Stronger At the Broken Places- 2/6 – enigmaticblue

Title: Stronger At the Broken Places
Series: The Many Lives of Sirius Black
Author: enigmaticblue
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Action Adventure, Drama, Established Relationship, Family, Romance, Time Travel
Relationship(s): Sirius Black/Remus Lupin
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Brief mention of consensual sexual contact between minors, but nothing graphic.
Author Notes: I will admit that I’m playing a bit fast and loose with the timeline, as well as using fanon that doesn’t exist in the books. Just roll with it, okay? Especially since JKR never took the time to explain how the government worked. If you haven’t read My Sun Sets to Rise, I hope the prologue gets you caught up.
Word Count: 175,920
Summary: It’s 1994, and Sirius has Remus and Harry. Sirius has cleared his name, and taken back his place in the wizarding world. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t all a little bit broken, and it doesn’t mean the world won’t try to break them anew.
Artist: germankitty



 

Part the Third: In Which Horcruxes Appear

They have enough time after Quidditch for them all to get cleaned up and into nicer clothing. Sirius isn’t sure how formal this dinner will be, but he thinks it’s better to be a little more dressed up, rather than dressed down.

Sirius gives Harry a once-over, pleased with his smart slacks and green, collared shirt. There are a few  wrinkles from traveling, but those are smoothed away with a flick of Sirius’ wand.

“I think the hair is impossible,” Harry says wryly.

“Oh, ye of little faith,” Sirius says fondly. “I used to do this for your dad on occasion.”

The spell brings some semblance of order to Harry’s hair, but it’s always going to be just a bit impossible. James’ hair had been like that, too. “There, not too bad, if I say so myself.”

Remus emerges from the bathroom, also looking quite presentable in dark trousers and dark blue shirt. “Shall we go?”

“I think we’d better,” Sirius replies. “If we don’t want to be late.”

The Deschamps’ flat is just a short walk away, and they’re welcomed in immediately by Lionel. “Hello, Harry, Sirius, Monsieur Lupin,” Lionel says cheerfully.

“Call me Remus,” he says with a smile. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Please, come in,” Lionel says. “Dinner is nearly ready.”

Once inside, Lionel shows them around and then introduces them to his parents and older sister, Terese. Denis, the father, is a tall, dark-skinned man with a warm smile and bright eyes that he clearly passed down to his son. Terese looks very much like her brother, and is old enough that Sirius thinks it’s possible she’ll be with the Beauxbatons contingent for the Triwizard Tournament. There’s no way of knowing for sure, since Sirius knows only the identities of the champions.

Not that it really matters at the moment.

Diana has put together an impressive meal, a roast leg of lamb with all the trimmings. Conversation centers on the upcoming school year, and their plans for the rest of the summer. Lionel seems a bit disappointed to hear that they plan on going to London at some point soon in order to clear out Grimmauld Place.

“This was your childhood home?” Diana asks.

Sirius nods. “I’m not sure what I’m going to find, to be honest. My parents were not considered light wizards.”

He ties to put it delicately, and sees Diana’s nod. “Then there is no comfort for you in that place.”

“No, just a lot of hard work,” Sirius admits. “Harry will have the opportunity to use the defense skills he’s been practicing all summer.”

“Yes, Lionel said that you had a rigorous study regimen this summer,” Terese comments. “That’s very impressive.”

Harry blushes. “Normally, I don’t have the opportunity to do much of that over the summer. My aunt and uncle didn’t approve of magic at all.”

“You were raised by non-magicals?” Terese asks, sounding a bit aghast. “Who didn’t approve of magic?”

Harry shrugs elegantly. “I survived, which is really the important thing.”

There’s a pause at that, and Denis says graciously, “Sometimes, surviving is the bravest thing that you can do.”

Lionel clears his throat, apparently realizing that a subject change is in order. “Harry plays for his house team as the Seeker.”

Terese brightens at that. “I play Chaser, and I think I’ll be Captain next year.”

The talk turns to Quidditch then, a safer topic than Harry’s relatives. Once dinner is over, Diana looks at Harry. “If you would like, I can speak to your godfather about the matter we discussed yesterday, and he can fill you in later.”

Harry nods, clearly relieved. “And I don’t mind if Dr. Deschamps or Remus knows,” he adds. “It’s fine.”

Diana smiles at him. “Very well. Run along, children. We’ll worry about the clean up later.”

“I’ll show you my room,” Lionel says excitedly.

Terese trails behind them, looking as though she doesn’t quite know whether she wants to spend time with the famous Harry Potter, or to ignore her younger brother and his friend.

Diana pours more wine for all of them, and says, “I spoke with my colleague, and impressed upon him the necessity for haste and privacy, and he can see Harry the day after tomorrow. He agreed to make a house call given the circumstances.”

They’re meeting Hermione the next day, and so Sirius doesn’t have a problem with that. “I believe we can make that work, and I’m very grateful for the recommendation.”

Denis drums his fingers on the table. “Harry is a bright boy, and quite charming. He’s doing rather well.”

“We’ve kept him busy this summer,” Sirius admits. “Perhaps too busy, but I thought it might be good for him to have something constructive to work on, rather than ruminate on things.”

He doesn’t elaborate on what things, but looking back, he thinks it’s better that they kept Harry engaged, rather than let him think about the unfairness of it all. Plus, they’ve given him something to look forward to, some path to a successful future.

“Have you considered a mind healer?” Diana asks.

“We have, but we would need a recommendation there, as well,” Sirius says. “Obviously, we would need to be wary of anyone who might take advantage of the situation.”

Denis grimaces. “I would hate to think of a mind healer being so unethical, but of course, you’re right.” And then his expression turns thoughtful. “What about Nadine?”

Diana brightens. “Oh, that might be ideal.”

Sirius gives them a questioning look. “Oh?”

“Well, I’m not sure you’ll be able to fit it in to what’s left of your summer, but Harry could see her during his holidays, especially if he’s struggling,” Diana replies. “Nadine is a Muggle, but her husband is a wizard. Denis and I are good friends with both of them.”

Sirius could see where such a choice might be ideal for Harry. He would likely need someone who understands the Muggle world, at least a bit.

“f I could get her contact information, I’ll see what we can do in the time we have left before school starts,” Sirius agrees.

Not for the first time, he wishes he had more time with Harry to get all of these things taken care of. He supposes that they could always postpone the trip to Grimmauld Place until after school starts if they need some more time.

“Nadine is actually in London,” Diana adds. “They moved last year.”

Sirius smiles. “That might be even better.”

“I’ll have a written report documenting Harry’s injuries in a couple of days,” Diana promises. “You might need that as well.”

Sirius takes a sip of wine. “You’ve done this before.”

“We have both worked with abused children before,” Denis says bluntly. “We know what the authorities will need, and it’s better to have too much ammunition than too little.”

“The Potters’ will clearly names me as guardian, but I’ve already heard that a certain party might try to convince me otherwise,” Sirius admits.

Diana shakes her head. “Don’t listen to meddlesome busybodies, especially if they failed to meddle when truly necessary.”

Denis snorts. “A lack of vaccines. A child would not be allowed into a Muggle school without them, or without a physical.”

“The paperwork requirement isn’t quite the same in the wizarding world, darling,” Diana says. “But you’re not wrong. Someone should have ensured regular check-ups and that he received the appropriate vaccines. They would have caught the abuse first year, most likely.”

“How bad was it?” Remus asks quietly.

Sirius knows that he’s blaming himself, at least partially. Not that Remus would have been allowed near Harry, no matter how liberally minded Dumbledore happens to be. “Moony, don’t go there.”

“Pads, I could have—“

“We’ve been over this, and your only crime was trusting that Dumbledore had found an adequate placement for Harry,” Sirius insists. “Considering that he had the entirety of the British magical world fooled, I don’t think you can really blame yourself.”

Diana watches the exchange with some interest. “Is this Albus Dumbledore?”

“The Headmaster of Hogwarts,” Sirius confirms. “He put Harry in the care of his mother’s sister.”

“Without checking up on him?” Denis asks.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Sirius replies grimly. “I believe he had someone keeping an eye on Harry, but no one who could actually do him any good.”

“Then I’ll write my report with that in mind,” Diana promises. “I’ll make sure to seal it with an oath. No one will believe that his Muggle relatives are an appropriate placement for him when I’m done.”

That’s comforting. Sirius doesn’t think it will become an issue until next summer, but he’d prefer to have plenty of ammunition on his side. “Thank you.”

“I would advise having Dr. Michaud write up his own report as well,” Diana replies. “Frankly, if anyone had done a thorough examination, they would have caught the fact that there was something amiss with his scar.”

Sirius nods. “Thank you. Your help has been invaluable.”

“I have taken an oath as a healer, and I believe that all children need a safe home with people who care for them,” Diana replies. “I would do whatever I could for any child, let alone a friend of my son’s.”

“We’ve very much enjoyed getting to know Lionel this summer,” Remus says. “He’s a wonderful boy.”

Diana smiles proudly. “Thank you. We think so, of course, but it’s nice to hear it from another source as well. And his English is very much improved, of course, which is appreciated.”

“Harry knowing another language, and having another place to go, is just as important to us,” Sirius replies. “Your mother has been wonderful in that regard. I thought she would be here tonight.”

“She doesn’t travel much these days,” Diana admits. “Portkeys leave her ill for days, although she will sometimes take Muggle transport. Most of the time, though, we go to her.”

Sirius grimaces. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“She’s happy where she is, but it’s one of the reasons that we send Lionel to her in the summers,” Diana replies.

“Well, I imagine that we’ll spend next summer there as well,” Sirius replies. “I think we’ll need the break by then.”

Sirius just hopes this next year isn’t as traumatic as it had been originally.

“Louise would love that,” Denis says. “And, of course, we’ll be there for Christmas.”

“As will we, assuming that Harry wants to spend the holiday with us,” Sirius replies. “I know he usually spends the holiday break at Hogwarts, but I think he’ll want to spend it with us this year.”

“Of course, he will,” Remus murmurs. “There’s a difference between not having somewhere to go, or not wanting to go back to a particular place, and knowing that you’re going home.”

Sirius thinks about Harry’s reaction after returning to the house after Neville’s party, his statement that he wanted to invite people over, and never having that before.

“Well, if you do wind up in France for Christmas, we should get together,” Denis says. “I know Louise won’t mind.”

“And my younger sister, Inez, will be there, too,” Diana adds. “Yes, of course we should get together.”

The rest of the evening passes amiably. He and Remus have another glass of wine, and the topic turns to their school days. Diana had gone to Beauxbatons, of course, but Denis had attended Muggle schools.

They’re soon trying to outdo one another on their stories of pranks and other things from school, and Sirius has to admit that it’s a fun night. He’d been social at Hogwarts, but that had been a lifetime ago. He hasn’t spent time with anyone outside Harry and Remus—and Louise and Lionel—in months. And he hadn’t had a night like this in well over a decade.

Unless you counted that other life, when he’d spent the evening with James, Lily, and Remus.

“I wanted to ask what your intentions were for the Quidditch World Cup,” Diana asks, after Denis tells an outrageous story about a prank they’d pulled on one of his medical school advisors, and the rest of them admit that they can’t compete with that.

Sirius takes a deep breath. “We’ll take a portkey there, but my intention is to send Harry and Lionel home as soon as the game is over.”

“Most people will stay,” Diana observes. “Why leave so quickly?”

Sirius hesitates. “I believe that such an event will draw former Death Eaters, and they may make a move. Remus and I plan to stay just in case, but I won’t risk Harry or Lionel. Louise has already agreed to take the two of them for the evening.”

Sirius can tell that his explanation has set their minds at ease. Sending your child to the Quidditch World Cup with a friend is different than allowing him to camp out overnight. He doesn’t get the feeling that the Deschamps are overprotective, but he would certainly hesitate to send Harry off with people he didn’t know well.

He’s just grateful that Harry hasn’t insisted on going to the Weasleys’ house. Sirius would have allowed it, of course, but he would have hated giving up any time with Harry.

“I know you’ll look after our son,” Denis asserts.

“As if he was my own,” Sirius promises.

The evening wraps up after that. They collect Harry from Lionel’s room, where all three children are comparing notes on favorite Quidditch teams, and the most likely outcome of the World Cup.

“It was lovely to meet you, Harry,” Terese says, kissing him on both cheeks.

Harry blushes bright red. “It was nice to meet you, too.”

“I’ll see you in a few days,” Lionel says, clapping Harry on the back.

Harry grins and hugs Lionel. “Definitely. See you soon.”

“Was it a good night?” Sirius asks as they begin to walk back to their flat.

“Yeah, it was great,” Harry says enthusiastically. “And tomorrow, we see Hermione.”

Sirius throws an arm around Harry’s shoulders. “And the day after that, we’ll see a specialist about your scar. If we need to stay in Paris a little longer, we will.”

Harry shrugs, leaning in closer to Sirius. “I just want it taken care of. Are we still going to clean out Grimmauld Place?”

“That would entirely depend on what kind of time we have,” Sirius replies. “We’ll play it by ear, okay?”

Harry nods happily. “That works. I don’t mind.”

Sirius falls into bed next to Remus that night, and he asks, “That went well, right?”

“That went very well,” Remus assures him. “They were very friendly, although I’m not sure we should share my condition as of yet.”

“Need to know only, Moony,” Sirius says. “If you’re taking Wolfsbane, and Lionel doesn’t spend the night during a full moon, there’s no reason they should know, as there’s no risk to him.”

“What about sending Harry and Lionel back immediately after the match?” Remus asks.

Sirius takes a deep breath. “Right. Can you accept that I believe something will happen, and I have really good reasons for that, but that I physically cannot tell you why?”

Remus props himself up on an elbow, searching Sirius’ face with his eyes. “You know that something is going to happen.”

“I do,” Sirius replies. “At least, I think I do.”

He can see the wheels turning in Remus’ mind. “Tell me that you haven’t gone back in time.”

Sirius has, but not in the way that Remus means, so he says, “I haven’t.”

“Are there other things that we’ll need to explain somehow?” Remus asks.

Sirius winces. “Maybe?”

“Then I think we will probably want to let it slip that finding your Animagus form has awakened certain abilities,” Remus replies thoughtfully. “That it allows you to see deaths, or get glimpses of the future. Just in case.”

“You are the brains of the operation, Moony,” Sirius says fondly.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Remus orders, and gives him a hard kiss.

Sirius smiles. “Pot, kettle.”

Remus rolls his eyes. “Go to sleep, Pads.”

And Sirius does just that.

~~~~~

Sirius had assumed that this meeting with Hermione and her parents would be fairly low key. They’re meeting at a cafe nearby for lunch, although they haven’t made concrete plans for the afternoon.

It’s the second time in so many days that he and Remus are meeting parents of one of Harry’s friends, and he knows that only reason that Remus has agreed to go is that it’s unlikely to get back to anyone who knows them.

If the British wizarding world knew that he and Remus were acting like a married couple, it would make things a little more difficult, even if Sirius wished otherwise.

Sirius wears what he’d normally wear for a meeting with Muggles—a pair of jeans and a collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Remus is dressed much the same way.

But judging from the sounds coming from Harry’s room, he’s still rummaging for clothes.

Sirius glances at Remus, who shrugs, and Sirius starts the kettle.

When Harry eventually emerged from his room, he’s wearing one of his new pairs of jeans and a smart, green polo, also new. “Do you think this is okay?”

“You look great, pup,” Sirius says. “Coffee or tea or something else?”

“Tea,” Harry replies. “Is there toast?”

“There is if you make it,” Sirius teases him.

Harry rolls his eyes good-naturedly. “Sure, fine. Moony?”

“I would take some,” Remus replies.

Harry busies himself making toast, and Sirius focuses on boiling water for tea and coffee.

They’re meeting Hermione and her parents for an early lunch, and although they’ve left the rest of the afternoon an open question, Sirius knows that Harry is hoping to spend some quality time with his friend. Sirius just hopes that he and Remus have enough to talk about with her parents.

The fact that Harry had taken some care with his appearance tells Sirius that maybe Harry’s feelings about Hermione are a little bit more serious than he originally thought.

“What do you want to do this afternoon?” Sirius asks.

Harry shrugs. “I guess that will depend on Hermione, but if she wants to go to a museum or something, that’s not a big deal, right?”

“No, of course not,” Sirius assures him. “You two can do whatever you like, within reason.”

Harry beams at him. “Thanks. Knowing Hermione, she’ll probably want to compare study plans.”

“Then make sure you bring this along,” Remus replies, producing an appointment book popular among wizards.

Harry’s eyes widen. “Oh, wow. Thank you!”

Remus smiles. “It’s good to see you taking more than DADA seriously.”

“I get it,” Harry says. “I mean, I get why I should be interested now, and why it matters.”

“Good,” Sirius replies.

They can walk to the cafe where they’re meeting the Grangers, and this time they’re early and beat them there. Sirius has a word with the host and they get a table in a corner of the restaurant.

Harry makes sure he has a clear view of the door, and he gets to his feet when Hermione enters. Hermione doesn’t hesitate. She makes a beeline to Harry, throwing her arms around him. “Oh, Harry, you look splendid.”

“It’s been a good summer,” Harry replies, hugging her back. “You look great, too.”

Hermione pulls back. “I’ve probably had too much sun.”

Harry snorts. “Don’t be ridiculous. You look like you’ve had a really nice vacation.” He turns to her parents. “I don’t think we’ve met before.”

“We’ve heard a lot about you.” her father says. “I’m Gordon Granger. You can call me Geordie.”

“And I’m Laura,” Hermione’s mother says.

“This is my godfather, Sirius Black, and our friend, Remus Lupin,” Harry says, making the introductions with perfect manners.

“Professor Lupin was one of our teachers last year,” Hermione pipes up. “He was probably our best teacher.”

Remus smiles gently. “I’m glad you thought so, Hermione. It’s a pleasure to meet you both.”

There are handshakes all around, and they’re soon seated with coffee and tea on the way. “What do you do?” Geordie Granger asks.

It’s a common enough question, and would be an easy way to start conversation with most people. Of course, Sirius isn’t most people.

“Well, I plan on taking my seat in the Wizengamot once Harry goes back to school,” Sirius replies. “That, and sort out my estate. I’ve mostly been focused on Harry this summer.”

“Hermione did mention the unfortunate circumstances when she was contacted by some—Aurors, do you call them?” Laura says hesitantly.

Sirius hadn’t been sure whether Hermione would have said anything to her parents about him being wrongly imprisoned. “Yes, Aurors are like your police, really.”

“I was so glad to hear from Harry that he’d been able to get out of spending all summer with his aunt and uncle,” Hermione says earnestly. “And that you’d been able to clear your name.”

“With no small thanks to you,” Sirius replies, although he stops just short of thanking her for saving his life. He suspects that Hermione’s stories about Hogwarts are heavily edited for her parents’ sake.

Hermione blushes. “I was just glad to be able to help. What, um, what happened to Buckbeak?”

“Oh, he’s off having adventures,” Sirius replies. “He took off on his own not long after I arrived in France.”

Hermione beams. “That’s good.”

“Buckbeak deserves his freedom,” Harry comments. “Especially after what Malfoy tried to do to him.”

Sirius can tell that the Grangers are having a hard time following the conversation, but are too polite to interrupt, so he changes the subject. “I believe that Harry said you were both dentists?”

They both smile, appearing a bit relieved to be on solid ground again. “Yes, we are,” Geordie replies. “I’ve heard that wizards don’t have any need of them.”

Sirius wonders what it must be like to have a child and then to essentially lose them to a world that you don’t understand and can’t enter yourself. A world where you, yourself, are obsolete and unwelcome.

He’s suddenly and fiercely glad that Harry isn’t a Squib, although it would be far easier for him to follow Harry into the Muggle world.

“There are a number of spells for teeth, and Healers use them often,” Sirius replies. “I won’t say that magic can fix everything, but it can do a great many things.”

Laura looks a little wistful. “We’re so proud of Hermione, of course, but…”

“Mum,” Hermione murmurs. “It’s fine.”

“It’s just that we worry,” Geordie says. “It’s not like if she were at a Muggle school. If something happened, we have no way of knowing about it.”

Sirius realizes that there’s something he can do for Hermione to pay his debt to her. “Would you like us to act as a go-between?” he offers. “Remus and I are both relatively familiar with the Muggle world. I can be on record as Hermione’s magical guardian, and that way I can ensure that you’re notified as soon as possible should something happen.”

Hermione sits up a little straighter. “You’re willing to sponsor me?”

Sirius should have known that she would understand the implications immediately. “I owe you a very great debt, Hermione. It’s the least I can do.”

“What does that mean?” Laura asks suspiciously.

“It means that Hermione would have my protection and backing, no matter what she decides to do after Hogwarts,” Sirius replies. “And my resources are not inconsiderable.”

Geordie frowns. “We don’t need charity, Mr. Black.”

“Please, call me Sirius,” he insists. “And this isn’t about money. There are some wizards and witches who look down on those who aren’t pureblood. When it becomes known that I’m sponsoring Hermione, there’s no one who would be rude to her face, and makes it far less likely they’d discriminate against her in the future.”

“It’s a very noble gesture,” Hermione assures her parents. “And very welcome.”

Laura sighs. “Well, you’d know better than we would, darling.”

“Besides, his reputation precedes him,” Harry says cheerfully. “No one wants to mess with my godfather.”

“It’s true,” Remus says fondly. “And he’s rather overprotective.”

“That’s no bad thing,” Geordie says. “It does ease my worries somewhat, knowing that there’s someone who will be looking after Hermione’s interests when we can’t.”

“It would be my pleasure,” Sirius assures them.

“Oh, Harry! I almost forgot your present,” Hermione says, pulling out a wrapped package. Based on the shape, it appears to be a box, or perhaps a large book.

When Harry tears the paper off, it turns out there are two books, one on Arithmancy, and the other on Ancient Runes. “You said you were studying them this summer, and were enjoying them.” Hermione sounds anxious.

“I am on both counts,” Harry replies, opening the book on Arithmancy. “Oh!”

Hermione grins. “Right?”

Sirius peers over Harry’s shoulder and immediately realizes why Harry would be excited. The book itself is interactive, offering problems to be solved, and the book would then respond.

Harry passes the book to him, and opens the one on Ancient Runes, and that one will actually illustrate what happens with various runic combinations.

“This is amazing, Hermione!” Harry says enthusiastically. “These will be so helpful.”

Hermione smiles, clearly relieved at Harry’s excitement. “Oh, good. I picked up a set for myself at the beginning of the summer and thought they were really nice, and when you said you were thinking of changing classes, I thought you might like them.”

“I’m hoping to at least be able to take Ancient Runes with our year, but I have a bit to catch up on with Arithmancy, but if I can at least get prepared to take my OWLs in them, that will be good enough,” Harry replies. “And I get out of Divination.”

“Good,” Hermione says bluntly. “That was an awful class.”

Harry sighs. “It really was. I would rather not face dire predictions of my untimely death every class.”

The Grangers smile indulgently as Hermione and Harry compare notes on their summer study schedules, looking as though they don’t really understand their daughter, but their fondness is apparent.

Lunch is pleasant, even if the Grangers don’t say much. It’s probably not a surprise, as Harry and Hermione talk about their studies and school friends and things that they’re unfamiliar with. Both Sirius and Remus at least know what it’s like to be a student at Hogwarts, and know many of the same people. Harry tells Hermione about Neville’s birthday party and their meeting with Neville and Augusta earlier in the week. Hermione talks about some of the things she and her parents have done on holiday.

Once lunch winds down, Sirius says, “I don’t know what you all have planned for the rest of the day, but our afternoon is open.”

Hermione turns pleading eyes to her parents. “Do you mind?”

“No, of course not,” Geordie says warmly. “We thought you’d want to spend the day with your friend.”

“There’s a good bookstore nearby,” Harry offers. “Or we could do something else?”

“A bookstore would be great,” Hermione replies.

“Just meet us back here by 6 pm,” Geordie says firmly.

“Thanks, Mum, thanks, Dad,” Hermione says cheerfully.

“The same goes for you as well, pup,” Sirius says. “We’ll meet you back here.”

Harry nods, and he and Hermione head off on their own.

“I wanted to offer my apologies for being unable to attend Harry’s birthday party,” Laura says quietly. “I know Hermione was disappointed, but we had made plans, and—well, we get to spend so little time with her as it is.”

“Of course,” Sirius says smoothly. “I’m reluctant to send Harry back to school for the same reason.”

“We never really thought about sending Hermione to boarding school,” Geordie admits. “We both do well enough, but we didn’t have public school educations, and it wasn’t something we thought that Hermione needed.”

Remus clears his throat. “She’s really quite bright. Hogwarts is a school that will help her reach her full potential.”

“That’s what Professor McGonagall said,” Geordie admits. “And she said that since Hermione had magic, Hogwarts was the best place for her.”

Sirius leans in. “Had you noticed accidental magic in the past?”

Geordie shakes his head. “In hindsight, I suppose. We would find Hermione with books that we knew we’d put up out of her reach, and she was never hurt. She fell off a low wall as a small child and essentially bounced. We just thought she was lucky.”

“She was lucky,” Remus comments. “Even magical children can be injured in accidents like that, especially when their magic is untrained. It’s so hard to predict what will happen.”

Geordie smiles. “Well, it has been nice to meet one of her friends. We’ve met the Weasleys before, but this has been nice. Hermione mentions Harry often.”

“Hermione has been a good friend to him,” Sirius replies. “I know Harry was excited to be able to meet up with her, so I very much appreciate you taking the time out of your holiday.”

They wrap things up after that. He and Remus may not have much in common with the Grangers other than the children, but they’re nice people who obviously care about their daughter very deeply.

“They were nice,” Remus comments as they head back to their rented flat, the Grangers having insisted on paying for their meal.

“They’re very nice,” Sirius agrees. “It’s not surprising that Hermione turned out so well.”

Remus hums. “Do you think there’s a little something more there than friendship?”

“Well, I certainly wouldn’t mind,” Sirius admits. “She’s a lovely girl, and with Harry’s renewed interest in school, they may find they have more in common than ever.”

“Don’t start match-making just yet,” Remus warns him.

Sirius snorts. “I would never. He’s fourteen. He could change his mind half a dozen times between now and 40. In fact, I’d prefer that he play the field, at least for a bit. He should figure out what works for him and what doesn’t.”

Remus laughs. “James knew Lily was it for him at Harry’s age.”

“True,” Sirius replies. “But Harry deserves a happy ending. I won’t push him in this area.”

“So, since we have a few hours, what are we going to do?” Remus asks.

“We probably need to go back over the research for the Wizengamot, given what I discussed with Augusta Longbottom,” Sirius replies. “Do we want to wait to clear out Grimmauld Place until Harry’s back at Hogwarts?”

Remus shakes his head. “No, I don’t think so. We’ll probably want to stay there when we take Harry to Diagon Alley, and then when we’re in town for the Wizengamot session.”

Sirius grimaces. “Right, well, I’m sure it’s going to be unpleasant.”

Remus nudges Sirius’ shoulder with his own. “You’ll have me there, and Harry as well. You don’t have to be in that house alone.”

Sirius has no idea how Remus knew the exact right thing to say, but that’s what he needed to hear. He can remember long stretches of time where he was alone in that house, stewing in childhood memories that were unpleasant at best.

He’s dreading it, and he wants to put it off for as long as possible, but he had made a promise to Regulus to look after Kreacher, and Kreacher could be a problem for them.

“You’re right,” Sirius replies. “I’m procrastinating.”

“Better to get it over and done with, and you were right about Kreacher being a possible security risk,” Remus says very reasonably. “And it will be good training for Harry in dealing with dark objects if the house is as bad as you expect.”

Sirius sighs. “Right, so we go back to the farmhouse, and then to Grimmauld Place. We have a little time before the World Cup, and then we can decide how we want to spend the end of the summer. Of course, I suppose the timing also depends on what the doctor tells us about Harry’s scar.”

They spend the afternoon reviewing the research they’ve been gathering on the various Wizengamot members. Sirius knows they’ll need to plan their campaign carefully, considering what they want to accomplish. Not many will be sympathetic to their plans to loosen the restrictions on werewolves and creature rights; strengthening the DMLE will be an easier sell.

“We’ll need to make an announcement regarding the trust to provide Wolfsbane,” Sirius says, “probably during the first Wizengamot session.”

“We could also put a notice in The Daily Prophet,” Remus suggests. “And I still have some contacts among the packs. I could make contact.”

The idea makes Sirius a little uncomfortable for reasons that he can’t articulate, other than the fact that he and Remus had fought the last time Remus was going to the packs for information. “I’ll leave that up to you,” Sirius replies. “I know they’re more likely to trust you.”

“There are families that would particularly like to have access to Wolfsbane,” Remus comments. “It would have been incredibly helpful to me as a child.”

Sirius has seen the amount of pain the transformation causes Remus, and he bears the scars he’s collected over the years. “I know it would have been,” Sirius replies.

Remus shakes his head as though he’s shaking off the memories. “It’s no matter. It can make a difference for others.”

When they meet Harry and Hermione and the Grangers at the cafe, the kids seem to be in high spirits. “We have dinner reservations,” Geordie says apologetically. “I hope you both had a good time today.”

“We did,” Harry says, his cheeks ruddy, and his green eyes sparkling. “Thank you very much for agreeing to meet us today.”

“Of course,” Laura says immediately. “It was our pleasure.”

Hermione gives him a brief, hard hug. “I’ll see you at the World Cup, Harry.”

“You will,” Harry promises.

“And I’ll look forward to meeting Lionel, too,” Hermione says.

Harry smiles shyly. “Thanks.”

“Don’t worry about Ron,” Hermione says suddenly. “He’ll come around.”

Harry nods. “I hope so, too.”

As they walk back to their flat, Sirius asks, “What was that about Ron?”

“I told Hermione about his letter, and what he said, and that I thought he might be jealous,” Harry admits. “She said she could probably talk him around.”

“I’m sure she can,” Sirius replies.

Harry shrugs. “I’m not going to worry about it. I have other friends at Hogwarts, and I think you’re right about cultivating other relationships.”

“Good,” Sirius says. “I think that’s a commendable attitude. What else did you guys do today?”

Harry shrugs. “We visited the bookstore and some other shops, and walked around the nearby park. It wasn’t anything special, but we had a good time.”

“Did you tell her about the doctor’s visit?” Sirius asks.

Harry nods. “But she said she wouldn’t tell anybody else. I don’t want anybody else to know.”

“You know it’s not your fault, right?” Sirius asks.

Harry snorts. “Like that would matter to some of my classmates. They’d hear I have a piece of Voldemort in my head, and it would be like second year all over again.”

Sirius can’t disagree. “Well, we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

He just hopes that they can get it taken care of without causing Harry any more trauma.

