Disclaimer: The Harry Potter series belong to J.K Rowling. You know what they say though – Imitation is the best form of flattery.
Chapter 1 – Introspection
Sirius looked around the dreary kitchen of Number 12 Grimmauld Place where most of the Order was gathered. Dumbledore sat at the head of the table sprouting some or the other nonsense about Order matters, while Molly sat on his left hanging on to every word. Arthur and Minerva sat next to her paying close attention and asking a few questions now and then. Alastor sat on Dumbledore's right, one eye fixed on him, while the other swiveled around the room looking for signs of suspicious behavior. Snivellus was standing behind Dumbledore, in front of the fireplace, a permanent scowl etched on his face.
Sirius casually turned his head to the back of the room to observe what the rest of the group doing. Remus sat quietly in a corner, concentrating on taking in everything that was happening. A few seats away, Nymphadora Tonks appeared to be sneaking glances his way every few minutes. These were the only people in the room that Sirius actually knew. The rest of the room was filled with people like Dedalus Diggle, Emmeline Vance, Francesca Darling, Mungdus Fletcher, and other members who looked like they didn't have an iota of common sense among them. The only two people that Sirius felt had some potential were Kingsley Shacklebolt and Hestia Jones. They both looked like they were capable of handling whatever this war threw their way, in a calm and sensible manner.
Not for the first time Sirius wondered how this group claimed to be the core of Voldemort's opposition, when most of them could not hear the word "Voldemort" without shrieking or fainting. "Blind fools", he thought bitterly, as he attempted not to let the irritation show on his face. Was he the only one who saw the great Albus Dumbledore for what he truly was? A simple human with illusions of grandeur. One who thought he had the right to lord over people's life. A man who thought his way was the only right way.
Unfortunately, Sirius observed, as he looked around the room, he was the only one who could see this. Everyone in the room believed, in one way or the other, that Dumbledore and his methods were unquestionable. That he was the only one capable of leading the British Wizarding World to victory.
Sirius knew, that at one time, he too was guilty of the same belief. When he had freshly graduated from Hogwarts and was ready to take on the world. James, Remus, and Peter had readily joined the Order along with him, eager to please the Supreme Mugwump and prove their worth. That was the beginning of their downfall.
True, it was Peter who had betrayed them to Voldemort, but, in Sirius' eyes, Dumbledore was responsible for what followed. How had the same man, who was usually so eager to look for redeemable qualities in even the vilest of Death Eaters, believed him to be guilty so easily? As Head of the Wizengamot he could have easily arranged for a trial for Sirius, if not for anything else, then at least to make sure that he was guilty. It was Dumbledore who had suggested the use of the Fidelus Charm to James and Lily, and had then proceeded to convince Lily, a prodigee in Charms, that using either of them as the Keeper would render it ineffective. Since James and Lily had never revealed who their Secret Keeper was to anyone else in the Order, Dumbledore should have known that there was a possibility that someone other than Sirius had been chosen for the task.
But Sirius was willing to give Dumbledore the benefit of the doubt for all these mistakes. The ones that he didn't think he'd ever be able to forgive, were the deliberate actions on his part. Sending a friendly but dim-witted half giant to pick up Harry from the ruins of Godric's Hollow instead of personally checking the former house of two of his "prized" Order members. Failing to give Harry a thorough medical check-up by a professional Medi-wizard right after the attack. Dumping Harry on Petunia's doorstep without so much so as a by-your-leave. Not bothering to check up on the savior of the wizarding world even once. Leaving Harry in the dark about his heritage for ten years.
When it was time for Harry to once again enter his world, Dumbledore had once again sent Hagrid to do the needful. Sirius knew that for any other Muggle-born or –raised student, one of the House Heads would arrive to properly explain the situation and clarify any questions the student or his family might have. Then after a guided tour of Diagon Alley, the family would receive a bunch of pamphlets and a list of reference books about the basics of the wizarding world. Students were then informed that any queries mailed via Muggle post to a particular address, would be promptly answered through Owl post. Finally, a Hogwarts Express ticket would be handed over along with clear instructions on how to get to Platform Nine and Three-quarters.
Harry had mentioned in one of his letters, the story behind his friendship with the Weasleys and Hermione. From it, Sirius had gathered, that Ron Weasley, having heard his twin brothers mention that the boy asking for directions to the platform was "Harry Potter", had got on the train to look for him. Having found him, the first thing he did was gawk at his scar. The second thing he did was befriend the Boy-who-lived. Ever since then he had blocked anyone else from getting close to Harry. This plan had backfired a bit when he had badmouthed the Muggle-born witch, and after the subsequent rescue, she and Harry had become friends. But Ron had probably not seen her as a threat to his status as the Boy-who-lived's best friend and must have been more than happy to have someone to copy his assignments from.
