Title: Turn a Page of Fate
Fandom: Harry Potter
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Verbal Abuse-Child, Discussion-Abuse, Mental Abuse of an Adult, Manipulation, Canon-level Violence
Author Notes: I do not own Harry Potter or any other characters invented by JK Rowling. Only the words are mine.
Beta: Morganna and Andy—Thanks so very much!
Word Count: 95k
Summary: After a horrifying bout of Accidental Magic, Harry Potter runs from his aunt’s home to seek refuge in the Wizarding World. A chance encounter in a mysterious shop changes Harry’s Destiny completely.
Artist: daisylise—Thanks for the Beautiful Art!!
16—Back to Hogwarts
August 8-September 1, 1993
Harry tugged his black cap down tightly over his forehead, ducked his head and hunched his shoulders slightly, and barreled through the crowd of students and parents on his way to the train. He wasn’t looking for anyone. He certainly wasn’t waiting for anyone. Anyone seeking to join him on the journey back to Hogwarts would have to find him on the train, preferably after he found Remus’ compartment near the rear of the train.
When nobody called his name or tried to stop him, Harry heaved a sigh of relief and boarded the train. Dobby had shrunk his school trunk and Hedwig’s cage, so Harry was unencumbered by baggage, making the journey much easier.
Much easier, in fact, than Harry’s last meeting with Hermione, Ron, and the Weasley Family. Harry mentally shuddered when he thought of it.
Despite knowing that he’d likely be censured, Harry had been looking forward to reuniting with his friends. He’d had quite the eventful summer to that point, and while he couldn’t really talk about a lot of it, he was hoping for a bit of normalcy with his friends.
What he actually got was a lot of grief.
He actually met Hermione first, as she was entering Gringotts Bank with her parents. She didn’t notice him at first, because of his ‘disguise’, so the Grangers were already well in line for a teller by the time she did figure out who he was. She called his name quite loudly, causing many customers to turn and look for him, and was only prevented from physically accosting him by her father, who grabbed her arm to keep her at his side while they exchanged funds. Mortified, Harry slouched into himself and said that he’d be happy to meet her at Flourish and Blotts. The manic look in her eye told him that she probably had a lot to say about him ignoring her last letter to him.
He couldn’t wait. Honestly.
Fortunately for him, Sirius was already on Diagon Alley, waiting at Quality Quidditch Supply. Harry had had to meet with Sharperock briefly before his scheduled shopping trip, so Sirius went ahead to look at the new brooms. (Harry doubted that his beloved broom would be destroyed by the Whomping Willow in the coming year, but Sirius wanted a contingency plan anyway.)
“What’s got you down already, pup?” Sirius asked when he saw Harry’s down-trodden expression. “You can’t have run into trouble already!”
Harry wrinkled his nose slightly. “Hermione and her parents were in the bank, and she very loudly recognized me as I passed by her.” He ran a gentle finger along the flat brim of his cap and shrugged. “There were a lot of people in there who’ll be looking for this cap now, so I guess the jig is up.”
Sirius chuckled and clapped Harry on the shoulder. “Ah, lad, you had a good run with it, so it wasn’t a complete loss. So, do you want to actually see the new Firebolt while we’re here?”
Harry brightened greatly. “Yeah, let’s! I mean, I love my Nimbus, but you can’t be too careful, you know!”
They oohed and aahed appreciatively over the racing broom, comparing the Firebolt with other models that were available. Each agreed that the Firebolt was pure power and flash—but there was Penski Comet Zoom in production that might blow it out of the air in a year or so. Harry was having a grand time discussing the sport and equipment with Sirius until a motion outside the front window caught his eye and he turned to see Hermione waving—and looking quite disapproving at him.
“Well,” said Harry lowly, “I suppose it’s time to pay the piper.”
“What?” asked Sirius, confused.
Harry shook his head. “Muggle story. I’ll tell you later; Hermione’s waiting.”
Sirius wrapped an arm around Harry’s shoulder and escorted him from the building at a rather sedate pace. Harry gave one more wistful glance over his shoulder (that Firebolt sure was something) before opening the door to see Hermione standing there with arms crossed over her chest and one foot tapping impatiently on the cobblestones.
“Hey, Hermione,” he said brightly. “Where are your parents?”
“They had work,” she replied peevishly, “and I’m quite old enough to shop for my own supplies. And I’m spending the rest of the summer with Ron and his family, so they don’t need to be here. And what in MERLIN’S NAME WERE YOU THINKING, RUNNING OFF LIKE THAT?”
Harry cringed as her voice raised, and Sirius squeezed his shoulder supportively.
“I don’t believe we’ve met,” said Sirius smoothly as he extended his hand toward the irate girl. “I’m Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather.”
Hermione’s jaw dropped momentarily before she collected herself and shook his hand. “Hermione Granger, sir. I’m pleased to meet you.”
“Yes,” said Sirius as he guided the three of them around the corner and away from a gawking crowd. “And I suppose you’re one of Harry’s friends, then?”
“Y-yes,” Hermione blustered. “I’m one of his best friends, since First Year.”
Sirius nodded gravely. “Mmm-hmm. So he’s told me. Something about a Mountain Troll and a brash rescue.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied, more subdued. “He and Ron saved my life.”
“So he’s told me. Even though he had no reason to, really. I mean, he barely knew you, and you’d not exactly endeared yourself to him—or to anyone else—at that time.”
Hermione’s face reddened and she appeared to grow quite upset. “I had a difficult time adjusting to Hogwarts,” she murmured.
Sirius’ expression softened. “And yet, for some reason, Harry cared what happened to you, and he risked his own life and that of another friend in order to make sure you were safe in a dangerous situation. He might have acted rashly, but you certainly can’t argue with the results, can you?”
“No, sir,” Hermione said softly. “I think the results were quite…satisfactory.”
“Hermione,” said Harry, causing her to look up at him, “if you’d asked me like a sane person, rather than attacking me, I would have calmly told you what happened at the beginning of the summer. There was a reason that I ran away, and it was a very good one. But—I’m not interested in telling the story twice, and I know Ron will be meeting us for lunch at the Leaky Cauldron in half an hour, so do you think you can dial it back a bit and wait? Because I already got a Howler from Mrs. Weasley, and I don’t need another one live and in person.”
Hermione blushed furiously again and nodded quickly. “Of course, Harry. I’m sorry I yelled. I was just worried for you.”
Harry nodded agreeably. “Yes, well, I was worried for me, too. But as you can see, I’m alive and healthy. I’m wearing clean clothes, I’ve been eating quite healthily, and I’m sleeping well at night, and you know nothing about it because you have not been in any position all summer to do anything about it.”
Hermione surged forward and wrapped Harry in a hard hug. “I was so worried for you when I read the papers! And then you didn’t write!”
Harry hugged her back for a moment before extricating himself from her arms. “Hermione, it may have escaped your notice, but I didn’t know where you were most of the summer, so I couldn’t exactly send Hedwig with a letter. And you didn’t write to me, either, until just recently. I didn’t write back because I knew I’d be seeing you for this trip.”
Sirius watched the two with a curious expression. “Are you alright, Hermione?”
“Yes, sir,” she demurred. “Thank you.”
Sirius nodded and pressed his lips together tightly for a moment. “Right,” he said after a moment, allowing the girl to gather her wits. “Well, then, I’m about to become a complete ass, Miss Granger, so I want you to bear with me. I’m sure that you care about Harry in a very real way. From what he’s told me about you, you’ve been a very real voice of reason for him the past two years. He worried for you when you were petrified, so that tells me that he really considers you a friend. So imagine how it felt to Harry to have a true friend attack him for no reason. I understand that you were quite emotional, but I’m going to have to ask you to take time and think about what you’re doing from here out before you react rashly again. Harry’s very dear to me, you see, and I don’t want him to be hurt further.”
Hermione glared at Sirius before turning her gaze to Harry, but neither gave any quarter and she dropped her eyes quickly. “You’re right, of course,” she said. “I acted rather mean for a friend, and I apologize—to both of you. I’ll try to be more mindful in the future.”
“That’s all I ask,” Sirius replied. “Now, let’s be off so we can beard the next dragon in its den.”
Harry rolled his eyes at the thought of Mrs. Weasley being compared to a dragon. She was very nice the summer before, after Ron, Fred, and George rescued him from Privit Drive, and she was the first adult Harry could remember that actually treated him well. Of course, she did send a Howler….
Harry distracted Hermione from her embarrassment by asking about her holiday on the short trip to the Leaky Cauldron, and he listened avidly to her description of the south of France—and the beaches she had visited, and the shops she patronized, and the Historical sites that she promised to show photographs of. She was just winding up her story when the portal to the Leaky Cauldron came into view—along with the Weasley Clan, with Mrs. Weasley right up front.
Hermione and Harry both winced when the matron thrust her fists onto her ample hips and fairly shouted, “Harry Potter! You have a lot of explaining to do, young man!”
Hermione reached out and tugged Harry’s sleeve, mouthing, “I’m sorry” when he turned to look at her. Harry nodded and squared his shoulders, ready to face the irate woman. Ron, he noticed, was staying well away from his mother, as were the twins and Ginny. Percy was nowhere to be found, but that wasn’t unusual.
Harry started to speak, but Sirius placed a hand on his arm and stayed him. “Harry,” he said calmly, though there was anger in his eyes, “why don’t you introduce me to the rest of your friends.”
Harry sighed a little and said, “Sure, of course. Mrs. Weasley, the mother of my best friend, Ron, this is my godfather, Lord Sirius Black, Earl of Blackmoore.”
Harry heard Hermione gasp as Mrs. Weasley stiffened her back and turned her attention to Sirius.
“First he runs from his family, causing all sorts of turmoil,” said Mrs. Weasley with fire in her eyes, “and now he turns up in the company of a known criminal! I knew I should have tried harder to get custody at the end of the school year!”
Sirius’ only visible reaction was a clenched jaw and a raised eyebrow, but Harry could tell that an explosion was smoldering below the calm surface.
“We’re in a public place, Mrs. Weasley,” Sirius said calmly, “so I’ll only warn you to watch your tone and accusations. If you knew half of what you think you know, then you’d be aware that I was tried, finally, and found to be innocent of any and all charges. And you should also be aware that, because of the Peter Pettigrew situation, your family could be charged with harboring a fugitive from justice—and a known murderer. Unfortunately, Pettigrew was able to escape from Ministerial custody, so that’s a trial that is yet to happen. I’d be very careful about casting stones were I you.”
Mrs. Weasley stiffened and her cheeks reddened with anger. “Well, I never….I only want what’s best for Harry!”
Sirius smirked. “While I appreciate the sentiment, I have full custody of Harry, and that is something that is not going to change.”
“I guess we’ll see what Albus thinks about that, then!”
“Albus?” Sirius asked. “As in, Albus Dumbledore? What ever could he have to say about Harry’s custody arrangements? As Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, he only serves as an arbiter and can make no judgments about custody, and as Headmaster of Hogwarts he has no authority outside of the school. I’d say my position is very clear in this case. Now, I believe we’re to feed the children before shopping for school supplies. Harry has quite the list, so I’d like to get a good start on it.”
Sirius pushed past a stunned Mrs. Weasley and guided Harry into the pub. Hermione followed after a fashion, and the Weasley children folded in behind them, leaving Molly standing outside, fuming.
“Harry, mate, I’m glad to see you!” Ron exclaimed, “but what the heck was that all about?”
Harry led the way to a long table with plenty of room for all of them and sat down after waving to Old Tom. “That, Ron, was because your mother saw fit to send me a Howler the same time as you sent me a letter. I don’t know what it said, because it hit the mail ward that I had set up over the summer and exploded in a controlled situation.” Harry sat a bit sideways and leaned his head on his fist as he stared at his friend. “The fact is, Ron, that I did nothing to deserve a Howler from your mother, and even if I somehow disappointed her, well, she’s your mum, not mine.”
“Oy!” Ron exclaimed. “I had no idea, mate, I swear! And what’s that Pettigrew business?”
Harry did roll his eyes then and rolled around to face the table. “Ron, while you were in Egypt—and I’m so jealous about that, by the way—did you hear even a little bit of Sirius’ trial? I mean, it was broadcast internationally because the British Ministry really got it all messed-up, but I understand that you were on vacation and visiting your brother.”
Ron shook his head. “There wasn’t a Wireless anywhere at the site, Harry, honest. None of us have any idea about what happened.”
Harry nodded and bit his lip. “Well, the short of it is: the real person to betray my parents was a wizard named Peter Pettigrew, who was another old school friend of theirs. And he was the reason that Sirius managed to escape Azkaban, because Sirius saw a photo of Pettigrew in the Daily Prophet—the photo of your family that was taken when your dad won the lottery draw.”
“No offense, Harry…”
“But that makes no sense.” The twins, Fred and George were willing to listen to the story, but had to jump in and defend their family somehow.
“Actually,” said Sirius as he finally took a seat next to Harry after ordering lunch at the bar, “it makes perfect sense, if you know that Peter Pettigrew is an Animagus, just like I am. And also if you know that his Animagus Form is a rat—with a missing toe because he cut off a finger before blowing up the street and killing all those muggles.”
Ron’s eyes grew huge and round. “Blimey! You mean Scabbers, don’t you! Is that why those Aurors took him when we arrived home? Dad said they were afraid that he might have some animal disease or something.”
“He did have some sort of animal disease, Ronald,” said Mrs. Weasley as she approached the table, looking not a bit calmer. “Don’t believe anything else without proof. This person doesn’t know everything.”
Harry shot the woman a cold look and stood from his place at the table. “You know, Sirius, I’m not very hungry right now.” When Hermione opened her mouth, Harry held up a hand to stop her. “I’ll happily pay for lunch, and I really am glad to see you all again, but I’m really not in the mood to sit here and listen to this crap. It’s putting me off my food and I’d much rather dig into my new school books. I have a few new subjects I’m eager to learn about. Let’s go, Sirius.”
Harry waved a jaunty good-bye to his friends, completely missing the wistful look on Ginny’s face, and stalked out of the pub and back onto Diagon Alley, with Sirius close behind.
“I’m sorry if anything I did made you uncomfortable, Harry,” said Sirius contritely.
Harry rounded on him quickly and poked him in the chest with a finger. “You did nothing wrong, Sirius. You said nothing wrong. In fact, I’m really not used to anyone defending me like you did with Hermione, so thanks for that.” Harry took a deep breath and headed for Flourish and Blotts. “Anyway, the train ride back to school is sure going to be interesting.”
Sirius huffed and clapped Harry on the shoulder again. “At least Remus will be on the train with you.”
And that was the last time Harry had had any contact with his friends. By the time Hermione had dragged the rest of them to the bookstore, Harry was long-gone with his own purchases, and they all had retreated to the Burrow after shopping while Harry had surreptitiously rounded back to his cozy room above the Leaky Cauldron. Old Tom had happily sent up a tray of food with a nod and a wink, and Harry dove eagerly into Ancient Runes and Arithmancy. He wrote no letters, nor did he receive any, but he got a good head-start on his new subjects.
Honestly, he was a bit hurt that neither Hermione nor Ron had attempted to write to him after that last encounter. He wasn’t expecting an apology—then. Now, on the other hand, he really thought he rather deserved one.
Harry boarded the train near the middle, and made his way toward the rear, bypassing several empty compartments. For some reason, the train usually filled from the front, no matter where the students boarded, so there was always traffic in the corridor as students wandered about looking for their mates and enough room to spread out. In his first year, Harry had lucked into an empty compartment and was quickly joined by Ron, thus beginning their friendship. Last year, of course, Harry had missed the train altogether because of Dobby’s little prank. This year, Harry was able to Floo directly to the boarding platform from the Leaky Cauldron, so he bypassed King’s Cross Station and the crowd there. He’d also arrived a bit early, having had breakfast with Sirius before Flooing out. Sirius had wanted to escort him personally, but he’d had an appointment with Healer Argossi that morning, and another meeting scheduled with his account manager right after, so Harry had assured him that he’d be just fine on his own.
Now he was weaving between other early students as he made his way to the back of the train, searching for the compartment occupied by Remus Lupin, who had written to confirm that he would be one of the teachers serving as chaperones on the train. The other one was Professor MacDonohough, who taught Advanced Runes and Warding, which Harry wouldn’t be able to take until Sixth Year, as it was a NEWT-level class. Until reading about it in the Destiny Books, Harry had been unaware that there were teacher-chaperones on the train, since he’d never seen any. It would have been handy information to have the previous year, because Harry could have sent Hedwig to the train with a note after being repelled by the blocked barrier at the station.
Harry grimaced to himself as he considered that whole mess, and he opened a compartment door to find Remus sitting inside, reading. The man looked up when Harry entered and laughed at the expression on Harry’s face.
“What’s that look for, Harry?”
Harry blushed and sat across from the man he’d become to consider a friend. “Oh, no reason really. I was just remembering last year and the mistakes I made trying to get to school.”
Remus’ eyes widened slightly. “Ah, yes, the flying car bit. That was rather irresponsible, of course, but I think, given your age, that it seemed a grand adventure at the time.”
Harry shrugged and slipped his shrunken trunk out of his pocket. “Yeah, I think Ron and I both thought we were being quite clever. Could you un-shrink this for me, please? Dobby shrunk it down so I could carry it easily through the Floo, but I don’t want to risk doing magic on my own until the train is further down the track.”
Remus smiled and brandished his own wand with a slight flourish. “Of course, Harry,” he said, and then did so, helping Harry store the trunk and cage in the overhead compartment. “So how did seeing your friends go for you?”
Harry slouched back on the wide bench and blew a stream of air slowly between tight lips. “Well, it didn’t go well, actually. I saw Hermione as I was leaving the bank, so she caught up to me and Sirius at Quality Quidditch Supply and proceeded to yell at me for running away. And she was really loud and rude about it, so Sirius took her to task over her attitude. And then, when we got to the Leaky Cauldron, Mrs. Weasley yelled at me again and tried to undermine Sirius’ position as guardian.”
Remus winced. “So that didn’t go well, I assume?”
“Nope,” Harry said bluntly. “Not a bit, and it upset me so I left before lunch and did my shopping alone with Sirius. They all went back to the Weasley’s home when they were done, so I didn’t see them again that day, and I’m not even sure if they looked for me.”
“Oh, Harry, I’m so sorry!”
Harry shrugged. “I spent most of the summer on my own, Remus, so I wasn’t particularly bothered. It just hurt a bit that they didn’t try to write to me even once since then. I mean, I could have written, but at that point I’d done nothing wrong. If I see them on the train today, I’ll apologize for not writing, but they could have asked how I was or what my summer was like, or anything like that.”
“I seem to remember that teenage pride is an enormous thing, Harry,” said Remus softly. “I had my secret at school, of course, but Sirius never really let any of us in on how bad his home-life was. He eventually confided in James, of course, and James’ parents were happy to take him in and make his life a little easier, but pride kept him from letting his friends in.”
Harry’s brow furrowed in concentration. “So you think Ron and Hermione might have been too proud to send letters after we met in Diagon Alley?”
Remus nodded. “I do. Ron might not have personally attacked you in any way, but he may have been embarrassed at his mother’s reaction to you, and Hermione, from what I gathered from the Destiny Books, is a very proud and headstrong young woman. She likes to think she’s mentally and probably emotionally superior to her physical peers, so admitting that she doesn’t know something or that she’s done something wrong is difficult for her. Nobody has, until this point, called her out or made her face consequences for her actions.”
“I suppose,” Harry agreed. “What time is it, anyway? I know I got here early, but that was only because Sirius had his morning appointment today but he wanted breakfast with me before I left.”
Remus smiled and cast a tempus charm, displaying the time before him in shimmering numbers. “It’s just gone nine-thirty, so there is plenty of time before the train leaves.”
