The Absence of War – 2/3 – Keira Marcos

Title: The Absence of War
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Drama, Family, Het, Kid!fic, Slash
Relationship(s): Sirius Black/OMC, OMC/OFC
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Minor character death, homicide, off-screen child abuse, and off-screen torture
Author Notes: I use the term dverger for the species of magical creature that runs Gringotts.
Beta: Ladyholder
Word Count: 117,000
Summary: Arcturus Black uses the last moments of his life to change the circumstances of his grandson, Sirius black, in Azkaban in a way that no one could ignore. The ramifications of his choices change everything for both Sirius Black and Harry Potter.
Artist: Tiffany



Chapter 8

Armand grabbed a hand towel and wiped the water from his face. He braced himself against the counter and ignored the mirror, which had already told him he looked like shite.

“Armand?”

“Sirius was right,” he said roughly. “There was a portrait in the trunk. It must have been painted a few months after Harry was born.” He tossed the towel and took a deep breath. “James is furious, and Lily cried for a half-hour after she woke up. I can’t…”

Patrice moved closer and leaned into his side. “Sometimes, I think portrait magic is the cruelest thing ever invented.”

“Grief makes us do strange things,” Armand said. “And the pursuit of eternal life makes us do… even worse.”

She hummed under her breath. “Do you regret taking the elixir from Hiro?”

“No, love, I swore to be with you until the day you died,” he said roughly. “The elixir from a philosopher’s stone was the only way to make that happen. I’d have never pursued any sort of life extension if I hadn’t met you.” He turned and wrapped his arms around her. “There is no regret to be had at all.” He pressed a kiss against her forehead and leaned on the counter. “Harry’s pleased with the portrait, but I can tell he’s a little confused about how to treat James since he’s certainly put Sirius in place in his life as his father.”

“One of you will have to talk to the portrait to make sure he doesn’t create any sort of confusion for Harry. He doesn’t need that kind of insecurity,” Patrice said. “Maybe you. I doubt Sirius would be able to do it considering how much he misses James.”

“I will,” Armand murmured. “Harry said I could borrow the portrait whenever I wanted.” He closed his eyes and turned his face into his wife’s hair. “But speaking of Harry, I need to take him to the ministry to retrieve the prophecy.”

Patrice made a face. “I’ll go with you.”

“Love, I don’t think…” He trailed off when she shook her head at him.

“He’ll need someone to turn to for comfort, and we both know that’s not going to be you,” she declared and just raised an eyebrow when he huffed. “I realize why you’ve been standoffish with him, Armand, and maybe some part of him understands as well. These are our current circumstances.”

“I…” Armand made a face. “Wear your armored cloak.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “If you’re that concerned, I hope you intend on bringing Walker and Quintin along as well.”

“Of course,” Armand said. “They’re both spoiling for a fight anyway.”

– – – –

Harry took the hand Master Deering offered immediately because he didn’t want the older wizard to think he was afraid. He glanced toward his daddy, who was sitting in a chair with the portrait of his parents in hand. They were talking in a low tone, and Harry had left them alone for that since he figured they had adult stuff to talk about. His parents were really upset, and he really didn’t know what to do that. Honestly, he had enough on his plate dealing with his own emotions.

There was a little squeeze as they apparated. Harry really appreciated magical transportation because he hated being in a car. Maybe it was because Vernon Dursley was a terrible driver who yelled a lot, but the car had always felt very confining and weird. Master Armand released his hand, but Miss Patrice immediately offered hers, so he took it without telling her he wasn’t a baby.

“This is the atrium,” Patrice murmured as they walk. “The British Ministry of Magic is set up like many other ministries around the world as you’ll find out when you get older. The atrium is used for arrivals and departures—apparition, floo, and portkey. We arrived via apparition because the floos are closed at Thestral Downs, and portkeys are recorded by the ministry. Apparition is the only private method of transportation a witch or wizard has.”

“They can’t track apparition?” Harry questioned as they headed toward a bank of elevators. “People are staring.”

“I’m beautiful,” Patrice announced. “And a veela, I get attention where ever I go, and you’re unfortunately famous.”

Harry grinned. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to call my autobiography Unfortunately Famous.”

“Excellent choice,” Quintin Deadmarsh said he walked on Harry’s left. “And probably the most polite thing you could put on the cover.”

“I might get less polite as I get older,” Harry theorized as they waited for a lift. He shifted closer to Patrice when a woman nearby started to stare at him. The strange witch stepped forward, and Quintin shifted, so he was between Harry and the stranger. “People are so rude.”

“Very,” Patrice said coolly and looked briefly over at the witch who had shifted around so she could see around Quintin. “Madam, did you require something?”

The woman flushed. “I just wanted to…”

“To gawk at a ten-year-old boy?” Master Deering supplied harshly, and the woman backed away from them.

Harry resisted the urge to pull his own cloak around him tightly. He hadn’t wanted to wear it, but also he hadn’t wanted to demand that his godfather buy him a jacket from a Muggle store. All of his new clothes were on the formal side, and Harry figured that was because of his station which he’d never, ever take as seriously as everyone clearly wanted him to. He focused on Master Deering to avoid looking at the woman.

“He’s supposed to have glasses.”

Harry exhaled sharply and wondered why a magical lift wasn’t faster than a Muggle one. Maybe someone else was using it. He turned to Quintin, who was glaring at the woman and asked, “Don’t people know you can get your eyes healed, so you don’t have to wear glasses?”

“The potion and spell combination is just five years old,” Quintin explained.

“And expensive,” the woman said snottily.

“Oh,” Harry said. “Well, I’m glad my godfather has the financial resources to support me and my health.” He offered Quintin a smile when the wizard snorted. “Doesn’t St. Mungo’s offer the process, Master Deadmarsh? Do they charge for health care? That’s so uncivilized. In the Muggle world, you can go to the hospital for free.”

“St. Mungo’s doesn’t cost anything,” Quintin responded. “But cosmetic healing, like the eye healing spell, isn’t something done at St. Mungo’s. It requires the services of a private healer, like Healer Dyson.”

“Fixing my eyesight is considered a cosmetic procedure?” Harry questioned as the lift finally opened. “That’s honestly kind of barbaric.”

Master Deering laughed and ushered Patrice into the lift, and Harry went along with her. “Magical Britain isn’t exactly a modern, forward-thinking society, lad, and the sooner you recognize that, the better.”

Harry nodded as he turned to face the front of the lift car. The strange witch was still staring. “I guess that’s why a strange old lady would just stare at me like I’m an object or something.”

Walker Deadmarsh coughed a little as the doors shut on the woman’s shocked expression.

“That strange old lady is a named Dolores Umbridge,” Quintin said. “She’s the Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic. The Umbridge family is a cadet branch of the House of Black though they haven’t been legally or magically recognized as such for several generations. I’m not sure what your godfather has decided regarding the Umbridge family going forward, but make sure to tell him that she was rude to you. Her behavior was quite unseemly, considering your status.”

“That sounds snobby,” Harry admitted.

“There will be times,” Patrice began, “when retreating behind social protocol will be a safe haven for you, Harry. Good manners and the ability to wield etiquette as a weapon against your enemies will just one of the many skills you’ll learn to defend yourself and your magical house.”

“Is it rude to point out when someone else is rude?”

“I’ve never thought so,” Armand interjected before his wife could speak.

Harry grinned when Patrice sent him a look that looked a lecture. She was good for that because Armand cleared his throat and just shrugged a little at the non-verbal reprimand.

“It is better to deflect the person’s behavior and change the subject if at all possible,” Patrice said. “A person of grace and substance will endeavor to always behave in a thoughtful, deliberate manner. That being said, it’s not rude to make it clear that you find another person’s behavior inappropriate. If you can do so without causing a scene, that is preferred.”

“My mother always said that rude begets rude,” Master Deering said roughly as the doors opened.

“Your mother laughed when you bared your arse for the World Court of Magic in the 70s,” Patrice hissed and frowned when all four wizards laughed.

Harry bit down on his lip and tried to hold in his snickering as they walked into a large round room with many doors. A door opened before he could ask a single question, and a man in a hood appeared. He moved closer to Patrice and shuddered a little.

“Are you all right, lad?” Deering questioned.

“I… I’m fine,” Harry murmured even as his magic trembled inside him.

Deering frowned but focused on the hooded man. “We have an appointment with Croaker.”

“Of course,” the man said and motioned them inside.

Harry let himself be led through the door by Patrice while his magic stirred like a storm in his chest. He desperately wanted to run all the way back to Thestral Downs, and it was in that moment that he realized he had no idea where home was. He couldn’t get back to his Daddy without help. Panic made his chest feel tight, and he took a ragged breath as they were taken to an office.

“Shut the door,” Patrice snapped as she grasped his shoulders and knelt in front of him. “Harry.”

“I… I don’t know where home is,” he blurted out. “I don’t know my own address. How do I get home?”

“Thestral Downs manor is located at 2601 Thestral Lane in Aberdeenshire, Scotland inside the magical enclave of Blackmoor. If you ever get separated from the adult you’re with, you can go to any street and raise your wand hand and think really hard about going home. A ridiculous contraption called the Knight Bus will appear. Muggles will ignore it due to the magic on it, and you can tell the driver your address, and he’ll take you straight home.” She brushed his hair gently from his forehead, and he forced himself not to lean into her touch. “That man upset you.”

“He made my magic hurt,” Harry whispered. “Deep inside.” He paused and took a deep breath. “Like my scar, sometimes.”

“Sounds like you need to check over your employees, Croaker,” Deering said.

“Yes, I agree,” the hooded man said from behind the desk. “I apologize, Mr. Potter, that my employee made you uncomfortable. Please trust that I will figure out why he made your magic hurt.”

“Potter-Black.” Harry stared at him. “Trusting adults hasn’t always worked out well for me, and I can’t even see your face.”

“Master Deering, are you willing to vouch for the integrity of all the people you’ve brought into my office?” the man asked.

“Yes, of course,” Armand said.

The man pushed his hood back, and the distortion magic covering his face disappeared as he focused on Harry. “My name is Jonah McGregor.”

“The Earl of Dunmoor,” Deering supplied. “He was instrumental in making the Wizengamot hold a trial for your godfather.”

“Why?” Harry asked. “Grandpa Phineas says that peers in the magical world are no different than the Muggle as they rarely do anything that doesn’t serve them in some fashion or another.”

McGregor glanced sourly at the heir ring Harry wore. “Out of all of your ancestors, Phineas Black is the one chosen to advise you?”

“He’s the most frequent now, and at first he was the only one because the others were too furious to speak. They’re all really mad about my daddy spending so much time in Azkaban with dementors. They think I should pretty much dedicate my life to destroying the whole place. Aunt Elladora doesn’t even think the island itself should remain. They’re all researching a way to destroy dementors.” Harry smiled when everyone else paled. “Also, I’m supposed to act honored that you revealed your secret identity to me… so thanks, I guess, for taking off that creepy hood.”

Armand snorted, Patrice sighed, and McGregor burst out laughing. Harry just looked toward Quintin, who remained stoic and raised an eyebrow. The wizard shrugged in response, so Harry just blew air out between his lips and waited until Lord McGregor stopped laughing.

McGregor sat back in his chair, opened a drawer in his desk, and pulled out a box that he placed in front of him. “Your great-grandfather, Arcturus Black, saved my life shortly after I left Hogwarts. There was never a circumstance where I could repay that debt to him personally. The moment I realized that his grandson, Sirius, had claimed his title within Azkaban, I knew that something terrible was going on. Most people wrongly assume that the house of Black motto is about blood purity, but I’ve always known it to be about magical purity. No one but an innocent man could enter Azkaban and remain pure of magic.”

Harry nodded and walked to stand in front of the box. “Is the prophecy in that box?”

“There are three prophecy orbs in this box. When I summoned any orb with your name on it—the first two that came to me were only about you. The third that answered my summon was about you and Lord Voldemort.”

“His real name is Tom Riddle,” Harry said. “He’s not the lord of anything, and people shouldn’t call him one.”

“Tom Riddle,” McGregor repeated.

“Tom Marvolo Riddle,” Harry said. “My Grandpa Phineas says he started Hogwarts in 1938 and that Headmaster Dippet treated him like a prince. Aunt Elladora says Armando Dippet was a complete idiot, and she thinks he should’ve been fired for allowing corporal punishment. Of course, Dumbledore outlawed that when he became headmaster which is, apparently, the only worthwhile thing he’s done so far.” He focused on the box. “How does this work?”

“Normally, you’d have an appointment with the archivist who handles the Hall of Prophecy. You would be taken to the shelf where the prophecies were being held and allowed to remove them for review in private. You’d be required to put them back if the prophecy wasn’t entirely about you. However, considering your high profile, I decided to circumvent that process.” He pushed the box across the desk. “I’ve replaced your orbs with fakes. You’ll leave with all three in hand, and there are no copies.”

“Why?” Harry questioned.

“Because the contents of these prophecies are no one’s business but yours.”

“Well, one’s also about Tom Riddle.”

“Officially and legally, the dark wizard known as Voldemort is dead,” McGregor said simply. “Therefore, there is no argument to be had for not allowing you to take the original orb from the hall.”

Harry picked up the box and offered it to Master Deering, who accepted it. The box disappeared in a flash of magic, and Harry focused on McGregor. “Thank you for your time, Lord McGregor. I won’t tell anyone I saw your face.” He leaned forward a bit. “Don’t trust that wizard who brought us in here. Something’s wrong with him.”

“I assure you, lad, I will most definitely resolve that situation as soon as you leave.” McGregor stood. “I’ll walk you out myself.”

Harry took the hand Patrice offered and moved closer to her as McGregor came around the desk and stopped in front of them.

“You’re right not to automatically trust anyone, Mr. Potter-Black,” McGregor said. “But I want you to know that I’m not and never will be a threat to you. If you ever need my help, you only need ask. I’ll do whatever I can to help you and your godfather.”

Harry regarded him silently for a moment, then nodded. “Okay.” He felt his cheeks flush as his Aunt Elledora started talking about how handsome she thought McGregor was. “If you care, at all, about the opinions of a witch who died before you were born, my Aunt Elladora thinks you’re really attractive.”

McGregor laughed. “I would say the same. Your Aunt Elladora was well-known to be one of the most beautiful witches to ever be born to the house of Black.”

“She agrees,” Harry said. “On that point, can magical adoption change the features of someone? Because she’s convinced I have her nose.”

“Yes, it can, in fact.”

Harry frowned, touched his nose, and decided to study Elladora Black’s portrait thoroughly when he got home. “Thank you.”

Armand watched McGregor as he came around the desk. Had he known the Earl of Dunmoor was Croaker, he’d have brought more support than just his nephews. McGregor was an archmagus, and Armand couldn’t afford to trust anyone who worked in the ministry with Harry Potter. He kept the other wizard in his line of sight the entire way out of the DOM and let his nephews handle moving Patrice and Harry through the entryway of the department and the trip to the lifts.

“Wow,” Quintin murmured as they settled into the lift and the doors slid shut.

“What?” Harry questioned.

“The number of people who know the identity of Croaker outside of employees in the Department of Mysteries was probably fairly close to zero until today,” Armand said roughly. “His identity is an Official Secret just like all Unspeakables. It allows them to do their jobs unfettered by politics and social obligations.”

“That’s cool,” Harry said. “So, I guess I’m honored for real.”

Armand sent the kid a look and found him grinning, which was certainly an approvement over the pale and shaking mess he’d been after they’d entered the DOM. “Walker.”

“I put a tracker him,” Walker said simply. “As far as I could tell, he didn’t even notice. Not a surprise; most don’t notice parselmagic being placed on them unless they’re a parselmouth themselves.”

If he survives to leave today, follow him and find out exactly what about that particular wizard set the kid off,” Armand ordered and nodded as his nephew disappeared with a wisp of smoke.

“I really want to learn how to be invisible,” Harry said wistfully.

“I’ll teach you as soon as you get a wand,” Patrice promised. “And a few other things you’ll need to learn before you go to school.”

“Really, darling?” Armand questioned and got a look from his wife that told him to mind his own business, so he closed his mouth as they left the lift with Quintin. He’d already lost track of Walker, the younger wizard’s disillusionment charm was so strong that he couldn’t even keep up with him using mage sight.

“Master Deering.”

Armand frowned as he turned and focused his attention on Albus Dumbledore. “Don’t you have a school to run, Dumbledore? There isn’t a Wizengamot session until April.”

Dumbledore was staring at Harry Potter. Armand wasn’t at all surprised to find that Harry was glaring at the older wizard. The boy blamed Dumbledore for most of the misery he’d suffered in his life—starting with the murder of his parents.

“I was just speaking with Madam Bones about the Potter custody situation,” Dumbledore said.

“You already failed to do your job regarding the will of James and Lily Potter,” Armand said and tried to swallow down the fury that seeing the old bastard always inspired in him. He loathed Albus Dumbledore, and it was getting more difficult by the day to not kill the man. “Why would anyone value your opinion on the matter of Harry’s custody? You couldn’t read a 24 inch parchment and place the child properly in a magical household. It’s far too late for you to worry about doing your duty to the house of Potter now.”

A small hand slipped into his and Armand looked down to find Harry Potter at his side, the boy’s fingers curled against his palm.

“You need to learn to mind your own business,” Harry said flatly as he stared at Dumbledore.

Around them, wizards and witches stilled and turned to stare. Quintin shifted around them to stand directly behind Harry. Patrice drew her wand with a little flick of her wrist.

“Harry, my boy, you might not remember me…” He trailed off when Harry raised his free hand.

“I’m not your boy, and no, I don’t remember you at all. Did you visit me in that abusive Muggle home where you abandoned me like a newspaper on the front porch in the middle of the night?” Harry questioned. “Perhaps you just visited my aunt while I was at school. If you want to visit her in the future—you’ll find her in a Muggle prison. She’s serving a ten-year sentence for felony child abuse.”

Dumbledore’s face whitened then his cheeks flushed with anger as the gathering crowd started mutter amongst themselves. Armand wasn’t surprised to find more than one person glaring at Dumbledore.

“Do you have another abusive home to place me in, Mr. Dumbledore?” Harry questioned. “Will they hit me and starve me like my aunt and uncle, or will it be worse?”

“You’ve clearly been spent far too much around Master Deering,” Dumbledore said stiffly. “Your attitude is dark and unforgiving.”

“I had no idea being honest was considered a dark trait,” Harry said, and Armand swallowed back a laugh. “That explains what I’ve heard about you, Mr. Dumbledore. You call yourself the Leader of the Light—does that mean you’re the biggest liar of them all?” He paused. “Also, I don’t forgive you. It is impossible to give pardon to the unforgivable, and that’s what your treatment of me has been.” He took a deep breath and slowly released it. “Can we go, Master Deering? Aunt Elladora says I shouldn’t have to put with this wretched old wizard, and we shouldn’t turn our backs on him since he’d probably curse us given a chance.”

Armand resolved to have the paint on Elladora Black’s painting refreshed and maybe even offer to have a new dress painted for her. He raised an eyebrow at Dumbledore, and the other wizard turned on his heel and stalked away. The crowd around them dispersed after a moment. He kept the boy’s hand all the way to the apparition point and shared a look with his wife before offering her his free hand. He apparated all three of them out of the ministry without a word.

– – – –

Neither Dyson nor Wright had been on board with him going to the bank, but he had family issues to attend to that were beyond Armand Deering’s purview. Some matters required the patriarch of a family, and the ones before him were precisely those. Sirius had agreed to allow Zale Wright to accompany via portkey to the bank.

The account manager for both the Black and Potter accounts was a dverger named Razel Fireborn. Having the son of the chieftain of the horde’s personal attention was no small thing, so Sirius had been careful not to waste the dverger’s time with unnecessary correspondence. As such, their communications had been brief and in short supply.

He shed his cloak and let Wright take it from him. The healer put both his cloak and Sirius’ on a rack not far from the door and followed him to the table where the remaining members of the Black family in Britain were already seated. He had distant cousins spread out all over the Mediterranean, but they were distant enough that the family magic didn’t take any notice of them, and not a single one of them was a Black by name.

“That’s Uncle Arcturus’ cloak.”

Sirius focused on Cygnus Black, due to his parent’s marriage, the man was both his maternal uncle and a cousin. The more he thought about it and his son’s horror at the situation, the more uncomfortable he got with the way his family had conducted themselves before he was born. “He gave it to me when I was in Azkaban—it was all the physical comfort he could offer me on his final day.”

His uncle blanched and averted his gaze.

Sirius placed a dragonhide portfolio full of parchments in front of him and opened it. “This portfolio belonged to him as well, if you’re concerned.”

“No, of course not,” Cygnus said and looked away. “It was eventually made clear to us all that you inherited everything the old man owned. The bank didn’t bother to answer any questions regarding the estate until after your trial.”

Sirius’ gaze narrowed slightly at his uncle’s disgruntled tone. “How did you know the cloak was his? From the manor records, it’s clear that you haven’t visited him personally in twenty years. A review of his correspondence indicates that the only written communication he’s gotten from you in decades are the Yule greetings your wife sends on your behalf.”

Cygnus pursed his lips. “I saw him on Diagon Alley the day he purchased it. He gave me the name of his tailor when I remarked on the cloak.”

Sirius nodded and focused on Narcissa and her husband. He wasn’t surprised that Lucius Malfoy had the gall to attend a family meeting considering the actions he’d taken regarding the Black title. He didn’t know what their game was, but in the end, it hardly mattered.

“Narcissa, you’ve not visited our grandfather in well over five years.”

“I was…busy.” Narcissa wet her lips. “But I wrote him monthly.”

“Yes, to tell him about the heir he was never allowed to have any sort of access to at the instruction of your husband,” Sirius said coolly, and both Malfoys turned to look at him in shock. “Well, that was your assumption at any rate. If you’d bothered to visit the man and to allow your son to know his own great-grandfather, maybe he wouldn’t have been so desperate regarding the fate of the family magic that he came to Azkaban to see me. Of course, we wouldn’t be sitting here now, so I’m grateful that you both proved to be so selfish.

“Grandfather also suspected that you denied him access to his great-grandson because you feared he might influence him. I can see how that would be a problem. It would’ve certainly caused questions if the boy wasn’t fed pure-blood propaganda from every available source. He’s going to have a startling and difficult time at Hogwarts, Narcissa. You’ve sheltered your son to a disgusting degree. Here’s hoping he learns to think for himself before he becomes an adult.”

“My son is a proper young wizard,” Narcissa said stiffly. “And he should’ve been grandfather’s heir. If you were in your right mind, you’d realize that he should be yours instead of that half-blood child that was raised by Muggles.”

“The only way I’d accept your son as even a potential heir to the Blackmoor title would be if I assumed complete and immediate physical custody of him,” Sirius said flatly. “You’d never be allowed unsupervised contact with him again. How does that strike you?”

“Cruel and impossible,” Narcissa snapped. “He’s my only child!”

“And thanks to my brother, Harry is my only child,” Sirius said evenly. “At least on that subject, we have common ground.”

Narcissa’s cheeks flushed, and she averted her gaze. “Yes, we do.”

“I don’t understand,” Andromeda Tonks said.

Sirius turned to Narcissa’s sister and his cousin. “Regulus cursed me so I wouldn’t have issue in the hopes that our grandfather would make him the heir to the Blackmoor title. Bellatrix cursed Narcissa shortly after Draco was born out of jealousy as her husband loathed children and refused to father one. If Bellatrix ever gets free of Azkaban, take your child and run, Andi, as she would love nothing more than to take her from you. She didn’t learn about Nymphadora’s existence until after she was in Azkaban. When she found out—she raged for months. The guards talked about sedating her daily to keep her from tearing her own skin off.”

Narcissa made a soft, shocked sound and reached out for the water pitcher. Lucius took the task in hand and poured water for her with a gentle murmur.

“We went and hid in the Muggle world when I found out I was pregnant,” Andromeda said stiffly. “I gave birth in a Muggle hospital, but there were complications—I can’t have more children as a result.” She shifted closer to her husband and averted her gaze. “I had no idea her insanity was so… she should be in St. Mungo’s, surely.”

“If she wasn’t so dangerous, she would be,” Sirius said. “Murder and torture are her favorite hobbies, Andi. There is no cure for what Bellatrix is.” He shifted a piece of parchment to the top of his pile and focused on Narcissa and Lucius. “Lucius, you were charged with fraud and fined 5,000 galleons by my proxy, Armand Deering.”

“I’ve paid the fine,” Lucius said stiffly.

“Yes, I know.” Sirius folded his hands together. “I’ve placed that gold in a trust vault for your son. It will be released to him upon his 21st birthday. I also placed an additional 5,000 galleons in the trust. That is all he will be given from the Black Trust for the rest of his life. I’ll ask you again, Narcissa, are you a marked Death Eater?”

