AN: Free at Last does come before this. It can stand alone, but I figured I'd let you know in case you want to read that on first! Enjoy! :)
Harry knew that this summer would be different than any summer before it. Sirius' request for guardianship was still being processed, but the Ministry was trying to make twelve years of false imprisonment in one of the most horrifying places on Earth up to the man, so they were sure the request would go through. It was only a matter of time, which they would have to wait a bit of. Harry would have to spend the first two to three weeks of summer with the Dursleys, but after that, he would be living with his godfather and Remus, so he decided he could survive a couple of weeks with his unsavory relatives.
Sirius could be a bit of an ace in the hole for his godson. News of his freedom had spread quickly through the wizarding world, as that had been the priority. Sirius lived in the wizarding world and hardly ever participated in the muggle one. Word was slowly starting to spread of rumors that he was innocent, but it would be a while yet before they came up with a suitable, non-magic explanation as to why Sirius Black, mass murderer, was now free to walk the streets.
Still, the two remaining true Marauders waited for their godson/nephew to arrive at Platform Nine and Three Quarters. Sirius wouldn't be taking Harry past the wizarding part of the station and into the muggle one as not to cause a mass panic, but he could meet his godson at the station.
The small boy disembarked from the train and was immediately scooped up into a hug and swung around by his godfather. "Harry! How was the rest of your school year, kiddo?"
Laughing as he was set down, Harry grabbed onto his Uncle Moony for support so he didn't fall down from the dizzyness. "Oh, it was alright. You were there for most of the important stuff."
Remus took his turn to sweep Harry into a much less dizzying gentle embrace. "Surely Defense Against the Dark Arts with your good old Uncle Moony wasn't that boring."
"Not in the least," Harry grinned. "You know that DADA is my favorite subject, and your my favorite professor."
Lupin ruffled Harry's hair affectionately and Sirius slung an arm over the small boy's shoulders. They stood around talking and laughing for a good fifteen minutes, both men reluctant to watch their nephew/godson leave. Harry told Sirius about the prank he and Remus had played on Snape in retaliation for him teaching the class about werewolves while Remus was out for the full moon. Luckily Hermione had been the only one smart enough to put the pieces together, and Harry and his friends didn't care about Remus' condition.
Still a Marauder at heart, Remus had supplied young Harry with the supplies and knowledge to turn all of Snape's clothes Gryffindor red, and temporarily magically tattoo, 'Gryffindor rules, Slytherin drools!' on his forehead. Snape was positive that Potter was behind it, but Professor Lupin told everyone that Harry had been getting extra help in Defense Against the Dark Arts at the time the charms had been cast, giving Harry the perfect alibi. Sirius still wore a proud look on his face from that little feat.
Finally, they admitted that it was time to let Harry go to the muggles. He gave Sirius one last long hug. The recently free godfather didn't want to let go of his godson after all the life threatening situations he had been in that year, and the torture the boy had endured before his godfather was able to find him. Sirius held on tightly, until they at last pulled away from each other. "See you soon, Uncle Padfoot."
That was what they had decided Harry would call him. It was what they had been teaching Harry to call Sirius when he was just a baby, and although Sirius was more than happy to step in and pick up where his best friend had left off, he knew he could and would never replace James in Harry's life. He would just make sure to care for and love his godson enough for the both of them. "As soon as I can, kiddo."
With a final wave at Sirius, Harry disappeared to the muggle side with Remus.
It didn't take them long to find the Dursleys, who were only giving Harry a ride home because they knew that someone in the wizarding community would be bringing their nephew. Vernon Dursley stood impatiantly next to his car. The whale of a man with a reddish face would've been hard to miss, making him exceptionally easy to find.
"Boy! What took you so long," Vernon snapped harshly, before noticing the tall and decently muscular werewolf standing protectively behind Harry. "Er... I guess it doesn't really matter. Put your stuff in the trunk and get in the back seat.
Remus looked distastefully at the man who had snapped so rudely at his cub. "C'mon, then, Harry. Let's get your stuff in the trunk."
