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Black, in the Smothering Dark

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Sixth year had been uneventful, but that didn’t mean too much to Harry Potter at the moment. Sitting in the backseat of his uncle’s newest car, he stared mournfully out of the window and watched the trees pass by in rapid succession. No one had spoken to him yet—he’d only received a glare and a pointed look when he took too long to load his trunk in the boot of the car at King’s Cross station—and he wasn’t too bothered by it.

He’d kept his head down all year, mourning for the godfather he hardly knew, and surprisingly, keeping his mind occupied with his studies. He’d read books—just to pass the time—on everything from alchemy to vampires, but he still refused to read Hogwarts, A History. By now, it was on principle.

If there was anything to be grateful for at all, it seemed that Dudley was down in weight at least a stone, and hopefully the Dursleys would resume a normal diet. To be honest, Harry didn’t understand why Aunt Petunia put the whole family on a diet to begin with if it wasn’t normal to diet in the first place. With the Dursleys, there was always an exception to the rule.

The trip passed in silence, with Dudley squirming next to him and his uncle shooting him dark looks in the rear-view mirror, but no words were spoken, and Harry was glad because it had been several weeks since he’d said much at all. Ron and Hermione had learned to read his face and gestures, and he was glad for it. He didn’t have a specific reason that he didn’t talk much anymore—he just didn’t. He didn’t see a need for too many words anymore, because he didn’t have anything left to say.

It had been a year, but his godfather’s death was still hard for him.

When they arrived at Privet Drive, Harry jumped out first and grabbed his trunk from the boot of the car, dragging it up the walkway to the front door as he waited for Uncle Vernon to stroll up several moments later. He seemed to purposely dawdle since Harry was hefting a trunk. He went straight to his room, not waiting to give them any time to pack his trunk away in the cupboard, and flopped down on the bed. In a while, he would have to start dinner, and he just wanted a few moments’ peace to himself before he had to deal with that.

It was going to be a long, lonely summer. Harry took a deep breath as he prepared himself for it.

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That night, Harry attempted to cook a rather complex roast with new potatoes, carrots and onions because Aunt Petunia had been kind enough to make out an itinerary of sorts for the summer’s meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all planned down to the type of pudding to be served for the entire summer—and whether or not Harry actually knew how to cook a roast in advance was not discussed. Obviously, Dudley was off his diet.

“Roast is terrible,” Dudley complained, even as he helped himself to a second serving. Harry silently agreed, and for the first time in quite some time, was not terribly dismayed to remember that he was not allowed seconds. “Bloody awful,” Dudley emphasized.

“Mind your tongue, Dudders,” Petunia hissed around a delicate bite of potatoes. Dudley didn’t seem to have heard her at all, and instead loaded his mouth with more meat, chewing excessively in some sort of backwards vengeance. It did not occur to him that Harry was not at all insulted to be told that roast was not one of his specialties.

“Dudley’s right,” Vernon said, shooting a glare at Harry for good measure. “Never had a roast quite so dry.”

Harry remained pointedly disinterested in the conversation and instead focused on chewing. Perhaps if Petunia felt it necessary to allow him access to her cookbook, he would have had some sort of direction, but even he couldn’t disagree with the fact that, for once, the Dursleys had a decent enough reason to complain about him.

He didn’t care. If they wanted a decent meal, they should have cooked it themselves.

If you don’t like it, he thought angrily, you ought to get off your lazy arse and do it yourself. He had used a similar excuse a year ago and that had led to the battle at the Department of Mysteries, Yet, he had done it himself, and it still went pear-shaped. Nowadays, he liked to push the blame over to Professor Dumbledore, though, because maybe if Dumbledore hadn’t ignored him all year, it wouldn’t have come to what it had. But maybe not, and whenever Harry got that far in his reasoning, he usually resorted to studying instead. It took his mind off things.

Sometimes, Harry wrote letters to Sirius and told him about all the things he wanted to do and learn about wizarding culture and how things would have been if they hadn’t gone the way they did. It would have been brilliant. These letters he hid under a fake bottom charmed into his trunk—by an enterprising seventh year Ravenclaw student last autumn—because he had no where to send them when it came down to it.

Once, when he’d used his personal weekly allowance for grieving and had no homework left to complete or interesting books to read or anything at all to do actually, he’d tried sending one of the letters off with Hedwig. She didn’t return for three days after that, and when she did, she looked fairly worn and exhausted, and the letter, still clutched in her beak, had confirmed his suspicions that she’d been terribly confused and spent a rather extended time searching for a dead man.

Hedwig had never before failed to deliver a letter, and Harry wondered if it bothered her to fail. He wondered why she’d attempted it in the first place; owls seemed to sense when a letter would be undeliverable. He felt awful about putting her through it, and realised then that sending the letter had at least had some sort of positive effect after all because he didn’t grieve anymore that week. Still, Hedwig remained indignant at her failure, while still managing to give Harry an apologetic hoot for his loss. He gave her an owl treat and a scratch for her efforts.