Harry nodded absently before pulling a book from the pack he’d placed on the bench beside him. “I doubt the Weasley’s will be here until just before eleven o’clock. I know they try hard, because we were quite on the ball last year until everything started falling apart as we were leaving the house. That family has a collective serious time management issue, I think.”
Remus chucked and re-opened his own book. “What are you reading, Harry?”
“Hmm? Oh, I’m reviewing the text for Arithmancy right now. I’ve already read it once, and I’ve done the exercises in the first five chapters, but I know I’ll need the lectures to really get it. I don’t think I’ll have too much trouble though, because I was always good at maths in school before Hogwarts.”
“My best subjects were Transfiguration, Charms, and Ancient Runes, I’m afraid,” said Remus absently as he reached into his briefcase for a notebook and pen, which he’d purchased at Harry’s suggestion. “I think Sirius was best at DADA and Transfiguration, so you’ll not get homework help from wither of us in that subject, I’m afraid.”
Harry chuckled softly. “That’s fine. I actually do enjoy school, you know. I just….”
“Hid your love of learning to appease your very first friend.” Remus glanced up at Harry slightly without raising his head and said, “There’s no shame in wanting to impress friends, Harry, but you should never hold yourself back. Eventually you’ll either cripple your own love of learning, or Ron will feel betrayed and lied-to when you pull ahead academically. You can’t force him to become someone he’s not, and you’ll do yourself an injustice if you hide who you are.”
Harry inclined his head slightly. “Yeah, I know. Ron’s not stupid, at all, you know. And I sort of understand why Hermione gets so frustrated with him. I mean, you should play chess with him, because he’s amazing! I’ll never know how someone who can plot and plan like that can be so lazy in class.”
Remus sighed and scribbled a few notes. “It’s because chess is a game, Harry. It doesn’t matter. But somehow Ron seems to have fallen into the same trap that many youngest sons fall into: he thinks nothing will ever come to him, so why bother working for it.”
Harry absently scratched his cheek. “You know, he did kinda say that when we first met. I mean, he complained that he had to use his brother’s old wand, and that all of his gear was second-hand, and that his mother always seemed to forget if he liked a specific food or didn’t like one. It’s like he gets ignored, so he just stopped trying and just chooses to lose so he’ll have something to complain about. Even his favorite Quidditch team is not the best team out there. And he wants to be on the House team, but he never practices at all or asks for pick-up games or anything. In the Destiny Books, it’s like he’s trying to bank on being my friend to move forward in life.” Harry’s nose wrinkled. “I don’t like that idea, much, actually.”
“No, I don’t expect you would. So, what else was Sirius planning for this morning?”
Harry brightened. “Well, after his Mind-Healer appointment, Sirius and Sharperock are meeting with a barrister who works within both the Magical and Muggle worlds, and they’re going to ratify my parents’ wills officially in both worlds, and then they’re going ‘have a chat’ with the Dursleys about my official custody. Because of his social status and wealth, he believes that’ll help bolster his claim to me that my parents gave to him. I figure the Dursleys will be happy to sign me over just to be rid of my ‘freakishness’.”
Remus squinted at him. “I’m not sure if you’re being ironic when you say that or not. You do realize that the only ‘freakish’ thing in that household was their ability to abuse and neglect you whilst happily taking the money to raise you, right?”
And that was a real hard pill for Harry to swallow: the fact that somehow, possibly through Dumbledore, the Dursleys had received a sum of One-Thousand pounds each month to cover the cost of caring for and feeding Harry, even as they’d complain about how much money that Harry had ‘taken from their pockets’. When Sharperock had uncovered that little tidbit only a week prior, Sirius had quickly shuffled Harry into a meeting with Healer Argossi and left him there for half the day before joining him.
Then things got really tense when Ragnok discovered that it was Griphook that allowed Dumbledore, under the guise of being Harry’s Magical Guardian, to take the money—not from the Potter Account, which Dumbledore never had access to no matter how he tried, but from Harry’s Trust/School Account. That was the reason that Dumbledore had had the key to Harry’s account before Harry began school at Hogwarts—and why Harry was never allowed to carry it personally. Griphook was…punished—Harry really didn’t want to know…and Sharperock delivered a brand new vault key personally, along with a special debit-type card, in the week before Harry left for school. Harry had casually asked about Griphook, but Sharperock had only bared his teeth in a fierce grin and wished Harry a successful new school term.
Harry shuddered slightly and said, “Healer Argossi told me that there are a lot of different kinds of child abuse, and what Aunt Petunia was doing to Dudley was, in a way, just as bad as what she did to me. He’s grossly overweight and overly pampered, and he was allowed to become a horrid bully. I honestly think that he’ll end up in jail soon, and Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon will either still be in complete denial or will make up excuse after excuse as to why it happened. They might even blame me.”
Harry closed his book and put it back into his pack before tucking it against the wall on the bench and standing. “Well, I think I’ll go looking for Luna now. I’ve no doubt that Ron and Hermione will manage to find me, because they always do, but Luna isn’t a friend yet, so I think I’ll have to befriend her.”
“Do you know how to find her?”
Harry nodded. “I know what she looks like, because I remember seeing her around the school. If I’m really lucky, she’ll be wearing a bottle-cap necklace or dirigible-plum earrings. That’ll make it easy to find her.”
Harry left the compartment to find the corridor more crowded than before. Students were chattering away as they dragged their school trunks into compartments with their friends. Traffic was moving in both directions, so Harry stayed close to one wall as he moved down the line. None of the compartment doors were closed yet, so Harry could see older students talking about their summer vacations or sharing notes about homework. Younger students and soon-to-be First Years glanced nervously around, trying to make connections and friends. Harry even saw Malfoy and his two flunkies standing in the doorway of one compartment near the front of the train, but since Harry was still wearing his cap, they didn’t notice him. Harry chuckled to himself as he ended his stroll and turned to make his way back down the line.
Half-way back to Remus’ compartment, Harry found a cluster of older Ravenclaw girls standing in a small circle, jeering at…something. It could have been innocent. They could have been laughing at a photograph or magazine article or even homework.
But Harry doubted it, so he approached the girls quickly. And found a short blonde girl clutching a magazine to her chest with her trunk open at her feet.
Harry sighed before pushing between two of the older girls. “You know, if you were smart, you’d save the unsavory bullying for when you actually reached Hogwarts, when you can hide in Ravenclaw Tower so nobody can identify you. But…I’ve seen your faces, and I think I know some of your names—hello, Cho, hope you had a good summer—and I also know there are two teacher-chaperones on this train right now.
“And I really detest bullies, you know? I mean, what kind of character does a person have to have in order to join in a large group and pick on someone younger and smaller than them? It’s something I expect from some of the more unsavory Slytherins, but you people are supposed to be smart!” Harry bent down and began tossing Luna’s things back into her trunk before closing it and lifting it. “It’s really not smart to show your ugly where so many people can see it. Especially since we’ve not left the station yet. I mean, sure, you can’t lose House points yet, but you can still get into trouble.”
“Right you are, young man!” said a woman’s voice from behind him, and Harry turned to see an older woman—not as old and Professor McGonagall, but older than Professor Sprout—standing in the open doorway of a nearby compartment. “And while I can’t take House points at this point, I can, and will, make it a priority to see that Professor Flitwick knows what does go on in the Girls’ dormitory of Ravenclaw Tower. So why don’t you girls join me for a few moments before the train departs, and you,” she directed to Harry, “can perhaps see to this young woman?”
Harry nodded. “I was actually coming to invite Luna to sit with me in my compartment. I’m sharing with Professor Lupin at the moment, and he’s got a lot of interesting stories to tell.”
The woman smiled and said, “Very well, then. Tell him that Professor MacDonohough is having a ‘student conference’, so I would appreciate if he did first rounds after we depart.”
“Will do, Professor,” Harry agreed before turning to the blonde next to him. “I’m Harry Potter, Luna, and I’d love for you to join me, if you like.”
Luna’s eyes focused narrowly on Harry and widened slightly before narrowing again. “I would love to sit with you, Harry Potter. Do you think we can talk about Blithering Humdingers?”
Harry shrugged. “I’m not sure about that, Luna. I don’t know anything about them but Professor Lupin might.”
Harry pulled Luna’s trunk behind him as he led the girl to the compartment at the back of the train. There were no more altercations, though Harry fully expected Malfoy to show up once the train was underway. Fortunately, Harry did not expect to see Dementors on the train, as Sirius had been cleared and the manhunt had been cancelled. Harry opened the compartment door and ushered Luna inside before following and storing it overhead.
“Professor Lupin,” said Harry by way of introduction, “this is Luna Lovegood. I don’t know her very well, but I’m hoping we can become friends.”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Luna,” said Remus kindly.
“You have the Mark of the Moon upon you,” said Luna vaguely, and Remus raised an eyebrow at Harry. Harry covered his smile behind a hand.
“Luna,” said Remus, “your mother wouldn’t by chance have been Cassandra Melton, would she?”
Luna’s unfocused gaze suddenly focused on the adult in the compartment. “Did you know my mother, Professor? She died, you know. Only three years ago.”
Remus nodded solemnly. “I knew Cassandra from work we were both involved with in Wales. I handled most of the research while Cassandra worked on the potions. We were hoping to find a cure for Lycanthropy. Your mother was certain that there was a way to curb the wild instincts, but she was doubtful that a potion would be the key.”
“You helped my mother refine Wolfsbane Potion?” Luna asked dreamily. “She was so smart. I hope to do her proud someday; her and my father.”
Remus leaned forward and clasped his hands together with his elbows on his knees. “I only recognized your parentage because you greatly resemble your mother. She spoke of you often while we worked together. There were several of us working together on that project, but I was the only one without children, so I got to hear a lot of bragging.”
Luna smiled widely. “She bragged about me? I was always so proud of her. I saw her die, you see, but she was so brilliant to shield me from the explosion.”
Harry laid a gentle hand on Luna’s shoulder in a show of support and friendship and Remus nodded sadly. “She was a very brilliant Potions Mistress,” agreed Remus. “And she was so happy and proud to talk about you. I only worked with her for a short time—when you were, perhaps, six years old—but she was always happy to read aloud the portions of your father’s letters that pertained to you. She said she thought your magical maturation would prove to be impressive, Luna. Have you ever been tested?’
Luna shook her head. “Daddy is very busy with the Quibbler, you know. He’s also busy raising me as a single parent, though I try not to be a bother. I even try very hard to not do accidental magic so that he doesn’t worry over me.”
Remus sat back, impressed. “It takes a great deal of control to prevent bouts of accidental magic, Luna. Do you meditate every night?”
“Oh, yes, Professor,” gushed Luna. “The warbles will attack if your mind isn’t focused.”
Remus wrinkled his brow inquisitively. “Luna, have you ever been tested for MageSight? Your mother mentioned that it ran in her mother’s line. That’s one reason your mother was so good with potions: she could ‘see’ which ingredients would mesh well together.”
Harry watched the interaction with great interest. He remembered the parts about Luna in the Destiny Books, but in none of them was a mention of Luna’s mother, so Harry did believe that Remus would have seen a resemblance to someone he knew once. And the books often mentioned that Luna frequently acted unfocused and flighty, but that she was also magically gifted and very loyal, so maybe it wasn’t a stretch that Remus might guess that she had MageSight. It would certainly explain why Luna seemed to see things that nobody else could.
“Daddy didn’t want me to be bothered by any of that before I was thirteen,” Luna had replied. “But he’s often distracted with reporting the news, and sometimes he forgets important things like that. I worry about him while I’m away at school, but Daddy says education is very important.”
“If you’d like,” said Remus hesitantly, “I could advocate for testing you, using my position as your teacher. I’m sure you’ll show some extraordinary abilities in my class this year. I don’t want to pressure you or your father, but if you show signs of burgeoning MageSight during class, then it might be best to have you tested and trained. Untrained abilities like that can cause severe headaches or other magical maladies.”
Luna grinned again. “It’s nice to know that I’ll have a teacher that will be looking out for me this year, Professor.”
“Do the other teachers not look out for you, Luna?”
Luna shook her head sadly. “They’re so busy that sometimes they can overlook small problems. It’s a big school with a lot of students, so I understand that a small one like me can be ignored sometimes.”
Remus nodded in understanding before the compartment door opened again and Hermione entered, sighing in relief.
“Harry! We’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
Hermione started to take a seat before noticing Remus against the window, and when she stopped moving it caused Ron, and then Ginny, to slam into the back of her.
Harry smirked at Remus before turning to his friends. “Hermione, this is Professor Lupin. He’ll be teaching Defense this year.”
Hermione’s eyes brightened slightly and she moved forward into the compartment and sitting next to the professor. “What are you doing on the school train, Professor?”
“Oh, there are always two professors on the train to act as chaperones in case of randiness. We’re supposed to remain incognito, of course, so I do hope you won’t go spreading it about that I’m here.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Harry as he slapped his own forehead. “I almost forgot to tell you! Professor MacDonohough is having a conference with a few students, and she needs you to take first rounds after the train departs.”
Remus tilted his head slightly sideways and Harry nodded toward Luna. “Thank you, Harry. I wasn’t scheduled to do rounds until after the cart went around.”
While Hermione was getting settled, Ron and Ginny came in and began storing their own trunks. When Ginny turned around to take a seat, she startled at seeing Luna sitting beside Harry.
“Hello, Luna,” she said Ginny softly. “What are you doing here?”
“Hello, Ginny. I’m chatting with Professor Lupin about my mother. He knew her before she died. Oh, and Harry invited me to sit with him so that I wouldn’t be alone.”
“That was very nice of you, Harry,” said Hermione with a small smile. “I’m very sorry that I didn’t write to you after Diagon Alley, but….” Hermione shot a small but pointed glance at Ron and Harry just raised an eyebrow in response.
“The truth is, Mate, Mum was pretty put out by your attitude at lunch that day, so she didn’t want to stir you up again with letters.” Ron shrugged like it meant nothing to him that he couldn’t contact his friend. “She said Errol was getting too old and feeble to be sending unimportant mail, and that we could talk to you in the train after you cooled off a bit.”
“Oh,” said Harry dryly. “After I cool down a bit. Because I was the one, somehow, in the wrong that day, right?”
“Harry,” Hermione practically whined, “I have apologized, haven’t I? I mean, I really am sorry for yelling at you, and I’m just sick that you’re still angry about that. I don’t think I completely understood until Mrs. Weasley yelled at you in public in front of me, and I felt mortified for you.”
Harry’s expression softened slightly. “That’s okay, Hermione. I do accept your apology, and it’s nice that you understood why I was upset.”
The train lurched and began to pull out of the station, and all conversation stopped as everyone in the compartment began watching out the large window to see the station begin to recede into the distance. Once the train began to leave the city, Remus stood and pulled neat, black Professor’s robes over his tweed suit.
“Well, I’ve got rounds right now, but I’ll be back soon. Feel free to discuss things you don’t need a teacher to overhear.” And with a small salute, Remus opened the door and left, pulling it shut behind him.
Once Remus was gone, Hermione immediately turned to Harry. “Okay, spill! You said you’d explain why you ran away at the beginning of summer.”
Harry grinned and leaned back in his seat, crossing one leg over the other at the knee. “Well, you remember the trouble I had with the House-elf last summer, right—when he used magic in my house and I got into trouble for it?”
Hermione and Ron both nodded and Ginny looked intrigued. Luna had resumed reading the magazine that she’d brought with her. Harry had little doubt, however, that Luna was taking in every word, especially considering Remus’ words about MageSight. Luna was smart, and possibly magically talented, and Harry was sure that she took in all sorts of information that other people might consider irrelevant.
“Yes, well,” continued Harry, “last summer, a strange House-elf did magic in my house, and I got in all sorts of trouble for under-age magic. My Uncle Vernon was particularly gleeful about that fact, since it seemed like I was going to be punished and possibly removed from Hogwarts over it.
“So this summer, when I got home I was nervous about asking Uncle Vernon to sign the permission slip for Hogsmeade. Because, you know, he’s such a kind and understanding man. But when I mentioned it on the way home from King’s Cross, he got this kind of mean smile on his face and said he’d sign—if I did him a favour. And that favour meant being extra pleasant and servant-like to his sister when she came to visit. And as bad as Uncle Vernon is toward me, Marge was all sorts of worse—and she was going to be visiting for two weeks!”
Hermione frowned. “I don’t understand, Harry. All you had to do was be courteous to this woman?”
Harry shook his head. “Oh, no. All I had to do was wait on her hand and foot for her entire visit. She made me cook extra-special food because what the rest of the family ate wasn’t good enough for her, and she made me walk the dog that she liked to sic on me, because she liked to laugh at my fear and discomfort. And I had to sit in the same room with her while she talked utter crap about me and my parents.” Harry watched as the jaws of all of his friends dropped and he huffed a mirthless laugh. “Don’t look surprised, guys. Of course I never told anybody how bad it was at home! Firstly, who would believe me? And secondly—who likes a whiner?
“The point was, I complied with this treatment because I wanted Uncle Vernon to sign that permission form, and I dealt with that treatment for two weeks. I even sent Hedwig to Hogwarts so she would be safe from Marge’s dog, because I don’t doubt that my owl would have been in danger if she’d stayed. And then, the night before Marge was to leave, Aunt Petunia decided to make a special dinner for the family, and she sent me out of the house for a bit of respite while she cooked. It was the first time I didn’t cook, even though I knew I’d have to serve, and it was the only freedom I’d had that whole time. It was nice, and I relaxed, and that’s when I made the mistake. You see, in order to enjoy the celebratory dinner, Uncle Vernon served a lot of wine, and Marge drank most of it. And then she drank brandy for afters, while I tried to clear the table. And the drunker she got, the more abusive she got—and I was always her favorite target.”
Harry rubbed his palms on his thighs and tried to banish the left-over panic he still felt whenever he thought about that time. He took a calming breath, centering himself just like Healer Argossi taught him to. When he opened his eyes, Hermione, Ron, and Ginny were looking at him with pity in their eyes.
Harry nodded slightly. “Yeah, so—at first, she started in on how ‘blood tells’ and that Petunia was a saint for taking me in. She called me all sorts of evil things, but I’m used to that. But my control was slipping, and I knew it, and I was completely unprepared for her to start in on my parents. She called them bums, and drunks, and all sorts of horrible things, and when I tried to defend them, she started in on me again—and I lost control of my magic.”
“Oh, no!” Hermione gasped. “What did you do?”
“I blew her up,” Harry said dryly. “Not in an explosion way, but she started to inflate like a parade balloon, and then she started to float like a parade balloon, and when she began to drift toward the French doors, I knew I was in deep. So I ran to the cupboard where Vernon locked my school supplies, and the door burst open before I could touch it, and I just gathered everything…and I ran. I figured that if the Ministry was going to come down on me because of magic that a House-elf performed, then they certainly were going to snap my wand for what I actually did myself.”
“Merlin’s Pants, mate!” Ron exclaimed. “Where did you go?”
Harry laughed again. “Yeah, well, I made my way to the Leaky Cauldron, and I was met there by the Minister for Magic Himself. I thought I was done for, and I begged to just be allowed get enough money out of my trust vault that I could afford a hotel room.”
“Harry, you could have come to me!” Hermione said tearfully. “My parents would have taken you in!”
Harry offered a half-smile. “Hermione, just how should I have contacted you? Or anyone? Ron and his family were out of the country by then, and so were you, and I’d sent Hedwig away for her own safety. But it didn’t matter, really, because for some stupid reason the Minister thought I was in danger, so he offered to put me up in the Leaky Cauldron where he figured I’d be safe. He told me that my family had been dealt with, and that someone had Obliviated Marge, so she wouldn’t remember anything, but I think he’s bonkers for thinking that I’d ever be safe there again. The certainly didn’t Obliviate the Dursleys, because they already knew about magic, and I knew that if Vernon ever saw me again then he’d kill me.