Vernon glared at his nephew. "Let your professor leave, Harry," he said in a warning tone. "I'm sure he has better things to do than load your trunk into the back of the car. You can do that yourself." In reality, he didn't care what the wizard before him might have to do, but he didn't like the idea that the freak might have someone monitoring them.
Before Harry could act, Remus slung an arm around Harry's shoulder. "It's quite alright. I have nothing better to do than be here with Harry. I don't mind in the least. I was quite good friends with his father. His mother, too."
With that, Remus took Harry's luggage from the boy and put it in the Dursley's trunk. He turned once again to Harry. "You all set, cub?"
Harry knew that Remus usually called him cub more when he was worried, and he caught the double meaning. The way Vernon had been talking to Harry had worried his Uncle Moony. Harry gave him a small smile. "I'll be fine. See you later, Uncle Moony."
"Soon," Remus promised, giving Harry one last short hug. He opened the door of the car for the boy and ruffled his hair as he got in, before leaving Harry alone in the car with the Dursleys.
Normally, that would be a bad thing. But Harry knew he had an ace in the hole this time. "I met my godfather this year," the young wizard said casually.
Vernon glared at the road. "You spend a year at school and you forget your place so easily, boy? What makes you think we want to know what you did at that freaky school with your freaky friends?"
"Oh, I think you'll be interested in this, sir." Harry tried his best to be polite and earnest while he fought back a smile. "You see, there was a big panic in the wizarding world this year. A mass murderer escaped. And everyone seemed to think he was coming to kill me. Someone else, someone we didn't know about, was after me. He attacked me, and that was when the murderer showed up. He went berserk on the man who had kidnapped me. I swear he would've killed the man if Professor Snape hadn't shown up. Turns out the murderer, Sirius Black, was my godfather. He had been coming after me, but to protect me. He had heard in Azkaban about the man coming to hurt me, and he came to stop it."
The silence that followed was the longest Harry could ever remember experiencing in the presence of the Dursleys. Only a small gasp from Harry's Aunt Petunia could be heard. She remembered that Sirius black had escaped from prison, and she made Vernon be quiet and listen. Now they were both in a shocked silence.
Eventually, that wore off, and Vernon raised his voice to Harry with a warning tone. "If you're threatening me, boy..."
"Of course not, sir," Harry reassured quickly. "I just thought it would be good for you to know. Unc-Sirius," Harry corrected, not sure if calling him Uncle Padfoot would be a good idea in this situation, "told me he'd be keeping tabs on me. I didn't want you to be completely unaware if he decided to show up."
Both Dursleys turned white with fear, and the rest of the car ride was spent in silence. As soon as they returned to the Dursley house, Vernon shoved Harry in the cupboard under the stairs and made sure he was securely locked in. Harry heard harsh whispers, and he knew his aunt and uncle were talking about him. However, before he could get the gist of what they were saying, Dudley caught wind of the fact that Harry was once again locked up under the stairs and began jumping on them to further annoy his cousin. But as the hours drew on and no one came to let him out, Harry began to think that they were just going to leave him in his cupboard.
Sighing, Harry tried to lay down in a vaguely comfortable position. As the years had passed, he had definitely become too large for the cramped quarters. On top of that, he had grown accustomed to having at the very least a larger area to exist in, and he was no longer adapted to the living conditions. After the first few days of being locked in the cupboard, Harry had grown accustomed to it. He was allowed out once a day to use the bathroom and have a glass of water. He had no more than ten minutes to do this in. It was like they were trying to lock him away out of sight, so that if Sirius showed up they could say, 'Harry? Harry who?'
By the second week, Vernon Dursley was fed up. He would not let the threat of Sirius Black keep him from doing what he saw fit in his house. As far as he was concerned, Sirius Black was a fugitive. He wouldn't risk being caught by coming to check on Vernon's freak of a nephew. And so, the cupboard was yanked open early. "Out, Boy! Get to work on your chores! I'll have no more of this lazy nonsense from you!"