When he’d eaten as much as he could handle, he excused himself from the table, cleaned off his plate, and headed upstairs for his bedroom. His trunk was sitting at the end of his bed and Hedwig’s cage was open near the window, but she was out hunting for the night. He flopped back on the bed and pulled out one of his books that he’d charmed to look like completely reasonable and not out-of-the-ordinary muggle works before leaving Hogwarts for the summer.

Now, instead of a trunk-full of textbooks, reference books and wizarding novels, Harry had a collection of thirty-seven copies of David Copperfield—hardcover, first editions. He’d considered charming them into Terry Pratchett books, but that was no good when the Dursleys would’ve been just as upset over the content of those as they would about his textbooks.

Chapter seven, which was probably the most interesting—and at the same time confusing chapter—of his new favourite book, Death in the Wizarding World: Where do we go when we die? said that only wizards and witches could possibly turn into ghosts when they died, though some muggles were pretty certain they’d seen some ghosts occasionally. That didn’t help him at all.

What Harry wanted to know, and what the book was obstinately refusing to explain, was why certain people became ghosts and others simply disappeared, since the book swore up and down that ‘unfinished business’ was utter rubbish. Death in the Wizarding World was one of Harry’s charmed books that he’d been reading whenever he found a free moment for several weeks now—and was still no closer to understanding hardly any of it. What he really wanted to know was where his parents and Sirius were.

Sometime later that evening, when Harry was on chapter ten of his book and nowhere closer to understanding what happened to dead wizards, there was a sharp knock on his bedroom door, and he looked up as it opened. Aunt Petunia walked in looking sour, and glared at him. Probably about the roast, still. Her eyes flickered across the cover of his book, and he knew that she wanted to say something—knew she wasn’t stupid enough to think that was actually what he was reading, but said nothing about it.

“We’re taking Dudley out to buy new furniture for his room and some gifts tomorrow to celebrate his marks. You’re to clean out the attic to make room for his old furniture. I want it done by the time we get home; is that understood?”

“Perfectly,” Harry said, and returned to David Copperfield. Petunia scowled, and walked back out, closing the door with a snick behind her.

The next morning, Harry woke up at six, made a breakfast that was considerably better than dinner the night before—because at least he was accustomed to cooking eggs and bacon—and watched if not gleefully then at least contentedly as the Dursleys left for an entire day. An entire day. It might not have been the most perfect circumstances, but cleaning had become something of a soothing activity for Harry, and he could deal with the attic so long as he didn’t have to deal with the Dursleys as well.

The attic was unsurprisingly hot when he went up, and he pulled his old t-shirt off and tossed it to the side while he worked. There was no point in getting hotter than was necessary. He decided to start with the far wall and work his way back to the doorway, bagging, sweeping and dusting as he went, and was sweating within minutes.

Two hours later, Harry was positively soaking in sweat and grime and dust from the attic stuck uncomfortably to his skin. He swiped his hair back from his forehead with the back of his hand as he sat down in front of an old chest, and only succeeding in making it worse as his hands were equally sweaty and grimy.

He needed a break, but he was more than halfway done and he might as well go ahead and finish the job. There were two sacks full of trash and a couple pieces of broken furniture at the kerb already. The attic looked considerably better, but Harry’s skin looked considerably worse. He grimaced at the feeling of dust caked onto his skin.

With an exaggerated sigh, Harry flipped open the trunk and dragged his trash bag closer. He stared dubiously into the chest—Aunt Petunia had left additional notes on the kitchen table explaining that she wanted any and all papers sorted as well. This was going to take a while. It was full of what looked to be mementos from Petunia’s childhood years. It was very hard to imagine that bitter woman as having ever been a child. Nothing for it, Harry reached in.

A small plush white tiger—trashed. An old green glass soda bottle from a company called ‘Petunia’s Pop’—trashed. A small replica of the Statue of Liberty—trashed. A tied-up bunch of old love letters from a boy named Sam—trashed, with disgust. A gossip magazine with Henry Winkler on the cover—saved, but only because Harry was out of things to read once he finished Death in the Wizarding World.

“Go sit on it, Petunia,” he muttered, and blindly reached in one more time. He was nearing the bottom of the trunk and the rest seemed to be full of only old papers and books. A yearbook—more specifically, a yearbook from the 1965-1966 school year at St. John’s Academy in New York City. Harry furrowed his brows in confusion, and glanced over at the pile of things to be thrown away.