“Old Tom at the Leaky Cauldron kept an eye on me, and I began to eat well and take care of myself. And I started collecting all sorts of books, so that I could learn how to better care for myself. I sort of made friends with my Account Manager at Gringotts, and he’s helped me a lot when it comes to learning about my place in wizarding society, or how to invest my money. And then we found my godfather, Sirius Black, who had been jailed illegally without a trial after my parents were killed, and he got a trial—and now he’s got custody of me. So I never have to go back to the Dursleys again.”
“Man!” said Ron with awe in his voice. “You got to live on Diagon Alley all alone? That must have been awesome! What all did you do?”
Harry shrugged. “I did homework, mostly. I mean, I couldn’t do anything while at the Dursleys because they hate magic and locked my school books away. I finished all my reading first, and then I started my essays. I spent a lot of time at the bookshop, finding interesting books to help me research, and then I had to buy a new trunk with a special library feature because I suddenly had a lot of books. The very first thing I did, though, was buy proper clothes that fit, just so I could toss out my cousin’s hand-me-downs. I also started spending a lot of time at the bank, asking questions about my family accounts and learning about investments. It wasn’t all fun and games, you know. I couldn’t afford to be lazy.”
Awareness suddenly awakened in Hermione’s eyes, and she turned to Ron and asked, “Did you finish your summer homework? I know you said you were going to, but you spent a lot of time flying with your brothers.”
Ron clapped a hand over his eyes and groaned. “Merlin, Hermione! I finished my homework, okay! Do you want to look it over? No—never mind about that; you’ll only make me re-do it on the train.”
Hermione grumbled. “There’s nothing wrong with doing work, Ron! I just don’t understand how you can be so lazy!”
“Hermione,” said Harry softly. “Leave him alone and stop nagging. I know schoolwork is important to you. Ron knows schoolwork is important to you. But you can’t make it important to someone else. I forced myself to work hard this summer, because I don’t want to amount to nothing after school. It turns out that I have a Legacy, but keeping it up means working hard. You can’t force Ron to want things, and if you keep nagging him, he’ll just turn away from you.”
Ron frowned at him. “Thanks, mate. I think.”
Harry shrugged again. “Sorry, Ron, but it’s true: nobody can force you to want to do better, and nagging you will do just the opposite. I got to thinking about you after reading Quidditch scores in the Prophet a while back. I mean, you like Quidditch, right?” Ron nodded, so Harry continued. “And you keep saying that you’d like to be on the House team, but I’ve never seen you borrow a broom to practice at school. You know I’d loan you mine, if you were really serious about it, and the school brooms are always available. So you talk about being on the team, but you never do anything about it.”
Ron frowned deeper. “The team’s full, mate, if you haven’t noticed.”
“So? Oliver Wood is graduating at the end of this term, you know. Your brothers and all three of the chasers are older students, and nobody is guaranteed a position. Frankly, I think there should be try-outs for all the teams every year, because some people get worse each year, and some get better. Of course, I also think there needs to be reserve players, just in case someone gets sick or hurt and can’t play. I mean, you know how I always get damaged every year, and yet there isn’t another Seeker to back me up in case something happens, and that’s just stupid. The professional teams have reserve players. It’s just good sense.”
Ron chewed his lower lip for a moment, clearly considering everything that Harry had said, but he said nothing. Hermione, on the other hand, seemed to have clued-in on Harry’s tale quite nicely.
“Harry,” she asked, “how did you come to meet your ‘godfather’ if he was in prison all this time?”
Harry blinked at her. “Well, I did say I had spent a lot of time at the bank, right? It was Gringotts that demanded Sirius be given a trial, and when the Minister for Magic seemed like he was going to refuse, Gringotts went to the World Magical Court and the International Confederation of Wizards for a very public international trial. I listened to the trial on the International Wireless in my account manager’s office. After the trial was over and Sirius was found to be not guilty, he returned to Gringotts for business purposes, and my account manager introduced us. We’ve spent a lot of time getting to know each other.”
“But,” she frowned, “won’t you feel odd, living with a complete stranger?”
Harry shook his head and laughed harshly. “Hermione, no matter where I went after this term is over, I’d be with strangers. If, for some odd reason, you managed to convince your parents to take me in, they’re strangers to me. I love Ron like a brother, but I’d feel really uncomfortable living with him and his folks, especially after that dressing-down Mrs. Weasley tried to give me. I can’t stay at the school; I know because I asked First Year. And as much fun as it was to spend all that time alone on Diagon Alley, I’m really not prepared to take care of myself full time. Sirius has got to get his own house in order, so to speak, but he’s planning on visiting me while I’m at school, so I think that means Hogsmeade weekends. He’s already signed my permission form, so I’m good to go there. By the time school is out for the summer next year, I expect Sirius and I will know each other well enough to live together.”
Hermione’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Did you live with him this summer?”
“No, I did not,” Harry said indignantly. “I told you, I got a room at the Leaky Cauldron. I changed my name on the register after the Ministry announced in the Daily Prophet that I was missing, and the innkeeper was kind enough to help me hide my identity. I found a disguise of sorts, so people didn’t notice me on the Alley as they went about their business. As for Sirius, well, he had loads of appointments with Healers to fix the damage from twelve years in Azkaban, including a Mind-Healer that I suggested, just to help with the mental and emotional damage done by exposure to the Dementors there. I’ve seen a Mind-Healer myself. It helped me deal with the nightmares I’ve been having after killing that basilisk last year.”
At his mention of the basilisk, Hermione shuddered and Ginny’s face crumpled and tears formed in her eyes.
“Ginny,” said Harry softly, “are you having nightmares?”
Ginny sniffed and rubbed her eyes with her fingers. “Yeah, sometimes,” she said shakily, and Luna set aside her magazine and moved to the red-head’s side and pulled her into a hug. “I don’t remember a lot of it, you know, and I was unconscious when you confronted the basilisk, but there’s a…shadow, I think, in my mind sometimes.”
Harry bit his lip, thinking hard. “Maybe you could use some time with a Mind-Healer, too?”
Ron looked worriedly at his sister, clearly surprised that she was upset like that. “I dunno, mate. It’s not like we can afford something like that.”
Harry frowned. “Well, I know it’s helped me a lot. Let me think on it for a bit, okay? I’ll come up with something.”
Luna looked up at him and smiled brightly before going back to comforting Ginny. She knows something, Harry thought.
Remus had taken his time with first rounds, just to give Harry enough time to explain all that he cared to to his friends, but he returned well before the trolley came around to offer snacks. Remus requested a pot of tea and shared it out among the students while he went back to working on his notes for his first classes. It was a subdued group that he had rejoined, and Harry had made eye-contact, silently letting him know that all would be explained at some point.
While on his rounds, Remus made a point to check in with Professor MacDonohough, where he learned about the Ravenclaw girls that had taken to bullying Luna Lovegood. Marigold MacDonohough, like Remus, did remember Luna’s mother. Unlike Remus, Marigold knew Cassandra Melton’s family very well, and also agreed that having Luna tested for MageSight would be a benefit to the girl. Setting special charms on Luna’s possessions would also be a benefit, and it was agreed between the two train chaperones that Professor Flitwick would be informed immediately about the actions of his charges in order to hopefully prevent retaliation.
The snack trolley had just left when the door to the compartment slammed open, startling everyone, and a trio of boys dressed in Slytherin green stormed in like they owned the place. Luna jumped slightly and pressed her body close to the back wall of the compartment, as far from the door as possible, but Harry and the others didn’t even move—almost as if they were expecting the invasion.
Of course Remus was not expecting such a loud invasion of such a peaceful place, and so he had jumped to his feet and drawn his wand, aiming it at the interlopers.
“That’s not on, boys,” he said as small sparks glittered around the tip of his wand. “You never can tell what kind of response you’ll get for entering a room without knocking first.”
The boy in front, an aristocratic blond who was clearly the leader, stopped short and crossed his arms defensively, trying to appear unafraid and unintimidated. “Who are you?” he asked snottily with his nose properly in the air.
Harry, trying valiantly not to laugh, said, “Oy, Malfoy, this is our new DADA instructor, Professor Lupin.”
Remus didn’t smirk, but it was a close thing. “You know, I thought all of your friends were more mannerly than this.”
“Oh,” said Harry airily, “Malfoy isn’t a friend, exactly. He likes to come in once every train trip so that he can imply his superiority over us all. Then he crawls back under his rock, and we try to enjoy the rest of the journey.”
Remus lowered his wand and returned to his seat, obviously dismissing the Slytherin students. “I see. Perhaps they should return to their own compartment, then. I’d like to enjoy the silence for a bit longer before arriving at Hogsmeade Station.”
Harry turned to Malfoy and raised an eyebrow. “Well?” he said. “Are you going to say anything else, or shall you just be going now?”
Red-faced, Malfoy began to shove his lackeys back into the corridor and away from the compartment. Once they were out of sight, Hermione stood and softly closed the door.
“That was…different,” she said, bemused. “I don’t suppose you can ride the train with us every trip, Professor?”
Remus chuckled softly and finished his tea.
17—Time Marches On
September 2-19, 1993
Sirius Black sat in a comfortable leather chair in the office of Goblin Chieftain Ragnok and sipped delicately from the crystal tumbler of smooth, aged whiskey. It wasn’t Ogden’s Firewhiskey, which Ragnok considered to be an uncivilized drink, and it was finer that the occasion perhaps warranted, but Sirius really needed the drink.
Everyone in the room needed the drink.
The day before, Sirius had sent Harry off to the Hogwarts Express, knowing that Remus would look after him on the train. He’d certainly miss the boy, but Harry needed to go back to school, and Sirius had duties that he needed to perform in order to create a home for Harry.
Sirius had spent four weeks getting to know his godson, and he felt secure with that relationship. During that time, Sirius had managed to find a specialized Healer for the lone Black House-elf, a pathetic creature named Kreacher, who was elderly, practically senile, and almost certainly insane—a condition created by years of solitude after the death of Sirius’ mother and exposure to a Dark object concealed in a treasure-trove kept by the old elf. After securing the services of the Elf Healer, Sirius used his status as Lord Black to over-ride the privacy wards on the family property on Grimauld Place and confronted Kreacher in his home.
“I know you have no respect for me, Kreacher,” growled Sirius, “but you have to respect the Title. I’ll give you a choice, you horrid thing: you can either take another Familial Oath of Service to me, personally, and stay with the Black Family, or I can find you another service position in an institution somewhere. But before you make that decision, I have something important to tell you, and I want you to listen closely! I know that Regulus asked something of you before he died, and I know that you’ve been unable to honor that request.”
The mangy House-elf glared at Sirius and began to wring his hands. “Kreacher tried to give honor to Master Regulus, he does. Kreacher uses up all of his magic, but Kreacher is failing the good Master. And now the betrayer is coming in to rub it in Kreacher’s face, he is.”
Sirius shook his head and ran a weary hand over his face. “I’m not rubbing your failure in, Kreacher. I know what Regulus asked of you, and I want to tell you that I now know how to do what Regulus asked of you. I know how to destroy that cursed locket that Regulus gave to you before he died. I’ll honor whatever choice of service you make, but I only ask that you give that horrid thing to me so that I can honor Reg’s last request for you. It’s making you sick, and if you keep it, it’ll kill you. You know this; you can feel the evil coming from it.”
Kreacher drew back and squinted at Sirius, untrusting. “Betrayer-son knows how to kill the Dark Object?”
Sirius nodded. “I give you my word as Lord Black, Earl of Blackmoore—I know how to destroy that object, and I’ll see it done. I just need you to bring it to me, and I’ll find a way to return it once the evil is gone.”
Sirius knew, from the Destiny Books, that giving the husk of the locket to Kreacher would be a comfort to the old House-elf. Sirius had no love for the Elf; his mother had seen to that when he was a child. But his brother, Regulus, was fond of him and treated him almost as a pet, and Regulus died trying to get revenge for the ill-treatment of the Elf by Voldemort, so the very least Sirius could do to honor that final act of his brother was to finish the job on the locket and return the empty husk to Kreacher.
After long consideration, Kreacher nodded once and disappeared with a loud pop, returning moments later holding a badly tarnished golden locket decorated with sickly-gleaming emeralds. When he offered it, reluctantly, to Sirius, Sirius produced a specially enchanted mithral bag, and Kreacher dropped the locket inside.
Sirius placed the woven-metal back in a pocket inside his robe and secured it with an anti-theft ward. “Okay, then,” said Sirius tiredly, “what’s your choice going to be. Because I have to be completely honest with you—no matter what you choose, there is one non-negotiable condition. You have to spend time with a special Mind-Healer. Being exposed to this Dark artifact didn’t do you any favors, and being alone in this house after my mother died didn’t help. You don’t have to stay with me, but I owe it to you, as Lord Black, to see to your welfare.”
Kreacher sneered. “Kreacher is being staying with the Mistress, he does!” the Elf spat.
Sirius shook his head. “Oh, no. That’s not going to happen. That horrible portrait is going to be completely removed and stored in the Family Vault, and I can’t allow you to live down there until you waste away. This whole townhouse is getting a major overhaul, and that is going to be step one.”
Sirius watched, aghast, as Kreacher actually began to cry. Big, ugly, snotty tears. Sirius didn’t offer comfort, because there was no comfort to be had. He didn’t dare offer a handkerchief, lest Kreacher think he was being freed against his will. He just watched the mournful tantrum and silently wished he had a strong drink.
Finally Kreacher gave a huge gasp and finished crying, wiping his nose and eyes with his dirty dishtowel-toga.
“Okay, then,” said Sirius. “What’s it going to be? Will you stay with the House of Black, accepting the offered healing and taking another Oath, or will you accept an institutional position after accepting the offered healing?”
“Is Kreacher being hurt with the Mind-healing?”
“No, Kreacher. It won’t hurt you at all. In fact, it may make your magic stronger.”
Kreacher eyed Sirius distrustfully for a moment more before saying, “Kreacher is being gone from his Mistress and his home. Kreacher is being working in institution, after Kreacher is being healing.”
Sirius pressed his lips together grimly. “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”
Sirius drew his wand slowly, so as to not alarm the House-elf, and began the soft incantation needed to completely enthrall the House-elf. It wasn’t a Dark spell, but it was on the darker spectrum of Grey, as it was intended to subdue the will of a Magical Creature. It was historically used to calm a creature to prevent self-harm, and that was Sirius’ intention at that moment. Once Kreacher was pliant, Sirius sent a gentle scourgify to clean the dishtowel and the Elf wearing it, and then he activated the Floo and sent Kreacher ahead of himself to the private clinic where the House-elf would be treated. After the treatment, there was every indication that the clinic’s administrators would offer the House-elf a permanent position. Sirius really didn’t care for Kreacher, but he honestly wished the best for him.
It was only after Kreacher was gone from Grimauld Place that Sirius brought in Harry—and Dobby. Because Grimauld Place was in London, and therefore close to Diagon Alley and King’s Cross Station, Sirius had chosen that specific Black property to be his new home. But it was an incredible mess, having been mostly neglected by Kreacher after the death of Sirius’ mother. Since Harry would also be living there, Sirius thought the boy should have a bit of a say in what the place looked like after the remodel, and Dobby was allowed free reign to clean as much as he wanted. Vassal or not, there wasn’t going to be much for Dobby to do while Harry was at Hogwarts, and Dobby was practically vibrating with glee at the thought of managing a complete overhaul like this.
Sirius knew he needed to put some thought into bonding a new House-elf or two, but he wanted to make sure he was as mentally ready as possible before he tried. Healer Argossi had done as much as she thought she could, and praised his progress. The Goblin Healer was also impressed with how well Sirius was doing physically: he’d gained weight and muscle mass since his escape from Azkaban, and he was moving a lot easier than he had been. His next logical steps involved asserting his social position as Lord Black and Earl of Blackmoore, and that meant claiming his seats in the Wizengamot, and exercising his position as Regent for the House of Potter by claiming those seats as well. Resetting the Familial Wards on the Black properties was another step to be taken, and that would allow Sirius to prevent entry to any Black property by anyone he considered unsavory or intolerable, like good ole Bellatrix, should she manage to escape Azkaban in this reality. Bonding new House-elves would allow him to show his true magical power and strength, so he’d have to put out a Welcoming Pulse to draw unbonded Elves to him.
Harry had spent a lot of time just wandering from floor to floor in Grimauld Place, making notes in his thick, spiral-bound notebook and commenting on the differences between the actually Black Family Residence and the secured ‘headquarters’ described in the Destiny Books. Sirius had almost been horrified by the detail in those Books as they read them, and he made his own notes on the miniscule differences. There weren’t many, as it turned out, but Harry seemed to be relieved that one major difference was how much light actually came in through windows. ‘Headquarters’, it seemed, was a dark, dank place with dirty windows and heavy draperies. Another happy difference was the total lack of doxy infestation. Kreacher wasn’t a particularly effective housekeeper, but he never would have allowed doxies to take root. Sirius’ mother would never have allowed it.
Harry had loved the library, and had made a note that he’d need an entire section of shelves for his own personal research books. His collection of Parselmagic books wasn’t large, but he was hoping to add to it, and he wanted a special cabinet just for the Destiny Books. Sirius had a theory that the Books might go blank after Harry had fulfilled his Destiny, but he hadn’t shared that with anyone. Harry was also thrilled with the huge kitchen. He might have been forced to cook by the Dursleys, but it was an activity that he actually enjoyed because he was often left alone to do it. Dudley, Harry had told him, only entered the kitchen when there was food ready to eat, but he’d never lower himself to actually cook, and Petunia eventually started leaving him without supervision once he truly understood that he’d be severely punished if he messed anything up.
It was little revelations like that that made Sirius really want to ‘chew iron and spit nails’, as he’d often heard Lily say when James did something stupidly reckless.
In any case, for four weeks, between the failed reunion with Harry’s friends and the good-bye breakfast before sending Harry off to the Hogwarts Express, Sirius had laughed and cried, shouted and exclaimed, listened to and told stories, asked and answered questions, and generally got to know the bright, intelligent, and immensely sarcastic thirteen-year-old boy that was Harry Potter, and he’d loved every minute of it. Sirius was still occupying the private room provided by Gringotts, and Harry was still occupying his room in the Leaky Cauldron, but they made the most of every minute they spent together, and Sirius was confident that they would be able to make a family between the two of them—a better one than either one of them had previously. Certainly Sirius had fond memories of his younger life, after James Potter opened the door of Potter Manor in the middle of the night one night and Fleamont Potter had allowed Sirius to stay. He could have run to his grandfather, Arcturus, but he barely knew the old man and James was his closest friend. From that night forward, the Potters had shown Sirius what a family should look and act like, and the very least he could do was return the favour for Harry.
The previous day, September First, was a busy one for Sirius, he thought as he took another long sip of the smooth whiskey.
First, he’d had breakfast with Harry at the Leaky Cauldron. The conversation was light, with no mention of any of the plans they’d made for the Destiny Books. Instead, they pondered what Harry would eventually tell Hermione and Ron when he saw them on the train, and wondered what the ‘annual Malfoy confrontation’ would be like.
After seeing Harry safely through the Floo, Sirius made his way back to Gringotts, where he was to have one last session with Healer Argossi. They’d stopped meeting in the Time Chamber two weeks prior, so the sessions, which no longer involved Muggle hypno-therapy, were only an hour long each. Sirius was mentally strong and healthy now, after the equivalent of many months of therapy. He still had the occasional nightmare, and Healer Argossi had told him that he probably would for a long time. It was normal, after severe trauma, and it was nothing to be ashamed of. She had told Sirius that she was always available, should he need her, but she hoped that he wouldn’t. Sirius had chuckled when she told him that she considered him to be ‘a fascinating case’, and then she said she was going to brag to all of her colleagues because none of them had ever treated anyone for extreme Dementor exposure.