Narcissa shook her head. “No, my Lord, the only witches the Dark Lord only ever marked were Bellatrix and Alecto Carrow. He was content with Lucius’ service.”

“Was he?” Sirius asked and relaxed back in his chair. “I’d heard that he wanted to father an heir—he must have been disappointed that Bellatrix cursed you so. Perhaps that played a part in her actions as well.”

“I was not disappointed to be unavailable for his purposes,” Narcissa said flatly and took a deep breath. “I had no idea you thought so little of me.”

“You’re a Death Eater, Narcissa, whether that disgusting piece of shite bothered to brand you or not. If he came back today, you’d be on your knees before him just as quickly as your husband. Why should I think you would hold faith within your own marriage when you’ve forsaken the very foundation on which our family magic was built?” He slapped a hand on the table, and all they all flinched. “Toujours Pur! Look me in the eye and tell me, honestly, that our family motto has a damn thing to do with blood! There isn’t a pure-blood family in Britain! Not even the one you married into. Our great-grandmother was a half-blood, you silly girl. Your parents and mine tried to rewrite our family history to suit their own insanity, which was fueled by two different Dark Lords.” He glanced briefly at Cygnus and his ever silent wife.

“If not blood, then what?” Ted Tonks asked in confusion.

“Andi, care to educate your own husband about the family motto?” Sirius demanded.

Andi flushed. “Always pure by the grace of Magic.” She wet her lips. “Purity of craft, spirit, and heart. Our family magic is built on the worship of Hekate. It’s why my grandfather was so gifted as a prophet. It’s why… Grindelwald and Voldemort targetted us. Our family magic was rich and pure, and that is the path to increasing your magical power, Ted.”

Sirius focused on Lucius, who looked disgusted. “Shall we discuss the origin of the Malfoy family in France? You’re a fifth-generation magical which sprung from not one but two Muggle-borns. That’s not even to discuss the fact that your maternal great-grandmother was a veela.” He scoffed when Lucius looked surprised. “My grandfather knew all of this, Lucius, and what damned you in his eyes was your disgusting and, frankly, hypocritical blood politics.”

He focused on Cygnus and Druella Black. “You needn’t think I approve of you either—you disowned the only daughter that didn’t turn into a Death Eater, and that says more about you than anything else. Due to your age, I won’t cut off your monthly stipend from the Black Trust, but be assured that neither of you are welcome at Thestral Downs, and you are not, under any circumstances, allowed to approach my son in any single way.”

“I don’t have any interest in meeting him,” Cygnus snapped. “I’m grateful I have less than a bloody year to live, so I won’t have to see that half-blood become the Earl of Blackmoor.”

“Great, then you can both fuck off,” Sirius said and stared. “That means—leave immediately as I’m tired of looking at you.”

“You disrespectful bastard,” Druella muttered as she stood.

Sirius said nothing as his aunt and uncle left the room. He focused on Narcissa. “Your access to the Black Trust and all financial holdings is permanently rescinded. You can keep your personal trust, but the yearly payments from the trust that you’ve enjoyed since your marriage are canceled effectively immediately.”

“But…” Narcissa began but then closed her mouth when Lucius put a hand on her arm. “Very well, my Lord.”

“You’ll be notified when I make a decision regarding your inclusion in the Black family magic,” Sirius said and ignored the shocked horror she couldn’t keep off her face. “Of course, your son is a Malfoy and, as such, is not welcome in the family magic of the House of Black as long as I’m earl. My son may make a different choice regarding Draco in the future, but that is a discussion for them.”

“If you have no other business for us, my Lord, we would like to be excused,” Lucius said tightly.

“Yes, of course, please fuck off,” Sirius said with a negligent wave of his hand and offered Wright a grin when the man laughed under his breath. He focused on Andromeda and her husband as Lucius escorted his stricken wife from the room. “I was curious as to why grandfather followed through with your disownment when he ignored my parents regarding my own.”

Andromeda seemed to take a moment to consider her words and exhaled slowly. “He wrote me a letter when I ran away with Ted and asked me to come to Thestral Downs to have a discussion about my hasty marriage. I ignored it. He sent me another letter a few weeks later that I tossed in the fire without reading. Shortly after my daughter was born, he sent me one final letter asking me to bring her to Thestral Downs as he’d like to meet his great-granddaughter, and I…was scared because I realized that he must have kept me on his version of the family tapestry.

“My parents threatened to kill me if I ever had a child with Ted,” Andromeda explained. “I was worried that it would get back to them, and I didn’t know if your mother had removed me from her tapestry or not. We were living and working in Ireland at the time. I wrote a vicious letter to Grandfather—saying some terrible, unkind things and insisted that he complete the disownment. I told him I wanted no part of the Black family and that he should forget I exist.”

She took a deep breath. “Ten hours after I sent the letter, my connection to the family magic snapped away. It was so painful that I passed out. I was unconscious for three days.” She rubbed her breast bone with a grimace. “I didn’t realize how much of my magical power was actually rooted in the family magic until it was gone. I lost several hundred points on the Myrddin scale and realized that without family magic, I’d never reach the level of enchantress as I’d always believed I would. After my final maturation, I was barely registered as a sorceress.” She cleared her throat. “He never sent me another letter after that.”

Sirius nodded. “You should know, that in that second letter he offered to disown your parents and sisters outright if you would remain with the family. He saw your marriage as another avenue to gain a legitimate, good heir for the House of Black. He would’ve sheltered you and your children using every single bit of financial and social power he had. Perhaps you wouldn’t have ended up in a Muggle hospital with inadequate medical care if you’d opened that second letter instead of burning it. You think that was a cruel thing to say, but you know the truth of it as well as I do, Andi.

“I know what it’s like to let my temper make decisions for me. I know what it’s like to be reckless and thoughtless in a situation that put me on the path to ruination.” He cleared his throat. “Tell me about your communications with Albus Dumbledore.”

Andi blinked in surprise and glanced only briefly at Wright before clearing her throat. “The Chief Warlock contacted me shortly after your trial and asked me if I had tried to contact you. He wanted to know if Master Deering was allowing any of your family members to reach out to you. I told him the truth—that I hadn’t tried to contact you and that due to my disownment from the Black family that it wouldn’t be proper for me to try.”

“Did he ask you to tell him if I contacted you?”

“He did,” she murmured. “And I did send him a letter shortly after you scheduled this meeting, letting him know I’d heard from you and that you appeared to be of sound mind based on the letter you’d written to me. I did not give him any details regarding the meeting date or time. He’s merely worried about you.”

“The last thing Albus Dumbledore is, is worried about me,” Sirius said roughly. “He wants to take my son from me. He has plans for Harry that I’m interfering with. I don’t know the extent of it, but it would be wise for you to stay out of the way Andromeda. There’s no need for you to get in the middle of the situation. You should warn your daughter, however, to make sure she doesn’t end up being manipulated by Dumbledore for the greater good.”

Andromeda blinked in surprise. “Albus is a good man.”

“He is a callous old man who’s never had a problem with collateral damage,” Sirius said flatly. “And you bloody well know it. I haven’t decided if I will invite you back into the family magic when I’m healthy enough to accomplish the ritual, Andi. For the sake of your child, at least, take a step back and review the situation rationally. Albus Dumbledore knew I never received a trial. He knew Peter Pettigrew was a Death Eater, and he cast the Fidelius charm for James and Lily. He outright ignored the will of James and Lily that explicitly said their child was never be placed with Lily’s Muggle sister. You were on the list of potential guardians, Andi. Did you know that?”

“I didn’t know that,” Andi murmured. “I’d have taken him, Sirius. Please know that—I’ve heard rumors about his circumstances—are they true? Was he abused?”

“Both of his former guardians are in prison for child abuse,” Sirius said flatly. He took a deep breath and stood. “I’m exhausted, so I should surrender to my healer’s care to get the lecture I’m more than due. Most of my physical and magical strength is being sapped away by healing potions and spells.” He accepted the cloak Wright brought to him then closed his portfolio. “Speak to your daughter about inclusion into the Black family magic as it would impact her for good and bad as she leaves Hogwarts. I would not be approving of her joining the DMLE at this time.”

Andi raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Madam Bones has advocated for you heavily since she discovered you’d never had a trial, my Lord.”

“Yes, she has. But she’s yet to open Crouch’s war tribunal to see what else that bastard did illegally. She hasn’t investigated to see how many other prisoners in Azkaban ended up there without a trial. Bones and the DMLE have a long road ahead of them when it comes to regaining my approval, and I’ve heard enough about Nyphadora’s ambitions to know that she would be distraught to be ordered not to pursue her dreams. So she needs to accept my position before she’s invited into the family magically.” He cleared his throat. “That being said, you were denied a proper dowery upon your marriage, so I’ve set aside a vault holding the same amount both of your sisters received. A trust account has also been arranged for your daughter with the standard amount. Both keys can be retrieved from the Black account manager, Master Razel Fireborn.”

Chapter 9

“You can’t pardon the unforgivable.”

Harry looked up and focused on his godfather. “That’s what Grandpa Acturus told me. He said Dumbledore’s behavior was unforgivable, and I should never, ever let him forget it.”

Sirius nodded. “Does he speak to you often now?”

“No, I think he’s still hurt,” Harry admitted and twisted his heir ring gently. “Grieving his actions. Aunt Elladora says death should bring you peace but that Grandpa Acturus might not find that peace for quite a while. I told him that it was okay—that neither of us hate him for what happened to us.”

Sirius nodded and glanced toward the portrait of James and Lily they’d installed over the fireplace in Harry’s private living room. James was present, but Lily had wandered off—probably to speak to the ancestral portraits in the manor as they were engaging in some sort of research project.

“Do you know what the ancestors are up to?”

“They’re going to help me destroy Azkaban,” Harry said and grinned when Sirius jerked back in surprise. “Probably the whole island but at the very least—complete prison reform, destruction of the dementors, and probably a hundred social policies and laws regarding incarceration and rehabilitation. I’m going to drag the Wizengamot into the modern age, Daddy, whether those old gits like it or not.”

James laughed from his portrait. “That’s a lot of work, lad.”

“Yeah, I know, so I need to start making friends with my future peers sooner rather than later,” Harry said. “Also, Aunt Elladora says I need to find a smart, driven, and powerful witch or wizard to marry so I’ll have someone to watch my back. Except I need heirs, so I’m not sure how I would accomplish that with a wizard.”

“There are rituals that allow a wizard to carry a child,” Sirius said absently as he picked up one of the books on the rug. “Why are you reading about the Sacred Twenty-Eight?”

“Just wanted to see what sort of nonsense I will be expected to endure on that front,” Harry admitted. “Also, it has self-updating family trees, so I was checking to see if there were any heirs or heiresses at Hogwarts now or coming into the new school year with me. The Abbott, Avery, Bulstrode, Fawley, Flint, Greengrass, Longbottom, Macmillian, Malfoy, Nott, Parkinson, and Weasley families all have children either at Hogwarts now or about to start. Most of them are starting with me in September.” He rummaged through his parchments. “So I made a list of kids I’d like to meet based on political need: Neville Longbottom, Daphne Greengrass, and Hannah Abbott. I’d also like to meet Susan Bones. She’s not part of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, but her aunt and guardian is the head of the DMLE. I figure we could invite those specific children to my birthday party in July.”

“I…yes, that sounds reasonable.” Sirius cleared his throat. “Neville Longbottom is actually your godbrother. His mother was your godmother.”

“Oh.” Harry focused on him. “Can I meet her? Why hasn’t she visited me?”

Sirius grimaced. “Her name is Alice Longbottom, and she’s in a spell damage ward in St. Mungo’s. She was tortured to insanity and will never recover.”

Harry frowned. “Why was she tortured?”

“I don’t know for certain, lad, it happened after I was put in Azkaban. I’ve not heard the details. Her husband was also attacked and is the ward with her. Neville has been raised by his grandmother, Augusta Longbottom, who also holds the proxy to his title until he’s old enough to claim it.”

“Can I meet him sooner than my birthday? Maybe I should write him a letter.” He paused. “How do you send letters in the magical world?”

Sirius grinned. “We use owls to deliver mail.”

“Owls.” Harry stared. “Are you pulling my leg?”

“No,” Sirius promised with a laugh. “My grandfather’s owl is in the owlery. I’ve used her several times since our arrival to correspond with the bank. Write an introductory letter to Neville, and I’ll show you.”

Harry turned to his father’s portrait. “Is he messing with me?”

James laughed. “No, lad, we really do use owls to deliver our mail. Though I’ve seen some exotic birds used as well in various places around the world. The owl is the most common. A loyal owl is a crucial part of a magical household. You may wish to get a personal one for when you go to Hogwarts.”

Harry nodded and glanced between the two of them with a skeptical look on his face.

“He’s going to ask his mother as soon as she returns,” Sirius told the portrait, and James nodded his agreement.

“I don’t think either of you can blame me,” Harry said primly as he left the rug in favor of the desk in the back of the room. “What should I put in the letter?”

“Introduce yourself and let him know that you’ve recently discovered that his mother was your godmother,” Sirius suggested. “Ask him about himself and his hobbies as well. Don’t let the ancestors throw a lot of formal language and protocol at you. He’s just ten years old, like you. In fact, his birthday is one day before yours. You were in the nursery together at St. Mungo’s.”

“Cool,” Harry said as he sat down at the desk and plucked a quill up.

“What sort of owl did you inherit?” James questioned.

“Eagle owl,” Sirius said. “Her name is Ophelia. She’s living in the lap of luxury up there. I think she’s getting broody, so I might have to purchase another owl for my business if she decides to have chicks.”

Harry glanced between his dads as they continued chatting about owls and figured they wouldn’t take a joke that far. He hoped Ophelia wasn’t the sort to bite people. Maybe he’d ask Nia about bringing the owl a snack for when he asked her to take his letter. He inked his quill and ignored the prodding from his ring regarding how to start the letter.

March 5, 1991

Dear Neville,

I just learned that your mum is my godmother. I’ve spent the last nine years living in the Muggle world, so I don’t know much about the magical world. Hopefully, nothing in this letter will be offensive. Daddy says I should tell you about myself, so here goes. I like to read, and lately, I’ve been exploring the grounds of Thestral Downs, where I live. A week ago, I met a thestral. It had wings and short horns, which was honestly a relief. I hadn’t seen anything interesting since I came into the magical world.

I also like helping Nia, our house-elf, in the greenhouse. She has a nice garden in there, full of different kinds of magical plants. I don’t know what they all are, but she also has a vegetable garden that I helped de-gnome yesterday. It probably shouldn’t be fun to throw a gnome, but we had a good time. The gnomes seemed to really enjoy it, too.

What sort of games do you like? I don’t have any magical toys or games—I’m unsure what to ask for? Do you have any hobbies?

I hope this letter finds you well and I look forward to hearing from you if you’re inclined to answer this letter. No pressure.

Sincerely,

Harry Potter-Black

House of Black

House of Potter

 

“Can you cast a drying charm on this, Daddy?” Harry questioned.

Sirius rolled to his feet and drew his wand. “How’s your quillmanship coming?”

“Better, no splotches, and I think it’s all readable,” Harry reported. “Can I still get a self-inking quill?”

“Yes, of course, just make sure it’s on your shopping list,” Sirius said as he cast the charm. He opened a drawer on the side of the desk and pulled out a small black box which he opened then placed on the desk. “You should always seal your correspondence. This is a generic stamp, but we’ll have one designed just for you before you start Hogwarts.” He heated the wax with his wand as Harry folded the letter.

“Is a personal stamp important?”

“It speaks to care,” Sirius murmured as he pressed the wax into place. “Now, the stamp.”

Harry pulled the stamp from the box. It had his initials embossed in it. “I thought this was generic? It has my initials.”

“Those initials formed when you picked it up,” Sirius explained. “It’ll change to match whoever is holding it.”

“Ah,” Harry said and carefully pressed the stamp against the wax. “What do you mean by care?”

“My grandfather would tell you that a wizard of quality conducts himself with care in all situations—he is polite, thoughtful, just, loyal to his family, and respectful of his place in the fabric of magic. In many ways, the magical world is behind the Muggle one as it pertains to social constructs.”

“He means that wizards are tragically behind the times,” James said and laughed when Sirius sent him a sour look. “And we like to dress as if we’re living in the Victorian era.”

“He’s not wrong,” Harry pointed out and laughed when he earned himself the same look from his godfather. “Healer Wright didn’t buy me a single pair of jeans, Daddy. I don’t have trainers or boots, either. Nia had to transfigure my dress shoes into boots so I could play outside.”

“So, you’re saying you’d like some more casual clothes,” Sirius said dryly and laughed when Harry huffed.

“I don’t want to sound ungrateful because I’ve never had such nice clothes before that fit,” Harry said and fiddled with his letter to avoid looking at his godfather. “My cousin Dudley was always asking for more and more, no matter what he got. So I don’t want to be a spoiled brat like that.”

“Hey.” Sirius leaned against the desk and waited until Harry looked at him. “I think we both deserve to be spoiled a little, and I don’t think you’ll turn into a brat for asking for things that you need. It’s already clear to me that you’re not materialistic at all, so don’t worry about it. I’m not up to a shopping trip right now, but I have it on quite good authority that Patrice is a champion shopper.”

Harry considered that. “That sounds kind of ominous, actually.”

Sirius laughed. “Good instincts.”

“Yes,” Armand Deering said quietly from the entryway of the suite. “I need to speak with you both.” He cleared his throat. “Perhaps just you at first, Sirius.”

Harry frowned and refrained from protesting as his godfather considered Master Deering’s request.

“Is Harry directly involved in the issue at hand?” Sirius questioned.

“Yes.”

“Then together,” Sirius decided. “Unless it’s a nightmare.”

Armand grinned suddenly. “More interesting development than an outright nightmare.” He focused on Harry as he walked into the room and head toward the grouping of chairs in front of Harry’s desk.

Harry almost stood as the older wizard took a seat in front of him. It was very weird to be on the owner’s side of the desk. He smoothed out his letter. “I wrote a letter to my godbrother.”

“Neville Longbottom,” Armand said. “I’m sorry to say that I’d nearly forgotten about the boy. I hope he responds well to your letter.” He focused on Sirius. “I told you last week that Harry had an extremely negative response to an Unspeakable when we visited the DOM.”

“I’m still not ready to listen to the prophecies,” Harry blurted out and blushed when they both focused on him. “Sorry.”

“No, lad, it’s fine,” Sirius said and settled a hand on his shoulder. “We agreed we’d wait as long as we can. I know it’s a lot to take in.”

Harry made a face as he glanced toward the box the prophecies were being held in on the shelf next to his desk. He focused on Master Deering. “You mean the man that made my magic hurt.”

“Yes. His name is Corban Yaxley—he has been with the ministry for many years. Officially, he’s a senior auror with the DMLE. Yaxley is often borrowed by the Department of Mysteries for specific investigations. The circumstances of those investigations were not revealed to me. He’s been arrested, and Amelia Bones is handling the investigation into his circumstances as a marked Death Eater. Due to Croaker’s investigation, Amelia Bones was told about your adverse reaction to Mr. Yaxley.”

Harry made a face. “You need to tell her that I’m not going to be some sort of Death Eater detector for anyone.”

“Oh, lad,” Armand said with a sigh. “She’d never make such a demand of you, but I can see why you might consider it an issue. I’m telling you this because your magic is seeking to actively protect you from Death Eaters, and that is something we must pay attention to. Have you ever been in the presence of anyone else who makes your magic hurt like that?”

Harry considered that. “No, not exactly.”

“Can you explain that?” Sirius questioned.

“Sometimes, I have feelings,” Harry admitted. “Weird swishy feelings in my chest, and I’ve always gotten them. I didn’t know what they were until Aunt Elladora told me it was my magic. When I was younger, I would get that swishy sensation sometimes when I was walking to school or when my aunt took me with her to buy groceries. I felt it when your nephew disappeared in the lift. I think in the past, I might have had invisible magical people around me.” He took a deep breath. “Maybe they weren’t spying on me? Maybe they were just avoiding Muggles altogether?”

“Ah, lad, the neighborhood you lived in is hell and gone from any magical enclave,” Armand said roughly. “There’s little need for any magical person to be in a Muggle grocery store or even on a random Muggle street regularly. How often did you feel these sensations?”

“Once or twice a week,” Harry admitted. “And sometimes at Mrs. Figg’s house.’

“Mrs. Figg?” Sirius questioned. “Arabella Figg? How do you know Arabella Figg?”

“She used to watch me when my aunt and uncle didn’t want me around,” Harry explained. “Why?”

“She was a member of Albus Dumbledore’s organization during the last war,” Sirius said. “She’s a squib—a person born without magic in a magical family. She lived near you?”

“Yes, just two streets over,” Harry reported. “On Wisteria Walk.”

“We’ll need to tell Amelia Bones that,” Sirius said quietly to Master Deering, who nodded. “She was clearly placed there by Dumbledore to watch Harry.”

“Which means he knew exactly how I was treated,” Harry said. “I told Mrs. Figg all about living in a cupboard and never having enough to eat. Sometimes she would make extra sandwiches for me to hide in my bookbag.”

“Son of a bitch,” Deering snapped and stood. “Clearly Dumbledore had agents of some sort moving in and around his life the entire time. That squib and magicals who never bothered to report the situation to a proper authority.”

“Probably members of the Order of the Phoenix,” Sirius said. “I’ll provide you a list of names for research purposes.”

Harry picked up his letter. “Can we go send my letter now?”

“Of course, lad,” Sirius murmured. “We should go to the kitchen first and find some bacon for Ophelia. She’s much nicer when she’s offered food before being given a task.”

Harry stood. “I should tell you both if someone makes my magic hurt?”

“Yes, immediately,” Sirius said. “No matter the situation or circumstances, lad. Even if it seems rude to you.”

Harry nodded. “Okay.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t think I could hide it anyway. Being around that man made me feel terrible.” He swallowed hard. “I can go get the bacon.”

“Okay, I’ll meet you in the central staircase in a few minutes,” Sirius said and watched Harry leave the room at a trot. He focused on Deering as soon as his son was gone. “Do you think his ability to ignore wards played a part in his ability to feel the Dark Mark through an Unspeakable’s cloak? He apparently even knew Yaxley’s gender, and their cloaks are supposed to mask everything identifiable about them.”

“I noted that at the time, but I wasn’t sure if he was just making an assumption,” Armand said roughly. “He doesn’t know enough about magic to tell us.”

“Granted,” Sirius murmured. “What should we do?”

“What can we do?” Armand questioned and glanced toward the portrait of James. “Did you notice anything different about his magic when he was born?”

“He was very magical,” James said quietly. “From the very moment he was born, there was no question he was a wizard. The staff at St. Mungo’s were startled by it. There were times when his magic sparkled on his skin that first week then it settled down. Remember, Sirius?”

Sirius frowned. “I sort of thought all babies did that.”

“No, it’s exceedingly rare,” Armand said. “And the mark of an archmagus.” He focused on James. “Was Dumbledore aware of this?”

“Yes, of course, he visited the Longbottoms and us, but it would be six months before he summoned us to Hogwarts to discuss the prophecy. I’m sorry that I can’t share it with you,” James said apologetically.

“It’s fine, lad,” Armand said. “I would’ve done no differently. Currently, the prophecy is a curiosity, and we’re in a place where we can wait for him to be ready. If it becomes more of an issue, I’ll ask Harry to activate it.”

“Why do you think he’s hesitating?” James asked.

“He’s waiting,” Sirius said and ran a hand through his hair. “For the other shoe to drop, for the next horrible thing to happen, and I’m not sure he’ll ever stop expecting the very worst from those around him. His aunt and uncle damaged him as much as Azkaban damaged me. I’m so fucking sorry, James.”

“I already told you, Padfoot, you owe me no apology. I’d have hunted that bastard down in your place—for good or bad. You should’ve been able to trust the government to give you a fair trial. I have to think, considering what you’ve revealed, that it wouldn’t have mattered if you had gotten a trial. Dumbledore would’ve still hidden Harry away from you. You could still be fighting him in court for custody.”

– – – –

“Are all owls that big?” Harry demanded as he watched Ophelia launch off her perch with his letter and fly away. “She’s freaking huge, Daddy.”

“There are smaller ones,” Sirius said. “But a small owl won’t be able to carry packages comfortably even with a weightless charm. Moreover, a small bird won’t be able to defend themselves as well as an owl like Ophelia. Precious few people, magical or not, would risk trying to take a letter from Ophelia that didn’t belong to them.”

Harry made a face. “She won’t scare Neville, right? I’m trying to make a friend, Daddy, and I don’t think sending a giant bird of prey is the right overture. Maybe I should’ve asked Nia to deliver it for me.”

Sirius laughed. “It’ll be fine. Neville is probably very used to owls. His grandmother was well-known in her youth for training owls for the ministry and the bank. I imagine she has several on her property.”

