Disclaimer: I still do not own Harry Potter.
Author's Note: Hey everyone, I hope you're all doing okay. I know it's been ages since I've updated, and I'm really sorry for that. Honestly, I have been really stressed about things lately, and I haven't truly felt motivated to write much. Thankfully, my muse is beginning to come back to me now, which I am very happy about. Also, I am now getting counseling, so I am hoping that things will start to get better. Again, I apologize to everyone for taking so long with this chapter, especially because this is one that I've really, really wanted to get out there: it's the birthday chapter, and I hope you all enjoy it.
I have taken some liberties with something in this chapter, and I truly hope you guys don't mind. In the last author's note, I said that I would allude to a song called Crash and Burn by Savage Garden in this chapter. Unfortunately, that song wasn't released until 1999, and yet this story takes place in 1995. But I've found that this song captures Harry and Sirius so completely that I can't not allude to it. I really hope you guys don't mind that I've taken liberties with this.
For those of you who think the plot is going too slowly, I truly understand where you're coming from. But I honestly felt that Harry and Sirius needed this time to bond. But you'll see that at the end of this chapter, I mention something that will allow the plot to begin to speed up. I just felt that these bonding scenes did both Harry and Sirius the world of good.
Anyway, I really hope you enjoy this chapter. I'm nervous about it, and I hope it comes out the way it was intended to. Please let me know what you think.
Harry woke up to the joyful barks of a huge dog jumping on him, and between each round of barking, his face was being licked like no tomorrow. He was instantly alert, and he couldn't help but smile and laugh at the bearlike black creature who was still barking directly in his ear.
"Okay, okay, Sirius, gedoff!" Harry laughed, trying to push the dog off him. "I get the point, I get the point!"
Sirius instantly transformed back to human form, and he hugged his godson tightly. "Do you get the point? Do you really?" he teased as he ruffled Harry's hair. Finally releasing him, he jumped off the bed. Harry didn't think he'd ever seen his godfather so animated. "Happy birthday, pup!" he shouted. "You're fifteen today! How do you feel, kiddo?"
Harry rolled out of bed, still smiling. "Older, but no wiser, I'm afraid," he joked. "Sorry about that."
"Ah, that's okay. Wisdom only comes with time," Sirius bantered back. Then, his smile grew softer as he said, "Really, Harry, happy birthday. Which would you like first, breakfast or presents?"
"It doesn't matter to me," said Harry, who felt happier than he had in a long time. "What would you like to do?"
"It's your day, kid," Sirius replied. "I'm not letting you get away with not making a choice." His smile was warm, and Harry knew exactly what the man was trying to do. Over the last month, Sirius had been working with Harry on the fact that he would rather let Sirius decide what their plans were. "You've always had your life decided for you," Sirius had said. "I'm not going to allow that to happen anymore. You're your own person, therefore you should decide what you want."
And now, even though Sirius was trying to make light of it, Harry could tell that his godfather was desperate for him to heed his advice. Feeling his heart lighten even more, he answered. "Could I please have presents first?" He couldn't help the fact that he was truly excited to see what he had received.
"Absolutely!" Sirius grinned and bounded out of the room. "Into the drawing room with you," he said in a mock stern tone.
"Yes, sir," Harry replied, and he followed Sirius to the drawing room happily.
Once they arrived, Harry noticed immediately that there was something in the room that hadn't been there before, and it looked distinctly odd in a drab, dreary house such as this. But the weirdness of it was welcome to Harry, who looked at it with complete surprise. He'd hardly ever used one himself, but when there had been several times when the Dursleys had forgotten to lock his cupboard door growing up, he'd snuck out of it while they were out and learned exactly what to do with the piece of equipment sitting proudly in the room now. It hadn't taken him long to work out how to use it - after all, it wasn't that difficult. He enjoyed the thrill of the forbidden when he'd managed to use it; thankfully, he'd always remembered to put things back in their proper place before the Dursleys returned home.
"Wow," he breathed, walking up to it and examining it. "Sirius, how in Merlin's name did you get a stereo in here?" Indeed, this was what it was; it contained a cassette and CD player. "I thought you said no electricity could run here," Harry added. "You said this place is like Hogwarts, and it's saturated with magic."
"Ah," said Sirius, and his grin was still wide as he looked at the stereo with a kind of reverence Harry had never seen on his face before. "Well, it just so turns out that several Muggle-borns started working on a way to make these things run on magic. It's only a recent invention, but it has finally become a reality. This looks and acts exactly like a Muggle stereo, but it uses magic to power it. I took the liberty of buying several CDS and cassette tapes for it that we can listen to."