The tiger had been sewn in Indonesia, but Petunia’s Pop Company was based out of Philadelphia and the little statue was obviously from New York. Slowly, almost as if in a trance, Harry opened the cover of the yearbook, scanning over all of the childishly scrawled ‘have a good summer, Petunia’s and little flowers drawn in pink ink. He flipped passed the introductory pages and stopped at Ms. Goodwin’s Kindergarten class. There, between George Edgerton and Melissa Founts was a black and white picture of a tiny little girl with long, possibly un-brushed hair, and a small, upturned nose: Lily Evans, not more than five years old.

Harry stared down at the muggle photograph, breathing suddenly a lot harder to do than it had been several minutes before. His mother went to primary school in muggle New York City. Hastily, because he couldn’t stand looking at a picture of the mother he couldn’t remember, he flipped the pages again. Ms. Jenkins’ first grade class was several pages over and he found himself staring at another familiar face. Petunia Evans, pictured between Kevin Dorsey and Katie Gordon.

“What the bloody fuck,” Harry whispered, and turned back to the page with his mother on it, but the longer he looked at the picture of his mother, the more he realised that he all those people who’d always said he looked just like his father, obviously hadn’t known his mother when she was young. He looked just like her—the hair could’ve come from her even. He certainly hoped she’d just not brushed it in a fit of childhood rebellion, and that it hadn’t always looked that terrible.

There weren’t many pictures of Harry from when he was that age—though sometimes, he was accidentally caught in the background of some other picture of the Dursleys—but he could still remember what he looked like, and save for the dark hair and glasses, he really didn’t look a thing like James Potter.

It was a little bit disconcerting to realise he was nothing but a male, black-haired version of his mother right down to his ears—though his nose didn’t look anything like James’ or Lily’s and he thought that maybe he’d inherited it from a grandparent.

There was the sound of a car door shutting outside the house, and Harry hurriedly tossed everything back in the chest and shut it just as the front door opened. Downstairs, Dudley asked when dinner would be ready. Harry glanced at his watch, not realizing that he’d been in the attic all day. He’d been so absorbed in the yearbook that he’d completely forgotten about finishing his chor—or being too hot, or anything else at all, really.

“Boy!”

Harry rushed out the attic and down the stairs to the landing at the top of the second floor, where his uncle was waiting for him.

“There you are. Finished cleaning out the attic, have you?”

Harry winced. “Nearly, Uncle Vernon. There’s just a bit left.”

Vernon growled and looked very much like he wanted to give him quite the tongue lashing for not finishing, but he stopped himself with a quelling look from Petunia who was just mounting the top stairs with a bag of shopping.

“Very well,” Uncle Vernon said instead. “You’re to cook dinner and then finish while we’re eating. Then you’re to move Dudley’s old things up to the attic.”

Harry nodded and hurried downstairs to start dinner. Aunt Petunia wanted spaghetti with meatballs and garlic bread that night, and he had never been very good about cooking pasta. It always came out too hard or too mushy, so with a resigned sigh, Harry gathered the ingredients and put a pot of water on to boil.

Several minutes later, when the water had finally reached boiling point—and Harry had realised exactly how much magic would have helped if only he was old enough to use it—he dumped the pasta in and ran back upstairs to finish cleaning while it cooked. There wasn’t much left to do, and he figured if he hurried, he could get it done in ten or fifteen minutes.

It wasn’t nearly as hot in the attic at night as it had been during the day, but Harry still felt a sheen of sweat form on his forehead as he dragged the rubbish bags out to the kerb and swept up the floor. It hadn’t taken him more than ten minutes to do it all, and as he was turning to go back downstairs, his aunt’s trunk caught his eye.

No—no, he would come back later and look through everything else after he’d finished cooking dinner. If he burnt anything, there would surely be hell to pay and he would have the rest of the night to look through it after he finished everything else. This was not the time. He lingered for only a second or two longer before forcing himself to go back downstairs and finish cooking.

The sauce was simmering on the cooker and the pasta looked ready enough, so Harry turned the gas off and stuck a pan of garlic bread in the oven. Five minutes. Five minutes until the bread finished baking and he could go back up to the attic. He waited impatiently and served everything up onto three plates when the timer went off.

The Dursleys were already at the table when he brought the plates and extra bowls of spaghetti in. Dudley sneered at him and Uncle Vernon gave ignoring Harry a spirited try, but in the end, was forced to acknowledge his presence when he realised that he wanted some grated parmesan cheese for his pasta.

“Get the parmesan, boy,” he said. Harry did so, and when it was apparent that no one else needed anything, he dismissed himself.

Back in the attic, it was an almost comfortable temperature. Harry resolutely ignored the old chest in favour of a stack of files that needed sorting in the corner. They were his last obstacle left before he could move Dudley’s old things in and sort through the trunk.

Dudley’s wardrobe, which the git had thoughtfully left to Harry for cleaning out, was the heaviest and hardest to move, but the both the wardrobe and the bed required disassembling before he was able to move them, which was just an annoyance. All in all, it took him two hours to get everything up to the attic and another two to assemble all of the new furniture.