Hermione Granger was another piece of work, thought Sirius. She had made a name for herself as one of the smartest witches attending Hogwarts, but most of her intelligence came from books. Sirius would always be grateful for to her for her role in his rescue from the Dementor's kiss, but that didn't stop him from wondering if her friendship with Harry caused him more harm than good. She had a very dominating personality that had put off many of the students, and had, without realizing it, isolated Harry just as Ron had. Hermione was also very much like the blind sheep that filled the Order – secure in her belief that the ones with authority were always right. While this belief had most probably been tempered down since her friendship with Ron and Harry (smuggling dragons, making polyjuice, helping an innocent convict escape,….), Sirius was sure she would still choose to follow Dumbledore over Harry.
Minerva went on and on about what a genius the girl was, but how much of her smarts came through rote and how much of it was original? When Sirius had been in school, he and his fellow Marauders had spent hours everyday poring over non-standard textbooks, modifying or outright inventing tricky little spells and potions that would pull off the outrageous pranks they had planned. Hermione's method of studying – inhaling entire textbooks and sprouting them out when asked, word-for-word – combined with her nagging ways, probably discouraged Harry from studying to his true potential more than Ron's lazy attitude did.
James and Lily had been among the top students when they had attended Hogwarts. James had inherited his mother's formidable Transfiguration talent to such an extent, that Minerva would consider him one of her favourite students in spite of all the pranks and shameless flirting he inflicted on her. Lily, while no slouch at Transfiguration, was better known for her Charms skills. Flitwick had actually asked her to consider becoming his Apprentice in their sixth year, but Lily had decided to wait until she completed her NEWTS. In Sirius' mind, there was no doubt that Harry had inherited his parents' talent, if his magnificent Patronus was any indication. But so far everything he had heard indicated that Harry was an average student, with slightly above average DADA skills.
With Voldemort back, it was more important now than ever before, that Harry work hard at improving his magical potential. He could no longer afford to do the bare minimum required. Sirius would have to talk to Harry about the situation. Speaking of whom….
"Alastor, kindly read out the new schedule of guard duty" Dumbledore's voice cut through his thoughts.
Now that the discussion concerned Harry, Sirius subtly began to pay attention.
"Right. Arthur – for Monday and Wednesday evenings. Hestia, you're taking over the morning slot on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Rupert, we need you there on Wednesday mornings and Saturday evenings, ..."
While Sirius understood the need to protect the Boy-who-lived, he hated the fact that all these people would essentially be spying on Harry while he was unaware of their presence. Moreover, hadn't Dumbledore claimed that Harry was safest at the Dursley's due to the blood wards? What was the need for all this guard duty then? When Sirius had questioned him on Harry's safety there, considering that Voldemort now had Harry's blood, Dumbledore had brushed aside his worries.
Dumbledore was keeping Harry in the dark for a reason, but what that reason was, he was not sure. The old man had told Ron and Hermione when they arrived at Grimmauld Place, in no uncertain terms, that they were not to inform Harry of anything happening in the Order Headquarters or in the newspapers. He claimed that the letters could be intercepted and sensitive information leaked out. Then, while the two of them were rapidly nodding there heads in understanding, he had gone on to say that Harry needed time alone, before he was forced to confront all his problems again. Hermione's eyes had lit up with understanding and she had immediately begun to babble some psychiatric nonsense, to which Dumbledore had responded "Exactly, Miss Granger. I can see that the two of you are quite ready for some serious responsibility". Hermione immediately got the hint, and for the rest of the day she tried to hide her smug grin. Ron, although clueless about the hint, seemed quite happy having an upper hand over Harry - which lasted until his mother put him on "cleaning duty".
"… and finally Snape for Thursday afternoon and Sunday mornings.", finished Alastor. Snape scowled momentarily, but on spotting a similar look on Sirius' face, his expression changed into a smirk.
"Glad to be of use to the Order, Albus, unlike some here." he said, with a pointed look in his direction. Sirius had to grit his teeth from making a biting remark back. Dumbledore gave a mildly disappointed look towards Snape, and then moved on to the next point on his agenda. This one was trying to convince a few concerned members, that in spite of all the slandering Fudge and his Daily Prophet were doing, Dumbledore was still very much in control of the situation.
