A/N: Yes, the conclusion of last chapter's cliffhanger is here. Sorry for the long update time. If I'm being honest, I wasn't happy with the way the chapter was reading and needed a lot more editing time on this one than previous chapters.
I'm still in the market for a Beta, so if you're interested, please PM me.
And lastly, thank you so much to those of you who have taken the time to leave me a review, even if it's only a sentence or two. I hope you continue to read and enjoy the story as much as I enjoy writing it. So without further ado...
"Don't you dare 'hello' me, Peter!" screamed the scraggly Azkaban escapee, the blade of the knife trembling against Harry's skin and drawing a thin line of blood. "What did you do with my Godson!" Sirius' voice was bordering on deranged.
"Why do you think I'm Pettigrew?" Harry asked, begging his voice to remain calm under the duress of the situation. "I thought you trusted me back in Little Whinging."
"I did... but the more I thought about it, the more I'm certain you have to be Peter. I-...It's the only thing that makes sense." Though Sirius had willed his voice to sound certain, Harry knew the accusation stemmed from a nearly incomprehensible set of events that his godfather could never truly understand. Freshly out of Azkaban, this mentally and physically depleted man must have felt like he was losing his mind. Rather than trusting, he was fighting for himself, taking things into his own hands. Harry could hardly fault the man for something he himself had been guilty of so many times.
He tried to steady his breathing. "I promised you I'd tell you everything tonight, and I plan to. I can't even use magic because of the age restriction, so you're safe either way. Just please let me go, Sirius. Give me a chance to explain-," Harry said before feeling his already awkwardly bent left arm wrenched even harder against his body.
"No chance in hell you bloody rat!" Sirius spat, the words even startling Harry. There was so much hatred and blind rage. The only time Harry could ever recall Sirius acting so cold was in the Shrieking Shack when they'd first met. Remembering where his Godfather had spent the last twelve years, however, he was finding it hard to be judgmental.
"Okay, that's fine. If you were holding Pettigrew, he might transform and run off," he said, hoping his outward calm would level Sirius' irrational thinking out.
It gave him pause, but Sirius' tone retaliated in the same calm as Harry's. "You'd better start explaining. Right now. This blade is dying to taste more of your blood you traitorous BASTARD!" Sirius yelled through his voice's crescendo, reaffirming his grip on the hilt of the rusty hunter's knife pressed further into Harry's throat. So much for that approach, Harry thought.
"My name is Harry James Potter. I'm your Godson, I swear it. Ask me something only I could know that Pettigrew wouldn't," Harry spoke as he remained completely still, the gravity of the situation settling into him. He'd only just made it back, just been given the chance to put things right. That effort couldn't end in such an ironic misunderstanding. He realized that, for the first time in well over a decade, he feared death once again.
The escapee said nothing for a moment. "I don't know. If you're my Godson, we wouldn't know much about each other."
Harry considered this for a moment. Partially true, he thought. "Did you ever invite Peter Pettigrew over to your house?"
Sirius seemed startled at the simple question. "Well... no, I didn't. My family was mostly Slytherins... I didn't think parading my posse of Gryffindor friends around the house was the best idea." Harry would have appreciated the humor under less duress.
"The house was placed under a Fidelius Charm, true?" he asked, a grin slowly creeping across his face.
"Yes, it was..." Sirius whispered, amazed this alleged boy knew so much about his life.
"Which means if I tell you where the house is, there's no way I could be Peter Pettigrew, right? You never gave him access?"
"It will also mean you're not my Godson," Sirius snarled, the doglike characteristic of his animagus coming through. "I never gave him the location either."
Harry couldn't help but break out into a grin, which must have looked unnerving to Sirius. He was taking a gigantic chance, but from everything he knew about the functionality of the Fidelius and the newly synthesized state of his own mind, the chance was worth taking. "Right now, I'll just settle for not being the bastard that betrayed my parents. We'll get to proving that I'm your Godson later. Sirius Black lives at 12 Grimmauld Place in London." Thank Merlin, Harry thought.
