Chapter 11

"Gin!" Alice Longbottom declares happily.

"You're a hustler, Longbottom," comments James, throwing his cards down in disgust.

"You have no poker face," Alice retorts, elbowing Lily beside her. "Back me up here, Lils."

Harry smiles at the interplay between them all, amused at the teasing and banter the group had fallen into since the awkward beginning a few days before.

Meeting with Lily after his initial meltdown had been hard and he'd never been more grateful that Hermione had been with him, her hand in his. His chaotic magic had swirled under his skin, but between Hermione and his bracelet it had remained contained. Thankfully, his newfound family had been understanding including Lily herself.

Lily looks over as though she's noticed his regard and winks.

Harry smiles back at her.

She's fiercely intelligent and passionate in her views; brutally honest and obstinate; beautiful. She's also kind-hearted and warm; she's witty with a keen sense of humour. Lily Evans is everything he ever imagined Lily Potter to ever be and more.

Of course, the sacrifice of his own mother has seemingly complicated Lily's feel of Harry within her newly burgeoning family magic. She's drawn to him. She'd been with her parents for Christmas and had been driven into a coma from the magical shock of Harry's arrival. It had only been when her parents had been able to make contact with Professor Dumbledore through a letter that he had hurried into the muggle world to retrieve her from the hospital and get her magical treatment. Once awake, Dumbledore had told her about Harry and, well, she'd immediately tracked him down.

Unfortunately, her magic still sought Harry's presence; it had physically hurt her when she had tried to take her leave. Charlus had been kind enough to extend an invitation for her to stay, additionally inviting the Longbottoms to provide familiar company for Lily and to act as an apparently needed chaperone given Lily's single status.

Harry knows both he and Hermione have been thrilled to get know the Longbottom couple. Frank and Alice are friendly and kind; they can see hints of Neville in both of them. They miss Neville. They miss all their friends and it's beginning to dawn on them both that they won't see them again for years.

It's been weird to see Lily and James tentatively moving past their initial frostiness into something resembling a nascent friendship. It had helped that James had offered an apology for his school-boy pranking and bullying almost immediately; that he had accepted he had perhaps gone too far at times, especially in the Mischief Makers' treatment of Severus Snape.

Harry finds it too incredibly weird that Snape and Lily are still friends. Just friends, because Hermione had delicately enquired about it even though Harry had shied away from the question. Apparently, Lily had gone out on a single date with Snape in their fourth year where they had kissed and realised immediately that they were more like brother and sister. Harry is still slightly horrified that he has the image of Lily kissing Snape in his head.

Luckily, Snape is out of the country gathering rare potions ingredients and won't return until after Hogwarts is back in session. Lily has openly lamented that Harry may not meet him until the first Hogsmeade weekend since the Professors are discouraged from inviting personal visitors during term time and the school week. Harry is content to wait. He's just beginning to get used to his family without adding more ghosts into the mix.

Lily's reaction to him may make their choice of profession limited given that her magic seeks Harry constantly. They may end up having to return to Hogwarts where Lily works to ensure she isn't in pain. Dorea and Regina, with the support of Charlus and Arcturus, are trying to determine exactly why the family magic is responding so fiercely, but neither Harry nor Hermione can give them much to go on except his own mother's sacrifice left him with a powerful protection against Voldemort.

Harry has also started lessons with both men as his own ease with the family magic has begun to awaken the ability to sense the rest of the family. He's already started to feel when his family are in the house and when they are elsewhere. Right at that moment, he feels the presence of James, just like he feels the absence of Arcturus, Dorea and Charlus who are attending a ball. Frank had also taken his mother to allow Alice to remain as a chaperone for Lily.

Harry glances at the clock. It won't be long before its midnight and the turn of the year.

Hermione leans into him, giggling a little as Lily jibes with James. Harry accepts the soft weight of her against his shoulder. He frowns as there is a tug on his magic, a warning about the wards.

James smiles suddenly and leaps to his feet. "It looks like Remus decided to join us, after all."

"Good," Alice says brightly, "he has a worse poker face than you."

