Author's Note: A quick word about this AU.
1) Severus Snape does not appear in the Shrieking Shack. He finds the Map later than he does in the book and will appear later in this fic to reflect that. 2) It's also not the night of the full moon.
I hope you enjoy! And once again, happy belated to ErinNovelist.
Sirius had never thought this moment would come.
He'd waited twelve years for this. Twelve. Bloody. Years. And here they were. The very fucking rat who ruined his friends' lives was finally in his grasp. Groveling. At his feet. The very one who betrayed them, killed them, framed him, sent him to Azkaban, and prompted his escape…
Twelve years ago, he had lost everything and everyone important to him. Now he was going to make up for it. He was going to avenge them. He was going to do right by them. He was going to finally, finally kill Peter Pettigrew.
Dizzy with anticipation and manic glee, Sirius raised the ginger's wand, wasted muscles quaking with the power he held over the man he once called brother.
Remus stood at his shoulder, his own wand raised in preparation. Harry…James and Lily's son—their son, his godson—stood at the edges of the room with his friends, green eyes darting between the pathetic excuse for a man and the two remaining Marauders…
It shouldn't be this way, Sirius realized, and it hit like a lightning strike. Pity. Remorse. Loss. He hadn't felt such things in a long time, not since the dementors first floated by his cell. Not so keenly, anyway. Anger and revenge had been companions for far too long, and the emotions assailing him now were far more crippling than he remembered.
It shouldn't have been this way.
He shouldn't have had to exchange apologies with Remus. He shouldn't have had to doubt Remus' ability to forgive. He shouldn't have had to meet his godson for a second time. He shouldn't have been a stranger to Harry's friends. Bloody hell, he should have been there to watch Harry grow, with James and Lily and Remus and Peter…
The man responsible for it all…
"You should have realized," Remus said softly, "if Voldemort didn't kill you, we would. Goodbye, Peter."
Sirius' anger surged again as Peter cringed. How dare he. How dare he not stand and admit to what he'd done. How dare he not stand to accept his fate like a Gryffindor!
He and Remus drew a breath simultaneously, the words forming on their lips…
Harry thrust himself forward, spreading his arms and placing his skinny body between the last two Marauders and the traitor. "You can't kill him," he said breathlessly, facing the drawn wands. "You can't."
The tip of Sirius' wand dipped, and he stared at this miniature Lily-and-James—Harry Potter, his godson—who…was defending the rat?
Harry could have called them all "Uncle…"
The sound of Peter's wheezing numbed Sirius' shock. He pulled his lips into a snarl. "Harry, this piece of vermin is the reason you have no parents." And the reason Remus and I lost two of our dearest friends. "This cringing bit of filth would have seen you die too, without turning a hair." And he nearly did fucking see it, too.
Harry faltered, his willful mask slipping for one second to reveal a vulnerable boy underneath, but before Sirius could say another word, his resolve solidified. He might look like James, but that stubborn expression was all Lily.
It almost took his breath away.
"You heard him," Sirius continued, unable to stop himself. "His own stinking skin meant more to him than your whole family."
"I know," Harry panted. "We'll take him up to the castle. We'll hand him over to the dementors…He can go to Azkaban…but don't kill him."
Sirius continued to stare as Peter flung his arms around Harry's knees. "You—thank you—it's more than I deserve—thank you…"
"Get off me," Harry spat in disgust, kicking Peter off his legs. "I'm not doing this for you. I'm doing it because…I don't reckon my dad would've wanted them to become killers—just for you."
Harry's words struck squarely in the heart, and Sirius exchanged a glance with Remus, who looked equally affected by what Harry had just said.
He's right, Moony's eyes said. James wouldn't have wanted this. Never. James always did see the good in people, and Harry…Harry. Sirius never would have guessed the little ball of energy he once knew, the little tyke he and James spoiled rotten, would grow up to have such a mature inner strength and control.
And as much as he wanted to see the light fade from Peter's eyes, he decided it was worth leaving him for the dementors, if only because it was an experience to feel this much pride again.
Because he was proud. So, so proud of Harry.
Remus watched him carefully, blue eyes cautionary yet compassionate, and it sent an almost-forgotten pang through him. Moony was always the sensible one. Even now, Sirius knew he was trying to keep him out of trouble.