Sirius' eyes opened wider than they'd been in years, stretching and activating facial muscles that had remained unused for over a decade. He immediately removed the knife from the boy's throat and, though still on his guard, stepped back to give him some room to regain his breath.
"So I'm not Peter Pettigrew," Harry said, his hand moving gently to the broken skin on the left side of his neck, coming back with crimson on his fingertips. Felt the previously bound muscles of his arm begin to loosen and relax. "Are you at least convinced of that?"
Sirius scowled, eyes darting around the room. "There's nothing else that made sense... the cloak, recognizing my animagus, the magical ability, knowing that I'm innocent," Sirius muttered, ticking off the observations he'd made about Harry. He continued to pace. "There were only five people on the entire planet that knew I was the Potters' secret keeper. Three of them are dead, one is Peter, one is me. So who the hell are you?... Wait, is... is it you, Moony?"
Harry couldn't help but smile at hearing Sirius refer to Remus by their Marauders nicknames. "No, not Remus either. The moon's close to full tonight, so thank goodness for that."
Sirius was pacing now, still a firm hold on the rusted knife in his right hand. He clearly knew about the Marauders and Remus' Lycanthropy too. What didn't this stranger know about his life? "Then, if... if you're my Godson, Harry James Potter," Sirius said, sadness in his voice at the last part of Harry's name, "how in bloody hell do you know all this?"
"It might be best if we sat down, Sirius," Harry said kindly and in grateful relief. "I can't explain what brought me here in a few sentences. It's going to take some time for you to understand everything that's happened. I only ask for your patience," Harry explained, feeling a little bit like Albus Dumbledore. When Sirius had taken his seat, the knife still sitting in his lap with his left hand placed cautiously on the hilt, Harry began.
"I solemnly swear, this story is true," Harry said, another wave of recognition passing over Sirius' face.
Sirius Black glanced up at the finely crafted clock, embroidered with a silver trim and sporting a finely painted phoenix on the face, the wings acting as minute and hour hands. The larger had traveled from the three to the five, meaning almost ten minutes had passed since his Godson had finished his story, but Sirius' mind had yet to present a viable option for a response. Harry had gotten up six minutes ago to shower, knowing that the escaped prisoner would need some time to process all he'd been told. Time had taken on an entirely new meaning to the Marauder now.
Sirius picked at the accrued mounds of dirt beneath his fingernails, now a sickly yellow color, hoping his brain would simply show him how to react, what to say. Strangely, he wanted to believe the boy, but the entire story could have been fabricated as a cry for help. Who had Harry been living with? What the hell was he doing at the Leaky Cauldron during the summer months when he should have been at home?
"So... let me get this straight," Sirius spoke when Harry appeared with a towel wrapped around his waist and another slung lazily over his shoulder, "you defeated a Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor possessed by Voldemort when you were eleven, a Basilisk when you were twelve, conjured a corporeal patronus charm to ward off a hundred dementors and helped me escape from Hogwarts right under the Ministry's nose at thirteen, and won the Triwizard Tournement and survived a duel with Voldemort at fourteen?"
Harry chuckled, knowing how absurd his exploits sounded when taken out of context. "You have to remember the whole story, though. My first year was planned by Dumbledore to test me, he practically herded me to the stone. The basilisk I take a little credit for, but I would have died if Fawkes hadn't brought me the sword. Third year was mostly Hermione's brilliant strategizing, but I know I worked hard to learn the patronus charm from Remus. Fourth year I had a professor actively trying to help me win the Triwizard. I doubt I would have stood a chance otherwise. The only reason I made it out of that duel with Voldemort was because of the brother wands."
