Title: A Certain Level of Society
Author: Meyari McFarland
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Family, Fantasy, Kid!fic
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Bigotry (canon-typical), sympathetic Dursleys, serious Dumbledore Bashing, serious body autonomy issues, compulsions and mind control issues
Author Notes: Credit for dragging me into writing Harry Potter fic after years of not writing any fanfic at all goes squarely to Keira, though as always for me, I went in my own direction for pretty much everything from cannon to how magic works to the goblins and the Dursleys. Thanks for the inspiration, Keira!
Word Count: 129,070
Summary: If there’s one thing that is known in magical Britain, it’s that squibs can’t do magic. At all. Everyone knows that. The question is: how do they know that? Where did this certainty come from? The way the magical world works seems to be an inconvertible fact as immutable as gravity but the underpinnings of that world are built on sand and made of rotten wood. When one Harry Potter is delivered to the hands of his oh-so-Squib Aunt, Petunia Dursley, it would seem that he would grow up ignorant, abused and desperate for anything that could same him from the mundane world. But squibs aren’t what they seem, and neither is the magical world. What Harry discovers on his first trip to Diagon Alley changes far more than anyone might have expected.
Mrs. and Mr. Dursley of number four Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. Mrs. Dursley, formerly Miss Petunia Evans, had dedicated much of her life, from the age of thirteen, to being as normal as possible at all times.
This was a challenge.
Mr. Dursley, Vernon, was a director of Grunnings. It was a new position. A precarious position. One which required careful work and maintenance to ensure that he was not demoted or sidelined by the other four directors who were all working as hard as they possibly could to move up to Vice President and then, eventually, someday after the current President retired, to the top position.
When she’d married Vernon, Petunia had had no idea that drill manufacturing was such a competitive field. As if Vernon’s precarious position wasn’t difficult enough, Grunnings was but one drill manufacturer in the country and the most powerful one, too. At least, for now. Everything Vernon did reflected on both his position as director and on Grunnings.
Everything Petunia did, from her dresses to her yard to her darling little boy Dudley impacted Vernon’s prospects too. If her hair was mussed, people talked. If her flower beds had weeds, people frowned. If Dudley, who was perfect in every way that counted, had colic, well.
It was a challenge, truly.
The Dursleys had everything they wanted, barely, but Petunia had a secret that she knew could destroy everything she’d built, everything they’d built together and every hope that her little Diddykums could ever harbor.
Petunia had a sister. Lily. Sweet, perfect, pretty Lily who had always danced through life with a bright smile, a twinkle in her eye and the sort of luck that simply didn’t happen to normal folks. When they were children, Petunia and Lily had been inseparable. The sun shined for Petunia every time little Lily smiled and it had from the moment she was born.
But then Lily had gotten her invitation to That School. She’d gone off, leaving Petunia behind in Cokeworth, and come back different. There was a sort of air around her. Much like that nasty Snape boy that had always stalked Lily, not that Lily ever believed Petunia when she said that she’d seen him lurking about their back yard at night.
Lily’s hair shimmered even in the dark. Her eyes were quicksilver, shifting color in ways that eyes just didn’t. Her voice had a thrum, very faint underneath the actual words she said, that made one listen. Made. Not like someone who’d properly studied oratory but like you were compelled to hear Lily’s words to the exclusion of anyone else around you.
Oh, Petunia had tried to talk to Lily about it. Tried to explain the ways that she was changing, becoming something strange and very, very noticeable in their very quiet, very conservative, very poor and very desperate little town. Being noticed was An Issue. Different people always faced harassment. Or worse.
Their families faced Or Worse just as often as the offenders, too.
As Lily changed, Petunia did not want Or Worse to happen to her.
It only got worse, though. That Snape boy started following Lily around all the time. Then she got involved with that James Potter and his thuggish, bullying friends. Those four were more obvious by far than Lily and Snape. Anyone seeing them noticed that they were Not Quite Right. It showed in their eyes, their voices, the way they moved and talked and dressed and…
Petunia had moved out as quickly as she could. She’d gotten a flat, dated the most normal men she could, and eventually caught Vernon’s eye. He was a big, sturdy rugby man with hands of surprising delicacy given how blunt his fingers were. His chin was grey with five o’clock shadow by ten in the morning and he adored taking tea with Petunia. His parents were older, a gentile yeomanry family that went back to the War of the Roses.
They’d not been pleased at all with Petunia. Oh, they never said so, but her clothes were too common, her accent far too lesser-Cokeworth. Too poor, too vulgar, too Not Them. She’d worked desperately hard to earn their regard, studying proper manners and discretion and clothes and gossip with Vernon’s sister Marge and with her soon-to-be mother-in-law until the day her mother-in-law died.
Mum and Dad had been a bit bewildered by it all. Neither of them had ever felt the need to be anything other than what they were: solid peasant stock of a certain, lower, class. Lily had mocked Petunia for her aspirations endlessly.
Wizarding folk didn’t have lord and ladies. Wizarding folk believed in equality. Wizarding folk judged you by your magic, not by your bloodlines or the contents of your purse.
Petunia wasn’t at all sure that Lily told the truth on that. She never had been. The odd little looks James and his very best friend in the world Sirius Black had exchanged when Lily said such things suggested otherwise. Either way, Petunia had been very, very glad after they both were married to direct Lily not to contact her or Vernon, ever, unless it was a matter of life and death.
Something important was fine. If someone was ill, of course Petunia would be available to Lily. But casual contact? Visits and dinner parties and socializing? Goodness, no. Their lives and their husbands were far too different for that to work.
There’d only been occasional letters since then. It was fine. Petunia missed her sister, occasionally, but it was the young Lily she missed. Not the grown Lily who only had contempt for Petunia’s choice to live a safe, normal life that wouldn’t get her persecuted for being Odd.
So, when Petunia woke up on November first to a dull, grey Tuesday, it was strange that her little sister Lily was on her mind. She sent Vernon off to work and smiled brightly as she attempted to feed Dudley his breakfast despite his continuing battles with colic because Marge always said that babies picked up on your mood if you telegraphed it loudly enough. It hadn’t worked yet but Petunia was quite ready to try anything at this point.
Weeding the garden, Petunia noticed owls flying overhead. She froze every time one flitted by but none of them brought a letter from Lily. Every owl that passed her by added a leaden weight to her heart.
Dudley cried all day. All day. Sometimes the screaming cries of a colicky baby. Sometimes the cries of a child who was sad though there was no reason for him to be sad. He cried and cried and cried. He threw his toys and food. He hit Petunia whenever she picked him up and then clung to her to cry some more.
By the time Vernon got home, twitching in ways that made the lead weight over Petunia’s heart increase a thousand times, Petunia was exhausted. Thankfully, so was Dudley. He finally ate, allowed himself to be bathed and then fell asleep the instant he was put in his crib.
Petunia stared down at Dudley, wondering how her nephew was. She’d never met little Harry. Lily had sent a nice little card after Harry’s birth with glitter that was magic rather than proper glitter. There’d been a picture of the three of them, Lily holding her baby and smiling as she swayed and gleamed and laughed. Her husband James had stood behind her, dusky skin rosy with stunned joy as baby Harry gripped his finger in a tiny hand. They’d moved and smiled at the camera, James waving Harry’s hand at Petunia.
She’d burned both the card and the picture so that no one would see them. Really, it was as though Lily had decided that the Statute of Secrecy didn’t apply to her. Or to Petunia. Terribly rude of her given the damage that Obliviation could do to a mundane brain.
Despite her exhaustion, sleep didn’t come easily, especially after Vernon asked about Harry. Something was wrong. Petunia could feel it. She didn’t know what was wrong, but something was very, very wrong with Lily and James and Harry.
And, given past history, that wrongness would endanger everything Petunia had built. That was just the way Petunia’s luck went. She sighed as she rolled over and stared out the window where strange fireworks were still going off in the distance. She shut her eyes, refusing to remember the time that James and Sirius had set fireworks just like that after Snape when he’d been caught stalking Lily in her parents’ back yard after dark.
It was none of her business. Tomorrow would be another day and if she was very, very lucky, the colic Dudley’s claimed couldn’t possibly still be colic would finally break and he’d go back to being the happy little boy she’d brought home from the hospital. She would put the milk bottles out, kiss Vernon goodbye before he went to work and weed her flower beds in the front. She’d gossip, properly in just the right curious but not excited tone, about that new couple that’d moved into Number 13 up the street, with her neighbors.
It would be normal. Quiet and demure and perfect, just what she had worked so very hard on all these years. Nothing would upset her life. Nothing at all.
Harry started as Aunt Petunia slapped a palm down on the kitchen table. She’d rarely ever glared that way at anyone but Harry. He got it all the time. His hair was too messy, his voice too loud. He stared too much and the wrong way. Every little thing he did made Aunt Petunia purse her lips and send him either to his cupboard under the stairs or out into the garden to pull weeds until he ‘got himself under control’.
Not this time.
“But Pet…” Uncle Vernon started to say as he shook Harry’s strange yellow letter at her.
“Remember your position,” Aunt Petunia hissed at him.
Dudley eased carefully away from Uncle Vernon. He punched Harry in the shoulder as he passed, then flinched when Aunt Petunia’s eyes flicked his way. Uncle Vernon went the grayish white of old porridge as Aunt Petunia snatched Harry’s letter out of his hands.
“We swore we wouldn’t have it,” Uncle Vernon said, color starting to come back to his cheeks. It faded when Aunt Petunia turned and glared at him. “We did!”
“You did, Vernon,” Aunt Petunia said so scathingly that all three of them winced and curled inwards around themselves. “I didn’t. It won’t work. They’ll only keep coming. Those people won’t take no for an answer. They won’t take silence for an answer. We’ve done the best we can but it’s no good. The boy has to go.”
She shook her head and passed the letter back to Uncle Vernon with the Disapproving Sniff of Doom that usually meant that someone was getting the cut direct or Harry was getting a spanking, no dinner and sent to his cupboard to Think About What He’d Done. Which, honestly, was always easier when he was in a nice quiet, dark space where no one could get at him. Nowhere in the house was as good as his cupboard for that.
Dudley frowned. “I want to read that letter!”
“I want to read it,” Harry said as he stepped closer and glared up at Uncle Vernon, “as it’s mine!”
“Get out, both of you,” Uncle Vernon croaked as he stuffed the letter back into its strange yellow envelope.
Harry didn’t move. Aunt Petunia did. She snatched the letter out of Uncle Vernon’s hands and thrust it into Harry’s despite the horrified roar from Uncle Vernon. Then she put one narrow hand in the center of Uncle Vernon’s massive chest and shoved him back until he hit the wall.
It should have been comical. Uncle Vernon was huge, a behemoth, and Aunt Petunia was so skinny and whip-like by comparison. It wasn’t. At all. When she leaned close, her narrow nose almost touching Uncle Vernon’s fat one, Uncle Vernon gulped.
“Remember your position,” Aunt Petunia hissed, a strange little hum to her voice that Harry only heard when Aunt Petunia was truly furious. “You’re still on new job probation. You’ll lose the Vice Presidency. You’ll be demoted. Anthony Black will get Accounting. He’ll be President of Grunnings, Vernon.”
It was the ultimate threat, the one that never failed to get either Uncle Vernon or Dudley to behave. Dudley actually gasped behind Harry. Harry, for his part, clutched his letter to his chest. This letter could do that? Harry could do that? But how?
“R-Right you are, Pet,” Uncle Vernon said, gulping when the words wouldn’t come out right at first. “Dudley and I will just… go watch TV.”
“But I want to read–!”
Dudley snapped his mouth shut and ran for the living room when Aunt Petunia turned her glare on him. Uncle Vernon stayed perfectly still until Aunt Petunia let him go. Then he hurried after Dudley, shutting the kitchen door firmly behind him. Harry hardly dared breathe until Aunt Petunia sighed and waved for Harry to sit at the table.
“Read it,” Aunt Petunia ordered. “Everything changes once you do, Harry. There’s no stopping that. No stopping any of it. But you will remember that every single thing you do, everything you say, the way you look and act and move affects the three of us. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Aunt Petunia,” Harry said even though he hadn’t a clue what she meant.
He read the letter. Then he read it again. Then he read it a third time, checking the back for any sign that it was a joke or a fake or anything but exactly what it said: an invitation to a school of witchcraft and wizardry.
“Ah, I don’t understand, Aunt Petunia,” Harry finally admitted. “Is this real?”
“Oh, it’s very real,” Aunt Petunia said so bitterly that Harry curled inwards again. “My perfect sister Lily went off to that school. She’d always been strange, always had that air to her that told you she wasn’t quite right. Wasn’t normal. Her hair and her eyes and the way she talked. People noticed it. They always noticed it. That Snape boy was just the same, just as odd and strange as Lily was but worse with his stalking and his obsession with my sister. Your father was worse still. He’d been born and raised to it. To magic. He couldn’t pass as normal no matter how he tried.”
“…That’s important?” Harry asked, blinking at her.
He carefully pushed his glasses up. They’d broken a few days ago so he’d taped them back together again because there was no money for new glasses for Harry, not with Uncle Vernon’s new position and all the things they’d had to buy for him to fit in as Vice President. Between that and Dudley’s birthday presents, there just wasn’t any cash for new glasses. Despite the tape, his glasses were wobbly still.
Aunt Petunia nearly scorched Harry’s skin with her acid glare. “It’s the law. The Statue of Secrecy demands that no one nonmagical learn about anything magical. Oh, they’ll ensure that no one remembers a thing, but there’s a price when a magical breaks the Statute. There’s a spell.”
The way she said ‘spell’ was so scornful that Harry ducked his head and leaned away from her.
“It changes a person to be obliviated. They can’t remember things properly for quite a while. Personality changes, night terrors. It’s an ugly business and every single time you do something that shows magic is real to a non-magical, that’s what happens to them.”
“But not to me,” Harry whispered. “They wouldn’t do it to me.”
Aunt Petunia sniffed. “Of course not. Not us, Vernon and I, because we already know. But Dudley? They could decide my Diddykums didn’t need to know. They could obliviate him and damage his brain worse than a football concussion. It’s already happened at school, you know. That Maths teacher? She figured out what you are and they came to obliviate her. She had to be taken away because they took too much of her memory. She couldn’t remember how to do maths, how to teach, anymore.”
“Oh, no.” Harry held the letter away from his chest.
It seemed much more dangerous now. People had been harmed because of him? They’d had memories taken away? No wonder no one at school wanted to be his friend. He jerked as something Aunt Petunia had said explained the strange moments in his life.
“It shows?” Harry said. “Even when you don’t want it to? I’m showing it?”
Aunt Petunia nodded. She sipped her tea and glared at him over the top of the mug. Her eyes flicked from his mop of hair that never behaved to his eyes, so green that Aunt Petunia always claimed they looked unnatural, to his tan skin that never burned no matter how much time he spent weeding in the garden.
Not that there were many weeds in the garden anymore. They’d stopped coming back several years ago when he’d cried after Aunt Petunia scolded him for scaring a neighbor talking to one of the garter snakes in the neighborhood. That made him think of his cupboard, the one place where he was perfectly safe from both Dudley and Vernon. They did lock him in sometimes, but he realized the hasp never stayed locked if Harry wanted out. Not to mention that time he ended up on the roof while trying to escape Dudley and his friends during Harry Hunting after school.
“Oh, wow,” Harry whispered.
“We’ll need to send a reply,” Aunt Petunia said. “And you’ll need to get supplies. I don’t know how we’ll afford it. That Man always said that our costs would be covered but he’s never done a thing for you. For us. Refused to even send someone from That World to check on how you were developing. I swear, it’sso aggravating. We’ve done the best we could but you’re not normal and we had no way to handle all the things that happened when you got upset, especially as a baby. That cupboard was the only place, the only thing, that would make you stop crying.”
“Wow.” Harry stared at Aunt Petunia. “I didn’t… know that.”
Not that she was wrong. He’d always know that he was safe in his cupboard. It was a trap and he hated being shoved in there by Uncle Vernon, but it was different when Aunt Petunia sent him to his cupboard. She always made it seem more like he was to curl up and breathe, think, relax until he could stop being so upset. For Uncle Vernon it was getting out of his sight until Uncle Vernon calmed down again which frequently took forever.
She shook her head before going to the drawers and retrieving a pen, a pad of paper and an envelope which she passed to Harry. He wrote out a reply stating his acceptance and request for someone to escort him to get his supplies at her prompting, spelling carefully and using his very best penmanship. Then she sealed the letter and had him write ‘Minerva McGonagall’ on the cover with ‘Deputy Headmistress’ underneath and ‘Hogwarts’ under that.
“Come on,” Aunt Petunia said. “Out in the back yard.”
“Uh, aren’t we going to mail this?” Harry asked but he followed because he wasn’t going to be the one that got Aunt Petunia mad enough to go for her wooden spoon. That always stung when she smacked Harry.
“Of course we are,” Aunt Petunia said. “Hurry along now.”
Outside, the day was bright, sunny and clear with blue skies dotted by tiny white clouds skipping across the sky. The garden seemed to perk up as soon as Harry stepped out the back door. Aunt Petunia’s lips pursed for it.
“That wasn’t my imagination,” Harry said slowly as he stared at the flowers and vegetables preening for him.
“No, it wasn’t,” Aunt Petunia agreed. “Now, hold your arm up and declare, loudly, that you have a letter for Minerva McGonagall.”
Harry stared at Aunt Petunia but did as she instructed. He stood there for a solid minute, the garden shifting and almost murmuring around him. Then a barn owl swooped down and landed delicately on his arm. The great curving claws didn’t dig into his arm at all, even though they could have ripped right through his shirt and his flesh. He nearly fell down in shock.
“Please deliver it promptly,” Aunt Petunia said to the owl. “Payment will be on delivery.”
The owl hooted, offering one leg to Harry. He stared bewildered until Aunt Petunia took the letter and carefully tied the letter to leather jesses on the owl’s leg. Her expression was much like the time Harry had brought a snake in as a little boy, prim and disgusted by the messiness of everything Harry Potter. The owl hooted again and then took off in a waft of great, soft wings. Aunt Petunia sighed, pushing Harry back into the house.
“Well, that’s that,” Aunt Petunia said. “Hopefully one of Them will reply with how exactly we’re to get your supplies for you when we’ve not got the money for it. They use different currency entirely from us. Lily had a bank account at the wizarding bank, but I can’t take you there. Vernon can’t even see wizarding places. No one mundane can. Someone else will have to take you the first time, then you can take me if needed.”
Harry frowned. “That doesn’t make much sense.”
“I know,” Aunt Petunia agreed with the disapproving sniff of doom. “Can’t be helped. That’s how That Type does these things. Come on now. Have your breakfast. We’ll have to try to move you into Dudley’s second bedroom again. The last time you blew out the windows but hopefully it’ll go better now that you know.”
Harry shook his head as he sat at the table and started to eat. How much of his life had been a mistake? Or, more accurately, how much had he misunderstood? Far more than he’d thought, apparently. Whatever this was, he’d have to pay close attention, the same sort of attention he paid when Dudley invited his friends over and they had that Harry Hunting look about their smiles.
He really didn’t want anyone else to be hurt because of him.
Hagrid hesitated, licking his lips as he studied Privet Drive. Dumbledore’d been really clear that Hagrid had to go pick Harry up so’s he could get his school supplies, but this wasn’t what he’d expected. The whole place was so… rigid. Every single house looked the same. Same size, same shape, same over-clipped lawns with same flower beds. Most of ’em even had the same flowers in their flowerbeds.
He’d never seen the like. Where was the life? The originality? The magic?
Except, no, this was a Muggle neighborhood. Maybe they weren’t allowed to have houses that reflected their personalities? Hagrid shook his head, pulled his pants up a touch, and then strode up the street from the spot behind the big holly tree at the corner that Dumbldore’s portkey had deposited him.
Not the greatest place to arrive. His umbrella’d gotten caught for a second on the holly, but it couldn’t be helped. Every step he took into the place made Hagrid’s skin crawl. He could feel people watching him, but when he looked at the houses he passed, the curtains twitched like someone was hiding behind them.
They weren’t afraid of him, were they?
Well, they were Muggles. Might to be able to tell that Hagrid wasn’t exactly what he should be, what with the broken wand and all. He counted the doors, looking for the numbers that Dumbledore’d said would be there.
Even Hagrid could count to four. Probably. Didn’t exactly write their numbers the way Hagrid expected so it took him a bit to realize what he was looking for. Weren’t in subtle glowing lights or sets of four on the porch. They’d all nailed actual numbers to their houses, metal ones. Looked like tin or brass which was downright odd. You’d think the things would wear out in the sun and rain, lose their shine.
