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.
Anthony ran his fingers through his hair, tugging at the curls as he grimaced. Silverclaw was going to glare. And sneer. He’d get that look as though Anthony was the worst excuse of a wizard that he’d ever seen, and lift one lip so that his teeth showed in a display that was all scorn, no threat.
Because who’d find Anthony threatening when he couldn’t do one simple little thing?
All he needed to do was figure out what Sirius’ case number was. It was so straight-forward. Anthony had reassured Lacey that it would be the work of five minutes. He’d slip into the Ministry, go to the records department, locate Sirius’ file, and get the case number.
Once they had that, they’d be able to figure out just what he’d been charged with. The records of trials were supposed to be in the Ministry. They were also kept in the much-lesser known Hall of Records, where all the records created by Ministry officials were magically duplicated. No matter what had been altered in Sirius’ Ministry file, and something certainly would have been, the Hall of Records file would have the original and the altered records.
“Where the hell is it?” Anthony complained.
He kept his voice down. The fewer people who knew that anyone was interested in Sirius, the better. Until they had everything ready, until they had all the allies they needed, secrecy was key. Dumbledore finding out that they were onto him would destroy all their chances of saving Harry and of knocking Dumbledore off his high perch.
“Can I help you?”
Anthony started and whirled, finding himself facing the Undersecretary to the Minister, Umbridge. She smiled, lips curling up like a toad’s, and batted her eyes at him. It did nothing to hide just how curious she was about what he was up to.
“I swear,” Anthony huffed as he tugged his hair a second time in exactly the way that always made Lacey roll her eyes at him for being overdramatic, “I’ve got to be going blind here. I was supposed to get the file numbers for six trials, all of them from the final days of the war and I can’t find a one of them.”
“Goodness,” Umbridge said. She sidled closer and craned her short neck to look at the second of files. “It looks correct.”
“Yeah, it does,” Anthony agreed. He waved the list that Silverclaw had prepared for him to use if anyone caught him at this. “But there’s no record for any of these people. I mean, there isn’t even a record for Pettigrew’s death in here and it should be right there. Goes right past them.”
He pointed at the spot where the numbers were continuous but no file for Black, Pettigrew, Crouch Jr or three other minor Death Eaters should be. Umbridge snatched the list out of his hand, giving Anthony the universally arch look that women had when they thought he was being an idiot. Even Petunia did it and she’d barely met him.
“Let’s see,” Umbridge said as she flipped through the files. She paused, frowned and did it again. A third check, of potential mis-file locations earlier in time and later as well as different spots in the alphabet, gave her the same nothing that Anthony had gotten. “Well, that’s not right.”
“See?” Anthony huffed. He took the list back and scowled at it. “I must have been given the wrong dates or something. Or they’re filed under different names? Even if the files were declared to be Official Secrets there’d still be a tag showing that File Number So-And-So was an Official Secret. There’s sixteen of them just in this block of files alone.”
Umbridge huffed and swelled up as she glared at the lack of files. “You’re quite right. I’ll have to tell the Minister about this. Such poor record keeping can’t be allowed. Come with me and we’ll take care of it right away.”
Anthony grimaced. “Thank you but, um, I’m kind of wondering if I have the correct information. I mean, this is the Ministry. The files wouldn’t have just disappeared. That doesn’t happen here. I must have gotten bad info.”
No, thank you, he was not going to go talk to that waste of flesh Fudge. Umbridge scowled at him and then shook her head slowly. Then she nodded, once gently, and then a second time sharp and hard and pleased.
“That must be it,” Umbridge declared. “Do let me know if you discover that you have the correct information after all. We can’t allow such slack record keeping.”
“Of course,” Anthony said. He put on his best grateful idiot smile. “And thank you so much for your help. I appreciate your taking the time out of your day.”
Umbridge simpered at him, making Anthony’s stomach roil as he desperately tried not to back away. “You’re quite welcome. I must be going. The Minister needs me.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Anthony said. He waved goodbye and then shuddered. Seriously, Silverclaw couldn’t have made a mistake like this. Could he?
Nothing for it; he was going to have to go back to Silverclaw and admit that he couldn’t find the files. Whether they’d been declared secrets and disappeared entirely or they just didn’t exist, it was a disturbing road-block in their efforts to get Sirius out of Azkaban.
Harry was going to be so disappointed.
Every single time Harry went to Diagon Alley it was a different experience. With Hagrid, it had been magical and overwhelming. He’d barely been able to think for all the amazing things all around him. With Aunt Petunia, he’d seen the bigotry and the scary way that people only respected the amount of power you had. Literal, magical power.
This time with Remus?
It felt like they were hunted as Remus hurried the two of them towards Gringotts. They’d arrived in a little square just off the Alley itself. It was a busy place with people apparating in and out, but none of them paid attention to either Harry or Remus. Remus seemed to be glad about that because he kept his head down and his eyes low as they hurried away from the apparition point.
Out in Diagon Alley itself, Harry noted that no one paid them much mind. He kept his hand firmly in Remus’ grip. As short as Harry was, he knew he looked much younger, maybe nine. Certainly not ten. He’d had people assume that he was only eight before, but that was when he was wearing Dudley’s hand-me-downs instead of the clothes he’d bought that fit him. People seemed to take in his size, his holding Remus’ hand and then Remus’ aggressive lack of eye contact and looked away immediately.
No one wanted to know.
Harry blinked as Remus pulled him up the stairs into Gringotts. No one wanted to know what was wrong. They didn’t want to get involved. They’d rather pretend that they saw nothing rather than have to get involved.
Was that what happened during the wizarding war Remus had mentioned? People saw stuff happening and then pretended they didn’t so that they didn’t have to do anything? If he was right, that was horrible. They’d be letting atrocities happen just because it was easier for their lives. To heck with anyone else as long as they had theirs.
It was an ugly realization that Harry wasn’t sure what to make of, not that he had the time to fuss over it because they swept into Gringotts and found a teller immediately. Harry smiled, mouth closed the way goblins always did, up at the teller.
“Excuse me,” Harry said, “I’d like to see my account manager Silverclaw. It’s a matter of some urgency or I would have made an appointment.”
Remus blinked at Harry as if surprised that he’d use that sort of phrasing. Or that Harry took charge, maybe. It did seem very formal but that was the sort of thing Aunt Petunia was always on Harry and Dudley to say if they needed to interrupt an adult who was working. And it was how people talked on the afternoon mysteries Aunt Petunia loved so much and those were very much like wizarding society so…
He shrugged mentally. If he was too formal, so be it. People seemed to like formal, polite kids, especially in the magical world.
“One moment please,” the teller said. He dropped a note in his box, sending it off.
Just a moment later, no more than fifteen seconds, a goblin appeared and waved for them to follow him off into the depths of the bank. Silverclaw’s office was still down a flight of stairs, through a long hallway and behind six vault doors. It had a great many account books piled high in the corners of the room and across Silverclaw’s desk.
He scowled when the door opened but then straightened up to see Harry there with Remus. “Mr. Potter. Mr. Lupin.”
“I’m sorry to interrupt you, sir,” Harry said with his best polite tone of voice, “but a couple of problems have come to light and two of them are very urgent. I would’ve sent for an appointment it if wasn’t so important.”
“Please do explain, Mr. Potter,” Silverclaw said. He gestured for them to come in and sit down opposite his desk which Remus did as if desperately uncomfortable to be there.
Harry said and frowned at the account books. “First, is this all for the audit?”
“It is indeed, Mr. Potter,” Silverclaw said with a frustrated growl. “There are a great many irregularities that we’re having to track down manually. The previous goblins assigned to the accounts have been… disciplined for their lacksidasical record keeping.”
“Well, it might not be all their fault,” Harry said. “You see, Remus has discovered that Sirius Black never received a trial. Someone shoved him in prison without any of the proper protocols being covered and without the slightest bit of common sense being used.”
Remus chuckled, finally. “That’s certainly true. You see, Sirius swore a blood oath as Harry’s godfather. He also took Harry as his legal and magical heir. If he’d betrayed Lily, James or Harry, he’d have dropped dead on the spot. Someone else betrayed their location to You-Know-Who.”
Silverclaw stared at them both for a very long while, his claws tapping against the tabletop. He finally scribbled a long note that flashed away in his box. Then he turned to Remus.
“Tell me everything,” Silverclaw ordered.
“We do need to address the second and third issues, too,” Harry interrupted. He bit his lip at Silverclaw’s glower. “They’re related. I think. Probably.”
He explained about the weird shimmer to Remus’ eyes and the way he’d behaved differently. The description of a twinkle had Silverclaw cursing in Gobbledygook, the goblin’s very strange, very harsh language, that made Remus lean back in his chair as if he very much wanted to leave. Right then. Or maybe ten minutes ago.
“The other issue,” Harry said when Silverclaw finally wound down to incoherent growls while making furrows in the top of his desk, “is my wand.”
Explaining that whole thing, including the weird way he’d reacted to it and the fact that his response to the wand and it to him had changed after the shard of Voldemort’s soul was removed, reduced Silverclaw to mumbling with his face buried in his hands.
“Is the boy always like this?” Silverclaw finally asked Remus.
“I’d assume so,” Remus said. His laugh was a little strained but not too much. “His father always was. And Lily was worse. The things she got into, always without getting caught.”
Silverclaw sighed. “Very well, Mr. Potter. We are currently working with Healer Smethwyck and Mr. Black to locate the other shards of You-Know-Who’s soul. There appear to be multiple, perhaps as many as six more. We have healers on staff who can examine Mr. Lupin to ensure that he has not been compromised in any way.”
“While I’m doing that,” Remus suggested as if he really didn’t want Harry to be there for it, “why don’t you go see if you can find a better wand in the Potter vaults? If they don’t have one that works, the Black family vaults will certainly have one, but you’ll want to make sure that your escort goblin goes in with you. The Blacks have a lot of cursed items that they store at the bank.”
“We agreed to store them for a very nice fee,” Silverclaw agreed. “Is that agreeable, Mr. Potter?”
“It is,” Harry said. He paused before standing up. “Um, if something does happen or the goblin protects me from something, is tipping appropriate? I just got to that chapter in the book I got on working with goblins, but I haven’t finished it yet so I’m not sure.”
Silverclaw raised one eyebrow before smiling his tight, scary smile at Harry. “It is indeed, Mr. Potter. It is customary to offer a five knut tip for an uneventful cart ride, a sickle for prompt attendance in a vault and up to a galleon for each defense against unexpected cursed items.”
“Thank you, sir,” Harry said with his own tight-lipped smile as Goblins never seemed to show their teeth while smiling. “I appreciate your advice.”
Remus patted Harry’s shoulder as they were led out into the hallway by two separate goblins. He really would’ve rathered stay with Remus, but Remus looked so very relieved when Harry went the other direction that he didn’t say anything. He’d just have to ask later if Remus was okay. For now, there was a new wand to find and another roller-coaster cart ride to take. Hopefully he’d end up with a wand that he actually liked after this.
The ride down into the depths of the bank was just as much fun this time as last time. Harry didn’t whoop when they went over a particularly steep drop, but he did laugh and cheer when they whipped around a series of corners that slung them left, right and left again. The goblin laughed with Harry, so he didn’t feel too bad about being improper.
“That’s amazing. I love your carts!” Harry enthused once they arrived at a different Potter vault than his trust vault. This one was deeper than before, the air hot and humid around them like they were so deep that the heat from the core of the earth was warming the tunnel up. Or maybe they were near the forges?
“You are a wizard of discernment,” the goblin said. He didn’t look especially pleased, but he had a bounce in his step as he led the way up to Harry’s vault. “This the main Potter vault. You will find furniture, paintings, books, trunks and a selection of wands inside.”
“Perfect,” Harry said. “Thank you very much. Um, can I bring the books out with me?”
“It is your vault, Mr. Potter,” the goblin said. “You’re free to remove whatever you choose. There are several library trunks on the inventory. You can use any of them with a simple tap of your wand.”
“Ah, find a wand first, then get trunk, then books,” Harry said.
The correct key all but leaped out of Harry’s wallet when he opened it. It was the one with the picture frame embossed on the head of the key. Harry’s escort goblin turned the key and pushed the door open. Harry expected to see something like his trust vault, just with piles of furniture and books rather than piles of gold.
What he got was neat ranks of furniture that looked like it was hundreds of years old though none of it was dusty, stacks of trunks off to the right and a table in the center of the huge room with an account book on it. The goblin nodded towards the book.
“Place your hand on it and request wands,” the goblin said. “They will be delivered to you.”
“Wow,” Harry said.
The inside of the vault was considerably dryer and cooler than outside. His skin prickled at the abrupt change of temperature. The book was bound in old red leather, but it didn’t look very worn out. Harry shrugged and put his hand on it as a cart screeched to a stop behind him.
“All the wands, please,” Harry said.
He started and turned, smiling at Anthony who ran up to the door as if he wanted to rush in and pull Harry right back out of the vault. His goblin and Harry’s both glared at Anthony as if he was being incredibly rude.
Harry had barely a second to take that in because wands began flying in from vault, arranging themselves in a neat line in front of Harry. They all looked to be in good condition though the one on the far left looked like it’d been polished so many times that the wood was getting fragile. He’d seen Aunt Petunia refuse to buy an antique cedar box once that had just that same appearance.
“What are you doing?” Anthony demanded. “They could be dangerous!”
“This is the Potter vault, not a Black vault, wizard!” Harry’s goblin snapped. “None of the artifacts contained here are dangerous to a wizard Mr. Potter’s age. The Potters wisely segregated all dangerous artifacts into a separate, highly protected, vault.”
Harry blinked. “The Black vaults are that dangerous? Why wouldn’t they… no. That doesn’t matter. Why are you here, Anthony? I thought you’d be at Grunnings, working.”
Anthony sighed and ran his hand through his hair, cheeks going red. “I was here because of the whole soul shard issue. I’ve taken a leave of absence since this is far more important. Remus came through and told me you were going down to the vaults so I um, got worried. You’re the Heir. It’s my duty to keep you safe. Though I can’t exactly get in here. I’m not invited.”
Harry frowned. He still had his hand on the account book and, well, it’d worked before with the genealogy chart.
“You’re invited into the vault to help me pick a wand, choose a trunk for books and retrieve the books,” Harry said, trying to put some intent behind the worlds. “Not otherwise, just this time. I’ll consider it for other times later.”
There was a flash of light at the door and suddenly Anthony stumbled forward. He stared at the door and then at Harry, shaking his head while laughing softly. Harry’s goblin raised one eyebrow but nodded for the other goblin to go on his way.
“Please make sure that you take the cart ride fee from my account,” Harry told Anthony’s goblin. “Thank you for delivering him to me so promptly.”
That softened both goblin’s scowls. It also got Anthony frowning at him. Harry ignored the frown in favor of looking at the array of wands that other Potters had left in the vault.
“This one looks very old,” Harry said.
It was a lovely reddish wood that felt warm and loving in his hand, but he could feel the way the magic flowed through it was inconsistent. There was a little bit of fluff at the tip, too, which sparkled with the magic.
“Ah, not that one,” Anthony said. He held his hands firmly behind his back but nodded at the tip. “It’s broken.”
“The magic feels off, too,” Harry agreed. “But it likes me. It’s very warm. Like a hug, really.”
The next three didn’t do a thing when he picked them up. Not hot, not cold, not anything. All of them were from a silvery wood. That left him with four more wands to look at.
“Fleamont Potter’s wand,” Anthony said, pointing to a long wand with a kind of knobby handle made out of golden wood. “Euphemia Potter’s wand. Your grandparents on James’ side. The next one is James Potter’s wand. And this final one on the right is Lily Potter’s wand.”
“How do you know that?” Harry asked. He stared up at Anthony who just grinned at him.
“People notice what sort of wand you have,” Anthony explained. “It’s a point of discussion. The wood has meaning. The cores, any foci you’ve added. There’s whole books on what it all means in terms of power and personality, not that I’m sure any of its really meaningful. And your parents were famous. Their wands are mentioned in every biography and news report on them.”
Harry frowned over that. That might mean that everyone was going to expect him to use the wand he’d gotten from Ollivander. He wasn’t sure he wanted to explain why he wasn’t. The less people knew about it, the better at this point.
Still, knowing that these four wands were so closely related to him made his stomach do flips as he picked his grandfather’s wand up. Magic swept up his arm, powerful and commanding. It was a grown-up wand for a man who was prepared to fight battles, command people and do great things. Harry set it back down, panting.
“I’m not big enough for that one yet,” Harry said. “Maybe I’ll try again when I’m grown up.”
His grandmother’s wand was equally powerful, but he could feel… It felt like chicken soup when you were sick and cuddling under blankets. Like taking care of people and helping them be strong and healthy. Harry’s breath caught as he put it down, dashing away sudden tears.
“Was she a healer?” Harry asked Anthony who’d put a hand on his shoulder.
“She was,” Anthony said. “It’s a healer’s wand. They use different foci and cores.”
“I can tell.” Harry laughed because he wasn’t going to cry.
He wasn’t. He felt like his grandmother’s wand would teach him all about taking care of people, healing them and making them stronger. Harry just wasn’t sure that was what he wanted to do with his life.
His father’s wand settled in his hand like it wanted to stay there forever. It was strong and mischievous, but the magic just didn’t flow well between the wand and Harry. It was like they were slightly at different angles, so things didn’t quite match up.
“Close but no,” Harry said. “Remus said Dad was a prankster. I can feel it in his wand.”
His mum’s wand, Lily’s wand, settled in with his magic and his hand like a sigh of relief. It felt as though it was always supposed to be there. As if it was just the right thing for Harry. Not necessarily forever. He could almost feel edges where it wouldn’t always work right, bits where the magic wasn’t a smooth fit, but right now?
“That’s good,” Harry said. “Not perfect but I like it. I think it likes me, too.”
“Say ‘accio wand holsters’,” Anthony instructed, showing Harry how to make a little swishing motion with his mum’s wand.
Harry did it and a half dozen leather arm braces swooped out of the vault to settle on the table. Anthony smiled as he set to work sorting through them. He settled on one that seemed far too large for Harry, but it resized as soon as Anthony wrapped it around his arm. It fastened with leather straps around silver buttons in such a way that Harry could do it himself if he had to.
“A wand holster is the best way to carry your wand,” Anthony said. “This one will hold up to ten wands so if you want to take more than just your mother’s, you can.”
“I’ll definitely take Mum’s wand,” Harry said as he carefully holstered Lily’s wand and then practices the little flick of the wrist Anthony showed him to release it. “Certainly, my Dad’s and grandparent’s, too. Maybe I’ll take the silvery ones. I’m curious what they’re made of and why it doesn’t work for me. Still, I do want to go to the Black vaults. After I get books. There’s so many things I want to learn and there’s library trunks here that I can use in here.”
“You think you need another wand?” Anthony asked with a worried frown that seemed to be all for Harry.
“…Yeah,” Harry said, staring at Lily’s wand in his hand. “This works for now but… It’s like there’s ripples at the edges of the magic that don’t quite match up. It’s close but it’s not perfect. I can start with it. Mum’s magic is in me, around me, so it works. But not forever.”
“The Black vaults it is,” Anthony said as if that was doom and destruction, a grim fate and a horrible trek into the darkest realms.
Harry really was curious about those Black vaults but if they were that bad, he was glad to have both Anthony and the goblin with him for it. After he had a library trunk and as many books as he could gather. More books was always going to be better as he learned about his new world.
Narcissa leaned against the master bedroom door, fingers shaking where she’d pressed them hard against her lips. Days of this. Days of Lucius feverish, throwing up, struggling with the pain of the Dark Mark to the point that he screamed or passed out as his magic lashed out at everyone in the room.
It could not go on. He’d lost so much weight in such a short amount of time, not that Lucius had ever been heavy in the first place. Now he was nearly skeletal and she just didn’t know if he could survive the day, much less tonight.
The pain of the Mark was always worst at night.
No pain spell worked. Every potion she’d tried had burned off in minutes. The charms and healing medallions that had been in the Malfoy family for generations sparked lightning whenever she attempted to bring them close to Lucius.
If something didn’t change, Lucius was going to die. That damnable mark his father had inflicted on him was going to kill him as surely as if the Dark Lord had killed Lucius himself. Narcissa shook her head.
“There has to be something,” Narcissa whispered, glaring at nothing, at everything, at the dark wood paneling opposite her. “Somewhere. There must be something that we can do to save him.”
Narcissa started, turning to find Draco staring at her from the stairwell. He was nearly as pale as Lucius. She’d had to forbid him from seeing Lucius yesterday when Lucius’ magic had struck out at Draco. Or maybe it was Draco’s magic striking Lucius? There had been a surge of Malfoy magic between them, so violent and overwhelming that Draco had passed out and Lucius had screamed his throat raw.
“Darling, it’s not safe for you to be here,” Narcissa said. She laughed so that the tears hovering in her eyes wouldn’t fall. “Honestly, it’s rather unsafe for me, too. Go back downstairs, please. Or to your rooms.”
“Mother, I’ve been through the entire library,” Draco announced, not moving from the stairs but standing much more like a man than any eleven-year-old boy should. His shoulders were square, confident, chin raised and pale eyes flashing sapphire blue with his sincerity.
“Have you?” Narcissa asked. She dashed away the tears, gliding to his side to stroke his hair and cup his cheek. “All of them?”
“I had the elves help,” Draco explained. His cheeks blushed back to a healthy shade only to fade back to sickly-pale the next moment. “Dobby helped me check even the Dark ones from Grandfather and Father. There’s nothing here. Nothing at all. I don’t understand why the Family Magic is attacking him.”
Narcissa opened her mouth to comfort him, uselessly, only to freeze as his words registered. “The Family magic is attacking him.”
“Yes?” Draco said, blinking up at her as if confused as to why she didn’t know that. “That’s what’s happening. It’s tearing him apart. I can feel it.”
Narcissa bit her lip and then nodded. “We need to go to the bank. Right away. The Malfoy vaults don’t have any books in them. Your grandfather always insisted on keeping the library here. But the Black family vaults have… well. There may be more resources there that can help. Go put on your traveling robes, darling. I need to settle your father and get the elves to take care of him. Be ready to go in ten minutes.”