"Everything went to shit," Harry finished for him. "The Ministry wouldn't acknowledge that Voldemort had returned, and the idiots in office spent more time trying to censor Hogwarts than fix the real problem. Voldemort gained enough support to overthrow them, and by then, there was almost nothing I could do for the general public," the young wizard recalled helplessly, heavy regret and resignation in his voice.
"Besides survive the Killing Curse again," Sirius said sarcastically, earning him a wry grin from Harry.
"I screwed that up too, though. Albus told me later that I was supposed to think I was going to die. If I had, it would have given everyone else the same sacrificial protection against Voldemort as my mum gave to me. I chose to go after the Hallows and got distracted from the Horcruxes."
"You think if you hadn't the war would have ended at Hogwarts?" Sirius asked. In truth, his real interest was trying to trip Harry up, catch him in a lie so he could figure out what was really going on. Though there was a definite genuineness about this boy, the tale was a few miles too tall to believe.
Harry's shoulders slumped, now concealed beneath his over-sized Muggle pants and slightly torn tank-top shirt, Dudley's old clothes he'd been forced to wear over the summer. He took a seat across from his godfather, a pensive, far-reaching look in his eyes. "Can't say for sure, but I know it would have given us an advantage. The night I decided to go for the Elder Wand... I was so bloody stupid!" Harry exclaimed as he lowered his forehead onto his palms, massaging his eyes that had seen too many deaths as a result of his error.
"I had this idiotic notion that only I could win the war, only I could end it, and that Dumbledore had to have left us the information on the Hallows because he wanted me to survive, that all those years of preparing and mentoring me would culminate in my mastery of death, in my immortality, my means to defeating Voldemort. It took me years to understand that it wasn't the Hallows that kept me alive that night, that Albus had intended my death from the start. Funny enough, I would have survived with or without those damn things."
"You think Albus Dumbledore wants to... kill you?" Sirius asked, horrified at the accusations his godson was levying against one of the most powerful and influential light wizards of their time.
Harry couldn't contain himself as he laughed heartily at the thought. "Merlin, no! Albus did what he had to in order to kill Voldemort for good, and part of that involved my death, just like the prophecy I told you about said."
Sirius remembered the words "neither can live while the other survives." Pieces were certainly beginning to fit together. James and Lily had spoken many times in hushed tones that only his canine-like hearing could pick up about a prophecy involving Voldemort and their son. This must have been it.
"But, you did survive, didn't you? How?"
"Same way as the first time, my mum..." Harry almost whispered. "When Voldemort resurrected himself during the Triwizard Tournament, he used my blood as part of the ritual, which strengthened the connection between us. As long as my blood, and along with it, my mum's, coursed through him, he couldn't kill me because of the protection."
Sirius couldn't keep up with all Harry was explaining, and the mention of Lily had pushed him over the edge. "That's enough!" he yelled standing quickly and knocking back the chair he was sitting in to the floor. "This is bloody ridiculous. Tell me who you really are or I'm leaving!"
Harry did not move, his face remaining passive. "I'm sorry, Sirius, but I can't let you leave. If you wound up back in Azkaban because of me, I'd never forgive myself. Please, keep asking me questions. I'll be nothing but honest with you."
"But it's impossible!" Sirius yelled.
"What part?" Harry asked innocently.
Sirius blinked. "What?"
"What part of my story was impossible?" Harry inquired just as sweetly, knowing he'd caught Sirius in a hyperbole.
His godfather growled, much like the dog he became as an animagus. "None of it, I guess. I didn't mean impossible... improbable, that's the word."
"Right, and because I've had such a normal life up until this point, I'm sure anything improbable happening to me in the future would be... well, improbable." Harry couldn't help but snort at the repeated use of the word.
Sirius' anger and confusion began to recede. "You... you certainly don't talk like a teenager."
Harry nodded. "And it explains everything you saw about me. You know it does, but because I don't look like I'm in my fifties, you'll never truly believe it. Well... maybe one day you will, but certainly not today."
His godfather didn't know what to say, and the silence gave him more time to consider what he'd seen of Harry so far. "So you knew where I'd be..."
