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A Marauder's Plan

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Book I: A Marauder's Plan (Basic Pranks)

Part 1: Initiating Operation Pronglet (The Lord Padfoot Prank)

June 9th 1994

Sirius landed by the ruin of the Potters' home in Godric's Hollow. He dismounted the hippogriff, fighting against the urge to get back on and continue flying. The hippogriff snorted and backed away, heading towards a nearby puddle of water for a drink. There had been no clear destination in mind when Sirius had flown away from Hogwarts but something had pulled him to the Potters' old home.

The house was a crumbling wreck, shrouded in darkness. The cottage had been a wedding present from James's father to his son, an acknowledgement that unlike times of old, the newly married couple were not expected to live at Potter House with James's father, his mother having died when James was seventeen. Sirius could see in his mind's eye the way it had looked in its prime; the outside walls covered with ivy with the whitewashed stone peeking out in between the green periodically; the tidy front garden with its lavender and honeysuckle; the gleaming windows underlined with their boxes of flowers and herbs – Lily's pride and joy.

He let out a shuddering breath, a sob catching at the back of his throat. He shouldn't have come back, Sirius thought tiredly, but where else was there to go when there was nowhere else to go but home. And the cottage with its bright blue door with the griffin knocker had once been his home as much as James's and Lily's. He had always been welcome there; had lived there for a time while he recovered from tangling with Death Eaters and almost dying. Of course when James had lost his father, he'd moved himself, Lily and Harry to Potter House, but they had soon moved back when they'd needed to go into hiding.

Sirius closed his eyes against the wave of memories; the bright sunny rooms, Harry in his crib gurgling with laughter, James grinning about some prank, Lily teasing them both with a glint in her eye…

He rubbed at his forehead. It felt like years of fog were beginning to clear. Twelve years in Azkaban had left its mark, Sirius determined, that and his own blind rage at Peter. And that had started right where he was standing.

The memory of that night cut through his mind; sharp images of loss, the overwhelming panic when he'd realised Peter was missing; the shock of grief and terror at the sight of the house, and James dead…James, his best friend…

The grief sent him to his knees again just as it had on that terrible night.

Then, there had been Hagrid with Harry and orders to take Sirius's godson to Dumbledore and Lily's sister, Petunia. In hindsight, Sirius should have gone with him and told Dumbledore about Peter. He shouldn't have let Harry out of his sight. But he'd truly believed Harry would be safe with Dumbledore, and he had been fiercely pleased that it left him free to go after Peter. He'd been so stupid.

He opened his eyes and took in the sight of the battered house again. "I screwed up, James. I suggested Peter as Secret Keeper and he knew I'd come after him for betraying you. He was ready for me."

He shook his head. He could remember the confrontation as though it had happened the day before; the cold of the air, the smell of rain, Peter's smug expression as he'd made his accusation and the heat of the explosion.

He'd been blown backwards, landing in a heap, blood pouring from a wound on his head. Had he actually been concussed? His thoughts had been cloudy and muddled, all over the place. He couldn't remember much of anything either…couldn't remember his trial – had there actually been a trial? – couldn't remember anything except waking up days, weeks, maybe months later in Azkaban with no way of contacting anyone who might have helped him. He'd taken refuge in the knowledge that he was innocent and the small comfort that Harry was safe. And he'd lost track of time after that until…until the Minister had stopped by and actually given him a newspaper. After that, his only thought had been to protect Harry from Peter.

Sirius paused for breath, realising belatedly that he'd continued talking out loud. "Talking to yourself – first sign of madness, isn't that what you always told me, James." He said softly. He sighed and stared blankly at the ruined house. He could feel the urge to leave nudging at him again; to get back on Buckbeak and head for somewhere warm and sunny where he could recover from Azkaban. But that would mean leaving Harry…

"Harry's living with your sister, Lily," Sirius said, "I went to see him there when I got out of prison." It had been the first thing he'd done – he'd wanted to check on his godson before heading North to wait for Peter at Hogwarts. Seeing Harry running away had changed his plans. "He's…he's not happy. I mean, he's brilliant, James; really brilliant – he saved my life! But he's…he's too thin and small. He wanted to come and live with me straight away! Who wants to live with someone they don't know unless they hate where they are? I think your sister and her family treat him badly, Lily. I need to get him away from them. Of course, I can't until I'm cleared and no longer on the run, and that's not likely to happen any time soon."

He got to his feet, crossed his arms over his chest and pushed the urge to leave away again. He frowned, his brow lowering as he mulled over the issue.

"The problem is that, as much as I hate to admit it, I've been acting too much like a Gryffindor." Sirius said with a huff of exasperation. "I went running off after Peter when you died, and this year all I've done is try and get to Peter again even if it was so he wouldn't hurt Harry. And I failed both times." He sighed heavily. "If I want to protect to Harry properly, I need to start thinking and stop reacting."

The niggle at the back of his mind to leave Britain, to leave Harry, shivered and disappeared abruptly. He'd shaken off a compulsion spell, Sirius realised. Probably Dumbledore. The old coot had no doubt thought compelling Sirius to get as far as possible was for his own good so he wouldn't get caught by the Ministry. Or maybe so that he wouldn't stay too close to Harry.

That thought arrested him for a long moment.

He shook himself as though he was Padfoot, trying to dislodge the idea. But he had promised to start thinking and so he did, pacing back and forth to give into his need for movement.

Why would Dumbledore want Sirius to stay away from Harry? OK, Sirius could acknowledge that he needed to heal from the effects of Azkaban and that there could be reasonable doubts about his ability to care for a young teen. But, Sirius was Harry's godfather.

He could understand Dumbledore taking baby Harry with Lily's sister in the immediate aftermath of James's and Lily's death – had even reluctantly agreed with the plan by handing over Harry to Hagrid in fact. Very few people had known where Lily's sister resided in the muggle world and Sirius knew Lily had placed wards around the place. He could also understand why Dumbledore had left him there once Sirius was imprisoned and Harry's godmother, Alice Longbottom, had been attacked. There was an automatic belief that blood relations were best and maybe Dumbledore had assumed that Petunia was the named guardian for Harry – Sirius couldn't remember if Dumbledore had ever seen the Potters' will. Dumbledore probably had little knowledge of how much Petunia disliked magic, and even if he had, he'd possibly made the assumption that Petunia would care for Harry regardless because he was family. Still, Sirius mused thoughtfully, it didn't excuse Dumbledore for seemingly missing all the signs of an abused child when Harry had gotten to Hogwarts or, worse, disregarding them and leaving Harry with the Dursleys anyway.

He stopped pacing. Why would Dumbledore have disregarded signs of abuse? No. Sirius couldn't believe that. He could believe that abuse had been missed – hadn't his own abuse at the hands of his dear mother been overlooked until he'd run away from home? But he couldn't quite dismiss his underlying notion that Dumbledore wanted distance between Sirius and his godson. Possibly Dumbledore thought Harry's muggle relatives provided a safer environment than Sirius – and OK, it wasn't as though Sirius could provide a home while he was on the run.

Or Dumbledore might just not trust Sirius.

Which sounded more likely because Dumbledore had always had trouble seeing beyond the Black name Sirius carried.

Wasn't that why he hadn't even rated a visit from the leader of the Order of the Phoenix after being imprisoned? Everybody got a second chance with Dumbledore except for Sirius it seemed. Sirius wondered if Dumbledore would have stood by and let him be kissed. Certainly it seemed like the kids had gained some kind of approval from the Headmaster to save him but…but just why was it that the kids had needed to save him? Why couldn't Dumbledore guarantee him a fair trial? Wasn't he the Chief Warlock? Sirius was aware that the old wizard didn't like to wield the power the wizarding world had given him too often but he had power.

Power was something that the House of Potter and the House of Black had once enjoyed; magical power aplenty certainly, but both families had also built financial and political alliances. And it was that kind of power that Sirius truly needed if he was going to protect Harry; from the Death Eaters, from Peter, from the possibility of Voldemort rising again. It was that kind of power which would get Sirius what he wanted from the Ministry, namely his name cleared and guardianship of Harry so he could ensure his godson had everything he needed – love, happiness, fun, security.

And he evidently needed that same power to ensure that Albus Dumbledore couldn't stop Sirius from being with Harry, if that was Dumbledore's plan.

Sirius looked up at the night sky and shook his head in denial of where his thoughts were leading him.

A rush of wind touched him and he breathed in the scent of lilies. At least he knew he had her approval. "You always said that you would do anything to keep Harry safe, Lily-flower. I always said I would do the same but I didn't get it until now that anything means anything."

Another breeze brushed over him. It felt comforting and familiar; affection, safety and family all tangled together in a way that spoke of love.

Sirius closed his eyes again, grief rocking through him. James. He gave a short, humourless laugh. "You shouldn't approve too soon, James, because you're not going to like my plan. Merlin knows I don't like my plan."

But if it was power Sirius needed…he looked back at the house and whistled for Buckbeak. It was time to retreat to the one place Sirius had never called home.

Chapter Text

They landed in the back garden of 12 Grimmauld Place. Everything was overgrown and unkempt; a wild tangle of tall grass, weeds and flowers that had escaped their beds and meandered all over the once pristine lawn. The old trees that bordered the property created dark imposing shapes in the night. The protective statues were pale lumps of marble. They didn't wake with his arrival and Sirius breathed out in relief.

The house was under a Death Fidelius. He'd known that being a Black was enough to see the house but he'd been unsure that the actual wards around the property would accept him. He had been an outcast because of his allegiance to the Light – to the Potters – and had been worried that there might have been something to keep him out specifically.

He threw a look at the neighbouring houses. He knew the spells disguising the garden and house would mean muggles and other wizards would skip over Number 12 and see the next house along. "You can stay in the garden, Buckbeak, or go on your way." He said fondly. "You've saved my life and I thank you."

Buckbeak bowed low and Sirius did the same. The hippogriff turned and launched itself back into the air; a couple of sweeps of its powerful wings later and it was out of sight.

"Safe travels, my friend." Sirius murmured in the darkness. He made his way to the house, taking the side path to the steps down to the back door that led into the basement, the old merchant's entrance.

The narrow black door opened on his approach. It looked as though the wards had granted him more than simply access; they were inviting him in. Sirius took a deep breath and entered his childhood home.

The smell of dank mould and decay hit his nostrils immediately and he cursed his sensitive Padfoot nose. He wished he had a wand to dispel the stench. He stepped into the small receiving area for tradesmen and the door closed behind him, locking him in; the gaslight flickered on recognising his presence. Sirius ignored the doors to his left which would lead to a potions lab, a cell that he would rather avoid, and a staircase down to a cellar. He headed up the staircase to his right instead and came out in the long narrow kitchen.

The room was filthy with dust and dirt. He grimaced and hoped the rest of the house wasn't in a similar state. He'd been informed of his mother's and grandfather's death by the warden so for the house to be deserted and empty wasn't a surprise. He'd just expected the old house elf, Kreacher, would have kept up maintenance. Maybe the elf had died. Or his mother had killed him. He wouldn't put it past the barmy old bitch.

He opened up the door that led to the reception hall.

"YOU!"

His mother's voice had him snapping around in shock, his heart pounding. A portrait glared back at him in the half-light coming through the window above the front door.

A familiar pop signalled the arrival of the missing elf. The aged being took in Sirius with a glare. "You is not welcome here, Master."

Master.

Sirius smiled at the elf's unwilling confirmation of what Sirius had hoped: that with the passing of his grandfather, it was Sirius who was the recognised heir and Head of House. "My house, Kreacher." He stated firmly. "You can stay and obey me or you can have clothes."

"Kreacher will stay despite the traitor to his mistress who is now his master."

Sirius let one eyebrow creep up in his forehead and the elf shuffled his feet and pulled at his ears, punishing himself automatically for his disparaging remark. "You will refer to me as Lord Black. You will not tell anyone of my location ever. You will obey only me and you will inform no-one of my secrets. You will speak to no-one without my express permission. Is that clear?"

"Kreacher obeys Lord Black."

"He's not Lord yet." His mother sniffed in her portrait. "The rings are in the vaults. I hardly think you, a convicted criminal, will be able to get to them. At least, you redeemed yourself at the end."

Sirius stared at her. "I hate to disappoint you, Mother, but I didn't actually betray the Potters or kill those muggles." He paused. "Actually, that's a lie because I love to disappoint you and would love to continue doing so. Unfortunately, I have recently realised that I have to restore the standing of the Ancient and Noble House of Black so I can take over the wizarding world thus ensuring my guardianship of my godson. So apparently you're going to get some of what you've always wanted."

His mother's portrait stared back at him, speechless.

"Yes," Sirius agreed, understandingly, "I was shocked and horrified myself."

Kreacher's ears perked up and he straightened with a gleam in his oversized eyes. "You intend to restore the standing of the Ancient and Noble House of Black?"

"I do, and as my mother well knows, I can perform the inheritance ritual here." He pointed at the elf. "This place is a mess and not in keeping with either our wealth or reputation. You will immediately begin cleaning and redecorating it starting with the master bedroom and bathroom for my use. Dark artefacts are to be placed in a trunk for my inspection. Neutral colours will be used and you will avoid the depressing gothic horrors of my mother's tastes. I will be in the study."

Kreacher snapped his fingers and popped off before Sirius could say anything more.

Sirius gave a heavy sigh and turned to his right. He avoided the staircase leading up to the bedrooms, catching a glimpse of a wall decorated with the heads of house elves. They hadn't been there when he'd run away; his mother must have gone completely insane in her final years, he mused. The door to his right would lead to the formal dining room, the informal living room and the Summer room overlooking the garden. He barely glanced at the doors to his left – the reception room with its public floo, and the formal parlour – instead, he took the door at the end of the corridor. It opened up into a cosy library. The main library was at the country estate but Sirius couldn't remember its location because of the Death Fidelius. The knowledge would return to him when he had completed his inheritance ritual. He bypassed the shelves of books, noting he'd have to go through them and put the more dangerous away. The door to the study was to the right and he entered the room with trepidation.

For a moment, he stood just inside the doorway. Kreacher must have raced to get to the room because it was devoid of the dust and decay in the rest of the house even though the décor remained tired and familiar, the ornate wallpaper peeling at the edges. There was a roaring fire, casting warmth across the room and the lamps had been lit. There was also a tea-tray loaded with sandwiches and cake that Sirius hoped Kreacher had conjured and not made given the state of the kitchen.

Sirius breathed in the scent of the old leather chairs; the faint lingering scent of the tobacco his father had preferred. He remembered only too well the last time he'd been in the room; it had been the Summer after his fifth year and his father had asked him bluntly what his allegiances were. Sirius had told him that he would never bow down to Voldemort; that he would never take the Dark Mark; that he would stand beside the House of Potter in the war.

His father had been surprisingly civil and agreeable. He had even suggested having someone on the other side of the war would help reduce the risk that the House would be decimated – after all, if the Light won then hopefully Sirius would be alive to continue the line. Sirius had politely agreed and privately thought he would never be the Head of House despite his father spending years grooming him to be just that; that he would never want to be the Head of House.

The irony was bitter to swallow, Sirius thought with dry amusement. Old history, Sirius told himself briskly. He might never have intended returning but he was there for Harry. He just had to remember that and all else was tolerable.

He sat down in his father's chair – his chair. He ate one of the waiting sandwiches as he reached down and rummaged in the top right drawer. He drew out a selection of wands; his father's, his mother's and his great-grandfather's. He tested each as he finished the make-shift meal and drank the accompanying juice and water. He settled on his great-grandfather's wand of oak with a core of dragon scale. It was an acceptable match and would suffice until his name was cleared and he could replace it.

Sirius pulled out a small ritual bowl and dagger from the bottom drawer. "Familius magicus." He tapped the bowl with his wand making the inside cloud up with swirling silver sparkles of magic. He slashed his palm without ceremony and let the blood drip into the bowl.

"I, Sirius Orion Black, claim by blood, by law, by magic, the House of Black. I swear to lead it with honour and fairness; to protect and shelter those who belong or ally to the House of Black by blood, by law, by magic, by oath; to deliver justice on those who break oath and trust with the House of Black. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

The magic surged out of the bowl and surrounded him; a bright cascading stream of silver that blanketed his core and tested his worthiness. He could barely breathe under the power of it; magic steeped in blood and ritual; magic as black as his name. But he refused to bow to it; he was a Black and the magic was his to command not the other way around. The magic left abruptly and settled before him in the cloudy shape of the house totem: a silver hooded snake. It bowed to him solemnly and disappeared.

It had worked.

Sirius let out a shaky breath and pushed his hand through his wild hair. The strands tangled unexpectedly with a ring on his finger and he drew his hand down to stare at the Lordship ring; a black onyx stone stamped with a silver snake set in a platinum band. The ring had been called to his finger with the ritual. He'd worn the matching Heir ring once upon a time and as his eyes fell to the desk he saw it sitting in the bowl. He gave a sigh, picked up the Heir ring and secured it in the wooden box on his father's desk where the ring had traditionally been kept. A tap of his wand had the box locked and only he would be able to open it.

He got up and turned to the fireplace with its surround and mantel of stone. In the centre of the mantelpiece the Black crest was carved in wondrous detail; it was also the keystone for the wards. Sirius pressed his still bloodied left palm onto it. He felt the wards shift to his control.

"Fidelius." Sirius said firmly. He felt the wards respond and knew his location was hidden completely with satisfaction. "I, Sirius Orion Black, am named Secret Keeper." He focused again and shut down the floos with a thought; the portraits were put to sleep to prevent them from spying.

He sat back down, exhausted. There wasn't much time left before the end of school and there were a hundred things he had to do in order to ensure Harry would be away from the Dursleys sooner rather than later, but in truth all he wanted at that moment was a bed.

Kreacher popped in beside him. He held out a folded piece of parchment and another ornate box. He looked nervous. "Young Master Regulus ordered Kreacher to give these to you but Mistress punished Kreacher when Kreacher told her of young Master Regulus's death and ordered him to stay in the house."

Sirius took them with a frown.

"Lord Black's bedroom and bathroom are ready when you wish to retire." Kreacher popped away again.

Sirius looked down at the box and parchment. He sighed and set the box on the desk, opening the parchment.

"Dear Brother,

I regret many things but mostly I regret listening to our Mother and not following your path. I broke faith in the House of Black by taking the Mark of Voldemort, someone who I have realised is totally without honour; someone who would prefer to rule us all. He kills without regard for blood or for allegiance. I have seen pureblood wizards in his service fall at his hand and I have seen enough of the horrors he perpetrates to know I regret my decision to follow him.

I write this with the knowledge that I go to betray him tonight. It is this mission I must tell you about; he created Horcruxes. He has used items of great value to do so believing they will not be destroyed. He gave Hufflepuff's Cup to Bella for safe-keeping, a diary or journal of some sort to Lucius and the location of Slytherin's locket to me. I do not believe these are the only ones – he prefers seven as a number in rituals so with the assumption the seventh fragment remains in his mortal body or on the mortal plane, there will be three others. He spoke of an old Head of House ring which I fear may be a fourth, and I believe another item of Ravenclaw's resides at Hogwarts but as he only made an allusion, I could be wrong. That leaves one unaccounted for, brother. (I know you have problems with basic arithmetic). These abominations will need to be destroyed before he can be defeated outright.

Tonight, I will retrieve the locket. I hope I return and tell you about this letter in person when I present the locket and my knowledge to you and ask for protection. If I don't return, Kreacher has orders to give this and hopefully the locket to you. I hope it helps the Light – more importantly, I hope it helps you .

I have not been the best brother, Sirius, but I go tonight hoping to restore my honour and do you proud.

Regulus"

The letter crumpled in his hand. Sirius closed his eyes, remembering his brother. Sirius had protected him from their mother all their childhood but the year Sirius had gone to Hogwarts had been enough for her to turn Regulus against him. He sighed deeply, swamped with his own regret that Regulus hadn't lived to tell him in person that he'd seen the light – literally.

But…bloody hell: horcruxes!

That was how Voldemort would rise again. And when he did, he'd come after Harry, Sirius was certain of it.

It was just too much to think about after the day and night he'd had – finally having a chance to talk with Harry, facing Peter, reconciling with Moony, having to charge down Moony to save the kids, having Harry save him from the Dementors, having Harry save him from being Kissed, escaping, claiming the House of Black and setting the Fidelius charm.

Tomorrow; he'd deal with it tomorrow, Sirius decided, locking up the box Kreacher had left – the one which presumably contained the locket with its fragment of Voldemort's soul – in the desk.

He went in search of his bed.

Chapter Text

Three days after his flight from Hogwarts, Sirius walked into the newly decorated and gleaming dining room for breakfast and immediately spotted the eye-catching phoenix perched on the back of his chair. A more non-descript brown owl he'd had Kreacher buy and whom he'd named Hooter, was also waiting for him and eyeing the phoenix as suspiciously as Sirius. The owl ward he'd reinforced would have turned away all but his own owls and Harry's Hedwig. He hadn't counted on meddling fire birds.

He'd sent charmed notes to Harry and Remus the previous evening saying nothing but variations of that he was safe somewhere sunny and that he would stay in touch. He didn't want Dumbledore to think he was still in Britain or alerted in any way to what Sirius had planned.

Because Sirius had a plan.

He had written everything on a large blackboard in the study and annotated it with sketches of Prongs and Moony. It had been a method he'd used with major pranks at school and important missions when he'd been an Auror. It worked well for him. He had a large tick by the first step – assume the Lordship of the House of Black, and had happily ticked off 'contact Harry and Remus' before going to bed. He just hoped the rest of the plan wasn't going to come to a screaming halt with the presence of Dumbledore's familiar.

"You'd better hand it over then, Fawkes." Sirius said resigned, sitting down. He savoured for a moment the feel of clean clothes (Regulus's cast-offs freshly laundered by Kreacher but he wasn't complaining) against his scrubbed skin; the knowledge of his newly cut shoulder-length hair and trimmed neat beard. He looked and felt human.

Fawkes dropped the parchment he was carrying into Sirius's hand and gave a reassuring trill that made him think the bird was trying to tell him not to worry.

"Sirius,

Thank you for the owl you sent to Harry. I've instructed him that I would reply using Fawkes in case the Ministry tries to track any correspondence…"

"That…"

Fawkes trilled again.

Sirius waved the letter at him. "Oh I don't think he's just being careful, Fawkes. Who is he to tell my godson that he can't write to me?" He glowered. "He could have suggested that Harry write a note for you to carry."

Fawkes tilted his head and bobbed it slightly as though conceding the point.

Sirius read the rest of the note aloud. "It was good to hear you have found somewhere to recover from your time in Azkaban. Take all the time you need, dear boy. I would ask you not to take risks for Harry's sake; he would be most upset if you were to be captured. Be assured that I will see to Harry's safety in your absence." He scowled. "Love and kisses, Albus."

He glowered at Fawkes who had trilled back at him admonishingly.

"OK, so he didn't send me love and kisses but, Fawkes, this is full of double speak and you know it." He gestured with the letter again. "What he's actually saying is: stay away from Harry. You and I both know it." He sighed. "Do you think that's what Harry wants?" Of course he had no true idea about what Harry would want. He hoped Harry's delight at the idea of living him had been real.

Fawkes tilted his head and flew back to Sirius and nudged Sirius's chest with his head. Warmth filled Sirius, comforting him. Harry did want him in his life. The memory of Harry's smile when Sirius had made his offer for the teen to live with him filled his mind.

Sirius breathed out and stroked Fawke's plumage. "Thank you for the reassurance, Fawkes. I needed that." His eyes narrowed on the bird. "You agree with me, don't you? That Harry would be better away from the muggles?"