~~~~~

Their appointment with the doctor is scheduled for early the next morning, and the doctor is willing to make a house call. Diana shows up with her colleague in tow, an older man with salt-and-pepper gray hair and a beard. He’s slightly stooped, with dark, kind eyes, and he introduces himself as Healer Andres Michaud.

“But you must call me Andres,” he says. “Let us sit, and we will talk.”

Harry is clearly tense and apprehensive, and Sirius sits next to him to offer him some small measure of comfort.

Andres begins. “Healer Deschamps explained her findings, and that she believes there is some darkness in your scar. Have you experienced any pain or other problems with your scar?”

Harry nods. “Sometimes it hurts in the presence of certain people, and…I have nightmares that my godfather thinks are actually me seeing what Voldemort is doing.”

“I imagine that this is very distressing for you,” Andres says gently. “As well as the knowledge that you are connected to this dark wizard who murdered your parents.”

Harry blinks rapidly. “Yes,” he manages to choke out.

Andres nods. “Then with your permission, I will conduct my own examination, and we will discuss our options to give you some relief, yes?”

“Yes, please,” Harry says, still sounding apprehensive, but showing signs of eagerness as well.

Andres casts a diagnostic spell on Harry, and then focuses his attention on Harry’s scar. “Hm, yes, Diana. I do see what you mean. This is not like any other curse scar I’ve seen.” He hums thoughtfully, and says, “Do you know if there were any objects found near Harry?”

Sirius shakes his head. “No, the cottage was badly damaged, and I wanted to get Harry out of there.”

“I would suspect that there may have been an object of some sort near Harry that Voldemort intended to use, but when the spell backlashed, his soul was further torn asunder,” Andres murmurs. “This is very dark magic, Harry. It is important that you not speak to anyone about this, do you understand?”

Harry nods. “Of course. I understand.”

“I thought you would,” Andres replies. “There is a very dark magic that certain wizards have used to attain immortality. Do you know how a wizard becomes immortal?”

Harry frowns. “A philosopher’s stone?”

“That is one way,” Andres says approvingly. “A philosopher’s stone will extend a wizard’s or witch’s life so long as they continue drinking the elixir. But there is another, darker path, where a wizard or witch splits their soul. As long as those soul-pieces are around, a wizard cannot be killed. I doubt that Voldemort intended for a piece of his soul to lodge in your scar. It is possible that his soul was already so fractured that it was an accident. Or perhaps he intended to put his soul fragment in another object. How and why it happened is less important than removing it without causing you further trauma, yes?”

Harry nods. “I want it out.”

“There is a procedure for separating a magical child from an obscurus,” Andres says quietly. “I believe that same ritual may be used to separate Voldemort’s soul-piece from your scar. I am afraid that it will be painful, but when it’s over, you’ll be free of his taint.”

Harry’s chin tilts determinedly. “I want to do it.”

“We will need to use a ritual chamber,” Andres says. “There is such a room at the hospital, used for more complicated healings. We can do it later tonight to avoid anyone knowing you’re there.”

“What do we need to do to prepare?” Remus asks.

Andres shakes his head. “I would recommend fasting, other than water, from now until the ritual. Do you meditate, Harry?”

Harry nods. “I’ve been learning occlumency.”

“You will need to meditate for at least an hour beforehand,” Andres instructs. “Come to the hospital at nine.”

“Thank you,” Sirius says quietly. “We appreciate you taking the time to look into this.”

Andres smiles. “But of course. I would not leave anyone in such a situation. I will see you tonight.”

They take their leave, and Sirius allows what Andres said to sink in. If there’s a pieces of Voldemort’s soul in Harry’s scar, that means there are other pieces in other objects.

“We have to find the other pieces,” Harry says with a sort of calm determination that absolutely floors Sirius. “I think I’ve already destroyed one.”

Sirius glances at Remus, whose face reflects Sirius’ own surprise. “What do you mean, Harry?”

“Voldemort’s diary in second year,” Harry says. “It contained a piece of Voldemort, and he was able to possess Ginny Weasley. It would make sense that it had a piece of his soul, wouldn’t it?”

Sirius nods. “It would make sense,” he says slowly. He glances at Remus. “Do you think Dumbledore knows?”

Remus wears a troubled expression. “It would not surprise me. I would assume that he at least suspects. He knew about the diary, didn’t he, Harry?”

Harry nods. “Yeah, and that it was Lucius Malfoy slipped it to Ginny while we were at Diagon Alley before school started.”

“He wouldn’t have trusted just anybody with pieces of his soul,” Remus comments. “If Lucius Malfoy had one piece, then it’s probably safe to assume that his most trusted followers would have the others.”

Sirius suddenly remembers what Regulus had said about Kreacher keeping his secrets. “I think Regulus might have had one.”

“Then we really do need to get to Grimmauld Place,” Remus says grimly. “Do you think Kreacher would know where it is?”

Sirius nods. “I’m certain he does, but he may or may not be willing to tell me where it is.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Remus says. “For now, let’s focus on getting through the ritual tonight.”

Harry takes a deep breath. “I wanted to do some studying with those new books Hermione gave me anyway. That will be a good distraction.”

Sirius and Remus go out for lunch, since Harry needs to fast, and they don’t want to eat in front of him. Harry seems happy enough with his books, although he glances up occasionally with a distracted stare.

A little over an hour before they’re due at the hospital, Sirius says, “Are you ready?”

Harry scrubs his hands over his face. “I guess I should start meditating now, huh?”

“It’s time,” Sirius confirms. “Do you want me there with you?”

Harry nods. “Yeah, I do. It feels like it’s easier with you there.”

They sit down across from each other on the floor, as is their custom when practicing occlumency. Harry takes a deep breath, and relaxes into the meditation process. Harry is practiced at it by now, and it’s not hard for him.

“Good, Harry,” Sirius says quietly. “Do you want to try to meditate on your form? It might help you stay grounded during the ritual.”

Harry opens his eyes briefly. “I can try.”

“Whatever happens, pup, you’ll still be you,” Sirius insists.

“And my mum will still be protecting me,” Harry says simply.

Sirius smiles warmly. “Good. Keep that in mind. That will see you through.”

Harry closes his eyes again, and says quietly, “I think my form has feathers.”

“A bird form would be very helpful, and would suit you well,” Sirius replies. “What kind of a bird?”

“I don’t know,” Harry admits. “Not yet.”

“What sort of bird would you like to be?” Sirius asks him.

Harry takes a deep breath. “I didn’t think what I wanted mattered.”

“Reports are mixed on that,” Sirius admits. “Some people say that your animagus form reflects your true self. Some say that you can choose your form. I suspect that it’s somewhere in between.”

Harry’s eyes open. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I don’t mind being a dog, but I wouldn’t have chosen to be a Grim,” Sirius admits. “Focus, pup.”

Harry closes his eyes again and takes a deep breath. “I was afraid I’d end up being some kind of snake.”

“Unfortunate associations aside, there’s nothing wrong with snakes,” Sirius replies. “They are symbols of wisdom and cunning in a lot of cultures.”

“I’d rather be a bird,” Harry says firmly.

“You have a close bond with Hedwig, and you’re a natural on a broom, so it wouldn’t surprise me a bit,” Sirius replies.

He probes a bit to see whether Harry is paying attention, and he runs into a brick wall. “Good lad,” he praises.

Harry is deep into meditation now, and Sirius expects that he’ll probably find his form before he has to go back to Hogwarts. He might achieve the transformation before his fifth year, depending on how things go.

But Harry excels at the practical work, and he’s doing well at occlumency for someone his age.

By the time they need to leave for the hospital, Harry seems centered and determined. “Are you ready?” Sirius asks.

Harry manages a smile. “I want to get it over with.”

“Fair enough,” Sirius replies.

The hospital is in a different area of the city, so they apparate there, with Harry as a side-along. They enter the hospital by a side entrance that Andres directed them to, and are met by Diana.

“Come, this way,” she says quietly. “There won’t be many people around right now while the shifts are changing.”

Sirius knows they’re taking a risk, trusting her and Andres, but he’s also aware that there’s no one in England he would trust with this task. They would exploit Harry, and the information they  would garner.

Sirius hasn’t participated in many rituals. Outside of the healing arts, ritual magic is largely considered dark, since mostly only pure-blood families practice it, passed down from generation to generation, much like the wards on family properties.

He suspected that Lily had practiced some form of ritual magic to protect Harry, possibly fueling the final spell with her death. He hasn’t shared those suspicions with anyone yet, though Remus may already share them.

The ritual room is located in the basement of the hospital, and it’s windowless and somewhat damp, the thick stone walls keeping things cool.

Harry looks around with wide eyes. “I guess I didn’t know what the healer meant when he said there was a ritual room,” he whispers.

Sirius put his arm around Harry’s shoulders. “Ritual magic is really only practiced by the pure-blood families and healers these days, and very few healers in England will use it.”

“And since it’s the only way to remove an obscurus without killing the host, it’s a shame that more healers don’t embrace it,” Andres says briskly as he enters the room. “This will be your first ritual, yes?”

Harry nods.

“Diana and I will actually be performing the ritual, but Sirius and Remus will anchor you,” Andres explains. “You will need to be cleansed, and I’ve brought a robe for you to wear.”

“What about the soul fragment?” Sirius asks. “Will it be destroyed, or—“

“We’ll be banishing it,” Andres replies. “I would not want to leave it in an object. Far better to destroy it.”

“Have you removed an obscurus before?” Remus asks.

Andres makes an affirmative noise. “They are rare, so I have only had to perform this ritual four times, but all four children lived.”

“I don’t understand,” Harry says. “What’s an obscurus?”

Sirius clears his throat. “Sometimes, when a child is mistreated and made to fear and hate their own magic, it turns inward and becomes a destructive force.”

“It’s rare, as I said, but I have seen it happen,” Andres adds. “Most of the time, if there is no proper intervention, the child doesn’t live to reach the age where they would go to school.”

Harry frowns, clearly troubled. “Could that have happened to me?”

“It’s unlikely, Harry,” Andres says gently. “Though you may not have known it, your mother’s protection has been a part of you from the moment she sacrificed her life for yours.”

Harry manages a shaky smile. “That’s good.”

“It’s very good,” Andres replies. “Come, I will show you where you can get changed.”

Sirius glances at Diana. “Do we need to change as well?”

She shakes her head. “No, your role is to hold Harry still. I have been involved in such a ritual once before. It’s why I thought that Andres might be able to help. There are parallels between an obscurus and the soul fragment.”

“How dangerous is this ritual?” Sirius asks.

Diana gives him a sympathetic look. “There’s danger, but this ritual is Harry’s best chance for its removal. The only other way to remove it would be through death.”

“Well, that’s not going to happen,” Sirius mutters.

Remus runs a hand through his hair. “Could Dumbledore have suspected?”

“There’s the prophecy,” Sirius says quietly. “Neither can survive while the other lives, I think it said.”

Remus grimaces. “Maybe that’s why Harry hasn’t been examined thoroughly in the past.”

Sirius really doesn’t like the conclusions he’s reaching. It points to Dumbledore using Harry, but maybe that’s not a surprise. Why else would Dumbledore set a trap for Voldemort’s wraith in a school full of children Harry’s first year?

Hell, who sets a trap for the wraith of a dark wizard in a school in the first place? Hogwarts is already dangerous enough.

Before they could say any more, Harry emerges wearing a long, pale blue robe, and he’s a little flushed. Sirius is familiar with ritual magic enough to know that the robe is all Harry is wearing.

“You all right there, Harry?” Sirius asks.

Harry’s flush deepens. “I didn’t know I had to get naked for this.”

“It’s important that there aren’t any other magical traces on you during the ritual, and that’s the reason for the robe,” Andres says, sounding amused. “You know, in some conclaves, all rituals are performed in the nude.”

“Great,” Harry mutters.

It’s a bit of levity in a rather serious situation. “Hop up, young man,” Andres says, patting the ritual altar. “It’s going to be a bit cold.”

Harry lays down on the altar with a grimace, although he doesn’t make a sound. “Sirius, if you’ll take Harry’s shoulders, and Remus, his feet.” Andres presses a hand to Harry’s forehead, right over his scar. “This will not be pleasant, Harry, and I fully expect that your scar may reopen, and will bleed. If you need to make noise, you may do so. I cannot give you a pain relief potion until after the ritual is over.”

Harry’s expression is tense, but he still has a determined look in his eyes. “I’ll be okay.”

“Yes, you will be,” Andres says with a warm smile. “You may want to give your glasses to your godfather.”

Harry hands them over, and Sirius puts them into his pocket.

Andres and Diana stand across from each other, on either side of the stone altar, and Andres begins to chant in a language unfamiliar to Sirius. He thinks it might be Middle French.

He holds his wand over Harry’s scar, and Harry whimpers. Sirius puts his hands on Harry’s shoulders and holds him tightly.

The chanting continues, and Harry lets out a high, thin cry.

Sirius meets Remus’ eyes over Harry’s thrashing body, and he can see the horror he’s feeling reflected in Remus’ face.

Harry screams, and his scar opens as Andres had warned. There’s blood, but also there’s a black mist arising from his scar. Sirius can feel its malevolence, and Andres points his wand at the mist, hissing something at the mist, hitting it with a heavy-duty banishing spell that Sirius can feel, even though it’s not being aimed at him.

With that banishment, Anders lowers his wand, and Diana steps in, casting a cleansing spell on the wound, and then a healing spell. The scar closes, but it’s more prominent than it was before. Harry has tears spilling down his cheeks, and Sirius wipes them away gently.

“It will fade again,” Diana says quietly, “and possibly will be less noticeable than it was before.”

Sirius helps Harry sit up and takes the pain relief potion that Andres has ready, and he helps Harry knock it back. Harry’s hands are shaking too much to do it for himself.

“Is it done?” Harry asks, his voice weak.

“It’s done,” Andres says gently. “The soul fragment is gone, banished. You may feel weak for the next few days, and the best thing for you is rest. If it lasts longer than a few days, though, I want you to contact me.”

“We will, of course,” Sirius replies for him. “Thank you, Healer Michaud.”

Andres nods. “But of course.”

Sirius puts an arm around Harry’s shoulders. “Do you need help getting dressed, pup?”

Harry shakes his head. “No, I think I’m okay.”

Sirius supports him to the area of the ritual chamber where he can get changed out of the robe and back into his regular clothing. He stays close, just in case, but keeps his back turned. “How do you feel?” Sirius asks him.

“Like I’ve been pummeled by bludgers,” Harry says wryly. “But also—like there’s been a weight lifted off me.”

“Good,” Sirius replies, feeling a sense of relief. He’s glad that Harry has come through the ritual so well.

He and Remus side-apparate Harry back to the flat, and he goes straight to bed, as do Sirius and Remus, although they don’t go to sleep right away. Instead, Sirius buries his face in Remus’ neck and allows himself to be held.

“I hate that I had to put him through so much pain,” Sirius murmurs.

Remus runs his fingers through Sirius’ hair gently. “Love, you didn’t put him through anything. That was all Voldemort. Just remember that while he might have nightmares in the future, he’s not going to dream about what Voldemort is doing. He’s not going to be connected to that monster any longer.”

Sirius breathes a sigh of relief. “True.”

“He’s strong, and he came through the ritual with flying colors,” Remus reminds him. “And there’s one more piece of Voldemort that has been destroyed.”

“As soon as Harry has recovered, we should go to Grimmauld Place,” Sirius says. “The only way that Harry will ever be safe, is if we can hunt down and destroy every last bit of him.”

