Stronger At the Broken Places- 4/6 – 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 Eighth: In Which the Christmas Holiday Is Better Than Expected

The next Wizengamot session is the last until February, and Sirius goes early so he can talk with Augusta and some of the other members. Remus stays home, since it’s just after the full moon, and he’s feeling a little peaked. He wants to gauge interest for his idea to increase protections for creatures such as house elves. The consensus from those who seem to be interested is that voting in its favor would bring the wrath of Undersecretary Umbridge, and not everybody has the resources that Sirius does.

Umbridge is definitely going to be a problem. Everyone agrees that she’s underhanded and cruel, but that she hides that cruelty behind pink robes and a simpering manner.

Which means that Sirius is going to have to get rid of her, sooner, rather than later.

“Umbridge is definitely a problem,” Sirius tells Augusta in a low tone.

“Are you working on it?” she asks.

Sirius smirks. “Of course.”

The session is again mostly boring. They take up the budget for the following year, and there’s a spirited debate as to whether the funding for the DMLE ought to be reduced. Sirius is ready for that, because he’s certain that the Death Eaters have their own plans, and a weakened DMLE will be ripe for being undermined.

In this, at least, Percy’s report is helpful. He’d been able to get facts and figures from the reports that Sirius had been provided. It turns out that one Auror can reduce the amount of property crime by fifteen percent, and violent crime by ten percent. There’s also the levying of fines that don’t get collected without an Auror’s investigation.

When Sirius lays all of that out for the other members, the suggestion of reducing the DMLE’s budget dies on the vine. Everything else passes without too much of a problem.

“I see you’re intent on saving our budget, Lord Black,” Amelia says after the session is over.

Sirius shrugs. “I hired Percy Weasley to do the research,” he admits. “I might not have had that much ammunition otherwise.”

“I’m glad to hear that he’s landed on his feet,” she comments. “I know he had nothing to do with Crouch’s actions, but others will hold it against him.”

“I’m aware,” Sirius replies.

“If you have a few moments, I can take you to the department,” Amelia says. “We can speak privately there.”

Sirius nods. “Of course. I don’t have any additional appointments this afternoon.”

He follows her to the floor of the ministry that houses the Aurors and the rest of the DMLE, and then to her office. It’s packed to the brim with files and books, but there’s a cozy, lived-in air to it. “I think I spend more time here than I do at home,” she admits when he comments on it.

“Well, it’s quite comfortable,” Sirius says, settling into a chair across from her. “What can I do for you, Director Bones?”

“I’ve had word that someone has placed a contract out on you, Lord Black,” she says seriously. “They’re planning on having you killed.”

Sirius finds that he’s not at all surprised. “I see. Do we know who?”

“I have my suspicions, but no hard evidence,” Amelia admits. “It’s certainly a Death Eater, but we were never able to identify all of them, and too many escaped punishment at the end of the last war.”

“Agreed,” Sirius replies. “If I had to take a guess, it would be Lucius Malfoy. He’s probably irritated at me on a number of fronts.”

“Part of that family business he alluded to?” Amelia asks.

“I made Narcissa swear that Black money would not go to Voldemort, and that Draco wouldn’t take the Dark Mark,” Sirius says casually.

Amelia whistles. “Then, yes, he would be quite irritated with you, wouldn’t he? I would recommend that if you aren’t regularly practicing dueling, you may wish to do so. You also should be careful of poisons.”

Sirius sighs. “I suppose I should let Remus know, as well, although it will just worry him.”

“It’s good that you have someone to watch your back,” Amelia replies. “But yes, I think you should tell him. I can line up some Aurors for dueling practice as well.”

Sirius knows that she’s probably right. “I’ll take you up on that. Maybe we should set up a regular schedule now, otherwise I’ll probably let it slide.”

Amelia smiles. “There’s no time to start like the present.”

Sirius laughs. “Now?”

“Unless you’re too scared to face me,” Amelia replies. “After all, you’re protecting my budget. I’ll do what I can to protect you.”

Sirius can’t back down from a challenge. “You’re on.”

It turns out that the DMLE has its own dueling range that’s insulated from the rest of the ministry. Amelia sheds her robes, and Sirius does the same, preparing to duel. It’s been too long since he’d done this, Sirius knows. He’d practiced with Harry and Remus over the summer, but once Harry had gone back to Hogwarts, they’d let the practice slip.

Based on the look on Amelia’s face, she knows that, and she’s planning on kicking his arse.

She waits until Sirius has his wand in his hand before shooting off a cutting hex. Sirius barely gets his shield up in time, and then he sends a disarming charm at her, which she dodges with ease. From there, the duel is really on, and Sirius is hard-pressed to defend himself. She’s fierce and fast, and she’s not letting up.

When she does manage to disarm him, she sends him flying into a wall. Sirius climbs to his feet with a groan. “You didn’t go easy on me.”

“A Death Eater isn’t going to go easy on you, nor will an assassin,” Amelia replies severely. “And you have a godson to protect. It won’t do for you to get out of practice.”

Sirius grimaces. “I’ve had a lot on my plate.”

“That’s no excuse to let yourself get out of shape,” Amelia replies sharply. “We’ll go again.”

Sirius takes a deep breath and steels himself for a few more bruises.

An hour later, Sirius is wrung out and dripping with sweat. He at least managed to disarm her once, but that’s small comfort, because she’s right. He’s out of practice, and he’s let things slide too far.

“Thanks,” he wheezes.

“Come by any time, and I’ll be happy to beat your arse,” she replies smugly. “Come on. I’ll have tea and lunch brought to my office for the both of us.”

~~~~~

Sirius apparates back home with relief. He does plan on going back—Amelia has already scheduled their next dueling session—but he’ll need to practice in the meantime, maybe once Remus is feeling a little better.

He makes sure to stay alert, though. Amelia wouldn’t have given him the warning if there wasn’t a real and present threat of danger, and Sirius doesn’t want a repeat of that other life he lived, the one where he’d been stupid and got himself killed, leaving Harry on his own.

Remus meets him in the hall, a frown on his face. “You were gone a lot longer than I thought you would be.” His frown deepens. “Why is there blood on your shirt?”

“Because Amelia conned me into dueling practice, and she’s very good at throwing me into walls,” Sirius replies dryly. “Thankfully, she’s just as good at first aid spells, so I promise I’m fine.”

Remus’ eyes narrow with suspicion. “And why were you dueling?”

“Because she thought I needed the practice,” Sirius says, enjoying the way that Remus is clearly trying to puzzle things out.

“Sirius,” Remus says, sounding fierce. “Do not keep me in suspense.”

Sirius sighs. “I met with her after the session. I thought because she wanted to thank me for saving her budget—“

“Percy has fire-called twice to ask whether his research helped with that,” Remus says, sounding wry.

“Wasn’t he there?” Sirius asks, confused.

Remus shakes his head. “He still feels like he can’t show his face at the Ministry. Harry says that he’s barely speaking to his parents and siblings, even though he’s currently living at the Burrow.”

They’ve veered off track. “I hope you told him that it did.”

“I didn’t know, because I wasn’t there, and you didn’t come home!” Remus exclaims. “I was worried!”

Sirius lets out a breath and realizes that he might have pushed things too far. He reels Remus in for a hug and says, “Let’s have some tea.”

“Is this something that’s going to require tea, or something stronger?” Remus asks, clinging a bit.

“Probably something stronger,” Sirius admits. “But we can stick to tea for now.”

Kreacher grumbles a bit when Sirius asks him to prepare it, but he’s learned out to parse out Kreacher’s complaints by now, and there’s no real ire anymore.

“What happened?” Remus asks bluntly once they both have a mug of tea.

Sirius takes a deep breath. “I did manage to save the DMLE’s budget based on Percy’s work, and yes, I’ll fire call him after I’m done talking with you to tell him as much. That was about the only bit of drama during the session, other than finding out that people are afraid of going against Umbridge.”

“After what she tried to pull on you, I’m not surprised,” Remus says. “What else?”

“Director Bones asked to speak with me in her office,” Sirius replies. “I thought it was to thank me, and it was at least partially that. But she also wanted to warn me. It seems as though I’ve pissed off the Death Eaters enough that someone has put a hit out on me.”

Remus pales. “They want to kill you?”

“Moony, come on,” Sirius cajoles. “They’ve wanted to kill me for ages now. Merlin’s pants, I’m pretty sure my own parents would have rejoiced at my demise about the time I sorted into Gryffindor.”

“That isn’t the same thing as having a hit put on you!” Remus exclaims. “How are you so calm about this?”

“Because Amelia kicked my arse today, and I’m going back next week, and if she has her way I’ll probably be a hit wizard by the time she’s done with me,” Sirius replies. “Also, I need you to help me practice dueling, because I don’t want a repeat of today.”

Remus glares at him.

“I’m not taking this lightly,” Sirius assures him. “I know what it would do to you and Harry if something were to happen to me, not to mention what it would do to the efforts to defeat old Voldie. I’m not going down easy.”

Remus subsides, apparently slightly mollified. “Are you going to tell Harry?”

Sirius sighs deeply. “I’d really rather not, but I also know that if I don’t tell him and he finds out, he’ll be upset, and probably will lose some of the trust he has in me. I’m not willing to let that happen.”

Remus nods approvingly. “Good. I think that’s the right call. Harry has enough reasons to distrust adults at this point, there’s no reason to give him another.”

Sirius takes a sip of his tea. “There are a lot of people who are going to want me dead. For my position in the Wizengamot, for my relationship with Harry, even just for the fact that I want that undead bastard to stay where he belongs. I’m not surprised there’s a hit out on me; I’m more surprised that it’s taken this long.”

Remus looks unhappy, but he nods slowly. “I know that. But Padfoot, I’ve lost too many friends to him. I’m not willing to lose you, too, not when I’ve just got you back.”

“You’re not going to lose me,” Sirius promises recklessly, because he’s a Gryffindor at heart. “Trust me, I’m not leaving home again without armor.”

Because Sirius isn’t taking one single chance with his life. Not for himself, mind you. He’s made his peace with the fact that he’ll one day die. But because Harry and Remus need him to live, and he’s promised himself and them—and his memory of James and Lily—that he will remake the world for Harry.

“Armor?” Remus asks.

Sirius gives him his most innocent look. “Oh, didn’t I tell you? I ordered some armor for myself. Well, for all three of us, really. I didn’t want to say anything too soon, because it was meant to be a Christmas surprise, but I suppose I can spill the beans early.”

He’s relieved to see the familiar exasperated amusement on Remus’ face, rather than adrenalin fueled anxiety. “Only you,” Remus comments. “You do realize that Harry’s fourteen.”

Sirius shrugs. “I can’t wrap him bubble-wrap, can I? He’s had more attempts on his life than I have, which is saying something. So, armor.”

“Armor does seem like a reasonable alternative,” Remus agrees, looking almost impossibly fond. “Anything else that you need to tell me?”

“Both Amelia and I think it’s Malfoy who’s targeting me,” Sirius replies. “I really wish I had some way to bung that arsehole up in Azkaban. It would piss Voldie off, and it might do his son some good.”

Remus’ expression turns considering. “You could turn the investigator onto him. If Lucius is trying to have you killed, that would be a life sentence in Azkaban.”

Sirius shakes his head. “No, we still have to focus on Umbridge and Fudge for right now. She’s going to find a way to block all of my legislation, and I can’t have that.”

“Changing the law is more important than your life?” Remus asks acerbically.

Sirius waves that off. “No, that’s not what I’m saying. But if I can’t effect real change, then what am I even doing in the Wizengamot? No, Moony, some people follow Voldemort because they’re blood-purists, but some follow him because they’re weak. They don’t believe that anybody can beat him. The stronger I become, the stronger I look, the more attractive I’ll become to those people.”

“Even with your politics?” Remus asks skeptically.

“Even then,” Sirius replies. “They might even come around to our way of thinking, but a fair few of them won’t jump ship unless we can show them another option.”

Remus’ expression turns calculating. “How are you going to do that?”

Sirius grins. “I had some thoughts about that.”

~~~~~

Sirius hates pure-blood politics, and he always has. It’s one of the reasons that he’d embraced Muggle things, and left as much of those traditions and rituals behind as he thought he could get away with.

But the things is, he still understands pure-bloods. A lot of the ritual magic has been diluted over the years, the old traditions cast aside or changed to make way for traditions and rituals that are a bit more like Muggle ones. The old holidays go by unobserved, except for the occasional mention, such as the nod to Yule with the Yule Ball.

Sirius has an idea that might help to pull some of the pure-bloods toward neutrality, while also strengthening the Hogwarts’ curriculum.

He does inform Percy that his help had been invaluable, and he expects him to keep up that caliber of research that very same day, and then he calls Harry at a time where he’s sure Harry will be done with dinner.

“Can you talk, pup?” Sirius asks.

“Uh, yeah, just a minute,” Harry replies. “I’ll call you when I’m somewhere private.”

Sirius doesn’t recognize the background when his mirror chimes a few minutes later, and Harry’s face reappears. It looks like Harry’s in the middle of a junk pile. “Where are you?”

“The Room of Requirement,” Harry replies easily. “But different from how it appears during our study group.”

Sirius frowns. “What did you ask it for?”

“A place that was secret, where I could be hidden,” Harry says readily. “I think a lot of people have hidden things in here, actually.”

Sirius feels a niggling sense that they need to know more about that room in particular, but he puts a pin in it. “How are things going?”

Harry shrugs. “I don’t know. Fine?”

“That sounds like more of a question than an answer,” Sirius comments.

“Malfoy has been weird,” Harry admits.

Sirius frowns. “Weird, how?”

“He’s—well, he’s ignoring me,” Harry admits. “Like, completely ignoring me.”

Harry doesn’t sound too excited about that either, which amuses Sirius somewhat. “I imagine Narcissa probably told him to ignore you if he couldn’t be civil. You’ll be Lord Black if something happens to me, and then you’ll control the Black purse strings.”

Harry grimaces. “Don’t remind me.”

“Besides, whether Draco or his father realize it, the balance of power is shifting. Narcissa was always more Slytherin than Lucius.”

“Cunning, sly, and ultimately interested in self-preservation?” Harry asks wryly.

“Just so,” Sirius agrees. “Is there a problem with him ignoring you?”

Harry shifts uncomfortably. “He’s never ignored me before. And now that he’s ignoring me, most of the other Slytherins are as well. Plus, I think our study group has people from about every house in it, and it’s getting—well, it’s getting kind of big. Probably because the Room of Requirement keeps growing and giving us more stuff we need, and it’s—I think I’m in charge?”

Sirius smothers the laughter that’s about to break free. “I can’t say I’m surprised, love. When you put your mind to things, people will likely follow you.”

Harry shrugs. “Anyway, everyone is really excited about the Yule Ball, but I don’t know if I want to go.”

Sirius keeps his sigh internal. “I think it’s for the best if you do, pup, even if you don’t want to go.”

“Why?” Harry asks, his voice perilously close to a whine.

“Because you’re the Heir to the House of Black, and people will expect you to be present,” Sirius says sternly. “Particularly to support the champion. There’s a good chance that if you don’t go, it will be remarked upon, and then—“

“Then it looks like I’m some kind of a sore loser because I didn’t show up to support Cedric,” Harry groans. “Do I have to bring a date?”

“Yes, you most likely should, and who you ask is going to be important, Harry. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news here, but—“

“My choice of date will reflect on the House of Black, and people will draw conclusions, warranted or not,” Harry says glumly, proving that he’d at least listened to some of Sirius’ lectures over the summer. “Does it have to be a girl?”

Sirius snorts. “Hell, no. I don’t care who you take.”

Harry dithers for a minute or two, and Sirius keeps his peace.

“The thing is that Ron likes Hermione, and I really don’t want to piss him off,” Harry explains in a rush. “And I was talking to Krum yesterday, and he asked if there was anybody who had asked Hermione yet, and I don’t know if I should warn Ron to get a move on, or warn Hermione, or—“

“Harry, take a breath,” Sirius advises. “Ron’s romantic woes aren’t yours to solve, okay? He can do what he likes, and if he doesn’t take action, that’s not your fault. Your problem is finding someone to go with you.”

Harry slumps. “I don’t know who to ask. I’m not really interested in anybody.”

“Other than Lionel?” Sirius asks.

Harry flushes. “It’s not—it’s not like that. And it’s not like he can go with me.”

Sirius really hopes that Harry isn’t setting himself up for some kind of similar issues that he had with Remus during the war. “You’re right, they’re not going to allow you to take Lionel,” Sirius says. “Is there anyone else?”

“Not really,” Harry says weakly. “I told you, I don’t want to go.”

“What about Ginny Weasley?” Sirius asks.

Harry shakes his head definitively. “She has a crush on me.”

Sirius blows out a breath. “Does anyone from the Beauxbatons group know Lionel or Therese?”

Harry mumbles something.

“What was that, pup?”

“Therese is here,” Harry mutters. “I haven’t really talked to her, though, and the Beauxbatons students are all really attractive and probably aren’t interested—“

“This is what you do,” Sirius says. “The very next opportunity you have, you go up to Therese and tell her you’ve been interested in getting to know her better, but weren’t sure how to ask. You ask if she has a date for the Yule Ball. If she does, you ask if she has single friends without a date. You pull out your best French for this conversation, as well as your best manners. And then, no matter what she says, or who she says doesn’t have a date, you treat her like she’s the most special person on the planet for the space of an evening. You dance, you bring her punch, and you act like a gentleman.”

Harry blinks. “Seriously?”

“Therese knows you’re there, and that you’re Lionel’s friend, and probably thought you were being shy, but there’s likely at least one girl in that group who doesn’t have a date yet,” Sirius replies. “You can be her knight in shining armor.”

Harry groans. “But then she’ll want things!”

“Not if you play your cards right,” Sirius replies. “The person you’re interested in is at a different school and couldn’t make it, and you just want to show someone a good time as friends.”

“Does that work?” Harry asks skeptically.

“Listen, pup,” Sirius says. “Speak in French, tell her you want the practice, be charming, and she won’t care if it’s a time-limited event. If she’s older, she’ll appreciate the attention, but is unlikely to want anything other than a charming date.”

“I’m kind of short for them,” Harry protests.

“Stand up straight, then,” Sirius advises. “Harry, I promise you that you can date and marry anyone you like, but there will be times when you have to escort someone on friendly terms. It’s best you learn how to do that now, when the stakes are relatively low. Ask Lionel to intervene for you if it makes you feel better.”

Harry sighs. “Right. Okay. It has to be done, right?”

“And the longer you wait, the harder it will be,” Sirius replies. “Approach Therese tomorrow, and report back to me.”

Harry gives him a half-hearted glare. “You’re going to check up on me?”

“I absolutely am going to check up on you,” Sirius replies. “The reputation of the House of Black is resting on your shoulders, Harry. Blacks have always been charming bastards, and you have a reputation to uphold.”

“I couldn’t be charming if my life depended on it!” Harry protests.

Sirius smirks. “Oh, lad, that’s just because you haven’t discovered your own powers yet. You’ll do fine, I promise. How are classes?”

That gets an unqualified “good.” “I think I’m finally caught up with everybody else in Ancient Runes and Arithmancy, and I think Snape would kill me with a look if he could. He’s only been able to downgrade me on one potion so far, and that was at the beginning of the year.”

“What else?” Sirius asks.

Harry gives him a cheeky grin. “I should be asking you that. You’re the one who called me.”

Sirius sighs. “I wanted to wait to tell you this, because I didn’t want you to think I was hiding anything, but I don’t want you to worry. Director Bones has information that someone may have put a hit out on me.”

Harry’s eyes turn hot. “It’s not a maybe. You wouldn’t have said anything if it was a maybe.”

“She has very good reason to believe that my life is in danger, and she’s already doing her best to whip me into shape with practice duels,” Sirius promises. “I’m going to be wearing armor, and I swear I won’t leave home without it.”

Harry takes a deep breath. “Okay. I believe that you’ll be careful, but you have to promise that we’ll spend the Christmas holidays together.”

“No doubt about that, pup,” Sirius replies. “Hey, look around you.”

Harry stands up and moves the mirror around. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking this would be an excellent place to hide something you didn’t want to be found,” Sirius replies.

Harry looks around. “Okay, and I am definitely not arguing, but so what? Wait, you think he might have hidden one of those objects in here?”

“I don’t know, but I think we need to make plans to search the place, especially if we can find a way to locate objects like that more easily,” Sirius says.

Harry is clearly scanning the room. “Agreed. Although—what if I tried accio?”

“What are you summoning?” Sirius asks.

Harry holds up a hand. “Accio horcrux!”

Nothing happens.

“Harry, I don’t think that’s going to work,” Sirius says.

Harry shakes his head stubbornly. “No. What else is missing? What were the artifacts we talked about? The important ones?”

“Helga Hufflepuff’s cup was found in Bellatrix’s vault,” Sirius replies. “We already destroyed the diary and the locket. There’s the legend of Rowena Ravenclaw’s lost diadem, but that’s the only other piece we’ve been able to confirm is definitely missing.”

Harry smirks. “Accio Rowena’s diadem!”

The diadem flies into Harry’s hand, and he immediately drops it. “Ugh, that feels disgusting.”

“Take off your school robes and wrap it up in that,” Sirius instructs. “And go straight to Professor McGonagall. Tell her it makes your scar hurt, and you think it might be a dark object. Call me when it’s done.”

Harry nods. “Yeah, of course. I will.”

Sirius hates closing the mirror and losing contact with his godson, but he does it anyway.

“How is Harry?” Remus asks, wandering back into the room with a couple of butter beers.

“Debating on who to take to the Yule Ball,” Sirius replies. “I gave him a pep talk.”

“He didn’t want to go.”

“He definitely didn’t want to go, but mostly because he has no idea who to take, or who to ask,” Sirius replies. “I gave him some pointers and said he had the Black family honor to uphold.”

Remus raises an eyebrow. “And?”

