Disclaimer: I don't own any characters or settings you recognise from Harry Potter. They belong to JK Rowling. I just play with her ideas!

For Paddy;
Thanks to Cuba, who helped me get this 'right';
And with thanks you my readers too, for your patience when life got in the way!

Being back in Grimmauld Place, it seems as if time itself has frozen now, and the outside world has ceased to exist. For perhaps the fourth time in his life, he finds himself trapped, but this time, ominously, he understands there is to be no escape.

Time flees from the house even as he himself did, so many years before, but what seemed like a lifetime then is more like a single moment, now. Instead of time, Sirius is left to chase the present; because while the world keeps revolving outside, it is all he can do to sit and wait for news.

Sirius Black has never been known for his patience.

The Prisoner (November 1995)

Between the portrait of his mother and Kreacher muttering outside his bedroom door at night, Sirius is beginning to suspect the last nineteen years haven't actually happened; that he didn't run away from home at sixteen, that the summers spent with the Potters were a figment of his imagination; that James and Lily's death, and his sojourn at Azkaban were all just a very bad dream. In fact, with Harry and Remus in the house, it sometimes feels as though they're all together again….
But when Harry meets his gaze with James' face and Lily's eyes, reality comes rushing back, and he remembers what has been done, what has been past; and also, what is at stake.
Instinctively, as a victim of the Ministry himself, he knows the Dementors and Fudge's attempt to expel Harry are only the beginning.

"But why did you…?"
"Leave?" he suggests softly, staring at the old tapestry and wondering whether Harry realizes how many times he's had this conversation already; whether he understands he's repeating his father's very words?
Just like before, Sirius offers a long, well rehearsed explanation, but the simple truth (as always) evades mention:
I left while I still could

And even though Dumbledore manages to sort things out, even though he sends Harry back off to the safety of Hogwarts, Sirius finds he has nothing better to do than wander the halls of Grimmauld Place alone, because it's as though he's lost Harry all over again.

He watches the Order come and go, waits impatiently for Harry's next letter, spends many nights in front of the fire, watching Remus and Tonks playing chess. Snape isn't making matters any easier, swanning in and out of the house under the mantle of a hero, his sneers a constant reminder that cleaning Headquarters is no substitute to work as a field agent. And deep down, Sirius knows that it isn't just his confinement; it's Snape too; because just like the crows' feet at the corners of Remus' eyes, and the fact that James' son has almost overtaken him in age, Snape is a constant reminder that they've all grown older, that time has slipped away while he wasn't looking; that this isn't just Sirius' personal waking nightmare. Although really, Snape would probably prefer he was part of any sort of waking nightmare that caused Sirius torment…

Instead, it is the photograph on his bedroom wall that haunts his nights – their four smiling faces, their carefree laughter. Who would have known only a few years later, one of them would be dead, another imprisoned, a third in hiding? He should have killed Peter when he'd had the chance; the slimy little rodent has robbed him of his freedom twice over now.
"You know, of course, that Lord Voldemort will have been informed of your animagus by now, Sirius," Dumbledore tells him in private after an Order meeting, weariness embodied in every intonation as he imposes what effectively becomes house-arrest.
It startles Sirius to see his former headmaster so frail, so…. Old. It startles him so much that he forgets to protest; forgets to point out that Padfoot can't be the only large black dog in London; certainly not in the whole of Britain.

Long after his Dumbledore slips from the room, long after the candles have burnt out, Sirius sits and contemplates his lost freedom, and the fading twinkle in the old wizard's eyes.

What he dreads more than anything else is an empty house. When everyone else is gone, he retreats to the attic, where Buckbeak provides, at the very least, reliable companionship. Even if the hippogriff makes poor conversation, Sirius has long suspected that his luminous eyes veil deep intelligence and inherent understanding.
You're not the only one trapped by circumstance, Buckbeak's gaze reminds him.
You're not the only one standing still as the world revolves around you.
You're not the only one…

Cupid (February 1996)

It's funny how everything happens, all at once, Sirius marvels: just as he finds family, and friendship, and happiness again, he can feel it slipping away – as though time can't bear to give him the satisfaction, as though it's necessary for loss to permeate his already miserable life.

Even the presence of his almost constant companions – his best friend and his cousin – is wrought with pain, because intangibly, they remind him of a past he can never return to.
And he's happy for them both, because even if he's trapped in a misery of time, Remus has forged ahead. He lives for the promise of the future.

And no one could say he hadn't seen it coming. After all, while he wasn't husband material, Remus certainly was. He wishes that, just this once, he can interfere, that he can knock some sense into his old friend (because while he certainly can't give Harry a good strong dose of reality – not when he doesn't exist in Harry's reality anymore – he's fairly sure their shared past would entitle him to interrupt Remus') he won't, because he's just the outsider, now.

Instead, he settles against the old, wooden architrave, squeezes his eyes closed (because watching the kitchen door isn't half as appealing as imagining what's unfolding behind it) and listens…

"But why?"

"I danced with you, when you were six."

He imagines that she is looking away, blinking, momentarily stalled, because that sort of information is almost incomprehensible to him, and he can remember it too.

"You what?"

Remus would be smiling tenderly now, perhaps touching her cheek. His face is worn with loneliness and pain, but Sirius hopes that nothing – nothing – will ever erase the kindness from Remus' eyes.

"I danced with you at Lily and James' wedding. You were a six year old with purple hair."

The Tonks in his mind's eye frowns now, deep in thought.

"I can't remember," she replies honestly, and her tone is hushed, disappointed. "All I can remember is dancing with one of the handsome groomsmen…"

Sirius grinned, listening to the silent revelation. It is deafening to his ears, and brilliant too. He imagines them both grinning, eyeing each other shyly.