And as bloody unfortunate as it was, neither of them had the legal right to perform an execution, did they?
Normally, Sirius had little regard for the rules, but he'd had enough of the wizarding world's legal system to last him a lifetime. Remus had had enough to shoulder the last twelve years without adding his part in Peter's death to the pile. Most importantly, however, they had to remember Harry had asked them to lower their wands.
So together, they did just that.
"You're the only person who has the right to decide, Harry," Sirius said. It was the truth, but after so many years, it was impossible for him to keep himself from trying one more time. He glared at Peter. "But think…think what he did…"
"He can go to Azkaban. If anyone deserves that place, he does."
Remus said something in response to Harry, but Sirius didn't quite hear. Peter, who had been wheezing and crying behind Harry, suddenly looked up and met his eyes. There was an upward turn to his lips.
Lunging forward and shoving Harry out of the way, Sirius lashed out with his wand. The jet of red light struck Peter right between the eyes, and as Peter toppled right over, that goddamned little smirk dropped off his face.
"No!" Harry cried in dismay. The bushy-haired girl raced forward, grabbing Harry's jacket sleeve and yanking him away. Her wand was at the ready, pointed directly at Sirius.
Sirius was unfazed, and he kicked Peter over. "Sloppy," he muttered to himself. "At least the dementors didn't take all of my Auror reflexes."
"Wh—what did you do to him?" the ginger boy asked, staring in horror at the man on the floor.
"Stunned him. Cheeky git was mocking me," Sirius explained. A bitter and guilty part of Sirius dared to ask where Pettigrew could have possibly learned that sort of behavior. "Thought he was going to get the better of us."
"He was planning to transform and escape the moment he had the chance," Remus said softly, coming up to stand next to Sirius. He looked down at Peter, sorrow aging his face. "Always so obvious, Peter."
Sirius winced. "Not always," he muttered, and he looked up to see Harry's green eyes locked on him.
"It'll be easier to take him to the castle now," Remus said. "We can wake him when he's in the care of the proper authorities."
"Pity he'll only have a little headache when he wakes up."
"A headache will be the least of his worries when he wakes up."
Silence reigned in the Shrieking Shack before it registered to Sirius what this meant. He began to laugh—it was hysterical and exhausted laughter, but it was laughter all the same—and a broad smile spread across Moony's face. Sirius' abdominals hurt from laughing so hard. Breathlessly, he clapped Remus on the shoulder, but Remus brushed Sirius' hand away and pulled him into an embrace.
After a single stunned second, Sirius squeezed Remus tight. His laughter had subsided to giggles, and he knew he must seem positively mad.
"It's over," Sirius said into Moony's shoulder. "It's over."
"It's over," Remus agreed, unheard by the children in the room "It's…Merlin, I'm so sorry, Padfoot. I'm so sorry."
Oh, no. Sirius wouldn't have that. With a smile, Sirius drew away and joked, "Oh, ge'off, you big softie."
Remus studied Sirius face. They needed to talk, but for now, this was enough. The guilt in Moony's expression ebbed, and his smile returned. Poking Sirius in the ribs, he said, "You look awful, you know."
"And you look like an old man," Sirius snapped back. Remus chuckled, eyes alight.
"This is bloody bizarre," Sirius heard the ginger mutter to Harry and the girl.
"No more than usual, I say," Harry said. Sirius would have laughed again, but something about his tone sounded off.
He didn't quite like it, and he quirked a brow at Remus, who shook his head. Later.
Something wasn't right, but if there was one thing Sirius could count on, it was that there would be plenty of time for later. Happiness flooded him, a sun-shower of brilliance and light he had never expected to feel again.
"It…It really is going to be alright," Harry said, projecting his voice so that Remus and Sirius would acknowledge them. The two men turned away from each other and saw Harry regarding them with a hesitant smile. "Isn't it?"
Remus waved his wand, and ropes to bind Peter's arms and legs materialized. Another wave and Peter was up in the air, his balding head lolling every which way. "It will be," he said. "Mr. Weasley, before we head back to—"
Sirius felt dizzy again, and he braced himself against the wall.
"Erm…Mr. Black?" the girl called. "Are you—is he alright?"
Harry was at his side before she had finished calling his surname. "I got him. Tend to Ron, please, Professor."
