-natured but occasionally accurately named Danger, slept by his side, their hands entwined. Danger's baby sister Neenie (still twenty years younger than the woman, but not a baby anymore, Aletha had to admit – she was ten now, and would be going to Hogwarts with her brothers in the fall) was curled up near them, with her hand near her mouth – she no longer sucked her thumb, but it seemed to comfort her to have a hand there anyway.
Hermione was the first cub of the Pack. Harry made two, when Remus and Danger stole him from his relatives. Aletha hissed silently at the thought of them. I hope their lives were so ruined by that Curse that they never recover.
Harry Potter slept near his sister, his feet almost but not quite touching hers. Aletha felt privileged that she had been able to watch him grow from the frightened, starving baby he had been when the Dursleys had "cared" for him into this strong, confident boy.
We'll have to watch him, though. He's more like his father than he knows – and James could be awfully arrogant at times...
Then had come her own child, flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood, the ultimate gift of love from wife to husband, from husband to wife. Meghan Lily Black was seven and a half years old, looked delicate, and was anything but. She had inherited her father's charm and (setting aside false modesty) her mother's poise. She was the darling of the Pack, and fiercely competitive, always wanting to keep up with her three older Pack-siblings.
For the Pack had not been complete until the unexpected addition of a fourth cub. He had joined them under rather complicated circumstances...
Suffice it to say, his father is where he belongs – in Azkaban – his mother is dead, poor woman, and the boy is ours, by her wishes, by ours, and by his own.
Draco Black, age almost ten-and-a-half, was curled protectively around Meghan, as if wishing to shield her from harm. The two had been close since the day Draco had come to the Pack, which had happened to be his fourth birthday. Meghan had been just over a year old then, and she had fascinated the silver-blond child, who had obviously never seen a baby before. And when she had smiled at him...
We all played a part in giving Draco a real life to live. He's come an astonishingly long way – now if we can just keep the reporters from making his life and Harry's miserable...
Sirius, she knew, could take care of himself.
But where is he?
She got up, wrapping herself in the cream-colored dressing gown that contrasted so strikingly with her skin.
I smell a fire. He's probably in the music room – he likes to watch the flames and think...
She slipped through the kitchen, bare feet making almost no noise on the hard floor, and stopped where the carpet began again.
All right, now I know where he is, I don't want to bother him, so maybe I can sneak out before he sees me...
Sirius looked up at a small noise and saw his wife of almost nine years, framed in the doorway of the music room, observing him quietly.
"Have I told you lately you're beautiful?" he asked her.
She smiled. "Only twenty-three times today."
Sirius considered, then shook his head. "Not nearly enough. You're beautiful, Letha. You're one of the most gorgeous things I've ever seen."
"There's always Meghan to consider." He beckoned her into the room. "I'm glad Molly and Arthur were willing to take the cubs this afternoon. I've never had an experience like that in my life."
"The only other time I can think of with this much emotion involved was the night you came home, and you were in no shape for that then."
"True enough." Sirius noticed Aletha looking at the box curiously as she sat down. "I was waiting for something," he said. "I guess you're it."
"May I ask?"
"What I'm doing?"
Aletha nodded gravely.
Sirius sighed deeply. "It goes a long way back," he said, pushing the box out of the way so that he could sit beside her. "All the way back to when Remus pulled me out of Azkaban." Even after all this time, it still took all the courage he could muster to think and talk about the place.
Her head rested on his shoulder, offering him comfort, which he took gladly. His hand sought hers and found it halfway to his own already. Their fingers entwined as they had on that April night in 1982, when he had walked through an archway and found her sitting at her piano, singing "As Time Goes By", their song, from the first movie they had ever watched together, the first movie Sirius had ever watched at all.
That day was like going straight from hell to heaven – first I got Remus back, then he gave me Harry, and finally we went home, and Letha was waiting for me there...
"I'm sure you remember I was a bit of a mess those first few weeks – months," he corrected himself.
"Anyone who had lost his best friends to the betrayal of another supposed friend, then been wrongfully imprisoned – in Azkaban, no less – would be," Aletha said, gently but with a hint of a snap in her voice.
"And you remember how Danger taught me to type."
"I remember you making sure Reparo worked on typewriters." She smiled reminiscently. "Then you didn't have to worry about breaking the thing."
"And how I'd spend hours up there, typing something or other, but I would never show you what or tell you anything about it, and you were all always too polite to ask."
"Didn't stop us from being curious," Aletha said lightly.
Sirius took a deep breath. "I think now I'm ready to show you."
He reached behind him and picked up one of the folders. "It's not pretty," he warned her, handing it over. "Not nice at all."
Aletha flipped the folder open and began to read. Sirius watched her skim down the first page, turn to the second, then riffle through the pages in the folder quickly, stopping every now and again to peruse a short section.
"You never told us." Her voice was very carefully neutral, not accusing, just stating a fact.
"You'd already done so much for me. I didn't want to dump all this on you too." Sirius lifted another folder out and opened it, already knowing what he'd see – they were all pretty much the same. "And the writing helped. It helped me to see it all set out in black and white. Then it wasn't just something in my head, something that didn't exist anywhere else. It had a physical existence, and I could separate it from myself and put it away."
"Is all of this – "
"Rants and graphic descriptions of what I wanted to do to Wormtail, self-pitying moanings, 'I-should-have-known' type deals, yeah, that's pretty much it." Sirius stopped, realizing it wasn't quite true. "Except these." He picked up a rather thinner folder from beside him. "These, I think you might like."
Aletha accepted the folder from him and opened it to the first page. These papers, instead of being typed like the others, were handwritten.