“I told him to approach Lionel’s sister, and if she wasn’t willing to go with him, to see if there was another Beauxbatons girl without a date,” Sirius replies. “I told him to speak French and be charming.”

“Easy enough for him to do, even if he doesn’t know it,” Remus comments.

Sirius snorts. “Right. Well, he was in the Room of Requirement, and I’m pretty sure he managed to find a horcrux.”

“How?” Remus demands.

Sirius shakes his head. “He accio’d Rowena’s diadem. He’s taking it to McGonagall now, and he’s going to call me after.”

Remus slumps against the couch. “Only Pronglet. He’s worse than James.”

“Well, he is taking it to McGonagall, so I feel like he’s at least a little bit better,” Sirius says defensively.

“I think I’ll sit up until Harry does call,” Remus replies.

They drink their butter beers, and then graduate to fire whiskey, and wait around for Harry.

When Sirius’ phone finally chimes, Remus hurriedly takes a seat next to him as Sirius flips the mirror open. “Harry?”

“I’m good,” Harry says quietly. “Sorry, Professor McGonagall insisted I go back to the dorm, but I’ve set up a privacy charm. The short story is that I insisted that Bill Weasley be involved because he helped destroy the other horcruxes, and I knew he’d get an award from the bank. Dumbledore was speechless, since the horcrux was hidden in the castle and he had no idea. I think he was kind of shaken.”

“As he should be,” Sirius growls.

“Also, he admitted that he’s been working on the issue,” Harry says, “and he actually talked to me about it, and about the prophecy.”

That makes Sirius a little suspicious. Dumbledore never hands out information for free. “What did he want from you?”

“He wanted me to consider going back to the Dursleys because of the blood wards,” Harry replies, rolling his eyes. “I told him that I would consider it, so he wouldn’t keep bugging us about it. I have no intention of going back, though.”

“What did he tell you about the blood wards?” Remus asks.

“He said they protect me from Voldemort, and they protect the Dursleys, too, but I figure if we’re that worried about the Muggles, we can pay for them to move,” Harry says. “Aunt Petunia always wanted a nicer house, so that would be easy enough.”

“Do you want to do that instead?” Sirius asks.

Harry hesitates. “I want to think about it, is that okay?”

“Of course,” Sirius replies quickly. “You should think about it, because if we move them, you’re not likely to have any additional contact with them.”

Harry smirks at him. “That’s not a reason not to do it. I’m not sure I’d care if I never saw them again.”

“Still, you should think about it,” Remus encourages him. “It’s a big decision, and you should take your time.”

Harry shrugs. “Okay, I will. But I don’t have to go back, right?”

“I promised, didn’t I?” Sirius asks. “You’re not going back there. If there’s some protection you’re missing by not going back, we’ll find another way to replicate it.”

Harry smiles in relief. “Okay, I just wanted to double check.”

“I think you did well to tell Dumbledore that you’d think about it,” Remus says. “Far better to put him off.”

Harry shrugs. “Well, that’s at least one more down. Dumbledore says he thinks there were seven, since that number is significant in Arithmancy.”

Sirius does the math in his head. There was the diary, the locket, the cup, the diadem, and the one in Harry’s scar. That leaves two horcruxes to find and destroy.

“Did he offer any insight as to the other two?” Sirius asks.

Harry shakes his head. “Nothing, other than saying it was probably something that was meaningful to him somehow, maybe attached to the magical side of his family. Dumbledore says he’s still researching to figure out who his magical relatives were.”

Sirius resolves to do his own investigation. He already has one investigator digging into Fudge; he can hire another to look into Voldemort’s background, if he can find one who’s up for the challenge. There’s a chance that no one would be willing, but Sirius has sworn to do everything in his power for Harry.

“I’ll do my own research, too,” Sirius promises. “I love you, pup.”

“Love you, too,” Harry says, although he stutters a bit at the last word. Sirius isn’t quite sure why, but it almost sounds like Harry wanted to add something and didn’t.

“Be safe,” Sirius adds.

Harry gives him a look. “I’m not the one with a hit on my head.”

“You kind of are,” Sirius counters, although he probably shouldn’t joke about it.

Still, it makes Harry laugh. “I’ll be safe.”

“Good,” Sirius replies. “See you soon.”

Harry smiles and ends the connection.

Remus rolls his eyes. “Seriously?”

“Voldie is still out to kill him,” Sirius defends himself. “Harry knows that. I’m not going to dance around the issue.”

Remus sighs. “Fair enough.”

Sirius smiles. “Come to bed, Moony. Harry is in good shape, and we have some breathing room.”

~~~~~

About a week later, Sirius gets the report from the private investigator, and it’s explosive. It turns out that Fudge has a mistress. A secret, Muggle mistress.

It’s probably the only way Fudge could have had a mistress and have her remain anonymous and unknown.

And Sirius isn’t sure what he wants to do with the information.

“What is it?” Remus asks.

Sirius hands him the report. Remus scans it and snorts. “What a surprise. A politician having an affair.”

“What do you think we should do about it?” Sirius asks. “I normally don’t care who people are fucking.”

“It’s not about who he’s fucking, it’s about the fact that his Undersecretary is a danger to us,” Remus points out. “And she would lap this up. You know she would.”

Sirius takes a breath. “So, let Fudge know that I know, and then make sure the report winds up in Umbridge’s hands, and have Fudge fire her.”

Remus shrugs. “It’s an idea. I think it will work. Are you comfortable with it?”

“Not really, but I know she needs to be removed,” Sirius replies. “All right, I’ll make an appointment with Fudge. That should be fun.”

“Wait until after Christmas,” Remus advises. “We have enough to do, and not even Fudge deserves to have his holiday ruined.”

“Fair enough,” Sirius replies “We have some decorating to do. Like, a lot of decorating to do.”

Sirius had underestimated the house elves when it comes to decorating, though. When Sirius tells Winky and Kreacher that they want to decorate Grimmauld Place and the house in France, Kreacher says, “I decorate this house.”

“Tastefully,” Sirius says. “It’s for Harry.”

Kreacher nods. “Kreacher knows. I’ve been to Hogwarts.”

Sirius blinks. “Why?”

“Because Master Harry is there,” Kreacher says as though it’s obvious. “And Lord Black and Wolfy are not always here.”

Sirius rolls his eyes. “Right, of course. Winky?”

“I decorate the farmhouse,” Winky says immediately. “You see, Winky is the best at decorating.”

“I believe you,” Sirius replies.

Kreacher scowls. “Kreacher is better.”

Sirius wonders if he’s created a couple of monsters. “Don’t go crazy, you two, and wait until after December 1st!”

They glare at each other and then pop away.

“This is going to get out of hand,” Remus predicts.

Sirius laughs. “How bad could it be? We’re talking Christmas decorations.”

He isn’t sure whether it’s bad or not, but by December 2nd Kreacher has decorated every inch of Grimmauld Place. There’s greenery on the mantle, around the bookcases in the study, with lights in every window. There are multi-colored lights nestled in the greenery, and red and green bows and mistletoe. Kreacher has avoided Santa Claus or any hint of the Christian aspects of the holiday, preferring to stick with the more traditional Yule decorations.

It’s not quite so much as to be tacky, but it does look like a Christmas explosion.

“You were saying?” Remus asks, barely able to hide his mirth.

Kreacher is standing in front of them, trying and failing miserably to hide how much he wants their approval. Sirius decides to channel Regulus. “I think it looks absolutely wonderful, Kreacher. Harry is going to love it.”

They all know exactly who Kreacher is doing this for, and it certainly isn’t Sirius.

Kreacher looks about as close to happy as Sirius has ever seen him. “Master Remus approves?”

“It’s very cheerful,” Remus replies with a smile. “And festive.”

Kreacher nods, satisfied. “Good.”

When he pops away, Remus asks, “What do you think Winky’s done with the farmhouse?”

“I have no idea,” Sirius admits, “but I’m kind of looking forward to finding out.”

 

~~~~~

Sirius has a chance to find out whether Harry has followed his advice during the next Hogsmeade weekend. They decide to go the first weekend in December, since the first task in the Triwizard Tournament is the end of November. He and Remus apparate to Hogsmeade and head for the Three Broomsticks. The plan is to get lunch with Harry again, and then get their Christmas shopping done.

It’s a cold, windy day, and they’re both bundled up, although Remus’ scarf is loose around his neck, as he doesn’t feel the cold as intensely as a regular wizard. Once inside the Three Broomsticks, they remove their outerwear and stomp the residual snow from their boots.

Harry is seated at the same table as he’d been the last time, although with a slightly different crowd. Ron and Hermione are there, but so is Therese, and another young woman about her age with blonde hair and blue eyes.

Harry waves enthusiastically as soon as he sees them, and Sirius exchanges a look with Remus.

He pops up to offer both of them a hug, and Sirius is glad that he’s willing to offer affection so freely. “How are you, pup?”

“Madly studying for exams,” Harry admits with a smile. “I think we’ll probably head right back to the castle after lunch.”

Ron snorts. “Speak for yourself, mate. I still want to go to Honeydukes, and I have Christmas presents to buy.”

Harry hesitates. “I do, too, but—“

“We can probably spare an hour,” Hermione offers.

There’s the sound of a throat being cleared, and Harry flushes. “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten my manners. Sirius, you remember Therese Deschamps, Lionel’s sister, and this is the Beauxbatons Champion, Fleur Delacour. Fleur, this is my godfather, Lord Sirius Black, and his chamberlain, Remus Lupin.”

Although he may have forgotten his manners temporarily, Harry is perfectly appropriate once he remembers. “It’s a pleasure,” Sirius says.

Remus murmurs his greetings.

“Therese has agreed to go to the Yule Ball with me,” Harry adds.

“My brother speaks very highly of Harry,” Therese says. “I was rather hoping he’d ask. At least I’ll have someone to talk Quidditch with.”

Harry blushes, and Sirius can’t blame him. Therese is a very pretty girl with dark skin and clear, hazel eyes. “I’m just glad I won’t have to go by myself.”

“What about you two?” Sirius asks, looking at Ron and Hermione.

Hermione blushes. “Oh, I have a date already.”

“What?” Ron blurts out. “I thought we were going together!”

Hermione glares at him. “You didn’t ask me to go, so what on earth would give you that idea, Ronald?”

Ron sputters. “Well, Harry has a date, so I thought—“

“No, you didn’t think,” Hermione snaps.

Ron goes very red in the face, and Harry looks as though he wishes he were anywhere but here.

“Who asked you?” Ron demands.

“None of your business,” Hermione replies pertly.

Sirius takes a seat and gives Ron a hard look. “I’m here to have an enjoyable lunch with Harry and anyone who wishes to be here. Whether or not you stay is up to you, but I expect you to remain civil.” As an afterthought, he adds, “Or I’ll have to have a word with your mother the next time I see her.”

That settles Ron down, although he’s still red-faced, and Hermione still appears irritated. Fleur also looks a little irked, probably on Hermione’s behalf.

“Do you plan on spending part of the holiday in France?” Therese asks, clearly trying to get the conversation back on more pleasant topics.

Sirius smiles at Therese. “Yes, we plan on returning to France on Boxing Day, and we’ll stay at least a few days. What about you?”

“Madame Maxime has given us permission to return home after the Yule Ball,” Therese confirms. “So long as we arrange for our own transportation to and from. My parents have agreed to provide an international portkey.”

“And you?” Remus asks Fleur politely.

Fleur smiles. “Yes, my parents also wish me to come home. My little sister is insisting.”

“I thought about not going to the Yule Ball,” Harry admits. “It’s my first Christmas with my godfather and Remus.”

Fleur looks politely interested. “Oh? Who were you living with before?”

“My Muggle relatives,” Harry says with a breezy tone that doesn’t invite additional questions. “Living with Sirius and Remus is much better.”

“How has the the tournament been going?” Sirius asks. “You’ve had your first challenge, correct?”

That turns the conversation to a less fraught topic, although Sirius and Remus have already heard about the first task from Harry.

Dragons, Sirius thinks, grateful that Harry doesn’t have to deal with that this time around.

Fleur is modest about her accomplishments, getting past the dragon with a sleeping spell. “I’m in third place now,” she admits.

“There are still two more tasks,” Therese says encouragingly. “You still have a chance to win.”

Fleur offers a Gallic shrug. “If nothing else, I will represent Beauxbatons well.”

“That’s the most important thing,” Therese agrees.

“How did the other two do?” Sirius asks.

At that, Harry, Hermione and Therese all begin giving their perspective on the performance of Viktor and Cedric. Ron, who has so far remained sullenly silent, begins adding his own two knuts when they begin discussing Viktor’s performance.

Ron hasn’t lost any of his hero worship for Krum, and he has plenty of thoughts on Cedric and Krum’s scores. Hermione falls rather curiously silent, however, and doesn’t have much to say about Krum once Ron gets started.

Sirius already knows exactly who she’s going to the ball with, but he can see the dawning realization on Harry and Remus’ faces. Harry keeps looking at Hermione, and Remus raises his eyebrows with a faint smirk.

Harry manages to catch Hermione’s eye, and he jerks his head. Hermione blushes, and Harry’s eyes widen slightly. Hermione quickly gives a faint shake of her head.

Harry gives a quick nod, and then goes back to the conversation.

The entire thing takes maybe three seconds, and no one else at the table appears to notice that unspoken conversation.

Well—Therese gives Harry a sharp look, so Sirius wasn’t the only person to notice. He does wonder what that’s all about, but he’ll ask Harry about it later.

They order lunch, although Fleur appears less than thrilled with the menu options.

As soon as they’ve finished their meal, Ron mumbles his thanks and excuses himself.

Harry immediately looks at Hermione. “You’re going with Krum?” The way he asks, he sounds excited for her, not accusatory, the way Ron might have.

Hermione rolls her eyes. “How did you guess?”

“I know you,” Harry says impatiently. “Besides, I saw you talking to him in the library one day when I came looking for you.”

“You’re not going to tell Ron, right?” Hermione asks desperately.

Harry puts on his most innocent expression. “Tell Ron what?”

Hermione looks relieved. “Thank you.”

“Hey, you have my back, and I have yours,” Harry replies. “Plus, we’re basically siblings at this point.”

Sirius sees Therese relax at that. “Siblings?” she asks.

“Sirius is her magical guardian,” Harry explains. “And she’s my very good friend.”

Sirius doesn’t know whether that friendship could ever—or would ever—blossom into something more, but he can tell that Hermione appreciates Harry’s unstinting support.

“If Ron wished you to go with him, he should have asked you much sooner,” Fleur says severely. “No man should ever assume that a woman will accompany him without asking, and he should bring a gift if he’s serious about wooing you.”

She gives Hermione a considering look. “I can help with your hair, if you’d like. You have very nice bone structure.”

Hermione blushes. “Oh, thank you. That’s very kind of you to say.”

And then the girls start talking about hair potions and makeup and the like, and Sirius watches as Harry’s eyes glaze over.

Sirius clears his throat. “I think we’ll probably take off, Harry. Ladies, it was a pleasure.”

Fleur and Therese get to their feet and shake Sirius’ hand, and then Remus’. Hermione actually gives Sirius and Remus both a hug, which Sirius finds gratifying, and then they’re off.

“Do you think things between Lionel and Harry are more serious than what he’ll admit to?” Sirius asks as they leave.

Remus shrugs. “So what if they are? Lionel is a nice boy, and they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

“Is that what it did to you?” Sirius teases.

Remus gives him a look. “It might have done if I hadn’t thought you were a traitor at the time.”

Sirius finds he can’t argue with that. “Obviously, I don’t care, but Harry keeps telling me that there’s nothing more to it.”

“Then maybe there isn’t,” Remus says reasonably. “Or maybe he doesn’t know what’s there. He’s fourteen, Sirius. We can’t all be like James and decide that we’ve found our soulmate in third year.”

Sirius has to grant that, and Harry is young. “Fair enough. Where to next?”

“Diagon Alley?” Remus suggests. “Do you know what you’re getting Harry for Christmas yet?”

Sirius sighs. “Unfortunately, the newest racing broom won’t be out until the spring, so that will have to wait for Harry’s birthday. Beyond the armor, I haven’t come up with anything. What about you?”

“I thought I’d get a few smaller things,” Remus admits. “He liked the books that Hermione got him for his birthday, and he seems to be really focusing on school this year.”

“He does,” Sirius replies. “But I don’t want him to be too serious.”

“I can’t tell if you left that door open or not,” Remus teases him.

Sirius knows he’s brought that on himself. “Ignore the door, Moony. The door does not exist.”

“I thought you’d want Harry to be more like you,” Remus replies, ignoring him.

“No, I’d rather him be like his mother,” Sirius counters. “She was the sensible one.”

Remus’ smile is nostalgic. “Lily was amazing.”

“Perhaps I’ll get him a new trunk,” Sirius muses. “With all the books he’s carting around, he could probably use one with better storage options. Maybe an auto-resizing charm so he doesn’t have to worry about one of us shrinking and resizing it for him.”

“That’s an idea,” Remus says. “I might give him a new wand holster, to go with the armor.”

Sirius frowns. “I’m not sure he has a wand holster, come to think of it.”

“Well, the school uniforms have built-in pockets, so it’s not strictly necessary,” Remus replies. “But it’s a lot easier to draw your wand with a holster than from a pocket.”

“It would fit with the armor,” Sirius admits. “Although I hate the fact that we’re equipping the kid for war.”

“We can equip him for war, and then make sure he never has to go to war,” Remus points out. “And at least Harry knows he’s being equipped, and we aren’t ham-stringing him with a lack of information.”

Sirius has to admit that Remus has a point. They can at least say that they’re doing everything they can to make sure Harry has what he needs to take on Voldemort.

“And maybe some sweets,” Remus adds. “Gobstones? Exploding Snap? Some other magical game?”