Professor, Sirius chuckled to himself. How perfectly 'Remus' to go and become a teacher.
He was probably the best at the school, that one.
"He is," Harry said, and Sirius realized he'd been commenting aloud. "The best professor I ever had, I mean."
"I'm glad," Sirius said. "Moony always did have trouble finding his calling."
Harry gave him a perplexed look. "You alright?"
"Never better," Sirius said cheerily. "I'm a bit knackered, understandably, but once we get to the castle—"
"You did a right number on Mr. Weasley's leg, Sirius," Remus chastised from the other end of the room.
Sirius winced and sent an apologetic look toward the boy. "Sorry about that, mate. I got a little overexcited. No hard feelings?"
The boy—it should have been obvious to Sirius he was a Weasley—flicked his gaze between Sirius and Peter. He didn't look particularly comfortable with Remus working on his leg, but once the magic splint settled and the girl helped him to his feet, he smiled gratefully at the werewolf before turning to Sirius. "Yeah, mate," he said casually. The twinkle in his eye suggested that Sirius would never live it down, and Sirius decided he liked this boy. Not all boys would be so forgiving of a convicted felon taking a chunk out of their leg...and then breaking it for good measure. Harry did well choosing him as a friend. "I suppose I should thank you. For saving me from…" Weasley shrugged in the direction of Peter.
"Right," Sirius said. "That must've been quite…an uncomfortable revelation, to say the least."
Beside him, Harry swallowed a snort, and the Weasley boy flushed bright red. "Oh, shut up, Harry. You were sleeping with him, too."
Even Remus cracked a smile at that. "We need to head straight to the Headmaster's office as soon as possible," he said. "And of course, Dumbledore was summoned to Bulgaria for some business or another. Tonight of all nights. If we get stopped…Sirius, it might be a good idea if you transformed once we're in sight of the castle. It will buy us some time to explain if one of the other professors catches us on the way. They must see Peter first."
Sirius offered a salute and staggered upright. Sleep could wait its little arse by the backdoor. He would be coherent when Peter was taken into custody.
"After you, Moony," he said. "I'll transform when…" Sirius trailed off, sudden panic gripping him. Moony. Transform. He struggled to remember last night's moon and then stared at Remus, trying to pinpoint any of the signs and symptoms he had learned to recognize over the years. "Remus. The date. What is the date?"
"The full moon is tomorrow," the girl offered. She automatically bit her lip when everyone turned to look at her. Looking ashamed of herself, she murmured, "Er…Professor Lupin, sir…I—I…I wanted to…"
Sirius considered her as she stumbled through an apology. Remus had called her the brightest witch of her age, but when she exposed his secret, Sirius had thought she wasn't quite bright at all. He thought she wouldn't appreciate what Remus had told them. About himself. About his lycanthropy. He thought none of them would quite understand how hard it was for him to speak about it.
But here she was, proving him wrong. Harry did do quite well picking his mates.
They reminded him of his own.
Remus smiled lightly and began to walk, not caring in the slightest if Peter's head knocked against the ceiling of the tunnel. "It's quite alright, Hermione," he said. "We'll…have to discuss this later, but rest assured, we're safe tonight. Let's get back to the castle."
Remus ushered Weasley and Hermione forward, and once the three of them disappeared into the tunnel, Peter's body followed, Sirius and Harry a step behind.
"You know what this means?" Sirius asked abruptly as they maneuvered down the tunnel. "Turning Pettigrew in?"
"Yes…" Sirius said, happiness bubbling within him again. "But I'm also—I'm not sure if anyone told you—I'm your godfather."
In the cramped space, Harry attempted to turn towards him, eyes cautious. "Yeah, I knew that."
He doesn't see it. He doesn't understand what it means. Anxiety gripped Sirius. What was he doing? This was a boy he didn't know. How could he expect Harry would feel comfortable talking to him, much less standing in the same room as him? Besides, his Prongslet was grown now, full of experiences Sirius hadn't been able to share.
But there would be plenty more to come, wouldn't there? Whether Harry liked it or not, he was going to try to be a part of his life. If he didn't like it...
"Well…your parents appointed me your guardian," Sirius said, taking the plunge. "If anything happened to them…"
Harry's eyes flicked back to him and widened, breath catching in his throat. Sirius couldn't be sure it was a good or bad thing.