“That’s the spirit,” Remus says, pulling him in closer. And that’s how they fall asleep, tangled up in each other.

~~~~~

They end up staying in Paris for another three days to allow Harry to recover from the ritual. He’s rundown and listless, and Sirius makes sure he eats but Harry doesn’t seem inclined to accept more coddling than that.

By the fourth day, Harry is clearly back to his normal self. He’s up early, with a smile on his face, and a stated interest in heading back to the farmhouse so he can go flying.

“Feeling back to your usual self, I see,” Sirius comments.

Harry shrugs. “Yeah, all back to normal. Really, I was just tired and sore, and that’s passed.”

“Well, then we can head out any time,” Sirius replies.

They opt for a portkey back to the farmhouse, as it’s faster, and they’ll only be there for a couple of days, before heading to Grimmauld Place.

Lionel is back with his grandmother, and he and Harry have a reunion of sorts that day, flying around and generally acting like a couple of kids with too much energy.

It’s good to see Harry being a normal teenage boy, especially after the trauma of the ritual.

The goodbyes that evening are a little difficult, as they’re planning to spend the time before the World Cup at Grimmauld Place. “We’ll be back to collect you, though,” Harry says as he and Lionel bid farewell. “When you see your mum next, please give her my thanks. I feel so much better now.”

Sirius isn’t sure how much Harry has told Lionel about what had happened, but he’d clearly told him something. “My mum is a great healer,” Lionel replies. “But I’ll be sure to tell her. She likes getting updates from her patients.”

“Thanks, Leo,” Harry says, and he reaches out and they hug.

Sirius realizes that he’s eavesdropping on something that is absolutely none of his business, and he quickly retreats.

Remus glances at him as he enters the kitchen. “Is everything okay?”

“I think that Harry and Lionel might be attached,” Sirius whispers.

“Is that a bad thing?” Remus asks, clearly amused.

“No, I just—no.” Sirius takes a deep breath. “Lionel is a good kid, and based on his family, he’ll become a wonderful man. I just—wasn’t expecting that.”

“Harry is fourteen,” Remus replies. “He’s exploring. The best we can do is to accept whatever explorations he wants to make.”

“Obviously,” Sirius mutters. “It’s not as if I would have a problem with it.”

Remus smirks at him. “Would you have ever thought we’d end up here?”

Sirius gives him a look. “I hoped.”

Remus’ smile softens. “Well, then. Fair enough.” And he finishes that thought off with a kiss.

They take an international portkey the next day to London, rather than a slower form of travel.

Harry stares at the row of houses in front of them. “Are you sure we’re in the right place?” he asks. “There’s no number twelve.”

“My parents didn’t want Muggles to have any idea where they lived,” Sirius replies, pulling out his wand. “The house has some of the strongest protections on it that can be arranged, as well as a Muggle repelling charm. Unfortunately, I inherited this place after my mother died.”

Sirius casts a silent revelio, and number 12 emerges from between numbers eleven and thirteen. “And there it is. Home, terrible home. Fair warning, my mother’s portrait is likely going to be on the wall, and she is awful.”

“Worse than my aunt and uncle?” Harry asks, following Sirius inside, Remus bringing up the rear.

You!” comes the screech. “How dare you come back here, you miserable blood traitor! I should have disinherited you when you went into Gryffindor!”

Sirius sends a silencio at the portrait, which muffles her screeching, but doesn’t completely quiet it. The heavy curtain that he pulls in front of it helps a bit more. “What do you think?” Sirius asks.

“Okay, you definitely win,” Harry replies wryly. “You really weren’t kidding.”

“Why do you think I ran away to your dad’s place the first chance I got?” Sirius asks, glancing around the hallway. “This is much worse than I was expecting.”

It’s all dark and shabby, but without the homeyness of their place in France. Sirius feels like he’s sixteen again, and he hates it.

Remus slides an arm around his waist. “Easy. Just remember that we’re here to do a job.”

“The first order of business is to get that bloody portrait off the wall,” Sirius mutters.

“Master Black.” Kreacher pops into the hallway, and he bows in a way that’s probably at least a little bit sarcastic. “Kreacher is here to serve Lord Black.”

“Kreacher, unless the order is coming from my heir, Harry Potter, you will follow no orders but mine,” Sirius orders. “We’re here to clean the place up, and if we can’t do that, we’ll tear it down.”

Kreacher stares at him in horror. “Master cannot! This house has always had Blacks.”

Sirius smiles thinly. “Then I guess you’d better help us get the house in order, because if you don’t, I’m destroying it.”

Harry turns alarmed eyes to Sirius, and he can hear Remus sigh, but Kreacher’s tone turns much more respectful at that threat. “Kreacher will assist.”

“Good,” Sirius replies. “My brother cared for you, Kreacher. I’d like to do my best for you for his sake, if not our own.”

“Master Regulus was kind, very kind to Kreacher,” he mutters, pulling on his ears.

Sirius decides that now isn’t the time to press Kreacher about what Regulus left with him. He’s not sure how he’s going to broach the subject, or convince Kreacher to give it to him. “We’ll need dinner, Kreacher.”

Kreacher pops away, muttering to himself, and Harry hisses, “Shouldn’t you be nicer to him?”

“House elves need to keep busy to have purpose, and to stay healthy,” Remus explains. “The fact that the house has fallen into such disrepair suggests that Kreacher isn’t healthy.”

Harry hesitates. “So, if there was a house elf that was kind of attached to me, I should maybe do something about that?”

“Is this Dobby?” Sirius asks. He knows that Harry had freed Dobby, or orchestrated his freedom. He knows that Dobby had occasionally been helpful, but more often was a complication.

Harry nods. “Yeah, but I don’t know what he’s usually doing.”

Sirius harbors his own suspicions. “Call him to you.”

“How would he hear me?” Harry asks, bewildered.

Sirius sighs. “If Dobby has formed a bond of any kind with you, he’ll hear you.”

“Dobby!” Harry calls.

Dobby immediately pops into the hallway. “Harry Potter calls his Dobby?”

Harry rubs his forehead, muttering, “Oh, Hermione’s going to love this. Dobby, did you form a bond with me?”

Dobby tugs on his ears harshly. “I’m sorry, Harry Potter, sir. Dobby didn’t think you’d notice.”

“I didn’t notice,” Harry says, sound exasperated. “My godfather figured it out. Why didn’t you tell me you needed a bond?”

“Dobby is a free elf!” Dobby protests. “But Dobby needs wizard magic.”

Harry crouches down in front of Dobby. “You are a free elf, and you can have what you need from me, Dobby, without needing to do anything in return. You’re my friend.”

Dobby wails. “Master Harry Potter is too kind to Dobby!”

Harry glances up at Sirius, alarmed, and Sirius motions him to continue.

“As my friend, would you mind helping us out, Dobby?” Harry asks. “I’m helping my godfather clean this place up, and the Black house elf, Kreacher, doesn’t like Sirius very much.”

Dobby appears aghast at that. “Not like Harry Potter’s dog-father?”

Harry blinks. “Uh, yeah. Not much, anyway. How did you know about Sirius’ animagus form?”

Dobby won’t meet Harry’s eyes. “I be watching Harry Potter, to see if he needs his Dobby.”

Harry sighs. “So, would you mind helping us, Dobby? I would really appreciate it.”

“Dobby is happy to help Harry Potter and his dog-father!” Dobby declares. “I will go to the kitchen now.”

Harry heaves a sigh when Dobby pops away. “Did I somehow acquire a house elf?”

“I think he acquired you,” Sirius says with a laugh. “I doubt you’ll ever be able to order Dobby to do anything, but he’d likely to whatever you ask when you request his help.”

“What did he mean about needing a wizard’s magic?” Harry asks, climbing to his feet.

“House elves do need a wizard’s magic to shore up their own,” Remus says. “Most require a bond to survive, but obviously, it’s not a perfect world, or a perfect situation. It’s entirely true, however, that house elves could sustain themselves on a wizard’s magic without also being enslaved.”

Harry’s expression turns thoughtful. “So, you’re saying they could bond with the wizards they wanted to, and only do what they felt like doing, instead of being forced into it.”

“It’s true,” Sirius agrees. “I had to order Kreacher as I did because Narcissa could use him against us, through her status as a Black. If Bellatrix ever escaped from Azkaban, she could use him, too.”

Harry grimaces. “Yeah, that makes sense. It still kind of sucks, though.”

Sirius sighs. “Kreacher and I have a long history as antagonists. He loved my brother, and Regulus loved him in return, but Kreacher loved exposing all of my infractions to my parents, which usually resulted in some pretty harsh punishments.”

Harry’s face softens. “Yeah, I can see why you wouldn’t like him much.” He looks around him. “Okay, I guess we should get out of the hallway and figure out where to start.”

Sirius is grateful for Harry’s pragmatism. “There are bedrooms upstairs. Let’s see if any are halfway decent.”

His old bedroom is available, and the posters with their permanent sticking charms are still hanging. Sirius casts a cleaning charm on the bed. “This was my old room,” he says. “I’ll let you take it. Reg’s bedroom should be in decent shape. I’m not going to touch my parents’ room.”

Harry looks around. “This was your room?”

“Once upon a time,” Sirius admits.

Harry looks at the posters. “I guess you put those up.”

Sirius laughs. “With permanent sticking charms so my mother couldn’t remove them.”

Harry fixes him with a look. “What do you want to bet that your mother did the same thing with her portrait?”

Sirius groans. “Oh, hell.”

Harry grins brightly. “Well, we can always take out the whole wall.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Sirius replies. “That option is definitely on the table.”

Regulus’ bedroom is just down the hall, and Remus has already found it. There are Slytherin pennants on the walls, and Slytherin colors everywhere. Sirius remembers Regulus being here, remembers arguing with him here, and when they were much younger, he remembers climbing into bed with Regulus to comfort him.

“Are you okay?” Remus asks softly.

Sirius sighs. “Just remembering. Reg—he was such a sweet little kid.”

“And you were his protector,” Remus says softly.

“Until I wasn’t,” Sirius agrees. “I think that Kreacher became his protector, and maybe he held it against me that I broke Reg’s heart when I went into Gryffindor.”

There’s a pause, and Remus asks, “Did you have a choice? I thought—“

“I begged the hat for any house but Slytherin,” Sirius admits. “I just wanted to get away, and the Hat said that if I was going to buck tradition, I had better be in Gryffindor.”

Remus sits down on the edge of the bed. “I had no idea. You never said.”

“James was the only one I ever told,” Sirius admits, sitting down next to him. “He was the only person I told about a lot of things.”

Remus puts a hand on his leg and squeezes. “I’m sorry. I knew coming back here would be difficult, but I underestimated—“

“This is for Harry,” Sirius says, cutting Remus off. “We need to know if Regulus did have something that holds a piece of Voldemort.”

“That won’t tell us how many pieces there are,” Remus reminds him.

Sirius shrugs. “Still, it’s a step.”

“It’s a step,” Remus agrees. “What do you want to do first?”

“I want to get rid of that damn portrait so she’s not shrieking at us all the time,” Sirius replies. “But I suspect that Harry is correct, and she’s used a permanent sticking charm.”

Remus hums thoughtfully. “Would it be effective against house elf magic?”

“There’s no way that Kreacher would agree to remove it,” Sirius objects.

“Even if Dobby offered to remove it for you?” Remus counters. “And the available options are either its destruction or Kreacher keeping it somewhere only he’ll see it?”

Sirius sighs. “It’s worth a shot. At this point, we don’t have much to lose, and the house isn’t going to be livable until she’s gone. I don’t really want her screaming ‘blood traitor’ at me all the time.”

He glances around again. “We’d better get down to the kitchen. If we’re going to have to order in tonight, better to know now.”

They find Dobby and Kreacher squaring off in the filthy kitchen. Sirius doesn’t think they’ll be eating anything cooked here, not before a thorough scrubbing.

He can’t help but compare it to the sunny kitchen of their farmhouse in France, which might have been a bit on the shabby side, and maybe needed updating, but is still warm and welcoming.

This kitchen is not only filthy, it’s dark and forbidding. Sirius remembers when he’d invited the Order to use the house, and there were people in and out. That had helped, but it’s not a very welcoming space. He doesn’t think it ever will be.

“Dobby helps Harry Potter!” Dobby is shouting. “Kreacher be bad house elf, not cleaning, letting everything be filthy!”

Kreacher sneers at him. “Dobby be getting clothes.”

Dobby looks smug. “Harry Potter asked for my help. Dobby is a free elf.”

Sirius clears his throat. “I think that’s enough. We won’t be eating here until the kitchen is clean. I suppose Harry and I will have to scrub it tomorrow.”

Dobby is clearly aghast by the suggestion. “It not be Harry Potter’s job to clean kitchen! It be Kreacher’s.”

Sirius shrugs. “I guess we’ll just have to see tomorrow who’s going to be doing the cleaning and the cooking. Let’s go let Harry know we’ll be going out for dinner tonight.”

“That was manipulative,” Remus remonstrates in a low tone as they leave the kitchen.

Sirius shrugs unrepentantly. “House elves need to be busy to be happy, and Kreacher has clearly not been happy. I’m doing my best here, Moony.”

Remus is quiet for a long moment. “Do you think—Harry said the diary possessed Ginny Weasley.”

Sirius considers it. If there was a piece of Voldemort in the house, and it has any influence on Kreacher, that could explain quite a bit. “We’ll need to get to the bottom of it.”

Harry meets them at the base of the stairs. “I take it we’re going out for dinner.”

Sirius smirks. “How perceptive.”

“Judging by the state of the rest of the house, I didn’t think we’d want to cook in the kitchen unless Kreacher had a better reason to keep it clean than he did the rest of the house,” Harry comments.

“You’re not wrong,” Sirius agrees. “Come on. We can get curry.”

Harry perks up at that. “That sounds excellent.”

They eat at a nearby Indian place, ordering enough for leftovers the next day. Sirius doesn’t have a lot of hope that the house is going to be anywhere near comfortable.

“No offense, but I already miss the farmhouse,” Harry says wistfully as they start walking back after dinner.

“No offense taken,” Sirius replies. “I absolutely hated that place growing up, and my feelings have not changed at all.”

Harry glances at him. “So…you’re rich, right?”

Sirius isn’t quite sure where Harry is going with this. “The Black family has always been relatively wealthy, yes.”

“Can’t you just pay someone to clean it or whatever for you?” Harry asks.

Remus gives Sirius a look. “He asks a very good question, Padfoot.”

“Because there are dark artifacts, and my mother’s portrait, and I’m pretty sure that Kreacher has a piece of Voldemort’s soul,” Sirius replies. “But assuming that we can deal with all of that, then yes, we can absolutely hire someone to come in and take care of everything else for us.”

The house had been under a Fidelius before, and Sirius had been a wanted man. They didn’t have any other option but to clear it out themselves. That is plainly no longer the case

“So, if we can get all that done, we can go back to France?” Harry asks hopefully.

Sirius nods. “Yes, if we can get through all of that, we can go back to France.”

It’s a bit of a relief to think about. They have certain concrete things they need to accomplish before turning the house over to professionals, but the task no longer seems so daunting.

“Good call, Harry,” Remus comments. “There are certainly times when it’s easier and cheaper to actually hire it done.”

Harry smiles. “Happy to help.”

Sirius drapes an arm around Harry’s shoulders. “Let’s just hope that Kreacher and Dobby don’t come to blows. Dobby has very firm opinions on what a house elf’s job entails.”

Harry winces. “Let’s not tell Hermione that I enlisted Dobby’s help. She would lecture me.”

“I’ll give you a couple of books to take back to school with you,” Sirius told him. “If Hermione is going to lead a campaign, she should at least know what she’s fighting for, and it’s a little bit more complicated than just that house elves are enslaved.”

Harry blows out a breath. “Well, being able to throw a book at Hermione would be helpful. It’s not like anybody ever teaches these things at Hogwarts. I didn’t even know about house elves before Dobby showed up, trying to ‘save’ me.”

Harry deploys air quotes to demonstrate just how successful Dobby had been.

“And I’d be happy to talk to her,” Remus offers. “She might not accept what Sirius has to say, since he has a house elf, but I don’t, and I’ve been in a position of authority over her in the past.”

Harry nods. “Any back up would be appreciated.”

“Always,” Sirius promises. “We’ll always have your back, Harry.”

Harry is quiet. “Even if it means that I don’t want to go back to Hogwarts?”

Sirius blinks. “You don’t want to go back?”

“No, I do!” Harry hastens to say. “I do want to go back. Just—you know, in the future, if maybe it makes more sense for me to go somewhere else instead.”

Sirius hesitates. “Does this have anything to do with Lionel?”

Harry flushes. “No. Not exactly. I mean, I’m going to miss him during the school year.”

Sirius glances at Remus, who shrugs to show that he doesn’t really have any advice. “You know, if you have feelings for Lionel that are more than just as friends, there’s nothing wrong with that, right?”

Harry’s flush deepens. “I don’t know what I feel. He’s—he’s nice.”

“He’s very nice,” Sirius agrees. “And he happens to be fairly cute, as well, with a good family, and he shares a lot of your interests. There are worse foundations for a relationship.”

Harry shakes his head. “I’m not ready to date anybody yet, or feel that way about anybody yet. Not when I have a mad wizard chasing after me.”

“Well, hopefully we can get that taken care of, and then you can take all the time you need to figure out who and what you want without that looming over your head.”

Harry shrugs. “Here’s hoping.”

When they walk into the house, the front hallway is—noticeably cleaner. Dobby pops into the hallway in front of them. “We be cleaning, Harry Potter, sir!”

“I can see that,” Harry replies. “It looks a lot better.”

Dobby smirks. “I be cleaning, and Kreacher be feeling bad, so he show how an old elf still be good for cleaning.”

“Very clever, Dobby,” Harry replies with a grin. “You’re doing a great job.”

Dobby preens a bit. “House be clean for youse tomorrow. Kreacher says he cooks breakfast, but Dobby not be leaving things to chance.”

“You’re the best,” Harry says fondly.

Dobby tugs on his ears. “Harry Potter is too kind to his Dobby. Maybe he let Dobby come to Hogwarts with him.”

“If you can stay out of trouble, sure, Dobby,” Harry replies. “Just—don’t let Hermione see you, at least not until Padfoot gives her some books on house elves.”

Dobby nods. “Yes, of course, Harry Potter, sir.”

And then he pops away again, and Sirius goes to put their leftovers away in the kitchen, which—

Well, he’s not sure that the kitchen will ever sparkle, but Sirius is pretty sure he could eat off the floors now without feeling sick.

“I not be liking Dobby, Master Black,” Kreacher says, limping into the room. “He shouldn’t be here. He’s not a Black elf.”

Sirius restrains himself from snapping, remembering his promise to Regulus. “He has a bond with Harry, and Harry is my heir. So, it seems that Dobby is a Black elf after all.”

Kreacher huffs. “He doesn’t belong here.”

“We’re here to get the place into shape,” Sirius replies. “I’m going to take my seat on the Wizengamot, and take my head as the head of the House of Black.”

Kreacher stares at him. “You’re not.”

“It must be done,” Sirius replies. “I have to protect my heir.”

Kreacher’s chin sinks down on his chest, and he seems to be thinking about it.

Sirius hesitates, and then he says, “Kreacher, I know my brother trusted you more than he trusted anyone else. I know I stayed away too long, but I promise that I will not abandon you again.”

Kreacher huffs. “We see.” He stomps off to his own living quarters, and Sirius doesn’t try to follow. He hopes that by the time they’re ready to leave, he will have been able to gain Kreacher’s trust enough to find out what Regulus left behind.

Sirius puts the leftovers in the fridge, and when he goes upstairs, Regulus’ bedroom is much cleaner. He pokes his head into his old bedroom to see Harry sprawled out on the bed, a book in his hands. “How is it?”

“I think they did a thorough clean of the bedrooms, at least,” Harry comments with a smile.

“Kitchen, too,” Sirius comments. “The rivalry is working. Kreacher hates Dobby for showing him up, so things are getting cleaned a lot faster.”

Harry laughs. “That should make our jobs easier.”

“Let’s hope so,” Sirius replies. “You all right there, Harry?”

“I’m good,” Harry assures him. “I’m just going to read for a bit, and then go to bed.”

“Good night, then,” Sirius replies.

Remus is stretched out on the bed, reading a book as well, when Sirius enters the room, shutting the door behind him. “Is Harry down for the night?” he asks.

“He said he’d read for a bit, and then would go to bed,” Sirius replies. “And the kitchen is a lot cleaner.”

Remus smiles gently. “I’m not too surprised. Where do you want to start tomorrow?”

“Probably the library, and the studies,” Sirius replies pensively. “That’s where most of the dark artifacts are likely to be. We should probably check the potions lab in the cellar as well.”

Remus hums thoughtfully. “Harry probably better stay with one of us at all times then,” Remus comments. “Just in case.”

Sirius nods. “I was planning on that.”

Remus rests a hand on Sirius’ arm. “How are you doing? I know that this house doesn’t hold good memories for you.”

“I’m dealing with it,” Sirius replies. “As best I can, anyway.”

“Let me know if that changes,” Remus says, squeezing his arm. “I’m not sure what I’ll be able to do, but I’d like to know if you’re struggling.”

Sirius lets out a breath. “I will. Just having you and Harry here is helping.”

And it is helping, because Sirius has the constant reminder that this isn’t the past. He isn’t a child or a prisoner any more. If he truly wants to leave Grimmauld Place, he can walk out the front door and never return.

He has a job to do here, so he won’t, but Sirius appreciates the knowledge.

~~~~~

House elves generally don’t require as much sleep as humans do, so Sirius isn’t surprised to wake up the next morning and find more of the house cleaned. Banishing the dust and dirt does little to improve the appearance of the place, which is still dark and forbidding. Sirius will have to get rid of or store a lot of the furnishings and window coverings.

But he can hire someone else to do that. Harry is right about that much.

Sirius is also not surprised to find Dobby and Kreacher in the kitchen, and Sirius can feel the simmering resentment from Kreacher as he handles the pots on the stove with more force than necessary. Dobby, on the other hand, appears relentlessly cheerful.

“Good morning, Harry Potter’s Paddy!” Dobby says cheerfully.

“Good morning, Dobby,” Sirius replies, amused. “Thanks for helping out around here.”

“Anything for Harry Potter,” Dobby says reverently. “Dobby owes Harry Potter his freedom!”

“And thank you for making breakfast, Kreacher,” Sirius adds, keeping in mind his promise to Regulus.

Kreacher mutters something that Sirius can’t quite catch, but he decides not to press the matter. It’s enough that he’s keeping his promise, no matter how much he still resents Kreacher for his role in Sirius’ childhood misery.

Remus enters the kitchen and glances around. “This place looks much nicer. Well done.”

“Thank you,” Dobby squeaks. “Does Professor Moony want tea?”

“I would love some,” Remus replies.

Kreacher bangs a platter on the table with a glare in Sirius’ general direction, and then stomps off.

“I can see there’s still no love lost between you two,” Remus comments in a low voice.

Sirius shrugs. “I even said thank you.”

“Kreacher be bad house elf,” Dobby says. “Not take care of house, not do anything.”

Sirius hesitates. “Is it something about the house, Dobby?”

Dobby tugs at his ears. “This house be dark.”

“I know,” Sirius agrees. “We’re going to try to change that.”

Harry enters the kitchen, and says, “Something smells good.”

“Kreacher made breakfast,” Sirius replies. “With Dobby’s help, of course.”

Dobby beams at Harry. “Good morning, Harry Potter!”

“‘morning, Dobby,” Harry replies, seeming a bit bemused. “Did you sleep last night?”

“Dobby not need much sleep,” he replies. “I clean, but not dark objects. Dobby not want to touch those.”

“That is exactly what you should have done,” Sirius says. “We’re going to be dealing with those ourselves. Speaking of, Harry, I’d like you to stick close to me or Moony today. Some of those objects could be quite dangerous if you don’t know how to handle them.”

Harry nods. “Okay. I will.”

After a breakfast of eggs, sausages and toast, Sirius points Remus towards one of the studies, and he and Harry take the library.

Harry wrinkles his nose as he looks around. “What happened to this place?”

“Years of neglect and paranoia,” Sirius says grimly. “We’ll need to check the curtains for doxies.”

“Doxies?” Harry asks.

“Otherwise known as the Biting Fairies,” Sirius replies. “Household pests that like to live in the curtains.”

“Do we need anything to deal with them?” Harry asks.

“There’s a repelling spray we can use,” Sirius replies, and cautiously shakes the curtains, thankful when all he sees is dust. “Looks like it’s just dusty. Let’s pull them down. At the very least they’ll need to be cleaned.”