James maturely sticks his tongue out at her and hurries from the room. Harry is glad for him. He knows James was disappointed when none of the Mischief Makers were free to attend the New Year gathering. Peter and Albert had apparently been co-opted for another surveillance mission by Moody, and Remus had made excuses. Harry assumes the werewolf felt awkward about the presence of Sirius given the history.

"Come on, Sirius," Alice states firmly, "you should play the next hand."

"I know better than to play with you," Sirius argues, "James was right; you're a hustler."

"Well," Lily says teasingly, "there's something I never thought I'd see; you agreeing with James Potter."

Sirius simply smiles back at her, a touch enigmatically.

"Darn," Alice says, frowning, "I need the loo again."

Lily gives a half-hearted groan, although her expression remains amused. "Do you have to announce it to the room, Alice?"

Alice grins at her and darts out.

"I didn't think the constant loo thing happened until much later into pregnancy," Regina comments.

Sirius sighs heavily. "Can we not talk about you and pregnancy?"

Regina grins at him. "Don't worry, Siri, I know ten contraceptive charms."

"Ten," murmurs Lily, "I'm only aware of six."

Hermione clears her throat. "I know eight."

Sirius and Harry exchange the same look of consternation and bemusement at the topic of conversation.

"Maybe we should check on James," Sirius suggests.

Harry nods, trying not to look frantic in his agreement. "Good idea."

Hermione shoots him a fond look of exasperation, but she lets go of him as he gets to his feet and sends him on his way with a smile. The women are starting to exchange notes on contraceptive charms as Sirius closes the door on them.

Sirius stops them before they've taken more than a step. "Do you feel that?"

"What?" asks Harry, uncertain.

"Take a deep breath and focus on your inner sense of James," Sirius instructs.

Harry follows Sirius's instructions and frowns. James is upset; angry. "What do…"

They both freeze at the sound of footsteps hurrying towards them. A second later Remus appears in the hallway and comes to a halt at the sight of them.

Harry takes a moment to catalogue the differences between his Moony and the version stood before him.

He's younger, so much younger.

His features aren't so scarred from the werewolf transformations; he looks handsome in a windswept, upper-class English aristocratic way with his light brown almost blond hair and brown eyes. His clothes look good quality; the dragonhide trousers and sturdy leather boots peek out from under the heavy woollen outdoor robe.

"Black, I mean, Baron Blackthorn," Remus stutters out. His brown eyes flash to Harry and widen. "You must be Harry, James has mentioned you."

"His current title is Lord Potter-Black," Sirius corrects in an even tone.

Remus flushes red but he nods. "Of course, forgive my presumption, Lord Potter-Black."

Harry smiles awkwardly. "That's alright." He waves at Remus. "You're not staying? I know James was looking forward to having your company."

"No," Remus replies, "I just wanted to let him know I'll be out of the country for a while." He shifts to look fully at Sirius. "I owe you an apology, Baron Blackthorn. I regret any harm my silence about the events between us may have caused to you and your family."

Sirius nods. "Thank you; I accept your apology."

Remus looks disconcerted at the swift reply. He looks back up the corridor a moment before squaring his shoulders and facing them again. "Well, I must take my leave."

"Of course," Sirius says, "safe journey."

Remus bows his head and quickly walks away, heading to the front door which opens as he nears and shuts once he is clear of the threshold.

Harry frowns.

Sirius looks at him questioningly.

"Just…we should probably check on James," Harry says, unwillingly to talk about how odd he found the stilted interaction between the two men. He can't help but think back to the friendship Moony and Padfoot had enjoyed; it had been a solace to both men once they'd reunited.

Sirius cocks his head as though he knows there is more than Harry is saying but he doesn't push and instead leads Harry down the corridor towards James's study.

The door is ajar and Sirius taps lightly against it before pushing it open enough for them to see James, sitting on a leather sofa with his head in his hands. The Potter heir looks up and waves them inside. Sirius closes the door behind them as they make their way over to the small sitting area.

"Sorry, didn't mean to disturb your evening," James says, despondently.

"You're saving us from a discussion on contraceptive charms," Sirius replies dryly, "I think we'll live." He sits down in the chair beside the sofa.

Harry takes the seat next to James. "Remus mentioned he was going abroad?"