So he just started babbling. James would surely be laughing his arse off to see him so terrified of his son. "I'll understand, of course, if you want to stay with your aunt and uncle. But…well…think about it. Once my name's cleared…if you want…a different home…"
His godson stopped walking entirely, a strange, dazed expression on his face. "What—live with you? Leave the Dursleys?"
Rejection bit at Sirius, and he wondered if he'd taken things too fast. He probably had. He usually did. Perhaps they should have started at tea. Maybe shared a Christmas together first. "Of course, I thought you wouldn't want to," Sirius tried to backtrack. "I understand, I just thought I'd—"
"Are you insane?" Harry croaked.
Sirius' heart stopped for half a second before Harry's eyes lit up, his smile spreading from ear to ear. "Of course I want to leave the Dursleys! Have you got a house? When can I move in?"
Later, Sirius would wonder why Harry was so eager to leave his relatives for an escaped convict he began to trust not only minutes before, but at the moment, all he could register was that Harry accepted.
"You want to? You mean it?"
"Yeah, I mean it!"
Sirius beamed. Every step forward felt as though he were walking on air. Happiness was a drug, he decided. How had he lived without it for twelve years?
"D'you…" Harry began awkwardly, suddenly subdued. "D'you think they'll let me? Move in with you?"
Sirius snorted. "I don't quite care who 'they' are." Fuck the Ministry and everything to do with it! "If it's what you truly want, I'd like to see them try to take you away from me again."
Harry grew silent, and Sirius wondered if he'd said something wrong.
No, that wasn't it. A spark of familiarity flared within, but he couldn't place it. The bright light of the rising moon shone through the tunnel just a few meters ahead, and Sirius had to squint as he stared at the back of Harry's head, trying to make sense of him.
Their odd little procession was brought to an abrupt halt, and Sirius' attention was diverted from Harry when Crookshanks slinked between his legs and sped up to the base of the Whomping Willow.
Once Hermione's clever cat darted out to tap the root, Remus went up through the hole and announced the coast was clear. Peter floated out after Remus, and Hermione and Weasley, taking care not to jostle the boy's leg, struggled out behind them.
Harry clambered ahead to help Hermione with Weasley, but before Sirius could register his absence, he returned. "Would it be easier if… you transformed?" Harry asked, eyeing him as though he were one of his dear mother's antique (and easily shattered) elf-made glass goblets.
Sirius was a little out of practice, but he did know the godson was not supposed to worry about the godfather. He wouldn't lie to Harry when the answer was obvious, however, so he nodded but did not transform, wanting very much to stay in human form. He might be about ready to topple over, but with Peter captured, with Remus and Harry back in his life, with the relief of knowing it was only a matter of time before he was well and truly free…
He felt human again.
Slipping on loose dirt, he heaved himself out of the hole and scowled when Harry climbed out behind without trouble. "Show off," he muttered.
Harry grinned easily. It was James' smile, and Sirius had to blink to remind himself… Sirius shook his head and padded ahead to walk abreast with Remus, who was murmuring in undertone to Hermione.
"…but surely there is…" Hermione was saying.
"Not quite," Moony said. "The Werewolf Registry is just as unorganized and unethical as it was when I was bitten."
Hermione scoffed. "What of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement? Is there no current legislation…?"
Sirius growled wordlessly under his breath. Remus shared a bitter smile with him. "Not in their jurisdiction," Remus said. "Well, no one really knows for sure. If the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures wasn't so busy shunting my kind back and forth between the 'Beasts' and 'Beings' Divisions…they might actually do their jobs, God forbid."
"That's appalling!" Hermione exclaimed. "What is it with wizards and bigotry? I don't understand wh—!"
"None of us do," Sirius interrupted. "None of the sane ones, anyway."
"And this is coming from Sirius Black?" joked Weasley. "Toujours Pur?"
Sirius barked a laugh, returning Weasley's sarcasm with some of his own. "You can't possibly mean the disowned Sirius Black, mass murderer and friend-betrayer? Can't say I know him too well."
"You were disowned?" Harry asked, genuinely curious.
"You doubt me, Harry?"
"Everything else is false."