“Let’s go shopping,” Sirius replies. “Maybe we’ll get inspired.”

~~~~~~

Sirius rather wishes he could be a fly on the wall of the Yule Ball, but he and Remus are at the farmhouse in France, wrapping presents and making sure everything is ready for when Harry arrives the following day. The plan is for Sirius to go and pick Harry and Therese up with an international portkey. They’d made arrangements with the Deschamps a few days ago, deciding it would be easier if they only had to make one trip.

They’d arrived in France a few days before Christmas, to find that Winky’s decorations were a bit more restrained than Kreacher’s, maybe because that had been Crouch’s preference. Still, there was a large wreath on the front door, along with fairy lights in the branches of the trees in the front yard. There were candles in every window, burning brightly, and neatly decorated trees in both the parlor and the study. The one in the parlor is pristine, but the one in the study is clearly intended for family, with the hodge-podge mess of ornaments that Winky had to have found in the attic.

He reaches out and touches a misshapen clay ornament that Regulus made. Sirius thinks he can still see his brother’s fingerprints.

“You okay?” Remus asks.

“Yes, I’m fine,” Sirius replies. “Regulus made this one when he was six, I think. We stayed here with my grandparents that year for Christmas. I don’t remember where my parents were, or what they were doing, but they left us here for three weeks. We made ornaments and baked cookies. We had house elves, but my grandmother loved to bake, and she involved us, too. It was brilliant.”

“How soon after that did she die?” Remus asks softly.

“A few months,” Sirius admits. “Just a few months. I still saw my grandfather occasionally after that, right up until I got to Hogwarts and was sorted into Gryffindor. I assumed he wanted as little to do with me as my parents did.”

Remus puts an arm around his shoulders. “And, again, are you okay?”

“Sometimes I miss my brother,” Sirius admits. “Not the little Death Eater toe-rag he was when you knew him, but the sweet boy he was before then. I wish I’d known that he defied Voldemort sooner. Or before he died.“

“Would he have come to you?” Remus asks just as gently.

“No,” Sirius admits. “He wouldn’t have. He would never have said anything to me, and I hate that.”

“Hate You-Know-Who,” Remus says. “Not yourself, not Regulus. You both were dealing with forces outside of your control. You both did what you could.”

Sirius manages a smile. “Yeah. I’m sure we did.”

They hear a knock at the front door, and Sirius has no idea who it is, so he waves Remus back and heads for the door.

He’s a little surprised to have Remus glare at him. “You’re the one with a price on your head.”

Sirius’ wards haven’t pinged, so it’s not a stranger, which means it’s almost certainly either Louise or Lionel, or both. “The wards recognize them.”

“I’d really rather not take a chance with your life,” Remus says, and Sirius decides not to press his luck.

Remus has his wand out as he looks through the peephole, but he opens the door cautiously after that. “Hello, Louise.”

She looks at the wand in his hand. “I see you’re being cautious.”

“Sirius was informed by the Head of the DMLE that he has a price on his head,” Remus replies, sounding a little grim. “I’m not willing to take any chances.”

“You shouldn’t,” Louise says approvingly. “I hear from Lionel that Harry’s spending Christmas Day at Hogwarts?”

“It’s the Yule Ball that night,” Sirius confirms. “It’s good to see you again, Louise.”

Louise smiles. “It’s good to be seen. You both look very well.”

“We’re doing just fine,” Sirius replies. “Won’t you come in?”

“I brought wine,” Louise says with a smile. I hope you’ll join us for dinner on Boxing Day.”

“We’d love to,” Sirius replies.

They settle in the kitchen, and Sirius opens the bottle while Remus grabs the glasses. “And Harry is doing well?” Louise asks.

“Quite well,” Sirius confirms. “We’ve met him a couple of times for Hogsmeade weekends, and he’s having a much calmer year than the last three. We’re hoping that continues. I think he enjoys being a spectator, rather than a competitor.”

Louise chuckles. “Harry doesn’t strike me as the sort of boy who likes to be the center of attention if he can help it.”

“He’s not, although he’s often in the public eye, or he was,” Sirius says with a snort. “If the papers come after him now, I won’t have been doing my job.”

“How is Lionel doing?” Remus asks.

Louise’s expression is fond. “Very well, indeed.”

They spend the next few hours catching up. Louise is very interested in Sirius’ activities at the Wizengamot, and is sympathetic to his desire to get Umbridge out of a position of power.

“So, you’re planning on blackmailing the Minister?” Louise asks, sounding almost approving.

Sirius hesitates. “I wouldn’t put it quite like that. I was rather hoping that I could let Fudge know that I know, and then arrange for the report to wind up on Umbridge’s desk.”

Louise smirks. “Thus, suggesting that she intended to blackmail the Minister herself.”

“Something like that,” Sirius admits. “She’ll block every measure I plan to bring otherwise.”

“Unless you decide that you want to put greater restrictions on werewolves and other creatures,” Remus comments dryly.

Sirius’ eyes narrow. “First of all, werewolves are wizards, not creatures. And second, you know that’s not going to happen. Umbridge must be stopped if we’re to make progress.”

“If you can’t find dirt on her, then the only thing to do is to create some,” Louise says, more cheerfully than Sirius would expect. “Politics is a dirty business.”

“And I wish I didn’t have to deal with it, but there’s only one way to really protect my family, and that involves changing the laws,” Sirius admits. “If I thought I could get away with spending my life here, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

Louise smiles. “We all do things that we wouldn’t otherwise have done for our children. I might have continued to be a curse-breaker, but I knew that a career in that field wasn’t conducive to raising children. My late husband was a busy country doctor, and so I settled down to be a teacher, aside from the occasional adventure, of course.”

Not for the first time, Sirius wonders a bit about Louise, and exactly what kind of adventures she’d had.

“I’ll bet you could write a book,” Sirius says.

Louise laughs. “Oh, I’m sure I could, but that would be telling, and I never break a confidence.”

The next few days pass in a sort of lazy relaxation. Sirius is quite sure that no one in England knows this places exists. The last person who knew was his grandfather, and he’s certainly not going to tell anyone.

If someone had told Sirius in his youth that he would love his grandmother’s place in France so much, he would have scoffed. At the time, he’d thought he wanted action and excitement. Now, the chance to have some peace and quiet, to feel safe, to be with Remus and eventually with Harry, is everything.

The day of the Yule Ball, Sirius and Remus are eating dinner when the mirror chimes. Sirius is a little surprised; he hadn’t expected a phone call from Harry today.

“Hey, what’s up?” Sirius asks, flipping the mirror open. “I thought you’d be primping.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “We’re going as friends, Sirius.”

“Doesn’t mean you don’t want to look your best,” Sirius cautions him. “It’s the Yule Ball, love, and you want her to have a good time.”

Harry grimaces. “Got it.”

“Did Ron find a date?” Sirius asks.

Harry winces. “Not exactly. I mean, I think he’s going with a third-year. Olive? I’m pretty sure that she just wanted to go to the ball, though, and doesn’t necessarily care about going with Ron, if you know what I mean.”

“Did he wait until the last minute?” Remus asks, looking over Sirius’ shoulder.

Harry laughs. “Yeah. I asked Therese if there was another girl from Beauxbatons who didn’t have a date, but she said that they’d expect a little more effort than what Ron’s willing to put in. I told him that he needed to get a move on, but Ron kept saying that he’d be fine.”

“Does he know who Hermione’s date is yet?” Sirius asks, amused.

Harry pulls a face. “No, not yet. She’s been keeping it pretty quiet, and I haven’t said anything either. It should be interesting. There’s just been a lot of talk about hair and makeup, which is kind of weird coming from Hermione”

“I hope you paid attention,” Sirius teases. “You might need that information some day, either for yourself or someone you’re dating.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “I’ve learned way more than I ever wanted to.”

“Who’s Neville going with?” Sirius asks.

“Oh, he’s taking Ginny,” Harry says off-handedly. “You guys are coming to pick me up tomorrow, right?”

Sirius hears the anxiety in his voice. “Of course. We’re coming back here, and we’re having dinner with Louise and her family, including Lionel. We worked it out so that we’re picking you and Therese up.”

Harry perks up. “Okay, good.”

“Winky and Kreacher decorated,” Sirius says. “You might want to compliment them when you see it.”

Harry scoffs. “Of course. Do you think Winky and Kreacher will mind if Dobby is there, too?”

“Dobby should be here for Christmas, so they’ll get used to it,” Sirius insists. “He likes socks, right? I did pick a couple of pairs up for him, but I’d prefer to give them to him away from Winky and Kreacher. I think they might be a little scared if they saw me giving Dobby clothes.”

Harry laughs. “They already think Dobby’s weird. They’ll probably think it’s part of Dobby being a disgrace of a house elf.”

“Still,” Sirius says. “Now, go primp, and we’ll see you tomorrow, pup.”

Harry grins brightly. “Happy Christmas.” There’s a bit of hesitation at the end, and Sirius wonders what that’s about. He pushes the question to the side.

“Happy Christmas, Harry,” Sirius says. “I’m glad you’ll be here tomorrow.”

“Happy Christmas,” Remus echoes. “We’ll see you tomorrow.”

They end the call, and Sirius sighs. “I really wish Harry was here right now.”

“So do I,” Remus replies, and pulls him in for a tight hug. “But he’ll be here tomorrow, and hopefully he takes your advice and he and Therese have a good time tonight.”

“He’d better follow my advice,” Sirius jokes. “He’d have been lost otherwise.”

~~~~~

The next day, he and Remus get up early, since they’re due to pick up Harry and Therese shortly after nine. From what Sirius has heard, only a few of the other students who stayed at Hogwarts for the ball have made similar arrangements.

He and Remus already have the international portkey, so it’s just a matter of activating it, and then they arrive in front of Hogwarts’ gates.

Therese and Harry are waiting for them, chatting together amiably and looking like old friends. Since there’s no hint of tension, Sirius assumes that the ball went well.

Harry waves when he sees them, as does Therese, and the gates open.

Sirius is a little surprised that there’s no one waiting with them. “Are you two out here by yourselves?”

“It’s fine,” Harry says breezily. “We checked in before we walked down, and Madame Maxime and Professor McGonagall were nice enough to resize our trunks for us.”

“Hedwig?” Sirius asks.

“I told her that we’d be at the farmhouse,” Harry replies. “She knows where to find me.”

Sirius nods. “All right. Let’s get going then.”

The portkey takes them back to the farmhouse, and Sirius then side-alongs Therese to Louise’s house.

People spill out of the house, and Sirius recognizes Lionel, Louise, Diana, and Denis. He doesn’t recognize the other woman, but she looks so much like Louise that Sirius assumes she’s the second daughter.

Lionel runs straight up to him. “Sirius! Is Harry back?”

“Manners,” the man calls in French.

Sirius smiles. “It’s fine, Monsieur Deschamps. I’ve invited him to be familiar with me. Harry is back at our house. You’re welcome to come over any time you like.”

Lionel sends a pleading look towards his parents.

“Perhaps after lunch,” Diana says pleasantly. “I’m sure Harry needs some time to settle in and open presents, as does Therese.”

“Are you going to be playing Quidditch?” Therese asks eagerly.

Lionel appears momentarily torn, and then he says graciously, “It’s clear but cold. You could come if you like.”

“I like Harry,” she says bluntly. “He’s sweet.”

Diana nods. “After lunch. It’s a pleasure to see you again, Lord Black.”

“Sirius, please,” he reminds her. “And it’s good to see you as well.”

“I hope Harry’s doing well,” she says warmly.

Sirius smiles. “Very well, thanks to you.”

“I’m a healer, it’s what I do,” Diana reminds him. “I look forward to seeing him tonight.”

Sirius is anxious to get home, so they can have their own belated Christmas, and he’s glad that Diana nixed Lionel coming over until after lunch. He apparates back home, taking the stairs two at a time. They’d put the presents under the tree last night, and Harry is in the kitchen with Remus, eating a bacon sandwich and drinking a cup of tea.

“Lionel and Therese are coming over after lunch to play Quidditch,” Sirius says, grateful to see that someone had used the French press, and the coffee is still steaming.

Harry grins. “Brilliant.”

“Are you ready to open presents?” Sirius asks.

Harry shoves the last of his sandwich into his mouth. “Sure.”

Sirius might have chided him for his table manners, but it’s the holidays, and he’s anxious for Harry to open his gifts.

The armor is first. Remus opened his the day before, and Sirius had been pleased with the fit; he’s anxious to ensure that Harry’s fits just as well.

Harry tears off the wrapping paper off the large box, and pulls out the dragon hide armor, reinforced with various protective spells. “Is this—“

“Armor?” Sirius asks. “It is. I don’t want you to have to fight, Harry, but I’m going to do everything in my power to keep you safe, and that means armor.”

Harry immediately puts it on, with a little help from Sirius, and he looks like a young warrior. “This is brilliant, Padfoot! I love it.” He hesitates. “I’m not sure that it’s going to fit in my school trunk, though.”

“Oh, ye of little faith,” Sirius teases, and produces the new trunk from his pocket. “There are charms that will allow you to resize it, and it won’t trigger the prohibition on underage magic. There are also spells that will keep it lightweight, no matter how much you put into it, and it will hold an entire house.”

Harry sticks his head inside. “It’s huge! This is bloody brilliant.”

“There are organization charms built into it as well,” Remus adds. “For books, potions ingredients, clothing, you name it.”

“This should come in really handy,” Harry enthuses. “Thank you!”

Remus’ gifts go over similarly well. Harry is excited about the wand holster and the sweets, and when Winky pops in with a tray of hot cocoa, Harry says, “Winky, the decorations are great. Everything is perfect.”

“Thank you, Master Harry Potter, sir!” Winky chirps.

Lunch is simple, just soup and sandwiches, since they’re eating a big meal at Louise’s that night. Harry is starting to organize his new trunk when Lionel and Therese show up with their brooms.

They spend the afternoon passing the Quaffle, flying around and just generally goofing off. Sirius keeps glancing out the window, because he enjoys watching Harry acting like a normal kid on his school holiday.

Sirius doesn’t think he’ll ever take that sight for granted.

And then, that night, they have dinner with Louise and the Deschamps, and it’s a great evening. All three kids are well mannered but in high spirits, and the adults are willing to indulge them.

By the time they head home that evening, Sirius and Remus are a bit tipsy on the wine Louise provided, and Harry is flushed and happy, clutching the book on French Quidditch teams that had been Lionel’s present to him.

“Did you have a good time tonight?” Sirius asks, already knowing the answer, but wanting to hear it from Harry.

Harry grins widely. “Oh, yes, it was really brilliant. It was good to see Lionel again.”

“I’m glad you two have been able to keep in touch and maintain your friendship,” Sirius says.

Harry shrugs. “It’s easier with Lionel, you know? I mean, it’s different than at Hogwarts.”

“It’s one of the reasons that it’s a good idea to broaden your horizons beyond school,” Remus comments. “It gives you a window into the rest of the world. You wouldn’t have to stay in England after Hogwarts. You could go to France, or almost anywhere else.”

Harry smiles. “I’ve been giving that some thought. I think I might want to travel after school is over, at least for a little while.”

“Where do you want to go?” Sirius asks, glad that he’s thinking about life beyond school.

“Anywhere? Everywhere?” Harry says. “I just want to go somewhere that I’m not famous. This year has been really nice, you know? Cedric is the Hogwarts champion. All I have to do is study and show up to cheer him on.”

“I understand that,” Sirius replies. “Well, if that’s what you want to do, pup, I’ll be happy to fund it.”

Harry glances at him, appearing a little uncertain. “I, um, sort of thought we could go together?”

Sirius grins, absolutely delighted, and he slings an arm around Harry’s shoulders. “I would love that. I just didn’t think you’d want to drag me along.”

“I think it would be fun,” Harry insists. “Like a family vacation. Other than going to Paris last summer, I’ve never really been on one.”

“I wouldn’t call that much of a vacation,” Sirius says dryly, thinking of the procedure they’d done to remove the piece of Voldemort’s soul from Harry’s scar.

“Then we’re definitely due one,” Harry insists. “You too, Uncle Moony.”

Remus smiles. “Maybe between full moons, and someone has to continue overseeing the estates.”

“We’ll work it out,” Sirius insists. “There’s actually something I wanted to talk to you about,” he says as they enter the house.

He has his courage up now, and he doesn’t want to wait any longer. “Come on, let’s sit down.”

They settle in the library, and Harry jokes, “Uh, oh. Am I in trouble?”

“Far from it,” Sirius assures him. “I had a question I wanted to ask you. There’s no pressure, and you can take as much time to think about it as you’d like.”

Harry’s expression is a little apprehensive now, and Remus says, “Spit it out, Padfoot.”

“I took an oath as your godfather, and you took an oath as my heir,” Sirius says. “But there’s magical adoption as well. If I were to adopt you magically, there would be no question about you returning to the Dursleys. You’d be my son, as far as the magical world is concerned.”

Harry’s green eyes are troubled. “You’d want that?”

Sirius isn’t quite sure what Harry means, and he hastens to assure him, “I would never presume to replace James or Lily. They’re your parents. But yes, I would like that very much.”

“Would I have to change my name?” Harry asks.

Sirius is worried that Harry’s getting the wrong idea entirely. “Not if you don’t want to change it. You’re the last of the Potters, Harry.”

“But you’re the last of the Blacks,” Harry argues. “Can I change my name?”

“Of course you can if you want,” Remus says, and Sirius wonders if Remus has figured out the thrust of Harry’s questions. “You can add Black to your name, or even hyphenate if you want.”

The expression on Harry’s face is almost desperate. “And I could call you dad?”

Sirius feels as though a giant fist is squeezing his heart, and he can’t answer for a moment, too choked up.

“If you don’t mind,” Harry says in a rush. “If you don’t think my mum and dad would mind, but I don’t think they would. Everything I know about them says that they wouldn’t mind if I had a second dad.”

“No,” Sirius says hoarsely. “James wouldn’t mind, I don’t think.”

“You know he wouldn’t,” Remus inserts. “Your parents would want you to feel happy and secure, Harry. If this helps you to do that, they’d be happy for you.”

Sirius looks Harry dead in the eye and says, “I don’t want you to feel pressured. You’re the most important person in my life, Harry. No matter what you decide, nothing is going to change that.”

Harry swallows. “I think—I want it. I want to know that I never have to go back to the Dursleys, that no one can send me back there. I want—I want everybody to know that I belong to you.”

Sirius understands. As much as he loved James’ parents, and they treated him like another son, Sirius always knew that he wasn’t theirs. He knew that his parents had disowned him, and he hadn’t known he was still actually a Black until he realized that the family wards recognized him.

By then, though, it was really too late. Sirius may have realized that he was still part of the Black family, but there wasn’t much of it left.

“We’ll get the adoption taken care of over the holiday,” Sirius promises. “Andy wanted to meet you anyway, and I think you’ll like her daughter, Tonks. She’s a metamorphagus.”

Harry hugs him tightly, clinging to Sirius, and Sirius clings right back. “You’re mine,” Sirius whispers in his ear.

“You’re mine, too,” Harry whispers fiercely. “Don’t even think about dying.”

“Got it,” Sirius replies quietly. “I have no intention of leaving you again, Harry.”

