Disclaimer: MWPP belong to J.K. Rowling.

Author's Note: The concept of the veil as a doorway to AU's comes from the Veil of Possibilities Challenge. This one wasn't one of my challenges, but it caught my imagination—and while I was waiting for the official submission for this challenge, I I decided to write my own version.

Fifteen

Sirius stepped through the veil and directly into the path of an elderly witch whose arms were laden with parcels. She checked her stride just in time to avoid a collision, but the uppermost parcel tumbled from the stack into his hands,

"Watch where you apparate, young man," she said sharply.

"My apologies," he replied as he replaced the paper-wrapped bundle atop its perilous perch. He looked around as she walked away. He was in Diagon Alley, and thus in danger of being recognized at any moment. He needed a discrete place to transform, so he started toward the shadowed alley between two shops.

"Padfoot, wait for me!" a voice called from behind him.

Sirius froze. The familiar voice was even more shocking than the use of his nickname. A dark-haired boy in front of him immediately turned and looked back at him, and then beyond him to the one who had spoken. Sirius turned his head just as another dark-haired boy brushed past him in his hurry to catch his friend.

"I told you three times that it was time to go meet Remus and Peter," the young Sirius said with a smile. "You were too busy drooling over the broomstick of your dreams to hear me."

"Beautiful, isn't she? She looks fast even while standing still," James said as he fell into step with his friend and they wove their way through the crowd of shoppers.

Sirius found it the most natural thing in the world to follow the teenagers. He felt as if he was in pensieve watching a memory of himself, and only the occasional brush of another shopper's arm as he passed by reminded him that he was a physical presence in this world. He didn't need to worry about being recognized. Sirius Black had not yet become a fugitive on this world, nor he had grown old enough that anyone would suspect that they were the same person.

"We were so young," he thought as he watched the two teenagers laugh at some private joke that passed between them. "How old are they? Fifteen? Sixteen?" James had said, "Padfoot," so they had passed the milestone of becoming animagi. They went into the Elf Café and sat at a table where Remus and Peter were waiting. Sirius took a seat far enough away that he wouldn't be noticed, but with an easy line of sight to continue observing them.

Remus and Peter seemed even younger. Little Peter was still awaiting a final growth spurt that would never happen. Remus too had not yet hit the final growth spurt that would ultimately make him the same height as James, but large hands and feet hinted that it would happen soon. "He has to grow into his paws," Sirius thought with a smile, "so I haven't fallen in love with him yet." Those confusing feelings of attraction to other males would only focus on Remus after he stopped looking like a little boy.

He watched his younger self put on James's glasses and imitate James's voice to proclaim his love for the broomstick they had seen in Quality Quiddtich Supplies that morning. Remus and Peter were both laughing as they watched Sirius's performance and James's ineffectual attempts to reclaim his glasses. When James reclaimed both his glasses and centre stage, Peter and the young Sirius gave him their full attention, but Sirius noticed that Remus did not. He was listening to James's story, but every time Sirius moved, to run his fingers through his hair, to open the menu, to take a sip of water, Remus watched him. Seeing how aware Remus was of his younger self's every twitch, Sirius had to smile.

Sirius ordered a lunch he could afford and ate quickly. If he lingered over his meal, he wouldn't be ready to leave when the teenagers left. He well remembered the restless energy that had driven the teenaged versions of himself and his friends to eat every meal quickly so they could get on with something else. He couldn't remember this particular day in Diagon Alley, so he did not know where they would go next. He decided to enjoy himself by following them for a little while longer, and whenever they left Diagon Alley, he would make his way to the Ministry of Magic and try to get to the veil.

Sirius had already paid his bill and was merely lingering over his pumpkin juice when the four boys stood to leave. He waited until they were going out the door before he stood to follow. Remus and Sirius had gone to the left; James and Peter had gone to the right. Sirius hesitated for only a fraction of second before he went left as well. The teenagers didn't seem in any particular hurry to go somewhere. They lingered in front of various shop windows. They ducked into Scrivenshaft's Quills and Parchment at one point, but it was a small shop, so Sirius lingered outside and awaited their reappearance.

He had just resumed tailing his quarry when he passed the same small alleyway he had considered transfiguring in earlier. He was suddenly pushed from behind into the alley. He reached for his wand even as he stumbled forward and tried to keep to his feet.

"EXPELLIARMUS!" a voice shouted just as Sirius got his wand clear of his pocket. Sirius whirled around in time to see James deftly catch the wand in his free hand. Peter stood beside and just slightly behind James, and both boys had their wands pointed at him. Sirius and Remus joined them in the alley a moment later. Young Sirius drew his own wand and gestured for the older man to step back deeper into the alley. Remus had drawn his wand but was focused upon casting a charm on the mouth of the alley. Sirius recognized it as one that would make the alley less conspicuous to passers-by and discourage them from looking in. They had used it many times to avoid detection in various rooms and corridors of Hogwarts.

"I told you he was following you," James said without taking his eyes off his prisoner. "He even waited while you were in the stationer's."

"Yeah, we saw," the young Sirius replied. They were both watching him grimly. Sirius glanced at the other two. Peter still had his wand pointed vaguely in his direction, but he was watching the dark-haired boys for direction. Remus was leaning against the wall, apparently at ease, but his wand was in hand ready to use.

"Do you recognize him?" James asked.

Young Sirius shook his head. "No, but you're right; he's probably a relative. He does look a bit like my father."

"Bite your tongue," Sirius said.

"Do you know my father?"

"I wish I didn't."

"Who are you?"

"And why were you following Sirius?" James added.

There was no point in denying that he had done so. They had undoubtedly noticed that he had followed them into the Elf Café and then had separated to see which of them, Sirius or James, he would follow. Sirius spread his hands wide in a gesture of surrender. "My apologies. I just followed you on a whim. I didn't mean any harm."

"Are you one of his relatives?" James persisted.

"You could say that."

"Who are you?" Young Sirius asked again.

Sirius quickly decided between telling them that it wasn't their business and telling them a lie. "The name's Padraic. You can call me Paddy." Sirius knew from experience that when using an assumed name, it was always better to choose one he'd actually remember to answer to, and he'd definitely answer to Paddy.

"Hell of a thick Irish accent you've got there, Paddy," Remus said sarcastically.

"London born and bred."

"No kidding," young Sirius replied dryly.