"Not that part," Remus said before Sirius could. "Sirius defied every last thing the Blacks believed."
"That…was your dad's doing, mostly," Sirius said, nodding at Harry. "If I hadn't met him on the train…If I hadn't met them all on the train…"
"Bugger that!" Remus said. "Harry, your godfather is actually being modest for once in his life."
Remus shot him one of those rare, impish grins of his and said to Harry, "He'll tell you all about it in generous detail soon enough. But if there was ever a man worthy of Gryffindor, it'd be Sirius." His expression sobered, and he looked back at Peter. "More so now than ever."
Well, shit. Sirius staggered under the weight of the emotions threatening to overwhelm him. He'd forgotten this. He truly had. He had not felt the urge to cry in twelve years. Not that he ever had cried much in the first place, mind you. He wasn't some little girl like…
His thoughts tumbled to a screeching halt, the old joke pinching at the already-aching wound. Oh, Peter. What have you done?
Moony switched his wand to his non-dominant hand so that he could clap Sirius on the shoulder, but Sirius stared straight ahead, unable to acknowledge Moony and completely unaware of Harry's eyes on him.
We're the last, he repeated to himself over and over. Moony and I. We're the last.
James was gone. Peter was about as good as dead to him. They'd never be the same again. They'd never have what they dreamed of having, and for the first time since Sirius realized Peter had betrayed the Potters, he didn't feel the least bit angry.
He had not mourned in Azkaban.
"Sirius…" Remus began.
Moony never did get to finish. Harry shouted a wordless warning, but it wasn't enough. Sirius spun around just in time to see a dark shape rise from the ground.
Remus wasn't fast enough to retaliate. His wand flew from his hand, and behind them, Peter fell to the ground with a loud thump. Sirius' borrowed wand was snatched from him too, and he immediately searched for Harry. Before he could find him, a flurry of black spun and flashed before his eyes, and he was propelled back, away…
"Harry!" Sirius shouted, the moment he regained his balance. Harry yelled indistinctly over the black whirlwind, and Hermione screamed. Standing back to back with Remus, he turned and twisted. He didn't care much for the swirling blackness that encased him, but the loss of his godson, so soon after he found him again… "Harr—!"
A wand tip jabbed into his jugular, choking off the call, and the swirling black settled into not just one distinct form, but three. Thudding footsteps and booming yelling indicated a fourth person was approaching fast.
Naturally, Sirius focused on the person closest to him, the one holding a wand to his throat. "Well, well, well," Sirius croaked, attempting a smile. "Snivel—"
Sneering, Snape applied more pressure to his vocal cords, and McGonagall and Sprout advanced closer, their wands never wavering from the two Marauders. "Don't even think about it," Snivellus ordered, punctuating each word viciously.
"No!" Harry shouted, straining against Hagrid's arm, which shot out and wrapped around all three children. Hermione and Weasley shouted over one another and fought with equal fervor, but Hagrid had no trouble holding them all back, his expression anguished and face ruddy with exertion from his sprint across the grounds. "No! Stop!" Harry said. "Stop! Please! You don't under—!"
"Enough, Potter!" Snape snapped. "Granger! Weasley! Enough! Hagrid, take them back!"
Sirius tensed, causing everyone around him to do the same. Remus, for his part, had not moved a single muscle, if one didn't count his slight trembling. Paired with his wan, clammy skin and stony-faced expression, it took less than a fraction of a second for Sirius to realize Moony was hurting. He needed rest…otherwise this moon wouldn't be an entirely pretty one.
Silence pervaded, tensions high, before McGonagall wearily asked, "What have you done to them, Sirius?"
She was surely a sight for sore eyes. Sirius had missed her. "Hello, Minnie, dear. It's been awhile, hasn—?"
"Black!" she barked, eyes flashing. "I see you have not lost your charm in Azkaban. I would advise you take this seriously. For once in your life."
Ignoring Moony's sidelong glare, Sirius almost grinned. "I'm taking this very seriously. This is a big moment, after all."
"I ask again, Black. What have you done to them?"
"Told them the truth. Showed them, rather. Ask Remus. Ask…"
He almost twisted from Snape's grasp, desperate to see if Peter was still unconscious on the ground. He was rewarded for it with a spell right to the gut and a wrenching pain when Snape yanked his head back around, but the sight of the rat lying ignored on the ground made it worth it.