Well, didn’t matter none. They were Muggles and they could do what they wished with their houses. Hagrid had Important Business. Plus, he got to see little Harry Potter again and that was just the best thing about the day. Almost wished it was actually Harry’s birthday. Then Hagrid could’ve made ‘im a cake and bought him a birthday present. Wouldn’t even care if Harry didn’t eat the cake. It was the giving that mattered.
Number 4 Privet Drive didn’t stick out in any obvious way from Number 6 and Number 2. It was a neat little two-story house with neat little flowerbeds and bland white curtains that twitched when Hagrid stopped and stared at the front door. Didn’t look any different but oh, it felt different.
The flowerbeds were alive in ways that none of the others were. The house had a little shimmer that Hagrid could only see if he squinted just so. Wards, good strong ones. They felt like Dumbledore so they had to be for protecting Harry. Hagrid sucked in a breath, squared his shoulders and walked up the path to knock gently on the door.
It bounced against the frame and Hagrid winced. Sometimes he didn’t know his strength with magical things, yeah, but he’d not expected Muggle houses to be that… fragile. Flimsy, even.
The young boy who opened the door had Lily Potter’s eyes. Bright green, inquisitive, glowing ever so slightly with his magic. Hagrid beamed at him. For all his eyes were Lily’s, his skin and hair and those glasses were all James Potter.
“As I live and breathe,” Hagrid said, nodding to Harry, “it’s so good to see you, Harry. I’ve not seen you since you were just a wee tyke. Professor Dumbledore sent me t’take you to get your school supplies. Got a portkey to get us to London and everything.”
“Um, okay?” Harry said, blinking up at Hagrid as if he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to do anything like that.
“Sorry, sorry,” Hagrid said as he realized that he’d completely forgotten to introduce himself like Professor Dumbledore said he should. “I’m Hagrid, Keeper of the Keys and Groundskeeper for Hogwarts. Headmaster Dumbledore said you’d requested someone to come take you to Diagon Alley for your supplies.”
Harry sucked in a breath and slowly nodded. “Um, yes. We did. Um. You can come in while I get my shoes on? I think you’ll fit.”
Hagrid nodded, grinning at Harry. “I’m pretty good at squeezing down to fit into smaller places. Gotta be when you’re my size. I’ll just stay by the door though. Don’t want to break anything. I can be a bit clumsy sometimes. Don’t know my own strength.”
When Harry stepped back, Hagrid hunched down and went sideways through the door. It was a bit of a tight fit around the middle but he made it in without losing any buttons or breaking the door off the frame so Hagrid counted that as good enough.
Inside of the house was just as bad as the outside of it. Square and bland and downright ugly to look at. Those square chairs and rectangular sofa must be so uncomfortable to sit on. Pictures on the walls didn’t move at all. Hagrid almost poked at them, but then another boy, bigger’n Harry and much larger around, came out of the back room with a candy bar in his hand.
“Ah, who’s this then?” Hagrid asked.
“Um, that’s my cousin, Dudley,” Harry said as he tied his shoes even faster. Somehow without making a single knot. Genius just like his mother Lily, that Harry. “Okay, I think I’m ready. I’ve got my letter.”
“He’s huge,” Dudley breathed, staring at Hagrid with such wide eyes that you’d think it was awe if not for the way he kept inching further and further away.
“Mhm,” Harry agreed. He grabbed Hagrid’s wrist with his tiny little hand, tugging. “Let’s go.”
Hagrid frowned. “Where’s the rest of your family, Harry? Dumbledore said you was living with family.”
“I am,” Harry said. “Aunt Petunia is in the back garden getting vegetables for tonight. Uncle Vernon is at work. It’s summer, of course. That’s why Dudley and I are here instead of somewhere else. Right, Dudley?”
“Ah, yeah?” Dudley said as his shoulders ran into the wall.
He wasn’t an ugly boy, really. Bit too much chocolate around the mouth and a bit too soft in the middle for a kid that age, but he wasn’t dressed too much better than Harry. Bigger clothes, newer ones, but not poncy fancy ones like the Slytherins would wear. Just seemed odd that he was so much bigger than Harry who was a scrawny little thing.
“Pity he’s not here,” Hagrid said as he let Harry pull him towards the front door. “Like to meet the man who’s raised you all these years. Shake his hand. I brought you here after it all happened. Professor Dumbledore told me to. Said it was the safest place in the world for you. Glad to see that you’ve made it all right.”
Harry’s smile was a bit hesitant, a bit shy, but well, he was a very small boy and Hagrid knew very well that he was a very large man. Couldn’t blame the boy for being a bit nervous. Didn’t really matter either way. Hagrid squeezed out the door and then led Harry up the street to the holly tree. The curtains twitched even harder as they passed, but Hagrid didn’t catch anyone staring at them.
“Gotta say,” Hagrid murmured to Harry once they were securely behind the holly tree and out of sight of all those hidden, watching eyes, “this is a very scary place, Harry. ‘M glad we’re leaving.”
Harry stared at Hagrid, mouth open. “This is scary?”
Hagrid shuffled his feet and blushed as he rummaged through his pockets for the second portkey Professor Dumbledore’d given him. It was in the eighth pocket, way down on the bottom under a biscuit wrapped in wax paper that Hagrid gave to Harry.
“It’s a good one, chocolate chips with oatmeal,” Hagrid said. “And yeah, it’s all those people watching. Never did do well when I was being watched that way. Makes me nervous.”
This time Harry’s smile was a lot brighter, a lot more sympathetic. “I can see that. So, now what?”
“Now we take this portkey,” Hagrid said, having Harry put one hand on the old brass key ring. “Mind you hold on tight. It’s a bit of a whirl and up into the air. Bend your knees when you land and you should be fine. Deep breath. On three. One, two, three… Diagon Alley!”
The magic of the portkey whooshed them up into the air and away to Diagon Alley, Hagrid laughing and Harry screaming with shock and then delight as they flew towards London together.
Harry stepped into Madam Malkin’s shop alone. He’d really have rathered have Hagrid with him but as green as Hagrid was, it was probably better to go it alone. The shop wasn’t that bad. There were several plump mauve chairs, a short stout table, and heavy mauve velvet drapes between which stood headless manikins wearing Shakespearean robes. At least that’s what they looked like to Harry.
“Hogwarts, dear?” asked Madam Malkin who was as squat as her table, as mauve as her drapes and as professionally smiling as Aunt Petunia when Uncle Vernon had work people over for a dinner party.
“Yes, ma’am,” Harry said. He plucked at his clothes, hand-me-downs from Dudley that he’d yet to grow into despite Aunt Petunia’s insistence that one day he’d catch up to Dudley’s growth. “And um, perhaps some basic wardrobe changes, too?”
“Easily done,” Madam Malkin said. Her smile went wider with clear happiness at the prospect of a bigger commission. “Come in the back now. We’ve got the lot. There’s another young man being fitted up just now, in fact.”
The other boy was very, very pale, very, very blond and had a narrow face that one day would probably be quite striking but now just looked rather like a weasel’s. He was wearing very nice clothes, like the ones Aunt Petunia always sighed over in fashion magazines. He had a nice grey pair of slacks that fit like they’d been made specifically for him. His shirt was made of very fine cream cotton that was as pale as he was. A plain back robe was being pinned up by another witch wearing a dark burgundy dress that looked like something out of a Victorian play. The stark black of the robe didn’t suit his pale features at all.
He took one look at Harry, sweeping him head to toe with a scornful look for the hand-me-downs, and curled his lip.
“Hogwarts, too?” the other boy asked as Harry stepped up on his footstool.
Harry quailed for a moment and then pulled on Aunt Petunia’s lessons on how to be Proper. He straightened his back, lifted his chin and imagined that his eyes went icy with disapproval at how improper the other boy was being, showing that sort of behavior in public. Both the witches straightened up, Madame Malkin with a little gasp. The blond boy flinched.
“Yes, I am,” Harry said. “I suppose I should be pleased to meet another student. I’m Harry Potter. And you are?”
The other boy’s eyes went very, very wide. They shimmered as they went from watery blue to a striking ice-blue that absolutely didn’t look natural at all. Oh. So that’s what Aunt Petunia meant about the eyes always looking wrong.
“My apologies,” the other boy said. He made a little half-bow, one hand over his chest. “Draco Malfoy. It’s a true honor to meet you.”
“So I’ve been told several times so far today,” Harry said and didn’t allow himself to apologize for the sarcastic way it came out. Aunt Petunia would’ve had his ear in an instant for it. He turned back to Madame Malkin and smiled politely up at her. “I’d prefer things in darker colors, if possible, for the wardrobe. I look better in darker things rather than lighter ones that favor my cousin.”
“Yes, of course, dear,” Madame Malkin said with a delighted smile for his manners. “We’ll get right on that.”
Well, at least it was good to confirm that being very polite was a good thing to do. He’d have to get some etiquette books when he got his school books. There had to be rules about this sort of thing. Harry must need to know that stuff, right? Aunt Petunia always said that your manners reflected on your family and Harry was super-important because of what happened with Voldemort, so his manners had to be extra-perfect.
Draco kept trying to draw Harry into conversation. He started with Quidditch which Harry decided that he needed to get a rule book for and then moved onto the Sacred Twenty-Eight which Harry definitely needed a book on. Maybe three or four books given how Madame Malkin nodded her agreement with Draco at times. Then he moved into bragging about his father who sounded a lot like Uncle Vernon’s rival at work, Anthony Black, in that he was rich and powerful and knew everyone and no one dared to speak poorly to or of him.
Not the rich, so much, for Anthony Black, but the rest was certainly true.
Sounded like someone that Harry didn’t want anything to do with, so he answered Draco with little sniffs that would’ve done Aunt Petunia proud, noncommittal hums and the occasional side-eye when Draco started using what Harry was sure were slurs.
Whatever ‘mudblood’ actually meant, Harry was completely certain it was as rude as some of the things Aunt Marge said about his father when she was in her cups. Draco flushed for the side-eyes and shut up at long last.
Harry got five pairs of nice brown and black slacks with deep pockets that were charmed to let them hold about a hundred times more than they should have. He chose eight new shirts, four with short sleeves and four with long sleeves. All of them were jewel-toned red, blue, green or purple. He got all new socks and all new pants and, because Madame Malkin made it seem expected, he added three nice wool jumpers.
Even though Draco curled his lip, Harry insisted on the Faire Isle ones with multi-color knitting that were made out of good Scottish wool. They were the best ones that Madame Malkin had on stock and, honestly, they looked warm enough to see him through even the worst winter imaginable.
“Now I just need to figure out how to get these all home,” Harry said once Madame Malkin fitted it all with magic and added charms so that his clothes would grow with him for two whole years.
“Oh, haven’t you gotten your trunk yet, dear?” Madame Malkin asked with enough startlement that Harry blushed.
“I’m afraid not, ma’am,” Harry said. “That was going to be next, I think.”
“Well, if you want the best sort of truck my father always goes to a particular shop in Knockturn Alley,” Draco announced while puffing up proudly.
He flinched as both Madame Malkin and her assistant turned to glare at him. Harry didn’t laugh. He wanted to but he didn’t. Aunt Petunia would’ve pinched his ear half-off if he had so Harry controlled himself.
“Do you have a recommendation, ma’am?” Harry asked Madame Malkin.
“You take yourself right next door,” Madame Malkin said, casting a stern look Draco’s way when he dared to open his mouth to protest. “They’ll fix you up a treat. Make sure you get the full set. You’ll want a trunk with expansion charms, built-in feather-light charms and a bottomless bookbag with a library function in it.”
“Oh, that’s vital,” Madam Malkin’s assistant said, speaking for the first time since Harry walked in. “You’ll never survive without a library function in your bag. Too easy to lose assignments and books otherwise.”
“Thank you very much,” Harry said.
He beamed at them both, paid a shocking amount of money for his clothes though perhaps that was more because he’d never bought anything for himself before and then exited her shop with his packages in his arms. Hagrid was there with two ice cream cones so that was just the topper of the whole experience. They ate standing there. Harry nodded to Draco when he emerged to scuttle up the street towards the bookstore, and then the two of them continued on with the shopping.
Which was… challenging.
Hagrid had very firm opinions about what sort of trunk and bookbag Harry should get. And what he should and should not buy at the bookstore. Hagrid didn’t think Madame Malkin’s recommendation on the truck and book bag were a good idea. After comparing the weight of the two trunks, one with the feather-light and one without, Harry stared up at Hagrid and focused really hard on thinking his eyes as green as neon signs.
Both Hagrid and the shopkeeper had flinched. Harry had gotten the trunk and bookbag he wanted. Better still, the bookbag he got would hold the trunk inside it, so Harry didn’t have to lug it around at all.
At the bookstore, Harry had to do the eye trick eight different times over etiquette books, history books, a handful of strange fiction books that he was desperate to read because his name was on the cover with dragons and manticores and a pyramid in Scotland of all things. The four books on the Sacred Twenty-Eight pitched Hagrid into an outright fit that nearly got them both thrown out, but making his voice thrum and his eyes glow and, surprisingly, his hair start shifting on his head shut Hagrid up at last.
He even got a very, very expensive magically charmed genealogy chart for the Sacred Twenty-Eight that showed exactly how they related to all the magical families of Britain, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany and Russia. The back side showed how the Sacred Twenty-Eight related to mundane nobility, too. Aunt Petunia was sure to be right at it, what with her fascination with genealogy.
The wand shop was outright creepy. Most of the wands seemed reluctant to allow him to touch. The one that Mr. Ollivander finally sold him felt… off… in Harry’s hand. Not wrong, precisely. It was strong and warm and lovely but there was a kind of thrum in the background of his mind that seemed to say ‘no, no, no, no’ over and over and over.
His new owl was perfect.
Once back on the train for home, Harry pulled out the genealogy chart, tracing Draco’s family and blinking that he was distantly related to Draco. Hm. Perhaps he should be more polite next time he spoke to Draco. Maybe. He was a prat. Harry really wasn’t sure he wanted to spend more time around Draco, distant relative or not.
Then he traced the Potter family bloodline from himself back through dead relative after dead relative all the way to a daughter of Godric Gryffindor, one of the first founders of Hogwarts. That, it seemed given all the gold ink and scrollwork around his name, was Very Important, though Harry had no idea yet why.
What mattered to Harry was that he was alone. He really was the only Potter. But there were side lines and cousins and second-, third- and fourth-cousins of all kinds. And he apparently had a godfather or second adoptive father of some sort in one Sirius Black, not that the chart showed anything at all about him other than that he was from one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight families, just like Harry with the whole Gryffindor thing.
The mundane side of the chart was equally fascinating though one entry froze Harry in his seat for a good ten minutes. Then he scrambled into the etiquette books and the ones on the Sacred Twenty-Eight, reading desperately as the train sped towards home.
Oh, Aunt Petunia was going to be furious!
Hagrid blew out a breath as he stood on the landing in front of Professor Dumbledore’s office. Portkeys weren’t as bad as those carts but Hagrid’s stomach was still unsettled from the things. All that swooping and dropping. He shuddered. At least he’d done what he was supposed to and little Harry was off on his way back to his home.
“Ah, Hagrid,” Professor Dumbledore said, startling Hagrid so badly he nearly elbowed Professor Dumbledore in the face. “Back from your trip?”
“Yes, Professor,” Hagrid said with a little bob of his head even though Professor Dumbledore said that Hagrid didn’t have to bow to him. It always felt odd not to show his respect after all that Professor Dumbledore had done for him. “Got yer package and got Harry all his things. Not so sure about that family of his, but it looked like an okay place. Well, mostly.”
Professor Dumbledore frowned at Hagrid with concern that dimmed the twinkle in his eyes. “Why don’t you come up to my office and tell me about it? I’d hate to think that something was wrong with our Harry.”
Hagrid bobbed his head again and followed Dumbledore up the moving stair. It was a touch tight, especially at the door on the other side, but at least the walls of Hogwarts were good solid stone. He didn’t need to worry about knocking doors loose or putting an elbow through the wall.
And, thankfully, Professor Dumbledore’s chairs were spelled to be sturdy enough to hold Hagrid as well as magically expanding to meet his size. Made having a nice spot of tea downright pleasant instead of nerve-wracking. By the time Hagrid’d had his cup of tea, several lemon drops from Professor Dumbledore’s desk and a tiny little biscuit that was powdery and a good bit too sweet for his taste, Hagrid’s stomach had calmed down nicely.
“Now, do tell me all about it, Hagrid,” Professor Dumbledore said.
His smile was a bit sharp but his eyes were so warm and twinkly and nice that Hagrid just nodded and started telling him all about the trip. The curtains and watching eyes made Dumbledore nod sagely. Apparently, that was just normal for a Muggle neighborhood. Poor Harry having to put up with that. The whole bit with Harry insisting on etiquette books and genealogy and those horrible Sacred Twenty-Eight books had Dumbledore frowning just as much as Hagrid.
“A spelled genealogy chart for all Magical and Muggle families?” Professor Dumbledore asked, interrupting for the first time.
“I know,” Hagrid huffed. He flung a hand out, nearly knocking one of Dumbledore’s sparkly bits of glass and metal and magic off the desk. “I tried to argue him out of it. That’s not the sort of thing Harry needs. All those poncy Sacred Twenty-Eight types are dark as they come. But apparently his Aunt Petunia is all in on genealogy. He got it as a gift of some sort for her and another aunt of his. Madge? Marge? Think it was Marge. Yes, Aunt Marge who cares more about breeding and genealogy than she does about anything else.”
“Hm, well, I suppose it’s not a problem if it was a present,” Professor Dumbledore said, but he frowned like it was a really big problem.
Hagrid slumped in his chair. “I’m sorry, Professor. I really tried to talk him out of it. Even yelled and nearly got us thrown out, but Harry was so determined to get it.”
“Don’t worry about it, Hagrid,” Professor Dumbledore said. “It will be fine. I’m sure that Harry will be just what we expect when he gets here. His parents were such Light people, so fierce in their defense of our world. Harry is sure to take after them.”
He reached across his desk to pat Hagrid’s hand. Just the touch calmed Hagrid down a lot. The warm look on Dumbledore’s face helped even more. Hagrid smiled and nodded, then nodded a bit more strongly as his worries slowly faded away. Somehow, talking with Professor Dumbledore always made him feel better.
Such a great man. Hagrid was so lucky to be able to stay at Hogwarts. Not the best position in the world, maybe, but Hagrid wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“Thank you, Professor,” Hagrid said.
“You’re always welcome, Hagrid,” Professor Dumbledore said with a wonderful smile, so bright and charming. Just pulled Hagrid right in, like he always did. “I did have another task I’d like your help with. Well, actually, it’s something I’d like to have Fluffy’s help with, actually.”
Hagrid blinked, instantly worried. “What could you need a full-grown Cerberus for, Professor Dumbledore? Fluffy’s a good dog, but I don’t think he should be around the kids. They wouldn’t know how to handle him. And he’s never been very good at tolerating small squeaky things. The first years’d be as small and squeaky as a frightened rabbit and you know how he likes to eat his rabbits.”
Messily, alive and tearing them between the three heads, even though a rabbit was barely a morsel for just one of Fluffy’s heads. Dumbledore nodded reassuringly.
“I quite agree,” Professor Dumbledore said. “The children wouldn’t be anywhere near him. There’s simply something that I must protect over the school year and it occurred to me that no one could get past Fluffy.”
Hagrid fidgeted in the chair that suddenly didn’t feel half strong or big enough. “Inside, sir? Fluffy’s so big. He’d not be happy being cooped up inside, you know. Make him all snappish. I’d hate to have his heads start biting one another out of boredom or fear.”
“We’ll plan his place so that you can provide him with everything he needs, Hagrid,” Professor Dumbledore said in a much sterner tone. “It really is quite vital. I can’t trust anyone else with this task, much as I couldn’t trust anyone else with that errand at the bank.”
Hagrid started and began patting his pockets. Took him a bit to find the little package with its plain brown paper and twine holding it shut. He held it, frowning, before slowly passing it over to Professor Dumbledore. The hesitation was little enough, but Professor Dumbledore all but snatched it out of his hand once Hagrid reached across the desk.
Their fingers brushed together and the twinkling in Professor Dumbledore’s eyes increased as he smiled gently at Hagrid. Really, what had he been so upset about? During winter, all Fluffy wanted to do was curl up and sleep. Didn’t even eat that much. Hagrid could go visit him every day, morning and night, play music for him and take him for walkies in the Forbidden Forest. It wasn’t that big of a problem to have Fluffy around the children.