"Look," Sirius allowed an angry edge into his voice, "I followed you; I apologized. I haven't done anything else, certainly nothing that justifies the four of you holding me here at wandpoint. So, if you'll give me back my wand, I'll be on my way." There were a few moments of tense silence. Sirius focused only on the two black-haired boys. They would be the ones who decided. James finally glanced away from "Paddy" toward Sirius. Sirius was the one who had been followed; it was his decision.

"We should at least tell the MLE that he was following you," Peter suggested. "You know, just in case anything—so they'll know about him."

"In case I turn up dead one day," young Sirius said.

"If he ever does turn up dead, tell them to start the investigation with his mother," Sirius said. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Remus straighten and become tense.

Sirius's younger counterpart narrowed his eyes at the defamation of his mother. Family secrets were family secrets. "Who the hell are you?" he asked.

"Just a traveller passing through. Now, if I could have my wand back, I promise you'll never see me again."

"Fine," young Sirius said. "STUPEFY!"

Sirius awoke to a slight headache and the feel of hard cobblestones against his cheek. He saw immediately that he was still in the same small alley, and judging by the long shadows, several hours had passed since he had been stunned. His wand lay on the ground near his hand. He grasped it and sat up, trying to shake the cobwebs out of his mind. He didn't know whether to be embarrassed that he'd been made a fool of by teenagers, or proud that even as a teenager he'd been able to cast such a powerful Stunning Spell.

At the mouth of alley, he sensed that Remus had left his concealment charm in place. It explained why no one had found him or disturbed him during his unscheduled mid-afternoon nap. Sirius quickly took it down. It would fade within a few more hours anyway, but it would be safer for Remus if he removed it completely. Thy teenagers had got away with using magic here because their spells had been masked by the vast amount of magic constantly in use in Diagon Alley, but if anyone came across this charm before it faded, the Ministry might be able to trace it back to Remus.

Entering the Ministry of Magic proved to be quite easy, despite the heightened security of the war years. Sirius was able to use his own name without even raising an eyebrow. He was on the lift leading the Department of Mysteries when he first had doubts about leaving so soon.

Sirius had learned the rules and laws governing time travel in both Charms class and in History of Magic. And in Advanced Arithmancy, they had studied the implications of temporal paradoxes and their potential for catastrophic harm. All of this had given Sirius a healthy respect for holding time lines to be sacred and inviolable. Without consciously considering it, Sirius had been upholding those ideals while in this world. This was the past and one should avoid changing the past. Thus, he had tried to be merely an observer and had hoped not to interact with his teenage self and his friends.

Yet, the truth was, this wasn't the past. It seemed to be identical or nearly identical to the past on his own world, but it wasn't his own world. All of the mistakes that Sirius had made in his past were still in the future here. The Sirius of this world might make all the same mistakes, but he might not. Sirius thought of all the ways his friends had suffered for those mistakes, both on this world and on others he had recently visited. Here, there was still time to prevent that suffering. If he could get his younger counterpart to listen to him, so much pain could be avoided. This was his chance to put right all that he had once put wrong.

The doors of the lift opened to reveal a circular room with many doors. "Atrium," he said, and the doors of the lift closed again.

Sirius had considered and rejected the idea of going directly to Twelve Grimmauld Place. Even if he had been permitted to speak with Sirius there, and that was by no means certain, it was a virtual certainty that his mother would either eavesdrop or order Kreacher to do so, and this conversation required privacy. Besides, Sirius would be tense in that setting and less likely to trust the mysterious "Paddy."

Sirius went instead to James's home and knocked—not on the back door as was his habit in the past—but on the front door as befitted a stranger. When James's mother opened the door, she looked just as Sirius remembered her. Perhaps not surprising. In Sirius's mind, she would always look the age she was during the year and a half he had lived with the Potters, and that time period was quickly approaching here.

"May I help you?" she asked. She held one hand just behind the fold of her robe, and Sirius was certain that she was holding her wand. These perilous times called for caution.

Sirius smiled his most disarming smile. "I'd like to speak with your son. I met him by chance in Diagon Alley today, and I need to speak with him about an important matter."

"And you are?"

"Paddy."

Mary didn't react to the name, so Sirius knew that James hadn't told his parents about the encounter—yet. She seemed to wait a moment for a last name, but none was forthcoming. She nodded and said, "Would you mind waiting here?" She closed the door again and left Sirius on the front step. Sirius already knew that the house, like most wizard houses in those days, was warded against intruders. Some of those wards would permit someone through only if they were invited in. Thus, people were very reluctant to invite strangers in, and the Potters were no different.

The wait lasted several minutes, long enough for James to give his parents an abbreviated version of their encounter in Diagon Alley. When the door opened again, it was James's father instead. James stood just behind him and said, "That's him." Mary Potter was farther back, just barely within Sirius's line of sight. All three had their wands in hand and seemed tense.

Sirius had expected to be unwelcome. He held his wand backward and held it out for Henry Potter to take from him. To James he said, "I'm ready to tell you who I am and why I followed Sirius." Then he looked back at Henry to ask, "May I come in? It's a long story."

"Well, since I have your wand, all right. Come in."

Henry and James stepped back to allow Sirius past them and into the house. Mary gestured for Sirius to enter the living room. Sirius sat in a wingchair by the window and noted with approval that the three Potters each chose a seat in a different part of the room. If he had been dangerous, he couldn't cast a spell on all three at once. It was a sad mark of the times that such defensive behaviour was almost instinctive.

"Just a quick piece of advice," Sirius said to Henry with a smile. "The next time someone offers you his wand to put you at ease, suspect that he has a second wand hidden on him somewhere."

Henry raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Do you?"

"No, not today. But when I was an auror, I always carried a second one in my boot. It saved my life once." Sirius did have his knife in his boot, but he decided not to mention it unless the Potters wanted to search him.

"You were an auror?" James asked with amusement in his voice. Either he didn't believe him, or he was pleased that he'd managed to disarm and capture an auror.

"Yeah, but don't get too cocky. What happened today just proved that I was incredibly careless, not that you were incredibly clever."

"What did happen today?" Mary asked sharply. "I, for one, would like to know why you were following my son and his friends."

Sirius leaned forward with his hands clasped between his knees. "In the Department of Mysteries, there is a powerful artefact, a stone archway with a black veil. Are any of you familiar with it?"

"I've read about it," Mary answered. "It's believed to be a portal of some sort. People have gone through and disappeared, but no one has ever come back. Some people call it the Veil Between Life and Death. At one time, it was used for executions."

"Fortunately for me, it doesn't lead into death, but it is a portal. It connects different worlds, different realities. Places like this world except that people have made different choices."

