Grimmauld Place, 27 January 1994
"Knight to E5," Ron said smugly. "Right. Your turn."
Harry made a face at him before settling in to study his pieces. He and Ron were lying in front of the fireplace.
Harry's feet scissored the air absently. He cupped his chin in his hand, an indicator that he was deep in thought. Sirius smiled behind his tea cup. Those two reminded him more and more of James and himself. And he thought for perhaps the thousandth time how grateful he was that Harry had Ron; and that Molly had welcomed them into their family all those years ago.
"It was good of Minerva to allow Ron to come," Ollivander said, from where he was sitting across from Sirius. Sirius turned to the wand maker as he took another sip of the fragrant tea.
"She's very fond of Harry," he murmured. He smiled again. "I think she misses him."
"I assume she is expecting him to return?"
Sirius sighed. "She is. And whenever he's ready, he will."
He might have said more, but Remus came out of the library then, his hands clasped together as he found Sirius' gaze. "Ready?"
Even though he was anything but, Sirius nodded and put his cup on the coffee table. "We won't be long," he said to Ollivander, but the wand maker waved that reassurance away.
"We'll be fine." What he meant of course was Harry will be fine. And Sirius knew he would be. Sirius trusted Ollivander, with his life certainly, and more importantly, with Harry's. "Go on, now."
Sirius smiled, hoped Ollivander understood his gratitude and stood up. He was not looking forward to his meeting with Minerva and Dumbledore. But with the news that Dumbledore had been the one to capture Crouch Jr., how could he refuse?
Sirius smiled at Remus as he passed; his husband squeezed his arm which Sirius was grateful for. He hadn't been separated from his godson since Sirius had gathered Harry into his arms in Hogsmeade. It had never been this difficult to leave. Not the first time he had ever left him at the Weasleys, not even Harry's first trip on the Hogwarts' Express.
Sirius crouched down between the boys. "Hmm," he mused. "I think you can take him in three moves, Harry."
Ron looked up, affronted.
"Or maybe not?" Sirius amended with a twitching smile. Ron harrumphed, looking only mildly pacified while Harry grinned.
"He's right, you know."
"Only if you can read my mind," Ron retorted. "Which you can't."
"But Sirius can."
Ron punched Harry's arm, which made Harry yelp. "Hey!"
"No permanent damage, chaps," Sirius said with a smile.
"Yeah," Harry said while he rubbed at his sore arm. He gave his friend a cuff round the head, which made Ron knock one of the pieces off the board; the bishop hissed in protest.
Ron pointed at Harry. "It was his fault!"
"Tosser," Harry muttered.
Sirius almost laughed at that, wisely didn't intervene and rumpled his godson's hair. "Remus and I will be back in an hour. Don't suppose I need to tell you to be good?"
"You just did," Ron told him with a little grin.
Sirius glanced sideways at Harry. "Your friend's a bit cheeky, you know."
"I know," Harry said pointedly as he motioned for one of his pieces to move across the board. "That's why he's always getting in trouble at school."
"Learned it from Harry."
Sirius chuckled. "Right, then. We're off." He squeezed his godson's shoulder, pulling back on all the reassurances he wanted to give. He ignored the tickle in his throat when Harry glanced at him. He smiled and said, "Ollivander can contact us if you need anything."
Sirius could see the hesitation in Harry's eyes; he was using his smile to mask it. Sirius squeezed his shoulder again and straightened. Winking, he said, "Be good."
"We will," Ron said absently. "Harry, it's your turn."
"Right," Harry said quietly. He turned back to the board, his shoulders straightening resolutely. Sirius ignored the anxiety in his chest and joined Remus in the kitchen. He could hear Harry and Ron bickering as he stepped into the Floo. A good thing, he told himself.
The Floo deposited him in Dumbledore's office, just seconds behind Remus.
Dumbledore was sitting in a cozy-looking chair with a blanket over his lap. "Ah," he said in a voice that sounded overtaxed. "Good evening." The headmaster's blue eyes were dull, his complexion pallid. It didn't help when he smiled. "Please… Have a seat."
