"Pettigrew was here?" Moody questioned then pointed at the remains which were a few feet away. "Is he one of those?"
"No," Remus said shaking his head as he continued to scan the ground, sniffing occasionally.
" Bloody hell Black is an idiot! He could be running right into a trap with no backup. He was completely oblivious as to what was going on around him. I should remove him for the force for this. We'd better go after him," Moody growled.
"There's no need," Remus said, his eyes glinting dangerously. "The scent trail leads away from the wards. In true Wormtail fashion, he was running away when he decided he might get caught."
Without saying another word, Remus began to follow the trail left behind by the traitor. Moody, after barking orders at his men to keep vigilant and detain Sirius if he came back, followed.
Remus moved quickly across the sometimes rocky ground which surrounded Sirius' home. He stopped periodically and knelt down to get a better look or to get closer to the scent he was following. The trail quickly made for the nearby wood from which Sablewood took it's name. They continued to move stealthily as they entered the forest. Moody couldn't help but marvel at how quickly and quietly Lupin was able to move through the wood. Had he been allowed to attend, Lupin would have passed auror training with flying colors. Moody was broken out of his thoughts when Remus stopped suddenly and smiled ferally, his teeth glinting in the faint moonlight.
"He's close," he whispered. As if in confirmation, a jet of green light shot out of the darkness, missing Remus by inches.
"Traitor! Show yourself!" Remus shouted, returning fire, while Moody grabbed him and pulled them both under the cover of a nearby bush.
"I'm not a traitor Lupin. I'm a realist," Pettigrew's voice called.
"We were brothers... we were a pack. We would have died for you and you betrayed us!" Moony growled.
"I was never your brother," Pettigrew hissed back. "I was the inconvenience, the bait. I was the adoring audience for Sirius and James, and the project for you. Poor Peter! Let me help you with that! No more! Now I'm the one who is powerful!"
"Powerful? You're cowering in the bushes. Your Dark Lord is gone, and if those at the trials which have been held are to be believed, his followers are none to happy with you Peter. You've made enemies out of the only friends you had, and we're coming after you Rat. When we finally get to you, I will rip your throat out for what you've done and no one will stand in my way. You have no one to protect you now!" Remus roared.
"He is not alone beast. The Dark Lord is not gone. He will return and when he does, your precious pack will be destroyed starting with the littlest one," a second voice echoed through the woods.
"Consider this your warning Lupin, from an old friend," Peter taunted.
Remus growled as his tentative control snapped. Uncaring of his own safety, he lunged for the area from where the voices were coming. Moody charged after him cursing. Before Remus could close the distance between them, however, the distinct pop of apparation echoed through the darkened wood and Pettigrew and whomever he had with him were gone.
Remus roared in frustration and punched a nearby tree, leaving a fist sized gouge in the trunk and bloodying his hand. Moody eyed him carefully.
"You with us Lupin?" he asked cautiously. Remus merely nodded, taking several deep calming breaths. He shook his hand, carefully flexing his fingers before pointing his wand at it and muttering a quick healing spell.
"I'm sorry about that. I usually have much better control than this," Remus said awkwardly. "I just... the wolf is very protective of Harry and Sirius and any threat to them brings him very close to the surface."
"As I said before Lupin, you have some formidable gifts. It only makes sense that there would be some downside to them. I knew an auror who had similar problems reigning in his own inner demons. He found some of the eastern magics very helpful to him. I'd still like to hire you as a consultant. Think about it and let me know. For now though, we'd better get back to your idiot friend and update him on what's happened," Moody said.
"Thank you sir," Remus simply said.
Moody nodded and they started back through the woods, keeping alert in case Pettigrew returned or any of his friends were still lingering in the woods.
Sirius had transformed as he ran. His animagus form was faster, his senses keener. The rat had been here. He'd been here for his son. Had he been able to get through the wards, Harry would have been taken from him just as James and Lily were. He knew he shouldn't have left Harry inside and Alice was in there too, completely unaware of the what was happening. He may deny it to Remus and anyone else who asked, but he loved her... he always had. Sirius growled deep in his throat as he passed through the garden. He would kill Pettigrew. If he touched one hair on either Harry or Alice's head, he would kill him. He would rip him to shreds. He transformed once more as he reached the veranda and opened the doors.
Drawing his wand, he quickly scanned the downstairs, this time looking for a rat. He knew that Pettigrew shouldn't have been able to get through the wards even in his animagus form, but Sirius wasn't taking any chances, not when two of the most important people in the world to him were in danger. Once he was certain that the first floor was clear, he made his way up the stairs. He searched the first room and found nothing. Stepping out into the hallway, a jet of red light missed his face by centimeters. Cursing, he stepped back into the room and returned fire.
"Protego! Expelliarmus!" a feminine voice shouted.
"Bloody.." Sirius muttered. "Allie cease fire you crazy witch! It's me."