"Dumbledore's sending him on a mission to the packs," James shakes his head and slumps back. "It's a losing game, Remus even knows it. The packs don't trust him. He's a lone wolf who is still more invested in his parents and friends than in joining them. They know his politics don't include recognition for the packs in any formal way. It's a fool's errand!"

"The Headmaster must believe there is some value," murmurs Sirius as Harry struggles for a reply.

James grimaces. "Sometimes Dumbledore takes too much advantage of the fact that he sponsored Remus's education at Hogwarts, as though he doesn't have a duty to teach children. Remus feels far too beholden to him for just giving him the opportunity."

Sirius hums.

James points at him. "Stop being such a Black about this. You agree with me."

"I do," Sirius concedes, "the Headmaster regularly takes advantage of former students to perform errands or find out information." He shrugs. "He's not as obvious about it as old Slughorn used to be but he cultivates relationships which increase his power or are useful to him."

James sighs heavily. "I just…I worry he's going to get Remus hurt one of these days."

"A justifiable worry," Sirius says, "I don't believe the Headmaster worries too much about the consequences of what he asks others to do at times."

James nods slowly, a contemplative look stealing across his expression. "You don't trust him very much, do you?"

"I admire his accomplishments greatly," Sirius counters, "but in respect of having the best interests of others at heart? I believe Albus Dumbledore thinks he knows best for everyone and that is never a good thing when he has magical and political power to follow through on his thoughts."

James nods again. He turns to Harry. "You're suspiciously quiet."

Harry shrugs. "I had a complicated relationship with the Dumbledore in my world. He did great things, but he also manipulated events and people to bend to his view of what was needed for the greater good. I think we won the war despite his machinations in the end rather than because his grand plan came to fruition. I have a lot of unresolved anger towards my Dumbledore, so it makes viewing yours with any kind of objectivity a bit difficult."

"That sounds a lot like Hermione," James teases.

Harry smiles sheepishly. "She may have some views about it."

"Speaking of the ladies, we'd better get back before they come looking for us," Sirius says.

James glances at the clock and nods. "It's almost midnight!" He jumps up and hurries to the door, but he stops in front of it and turns back to them. "Thanks," he says, "for checking on me."

Harry and Sirius follow him out and back to the living room. The conversation thankfully has moved on and Harry sits beside Hermione and slides his hand into hers without thinking. James sorts them all out with a glass of champagne – or juice for Alice – ready to toast the New Year.

The clock strikes midnight.

Harry raises his glass and sips the bubbly wine as James wishes them all a Happy New Year.

"Oh, for Merlin's sake, it's the New Year," Alice says forcefully, "go ahead and kiss your wife, Harry. I'd be full on snogging Frank if he was here."

Harry blushes but he turns to Hermione. There's a hint of pink in her cheeks, but her eyes are twinkling as she silently agrees with his questioning look if it is OK to kiss her. He half-regrets that they've never practiced kissing before; that their first kiss will be in front of everyone. But as they lean in and their lips meet, Harry forgets to regret anything.

His whole being centres on Hermione; on the feel of her lips beneath his, the touch of her skin under his fingers as he cups her cheek with his free hand, the knowledge that her hand is fisted in his shirt, warmth creeping into his belly as the kiss deepens a touch.

Alice whoops in the background and brings them back to reality.

Hermione is blushing as they ease back, but she tangles her fingers with Harry's.

Regina sighs wistfully. "I'm so jealous."

"I'm happily married and I'm jealous," Alice laughs.

Lily smiles at them both. "It's lovely that you're so in love. I'm so glad you found each other."

Harry doesn't know what to say to that.

"I can't imagine my life without Harry in it," Hermione says.

Harry squeezes her hand, grateful and touched by her words. "I wouldn't have survived without you."

"OK," James waves his hands dramatically, "enough with the newly-wed sappiness."

"Jealous, Potter," Lily teases.

James grins at her and puffs up a touch. "Hey, I have plenty of ladies who'd be more than delighted to give me a kiss at the turn of a New Year."

Lily sniffs, but her face is alight with humour. "I find that unlikely."

Everyone laughs at James's faux outrage at the light jab.

"What about you, Sirius," Lily asks, turning her attention to the other single male in the room, "are you jealous?"

