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The Measure of Your Worth
Summary: Even when you get the thing you most want, there's still a denouement to your story.
Notes: Written for the Merry Smutmas secret Santa smutty fic exchange for Nutmeg. Many thanks to my selfless betas Isis and Sobriquet.
"If he won't talk to you, you have to talk to him."
"Fuck off, Moony."
Remus stayed where he was, much as he would have liked to have been sitting next to Sirius for this. "You're going to have to sooner or later."
"Later is good."
Wrong approach. Remus had known it as soon as the words were out of his mouth. Give Sirius any wriggle room and the man would do his best impression of an eel.
"You're bloody miserable," he tried. "Harry's bloody miserable. Everyone who knows the two of you is bloody miserable, and unless the two of you start talking that's not going to change."
"Fine." Sirius swirled the amber Firewhiskey about in the glass before tossing it back. "Let Harry start talking. He knows where to find me." He was already reaching to the bottle at his feet for a refill.
"Harry is seventeen, Padfoot. Seven-bloody-teen. Do you remember what you were like at seventeen?"
Sirius was looking at him now, no evidence that the amount of drink he'd consumed tonight had affected him at all. "Funny thing, Moony, I don't. Do you know why? Because that was one of my happy years. I don't have much left of those memories anymore. Twelve years with fucking dementors sucking on your head will do that to you."
"You ass." That was it, that was fucking it. "You selfish, pathetic tosser, you are not getting away with that any more. Not with me."
Sirius was silent, which might have meant Remus had hit, or he might just have been winding up for the next part. Remus knew he had to come up with another counter. "Harry thinks you're lying, you know."
A snort. "He won't talk to me. How the fuck could I be lying to him?"
"That you don't remember anything about being dead. He thinks he took you out of some afterlife so wonderful you can't bear to be here."
A pause as the whiskey stopped partway to his mouth. Sirius set the glass down. "He doesn't think that."
"You're not talking to him, so why do you think you're any authority on what he thinks? He told me, dammit."
Remus was used to seeing Sirius pass a hand over his eyes, or run a hand through his hair in a particularly unhappy moment. Burying his face in his hands--that was not typically Sirius.
Remus found his throat was tight. "Is it true?"
"No!" He'd lifted his face from his hands. "I said I don't fucking remember, and I don't. Go away, Moony."
"Tell him, then." Remus let himself go as far as the arm of the couch, not settling on it but leaning on its edge. "Tell him that much. See if that's all it is."
"He said it to you--" Sirius was reaching for the glass again--"let him come say it to me. Then I'll know that that's all it is."
Hands curling into fists--for otherwise he would certainly be grabbing that glass away from him--Remus straightened. "I'm glad you're back, Padfoot. That's not going to change. But that doesn't stop me from wanting to kick your sorry arse all the way from here to bloody Bangladesh."
"Be my guest," Sirius called after him. "I hear werewolf pelts are all the rage there."
Remus didn't answer.
One second staring at his harpy cousin, feeling the coldness spreading through his chest. The next, being helped up off the floor by Harry. A suddenly older-looking Harry.
Who had whispered, "Are you all right?" And then not spoken a word to him since.
He'd gotten the story from everyone but Harry. The veil. The war. Voldemort confronting Harry. Some ritual that would have guaranteed him infinite power.
And Harry turning the ritual, somehow. Details on that were vague, as apparently only Harry knew what he'd done, and wasn't speaking of it.
And there had been a moment when Voldemort had seemed to be helpless, and Harry had walked away from him, and the psychopath had managed to escape again.
The timing of that moment, from what they could reconstruct, was that Harry had then gone to the Department of Mysteries. And what had happened in the Execution Chamber between the time Harry arrived at it and was helping Sirius up off the floor...Harry wasn't talking about that either.
It wasn't like he needed to know everything.
He just wanted Harry talking. About something. Anything.
Because the way he was avoiding him now, it seemed pretty obvious that Harry thought it had been one hell of a mistake.