Fawkes cooed brightly.

"So, you won't be telling your nosy old wizard where I am?" Sirius started to smile as Fawkes bobbed his head in agreement. "Thank you." He said. He'd still look into adding a phoenix ward though; maybe one that would allow Fawkes but banish any wizard he might be unexpectedly transporting.

The phoenix sent him another admonishing look as though he'd read Sirius's mind and took flight. He disappeared in a show of flames.

Hooter gave a squawk, reminding Sirius he was waiting. Sirius handed over some bacon as an apology and took the letter. It was blank. Sirius grinned and tapped it with his wand. "I solemnly swear I am up to no good."

"Padfoot,

I'm glad you're safe. I've returned to my home near Oxford as I resigned from Hogwarts. Snape managed to let slip about my furry problem and, well, we both know what would happen so I left before Albus was placed in the unfortunate position of having to fire me. Truthfully, it is probably for the best – I was careless after all on the full moon, and I almost ended up hurting the children. It's certainly my fault that Peter got free.

My only regret is that I won't be able to spend more time with Harry but I'm reminded that it's a selfish desire when I think of all the time I've already spent with him and that you have been denied."

Sirius snorted. He couldn't deny he'd felt jealous at the idea of Moony spending time with Harry but he'd been relieved that at least Harry had Moony. Only he didn't anymore. "Stupid Snivellus." He muttered under his breath.

"Talking of Harry, there are things I need to tell you. I know it's probably for the best that you don't tell anyone where you are but…well, I've missed you, my friend, and I think our discussion will need to be face to face. Send word when you think it's safe for us to meet.

Take care, Moony."

Sirius felt his emotions surge and took a deep breath. He'd restarted his Occlumency training the night before in order to regain some control of his mind and his emotional state; his thoughts were too inclined to drift, his moods to swing. He had to get some control over himself if he was going to look after Harry.

Kreacher popped up beside him. "Do you wish something different for breakfast, Lord Black?"

"What?" Sirius stared down at his uneaten food. "Uh, no. I just hadn't started eating."

Kreacher placed a nutrient potion beside the plate and disappeared.

Sirius scrunched his face up in disgust but drank down the potion. He needed it and the food he tucked into with gusto. The kitchen had been returned to immaculate condition and he was enjoying Kreacher's cooking.

In fact the whole first floor of the house had been renovated since Sirius's arrival; old décor and furnishings had been thrown out and replaced or revamped. Warm neutral colours of browns, creams and gold pervaded. Red had been used as an accent including the study where the walls had been painted a warm maroon colour. Landscape paintings had remained but all others had been placed in storage in the attic including that of Phineas Nigellus Black. As a former Headmaster of Hogwarts, the portrait could have spied on him for Dumbledore, and despite Kreacher stating that Phineas hadn't visited his portrait in Black Manor for years, Sirius wasn't taking any chances. His mother's sleeping portrait had been given to Kreacher as a reward; house elf magic unsticking the damn thing from the wall. He had no intention of ever wakening her portrait ever again nor seeking her advice.

Even if he could use someone other than Kreacher to talk to about his plan.

His eyes fell on Remus's letter. Moony. Of course, he could ask Moony to come and stay with him – to help him. It was perfect. Remus would have a job and…and Sirius would have to be very careful about how he offered it or Moony's pride would get in the way of him taking it.

He finished his breakfast and sent a note to Remus with the second owl he'd purchased; a black majestic and distinctive looking bird bought for when he needed to send mail as Lord Black. He'd named it Reg in honour of his late brother. The note invited Remus for an interview that afternoon to be the steward of an Ancient House that had just been claimed. Sirius had included details of the salary, duties and benefits – and the address. If Remus was interested the letter would act as a portkey delivering him to his interview; if he wished to decline he could do so by reply.

Sirius hoped Remus would accept – he had questions for his friend about Harry, about what had happened in the intervening years when Sirius had been in Azkaban. And he'd missed him too.

The next few hours were torture. He had to distract himself with helping Kreacher cleanse the basement of dark magic. Sirius had no use for a potions lab or a torture cell, and they were turning the area instead into a combination gymnasium and duelling room; he needed to get his fitness back. But not before too long, Remus's scheduled arrival time was upon him and Sirius made his way to the reception room. He'd swung from optimistic hope that Remus would accept his invitation to pessimistic certainty that he wouldn't despite Reg returning without a reply.

Remus arrived on time, landing with ease. His face broke into a wide smile at the sight of Sirius and he dived across the room to sweep him into a hard hug.

"Padfoot. I thought it might be you!" Remus pulled back and grinned at him.

"Moony." Sirius couldn't stop smiling. He hugged Remus again and let him go before he embarrassed himself and burst into tears of relief.

"Well, as much as I'm sad there isn't a job, I'm delighted to see you." Remus said happily. "I can't believe you stayed in England!"

"I have plans," Sirius said tentatively, "and I'm afraid the job offer is real, Moony. I, um," he gestured vaguely to the newly painted crest on the wall as though to point it out to Remus, "I might have claimed the Lordship of the House of Black."

Remus goggled at him.

"Come with me and I'll explain everything." Sirius said, pulling Remus out of the room and to the study.

o-O-o

Sirius leaned back in his chair and twirled his wand thoughtfully as Remus stared at the blackboard and then back at Dumbledore's letter on the desk in front of them. He'd been doing the same thing for five minutes and Sirius couldn't quite stop himself from thinking it wasn't a good sign.

Remus sighed and took a fortifying sip of tea. "Well, I can understand why you've gone this route, Padfoot." He tapped the ceramic mug he held. "Despite my own debt to Albus, I've spent most of this last year alternating between wanting to thank Albus for the opportunity to finally get to know Harry and wanting to hex him for keeping me out of his life to date."

"How did that happen?" asked Sirius curious to know what had occurred.

His friend grimaced but met his gaze. "As soon as I got the news, I came back from Romania just in time to attend the small funeral for James and Lily at Godric's Hollow," he forestalled Sirius's question by raising a hand and answering it, "Potter House including the family cemetery there must have gone immediately under a Death Fidelius and obviously its location would have only been known to someone in the House of Potter."

Like Sirius who had been granted sanctuary in the House of Potter.

"I and the Longbottoms accosted Albus after the funeral both about you and about Harry." He shook his head at the memories. "I wanted to visit both of you – you so I could hex you into a million pieces and Harry so I could confirm he was safe and well. Albus informed me that you had already been sentenced to Azkaban."

Sirius waved away the information. "What about Harry?"

"Well, Albus confirmed that he had taken Harry to Lily's sister in the muggle world and she had assumed guardianship; that it was a done deal. Alice was furious but Albus pointed out you were in prison, they had been under Fidelius and he had no idea who their Secret Keeper was. Anyway, Frank said that was fine but now that they were out of hiding, they would take guardianship of Harry as James and Lily had wanted."

"And then they got attacked." Sirius murmured, trying to piece together the disparate information he'd managed to gather the previous year.

"Actually they were attacked two weeks later." Remus sighed heavily. "In that interim period, the Ministry demanded proof to overturn the guardianship of a blood relative. Well, the Longbottoms' didn't have a copy of the will. The Potters' solicitors Arkam and Arkam claimed theirs had gone missing." He took a breath. "I searched through your stuff at your old place since I had a key but couldn't find a copy there either. Gringotts claimed they couldn't open the Potter vaults without a Potter to retrieve the original."

"My copy of the will is in my vault." Sirius said quietly.

"Of course it is," Remus said, "I surmised as much at the time." He paused. "Frank and I had just agreed that the only thing for it was for him to negotiate with your grandfather to claim the vault under the House of Black and provide them with the will if it was there, but before he could, like you said, he and Alice were attacked."

Sirius shook his head, thinking how everything had conspired to go horribly wrong for Harry's guardianship after the death of his parents.

"Anyway, with the Longbottoms incapacitated and Augusta dealing with one traumatised baby, the whole thing was dropped. I know James and Lily had probably made provisions for if both you and Alice were unavailable and I toyed with asking your grandfather, but knew that unlike the Longbottoms I had no political leverage to get him to give me the will and I didn't want to give him the idea of, well…"

"Making a claim for Harry himself?" Sirius nodded slowly. "Wise. He would have done it. And you remember James and I used to joke that we were cousins? The relationship is a few times removed but…"

"Your grandfather would have run with it, and with you named as guardian in the will, it would have strengthened his claim." Remus took another sip of his drink. "I dropped the idea of guardianship and went back to Albus to request access."

"Which he refused." Sirius determined harshly.

"Said the wards had been set to deter dark creatures and regardless he had promised that interaction with the wizarding world would be minimal until Harry was old enough to attend Hogwarts."

"And by minimal, Albus presumably meant to say non-existent." Sirius said caustically, already upset on Remus's behalf for the dark creature comment.

"I argued with him that he couldn't leave Harry there without any oversight at all. He argued that with the wards he would know if Harry was attacked by Death Eaters. I argued that it wasn't good enough. He eventually conceded that perhaps someone placed locally to observe was a good idea." Remus's gaze darkened. "Then he argued that it couldn't be me as a young man interested in a small child would be suspected as a paedophile."

Sirius growled.

Remus's expression cleared and he gave an appreciative smile. "I know, Padfoot. I was upset too. But I had to concede the point. My interest in Harry would have been deemed unusual."

"At least you got him to put someone in to check on him. Figg, right? The batty old woman who used to come to the Order meetings stinking of kneazles? I saw her when I went there after I escaped." Sirius felt his anger at Dumbledore stir again; felt his certainty that Harry wasn't safe at the muggles grow.

"I never knew who it was." Remus took a calming breath. "After my confrontation with Albus, I was still determined to find some way of being in Harry's life but unfortunately a couple of days later my father had a stroke and was hospitalised. My next few months were filled with trying to look after him, and my mother who was distraught. He died early the next year and my mother a few weeks later, from a broken heart, I think."

"I'm sorry, Remus." Sirius said softly. He'd liked Remus's parents; they had been good people.

Remus nodded an acknowledgement. "I was a mess. I'd lost too much of my pack all at once. By the time I came out of the depression, Harry was six years old."

"But you tried to see him." Sirius said firmly.

"Both of you, actually." Remus smiled at Sirius's surprise. "The mind healer said it would be useful to lay my ghosts to rest and I had so many questions, Padfoot, about why you'd done it. It didn't make any sense to me. I was very confused."

Sirius sighed at another lost opportunity for him to have seen someone; to have told his story sooner. "I'm guessing you didn't get permission."

"While I'd been wallowing in grief, there had been a backlash against werewolves including a new restriction that stated that we were not permitted to visit inmates of Azkaban." Remus shrugged. "I decided I had to leave you in the past and I'm sorry about that."

Sirius waved away the apology. "And Harry?"

"I decided to ask Petunia directly and managed to track her down through muggle means. I sent her a muggle letter reminding her that I was a friend of Lily's, and requesting to see Harry as he was of school age and possibly was curious about his parents. I offered to help her explain magic and the wizarding world to him." He harrumphed. "She actually did write back very politely telling me essentially to sod off. Harry was a normal child and he was going to a normal school, and any questions he had about his parents she would answer."

"Normal?" Sirius repeated. "Harry turned my hair pink at three months."

"I know." Remus sipped his tea. "I was concerned and wrote to Albus, leaving out that I had already approached Petunia. I asked for an update on Harry and requested again to see him. Albus…"

"Told you everything was hunky-dory."

"That was the gist." Remus gave a pained smile. "He reminded me he had promised Petunia minimal interaction until Harry went to Hogwarts. He suggested that it was not wise for me to dwell on the past and to focus on the present. He was certain I would be reunited with Harry in good time."

Sirius snorted.

"I know," Remus agreed mildly, "I had started to conclude that Albus had no intention of letting me near Harry. Well, on bad days when I couldn't find work or got heckled for being a werewolf it was me in particular and on good days it was anyone."

"You didn't give up." Sirius stated with a knowing smile.

"I did for a while," Remus conceded, "I had to go abroad for work, but I wrote to Albus in the June before Harry turned eleven. I offered to take him his Hogwarts letter, explain everything and take him shopping in Diagon Alley." He took another sip of his tea. "Again, he refused. Only Hogwarts' staff could inform students. I found out who he did send this year while I was teaching there. You know who Albus got to do it?"

Sirius shook his head. He hoped it hadn't been Snape.

"Hagrid."

"Hagrid." Sirius repeated numbly. He loved Hagrid, he did, but if he was asked to choose someone to send to introduce a child to the wizarding world… Hagrid would not have been on his list of candidates – even Snape would have been better. And Harry would have needed a proper introduction by the sound of it.

"Like I said, hexing Albus has been on my list of things to do this year." Remus put the mug down finally. "I wrote back to Albus once Harry began school suggesting perhaps I could begin a correspondence with Harry. Again, the answer was no: Harry was just adjusting to his life in the wizarding world and his unique history. I tried writing to Harry directly anyway and the owl returned just as it always did. Of course, half our world probably tried writing to him in his first year."

Sirius frowned, concerned. It made sense for Harry to have had an owl refusal ward placed on him but clearly exceptions could be made since Sirius's mail had made it to Harry.

"Then out of the blue, Hagrid wrote to me. He was hoping to put together a photo album of James and Lily for Harry." Remus gestured. "I went through my albums and what I had taken from your place and sent them to him. I asked him to let Harry know I would be more than happy to spend time talking Harry through the pictures. Hagrid sent a thank you but nothing more."

Remus rubbed his forehead. "So, once again, I waited until school started and wrote to Albus requesting politely to allow my owl through to Harry."

"You are nothing if not persistent, Moony." Sirius commented dryly. Others would have given up.

"I had nothing to lose," Remus responded, "and I was hoping Albus had run out of excuses."

"But?"

"Albus hadn't run out of excuses." Remus said dryly. "It was another 'please be patient' reply. I probably would have pushed it but I lost my job a week or so later and had to go back to France for work."

Sirius wondered if that had been Dumbledore's doing but he shook the thought away. Surely, even the old man wouldn't have gone to those lengths to deny Remus a place in Harry's life.

Remus smiled and it was not a happy smile but rather a predatory one. "And then you escaped from Azkaban."

"And suddenly Albus needed you." Sirius concluded. He had suspected from his sneaky observations of Harry over the previous months as Padfoot that Remus hadn't been part of Harry's life prior to the school year but he had hoped… "Well, that explains a lot."

"Oh, it doesn't stop there," Remus said, "as soon as he made his offer of employment, Albus said I must promise to let Harry come to me first and not to say anything about his parents until he asked; that it could be upsetting for Harry for me to bring up the topic."

Sirius lurched to his feet, too upset to sit still. "You didn't promise did you?"

Remus held up a hand, "I promised with no real intention of keeping it. Once a Marauder…" he let his voice trail away but Sirius got the message; Remus had intended to find some way of circumventing Albus's wishes. "But then I met Harry and I…I couldn't bring myself to tell him."

"What?" Sirius snapped.

"I pretty much froze." Remus flushed with embarrassment. "I'd been fighting so hard to see Harry that I lost sight of the fact that he wouldn't be the same cheeky chap who called me Mooey and demanded cuddles as soon as I walked in the door. Instead there was this quiet intense thirteen year old boy who didn't know me from Merlin and…I hadn't considered until I actually saw him; what if he doesn't like me? What if he finds out about my furry problem and…" he stopped abruptly.

Sirius paused in his pacing and threw himself into the second visitor's chair opposite Remus. He could understand Remus's position. He'd had his own moments of disorientation with Harry; of trying to reconcile the happy baby he'd loved so unconditionally with the teenage boy he was watching over, had talked to so very briefly; a teenage boy he didn't actually know and who didn't know him. "So you waited."

Remus nodded unhappily. "I realised that I should have just told him as soon as I introduced myself and bugger my lack of courage and Albus's well-intentioned concern." He sighed. "Because that's the thing, Padfoot: on the face of it, all of Albus's actions look like well-intentioned concern and a desire to protect Harry, especially when you consider Harry's role as the Boy Who Lived." He paused again. "Taken individually, none of Albus's actions are sinister."

"He circumvented the system and the will." Sirius pointed out.

"Yes, but did he know for certain the contents of the will? Do you remember if he was a witness?" Remus responded.

Sirius shook his head. He couldn't remember who had been the signed witnesses with any clarity.

"And, without the will, taking Harry to Petunia was probably what the Wizarding Orphan Office would have done anyway," Remus continued, "Petunia is Harry's closest living family. Add to that Harry was probably safer in the muggle world from the Death Eaters looking for revenge at the time, and I'm sure Albus keeping everybody else away from Harry was also meant to ensure that safety." He gave a small shrug. "And, from some comments Albus let slip, I think he hoped Harry would have a normal upbringing since our world had already given itself over to The Boy Who Lived madness."

"Exactly how did that get started?" Sirius asked. "Nobody really knows what happened beyond the bare facts and…"

"Probably a combination of Hagrid and Peter." Remus interrupted. "Hagrid was never the most discreet of the Order and I rather suspect Peter or rather Wormtail was there that night. I think he saw what happened and told the tale to whoever he could as soon as he could to ensure attention was on Harry and away from himself."

"Damn it." Sirius snapped. "If he was there when I was there…"

"Then he knew you would be searching for him." Remus smiled sadly. "It explains why he managed to get the better of you."

Sirius pushed the thought away and refocused on Harry. "OK," he said slowly, "so we provisionally accept that Dumbledore placed Harry with the best of intentions…" When he'd considered the matter alone, he'd reached that conclusion but it was somewhat comforting to know Remus was in agreement.

"But it doesn't explain why he's missed the abuse since." Remus interrupted.

Sirius stilled. "You know that for certain?"

"I ended up spending a great deal of time overseeing detentions for the Weasley twins, Fred and George." Remus began. "Minerva kept giving them to me as revenge for our school days, I think, and…"

"What does this…"

"You remember Ron is Harry's best friend." Remus interrupted. "The twins are in Gryffindor and on the quidditch team with Harry. They're very fond of him; consider him an honorary Weasley."

Sirius's confusion dissipated.

Remus folded his hands over his stomach. "Last week, at the beginning of their detention, I made a comment that I was worried about the home life of a friend of theirs and while I didn't want to put them in the position of breaking confidences, I would appreciate any information they could give me." He sighed. "They immediately knew it was Harry and were very reluctant to talk, but once they began…"

"They couldn't stop." Sirius finished.

Remus's eyes flashed angrily. "The summer after his first year, they found him locked in his room and barely fed. They recovered his trunk from a locked cupboard under the stairs which had an old picture taped up saying 'Harry's Room.' They said that they didn't think Harry had received Christmas or birthday presents. They know his muggle clothes are hand-me-downs. The rest, well, it's all speculative."

Sirius grabbed the arms of the chair, his knuckles turning white.

"When I resigned, I tried to talk to Albus about what the twins had told me and he didn't seem at all surprised." Remus said in a calm tone that belied the furious light in his eyes. "He claimed that while yes, Harry's relatives didn't provide the best care, the Dursleys continued to be the safest place for Harry. In my opinion, he's being wilfully blind not only to the mistreatment, but to the effect such mistreatment has on a child."

Sirius raised his eyebrows at the very evident snarl in the words. "Maybe we should drop this. Neither of us can afford to go after muggles or Dumbledore with murder in mind. We're going to get Harry away from them, I swear."

His friend stared at him for a long moment, but the heat in his eyes faded. "I never thought I'd see the day Sirius Black advocated caution."

"Harry," Sirius said firmly, "is more important than anything. I've learnt my lesson."

"Well said, Sirius." Remus reached over and patted his arm proudly. He hesitated momentarily until Sirius made a get-on-with-it gesture. "I'm just wondering if you want me to tell you about Harry's first two years at Hogwarts?"

"Of course! I want to know all about Harry!" Sirius responded immediately. Why would Remus be so hesitant? He froze. "Did…did something happen?"

Remus sighed heavily. "I'm afraid you're not going to like this."

Chapter Text

"Remember," said Remus, once he'd gotten Sirius to calm down enough to continue, "I got most of this from the twins and some follow-up conversations with my fellow professors."

"You'd better just tell me." Sirius said. "It can't be much worse than what I'm imagining."

Remus smirked. "In Harry's first year Albus hired Voldemort to teach Defence of the Dark Arts."

Sirius's mouth dropped open. He snapped it shut. "He did what?"

"To be fair to Albus he hired a man called Quirrell; Voldemort just happened to be possessing him."

"And Dumbledore didn't know?" Sirius asked, shocked.

Kreacher popped in and delivered a tray with a bottle of Firewhiskey and two tumblers. He disappeared again.

Remus poured Sirius a drink and handed it to him before he poured himself one and retook his seat. "We'll come back to that excellent question later but let me explain properly."

Sirius nodded reluctantly.

"The first story the twins told me was actually about Harry getting on the Quidditch team. Apparently, in their first flying lesson, Malfoy stole something of Neville Longbottom's and took off with it when Hooch was absent. Harry went after Malfoy and when he tossed the item, Harry caught it. Harry has a very low tolerance for bullying."

His old friend gave Sirius a pointed look and Sirius had the grace to blush.

"I wouldn't call what we did bullying; it was pranking." Sirius muttered defensively.

"Pranking the whole school into being green for a day wasn't bullying," Remus agreed, "arguably, hexing Severus constantly just because he and Lily were friends and she wouldn't give James the time of day until our sixth year crossed the line. And I would very much advise that you confess to Harry. He'll respect you more for owning up than insisting that what you did wasn't bullying."

Sirius nodded slowly, although he chafed at both the criticism and the advice. "So, I saw Harry playing Quidditch," he said, changing the subject rather than arguing, "he is brilliant."

Remus's expression softened. "He is, isn't he? And apparently Harry almost falling off his broom is a tradition. In his first game, Quirrell, or rather Voldemort, jinxed his broom trying to kill him."

Harry had almost been killed by Voldemort in his first year? Sirius downed the Firewhiskey and coughed violently when it hit the back of his throat.

"Hermione Granger thought it was Severus and set fire to his robes…"

Sirius almost choked on the laugh that bubbled up. If he hadn't already liked the young witch who had helped Harry save him, that piece of news certainly would have done the trick.

"…and in doing so inadvertently stopped Quirrell – Voldemort." Remus gulped down his Firewhiskey. "The twins then told me it wasn't the only time Harry tangled with him."

Sirius reached over and poured them both another drink. "For the record, this is worse than I was imagining."

"Well, the second tale is worse than the first and it isn't even the last." Remus said, rubbing his forehead tiredly. "Apparently, Hagrid got a dragon egg and it hatched. Harry and his friends got Charlie Weasley who works at a dragon reserve to come and take the dragon in a midnight smuggling expedition. Unfortunately, they got discovered, lost a tremendous number of house points and had to serve detention. Minerva gave the detention to Filch who got convinced by Hagrid to give it to him – no doubt it was Hagrid's way of trying to say sorry for getting them into trouble."

Sirius waited for Remus to continue impatiently.

"He took them into the Forbidden Forest ostensibly to search for an injured unicorn. Harry came across the wraith of Voldemort drinking unicorn blood, and ultimately had to be rescued by a centaur." Remus said.

Sirius carefully downed his second drink. "Well, at least we know he's actually still out there. Voldemort, I mean."

Remus grimaced. "That's not the end of it, Sirius. Harry and his friends worked out that Albus had hidden Flamel's infamous Philosopher's stone in the school and that Voldemort would be after it to get immortality. When they realised Dumbledore was off the grounds at the Ministry, they went to check on Albus's protections, realised they had been breached and went after the potential thief."