Draco’s smile was like the sun braking through thunderclouds. “Yes, Mother! I’ll be waiting for you in the floo room!”
He dashed off, already calling to the elves to get his robes ready. Narcissa allowed herself to gnaw on her lip. This had to help. There must be something, some clue of what they could do, how they could save Lucius.
If not, Narcissa didn’t know what she’d do. She was far too young to bury her husband, presuming she survived the sudden ending of their magical marriage. Given the bond they’d always shared, she might very well not.
“Dobby,” Narcissa called. She smiled, as gently as she could when Dobby appeared in front of her, hands twisting in the ragged dirty smock that was the only thing Lucius would allow him to wear. “Dobby, I need to make sure that Lucius is under control while Draco and I are away. It may take all the elves to accomplish it. Also,” she sucked in a shuddery breath, “I need to make sure our wills are up to date in case I fail to save Lucius. I cannot allow Draco to go to his relatives. Bring me the will and warn the others.”
“Yes, Mistress,” Dobby said. He hesitated before he left, looking up at her with soulful eyes but not saying anything.
“Go,” Narcissa said. “There’s no time. No time left at all.”
He went, finally. So did Narcissa, back into the master suite to see if she could do anything at all to soothe Lucius enough that he would change their will so that Bellatrix and the Lestranges would never gain custody of Draco, should they ever escape or be released from Azkaban.
That, she could never allow to have happen, no matter what it took and no matter how that ass Dumbledore muttered about ‘family loyalty’ and ‘like to like’.
Anthony grinned at Harry as they followed the goblin up the path towards the main Black vault. Two and a half hours spent finding, organizing and packing up the books in the main Potter vault had been gloriously fun. While Harry was willing to take every single book they found, Anthony had very firm opinions about which books would be useful for Harry to take.
It nearly reached Aunt Marge’s level of Very Firm Opinions on Appropriate Breeding but not quite. Harry had been able to argue Anthony into one trunk of Outdated and Outlandish Books to Read Only for Amusement, one truck of Potentially Dangerous Ideas That Could Get One in Trouble (especially if used for pranking) and one truck of books that were Very Useful and Helpful for Young Men to Read As Soon As Possible.
Each of the trunks was actually about the size of a big leather-bound novel, maybe ten inches by twelve inches. They were made of wood, deeply carved with flowers or vines and thistles for the prank trunk and had latches that you didn’t actually need to open to get at the books inside. All you had to do was put your hand on top and think of the book and it would appear. Same for filing one. The only thing that made them trunks was that they all had a leather handle on the ‘spine’ of the ‘book’.
Not that it got used much. All three of them would automatically shrink orenlarge so Harry could just put them in his pocket.
That the prank trunk had all come from his dad tickled Harry. The very useful ones came from all sorts of ancestors with a bunch of them from his mum. Each of the library trunks had an automatic provenance spell that told you exactly who acquired the book, when and could provide a nice library card-like report on what the subject of the book was. That’d made Harry bounce with excitement because it was so useful.
All three trunks were now shrunken down and in Harry’s pocket where they were safe.
The Black family vaults were all in a block. The main vault was at the far end of a long tunnel. Side vaults and trust vaults and special ones that Harry was more than a little nervous about because they felt dark and dangerous lurked on either side of the tunnel. It felt like the torches were dimmer in front of the more dangerous vaults which might have been Harry’s imagination but both Anthony and the goblin walked closer whenever they passed one so maybe not.
When they turned the final corner, Draco was standing with a lovely blond woman who frowned at her key as if confused. Anthony growled. Harry frowned at him and then waved at Draco who started and stared.
“Draco!” Harry called.
“Harry?” Draco said, staring at him. “What are you doing here?”
“That is such a long story,” Harry said, groaning and rolling his eyes. “Seriously, it’d take forever to explain properly. Basically, I’m here to look for a wand.”
He stared up at the woman pointedly enough that Draco started and bowed slightly with his hand over his chest. Both Anthony and the woman smiled at him for it. Harry really needed to ask Remus about the bow thing. Maybe there were specific mannerisms for proper bows?
“Please excuse me,” Draco said. “This is my mother, Narcissa Malfoy nee Black. Mother, this is Harry Potter.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Potter,” Narcissa said though her expression and the cold grey cast of her eyes didn’t look pleased at all.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Harry said with as much delight as he could muster which must have been a lot because both Narcissa and Draco stared at him, lips twitching. “I didn’t know that Draco and I were distant relatives when I met him. May I introduce your cousin, Anthony Black, son of Marius Black? He and his sisters were just returned to the Black Family magic and he’s appointed himself my guard today.”
Anthony laughed and ruffled Harry’s hair. “I suppose I did at that. It’s a pleasure, Mrs. Malfoy. I’ve heard about you, but never thought that we’d get the chance to meet.”
Narcissa opened her mouth and then curtsied just like someone on Aunt Petunia’s afternoon dramas. “Indeed. I felt the shift in the Black Family magic but had no idea it was something so momentous. Welcome home.”
“So,” Draco said, drawing the word out, “why are you here again?”
“Long story but I need a wand,” Harry said. “The one that Ollivander sold me doesn’t quite work because… stuff. So much stuff. My mother’s wand works mostly. Not perfectly. It was suggested that I try the Black Vault but only with escorts because it’s dangerous.”
“Quite,” Narcissa agreed. She stared at Harry for a long moment. “Though the locks are being difficult. They’ve refused my key twice so far. I’d suggest caution before attempting to open the vault.”
Harry blinked. He stepped close and delicately touched one fingertip to her key. The magic that surged through him made him stagger backwards. Anthony was there to catch him while Draco and Narcissa both caught his arms.
“Oh.” Harry panted. “Wow. And I thought the Black Family magic was angry before. Wow. It’s… it’s furious, Mrs. Malfoy. There’s… a betrayal of some sort? I think. It was desperate before but now its enraged and well, um.”
It took a bit of effort to get his feet back under him. Harry bit his lip as he studied Narcissa. She looked terribly worried which he could quite understand. He understood now what Remus had meant about magic being almost alive. The Black Family magic had changed, almost like it had woken up, when Anthony and his sisters and Lacey were added to it.
Now it was paying attention and there was something it didn’t like at all. Something tied to Narcissa. And maybe her husband, too. It was hard to tell.
“Draco, can I try touching you?” Harry asked. “It’s… I don’t know. I need to check something.”
“My magic, you mean?” Draco asked already holding his hands out, palms up. “Of course. We’ve all felt something going on the last couple of days. Father’s… he’s rather ill because of it. That’s why we’re here.”
Harry nodded. He put his hands atop Draco’s and very gently, very tentatively let his magic reach out towards Draco’s. The surge was there but it was far gentler. The magic wasn’t angry at Draco. Just the opposite. It wanted to protect and shelter Draco from everything that might hurt him.
His dad was one of those threatening things. Or, oddly, it was his father’s arm. Harry frowned, gently letting the Potter magic and the Black magic touch the Malfoy magic he felt moving through Draco.
The image of a tattoo, no, a magical mark, of a skull with a snake coming out of the mouth appeared in his mind. It felt like the shard that had been in his scar, like the wand that he no longer wanted to use. It made all three family magics rage so hard that both Draco and Harry staggered.
Draco nearly fell, though Narcissa caught and held him up. Harry collapsed back into Anthony’s arms, shaking.
“It’s that mark,” Harry said. “The family magic wants it gone. The Malfoy magic is willing to kill to get it out of the well. And the Black magic won’t…” He looked at Narcissa who’d gone bone white, so pale that the blue network of veins in her face stood out. “The Black Family magic won’t accept you if you accept it, Mrs. Malfoy. You have to choose, your husband or your family magics. And um, he’s going to die if it isn’t removed.”
“But it can’t be!” Draco exclaimed. “Father’s tried and tried and tried, ever since grandfather forced him to take it.”
Harry stared at him, listening to the Potter magic and the Black magic. Both of them wanted Draco. And Narcissa. And even her husband, too, if he could be freed. The Potter magic wanted them as allies against their real enemy. The Black magic just wanted them back. He hummed thoughtfully.
“I think…” Harry turned to the goblin who’d been quietly watching the whole thing with complete calm, as if dramatic revelations and raging family magic was as interesting as a bug crawling across a leaf. “Is there a secure room that we could use to meet in, sir? Gringotts is the most secure place we have, and I think that the family magics will help remove it. If we work together, that is.”
The goblin nodded. “There would be a fee but yes, it can be arranged. Would secure wards and healing be required as well?”
“Yes,” Harry declared. “I’ll pay for it. Half from the Potter vaults and half from the Black vaults. Please arrange for it to happen. Mrs. Malfoy, Draco, go get Mr. Malfoy and bring him back to the bank. Right away. I’ll hurry in here. Then we’ll see if we can save your husband from that thing.”
Narcissa shuddered, hugging Draco who squawked and flailed just like Dudley did every time Aunt Petunia hugged him by surprise.
“Thank you, Mr. Potter,” Narcissa said. “We will be back within the hour.”
She pulled Draco to his feet and then hurried up the hallway even though Draco kept looking back at Harry with a confused, amazed expression on his face. Harry sighed once they went around the corner, setting his head on Anthony’s shoulder.
He probably shouldn’t have made the offer, but the magic was so angry. All three magics wanted to do it. Harry couldn’t deny them, not when it was to save someone the way he’d always wanted to be saved.
“That wasn’t the brightest thing ever,” Anthony said when Harry sat up and stretched, “but the magic seems a lot happier than it was.”
Harry nodded as he tentatively touched the magic flowing inside him. “Yeah, it does. Come on. Let’s get this wand hunting over with so we can check on Remus and then help Mr. Malfoy. I feel like he’d be a really important ally though I don’t know why.”
“Politics. The Malfoys are incredibly powerful politically,” Anthony said immediately. He helped Harry up and then smiled as Harry gave the proper key to the goblin who pushed the vault door open. “Well, that’s about what I expected.”
“Yikes,” Harry said, staring at the jumbled mess of money, trunks, books, furniture and bits of dusty fabric that lay on the other side of the door. “That’s what I expected in the Potter vault. Darn. I was hoping this would be easier. Um, is there a way to organize it all before we try to search for things, sir?”
The goblin stared at Harry for a long moment before nodding once. “As the acting Patriarch of the Family, you can request that we organize the vault for you. Or you can do it yourself. If we find specific Dark artifacts, which I can provide a list of at a small fee, they will be seized and a weregild will be charged to your account for their destruction.”
“That could get expensive,” Anthony observed. He peered into the vault. “Might be worth it, though.”
Harry nodded. “Okay, I’ll take that list and discuss having the organization done with my Aunt. We’ll let you know the decision later. Right now, it’s not too urgent. Oh, except, um, do you know if anyone’s searching the vaults for any more of those soul shards? Or the Black properties? Because if you’re not, you probably should. I mean, if that’s possible?”
The goblin smiled his tight-lipped smile, straightening up a bit as if he approved of Harry’s suggestion. “We can but only with Patriarchal permission.”
“You’ve got it,” Harry declared. “The goblins of Gringotts have my permission to search all the Black vaults, all the Black properties and anything else Black-related to find any shards of Voldemort’s soul. And any Potter properties, too, if there are some. I haven’t had time to get to that part of the account books. Just do please be careful about it. I’d hate for any of you to get hurt in the process of finding them.”
The goblin stared at Harry. So did Anthony. He really had to finish that book on goblin society. There had to be a reason why treating them properly was so noteworthy. Harry turned back to Anthony who blew out a breath and shook his head as if to clear it.
“Ready for more wand hunting?” Harry asked Anthony.
“No,” Anthony said with a grimace at the vault. “But we might as well get this done. Let’s go. The sooner you have a second wand that works, the sooner we can get out of here and deal with what the family magic wants.”
Harry nodded. He carefully stepped into the vault with the goblin and Anthony on either side of him. He let the Black magic well up inside of him and pulled out Lily’s wand.
He took a moment to focus his mind on finding the best wand for him to use right now, one that would help him learn and grow until he was strong enough for his grandfather Fleamont’s wand, knowledgeable enough for his grandmother Efemenia’s wand or whatever he became. Then he made the swish.
The piles of stuff rumbled and shifted, sparks coming in places. A few moments later a wand whizzed out of the depths of the vault. Then a second and a third, all of them with warm reddish wood. They hovered in front of Harry with magic glimmering around them as if the Black Family magic was holding them for him until he could try them out.
“They’re all holly,” Anthony observed, eyebrows going up. “Huh. That’s actually really rare. And only three of them. There’s got to be more wands here, though.”
“The wand Ollivander sold me was holly,” Harry said. “Holly with a phoenix’s feather core. I guess he might have been onto something, after all.”
The wand to the left was warm and rich and powerful. It was more than Harry could handle yet, but it felt like something he might grow into. He tucked that into one of the empty slots in his wand holster. The middle wand was a softer wand, the magic delicate and light.
“It’s… delicate,” Harry said, blinking at the wand.
“Hm.” Anthony took it and then grinned. “Charms. It’d be spectacular for charms.”
“Huh, that’s good. I have that class,” Harry said. That one went into his holster, too.
The third wand sent a rush of magic through him that was like sweeping away all the cobwebs and throwing open the curtains after a long gloomy winter. It was walking out into a bright sunny day after hours drudging away at cleaning. It was laughter among friends, support from allies when you were in trouble, hope for the future that you knew you could accomplish.
He gasped, laughed and stared at the third wand, nodding.
“This one feels right,” Harry said. “Perfect. There’s no ripples or strangeness at all. It’s like it’s part of me and my magic.”
“Then that’s your dominant wand,” Anthony said. He grinned and patted Harry’s shoulder. “Ready for another ride in the carts?”
“Am I?” Harry exclaimed with so much joy that both Anthony and the goblin laughed at him. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go! I gotta show Remus my new wand!”
He ran out of the vault and then ran back to get the key from the goblin. It made him blush to have forgotten it but really, who could remember a key when there was a ride in those carts coming? There was just no comparison at all.
“Damn him,” Remus wheezed before lowering his head over the toilet for the fourth time to throw up.
One would have thought that there was nothing left in the werewolf’s stomach. Silverclaw, of course, knew better. The purging draughts would ensure that every potion remnant in Remus’ system were drawing into this stomach where they could be properly and fully expelled from his body. Better that style of draught than the ones where the potions came out the other end. Wizards who foolishly opted for that version generally spent several hours huddled around their cramped belly as the draught worked everything through their entire digestive system.
At least the previous phases of his purification had gone well. For a regular wizard, it would have taken days. Werewolves naturally shrugged off control charms and mind-control spells. Silverclaw would have done quite a lot to find out how Dumbledore had managed to make the spells Remus had been under stick as well as they had.
“One more should do it,” Silverclaw commented as Remus came up wheezing, eyes tearing.
“Oh, bloody hell,” Remus whined. “I’m going to tear his bollocks off and eat them. I’m going to feed them to him, shove them down his sparkly throat, the utter bastard. I’m–”
Before Remus could go into a truly epic rant, unfortunately, the last round of the draught overtook him and he was bent over the toilet again. By the time that round of vomiting was done, Remus’ whole body was drenched with sweat and his face was grey.
“Well done,” Silverclaw said as he gently wiped Remus’ face clean. “Let’s get you into a bed. A bit of rest before the boy returns should help.”
“He’s…” Remus swallowed, harsh as his ravaged voice. “You have to keep him away from Dumbledore. You have to. He wants to know everything that happens to Harry. He won’t let anyone control Harry but him.”
“Dumbledore?” Silverclaw asked as his claws glowed with a cleansing spell and then a levitation spell that easily carried Remus out of the toilet and into the small, dark room that they used for recover from purging draughts.
“Yes,” Remus whispered. He sighed once settled on the bed. “Oh.”
“Mrs. Dursley has already ensured that Dumbledore will have little sway over the boy,” Silverclaw said while settling the blanket, a nice weighted one that always soothed clients after purging. “We will ensure his safety as well. So will you, I’m certain.”
“You don’t understand,” Remus whispered. His eyes barely slitted open. “It’s so much more than that. He wanted me to keep Harry from learning anything. I couldn’t help but tell him about Harry’s books, about what he’s learning. Keeping Sirius locked up, keeping Harry isolated, it’s all part of his plan. He’s… he’s up to something.”
Silverclaw nodded. “I do understand. Very well. We’ve seen Dumbledore’s plotting, more of it than you have. Rest. You can’t help if you don’t rest, Remus. Sleep now. The boy’s down in the vaults. That won’t occupy him forever.”
Remus groaned, rolling onto his side. “Gonna need a Pepper-up.”
“Already prepared,” Silverclaw said with more than a little snippiness for the stubbornness of wizards who couldn’t accept that other species not only could think ahead but carry out a perfectly logical and frequently requested procedure without micro-management.
Remus opened one eye and then snorted at Silverclaw. Thankfully, the next moment he finally fell asleep. Good. Ragnok was going to want to know all about this and Silverclaw needed to record all the bits and pieces that Remus had gasped between bouts before he forgot the details.
“Or Mr. Potter does something ridiculously dramatic and world-shaking,” Silverclaw muttered as he headed out into the other room to the waiting desk with his partially written report. “Takes after his whole family, that one, condensed down into one ridiculously curious and determined child.”
Hopefully, he could get the whole report written before Mr. Potter came back. That would be a saving grace because Silverclaw could feel in his claws the way magic moved through the bank. Something momentous was coming and Mr. Potter was right at the center of it, once again.
Remus lay on a low couch, covered with a thick black blanket. His eyes were shut, and his skin was clammy and pale. Every breath seemed to be an effort for him, but he didn’t so much as twitch a finger when Harry slowly entered the low, dark room he’d been placed in.
“Remus?” Harry whispered.
“Hey, pup,” Remus whispered back without opening his eyes.
Pup. Something, very, very deep down, responded hard to that. Harry didn’t intend to do it, but he found himself clambering onto Remus’ couch, curling up with him. Remus gave a little ghost of a laugh and wrapped one arm around Harry. He set his nose in Harry’s hair and just breathed for a while.
“Why do I smell Narcissa Malfoy on you?” Remus asked.
“Your nose is really good,” Harry said. He grinned when Remus finally opened his eyes. “She and Draco were at the main Black vault. Mr. Malfoy’s mark is killing him. Well, no, the Malfoy family magic and the Black family magic are killing him because he has the mark. She and Draco have gone home to bring him back to the bank. The Potter family magic wants to work with the Black and Malfoy family magic to try to remove it.”
Remus stared. “You know, when I said that family magic is sort of alive, I didn’t mean that literally.”
“You should have,” Harry said. Anthony laughed from the doorway. “Because it is. It really is.”
This time Remus frowned before slowly pushing himself upright. Harry helped, supporting him as Remus groaned and wheezed and then finally managed to push the blanket off so that he could swing his feet down to the floor. He still had his shoes on.
“Need a Pepper-UP?” Anthony asked Remus.
“That would help, yes,” Remus said. He swayed even with Harry’s help, though he was still sitting down.
“What happened?” Harry asked. “You were fine.”
Anthony passed Remus a little vial of potion that Remus grimaced at. “There are spells and charms and potions that will… sculpt your behavior, Harry. They can change the way you think and the way you act. But there’s other spells and potions, a couple of very powerful and very expensive draughts, that can free you from them. And protect you from being affected for a period of time. I asked the goblins. Remus has been under loyalty and control spells since he started Hogwarts.”
“My age,” Harry said, staring at Remus.
Remus nodded before swallowing the potion down. Smoke billowed out of his ears, startling the heck out of Harry. By the time the smoke stopped, though, Remus was sitting up on his own and no longer clammy or panting.
“It won’t last forever,” Remus told Harry as he tucked the vial away into a pocket, “but it should let me get home. I have about two hours before I need another one or I need to sleep.”
“That was wicked and scary, both,” Harry said. “I want to know what those spells are, the ones that’ll protect you from being controlled. I want to buy ones for me and you and Anthony and Lacey and my family and everyone else. Narcissa and Draco. Just… everyone!”
“You’d spend a ruinous amount of money,” Remus protested, looking profoundly uncomfortable with the idea.
“Remus,” Harry said. He took Remus’s hand and waited until Remus met his eyes. “Money is just money. I need people. People I can trust who care about me. The family magic wants you. You’re mine and I’m yours. I think I always was. Money is so much less important than you are. A dozen galleons, a hundred, even several thousand? That’s nothing compared to keeping you safe as best I can. I mean, I can’t do much since I’m still little, but spending money so that you’re not going to be controlled again? Pfft, that’s easy and I’m doing it.”
The hug came out of nowhere. Harry squawked, just like Draco and just like Dudley, but instead of flailing Harry leaned into the hug. It felt wonderful and Harry wanted to stay there hugging Remus forever. Unfortunately, Silverclaw cleared his throat at the door, prompting Remus to let go.
“The Malfoys are here, Mr. Potter,” Silverclaw declared. “We have them in a room with a healer. Mr. Malfoy has very little time left if the mark cannot be removed.”
“Right,” Harry said. “Come on, guys. I’ll probably need your help. Silverclaw, Anthony says that there’s ways to make sure that no one can control Remus again. Charms or something? Can you please arrange to purchase a full set of those appropriate for me, Aunt Petunia, Dudley, Uncle Vernon, Anthony, Lacey, Remus and, oh, how about another fifty or a hundred beyond that? I know it’s going to be shockingly expensive, but I think it’s important. It feels really important to me.”
Silverclaw pulled out a tiny pad of paper, noting down his order while nodding. “It will be done, Mr. Potter. By ordering in bulk, you will receive a discount. Do you want them to be spelled to be unnoticeable and unremovable?”
“That’s possible?” Harry said and then nodded because duh. “Yes, please. I really need more time to read up on all of this. Is there a way to make it so that the person wearing it gets apparated somewhere safe, say the bank, if the charm’s overwhelmed?”
Silverclaw’s smile said that oh yes, it certainly was but it was expensive.
“Good,” Harry said. “I want that, too. If you can do, um, what does Uncle Vernon call it? A Quote! If you can write up a Quote for the Work Statement, I’ll go over it when we’re done. Depending on the cost and my accounts I might needs to um, what was it? Phase in the delivery schedule? You know, get some now, more later kind of thing?”