“If you say,” Harry said with a frown.

“You’ve never looked more like your mother than you do right this very minute,” Sirius said dryly. “More and more, I think you’ll probably sort into Ravenclaw without even being asked.”

A huge grey owl swept into the owlery and landed on Ophelia’s perch, and Harry squeaked. Sirius laughed briefly and ruffled the kid’s hair when he got scowled at for his trouble. “This is a great grey owl. Gringotts uses them exclusively for bank business.”

“Is it our account manager’s owl?”

“I’ve known him to use at least three different owls,” Sirius admitted as he retrieved the letter from the owl and pulled a snack from a pouch on the perch. “The wards guide owls to the owlery. If I weren’t already up here, Nia would retrieve the letter for us.”

“Nia probably needs help,” Harry said. “There’s a lot of work around here compared to when Grandpa Acturus was here alone.”

“Granted, and she’ll get help soon enough. When I disown Narcissa Malfoy, all the house-elves that belong to the Black family will return here. I think she has two.” He opened the parchment and scanned the contents, most of which was complete gibberish to him. The report on Kreacher’s magic earlier in the month had been damning, but what he could make of the final analysis sounded like a nightmare.

“Are you disowning her because of me?” Harry questioned.

“I’m disowning her because she’s a blood purist and a Death Eater,” Sirius said carefully. “Moreover, her husband would murder me given half a chance, and I need to make sure that he has no legitimate way to claim the Black title. By disowning his wife and refusing to accept Draco into the family magic, I’ve removed their ability to claim the title if I’m killed.”

“Would Draco have a stronger claim than me?” Harry questioned.

“No, because I adopted you in blood and magic as my heir. That isn’t something that I advertised when we did it. That being said, even if I hadn’t claimed the title in Azkaban, Lucius’ claim would’ve failed in the Wizengamot because his son was never in the line of succession for the earldom, to begin with.”

“Grandpa Phineas says Lucius Malfoy is an arrogant git,” Harry said. “And his son is probably no better. Should I be nice to him at school since we’re sort of related through adoption?”

“I want to say no because I’m an arsehole,” Sirius admitted as they left the owlery.

Harry laughed. “Daddy.”

“So, let’s agree that you should be polite but distant from anyone from a traditionally dark family. There will be children of Death Eaters at Hogwarts, and while they should not be judged by the sins of their parents, please be aware that they’ve been force-fed pure-blood propaganda since infancy. Hate breeds hate.”

“Maybe I can educate some of them,” Harry theorized. “Aunt Elladora suggests I just try to knock some sense into them.”

“Let’s also agree that Aunt Elladora is the last person you should take advice on regarding social relationships. Has she told you how she died?”

“Yes, she said she got into an argument with a foul harlot and sort of lost a duel,” Harry reported. “But she’s quite pleased by the fact that she took that tart with her.”

Sirius sighed. He was really going to have a real long talk with Elladora Black’s portrait.

“Aunt Elladora told me to tell you that her portrait is cursed and if you try to take her off the wall and out of the ancestral advisory matrix, it’ll amputate your wand arm at the elbow,” Harry said earnestly. “That sounds awful.”

“Honestly, lad, she was an awful witch,” Sirius said wryly. “Have you finished your assessment parchments?”

“No,” Harry admitted.

“Off you go then—at least two more hours today, then we can check out the broom shed.”

“Great!” Harry agreed and trotted off toward his suite while Sirius turned and headed toward the hall on the first floor where Armand Deering had turned into a workspace.

The doors were open, and several members of the Glain Neidr were at work in various locations around the room. They’d moved four desks into the space for work, and they’d set up their own potions lab at the far end of the hall. Sirius walked across the room and took a seat in front of Deering’s desk.

Deering looked up from the parchment he was reading. “Quintin has almost finished researching the removal ritual. We’ve determined we’ll have to do it in the bank, and it might be wise to involve the dverger in the construction of the ritual circle.”

Sirius considered that. “I’m not opposed, but I would request vows of secrecy from everyone involved. I’d rather it not get out that Harry hosted a fucking horcrux for the better part of a decade.”

“Agreed, many would believe him tainted, and that is certainly a narrative Dumbledore would push if it served his purpose. I’m surprised he hasn’t tried to use it already against Harry,” Deering admitted. “If I get a hint he’s heading in that direction, he’ll meet a very timely end.”

Sirius didn’t doubt that at all. “When I was first out of Azkaban, I called the Black elves to me—two appeared. Nia and my mother’s old elf, Kreacher. Kreacher was clearly damaged by dark magic, so I sent him to the bank to be taken care of. I received a letter a few weeks back telling me that Kreacher was so corrupted that they were uncertain they could cleanse him without outright killing him. They’ve been working to shrink and contain the corruption so he can live out his final years in peace. I asked for more information on the corruption itself. They sent the report on that today. I figured you might want to read it.”

“Why?” Deering said curiously.

“Because the little they had in the original report reminded me of the discussions you’ve had about horcrux magic and how corrosive it is.” Sirius put the parchment down on Deering’s desk. “This is an analysis of what’s happening to Kreacher’s magic. I don’t know enough about runic magic to understand half of it, but what I did get out of it is a nightmare.”

Deering picked up the parchment and read it. The man’s facial expression didn’t change at all, which was annoying as Sirius had no idea what he was thinking. Deering put the report down and brought a leather-bound notebook closer to him. He made several notes in the notebook and focused on Sirius.

“Where was this elf before you called him?”

“Living in my mother’s home—Number 12 Grimmauld Place,” Sirius said. “So, I’m right?”

“Most certainly—this poor creature has been utterly corrupted magically by a horcrux. He must have spent ­many years with it.”

“My brother, Regulus, was a Death Eater,” Sirius murmured. “And Riddle favored him, so there’s every reason to believe that Regulus was entrusted with a horcrux.” He paused. “Or he took it, and that was the reason he was killed.”

“Either way, we need to go to Grimmauld Place, right now,” Armand said. “I want that thing in hand before Dumbledore gets any sort of clue regarding its existence.”

“What about the bank? Surely the curse-breakers there have figured it out.”

“Surely, but in this, we can rely on the dark reputation of your family and the fact that the elf belonged to your mother. You’ll send them a letter in a few weeks telling them you had your mother’s house cleaned out and that I discovered an extremely dark object in the house that I destroyed through ritual magic. If Chieftain Ragnok asks me, I’ll tell him it was a horcrux and that you have no idea how long it’s been in the family, which is certainly true. You don’t know when your mother gained possession of it.”

“And he’ll trust in your destruction of it?”

“I’ve destroyed many in my work at the bank. In ancient times, horcruxes were pursued without thought to consequence for many hundreds of years. Eventually, fortunately, they fell out of favor as it became widely known and accepted that desecrating one’s soul was an insult to Magic herself.”

– – – –

He hated Grimmauld Place and would rather never see the house again as long as he lived. Sirius hesitated in the foyer and turned his head as his mother’s portrait activated. She screeched just once before there was complete silence. He turned and found Armand Deering pointing his wand at the portrait.

“Madam, you will not speak again while we are in this house, or I will invest myself in your destruction.” She glared then flounced out of the portrait. “And I thought she was a nightmare when she was alive.”

“Can you arrange to have this house cleaned out and put up for sale?” Sirius questioned. “I should probably archive the library while I’m here and see… if there anything else I’d like moved to the manor. But I never intend to set foot in this place again after today.”

“I’ll arrange it,” Armand said with a glance toward Carter Meyers, who nodded. “Many in the Glain Neidr outside the inner circle have expressed willingness to help—Carter will organize a few of them with better than average curse-breaking skills to handle the house.” He glanced toward the portrait. “She’s stuck herself to that wall permanently, so I’ll send a charms master as well who can destroy and rebuild that wall. Do you care if the portrait is salvaged?”

“No, I don’t want it,” Sirius said roughly as his mother reappeared in the portrait. “She’s certainly not welcome in the portrait matrix at the manor as I don’t want her to ever have access to Harry.”

“Your father is rolling over in his grave,” Walburga hissed. “How dare you claim that mudblood’s child as your own!”

Sirius started to respond, but Armand sent a silent blasting curse at the portrait, and it exploded in a cloud of portrait ash and plaster. The older wizard stored his wand after cleaning off his robes.

“I warned her,” he muttered and walked away from the mess he’d left on the floor.

“Kreacher’s corruption was pretty severe, so it was probably close to him, right?”

“Probably,” Deering agreed.

“If he thought it belonged to Regulus, he might have kept it in his cubby as a keepsake. He loved my brother,” Sirius said roughly. “And was fiercely loyal to him. His cubby was in the kitchen pantry though he often stayed in a closet in my brother’s room when we were younger. Regulus was always his favorite—from the time we were very little.”

“Because Walburga favored him?”

“Yes, I was far too rebellious even before Hogwarts for her taste. Moreover, grandfather claimed me as the heir to the Blackmoor title when I was born, passing over my father in a pronounced and insulting manner. Both my parents were furious with that, and eventually, they believed the honor should’ve gone to Regulus, who was an obedient child. They didn’t like being told that the family magic did not trust my father or little brother. I’d go so far as to say that the family magic loathed both of my parents for their willful corruption of their own magic with dark rituals.” He motioned toward the stairs. “The kitchen is in the basement. My mother didn’t like to smell food cooking.”

“The house-elf’s corruption is beyond clear looking at this house,” Meyers muttered. “No elf bound to an ancient and noble house would allow a house to look like this if they had a choice. It must have been agonizing to live here for him.”

“He should’ve gone to grandfather for help,” Sirius said. “I don’t know why he didn’t. Master Razel doesn’t believe he’s coherent enough for a genuine conversation. I’ve approved his transportation directly to the house-elf enclave as soon as it’s safe to do so. I can’t allow him to work around Harry—the bigotry my mother taught him is engrained and disgusting.”

“Combine that with the influence of the horcrux, and you’ve got one dangerous and unhinged magical creature,” Armand said. “Horcruxes are a crime against magic for more than one reason.”

“Agreed,” Sirius said as he opened the cupboard door and was slightly relieved to see that it was neat and clean. “It looks like he was using this space for himself.” He took a step into the closet, and a glint of gold caught his eye on the shelf, so he reached out for it.

Armand’s hand shot out and clenched on his wrist. “Easy, lad.”

Sirius flushed and took a deep breath. “Oh.” His fingers trembled as he pulled away. “Sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“You can’t hear it, but this fucking thing is practically screaming a siren song to your magic,” Deering said roughly and pulled a dragonhide pouch out of his locket then his wand. He offered Sirius the bag. “Close your eyes after you get that open. I’m going to hook the chain of this locket with my wand and lower the whole thing into the bag.

“Okay.” Sirius opened the bag with shaking fingers and closed his eyes. “Why isn’t it screaming at your magic?”

“It is,” Armand admitted. “But I’m a parselmouth, and Riddle’s little games are easy for me to ignore.” He cleared his throat as he took the bag from Sirius’ hands. “Okay, one more down.”

“How many do you think he made?” Sirius questioned.

“I don’t know, but we’ll be able to use this locket to find out,” Armand said. “I didn’t want to risk that sort of ritual on Harry, but now we have this. It’ll make things much easier going forward. Riddle is going to learn a critical lesson because he didn’t do his research.”

“Which is?” Sirius asked.

“More than one horcrux is redundant,” Meyers said. “He’s just stretching the two halves of his soul across multiple objects and making himself weaker for it. If he’d only done it once—he’d have already gained enough strength to manifest a new body with his own magic. As it stands, there are only a few rituals that could be used to resurrect him.” He frowned. “Speaking of, I should go find and destroy the bones of all of Riddle’s paternal ancestors.”

“Yes, you should,” Armand said in agreement. “Take Walker with you—in case any of them fight back.”

Meyers laughed and, with a little salute, apparated.

Chapter 10

Harry hesitated only briefly as Patrice Delacour pulled him free of the apparition point. Master Armand had sent his nephew, Quintin, with them to Diagon Alley to shop. He knew that his Daddy and Master Deering had a trip of their own to take to London. He didn’t know what they were doing, but they’d taken Carter Meyers with them, which Harry found very concerning since he was pretty sure that Master Meyers was the most like a soldier of anyone else in the conclave. He knew that Meyers was in charge of house security, so that was a big deal.

He figured Quintin Deadmarsh was just as dangerous at Carter Meyers but in a different way. There was no doubt that they were both very talented and smart wizards, but Quintin was kind of sneaky while Carter was more in your face. He figured both wizards would be more amused anything else by his personal assessment.

“Do we have to go to the bank?” Harry questioned.

“No, but you’ll go to the bank fairly soon for an official visit with your godfather,” Patrice explained. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to handle your first visit to Master Fireborn’s office.”

“Okay, so where first?”

“We’ll visit a shop called Glad Rags to handle the casual clothes shopping then I have to pick up a few books for Armand at Flourish and Blotts that he ordered. You can pick out some books for yourself—perhaps Hogwarts, A History would be a good choice so you can learn about the school before you receive your letter.”

“What school did you attend?” Harry asked as she guided him down the street.

“Beauxbatons Academy of Magic in France,” Patrice said. “Then, the International Academy of Magic for my mastery work.”

“What’s your mastery in?”

“I hold two—herbology and mind healing,” Patrice explained. “I also studied psychology at Oxford, so I have a Muggle master’s degree in that subject.”

There were lots of interesting shops, but he was hoping to go unrecognized, so they weren’t going to visit many places. He touched the dark grey wool beanie Healer Wright had presented him with on their way out of the house. It matched his winter cloak, and it served a dual purpose of covering both his head and his scar. Of course, he was layered head to toe in warming charms, so he probably didn’t need to cover his head, but he appreciated the opportunity to cover up the scar he was famous for.

Quintin opened the door for Glad Rags and ushered them inside. The store was basically empty except for employees. Patrice kept him close while Quintin went to the counter and spoke with the employee there. After a quick discussion, the older witch went to the front door of the shop, put up a closed sign, and locked the door.

Harry blushed. “Is that necessary?”

“That’s not for you, darling, but for me,” Patrice said and squeezed his hand gently. “Sometimes, I garner inappropriate attention due to my veela allure. She’s closing the store so that I can shop in peace and I will certainly compensate her appropriately. I have much to buy for myself as I’ve not taken the time to purchase a wardrobe for spring in England. I normally spend spring and summer in Rome.”

“What allure?” Harry questioned.

She grinned. “My species is known for projecting an allure that makes us very attractive to those that find women attractive. It’s a magical effect that I can’t always exert complete control over due to my own nature. It can be strenuous magically to control it as well. Whenever I can relax on that front, the better.”

“I haven’t noticed anything like that,” Harry admitted. “I mean, you’re beautiful, but…” He squinted. “Does this mean I don’t like girls?”

Patrice laughed. “You’re too young to be impacted unduly by the allure, but you should still notice it. The fact that you don’t doesn’t speak to your future sexuality but more about a quirk of your magic.” She brushed her fingers over his cheek with a grin. “I think you already know if you like girls or not.”

Harry shrugged and blushed. “Can I like both? I think I like both.”

“You most certainly can like both,” Quintin said as he took his aunt’s cloak. “Keeping your cloak on, lad?”

Harry shook his head and shrugged out of it. He hesitated only briefly before pulling the beanie from his head and putting it in the outer pocket of the cloak. “Thanks, Master Deadmarsh.”

Patrice ran her fingers through her hair and fiddled with her bangs before focusing on Harry. “Now, where would you like to start?”

“I’d like some jeans and trainers,” Harry said. “And some short-sleeved shirts.” He paused. “And some hiking boots. I don’t care much about colors or anything, but I don’t really like yellow, I guess. So you can pick.”

Quintin shook his head at him and walked away with a laugh. Harry wondered if he’d just let loose some sort of beast when Patrice just smiled brilliantly at him. He opened his mouth to retract that last statement, but she’d already turned on her heel and headed toward a section labeled boys.

“Blue and green,” he blurted out as he trotted after her. “I like blue and green. Maybe some red.”

She just laughed.

“Man,” he muttered as she started pulling shirts from the rack. “Maybe some T-shirts would be cool. The Dads says we’re Puddlemere United fans, but I’ve not seen a quidditch game, yet, and Mum says I should get to make my own decisions about that.”

“Of the British teams, I prefer the Falmouth Falcons,” Patrice declared.

“What a terrible choice,” Quintin said dryly as he joined them. “Wimbourne Wasps for me.”

Patrice made a face. “Why not just go all in and cheer the Cannons.

“Don’t get crazy now,” Quintin cautioned. “I can’t support the Chudley Cannons. I took a bet during my fifth year that I would douse myself in pixie dust and streak the World Cup if they ever won the league. Why cheer for my own downfall?”

“You’d look fine in pixie dust, dear,” Patrice declared and passed him a stack of shirts. “Take him to the changing rooms so he can try these on. He can keep anything he likes.” She focused on Harry. “And if you’d just prefer a shirt in a different color, we can have it permanently charmed.”

“Really?”

“Really,” she assured. “Color-changing charms can be anchored with runes in the fabric as long as it’s constructed well. Cheap materials won’t hold a rune for very long.”

Harry followed Quintin across the store and wondered if using his recently bestowed emergency portkey to escape a shopping trip would be an abuse of the device.

“She’d just retrieve you from home and continue her mission,” Quintin said dryly.

Harry huffed. “How’d you know what I was thinking?”

“Because I’ve been in your shoes, kid,” Deadmarsh said dryly. “Uncle Armand took custody of my brother and me after our parents were killed. I’d just turned nine, and Walker was seven.”

“I’m sorry you lost your parents,” Harry said. “It sucks.”

“It does,” Quintin murmured. “Might as well get started. She’s moved onto jeans.”

“I think I liked it when Healer Wright just shopped for me,” Harry confided in a near whisper.

“There’s an ice cream shop down the street. Maybe we’ll talk her into getting some after this.”

“Ha, sound plan,” Harry declared.

Two whole hours later, they finished at Glad Rags, and Harry wasn’t sure how much 500 galleons equaled in Muggle money, but the owner of the shop had been really pleased with them. With all of their purchases stored in Patrice’s bracelet, they left the shop.

“How much would it cost to get a bracelet like yours and Master Deerings?”

“Dimensional stores like my bracelet are made by the dverger at the bank,” Patrice explained. “You can have one commissioned when you go to visit your account manager. I’m honestly not sure how much they cost, but I assume it would depend on materials and the amount of work involved in the construction. For instance, mine has security magic on it that prevents theft.”

“Okay.” Harry took the hand she offered. “Where to next?”

“Flourish and Blotts, then we’ll pick up some ice cream to take home. I bet your godfather would love to have some.”

“I don’t know what his favorite flavor is,” Harry admitted and felt terrible for it.

“We’ll just get a bunch of different ones,” Patrice said. “After all, there are plenty of people around to eat it.”

Harry laughed and relaxed. “Right, okay.”­

In the bookstore, there was a couple and their daughter, who appeared to be the only other customers. Harry watched Quintin have a brief conversation with them then go to the counter to make the same request he’d made in the clothes store. The man behind the counter quickly agreed and went to the door to close the store. Harry pressed closer to Patrice as the three approached. They weren’t dressed like magical people, so at least he figured he might not have to worry about getting some kind of freaked out reaction.

“Hello,” the woman said and offered Patrice her hand. “I’m Hannah Granger.”

“Patrice Delacour,” Patrice said with a smile. “Thank you for agreeing to my nephew’s request.”

“This is my husband, Ryan, and our daughter, Hermione. She’s starting Hogwarts in the autumn. We received a visit from the Deputy Headmistress last September on her eleventh birthday,” Hannah explained then paused. “My apologies, but what’s a veela?”

“A semi-human magical species,” Patrice said with a small smile and just patted Harry’s shoulder when all three Grangers took a little step back. “I don’t bite, darlings. Some legends say my kind sprung full form from a magical ley lake in France and others that speak of romantic liaisons with siren-like bird creature that resulted in the first of my kind. Our origin is essentially lost to time and legend, which is for the best in most circumstances. I don’t think having definitive proof of either circumstance would be in our favor.”

“If you’re not dangerous, why lock the door to disallow other patrons to enter?” Ryan Granger questioned.

“Because sometimes wizards are dangerous for her,” Harry blurted out with a frown in the man’s direction.

“More nuisance than dangerous, love,” Patrice soothed. “In France, where my kind is much more common, I don’t have to be so concerned about an adverse reaction in public as most adult magicals take measures to protect themselves from mental intrusion. Also, many public places like this one deploy allure dampeners that help adults control themselves around veela. In Britain, such magic is not common because, honestly, I’m probably the only full-blooded veela in the country right now. My nephew is merely vigilant because he’d rather not have to fight off some overly amorous person who doesn’t have the mental strength to ignore veela allure.”

“It must be annoying,” Hannah said.

“Very,” Patrice agreed. “There are magical devices I can wear that will dampen my allure, and I do have a few, but they’re a burden to wear and I’d rather not be magically subdued while I’m in charge of another person’s child but most especially not today.” She helped Harry shed his cloak and plucked his beanie from his head. “This is Harry Potter-Black, he’s unfortunately famous.”

Harry laughed and averted his gaze. “Hello.”

“Hi,” the girl said and bit down on her lip. “How are you famous?”

“It’s a terrible thing,” Patrice declared. “Now, Harry, you may pick anything to buy from the blue and yellow shelves. The red and black shelves are for adults. Blue is for non-fiction, and yellow is for fiction. Be a dear, and don’t confine yourself to non-fiction.”

“Red and black are for adults,” Hannah repeated and looked down at the stack of books the girl was holding. “Would you mind going through Hermione’s books? I don’t remember which one it was, but she pulled one from a red shelf.”

Hermione frowned. “But Mum!”

“No, buts,” Hannah said. “Show the nice lady your titles.”

Hermione shifted the books around, so the titles were visible, and Patrice raised an eyebrow before plucking a slim grey book from the collection and passing it to Quintin. “Your curiosity is your credit, love, but you must remember that there are many very dangerous things in the magical world. Learning magical spells is done in stages to prevent you from hurting yourself or others.”

“It was just a book on magical transportation,” Hermione protested.

“Yes, and the most common form of magical transportation is apparition,” Patrice explained. “And if done correctly, you could leave body parts behind.” The girl paled. “And you won’t be taught that spell until you’re seventeen. So there’s no need to worry about it now. There is a whole chapter on the various forms of transportation available to underage wizards and witches in Introducing the Magical World by Silas Flourish. He’s an ancestor of the man who currently owns and operates this shop. It’ll be on a blue shelf.”

“We could go look together?” Harry offered.

“Okay,” the girl agreed and gave her pile of books to her father.

“Harry, pick up a shopping bag from the bin and just drop your selections in it,” Patrice said and pointed toward. “You have no spending limit since Lord Black wishes to update his library at Thestral Downs. Mr. Flourish has a copy of the manor’s catalog and will know if you pick out a duplicate.”

“Yes, Miss Patrice,” Harry said and gamely plucked a shopping bag from a bin nearby. He shouldered it and followed Hermione, who’d already gone down an aisle.

“I can only pick out six more books,” Hermione said. “Are you starting Hogwarts in September?”

“I hope to,” Harry said. “I haven’t actually gotten my letter yet, so…” He shrugged. “But there are other schools if I don’t get invited. Did you get a copy of Hogwarts, A History?”

“Oh, no, I didn’t even look for a book on the school,” Hermione blushed. “I can’t come back for more books until August. It would’ve been horrible to find it then and not have time to study it before school starts.”

“Let’s find you a copy then,” Harry decided as he pulled two copies of the introduction book Patrice recommended. He passed one to her and dropped the other in his bag.

“Why would you need that?” Hermione questioned. “You live in the magical world.”

“Yeah, but until recently, I lived with my aunt and uncle in the non-magical world. I didn’t know I was magical at all,” Harry explained and took a deep breath. “I’m famous because I survived a dark curse the night my parents were murdered. I live with my godfather now, who’s a wizard.”

“And a peer,” Hermione said.

“Yes, the Earl of Blackmoor,” Harry agreed. “A magical title. I’m not sure how that stuff works, but it’s a bit different than in the non-magical world. I’m his heir through magical adoption, but I also have a barony to inherit from my biological father. I’m sure the whole title thing is explained in the intro book. Miss Patrice wouldn’t have recommended it if it weren’t a thorough resource.”

“Is she your godfather’s girlfriend?” Hermione questioned.

Harry blinked in surprise. “Oh, no, she’s the wife of Master Armand Deering. Master Deering is here in Britain helping my godfather with some legal issues, and they live with us at Thestral Downs.” He pulled a book from the shelf and opened it. “My godfather was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit in 1981 and only received a trial in January of this year.”

“Oh, that’s terrible.”

Harry nodded. “So there’s a lot of stuff to handle, and he wasn’t well, so he asked Master Deering to work on his behalf as a proxy.” He turned and focused on her as he tucked the book on magical creatures into his bag. “What books have you picked out so far?”