"Don't tell me." Sirius slumped back and closed his eyes. He was getting a headache.

"Harry and his friends got past all of the so-called traps and Harry stopped him. The twins didn't know how Harry stopped him because apparently Harry has never talked about it and Hermione had stayed back to look after an injured Ron. What they do know is that at the end of it, Quirrell was gone – dead I suspect given the possession – and Harry…he was in the infirmary for days."

Sirius opened his eyes to see Remus downing his drink. "So, to recap, my godson goes to Hogwarts, supposedly the safest wizarding place in Britain, and survives three encounters with Voldemort in one year?"

"Not to mention, Albus bloody hiring Voldemort and hiding an artefact in the school that was bound to attract him." Remus added tersely.

It was a good point. It led to other good points such as whether Albus Dumbledore had lost the plot entirely…

"You'd better tell me about Harry's second year before I decide to just down the whole bottle." Sirius said, topping them back up.

Remus sighed heavily. "Well, firstly, I believe it relates to one of the items on your blackboard." He pointed his wand at the section entitled Horcrux Hunt and Destroy, and put a strikethrough one item. "Harry has already dealt with the diary."

Almost an hour later, Sirius finished listening to Remus telling the tale of Harry's rescue of Ginny Weasley and shook his head in disbelief. He took one deep breath after another trying to get hold of his whirling emotions. His godson had almost died – again!

"Are you OK, Padfoot?" Remus asked.

Sirius saw that he was regarding him with wary concern. He gestured vaguely at his friend. "I'm just…"

"Trying not to freak out?" Remus completed. "I think I hyperventilated for a good ten minutes."

"About which bit?" Sirius asked tersely. "The bit where Harry is a Parselmouth like Voldemort? Or the bit where the whole school turns on him?" Although in the abstract the twins dubbing of Harry as a Dark Lord was slightly humorous. "Or the bit where he almost gets eaten by Acromantula? Or the bit where he almost gets eaten by a bloody great basilisk, saving some idiotic girl who should know better than to write in a diary that talks back to you! Oh and let's not forget battling with a soul remnant of old Voldepants himself! Again!"

He was yelling by the end of it.

Remus looked at him with raised eyebrows.

Sirius took a deep breath and rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Sorry, Remus. It's just…"

"No, your reaction pretty much mirrored mine after the twins finished telling me." Remus said with a smile. "I did however miss out the idiotic girl section since the idiotic girl in question was a Weasley."

"You always were the diplomat in the group." Sirius said, letting some of his anger drain away; the rest he refocused. "I can't believe Dumbledore wasn't aware of what was going on!"

"Ah, yes. It makes you wonder, doesn't it?" Remus said thoughtfully. "After all, as soon as Fred, or was it George, anyway as soon as one of them mentioned petrification, I immediately began thinking…"

"What creatures can petrify another living being?" Sirius nodded briskly. The same thought had occurred to him during Remus's retelling.

"Not to mention that Slytherin is associated with a snake mascot and since it was clear that the monster was hidden in Slytherin's Chamber of Secrets…" Remus sighed. "I got basilisk before the twins got to the spiders bit."

"Well, you were also the most intelligent of us in the old days, Moony." Sirius joked.

Remus smiled again and they shared a moment of camaraderie tinged with the sadness for all they had lost.

"Anyway," Remus cleared his throat, "I did question Minerva and Pomona after my session with the twins wanting to know why they hadn't discovered it was a basilisk earlier. Albus had told the staff apparently to focus on the students and their classes; that he had an investigation well in hand."

Sirius lurched out of his chair.

"They believed him and made no effort to investigate on their own." Remus frowned. "I don't believe Albus knew exactly where the Chamber was or how to get into it, but I do think he knew that the monster was a basilisk and that Voldemort must have possessed someone in his school again in order for the Chamber to be opened. In some respects, I think Albus was truly doing his best to solve the problem although I abhor his decision to continue as normal putting the students' lives at risk. So, do I think he set-up another showdown between Voldemort and Harry? No."

Sirius stopped pacing and faced Remus, realising what he had implied. "You think he deliberately set-up the showdowns in Harry's first year?"

Remus picked up his discarded Firewhiskey and sipped it. "I've had more time to think about this than you, Padfoot."

Sirius looked at Remus and recognised the look on his face all too well. "I'm not going to like this either, am I?"

"No," Remus said bluntly. "Perhaps you should sit."

Sirius glared at Remus but sat down again.

"Imagine for a moment that you're Albus. You know the common story of the Boy Who Lived told to every child; that Voldemort attacked the Potters, James and Lily died but Harry didn't; that somehow the Killing Curse rebounded off Harry and killed Voldemort. You believe the story to be mostly true but you don't know for certain how Harry survived the Killing Curse although you have theories, and you don't know for certain that Voldemort is dead although again you have theories."

"And if you have theories, you have to test them." Sirius mused.

"Exactly." Remus pointed at Sirius. "Ten points to Gryffindor. So, let's assume Albus keeps his ear to the ground and becomes convinced that Voldemort is out there in a wraith form but trying to find a body."

"The whole Philosopher's stone thing was a trap to establish whether Voldemort was alive or not, wasn't it?" Sirius put things together quickly. "Maybe it wasn't even the real stone."

"I doubt it was and I'm fairly certain the protections were more for show than anything else since, with respect to Harry and his friends, they were first years and able to overcome them." Remus said. "No, I think Albus's plan was fairly simple: bait a trap for Voldemort and see if he showed."

"Only he used both the stone and Harry as bait." Sirius felt his anger stirring again.

"Yes, Albus used Harry as bait." Remus agreed softly. "After all, why else would he wait until Harry was at the school before setting the trap?"

Sirius shivered, chilled by the thought.

Remus gave a huff. "I'm sure that Albus never anticipated Harry trying to protect the stone from Voldemort directly but I think he knew that there was a possibility that Voldemort would attack Harry if there was an opportunity – and if it happened it would allow him to assess his theories about Harry."

Sirius surged to his feet again.

"Sit, Padfoot." Remus ordered crisply. "I'm certain that Albus believed the risk was minimal – Voldemort certainly couldn't attack Harry too overtly without drawing attention – but if an encounter between them occurred…" he sighed, "I'm sure Albus thought in his arrogance that he had the advantage and would be there to step in before anything serious happened. And quite honestly, it isn't just Harry he risked; he placed an entire school full of children at risk with this scheme especially when you consider that Voldemort possessed a teacher."

"Do you think Albus knew it was Quirrell?" Sirius asked, throwing himself back in his chair.

Remus shrugged. "I find it hard to believe that he didn't suspect but I think Albus got too caught up in his grand plan. He wanted to catch Voldemort red-handed trying to get to the stone, fake or real."

"And because of that Harry almost ended up dead." Sirius muttered darkly.

"True and it brings us onto Albus testing theories about Harry and how he survived the Killing Curse." Remus said. "There are three which I'm sure Albus has considered: one, Harry was able to reflect the Killing Curse under his own power probably accidentally in self-defence; two, Lily did something just before she died to protect Harry; three, it was a combination of both."

"I'm going to say for the record that I'm not happy Albus tested Harry." Sirius stated indignantly. "He had no right…"

"I agree," Remus said soothingly, "but intellectually, I can appreciate Albus's curiosity. Aren't you curious?"

"I'm just happy he survived, Remus." Sirius said firmly. "Bollocks to how!"

"And there speaks the Gryffindor." Remus complained. "Honestly, if you can work out how Harry survived the Killing Curse then what can you do with the information?"

"Apply it to others if possible." Sirius replied promptly. "OK, OK, I see your point. So what did Albus conclude from his testing?"

"I don't know," Remus admitted, "but personally I think Albus ruled out number one fairly quickly after Harry's arrival at school."

Sirius frowned. "Why? Harry is a powerful wizard. He was doing magic as a baby! He has a corporeal patronus at thirteen, Moony!"

"Maybe but, DADA aside, he's a solid if unremarkable student for the most part." Remus asserted. "Some of that I think is the company he keeps; Ron is very average and Hermione is too good."

"You think he's deliberately placing himself so his friends don't get jealous?"

"I'm not sure it's deliberate per se, but yes. I would also say having worked one to one with him that some of his power might be suppressed." Remus sighed. "Probably because of the muggles. If he learned as a child that magic was bad and doing odd things was bad then…"

Sirius waved a hand to indicate he'd gotten the point. "So, you think Albus took a look at his grades and ruled out Harry himself as being the cause of his survival. You think Albus decided Lily had done something."

"I do." Remus coughed and looked slightly abashed. "And I know she did."

"You know how…what? What did she do?" Sirius demanded, leaning forward.

"I don't know exactly," Remus qualified, "but she wrote to me just before I left for my last mission, asking my advice on something she had found in an old Runes book covering Witch magic. It was a protection spell. It required the blood of the child and the blood of the mother to arm, and the mother's sacrifice of her own life in protection of the child to activate. It creates, for want of a better explanation, a protective blood ward around the child attached to its very skin. The one who killed the mother would never be able to touch the child without penalty."

Sirius stared at Remus shocked. "Merlin, Remus, that sounds…"

"Like borderline dark magic? That's what I wrote back to her. I told her it wasn't illegal as it wasn't on the list of banned magic but it wouldn't go down well if she used her own child's blood in a spell outside of familial magic." Remus rubbed a hand through his hair. "There were specific conditions that had to be met regarding the sacrifice too – in particular, the attacker had to kill her in order to specifically get to the child. It was a long shot. Lily wrote back telling me that she would do everything she could to protect Harry. That was the last letter I received from her."

"Wait," Sirius said, "you said that the attacker – Voldemort – would have to kill her because she needed to be removed to get to Harry specifically?"

Remus's eyes widened, realising the implication immediately. "You think…well, it makes sense if the spell worked, but…Voldemort was after Harry?"

"Did they ever tell you why they went into hiding, Moony?" Sirius asked. "James just told me that Dumbledore had received some information and they thought it was a good idea."

"They told me the same thing but…" Remus tapped his fingers on the arm of the chair. "The Longbottoms went into hiding at the same time didn't they? Because of the same intelligence? Neville was born around the same time as Harry…but why would Voldemort target the children unless…" he stopped abruptly, as the pieces of the puzzle slid together suddenly. "What if there was a bloody prophecy?"

"I know who could probably answer that." Sirius said dryly. "Not that he will."

"No, if Albus thought there was a prophecy, he'd keep it close to his vest." Remus growled angrily.

Kreacher popped back in with a tray of food for dinner and they both fell silent lost in their own thoughts as they focused on the meal.

"OK," Sirius said, pushing his plate away and reaching for the pumpkin juice, "so let's recap what we know."

Remus nodded. "James and Lily went into hiding because of information that Albus provided to them. We assume this is a prophecy probably concerning Harry." He pointed his wand at the plan on the blackboard and added an item 'Check with the DOM whether a prophecy for Harry is registered.'

"Peter rats them out and Voldemort tries to kill…" Sirius swallowed against the hard lump in his throat, "tries to kill Harry but Lily protects him with this old blood protection spell. Voldemort is…defeated but not killed."

"I don't think it was the blood protection alone," Remus corrected, "I think the curse hit the ward, and while it couldn't stop it, it slowed it down enough that it gave Harry time to reflect it back at Voldemort. The scar is where the curse effectively came into contact with the protection otherwise it shouldn't have left a mark."

"I thought you said Dumbledore ruled out Harry's power as a cause?" Sirius asked confused.

"I'm sure Albus did," Remus stressed, "I, on the other hand, take into account that Harry showed signs of being a very powerful wizard before that moment, and I take into account that he's likely repressed his power since in order to live with the muggles without further incurring their wrath. Of the three theories on why Harry survived the Killing Curse, I plump for the last, that a combination of Lily and Harry enabled it."

"Well, I would never bet against you so…" Sirius waved his hand majestically at Remus, "moving on, I stupidly give up Harry to Hagrid, get framed by the rat and hoisted off to Azkaban."

"And Albus places Harry with his aunt, his closest living relative." Remus shuddered.

"And the closest blood relative." Sirius added thoughtfully. "You know Lily placed blood wards on her sister's muggle house – said after the attack on her parents that she wasn't taking any chances with what little family she had left whether her sister wanted the protection or not."

"Really?" Remus blinked. "You're thinking something which is usually not a good thing." He prompted when Sirius remained silent.

"What if Dumbledore examined Harry and realised there was a protection based on blood surrounding him and got the wrong idea?" Sirius posited. "What if he assumed the blood wards around Petunia's house had been placed there for Harry in case something happened to Lily? An extension of the protection she'd already placed on him?"

"Magically it would work," Remus said, turning over the idea in his head, "Lily's blood in both wards…both protective in nature…possibly Harry residing within the house enabled the blood ward around it to be maintained otherwise it would have needed Lily renewing the protection every year. It's entirely possible that the Dursley house is the safest place for Harry from a magical perspective."

"Well, bugger that." Sirius said forcefully. "It obviously isn't the safest place for Harry from every other perspective."

"Agreed," Remus said. He narrowed his eyes as Sirius pointed his wand at the blackboard. 'Review wards' appeared.

Sirius got to his feet, restless again. "Where were we on our recap?"

"Albus placed Harry with Petunia…"

"And left him in exile in the muggle world for ten long years." Sirius shook his head. "I don't think I'm going to forgive him for that."

"I'm not sure I'm in a mood to forgive him either." Remus muttered. He pushed himself out of the chair and walked over to the blackboard. "Harry turns eleven, gets his Hogwarts letter and Hagrid reintroduces him to the wizarding world."

"Badly."

"Quite." Remus said. He added a section to the plan entitled 'Education' and wrote another item to the growing list: 'teach Harry wizarding culture, etiquette and his heritage.' He cleared his throat. "Harry goes to Hogwarts where Albus tests him to find out more about how Harry survived the Killing Curse and wrongly assumes it is down to Lily's protection rather than any outstanding ability on Harry's part." Another item appeared under 'Protecting Harry:' 'research Lily's spell.'

"Harry defeats Voldepants again," Sirius added, "and Dumbledore gets his proof that Voldemort is alive in some form." He walked up and tapped the horcrux section. "And we know why."

"Although probably at that point in the timeline, Albus doesn't as there are a number of dark rituals that could have anchored Voldemort to this plane." Remus murmured. "No, Albus doesn't find out until Harry's second year when Harry destroys the diary horcrux." He sighed. "It's possible Albus is out searching for others."

Sirius shrugged. "If he is he's not made much progress. I have the benefit of Reg's note so have an idea of the number. I have the locket horcrux and can get my hands on the cup one if I seize the LeStrange vault. We'll need help to find out how to dispose of them and track down the three missing ones but I'll be damned if I'm going to Dumbledore."

"You don't know how to dispose of them?"

"I know how to create a horcrux – that was part of the Advanced section in Dark Arts my father made me learn, but disposing of them…no. I guess I can ask Harry how he did it."

"The Unspeakables might know." Remus offered. "You have 'conquer the Ministry' under your 'Take Over the World' section. It wouldn't hurt to use them nor the DMLE come to that – they should be informed that Voldemort is still a viable threat and I suspect Albus hasn't said anything to them."

"Let's come back to that." Sirius said briskly, twirling his wand, "OK, so after Harry's second year, Albus knows how Voldemort stayed alive-ish. Then I realise Peter is at Hogwarts and, well, we know what happened next; I ended up having to be rescued by Harry and escaping on a hippogriff."

Remus patted his shoulder. "But you've stayed, Sirius. You haven't allowed Albus to run you off again." He pointed at the blackboard. "This needs some work but it's a solid plan to get Harry away from the Dursleys and try to protect him in the future." He turned to his friend, determination shining in his eyes. "I'm not going to let Albus run me off either. Whatever you need, Padfoot; I'm in."

Chapter Text

Part 2: Securing Guardianship of Pronglet (The Fudge Prank)

June 20th 1994

"Brian!" Cornelius Fudge greeted the solicitor warmly. "It's good to see you again."

"It's good to see you too, Cornelius." Brian Cutter clasped Cornelius's outstretched hand and shook it firmly. They had attended Hogwarts together and had been dorm mates if not close friends. He knew in part, it was their old relationship which had helped Brian finesse getting an appointment with Cornelius so quickly. His eyes glanced towards the witch standing next to Cornelius in mute query as to why she was in attendance.

"Oh, this is Dolores Umbridge, my Senior Undersecretary; Dolores, I'm sure you remember Brian of Cutter, Glock and Baron." Cornelius introduced them absently, waving a hand as they made the necessary handshake.

"Of course," Dolores simpered, "although I must say I am surprised at the request to see our good Minister so urgently."

Brian smiled at her. "It's good to meet you, Madame Umbridge. I've heard many things from associates about your work at the Ministry."

It was the tone that flattered not the content and Brian only just stopped himself from smiling as Dolores blushed coquettishly.

"However," Brian continued, "I am afraid this is a matter of some delicacy and I'm sure you will understand that I need to speak with the Minister alone."

The brief flicker of anger across that passed over her features indicated otherwise and she looked at the Minister obviously expecting him to request her presence.

"It's fine, Dolores," Cornelius made a shooing motion at her towards the door, "I'll speak with you later if there is a need."

Dolores gave a sharp unhappy nod. She mouthed words of farewell to Brian and made her exit.

Cornelius sighed. "My apologies, Brian. She seems to think I can't function without her and truthfully she is very useful."

Brian raised his wand. "Do you mind if I secure the area?"

Cornelius raised an eyebrow. "My office is one of the most secure places in Britain, Brian."

"This is a matter of…"

"Some delicacy." Cornelius finished. "Very well."

Brian quickly set up the strongest privacy ward he could that would also render any listening or visual spying spells or artefacts useless. He took the seat Cornelius offered and declined an offer of refreshment. Instead he opened his briefcase and pulled out a single piece of parchment.

Cornelius accepted it with a frown and began reading.

"Mr Cutter,

I wish to retain your representation in the matter of Sirius Black.

Upon recently taking up the Lordship of the House of Black, I was disturbed by his escape from Azkaban and more recently Hogwarts. Upon further investigation I have been more deeply disturbed at irregularities in his initial imprisonment. I now understand that there is a Kiss on sight order which if my concerns are warranted would mean a serious miscarriage of justice and one which would displease me greatly if proven valid.

To that end, I authorise you to approach the Ministry on my behalf to request a special investigation so this matter may be resolved to my satisfaction – either in clearing Sirius Black or placing him back into custody. Funds will be made available to the Ministry from the Black vaults if they do not have sufficient leeway in their current budget.

Yours faithfully,

Lord Black"

Brian watched as Cornelius set the paper down carefully on his desk.

"There is a new Lord Black?" Cornelius asked.

"Yes," Brian confirmed, "the letters I have received have carried the legal seal of the House; Gringotts have confirmed payment of our retainer from the Black vaults."

"I'm surprised," Cornelius said grumpily, "it was thought that the title would go to Lucius Malfoy's heir upon his coming of age."

"It is possible the Malfoy heir could have claimed when he was old enough, but there are others already of age in lesser known lines who would have equal magical claim as they descend from daughters of the House just as the Malfoy boy does. It has never been publically known who the last Lord Black named legal heir." Brian informed him smoothly.

Cornelius made an unhappy noise.

"From our correspondence, I've ascertained that our client is abroad presently and wants this matter of Sirius Black cleared up before he arrives in England and presents himself to the Wizengamot." His client had agreed to allow that much about his identity to be shared and Brian didn't question his caution. "Not surprisingly when you think about it as Sirius himself is probably still the rightful blood heir as he is the issue of the primary male line."

"I'm not sure there's anything to be cleared up." Cornelius argued, sitting back in his chair. "Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban and is a dangerous criminal responsible for the deaths of the Potters, the hero Pettigrew and those muggles. Everybody knows that and I am certain Lucius will challenge, on behalf of his son, this new Lord Black's claim to the House."

There was a stubborn cast to his expression that Brian knew well from their school days. Brian figured he knew what the problem was; Lucius Malfoy had planned on gaining the House of Black's prestige and wealth for his son and undoubtedly had influenced Cornelius into a hard line position on Sirius who was the blood heir.

"Lucius can't challenge on Draco's behalf, Cornelius," Brian murmured calmly, "he has no legal or magical basis to do so as the Black family magic has clearly accepted someone else. I can't see the Wizengamot allowing a challenge against family magic to be heard – it would create too much of a precedent. Additionally, Lord Black outranks Lucius. The Malfoys married into the Black family and so Lord Black has primacy under their marriage contract. Lucius will need to respect Lord Black's dictates including those about Sirius Black."

Cornelius assimilated that news with pursed his lips. Brian also knew the new Lord Black's political agenda could be guessed somewhat from Brian's appointment as his representation. Cutter, Glock and Baron generally represented neutral wizarding families. He could almost see Cornelius draw the correct conclusion that Lucius Malfoy was about to be neutered and removed as a person of influence in the political landscape; that the extreme pro-Pureblood agenda Malfoy espoused was about to be challenged. He had a feeling that Cornelius would see the way the wind was blowing and do the expedient thing: support the more powerful Lord Black.

"I assume Lucius has been informed there is a new Lord Black?" Cornelius inquired.

Ah, Brian thought, pleased; Cornelius was trying to establish when he could go against Malfoy's wishes and side with Black openly.

"Family members were to be notified today and I understand that there will be a family meeting once Lord Black returns to England." Brian said. "As I've said I believe that Lord Black wants this matter of Sirius Black cleared up by then so that he can take his position publically without having to comment on a situation he feels is ambiguous." He gestured expansively. "He can't make a statement supportive of the Ministry if he believes there is a potential miscarriage of justice in play."

Cornelius hummed and sat back, contemplatively. "There were questions raised when Black was captured at Hogwarts. I dismissed them at the time because it seemed so unlikely that he could be innocent, and the comments were made by children who had just undergone something of a traumatic event with a werewolf and a few Dementors." He peered at Brian. "Lord Black mentioned irregularities with the initial conviction?"

Brian hid his smile as Cornelius effectively asked to be given an excuse to open up an investigation. "I examined the official records. There's an arrest sheet and some witness statements taken at the scene of the explosion; the evidence of Pettigrew's finger. The witness statements confirm Pettigrew shouted something accusatory at Black about the Potters, and then there was a blast near to Pettigrew. Black's wand was taken from him but it was never examined. The arresting Auror, Moody, noted Black appeared to be in severe shock with emotional mood swings ranging from hysterical laughter to – and I quote 'agonised weeping.' He did note Black had been overheard to mutter 'it's my fault' in his hysterical state but Moody also explicitly stated that it couldn't be deemed a confession as Black was in no condition to understand his legal rights." He took a moment to pause dramatically. "The only other item in that file, Cornelius, is an order from Crouch, counter-signed by Bagnold, to transport Black to Azkaban. No charges were actually filed; no medical treatment was given; no interrogation record exists. I can't find a trial transcript and there is no record on the court register of a trial taking place even."

"He wasn't questioned or given a trial?" Cornelius looked suitably shocked.

"It appears not." Brian said solemnly. "Lord Black's concerns seem warranted."

Cornelius huffed, clasping his hands over his corpulent stomach. "I had no idea."

"Why would you?" Brian demurred. "It's the previous administration who is at fault."

Cornelius's eyes lit up. "Indeed, the previous administration."

Brian knew he'd taken the bait. He brushed the front of his robes in an absentminded gesture that was anything but. "Far be it for me to advise you on the way forward, old friend, but…no, I shouldn't…"

"Please, Brian, if you can help me find a way through this difficult matter, I would be grateful." Cornelius said.