Just the sort of thing to make you happy to be alive, it was. Get dragged back from the dead somehow and be met by the one person who mattered the most to you...and then see that look, that regret, on his face.
That that face was a bit older than he'd seen it last, and giving even more fuel to that shameless, impossible voice in his head that kept telling Sirius how very attractive his beloved godson was--despite the sensible voice that kept reminding him that he was well over twice Harry's age--well, it wasn't making things any easier.
He was seriously considering spending the rest of his restored life as Padfoot.
Except that he supposed he owed it to Remus to give it a bit more time.
There was a tapping at the window.
Sirius looked in the direction of the window and saw the owl. Not Hedwig. No bloody reason it should be Hedwig; Harry was in the damn house with him. He didn't need an owl to communicate.
Yet still, he had thought that it might have been Hedwig.
He opened the window for the brown owl, took the message from its proffered leg, and shut the window on it again, in no mood to look for owl treats or think about return messages.
The signature on the parchment was what he saw first, and that was unexpected enough to cut through his whiskey-affected brain and make the reading of the message all the clearer.
"If what I've been told is true, you are most likely reading this under the influence of enough alcohol to blind a giant. Put down the bottle, you cur, and come and see me. Loath though I am to make myself your host, I have a draught that suits your needs far better than the one in which you have been indulging.
Bloody Snivellus. Why in hell should he be the least interested in finding out what that was about?
"This had better be good."
Snape shut the door behind him. "I doubt it can be 'good,' under the circumstances, Black, but I am doing what I have agreed to do. I will give you the information, and you may do what you wish with it." He moved towards his workroom without looking behind to see if Sirius was following. Bloody cocksure bastard. "Though I am charged with returning the contents to their owner, and will see that done, as well."
And that was like him too, to be cryptic. "Who's that, then?"
Snape reached the worktable and turned to face him. "Potter."
Lovely. Harry was talking to Snivellus, but not to him. He'd be damned if he'd show Snape how much that hurt.
A cloth lay on the table. No, not a cloth, a drape. Snape lifted the drape at its center to reveal a liquid-filled stone cup.
"Am I supposed to drink that?" Damned if he was about to.
Though he hated to do anything in response to what sounded like a command from Snape, Sirius leaned in, wanting to know. The liquid had a sheen to it. No, wait...there was a slip of silver coiling within the cup.
"It's only one memory," Snape said. "So it didn't have to be a very large Pensieve. And you can't make a mistake and choose the wrong one, as I'm sure you'd somehow manage to do if there were more. I convinced Potter of that wisdom."
Sirius looked up at him. The smirk he would have expected to see wasn't there, despite his words. "This is Harry's memory."
"Rely upon you to gather the obvious."
"Harry trusted you with this. Why?" The anger was there, but he hadn't let it out just yet.
And now the smirk did come. "Because, you poor excuse for a zombie, I do not have Potter's best interests at heart. I do not care why he's doing this. That is why he did not entrust this to Dumbledore or the wolf or anyone he calls friend."
It made a satisfying sort of sense, somehow. Knowing that Harry and the greasy git weren't on anything like friendly terms.
"You don't wish to be here any longer than I wish you here. Look."
No retort had formed, so there was nothing to bite back. Besides, it was true.
Sirius bent down to the cup. It was so small, he wondered how he was going to push inside it, but the silvery memory seemed to reach for him as he approached, as if it knew he was the intended guest. It was only a moment that he felt the dizzying fall through emptiness, and then he was on his feet in a great stone room, cavernous as a cathedral.
He was standing next to Harry.
The room was torchlit and there were stone structures like altars or sarcophagi about, reinforcing the cathedral impression. On the floor, next to one of those structures, was a robed figure, belly-down and crawling in their direction, ghoul-white hands outstretched. The voice in which it was wailing was oddly high for a male, and when the face lifted just enough so that its red eyes gleamed beneath the hood, Sirius knew he was looking at Voldemort.
Voldemort was staring directly at Harry, screaming, and yet he did not lift himself from the floor, and he had stopped crawling, as though he dared come no closer.