“When do you need Fluffy?” Hagrid asked, taking another lemon drop when Professor Dumbledore shook the little dish at him. Still too sweet but the lemon flavor was quite nice.
“Very soon,” Professor Dumbledore said as Hagrid sighed and crunched the lemon drop between his teeth. It went to powder and Dumbledore smiled more deeply at Hagrid. “Very soon. Let’s make sure that we can get him all settled before school starts, shall we?”
Harry ran into Privet Drive panting from rushing all the way from the train station. The door slammed behind him. Uncle Vernon bellowed. Dudley shouted. Harry ignored them both.
No Aunt Petunia. Where was she? He needed to tell her!
“Boy, what’s wrong?” Uncle Vernon asked so warily that Harry ran one hand over his hair. It twisted and moved under his palms. “You stop that! Stop that right now.”
“Aunt Petunia!” Harry shouted.
She made an annoyed noise in the kitchen. Harry ran in, setting his owl on the kitchen table even though Aunt Petunia gasped in horror at such impropriety. He started pulling books out of his bag, piling them up while scrambling for the ones he needed. None of them came out at first because he was so rattled that he couldn’t focus and picture the ones he wanted.
The stacks grew until they teetered and still Harry didn’t have the ones he wanted, darn it.
“What is going on in here?” Uncle Vernon demanded. “Boy, you explain right now or so help me it’s into your cupboard and no supper!”
“I want an owl!” Dudley demanded. “Why does he get an owl and I don’t?”
Harry shook his head while breathing slowly, deliberately. His hands still shook no matter what he tried. When he looked at Aunt Petunia, Harry was sure that his eyes were doing the thing. They had to be. He felt like he must be glowing with magic. It skittered over his skin, plucking at his hand-me-down clothes and thrumming through the bookbag that just wouldn’t give him the books he needed.
“What?” Aunt Petunia asked so warily that both Uncle Vernon and Dudley stepped back.
Harry paused, bottom lip quivering. “Aunt Petunia, did my mum come back from Hogwarts and claim that there’s no rank among wizard folk?”
“Yes,” Aunt Petunia said with the little sniff of disdain that’d made Draco flinch so hard. “I never believed it.”
“You were right,” Harry said. He finally found the genealogy chart and the book on the Sacred Twenty-Eight. “She lied to you. I don’t know why but she did. She lied and… here. Read this. And this!”
He flopped into one the kitchen chairs as Aunt Petunia studied the genealogy chart. She gasped when she hit Harry’s distant but still significant relationship to the royal family by way of a distaff and wrong-side-of-the-sheets ancestor. Then she made a wounded noise when she scanned over the rules of the Sacred Twenty-Eight that stated that each of their members, especially the heads of houses, counted the same as nobility as far as the government and the Queen were concerned.
While there were no formal titles, at all, the top four, descended from Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, counted as royal Dukes. The next six who came a generation later were equal to Marquess. Then there were four families that held ranks equal to Earl, six of Viscount and eight who were Barons.
Gryffindor had died out other than one daughter who married into the Potter line and now Harry was the last descendant of that line. Slytherin was presumed dead since the Gaunts fell into squibs, whatever that was, but Hufflepuff still existed in the Bones family and Ravenclaw in the Fawley family.
Draco’s father Lucius Malfoy wasn’t even an Earl-equivalent. He was just rich and of Baron-equivalent like Uncle Vernon’s parents. But he might have been at the Marquess level if Sirius Black hadn’t become godfather / adopted second father to Harry.
All of which meant that Harry was of a Certain Level of Society on two fronts.
And he knew nothing at all about how to handle it.
“Vernon!” Aunt Petunia gasped.
She collapsed into a chair opposite Harry, sending both Uncle Vernon and Dudley scrambling to see just what’d set both of them on their ears. Uncle Vernon got it immediately. He went purple-red and then porridge-white as he groaned and sat next to Aunt Petunia. It took Dudley muttering and tracing the lines with his fingers while cross-referencing against the Sacred Twenty-Eight for him to suddenly gasp.
“You’re a duke?” Dudley squawked. “That’s not fair!”
“It’s worse,” Harry told Dudley. “Don’t you remember the way the principle frowned at you the last week of school? The way he hums and watches me? He keeps saying what it pity it is. I didn’t know what he meant until now.”
Dudley stared at Harry. “Wait. You mean people know about this?”
“The Potter family holds rank on this side of things, too,” Harry said. “I’m a Duke for mundane people and for magical people, too. So, people have been looking at us, all of us, and wondering why exactly I’m here. Why I’m living his way, why Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia don’t do more for us. That’s why everyone expects Uncle Vernon to pay for things all the time. I’m a Duke so of course there must be more money. It’s… They’re all watching and judging us because my mum didn’t tell Aunt Petunia who my father, fathers, really were. There should’ve been more money, more training, more… more stuff happening.”
“That man!” Aunt Petunia shouted, slapping her palm against the table so hard that all three of them flinched. “I asked Dumbledore and I asked him for someone to help train you properly. I asked him for someone to come check to see if you were growing up right. He kept saying that it would be fine, that there was no need, that you would be better off without it.”
“He promised to help pay for you to stay here,” Uncle Vernon grumbled more quietly than he normally did when complaining about the money Harry took out of their mouths. “Never saw a single penny out of him. Welshed on the whole deal and ran off.”
“There’s an entire trust vault designated for my care,” Harry said slowly. He waved at his stacks of books and his bookbag. “That’s how I bought all this. Well, not my owl. That was a birthday present from Hagrid so that I could send letters.”
Dudley frowned at the book again, his thick fingers tapping against it for a moment. He frowned and frowned and then straightened up to stare at Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. It wasn’t the temper tantrum face. Nor the working on getting angry face. It wasn’t even Dudley’s playing it like he was slower and stupider so people wouldn’t expect things out of him face. Harry didn’t recognize this face.
“Mum, Dad, do we need Aunt Marge to explain this?” Dudley asked. “She knows all this stuff. It’s her hobby. Maybe she can explain why Harry didn’t get what he was supposed to. Or why we didn’t, either.”
Harry hummed and nodded even though he really, truly hated Aunt Marge and her horrible dog. “It’s affecting Uncle Vernon’s work, Aunt Petunia. I know people are asking questions about it. I think… you might need to have a bridge party or something so you can complain about all the secrets my mum kept from you. And. And yeah, you guys probably need training on how to behave right. I certainly do.”
He leaned back as Aunt Petunia stood, her face sharp and fierce, her eyes snapping with fury. Uncle Vernon scrambled to his feet, fidgeting as much as his bulk would allow him. When Aunt Petunia put out a hand, Uncle Vernon took it. His hand dwarfed hers, but Harry didn’t think anyone would mistake who was in charge as Aunt Petunia raised her chin.
“Call Marge,” Aunt Petunia ordered. “Harry and I will be heading back to London to get what we need. Tell Marge about the mundane side of things, Vernon. Tell her that you need training to be able to work at that level of society. With your new position, you’ll need it anyway. Tell her Lily lied to me about it all because she did. Clearly.”
“Yes, Pet,” Uncle Vernon said. “Dudley, go call Marge!”
Dudley ran for the phone. Harry pushed all his books back into his bag, taking everything including the book on the Sacred Twenty-Eight. He did leave the genealogy chart behind. Aunt Petunia studied it, frowning, and then passed it to Harry.
“Dudley,” Aunt Petunia called, “tell her to bring all her books on the royal bloodlines and the House of Lords!”
She turned to Harry, scowling. “Breathe. Your eyes and hair are a disaster, Harry. You must stay calm while we’re in London.”
“Sorry, Aunt Petunia,” Harry said. “I’m just… It’s hard. And I think the rules in magical society are very, very different.”
She nodded. “We’ll find out. I won’t let you be a disgrace. Not to our family and certainly not to your own, even if my perfect little sister decided I didn’t need to know something so important.”
“I got new clothes,” Harry announced. “Ones that are right for the magical world.”
“Go change,” Aunt Petunia immediately ordered. “We’re leaving in five minutes so don’t dawdle.”
Harry ran for the stairs. If he never had to wear Dudley’s hand-me-downs again, he’d be grateful. Even though he was kind of furious about all the things he didn’t know and had apparently been kept from learning all his life. No matter how Hagrid praised Dumbledore, Harry thought he might not trust the man. What sort of professor deliberately denied a child knowledge and the money he needed to survive?
Adrian Flourish looked up as the front door chime sounded. He’d charmed the thing to warn him when certain sorts came into Flourish and Blotts. One too many encounter between that Malfoy and Arthur Weasley during shopping for Arthur’s children’s books had made warning not just prudent, but necessary.
This one wasn’t either Arthur or Malfoy.
Dumbledore smiled like a sapphire blue shark with silver roses scattered across it as he strolled up to the counter where Mr. Flourish sat. Still hadn’t realized that Adrian had charmed the desk to prevent anyone from affecting his mind.
“Good afternoon, Headmaster,” Adrian said with a professionally welcoming smile. “Looking for something new for your collection?”
“Not today, Adrian,” Dumbledore said with his own professionally stiff smile. “Hagrid came in with a student today and some of his comments had me a bit concerned. It was the first time he’d escorted a student so I wanted to be sure that it went as it should.”
Adrian nodded slowly. “I did wonder why Hagrid was accompanying a student. Looking to move him up in the world?”
“Perhaps,” Dumbledore replied in a tone that said ‘oh, definitely not’. “How did he work with our Harry?”
“Mmm, a bit overbearing about Mr. Potter’s personal reading choices,” Adrian said thoughtfully because it was quite true. “Apparently, Mr. Potter’s aunts are quite the genealogy buffs. He bought a few gifts for them and Hagrid was somewhat… irate… about it. I almost had to throw them out.”
“And young Harry?” Dumbledore asked with a snarl that his twinkling eyes spell would have hidden from most everyone else.
“A very nice young man,” Adrian said. “Quiet, respectful. The only time he showed much in the way of a display was getting the genealogy information. It would be quite nice if all young people had such manners. I’d have fewer problems in the store, if so.”
That pleased Dumbledore enough that his smile was quite real. Interesting. Adrian was going to do his best to ensure that Dumbledore didn’t learn everything Mr. Potter had bought. Knowing how the old busy-body liked to meddle, he’d ensure that the poor young man never learned a thing about his role in society.
Dumbledore might not want the Potter family to regain their family magic and legacy, but Adrian did. He’d spent too many generations already watching the children come in ignorant and grow up even more ignorant. Only a handful of people ever asked after ritual magic books or the real histories of magic that he’d taken to keeping in the back room to keep the Ministry and that little toad Umbridge from objecting.
“I’m glad it went so well,” Dumbledore said. “Anything else?”
Adrian waved one hand casually. “Nothing that you don’t get from a very large and excitable man with a very young and overwhelmed boy. I do think they had ice cream before coming in. Hagrid had traces in his beard. That might have contributed to the high emotions.”
Dumbledore nodded as if he was a sage. His nasty little smile was probably intended to be seen as kindly and grandfatherly. So ridiculous when Adrian had six grandchildren and Dumbledore none. They were of an age. Behaving like that to Adrian was the outside of enough.
“I’ll let you get back to work, then,” Dumbledore said. “Do let me know if you remember anything important.”
Adrian nodded. “Of course. When your last order comes in, I’ll send you an owl. Would you like it sent direct rather than coming to pick it up?”
“I’d hate to miss a chance to chat,” Dumbledore said with a bright little nod towards Mr. Flourish that set his teeth on edge. “Thank you for your time, Adrian.”
He swept out of the shop, the roses on his ridiculous robe shifting into thistles and vines decorated with grapes. Adrian shook his head and set to work removing every single monitoring, listening and control spell Dumbledore had put on his shop. Every single time. Every time the man visited, Adrian had to waste a day’s time breaking spells just because Dumbledore couldn’t keep his big nose out of everyone else’s business.
“Annoying man,” Mr. Flourish grumbled. “Just wish I knew how he did it. I thought I had the wards set up so that he wouldn’t be able to do it again.”
Diagon Alley looked different with Aunt Petunia by his side. The drive into London had been completely silent. Harry hadn’t wanted to say anything as he worked to calm down enough that his hair stopped doing the thing and Aunt Petunia’s white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel forbade it, anyway.
The wonder of his first entrance into the Alley had faded a bit with everything Harry had discovered since. It was still amazing, still beautiful and strange and so tempting, but it was also darker and scarier. Harry wasn’t sure what the adults thought as he held Aunt Petunia’s hand and walked up the Alley towards Gringotts. The glances that came Aunt Petunia’s way were arch, snide, a little overbearingly magical as people’s eyes glittered into strange colors and their voices hummed in odd ways.
Aunt Petunia raised her chin and sniffed back at them as if they were being shockingly rude. Which, honestly, they were. None of them seemed to see it until Harry frowned at them with his eyes sparkling. Then they looked away, shame flitting across their faces.
“Hasn’t changed a bit in all these years,” Aunt Petunia observed as she led Harry towards Gringotts.
“You can see it now, then,” Harry observed to Aunt Petunia.
“Oh, I could see it before,” Aunt Petunia said so bitterly that he stared up at her. “Lily showed us all of it. Our parents could only see it if Lily was there, but I could always see magical things. I’m a squib. I can see magic easily. I just can’t open the way in. I can’t use a wand or do magic thus I’m not allowed in their precious little Alley. It’s warded against squibs who aren’t escorted by someone magical since all the entrances require a wand.”
“What?” Harry squawked. “But why?”
He still wasn’t sure what a squib was but to be able to see this and then be forbidden from visiting seemed cruel. Aunt Petunia shook her head as she tugged him up Gringotts’ stairs. Maybe he could ask about it later. Or read some more. He really wanted to read all his books as quickly as he could. And go back for more because there had been dozens that he saw that looked like they might be helpful. It hadn’t been worth battling Hagrid to get them at the time. Maybe Aunt Petunia would let him go back for them now?
The goblins at the door eyed them both narrowly but no one objected as they went in. Inside, there were fewer wizards and witches around. Harry supposed that made sense. It was nearly suppertime. Despite that, the goblins were still working away counting money, writing in registers and sneering at the wizards who came for their money.
“Business?” the goblin asked when they got to the head of the line.
“I’d like to see if Harry Potter has an account manager,” Aunt Petunia said. “There’s some irregularities that were just brought to our attention that need to be addressed.”
“Hmm.” The goblin studied Harry who swallowed and tried his best not to make his eyes glow or his hair twist or anything. The goblins didn’t seem like a magical tantrum would impress them. “And does Mr. Potter have his key?”
“No, sir,” Harry said. “I’m very sorry but Hagrid kept that. I’ve never had it.”
The goblin sat back a little, staring at Harry before frowning at Aunt Petunia who just thinned her lips and sniffed disapprovingly as if the very concept of someone else having Harry’s key was as offensive as dog poop on the bottom of her shoe. “I see. One moment please.”
He wrote a note on a small piece of parchment. When he placed it in a box in front of him, the parchment disappeared. A few moments later a goblin marched up and waved for them to follow him deeper into the bank.
This time, they walked rather than taking one of the rumbling rollercoaster carts. They went down a flight of stairs, down a long hallway carved out of rock where you could see the individual chisel marks. Then there were six big vault doors separated by tunnels marked by increasingly smoothly carved walls.
Finally, they were deposited in an office where a goblin with white hair that stood up like a cloud on his head, a fierce scowl and a very, very fine suit sat waiting. The goblin who’d escorted them stared at Harry’s account manager like Uncle Vernon stared at Aunt Petunia when she was all dressed up for a dinner party. Harry couldn’t see why. The goblin did have very long, very shiny claws but his face was even more ugly than the other goblins Harry had seen. Maybe goblins had different ideas of what was beautiful?
“Mr. Potter,” the goblin said. He studied Harry as if he was a bug and then frowned at Aunt Petunia who still hadn’t let go of Harry’s hand. “Mrs. Dursley. I did not expect to see you today. I am Silverclaw, the Potter Account Manager. Please sit. We have a great deal to cover. Your failure to respond to our statements and accounting requests on the timed payments is an issue.”
“We never got any payments so I don’t know what accounting requests you might be referring to,” Aunt Petunia snapped at him. She sat with her purse perched on her lap as if she expected to need to snatch it up and beat someone with it at any moment. “We certainly have never received any statements for any accounts. That’s part of why we’re here. My sister lied to me about the Potter family’s level in society. We’ve been educating the boy completely wrong all these years and no one from the magical world has come to check on him at all.”
Silverclaw sat back sharply, his hands flexing on the table so that his claws clicked against the surface. “No one?”
“Ever,” Aunt Petunia agreed. Her single nod was as stern as a judge proclaiming sentence on a murderer on the telly.
“…I see. One moment please.”
Silverclaw wrote a rather long note on a piece of parchment. It flashed away once he put it into the box on his desk. Three very long minutes passed with Aunt Petunia answering Silverclaw’s increasingly annoyed questions about just what she had been told, what Harry had been told and how they’d finally found out that something was wrong.
A piece of parchment flashed into Silverclaw’s box. He picked it up and nodded with satisfaction.
“A full accounting of the Potter, Black and Evans vaults is now in progress,” Silverclaw declared. “I have been authorized to approve charge cards for you and your husband, Mrs. Dursley. They will take their funds from the Evans vault which is very liquid. Your sister’s investments were wisely chosen. As long as you stay within a reasonable level of spending, you should be solvent for a very long time. There will be a second charge card for you to use in the mundane world, Mr. Potter. We are in the process of creating new keys for you to use in the magical world, having recalled the lost ones. Never allow someone else to have access to your keys.”
“Um, plural?” Harry asked.
Silverclaw smiled. It was not a nice smile at all, but it was one that felt very much like one of Aunt Petunia’s smiles when she got a hand up on the other women during one of her bridge games.
“Oh, yes, Mr. Potter,” Silverclaw said. “You have multiple vaults, trust, hereditary and familial, and thus multiple keys. An account book is being prepared for both of you. It is automatically updating and will show exactly what progress has been made on the audit as well as where the audit has been stymied. Do you wish to have the Potter will read?”
Aunt Petunia huffed. “I didn’t know that Lily had a will. Of course we need a reading of her will! I always told her that I didn’t want to be part of this world but that if she needed me, I’d be there.”
“Why not, Aunt Petunia?” Harry whispered because Silverclaw’s glower had him twitching on his seat.
Aunt Petunia sighed. All the anger seemed to drain away and she suddenly looked much younger than she had. Well, other than the terrible wrinkles around her mouth and between her eyebrows.
“It hurts to see something you can’t ever have, Harry,” Aunt Petunia murmured. “I never want Dudley to see any of this. I… believe that he’s a squib, too, and it would just hurt him.”
Harry wasn’t so sure Dudley would agree with that. Dudley wanted everything he saw, whether it was good for him or not. Just knowing that Harry got to go off and do magical things would have Dudley pitching fits. He’d been whining about Harry getting to go to a different school ever since the letter got read. Hagrid showing up had shut him up briefly but that was all.
If Harry had been the one who had to know about all of this and then never be allowed to even visit, he’d be stroppy, too. Aunt Petunia had been shown this world, lied to about it, maybe, and then denied access ever since.
“Um, Silverclaw, sir?” Harry said. “Is there any way that my aunt can have access to Diagon Alley and the bank? I’m going to be away at school and if something comes up, she’ll have to deal with it. It’s not right that she can’t get in without someone to escort her.”
Silverclaw stared at him which was easier do deal with than Aunt Petunia’s scowl. “That is an excellent point, Mr. Potter. We will arrange a mail box for you and for your aunt. There is a small maintenance fee, but it will afford her access in writing to me and to you. No one will be able to intercept mail delivered this way, which apparently has been happening with the regular channels. Personal access is not something we can guarantee at Gringotts, unless you’re willing to fund an escort for her.”
“Is it very expensive, sir?” Harry asked.
“The fee is nominal,” Silverclaw declared.
He pulled a piece of parchment out of a drawer and passed it to them. It showed a list of personal services Gringotts provided to its patrons, none of which seemed terribly expensive other than legal and accounting services, though the fee for personal shopping was rather higher than Harry expected. It might be worth it to get those books he wanted, though.
Silverclaw tapped the bottom of the list which listed a five knut fee for an escort for any underage magical or squib who required access to Diagon Alley. There was an extra five knuts if you wanted your escort to be able to defend you.
“That’s… that’s not bad, is it?” Harry asked Aunt Petunia.
“It seems very reasonable to me,” Aunt Petunia said though she frowned at the list. “Can we have a copy of this list? Two copies, actually.”
“Done,” Silverclaw declared as he scribbled something on another piece of parchment. “If you decide you need any other services, please send me a message. The boxes will be ready for you when you return to the lobby. We shall go collect Mr. Potter’s keys now. Would you like a key to the Evans vault, Mrs. Dursley?”
