The Story of a Man and the Affliction of Having a Heart
The news hit like a trainwreck.
Of course, Sirius had known for an hour before Dumbledore told him; he was no Divination pro, never had been, but he had known from a feeling deep in his gut. He had stopped pacing and sat down in the rickety plastic chair on Remus’s front lawn, in a moment of dazing clarity, as a sudden tension left him. No grief came yet; Sirius was numb.
He sat that way for an hour, seeking out the constellations his damnable family members were named for, and eventually finding peace in the dog star. Two small twinkles glimmered next to it that he didn’t remember being there before, in all the times he had sought out the small red star. A sigh fell from his lips, puffing into a cloud in the Halloween air; almost midnight now, and sundown had been hours ago, leaving him with cold seeping into his bones and locking him in the chair. Three more days until he would be twenty-two, but he felt no bliss about his impending birthday. He hadn’t felt true bliss in a long time, not since before joining the Order, not since before the articles in the paper about the dark wizards. He had kept a cheerful face, sure, but that was for his friends. He knew they could use a laugh in times like this; but he had a strange feeling there would be no laughing tonight.
A pop interrupted his quiet observation of the stars, drawing his attention back to the street. Just outside the barrier, Dumbledore stood, having just apparated to the road. The old man crossed the barrier without pause, his usual calm demeanor radiating from him, somehow tainted with an underlying crackle.
“News?” Sirius greeted him, standing. His bones popped as he did, and he stretched briefly. He could feel his heart pounding in his throat and swallowed heavily, Adam’s apple bobbing under a fine layer of black stubble that coated his jaw and neck after several days of ignoring his needs due to constant fighting. He had known there was a head coming in the storm, but he had refused to admit to himself the likely outcome.
Dumbledore sighed, his pale blue eyes veined with stress and apology, but he did not speak.
“What?” Sirius pressed. “What happened? Tell me!”
“I’ve a feeling you already know.”
In retrospect, Sirius knew he did, but he didn’t acknowledge this in the moment. Instead, he grabbed Dumbledore by the shoulders. “What happened!?”
Dumbledore removed Sirius’s hands and looked into the younger wizard’s desperate grey eyes. Calmly, though with an undertone of true grief and sorrow, the old man simply said, “James and Lily Potter are dead.”
If a cannonball had blown through Sirius’s chest, his heart would have hurt less. He floundered for words, for reason; his eyes searched the empty, cold night as he stepped back, hands limp at his sides. His knees collapsed beneath him and the grass greeted him with frost biting his knees; he didn’t care about the cold. In the moment, he felt it, but no part of him felt any reason to resist the cold when James and Lily were dead.
He gasped for breath, the freezing air stabbing through his throat, and felt his stomach retch; he barely held it down as a new thought crossed his mind. His eyes desperately sought Dumbledore’s face again, where a quiet strength rejuvenated Sirius enough to stammer out, “What of- what of the boy?” He found his feet in a flash. “Is my godson alive!? Is Harry alive!?”
“Harry survived,” Dumbledore answered. “Lily somehow gave her life in exchange for his, killing Voldemort in the process and saving the boy. But I warn you, Voldemort will be back.”
Glee in the midst of his grief tossed Sirius into a tumultuous whirlwind. His godson lived; his best friend didn’t. In his panicked, grieving, relieved, and despairing state, a million questions raced through his mind. Who will tell Remus? Where will Harry live? He could live with me- that would be good for him, wouldn’t it? But then, I don’t know how to raise a child; I didn’t exactly have parents. What will the Order do now? What did he mean, ‘Voldemort will be back’? What happens now? Who-
“Peter Pettigrew!” Sirius screamed, the realization hitting with a surge of fiery rage in his stomach.
“Sirius-” Dumbledore said, lifting a hand to stop him, but Sirius was already withdrawing his wand. With a blink, he had apparated.
“You!” Sirius shrieked, spotting the lumpy young man in the Leaky Cauldron at a table. He started toward him, wand extended, as Peter backed away.
“Sirius, Sirius, no- please!- don’t kill me! James wouldn’t want you to-”
“How dare you speak of James as if you know of him! You ratted him out! You slimy, cowardly, horrible, lying son of a-”
“Sirius!” McGonagall stood, having just entered from the street. Sirius didn’t turn; he recognized her voice, but did nothing else to admit to himself his favorite professor was there. Sirius pinned Peter to the wall, wand against the plump flesh of Peter’s neck.
“You killed my friends! You killed James! I will kill you, Peter Pettigrew!” He pulled his wand back, the incantation hovering above his tongue, and then saw with eyes widened by fury and desperation that Peter was transforming. He cast the curse and it blew into the wall; a small thump drew his attention to the dismembered pinky that had just landed on the floor in a lump of clothes. He barely glimpsed Peter skitter off and vanish.
A scream of every confusing emotion he had felt that night- grief, relief, calm, rage, love, broken- flew from his throat as his quarry evaded him. He wouldn’t have his revenge. Ministry police were already grabbing him; McGonagall herself had cast a binding charm that had him in ropes and unable to apparate. Tears streamed from his eyes as sobs choked out of his chest, uncontrollable; he didn’t care. He had no dignity left to preserve. What love and happiness he had built was on a foundation that had been shattered this night, by a rat.
He felt then that he would never be happy again.
Thirteen years later, Sirius Black sat remembering that night, but he had a new light to combat it. Harry Potter was so like his parents that Sirius wondered that he ever felt they were gone. The boy had his mother’s eyes, and his father’s face and hair. He was a little too skinny, but he had the largest heart Sirius had seen since Lily. He carried his parents’ courage, his mother’s love, his father’s confidence, and his family’s traditional skill and adequacy at magic.