He had assumed that movers would be bringing it all in and assembling it the next day, but had obviously forgotten that poor Dudders couldn’t spend a night on the couch. By the time he was finished, it was ten o’clock and the Dursleys were winding down for the evening and heading to bed.

He would just have to wait until they were asleep.

He kept the light off and made no noise while he waited—hoping that they would fall asleep soon so that he could sneak back up to the attic. It took an hour and a half for all the noise coming from Dudley’s room to stop and once it had, Harry wasted no time.

The door leading to the attic seemed a lot further away at night when he was trying to sneak up to it. Every footstep sounded like an explosion and every breath sounded like a scream. If he got caught out of his room at night, there would be no end to Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia’s wrath. They’d probably stop feeding him for a week—which wouldn’t be so different since he was only getting two meals a day now, come to think of it.

Finally, he made it to the attic door at the end of the hall and slowly turned the knob, thankful that he’d been made to oil all the doors in the house the summer prior. It didn’t creak, so he stepped through and quickly shut the door behind him.

The attic was directly above his aunt and uncle’s bedroom, so now he would have to be especially careful not to make any noise whatsoever. He could do that. He had plenty of experience sneaking around, and though he hadn’t realised it, all his thoughts had been so focused on the chest all day that he hadn’t thought about Sirius once.

Distraction always worked like that.

It seemed like some sort of detective movie or horror story when he finally ascended the last step into the attic because the trunk—oddly enough—was positioned in the one spot in the entire attic that was hit by moonlight. It was like a beacon calling him and focusing all of his attention on that one spot.

He would’ve laughed if he could’ve afforded to make noise.

Harry sat down in front of the trunk and opened it carefully. The yearbook was on top, but he’d already seen that, and he wanted to know what other secrets his aunt had.

He just hadn’t realised that those secrets were quite so intriguing.

The first stack of papers he pulled out were a bundled set of newspaper clippings from a New York underground paper that Harry thought might have been wizarding in origin, but looked like any other muggle newspaper. It was only the content that was questionable.

New England Minister Elect, Jim Evans, announces engagement of son

[NYC] -- Minister Elect, Jim Evans, and his wife, Janet, announce the engagement of their son, Frank Evans, to Laurel Dormant, recent graduate of the New England Academy of Magic.
Laurel Dormant is the only daughter of Head of Aurors George Dormant and his wife, Leslie. Mr. Dormant, who has been with the New York Ministry for twenty-nine years, has publicly acknowledged the intended union and was reported saying that he ‘could not be happier for Laurel’.
With the upcoming elections just on the horizon, this announcement is sure to rouse a time of celebration for the favoured Jim Evans. The wedding is scheduled for mid-April and the guest list is reported to number in the five-hundreds.

Frank Evans Announces Plans to Run for Minister

[NYC] – Frank Evans, son of the highly celebrated former Minister, Jim Evans, who retired just last year, has announced his intentions of running for the Minister’s seat…

New England Minister of Magic resigns

[NYC] – After twelve years serving the New England Ministry, beloved Frank Evans announced Friday that he will be resigning on the first of the month. Minister Evans took office after the retirement of his father, Jim Evans, and continued several important and wide-reaching philanthropic and wizardiarian projects throughout New England that the former Minister implemented.
Vice-Minister, Margaret Pratcher, will serve as de facto Minister until the next elections in May.
Minister Evans said in a press-release Friday afternoon that he plans to move his family to England directly after the end of his term.

Former Minister and wife assassinated

[Manch] – Former New England Minister of Magic, Frank Evans was assassinated along with his wife Laurel in their Manchester, England home last evening. They are survived by their two daughters, Petunia, 19, and Lily, 18.
Mr. Evans, who served the New England Ministry for twelve years, relocated to England after resigning his final term as Minister in March of 1968.

Harry dropped the article in shock and stumbled backwards, knocking over a spare coat stand in the process. His mother was from America and not a muggle-born at all. Her blood made no difference to him, but this meant that his family had a whole history he was unaware of. He stared at the paper, fingers trembling and eyes wide.

Behind him, he heard the sudden rush of feet pounding up the stairs and turned just as the attic door burst open and his aunt and uncle came through.

“What are you doing, boy?” Uncle Vernon demanded. Behind him, aunt Petunia was staring at the papers in his hands in no little amount of fear. Her eyes flickered from Vernon to Harry to the articles frantically as Harry stumbled for words.

“I...I…” he said, but it was no use. His uncle was already rounding on him. He stumbled back, dropping everything as he fell backwards over the open chest and scrambled back to the wall.

“You will not be running around this house at all hours of the night—getting into trouble and making a scene for the neighbours to hear. Your aunt and I are trying to sleep and if I have to lock you up again to keep you in place, then so be it,” Vernon growled. “I don’t care what your freaky people have to say about it.”