McGonagall narrowed her eyes and leveled her wand again. "Don't try another move like that again, Black. Or we won't ask questions before we cast." Turning to Remus, she said, "Why? Why, Remus?"
Remus lowered his hands slightly. "I need everyone to—"
"To calm down?" Sprout shot off. "Calm down? Is that it, Remus?"
"To see who it is lying on the ground behind us," Remus finished calmly. "You might not think I deserve any favors right now, and you certainly don't think Sirius deserves any favors right now, but Harry does."
They hadn't expected that, and all but Snape couldn't help but flick their gazes toward Harry Potter, who stopped struggling upon hearing his name. Sensing this was his moment, Harry said strongly, "Someone is going to Azkaban tonight, and it isn't Sirius!"
"'arry…" Hagrid sighed sadly.
"Listen to me! It is not Sirius!The only way you'll believe any of us…is if you see who it is lying a few paces behind Professor Lupin." Harry was able to wiggle out of Hagrid's hold just enough to get an arm free, and he pointed at Peter's form.
Sirius could tell Sprout hadn't expected to see anyone. Eyes widening and wand dropping immediately, she breathed, "Dear Merlin!"
McGonagall's expression was enough to warn Sirius he'd best stay put as Sprout gathered her robes and rushed to the fallen man. Snape's grip on him tightened just enough to leave bruises and pull his hair out by the roots, but he merely rolled his eyes at both of them and said, "I've waited twelve years. I'm watching this."
And it was oh-so-satisfying.
Sprout dropped to her knees and waved her wand over Peter in a series of complicated patterns. Sirius recognized her spells from the field and remembered she had been training as a Healer before she had a change of heart and joined the Hogwarts staff during the Marauders' sixth year.
Sirius smiled. There was always an identification spell in an emergency responder's repertoire.
Diagnostic spells complete, Sprout sat back on her heels and stared at the man in front of her. "Oh," she said. For a second, she was silent, but with a speed that belied her size, she lit her wand tip and brushed Peter's matted hair from his face, her chest heaving.
"Pomona?" McGonagall asked.
"Oh, gods," was all Sprout had to say. Her hands shook, and she looked up from Peter to Sirius and back again, horror etched into her face. "Oh, gods."
"It's Peter. It's little Peter Pettigrew," Sprout gasped, and McGonagall's face was priceless. Sirius nearly laughed, his heart swooping with triumph. "He's…he's alive. Merlin's fucking bollocks. He's alive."
Snape stiffened behind him, and both he and McGonagall stared at Sirius, who said, "The Potters switched. At the last minute. I was too easy. I thought I could be bait. I thought…I was…"
I was the one who told them to switch.
"It was another layer of protection for them…if everyone still assumed it was me."
McGonagall looked to Remus for confirmation, and he said, "No one knew. No…No one. Not me—not until tonight—not even Albus Dumbledore…"
"But Voldemort did," Sirius said. "Peter made sure of that."
McGonagall's stern face, which had been pinched with tension, fell slack. Snape, catching a short glance from the elder professor, pulled Sirius around like a straw doll and dragged him, more than led him, toward Peter. It was exceedingly humiliating. McGonagall, for her part, didn't do much more than gesture impatiently at Remus with her wand.
"Look, Minerva," Sprout whispered as they approached. She took one of Peter's hands in her own and displayed the missing finger, and all the color drained from McGonagall's face.
"Not proof enough," Snape said harshly, though he, too, stared at Pettigrew as though he was seeing him for the first time.
McGonagall blinked rapidly, tearing her eyes away from Peter to stare at Sirius. "…Yes. Severus is right. Identification spells aren't always perfect, and Polyjuice…"
"How would anyone get a hair from a man who'd supposedly blown himself up twelve years ago?" Sirius asked, unable to keep his temper under control. Oddly, Snape didn't try to stop him from speaking. "A finger, they say! That's all that was left!"
Sirius was suddenly aware of Harry's presence next to him, and he felt himself relaxing in Snape's hold. Hagrid had approached and brought the teens with him. His beetle-black eyes were overflowing with tears as he regarded Harry and Sirius. "I can' believe i'," he blubbered. "I can' believe i'. Yeh wen' off ta take 'im on, di'nt ya, Sirius? Peter? Tha' night when yeh gave me Harry? When…?"
