A/N: Well, this is awkward. Sorry, everyone. Thank you for sticking with me. Thank you for your support, for your reviews, for taking the time to read this.
Harry opened the front door of his parents' cottage. "Yes?"
His mother blinked in surprise. "I'm sorry. I thought you were at the bottom of the garden. You have a visitor."
John was sat at their kitchen table, a strange smile pulling at the corners of his lips. "Can we talk upstairs?"
Harry frowned. "Uh…yeah. Sure."
On closing his bedroom door, he told John to make himself at home. John, who Harry rarely ever saw wearing an obvious expression, was clearly excited. His dark eyes shone.
"What? What is it?"
John winced. "Right. I have the…er…the potion that will send you home. I turned it in, but I haven't told anyone what it does yet. I wanted to know whether I should - whether you wanted to go back."
A chill ran the length of Harry's spine. He tried to keep his composure. "Yeah. Yeah, of course I do."
John smiled sadly. "Maybe it's selfish, but you're the first friend I've ever had and I…I don't know. Maybe I was hoping you'd change your mind or something."
"I don't really have a choice, John."
John nodded. "I think I knew that all along. You were right, by the way. I've known for a while that Peter isn't who he says he is."
Harry's eyes shot up. "Who is he?"
"Well, he's Peter."
"Of course he's Peter. Who's he really?"
John sighed. "Peter is Peter. He's the Peter from your world."
Harry's jaw dropped. "He was so bloody indignant!"
"Well he would be, wouldn't he? He's gone to all this trouble to bring you here, he's obviously not going to turn round and admit to everything on your first night."
"But he admitted it to you?"
John grinned. "He didn't have much choice. I told him I knew what he was and he poured it all out to me. He even handed me the potion. I had to con him out of it and I think my father, when he finds out I knew and that I didn't tell him, is probably going to skin me alive and wear my head as a hat."
Harry attempted a smile. "So what's left to do?"
"If you're going back, you need to go soon."
Harry nodded. "So I should probably let people know then."
The AGA whistled as Harry walked into the kitchen. His mother idly stirred a vast pot of gravy. The cat lay on the table, ignoring the glares James was casting in its direction from behind The Daily Prophet.
"Lily, is there any chance you could move this cat off the table? I eat off of this."
Harry cleared his throat. "I um…John's got hold of the potion to send me back."
Lily dropped her spoon and spun round to face him. Her eyes lit up. "Really?"
Harry hadn't expected her to be thrilled by the notion. He knew that she missed her son and that she worried about him, but he wasn't quite ready to see it in her eyes. His face fell and she ran to him, pulling him into a tight embrace. Harry thought, to show his indignation, that he ought to pull away but before he could really think about it, he responded with ferocity, inhaling the scent of her favourite perfume, memorizing the exact texture of her hair on his face.
"Always remember that I love you," she told him. "And don't ever give up."
"I won't," Harry whispered back.
She pulled away. "I'm sorry."
Harry shook his head. "I understand."
James put down his paper and sighed. "Do you want to go now?"
Harry nodded. It was better, he assured himself, to get it over with - rip the wound open and face the pain before he could have time to talk himself out of it.
"Okay. Are you ready now?"
"Lily, could you call John? He can go with you." He managed a small smile for Harry. "All right, come on then."
Harry frowned at him, puzzled.
"You can't Apparate. I can. I assume we're going to Islington?"
"I'm going to miss you, you know."
Harry looked up at his father. "Not as much as I'm going to miss you, I can assure you." He wasn't sure that he trusted himself to speak, but Harry knew he would regret it if he didn't say anything. "I used to wonder what you'd be like whenever I was scared, or I ended up on the roof of my school building, or chased up a tree by Ripper, or lonely. I still do. You're everything I thought you'd be."
James hummed. "Which is all well and good, unless this is a polite way of telling me I'm a knob."
"No. I can't honestly say I imagined a shed full of illegal goods at the bottom of your garden, but the rest was pretty much spot-on." He took a deep breath and smiled weakly. "Are we going?"
James nodded. "Just one thing. For my eighteenth birthday, Remus gave me a book. He liked giving books. It was about a modern day messiah and it was full of zany little slogans that should come stitched on a pillow somewhere. It was just the sort of thing he loved. I don't remember many of those sayings, but there's one that really stuck with me. It said, 'Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof'. It's true. Just look at Sirius. Sometimes, family is what you make it. Whenever you feel alone, I want you remember that, okay?"
James sighed. "Let's go."
The basement kitchen of Grimmauld place was a hive of activity by the time Harry arrived there, still attached to his father's arm and feeling queasy.
Peter was sitting at the kitchen table while Sirius paced around the room, running his hands through his hair and spitting obscenities. Harry thought him decidedly reminiscent of the Sirius he knew.
"You know, I don't understand," said Electra, twirling her wand between her long fingers and glaring ominously at Peter, "why you can't just tell me what that used to hold." She indicated the empty vial John had turned in. It sat before Peter at the centre of the table. "I also fail to grasp your need to leave so quickly."
"That's the antidote to all this," said John, leaning against the wall, unused to Apparation and not entirely trusting his legs to hold out. "That contained a potion that would allow you to jump dimensions."
Lupin's eyes betrayed his surprise. "How long have you known this?"
John shrugged. "I've thought it might for a while. This afternoon, Peter confirmed it."
Sirius stopped suddenly and, directing his question toward his kitchen cabinet, said slowly, "What would you be doing trying to jump dimensions?"
"I don't know what it is. I've never seen it before."
John shook his head. "You're not making me out to be an idiot, Mr. Pettigrew."
Peter threw him a murderous glare. "I wouldn't dream of it. This is beyond an idiot's capabilities. It's a very clever lie."