Aunt Petunia’s lips pursed so hard that her mouth looked like a shriveled prune. After a moment, she nodded hard, once. Silverclaw hummed and added to his parchment which he dropped in the box. As soon as it flashed away, he waved for them to come with him.
They marched through tunnels, down several flights of stairs, and then into a large room full of small cauldrons set over blazing hot fires. There were goblins working at each of those cauldrons, talking in a harsh language that Harry didn’t recognize at all. Aunt Petunia’s hand tightened on Harry’s, but she didn’t yank him along when he slowed nor did she snap at him.
Getting keys made was very simple. There was a small metal tray that had rough key outlines in it. You had to prick your finger with a special knife, which didn’t hurt at all, and let drops of blood fall into the molten gold. Aunt Petunia had to give one drop of blood. Harry had to give eight which, he supposed, meant that he’d get eight keys and thus had eight vaults. The idea of that much money and stuff tucked away somewhere under Gringotts was intimidating to put it mildly.
The goblin making Aunt Petunia’s key murmured something in his harsh language before tipping the cauldron to pour the molten gold into her tray. It was just barely larger than a standard skeleton key. Harry’s cauldron and tray were much larger, about the size of his head instead of the size of his fist like Aunt Petunia’s. When it was his turn, it took eight separate pours and a constant stream of muttered magic before keys formed in his tray.
Aunt Petunia’s key was a very simple, very modern looking key. It was sleek, unremarkable, and completely unornamented.
Harry’s keys varied widely. One had a lion’s head. Another had a twisting snake on the shaft. Three of them had bits of furniture engraved on the loop end of them. Not one was simple or plain or unremarkable.
“Dudley’s going to want to steal every single one of these,” Harry observed with despair.
“Gringotts offers wallets, Mr. Potter,” Silverclaw said. He gathered up Harry’s keys and passed them over in a clump. “I suggest strongly that you get one that will allow you to mate it to your magic so that no one else can see or use it. The remaining gold will be saved in case any other keys need to be made in the future. This is true for both of you, Mrs. Dursley. If any of your grandchildren have magic, they will be able to gain access to the Evans vault with your permission.”
“Good,” Aunt Petunia said but she didn’t look like she thought it was good at all.
“I think I would like a wallet, sir,” Harry said rather than ask if Aunt Petunia was okay. “Thank you for suggesting it.”
All three of the goblins smiled at him. They weren’t terribly nice smiles, but it wasn’t like Aunt Marge smiling at him before she got ready to let Ripper loose on him, so Harry decided that he wasn’t going to fuss over it. Silverclaw led them away, back towards the lobby of the bank.
“Um, we were hoping to find someone who could give me lessons on how to behave properly in the magical world,” Harry said. He could hear the hum of voices in the lobby, so they didn’t have much time left before they had to go back out into Diagon Alley. “Do you have suggestions about how to do that?”
“The Potter family seneschal has been summoned, Mr. Potter,” Silverclaw said. “He is waiting for you in the lobby. I would suggest talking to him about what can and should be done to deal with the irregularities of your placement with your aunt and uncle. He will also want to discuss the reading of your parents’ will.”
“Oh, good,” Harry said, deeply relieved that Silverclaw had already thought of it. “Thank you very much, sir.”
Once again, he got that nasty smile that curved the lips but didn’t expose any teeth. Really, they needed to go back to Flourish and Blotts to get some books on goblins and how to behave around them. All this guessing was making Harry’s stomach churn with nerves.
Just before they entered the lobby, Silverclaw pulled the two of them into a little side office full of small wooden boxes, jewelry displays aand bookshelves packed with leather-bound books. He gave Aunt Petunia her mail box and Harry his mail box. The boxes were very small, about the size of a small notebook, and very plain with just a lid that latched. Silverclaw then helped Harry match his brand-new key wallet to his magic. It was an amazing little thing that looked like a regular wallet, but it had a pocket inside with slots to hold each key. Once he put it in his trouser pocket, it disappeared. Patting his pocket didn’t reveal it. Only putting his hand back into his pocket with the intent to get his wallet made it come back.
“Is it tied to me or to these trousers, sir?” Harry asked once he’d tested it four or five times just to make sure he had it right.
Silverclaw’s tight-lipped smile was a bit more obviously amused this time. “It is tied to you, Mr. Potter. You need not fear that you will leave it in your pocket and send it through the wash.”
“Oh, good,” Harry said. “Um. Aunt Petunia, do you want one or would a necklace for it be better?”
Her breath caught as her lips went tight. She shook her head sharply, not at Harry or his question but at something that he didn’t quite understand. Either way, she nodded to Silverclaw who opened a drawer carved right into the wall.
“I would suggest a storage bracelet, actually,” Silverclaw said. He pulled a sleek gold one that looked much like Aunt Petunia’s key. “It will only hold your key, but it does not require a wand or active magic to use. Additionally, it can be paired to you, personally, Mrs. Dursley.”
“That’s perfect,” Aunt Petunia said. “Thank you.”
Once Silverclaw cast a muttering spell that made the bracelet glow for a second, Aunt Petunia put it on and pressed her key against it. It disappeared with a flash. She seemed to have no interest in pulling it out until Harry stared up at her quizzically. Then she rolled her eyes, sighed and pulled it out again.
“Yes, Aunt Petunia,” Harry said. He smiled.
“Good,” Aunt Petunia said. “Let’s go. We’ve still got far too much to do to dawdle, Harry.”
Silverclaw marched through the bank’s tunnels, going deeper until he reached the gate to the goblin’s hidden entrance to their realm. He presented his ID, was passed through, and then strode onwards into the star-filled dusk of their homeland. The sky overhead was lavender-black, dark and velvet other than the gently burning stars that lit everything Silverclaw could see.
The path to Ragnok’s office shimmered under Silverclaw’s feet, indicating that he’d been approved to meet with Ragnok already. Someone in the forges or accounting department must have had the insight to warn Ragnok that Harry Potter had returned to the magical world.
A second time.
Interesting, that. The visit with Hagrid had been so very irregular that Silverclaw hadn’t been at all surprised that Mr. Potter hadn’t come to ask about or report on his accounts. Finding out that he hadn’t known a thing about the Potter vaults, well.
That was very valuable information.
Ragnok’s office sat in a magically created dome of crystal. It glowed softly, rainbows of light shimmering around it in response to Ragnok’s moods. If he was calm, the color moved slowly, gently. If not, it flashed as distractingly as the bioluminescence of one of the shadow-dwelling land crabs.
Right now, it throbbed like the pulse of a headache in your temple after dealing with Dumbledore and his dramatics. Appropriately enough. Silverclaw waited at the threshold until Ragnok looked up from the reports on his obsidian desk to wave him in.
“Silverclaw,” Ragnok said, peering at him. “You have news? I’ve got multiple requests for full audits on accounts that were ‘sealed’.”
Silverclaw smiled tightly at his king, nodding once as he folded his hands over his belly. “I do. Harry Potter was placed with his squib aunt Petunia Dursley as we were told. The payments which have been disbursed over the last eleven years, however, never made it to them. Harry Potter is small, rather fragile and his magic has a shadow over it. I couldn’t see what exactly that shadow was. Mrs. Dursley is rather like a dragon. No one was getting close to the boy to examine him without being bitten.”
“Hmm,” Ragnok grunted while studying the audit requests. Plus at least ten reports of Mr. Potter’s visits, from a half-dozen different departments. “Any idea what her expression of magic is?”
“None,” Silverclaw said. He smiled again as Ragnok’s head came up sharply. “I’ve rarely met someone with magic so well-controlled. She may not have been formally trained but she’s done well for herself nonetheless. I would expect no less from Lily Potter’s older sister.”
Ragnok tapped his desk thoughtfully. His claws were dull slate, sharp of course, but nothing to look at like Silverclaw’s. Not that it mattered whether Ragnok was attractive. He ruled by claw and by magic and by brain, not by a pretty turn of face.
“You will take extra precautions against Dumbledore,” Ragnok ordered. His eyes narrowed when Silverclaw stiffened. “I’ve already had one Goblin corrupted by the wizard. I will not allow another to be. Extra precautions, paid for by the Hoard. I suspect that the prophecies of a turn of fate for the Goblin Nation tie into Mr. Potter. We must be sure that he and his accounts are handled properly.”
Silverclaw nodded, a bit mollified by the explanation if not the lack of confidence in his abilities. “It shall be done. Has anything worked with Griphook?”
Ragnok’s scowl answered the question. They shared a moment of teeth-gnashing for the loss of one of the Hoard and then Silverclaw nodded to Ragnok to request permission to bring up another issue. He waited until Ragnok nodded permission.
“Should I allow a meeting with Dumbledore?”
“No,” Ragnok said. “We will put him off as long as we can. If you must meet with Dumbledore, it will only be in new-carved chambers that will be destroyed once he has left. The wizard has power that he should not. None of my attempts to discover the reason for his abilities has paid off the investment yet. Take no risks. Do not interact with him. Support Mrs. Dursley and Mr. Potter in every way you can.”
“It shall be done,” Silverclaw said.
His bow was deeper this time. Silverclaw waited for the tapped signal for him to leave, not smiling that Ragnok left him bent for a while longer than was standard. He knew how he looked, after all, and Ragnok, while married and a king, was only a goblin at his core.
Eventually, after Ragnok had looked his fill, Silverclaw was given permission to leave. He left, letting his claws tap together as he exited Ragnok’s crystalline office. A bit flirtatious for a married Goblin, certainly, but Ragnok was king.
Power did grant some privileges and Silverclaw would be a fool not to allow minor flirtatation, as long as it went no farther than a bit of staring. Having the favor of the king went far to increasing one’s coffers after all.
The Potter family’s seneschal was actually Muggleborn. Harry hadn’t expected that. They’d gone through a fireplace in Gringotts in a blaze of green fire that spun Harry so badly he would’ve fallen if it weren’t for Aunt Petunia’s death-grip on his hand. She’d held herself rigid and was able to step out without stumbling at all. Harry stumbled but he didn’t fall thanks to her.
Mr. Amal Swashlin was a short, swarthy man with thick curling hair and perfectly round glasses that were mirrored to hide the color of his eyes. Harry stared at his glasses for a moment before turning to Aunt Petunia.
“I think I need glasses like his, Aunt Petunia,” Harry said.
“Well, now that you have funds, that’s possible,” Aunt Petunia said with a little snort. “Let me explain what’s happened, Mr. Swashlin. There’s a great deal to be covered and very little time.”
“Of course,” Mr. Swashlin said as he pulled out a yellow legal pad and a lovely fountain pen that wrote in purple ink. “Please, go right ahead.”
The notes started quite simple and brief but quickly went scribbly and furious as Aunt Petunia explained the whole long mess of events, discoveries and revelations. Harry sat quietly, letting her cover it all. He was still shaking inside because of the discovery that he was supposed to be a duke.
It seemed impossible. Granted, they said at school that there were quite a few nobles who really had no more money than an average person but if his father’s bloodline had been dukes there must be property or something, right? Beyond the vaults that they’d just found out about, of course. Shouldn’t there be an ancestral hall or castle or something? Why in the world were they all living in Little Winging?
At the very least, he was going to need to learn how to vote in the House of Lords. The magical side of things was even more confusing, what with the Gryffindor legacy and the Black family thing that Harry was going to have to deal with.
“I can’t believe that you weren’t told anything,” Mr. Swashlin finally said when Aunt Petunia finished her recitation.
“Not a word,” Aunt Petunia said. Her lips looked even more prune-like than normal. “I’ve asked Dumbledore repeatedly for someone to come and check on Harry. The best he’s done is to have Harry go spend some time with Arabella Figg who lives up the street. As if a squib like Arabella could tell anything about how Harry’s developing!”
“He does… need some proper medical care,” Mr. Swashlin said. His glasses flashed for a moment as he studied Harry, revealing brown eyes that glowed honey-gold before the glasses went mirrored once more. “There’s something about his aura that gives me pause.”
“We’ll have to arrange it ourselves,” Aunt Petunia said with a tired sigh. ” We need someone to ensure that he’s properly healthy in general. We got no information at all on any vaccinations he should have which is just the outside of enough.We also need to get Harry a tutor for how to behave in the magical world. And we definitely need to have Lily’s will read.”
Mr. Swashlin nodded as he took notes. “All easily accomplished, Mrs. Dursley. How soon would you like the will read?”
“Do we know who should be there?” Harry asked, thinking of some of Aunt Petunia’s afternoon shows where a will reading was held and all the beneficiaries gathered together and then there was drama and murder and excitement. “I mean, if this Dumbledore person is supposed to be there, I kind of don’t want to give him a chance to stop us from doing stuff. He’s already caused all sorts of trouble, hasn’t he?”
Both Aunt Petunia and Mr. Swashlin studied him. Aunt Petunia’s eyebrows went up before she nodded her agreement. Mr. Swashlin’s glasses flashed three times. His eyes were honey-gold, then greenish, then almost black.
“A very good point, Mr. Potter,” Mr. Swashlin said. “We may wish to wait until the morning before you go to Hogwarts. Professor Dumbledore would be far too busy with preparing for the students’ arrival to interfere. It will give other beneficiaries little time to arrive, but I will compile a list of who they are and send it to you, Mrs. Dursley. You can let me know if any of them can be warned in advance.”
“Good,” Aunt Petunia said. “Now, can we go over the funds that were left behind by my sister and her husband? Apparently, there were to be payments, but we never received any of them.”
“Never received–!” Mr. Swashlin stared at Aunt Petunia, his glasses flashing and his eyes going white with a brown ring around them. He shook his head and then things got very, very confusing for Harry.
Aunt Petunia and Mr. Swashlin bent their heads over the accounting books that they’d been given, comparing notes between what Mr. Swashlin had and what the goblins had. It was full of talk of timed withdrawals, automatic approvals, lack of signatures and more things that Harry simply couldn’t follow.
Harry opened his account book, slowly paging through it for lack of anything else to do. Numbers, numbers, more numbers, all with little notes in precise writing specifying if it was incoming, outgoing, regular, irregular.
‘Conquest of Slytherin’ sat next to a truly humongous sum.
“What does conquest mean in an accounting sense?” Harry asked during a pause for note-taking on both Aunt Petunia and Mr. Swashlin’s sides.
“It’s an old concept,” Mr. Swashlin said, far more focused on his notes and his anger than on Harry’s words. “If one defeated an opponent in battle, then one received their goods in conquest. Why?”
“It says my mum and dad got everything Slytherin because of conquest,” Harry said.
He immediately passed the account book over to Mr. Swashlin when Mr. Swashlin’s head snapped up to stare at him. Mr. Swashlin read it over four times before he took off his glasses and buried his face in his hands. Harry stared at him. Then turned to Aunt Petunia who just sighed and pursed her lips.
Come to find out, the defeat of Voldemort, last of the Slytherin line that everyone had said was Harry’s accomplishment was actually his parents’. The accounting book made that perfectly clear. Mr. Swashlin did some magic that made the entry rise up off the page and expand into a written report that he copied down onto a separate piece of parchment. It ended up being nearly three feet long before the report was fully transcribed.
“Well, that’s nice,” Harry murmured to Aunt Petunia. “I like that I can learn how to get details of each of the charges. It’s like a mini-audit.”
“Hmm, good point,” Aunt Petunia said. She looked quite pleased at that idea, not that she’d be able to do it herself. “Though I’d assume that people can hide things from the spell given that Silverclaw said that a full audit needed to be done.”
Harry nodded. They waited as Mr. Swashlin studied the report. Eventually, he pushed back from his desk and went to make tea for the three of them. More for himself, really, but Harry didn’t mind a nice cup of tea after the day he’d had. Aunt Petunia sighed over Harry’s insistence on putting in too much sugar and milk but he pretended not to see. Mr. Swashlin’s tea was stout and black and bitter. It needed more sugar and milk.
“Your mother was a genius, Mr. Potter,” Mr. Swashlin finally said once he had a cup of steaming hot tea in hand. He sipped and winced for how hot it was. “She created an elaborate runic array in your childhood home that created a defense ward once your parents were killed defending you. Your father’s magic protected your mother and you until she could activate it. Her magic protected you. I suspect that it still does because the audit says that you carry a shard of You-Know-Who’s soul to this day. It’s in your scar.”
Harry gaped at him.
Aunt Petunia hissed at him so Harry drank his tea, too hot though it was, and set the cup down on Mr. Swashlin’s desk. His hand shook just as badly as they had when he ran back home. Maybe worse.
“Can we get it out?” Harry asked.
“I will contact the goblins about it,” Mr. Swashlin said. His hands shook a bit, too. “It can be wrapped up in the healing, more than likely. We’ll want to see if we can capture it. Such soul shards can be powerful tools to discovering information about their owners. I suspect… I suspect there is much that we need to learn about You-Know-Who, Mr. Potter.”
“Please,” Aunt Petunia said.
Her hands stayed perfectly steady as she drank her tea. And as she continued through the accounting, through figuring out who needed to be there for the will reading, and on to who needed to be told at the Ministry of Magic about Harry’s placement and lack of proper supervision from Magical Child Services, whatever that department was actually called. Mr. Swashlin had no idea about the department, which just seemed outright wrong. You’d think it would be something everyone knew about if kids were taken care of properly in the Magical world.
But then, Harry hadn’t been. Maybe other kids weren’t either.
Mr. Swashlin apparated them to Aunt Petunia’s car. That was like being squeezed through a straw. Harry hated it. Aunt Petunia looked positively green when they arrived. But they had the mail boxes, the accounting books and a promise from Mr. Swashlin that he would contact Aunt Petunia tomorrow morning with whatever information he’d managed to uncover over the night.
Harry wasn’t sure if Mr. Swashlin intended to sleep tonight.
He wasn’t sure if he’d sleep tonight, either.
The drive home was as silent as the drive into London but this time it was more because both Harry and Aunt Petunia were exhausted. She had wrinkles around her eyes and the crease between her eyebrows was a furrow. They stopped and got curry and rice and naan bread for dinner, a big batch of it for them all to eat.
Aunt Marge had yet to arrive. As it turned out, she was supposed to get there they day after tomorrow as she had several commitments to take care of before she could stay for a month. Harry couldn’t help but be glad about that. He really couldn’t stand her and knew it was mutual.
At bedtime, Dudley hesitated outside the door of Harry’s new bedroom, fidgeting nervously.
“It’s all changing,” Dudley said. Very quietly with a glance towards the stairs but neither Uncle Vernon nor Aunt Petunia appeared to scold them for not going straight to bed as ordered.
“I know,” Harry said. He looked at his new owl, sleeping in her cage with her head tucked under her wing, then at the magical trunk he’d set underneath the window. “It’s… I think. It was all wrong before, Duds. All messed up. Someone deliberately messed things up for us.”
“Mum’s fixing it, right?” Dudley said. He slipped inside, carefully easing the door almost shut but not quite so that they’d hear if anyone came up the stairs.
“I think so,” Harry said. “I hope so. One way or the other, I’m not going to trust that Dumbledore person. Everything everyone’s said so far is that he shouldn’t have done any of the things he did and should have done a whole bunch of stuff that he didn’t.”
Dudley nodded. “Dad’s really worried about Anthony Black getting one up on him. He keeps doing stuff that shouldn’t be possible. Dad was complaining about it after you and Mum left.”
Harry hummed and pulled his bookbag to him. This time when he pulled on the magic of the bag, it gave him the genealogy chart right away. Mr. Swashlin had showed him the little charm that let you expand charts and things like this to see what other information was available.
“Let’s see if he’s magic,” Harry said. He waved Dudley over to the bed even though Dudley on the bed meant there was barely any room for Harry on the bed. “If he is, then Uncle Vernon can get him in trouble for doing magic where he shouldn’t. That might help.”
Dudley clambered onto the bed with Harry, helping trace through the bloodlines until they found a Anthony Black in the Black family line. With an Anthony as an active wizard, no less. It might even be the same person because his wife was named Lacey just like Uncle Vernon’s Anthony Black.
They grinned triumphantly at each other. Aunt Petunia would be delighted to have another weapon against Anthony. Maybe Uncle Vernon would get to keep the vice president position after all.
And maybe, hopefully, tomorrow would bring people who could help Harry learn everything he needed to. There was only a month left before school started. He didn’t have much time to get up to speed before going to Hogwarts.
Remus stared at the owl sitting on his windowsill. He’d been out for shopping, getting the few meager groceries he could afford after paying for his wolfsbane for the month. There’d been a scratching at the window before he left. Maybe. He wasn’t entirely certain. It’d been years since he’d gotten anything by owl post.