Harry silently gulped. He knew this meant that the little card he had played with his godfather had run out. Vernon Dursley was very impatient by nature, and with no actual looming threat from the ex-convict himself, the man had decided he had enough of letting his nephew laze around in bed all day. It was not a privilege he felt someone who was what he considered a freak like Harry deserved. So Harry settled back into his normal routine at the Dursley house. He woke up early to cook them breakfast before getting to his other chores such as mowing the lawn and weeding his aunt's pristine garden. The days dragged by in slow tedium for Harry, but he knew it could've been worse. The beatings that his uncle had previously subjected him to had been limited to the occasional backhand. It seemed he was still conscious of the threat of Sirius Black. And now there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Harry knew that at the end of the week, his godfather and his uncle, his real uncle, Moony, would be coming to take him home for good.
For a good part of the second week, Harry managed to do what he was told, keep his head down, and stay mostly out of trouble. But in the last few days when Sirius and or Remus may arrive to take him home, Harry made a mistake. He cooked Vernon's steak for too long and the man in question was not pleased. Vernon liked his steak medium-rare. The freak knew that, and yet his steak was medium. He was sure the freak had done it on purpose, and he had had just about enough. "BOY! GET OUT HERE! NOW!"
A slightly fearful Harry rushed to exit his cupboard and comply with his uncle. He knew that tone. He knew it wasn't good. But he knew that it would be worse if Vernon had to come to him, so he edged out of his not yet locked cupboard and stood nervously in front of his uncle. "Yes sir, Uncle Vernon."
"MY STEAK IS OVERCOOKED," the oversized man yelled. "YOU KNOW HOW I LIKE IT COOKED, AND IT WAS DISRESPECTFUL OF YOU TO DO IT ANY OTHER WAY!"
"Sorry, sir," Harry said quietly, keeping his eyes trained on the floor. It took all of his Gryffindor courage to wait it out and not fight back, because he knew that the only thing he could fight back with would be magic, and he was an underage wizard. He had to force himself to remain defenseless. "It won't happen again, sir."
"Damn right it won't!" Vernon grabbed Harry's wrist and dragged the slightly struggling boy into the kitchen. He turned the stove on and viciously beat his nephew with his fists and his belt while he waited for it to heat up. "You will not burn my food! You will do as your told and earn your meager place in this house! You will NOT threaten me with that good-for-nothing murderer of a godfather again! He wouldn't come for you anyway! You're not worth the risk he'd be taking! You don't mean anything to anyone!" Each of his last words were punctuated with hard punches to Harry's face. "YOU! MEAN! NOTHING! TO! HIM!"
"THAT'S NOT TRUE!" Harry yelled, trying to convince himself more than his uncle. Sirius and Remus loved him. They had to. He didn't know what he would do if he found out they didn't.
"DON'T TALK BACK TO ME, BOY! THAT PROFESSOR, UNCLE MOONY," he sneered with a mocking tone, "DOESN'T LOVE YOU EITHER! YOU'RE NOT WORTH LOVING!" With that, Vernon burned Harry's hand in retaliation for Harry burning his steak. Harry screamed out in pain before he was thrown into his cupboard and locked in once again.
Remus was pacing. Remus had been pacing since they had left Harry with the Dursleys two weeks ago. The way that man had talked to his cub, had looked at his cub... The mere thought of it made him shudder. Every second the boy was away was torture for the werewolf. He felt like something was wrong. Every fibre of his being was screaming a him to get Harry. Get Harry now!
Sirius was not doing much better. When Remus had told him about how Dursley talked to Harry, Sirius had been enraged. He had literally flipped their coffee table. He ranted on for at least half an hour about how uncalled for it was, and how Harry had a name. Under normal circumstances, Remus would be trying to soothe his friend's unruly temper. But this time the professor was just as angered as his brother was. Neither of them wanted to believe that that was what Harry had grown up with up to that point, but they knew that it was. And they had the sneaking suspicion that it would be worse when Remus was not there to loom behind the young wizard and stare down his "uncle".
When both men were sure they couldn't handle any more, an owl swooped in, dropped a Ministry-sealed letter on Sirius' lap, and swooped out. Sirius tore the envelope open eagerly. "Moony! It's the papers! All they need are Dursley's signature and Harry's signature! When can get him now!"