Sirius’ next appointment that day was scheduled for just after lunch, so he’d taken some time to confer with Dobby about wallpaper swatches for the library at Grimauld Place—there was a debate going on about what name to designate for the Floo connection, and Harry was pushing hard for ‘Headquarters’ just to be obnoxious. Dobby had come into his own as an interior designer, and was taking pride in making a proper home for his ‘Master Lord Harry, Sir’. Sirius appreciated that Dobby was shying away from darker colors and patterns, but the library required a traditional pallet in order for it to be a soothing place to study.
After helping Dobby choose wallpaper and carpeting, Sirius Flooed back to Gringotts for his best appointment to date: a meeting with Michael Aurelius Havenbee, Esquire—a wizard lawyer who has a private legal practice with his squib brother, Richard Nicodemus Havenbee, Esquire. Their law practice mostly specialized in cross-cultural business matters, but they also handled family law matters when magical children in non-magical families were involved. Mostly the Havenbees helped find Magical Advocates for first-generation wizards and witches, when it was requested, but Sharperock had called them in to handle the official transfer of Harry’s physical custody in case the Dursleys decided to fight the issue. Harry didn’t think there would be a problem, but Sirius wasn’t so sure since there was actually money involved. The Dursleys had been receiving one-thousand pounds each month since Harry had landed on their front porch twelve years ago, and they might not want to lose that money. Sirius had figured that using the law against them was the proper way to go.
The Havenbees were appalled when they learned about Harry’s treatment while in the care of the Dursleys, and they carefully documented Harry’s personal recollections. The Dursleys were not aware, as most Muggles were not, but there was a special branch of the Child Protection Agency that dealt with magical children of non-magical parents. Had Harry or any of his early-childhood teachers had been aware of that department, then Harry might have been placed with another family or care-giver—if they could have gotten past Dumbledore. Sirius was very careful to keep Dumbledore’s name out of his business with the Havenbees. The old man’s reputation had taken quite a hit during Sirius’ trial, and Sirius knew he would be trying his best to insinuate his way into Sirius’ life now that he was a free man again, if only to keep influence over Harry.
After looking over the final paperwork with the wizard Havenbee, Sirius changed his clothes into a proper, very expensive, Muggle suit. His jewelry was carefully chosen to show off class as well as wealth, with his Lordship ring gleaming on his right hand. Once all the proper papers were put together and Sirius had checked his appearance in the mirror that Sharperock had provided, Sirius and the Senior Havenbee Flooed to the muggle offices that were located in Reading. From Reading, there was a short automobile journey—in a very expensive sedan called a ‘BMW’—that Sirius had enjoyed immensely. They had timed the entire journey so that Mr. Vernon Dursley would have just arrived home from work at the Grunnings Drill Company. In fact, Sirius was amused to note that they had basically followed the man down the street.
The encounter that followed was quite memorable, with both adult Dursleys posturing about ‘rights’ and ‘personal damage’ and ‘inconvenience’, but Sirius was happy to let them dig their own holes until Vernon started sputtering about how much it cost him personally to house and feed ‘that freak’. That was when Sirius happily opened his expensive leather briefcase and pulled out the documented proof of withdrawals and deposits proving that the Dursley account received money from the Potter account to cover all expenses in regards to Harry’s care. And then Sirius removed the documents detailing all of the healed injuries from the physical abuse and the effects of malnutrition.
Sirius took great pleasure in informing Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Dursley, of Number 4 Privit Drive, Surrey, that not only did Sirius have the force of the Potters’ wills on his side, but he also had the law working for him, and Vernon should consider himself lucky that Sirius was only demanding that Vernon and Petunia sign over their custodial rights, and was not demanding that the money be paid back. After all, Sirius could more than afford to care for Harry, and Harry personally could afford to take the loss for what the Dursleys were given. At that point, Vernon tried to bluster about ‘that freak’ being rich, and that he should have gotten more money for putting up with the ‘freakishness’, and Richard Nicodemus Havenbee, Esquire, inquired if Mr. Dursley were indeed trying to extort money from an esteemed member of the House of Lords—it was actually true, who knew?—rather than complying with the law.
The official papers were signed very quickly after that, and were notarized right away. Havenbee assured Sirius that the papers would be filed with both Muggle and Wizarding governments the very next day.
Sirius shuddered before swallowing more of his whiskey. The memory of that encounter with Vernon Dursley was what got him through that afternoon; that and a lunch meeting with an old, dear friend.
Sirius had just finished reading Harry’s letter about the train ride back to Hogwarts when another mail-owl arrived at his Gringotts Letter-drop carrying a request from Amelia Bones to meet for lunch. It was pretty straight-forward request, with no indication of intent other that a less-stressful meeting between former colleagues, but Sirius had grown suspicious since he’d been incarcerated, so he had a feeling that Amelia had something very serious to talk about.
So, he’d responded immediately, and set up a lunch meeting for half-past one o’clock that afternoon. It was no secret that Sirius had been staying at Gringotts, since the bank officials were the ones to demand his public trial. Amelia has suggested meeting at the Crossed Wands, on Hexagon Alley. That part of the shopping district was smaller and usually less populated, but the shops were more exclusive. Sirius had snooped around the area when Harry told him where Augury Books had appeared, but there was no indication that a shop of any kind was ever at the entrance of Hexagon Alley, which he actually knew because that’s what Harry had told him; it was pure curiosity that drove him to search.
Sirius gathered his wand and wallet and headed for the exit of the bank, making his way past various shops and shoppers until he reached the entrance to Hexagon Alley. The day had been cloudy and over-cast all morning, so Sirius had expected that rain was soon coming, but he was not exactly prepared for the air to become chill so quickly. He had seen Amelia waiting just ahead of him, so he raise a hand in greeting when it suddenly occurred to him why the air was growing so cold—Dementors!
In a panic, Sirius spun around in a circle, looking for the demonic creatures that used to haunt his every single day. The mist rolled in faster, bringing colder and colder air, and he vaguely heard a voice yelling for people to take cover when Sirius spotted a black cloak descending from the sky right above him.
“Expecto Patronum!” he yelled, concentrating on that happy feeling he had when he was forcing Vernon Dursley to sign over his rights to Harry, and a fully corporeal giant, shaggy silvery dog erupted from Sirius’ wand and charged forward toward the Dementor, driving it away from the shopping district.
“Expecto Patronum!” came from behind him, and a slightly less corporeal eagle owl flew over Sirius’ head, joining the dog in chasing off the Dementor.
With a horrid wail, the Dementor screeched away, and the mist lifted from the Alley. Sirius was gasping from the tension and strain, but he didn’t release his Patronus until the area was completely clear and the sky was blue and cloudless again. The rapid popping of Apparating Aurors filled Sirius’ senses, and he finally dropped his wand and collapsed to his knees, shaking and weeping. Strong arms wrapped around his shoulders and he was lifted to his feet, and he vaguely heard a woman’s voice saying something about ‘get you to safety’.
Another set of arms joined the first before Sirius came to himself and acknowledged Amelia Bones and an unknown Auror on either side of him, helping him walk. Other Aurors were quickly filling the Alley, offering comfort and chocolate, and taking witness statements. Sirius was quickly escorted back to Gringotts, where angry goblin guards were forcing people out and keeping them out. Once they saw Sirius, however, the doors were opened wide, and Sirius and his escort were admitted into the lobby. Sharperock came from the direction of his office, barking orders for a service of cocoa and whiskey and a Healer before leading the trio back to the private area of the bank.
“I had assumed that your time of dealing with those creatures was at an end, Lord Black,” Sharperock snarled as he opened his office door, allowing Sirius and his escort to enter and take seats on the luxurious furniture. “Perhaps I was wrong about that.”
Sirius moaned and ran a shaking hand over his face. “I’d hoped the same thing, my friend. But I drove it off. I don’t know how, but I drove it off.”
There was a knock on the door, and then a small troop of goblins entered carrying trays of food, drink, and serving vessels. Sharperock waited until the servants left before personally pouring a measure of whiskey for Sirius and dropping a small chunk of chocolate into the glass with it.
“I’m certain that Healer Argossi will be thrilled with your progress,” Sharperock said dryly. “I am certain that you performed quite competently.”
And now the whiskey was finished and the chocolate was consumed, and Sirius was seriously thinking about asking Sharperock to send for some food when he remembered who was in the office with him.
Turning slightly in his chair, Sirius looked at Amelia and asked, “What the hell was that all about, Amelia? I was under the impression that the Dementors never left Azkaban.”
Amelia sighed. “That’s why I asked to meet you for lunch. There’s been a lot of angst coming from the Minister’s office since your trial, and Fudge is trying to recover his public image after being made to look like a fool. Your visit to my office to retrieve your wand stirred up his anger again, especially since you pointed out quite harshly that two of my Aurors allowed that rat to escape. Fudge had been trying to start a smear campaign against you, but public opinion is on your side.
“Every day, I have to listen to that idiot complain about how ‘Sirius Black is trying to undermine the Ministry’, and I wanted to warn you about it. But yesterday, while going through my evidence files, I noticed that Minister Fudge never rescinded the Kiss-On-Sight order against you. I needed to get word to you, in case he actually sent them after you—and it looks like he actually did.” Amelia growled and reached for more whiskey, which Sharperock happily handed over. “That idiot risked a lot of innocent people by ordering the release of the Dementor in a highly populated area like Diagon Alley. His career is over, because there’s no way he’ll recover from this.”
Sirius’ brow furrowed as he considered her words. He thought quickly about what he knew of Cornelius Fudge. The man was a coward, certainly. He was overly-ambitious but lacked any real power. According to Harry’s Destiny Books, Fudge spent a lot of time asking Albus Dumbledore’s advice on how to run the Ministry before switching tactics after Voldemort’s ‘return’ and condemning both Dumbledore and Harry as insane and unstable fame-seekers. There was also the fact that, in the Fifth Destiny Book, it was Delores Umbridge that sent two Dementors after Harry, hoping to discredit and destroy the boy and garner favor from the Minister. That bitch was a special kind of evil.
“You know, Amelia,” said Sirius hesitantly, “Fudge might not have personally sent the Dementor. I mean, I don’t doubt that he’s the reason for it, but someone else might have done it in order to impress him. Who else has the authority to do such a thing?”
Amelia shook her head slowly. “Not many people. But the order would have to have approval from the DOM, so a requisition would have had to have been filed. I’ll look it up when I get back to the Ministry. What are you going to do?”
“Me?” he asked innocently. “Why, I’m going to call my personal attorney and sue the hell out of the Ministry. Not just for me, of course, but also in the names of every person on the Alley today that might have been in danger of mental and emotional damage from that Dementor. If the Minister isn’t going to look out for the people, someone has to.”
Harry spent the entire first two weeks at school being alternately completely horrified and mildly amused by the headlines on the Daily Prophet and World Magical News, an international newspaper he’d begun a subscription with during Sirius’ trial.
On September second, the Daily Prophet announced: Dementors in Diagon Alley—is the Ministry out of Control? And Harry was horrified to read a story about how ‘recently exonerated Lord Sirius Black’ was the target of a ‘rogue Dementor’.
The following day, the Prophet headline read: Dementors out of Ministry Control, but the WMN headline was: Personal Attack on Wronged Nobleman. The following articles were very telling.
On September fifth, the Prophet tried to appear neutral when announcing: ‘Real’ Trial for Sirius Black, with the front page detailing how the British Ministry had decided that the International Trial for Sirius Black was a farce, and that the Ministry would be conducting its own trial.
On September seventh, the WMN announced: ICW Sanctions Against Brits, and on September eighth: Dumbledore Removed from ICW, and on September tenth: International Trade Pulls from Great Britain, Ireland Takes Over as European Contact. The articles detailed how the British Ministry fell from International grace by ignoring ICW rules, how Albus Dumbledore was voted out of his International Position as Supreme Mugwhump because he sought too much personal power on the International scale, how Britain’s sanctions against non-full-blooded citizens were determined to be in violation of International Human Rights Conventions and unfairly discriminatory, and, oddly enough, how Gringotts International, in conjunction with the World Shamanistic Syndicate, was offering—with some limitations—Moon Charms to anyone suffering from any variety of Lycanthropy free of charge if they were willing to accept work with Gringotts International—with a side article about Moon Charms, what they were, how they worked, and who could be considered for the implants.
Dumbledore had not been seen at the school since his speech at the Welcoming Feast on September First, and the teaching staff was beginning to look worried. By September 7, Professor McGonagall was looking rather frantic, as she was the one fielding mail from worried parents about the status of the school and the Headmaster. On September ninth, Dumbledore reappeared, looking older than Harry ever remembered seeing him, and requested a meeting with Remus Lupin—and then another with Harry Potter. A very angry Harry converged on Lupin’s classroom afterward, ready to either cry or hit something.
“Hello Harry,” said Remus as he opened his office door. “I can’t say I wasn’t expecting you. Do please come in.”
Harry stalked into the office and threw himself into a chair in front of Remus’ desk. “So,” he said calmly, “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”
Remus smirked and poured out another cup of tea from his service. “Well, Headmaster Dumbledore thought I should be able to contain this international issue somehow, and he suggested that I leave on a diplomatic mission to speak with werewolf packs.”
Harry’s eyebrows climbed high into his hairline. “Did he really think you had any kind of power like that?”
Remus shook his head and shrugged. “I doubt it. I was hired for this position out of desperation, really, because he couldn’t secure an Auror on loan from the Ministry. He knows I’ve been working out of the country for the last seven years, and he knows I’m not pack-affiliated in any way. I think he actually thinks that any werewolf or Lycanthrope would have some kind of influence.”
Harry’s jaw dropped. “What? Like every American knows every movie star, or all gay people know each other?”
Remus chuckled. “Probably. Of course, I did have to educate him in the reality of the situation. So what did he want with you?”
Harry’s mouth twisted nastily. “He thinks I should convince Sirius to drop his lawsuit against the Ministry. So, you know, I’m not ostracized at school because of the scandal.” Harry shook his head in disbelief. “I told him, quite honestly, that I had no idea any of this was happening, and I couldn’t stop it anyway. Then I had to point out that Sirius didn’t actually do anything yet; it was the ICW.”
“I think,” said Remus carefully, “that this development was unexpected, and Albus doesn’t know how to deal with it. I know I wasn’t expecting it.”
Harry laughed. “Well, I certainly wasn’t! This was not the plan, Remus! This wasn’t in any of the plans.”
Remus sighed. “I haven’t received any mail from Sirius, have you?”
“No. I was going to write to him after they reported the Dementor attack, but then the World Magical News kind of blew up, and, you know, schoolwork.” Harry shrugged. “I got distracted.”
On September 12, the morning post delivered two very different headlines—Ministry Recovers International Position in the Daily Prophet, followed by an article about the fortunate rebuilding of international relations, and British Ministry Accepts Sanctions, Fines in the World Magical News, capping an article detailing the long social struggle that is still ahead of the British Ministry and all of the concessions that still have to be made. The two newspapers couldn’t have been more different, with the Daily Prophet clearly toeing the Ministry line by feeding a bit of false hope to the citizens of Great Britain.
The Prophet article made no mention of sanctions or fines, blatantly lying about how much power the Ministry was recovering, and making no mention of the ‘human rights violations’ against muggle-borns, half-bloods, and those with magical diseases (lycanthropy) or ‘creature blood’. The truth was, Minister Fudge had had to promise a great deal to just even get a new representative on the ICW, and all of that was reported, in full, in the World Magical News and other international newspapers. Since Harry was the only source of the WMN in Hogwarts—because none of the other students were smart enough to get their own subscriptions—students were begging to be allowed to read it when he was finished. Harry happily left his papers in the library for anybody to read. They were a great distraction.
Sirius Black was dressed in his finest suit, with his Wizengamot robes open over it proudly displaying the Black coat-of-arms and the Blackmoore Device.
The date was September 9, 1993, and Sirius was taking the ultimate step against the British Ministry for Magic because of their ‘blatant stupidity’. Oh, he called it something else, of course, but the basic fact was Cornelius Fudge, in order to make himself look more important and untouchable than he was, made a hugely stupid error by allowing one of his underlings in the Ministry—Sirius’ money was on Umbridge, but since he couldn’t reveal the Destiny Books, he couldn’t say that out loud—to release a Dementor in Diagon Alley before stating to the World at Large that he was going to ignore the WMC trial that proved Sirius’ innocence. Sirius could have quibbled and argued within the Wizengamot, but it still would not have put Fudge back in his place, and Fudge needed to be contained in a major way. If he wasn’t, then when Voldemort did return, the Ministry would become another obstacle for Harry to deal with, and that could not be allowed.
So Sirius, in his role as Lord Black, Earl of Blackmoore, took his case over the Minister’s head, so to speak, and sent a missive to the House of Lords.
Sirius was a practical student of History. It was one of the many, many things that his mother had found fault in, but something that he’d had in common with Lord Arcturus Black—and one of the things that made the old man determined to make Sirius, over all other possibilities, his Heir in Name and Blood. Sirius would happily spend hours at the Old Man’s knee, listening to and reading about the History of the House of Blackmoore, which descended directly from the Royal Line of the Round Table. He eagerly absorbed historical facts about his family, his line, and his country, and he knew that the only way to rein in the Ministry was to make them completely superfluous—or at least to make it seem like they were.
So he sent his complaint to the House of Lords, and the House of Lords forwarded it to the Prime Minister and the House of Commons—and to the Crown. And the ball, as they say, was well in play.
Lord Sirius Black, Earl of Blackmoore, stood confidently in front of Peers and legislators, all of whom were in on the ‘open secret’ about magic and wizardry, and began speaking. “It is a little acknowledged fact,” he said, “that when the Magna Carta was introduced to limit the power of the Crown over the populace, the Wizarding Community refused to comply. The magical community, under the guide of the Ministry for Magic, has always considered the King, or Queen in this instance, to be the Ultimate Power to which they declared loyalty.
“This is because King Stephen I, at the beginning of his conflict with the Empress Matilda, sought to protect the Magicals that were his main support, so he separated the magical community officially and declared the Statute of Secrecy in order to keep it hidden from the ‘opposing force’. Stephen created the Office of Arthur, a King’s Wizard, that would stand as the official primary link between the magicals and the crown, and this Arthur would enforce the Crown’s Law among the Magicals as well as bring Magical enforcers to assist in any combat at the request of the Crown. The Arthur was chosen carefully from amongst the Crown’s supporters, and an Official Oath of Service was sealed, commanding that all members of the newly-instated Magical Government, now known as the Ministry for Magic and the Wizengamot, would remain completely loyal to the Crown—not a specific King or Queen, but the Crown—or else lose their personal magic and social power as penalty for Sedition and/or Treason.”
Sirius glanced around the opulently decorated chamber to see his completely rapt audience. It was not a full convention of the two Houses because not everyone was ‘in the know’, but the Prime Minister was there—and so were the Queen, Elizabeth II, and her Royal Heir, Charles of Edinburgh. And they all looked very interested in what Sirius was saying.
“As recently as 1921, the British Ministry for Magic began acting completely autonomously, enacting laws outside the realm of the Crown, and oft-times ignoring the Law of the Land of Great Britain. Some of those laws include forced segregation and discrimination against Magicals that were not Pure of Blood. This includes, but is not limited to, any magical person born to non-magical parents or persons of mixed-race lineage. This goes against the anti-discrimination laws of Britain, and is completely flaunted by the Ministry of Magic, sometimes to the point of denying those people jobs or employment advancement within the Magical community. This might not mean much in the short term, but the fact is, Britain is hemorrhaging magical talent in large numbers as our citizens leave this country for opportunities elsewhere. Those left behind are often inbred to the point of nullification, and completely entitled to the point where they believe that they are the rightful rulers of this country. It is that belief that has led to the rise of several Dark Lords who have tried several times to overthrow the Power of the Crown or to drag this country into war. The last great Dark Lord that came from Britain was Gellart Grindlewald, who worked openly with Adolph Hitler to eradicate the ‘unsavory’ population that cluttered their ‘pure’ gene pools.
