Last chapter! There will definitely be a sequel set during Deathly Hallows because the epilogue I'd planned was far too long. Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed! Particularly Erratic Amethyst for letting me bounce ideas off her, and Arciere for offering to do the same (and for being lovely enough to point readers in the direction of this story). Also Snuffles-sweetie, Queen Nightshade, Music is my Muse, bellacitron, Arianna Juliet, selenehekate, GryffindorGal87, brunette-in-black, KatherineGrace79, Sir Stud Muffin, islay12, Samara Longbottom and LunaLoonyLongbottom for reading and reviewing regularly (sorry if I missed anyone!)
Harry had been forced to re-evaluate his place in the world many times. There had been a time, long before he could remember, when every sniffle and bump had been worried over and kissed better; when every night had ended with a lullaby and blankets tucked tenderly around his shoulders. This golden period of his life – and effectively his childhood – had ended the night Voldemort crossed the threshold of his home. Under the Dursleys' care Harry had eventually learned that silence was the key to survival: crying when he was hurt or when Dudley broke his few second hand toys only earned him angry recriminations and punishments.
At the age of eleven, a giant had broken down the door and informed Harry that he was a wizard. Hard on the heels of this momentous revelation was the discovery that his parents had not died in a car crash, as his aunt and uncle had always claimed, but had been murdered by the most feared dark wizard to ever live. And he, Harry, had miraculously survived the curse that had killed every other witch and wizard unfortunate enough to be in its path. He had adjusted to this news with the whole of the wizarding world's eyes on him as he entered Hogwarts, all expecting greatness, all waiting for the delicious gossip of his troublemaking.
For all that Hogwarts was his home, his sanctuary, its inhabitants had not always been kind to Harry. Half the school had once believed him to be the Heir of Slytherin, and had whispered and stared when he walked the corridors. He had been cheered and reviled in equal measures during his stint as the second, unexpected and controversial, Hogwarts Champion. This year he had suffered because of Dumbledore's fall from grace and his refusal to lie about Voldemort's return. Sometimes furiously, sometimes bitterly, he had adjusted to the fluctuations in public opinion. Although it had cost him friends, such as Percy and, briefly, Seamus, and hurt those who remained loyal to him, Harry had weathered all storms.
But never before had he felt so out of place. He had seen Bellatrix murder his sister. As if paralysed, knowing what was about to happen but unable to stop it, he had watched Bellatrix raise her wand and shout the words that would end Evie's life. He had watched Evie crumple as the green light hit her squarely in the chest. Then, as his godfather bellowed as if under the Cruciatus curse, Harry had sprinted after Bellatrix as she made her escape, murder in his heart. He felt no grief: it was buried beneath a burning anger that, despite the many injustices inflicted upon him, he had never known before.
The rest of the night had been filled with revelations. The revelation that, despite what Bellatrix had taken from him, he could not bring himself to kill. The revelation that his deep respect for Dumbledore did not prevent him from smashing up his office. The revelation that, in the end, he would have to kill Voldemort, or be killed by him. Then, finally, when his head was already reeling, the revelation that his sister had done what he had done at the age of one: survived the Avada Kedavra curse. But she had been pregnant during the fight, and the baby had died at the hands of Bellatrix.
Now he sat at Evie's bedside in the hospital wing of Hogwarts. Fudge, finally forced to admit that Harry and Dumbledore had been telling the truth, had announced that Sirius was an innocent man after the battle at the Department of Mysteries. The story – along with Fudge's apology on behalf of the Ministry – would be in every newspaper and magazine by morning. Although Sirius could keep a vigil over Evie without fear of the Dementor's Kiss and a return to Azkaban, he wasn't enjoying his newfound freedom. By the time Harry had returned from Dumbledore's office Sirius's eyes were red, his face as pale and drawn as it had been on the night they had first met.
"I don't understand," said Harry slowly. "How could she have been pregnant? I thought she was staying at Grimmauld Place with you. Did she leave?"