"Voldemort won't be keeping quiet for long. It's only a matter of time before Fudge is forced to realize that he's well and truly back." Dumbledore said, attempting to pacify everyone. There were a few choice comments against Fudge, and Sirius could have sworn he heard Minerva mutter "moron" under her breath.
"In the mean time, it is our duty to soldier on. Sometimes it seems like a thankless job, but in the end society will see and recognize our efforts."
A clever little speech, thought Sirius. Dumbledore was making himself out to be a selfless martyr – one who was willing to take on the slander and disrespect of the general populace, for the greater good. Once it became clear to everyone that Voldemort was really back, they would once again flock to Dumbledore for guidance. In a bid to lessen their guilt over all the nasty things they had believed about him in the past, they would praise him even more than they had before. If anyone tried to malign his name again, they would rather strike at the offender than pause to consider the truth of his words. In other words, Dumbledore's position would be stronger than ever before.
After answering a few more questions, Dumbledore declared the meeting closed, and headed out of the house. The rest of the crowd started to shuffle towards the exit as well and soon the kitchen was empty, save for Sirius, Remus, Tonks and Molly. As Molly bustled about the kitchen preparing dinner, Sirius stood up to get himself a glass of Firewhiskey. Molly shot him an irritated look, as he reached over her to get the glass, but he ignored it and sat down again. He noticed Remus watching him carefully as he poured his drink in, and he ignored him too.
"So Nymphadora, how's work?" he asked.
She glared at him. "It's Tonks!" she all but shrieked.
Sirius chuckled a bit at that. "My dear baby cousin. You'll always be Nymphie to me."
Even Remus joined in the laughter as Tonks' face and hair changed colors in rapid succession.
"Shaddup!" she said and stormed out of the kitchen.
"Really, Sirius, Why can't you act your age for once?" Molly immediately began berating him for his moment of fun.
"And be old like you?" Sirius replied snidely. Molly gasped.
"Sirius!", Remus finally spoke up, in a warning tone. Sirius gave him a cold look and walked out of the kitchen. Unfortunately, Remus followed him.
"Sirius, I know you don't get along with her but why do you go out of your way to antagonize her?" Remus questioned, as he grabbed his elbow. "Moony, that woman is insufferable. She's always interfering in my business, so don't tell me she didn't deserve it.", snapped Sirius.
"Come on, Padfoot! Who's the one who is organizing the cleaning of your whole house? And who cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner? She's doing a lot for you, and you have a fine way of showing your thanks", said Remus, as they began walking up the stairs.
"Remus", Sirius practically growled, "In case you didn't notice, I didn't ask her to do any of those things. She was the one who suddenly decided that it was her responsibility to clean this whole damn house. Next thing I know, she's moved in lock, stock and barrel with her family, acting as if this house belongs to her!"
"It is your house Sirius, everyone knows that" Remus attempted to calm him down. "But it was you who agreed to offer this house as Order Headquarters."
"Which means that I allow the Order to use this place for meetings. That does not indicate that I offer free lodging for every Order member!" Sirius ranted.
Remus kept quiet at that, and soon they had reached Sirius' room. Sirius made to open the door, then paused and turned around to face Remus.
"Look, Moony. I don't want to seem petty. I hate this stupid house, and truth be told, I'm actually glad to have the company. Molly and her family are welcome to stay here, and so are you. But I will not have her behaving as though she owns the place. So please, just drop it, okay?" said Sirius, firmly. Remus sighed and nodded reluctantly. Sirius entered his room and shut the door behind him.
At one time, Remus had been one of his best friends. But now, after all that had happened, he wasn't so sure. He didn't blame Remus for believing him guilty. His behavior had been pretty suspicious back then. Believing Remus to be the spy, he had tried his best to avoid him during Order meetings, and, whenever they spoke, he had been very careful about anything he said to him. Looking back, it was easy to understand how such behavior made him appear all the more guilty in Moony's eyes.
But now, even though he was had proved his innocence, things would never be the same. There was too much hurt and bitterness there. Besides, Sirius knew that Remus would never see his point of view on many of his newly held beliefs. He was too much of a Dumbledore's man. Ever since Dumbledore had agreed to let him attend Hogwarts, the old man had gained Remus' unwavering loyalty. Remus would never question the man who had given him a chance to be a normal kid.