Harry backed up but there was no where for him to go. His uncle descended on him and snatched him up by the collar of his t-shirt. Uncle Vernon dragged him down the stairs, Harry stumbling on each step, while Petunia scurried behind him, and tossed him through the door of his bedroom.

Harry landed with an aching thump and scampered over to his bed, but Uncle Vernon was having none of it.

“Petunia, get the rope from the shed,” he said. Petunia made a disagreeable noise, and hesitated, but when Uncle Vernon growled, “Now!” she hurried off. Harry was sitting back-against-the-wall again, but at least this time his legs weren’t hanging over the edge of an upturned trunk, and as he and Uncle Vernon stared at each other, Petunia returned, rope in hand.

Harry wasn’t going down without a fight. He looked for an opening, and seeing none, decided his best chance of escape was to go right through, so he rushed his uncle and was surprised by a smack to his jaw. Harry fell back, sprawled across the floor and stared up at his uncle.

Of all the times to not have his wand with him. Where was it, anyway? He thought he’d put it under the floorboard when he got home from Hogwarts but he couldn’t say for certain at the time. He desperately tried to summon it from wherever it was, but he’d never tried wandless magic before and he wasn’t exactly surprised when it didn’t show up.

Uncle Vernon gave him a nasty look. “Now you just be quiet and go to sleep,” he said. “Quit your nonsense or I’ll put you out on the street.” And with that, he backed out of the room. The last thing Harry saw before the door slammed shut was his aunt’s anxious face, and he knew that the newspaper article would be long gone before he ever got a chance to see it again. The sound of Uncle Vernon threading the rope through the old locks on his door filtered through; Harry sighed, and tried his best to fall asleep.

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When Harry woke up again, he was still locked in his room. He tried the door, but, as expected, it didn’t budge. It was still dark and he had no idea where his glasses were. What had woken him up?

It didn’t matter though; his eyes had begun to adjust after a few minutes and now he could make out his surroundings. There was a sore spot on his jaw from being smacked.

Hedwig was still gone. Harry sighed and tried to relax. If he only put his mind to it, he could think of a way out of this. He knew he could. It wasn’t worth risking his wand, yet. He was still underaged.

A few minutes later, there was the sound of wings flapping, and Harry squinted one eye open to see Hedwig returning from her hunt. When she noticed him, she gave a hoot and fluttered over to him, landing squarely on his thigh. Her talons dug through his pyjamas as if he weren’t even wearing them. He winced and gently moved her to his arm instead.

“Quiet, girl,” he whispered. “Don’t wake anyone up.” She gave him a withering glare, as if to say, ‘Do you think I’m stupid?’

“We’re stuck here for a while longer, I suppose,” he added. Hopping off of his arm, Hedwig waddled over to his desk and retrieved a quill and a scrap of parchment.

“Good idea,” he said. A note to Ron would surely get him out of here. Harry scratched out a note; Hedwig snatched it away when he was done, hopped over to the window and was gone. She would know where to go. She always did.

With one last withering glare at the locked door, Harry closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep. You would think they’d at least feed me, he thought.

Two more days passed in this manner.

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The next time Harry woke up, it was to the sound of scratching at his bedroom door. There was a muffled curse and then the sound of someone spelling the door open. Harry, still in bed, opened his blurry eyes and stared hard at the dark shape of the door, trying to focus without his glasses.

There could very well be Death Eaters entering his room, but Harry didn’t care at this point. He was bloody hungry. So long as they took him away from Privet Drive, he would be quite all right with it. But then, Harry reminded himself that it was still possible he’d gone delirious in the past days. His wand was hidden beneath the floorboards under his bed; there was no way he’d get to it in time.

A dark, cloaked figured stepped in and looked around, and when their eyes landed on Harry, he could tell that they had widened.

“Harry!” was whispered as the figured approached. The voice sounded familiar—a voice he’d heard before and associated with something good. But it couldn’t be who it sounded like. That person was dead.

A wand was removed from the figure’s sleeve, and Harry winced when it was pointed at his face. He heard whispered words and then his glasses were floating onto his face.

His rescuer threw his hood back as he shut the door behind him.

“Sirius,” Harry said, shocked. He sat up quickly. His godfather nodded and gave him a quirky smile. Harry was definitely getting delirious—or maybe he was already there. Sirius was dead, and Harry was mad.

Of all the things that ran through his head at that moment—questions about how Sirius was alive, how he was there, where he’d been, how long Harry had been batty, anything like that at all—Harry chose, instead, to ask, “Where’d you get a wand?”

“France,” Sirius said with a shrug. Harry nodded dumbly, and his vision began to fade—he was starting to get extremely dehydrated—but Sirius gave him a light slap on his cheek and he jerked awake. “Stay with me, kiddo,” Sirius said.