Minerva was standing behind his chair. She smiled at them and asked, "Would either of you care for tea?"
"Thank you, no," Sirius declined while Remus said, "That would be lovely, thank you, Minerva."
Minerva poured, and closed the Floo network to start a fire while Sirius and Remus took two of the other chairs. The only sound for several minutes was the soft sputter of the flames and Remus' spoon clinking against the delicate china cup. Once Minerva was sitting, her feet tucked under her robes and her own tea in hand, Dumbledore cleared his throat.
"Thank you for agreeing to see me," he said in that same feeble voice; it was not one that Sirius had ever heard.
"We haven't thanked you yet," Sirius said quietly. "I don't think I can express how grateful we are that you caught him."
Albus' spine relaxed a little, but he was frowning as he said softly, "If I had recalled Crouch's face sooner, it would not have happened at all. I could not leave him free. I do hope that you will accept my sincerest apologies?"
"Yes, of course, Albus," Remus murmured. And although Sirius felt he should as well, he couldn't quite. He knew it didn't make sense—Albus wouldn't have gone to the effort of finding Crouch if he had wanted Harry to be taken in the first place. Sirius knew the headmaster would not hurt Harry; he knew it and yet he could not second Remus' forgiveness.
"Will Harry be returning soon?" Minerva asked. "Now that Barty is no longer a threat?"
Sirius had to pull his eyes from the weight of Albus' gaze. "We haven't decided," he said after he'd cleared his own throat. "When Harry feels ready…"
"I do understand, Sirius," Minerva said with a small nod. "Harry has had a terrible fright, but perhaps, it might be best, to allow him to return? It might speed up his recovery?"
"It is his decision," Sirius told her, and it was difficult to keep the edge from his voice. He had no qualms with Minerva, after all. "As I said, when he is ready, he will return."
"We quite understand," Albus interjected. "And if I might put your mind to rest. The wards have been strengthened, the secret passages sealed."
"There may be ones that you do not know about," Remus said. He glanced at Sirius. "Perhaps we might help with that… when Harry does wish to return?"
The headmaster inclined his head. "Of course, Remus."
"And if there are others?" Sirius asked; his fingers were digging into the armrests. He forced them to uncurl. "Passages that even Remus and I don't know about?"
"But Barty is no longer a threat," Minerva said, sounding surprised. "Who do you believe will harm Harry now?"
Sirius turned his gaze back to Albus. "I don't know. There are a great many things that I don't know yet." He returned his attention to Minerva. "We're not willing to take any risks."
"And if you were able to be in close proximity to Harry for the remainder of the year?" Albus asked.
Sirius raised both his eyebrows. "You're suggesting Remus and I move to Hogsmeade? I would be surprised, honestly, if Harry felt comfortable being there in the foreseeable future." And more surprised if I felt comfortable with that.
"No," Albus said, shaking his white head carefully. "No, Sirius, I am suggesting that you take up residence in the castle." He let that sink in before adding, "As a professor."
"Sorry?" Sirius said before he could stop himself.
"A professor?" Remus echoed.
A small smile touched Albus' lips. "You are more than qualified, Sirius, and I do believe you would be much more popular than poor Professor Binns."
"You want me to replace Binns?" Sirius asked incredulously. "He's been teaching here…"
"Since before he died," Albus sighed.
"The term has already started," Remus pointed out. His tea had been set on one of the small tables. "Wouldn't it be disruptive?"
"I rather think a bit of disruption in the history classroom would be welcome," Minerva said tartly. "And yes, Sirius," she added when Sirius blinked at her, "Albus has my full support, and not only because I think Harry should rejoin his classmates. I always did think you would make a fine teacher once you grew out of some of your more exasperating qualities."
Sirius had absolutely no response to that. She had asked him once what he might like to do after Hogwarts. She'd been less than pleased with his answer: Kill Voldemort. And any death eating bastard who happens to be with him.