"Wow, this is so neat," Harry said. "Is this my birthday present? I love it! What exactly gave you the idea to buy one of these?"
"Yes, it is one of your birthday presents. And as for how I got the idea ... well, during the days when your parents were married and we were involved with the war, we used to take respite in music," Sirius explained. "I truly don't understand how it is that many witches and wizards don't talk about it or listen to it much. True, there are wizarding bands, but I've always preferred Muggle ones myself. Several of our comrades during the war had Muggle family members which we used to visit from time to time. We became a very close-knit circle, you know." He sighed wistfully. "Obviously, Muggle technology back then wasn't the way it is today. Therefore, since I'm rather behind the times, Arthur Weasley and I have been communicating with each other about your birthday this year. He was the one who suggested I get one of these, and I immediately jumped on it. Music truly has power, Harry, and I'll never forget those days when your parents and our other friends used to find camaraderie just listening to it. It can be very healing in troubled times."
Harry was thrilled by Sirius's explanation. Not only had he just learned more about his parents' generation, but he honestly liked music, too. "How did you get it to the house without me seeing it?" he inquired curiously.
"Ah," Sirius said, putting a mysterious note in his tone that made Harry laugh. "Let's just say ... owl order, Kreacher, and another elf who seems to think the absolute world of you, as you have described." He grinned. "Dobby. I have been planning this for a while, and low and behold, I managed to get the stereo here."
"Oh, wow," Harry exclaimed again, realizing the lengths Sirius had gone to to do this for him. "Dobby was here? How is he?"
"Oh, he was gushing over the great Harry Potter," Sirius said with a snicker, causing Harry to mock-scowl at him. "Oh, don't give me that look, kiddo. You know it's true," he guffawed. "That elf would literally do anything for you."
"And don't I know it," Harry laughed. Then, he turned back to the stereo. "I've used one of these before. The Dursleys didn't like me listening to music, but when they were out, I managed to do it without their knowledge sometimes." He saw Sirius scowl fiercely at the thought of his relatives, so he immediately changed the subject. "I assume you know how to use it, or do you want me to teach you?"
Sirius burst out laughing. "I may be a wizard, Harry, but I'm not a complete dunce," he said, punching Harry on the arm playfully. "It's not that hard to work out, is it?"
"Okay, okay," Harry said, joining in the laughter. "I was only asking." He then embraced Sirius, gratitude flowing through him. "Thank you," he said sincerely. "What a great present."
"Don't thank me yet," Sirius smirked. "You'll have to see if you like the music that was suggested to me. I've purchased some recent selections - Arthur informed me of some good choices. Plus, I was able to buy some of the stuff your parents and I liked to listen to."
"You did? Can we listen to some of that?" Harry asked, his excitement getting the better of him.
"Of course!" Sirius was delighted that Harry had suggested this, and he instantly grabbed one of the cassette tapes from beside the stereo and put it in the player, grinning all the while.
And that was how Harry and Sirius spent the first hour of Harry's birthday morning. They listened to both sides of the tape straight through before they made their way to the kitchen for breakfast. Harry was smiling from ear to ear, uplifted by the music. He felt like he'd made a true connection with his parents this way. How many times had he wanted to know more about what kind of people they were? Sirius had given him a true gift by doing this.
Harry also found it amusing, yet touching, how Sirius regarded the stereo. He was insistent on being the one to operate it, even though Harry knew how, and Harry let him. There was a glint in Sirius's eyes, something wild and joyful, that suggested that the man viewed this as an act of rebellion, even though his parents were long dead. The way Walburga and Orion Black thought, no Muggle invention was to be tolerated in the halls of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. The stereo might run on magic, but the concept was a Muggle one. Harry knew that Sirius had gotten the stereo for his birthday, but it made him happy that the gift was helping his godfather as much as it was helping Harry. Sirius had suffered in misery for so long, and he deserved any bit of happiness he could get.
After breakfast, Sirius reminded Harry, "That wasn't your only gift, you know. I said that was only one of your birthday presents, didn't I? And then, of course, there are the presents from your friends."
Harry was overwhelmed by the pure love and joy radiating from Sirius. "More presents?" he breathed.
"Of course, more presents, you silly boy," Sirius said. He was smiling, but Harry could detect a sudden hint of sadness in those gray eyes. It was apparent that Sirius thought Harry shouldn't be surprised at this. In order to ease the guilt Harry clearly saw on the man, he gave him a soft smile. "This is the best birthday ever," he told him honestly.