“Professor McGonagall left me a list of books to read because I asked her so many questions during her visit,” Hermione admitted with a blush. “They’re all magical history books, but I was going to look for a book on the science of magic. Do you think they have something like that here? Something that would explain the mechanics?”

Harry turned to where Quintin Deadmarsh was leaning not far from him. “Master Deadmarsh, can you recommend a title on how magic works?”

“Indeed, my uncle wrote the definitive text on the subject and won an Aristotle for it,” Quintin joined them and pulled three books from the shelf. “It’s a three-volume set.”

“What’s an Aristotle?” Harry questioned.

“An award similar to the Muggle Nobel Prize,” Quintin said. “Named after a Greek philosopher and wizard.”

Harry took the books when they were offered to him and handed them to Hermione as Quintin pulled another set from the shelf for him.

“Thank you, Master Deadmarsh,” Hermione said as she clutched the books to her chest.

“You’re welcome, Miss Granger,” Quintin said. “If you only have room for one more book in your budget, I suggest you pick up Modern Magical History and Blood Politics in Great Britain by Colet Fernsby. It would serve you well to know what your peers know about our current political climate.”

“Yes, thank you.”

Deadmarsh pulled two copies of the book from the shelf and offered them. “Now, Harry, I’ll pull some titles for you while you go investigate the fiction section. I warn you, there’s a whole section dedicated to your so-called adventures, so ignore them if possible. Uncle Armand is already working on getting them removed from circulation, and he’s suing the company for your using your name and likeness.” He focused on Hermione. “Not a single book published has a completely accurate telling of Harry’s life or the circumstances around his parent’s murders. It’s all speculation and gossip.”

Hermione nodded.

“I understand.” Harry paused. “Daddy says I should pick up a Latin language primer—the one in the library at Thestral Downs is five hundred years old and written in Middle English.” He turned to Hermione. “Did you get one?”

“Yes, it was first on the list from Professor McGonagall. She said that it would be the most helpful book I could purchase before school because they don’t have a Latin language class anymore available to take.”

An hour later, Harry was relieved to be free of the bookstore but reluctant to part with the friend he’d made. He really didn’t know how to make that clear to anyone, so he was relieved when Patrice invited the Grangers to join them for their next stop—a pet store called the Magical Menagerie. It was a crowded place with several customers, and Harry noted that Patrice kept her cloak on, so he did the same. Hermione and her parents had gravitated toward a large bin where a litter of orange kittens were tumbling around. He wasn’t all that surprised when she picked up the ugliest one out of the whole bunch.

“This one,” Hermione said.

“Are you sure?” Her mother questioned with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes, no one else will want him,” Hermione said firmly. “Because he’s kind of crooked in the legs, and he shouldn’t be left alone just because he’s different.”

“He’s half-Kneazle,” Patrice said. “And quite handsome for his species. It appears his siblings are more like a cat than the Kneazle parent.”

“Is it dangerous?” Ryan Granger asked wryly, and Patrice grinned.

“Not to their owners,” Patrice explained. “Kneazles are very intelligent, independent, and are very discerning in their interactions with people. He’ll know if someone can be trusted or not and will protect his mistress to the best of his ability if she encounters someone who he considers the wrong sort. He’ll also guard his territory, your home, better than any canine you might be inclined to own. He’ll probably live upwards of fifty years and at his age could bond to your daughter as a familiar.”

“I should definitely have a familiar,” Hermione announced as she clutched the kitten.

“Certainly,” Patrice agreed. “A proper witch always does.”

“Do you have one?” Hermione asked.

“I do,” Patrice admitted. “I will reveal her if you promise not to be alarmed.” Harry watched in silence as Patrice hooked her fingers around air and gently pulled to reveal a shiny black reptile. “This is ryuda, a Japanese dragonsnake. Her name is Eshne, which means little fire.” The ryuda blew a little blue flame and fluttered near-transparent black wings at them. “She’s been with me since I was not much older than you, Hermione.”

“She’s beautiful,” Hermione said. “Is she the smallest kind of dragon?”

“No, there is one species that is smaller—in fact—they can perch on the tip of your finger. Unfortunately, they’re nearly extinct, but a magizoologist in Rome is working hard to preserve the fae dragon.” She let Eshne crawl up her arm and wrap around her throat again and turned to Harry. “Would you like a kitten?”

“I don’t think so,” Harry admitted as he stared at them. “None of them feel like they belong to me. Can I look around?”

“Yes, of course. I need to purchase some snacks for Eshne.” She paused and looked around. “Quintin, if you’ll accompany him?” She raised an eyebrow when he seemed to hesitate. “I’m armed, love, and he’s not. Don’t let anyone touch him or intrude on his space.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Quintin murmured.

“Hermione, you can go with them, and we’ll pick out somethings for your kitten,” Ryan Granger said.

“Crookshanks,” Hermione announced. “That’s his name.”

“Crookshanks,” her mother repeated. “Really?”

“He’s totally positive about it,” Hermione announced, and Harry was curious as to how she knew that.

Harry turned down the aisle and paused a bin where three puppies were playing. The sign said they were crups. They were cute, but none of them felt exactly right, either. Crookshanks was purring loudly and rubbing his little smooshed face against Hermione’s jumper.

“He’s cute in his own way,” Harry decided and flushed when Hermione smiled brightly at him. “How are you sure about his name?”

“I can’t really explain it,” Hermione admitted. “It just came to me. Is that weird? Kids at school say I’m weird.”

“You’re not weird,” Harry said firmly. “You’re a witch. Master Deering says that we should trust our magical instincts. Our magic will see things we can’t, and not paying attention to that can be dangerous.” He stopped in front of a large glass terrarium and stared at the selection of toads.

“Did you want a toad?” Hermione questioned.

“I don’t think so,” Harry murmured. “Though Daddy did say that toads are on the list as approved pets to take to school along with owls and cats.”

“I considered an owl,” Hermione admitted. “But Professor McGonagall told my parents that the school keeps owls for students to send letters home.”

“We have a family owl,” Harry said. “Her name is Ophelia, and she’s an Eagle Owl. Honestly, she’s very menacing, and I don’t think she likes me at all, but I used her to send a letter to my godbrother. I really hope she didn’t scare him so much that he doesn’t write me back.”

“He’ll write back,” Hermione assured. “Is he living in the magical world?”

“Yeah, with his grandmother.”

“Then he’s probably very experienced with owls,” Hermione said.

“Daddy said the same thing,” Harry admitted. “Still, first impressions are important, and I’m not sure Ophelia is a great choice for friendly introductions. If I had an enemy, I’d be kind of excited to have her deliver a letter to them.”

Hermione laughed.

Harry turned down another aisle and stopped in front of a glass egg. The egg had been turned into a box with a little latch. He bit down on his lip. “Hmmm.”

Deadmarsh moved closer. “Problem?”

“I…I want to open this.”

“You may,” the older man said gently. “She will not be upset to be disturbed. She’s here because she wishes to be adopted.”

“What do you mean?” Harry questioned.

“No magical creature is in this building against their will, lad,” Quintin said. “Each one has been brought here by the owner of the store because they wish to live in a magical household with a witch or wizard. Even Miss Granger’s kitten was on display because he chose to be.”

“How can we be certain none of them are here against their will?” Hermione asked curiously.

“If they were unhappy with their circumstances, it would resonate magically, and we would feel it,” Quintin explained. “Your Crookshanks is very happy to have been chosen by you. Can’t you tell?”

“My magic is warm,” Hermione whispered and blushed when Deadmarsh smiled at her. “Is that what you mean?”

“Exactly,” Quintin said. “Happiness makes your magic warm.”

“And when it’s cold?” Hermione asked.

“When it’s cold or alternatively very hot, then your magic is trying to tell you something, and you should pay close attention to your surroundings and to the people around you,” Deadmarsh said gravely. “Is there anyone that makes your magic cold?”

“This man in the Leaky Cauldron,” Hermione said. “I don’t think he liked that my parents were coming with me into Diagon Alley. He said that Muggles don’t belong here, but Mr. Tom told him to sit down and mind his own business.”

“Some magical people are deeply unpleasant,” Deadmarsh said. “If your magic ever starts to swell in you in response to someone—you should run from them but never hold it back. Let your magic defend you and your parents if necessary. The ministry can clean up the mess if things get out of hand.”

“Okay,” Hermione said and focused on Harry. “Are you going to open the egg?”

“Yeah,” Harry said and wet his lips. “Uncle Vernon always made me feel cold. Sometimes I would be freezing in the middle of summer because of him.”

He reached out and unlatched the black crystal egg and carefully lifted the top up. Magic curled out around the egg as he let the lid fall back on the hinge. Inside, a small dark blue snake lay curled. She lifted her head, and a hood of shining white diamond-like scales snapped open.

Hello, little wizard.

Hello,” Harry hissed and ignored the soft, shocked sound Hermione made. He hoped it wasn’t scaring her. “What’s your name?

Flux,” she replied and flicked her tail. “I shall go with you, little wizard.”

I’m Harry.”

Harry,” Flux hissed. “You shall be my wizard.” She whipped out of her egg house and wrapped herself around his wrist. “Bring my nest.

“Wow,” Hermione said. “She’s so pretty. What did she say? How could you talk her to her? Can I learn how to talk to Crookshanks like that?”

Tell her I think she’s pretty, too,” Flux said.

“Her name is Flux, and she thinks you’re pretty, too,” Harry said. “I can talk to her because I’m a parselmouth. I think you’d have to be a beastspeaker to be able to talk to Crookshanks, and I’m not sure that’s something you can learn.” He turned to Quintin. “Master Deadmarsh?”

“Beastspeaking is an innate talent and can’t be learned,” Quintin supplied. He picked up the egg Flux had come from and closed it carefully, and cleared his throat. “Flux is an elemental viper. We’ll want to pick up a book on her species at the front of the store. She’ll probably hunt for her own food but will certainly let you know if she can’t find prey.”

“Okay,” Harry said and focused on Flux, who was flicking her tail through his fingers. “I like her a lot.”

“And she clearly likes you,” Hermione said and moved closer. “It’s very cool that you can talk to her, Harry. You’ll always know exactly how she feels, and if she gets hurt or sick, she can tell you. My dog, Atticus, got sick, and it was hard to watch. I wish he could’ve talked to me before he died.”

“I’m sorry he died,” Harry said.

“He was nineteen years old, my parents got him long before I was born,” Hermione explained. “Confidentially, I’m pretty sure he was the only kid they planned on.”

“Hermione Jane!” Hannah Granger said with a startled laugh. “You weren’t an accident.”

Hermione offered her mother a look as she approached. “If you say so, Mum. Harry found a pet—a snake named Flux. She’s an elemental viper. Harry can talk to her. Isn’t that fun?”

“A snake,” Hannah said weakly and shuddered when Flux lifted her head off Harry’s hand and flared her hood. “I… she’s… very interesting.”

Harry grinned. “She won’t hurt you.” He turned to Quintin. “Right?”

Deadmarsh looked hesitant at first then cleared his throat. “She’d never hurt anyone unprovoked, but she would protect herself if threatened as any creature would. Flux has the added benefit of sapience, so her level of ability to perceive a threat transcends even some humans. Elemental vipers are also especially protective of children. But it must be said that a non-parselmouth would require a license from the ministry to own such a creature.”

Thirty minutes later, Hermione and her parents were gone, and Patrice was heading for the Owl Emporium. Hermione had given him her address so he could owl her, so he hoped that would go better than whatever had happened with Ophelia and Neville. Shortly before they’d left the pet store, Flux had disillusioned herself and fallen asleep wrapped around his wrist. He liked her small weight and the feeling of her smooth scales against his skin.

Harry chose to linger near the front of the store with Quintin, but most of the owls here him were staring at him. “Can they see Flux?”

“No,” Quintin said. “And none of them would bother her if they did. No owl is foolish enough to pick a fight with an elemental viper. They are merely looking to be purchased.”

Harry considered that. “I guess I will need an owl for school. I probably shouldn’t use a school owl.”

“You’ll need one with personal security warding,” Quintin said. “Many would seek to invade your privacy given a chance just because your famous. Though, honestly, your position, as Sirius Black’s godson and heir, would also encourage such circumstances. You will encounter individuals in your life who will only see you as a method of procuring fame and wealth.”

Harry made a face. “I hate all those people already.”

He looked to his left and found more owls staring at him. It was honestly kind of weird and threatening. Ophelia hadn’t instilled in him a great deal of affection for the creatures. A pretty white owl with black specks barked at him, and he met its bright yellow gaze. It barked again, and he couldn’t help but smile. Without really thinking about it, he lifted his left arm, and the owl sailed down to land gently on the perch he’d unwittingly provided.

“Snowy owl,” Quintin supplied before Harry could ask. “Female—the males are solid white. She’s young, perhaps just over a year old. The magical version can live and serve a household for seventy-five years. They’re known to be quite intelligent and…authoritative.”

Harry focused on the owl. “He means bossy. He thinks you’re bossy.” The owl barked her agreement. “I don’t think she looks as beastly as Ophelia does. She probably won’t scare Hermione when I send her a letter.”

Quintin laughed. “Something tells me precious little would scare that young witch, Harry.”

Harry nodded his agreement. “I think she’s my first friend.” He flushed when the wizard looked shocked for a moment. “I should ask to make sure, though.”

Chapter 11

The fact that his son had come home with not one but two pets wasn’t much of a concern, or at least it wouldn’t have been if one of them wasn’t a bloody an elemental viper. Sirius would like to think he handled the introduction of Flux very well, but he was often wrong about those things. The owl, a lovely female Snowy Owl, was a pleasant surprise considering Harry’s aversion to Ophelia.

Though Harry had quickly decided that the owl, Hedwig, should stay in his suite instead of in the owlery since Ophelia was a monster. Sirius had been tempted to insist the bird by housed properly, but it was hard to tell them both no at the same time, so he’d just waved a hand when Quintin Deadmarsh pulled out a perch for the owl.

Sirius finished a full circuit of pacing around his large bedroom while both Wright and Dyson stared at him. “What?”

“You already knew he was a parselmouth,” Zale said. “We attract snakes. It’s honestly amazing he didn’t already have a snake of some sort as a pet.”

“He probably feared bringing one into the house,” Dyson muttered. “Which is too bad if he’d picked up the right one—it would’ve sorted his aunt and uncle out years ago.”

Zale frowned when Sirius huffed. “We could teach him to dampen the attraction part of his parselmagic if it truly alarms you.”

Sirius paused. There was an unnatural stiffness in Zale’s tone that spoke to personal offense, and he took a deep breath. “I don’t have a problem with parselmagic or parselmouths, but my kid brought an XXXX creature into the house. The fact that he was able to purchase it at ten because he’s a parselmouth is ridiculous, Zale. That thing can expand to the size of a bloody dragon.”

“Bigger actually,” Zale corrected and lifted an eyebrow when Sirius sighed dramatically. “Deadmarsh already reported that her magic is pure and she hasn’t been tainted personality-wise by the dark. Yes, she’s dangerous but only to someone who would make themselves a threat to Harry. They already have a thin but very strong bond forming, so separating them would be painful for them both—magically and physically.”

“Familiar bond?” Sirius questioned.

“Certainly,” Dyson said. “And that speaks to the health of his magic. I think we can all be grateful for that. Even four weeks ago, such a connection would’ve been impossible for him. Additionally, Patrice would’ve never allowed the purchase if she hadn’t trusted Flux on an instinctual level. She’s very attuned to such things having been married to a parselmouth for twenty-five years.”

“I’m not angry,” Sirius muttered. “And I trust that she didn’t make a mistake with it, and… maybe there was no way of hiding it, but I think you both know how harsh it is to be known to be a parselmouth.”

“He sees no shame in it,” Zale said. “And it would be horrid to introduce such to him now.”

“And when his peers run in horror from him?” Sirius demanded. “When his roommates refuse to sleep in the same room with him because they think he’s dark? We’ve seen that shite happen, Zale. The people of Britain are deeply invested in their bias’.”

“You own the largest newspaper in this fucking country,” Zale snapped. “Change their goddamned minds!”

Sirius blinked in surprise as Zale turned and stalked from the room. “I…”

“His parents disowned him when he refused to have his abilities suppressed after his maturation,” Dyson said. “Even burying his brother didn’t change their minds.”

“Closed-minded arseholes,” Sirius muttered. “I didn’t mean to upset him.”

“His perspective is terribly skewed because of why his parents rejected him. I believe once he calms down, he’ll stop comparing you to his father,” Dyson said. “I’ll check on Flux and Harry again after dinner, but for the moment, the bond isn’t a burden on his core. If it becomes one, I can put a spell on Flux to slow the formation of the bond down to give Harry more time to heal. She might regulate it herself once she becomes more aware of his magical circumstances.”

“I just want…” Sirius took a deep breath and slumped down in a chair. “I want Harry to have a happy, magical life where he doesn’t have to worry about being mistreated as he has been in the past.”

“I think that’s what any parent would want,” Dyson admitted. “But it’s important to prepare him for the life he will have versus the one you’d like him to have. Zale’s not wrong about your ability to influence how people in Britain perceive parselmouths. The various members of the Glain Neidr would make themselves available to help with the campaign. The bank could offer you information on parselcraft curse-breaking.” He cleared his throat. “Do you know why Zale was assigned your case at St. Mungo’s?”

“No.” Sirius focused on him. “Why?”

“Because his superior thinks him dark merely because he’s a parselmouth and figured exposing him to a potential mass murderer and Death Eater wouldn’t cause him any harm,” Dyson said flatly. “He’s regularly assigned the worst possible situations as far as his boss is concerned. Sometimes it’s just treating the child of a Death Eater, and sometimes it’s dealing with the effects of an extremely dark curse that leaves him both exhausted and emotionally wrecked. Moreover, he’s rarely given the resources he needs within the hospital—you really should’ve had a team for evaluation and care. The reason he had to stay with you overnight is there was no other healer on staff willing to treat you.”

Sirius pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. “I see.”

“I hope so because that’s the sort of life your son will face, despite his title. He bought a snake in public today, Lord Black, and Quintin told me he talked off and on to the snake during the entire purchase.” He paused. “In parseltongue.”

“So the parselmouth is definitely out of the bag,” Sirius murmured. “Right, well, figure out who in the conclave is the savviest on this subject, and we’ll start a propaganda campaign of our own.” He ran his fingers through his hair and, after a moment of deliberate searching, found where Zale had stalked off to within the wards. At least he hadn’t left the grounds altogether. “If you’ll excuse me?”

“Yes, of course. I can return after dinner to perform the diagnostic charms. You need two more potions for the day as well, so be prepared for that.”

Sirius made a face but nodded. “Thank you.”

He grabbed a wool coat from his closet and pulled it on before leaving his suite. Sirius stepped into Harry’s suite across the hall and found Harry at his desk writing. James and Lily were in the portrait, both watching their son. Harry had a smear of ink across his nose, and several pieces of parchment were wadded up on the surface of the desk.

“Is there a problem, lad?” Sirius questioned.

Harry looked up, and Flux, who was coiled around his neck, lifted her head and hissed a little greeting that didn’t feel threatening. “I’m trying to write Hermione a letter.”

Sirius leaned on the doorframe. “Master Deadmarsh said that you got along very well with her. Are you worried she won’t want to hear from you?”

“No, I mean, she gave me her address three different times—twice verbally, and before her parents basically dragged her away, she wrote it on a piece of parchment she requested from the clerk at the pet shop,” Harry explained and bit down on his lip. “I figured I should introduce Hedwig first since she wasn’t there when I found her. She likes to read a lot, so I was trying to figure out which book I’ve read recently to talk about, but then I worried that she would be upset not to have the book to read herself.

“So, I read the first three chapters of Hogwarts, A History since I know she has that, but then I figured it would be better to read the Introducing the Magical World by Silas Flourish since she probably started with that one. I was browsing the front of it and realized it was updated in February with several chapters on you and me.” He huffed and tossed his quill aside. “And now I’m worried she’ll be put off with the whole situation. But I guess I need to know that in advance, right? If she’s going to be weird about everything, then it would be good to know before I see her on the train.”

“That particular book is normally updated several times a decade,” Sirius said. “Your own copy will grow over the years because it is self-updating.”

“Magic is so weird sometimes,” Harry muttered and poked the book in question. “There are even moving pictures of you from your trial. You looked really tired and sick. I feel like they shouldn’t have put those pictures in there without your permission, but Mum says that the magical world doesn’t have the same kind of rules the Muggle world does but even in the Muggle world you can’t really control what people do with pictures they take of you. I think magical pictures are worse, though.”

“They are,” Sirius agreed. “You can’t even control what a picture version of you does after the fact. They can reveal things about you and your feelings you’d never want anyone to know.” He glanced toward the portrait as he spoke and found James giving him a fond look. “Shut up, Prongs.”

James laughed. “I didn’t say anything.”

“You can both say a lot without saying a word,” Lily said dryly. “Harry, just relax and be friendly in your letter. You don’t have to have anything specific to talk about. You’ve just met, so take things slowly and don’t stress it overly much.”

“I don’t want to make a mistake,” Harry admitted and flushed. “I’ve never had a friend before.”

Sirius winced and noted that James and Lily both looked appalled. He sent them a stern look, and both paintings schooled their expressions. He left the doorframe and walked across the room then squatted down beside Harry’s chair. The boy fiddled with the quill and glanced at him out of the corner of his eye.

“I grew up quite isolated,” Sirius began. “My parents were strict and neglected both my brother and me in various ways. I can say without a single doubt that neither one of them loved me. If they loved my brother, it was a terrible and abusive love that led to his death. I was rarely allowed to socialize with anyone outside of the family because they were blood purists and were also, frankly, quite ignorant. My cousins were also being raised in isolation. The first friend I ever had I made on the train to Hogwarts my first year.”

“Really?” Harry questioned.

“Really,” Sirius murmured. “He was very patient with me, actually, since I was basically a feral little git who’d been taught nothing but aggression and hate. It took him most of the first term, but by Yule, I was actually fit for company.”

Harry laughed. “Wow.” He moved his parchments around in front of him. “Neville hasn’t responded to my letter, so I guess I made a mistake with him. I don’t want to make another.”

“Neville is the heir to an ancient and noble house, just like you,” Sirius said. “There are protocols in place to protect him, so it could be that he’s not received your letter yet. His grandmother probably reviews all of his correspondence before it is passed to him—just as I will do for you. No one should expect to get direct access to you in this fashion due to your age. We’ll create a list of individuals who can contact you without my supervision, and a mail ward will be created to protect you. Should someone circumvent this ward and contact you via owl, you’re to forward the letter to me without opening it.”

Harry nodded. “I’ve never received mail from the magical world actually. Is that weird?”

“It is…concerning,” Sirius said with a sigh. “Mail warding magic is normally set up by the bank and managed by the dverger. I’ll contact Razel to see if there is one already in place—I think we both know if there is then Dumbledore is managing it.”

“Rude git,” Harry muttered. “He’s probably hoarding all of my birthday presents like a greedy dragon.”

Sirius snorted. “I have to admit there probably should be a room packed the ceiling with such gifts.” He patted Harry’s shoulder as he stood. “I’ll figure it out. Just be friendly in your letter and make sure to ask questions about her, so you don’t come off like a self-centered git.”

Harry laughed. “Yeah, okay.” He pulled on the side of Sirius’ coat. “Going outside? Can I come?”

“I am, and no, you have a letter to write and two hours of reading to accomplish before you can play.” He flicked Harry’s nose when the kid huffed. “Besides, I have to go out and find Healer Wright to deliver a much-needed apology.”

“Were you rude?” Harry questioned.

“I didn’t communicate well,” Sirius admitted. “And he’s rightly irritated with me, so I should go make amends.”

“Uncle Vernon said that apologies are for the weak,” Harry said and shrugged when Sirius raised an eyebrow. “He said that the only person he ever apologized to was Aunt Petunia because she’d make him miserable if he didn’t at least pretend he was sorry.”

“A good man apologizes when he’s wrong and strives to make amends with those he has offended or hurt,” Sirius said firmly. “You can’t control how people will react to your words and actions, lad, but when you’re wrong, then it is your duty to admit it and resolve to do better. Let’s just agree right now that nothing your Uncle Vernon ever said to you had an ounce of value.”

“Well, he did say taxes were bollocks because the government doesn’t actually care about making our lives better,” Harry pointed out and laughed when Lily huffed dramatically from the portrait.

“Ah,” Sirius began then laughed. “Okay, so maybe he was semi-accurate once in his long miserable life.”

Harry nodded. “I know he’s not normal, you know. I would never act like him or think the things that he did were good. Sometimes it’s hard to get his voice out of my head, you know. Grandpa Phineas says that the brain is tricky, and often we remember the terrible things more vividly than we do anything else. Aunt Elladora suggested that I just go set Uncle Vernon on fire after I turn seventeen so I could at least feel better about all the space he takes up in my brain.”

