It was later that afternoon, as the Stones were just beginning the final refrain of “Waiting for a Friend” for the second time, a familiar face popped into the fireplace. Although much paler than her cousin, it was clear that Andromeda and Sirius shared the same haughty Black features as well as the courage to rebel against their family.
“Happy birthday little cousin!” she sang out, “How is the birthday boy?”
“‘Dromeda!” exclaimed Sirius, jumping over the armchair to crouch in front of the fireplace. “My favourite cousin! Do come in.”
Andromeda smiled and reached behind herself before appearing in full on the rug in front of the fire carrying a large wooden box.
“A present, for me? Gosh you shouldn’t have.” said Sirius jokingly.
“For Harry actually, my much cuter nephew… cousin… child.” she replied and Sirius feigned outrage.
“What’s going on in there?” called Remus from the bathroom, before appearing with towel dried hair. “Oh, Andromeda! Wasn’t expecting to see you there, for what do we owe the pleasure?”
“I was just popping by to wish Sirius a happy birthday and pass on this gift from Dory. If you don’t want it, just chuck it out when I leave so I can tell her Harry was delighted and I won’t have to find somewhere to chuck it.”
She deposited the wooden box on the floor with very little sense of ceremony, and lifted the lid to reveal what looked like a painstakingly handcrafted wooden muggle train set. Sirius and Remus just stared for a moment, before looking to Andromeda for an explanation.
“Oh, Ted’s father made it for Dory when they were born. They still play with it now to be honest but when we explained what had happened on Halloween, they wanted for Harry to have it. So I thought I’d drop it round, wish you happy birthday, two birds one stone kind of thing. Anyway, you don’t have to keep it because I’m not sure how big your flat will be if Ted’s parents’ is anything to go by but if Dory asks, Harry loves it. It’s a pretty big thing for her-...them to be giving away, but sometimes these ideas just get in their head and there’s no persuading them otherwise…”
“Oh gosh, what a lovely idea! Dory sounds like such a kind little girl, it’s such a long time since we’ve seen her.” started Remus.
“Ah, about that.” said Andromeda. “Dory is quite insistent that they aren’t a girl. Or a boy. Maybe you remember as a baby they would change their appearance all the time, as metamorphmagus children tend to do. But they would spend days or weeks at a time with a very masculine appearance, then switch to very feminine. Other days they would be a mismatch. It was the same with clothes, refusing to wear anything other than dresses before turning around and throwing a tantrum because they wanted something from the ‘boys’ section of the shop. Since they could talk they have been upset at us using she pronouns, so Ted suggested trying he/him, you know, like Elphias Doge? But that didn’t seem to work either, at least not all the time. So we’re using they for now. You know, to be neutral. Not something I know much about but if it makes them happy I’m going to have to learn, aren’t I. I can’t imagine things will be easy once they get to Hogwarts, what with the separate dorms and new people.”
“Oh… Well, I guess you’re right, their happiness is the most important thing. They are very lucky to have such accepting parents, that must make the world of difference. I have to admit that I don’t know much about it either but it might be that there’s someone we could talk to about it in the muggle queer community? They’re quite active in London I think.” replied Remus, as Sirius seemed to be taking a moment to process what Andromeda had said.
“Yes… yes… what Remus said.” Sirius managed.
“Anyway, I better be off, but I hope Harry does like the trains. If you ever need help with Harry just let us know. Or muggle things, Ted is pretty good with that kind of stuff.” With that, she stepped back into the fire and disappeared.
Sirius sagged back into the armchair before reaching over to the wooden box and picking up an engine. Harry would definitely like this, he thought. It was clearly carved to emulate the Hogwarts express with loving detail but to any muggle it would just look like any other wooden train set. Perfect for Harry, as he didn’t have many toys left. Even some of the ones they’d scavenged from Godric’s Hollow were obviously magical and they wouldn’t be able to take them to the new flat. As if he could hear Sirius thinking about him, Harry woke from his nap with a cry.
The sound pierced Sirius’ chest and settled like a throbbing hot stone below his heart. So far, Harry had barely mentioned his parents and seemed to have thought it was another fun weekend with his favourite uncles, but they had both known that this day would come. His body felt like lead as he dragged himself over to the cot, glancing at Remus who was hovering by the door. Sirius motioned for him to continue, he needed to get to Gringotts before they closed, before leaning over Harry and scooping him up.
“Shhh… shhh…” he murmured, “What’s wrong little one? Bad dream?” Harry paused his howls as he spoke but as soon as he finished speaking they started again even louder.
“Want Dada!!” he wailed.
Shit. He’d known they would have to explain to Harry at some point but he hadn’t even thought what he would say. How could you explain to a toddler that he wasn’t going to see his parents again? He wished Remus was here, that he hadn’t told him to go out. Gringotts would still be there tomorrow, and right now here Sirius was with a sobbing child and no idea what to do. Carefully, he walked over to the armchair, stroking Harry’s back as he sat down.
“Harry, do you remember a few nights ago, Mummy and Daddy were preparing a special meal? Your uncles Moony and Padfoot were coming round for Halloween, which is the best celebration of the year, if you ask me.” His voice cracked.
It was hard to believe he would ever consider Halloween the best time of year ever again. It had been when he and James had truly cemented their friendship in first year, and he’d always loved the pumpkins and the way they lit up even the stuffy gloom of Grimmauld Place. Now he wouldn’t be able to look at Halloween decorations without seeing that destroyed cottage, the lifeless bodies of his friends, the terrified screams of baby Harry.
“Well, a bad man, he got there before your Uncles did. Your mummy and daddy were very brave and had been fighting him for years so he was very angry with them. He… he…”
It was too much. He couldn’t even say it. He just couldn’t. He wasn’t even able to fully understand what had happened himself. So much had happened the last few days that he hadn’t even taken the time to… Fuck. It was all fucking useless. Who the fuck did he think he was kidding. He wasn’t going to be able to raise Harry. He’d fuck him up even more than his parents had done to him, and that’s before you mentioned the trauma Harry had already been through. He deserved so much better than a washed up, disowned, delinquent waster. He had had two beautiful, loving, clever, funny parents and now he was left with Sirius. Fuck knows why they’d chosen him as a godfather, over pretty much anyone else. He had Remus at the moment, but how long would that last until he finally realised that he could do much better than Sirius? Hot tears rolled down his cheeks and he let out a sob of his own. It was like a dam had been breached, once he started crying he couldn’t stop. Huge gasping sobs wracked his body as he clasped onto Harry, holding him tightly. Harry stopped crying in shock, and raised his little hand to Sirius’ cheeks to touch the tears. Merlin, even a baby was taking care of him better than he could. Everything was just so mixed up and upside down and why couldn't this all just be a terrible dream?
Light was fading fast outside and the room was growing dark but Sirius still didn’t move from the armchair. He held Harry in a tight embrace, rocking back and forth. Not knowing any nursery rhymes, he hummed Queen’s “Save Me”, broken and out of tune as the sobs kept coming. He wasn't really sure who he was trying to comfort at this point anyway, Harry or himself.