"I would hand this to Amelia Bones. She is in charge of the DMLE and the situation with Black is under her jurisdiction and the Auror office." Brian suggested calmly. "Tell her about your discovery of the irregularities in the original case and to verify the claims the children made at Hogwarts. Say nothing publically, or to anyone else, until she has completed her investigation and come to a conclusion. In the meanwhile, I will inform Lord Black you are moving forward with an investigation as he has requested."

Cornelius blew out a long breath and nodded. He tapped a interoffice communications mirror on his desk and looked meaningfully at Brian who hastily took down the privacy ward. "Amelia, can you come to my office immediately, please?"

"Of course, Minister." Amelia replied briskly.

Brian replaced the privacy ward as Cornelius tapped the mirror closed. "One more thing, Cornelius, I feel I should alert you to in regards to Lord Black."

Cornelius nodded eagerly for him to continue.

"He has taken control of Sirius Black's vault and has a copy of the Potters' last will and testament. Sirius Black is listed as Harry Potter's guardian in the event of their deaths should Frank and Alice Longbottom be unable to assume guardianship." Brian said crisply. "I've been instructed to prepare guardianship papers." He looked at Cornelius. "He believes as I do that Albus Dumbledore who organised the current guardianship situation for the Potter boy will seek to block any attempt to challenge it."

In Brian's opinion the sooner they got Harry Potter away from his muggle relatives the better. He had met with Petunia Dursley the day before and her willingness to sign away her rights to the boy on the promise of a bit of gold and a new house was alarming.

Cornelius's eyes sharpened. "Any guardianship claim would be judged on its own merits. Personally, I've never been happy that the boy was placed with muggles. You know there was an incident last summer that caused him to run away?"

Brian was about to reply when there was a rap on the door and Amelia entered with sharp efficient grace that spoke of her Auror training. "You wished to see me, Cornelius?" Her dark eyes landed on Brian. "Brian."

"Amelia." Brian stood and took her hand in his, placing a kiss against her knuckles. "Always a pleasure, but I'm afraid I'm here on business."

Cornelius waved Amelia into the second visitor's chair and handed her the letter from Lord Black. She took it and read it through her monocle. She glanced at Brian and back to Cornelius. "Well, a new Lord Black will certainly put the cat among the pigeons. What are the irregularities to which he refers?"

"Sirius Black never received a trial." Brian informed her.

"Indeed," Cornelius said, "which is most troubling." He clasped his hands together and looked at her sharply. "You see the problem?"

She pressed her lips together. "You're going to acquiesce to a full investigation?"

"Yes, under your personal jurisdiction given the sensitivity, Amelia." Cornelius cleared his throat. "When Black was captured at Hogwarts Harry Potter claimed Black was innocent and Peter Pettigrew was alive. Obviously I didn't take him seriously at the time because, well, I believed he had been traumatised by Dementors and a werewolf and confunded by Black because everybody knows Pettigrew died and Black was his killer. However, now that I understand there wasn't a trial…I'm forced to reconsider whether Potter was telling the truth."

"I see," Amelia said mildly, "I rather wish you had told informed me or the Auror office while school was in session. Hogwarts broke up for Summer last week. Potter's probably back with his muggle relatives and I can't see Albus Dumbledore giving up the address."

"Perhaps there were other witnesses present?" Brian asked smoothly. He didn't want to reveal his own knowledge.

Cornelius clapped his hands and pointed at Amelia. "The werewolf? And some other Professor – Snoop?"

"Severus Snape and Remus Lupin." Amelia noted. "My niece was most upset that Lupin had resigned from the school; said he was the best teacher they've had for DADA."

"There was also a boy and a girl with Potter, friends of his." Cornelius added. "I'm afraid I don't remember their names although the boy had bright red hair."

"That would be a Weasley then. Susan should be able to say which as she's in the same year." Amelia said. "I'll pull the original Sirius Black file and get started immediately." She handed the parchment back to Brian. "Perhaps, Minister, we could rescind the Kiss on sight order in the meantime? If Black is potentially innocent, we can't be seen to have executed him without a trial."

Cornelius nodded. "A wise precaution, Amelia. Get it done immediately." He leaned forward. "Amelia, if possible, I'd like this done without involving Albus. He seems to overreact to anything to do with the Potter boy and there seems some evidence that the House of Black could challenge for guardianship of Potter according to the terms of the Potters' will."

Amelia sneaked another look at Brian.

Brian nodded. "Sirius Black was named as a potential guardian in the event of the Potters' deaths. Frank and Alice Longbottom were first which at the time must have made sense – they were married and settled with a baby of their own unlike Black – but now…"

"Indeed," Cornelius said sympathetically, "they're hardly able to take Potter. But if the new Lord Black is suitable we would have to take a claim seriously."

"I understand," Amelia said dryly, rising to her feet, "I'll be discreet."

"Reports to myself only, Amelia." Cornelius waited until she was out of the door before he turned to Brian who had stood at the same time as Amelia. "I'll update you as soon as I receive news. Please convey my apologies to Lord Black for the irregularities and thank him for bringing them to my attention."

Brian shook hands with Cornelius. "I will, Cornelius, and thank you for your time and your efforts to resolve this. Should I arrange for the funds to be transferred?"

Cornelius smiled. "A donation to assist would be appreciated."

Brian left the Ministry smiling; Lord Black was going to be a happy man.

o-O-o

Reg swept into the dining room, did a fly over Remus, and landed next to Sirius. Sirius swiped his hand on a napkin and took the dangling letter.

"Lord Black,

Fudge has taken the bait.

Brian."

"Short, succinct and good news." Sirius passed the parchment to a tired looking Remus.

"Do you think Brian knows you're Lord Black?" Remus asked worriedly. He poked at the fish on his plate uninterestedly.

"Probably," Sirius demurred, "but he won't ask to give himself plausible deniability." He grinned. "I'm sure Fudge is clueless."

"Thankfully." Remus agreed dryly.

Kreacher popped in and slapped a letter beside the werewolf before popping out again.

"Good, the Gringotts mail diversion service is working." Remus said with relief. All other owls except Hooter, Reg and Hedwig would get diverted to Gringotts who alerted Kreacher to collect the letters. He opened the parchment and nodded at Sirius. "I'm to present myself to Madame Bones to give a statement about the events at Hogwarts concerning Sirius Black." He tilted his head. "Tomorrow – she doesn't waste time."

"Good," Sirius said, "because I've lost too much of it already."

Chapter Text

Amelia frowned at the diagram on the parchment in front of her – the Unspeakables' mock-up of the street and explosion that Sirius Black has supposedly caused.

The Unspeakable had noted that the spell Black had used would have had to travel through Pettigrew to impact directly behind him. Of course, perhaps the spell had been overpowered, obliterated Pettigrew – although the lack of physical evidence of his demise beyond a finger and a bloodied robe was bemusing – and then struck. But the angles were wrong; the impact suggested the spell had been shot from directly above.

Unfortunately there was also the small problem that Black's wand which Amelia had retrieved from evidence storage showed only a stunner, some disillusionment and stealth spells (which made sense if he was hiding from Aurors), and an infant healing charm (which she assumed he had used on the Potter child). According to his wand, Black hadn't blown anything up.

Nothing added up but especially that healing spell. The assumption in the statements was that Black had betrayed the Potters leading Voldemort to them only for Rubeus Hagrid to thwart Black's attempt to finish off the baby. Everyone assumed Black had panicked and given up the baby to Hagrid to make his escape (although contrarily he had also given up his best mode of transportation at the same time). But if Black had healed the baby…if his intent hadn't been to harm the child…

A knock on the door had her placing the parchment back into the file and calling for her first witness to enter.

Alastor Moody limped into her office. His scarred face creased happily as he grinned at her while his magical eye examined the room for hidden dangers. "Amelia."

"Alastor. How are you? Enjoying retirement?" Amelia shook hands with her old mentor and waved him into a seat.

"Albus has asked me to teach next year." Alastor snorted, sitting down with a thump. He pointed at her badly hidden wince. "I did the same thing. Who wants to teach a school full of kids?"

"Although I'm sure you'd be good for them, Alastor." Amelia said with sincerity. Moody had been their best Auror instructor.

"Told Albus he was an idiot." Alastor said brusquely.

"Speaking of Albus, Alastor," Amelia said bluntly, "the rest of this conversation is subject to your Auror oath. He's not to be told about any of it and if I find that he knows something and he picked it out of your head, I'll have your head on a pike."

"Understood." Alastor said, his good eye gleaming with curiosity. "You're reinvestigating Black?" He pointed at the file.

She blew out a breath and nodded. "He didn't receive a trial, Alastor. Officially, I'm building the case for when we recapture him."

Alastor's eyebrows rose. "Well that explains why you rescinded the Kiss on sight." He shifted position slightly. "And unofficially?"

"Unofficially, it's beginning to look as though a giant cock-up was made." Amelia said simply. "Most of the evidence of his guilt seems to consist of 'because we know he did it' hearsay."

He took a moment and sighed. "So I assume you want my take as Lead Auror at his capture?"

"Please." Amelia set up a diction quill and waved her wand to initiate it.

"On October thirty-first, nineteen-eighty-one, the Auror's office received a communication from Albus Dumbledore that James and Lily Potter had died in a confrontation with Voldemort. Their baby, Harry Potter, had somehow survived and Voldemort himself was dead. Black had arrived at the scene afterwards but found Rubeus Hagrid had already taken custody of the baby on Albus's orders. Hagrid left Black there, Black loaning him the use of his motorbike. At the time of Albus's communication, the baby was at Hogwarts receiving medical treatment while Albus sorted out a safe place for him – he'd sent Minerva McGonagall to do a reccy of some muggle house."

Alastor recounted the events briskly. "I knew the Potters had gone under a Fidelius charm and believed as Albus did that Black was the Secret Keeper for the Potters and must have betrayed them. Albus confirmed the Fidelius was down so I took a team to Godric's Hollow and established that the bare facts as had been reported to us seemed to be in order. I left men securing the bodies and house from scavengers and gawkers while another team of us including a team of Hit Wizards from Black's own department picked up Black's apparition trail."

Amelia nodded. "And then?"

"The trail was a funny one." Alastor said. "Black was muddying his own trail enough to delay us but not to throw us off course. The techniques he was using are typical in Hit Wizard undercover work where it has to appear the undercover is covering up his trail but in truth they're leaving enough for us to follow. And he wasn't making for the Continent which would have been the obvious exit route for him." He sighed. "When we finally caught up with Black, Pettigrew was a finger, the street was filled with dead muggles and Black was on his knees, laughing hysterically. We arrested him, took his wand and put him in a cell – he was too out of it for questioning. Crouch refused to send for a healer."

"You noted Black was suffering from shock?" Amelia queried.

"And concussion, bruising and a variety of cuts and scrapes. He had a lump the size of a grapefruit on his head. I healed what I could but he was hysterical, laughing one minute, weeping the next." Alastor stated tersely. "I went home, came back the next morning and found he'd been transported to Azkaban overnight on Crouch's order. I wrote up my report and Crouch had me back out hunting Death Eaters again before the end of the day. You remember those days, Amelia, the department was chaos. I admit I forgot about Black and I just assumed he'd had his day in court at some point, been found guilty and thrown back to Azkaban."

"I think that was everyone's assumption." Amelia tapped her fingers impatiently on the file. "In hindsight, Alastor, what are your thoughts?"

"It never made sense to me that Black betrayed the Potters." Alastor answered after a long silence. "James Potter and Sirius Black were brilliant as partners through the Hit Wizard boot-camp training we did back then. The idea that one would betray the other was inconceivable. When Black muttered that it was his fault during his arrest, it sounded to me like he was taking responsibility for a plan that had gone wrong – I'd heard him say the same thing in the same tone when we lost a man on a mission he'd led."

"Black was a brilliant Hit Wizard." Amelia remembered. She hadn't known him well – she'd been a senior Auror with her own team and missions – but the scuttlebutt about him and Potter had been impressive.

"He was bloody brilliant," Alastor stated bluntly, "and his take-down rate was exceptional." He stabbed her desk with a finger. "If anyone had asked me who was the least likely to be a Death Eater, my answer would have been Black: he took out far too many of them to be one of them. The way he killed Pettigrew didn't make any sense because Black was skilled enough to make it a clean hit without blowing up the street." He sighed. "My immediate theory for Black's betrayal was the Imperius. That once he came back to himself, he went insane with grief and wasn't thinking clearly. That when Pettigrew caught up with him, he didn't know what he was doing and lashed out. It was the only thing that made sense to me."

Amelia mulled it over. It was a credible theory – explained Black's actions with the baby but not the lack of an explosive spell – and if true, it would mean Black heading for the secure ward at Saint Mungo's and not Azkaban.

"Of course my theory doesn't explain why Pettigrew went after Black on his own-some." Alastor continued. "I'd, uh, met him a couple of times and he was a good kid but he never struck me as the avenging angel type: Black, yes; Pettigrew, no."

Amelia made a snap decision and stopped the quill. "Alastor, there is new evidence about Black that has surfaced with his recent exploits at Hogwarts. It seems Pettigrew could be alive. I'd like you to sit in, disillusioned while I interview the witnesses. They're due to arrive in an hour."

Alastor agreed. They went over the little evidence they had and Alastor was as disturbed by the wand and forensic evidence as Amelia was. As the hour for the interviews drew close, Alastor sat out of the way, disillusioned with a silencing charm around himself.

Remus Lupin arrived five minutes early and Amelia allowed him entry, taking in the new, if simple, clothing he wore, the scars of his lycanthropy and the pleasant demeanour. She shook his hand and explained the procedure, made him take an oath of secrecy, and set the quill to record.

"Mister Lupin, you've been called here today to give evidence in the case of Sirius Black concerning events at Hogwarts. I'd like to focus specifically on the night Black was caught and escaped." Amelia began. She motioned at him to speak.

"It was the night of the full moon and I was in my office when I happened to glance at a map of Hogwarts that I and some friends constructed when we attended the school."

"Friends?" queried Amelia.

Lupin's lips quirked. "James Potter, Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew."

Amelia hadn't realised he'd known them, but then she was a good twenty years older than Potter and Black, and Lupin hadn't joined the Department as they had done. She nodded slowly. "You happened to glance at a map?"

"The map is charmed to show every individual and their position within the school and surrounding grounds. I noticed that Sirius and Peter were both on the map very close to Harry – Harry Potter – and his friends." Lupin winced slightly. "I was shocked to see Peter as I had believed like everyone else that he was dead."

"Your testimony is that he's alive?" Amelia asked pointedly.

"Oh, he's alive alright." Lupin growled. "I immediately realised that Sirius was innocent of killing him and if he was innocent of killing Peter then…"

Amelia inclined her head in understanding. "You wondered if he was also innocent of killing the Potters?"

Lupin gave a small nod of acknowledgement. "Yes, and why Peter had felt it necessary to lie about his continued existence. I ran out to the Shrieking Shack to confront Peter and Sirius." He picked up the glass of water Amelia had supplied and drank a sip. "When I got there, Peter was still in his rat form…"

"He's an animagus?" Amelia interrupted.

"Yes, and he'd been living for years as the Weasleys' pet rat." Lupin breathed in deeply, clearly trying to control his anger. "Severus Snape turned up and well, Severus has a history of bad blood between myself, Sirius and James; he was determined to capture Sirius and his behaviour alarmed the children. The children's disarming spells went awry and he got knocked out. We finally confronted Peter and the truth came out: Peter had been the Secret Keeper. Peter had known Sirius knew he had betrayed James and Lily and so set him up. It was Peter who cut off his finger and blew up the gas main in the muggle street. Peter transformed into a rat immediately to escape the explosion, disappearing into the sewers."

"What happened then?" Amelia prompted when he fell silent.

"We bound Peter and started back towards the school, only I'd forgotten about the moon and as soon as I got outside…" Lupin grimaced. "Sirius was able to run me off and ensure I didn't hurt anyone. It was entirely careless of me."

"But unintentional." Amelia noted. "I'll have to make a note of the incident in your official registration file as this statement will be a matter of public record but I'll also state that it has been explained to my satisfaction and you're cleared of intentional harm."

"Thank you." Lupin said somewhat embarrassed.

"Please continue." Amelia prompted.

"Well, I'm not sure what happened next as I was in my werewolf form but I've been told Peter escaped." He sighed heavily. "I woke up the next morning to the reports of Sirius escaping and the news that the Minister had refused to believe his innocence without Peter to prove it." He paused. "I was…am devastated about that; it was my fault Peter got free and to think Sirius has been innocent all this time and locked away in Azkaban…" His head snapped up and he looked at Amelia firmly. "I'm willing to take veritaserum to confirm my testimony and I can provide a memory if you have a pensieve."

"Thank you, that won't be necessary at this time." Amelia replied quietly. "Have you had contact with Sirius Black since your departure from Hogwarts?"

Lupin reached into his robes and pulled out a piece of parchment. He handed it to her. It was blank. She looked at him questioningly.

"Tap it with your wand and say 'I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.'" Lupin suggested, wrestling with a smile.

Amelia followed his instructions. A short number of words filled the page; Black was somewhere sunny, safe. He wanted Lupin to keep an eye on Harry. She waved her wand over the parchment but her detection spells for tracing came back negative: Sirius Black had done a good job of hiding his trail. She put the parchment down and considered Lupin carefully. "I'll have to keep this."

"I thought you might."

She reached over and stopped the quill. "Thank you for your testimony." She said. "If Black contacts you again, please tell him that we're investigating the original case and if he turns himself in, we'll make sure he gets fair treatment. The Kiss on sight order has been cancelled."

"I have to admit to being surprised that you're investigating at all." Lupin said. "From what I was told, the Minister was convinced Severus's version of events was the only one that mattered."

"New evidence has come to light that has made the Minister revise that opinion." Amelia said smoothly. "Hence the questioning."

"Will you be interviewing Harry and his friends?" Lupin asked as he got to his feet. "And Severus presumably?"

"Miss Granger and Mister Weasley are due in for questioning this afternoon and I decided to speak with you all first before bringing in Professor Snape." Amelia said. Susan's recount of the gossip from Hogwarts about what had happened had indicated a rift between Snape and the other witnesses. Moreover, it was a matter of public record that Snape had been Albus Dumbledore's spy in the Death Eaters and she was concerned if she contacted him, Dumbledore would get wind of the investigation and seek to poke his nose in it. Harry, however… "Unfortunately, I have no address for Mister Potter as that information is held by Dumbledore on a need to know basis only."

"I have the address if you want it." Lupin gestured towards some parchment and Amelia offered him a quill. He scribbled it down. "I would advise you that Harry's relatives deeply dislike the wizarding world. It may be better to write or telephone the muggle way to agree a suitable time." He motioned with his wand over the parchment. "It's charmed so only you can read it now. I agree with Albus inasmuch that Harry's whereabouts should be kept need to know but Harry would want to help Sirius."

"I assume Dumbledore gave you the contact details as an old friend of the family?" Amelia commented, thinking about Lupin's advice on Harry's family and what it meant for the Boy Who Lived's home environment.

Lupin shook his head. "Albus refused me access – for Harry's safety I'm sure. But I know Petunia's name – I'd met her through Lily of course. It isn't hard to track her down with muggle directories."

Amelia shook her head, trying to make sense of that. "I see."

She stood up and he followed her to the door. She shook his hand and kept hold of it when he would have pulled away. "My niece was most disappointed you left Hogwarts. I hope you've found a new position?"

"I have but my employment oath prevents me from saying anything further." Lupin replied without hesitation.

Amelia was intrigued but let him go. She was about to close the door when she saw Arthur Weasley walking down the corridor with his son. She waited and ushered them inside.

Ronald Weasley's story gave additional context to how they'd all ended up in the Shrieking Shack – Black ambushing him – and how they had all ended up in the infirmary – Dementors attacking which was a horror story all of its own. But it also substantiated the main part of Remus Lupin's evidence: Peter Pettigrew had lived as the Weasleys' rat for years; he was alive; he was responsible for the deaths of the Potters and the muggles not Black.

Arthur was pale after the boy's tale, his freckles standing out sharply. He had kept a hand on Ronald's shoulder throughout in silent paternal support.

"Does this mean Sirius will be set free?" Ron asked at the end of the interview.

"We're examining all the evidence." Amelia said kindly. "In the meantime, remember this is confidential and you can't discuss this with anyone, not even your friends or the Headmaster." She looked over at Arthur. "Do you want to press charges against Black for his assault on Ronald?"

"No!" Ron said loudly. He blushed bright red as his father raised his eyebrows at him. "Sirius was after the rat not me! Please, Dad, Harry will never forgive me and…" he shot Amelia a look and inched closer to his father, whispering in his ear.

Amelia caught the gist of it despite the attempt at low volume: Sirius was Harry's godfather and could get Harry away from the awful Dursleys.

Arthur considered his son seriously. He sighed and looked over at Amelia with a small shake of his head. "Since his intention wasn't to harm Ron, I'll decline, and besides, I think he's probably already suffered enough if he's spent twelve years in Azkaban as an innocent man. If that's all, Amelia?"

She nodded and Arthur nudged Ron into standing up. Amelia considered that it was going to be interesting to see Harry Potter's home and his relatives. She'd barely finished the muggle letter informing the Dursleys of her intended visit and arranged for her secretary to send it when the Grangers arrived.

Hermione Granger's testimony was the most comprehensive. She confirmed everything the others had said, and added a tremendous amount of detail that spoke to an eidetic memory. She also expressed hope of Sirius being cleared for Harry's sake.

It was late by the time they left. Alastor removed his disillusionment and took the seat opposite her again. Amelia sent for some tea. She poured Alastor's (black, no sugar) and sat back with her own (black with a squeeze of lemon).

"Your thoughts, Alastor?"

"Well, first things first: their story about Black and Pettigrew back in 'eight-one makes sense of the evidence." Alastor stated. "Black wasn't the Secret Keeper so he didn't betray the Potters and he handed over the baby because there was never any intent to harm the lad. He went after Peter knowing we'd be likely following him hence laying the trail for us. He never fired on Pettigrew so no spell registered on his wand. Pettigrew cut off his finger and escaped which is why we don't find a trace of the rest of his body." He sighed heavily. "Lupin's a good witness. I met him a couple of times back then and he was always the most serious of them. I feel I did Black a grave disservice in not following up on him after he was sent to Azkaban."

"You weren't one of the signatories on the order that sent him there, Alastor," Amelia reminded him, "Bagnold and Crouch are at fault. Dumbledore was Chief Warlock and also should have checked there was a trial. There's going to be plenty of blame to go around."

Alastor winced. "In everyone's defence, it was a chaotic time."

"I'm more concerned at the complete lack of adherence to procedure at Hogwarts a couple of weeks ago." Amelia admitted. "Cornelius doesn't surprise me but…"

"But why didn't Albus put Black under his personal protection? Albus has the authority as Chief Warlock to overrule the Minister on the matter." Alastor frowned heavily. "It makes you think, doesn't it? Albus was the one who gave evidence that Sirius was the Secret Keeper; he was in charge of the Wizengamot when it all went down. He has motive for keeping it quiet."

It was so like Alastor to be so paranoid even about one of his old friends. "Perhaps he had something to do with the escape." Amelia mused out loud.

"Maybe."

Amelia nodded. Something didn't add up about how Black had managed to get free but she wasn't too worried about that since if he hadn't all indications were that an innocent man would have been Kissed.

"I'm not sure I need Potter's testimony," Amelia admitted, "although it would be good for completeness."