James burst out laughing.

“You cannot set Vernon Dursely on fire,” Sirius said sternly. “If that were legal to do, I’d have already done it. Stop listening to Elladora Black, she’s a menace.”

“Frankly, I think she’s the best ancestor we have,” Harry defended. “I appreciate her honest and forthright nature.” He shot the portrait a look, and Lily shook her head at him. “Seriously, Mum, Aunt Elladora is the best.”

Sirius sighed. “I’m gonna have a really long talk with that portrait.”

“Just remember the curse,” Harry said as Sirius walked toward the door. “I’d hate for you to lose an arm. Healer Dyson says the spell to regrow a limb is a literal nightmare!”

It took him ten minutes to walk all the way out to the enclosed garden where Wright had retreated, but he needed the time to gather his thoughts. The private garden had a ten-foot stone wall encircling it and, at one time had contained the most dangerous magical plants that could be legally grown. His great-grandmother had turned it into a relatively simple flower garden shortly after she married into the family. The dangerous plants had been moved to a secure greenhouse.

Zale was seated on a bench, and thanks to the environmental charms had stripped off his coat and gloves. Sirius shed his own coat as he approached and placed it with the garments Zale had discarded. He sat down beside the man on the bench, and glanced over the pond, spread out in front of them.

“Did you ever read the book The Secret Garden by Burnett?” Zale questioned. “In the magical version, the garden was maintained by fairies. I came across the Muggle version some years ago in a vintage bookstore in London. I bought it for my mother, who was fond of collecting the Muggle versions of magical books. I think it was the last book we read together before I was disowned.” He glanced around the garden. “I feel like Burnett must have visited Thestral Downs at some point before writing that book as this garden is exactly how I imagined the garden was in the book.”

“Healer Dyson told me they disowned you because you wouldn’t suppress your parselmagic.”

“Yeah,” Zale admitted roughly. “My father is a parselmouth, but he went through the suppression process before he even matured because he was so horrified by it. I told them I couldn’t imagine destroying a part of my own magic, and they were furious with me. Perhaps afraid of me, as well, since I was the first in generations to refuse the suppression spells. I’m fortunate that the spell doesn’t work if you aren’t willing, or they might have tried to do it to me regardless of my own wishes.” He cleared his throat. “There are no fish in the pond, by the way.”

“I’ll ask my grandfather why when his portrait wakes up,” Sirius murmured. “It had koi on it when I was younger. One of them was so big I was actually afraid of it.” He grinned when Zale laughed. “I’m not ashamed that Harry’s a parselmouth, you know. I knew he was one before the adoption. James told me about his own abilities when we were sixteen—I helped him hide it and prevented him from being exposed several times during our time at Hogwarts because his father was adamant that no one could ever know. I worry about him being hurt or ostracized because of it.”

“I understand, intimately, the rejection and hurt he’ll face,” Zale said. “I just…watching you freak out about him revealing himself so casually reminded me of my father, and I was furious. It was misplaced.”

“I am sorry that I was so wrapped up in my own worry that I didn’t realize how it was impacting you. I don’t want to be that kind of person—one so wrapped up in their own feelings that absolutely no one else matters. My mother was like that.”

“You’re clearly the exact opposite,” Zale pointed out.

“Except for the night I chose revenge over the safety of my own child,” Sirius said pointedly. “I let fury, grief, and the desire for revenge make my decisions the night James and Lily were murdered. I paid a price for that which I could accept if Harry hadn’t also paid an unspeakable price for it. I can’t forgive myself for what he suffered, Zale.”

“I don’t think a good man could,” Zale murmured. “And you are a good man no matter what you or anyone else thinks.” He reached out and put his hand on top of Sirius’ where it rested on the bench between them. “Your son couldn’t ask for a better father.”

“Except his biological one,” Sirius said roughly.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but not even James,” Zale said. “He wasn’t perfect—the fact that he fathered a child at his age in the middle of war speaks to that. He let family magic push him into that when it wasn’t safe for him or for Lily. He trusted the wrong people, and foolishly didn’t require an unbreakable oath from Peter Pettigrew. His mistakes did as much harm to his son as yours did.”

Sirius wanted to disagree, but the words knotted in his throat. He swallowed hard and turned his hand slightly so he could lace his fingers through Zale’s. “James didn’t get a chance to grow up.”

“And you basically grew up in prison because of the mistakes you both made,” Zale squeezed his hand gently and cleared his throat. “You’re throwing off all kinds of signals here, Lord Black, and I’m not sure which ones to pay attention to.”

“In my defense, I’m a little rusty,” Sirius admitted. “And I wasn’t sure the interest was returned.”

Zale flushed and exhaled noisily. “You’ve been through a lot, so it would be untoward to press upon you in any fashion, really. You were incredibly ill.”

“I was a little startled to have my care handed off so abruptly,” Sirius admitted.

“Being honest about my reasons would’ve been inappropriate, so I chose not to say anything at the time.”

“But?”

“It was two-fold, Dumbledore was using his relationship with my boss at St. Mungo’s to get information on you and removing myself from your healing team was the safest thing I could do for you. Jacob Dyson is the best healer I know—I trust him to take care of you and Harry both.”

“The second reason?” Sirius questioned.

“I want you,” Zale said and laughed a little. “I had a ridiculous crush on you when we were at Hogwarts, but you made a hobby of ignoring anyone who wasn’t a Gryffindor and unless you were making some Slytherin miserable.”

Sirius winced. “I was wretched. You had terrible taste.”

Zale laughed. “You were a little reckless and a trifle dangerous, I guess, and I liked that. I wasn’t the only one. You had quite a following in school though you seemed to be utterly unaware of it. In retrospect, it’s easy to see how basically no one but James Potter even existed for you.” He paused. “Did you even date at Hogwarts?”

“Here and there,” Sirius admitted. “Sex was casual and far more frequent than it should’ve been. I should probably send several people long overdue apologies for the way I was in school. Even without the pranks that we often took way too far, I used people for sex to avoid confronting my feelings for James. We had to work through a lot of hurt when he finally realized how I felt since he felt like I’d been lying to him for years.”

“Well, he wasn’t entitled to know everything,” Zale said dryly. “No one is, but it is the folly of the young to assume keeping such a secret is a betrayal.” He cleared his throat. “When I heard… that you’d betrayed the Potters and murdered Peter Pettigrew I was horrified and furious in a very selfish way.”

“My supposed actions tainted your memories of me at Hogwarts,” Sirius said. “And made you regret a childhood crush.”

“Yes. I felt as if I’d misjudged you horribly because if you could betray James Potter, then…” Zale shook his head. “I feel a fool. I can’t be the only one. I do have a question.”

“I hope I can answer it,” Sirius said. “Lately, I feel deeply incompetent. Harry throws me for a loop constantly.”

“Remus Lupin.”

“Ah,” Sirius sighed. “I have no idea where he is. He’s made no effort to reach out to me at all, and I’m not sure why. What I do know is that he’s obscenely loyal to Albus Dumbledore, so when he does surface, I can expect it to be stressful. I’ve already decided that he won’t have access to Harry. Remus isn’t someone I can trust with my son’s heart. His own self-esteem issues put him in a place where he hurts others repeatedly with his own…”

“Cowardice,” Zale supplied and raised an eyebrow when Sirius looked at him in shock. “At one time, I would’ve said he was the worst sorting I’d ever seen, but then I was confronted with the truth about Peter Pettigrew.”

Sirius leaned in and pressed his mouth against Zale’s for lack of a better response. He was rewarded instantly as the other man invaded his space and pushed eager hands into his hair. The brushing of another’s mouth against his own after so long was enthralling and exciting. Zale groaned against his mouth and pulled away.

“We’re going to fall off this foolish bench if we aren’t careful.”

Sirius laughed and took a deep breath as Zale rested against him. “You’re gorgeous. How did I get here?”

“Well, I stalked out here in a temper,” Zale confessed and pressed another brief kiss against his mouth. “I swear I’m not normally prone to such dramatics. I was just slapped in the face with some unresolved hurt, and I didn’t want to yell at you in your own home.” He paused and wet his lips. “My Lord.”

“I don’t think I can handle you calling me that when you’re half in my lap,” Sirius said and laughed when Zale grinned. “And you damn well know it.”

Zale started to respond, but a hawk Patronus exploded into place in front of them, and Armand’s voice burst out of it.

I need you now, Zale!”

Zale untangled from Sirius without a word and apparated. Sirius gathered up their things and apparated to the house, ignoring the little twinge in his core as he did so.

The foyer was chaotic. Carter Meyers was sprawled on the marble bleeding profusely from a wound in his stomach. Sirius dropped the coats on the stairs and snagged Harry as the boy almost stepped off the stairs. “No, lad, we’ll just be in the way.”

Armand glanced over at them briefly as he shrugged out of his own cloak and pulled his wand. “I need a containment spell on his hand.”

“I’ve got it,” Dyson said. “What the fuck is wrong with your hand, Carter?”

“Cursed,” Meyers muttered, and his head rolled as he focused on Deering. “Don’t touch it—don’t let anyone touch it.”

Armand’s gaze dropped to Carter’s fist and closed his eyes briefly. “Fuck, lad, you should’ve contacted me. Patrice, we need an artifact container—the strongest one you can get from the bank.”

Patrice pulled a cloak from her bracelet, whipped it around her shoulders, and apparated without a word. Walker Deadmarsh followed her with a sharp snap of apparition before his uncle could give the order.

“Who hit you with a blasting curse?” Armand questioned.

“Barty Crouch, Jr,” Carter said roughly. “The fact that the son of a bitch isn’t dead startled me enough that he was able to get a curse off before I responded. I doubt he’ll survive what I did to him, but I threw a few incarceration charms at him anyway.” He cleared his throat. “The boy shouldn’t see this.”

“I’ve seen worse,” Harry declared.

Armand snorted and shook his head. “I doubt it.”

“I once watched a man get a kidney transplant on the telly,” Harry explained. “That was much worse.”

“Muggles don’t know how to supervise their children,” Carter gritted out. “Who’d allow that? Also, why the fuck would someone get a kidney transplant?”

“Kidney failure, which is an issue in Muggle medicine and none of our cures can be funneled into their health market to cure it as they all require magic,” Zale said as he cleaned away blood from the wound.

“Wow, that’s so gross,” Harry exclaimed.

“And that’s enough,” Sirius declared and plucked his son up from the stairs. “Let’s go make sure Master Meyers has a place to recover.”

“I’m fine, Daddy, I won’t be scarred for life.”

“We might be,” Armand muttered as the two of them disappeared up the stairs. “That kid.”

“He’s pretty great,” Carter said with a laugh, then groaned. “Fuck.”

“Tell me what happened,” Armand demanded as Patrice returned with a small stone box.

He took the box from his wife, opened it, and lifted Carter’s arm to tuck the box under his hand. There was a gentle clink as the wizard dropped the bloody house of Gaunt ring into it. Armand blinked in surprise at the sight of the Resurrection stone.

Armand slapped the top back onto the box and offered it to Patrice. “Love, take this to our room? Then please help Sirius contain Harry. We’ll be moving Carter soon.”

“I finished up at the cemetery, finally. Worst week of my life,” Carter reported and shuddered as Dyson started to work on his hand. “I decided to check out the shack the Gaunt family lived in. I found a security ward on the floor and worked my way through it. There was a ridiculous gold box tucked under the floorboard. I realized I’d probably found one of his horcruxes. I’d just opened the box when the door was thrown open, and I saw Barty Crouch, Jr. He hit me with a blasting curse before I could get over my shock. I dropped the box, and it fell open. The ring rolled over the floor. I snatched it and felt the curse…start to activate, but I didn’t have time to contain it. I fired four piercing hexes at Crouch then an incarceration charm. Then I apparated.”

“It’s a wasting curse,” Dyson reported. “If he weren’t a parselmouth, it would’ve already eaten his entire arm. The curse doesn’t know how to use his own magic against him, so it’s burrowing. We can try to pull it out, but it’s going to be agonizing. I doubt a pain relief potion is going to do a damn thing to touch it.”

Carter started to respond, but Armand pulled his wand and stunned him.

Dyson sent him a look.

“What?” Armand questioned. “We can’t have screaming his head off around the kid.”

“Silencing charms are a thing,” Zale said as he pulled a portable cot from his own dimensional store and resized it. “I’m going to make a suggestion that will irritate you both.”

Dyson looked up, and Armand raised an eyebrow at him.

“We need Ito for this,” Zale said. “He’s forgotten more about healing than the three of us know, combined, and this curse has been fed by a horcrux for decades. We probably need him for the situation, at any rate, sir, and no has wanted to tell you.”

Armand frowned. “He’s an arsehole who hates children.”

“True, but he’s never been unkind to one,” Zale said. “I doubt Harry would be the exception. He’s a very agreeable child, and even when he has every right to pitch a fit, he doesn’t. Ito’s ritual craft is second to none, and we can’t make any mistakes where Harry is concerned.” He focused on Carter. “We can put him in stasis for twenty-four hours. More than enough time for you to go to Japan and ask the most contrary wizard alive for assistance.”

They transferred Carter to the cot, and Walker stepped forward to help lift it off the floor. The cot itself didn’t allow any sort of magical spells on it to avoid interfering with any magic on the patient.

“Injuries from the blasting curse?”

“Broken ribs, puncture wounds in stomach, liver, and gallbladder,” Zale reported. “Nothing we can’t fix. The stasis spell won’t be taxing on his magic at all, so nothing is an emergency.”

Thirty minutes later, Meyers was installed in a guest room on the first floor, and Armand was getting in the way of Patrice packing him a small bag. After she replaced both shirts he put in the bag, he’d stopped interfering in what she wanted and let her handle it.

“It would be my preference for me to go with you,” Patrice said as she tied the bag closed and offered it to him.

Armand took it and stored it. “I know, but I believe we both agree that it would be upsetting for Harry if we both left even such a short time. I honestly don’t know when we’ll be able to go home without him getting bent out of shape over it.”

Patrice nodded. “I’ve already started planning a flower garden with Nia.” She grinned when Armand laughed. “And I’m not opposed to playing the part of grandmother to Harry.” She raised an eyebrow when he couldn’t keep the shock off his face. “He asked me yesterday what the French name for grandmother was.”

“Oh.” Armand took a deep breath. “I guess…”

“If James had lived, that’s exactly how Harry would’ve grown up thinking of us, you know,” Patrice said.

“Yes,” he admitted roughly. “I… I honestly can’t deal with this right now. Or maybe ever. It makes me feel like I failed James over and over for not seeing the truth of his circumstances in 1981, for not realizing that Dumbledore is a monster, and finally for not fighting him for custody of Harry.” He paused. “I should’ve gone to Azkaban to demand answers from Black the very fucking day he was incarcerated, and I let my grief lead me around like a fool.”

She passed him a cloak. “I sent Reg to Gringotts to get the process started on your portkey to Japan.”

“I’d rather eat fire than take a portkey to Japan,” Armand said hotly and huffed when she laughed. “You’re lucky I love you.”

“Ha, you’re lucky I tolerate you,” she replied and smirked when he sighed.

Chapter 12

Nia had reported that Harry had requested his anteroom be rearranged, so Sirius wasn’t surprised to come in and find it all shifted around so Harry could look at the portrait of his parents while he worked at his desk. The desk had slowly turned into more of a child’s space rather than the sturdy, formal oak surface it had been when they’d first arrived. The much-discussed Charolette was perched in the middle at the front. The unicorn was just a regular stuffed animal. Sirius often wondered if the boy would be attached to it if it were more magical and animated. Several other stuffed animals had migrated into the manor over the weeks since the move, but none of them had distracted him from the unicorn.

“Armand is back.”

Harry looked up from reading. “Did he bring the scary old wizard from Japan with him?”

“I’m sure Master Ito isn’t actually scary, and yes, he did come to Britain. You’ll be introduced at dinner. Right now, they’re both in Master Meyer’s room evaluating his condition.” Sirius walked fully into the room. “I received some correspondence from Augusta Longbottom. A lot of it was formal stuff regarding house alliances since the House of Potter is aligned with the House of Longbottom through ancient agreements. She also included a letter from Neville and apologized for the long delay as it was her fault, not his. He responded the very day he received it.”

“Oh, cool.” Harry took the parchment when Sirius offered it. “How does that alliance thing work? Can I still invite him to my birthday party? I wonder if he’ll like Hermione? Hedwig still hasn’t returned with a letter, but it’s just been a day, so I should be patient, right?”

“Right,” Sirius said. “She might have requested some time to respond, or she could be writing a novel. Quintin said she was the chatty sort.”

Harry laughed. “Hopefully, Hedwig won’t have a problem carrying it.” He flipped the parchment over. “This is sealed.”

“I don’t have to actually read the content to screen it,” Sirius said. “The process isn’t about invading your privacy but making sure there is no foreign magic on the parchment that could hurt you. Besides, at his age, Neville’s magical intent practically bled all over that parchment. He’s eager to make a friend, just like you.” He cleared his throat. “On that note, we’ve been invited to have dinner at Bright Meadows. That’s the current family seat of the Earl of Greenwood.”

“It came to the family through a marriage contract 300 years ago,” Harry said. “I read about it in the book on the Sacred Twenty-Eight. Have you accepted, yet?”

“Not yet. I have a week to respond without being rude,” Sirius explained. “It’ll give Armand time to investigate the circumstances and make sure Augusta isn’t working on Dumbledore’s behalf.”

Harry made a face. “Is that likely?”

“Honestly, lad, I’m not sure, but we can’t afford to make any mistakes where that old man is concerned.”

“What if…” Harry trailed off and took a deep breath. “What if Master Deering can’t get Dumbledore out of Hogwarts? I really want to go, Daddy.”

Sirius took a moment considered how to respond to that in a way that wouldn’t reveal what he suspected. He figured that Armand had every intention of murdering Albus Dumbledore before September 1st. “I trust that Armand will make sure you can attend Hogwarts safely.”

Harry nodded. “If Dumbledore is doing something evil to Neville’s Grandmother, can we fix that?”

“Why would you assume he’s doing something evil to her?” Sirius questioned.

“Isn’t that what he does?” Harry asked and shrugged. “Mum and Dad said the prophecy could’ve been about Neville. I think Dumbledore would probably keep an eye on him in case Voldemort made a mistake or something.”

“You’re too smart,” Sirius told him, and Harry laughed. “I blame your mother—there’s no way James was this sharp at ten.”

“Very rude, Padfoot,” James said from the portrait.

“But accurate,” Lily responded and frowned. “I think it’s probably a good idea to investigate Augusta’s circumstances. It concerns me a lot that the Longbottoms were attacked after we were. Why did they lift their Fidelius when Death Eaters were still at large? Why wasn’t Harry taken to Alice and why didn’t she complain about it? She knew she was next in line after you, Sirius.”

“I wonder…” Harry trailed off, and Flux appeared wrapped around his arm. The viper slid off onto the desk, coiled up into a neat little pile, and lifted her head. She hissed consistently for nearly a minute, and Harry nodded. “Right.” He focused on Sirius. “What if Dumbledore made sure they were attacked? What if he’s really responsible for what happened to them so he could control me?”

Sirius wondered if he could actually kill the old bastard himself. “I…what did the snake say?”

“She said that a man like Dumbledore has no limits or bounds—that he’s created his own moral reality and that means we can’t truly predict him. His sense of right and wrong is skewed beyond reason,” Harry explained.

Sirius looked at the snake. “How old is she?”

“1374 years,” Harry reported. “I’m her tenth magical companion, but she thinks she’ll stay with my family from now on, so I’m required to produce at least one parselmouth at some point in my life, so she doesn’t have to go find another family. She’ll be really cross with me if that happens.”

Sirius laughed.

“Can I ask a question?” Harry focused on him, and Sirius suddenly felt like he was about to go on trial again.

“Your mother used to give me that look and ask me that question just like that when she knew I was up to no good and about to get your father in trouble,” Sirius said.

Harry grinned. “Healer Wright’s been spending extra time in your rooms.” He lifted an eyebrow. “So, we want to know if you’re dating him.”

“Who’s we?” Sirius asked.

“Mum, Dad, Flux, Charlotte, Nia, and me,” Harry declared.

“Charlotte?” Sirius raised an eyebrow. “Your stuffed unicorn wants to know about my love life?”

“She’s a very curious sort.”

Sirius laughed. “I…yes, well. Zale and I are trying to create something personal.”

Harry made a face. “Dad said you’d beat around the bush, but that was ridiculous.” He grinned when James started laughing from the portrait.

“How would you feel about it?” Sirius questioned. “I can’t imagine you’ve never heard anything good about homosexual relationships considering your aunt and uncle.”

“Oh, they’d be horrified,” Harry said. “In a very quiet, proper fashion as to not cause a scene in public then at home, they’d say really horrible things that neither Dudley or I should ever repeat. They pretended they were very religious, but I don’t think they ever went to church at all. Every Sunday, they’d get all dressed up and leave the house like they were going to church except they’d go to some all-you-can-eat buffet and stuff their faces for hours.

“I like Healer Wright, and Flux says he’s a good wizard, so we’re okay with it. Grandpa Arcturus says I’m to remind you that you’re actually 31 years old and that the Earl of Blackmoor doesn’t skulk about.”

“I don’t have to put with this kind of treatment,” Sirius declared and tapped the desk. “Read your letter. Madam Longbottom has added you to Neville’s mail ward so you can contact him directly.”

“Thanks, Daddy.” Harry rocked in his chair as he picked up the parchment and broke the wax seal on it.

Sirius shot the portrait a look and rolled his eyes when James and Lily smirked at him. He walked out of the room without flouncing, but it was difficult.

Harry carefully unfolded the parchment and pursed his lips as he began to read.

April 29, 1991

Dear Harry,

I received your letter today. My grandmother offers her apologies as she was out of the country and not available to open incoming mail until her return last week. She was gone a month, so there was a lot to go through.

I’ve always heard really nice things about the greenhouses at Thestral Downs. I have a personal greenhouse where I grow mostly flowers and less dangerous plants. Gran says I can have a Devil’s Snare after I’ve had one year of instruction at Hogwarts, so I’m looking forward to that. De-gnoming is fun—if they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t come back, so no worries on that front, mate.

I like reading as well—I’m reading Hogwarts, A History right now since Gran said I should know about the school if I get to go. My uncle says that I’m a squib, and I won’t get a letter, and it’ll be a terrible scandal, so we should just go ahead and announce that he will be taking over as earl. He and my Gran argue about it a lot. I wish he wouldn’t come here. I probably shouldn’t talk about this, but I can’t say anything to Gran because it just upsets her.

I’ve never had anyone to talk to really, so I hope this letter has been okay.

Sincerely,

Neville Longbottom

House of Longbottom

Harry frowned. “Mum, I thought you said that Neville was really magical? You said we were both riding toy brooms at our first birthday party.”

“You were,” Lily said. “I cursed Sirius out repeatedly for buying them, and Alice hexed him every single time one of you ran into something or someone. I doubt he could sit after that party was over. Why?”

Harry returned his attention to the letter he’d received, which he read aloud in full.

Lily frowned when he was done. “Take that letter to Sirius and Master Deering. That’s not…no one should think Neville is a squib, Harry. It makes no sense.”

– – – –

Sirius had fully intended to retreat to his rooms and talk Zale into some heated snogging behind a locked door, but instead, the guardian statue at the front gates had informed him that he had a guest. A werewolf guest, so he figured it was Remus, but he couldn’t be sure without going to the guardhouse. His grandfather had been targeted by Greyback repeatedly over the years, and the anti-werewolf wards on Thestral Downs were downright robust by anyone’s standard.

“I’ll go with you.”

Sirius glanced toward Quintin Deadmarsh. “I didn’t suspect I would go alone, but why you, specifically?”

“I’m the even-tempered one,” Quintin said. “Walker can’t stand Remus Lupin and Zale’s distracted by your arse.”

“In his defense, it’s a fine arse,” Sirius said and grinned when Quintin sent him a look. He focused on Walker as Zale crossed his arms with a frown. “Why do you hate Remus Lupin?”

“He’s an irresponsible arsehole,” Walker said roughly. “There are a half dozen agencies in Paris that work with werewolves to give them a good life, but he’s invested in his victimhood and twice in the last year he’s been subdued by aurors for failing to confine himself properly during the full moon. He’s fortunate to have not infected anyone. I was brought in the last time because he got loose in a Muggle park.

“I’ve never regretted contract work more in my life. I spent half the night memory charming Muggles in the name of secrecy, and I felt like shite afterward—not just magically but also morally. I hate memory charming people, and what did those people do to deserve that? Nothing but encounter a bloody werewolf who puts his pride over the safety of others since he considers the aid programs in France to be charity.”