Harry sets to help him with a will. They pull down all the curtains, but Harry pauses at the family tree tapestry, seeing the blast marks that had obliterated the faces of certain family members, including Sirius’.

“It turns out that I was never officially disowned,” Sirius comments. “I’m sure my mother tried, but my guess is that she was too paranoid to go through the proper steps. Or maybe my grandfather intervened.”

“That’s why you’re the head of the House of Black?” Harry asks.

Sirius nods. “That’s why. Come on. This old relic can go, too. I plan on cutting off the Death Eaters and inviting Andromeda back into the family. I don’t know that she’ll agree, but I’ll give her the option.”

Removing the tapestry takes some effort, as his mother had obviously had no intention of it ever being removed from the wall. Sirius is forced to use piercing hexes to cut the top off, and they roll it up.

“Why would she not want to be back in the family?” Harry asks.

Sirius shrugs. “I don’t know, pup, but she was disowned because she ran off and married a Muggle. You saw the Black family motto on the tapestry: toujours pur.

“Always pure?” Harry asks.

Sirius nods. “Being a pureblood meant everything to them.”

“I’m not a pureblood,” Harry points out.

“Because I don’t give two figs about blood purity,” Sirius replies. “Neither should you. Besides, the motto doesn’t have to mean blood-status. It could refer to purity of spirit, purity of your magic, and so forth.”

“Maybe that’s what you should tell her, then,” Harry says. “So she doesn’t think that nothing has changed.”

“Fair point,” Sirius agrees.

They survey the now-bare walls, and Sirius grimaces at the blackened spots, probably from his mother losing her temper. The wallpaper is patchy in places, and there are grimy streaks as well.

“I think we should paint in here,” Harry says. “Get rid of the wallpaper entirely. It might lighten things up.”

Sirius nods. “Good idea. That’s what we’ll do. Next up, let’s make sure we identify the dark objects, and properly sort through the books.”

“I can start on the books,” Harry offers. “What am I looking for?”

“Anything that doesn’t have a title, and doesn’t have a standard binding,” Sirius replies. “Those will be family books and grimoires, and probably some books best kept private.”

Sirius starts going through the desk drawers, looking for anything that might be cursed or otherwise dangerous. They work in companionable silence, with Harry occasionally asking a question about a book he’s found.

By the time lunch time rolls around, Sirius has set aside several cursed objects that he’s levitated into silk-lined bags set aside for that purpose. He’ll either need to send them to a curse breaker, or store them in one of the Black family vaults. Harry has a pile of books deemed safe, and a smaller pile that Sirius will need to go through himself to see which ones are worth keeping for the information contained in them, and which should be hidden away.

Harry stretches, and glances at the piles of books he’s made, and says, “Your family seems to have a fascination with poisons and hexes.”

Sirius points to the line of bags. “Cursed objects. I’m not entirely sure what they’d do, but I’m not anxious to find out.”

“What will you do with them?” Harry asks.

“Take them to a curse breaker, or lock them in the family vault,” Sirius says. “Same as with the more dangerous books. Come on, let’s get something to eat and take a break.”

They both get cleaned up and head for the kitchen. Kreacher is banging around again, and there’s a platter of sandwiches on the table.

“Thank you, Kreacher,” Harry says cheerfully. “These look great.”

Kreacher clearly doesn’t have the same resentment for Harry that he does Sirius, because the house elf says, “Young Master Harry is welcome.”

Remus joins them after a few minutes, and he also extends his thanks for lunch, with an expectant look at Sirius.

“The sandwiches are very good,” Sirius comments. “Thank you, Kreacher.”

Kreacher stomps away. “Kreacher go clean something. House should look nice when Master Sirius is in Wizengamot.”

“At least he’s looking toward the future,” Harry says after he swallows a mouthful of sandwich.

“How have things been going in the study?” Sirius asks.

Remus sighs. “No fewer than three cursed objects, and more that just feel dark, although I don’t think they’re actually cursed. And there are books I found that should probably be chucked in a deep, dark hole.”

“Same here,” Harry comments. “And we’re only halfway through. At this rate, we’re going to be working on this at least until the World Cup.”

“Do you mind?” Sirius asks. “If you do, we can do this after you go back to school.”

Harry glances up. “No! I mean, I want to help! This is interesting.”

“I don’t want you to be disappointed about how you spent your summer, Harry,” Sirius admits.

“No,” Harry says forcefully. “I’m learning loads, and I’ve met some really interesting people. My summer couldn’t get much better.”

Sirius feels some relief at that. He doesn’t want to work Harry too hard this summer, and if Harry hated the work, he would be the first to pack them up and head back to France. But the work has to get done, and more hands means it goes faster.

“Besides,” Harry continues. “From what Ron has said about his brother Bill’s job, being a curse breaker would be really interesting. This gives me an up-close look at it.”

Sirius smiles. “Good. I’ll try to give you as much of a breadth of experience as I can, so you’ll be able to make better choices for yourself and your future.”

“At least we have Dobby and Kreacher’s help,” Harry says cheerfully.

“At least there’s that,” Sirius agrees.

~~~~~

They spend the next several days working hard, going through the contents of the house, setting aside dangerous objects and books, and working to get to a point where they can turn the house over to others.

So far, the only two outstanding issues they’ll have to solve in order to do just that, is the problem of his mother’s portrait, which is still stuck to the wall, in spite of their best efforts, and Kreacher, and whatever he received in trust from Regulus.

Two nights before they’re due to leave for the farmhouse so they can pick up Lionel, Sirius decides to make his move. Kreacher is slamming around the kitchen, making it very clear that he still disapproves of Sirius’ presence.

“I’m hiring others to come in and redecorate the house,” Sirius says quietly. “My mother’s portrait might not survive that process, but I know how fond you were of her. If it’s moved somewhere that visitors won’t see it, I think that would be best.”

Kreacher glares at him. “Such disrespect.”

Sirius raises his eyebrows. “I’m taking the Black seat on the Wizengamot, and I need to be able to host people here. I can’t trust my mother not to screech at guests, which will bring shame to the ancient and noble house of Black.”

Kreacher huffs angrily, but Sirius has been around him enough at this point to know that Kreacher is capable of thinking logically, and that he is invested in the success of the Blacks. “I take care of the portrait.”

“Thank you,” Sirius says sincerely. “You can put it wherever you like, as long as guests won’t see it.”

Kreacher sniffs.

“There’s another matter I wanted to talk to you about,” Sirius says hesitantly. “I know how much you cared for Regulus, and he cared about you, too.”

Kreacher’s eyes narrow. “Young master Regulus was too kind to Kreacher.”

“I also know that he gave something to you before he died,” Sirius says. “Regulus told me that you would hold his secrets, and I should take care of you.”

Kreacher doesn’t appear convinced. “Master Sirius never spoke to Master Regulus. Not after he left home.”

“But I did,” Sirius counters. “I saw him, and I spoke to him. He was at peace, and he wanted me to ensure that the Black line continued. If you have something that belonged to Voldemort, then we need to destroy it. We’ve destroyed two other objects so far, and there may be more, but if we can do that, Harry will be safe.”

“Master Harry is the Black heir,” Kreacher mutters to himself. “He has Black blood.”

“He’s the future of our house,” Sirius quietly agrees. “If he doesn’t survive, neither will the Ancient and Noble House of Black.”

“Harry Potter is kind to Kreacher.”

Sirius wonders whether Kreacher sees Regulus when he looks at Harry. There’s a superficial resemblance, since Harry has hair as dark as Reg’s, and Reg’s eyes had shaded more towards green than gray at times.

And Harry has been kind to Kreacher, and surely Kreacher has figured out that Harry had been kind to Dobby without expecting anything in return.

Kreacher trots off, and Sirius wonders if his plea had fallen on deaf ears after all.

“When did you talk to Regulus?”

The question causes Sirius to jump. He hadn’t realized there was anyone else in the kitchen with them. He glances up at Remus, who seems disquieted. “Later,” he says. “I’ll tell you as much as I can.”

“It wasn’t a ruse?” Remus asks.

Sirius shakes his head. “No. Reg was the one to tell me that he had trusted his secrets to Kreacher, and Kreacher is correct. I hadn’t really spoken to him after I left home and started living with James.”

The answer comes to him suddenly, how he could explain his conversation with Regulus without revealing the truth about the Veil, which he wouldn’t be able to choke out anyway. He’d come close to dying when the Dementors tried to kiss him, and was saved only because of Harry’s use of the patronus charm.

In those moments, during his near-death experience, it would be entirely possible that Sirius might have peered beyond the Veil, without admitting to the whole truth.

Kreacher returns before Remus can say anything else, and Sirius sees Kreacher tremble as he holds something out in his hand.

“Wait,” Remus says. “Let me grab a pouch for it.”

He returns shortly with one of the pouches they’ve been using for the cursed objects, and Sirius levitates the necklace from Kreacher’s hand to over the bag. He can feel the malevolence pouring off the object, and while Sirius remembers Kreacher as being generally unpleasant, being around this sort of object for more than 10 years had to have done something to him.

Maybe that’s helped contribute to Kreacher’s state of mind, and the state of the house in general, and the feeling of oppression.

Sirius drops the necklace into the sack without looking at it too closely, and feels a sense of relief when Remus closes it. He still doesn’t feel entirely good about it, but the feeling in the house seems less dark already.

“What was that?” Harry asks, shuffling into the kitchen. “I woke up, and it felt like when my scar would hurt.”

“My brother managed to hide a piece of Voldemort’s soul here, with Kreacher,” Sirius replies grimly. “We’ll have to decide how we’re going to destroy it.”

“Can we ask Andres?” Harry asks.

Sirius shrugs. “I don’t know. I think we’d be safe enough to ask, but I’m not carrying that thing back to France. I’d rather it be destroyed in a secure location.”

“Master Sirius will destroy it?” Kreacher asks.

“I will,” Sirius promises.

Dobby pops into the kitchen, tugging on his ears and appearing distressed. “Master Harry is in danger!”

“I’m okay, Dobby.” Harry is quick to reassure him. “Kreacher has been protecting Regulus’ secrets, and doing it very well.”

That bit of praise perks Kreacher up a bit. “Kreacher is happy to be of service to the House of Black.”

“And you’re doing a great job,” Harry replies. “Holding on to that locket was very helpful.”

Dobby stares at the closed bag distrustfully. “Feels like the diary,” he whimpers quietly.

“It’s okay, Dobby,” Harry reassures him. “We’re going to destroy it. It’s going to be fine.”

“Where are we going to put it?” Remus asks.

Sirius thinks about what might be the most secure room in the house. “Harry, how did you destroy the diary?”

Harry blows out a breath. “I used a basilisk fang. It broke off, and I was dying, and Tom was gloating and saying that he was going to become physical, and Ginny was going to die, and I just—stabbed it with the first thing that came to hand.”

Sirius feels like they need to unpack that experience a little bit more, but now isn’t the time.

Remus snaps his fingers. “Basilisk venom. It’s extremely potent. If we were able to get our hands on more of it, we might be able to destroy the locket.”

Sirius has an idea about that. “How did you kill the basilisk?”

“I pulled the sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat,” Harry admits. “I’m not sure how, but Dumbledore said that they people who were loyal to him would be able to get help. Fawkes brought me the hat in the Chamber.”

Sirius glances at Remus. “The sword would probably be imbued with basilisk venom.”

“We should bring it to Dumbledore,” Remus comments. “We may not know exactly what his game is with all of this, but he should know.”

“Let’s wait to see if we need his help,” Sirius counters. “Dumbledore was cautioning me that Harry would need to go back to the Muggles at some point. I don’t want to give him any reason to force the issue, especially if it has something to do with this.”

Remus nods slowly. “Where are we going to keep it for now?”

“There’s a safe in the library,” Sirius replies. “We’ll keep it in there. I’ll head to Diagon Alley tomorrow and see if there’s a dimensional store, or something that would afford more shielding.”

Harry frowns. “I wonder where the Malfoys stored the diary. I mean, I can’t see that they’d allow something that feels like that around Draco.”

Sirius smiles. “That’s a good observation, pup. I think you’re probably right about it. Not that I’m about to ask Lucius Malfoy where he kept that damn diary.”

“No, of course not, but you’re cleaning your house out, right?” Harry points out. “You could go to the goblins or the bank, and tell them you need secure storage for family artifacts that you don’t feel are safe to be around your godson.”

“Are you sure you weren’t sorted into Slytherin?” Sirius asks, amused.

Harry shrugs. “Well, the Hat said I’d do well there, but I begged it for any house but that one.”

“I did the same,” Sirius admits. “All right, I’ll take your advice, and I’ll go to Gringotts tomorrow to see if they have any suggestions. Harry, you’d better come with me. I want them to recognize you as my heir, just in case something happens.”

Harry frowns at him. “Nothing is going to happen!”

“I certainly hope not,” Sirius replies. “But if it does, I want you to have every resource possible at your disposal.”

He aims a fierce look at Remus, who nods.

Sirius isn’t quite sure why Remus hadn’t helped Harry more in that original timeline, but he suspects it might have something to do with Dumbledore, and possibly Remus’ own belief that he had nothing to offer Harry.

Not that it matters now, of course. Sirius is quite confident that Harry will have Remus’ support regardless of what happens.

Harry isn’t mollified in the slightest. “If you die on me, I might just have to find a way to raise the dead,” he threatens. “There’s no way I’m going back to the Dursleys, so you’ll just have to stay alive.”

Sirius laughs. “I’ll do my best.”

“I mean it,” Harry warns him. “If I can’t have my mom and dad, you and Moony are the next best thing.”

Sirius is touched by that, and he can tell that Remus is as well. “Message received, pup.”

They spend the rest of the day cleaning the house, although Sirius sends Harry off to study mid afternoon. If he wants a shot at being able to join his year in either Ancient Runes or Arithmancy, he can’t afford to take too much time off.

The next morning, he and Harry get dressed to go to the bank, wearing their smart clothes and dress robes, and apparating directly outside the entrance to Diagon Alley. Sirius taps the bricks for entry and watches the portal appear.

“Why not just apparate directly to the bank?” Harry asks in an undertone.

“Because I’d like to be seen with you,” Sirius replies. “The point is for everyone to get used to the idea that you’re my heir, and that they’ll have to go through me to get to you.”

Harry glances up at him, startled. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Sure I do,” Sirius replies. “That’s my entire purpose as your godfather. Your dad would do the same thing.”

Sirius puts a hand on Harry’s shoulder to steer him through the streets towards the bank. He notes the stares they get, and judging by the way Harry stiffens under his hand, he notices as well.

“Easy,” Sirius murmurs. “We’re fine. We’re just going to the bank.”

Harry relaxes gradually under his hand, as he realizes that the stares are just that, and that Sirius is going to ignore the unwanted attention.

They walk inside the bank, and are quickly met at the door. “Lord Black,” the goblin says. “We received your owl, and an account manager is at your disposal. If he meets with your approval, he will be assigned to your accounts on a permanent basis.”

“My godson is going to need his own account manager,” Sirius replies. “I want him to begin learning how to manage his own estate and his money as soon as possible, and to avoid the appearance of any impropriety.”

“Of course,” the goblin replies. “Anything to assist you, Lord Black, and your heir, of course. Let me show you to a private room.”

The goblin leads them both back to a private room with a large, wooden desk. He and Harry sit in the chairs they’re directed to, and Harry whispers, “Is this normal?”

“It is if you’re very rich, and very entitled,” Sirius murmurs. “Remember that, Harry. The more you have, the more likely people are to give you things.”

Harry nods uncertainly, and Sirius knows that Harry still isn’t quite used to the idea of having unlimited resources. He knows the Dursleys are solidly middle class, but Harry’s a child of deprivation. It’s going to take him time to get used to having those resources, and he doesn’t yet have any idea of just how much the Black estate has.

Sirius would break it to him gently, but there’s no time for that. He needs Harry to be prepared, just in case.

“What else do I need to know?” Harry whispers.

“The goblin who brought us in here didn’t give us his name because goblins are status-conscious, and his rank wasn’t high enough for introductions,” Sirius whispers back. “The account manager who comes in here will be of a much higher status. Treat him as politely as you do everyone else, and we’ll be fine.”

Harry winces. “There’s a lot I need to learn.”

“There is, and that’s what I’m here for,” Sirius replies. “Just follow my lead.”

The goblin who enters a few seconds later is dressed in a finely made suit, and based on Sirius’ experience with goblins, he’s old, probably one of the best account managers the goblins had on short notice.

Which means that Sirius would be a fool not to accept him as his account manager, and the goblins are testing him.

“I’m Blackthorn,” the goblin says. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lord Black. And your heir.”

Sirius takes that as his cue. “My godson, Harry Potter.”

“May your enemies fall at your feet, Mister Potter,” Blackthorn says.

Harry has always been fast on his feet, and he says, “May your vaults overflow with gold.”

Blackthorn’s lips curl in the facsimile of a grin. “You have not had many dealings with goblins, Mister Potter.”

“Just when I’ve withdrawn money from my account for the school year,” Harry admits. “I’m sorry if I’m impolite out of ignorance.”

“We forgive ignorance in the young,” Blackthorn replies. “Although only when they show a willingness to learn, as you have.”

Harry’s smile is tentative. “Thank you, sir.”

“There’s no need to thank me. I plan on making quite a bit of money on your godfather’s account, and my son stands willing to be your account manager if you accept.”

Harry glances at Sirius, and he hopes he communicates nonverbally well enough.

“I’d be delighted to accept,” Harry says. “I’m sure we can make a lot of profit together.”

“A most perspicacious young man,” Blackthorn says with a baring of teeth. “Although I would expect no less from the heir to the House of Black. And now, Lord Black.”

“I’m more than happy to have you manage my accounts, sir,” Sirius replies.

“You are as perceptive as your godson,” Blackthorn says. “My services are yours.”

Blackthorn is going to make a pretty penny off of his money, so there’s no altruism there, but Sirius is fine with a mutually beneficial relationship where both parties know exactly what they’re getting themselves into.

“I’ve been cleaning out my parents’ home in London,” Sirius begins. “We’ve found a number of cursed objects, including an object that we feel is—well, we believe it to house a piece of someone’s soul.”

Blackthorn’s expression darkens. “Those objects are strictly forbidden.”

“My late brother was a Death Eater, and he left the object in the possession of the Black house elf,” Sirius replies. “I cannot have it in the same house as my godson, as I’m sure you understand..”

Blackthorn unbends a bit. “I understand. In that case, I believe we can assist you. I can contract with a curse breaker on your behalf.”

Sirius nods. “I didn’t want to bring it to the bank today, because it’s very dark.”

“I will send a curse breaker to make a house call,” Blackthorn promises. “He will be there tomorrow morning.”

Sirius hasn’t expected that quick of a turnaround, but he accepts gratefully. “There are a number of objects, not just the one I mentioned. Assuming we suit, I’d be willing to pay him on commission, per item, at a rate that is acceptable to the bank.”

Blackthorn smiles thinly. “You remind me of your grandfather. He also knew when to pay for services and when to leave well enough alone.”

“I know my limitations,” Sirius replies. “And there is nothing more important than my godson.”

Blackthorn bares his teeth. “Our heirs are worth more than gold, are they not?”

“They are,” Sirius agrees. “I would appreciate your assistance in this matter. And we have reason to believe that there may be more artifacts.”

Blackthorn’s eyes narrow. “Would this have anything to do with the last war?”

“I plan to disown my cousin and take over her vaults,” Sirius replies. “There may be an object in there.”

Blackthorn nods slowly, and he says, “And what may we expect from you in the next Wizengamot session, Lord Black?”

“My best friend is a werewolf,” Sirius replies. “My godson counts a house elf as a friend. I have every intention of being as good a friend to the goblin horde as they are to me.”

It doesn’t do to lay it on too thick with goblins, as they are a subtle people and may well take offense to anything they feel is pandering. But what Sirius is offering is a war cry,  and he can see Blackthorn’s pleasure.

“Then I believe we will do very good business together,” Blackthorn replies.

They discuss his accounts for a little while longer, and then it’s time for them to leave. “I’m grateful to leave my accounts, and my godson’s, in such capable hands.”

“We are grateful to have an ally in the House of Black,” Blackthorn replies.

“And in the House of Potter,” Harry says. “Sorry if that was impertinent, but I thought it needed to be said.”

Blackthorn looks at Harry. “We have seers of our own, young Mister Potter. They foretold your death at the hands of the Dark Lord, but that changed recently. They now foresee your assumption of your godfather’s title. They are less clear on whether that will be for good or for ill.”

Sirius waits for Harry’s response, as he knows Blackthorn is. “I am going to try to be a good man,” Harry admits. “I know that I will have to face Voldemort, and I may have to resort to tactics that will be distasteful to some. But I also know that my ultimate goal is to make our world safer and better for all, from wizards to house elves. I will be happy to meet with whatever representatives the goblin horde would send on how best to serve that goal.”

Blackthorn nods slowly. “I will send the curse breaker to you tomorrow at 10 am sharp, and I will offer a 10 percent discount on his services. Mister Potter, I look forward to seeing the man you will become.”

Harry inclines his head deeply, but doesn’t say anything else, which is probably for the best. Sirius simply says, “Thank you, Blackthorn. Your assistance in this matter is much appreciated.”

“Of course, Lord Black,” Blackthorn replies. “I look forward to making money together in the future.”

“As do I,” Sirius replies.

Harry is quiet and pensive as they leave the bank, and Sirius asks, “Is there anywhere you would like to stop now that we’re here?”

Harry shakes his head. “No, but thank you.”

“All right there, Harry?”

Harry blows out a breath. “I don’t know, to be honest. But I’d rather not talk about it here.”

Sirius has a feeling that Harry’s pondering what Blackthorn said about the goblin seers no longer predicting his death. He’s a bit curious about that himself, and he knows that he and Remus will be doing a bit of research into the differences between human and goblin seers.

He knows very well that other magical races have their own seers, including the centaurs, and he wonders if he ought to be seeking them out. Not that he puts much stock in destiny.

When they arrive back at Grimmauld Place, Harry says, “I’m going to go get changed. I’d like to help with cleaning up, if we’re going to have someone here tomorrow.”

“That’s fine,” Sirius replies easily. He’s not going to force Harry to talk about their visit to the bank before he’s ready.

Remus emerges from the room he’s been working on. “Any luck?”

“The bank is going to send a curse breaker tomorrow morning,” Sirius replies. “I met my account manager, and he agreed to assign his son to Harry’s.”

Remus frowns. “That’s good, right?”

“I think the visit was very successful,” Sirius replies. “But Blackthorn said something that surprised both of us. What do you know about goblin seers?”

Remus runs a hand through his hair. “They’re generally considered to be quite accurate, more so than humans, but they rarely share that information outside the Horde.”

“Blackthorn did,” Sirius replies. “He said they’d foreseen Harry’s death at Voldemort’s hands, but that had changed suddenly, and they now see Harry assuming the mantle of Lord Black, but not whether it would turn out for good or ill. In almost exactly those words.”

Remus looks as disquieted as Sirius feels. “How did Harry take it?”

“Better than I expected, but he hasn’t said much since,” Sirius admits.

“Because what is there to say?” Harry asks, apparently having overheard them. He’s changed into his grubby clothes, and he has a wry expression on his face. “Besides, I don’t know that I believe in destiny. We make our own choices, and that’s what defines us.”

“Well said, Harry,” Remus replies warmly.

Harry shrugs. “Although it was somewhat comforting to know that there’s someone who isn’t predicting my death.”

Sirius can’t help but chuckle at Harry’s wry, if dark, sense of humor. “I’m sure.”

“I’m going to get to cleaning,” Harry says.

“I’ll be there in a minute,” Sirius replies.

“I could use your assistance, Harry,” Remus says.

“Sure,” Harry says easily.

And Sirius just hopes that Harry is as fine with all of this as he seems.