“Recently, in 1975, a new Dark Lord tried to rise, and he gathered a large following of Pure-bloods by reinforcing their beliefs that half-bloods or mundane-borns were magically inferior. The truth is, this Dark Lord, called Voldemort, was actually a half-blood himself, and he fooled many wealthy pure-bloods into swearing fealty to him over all other authority—even the Crown. While Voldemort is not currently in the picture, many of his loyal followers are, and they hold positions in the Wizengamot and fully support those insidious laws that discriminate against seventy-five percent of the magical population.”
Sirius paused to sip from a glass of water, giving his audience time to digest everything he’d said so far. It was a lesson that he learned well at the knee of his grandfather—if you must make a statement, make it loud enough that it cannot be ignored.
“Voldemort, as horrible as he was, is not why I am here,” Sirius continued. “Because the current Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge, has begun a campaign of such self-promotion that he has endangered innocent people and has potentially separated Great Britain from the World Magical Community.”
Hours later, a masked man entered the office of Cornelius Fudge and placed an ornately-lettered parchment on the desk in front of the man himself.
“Who are you?” Fudge asked, shocked, as he pushed back from his desk. “And how did you get in here?”
“I am,” said the man with a magically distorted voice, “the Unspeakable known as ‘The Arthur’. I know you know who and what I am, Fudge. I have been tasked with keeping the Ministry in line with the Crown, and you have become very close to betraying your Oath of Office. That parchment details the wrongs you have committed, or have allowed to be committed. If they are not rectified, I shall be tasked with removing the authority of the Ministry of Magic and returning this power to the Crown.”
“You have no right…,” Fudge blustered.
But ‘Arthur’ shouted, “I have every right! I have every duty, as does every man and woman sworn to serve the Crown as a member of the Ministry and Wizengamot! And under threat of loss of personal magic and the shattering of our Magical Cores, we have sworn to protect and serve the power of the Crown of Britain! You, Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic of Great Britain, are skirting very close to breaking that Oath, and the Crown has been made aware and is now preparing to take back the power that was gifted to the Magicals in this country!”
Fudge watched, silent and shaking, as this ‘Arthur’ person exited his office before reaching for the parchment on his desk and beginning to read.
On September 19, 1993, Professor McGonagall held Harry back after breakfast for a private chat, where she informed him that Professor Dumbledore had decided to disregard the permission slip Harry had submitted for Hogsmeade weekends.
“Do you know why, Professor?” Harry asked with a frown.
“No, Mr. Potter,” she said stiffly. “the Headmaster did not confide his reasons with me. However, he did inform me that he would be willing to have an audience with you this morning before your first class.”
Harry nodded abruptly. “I thank you, Professor. Can you please give me the password?”
Harry pondered possible reasons for Dumbledore’s denial, but could come up with nothing good. Sirius was not a criminal, Harry was sure of that. The Dursleys were no longer Harry’s legal guardians, so there was nothing there.
“Enter!” called Dumbledore when Harry reached the top of the moving staircase, and Harry strolled into the Headmaster’s office. “Ah! Harry, my boy, how nice to see you this morning.”
Harry noticed that there were dark circles under Dumbledore’s eyes, but he was putting on a good front. “Headmaster,” Harry returned. “Professor McGonagall told me that you’re refusing to accept my permission slip for Hogsmeade, and I’d like to know why.”
There was a familiar twinkle in the old man’s eye as he said, “Well, it’s very simple, Harry: the slips must be signed by the student’s parent or legal guardian. Your guardian is your mother’s sister, Petunia, and she did not sign.”
“Actually,” said Harry with a tight smile, “that’s incorrect. I can prove it, and you know I can. But if you want to be petty about it, that’s fine. I’ll not go to Hogsmeade this year with my friends, and I’ll just have Sirius visit me here. There seem to be no official rules against that.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” Dumbledore said, beginning to lose his cool. “Non-staff adults are not permitted during the school year.”
Harry tilted his head as he regarded the Headmaster. “Now, Professor,” he chided, “we both know that’s not true. The Board of Governors comes to visit quite often, as do the parents of several students. And before you try to object to that as well, I would like to remind you that the Earl of Blackmoore actually holds a permanent seat on the Hogwarts Board of Governors, and has since the school gained international accreditation in 1246ce. I know this because my friend, Hermione Granger likes to read interesting parts of Hogwarts: A History out loud in the common room if she’s not doing homework. You might want to consider how much power you really have around here, because outside of school administration, it’s really not much.”
And then Harry turned on his heel and made his way to Charms.
18—Busy Before Christmas
September 20-December 20, 1993
Remus Lupin had been expecting the confrontation since the Welcoming Feast. Because the previous full moon was the night of August thirty-first, it was expected that Remus would have been feeling the effects while on the train to Hogwarts on September first, but no offer of help had come to him then. Now, however, with September more than half-way gone, Severus Snape had seen fit to accost him in the teacher’s lounge, where Remus was enjoying a cup of strong coffee before his afternoon classes—as well as a carefully selected bit of reading material. Other professors were in there, as well, sitting near the fire or under the stained-glass windows, either marking papers or chatting about classes. As it was a Monday afternoon, the ‘shop talk’ always revolved around progress being made, or students that might need extra help. They all had private offices, of course, but students never dared to knock on the lounge door, so there was a bit more freedom for the instructors.
“I assume you’ll be needing the Wolfsbane Potion,” Severus said silkily, just loud enough to be heard by all of the other occupants in the room, and several heads turned to watch the interaction.
“Actually,” said Remus calmly as he looked up at the darker man before him, “I do not. But it was kind of you to ask.” The sarcasm was clear in his voice, but Snape decided to overlook it.
“You do know that if you refuse the potion, you shall pose a risk to every child in this school.”
Remus smirked. “No more than you, I think, Severus. Actually, considering the dangerous ingredients you have stored in your classroom, I think you pose even more of a danger.”
Snape visibly bristled, eyes sparking with anger. “With your condition…,”
“My condition,” interrupted Remus angrily, “is called Lycanthropy. It is a blood-borne disease, and it does not make me dangerous. And it is not a shameful secret, as some people have wanted me to believe since childhood.” Remus glanced around the lounge, but found every watching face turning away from his gaze in shame. “In fact, my condition was never a secret here, Severus, despite what you may think. Albus may have come across as some kind of benevolent savior, but I would always have been welcome as a student at Hogwarts no matter my blood status or health condition.”
Remus stood and brandished the thick book he had been reading. “This is a copy of the original Hogwarts School Charter, including amendments added from 1560 to 1925, and there is an entire section for dealing with children who had been unfortunately inflicted with many conditions, including Lycanthropy. In fact, there is a specially warded room in the Astronomy Tower, just under the classroom, that was always intended for such students. Wolfsbane Potion was never supposed to be an option, and I’ll never again have to ingest the horrid stuff.” Remus smirked again at the shocked expression on Snape’s face. “I have been gifted with a Moon Charm, Severus, and am in complete control of my shift. In fact, I don’t ever have to transform during the full moon again if I don’t want to. And before you try to be all sanctimonious, I did appear before the entire Board of Governors in August just to explain the Moon Charm and how it affects my Lycanthropy. They fully approved my employment thanks to the Charm embedded in my skin, Severus; would they feel the same about the Mark embedded in yours?”
Remus stalked to the door of the Lounge with his head held high. Before opening the door, he set the School Charter on a table against the wall and turned to face the room again. “You all should maybe read this entirely before passing judgment on any student or teacher in this school. And after you do that, perhaps you should read some trial transcripts from the first Voldemort War, just to see what it takes to officially become a Death-Eater—and what they have to do before they are marked. After all,” Remus sneered, “if you can forgive Severus his sins, then perhaps you have it in you to forgive me for being a victim as a child.”
Remus left the lounge in silence, smiling to himself the whole way back to his classroom.
Harry kept his eye on Hermione during all of their classes, watching for signs of fatigue. She was attending classes—a lot of classes—but she’d not yet begun to slip. Of course, she kept her schedule private, which was odd to everyone but Harry, and a few Gryffindors seemed to be confused as to how she claimed to be in some classes at the same time as others, but Harry hadn’t yet found a way to approach her about the dangers of using a time-turner.
Ron was, predictably, upset that Harry had dropped Divination and picked up two highly-academic classes that were not the ‘easy pass’ classes Ron would have preferred. Harry wasn’t sure why his old friend was angry that Harry was taking his education seriously, and he resolved to talk about it as soon as possible. Fortunately, he was ahead on his own homework for once, even finishing his Potions essay right after class instead of waiting for the last minute like he used to do.
So Harry bounded into the Common Room with a goal in mind, and pounced as soon as he saw the red-head in the corner. “Hey, Ron!” he called as he dropped his bag on the floor in front of the comfy sofa. “I could use a break today! Do you maybe want to teach me more chess?”
Ron brightened immediately. “Yeah, I can do that. Do you still have the piece set you got at Christmas First year?”
Harry nodded. “Yeah, they’re in my trunk. Do you want to play here, or somewhere else? I know about a quiet corner near the third-floor landing.”
Ron glanced around the common room, taking in the other students present and making note of his brothers near the fireplace. “Let’s take it out of here, yeah?”
Harry nodded and picked up his bag. “Are your pieces and board on top of your stuff like usual? I can grab them when I drop off my bag.”
“Yeah, they are, thanks,” said Ron agreeably.
Harry jogged up the stairs to the Third Year dorm and dropped his bag into his own warded trunk before moving to Ron’s opened one and digging through the clutter to find the chessboard and Ron’s antique pieces. Harry would always admit to being envious of those chess pieces. Not only were they completely seasoned, and almost able to play on their own, they were a physical link to Ron’s family—particularly a great-uncle on his father’s side who was an avid chess player. Harry had, and treasured, the photo album that Hagrid had given him for Christmas his first year at Hogwarts, but he would have given anything for something like this—a tangible link that proved Harry shared an interest with one of his ancestors. Sure, he played Quidditch, but he didn’t play the same position as his late father, and the only object he owned that was a link to his parents was that invisibility cloak—and that turned out to be a legacy that linked Harry to Death rather than to Life.
Harry sighed and grabbed his booty before heading back down the staircase. It was time to hopefully salvage one friendship. He already had a good idea about how to deal with the Time-turner issue.
Sitting in an alcove on a staircase landing, Harry watched as Ron steadfastly set up the chess game, offering his own meager pieces for placement. “You know,” he said casually, “we should probably schedule time for a game every couple of weeks or so, just to get out minds clear from the heavy class work.”
Ron looked up, surprised. “Yeah? I thought you really didn’t like chess that much.”
Harry shrugged. “It’s not that I don’t like it. I just never played, you know. I mean, Uncle Vernon and Dudley weren’t exactly the type, you know? And I didn’t have friends from school to play with, or even someone to teach me—until I met you.”
Ron bit down on his lip as he considered Harry’s first move. “I don’t know what I’d be like if I didn’t have chess, Harry. I was a small child, and I was always picked-on by Fred and George. I think Dad taught me to play to keep me out of their way a bit.”
Harry nodded absently. “I wish I’d had something to keep me out of Dudley’s way when I was growing up. The only place I was safe from him was in the kitchen, and that was because he was a bit afraid that Aunt Petunia might make him cook, too. He grew out of that fear, of course.”
Harry felt Ron’s heavy gaze on him but he kept his head down as he watched the pieces. “I think I’d like to learn to cook sometime,” Ron said eventually, “but Mum’s kind of the queen in that kingdom.” A few more moves were made, and Harry lost two pieces, before Ron said, “I never said, but I’m really sorry about how Mum acted in Diagon Alley. And I really didn’t know she sent that Howler.”
Harry looked up. “I know, Ron. It’s not your fault.”
“Yeah, I know it’s not, but I still feel bad about it. You were on my side, you know? Bill and Charlie moved out a long time ago, and Percy’s a prat who only wants to study all the time. Fred and George look at me like my only purpose is to test their pranks, which is not any fun at all, and Ginny? Ginny’s the pampered baby in the family.” Rom moved his pawn, losing it against one of Harry’s pieces spectacularly. “But when we became friends, it was like you were there for just me. I know that sounds silly and selfish.”
Harry laughed. “You know, that first train trip to school, I wanted to buy everything from the snack trolley just so I could share it with you because I’d never had anyone to share with before. I never had a friend, but I’d also never been free to make friends before. Dudley always chased off anyone who acted like they wanted to get to know me.” Harry sighed and leaned back on his hands, considering his next words carefully. “Ron, when I was told that I was a wizard and would be coming here for school, it was a dream for me. I was going far away from the Dursleys, and I was going to have a chance to learn stuff that I’d never even considered before! And I was going to have a chance to make friends for once, and to try to become my own person. You saw what it was like for me when you and your brothers rescued me from my locked bedroom last year. Just being told that there was the possibility for getting out was a special kind of magic all on its own.”
Harry watched his first friend consider his words, and he knew now would be the best time to press further. “But maybe you do understand how I felt because you’ve spent your whole life living in the shadow of your older brothers. Coming here was supposed to be your chance to become your own person, but you still stay in that shadow.” Harry watched as the red flush of temper flowed over Ron’s face and he held out a hand in supplication. “Wait, Ron, and let me say this before you get mad and storm off, okay? Yeah, it really sucks that all you have are hand-me-downs, including your school robes and your first wand, but I never had anything new, either. Not before I came into the magical world. And yes, it sucks that Fred and George are so boisterous and popular, but you could be making something of yourself away from all that if you wanted. Fred and George aren’t just like Percy, and I bet Percy isn’t just like Charlie, and Charlie isn’t just like Bill. Fred and George are just like each other, and you’re just like you, and I think being an individual is better than being a copy.
“But you seem to waste so much energy complaining about what you don’t have that I don’t think you’ve considered the possibilities of what you could have. I play Quidditch. I’m good at it, but the only reason I know that is because I pulled a stupid stunt that could have gotten me expelled, and the only reason I actually play is because it’s the only way I can fly at this school and get away with it. But I’ll tell you a secret: I never asked for it. I was looking forward to flying lessons because they were something new, but I discovered freedom in the air.” Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair, messing it more than usual. “But if Professor McGonagall hadn’t made it seem like I had to play or I’d be kicked out of school for that stupid broom duel with Malfoy, I would never have even tried out for the team. I don’t understand team sports, and I was the youngest player, and it felt like a trap. She bought me a broom, Ron, and I never asked for it. She literally broke the rules just for me, and it really put me on the spot. And for one very long moment, after I got that broom, the very first friend that I ever made in my life got jealous of me, and I think I was as much afraid to lose you as a friend as I was to turn down the Seeker position.”
Ron’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Harry, mate! That’s just barmy! Yeah, I guess I was jealous, but I was also happy that you got a spot on the team.”
Harry cocked his head sideways. “But would you have still understood if I’d quit the team? Because I have to be honest—I’m really considering giving back that broom and dropping out. I want to learn and study. I’ve enjoyed every class I’ve had here, with the exception of Potions, and that has more to do with Snape than anything else. And I’ve learned enough to know that I have a lot more to learn. The practice schedule is harsh, you know? Oliver Wood wants to play professionally after Hogwarts, but I don’t think anyone else on the team does. And yet, we all have to put up with that insane practice schedule and miss sleep, skip meals, and sometimes mess-up our homework.”
Ron sat back on his hands and whistled sharply. “You really want to quit? McGonagall’ll go spare!”
Harry nodded in agreement. “Yeah, she probably will. But if she’s any kind of educator, she’ll want what’s ultimately best for me rather than the Quidditch cup. I’ve got plans, Ron, and they don’t include playing professional Quidditch. But what about you, Ron? What do you want to do? I know we’re only thirteen, but this was the year we were allowed to plan our education. All those electives we were allowed to choose from were supposed to help us decide where our futures lie.”
Ron huffed sharply. “Yeah, and I picked that barmy fortune-telling class! I wish you’d told me you were going to drop it before school started. I would have done the same thing!”
Harry laughed in surprise. “You can still drop, right up to the Christmas holidays, if you want.”
“Yeah,” Ron sighed, “but it’s too late to pick anything else.”
Harry reached out with his leg and kicked Ron lightly on the foot. “Ron! Do you want to become a chef? If you do, I’ll teach you how to cook. Do you want to become a Healer? I’ll help you learn basic first-aid. Do you want to become an artist? I’ll take a painting class with you so you don’t have to do it alone. If you want a career with magical creatures, I’d find another program outside of Hogwarts, because Hagrid likes too many dangerous animals for anyone’s peace of mind. And I’m not offering any kind of charity, because you come from a proud family and I respect that, but I’d like for you to find your passion without riding in the shadow of your brothers, so if I need to ask my account manager to set up a scholarship or something, then I will. And if you feel the need to repay anything, then you can do that after you get a job.”
Ron’s eyes narrowed slightly. “You’re serious, aren’t you? No matter what I want to do, you’ll try to help me? Even if you think it’s stupid?”
Harry sighed deeply. “Ron! The only thing I think would be stupid is if you don’t try anything and then complain about getting nothing. You could become a garbage collector for all I care!”
Ron wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Who would want to collect garbage?”
“Let me get this straight—you want me to speak to Professor McGonagall about Hermione’s use of a Time-turner, even though we have no actual proof that she’s using one?”
Remus Lupin stopped pacing in front of his desk to stare at the boy sitting in the front row of the classroom. “That’s ridiculous, Harry!”
Harry merely shook his head. “No, it’s not. She’s distracted in class, and I know you’ve noticed. She’s the same way in Arithmancy and Ancient Runes, and she got real snippy with Lavender Brown in the Common Room because she was talking about the Divination class. That’s not like her at all. It’s the middle of October, and right about now Hermione should be nagging me and Ron about our homework, but she’s not doing that. She’s not looking forward to Hogsmeade, she’s not highlighting blocks in her planner, she’s not sleeping well and she’s barely eating.”
Remus sighed and sat heavily on top of the desk at the front of the room. “And I’m a concerned teacher.” He nodded once. “Fine, I’ll request a copy of her schedule from Minerva and….” He trailed off when Harry started shaking his head. “What, then, Harry? What should I do?”
Harry offered a clever grin. “I have an idea.”
“Remus, come in,” gushed McGonagall pleasantly. “I was about to have some tea, would you care to join me?”
Remus smiled a bit nervously. “Yes, thank you, Minerva. I was actually hoping to talk to you about a student.”
McGonagall arched an eyebrow in query. “Really? Have you thought of an idea to convince Mr. Potter to not quit Quidditch? I was very surprised when he offered to return his Firebolt just before the first practice of the season.”
Remus laughed in surprise. “No, nothing like that. I wasn’t aware that being on the House team was a forced endeavor?”
“Forced? What are you talking about? Of course being on the team is voluntary.”
“Then why,” Remus asked dryly, “are you trying so hard to keep Harry on the team? Never mind,” he said shaking his head, “that’s not important right now.”
“Very well,” said McGonagall as she settled behind her desk. “How can I help you today? You said you had a problem with a student?”
Remus accepted the cup of tea and crossed on leg over the other at the knee. “Yes, one of my Third Year students, actually. They seem to have developed a sense of entitlement and I’m having trouble reaching them. They’ve become quite used to having everything they want handed to them. It’s most frustrating, because I can see failure looming and can do nothing to stop it.” He sighed, trying to appear dejected while glancing at his mentor through lowered lashes. “What will happen to this student,” he continued softly, “when they advance past Third Year, and still expect everything to be handed to them with no question? I know that school only gets harder from here, and their expectations seem to be that they won’t actually have to work for anything.”