Pride swelled Sirius’s chest at the thought, but it wasn’t Harry’s notable traits that made the boy Sirius’s new light in the dark.
Harry Potter had thought Sirius a traitor, the one responsible for his parents’ death. Sirius couldn’t blame the boy for attempting to kill him, having remembered in that moment the anger he felt at Peter and the way he acted that night- which, of course, was still justified. And yet the boy had listened to him, though Sirius knew he was a deranged and frantic fugitive spewing a story that seemed mad just after carrying off his best friend by the leg while in the form of a giant dog. Harry had looked past that to the man within, the warm heart Lily had seen in Sirius as well, and believed him, of all things. It likely helped that Remus was there; Remus was always the more level-headed and believable of the two friends.
From that first night, Harry had displayed a forgiveness and love foreign to Sirius after twelve years in Azkaban. Harry had taken a broken, maddened man and given him hope, and a reason to find a new light, to keep going. Sirius had heard rumors the Order might return; he hoped to join if it did, and to fight at his godson’s side. He wished there were a way to give Harry a home, but as it was, Sirius was migrant himself, living as “Snuffles” in multiple muggle homes.
There was hope again. There was reason. There was Harry.
He was so scared.
Harry was hiding it well, but Sirius could see that beneath that bold exterior, that outer calmness, Harry’s inner core was absolutely terrified. The resurrection stone had enabled Sirius this last goodbye with his godson, a moment now past. Sirius stood next to Remus and James and Lily, and felt at home. He wasn’t even upset to see Severus Snape stride forward; the man was a million times more noble than he was credited for, and Sirius regretted all the cruel ways he and James had ruined Snape’s time at Hogwarts.
Harry started forward and Sirius watched him go. He glanced at James. “Your son is the most amazing man I have ever had the honor of knowing, and you are the most privileged father to have him.”
“Ah, it’s all Lily,” James replied. “Any of Harry’s virtues, he gets from her side.”
“No,” Lily said with a small smile. “Harry is his own person, and has attributes from both parents.”
Harry was oblivious to this banter; his green eyes focused on the task ahead. He took a deep breath, and Sirius admired Harry’s undying courage one more time, and then watched his godson close the snitch and start into the Forbidden Forest, to meet the most dangerous wizard- and now most powerful- alive.
Sirius knew he would never see Harry again, not until the afterlife, and he was okay with that. The way Sirius’s life had played out was not how the arrogant young Marauder he had been would have expected, but he had ended it protecting Harry Potter, and he could not think of a more worthwhile cause. He knew there was no more strife for him; all his ends were tied.
Bellatrix Lestrange had met her fate, as had Peter Pettigrew. A man Sirius had thought brave had proven a coward; a man Sirius had thought a coward had proven brave. Death had marred his life and grief had driven him to commit actions he had never foreseen doing, and led to unspeakable consequences. He had felt agonizing pain, and heart-lifting joy. He had never loved, but he had felt the touch of many women, and the family he found in his friends made up for anything he may have lacked. He had never been a father, but he had taken in Harry as a son to the best of his ability. He had been granted the privilege to know the greatest wizard of the century, and the blessing to never meet the darkest. He had fought with the bravest and trained with the most skilled; he had loved the most worthy and hated the worst. He was given the honor of living in a time when the ultimate battle of good versus evil was presented, and he was given the opportunity to fight with the best, for the life of a boy who deserved the world and was given terrible circumstances.
Briefly, his mind wandered back to his early childhood, the years of abuse and verbal assault. He remembered his brother Regulus, growing up a fighter, and himself, growing up broken. He remembered his mother, always disappointed, and his father, always angry. He remembered coming home for Christmas fifth year to be cursed and scolded; he remembered running away to James Potter’s house and meeting a plump old man with spectacle glasses named Fleamont, and a beautiful, authoritative woman named Euphemia, who took him in as a second son. He remembered James fawning over Lily Evans, an unattainable goal; the rest of the Marauders laughed at James for even trying. He remembered James ecstatically giving him the details of how he proposed, and James’ big, dramatic dinner party to announce Lily’s pregnancy- that party had gone awfully wrong, but James’ persistent smile made it worth it. He remembered later on, when Remus finally fell in love; Sirius could see it in the scarred man’s face when he looked at the young, bright girl, Tonks, Sirius’s distant cousin (though he refrained from mentioning that to spare Remus the thought). He remembered seeing Bellatrix Lestrange again, and feeling a strange, deep-seated pity under his masquerade of battle-fury and comedy when he realized she was as broken as he was, only she had let it touch her heart as well as her mind. He remembered seeing Remus grab Harry to restrain him from following as Sirius fell into the veil.
All of these things, Sirius remembered, and he knew then it wasn’t all bad. There was much he had lost or otherwise never had to lose. There was much he had yearned for and never gained. But there was one memory that had set the stones for Sirius’s path: the very first time glowing lights carried Sirius’s black mind into a world of good magic, and good people- the very first time he entered Hogwarts.
He smiled as one more memory appeared as it was made: Harry Potter would leave that forest alive, and would save the world; the sacrifices and loss were worth it to know that Harry would be happy someday. Harry would have a family, would raise children, had already fallen in love, and would conquer the evil that had cost them both so much. The knowledge that his only want would be satisfied, the only remaining conflict to keep him a restless spirit would be gone, soothed some part of the ghostly man’s heart. It had stopped beating long ago, but he still felt it lift with joy, one more time. It had taken this for him to reach it, but Sirius had finally entered the light at the end of the tunnel, that much he knew.
And finally, Sirius was certain of one thing:
He was happy.