Silverclaw’s smile was amused now but he nodded quite happily. “We can certainly do that, Mr. Potter. My complements on your efforts to learn proper business. It’s a rare wizard who tries.”
“That’s Uncle Vernon. He’s a Vice President at his company, Grunnings,” Harry said as he followed Silverclaw out of Remus’ little room and through a series of very finely chiseled hallways to a room with another bed, Narcissa, Draco and a very, very, very sick-looking man.
“Harry!” Draco exclaimed. “Please, can you help?”
“Oh, it won’t be me alone,” Harry said. “It’s all of us. We have to channel the family magic. You and your dad are the keys, I bet. He’s a Malfoy so the Malfoy family magic has to reject the mark on its patriarch. You are the patriarch, aren’t you, Mr. Malfoy?”
Mr. Malfoy stared at Harry before nodding once. His white-blond hair was long, past his shoulders, and his breathing was so wobbly that Harry was surprised he was still conscious. Narcissa gently pushed him back onto the bed.
“Do you have any idea what you’re doing, Mr. Potter?” Mr. Malfoy asked.
“Mm, a little?” Harry admitted. “It’s more just listening to the family magic and then trying my best to follow what it wants. Okay, so, Draco. He’s your dad. He’s your patriarch. You’re his heir. You want him but not that mark. Mr. Malfoy, you have to reject not just the mark but, well,” Harry thought about it as he gently let the Potter and Black family magic swirl inside of him. “You didn’t want it before. The Malfoy family magic doesn’t want it. The Black family magic is ready to kill you dead right now because of it. So, you have to reject the orders that made you take it and accept the family magic as right and good and more important than anything else.”
It sort of made sense in his head. Heart. That place inside of Harry where the magic swirled and surged and wanted with a fierce and demanding love that might just burn the whole world down if it was denied.
“I haven’t… felt the Malfoy magic since it was placed,” Mr. Malfoy admitted after a long, long moment of staring at Harry.
He frowned and came over to put his hand on Mr. Malfoy’s arm. The snake in the mark shifted under his fingers like a real snake. Harry frowned even more. Had Voldemort forced a real snake into Mr. Malfoy’s arm? Was that what was blocking him?
But no, it wasn’t a real snake. It was like a snake, sort of, enough like a snake that Harry crawled onto the bed next to Draco and Mr. Malfoy. He waved for Remus and Antony to sit at the foot of the bed with their hands resting on Mr. Malfoy’s ankles. Narcissa sat on his other side, clutching Mr. Malfoy’s free hand to her chest while tears slowly and silently crept down her cheeks.
“Stop blocking his magic,” Harry told the snake in the mark as if it was a real snake.
It hissed at him, angry and defiant.
Harry scowled and pulled on the Black magic, the Potter magic, too. “Stop blocking his magic right now!”
The Malfoy magic surged in Draco as the Black magic poured over from Narcissa and Anthony. The magic from Remus was wild and fierce, something completely unlike everyone else’s but it helped in ways that Harry didn’t understand. It made him grit his teeth and push harder and harder with his magic against the snake mark.
“Stop it, stop it, stop it!” Harry yelled at the mark.
The pressure built and built until Harry’s ears popped and the room started to rattle. The bed shook underneath them, and Draco started yelling, no words, just sounds, as he gripped Mr. Malfoy’s hand and bend his head. Draco’s eyes were shining blue like the headlights of a car on bright. Narcissa and Anthony’s eyes blazed silver-grey and Remus threw back his head as his eyes went gold and claws appeared on his fingertips.
Harry’s hands were green from the light shining out of his eyes.
“Let it go!” Draco shouted at Mr. Malfoy. “Father, let it go!”
Mr. Malfoy, who’d lay there perfectly still, panting, jerked and bowed upwards as he then screamed defiantly. The blue, blue light in Draco’s eyes swept down his hands and across them to Mr. Malfoy’s arm. The light flickered in Mr. Malfoy’s eyes and then blazed as a dark shadow bloomed under Harry’s hands.
It lifted up, shaped like a skull with a snake coming out of it. The snake snapped at Harry, hissed at Draco and the others, and then screamed as Silverclaw suddenly darted in with a small crystal globe that he thrust right into the center of the shadowy spell snake.
The globe sucked the mark in. The world popped. So did Harry’s ears. All the magic suddenly subsided, draining away faster than pulling the plug in a tub. It whooshed away like the time Dudley had broken the wall on the above-ground pool his friend Piers had set up in their backyard. It was there and then it was gone, washing gently around their feet like gentle waves on a shore.
Harry fell face-first into Mr. Malfoy’s chest. Draco collapsed on top of him. He felt more than saw Narcissa, Anthony and Remus collapse, too. Behind him, Silverclaw chuckled.
“You are an amazing young wizard, Mr. Potter,” Silverclaw said. “You’ve accomplished the impossible. We will be crediting your accounts for showing us the method of this. I’ll have the healers come to tend to you all. I suspect it will be Pepper-up potions all around.”
Harry groaned. It was meant more as a laugh, but he felt as tired as he had when he woke up after having the soul shard removed so it didn’t come out that way. He did manage to open his eyes when Mr. Malfoy caressed his hair with a shaking hand. Draco curled around his back, hugging Harry and that was just as nice a hug as the one he’d gotten from Remus.
“I owe you a debt that can never be repaid,” Mr. Malfoy whispered.
“Mmm, don’t know about that,” Harry said, smiling at him and then wrinkling his nose when Mr. Malfoy’s eyebrows went up. “There’s stuff. You need to know it. Later. Too tired now.”
Mr. Malfoy laughed the barest hint of a laugh, letting his eyes drop shut. Later. After they all rested. Then Harry would tell the whole long thing, for the millionth time, and get Mr. Malfoy’s help to make sure he and his family all stayed safe.
Silverclaw stood under Ragnok’s crystalline dome, shaking. His claws rattled together. There was nothing that he could do to stop it. He’d managed to keep his reaction under control until Mr. Potter and the others were tucked into the guest quarters in the healing ward but that was it.
After that, Silverclaw had had to sit down and let himself shake from pure reaction to what Mr. Potter had done.
“Sit down!” Ragnok snapped, standing and hurrying around his desk to escort Silverclaw to the chair facing his desk. “What in the name of our Lady of Magic is happening up there?”
Silverclaw didn’t intend to laugh like a maniac but that’s certainly what happened.
“Send for my spouse!” Ragnok shouted, to who Silverclaw wasn’t certain.
It was so hard to think. Honestly, Silverclaw felt rather profoundly drunk. Terrified and overjoyed and floating with the sheer amount of magic that Harry Potter had unleased to save Mr. Malfoy from his father’s stupidity.
Silverclaw blinked at Bannet, Ragnok’s spouse. “You’re simply not attractive enough to be consort. You’ve not even groomed your hair properly.”
“Power-drunk and stupid,” Bannet said with a snort of amusement and a needle-sharp teeth-baring smirk.
“Our Lady of Magic touched the world today,” Silverclaw declared, very aware of how both Ragnok and Bannet froze, staring at him. “She reached Her hand out to a young wizard, two young wizards, who begged Her help in a formless ritual to remove the Dark Mark from a patriarch’s arm.”
Ragnok gasped, clutching Bannet’s shoulder so hard that his claws cut right through to Bannet’s flesh. Bannet didn’t appear to notice as blood stained his healer’s smock. Neither did Ragnok, astonishingly.
“It worked?” Ragnok asked.
“Yes,” Silverclaw said and started laughing again. He held up his hands, staring at the magic still sparkling along his claws. “It did. It worked perfectly. The Mark was driven out. The Mark blocked Mr. Malfoy from sensing his Family Magic, from it interacting with him. I wouldn’t have credited such a thing but Harry Potter-Black did what no one, not even the Goblin Nation, has been able to do: He removed a Dark Mark and purified a wizard’s soul today.”
Ragnok staggered back around his desk to collapse into his chair. “We have the Mark contained?”
“We do,” Silverclaw said. “I had it moved to the Highest Security Vault so that it could be placed with the other shards of his soul. Mr. Potter…” He shook his head and chuckled, almost giddy. No, truly giddy. So much magic in his body and soul right now.
“Focus,” Bannet said, drawing a bit away so that Silverclaw could function at least briefly.
“My thanks,” Silverclaw said. “Mr. Potter authorized us to search everything Black and Potter, here in the bank and elsewhere in the world, for any other shards of Voldemort. While asking that we take all precautions that we are not hurt.”
Both Ragnok and Bannet stared at him. Then stared at each other. Really, such an unremarkable goblin to be consort to their king. Best healer in the Nation or not, Bannet was so… plain. His claws were barely longer than his fingers and his hair was always such an utter bedraggled mess, blooming in feral curls around his head.
“I’ll need a full report,” Ragnok finally said.
“Not until he’s rested and discharged this energy,” Bannet insisted as if he was king, not Ragnok.
“As you say,” Ragnok agreed. “Go. Rest. Do something… pointlessly dramatic with your extra gifted magic until you have a handle on it. And then write me a report on this one-time miracle.”
Silverclaw laughed, throwing his head back and letting his peals fill Ragnok’s crystalline dome.
“It’s no one-time event,” Silverclaw finally managed to say around the giddiness and the glee and the rising exhaustion. “He’s showed us the method to remove Dark Marks, Ragnok. He’s shown us how to save our clients from their own stupidity. And best of all, he’s given us freedom to do it without paying him any percentages or royalties for using his method.”
“…What does he want then?” Bennet whispered when all Ragnok could do was stare, open-mouthed.
“To save everyone we can from Voldemort and Dumbledore,” Silverclaw replied. “That’s all.”
The silence stretched until Silverclaw’s glee caught both Bennet and Ragnok up, too.
The goblins had actual guest rooms under the bank. Harry hadn’t expected it. At all. They were so prickly and formal and all that he’d assumed that they would have to leave and go somewhere else to get some rest. But no, after the goblin healers declared them too magically exhausted to be moved, Silverclaw had had them all magically carried to guest rooms where they could be treated and then recuperate in comfort.
A lot of comfort. Harry’s bed was like sinking into a cloud. He’d fallen asleep almost immediately but woken up several times because it felt like he was going to suffocate in all the softness. The third time he’d woken up gasping and flailing, the goblin who was watching over him finally asked what was wrong.
All it took was a muttered word in the Goblin’s language and his bed firmed up until Harry sighed with relief and dropped off like a rock thrown into a deep pond.
It was only after he woke up again that he noticed that the bed had rich velvet drapes and a comforter so plush and thick that he hadn’t needed a single blanket. The room had a desk with an ink well and paper waiting for someone to use them, carpets laid out that were so thick that his feet sank into them and enough beds for him, Anthony and Remus.
Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy had the connecting room with Draco. The door was open. Where Harry’s room was in deep blue and purple tones, the Malfoy’s room was all in sea green and yellow. Draco was awake when Harry peeked in. He smiled at Harry and came to whisper with him in the connecting doorway.
“They’re still sleeping,” Draco said so quietly that Harry could barely hear him even though they were nose to nose.
“Anthony, too,” Harry agreed. He looked and yes, Remus’ eyes had opened a slit but when Harry waved at him, Remus settled back down again. “Hungry?”
“Starving,” Draco said. “Do you think they’ll allow us food?”
Harry grinned. “If we pay for it, yes, of course. Come on. We’ll ask.”
Their bedrooms led to an outer room that was like a combination living room / office. There were sofas and desks, bookshelves and a nice coffee table with account books on it. Lots and lots of account books. Silverclaw peeked over the top of the stack, frowning at Harry and Draco as Harry shut the door behind him.
“You should be sleeping, Mr. Potter, Mr. Malfoy,” Silverclaw said. He pushed the stack of account books in front of him to the side so that he could see them properly.
“We woke up because we’re hungry, sir,” Harry said. “Would it be possible to have food brought in? I’m sure the grown-ups will wake up soon. They’ll be hungry, too.”
“It looked like Mr. Lupin was already waking up,” Draco agreed.
He stayed behind Harry, looking very hesitant about approaching Silverclaw. Maybe he needed to read Harry’s book on goblin etiquette? Not that it mattered. Harry knew Silverclaw was on his side.
“I will have meals sent for, Mr. Potter,” Silverclaw said.
He wrote a note and set it in a little tray that he’d perched on the cushions next to him. It flashed away. Which reminded Harry.
“Sir, would it be all right if I wrote a note to Aunt Petunia and had you send it?” Harry asked. “She has to be worried about me since I haven’t come back.”
Silverclaw smiled his tight but actually amused smile, the one that wrinkled up his eyes. “She has already been informed of your feat, Mr. Potter. Your Aunt Marge is apparently rather appalled that you’ve been kept overnight by ‘the authorities’ for questioning regarding Mr. Black’s imprisonment.”
“Oh dear,” Harry said. He tried not to laugh but failed. “She must be on an epic rant if Aunt Petunia put that in a letter. I’ll have to send a note back saying that it was more a matter of helping out a friend of the family.”
He turned to Draco who stared at them both like they’d lost their minds, at least until the friend of the family bit. Then Draco’s eyes went wide, and they shone sapphire blue as he grinned.
“I think Mother and Father would be delighted to be considered friends of your family,” Draco said.
“It might mean getting invited to dinner while Aunt Marge is there,” Harry warned Draco with a grin of his own. “Trust me. It’s not a fun thing. She’s behaving a lot better since we found out my father had a Duchy on the muggle side of things but she’s still very pompous, very status-conscious and terribly overbearing on the best day.”
“I think she’s rather like Madame Longbottom,” Remus said from the doorway.
“Oh, no,” Draco breathed with so much horror that everyone but Harry laughed. “Really?”
“Who’s Madame Longbottom?” Harry asked. “No, wait. First, are you hungry?”
“Starving,” Remus said with a wry smile. “Anthony’s stirring. Draco, I heard your mother call you. Very quietly but she did call you.”
Draco immediately ran to the door to his bedroom, slipping inside. About ten minutes later, everyone was up, and they were all eating at the dining table that Silverclaw had made appear up out of the floor. It was shiny black stone, literally grown from the stone itself with a spell in the Goblin’s language.
The food was amazing. Harry wasn’t sure if it was that he was starving or if it really was that good. Either way, he ate eagerly though he did try to use proper manners. Aunt Petunia would’ve been really upset if Harry acted like a disaster in public, especially with allies. Or friends.
“I think I may survive,” Mr. Malfoy said once they’d all had seconds and were now nursing their varying types of coffee or tea. His tea was almost exactly like Harry’s just with a spritz of cinnamon on top that Harry was desperately curious about.
Mrs. Malfoy had sighed at the ‘excessive’ amount of milk Mr. Malfoy had used and then snorted when Harry did the exact same thing.
“Me, too,” Harry said. “Are you guys ready for the very long story of what’s happened and what we’re doing that we need help with?”
“I think you need to apply capital letters to that,” Mr. Malfoy said, eyes wrinkling with amusement. “Perhaps with Copperplate script.”
Harry grinned. “I probably do. It deserves it.”
“By all means, educate us,” Mr. Malfoy said.
It took almost an hour and a half, with all the questions, side discussions, testing for compulsions and control spells, to get the whole thing out. At different points, Mrs. Malfoy’s eyes blazed silver and blue. Pretty much every single point of it made Mr. Malfoy get grimmer and grimmer. By the time Harry finally got to the bit about the goblins searching for shards of Voldemort’s soul in every Black vault or property, Mr. Malfoy stiffened and nodded.
“I believe I can help with that, Mr. Potter,” Mr. Malfoy said. “Dobby!”
A skinny little person wearing a grubby pillowcase popped into place in front of Mr. Malfoy. He cringed and then froze, staring at Mr. Malfoy with wider and wider eyes until Mr. Malfoy pulled up his sleeve to expose where the mark had been.
There was a twisted, ugly scar but the mark was gone.
Dobby gasped. “Master has been freed! The elves felt a change, but we did not dare believe. Master has been freed at last!”
He flung himself into Mr. Malfoy’s lap, sobbing loudly while Mr. Malfoy awkwardly patted his back and tried to get him to let go. Harry frowned, turning to Remus who had one eyebrow up as he sipped at his coffee.
“Who’s that?” Harry asked Remus.
“That’s a house elf,” Remus explained. “They’re bonded to families, sharing magic with their masters. Your parents had elves but when they went into hiding with you, they sent their elves to live with other families so that they would be safe. I don’t actually know what happened to any of them.”
Harry sighed. “Another set of books I need to read. I really need another six months or so before school starts just to get caught up to where I should be.”
“Sadly, time turners will only give you six or so hours, Mr. Potter,” Silverclaw said. “They are not recommended for children, however. Especially not for people whose magic is a turbulent as yours. You’ll simply have to study as hard as you can in the time you have available.”
Harry grumbled, set his tea down, went to one of the desks and got some paper and a quill so that he could take notes on all the things he needed to study. When he looked up, Draco was grinning at him and Mr. Malfoy looked quietly amused.
“Sorry, but I’ll forget if I don’t make a note,” Harry said. “Why did you need Dobby?”
“Dobby, the black diary in my private office,” Mr. Malfoy said. “Please go get it and bring it here.”
“It feels nasty, Master Malfoy,” Dobby protested. “Dobby doesn’t like it.”
“No, neither do I,” Mr. Malfoy said. “That’s why we’re going to give it to goblins to dispose of it.”
Dobby’s ears perked up. He disappeared in a little pop and returned a moment later in a large pop, holding a simple black diary held as far away from himself as his arms would allow. Mr. Malfoy pinched it between his thumb and forefinger, passing it to Silverclaw who snarled at it in a surprising display of sharp teeth like a cat’s. Or a shark’s.
Huh. Maybe that was why they always smiled without showing their teeth. It was kind of like a dog or a cat. Teeth meant threat, not friendliness.
“I was ‘given’ this by You-Know-Who,” Mr. Malfoy said. He scrubbed his hands with his napkin once Silverclaw took it. Dobby scrubbed his hands against his pillowcase in just the same way. “I believe that it is a horcrux. If you’re gathering them, please be aware that Bellatrix received one in the shape of a cup. It should, if she hasn’t moved it, be in her trust vault. There is another that I’m aware of, Salazar Slytherin’s locket, but it went missing over a decade ago.”
“The locket has been located at one of the Black properties,” Silverclaw said. “This will be added to the others. The cup may be the last, but I suspect there’s one more beyond it. Please excuse me. I will be right back.”
He marched out with the diary. The instant the door closed it was like the air was suddenly cleaner. Harry blew out a breath, surprised that he’d been half holding his breath. It was like being around the diary made it hard to breathe or think or move.
“That hardly seems like a fair repayment of what you’ve done for me and the Malfoy family, Mr. Potter,” Mr. Malfoy said with a little frown.
“Oh, that’s not what I wanted,” Harry said. “You see, I don’t think that Voldemort is my real enemy. I mean, yeah, he’s obviously an enemy. Maybe one who could harm me but he’s dead. Mostly dead? Sort of dead. He’s not the one who put me in a house that’d been cursed to make everyone treat me badly. He’s not the one who refused me all proper medical care and education. He’s not the one who threw my legal godfather in prison without a trial. And he’s really not the one who loyalty charmed Remus to not ask or not care what happened to me or Sirius.”
“Dumbledore,” Mrs. Malfoy breathed with her cheeks pale and her eyes wide. “You believe Dumbledore is your enemy.”
“Well, he’s certainly not my friend,” Harry said with an annoyed little snort that would’ve made Aunt Petunia roll her eyes. “He set everything in my life up to make me desperate for any sort of connection while denying me all sorts of knowledge. The things he spelled onto Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon’s house were hurting them. The healer who worked with my cousin Dudley said that it would’ve slowly acted like a series of severe brain injuries on him, taking him from a normal kid to one who could never work or think or hold a proper job.”
“He exiled my entire branch of the Black family from the magical world,” Anthony said. “My wife’s family is in the same condition though their connection to me is helping. They might be able to reconnect with their relatives soon. Maybe.”
“He…” Remus shook his head and sipped at his coffee. “I’m questioning every single thing in my life. Trust me. Harry’s not wrong about who his true enemy is.”
Harry nodded, patting Remus’ elbow. “Your magic already knows. Open yourself up to it and it’ll tell you.”
Mr. Malfoy finished his tea. He set the cup down and then took Draco and Narcissa’s hands. Dobby put on hand on his arm and smiled as if Mr. Malfoy was hugely brave. And maybe, actually, he was after being cut off from his family magic for so very long.
Harry held his breath as Mr. Malfoy bend his head, eyes shut. He could feel the magic swirling on the far side of the table, but it wasn’t his magic. They were closer, maybe allies, but he wasn’t a part of it.
Blue light flared over all three of the Malfoys, sweeping out to scour Dobby clean. Dobby’s pillowcase transformed into a neat royal-blue uniform with military boots in sapphire. When Mr. Malfoy lifted his head, his eyes shimmered between cornflower, sapphire and a deep, deep blue that was almost black.
“You’re right,” Mr. Malfoy said. “You’re entirely right. What do you want?”
“Allies,” Harry promptly said. “Allies and help getting Sirius out of prison, getting Dumbledore’s power cut down, and help finding more people that I can help, that I can save, that I can make friends and allies out of. That’s what the Potter and Black family magics want most of all.”
“But what do you want?” Draco asked with a thunderous frown at Harry.
Harry grinned and shrugged. “Friends. Friends and to know everything I possibly can before I go to Hogwarts. It’s all going to get dangerous once I’m there under Dumbledore’s thumb. I need whatever I can get to be prepared and I want friends at my side when I do it.”
“You’ve got it,” Draco declared. “I’ll help any way I can. Right, Father?”
“Very right, Draco,” Mr. Malfoy said with as proud of a smile as any Uncle Vernon had ever used. A lot less puffing up like a pigeon though. That was nice.
“I’ll make a list,” Mrs. Malfoy said. She smiled and it was as nasty as any Harry had seen from the goblins. “We’ll arrange for you to meet them somewhere secure. Soon.”
“There’s a bunch of exiled descendants of squibs that I know of who want to reconnect with the magical world,” Anthony offered. “Maybe we can get them back with their families.”
“We’ll have to check everyone for charms and compulsions, though,” Remus said.