Harry supposed that if he was dead—or batty—and Heaven was, in fact, in France, then it wouldn’t matter if he fell asleep or not. But on the other hand, Harry had heard a lot of things about France, and never having been there to debunk those things, France very well could have been Hell. And still, on another hand, which was far too many hands, Harry didn’t think he was hungry enough to die. He wished he’d finished reading Death in the Wizarding World because he was certain he hadn’t read anything about France in there.

Harry looked down and noted that he did, in fact, have four hands and twenty fingers. He also had four feet and twenty toes. He was either delirious or he really was about to faint.

“Up you get then, kiddo,” Sirius said with an amazing amount of restraint. Harry was hauled to his feet and gingerly led over to the window. “Where’s all your stuff then? Is this it? In the trunk?”

“Wand’s under the floorboard,” Harry mumbled and pointed at the loose floorboard under the bed. Sirius bent down and squirmed under the bed, scooting back out with a handful of things, which did, in fact, include his wand.

“Come along then, we’ll be taking a portkey. Sit on your trunk and hold out your hand.”

“Where’re we going?” Harry asked as he sat on the trunk. Sirius gathered up Hedwig’s cage, which Harry noticed was still empty, and pulled a Zippo lighter out of his pocket.

“Grimmauld Place,” he answered, and they disappeared.

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“It’s keyed to me—takes you anywhere you say,” Sirius was saying when they landed in the parlour of Grimmauld Place, and any doubts that Harry still harboured that this man might not have been his godfather vanished because Grimmauld Place was still under a Fidelius, so Death Eaters would not have been able to portkey in.

But that still didn’t mean he wasn’t mental. Or dead.

“Had it since I was a kid. Found it in my old room two years ago and kept it. You never know when you’ll need an emergency—if illegal—portkey,” Sirius continued.

“I want one,” Harry said petulantly, still suffering from the delirium. The portkey had not helped at all. He was feeling a bit more than faint now, actually.

Sirius grinned and shook his head. “Can’t have one. I’ve got an extra—Regulus’ old one,” he said a little sadly, “but it only works for the Black family.”

He left Harry in the parlour and disappeared up the stairs, reappearing several minutes later with a knapsack and a key hanging around his neck.

“C’mon, Kiddo,” Sirius said, “we’ve got to go now. I’ve just kidnapped you, and I don’t want to take any chances until I’ve convinced Dumbledore to let me keep you with me. This’ll be the first place the Order comes.”

Harry nodded, and reached out to wrap his fingers around Sirius’ forearm, closing his eyes as he activated yet another portkey and they vanished again. This time, they reappeared in front of the gates of a huge, depressing-looking manor house made entirely of a grey stone. It was just as decrepit as Grimmauld Place, if not more so, and the air was significantly cooler. They must have been quite a few miles north of London.

Behind it, Harry could see that it was perched near the edge of a cliff with lots of green grass growing all around on rolling hills. He smelled the sharp scent of salt-water and heard the sounds of waves crashing against rocks. Over the horizon, there were flocks of cawing gulls. The area was beautiful—it was only the huge house that looked out-of-place.

“Where are we?” Harry asked.

Sirius gave him a sardonic little smile that looked wholly out-of-place on his tired-looking face. Seeing how woozy Harry was after the port-key trips, Sirius handed him a pack of crisps and a bottle of butterbeer from his pocket. “River House—just west of Edinburgh, on the Black River,” he answered. Then he added, “It’s another of the Black estates. The area looks rather droll to the muggles—they can’t see any of this—notice-me-not charms and what not,” he said with a wistful smile. “This is where my father grew up.”

Harry managed to give him an odd look even while he was devouring the bag of crisps. “Your mother and father both had the surname Black?” he asked. “That portrait of your mother,” Harry continued when Sirius refused to give him anything but a studiously blank look. “She’s always going on about it being the house of her fathers. I thought maybe she was just so overbearing that your father took her name when they married.”

Sirius barked out a laugh. “They were second cousins,” he replied, as if it should have been more obvious to Harry.

“Right,” Harry said. Not common, but not unheard of, certainly.

“Right, well then,” Sirius said. “Let’s be off then, shall we?” and with that, he pulled the key hanging around his neck off and slipped it into the lock on the rusted old gates, murmuring a password in some Gaelic language. The gates opened with a rather clichéd creak, and they stepped through, stumbling over a few uneven places on the gravel drive before getting their bearings and trotting off up to the main house.

The closer they got to the house, the more Harry could smell the sea water, and he smiled as Sirius put his hand against the huge front doors and spoke another password. He might have just been in shock over seeing his godfather actually alive, but he figured that if he was really going mental, then he’d much rather do it here, with Sirius, than at Privet Drive.

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Inside, the house was scarily dark and their footsteps echoed across the rooms. Sirius dropped his knapsack on the floor by the door and looked around wistfully. “I haven’t been here since I was just a lad,” he said. “Looks like no one’s been here since I was a lad, actually,” he grinned and Harry grinned back. It did look rather dilapidated, and the dust was beginning to make Harry’s nose itch.