Who was there to send him letters anymore? James and Lily were dead. Harry was safely in hiding, who knew where? Peter, poor Peter, was dead and Padfoot, Sirius, was in prison as he should be. Most of the people he’d known from school were dead, too. There simply wasn’t anyone to send him owl post.
Which made the owl sitting on his windowsill entirely unexpected.
“Sorry,” Remus said as he took the letter from the owl. “I’m afraid I don’t have any treats. Is there a charge?”
The owl gave him a dirty look before flying off without demanding payment. Pre-paid then. That was even rarer. Remus watched the owl until it was out of sight before he actually looked at the letter.
He nearly dropped it.
Gringotts’ seal held the envelope shut.
Remus let out a slow breath before delicately opening the envelope. He used the paring knife from his kitchen drawer as he’d sold the one letter opener he had after he lost the job before last. It hadn’t been quite enough for his wolfsbane but with the knuts he’d had saved up, he’d scraped by. That month.
Mr. Remus Lupin,
You are hereby informed that the will of Lily and James Potter will be read on August 31st in Gringotts. Present yourself for the reading at 8:00 am sharply.
Potter Account Manager
He stared. Read it a second time. Turned it over and frowned that there was nothing else there.
“I thought it had been read,” Remus mused. “How else was Harry placed?”
His voice triggered a spell that Remus hadn’t noticed in his befuddlement. A second message appeared on the bottom of the letter, this one in a deeper blue ink than the silvery-grey ink that Silverclaw had used.
You are invited to meet Mr. Potter prior to the will reading at his guardian’s home. If you are interested, please reply to Ms. Petunia Dursley at the attached number.
Remus’ legs gave way. He collapsed into the one good kitchen chair he had. Its feet screeched against the floor.
Harry was with Petunia? Why in the world had Dumbledore kept him from seeing Harry? Out of all of them, Remus was the only one that Petunia had tolerated even slightly. Mostly because he’d long since perfected being as unobtrusive and inoffensive as possible, but still, she wouldn’t have objected to Remus.
And… If Harry had been placed with Petunia, how was he being trained? What sort of education was he getting? Petunia wouldn’t have had any ability to teach Harry about his place in the magical world. She didn’t know any of James’ history.
“What in the world?” Remus murmured as he held the slip of paper with Petunia’s phone number on it.
His heart pounded so hard as he called Petunia that he could barely hear her. The appointment to come over tomorrow afternoon was so mundane, so stunningly polite, that Remus got though it on pure habit. At least until the last bit.
“Do make sure that you look normal,” Petunia said just before she hung up. “Our version of normal, please. The neighbors will gossip otherwise.”
“Of course,” Remus said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She hung up without saying goodbye. Remus stared at his phone until it beeped at him. Then he hung up and rubbed his face with both hands. Normal. A suit, then. His best suit, not that it was as good as it should be. He’d not had the opportunity to buy a new suit in years. It should do, though.
Harry. He was going to see Harry. After all these years, he would be able to see Harry again.
As hope made his hands shake, Remus’ fireplace flared to vivid green light. Remus flinched and automatically hid the letter from the bank under a stack of unpaid bills. Only one person flooed him: Dumbledore.
“Remus, my boy,” Dumbledore said with his normal twinkling smile. “I do hope you’re doing well.”
“As well as can be expected at this time of month, yes,” Remus said. “What can I do for you, sir?”
“Why, nothing at all, dear boy,” Dumbledore said. His smile looked a bit sharper than it should. Through the floo, Dumbledore always looked more harsh than in person. He just didn’t look good in the floo, apparently. “The school year is over so I thought I’d see how you’re doing. No issue lately? Nothing strange happening?”
Remus shifted uncomfortably. “No, nothing at all, sir. I’m afraid I can’t talk for long. I’ve got laundry that I need to wash and the landlady reminded me that I’m not to take the facilities for too long.”
“Certainly,” Dumbledore said even though his smile went a bit sour. There was a smug tone to his voice, though, that made Remus’ inner hackles rise. “I’ll let you go then. Do let me know if anything out of the ordinary happens, Remus. I can trust you with that, can’t I?”
“Of course, sir,” Remus said so automatically that he wondered for a second where the impulse came from. But then he had been working to earn Dumbledore’s regard for most of his life. It made sense.
“Good, good,” Dumbledore said.
He cut off the floo without saying goodbye either. Somehow, Dumbledore’s rudeness was more upsetting than Petunia’s. Every time he’d met Petunia, she’d been abrupt. Not one for observing the social niceties anymore than Lily had been. Dumbledore? He usually only treated the Hogwarts house elves that way.
Remus frowned as he got up from the fireplace, brushing his knees off. Was that how Dumbledore saw him? Nothing more than a house elf? A tool?
No, he had to be imagining things. The whole shock of the letter from Gringotts and from Petunia had put him off. That was all. He’d go off to see Harry tomorrow. Maybe Harry would even remember Remus, though that was doubtful. Harry had always been closer to Sirius than Remus.
“Well,” Remus sighed, “I’d best go get that suit cleaned up. At least I didn’t have to lie to Dumbledore. I do need to do laundry.”
If only he could keep his hands from shaking long enough to do it properly.
Remus Lupin was a very nice man with scars on his face and a habit of holding his mugs of tea in his hands as if they were the only heat he expected to get in any given day. He’d been one of the people who was supposed to be at the will reading. Aunt Petunia, once informed by Mr. Swashlin, had sniffed and nodded approval for him to be informed right away. And she’d said that he was welcome to come visit as long as he did better than his friends James Potter and Sirius Black at looking normal.
He looked very normal indeed when he knocked on the front door. A little shabby, kind of like Harry’s old hand-me-downs, with slightly frayed hems on his trousers and a shirt that was a size too big for him, but he’d smiled brightly at Harry and been perfectly polite to both Aunt Petunia and to Uncle Vernon before Uncle Vernon headed off to work, much later than normal because of everything that was going on. Uncle Vernon had take a half day off, staying right through lunch, just to make sure that Aunt Petunia had everything she needed ready.
There was going to be a dinner party tonight, with Anthony Black and his family. Harry was very, very curious how that would go. Aunt Petunia had all but spit fire when he and Dudley told her about Anthony Black being magic. The party was all her plan because she wanted to know whether or not Uncle Vernon’s Anthony Black was the chart’s Anthony Black. If so, there would be Consequences For His Behavior.
She’s said, very firmly, that Harry was to be quite rude to Anthony Black about never introducing himself properly if he was a wizard, but not in a magical way if he could help it.
He’d kind of thought that she wanted to tell him to do the same to Remus Lupin but no, she’d sighed, explained that Remus was one of his parents very best friends and that he should be as nice as possible to him. So, they’d gone into the back yard with Dudley so that they’d be out of Aunt Petunia’s way as she got ready for the dinner party.
“This is lovely, Harry,” Remus said as he looked around the garden. His eyes shifted a little bit at times, always towards gold, but not very much at all.
“His eyes go all queer, too,” Dudley observed.
“Well, he is magical,” Harry said. “That’s why he’s here. Did Mr. Swashlin tell you anything about why we asked you to visit, sir?”
“Ah, no, only that there was something with Lily and James will?” Remus said. He blinked at the two of them in obvious puzzlement. “And that you were hoping for more information about magical society, but I’d expect you already know a great deal, yes?’
Harry stared at him. Dudley did, too. They exchanged looks and then Harry led Remus over to the bench set against the fence. It was near the cabbages and just far enough away from the blackberry patch that you didn’t get scratched but close enough that you could pluck berries from time to time. Especially if the brambles cooperated which they always did for Harry and rarely did for Dudley. They seemed to like Remus just fine because he got three berries without effort, which he shared with both of them.
“Let’s sit,” Harry said.
“Oh, dear,” Remus said. “This doesn’t sound good.”
“No, it’s not,” Harry said. “Please promise that you’ll stay calm and listen to the whole thing. It’s a long story.”
“I promise,” Remus declared promptly.
Later Harry kind of thought that Remus regretted that promise. Over the course of telling him everything that had happened and all the stuff he didn’t know, Remus’ eyes went blazingly gold several times. His eyeteeth seemed to get longer twice, and Harry could’ve sworn that he got claws once, when it was revealed that Sirius was still listed as Harry’s second father / godfather on the genealogy chart.
“That shouldn’t be possible,” Remus protested.
It was the first time he’d interrupted during the whole thing which was pretty good in Harry’s opinion. Dudley sat sprawled on the grass, watching them like they were better than any show on TV or even beating someone up.
“Mr. Swashlin said much the same,” Harry agreed when he phoned this morning. “Something about a vow and how he couldn’t be my godfather or second father or whatever it was if he’d actually betrayed my parents. But then everyone seems to think that I defeated Voldemort when it was clearly Mum and Dad who did it. The accounting book said so.”
“That’s…” Remus sighed, a forceful huff as his eyes flashed gold. He looked very tired and much older a moment later as the gold faded back to unremarkable brown. “I can easily believe it. Your mother was a genius, Harry. You’re so much like her. That hair of yours is all Potter but you, the way you talk and hold yourself, it’s so very Lily.”
“Always thought it was more like Mum,” Dudley commented. He pulled up a handful of grass, scattering it between his sprawled legs with a huge pout that wasn’t actually all that bad for Dudley. No screaming, kicking or hitting at all.
“Her, too,” Remus agreed. “You’re very like your father, Dudley.”
“Dad says I’ll be a great rugby player when I get older,” Dudley said with a grimace. “Rather do other things than that.”
“There’s always boxing,” Harry said because sometimes his mouth had far less sense than even the stupidest of Mrs. Figg’s cats.
Dudley grinned at Harry, smacking a fist into his palm so hard that it sounded like mini lightning. Remus started, and then chuckled. He waved for Dudley to stop.
“You’ll want to be very careful about that,” Remus said. “You’re a squib. It seems that your fists allow you to access a touch of magic. That was… not quite a spell but definitely more than just a normal punch. While squibs can’t use wands to access their magic, they can express it in various more physical ways. Your fists seem to be a focus for you.”
Both Harry and Dudley stared at him. Remus blinked at their shock, taking off his glasses to polish them in a nervous gesture that Harry completely understood. He did it all the time when his glasses weren’t damaged. Mr. Swashlin had suggested getting his eyes repaired when the healer came tomorrow so Harry might not have glasses in the future. He wasn’t sure if he liked that thought. Sometimes it was nice to have something to fiddle with and hide behind as he worked his thoughts out.
Like Remus did just then.
“Squibs can’t use wands or cast spells but they do still have magic,” Remus explained to Dudley. “You’re a squib, like your mother. Your magic seems to trend towards physical things. Your mother’s seems to trend towards understanding people. I think. I’m not sure, actually. I’ve never spent much time around her before so I could be wrong.”
Dudley stared at Remus. Then at Harry who shrugged. It wasn’t as if Harry knew anything more about this than Dudley did though if he had to guess he’d say that Aunt Petunia’s magic came out in her voice when she was very, very angry.
But apparently being told that his fists were magic was enough to get Dudley over any fear or hatred of magic because he spent the next hour and more pestering Remus with a million questions about how that worked, how squibs could do magic but not and why squibs weren’t allowed to be part of magical society when they had magic. Harry was quite curious about that one, too. Sadly, Remus had no good explanation for it.
“Boys!” Aunt Petunia shouted from the back door. “It’s time to get cleaned up!”
Dudley groaned. Harry sighed.
“Come on, inside with the both of you,” Remus said, chuckling as Dudley collapsed back onto the grass with his arms and legs flung out as if he’d been dramatically stabbed. Rather like some of Aunt Petunia’s afternoon shows, really.
Remus just laughed and pulled him to his feet, shooing both of them inside. The house smelled wonderful, like roast beef and mashed potatoes with garlic. Not enough garlic as far as Harry was concerned but no one seemed to like as much garlic as he did. Though, honestly, part of the reason he loved it was because no one else did.
“Oh, that smells amazing,” Remus said. He perked up and breathed deeply, one hand over his chest as if he’d never smelled something that good.
“Thank you,” Aunt Petunia said in her prim but pleased voice. Her smile was far too tight but that was probably because of everything that was going on. “I expect that you’ll be staying. Do something about your suit, please. Boys, I expect you to be clean and dressed in the next half hour. The guests will be arriving soon. Best behavior, understood?”
“Yes, Mum,” Dudley said with a depressed sigh. “Do have to smile at them all?”
He winced when Aunt Petunia glowered at him.
“But we know that Black guy is up to something, Mum,” Dudley complained. “Why can’t I say something?”
“Oh, because I’m supposed to be all stiff and proper and annoyed at him that he’s cashing in on knowing me without ever introducing himself,” Harry said. “Aunt Petunia explained it earlier when you were playing games.”
“Oh,” Dudley said with considerably more cheer. “Someone gets to be rude to him?”
Remus stared at the two of them, his eyes glowing gold. “Black, who?”
“His name is Anthony Black, son of Marius Black. We think,” Harry said. “His father was Sirius Black’s uncle. He was thrown out because he was a squib. But the genealogy chart we have shows that he’s actually magical. He works at Uncle Vernon’s company and has been trying to keep Uncle Vernon from getting promoted for ages.”
Remus stared at Harry with his mouth open for a really long time. “…I think I need to see that genealogy chart, Harry. Can you please show it to me?”
He followed Harry up to the second bedroom that Dudley always claimed as his own. Harry had never liked the room. It was dim and dingy, having only one window that faced north so it had very little natural light. The walls looked like they’d been beaten. A bomb might have gone off in there. Now that he knew that he’d blown the windows out when he was younger, Harry had to believe that he was the one who’d damaged the room, not Dudley when he tossed his broken or unwanted toys inside.
“This is where you live?” Remus asked with a fierce frown.
Harry shrugged. “Sort of. It’s complicated. I think I had an accident or something when I was younger. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon never had the money to fix it up afterwards.”
“Oh,” Remus breathed. His eyebrows went up and then he looked profoundly sad. “I see. Well, give a me moment and I’ll fix that.”
He pulled out a wand, slender and unadorned other than a little wiggly bit at the base which swelled out into a bulge very much like an onion’s bulb. Remus hummed and then whispered something while waving his wand. The walls brightened, lightened. The window went clearer as if the glass was suddenly clean. All the damage to the walls, floors and window frame smoothed out until they looked perfect.
“Wow,” Harry breathed. “That’s amazing! Can you fix anything?”
Remus grinned at him. “Not anything. I could repair your glasses if you like?”
“Oh, yes, please,” Harry said. “We’ll probably heal my eyes tomorrow but it’s annoying having the tape. Especially when I’m supposed to look extra-nice tonight.”
Remus waved his want at Harry and there was a wash of warmth over his face. The tape spun off the bridge of his glasses. There was a tiny snap and his glasses suddenly sat perfectly on his face.
“That’s brilliant!” Harry exclaimed. “Let me just get that chart for you and I’ll go fight Dudley for the bathroom. He takes forever getting cleaned up.”
When Harry hurried off to the bathroom, Remus was laughing quietly. He had a very nice smile, quiet and grateful in a way that Harry didn’t quite understand. There was certainly something more going on there, but he didn’t know what it was.
Not that it mattered when he had to battle with his hair and remind Dudley that he needed to wash both his hands and his face before putting on his clothes. They managed to get cleaned up before Aunt Petunia yelled up at them the third time.
Most of the time Harry wouldn’t have to attend dinner parties. He got nervous and uncomfortable around most of Uncle Vernon’s coworkers. The bosses and clients that sometimes came over were even worse. They always seemed to be judging everything about the house and the people and especially Harry.
At least now he knew why.
So, he was kind of looking forward to the dinner party tonight. He had Aunt Petunia on his side for once and Remus would be there. And if worst came to worst, maybe Dudley could punch that Anthony Black with his magic fists. It’d be nice to watch someone else get Dudley-punched. Harry had always known that Dudley’s blows hurt more than anyone else’s though he’d thought it was just that Dudley meant it more than other people when he hit Harry.
“You must have spent a lot on this,” Remus commented once Harry came back in his fixed-up bedroom. “The spell work is very robust.”
“I guess,” Harry said. “I was just determined to have something that would tell me things about Magical society. Hagrid wasn’t very happy about me buying it. Mr. Flourish seemed a little surprised that I wanted it, but I did tell him that Aunt Petunia and Aunt Marge are both very serious about genealogy. That was when he said I should get this one. It seemed expensive but then all of genealogy stuff is expensive so not really horribly pricey compared to some of Aunt Marge’s genealogy books. I mean, in my opinion, anyway. She’s spent hundreds and hundreds of pounds just for one or two thin little books for just tiny bits of information.”
“Hm.” Remus didn’t explain what he found interesting about that. He just frowned thunderously at the chart as he nodded. Remus folded the chart back up. “I’ll go borrow the bathroom now. I do better repair work when I can see what I’m working on. I’ll be right back.”
Harry watched Remus go. Yeah, there was definitely more going on there, but he didn’t know what it was. Yet. He’d ask Aunt Petunia tomorrow before the healer and Aunt Marge showed up. At least he didn’t have to deal with Aunt Marge at the dinner party. That would have been horrible, no matter what new information he had.
“Harry!” Aunt Petunia shouted.
He started out of the room and then stopped. The genealogy chart sat on his bed. Harry ran over, stuffed it into his magically huge trouser pocket and then ran downstairs for inspection with Dudley.
Anthony blew out a breath as he tried to get his shirt buttoned correctly. Third time, all three times wrong. The tug under his breastbone had gotten so much worse lately. The last few days had been exponentially worse than it had been his entire life.
He felt it. All three of his sisters felt it, too. His youngest sister Genevieve had called in the middle of the night to curse at him for not having figured out how to get them all back into the Black family magic. As if Anthony could actually do anything.
It would be so simple if Potter knew anything about magic. He could go to one of the Dursley’s highly popular dinner parties, like tonight’s, and simply ask Potter to bring them back in or throw them out for good. At this point all of them would take being thrown out if only to make the borderline pain stop.
“Aren’t you dressed yet?” Lacey asked from the doorway of their walk-in closet. “Honey, we need to get going if we’re going to be on time. You know we need to impress Vernon and Petunia if we’re ever to get at Harry.”
“I know, I know,” Anthony complained. “Just… struggling. It’s so hard to focus, Lace.”
She sighed and came to do up his buttons for him. She did his tie for him, too, which was good because Anthony knew he’d have made a complete hash of it if he tried. Once she was done, Lacey smoothed her hands over Anthony’s chest, calming him despite the tug of the Black family magic distracting him.
“Who are you?” Lacey asked, just as she always did.
Anthony grinned and took her hands to kiss her knuckles. “A complete idiot. Utterly hopeless fool. Total failure at everything, that’s me.”
“Be serious!” Lacey huffed but she was just on the edge of laughing, too, eyes wrinkling up and grin blooming on her mouth.
“That’s my cousin,” Anthony replied automatically. “I’m Anthony. But I can give it a try if you want.”
The old, old joke, the first pickup line that he’d ever used on her, drew a laugh out of Lacey though it didn’t last as long as it should have. Not too surprising. Lacey’s family magic was tugging at her, too, as was the Black magic. She handled it better than Anthony did, but then she was way better trained that Anthony could ever dream of being.
Lacey’s smile wrinkles turned into a pained frown. Her breath caught for a second before she sucked air in between her teeth, smiling at him so stiffly that it made Anthony’s heart lurch. The Black family magic tugged at them both, an angry, frustrated draw pulling them who knew where. Anthony certainly didn’t know. If he did, he would do something about it.
“Oh, Love,” Anthony murmured as he pulled her into his arms. “I’m sorry. We’ll go. We’ll be charming. We’ll finally get past Petunia’s ice queen perfection and make a real connection with them. And, somehow, we’ll talk to Harry. He’s eleven. He should be learning about magic anytime now.”
“I certainly hope so,” Lacey grumbled. She hugged him hard enough to make Anthony’s ribs creak. “If Dumbledore doesn’t decide that he’s ‘too damaged’ by the Killing Curse to pollute his precious little pupils. He might throw Potter away just like he did our ancestors. And us.”
That was Anthony’s real fear. It could happen so easily. His father had been disowned for being a squib. When it was Anthony’s turn to get his Hogwarts letter, instead of an invitation, he’d gotten a sternly polite refusal to allow Anthony to attend because of his family’s ‘dark history’.
What rot. Dad had been as light as anyone. Not very strong, not able to use a wand, but certainly not a true squib. His magic had been all in his hands. He’d made an incredible craftsman around the edges of the magical world in Britain. Not once had he done anything Dark. No one in Anthony’s branch of the family had.