Harry--seventeen-year-old Harry--wasn't looking at the outraged Voldemort. He was staring at the ball of light hovering above his hand.
There was a whisper coming from it, a voice that Sirius couldn't distinguish as either male or female. But he was close enough to Harry to hear what it was saying.
"...recipient of the gift," it said. "There is no deed you cannot do, no act, no creation that lies outside your abilities with this power. What is your intent to do, shall be done. All your life, you shall hold this omnipotence. And yet be warned: the day you choose to influence the law of death, it shall be your last deed with this power, and the power shall leave you. Wish death upon any creature, or bring one back from beyond its borders, and it will be so, but the gift will be no more."
The ball of light seemed to stretch like an amoeba, its edges spreading out in random bulges and lines, and then, just when it looked as though it might snap and break, the thing shot forward.
Who opened his mouth to scream as the light took him from within, but no noise came from him as the stream poured itself into his chest, flared behind his eyes and under his skin until his entire body was luminous, every strand of hair lit and his fingernails seeming to spark, until there was a final flash and it was not so much a fading of the glow as it was a retreat within the confines of its new host. Harry staggered, but did not fall.
Sirius reached for him, not having forgotten that this was a memory, but unable to keep from doing so all the same. But Harry had taken a step backwards. His eyes were on Voldemort, and the look on his face was aghast.
He put his hands to his head. Screamed once, with sound, as he had not been able to do a moment before.
And then he turned and began to run from the room, leaving Voldemort still on the floor, still howling his outrage, starting to move forward again, and Sirius began to run, starting to say, Harry, wait--
--and he was pushed, not pulled but pushed, out of the scene, out of the memory, and was standing in front of the table in Snape's workroom once more.
"Hm. That didn't take long at all," said Snape.
Sirius was cold, much colder than he should be for the temperature of the room. "I--" He could think of nothing to say for a time. At last: "Have you seen this?"
A sneer. "Why should I want to?"
"You--" No. There wasn't any point.
"If it means so much between him and you, Black, then I very much doubt it would have me doing anything but retching. That is all I have for you. You may go."
Sirius didn't even bother to get upset over the arrogance of the dismissal. "When are you seeing Harry to give him the memory back?"
"Quite soon." Snape covered the cup with the drape once more.
Sirius was on the verge of asking Snape if he might stay around for a bit, but he imagined Snape would look at him as if he'd sprouted a niffler in the centre of his forehead.
Not much point.
He considered waiting. Considered continuing to drink, continuing to drown in the self-pity of being an embarrassment to those who had put his death behind them, continuing to avoid asking his godson for an explanation: why aren't you speaking to me if you cared enough to bring me back.
The Pensieve still hadn't told him that part.
But he knew that Harry had to have thought he'd made the first step--he might even think it had explained it all--and now the obligation lay on him.
Fate played odd tricks. Harry found him in the kitchen, where he had been trying to think of how to approach him, how to begin.
"Tell me, " said Harry. "Get it out. Get it over."
Sirius stared at his godson. He realized he was looking for some trace of that light to be there, seeping through Harry's skin, turning his eyes aglow. But that was only a fancy.
Or perhaps it wasn't. Wouldn't that explain why Sirius was unable to keep his eyes from Harry, during those moments they were actually in the same room together? That he drew every eye, in the way light would?
He sat there, choosing his words very carefully.
"Why," he said, "are you acting like I'm going to scold you?"
Harry was very still.
"You're seventeen years old," he continued at last, "and I haven't been around for guidance at all. I would say that that combination--you being of age, me being the shittiest excuse for a guardian imaginable--leaves me the last person who can scold you."
"Sirius, you saw." His voice cracked on the word.
"I saw you in pain." Sirius looked down at his hands, wishing he had more whiskey in front of him, if only to have something to do with his hands. "I saw what you were like when you were confronted by that choice. You screamed."