Sirius sneezed.

“I don’t suppose any of the old house-elves are still alive,” he muttered to himself as he called out several random names. Apparently, Toddy, Snooty, and Stalwart were all deceased, as none of them answered Sirius’ summons. It appeared that they would be doing their own cooking and cleaning for the duration of the summer. Harry wasn’t sure how he felt about that; he’d done enough cleaning for one summer already.

“It’s a shame that Dobby’s not here,” Harry said to Sirius, and jumped back when a little creature popped in front of him.

“Harry Potter called Dobby?” the elf asked. “What can Dobby do for Harry Potter, sir?”

Too stunned over Dobby actually appearing to reply, Harry looked warily over to Sirius who was quite relieved at the prospect of not actually having to clean.

“Excellent!” he said. “Looks like we might not have to clean after all.”

Harry finally regrouped enough to ask, “Dobby, why aren’t you at Hogwarts?”

He was ignored when Sirius continued.

“Dobby, is it?” Dobby nodded imperiously. “Lovely—Dobby would you know of any elves in need of employment?”

Dobby considered this for several seconds before answering. “Dobby knows not of any elves wanting employment. Dobby is not liked much. House-elves say Dobby a bad house-elf, but Dobby is happy…”

“Any wanting a binding, then?” Sirius asked, cutting Dobby off.

“Dobby knows of two elves, Mr. Black, sir. They is young elves. Mated.”

Sirius grinned. “Do you know where they are?” Dobby nodded. “Would you run along and see if they might consider binding themselves to us?” Dobby grinned and disappeared with a pop.

“I didn’t think you’d want to bind a house-elf,” Harry said. Sirius shrugged, unfazed. Neither of them were excited at the prospect of cleaning this filthy manor.

“If I don’t, then they’ll be able to tell people where we are, and surely you don’t want to clean this whole place up by yourself, do you?”

Harry couldn’t argue with logic like that so he said nothing. He wandered over to one of the big, grimy, south-facing windows. He hadn’t seen much more than the foyer and antechamber yet, but if the windows facing north were even half as nice, the view of the firth would be spectacular once everything was all cleaned up.

He was watching two butterflies hover around a rather dead-looking rose bush in the front garden when there were three pops in quick succession behind him. He turned around quickly, reaching for his wand and sighed in relief when he saw that it was only Dobby standing in front of two nervous-looking house-elves.

The female had huge floppy ears and a little round nose; she was wearing a pink tea-cozy and a pink lacy pillowcase tied with a blue ribbon. The male—whose nose was a fair bit longer—had fashioned a dark green pillowcase into a sort of toga. They were rather stylish as far as house-elves went.

“Dobby brings house-elves to Mr. Black, sir,” Dobby said as he straightened an argyle sock on his ear. “House-elves are from family in Ireland that died with no will. House-elves had no where to go—they’s been helping Dobby make beds at Hogwarts.”

Harry joined Sirius as he crouched down in front of the two elves and gave them a quick smile. They shuffled their feet nervously, but seemed to be trying to look as presentable as possible if the constant straightening of their pillowcases was anything to go by.

“What are your names, then?” Sirius asked. The male pulled himself up a bit straighter and took a deep breath.

“Fred, sir,” he said and then pointed to the female’s belly, which now that Harry looked closer was a little bit rounded. “Ginger is having little elf soon.”

Sirius smiled, and gave Harry an amused look when they introduced themselves. “Fred and Ginger, eh?” he said. “Well, I’m Sirius Black and this is my godson, Harry Potter. We’ll be moving into this house and will need help cleaning and maintaining it, not to mention help with the cooking and any repair work which may come about. Would you like to bind yourselves to us? The little elf, whenever it comes, will be welcome as well,” he added.

Harry was immediately blinded by the flashing grins of three house-elves. Dobby looked rather proud of himself and Ginger looked as if she might explode from excitement. Fred took another deep breath, tried to quail his infectious grin, and said simply, “Yes. Fred, Ginger and little elf want to be house-elves for Master Black and Little Master.”

Harry felt something tingle throughout his body and looked up at Sirius. “That’s it?” he asked dubiously. Sirius shrugged and smiled.

“I never said it was a difficult process. They only have to accept.” He turned and favoured Dobby with an indulgent smile. “Thank you very kindly for your assistance, Dobby,” he said. The two new elves gasped at the praise, but Dobby looked suitably smug.

“Dobby likes Harry Potter, sir. Dobby would do anything for Harry Potter or Harry Potter’s godfather, sir,” and with that, he snapped his fingers and disappeared, leaving Harry and Sirius with two anxious house-elves. They were looking around the entry hall and tsking to themselves—Harry had no doubt that they were mentally planning everything that would need to be done to the manor house.