Sirius just hopes that he can keep that promise.

~~~~~

The next few days pass in quiet contentment. Harry ignores his homework in favor of spending time with Lionel and Therese. Sirius still isn’t entirely sure what’s going on there, but the three of them seem to have formed a friendship that largely centers around playing Quidditch.

Occasionally, Louise, Denis and Diana will come over while the kids are playing. Louise’s other daughter has already gone back to work.

He and Remus begin to make plans for how, exactly, they’re going to get Umbridge ousted, knowing that this is going to have to be a carefully planned campaign.

If they can pull it off without getting egg on their own faces, it’s going to be the best prank that the Marauders have ever pulled.

Well, that and getting Sirius’ name cleared and getting custody of Harry.

They have to head back to London the day after New Year’s, needing to arrange the adoption ritual and a meeting with Andy. Harry bids a fond farewell to Lionel and Louise. Because their time is so limited, Harry has opted to stay in London and take the train back to Hogwarts, rather than traveling back via portkey with the Deschamps.

It’s been a good holiday, and Sirius hates having to return to London, because he knows they’re heading back into a dangerous situation. Before leaving the farmhouse, Sirius asks Harry, “Do you have your armor on?”

“Do you?” Harry counters.

“Cute, pup, and yes, I do,” Sirius replies. “I won’t be leaving the house without it from here on out. You should be safe enough at Hogwarts, but outside the school grounds, I want you to wear it at all times.”

Harry nods and flicks his hand, his wand dropping into it. “I’ve been practicing my quick draw.”

Sirius pulls him into a hug. “Ah, kid. I never wanted this for you.”

“It’s not your fault, Padfoot,” Harry assures him, his voice muffled against Sirius’ chest.

Although Harry had asked if he could call him dad, he has yet to say it, but Sirius has noted that he almost always calls him by his Marauder name. Sirius figures it will happen naturally. He’s already figured out that Harry’s been holding back from that during those random little pauses.

“It might not be my fault, but that doesn’t change how I feel,” Sirius replies. “All right, let’s get going, huh? We have places to be. How did the resizing charm on the trunk work out?”

Harry pats his pocket. “It worked great. I really like it.”

“Good,” Sirius replies. He’d already been to Paris for the international portkey, and the three of them take the old piece of rope. Sirius triggers it with the word, “Musty.”

The familiar feeling hooks in his belly, and they arrive right outside Grimmauld Place. Sirius waves Harry and Remus up the stairs to the front door, and then some sixth sense has him yelling, “Duck!”

Harry and Remus drop, but Sirius doesn’t move quite fast enough, and he catches a reducto in the shoulder.

The armor catches it, at least, so he’ll have a bruise, but it doesn’t take his arm off at the shoulder.

Sirius whirls and shots at Remus, “Get Harry into the house!”

“Dad!” Harry protests.

“You have the trace on you, Harry!” Sirius shouts. “We can’t risk it!”

He dodges another curse, and sees Dobby grab Harry’s hand, and he pops them both away.

That gives Sirius the room he needs to fight without worrying about Harry. He starts casting spells, one right after the other, not holding back. He’s been practicing with Amelia, and he feels Remus fall in at his back, and they protect each other.

And then a Death Eater goes down, felled by a stunning spell from behind, and Sirius sees Amelia. He has no idea how she’s found out, but he’s relieved. Other Aurors are soon on the scene, and there are two people in custody. Sirius is sure that there had been at least three, maybe four, but the others have apparently apparated away.

“Are you all right?” Remus asks breathlessly.

Sirius waves a hand. “Fine. Maybe a couple of bruises.”

“You’re bleeding,” Remus counters, looking at Sirius’ left arm pointedly.

Sirius takes a look. “Must have caught a piercing hex, but I didn’t feel it.”

“You will soon enough,” Amelia says with some asperity. “And you’re lucky that there aren’t many Muggles around at this time of day. There’s only one who will need to be obliviated.”

“Blame the Death Eaters, don’t blame me,” Sirius defends. “I didn’t tell anyone we were coming back today. They were either watching the house, or they found out some other way.”

“i’m going to call St. Mungo’s,” Amelia announces. “You two should get inside. I’ll make sure a healer comes to you. It’s too big of a risk for you to go there.”

“How did you know?” Sirius asks, and the pain in his arm is beginning to make itself known. “I didn’t have time to call for help.”

“You can thank Harry for that,” Amelia says approvingly. “He sent Dobby straight to my office with a message. I have to say, I’m not used to getting dragged out of my office by a house elf.”

Sirius chuckles. “Harry is nothing if not resourceful.”

He led the way into the house to find Harry in the entrance, vibrating with anxiety. “You’re hurt!”

“All superficial, I assure you, Harry,” Sirius insists.

“You should have let me help,” Harry argues. “I could have—“

“You would have been accused of using underage magic,” Amelia says bluntly. “And since your godfather is who he is, you would have been targeted for harsh treatment. He did precisely the right thing to keep you and him out of trouble.”

Harry subsides with a bit of a pout. “I still could have helped.”

“You absolutely could have,” Sirius agrees. “And then you would have had a target on your back, and that would have painted one on mine and Remus’. I’m sorry, Harry. But I couldn’t risk it.”

Harry nods unhappily. “Is there a healer coming?”

“If you’ll show me to the floo, I’ll call for one,” Amelia says. “Thank you, Harry.”

Harry leaves with a backwards glance at Sirius, and Sirius mutters, “Did you hear? He called me dad!”

Remus rolls his eyes. “That’s what you’re focusing on?”

“That, and we’ll need to put this place under a Fidelius,” Sirius admits.

Remus frowns. “I thought you wanted to use this place for gatherings of the Wizengamot allies and potential allies. We can’t do that if it’s under a Fidelius.”

Sirius knows that’s true. “What would you suggest?”

“We relocate to Black Manor, or purchase another location,” Remus replies quietly. “Preferably one that’s unplottable. If we purchase it through an agent, no one would need to know who owned the property.”

Sirius considers that idea. Black Manor is a possibility, but he hates the idea of rattling around in that place. Even when Harry is with them, it would just be the three of them. Maybe, eventually, Harry will marry and have children, and then he could open the place up again as a family location.

“We could use this place as a stalking horse, of sorts,” Sirius muses. “Let people think we’re still in residence, but live somewhere else unless we’re trying to draw fire.”

Remus nods. “I’ll start looking immediately. But we may want to handle Harry’s adoption at Black Manor. Andromeda and her family might be willing to join us there.”

“I plan on inviting Narcissa, too,” Sirius admits. “And she can either invite Draco or not as she sees fit, as long as she keeps him under control.”

Remus frowns. “Harry’s not going to like that.”

“What am I not going to like?” Harry asked, entering the room, Amelia and a woman in Healer’s robes behind him.

“We’ll talk about it later,” Sirius promises. “It has to do with the adoption ceremony.”

Amelia smiles. “Oh, you’re going to make it an official adoption? How lovely!”

Harry blushes. “I didn’t want to disrespect my parents.”

“Oh, no, Harry, a magical adoption doesn’t mean that you’re replacing your parents; it just means that you’re gaining a third one,” Amelia says. “Your magic, and the Potter magic, will pool with the Black magic. Of course, you can choose to provide separate heirs for each house if you like, and your partner agrees. Or, you can choose to pool the legacies. There are many options.”

Harry smiles. “Thank you, Director Bones. Do you think we could speak about that more?”

“Let’s go get some tea while the healer takes a look at your godfather and uncle, hm?” Amelia suggests, putting a friendly arm around Harry’s shoulders.

The Healer, a young, blonde woman in green robes, bustles forward. “Healer Givens, Lord Black. I’d like to take a look at that arm, and any other injuries you have.”

Sirius shrugs out of his robes, and allows Remus to help him out of his armor. The Healer whistles. “You’re lucky you had the armor on, Lord Black.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it,” Sirius replies grimly. “I was warned that there might be an attempt on my life, and I took the appropriate precautions.”

“Well, good job,” Givens says awkwardly. The reducto to his shoulder has resulted in a bone bruise, but no breaks. There’s the piercing hex that had gone through his left arm, but it’s a clean wound through muscle and easily healed.

The rest of the injuries are from hexes and jinxes that had made it past his shield spells and impacted the armor. As Sirius had said, there are bumps and bruises, but nothing life threatening.

The healer looks at his injuries, runs a few scans, and then pronounces him essentially sound. “I can give you a pain relief potion, Lord Black,” Givens says.

Sirius shakes his head. “No, I have my own if necessary.  Thank you.”

He might be willing to allow the healer to see and treat him, but he’s not accepting potions from anyone unless he trusts them.

“Of course,” Healer Givens says quietly. “I wouldn’t want to overstep my bounds.”

Sirius offers a crooked smile. “Nothing against you, Healer Givens, but we’re competent brewers in this house, and someone just tried to kill me.”

“I understand,” Givens says. “Mr. Lupin? Are you injured?”

“I’m fine,” Remus says tightly.

Givens frowns. “I’m sorry, but I’ve been apprised of your condition, and I have no problem with it. If you need treatment, I’m happy to give it to you. And I would feel better if you allowed me to make at least a visual examination.”

Remus slumps. “If you insist.”

He also takes off his robes and armor, but Remus got off a little more lightly. There are a few bruises scattered over his abdomen, but no blood.

“You made off fairly lightly,” Givens says with forced cheer, tucking a piece of blonde hair behind her ear.

“Your help has been much appreciated,” Sirius says smoothly. “Thank you for agreeing to make a house call.”

“I do this often for injured Aurors where discretion is required,” Givens admits. “My brother is an Auror, you see. I thought I’d become a healer just in case he might need my services some day.”

“And has he needed you?” Sirius asks.

She smiles tremulously. “No. He died during an operation. I begged Director Bones to let me help, so she usually calls me in where discretion is needed. So, never fear. I am very discreet.”

“Thank you,” Sirius says sincerely. “And I’m very sorry about the loss of your brother. I lost mine when I was about your age.”

“It never really goes away, does it?” she asks.

“No, but it does get easier, especially when you’re doing something that honors their memory,” Sirius says gently.

Harry and Amelia return—without tea—but that’s explained a few seconds later when Kreacher pops into the room with a tea tray and a glare at Sirius.

“What did I do?” Sirius asks defensively. “I’m the injured party here!”

“Lord Black asks Master Harry to bring tea,” Kreacher mutters. “He not think that Kreacher is capable of entertaining guests.”

That’s completely unfair and untrue, and Sirius says as much. “No, Director Bones and Harry wanted to have a private word. I know very well that you’re capable of entertaining guests. I’m keeping this place as a place to entertain members of the Wizengamot, and that’s mostly because you’re so capable.”

That causes Kreacher to preen a bit. “Lord Black is just saying that.”

“I’m not,” Sirius protests. “I would never.”

Kreacher puts the tray down. “Here you are.” And then he pops away.

Sirius waves at the tray while he struggles to get back into his shirt, hampered by the fact that his shoulder hurts like hell.

“Here,” Remus murmurs, and helps Sirius get his shirt back on, before doing the same for himself, apparently unembarrassed by his own nudity.

Harry busies himself with pouring tea. “What’s the verdict?”

“Minor injuries only,” Remus says soothingly. “We’ll both be fine.”

“What are we going to do about security?” Harry demands.

Sirius gives him a look. “We’ll talk about that later.”

Harry opens his mouth to protest, and Sirius gives him a look, one he remembers his grandfather giving him. It’s a warning look, because while he trusts Amelia, a secret is only a secret if they limit the people who know about it.

Harry immediately subsides. “Right.”

“We are taking precautions,” Sirius tells Amelia. “And we plan to take more.”

Amelia nods. “I will keep you apprised of the investigation, at least as much as I can. Is there anything you can tell me about those who escaped?”

Sirius shakes his head. “No, unfortunately. They were all in robes and masks, and I’m not entirely sure how many of them there were. Moony?”

Remus shakes his head. “I think four, but I can’t be certain.”

Amelia nods. “One of the Death Eaters we caught was unmarked—maybe you know Yaxley.”

Sirius shakes his head. “Not really.”

Amelia rubs her eyes. “Well, I’m sure you’ll be careful, since you were wearing armor, but I hope you’ll be even more careful going forward.”

Sirius nods. “Of course. I have Harry to think about.”

“You keep thinking that way,” she says approvingly. “And I’ll see you for our regular practice session next week. Mr. Lupin, I think it might be for the best if you join us.”

Remus sighs. “I suppose I’d better if I’m going to be watching Sirius’ back.”

“Can I come?” Harry asks eagerly.

“It’s still magic outside of school,” Sirius replies.

Amelia clears her throat. “Exemptions can be made under certain circumstances. I can give Harry a temporary permit, so he can use magic outside of school when he’s under the supervision of a Ministry official, or acting out of self-defense. I’m sure I’ll be accused of favoritism, but I can weather that.”

“Harry ought to be everyone’s favorite,” Sirius comments. “He was the one to defeat Voldemort as a baby.”

“I doubt it was anything that I did,” Harry mutters.

“My point stands,” Sirius insists. “You probably should have been getting special training from age 11.”

Harry’s expression turns wistful. “The special dispensation would have been nice when Dobby tried to get me expelled.”

Amelia frowns. “What do you mean by that?”

“I got a reprimand for doing underage magic at home, but it was a house elf who was trying to get me expelled, because he thought I’d die if I went back to Hogwarts,” Harry says in a rush. “I don’t have any hard feelings towards Dobby, but it wasn’t very fair.”

Amelia hums thoughtfully. “I’ll have a look. Subsequent violations have more serious consequences, so it would be best to have that struck from your record. Where is the house elf in question? Would he corroborate your story?”

Harry opens his mouth, probably to protest his honesty, and she holds up a hand. “I wouldn’t be a good investigator if I didn’t do my own due diligence, Harry. Trust, but verify.”

Harry subsides. “Dobby?”

Dobby pops into the room. “Yes, Master Harry.”

“Director Bones has some questions for you,” Harry says.

Dobby tugs on his ears. “Is Dobby in trouble?”

“No, Dobby,” Amelia says gently. “I just need you to confirm something for me.”

Dobby wrings his hands. “If Dobby can.”

“Just before Harry went back to Hogwarts for his second year, did you do anything to prevent him from being able to go?” Amelia asks gently.

Dobby wails. “Dobby is so sorry! Tried to protect Harry Potter from bad master!”

“It’s okay, Dobby,” Harry says reassuringly. “I’m not mad, but I got in a little bit of trouble because the Ministry thought I levitated the cake. If you tell Director Bones the truth, then she can clear my record.”

“Dobby did it,” Dobby admits in a whisper. “Dobby made the cake fall. I thought Harry Potter wouldn’t go back to Hogwarts.”

“Thank you for being honest, Dobby,” Amelia says kindly. “You’ve been very helpful.”

Dobby pops away, and Amelia gives Harry a look. “Do you know who Dobby’s former master was?”

Harry glances at Sirius for reassurance, and Sirius nods at him to go on. “Lucius Malfoy. I think he was the one to give Ginny Voldemort’s diary. I tricked him into giving Dobby clothes.”

Amelia chuckles. “I’m sure that infuriated him.”

“He wasn’t exactly happy about it,” Harry admits.

“I’ll have your record expunged,” Amelia promises, “and special dispensation given in case someone attacks your godfather again. You should at least be able to defend yourself without fear of reprisal.”

“What about Lucius Malfoy?” Harry asks. “You think he’s involved in this, don’t you?”

Amelia shakes her head. “I cannot engage in baseless speculation, Harry. No matter how tempted I might be to do so.” She gets to her feet. “Now, I’m afraid I have to go. I hope you’ll all be safe, and I’ll see you next week.”

After she leaves, Harry drills Sirius with a look. “What are we doing for security?”

“We’ll either relocate to the Black Manor, or we’ll buy a new, unplottable property through an agent,” Sirius replies. “But there’s no sense telling anyone about it, because then it won’t be a secret.”

Harry subsides. “Sorry.”

“I understand why you’re concerned, and at the very least, we won’t be staying here tonight,” Sirius says. “I was planning on showing you the Black Manor anyway, and we’ll need time to make other arrangements.”

“Am I going to meet your grandfather’s portrait?” Harry asks.

“Yes, and if he’s rude, you can be just as rude back,” Sirius replies. “And I know you were disappointed not to be able to fight, Harry, but your quick thinking on sending Dobby to collect Amelia likely saved our lives. Very well done.”

Harry flushes. “I wasn’t going to let you get killed, and I figured if I couldn’t fight, I could find someone whose job it was to do so.”

Sirius knows that Harry has come very far. Not only had he respected Sirius’ orders not to engage, but he also had gone and found a responsible adult. “You did precisely the right thing.”

“I still have my trunk, so we can leave whenever,” Harry says.

“Best to leave now, then,” Sirius says. “It’s off the floo network, so we’ll have to apparate. Remus knows where it is now, and I’ll side-along you.”

He clears his throat. “Winky? Kreacher?” Both house elves pop into the room. “We’re going to be staying at Black Manor for the time being. You can say here, or at the farmhouse, or at the Manor if you like. I do have house elves at the Manor, so I’ll leave it up to you.”

Kreacher glares at him. “Kreacher stays here, taking care of the place.”

“Thank you, Kreacher,” Sirius says. “Winky?”

Winky hesitates. “If Master Black doesn’t think I’ll be in the way…”

“You’re welcome to come with us,” Sirius assures her. “It’s a big place, and there’s plenty of work to go around.”

In a few moments, the four of them are standing outside Black Manor. Even though Harry is the Black heir, Sirius doesn’t want to take any chances with the wards, which could be lethal.

Sirius has toyed with the idea of making wards that are lethal to anyone with the Dark Mark. He’s a bit hesitant, just in case it ends up harming someone Sirius would rather be in one piece.

Not that he can think of a marked Death Eater as someone he’d rather be alive.

The gates to the Manor swing open, and Sirius puts a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “This will all be yours someday.”

Harry looks around. “This place is massive.”

“Which is why we’ll probably get another property that will serve as a family home,” Sirius admits. “Eventually, when you have a family, or we have other Black family members who want to live here, we might make this our main residence.”

“Maybe you could get a place near Hogwarts,” Harry suggests. “It would be more convenient.”

“I’ll think about it,” Sirius promises. “It will depend on what’s available. Come on. I’ll show you around.”

Cordy pops up in front of them as they enter. “Lord Black! Kreacher tells Cordy that you were coming.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t do that myself,” Sirius replies. “I hope you don’t mind my imposition.”

“Is a challenge!” Cordy says cheerfully. “We haven’t had a challenge in ages.” She peers at Winky curiously. “Is she new?”

“She is,” Sirius confirms. “Winky has been caring for our farmhouse in France, but she didn’t want to stay in London with Kreacher. We’ll likely do the adoption ceremony for Harry here this week with Andy and her family, and any other Blacks who choose to come.”

Cordy nods. “Your rooms are ready, and I have dinner in two hours.”

“Nothing fancy,” Sirius says. “I’m not a big fan of formal dinners.”

Cordy sighs. “Come, Winky, I show you. Welcome.”

They pop away, and then another house elf pops in. “I is Nimbly, Lord Black,” the elf says. “I show you to your rooms.”

Sirius isn’t surprised when Nimbly leads them to the suite that his grandfather had used, as well as the suite reserved for the Black heir just nearby. The rooms have been aired out, probably by house elf magic. It’s all red and gold, and Sirius asks Nimbly, “Did you change the colors?”

“No, Lord Black, the old Lord Black ordered the change before he died,” Nimbly replies. “He thought you’d be more comfortable.”

Sirius swallows hard. “Right. And Harry’s room?”

“We asked Dobby,” Nimbly says.

Sirius’ eyebrows go up, and he says, “We’d best check it out, Harry.”

The suite next to Sirius’ is the one set aside for Harry, and Sirius has to admit that Dobby had given the Black house elves a good idea.

Harry’s room is decorated in pewter gray with deep red accents. Harry tilts his head back and laughs delightedly. “Look!”

There’s an animated Quidditch game playing out on the ceiling. “What is that?”

“I think it’s one of my matches,” Harry replies. “Maybe one from second year. See? There I am, going after the Snitch.”

Sure enough, a small figure in Gryffindor Quidditch robes is diving for the Snitch, pulling out of a deep dive in the nick of time.

Harry frowns. “No, that’s not—oh. It’s charmed to show Quidditch games with me winning. I don’t think that ever actually happened.”

“It’s very clever,” Sirius says. “Nimbly, is this your doing?”

Nimbly beams. “I was hoping Master Harry Potter would like it! Dobby says you like Quidditch very much.”

“It’s absolutely brilliant, Nimbly,” Harry says immediately. “I can’t thank you enough.”

Nimbly is about beside himself. “Is enough for Nimbly to know that Master Harry Potter likes it!”

“I love it,” Harry insists.

Nimbly squeaks in joy and then pops away.

“I do need to talk to you about the adoption ceremony,” Sirius says. “But it can wait until after you meet my grandfather.”

“We’re related somehow, right?” Harry asks, allowing himself to be led out of the room.

“Through your grandmother on your father’s side,” Sirius confirms. “So, you’re enough of a Black for my grandfather, but if he’s a wanker, you’re allowed to say as much.”

Harry laughs. “Does that apply to everyone?”

“Harry, lad,” Sirius says. “That is the absolute beauty of being the Black heir. You can call anyone you like a wanker.”

Remus frowns. “Pads.”

“Although not always without consequences, so consider that before you do,” Sirius adds hastily. “Portraits are fair game, though.”

Harry grins. “Awesome.”

They enter the gallery, and Sirius keeps a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “He’s a bit formal.”

“Got it,” Harry murmurs.

Sirius finds Arcturus in his portrait, and he looks at Harry hungrily. “Introduce me to your heir, Sirius.”

His grandfather’s imperiousness is typical for him, and Sirius just barely manages not to roll his eyes. “Grandfather, this is Harry Potter. Harry, Arcturus Black.”

“Pleased to meet you, Lord Black,” Harry says politely.

Arcturus snorts. “None of that, my boy. You can call me Grandfather.”

“Oh, that’s so much less formal,” Harry mutters, and Sirius has to swallow his laughter.

Arcturus raises his eyebrows. “You think this is a joke, young man?”

“I think if you had my life, you’d know that sometimes the only choice is between laughing and crying, and I know which I’d choose,” Harry says pertly.

To Sirius’ great surprise, Arcturus barks a laugh. “Well said, my boy. Well said, indeed. So, tell me about your last semester. Sirius says you are doing quite well.”

And to Sirius’ even greater surprise, Harry and Arcturus have a long, involved conversation about his school work, and the study group that he’s started, and his efforts to thwart Snape by making sure that everyone gets a passing grade in Potions, whether Snape likes it or not.

“A very Slytherin plan,” Arcturus says approvingly. “Pity you weren’t sorted into that house.”

“The hat wanted me to be in Slytherin,” Harry confesses. “It said I’d do well there, but the most unpleasant person I’d met just sorted into Slytherin, so it wasn’t really that appealing.”

Arcturus sighs. “And who was that?”

“Draco Malfoy,” Harry admits.

“You never told me that,” Sirius says.

Harry shrugs. “You never asked, and it didn’t really seem pertinent. I mean, you already knew that Malfoy was a prat.”

“I didn’t know you nearly got sorted into Slytherin,” Sirius replies.

Harry’s shoulders hunch. “I didn’t want you to know.”

“Love, there’s no shame in being in Slytherin,” Sirius says. “My brother was in Slytherin.”

“As was I,” Arcturus says. “Although my wife went to Beauxbatons, and she said she never understood the house system at Hogwarts. She thought it was needlessly competitive.”

“It probably is,” Sirius agrees.

Arcturus smiles. “You remind me so much of her. She was the best of us.”

Sirius can hear the hidden compliment. “She really was.”

“Are you staying long?” Arcturus asks.

“Long enough to get through Harry’s adoption ritual,” Sirius replies. “Andy and Tonks will be here, although I don’t know about anyone else.”

Arcturus offers as broad a smile as any Sirius has seen on his face before. “So, you did decide to magically adopt him.”

“Harry decided that it was something he wanted,” Sirius corrects.

Arcturus’ expression is almost kind when he looks at Harry. “Have you decided on your name?”

“Harry James Potter-Black,” Harry says. “But I haven’t decided whether to pool the family legacies yet.”

“You won’t have to decide for some years yet,” Arcturus says seriously. “You can wait to see if you have one strong heir, or two who would be better able to continue the individual family legacies.”

“When that time comes, I think I’ll ask for your advice, Grandfather,” Harry says politely.

Arcturus smiles. “Sirius could not have chosen his heir better, Harry. Remember that you are a Black, as well as a Potter. You have the Black hair.”

“Sirius’ hair is way better controlled than mine,” Harry says ruefully.

“It’s in the color,” Arcturus says. “And you have your mother’s eyes.”

Harry perks up, as he always does whenever his parents are mentioned. “You knew my mother?”

“I met her once. I was acquainted with your grandparents—your father’s parents—slightly, and they invited me to the engagement party,” Arcturus says. “This was not long after they’d left Hogwarts. Your mother was beautiful and brilliant, and she dazzled the room.”

Harry smiles. “What did she do? Were they happy?”

And Arcturus tells the story of the Potters’ engagement party, one of the last, few bright spots before the war really got underway for them. Before James’ parents died.

Arcturus describes the party in detail, displaying a brilliant recall for details—what people were wearing, what was said and done. He describes Lily’s green robes, a choice James didn’t mind because they matched her eyes. He describes the way James watched her, doting on her, and the way that James’ parents doted on the both of them.

Harry hangs on every word, drinking in the descriptions, the words. Sirius has to admit that he doesn’t remember the party nearly so well. He’d been drinking a bit, and commiserating with Remus and Peter about losing their friend to marriage. If he’d known that he would need to describe it to Harry one day, he would have stored up every memory.

But Arcturus had always had a keen eye for observation, and a good memory, and so he recreates the party for Harry with his words, and Harry drinks it in.

When the tale begins to draw to a close, Sirius checks his watch for the time. It’s well past time for something to eat, and he says, “We have tea.”

“Thank you, Grandfather,” Harry says, unbidden, the sincerity in his voice obvious.

Arcturus smiles benignly. “It was my pleasure, Harry. I only wish I could have put the memories in a Pensieve for you.”

“It’s all right,” Harry says easily. “I kind of like hearing about how other people thought of them. I like that they live in other people’s memories, even if I don’t have any recollection of them.”

Arcturus smiles. “Come back and see me any time, Harry.”

“Thank you, Grandfather,” Harry says politely.

When they had left the gallery, Harry asks, “Did you remember?”

“The party?” Sirius asks. “Vaguely. I wasn’t really paying that much attention, to be honest. I was too busy mourning the fact that my best mate was getting married.”

Harry frowns at him.

“I loved your mum, but marriage changes things,” Sirius says defensively. “I was too busy feeling sorry for myself.”

Harry smiles crookedly. “Well, I suppose I get that. I’ll probably feel a little sorry for myself when Hermione gets married, since she’s my best mate right now.”

“Or you could marry her yourself,” Sirius teases.

Harry pauses. “I really like Hermione, but I think she’s more like a sister. At least, that’s how I think of her.”

“Nothing wrong with that either,” Sirius replies. “You’re allowed to feel however you feel about her.”

“I mean, I think she’s really attractive,” Harry says. “But that’s about as far as it goes.”

“Then tell her that, lad,” Sirius advises. “If you think of her as a sister, tell her when she looks nice and encourage her.”

He’s not surprised, really. Harry and Hermione are both only children, and raised in the Muggle world. It makes sense that they’d form a bond. “Is there anyone you are interested in?”

“Not really,” Harry says. “I thought Lionel for a while, and I’m not not interested, but we agreed that it would be best to wait until we were done with school to start anything, if we did anything at all. And I don’t think it’s a good idea to start any relationship until Voldemort is gone.”

“I don’t blame you,” Sirius says, “but take pleasure where you can, Harry.”

“Who says I’m not?” Harry replies.

“No one,” Sirius replies. “But when the time comes, and you find someone you like, and you can enjoy, do that Harry. Enjoy what you can when you can, okay? Nothing is certain.”

He would like to offer more of a pep talk, but he can’t. That’s all he has at the moment.

“That seems fair,” Harry says.

They eat dinner that night in the kitchen, because the dining room is just too grand. Harry seems content, and Sirius is glad of that, glad that Harry will have a memory of his parents.

At least they’re safe here for the present.

~~~~~

They don’t have a lot of time left before Harry has to go back to school, and so things happen rather quickly after that. Sirius sends out the invitations for the adoption ceremony, limiting it to family members, and only those who are in England. He asks Harry if he wants to invite any of his friends, but Harry nixed that. Ron, Neville, and Hermione had all opted to stay at Hogwarts, and Harry doesn’t want to put them in a bind.

Sirius does invite Narcissa, but only her, as well as Andromeda, her husband, and their daughter.