"I walked away." Harry came closer, hands curving over the top of a chair in a grip that matched the intensity of his words. "I walked away from Voldemort. Because I wanted him dead. He needed to die; Dumbledore told me, over and over, not to be afraid of what needed to be done in self-defense. I wanted him to die and there was this power in me telling me that if I used that power to kill him, I would lose it for good. I could use that power to have control over death once, just once, and if I used it on him that meant I couldn't use it to get you back."
Harry's eyes were wide, his mouth shrunk to a small, shaking line. He was clutching the chair so hard Sirius thought he might break it. It was certainly old and fragile enough.
"I didn't want it forever." Every word sounded as though an oracle was making a pronouncement, as though Harry thought he was speaking his own doom by confessing each word. "Voldemort shouldn't have that. I shouldn't have that. No one should. I knew that. But if it was going to let me have that one thing, I wanted that. I wanted that veil to cough you up and spit you back out, and that meant I had to be there to see." The words were coming faster and faster. "And if I'd stayed, if I'd pulled out my wand and tried to kill Voldemort, that would have been me, trying that, wanting that. How did I know that that wasn't what the power meant? How did I know that wanting it didn't mean willing it, as far as that power was concerned? I ran. I ran from that. To get to that veil and to you." Sirius wanted to stand, wanted to touch Harry, but the words were like a flood of water, pinning him. "To get the one thing that I wanted that would also get rid of that fucking power. And I let him go, Sirius, I let...him...go!"
The last word rang in the room.
Neither of them moved.
"And it wasn't right and I don't care and I'd do it all over again."
He did not run. But when Harry straightened and turned and walked out of the room, Sirius knew that his own body would never rise, and move, and catch him before he had left.
He'd spent too many nights at the foot of the stairs, looking in the direction of Harry's bedroom, wanting to go and talk with him and always turning away.
Each step he climbed seemed like it was making him lighter, tonight. Like some mythic ascension into an afterlife of whose existence, or lack of, he still had no proof.
Just because he did not remember it did not mean that he discounted it. Forgetfulness might have been a defense mechanism gifted to him.
He knocked. Waited out the silence for a moment, then pushed the door open.
The room was dark but for moonlight. Sirius could see Harry lying in the bed, but he was quite sure he wouldn't be asleep, even if he hadn't spoken.
There was a chair in the room, and that was fortunate, as Sirius knew he'd need to be sitting to say this. He pulled it closer to the bed and sat down. Waited until he was sure by the breathing pattern that Harry definitely wasn't asleep.
He hadn't really practiced this, but he thought he knew what he needed to say.
Sirius leaned back and began speaking.
"It doesn't matter if the others think you did it because you didn't want to be a murderer.
"It's all right to let them think nobler thoughts than you think you deserve. That isn't for you; it's more for themselves. They want to imagine they'd make the noblest choice when faced with a situation like that, and so they sort of plaster that idea over what you've done, and it makes them feel better about themselves."
He reached out one hand, touching the pillow but not quite daring to touch the dark hair itself. "It's all right to want something that much. It's all right not to listen to shoulds and mustn'ts and to choose what you want over what you ought.
"And I'm the last person who would judge you. Not for fear of being called a hypocrite, but because I am glad you chose what you did. I haven't been able to say thank you and that's not because I regret anything, not one thing, but because I just don't have the words. It's not possible to find the words.
"And that's all I wanted to say. Love you, Harry."
He rose, and left.
He wasn't asleep either when his door was pushed open. He, however, did not try to pretend he was.
He was prepared for a number of reactions, from an angry declaration to a tearful boy wrapping him in a hug. He couldn't deny that he was hopeful for the latter, but perhaps Harry thought himself too old for that now.
He did not expect to be kissed.
There were tears on that face, oh, yes, but having it pushed against his chest had been the most he'd allowed himself to want. Or so he'd told himself.
He hadn't expected to taste the tears against his own mouth, pressed there by lips that touched his, neither opening nor clinging, not experienced enough to take any more initiative than that. But there were hands on his shoulders, one moving to his hair, and Harry's mouth moved away only long enough to whisper. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I love you this much. Please don't..."
He didn't finish. Mentally Sirius filled in the possibilities. Hate me? Send me away?