"Because I'd seen you there before," Harry finished for him, smiling at the memory of the angry thirteen year old who had been startled by the menacing black dog.
"But what about that prophecy you made to Fudge? You didn't mention that in your story." Sirius questioned.
Harry broke out into a wide grin. "Followed me in there too, did you? Always a Marauder." Now it was Sirius' turn to smile, though he had the decency to mix in a little embarrassment at having revealed his eavesdropping.
"That prophecy was the last brilliant plan of Albus Dumbledore and myself." Sirius cocked his head to the side in a physical display of his confusion. Harry's face hardened as he explained. "Cornelius Fudge, the current Minister for Magic, will do anything to keep his power. He is not evil, nor is he altogether excessively intelligent, but he is a man that thirsts for power like a man lost in a desert thirsts for water. If he thinks he's the one that can stop Voldemort, that he's destined to, the Ministry will be more prepared when he returns, no matter what the political influences like Lucius Malfoy have to say about it."
Sirius' face was etched in shock. "You would let him come back!"
"Let him? I have to ensure it," Harry explained, crossing his legs and reclining back onto the creaking mattress. "Although I've already killed him in my world, in this time, I'm still bound by the terms of the prophecy and I'm still a Horcrux," he said while pointing up to his lightning scar.
Realization dawned on Sirius' face. "You're planning to let him kill you when he comes back, then kill him when he's disposed of the Horcrux in you... but if anything goes wrong, you've already got a contingency plan in effect."
Harry nodded solemnly. "If everything goes well, I'll kill him in the graveyard that night after I win the Triwizard, though I'll need to get at Nagini somehow. Voldemort is a ferociously difficult opponent to face, and I'm not sure only two years of training in this body will do it. Even if they wouldn't technically be working together, at least Hogwarts won't have the Ministry as a liability this time around if I fail."
"You're serious about this, aren't you?" his Godfather asked incredulously.
Harry grinned so much that his eyelids almost closed. "No, you're Sirius, I'm Harry."
Sirius stared blankly at his godson, his right eye twitching, before roaring in a hearty laugh from his gut he never thought he'd have just cause to use again. "James and I used to do that while we were at school together! Your mum wouldn't speak to either of us for a week when we said it a few too many times at dinner one night!"
Harry was now laughing too as he sat on his bed, contemplating his position. At least he's starting to believe me now, he thought, he called Lily 'your mum'.
"So where should I stay? They'll check Grimmauld eventually, and forgive me, but I'm not exactly thrilled with the prospect of returning to that hellhole."
"I'm thinking of going into Muggle London this week to rent a flat for you," he replied, hoping to keep Sirius as far away from that godforsaken house as possible. "We'll put basic enchantments on it and I'll buy you a hefty supply of Polyjuice. You'll still have to stay low while I'm at school, but that should be more than enough to keep you out of the Ministry's sight. I'm planning to have Peter in custody, or at the very least, caught, by mid-September anyway. By that time you'll be able to return to Grimmauld if you want." Harry noticed Sirius' despondent look, likely upset he'd have to be apart from Harry for an entire school year. "Look on the bright side, at least you'll spend this year in a decent flat instead of eating maggots and bugs while trying to track down Ron Weasley. I sometimes wonder if you would have ever tried to escape if you hadn't seen that paper..."
And at once, that had done it. Sirius had stopped dead where he was, shooting a look of complete disbelief at Harry. "W-w...what did you just say?"
"What?" Harry asked blankly.
"You know what inspired me to escape. You know why I got out." Sirius was visibly shaken at the revelation. He hadn't spoken to a single person since he'd escaped, and the boy couldn't perform Legillimency because of the underage restriction. There was only one way he could have known.