31 July, 1982
Dear James and Lily,
Wherever you are, I hope you can see us, because if you can't, you missed a hell of a birthday bash today. Harry's two, and he celebrated it about the same way he celebrated being one – by yelling and throwing cake everywhere. We had a good time, but I couldn't help thinking, and I know Remus and Letha were too, that it wasn't right, that something was missing.
That something, of course, was you. He's your son. You should have been there with us. None of this should ever have happened.
But it did. And it's Wormtail's fault – but you know that. And it's not fair – but you know that too. And if anything I could do could bring you back, I'd do it in an instant – but it's not going to happen. As much as I don't even want to write it, you're gone for good.
At least it's not as bad as it could have been. We're together now. Harry's not with your sister anymore, Lily – did you see what Remus pulled off on that woman? Him and his wife, and yes, Prongs, I know, Moony with a wife, kind of weird – Mr. "Who, me, date?" got married? Yes, he did, and they're almost sickening together, or they would be if it weren't so nice to see Remus happy for a change.
And now for something completely different – well, no, actually, it's almost exactly the same. I got married too. Yes, I finally asked Letha to marry me – at her instigation, I might add – and of course she said yes. It had to be a Muggle ceremony, since I'm still a wanted man in the magical world, but it's legal...
The letter went on for another page or so, detailing the happenings of the previous months, and closed with:
I think I'll probably write again on Halloween. It seems fitting, somehow. I miss you every day and every time I look at Harry. Damn Wormtail anyway.
Aletha closed the folder quickly and turned away so as not to get the letters wet.
"It's beautiful," she said in a voice that trembled and didn't sound like hers at all. "Have you been writing to them all this time?"
"Harry's birthday, mine, and Halloween – three times a year. I don't think I've missed yet."
"What are you going to do with them?" Aletha asked, getting herself under better control.
"I thought... maybe, when Harry's older, I'd give them to him. Let him see himself growing up through my eyes. The other cubs, too. Meghan especially – the three letters right after she's born are almost nothing but her..."
"I'm not surprised," his wife said, wiping her eyes and smiling at him. "You were so utterly besotted, Sirius. I suppose all new fathers are that way, but you were just so completely entranced by her."
"She was my baby. Our baby. It was almost as if I'd never seen one before."
"You know who you sound like."
"James." Aletha's arms rose into a cradling position, almost, it seemed, without her awareness. "When I got back and saw Harry for the first time, James told me about the day Harry was born, and how he felt as if Harry and Lily were the only things in the world, and he would have been glad to die to keep them safe..."
"And he did." Sirius stared at the fire he'd lit in the grate. "They both did."
"And we made sure their sacrifice was not for nothing," Aletha said in a quiet voice that nonetheless sounded like a trumpet call.
How does she do that?
"Speaking of sacrifice." Sirius picked up one of the hefty folders from the box. The weight of anger and bitterness in the paper almost seemed to make it heavier than it should have been. He looked at it for a moment –
Then hurled it into the fireplace.
"What are you doing?" Aletha said in surprise.
"Lightening my load."
Sirius sighed. I know why I'm doing it, but I can't put it into words...
On second thought, if I can't put it into words, maybe I don't know why.
"This may take a minute. Bear with me?"
"I told Moody today that Wormtail doesn't matter to me anymore," Sirius began, his hands sketching circles in the air as he tried to define his thoughts. "But as long as I have these, that isn't true. If I hold onto them, I'm letting him define me. I'm letting him tell me what to feel. I'm letting him have power over me. And I don't want that. He had power over me – over all of us – for too damn long."
"How will destroying all of this help you?"
"It's like saying – look, I don't have to care any more. It's over. I got what I deserved, you got what you deserved, end of story. But – it also has to do with time."
"We each have a certain amount of time on earth. It's limited. It runs out. James and Lily's ran out much, much too soon. And that's Wormtail's fault. But I'm not doing them, or me, any favors by spending my precious time hating him." Sirius reached over and caressed Aletha's hair in its tight braids. "After all, why should I waste time hating him that I could be putting to so much better use loving you?"
My God. I don't believe it.
"Sirius," Aletha said softly, enjoying his slightly lopsided smile and the love that filled his grey eyes. "Do you know what you're doing?"
"I just told you – "
"No, I mean in a bigger sense."
Sirius looked thoughtful for a moment. "No."
"You're growing up, my love," she told him, smiling to see the look of surprise on his face. "You're becoming... mature."
"Oh, no. No, please, anything but that," Sirius mock-begged. "Ugh. A death worse than fate. Please, say it isn't so."
Aletha shook her head, laughing quietly at his antics. "I'm afraid it is."
"Well, I suppose I couldn't be a husband and a father for all this time and not grow up a little," Sirius said in the tone of a man accepting his fate. "Do me one favor, though?"
"Don't tell Remus. He'd never let me live it down."
"Of course not. This is our secret." Aletha picked up one of the folders from the box herself. "Now let's get rid of these and get Wormtail out of our lives for good."
"Sounds like a plan."
They began to toss the folders into the fireplace, two at a time, waiting until the previous ones were burning before adding more.
Aletha sang softly as they worked, a Christmas carol, a song of hope and joy, and Sirius joined her on the chorus, adding harmony as they destroyed the anger of the past.
When all the hatred was ashes, they sat together for a long time, watching the fire burn down.
"Happy Christmas," Aletha said finally.
"The happiest," Sirius answered.
They kissed, then returned to the den room and were asleep within a few minutes.
Life was very good.
(A/N: You know, maybe I should just have extended "Living with Danger" and made these chapters... but nah, they work well as one-shots, I think... input? Please remember to review!)