~~~~~

Between their efforts, and the renewed efforts of Kreacher and Dobby—and Kreacher seems a bit happier now that the necklace is stored in something a bit more shielded—the house seems a lot cleaner. It’s still dark and dreary, but Sirius thinks they’ll be able to turn the place over to professionals.

If they can get rid of the ancient wallpaper and dark wood, it might even be a nice place at the end of things.

Harry studies the next morning as they wait for the curse breaker to arrive, rather than worrying about cleaning anything else. There’s only a few more days until they have to leave for France to pick up Lionel for the World Cup, and Sirius is happy with how much they’ve accomplished.

Sirius and Remus are back to researching in advance of the coming Wizengamot session. Sirius has lowered some of the protections so the curse breaker could see and approach the residence.

At 10 am on the dot, there’s a brisk knock on the door, and Sirius gets up to answer the door, wand in hand.

The man on the other side of the door is a tall ginger with a ready smile, and while Sirius can’t let on to it, he recognizes him right away. “Bill Weasley,” he says. “Gringotts sent me.”

“You’re right on time,” Sirius replies. “Sirius Black.”

“It’s a pleasure, Lord Black,” he says, shaking Sirius’ hand.

“Call me Sirius,” he invites. “Please.”

“Bill,” he says. “May I come in?”

“Of course,” Sirius says. “You don’t mind if I perform an identity check, do you?”

Bill smiles. “I would be disappointed if you didn’t.”

The identity check turns up nothing suspicious, as Sirius expects, and he says, “Come through to the library. That’s where I’ve stored most of the suspicious artifacts.”

“Of course,” Bill replies. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but is Harry here? I was visiting my parents last week, and Ron spoke of him often.”

“He should be in the library,” Sirius replies readily. “I’m sure Harry will be pleased to make your acquaintance as well.”

Harry is on his feet with his wand in hand, which Sirius is glad to see. Clearly, Mad-Eye’s tutelage had sunk in, and Harry isn’t taking any chances. He knows that Remus is somewhere nearby, ready to step in if there’s trouble.

“We’re good, pup,” Sirius says. “This is Bill Weasley.”

Harry brightens at that. “Ron’s brother? Brilliant.”

Bill’s grin widens. “It’s nice to meet you, too, Harry.”

“Please tell Ron I said hi,” Harry replies with a smile.

“I would love to, but you might prefer that I don’t,” Bill says gently. “My oaths preclude me from divulging any details about what I find, or what I’ve done, and Ron will know why I was at your house.”

Harry hesitates. “Then maybe it would be best if you just told Ron you ran into me at the bank. I don’t think I want anyone knowing about what you find here.”

“For what it’s worth, I agree,” Sirius says. “If it wasn’t for the necklace, I might feel differently, but I think it’s best to keep that as quiet as possible.”

Bill’s eyebrows climb his forehead in surprise. “Okay, now you’ve really intrigued me.”

Sirius opens the safe and pulls out the bags with their dark objects, including the necklace, and hands them to Bill. “This is the one that causes the most concern.”

Bill opens the pouch and levitates the necklace out of the bag cautiously. He hisses in surprise. “Okay, I think I know what this is, but I’d like to know where you got it.”

“My late brother left it in the care of my house elf,” Sirius replies. “Regulus was a Death Eater. And, since you have a duty of confidentiality, I’ll tell you that there was a piece of Voldemort’s soul in Harry’s scar, that we had removed while we were in France.”

Bill nods slowly. “Then this is a horcrux.”

“Is that what you call it?” Harry asks.

Bill’s expression is grave. “This is not information I give out lightly, or at all. Horcruxes are discussed among curse breakers, but never outside those circles. Do you understand?”

Harry nods. “I understand.”

“Good,” Bill replies. “The only reason I’m telling you this much is because you were directly affected, and you deserve to have answers.”

“How do we destroy it?” Sirius asks.

“There are a few ways,” Bill replies. “Fiendfyre is what I plan to use, but you could also use something highly toxic.”

“Like basilisk venom?” Harry asks.

Bill looks at him sharply. “What do you know about that, Harry?”

“I used a basilisk fang to destroy Tom Riddle’s diary second year,” Harry admits.

Bill levitates the necklace back into the bag. “Our family owes you a debt for that.”

Harry shifts uncomfortably. “Not after everything Ron and your parents have done for me, you don’t.”

Bill smiles. “Well, we’ll see. The debt may come due someday, and I for one would be happy to pay it. What about the others?”

Sirius senses that Bill is uncomfortable, probably because a horcrux is such a terrible thing, never to be spoken of. “My family was dark, and there were a number of things we found that could be dangerous. I’d appreciate you disposing of them however you see fit.”

Bill nods. “I can do that at the bank. There’s a special warded room we sometimes use, and it will stand up to fiendfyre as well. I’ll let you know how things go, and I’m sure Gringotts will be sending a bill for my services.”

“Thank you, Bill,” Sirius replies. “I am grateful for both your skill and your discretion.”

Bill pauses, troubled. “You don’t think that he only made three of them, do you?”

Sirius shakes his head. “No, I doubt it. I doubt he even intended to make Harry one at the end of the day. I think that was more accidental, or perhaps he’d done it so often, and his soul already so fractured, that a piece lodged itself in Harry’s scar when the curse backlashed.”

“I would be happy to help you dispose of any others you find, or even to help you look,” Bill offers. “As long as there are pieces of Voldemort’s soul laying about, he will never be truly defeated.”

“That’s what we’re afraid of,” Sirius admits. “I have an idea about at least one more, but have no idea if that would be the only one, or if there are others.”

“You may want to speak with Professor Dumbledore about it when you have the opportunity,” Bill says pensively. “Of anyone, he might have an idea of where to find them, or even how many he may have made.”

“I’ll think about it,” Sirius promises. “And I will certainly call you if I get a bead on another location of one. I’m making it my mission once Harry goes back to school. That, and shaking things up in the Wizengamot.”

“I’ll look forward to seeing that, and I’ll send an owl once I’ve dealt with this lot,” Bill says with a bright grin, and then he takes his leave.

Remus emerges from one of the upstairs rooms. “Did he take the necklace?”

“And the other cursed objects,” Sirius confirms. “You could have come down.”

“I could have,” Remus replies pleasantly.

Sirius knows when Remus isn’t going to budge, and he can understand why Remus would be hesitant to meet with a stranger, even if that stranger is Bill Weasley. He’s still a bit touchy about his place in the wizarding world, and his place in Sirius’ life.

“Well, now that’s taken care of, we can focus on the books, and packing things away,” Sirius replies. “I plan on turning the house over to the professionals, and letting them deal with the wallpaper.”

At some point, after Sirius gave Kreacher the ultimatum about his mother’s portrait, the old house elf had managed to get it off the wall and hidden away. Sirius is fairly certain that Kreacher had done it while they were sleeping to avoid Sirius destroying the portrait in a fit of pique.

Not that Sirius would have destroyed his mother’s portrait, but the temptation would certainly have been there.

Sirius had found a decorator who was willing to come in and get things set to rights in the next two weeks. They had corresponded about Sirius’ expectations, and he had given them nearly carte blanche to replace all the wallpaper, and make the house less like a mausoleum.

They would spend a little time at the farmhouse in France, then return to England prior to Harry’s return to Hogwarts so they could get his school supplies. The first Wizengamot session would take place in mid-September, with a reception planned for immediately after.

Sirius is also planning a bit of a splash at the World Cup, and he and Harry will probably have to attend some parties over Yule. He can’t quite plan that far ahead yet, but the obligations are in the back of his mind.

By that evening, everything that needs to be boxed up has been, and they go out for dinner that night. Harry seems excited to be going back to France, and for the World Cup.

“Are we going to take an international portkey?” Harry asks.

“Both to home, and then to the World Cup,” Sirius confirms. “And then afterward, you and Lionel will go back to stay with the Deschamps.”

“We’re not staying?”Harry asks.

“You two aren’t,” Sirius replies. “Emotions tend to be high after one of these events, and I’ve heard of things turning ugly before.”

Remus winces. “Remember that year James’ parents got us all tickets?”

“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of,” Sirius replies.

Harry leans forward eagerly, as he does any time his parents are mentioned. “You went to the World Cup with my dad?”

“His parents got tickets for his birthday one year while we were still at school,” Sirius replies, smiling at the memory. “We were—what? Fourth years?”

“Something like that,” Remus replies. “James’ dad was kind enough to include all four of us in the invitation.”

“After the match was over, we were supposed to stay, but it was England against Germany, and Germany won,” Sirius says quietly. “Some didn’t take that well, and there was some violence. We got caught in the middle of a mob and nearly were trampled. James’ dad managed to get us out of there, but we had a scary few moments.”

“We don’t want to risk you, of course,” Remus adds. “But we’ll be responsible for Lionel as well, and we can’t risk it.”

Harry nods, although he seems a little disappointed. “I understand. It will be nice to spend some more time with Lionel and Louise before school anyway.”

“Thank you for understanding,” Sirius replies. He’s thinking of the Death Eater attack, of course, and the Muggle baiting that will almost certainly take place.

And, of course, capturing Barty Crouch, Jr. is of paramount concern. He wants to shield Harry from as much of that as he can.

“It’s fine,” Harry insists. “I’m just excited to go, and it’s still kind of a novelty to have someone who cares about my well-being.”

“Good,” Sirius replies. “I’m glad to hear that.”

That night, Sirius crouches down in front of Kreacher in the kitchen, looking the house elf in the eye. “I have people coming to redecorate,” he says. “I would appreciate it if you would let them do their jobs without interference. Remus and I will be living here during the school year for the most part, and we want it to be comfortable.”

Kreacher scowls. “Whatever Master Black wants.”

“My orders regarding the rest of the Blacks stand,” Sirius adds. “You will only take orders from me or Harry.”

“Kreacher understands,” he grumbles.

“And the house will be absolutely spotless when we return,” Sirius warns him. “If you need Dobby’s help—“

“Kreacher not need help!” Kreacher nearly snarls. “Kreacher be capable of taking care of Black home.”

Sirius hides a smile. “Good. I know Regulus always thought you were the best house elf.”

“Master Regulus be kind,” Kreacher says, almost wistfully. “The house be better now that the evil thing is gone.”

That’s as close to a thank you as Sirius is going to get, and he knows it. “I’m just glad we could fulfill my brother’s wish.”

Kreacher stomps off at that, and Sirius sighs. At least he and Kreacher are getting along better this time around. He still harbors a lot of resentment, but having some closure with his brother has helped with that.

SIrius enters the nearly-empty library to find Harry working his way through the Arithmancy book Hermione gave him for his birthday. “Are you packed up?” Sirius asks him.

Harry nods absently. “I’m all ready to go. Have you spoken to anyone at Hogwarts about me switching electives?”

“I sent an owl, but haven’t received a response yet,” Sirius replies. “They may wait to see what kind of progress you’ve made once you’re there. Your Hogwarts letter will probably give us some idea, based on the books they say you need.”

Harry nods. “Do you think I should give up Care of Magical Creatures?”

“Hagrid might be pretty disappointed if you do,” Sirius points out. “You can add both Arithmancy and Ancient Runes if you really can’t decide between them. That’s going to be a pretty rigorous academic load, though.”

Sirius can’t tell Harry that Quidditch will be canceled due to the Triwizard Tournament, but he hopes that Harry will stretch himself a bit.

“I think I can handle it,” Harry says confidently. “Hermione will help, I know.”

“I’m sure she will,” Sirius agrees. “I’m proud of you, pup.”

Harry offers a pleased, bashful smile. “Thanks, Padfoot.”

Sirius ruffles his hair, and goes to finish packing himself.

 

Part the Fourth: In Which Sirius and Harry Attend the Quidditch World Cup

They day they’re to leave for the World Cup dawns clear and cold. Sirius’ status has allowed him to order an international portkey that will take them directly to the World Cup. Lionel had spent the night with them to make it easier, and Sirius looks both of them over the next morning. They’re both wearing smart trousers and button-down shirts.

“Do you both have your emergency portkeys?” Sirius asks.

Both of them pull their shirt collars aside to show that they were wearing the medallions Louise had given each of them the day before, for just this purpose.

“Good,” Sirius says. “We’ll have portkeys to and from, but if anything happens, you know what to do.”

“Use the portkeys to come here to grandmother,” Lionel confirms. “We’ll be careful. Grandmother already talked to me about it. She said there was some kind of problem at the last World Cup. I think she was glad that Harry and I were coming back early and not staying overnight.”

“We’ll be back late, but you boys can stay with Louise,” Sirius says.

Their portkey is a frayed rope, and he, Remus, Harry, and Lionel all put their hands on it.

A moment later, Sirius feels the tug in his stomach, and the sense of immense pressure that an international portkey always causes.

And then they’re dumped onto a misty patch of moor, and Sirius grabs Harry to steady him, and Remus puts a hand out to Lionel to do the same.

“Are you both all right?” Sirius asks.

Harry nods shakily. “I’m good. I can’t say that I’m getting used to that feeling, though.”

“Many never do,” Lionel replies, straightening up and looking around cheerfully.

Sirius knows that others will be popping in, and he says, “Let’s get out of the way. I don’t really want another group landing on us.”

There’s a wizard who’s checking people in, and he says, “Ah, yes, Sirius Black and party from France. You’re not camping here?”

“We plan on leaving after the match,” Sirius replies, amused at the tweed suit and thigh-high galoshes the wizard is wearing. “I promised to have the boys back at a reasonable time.”

“Suit yourself,” the wizard says, sounding rather weary. “The field is up that way, can’t miss it.”

They head in the direction of the tents for those who were camping. Both Ron and Hermione had written to Harry about their plans. They’d arrived much earlier than Sirius’ portkey was scheduled for, but didn’t know the precise location they’d be camping.

“How are we going to find them in this mess?” Harry asks.

Sirius nods towards a Muggle who seems to be checking people in at the campsite. “Good morning,” Sirius says. “We’re looking for some friends of ours, but aren’t camping ourselves. I don’t suppose you could point us in the right direction?”

The Muggle blinks, and Sirius senses that he’s probably been memory-charmed recently. “Sure,” he says slowly. “What’s the name?”

“Weasley,” Sirius replies.

The Muggle hands them a map. “Go ahead and take one. I think I remember seeing them come through. A bunch of gingers?”

“That would be them,” Sirius confirms. “Thanks for your help.”

“They have to be the most normal people I’ve seen today,” the Muggle mutters as they walk away.

Both Harry and Lionel stifle giggles, and Sirius shares an amused look with Remus. “Security has to be a nightmare.”

“Between the disillusionment spells, the Muggle repelling charms, arranging portkeys—there’s a reason that they only hold the World Cup every few years,” Remus comments.

There are colorful tents all over the place, some more extravagant than others. Most are clearly trying to blend in, while others decidedly are not. Sirius sees a tent with turrets, and one with several stories and an actual balcony. Glancing around, Sirius can tell that most wizards have tried to dress as Muggles, with varying results. One older wizard is swanning about in a dress, being chased by another man holding a pair of pin-striped trousers, begging him to put them on.

They head for where the map shows the Weasleys will be camping, and someone calls, “Oi! Harry!”

Ron is heading their way, Hermione in tow. He has a huge grin on his face, and says, “It’s about time you showed up! I had Dad get a schedule so we’d have an idea about your arrival. You’re staying with us tonight, right?”

Clearly, Harry hasn’t broken news of their plans to Ron yet. “Uh, no, probably not. Ron, Hermione, this is my friend, Lionel Deschamps. He goes to Beauxbatons. Lionel, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.”

Lionel shakes Hermione’s hand first, “Enchantee.”

Ron flushes, but he shakes Lionel’s hand willingly enough. “Nice to meet you. Harry said you were big into Quidditch.”

Lionel brightens. “Oh, yes. We’ve been flying quite a bit this summer, and I was delighted to accept Harry’s invitation.”

Ron pulls a face. “You were flying? I thought you were going to spend all summer studying.”

Harry sighs audibly. “I told you in my letter, Ron. We were studying, but I’ve been having fun, too. I spent a whole week in Paris for my birthday.”

“Are you actually going to switch subjects?” Ron demands, his tone belligerent.

Sirius is taken aback, and he can see that both Lionel and Remus are as well. Harry and Hermione, on the other hand, seem to be slightly exasperated, but not surprised.

“I don’t know yet,” Harry says patiently. “It depends on whether Headmaster Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall allow it.”

“I don’t see why you’d want to dump Divination,” Ron grumbles.

They’re saved by the arrival of Neville, who runs up to them. “Hi, Harry, Lord Black. My grandmother asked me to request your presence, and Harry’s too.”

Sirius hesitates. “We have a guest.”

“I don’t think Gran will mind if you all come with us,” Neville says earnestly. “She wants to talk to you about the reception later this afternoon.”

That reception is why they’d all worn their smart clothing.

“What reception?” Ron demands.

“Oh, one to celebrate Lord Black’s return to wizarding society, and to announce Harry as the Heir to the House of Black,” Neville says off-handedly.

Ron goes very red in the face, and Harry clears his throat. “This is probably going to be fairly boring,” he says apologetically. “How about we find you when it’s over?”

“That sounds good, Harry,” Hermione replies, and then firmly drags Ron away.

Harry sighs. “Well, that went well.”

“Sorry, Harry,” Neville says. “I didn’t mean to put my foot in it.”

“He would have found out sooner or later,” Harry replies philosophically. “Maybe he’ll relax once we’re done with this bit.”

They follow Neville through the tents, to a large, white one that wouldn’t look out of place in the Muggle world, although it’s one that is more likely to be seen at a wedding. Once they step inside the tent, Sirius immediately spots a number of high-ranking Ministry officials.

It’s definitely a who’s-who of the wizarding world, and Sirius says in a low voice to Harry and Lionel, “I’m probably going to be stuck here until it’s time for the game, but you two can sneak away as soon as the announcement is made, and you see an opening.”

Harry winces. “What about Moony?”

“I’ll stick with Sirius and try to keep him out of trouble,” Remus says wryly. “I imagine that he’ll introduce me as his chamberlain.”

“I’m glad you finally accepted the title,” Sirius teases. And then he sees Augusta waving at them. “Once more into the breech.”

Augusta smiles at them impartially. “Thank you, Neville. Harry, it seems you’ve been busy this summer.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Harry says politely. He then makes the introductions between Augusta and Lionel, displaying a good handle on the etiquette lessons he had over the summer.

Augusta eyes Lionel. “A Beauxbatons student?”

“Yes, madame,” Lionel replies politely.

“Your English is quite good,” she compliments him.

Lionel’s grin is very wide. “I’m afraid I cannot take credit for that, madame. My grandmother performed a language transference spell with Harry, although I think his French is better than my English.”

“I’ve been practicing my French all summer,” Harry jokes. “It was self-defense.”

“Good for you,” Augusta says. “Now, I expect you lot to stick around through the announcement, and then do feel free to sneak away. Neville, you’ll join me back here before the game begins so we can sit in our box together.”

Harry glances at Sirius. “I’ll come find you before the game is due to begin,” Sirius promises.

Harry nods. “Thanks, Sirius.”

“Come, there are some people you should meet,” Augusta says.

Sirius leaves Harry in a huddle with Neville and Lionel, and he and Remus follow Augusta. Sirius is pleased to see the head of the DMLE, Amelia Bones. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Director Bones.”

She smiles slightly. “I could say the same, and you and your godson are looking hale and hearty.”

“France agrees with us,” Sirius admits. “Harry made a friend, and we were able to spend plenty of time in the fresh air.”

Her smiles widens, becoming more genuine. “That is good to hear. Harry deserved to have a pleasant summer, and it seems like he got one. I hear that you’re making an announcement today.”

“Not so much an announcement as a confirmation of what everyone probably already knows,” Sirius admits.

“Then you are taking your title,” Bones replies. “I had wondered if you would.”

Sirius hesitates, and then says, “Any protection I can give Harry, I will. Besides, whether I like it or not, people tend to pay more attention to you when you have a title before your name.”

“Indeed,” Bones replies. “Well, your grandfather never hesitated to throw his weight around, and he accomplished plenty in his hey-day.”

“My primary aim is to keep Harry safe and happy,” Sirius replies. “And to ensure that Voldemort and his Death Eaters never make a comeback.”

“I would drink to that,” Bones says solemnly. “Let me know if I can do anything to assist you.”

“I think the question is what I can do to assist you,” Sirius counters. “I plan on advocating for better funding for the DMLE once I take my seat.”

Bones snorts. “That would be more help than most in the Wizengamot offer.”

“I’m still grateful for all your assistance,” Sirius counters. His eyes go to Harry, and he sees they’ve been joined by a young woman about their age.

Bones follows his gaze, and she smiles. “That’s my niece, Susan. I believe she’s in Harry’s year in school. Going into fourth?”

“That’s correct,” Sirius replies.

“Have you heard about what they’re planning for the next school year?” Bones asks bitterly. “Let me say, I’m not happy about it.”

Augusta frowns. “No, what are they planning?”

Bones hesitates, and says, “I’m not supposed to say, but…”

“You mean the Triwizard Tournament?” Sirius asks in a low voice. “I have my own sources, not that I’ve said anything to Harry, of course. I’m just glad he’s too young to take part.”

“Well, I doubt that Neville would have put his name in, but I share your relief,” Augusta comments.

“I could say the same about Susan,” Bones comments. “I was glad she sorted into Hufflepuff. I don’t envy the two of you, raising bloody Gryffindors.”

“I fully intend to have multiple minor heart attacks in the years to come,” Sirius says wryly. “As I said, I just have to get Harry through the next few years and into adulthood.”

Remus is maintaining a sort of quiet distance, present but not a part of things, and then Bones turns to him. “I’m pleased to see you here as well, Mr. Lupin. Someone in Lord Black’s position needs a constant friend to watch his back.”

“I hope I am that to him,” Remus replies pleasantly. “It’s certainly been a pleasure to get to know Harry better this summer. I was quite good friends with his parents.”

Both Bones and Augusta’s expressions turn grave. “The loss of the Potters was a terrible tragedy, as was Harry’s placement with his Muggle relatives.”

“I wish my Frank and his Alice would have been able to take him,” Augusta says, allowing a bit of melancholy to seep into her voice. “They would have been very proud of Neville, and pleased to see the developing friendship between them.”

Another couple of heirs have drifted over to Harry’s group. Sirius recognizes the oldest Greengrass girl and Theodore Nott.

Augusta smiles. “Excellent. I think it’s past time to introduce a bit of unity between the houses. Now, Sirius, if you don’t mind?”

Sirius glances at Remus, who says, “I think I’ll check on Harry, and get some more refreshments.”

“I’d love another drink,” Sirius tells him.

Remus gives him a look that clearly indicates that Sirius shouldn’t get used to it. “I’ll bring you one.”

“How long have you been together?” Augusta asks him as she leads him towards Mr. and Mrs. Nott.

“We’re not together,” Sirius says automatically.

Augusta gives him a look. “You needn’t take that tone with me, young man. There are women of a certain breeding who will be happy to provide an alliance marriage while allowing you your relationship with Mr. Lupin.”

Sirius isn’t sure he likes the direction that this conversation is going. “I somehow doubt that such a woman exists.”

“And what do you think a woman who prefers intimacy of the Sapphic variety does?” Augusta asks archly. “Just keep an open mind.”