It seemed to take Sirius a great deal of effort to raise his eyes to Harry's and speak. "No. She only left a couple of times, and Remus escorted her."
"Then who was it?" demanded Harry, slamming his fists into the arms of his chair in frustration. He wasn't sure why he was so angry. It certainly didn't help that his temper was still hot from the confrontation at the Ministry. He was furious at the father of Evie's child for allowing her to fight when she was pregnant, and for not being here now that she looked so pale and vulnerable. Although he hated himself for feeling that way, he was also undeniably angry with Evie for keeping the secret from him.
"It had to be someone with access to Grimmauld Place," he continued in a mutter when Sirius failed to answer his question. It didn't take long for his confused mind to seize upon the only likely candidate: Fred. Hermione had pointed out Fred's attraction to Evie over the Christmas holidays, and he'd had plenty of time to act on it since leaving Hogwarts. "Fred!" cried Harry. "It must have been him! Am I right? Do you know?"
But something in Sirius's eyes made Harry pause. He almost looked as if he was afraid of Harry. Without Harry's consent, images began to run through his mind. Sirius's hand lingering on Evie's shoulder for a moment longer than was necessary. The slow, sweet smile of Evie's that only Sirius could inspire. The easy intimacy Harry had witnessed between them over Christmas. Suddenly Sirius's howl of pain when Bellatrix cursed Evie at the Ministry, the grief in his eyes now, made sense.
Fred wasn't the father of Evie's baby. Sirius was.
"Harry…" said Sirius gently.
"No!" shouted Harry, shocked by the volume of his voice and even more surprised that his sudden fury was directed at his godfather. "It's you, isn't it?"
That one word, spoken so quietly and simply, changed Harry's world. Sirius was the one dependable thing in Harry's life. Occasionally he could be irresponsible, his mood sometimes erratic, but Harry knew he only had to send an owl and his godfather would be at his side. After tonight he would never be able to rely so completely on Sirius again. How could he, when Sirius had abused the trust placed in him when Evie was given into his care? It didn't matter, at that moment, that she must have been a willing partner. Sirius was the adult, their godfather. It was his job to make sure that everything was right. Instead he had done something terribly wrong, and the only two people who Harry could call family had deceived him unforgivably.
"How long?" he asked, needing to know how long they had kept this from him.
Sirius lowered his eyes to the floor and said in a barely audible voice, "Since before Christmas."
"Get out," Harry ordered through gritted teeth.
Sirius shook his head, and when he spoke his voice was full of pleading for Harry to understand. "I can't. I'd do anything for you, Harry, but I can't leave. I have to be here when she wakes up."
Harry couldn't stand there and watch Sirius grip Evie's hand in a way that had seemed natural only minutes before, but was now entirely wrong. Neither could he bear to be there when Evie woke up and the two were reunited. The image of his sister and godfather sharing a tender kiss, or lacing their fingers together, froze Harry's insides. If Sirius wouldn't leave then Harry would have to. His stiff legs were moving of their own volition, carrying him out of the hospital wing and through the deserted corridors of Hogwarts, taking him further away from Sirius's desperate pleas for him to return.
Sirius had been his father's friend. Old enough, in fact, to be Evie's father himself. What would James have thought about this? Would he have forbidden his daughter to ever see Sirius again, cut his oldest friend out of his life? Even now was he watching from somewhere beyond death, baying for Sirius's blood? Or would James have found it in his heart to forgive him, perhaps even accept them?
As strange as the relationship seemed to Harry, he could have learned to accept it. There was a large age difference and the thought of his godfather and sister being together like that made him feel queasy, but stranger things had happened and he could learn to live with whatever made them happy. What he found unforgivable, what had sent him running from the hospital wing, was the fact that they had concealed it from him. That Sirius, who had been so keen to tell him of Voldemort's plans when everyone else wanted to keep him in the dark, would keep something so important from him felt like the worst kind of betrayal to Harry. As he ran, it occurred to him that other people must have known. The Order members who were regularly at headquarters must have noticed, and someone would have been brought in to take care of Evie when she fell pregnant. How many other people had found out before him? Would they have told him if he hadn't figured it out for himself?