Same for Lacey and her two sisters. All of them had been refused admittance to Hogwarts on the thinnest of excuses. Sometimes Anthony wondered if it was because they’d grown up with too much education, too many real resources, for Dumbledore’s comfort. A strong mind wasn’t one that he could control, after all.
“If he is refused then we’ll find a way to get him what he needs,” Anthony declared. He huffed when Lacey just raised an eyebrow at him. “I know, I know. The Statute of Secrecy is an issue. We’ll figure a way around it. Somehow. This can’t go on.”
“Right,” Lacey agreed though her tone wasn’t convinced and neither was her expression. “Get your shoes on. We’re going to be late if we don’t hurry. And no, we’re not taking your car. That thing’s a menace. We’ll take my car.”
“But my car’s impressive!” Anthony called after Lacey as she marched out of their magically expanded walk-in closet.
“It’s a rolling mid-life crisis and you’re too young for one!” Lacey called back at him. “Move!”
Anthony laughed, grabbed his shoes and moved. If he moved a little slower than he normally would because of the family magic clawing at his soul, well, that didn’t matter. All that mattered was impressing Petunia and Vernon enough to be allowed around Harry.
If they could just talk to him, privately, it would make all the difference in the world.
Anthony Black was a tall, slender man with black hair, silvery eyes and a ready smile that always felt sort of plastic. At least to Harry. The adults around him didn’t seem to see it. His hair wasn’t quite as messily curly as Harry’s, but it did curl in carefully controlled and sculpted loops around his ears and close to the collar of his very fine blue shirt. He’d taken off his suit coat sometime after dinner and now stood talking brightly with Uncle Vernon by the fireplace. Dudley lurked next to them, listening into their discussion with a strained but proper smile that Aunt Petunia probably wouldn’t scold him for later.
“That’s definitely a Black. One of our Blacks, that is,” Remus murmured to Petunia who hummed while smiling her bright, welcoming smile at Anthony’s wife who drifted over to their group as if she was bored out of her mind by Uncle Vernon and Anthony’s discussion.
“Do excuse me,” Petunia said, patting Remus’ elbow. “I need to go bring more drinks in.”
“Oh, please, do let me help,” Mrs. Lacey Black said from her momentary perch on the sofa.
“Nonsense,” Petunia said cheerfully, exactly as she never, ever did unless she was hosting a dinner party. “I won’t be but a moment.”
She bustled into the kitchen, probably to take a moment to breathe, leaving Harry to stand awkwardly next to Remus as Lacey sighed and smoothed her hands over her thighs as if her simple black dress might have suddenly stopped fitting absolutely perfectly.
“I always feel like I should help,” Lacey commented to Remus.
He chuckled. “Petunia prefers to do such things herself. Her kitchen is her domain.”
“Well, I can understand that,” Lacey said but her smile was still hesitant and nervous. Way more nervous than Harry understood. “I suppose you and Dudley are getting ready for school, Harry?”
“Yes,” Harry said. “We are. Dudley’s going to Uncle Vernon’s old school. They’re both very proud about it. I’m going to the school my parents went to. It’s up in Scotland.”
Her eyes flashed for a second. Only the barest fraction of a second but it was definitely there. Her mouth twisted as if she’d just bitten something sour, which surprised Harry. Remus raised an eyebrow at her response as he rested one hand on Harry’s back protectively.
“You never said where you went to school,” Remus observed.
Lacey’s laugh was as brittle as anything Harry had ever heard out of Aunt Petunia when she was furious at someone. “A French school. You’ve likely not heard of it. That’s where I met Anthony.”
“Huh, I wondered if he attended Beauxbatons,” Remus observed in a completely mild tone that no one listening would’ve paid the least attention to, but it made Lacey’s jaw drop and her eyes flare really bright. “I thought it might have been Durmstrang but he doesn’t have the accent.”
“Where’s that?” Harry asked.
“Germany,” Remus said with a grin for Harry that made him grin right back. That was one of the best things about Remus. He never seemed to mind answering questions, no matter how many he’d already gotten peppered with.
Harry nodded, watching Lacey directly and Anthony from the corner of his eye. Anthony was definitely paying attention to the three of them because as soon as Lacey snapped her mouth shut, cheeks going red with what looked like anger, Anthony said something to Uncle Vernon before ambling to her side.
His eyes skipped over Harry’s face as if he was afraid to look Harry in the eyes.
“All right there, love?” Anthony asked.
“I thought you said they didn’t know,” Lacey hissed at him with a thrum in her voice that was very like Aunt Petunia’s thrum when she was furious.
Anthony went very, very pale. He still didn’t meet Harry’s eyes. For that matter, he no longer looked at Uncle Vernon or Dudley, or even Aunt Petunia who came out with a bright smile and a shiny silver tray with some very pretty looking pink, green and yellow drinks. Dudley looked very interested in them but put his hands behind his back the instant Aunt Petunia’s professional smile dimmed slightly.
“Goodness, I hope nothing’s wrong,” Aunt Petunia said.
“No, Anthony was just surprised that we realize he’s magical,” Remus said very, very calmly despite the way his eyes flashed gold.
“Ah, I thought you didn’t know you were magical,” Anthony admitted, barely lifting his eyes to meet Harry’s. His eyes were slate grey, barely shimmering at all, and he looked very, very nervous.
“Oh, I didn’t know until a few weeks ago,” Harry said. “Well. Yesterday, really. We learned all sorts of things no one wanted us to find out yesterday. Including that you’re some sort of relative.”
Both Anthony and Lacey’s jaws dropped open. Aunt Petunia firmly served the drinks to the adults, giving Harry and Dudley each a glass of orange punch, which wasn’t half as interesting looking as the multicolored drinks the grownups got. Harry didn’t protest that. He knew better.
“How could you not know that?” Anthony whispered without sipping his drink.
Lacey sipped hers. Her eyebrows went up and she elbowed Anthony until he took a sip. Then his eyebrows went up in obvious delight and Remus frowned, sipping. He broke into a delighted grin that made Uncle Vernon chortle proudly.
“That’s my Pet,” Uncle Vernon declared. “Best drinks in the whole neighborhood.”
“How old do we have to be to try that?” Harry asked Aunt Petunia.
“Yeah!” Dudley said, frowning at his orange punch.
“Eighteen at the very least. Probably twenty-five, so don’t try it,” Aunt Petunia said so forbiddingly that Harry just sighed and sipped his orange punch which really wasn’t bad at all, but it wasn’t raise your eyebrows and beam in delight good.
“That Dumbledore person ensured that Harry was completely isolated and unsupported,” Petunia told Anthony and Lacey. “We don’t know his plan but he’s definitely up to something.”
Lacey scowled at the mention of Dumbledore while Anthony looked almost sick to his stomach. He slugged back the drink and shuddered. Both their eyes flared as magic danced over Anthony’s curls, making them shift slightly before settling back down into different configurations than before.
Uncle Vernon backed a step away, shuffling his feet nervously.
“What did he do to you?” Harry asked Anthony.
Who laughed bitterly even though Lacey leaned into his side with a worried frown. “When I turned eleven, I got a letter. One that very politely, very definitively, said that given ‘family history’ and ‘past problems’ it would be better if I did not attend Hogwarts. I was firmly invited to seek my education elsewhere.”
“What?” Remus gasped. There definitely were claws on his fingers for a second which made both Lacey and Anthony back up a step just like Uncle Vernon had a moment before. “But Hogwarts is supposed to be open to all magicals in Britain!”
Lacey snorted, glaring at Remus. “Don’t be foolish. Only the people that Headmaster Dumbledore wants get in. I went to Beauxbations willingly, but my sisters desperately wanted Hogwarts. They were forbidden to go, just like Anthony, because our grandmother had been from a Dark family and got disowned.”
Harry frowned. “I thought Dumbledore was supposed to be a leader of the Light side of things. Why would he keep out people who were rejected from the Dark side? Wouldn’t they be allies?”
“You’re expecting logic,” Anthony said. He collapsed back on the sofa, still clutching the glass in his hand. “There is no logic there. I really thought… Ah, well. It doesn’t matter, does it?”
“Thought what?” Dudley asked just as Harry was going to.
“He’s a Black,” Lacey said when Anthony just stared at his glass. “You’re the Heir Black, Harry. You’re his path back into the Family Magic well.”
Harry stared at her for a long moment. He’d seen a mention of something about family magic in one of his books but couldn’t for the life of him remember it now. There’d been so much focus on the genealogy and the accounts that he’d had no time to read the way he wanted. Still, he could hear the capital letters Lacey put on ‘family magic’ so it must be very important.
“What does that mean?” Harry asked Remus because he was the only adult there who answered questions happily.
Remus sucked in a breath and then sighed as he sipped his drink. “Magic is in many ways alive, Harry. It flows through bloodlines. It also flows when you form bonds with people.”
“Like marriage?” Dudley asked. He scooted close enough so that he could mock-punch Harry in the shoulder. It didn’t hurt, at all, and Harry stared at Dudley who grinned like he’d just found an all-new trick to play on Harry.
“That’s one sort, and well done on restraining your magic, Dudley,” Remus said. “Friendship, sex, oaths, there’s a large variety of ways magic can bind people together. But the well of magic a family shares is stronger than any of the others. The Black family magic and the Potter family magic have always been famous for the strength and depth of it. You’re in the very middle of both wells, Harry.”
“And my father was ritually disowned,” Anthony explained, still staring at his empty glass. “Not his whole bloodline, just him. My sisters and I all feel the pull of the magic but there’s no one we can get to who will bring us back in ritually so there’s only the pull and no flow of family magic back to us.”
Lacey rubbed his shoulder, frowning at him. “It’s painful, Harry. Anthony had no idea you were part of the Dursley family when he went to work at Grunnings.”
Anthony snorted as he smiled wryly at Vernon. “I didn’t want to live in magical society because of their bigotry. And I never knew why I was drawn towards you but then I found out Harry is your nephew, living with you, and realized that my magic was pulling me towards the acting patriarch of the Black family.”
Harry groaned as he pulled the genealogy chart out of his pocket. He found the Black line, poked it with his magic and discovered that yes, there were lines to Anthony and his sisters. Dudley leaned on Harry’s shoulder, studying it, too.
“So, this thing is telling the truth, then,” Harry said. He grumbled. “Well, as far as I’m concerned it’s stupid to say that you’re not family and that you don’t belong when you clearly do. You’re a Black and you’re Sirius’ cousin so you’re family. That’s all there is to that.”
There was a tiny flash of light from the chart and then a huge wave of magic that flowed out of Harry and into Anthony and then Lacey. They both gasped. Dudley caught Harry when his knees gave out on him. He panted, blinking because the chart had changed. The faint dotted lines that led to Anthony’s branch of the Black family were now solid and bright gold.
Then Remus was there, kneeling in front of Harry so that he could peer into Harry’s eyes.
“Ah, well, that was abrupt,” Remus said. “Just breathe, Harry. You’ll be fine once the flow stabilizes. Same thing happened when James and Sirius declared each other blood brothers. James’ parents, your grandparents, were a bit shocked but your family magic is hungry for connections.”
“Desperate,” Anthony said from the sofa. He rubbed his chest, staring at Harry with eyes that shimmered mercury and silver. “It’s desperate. It wants to find and claim everyone it can, no matter who they are. Any connection at all.”
Harry nodded, breathing as Remus directed. He did want connections. Friends and family and mentors and every sort of person around him that he could trust. That he could turn to and know that they’d support him. He’d felt desperately lonely all this time and had to wonder if it was deliberate.
What if Dumbledore had done it on purpose? What if all of this was on purpose?
“Anthony,” Harry said and realized that it was an order, not a request, but he didn’t really care. “Can you check Uncle Vernon to see if he’s been spelled to hate and fear magic to an unreasonable degree? And Aunt Petunia and Dudley, too.”
“There are some rather nasty wards on the house,” Lacey said as her wand appeared with a flick of her wrist. She looked around the room, pointing at the fireplace. “They center over there. The wards aren’t doing much. The family wards underneath them are so strong that they’re blunting the nasty wards effect.”
Anthony grinned at Aunt Petunia’s scowl. “My Lacey is a ward-breaker. She’s taken three masteries in curse-breaking, ward-breaking and runic magic.”
He cast a spell at Uncle Vernon who paled and stayed in place though he really obviously would’ve rathered run the other way. Or yell. Uncle Vernon’s face did go purple. Anthony glowered at the result that floated in front of him. Lacey snarled and stood, stalking over to Uncle Vernon. Remus sagged, his hands tightening uncomfortably on Harry’s shoulders.
“He’s been cursed,” Anthony said. “The house, too. It must be fixed. It’s harmful to all of you but especially dangerous to Dudley and Harry.”
Aunt Petunia looked at Vernon who’d gone oatmeal-grey. She slugged back her drink and then set it down with an icy click on the silver platter. Anthony stood. Lacey turned to Aunt Petunia, both of them seeming to notice that she was in charge of everything that happened in the house.
“Do it,” Petunia said. “Do it and, if possible, make it so that it’s not obvious from the outside that it’s been done.”
Saint Mungo’s was quiet last thing in the day. It had rained earlier, briefly, so the steps were damp. Amal took a deep breath of the moist air before pushing open the front door. Inside, the air was antiseptic and minty, not damp or cool at all. He much preferred the cool wet outside.
Healer Smethwyck’s office was off to the side of the Dai Llewellyn Ward, tucked away behind an unornamented door, a ferocious dragon of a nurse who glared at Amal like he might be getting ready to commit murder and she’d have to stop him, and a second door with fading gold paint lettering the words ‘Director of Ward’ over slightly brighter letters picking out ‘Smethwyck’.
“Your appointment is here, sir,” the nurse said as she opened that second, very impressively unimpressive door. She glowered at Amal who nodded slightly to her. It didn’t do a bit of good.
“Send him in, Beatrice,” Healer Smethwyck replied. “Do bring some tea, would you? I think we could do with it.”
“Of course, sir,” Nurse Beatrice the Dragon said with a not much less severe smile for Smethwyck. “I’ll have the elves bring it in right away.”
She waved Amal in, glowering the whole time he sidled past her, and then closed the door with a firm and foreboding click. Amal shivered. That was one woman he was going to do his level best never to annoy. Any worse than he’d already annoyed her by daring to request an appointment with Healer Smethwyck.
“Do sit down, Mr. Swashlin,” Healer Smethwyck said far more genially. “You’ll have to excuse Beatrice. She’s not an evening person.”
“Ah, no, apparently not,” Amal said.
Where Nurse Beatrice was ferocious, Healer Smethwyck was a gentle, grandfatherly older man with a clean-shaven chin, snowy white hair cut shorter than most of the older generation would ever think of, and faded blue eyes that studied Amal as if he was being laid out for dissection.
Tea popped in, complete with toast, jam and some delicious looking strawberry scones.
“I must admit that I’m rather confused as to why you needed an appointment with me,” Healer Smethwyck said as he poured tea, portioned out scones and let Amal smear as much jam as he wanted on his toast. “Your message wasn’t very clear.”
“There are security reasons for that,” Amal said. He took a bite of the toast, gratefully since he’d not managed to eat all day. Too many things to take care of for Harry and Petunia. “My client’s guardian has insisted on complete secrecy. There are… some very serious dangers that would threaten both my client and their guardians if it became known that I was making this inquiry.”
Healer Smethwyck watched as Amal ate his toast and then demolished his scone. He didn’t say a thing until Amal started sipping his tea, a delightful peach black tea.
“I assume that you’ll need an Oath of Secrecy, then?” Healer Smethwyck asked.
“Not just that,” Amal replied, “but your understanding that you’ll receive no specifics until we arrive at my client’s home. They cannot come here. It isn’t safe for them.”
Healer Smethwyck nodded slowly, setting his tea down to frown as severely as Nurse Beatrice. “I do not treat Death Eaters.”
“That’s exactly why I approached you,” Amal said. He chuckled at how Healer Smethwyck reared back, surprised. “Your morals and ethics are above reproach. Your skills are the best available in all of Magical Britain. Due to… several constraints, I can’t approach someone outside the country. I’m willing to swear an oath that you will be in no danger, that your patient desperately needs help that they cannot receive any other way, and to pay you whatever fee you deem necessary without specifying it ahead of time.”
Healer Smethwyck stared at Amal for a long, long time. A good minute and a half of total silence broken only by the sound of Nurse Beatrice moving outside and the cuckoo clock on the wall slowly ticking away towards the half hour. Eventually, Healer Smethwyck shook his head.
“Let’s work on the wording of the oaths,” Healer Smethwyck said. “I must admit that I’m curious what would require this sort of skullduggery.”
Amal grinned, relieved. One hurdle down to getting Harry what he needed.
“I’ve taken the liberty of writing up drafts of both,” Amal said as he pulled his notes from his pocket. “Let’s go over them and see if you need any changes.”
Mr. Swashlin showed up at six in the morning, on the dot, with a healer in tow. It was much, much, much too early. Lacey’s work to break the curses took until well past midnight. The wards that she cast took until two. Both Anthony and Remus cast their own wards and protective spells over the house and all four of them, but Lacey was much more serious about and much scarier about it. By the time she was done, Lacey was soaked with sweat, swaying and exhausted.
Remus outright insisted that she and Anthony spend the night in the guest room. He headed back into London where he had a flat, but he promised to be back that afternoon, hopefully before Aunt Marge showed up at three.
Harry had been buzzing with the magic that Lacey’d cast so he’d barely gotten to sleep before three. Three hours of sleep was very much not enough, especially when faced with a perkily cheerful Mr. Swashlin and a stern old Healer in lime-green robes who frowned at Harry as if disapproving of the way he breathed, much less how tired he was.
“This is Healer Hippocrates Smethwyck. He’s head of Saint Mungo’s Dai Llewellyn Ward,” Mr. Swashlin explained to Aunt Petunia who had tea in hand and Uncle Vernon who was scowling as he ate a breakfast of three eggs, bacon, barely toasted toast and most of the jar of marmalade.
“I’m honored that you requested me, Mr. Potter,” Healer Smethwyck said with a little incline of his head.
“Um, thank you for coming,” Harry said, falling back on Aunt Petunia’s lessons on proper behavior. “I appreciate your help.”
“He needs the lot,” Mr. Swashlin explained. “He’s had no treatment at all since his parents died. There’s something wrong with his scar, too. The household records audit shows that he has a fragment of You-Know-Who’s soul caught in his scar.”
“Hm, I see I am actually needed,” Healer Smethwyck said. “Come lie down on the couch, Mr. Potter. The scans will take some time so you might as well be comfortable while I do them.”
Where Lacey’s magic had been hot with anger and prickly with determination last night, Healer Smethwyck’s magic felt cool, dispassionate and distant. Harry was tired enough that he found himself falling asleep almost immediately. Healer Smethwyck nodded that Harry could roll on his side and curl up so that’s exactly what he did.
He wasn’t sure how much later it was when Dudley poked Harry in the forehead, but he could hear Aunt Petunia and Lacey talking in the kitchen. Healer Smethwyck and Uncle Vernon were nose to nose on the far side of the living room, Mr. Swashlin by them nodding urgently. Harry stared up at Dudley who was scowling at Harry.
“You seen this yet?” Dudley asked as he pushed one of the books Harry’d bought but not yet read into his face. “You’re in this but it’s really rude.”
“Uh, no?” Harry said.
He sat up and shifted over so that Dudley could sit next to him. The weird part of what Lacey had done last night was that he no longer wanted to stay as far away from Dudley as humanly possible. His whole life, he’d been wary of Dudley. There was always punching and bullying, and it just wasn’t good to be near him.
The moment Lacey removed the curse on the house and then set to work removing curses from all four of them, Harry had found himself pressed against Dudley’s side. And Dudley kept getting close so that he could drape a meaty arm over Harry’s shoulders. It was weird, very weird, but something inside of him wiggled like a happy puppy over it.
Family magic? Seemed likely.
Harry started skimming through the book and within moments was spluttering with outrage. The book made his life out to be some sort of magical adventure. Which, you know, he could understand people doing as long as they made it clear that that wasn’t his actual life.
But no, these books claimed in the beginning, on the back, and at multiple points through the ridiculous stories that it was Harry’s real life and his actual adventures.
“You outta sue,” Dudley declared.
“No kidding!” Harry looked up and Anthony was there now, talking with Healer Smethwyck with a grim, determined expression.
He got up and went over to tug at Mr. Swashlin’s sleeve. Uncle Vernon ruffled Harry’s hair, fondly, much the way he always did to Dudley. It was so startling that Harry stared up at him. They both blushed and then Uncle Vernon cleared his throat, nodding to Mr. Swashlin, so Harry decided to let that go.