Harry leaned back in his chair, taking in the grown-ups plotting and planning how to make it all happen. He exchanged a look with Draco who seemed surprised. Honestly, Harry was a little surprised, too. But if it worked, if they could be trusted and his magic said that they could be, then Harry was that much safer now.
And, hopefully, they’d be able to keep it from Dumbledore until the very last minute. If not, things might get nasty sooner than Harry wanted.
Anthony’s mirror vibrated in his pocket. He frowned, nodded to the goblins he’d been working with to record everything that had happened with Mr. Malfoy and slipped away from them to get a modicum of privacy. Not real privacy, of course. It was Gringotts. The only true privacy was the sort you paid the goblins for.
“Hey Lace,” Anthony said, flicking his mirror open and smiling at her. “Something come up?”
“Oh yea,” Lacey said so grimly that his smile faded. “I’ve fielded eight calls from Grunnings in the last two hours. They’re all up in arms about your leave of absence. The last one was from the president. He kept going on about needing you back, big negotiations, very important, but he wouldn’t explain why you, personally, were needed.”
Anthony frowned. “Did you detect anything on him?”
The simple answer drew a wince. Lacey shook her head. Nothing to say over the mirrors for fear of someone, somehow, listening in. Great. And when they’d just started making progress.
Probably because they’d started making progress, honestly.
“Right, well, I’ll need to drive Harry back to Privet Drive,” Anthony said. He grinned when Lacey raised an eyebrow at him dubiously. “Remus has depositions to give and he’s barely recovered from the… event. Besides, I drove my sports car today. I think he’ll get a kick out of it.”
“He’s an eleven-year-old boy,” Lacey said, suddenly amused. The wrinkles around her eyes as she grinned were the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. “He’ll be delighted. Fine. Next time they call, I’ll tell them you’re on your way. Eventually.”
“Thanks, Lace,” Anthony said.
He made a kissy face at her and got a series of quickly flicked signs in British Sign Language. Not their usual way to conveying secret information but certainly faster than Morse Code tapped out on the mirror lids and transmitted magically.
Their ‘shiny’ problem was very aware that Anthony was all up in the magical world. He’d brought his unnatural powers of persuasion to bear on the Grunnings president to ensure that Anthony had to go back to work.
“Problem?” Clefttooth asked once Anthony returned to them.
“Yeah, Dumbledore is aware that I’m working on this,” Anthony said. “I have to go back to work in the Muggle world or it will draw too much attention. Once Silverclaw gets back and Remus is up and about properly, they’ll have to take over the efforts to free Sirius. I might be able to get away a few hours at a time or in the evenings, but that will be it. I can send Lacey, if that will help.”
Clefttooth nodded. “Her assistance would be welcome. For a witch, she’s moderately skilled at curse breaking.”
Anthony let that go, because there was no point to getting in an argument about just how skilled Lacey actually was with a goblin who wasn’t just about to listen, and went in search of Harry. He wasn’t going to fight Lacey’s battles for her. If Lacey wanted to argue with Clefttooth, she absolutely could fight him herself. Besides, he didn’t want Lacey sending him to the couch for acting like she couldn’t protect herself.
Anyway, he had more important things to take care of.
Like Harry, who was curled up on a couch in the guest rooms with Remus’ arms wrapped around him. The poor kid looked like he wasn’t sure what to do with the open affection. Those damned curses the entire family had been under must’ve done a number on him. It was like he didn’t know how to handle people being loving towards him.
“What’s wrong?” Harry asked.
“Mm, nothing too much,” Anthony said. “I’ve got to get back to work at Grunnings. Lacey’s going to take my place here. Remus, I’d appreciate it if you’d work with her and the goblins on the Sirius issue while I’m at work.”
Remus smiled and nodded even though he looked exhausted. “I’ll do that. Thank you for doing as much as you have.”
“Eh, he’s family,” Anthony said. “You ready to head back, kiddo?”
“I suppose,” Harry said. He hugged Remus, wheezing when Remus squeezed him back hard. “Are we going to floo or apparate?”
“I thought we’d take my Jaguar, actually,” Anthony said.
Remus started laughing as Harry gasped and bolted off the couch like he wanted to run right out that very instant. He was so excited that he nearly dashed right past Anthony, without his notes, library trunks and his jacket.
“Hold your horses,” Anthony said, chuckling as he caught Harry and redirected him back to his things. “Don’t leave all your stuff behind. We spent too much time gathering it. I know you’re going to want those library trunks.”
“Oh.” Harry stared at them and then smacked his palm into his forehead. “Oh yeah! Right. Let’s get them and then go. I wanna see your car!”
Anthony grinned and nodded to Remus who looked hugely amused as Harry scrambled to gather up all his stuff. It was kind of nice to see him just being a kid. Now if only they could keep him safe so that he could actually grow up properly instead of whatever Dumbledore had in store for him.
Anthony’s car was a zippy red sports car with barely room for two adults. For one adult and one kid, though, it was quite reasonable. Amazing, even. Harry would say brilliant and did about ten times as Anthony drove him home.
Harry waved goodbye to Anthony who revved his engine and then took off at a perfectly sedate and respectable speed up Privet Drive. He’d been driving like a race car driver up until Privet Drive so Harry watched and then laughed when Anthony whooshed around the corner as quickly as possible.
“Young man, who was that?” Aunt Marge demanded the instant Harry was in the door.
“That’s Anthony Black,” Harry said, grinning at Dudley who looked completely green with envy at Harry getting to ride in Anthony’s car. “He’s my godfather’s cousin. He was involved with the whole in jail without a trial thing and since Remus had to give a bunch more depositions and stuff, Anthony volunteered to drive me home. He’s really nice. He works with Uncle Vernon at Grunnings but he’s taking a leave of absence to deal with Sirius’ situation.”
He babbled his way into the kitchen were Aunt Petunia was washing the teapot and a stack of teacups. Dudley followed Harry like he was attached to Harry’s elbow, draping an arm over Harry’s shoulders once he stopped by Aunt Petunia’s side. Aunt Petunia snorted but she was smiling at the two of them together, unlike Aunt Marge who glowered, so it was okay.
“Aunt Petunia,” Harry said, grateful that he and Draco had already worked out how to explain this little invitation, “Sirius’s other cousin Narcissa Malfoy was there dealing with a problem her husband had, along with her son Draco. I was wondering if it’d be okay for Draco to come over to visit? I let Narcissa see some of the books my parents left behind in their vault,” he turned to Aunt Marge, putting on his best big innocent eyes, “he was very sick from being exposed to something toxic on an antique his father left behind. My Mum had books that dealt with proper treatments because the toxin was apparently very, very old but still viable, despite being just traces picked up from an antique. The books are so fragile that they can’t be handled freely.”
Aunt Marge nodded as if that all made perfect sense which, given some of the books she’d bought and only handled while wearing white gloves and a breathing mask, she probably did. At the same time, Aunt Petunia nodded so maybe Draco’s story was more believable than Harry had thought.
“Anyway, Draco’s going to my school,” Harry continued, facing Aunt Petunia again. “His mum and dad wanted to visit here before allowing Draco to visit or before allowing me to visit him at their place. Draco’s going to be having a party in about a week and he wanted to invite me, but his mum said that she had to meet you first and his dad wanted to talk to you and Uncle Vernon beforehand, so would it be all right if they came to tea tomorrow or the next day?”
Aunt Petunia sighed. She finished drying the last teacup and wiped her hands on her dishrag. The frown was one of those really forbidding ones that said she wanted to say no, so Harry made his best ‘oh please’ eyes while Dudley did the same, apparently just to back Harry up. Or maybe to get a chance to ride in Anthony’s sports car. Who knew?
“Who did you say they were again?” Aunt Petunia asked with a roll of her eyes that made Aunt Marge snort and cross her arms over her very full bust.
“Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy,” Harry said. “Lucius and Narcissa, actually. They asked that I call them that, but it still seems weird to do so. Their only son is Draco. I think he’s a little bit lonely since he’s an only child.”
Aunt Marge gasped. Aunt Petunia straightened up, eyes wide.
“The Wiltshire Malfoys?” Aunt Marge demanded.
“Um, I think so,” Harry said. “They did say it was a bit of a drive to their estate.”
“Well, it’s good to see you finally making some proper connections, young man,” Aunt Marge declared. “You’ll want to get the good china ready, Petunia. We’ll set to work cleaning the house. I don’t know what we’ll do about the tea treats, though. A day? Two days? What are we going to do?”
“I’ll figure something out,” Petunia declared. “Start cleaning, you two. I want this house spotless before Vernon comes home.”
“Right, I’ll just go change into work clothes, then,” Harry said.
He ducked away from Dudley who scurried after him to whine with his face buried in Harry’s pillow as Harry changed. Hedwig stared at Dudley with complete disdain. She perked up considerably when Harry petted her and then wrote a quick note for her to take to Draco.
“It’s an invitation,” Harry told Hedwig. “Draco and his parents will be visiting for tea in two days, so it has to be there as quick as possible.”
Hedwig nipped his finger, just barely closing her beak before letting go. She hooted softly and stood still for him to attach the letter. Then she flew out the window without waiting for Harry to open it. Harry stared. He hadn’t watched her go before so he hadn’t realized that the spell Remus set up made it so that the window didn’t exist for her.
“Thought I was going barmy when I saw her do that before,” Dudley said from his stomach-down sprawl on the bed.
“I hadn’t seen her do it yet,” Harry agreed. “Had no idea it worked that way. Anyway, the party is all magic stuff and politics, so I don’t know if you’ll be able to attend or not.”
Dudley shrugged. “I’ll go if it means I can get away from Aunt Marge. She’s been drilling me nonstop on proper posture, diction and breeding. You know how she gets about breeding.”
They shared a groan and then hurried back downstairs when Aunt Petunia yelled. The rest of the day and into the night was spent cleaning the house from top to bottom. Harry spent an extra-long amount of time on the downstairs half-bath that the Malfoys would use. If they used the loo at all. By the time he’d cleaned it to Aunt Petunia’s satisfaction, his fingers were prunes, his hair smelled like bleach and the loo gleamed.
There had to be spells for that. Especially the bit about cleaning under the toilet rim. Harry made a mental note to look for one. Maybe his mum’s books had notes on that.
Over dinner, Harry, Dudley and Uncle Vernon all ate quietly while Aunt Petunia and Aunt Marge put their heads together to figure out a tasty, properly formal but not too pretentious menu for the tea. Harry really wasn’t sure what the difference was between strawberry-rhubarb scones versus blueberry scones with almonds, but it was apparently Very Important Indeed not to give Mr. Malfoy anything with almonds.
The evening was spent with Aunt Marge drilling Harry on proper tea etiquette. He did get to have tea to practice with though it was lukewarm before he got to sip any of it. Aunt Petunia had already taught Harry most of the rules before. Not well enough, though, because Aunt Marge seemed to have an infinite supply of Don’t Do That things that Harry was to avoid when having tea with Very Important Personages.
Surprisingly for a wizard, Mr. Malfoy was known to be a very rich financier of Political Issues of Great Import on the muggle side of things. Reclusive, prone to working through proxies, but still Very Powerful and Known at a Certain Level of Society, the level that Harry was going to have to step into as an adult. Aunt Marge wanted everything to go perfectly. So did Aunt Petunia.
Harry just wanted to survive long enough to get to go to bed and do a bunch of reading. He had so many things he wanted to study and so little time before school started.
Dudley spent most of that lesson sitting on the couch upside down, legs in the air and hair brushing the carpet. He’d tried to eat all of the biscuits but the first crumb that fell out of his mouth to the carpet had Dudley shoving the whole biscuit in his mouth and not grabbing any more so he wouldn’t get yelled at for messing up the house.
About nine, Aunt Marge finally decreed Harry’s skills at tea to be acceptable for a novice. He and Dudley were allowed to go to bed. At last.
Harry promptly ran up the stairs, Dudley on his heels. They jockeyed for the sink in the bathroom and then both closed the doors to their rooms to hide from everything adult related. Harry could hear Dudley’s computer start right up even though Aunt Petunia told them to go right to sleep. He sure wasn’t going to tell on Dudley as Harry wasn’t going to sleep, either.
Hedwig wasn’t back yet.
Which was a pity. Harry would’ve loved to have her sit on the headboard and groom his hair as he read until he fell asleep. It wasn’t quite the same not having her there as he read. Hedwig seemed to enjoy it when he told her about the things he was learning or when he read aloud to her. And, honestly, it made the reading more fun to be doing it with someone. Even if Hedwig was just an owl.
Oh well. Harry would just tell her all about it later, when he could. He settled into bed with six different books stacked around him. There were so many things he wanted to learn but he was almost through the goblin book, so he started there. Then he moved onto the one about the War of the Roses from wizarding society’s point of view that Remus had suggested.
Both the Black family and the Potter family featured very prominently in that one. He hummed and made a note to ask Remus about the Longbottom family. Apparently, they’d been allies and whatever shield brothers were since the War of the Roses when the two heirs of the families had saved each other’s lives on the battle field.
It was past midnight when Harry finished that one and set it aside. He yawned and grumbled. If it weren’t for everything going on, he’d keep reading until dawn, but then Aunt Marge and Aunt Petunia would be annoyed with him.
Dobby popped into the room, beaming at Harry as he held out a note. “Dobby has a reply for Master Harry Potter!”
“Oh, thank you,” Harry said, grinning as he took the note from Dobby who squirmed happily. “You look better. Did getting rid of the mark help that much for you?”
“Master Harry Potter has helped more than he can ever know,” Dobby declared. “All the Malfoy elves have been very, very sick because of the mark. Nasty You-Know-Who was poisoning the Malfoy magic. The bad diary and the mark both made it bad.”
“I’m so glad that it’s better, then,” Harry said. He sighed and yawned, rubbing his eyes. “I wouldn’t want any elf to be hurt because of all of this. I haven’t had time to read up on house elves yet but it’s on my list of things to do.”
“Master Harry Potter is a very good wizard,” Dobby said, patting Harry’s elbow. “Dobby is telling all the elves that, especially the Black elves. They is not being able to find you and is not able to talk to anyone but the Patriarch or the heir. The old Mistress Walburga Black forbid it and there is no one to cancel the order.”
Harry stared at him, horrified. “Are they all right? Have they got food? Are they safe? Oh, my goodness, who do I need to talk to? I gotta be sure they’re okay, Dobby!”
Dobby stared at Harry and then clutched his hands to his chest while smiling at Harry like he was the most wonderful thing Dobby had ever seen. At the same time, tears crept down his cheeks. It was the creepiest thing other than that horrible mark on Mr. Malfoy’s arm.
“Master Harry Potter is a very good Master,” Dobby crooned. “A very, very, very good Master. Kreacher is the only elf who is hurting. He was trying to destroy one of the soul shards and was not able to do so for years and years and years. He is very sick.”
“Um, can you tell him I want him to get medical care?” Harry said. He frowned at the stir in the Black family magic. “Or can I tell him? I can totally tell him, can’t I? How do I call him? And where do I send him to get treatment?”
Dobby patted Harry’s elbow again. “Master Harry Potter just says Kreacher’s name. That will call him here. Saint Mungo’s has a House Elf wing. Kreacher can go there.”
“Right,” Harry said, pushing back the blankets and then catching his books before they tumbled to the floor. “Let me put these… away. Oh. Okay, thank you, Dobby.”
He stared as his books floated into his Important Reading trunk and then shook his head.
The elf that popped in was bent over, sullen, grey-skinned and shaking. Harry gasped and dropped to his knees in front of Kreacher so that he could hold Kreacher up. The poor old elf looked sicker than Mr. Malfoy had, and he’d been about to die.
“Oh, wow, you’re so sick,” Harry said as the Black family magic poured out of his hands and into Kreacher. “I’m so sorry no one knew to take that thing away. It’s okay. It’s being dealt with now. The goblins have that and almost all the other pieces of Voldemort’s soul. They’re gonna destroy it all and catch Voldemort’s shade and it’ll be fine. Don’t you worry. You just rest and we’ll get you to Saint Mungo’s in the morning so that they can check you out. I don’t know if I can take you, but Anthony can. He’s a Black, too. He has sisters and his wife has sisters, too. I’m finding all the Blacks and saving all of them that I can. Not the ones with the Mark. The family magic is really mad at them and it won’t accept them but the others, yes.”
The more Harry talked, the more magic he poured into Kreacher, the better Kreacher looked. Dobby bounced on his toes next to Harry, looking so delighted that Harry was surprised he wasn’t clapping his hands and dancing in place. By the time Harry managed to stop babbling, Kreacher was standing on his own as he stared at Harry.
He smelled terrible and his pillowcase was even filthier than Dobby’s had been.
“Um, are you okay?” Harry asked when Kreacher didn’t say anything.
Kreacher sighed and glowered at Dobby who finally did clap his hands and do a little dance of joy.
“Kreacher is better with Heir Harry Potter’s help,” Kreacher said. He grumbled under his breath. “Master Sirius would be happy if Kreacher died. Master Sirius never liked Kreacher, not like good Master Regulus.”
“Well, if Sirius is too stroppy, I’ll take you as my elf,” Harry declared. “I’m not letting anyone get hurt. But, well, from what Remus and Anthony and Narcissa and Lucius all said, Sirius is probably in just as bad of condition as you. We’re trying to save him. I’m trying to save everyone. You can help, if you’d like?”
Kreacher started, straightening up so much that he didn’t seem quite so old. Still filthy but not decrepit.
“What can Kreacher do?” Kreacher asked.
“Well,” Harry said, “I don’t know what condition the Black properties are in. They all probably need to be cleaned. And the Black main vault, just by itself, is a horrible mess. It needs to be organized and all the dangerous things in there need to be sorted out so that no one can get hurt when they go in. You obviously know how to handle dangerous things. I mean, you handled that soul shard for ages and ages.”
“Kreacher did,” Kreacher said proudly. “It hurt but Kreacher did.”
Harry took Kreacher’s hand, vowing to wash after this. “First, I want you to get cleaned up. Then I want you to get a uniform like Dobby’s, just in the Black family colors. Then, after that and maybe some sleep and food, you can clean the house you were in. Then the other houses, if they need it. I mean, there might be other elves? I don’t know how to tell, yet. But there’s certainly cleaning to do. Once that’s done, come back, and we’ll talk about how to set up the vault so that it’s nice and neat and organized and not a disaster area.”
By the time Harry stopped, Kreacher was smiling and nearly as happy as Dobby who looked envious of all the things Kreacher had to do. A wave of silvery Black magic swept over Kreacher and he was clean, wearing a neat butler’s uniform in silver and black that was made out of tea towels.
“Kreacher will do,” Kreacher said. “Master Harry will call if he needs Kreacher.”
“I will,” Harry promised. “I need to sleep now. Make sure you rest and eat and take care of yourself, Kreacher. That’s very important to me.”
Both the house elves patted him like he was cute, but they disappeared, leaving Harry to lean back against his bed and sigh. Yeah, he really needed to read a book on house elves now. Maybe several. So much for going to sleep.
Lucius sighed as they stepped out of the floo and back into the safety and security of Malfoy Manor’s wards. Yes, he’d been safe in Gringotts. It was, after all, the safest place in Britain. It simply wasn’t home.
He’d been warned that everything would feel difference once he got home. That was expected given how severely the Dark Mark had blocked him from the family magic. Lucius had known that his sensitivity was reduced. Dramatically. So much so that he couldn’t access or change the wards without major effort and blood rituals that verged towards illegal. He hadn’t expected that he’d been that blocked.
The moment when he woke after the removal had been rather like gasping a lungful of air after swimming desperately towards the surface of the pond behind Malfoy Manor.
Damn his father for deciding that it would be the proper way for Lucius to learn how to swim when he was barely five. No child should ever experience near-drowning that way, even if Father had laughed and said that he could always sire more children if Lucius had died.
He chuckled. Grandmother’s curse to his bollocks had taken care of that threat quite nicely. Pity that she’d ended up dead three months later in suspicious circumstances once Father realized that there was no removing the curse.
“What is it, Darling?” Narcissa asked.
“Mm, just remembering my grandmother,” Lucius said. “She was… strong-willed. Lovely and smart and ferocious. Did I ever tell you that she was the one who cursed Father?”
Both Narcissa and Draco’s eyes went wide for that. Lucius laughed, almost giddy from how wonderful he felt. The difference was amazing.
He could feel everything. His own magic, Draco’s blooming power, Narcissa’s steady strength. The elves as they moved about the manor, cleaning and maintaining the building and the magic. And the wards.
The wobbly, lopsided, completely messed up wards that should be protecting them far more than they were. Lucius could feel huge gaps in the wards around the property. Quite possibly, someone could walk straight through the Muggle-repelling wards rather than being directed away by them. Worse, in places they’d keep a Muggle in if they came through a hole and then tried to go back out where the wards were still in effect.
Weather wasn’t being handled well. Flooing in and out was completely uncontrolled. Apparation was still properly prevented but only barely.
How lovely to see what was wrong, but goodness, he had so much to fix.
“Hm, I think I’m a bit drunk on power,” Lucius observed as Narcissa took his elbow. He looked around. “The wards are… rather a mess, though.”
Narcissa sighed and nodded. “I know. I’ve brought it up before but you were quite irrational about bringing anyone in to check them.”
“Not anymore. I’ll have to do a proper assessment and then call the goblins in to fix everything,” Lucius said. He smiled as Draco took his free hand. “It’s nothing more than sitting in my office and meditating, Draco. I won’t exert myself at all doing it. I’d need to do it anyway given how dramatically different my magic is now.”
“You’ll be meditating on your magic for at least several months,” Narcissa said with a stern look and a little sniff of disapproval. “I’ll not have you straining yourself when it was so… so close.”
Lucius pulled her into his arms and then smiled as Draco hugged them both. He couldn’t remember ever getting hugs from Draco. Or giving them to Draco. If he could hire a necromancer to bring his father back, Lucius would simply so that he could kill his father several times over, just for that.
Making time for the meditation took until early evening.
There were elves to re-bond with, a huge amount of food to eat and family members to reassure. How stunning it was that Lucius could finally do that.
His office turned out to be horribly uncomfortable. The remaining dark magic, dark artifacts, and dark books made the place overtly hostile. The library was little better. Lucius meandered through the manor, his mind drifting through the magic that suffused the house and the wards. So many things felt off.