"Fortunately for you?" Henry asked. "You've been through it?"

"Several times. The first time was sort of an accident. Now I'm trying to get home, so I keep going through the veil. One day I'll find my world again."

"Fascinating story, but it doesn't explain why you were following my son," Mary pointed out. Sirius had to smile for it reminded him of the way Mrs. Potter had pointed out the holes and inconsistencies in the alibis and excuses he and James had used in attempts to get out of trouble.

"I'm getting there," he promised her. "You see, time isn't always consistent from one world to the next. When I left my world, it was the year 1996, so I'm a couple of decades older than my counterpart on your world. And when I ran into my counterpart here, quite by accident, I couldn't resist following him for a little while."

"You expect me to believe that you're Sirius," James said in disbelief. "He's lying. He made that up because I said that he looks a bit like Sirius's father."

"I can prove it. Why do you think I told you to call me Paddy? I knew I'd remember to answer to it—Prongs." He focused solely on James now. Whether or not James believed him would determine whether or not James's parents believed him.

James sat up a little straighter, considering. "Many people have heard us use those nicknames," he said slowly.

"But very few know why you have them."

"Why?" Henry asked, and James glanced at his father nervously. Sirius just kept watching James.

"I said that I could prove it," Sirius said again. Once James saw him transform into Padfoot, all doubts would be gone, but he couldn't transform in front of James's parents. "The library?"

James glanced at his parents and then nodded. As James and Sirius stood to leave the room, Henry stood as well and grabbed James by the arm.

"No. He does look like an older version of Sirius, but I don't want you alone with him until we're sure. Whatever he's going to say to you, he can say here."

Sirius raked his hair in frustration. He was glad that the Potters were being cautious, but annoyed by the interference just the same. He began to recite a litany of things that the real Sirius would know. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good. James has an invisibility cloak. We used to be able to squeeze all four of us under it, but even two is tough now. It'll only fit one person by seventh year. Peter snores," James grinned, and Sirius rolled his eyes as he added grudgingly, "and apparently, so do I, but Remus taught us how to put silencing charms on the bed curtains so you won't have to hear us. I know why we call Remus 'Moony,' but I can't say in front of your parents. We started calling Snape 'Snivellus' when we found him alone in a classroom and crying first year. In our dormitory, anything we keep in our bedside tables is fair game for the others to borrow. Anything in our trunks, the others have to ask first. You and I make sure that Remus never runs out of chocolate in his bedside table because the boy has a bigger sweet tooth than he can afford. All four of us know how to get in the Shrieking Shack, but Peter's the best at it." Sirius took a breath as he tried to think of more to say.

"He's Sirius," James said quietly.

"Are you certain?" his father asked.

James nodded even as he said, "About ninety percent certain. If you let me go in the library with him for minute, it'll be one hundred percent."

Henry nodded to his son and allowed him to go by. Sirius smiled as he went by the man who'd once been like a father to him. He hoped it came off as a friendly and reassuring smile and not like the smile of a mad mass-murderer. James was leaning back against his father's desk in the library when Sirius followed him in and shut the door.

"Padfoot," Sirius said, and a moment later he was looking up at his friend through dog's eyes. James smiled. Sirius wagged his tail and trotted forward to lick James's hand happily.

"Eww," James said as he dried his hand in Padfoot's fur. "Change back. I don't want my parents to get impatient and come in to see what you're doing."

Sirius changed back, still smiling broadly—the human equivalent of the tail wagging he'd been doing a moment before. "Hi, Prongs. It's good to see you again."

James grinned back. "God, you got old."

"You should see Moony on my world. Grey hair. I tell him it reminds me of his fur." He also liked to tell Moony that it was sexy, but he wasn't about to share that with this version of James.

"How old do I look? Or do I not want to know?" Sirius's smile faltered, and James noticed, for his did as well. "Am I dead on your world?"

Sirius nodded.

James took a deep breath and exhaled sharply. "O.K. Not that big a surprise, I guess. I do want to become an Auror. At least tell me that I died saving someone."

"He did," Sirius replied with a very deliberate pronoun correction. "Someone he loved very much."

"James?" his father called worriedly from just outside the door.

"Coming. Everything's fine," he called back as he returned to the door and opened it. "He's really Sirius," he said to his waiting parents.

Henry and Mary stared at Sirius, looking for the handsome boy they knew in the haggard face of the stranger. Henry thought to extend a hand to him and offer him the welcoming handshake he hadn't offered when he thought the man might be a danger to his son.

"Sorry for—uh—"

"Don't apologize," Sirius said quickly to Henry. "I'm glad you were cautious. If your world is half as dangerous as mine was during this time period, you did everything right—except check to see if I had another wand. Speaking of which, may I have mine back?"

Henry hesitated, deciding what to say.

"It's all right," Sirius said hastily. "You can keep it for now. Just keep it safe for me."

"We were just about to have dinner," Mary said. "Would you care to join us?"

"I'd love to," Sirius said happily. "I've always loved your cooking." He almost said how much he missed it, but unless they asked, he didn't want to tell them that their counterparts had died on his world. It was bad enough that James knew his counterpart's fate. Sirius noticed that James seemed unusually quiet and subdued as he set an extra place at the table.

"So, how can we help you?" Henry asked as he passed a bowl of glazed carrots to Sirius. "Do you need us to make arrangements for you to go back into the Department of Mysteries?"

"No, thank you. If you tell anyone at the Ministry about my presence here, I'll probably have to jump through innumerable bureaucratic hoops before they'll let me go. I prefer to just sneak in if I can. I almost made it there today before I changed my mind and came here."

"You said that you had something important you wanted to discuss with James," Mary recalled.

James looked up sharply into Sirius's eyes. He squared his shoulders as he said, "If it's about what you said in the library, it can wait until we're alone." James obviously didn't want to worry his parents with a story of his possible premature death.

Sirius nodded to show that he understood. He said to Mary, "Actually, I want to talk to Sirius, but there was no way in hell—excuse me—I was going to go to Grimmauld Place. I thought that if I came here, James could ask Sirius to come over."

"Are you certain that it's a good idea for you to talk to Sirius?" she asked. "You might be tempted to tell him too much about his future."

"That's exactly what I plan to do."

"I know it's tempting, but the effect on the timelines—"

"I've already thought about it," he interrupted her, "but I'm not actually a time traveler. This isn't my past, so I can't create a temporal paradox. I've made three devastating mistakes in my life, mistakes that had disastrous consequences for the people around me. I'd give anything if I could change the past on my own world, but I also know that even if I had the opportunity to go into my own past, I couldn't change what has to be. I've studied temporal paradoxes too," he reassured her with a smile. "But I've been to other worlds. On some of them, I made the same mistakes; on some I didn't. I don't want your Sirius to make the mistakes I made. I want to warn him."