“Right,” Sirius said and ran a hand through his hair. He focused on Zale, who was leaning against the window, staring out over the grounds. “Zale?”

“He’s not your friend,” Zale said and focused on him. “A friend would’ve been in the audience the day you finally went on trial. A friend would’ve come to Azkaban to demand you explain yourself. A friend would’ve already been here, trying to help you get back on track, but he’s been lurking and waiting. He’s most certainly working for Dumbledore in some fashion or another.”

“Remus believes he owes Dumbledore because he allowed him to come to Hogwarts,” Sirius said. “I doubt that debt will ever be settled as far as Remus is concerned.”

“Dumbledore is good for that,” Zale said. “Creating circumstances where people feel like they owe him their very lives and over the years, he’s certainly called in those debts. You know you can’t trust Remus Lupin, and even if he isn’t here on Dumbledore’s behalf, I don’t think he should meet Harry. That’s your call, of course, so if you change your mind about…”

Sirius raised a hand. “He’s most definitely not meeting Harry. My son puts on a brave, often sarcastic, front, but he yearns for connections to his parents. Remus is too selfish for that kind of responsibility, no matter his reasons for coming here. Eventually, he’d retreat from Harry for selfish reasons and claim it was to keep him safe. But really, it’s about not having to face any sort of personal rejection for his condition.”

He was tired and frustrated, so he allowed Quintin to apparate him to the gatehouse, which was just outside the main wards. He sat down on the sofa by the fireplace that lit as soon as he approached it and waited while Quintin investigated their guest. Shortly, Remus was escorted in. Quintin closed the door behind him and stayed standing as Lupin shed his cloak.

“Padfoot.”

Sirius inclined his head and pointed Lupin toward the chair across from him. “Why are you here, Remus?”

Lupin sat down hesitantly. “I came as soon as I could afford it.”

“You work a full-time job in a Muggle bookstore in Paris. A portkey from Paris to London costs five galleons, so let’s not start this off with a lie. Why are you here?”

“I read about your trial, but I…I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t want to believe it. The ICW released a report last week—about you and the 33 other people they’ve found incarcerated in Azkaban without a trial. I read your trial transcript finally, and I realized I was being an idiot. Albus made me realize I was holding onto suspicions that were a decade old and wrong, to begin with. I didn’t want to believe that Peter would be so disloyal.”

“But, you had no problems believing I would be.”

Remus shrugged. “You were jealous of James’ relationship with Lily. I always figured it would end badly one way or another, but…”

“Jealous?” Sirius demanded. “I wasn’t jealous of Lily, you sorry fucker.”

“You wanted James,” Remus protested. “It wasn’t a secret, Sirius!”

“I loved him, yes, but I would’ve cut my own heart out before I ever interfered in their marriage,” Sirius snapped. “James knew that and Lily did, too! They both knew before they ever named me Harry’s godfather.” He had a sudden desire for an herbal cigar, and he hadn’t smoked since he’d gone to Azkaban. “What does Dumbledore want you to do?”

“Nothing. Albus is worried about you and Harry, of course, because you’ve been ignoring him since your release for no good reason.”

“No good reason,” Sirius repeated. “That old bastard ignored James and Lily’s will and put Harry with Petunia Dursley. Both Petunia and her husband are now in Muggle jail for child abuse, Remus. Amelia Bones invested herself in making them pay for their crimes against Harry.”

“Albus said that you took revenge on Petunia because you had no one else to vent your temper on,” Remus said. “I can’t believe you had Lily’s only sister arrested and put in jail, Sirius. I thought Amelia Bones was a woman of integrity.”

“Revenge?” Sirius questioned. “Petunia half-starved Harry to destroy his magic. Her husband hit him as often as he would like. Their son was taught to bully Harry and was rewarded for hitting him. They both confessed at length to their own crimes willing to avoid being put in any sort of magical prison. I had nothing to do with the investigation or the Muggle process at all. Amelia Bones took the report Healer Dyson made regarding Harry’s physical and mental health as the basis for her investigation.”

“Albus said that Petunia loved Harry, and you destroyed their family out of petty jealousy and revenge,” Remus murmured.

“The only reason Petunia didn’t outright murder Harry was that she was afraid of how other magicals would respond. She literally said that in her confession—that she thought about drowning him the very fucking day Dumbledore dumped him on her front porch like a newspaper.” Sirius refrained from drawing his wand when Remus continued to look skeptical. “Why are you here, Remus?”

“I wanted to see you, and I hoped to meet Harry.”

“No,” Sirius said flatly. “You won’t have any sort of access to my son as long as he’s a minor.”

“Godson,” Remus corrected. “He’s just your godson, Sirius, you can’t replace James.”

“You do realize that James and Lily allowed me to blood adopt their son six weeks after he was born, right?” Sirius questioned, and Remus’ mouth dropped open in shock. “I don’t need to replace anyone—magically, I’m Harry’s third parent and have been nearly his entire life. He’s already insisted on taking the Black name legally and socially. He’ll go to Hogwarts as Harry Potter-Black.”

“I don’t know how you can tell me that and still believe you weren’t intruding on their marriage,” Remus said wearily. “I never believed you’d be so manipulative. I imagine James even suggested it. How long did you have to complain about the infertility curse before he offered to share his son with you?”

“I spoke to James about the curse Regulus placed on me exactly once,” Sirius said coldly. “Not that I need to explain myself to you. You had more than a decade to get answers out of me, Remus. Instead, you decided to wallow in self-pity in Paris while James’ boy was beaten, starved, and forced to sleep in a fucking boot cupboard. I’m sure you have plenty of excuses lined up to explain yourself, but I’m not interested in hearing them. Additionally, I don’t care at all to hear whatever Dumbledore wants you to tell me.”

“He did ask me to pass along an invitation to Hogwarts next week. He’d like to meet with you regarding Harry’s situation and the fact that Voldemort isn’t dead.”

“I’m very aware of the fact that Voldemort isn’t completely dead,” Sirius said roughly. “Anyone who bought the ministry propaganda about Godric’s Hollow is a fucking moron. I was there in the aftermath, in Harry’s nursery. The magical evidence of his disembodiment was unmistakable. I don’t know how he’s clinging to life, but I know he’s lurking—waiting, perhaps, for one of his followers to find a way to resurrect him. Here’s hoping the ministry manages to keep Bellatrix contained as she’d do anything for her Dark Lord.” He stood. “You’re not welcome at Thestral Downs, Remus. I won’t remove the anti-werewolf wards my grandfather installed to allow you access to Harry either. He doesn’t deserve to be abandoned by you when your inevitable self-pity party comes back around.”

“James wouldn’t approve of this.”

“James wants to crawl out of his portrait and curse the shite out of you!” Sirius shouted and took a deep breath when Quintin stepped closer. “You were free, Remus. Free to at least monitor Harry’s circumstances and make sure that Petunia treated Harry well. You did nothing.”

“The house was warded against dark creatures,” Remus protested. “I asked Albus years ago, and he told me I wouldn’t be allowed near Petunia’s house.”

“The wards on that house were failing within six months of being placed due to Petunia’s bone-deep hatred of her own nephew,” Quintin Deadmarsh interjected as he walked across the room. “Lord Black, I believe you should retire for the day.”

“Yes, of course, Master Deadmarsh,” Sirius murmured. “You’re right—I’m suddenly exhausted.”

“Are you sick?” Remus questioned with a frown.

“I spent a decade in Azkaban, Remus,” Sirius said. “That place leeches the life and magic out of you one fucking day at a time.” He took the hand Deadmarsh offered. “Go away and find someplace to hide, Remus. It’s what you’re good for.”

– – – –

Hiro Ito was rather intimidating truth be known. Meals were usually informal and taken in the kitchen, but Nia had set the table in the large dining room, and everyone had shown up dressed for the event. Harry thought wearing a tie to dinner in your own house was crazy, but he hadn’t complained a lot when Zale had pulled out a suit and formal robe combination for him to wear. Nothing was uncomfortable, thanks to magic, but Harry really didn’t like having a full place setting put in front of him even if Aunt Elladora was instructing him gently through the first course.

Patrice was seated on his left, so he glanced toward her when a plate with two little puffy pastries on it appeared in front of him. He knew she’d planned the meal, so he was hoping she’d have some details about what he was about to put in his mouth.

She smiled and picked up one of the pastries from her plate and pulled it open with her fingers. “Gougères, dear. It is a choux pastry with cheese—gruyére, in this case.”

It didn’t sound terrible, so he mimicked her and decided to ignore the fond looks he got from the other adults at the table. He put a small bit in his mouth and chewed thoughtfully.

“Thoughts?” Patrice asked.

Harry swallowed. “It’s like a cheesy cloud. It would be good for tea, so I hope there are extra.”

“Nia and I made enough for several weeks. They’re in stasis,” Patrice said, concentrating on her own food.

He’d been told in advance that there would be six courses, and he should try to eat some, if not all, of each dish. Nia had promised that his portions would be smaller and that she’d give him even less if he got too full as the meal progressed. The gougères were good, though, so he ate both and hoped his stomach had room for whatever came next.

“Master Deering told me that Flux has attached herself to you, Mr. Potter-Black,” Master Ito said from across the table.

Harry focused on him and smiled. “You can call me Harry, and yes, I found her in a pet shop. Her egg house was really interesting, and I wanted to open it the moment I saw it. How do you know Flux?”

“I met her several hundred years ago when she was the companion of a witch I came close to marrying,” Ito explained. “I have fond memories of Flux.”

Harry grinned. “But not the witch?”

Ito made a face. “She was complicated.”

Harry considered that as Flux appeared on his neck and spread out over his shoulders. “But why would you want a simple witch?” That startled laughed out of his godfather and several other men at the table. “She wouldn’t be very interesting to talk to.”

Ito grinned. “She was kind of evil, too.”

Harry noted that Flux wasn’t defending her former mistress at all, which was telling enough he supposed. “I think we all can be kind of evil, given the right motivation.”

“Very true,” Ito agreed. “Flux is a very loyal companion, Harry. You could not ask for a better familiar in life and ritual craft as you approach your magical life. In my country, being a parselmouth is considered a great honor bestowed by magic, but it is also a duty.”

“Aunt Elladora says duty is just a polite way of saying burden,” Harry said. “And that people will pile duty on me left, right, and center because of my unfortunate fame, the titles I will inherit, and the assumption regarding my magical power. People I don’t even know will have opinions about where I go, how I dress, and who I marry. It’s absurd.”

The little plate in front of him disappeared, and a steaming bowl of soup appeared. Harry relaxed because he recognized the lobster bisque. It was something that Patrice often had served for lunch to go along with whatever sandwich was being put out for everyone. He was especially fond of the prawn sandwich, but he didn’t think he’d get lucky enough to get one for dinner.

“Does that potential future disturb you?” Armand questioned.

“Yes, but we’re still planning how we’re going to handle that. Flux has some ideas that Aunt Elladora was really pleased to hear.”

“This is a nightmare,” Sirius said cheerfully and laughed when Harry scowled at him.

“I have enemies, Daddy,” Harry declared. “And a fully equipped dungeon. It would be ridiculous not to make plans to manage potential events and persons who don’t know how to mind their own business.”

Healer Wright laughed and took a long drink from his wine glass, which made Harry focus on the pair of glasses in front of his place setting. He had water, and the wine glass was half full with a sparkling clear liquid. Harry picked it up and took a cautious sniff then made a face.

“What is this?” Harry questioned.

“It’s a practice wine,” Patrice said. “The first of many you will be exposed to as you mature. It has no alcohol content but will taste like an oaked Chardonnay.”

“You said I had an immature palette and couldn’t be expected to enjoy sophisticated food,” he pointed out but took a little sip when she merely raised an eyebrow at him.

“Did you take note of any flavors?” Patrice questioned.

He took another sip because it wasn’t terrible. “Vanilla, maybe?”

“Very good,” she praised and focused on her food.

“Why do I have to practice drinking wine? That sounds like the road to alcoholism.”

Patrice sighed at the laughs Harry earned and sat back with her own wine and stared at him pointedly. “You will be judged—at times harshly—by the things you know and don’t know for the rest of your life, Harry. The best defense you can have against you can create is a shield of sophistication and worldliness. A gentleman does not drink to excess but has an expansive knowledge of spirits—including wine. Your palette is immature currently, but it will change as you grow. Consider this occasion, and others like it as an opportunity to observe the wizards around you. Good manners are more than the ability to navigate a place setting.”

Harry nodded and took another sip of the fake-wine. “Can I have milk with dessert?”

“Certainly,” she agreed. “You can get away with milk instead of tea or coffee well into your tweens.”

“Honestly, sometimes you make growing up sound like a vicious trap,” Harry said as he picked up his spoon. He smiled briefly at Master Ito when the older man laughed.

The soup bowl was actually quite shallow, so there wasn’t a lot to eat. He felt better about the four other courses coming since the first two had been small and manageable. It was more like getting a taste of something awesome but not enough to make it a problem to push through the whole meal.

He placed his spoon on the bowl and sat back when he was finished. It disappeared with a pop, but nothing replaced it since not everyone was finished. He noted that Master Ito had also finished. He stared for a moment, and Flux rubbed her head against his earlobe as they studied each other.

“You’re here about my scar,” Harry said and bit down briefly on his lip when the older wizard raised an eyebrow. “Right?”

“It’s certainly a factor in the length of my visit,” Ito admitted as he took a sip of his wine. “A parselmouth of your potential magical power is a gift to this world, Harry, no matter what some in Britain might think. You could do good things in the world if you wished it.”

“Well, I don’t want to run around being a dark wizard, but a part of me does think I’ve already made all the sacrifices I should have to for the magical world. I know, from Grandpa Arcturus, that a lot of people in Britain will believe that I owe them basically everything to up to and including my own life. But those people sat back and let a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur run around the country for decades like he had an army of thousands when at most he had fifty or so active followers at any one time. Riddle used theatrics to terrorize this country, and they all fell for it. They also fell for that nonsense that a fifteen-month-old baby defeated a full-grown wizard.”

Ito grinned at him. “Are you worried about your scar?”

“Yes and no,” Harry admitted. “Aunt Elladora says that my mum’s magic is still protecting me from Riddle, so whatever my scar is, it’s contained. But Healer Dyson pays special attention to it, so I know it’s probably something horrible, and no one wants to tell me the specifics. Which I understand, I guess, since adults are supposed to protect kids. Not that I have a lot of experience with that. My Aunt Petunia went out of her way to make me understood her life was miserable, and it was certainly my fault.”

“Do you think you need mind healing to deal with your years at your aunt’s house?” Ito questioned.

“Isn’t that what Miss Patrice does with me every afternoon?” Harry questioned. “That’s her career, right? Mind healing.”

Ito grinned. “I have a feeling that the adults in this house get away with far less than they think with you.”

Harry shrugged as the last of the soup bowls cleared away, and a new plate appeared. He nearly cheered at the sight of crab salad canapes. It was another tea staple as it was Master Deering’s favorite. He turned to Patrice, who was staring at him with a curious expression. He knew that look well as she often did that when she expected him to expand on a subject.

“You ask a lot of questions about my emotions, and you’re the only one who does it. Clearly, you’ve been put in charge of making sure I’m not a complete nutter by the time I reach adulthood.”

Patrice laughed. “Harry.”

“It’s fine.” Harry shrugged. “At least I get tea and good food when you talk to me. Healer Dyson just points his wand at me a lot.” He shot the healer a look. “And makes me drink disgusting potions that he swears are good for me.”

“You’ve grown 15 centimeters since I met you,” Dyson said in his defense. “You were well on your way to being the smallest of your class at Hogwarts before you met me.”

“You can spell potions into people’s stomachs,” Harry said.

Dyson grinned at him. “Learning to drink potions is to your benefit. You will encounter healers who can’t perform that spell. Additionally, a mediwitch or mediwizard isn’t qualified to transfer potions into a patient’s stomach. There isn’t a healer on staff at Hogwarts, so if you get sick there, you’ll see Madam Pomfrey, who is mediwitch, but not a healer. That’s an important distinction.”

Harry considered that and took a bite of canape. His Grandpa Phineas had cautioned him against trusting anyone who was deeply loyal to Dumbledore. He’d already gotten a list of staff at Hogwarts that could be a problem as long as Dumbledore was alive. Madam Pomfrey was on the list, and he considered what sort of questions he should ask about the witch he’d yet to meet.

“I wasn’t taken to Privet Drive immediately, right?” He focused on Armand Deering.

“No, per your Aunt’s testimony, you were left on her doorstep sometime in the middle of the night on November 1, and she found the morning of the 2nd,” Armand said.

“And I was injured,” Harry said as he focused on Dyson. “Do you think Dumbledore took me to Madam Pomfrey for care in between me being taken from Godric’s Hollow and being abandoned at my aunt’s house?”

Dyson’s expression rapidly shifted through shock, concern, and finally settled on fury. He took a calming breath and drank most of his wine in one swallow. He sat the glass down with a thud, and it filled back up with a flash of magic.

“I guess my only concern with her is that she either didn’t see the problems with my scar due to her lack of training or she ignored it.” He paused and watched the adults around the table digest that. “Grandpa Phineas says that she’s more loyal to Dumbledore than even Minerva McGonagall, which is apparently saying something. Though he says that Dumbledore is basically holding McGonagall in a hostage situation for decades since he never ended their mentorship contract under the pretense of protecting her due to her half-blood status.”

“Son of a bitch,” Sirius muttered and took a deep breath. “Poppy Pomfrey could’ve been manipulated magically.”

“Which means she’s not getting recertifications as needed,” Zale said. “Or Dumbledore is bribing someone in the ministry to overlook her manipulated state. Would he go that far?”

“Where it concerns Harry?” Sirius questioned. “Absolutely.”

“He let Daddy rot in prison for years because of me,” Harry pointed out.

“Hey,” Sirius reached out and touched his arm. “Listen, nothing that Dumbledore does is because of you. He’s a cruel old man who thinks he has the right to determine how the rest of us live. If he weren’t focused on you, he would be focused on someone else.”

“Like Neville?” Harry questioned as his godfather lifted his hand away.

“Or whatever young wizard that catches his attention,” Healer Wright interjected. “He’s made a history of targetting young, magically gifted wizards for his own purposes throughout his life. You’re just the last in a long line to catch his eye. In the end, it’s about building his own legacy and cementing his place in history as the leader of the light.”

Harry focused on his food to avoid rolling his eyes since Aunt Elladora told him that was crass behavior. He focused on Armand Deering after he’d chewed and swallowed. “You should totally ruin that for him. He wants to go down in history? Then he should do it in infamy.”

Patrice sighed and glared at Sirius. “Putting the heir ring on his hand before his majority was the worst decision you could’ve made.”

Harry laughed and tried some more of the sparkling grape juice. He almost called it that aloud just to see how she’d respond. The next course was served in short order, and he barely refrained from making a face. He hated salad. The only saving grace was the grilled shrimp arranged artfully on top of the lettuce.

“Does the theme of a dinner party matter a lot?” Harry questioned as he mixed up his salad a little with his fork.

“Certainly,” Patrice said. “If you have guests who can’t eat shellfish, then you’d avoid a theme featuring seafood for their comfort. I would probably focus on beef, in that case, or perhaps venison. Some hosts like to vary the meat being served—starting with poultry and working their way toward a dish like Beef Wellington. But you’ve shown a marked preference for seafood, so I believed it would be the best choice for a theme for your first event.”

“I do like it,” Harry agreed.

He’d never had any sort of seafood before meeting Patrice Delacour but decided not to say that since pointing out gaps in his diet seemed to make everyone around him furious. He ate the shrimp out of the salad and put his fork on the plate. It disappeared, and no one brought up how he skipped the lettuce, which was a relief. The main entry turned out to be salmon filet with lentils that had some fancy French name that Harry couldn’t remember. He’d had the lentils before with baked chicken earlier in the month.

“Are you afraid of Dumbledore?”

Harry focused on Ito and found the man staring at him. “No.”

“No?”

“He’s just a con man,” Harry said. “Like Riddle. I don’t fear either one of them. I learned a long time ago that fearing someone gives them power over you. Vernon Dursley feared me, and the day I realized that was the last day he hit me.” He wet his lips. “It wasn’t until my ring appeared on my finger that I began to understand what he feared. He was stupidly afraid of my potential, and knowing what I know now about magic—his fear is even reasonable even if his response to that fear was not. Magic is dangerous and magical people are obscenely dangerous. I’m worried about what Dumbledore might do to gain control over me. Sometimes, I wonder what it would’ve been like for me if my godfather hadn’t gotten out of Azkaban when he did.

“The very idea of going to Hogwarts utterly unprepared for Dumbledore’s manipulations is the stuff of nightmares, but even that isn’t about fear. Grandpa Phineas says knowing what your enemy is capable of is the most important thing you’ll ever learn about them. Unfortunately, it’s been made perfectly clear to me that both Tom Riddle and Albus Dumbledore are capable of anything. It’s honestly kind of frustrating that a couple of old wizards involved me in their mess. The only way it could get worse is someone had the gall to invite Gellert Grindelwald to the party.”

Armand Deering snorted and schooled his face when Sirius huffed at him. “Honestly, lad, it’s like sitting across from Lily Potter.”

“Certainly,” Sirius said wryly then laughed a little when Harry flushed.

“If fear doesn’t drive your nightmares, what does?” Ito questioned.

Harry paused and took a deep breath. “Grief.” The older man’s eyes went wide with shock. “I never had anyone to lose before now, you see. I don’t know what I’ll do to Albus Dumbledore if he hurts someone I care about, but honestly, I’m pretty sure I could make Tom Riddle look like a saint.”

“You’re a bit small for that sort of thinking,” Ito said thoughtfully in the shocked silence.

Harry shrugged. “I won’t stay small.”

Chapter 13

Harry didn’t like the conclave’s workspace on the first floor. The room was large, and Aunt Elladora said her first wedding reception had been held in it. The room echoed due to the expansion charms that made the ceiling high. He felt little and defenseless in the space, which was weird, so he kept those thoughts to himself.

Flux curled visibly around his neck as he put the prophecy box down on the table and scooted up in the chair that had been provided for him at the large conference table. He cleared his throat and exhaled noisily as he focused on Armand Deering.

“Ready, lad?”

“No,” Harry said flatly and looked away as his godfather patted his shoulder.

“You don’t have to do it now,” Sirius murmured, and Harry focused on him.

“Then when?” Harry asked, and his eyes stung with tears. He huffed and rubbed the back of his hand over his face. “I can’t…hide from whatever is in this box forever, Daddy.”

“Granted,” Sirius said and ran his fingers through Harry’s hair. “If I could listen for you, I would.”

“I know.” Harry fiddled with the latch on the box. “I think I hate divination, which makes me feel terrible because if Grandpa Arcturus hadn’t looked in the palantír, you’d still be in Azkaban, but it’s honestly kind of terrible magic.”

“He agreed,” Sirius said with a sad smile. “He found his gifts offensive a great deal of the time, and I’m sure he’s told you as much. One of the biggest reliefs in his life was that he had no memories of the prophecies that were harvested from him by the Department of Mysteries. In this way, prophecy magic is normally a very private thing.”

“Except for when they’re witnessed by a third party,” Harry said darkly and glared at the box. “Mum and Dad are dead because of that dumb prophecy. Because Dumbledore witnessed it and somehow that man Snape knew it, too.”

Armand Deering took a deep, ragged breath. “I’ll make it my business to find out how that came to pass.”

“Dumbledore had a spy in the Death Eater’s ranks, one that told him that Riddle was hunting for the Potters and Longbottoms,” Sirius murmured. “I don’t know who that was.”

“Severus Snape,” Armand reported with a brief glance in Harry’s direction. “Dumbledore invested himself keeping that corrupt bastard out of Azkaban after the war.”

Harry focused on the box while his godfather slouched back in his chair with a glare. He figured there was a story there that he wouldn’t get to hear about. Hopefully, he’d never have to meet that Snape fellow. He unlatched the box and opened the lid. Three orbs were nestled in the box and one was shining brightly while the other two almost dark.

“The dark ones are precariously close to being obsolete,” Sirius explained. “Circumstances have changed so much since they were made that they will probably eventually darken completely.”

“That’s good, right?” Harry questioned.

“Perhaps,” Sirius said. “Prophecy need not be terrible news, love.”

Armand Deering put a black wand down in front of him, and Harry stared at it. “This wand has been in your family for generations. It has an exceptional and wildly disputed history. Acting your behalf as proxy of the House of Potter, a role I assumed when I executed your parent’s will, I took it from Albus Dumbledore, who carried it as a trophy for decades despite the fact that it is a well-known artifact of your line.”

Harry made a face as he stared at the wand. The ancestors in his ring started to stir with excitement, but he prodded them away with a little push of his magic. This wasn’t about the House of Black, so while he certainly valued their advice, it wasn’t about them. Flux slid off his neck and pooled on the table between him and the box of prophecies. She slithered across the table and enveloped the wand as a misty fog enveloped her.