"Not so much jealous," Sirius says, "but hoping I get as lucky in finding someone to share my life with as Harry and Hermione have been to find each other."

Harry ducks his head a little. He feels a little ashamed at lying to them about the real state of his and Hermione's relationship, but on the other hand…he doesn't know what he would do without her. He glances at her and finds her looking back at him, questions in her eyes which he thinks are reflected in his.

"Aw, that's lovely," Alice says, "you always do have a way with words, Sirius."

Regina clears her throat. "Does this mean…"

"No," Sirius says firmly, "this does not mean you can start match-making me."

James laughs, pulling Harry's attention away from Hermione, and back to the wider gathering.

Alice sets her glass down and stands up. "Well, I should be heading to bed. We've got an early start to get to Blackthorn tomorrow."

Her statement seems to galvanise all of them into goodnight wishes and they troop off to bed within minutes.

Harry waits until he and Hermione are behind closed doors. He clears his throat, nervous suddenly. "Hermione, about the kiss…"

Hermione pauses, half-way to the bathroom. She's in the middle of taking off her jewellery and she unclasps her earring and looks at him quizzically.

"I want to…" Harry begins before he stops and pushes a hand through his hair.

"It's alright, Harry," Hermione says quickly, "we knew we would have to kiss eventually, and we probably should have realised tonight would be…"

"I liked kissing you," Harry blurts out.

Hermione freezes, her eyes wide. "You did?"

"Yes," Harry says, bravely, "I did." He gestures at her. "I know you don't feel the same…"

"I liked kissing you too," Hermione cuts in.

Harry blinks. "You did?"

Hermione takes a step back towards him and stops. But then she takes a deep breath and with her characteristic bravery, speaks. "I…I've always liked you, Harry." She smiles a touch tremulously. "I just…you never looked at me so…"

"When I might have thought…you wanted Ron," Harry points out, "and he always liked you so…"

Hermione takes another step towards him and he takes a step toward her. They're close enough to touch.

"So, we like each other," Hermione states with a wry smile, "we've always liked each other, we've just never realised."

Harry nods. "I think that sums it up."

Hermione bites her lip. "Are you sure this isn't some kind of Stockholm Syndrome because…"

Harry kisses her again. Sometimes he can be as brave and reckless as a Gryffindor is supposed to be.

The kiss is just as good as the last one; better. They both reach for each other at the same time and they're properly kissing; tongues tangling and hands seeking the skin under their clothes. Harry draws Hermione flush against him and she gives a breathy moan. They don't stop kissing.

The wards tug at Harry's magic as his missing relatives arrive back from the ball and it's enough to break the bubble of intimacy.

Harry eases back, breathing hard. Hermione looks at him wide-eyed, her lips swollen. Her hair is in disarray. One of his hands strokes over her back; one of her hands is under his shirt.

"Harry…" Hermione whispers.

"Wow," Harry says.

Hermione stares for a second before she giggles. A second later they're both chuckling.

Hermione smooths his collar down and gazes at him thoughtfully. "So, we're really doing this? I mean, being together?"

"I want to try," Harry replies, "but only if…"

"I want to try too," Hermione hurriedly assures him. She kisses him softly but pulls back before he can deepen the kiss. "But as much as I really enjoy kissing you, I think maybe we should take it slow."

Harry won't lie; he's a little disappointed. His body is very much on board with kissing, on the fact that there's a bed right next to them. But he won't push her.

"It's just there's a lot at stake, Harry," Hermione continues, "we're pretending to be married and we're relying on each other a lot and we still don't know how we got here or how we get back and what that whole thing with Ignotus waking up means. We need to make sure we're not just getting carried away and that we're really serious about this and I don't want to risk our friendship and…"

He drops another quick kiss on her lips. "Hey, it's OK," he says, "I understand, and our friendship comes first, right? No matter what we add to it. We'll always be friends."

Hermione's face eases with relief. "Thank you, Harry."

"And you're right, we probably should take it slow given the circumstances," Harry admits. "I don't think either of us are the type to get carried away, and it would be good to try to maybe do this normally?"

"You mean like go on a date?" Hermione asks, a little incredulous.

"Yes, something like that," Harry immediately replies, "just something normal."

"I like that idea," Hermione admits, "maybe we can arrange a date together before we go back to Hogwarts."