"Prove it," Alice said, her voice hard. Sirius muttered under his breath, trying to think of something about Alice only he would know.
"You came to see me the night before you and Frank got married. You were having cold feet and I told you to quit being an idiot and go marry the man of your dreams and be happy. You agreed with me and made me promise never to tell anyone. I never told a soul," Sirius said, remembering the night and how he had gotten very, very drunk after she had left. It had been the hardest thing he had ever done in his life, sacrificing his shot at happiness to see her have hers.
Alice stepped out of the alcove between his room and Harry's which she'd been hiding in. She started to lower her wand looking at her obviously distraught partner in concern. Unable to stop himself, Sirius pulled her into a fierce hug.
"Sirius? What in the world is going on? What's wrong?" she demanded.
"Pettigrew... He was here tonight. He was the one trying to get through the wards... to get to Harry," Sirius said grimly, releasing her. Alice gasped, paling.
"Peter? Did he get through or was he one of the ones who were killed?" Alice said.
"I didn't stop to find out," Sirius admitted, entering Harry's room. He rushed to his still miraculously sleeping son, completely ignoring Dawlish who stood near the door. Sirius scooped up the child into his arms and took a deep shuddering breath. Harry began to stir.
"Papa?" he said groggily.
"Hey sleepy puppy," Sirius said gently. Harry frowned up at him.
"Is it morning time?" he asked. "Why is Mrs. Alice here?"
"No Prongslet," Sirius said, kissing his son's messy head. "It's not morning yet. Papa just missed you so much that Mrs. Alice and I decided to come check on you."
"Oh," Harry said sleepily, snuggling into Sirius' chest. "Missed you too Papa. Love you."
"I love you too baby," Sirius said, rocking Harry who fell back asleep almost immediately.
They'd come close tonight... too damn close for his comfort. For all his swagger when talking to Moody about the wards on the house, they weren't foolproof. Nothing was foolproof. He could have lost his son. He could have lost Moony and Alice. Merlin he really needed to figure out what he was going to do about her.
Sighing tiredly, he laid Harry down and tucked the covers around the lightly snoring boy before kissing him lightly on the forehead. He turned around to find Alice simultaneously standing guard at the door and watching him. He realized that Dawlish was gone.
"Where'd the newbie go?" he asked.
"He finally snapped out of it so I sent him to let Moody know that everything was good in here," she said, staring intently at him. "Are you ok?"
"Of course I am Allie. When am I not?" Sirius said. Alice shook her head.
"Try that rubbish with someone else Siri," she said, glaring at him. "I know better."
"You haven't called my Siri since I was sixteen," he said with a sad smile. Alice blushed and looked away.
"I was such an idiot at sixteen. I had the only woman I will ever love and I lost her because I was young and stupid and didn't know how to deal with what I was feeling," he said quietly, moving across the room to where Alice stood.
"Sirius," she began, her eyes almost luminous in the dark room.
He cupped her upturned face in his hands and brushed his thumb over her lips silencing her. The rational part of his mind, which sounded suspiciously like Remus, was practically screaming at him to stop now before he went too far. Unfortunately, Sirius had a very bad habit of ignoring his rational side at the worst possible moments. Caught up in the complex tangle of emotions which had been stirred up by the evening's events and completely unable to stop himself, Sirius leaned forward. Their faces were suddenly just inches apart. He was going to kiss her. He knew he shouldn't. Her husband had been dead less than a year... she was still grieving and vulnerable. He knew that, but Merlin help him he didn't think he could stop himself. As he leaned closer, Alice's eyes drifted closed and her hand came up to rest on his chest. He could feel her breath on his lips and his own eyes slowly closed. He was about to make either the best or worst decision of his life. He still wasn't sure which one it would be.
"Sirius... Are you in he... oh... um...sorry," Remus said as he entered the room and took in the sight of Alice wrapped in Sirius' arms. The two sprang apart like guilty teenagers caught snogging by their parents. Alice blushed bright red and raised a shaky hand to her lips.
"I... I should go report to Moody," she said beating a hasty retreat as she practically fled through the doorway brushing past Remus.
"Damn it," Sirius cursed, agitatedly running his hands through his hair. "You have crap timing do you know that Lupin?"
"I'd say that I was sorry, but I'm not sure that I am. What the hell were you thinking?" Remus demanded.
"Don't Moony. Just don't. You won't be telling me anything that I don't already know," Sirius growled harshly. Remus studied his friend for a moment before sighing.
"Why do you do this to yourself Padfoot?" he asked.
"Because I'm an idiot obviously," Sirius said, tiredly rubbing at his face. "Look, I can't talk about this anymore right now. What did you need anyway?" Remus gave him a look which said quite clearly that the conversation was not over, but he would respect his friend's privacy for now.
"I came to let you know what I found around the ward line," Remus said.
"Please tell me you found a dead rat," Sirius said. Remus snorted.