Flux’s mist disappeared abruptly, and she returned to him, sliding around his wrist in a warm glid of scales that he found very soothing. The wand’s appearance had changed dramatically, it was even shorter by a good five inches. He stared at the rosy reddish brown surface. “What…”

Armand huffed a little. “She removed an enchantment on it that I didn’t notice.”

“I didn’t see it either,” Zale admitted. “It must have been very entrenched in the magic and…very old. Perhaps as much as eight hundred years, which is…I mean, could a wand survive that long without being entailed?”

“This wand could,” Armand said. “It had the appearance of being made of elder wood due to enchantment, but it’s clearly snakewood. The core is thestral hair, so at least that wasn’t manufactured by the enchantment.”

“Why enchant a wand to change its appearance?” Sirius asked roughly.

Harry reached out and picked it up. Sparks flew off it and rained over the entire table. Magic tingled down his arm, and he huffed a little when wind rushed around him before everything settled down. “Oh.”

“Oh?” Sirius questioned.

“It was hidden,” Harry said. “From the unworthy. The elder wood was supposed to make people leery of carrying it.” He flushed and put the wand down. “Weird. I don’t know why I said that.”

“I’m pretty sure that fucking wand told you to,” Armand said under his breath. “You know, kid, it would be great if you could have a bit of normal now and again.”

Harry laughed. “Aunt Elladora said that normal is boring. Why give me the wand now, Master Deering? Daddy said I couldn’t go wand shopping until August.”

“Because it belongs to you, and you need a wand to activate the orbs,” he motioned toward the box. “Just tap them.”

Since he wasn’t feeling particularly brave, Harry picked up the wand and tapped the darkest of the three orbs. Magic spilled out around it, and a man’s voice announced,

“A snake among sheep,

He survived the Unforgiveable,

And walks a path full of loss,

The wit of a raven shall guide him,

The fierceness of a lion shall stand with him,

The slyness of a weasel will betray him,

Beware the rat that hides in the shadows as his work is not done.”

His godfather burst out of his seat and stalked away from the table. “That sorry motherfucker!”

“Wow,” Harry said wide-eyed and glanced toward Zale Wright, who left the table to manage his godfather. “Daddy?”

“Give me a minute, lad,” Sirius said hoarsely.

Harry put the wand down and turned to Miss Patrice, who’d written the prophecy down on a piece of parchment. “What do you think?”

“Divination is monstrous,” Patrice said. “The wit of a raven—you’ll meet someone smart who will be a source of knowledge and wisdom. He or she will be a very good friend. The fierce lion—also a great friend—will be brave and loyal. It speaks well to your future that you’ll inspire such good friends.”

“Except this prophecy is almost dark,” Harry said. “So maybe I won’t make those friends after all.”

“I think the last line is the one we need to worry about,” Patrice said gently. “Beware the rat—often a name given to a betrayer.”

“Who’s the weasel, I wonder?” Harry pondered. “Are they all my peers? Will I meet them at Hogwarts?”

“Not the rat,” Sirius said finally and walked to stand near the end of the table where Healer Wright had been seated. “The rat is Peter Pettigrew. He was a rat animagus.”

“There are no animagus listed in your generation here in Britain,” Healer Dyson protested

Harry’s mouth dropped open as his godfather unceremoniously turned into a giant black dog. He slapped his hand over his mouth, but the squeak got out anyways much to his embarrassment. “Daddy, wow, you can turn into a dog?”

“That’s not a dog,” Armand corrected. “That’s a bloody grim.”

“What’s a grim?” Harry asked.

Sirius transformed and ran his hands through his hair. “A hellhound, lad. My animagus form is a species of hellhound, which is a magical creature.”

“It’s very cool,” Harry decided. “Can I turn into an animal? Do I get to pick?”

“You can certainly learn,” Sirius said. “Your dad’s animagus form was a stag, and your mother’s form was a kneazle, but she never found the time to complete the process. And you don’t get to pick.” He focused on Armand Deering. “And Peter was a rat. We had to drag him through the training with a mixture of potion and spellwork, but by his fifth year, he was quite good at the transformation. In fact, he could hold his form the longest—sometimes days at a time.”

“The only proof of his death is the finger he left behind at the scene,” Deering admitted roughly and frowned. “Will the wards tell you if he tries to come onto the property?”

“Yes,” Sirius said. “But I’ll create some customized notifications geared toward him specifically. Can we risk asking the dverger to scry for his location?”

“Razel would certainly arrange it,” Armand said. “It’ll be better coming from you as a personal request when you visit Gringotts. No one would blame you for wanting to verify that Pettigrew is dead. You won’t be questioned.”

Sirius returned to his seat and touched Harry’s shoulder. “Sorry for my outburst.”

“That really wasn’t much of any sort of a proper fit, Daddy; I mean, you hardly even paced around and yelled at all,” Harry said and grinned when his godfather laughed sadly. He focused on the orbs and frowned. “I picked that one because it felt like the least of them since it’s almost completely dark.”

“You’re safe here,” Sirius said quietly. “You needn’t worry about Peter Pettigrew, Harry. I swear it.”

“I’m not,” Harry promised. “Flux promised to apparate my enemies into the ocean abyss of my choice. We already picked out three really deep ones from the atlas book in the library—the Mariana trench is the deepest, but we also like Kuril-Kamchatka ‘cause it’s fun to say even in parseltongue.”

Sirius snorted. “Please don’t share that contingency plan with anyone outside of this house.”

“Flux doesn’t give an f-word, Daddy,” Harry explained earnestly. “She’s too old to put up with any sort of nonsense.”

“So, her element is water?” Sirius questioned.

“And air,” Harry said and paused when almost everyone looked at him shock. “What?”

“Most elemental magical creatures have a single element,” Hiro Ito said smoothly. “But Flux is very old and as such has gone through a second maturity which granted her another element. She’s one of the oldest elemental vipers I’ve ever met. Should she live to have another maturation—she’ll be granted a third element. There is a legend of an elemental viper living long enough to master all four elements. I’ve not met her, but at last report, she was living in Peru.”

“She says she’d like fire next, but I don’t know if she gets a choice,” Harry said as he picked up his wand and tapped the other darkened orb.

“A contest of magic better left in the past will be revived,

A boy-who-lived held fast to choices made by others,

Time has but one master,

Death has two,

A foe thought dead shall return,

Fate turns to the chosen one for salvation.”

Harry huffed. “That’s…vexing.” He stared at the orb. “Someone is going to bloody resurrect Tom Riddle.”

“They were certainly going to try,” Sirius said. “But we’ve clearly interfered with those circumstances because the orb is going dark.”

“But not dark enough,” Harry said. “So, there’s still a chance.”

“Carter already removed the most obvious element needed for resurrection,” Master Deering said smoothly.

Harry focused on Carter Meyers. It was the first time he’d seen him since he’d returned to the house injured. “Did you get hurt because of that? Because of me?”

Meyers shook his head. “I got hurt because I reacted too slow. But I did make sure that Tom Riddle won’t have an easy path to return to a physical form.”

“How?” Harry asked.

“I desecrated the graves of his entire paternal line,” Meyers said wryly and grinned when Harry laughed.

Harry hesitated just a moment before gently tapping the brightly glowing orb he’d been avoiding since he opened the box, and the prophecy spilled out.

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…

born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives… the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies….”

Harry swallowed bile as horror churned in his gut. He dropped the wand on the table and turned to his godfather. “Daddy.” Tears streamed down his face.

“It’ll be…” Sirius pulled Harry from his chair and into his lap as he started to sob. “Lad, it’ll be okay. I swear it.” Harry’s hands fisted in his shirt as he stood. “Armand?”

Armand cleared his throat. “Take him…where he feels safe.”

Sirius nodded and left the room with a clearly inconsolable Harry Potter.

“That is the most wretched thing I’ve experienced in five hundred fucking years,” Ito hissed and glared pointedly at Deering before he shoved back from the table and stalked away.

“Dumbledore witnessed that prophecy,” Zale Wright murmured. “And he set the Potters and Longbottoms up as bait to see which one Riddle would target.”

Flux twisted and coiled rapidly in a display of temper, wrapped herself around the Elder Wand then disappeared with a rush of wind taking the wand with her.

Armand reached out and pulled the box to him. He closed it, drew his wand, and placed a security seal on it silently. “Patrice?”

She looked down at her parchment and cleared her throat. “It’s clear Riddle has marked Harry as his equal. The orb didn’t have a single speck of darkness in it, Armand. Fate—”

“Fuck Fate!” Armand interjected. “My grand…James’ boy is not going to fucking face Voldemort!” He stood and took a deep breath to process what he’d almost said. He walked away from the table. “Carter, are you well?”

“I’m fine, sir,” Meyers stood.

“Walker, Carter—find and contain Lucius Malfoy, Severus Snape, Walden Macnair, Alecto Carrow, Amycus Carrow, and Damon Travers. Quintin finished the holding cells in Grimmauld Place’s basement just yesterday. Fill them up. Hiro, I’m going to need your help when I take Dumbledore. I doubt I’ll be lucky enough to catch him unaware again.”

“Understood,” Hiro said. “This is why I don’t like children, you know. Their innocence stirs war in my heart. I put aside such things two thousand years ago.” He turned and stared at Armand. “I could raze this whole country personally right now. By myself.”

“In other circumstances, I’d let you,” Deering returned. “But the quieter we can keep this, the less it will impact the boy, and that is my goal. We need to find all of the horcruxes, and I’ll hunt down every single Death Eater to do it if necessary.” He focused on his wife. “I need you to do something terrible, love.”

“You want me to find and trap Tom Riddle’s wraith,” she said and stood. “I’ve already made some discreet inquiries about him. It might interest you to know that Dumbledore went to a forest in Albania shortly before Sirius was released from Azkaban. Quirinus Quirrell, a professor at Hogwarts, purchased an identical portkey to Albania a week ago from a black market dealer on Knockturn Alley. He’s taught Muggle Studies for several years, which is only taught to third years and up at Hogwarts.

“In the next school year, he’ll be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts.” She picked up her parchments. “Walker, add Quirrell to your list. Try to pick him up on a Hogsmeade weekend so he won’t be missed immediately. We won’t have to go to the extreme for him—he’s weak-minded and easily led per every report I have. We can probably question, and memory charm him in a day. I only have a handful of questions for him.”

– – – –

Sirius sat down wearily in the desk chair near the portrait. “He cried himself to sleep.” He rubbed his face roughly with both hands. “Nothing I said made a difference.”

“The fact that you were there for him was enough,” Lily said. “I never wanted him to hear it.”

“It’s a nightmare,” Sirius said roughly and took a deep breath. “I don’t know how to…I just don’t know.” He focused on the portrait. “Sometimes looking at the two of you like this is agonizing. I know Harry finds comfort in the whole portrait thing, but I don’t.”

“He doesn’t remember us,” Lily said. “Never really grieved us, and the portrait is a novelty for him. It’s a piece of magic that gives him a glimpse of what we were like in life.”

Sirius nodded and slouched down in the chair. “I think I’m fucking this whole parenthood thing up.”

“You’re doing an amazing job, Sirius,” James said. “He talks about you a lot, you know. He trusts you to take care of him, and that’s all a father could want.”

“I’m not you,” Sirius muttered.

“Do you think you love him less than I would?” James questioned.

“No.” Sirius frowned him. “I…there’s no one on this whole planet I love more than him. Harry comes first—he always will.”

“Then you’re everything he needs. I don’t have any memories of the night that I died, Sirius, but I don’t regret dying in the defense of my wife and son.”

“I’d have done it in your place,” Sirius said roughly. “For them both.” He cleared his throat. “For you.”

“I know,” James murmured. “I’m so grateful that you weren’t there to do so.”

The door opened, and Zale Wright appeared. “Is he asleep?”

“Yes, I talked him to taking a dreamless potion,” Sirius said as he stood. “I didn’t want him to have nightmares, but he still cried himself to sleep.”

“It was a very stressful experience,” Zale said. “Jacob has activated the health monitoring spells, so we’ll know if he has any issues with his scar while he’s asleep.” He glanced toward the portrait but then focused entirely on Sirius. “Riddle might have felt his emotional upset. We don’t know how deep the connection runs or how much the wards here dampen it compared to the minimal protection he had on Privet Drive.”

Sirius nodded. “His owl left her perch and is sleeping on his headboard.” He paused. “The snake is roughly the size of a boa constrictor right now and is sprawled all over him.”

“I realize it might not look like a comfort to you, but his familiar bond with her makes a difference,” Zale said and offered him a hand.

Sirius took Zale’s hand and let himself be pulled out of the room and across the hall. “Hey.”

Zale shut the door to the lord’s suite and pressed Sirius against it. “Do me a favor, Sirius.”

“If I can,” Sirius murmured as Zale nuzzled his jaw.

“Don’t seek out that portrait for comfort,” he whispered fiercely against his cheek. “I’m here.”

Sirius relaxed and curled his fingers into Zale’s short brown curls. “You needn’t be jealous.”

Zale huffed and tried to pull free.

“Hey,” Sirius murmured and pressed a soft kiss to Zale’s mouth. “I never kissed him.”

“Doesn’t that make you regret it all the more?” Zale asked. “The craving you cannot satisfy is always harder to dismiss.”

“It wasn’t…” Sirius trailed off and took a deep breath. “It was never sexual at all, actually. I can’t say I loved him in a brotherly fashion, but the love I had for him was chaste because I couldn’t fathom inserting myself in the relationship he had with Lily.”

“Very mature considering your age at the time,” Zale muttered as his hands dropped to Sirius’ hips. “I feel like an idiot for being jealous of a few swirls of very attractive paint.”

“He was a pretty bastard,” Sirius agreed. “But there’s no competition to be had. I’m not going to grow old and gray in this manor with only a portrait for company, Zale, no matter how much I loved him while he was alive. I’m not ready to make any commitments here. I barely know my arse from a hole in the ground at the moment, but I enjoy what is building between us. I hope you do as well.”

“More than I can say,” Zale murmured.

“I’d love to take you to bed,” Sirius said, and Zale’s cheeks flushed. “But my kid’s probably going to be up and down all night having one meltdown after another. I think…this is where all of his trauma is going to manifest. Whatever grief and anger and sadness, he’s suppressed over how the Dursleys treated him is about to make landfall.”

“I agree,” Zale said and took a step back. “We’ll need some pepper-up.”

“We?”

Zale smiled. “You’re a package deal, Sirius. Would you like some tea as well?”

“Yeah, ask Nia to bring up some food,” Sirius suggested as he unbuttoned his shirt. “I’m going to get into something more comfortable.”

– – – –

Armand lit an herbal and inhaled deeply. His wife sent him a dark look, but he planned to smoke several, so whatever lecture she was planning would be worth it. He took another long, slow drag and blew out smoke. “They don’t even cause cancer.”

“I realize you’ve had a stressful evening,” Patrice said primly. “But don’t think you’re getting into bed with me smelling like an ashtray.” She pulled her hair up into a messy bun and glanced around the large basement of Number 12 Grimmauld Place. “This house is disgusting.”

“Sirius wants me to have it cleaned and sold,” Armand said. “I’m not sure it can be salvaged honestly, but Razel has agreed to try.”

“It’ll probably cost more to clean than it’s actually worth,” Patrice said with a grimace and rubbed her nose. “It’s infested with doxies.”

Armand drew his wand and cast a charm to clean the air and focused on the door to the small cell they were holding Lucius Malfoy in. As luck would have it, Walker had found both Lucius Malfoy and Severus Snape coming out of a pub on Knockturn Alley shortly after he’d left Thestral Downs. Since it was Friday night, he figured he could keep Snape the whole weekend before anyone raised a stink, but Lucius would be missed by his wife by morning, at least.

“I can handle this if you’d like to go to the bank to hire an investigator,” Armand said and smiled when his wife immediately picked up her cloak and tossed it around her shoulders. “Quintin, you’ll go with her.”

“You don’t need me here?” His nephew asked.

“I can handle one jumped-up prick.”

Quintin laughed. “If you say.”

“Besides, Ito is here, and he’s more than enough back up for anyone. Honestly, I’m probably already in his way.”

He glanced over at the older wizard and found him diligently spelling the chair they were going to use for interrogation. He was pretty sure the chair would be so illegal afterward that they’d have to destroy it completely.

Armand stood as his wife and nephew went up the stairs. He stood and walked across the room to the table where all their prisoner’s belongings had been piled. It was a bit surprising to find only one magical focus for each of them—that was just shoddy personal security. He figured that both Malfoy and Snape banked on their reputations to keep most potential enemies at bay. At-large Death Eaters were given a lot of room by the general population in Britain out of fear.

Malfoy’s cloak was expensive—a mixture of silk and dragonhide, while Snape had a heavy wool coat that was on the cheaper side. A teacher’s salary didn’t allow for a lot of luxuries. Armand had often wondered what Dumbledore had on Snape to keep him at Hogwarts. A potion brewer of the man’s talent could make money hand over fist in the private sector.

Ito joined him.

“Ready?”

Ito hummed under his breath. “Yes, I have enough veritaserum on hand to dose the two prisoners we have, but since we don’t plan to kill them at the moment, we should probably avoid giving them anything they could find in a health scan. They could make other targets leery and more difficult to get a hold of if they start talking about being dosed with a truth potion without having any memories of it. Snape is a student of the mind arts, but as far as I can tell, he has no defenses against a parselmouth. It’s telling.”

“Riddle’s a beast speaker,” Armand surmised. “That was confirmed for me when you pulled that curse out of Carter. Clearly set in parseltongue but not done with parselmagic. If he had parselcraft, he would’ve certainly used it to protect his horcruxes.”

“Agreed,” Ito said. “Let’s get started.”

In short order, they’d pulled an unconscious Lucius Malfoy from a cell and bound him into the chair. Armand woke the wizard with a jab of his wand and waited patiently while Malfoy oriented himself. The man’s hands flexed against the arm of the chair, and his gaze darted around the room. Magic shimmered around him briefly, and he glared pointedly at Armand.

“The room is warded to prevent magical transportation of any kind,” Armand said as he took a seat in front of Malfoy. “Don’t blame your house elf for not being able to find you. He can’t feel your need, nor could he hear you if bothered to call out for him.”

Malfoy’s gaze narrowed. “That’s impossible.”

“For average wizards,” Armand agreed. “But we’re not average. Hiro borders on fucking extraordinary to be honest.” He grinned when Ito sent him a look. “I’m going to be frank with you, Lucius. I consider you a threat to Harry Potter-Black’s life, and that means your time on Earth is short.” Malfoy glared at him. “You have an opportunity here and now to save yourself.”

Ito sighed in what was clearly disappointment.

“Fuck you,” Malfoy muttered.

“Very rude,” Armand said mildly and took a long drag off his herbal. “Fortunately, for you, I’m not at all offended by such language. The chair you’re currently bound to has been spelled heavily for security and integrity. We’re going to put several spells on you in parseltongue that will force you to be utterly honest with us, and if you try to fight them, you will suffer physically and magically.”

“You think the mark that your Dark Lord gave you will protect you from this, but you’re wrong,” Ito murmured as he drew his staff. “That fool you allowed to brand you as a slave doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to fathom a wizard of my ability and experience. I have achieved what he failed to achieve through hard work and without a single act of black magic.”

Armand just watched and smoked as Ito piled several dozen charms in quick succession on top of Malfoy. By the time he was done, Malfoy’s face was slightly slack, and his eyes were dull. He blew out a few smoke rings then shot an activation spell at the transcription set up across the room. The quill lifted off the table and stood poised over the parchment.

“What’s Voldemort’s real name?”

Malfoy flinched and reared back briefly in the chair then slacked in the magical bindings as Ito’s spells started to press down on him. “Tom Marvolo Riddle.”

“How long have you known his real name?” Armand questioned.

“My father told me shortly before he presented me to be marked,” Lucius said.

“Were you marked against your will?”

“It was clear I had no choice in it,” Lucius said lowly. “But, I served willingly. It was the easiest way to survive.”

“If your Dark Lord returned, would you present your own son to him?”

“If it kept him alive, yes,” Lucius admitted. “It’s his duty to our line to survive no matter what he has to do to accomplish that.”

“A bloodline tainted by Tom Riddle isn’t worth continuing,” Armand said, and Lucius glared at him. “Your family in France disavowed you and your father before you. Will you subject to your little dragon to that circumstance as well? Cut off from the majority of his bloodline due to corruption?”

“His survival is what matters,” Lucius said. “Nothing else is a consideration.”

“Not even the purity of his magical soul?” Armand questioned and raised an eyebrow when the younger man just glared at him. “For the sake of your son, I should kill you where you sit.”

“Everything I do, I do for my son,” Lucius protested.

“The fact that you believe that to be true is horrifying,” Ito said roughly and walked away with a frown.

“What are your plans for Sirius Black?”

“I’m going to kill him before he can disown my wife,” Lucius ground out through clenched teeth and tried to lift his wrists. “Let me out of here.”

“Not on a bet,” Armand said dryly. “What do you know about Voldemort’s horcruxes?”

Malfoy’s gaze went wide, and his eyes rolled briefly before he started to gag.

“Don’t fight the spells,” Ito said shortly. “You’ll swallow your own fucking tongue.”

“I can’t…” Lucius hissed and shuddered violently. “I can’t!”

“You will!” Armand shouted. “Do you have one of Voldemort’s horcruxes in your possession?”

“Yes,” Lucius ground out. “A diary.”

“How many others are there?”

“I don’t know.” He wet his lips. “Regulus Black was tortured to death for taking one—the Dark Lord was furious. The boy refused to tell him where it was—died screaming for his brother.” Lucius grimaced in distaste. “I don’t know what he thought that blood traitor could do to help him.”

“And it didn’t cross your mind that he was just calling out for the only member of his immediate family he knew he could trust in the last moments of his life—the only one who would’ve loved him despite his mistakes?” Armand questioned.

“Love is for the weak,” Lucius said and took a ragged breath. “You’re killing me. The Dark Lord will not forgive this betrayal.”

“Then you know he’s not dead,” Armand said. “Do you know of anyone else who has a horcrux?”

“Bellatrix,” Lucius said. “He favored her—she swore on her life and magic to protect the one she was entrusted with. You won’t get anything out of her.”

“She’s the only other?” Armand prodded. “You’re certain?”

“She’s the only one I know of.”

“Did you know that Barty Crouch, Jr didn’t die in Azkaban?”

Lucius wet his lips. “Not until he showed up at my house earlier in the year. He said his mother took his place and died there—she was terminally ill. His father had kept him hostage under the Imperius since, but he escaped when Crouch, Sr was arrested.”

“What did he want?”

“Money,” Lucius said. “He wanted to travel abroad to search for our Lord. I told him that we would be contacted when the Dark Lord wanted us and that he was insane to assume he knew what the Dark Lord wanted.”

“Did you give him any gold?”

“Enough to get out of my house and face,” Lucius admitted. “I don’t expect he’ll survive long for interfering in whatever the Dark Lord is doing.”

“A true servant would be seeking to help his lord,” Armand said dryly. “Is that not what you are?”

“I am no one’s servant.”

“The mark on your arm says otherwise,” Ito interjected and leaned against the wall as if he were bored. In truth, he probably was. Armand found the ancient wizard very difficult to entertain.

“Where is the diary horcrux?” Armand questioned.

“In my private office under Malfoy Manor,” Lucius said, and his eyes fell shut. “You can’t take it—he’ll destroy me if I can’t produce it when he requests it.”

“Why would he want it?”

“He said…once…that it was a path to his rebirth and that he would tell me what to do it with it when the time was right. It’s not like the others, but I don’t know how it’s different,” Lucius said hoarsely. “You can’t have it!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Armand said and focused on Ito. “Thoughts?”

“A diary format does give a magical person room to communicate with the horcrux without direct possession. He probably has magical harvesting spells on it as well. If it’s the oldest, it represents the largest portion of his soul and, therefore, his single best chance of a soul resurrection. He would need a highly magical place with an ancient ritual space.”

“We believe he killed a young woman at Hogwarts to create his first,” Armand said.

“The school is certainly magical enough, and it sits on a ley lake of magic—a deep one,” Hiro said. “Give me an herbal.”

Armand pulled the case of his vest pocket and offered it. “There are rumors of an old ritual circle on the grounds.” He focused on Malfoy. “Do you know anything about a ritual circle on the school grounds? You recently became a school governor, correct?”

“I joined the board last month,” Lucius said. “I heard once, as a student, that Salazar Slytherin had a ritual circle in his chamber, but the entrance has been lost.”

“Voldemort opened the chamber while he was a student there,” Armand told Ito. He focused on Malfoy. “Do you plan to kill Sirius Black yourself or will you hire it out?”