Harry slapped his forehead with his right hand. "That would have made all this a lot easier. Yeah, you saw Ron's picture in the Daily Prophet with his family because they won the drawing, and his rat, he calls him Scabbers, on his shoulder. You noticed the missing toe and knew it must have been Pettigrew, and when the article said Ron was at Hogwarts, you knew you had to get there, that it was the one chance you had to exonerate yourself."
Sirius' eyes were tearing up. "Merlin... it really is you, Harry. Your throat... I'm so sorry," he said, unconsciously reaching up to touch his own throat, mirroring where Harry's injury would be.
Harry waved his concerns off and made no attempt to hide the face-stretching grin that came across him, his own eyes threatening to tear as well. "You believe me?"
"I don't have much choice after that revelation," Sirius said, his words certain. "Yes, Harry, I do. I want to believe all you've told me is true. You can count me in to help in any way I can."
"That means a lot to me, Sirius," Harry choked out softly, his voice on the verge of breaking. "How about we get some rest? We can speak more in the morning."
Sirius nodded as he wandered towards a small rug on the floor.
Harry couldn't help but snort at his godfather's unspoken assumption. "Sirius, you've spent every night for the past twelve years sleeping on a floor. You get a bed tonight, no objections."
"I couldn't Harry, really I'll be fine," Sirius replied courteously, though now openly ogling the bed as if it were a massive pile of galleons.
Harry responded with a glare that would have made his late mother-in-law proud, causing Sirius to see the futility in the argument. "You must be hungry, do you want something before we sleep," Harry said offhandedly as he laid a small blanket he'd brought from the Dursleys on top of the oval rug on the floor.
Sirius nodded. "I'm unfortunately well-adjusted to the feeling, but yes. Do you have anything?" he asked hopefully but without entitlement.
Harry smiled, "I've got much better than anything, I've got Dobby."
"You've got what!"
Suffice it to say, Sirius was thrilled to meet someone with the culinary prowess of Dobby. He was further happy to discover that the name, in fact, was not a slang term for a particularly nasty magical STD as he had first believed. After Sirius' many dealings with Kreacher, encountering a cheery house-elf that didn't speak in a raspy drawl must have been refreshing. Compounding his feelings, Dobby's food was like a fine cuisine compared to the piles of slop he'd been forced to survive on as a prisoner of Azkaban.
Sirius and Harry had gone to sleep after they'd both eaten their fill, but they'd laid there for what seemed like hours, Harry continuing to field his godfather's myriad questions about his future.
"Snivellus is teaching Potions?"
Harry nodded, his mouth full of mashed potatoes and gravy.
"Bet he's awful," Sirius growled.
"As a teacher? No. As a role model of house unity and equality, most definitely. He played a huge role in the war though. Without him, I would have never know how to get rid of my unwelcome guest," Harry said, once again pointing to his scar.
"How about ol' Tabby Cat McGonagal. She still doing Transfiguration?"
They continued this way until Sirius' eyebrows began to visibly droop every time Harry's answer took more than ten seconds. At his godson's insistence, Sirius finally climbed into bed, the mattress, pillow, and covers he'd taken for granted for so many years feeling now like an unfamiliar luxury.
The next morning when they both awoke, Harry made sure that Sirius wore the invisibility cloak constantly in case someone came to interrupt them. No one had the last time, but now that Fudge had heard Harry's 'prophecy,' he may have been... inspired to put him under watch.
"I'm going into Diagon Alley and Muggle London today, I probably won't be back until very late. Will you be alright here with Dobby?" Harry asked as he put a forkful of the little elf's well-prepared eggs benedict with croissants and orange juice into his mouth.
Sirius nodded, not wanting to speak as his mouth was full with the delicious meal. Twelve years in Azkaban and he's still got better table manners than Ron, Harry thought. His thoughts now turning to his friends, he took out three spare pieces of parchment and wrote Hermione and then the Weasleys, both Ginny and Ron, letting them know he was staying at the Leaky Cauldron and that he would be able to join them before school to pick up their books. He signed Ginny's letter with 'love' out of sheer habit, and without his wand, had to rewrite the entire correspondence a second time.