McGonagall set aside her teacup and folded her hands together on top of her desk. “I do understand your struggle, Remus, especially as a new teacher. It’s easy to become disillusioned about your job when the students can be hard to reach. And I also understand that Mr. Malfoy can be especially difficult to reach for anyone who is not a pure-blood or a Slytherin.”
Remus; brow wrinkled in confusion. “Malfoy? Who said anything about Malfoy?”
McGonagall blinked. “Wasn’t that who you were talking about?”
“No, Minerva. I was actually talking about a Gryffindor student.”
McGonagall slumped slightly. “Ah, Mr. Weasley, then. He’s notoriously lazy in class, and then gets upset when his grades are…,” she trailed off as Remus shook his head slowly. “Not Mr. Weasley? Well, then, why not tell me who you’re concerned about.”
Remus leaned forward and placed his teacup carefully on the desk. “I’m talking about Hermione Granger, Minerva. I’ve been watching her, lately, and she’s undergone a dramatic personality change in the last two months. At first, I thought she might be overworked, but then I realized that this is her Third year, when she was allowed to add electives to her schedule, so I put it down to not being used to a few extra classes. But then I spoke to some of her other instructors, and do you know what I learned, Minerva?”
“Why don’t you tell me, Remus,” she said dryly.
“I discovered that Hermione is taking several classes that are actually scheduled at the same time. And none of her professors have reported her missing any of the classes.”
“What is your point, Remus?” she asked tightly.
Remus ran a weary hand over his face. “I know you’ve not bothered to look into it, but would you like to know some of the effect of repeated use of a Time-turner?”
“No, Minerva, you need to understand a few things, because I’ve actually researched this while living in France. Repeated use of a Time-turner to reset hours over and over causes strain to the Magical Core. In a fully developed, adult wizard, this can cause magical exhaustion and a weakening of general power. In an under-aged wizard, repeated use of a Time-turner can force an early Magical Maturation—followed by a dampening of the Magical Core. From what I can gather just by casual observation, Hermione is repeating hours to take classes, and then she’s repeating hours to do her homework. And then she’s studying ahead, doing extra research, and spending way too much time in the library.
“And Minerva, she’s missing meals, and losing sleep, and her entire personality is changing. I’ve seen her running through the halls because she’s late for something, and that’s because she’s fallen asleep in the library while doing homework.”
McGonagall looked completely wrecked. “I…I had no idea, Remus. When she signed up for those classes, this was not what we agreed to!”
“Really, Minerva? And what about forcing the girl to learn to prioritize? Why allow her to have all the classes on her list in the first place? You never would have allowed that when I was a student here!”
“But the girl is so eager to learn!”
Remus pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers and prayed for patience. “Minerva, your job is to guide, not to give in to unreasonable expectations. I’ll bet anything that if any other student had signed up for every single elective, you would have pulled them aside for a conference and made them choose which subjects were more important, and to discuss what the student’s over-all goals were.” McGonagall had the grace to look ashamed, so Remus offered an olive branch. “It’s not too late for that, Minerva. Pull her in and give her the facts. She’s a bright girl, yes, but she’s also impulsive, and she’s been allowed to go outside boundaries without censure before. You are aware, are you not, that she brewed Polyjuice Potion last year, without safety measures, and with stolen ingredients? I believe she turned herself into a cat?”
“Yes,” agreed McGonagall weakly, “she did.”
“And what was her punishment for such a thing?”
“We, the staff, thought the consequences of becoming extremely fuzzy were punishment enough.”
“Really?” asked Remus dryly. “And even Severus went along with that? I do find that hard to believe. Especially since he, above all others, would understand the dangers of brewing such a volatile potion in an unregulated environment.” Remus briefly thought back to a moment from the summer and smiled to himself. “Minerva, sometimes the very intelligent people around us are so concerned about whether or not they can do something, they never wonder if they should. Hermione is one of those people; she pushes and pushes her own abilities without concern about consequences, because she’s never been shown the consequences. She didn’t even get a slap on the wrist for brewing that Polyjuice last year, not even for stealing the ingredients, and any other student would have been shown the door.”
McGonagall blew a frustrated sigh through her nose. “You’re right, of course. Severus was most displeased that the girl was not punished, and then she got petrified and we were more concerned about the safety of the school than the punishment of one student.” She slammed open hands onto her desk and straightened her spine. “Very well, you are correct in your assessment of the situation. I never would have allowed any other student to use a Time-turner in order to take so many classes, but Miss Granger is just so…brilliant! She shows so much promise, and I would do so much to see her succeed. And I had no idea that she could be damaging her Magical Core. Albus never gave any indication! I’ll call her into my office in the morning, after breakfast. She’ll likely not be happy, but I’ll deal with that.”
Lord Sirius Black sat patiently in a deep leather chair in Sharperock’s office, sipping strong black coffee from a delicate china cup, while the shrewd and wily goblin interviewed a young wizard named Alonzo Suge, a Parselmage recommended by Healer Marasso.
Because Marasso was instrumental in removing a Soul Fragment—a horcrux—from Harry’s scar, Sharperock made the decision to inform the man of their task to destroy several others. The foreign Healer wasn’t completely informed of Harry’s Destiny, but he was told enough to know that a Parselmouth might be needed to at least locate other Fragments. Marasso understood the Dark Lord Voldemort wasn’t an actual Parselmage—that he couldn’t actually ever be because his Magical Core and Magical Soul were too Dark to have utilized Parselmagic, but he was told that Voldemort was a Speaker of some form or another and used Parseltongue to cast spells, so the elderly Healer was happy to recommend several of his personal protégés to the cause. Suge was the fourth to be interviewed, and he was the most promising: a student of Parselmagic and Parselhealing, with a concentration in counter-curses. Suge had graduated from the Arkeologia Akademia with prospects of Mastering in Healing before attending the ICW Law Enforcement Academy.
“Do you understand what we are asking of you, Mr. Suge?” asked Sharperock. “We don’t actually need you to destroy the item in question, but we believe that it is hidden behind wards that were cast in Parseltongue.”
Suge nodded in understanding. “Yes, I understand. You do not believe the wards are actually created out of Parselmagic, however, so they should only be as strong as any normal protection wards.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that bit,” interjected Sirius quietly. “Voldemort was an incredibly powerful wizard in his prime, and he was very strong when he placed this object. Those wards will be War-Ward level, so they’ll not come down easily. And Voldemort could have layered enchantments all over the place, which will make bringing down the wards even more difficult. What we’re asking you to do is not an easy thing, and it very well could be dangerous.”
“Bai ulertzen dun,” Suge uttered calmly. “I do understand. I shall have to meditate and guard my mind with powerful shields to protect it. But as I can actually use Parselmagic, and this pretender could not, I should have the advantage. It is only this one object that you need my help with?”
“Yes,” Sirius nodded. “The other cursed items are hidden elsewhere, but are not under wards like this. This particular item…,” Sirius sighed. “Look, I’ll not lie, because you need to really understand how bad this will be. We have every reason to believe that there’s a strong compulsion on this object, and that’s covering a wasting curse. It will make you want to hold it, and then it will try to kill you. I can’t allow you to go into this without understanding that.”
Suge offered a vicious grin. “I have been training with combat magic, Lord Black. This is the sort of thing I shall live for.”
“Yeah, well, just as long as you don’t die for it.”
Goblins were an honorable race. Only the very foolish misunderstood this. It was true of all goblins with very few exceptions, and those exceptions never lived for very long.
Albus Dumbledore was a very foolish wizard, and Griphook did not expect to live for very long. Dumbledore had offered the bank assistant a chance at recovering a prized relic, The Legendary Sword of Gryffindor, and Griphook had foolishly thought he could gain some prestige within the Goblin Nation after he returned the relic to the Horde coffers.
That…was not what happened.
Rather, Ragnok, High Chieftain of the Goblin Nation, had removed Griphook from his lowly position as assistant and clapped him in chains, hidden away in the lower reaches of Gringotts London. Griphook languished there for two months, hanging against a dripping rock wall with only his own mind for company. All he could think about for the first few weeks was revenge.
Then all he could think about was redemption. Honor was intrinsic to the Goblin’s existence, and Griphook had lost his. His only hope was to be given an opportunity to regain some of that honor. He’d never again work in the luxury of the bank, he knew that. But without any sort of honor, Griphook’s life would not be worth living for even a short while.
Some long time after the caverns deep under the bank turned colder with the season, Ragnok ordered Griphook to be removed from his cell, washed and dressed, and brought to Ragnok’s office. Griphook’s arrogance had long been tempered, and he faced his Chieftain with stooped shoulders and a lowered head.
“You have made a grave mistake, Griphook,” snarled Ragnok. “You have damaged our pact with Lady Magic by allowing Dumbledore access to a vault that was not his own.”
Griphook shivered at the icy tone. “I have no excuse, my Chieftain.”
“You think not, Griphook? I think you excused your actions with Dumbledore with what you assumed to be a very good reason.” Ragnok stood and stalked to the front of his desk. “But I will allow this to become an educational opportunity for you, and I shall inform you that the Sword of Gryffindor was created long ago, when Wild Magic first entered this world, to seal the Pact between the Goblin Nation and Lady Magic. It was one of seven artifacts created to defend Magic in this realm, and it was never meant to be the property of the Goblin Nation. In fact, it was imbued with a very specific enchantment that made it impossible for the artifact to be utilized in any way except by a worthy Heir to the Realm of Magic.” Ragnok spread his hands and a thick book appeared in them, open in the middle and exposing pages yellowed with age. Dark ink covered the pages with text in an ancient Goblin dialect, and there were small colorful illustrations of several Goblin-Wrought items. “All of those artifacts are displayed in magical locations, so that the Wild Magic that was infused into them can influence the ambient magic of the locations. The Sword of Solomon, for example, is prominently displayed in the atrium of the Salem Academy in the United States, and the Sphere of Gloriana is encased in an unbreakable glass globe inside a fountain in the Library of Alexandria in Egypt.”
Ragnok closed the book and it disappeared before Griphook’s eyes. Ragnok sneered and Griphook feared for his very life. “Albus Dumbledore used some sort of identifying charm to find a goblin of weak constitution and great ambition, and he found you. I could make an example of you, but I have been persuaded to give you a chance to redeem a small bit of honor.”
Griphook swallowed nervously. “I will do anything, my Chieftain!”
“Yes,” Ragnok sneered, “I expect you will.” Ragnok walked to the back of his desk and retook his seat. He folded his hands together on top of his desk and stared at Griphook for a long moment. “There is an artifact inside a vault in our High-Security area, and we need it to be removed. There is a curse upon it, and it is a taint on Gringotts to allow it to remain.”
“Then why has it not been removed?” Griphook asked meekly.
“Because it is in the LeStrange Vault.”
Griphook’s eyes widened in shock. “But…the LeStrange’s have been allowed to set their own personal security within their vaults!”
“Yes,” agreed Ragnok toothily, “they have.”
October 31 was never really Harry’s favorite day. That made a certain amount of sense, as it was the day that his parents were murdered. Harry hated the way the Wizarding World seemed to see it as a day of celebration because it was also the day that Voldemort was supposedly vanquished, and those celebrations completely overshadowed the fact that two people were killed, leaving their infant child alone in the world.
Even Harry’s friends seemed caught up in the party atmosphere, ignoring the fact that Harry was always unusually quiet and subdued on that day. The previous year, Harry had been allowed to ignore Halloween in favor of Sir Nicholas’ Death-Day celebration, but that would not be happening this year. Apparently a five-hundred-year anniversary was something to celebrate, but five-hundred-and-one was not.
And, of course, the troll wandering about drew all the attention during Harry’s First year at Hogwarts. It was hard to wallow when you were frightened for your life—and in a rush to save someone hiding in the girls’ loo.
This year, Harry seemed to actually have something to celebrate. On the morning of October 31, a House-elf dressed in neat Livery bearing the Blackmoore coat-of-arms popped in quickly and quietly next to Harry as he sat for breakfast, delivered a thick stack of newspapers, and popped out again before almost anyone could take notice. Hermione noticed, of course, but she seemed to notice a lot more after dropping three courses and being forced to take more care of herself. She was also more even-tempered, but wisely nobody ever mentioned that.
Before Hermione could ask about the strangely-dressed Elf, Harry began sifting through the stack of papers. There were eleven in total, and they all had the same photograph on the cover: an ageless wizard with dark hair and a long, patrician nose, dressed in formal robes, standing in front of some kind of audience. The headlines were in dark, bold font, but Harry couldn’t read most of them.
Hermione reached for some of the papers and began sorting through them. “Harry,” she said softly, “these are in all different languages.”
“I noticed,” Harry said dryly. “I can recognize French, and I think this one is German.”
“This one is Spanish,” Hermione added, “but this one looks Cyrillic, or something like it.”
Just then, as Ron finally joined them for breakfast, the post owls began filling the Great Hall, and the Daily Prophet was dropped unceremoniously on the table in front of Harry. As it bore the exact same photograph, Harry reached for it, but was interrupted by Hedwig, who was bearing a letter of her own.
“Hey, girl,” cooed Harry as she perched on his shoulder. “Do you have something for me?” Harry offered a bit of bacon to his feathered friend and took the letter from her talon.
Dear Harry—the shite, as they say, has hit the fan! And it’s completely international news. Have a good read!—Sirius
That wasn’t exactly informative, but it did explain why so many differently-languaged newspapers had been delivered to him before breakfast. Before Harry could recover his copy of The Daily Prophet, Hermione had grabbed it and began reading aloud.
“An emergency session of the Wizengamot was called on October 28, and was only concluded on the evening of October 30,” she read clearly. “The purpose of the session was to apparently re-establish the rules governing the Wizengamot, and those ruling the Ministry of Magic.”
As Hermione read the main article, Harry began watching the other tables, where other students were also reading the paper. The reactions were fairly consistent, with shock and disbelief standing out. There were gasps coming from the Head Table, where the professors were also reading the article. Harry could see the exact moment when the Slytherin Table, almost in sync, reached the part about the Wizengamot Members being compelled to either comply with a specific Oath of Service to the Crown or be removed as sitting members; the expression on Malfoy’s face alone would fuel Harry’s mirth for a long time to come.
“Apparently this Oath of Service is meant to keep subversives from doing damage to the kingdom,” said Hermione thoughtfully.
“What’s that mean, though?” asked Ron, without his mouth full for once.
“I think,” said Harry slowly, “that it means that anyone who has intentions of bringing harm to Britain can’t serve objectively. And that means that anyone with a Dark Mark, or anyone who is obviously keen to discriminate against a large portion of the population, like half-bloods or muggle-borns, can’t stand as a representative of the Magical People. This Oath of Service isn’t meant to force the Ministry to act a certain way; it’s meant to keep the Ministry from subjugating British Subjects.”
“I agree,” said Hermione after a moment. “The representatives of the Crown don’t seem to want to dictate how the Ministry sets rules and laws, but they seem to be intent on making sure laws aren’t passed that can discriminate against or harm specific people.”
“But can they enforce something like that?” asked Ron. “I mean, Dad said a lot of Wizards who had the money and power got let off by claiming they were Imperiused during their trials.” Ron turned slightly to look at Malfoy, who appeared quite furious about the news article. “So how can they keep someone like that out of the Wizengamot now? And what laws are you talking about?”
Harry nodded and fed another bit of bacon to Hedwig before the owl flew off to the owlrey. “Well, there’s that bit of anti-werewolf legislation that Sirius told me was in the works a while back. It was meant to keep anyone suffering from Lycanthropy from ever getting a fair-paying job anywhere in Britain, even if they aren’t dangerous. And there are laws on the books now allowing anyone to refuse muggle-borns with employment or advancement, just because they’re not pure-bloods.”
Ron wrinkled his nose as he reached for a platter of eggs. “I know that sort of thing is rubbish, but why force it out now?”
“Because,” said Harry as he gestured to the stack of foreign newspapers, “other countries have known for decades that blood status is no indication of magical power or intent, and discrimination of this sort is keeping British wizards and witches from becoming a bigger part of the World Community. I’ve been reading all about it in the World Magical News. Apparently the Ministry for Magic has been disregarding the Oath of Service to The Crown since around 1900, and that Oath is a requirement for the Ministry. It has been since 1142, when King Stephen allowed the Ministry to form in order to protect Magicals during the civil war against Matilda.”
Hermione’s eyebrows shot to her hairline as she stared at Harry. Harry merely shrugged. “What? I know things! I had a lot of time to read over the summer, and it’s totally not my fault that this stuff isn’t covered in History of Magic.”
Ron coughed lightly to cover a laugh and asked, “What else does the paper say, Hermione?”
Hermione shook her head at Harry and turned back to the paper, flipping through the pages before finding auxiliary articles. “Well,” she said while nibbling a triangle of toast, “this part is interesting, because it gives a few details of the Oath of Service.” She read silently while eating, leaving Ron and Harry to share a smile and finish their own food. “Ooh! Harry was right?”
“About what?” asked Ron.
“You don’t have to seem so surprised,” muttered Harry.
Hermione glared at Harry before answering, “This says that there is risk of loss of personal magic if a Ministry employee or member of the Wizengamot acts against the Oath of Service, and if they all refuse to take the Oath as a whole, then the Ministry can be dissolved and the power will revert completely to the Crown. So Harry was right about anyone carrying the Mark of You-Know-Who not being able to take the Oath, if they have to swear on their Magic to uphold the Honor of the Crown and serve and protect every magical citizen of Great Britain. Death-Eaters are definitely not looking to protect anyone but Pure-bloods, and they don’t care about the rights of anyone but themselves.”
“So this Oath thingy is going to force the Wizengamot to give more freedom and rights to everybody?”
Harry shook his head. “I don’t think so. I mean, there are plenty of people on the Wizengamot that want to keep all the power within just a few families without being Blood Purists. This Oath is just to make sure that nobody within the Ministry can become an outright enemy of the Crown. If, say, someone takes the Oath of Service successfully, and then takes the Dark Mark, they’ll suffer for it because taking the Mark is a sign of terrorism.”
Ron winced slightly. “People are not going to be happy about that.”
“No, they’re not,” agreed Harry. “But the ones who are the most unhappy are the ones who are the most dangerous, and they should not have power at all.”
The day before everyone was scheduled to leave for Christmas break, Harry received a small package in the post. It was from Sirius (and Sharperock, Harry supposed), and he handled it very cautiously.
“It’s a bit early for Christmas gifts, isn’t it, Harry?” asked Ron curiously.
Harry shrugged. “It’s for a special project, actually. Just something extra for a special gift for Sirius.”
“He sent you something for his own present?”
Harry laughed. “Nah, not like that. It’s like, there’s a project we’re working on together, to get to know each other better. He’s got a part, and I’ve got a part, and then we’ll get our parts together.”
Ron nodded, understanding. “So, um…will you still be able to talk with your manager at the bank?”
Harry smiled at his friend’s hesitation. Ever since their talk over chess, Ron had been considering his options. His first move was, of course, to drop Divination as a class. He hadn’t enjoyed it very much, anyway, and often got headaches from the incense burning in the classroom at the top of the North Tower. His second move was a meeting with Professor McGonagall for a sort of career counseling, where he was able to discuss possible employment opportunities that had nothing to do with Quidditch, dragons, or curse-breaking. Since Ron also didn’t feel the urge to work within the Ministry, Professor McGonagall was forced to do a bit of research.
Two meetings later, Ron was left with a folder of information packets about various careers that were logic-based, and he’d decided on Mind-Healing of all things. There were classes that he would need to take, like Basic Healing Arts and Introductory Psychology, that were not available at Hogwarts, so he’d hesitantly asked Harry about a possible scholarship for summer vacations. Harry was as good as his word, and he’d contacted Sharperock about setting up several scholarships in the name of Lily Potter—for any student who wanted to study away from Hogwarts but could not afford tuition.