Sirius hadn’t really thought of the possibility that he might make an alliance marriage that would still allow him to maintain a relationship with Remus.

But that’s a different conversation for a different day.

The Notts are traditionally a dark family, and Sirius knows they’d supported Voldemort in the last war. His job now is to convince them to stay out of the current conflict, and keep their son out of it.

Sirius pastes on his most charming smile, and prepares to greet the Notts as thought they’re prospective allies, instead of the enemies he knows them to be.

Augusta makes the introductions. While he’d been at Hogwarts with them, they hadn’t mixed with the Gryffindors. Both had been in Slytherin, as befitted a couple of Death Eaters.

Sirius pushes those thoughts aside, though. He can’t pass judgment, not when he wants them on his side.

“Mr. Nott, Mrs. Nott, this is Lord Sirius Black,” Augusta says.

“Not lord yet,” Nott says snidely. “Not until it’s confirmed by the Wizengamot.”

“Only a month away,” Sirius says cheerfully. “But I wouldn’t have been able to claim our family properties if I weren’t my grandfather’s heir. The wards would have rejected me.”

Nott looks as though he’s sucked on a lemon. “I’m sure a Muggle-lover like you has plans for your Wizengamot platform.”

“Not really,” Sirius replies. “I intend to work to strengthen the DMLE, as well as promote the protection of certain people under the law.”

Nott blinks, clearly trying to find fault with that. “What sorts of people?”

“Wizards and witches who are in unfortunate circumstances,” Sirius replies cagily.

Remus shows up with a drink, something fizzy that Sirius doesn’t recognize. “My lord.”

Sirius stifles a sigh, knowing they especially need to keep up the pretenses around people like the Notts. “Thank you, Remus.” He turns to the Notts. “My chamberlain, Remus Lupin.”

Mrs. Nott’s nose wrinkles as though she’s just smelled something foul. “The same Remus Lupin who taught at Hogwarts this past year?”

“The very same,” Remus says pleasantly.

“Based on my godson’s reports, Remus was the best DADA professor Hogwarts has had for a long time,” Sirius says cheerfully. “I’m sure your son learned quite a bit from him.”

There’s really no good response to that, and there’s a long, uncomfortable pause. “But I’m sure we can find some common ground,” Sirius says cheerfully. “After all, we would all like our children to grow up safely and be successful. How is your boy doing, by the way? Theodore, right?”

The Notts relax at that. “Theo is doing quite well,” Nott replies warmly. “His grades are excellent, and he’s very focused on his studies.”

“I’m hoping that Harry will show the same dedication,” Sirius replies. “He’s been very focused this summer.”

They exchange a few more pleasantries, and then the Notts drift off. “Well done on putting the focus on the children,” Augusta comments

“It’s about the only common ground we have,” Sirius replies wryly. “It seemed like the natural go-to when the conversation started to break down.”

“Death Eaters might take exception to Harry, but no one is going to express that aloud,” Augusta replies. “Come, there are a few others you should meet.”

They make their way around the room, with Augusta making the introductions. Sirius recognizes that there are people of every stripe here. Most of them hold some position of authority in the wizarding world—such as Amelia Bones, head of the DMLE, various aurors, and members of the Wizengamot. But there are people of all political stripes and affiliations, all rubbing elbows.

By the time they’ve made a circuit of the room, it’s nearly time to make the announcement. “Bring Harry up,” Augusta says. “He should be by your side for this.”

Remus murmurs. “I’ll take care of it.”

Sirius follows Augusta up to the front of the tent, where there’s a small dais set up. Remus has reached Harry at that point, and he whispers in Harry’s ear, staying behind with Harry’s friends.

Harry reached Sirius’ side, and Sirius puts a hand on his shoulder. “All right, Harry?”

Harry nods. “I’m good. You do what you have to do.”

Sirius squeezes his shoulder. “Thank you for being a good sport about this, pup.”

“It has to be done,” Harry says, and then adds with a small smile, “I’d rather be in the press because I’m your heir than for some other reason.”

“I would much rather be in the news as your godfather than for some other reason,” Sirius replies.

Augusta clears her throat to get the attention of those in the tent, and then casts a sonorous charm. “I have an announcement to make, as I’m sure all of you are already aware. Sirius Black has been found innocent of all charges, and he has rejoined our ranks, taking on his grandfather’s mantle, and his title. He will take his seat among us in the next Wizengamot session, and he is formally announcing his heir today.”

Sirius casts the same charm, not wanting to sound like he’s shouting. “The House of Black and the House of Potter have always been closely related,” Sirius says. “It was my honor when James asked me to stand as godfather to Harry. I am deeply grieved that they could not be here today, and that Harry’s godmother, Alice Longbottom, cannot see the young man he’s becoming. Harry Potter is a worthy successor to the House of Black, and I am pleased to pronounce him my heir.”

Harry is blushing a bright red, and he blushes even brighter when there’s a smattering of polite applause.

“I’m sure we’ll all have an opportunity to work together in the future, amicably or not,” Sirius adds. “But I’m sure all of you will afford Harry the privacy he’s due, as his attention must be on school at this time.”

Sirius hopes the others present will get his meaning. He doesn’t want Harry facing impertinent questions from those gathered.

He leans down to whisper in Harry’s ear. “Duty done, Pronglet. Go ahead and sneak off. I’ll meet you at the Weasleys’ tent, unless you come find me sooner.”

Sirius wants to give Harry an out; he’d seen the way that Ron reacted earlier, and there’s a good chance that he might need a break.

“Will you be here?”

“Working the crowd,” Sirius says.

Harry nods. “Thanks. I’ll see you in a bit, then.”

Sirius really hopes that Harry has a good time with his friends, and he watches as Harry rejoins the knot of kids, and then heads out with Lionel, Neville, Daphne, Susan, and another couple of kids in tow.

“Relax, Pads,” Remus murmurs. “He’ll be fine.”

“Fine isn’t great, Moony,” Sirius replies. “I want him to be happy.”

“You can’t choose his friends for him,” Remus reminds him. “And he has Lionel to watch his back.”

That does reassure him, and Sirius drags his attention back to the matters at hand. He does what he’s supposed to do—exchanging pleasantries and meaningless small talk. No one is saying much about their political platforms, but Sirius knows this is a chance to feel one another out.

Remus fulfills his role admirably. He makes sure that Sirius has a drink and nibbles, and generally fulfills the role of right-hand man. In the future, Sirius is going to ask Remus to keep his eyes and ears open, because he’s in a perfect position to overhear things.

No one even glances at Remus in his sober robes, with his diffident manor. Remus couldn’t have blended in better if he were a house elf.

Sirius is not terrible surprised when, shortly before they’re due to meet up, Harry and Lionel turn up with Neville, Daphne, and Susan.

“Right on time, Pronglet,” Sirius tells him, putting an arm around his shoulders. “Okay there, Lionel?”

Lionel smiles, although his expression is troubled. “Yes, Lord Black.”

“It’s still just Sirius,” he reminds the boy. “Let’s go find our seats.”

He’s somewhat gratified to see them waving to the other kids who came in with them, and offering cheerful goodbyes.

Their box is private and far above the crowds, giving them an excellent view of the pitch. Sirius can see the Wesleys a couple of boxes down, and he sees a house elf, along with the Weasleys, and then the Malfoys show up. “Are you sure you don’t want to invite anyone up here?”

Harry shakes his head. “Neville has his own box with Madame Longbottom, and everybody else has their seats as well. It’s not a big deal.”

“You came back early,” Sirius points out.

Harry grimaces.

“I’ll tell him if you don’t want to,” Lionel says, and gets a shrug in response.

“Ron was upset that Harry couldn’t spent the afternoon with him, and when Harry said something to me in French, forgetting that he should use English, Ron took great exception. He accused Harry of being a stuck-up,” Lionel says.

“And?” Sirius prompts.

“Hermione told him to stop being an arsehole, and said if he couldn’t clean up his act, she would tell his mother,” Lionel supplies.

“Harry?” Sirius prompts.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Harry replies. “Ron was super rude to Lionel, and I told him to stop being a prick.”

“Wise advice,” Sirius replies. “And here’s the game starting.”

Sirius warned Harry about the Veela, and advised him to practice occlumency when they take the field to avoid making a fool out of himself. Lionel doesn’t react to them at all, and Sirius has to ask, “Do they teach wizards to control their reaction to the allure?”

“Sure,” Lionel says readily . “Many of those who attend Beauxbatons are at least part Veela.”

“What do you know about how Veela attract people?” Sirius asks.

Lionel shrugs. “I just know that there are a ton of girls with the allure, and not that many boys at Beauxbatons. If you can’t get past the allure, you’ll probably flunk out.”

Neither Lionel nor Harry get excited about the leprechaun gold, either. Sirius had warned them about that, as well. Harry doesn’t need the money, but Lionel does look a trifle disappointed that it’s false.

“Gold wouldn’t be nearly as valuable if the leprechauns could create it out of thin air,” Remus comments.

Harry has purchased omnioculars for both him and Lionel, and they are glued to the match. They rewind plays and debate calls, but Sirius doesn’t really care. He watches the game and leans subtly against Remus and he calls it good.

It’s an exciting match. Ireland wins, but the Bulgarian Seeker gets the snitch.

“Fred and George won their bet,” Harry comments. “They had a bet on with Ludo Bagman that Ireland would win, but Bulgaria would capture the snitch.”

Sirius frowns. “Is that so? That’s a very specific bet.”

Harry nods. “Yeah, and they had great odds. Mr. Weasley was worried, because they put in all their money.”

Sirius gives Harry a pointed look. “I hope I don’t have to worry about you gambling.”

Harry snorts. “I’m still not used to having money, let alone being comfortable with throwing it away.”

“Good lad,” Sirius comments.

“My grandmother would kill me,” Lionel comments wryly. “And my parents wouldn’t be far behind. But I can understand. Fred and George are quite clever.”

“They want to open a joke shop,” Harry adds for Sirius and Remus’ benefit. “Mrs. Weasley doesn’t exactly approve, but they’re pretty focused on it.”

“It’s good to have goals,” Sirius comments. “I hope they make it.” He stands up. “It looks like some of the crowd has cleared out. We should get you two to Louise’s.”

Harry glances at Lionel, and then asks, “How long are you guys staying?”

“Just long enough to make sure things don’t get too rowdy,” Sirius says lightly. “Don’t worry. I’ll be home when you get there in the morning.”

Lionel smiles. “I really appreciate you inviting me, Sirius. I had a wonderful time.”

“Thanks for coming along,” Sirius replies. “And for being a friend to Harry this summer.”

Lionel shrugs that off easily. “Of course. It was no chore,” and he slings an arm around Harry’s shoulders.

Harry blushes slightly, but his smile is pleased. “It’s been a really good summer.”

Sirius and Remus walk them to the location where they could take the portkey, and at the appointed time, both boys disappear in a flash.

“There’s something you aren’t saying,” Remus says quietly. “You know something. You could have sent Lionel home and let Harry stay with the Weasleys.”

Sirius takes a deep breath. “I could have, yes. Did you see Barty Crouch, Sr. and his house elf?”

Remus frowns. “I think so. They were in the same box as the Weasleys, weren’t they?”

“I might have some idea that the Death Eaters will strike tonight, and I think Crouch is going to be in the middle of it,” Sirius replies. “And before you ask, I can’t tell you how I know. But I’m not taking any chances with Harry’s life.”

Remus gives him a long look. “You can’t tell me.”

“I really can’t,” Sirius replies. “If I tried, I’d choke on the words.”

Remus hums thoughtfully. “You know more than anyone should know, which means—time travel?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Sirius replies, the words half-stuck in his throat. “But not quite. Not like you’re probably thinking.”

Remus nods. “I’ll accept that. What do I need to be aware of?”

“Keep an eye out for Crouch’s house elf,” Sirius replies. “There’s a reason that he brought her, and I think that’s probably important.”

Remus sighs, and then he says, “I trust you, Padfoot. I’ll follow your lead.”

Sirius often wonders what he’d done to deserve a partner like Remus, who is so willing to throw his lot in with Sirius and Harry, to be so dedicated. “Thank you.”

“Do you know when it’s going to happen?” Remus asks.

“They’ll wait until most people are in their beds,” Sirius replies. “And they’re going after the Muggles.”

Remus’ expression is grave. “Of course, they would. Should we set up a barrier?”

Sirius would like to, but he’s worried about alerting the Death Eaters, and what that would do. His ultimate aim is to capture Junior in order to protect Harry. But he has to think about the Muggles, too, and what being terrorized would do to them, memory charms or no.

“Let’s set up some passive alerts,” Sirius says. “I want to make a clean sweep of it and I don’t want them to get clued into the fact that we’re expecting them.”

Remus gives him a bright grin. “Just like old times, huh, Pads?”

Sirius can feel the surging adrenalin. “Just like old times, indeed.”

They disillusion themselves, and then set up passive wards around the Muggles’ house. He and Remus then take positions near the house so they can keep watch.

They don’t have to wait long before a group of masked Death Eaters begin their approach. They’re quiet right now, because they want to surprise the Muggles. They aren’t expecting interference.

Once they get close enough, Sirius murmurs, “On my mark.”

When they’re close enough, Sirius casts an Auror-grade stunner he’d learned during the war. A few of the Death Eaters are able to cast shielding spells in time to deflect, although they’re still knocked back a few steps. The stunner gets their numbers down to manageable levels, though—three or four, in comparison to the ten or eleven there had been before.

Those left behind immediately scatter, and he and Remus quickly cast incarcerous spells on the ones who have been knocked out.

“Are we chasing the rest of them down?” Remus asks breathlessly.

“Into the woods,” Sirius replies, just as breathless. “The others won’t stick around.”

They have managed to capture a number of Death Eaters, but the biggest prize is going to be in the forest. Sirius means to capture Junior.

Remus follows gamely into the trees. Harry isn’t here, so Winky won’t be able to steal Harry’s wand, but she’ll steal someone’s on the order of her master. Sirius just has to find them.

Sirius pauses, straining to hear everything around them.

“What are you thinking?” Remus whispers.

“Know any way of finding a house elf?” Sirius replies in a low tone.

Remus gives him a look. “Besides asking another house elf to help?”

“Merlin’s beard,” Sirius mutters, and crouches down, hoping to go unnoticed as he dispels the disillusionment spell. “Dobby, I need you.”

Dobby pops in front of him. “How can I help Harry Potter’s Paddy?”

“There’s a galleon in it for you if you help me locate another house elf,” Sirius says in a low voice. “I have reason to believe that she’s helping someone who means Harry harm.”

Dobby tugs on his ears. “A house elf means Harry Potter harm?”

“Not her, but her master,” Sirius says. “I need to find her, because if I can do that, I can find the man who plans to help Voldemort kill Harry.”

“Who is this house elf?” Dobby asks.

Sirius replies, “I believe her name is Winky.”

“Oooh, Master Black, Winky be very devoted to her wizards,” Dobby says.

“I know,” Sirius says soothingly. “I don’t blame Winky for what her master wants to do, but it’s important that we find her, and quickly.”

Dobby hesitates, and then says, “Yes, I show you.”

Having a house elf apparate you isn’t the most comfortable situation, but Sirius can’t argue with the results. They show up right in front of Winky, who squeaks in surprise. “Dobby! What you be doing here?”

Sirius knows that Junior has to be close by, and he hisses at Remus. “Drop!”

Remus does so without question, and Dobby and Winky immediately hunker down, too, and Sirius casts that same high-grade stunner, and he casts a wide net. There are multiple thumps around them, but the one he’s most interested in is the one creating a depression in the bushes where nothing seems to be there.

Sirius casts a quick revelio, and he sees the familiar form of Barty Crouch, Jr. Not like he could forget that face.

Remus climbs to his feet. “Is that—“

“Barty Crouch, Jr.,” Sirius confirms. “Looks like Crouch’s hands aren’t as clean as he’d like us all to believe.”

Winky is wailing, her hands over her face. “Oh, young master! Young master!”

Dobby seems a little stunned. “I don’t understand.”

Sirius reaches into his pocket and flips Dobby a galleon. “Go back to Grimmauld Place. If I can, I’ll bring Winky home with me. She may have need of you, Dobby.”

Dobby catches the coin and nods. “Is Harry Potter safe?”

“He’s with his friend in France,” Sirius assures him. “You did really well tonight, Dobby.”

Dobby bobs his head. “Thank you, Harry Potter’s Paddy.”

Winky is still wailing, and Ron and Hermione suddenly skid into the small clearing. “What—what’s wrong with Winky?” Hermione demands.

“She’s just been caught helping a Death Eater escape,” Sirius replies. “She’s facing a crisis of conscience right now. Are you two okay?”

They both nod, although Ron flushes, refusing to meet Sirius’ gaze.

A number of Ministry members come running, and Sirius casts a casual stunner at Barty Crouch, Sr.

He immediately has a number of wands pointed at him. “Excuse you,” Sirius says, waving at Junior’s still form. “I think that’s the Death Eater you’re looking for.”

There are exclamations all around as Junior is recognized. “I followed Crouch’s house elf into the forest after stopping the Death Eaters from Muggle-baiting, and cast a stunner when I heard a strange noise,” Sirius explains airily.

Remus manages to keep a remarkably straight face, nodding along, as though Sirius isn’t lying his arse off right now.

Arthur Wesley pushes his way forward. “Is that really Barty Crouch, Jr.?”

“From what I remember,” Sirius replies.

Kingsley Shacklebolt also strides forward, and he peers down at Junior. “It’s him, all right. He was supposed to be dead.”

Someone else says, “He was supposed to have died in Azkaban.”

“I think you’ll find the answers you need if you question his house elf,” Sirius says, not wanting to get too involved in the inquiry. “But once you’re finished with her, I’d like to take custody. Crouch Sr. isn’t going to want her anymore.”

Shacklebolt nods. “Of course, Lord Black. Your assistance tonight is much appreciated.” He nods at Remus, too, and Remus seems pleased both to have been acknowledged, but also not to have his name brought into it.

“Arthur, if I could have a quick word,” Sirius says quietly.

Ron audibly gulps. Sirius doesn’t let that dissuade him.

“We’ll need a full statement, Lord Black,” Shacklebolt says.

Sirius smiles. “I have no intention of going anywhere. I just want to have a word.”

Shacklebolt nods, and Sirius pulls Arthur aside. “Harry is very fond of your family,” he says quietly. “Including Ron.”

“And we think of Harry as a member of our family,” Arthur is quick to say.

“I’ve been encouraging Harry to broaden his horizons this summer, and he’s made a new friend in France, one who goes to Beauxbatons,” Sirius says. “Ron was quite rude to them today. I wouldn’t bring it up, but I have my own experiences with jealousy from a friend. Ron’s attitude is natural, and Harry isn’t going to hold it against him, but Harry is going to have other priorities, other duties. I would hope that Ron would understand that, and be supportive.”

Arthur nods. “Of course. I’ll have a word with him. I know that Ron was disappointed that Harry wasn’t able to spend time with us this summer.”

“You can blame me if you like,” Sirius replies. “To be honest, I wanted to spend as much time with Harry as I could.”

“And who would expect otherwise?” Arthur asks with sympathy. “That’s what Molly and I told him, but I’ll reinforce that message. You’re both entitled to spend time with each other, especially as you’ve had so little of it.”

“Perhaps we could get together before school starts,” Sirius suggests. “We’ll be staying in London for a bit. Maybe when you have to get your supplies from Diagon Alley?”

“That might help to smooth things over,” Arthur admits. “I’ll send an owl.”

“Thank you,” Sirius replies. “I do appreciate it. I would hate to see Harry lose a friend over something that he really has no control over.”

Arthur nods. “I agree, and I know what kind of burdens Harry will face as your heir. Well, I should help with the clean up.”

“And I should talk to Shacklebolt,” Sirius replies cheerfully. “Take care, Arthur.”

Shacklebolt is giving Sirius a piercing look when he rejoins them. “Where is your godson, Lord Black?”

Sirius smiles. “I sent him home immediately after the game. His friend’s parents didn’t want him staying overnight, and Harry is an excellent host.”

“And you say you stopped the Death Eaters from Muggle-baiting, and managed to stun Junior while he was disillusioned,” Shacklebolt says suspiciously. “There are an awful lot of coincidences in your story.”

Sirius hums thoughtfully. “Do you remember what I did in the last war, Kingsley?”

Something in his expression eases. “You hunted Death Eaters. From what I remember, you were very good at it.”

“I’ve spent the summer with my godson, and he’s had some interesting stories to tell me, about facing Voldemort’s wraith at the school during his first year, and then running across a cursed diary in his second,” Sirius says, allowing his tone to turn grim. He decides not to mention the Dementors of last year, because that’s at least partially Sirius’ fault. “I’m not so naive to believe that Voldemort is gone for good, or that his followers have completely given up the fight. You know as well as I do that an event such as this one is ripe for the sort of antics they tried tonight.”

Shacklebolt heaves a deep sigh. “You are correct. It’s one of the reasons we had additional Aurors spread throughout the area.”

“And you also know that the Death Eaters prefer to go after easy targets, such as Muggles,” Sirius adds. “And there was only one Muggle family within their reach.”

Shacklebolt has to admit that all of that is true.

“And a house elf wandering into the forest alone is suspect,” Sirius adds. “I didn’t know what she was about, but she was out of place.”

Shacklebolt shakes his head. “They should have tried harder to recruit you for the Aurors. You would have been a good one.”

“I would have been a terrible one,” Sirius corrects him. “I hate following orders.”

Shacklebolt laughs aloud at that. “Very well, Lord Black. If you’re amenable to coming to the Ministry to give a formal statement at some point soon, we shall need it. Particularly if we’re to prosecute both Crouches.”

Sirius supposes that he must, and he’s glad that he’s come up with a reasonable story, since others are likely to believe that he has a vendetta against Barty Crouch, Sr., since he’d been instrumental in locking Sirius up without so much as a formal inquiry.

Granted, Sirius’ emotions around these events are rather mixed. He certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Crouch bunged up in Azkaban, especially given the trauma Harry suffered because of him the first time around.

“We can be there in a couple of days,” Sirius promises. “We’ll need to collect Harry from France, and close up the house there.”

Shacklebolt nods. “Of course.”

Sirius nods to him, and then he and Remus take their leave. He knew they’d be leaving late, and he’d arranged for an international portkey that would take them back to the farmhouse whenever they’re ready to go.

Remus holds his tongue until they’re back in France. “Do you think they bought it?”

“I think so,” Sirius replies. “I think everything I said was plausible.”

Remus nods. “More than. Were you expecting to catch Crouch, Sr. out as well?”

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t,” Sirius admits. “He was fairly instrumental in my tenure in Azkaban.”

Remus smiles sympathetically. “But that wasn’t the motive behind tonight’s actions.”

Sirius sighs. “Barty Jr. is a true believer, Moony, and he’s smart and cunning. I have reason to believe that he would be a huge threat to Harry if he were left to roam free. Whatever Crouch Sr. was about, whatever his motives, I believe that his actions put his son within arm’s reach of Harry, and that I cannot abide.”

“I don’t disagree, you know,” Remus replies. “And if I didn’t know better, I would believe that your actions this evening were those of a trained soldier, with lessons learned from the last year.”

Sirius gives him an arch look. “And you know better.”

“You can’t speak of it, and I understand that, but I do believe that you’ve time traveled in some way,” Remus replies. “I believe you’ve been through this before, and you knew what you’d find. You sent Harry and Lionel back early to protect them. You knew the Death Eaters would target those Muggles, just as you knew that Crouch’s house elf would be the key. I’ve had my suspicions for a while, but tonight confirmed them.”