John nodded. "I see. So the fact that I have a spare vial, full of this stuff, doesn't mean anything? You didn't give it to me only this afternoon?"
Electra shrugged. "Well, there's an easy way to do this. John, could I have that vial?"
John pulled it from his pocket and laid it in Electra's outstretched hand. "That's the only one I have. It's for Harry."
Electra nodded sharply. "I see. Do you have any more of these lying around, Peter?"
Peter whimpered. "I said I'd never seen it before."
"I think we all know that's bullshit," she replied sweetly. "I said, do you have any more of these lying around, Peter?"
"I have never seen it before."
Electra glared at him. "Cara, do me a favour and fetch one of these from the guest room."
Cara reluctantly left the room. Peter's eyes were wide with fear and followed her to the door.
"I don't understand why we're going through all this," said Harry. "Why not just send me back?"
"You think we're going to give you that? We don't even know what's in it," snapped Sirius, his eyes baring into Peter's. "So what is it, Peter?"
"Do not fuck with me."
Peter trembled. "All right, it's a potion, but I don't know what it does."
Sirius nodded. "I thought you might. All right, well you can be my guinea-pig, Peter. Let's find out, shall we?" He glanced up as Cara turned the doorknob. "Perfect timing. You get that from me." He accepted the vial from her and handed it to Peter. "Drink it."
Peter looked at the vial in his hands. "Surely, you can't be serious."
"Oh, absolutely. Bottoms up."
Peter slowly twisted the cork, wondering whether an easy solution would come to him. He met Harry's eyes. "I owe you a debt. I thought if I hid you away, it would be paid. I don't think you realise how much the thought genuinely repulses me. This way there's no-one to defeat the Dark Lord. This way my debt is paid without him knowing about it - with anyone knowing about it."
"What do you-?"
Before Lily could ask her question, Peter had knocked back the contents. The chair was empty for a moment before it was once again filled with a badly dressed, rat-faced gentleman with unkempt blonde hair.
John shifted his weight from the wall onto his feet. He caught Peter's attention.
"You must be the Lupin boy." He held out his hand. John shook it gingerly. "He told me all about you. You terrified him." He breathed a sigh of relief. "I was starting to think I'd be in that cellar forever."
Sirius said nothing, pointing his wand into Peter's face.
"I thought we might exchange pleasantries before we went through this rigmarole. I haven't seen you since November."
Sirius nodded once, sharply. "And what was the last thing I said to you?"
Peter gawped. "Oh, fucking hell, Pad. I don't know. It was your birthday. I said…um…I was leaving. I said 'Happy birthday' and you said 'Thanks' and I…no, that wasn't it. You said something else. You said…" He beamed. "You said 'Thanks for coming' and I said 'Thanks for having me' and then you said, 'As the actress said to the bishop'."
Cara made a noise expressing deep disgust.
"And the last time I saw homework from you was October!"
Cara fell silent.
"I'm sorry," said James, "am I the only person wondering what happened to him? Jesus Christ, look at him!"
Peter turned in his chair. "You look wonderful too, James. Thank you very much. I'm not entirely sure what happened. I woke up one morning in a cellar and every day for the last couple of weeks, Peter has been taking my hair to make a Polyjuice potion. I'm not sure what he was intending to do with me beyond that." He pursed his lips. "But enough about me, how was your Christmas?"
"Oh it's quite all right. I've had a lovely little break."
"You know, Peter, the position of sarcastic bitch has been filled," said Sirius. "Not that you're not doing a wonderful job of it, it's just that Remus is the master and-"
Peter raised his eyebrows at Lupin. "Why hello, Remus, long time no see."
Lupin winced. "Really, it's a very long story."
"I've got time. I'm calling in sick tomorrow and then I think I'm going to have my mid-life crisis."
"What'll you do?" Harry asked, turning to John. "I mean, what'll you do when you're of age?"
John shrugged. "I might travel. I'd like to see the world. I've taken a bit of a liking to spying, you know."
Lupin shook his head. "Oh no you don't. It's dangerous. It's lonely."
"You know, Dad, your disapproval is only adding to the appeal." He smiled at Harry. "It was nice to meet you."
"Yeah, you too. Thanks for your help."
"Anytime. Well, not anytime. I'll never see you again, but all the same…"
Harry nodded. "Yeah. Cheers." He sucked in a breath and turned back to the assembled company. "Can I have the vial?"
Electra wordlessly handed it to him. She smiled grimly.
"Well," said Harry, "it's been the best Christmas of my life. I'll miss you all."
"You know," said John, "you weren't really required to make a speech. I'm just stepping in now before this turns into the end of The Wizard of Oz."
Harry pulled at the cork, breathed deeply, and took his last look around the kitchen of Grimmauld Place, at his friends, at his loved ones. He swallowed quickly.
The pain was almost unbearable. It felt as though he was being torn apart and slowly reassembled. When he opened his eyes, he found himself in the Hospital Wing. He wore the same striped pyjamas he had worn when Cara woke him. He glanced around the room for her, almost wishing she would appear from behind the curtain and terrorize him with her non-stop chatter and irritating habits.
"All right, mate?"
"Harry? Harry, can you hear me?"
He groaned and attempted to sit up. His pillow was snatched from behind him and fluffed up before being placed at a ninety degree angle so that he could lean against it.
"Are you all right? You've not been yourself lately."
"You've been really weird, to be honest."
"Extremely. Ron and I have been worried about you."
"Yeah. You even went to the Muggles for Christmas this year. You sent a card to 'Sirius and family'. You went mental."
'Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.'
As his eyes came to focus on the concerned faces of Ron and Hermione, Harry thought that he had never heard a truer statement in his life.