Sirius didn't respond. He closed his eyes, guilt threatening to overcome him. He'd never forgive himself for it.
"Perhaps I spoke rashly," Snivellus said suddenly, a strange inflection in his tone. "Perhaps this is proof enough."
Sirius couldn't quite believe he heard it come from Snape's mouth first, and he stared with wide eyes at the man he once tormented. Snape didn't notice. Or pretended not to notice. He was more interested in Peter. With the hateful look Snape was giving the rat, Sirius wouldn't have been surprised if Peter somehow ended up in his secret torture chambers or private vivisecting lab.
"Thank you, Professors," Harry said, turning Sirius' attention away from Snape. Gratitude made his voice crack as he frowned down at Pettigrew. "Thank you."
"Don't thank us yet, Potter," McGonagall said, and Sirius' heart panged. He wondered how Remus managed it for a full year—coexisting with Harry without feeling as though his lungs were about to collapse every time he heard his name.
The elder professor raised a brow at Snape, who relaxed his hold on Sirius. She looked him up and down, lips pursing again. "We will request an audience with Professor Dumbledore," she said.
"He will return for this. His business in Bulgaria can hold. Madam Bones, as well as investigators and Aurors in her Department, will be summoned from the Ministry, and you three—" she gestured between Remus, Sirius, and then Peter "—must testify under Veritaserum."
"About damn time."
Sprout, like Hagrid, was crying openly, and she swatted Sirius. "You're awful, Sirius Black. You're awful. Always were, making your inappropriate jokes at inappropriate times and your—your...This…This changes... Merlin, we…We—"
"It was a mistake," Sirius said, his humor gone and voice detached. "It was all a mistake."
"And we'll get to the bottom of it," McGonagall said. "Black, Lupin, I must ask that we keep your hands bound."
Sirius hesitated, appalled by the idea of being shackled again and about ready to give her a piece of his mind, but when he saw Remus extend his hands and Harry jerk his head, he found the courage to follow. "For Harry," he muttered as she tapped his wrists with her wand.
McGonagall's sharp features softened. "For Harry."
They hadn't taken more than two steps before Harry wheeled in his tracks and gasped, his breath hitching sharply. Sirius, too, shivered, a swirling pit of dread opening up in his stomach.
He didn't have to look up to know, but regardless, he did.
Swarms of them came, their cloaked heads searching and searching, soulless and empty eye sockets trained, all trained, on him. They were coming. Coming. They were here for him, and the shivers that had announced their arrival became full-body tremors. Screams from the prisoners of Azkaban rang and rang in his ears, piercing and tormenting and driving like a Muggle drill into his mind…
Sirius, Sirius, please, you don't…
You haven't a single right to beg for mercy, Peter!
You killed them, you rat! You betrayed them! You—
I'm warning you, Sirius!
I'm going to kill you, Peter! I'm going to kill you for what you've done!
…I did warn you, didn't I? I did. I did. What happens next is on you now.
YOU'RE MAD. YOU'VE GONE MAD. SIRIUS, HOW COULD YOU? MURDERER! YOU WERE THEIR SECRET-KEEPER. YOU KILLED THEM. YOU KILLED THEM. THE POTTERS WERE OUR—"
Someone touched Sirius, yelling in his ear. Blindly, he cringed and fought off the hand. His world suddenly upended, and as blinking spots danced in his tunneled vision, his chest heaved and lungs sprinted to fight the frost creeping up on him, the darkness threatening to overcome him….
James, I can't.
Oh, of course you can, Padfoot! Aren't you the one always claiming you—?
This isn't a joke!
No… no, it isn't. I'm sorry. I just…this is…Why are you bringing this up now, Sirius? We've already decided.
Then reconsider! Don't you understand? It isn't safe. You…you should use someone else.
Padfoot. Sirius—c'mon, mate, Lily and I have talked about this…
Remus…no, no, not Remus. Peter. Ask Peter. No one would ever know. If everyone still assumes it's me, you'll be safe. It's perfect. It'll be perfect. He'd never guess.