"Sounds like a plan," Harry says.

They grin like loons at each other.

"OK," Hermione says firmly, "let's just…do what we usually do and get ready for bed."

"You still OK sharing?" asks Harry.

Hermione nods. "If you are?"

Harry gives a nod of his own in reply. She kisses him gently and disentangles herself from their embrace. He watches as she walks over to the bathroom and closes the door.

He breathes in deeply. He can't quite believe they're going to be together. He feels indescribably happy, as effervescent as the champagne they'd drunk. He still feels the same bubbly joy a few minutes later as they swap places and he heads into the bathroom for his own ablutions.

Still, there's a moment of awkwardness as he slides into the bed. Hermione huffs when the lights go out and he's very carefully keeping to his own side. She snuggles up and Harry tucks her against him carefully. He falls asleep with her hair tickling his nose.

They have no time the next morning to really talk about it; it's a flurry of activity as they all make their way from Potter Hall to Blackthorn through a floo connection.

Harry steps out and immediately shivers as the weight of the family magic surrounds him for a long moment; there is duty and honour, a magical legacy that reaches into his spirit and calls to him. But there is also warmth and affection; a purity of love and welcome which feels heartbreakingly familiar.

"Welcome home, Harry," Arcturus says as the magic recedes and leaves Harry breathless in front of the ornate fireplace in the reception room. "Let's get you settled in."

It's Sirius who shows them to their suite of rooms; equally as spacious as their rooms at Potter Hall. He gives all the guests a quick tour and they end up passing the morning in the library, Lily and Hermione captivated by the books.

Lunch is a lively affair. Regina, Lily and Hermione debate the merits of an old Arithmancy book as the rest of them look on indulgently. Eventually they pause and take in their captivated audience.

Hermione gives a sheepish smile. "My apologies, we got caught up." She slides her hand over Harry's on the top of the table and Harry weaves their fingers together comfortingly. They've enjoyed holding hands and sharing quiet looks all through the morning. His glee at their relationship has caused a couple of indulgent looks from Charlus and an audacious wink from James.

"No need to apologise," Dorea says, "it's interesting to hear such an intelligent debate amongst our young women." She looks over at Lily curiously. "Have you considered a Mastery?"

"Yes, actually, I'm apprenticed to Professor Flitwick," Lily replies.

Dorea frowns.

"Why are you the Muggle Studies Professor if you're apprenticed?" asks James bluntly.

Charlus sends him a chiding look but he stays quiet.

Lily flushes under the weight of the attention she's garnered. "I'm afraid…"

Alice rolls her eyes. "Dumbledore was an arse and wouldn't agree to her being in the castle if she wasn't a Professor."

"Alice!" remonstrates Lily.

Charlus and Arcturus exchange a sombre look.

"I hadn't realised you had such an arrangement," Sirius says, frowning.

"Why should you?" Lily gestures around the table. "The Headmaster simply had concerns given I am first generation and without family to look after my interests. He noted I would have incurred gossip being apprenticed to Professor Flitwick and staying in his quarters without a chaperone. My employment gives me a valid reason for being in Hogwarts, provides quarters of my own, and I can continue my apprenticeship."

"While the Headmaster raised some valid concerns, I cannot say I agree with his solution," Dorea responds, "there are a number of ways the issue could have been resolved without you slowing down your apprenticeship to accommodate a full-time teaching position."

"Perhaps," Lily says, "but the Headmaster has always looked out for me. I respect his decision in this matter."

Alice snorts and Lily glares at her.

"Don't look at me like that, Lily," Alice says, "you know my feelings on the subject. Personally, I think he's taken advantage of both you and Severus, and I don't even like Severus."

"I don't think offering Severus an apprenticeship is taking advantage of him," counters Lily with a touch of exasperation.

Harry remembers the conversation between James and Sirius the night before and isn't too surprised to find them exchanging a look further down the table.

"Well, I'm sure given the current circumstances, we might be able to come some arrangement with Albus on your apprenticeship," Dorea comments.

Lily looks flummoxed. "The current circumstances?"

"The Evans family is now a cadet branch of both the Potter and Black family magics through Harry," Regina chimes in, "you have our protection now."