“What’s wrong, Harry?” Mr. Swashlin asked.
“Can we sue these people?” Harry asked. He pushed the book into Mr. Swashlin’s hand. “I’m pretty sure that it’s libel or something to make up stories like that about a real person and then make money off them without their permission.”
Mr. Swashlin lit up like a Christmas tree. “I’d be delighted to sue them! I’ve hated these stupid books for years!”
Anthony looked over Mr. Swashlin’s shoulder and promptly started spluttering with outrage that drew Aunt Petunia and Lacey out of the kitchen. Aunt Petunia took the book from Mr. Swashlin, skimmed the back and then scowled.
“This is a lawsuit waiting to happen.” Aunt Petunia scowled at the book, passing it back to Mr. Swashlin when he put out a hand.
“Yes, it is,” Mr. Swashlin said very happily. “If you’ll excuse me, now that I have your permission, I’m off to do just that.
Harry opened his mouth to say yes and then paused. “Um, wait until the day I go to school to launch it all, but yes. I don’t want anyone to know that we’re aware of all of this ahead of time. Especially Dumbledore.”
“Perfect,” Mr. Swashlin said with a big grin that flashed very white teeth against his dark skin. “That should be just enough time to build cases against these people. I’m off. Do call if you need me, Mrs. Dursley, Mr. Potter. I’m always available to you as your seneschal, so whatever you need, whenever you need it.”
He headed out of the house, humming happily enough that Harry laughed under his breath. Mr. Swashlin’s departure got things going again on Harry’s healing except it turned out that he wasn’t the only one who needed it.
Dudley had Obliviation damage, not much but enough that Healer Smethwyck had several nasty portions for him to drink. They’d been bad enough that after the first one Dudley resorted to spoiled brat whining and crying to Aunt Petunia, not that it worked. Uncle Vernon had several things wrong, mostly related to not getting enough exercise and eating too much but that was something that he had to go to his mundane doctor over. Apparently magical healing didn’t work particularly well for muggles on the weight management and heart health front unless you needed heart bypass surgery. Uncle Vernon’s heart wasn’t that bad but give it five or six years and it would be, so he sighed and promised to take better care of himself.
Aunt Petunia had six potions to drink, all of which she took without comment or complaint. She did grimace after each one but that was it. Her pointed look at Dudley and Harry made Dudley flush and Harry sigh.
Harry needed epic amounts of healing.
He had that stupid soul shard and damage from something called a cruciatus curse from when he was a baby, probably at the same time his parents had been killed. His bones were too brittle, and his body didn’t process food correctly because of the curses he’d been under. Apparently, Harry should have been several inches taller than he was and a couple inches wider at the shoulder, so Aunt Petunia hadn’t been all that wrong about him growing into Dudley’s hand-me-downs, other than the whole curse thing.
“It will take all year for you to be on track again, young man,” Healer Smethwyck proclaimed once he’d written down a two-foot long list of potions and treatments that Harry would need to endure. “We’ll start with the most basic things and progress from there.”
“The shard?” Anthony asked. Lacey nodded behind him, grim-faced and determined.
“Normally I would say that the boy needed to be stronger to survive the removal,” Healer Smethwyck said with a hang-dog expression that made him look way older, “but his family magic moves in him so powerfully that he risks core fracture if we don’t get it out quickly. The first thing is to remove all the blocks placed on him, though. Those are causing more problems than anything else.”
“Blocks?” Harry asked at the same time that Dudley did. He groaned when Dudley immediately punched him in the shoulder for the jinx.
“Yes,” Healer Smethwyck said. He pulled up a glowing scan of Harry’s body and then a second one of Dudley’s. “Both of you have blocks placed on your mind and magic. Odd to have such things placed on a squib but you do have two blocks, young Mr. Dursley. One prevents you from learning freely. It simulates a Muggle learning disorder called Attention Deficit Disorder. The second encourages you to overeat dramatically by preventing you from ever feeling full.”
“Take those off right now!” Harry ordered and didn’t even try to apologize for how shockingly rude it was to order around someone that way.
Healer Smethwyck raised an eyebrow only to lean back as Harry’s magic shifted on his skin, twisting in his hair and making his eyes glow in ways that Harry could feel even if he couldn’t see it. Aunt Petunia glowered at him, but it didn’t do a bit of good. It took Anthony coming to sit next to Harry with one arm around his shoulder for Harry to calm down. Somewhat. Not a lot.
“As I said,” Healer Smethwyck said as he worked on taking the blocks off Dudley, “his magic is moving like a storm in him. Any threat to people he considers to be his is going to be dealt with in an extreme fashion.”
Dudley sat still for all the spell casting which was a huge improvement over what he would’ve done before Lacey removed the curses on the house. It took almost five whole minutes to get them off Dudley. By the end of it, Harry was twitching almost as badly as Uncle Vernon who stood by the kitchen door, clenching his fists as if he was going to charge at the first person who threatened Dudley.
Which he might. He was a rugby player, even if he hadn’t played in a very long time.
Aunt Petunia stood in front of Uncle Vernon biting her thumbnail as if she wanted to bite it off but wouldn’t. She clearly knew Uncle Vernon was reaching his limit because no matter how he shifted, she mirrored him so that he had to go through her to get at anyone.
Anthony’s arm around Harry’s shoulder was tight enough to make him wheeze at times but Harry didn’t protest. He’d already gouged little bloody marks in his palms from forcing himself not to interfere as Healer Smethwyck worked.
Lacey was the only calm one. She watched what Healer Smethwyck did and nodded occasionally as if she approved. At the very end, when Harry was on the verge of screaming and Dudley had gone pasty and pale with sweat darkening his shirt at the armpits and chest, Lacey suddenly grinned and clapped her hands.
“That’s done it!” Lacey exclaimed.
“Oh wow,” Dudley wheezed as he collapsed back against the cushions. “Wow. That’s… wow.”
“There you go, young man,” Heather Smethwyck said with a satisfied smile. He wasn’t even sweaty or breathing hard. “You’ll be able to learn normally now. I suspect that you’ll find you have all new favorite foods now that you’re not endlessly craving whatever you can get your hands on.”
Harry sighed and scooted so that he could check Dudley’s face. He got one of Dudley’s sweaty palms pushing him away, but Dudley grinned so maybe it was all right. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon both rushed over to fuss over Dudley who groaned like they were killing him with all the baby names, fussing and petting he got.
“Will my blocks be like that?” Harry asked Healer Smethwyck.
“No, my poor boy, they will not,” Healer Smethwyck said so sadly that Harry bit his lip. “Yours will be much worse. I would normally recommend that you come to Saint Mungo’s for treatment, but given everything I have seen here, I can’t believe that you would be safe if you did. I am going to insist on a series of very secure wards around you personally and the room that we do this in. The safest place, for you, is the best location.”
Harry winced. “Um, well…”
“The one place in the house that always calmed Harry was the cupboard under the stairs,” Aunt Petunia said. She said with a scowl at everyone in the room as if daring them to comment on it.
“It does feel… kind of like mine?” Harry said. “I mean, when I was little and didn’t know about magic, I resented it but at the same time it was the one place I felt really safe.”
“Always wondered why you stayed in there,” Dudley muttered. He elbowed Uncle Vernon and gave him such a hard look that Uncle Vernon went purple-red and spluttered.
“Interesting,” Healer Smethwyck said. “Young lady, help me check this cupboard.”
Lacey went and sat on the floor next to the cupboard as if sitting on the floor in her very nice black dress wasn’t a big deal. She pulled open the door and gasped. Healer Smethwyck swayed a little, eyes going wide. Anthony stood and went to stare into it with them.
“The wards are anchored in here,” Lacey said as she stuck her head and shoulders into the cupboard as if it wasn’t a big deal at all to find a makeshift bed in a place like this. “It’s… wow. There’s another whole layer of protection spells built into this place. It’s like someone came and wrapped every protective spell in the world on it.”
“Agreed,” Healer Smethwyck said. He rubbed one hand over his chest. “A mother’s love. It’s filled with a mother’s love.”
“My mum,” Harry whispered.
Aunt Petunia had tears in her eyes. “Just before Lily and James married, Lily came and spent four days here. Every night she was the last one to go to bed. Every morning she had the kettle on for me. She must have done it while we were asleep. We never used the cupboard for anything. It was empty and ignored until Harry crawled into it the day after he was delivered here.”
“He wouldn’t sleep anywhere else as a baby,” Uncle Vernon said, still red-faced but more ashamed than anything else. “It was… easier than fighting him. Things happened when we tried.”
Healer Smethwyck nodded once. “Then this will be where you are when we break the blocks and remove the shard, Mr. Potter. It is literally the safest place on the planet for you.”
“Though afterwards,” Lacey said, wagging a finger in Harry’s direction, “I’m going to see if I can encourage the wards to expand out over the whole house. No reason for it not to with you all seeing reason. And it’d be much better for the whole house to have this sort of protection than just one cupboard that you’ll be too big for soon.”
Harry nodded. He got up and headed to his cupboard, running a hand over the door. One more time. One more time in it, some magic, and he’d be stronger. Smarter. Safer. He could take care of the others. Keep people from getting hurt.
And maybe, if he was really strong and smart, he’d be able to find all the lost members of his family, the Black family, and get them healed and safe, too.
“I’m ready,” Harry said as he scooted into his cupboard. “Go ahead.”
The weirdest of all the weird things that had happened since Harry got The Letter was how little attention Dudley got anymore. Not like it was a bad thing. He’d never really liked all the stupid pet names Mum had or the way Dad treated Dudley like he was the best thing ever. It felt icky and weird and wrong even though a part of him, the part he didn’t much like, had accepted it as his due.
That part was completely gone. Another thing in the weird column. Being able to think clearly without hunger distracting him or anger making his thoughts splutter to a stop or the whole thing where no matter what he did, the stuff he read and did at school just never stayed in his head no matter how hard he tried to keep it there–all of that was weirdly awesome.
Being able to stand next to Mum as she cupped her elbow and pursed her lips while nodding gravely to Healer Smethwyck and not be noticed?
Super-duper weirdest of the weird. He’d never known how other kids got away with stuff unnoticed. Dudley got away with stuff, sure, but he did it bold as brass. Never just doing it and not being noticed until way afterwards.
“The spells on him should…” Healer Smethwyck sighed and rubbed his hands together like they ached, around and around and around, circling and pressing on his knuckles. “The damage they did should have been reversed now that the blocks are gone. A few more years, as little as a few months if they were reinforced, and it’s very likely he would have had congenital cognitive problems.”
“It would have stunted his intelligence?” Mum asked way too calmly for something like that. Anthony was huffing like he was half a second away from pitching a tantrum to beat any that Dudley’d ever thrown.
“Oh, no, much worse,” Healer Smethwyck said. His face, already old and grey looking from exhaustion, went even greyer as the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth turned way, way down. “It would have destroyed his capacity for curiosity. Investigation. Joy in the discovery. He would have had the intelligence to learn whatever he chose, certainly, but without someone else to prompt him to do it, he would never have done so. No questions, no wondering why, no learning something for the joy of learning it.”
Mum sucked in such a sharp breath that Dudley and Dad both backed off a step automatically. Maybe because they didn’t know Mum that well, Lacey and Anthony both stepped towards her. Lacey even dared to put a hand on Mum’s elbow even though Mum might just bite her head right off for it.
“My sister was one of the most curious people in the world!” Mum snapped at Healer Smethwyck. Not in the angry voice but in the about to cry one that always made Dad go to pieces.
Predictably, Dad stepped right back in and rugby-blocked Lacey away so that he could pull Mum into his arms. Lacey blinked at him and then her lips twitched with amusement at the way Dad fussed over Mum, patting her back and gently smoothing her hair.
“Pet, it’s fixed,” Dad said.
“That man,” Mum said and wow, she really was upset. There were tears in her eyes. “He’s done so much harm but to take Harry’s curiosity away from him–!”
“I will write up a full report,” Healer Smethwyck told Mum. “With copies of my memories of everything that we’ve seen and done here. They will go to your seneschal so that he can add them to the case against Dumbledore. I would not have believed that anyone could do such a thing if I hadn’t seen it. Hopefully, this will help convince others that it was true and that it did happen.”
“That Dumbledore’s powerful enough that he might weasel out of it?” Dudley asked before he thought about it.
Thankfully, Healer Smethwyck just nodded to Dudley. “He may very well do exactly that. It wouldn’t be the first time, though during the Great War he had… extenuating circumstances to explain everything.”
Dudley frowned at that even though all the adults just brushed it off. That Dumbledore guy’d done things before? Bad things? And he’d gotten away with for ages and ages and ages. So much so that now he was after Harry and Dudley’s whole family. Not to mention Anthony and Lacey’s families, too.
“The shard won’t harm anyone will it?” Dad asked. It was the sixth time he’d asked, which seemed like a lot to Dudley, much less everyone else.
Despite having been asked the same thing over and over, Lacey nodded yet again. “I’ve got the best wards and spells around it. It’s sealed in crystal, which is perfect because it’s lead crystal. Best thing for this sort of spell. And Anthony and I will be taking it straight to the bank after we’re done here.”
“Wise,” Healer Smethwyck said. “A shard of You Know Who’s soul is the last thing that should be left lying around. I trust that the goblins will take care of it.”
“Absolutely,” Anthony said as if Healer Smethwyck hadn’t said it three times before.
He was repeating things just like Dad was. And so was Mum, because she started in on keeping everything a secret again and Lacey complained about Dumbledore again. As Anthony started in on his thanks for being allowed to be part of the family again, Dudley shook his head and slipped away from the grownups.
They could keep going in circles all they wanted. Wouldn’t accomplish a single thing. What mattered was that Harry was okay. And that the horrible Dumbledore, making sure he didn’t get away with hurting anyone else was important, too.
Dudley slipped upstairs, stepping light so Mum wouldn’t hear him and tell him to leave Harry to sleep in peace. Which, you know, he was but it felt better to confirm that himself. A loopy strand of hair’d gotten into Harry’s eyes so Dudley carefully brushed it aside. That revealed the scar on his forehead.
“Huh, it’s gotten lighter,” Dudley whispered. “Not so red. That’s good, I guess.”
He made sure that Harry was tucked in right and then went out in the back yard. Remus’d said that his fists were a focus for Dudley’s magic. Dad always said that if you practiced, you got better at it. That meant that Dudley needed to practice using his magic with his fists, both using less of it and using all of it in one rugby-tackle-rush of a blast that’d knock even that Dumbledore off his feet.
Harry woke in his bed in the smallest bedroom upstairs. His whole body ached. It felt like he’d gotten the worst beating possible after a bout of Harry Hunting. He opened his eyes and nearly jerked himself upright.
He could see the ceiling. Clearly. There was a spider slowly crafting a web over his head and a fly had already been caught in its web.
His bedroom door was open. Harry could hear people talking downstairs. His bedroom was clean and tidy, all of Dudley’s broken toys removed.
Hedwig, Harry’s owl, flew over and perched on the bedframe. She hopped down and started grooming Harry’s hair. He got the distinct impression that she’d been very worried about him.
“Hey girl,” Harry said.
His voice came out all hoarse, but Hedwig didn’t seem to care. Harry caressed her feathers, scratching under her beak and behind her ears, making her close her eyes and lean into his touch. He smiled, feeling better just having her there.
“You’re awake!” Dudley exclaimed from the door. “Mum, Dad! Harry’s awake!”
“How long was I out?” Harry asked.
“About four hours,” Dudley said as he came in and sat on the foot of Harry’s bed. “Anthony and Lacey have gone home. Remus is here. He’s plotting with Mum and Dad how to explain it all to Aunt Marge. She should be here any minute. You screamed and screamed and then the shard thingie screamed but Lacey caught it in a crystal vase Mum had and sealed it up. She and Anthony are hunting for books and stuff because there’s something off about it. Lacey said something about pieces missing and wandering souls, but I didn’t understand that. I tried reading my maths book and I understood it, Harry! I actually got it on the first go-through.”
Harry grinned as he slowly eased upright. “That’s wonderful. You’ve always struggled with maths.”
“Not anymore,” Dudley said as he puffed his chest out in pride. “I’m gonna be better at it that Dad is.”
“That’s my boy,” Uncle Vernon said with just as much pride form the doorway. “Hope you’re up to this, Harry. Marge just drove up and she’s in a strop. I can tell already.”
“Tell her I have a bit of flu,” Harry suggested. “I’ll come down and show her the mundane side of the genealogy chart. She should only be able to see that one, but it should be enough.”
“Vernon!” Aunt Marge shouted from the front door. “I’m here! Where’s my favorite boy? Oh, good afternoon, Petunia. And who’s this?”
Both Dudley and Uncle Vernon fled down the stairs like a herd of thundering elephants in their haste. Harry snorted a laugh when Aunt Petunia snapped at them for it. He nuzzled Hedwig and then pulled on his new robe before slowly shuffling downstairs. Honestly, he felt like he had the flu. He was so tired and so sore and just wanted to sleep but this side of things needed to be addressed, too.
“What in the world could that boy need a tutor for?” Aunt Marge snapped as Harry shuffled down the stairs.
“It’s in here,” Harry said. He sighed as Aunt Petunia scowled and headed into the kitchen to make him tea. Hopefully with lots of honey. His throat could use it. “I was invited to go to my father’s old school and found a genealogy chart that showed who he really was. My mum never told Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon.”
Harry opened the chart to the muggle side, smoothed it out and showed Aunt Marge the entry for the Potter family. Which very clearly showed James Fleamont Potter marrying Lily Evans and producing one Harry James Potter. Him.
It took less than a second for Aunt Marge to trace back up the chart to the royal family, back around the War of the Roses. She gasped and clasped both hands to her very ample chest before staggering backwards as if about to pass out. Uncle Vernon caught her and guided her to the armchair while Dudley caught Ripper who was, strangely, behaving very, very well while staring right at Remus.
“How could she not say?” Aunt Marge gasped to Aunt Petunia when she emerged from the kitchen with a cup of honey tea for Harry and a small brandy for Aunt Marge. “All these years and you’ve not raised him at all right. Your promotions, Vernon! No wonder they were delayed!”
“I don’t know,” Aunt Petunia said with the Sniff of Doom. “But she did and now we’ve to deal with it all. Remus Lupin is an old friend of James and Lily. He knows everything that Harry needs to learn. Dudley and Vernon, on the other hand, need different training. That’s why we asked you to come and stay until the school year starts.”
“You only have to ask,” Aunt Marge declared. She threw back the brandy and shoved herself to her feet. “We’ll get started right away. You,” she wagged a finger at Remus who just raised an eyebrow at her, “tell me if you need any resources. I’ve got all the books on royalty, nobility and the upper class. The lot.”
“Oh, that will be helpful later,” Remus said quite mildly. “It’s bit early for that, given Harry’s condition. I’ll certainly come to you if I have any gaps in my material. I’ll just see Harry back up to bed. Wouldn’t do for him to get worse, you know.”
He leveled a serious look at Ripper who whined and settled down next to the fireplace without a single complaint, growl or attempt to snap at Harry. If that was magic, Harry wanted to learn it. Right away. Ripper never behaved that well for him.
“I can’t stay the whole month,” Aunt Marge said as Harry and Remus went upstairs, “but I can give you at least this week and part of next. We’ll just have to work hard at it. Good thing that it’s summer and a weekend. We’ll get you up to snuff right away, Vernon. I’m sure my Dudley will learn it like that!”
“Yes, I will,” Dudley declared so proudly that Uncle Vernon puffed up like a pigeon and Aunt Marge cooed at him while hugging him far too tightly.
Harry grinned at Dudley’s squirming as he let Remus push him into his bedroom. The tea did help his throat quite a lot. He was still very glad to settle into bed, though. It was still strange to have a proper bedroom.
Stranger, though, was that the bedroom now felt like his cupboard.
“She did widen the wards Mum left,” Harry said once he’d finished his tea.
Remus, who’d sat quietly at the foot of Harry’s bed as he drank the tea, nodded and smiled sadly. “It didn’t take much. Lacey was of the opinion that they should have widened naturally once you arrived. The curses must have affected Lily’s wards, keeping them from doing what they naturally should.”
He took the mug from Harry, cleaning it with a quick swirl of his wand that Harry made a mental note to learn before he got to Hogwarts. Cleaning with just a wave of his wand sounded like a lovely thing. Harry started, pushing back the covers despite Remus’ little noise of objection.
Harry’s wand was sitting in his trunk, resting on top of his new robes. With everything that had happened, he expected that the wand would feel better in his hand but when he picked it up, the wand felt prickly and unhappy to Harry.