Think that you owe me this for saving your life. Ah, that would be the sticking point, wouldn't it?
Sirius slid one arm around Harry's waist and the other behind his neck and showed him what a kiss should be like. He heard Harry make a small noise in his throat.
It inflamed him.
He stopped asking himself what this was about. Stopped asking himself if it was right, if it was best, if it was more than just momentary need speaking.
Besides, he had the answer to that last one already.
He pulled away far enough to see Harry's face in the little light there was in the room, filtering through the window from outside streetlamps. What he saw there ran deeper than need; he saw trust, and it struck centers even stronger than arousal in him at that moment.
"Let me look at you. Two years gone..." he murmured, taking in the changes in the bones, and the hollows in the cheeks, and all the other evidence of two years of aging that had brought Harry out of boyhood. There was so much of James in him, and yet Sirius had to come up with that thought, not fight it off, which saved him from all the guilty baggage that would have brought.
Sirius felt anything but guilty.
"It doesn't matter," said Harry, and his voice had a husk to it that brought the heat back to Sirius's body full force. "I would have waited. That's all it means."
Sirius kissed him again, this time on the cheekbone, and the corner of his mouth, and then his chin, waiting to see Harry's reaction.
When Harry arched his chin upward, and Sirius knew that he was asking him to continue, down his neck, then Sirius also knew he would not have to ask anything more.
He did not know whose work it was that Harry was shortly lying on his back and Sirius was leaning over him, sliding the t-shirt up Harry's chest so that he might remove it and see more of him. Thin, but there was muscle there as well; nothing bulky but the definition that he could imagine came from leaning flat-out over the length of one's speeding broom, arm outstretched and reaching. He could see the darkness of his nipples in the dim light, both surrounded by black curls of hair, and began to understand that though the male body next to him was beautiful in a way that only fortune could gift and that youth could only enhance, he would still have been completely, exquisitely Harry, no matter what he looked like, and no less beautiful.
Which meant that any thoughts he might have had about his own less-than-youthful body, any self-consciousness, was discarded. Harry wanted him for him, and Sirius could not waste time on useless regrets.
No. No more wasting time.
He was naked beneath the bedclothes, a habit of his since he'd known the pleasure of sleeping in a proper bed instead of being on the run. Harry was still wearing his pyjama bottoms, and a line of black curls that started beneath his navel marched down to the waistband. Sirius could think of nothing he'd seen in years that was as tempting as that.
He leaned down and kissed the navel, dipping his tongue into it, hearing the hiss Harry made and then feeling the hands coming to thread through his hair, not pulling him away, oh, definitely not trying to make him stop. He could feel the bulge of Harry's genitals through the fabric, cock already hardening and rising beneath his chin, against his throat as he continued to tongue-fuck that short depth, testing this one intimacy as intensely as he could, needing to satisfy himself one last time that he had more than Harry's permission--he had nothing less than his hunger.
The act of taking the waistband of the pyjamas and peeling them down Harry's hips a fraction at a time, while he watched, had Sirius completely hard within moments, to say nothing of Harry. When he finally had that cock exposed, tip already shining wet in the dim light, all thoughts of what he might do to slowly please Harry fled, and he nuzzled into the deliciously musky pelt of hair that surrounded its base, pulling at it with his teeth, breathing through both mouth and nose to take in the smell of him. Harry sucked in a breath, hands still tangled in his hair, and made an explosive oh when Sirius licked his way from base to tip of his cock in one unhurried trail.
"Oh, fuck," Harry breathed. "I'll--if you--"
"I know," said Sirius, just before he repeated the action along the other side. "Want you to."
"Not yet. Let me touch you first. Please." It was nearly a pant. Sirius's first impulse was to keep doing what he was, but the idea of Harry lying next to him suddenly seemed too wonderful to forego, and he slithered out of the bedclothes to get himself along Harry's side, his hand still upon his cock. Harry turned to face him as he did so, however, pressing his groin into Sirius's, and on impulse Sirius opened his hand and took his own cock into his grip as well, the two lengths side by side, and Harry's hands, no longer in his hair but on Sirius's shoulders, clutched at him hard, gasping, his cock throbbing in Sirius's hand and next to his own cock, and Sirius knew that no amount of willpower would hold either of them back for long.