Sirius smiled back, and they went back into the drawing room, where Harry proceeded to open more gifts from Sirius and from his friends. Sirius informed Harry that he had sent Hedwig to the Weasleys in order for them to send Harry their gifts from them and Hermione, who had come to stay at the Burrow. "They send you their best wishes," he told Harry quietly as the boy surveyed the wrapped presents he had received from them.
Harry was thrilled by what he received. There was plenty of junk food, something he couldn't help but love. There were some items of Muggle clothing Sirius got for him that he adored, and Sirius said, "That's to replace the complete garbage that was given to you by those ... those ... abominations that call themselves your relatives."
Indeed, Sirius had been appalled when he'd seen several of the hand-me-down clothes that were in Harry's trunk. Harry didn't bring a lot of these to Hogwarts - he had good wizarding clothes, after all - but he'd expected to leave at the end of the year like normal, and the Dursleys would meet him at the train station. They did not take well to him wearing anything wizarding, so he'd put his hand-me-down clothes on in the few minutes before the train journey was over.
"Thanks, Sirius," Harry said, seeing the hidden turmoil behind Sirius's eyes. "These are wonderful. I love them."
Sirius slung an arm around the boy, ruffling his hair affectionately. "And you look great in them," he said fervently. "They're a pretty good selection, even if I do say so myself."
Harry smiled in agreement. "And you'd be right," he said. "Did you owl order these, too?"
"Indeed, I did," Sirius replied. "There are several stores you can owl order from that sell Muggle items. I guessed your size, but even if I'd been wrong, you can cheat with magic. Just cast a spell and it'll resize the clothes for you. I could have done that with the clothes from your relatives, but they're just so grotesque that I couldn't touch them. Plus, you deserve so much better than those rags."
Harry felt a lump in his throat at the sheer and utter conviction in Sirius's voice. "Thanks," he whispered, meaning it with all his heart.
"Of course." Sirius smiled at him, and he held Harry's gaze. After a few seconds, he lightened the mood. "And as for the chocolate," he said with a chuckle, "every fifteen-year-old boy needs some of that."
Harry laughed. "Chocolate's the best," he agreed. "And I love the books, too."
Indeed, Sirius had bought him some books that Harry knew would help his studies. The man had been helping him keep up with his magical education over the last month, and he was very grateful for it. He was starting to feel more confident about his Transfiguration skills, and Sirius was astounded by his prowess at Defense Against the Dark Arts. His gray eyes shone with pride when Harry showed him what he could do in that area of study.
Harry felt his heart swell with emotion at the thoughtfulness of his friends as well. He couldn't help but feel guilty that he hadn't seen them in such a long time, and he hoped they would understand. He had felt bouts of this over the past month, but Sirius helped to assuage it every single time, stressing the fact that Harry needed time to heal and that if his friends were truly his friends, they would accept it. Harry had sent several letters to the Weasleys, and he had received very supportive answers in return. He realized, for the first time in what seemed like forever, that he wanted to see them very soon. He promised himself that this evening, he would discuss it with Sirius.
He wasn't at all surprised when he received a book from Hermione. Her gifts were always thoughtful, and the book he got from her this year was all about coping with trauma. It was just like Hermione to do something like this, he thought fondly as he flipped through the pages. Several years ago, he might have dismissed a book like this, but not now. Harry needed all the help he could get, and maybe this book would assist him in his journey.
He chuckled when he opened Ron's gift - he wasn't at all surprised by this one either. It was some broomstick polish, and Sirius laughed at it too. "Good for him," he said as he patted Harry's shoulder. "He knows you've got to take care of that Firebolt, you know."
"I do," Harry assured him. "I always want it to be in good condition."
Sirius grinned. "Believe me, I know. You treat that broomstick with reverence."
"I still can't believe you bought me that," said Harry. "I can never thank you enough for it."
Sirius smiled warmly at his godson. "You're welcome," he said quietly.
The rest of the Weasleys had sent him some candy, and Fred and George had sent him some Ton-Tongue Toffees. "Hope these cheer you up," they had written on a card attached to the box that contained them.
"Wow, they're sneaky," Harry said of the twins. "Mrs. Weasley would have never let them send me these."
"Ah, they seem to possess the same talent we Marauders did," Sirius smirked. "Where there's a will, there's a way. What their mother doesn't know won't hurt her."
Harry grinned. He then told Sirius the story of what had happened the summer before with Dudley. "Oh Merlin," Sirius said between laughs. "I suppose your cousin now knows what might happen when he picks a piece of candy off the floor, not knowing where it came from."
"Yeah," Harry said. "Exactly."