"But still," she persisted, "perhaps you should let Sirius make his own choices."

"I'm trying to save your son's life," Sirius said sharply. She immediately turned her head to look at James. Sirius did as well. James was using his fork to draw patterns in his mashed potatoes and quite deliberately not meeting anyone's gaze.

"James, do you and Sirius have mirrors you can communicate with?" Sirius asked.

James looked up and nodded. His eyes were fixed on Sirius as if he didn't want to see the worry on his parents' faces. "But I don't dare try to talk to him during dinner."

"Of course not. Later, whatever time you've agreed is safe, call him and ask if he can sneak out after his parents go to bed. If he can floo over here, I'll talk to him here. If his parents have blocked the fireplaces to try to keep him in, tell him I'll meet him at the corner of Grimmauld Place and Aguisel Street."

James had tried to contact Sirius repeatedly throughout the evening. Now, a few minutes past midnight, James put down the mirror after another attempt to contact his friend failed.

"Something's wrong," James said quietly.

"Perhaps his parents stayed up late," Mary Potter suggested. She refilled Sirius's and her husband's cups of tea.

James shook his head with a worried frown. Sirius was just as worried for his counterpart, for he knew the Black family all too well.

"James, did Sirius have permission to be in Diagon Alley today?"

"Not exactly," James admitted. "His parents were away for the day, so he couldn't ask them, but they hadn't said he had to stay in the house either."

"He waited for his parents to go out for the day, snuck out of the house to spend the day out without permission and in the company of friends that his parents disapproved of," Sirius summarized. "His parents are furious, and he's paying for it right now."

"Oh god," James seemed to become a bit paler in the dim lamplight.

"They wouldn't –harm him—would they?" Mary asked.

"Let's put it this way," Sirius said grimly, "when I began Auror training, the instructor asked if any of us had ever experienced the Cruciatus Curse. I was the only one in the class who raised my hand."

"The Cruciatus? On their own child?" Mary was aghast. "We have to do something."

"Right. We have to get him out of there," Henry agreed. "We could involve the Ministry, but without proof, it'll be far too slow."

"We will go get him—now," James said, already on his feet and heading for the door.

"I doubt you can get past the household wards," Sirius said as he rose as well. "Fortunately, they're keyed to members of the family, so I can."

"And once you're in, you can let me in," James said, grabbing his dark grey cloak from a peg by the back door.

"No, he'll let me in," Henry corrected his son. "You're staying here. Go get the invisibility cloak for us."

James frowned but did not argue with his father. He dropped his grey cloak on a chair and ran up the stairs to fetch the invisibility cloak instead. Sirius briefly considered arguing that James should be allowed to go. He and James had extensive experience with sneaking in dark corridors and with silent teamwork. Granted, this wasn't his James, but he was so similar that Sirius was certain they could work together just as smoothly. However, he knew he'd never convince Henry and Mary Potter to send their son into a dangerous situation. There was also the issue of speed. James was too young to apparate, and although no one could apparate into or out of his parents' house, Sirius planned to apparate as close as possible.

While they waited for James, Henry returned Sirius's wand to him and then spread a map of London on the kitchen table. Sirius pointed out the location of Grimmauld Place and explained that the grassy ellipsis in the center of the street would be the best place to apparate.

James ran back down the stairs and into the kitchen clutching the silvery bundle. "What if I promise to stay outside?" he asked his father.

"We both know it's a promise you wouldn't be able to keep," Henry said as he took the wadded up cloak from James.

"We're going to apparate there," Sirius said. "You'll slow us down. When we find him, we'll send him here by Floo. Wait by the fire. Speaking of which, we'd better bring Floo Powder with us in case it's hard to find there."

James grabbed the kitchen jar of Floo Powder while Mary fetched two serviettes and lay them flat on the table. James poured a small pile of powder into the center of each. Mary flicked her wand at the serviettes, causing the fabric to rise up around the powder and form drawstring pouches containing the powder. She handed the two pouches to the would-be rescuers.

Henry kissed his wife's cheek and vanished. Sirius tried to give James an encouraging smile and disapparated as well. As he reappeared at the forward edge of the ellipsis, the houses of Grimmauld Place were curving around him with Number Ten immediately before him. He looked slightly to the right and saw Number Twelve. A light was still on in the basement kitchen, but the rest of the house was dark. A twig snapped somewhere behind him, and Sirius looked over his shoulder at Henry's approach.

"Number Twelve," Sirius said as he nodded toward the house. "Someone's still awake in the kitchen, probably one or both of the house elves."

"Where is Sirius likely to be?"

"Either locked in his bedroom, or—" Sirius stared grimly at the light glowing in the kitchen. "There's a storage room in the basement where they lock him up sometimes."

"Let's hope he's in his room. Where is it?"

"See that gable window on the roof? That's Sirius's room. At least, that was my room, and I assume it's his."

"How close is it to his parents' bedroom?"

"Nowhere near either one. Only the house elves and Sirius up there in the garret. Do you think you could apparate to the roof beside the window?"

"Yes." Henry studied the location for a moment. "Looks like it might be slippery up there. We'd better be careful when we reappear."

"Crouch down and put your hands on the ground," Sirius said as he did so. "It'll help if your feet slip." Sirius apparated first, slipping only slightly as his feet adjusted to a slanted slope rather than flat ground. Henry followed a moment later, arriving on the other side of the gable.

A simple "Alohomora" unlatched the window, and Sirius swung the two halves of the window in. He gestured for Henry to stay outside before peering into the dark room and entering. Even with only the faint illumination of starlight, he could see that the bed was still made and that the room appeared vacant.

"Sirius?" he whispered as he searched the room to be certain. "Sirius, are you here?" He was not. Sirius went back to the window and shook his head.

"Of course not. That would be too easy," Henry said. "Is it safe for me to come in?"

"Come in," he said to deactivate one possible ward. "You'd better hold my hand as you come in just to be on the safe side," Sirius said as he reached out for the other man's hand. "This should allow you through the wards." Henry clambered in through the small window and then brushed the grit from his knees.

Sirius went to the hallway door but did not open it. He began to trace the outline of the door with his wand.

"What are you doing?" Henry asked in a whisper.