"You will need time to discuss it," Dumbledore said with a gesture between Sirius and Remus. "I do not imagine Harry will object."
"No," Remus agreed. "I think he will be quite pleased with the idea." He was smiling at Sirius. Sirius didn't quite return it; his mind was working at a fast clip. Being nearby didn't necessarily make the castle any safer.
"Harry was not taken from the castle," Dumbledore interrupted his thoughts softly. Sirius looked up sharply, wondering how his thoughts had been so clear. "If Crouch intended this," Dumbledore went on, "if he planned it, he waited until Harry was out of the castle's protections. I assure you, Sirius, Hogwarts is quite safe."
Sirius sifted through the words before he asked, "How did you find him?"
"The house Harry described—I wondered if it was the same house that Voldemort sometimes visited." Albus made a small gesture with his hand; one of unconcern. "I simply guessed correctly."
Remus asked, "He used it during the war?"
"Yes," Dumbledore answered. "Barty was very loyal to Voldemort. I think perhaps he was hiding there for quite some time." He turned to Minerva. "Might I trouble you for a refill? My throat is parched, and then perhaps you would tell Sirius about the rooms you've arranged." He nodded at Sirius. "That is, if you wish to accept my offer. I think you will be rather pleased with the accommodations."
Sirius shared a glance with Remus as Dumbledore took his tea. The topic-switching had been without the headmaster's usual finesse. He wondered if perhaps his injuries were more extensive than was already obvious.
Harry looked up from Ollivander's photo album when the Floo roared from the kitchen. "Need a drink," he said. Ron was absorbed in the picture of a dragon wrestling a thestral to the ground and barely nodded. Ollivander smiled at him though, probably understanding more than Harry wished he did. Harry gave him a small smile and went into the kitchen. Sirius was slipping his cloak off his shoulders.
Harry tried to pretend it wasn't relief making his chest tight. "Hi."
"Hey there," his godfather said, smiling. "Did you win?"
"Three moves, just like you said."
"Good boy." Sirius put an arm round his shoulders, giving Harry a perfect reason to rest his cheek against his godfather's chest for a moment. Sirius kissed the top of his head as the Floo ignited again. Harry pulled away slightly to greet Remus, but Sirius kept an arm round his shoulders.
"Did you and Ron have fun?" Remus asked. He took Sirius' cloak with his own and put both in the cupboard.
"Yeah. Ollivander is showing Ron his photo album."
Remus smiled as he closed the cupboard. "Ah. I suppose Ron likes the dragon pictures as much as you do."
"Nothing like a little gore," Sirius added. Harry smiled.
"How's Dumbledore?" he asked.
Sirius answered, "Recovering. He made an interesting suggestion that we'd like to discuss with you after Ron leaves."
"He's busy with the pictures," Harry said. He tilted his head back to study his godfather. "What did he say?"
"Well…" Sirius squeezed his shoulder and gestured to the table. "Let's sit. And don't make that face. You haven't done anything wrong." He chuckled gently as Harry sat beside him. "You haven't been at school for weeks, nutter, how could you have?"
Harry shrugged, but said while giving his godfather a good peer, "You're being strange."
"Am I? Sorry. Well," Sirius said with a glance for Remus, who simply smiled. Sirius sat back in his chair to study Harry. "The headmaster asked me to take Binns' place as History professor."
Too surprised to say anything, Harry only stared.
"I don't know if he intends that I do so permanently," Sirius went on. "I suppose, on the whole, it would be up to you. All of it is, actually. If you don't want me there—"
"Wait," Harry said, frowning now. "Is Binns retiring?"
"I think," Remus put in, "under the circumstances—"
Sirius murmured, "Harry, don't interrupt."
"It's all right, Sirius," Remus quietly said. "Dumbledore is trying to make all of us feel more comfortable."
"He wants you to feel safe," Sirius explained.
"You told him I was scared to come back?" Harry asked. He didn't mean to scowl, or sound so irritated, but there was a knot twisting tight in his belly and he didn't want to take it back.