Eventually, he ended up in the kitchen. It was a place he’d never been, even as a child. Father would have had vapors if he’d seen Lucius here. Lucius settled into the heavy oak chair next to the fireplace with a smile as Dobby brought him a cup of tea with plenty of lemon and sugar. He even got a biscuit half the size of his head.
Lovely warm place. The magic here was quieter, gentler. There was a care to it, a harmony that nothing else in the manor had except in shards and worn strands. This felt like a home, unlike everywhere else.
He might as well be in Hogwarts for how homey the rest of his manor felt.
Lucius froze with the tea halfway to his mouth.
“Master?” Dobby asked. All the other elves had stopped and turned to stare at him, too.
“Dumbledore,” Lucius whispered. He sipped the tea and set it down so that his shaking hands wouldn’t spill it all over his trousers. “The manor feels like Dumbledore and Hogwarts. Not my office or library. Those feel like the Dark Lord. Everything else, though, it feels like Dumbledore.”
Dobby blinked at Lucius, fidgeting as he tugged at his ears and danced in place.
“Tell me,” Lucius ordered. “I need to know what you can’t tell me, Dobby. No matter who gave you the order not to speak, tell me now!”
He reached out and seized Dobby’s hands, pushing magic into Dobby with abandon. Of all the Malfoy elves, Dobby was the oldest and strongest and best trained. He was halfway wild, able to act freely in ways that the other elves could only dream of. They’d not yet grown enough in their magic to win bits of freedom away from the Malfoy magic that had been so horribly tainted by his father and the Dark Lord.
Dobby gasped, bowing his head as he started to glow. It took a startlingly large amount of power before Dobby’s head snapped up as he stared into Lucius’ eyes.
“Dumbles changed wards,” Dobby said. “When yous asked for sanctuary, he came. He spelled old Master Malfoy to sleep and then changed the wards. Old Master Malfoy couldn’t feeling them, not with bad Mark on arm. He came again and again after yous was Marked. I tries to keep him out, keep the magic safe but Dumbles was too strong. His wand didn’t letting me say no. No one can say no to Dumbles when he uses that wand.”
“I’ll need you to show me everything he did,” Lucius said as he relaxed the flow of magic and then clung to Dobby’s hands. “Every single thing. I’ll have to pay the goblins to come fix it and we’ll need to make sure every trace of his power is removed. As soon as possible, it has to go. All of it!”
Dobby nodded, eyes intent and angry as Lucius couldn’t afford to be right now. His control over his magic was too tenuos and his health too fragile for Lucius to indulge in a rage. Dobby held Lucius’ hands until the terror-shakes subsided enough for Lucius to stand and head back to his tainted office so that they could start writing it all down.
Fixing this couldn’t happen soon enough.
He couldn’t allow Dumbledore to have access to Draco. Or Harry Potter.
“Kreacher?” Remus asked for the third time.
His shocked disbelief hadn’t faded at all despite Harry explaining the whole thing twice. Remus seemed completely befuddled by the idea that Kreacher had needed help. That he’d agreed to let Harry help. And the idea that Kreacher was even now cleaning the Black properties up as Harry’d ordered.
Which he was. Harry could feel it, way back in the still-angry Black magic. There’d been ripples from the house elves all along, but Harry hadn’t been able to figure out what they were. He’d honestly just assumed that magic moved around and did stuff on its own until he met and connected to Kreacher.
Now he could feel the six Black house elves’ magic mixing with and stirring up the Black family magic. It was kind of like eddies in a slow-moving river. Each of the elves pulled magic into themselves, swirled it around inside of them and then let it go free again.
The weird, and super-brilliant, part was that the magic that went through an elf got changed. It was cleaner. Stronger. Healthier. It was like they somehow made the family magic stronger than it had been before.
Even Kreacher who was doing much, much better now that Harry was paying attention to him and pushing a thread of magic his way every half hour or so.
“That’s…” Remus shook his head, turning to Anthony who snickered at him. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Hooray?” Anthony suggested. He laughed out loud when Remus glared at him. “Seriously, it’s making a difference. Harry’s awareness of the elves has already brightened up the family magic. I mean, it’s still furious about Bellatrix and one of the cousins who’s in France. They’re both marked. But other than that, it’s better than it was.”
“All right then,” Remus said. “I guess I can just accept it and move on. Now, what about this party?”
“Well, Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy are coming for tea to properly meet my guardians,” Harry said. “Draco’s coming because he didn’t want to stay home alone, which I completely understand. Then, a couple of days after Aunt Marge leaves, Mrs. Malfoy is going to have a ‘going away to Hogwarts’ party that I think, probably, is for the parents to rejoice and lament over their precious little darlings going off to school.”
Harry rolled his eyes when Remus grinned. Anthony lounged against the window frame of Harry’s room, next to Hedwig who seemed distinctly unimpressed with him, but she leaned into his fingers as he idly scratched her head. She’d come back early in the morning, waking Harry up from his face-down sprawl on his third book on proper care and feeding of house elves.
“I have a hard time believing that Narcissa Malfoy is that sort of mother,” Remus said. He paused and then laughed quietly. “Then again, she’s exactly that sort of mother. I’m sure Lucius will be even worse, especially now.”
Harry grinned at him. “That was my impression, too. I already accepted our invitation and requested that Neville Longbottom be invited. From that book on the War of the Roses you gave me, the Potters and the Longbottoms have been allies forever. I’d like to meet him before the train if I can.”
“Good plan,” Anthony said as Remus nodded his agreement.
“In the meantime, I’d really like it if you guys could help me learn the bare minimum of stuff I should’ve known already about magical society,” Harry said. He waved at the stacks of books on his bed and on top of the Important Books trunk. “I’m kind of overwhelmed here. There’s just so much that I keep running off into weird research paths and losing track of what I should’ve been studying.”
Remus smiled. “I can’t tell you how many times Lily did exactly that. I still have the study guide she created for herself. I’ll bring it over tomorrow for you to work from. Well, after I update it. There’s a bit that she should’ve had on it and didn’t.”
“Lacey’s already building a plan for you.” Anthony nodded to Remus. “Probably not far off what you’ve got, Remus. I had one I put together, but it was really haphazard so it’s no use to copy from it. Lacey’s already taken the good bits from it. We’ll get you set up.”
They chatted together about all the subjects that Harry needed to know. Oddly, they left out all the noble stuff and everything about the Wizengamot. Harry made a note to ask Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy what he should learn on that. It was important, so he’d need to know all that whether they remembered it or not.
Over the next several hours, Anthony was in and out as he fielded calls from the solicitors he had working on freeing Sirius. He got even more calls from Grunnings, all of which Anthony replied to by promising to be back later that day. Aunt Marge had dragged Dudley off to a museum when he’d complained about all the lectures being too dry to remember without something visual.
Harry was pretty sure Aunt Marge lecturing at you in museums was worse than lectures at home with Aunt Marge. At least at home there were biscuits and you didn’t have to have your best manners on all the time. Dudley’d been enthusiastic about it, though, so obviously he must disagree. He certainly came home about two much more cheerful than he’d been in the morning.
Either way, four o’clock hit with everyone in their best clothes, the house absolutely perfect and Ripper sitting at Aunt Marge’s feet like the best trained dog in the entire world. Harry really needed to remember to ask Remus how he did that so he could do it in the future.
It wasn’t until Aunt Petunia glanced at the clock just shy of four that Harry wondered whether Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy would want to come by magic or by car. Magic made more sense, right? Except that they’d said in their acceptance that they’d arrive conventionally, so car made more sense. Hopefully. The last thing Harry wanted was Aunt Marge to get obliviated and then be even worse than she normally was.
“Whoa,” Dudley breathed from his place at the front window. “They’ve got a Bentley, Dad!”
Uncle Vernon and Aunt Marge both rushed to the window to stare out at the big black car that pulled up in front of Privet Drive. Harry could just barely see it through their elbows and wow, the entire neighborhood was going to be gossiping about this for the next decade. No one had driven a car like that on this street before. Maybe ever.
When the driver opened the passenger door, Mr. Malfoy stepped out and then carefully helped Mrs. Malfoy out. He was in a very nice, very Muggle charcoal grey suit with a pale silver shirt and an ascot. Mrs. Malfoy had on a lovely pale silver and blue dress that looked like it’d been made specifically for her out of clouds and rain.
Draco looked like Draco but with big awed eyes, a delighted grin and a silver and green shirt under his charcoal grey suit jacket.
“Vernon!” Aunt Petunia hissed and that was all it took for everyone to remember what they were supposed to be doing.
Uncle Vernon was perfectly polite inviting the Malfoys in. Mr. Malfoy was a little too pale and a little bit wobbly but not as bad as he had been so that was reassuring. And, as they all settled in the sitting room for tea and strawberry-rhubarb scones with honey butter and chocolate biscuits, Draco kept edging a little closer to Harry and Dudley as the grownups talked about politics, the terrible economy and the Difficulties in the Labor Market Right Now.
Harry poured when he needed to. He did his best to look like he was listening. But wow, all the grownups seemed really invested in the discussion about the economy and once the scones and biscuits were gone, both Dudley and Draco started fidgeting. Well, so did Harry but he was going to blame them for starting it if anyone asked.
“Goodness, listen to us go on,” Mrs. Malfoy said with a fond look at Draco who sat very straight and very still the instant her eyes turned his direction. “Why, we must be boring the boys silly.”
“I could show Draco my room,” Harry suggested. “Or the garden?”
“Go on upstairs, boys,” Aunt Petunia said. “Try not to make a mess and do keep the noise down, please.”
Dudley was off the couch like a shot with Draco right on his heels. Harry followed them, giving the adults a little half bow, hand over his chest just like Draco always did and like Anthony had said was proper and formal and appropriate for a tea party like this. All the adults smiled at him for it, even Aunt Marge.
Then Harry ran up the stairs and gladly shut his door against all the adult nonsense.
“She’s horrible,” Draco breathed, eyes wide.
“Aunt Marge?” Harry asked.
“Yes!” Draco exclaimed from his perch on top of Harry’s school trunk. “I had no idea anyone Muggle could be that bad. She dropped every single important ancestor she had into the conversation sixteen times. I counted!”
Dudley snickered from his sprawl on Harry’s bed. “Yeah, she’s always terrible. Sad part is that just who she is. I mean, Mum, Dad and I were all cursed to be terrible. Aunt Marge just is terrible.”
“Cursed?” Draco asked, turning to Harry.
“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “It’s all fixed now. Lacey, Anthony’s wife, fixed it for us. She’s a curse breaker.”
“Good,” Draco said. “So, why’d you ask for the Longbottoms to come to the party? My mother wasn’t entirely certain on that.”
“Oh,” Harry said as he pulled out his Important Books library trunk and summoned the book on the War of the Roses that Remus had given him. “It’s in here. See, the Potters and the Longbottoms have apparently been shield brothers since the War of the Roses.”
“No way, you have ancestors who were in the War of the Roses,” Dudley exclaimed because, oh yeah, Harry hadn’t had time to tell Dudley about that.
The three of them ended up on the floor, books spread out around them, debating and discussing all the history of the various families in the Sacred Twenty-Eight and how they all intertwined and mingled with Muggle nobility. Dudley had way too much fun poking at Draco’s pride in his family’s history even though the Malfoys had apparently gotten themselves into five or six different blood feuds, one of which was still going on.
“What in the world happened with the Weasleys?” Harry asked once Draco admitted that yes, his father was still fighting a rather modern and low-key feud with Arthur Weasley. “Why would you guys be doing that?”
Draco grimaced. “Dad says that it was all because one of the Malfoy daughters married into the Weasley clan and ended up dead because of an arranged marriage that the Weasleys refused to give up even though she’d fallen for someone else. My mother says, privately, that it’s because both the Malfoy and the Weasley men have um, too much temper and not enough sense.”
Both Harry and Dudley laughed at that one, even though it made Draco glare at them with snapping cobalt blue eyes and a furious flush across his cheeks.
“I think you Mum’s right,” Dudley said when Draco looked like he was going to hold a grudge for them laughing. “You guys do have too much temper.”
“And not much sense,” Harry agreed. He raised an eyebrow when Draco opened his mouth to protest. “Your dad stood still and let himself be marked, Draco. I would’ve run to the other end of the world instead of allowing it.”
“You can’t just… leave your family,” Draco said, shifting position uncomfortably. “The family magic pulls at you. You have to feel it.”
“I do,” Dudley said so immediately that Harry stared at him. “Really, I do. I mean, not at first but once the curses were gone and the blocks that kept me from learning were removed, yeah. It’s there, always tugging at me.”
“Is that why you’re always hugging me and stuff?” Harry asked.
“Mmm, kinda,” Dudley said while thoughtfully staring at the ceiling and wiggling his toes as if he wanted to pace but didn’t want to get up. He shrugged after a second. “I mean, I feel bad about the bullying. That’s part of it. But the magic is part of it. I want you to be happy and healthy and strong and stuff. You do better when you get hugs. And it’s nice, anyway. We should’ve been like twins and that Dumbledore made it so that I hated you for no good reason.”
Draco frowned at them. He shook his head as if he wasn’t going to ask the questions that hung in his eyes. Instead he waved at the books between them.
“Is there anything more?” Draco asked. “Mother is always after me to study more but I never do. The books we have are, well, biased. And kind of horrible, really. Father couldn’t buy books that disagreed with You-Know-Who, even after he was killed. Mother tried to bring things in for me, but most of the time Father would fly into a rage and burn them the instant he found them. I never got to read more than a chapter or so of any of them.”
Harry stared at Draco, appalled. Dudley snatched up several books, clutching them to his chest.
“Not anymore!” Draco huffed at Dudley. “Father’s promised Mother that she can completely redo the wards on our estate and update the library once I go off to school.”
“That doesn’t do you any good,” Harry said.
“Exactly,” Draco agreed. He frowned at the books. “I know I need a lot of these but I’m not sure what exactly to ask for.”
“Remus and Anthony and Lacey gave me a study guide,” Harry said. “It covers most everything they think I need to know for the… well, for the rest of my schooling and into university. Why don’t we make a copy for you and then you can take it your parents? You can get a library trunk like mine and you’ll be ready for school.”
“I want a library trunk,” Dudley complained. “It’s not fair that I don’t get one.”
“Squibs can’t use library trunks,” Draco said so completely dismissively that Harry frowned at him.
Dudley snorted and grabbed Harry’s Only For Amusement library trunk, putting his hand on it and summoning out a book. “It works. I’m not allowed to have one at school, that’s all. Which is totally unfair because these are amazing, and I want to read all the things. It’s fun reading when you can actually remember stuff and the words stay still for your eyes.”
Draco’s jaw dropped open. “How…?”
“Squibs have magic,” Harry explained. “If an artifact is set up right, they can use it without a wand. Library trunks don’t need wands. They just need intent and attention. You need to want to put a book in or take it out and you need to pay attention so that you summon the right book. There’s a lot squibs could do if they were allowed to be part of magical society.”
“Harry and me’ve been testing it,” Dudley agreed, sitting up a little straighter with pride. “We’ve been taking notes on it and everything. Proper scientific testing. We’ve run trials. There’s loads of little things I’ve been able to do that are magic.”
Draco frowned, leaning forward to put his elbows on his knees as his eyes went silver-blue and very, very bright. “Show me. Show me everything.”
Harry grinned and did just that. Who knew? Maybe Draco would have some more ideas of what they could test. Harry didn’t have the power to change the laws regarding squibs yet, but when he was older, he would. It’d be good to have evidence to back up his desire to change those stupid laws.
Besides, it was fun testing things with Dudley. A lot more fun than endless lectures on genealogy and history and proper behavior. Adding Draco to the testing was great. They got another data set and that was sure to be helpful.
Silverclaw hummed as he examined the wardstone buried deep under Malfoy Manor. It was a lovely stone, as tall as he was with a beautiful smoky white swirl the spun up the lavender length of it. The Malfoy ancestor who’d created the wards had spent a fortune on them.
“Pity the wards are so badly degraded,” Silverclaw commented. “Generations have gone by since they were updated and maintained.”
“My father claimed that he’d had it done,” Lucius said from his spot by the heavily warded door into the wardstone’s room. “He would never tell me what was done. Grandfather claimed that he’d had an expert work on them.”
Silverclaw snorted. “Expert. A rank amateur with delusions of grandeur, you mean. I’ve seen his mark on wardstones many times before. He hasn’t a clue what he’s doing. Every single ward scheme he’s touched is riddled with holes.”
The grimness of Lucius’ tone turned Silverclaw away from the wardstone. Pure fury suffused the pale face, making his eyes snap sapphire blue to ice blue and back again. The wardstone barely responded to him which was just another sign of how badly degraded the wards were. It should have been crackling with Malfoy magic, responding to its patriarch’s fury.
“Dumbledore,” Silverclaw said. “The fool fancies himself a ward master.”
Lucius’ breath caught. He shut his eyes, visibly counting to ten. Then twenty. Fifty. He finally opened his eyes at one hundred.
“Don’t assume that the holes are accidental,” Lucius said, words clipped as he glared at the unresponsive wardstone.
Silverclaw stepped away from the stone. Tapped his claws together and then gestured for Lucius to follow him back out of the wardstone’s room. They returned to the surface, then went to Lucius’ office which was, thankfully, much improved by his team’s work purging the place of dark influences. It would only be fully repaired by the wardstone work, but it was much better than it had been when they’d arrived.
“Deliberate,” Silverclaw said after he’d sent the team to go work on the library next.
“I have to believe that it is,” Lucius said. “Dobby gave me a full report.”
He passed a stack of neatly written records, then went to get them both a glass of firewiskey. Silverclaw nearly stared at the wizard as Lucius passed him one of the two glasses. Never in all his years working for the bank had a wizard shared his alcohol with Silverclaw.
Mr. Potter had in fact worked miracles, it seemed.
Silverclaw only made it through two pages before he threw the firewiskey down his throat. Dobby reported a clear pattern of destruction. Every time Dumbledore visited the Manor, the wards were dismantled, bit by bit by deliberate bit. The Malfoy family magic must have slowly lost their grip on them until Dumbledore had more power over the house than its owners did.
He’d seen this before.
Several times. More than a dozen times, actually. Worse, he’d gone back to the Longbottom manor at least six times after fixing them for Madame Longbottom, and every time the wards had degraded dramatically. Madame Longbottom had scoffed at his warnings, claiming that she had nothing to worry about when it came to Dumbledore.
Many of the others had claimed the same.
“How many places has he destroyed?” Lucius asked after finishing his glass. He looked blackly furious, eyes snapping and hair stirring on his shoulders with his magic’s fury.
“At least a dozen,” Silverclaw said as he scanned through the rest of the reports. “The Chieftain will want to see this. A copy, compensated of course, would be appreciated.”
“That copy is intended for you,” Lucius said. He smirked as Silverclaw’s head snapped up. There was very little humor in those blue, blue eyes. “The only compensation I require is getting the wards fixed and the manor purged of dark artifacts, spells and books before the day’s end.”
Silverclaw raised an eyebrow. “That quickly? We usually spend a week preparing. The work itself can take longer.”
“Harry Potter and his family will be coming to tea tomorrow,” Lucius said.
Silverclaw nodded, folded the report and tucked it into his pocket. “If I may use your floo, I will call the bank and have three full teams come to ensure that it’s done before nightfall. The Chieftain is… quite interested in ensuring Mr. Potter’s safety.”
“As are we all,” Lucius said. He set his glass down with a decisive click on his desk. “Follow me. The sooner it’s done, the happier I shall be.”
Malfoy Manor was a great huge mansion. Somehow, Harry had not expected that. They’d all driven to town, Uncle Vernon frowning over the directions that Aunt Petunia read off for him. Harry had kind of expected that they’d drive all the way there, but the instructions had them stop at a little village and park their car.
“Harry!” Dudley had hissed, elbowing Harry hard enough that he nearly knocked Harry off his feet with an incoherent wave of his magic that, thankfully, didn’t show to eyes at all. “Oops, sorry. Look! Remus has a horse-drawn carriage!”
He’d pointed across the village square to a real, live, actual carriage like what Aunt Petunia loved to watch in her period mysteries in the afternoons. Remus waved to them, laughing when Harry and Dudley dashed over to him. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon followed way slower. Grownups. They never knew when the really brilliant stuff was happening.
“That’s amazing!” Harry had told Remus. “Are we riding in this?”
“Yes, we are,” Remus had said, grinning at them both. “Mr. Malfoy sent it for us. Cars don’t run well around Malfoy Manor. Around most magical places, really. The wards interfere. And yes, that’s in your study guide, Harry.”
“Brilliant,” Harry had said while Dudley checked out the carriage and asked the driver a thousand questions that the driver had just smiled at without answering.
The ride had been smoother than even Anthony’s car. Remus had explained to Uncle Vernon that there were special cushioning charms that made the ride smooth no matter what condition the road was. Explaining how they couldn’t be used for cars and Muggle roads had taken until Dudley had exclaimed and pointed out the window at Malfoy Manor.
Huge. It was enormous, four stories, big and black with a Gothic feeling that Harry thought only existed on the telly and not in real life. The grounds were surrounded by a big black stone wall topped with black iron spikes.
He felt the wards when they crossed them. There was a moment of wariness and then Harry felt the Malfoy magic recognize him and welcome him in. Remus had started at the shift of the magic. So had Dudley.
Aunt Petunia just pursed her lips and sighed through her nose like it was irritating to be wrapped in warmth and the faintest hint of blue.
Her dress was pink, so maybe the blue was annoying. Harry was never sure when it was Aunt Petunia. Even without the spells that had messed with his ability to understand people and their ability to like and care about Harry, he had a terrible time understanding Aunt Petunia.
“They have peacocks!” Dudley exclaimed once the carriage stopped in front of Malfoy Manor’s grand, imposing staircase. “They’re white, Harry. Pure white.”
“Wicked,” Harry breathed, leaning against Dudley so that he could peer out the window and see the peacocks.
“Boys, it’s time to go,” Aunt Petunia said in her ‘move along now, no dawdling’ voice.