"And you want to take a look at the boy's living arrangements." Alastor said bluntly. "I know I would since a muggleborn witch and the son of the biggest muggle advocate in the Ministry indicate that they'd prefer the Boy Who Lived to be removed from his muggle relatives and live with a man who is a complete stranger to him."

Amelia nodded. She was concerned; she couldn't deny it especially since Weasley's and Granger's comments followed after Lupin's about the Dursleys hating the wizarding world. "I'd like you to come with me day after tomorrow, Alastor. If there are issues, I'll need an independent witness."

Alastor nodded. "I'm available." He eyed her speculatively. "Are you going to declare Black innocent?"

"Ideally, I'd like his veritaserum testimony."

"Or Pettigrew's."

"Or Pettigrew's." Amelia sighed. "From a prosecution perspective, I can't charge Black with killing Pettigrew and the muggles: his wand clears him of casting any kind of explosive spell, there's the lack of Pettigrew's body, and while witness testimony places him at the scene and casting a spell, there's nothing that points at Black actually causing the explosion. On the other hand, the idea that Pettigrew caused the explosion and escaped somehow to blame Black would fit with the evidence we have – the positioning of the blast, the single finger, the way Pettigrew yelled his accusation in front of muggles breaking the Statute of Secrecy."

"Which leaves the betrayal of the Potters leading to their deaths." Alastor said.

"And that all comes down to hearsay testimony that Black was the Secret Keeper. The strongest statement is Dumbledore's," she tapped the file, "as he recounts James Potter told him Black would be the Secret Keeper and Dumbledore cast the initial Fidelius that made him so."

"But the Granger girl gave a very nice recounting of how Black switched with Pettigrew behind the scenes, and they all determined to tell everyone Black was the Keeper as a bluff to divert attention away from the real one…that brings in reasonable doubt." Alastor said sagely.

"I know and a good advocate like Brian Cutter would tear a prosecution case apart in moments." Amelia said. "Truthfully, I can tell our esteemed Minister that what little evidence there is against Black is circumstantial and won't stand up in a court; that Black would never be convicted if everyone judged the evidence fairly."

"Not quite the same as clearing him." Alastor noted dryly.

Amelia shrugged. "It will be for Cornelius. Let's face it though; if we get the Boy Who Lived stating on record that he believes Black wasn't the Secret Keeper that will be more than enough for most people."

o-O-o

Remus stepped out of the floo and was almost assaulted by an anxious Sirius. Not for the first time he mused on the relative similarities between Sirius and Padfoot and wondered if a rolled up newspaper to Sirius's nose wasn't in order.

"Well?" demanded Sirius.

"She actually seemed to take me seriously." Remus admitted cautiously. "I caught sight of Ronald Weasley just as I was leaving and Moody was there." He commented as he led the way out of the reception room to Sirius's study. "He was disillusioned and in the corner but I could smell him."

Sirius did a little happy dance through the library and into the study.

Remus debated momentarily whether to tell Sirius about the note that would be going into his werewolf registration file and decided against. Sirius would only feel guilty and it wasn't truly his fault – Remus had been the one to forget to take his Wolfsbane. "I gave her Harry's address too."

"I don't see how it will make a difference to my getting custody." Sirius complained. He hadn't wanted to risk compromising Harry's location.

Remus poked his friend in the arm. "Trust me, it'll make a difference."

"Well in that spirit of optimism," Sirius pulled him over to the desk, "come and help me pick out a house."

"You do realise that it takes more than a month to exchange contracts on a muggle property?" Remus argued, exasperated.

"Muggle auctions, Moony, are a wonderful thing, not to mention money talks or it did with the house Brian is organising for the Dursleys." Sirius countered.

Remus looked at him suspiciously. "He used magic, didn't he?"

Sirius shrugged. "I ask no questions…"

"And he tells you no lies." Remus sighed but he set to the task of choosing a home for Harry with a rush of happiness that he hadn't felt in a long while.

Chapter Text

The muggle house looked prim and proper with a pretty front garden filled with roses. It was not the type of place where Amelia had envisaged the last of the Potter line residing, never mind the Boy Who Lived. She would have wondered why none of the Potter properties had been used except there was an impressive set of blood wards surrounding the house singing with Lily Potter's signature and additional wards with Dumbledore's. It explained why Dumbledore had placed Potter with his aunt, and Amelia had always understood keeping the address need-to-know, but it didn't explain why there wasn't a record of visitations to confirm the child was safe.

Alastor had told her that he'd taken the precaution of 'offering' to check out the wards when he'd gone to talk with Dumbledore the day before about his Hogwarts job offer. Dumbledore had refused but as Alastor pointed out to Amelia, his old friend would not be surprised that Alastor had ignored him, tracked down the address and gone ahead with his offer anyway. It gave them a wonderful cover for their visit if Dumbledore had some means of monitoring the residence Alastor couldn't see.

Amelia glanced down at her smart brown pantsuit and nodded to Alastor who had actually taken the time to transfigure his usual garb into a badly fitting muggle suit and trench-coat; his magical eye had been charmed to appear normal to a muggle.

He rang the doorbell and they could both hear the echo in the house. A few moments later, Petunia Dursley answered the door.

Amelia blinked. Any resemblance she had expected to see between Lily Potter and her sister disappeared immediately; the horsey brunette in front of her could have been deemed handsome perhaps, if she lost the snooty air and sour expression. "Petunia Dursley? I'm Amelia Bones from the DMLE. I sent you a letter…"

"Yes, I received it." Dursley sniffed. She ran her eyes over them and peered beyond them as though to check if the neighbours had noticed them. "You'd better come in."

The inside of the house wasn't large but it was reasonable and not unduly small. Amelia noticed Dursley darting a glance at the cupboard under the stairs as she waved them through into a well-proportioned living room. The furniture was well-maintained although there were signs of aging in the sagging sofa and chairs. There were pictures everywhere of a plump blond boy at various ages; other photos of Dursley and an obese man who had to be her husband were in evidence. There were no photos of their famous nephew or his parents and Amelia's suspicions from the interviews with Harry's friends came raging back tenfold.

"Harry is outside in the garden doing his chores. I'll get him for you." Dursley left before they could say anything.

Amelia exchanged a 'this doesn't look good' gaze with Alastor. They remained silent and soon enough footsteps signalled someone coming into the room, Amelia focused on her first close-up look of the Boy Who Lived.

As reported, he was a miniature James Potter in features but his eyes were brilliant green. His hair was a dark mop, the fringe pulled down over his infamous scar. His clothing was scruffy; oversized t-shirt and shorts that were too baggy on his small frame – hand-me-downs, Amelia surmised, but Dursley was probably hoping to pass them off as gardening clothes hence Potter being in the garden when Dursley knew they were coming to interview him. He had nothing on his feet; probably whatever shoes he wore had been left at the back-door. His hands were wet, red and scratched; his upper lip had a layer of hard-earned sweat; he'd barely been given time to clean-up.

Dursley frowned at them all. "I have appointments to keep. Our son is out for the day but my husband will be home in four hours. Make sure you lot are gone by then."

Amelia stiffened at the sharp tone and watched in astonishment as Dursley hurried from the room, a small bang from the front door underscoring her departure. What kind of guardian left a thirteen year old boy to be questioned by law enforcement on his own?

She turned back to see Potter swallowing nervously and gave him a reassuring smile. "Firstly, let me assure you that you're not in trouble. I'm Director Amelia Bones, Mister Potter, and this is my ex-colleague, Alastor Moody. Did your aunt explain our visit today?"

"Just that you were the police and wanted to talk to me." Potter replied politely. His eyes shone with curiosity as the concern over whether he was in trouble eased.

"Well, I'm in charge of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry," Amelia explained, "which includes the Auror division that is the magical equivalent of muggle policemen." She gestured at Alastor who remained silent. "Both of us were Aurors at one time. Alastor here actually worked with your father who was a Hit Wizard, a special kind of policeman, but Alastor is retired now, and I mainly deal with prosecutions and try to make my budgets add up these days."

Potter's face lit up. "My Dad was a Hit Wizard?"

"Yes, and a very fine one too until your Granddad died and he had to take over the family estates." Alastor said brusquely while Amelia assimilated that Potter hadn't known his father's occupation. "Maybe we can tell you a few stories after our discussion."

Potter beamed at them happily.

Alastor motioned at him impatiently. "Where's your wand, lad?"

"Upstairs in my room." He pointed upwards.

"You really should have it on you at all times." Alastor chided crisply.

Potter flushed. "My uncle…he…they don't like magical things."

He was clearly embarrassed and Amelia's heart went out to him; abuse cases had always gotten to her. She wished she'd thought to bring a young Auror along.

"Hnmph." Alastor said. "Amelia, you'll be setting up the privacy wards down here while I ensure the rest of the house is secured?"

In other words, she should do a full scan of the downstairs for evidence of mistreatment while he did the upstairs. She nodded sharply.

"If you're going to use magic, won't I get into trouble?" Harry asked. "Somebody's house elf used magic here once trying to get me expelled and I got a warning."

Amelia frowned. That explained the misdemeanour for underage magic she'd found on his file; she'd see about having it expunged. "Our magic will not register as under-age, Harry, but if there are any issues I'll take care of them."

"Well, lad, lead the way upstairs." Alastor ushered the boy out and Amelia immediately dived into her bag, set up her quill and began casting her scanning spell, the results automatically recording onto the parchment.

She headed out into the hall and peered into the cupboard that had made Dursley so worried; the sight sickened her. There was some clutter of discarded muggle sports gear and cleaning equipment, but beyond that there was a stained children's mattress and an old taped up sign that read 'Harry's room.' She closed the door and moved into the kitchen.

It was immaculate; shining surfaces and a floor that gleamed. Amelia took a quick look at the neat back garden – shoddy trainers which she assumed were Potter's had been left on the back step along with gardening gear, but no gloves that would have protected Potter's hands.

She made it back into the living room and read over the parchment, frowning heavily at the results from upstairs that Alastor had directed to the quill. Her stomach churned at the litany. She called for her house elf and had her bring some tea, sandwiches, scones and cake. She packed the parchment away just before Alastor and Potter came back into the room. Potter's eyes widened at the sight of food.

"I hope you don't mind but I thought some afternoon tea would help make this a little easier." Amelia directed him to the sofa and he sat down gingerly.

Alastor sat next to him.

"Now, Mister Potter, as a minor you should really have a guardian present. As Alastor here knew your father, perhaps you'll allow him to stand-in?"

Potter's eyes went to Alastor questioningly.

"I'll be pleased to do it." Alastor said gruffly.

Potter nodded. "OK, then." He looked back at Amelia. "And it's Harry; just Harry."

Amelia smiled at him. "Shall we get the oath over with first then, Harry?"

"Oath?"

"All ongoing investigations require an oath to ensure information doesn't leak before it is officially released. It also ensures that witnesses cannot collude with each other." Alastor explained to him. "Have you got the written version for the lad?"

Amelia opened her bag and extracted a printed copy of the oath. "Here you go, Harry."

Harry read over the parchment. "What's the investigation you want to ask me about?"

"Sirius Black." Amelia replied bluntly. "Specifically what happened the night he escaped from Hogwarts."

His eyes darted to hers, and she caught the full weight of the worry, fear and hope in them before he dropped his gaze, and shifted to look at Alastor to check he should take the oath. Alastor nodded and Harry picked up the quill, signing his name quickly and without fanfare.

"Good. Tea?" Amelia poured him a cup, placed sandwiches on a plate and handed the lot over to him with a flick of her wand.

He tucked into the simple fare eating quickly and efficiently as though used to rushing. She knew he had been deprived of food in the past; locked up and barely fed. She handed him another plate of sandwiches as she asked him to describe what happened in his own words.

His testimony married with the others but it was the most painful to hear; the personal aspect was too sharp to ignore – Pettigrew had betrayed Harry's parents and caused their deaths, Black was Harry's godfather. The horror of the Dementor attack had Amelia shivering and she was sympathetic when he expressed dismay and frustration at the Minister's initial decision not to believe him…

He looked over at her finally, his green eyes bright with curiosity again. "Can I ask why the Minister changed his mind?"

"He discovered that your godfather never had a trial." Amelia answered honestly. "It has shaken the Minister's conviction that Black is guilty and hence his request I investigate." She handed Harry a slice of cake much to Alastor's badly hidden amusement.

Harry swallowed some cake and waved a hand at her. "What about Snape's testimony?"

"From what we've heard there'd be no point asking him anything." Alastor interjected. "He only saw you three kids, Lupin and Black together, and was knocked out before anything of note took place."

"And the Headmaster?" Harry asked. "He talked to Sirius too, I think."

"But alone." Alastor commented. "No verifying witnesses except for Black himself unlike the four of you."

"So will Sirius be cleared?" His young face was so hopeful that Amelia felt regret at giving him the official answer.

"I can't say, Harry, until I've finished and submitted my findings to the Minister." Amelia said apologetically.

"Don't forget though that you're not to discuss this interview with your Headmaster or with your friends." Alastor said. "Or Black."

Harry nodded quickly, streaks of red across his cheeks giving away he probably was in contact with his godfather. Amelia knew she should probably ask for the correspondence but couldn't bring herself to deprive the child of anything positive in his life.

"Well, if Amelia's done," Alastor shot her a look and she gave a nod, stopping the quill, "how about I tell you a couple of stories about your Dad?"

Harry's demeanour brightened. Amelia watched as Alastor weaved a grand tale about James Potter's first training session and it was clear that Harry was starved for information about his parents and heritage. What was Albus Dumbledore thinking?

Three stories later and Amelia brought a reluctant halt to the afternoon.

Alastor paused on their way out and dug into the pocket of his trench-coat. He motioned for Harry to give his arm and placed a wand holster on it. He pushed Harry's wand into place. "Practice releasing it from the holster." He said roughly. "And remember to always wear your wand. You can hide it beneath your shirts now."

Harry grinned at him. "Thank you."

"Remember…" Alastor wagged a finger at him.

"Constant vigilance!" Harry replied back promptly with a cheeky grin.

Amelia rolled her eyes because Alastor had jumped on the opportunity to indoctrinate another person into his paranoia. "It's been good to meet you, Harry." She shook his hand as they said goodbye and left the house. Amelia couldn't help feeling wretched that she was leaving Harry Potter somewhere she was certain was completely unsuitable.

She and Alastor exchanged another look; they had a lot to talk about but none of it was appropriate for discussion on a public street. They walked down the road towards an alley where they could apparate without being seen.

A grey-haired woman hovered at the corner of Privet Drive and Wisteria Walk. She broke into a trot upon seeing them and Amelia noticed she was followed by a cat – no a kneazle. Amelia frowned at the tartan carpet slippers that the woman wore.

"Alastor Moody!" The woman called out in greeting. "Albus said you might be stopping by today."

And suddenly Amelia was very grateful Alastor had taken the time to provide them with a cover story. Obviously the woman was Dumbledore's spy in the neighbourhood.

"Arabella Figg." Alastor said politely. "It's been a while." He didn't introduce Amelia and she kept quiet.

"You don't really think Black's still a threat, do you, Alastor?" Figg asked hurriedly. "Albus said his sources place Black abroad."

"As do mine." Alastor answered. "But you know what I always say…"

"Constant vigilance." Figg said obediently. "Do you want to use my floo?"

"A private place to apparate would be appreciated, Arabella." Alastor said, glancing at Amelia.

They all walked briskly to Figg's house. It smelled of kneazles and boiled vegetables. Amelia found her nose wrinkling but otherwise hid her reaction. As soon as the door was closed, Alastor started with the questions.

"I take it you've been watching over Potter a while?" Alastor asked.

"Since December 'eighty-one." Figg replied. "Albus asked me to keep watch and report anything suspicious – wizards in the area, that kind of thing, give him any updates on Harry that I could gather. It was the least I could do for Albus after, well, you remember."

"We caught a glimpse of Potter in the garden," Alastor continued, "bit thin, isn't he? And I thought his folks left him money. You wouldn't know it by the way he dresses."

"Well, children can be fussy eaters, Alastor," Figg said, avoiding their eyes, "and who knows what the youngsters consider fashionable these days."

"Do you really believe that?" Amelia blurted out unable to stop herself.

Figg sighed and her mouth drooped. "The Dursleys are perfectly horrid muggles, I'm afraid. They've never treated Harry the same as their own son – although some might think that was a blessing. Albus warned me when I complained to him the first time I baby-sat Harry for them that they might not be as caring towards him as we would wish, but he was certain that they would do right by their nephew in the end."

"You baby-sit the boy?" Alastor shot Amelia a look that told her to keep quiet.

"Not very often these days – he's getting old enough to look after himself or so the Dursleys would have it. Obviously I follow Albus's instructions not to reveal I'm a squib or about You-Know-Who or about the wizarding world but…it's difficult and, well, I've thought it best that he didn't enjoy being with me too much otherwise the Dursleys probably would send him somewhere else."

Amelia badly wanted to hex the woman. She had lacked the compassion to make Harry's life better when he stayed with her, and followed Albus Dumbledore's word as though it was law. And why hadn't Figg reported any of the mistreatment she had to have seen?

"At least someone was making regular reports about the boy's welfare to the proper authorities." Alastor said briskly, obviously thinking along similar lines to herself.

"Oh Albus made the official reports. He and I didn't have anything formal, Alastor. I just contacted Albus every so often usually just after I'd baby-sat Harry." Figg's eyes crinkled as she smiled. "I always used to smile when I'd see the occasional photo I managed to take and send to Albus end up in the Prophet."

So that's how pictures of the boy had been released to the public; Amelia had always wondered. Amelia darted a look at Alastor – she wasn't certain she could stay another moment without yelling at Figg.

Alastor got the message. "Well, it's been nice chatting to you, Arabella, but we must be off. You can tell Albus the wards look fine."

Amelia smiled tightly as she offered her own terse goodbye and immediately apparated to the Ministry. Alastor was a moment behind her. They waited until they got to her office and under heavy privacy wards before she erupted.

"Did I just hear that right?" demanded Amelia. "Did that…that woman…" she was almost incoherent with anger.

Alastor pointed at her desk. "Get the Ogden's out."

She did and by the time she'd knocked back one drink she'd regained some measure of control.

"You have to understand Arabella's not been wholly with it since her husband and her son were killed standing right next to her in a Death Eater attack on Diagon Alley." Alastor said, nursing his own drink that he'd poured from his flask. "Her husband was a friend of Albus's so Albus looked after Arabella after his death, made sure she got her inheritance despite her being a squib, and set her up properly in her new kneazle breeding business."

"Hence her loyalty to him." Amelia sighed heavily, her ire slightly tempered with Alastor's explanation.

"Unfortunately Albus could tell her that grass was pink with purple dots and she would believe him." Alastor agreed. "So, having heard from Albus when she first got there that the Dursleys wouldn't treat the boy well, it probably never occurred to her to tell him again because she thought he knew." He sighed. "As for her convoluted thinking that giving the kid some affection when she watched him would mean the Dursleys wouldn't bring him back…" he grimaced, "well, your guess is as good as mine."

"She could be right." Amelia conceded. "The Dursleys would probably be that petty." She poured herself another drink. "The results from the scans are horrifying. He lived in that cupboard under the stairs for years and there was a long list of verbal abuse and minor physical injuries. They periodically starved him, Alastor, sending a kid to bed with no food as a punishment but taken to an extreme."

He nodded. "He has the smallest of the bedrooms upstairs. There are locks on the door outside; evidence that there were bars at the window at one point. I would guess he's been locked in before. His furniture is broken, dilapidated. He barely has enough clothes to justify a wardrobe – all of them seem second-hand. His school clothes are good quality but they're in his trunk. He keeps his valuables under a loose floorboard under the bed. He has food stored there."

"In case they lock him in there again?" Amelia rubbed the back of her neck. "Any other child, Alastor, and I would have removed him from that house already."

"Even I know you're going to need to be politically savvy about this." Alastor comforted her. "Look, Albus and I have been friends for a long time and he is…a great wizard but he's not infallible even if he sometimes thinks he is." He sipped his drink. "He messed up. He obviously knew the muggles might have an issue accepting the lad as their own, he dismissed the first report of mistreatment from his agent who then failed to report further incidents, and he failed to check on the lad himself. Then, as the boy's Headmaster, he's failed to see the signs of abuse since Potter started at Hogwarts. The boy's far too thin for his age; somebody should have noticed."

"Or it's been ignored."

"Or it's been ignored." Alastor agreed dryly.

Amelia sighed heavily. "You know what else bothers me."

"That he didn't know his Dad was a Hit Wizard?" Alastor suggested. "It bothered me, I can tell you."

"Well, yes, that too," and Amelia, "but what I was referring to was something Brian Cutter said to me about the new Lord Black."

Alastor's eyebrows shot up is his grizzled forehead. "A new Lord Black? And he's hired Brian Cutter?"

She explained about the letter from Lord Black to Cutter, the meeting in Cornelius's office, and saw that he got the political implications immediately; Moody had never been stupid. "Cutter has a copy of the Potters' will and Sirius Black was named, after the Longbottoms, as guardian." She put her glass down and gazed at Alastor. "Albus Dumbledore took illegal custody of Harry Potter, placed him with the muggles, and failed to ensure that one of the named guardians on the will got a trial!"

"I can see how it doesn't look good, Amelia," Alastor admitted, "especially in light of the fact that he didn't place Black in protective custody at Hogwarts either, but I don't think Albus would deliberately keep a man in prison for twelve years if he knew he was innocent."

"Not even for his vaunted Greater Good?" Amelia asked pointedly.

Alastor conceded that with a huff. "Admittedly, Albus can justify almost anything to his greater good but not something unquestionably wrong. Keeping the boy behind blood wards where he might be unsafe from his relatives, no. Keeping the boy behind blood wards where he might be unloved, yes. Condemning an innocent man to Azkaban for twelve years, no. Not stepping in to clear Black's name because Albus thinks Potter will be safer where he is, maybe."

Amelia grimaced; the lines separating the statements Alastor had made into acceptable and unacceptable were very thin but they were there. "You know him better than me." She allowed.

"And knowing him, regardless of my belief that I don't think Albus would keep the boy there if faced with all the evidence we have of the muggles' neglect of the lad, I would advise you to get Potter's new guardianship situation sorted out before Albus ever gets wind of it." Alastor said bluntly.

"Understood." And Amelia knew who she was going to call first.

o-O-o

Sirius reread the letter from Brian again. And again.

Completely cleared subject to Minister's signature.

Did Lord Black have a way to contact Sirius Black?

The Ministry wanted to know if Sirius Black would be prepared to assume immediate guardianship of Harry Potter.

He read it again.

Remus impatiently plucked it out of his numb fingers and read it. "Padfoot! We did it!" He slapped Sirius's back, jolting him forward. "Congratulations! Didn't I tell you sending Bones round to the muggles would increase your chances to get custody of Harry? You owe me five galleons! And don't think…" he suddenly looked at Sirius who hadn't moved. "Are you OK, Padfoot?"

No. Yes. He really had no idea. His emotions swung in a pendulum from crazed happiness to complete astonishment to total fear that he was going to mess up with Harry and – what had he been thinking?

Sirius rubbed his forehead and dragged his mind back into focus. Harry. Harry. Harry. He was doing this for Harry and it had worked. "Sorry," he said, realising belatedly that Remus was regarding him worriedly, "just," he flapped a hand at him, "surprised. I thought it would take more time or something."

"But you are pleased?" probed Remus carefully as though he was afraid Sirius would explode or break or something.

"Beyond happy." Sirius confirmed. He took the parchment back. "I'll write back to Brian. I guess it's time to come clean on my identity with him."