Of course, the discussion about Mind Healing led to Harry’s disclosure about his own sessions with Healer Argossi, and Sirius’, and how helpful they were with Harry’s nightmares about the basilisk. And talking about the basilisk led to talking about Ginny’s experiences the previous year and the possibility of that sort of healing helping her. Harry knew that the Weasleys would likely not be able to afford a private Healer for Ginny, but the girl probably really did need it, so he also discussed the situation with Sirius and Sharperock, and a plan was hatched to approach Mr. Weasley privately, during the holidays, and offer to gift the treatments to the girl. Harry was prepared to make it a condition of a Life Debt if necessary, saying that he saved Ginny’s life, so she would have to go through therapy to make it worth living again. That would also serve the dual purpose of making sure the Weasleys didn’t try to offer Ginny up as a wife in order to pay the Life Debt.
“Yeah, mate,” said Harry, “no worries on that front. I have an appointment with my account manager for Boxing Day, and you’re not going to be the only one getting a scholarship. I want to set it up that anyone can apply for one if they want to study extra subjects outside of Hogwarts. You’ll just be the first to be granted one, you know? A perk of being the first one I chose.”
Ron grinned. “Awesome! I mean, I know nobody will believe that I actually want to study outside of school, or at all really, but this is something I really want to do. It’s…different, you know?”
Harry nodded. “Yeah, I get it. It’s personal to just you, so there will be no comparisons. And it’s a good thing, too. I mean, Healer Argossi was a great help to me, so I think it’s great that you want to help people like that. Trauma can be crippling, and not a lot of people think about it.”
Ron blushed and rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “Yeah, well…I gave a lot of thought to what kind of person I really wanted to be. I want to be a good friend, and I want to be a good person, and I can’t be that if I’m completely self-absorbed and worried too much about how my family will react to me. I know I have to make my own way, just like Bill and Charlie did.”
Harry clapped his friend on the shoulder lightly. “I’ll stand behind you one-hundred percent, Ron, no matter what you do. That’s what friends are for, yeah?”
Later that afternoon, while everyone in his dorm was packing for the holiday, Harry took his invisibility cloak from his trunk and headed out of Gryffindor Tower. He headed to the library, making sure he was seen by several people as he headed deep into the stacks. Once he was concealed well enough, he draped the cloak over himself and headed out of the library and up the stairs to the seventh floor. Harry quickly found the tapestry of the wizard trying to teach trolls to dance ballet and then turned to face the blank wall on the other side of the corridor.
Harry’s task was simple: find the lost Diadem of Ravenclaw, hidden somewhere inside the Room of Requirement, and place it carefully into the warded mokeskin bag that Sirius sent to him. Once inside the bag, the effect of the Horcrux would be completely nullified, so Harry wasn’t afraid of that part. Instead, Harry was afraid of what else he would find inside that magical room.
He knew about the Vanishing Cabinet that could be used to bring Death-Eaters into the school. He knew about broken trunks and treasures and potions ingredients. He even knew about a set of Potions textbooks that had been scribbled in, and he was wondering if he’d have the time to search for them. Snape was a regular ass, that was incontrovertible, but he was also a genius when it came to Potions, and Harry was not above ‘cheating’ when it came to that class.
Harry made up his mind quickly and began pacing back and forth, thinking ‘I need a place to find lost objects’ over and over until the door appeared in the middle of the blank wall. Harry secured his cloak around his shoulders and opened the door, pulling it closed behind him so that nobody would be able to follow him, and then he pulled his wand and whispered “point me”, activating the direction spell.
The wand spun around in his palm before pointing to the left. Harry dropped a ball of string, another gift from Sirius, and it began to unravel as he moved away from the door. Around and around, through the twists and turns of the over-piled maze of broken and lost student property, Harry walked carefully so as to not topple any of the stacks, and the string kept falling into place behind him, ready to guide him back to the door.
After half an hour, Harry finally came upon a broken marble bust of some ancient wizard, and on top of the head sat a glittering silver-and-blue circlette decorated with diamonds and silver chains and aquamarines. Harry stepped closer and could feel an oppressive force bearing down upon him. Harry took a deep breath and pulled the mokeskin bag from his pocket and opened it toward the diadem. There was, he knew, a charm inside the bag that would magically suck the object inside like a vacuum, so all he needed to do was avoid touching the edge of the bag or the diadem. It was frighteningly easy to do, but the diadem actually screamed when it was pulled from the marble bust, and Harry cringed away from the noise that was so loud, he feared it would call the entire staff to his position.
Once the bag was closed, silence fell again, and Harry was able to release a breath he wasn’t even aware he was holding. He waited for a moment, just listening, but there was no other movement or sound in the room. Blowing out another slow breath, Harry turned and began to gather the string back into a ball as he retraced his steps to the front of the huge room. Along the way, Harry kept an eye out for any collection of schoolbooks, reasoning that if he somehow missed them, he’d be able to re-enter the room at a future date. He’d got what he’d come for, after all, and it was the last Horcrux in existence until the future murder of an old retiree created one in Voldemort’s snake.
Harry really wanted to prevent that murder. He hated that innocent lives were at risk because they couldn’t go after Voldemort right at that moment. There was a scant six months before that murder was to take place, and it was up to Sirius to keep that old man safe, but right now there was no real plan for it. All they knew was that they had to prevent another Horcrux from being created before they destroyed the ones they already had.
Harry had almost reached the door to the Room of Requirement when he spotted a worn textbook lying half under a broken table, and he stooped to pick it up. There, on the inside page, were the words ‘Property of the Half-Blood Prince’.
And then he began sorting through the small pile of discards, pushing aside torn parchments and broken quills and books about history, art, and magical creatures (although they looked a bit tamer than ‘The Monster Book of Monsters’) until he found texts for Potions 4, 5, and 7—all marked with ‘Half-Blood Prince’. Apparently Snape’s prowess with Potions wasn’t quite in-born, as he didn’t begin ‘fixing’ the texts until Fourth Year. Still, those books could prove to be quite useful, so Harry picked them up and held them to his chest as he resumed winding the string on his way out of the room.
Harry had plans for his future, and a decent knowledge of Potions and how they worked was intrinsic to those plans. Harry had no desire to allow Severus Snape’s petty revenge to keep him from learning all that he could, and using the man’s own former textbooks was the perfect way to keep that from happening.
19—A Swiftly Turning Planet
December 25, 1993-June 6, 1994
Harry couldn’t remember a better Christmas. Not even his very first one at Hogwarts was this wonderful. And it wasn’t the presents, not really. It was more the feeling of family, that he finally belonged somewhere, with people that really cared for him.
Remus, unfortunately, was stuck at Hogwarts with the rest of the staff, but he’d managed a Floo-call to wish everyone a Happy Christmas. Harry had arranged a special gift for his parents’ old friend, and it was delivered by Hedwig on the morning before Christmas: a document making Remus Lupin the senior administrator of the Lily Evans Potter Foundation, Purveyor of Special Scholarships for Advanced Study and Provider of Specialized Healers. According to the letter that arrived with the legal document, Remus’ first task would be to arrange for a special Parsel-Healer to see to Alice and Frank Longbottom. Of course, first Remus would have to deal with Lady Augusta Longbottom, but Harry was sure the man was up to the task.
For Sirius, Harry had had to think long and hard about what to give the man who would be his guardian. Sirius had been granted his freedom thanks to Harry, but it was hardly a personal gift. And Sirius was making a home for Harry, which was incredibly personal. In the end, Harry gave Sirius a hand-made card requesting permission to call the man ‘Dad’. The gesture made Sirius cry, but in a good way, and Harry’s heart warmed just a bit more.
Dobby, of course, got socks. From practically everyone.
The rest of Harry’s friends were thrilled with the rare books that Harry had found, and Hermione had begged for the source, pouting just a bit when she found out that particular bookshop was ‘out of business’. And since the Weasley twins had finally ceased their silent treatment of Harry—begun when Harry quit the Quidditch team—Harry decided to be the ‘bigger man’ and gift a full set of Nimbus 2000 racing brooms to the school, for use by all of the Quidditch teams. Just because he didn’t play anymore didn’t mean he didn’t enjoy watching the games.
On Boxing Day, Harry was escorted to Gringotts by Sirius so they could sit with Sharperock and complete the creation of the Lily Evans Potter Foundation. Sirius needed to be there as Harry’s Regent, to sign all legal forms until Harry was old enough to do so himself. The creation of the Foundation had cemented Ragnok’s determination to have Harry Potter become Patron of the Goblin Horde in Great Britain; such a generous and fair-minded human would be the perfect person to stand up for Goblin Rights.
Once the official papers were signed and filed, and sent to the Ministry for Magic and to the Ministry for Public Affairs (the muggle department that made sure deserving people got the assistance they needed), Sharperock happily transferred funds from the main Potter Family Vault and the Black Family Vault into the Foundation Vault—a large sum that would gather interest while waiting for deserving recipients. After much research, a private tutor for Basic First Aid was found in Wales, and the Foundation contracted him to work with the first Scholarship student—Ron Weasley.
Two days later, Sirius sent a letter to Arthur Weasley, requesting a lunch meeting in the cafeteria in the Ministry building. Arthur replied in the affirmative, so Harry accompanied Sirius to the Ministry on December 30. If Arthur was surprised to see Harry there, he didn’t show it, and his pleasant demeanor showed that he wasn’t aware of his wife’s antagonistic behavior toward Harry and Sirius.
“I’ll have to admit,” Arthur said after they’d chosen their food and seats, “that I was surprised to hear from you, Lord Black.”
Harry smiled at the formality.
“I’ll be honest with you, Arthur,” said Sirius with a nod in Harry’s direction, “I’m here at Harry’s suggestion. He’s good friends with your youngest son, as you know, and he’s been making…suggestions. We’re here to discuss them with you.”
“Oh?” said Arthur with a surprised look at Harry. “Well, then, Harry, why don’t you tell me about your suggestions.”
Harry wiped his mouth with a napkin and smiled at the older man. “Well, you see, sir, I’ve been chatting with Ron about our plans for after school. You know this was the year we were allowed to choose new subjects to study for OWLs, and after that we’ll have to go in for career advice, right?” Arthur nodded, so Harry continued. “Well, I told Ron about some of the things that I’d like to be doing after leaving Hogwarts. I have a Family Legacy to see to, you see, and so I’ll need to study investments and business. And I know those things don’t exactly interest Ron, so we talked about what does interest him.
“Ron always told me that he felt like he was living in his brothers’ shadows; that nobody really saw him for who he was. It made me feel sad, because he’s my friend and I care about him, so I suggested that he find something that will make him stand out a bit.”
Arthur smiled at Harry kindly. “That’s nice, Harry. I’m glad that Ron has a friend like you.” He folded his hand together on top of the table. “So tell me, what had he decided?”
“Well, sir, Ron thinks he might like to become a special kind of Healer. I told him how that kind of person really helped me this past summer, and I guess he decided that he’d like to help people like that.” Harry took a long drink of water as he considered how to continue. “Ron hasn’t really been trying in school, because he felt that he’d always be overshadowed. Honestly, I wasn’t trying very hard, either, because it had been trained into me not to. But this past summer, I guess I had a change of heart after relying on myself after running from home. I began to understand how important my education was, no matter what others thought of me. And I somehow managed to convince Ron that by not doing well, he was only really hurting himself.”
Arthur nodded again. “That’s very wise, Harry. I know that Molly is very concerned with Ron’s grades. With all the children’s grades, actually. Our two oldest boys have done quite well for themselves, and Percy seems to be on his way into the Ministry after school, but Ron and the twins don’t seem to be meeting her expectations.”
Harry’s nose wrinkled distastefully at the mention of Molly Weasley. “Yeah, and that might be part of the problem. She wants all of her children to succeed, but only if it’s her idea of success. Ron’s never going to be popular, like Fred and George, or brave like Charlie, or wicked smart like Bill, but he’s got a bright future. I believe in him, you see, because he was my very first friend. And that’s what we’d like to talk to you about.”
Harry slipped an envelope from his jacket pocket and slid it across the table to Arthur, who opened it with a confused expression on his face.
“I don’t understand,” he said after reading the contents. “I’ve never heard of the Lily Evans potter Foundation.”
“That’s because we just created it,” said Harry plainly. “And it’s not a charity, so don’t get that idea. Ron needs a special kind of education that is not currently offered at Hogwarts. And to get that education, he’ll need a private tutor or two, and that costs money. This foundation will offer a scholarship so that he can afford the tutors over the summers, when he’s not in Hogwarts.”
Arthur began to argue, but Harry held out a hand to forestall him. “Look, Mr. Weasley, let me explain, okay? There are students who have specific dreams, but they can’t meet them alone. Ron will not only need to study independently over the summer, he’ll have to live abroad, at a different school. Once we launched the LEPF, we had applicants from several different schools that need to learn subjects that are offered here, at Hogwarts, but not in their own schools. The Foundation Administrator will find teachers and offer to pay them for specific students. The tutor we found for Ron is in Wales.
“And after Ron finishes his private tuition and gets a paid apprenticeship with a Master Healer, he’ll start to pay a little back into the Foundation, just like all the other scholarship recipients.” Harry smiled earnestly at Arthur. “Mr. Weasley, because Ron will be the first person to be awarded this scholarship, I fully expect to, in ten years, name it after him: The Ronald Weasley Scholarship for the Healing Arts. He’ll have to work for it, of course, and it won’t be easy. He’ll basically have to live with his tutor from the beginning of June to just before his return to Hogwarts in August. He’ll be able to write home, but he’ll have to motivate himself. I’m sure a bit of family support would help with that.”
Arthur frowned in concentration. “Well, it all sounds very nice, and I do believe that it’s not meant as charity, but I don’t think Molly will like it.”
“Arthur,” said Sirius seriously, “do you want to show your son this offer, or do you want your wife to dictate what kind of life he’ll always have?”
Arthur shook his head decisively. “No, you’re right. I’ll take this home and sit down with Ron to make sure he understands how much work this will be. If he’s really interested in it, I’ll sign the papers and we’ll get him set for it.”
“Good,” Sirius said as he sat back in his seat. “There was one other thing that we needed to speak with you about. As you probably know, I recently removed myself from Azkaban Prison.” Arthur blushed with shame, and Sirius nodded wryly. “Yes, well, I suppose probably everybody knows that. Anyway, what people don’t know is that I’ve recently undergone a lot of therapy with a Mind-Healer in order to deal with the mental and emotional trauma of daily exposure to Dementors. That sort of thing can destroy a person, so I made sure to get help with it.
“And Harry took some sessions himself, to deal with the nightmares that he had after facing and killing the basilisk last year.” Sirius focused sharply on the red-haired man across the table from him. “And this is why I want to speak to you about your daughter, Ginevra. I know she seems fine right now, and she’s probably said something along the line of not remembering what happened in the Chamber of Secrets, but she does remember something.”
“She’ll remember that she was the one who physically opened the Chamber,” said Harry softly. “She’ll remember writing in that cursed diary, and she’ll remember that it was her voice that caused the basilisk to attack those students, even if her body wasn’t under her own control at the time.”
“That kind of thing leaves a mark, Arthur,” said Sirius, “even if you can’t see the mark. She might seem fine now, but sooner or later she’ll break. She might start to act out in inappropriate ways, or lose her temper on people who don’t deserve it. She might even become quite promiscuous in order to prove that her body is her own.”
Arthur blanched. “That would be…quite bad.”
“Yes, it would,” Sirius agreed. “And that’s why we want her to see a Mind-Healer. It will help your daughter deal with what happened to her. And we’ll arrange for the Foundation to pay for it, because we know funds are rather tight for your family.”
“Oh, no,” Arthur stammered. “I couldn’t possibly….”
“You can, Arthur,” said Sirius. “Because it’s important, for various reasons. She’s your baby girl, for one thing, and you should do everything possible to protect her. And there’s another, minor, reason: Harry pulled Ginevra, unconscious, from a dark, dank place where she almost died. Sooner or later, this girl, who was raised hearing fantastical stories of ‘The Boy Who Lived’, will decide that she was destined to be Harry’s wife, and she will begin to fixate on him in an unhealthy way. From what I’m told, she already had a bit of a crush on him when she first met him, so I’d like to nip this in the bud before it gets out of hand. It may sound high-handed, but Harry doesn’t need the stress of walking on eggshells around the girl he barely knows just because she might have feelings for him.” Sirius rubbed his eyes wearily. “If it makes you feel better, or if it makes it easier to get past your wife, I’ll cite the Life Debt that your daughter now owes Harry and make treatment with a Mind-Healer a condition of that.”
Arthur rubbed his lips absently as he considered Sirius’ words. “You’re right, of course,” he said finally. “All she could talk about before she began school was meeting Harry Potter, and she kept bothering Ronald with questions about his best friend all the time.” He sighed wearily. “I don’t want her to suffer, but I also don’t want her behavior to turn bad. She’s a good girl, and she didn’t deserve what happened to her.”
“No, she really didn’t,” Sirius agreed.
“Alright,” said Arthur sadly. “I’ll accept the Foundation’s help with a Mind-Healer for my daughter. But I’ll also need something in writing declaring it to be a condition of the Life Debt. And I shall do everything in my power to discourage Ginny from fixating on young Harry.”
“I hope that means you’ll also discourage your wife from encouraging that behavior,” said Sirius dryly. “She seems to have an extraordinary amount of interest in his life for someone who has never been responsible for his care.”
Remus Lupin found he rather enjoyed reading the International Quidditch News with Harry and his friend Ron every week. They would have good-natured debates over the merits of each team, and offer light-hearted wagers over the results of each match. In fact, by the end of March, both Harry and Ron owed Remus extra time after class, straightening the classroom after each lesson. Both boys grumbled, but neither complained loudly.
“I don’t understand,” said Hermione one afternoon during lunch. “I thought you quit Quidditch.”
Harry laughed. “Hermione, I might not play anymore, but I do actually like the game. And I want to see who makes it to the World Cup this year. If it’s a local team, like Wales, England, or Ireland, the match might be played here, and maybe Sirius and I can go.”
“That sounds nice,” Ron sighed wistfully. “I’d like to go to a World Cup Match this summer, but I’ll be too busy to go.”
Hermione had taken the news of Ron’s ‘summer school’ with barely a thought until she actually saw some of his improved grades—in every subject except Potions. Once she learned about Ron’s aspirations to become a Healer, she eagerly offered any and all homework help she could provide. When Ron professed to be able to do the work himself, Hermione then became his chief cheerleader, backing him up when his brothers mocked his new concentration. In fact, there were stories now circulating about how Hermione visciously ripped into both Fred and George for making fun of Ron’s personal ambition when they had none of their own.
Still, Remus found the run for the Quidditch Cup to be quite entertaining, even though he knew what was likely to happen that summer, when Barty Crouch Jr. was going to incite a riot at the World Cup after Ireland’s win.
“Do you really think England has no possible chance?” asked Professor Flitwick at dinner one night.
“Oh, I think they have a chance,” Remus replied, “I just don’t think they have the heart. Their last loss against Wales didn’t set well with them, and that shows.”
“I have to agree,” said McGonagall sadly. “By now I’m also certain that France and Sweden are fully out of the running, and I don’t think Brazil is looking too good.”
“So who do you favor, Minerva?” asked Remus lightly.
McGonagall’s face screwed up in concentration for a moment before she answered, “I believe either Bulgaria or Romania will make the finals, but I’m not sure about anyone else just yet. I do know that Victor Krum, from the Bulgarian team, is quite a talented Seeker, so he makes that team rather hard to beat.”
“I agree,” said Remus with a secret smile. “Victor Krum is one to keep an eye on.”