"I'm checking for some sort of alarm on the door. Since Sirius isn't in here, it's probably not locked or alarmed, but I want to be certain." Finding no sign of an active spell on the door, Sirius carefully opened it. Henry silently offered him the invisibility cloak, but Sirius shook his head. "I'll go first. You follow at a discrete distance in that. If I get caught, you can save my sorry arse."

"You're the Auror. Shouldn't you rescue me?" Henry asked with a smile as he settled the silvery cloak around his shoulders and became a disembodied head.

"I'm the one who knows his way around the house, and you might find it difficult to follow me if I'm invisible."

"True." Henry pulled the roomy hood forward and vanished completely.

Although it was a slightly longer route, Sirius chose to go down the front staircase, rather than the narrow back stairs. The back staircase had several creaky treads and shared a wall with his mother's room. Down past the second floor with the family bedrooms, past the first floor with the library, his father's study, and the guest bedroom, and through the main hallway of the ground floor. Sirius progressed cautiously here. He worried that one of the house elves might be straightening the rooms after the family went to bed.

The dining room door was ajar, and a high-pitched humming was coming from inside. Sirius recognized it as a melody Beuse, Kreacher's mother, used to hum. He couldn't remember her ever putting any words to the tune. He looked back in the direction he judged Henry to be, put a cautioning finger to his lips, and slipped past the slightly open door. At the top of the kitchen stairs, he paused again. From below he could hear the sound of someone, undoubtedly Kreacher, moving about the kitchen and putting things away. To get to the storage room, he needed Kreacher out of the kitchen. He needed a distraction.

"Henry?" he whispered as quietly as he could.

"I'm here," an equally soft voice answered near his shoulder.

"Give me the cloak and stand there," he pointed to a shadowy area that would be out of the line of sight of someone leaving the kitchen. "I'm going to create a distraction. When the house elf comes up the stairs, you go down. The door to the storage room is at the opposite end of the kitchen. I'll join you as soon as I can, but don't wait for me if you find him."

"Right." Henry pulled off the cloak and sunk back into the shadows. Sirius donned the familiar garment and retraced his steps past the dining room. He had no idea what sort of distraction he would, or could, create. It had to be something noisy enough that it would get Kreacher to come upstairs, but it couldn't be anything that would indicate there was an intruder in the house.

"Fire." During the past year living in this house again, he been tempted to burn it to the ground nearly every day. Only the fact that it provided Harry a safe place to live had stayed his hand. If he set a fire here tonight, Beuse and Kreacher would douse it before it could do any real harm, but it would draw their attention. He snuck into the drawing room and knelt by the dark fireplace. The andirons were still warm. As he suspected, a fire had been burning here earlier in the evening. If he set the stage right, a fire in this room would appear to be an accident caused by an errant spark. He chose his "victims." He pushed a fringed ottoman into the space between the fireplace and a sofa. "The spark hit the ottoman, heat from the ottoman set fire to the sofa, and then it spread to the table and the drapes." He lit all four items in the correct order and quickly left the room. He left the door open so the scent of smoke could escape.

As he drew near the dining room, he considered closing the door so Beuse wouldn't smell the smoke too soon and extinguish the fire without Kreacher's assistance. Unfortunately, she was already coming out of the room and heading directly toward him. Sirius wondered if he could close the drawing room door before she noticed it was open.

Beuse was limping badly; she'd probably been punished for some offence or mistake recently. Sirius knew her head would be mounted on the wall before the year was over. Before Sirius could move back toward the drawing room door, Beuse looked up at the ceiling and disapparated. Sirius breathed a sigh of relief. It appeared that she had opted to apparate up to her attic room rather than walk all the way on her injured leg.

"Time to speed things up before something else happens," he thought. He went back to the drawing room doorway, saw that the fire was well under way, and summoned some of the smoke into a compact swirling sphere. Using his wand, he directed the sphere of smoke through the hallway and toward the kitchen stairs.

"The drawing room is on fire," he explained to the waiting Henry as he sent the sphere down the stairs and allowed it to lose cohesion near the bottom. "Kreacher will come up as soon as he smells the smoke." Sirius drew back into the corner with Henry and spread the cloak over the other man. Moments later, they heard bare feet running up the stairs and saw the small figure of a house elf rush down the hallway. Both men hurried down the stairs.

Sirius went straight toward the storage room door, magically unlocking both the lock under the doorknob and the slide bolt near the top with an unspoken unlocking spell. It didn't need to be said; it hardly needed to be thought. Sirius felt filled with anger at his parents for the countless times he'd been locked in here as a child. He wanted that door open; it swung open so swiftly that it crashed into the wall behind it. In the shadows of the unlighted small room, someone scrambled to his feet.

Just in time, Sirius recalled that the teenager didn't trust him and held himself back. It was Henry who moved forward, speaking reassuringly.

"Sirius, we've come to take you out of here. We got worried when James couldn't contact you. I want you to come with me. You don't have to stay here any more."

"My mother has my wand," Sirius said as he came out into the light. He was wearing the same Muggle trousers he'd worn that day in Diagon Alley and his shirt was clutched in his hand. Muggle clothes were forbidden in the Black household. Sirius's parents must have been waiting when he returned home and caught him before he could change back into robes. Brick-red blood stains were on his arms and his shirt. Sirius suspected the teenager's back was probably covered with lash marks.

"That's all right. We'll get you a new one at Ollivander's, but right now, we have to get you out of here," Henry said, but young Sirius didn't seem to hear him. He was focused on his older counterpart.

"Who are you?" the teenager asked.

"He's a friend. We'll explain when we're safe at my house," Henry said. He had one hand on Sirius's arm and tried to steer him toward the kitchen fireplace, but the teenager didn't move.

"Here, cover your back," Sirius said as he took off his own jacket and held it out to his younger counterpart.

Those words got through to him. Sirius ducked his head in embarrassment that his friend's father and this stranger could see how he'd been punished. Family secrets were family secrets. He silently accepted the jacket and put it on despite the discomfort such movement must have caused.

Meanwhile, Henry ignited the kitchen fire and threw in a large pinch of Floo Powder to turn the flames green. "After you, Son," he said to the teenager.

The elder Sirius watched the other two vanish into the flames but hesitated before following. Kreacher had undoubtedly extinguished the fire in the drawing room by now and was probably busy with repairing the damage. After seeing such a visible reminder of the way he'd once suffered in this house, Sirius again felt a great temptation to burn it to the ground. It would be all too easy to set the kitchen aflame before he Flooed out. The fire would be well underway before Kreacher discovered it. He might not discover it at all before retiring for the night in his attic room.