"Give me an introduction." Remus ordered. "I can liaise with him in future, and Merlin knows I need to go over some legal stuff with him as your steward. Your records are in a right mess."

"But I'm still rich, right?"

Remus sighed. "Let's just say you have enough to cover the five galleons you owe me."

"What five galleons?" asked Sirius innocently.

Remus's eyes narrowed dangerously.

Chapter Text

The signature of Cornelius Fudge looped its way across the parchment. It was attached to the official investigation report that concluded Sirius Black was innocent of the arrest charges in 'eighty-one, and pardoned for escaping Ministry custody and his actions during his time as a fugitive. The statement acknowledged the Ministry's culpability and awarded compensation to Black to the tune of ten thousand galleons for every year of false imprisonment and an additional five thousand for the year he had been a fugitive.

"The press statement?" Cornelius asked briskly as he added the official seal to the parchment.

Amelia exchanged a look with Brian Cutter and slid it across the desk to the Minister.

"Following new evidence, a Special Investigation was made into the matter of Sirius Black under the jurisdiction of Amelia Bones, the Head of the DMLE. The findings of the Special Investigation are thus: Sirius Black was imprisoned without trial. Evidentiary and legal procedures were not followed and his guilt or innocence never established beyond circumstantial hearsay. A review of all the evidence gathered at the time of his arrest, and the subsequent addition of new witness testimony following recent events at Hogwarts, including a statement by Harry Potter, has concluded that Sirius Black is innocent of all charges. Given his twelve years of unlawful imprisonment, we have pardoned him for the lesser charge of escaping custody.

Additionally, we want to announce that Peter Pettigrew is alive and a suspected Death Eater. He is hereby stripped of his Order of Merlin and is wanted for questioning in the deaths of James Potter, Lily Potter, and thirteen muggles. He is also wanted for conspiracy to pervert the course of Justice. He is considered armed and dangerous. Citizens are advised to report any sightings to the Aurors immediately.

Clearly a gross miscarriage of justice took place under the previous administration and, although it was a chaotic time, the current peacetime administration is appalled. We apologise unreservedly to Sirius Black for his loss of freedom, damage to his reputation, and disregard for his basic legal rights. While it is our understanding that he is currently abroad, he is once again a free citizen and welcome to return to Britain and public life without fear of reprisal."

"Comprehensive." Cornelius looked at Brian. "Is Lord Black happy with the statement?"

"He is and he's very happy to have this matter cleared up so quickly." Brian said.

"It's a shame that we can't make a joint press conference." Cornelius said with a longing look at the statement.

"Lord Black wants full credit given to the Ministry." Brian said firmly. "He'll make a positive statement to that effect as soon as he claims his seat in the Wizengamot."

"Do we have a date?" Cornelius asked tentatively.

"Probably at the next session which is scheduled for a week on Thursday." Brian replied promptly. "He has expressed a desire to meet with you prior to that."

Cornelius smiled widely. "That would be lovely, Brian."

"Minister," Amelia cleared her throat, regaining Cornelius's attention, "there is another matter that has come to light during the investigation."

"Oh?" Cornelius looked dismayed and his gaze flickered to Brian and back to her. "Perhaps we should speak about this in private?"

"Actually, I'd like Brian to stay as the topic relates to the guardianship of Harry Potter." Amelia withdrew a second report from her bag and handed it to Cornelius. It had taken her the better part of the previous evening after her return from Surrey and most of the rest of that day to finish the report and get things sorted with Brian. "This report is highly sensitive and details findings related to Harry Potter's current situation. Broadly, it concludes that he should be removed from his current guardians due to evidence of neglect, emotional abuse and some additional minor physical abuse."

"My goodness! Surely not!" Cornelius didn't open the folder. "I mean, I know there was a problem last summer but I thought that was down to the stress of the situation with Black."

"That problem last summer, Minister, was indicative of the way his guardians treat him generally; without respect for Harry, for his parents or for our kind. The woman admitted she insulted the Potters before she was obliviated." Amelia said dryly. "Additionally, one of the Reversal Squad noted in his report that if it wasn't against the new Muggle Protection Act he would have been sorely tempted to blow the Dursleys up himself after being subjected to their prejudice and scorn."

"Amelia…"

"It gets worse, Cornelius." Amelia interrupted him. "Albus Dumbledore had Rubeus Hagrid take Harry Potter from Sirius Black on the night of the Potters' death. That was part of Dumbledore's own statement given to the Aurors. He was responsible for placing the boy with Lily Potter's muggle relations. Now, there is some evidence that he had good reasons, most to do with Harry's safety at the time, but he circumvented the system: the Wizarding Orphan Office wasn't apprised of the placement and so no follow-up visitations were performed."

"He also disregarded the will which a source today told me would have been challenged by the Longbottoms had they not been incapacitated in a Death Eater attack." Brian added. "Add to that the fact that Dumbledore was Chief Warlock when Sirius Black was denied a trial and placed in Azkaban unlawfully, and his recent unwillingness not to have insisted on due process when Black was captured at Hogwarts…one might surmise that he has ulterior motives."

"Additionally, Harry has all the signs of an abused child but the staff at Hogwarts seems to have missed them." Amelia said with exasperation.

Cornelius looked torn between panic at the Harry Potter had been abused, and glee at how badly Dumbledore had erred.

"And the Ministry doesn't come out of this smelling of roses either since the WOO should have followed up on Harry Potter's placement – regardless of Dumbledore's lack of notification, he's the most famous orphan in our world! Not to mention more should have been done to investigate the incident last summer." Amelia warned him. "Cornelius," she said strongly, "it would be a political nightmare for everyone if it came to the attention of the press that Harry Potter was mistreated by his muggle relatives and nobody in authority noticed or did anything to address the issue – especially when Dumbledore is in the thick of it and you've met the boy yourself."

Finally, Cornelius blanched as the potential ramifications for his own position hit him.

"If you would allow it, Cornelius, Amelia and I believe we have a mutually beneficial solution." Brian said quietly.

"Please elaborate." Cornelius rallied but a dull flush remained on his face.

"As you know, Lord Black was already planning to challenge for guardianship," Brian began, "and I believe his own investigations raised questions about the suitability of Potter's muggle guardians. Now that the investigation into Sirius Black has concluded and he has been cleared, Lord Black wants to push ahead with guardianship being awarded to Sirius Black as per the Potters' will."

Cornelius sat back surprised. "Lord Black will openly support Sirius Black then? As I recall Black – Sirius, I mean – was a Dumbledore supporter and considered persona non grata by the Black family."

"I think it's clear from Lord Black's initial actions here that he has a different political agenda than the family's previous reputation," Brian said, "and as Sirius is the boy's godfather, he has first claim."

"Executing the Potters' newly discovered will to reward guardianship to Sirius Black would be a relatively simple matter." Amelia pointed out. "My main concern, as I've expressed to Brian, is Black's health after his time in Azkaban and a year on the run. I would say that we would only award guardianship on the condition that he receives medical treatment."

"How do we even know the man wants to assume guardianship?" Cornelius asked, sitting back with a contemplative expression.

"Once Amelia contacted me, I immediately wrote to Lord Black. I received a reply from Sirius Black himself confirming his request that I represent him in the matter of the guardianship of his godson." Brian explained.

A flicker of suspicion infused Amelia for a long moment, long enough that she only caught the end of Cornelius accusing Brian that Lord Black had harboured a fugitive.

"Under the old law, Cornelius, a Head of House could offer sanctuary to any member of his family." Brian said mildly. "But either way, there's no evidence that Lord Black knew where Sirius Black was at the time he engaged my services to approach you about instigating an investigation."

"It's all moot anyway," Amelia inserted before Cornelius got too wound up, "whether Lord Black was in contact with him before the investigation or not is completely beside the point; Sirius Black is innocent. We need to determine Harry Potter's guardianship. Brian, can you confirm Sirius Black's willingness to assume the role of guardian for his godson?"

"Yes, he's eager to look after Harry, and a week of healing in a private clinic abroad has been arranged for both Sirius and his godson." Brian said quickly.

Amelia nodded.

"I'm not sure this will be acceptable," Cornelius argued, "Sirius Black's reputation is destroyed – and yes, partly our fault, I know, but if we announce that Black is innocent and in the next breath give him immediate guardianship of the Boy Who Lived there will be an outcry."

"You raise a valid point, Cornelius."

Brian's words flattered the Minister and Amelia breathed a sigh of relief at Brian's ability to handle him.

"Perhaps a staggered approach is required publically," Brian continued, "especially as I think we all believe that Albus Dumbledore should only be informed once this matter is settled beyond his ability to affect the outcome?"

They nodded in agreement.

"So, I propose that we sign the guardianship transfer today and allow Sirius Black to take immediate custody." Brian proposed. "The Ministry announces that he is innocent at a press conference tomorrow morning. I'll arrange some positive press for Black over the rest of the week, reminding people that he was a war hero before his arrest, for example."

"We can help with that to some extent," Amelia offered, "I'm sure Sirius's old colleagues would be prepared to support the work he did."

"And the story of his escape from Azkaban to protect his godson from Pettigrew would play well." Cornelius added. "Perhaps with the allusion he is seeking guardianship to return Potter fully to the wizarding world in line with the wishes of Potter's late parents that were previously ignored as the will was inaccessible to the Ministry."

Brian nodded and pointed at him with a smile. "Good suggestion."

Amelia hid a smile. Cornelius did have a talent for media spin. "So then we publically announce his guardianship at the end of the week?"

"I'll ensure we have a statement from Sirius Black readied as they could well be still abroad at that point in the clinic." Brian made a note on his legal pad.

"We should work closely on all press releases," Cornelius offered, "that way we can ensure both the Ministry and Black receive the greatest positive response to the affair."

"Agreed." Brian said.

"What about the muggles?" Cornelius asked suddenly. "We'll need to file appropriate records…"

"Already prepared," Brian assured him, "Petunia Dursley has already agreed to relinquish her guardianship subject to the investigation finding Sirius Black innocent. Lord Black's steward will handle the final signatures and take immediate custody of Harry Potter to deliver him safely to Black." He motioned at Cornelius. "If you're happy to proceed?"

Cornelius nodded.

Brian reached into his briefcase and handed over the guardianship documents. "If you could just sign at the bottom; Amelia, if you could witness."

The loopy signature was accompanied by the Minister's official seal. Amelia scrawled her own signature as witness and added the seal of the Head of the DMLE. Sirius Black was officially Harry Potter's legal guardian of record.

Brian handed Amelia one copy for the Ministry records. "I assume you'll register this with the WOO."

Amelia sighed and took the document. She could hardly complain.

"I'll forward a copy to Sirius and file my copy of the original in our legal vault." Brian retrieved another document for his briefcase. "A copy of the Potters' will for your records."

"That's very good of you, Brian." Cornelius said gratefully. "That will help ensure any complaints are quickly dealt with." He frowned again. "Amelia, there is one other question regarding the muggles and this abuse that was found…"

"I know," Amelia said sighing heavily, "I'd like to prosecute them but that's an impossibility." She held up a hand when Cornelius would have jumped in. "The procedure when we find a muggle-raised witch or wizard is in an abusive situation is to involve the muggle authorities. Usually there is current evidence that is available. In this case, the vast majority of the abuse took place prior to last year and the worst of it when he was a young child. Our evidence, based as it is on magical means is not admissible. There is no case unless Mister Potter himself gives evidence." She took a breath. "If we prosecuted muggles through our legal system, it would be exceptional, create a precedent I don't think we want, and create the very storm of publicity that we're trying to avoid."

"So we let these muggles get away with abusing a wizarding child? A child who should have been treasured especially after getting rid of You-Know-Who and losing his parents?" Cornelius ranted, getting on his soapbox.

"We can honestly say that we've removed him from the situation as soon as we became aware of the abuse that was involved." Amelia stated firmly. "Any other legal action will have to be pursued with Mister Potter's agreement."

"I'll discuss the matter with Sirius Black." Brian suggested. "As his guardian, Black will have a say in this and will probably be the one that will have to raise it with his godson."

Cornelius barely looked mollified and Amelia had some sympathy, although she suspected Cornelius's frustration was rooted in his inability to exploit the political capital of muggles abusing the Boy Who Lived and Dumbledore's involvement, rather than her own outrage that the muggles wouldn't be justifiably punished for their actions.

"Well, if that's everything, I have to tell my client that he's now a proud father of a thirteen year old boy." Brian said briskly.

Amelia sighed in relief as Cornelius smiled and nodded.

"I'll see you at tomorrow's press conference?" Cornelius suggested.

Brian agreed and Amelia stood up to walk out with him. They stopped outside of Amelia's office and she prevented him from leaving with a hand on his arm, wanting to follow up on the suspicion she'd had that had flared to life during the discussion. She cast a privacy bubble and regarded him directly.

"Brian, would I be correct in saying that Lord Black's first name is Sirius?"

Brian smiled gently. "I'm afraid I can't divulge the identity of Lord Black."

Amelia snorted and knew she was right.

"What I will say," Brian said a little hesitantly, "is that there is good reason why the House of Black has always been known for its cunning and regardless of his innocence Sirius Black is still someone it would be best not to anger."

"He realised his godson was being neglected when he saw him at Hogwarts, didn't he?" Amelia mused out loud.

Yes, she thought decisively, Sirius Black had seen his godson, starved of love and affection for all that he was a nice kid, and had known. And he couldn't do anything, not as a fugitive, but as Lord Black…that he had taken the measures he had and devised a way to clear his name all to protect his godson impressed her anew and made her feel even more confident that her decision to award him custody had been the right one.

Brian smiled at her again and tipped his hat as he made to leave. "I think Lord Black is going to shake things up."

Amelia let down the bubble and smirked back at him. "Tell your client I look forward to it."

o-O-o

Harry finished washing the baking potatoes and set them out on the counter to be pricked before they went into the microwave. Dinner was steamed chicken breasts (already cooked until shrivelled by his aunt), a salad (Harry had already prepared it) and the potatoes. It was not their usual fare and was only on the menu because Dudley was on a diet.

His relatives had been surprisingly polite to him since he'd gotten back. He believed in part that it was to do with his tale of his mass-murdering godfather on the ride home from the station but as the days had passed, he thought it was something else. Then there had been the surprise visit from the wizarding police-kind-of-ish Amelia Bones and Alastor Moody. He was still a little annoyed with his aunt that she hadn't warned him until she'd fetched him from the garden. He hoped, hoped, that it meant Sirius was going to get a trial or be declared innocent because then…

He stopped his thought before it could complete. He wasn't going to hope again that he could go to live with Sirius, with someone who actually wanted him. Although, in hindsight, he wondered whether Sirius did want him…the older man had looked somewhat surprised when Harry had agreed to live with him. But there had been the letter he'd received at Hogwarts (confirming Sirius was safe and Harry was more than a little annoyed that the Headmaster had prevented him from replying) and then another he'd received the day after he'd gotten home (a 'hope you're OK' message that Harry had replied to using the same owl Sirius had sent), and another (a 'glad you're OK and don't worry about me' message). For a godfather on the run, it wasn't too shoddy a showing of concern and much more than Harry could remember receiving from anyone else except his friends.

What had been a nice surprise was that his ex-Professor, Remus Lupin had also sent a very nice note welcoming Harry back from the holidays, reassuring him that he'd found an interesting job and encouraging Harry to stay in touch. Harry had promptly sent a reply with the rather majestic looking owl that had brought Remus's letter. He'd also sent a note to Remus after Moody and Bones had interviewed him and asked for more stories about his Dad, but there hadn't been a reply and Hedwig hadn't returned. It didn't mean there wouldn't be a reply, Harry reassured himself. Remus had said to stay in touch and with Sirius out of the country…

Of course, Remus hadn't actually contacted Harry at all for most of his life and Harry got the impression that he had only let slip his friendship with Harry's father by accident. They really hadn't had a chance to talk about that and it wasn't something Harry wanted to raise in a letter. But it did mean that he didn't quite trust Remus to reply to him in the same way he trusted Sirius. Although even his trust in Sirius probably floundered on the thought that Sirius, if given a choice, might continue to chase the rat rather than actually stick around for Harry.

Harry shook away his insecurities not wanting to dwell on them. Sirius had written; Remus had written. He had people who cared for him at last. His jaw set in all too familiar stubbornness that both Sirius and Remus would have recognised instantly although Harry didn't know it.

His mind travelled back over his third year at Hogwarts idly as he prepared the potatoes. It had been a strange year with the Dementors and Sirius. Better than the first two years – no Voldemort to battle – but odd in other ways. He really owed Hermione for helping him rescue Sirius. He flushed as he remembered what a prat he'd been to her about the Firebolt. Yes, he'd had cause to be angry but…she'd meant well. If only she hadn't gone behind his back…

Ron hadn't helped with his anger over it either. And then there had been Ron's constant battling with Hermione over Crookshanks and the rat all year. Harry had spent most of the time feeling like he was being pulled between them and forced to choose constantly.

Ron had been Harry's first friend of his own age and Harry knew his strong attachment to Ron was primarily because of that. And Ron was funny and loyal, if glued to his beliefs and prejudices, surprisingly smart in his own way under the laziness that even Harry could see. But in considering the previous year, Harry had become aware that he'd let Ron dictate a lot of their friendship – things like being mad with Hermione, who else they talked to outside of classes, and their subjects like taking the horrendous Divination because it was easy.

Maybe he could try for a little independence from his first friend, Harry considered; he trusted Ron not to drop him just because Harry made a few decisions for himself – like giving up Divination so he didn't have to hear about how horribly he was going to die every week, and taking a different subject, maybe Ancient Runes or Arthimancy. He should send a note to Professor McGonagall and ask if it was possible. Hermione would probably appreciate having him take one of the subjects she was interested in.

And he did owe her.

Besides, Hermione was his second closest friend and really Harry had no idea how he would have gotten through his studies for the past three years without her. Not to mention the traps around the Philosopher's Stone; not to mention working out it was a basilisk that was petrifying people; not to mention rescuing Sirius. She really was amazingly smart. He should appreciate her more even if her bossiness sometimes drove him round the bend. He could try to be a better friend to her.

He wouldn't mind making more friends, Harry mused absently. Oh, he liked to think he was friendly with most people in Gryffindor – when they weren't considering him the Heir of Slytherin – and he was mates at least with the Quidditch team, especially Fred and George, and with his dorm mates. But he knew he wasn't the easiest of people to be friends with between his unwanted fame and the trouble that seemed to follow him around. At least Ron and Hermione had stuck with him through thick and thin. Quality was more important than quantity, Harry determined, but still…one or two other people to hang around with wouldn't be a bad thing.

Before he could set the microwave's timer, the telephone rang. Harry didn't investigate – his chore was dinner and it was more than his life's worth to deviate from it, not to mention the call was unlikely to be for him. He could hear his aunt answer, her strident voice carrying down the hallway.

He found his mind wandering to the interview with Moody and Bones. Bones had been nice; strict but kind. She kind of reminded him of McGonagall. Moody though had been bloody brilliant. He hadn't made a fuss over the locks on the door or the pathetic bedroom Harry had. More importantly, he'd told him stories of his Dad. He couldn't believe that his Dad had been a Hit Wizard. He wondered what career his Mum had chosen. He'd ask Sirius or Remus; asking his aunt was an invite to trouble.

Speaking of said aunt, she suddenly poked her head through the kitchen door.

"Leave that and go and pack all your things in that trunk of yours." Petunia snapped. "I'll explain on the way."

On the way to where and what about dinner, Harry grumbled to himself as he went up the stairs to his bedroom. He hadn't been refused lunch but the meagre sandwich and apple had been hours before, and his breakfast had been minimal – a quarter of a grapefruit. He packed his trunk quickly – he hadn't truthfully unpacked a great deal of it. He picked up Hedwig's cage – she'd find him wherever he went. He struggled down the stairs and was briskly directed by his aunt out to the car.

He put his trunk and the cage in the boot of the car, and had just closed the boot lid just as his aunt came out of the house.

Betty Doon called out a greeting from the other side of the street and hurried over. "Why Petunia, wherever are you off to at this late hour?"

"Family emergency." Petunia said crisply, putting the keys into her handbag.

"Oh you poor thing!" Betty said but her eyes gleamed more with glee at having some gossip than genuine concern. "Is there anything I can do?"

Petunia shook her head. "Thank you anyway, Betty. We must be going." She speared Harry with a look. "Get in the car and none of your nonsense."

Harry made his way around the car and climbed into the back seat - he wasn't actually allowed in the front. He waited until his aunt had taken the driver's seat and put her seatbelt on before he cleared his throat nervously.

"Um, if this is about Aunt Marge perhaps I should stay here?" Harry offered. He couldn't think what other family they had who could possibly have had an emergency.

"This isn't about your Aunt Marge." Petunia said. "Now be quiet. I need to focus on driving." She rarely drove anywhere preferring his uncle took the responsibility.

Harry thought about asking what was going on again but decided it was probably best to keep quiet. They drove out of Little Whinging and took the main road towards Greater Whinging, the neighbouring town that was more affluent. His aunt had always wanted to live there. They took another turning, then another. They passed through the centre of Greater Whinging and made towards the countryside outskirts. At the end of one long winding road, his aunt took a left into a shady street with old trees weighed down with heavy branches of bright green leaves. They pulled into the driveway of a large house.

Petunia ordered him out. Harry went to get the luggage. He wasn't certain what was going on and keeping calm seemed like a good strategy.

The large green front door opened and Harry froze at the sight of Remus.

"Ah, good! You're here." Remus waved at him. "Leave the luggage, Harry. It'll be taken care of."

Harry obediently set down Hedwig's cage and his trunk back in the boot. "Uh, Professor Lupin…"

"Remus, please, Harry." He smiled at him. "Inside and I'll explain everything."

Petunia ushered Harry into the house ahead of her.

"In the front room to your right, Harry, if you wouldn't mind." Remus pointed at the open door.

Harry stepped through into a comfortable looking sitting room. It was chintzy but suited his aunt's tastes perfectly.

"Your aunt and I thought you might like to join me dog-sitting, Harry." Remus offered as Harry opened his mouth to demand an explanation.

Harry gaped at him and then at his aunt. Dog-sitting? Did that mean they were going to spend the summer with Sirius? His mouth snapped shut. "Really?"

"Really." Remus smiled at him. "I just have a couple of things to clear up with your aunt and then we'll get going." He picked up a stack of documents from the coffee table. "I just need you to sign these, Petunia."

Petunia sniffed, ignored the quill Remus offered to her and drew a pen out of her bag. She quickly signed the papers.

Remus sorted them into two stacks and handed her one. "These are your copies. Harry and I will use this room for another ten minutes and then we'll be on our way. You should collect the rest of your family and stay here until your things are moved magically by our house elf tomorrow."

"Very well." Petunia sniffed. She darted a look at Harry and made for the door.

"Aunt Petunia," Harry said impulsively, "thank you." He really did mean it. He didn't know how Remus (and, or Sirius) had convinced her but he did appreciate her agreement.

She stopped in the doorway and gazed at him with a strange expression. "You'll be better off with your own kind." She looked over at Remus and almost looked as though she wanted to say something else but if she did, she thought better of it and walked out, pulling the door shut behind her.

"Well," Remus pulled his wand out, "stand still a moment, I just need to check…yes, here it is; one tracking charm." He plucked a mouse from his pocket, tapped Harry and then the mouse. "Kreacher!"

A house elf popped into the room and Harry took a startled step backwards.

"Kreacher, can you take this mouse to…I don't know…York, and leave it there, please." Remus asked politely.

Kreacher nodded sharply, took the mouse and disappeared again.