Draco and Mr. Malfoy stood at the top of the steps waiting so yeah, it was time. Harry grinned at Draco who grinned back for just a second before putting a serious face back on. Mr. Malfoy smiled at them just a hint distantly, but it was a lot like Aunt Petunia’s slightly distant smiles when people tried to ask rude or impertinent questions about Uncle Vernon’s position at Grunnings or why Harry’s hair was always a complete disaster.
“Welcome to Malfoy Manor,” Mr. Malfoy said much more warmly than his expression might have promised. “Please, come in. The other guests have only just begun to arrive. Most are apparating in or taking the floo.”
He scanned the driveway as if expecting trouble. It was like he thought they might be attacked at any moment. When they were all inside, Mr. Malfoy sighed like he was relieved and then nodded for Draco to lead them out of the imposing entryway with all its marble and granite and onyx towards a side room that turned out to be a very nice parlor about the size of their entire house. No one else was there yet but Harry could hear voices heading their way from another part of the manor.
“What’s wrong?” Harry asked Mr. Malfoy quietly.
Remus had stayed by Harry’s side which was odd given that Remus really didn’t do that all that much when they were around people he trusted. Harry knew Remus trusted Mr. Malfoy. Mostly. They’d talked about the things Mr. Malfoy had been forced to do and how he’d fought to keep Mrs. Malfoy from getting sucked into all the awfulness.
Mr. Malfoy’s father had been even worse than Uncle Vernon at his worst under the curses. A lot worse.
“There have been… comments made,” Mr. Malfoy said so cautiously that Harry’s magic stirred inside of him. “About my activities. About Mr. Lupin’s. Your Anthony’s activities as he attempts to get Sirius out are drawing quite a lot of attention we might not want. I made a point to invite the Bones family and the Weasley family, though the Weasleys have yet to reply with an acceptance or a refusal. Amelia and her niece Susan will be here. They are people you should cultivate.”
“Amelia Bones is very important in the Aurors,” Remus agreed. “We’re going to try to talk to her about Sirius at some point today.”
Harry nodded, then frowned. “I want to talk to her, too. It feels important.”
Both Remus and Lucius looked unhappy about that, but Harry just met their eyes as seriously as he could without putting much magic at all into his eyes or his hair or letting it dance on his skin. It did feel important, very important. One way or the other, he knew he needed to talk to Ms. Bones. If he had to, Harry was absolutely going to be all pushy and loud with his magic about it but not unless it was necessary. That’d be rude.
Mrs. Malfoy appeared at the door on the opposite side of the parlor. She had a very nice ice-blue floor-length dress that looked very much like it’d come from Aunt Petunia’s historical dramas, complete with plunging neckline and puffy sleeves. With her was a very stern looking blond woman with a black dress, black boots that looked like they could stomp through the floor if she wanted, and a young girl about Harry and Dudley’s age who was just as blond but much, much more hesitant about entering the room.
Harry waved at her and then went over to join them.
“Ah, Harry,” Mrs. Malfoy said as if surprised that he’d come over right then. “May I introduce Madame Amelia Bones and her niece Susan? Susan will be in your year at Hogwarts. Amelia, Susan, this is Harry Potter.”
“It’s so nice to meet you!” Harry exclaimed, offering a hand to Madame Bones because while he really wanted to make a good impression it was important that he got a feel of her magic and how angry it was. “The Potter magic has been poking me about meeting the other heirs to the founders’ magic. I’m so glad that you came.”
Madame Bones’ mouth dropped open, but she gamely took Harry’s hand. “A pleasure, Mr. Potter. I can’t say that I expected… to meet you. Today.”
She stared at his hand where his magic and her magic were swirling and sparking and making popping noises, all without Harry doing a thing. Aunt Petunia sighed and put her hand on Harry’s shoulder.
“Harry, do let go,” Aunt Petunia said.
“Um, sorry, but… oh, there we go,” Harry said when the magics let go of them. “Wow, that was odd. That’s never happened before. Huh. I suppose that’s yet another thing for me to research. I wonder if I have any books on the founders and their magic?”
Harry shook his hand, flexed his fingers, and only then dared to look up into Madame Bones’ eyes. She was pale. A little angry looking, but it didn’t seem focused on the here and now. She turned to Susan who had gone very, very pale indeed and clutched her hands to her chest like she was afraid for Harry to touch her.
“Don’t fuss over it, Susan,” Madame Bones said. “The magic had something to tell me and it was… loud… about it.”
“I didn’t know magic could do that,” Susan protested.
“Well, my cousin Dudley and I have been doing some tests and it seems like family magic is much more aware than people think,” Harry said. He gestured to Dudley who bowed, properly with his hand over his chest like Draco had taught them. “It’s really amazing. I mean, if you want to hear about what we’ve found.”
“Squibs have far more magic than most people think,” Draco agreed, doing the bow thing, too. He gave Harry a dirty look for not having bowed.
Harry rolled his eyes at Draco and waved towards the buffet set against the windows that overlooked the garden with its formally cut hedge maze and strutting white peacocks.
“There’s food, too,” Harry said. “I think there’s more kids coming, and I know the grown-ups have a bunch of stuff to talk about. Come join us?”
Susan pursed her lips but nodded. She loosened up when Draco started putting tiny pastries and itty little tarts on a plate for her, commenting on which ones were his favorite but choosing the ones she liked best once she expressed an opinion. Pretty soon the four of them were curled up together in one of the window seats discussing all the things that Dudley could do that squibs were absolutely, positively not supposed to be able to do.
“Another for your group, Harry,” Mrs. Malfoy said, startling all four them. “Neville, this is Harry Potter, his cousin Dudley, my son Draco and Susan Bones. Everyone, this is Neville Longbottom. His grandmother is ah, rather busy talking with Madame Bones, Remus and my husband at the moment or I would introduce her as well.”
Harry craned his neck to peer past her and wow, ‘rather busy’ seemed to be Narcissa Malfoy code for cursing someone out while threatening to brain them with her very imposing umbrella. She had a huge, enormous, ridiculous hat topped with what looked like an entire taxidermied vulture. It didn’t at all go with her Edwardian-style purple dress that made her bust look six times bigger than it should.
“Um, thank you, Mrs. Malfoy,” Harry said. He gulped when both Remus and Mr. Malfoy took big steps back from Neville’s grandmother. “I appreciate the offer of introductions.”
“And the privacy spell,” Susan said, staring at the confrontation with just as much fear as Harry.
“Do stay here until… oh, my,” Mrs. Malfoy went stiff as Aunt Petunia straightened up and glared at Neville’s grandmother in that going to strip paint from the walls with her glare sort of way she had when she was really, really irate. “Do excuse me, children.”
“Stay out Aunt Petunia’s way,” Harry advised.
“Yeah, Mum will set her to rights,” Dudley agreed. “Might wanna get Dad out of the way, but Mum will be fine.”
Mrs. Malfoy stared at them both for a long moment but turned and hurried back to the other side of the room. As soon as she left, their little corner seemed to develop a kind of curtain between them and the rest of the occupants. They weren’t invisible or anything, just hard to see. It was as if there was a white gauze curtain between their window nook and the rest of the room.
Harry frowned. He really wanted to poke it and see what it was made of, how it was done, but Neville looked as though he was about to pass out.
“Come sit down,” Harry told Neville. “It’s all right. There’s a bunch of stuff going on that’d make anyone lose their temper.”
Dudley barked a laugh. “Oh yeah, Mum actually cursed a week or so ago. I’d never heard her use those words before. My dad just about fainted when she did.”
Neville stared at them both. He was a bit pudgy but in the not quite grown into his size way that Dudley had had a couple of years ago. Harry was pretty sure that in a couple of years Neville would be very big and very strong, though maybe not as big as Dudley and Uncle Vernon.
Either way, he sidled closer, sitting on the very edge of the window seat until Harry pulled him closer. They both gasped at the way their family magic danced between them. Harry found himself leaning against Neville’s side, laughing quietly as the Potter green and Black silver made ribbons of light around them with the Longbottom teal-yellow-green. It kept changing colors like leaves in the autumn which was brilliant.
“Wow,” Neville whispered.
“That’s amazing,” Susan agreed.
Draco nodded, frowning at Harry as if jealous.
“The Longbottoms and Potters have been shield brothers since the War of the Roses,” Harry explained.
“Yeah, we got a book on it!” Dudley exclaimed. He waved for Harry to pass over the library trunk which Harry did. “Several of them. This one’s the best, though. Lots of interesting stuff in there about both families. I think the Malfoys and the Bones are in here, too, but we didn’t spend much time reading up on them since we didn’t know you then.”
“Oh, really?” Susan asked with much more interest.
By the time they’d gone through all the books that Remus had given Harry on the War of the Roses, the books on history Lacey had insisted that they needed to read, the books that Harry’s mum had had in her library, Draco lost his jealous expression and sat on the floor with Susan who pored over the books while Dudley happily explained all the things he’d learned about both Muggle and Magical important families and how they tied together in a zillion ways.
Harry stayed with Neville who seemed more than happy to just watch and listen.
“You all right?” Harry asked Neville.
“I… guess so,” Neville said. He sucked on his bottom lip, shrugging one shoulder. “Just. I always thought I was a squib.”
“No, definitely not a squib.” Harry laughed. “The way our magic reacted says that. Aunt Petunia and Dudley are both squibs. Magic works really different for them.”
Neville sighed. “It’s just. My grandmother gave me my dad’s wand and it doesn’t really work for me. I thought it was me.”
“Dudley, I need the trunk,” Harry said.
Dudley didn’t hear him, too deep in his explanation to Susan of all the testing they’d been doing. Thankfully, Draco did. He grinned and passed the trunk to Harry who pulled out the book on wand lore he’d been studying before bed the last couple of nights. It wasn’t really on the list of subjects for him to study, but Harry found it fascinating, so he’d made time for it.
“Well, this says that sometimes a family member’s wand can refuse to work for you,” Harry said, flipping to the right section. “And, actually, my dad’s wand isn’t right for me at all. My mum’s wand is pretty close but not perfect. Anthony and I went through the Potter and Black vaults to find wands that would work. I found one that’s perfect, but I still don’t know whose it was. Maybe you just need a different wand.”
“Oh,” Neville breathed as he read over Harry’s shoulder. “I don’t know that Gran would allow it but that’d be nice.”
Aunt Petunia was still glaring at Madame Longbottom but neither of them was talking. All the talking was being done by Madame Bones, Remus and Anthony, all three of whom looked like they wanted to go punch someone in the face.
“Let’s do it before she notices, then,” Harry said with a huge grin that finally caught Dudley’s attention.
“Do what?” Dudley asked.
“Test different wands for Neville,” Draco explained. “His dad’s wand doesn’t work very well for him.”
Harry started pulling wands from his holster, passing them around so that all of them could try them. His primary wand didn’t work for anyone at all though Dudley got a little bitty shimmer of magic from it that didn’t do anything at all. It was more like Dudley’s magic was saying hello to Harry’s wand as it passed through his hand. That was the only wand that did anything at all for Dudley.
His other holy wands kind of sparkled for Susan but weren’t right at all. His grandmother’s wand blazed happily in Draco’s hand. He stared at it with a kind of awe that Harry completely understood. None of the adults noticed, though, so Harry kept passing out wands.
The first silver-finished cherry wand worked for Susan and Draco, enough that they both kind of nodded that it was acceptable. Before Neville even touched it, the magic was swirling between him and the cherry wand. Harry grinned.
“Looks like cherry is your wood,” Harry said while Neville gaped at the wand. “I’ve got two more. See how they work.”
“I don’t, I can’t, um,” Neville spluttered but he set down the first cherry wand and took the second.
Magic soared around him, through him. It blew away the privacy spell that had been secluding them and set a green-teal-gold breeze full of sparkles shaped like leaves around the parlor. All the adults froze, Madame Longbottom staring at Neville with so much shock that she looked like a fish out of water despite the vulture on her head.
“It’s perfect,” Neville breathed.
“Then it’s yours,” Harry said, putting the third cherry wand and the first back into his holster.
“I can’t take this!” Neville protested. “It’s yours!”
“Neville,” Harry said with a little laugh as he pushed the wand back against Neville’s chest. “It’s your wand. It doesn’t work for me at all. I only took it out of the vault because I was curious how it was made. Take it. It’s clearly right for you and that’s all that matters.”
Neville shook his head even though he clutched the wand desperately as Madame Longbottom stalked over.
“The Patriarchs of our families have been shield brothers for generations,” Harry declared before Madame Longbottom could open her mouth and forbid it, which she looked like she wanted to. “Our dads fought together. So did our grandfathers. We don’t have any battles to fight yet, but I can have your back on this. Take the wand. It’s made for you. It’s meant for you. It’s yours. I mean it, I want us to be friends and allies just like our families have always been. It’s a little enough thing on my side, just a wand I can’t use, that I didn’t even have to pay for. But it’s big for you and, really, I want you to have it. Please accept?”
Both Draco and Susan’s eyes went very wide when Harry said the shield brothers thing. Madame Longbottom stumbled to a stop, Aunt Petunia standing stern but approving at her side. Behind them, the other adults watched Neville more than anyone else.
Neville sucked in a breath as he studied the wand, running trembling fingers over it. After a moment he nodded even though Madame Longbottom made a little protesting sound in her throat. Then Neville smiled, bright and happy, despite the tears in his eyes.
“I’d like that,” Neville said. “Thank you for the wand, Harry. I’ll do my best to be your friend and your shield brother, no matter what happens in the future.”
“That’s all anyone can ask,” Harry said. “Friends, too?”
“Friends,” Neville agreed.
He offered his hand and Harry took it, grinning as the Longbottom and Potter magic swirled between them with the Black magic spiraling around them both. Harry laughed and then hugged Neville who hugged him back with as much strength as Dudley at his most determined. Another ally. Another friend. Good.
Amelia Bones rarely found herself infuriated.
That wasn’t true. Society was ugly, stupid and brutal, full of people who would be better off if they ceased breathing. The upper echelons of society would be greatly improved if over half of them were thrown in prison or executed outright. She’d spent most of her career in a constant state of fury over the stupidity and abuse that the weaker and more innocent members of magical society endured.
The day that the Wizengamot, under Albus bloody Dumbledore’s twinkly-eyed approval, had disbanded the Magical Child Welfare department had been the last time she’d been so angry that she couldn’t breathe or see straight.
Today? Was worse.
“You’re sure that it was Dumbledore?” Madame Longbottom asked for the sixth time. Her hands shook so badly that she’d put down her tea and clenched them in her lap while sitting so straight that her back and neck had to ache.
“Yes,” Lucius said again.
There was no doubt in his voice, nothing but venom and fury in his eyes. Thankfully, all the children were outside because the sheer fury swirling in the room had the plaster peeling from the walls and the carpets slowly shredding under their feet. Neither Narcissa nor Lucius looked terribly upset about that. They were both doing the most damage, as was appropriate given that it was their home and their wards.
“The wards were repeatedly undermined by Dumbledore,” Lucius repeated. “Dobby gave us a very detailed accounting of it. He’s hundreds of years old, the strongest elf we have, and he was able to resist the worst of Dumbledore’s memory charms. He couldn’t break the conditioning entirely, but he could remember what happened. And he could report on it all in detail once I ordered him to tell me.”
“Silverclaw has seen the same pattern of ward destruction,” Narcissa continued as Lucius shut his eyes and worked to control his temper before he broke the couch underneath them. “He’s seen it in at least a dozen cases. According to the reports from the bank, they’ve seen it in every single household of the Sacred Twenty-Eight.”
“I’ll string him up by his bollocks,” Madame Longbottom snarled, green and gold magic swirling so violently around her that it made that ridiculous vulture on her hat flap like it was going to take flight to hunt Dumbledore down.
“That won’t accomplish anything,” Petunia Dursley said in such a calm, cold voice that it shut down Amelia’s magic, Lucius’ and even Madame Longbottom’s.
“What’d’you think we should do, Pet?” Vernon Dursley asked with a look that could fairly be described as worshipful. And besotted.
Amelia’s lips twitched at the two of them, despite the rage and the betrayal and the entirety of her family magic screaming for her to claim the Hufflepuff legacy. When Harry shook her hand, it woke something so deep, so powerful, that she’d nearly dropped to her knees.
If he was raised by Petunia Dursley, no wonder he was such a powerhouse. And so surprising.
“Remus,” Petunia said. She smiled as Remus sat up straighter, tugging his vest down as if he was worried he wasn’t presentable. “Anthony. We will need to know exactly who’s been affected by His meddling. They’ll need to be notified of it somehow, preferably in a way that will keep That Man from finding out about it. I doubt that we’ll keep it a secret for long but really, we just need to keep things quiet long enough to deal with Voldemort.”
“…You’re so very casual about that,” Amelia observed, breathless with shock.
She flinched as Petunia’s pale eyes turned her way. There was so little magic in her, not enough to change her eyes or her voice or her hair. And yet, it felt like facing down the strongest Archmagus, like battling a whole hoard of Death Eaters.
Whatever magic Petunia Dursley had, large or small, she’d honed it to a razor’s edge. Amelia had no doubt that Petunia Dursley could use her small talent in ways that would terrify any sensible wixen.
“Casual about what?” Petunia asked with one eyebrow raised. She looked like the perfect ivory sculpture of a woman, poised and calm on her couch with her massive husband fidgeting next to her.
“Using the Dark Lord’s name,” Amelia replied because she was not, ever, showing weakness around this woman. The casually calm way that she ordered everyone about and they snapped to attention was not something that Amelia was prepared to admit that she admired.
Petunia snorted, curling her lip. “Lily told me once that she suspected that ‘Voldemort’ was a pseudonym. You do realize that it literally means ‘flees from death’ in French, don’t you? Hardly the name of someone to fear.”
“No, actually, I didn’t realize that,” Amelia said far too faintly.
She blew out a breath, looking at Narcissa who nodded thoughtfully, Lucius who sneered as if hearing Voldemort’s name was offensive to him now, and Madame Longbottom who scowled, white-knuckled, at the floor where the carpet had been well and truly shredded into fluff.
“Now you know,” Petunia said, turning back to Remus and Anthony. “Do make sure that you get to work on it as soon as possible after this is over. I’d rather the children didn’t know. They’ve enough to worry about with school and That Man.”
She turned to Madame Longbottom who raised her chin but nodded approvingly once, as if she was looking forward to whatever orders Petunia had to give.
“I would strongly suggest getting the goblins in to repair your wards and scan every single member of your family for spells, compulsions and charms,” Petunia said. “You’ll need to be checked as well. I’d suggest that for you as well, Madame Bones.”
Amelia snorted. “My entire department is getting it. If I have my way, the entire Ministry will be as well, though that idiot Fudge will probably protest the expense.”
“Politicians.” Petunia shook her head and sighed. “We’d best plot out how to get around his stupidity, then. Who has suggestions?”
Amelia leaned back in her chair as Vernon, Lucius, Anthony, Remus and Madame Longbottom immediately started throwing ideas into the hat. How long had Petunia worked to be able to command people this way? She’d known Lily back in school. Despite their obviously family resemblance, Lily was nothing like Petunia at all. Where Lily was bright and carefree, Petunia was cool and controlled.
In another life, if they’d met when Amelia was much younger and Petunia was unmarried, Amelia could have followed Petunia around like a love-struck puppy. She was halfway there already and that was just ridiculous at her age.
“No,” Amelia said as Anthony began building castles in the sky about a simple policy change. “I don’t have the authority to tell any other department to do anything. I can order my aurors to get tested and purged. I can’t do that to anyone else. Try again.”
Anthony looked to Petunia before sighing and giving up on his wild scheme.
Really, what was her gift and how had she become such an effective leader?
“Quidditch is stonking great fun,” Dudley wheezed from the spot on the ground where he’d landed after being thrown from his borrowed broom during their game.
“He’s mad,” Draco hissed at Harry.
“Uncle Vernon’s a rugby player,” Harry said with a shrug. “It runs in the family.”
They’d all headed outside after lunch, mostly to escape the endless politics the grownup were fussing over. Between Madame Bones’ fury over Sirius being imprisoned for nothing and Madame Longbottom’s spluttering outrage that she’d abused Neville by forbidding him to have a wand that worked for him, Remus and Anthony and Lucius had been talking about votes and power blocs and changing laws while clearly avoiding something Inappropriate For Young Ears to hear.
All of which Harry knew as Very Important Indeed. His magic said so. Everything he’d read said so. Aunt Petunia said so outright while scolding all the kids for being restless.
The problem was that it was boring.
There was nothing Harry could do about it for years and years and years. It wouldn’t help him deal with Dumbledore when he went to school. It wasn’t going to protect anyone he cared about. And, really, the manor was gorgeous and huge and the gardens were right there!
So, Mr. Malfoy had suggested that the kids go out and play Quidditch to burn off some extra energy. Quidditch turned out be the wizarding version of rugby with more balls, fewer rules, played while flying on brooms. Dudley fell in love with it instantly, especially once he discovered that if Harry activated a broom for him, he could totally fly on it.
The two of them were menaces in the air, so proclaimed first by Susan who was fast and nimble but a little hesitant. Then by Neville who was a disaster in the air and knew it. And then by Draco who was very, very good but not as good as Harry and Dudley together.
Didn’t matter how good you were on a broom when you took a play bludger to the chest that knocked you right off the broom though.
Harry grinned and offered Dudley a hand up.
“Let’s do it again!” Dudley exclaimed only to scowl when Susan and Neville started laughing. “What? That wasn’t nothing. I’m not even winded.”
“He should play pro Quidditch,” Neville said. He actually grinned, a bright, sunny smile that made Harry happy to see.
“That’d be so brilliant,” Dudley said, staring at the hoops overhead. “I love this game. It’s way better’n Rugby.”
“I don’t even know what ‘rugby’ is and I think you’re crazy,” Draco complained.
Uncle Vernon made a horrified noise from behind Harry. “Not know what rugby is? That’s terrible!”
“Is it time to come in, Uncle Vernon?” Harry asked before Uncle Vernon could launch into his standard impassioned speech about how Rugby was The Best and Most Important Sport in the World.
“Yeah, it is, Harry,” Uncle Vernon said. He ruffled Harry’s hair and then helped brush Dudley off.