Sirius can’t speak, the words stuck in his throat; for a moment, he’s not sure he can breathe.

“Okay, okay,” Remus says quickly, his hands on either side of Sirius’ face. “I’m sorry. You did say you couldn’t talk about it. I shouldn’t have pushed. I won’t ask again.”

“I don’t mind you knowing,” Sirius finally manages, getting his breath back slowly. “But it’s not something I can talk about.”

“Obviously,” Remus says, a little shakily. “I didn’t realize how literally you meant that. Let’s go to bed.”

He bustles Sirius upstairs, and gently undresses him. Once he’s stripped to his pants, he climbs into bed behind Sirius, spooning up against him.

Sirius finds it easier to breathe like this, Remus’ arms wrapped around him, his lean, warm form enveloping him.

“You were amazing tonight,” Remus whispers in his ear. “Advanced information or not. I never saw you in the field in the last war, and I wish I had.”

Sirius rolls over and presses his face into Remus’ shoulder. “There are times I miss it,” he admits. “I was young, and had no sense of my own mortality. I ran on adrenalin and not much more. I was fearless.”

“And now you’re not,” Remus murmurs, pressing a gentle kiss to Sirius’ forehead. “Because you have Harry, and you have me, and you know all too well how mortal you are.”

“That’s it in a nutshell,” Sirius admits. “Not that I would give any of that up.”

“With age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes caution,” Remus says. “What are our next steps?”

Sirius takes a deep breath, taking in the deep, wild musk of Remus, the smell of woods and wildness that is burned on his memory. “Finish out the summer with Harry, hopefully get his relationship with Ron back on the right track. We’ll see what Arthur manages to do. But once Harry goes back to school, tracking down the rest of the horcruxes, and dealing with the mess that is my family.”

“What are you going to do?” Remus asks.

“Ensure Narcissa can’t use Black funds to fund any Death Eaters, secure Bella’s vaults, search them, and find out if Andy wants to rejoin the family,” Sirius replies. “I’m kind of hoping she will. She’s frightfully competent, and it would be nice to have another family member in my corner who isn’t insane, and isn’t a pureblood die-hard.”

“What’s stopping you from contacting her now?” Remus asks.

Sirius sighs. “I want the news to report my Wizengamot platform first, so she knows I’m not going to pull the rug out from under her. I wouldn’t blame her for doubting me, to be honest.”

“Okay, then we have a plan,” Remus soothes. “And after tonight, we know Harry is safer. I think Mad-Eye would be pleased with you.”

Mad-Eye is safe from being kidnapped and impersonated, too. There’s no one to put Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire now, and Sirius does think that depriving Voldemort of Crouch’s support now will hamper his plans.

Sirius can believe he’s done that much.

~~~~~

 

A knock on the bedroom door wakes Sirius early the next morning. Remus is still sleeping beside him, and Sirius stirs slightly.

“Yeah?” he calls.

“You decent?” It’s Harry’s voice.

“We’re covered,” Sirius replies. “But we’re both still in bed.”

“Just wanted to be sure you made it home safely,” Harry replies. “I’m going to make pancakes. Lionel came back with me, but we’ll hold off for an hour or so.”

Remus groans against Sirius’ neck. “Are teenagers supposed to be that responsible?”

“I don’t know, but ours certainly is,” Sirius replies. “I suppose I need to have the safe sex talk with Harry, huh?”

“Even if he and Lionel aren’t interested in each other, it’s probably for the best,” Remus replies. “He’s the right age for it.”

Sirius groans. “It’s terrible to say, but I really hate James for being dead right now.”

Remus chuckles, pulling him a little closer. “We have an hour.”

Sirius has his morning wood, same as any day, and he rolls to face him. “I am completely ready.”

They jerk each other off, and Sirius relaxes as he comes, as does Remus. They take a quick shower together to get cleaned up, and then they head downstairs. Harry has already mixed up the pancake batter, and he’s heating up a pan on the stove. Lionel is sitting at the table, nursing a cup of coffee.

There’s hot water in the kettle for coffee and tea, and there’s another pan that has sausages browning.

“Was there any excitement after we left?” Harry asks.

Sirius shrugs, beginning to prepare the French press for his coffee. “Well, we captured a couple of Death Eaters, and I might be taking on another house elf, depending on how things go. It was relatively uneventful.”

Harry stares at him. “I wouldn’t call that uneventful.”

“I would,” Sirius says cheerfully. “No one got hurt, and we came home safely. That’s about as much as you can hope for, right?”

Harry sighs audibly. “You knew something was going to happen.”

Sirius doesn’t want to risk getting choked up again. “I am naturally suspicious.”

Harry rolls his eyes, but offers a cheeky grin. “I thought you were always Sirius.”

He lets out a bark of laughter. “That, too.”

Lionel is snickering, and Remus is looking on fondly, and Sirius wishes that he could have a hundred-thousand mornings just like this one.

“What are your plans for the day?” Sirius asks them.

“We have a bit of work to get done, but we plan on flying this afternoon, if that’s all right,” Harry replies.

“Whatever you want to do,” Sirius replies. “We leave for London soon.”

Harry sighs a bit. “I know.”

“I also had a word with Arthur Weasley,” Sirius adds. “About Ron.”

Harry gives him an alarmed look. “That really wasn’t necessary!”

“He was rude to your guest,” Sirius reminds him. “I know that you’re willing to give Ron a pass right now, but what if your guest had been someone with a great deal more pull? Ron could get himself or his family into some serious hot water by being rude.”

“He’s right, Harry,” Lionel says quietly. “I understand that he’s your friend, but he really was quite rude.”

Harry’s face falls. “I’m really sorry, Leo.”

“You stood up for me,” Lionel replies with a smile. “But I’m just saying, if you hadn’t warned me, I would have taken more offense, and if I’d been someone important, it could have cost Ron’s father his job. I know how this sort of thing works. My father is a hospital administrator now, and if I were rude to one of his bosses, or an important person, he might lose his job.”

Harry sighs. “Okay, you’re right, although Ron would probably have been polite enough if it wasn’t for me.”

“Harry, think about how that sounds,” Remus says gently.

Harry runs a hand through his hair, messing it up further. “Okay, yeah, it was really bloody awful.”

“That’s probably why Ron wouldn’t meet my eyes when we ran into him in the forest,” Sirius comments.

“Pretty sure he knew how badly he messed up,” Lionel comments. “Judging by the way Hermione blistered his ears.”

Harry grins. “Yeah, she totally called him out. It was great.”

“Hermione is lovely,” Lionel says, with a teasing look at Harry.

Harry blushes. “She’s my friend.”

“Well, she’s lovely,” Lionel reiterates.

Sirius glances at Remus, who shrugs, clearly as much at a loss as Sirius is. He has no idea what the status of the relationships are, although he’s not sure it’s any of his business.

He’s definitely going to have the sex talk with Harry, though, and before he returns to Hogwarts.

They have a pleasant breakfast, and Harry and Lionel do settle down in the study to work, before they go flying.

Lionel invites Harry over for dinner that night, and Sirius knows that he and Lionel are squeezing in as much time together as he can. Sirius remembers doing that with Remus, too.

“Remind you of anybody?” Remus asks, amused.

“You mean of us during that stolen week?” Sirius asks wryly.

“I do mean that,” Remus replies.

“And yet Hermione,” Sirius says.

“And yet,” Remus replies with a smug grin.

Sirius scrubs his hands over his face. “Right. Sex talk. Before Harry goes back to Hogwarts. Is there any possibility that James left a portrait, and James could do this?”

“You the one who’s bisexual,” Remus counters. “You can cover both sides of the field.”

“Ah, hell,” Sirius says. “Yes, well, I guess I’m on the hook.”

“Do it tonight, Pads,” Remus says. “You’ll put it off otherwise.”

“And we can’t have that,” Sirius replies. “Fine, you’re right. I’ll talk to him just as soon as he gets back, which you know is probably going to be tomorrow.”

“Or right before we’re due to leave,” Remus replies.

Sirius grins ruefully. “Like I would cut his time short. Whatever their relationship status.”

Harry does, indeed, ask for permission to stay over with Lionel, and Sirius doesn’t really mind. An empty house gives them more opportunity to enjoy one another, and they have a great night.

He and Lionel spend the next day at Sirius’ house, but it’s clear that they’re saying extended goodbyes. That night, Lionel stays for dinner, and Sirius avoids spying on them as they sit on the front porch.

He does glance out on the front porch, and their heads are close together, but they’re not engaged in any activity that Sirius would have to warn them off of.

When Harry comes back inside, Sirius calls to him from the study. “Did you have a good time with Lionel?”

“I did,” Harry replies. “Thanks for not making a big deal out of it.”

“It’s your life, Harry,” Sirius replies. “I know that you and Lionel are close, and you’re facing a long separation.”

Harry flushes. “It’s not like that.”

“Then tell me what it’s like,” Sirius says. “There’s no judgment here, Pronglet. I’ve played both sides of the fence, and I enjoy both equally. I just want you to be prepared to be safe”

Harry flushes a deep red. “I don’t know.”

“Then let me be blunt,” Sirius says. “You will need contraceptive charms with witches, but not with wizards. You’ll need lubrication charms with a wizard, and you might need it with a witch, but it depends. You’re going into your fourth year, and that’s generally when things get interesting.”

Harry’s expression says he’d rather be anywhere but there. “I don’t—I don’t know what to do.”

“Do you have a preference?” Sirius asks. “I don’t.”

Harry hesitates. “I don’t know. I like both. I mean, there’s Lionel, and as he pointed out, Hermione is lovely.”

“Did you realize that, or did Lionel make you realize that?” Sirius asks.

Harry hesitates. “Maybe the latter?”

“Do you find Hermione attractive?” Sirius asks.

Harry hesitates. “Yes.”

“Do you find Lionel attractive?”

“Yes,” Harry says, clearly reluctant to admit it.

“Congratulations, you’re bisexual, and you can play both sides,” Sirius replies. “Do you need the talk?”

“I know how not to get a girl pregnant, but I’m a little unclear on how to get wizard knocked up,” Harry replies cheekily.

Sirius gives him a look. “It’s possible, but I would appreciate it if you remained without child at least until you’re done with Hogwarts, preferably after your first mastery.”

Harry is quiet for a long moment. “What if I did like Lionel?”

“I would say you have very good taste,” Sirius replies. “What is it you like about him, besides the obvious?”

“He’s supportive of me,” Harry says readily. “We like the same things, but we respect differences as well. He’s courteous, and he has a close relationship with his family.”

“Do you love him?” Sirius asks bluntly.

“I don’t know,” Harry replies. “But I like him a lot. I want to spend more time with him. I wish we went to the same school.”

“Have you done anything with him?”Sirius asks.

“We jerked off together once,” Harry admits in a low voice.

Sirius forges ahead. “Did you enjoy it?”

“Yeah, it was great,” Harry admits.

“So, here’s the thing,” Sirius begins. “There is nothing wrong with you liking Lionel. Or Hermione. I want you to have a relationship that’s supportive and healthy, but I don’t care beyond that.”

Harry is quiet. “I think Mrs. Weasley expects me to marry Ginny.”

“Do you want to?”

“Not right now,” Harry says. “Maybe not ever.”

“Are you interested in Hermione?” Sirius presses.

“I don’t know. I think I like her as a friend.” But Harry is shifting.

“It’s okay either way,” Sirius replies. “You don’t have to figure everything out right now.”

“But you’re going to have the talk with me either way,” Harry says.

“I am,” Sirius says.”Do you know how to use a condom, and do you know the lubrication charm? Which is, by the way, useful for both wizards and witches.”

Harry groans. “No, but I have a feeling I’m going to shortly.”

“You’ll thank me later,” Sirius insists. “The first time you wind up in a broom closet with a willing partner, you aren’t going to want to stop and fumble about on your own for this.”

Harry seems to resign himself to the inevitable. “Fourth year, huh?”

“That was my first experience,” Sirius replies.

Harry hesitates. “What about my mum and dad?”

Sirius chuckles. “I never dared ask your mum, so I don’t know. Your dad played the field a bit before he fully set his sights on Lily in our fifth year. He never really dated anyone other than her, though, not seriously.”

Harry nods a little wistfully. “Well, let’s get it over with, I guess.”

Sirius is thorough, especially since Harry has expressed interest in both boys and girls. He talks about consent, and how to practice safe sex, and how to make sure your partner is satisfied, and about needing to be direct and honest about his needs and wants.

By the end of it, Harry is blushing, and squirming a bit, but Sirius is at least satisfied that Harry has the necessary information to be both safe and respectful of his partner.

“Any questions, Harry?” Sirius asks.

Harry shakes his head firmly. “No, I think you covered everything.”

“Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions in the future,” Sirius tells him. “I know you might be embarrassed, but I would rather you be embarrassed now than get into trouble later.”

Harry shoots up from the table. “Thanks, good talk, I’m going to read for a bit.”

Remus pokes his head into the study. “A very thorough talk, Sirius.”

“You think I did okay?” Sirius asks.

Remus smiles. “Well, you were obviously right. If he’s starting to experiment a bit, then he needs the information.”

Sirius takes a deep breath. “Right. Thanks.”

Remus kisses him on the top of the head. “I know that was uncomfortable, but James and Lily would be proud of you, Pads. That was some excellent parenting.”

Sirius just wants to make James and Lily proud.

~~~~~

The next day, they have to pack up the house, but Harry asks to go over to Louise’s so he can say a proper goodbye to him and Louise.

“I’ll go with you,” Sirius replies readily. “We’re nearly done here. Moony, do you want to come along?”

Remus shakes his head. “No, I have a few things yet to do. Give them my best.”

“Of course,” Sirius replies.

He and Harry walk to Louise’s house, and Sirius puts an arm around Harry’s shoulders, pleased when he doesn’t shrug him off. “Doing okay there, Harry?”

“Just a little sad, I guess,” Harry admits. “But still looking forward to going back to Hogwarts.”

“Good, I’m glad to hear it,” Sirius replies. “I want this year to be a good one for you.”

“I think it will be,” Harry says confidently. “I mean, I’m out of Divination, and I’m not carrying a piece of Voldemort around in my head. Already a huge improvement over last year. And, you know, I feel a lot better, too.”

“How so?” Sirius asks.

Harry shrugs. “It’s like—it’s like a weight has been lifted from me. It’s hard to describe. I had no idea I was carrying that around, so maybe I shouldn’t notice it being gone, but I feel lighter.”

“I’m glad to hear that, love,” Sirius replies. “I’m just sorry that I couldn’t get that done sooner.”

“You did enough,” Harry says simply.

Louise offers a glass of wine when they arrive, and Sirius leaves Harry and Lionel to say their farewells privately. He can tell that both of them are sad, but he hopes they don’t lose touch at least.

Sirius sits down at Louise’s kitchen table and accepts the glass she offers. “I hope you’ll consider coming back here for the holidays, at least. Lionel and his family are usually here for Christmas.”

Sirius smiles. “It would be nice. I’d like to see the old house decorated for Christmas again.”

“Lionel is going to sorely miss Harry,” Louise says quietly.

“I know,” Sirius replies. “Harry’s said much the same to me.”

Louise takes a long, slow sip of wine. “I’m not sure it’s my place to say anything, but Lionel told me what happened at the World Cup between Ron and Harry.”

Sirius frowns. “Harry said he was rude to Lionel.”

“Ah,” Louise says. “Lionel said that Ron mainly ignored him, but grew quite irate when Harry spoke French, telling him that he’d grown stuck up, and was acting as though he was too good for him and his family, and that perhaps they shouldn’t be friends any longer.”

Sirius runs a hand through his hair. “Harry didn’t tell me that. I can’t believe that Ron would be so cruel, not based on what Harry’s said.”

“Harry has changed quite a bit this summer, and so have his circumstances,” Louise points out. “He’s no longer so dependent on Ron or his family. He has a family of his own now, and other friends, other interests. That was probably very difficult for Ron to face.”

“I spoke to Ron’s father, Arthur, and he said he’d have words with Ron,” Sirius replies. “I’m hoping that he will have wrapped his head around the changes once we meet up with them in Diagon Alley.”

“I hope that’s the case, for Harry’s sake,” Louise replies. “And I very much hope to see you for Christmas.”

They take their leave, and if Harry is quiet and withdrawn on the walk back to the house, Sirius doesn’t blame him. That afternoon, they apparate to Paris, and then take an international portkey to Grimmauld Place.

When they step inside, the changes are immediately obvious. Sirius had paid restorers a pretty penny to redecorate the entire place, his only instructions being to make it look completely different and—most importantly—not dark.

The hall is free of his mother’s portrait, of course. The walls have been painted a light blue, the dark trim repainted a bright white. There’s a matching rug on the floor, leading the way into the rest of the home.

Everything looks fresh and new, and the wizard company who had been in had unpacked all of the books and such in the library, the books that they hadn’t deemed a risk.

Remus lets out a low whistle. “This place looks entirely different.”

“It looks great!” Harry says enthusiastically. “I love it.”

“I’ll have to let them know what a good job they did,” Sirius replies. “Go see what they did with your bedroom, Harry.”

He wants to see the kitchen, which has also been completely redone, with new wizarding appliances and new counters. Everything sparkles in gray and white and dark blue tile accents. “Kreacher!” Sirius calls.

Kreacher pops into the kitchen, and the changes there are remarkable as well. He’s wearing a clean kitchen towel in a dazzling white. “Lord Black calls Kreacher?”

“I just wanted to check to see how you were doing,” Sirius replies. “The house looks great.”

Kreacher yanks on his ears. “Strange wizards came in and changed everything around.”

“The house needed updating if I’m going to have guests here,” Sirius reminds him.

“Kreacher knows,” the house elf says quietly. “Kreacher be a credit to the House of Black.”

“Regulus would have been very pleased with you,” Sirius tells him. “I hope you know that.”

Kreacher might be blushing. “Master Regulus was always very kind to poor Kreacher.”

“My brother was a kind man,” Sirius agrees. “He didn’t deserve the end he received, but I think we’ve done his memory justice. The item he asked you to keep for him has been destroyed now.”

“Kreacher knows.”

“Where’s Dobby?” Sirius asks.

Kreacher snorts. “Dobby not be here. He still be trying to get paid for his work.”

“Looks like I’ll be paying him to keep an eye on Harry while he’s at Hogwarts, then,” Sirius says cheerfully.

Kreacher glares at him. “House elves not be getting paid.”

“Well, this one might be,” Sirius counters. “Maybe all house elves should have the choice of who to work for and whether they should get paid.”

Kreacher huffs and stalks away. “Lord Black is crazy.”

Sirius laughs, and he goes upstairs. The room he’d been sharing with Remus has been similarly transformed. The walls in here have been stripped of all decoration that had been permanently stuck up there, and repainted a deep red. Again, the trim has been painted a bright white, and there are gold accents scattered around the room.

It’s welcoming and beautiful, and Sirius is incredibly thankful that the whole place has been completely changed. The house doesn’t belong to his parents anymore; Sirius has made it his own.

“The house is beautiful,” Remus says sincerely. “It looks completely different.”

“I think my parents are probably spinning in their graves,” Sirius replies smugly. “But I can actually host people here now, and that will be helpful for my career in the Wizengamot.”

“I think it was a good call, getting other people in here to deal with the mess,” Remus says.

Sirius smiles. “Harry does have some good ideas. Are you up to date on your Wolfsbane?”

Remus gives him a look, “I am. I’m all set for the full moon in a couple of days. You needn’t worry.”

“I’ll worry if I like, and I just want to make sure you’re in a good place,” Sirius replies.

“I think it’s a better question to ask if there’s a place in the house I’m not going to ruin, should something get out of control,” Remus counters.

“Come downstairs, and I’ll show you,” Sirius says. “I think you’ll appreciate it.”

There’s a cellar in the house, and Sirius has divided it between a secure potions lab and a small den with a heavy, wooden door. The room is small, but comfortable, Sirius thinks. There are large cushions on the floor, perfect for curling up on, as well as a plush rug and tapestries on the wall to make it warmer and more inviting.

Remus looks around, and he says, “You know, if the Wolfsbane ever fails to work, I’m going to rip everything in here to shreds.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about the Wolfsbane not working,” Sirius replies. “And everything in here can be replaced. But if you need to be locked in, there are two doors between you and the rest of the house.”

Remus smiles. “That does make me feel better. I appreciate the extra security.”

“I know what it would do to you if any harm came to Harry,” Sirius replies. “I’m never going to put you in that position again, Moony.”

Remus’ expression is soft. “I know that, Pads.”