Said Marauder stopped his pacing and looked eagerly at his friend. "Let's go!"
Without wasting another moment, the two wizards apparated outside of the Dursley's door. Sirius raised a fist and knocked eagerly. The man was so excited to get his godson that he completely forgot that muggles had no idea he was a free man, and he was likely to cause a panic if he was seen. People were likely to think he had kidnapped his beloved godson.
Vernon Dursley opened the door and glared at the wizards he saw behind it. He paled a bit when taking in Sirius' extremely muscular form. The man had gained back all that he had lost during his stay in Azkaban. When Vernon finally realized it was Sirius Black standing in his doorway, he paled. "S-s-s-sirius Black!"
Said man grinned. "The one and only!"
"W-what do you want," the man stuttered out, trying to sound brave.
Remembering now that he was not a free man in the muggle world, Sirius laughed. Harry had forgotten to tell his relatives about him being framed, or he hadn't as revenge for the way his uncle had treated him earlier. Sirius wouldn't be able to be mad at the boy for it. "I assure you, everything you've heard about me is a lie! I'm just here for my godson! Then we just need you to sign a few papers and we'll be on our way!"
"Harry isn't here," Vernon stated firmly, trying to sound truthful.
Remus' eyes narrowed. He knew something was wrong, he just knew it. "What do you mean, Harry's not here? I dropped him off at your car two weeks ago."
Sirius' eyes darkened, and he looked every bit the vicious mass murdered the muggles believed him to be. "Where is my godson?" His voice was a dangerous calm.
Deducing quickly that the trembling muggle in front of them would be no help, Remus sniffed the air. His eyes widened at the result. "Padfoot! I smell blood!"
Now both wizards were in a panic. They burst past Vernon, who was essentially useless at keeping the two large muscular wizards out of his house. Petunia came downstairs followed by Dudley to see what the commotion was, and she let out a bloodcurdling scream at seeing her nephew's murdering godfather and another of James Potter's friends standing in the middle of the living room. The two wizards paid her no mind as they searched for Harry. "Harry," Sirius yelled, "Harry, where are you, kiddo!"
A weak voice responded from the cupboard underneath the stairs. "Uncle Padfoot?"
Being closer, Remus opened the cupboard with a whispered Alohomora. Sirius was not far behind him. What they saw had both men enraged. Harry was curled on his side protectively around his left hand, clearly in a good bit of pain. Remus reached out to him, and Harry flinched back on instinct. "It's okay," Remus soothed in the calmest voice he could muster. "It's me, Harry. It's Uncle Moony. I won't hurt you. I would never hurt you."
This time, Harry allowed his true uncle to gently run a hand through Harry's hair. Sirius turned back towards the Dursleys. He wanted to comfort his godson, but he doubted he could muster enough calm to be much of a comfort to anyone at the moment. The edges of his vision were tinted by red. "WHO DID THIS TO MY GODSON!"
The house shook with the ex-convicts rage. Vernon managed to make an unconvincing and terrified demand. "I demand that you leave my house immediately! I will call the police!"
Humorless laughter erupted from deep within Sirius, and he sounded for all he was worth like the demented psychopath that many still believed him to be. "GO AHEAD! CALL THE POLICE! LET THEM SEE WHAT YOU'VE DONE TO MY GODSON! YOUR NEPHEW!"
For what seemed only to be the second time in his life, Vernon Dursley was speechless. "T-they wouldn't believe you! They'd think you did it!"
This time it was Harry who spoke. His voice carried strength of conviction despite his serious physical weakness. "Uncle Padfoot is a free man. He was framed and they know that. News hasn't gotten around to you yet, but in the wizarding world everyone knows he's free. And Sirius would never ever hurt me. Don't you dare try to blame what you've put me though on him. Don't. You. Dare."