Sirius felt like his heart had been beating out of his chest all day as he fluctuated between what felt like every emotion you could possess as a human. He'd never felt so much joy at Harry's happiness, yet the sadness he felt at the sheer wonder in Harry's eyes at every gift he received hit him so hard that he thought it was a miracle he didn't break down. It was plain to see that Harry had never truly had a proper birthday, not since he turned one year old anyway. Sirius had never had the words "thank you" said to him so many times in one day, and his godson looked at him with pure awe and adoration.
But above all, Sirius was so grateful he had this chance to give Harry this day. They spent the rest of it listening to tapes and CDS on the brand new stereo, and both of their spirits were uplifted by the music contained on them. He watched as Harry wrote thank-you letters to his friends, and he could see that the boy gave a lot of thought about what to say.
Yet, the most profound moment of Harry's birthday happened in the evening. It was getting late, but neither Harry nor Sirius seemed to care as they kept listening to music on the stereo. They were currently listening to another cassette, and they sat together on the couch, simply enjoying the music.
Then, a song started playing which caused both Harry and Sirius to pay close attention. As the lyrics were sung, Sirius was more connected to the song than any other, and he could see Harry's emerald eyes widen as the words had the same effect on him. It spoke of feeling alone, but knowing you had someone who could catch you when you fell. There was a line that mentioned monsters being in your head, and being lost in darkness. Sirius knew that feeling all too well, but having Harry back in his life had counteracted it more than Sirius ever could have guessed.
But the three words that had the most profound effect on Harry and Sirius were in the chorus: "You're not alone." The words were simple, but they meant everything. It had always been something Harry and Sirius had reiterated to each other in the last month, but now, hearing a song where this was the theme made it, somehow, even more real that neither of them had to go through any of this on their own. They were together now, and their bond was cemented even further by the sounds of the music.
And as the song came to an end, the singer kept saying those words as the chorus repeated. "You're not alone, you're not alone, you're not alone." Sirius gathered Harry close as he saw his emerald eyes fill with tears, and he knew his own gray ones were shining with emotion as well. He planted a gentle kiss on Harry's hair, and he stroked it tenderly as the song eventually faded into silence, the words "you're not alone" still repeating even then. It was as though the singer wanted to drive the point home, needing the people he was singing to to always remember that, desperate to leave a lasting impression. And as silence finally descended on the room, with Sirius still holding Harry in his arms, they knew they always would remember.
It was a memory Sirius knew the two of them would always carry, and as the rest of the evening progressed, the words "you're not alone" kept repeating in Sirius's head. Never did he think he'd be where he was now, and as he looked into Harry's eyes after the last song on the second side of the cassette ended, never had they looked more beautiful. They were shining with love and adoration for Sirius, and the man knew that his looked exactly the same.
Neither of them spoke for a while; they were both tired, and they knew it was time to go to sleep, but neither wanted to let go of the other. Sirius began stroking Harry's hair again, and Harry rested his head on his godfather's shoulder.
Eventually, Harry broke the silence. "Sirius?" he asked softly.
"Yeah, kiddo?" Sirius responded, reveling in the softness of Harry's hair.
"I need you to know how much today meant to me," Harry said, his eyes still shining. "It was amazing. Thank you so much for everything."
"Oh Harry," Sirius said, feeling that persistent lump in his throat again. "I was happy to do it for you. You're very welcome. I'm glad you had such a good day, and honestly, pup, you gave me the best day too."
The smile on Harry's face was as bright as the sun as he clung to Sirius tightly. "I'm glad I could," he whispered.
After a few more minutes of silence, Harry spoke again. "I've been thinking," he said, his voice hesitant. "I ... Sirius, is it okay if we invite the Weasleys and Hermione here in the next few days?"
Sirius felt his heart fill with happiness. His godson was ready to see his friends again, and if that wasn't a good sign, he didn't know what was. "Of course!" he said at once, his face splitting into a warm grin. "Harry, you don't need to be nervous about asking me. I told you that whenever you were ready, you could see your friends. I will make it happen, pup. I'll get them here."
Harry smiled, his green eyes bright. "Thank you," he said sincerely. "Thank you so much."
"No problem." Sirius gathered Harry closer, and they lapsed into silence again, the only sound being the ticking of the clock on the wall.
They remained quiet, Sirius still holding Harry until he noticed that the boy's breathing had deepened and evened out. "Harry?" he asked gently.
There was no response, and Sirius hadn't thought there would be one. Harry had fallen asleep in his arms.
And Sirius, still unwilling to let Harry go, settled into the couch, planted another soft kiss on top of Harry's head, and let sleep claim him as well, his heart lighter than it had been in over a decade. Harry was here with him, and as his gray eyes closed, three words he would never forget still echoed in his mind.
You're not alone.