"Right. Now, Kreacher's already delivered your trunk and Hedwig's already there so it's just us." Remus grinned at him and handed him a piece of blank parchment.

The blankness disappeared as soon as Harry touched it, words scrolling across the paper. "Mr Padfoot invites Harry Potter to 12 Grimmauld Place."

"Now, keep the address firmly in your mind, Harry." Remus said. He held out a dog's chew toy. "Take hold of the toy. It's something called a portkey and will transport us to the address when I give the activation code."

Harry did so, repeating the address silently in his mind.

Remus grinned at him again. "Padfoot."

The world around them disappeared and Harry felt his stomach lurch as something tugged him. His landing was awful – he ended up in a heap on the floor.

"Harry!" Sirius's concerned voice had Harry lifting his head quickly.

"I'm OK." Harry claimed as his godfather helped him up off the floor.

As Sirius briskly checked him over, Harry couldn't get over how different Sirius looked; his hair was cut, his facial hair neatly trimmed, he had clean clothes and looked as though he'd put on some needed weight. There were traces of Azkaban still in his grey eyes and sharp cheekbones but he looked better, much better. Sirius hesitated for a moment before pulling him into a hug.

Harry tensed before he returned it, letting the older man's genuine affection wash over him. "I can't believe I'm here."

"We couldn't tell you just in case things didn't go to plan; I didn't want you to get your hopes up and be disappointed." Sirius apologised. He rubbed Harry's back briskly and stepped away but kept his arm around Harry's shoulders.

Harry looked around the room eagerly noting the crest on the wall and the functional furnishing of what seemed to be a waiting room with a floo. "Is this your house?"

"Yes, well, my family's really," Sirius explained, "otherwise known as the London residence of the House of Black."

"The house is under a Fidelius," Remus explained, gesturing absently with the chew toy he still held, "so Sirius can hide without anyone knowing where he is."

Sirius guided Harry over to the sofa and pushed him into it gently. "My family and I didn't get along because they were heavily into the Dark Arts and bought into the whole pureblood agenda. Most of my cousins and my late younger brother followed Voldemort." He sat down next to Harry and Remus sat opposite in a comfortable looking chair. "Anyway, I inherited the family title, wealth and estates when my grandfather died, but obviously I was in Azkaban and when I got out, I didn't want to have anything to do with any of it. But I realised when you helped me escape from Hogwarts that I should swallow my pride and accept my inheritance so I could get things done like hiring a solicitor and," he waggled his eyebrows at Harry, "clearing my name."

"I gave an interview but they wouldn't tell me," Harry couldn't help the surge of hope that rushed through him, "did you…are you…"

"Yep," Sirius smiled widely back at him, "as of this evening I am an innocent man according to the Ministry."

"It's going to be announced tomorrow." Remus added. "Full pardon and compensation. Wormtail is going to find himself a wanted man."

"That's brilliant!" Harry said and tried to ignore the rattling nerves in his gut as his mouth dried up. And it was brilliant: Sirius was free and that was fantastic but…but maybe Sirius hadn't meant his offer to live with him if arrangements had been made just for the summer so…

"The other thing," Sirius said roughly, his eyes raking over Harry as though he'd read his mind, "is that I'm hoping you still want to come live with me because, uh, we managed to get the Ministry and your dear aunt to agree that, um, as of this evening I'm your guardian."

Harry stared into the anxious eyes of his godfather. "You are?" He barely got the words out, his chest was so tight and he thought he might not be able to breathe. Sirius really wanted him?

"I am." Sirius confirmed more confidently. "Remus has the paperwork if you need proof. So, living with me?" He nudged Harry's shoulder. "That's OK with you? Because, as much as I want you living with me, I really, really, want you to be OK with this too."

He nodded quickly. "It's…it's…" Everything he had ever dreamed about when he was in his cupboard.

Harry felt his throat close up and his eyes prickled with sudden tears. Sirius wanted him. He was free of the Dursleys and could live with Sirius who actually wanted him, cared about him enough, maybe even loved him enough to arrange it so he would be Harry's guardian, and who hadn't run off and left Harry alone again…Harry had no idea what was going on as his emotions raged and his magic responded, flaring up and rattling the ornaments.

Sirius immediately tugged him into another hug and Harry stiffened again before he went with it, trying hard not to cry as he pressed into the unfamiliar sensation of the warmth and security of someone, a parent type person, holding him.

"It's OK, Pronglet." Sirius whispered. "Let it go. I've got you."

And Harry felt the first sob wrench out of him sharply before he surrendered and gave into the need to cry.

Chapter Text

Part 3: Healing Padfoot & Pronglet (The Hide-in-a-Time-Bubble Prank)

June 24th 1994

Sirius had once been a thirteen year old boy and he knew that Harry, who was currently crying his eyes out into Sirius's increasingly wet and soggy shoulder would be mortified as soon as the storm of weeping stopped. Sirius also knew Harry needed the release though. Sirius knew all too well the emotional shock of having someone care after years of being told you were worthless. He had never wanted his godson's childhood to be anything like his own and that it was made his heart ache and took him far too close to shedding tears himself.

No more Dursleys though, Sirius reminded himself as he rubbed soothing circles on Harry's back with one hand and stroked his fingers through his mop of dark hair with the other. Harry was under his protection finally and Sirius would make sure that the remainder of Harry's childhood would be exactly what it should be: filled with love and happiness and fun and security…

He glanced over at Remus who looked devastated at Harry's breakdown. He mouthed that it was OK and Remus nodded slightly, easing back from his hovering uncertain position on the edge of his chair.

Harry sniffled and Sirius realised he'd come back to himself.

Remus handed over a handkerchief. Sirius eased back and handed Harry the cloth with the no-nonsense instruction to blow his nose. Harry followed the order, swiped at his damp cheeks and absently handed him the handkerchief back; Sirius banished it. Harry was bright red and wouldn't meet either of their eyes.

"The summer before my sixth year, I ran away from home and ended up at your Dad's." Sirius said quietly.

Harry looked over at him, curiosity getting the better of his embarrassment.

"Your Granddad Potter told me that it was all going to be OK, that they loved me and I was already part of the family. I was sixteen years old and I spent the better part of an hour crying my eyes out on his shoulder." Sirius said. "So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that you're in good company."

Harry flushed but nodded slowly in acknowledgement that Sirius understood.

"He also told me just as I'm telling you now that we have a lot of getting to know each other to do and at some point we're going to argue, and disagree, and do things or say things that test our patience with each other," Sirius continued, keeping hold of Harry's gaze determinedly, "because parents and kids do that, and although I'm new at this I consider myself your parent now, kiddo." He poked Harry gently in the arm. "OK?"

Harry nodded again.

"So, we're going to do all of those things, but, and this is the important thing: I'm always going to love you." Sirius said, fervently. "I loved you from the moment I held you just after you were born and I loved you when you broke me out of Hogwarts and I love you right now this minute and I am always going to love you and want you in my life. Understand?"

"And that goes for me too, Harry." Remus added softly.

Sirius could see the hope that flared to life in Harry's eyes as he gave another nod but he could also see fear that it wasn't true or real. It was going to take time, Sirius reminded himself. He patted Harry on the shoulder softly.

"Now, we have lots to tell you," Sirius said changing the subject and brightening his tone, "but Remus told me you haven't had dinner, so why don't we get something to eat?"

Harry's stomach growled in response.

"Food it is." Remus declared cheerfully. He stood up, and Sirius and Harry followed him out of the room and down the corridor.

Sirius couldn't help smiling as Harry gazed around wide-eyed. "The house has been in my family for generations. My grandfather preferred the country estate and hated London so when my father married my mother he gave it to them. My mother was nuts, and she was restricted to the house by my grandfather." Namely after she'd tortured Sirius, a recognised heir to the line, for refusing to follow Voldemort and driven him to the Potters – but Harry didn't need to know that part of the story.

"Are we going to live here?" Harry asked as Remus led them into the dining room.

"Nope." Sirius guided Harry into the seat on his right as he took his usual chair at the top of the table. Remus sat in the seat to his left, opposite Harry. "I'm going to need this place for business – I have a seat on the Wizengamot – so it's going to be too visible despite the Fidelius. We will live somewhere else." He touched the table and the food appeared – plates of shepherd's pie with peas and carrots. "Tuck in."

Harry immediately began and something uncoiled in Sirius's gut at the sight of his godson eating at a table in a house Sirius owned. He picked up his own cutlery as Remus passed a bread roll to Harry.

"Thank you, Professor." Harry said automatically.

"Professor." Sirius snorted.

Remus shot him a look. "It's Remus, Harry, or Moony, if you'd prefer that. I'm not your professor anymore."

"You used to call him Mooey." Sirius slid in teasingly.

Harry's eyes lit up and a smile flickered over his lips. "Really?"

"Yes, Unca Mooey to be exact." Remus recalled fondly. "As you were only a baby we forgave you the lack of enunciation."

"Prongs thought it was hilarious." Sirius said, remembering the scene in the Potters' kitchen and James chuckling away. "But his face when you called him 'dada' for the first time…" he smiled at his godson's rapt expression, "he was the proudest man on the planet that day."

"Floo called me especially," Remus agreed, "but then you'd been calling your Mum 'mama' for at least a month and I think your Dad was just thrilled you'd finally recognised his part in your parenting."

Harry scooped up more of his pie. "I wish I could remember."

Sirius exchanged a sad look with Remus. "Well, we can share our memories with you so you can see for yourself."

"And tell you lots of stories." Remus added. "I've been saving them up for years and now I finally get the chance to tell you them, since I no longer need permission from either your aunt or the Headmaster to see you or to talk with you openly."

Something eased behind Harry's eyes and Sirius mentally applauded his old friend for letting Harry know simply and quickly why he hadn't been in his life to date.

"We do have a lot to tell you, Harry," Sirius said, "everything from your Mum and Dad and your Potter heritage to what happened after you rescued me at Hogwarts to what happens next…but I don't want to overwhelm you with information, and I would like your agreement on some things that are already in motion so I think we need to prioritise for tonight – agreed?"

Harry nodded and swallowed down his mouthful of food quickly. "OK."

"Well, as we will have plenty of time in the future to tell you about your Mum and Dad and your family, how about we focus on the urgent things?" Remus suggested, spooning more shepherd's pie onto Harry's plate.

"Like what's happened since Hogwarts and what happens next?" Harry asked, smiling a thank you at Remus.

"Exactly." Sirius said, picking up his glass and taking a long sip of water.

"We should do this logically and start from what happened when you, Sirius, left Hogwarts." Remus instructed.

Sirius rolled his eyes but complied. "Well, like I said, before I realised I needed my inheritance to get things done so I came here and assumed control of the family magic; that essentially made me Lord Black." He restrained the urge to tell Harry he would need to do something similar and become Lord Potter. "Kreacher, the old house elf, is giddy at the thought of restoring the family's reputation so he has helped with getting money from Gringotts, doing the shopping, cleaning this place up." Which was a relief and a shock because he and Kreacher had never had the best of relationships when Sirius was a child. "Then Remus sent me a note so we met up and he agreed to help me with getting you away from the Dursleys. He's also agreed to come live with us and keep us out of trouble."

Harry darted a pleased look at Remus who smiled back at him.

"What next?" Sirius asked himself. "Oh, right, we hired a solicitor, Brian Cutter, who's very good at what he does. He investigated my arrest, found there wasn't a trial and approached Fudge on behalf of Lord Black about investigating whether or not Sirius Black was innocent."

"The Minister knows that Lord Black will be very powerful politically when he takes up his position in the Wizengamot, more powerful and wealthy than the Minister's current advisors." Remus jumped in. "So he agreed to the investigation, and ultimately your guardianship, not wanting to annoy a new potential ally."

Harry looked at them both with a grin. "So you essentially pranked the Minister into doing his job?"

"Yes." Remus and Sirius replied in unison unashamedly.

"There will be some feathers that have to be smoothed," Remus acknowledged, "when it's announced that Sirius is Lord Black."

"Fudge won't be able to get too annoyed with me though," Sirius reassured Harry, sensing his godson's unease at the idea of an angry Minister, "I am Lord Black, Amelia Bone's investigation did clear my name, and my guardianship of you is based on the legally acknowledged wishes of your parents." He darted a look at Remus; a signal for help at explaining about the rest of what had transpired around the guardianship.

Remus stepped in immediately, gentling his tone. "Not only that but when Amelia Bones came to see you at Privet Drive she wasn't impressed with the standard of care that you were receiving from your aunt and uncle."

A crease appeared in Harry's forehead and he stared down at his meal, embarrassed.

"She supported the change in guardianship especially when she did some digging and realised you hadn't received any official visits to check up on you." Remus continued. "It would be very embarrassing for the Ministry if that came to light."

Harry's gaze remained affixed to his plate.

"Harry," Sirius said softly, "we don't know exactly what your aunt and uncle have done or not done in taking care of you, but we can guess and we do know that Director Bones believed that you might have a case to bring charges against them."

"It would go through the muggle system," Remus explained, "however, Brian has said that it would probably come down to your word against theirs."

Harry had stopped eating and his features had taken on a pensive look similar to Lily's. "I…I just want to be shot of them."

"Well, you don't have to have anything more to do with them." Sirius declared fiercely. If there was any other business with the Dursleys he and Remus could take care of it – probably Remus as Sirius was likely to hex the hell out of them.

"Your aunt relinquished all rights to you," Remus said carefully, "in exchange for the protection of a new address so wizards can't find her."

"You mean she happily gave me away for a new house?" Realisation dawned and Harry's face grew red. "That house where we were at – that's their new house?"

"Uh, yes." Remus glanced over at Sirius, the need for help written all over his face.

"Great, that's just great." Harry muttered pushing his plate away. He took a breath and met Sirius's gaze. "I'll pay you back, I promise."

Sirius's eyes widened at the offer. "You don't need to, Harry, I have plenty of money and, quite honestly, I'd happily have given every knut to the woman if it meant I got you in exchange."

Stunned didn't even begin to describe Harry's face. Sirius bridged the gap between them and placed a hand over Harry's clenched fist.

"Harry, we understand if you don't want to talk about your time with your aunt and uncle. But I want you to keep two things in mind; firstly, that we will be here when you are ready to talk about it; and secondly, however they treated you was not your fault and whatever they told was a lie."

Harry nodded slowly. "Sorry, I just…"

"Believe me, I know." Sirius said sincerely, letting go of Harry reluctantly.

"You should also keep in mind, Harry, that while the new house was in some ways a bribe, there was a valid reason for giving your aunt a new address above and beyond getting you out of their clutches." Remus said, easing the topic down another path and away from sensitive issues. "Your Mum put up some very impressive blood wards around the house at Privet Drive. Now, they kept both you and your aunt safe while you resided there, and your magic helped to keep the wards in place. However, with you no longer there…"

"The wards will eventually collapse." Sirius explained. "After Brian's initial discussion with your aunt, with her permission we had an expert from Gringotts check them out. He said with your immediate removal, and as you've been away at Hogwarts most of the year already, he would give it a month or so before the wards fall."

"The new house doesn't have the blood wards but it does have an impressive set of security wards that will keep out wizards." Remus said.

Sirius checked Remus and Harry were done with the main course and tapped the table. The dishes disappeared and dessert shimmered onto fresh plates in front of them.

Harry enthusiastically reached for a spoon to delve into the ice-cream. "I guess I'm OK with them having the house." He said after his first bite. "I don't like that they've got it but…I don't really want them dead and Voldemort…" he looked up at them suddenly. "You know he's alive?"

"Yes, I might have learned a great deal about your first two years when I was teaching." Remus confirmed. "You encountered a wraith of Voldemort in your first year? And in your second encountered an object that could have brought him back to a corporeal form?"

"A diary, yes." Harry said. "Lucius Malfoy gave it to Ginny."

Sirius glowered. "The family meeting is going to be a doozy." He shook himself and caught Harry's inquisitive look. "Malfoy is married to my cousin, Narcissa. As the Malfoys petitioned to marry into our family, the Black's have something called primacy. Lucius is subject to the will of Lord Black."

A mischievous grin spread across Harry's face and he looked so like James for a second that Sirius's heart almost stopped.

"I'm going to have to a family meeting soon to sort some things out. As you're my heir, I want you to have input on how we handle the family matters," Sirius forced himself to continue, "but that's a discussion for another day."

"OK," Harry said easily, "although I know exactly what I want to do with Malfoy."

Sirius and Remus exchanged a knowing look at the tone. James had always used that particular tone for Snivellus.

"Getting back to Voldemort," Sirius said quickly, "yes, Remus and I know he's out there. Thanks to a letter my brother Regulus wrote to me and which Kreacher gave to me when I arrived here, we also know there are other objects like the diary that are also out there that we believe are the reason why he's a wraith and not completely dead."

"So what are we going to do?" Harry asked, far too enthusiastic for Sirius's liking.

"We aren't going to do anything. Remus and I will be bringing the matter to the attention of the Ministry, the DMLE and the DOM, and will work with them to track these objects down and see about kicking Voldepants into the great hereafter." Sirius said. "You are going to go to school, study, have fun and enjoy yourself."

"But…" began Harry.

"It's not that I don't think you're a capable wizard, Harry," Sirius reassured him swiftly, "after your amazing rescue of me, how could I think otherwise? And I know from the tales of your exploits that you've faced Voldemort down more than anyone else alive and lived to tell the tale. But, Harry, and it's a big but, you should never have had to face him. You were eleven and twelve and should have been thinking about pranks and fun not how do I survive a basilisk or a possessed professor? The adults around you should have done much more to protect you – and I will be having words with Dumbledore believe you and me – and now you're under my protection, I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure you're safe, and that means ensuring that Voldemort or anything to do with him doesn't come within a hundred miles of you!"

His heart was racing as he ended his speech.

Harry was looking at him wide-eyed.

"As you can see, your godfather feels rather strongly about the matter." Remus said mildly.

"I don't want anything to happen to you." Harry blurted out. "Either of you."

"Neither do we, nor do we want anything happening to you." Remus replied as Sirius struggled to get the lump in his throat to disappear. "Which is why Sirius and I will involve the people who should track these things down and fight Voldemort; namely not us. I was thinking we would be more like…"

"Ringmasters." Sirius offered.

"I was going to say Generals." Remus countered. "A Ringmaster is in charge of a circus."

"Well, it is the Ministry, the DMLE and the DOM." Sirius pointed wryly. "They are a bit of a circus."

A genuine chuckle from Harry brought a smile to Sirius's face only for it to be wiped out by the next thing his godson asked.

"What about the Headmaster?" Harry waved his spoon. "He could help."

Sirius growled before he could stop himself.

"What Sirius is trying to say is that while we both think the Headmaster is a great wizard to whom we owe a great deal," Remus said diplomatically, "we have some concerns about the decisions he's made."

Harry frowned. "What decisions?"

Remus and Sirius exchanged a concerned look; neither of them wanted to disillusion Harry about an adult authority figure, someone he respected, but they also knew they needed Harry to start questioning his Headmaster's motivations and actions.

"Harry, you play chess, right?" Remus asked, putting his own spoon down.

"Yes."

From the tentative answer Harry was wondering where Remus was going with his question; Sirius was rather wondering that himself.

"Imagine that the chessboard is the wizarding world. On one side of the board is Voldemort." Remus gestured with his wand and a black King piece sprang into being on the dining room table. "On the other, the Leader of the Light, Albus Dumbledore." A white King piece appeared.

Sirius was sure Remus had been a brilliant teacher; Harry was paying attention, his brow lowered in concentration.

"But there are many pieces on a chessboard." A third gesture had the actual board arriving. "Some people in the wizarding world might be important like the knights, rooks, bishops and Queens." Pieces arrived to fill the squares. "The Minister of Magic might be one of those pieces, for instance. And I think you, Harry, would probably be one of the more important pieces. Some of us though might merely be…pawns."

The word impacted with the force of a bludger as the minor chess pieces arrived. Sirius could see Harry's internal flinch as clearly as if he'd done a full body jerk.

"Now what's the first lesson you learned about chess?" Remus asked softly.

A series of emotions ran across Harry's face but he raised his eyes to meet Remus's bravely. "That you may need to sacrifice a piece."

"And you might risk others." Remus gestured until the board transformed into a half-played game. "See, your rook is at risk because you've decided to protect your knight. Now, remember the wizarding world is our board, so Albus is risking his rook, and let's say that's Sirius, because he's decided to protect his knight, let's pretend that's you. Do you think Sirius would argue with that decision?"

Harry darted a look at Sirius. "No?"

"No." Sirius stressed immediately. "In theory, I have no trouble being put at risk if it means that you're safe."

Harry looked as though he wanted to argue the point but Remus jumped back in.

"Only Albus doesn't ask Sirius because Sirius is only a chess piece and Albus has control of his side of the board, even though the decision he's made – that he won't offer Sirius his personal protection so Sirius gets a trial but he will allow Sirius to escape – means Sirius doesn't get his name cleared and remains on the run as a fugitive, and you're still stuck at the Dursleys."

Harry frowned heavily as he absorbed Remus's words.

"But say there was a different move that could have had both pieces safe." Remus made another motion with his wand and the pieces changed to safe positions. "With this move – offering Sirius the personal protection of the Chief Warlock until Sirius can be questioned under veritaserum – Sirius is a free man able to provide you with guardianship and you're free of the Dursleys. However, this move means the whole game is a bit more difficult."

Harry looked over at Sirius, his eyes guarded. "Could he really have put you under his personal protection?"

"He could have," Sirius replied calmly, "but no doubt it would have created difficulties between him and Fudge politically, and potentially that could have ramifications for legislation in front of the Wizengamot or things that Dumbledore needs Fudge to do as Minister." He pointed at Harry's ice-cream and got his godson eating again. "To keep with the chess theme, he was probably thinking several moves ahead with his ultimate endgame in mind when he made the decision not to offer me protection."

"Ron says I need to think ahead more when I play." Harry commented, stirring the slush that his ice-cream had become. "He says that I see a piece in danger and automatically move to save it without thinking about the rest of them."

"So I guess we know which move you would choose if you were controlling the board." Remus continued.

"This one." Harry admitted.

"Of course you would and so would Sirius, and so would I." Remus agreed brightly. "But none of us are in control of the board, we're…"

"A chess piece." Harry said, disgusted.

Remus cleared his throat, a little chagrined. "Ah, well, yes, but I don't mean to imply that in real life Albus considers you or any of us with the same cold objectivity that he would an actual chess piece. He does care about you, Harry; don't forget that in both moves we've talked about he's protecting you. And I'm sure in real life the decisions he makes weigh on him."

Sirius wasn't so sure about that but he appreciated that Remus wanted to reassure Harry that Dumbledore cared about him, especially since Harry believed so few people in his life cared about him.

"However, when Sirius and I got together and talked, we realised that Albus has made quite a few decisions like this one," Remus gestured towards the chessboard which went back to the previous play, "decisions which on the face of it are well-meaning but frustrating for the chess pieces – uh, the people involved."

"And really unfair if he's deciding without asking them what they want." Harry interjected fiercely.

"Exactly. So Sirius being Sirius, or should I say Padfoot, decided to mutiny and take over the whole game." Remus made a gesture at the chess piece and the rook changed into a small dog which began running around the chessboard barking at the other pieces forcing them to move back to the preferred play.

Harry gave another small laugh at its antics. Sirius was glad Remus had found a way to lighten the mood.

Remus gave it another moment and then had the dog change back. "And now we're deciding the moves rather than Albus."

There was silence and Sirius could almost see the wheels in Harry's head turning as he took on board everything they'd said.

"So what do you think?" Sirius asked impatiently.