Bidding a quick farewell to Sirius, Harry set off into the familiar line of stores, the first part of the magical world he'd ever seen after learning he was a wizard. The colorful masonry and vibrant shades of paint gave the feeling of being at a Muggle carnival, while the buildings themselves were a much more modest architecture. They were all overshadowed, however, by Harry's first destination, a gleaming white building that Muggles would mistake for the Parthenon if this part of the world was visible to them.
The glistening Gringotts building stood proudly in front of Harry as memories of the bank under siege by legions of Death Eaters came rushing to his mind. Every galleon was melted down under Voldemort's orders, effectively annihilating Britain's wizarding economy and securing one of his Horcruxes. It had been a pivotal loss in the war. But here, on this remarkably new day, it endured.
Entering through the colossal front doors, Harry soundlessly made his way over to a goblin he'd been acquainted with. "Erm... Griphook?" Harry said under his breath, momentarily startling the goblin before he regained his senses.
"Greetings, Mr. Potter," the goblin said without moving his attention from his scribbling quill, though one of his eyebrows was a few inches higher than before Harry had spoken to him.
"As a client of Gringotts, I'd like to request a private account consultation and advisory meeting concerning my funds. If you'd agree, Griphook, I'd like to formally ask you to act as my financial advisor."
The goblin seemed more taken aback at Harry's formality and execution of goblin etiquette and bank jargon than his very appetizing and profitable offer, but once again collected himself in a most Goblin-like regality and snobbishness. He promptly ushered Harry into a small office with a bow which Harry graciously returned.
Months before Gringotts fell, Ron, Hermoine, Ginny, Neville, and George had captured and interrogated an inner circle Death Eater to learn of Voldemort's future plans. They'd sent Ron in as a substitute under constant Polyjuice so Voldemort would be none the wiser. Hermione, through her nearly inconsolable worry, had spent hours in the months leading up to the confrontation drilling Harry on appropriate goblin manners and expressions so their trust could be earned. After Harry convinced the goblins of the accuracy of their findings, he and the rest of the Order were given control of the building behind the scenes, spending months strengthening and fortifying the defenses. Despite Harry's most desperate pleas, the goblins refused him access to Bellatrix Lestrange's vault, even when they knew the building to be a lost cause. Their pride had cost him dearly.
When Voldemort made his attack, he met with a nearly impenetrable structure of wards, as well as a conspicuously absent Death Eater. Although many had eventually died in the fight, the Allies of the Light held the building for over four months. Voldemort lost countless Death Eaters and allied dark monsters in the process, a large reason for the eventual recapture of Hogwarts years later. It was not until the Dark Lord himself joined the fray over the course of countless concentrated attacks that the defenses fell.
"Mr. Potter, you remember me by name having only once met me and then furthermore ask me to be your advisor. You are a very strange wizard," Griphook said with a murky mix of suspicion and curiosity as he sat in his beautifully upholstered office chair.
"So I've been told many times, Advisor," said Harry honestly, making sure to address Griphook by his new formal title while he waited for the Goblin to sit before he did.
"And you also seem well versed in goblin etiquette."
"The economy is an integral component in our society and one that requires the utmost supervision and care. I believed it would behoove me to learn the etiquette of the culture handling my assets, and so I have."
"You call us a culture? Not a race, or a creature?" asked a surprised Griphook.
Harry nodded. "Yes, Advisor. I do not view the Goblin culture with the illusion of superiority the wizarding world so often does."
"You are a very strange wizard, Mr. Potter." Though Griphook's words were the same, his tone gave away a slightly more impressed feeling.
Harry remained poised. "I do not wish to intrude upon your time should you be otherwise engaged, but I wonder if you would answer a few questions about my accounts for me."
Griphook looked carefully at the young wizard sitting in front of him. "I have time now, most honored Client. What is it you wish to know?"