But Sirius couldn't. As much as he hated his parents, he couldn't do this. He couldn't risk killing them or killing his brother. He took the drawstring bag from his trouser pocket and tossed a pinch of Floo Powder into the fire.

He stepped out of the spinning grate into the Potter's living room—and into an argument.

"I don't need a healer," Sirius was insisting, clutching the jacket tighter around himself. "Someone just give me a wand and I'll take care of it myself."

"Yes, that's exactly what I would have said," the elder Sirius thought as the younger Sirius demanded James's wand. "Actually—" he interrupted the arguing teenagers, "you do need a healer, but not for the reason you think." That succeeded in getting his counterpart's attention. He explained, "If you want to be able to stay here, you need proof that you were abused at home. Let a healer take care of you tonight and let someone take a photograph of your injuries first."

"I'll go get Healer Greenleaf," Mary said before Sirius could object again. She picked up Henry's wool cloak from the back of the sofa and disapparated as she settled it over her shoulders.

The younger Sirius frowned that this situation was out of his control and looked at the sofas and chairs as if he wanted to sit down. He seemed unwilling to sit on anything upholstered lest he get blood on the fabric.

"Want to wait up in my room?" James asked. "I have my camera up there," he added softly. Sirius nodded resignedly and followed James out of the room.

Sirius watched his counterpart leave and turned back to see Henry pouring Scotch into two crystal tumblers. "Will we be able to keep him?" Henry asked without looking up. "The Blacks have powerful connections within the Ministry. If they want him back—"

"They won't fight too hard, at least, mine didn't. I think they realize he's already lost to them. It's time to focus on Regulus, 'the good son.'"

Henry nodded in understanding and offered a tumbler to Sirius, a tumbler he gladly accepted. "Good. I'm willing to fight, but it'll be easier on Sirius if we don't have to fight this out in the Wizengamot."

"I know," Sirius settled back into a comfortable chair. "Don't forget, this is all past history for me." The Scotch burned in his throat, but it was a good burn. He could feel his anger begin to melt away in this place where he felt safe.

"This? All of this happened to you?"

Sirius smiled slightly. "My escape wasn't nearly as dramatic or clandestine, but yes, I did run away from home when I was about his age. That's when I moved in with the Potters."

"Did you?" Henry chuckled. "Of course you did. I want our Sirius to stay here, so it only makes sense that you lived with our family on your world."

"I have to say it's very strange being closer in age to you than to James." Sirius stifled a yawn and put down his glass. Sleep had been far too irregular and infrequent since he'd begun traveling through the veil.

"It's late. You can talk to Sirius in the morning," Henry said. He finished his own drink before putting down his glass. "The guest room is all yours. Sirius—our Sirius—will be staying in James's room tonight. The guest room is—"

"I can find it," Sirius said with a smile. "It was my room for over a year."

Sirius awoke to the uncomfortable feeling that he was being watched. He listened carefully before opening his eyes—no sound betrayed the location of his watcher. He dared to look, but no one seemed to be in the room. The feeling persisted. Then he looked more carefully at the pair of upholstered chairs near the window. The seat of one was depressed as if an invisible person were sitting there.

"Hello, Sirius," Sirius said to the chair. "Don't sit in upholstered furniture when you're using the cloak. It gives you away."

The teenager pulled back the hood of the cloak and became a disembodied head. "Well, Paddy, James says that you claim you're me."

"Almost right," Sirius said as he sat up in bed and rearranged his pillows against the headboard. "I claim I'm your counterpart from another reality."

"Yeah, that's he said. You don't look like me, you know."

"I used to. Twelve years in Azkaban has a way of destroying one's looks."

"Azkaban? What the fuck did you do?"

Sirius laughed. "Thanks for the vote of confidence. I was framed. With any luck—and my advice—it won't happen to you."

"OK, what were you framed for?"

"Killing Peter, for one thing."

The teenager bolted upright from his slouch, his hands pushing the invisibility cloak open as he gripped the arms of the chair. "Someone's going to kill Peter? Who? When?"

Sirius shook his head with a wry smile. "Relax. He's safe. It's a long story. Let's wait until James is with us so I can explain it to you both." Sirius thought it only right that James should hear his warnings as well. Two of his mistakes, mistrusting Remus and then trusting Peter to be the Secret Keeper, were as much James's mistakes as they were his own.

"He's still asleep," the teenager said. He turned his face back to the window and pulled the curtains open to peek outside.

"It'll sink in soon enough."

"What will?"

"That you can relax; that you're safe here. You won't have to go back. The Potters will make certain of that."

"Maybe. My mother's accustomed to getting her way."

"I know. She has a lot in common with my mother, remember?"

The teenager looked sharply at the older man, still deciding whether or not he believed him.

Sirius smiled. "Should I transform for you too?"

"No thanks. If James says you can turn into a dog, you can turn into a dog. I'll go see if James is awake."

After the teenager left, Sirius took advantage of the brief privacy to get out of bed and put his clothes back on. Despite young Sirius's refusal of the offer, Sirius still thought that a demonstration might help convince his counterpart that he was who he said he was. He finished dressing, and with a grin, jumped back onto the bed in canine form. He didn't have long to wait before the two black-haired teenagers returned.

"Hello, Paddy." James sat on the bed and began to pet the dog. "I hope you aren't shedding. Mum will go spare if you cover everything with dog hair.

Sirius frowned as he stared down at the dog. "I've only looked in the mirror a couple times when I'm a dog," he admitted. Sirius suddenly transformed as well, and began trying to identify 'himself' by scent. The older Padfoot jumped down onto the floor to greet the other dog properly.

"Dogs are so weird," James said as he watched the two large black dogs sniff each other. He knew that trust had been achieved when the second dog began wagging his tail like the first.

Sirius jumped up onto the bed, transformed back, and lounged back against the pillows and headboard. "Ready to hear the three biggest mistakes of my life and how to avoid them?" he asked the remaining dog. The younger Sirius transformed back as well and joined James at the foot of the bed.

Sirius didn't tell them all the details—he didn't tell them about Harry and the prediction, or that James and his family had needed to go into hiding to escape Voldemort—but he did tell them that on his world, Peter had become a Death Eater and that no one had suspected him. He also told them that when they began to suspect a spy among them, they had wrongly suspected Remus. Sirius emphasized that although Peter had been the traitor on his own world and on some of the others he'd visited, it did not guarantee that their Peter would follow that path.

"Of course not," they agreed. "Our Peter would never do that."