Harry wrinkles his nose when he realizes that Sirius is inviting Narcissa. “Does this make me related to Malfoy?”

“You already were,” Sirius replies, somewhat amused. “But having a cousin you detest is something of a Black tradition, so you’re in good company.”

That causes Harry to crack a smile. “I guess it’s not so bad now that Malfoy is ignoring me at school.”

“He’ll likely continue to do so,” Sirius remarks. “Narcissa is well aware that I know his father is a Death Eater.”

Harry is sprawled in one of the leather chairs in Sirius’ favorite library, watching as he writes out the invitations. Remus is down in the ritual room, making sure it’s prepared for the adoption in three days. “What does that have to do with Draco ignoring me?”

Sirius hesitates, and puts down his quill. “Because if Lucius is caught, the Ministry will search his homes for any dark artifacts and seize those, and they won’t be quick about it. Narcissa has Black money of her own that I could have prevented her from retaining if I’d disowned her.”

“So, it’s about the money?” Harry asks dubiously.

“It’s very much about the money,” Sirius confirms. “But it’s also about saving her son. Narcissa knows what taking the mark really means.”

“What does it mean?” Harry shifts in his chair. “Other than someone is a bigoted wanker.”

Sirius snorts with laughter. “It also allows Voldemort access to your magic, and to track your whereabouts. There’s some debate on whether Voldemort requires his followers to commit some act of violence before they’re marked. There are actions that will stain your magic, and your soul.”

“Like murdering someone?” Harry asks soberly.

“Like that, or torturing a Muggle,” Sirius replies. “I think Narcissa knows what that would do to Draco, and she needed a reason to keep him out of it.”

Harry frowns at that. “I guess that makes sense.”

“What’s bothering you about that?” Sirius asks.

Harry hesitates. “I don’t want to sound like an arsehole.”

“It’s fine even if you do,” Sirius replies.

Harry tips his head back. “You know, it’s just that Malfoy has always been a wanker. It feels like, if he were a Death Eater, it would make sense.”

“You mean, that you’d have a good reason to hate him, and not just for being an arsehole to you,” Sirius says.

Harry shrugs. “That about covers it. But I don’t want Malfoy to turn into a murderer or anything, not really.”

“Do you hate Dudley?” Sirius asks.

Harry shakes his head quickly. “No, not really. He’s a bully, but I think it was my aunt and uncle who turned him into one.”

“A bad upbringing should never be used an excuse for a person’s bad actions,” Sirius says quietly. “We’re all responsible for making our own decisions, but when we’re judging others, it can help to remember that they didn’t always have a choice about how they were treated.”

Harry is quiet after that, clearly deep in thought as Sirius finishes addressing the invitations. “Do you think that Lucius Malfoy is abusive?”

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Sirius replies. “Probably not physically, but there are other ways to hurt someone.”

Harry looks at Sirius. “Do you think I should be nice to Malfoy?”

“Well, it might drive him crazy,” Sirius says with a laugh.

Harry laughs, too. “It might. I might just have to give it a try.”

~~~~~

Although they’re not expecting a large crowd, the house elves decorate the Manor in fairy lights, candles, and greenery. There are red and gold bows in deference to both Sirius’ and Harry’s Hogwarts’ house, and there’s a large spread of hors d’oeuvres in the dining room for after the ceremony.

Sirius is glad that it’s only family here, because an adoption ceremony can be intensely private, and it’s hard to tell exactly what Harry’s reaction will be.

Harry stands next to him in the front hall in his formal dress robes, shifting nervously. Sirius puts a hand on his shoulder. “It’s just family here today, pup.”

“Why doesn’t that make me feel any better?” Harry whispers.

“It should,” Sirius replies. “Since I’m the Black patriarch, I can enforce an oath of secrecy. No matter what happens, it won’t go outside this house.”

Harry glances up at him, although he’s not that much shorter than Sirius at this point. “Should I be worried about this?”

“A magical adoption is a strange and wonderful thing,” Sirius replies. “And it can change a person a bit. You’ll share Black family magic, and that can have some different effects. It’s nothing to worry about, though.”

Andromeda and her family are the first to arrive. She is carrying a wrapped gift, which she hands off to Harry. “Congratulations, Harry. I’m your Aunt Andy.”

Harry blushes. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Her husband offers his hand. “Ted. You can call me uncle.”

Harry already looks a little overwhelmed, and Sirius can understand why. He’s getting a lot more family in one fell swoop after having had very few.

Nymphadora bypasses the handshake and goes straight for a hug. “Wotcher, Cousin Harry.”

“Um, hi,” Harry says shyly. “Nice to meet you.”

“Oh, don’t stand on ceremony with me,” she insists. “And it’s Tonks.”

“Tonks,” Harry replies. “Got it.”

She claps him on the back. “Good.”

Harry appears momentarily confused as to what to do with his present, but then Dobby pops in. “I take this, Master Harry Potter! Put it where you can open it later.”

“Thanks, Dobby,” Harry replies.

Narcissa is the last to arrive, although she shows up at the door precisely on time. She also brings a gorgeously wrapped present, which she hands to Harry. She kisses Sirius on both cheeks in the French fashion, and then does the same for Harry.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Harry,” Narcissa says, and although her tone is cool and formal, she also treats Harry to a kiss on either cheek. “You may call me cousin, if you wish.”

“Cousin,” Harry says, his tone matching her formality.

She gives an approving nod. “Welcome to the family, Harry.”

Dobby pops in to take her gift as well without being asked.

“We should go down to the ritual space,” Sirius says.

Andy clears her throat. “I thought only blood relatives were allowed in the adoption ceremony.”

Sirius smirks at her. “If you think I’m going to deprive Harry of any flavor of family, you’re greatly mistaken. Remus and I have been researching adoption rituals. It will include Ted and Remus, and will tie you to the Black family through bonds other than blood. If you wish to be excluded, now is the time to excuse yourself.”

Ted beams. “Thank you for your welcome, Lord Black!”

“Sirius, please,” he replies. “We’re going to be family. No need to stand on ceremony.”

He leads them down to the ritual room in the basement of the Black Manor. It’s heavily warded, and won’t feel comfortable for those who aren’t quite Blacks. The wards will feel as though they’re pressing in on them, making them—basically anyone who isn’t Sirius, Harry, or Remus—want to leave.

He can see the others grimace, and Sirius says, “It won’t take long. You’ll all feel more comfortable once the ritual is over.”

He and Remus have been working hard on the basics of the ritual, one that will incorporate the entire family at once. It’s probably going to hit Harry like a ton of bricks, but Sirius hopes it will be in a good way. It’s likely to have a similar effect on the others, though.

Hell, Sirius is pretty sure it’s going to hit him and Remus pretty hard, too, that sudden sense of being connected to the family magic. Even though Remus is technically the Black chamberlain, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a trusted family friend without other connections to be invited to share the family magic. It’s usually someone who’s single, without other children, and unlikely to form other attachments.

It’s a different sort of bond than what a house elf creates to family magic, but there are similarities.

Not that Remus or Ted will be tied to the Black family magic the way that a house elf would be but they’ll be able to draw on the strength of the family magic.

Remus has laid out the ritual circle, with Harry in the center, Sirius to the north for his grounding to the property as the patriarch, Andy to the south as the oldest sister, Tonks to the west for water, for her mutable shape, and Narcissa to the east.

Ted stands behind his wife; Remus stands behind him. If Sirius had felt surer of his ability to tie Draco’s loyalties to the Black house and not Malfoy’s, he might have been standing behind his mother.

After this ritual, Sirius suspects that Narcissa will ask that Draco be included—assuming everything works according to plan. He’s equally certain that he’ll deny her request unless or until they break from Lucius entirely.

Remus begins the ritual by saying, “We come together to witness the magical adoption of Harry James Potter by Sirius Orion Black. Lord Black is welcoming Harry Potter into his family magic, and is including all the current members of the House of Black in this ritual.”

Sirius picks up the ritual from there. What he hasn’t told anyone, what he’d been unwilling to tell anyone, is that this ritual had been used by the Blacks in centuries past during times of war when their numbers had been depleted, and they had to add to the family through adoption, while strengthening the bonds of those who remained.

It’s blood magic, much like the ancient magic he and Remus are fairly certain that Lily invoked in order to protect her son from Voldemort that night.

Sirius begins chanting in the Old Tongue, a language that most have forgotten, and few use other than the old families. He plans on teaching Harry one day, and seeing if Harry kept his parseltongue abilities now that the soul fragment has been removed from his scar.

Legend has it is that the druids had used this language for their rituals, and that it was an ancient version of what is now known as Welsh, but there’s no proof of that.

Sirius can feel the magic rise up, surrounding the entire circle in flames, and then the flames spread out, connecting each member of the circle. It doesn’t hurt; at worst, it feels a bit warm. Sirius hears gasps from the other members of the circle, but no one breaks it.

The flames surround Harry especially, and the flames turn blue, the color of peace and protection, communication and clarity. They’re clarifying the familial bonds and strengthening them, offering protection to Harry, and to each member of the circle.

Sirius speaks the closing words of the ritual, and the flames die down. Harry falls to his knees, and Sirius rushes to his side. “Harry?” He doesn’t have eyes for anyone else. “Harry?”

“I’m okay,” Harry gasps out. When he looks up, Sirius can see his eyes warring between Lily Potter’s green and the Black’s gray. Eventually, green wins out, although there’s a hint of gray there that wasn’t there before. It’s subtle, and probably not noticeable to anyone who hasn’t spent time staring into Harry’s eyes, or Lily’s.

His hair is still messy and black, his skin still touched with the sun. But there’s a cast to his features now that would have most people on the street assuming that he and Sirius are related, if not father and son, then at least uncle and nephew.

Sirius knows that James had Black blood, but the adoption ceremony has brought out those features in Harry, and he actually looks more like Regulus now.

He still looks like James, but he looks like Reg, too. It’s a bit of a mind-fuck.

“Are you okay?” Harry asks anxiously.

“The adoption obviously took, lad,” Sirius says. “Your dad had a bit of the Black look to him. You have even more of it now. Don’t be surprised if Kreacher is even more deferential.”

Harry frowns. “Because you adopted me?”

“Because you take after my brother,” Sirius corrects. “But don’t worry. Reg was a handsome devil, so there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Harry barks out a laugh. “But I still look like my dad?”

“No fear of that, lad,” Sirius assures him. “No one will doubt that you’re James’ son, if they knew him. but folks on the street might mistake you for my kid.”

“But I am your kid,” Harry says simply. “That’s what this was all about, right?”

Sirius presses a kiss to Harry’s forehead. “That’s exactly right. You’re mine in every way that counts, pup. And you’re your parents’ kid, too. That’s the beauty of it. You belong to all of us. I’m just taking the lead in their absence.”

Harry hugs him tightly. “Thanks, Dad.”

 

Sirius gets to his feet and helps Harry stand, taking stock of the status of the others. Remus is pale and appears shaken, but offers a weary smile when he sees Sirius looking at him. “I’m fine.”

Narcissa has tears in her eyes, but is quickly regaining her composure. Andy is also crying, wiping her cheeks ineffectually. Tonks also seems a bit overwhelmed, but she lets out breath and nods.

Ted’s eyes are wide and unbelieving, and he seems to be breathing a bit heavily, but he soon has a bright smile on his face. Sirius knows that the family magic is settling, and Ted is feeling that through his connection to Andy.

“Thank you all for your participation in Harry’s magical adoption,” Sirius says

Andy manages a smile. “Are you going to be taking on the Black name, Harry?”

“Officially, I’ll be Harry Potter-Black,” Harry says, “but we’re not making a public announcement.”

“I think that’s lovely,” Narcissa comments. “You look like a Black.”

“Dumbledore will notice,” Remus says, “but it’s unlikely that anyone else will.”

“Let’s go upstairs,” Sirius says. “We have refreshments.”

He’s expecting Narcissa to try and corner him, and she does, just as soon as they fill their plates. “I want you to include Draco in the ritual at some point.”

“I’m sure you do,” Sirius says quietly. “It would behove Draco to have a tie to the Black family that’s just as strong as his ties to his father.”

Narcissa’s lips tighten. “And wouldn’t it behove you and Harry for Draco to have ties to the House of Black?”

“Draco has been ignoring Harry this past term,” Sirius comments. “Was that your doing?”

“I advised him that if he couldn’t be civil to the Heir of the House of Black, then he’d best ignore him,” Narcissa confirms.

“And I’m sure that Harry appreciates it, but I don’t think he’ll appreciate his bully being included in the family magic,” Sirius says. “I’m sure you understand.”

“What if Draco makes amends?” Narcissa asks, sounding a bit desperate.

Sirius raises his eyebrows. “I suppose that might be a different matter. If Harry agrees, then we could do the ritual over the summer. I expect Draco might be motivated as more Death Eaters are either captured or killed.”

“You mean to declare war, then,” Narcissa says softly. “And what of Harry if you are killed?”

“I’ve made arrangements,” Sirius replies. “Or I will have done before the evening is out.” He glances across the room to see Harry speaking with Tonks animatedly, while Remus chats with Andy and Ted.

“Then Andy will take custody,” Narcissa says.

Sirius gives her a look. “I realize that you would probably be able to do a better job preparing him to be the Black patriarch, and I would like you to be involved, but I can’t have a Death Eater around my son.”

Narcissa sighs. “I understand that, Sirius. I do.”

“If you want to leave him, I can make that happen,” Sirius comments.

Narcissa gives him a cool glare. “He’s my husband, and I do love him, even if I think he’s made some incredibly poor choices. I simply don’t want my son to follow his father down that same path. Anything you can do for him, Sirius, I will be in your debt.”

“You’re family, and so is Draco,” Sirius says. “Whether Draco or Harry would like to admit it.”

Narcissa cracks a smile at that, a small one. “I’ll speak with Draco about being more friendly towards Harry.”

“Thank you,” Sirius replies. “And I’ll speak with Harry about perhaps being receptive to those overtures.”

Narcissa puts a hand on his arm. “Be careful, Sirius.”

“Does Lucius know you’re here tonight?” Sirius asks her.

“I learned a long time ago that there are some things it’s best not to speak of in order to keep a marriage together,” Narcissa replies. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to congratulate my cousin and my sister.”

She drifts off, moving gracefully as always. Sirius isn’t sure that he completely trusts her, but he does trust that she wants what’s best for her son. She’s a fierce mother, but she’ll jump ship in a heartbeat if it appears that Voldemort is winning, even if she risks breaking her vow. Sirius supposes if he keeps that in mind, they’ll be just fine.

Sirius joins Remus, Andy, and Ted. “I heard you had some trouble,” Andy comments.

“I wanted to talk to you both about that, actually,” Sirius says. “Part of why Harry wanted to go through the magical adoption was because he wanted to be sure that he doesn’t have to go back to his Muggle relatives. If something should happen to me, I’d like Remus to have custody, but there’s no way I can make that official.”

“The Ministry wouldn’t stand for it,” Andy says in agreement. “Unfortunately.”

Ted frowns. “Are you asking us to be his official guardians if something does happen?”

“I am,” Sirius says. “I realize that you don’t know each other well yet, but I know you’ll keep him grounded and protected. You’ve done really well with Tonks.”

“Tonks pretty much came that way,” Ted says with good humor, “but I appreciate hearing that.”

“Of course, we’ll look after him, but I’d rather that nothing happen to you,” Andy says.

“That would be my preference as well,” Sirius replies. “But I’d be a fool not to make plans when I have Death Eaters out for my head.”

Andy frowns at him. “Is there any way you could avoid having Death Eaters after your head?”

“Better they come after me than Harry,” Sirius replies. “That’s really what it’s all about.”

“We’ll do anything to protect our children,” Ted agrees. “I hope it’s not necessary, but we’ll look after your boy.”

“Thank you,” Sirius says sincerely. “That takes a load off my mind.”

Harry joins them, and he’s grinning from ear to ear, and Sirius wraps an arm around his shoulders. “How are you feeling, pup?”

“Great,” Harry says easily. “How are you?”

“Me? I’m just fine,” Sirius replies.

“Are you ready to go back to school, Harry?” Ted asks.

Harry shrugs. “It will be good to see my friends again, but I miss home when I’m there now. I never really missed it before.”

Sirius’ arm tightens around Harry. “We’re going to miss you as well. When is the next part of the Tournament?”

“I’m not sure,” Harry admits. “I’m just glad I don’t have to worry about it.”

“I’m glad you don’t have to worry about it, too,” Sirius tells him. “Hopefully your next semester will be just as calm as the first one was.”

Sirius is going to have his work cut out for him, though. He has horcruxes and Death Eaters to hunt, and a Minister of Magic to blackmail.

Part the Ninth: In Which Sirius Attempts to Engage in a Spot of Blackmail

A few days after the magical adoption, Sirius and Remus take Harry to King’s Cross to catch the train back to school. They get him onto the platform, keeping their wands at the ready. Sirius has made sure that Harry and Remus are in their armor, and that Harry has his wand in his holster.

Harry’s new trunk has been shrunk and is in his pocket, which makes the transition easier. Hedwig is flying back to Hogwarts, so her cage has been shrunken and placed in the trunk.

A lot of the older students stayed at Hogwarts over Christmas due to the Yule Ball, so there aren’t many people on the platform.

Harry hugs them both and says, “Be careful.”

“You, too, Harry,” Sirius says, kissing him on the forehead. “But have fun, too.”

Harry waves as he boards the train, and Sirius takes a deep breath. “And now the work begins again.”

“What are we doing first?” Remus asks.

“I think we’ll set up a meeting with Fudge,” Sirius replies. “We’re not going to get anywhere with our Wizengamot strategy until Umbridge is taken care of.”

Remus nods. “I’ll contact his secretary and set something up. Have you decided how you’re going to handle it?”

“Dobby,” Sirius replies. “I hate to do it, but he’s not bonded to me, and no one is going to suspect a house elf of being involved.”

“True,” Remus agrees.

They exit the platform, and Sirius doesn’t see it coming. The curse hits him dead in the chest, but the armor deflects it, and Sirius decides that retreat is the better part of valor.

“Are you okay?” Remus asks in a low voice.

“‘m fine,” Sirius says. “Let’s retreat. Black Manor.”

Another curse comes, and Sirius lets the armor take that one, too, but he sends out a high-powered, broad stupendo, knowing that he’s going to hit some Muggles, but trusting that the Ministry will send people to obliviate them, and any Death Eaters will be unconscious when the Aurors arrive.

And then Sirius catches a scent. His nose isn’t as good in human form as it is when he’s Padfoot. “Remus?”

“I smell him, too,” Remus growls.

“Wormtail,” Sirius snarls. He doesn’t even care that they probably should be retreating right now.

If they catch Wormtail, that would be a prize.

Sirius changes into Padfoot, dodging spells, as he chases the scent of a rat. Remus is close behind him, tossing off spells at those that hadn’t been hit by the stunner.

Sirius feels his blood sing. It’s been too long since he was Padfoot, too long since he’d transformed. Sirius chases the smell of rat, intent on depriving Voldemort of one more follower.

If Wormtail is in Azkaban, he’s not a threat to Harry.

Sirius sniffs out Lucius, and it looks like the man is getting ready to apparate away, and he leaps, his strong jaws breaking Lucius wand arm before he jumps away. Remus sends a stunner for good measure, and Sirius grins a doggy grin.

Narcissa is going to be separated from her husband soon enough.

But there’s still the rat to chase.

Sirius runs, chasing the scent, and he growls when he gets close. He’s not going to kill Peter, but he’s not opposed to grabbing him by the neck and shaking him senseless.

And then the scent trail ends, which means that Peter has probably apparated.

Sirius transforms just as Remus catches up to him. “Fucking Peter.”

“Black Manor,” Remus says. “We need to get to a safe space, Pads.”

“Yeah,” Sirius agrees. “Okay, let’s go.”

They go back to Black Manor, retreating behind the wards. Sirius feels safe, but also cheated because he hadn’t been able to snag Peter.

Still, he feels he owes it to his cousin to warn her that Lucius would either be coming home in a foul mood or not coming home at all.

He sends a patronus to Narcissa, warning her to vacate the Manor. “You can come here,” he says, “if you want.”

Sirius looks Remus over for injuries. “You look okay. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Remus assures him. “You?”

“Angry that we didn’t catch Peter,” Sirius admits. “But fine.”

“We got a bunch more Death Eaters,” Remus says. “including Lucius.”

Sirius nods. “It’s something at least. I’m sure Amelia will want to meet with us soon. We left a bit of a mess behind”

“I’m sure,” Remus agrees. “How’s the armor?”

“Fine,” Sirius says. “It’s still in one piece.”

“Good,” Remus says. “Get yourself together. We’re going to have the Ministry on our doorstep shortly.”

Sirius knows that’s the case, so he does just that. He pulls himself together, and he sends a patronus to Amelia, letting her know that they’re safe and will meet her when and where she pleases.

“Do you think it means something that both Malfoy and Pettigrew were there?” Sirius asks.

“I think it means they’re growing desperate,” Remus replies. “But that means we have to find the rest of the horcruxes.”

“We do,” Sirius agrees. “We have a lot to do, Moony.”

“I like staying busy,” Remus replies, and Sirius knows he’s feeling the adrenalin rush just as much as Sirius.

~~~~~

Amelia’s patronus arrives after Sirius has cleaned up and is back to being the impeccably dressed Lord Black. Her falcon patronus says, “I hope you’re somewhere safe, Lord Black. If you would come to the Ministry to give a formal statement either today or tomorrow, I would appreciate it. We’ll need your statements to hold the Death Eaters you stunned.”

The patronus dissipates, and Sirius glances at Remus. “I’d rather do it today and get it over with.”

“If she needs our statements in order to hold them, I would agree,” Remus replies. “I don’t think we want them back on the streets. They’ll be more motivated than ever to go after you.”

Sirius straightens his robes, and then sends a patronus of his own, letting Amelia know that they would be arriving at the Ministry shortly.