"No," Sirius said gently anyway, "I told him you would return when you were ready."
"That's the same thing," Harry said through the lump now trying to claim his throat. "I'm not scared."
"I know you're not." Sirius' smile was sad, which made the heat ratchet higher.
"Crouch is dead," he said; wished his voice wouldn't sound so wobbly. "I've been sleeping fine. Last night, I was fine."
"I don't need you with me at school," Harry said before could stop himself. Sirius' face fell, but only for an instant before he straightened and smiled a little. Harry's gut twisted again; his face was hot.
"That's fine," Sirius said quickly. "As I said, the decision is yours. If you're ready to go back to school, I'll let Professor McGonagall know. She'll be happy to hear that."
Feeling numb and like a complete tosser, Harry didn't answer. He hadn't said that; hadn't said he wanted to go back.
"Harry! You have to see this!"
Harry looked up at his friend's shout. Clumsily, he pushed back from the table, called out hoarsely, "Coming!" He glanced at Sirius, still burning inside with shame. "Thanks." He had no idea what the word meant, or why he was saying it all.
Sirius squeezed his knee. "Go on. We'll talk about school later."
Harry ducked his head and trudge out of the kitchen, feeling miserable and frantic in equal measures. Or probably not. Miserable would probably win.
Ron was babbling excitedly about something, probably Russian Reds and their huge teeth, but Harry barely listened to him. When Ron finally ran out of words, he and Harry went upstairs.
"I want to come next time you go on a trip with him," Ron said while they flopped on Harry's bed. Well, Ron flopped. Harry folded his legs and tried not to wonder why he was always such a pillock.
"You should bring the album with you when you come back to school," Ron was saying.
Harry looked up. "Right. Yeah, I guess."
"Are you coming back Monday? The dorm's boring without you there," Ron said with a grimace. "And Draco's awful. Well, he's always awful but now there's no one there to make excuses for him."
"I don't do that."
Ron snorted. "Sure, Harry. And anyway, Hermione asked me to ask you." He crossed his legs. "So, Monday then?"
Ron frowned. "I thought that's why Sirius and Remus went to see Dumbledore."
Scratching at his cheek, Harry shrugged.
"Well, you should come back," Ron said with a sigh. "Ask them after I leave, yeah? It'll be brilliant." He punched Harry's arm and Harry smiled a little. He missed his friends. He hadn't realised that.
After Ron was collected by McGonagall, Harry stayed in his room, not doing much of anything except staring at the ceiling. The Floo had barely died away when a soft knock interrupted his gazing. Harry turned his head to find his godfather leaning in.
"Dinner will be on the table in five minutes," he said. "I convinced Ollivander to stay."
Sirius smiled at him, patted the frame as if in farewell and pulled back.
His godfather reappeared. "Yeah?"
"I'm sorry about before," Harry said quietly. Sirius let out a little breath, but he was still smiling. He crossed the room and nudged at Harry's leg.
Harry turned onto his side and drew up his knees to make room. Once Sirius was sitting he curled a hand round his ankle. "It's quite all right," he reassured "As I said, it's your decision. Whatever you need, I'm very happy to go along."
"I know," Harry mumbled. "But it wasn't really true."
Sirius tilted his head. "What wasn't?"
Twisting his lips, and probably his whole face, Harry went back to staring at the ceiling. He shrugged. But that didn't work as well with Sirius as it had with Ron.
"You're nervous about going back to school?" Sirius guessed. Harry spared a glance at his godfather; at his soft smile. "I'm nervous as well."
"Do you think I should go back?" Harry asked; he pretended he wasn't wishing for a very loud no.
"I think you should go when you feel ready," Sirius answered, very unhelpfully as far as Harry was concerned. "You'll be safe at Hogwarts."
"I know." It was Hogsmeade, after all, that had turned out not to be. "If he could have found a way in," Harry began, but then couldn't quite finish. He ignored the prickles behind his eyes.