But the seed of doubt was planted. Sirius felt confident that they would never place the lives of James and his family into Peter's hands. Nor would they be fooled if Peter began to subtly frame Remus in order to protect himself. In the future, if evidence suggested that one of their number was a spy, they would know whom to suspect.

The third mistake, the one that was imminent on this world, was Sirius's alone.

"You told him?" James demanded. "Snape? Of all people, Snape?"

"I didn't mean to; it wasn't deliberate. He was just being his infuriating self, and he kept pushing all the right buttons to make me more and more angry, and then he—it doesn't matter. It just came out, and there was no way to bring the words back. I hoped he wouldn't believe me, that he wouldn't go, but he did."

"Bloody hell," the younger Sirius muttered as he punched a fist into his thigh and stared down at his lap. Sirius knew then that the teenager could imagine himself doing the same. "What happened?" he asked without looking at either of them.

"On my world, James went into the tunnel and got Snape out in time. He saw Remus, but somehow, Dumbledore swore Snape to secrecy. But I don't think Remus has ever fully trusted me since. I have to live with that every day. On another world I went to, Remus died. Either he tore himself to bits after two humans got away, or the Ministry executed him for being a dangerous creature. I didn't ask which. Both almost happened on my world."

"Bloody, bloody, hell." The younger Sirius looked up at his older counterpart again. "Exactly where and when did this happen?"

Sirius shook his head. "It doesn't work like that. If you avoid him on the day I bollocksed things up, it might happen another day. The only way to prevent this is to call a truce in the war against Snape, even if it is a unilateral one. Both of you leave him alone, and—eventually—he'll leave you alone."

"No, he won't," James said.

"He will. Trust me, I've known that infuriating snake a lot longer than either of you."

"Sirius may have to call a truce with that slimy Slytherin, but I don't," James said.

"Of course you do," Sirius said. "You two are a pair. Snape's accustomed to thinking of you that way. If either one of you keeps on at him, he'll see it as both of you doing so, and sooner or later he'll go after Sirius and push him too far."

James sighed resignedly. He'd call a truce, but he wasn't happy about it.

"And if possibly saving the life of your friend Remus isn't an important enough reason to call a truce—"

"I never said that," James said quickly.

"—there will be fringe benefits to calling a truce. For example, Lily Evans will never go out with you unless you call a truce."

James caught the implication and began to smile. "You mean that if we do call a truce, she will go out with me?"

"She might."

"You're so pathetic," the teenaged Sirius said to his friend.

"No, not pathetic, just in love," James said with a smile. "So, Paddy, any more hard won advice for us?"

"I think that covers my three biggest mistakes. The small mistakes, you're on your own, Sirius."

"Will I do anything right?" the younger Sirius asked. He said with a smile and slight laugh, as if merely joking, but Sirius could see worry in the teenager's eyes.

Sirius nodded, smiling reassuringly. "You've already started. You said something right to the Sorting Hat to get put in Gryffindor. You've realized that all the shit our parents taught us was—shit. You became friends with James and Remus—and maybe your Peter will turn out better than mine, but I won't count on it. And when you fall in love, you'll choose very, very well."

"Who?" James asked with a grin. "Do I know her?"

Young Sirius suddenly looked very nervous. He shook his head at the older man to forestall any possible answer. "I'd rather find out when it happens."

"Of course." Sirius knew that if his counterpart was truly a match for himself, he had begun to realize his sexual preference by this point.

"Prongs, would you mind if –uh—Sirius—and I talk alone for awhile?" the teenaged Sirius asked.

"No problem," James said as he stood and stretched. "I'm starving anyway. Would it be all right if I invited Remus over for breakfast so he can meet you?" he asked the older man.

Sirius nodded. "I suppose that—yes, it's fine." He mentally scolded himself for getting nervous at the prospect of seeing the teenage Remus.

"Great." He paused at the door. "Gives a whole new meaning to talking to oneself, doesn't it?"

"Go away, Prongs," the other teenager said exasperatedly. He followed James to the door, watched to see that he was headed toward the kitchen, and then closed the bedroom door for privacy. "This is a bit embarrassing," he said without turning around again, "but I've been wanting to talk to someone about this, and I don't dare discuss it even with James—"

"But you think I might have gone through the same thing at your age."

"Exactly." Sirius returned to the chair he'd sat in earlier that morning and stared down at his bare feet.

"Let me guess," Sirius said in an attempt to make it easier for the teenager. "While James is busy noticing the charms of Miss Evans and the other members of the fairer sex, you've been noticing—well, blokes."

The teenager nodded. "So, is this just some weird phase—I've heard some people get curious and then straighten out—or am I doomed to be some perverted poof?"

"Getting curious and then straightening out—sounds like a pearl of Black Family wisdom," Sirius said with a laugh. "I can't tell you what your future holds, Sirius. I can tell you about me, and you can draw your own conclusions about yourself. First of all, I'm not perverted,"—the teenager looked up hopefully—"but I am poof."

"Oh fuck," the teenager muttered as he dropped his head again. "I was afraid you'd say that."

"It's not the end of the world. First of all, my friends were fine with it when I eventually told them, so yours probably will be too."

"Really?" the teenager asked as he looked toward the door James had left by. "James won't feel weird around me?"

"My James said something like, 'Really? O.K. Do you think Ravenclaw can beat Slytherin this Saturday?'"

The teenager laughed. "You're kidding."

"Yes. He felt a little awkward, but only briefly. And in case you're at all interested in James, forget it. My James was straight, and yours seems to be too."

"Yeah, Lily-obsessed this one is."

There were so many appropriate responses he could make—that his James had been equally obsessed, that Lily was worthy of a little obsession, that Sirius would come to love her almost as much as he loved James, that someday Sirius would fall madly in love with an infant with Lily's eyes and James's hair. Sirius said none of this; he merely smiled.

"The second reason that this isn't the end of the world," Sirius continued, "the sex is great."

"Yeah—well—that's kind of the point of sex," the teenager said with a sheepish smile, "but—doesn't it—it seems like it might—"

"Hurt?"

The younger Sirius nodded.

"If you're nervous or tense, then, yes, anal sex can hurt, but not much. Let me give you one piece of advice. Wait until you want to do it so badly that you can't stand the idea of not doing it. Then you'll be ready." Sirius couldn't resist grinning as he added, "And you'll discover what the Turks say is true: once a man's been buggered, he'll never go back to women again. In the meantime, you and whomever you date will find there are many other ways to get off." Sirius suspected that he had a lovesick smile as he imagined stroking and kissing Remus and hearing Remus's incoherent sounds of pleasure.