They apparate to the Ministry and check in. Sirius’ name tag reads “Lord Black, Avenger,” whereas Remus’ name tag reads, “Remus Lupin, Battle Support.”

Director Bones meets them in the lobby. “Thank you for coming in so quickly.”

“Of course,” Sirius replies. “I hope we didn’t cause too big of a mess for you.”

She snorts. “I’m going to blame the Death Eaters who attacked you in full view of a street full of Muggles. They’ve all been obliviated, but that’s never ideal.”

“I’ll have to make other arrangements in the future than picking up Harry from King’s Cross,” Sirius comments. “The only way to prevent a situation like this in the future is to be unpredictable. I should have been more cautious this morning.”

Amelia gives him a look. “Yes, you bloody well should have. Everyone knows when the train leaves the station, and it was no secret that Harry was spending the winter holiday with you. You would have been better off delivering him directly to Hogwarts yourself.”

Sirius sighs. “I’m aware, and that was our original plan, but we didn’t have a lot of time to get the adoption ritual done.”

“When Moody hears about this, he’ll likely read you the riot act,” Amelia comments. “Constant vigilance, Lord Black.”

“On the other hand, you now have more marked Death Eaters in custody,” Sirius points out cheerfully. “And we’re unharmed.”

“Lucius Malfoy must have had a high degree of confidence that he was going to be able to kill you,” Amelia replies. “He never would have tipped his hand otherwise.”

“I’m a lot harder to kill than most realize,” Sirius replies.

Remus snorts. “You also have a bigger head than most realize.”

“No, I don’t think that’s much of a secret,” Sirius replies with a grin, following Amelia into an interview room.

She waves them into a couple of seats, and activates a recording spell. “Now, if you’d start from the beginning.”

Sirius gives her the details of the morning—seeing Harry off at King’s Cross, leaving platform 9 3/4, and then getting hit in the chest by a curse.

“They actually hit you in the chest,” Amelia says, stopping him. “I didn’t think—“

“My Christmas present to myself was armor,” Sirius says. “I feel as though it was a good investment.”

“I would say so,” Amelia replies. “Go on.”

“My intention was to retreat,” Sirius continues. “Black Manor is unplottable, and no one but family members are allowed past the wards.”

Amelia glances at Remus.

“Oh, he’s family,” Sirius says quickly.

“Why didn’t you retreat?” Amelia asks. “You could have called for the Aurors.”

Sirius hesitates. “I’m an animagus.”

“I know that,” Amelia says, a little impatiently.

“My nose is pretty good in that form,” Sirius says. “I caught Peter Pettigrew’s scent, and I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to try and capture him. It was just my luck that I managed to catch Lucius Malfoy before he apparated away.”

“Then you were the one who broke his arm,” Amelia says.

Sirius shrugs. “I didn’t want him getting away.”

“But you didn’t actually see him try to curse you.” Amelia sits back in her chair. “You just attacked him.”

“He’s a marked Death Eater,” Sirius says. “Please tell me you checked him for the Dark Mark.”

“He has always claimed to be under the Imperius when he received the Mark,” Amelia reminds him.

Sirius snorts. “And who actually believes that?”

“Believe it or don’t believe it, there’s no proof either way,” she says, exasperated. “He’s claiming that you attacked him without provocation.”

“There was provocation,” Remus comments mildly. “Sirius may not have seen him try to hex us, but I did.”

Amelia sighs and shakes her head. “Your word against Lucius Malfoy’s isn’t going to fly. He’ll have to be tried in front of the Wizengamot, and you know they won’t vote him guilty based on your word alone, Remus. Maybe if it had been Sirius—”

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Sirius snaps.

“It’s the truth,” Remus says placidly. “There’s no sense railing at the unfairness, Pads.”

Sirius blows out a breath. “All right. So, what then? You don’t have enough evidence to hold any of them?”

“Oh, we have evidence,” Amelia replies. “I wasn’t born yesterday. We checked all of their wands for recent spells, and all of them had a curse or a hex, including Lucius Malfoy. An assault on a member of the Wizengamot is a mandatory five years in Azkaban.”

Sirius glares at her. “What was that, then?”

“That was me seeing if you would lie in order to get Malfoy sent to Azkaban,” Amelia replies. “Congratulations, you passed the test.”

Sirius isn’t amused. “Some test.”

“I had to know,” Amelia insists. “And you know that I’m very, very good at my job, and my job is to catch Death Eaters and make sure that any charges against them will stick.”

Sirius suspects that this is why Amelia had been targeted before. Few others in the Ministry have her stones, that’s for sure.

“I understand,” Sirius says.

“I hope you do,” Amelia replies severely. “I don’t expect you to not defend yourself when attacked, but I do expect you to allow me to do my job.”

Sirius nods. “Got it. Next time, I’ll call the Aurors.”

“Good, I’m glad to hear that,” Amelia replies, and slides two objects across the table. “Since you two seem to be magnets for Death Eaters, you get beacons. The next time you’re attacked, you activate those, and you’ll have Aurors on the scene immediately.”

Sirius pockets one of the medallions, and Remus pockets the other. “What do you suggest?”

“I suggest that you skip the next Wizengamot session,” Amelia says. “It will play better if people think that you were injured.”

“I came in here today without injuries,” Sirius protests.

“Against your healer’s orders,” Amelia replies. “You’re going to collapse in the interview room, and Remus here is going to take you home.”

“Not to St. Mungo’s?” Sirius asks archly.

“You’re a stubborn bastard, so no, not St. Mungo’s,” Amelia replies with some asperity.

“I think you’re giving me a little too much credit for my acting abilities,” Sirius says a bit sullenly.

Amelia raises her eyebrows. “I suppose we’ll see, won’t we? Use your time wisely, Lord Black. Let me get the Death Eaters safely locked away.”

Sirius knows she’s probably right. “We’ll play it your way.”

“Good,” Amelia replies.

Sirius sighs and glances over at Remus. “I suppose you’ll be dragging me out of here. Are you up for it?”

Remus shakes his head. “The things I do for you. Come on, let’s go.”

Sirius puts an arm over Remus’ shoulders and feigns weakness. Remus sighs, and begins dragging Sirius out of the interview room and out of the Ministry. Sirius ignores the stares and whispers, knowing that Amelia is probably right. It will look better if people think that he was injured in the attack.

And it won’t do for people to start wondering how he’d taken a curse to the chest without injury. If they know about his armor, their next attack will probably be a piercing hex aimed directly at his head.

“We’d probably better call Harry tonight,” Remus says in an undertone. “This is going to make The Daily Prophet.”

Sirius sighs. “Probably. Good point.”

Once they’re outside the Ministry, and at the apparition point, they go straight back to Black Manor. Sirius straightens, and gives Remus a grateful look. “Thanks, Moony.”

“Don’t mention it,” Remus replies.

“This is going to set our plans for Fudge and Umbridge back,” Sirius says grimly.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Remus says thoughtfully. “You don’t have to do everything yourself. We’ll need to notify Augusta that we won’t be at the next Wizengamot session anyway, and the plan might work better if you’re not the one delivering the news to Fudge.”

Sirius considers that idea for a moment. “All right, Moony. We’ll try it your way.”

They have a quiet dinner at the Manor, as provided by Cordy, interrupted by the appearance of a phoenix.

“I wondered when we’d be hearing from Dumbledore again,” Sirius mutters. “Let’s see what he has to say.”

Sirius scans the note quickly.

“Well?” Remus asks, and Faux trills.

“He wants to meet,” Sirius says. “To talk about the horcruxes, and our plans for the summer.”

Remus frowns. “Surely he can’t have missed the fact that you adopted Harry magically.”

“I’m sure he didn’t,” Sirius replies with a roll of his eyes. “He’s still trying to manipulate the situation.”

“Or Harry,” Remus points out. “Something to do with the prophecy, no doubt.”

“No doubt,” Sirius agrees. “He probably thinks that Harry should actually face Voldemort, rather than doing something about him.”

“Are you going to tell him about what the goblins said about the prophecy?” Remus asks.

Sirius shrugs. “We’ll see if it comes up. But we might as well meet him. If we can find the remaining horcruxes and can destroy them, we’ll be in a much better position to take care of old Voldie.”

Remus nods. “You make a good point.”

Sirius scribbles off a note to Dumbledore, asking for a time and place for the meeting, and expressing interest in hearing what Dumbledore has to say.

He attaches the note to Faux’s foot and says, “All right, Faux. Off you go.”

Faux flies off, and Sirius says, “I think I want a fire whiskey and a quiet evening in the library.”

Remus checks the time. “Harry should be done with dinner by now.”

“We should call him, then,” Sirius replies.

They move to the library, and Sirius pours them each a glass of fire whiskey and pulls out the communication mirror. Remus sits next to him on the couch, and Sirius flips the mirror open.

Harry’s face appears almost immediately. “Are you okay?”

Sirius blinks. He really hadn’t thought the news would reach Harry so quickly, and also— “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” Sirius demands.

Harry touches his black eye gingerly. “This? This is nothing.”

“It doesn’t look like ‘nothing’ to me,” Remus replies. “What happened?”

Harry shrugs. “Malfoy punched me.”

“He punched you?” Sirius asks.

Harry winces. “Right before dinner, actually. What happened at the train station was all over Hogwarts by the time the train got in. I don’t know if Cousin Narcissa sent him a message, or he heard it from one of the other Slytherins, but he accused me of getting his father thrown in Azkaban and punched me.”

“I hope he looks just as bad,” Sirius comments.

Harry laughs. “Not really. I think I got a couple of shots in before Professor McGonagall and Professor Moody broke it up. Malfoy got a detention for starting the fight, but other than the black eye, I pretty much escaped unscathed.”

Sirius frowns. “You sound—understanding.”

“Well, if you got tossed into Azkaban, I’d be pretty brassed off, too,” Harry replies easily. “And it is my fault, if you think about it.”

“How so?” Remus asks, sounding just as surprised as Sirius feels.

“Between you asking Cousin Narcissa to stay away from Voldemort, and threatening his position in the Wizengamot, I’m sure his dad thought he didn’t have another choice,” Harry says.

Sirius says, “That’s a remarkably mature attitude, Harry.”

“Cousin Narcissa said that Draco would take the Malfoy seat in the Wizengamot eventually, and that he might be a good ally on some things,” Harry says. “She said to give him time to come around.”

“And you listened to her?” Sirius asks.

“She made a lot of sense,” Harry says defensively.

“And did that extend to letting Draco take a shot at you?” Sirius asks.

“I didn’t let him do anything.” Harry’s tone grows heated. “Besides, he could have cursed me in the back. A punch to the face was positively Gryffindor of him.”

Remus snorts. “He makes a good point, Pads.”

“I don’t want you getting hurt, Harry,” Sirius says.

“I’ve had worse from Dudley,” Harry insists. “It wouldn’t be the first time I got punched by an arsehole cousin, and at least Malfoy had a reason other than me existing.”

Sirius decides not to argue any further. Narcissa has a way about her, and it’s clear that she’d used the adoption ritual as an opportunity to put a bug in Harry’s ear.

“How are you, though?” Harry asks. “Were you hurt?”

“Some bumps and bruises,” Sirius says. “Although the paper will probably be reporting something different tomorrow. Director Bones didn’t think it was a good idea for me to escape entirely unscathed, and I’d rather the Death Eaters not know about the armor.”

“Yeah, they’d probably just find a way around it,” Harry agrees. “Why would the paper report otherwise?”

“Because we went in to give our statements, and I ‘collapsed,’” Sirius replies, making air quotes. “Remus hauled me out of the Ministry in full view of a number of witnesses.”

Harry frowns. “But you are okay?”

“I’m just fine, lad,” Sirius insists.

“He is,” Remus chimes in. “Really.”

Harry nods. “So, what’s next?”

“We’re going to miss the next WIzengamot session, so we’ll have to make it up to Augusta somehow,” Sirius replies. “Beyond that, I’m not sure yet.”

It’s a lie, in a sense. He wants to find Pettigrew, and they have to hunt for the rest of the horcruxes. They have plenty to do, but none if it is anything that Harry needs to worry about.

Harry frowns. “Dad, don’t do anything rash, okay?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Sirius replies, offended.

“You went after a bunch of Death Eaters today instead of calling the Aurors,” Harry points out.

Sirius feels compelled to defend his honor. “Only because I caught Pettigrew’s scent.”

“My point exactly,” Harry says. “You caught his scent, and you went after him without stopping to think.”

Sirius knows he’s right. “I promise to stop and think in the future. Director Bones gave us both a beacon to call the Aurors.”

Harry nods. “Okay, good, because I’m still getting used to the idea of having a parent. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Sirius has to admire that little guilt trip. “Are you sure you’re not the parent? Because that was a masterful manipulation.”

“Well, if it keeps you alive,” Harry says with a shrug.

“Where are you, anyway?” Sirius asks.

“I ducked into an empty classroom when the call came,” Harry replies. “But I should probably get to the library. I still have an essay to write.”

“Go,” Sirius replies. “Have fun, and watch out for Draco.”

“I’m kind of hoping he got it out of his system,” Harry admits.

“Love you, pup,” Sirius says.

“Love you, too, Dad, Uncle Moony,” Harry replies, rather cheerfully for someone with a black eye.

When the call ends, Sirius gives Remus a look. “What did you make of that?”

“I think that I would love to know what Narcissa said to him,” Remus replies dryly. “Because that was unexpected.”

Sirius snorts. “It was, as was his guilt trip.”

“We deserved it,” Remus says quietly. “We both bollocksed that one up, Pads. It could have been a lot worse.”

Sirius sighs. “Yeah, I know.”

“So? Are we still going after Wormtail?” Remus asks.

“Too bloody right we are,” Sirius replies. “We’re just going to be careful about it.”

Cordy pops into the room. “Master Black, Mistress Narcissa is here.”

“Show her in,” Sirius says.

“Do you think she knew?” Remus asks softly.

“I think there’s a good chance of it, but she’s never going to admit it,” Sirius replies, and he has to admit that he feels a certain amount of admiration for her. Narcissa has always walked a fine line, and she’s good at it.

Narcissa sweeps into the room. “Thank you for the warning, and the invitation,” she says.

Sirius waves her into a seat. “It’s the least I could do for family.”

She gives him a cool look. “Oh? You couldn’t have allowed Lucius to escape?”

“I could have,” Sirius admits frankly. “But I take it personally when someone tries to kill me so soon after I adopted Harry. Why, he said tonight that he hadn’t got used to having a parent yet.”

Narcissa raises her eyebrows. “I hope in conjunction with a reminder not to be reckless.”

Sirius narrows his eyes. “And how would you know that?”

“I had a word with him after the adoption ceremony,” Narcissa replies.

“You know, he mentioned that,” Sirius says slowly. “Since your son gave him a black eye, and he sounded positively philosophical about it.”

Narcissa appears pleased. “Did he?”

“What on earth did you say to him?” Sirius asks.

“I merely pointed out that he’ll sit on the Wizengamot one day, as will Draco,” Narcissa replies, sounding rather smug. “And that patience would be rewarded.”

“Rewarded how?” Sirius asks skeptically.

“If nothing else, it would irritate my son to no end,” Narcissa admits. “He enjoys baiting Harry.”

Sirius and Remus both start chuckling. “So, you promised that Harry’s non-reaction would be worse than him reacting.”

“Essentially,” Narcissa agrees. “But I’ll write to Draco tomorrow and reprove him for his actions. I am glad you’re in one piece, Siri.”

“I’m sure you are, Cissy,” Sirius replies with a raised eyebrow.

Narcissa rises and kisses his cheek. “Don’t blame me. I have to do what’s best for me and mine.”

“You always have,” Sirius says ruefully. “I’ve never expected a leopard to change their spots. I just hope that our interests continue to align.”

“I think that’s a given,” Narcissa replies. “I’ll work on Draco. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m exhausted.”

“Cordy,” Sirius calls. “Please show my cousin to a room and make sure she’s comfortable.”

“Of course, Master Black,” Cordy says. “This way, Mistress Narcissa.”

When she’d gone, Remus says, “She knew.”

“She did,” Sirius agrees, stretching out. “Narcissa has always walked a fine line, even as a student. She always had the Black pureblood sensibilities, but she generally avoided making enemies out of the Muggle-born students, knowing full well that she might need them as allies one day.”

“What are you going to do?” Remus asks.

Sirius shrugs. “What am I supposed to do? She’s family, Moony, and I can’t exactly blame her for wanting to protect her family. I’d do the same.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Remus says. “You’re too much of a Gryffindor for that.”

Sirius laughs. “True. But I grew up with Slytherins, so I knew what to expect. The important thing is to keep ahead of old Voldie so Narcissa stays on our side. Because she could very well be a very good ally.”