I can't ask you to—
Please, Prongs. Voldemort…there's a traitor in our midst. I don't trust anyone anymore. After what happened yesterday…
Alright, Pads. Alright. I'll tuck Harry in, and we'll talk…
They were close. They were everywhere. There were so many of them, and Sirius wasn't prepared. With his recent taste of freedom, the dementors' effects hit him harder than they ever had in Azkaban, where he'd learnt to control his mind. Emotions he had never had the chance to process struck all at once, and tears spilled from his eyes, sobs wracking his throat.
The sound of his dearest friend's voice felt so real, so close, and it hurt.
He tried to shuffle back…
It was so cold, so cold.
And it was his fault. All, all his fault.
My fault. My fault. I killed the Potters. I am to blame. My friends. My fault. Everything…I…
Sirius felt it when the first Patronus was cast. He couldn't have known whose it was, but it was enough to spread a sheer film of warmth over his heart, enough for him to take control and find a handhold on that ever-slippery slope.
I couldn't have known, he realized. No one had known. It was Peter. It was Peter who killed them, betrayed them all, left Harry without…
A second Patronus darted overhead, and this time, Sirius could see it. Moony. Moony had gotten hold of a wand. Mind less foggy, Sirius rolled to his side, retched, and tried to struggle upright. Getting on his feet was near impossible, but he managed. Beyond the sea of dementors, he could vaguely make out McGonagall's silvery cat. Snape was nowhere to be seen, but Sprout stood with Hagrid, using her noncorporeal Patronus to shield the two children…
Two. Two? Harry. Harry wasn't there, and Sirius almost retched again. Where was…?
His vision went black, a slithering, cold hook lodging itself deep, deep within and giving a forceful yank. Something tore, something vital, and deliriously, Sirius wondered if this was how fish felt when they were snagged. He'd never partake in fishing again if that were the case. Shame, really. Peter had been the fisherman, but Sirius always had a grand time whenever—
The hook ripped itself right through the good memory, and Sirius opened his mouth in a silent scream. Now that one had gone, the others followed. Memory after memory flashed through his mind, and every last pinch of happiness was sucked away, leaving behind…
He tried to fight it. He tried. He clung and scrabbled to block his mind, to reach for Padfoot, whose magic had saved him in Azkaban time and time again, but it was in vain.
The dementors were there for his soul. And they would get it.
The finality of it wasn't a happy thought, so they couldn't take it from him. Not right away. Regret for things he'd done and the things he had never had the chance to do bubbled and overflowed, and like soap in a wound, it burned.
But then even that was gone, and the hook yanked and yanked, and he floated further, further…
"…PEC…TRON…" a yell broke through the void.
Sirius couldn't know what the bloody hell "pectron" was, but at the moment, he was grateful for whichever strange Muggle had come up with the beautiful word. He latched onto it, the reality of the syllables—and the voice speaking them—grounding him in the void.
The two dementors hovering over Sirius faltered, their hooks easing from his soul, and Sirius gasped a sob. Light, the glowing silvery-white pulse of a noncorporeal Patronus, filtered into the edges of his vision.
"EXPECTO PATRONUM!" Harry (Harry?) roared.
The fuzzy glow exploded into a shower of bright light. The unique shriek of the dementors tore through Sirius' consciousness, overpowering the echoing screams of the insane from Azkaban. As the Patronus galloped by, charging right at the dementors centimeters away from Kissing Sirius, air flooded his lungs, and the memories they had fed on returned with a vengeance, each feeling as fresh and beautiful as the day they were formed. Joy and laughter, pranks and shenanigans, smiles and drunken nights…it gave Sirius the strength to refocus his eyes, to move…to see…
Prongs stood guard over Sirius, Harry at his side, trembling with the effort of the charm. There was a break in the chaos, and across from him, he saw Peter's eyes flutter open, latching with startling clarity on the stag Patronus. A turn of his head and Sirius found Moony's jaw falling slack, his own Patronus fading to nothing.
But then he smiled, face alight, and Sirius, too, barked a strangled, delighted laugh.
It was an odd and downright depressing sort of circumstance they were in, but for perhaps the last time, the Marauders were together again.
Prongs bowed his head and remained imprinted in the night sky long after Harry crumpled to the ground, Peter's eyes rolled into the back of his head, and Sirius slid into unconsciousness.