Dudley did his part for avoiding the inevitable speech by explaining Quidditch as excitedly as Uncle Vernon always did rugby. It worked for about ten paces and then Uncle Vernon launched his speech when Dudley took a breath.
Surprisingly, Neville, Susan and Draco all found it fascinating. They asked dozens of questions as they walked from the Quidditch pitch back to the Manor and then through a bunch of very formal, very posh hallways to get back to the parlor. Dudley shrugged at that. Harry shook his head. Maybe it was more interesting if you hadn’t heard it at least three times a week for your entire life?
The parlor they ended up in was a completely different room, much smaller and warmer with eggshell blue plastered walls and a mural of the sky outside that moved and shifted to match the actual weather. All the sofas and chairs were covered in sapphire blue leather that squeaked when you sat on them.
“I trust you behaved yourself, Neville,” Madame Longbottom said while staring at Neville as if she’d never seen him before.
“Yes, Gran,” Neville said.
“Dudley’s crazy for Quidditch,” Susan told Madame Bones. “He should be a professional Beater. He’d clean up.”
“Can’t be as good as rugby.” Uncle Vernon huffed and opened his mouth to continue, repeat? His lecture. Aunt Petunia glared at him and he subsided. “Well, it can’t, Pet. Rugby’s the best game.”
“Yes, Vernon,” Aunt Petunia said in the rolling her eyes voice without actually rolling her eyes. “If we could get back to the matter at hand, please?”
Both Anthony and Remus looked hugely relieved. They’d heard Uncle Vernon’s rugby lecture quite a few times so they had to be glad to have it stopped before it could get started. Lucius smiled and nodded to Aunt Petunia so graciously that he got a stern look from Narcissa who wrapped one hand around his elbow and leaned against his side.
Grownups. Seriously. They were both married. Like anyone would try to get between Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon or Lucius and Narcissa. That’d be rude. And stupid given how stuck they were on each other.
“I’ve had the house elves working to spy on Dumbledore’s activities,” Lucius said. “They discovered some… very worrisome information. It appears that Dumbledore has been systematically working to undermine the power, authority and family magic of every single member of the Sacred Twenty-Eight.”
“He told me outright that my Neville had very little magic,” Madame Longbottom said, scowling at the floor. “Said there was no point to getting Neville a wand from Ollivander’s.”
“He was the one who suggested that I use Dad’s wand,” Neville told Harry. “He just chuckled and patted my head when I said it didn’t like me that much. It was like he thought that was a good thing or something.”
“I… I went to Dumbledore and begged for sanctuary when my father insisted I take the Dark Mark,” Lucius said. Narcissa’s fingers tightened on his elbow. “He refused. Outright. I was escorted from the school directly by my father and given no chance to escape. Several years later, my father told me that Dumbledore had flooed him to inform him of my request for sanctuary. He said that Dumbledore framed it as ‘keeping families together’ and ‘a parent’s love for their child’.”
Harry stared at him. “That’s horrible!”
“I checked the school charter,” Anthony said, tossing a battered old book onto the coffee table lurking between them. It took his nod at the book for Harry to realize that the old book was the charter. “Lacey and I should’ve never been denied the right to attend Hogwarts. Remus shouldn’t have been the only… Ah, sorry, Remus.”
“I have a medical condition,” Remus said, glaring at Anthony with gold-flashing eyes, “and Dumbledore made it seem that he was breaking the rules by allowing me to attend. The… way we handled my monthly flare-ups was horrible and completely unnecessary. The school had specific rooms set aside for someone with my condition that were spelled to ensure that I would be safe, healthy and unaffected for the most part. He tortured me monthly while spelling me to absolute loyalty to him, personally.”
Harry frowned. Why do all that? It didn’t make sense. Everything he’d read said that Dumbledore was a good man who’d defeated an old, evil wizard. He was supposed to be the best Light wizard on the planet but nothing he’d found out since he got his letter had been the actions of a good man.
Maybe Light didn’t equal good? Well, Dark certainly didn’t equal bad because both Narcissa and Lucius were Dark wizards. Come to that, Harry wasn’t entirely certain what the distinction between Light and Dark magic were. He’d have to look that up later tonight.
“Why?” Susan asked. “Why would he do all that?”
“I don’t know, Susan,” Madame Bones said with a scowl that matched the worst of Aunt Petunia’s. “At this point, I don’t care. I have enough information to get Sirius Black out of Azkaban. I’m just not sure where he can go that would be safe enough. It’s no good to get him out if he immediately gets murdered.”
“Oh,” Harry said. “Kreacher!”
Kreacher popped in, bowing to Harry. “Master Harry wants Kreacher?”
Harry grinned at him. He looked so much better than he had before. His hair was fuller, skin clearer and much brighter. His clothes were perfectly pressed and absolutely clean. Even his little leather shoes were polished until they reflected Kreacher’s face.
“I’m so glad that you’re doing better, Kreacher!” Harry exclaimed. He offered his hands and Kreacher laughed as he took them. The magic swirled happily between them. “Yes, I do need your help. I know you’re not happy with Sirius but we’re about to get him out of Azkaban and we need an absolutely secure place for him to go that no one can get at without permission.”
Kreacher nodded. “Black Castle is best place. Itzy is head elf for Black Castle. Kreacher goes back to organizing the vaults?”
“Yes,” Harry said. “Just make sure you’re careful and rest and eat.”
Kreacher patted Harry’s knee fondly. “Kreacher will, Master Harry.”
He popped away, leaving Remus and Narcissa both staring at Harry like he’d done some sort of miracle. Remus whined, waving at Harry while looking to Narcissa who delicately shrugged as if it was beyond comprehension. Madame Bones raised an eyebrow at Harry and Madame Longbottom made a gobbling goose noise while staring at him, too.
“He looked really healthy,” Neville commented when no one else would say a world.
“Oh, yeah,” Harry said. “He was trying to destroy something terribly dangerous and it hurt him really badly. When I found out, I summoned him and insisted that he heal and eat and sleep. And then I had him go clean up the house he’d been in. And I set him to organizing the Black vaults because they’re a disaster. Just utter chaos, Neville. It was horrible!”
“Might have to have our elf do that with our vault,” Madame Bones muttered to Susan who nodded eagerly.
“Anyway, I noticed after that,” Harry continued, “that when family magic goes to an elf it’s like they… clean it? Scrub it and wash it and then let it back loose into the family magic pool. So, I’ve been pushing particularly dark and ugly tendrils of magic to Kreacher and he’s been cleaning them up. He’s good with dark stuff like that and careful so it’s helped both Kreacher and me and the family magic, too.”
“We really have to do that, Aunt Amelia,” Susan said with a very serious stare at her aunt.
“Gran, I think we need to, too,” Neville said to Madame Longbottom.
“I suppose we do,” Madame Longbottom said. “Well, summon your Itzy and we’ll see if we can keep Sirius safe. If not, it might be better to leave him there.”
Harry shuddered as the Black family magic raged at the suggestion. “No. That’s not going to happen. One way or the other, we need to get him out and heal him. He needs help and he’s the Black family patriarch. He must be saved.”
Itzy appeared before Harry could do more than think of his name. He was a little shorter than Kreacher, wearing a similar uniform, and had longer vividly silver hair that he’d braided back into a queue.
“Master Harry needs Itzy?” Itzy asked. His voice was even squeakier than Dobby’s.
Harry offered his hands and grinned when Itzy stared a moment before taking them. The magic swirled between them in gentler ways than it had for Kreacher. Harry had been so worried for Kreacher that he’d really shoved magic at him. Itzy didn’t need quite that much but he definitely needed some magic given to him.
“Do all the elves need this?” Harry asked Itzy.
“Itzy thinks all Black elves would welcome it,” Itzy said, ears quivering as he clung to Harry’s hands. “It is good for elves. But what did Master Harry need?”
“Well, we’re going to get Sirius out of Azkaban,” Harry said. “So, we’re gonna need healers for him and someone to help him deal with the emotional trauma and food and shelter and new clothes and probably a new wand but Kreacher is dealing with the vaults so he can probably find one of those.”
Itzy nodded. “Itzy can do this.”
“We also need a safe place for Sirius that no one, especially Dumbledore and his allies, can get into,” Harry said. “I mean, I don’t want him to be isolated, but he needs to be kept safe until we can get his case before the Wizengamot. He was never given a trial and that’s horrible.”
“Black Castle is best place,” Itzy said slowly, frowning deeply while clinging to Harry’s hands and gently tugging at strands of Black magic that were sad and lonely and hurt feeling. Harry fed them to Itzy and he sighed happily. “Needs wards upgraded, though. Will need the goblins to help with that.”
“I’ll contact them,” Aunt Petunia promised. “As soon as we’re home.”
“Good,” Itzy said. “Itzy will go make Black Castle ready. He will have list of healers and soul healers to choose from by morning. And yes,” Itzy smiled at Harry with one eyebrow raised as if he was being silly, “Itzy will rest and sleep and eat, Master Harry. All the elves are because it matters to Master Harry. Master Harry should summon Bitsy, Zing, Lenny and Crow later. They should all meet Master Harry, too.”
“I will,” Harry promised. “Thank you, Itzy.”
“Master Harry is welcome,” Itzy said before popping away.
The Black family magic already felt better. Harry shook his head, laughing softly while rubbing his chest. It really was amazing what the elves do. He needed to find more books about the elves so he could find out how they ended up taking care of families. There had to be some history there.
“Right,” Madame Bones said. “Let’s figure out how to get Sirius out and to safety. That’s the most important thing to get done next.”
Harry nodded. They didn’t have much time left before the will reading and going to school. Only another week. He really didn’t know if they could get everything done in time but at least he could trust Remus and Anthony and the Malfoys and now the Bones and Longbottoms to help make sure that Dumbledore was stopped.
He’d be isolated at school. It was very good thing that he had adults who could take care of stuff while Harry was stuck under Dumbledore’s thumb.
For a man who’d spent most of his life anywhere but in Britain, Anthony was learning the Ministry building’s warrens entirely too well. He followed Amelia as she stomped her way to the lift down to the Department of Mysteries. She scowled at everyone in their way, sending a couple of very junior clerks flat against the wall in terror of her.
Not that Amelia was half as scary as Petunia in a snit, or Lacey in a rage, but yeah, he got it. He wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of Amelia’s tongue-lashing either.
The Department of Judgement’d been a total wash-out as far as getting an order to release Sirius. They’d freely accepted that nope, there was no record of a trial, no witness records, not even an order remanding Sirius to Azkaban. Everyone there’d agreed that it was an outright travesty of judgment.
They still wouldn’t sign an order to release Sirius Black.
So Amelia’d swelled up with outrage, gone icy furious, and ripped them up one side and down the other in the most scathing language possible. Hadn’t worked. Eventually, she’d given up and stomped out of the room with Anthony on her heels.
“You think the Department of Mysteries will allow it?” Anthony asked once they were in the lift. Alone. Two wizards and a witch had been in the lift. They’d bailed out the instant they saw Amelia’s expression.
“If they know what’s good for them, they will,” Amelia grumbled. She sighed a moment later, going from furious to exhausted. “I don’t know. They do nothing without expectations of something in return and I’m not sure that I have anything that would entice them enough.”
Anthony nodded slowly. They’d decided early on to keep the knowledge of Voldemort’s horcruxes as secret as possible. It was ‘shards’ and ‘magical impressions’ and ‘soul leeches’ every time anyone mentioned it. Amelia, in particular, had been mentioned as someone not to tell because it would cause a huge conflict of interest for her. She couldn’t go haring off after the people who’d helped create the horcruxes, not when Lucius was one of them. And not when it’d just get her killed.
“I have something that would work,” Anthony said. The lift stopped but Anthony held the ‘close door’ button firmly so that they wouldn’t be interrupted. “I’m going to have to tell them secretly. It would… It would probably get you assassinated if you knew it and frankly? I’d rather have you become Minister for Magic instead of going to your funeral.”
Amelia choked and went blazingly purple-red. “You say that outside the lift and I’ll arrest you myself! I’ve no interest at all in being Minister. Horrible job.”
“Granted,” Anthony agreed as he let the door open finally. “But you have to admit, you could do a lot of good in the position. Better than any of the other candidates.”
She glared at him like she wanted to strip the skin and flesh from his bones. Anthony grinned at her and waved for her to take the lead. The Department of Mysteries was dark, few torches at all, and seemed to be carved out of raw rock. Ridiculous given their location. Someone had invested a great deal of money and time into making it look like carved chambers when it was just more basement under the Ministry.
The Director of the Department of Mysteries, Croaker, wore a hood that obscured their identity completely, just like the rest of the staff. Despite the hood that hid eyes, mouth, voice, even gender, Anthony was completely certain that Croaker was studying him like he was a butterfly about to be put into a kill jar and then pinned out for study.
Still not as impressive as Petunia rolling her eyes at you for being an idiot.
“I will not sign anything,” Croaker said before Amelia even opened her mouth. “Fudge has made it clear that Black is to remain where he is. So had that spangled meddler, Dumbledore.”
“Nice to see that Dumbledore still owns Fudge,” Anthony drawled. He waved at Amelia when she bristled at him. “Right, then. I’ve got an offer for you. I’ll tell you something very significant and very secret about Voldemort in exchange for getting Sirius out of Azkaban and letting us escort him away, untouched and unspelled.”
Anthony had the distinct impression that Croaker raised an eyebrow. They certainly leaned back in their chair, hands loosely folded together on their desk in a pose that was too stiff for true casualness.
“Really?” Croaker asked.
“Yes,” Anthony said. “Madame Bones can’t hear it. It’ll get her assassinated. I can tell you that I learned it from Harry Potter, not that he knew or knows what it was he gave us.”
That rocked Amelia back on her heels and Croaker so far back in their chair that it creaked dramatically. Something shifted against the wall. A shadow slipped away from the wall and resolved into one of the Unspeakables.
“Shall I cast a privacy spell, sir?” the Unspeakable asked.
“Put one on yourself and Madame Bones,” Croaker said. “I’ll spell myself and Mr. Black with several layers of protection.”
Anthony waited as that happened. No surprise, Amelia looked really, violently unhappy about it until the privacy spell shrouded them in a shimmery veil. Croaker’s three layers of privacy spells, two wards against listening spells, five against hidden animagus and one that simply created a dark bell overtop of the two of them and their desk were smooth, quick and so powerful that it made the hair stand up on Anthony’s arms.
“I hope you’re right about the worth of this,” Croaker said. They sounded quite unimpressed but their hands were rigid inside of their black gloves.
“Voldemort created horcruxes,” Anthony said. “Six of them. The final one was lodged in Harry Potter’s scar and it wasn’t a proper horcrux. When he tried to kill Harry, something went very wrong. Lily and James were prepared for him though I don’t really understand the ritual they’d set up in Harry’s nursery. The goblins are gathering all the horcruxes and we will be destroying Voldemort in ritual at the bank by Halloween.”
“That’s… definitely worth Sirius Black’s freedom,” Croaker said, visibly shaking.
“Oh, the really big part is that Dumbledore knew all along what Voldemort had done,” Anthony said with a grim smile that hurt his face. It turned into a snarl. “He knew and he left the shard in Harry’s scar. He knew and he ensured that Harry and his family were cursed to treat him horribly. He knew and he set Harry up to become the next Dark Lord after Voldemort was defeated, probably by either Harry or Dumbledore.”
Croaker stood. Their spells fell and then the privacy spell around Amelia and the Unspeakable fell, too.
“You will have every bit of help we can give you,” Croaker said. “Let’s get Sirius Black out of Azkaban.”
“Thank you,” Anthony said. He grinned when Amelia ground her teeth and glared at him. “Just remember, you’re better off alive than dead.”
Croaker laughed, making both Amelia and the Unspeakable start. “That’s certainly true. You’ll have protective charms before you leave, both of you. I won’t have you killed ‘accidentally’ before this is dealt with.”
They strode off out of their office, leaving everyone else to scramble to keep up. The Black family magic purred inside of Anthony, utterly pleased at more allies for Harry, more allies for all of them. This what they’d needed, badly. Someone with the knowledge and skill to help them save Sirius and who could protect them all against Dumbledore’s manipulation.
Soon, they’d have Sirius and they’d be one step closer to taking Dumbledore down for good. Anthony had no doubt who the real threat in magical Britain was.
Of all the places Harry had seen after he got his letter, Black Castle was the first that really felt like home. Not necessarily where he wanted to live but a place that he belonged. The wards shivered happily when Anthony apparated in with Harry and Dudley. They didn’t respond at all when Remus arrived with Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon.
Itzy had gotten the Castle cleaned up so well that Harry wouldn’t have thought that it’d been uninhabited for years. Everything was clean and fresh. The curtains had no dust. The windows sparkled they were so clear. The elves had put fresh-cut roses in vases in every room, so the Castle smelled wonderful.
None of which made it any easier for Harry to wait patiently for Sirius to arrive. Aunt Petunia had flatly refused to allow Harry or Dudley to have any part in saving Sirius. They were too young, too untrained and it would expose Harry far before they were ready.
Even if tomorrow was the will reading when everything was going to change.
The last week had been absolute chaos. Aunt Marge’s lessons had finally moved on from history and breeding and bloodlines into proper behavior at various levels of society, politics and the framework of power that went along with being a duke.
Harry’d kind of forgotten that he still had the whole muggle duke thing to deal with in all the other stuff he’d had to learn. Aunt Marge had reminded him in no uncertain terms and set him six assignments, all essays, that he was to complete and mail to her while he was off at school. They were to be done before the Christmas holidays or there’d be hell to pay.
If Harry had his choice, he would have ignored them all to the last minute, but he’d actually read the questions, gone to his books and realized that he needed to do a lot of studying to be able to even try to answer them.
Darn Aunt Marge for giving him relevant, useful essays to write. He’d rather spend his time learning magic and figuring out the history of house elves. And playing Quidditch with Draco and Dudley. Learning magical plants with Neville and law with Susan. Harry sighed. He was going to be very lucky if he managed to finish even two of the essays in time. There was just so much stuff to learn.
“Mum, when’s he getting here?” Dudley asked from his spot on the big black leather couch. He had his feet up in the air, his hair brushing the floor and his arms sprawled out like he always did if he could get away with it.
“If I knew, I’d tell you,” Aunt Petunia snapped.
Harry straightened up. Dudley rolled back upright. Uncle Vernon swallowed and hesitantly rubbed his hand over Aunt Petunia’s shoulder blades. They all knew that tone of voice. None of them wanted to be the one getting dressed down.
The fireplace flared up with brilliant green flames.
“Finally!” Harry exclaimed.
Remus stumbled out supporting a very thin, very dirty man with ragged clothes, black hair and a wild expression on his face. Anthony came out right behind him with Madame Bones on his heels.
Harry’s heart just about leaped straight out his throat. He knew this man. Something deep inside of him knew Sirius.
Not just the family magic which surged and rejoiced, raged and slammed the wards tight around the Castle.
He knew Sirius.
“Padfoot?” Harry asked.
Both Remus and Sirius froze. When Sirius lifted his head, Harry gasped because yes. Yes, he knew those eyes. No matter how filthy Sirius was, Harry knew those silver eyes.
“You’re here!” Harry exclaimed. He ran over only to skid to a stop just outside of touching range. “Wow, you stink. You really need a bath.”
Remus huffed but Sirius made a little squeak of a laugh as the corners of his eyes wrinkled dramatically. Dudley came over and choked, waving a hand in front of his face while grinning at Sirius.
“That’s terrible!” Dudley exclaimed with so much awe that Aunt Petunia put her head in hands. “You smell worse than the trash behind our school on a hot day when they served creamed spinach.”
Sirius started laughing, rusty and terrible, but he stood a little taller, so it was okay. Harry braced himself, visibly since it seemed to make Sirius happy to joke about how filthy he was and caught Sirius’ free hand.
“Come on,” Harry said. “We’ll get the elves to run you a bath. Maybe three or four baths. Those clothes are getting tossed. Did they not give you anything to wear at that place?”
Remus sighed as he helped Sirius follow Harry’s tug. “Azkaban doesn’t give its residents anything but food once a day and a toilet, Harry.”
Harry stopped in his tracks, turning to glare at Anthony. “We’re fixing that, too. Put it on the list.”
“Yes!” Anthony shouted, punching the air. “Finally! Lacey’s going to be so glad.”
Harry grinned at him. “I don’t know if anyone told you, but that’s Anthony Black. He’s your cousin. His father was Marius who got disowned and kicked out for being a squib. He and his sisters, plus his wife and her sisters, are part of the family now. I know there’s others I need to find and bring back, but it was more important to save you.”
He and Remus got Sirius to the suite that was going to be his, into a bathtub full of steaming water and scrubbed. Very, very thoroughly scrubbed. Remus cast a spell first, but it didn’t get rid of all the stink, so Sirius used a bunch of soap and Harry helped him wash all the matts and knots and grunge out of his hair.
Thankfully, the tub was spelled to keep the water clean no matter how filthy you were. Otherwise Sirius would’ve been bathing in brown water very quickly.
He was painfully thin. There were bite marks on his arms like a dog had gone after him. Every time Harry stopped talking about the things he was learning or how grubby Sirius was or even just how glad he was to have met the elves and how amazing it was that they cleaned the family magic while doing stuff, Sirius got a hunted look.
“This is real,” Sirius said once he was dried off, dressed in nice soft, warm pajamas with thick socks on his feet and a robe over top.
“Yes,” Harry said. “It is. There’s so much more but not much time to explain it. I go off to Hogwarts tomorrow. We had to be careful about saving you.”
He held Sirius’ hand and let the Black and Potter magic swirl into him. Or, more accurately, Harry tried to let the magic connect to Sirius. Something blocked him, blocked the magic. Harry gasped and turned to Remus who frowned.
“What’s wrong?” Remus asked.
“The magic’s blocked!” Harry exclaimed. “He can’t feel the family magic at all, Remus. We need to get the blocks off Sirius just like you had to get them off me.”
“Wait, what blocks?” Sirius demanded with much more fire than before. “Who put blocks on you? James and Lily absolutely refused to put blocks on your magic!”
“I’m getting the healer,” Remus said. He wagged a finger at the two of them. “Don’t do anything. Not a single thing. You don’t know what you might stir up. Remember what I had to go through, Harry.”