The grip on his ankle tightened. It was a moment before Sirius spoke, "I don't know that Remus and I will feel comfortable with you visiting Hogsmeade…"
The hairs along Harry's arm stood. "I don't want to go there," he said quietly. Not ever again.
"That's…" Another pause before Sirius took a breath. "Good," he said. "That's good. We can sort that out, though." He jiggled Harry's foot. "Ron ready for you to go back?"
"I'm sure your friends miss you."
"You'll be fine," his godfather said, smiling encouragingly. "As you said, you're sleeping better now and—"
"I'm not really," Harry exhaled. That made Sirius stiffen. Harry's shoulders hunched guiltily; he looked away.
"Did you have a nightmare last night?" Sirius asked quietly.
Harry shook his head.
"Then, what do you mean?" Sirius leaned forward. "Harry?"
"I stayed awake for a long time," Harry told him after a moment. What he meant to say was I woke up every time I started nodding off.
"Were you worried about nightmares?"
Sirius didn't speak for a long time, almost long enough for Harry to turn to him. But then Sirius said very quietly, "I spoke with Pomfrey after my meeting with Dumbledore… She suggested… she wondered if you might like to talk with someone—"
Harry looked up sharply. "A mind healer? Because I'm crazy?"
Sirius immediately frowned. "You are not crazy, Harry James." He pursed his lips, gathered his breath and said in a strange, reedy voice, "You were kidnapped."
Harry's hands made fists and his jaw clenched. "I don't want to talk to anyone."
He could tell Sirius' easy, "All right," wasn't actually easy.
Harry sort of wanted to hit something, which was probably something he wanted to do too often. "Where would you stay?" he demanded instead. It took Sirius a moment to process that.
Leaning back on his palms so that he could hold Harry's eye, he said, "In the castle. Professor McGonagall already has rooms ready for Remus and me."
The belligerence kept pouring out, "She doesn't even know if you'll agree."
"She was rather keen on the idea," Sirius said with a shrug. "She said Binns' retirement is past due."
"Yeah, well, it is," Harry muttered.
Sirius smiled. "She also said she used to think I might make a fair teacher someday; once I stopped being so irritating." He tilted his head. "I think that's how she put it."
Harry tried not to smile; stupid lips. "She didn't say that."
"She did," Sirius insisted. "She said I had loads of exasperating qualities."
Harry squinted at his godfather. "Like what?"
"I was a very trying adolescent," Sirius chuckled. "Though to be fair to McGonagall, she implied I grew out of it. I think."
Harry bit his bottom lip and refused to be amused. "When would you start?"
"Well, that bit is sort of up to you. Remus is quite ready to move whenever you give the word."
"Are you?" Harry asked. "Do you want to be a professor?"
Sirius poked his ankle. "I think I remember someone telling me that I might be better than Binns."
Harry sat up, his jaw set. "No, honestly, Sirius," he said with a frown. "Do you want to?"
Sirius drew a slow breath through his nose, a backwards sigh. "Yes," he said quietly. "I would feel better if I was with you. I don't trust Dumbledore, which is something I don't like to admit after he caught Crouch, but..." He shrugged. "But," he repeated as he took Harry's knee and gave it a little jostle, "this is your choice, not mine. If you don't need me there—"
"I shouldn't," Harry said, and then he worried his lip while his godfather studied his face. "No one else does."
"No one else was kidnapped," Sirius said quietly. And this time when he said it, Harry's insides didn't shiver. He looked away, warm shame once more burning its way across his face.
"I want you to come," he whispered. Sirius' fingers were clammy where they cupped his chin. Harry lifted his eyes.
"Then, I'll come," Sirius said simply. Harry hated that tears were blurring his vision, but he was grateful Sirius was there so that he could press his face into his godfather's shirt. Sirius' arms came around him; his cheek rested on Harry's head. "Give the word, Harry, and I'm there."
And it was true. It had always been true, even when Harry had lived in a cupboard and hadn't known who to ask for.
Notes: This is finished for now, probably forever. Thanks for reading and hope you've enjoyed.