And Sirius thinks they could be happy here while Harry is in school.

~~~~~

The next day brings an owl from Minerva McGonagall with an answer to the question of whether Harry will be able to take either Ancient Runes or Arithmancy.

“What did she say?” Harry asks, looking at Sirius with an anxious expression from his position on the couch in the study.

Sirius hands over the letter. “You’ll need to sit for a placement examination for both of them to determine whether you can take those classes with your year-mates. If you don’t do well enough, you’ll have the choice of taking the classes with the year below you, or doing an independent study to hopefully catch up in time for second term.”

Harry runs a hand through his hair. “I guess I’ll have to hope I’ve done enough studying, then.”

“There shouldn’t be any problem with you keeping Care of Magical Creatures with the other two,” Sirius adds. “And you have a couple of days, pup. She wants you to sit for the exams before the school year begins, and they’re willing to do it in Diagon Alley.”

Harry groans, but then he straightens his shoulders. “Okay, I guess I’ll be ready.”

“You’ve been working hard, and I’m sure you’ll do fine,” Sirius tells him. “And if, for whatever reason you don’t, no big deal. We’ll make a new plan.”

Harry runs a hand through his hair. “I guess so. I just don’t want to disappoint you.”

“Not possible,” Sirius declares. “You’ve worked really hard this summer. No matter how you do, you could never disappoint me when you do your best.”

Harry’s smile is sweet and a little shy. “Thanks, Sirius.”

Sirius knows that Harry’s apprehension isn’t just about the tests. They’re meeting up with the Weasleys and the Grangers in Diagon Alley, and Harry is worried about how Ron is going to respond to him.

Sirius wishes he could offer some measure of reassurance, but if Ron doesn’t get over his jealousy, their friendship may well not survive.

And that would be a real shame, for both of them.

They have to leave for Diagon Alley especially early in order for Harry to take his placement exams. They meet Professors McGonagall, Babbling, and Vector at the Leaky Cauldron, and McGonagall looks almost cheerful, which is a bit odd.

“Mr. Potter,” she says. “I was rather pleased to get your godfather’s letter, indicating you wanted a more rigorous academic load.”

Harry blushes slightly. “Sirius told me that there were certain careers that require either or both of those subjects, and that I shouldn’t close off those avenues before I’d even made up my mind.”

McGonagall nods approvingly. “That’s true. I suppose I probably should have spoken to you about that before third year. I thought the Weasleys had.”

“Oh, not really,” Harry says awkwardly.

“Well, come along,” McGonagall says. “I asked Tom to set aside a small room for the examinations. I don’t know if you’ve ever been formally introduced to Professor Babbling and Professor Vector.”

“No, ma’am,” Harry says politely. “It’s nice to meet you both.”

“And Mr. Black, Mr. Lupin, it’s good to see you both looking so well,” McGonagall says, turning her attention to the two of them. “We won’t need you here for the next two and a half hours.”

The dismissal is clear, and Sirius says, “We’ll see you in a few hours for lunch, Harry.”

“See you,” Harry replies, looking a little nervous, but resolute.

“Good luck,” Remus says, “you’ll do fine.”

He and Remus leave the Leaky Cauldron, and Sirius glances over at him. “I have no idea what to do now.”

“I think this is probably going to be a theme,” Remus teases. “You’ve been very invested in Harry this summer.”

“Shouldn’t I have been?” Sirius asks. “But you’re right. It’s going to be strange once Harry goes back to school. I’ll just have to focus on something else. Like the Wizengamot strategy and destroying Voldemort.”

“Noble goals,” Remus replies. “Not to mention setting up the foundation for the distribution of Wolfsbane.”

“That, too,” Sirius says. “Come on, I think I could do with coffee and brunch.”

They have a nice time, like being on a date together, something they haven’t really been able to do yet. He and Remus don’t have to say much to enjoy each other’s company.

“What’s worrying you most about the upcoming year?” Remus asks.

“What makes you think I’m worried?” Sirius counters.

Remus shrugs. “I have a feeling.”

“I’m not worried so much about Harry this year,” Sirius says. “I think he’ll be safe at school, safer than he’s been in previous years anyway. But he’s not going to stay safe unless we find those other items.”

Remus hums thoughtfully. “Are you going to bring any of this to Dumbledore?”

“Do you think I should?” Sirius counters. “I think we both know that Dumbledore was negligent at the very least. Harry had never even had a proper health evaluation, and no one tried to check on him, or to make sure the Dursleys were treating him properly.”

Remus frowns. “You’re not suggesting that Dumbledore doesn’t want to defeat Voldemort?” he asks incredulously.

“I’m not saying that at all,” Sirius replies defensively. “I’m saying that Dumbledore might have his own plans that don’t align with ours.”

“I think we might need his help to find the other pieces,” Remus argues.

Sirius sighs. “I agree, but I’d like to keep him out of things as long as possible. I plan on formally disinheriting Bellatrix and taking charge of her vaults as soon as I have the opportunity. I imagine there might be something in there, or at least some clues.”

Remus nods. “Fair enough. Are you going to ask Bill Weasley for help?”

“I think it’s probably for the best,” Sirius replies. “Knowing my dear cousin, she probably has some nasty surprises for anyone who isn’t her or Rabastan.”

“I think that’s wise,” Remus says approvingly.

They still have time to kill after they’ve finished breakfast and coffee, and they go for a walk in a nearby park, enjoying the nice weather and the chance to be outside.

At the appointed hour, they head back to the Leaky Cauldron. Harry looks wrung out when they enter, sitting at a table with Professor McGonagall with a butter beer in front of him and a meat pasty. Sirius has had Tom’s meat pasties before, and he knows just how good they are.

“Professor Vector has already graded Harry’s exam,” McGonagall says. “She said he’s on the bubble, but that if he works hard, he can join his year group. We’re still waiting for Professor Babbling to finish up, but I thought that Harry deserved something to eat and drink after that.”

Sirius ruffles Harry’s hair. “Well done, pup. I knew you’d do well.”

“We still have to figure out how I did on Ancient Runes,” Harry says, but he looks fairly pleased with himself.

“Catching up on one year’s worth of work for a single subject is impressive, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall says approvingly. “To do that for two subjects is nearly unheard of. You should be very proud of yourself.”

Harry manages a smile. “Thank you, Professor. I had a lot of help this summer.”

“He also worked incredibly hard,” Sirius says proudly.

Professor Babbling appears from the back of the pub. “Well, Mr. Potter, you barely rated an Acceptable. You would probably find the material too easy if you were placed with the third years, although you’ll have to work especially hard if you’re placed with your year group.”

“I’d rather stay with my classmates,” Harry says, flushing. “And I plan on working hard.

“You ought to think about becoming a ward-maker,” Babbling says. “You have a good handle on the practical aspects, much better than what I expected.”

“Thanks,” Harry replies. “It’s always good to have options.”

“Looks like we’ll have a couple more books to buy today, as well as some supplies,” Sirius says cheerfully. “Once you’re finished up here, we need to leave in order to meet up with the Weasleys.”

Harry nods. “I know. But—maybe we don’t have to say anything about this to Ron?”

“He won’t hear about it from me,” Sirius promises.

“Thanks,” Harry replies. “I just don’t want to make a big deal out of it, not right now.”

Sirius is fairly certain that Harry just doesn’t want his success tarnished by Ron’s jealousy, if he has a bad reaction to the fact that Harry just picked up another couple of electives that don’t include him.

Sirius actually prefers the Muggle world these days, or their isolated farmhouse in France. There’s far less chance of being recognized, and he’s not fond of crowds any more. Still, as Lord Black, he has to maintain a certain image, and that means being seen at Diagon Alley, at the Wizengamot, in the Ministry, and even in the homes of those whose politics he despises.

They stride out into the Alley, and Sirius rests a hand on Harry’s shoulder. He doesn’t think that Ron will be an arse, if only because his parents will be there.

They’re meeting the Weasleys at Fortescue’s, and Sirius can see a knot of red-heads. Hermione is there, too, and she’s the first to spot them, waving at Harry enthusiastically.

Harry waves back, and Hermione nudges Ron with her elbow, giving him a significant look.

Ron turns slowly, and he’s already flushing. Sirius leaves his hand on Harry’s shoulder and waits to see what Ron is going to say.

Ron shifts awkwardly. “Hey, mate.”

“Hi,” Harry says, sounding subdued.

Ron clears his throat. “Can I—can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure,” Harry says after a moment’s hesitation.

Sirius allows Ron to pull Harry away, although he feels a moment of worry.

“Ron and I have been talking,” Hermione whispers. “He’s definitely sorry for what he said.”

Sirius raises his eyebrows. “I heard a little bit more about it from Lionel’s grandmother.”

Hermione sighs. “I think he was just upset that Harry wasn’t able to spend much time with him, and that he’d made another friend. Plus, well—Harry showed up looking very polished and speaking French, with an equally-posh friend, and Ron overreacted.”

She’s as insightful as Sirius knows her to be, and he’s hopeful that Ron will have got it out of his system. Without Harry being entered in the Triwizard Tournament, perhaps Ron will be able to move on.

Sirius watches as Ron gesticulates, and Harry listens with his hands in his pocket. And then Harry says something, and Ron’s shoulders slump. He says something else, and Harry nods, and then they shake hands.

Hermione grins brightly. “Looks like they’ve made up!”

Sirius is certain that she’s relieved, if only because she’s no longer in the middle of it. Sirius is less certain that the hatchet has been buried, but when Harry returns with Ron, they’re both smiling, even if Harry seems a little more reserved than Ron.

“You’re getting ice cream, right?” Ron asks as they approach.

“I’m happy to pay,” Sirius says mildly. “I think we could all do with some ice cream.”

“Thanks, Sirius,” Harry replies. “That sounds good.”

“I have your letters, and the list of supplies you need,” Sirius says. “I can give you the money, and you can pick them up, or we can take care of it, if you want to spend time with your friends.”

“Oh, I have to pick up my supplies, too,” Hermione says. “My parents get nervous around the wizard shops. Are you going to need things for Ancient Runes or Arithmancy, Harry? I can show you the best ones.”

“What’s this?” Ron asks. “I thought you were just dropping Divination.”

Harry shifts. “Oh, uh, I took my placement exams today. I’m picking up Ancient Runes and Arithmancy. I got tired of Professor Trelawney predicting my death in new and awful ways.”

Ron laughs. “I don’t blame you, mate. Are you going to be with the third years?”

“Fourth,” Harry admits. “I just scraped by with a couple of Acceptables, but the professors said that was good enough.”

“Well, I think it’s impressive that you even decided to try,” Hermione says stoutly. “It will be nice to have you in those classes with me.”

Ron groans. “Who’s going to partner with me in Divination?”

Harry slaps him on the shoulder. “Sorry, Ron. I’m sure you’ll find someone. Maybe partner with one of those girls who gets really into it?”

“That’s an idea,” Ron says more cheerfully.

“I wouldn’t mind your help in picking out supplies,” Harry tells Hermione, and Sirius can read the relief on his face.

Sirius can read the room, and he pays for the ice cream, and tells Harry, “We’ll meet you back here in four hours, okay? We do have some business at the bank to take care of.”

Harry looks torn. “You don’t need me there for it?”

“I would allow you to be there if you insisted, but it’s not necessary, and you should spend some time with your friends,” Sirius tells him.

“Thanks, Sirius,” Harry says with a grin. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

Sirius and Remus head for the bank. “All’s well that ends well?” Remus asks.

Sirius shakes his head. “I suppose we’ll see, but that did go much better than I thought it would.”

“Arthur is technically a member of the Sacred 28, even if he doesn’t flout it,” Remus points out. “He’d probably have some idea of just how much responsibility that Harry is going to shoulder.”

“If Arthur managed to get that through Ron’s skull, then he has impressive powers of persuasion,” Sirius replies.

“Or maybe he just offered a perspective that Ron didn’t have before,” Remus points out. “They don’t teach this sort of thing at Hogwarts, and the Weasleys aren’t invested in pure-blood politics. There’s a lot that’s going to come with being the heir to the House of Black, but Ron wouldn’t know that.”

“Well, regardless, I’m glad that things seem to be more settled between them,” Sirius comments. “I know Harry was worried.”

They enter the bank, and are immediately intercepted by a goblin. “Blackthorn will see you immediately.”

“I appreciate his willingness to make time for me,” Sirius replies graciously.

They’re led back to a private room and provided with refreshments, and it’s not goblin-made tea. It’s real, proper British tea and small cakes, and Remus’ eyebrows go up. “What did you tell Blackthorn about this meeting?”

“I sent a letter last week that I was prepared to formally disinherit Bellatrix Lestrange, just as soon as I could come to the bank. I also said there might be cursed objects in her vault, and I would be willing to allow the bank to retain 30 percent of the total value if I had their assistance in the matter,” Sirius replies with a wry grin. “I think the tea and cakes are an attempt to butter me up to attempt to get a larger percentage.”

“And you are quite right about that, Lord Black,” Blackthorn says as he enters the room, sounding as amused as a goblin ever does. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to a third.”

Sirius pretends to think about it. “If there’s a horcrux in her vault, and it’s destroyed, I’ll go up to 40 percent. I plan on donating the rest of her vault to the spell damage ward at St. Mungo’s.”

“Deal,” Blackthorn says immediately. “And we would be happy to assist you in turning it into a trust so that your money continues to do good.”

Sirius nods. “Agreed. I’d like to formally disinherit Bellatrix, and I’m strongly considering doing the same for Narcissa.”

Blackthorn appears surprised. “I didn’t think she was a marked Death Eater.”

“I don’t think she is, but her husband is, and there is a very good chance that her son will be as well, and he’s been no friend to my heir,” Sirius replies. “But I have every intention of setting aside a trust vault for her son assuming he remains unmarked by his twenty-fifth birthday.”

Blackthorn’s lips curl. “Ah, removing the teeth of a potential future enemy.”

“He could still work for Voldemort,” Sirius admits. “But Voldemort would never allow someone into his inner circle who hasn’t been marked.”

Narcissa has a Black trust vault, and that’s what Sirius plans to divert to her son.

“You don’t think that this might make things worse for Harry?” Remus asks in a low voice.

“I think that preventing Draco from being marked is one of my duties as Lord Black,” Sirius replies. “He might be an arrogant little toe-rag, but he’s family, and he doesn’t deserve to be linked to that monster just because his father is a bigoted arsehole.”

Remus nods slowly. “I can’t disagree.”

“And it sends a message,” Sirius adds. “If I’m willing to cut Death Eaters out of my life, and out of the family, people will know where I stand.”

“As if that would be in doubt,” Remus murmurs.

“Some would say it is,” Sirius replies. He turns back to the goblin. “I assume that’s no problem.”

Blackthorn shakes his head. “No, not at all. You have a goblin’s ruthlessness.”

Sirius knows it’s a compliment, and he accepts it as such. “I have no intention of sending notice to Bella, since she’s in Azkaban, and is a convicted murderer. I will, however, provide Narcissa with notice. I expect her to try and plead her case. Depending on the sorts of promises she’s willing to make, she may convince me that she should remain in the family.”

Blackthorn nods. “I see. And the other business?”

“I don’t want to impose on Andromeda,” Sirius admits. “I’d like the bank to approach her for that reason. If she refuses my overtures, I don’t want her to feel threatened or as though she has to meet with me.”

Blackthorn is making notes. “Of course. That can all be arranged. We’ll be discreet.”

“But we can take care of the disinheritance today?” Sirius asks.

“We have everything ready,” Blackthorn confirms. “I had thought you’d want your heir here for this, though.”

“He has other business, and it’s not necessary for him to be a part of it,” Sirius replies. “I’m doing this at least partially on his behalf. Bellatrix was one of those who tortured his godmother into insanity.”

“There’s no need to expose him to something like this, then,” Blackthorn replies. “We will take you down to the ritual chamber now.”

Technically, this is the procedure that his grandfather would have used to disinherit Sirius had he chosen to do so. His parents may have said they were disinheriting him, but they’d never gone through the necessary steps.

Remus trails behind him; he’s not strictly needed for this ritual, but Sirius appreciates having his moral support. Disinheriting a family member, particularly as the head of the family, can be quite taxing.

For Sirius, who remembers the Bella-who-had been—bright-eyed and curious, mischievous and perhaps just a little bit cruel, even then—it stings.

Then again, she had killed him in that other life, and while Sirius isn’t precisely holding a grudge, he’s certainly not going to give her another chance to do it again.

There’s a possibility that the ritual will kill her, that the tie to the Black magic is one of the things keeping her alive in Azkaban, but Sirius won’t let that dissuade him.

He has one purpose—Harry, and removing all threats to him.

“If you will, Lord Black,” Blackthorn says, directing him to the ritual cleansing chamber.

Sirius goes through the ritual cleansing, donning the provided robe, and entering the ritual circle. He’s actually glad that Harry isn’t here for this, to see Sirius commit one of the most ruthless acts he’s ever performed.

Never mind that it’s necessary, or that it will protect them both. It’s still ruthless, as Blackthorn had said.

Sirius intones the words that will start off the ritual, in Latin, calling on his family magic to excise Bellatrix. The ritual is as taxing as he’d feared, and he sags in Remus’ arms when he finishes and steps outside the circle.

“I’m going to need a Pepper-Up,” Sirius mutters. “I can’t have Harry seeing me like this.”

Remus rummages in the pockets of his robe and comes up with what Sirius needs. “I have you covered. You’re going to crash later, though.”

“That’s later,” Sirius mutters. “I just need to get through the shopping trip.”

Remus hands it over. “Then drink up.”

Sirius drinks the potion and feels the steam come out of his ears, feeling a bit of energy return, even though he knows Remus is right. He’s going to crash hard later. “Okay. I think I’m good. I still need to have a word with Blackthorn before I leave. How much longer do we have before we need to meet Harry?”

“About thirty minutes.”

“That’s enough time,” Sirius replies.

Blackthorn offers them additional refreshments in the same private office they’d been in before. “How are you feeling, Lord Black?”

“Those sorts of rituals can take a lot out of a wizard,” Sirius replies neutrally. “As they should. Otherwise, people might be disinherited a lot more often.”

Blackthorn chuckles. “Indeed. I’m assuming you want a curse breaker to go through the vault.”

“I do,” Sirius confirms. “I would prefer that it be Bill Weasley. I was impressed by the way he handled the artifacts from my home.”

Blackthorn hesitates. “You understand that curse breakers would take a percentage of the vault, yes? Normally, such a prize would go to someone far older and more experienced.”

“How does someone get more experience except by doing?” Sirius asks. “Plus I like him, and my godson has close ties to his family.”

Blackthorn nods. “Of course. Your wishes in this matter will be honored, and I will make it known your preference for Mr. Weasley’s services.”

Sirius smiles, understanding what Blackthorn is saying. Sirius’ preferences will be blamed so that Bill doesn’t face too many repercussions from the perceived specialized treatment.

“The Weasleys have been particularly kind to Harry,” Sirius adds.

“Ah, then you owe a debt to the family,” Blackthorn says knowingly. “That would certainly explain things.”

They take their leave shortly thereafter, and Sirius wants nothing more than to go home and go to bed, but they have the rest of the day to get through.

“Are you going to be okay?” Remus asks in a low tone as they leave the bank.

Sirius sighs. “I’m exhausted, but I just need to get through this afternoon so I can explain what happened to Harry.”

“I don’t think that Harry is going to hold it against you,” Remus tells him.

“I’m sure he won’t,” Sirius replies. “He’s not enmeshed in the family magic yet, and he wouldn’t have felt it.”

“How are you feeling?” Remus asks carefully.

Sirius shakes his head. “I remember her as a small child, Moony. She wasn’t always so insane or dangerous, you know?”

“I know,” Remus soothes. “You did the right thing. If we find what we expect in her vault, it will be worth it for Harry’s sake.”

“Yeah,” Sirius says heavily. “But I don’t want to have the conversation in front of the Weasleys.”

“Why did you ask for Bill?” Remus asks.

“Because his commission from Bella’s vault will set him up for life, and really help his family,” Sirius replies. “He’s a smart, dedicated young man, and I liked him.”

Remus smirks. “And you know that Bellatrix would hate the idea of her money going to a traditionally light family like the Weasleys, and pure-blood traitors to boot.”

Sirius manages a grin at that. “Well, there is that.”

Harry is already waiting for them at Fortescue’s when they arrive, sitting with Hermione and Ron, but Sirius doesn’t see any of the other Weasleys.

“Where are your parents?” Sirius asks Ron.

“Oh, they’re getting robes for Ginny,” Ron says, sounding a little glum. “Our letters this year said we should have dress robes.”

“All years?” Sirius asks innocently.

Ron shakes his head. “No, but Ginny’s just a year behind me, so I guess they figured better safe than sorry.”

Sirius glances at Harry, who gives a minute shake of his head. “Well, I’m sure if it’s necessary, Harry has a couple of sets with tailoring charms that can probably be altered to fit you in a pinch.”

Harry smiles. “Yeah, Ron. Nobody’s going to realize if you borrow a set of mine if they’d never seen me wearing them before, and the tailoring charms can do a lot.”

Sirius watches as Ron brightens a bit at that. “Are you sure, mate?”

“Of course,” Harry says stoutly. “If my ‘situation’ is going to be a pain in the arse, then someone ought to benefit from it.”

Ron grins. “Thanks, Harry.”

Sirius figures there’s probably a line in Ron’s head between accepting charity and borrowing a set of dress robes when no one would be the wiser. Since Harry actually seems relaxed in Ron’s company, and appears cheerful, Sirius isn’t going to press him.

“It’s no problem,” Harry replies. He glances up at Sirius, and his gaze sharpens. “But maybe we ought to be getting back. I’m a little bit tired, to be honest. I didn’t sleep well last night.”

Hermione leans forward. “Oh, Harry. Are you having more nightmares?”

Harry forces a smile. “No, not since earlier this summer, actually. I just couldn’t sleep, that’s all.”

“Did you get everything you needed?” Sirius asks.

Harry nods. “Sure. I’m all set for the school year.”

“It was good to see you both again,” Remus says politely. “I’m sure we’ll see you at Kings Cross.”

Hermione rises and shakes both of their hands, and then hugs Harry. “We’ll see you soon.”

“Yeah, mate, don’t work too hard,” Ron adds, giving Harry a rough hug and shaking Sirius and Remus’ hands. “And, you know, thanks for looking after Harry this summer.”

“That’s pretty much my job,” Sirius replies. “But I appreciate you saying that, Ron.”

As they walk away, Harry asks, “What happened?”

“Let’s wait until we’re back at Grimmauld Place,” Sirius says. “But Remus will side-along you.”

He’s tired enough that he doesn’t want to risk splinching Harry, and he’s glad when they get inside the house. With the changed decor, and with his mother’s portrait gone, the place feels far more welcoming.

Kreacher pops into the hall, takes one look at Sirius, and says, “I make something to eat.”

“Okay, now I know I look bad if Kreacher is feeling sorry for me,” Sirius comments.

Harry snorts. “You look exhausted, and you didn’t look like that earlier, so something happened.”

Sirius sighs. “Let me get a drink and some food, and I’ll explain everything. And you can tell me what happened with Ron.”

Harry nods reluctantly.

“Go get changed,” Sirius says. “I don’t know about you, but I’m going to get into my pajamas.”

All three of them eat dinner in their pajamas that night, and Sirius indulges in a glass of fire whiskey, although he doesn’t do so that often.

They wind up in the library, and Harry has a bottle of butter beer, Remus has a cup of tea, and Sirius is still nursing his own drink.

“You first,” Harry says firmly.

“I disinherited Bellatrix today,” Sirius says bluntly. “Which is an exhausting process, probably to discourage people from doing it for stupid reasons.”

Harry has a strange look on his face. “Am I supposed to feel bad about it?”

“You can feel however you want to feel,” Sirius says bluntly. “I knew her when she was a child, and I have some fond memories of her, but she was the one who helped torture Neville’s parents into insanity, so I don’t feel any guilt about it.”

“Plus, disinheriting Bellatrix means you deprive Voldemort of that money, and you get the contents of her vault,” Remus points out.

“Bill Weasley is clearing it out,” Sirius adds. “We think there’s a good chance we’ll find another remnant of Voldemort’s soul.”

Harry nods. “Okay, yeah, all of that makes sense.”

“Bill will make a commission, the bank will take its cut, and I’ll donate the rest to the spell-damage ward at St. Mungo’s,” Sirius says.

Harry looks between them. “So, all’s well that ends well?”

“Bellatrix might die without being connected to the Black family magic,” Sirius admits.

Harry hesitates, and then says, “No offense, Padfoot, but I’m not sure I care.”

“Nor should you,” Sirius assures him. “Now, what happened with Ron?”

Harry takes a deep breath. “Right, well, he apologized for being a complete arsehole and promised he wouldn’t do it again. I told him that I didn’t believe him, because I’m not going to stop being rich, or the Black heir, and he said that his dad had a very frank conversation about the burdens I’m facing, and it sounded like way more work than he wanted to deal with, and he wished me luck.”

Sirius snorts. “And that’s it?”

“Apparently,” Harry says dryly. “I don’t know, I think Ron has translated jealousy into pity. He saw my class load for the next year, and then he patted me on the back and said it was better me than him. At least I have all my classes with Hermione, and with all of my studying with Lionel this summer, I think I might even surprise Snape.”

“That’s the right attitude to have,” Remus encourages him.

Harry shrugs. “I’m just glad we can go back to the same tower room with no hard feelings. It would be incredibly awkward otherwise.”

“Which makes sharing quarters somewhat difficult,” Sirius agrees. “So, what are you doing to do tomorrow?”

Harry hesitates. “Well, I do have some other work I want to get done, but… Would you mind if I went to see a Muggle movie?”’

“Not at all,” Sirius says. “I’d be happy to go with you. I would occasionally drag James and Remus along with me.”

“I’d be happy to go, too,” Remus adds.

Harry beams. “Excellent. I don’t really miss the Muggle world, you know. Just—the things I only ever got to do on a rare occasion, if that makes sense.”

“You’ve been working hard,” Sirius says. “Let’s go to a double feature. Your pick.”

And Sirius is glad that Harry is going back to school in a good place, rather than still being at odds with Ron.

 


Related Posts

enigmaticblue

I'm an attorney by day, fanfic writer by night. I have a husband, three spoiled cats, and a penchant for really good stories. If I'm not working, writing, or reading, I'm probably in the kitchen, whipping up a new recipe and drinking wine.

3 Comments:

  1. I’m really enjoying this fix-it. Harry gets all the stuff and family and new friends and a title. Yay
    Thank you

  2. greywolfthewanderer

    this is so much fun!! off I goes to read the next bit! 😀

  3. Great chapter. So much is going on. Well done of Sirius to give that commission to Bill.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.