Remus took the wand and frowned. “What’s wrong with your wand?”
“When I went to Ollivander’s,” Harry explained as he gratefully climbed back into bed, “Mr. Ollivander had a hard time finding a match for me. This is the brother wand to Voldemort’s wand. They share a core from a phoenix, two feathers taken on the same day. At the time, something inside of me didn’t want it, even if the wand was the one that worked best for me. Now, the wand feels prickly, like it doesn’t want me to use it.”
Remus dropped the wand on the bed, rubbing his hands over his thighs in disgust. He stared at the wand like it might transform into a snake and bite him. Not that Harry would let a snake bite Remus. He’d tell the snake that Remus was a friend first.
Come to think of it, could you transform something into a snake? That might be useful. And scary. He’d have to read up on it later when he could keep his head up.
“Well, you can’t get rid of it,” Remus said but he grimaced as if he really, really wanted to. “It could be used against You-Know-Who, though it wouldn’t work as well as an unrelated wand. We’ll have to get you a different wand somehow.”
“I’d prefer it,” Harry agreed. He yawned widely. “That one doesn’t feel right anymore. But I wondered. What happened to my parent’s wands? Are they still around or did Voldemort break them?”
“Ah, they were probably magically taken to the Potter vaults,” Remus said sadly. “I don’t remember anyone seeing them at your parent’s house. There’s more than likely quite a few wands there. We can take some time to check at the bank after you’ve recovered.”
“Why am I so tired?” Harry asked, wiggling downwards until the was completely covered and his head was on the pillows again. “I just want to sleep.”
“Removing the blocks and the shard magically exhausted you,” Remus explained as he smoothed the covers over Harry. “It was… very strenuous even with Lily’s wards protecting you. Healer Smethwyck had to repair quite a few fractured bones in your hands. You dislocated your shoulder struggling against the spells towards the end. And, honestly, that space was far too small. You hit the walls multiple times thrashing. It’s all been healed other than your aches and pains and the drain on your magic. You should be much better tomorrow. Monday we’ll go to the bank together. I suspect that your aunts will be very busy with Dudley.”
Remus’ smile was quietly mischievous. Harry laughed and yawned and then waved towards Hedwig who flitted over to go back to grooming his hair. He smiled and let her, not that he could have stopped her with his eyes drooping shut.
“Make sure she eats?” Harry asked Remus.
“I’ll spell the window so that she can enter and leave at will,” Remus promised. “She’ll be more likely to hunt this evening than now. Rest. We’ll get started on the tutoring tomorrow with an in-depth history lesson. You’ll need it for context.”
Harry smiled. Just what he wanted. He needed to know about the magical world if he was going to live in it. He couldn’t imagine why Hagrid had been so resistant to his getting history books. It was just logical that Harry learn that sort of thing.
As he fell asleep, Harry realized that Dumbledore might have wanted him completely ignorant. Powerless, weak, confused, abused and frightened, Harry would’ve been happy for anything given to him. Already he knew he wasn’t going to do what Dumbledore wanted, no matter what it was. He’d have to be careful and make sure that he had as many allies and scattered distant relatives on his side as possible before school started. It was the only way to be safe.
Remus gathered together ten books that Harry needed to read, three that Petunia had requested, eighteen for Dudley and shrank them down so that they’d fit in his pocket. There was so much that Harry needed to know. But knowing what they’d gone through, Petunia and Dudley needed nearly as much information.
He wasn’t at all sure what to do for Vernon. The man gave every indication that he’d refuse to believe that he was struggling, but he clearly was. There just wasn’t much that Remus could do for Vernon given that he was a Muggle.
Once the books were secure, Remus patted his pockets absentmindedly as he scanned for his keys. The apartment had wards. He’d put them in himself when he rented it, designed specifically to make sure that everyone would be safe when he had his little wolfy problem.
The fireplace flared green.
Remus froze, staring at it. Dumbledore. It had to be Dumbledore. Damn it.
“Remus, my dear boy,” Dumbledore said with a smug smile as soon as Remus knelt down and put his head into the flames. “I was hoping you had a couple of minutes. I had something that I needed to consult with you on.”
There was no reason for him to say no. None that Remus could think of that would work, at any rate. Remus nodded and smiled.
“Of course, sir,” Remus said. “Go ahead and come through. I do have some errands to run so I can’t spend long with you, but I’d be glad to give you my opinion if you think it’s worthwhile.”
“Your opinions are always worthwhile, Remus,” Dumbledore said.
Remus pulled back and sucked in a breath so that he could work on controlling his expression. The last thing he wanted to do was betray just how much he disbelieved that little lie. Dumbledore had never valued his opinions about anything, only his capacity to go places that no one else could and survive them when anyone else would have died immediately.
Of course, Dumbledore didn’t come straight through as Remus expected. Anyone else would have, but no, Dumbledore had to make Remus wait on him. Always.
Eventually, ten minutes later, Dumbledore erupted from the fireplace. Ash swept off him and back into the fire with a flick of his pale wand. His scent was annoyed, not as annoyed as Remus had ever smelled, but distinct enough that Remus slouched his shoulders and rubbed his hands together in the way that always made him seem the most harmless.
Dumbledore’s smile was gentle, grandfatherly, and utterly at odds with the sharp ferocity of his scent.
“Thank you for your time today, my dear boy,” Dumbledore said. “What I need is fairly minor.”
“Well, whatever I can do, sir,” Remus said, blinking several times as Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled more strongly at him.
The scent of ferocity fell off, replaced with an earnestly concerned scent, a worried scent. Remus relaxed a little. Whatever it was much have upset Professor Dumbledore before he came though the Floo.
“There have been some… questions about Harry, you see,” Professor Dumbledore said. He looked so sad that Remus frowned. “Concerns about where he is, how he’ll handle being returned to our world. I was wondering if anyone approached you for information about him?”
“No,” Remus said, completely honestly. “Not at all. I must admit that I have wondered how he’s doing, but you know that. I’ve asked about seeing him often enough.”
“I know, I know, my dear boy,” Professor Dumbledore said.
He stepped closer and put his hand on Remus’ elbow. His eyes sparkled so much that Remus couldn’t see the color of his eyes. It was hypnotic, pulling his eyes towards Headmaster Dumbledore’s and holding them there. Remus vaguely noticed that Headmaster Dumbledore still had his wand in his hand, moving in slow circles that almost looked like a spell being cast, but Headmaster Dumbledore would never do that to Remus.
“The other issue is rather more serious,” Headmaster Dumbledore said. “I’ve had several questions about Sirius. There are people attempting to get him out of Azkaban, which is ridiculous. It’s political suicide and quite dangerous to Harry.”
“On what grounds?” Remus asked, heart beating faster. He managed to tear his eyes away from Headmaster Dumbledore’s. The wand stopped moving instantly.
“They claim,” Headmaster Dumbledore said with a rising scent of annoyance, “that he didn’t have a trial. Ridiculous. They want to rush out and risk Harry’s safety by letting Sirius out. It’s a problem that I hope you’ll help with, Remus.”
Remus nodded, licking his lips and looking at Headmaster Dumbledore’s pursed lips rather than those dangerous, seductive eyes.
“I will do whatever I can, of course, sir,” Remus replied. “Though I don’t know what I could do. I mostly live in the muggle world now.”
Headmaster Dumbledore smiled.
“Thank you so much for letting me ramble, my dear boy,” Headmaster Dumbledore said.
Remus blinked, shook his head and nodded even though he had absolutely no clue what Headmaster Dumbledore might have said. “I’m always glad to listen, sir. Is there anything else I can do for you? I do need to run those errands but I can make time for you, if necessary.”
“No, no, there’s no need for that,” Headmaster Dumbledore said. His smile was especially bright and happy as he tucked his wand away. “You go on your way. I’ll just be going. Many things to do with school starting up soon.”
“Of course,” Remus agreed.
He waited until Headmaster Dumbledore left and then frowned. Odd that the flat smelled like pain and fear. He’d just been listening to Headmaster Dumbledore about the foolish efforts to get Sirius out of Azkaban. Really, he couldn’t imagine why anyone would do that.
Yes, he could. Sirius was innocent. He still had the godfather bond to Harry. Really, he shouldn’t be in Azkaban at all.
But then, Headmaster Dumbledore was right that getting him out now would be a threat to Harry. Harry needed to be safe.
“Speaking of which, I do need to get going or I’ll be late for Harry’s tutoring lesson,” Remus shook his head at himself.
Then shook his head harder because it felt like his head was full of wool, sticky bits of it that clogged up his thoughts. He growled, rubbing his forehead. A headache so suddenly wasn’t good. Maybe he should lie down?
His wolf growled inside of Remus at the thought of not seeing Harry and Dudley.
No. He would go. He would suggest walking because walking outside always cleared his thoughts. He’d do his best to teach Harry what he needed even with this damnable headache out of nowhere. Really, it was so odd how many headaches he got after talking to Professor Dumbledore.
Stress. It had to be stress. From the very first day that he’d spoken to Dumbledore, he’d been stressed whenever he was around the man. His wolf had never been fond of Dumbledore, which always made Remus struggle to continue to be polite to the man rather than snarling as he wished to.
Not that it mattered now that Dumbledore was gone. He had lessons with Harry to enjoy.
Remus nodded and carefully locked his door as he left. Wouldn’t do to let anyone get into his flat. Who knew what sort of mess they might make?
“Good morning, your Grace,” Aunt Marge said when Harry came down for breakfast the next day.
He stared at her for a long moment before warily going to the fridge for milk. “That’s so strange.”
“You’d best get used to it, your Grace,” Aunt Marge declared. “Your position is, sadly, mostly ceremonial at this age but eventually you’ll have a good bit of power in society once you grow up. A proper seat in the House of Lords. I can’t imagine why your mother never mentioned it.”
“From what Remus said,” Harry said as he filled a mug halfway with milk and then added tea and sugar on top of it even though it made both Aunt Petunia and Aunt Marge grimace, “my grandparents died a few months before my dad did. He had an uncle who was the duke, but he was killed in an accident. A fire. And my dad was the duke for only a few weeks before he and my mum were killed. They might not have had the time.”
Aunt Marge huffed as if that was a very poor excuse. In her mind, it probably was. Her entire life revolved around bloodlines and breeding, both human and canine. Oddly, Ripper was sitting perfectly calmly at Aunt Marge’s side without making any attempts to snap at Harry.
“Um, just a thought,” Harry said as he stared at Ripper who stared back with beady little eyes that showed no spark of interest in biting, “but, um. Ripper. Since you’re Uncle Vernon’s sister, and he’s got the care of me, does that mean that Ripper’s bloodline is more important now? And his training? Won’t people be, you know, concerned about his behavior and what it shows about him?”
It was cheating. Harry knew it was cheating. But Dudley looked at Harry with awe as if it was the best idea he’d ever heard of. Aunt Marge gasped and spun in her chair to stare down at Ripper who yipped and stared up at her in shock for her behavior.
Aunt Petunia pressed her fingers against her lips as if she was trying not to laugh.
“You’re absolutely right,” Aunt Marge declared. “I’m going to call my kennel club. We’ll have to do more training for him. Update all the files on him. Goodness, I just don’t know how we’re going to handle all of this.”
“We’ve already discussed it, Marge,” Aunt Petunia said. “We cover what Dudley needs to know before he goes off to school. Remus will handle Harry’s tutoring. Then, once Dudley and Harry are away, we’ll work with Vernon.”
“Yes, yes, you’re right,” Aunt Marge said, shaking her head. She shifted back around like an earthquake made flesh, skewering Harry with a glare at his mug of tea-adulterated milk. “We do need to discuss your tea, though.”
“It soothes my throat,” Harry said with a little shrug. “I’ll have some honey tea later, after breakfast, but this is good for now.”
Both Aunt Marge and Aunt Petunia sighed over that which made Dudley grin and snicker into his mug of proper tea. Breakfast was a noisy meal. Aunt Marge lectured as much as she ate, going into the history of the British aristocracy and how the norms of behavior for lords and ladies had developed.
It was fascinating despite Aunt Marge. Harry wished he had a pad of paper to take notes on. Then, two minutes into her dissertation on the War of the Roses and how it affected the social climate of the islands, Harry got up and got a pad of paper and a pen. Dudley waved for one, too, which just made Aunt Marge’s lecture go on that much longer.
They were on their third mug of tea when Remus arrived. Harry’d filled six pages with questions he needed to research. Dudley had eighteen scrawled pages of notes that he shuffled between, making stars next to things that were important. Or maybe needed follow up on? Harry didn’t ask.
“I see you’ve gotten into history,” Remus said mildly to Aunt Marge.
“War of the Roses,” Aunt Marge declared. “Terribly important.”
“Quite true,” Remus agreed which made Harry stare at him. “I have several books on it that you’ll want to read, Harry. They’re smaller ones, covering side issues, but your family figures in them so I suspect you’ll find them quite interesting. Wash up and we’ll get started. I thought, if you’re up to it, we might go for a walk. I tend to teach better when I’m moving.”
And it would get both of them out of the house. Harry jumped to his feet, snatched up his notes and ran up the stairs as Dudley complained about having to stay inside when Harry got to go out. He just heard Aunt Marge declare that it was no problem at all because she could lecture just as well while walking Ripper and working on his obedience training as while sitting in the kitchen. Poor Dudley. Getting to school as going to be a relief.
As eager as Harry was to get away from Aunt Marge, his body still ached by the time they made their slow, meandering way to the local park. There were kids running around but none of them seemed to notice Harry and Remus. It was as if they weren’t quite there. No one ran into them, but they all avoided the park bench that Remus settled on, Harry at his side.
“You did something,” Harry commented as he watched Aunt Marge stride by with Dudley and Ripper in tow. Neither of them seemed to see Remus and Harry. Ripper did. He stopped pulling against the leash and waddled at Aunt Marge’s side like he’d been properly trained. “And you did something to Ripper, didn’t you?”
Remus laughed. “I… have a way with canines. It’s a bit of a story. Maybe another time. I’ve been doing some checking, along with Anthony and Lacey. It’s going to upset you. And I’m fairly certain that Petunia is going to want to tear people to shreds.”
“What?” Harry asked warily.
Remus looked sad but there was a continuous golden glow to his eyes that made Harry nervous. It wasn’t bright like his or Anthony’s or Lacey’s, but it was definitely not a happy-looking glow. To Harry, it seemed like an angry glow, the sort of anger that burned inside of you until a gust took it off and you blew up in a rage.
“We checked for Sirius’ trial,” Remus explained. He stared pointedly at the sky, just over the rooftops of the rowhouses on the other side of the park. “He didn’t have one. There is no evidence whatsoever that Sirius was ever questioned, much less tried in court for betraying your parents. More importantly, the bank confirmed that Sirius is still your godfather.”
“That matters?” Harry asked, more than a little outraged that someone could just be thrown in jail without a trial in the magical world. How was he supposed to trust that he’d be safe if that could happen?
“Yes,” Remus said. His eyes flicked to Harry for a second, then locked back on the sky as if he was scanning for planes coming in or helicopters or something. Or maybe brooms. “You see, Sirius took a magical oath to be your godfather. It isn’t always done but Sirius was from a very traditional family. The Blacks always took such things very seriously and it was one thing that Sirius kept when he ran away from home. He swore on his life and his magic to protect you. If he’d betrayed that oath, if he’d betrayed Lily and James and you, he’d be dead.”
“And he’s not,” Harry breathed. “So he didn’t betray them. Me. Us. Right?”
“Right,” Remus agreed. “Anthony is… working to contact some of the other Black family members. He’s officially a member of the family now. You gave him that. He’s using what power and influence he can to see if he can get Sirius out.”
Harry jumped to his feet. “Can we talk to the goblins? Right now? I want to make sure that they know that they should support Anthony in that. No one deserves to be imprisoned like that!”
Remus didn’t get up immediately. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, as he studied Harry. There was something in that gaze that the little voice in the back of his head didn’t like. Not so much in a wary, frightened way, but in a ‘this isn’t right’ way.
It felt a lot like that math’s teacher, actually. She’d been very curious, very attentive to Harry and then she’d been strange one day. The next she’d been gone but everyone had talked about it. She’d gone weird, not reacting at all like herself. Harry hadn’t seen it, but this felt like much the same thing. Remus didn’t seem quite like Remus as he stared at Harry as if they barely knew each other. His voice, when he finally spoke, was distant, formal, strange.
“We could,” Remus said slowly, finally, after far too long of a pause. “But you should probably let the adults take care of it.”
“Oh, I am,” Harry said. He waved one hand, gesturing for Remus to come on already. “I just want to let the goblins know that this is an issue. They’re still doing the full audit of the Black accounts. If the head of the Black family was unjustly imprisoned, they need to know that. It’s important to the audit.”
There was a spark around Remus that shifted his eyes from gold to a kind of silvery twinkling effect that Harry had never seen before. It was like Remus’ eyes were suddenly hidden behind a curtain of silvery glitter. It was so very strange that he reached out and touched Remus’ cheek right where the scars were.
Remus froze, eyes going wide. His eyes went back to their normal brown-gold.
“Your eyes changed,” Harry said. “They’re always gold. Just gold, even when they get all glowy with your magic. Just now they went all shimmery silver. Like twinkling stars. Are you all right?”
Remus paled so dramatically that Harry pulled his hand back. This time Remus stood but it was like his legs were shaking so hard that he couldn’t quite stay upright because he plopped back down on the bench, breathing hard.
“We do need the goblins,” Remus said. The words came out hoarse and raw, with a growl to them that matched the fierce gold glow in his eyes. “Right now. But we should tell your Aunt where we’re going.”
“Stay put,” Harry told Remus.
He whirled and ran up the park towards Aunt Marge and Dudley. They could tell Aunt Petunia just as easily as Harry and Remus could. It would save time and running around if they did it instead. Aunt Marge frowned when Harry ran up. Dudley looked desperate for a break.
“Hey, Dudley?” Harry asked, not meeting Aunt Marge’s eyes. “I’m really sorry but we just got a message that we have to deal with some stuff for my, you know, seat in London. Can you let Aunt Petunia know that we’ll be back later? Probably by supper but I’m not sure. It’s banking stuff so it might take a while.”
“Sure!” Dudley exclaimed. “I’ll go tell Mum right now.”
“You shouldn’t run about that way, young man. It’s not proper,” Aunt Marge declared but she nodded to Dudley to run off, which he did like a shot. “It’s urgent?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Harry said. “Remus was very upset about it. It’s a problem with inheritance and criminal proceedings that, well, there wasn’t a trial and someone’s in jail despite it.”
Aunt Marge stared at him, mouth dropped open. She snapped her mouth shut and then strode up the path like a warship getting ready to bomb a port. Harry hurried at her side. Thankfully, Remus was visible as she came striding up. He stood, looking a little alarmed by her approach which, really, Harry couldn’t blame him. Aunt Marge on the warpath was terrifying.
“What is this about someone in jail?” Aunt Marge demanded.
Remus’ eyes flicked to Harry before he sighed. “Harry’s godfather is Sirius Black. We just learned that he was imprisoned without a trial after Harry’s parents were killed. We need to go make sure that we… give depositions. Well, I do.”
“I need to make sure that the bank knows because they’re in the middle of a full-blown audit of all the Black accounts,” Harry declared fiercely enough that Aunt Marge turned to focus her outrage on him. “Someone locked him up for a reason, Aunt Marge. I bet it has to do with money and power. The Black family has a lot of power and a bunch of them have died under suspicious circumstances before and after he was jailed. It’s like one of Aunt Petunia’s afternoon mystery dramas except for real.”
Aunt Marge nodded, somehow puffing up even more in her fury. “I’ll inform Petunia immediately. Off you go, you two. We can’t allow such things to happen, especially to the aristocracy. What is the world coming to?”
She stormed off, stomping her way up the sidewalk towards Privet Drive, Ripper happily running along at her side. Remus shook his head and then laughed quietly.
“I didn’t expect that,” Remus said. “She’s very invested in your position.”
Harry shrugged. “Aunt Marge’s hobby is British aristocracy. And, well, her family is all lesser nobility. Yeomanry. It’s a very big deal to her. So, can we go now? Maybe while we’re at the bank I can check for a different wand. I really want one that doesn’t feel like the brother wand Ollivander gave me.”
“Good plan,” Remus said. “Let’s head off this way where it’s less public. I’ll apparate us to Diagon Alley and we’ll head into the bank first thing.”
Harry groaned about the apparition. That really felt weird, but it was much, much faster than taking the train or a car so he couldn’t complain too much. At least he could get the goblins working on Sirius’ imprisonment and maybe they could suggest something to help Remus with whatever was wrong with him.