"Oh, a second piece of advice," he continued. "Buy some lubricant designed for sex. Saliva will do when you're desperate, but it's definitely not good enough when you're new to anal sex." As he spoke, he went to the small desk by the wall and quickly scribbled down the names of two favourites. He handed the parchment to the teenager. The younger Sirius seemed to be blushing as he took it, but perhaps it was a trick of the morning light. "The first one you can find in any Muggle chemist's, near the condoms usually. The second you'll have to look for in a more specialized shop.

"Which brings me to the third reason why this isn't the end of the world—my lover, my boyfriend, whatever you want to call him. If I weren't gay, we wouldn't have fallen in love, and—and I just can't imagine—" But he could imagine his life without Remus's love. The dark days of mistrust would never be forgotten. "My life is empty without him. He's amazing. He's far better than I deserve, but every time I've bollocksed things up, he's given me another chance. And it just kills me that I'm here now instead of with him after I promised that I'd never leave him alone again. He needs me, and I need him."

The younger Sirius was watching his older counterpart's eyes. "You love him," the teenager said in surprise.

"Of course I do." Sirius felt a bit confused by the boy's reaction. "Why? Did you think two men couldn't fall in love? Did you think it had to be just about sex?"

"No—maybe. I guess that I just didn't think I'd ever fall in love. It's not like I've had exemplary role models in my life. But if you could, maybe I can."

Sirius understood now. The years of being loved, by James's parents while he lived with them, by James and Lily, and most of all, by Remus both in the past and in the present, had undone some of the damage that his childhood had inflicted on his spirit and soul. This boy had not yet felt love, so he didn't know if he could love.

"There are good role models are out there, Sirius—the Potters, for example. Perhaps this is another reason that it's better for you to live here rather than Grimmauld Place."

"Perhaps."

"And when—and if—you fall in love with the same person I did, it'll fall into place. You'll know what love is when you see how he looks at you. And you'll try to be a better person because—" Sirius had to laugh, "—he really knows how to make you feel like shit when you screw up."

"I hope I meet him."

Sirius merely smiled. To say, "You will," future tense, would be misleading. To say, "You already have," might be a bit too direct. Sirius would have to discover for himself that one of his friends could become the love of his life.

As he headed for the kitchen, part of Sirius was glad that James had thought to invite Remus for breakfast. He hated to miss any opportunity to spend time with Remus.

But another part of Sirius almost wished James hadn't invited Remus. Sirius was a bit afraid that after seeing the wreck he might become, Remus would have serious reservations about getting involved with Sirius. Before following his teenage counterpart to the kitchen, he spent an inordinate amount of time in front of the bathroom mirror trying to salvage what he could of his looks. He felt almost as nervous as he had on their first official "date" years ago. When he realized he was doing this to impress a fifteen year old boy, he suddenly felt very much like a dirty old man.

When Sirius entered the kitchen, Remus was asking James why he hadn't invited Peter. "My fault, I'm afraid," Sirius said. "It's nothing against your Peter, but on my world, Peter and I don't get along any more. I think James was just trying to accommodate me."

"That's too bad," Remus said. "I'd hate to think that something might come between us someday."

Of all of them, it would worry Remus the most. Peter, James, and Sirius were the only friends he had, and he probably believed that they were the only friends he was ever likely to have. Sirius felt that he should say something reassuring, but with Remus staring at him, he couldn't think of anything reassuring to say. James was saying something like, "Don't worry. We won't let anything come between us," but Sirius was barely listening. This Remus was almost a child, but his eyes were much older. These were the eyes of his lover staring at him.

Sirius dropped his gaze and smiled sheepishly. "I know I look a wreck, but I've been through a lot lately."

"Your eyes are different," Remus said. Then he murmured, "Sorry. Nevermind."

"Do you really think so?" Mary asked cheerfully as she placed platters of food on the table. "It was the first thing that struck me as the same—the same shade of grey-blue. Eat while it's hot, everyone. Henry, would you get the juice, please."

Sirius chose the seat beside Remus. "What did you mean?" he asked quietly.

"I didn't mean to say—" Remus began to protest, but after looking at Sirius's honestly curious face he explained, "Your eyes seem sad."

Sirius looked across the table and saw that James and the other Sirius were listening closely. Sirius smiled at the boy who so closely resembled the best friend he'd lost years ago. "There are people I miss very much."

Mary had taken her own seat in time to hear what Sirius said. "The people you miss—do you have a family on your world?" she asked.

"We shouldn't pry," Henry pointed out. "I doubt that Sirius—our Sirius— would appreciate it if we know too much his future love life."

"I'm just wondering if Sirius has a family waiting for him. I won't ask who he married," she countered.

Sirius realized that Remus had become very still beside him. If Remus was already attracted to the teenage Sirius—and after watching them at lunch yesterday, Sirius thought that probable—the question of whether or not their visitor was married had to be rather important to him. For Remus's sake, Sirius decided to give a partial answer to Mary's question. "I'm not married, not legally, but I do live with someone, and we love each other very much." Remus glanced at him quickly and then looked at his plate again.

James was laughing. "You've done it now. As soon as you leave, Mum's going to give poor Sirius a whole big lecture on why being married is better than just shacking up together."

The teenage Sirius smiled but looked down in an embarrassed way.

"Go right ahead," Sirius said to Mary. "After the conversation we had this morning, I think Sirius might like hearing about marriage from people who actually married for love and not for any of the twisted and mercenary reasons our family usually marries for."

"Do you have any children?" Remus asked in a deliberately calm tone. Sirius was the only one at the table who suspected that Remus was indirectly trying to determine the sex of the person he lived with. Children would probably indicate that he was with a woman.

"No, but I have a godson." He looked at James with a broad smile. "Guess whose kid his is, Prongs." James's eyes widened in realization, and Remus began to laugh. "He's a hell of a Quidditch player too." James was just starting to smile proudly when Sirius added, "It's too bad he's in Slytherin; Gryffindor really could've used him."

"What?" James gasped in shock.

Remus and both Siriuses laughed. "You're so easy, James," the older Sirius said.

Sirius had no difficulty getting into the Ministry of Magic for a second day in a row. Getting near the Department of Mysteries proved slightly more difficult, but by waiting until lunchtime and by approaching the Department as a dog, he finally managed to reach the amphitheatre and the veil. He silently wished his new young friends good luck before he stepped through the archway again.

Written May and November 2004