Sirius had asked him late one night, as they sat drinking Firewhiskey in front of the fireplace, why he had never bothered checking up on Harry since James' and Lily's death. Remus had stared at his drink mournfully, and replied that he had asked Dumbledore, but the man had told him that the bloodwards around the Dursley's house prevented anyone with "Dark magic" from entering the place. As a werewolf he would be unable to come within 50 feet of the house.
While this was true, Sirius knew that Dumbledore could choose to key certain people tainted with Dark Magic (cough! "Snape!" cough!) into the wards. But instead of voicing this, he asked, "What stopped you from meeting him somewhere else then?" Remus had stammered a bit at that, and hemmed and hawed until Sirius finally got the gist of it. Dumbledore had basically implied that the Dursley's were initially unhappy but had come to barely tolerate magic, due to their "love" for Harry. If Remus were to show up, their old insecurities and fears would once again spring up, and that would be "detrimental" to Harry's well-being.
What Remus had not said, but Sirius had understood, was that Remus had once again let his old insecurities take root. The Marauders had noticed, and had tried for years to correct his poor sense of self-worth. By the time they had graduated, they had succeeded to some extent. But once they were out in the real world, Remus couldn't get a job, and slowly, all the prejudice and ridicule began to affect him again. Instead of sharing his problems with his friends, he began to withdraw into his shell, and it was this behavior that made Sirius suspect him in the first place.
After that horrible Halloween, in one blow, Remus had lost all his friends. He was so lost in his misery, that it took him a whole year before he finally asked to see Harry. When his mentor had "gently" refused, he began to believe that the savior of the Wizarding World wouldn't want to interact with a werewolf anyway, never mind the fact that he was a close friend of his parents. Not for a moment would it have crossed his mind that Harry was unhappy with the Dursleys. That he would have given anything to hear some stories about his parents.
However, Sirius didn't share any of these thoughts with Remus, and listened quietly as the man told him how he jumped at the chance to teach DADA, as it gave him the opportunity to finally meet Harry. Remus described his impression of Harry – "Very quiet and one could almost call him shy. Not much of a bookworm but he was quite good with the practicals. He was very determined to learn the Patronus Charm. Not once did he want to give up, even after he heard James' voice right before…" here he faltered a bit, "…before he was killed." They had both sat in silence for sometime after that, and then Remus had bid Sirius a goodnight and left him to his thoughts.
It was clear to Sirius that Remus didn't (or didn't want to) see the fact that Harry was being abused at home, in some form or the other. It had been obvious to Sirius, the first time he had spotted him near Privet Drive, that the boy was neglected (his clothes were old and two sizes too large and he was clearly running away.) As Sirius had continued to silently observe him at Hogwarts that year, he became surer of his suspicions. If that wasn't enough, then the fact that he had been ready to move in immediately with a man who had spent 13 years in Azkaban was definitely a clue.
Sirius had straight away started making plans, trying to figure out where they would live, how soon he would be able to get Harry away from the Dursleys, getting Harry some new clothes, telling him wonderful stories about his parents…, but in just a few moments everything went downhill. Wormtail escaped, and Sirius was nearly kissed by the Dementors. Suddenly the only option left for Sirius was to leave Britain for a while, once again leaving his godson behind.
He had briefly toyed with the idea of taking Harry with him, but quickly realized that "kidnapping" the Boy-who-lived would practically guarantee that the Ministry would press all of its resources into finding him. He traveled for a while, working on getting his mind and body to recover, and getting in touch with old contacts to let them know of his innocence. Then it became clear from various reports, that something big was brewing in the horizon and Harry would need him sooner or later, so he returned back to England.
His premonition turned out to be right, as Harry soon found himself fighting to survive the Triwizard Tournament. But Sirius had been wrong in assuming that the people behind Harry's predicament had wanted Harry to die during the tasks. The plan was a masterstroke on Voldemort's part, portkeying Harry out from the middle of the maze where no one could see it happen. Even though Harry had managed to escape and bring back the Diggory boy's body, few had believed his version of the events. Most people still believed that Harry had put his name in the Goblet, and though no one was saying anything out loud, Sirius knew that some suspected that Harry himself had killed Cedric in a bid to be the sole winner of the Tournament.
Sirius had had enough. He had made a huge mistake twice – once, when he convinced James and Lily to use Pettigrew as the secret keeper, and the second time - when he left Harry with Hagrid, choosing to extract revenge from the rat instead. Both those plans had backfired spectacularly, and Harry had suffered because of it. But not anymore. It was time to stop dwelling in the past, time to stop all the brooding and self-loathing. Harry needed him now. Voldemort, Dumbledore, the Order be damned – from now onwards he would make sure that Harry came first.