"Just a minute--want you to feel this," Sirius managed to say, and drew his hips back until he had the ends of their cocks just touching, and then, carefully as he could, drew his own foreskin down over the head and pulled it beyond, until he could slide the circle of it just over Harry's exposed cockhead, rubbing slowly. The sound Harry made alone was worth it; the way his fingers bit into Sirius's shoulders doubly so; the tremors of Harry's cock under his fingers and the near-painful force of his ejaculation inside Sirius's foreskin, incomparable.
Sirius was close to coming, very close, but he decided to forego any further attention to his own cock in favor of holding the still-shuddering Harry against him. He hadn't thought that there was much that could surpass orgasm in terms of sensation, but this was on that list if anything was.
Harry was still breathing rapidly when he asked, "Do you want to fuck me?"
That alone brought Sirius very near coming at that moment. "I want to do everything to you," he growled, bringing his mouth down on Harry's immediately, sucking, kissing, biting. Harry sucked and kissed and bit back, and their frantic, almost combative grappling had most of the bedclothes on the floor in a short time, and Harry wrapped his hand about Sirius's cock as though he would draw it to himself right then.
Then Harry said: "We...need something for it, don't we? Or--or is there a spell?"
"There's one, but it's an Unforgivable," Sirius said against his ear, and couldn't help it; he barked laughter at his own joke as Harry choked on what was obviously a combination of the idea and his embarrassment at being taken in by it for that one second.
"I could...use my mouth to..." Harry said when they'd recovered.
"No. Not good enough." Certainly not for your first time, Sirius thought with a fierce protectiveness that didn't surprise him at all.
Sirius had what they needed, however, and was well past any remnant of being youthfully embarrassed for having it at hand, and soon had Harry on his belly, kissing the side of his face as he circled his anus with one slickened finger. "I'll go slowly. Trust me, okay?"
Harry's eyes were shut, cheek pillowed on the back of one hand, and a more perfect picture of trust Sirius could not have imagined. His finger entered, moved slowly until he could feel the knot of his prostate just beneath, heard Harry's answering cry of "Oh..." The finger was replaced by two, and Harry whimpered and bit at his fist until Sirius's uncertainty if he should continue was knocked away by Harry moaning, "More...please..."
When three fingers had Harry stretched to the knuckles of his hand, Sirius then allowed his cock to follow into the circle of the thumb and little finger of that hand, so that as he drew the fingers free his cock was ready to follow them immediately. It was in his mind to reach beneath Harry's hip and fist his cock during the penetration, but he had held off his own orgasm for too long now, and it required all his concentration just to make sure he did not hurt Harry. But though a few of the sounds Harry was making might have been pain, none sounded like stop, and more than one was simply another language for yes.
He was sheathed most of the way inside him; it was enough, more than enough for this first time. Sirius gave in and clutched at Harry's hips and let the tightness overwhelm him, the orgasm take him as he shouted, trembled, tried to stay still as he came inside Harry's arse, the curve of Harry's shoulderblade and the arch of his neck, the open "O" of his mouth and the fringe obscuring Harry's eyes leaving Sirius unable to look away, even as the moment of climax ran through him and shattered him and remade him.
They clung together for a long time after.
Later, Harry lifted his head and looked at Sirius, who had stretched out by his side, and who had not been able to keep from stroking Harry's shoulderblade for a number of minutes. "What?" said Harry.
"I had a fancy." He waited, then said: "That I was still dead, and some angel had had pity on me and taken your form to comfort me in the afterlife. I was just checking for wings."
A snort. "Fuck wings. I've got a broom. Any angel wants you, I'll kick his arse."
Sirius's hand moved to slide about Harry's shoulders and pull him nearer. "Harry," he said, smiling, "I think you already have."
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