"Oh. It was you…" she murmurs wonderingly.

"It was me," he agrees.

Sirius sighs inaudibly, because hearing them speak their lover's nonsense reminds him of James and Lily all over again (although admittedly, last time it was James who spoke the nonsense and Lily who laughingly silenced him).
And thinking of James and Lily inevitably reminds him of his naïve assumption, all those years ago, that even if James (and probably Remus) married, he'd probably always have Peter, but even this seems like a cruel jibe, now.

Now, he is losing Remus all over again, but this time, Remus isn't the one falling away.
Remus isn't the one who finds himself stalled in time, trapped within the slowly decaying walls of his ancestral family home; trapped in the place he had escaped from at sixteen…

No – that is Sirius' part to play in the tragedy of his life. It is all his.

And so, in the spirit of isolating himself further from the world, Sirius makes excuses to invite them both over for dinner, always remembering (at the last minute, just as they're sitting down to dinner) that Buckbeak hasn't been fed. He takes his time on the stairs, makes his bow slowly, watches Buckbeak devour every last mouthful, before returning to the kitchen, to their empty plates and embarrassed glances.

Even if he's trapped himself, at least he can give them an opportunity to live.

The Hero (May 1996)

Finally, he is given his chance for redemption. He's leaving; he's going to save the world. For the first time in his life, Sirius is determined to be the hero in his own story.

It's part of the Marauder's legacy to be the hero.

Remus watches him guardedly from across the kitchen as Kingsley speaks. The auror's voice is soft and hurried.
We haven't much time.
Sirius can read the doubt in his old friend's eyes; can preempt their conversation before he even initiates it.

"I'm going, Moony," he tells him firmly, cutting directly across Kingsley's speech. They turn to stare at him, all of them, even Tonks (although at least she doesn't look surprised). Kingsley coughs, shakes his head. He's been feeding the Ministry false information for years about Sirius' location, and they both know that for him to be seen at the Ministry itself would be disastrous for them both…

But there's more at stake than just Sirius' freedom and Kingsley's job, and as they hold each other's gaze for a moment, Sirius is surprised to see understanding.

"He goes," Kingsley agrees suddenly, his voice characteristically calm, thoughtful.

And Sirius knows Kingsley knows that he'll never forgive himself if something happens to Harry; he understands that he still feels responsible for Lily and James, that he regrets the day he ever suggested they switch Secret Keepers. Sirius doesn't have time to ask Kingsley how he knows; but then, he supposes it is only fair, as Kingsley has made, or pretended to make, his life a study for the past few years.

It's a relief that someone trusts his judgment again, so completely – and it is this alone that makes Sirius doubt, because the last person in this world to trust him so completely was James, and look where that had got him.

He shakes the thought aside quickly. There's no time to worry about these larger repercussions now; that can wait until Harry's safe. After all, he expects he'll be stuck in Grimmauld Place for quite some time after the escapade, especially if he's recognized, and it strikes him as comforting, that he'll have something to think about.

Remus studies Sirius openly, his face unreadable. Now that Kingsley has agreed, now that Remus can see the pure, unadulterated determination on Sirius' face to fight for his godchild, the werewolf sighs. He nods, just once, but once is all Sirius needs to get the message. He almost kicks himself, for forgetting, because Remus has as much at stake as he does. Sirius isn't the only one James is relying on; and he can see in his eyes that even though he's got Tonks now, Remus is scared of being alone, again.

'Do it if you must.' Remus' eyes are resigned.

'Trust me.'

The Lost and the Found (After…)

He's waited so long to live this life that is his. And now he's found it, it still seems intangible.

"More, Sirius?"

Lily smiles, piling food onto his plate without waiting for a reply.
Across the table, James is still unable to wipe the grin off his face long enough to take a mouthful himself.

"It's just …. So good to see you, Paddy." He shakes his head, at a loss for words. "I just… can't believe you're really here."

Lily resumes her seat, rolls her eyes. "He's not usually like this, you know," she grins, leaning forward. "But it's good to have you back."

Sirius meets her eyes; it's a shock to see them in her face, where they belong, because for a minute he expects to see Harry instead. He nods, once.

"It's good to be back."

He wonders how they all remember him, now; Remus, and Tonks, and the Weasleys; Harry.
He's certainly not who James remembers, the Best Man, but that hardly seems to matter, now.

Nothing seems to matter, now, except that he is where he is.

Lily and James haven't changed a day, and slowly, Sirius begins to forget his unhappiness, his loss, his loneliness.
He hopes his death hasn't been entirely wasted. By process of deduction, he knows they're all safe; none of them followed him here; but their faces hang suspended in his mind's eye, and he knows he has unfinished business with them all.
He hopes they'll remember him well; as the Marauder, the Best Man, the Godfather; the Hero. Everything else fades into obscurity when he thinks about his past. In the end, he's decided that all that matters are his moments of happiness.

He's determined not to chase time anymore; not to live in the past, or the future. For now, he's content to exist in the present; and perhaps, that's the way things should be.


Note: First of all, I'm SO sorry for the time delay; I really have no excuses, except life has been busy, and I've done my best. Nevertheless, I hope you all forgive me!

Second of all – what did you think? We all know I'm a perfectionist, so feedback is deeply appreciated, especially suggestions for improvement! What do you think – did I get it right?

Third – this is the last installment, so a big thanks goes out to everyone who stuck with the story!

And, finally – I wish you all a very happy Easter, full of chocolate and love (whatever your religion may be!)