“Hurry,” Harry told him. “The magic isn’t going to wait very long.”
“Remus had blocks on him?” Sirius asked, trying to get up and then flopping back down to his bed again. “What the bloody hell has been going on while I was in there?”
“I don’t know all of it,” Harry said, still trying to push magic into Sirius because it needed to be done. He needed Sirius. Sirius needed Harry. The magic needed both of them and it had to happen right now. “But Dumbledore is behind it. I don’t know why. I don’t know what. But he’s behind it all and someone’s got to stop him, Sirius. He’s hurting so many people all over the place.”
Sirius stared at Harry as if he’d gone mad but as the Black magic thickened around them, the room began to shake. The Potter magic surged out through Harry’s hands into Sirius’, lighting him up green as it tried to cut through whatever had been done to Sirius.
“Kreacher,” Harry said, bowing his head. “Itzy, Bitsy, Zing, Lenny, Crow! I need you. Sirius needs you.”
Six pops sounded around Sirius’ bed. Kreacher frowned and then gasped when he saw Sirius. All six elves popped up onto the bed and put their hands on Sirius, but Kreacher was the one who reached out to cup Sirius’ cheek.
“Master Sirius was tortured,” Kreacher said slow and furious. “Master Sirius was hurt worse than Kreacher. Kreacher did not realize, could not feel Master Sirius. Thought Master Sirius had rejected Kreacher.”
“This… you’re Kreacher?” Sirius whispered. “But you’re so different.”
“Healthy now,” Kreacher said, nodding. “Master Sirius has been trapped and hurt for too long. No longer.”
It was so much like saving Lucius but instead of everyone working to reject something that’d been engraved on his body, it was Harry and the elves and then Aunt Petunia and Dudley and Anthony and Lacey who’d gotten there sometime, and their sisters even though they weren’t at the Castle, all of them together pushing magic into Harry behind the wedge the Potter family magic had created.
Harry breathed in and then out. He nodded.
Kreacher hammered his magic into the back of the Potter wedge. Sirius gasped, swaying even with the other elves supporting him. Kreacher hit again, again, and then the block cracked. The Black family magic roared as it surged into Sirius, lighting him up from the inside out.
Harry hung on even as people shouted for him to let go, to pull back, to be safe.
As fast as it started, the magic subsided in a wash around the room. It was like a puddle of mercury instead of the blue of the Malfoy magic. As soon as the magic flowed properly through Sirius, he collapsed back against the pillows, panting. Harry flopped on his chest with a groan.
“Didn’t I say don’t do anything?” Remus said with a tired sigh.
Sirius started laughing. He hugged Harry and then turned to look at Kreacher who patted his hair before disappearing. The other elves gave Sirius a pat as well, little Crow grinning at Sirius with delight before she popped out.
“Remus?” Sirius asked. His voice sounded a little thin, a lot exhausted, but he didn’t let Harry go.
“Yeah, Padfoot?” Remus asked.
“First, thank you,” Sirius said. “I can’t… thank you.”
Remus laughed his ghost of a laugh. “You’re welcome, Padfoot.”
“Black,” Amelia said but she sounded a little stuffed up like she might have been crying. She even sniffled which Harry wanted to see but opening his eyes was just too much work right now.
“I’m going to need protection, continuous protection,” Sirius said. “There’s… Harry broke through a bunch of memory blocks. It’s much bigger than you think.”
“Done,” Amelia said.
Harry did pry his eyes open then. Aunt Petunia was standing right next to the bed, one hand on Sirius’ arm. She looked stern and worried, but her back was very straight and her lips weren’t pressed together. Dudley was right behind her with Uncle Vernon looming behind him. All three of them kept glancing at Harry. He gave it another minute before Dudley climbed on the bed to hug Harry and make sure he was all right.
“Harry can’t go to Hogwarts without protection,” Sirius said so grimly that Harry managed to look at him, too. “You can’t, Prongslet. Dumbledore will spell and potion you into oblivion if you do.”
Harry grinned. “I already took care of that. We should have the protection amulets tonight. Everyone’s getting them. Absolutely everyone.”
Sirius blinked and then frowned at them all. He finally turned to Aunt Petunia who lifted her chin to glare at him as if daring him to get up from the bed.
“Tell me everything I’ve missed. I need to know it all.”
There were easily twenty-thousand things that needed to be done before the students arrived. Minerva’s To Do list was twenty inches long and only growing as she found item after item that Albus had breezily promised was under control, only to discover now that no, it most certainly was not.
The children’s bedrooms were not prepared. The linens hadn’t been properly aired over the summer. Minerva couldn’t yell at the poor beleaguered elves. They’d been ordered outright by Albus to leave it until the last minute. Floors unswept, books unshelved, food barely begun to be prepared for the feast that would happen in just a few hours.
“I swear,” Minerva snarled as she stomped from the kitchen towards her office, “that man does less and less every single year. If this keeps up, I’ll be doing the entire job myself. Both of them!”
Minerva started and turned to find Filius staring up at her with concern. She sighed and waved away his unvoiced concern. He’d managed to get away from Hogwarts over the summer, visiting relatives among the goblins for a good month. Since the start of August, actually. If he’d been here, more than likely most of the too-many items on her list would have been quietly taken care of. Filius had always been helpful when Minerva was overwhelmed.
“I do hope that’s not all things that need to be done yet,” Filius said. He tweaked the list out of Minerva’s control with a deft display of his mastery. “Oh. Oh my. My word. What has Albus been doing?”
“I wish I knew,” Minerva complained as she started back towards her office with Filius and the auto-quill following along behind her, still making notes on things that needed to be done right away.
“My word, well, we’ll have to enlist everyone to get this done,” Filius said. He shook his head and passed the list back to Minerva with a sympathetic smile. “Best break out your best brandy for after the feast. I suspect you’ll need it.”
Laughter startled Minerva and broke loose. “I should! You shouldn’t give me ideas, Filius. Albus isn’t even here for me to yell at. If I break out the brandy, I’ll spend the whole night tearing him up one side and down the other. Damn the man, anyway.”
It felt disloyal to think such things about Albus. He was a very busy man, what with all his titles, but she couldn’t help it. Not when she had an entire summer’s worth of work to be done in six hours.
Filius stared at Minerva for a long moment, rocking on his toes. “We’ll all help. It will get done. Have you been checked out lately, Minerva? I saw Quirrell on my way in. That was why I was looking for you, actually. He’s lost so much weight, stones of it, over the summer. Hardly looks the same man. And that stammer!”
Minerva sighed and sat at her desk. “I haven’t had the time, no. Too many things going on, I’m afraid, though yes, I have seen Quirrell. He does look dreadful but Albus assured me that he would be fine. I’m not so sure. I can smell just a faint hint of rot around him. I’m going to have to get Poppy to check him out after the students arrive. I think he must have been bitten by something and it got infected.”
Both of Filius’ eyebrows went up. “I’m astonished you could smell anything but garlic. The poor man seems to be bathing in it now.”
Minerva nodded. The changes to Quirrell were… horrifying, honestly. He’d always been a powerful magic user, and one who focused on his physical development at the same time as his magical prowess. Something over the summer had transformed him from the bold, gentle, determined man he’d been into a stammering wreck with ticks, terrors and completely ruined health.
“I’ll talk to him after the children are settled,” Minerva said. “Do you suppose you can muster everyone? We’ll need to work together to get everything ready. The elves can’t handle it all.”
They should have been able to. If they were properly fed, properly cared for, they would have had the castle in tip-top shape ages ago. They would have kept it in shape. But Albus had insisted that they be given lighter duties over the summer and the effect on them couldn’t be clearer. Poor things.
“Of course,” Filius said. “I’ll just call everyone together in the Great Hall. We can talk, divide the duties up and get it all wrapped up before the Feast. Do you know when Albus will return? Or what he’s gone off to do?”
Filius’ eyes sparkled with curiosity as he asked. If Minerva hadn’t known better, she would have thought that it was the sole reason that Filius sought her out. Nonsense, though. Filius was one of the best professors for helping the students and the teachers. He wouldn’t have visited just to pump her for information.
In addition to other things, certainly, but not just for that.
“I’ve no idea,” Minerva huffed and shook her head. “He just breezed off through the floo, declaring that he had an important errand in London to take care of. He was gone before I could even ask him what it was for or why he’d leave just before the students arrived.”
“Well, I’m sure it was important,” Filius said with a little shake of his head that implied that he didn’t think it could possibly be that important. “Come. Let’s get the castle polished up. It’s always such fun to see the first years’ expressions as they come in.”
Minerva laughed and heaved herself back to her feet. “It really is. That’s one of my favorite parts of the new school year.”
They shared a smile and then headed off to get Hogwarts ready for the year. Wherever Albus had gone off to, it must have been important though Minerva would always believe that the school was far more important. Shaping young hearts and educating young minds was the most important thing anyone could do.
Silverclaw met them when they came through the floo to the bank lobby. He looked furious, lip curled up to expose his sharp teeth and claws tapping against each other as if he was counting coins. Or maybe getting ready to use those claws to tear someone to shreds.
“We have little time, Mr. Potter,” Silverclaw declared as he waved for Harry, Sirius, Remus, Anthony and Aunt Petunia to follow him. “Dumbledore is aware of you and your guardians’ actions. He will be here shortly to attempt to seal the will before we can read it.”
“Can he do that?” Harry asked, running next to Silverclaw who walked as fast as Uncle Vernon when he was on his way onto the rugby pitch.
“Legally, no,” Silverclaw said. He snorted. “But Dumbledore has rarely concerned himself with legalities.”
“You do have your protective amulet, don’t you?” Harry asked Silverclaw. “We all have ours. We got them last night and put them on right away. I don’t want you or any of the goblins hurt during this.”
Silverclaw smiled, tight and fond, at Harry as Mr. Swashlin joined their group at a run, a folio of paperwork clutched to his chest.
“We have our own methods of protecting our minds and souls, Mr. Potter. You need not worry. No wizard will compromise us ever again, not even Dumbledore.”
The room for the will reading was rough-hewn, the walls so raw that bits of gravel and sand lay strewn in the corners of the room. The table was equally new. It was made of a brand new, unpolished slab of granite set on heavy granite legs that were just raw chunks of rock sheared flat on either end. Their chairs were stone, too, with the only concession to comfort being the shaping worked into the seat.
A new room, new furniture, nothing that had ever been touched by a wizard’s hand or magic before. Harry bit his lip and edged closer to Aunt Petunia. He’d read the chapter about insults and warnings. This room shouted that there was no trust between the goblins and the people attending the will reading.
Or that they were taking every precaution to ensure that no influence could affect them all before the reading began.
“Um, can we seal the room with wards that make sure that no one can cast spells, Silverclaw?” Harry asked as the door opened and a very old, very brightly dressed wizard swept in.
That had to be Dumbledore. He was very tall and very old, with a long white beard that he must spend a huge amount of time tending to. It was far too clean and perfectly combed for him not to take great care of it. His robes were like something out of Disney, bright and shimmery with gold stars and silver comets set against a purple background. Even his hat was shiny purple with a long peak that bent just so at the tip.
For a second, Harry wondered wildly how much time Dumbledore had spent getting the tip to bend exactly like that because there was no way that it’d happened naturally.
“Oh, I hardly think that’s necessary,” Dumbledore said breezily while smiling at Harry as if he was desperately fond of Harry.
The amulet around Harry’s neck vibrated and warmed. Harry didn’t clutch at it. Doing so would only reveal it and he really didn’t want to risk Dumbledore attacking his best method of protecting his mind and everyone else’s when they’d only just met.
“I’ll pay extra for it,” Harry said while pressing against Aunt Petunia’s side. “With a bonus for everyone involved in the will reading of three silvers each.”
“Done,” Silverclaw said. He glared at Dumbledore who opened his mouth “It is done, wizard. You were not invited to this will reading. Leave now.”
“Why, I have no intention of interfering,” Dumbledore said. Both his eyebrows went up like the was trying to project pure innocence only for him to freeze and stare as Silverclaw’s magic swept over the room.
The twinkle left Dumbledore’s eyes. So did the sparkle of his purple robe and hat. The stars and comets stopped moving. But that wasn’t the most disturbing part.
Everything genial and kind disappeared from Dumbledore.
Now his eyes were a hard black that felt like they could cut you in half. His beard was still perfectly white and perfectly groomed, but his expression was scary instead of grandfatherly. In fact, Dumbledore looked furious and all of that fury was pointed squarely at Harry.
“Read the will,” Aunt Petunia said to Mr. Swashlin. She turned to Dumbledore with her most ferocious glare, one almost as fierce as Dumbledore’s. “You. You can stand by the door if you must, but you’re not to sit at the table, to touch any of us or to speak. If you do, I’ll pay the goblins to have you executed for disrupting the operations of the bank.”
“Ooh, can you do that?” Harry asked Aunt Petunia. “I haven’t gotten to the chapter on penalties in the second book yet.”
“I started there,” Aunt Petunia said with a fond little quirk of her lips at Harry. “Yes, you can. And I will. Lily’s vault has more than enough money to pay the penalties and fees. And I already know that in this bank Goblin law holds, not wizarding or British law. So be quiet, stand still and don’t interrupt.”
Dumbledore huffed. When Harry glanced back at him, the glare had gone up several notches. He was looking at each of them as if he was memorizing every single detail of them so that he could destroy them later, one by one.
“Not one word,” Aunt Petunia snapped at Dumbledore when he opened his mouth. “Triple the normal fee, Silverclaw.”
“Done,” Silverclaw agreed with such silky anticipation that Dumbledore snapped his mouth shut with an audible click.
“Very good,” Mr. Swashlin said, gesturing for them all to take their places around the table. “James and Lily had few bequests in their will. They specified that Harry was to go to Sirius first, then Frank and Alice Longbottom if he was unavailable, and then to you, Mrs. Dursley, as the third option. They arranged for a very nice sum to be paid to you for Harry’s education and keep, none of which was delivered to you despite it being disbursed properly. We are, currently, auditing to find out where the money went.”
He glared at Dumbledore for that, as did Silverclaw. Dumbledore smiled back at them. Probably, Dumbledore meant it to be a kindly and beatific smile, like a genial old saint, but it came out as angry and snarling instead without his twinkly eyes thing. That had to be a spell. Harry was going to have to spend the entire train ride up to Hogwarts figuring out what sort of magic that was and how he could counter it. There had to be a way.
Mr. Swashlin read through a bunch of legal stuff about sound mind and body, before sighing and nodding to Remus. “For our dear friend Remus, we leave a trust vault of a quarter of a million galleons. We know that you’ll resent it and complain bitterly, Moony, but you deserve to be happy and to buy all the books you want.”
Remus’s breath caught. Sirius caught his hand and squeezed so hard that both their knuckles went white.
“To our dear friend Sirius, second father to our little Harry,” Mr. Swashlin continued without looking up from the will, “we leave Harry, control over the Gryffindor votes in the Wizengamot until Harry reaches his majority, and orders to ensure that Harry is raised knowing everything about his families. Both of them, Muggle and Magical. You don’t need money, but you do get my library of prank books, Sirius. Use them with joy.”
“I’ve got that,” Harry told Sirius as he leaned into Sirius’ side. “I’ll give it to you after we’re done here.”
“Thanks, Prongslet,” Sirius said, sniffling loudly. “Keep it for now. You might need it at school.”
“To Petunia and Vernon,” Mr. Swashlin said just a little louder so that he could be heard over Sirius’ snuffling and tiny keening noises, “we leave Lily’s vault, her investments and an apology. We always meant to tell you about James’ position, but what with the prophecy and Dumbledore’s interference, we never had the chance. We’re both very sorry about that, but Lily wanted to make sure you knew that she was an idiot and a liar and she never stopped loving you. Make sure Harry gets all his positions, Petunia. We trust that you’ll set both the Parliament and the Wizengamot on their ears. If you have to, get Vernon’s horrible sister Marge involved. She’ll cow anyone into submission.”
“Oh, damn her,” Petunia said. She took a hankie from her purse and pressed it against her mouth. “After all these years, she apologizes properly.”
Tears hung in her eyes, but they didn’t fall. Instead, Aunt Petunia sniffled once, swallowed and then nodded to Mr. Swashlin.
“There’s no specific bequest for you, Mr. Potter,” Mr. Swashlin said as he pulled out a letter. He passed it to Harry. “James and Lily only asked that I deliver this to you and that I make sure that your accounts always balanced. Silverclaw and I will ensure that they do from now on.”
“Thank you, Mr. Swashlin,” Harry said. He clutched the letter to his chest. “Is there anything else?”
“Only a bit more legal talk,” Mr. Swashlin said.
He smiled rather sadly as he continued reading through a bunch more legal stuff that boiled down to Aunt Petunia and Sirius being in charge of taking care of Harry. There were three more places that said that Sirius was in charge of making sure Harry’s votes in the Wizengamot were well-handled and four more that emphasized that he had votes in Parliament, too. Lily added a bit at the very, very end of the will stating that if Sirius didn’t take up his position and knock the Wizengamot on its ear, she’d come back and haunt him until he did.
Sirius finally burst into tears at that, clinging to Remus who rubbed his back and comforted him while glaring at Dumbledore with glowing, golden eyes.
Every single time the Wizengamot came up through the whole will reading, Dumbledore had shifted position and grumbled. He never said anything. In fact, once the will was officially pronounced read and the wards were opened so that they could leave, Dumbledore glared at Harry once before spinning and flouncing out of the room. The sparkle came back to his robes and the strangely compelling air of kindly grandfather came back, too, not that Harry was ever going to believe it again.
Silverclaw sealed the wards again as soon as Dumbledore was gone.
This time, Harry recognized the purification and curse breaking spells. He’d been through them in his books enough times to recognize them. Silverclaw nodded and then started cursing in Gobbledygook while pacing at the far side of the room.
“What’s wrong?” Harry asked once Silverclaw stopped cursing. “Did he put spells on us?”
“No, Mr. Potter, he did not,” Silverclaw said. “But he knows that his plans have been disrupted and I do not like that you will be in his sphere of power. Alone.”
“But I won’t be alone,” Harry said. “I have Draco and Neville and Susan on my side. Plus anyone else that I can get to on the train. That’s why I wanted so many extra charms, you see. So that I can protect everyone that I decide that I can trust.”
“It still bothers me,” Silverclaw said, tapping his claws against the raw stone table.
“Understandably,” Aunt Petunia said. She shook her head as if she wanted to keep Harry home, too, but nodded towards the letter still clutched to Harry’s chest. “Do you want to open your letter now, Harry?”
“Um, I probably should,” Harry said even though he really wanted to read it while he was alone just in case it was something mushy and loving from his parents that would make him cry as hard as Sirius who was leaning into Remus’ side like he would never, ever be able to sit up on his own again.
“You don’t have to,” Aunt Petunia said.
“I know,” Harry said. “But, well, it might be something important that you guys need to know. Better to know now so that you can work on fixing whatever it is than not.”
He unsealed the envelope, taking care not to tear it, and pulled out a single sheet of parchment. The handwriting was very neat, very precise. His mother’s writing. He’d seen it in some of her books where she’d written in the margins.
Harry started reading out loud, keeping his eyes on the letter so that he didn’t have to watch the grownups react to it.
James thinks I’m a bit daft to write to you this way, but I have no faith in Dumbledore’s stupid plan. He was the one who told us of the prophecy. He was the one to insist that we had to hide away with you. And he was the one to convinced James that a simple fidelus with no wards or traps or even a portkey would be enough to keep us safe.
Dumbledore claims that there’s a prophecy that states that you are destined to defeat the Dark Lord. I think it’s a lot of rubbish, but James has a bit more faith in prophecy than I do. This is what the prophecy says:
“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives… the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies….”
I’d have researched it mercilessly if I could, but Dumbledore gave us no chance to do anything of the sort. Bear in mind that prophecies are notoriously hard to interpret. Do not take it literally and do not take chances. Be careful, darling, and always know that we love you more than anything in the world.
Your loving mother,
Harry was fine until the last two lines. Then tears welled up and he gulped, passing the letter to Aunt Petunia who frowned as she read it over. Sirius pulled Harry into a hug that rocked them both side to side. It didn’t help much. Sirius was far too bony for a proper hug. But it was better than no hugs and the Black magic soothed both Harry and the Potter magic, so it was much better than nothing.
“Hm,” Aunt Petunia said. “I wonder who this Dark Lord is, really.”
Harry sniffled and turned to Aunt Petunia who was tapping the envelope against her bottom lip while staring into the distance. He took the letter and read the prophecy over again. It didn’t say You-Know-Who or any of the other silly names that people gave Voldemort. It just said Dark Lord.
“Dumbledore is kind of dark,” Harry said.
“That was my thought,” Aunt Petunia said. She passed the envelope back to Harry who carefully tucked the letter away again. “Well, we’d best be getting you off to the train. I think we’ve got a good bit of work to do once you’re gone.”
“Yeah,” Harry said. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and swallowed down the urge to cry some more. “I think I do, too. I gotta get as many allies as I can. Dumbledore wanted me to be isolated. Ignorant. Desperate for anything he gave me. I bet… I bet that was what the prophecy was talking about. The power he knows not: true loyalty and affection. Or maybe the way family magic is sort-of alive? That could be it, too.”
Sirius and Remus stared at Harry and Aunt Petunia as if they’d both gone mad. Mr. Swashlin looked equally dumbfounded but Silverclaw smiled his tight, hard smile that was like a knife at your throat.
“I believe you may be right, Mr. Potter, Mrs. Dursley,” Silverclaw said. “We’d best hurry if we’re to get you to the platform on time, Mr. Potter. There’s not much time to spare before the train leaves. You’ll have to apparate to the platform.”
“I’ll take him,” Mr. Swashlin announced. “I’ll be right back so that we can discuss all of this.”
Harry stood and gave Aunt Petunia a hug that she sighed over even as she tried to smooth his messy hair. Sirius’ hug messed his hair right back up at the same time that it pulled him off his feet and into Sirius’ lap. Remus’ hug was comforting and warm and wonderful. Then Harry hurried with Mr. Swashlin for the lobby so that he could head off on his first trip to Hogwarts.