Lily frowns. "Thank you but I'm sure…"

"Perhaps a discussion for after lunch," Dorea asserts smoothly, "the ladies can take afternoon tea and discuss the matter."

It's clear that the discussion is over at least for the lunch table. Dorea adeptly changes the topic and a debate about the current state of the Quidditch league quickly takes centre stage.

The question of whether Dumbledore is taking advantage of Lily stays with Harry for the rest of the day, through the afternoon of flying which James insists upon, and into the evening meal where Lily is unusually quiet and contemplative.

Harry can't settle to sleep, not even with Hermione curled up beside him after a pleasant making-out session which had left them both a little flustered. He makes his way out of their rooms and heads to the patio at the back of the house. Luckily the doors slide open easily and Harry steps into the night air with a sigh of relief.

The sky is filled with stars and the moon is a crescent of silver light pouring over the dark ground. The picturesque gardens are obscured; tantalising flashes of clarity where the light hits, and the rest shrouded in shadow.

Harry wishes idly he'd worn something other than just his pyjamas and a dressing gown.

He loves the feel of Blackthorn. It feels like Sirius, he realises. His Sirius. His Sirius had been damaged and broken by years in Azkaban; a mosaic of bad judgements and decisions. But he had loved Harry and Blackthorn feels like being wrapped in Sirius' arms before they had said goodbye and Sirius flew away on Buckbeak; when Sirius had risked everything to be near Harry during the tournament; when Sirius had greeted him at Grimmauld the summer after his fourth year.

He breathes in and lets the family magic comfort him.

A movement on the lawn in front of him draws his eyes, a dark shape like a dog but not…

His breath catches and his heart skips a beat.

Was it a grimm?

There's a sound behind him. Harry glances over his shoulder and finds Sirius standing beside the patio door.

For a second, his mind can almost paint the picture of his Sirius to allow Harry a moment of pretending. But the thought is gone almost as soon as he registers it.

Besides, muses Harry, no-one would be able to get the two mixed up. This world's Sirius is measured in a way his Sirius never was; he's intelligent and fast; calm and controlled. There's a steadfastness about him. He's everything Harry's Sirius might have been had he been rescued from his parents; if he'd been raised with love and security and without his only anchor being the Marauders and James Potter.

Harry really likes this Sirius. It still feels like a betrayal some of the time, but his Sirius has been gone for years and Harry appreciates the differences between the two men.

"Sorry," Harry says belatedly, realising Sirius has been waiting for Harry to speak, "I just needed a bit of air and I didn't want to disturb Hermione." He turns back and isn't surprised to find the lawn empty.

Maybe he's seeing things?

Sirius takes the few steps separating them, stopping as he draws level. He peers out into the darkness too. There's a cold frost seeping in on the top of the grass. A breeze which has Harry shivering before Sirius mutters and the patio becomes a haven of magical warmth.

"Can't sleep?" asks Sirius carefully.

Harry grimaces. "Sorry."

Sirius hums. "I'd be worried if you didn't get a few given some of the stories you've told us, and then there is the whole world jumping thing. I'd think I'd have a few sleepless nights if I were you."

Harry blinks in surprise but he lets out a small chuckle because he guesses Sirius is right. "Yeah."

"You want to talk about it?" offers Sirius.

He sighs. "Actually, I was thinking about Lily and Dumbledore."

"Ah," Sirius says.

"You think he took advantage of her, don't you?" asks Harry bluntly.

"She's the brightest witch of our generation," Sirius replies, "and having her in debt to him gives him a powerful asset." He sighs. "I hadn't realised her employment terms were anything but above board." He turns to Harry. "She'll have better options when she returns; she can seek the shelter of both the Houses of Potter and Black now. That's thanks to you."

Harry breathes out. "I feel so protective of her already."

"That's your family magic stirring," Sirius says.

They're quiet for a long while. Harry stands and stares up at the night sky.

"You should head back to bed; get some sleep."

Harry almost jumps as he's reminded he's not alone. He blinks again at Sirius; at the weird double vision of the Sirius in his heart and the one in front of his eyes.

Harry nods. "Thank you for checking on me." He takes a step and stops when Sirius calls out his name.