“Well then,” Sirius said, turning to face Fred and Ginger again. “I think for today, if you two would just clean up the kitchen and two bedrooms that would be lovely—oh, and some dinner tonight,” he added, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a handful of galleons. He handed the gold over and explained where the nearest wizarding village was, and they disappeared with a chorus of ‘Yes, Master Blacks’, taking Sirius’ knapsack with them.

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An hour later, when Harry and Sirius were quietly enjoying the view of the firth from the north gardens, they had still not received any letters from anyone, even though owls should have been able to find River House, unplottable or not. Harry assumed that he’d yet to be missed from the Dursleys, and wondered what Professor Dumbledore would do when he found out that Harry wasn’t at Privet Drive anymore, or that Sirius Black was indeed alive.

Which brought him to something he’d been half-afraid to bring up since they arrived, and something that Sirius had not yet offered an explanation for. He wasn’t really looking forward to proof that this was all the result of some delirium.

When Ginger called them inside for dinner, Harry decided that the time was as good as any. Sirius transformed into Padfoot and tackled Harry on his way in, and Harry laughed while Sirius slobbered all over him, calling out ‘bad dog!’ over and over until Sirius transformed back into human form. “Let’s eat,” Sirius panted with a grin. He was sweaty all over and breathing heavily from overexertion.

They sat down at the newly cleaned kitchen table in a slightly cleaner kitchen, and sighed happily at their dinners—especially Harry, who hadn’t had a decent meal in days.

“Why aren’t you dead?” Harry asked without preamble. He didn’t think it was necessary to beat around the. Sirius gave him a half-amused, half-confused sort of look.

“What do you mean?” he asked. “Why would I be dead?”

Harry looked at Sirius closely. “You fell through the Veil—in the Department of Mysteries. I saw you…I saw you die.”

Sirius took a bite of his dinner and looked at Harry closely. “You know, when Snivellus told me to rescue you from your Aunt and Uncle’s house,” he began, ignoring Harry’s wide eyes, “I thought he had a funny look about him...and come to think of it, he and Dumbledore both seemed a surprised at my showing up at Grimmauld Place last week. I thought it was because they weren’t expecting me until next month.”

“They didn’t say anything at all about it?” Harry asked.

“No,” Sirius said. “If I’m dead, no one’s told me, and I’d like to know what in the name of Merlin’s sweaty scrotum has given you this idea.”

“I saw you die,” Harry repeated, dinner now completely forgotten in favour of the conversation. “You came to the Department of Mysteries in June my fifth year. Bellatrix hexed you and you fell through the Veil.”

Sirius barked out a laugh. “Bellatrix?” Harry nodded warily. “Wouldn’t that have been ironic—old girl never did like me. I suspect it has something to do with Lucius, but that’s all I’m saying about that,” he added hastily.

Harry continued to stare at him. Sirius relented and it seemed like all of the cheeriness melted out of him in that one moment. “All right, all right. I don’t know anything about that. I wasn’t even in England at the time. All I know is that I got back last week, spent about 15 minutes glaring at Snivelly and talking to Dumbledore through the fireplace at Grimmauld Place, and next I know, Snape’s flooing in, saying he got a letter from you and for me to fetch you right away.”

“Why on earth did Hedwig go to Snape?” Harry asked, confused. “I thought she’d go to the Weasley’s.”

Sirius shrugged. “She might’ve picked the closest person who could help you. London’s closer to your aunt’s house than Devon,” he answered after several minutes of silence.

“If you’ve been alive this whole time, then why couldn’t Hedwig find you?” Harry insisted.

“You sent letters to a dead guy?” Sirius asked him. Harry gave him a withering look. “Fine, fine!” Sirius said. “She probably couldn’t get to me. I was in New York City—America, you know. Have been for almost a year.”

Harry gaped. “Did Dumbledore know?”

“Yeah, of course—and Snivellus, too. I don’t think anyone else did, though. It was Order work.”

Harry digested this information while Sirius returned to his dinner. Something was niggling him in the back of his mind—telling him that he should have remembered something about America, but he couldn’t think of it at the moment. It was like a dream—the more he tried to remember, the farther away the memory was.

He had so many questions; he just didn’t know which one to ask first or even second. Why had Dumbledore and Snape let him go on thinking his godfather was dead when he really wasn’t? He assumed that Snape was forbidden to tell him, but Dumbledore was his own boss—he should have said something instead of letting him suffer the whole time. A whole year! He’d thought Sirius was dead for a whole year!

After several minutes of thought, something jumped to the front of his mind, and he asked it without even thinking.

“Who fell through the Veil then? If you weren’t there, then that means someone else did.”

Sirius shrugged, suddenly thoughtful. “I don’t know, kiddo. And I don’t think Dumbledore knows, either.”

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