Remus sighs. “I hope you’re right about that, Pads, because if you’re wrong, she could also be a very formidable enemy.”

~~~~~

Narcissa joins them for breakfast the next morning, appearing completely composed, but Sirius has known her for a long time, and he can see the traces of tears.

“What are you going to do today?” Sirius asks.

“I’ll go see Lucius, and find out what’s needed to defend him,” Narcissa replies, as though that’s a completely normal response when talking to her cousin whom her husband attempted to kill.

Sirius nods. “I trust you’ll not mention where you’re staying to anyone.”

“Now, why would I do that?” Narcissa asks lightly. “As far as anyone knows, I’m estranged from the current Lord Black.”

“I would hate for it to get out that I’m in good health,” Sirius adds.

Narcissa smiles thinly. “You’’re much better at this than you used to be.”

“I have a child now,” Sirius replies. “I know that you understand the lengths I’d go for him.”

Narcissa inclines her head. “I do. As I’m sure you know what I would do.”

“Anything,” Sirius replies. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“Of course,” Narcissa says. “Just as I hope you’ll let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”

Once she leaves, Remus comments, “I’m beginning to understand just why you ran away to James’ parents.”

Sirius hitches a shoulder. “And Narcissa was probably the nicest of the Blacks.”

Remus just shakes his head. “What do you think she’ll do next?”

“If I know her?” Sirius says. “She’ll stand by Lucius publicly, and she’ll school Draco in private. The evidence against Lucius is overwhelming.”

Remus doesn’t appear convinced, but Sirius doesn’t expect that. There are some things only a Black would understand.

“What do you want to do today?” Remus asks finally.

“I think we’d better contact Augusta, and probably set our plan for Fudge into motion,” Sirius replies. “And for that, we’ll need to go to Grimmauld Place.”

“All right,” Remus says. “Let’s get going.”

They dress carefully, and Sirius sends an owl to Augusta and one to Mayweather. Black Manor has an army of owls, and he sends a third to Dumbledore, letting him know where they’ll be that day. “If today doesn’t work, let me know, and I’ll figure out a different day and time,” he writes.

“It’s short notice,” Remus comments.

Sirius gives him a look. “Do you think that Dumbledore is going to pass up a chance to convince me that his plan for Harry is the best one?”

“No, of course not,” Remus replies. “You’re counting on it. You want him off-balance.”

“I absolutely do,” Sirius says. They apparate to Grimmauld Place, and Sirius calls out to Kreacher. “We’ll most likely have company today, Kreacher. Please be prepared.”

“Of course,” Kreacher says with a bow. “And how is Master Harry?”

“He got punched in the face by Draco Malfoy,” Sirius replies.

Kreacher frowns. “Young Master Malfoy hurt Master Harry?”

“Don’t be too hard on him,” Sirius says. “He’s having a rough time right now.”

Kreacher’s eyes narrow. “I talk to Dobby.”

“You do that,” Sirius replies. “No permanent harm, though. He is family.”

Kreacher nods. “Yes, Master Black.”

“You set a couple of house elves on Draco,” Remus comments when Kreacher pops away.

“I did,” Sirius replies, feeling rather proud of himself. “Narcissa can’t even blame me for it. The fact that Harry inspires that kind of loyalty speaks to his magical strength.”

Remus just shakes his head. “I will never understand the Black family dynamics.”

“It’s probably for the best if you don’t,” Sirius admits. “Harry is getting a little too good at it for my own comfort.”

They settle in the parlor, since they have guests coming, and Sirius and Remus pull out the account books and start going over the estate information. Sirius has been neglecting it lately, with Remus picking up the slack, but there’s time today to rectify the problem.

Remus has made some investments that he wants Sirius to review, and Sirius needs to get up to speed on how things are going.

“I’ve been going over Harry’s accounts, too,” Remus says. “I think there a couple of investments you should look at.”

Sirius resigns himself to a day of being bored, even if it is necessary. If nothing else, he needs to set a good example for Harry, who also needs to be able to do this, at least once he’s of age.

He gets a break around noon, when Kreacher announces that Augusta is at the door. “Please ask if she wants lunch,” Sirius instructs.

Kreacher nods and pops away as he and Remus clear the work off the low table they’d been using.

When Kreacher shows Augusta into the parlor, Winky pops in with an elaborate tea tray—tea, of course, but also small sandwiches, crudités, and small cakes. It’s an admirable spread, especially on late notice, and Sirius says, “Well done, you two.”

Winky beams at him. “Thank you, Master Black.”

Kreacher has shown Augusta into the room, and he just sniffs. “Kreacher always able to entertain guests of the House of Black.”

“I never doubted it, Kreacher,” Sirius replies.

He sniffs and pops out, and Augusta says, “Your house elf has quite the attitude.”

“He always has,” Sirius admits. “I’m not inclined to change him. He loved my brother, and he adores Harry. I’ll take him as is.”

Augusta smiles fondly. “I appreciate your point of view. So many prefer their servants to be without any sort of personality.”

“Oh, I’m a right bastard sometimes, so I’m never going to stifle someone’s personality if I can help it,” Sirius says. “My parents tried to do that to me.”

Augusta sighs. “I’m trying not to put too much pressure on Neville for that reason. It would be too easy to try and force him into the mold of his father, although I know I haven’t been entirely successful.”

“All we can do is our best,” Sirius replies. “I know that.”

Augusta gives him a sharp look. “You aren’t nearly as injured as the paper reported.”

“That’s because I’m not injured at all,” Sirius says. “Director Bones thought it was for the best if no one knew I escaped unscathed from all those Death Eaters.”

“And how did you?” she asks, sounding a bit suspicious.

Sirius pulls his shirt aside to show his armor. “I never go anywhere without it.”

Augusta hums. “I’m assuming that your partner and your son can say the same thing.”

“They can,” Sirius replies. “How did you know about the magical adoption?”

Augusta snorts. “Neville said Harry came back from Christmas break looking ‘a bit different.’ I’ve been teaching him to be more observant, and I thought it was only a matter of time. You and James were close, and I know what you’d do to keep Harry safe and happy.”

Sirius blows out a breath. “Fair. But my fake injury is going to mean that I have to sit out the next Wizengamot session.”

“When all the Death Eaters you are trying to send to Azkaban are being tried?” Augusta asks.

Sirius shrugs. “Amelia’s idea.”

“Amelia has the right of it,” Augusta replies. “It’s better if they think you were injured with as many Death Eaters as were captured. And if you aren’t at the trials, you can’t be accused of influencing anyone.”

“I think it would be better if I avoided anything to do with the Death Eaters,” Sirius agrees.

“What’s your strategy going forward?” Augusta asks.

“I’m going to get rid of Umbridge,” Sirius replies. “My agenda won’t move forward with her in her current position.”

“Many people have tried to dislodge her, but none have succeeded,” Augusta says.

“I’m planning to set her up for blackmailing Fudge,” Sirius admits. “She’s a threat to Remus, and she’s a threat to Harry. I can’t let that go.

“I wish you much luck,” Augusta replies. “I think you’re right, and I hope it works.”

The rest of their time together is spent discussing how Augusta is going to deal with the next session, who they might recruit to their side, and what their next steps might be.

They work out a plan, both for the trials and everything else. Augusta agrees not to try for anything other than assault, because Sirius is reasonably sure that they’ll have everything wrapped up before Malfoy leaves Azkaban, and then Narcissa can have her husband back, if she still wants him, and Draco might actually be a decent human being, given the right influences.

Hell, there’s a whole crop of Slytherin students who might not take the Dark Mark solely because he’s made it his singular mission to end the Death Eaters.

“All right, I’ll be restrained,” Augusta promises. “I still think we ought to shove the lot of them under Azkaban, but your arguments hold weight.”

“We can’t have another war, Augusta,” Sirius replies. “We can’t risk another blood feud. There are too few of us already, and we are inviting disaster. It’s time to bury the hatchet.”

She sighs, and Sirius knows that she would probably prefer to be wielding the hatchet, but he’s thought about this long and hard. It’s not just a matter of defeating Voldemort, and preventing him from ever returning. It’s also what comes after, and the world he creates for Harry.

And he doesn’t want to make more enemies than he has to.

When Augusta leaves, it’s with a promise to report back after the next session, and then their next guest appears about an hour later.

“I see rumors of your demise have been greatly exaggerated,” Mayweather comments, sounding more amused than anything else.

“Director Bones’ idea,” Sirius replies with a smile. “I might not have been quite so dramatic about it otherwise.”

Remus snorts. “You? Not engage in maximum drama?”

Sirius shrugs, refusing to apologize for his antics. “Come on, Moony. It was a good prank.”

“I’ll say,” Mayweather agrees, holding up the most recent copy of The Daily Prophet. The headline was in all caps: LORD BLACK ON HIS DEATH BED?

“Good thing I called Harry last night,” Sirius says with an eye roll. “Remus didn’t even insist on St. Mungo’s. They should know better than this.”

“The Prophet has always been somewhat sensational,” Mayweather comments. “The better to sell papers, I suppose, and there are more than a few people who will be happy with this news.”

Sirius snorts. “And I have barely started.”

“I’ve been talking with the other elected members of the Wizengamot,” Mayweather says, taking the seat in the parlor left open for him, and helping himself to one of the small cakes. Kreacher and Winky have been replenishing them all day. “They can feel the change, as can I.”

“How so?” Remus asks, pouring a cup of tea—also replenished throughout the day.

“The strongest member of the Wizengamot to date has always been Lucius Malfoy,” Mayweather replies. “Frankly, other than the occasional trial, and the Undersecretary trying to push through increasingly restrictive laws on what she calls ‘creatures,’ nothing much ever got done.”

“So, it’s a more dynamic body now,” Remus comments.

“There’s the possibility of change, and change for the better, too,” Mayweather agrees. “But a lot of that momentum would be lost without Lord Black at the helm. You can be bold in a way that few others can risk.”

Sirius shakes his head. “Please, it’s Sirius, and I hope to embolden others as well.”

“Perhaps in time,” Mayweather replies. “In any case, I’m glad to see that you’re in one piece. You said you might have a job for me to do?”

“I do,” Sirius replies. “And I don’t ask this lightly. Umbridge is a danger to my agenda, and she’s a threat to Remus and to Harry.”

“She’s a threat to my family as well,” Mayweather points out. “If you’ve come up with a way to get rid of her, I’m all ears.”

“I thought you might say that,” Sirius replies. He pulls out the documents that the investigator had uncovered, and hands them to Mayweather. “I couldn’t find much on Umbridge, but I did find some dirt on Fudge that I’m sure he wouldn’t want to wind up in the wrong hands.”

Mayweather’s eyebrows go up. “A mistress?”

“A Muggle mistress,” Sirius corrects. “Not that I particularly care who he spends his time with, but it would be rather embarrassing for him.”

Mayweather whistles as he sees the pictures. “It could very easily result in his resignation. What are you going to do? Blackmail him into getting rid of Umbridge?”

“We don’t think that will work, not nearly as well as Fudge dismissing her because he no longer can trust her,” Remus replies. “Which is why one of our house elves is going to put it in her office, you’re going to see it in there, and then you’re going to tell Fudge what you’ve seen in the interests of protecting him. Fudge will owe you a favor, and no matter what Umbridge says, it will appear as though she’s covering it up.”

Mayweather hums thoughtfully. “You’re going to frame her for blackmail.”

“I am,” Sirius confirms. “I thought it would be the ideal prank.”

Mayweather blows out a breath. “It’s going to take a delicate touch. Fudge will need to reach the conclusion himself.”

“You’ll have to feed it to him,” Remus says. “Hint at it so that he reaches the right idea without coming right out and saying it.”

“I can do subtle,” Mayweather finally says. “Probably better than you, Sirius.”

“And Fudge will owe you a favor,” Remus points out.

Mayweather nods. “Which would be handy. All right, I’ll do it. The Undersecretary is rumored to be preparing additional legislation that would limit the rights of Muggle-borns. I can get in to see her on the pretense of supporting the legislation if there are certain other provisions for those who wish to teach their children at home.”

Sirius frowns. “You’d support such legislation?”

“I’d rather cut my wand arm off,” Mayweather says frankly. “But she’ll never agree to my proposal. It’s a pretext, and it will get me into her office without her suspecting anything.”

Remus nods. “It’s as good a reason as any. When can you do it?”

“I’d best do it soon, before she introduces the legislation,” Mayweather replies. “If I want her to add anything, I have to get it done before the next session.”

“Dobby,” Sirius calls.

Dobby pops in, appearing a little disheveled. “Yes, Master Harry’s Paddy?”

“What are you up to?” Sirius asks curiously.

Dobby tugs on his ears. “Well, Master Draco be punching Master Harry, and Kreacher be busy here, so I be making him regret it.”

“Ah,” Sirius replies. “Well, be careful with that, but I have a small task for you first. It’s very important that you not be caught, Dobby.”

Dobby nods enthusiastically. “I be quick, and quiet.”

“Good,” Sirius replies. “I need you to put these documents in Undersecretary Umbridge’s office. They need to be somewhere she won’t find them, but that Mr. Mayweather could still see them when he visits her office.”

Dobby takes the papers and clutches them tightly to his chest. “Dobby do this.”

“Report back when you have,” Sirius says. “I want to be sure you’re safe.”

Dobby smiles. “Master Harry’s Paddy is too kind. Dobby be right back.”

“He’s your house elf?” Mayweather asks.

Sirius shakes his head. “No, he’s a free elf, although I pay him to look after my son.”

Mayweather laughs. “You pay him? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“That’s because most house elves think that getting paid is absolutely taboo, but Dobby is different,” Sirius replies. “He has a mind of his own, that’s for sure.”

It’s maybe five minutes later when Dobby pops back in. “File on a bookshelf in her office, Masters. Dobby made sure the photo was sticking out so Master Mayweather sees.”

“You just need to be a little bit curious,” Sirius says. “And get a minute alone.”

“I can arrange that,” Mayweather replies. “Very well, I’ll make an appointment and will keep you informed of my progress.”

“Thank you, Michael,” Sirius says. “I know this requires you to stick your neck out for us.”

“I’m not doing it for you,” Mayweather replies. “I’m doing this for my daughter, and every other child who would suffer if Umbridge has her way.”

He leaves, and Sirius lets out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. “Well, that’s that, then.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dumbledore turn up yet this afternoon,” Remus says. “He knows where to find you, and likely realizes you’ll be somewhere he can’t reach by this evening.”

“True,” Sirius replies. “I supposed we’ll see. What else did we need to get done today?”

“There are still a few accounts to go over,” Remus replies.

Sirius groans. “We’ve been working all day.”

“So, no reason to stop now,” Remus replies. “You want to set a good example for Harry, don’t you?”

“Harry isn’t here right now,” Sirius points out.

“Maybe not, but you can tell him just how hard you worked,” Remus replies. “Come on, the sooner it’s finished, the sooner we can do something more fun.”

It’s nearing dinner time when they finish, and just as they’re putting the papers away, the wards warn of another visitor. Sirius perks up and says, “Looks like you might have been right, Moony. There’s someone at the door.”

A few minutes later, Kreacher shows Dumbledore into the parlor. Sirius notes that his eyes aren’t twinkling like usual.

“Kreacher, maybe some of that lemon cake for the Headmaster,” Sirius says genially.

Dumbledore settles in a seat and gives Sirius a long look. “I had really thought to speak with you about the blood protections at the Dursleys’, but your adoption has nullified them.”

“I don’t know why I should care about that, given that I had no intention of Harry going back there,” Sirius replies. “Harry will be well cared for with us, and he’ll be safe.”

“Without those protections—“

“Without those protections, Harry will be just fine,” Sirius replies. “He’ll be even better when we are able to locate and destroy the last of the horcruxes. Have you any news?”

Dumbledore hesitates. “I believe that there were likely seven, and the diary was his first. Tom Riddle opened the Chamber of Secrets, and in killing another student, created the diary.”

“And we have destroyed a locket that belonged to Salazar Slytherin, a cup from Helga Hufflepuff, and a diadem from Rowena Ravenclaw, not to mention the one in Harry’s scar,” Remus sums up. “If there are, indeed, seven, that leaves two.”

Dumbledore nods. “I have managed to trace his family back to the Gaunts, and I believe that he will have used something from them, a family heirloom of sorts.”

“Do you know where they lived last?” Sirius asks.

“I have an idea, and it’s possible that you’ll find a horcrux there, but you’ll need a curse breaker for that,” Dumbledore warns them.

“I have one in mind,” Sirius replies. “If you’ll give me the location, I can retrieve it.”

Dumbledore sighs. “It’s a game for younger men, but please be careful.”

“What of the seventh horcrux?” Remus asks.

Dumbledore steeples his hands in front of his face. “That is a little more difficult to say. What made you seek out the healer who removed the fragment from Harry’s scar?”

“He was having dreams,” Sirius replies. “Dreams where he was seeing things from another’s perspective. Horrible things.”

“Then you might want to ask Harry about those dreams,” Dumbledore replies. “He may have an insight that I don’t have.”

Sirius doesn’t like that idea, but Dumbledore’s idea has merit, and if Harry can point to the last horcrux, they can destroy Voldemort before Harry comes home for the summer. “I’ll ask him. And then it will just be a matter of tracking down the rest of the Death Eaters, Pettigrew, and what remains of Voldemort.”

Dumbledore frowns. “The prophecy said that Harry would be the one to defeat him.”

“Prophecies change,” Sirius replies. “The goblins said they no longer saw Harry’s death.”

Dumbledore appears taken aback by that piece of information. “And did they say what it was they saw now?”

“Not really,” Sirius replies. “You know how the goblins are. They tend to keep their own counsel when it comes to something like that.”

Sirius doesn’t want Dumbledore to know what was actually said. He doesn’t want Dumbledore getting any ideas that Harry might be dangerous. There’s no telling what he’d do with that information.

Remus gives him a quick glance, but he doesn’t say anything.

“Interesting,” Dumbledore comments. “I’ll give you the location of the last known place where the Gaunts lived.”

Sirius hadn’t been sure Dumbledore would be willing to give up that information, and he’s still not sure why Dumbledore keeps insisting that it ought to be Harry who faces him. Harry is a child, and children have no business fighting a war.

“You understand why it has to be me, don’t you?” Sirius asks quietly. “Harry is a child who has barely had a childhood. He deserves better than war, better than being led like a lamb to the slaughter.”

“James and Lily would be proud of you,” Dumbledore says quietly. “You’ve managed to do more for him than I was able to do.”

“That’s because he’s mine, and he has been since James put him in my arms and told me I was to be his godfather,” Sirius replies. “I had my head up my own arse long enough. Right now, my hard work is going to ensure that Harry has a just and fair world to live in.”

Dumbledore nods. “Admirable.”

“It’s what any parent would do,” Sirius replies. “Once the horcruxes have been destroyed, Harry will be safe.”

“There will still be Death Eaters,” Dumbledore says. “You found that out yesterday.”

Sirius shrugs. “And then perhaps I’ll join the Aurors and hunt down Death Eaters in my spare time. A man needs a hobby, after all.”

“And will you be at the trial?” Dumbledore asks, “arguing for the maximum sentence?”

Sirius shakes his head. “No, I am rather too injured to take part in that session.”

Dumbledore chuckles. “Then you’ll allow your friends to handle it for you.”

“That’s the general idea,” Sirius replies. “It’s good to have friends.”

“I’m glad you were able to make friends,” Dumbledore replies. “It appears to have served you well.”

“I like to think that it has,” Sirius replies.

Dumbledore clears his throat. “You might like to know that Harry’s study group has more than paid off. Severus has been complaining non-stop that his students appear to be grasping the subject material without his input.”

Sirius frowns. “You don’t think it’s somewhat suspicious that your Potions teacher is upset that his students are doing well without any input from their teacher?”

“Severus has a unique style, I’ll grant you,” Dumbledore replies. “But he’s actually quite a gifted brewer.”

“A gifted brewer should probably be brewing or researching,” Remus counters. “Teaching is a separate gift, and one that doesn’t necessarily go along with being a Potions master. And Snape has never had any fondness for children.”

“Snape’s role at Hogwarts, and his work as a spy against Voldemort—“ Dumbledore begins.

“Doesn’t change the fact that you currently have a group of children who are essentially teaching themselves and each other because you have a Potions teacher who doesn’t actually want to teach,” Sirius says snidely.

Dumbledore bristles. “That’s unfair.”

“It’s also the truth,” Remus says gently. “Snape has an axe to grind, and he’s never going to be a good teacher. If we destroy Voldemort, there’s no more Death Eaters, and no more protecting Snape.”

“I’ll remove Harry from Hogwarts and send him to another school if I need to,” Sirius says. “He deserves to have professors who care about his academic success.”

Dumbledore frowns. “That’s still unfair. Severus has nowhere else to go.”

“Snape is an excellent potions brewer, and he could have his pick of positions,” Sirius counters. “He could go into research. Hell, I’d hire him myself.”

“You?” Dumbledore asks.

“Pay him to go research potions and brew them, rather than fucking up Harry’s education?” Sirius asks. “Sure I would, although I wouldn’t let on that it was me.”

Dumbledore is quiet for a long moment after that. “I appreciate that. You’ve changed, Sirius.”

“I hope that I have,” Sirius replies. “I really hope that I have.”

~~~~~

Sirius gives it a couple of days before he contacts Bill Weasley, not wanting it to be too obvious that he hadn’t truly been injured in the attack. He trusts that his allies, including Bill, will keep his secrets, but the more people who know, the better the chance that word will leak out.

Too many people probably already know, but it can’t be helped.

Bill turns up rather quickly after Sirius sends an owl, asking for his help with retrieving another artifact.

Sirius can’t blame him. Bill knows by now just how lucrative a job from Sirius is going to be, and as a man just starting out, he needs these sorts of jobs.

“You are looking better than I expected, Lord Black,” Bill says with a smile.

Sirius shrugs. “The rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Bill says. “You said you had another job for me. Is it anything like the last one?”

“Pretty much exactly like it, but we’re not retrieving it from a bank vault this time,” Sirius replies. “And the place might be boobytrapped.”

Bill grins. “That’s what you have me for.”

“We’ll need to be careful,” Remus tells him. “This is Voldemort we’re talking about.”

Bill just raises his eyebrows in a challenge. “I’ll be as careful as I was with the Lestrange vault, and I came out of that one without a scratch.”

“Fair enough,” Sirius replies.

They go to the hovel where the last known Gaunt had lived. According to Dumbledore, the line had died out, save for Voldemort.

Sirius doesn’t care much about Voldemort’s family tree. He assumes it’s less of a tree and more of a trunk, since Dumbledore had said the Gaunts were staunch blood-purists who believed in their superiority as descendants of Slytherin.

The shack is falling apart, and looks as though no one has cared for it for a very long time. “Stay back,” Bill advises them. “I’m going to start with a series of diagnostic spells that are mostly passive in nature and shouldn’t trigger anything, but I don’t want to take any chances.”

Sirius and Remus both back off and let Bill do his thing. They can’t see much, as the spells aren’t visible to the naked eye, but Bill soon says, “There’s nothing from the outside that I can see. I think it’s safe to go in.”

He and Remus have already drawn their wands, and they enter cautiously, following Bill.

Bill makes a face. “Having been around a couple of these now, I can safely say that there’s a horcrux here. Can you feel that?”

Sirius shakes his head. “To be honest, if feels like my parents’ home before I cleared out all the dark artifacts.”

Bill gives him an unbelieving look. “You grew up in a house that feels like this?”

Sirius hitches a shoulder. “My parents weren’t nice people.”

“I’m amazed you turned out as well as you did,” Remus comments.

Sirius smirks. “So am I most of the time.”

Remus rolls his eyes. “If it’s here, how do we find it?”

“It will probably have additional protections on it,” Bill comments. “Let me do a few more scans.”

This time, a portion of the floor begins to glow a sickly green color. “Here it is, but there are some heavy duty protections on it. This is going to take time to unravel if we’re going to be safe about it.”

“Where do you want us?” Sirius asks.

“Just stay by the door,” Bill replies. “If it blows up in my face, you’ll probably need to rush me to St. Mungo’s—or possibly just pick up the pieces.”

Sirius frowns. “Bill—“

“This is what I do, Lord Black,” Bill says, his tone firm. “I like a little bit of adrenalin on a regular basis.”

Sirius and Remus back off, remaining silent to avoid breaking Bill’s attention.

They can’t see the spells being done, but they can see the sweat break out on Bill’s face, and the movements of his wand as he works feverishly to get past the enchantments on the horcrux.

The spell appears to fight back, because Bill is thrown back, and Sirius and Remus throw up a shield spell to protect him.

Bill shakes it off and says, “Thanks. That really packed a punch.”

“Are you okay?” Remus asks.

Bill nods. “I’m good, and I’m almost there. Just give me a few more minutes.”

“Take the time you need,” Sirius replies. “We’ll be here.”

Bill chuckles, and then goes back to it. He’s drenched in sweat and pale with exhaustion when he finally says, “There, it’s done. It’s safe to remove the horcrux now.”

Sirius steps forward to do the honors. “Let’s see what we have.”

There’s a ring under the floorboards, and Sirius uses a silk handkerchief to pick it up. The ring itself is an ugly, gold thing, and the rock doesn’t look much better. There’s nothing special about it, not that Sirius can see.

Remus leans over, peering at it. “There’s something about that stone.”

“You think?” Sirius asks. “It looks like a rock.”

“It’s not part of the actual horcrux,” Bill comments. “It’s like it just got stuck on.”

“Can we get it free?” Sirius asks.

Bill frowns. “I think so. Give me a second.”

He sends a steady stream of heat toward the golden prongs holding the stone in place, and they melt away, releasing the stone and leaving the half-melted ring.

“You’re sure this isn’t part of the horcrux?” Sirius asks, his hand hovering over the stone.

Bill nods. “It’s something different entirely.”

Sirius takes a deep breath and says, “Stun me if necessary.”

“Not a problem,” Remus mutters.

Sirius picks it up, and he feels it warm in his hand, and then he sees ghostly forms coming out of the stone, and Sirius vaguely recalls the old tale.

He’d thought the Resurrection Stone was no more than a myth, but James and Lily and Regulus emerge, as well as his grandparents. He’s grateful that his parents aren’t among them, but the Stone is only supposed to bring forth those you want to see.

He ought to put it down, banish the spirits, but he can’t, not yet. “Can you see them?” he asks Remus.

“I don’t see anything,” Remus replies. “What do you see, Pads?”

“It’s the Resurrection Stone,” Sirius says hoarsely. “Hi, Prongs, Lily.”

James smiles at him. “Padfoot. You have done so well with Harry.”

Sirius blinks rapidly. “I never wanted to replace you.”

“You haven’t,” Lily replies. “You’re taking care of our son, Sirius. And he’s doing so well.”

Sirius closes his eyes briefly. “You don’t mind? About the adoption?”

“He’s safe with you,” James replies. “And he feels safe. That’s the only thing that matters, Pads.”

“You’re careful with him,” Lily says. “And he loves you, and you love him. That’s the important thing.”

His grandmother smiles at him. “You’ve exceeded my wildest expectations, my lad. I love what you’ve done with the old place.”

“It was a happy place for me growing up,” Sirius replies. “I like to think it can be a good place for Harry, too.”