"Who was Sirius Black in your world?" asks Sirius.

He's not just asking out of curiosity, Harry thinks, but he's not sure why Sirius wants to know either.

"Does it matter?" asks Harry warily.

"You look at me sometimes as though you expect to see someone else," Sirius says quietly. "I like you, Harry, and I think we're on our way to being good friends, cousins. But I dislike the idea that I hurt you just by being."

"You don't." Harry automatically denies, crossing his arms.

Sirius just raises an eyebrow.

Harry blows out a breath because, yeah, that was a pathetic attempt at a lie. He paces a little away from Sirius and stand at the edge of the patio and stares out into the night sky again.

"Sirius Black was my godfather," Harry confesses quietly.

Sirius stays where he is and Harry is grateful for that. "He was the one who was wrongfully imprisoned."

"Yes," Harry confirms. "Sirius…Sirius never got rescued from his parents by his grandfather. He met my father on the Express and they became fast friends during the journey. Sirius was sorted to Gryffindor."

"That would not have gone down well with my mother," Sirius comments. "By all accounts, she was devoted to Slytherin; had the whole house decorated with snakes."

Harry smiles a touch sadly at that. It's weird to think of Sirius as being anything other than a Gryffindor. "My Sirius…he ran away from home at sixteen and was taken in by my grandparents. He and my father were raised as brothers from that point. He was best man at my parents' wedding." He sighs. "He loved them very much. He got to the house just after the attack and found me. Hagrid turned up with orders to collect me and take me to Dumbledore so…" he shrugs, "I sometimes wonder if Hagrid hadn't taken me, if Sirius had been able to keep me with him, if he could have cleared his name and…"

There's silence as Harry gathers his composure as he tries to will the desperate wish of what might have been away again.

"He said to me once that after Hagrid left he went mad with grief and anger. He went after the traitor who'd given away the location and then Sirius got framed for my parents' murders," Harry says simply. "Azkaban wasn't kind to him; he suffered. But he broke out to protect me when he realised the traitor was at Hogwarts with me. He wasn't right mentally or physically really, but it didn't matter to me. He loved me and tried to protect me. He died trying to protect me."

"He sounds like a good man," Sirius says.

"He was," Harry says. "He was stubborn and prejudiced in his own way; reckless and hot-tempered. But he was kind to me and he lived in a house he hated so I would have some protection." He turns to look at Sirius. "But you're not him and I know that. Sometimes it hurts to look at you because…you, this world; you're everything Sirius could have been."

Sirius regards him for a long moment. "I don't remember being beaten by my mother. I know my medical records tell me she broke three of my bones and I was bruised and bleeding when my grandparents found me. I was apparently protecting Regina when they came in and found my mother whipping me." He pauses. "I dread to think what would have happened to me if the family magic hadn't alerted my grandfather."

"It's made such a difference in this world," Harry says. "I think we're on our way to being good friends too? I just…I know you're not him, but I just wish…I wish he could have had the same life."

"I'm lucky," Sirius acknowledges. "Maybe I haven't expressed that enough or thought about that enough."

Harry smiles at him. "I think if I could speak to him now, he'd be pleased we've met and that we're going to be friends."

Sirius looks pleased at that. He gestures with a jerk of his head toward the door. "Want to see if the house elves can rustle up some hot chocolate?"

They head inside to the kitchen. There's a young elf on duty who positively squeaks with delight at the prospect of serving them hot chocolate.

Once they have drinks, Sirius nudges Harry. "Come on, I have something to show you."

Harry follows him through the house to a study. Sirius waves him inside and walks him up to a familiar tapestry; the Black family tree. Harry smiles at the pristine condition; the gleaming threads of silver and gold.

"Here," Sirius points to a low point on the tapestry.

Harry starts as he reads his own name and – Hermione. Hermione is displayed as his wife. He swallows hard. He remembers the rush of magic as Hermione had accepted his ring and he wonders…

"Are you nervous about the Wizengamot tomorrow?" asks Sirius.

Harry takes a scalding hot mouthful of chocolate before replying. "A little. I wasn't raised to this like you and James."

"You don't talk much about your childhood before Hogwarts," Sirius says.

Harry shrugs, uncomfortable with the turn of the conversation. "There's nothing to talk about."