Shock filled the house. Sirius and Remus looked on the youngest member of the Marauder family with a great deal of pride. Vernon stood there rather flabbergasted. Petunia comforted a sorrowful Dudley who was trying to make it somehow all about him, but nobody paid him any mind. Vernon's face turned red, then purple. Harry whimpered slightly. He had done it. And for a moment he forgot that his godfather and his Uncle Moony were there to protect him. That they would protect him. All he could see was Vernon Dursley's grotesque face.
Vernon started storming towards Harry, only to find two towering wizards in his path. Remus had stood up to his full height, still holding one of Harry's hands, and was now looking down at the pathetic excuse for a man. The wolf in Remus was stirring at the surface he was so enraged. "Take one more step towards my cub, my nephew, and it will be the last step you take."
Sirius pulled the papers for Harry out of his coat and thrust them at Vernon. "Sign these." The man stood there uselessly with his head deflating. "SIGN THEM NOW!"
"Petunia, get a pen," Vernon said hastily. He was beyond trying to seem in control of the situation. He was ready to do just about anything to get the two raging wizards out of his house.
Petunia scrambled to do as her husband told. She hastily grabbed a pen and Vernon signed the papers just as quickly. Sirius snatched the papers away from the man, and Remus glared at him with a hatred that before had been reserved specifically for Fenrir Greyback. "I assure you that this is not over. We'll be seeing each other again in court."
"You'll rot in Azkaban," Sirius spat. "And I can promise you, that prison will tear your very soul apart. I've been there."
With the now very real and tangible threat lying over the heads of the Dursleys, the two older wizards apparated out, bringing Harry along with them. When they arrived back at their home, Sirius and Remus weren't quite sure what to do. Sirius attempted to wrap his arms around Harry, and the young wizard flinched in response. Sirius' brow furrowed with worry and sadness.
"Don't worry, Harry," Sirius soothed with the softest voice he possessed. "It's Uncle Padfoot. I won't hurt you. You said it before, I would never hurt you."
"I know," Harry responded in a tone that neither of them had heard from him before, a tone of fear and insecurity. "Reflex. Sorry."
"Hey now. No apologies." Sirius tried again, and his godson let himself be pulled into a gentle and loving hug.
Remus sat on the other side of their youngest Marauder and put a comforting hand on Harry's shoulder. "There you go, cub. You're alright. No one can hurt you while we're around. But it's very important that you tell us what happened."
Harry burrowed a little further into Sirius before complying with Remus' request. "It wasn't as bad as it could've been. I think Uncle Moony scared Uncle Vernon a bit when he brought me out to the Dursley's car. On the way to the Dursley's house I told Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia that you were my godfather, Uncle Padfoot, and that you had broken out of prison to come save me from a man who you knew was coming to hurt me. I told them that you would've killed him if one of the professors hadn't shown up. That got them to leave me alone for the first week. I got to come out of my cupboard once a day to go to the bathroom and have a glass of water."
The two older wizards were positively stewing. "They starved you," Remus said angrily, pulling Harry from Sirius' arms and into his own. "They starved my cub, and locked you away in a dark cupboard under the stairs for a whole week simply for existing?"
"Pretty much," Harry admitted. He had been resigned to pretty much full disclosure as soon as Remus had asked. He understood that they needed to know, and that they wouldn't stop until they did, so he figured he might as well just get it out of the way. "After the first week Uncle Vernon got tired of me being lazy." Suppressed growls could be heard from the adults around him. "I had to get back to my normal chores. Mowing the lawn, weeding Aunt Petunia's garden, cooking meals for the Dursleys..."
"And how often did you get to taste any of those meals you made," Remus asked, dreading the answer he would receive from his too-small cub.
"I didn't," Harry shrugged. Rage grew even more in the pits of both men's stomachs, along with a festering and unvanquishable hatred for the muggles their youngest Marauder had been forced to live with. "I managed to grab a scrap here and there when I was washing the plates after dinner. Still, it wasn't so bad. What could've been a beating was reduced to a sharp backhand. I guess Uncle Vernon was still a little afraid you'd break into the house in a homicidal rage, Uncle Padfoot." Strained chuckles met the remark. "Anyway, by the end of the second week, I guess Uncle Vernon decided you weren't coming. I overcooked his steak a bit and he... H-he... He beat me. With his fists and his belt. T-then... t-then... t-then he b-burned my hand on the stove for burning his steak, even though I knew it was only a little over done. Then he... He threw me in my cupboard, and I was locked in there until you guys came for me."