Arcturus gives him a cool look. “Did you wake my portrait?”

“I did,” Sirius replies. “Still wasn’t sure if you’d really approve.”

“You’re taking the Blacks in a new direction,” Arcturus replies. “I don’t know whether I approve or not—“

“Archie!” his grandmother says.

Sirius chokes on a laugh. He’d forgotten that his grandmother called him that.

“I believe that you’ll prevent the Black name from becoming obsolete,” Arcturus says, and that’s about the amount of approbation that Sirius expects.

Sirius looks at Regulus. “I’m sorry I doubted you, Reg.”

“You were right,” Regulus replies. “But you took care of Kreacher, and you’re ending Voldemort. You’re doing everything I didn’t have time to do, Siri.”

Sirius wants more time with all of them; he wants to keep them here forever, and he wonders if that’s why Voldemort had used the Resurrection Stone in a horcrux. He wonders if there was anyone that Voldemort would want to see.

“It’s okay, Padfoot,” James says gently. “You can let us go now. When the time is right, give the Stone to Harry, and he’ll know what to do with it.”

Sirius nods. “I love you, Prongs.”

“I love you, too. Thank you for taking care of our boy,” James replies.

“You and Moony take care of each other,” Lily says. “Give him our love.”

Sirius reluctantly drops the stone into his pocket, and the shades dissipate. There’s an expression of naked longing on Remus’ face, and he says, “You saw them?”

“They send their love,” Sirius replies, and he needs the comfort of Remus’ hug, burying his face in the side of Remus’ neck.

Remus lets out a breath. “What else did they say?”

“I’ll tell you later,” Sirius replies, pulling back. “Bill, can you destroy the horcrux?”

“We have the means to do so at Gringotts,” Bill confirms. He had a curious look on his face. “Was that really the Resurrection Stone? I thought it was a myth.”

“Apparently not,” Sirius replies. “But it’s not something I want anyone to know about us having, Bill.”

“I keep my clients’ information confidential,” Bill replies quickly. “You hired me to find and destroy the horcrux. I don’t know anything about an incidental find like that one.”

Sirius smiles. “Thanks. And thanks for your assistance today. I know it took a lot out of you.”

“All part of the job,” Bill replies. “I’ll send you confirmation once it’s done.”

They separate then, with him and Sirius heading back to Black Manor, and Bill going back to the bank, presumably to destroy the horcrux as quickly as possible.

There’s a safe in Sirius’ favorite library, and he uses a handkerchief to remove the stone from his pocket and places it in the safe. He hesitates briefly. “Did you want—“

“Yes, of course, I’d love to see them again,” Remus replies roughly. “But I remember the legend, and they’re at peace. I don’t want to disturb that.”

“Like I did?” Sirius asks, troubled, as he sits down in a recliner.

Remus gives him a faintly exasperated look. “You didn’t know what it was when you picked it up, so don’t go beating yourself up, Pads. Did they seem upset?”

“Quite the opposite,” Sirius admits. “But I wouldn’t have wanted to keep them any longer. The legend says that it’s not good for them, or for the person still living.”

Remus hums. “Probably because the deceased person has gone on to their rest, and the person left behind refuses to move on.”

“James said to give Harry the stone when the time was right, and that he’d know what to do with it,” Sirius replies, scrubbing his hands over his face. “Whatever that means.”

Remus suddenly gets to his feet and goes to the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, running his fingers over the spines, and lands on the section that Arcturus had put in for children. “Here.” He flips it open and quickly finds what he’s looking for, handing the open book to Sirius.

Sirius glances at the spine. “The Tales of Beedle the Bard?” he asks. He looks at the title at the top of the open page. “This is the story about the three brothers and death.”

“It’s also the story of the Deathly Hallows,” Remus points out. “I’ve heard that some people still believe that the person who holds all three will be the Master of Death.”

Sirius feels a chill at that. “And your point is?”

“You now have the Resurrection Stone,” Remus replies, “which James told you to give to Harry when ‘the time is right.’ Harry has an invisibility cloak that James handed down to him.”

Sirius frowns. “That cloak has been in James’ family for generations. You think it was the original?”

“The one belonging to Ignotus Peverell?” Remus asks. “I don’t know, not for sure, but what if it is?”

Sirius takes a deep breath. “That would make Harry one Hallow away from the Master of Death, if you believe the tale.”

“And that might explain the goblins’ prophecy that they couldn’t predict what kind of man Harry would turn out to be,” Remus says. “So, what are you going to do?”

Sirius shrugs. “I’m going to make sure Harry grows up to be an ethical person, and I’ll give him the Stone when the time is right. Harry can decide what he wants to do with them.” He offers a wan grin. “Besides, I know what people say about the Elder Wand. It’s cursed. I don’t particularly want Harry to have to defend himself at every turn from someone who would take it from him by force.”

“We would also have to find it first,” Remus points out, “and I wouldn’t know where to start.”

“Dumbledore probably does,” Sirius replies, “but this isn’t something I would want to share with him.”

Remus snorts. “No, I don’t imagine that will go over well at all. Dumbledore might feel the need to control things.”

“You mean, control Harry,” Sirius says. “I’m pretty sure that’s what angered him the most about the adoption. Dumbledore knows that he’s beyond his reach now.”

“True,” Remus agrees. “Now what?”

“Now, we wait,” Sirius replies. “I’d like Umbridge to be out of the way before making another move at the Wizengamot, which means we’ll need to wait for Mayweather to get back to us.”

“And the last horcrux?” Remus asks.

Sirius sighs. “I don’t want to have the conversation with Harry until I can do so in person. We can discuss it over the next Hogsmeade weekend. I’ll make sure we have some privacy.”

“We should probably spend some time brewing,” Remus says. “For the next full moon.”

“We’ll get right on that tomorrow,” Sirius promises. “But tonight, I thought we could just relax.”

Remus smirks. “Relax, or something else?”

Sirius grins. “Good thing for me that I wasn’t actually injured.”

~~~~~

A week goes by, and they don’t hear anything from Mayweather. Bill sends an owl to confirm the destruction of the horcrux, which means they should be down to the last one.

They spend the time brewing Wolfsbane, among other things, and looking over the financials from the estates.

But there’s a lot of doing nothing too, where they don’t have anything in particular to do. Sirius doesn’t particularly care for the enforced downtime, but he knows that it’s necessary. He does have responsibilities, and while many of the Death Eaters have been captured and are awaiting trial, Sirius figures it’s not a bad idea to lie low.

Sirius does ask his investigator to see what he can do to locate Pettigrew, and asks Percy to research the positions of the Wizengamot members on creature rights.

He and Remus start to draft the legislation they want to introduce, and plan their strategy and the time frame for doing so.

And then, a few days before the next session, Sirius gets an owl from Mayweather, asking to meet as soon as possible.

Sirius begins to write an immediate response, telling him that they could meet at Grimmauld Place the following morning.

Remus frowns when he sees the message. “You know I can’t go with you. The full moon is tonight.”

“And the Wizengamot session is in three days,” Sirius counters. “It’s fine, Moony. You stay here and rest up, and I’ll meet Mayweather.”

Remus doesn’t look happy about that. “What if it’s a trap?”

“He’s an ally,” Sirius replies easily.

Remus gives him an exasperated look. “I know you’re not that stupid, Sirius. We entrusted him with an important job, yes, but that doesn’t mean we can trust him completely, or that he’s incapable of setting you up if he gets a better offer.”

Sirius frowns. “Do you know something that I don’t?”

“I know that desperate parents will do a lot to take care of their kids, and it’s entirely possible that this mission backfired on him,” Remus says. “He doesn’t say much in his note, and The Daily Prophet hasn’t said anything about Umbridge being dismissed.”

Sirius runs a hand through his hair. “Moony… We can’t involve anyone else, not without putting them at risk.”

“Which is why I think you should wait for another day,” Remus argues. “At least until I can be there. Constant vigilance, remember?”

“I’ll have the beacon for the Aurors with me,” Sirius replies. “Amelia said that they’d be there as soon as possible once I activate it. I can take an emergency portkey, too.”

When Remus still seems hesitant, Sirius says, “You were the one who recommended that we use Mayweather for this job. Are you really that worried, or does this have something to do with the attack?”

“If you weren’t wearing your armor, you’d be dead,” Remus replies heatedly.

Sirius gives him a look. “But I was wearing my armor, and I’ll be wearing it again tomorrow.”

“Mayweather knows about the armor,” Remus argues.

Sirius realizes that Remus is really concerned, whether legitimately or not, and he doesn’t want Remus to worry. “Okay, I’ll tell him the day after tomorrow,” Sirius says.

Remus seems relieved. “Thank you. It might be irrational, but—“

“But it might not be,” Sirius says. “And I don’t want to cause you unnecessary anxiety. We’ll wait another day.”

“I just think we’re better off sticking together,” Remus replies. “Maybe most of the Death Eaters are in custody, but that doesn’t mean all of them are.”

“Fair enough,” Sirius replies. “We’ll do it your way.”

~~~~~

The full moon passes easily enough—or as easily as it ever does. The Wolfsbane keeps Remus calm and in his right mind, and he curls up to sleep in front of the fire. Sirius changes into Padfoot and curls up next to him, his head resting on Remus’ flank.

They spend the night like that, and while Remus is tired and wan the following day, Sirius makes sure that he eats and rests and generally pampers him a bit.

“You know you don’t have to give me special treatment,” Remus protests.

“And you know we have this same conversation every month,” Sirius replies. “I’m always going to take care of you, Moony. I might have fallen down on the job in the past, but it’s not going to happen again.”

Remus sighs. “You don’t have to feel bad about that, Pads.”

“Good,” Sirius replies cheerfully. “Then you’ll allow me to pamper you a bit.”

Remus knows when to give up, and he does so with relatively good grace.

The following day, they apparate to Grimmauld Place, and Sirius asks, “You’re wearing your armor, right?”

Remus taps his chest. “I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I wasn’t. You?”

“Of course,” Sirius says. “I’m not leaving home without it.”

Kreacher greets them at the door. “Master Black is having company today?”

“Mr. Mayweather should be here in about an hour or so,” Sirius tells him. “Tea would be appreciated, Kreacher.”

“Of course, Master Black,” Kreacher says with a bow.

“He seems to be adjusting to you being the Head of the House of Black,” Remus comments in a low voice.

Sirius shrugs. “I think he’s waiting for me to die so that Harry can take over.”

Remus glares at him. “Please don’t joke about that.”

“It’s not a joke!” Sirius protests. “I’m pretty sure that the best thing I did in Kreacher’s point of view is to adopt Harry.”

Remus sighs. “I’ve seen pictures of your brother.”

“Harry looks a lot like him, especially after the adoption,” Sirius says. “Plus, he’s a sweet kid. Reg was a sweetheart, too, before he really went full Death Eater.”

“You saw him, too, didn’t you?” Remus asks sympathetically.

“He was glad that I was treating Kreacher well, and finishing what he started,” Sirius says quietly. “It was good to see him again.”

“Did you get a bit of closure, at least?” Remus asks.

Sirius nods. “I think so. I got what I needed.”

They talk idly until Kreacher announces the arrival of Michael Mayweather. The wards recognize him, so Sirius isn’t worried about doing an identity check.

“Show him in,” Sirius says. “Thank you, Kreacher.”

Sirius stands to greet Mayweather. “It’s good to see you.”

“You as well, Lord Black,” he replies.

Remus also stands to greet him, but when he holds out a hand, Mayweather’s wand is suddenly in his hand, and he shoots a reductor at Remus, which catches him on the shoulder and spins him around.

Sirius has been practicing, and his wand is in his hand and he sends an Auror-grade stunner at Mayweather, who goes down like a ton of bricks.

“Bloody hell!” Remus groans as he sits up.

“Are you hurt?” Sirius demands.

Remus has a hand on his shoulder. “It caught the edge of the armor.”

“Oh, hell,” Sirius says, sending an incarcerous at Mayweather, hurrying to check on Remus. “I think we might need to go to St. Mungo’s.”

“No, no way,” Remus replies immediately and decisively. “They don’t like treating werewolves there, and it won’t go well. If you can find a healer who will come here, I’ll do it, but I’m not going to St. Mungo’s.”

Sirius blows out a breath. “Okay, shirt and armor off, and I’ll do what I can. If we need a healer, I’ll contact one to come directly here. Maybe the one who treated me the last time.”

“Kreacher, Winky!” Sirius calls.

Both house elves pop in immediately. “Yes, Master Black?” Kreacher asks for both of them.

“I need one of you to go to Black Manor and grab the medical kit,” he says. “Ask Cordy to help if you can’t find it.”

He’s glad they’d spent all that time brewing now. They have plenty on hand, and if Sirius can’t treat the wound, he’ll call a healer.

Remus has his shirt and armor off, and Sirius takes a look. There’s no damage to the skin, but he can already see some swelling, and he’s concerned that there’s damage to the bones or ligaments, since it hit his shoulder.

“This is going to require a little more expertise than I have,” Sirius warns him.

“I’ll take a pain reliever,” Remus replies grimly, “and if it’s not better in a couple of days, we can talk then. But I’m not bleeding, and I heal quickly.”

Sirius doesn’t have much of an argument, not when Remus is so adamant about not going to the hospital.

“What if I contact Diana?” Sirius asks. “If it’s not better in a day or two, we’ll go to France and have her look at you, at least get a professional opinion.”

Remus nods reluctantly. “Fine.”

Sirius hands him a pain relief potion, which Remus quickly downs. “You might want to put a sling on until we know for sure whether anything is broken.”

That garners a grimace and a reluctant, “Fine.”

Sirius asks Winky to bring a scarf, and he transfigures it into a sling for Remus, keeping a wary eye on Mayweather. “You were right, Moony.”

“I don’t know that I was,” Remus replies. “He didn’t fire at you. I don’t think he even had his wand drawn until he saw me.”

Sirius frowns. “Why the hell would he target you? The Death Eaters are after me.”

“You’re assuming that he’s a Death Eater,” Remus replies. “Check his arm.”

Sirius roughly pushes up both sleeves of Mayweather’s robes to find pale skin. “No mark.”

“So, he’s not a Death Eater, and he tried to kill me, not you,” Remus says. “He had no reason to try to kill me, not unless—“

Sirius reaches the same conclusion as Remus. “Imperius,” Sirius says grimly. “If that’s it, the stunner I hit him with should take care of it.”

“Let’s wake him up, then, and figure out what the hell happened,” Remus replies, wincing a little as he sits back.

Sirius wants to get to the bottom of things, too, so he casts a renervate and watches as Mayweather begins to stir sluggishly.

“How hard did you hit him?” Remus asks.

Sirius shrugs. “It was an Auror grade stunner. I wasn’t about to take any chances, not when he’d already injured you.”

Finally, Mayweather’s eyes open, and he groans. “Where am I?”

“You’re at my house,” Sirius replies. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

Mayweather stares at him in confusion. “Lord Black? Were we supposed to meet?”

“You tell me,” Sirius replies. “You sent an owl asking for his meeting, but you came close to taking Remus’ arm off.”

“I attacked Mr. Lupin?” Mayweather is clearly in disbelief. “Why would I do that?”

“I don’t know,” Sirius says, trying to maintain some level of patience. “That’s why I asked what’s the last thing you remembered.”

Mayweather tugs at his bonds. “Could you release me?”

“I don’t know, are you going to fire off another curse?” Sirius asks, starting to get exasperated. “Answer the bloody question, Mayweather!”

“The last thing I remember, I was meeting with Undersecretary Umbridge,” Mayweather finally says. “She said that she knew why I’d allied myself with Lord Black, and that life could get very difficult for my family, but that she could be an ally.”

“She threatened your kid?” Sirius asks.

“That’s how I took it,” Mayweather admits. “I told her that I had no idea what she was talking about, and the next thing I know I’m here, tied up in a chair. Would you please release me now?”

Sirius sent a slicing spell at the ropes that tied Mayweather to the chair, although he keeps his wand out and trained on the other man. “We think she Imperius’d you.”

“That’s an unforgivable,” Mayweather says. “Why would she do that?”

Remus scrubs his good hand over his face. “Probably because she could kill two birds with one stone.”

“What are you thinking, Moony?” Sirius asks.

“She probably thought that Mayweather would kill me, and you’d kill him,” Remus replies. “You’d have to answer for that, and it would tie you up for a while. Plus, she probably has some idea of how close we are. What do you think that kind of blow would do to you?”

Sirius shakes his head, not even wanting to contemplate it.

“And no one would be all that sympathetic,” Mayweather says. “No offense, Mr. Lupin.”

“What, that no one would care about a dead werewolf?” Remus asks with grim humor. “I’m aware.”

Sirius sighs. “And there’s no way we can prove it either. She’ll have done other spells with her wand by now. The Aurors won’t be able to prove that’s what happened, and I very much doubt that our word will be enough.”

“We should still contact someone,” Remus says. “Even if it can’t be proven, someone should know.”

“I’ll contact Director Bones,” Sirius replies. “You’re right that someone should know. Someone should also be keeping an eye on that bloody witch.”

Kreacher pops in with a tea tray. “Is better now, Master Black?”

“It is,” Sirius replies. “Please ask Winky to take a message to Director Bones at the Ministry. She should give it only to her.”

Kreacher nods and pops away, and Sirius hastily scribbles a message for Amelia. Winky pops in and out with the note, and Sirius pours the tea, handing a cup to Remus.

“Thanks,” Remus says softly.

Sirius grips his good shoulder. “Just let me know if I can get you something else.”

Winky returns after a few minutes. “Director Bones is coming, Master Black.”

“Could we maybe get some sandwiches?” Sirius asks. “We might need the sustenance.”

“Right away, Master Black!” Winky says cheerfully.

“Do you mind if I fire call my wife?” Mayweather asks. “I want to be sure everything is okay at home.”

“Of course, go ahead,” Sirius replies. “Kreacher can take you into the study for some privacy.”

When they’re alone again, Sirius asks, “What do you make of this?”

“I think it’s even more imperative that we remove Umbridge,” Remus replies. “She’s a bigger threat than even what we thought.”

“She’s willing to cast unforgivables, so I would say so,” Sirius says.

It doesn’t take long for Director Bones to arrive. Mayweather returns just before she does, and says, “Everything at home is fine. The missus says that I seemed preoccupied, but she assumed that was only because I had an important meeting at the Ministry.”

“That’s something, anyway,” Remus says.

Winky shows Director Bones in a few moments later, and she looks around the room with her hands on her hips. “I can’t trust you to stay out of trouble for more than a minute, can I?”

“This is definitely not my fault,” Sirius protests.

She sits down and crosses one leg over the other primly. “Then you’d best tell me exactly what happened.”

Sirius tells her everything he knows, and Mayweather chimes in with what he remembers as well.

Amelia says quiet, her expression turning even more severe as she takes in the story. “I see,” she says finally. “You’re quite right that we won’t be able to prove that she cast this unforgivable. She’ll have hidden her tracks at this point. But if she’s done it once, she’ll do it again, and we can put a trace on her office.”

“But that means we have to wait for her to try again,” Sirius objects. “In the meantime, she tried to have Remus killed.”

“She tried to have me killed,” Mayweather adds. “Everyone knows that Lord Black is a vicious dueler.”

Sirius frowns at him. “Excuse you. I haven’t killed a Death Eater since the last war, and only when I didn’t have another choice.”

“You have a reputation!” Mayweather protests.

“An undeserved one,” Sirius grumbles.

“Never mind that,” Amelia says with the hint of a smile. “The important thing is that no one is dead. Are you okay, Mr. Lupin?”

“Call me Remus, please,” he says wearily. “And I’m fine.”

She gives the sling a dubious look. “If you’re sure.”

“I’m fine,” Remus says insistently.

Amelia nods. “I think it might be for the best to keep all of this quiet. It will put Umbridge off balance, and may cause her to tip her hand.”

“So, we just act like normal?” Mayweather asks, his voice going up.

Amelia nods. “That’s exactly what you do. Mr. Mayweather, you’ll attend the Wizengamot session as though nothing happened, and Lord Black, it might not be a bad idea for you to attend the trials after all.”

“Sure,” Sirius replies. “I can make an appearance.”

“With Remus,” Amelia instructs. “Mr. Mayweather, I’m going to give you a beacon, as well. If she does ask you to go to her office, there’s going to be a trace ready. If she casts any spells, they’ll be recorded, and the Aurors will be alerted immediately.”

“Do you think she’ll try again?” Mayweather asks nervously.

“I think it’s quite possible,” Amelia says briskly. “Don’t worry, we’ll be keeping a very close eye on both you and Umbridge.”

Mayweather doesn’t look reassured. “This is getting a little too dangerous for me.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Mayweather,” Amelia replies. “You’ll be well taken care of.”

“I’m sorry we dragged you into this,” Remus says, directing the apology at Mayweather.

Mayweather sighs. “Well, I can’t say I expected it to go quite this way, but I did agree to do it. A man should be able to have a conversation with a Ministry official without being cursed.”

Amelia’s expression turns grim. “You’re absolutely right. We’ll make sure she pays for what she did, Mr. Mayweather. I’ll be happy to escort you home, and I’ll have another Auror bring the beacon to your house.”

Once they’ve gone, Sirius gives Remus a look. “I think we’d better get that shoulder seen to, Moony. You need to show up to the session without injury.”

“Fine,” Remus says with a sigh. “But I would prefer going to France for it. They’re a little more lenient about werewolves there.”

“I’ll get a hotel room,” Sirius replies. “We’ll take an international portkey tomorrow, and can be back here before the start of the session.”

Remus nods. “That’s fine.”

Sirius is going to get him fixed, and they’re going to get over this obstacle.

Starting with the trials.

 


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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.

One Comment:

  1. I really appreciate Harry’s wider social circle as well as quasi dating. I realize he feels he can’t right now but he’s open to the possibility in the future. I especially appreciate that he’s exposed to romantic partners outside of Hogwarts.

    I’m also getting a kick out of the low key but long lasting prank on Snape.

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