Sirius considers him for a long moment. "Nobody rescued you either, did they?"

"It wasn't bad." Harry says immediately, and winces because his therapist is going to have a field day with him about that response.

Or would if he was still on the right world to make his next appointment.

He sips his chocolate. "My aunt just didn't like me and her husband hated me. They both raised their own son to do the same, although Dudley wasn't all bad at the end. They made me know I was a burden; that I wasn't deserving of love or kindness in their eyes. I just thought it was normal." He looks over at Sirius. "Dumbledore basically threatened them into taking me in. I can't blame them for being resentful or fearful. He had no right to do that to them or me, but he did it anyway for the greater good."


Both of them turn at the sound of Hermione's voice and find her in the doorway. She's wrapped in a dressing gown, but she looks a touch pale.

"Hey," Harry gets to his feet and immediately goes to her. "Are you OK?"

Hermione nods and takes his hand. "Just woke up and you weren't there."

"And I think that's my cue to leave," Sirius says smoothly. "Goodnight," He sweeps out of the second doorway without waiting for a reply and Harry is thankful that Sirius could clearly see Hermione needs him.

Hermione frowns. "I didn't mean to chase him off."

"Come on," Harry says, darting a look back at the tapestry. "We'd best get to bed."

They walk back up to the suite. The bedroom is dimly lit. Hermione has set a mage light into a small lamp on her side of the bed. They clamber back into the sinfully comfortable double bed and settle back down.

Harry doesn't ask Hermione to dim the light. He likes the glow.

Hermione turns to face him. "You OK?"

"Just couldn't sleep, I didn't want to wake you," Harry admits softly. "I went out for some air and Sirius found me."

"He's nice," Hermione offers.

"He is," Harry agrees. He turns on his side so they're face to face. "I told him about our Sirius."

Hermione's eyes widen. "What did he say?"

"I think he already knew he was someone important to me back in our world. He was really good about it," Harry pauses. "He talked about how things were for him with his parents – if our Sirius had the same…it's no wonder he was so screwed up."

"I've noticed he's very good with the house elves," Hermione murmurs.

It seems like a strange segue, but Harry understands. Hermione had hated how Sirius had treated Kreacher, but even Hermione had to allow that Sirius had been badly treated by the elf as a child on his own mother's orders. That this Sirius is kind and polite to his elves suggests he never had to go through the same.

Hermione smiles. "It's interesting, isn't it? The change family magic has made on the Blacks? Regina's lovely."

Harry nods – a little awkwardly given his position. He sighs. "They have the Black family tapestry in the study, it has us on it."

"Us?" Hermione's brow creases in confusion.

"Us," Harry taps her finger where she wears his ring, "it thinks we're married."

"Oh," Hermione says. She bites her lip. "How do you feel about that?"

"Honestly, I think I'm relieved there's something which gives truth to what we've claimed," Harry says, "if we're truly married nobody is going to find out we're not."

"Me too," Hermione says. "But it's a little weird, isn't it? With where we are?"

Harry lifts a shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. "We're together and I'm happy we're together together even if we're taking it slow."

Hermione snuggles closer. "Me too."

Harry nudges her hand with his. "What about you? Why did you wake up?"

"I was thinking about my parents here," Hermione admits. "When we were taking afternoon tea, Dorea and Regina offered to track them down."

"You don't want to check in on them," Harry surmises reading the uncertainty in her eyes.

Hermione bites her lip. "I've thought about it but…I think I'm going to ask Dorea to check if they exist and if they're OK but…I don't think I want to meet them. They've never really been comfortable about the magical world and there's no guarantee that I've been born or that I'd still be magical."

"That would be a loss for this world," Harry says.

"Yeah?" asks Hermione with a small smile.

"Well, you're the best thing about our world so I may be a little biased," Harry's tone is teasing but he's sincere, his heart kicking up a gear as he waits for her reaction.

Hermione beams at him. "You're definitely biased."

Harry lifts his shoulder again and shrugs lightly.

"Let's get some sleep," Hermione says eventually. "We've got a long day tomorrow."

Harry agrees. Hermione shifts to settle on her back and Harry watches as she falls asleep. He closes his eyes eventually and drifts away.