Despite all the sorrow, Sirius could tell that his godson was holding something back, and he begged Merlin to let it not be anything too terrible. "What aren't you telling us, Harry? You know you can tell us anything, right?"
Catching on, Remus added, "Psychological abuse counts too, you know."
Realizing that there was no way he could hide anything from the two caring men sitting next to him, Harry detailed the last of what his uncle had done to him during his brief stay at the beginning of the summer. It was the hardest piece for Harry to get out, as it had wounded him the deepest, but he managed. "W-when he w-was beating me... He said that you wouldn't come for me, Uncle Padfoot... H-he said that a freak like me w-wasn't worth the risk that it would take to come save me. He told me y-you didn't l-love me e-either U-uncle M-Moony. H-he s-said that neither of y-you l-l-loved me. T-that n-nobody did. T-that I w-wasn't worth l-love. T-then he t-threw me in m-my cupboard. I couldn't really tell how much t-time had passed, and I kind of started to believe him. T-then you guys came for me, and I knew he was wrong. I knew it..."
The small wizard sobbed into his godfather's chest. The man looked as broken as he ever had in Azkaban, if not more, and Remus had one or two silent tears rolling down his face. Remus began rubbing circles in Harry's back, and Sirius pulled him closer, whispering softly to him. "Oh, Harry... My poor little godbaby. We love you so much... So much... And you always have been and always will be worth the risk. Even if I knew it meant the Dementor's kiss, I still would've come to save you."
Knowing that his friend also needed to comfort their youngest, Sirius allowed Harry to be taken from his arms and into Remus'. "Listen to me, cub... I love you so much. We both do. Nothing can ever change that, and we will always come. We will always protect you. As long as we are near, nothing can bring you harm. I promise you that."
"Harry, how long has your uncle been hurting you," Sirius asked, dreading the answer.
"As long as I can remember," Harry responded simply. Too simply.
"Why didn't you tell me," Sirius begged, needing to know more than he had ever needed to know anything else. "I could have done something. We never would've sent you back there. I would've died first!"
"It disturbs me that you refer to that nasty place as 'your cupboard'," Remus added, with a bit of disdain leaking into his voice at the thought of the place they had found his cub in.
"Sorry," Harry said, head down. "It kind of was my cupboard. I lived down there until I turned eleven, when I got my Hogwarts letter. And I didn't say anything because I was scared of you doing just that. I didn't know you could keep me legally before the papers came. I didn't want to give them any reason to throw you back in Azkaban, Uncle Padfoot. I couldn't live with that. And they always seem to be looking for reasons to hurt werewolves, Uncle Moony. I couldn't let them hurt either of you."
"Oh, cub." It was the worst Remus had ever felt about his condition. He felt like it had caused pain not only to him, but to his cub. "I never want you to worry about that, okay Harry. They can never keep me from looking out for you."
"Let us worry about you and each other," Sirius told Harry, "Uncle Moony and I can take care of ourselves and you, okay?"
Harry nodded, worming his way deeper into Remus' hold. The older wizard stroked his hair in a calming manner and held him closer. "We need to get you healed, Harry. I can do it, if you like. I've learned more than a few healing spells on account of my midnight escapades."
Nodding again, Harry pulled back to lean against Sirius while Remus casted healing spell after healing spell until Harry was once again in much better shape. Grinning, Sirius pulled the adoption papers out of his coat once again. "There we go, Harry. Just sign there and you're all ours! You will never have to leave your loving, doting uncle and godfather ever again, and we can spoil you rotten!"
These words did the trick. Harry let out a small laugh as he signed the papers. After that the Marauders and Junior Marauder talked and laughed until Harry fell asleep between the two wizards who he was the world to. Their tiny family was together once again. And they would not let anything, be it their painful pasts or a powerful dark wizard, tear them apart.