“I have to do it myself—conquest is the only way I can claim my son’s birthright.”

“Sirius Black has an heir,” Armand pointed out.

“That half-blood won’t survive to adulthood,” Lucius said roughly. “His destiny has already been determined.” He exhaled roughly. “By Fate.”

Armand stunned him and slouched back in his chair. “This bastard is not going to live another year.”

“Another month is probably too long,” Ito said.

“If we kill him now, other Death Eaters we might need could run,” Armand said roughly. “Let’s memory charm him, and we can retrieve the diary.”

“And the other one?”

“He’ll keep until tomorrow,” Armand said roughly. “He’s not getting out of that cell without help, and no one is even going to miss him. Snape lives a solitary life as he’d rather invest himself in mourning a woman that was never going to be his than actually work to repent for his terrible decisions.”

Chapter 14

Harry bounced a little on his feet as he retrieved the letter from Hedwig. He gave her a treat from the little pouch on her perch and petted her gently for several moments before dashing to his desk to open the letter from Hermione. His godfather and Healer Wright were in his anteroom as they were all going to have breakfast in private. The food wasn’t due to arrive for another five minutes, so he had time to read her letter as long as she hadn’t written an entire novel.

Dear Harry,

I’ve finished reading the introductory text, and I’m half-way finished with Hogwarts, A History. I must admit to being quite…startled by what I read about you and your family. It was terrible to read about your godfather’s illegal incarceration, and I’m glad he’s free now. The book didn’t say a lot about your childhood with your Muggle relatives, but considering they were both sent to prison, it couldn’t have been great. I’m very sorry they treated you so poorly.

I’d planned to write you a very long letter, but mum told me that it wouldn’t be a great way to start off our friendship.

I was hoping that you could come to my house for the day? I’ve never had a friend over, and I think it would be fun! Crookshanks is settling in well except for he brought me a fairy last night. It was kind of horrifying, but he didn’t kill her. He just dropped her on my desk, and I didn’t know what to do with her. She’s still here, and I tried to let her out my window, but she ignored it. I don’t have a book on magical creatures so…help?

Sincerely,
Hermione Jane Granger

Harry took the letter to the table and scooted up into a chair. “Daddy, are fairies dangerous?”

“Not exactly,” Sirius said. “Did one get in the house? You should always tell me if you see a magical creature in the house.”

“Oh, no, not me.” Harry shifted his empty plate around as food started to appear. “Crookshanks, Hermione’s kitten, caught one in her house. It won’t leave, and she doesn’t know what to do with it. She invited me over, so I think she’s probably a little freaked out about it but didn’t want to say it.”

“Ah, we should probably head over there today then,” Sirius said and exchanged a look with Zale. “Fairies aren’t inherently dangerous, but they are a magical leech and something of a pest. One isn’t an issue by itself, but the one the cat found in her house is probably a scout. It likely followed her home from Diagon Alley.”

“A scout for what?” Harry questioned.

“The rest of the colony,” Sirius said. “Since it hasn’t left of its own accord, then it is decided her house is a good home for the whole colony.”

“And that means the Grangers will soon have an infestation of fairies,” Zale said and sighed. “Which is not great for a Muggle neighborhood. If it gets advanced, the DMLE will notice. We can set a small ward to keep them out. We should also check the girl over for issues—she attracted a fairy in a highly magical place so there could be a problem.”

“Like she’s sick?” Harry questioned worriedly.

“Perhaps but also it could just be a magical fluctuation in her core which happens a lot throughout a witch’s maturation due to menses. Do you know if she’s already eleven?”

Harry made a face. “Her birthday September…so I guess she has to be turning twelve this year. Is that important?”

“Menses is a natural process for those who are born with a uterus, lad,” Zale said. “It’s nothing to be disgusted with. Your friend will a far more difficult time in puberty than you will, so be prepared for that and be kind.”

“So hormone changes can make a witch’s magic different than mine?” Harry questioned. “What about my hormones?”

“Witches and wizards don’t have the same sort of magic,” Sirius said as the food appeared. “You’ll learn more about that later. We’re all impacted magically by the developments in our body as mature. A magical person goes through several different maturations throughout their life. Did she happen to give you a telephone number?”

“Yes, when she gave me her address,” Harry said. “I explained in my first letter that we don’t have a phone.”

“We can use a public phone,” Sirius said and smiled when Harry’s mouth formed a little ‘o’. “We can apparate to King’s Cross and use one there before our arrival. It would be rude to show up with no notice at all.”

“There is a device from the States that can be installed in a house floo that will mimic the Muggle phone system,” Zale said. “I used one in Geneva last year. I could look into purchasing one for the manor.” He focused on Sirius. “The Grangers might appreciate being able to contact someone in the magical world.”

“Do you know the security features on it?” Sirius questioned. “How does it work?”

“No clue on both,” Zale said wryly. “That kind of charm and rune work is beyond me, love.”

– – – –

It was honestly kind of weird seeing his godfather and Healer Wright in regular clothes though neither looked uncomfortable. Using a telephone booth had proven interesting as he’d never used one at all—he’d honestly rarely answered the phone at the Dursley house. Healer Wright had produced change and dialed the number for him. Hermione had been thrilled to get a phone call and relieved when Harry had told her that they were coming to pick the fairy up.

After the phone call, they’d walked to a pub that most everyone on the street was ignoring, stepped inside, and had apparated away. He barely had time to even look at the inside, which was a little disappointing. They appeared in a little clearing of trees in a small park. He let his godfather keep his hand as they walked as he figured it was more about security than anything else.

The Granger’s house was pretty and much bigger than the one he’d lived in on Privet Drive. They all three paused on the front porch, and Harry looked between them with a little smile before he stepped forward to push the doorbell.

“What’s that?” Sirius questioned.

“A doorbell,” Harry said. “So, they’ll know they have visitors.” He watched the two wizards exchange a look of confusion. “They don’t have wards to tell them.”

“Oh, right,” Healer Wright flushed. “I’ve never been to a Muggle home before.”

The door opened, and Harry offered Ryan Granger a smile. “Good afternoon, Dr. Granger. This is my godfather Sirius Orion Black, the Earl of Blackmoor and Healer Zale Wright.”

Ryan Granger hesitated a moment then offered Sirius his hand. “My Lord, it’s an honor.”

“Call me, Sirius, please,” Sirius said and took the hand. “I apologize for the short notice, your daughter’s letter to my son was a bit concerning.”

“Ah, yes, her imaginary friend?” Ryan grimaced and offered his hand to Healer Wright. “I apologize for that. I didn’t realize she’d put her little flight of fancy in a letter.”

Sirius blinked. “Oh, you can’t see it, so you thought she imagined it?”

Dr. Granger paled slightly. “You mean she really does have a fairy living in her room that won’t leave?”

“If she does have a fairy, you wouldn’t be able to see it, sir,” Zale said. “It’s a magical pest. They normally gravitate toward highly magical households because they feed on ambient magic. It probably followed her home from Diagon Alley.”

“I see,” he said quietly. “I…” He cleared his throat. “Please come in. May I take your coats?”

Harry shed his coat immediately. “Thank you, Dr. Granger.”

Crookshanks came running up to at that moment, and Harry bent down to pick the kitten up. He yowled vehemently at him. “Hey.” The kitten hissed and yowled. “I get it, buddy.” He turned to his godfather. “He’s really upset.”

“Kneazle’s are territorial,” Sirius said wryly and took the kitten from Harry. “You’ve got great instincts, old man.” He brought the kitten up to eye level. “You’re a smart one.”

“How can you tell?” Harry questioned.

“It’s in his magic,” Zale said. “Because your dad has an animagus form, he’s in touch with the part of his magic that allows him to see the aura of magical creatures.”

There was a little thud, then Hermione rushed down the stairs. “Hi.”

She glomped onto Harry, and he took the hug as well as he could. Not many people touched him outside of his godfather and Healer Dyson.

“Hey.” He flushed as she released him. “Daddy, this is Hermione.” He quickly gave her their names, and she blushed brightly as she offered her closed fist to Healer Wright.

Hermione opened her fist, and a shiny little blue creature appeared.

“What… oh.” Harry blinked in surprise.

“She won’t leave, and she’s really mean.”

Zale drew his wand and cast a little magical bubble around the creature. “Well, lass, I’ve good news and bad news.” He glanced toward Ryan Granger. “Can you see it now?”

“Yes,” Ryan said hoarsely. “I’m sorry, Hermione, that I thought you were telling me a story.”

“It’s okay, Daddy, I know magic is a lot to take in.” Hermione focused on Healer Wright. “What’s the good news?”

“You have a very protective and smart familiar,” Zale murmured as he pulled a little box from his dimensional store, which he passed to Sirius. “Open that, love.”

“What’s the bad news?” Ryan questioned.

“This isn’t a fairy,” Zale said. “It’s a pixie—though it is a child and not as much trouble as an adult could be. But a creature this small would never be far from her parents, so there are at least two more in the house.”

“How can you tell she’s a child?” Hermione questioned.

“She’s about half the size she should be,” Zale explained. “They’re not a magical leech, so you didn’t attract her with your ambient magic. You were in the bookstore, correct?”

“Yes, I bought twelve books,” Hermione reported. “Should I get them?”

“Yes, please.” Zale nodded.

“I’ll help,” Harry said and huffed a little as Hermione snatched his hand and dragged him up the stairs.

Sirius turned to Zale as the wizard dropped the pixie in the box. “He’s in over his head with that one.” He put Crookshanks down when the kitten squirmed.

Zale took the box and closed it. “Certainly, but he probably needs the challenge.” He stored the box in his bracelet and focused on Ryan Granger. “Does she have a history of imaginary friends?”

“I… thought so,” he admitted and ran a hand through short blond hair. “Honestly, I’m not prepared for all of this. I thought…I thought it would skip her like it skipped me.”

“Skipped you,” Sirius repeated. “You’re a squib.”

Ryan raised an eyebrow at the term but nodded. “I guess? My father and uncle were raised in the magical world until their eleventh birthday. They were sent to live with a cousin who managed their education. My father was disappointed when I didn’t get a letter as he’d hoped to at least provide an heir for our house in the magical world.”

“The Dagworth-Granger twins never came to Hogwarts,” Sirius said. “It was quite a scandal at the time as they were the only heirs to the family. The line is believed to be extinct.” He glanced up as the children came down the stairs, each carrying stacks of books.

“Let’s go into the living room. My wife apologizes for not being here—she had an emergency at the surgery,” Ryan said as he motioned them through an entryway. “It wasn’t my intention to draw attention to Hermione’s claim on her ancestral estate. Is that a mistake?”

“It’s essentially in stasis, due to the family’s ancient status. She has plenty of time to decide what to do with it,” Sirius said. “She has the most direct claim, surely, but she could lose it if a distant cousin were able to try to take over the accounts. Considering the money involved, I don’t recommend that. You can use banking laws to hide her status as long as you’d like, and no one will know unless she tells them.” He focused on the girl and found her chewing her bottom lip. “I can’t say she wouldn’t have an easier time if it were known, she comes from an ancient family even if she is technically a Muggle-born.”

“Blood politics are infuriating,” Ryan said.

Zale hummed his agreement and started to shift the books around. He plucked one up, sighed, then focused on Hermione. “Why did you pick up this book on experimental magic?”

“I was curious, and it was on an age-appropriate shelf,” Hermione said. “Is it infested with pixies?”

“After a fashion,” Zale said and thumbed through it carefully.

Sirius reached out and snatched a pixie as soon as it was expelled.

The second one darted toward Harry, so he grabbed it and hissed. “It bit me!” He shook the creature gently, and it squeaked in obvious outrage. “Don’t bite me again.”

Zale held out the box, and Harry dropped the creature into it, then he collected the one from Sirius. He closed it and stored it in his bracelet ­again. Sirius drew his wand and cast a stream of magic at the book and snorted.

“It’s not funny,” Zale said.

“It’s sort of funny,” Sirius protested. “And would’ve been funnier if it had reached its intended recipient. It must have been shelved inappropriately, at the very least. I’ll send Stowe a letter and let him know that his brother tried to prank him.”

“It was a prank,” Ryan said wearily.

“Stowe Flourish owns and operates Flourish and Blotts,” Sirius explained. “His brother lives in Ireland and manages a quidditch team because he was disinherited decades ago for being a lush. This book was spelled to toss the pixies out as soon as it came into contact with Stowe, but he must have shelved it with his wand. It could’ve been sitting there for years, frankly. In fact, because one of the pixies escaped indicates that the charm work was starting to fade on the prank.”

Zale pulled his own wand. “Come here, lad, and let me see that bite.”

“Are pixies venomous?” Hermione questioned worriedly.

“No, but their bites can easily get infected. Did she bite you?”

Hermione shook her head. “No, she just yelled at me a lot when I tried to push her out the window.” She leaned in and watched as Zale directed a spell over the tiny teeth impressions on Harry’s thumb. “Does it hurt, Harry?”

“Just when it first happened,” Harry said. “Have you ever seen anything else that no one else could see?”

Hermione flushed and looked briefly at her father. “I learned to ignore things early on because no one took me seriously.” She shrugged. “Sorry, Daddy.”

“No, love, you don’t owe me any apologies,” Ryan Granger said with a sigh. “Magic has always been a very distant thing—I’d never even been in the magical world until Professor McGonagall escorted us to Diagon Alley the first time. Have you noticed any other creatures around the house?”

“Not in the house,” she said. “But there’s a ghost at school—no one sees her but me. She’s very sad, and I told her once that she should go into the light, but she said she’s never seen the light. Tiffany Holden caught me talking to the ghost last year, and she’s made my life miserable ever since. I avoid her as much as I can because she calls me Creepy Hermy. The ghost, her name is Sarah, pulled Tiffany’s hair last month while she was reading in front of the class. She had a big fit in front of everyone, and Tiffany blamed me.”

“I’ll send a note to the Department of Mysteries about the ghost,” Sirius said. “Ghosts are almost always magical people who died violently in some fashion or another. To have a ghost in a Muggle school is an oddity.”

“I’ll get the school details for you—address and whatnot,” Ryan Granger said and focused on his daughter. “Anything else?”

“Sometimes, I see strange people that no one else appears to notice that dress like the people on Diagon Alley—I think I saw a vampire once.” She bit down on her lip and turned to Sirius. “Are vampires real?”

“Yes,” Sirius said. “They’re humanoid, but they’re pale and bony in appearance. They exude an aura that causes a mild paranoia in Muggles. They are technically the living dead and are immortal. It is rare for one to stray outside of their own enclaves as there are laws regarding what they can feed on. Though they can consume human food as well as blood—their diet is mostly blood, which causes them to smell distinctly metallic.” He focused on Zale and found that he’d stored his wand, but Harry was still lingering at the healer’s side. “We should check over the rest of the books, just in case.”

“Certainly,” Zale said dryly. “Stowe might need to hire an assistant to help him with the business.

Thirty minutes later, and two warming charms later, Harry and Hermione were out in the Granger’s backyard, helping Crookshanks hunt. The resulting chaos was amusing enough to watch, so Sirius lingered by the French doors.

“Hermione told me about your incarceration,” Ryan said. “I read the two chapters in that book of hers about you and your boy. The fact that you haven’t set a better part of magical Britain on fire is to your credit.” He glanced toward Zale. “Or perhaps to the credit of those around you.”

Sirius shoved his hands into his pockets and took a deep breath. “Honestly, I’d do nothing that would take me out of Harry’s life again. I can’t say I don’t want to murder half a dozen people viciously for their behavior because, for some, a prison simply isn’t enough. I left the safety of my child to another once before, and the results were horrific.”

“The thought of sending my child into a world that I can’t even find without her help is terrible,” Ryan admitted. “Hannah, my wife, doesn’t really understand how dangerous the magical world is. Part of me doesn’t want to explain it to her. I’m not saying I would deny Hermione the chance to learn magic—it’s her birthright in more than one way—but the way you lot treat non-magical parents is bullshite.”

Sirius nodded. “I can’t disagree with you. Once she’s on that train, you couldn’t locate her in any single fashion without the help of a magical person, and most wouldn’t even be inclined to talk to you. I don’t know what I can do about it personally, but once I get my feet under me, I’ll start working on some sort of legislation in the Wizengamot to address it. That’s years in the making, though. Magical people are slow to change. In the meantime, Zale told me about a device I can hook up to a floo that will mimic a telephone. We’ll see about installing it if it’s not a security risk, so you can at least call me if there is an issue you want to be addressed regarding Hermione’s schooling.”

“What’s a floo?” Ryan questioned.

“Ah,” Sirius began and frowned as he tried to figure out to explain it. “It’s a magical device/process that allows us to travel and to communicate. It’s installed in our fireplaces.”

“Wow. Well, here’s hoping the calls will be charged at the local rate,” Ryan said wryly. “I have a feeling Hermione will be calling as often as possible.” He motioned toward the children who were tossing leaves at each other. “She’s enthralled with your son.” He paused. “Do you lot have courtesy titles?”

“Yes, though precious few of the houses have more than one title to throw around these days,” Sirius said with a grin. “The house of Black only has the earldom. That being said, Harry is a baron in his own right through the house of Potter. His firstborn son will be able to use the Gryffindor barony as a courtesy title.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t know how the telephone thing will work—but I’ll make sure it isn’t a financial burden. My home is in Scotland, by the way. Thestral Downs is only about a hundred kilometers from Hogwarts, so it’ll be a very quick trip there if something goes wrong with the children.”

“He doesn’t introduce himself with his title,” Ryan pointed out.

“He’s chosen not to take on the title as a minor,” Sirius explained. “He can’t sit on the Wizengamot with it until he’s twenty-one at any rate, and he finds the whole thing irritating. Harry said he had enough fame as is and didn’t want to add to it by being a peer at eleven. He’s content to wear my heir ring currently. Perhaps he’ll change his mind at sixteen, act like he’s an adult, and ruin my golden years with rebellion.”

“Need I remind you that you won’t even be forty when he’s sixteen?” Zale questioned. He closed the book in his hand as they both focused on him. “All of these books are magically within her scope, but the narrative structure is advanced. Your daughter is reading at a university level, Dr. Granger. Are you aware of that?”

“Very aware,” Ryan said wryly. “She taught herself to read at four because we didn’t read to her often enough to suit her. Nursery school bored her to literal tears, and we had to pull her out and hire a nanny to babysit her before she could legally start primary school.” He paused. “The nanny was a student at Oxford. Hermione was reluctantly impressed.”

Zale laughed, and Sirius glanced briefly at both men before returning his attention to the children. Crookshanks was chasing a few brown leaves across the lawn while the children trotted after him. It was honestly a very sweet picture—one he couldn’t have imagined being fortunate enough to witness when he’d been in prison.

“Sirius?”

“I thought I would die in Azkaban,” Sirius said quietly. “I don’t even remember when my hope to leave that place died.” He curled his toes in the expensive dragonhide boots that had worked their way into his closet. He wasn’t sure if Nia was to blame or if Zale was supplementing his wardrobe. “Every moment out of that place is a luxury.” He cleared his throat and focused on Harry. “I wonder if Harry feels the same way?”

– – – –

The diary was a nightmare. Armand found it more compelling than any artifact he’d ever seen in his life. Everyone who encountered it had the immediate desire to write in it. Even the stasis spell wasn’t dampening the compulsion completely. But it was also deeply disturbing to be around. It was clearly the most powerful of the horcruxes of those they’d gathered so far, and almost everyone was convinced it was the first one to be created. Hiro Ito appeared to be reserving judgment while they prepared the ritual to remove the one from Harry.

They couldn’t perform any kind of seeking spell in ritual while there was one in the boy, so it had become something of a waiting game while they gathered intelligence and prepared the destroy the darkest lord of their time before he could resurrect himself. Armand still wasn’t sure if Dumbledore was truly dark or merely the most apathetic wizard in Britain. Either way, he was a genuine threat to Harry, so he was casually plotting his murder on a daily basis. The old meddler certainly would be dead before the school year started as Armand didn’t want to deal with Harry’s disappointment if he didn’t get to go Hogwarts.

Ito knocked him loose of his thoughts by dropping a small granite rune null-box on the desk in front of him. He lifted the lid and inclined his head. Armand flicked the pouch he’d been keeping the horcruxes in out of his bracelet and dropped it in the box. Ito used his wand to transfer the diary, which was sitting on Armand’s desk in a stasis field, into the null-box, and put the lid back into place.

“You need to take a cleansing potion,” Ito said shortly. “You’ve carried those things for far too long, you old fool.”

“Fuck you,” Armand muttered but gave Dyson a nod when the healer looked his way.

Zale cleared his throat and stood. “I need you to both to be more considerate of each other, especially in Harry’s vicinity. He was uncomfortable with your sniping at each other at dinner last night.”

Armand flushed and glanced toward Ito, who looked uncomfortable. “I didn’t notice.”

“He’s very good at pretending everything is fine,” Zale said evenly. “That comes from living with a violent, belligerent bully for nearly nine years who rarely went a day without hitting him or at least threatening to hit him.”

Armand exhaled sharply and pinched his nose as Ito hissed and walked away with his aura flaring. “I hadn’t…he appears to be doing very well, Zale.”

“I’m sure Patrice would tell you, Armand, that abused children learn to conform and adapt to their circumstances to please everyone around them in an effort not to be hurt more.” Zale took a deep breath. “And she’d probably be furious with you both if she’d witnessed your behavior last night. Harry had a good day—visiting his friend—then he came home to you and Hiro Ito competing to see which one of you can be the biggest arsehole.”

“I get it,” Armand said roughly.

“Do you?” Zale prodded. “We’re all frustrated with the slow progress, but you both need to pick a different outlet for it. If he loses trust in you—the ritual to remove the horcrux from his scar will be dangerous as fuck for him.”

Armand raised a hand and nodded. Zale frowned him but walked away. He checked his watch. Patrice had returned from the bank long after he’d left Lucius Malfoy sleeping off a “hangover” in his office and had been gone to Albania before he woke up. The urge to kill the man still lingered. He frowned and focused on Zale, who had taken a seat with Dyson. “How long would it take a child Harry’s age to get over the vicious murder of his father?” Both healers looked at him, aghast for several long moments. “I don’t mean Harry but a boy his age.”

“The clarification didn’t help,” Dyson said dryly. “Grief doesn’t have a time limit, Armand. If you have to kill a wizard with a child, then it would be best if the death appeared natural or accidental. A vicious murder would only increase an already traumatic situation.”

Armand mentally discarded all of his plans regarding Lucius Malfoy and glared at Dyson. The healer just shrugged and went back to the diagnostic reports he was reviewing. “How are the charms we set up on the boy’s bed working?”

“As far as I can tell, Riddle hasn’t been able to push through the charms since they were placed,” Dyson said. “He hasn’t had a headache in over a week. When I told him that meditation would help with the headaches, he listened very intently and has been practicing daily. Occulmency isn’t currently within his grasp magically, but I believe within the next year, his magic will start to embrace the concepts. I’ve given him a book to read on the subject.”

Zale gathered up his work and slid it all into a leather portfolio. “I need to sit with Harry while Sirius is gone to the bank this afternoon to meet with Tyson McGregor. I’ll speak to him about your antagonistic relationship with practically everyone you know.”

Armand glared at him. “Fuck you.”

“As I said,” Zale said coolly and left.

 


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Keira Marcos

The only thing holding me back from world domination is felony level procrastination.

8 Comments:

  1. Oh my God this is so good.
    Thanks keira for writing another brilliant story!

  2. The presence of Ito just makes this more awesome. I also love Armand trying not to unduly traumatize Draco when he kills Lucius lol.

  3. Another fantastic chapter! I love this story so much, thank you!!!!!!! *runs off to read the next part*

  4. Good update

  5. Harry and Hermione are just adorable. I love how they are pretty equally smart so they can have fun without confusing one of the other. Armand is too funny. I get his frustration but he’s kinda hilarious with the murder planning for stress relief.

  6. I don’t think I grasped how mature and complicated Harry is in this story until the dinner party with Ito. His answer about grief was stunning – made more so by following it with the comment, “I won’t stay small,” where he exhibited an awareness & cynicism/wisdom(?) of someone much older. Later, when Zale talks about an abused child’s ability to adapt and be whatever is expected in order to avoid being hurt? Yeah, I cried. You have once again developed a character in a way that drew me in, made me care, then broke me with feelings. On top of that, the plot is awesome and the supporting characters fabulous. Really, this story is just so good.

  7. That fucking wolf! He’s got his head lodged so far up Fumble’s ass, he can tell what he had for lunch last week. Miserable coward!

    I should be sleeping, but this is just too good to stop reading!

  8. You are a brilliant author and I absolutely adore your writing. I get absolutely lost in your universe and I believe every hour of sleep I lose to your writing is sacrificed to your author altar of dark magic to increase your strength.

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