He found himself at the top of the Astronomy Tower, breathing steadying gulps of the crisp night air. Footsteps echoed in the passageway behind him and, glancing briefly over his shoulder, he saw Dumbledore. Although the headmaster must have followed him, there was no flush of exertion on his cheeks. Harry also noted that Dumbledore was never heard unless he wanted to be; he must want Harry to know he was there, and to speak to him.
"Evie is awake," he said gently. "I believe, and so does Madam Pomfrey, that she will make a full recovery."
"Did you know?" asked Harry abruptly.
"Yes. It wasn't my place to tell you, Harry. It was Sirius and Evie's decision. I believe they acted as they thought best; they didn't want to hurt you."
"Fat lot of good that did," he muttered.
"Harry, I know you are angry, perhaps rightly so. But it would be a shame to lose your family over this."
Harry jerked his head noncommittally, wanting to say that it was not his fault that he was angry with Sirius and Evie, that he hadn't caused this rift, but terrified at the thought of losing either of them. He was still furious with both of them, but he didn't want to cut them out of his life. They were the only family he had.
"They need you," continued Dumbledore in a quiet voice.
"They've managed fine without me all year!" spat Harry.
"They grieve deeply. They have lost their child."
Somehow, Harry had failed to think of the baby as a living thing. It was the centre of Sirius and Evie's betrayal, the thing that had finally given them away. He hadn't thought of it as something made of their flesh and blood, something they had dreamed about. Someone, in fact, rather than something. It had never occurred to him that Sirius's grief had not just been for Evie, but for the baby that had died at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange, another in a long line of innocent victims in the war against Voldemort. He knew the pain of losing a parent and a friend, but he had no idea how it felt to have a child murdered before it was even born. Suddenly Harry felt sick.
Shame now bubbling with anger in the pit of his stomach, Harry turned and walked past Dumbledore and through the corridors that would lead him back to the hospital wing. He wasn't sure what he would achieve by returning, and he was nowhere near ready to forgive them for their deception, but the thought of them worrying about his anger while grieving for their child made him feel more than a little guilty.
The hospital doors stood open. Inside Harry could see that Evie was indeed awake. Her face was pressed tightly against Sirius's shoulder as her body shook softly. Sirius stroked her hair and looked pleadingly at Tonks and Lupin, standing beside the bed, as if asking them how to comfort her. Although Tonks and Lupin looked desperately sad, they seemed entirely at ease with the sight of Evie and Sirius clinging to each other. Two more who knew about their relationship, and had accepted it.
Harry didn't feel angry anymore. He felt isolated from the people before him, shut out from his own family as he always had been at the Dursleys. He began to back away, but something made Evie look up and their eyes met. It was impossible to mistake the happiness in their green depths as they alighted on Harry, as well as the sudden rush of guilt. "Don't go, Harry," she pleaded. "Please stay."
Sirius turned to Harry at Evie's words. Relief flitted briefly over his features before he became wary, clearly wondering whether Harry was going to shout again. "Stay," he said softly, repeating Evie's request.
Harry walked forwards and placed an awkward, tentative hand on Evie's shoulder. She grasped it hard enough to hurt, as if clinging to a lifeline. He wasn't ready to forgive, nor could he quite accept them, but he wasn't willing to give them up or add to their suffering.
"We should go," said Tonks, gently tugging on Lupin's sleeve. "Let you have some time on your own."
"No," protested Evie. "I have something to tell you. Dumbledore will need to know, too, but I want you four to know first."
"Evie?" said Sirius softly.
She looked up at him, placing her free hand gently on his cheek. "It's about how I survived tonight."
His eyes widened in shock. "You know how?"
"I know," she confirmed, nodding. "Allys Gryffindor told me."