“I’m rather reluctant to allow this visit, Mr. Potter,” said Professor McGonagall sternly. “Third Years are only supposed to be permitted to travel to and from Hogsmeade, which is technically on the edge of Hogwarts’ property. This is most unusual.”
Harry appeared to be completely unconcerned. “I do understand your position, Professor, but I’m afraid that you have no choice but to comply with my request. My guardian has official Family Business to attend to, and I am required to be there. This appointment was made in the beginning of March, and you’ve had a month to make yourself aware of the necessary details. I will be in the company of my legal guardian and Regent, and as this is an official visit, you have no authority to refuse me.”
McGonagall’s expression soured immediately. Harry had not been rude, but he had been brusque and rather formal, and she certainly did not like being told where her authority ended in regards to students from Ancient and Noble Houses.
“Very well, Mr. Potter,” she said reluctantly. “Please keep in mind that you are required to make up any class work that you will miss, and that you are still responsible to make curfew upon your return to the school.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Harry said with a brief nod. “I’ve already spoken to my instructors for the day and have received my homework assignments. I expect I’ll be back at Hogwarts just after dinner, so I’ll try not to make a spectacle of myself and disrupt the castle.”
Harry offered a short bow before turning and leaving the private office to meet Sirius at the main entrance of the school. He had been carrying his usual daypack, which could have been holding his textbooks and homework assignments—but it was not. Instead, Harry was carrying vials of carefully chosen and copied memories of classroom interactions that covered his entire tenure at Hogwarts. Sirius had guided him in the process of selecting the pertinent information and copying it for Pensieve viewing rather than removing the memories completely from his mind. Harry needed to provide proof of his accusations, but he didn’t relish the idea of missing memories and possibly causing himself irreparable damage.
The meeting Sirius had arranged was with Department of Education at the Ministry for Magic, and Harry would be presenting proof of discrimination and preferential treatment in regards to the Potions class. Harry knew this could possibly be construed as ‘sour grapes’ because it was well-known within the Hogwarts community that Harry did not like Professor Snape, so Harry was prepared to actually sit the OWL exam for Potions to prove that he did know the subject and was more than competent in it. Harry was not requesting that Snape be fired—though that was the best possible outcome; rather he was requesting a formal inquiry into the man’s classroom demeanor. Sirius knew that if they went directly to the head of the DoE, they could possibly show just cause for a total audit of Snape’s classroom. The man did keep records, and the students did have to take tests, so there should be proof of Snape showing preferential treatment to anyone in Slytherin House regardless of talent, as well as proof that talented students in other Houses were graded below what they should have been—especially if they were in Gryffindor House.
Of course, that meeting was scheduled to take place at ten o’clock in the morning. Before then, Harry and Sirius would be visiting the Department of Mysteries and the Hall of Prophecy. Harry knew, at least, the prophecy that was given in the presence of Albus Dumbledore; that was detailed horrifically in the Destiny Books. But he wanted to retrieve it personally as soon as possible, and he wanted to do so before Dumbledore was aware that Harry knew about it. With all of the hullaballoo at the Ministry, and with Sirius’ trial and his reclaiming the guardianship of Harry, Dumbledore’s influence over the boy—and over Wizarding Britain—was waning quickly. Knowledge of the prophecy was really the only thing Dumbledore had over Harry, and Sirius wanted to prevent the old bastard from playing that card publically. Harry might have been the only one that could remove the Prophecy Orb from the shelf in the DOM, but anyone involved in the prophecy could talk about it, and Albus Dumbledore was the only person besides the Seer that actually heard it spoken. If he felt his position was at risk, and honestly it was, then Sirius didn’t really put it past Dumbles to actually let slip that the prophecy existed, even if he didn’t reveal what it said.
Harry followed Sirius through the unmarked door at the lowest level of the Ministry and marveled that there was a severe lack of security in that department. Considering all of the research that had to be going on down there, he felt that was unconscionable. Certainly most of the researchers were disguised in some way, but robes and hoods could easily be transfigured, and just anybody could walk right in.
There wasn’t a dark circular hall with lots of unmarked doors, as described in the Destiny Books; instead, there was a long corridor with doors and hallways branching off—each clearly marked with names like ‘Memory Research’, ‘Advances in Time’, and, of course, ‘Hall of Prophecy’ on little brass plates. The main corridor was also brightly-lit, which Harry felt took away some of the mystery and intrigue of the place. There was also a directory, with code names for department heads, which made Harry chuckle softly. It was a slim book, with amber-colored pages.
Sirius led the way into the Hall of Prophecy, and they were greeted by a thin, elderly wizard in red and yellow robes.
“May I help you?” he asked in a thin, reedy voice.
“Yes,” said Sirius confidently. “We’re here to retrieve a prophecy.”
“Oh!” said the wizard, clearly startled. “You are aware that you can only do that if you’re actually mentioned in the prophecy?”
“Yes, we’re aware,” said Sirius. “But—how do we prove that?”
The small man blinked once, then once again, before saying, “Well, I assume you do know your own name, correct?”
Sirius’ eyebrows rose into his hairline. “That’s it? We just give you a name and then we pick up the prophecy? What’s to keep just anyone from giving out a name and taking any old prophecy?”
“Oh, dear. Yes, I can understand the confusion.” The elderly wizard stepped backward toward a desk and motioned for Sirius and Harry to follow. Stooping down, the wizard reached into a drawer and pulled a gilded book onto the desk. Opening it, he revealed a blank silver plate. “You’ll need to provide a small drop of blood, which will then be totally vaporized. The vapor will show the aisle number and shelf position—all completely confidential.”
Sirius’ expression cleared. “Ah, that’s better security than I thought. So we’ll not have to say the name aloud, then?”
“No,” the wizard trilled. “That’s completely unnecessary. The only people who need to know the names of the prophesized are the prophesized.”
Sirius beckoned Harry closer and said, “At least they also won’t have any of your blood on file. Do you have a knife?”
“Yes,” acknowledged Harry. “You never know when you’ll need one.”
Harry pulled a sharp silver blade from his pack and pricked his thumb to produce one single drop of blood, which he dripped onto the silver plate before allowing Sirius to heal the wound. The blood sizzled and popped and immediately vaporized, and the stream of vapor twisted to form the shape 97M before dissipating completely.
“Well, then,” said the elderly wizard, pleased, “that means your orb is in Row 97, on Shelf M. Do you require an escort, or can you find it yourself?”
Sirius and Harry shared a glance before Sirius confirmed, “We can find it ourselves, thanks.”
The elderly wizard pointed toward an oak door with an etched-glass window and then went back to…whatever he was doing before Sirius entered the outer office. Sirius led the way, but Harry kept close to him, suddenly very nervous. The Hall of Prophecy was eerie in a quiet way, with rows and rows of dark wood-and-glass shelves laden with glowing spheres that looked like balls of water, shifting in the light as if in motion.
Harry silently counted each row as they passed it, noting that each row lit brightly upon approach, but dimmed as they passed, as if they were only meant to see one row at a time.
“Well,” said Sirius quietly, as if they were in some sacred place, “here we are. Do you want to head down there alone, or do you want company?”
Harry looked down the long aisle and sighed. “It’s supposed to be in the middle, but it’s a really long aisle. I guess it’ll be quicker if we both look for it.”
Sirius patted him on the shoulder. “Look at it this way, at least everything is only on one side. This could have taken twice as long.”
Harry snorted. “Do you see how long this aisle is? We could be walking as far as Westminster!”
They were both still laughing softly when Harry found the orb he was looking for:
S.P.T to A.P.W.B.D
Dark Lord and (?) Harry Potter
Harry reached out and lifted the orb from the shelf and the tiny spotlight that illuminated it disappeared. “Well,” he said, shifting the orb around in his hand, “this is it. This tiny, insignificant thing.” He looked up at Sirius, who was also watching the roiling light inside the orb. “Do you want to listen to it now, or wait until later?”
Sirius glanced around, looking to see if there was anyone else about. “Well, we know what it supposedly says. It could be different, because enough things have been, but I don’t think it’s urgent that we hear it now.”
Harry nodded and slipped the prophecy into his pack. “Well, then, we’ve got time before our meeting. Is there anywhere else we could see? I’ve never actually been to the Ministry building before.”
Sirius barked a startled laugh. “You know, I forgot that. We’ve read those Books and took so many notes that it seems like a real memory. Why don’t we go visit the Wizengamot Chamber, then? You’ll be claiming your seat soon enough, after you finally claim the Potter Lordship, so maybe you should see where you’ll actually be seated.”
Albus Dumbledore sat at his opulent desk in his very private office at the top of a tower in Hogwarts Castle and wondered just when his plans went off the rails.
Certainly young Harry Potter was firmly on the Side of Light when he fully entered the Wizarding world at age eleven. The isolation that Albus had selected for Harry would not have allowed for willfulness in the child, and Albus had made sure that any information given to him had made Albus out to be his one true savior. Having Hagrid escort Harry to Diagon Alley that first time had been a genius move. Hagrid could not have sung Albus’ praises any louder if he’d tried. And he was indiscreet enough to give leading information without revealing too many facts.
Having the Weasley family ready to intercept Harry at King’s Cross Station was another inspired move, even if Albus could not have planned for the youngest Weasley son to make quick friends with Harry. Albus had actually preferred that Harry remain basically friendless, but he held back his reservations because the Weasleys were firmly on his side as well. The Granger girl was an unfortunate addition, but it couldn’t be avoided after the troll incident.
Still, Albus was reasonably certain that Harry Potter was firmly in the Dumbledore camp for the first two years he was in Hogwarts. He was mostly isolated, with only two good friends. He had become relatively popular as a Quidditch player, but Albus couldn’t object to that without answering some uncomfortable questions from Minerva, so he let that slide. That Harry has suffered a setback during his second year, when it was revealed that he was a Parselmouth, worked in Albus’ favor, and the whole basilisk business proved how eager Harry was to sacrifice himself for someone he cared about.
Then came that unfortunate incident with his uncle’s sister the previous summer, and everything went to hell. Harry ran away at the same time Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban, and he was safely ensconced in a room in the Leaky Cauldron before Albus could send anyone after him. Since Harry had seemed to be keeping a low profile, Albus didn’t see any urgency in bringing the boy in. Little did he know… .
Somehow, everything started going wrong. First Albus had discovered that he no longer had access to the Potter Trust Vault, and then certain objects in Albus’ possession disappeared, presumably reclaimed by the Potter Trust. Then, Sirius Black managed to get a trial; and not just a trial, but a very public, international trial. And Albus was happy to testify—until he was implicated. Then the ICW started questioning him, the great Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Leader of the Light, Vanquisher of Grindlewald. And they started investigating the Ministry, and they began sanctioning the Ministry and the Wizengamot! And Sirius Black regained his political power by testifying against them all!
And he got custody of Harry Potter, and somehow he managed to turn Harry from the side of the Light.
Harry had been unapproachable ever since the new school term began. Albus had tried to assert his authority over the boy, but he was rebuked severely. Harry had seemed to gloat over the fact that Albus really had no authority over him outside of his regular duties as Headmaster of the school. When Albus tried to refuse Harry’s permission to visit Hogsmeade, Harry had countered by having Sirius Black visit him at school. And they rarely stayed within the castle walls, so Albus could not use the portraits to sp…to observe them.
Albus had been surprised when Harry dropped a frivolous class before the start of term, only to pick up two more difficult ones. He’d been more surprised when Harry quit Quidditch and began to excel in those classes. Harry had become more assertive in class and in his dealings with his friends. He’d been politely respectful with his teachers, answering questions when asked, and his marks showed hard work, in every subject except Potions.
Albus sighed and rubbed his forehead wearily. His latest troubles actually anchored around Potions and the tortured professor thereof. Only that morning, a bright, sunny May morning near the end of the school year, a representative from the Department of Education of the Ministry for Magic had arrived and requested a private meeting with the Headmaster. And in that meeting, Gerard MacTaggart informed Albus that he would be investigating the Potions program at Hogwarts, and auditing the grades going back seven years. Albus knew he couldn’t connect the investigation to Harry Potter because MacTaggart had said he’d received complaints from several former students accusing Professor Severus Snape of blatant favoritism and outright sabotage when teaching and grading. Albus knew that Severus had had an obvious bias, but he hadn’t realized it was bad enough to warrant official complaints.
Now it looked like Hogwarts might lose its Potions Master—and Albus might lose a spy for when Voldemort inevitably returned.
“Be sure to write every couple of weeks, so I know you’re okay, okay?”
Ron rolled his eyes slightly, but smiled just the same. “I promise. I guess…I guess I owe a lot, Harry, so of course I’ll write to you.”
Harry shook his head. “You don’t owe me, you know. You studied hard, and you worked hard. It was all you, because Mr. Sharperock said he couldn’t offer the scholarship if you were a bad bet.”
Harry sat on the edge of the bed and watched as his first friend finished packing the last of his things into his trunk. This would be the last night spent in the dormitory for the year. It always felt bittersweet to Harry, leaving Hogwarts. On the one hand, he’d just spent months living in a literally magical place, learning so many wonderful things. On the other hand, he’d been heading back to the oppressive environment of his Aunt Petunia’s house, where he wouldn’t be allowed to do his summer homework, and where he was reminded daily that he didn’t really belong.
Harry did belong in the Magical world. He had family there, and a legacy. Most importantly, he had a Destiny, and for good or ill, nobody could take that away from him.
Harry tilted his head sideways and frowned slightly. “Ron?”
“Yeah, mate. What’s up?”
“There’s a lot going on that I just can’t tell you about right now, but I wanted to let you know something.”
Ron turned around and sat on his bed across from Harry. “That sounds serious.”
Harry laughed softly. “It is, I think. I don’t like to get mushy or anything, but I need you to know that I’m glad you’re my friend. We might end up going in completely different directions in life, but I’ll always be glad that you’re my friend.”
Ron’s face screwed up in concern. “You’re not sick, are you?”
Harry shook his head. “No, nothing like that. It’s just…tomorrow we’re all getting on the Hogwarts Express and going home, and this is the first time I’m really going home. I finally have a place where I belong, and there’s stuff that I’ll be doing there. Important stuff. But I don’t want you to think that I’m leaving you behind.” Harry shrugged. “That Mind-Healer that I spent time with told me that it would be important to let the people that I care about know that I care.”
Ron’s head bobbed up and down slightly. “Okay, I can see that. Mental health, right? Dad mentioned something like that around Christmas, when he said he was going to send Ginny to a Healer. Mum tried to argue, but Dad really asserted himself over it.”
Harry shrugged. “Yeah, just don’t expect me to want to hug it out or anything, okay.”
Ron grimaced. “Do I look like I want a hug from you?”
July 31, 1994
Harry woke on the morning of his birthday and smiled into the sunshine flowing through his bedroom window. Noticing his movements, Hedwig, his beautiful snowy owl hooted softly and flew to his shoulder to begin mussing his hair.
“Good morning, beautiful,” Harry murmured, gently stroking the feathers on her chest.
It was a good morning, and it was going to be a great day. For one thing, it wasn’t raining—which it had been for the past week. For another thing, Sirius had gotten them tickets to the Quidditch World Cup, which actually wouldn’t be held for another four weeks—but today Harry would get to write to Ron to tell him that they’d gotten permission for Ron to attend as well.
And the really great thing? Late last night, Sirius came home from Gringotts to report that the Goblin Curse Team—not Curse-breaking Team, because that was a completely different thing—had successfully set up a false gas leak in Little Hangleton that led to a mass evacuation, and an elderly man named Frank Bryce was NOT killed by Voldemort or Wormtail in the old Riddle Mansion.
It was a small thing, really. Harry knew he couldn’t save everyone, even though he wanted to. But ever since reading about Frank Bryce in the Fourth Destiny Book, Harry had had nightmares. There was something really horrid about an innocent muggle becoming a victim like that. But now that wouldn’t happen, and it was just one thing the Destiny Team had decided to change.
Later that summer, a lot of potentially bad things would happen after the World Cup, and Harry would have to allow it. Saving Frank Bryce was one small change, and potentially saving Winky the House-Elf was another. Sirius would not be sitting in the Ministry box, because neither he nor Harry wanted to sit near Minister Fudge, who somehow had managed to keep his job after the Ministry overhaul, but Harry was sure that Mr. Weasley and his family still would be there, so they would use that as an excuse to pop in and say hello before the match.
Harry rose from bed and made his way to the bathroom for a wash before dressing. Even if Crouch Junior was permitted to cause panic at the World Cup, Harry was assured that he would NOT be entered in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. And if, by some stupid chance, he was, Harry, Sirius, and Sharperock had a plan to get out of it. There would be Magical Vows and Oaths, dire threats, and a possible lawsuit. Harry had no intention in competing in that stupid contest, and he had no intention in watching anyone killed during said contest.
The basic truth was, Harry had all of the tools he needed to make sure Voldemort would stay dead the next time he was killed. Ragnok was extremely helpful in getting all of the Horcruxes safely into shielded vessels, and they were being stored deep within the bank. Harry would need a deadly tool to destroy them, and that would need to wait until he was back in school. If Harry couldn’t get the Sword of Gryffindor out of the Headmaster’s office, he certainly could get back into the Chamber of Secrets to retrieve another basilisk fang. It was the venom he needed, really, and using a fang was the safest means of handling the venom. He just needed to wait until after the Second Task to destroy the captured Horcruxes—and he needed to make sure Crouch Junior was unaware that he was doing it.
Harry skipped down the stairs of Grimauld Place and headed into the kitchen for breakfast. Sirius was there ahead of him, reading a letter and laughing to himself. “Good news, Sirius?”
The dark-haired man looked up with mirth in his eyes. “Strange news, actually.” He lifted the letter and waved it a bit. “I’ve got a letter from Stilholme Clinic in Switzerland. The Director of Children’s Care is reporting that Kreacher is apparently the best thing to ever enter that clinic. He’s gentle with the kiddies, and always allows himself to be talked into extra stories at bed-time.”
Harry’s mouth twisted in confusion. “I know Dobby can read, but I wasn’t aware that your family taught Kreacher.”
Sirius grinned. “Oh, they didn’t. That’s what makes this so funny. Apparently, as part of ‘the healing process’, when the children begin to respond favorably to the potions, they’re allowed to read to Kreacher as a treat.”
“Kreacher is not being a bad Elf,” said Dobby as he carried a plate of eggs and toast to Harry. “Kreacher is badly treated by bad Masters. Little children is not knowing how to be bad Masters.”
“I’ll agree with you, Dobby,” said Harry as he buttered his toast, “but I think my cousin might be the exception to that rule.”
Dobby wrinkled his nose, just like he did every time someone mentioned the Dursleys. “Master Harry is not knowing how bad the childrens has to be treated to be that mean. Dobby is lucky that Master Harry not turning out to be evil like Bad Malfoy Master.”
Harry huffed around his food before swallowing. “I understand very well how abused children can turn out, Dobby, but I always had hope that I’d be rescued. And Dudley might have been abused in a very different way, but he was also indulged and spoiled, and that’s why he turned out to be a huge bully.”
“Harry,” asked Sirius, “do you ever wonder about them?”
Harry blinked at him. “Um, no, not really. I mean, in a just world, I think they’d have been punished for how they ‘cared’ for me. Maybe they’d be in jail for taking money from my account. Maybe even Dudley would have been removed from their home for his own good. But I didn’t come from a just world, so I try not to think about it.”
Sirius reached out and patted Harry’s hand. “I’m glad you saved me, Harry. I’d like to think I saved you a little, too.”
Harry brightened. “You did. You, and Remus, and Sharperock, and Augury Books—you all saved me. When I turned thirteen, I was all alone and trying to get to know you so I could begin again. Now I’ve turned fourteen, and I think I’ve got a better idea of what my world should be like. Today is just the start of a new chapter.”
“No,” said Sirius, “it’s the start of a whole new book.”