"We couldn't get that lucky. From what I can tell, Wormtail led them in. There were at least four of them. Whoever was in charge must have sent the two that died in to test what else we had in place besides the Ministry wards. I'd bet my entire book collection that they were imperiused," Remus reported. Sirius looked at him sharply.
"You're sure neither body was his?" he asked. Remus nodded.
"I'm positive. I talked to him," he said.
"You what?" Sirius asked, startled.
"Had a lovely little chat with our former friend. Moody and I followed Wormtail's scent away from the wards. The trail was so fresh I could almost taste it. He went east into the woods. We'd caught up to him when he shot a killing curse at me," he replied. Sirius cursed.
"That bloody little rat. I swear to Merlin if I ever get my hands on him," Sirius muttered.
"I tried to get my hands on him. The little coward and his friend apparated away before I could, however," Remus informed him.
"You're telling me that he got away again?" he asked.
"So it would seem," Remus replied.
"Damn it!" Sirius growled. "When did he get to be so slippery?" Remus shrugged in reply.
"Do we have any idea who was with him?" Sirius asked.
"They stayed to the shadows and I didn't recognize either the voice or the scent," Remus replied. "Moody didn't either."
"Oh Merlin... Moody. He's probably ready to string me up for taking off like I did," Sirius said tiredly.
"Oh he was definitely not pleased with you," Remus told him. Sirius gave him a sour look.
"You are just full of good news tonight aren't you Moony?" Sirius said sarcastically. "I guess I'd better go face the music. You mind watching Harry for me?"
"Of course not," Remus replied.
"Thanks mate," Sirius said before leaving the room to go make his report to the chief auror.
He quickly made his way back through the house and out into grounds, the sun was just beginning to rise. He could see Moody and Alice standing silhouetted along the ward line.
"Black," Moody growled as soon as he was within earshot. "I should assign you to desk duty for the rest of your career." Sirius cringed. This would not be pretty. Luckily, he had plenty of experience at talking his way out of trouble.
"I'm sorry Chief. My son and my partner were in danger. I acted with my heart instead of my head. Had I stopped to think I would have known that they were safe inside the wards. I screwed up," Sirius said somewhat sheepishly. If he had learned nothing else in his career of mischief making at Hogwarts it was that sometimes it was best to just admit you'd screwed up and play humble if it killed you.
"You've got that right boy. You're one of the best aurors I have ever trained, but you have got to get that impulsiveness under control. You were lucky you didn't get yourself or someone else killed tonight," Moody said, taking a drink from his hip flask.
"Yes sir," Sirius agreed.
"Hmmph," Moody snorted. "Don't think I buy that act for a minute. You'll be on the graveyard shift for the next two weeks. Consider yourself lucky."
"Yes sir," Sirius said. "Thank you sir."
"Don't thank me boy. Thank your partner. She pled your case for you before you got here. You're off for the rest of the shift. I'll expect your report as soon as you come in tomorrow evening," Moody said before going to check in with Scrimgeour's group who were still patrolling the perimeter of the estate as a precaution.
Sirius let out the breath he didn't even realize he was holding before turning to Alice who had stood by while Moody had reprimanded him.
"Thanks Alice," he said. Alice smiled at him, but didn't quite meet his eyes.
"No problem Sirius. I actually did it for me. I didn't want to have to have Dawlish for a partner. The man is an idiot," she said. Sirius snorted.
"I can't argue with that. Anyway, I should probably go in... get some sleep before Harry wakes up. I mean, Andy will watch him so I can sleep, but I hate to take advantage of her," Sirius said, suddenly feeling like an awkward teenager.
"Right, of course and I should go too," Alice said. Sirius sighed and ran a frustrated hand through his hair. He was such an idiot. She'd needed him to be her friend and he'd stepped beyond on those bounds. He'd pushed her and now everything was going to be weird between them.
"Alice..." he began. She placed a gentle hand on his mouth shaking her head.
"Just leave it Sirius. I'm not ready for whatever this is between us yet, although I can't deny that there is something there. I just... I need more time. I know I have no right to ask that of you, to ask you to wait, but..." she said. Sirius took her hand and gently kissed the palm, folding her fingers around it.
"I've loved you since I was sixteen Allie, as much as I tried to hide and deny it. I didn't stop loving you even though you married someone else and had a child with them and I thought that any chance I ever had was completely gone. Why in Merlin's name would you ever think I would suddenly decide to give up on that now when I am so close to finally getting you?" he said staring intensely into her eyes.
"You're a remarkable man Sirius Potter-Black," she said, smiling tentatively at him.
"I have my moments," Sirius smirked.
"You certainly do. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon for Neville and Harry's play date?" she asked.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Sirius replied smiling down at her.
"Good night Sirius," she said.
"Good Night Allie," he murmured, placing a gentle kiss on her forehead before she stepped back from him and apparated away.