"I think I hate chess." Harry wrinkled his nose as Sirius gave an appreciative bark of laughter. "But I think I see what you mean. I mean, I think the Headmaster could still help with the Voldemort thing but I can understand wanting to make your own decisions."

Sirius breathed out a sigh of relief.

"Talking of which," Harry said slyly, "I know you don't want me to be involved – and I understand that," he said hurriedly, "it's just…"

"You're not sure Voldemort will leave you alone." Remus finished.

"I asked the Headmaster why Voldemort was so interested in me after first year." Harry licked his spoon. "He said he'd tell me when I was older. Maybe I should ask him again."

Sirius hummed caught between wanting to keep Harry out of it and yet unwilling to outright lie to his godson. He capitulated to the need for honesty. "We think there's a prophecy involved but you and I will need to investigate with the Department of Mysteries."

Harry looked at him eagerly. "Us?"

"Yes, us." Sirius conceded. "Look, if I had my way you wouldn't be anywhere near the fight with Voldepants until you're of age and trained and wrapped in several layers of dragonhide and maybe several more protective layers of bodyguards and possibly a dragon or two, but…as you say, it's obvious that he has an interest in you." He grimaced. "So, maybe we can agree a compromise."

His godson perked up considerably at that.

"Remus and I will handle searching out these objects with the help of others – which may or may not include your Headmaster," Sirius said, holding up a hand before Harry could argue the point, "but we will keep you in the loop, and you will help in searching out if there is actually a prophecy."

Harry smiled happily.

"You will also start learning something called Occlumency to help us keep these things secret and we will train you in some defensive magic so if you do end up facing Voldepants again, you have some tricks up your sleeve." Sirius tried to sound parental. He figured Remus was trying not to laugh at him. "How does that sound?"

Harry beamed at him and Sirius couldn't help the warm rush of affection that rose up in response.

"This is kind of the way I want this to work, Harry," Sirius admitted, "we talk, and we agree together what we want to do. What do you think?"

"I like that I get a say." Harry admitted. His eyes lit up mischievously. "I guess it's like you said about Dumbledore, it's a bit frustrating if people make decisions for you without asking what you want."

Sirius inclined his head at the acknowledged hit for his previous 'you will stay out of it' position. He gave a mischievous grin of his own. "I'm glad you want to be involved because the other thing we'll use to fight Voldemort is politics."

A look of uncertainty crossed Harry's face. "Politics?"

"We need to ensure his followers or people who follow his agenda don't have the political power to help him," Remus said, "which means building alliances with the other Ancient and Noble families."

"And we need to shut down his access to money." Sirius added, wielding his own spoon through the air like a sword.

"Uh, maybe I'll leave this bit to you guys." Harry suggested.

Sirius smirked at him and Harry inclined his head as he acknowledged that a point had been scored by his godfather.

"Actually, you will need to be involved with politics. The Potters are an Ancient and Noble family, and you personally have the potential to have a lot of political influence because of your celebrity no matter how much you might dislike the idea." Sirius commiserated. "We'll add it to your training."

Harry sighed miserably. "I guess."

"But not tonight." Sirius added. "We should probably discuss what's going to happen in the immediate future."

Harry brightened.

"So first things first," Sirius said, nerves attacking him again, "as part of the guardianship deal, I agreed that I would get some medical treatment."

His godson looked alarmed and concerned.

"I'm fine," Sirius hastened to reassure him, "but I was exposed to Dementors for a long time in Azkaban and on the run eating out of dustbins for a year, so I can't say I necessarily disagree that I could do with a check-up."

"You're really OK though?" Harry asked, dropping his spoon into his bowl.

"Really." Sirius said firmly. And he was – yes, his emotions were still unsteady, his mind sometimes foggy and he hadn't yet regained all of his physical strength – but he was OK. "I could be better," he allowed, "and I am concerned about your exposure to Dementors so I've arranged for us both to take a trip to the States to The Valley Clinic."

Harry squirmed and grimaced.

"I expect," Sirius continued as though he hadn't noticed Harry's silent response, "that we'll go in, they'll give us a check-up and then we'll have a bit of a holiday while they feed me some nutrient potions."

"A holiday?" Harry stopped squirming and started looking interested.

"Hmm-hmm," Sirius agreed, finishing his ice-cream and setting the bowl aside, "I understand from my Uncle Alphard's journal that there's plenty of space for flying, a swimming pool and some great hiking trails."

"Flying?"

Sirius struggled not to smile at Harry's hopeful expression; he couldn't look at Remus because he figured the two of them would break down laughing if he did. "Yep. So how about it?"

"I'd like to go on a holiday." Harry admitted shyly.

"Good, well, that's settled then. We'll only be gone for a week in normal time but the clinic is in a time bubble to provide people with as much time as they need to heal, so we'll probably stay a bit longer than that." Sirius said cheerfully. "We should talk about disguises."

"Disguises?" Harry repeated warily, getting diverted from the topic of why it might take more than a week for them to heal and whole complicated magic of the time bubble as Sirius had intended.

Remus cleared his throat drawing their attention. "As you've pointed out, Voldemort has an interest in you. One of the reasons Albus placed you with your muggle relatives was the protection provided to you by the blood wards left by your mother. Now you're safe here but we need to make sure you're safe when you travel."

"We'll be going muggle." Sirius said brightly. "I've never been on an aeroplane before."

"Neither have I." Harry's face was alight with excitement. "And you think we should be disguised too?"

"We have two choices for you, Harry." Remus clasped his hands on the top of the polished table. "The first is that we put a glamour charm on you, turn your hair blond, your eyes blue, for example. But you'd still be thirteen years old and so if anyone was looking for you, you'd fall into the age group they would watch for."

"And if they're magical they'll know I might be wearing a glamour charm." Harry surmised very quickly.

"Exactly." Sirius said proudly. "So there is another option: we use a de-aging potion on you. You'll be five years old for twenty-four hours. Nobody will be able to tell you're really thirteen and you can have some carefree fun as a five year old."

Harry considered it carefully; Sirius could see he was weighing the benefits of being safe and five against losing his thirteen year old intelligence and want to be treated like an adult.

"I guess I should choose the de-aging potion." Harry said finally. He glanced at Sirius. "What about you?"

"I'll take a de-aging potion too." Sirius said. "I'll be in my twenties but old enough to have a five year old son. You'll be Harry Evans and I'll be Jack Evans – Jack was your grandfather's name."

Harry nodded slowly. "What about you, Remus?"

Remus started in surprise. "Me?"

"You're coming with us, right?" Harry asked urgently.

Remus smiled at Harry. "Thank you for thinking of me but not this time." He waved at Sirius and Harry. "You both need to time to get to know each other and I'll need to coordinate things here in your absence. I have our new house to prepare, your finances to sort through, overseeing the press announcement of you as Sirius's ward…" his smile widened, "I dare say I'll have enough to keep me busy during the week you're away."

"Our new house?" Harry asked, his eyes widening.

"We've bought a place in Hampshire, out in the countryside." Sirius explained. "It was muggle but we've made it unplottable, warded it to the hilt and put it under Fidelius too."

"We have some pictures we can show you." Remus said. "But, why don't we show you around here first?"

The tour was a good idea. Harry was most impressed with the duelling room in the basement, proclaimed Hermione would love the library, and was reintroduced to Kreacher in the kitchen before the house elf chased them out. They informed him briskly that they'd hired another elf for the new house as Kreacher had enough to do with 12 Grimmauld Place.

They finally climbed the stairs and Sirius explained the first floor bedrooms were for guests as he nudged Harry up another flight of stairs. The second floor had three bedrooms, each with an adjoining bath. Each glistening white painted door had a gold plaque. The first door had 'Steward of the House of Black' on it and Remus explained it was his room. Sirius's was engraved with 'Lord Black.' He let Harry have a quick look inside before hustling him down the corridor to the next room where the sign read 'Heir of the House of Black.'

"Here's your room for when you do have to stay here." Sirius said brightly. He nervously ushered Harry in.

The walls were a pale cream. He'd had Kreacher furnish the place with Gryffindor red on the curtains, bed-linen and the upholstery of the chairs. A gold and red tapestry rug depicting a lion softened the newly sanded and polished hardwood floor. The furniture was good quality oak but not polished antique as Sirius wanted Harry to be comfortable.

Harry circled the room, taking in the bookcase and desk where he lingered over a photo of his parents, the dresser and wardrobe, the bed and bedside table, the squishy chair by the window where his trunk had been placed along with an owl perch for Hedwig who hooted a welcome to him. He explored the small bath through a side-door and came back in with a wide smile. "This is…great." His eyes met Sirius's across the room. "Thank you."

"I'm glad you like it." Sirius said, pleased. "We won't be living here but you should feel free to put some posters up and make it your room whenever we do."

They smiled giddily at each other.

Remus cleared his throat. He was leaning up against the doorjamb, indulgence oozing from his own smug smile. "Your flight is very early so you and Padfoot should have an early night. There are some new pyjamas in the dresser, Harry, along with underwear and other things. We'll leave you to get ready for bed. Give a yell if you need anything."

"What about packing for the holiday?" Harry asked.

"Already done – we took the liberty of buying you some new clothes – although set anything you want to take with you on the desk and I'll add it to the suitcase in the morning." Sirius replied. "I'll wake you when it's time to get up." He made to follow Remus out but stopped as Harry looked around the room as though lost. "You OK?"

Harry blushed. "Just a bit overwhelmed, I guess."

Sirius nodded understandingly. "Like Remus said, we're a yell away if you need anything." He forced himself to continue walking out.

"Sirius…"

Harry stopped him just as Sirius made it to the door. He glanced back questioningly.

"Moody mentioned my Dad was a Hit Wizard and I was wondering…" Harry fidgeted with the edge of his shirt. "What did my Mum do?"

"Your Mum signed up straight after school to do a Mastery of Charms with Professor Flitwick. Your Mum told me that when she completed the Mastery she wanted to teach. Then you came along – a very wanted but unexpected surprise, and then your folks had to go into hiding so…she never got the opportunity but she would have made a great teacher. She was the brightest witch of our year."

"Thanks, Sirius," Harry said sincerely, "for everything."

"No need to thank me, Harry. You get some rest." Sirius finally made it out of the door and closed it, laying his head against the wood to catch his breath.

Harry was home; he was safe.

Chapter Text

Remus swallowed the urge to yawn and tried to focus on his meeting with Brian. They were in Brian's office in a wonderful old building just off Diagon Alley. The office was large but unpretentious, it suited Brian. There was a large bay window letting sunlight flood across the sturdy desk and comfortable chairs, the bookcases that lined the room were filed with legal books and journals.

"Everything go as planned with obtaining custody of the boy?" Brian asked as he reviewed the parchments in front of him.

"Pretty much." Remus replied, recalling the previous evening with satisfaction before his mind drifted to earlier that morning.

He'd bundled a newly de-aged Sirius and Harry into a car they'd hired at five o'clock to drive them to the airport. They'd both tugged at his heartstrings; it had been like looking at what could have been had Sirius taken guardianship when Harry was a baby. Harry had made a very cute sleepy five year old; Sirius had made a very dangerous looking twenty-seven year old. Remus had insisted on taking a photo.

"He's a remarkable thirteen year old boy if he didn't kick up a fuss about being sent to a health clinic." Brian said dryly, setting the parchments aside.

Remus grinned. "Ah, well, we might have led him to believe it's mostly for Sirius's benefit, and the most he'll get is a check-up and then he can have a holiday."

"Sneaky."

"It was a bit of a conversational landmine." Remus recalled. Sirius had handled it well. In fact, Sirius had handled the whole evening with remarkable skill only faltering over the topic of Dumbledore momentarily. Remus was proud of him. When Sirius was healed, he was going to be a fantastic father to Harry.

And Sirius did need healing. Remus had caught him drifting mid-sentence; staring off into space with a haunted expression. He was skin and bones despite Kreacher's cooking and the nutrient potions the house elf insisted Sirius drink every morning. But for all that Sirius was surprisingly focused on one thing: Harry.

James would be proud of Sirius and how he'd embraced his role as Harry's godfather, Remus thought fondly; Lily, on the other hand, would be open-mouthed in disbelief at Sirius's transformation from a somewhat reckless youth. Remus was only saddened that Sirius hadn't been given the opportunity to transform twelve years before.

The confirmation that there had been no trial hadn't been a shock to them but it was still a blow. Sirius had spent the day after hearing the news in a fury. Remus had channelled his anger into going over their plan with a fine toothcomb so nothing could go wrong. It had been hard the previous evening trying to explain to Harry their anger at Albus without listing the growing complaints they had against him – the primary of which was Harry's treatment at the hands of the Dursleys.

Remus had a feeling that Harry needed to be healed as much as Sirius. His size and stature spoke of malnutrition and given the way he had broken down when Sirius had confirmed he was Harry's guardian and wanted him…Merlin. Remus had never felt so useless.

"Did you get a chance to ask the young man about prosecuting his relatives?" Brian asked.

If Remus hadn't known his lycanthropy blocked mind-reading of any description he'd have been worried that Brian had picked the topic straight out of his head. He sighed and nodded. "He said and I quote 'I just want shot of them.' Sirius and I are agreed that they won't come near him again so that's done."

"Ah. Well, can't blame the boy, and it's probably for the best; a prosecution would have been an ordeal for him." Brian murmured. "I assume you looked at the report compiled by Amelia Bones?"

"Actually, no." Remus shook his head. "Sirius took a copy for the healers at the clinic but he wouldn't read it. He said Harry would talk to us when he was ready. I won't read it because I fear if I do I'll hex the Dursleys if I have to deal with them again."

Brian raised an eyebrow. "Some would say they deserve it."

"They'll get their comeuppance eventually." Remus promised fiercely. "Sirius and I will ensure it once Harry is of age and Petunia can't even remotely threaten to take Harry away from Sirius."

"You think they'll try and reverse the guardianship?"

"It's unlikely but I'm not ruling it out," Remus said, "mostly because I wouldn't put it past Vernon Dursley to realise that if they got a new house for Harry that they could potentially extort more."

"I assume that Black would prosecute them for extortion in that case." Brian said, picking up the cup on his desk.

Remus nodded, draining his own cup of tea. Sirius would if Remus had anything to say about it. "A topic for another day," he said, knowing they'd meandered from the purpose of the meeting. "Are we organised for the press this week?"

Brian nodded. "Everything's been arranged. There'll be a press feature tomorrow reminding people of Sirius's efforts during the last war, his friendship with the Potters and hopefully various statements from friends and supporters once the news breaks today about his innocence. The day after that, the press will have the escape story emphasising the want to protect Harry, and the day after that; the Ministry will announce its decision that Sirius has been awarded guardianship."

"Good." Remus said, relieved everything was in place.

"Yes," Brian brushed off his robes absently, "and don't think I won't be charging Black danger money for having to go into the Ministry every day."

Remus smiled at him. "Well, I could do it but his Senior Undersecretary is likely to panic when she realises I'm a werewolf."

Brian harrumphed with laughter. "Merlin, but she's a toad. How Dolores ever got that position…" he shook his head. "You know it's going to cause a bit of a storm that Lord Black has a werewolf as his steward when your condition leaks out to the press? The Light will assume that it's a confirmation he's Dark because he's hiring a Dark creature, and the Dark will assume that it's a confirmation that he's Light because he's not discriminating against werewolves."

Remus's lips twitched. "Sirius is looking forward to confounding people, I think. I won't care for the publicity although it will help promote Sirius's political agenda, but frankly, making sure Sirius and Harry have a good life is my only objective."

"And a good objective it is too." Brian agreed, raising his cup in a silent toast. "Moving on to other legal matters, I've spoken with Liam Arkam and we've come to a gentleman's agreement over the Potters' will as they were the original solicitors of record. He has submitted the paperwork we completed when Amelia agreed to act as executor to get the guardianship through. The outstanding bequests will go through within the next couple of days, and there'll be a will reading. He gave me a letter to forward to Sirius; I assume it's a proposal for resuming their role as the Potter solicitors. You obviously have our proposal. Mary Baron is very good and we can maintain separation to ensure there is no conflict of interest."

Remus took the letter and popped it into his briefcase. Arkam and Arkam was a good firm but Sirius hadn't been impressed that they'd allowed the will to go missing in the first place and effectively condemned Harry to the Dursleys. Regardless of Sirius's situation and the Longbottoms, Minerva McGonagall, who had been a close friend of James's mother, had been named as an alternative guardian for Harry as had Andromeda Tonks, a distant cousin to James as a former member of the House of Black before her marriage to a Muggleborn but one who he had known through Sirius. However, Sirius was determined that Harry needed to have input into who would represent him and so had decided Harry would meet with the candidates and they'd discuss it – something Brian already knew.

"Anything else to discuss today?" Remus asked, glancing towards the clock. He wanted to get to Gringotts before the Ministry press conference.

"Just a reminder that we need to confirm Lord Black's plans for the Black family meeting if he wants to go ahead with his schedule."

Remus grimaced. "The LeStranges are a certainty. You can prepare the dissolution of the marriage and disownment papers. The Tonks are also a certainty to be reinstated."

"And the Malfoys?"

"That's the difficult one." Remus confessed. "Do we leave Malfoy in place and use the Black primacy to keep him in line, or take him out of the equation and risk someone else manoeuvring into the vacuum Malfoy leaves?"

"Better the devil we know?" Brian questioned with a nod. "I can understand that."

Remus pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Prepare dissolution of marriage and disownment papers. Sirius may use them, he may not…but at least they'll be ready."

Brian nodded. "And adoption papers?"

"Prepare them." Remus said simply. He rather thought Harry would want the security of being adopted by Sirius.

Brian made a note and Remus got to his feet, straightening out his robes. Sirius had insisted on buying Remus some new clothing and Remus had acquiesced knowing he needed to look the part as steward for Lord Black.

He bade farewell to Brian and made his way out of the building and down Diagon Alley towards Gringotts. He was actually surprised how much he was enjoying his new position – he and Sirius had worked out the details the day after they'd been reunited. In truth although Remus held the title of 'steward,' his responsibilities would be fluid dependent on Sirius's and Harry's needs. Primarily, Remus was going to be taking care of the financials and estate management while Sirius took care of the politics. Sirius had also made it clear that he expected Remus to help him protect and guide Harry, to resume his place as Uncle Moony. Remus was thrilled.

Remus had moved into Grimmauld Place for convenience and rented out his old flat in Oxford to two very nice students who were beginning their Masters in the autumn at the University and wanted to stay over the summer. The new house in Hampshire would be ready by the time Sirius and Harry returned from the States, and Remus was looking forward to moving into their new home. He'd spend the full moons locked away in his room at Grimmauld Place though. Despite Sirius ensuring Remus had the money to buy Wolfsbane, Remus wouldn't be anywhere near Harry when he transformed and he'd made Sirius promise not to argue with him about it. The last full moon had almost been too close as it was.

Gringotts was buzzing with people and Remus made his way to a teller. He informed briskly that he was there for a meeting with the Family accounts manager and a goblin was called to take him. They made their way the stairs to the offices and Remus found himself ushered into a large room where Kipbold awaited him. They'd already been through the process once for the Black accounts.

"Documentation." Kipbold said crisply.

Remus immediately drew out the relevant parchments from his case and handed them to the goblin; the Potters' will, the guardianship award of Harry to Sirius, and his own appointment as steward.

Kipbold grunted. "Gringotts acknowledges that you or Lord Black will represent the Potter heir in financial dealings concerning his estate going forward." He reached into a box on the desk and drew out a bronze key. "You should present this in future."

Remus carefully pocketed it. "I want the current records and the portkeys to the various properties."

Kipbold harrumphed but walked over to the large filing cabinet and withdrew a file. He handed it to Remus. "Same procedure as Black; tap the parchment with your wand and request details of the vault or property. Current information defaults to a summary."

Remus nodded and placed the file in his case as Kipbold went over to a safe and pulled out a box with the portkeys. He handed it to Remus who stowed it away.

"They won't work until Potter claims his ring to lift the Death Fidelius." Kipbold said bluntly. "Arnold Askwith is the Wizard Financial Manager of record. Will you want to fire him?"

"I'll want to meet with him once I've reviewed the records, say tomorrow at one." Remus said. They'd already fired the Black Financial Manager and replaced him with a goblin called Poon on Kipbold's recommendation. Poon was a genius with figures and a voracious appetite for profit. Sirius was liquidating any investment that looked the least bit shady and reinvesting in better businesses.

Kipbold grunted again. "I'll inform appointments."

"Good profit to you." Remus said politely and left without further pleasantries. He made his way to the Leaky Cauldron to get to the Ministry of Magic.

The atrium was heaving when Remus stepped out of the floo. He could see the raised dais which had been put up ready for the press conference, and the milling press already taking their seats. Amelia Bones was chatting to Brian and Alastor Moody in a corner. Remus unashamedly hid behind a pot plant not wanting to call attention to his presence.

Fudge entered and Remus's eyes widened at the sight of Albus trailing after him. If Albus had screwed up Sirius's freedom in anyway, Remus would kill him. Fudge ignored the Chief Warlock and walked up the steps to the dais. His entourage of the Department heads stopped at the foot of the steps with the exception being Amelia Bones who made her way up them to stand just behind Fudge. The Head Auror, Rufus Scrimgeour, hovered just at the other side of the dais; other red-robed Aurors patrolled. Many of the Ministry employees gathered for the show.

"Hello, Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, concerned citizens." Fudge began pompously from the lectern. "I have a statement to read and then you may ask questions."

Remus wasn't surprised as the crowd erupted in whispers after the first few sentences; Fudge had to call for order after declaring Sirius innocent, and again after declaring Wormtail alive and wanted. Remus glanced at Albus and found a stunned expression adorning the face of the Headmaster. He had evidently not known what Fudge was going to announce.

"Questions?" Fudge asked, placing the statement down. He pointed at a reporter in the first row.

"Rita Skeeter, Minister, for the Daily Prophet," Rita said loudly, "are you absolutely certain Black is innocent?"

Fudge leaned over the lectern and nodded gravely. "Director Bones conducted a thorough investigation. The physical evidence clears Black of the explosion that killed the muggles. Pettigrew was seen alive by witnesses including Harry Potter at Hogwarts at the time of Black's capture there. Further they heard Pettigrew confess to betraying the Potters to You-Know-Who. Sirius Black is innocent."

"But what about his reputation as the right hand of You-Know-Who?" Another reporter shouted.

"Unfortunately, articles and books written after the end of the war assumed facts not in evidence based on Black's arrest for the deaths of the Potters, Pettigrew and the muggles." Fudge replied carefully. "In fact I was reminded that as a Hit Wizard in the employ of the Ministry, Sirius Black was responsible for the arrest and take down of many Death Eaters before the defeat of You-Know-Who. Not only that but he was a most trusted friend of James and Lily Potter who made him the godfather of their only son, Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. The Ministry shares its part in the horrendous damage done to Mister Black's reputation and has made reparations."

"Where is Black now?" asked a male reporter from the front row.

"Our sources place him abroad." Fudge said simply. "We reiterate that we would welcome him back to Britain should he choose to return."

Rita stood up to regain the Minister's attention. "Will actions be taken against those in the Ministry and Wizengamot who oversaw this terrible miscarriage of justice against former Hit Wizard Black?" Her gaze shifted to Dumbledore and then to Barty Crouch who glared at her.

Fudge cleared his throat. "We have to remember that it was a time of war and chaos. The Ministry was operating under special authorities. Of course, Mister Black should have had a trial where his innocence could have been established – absolutely no question about it – but we understand that it was overlooked because of circumstance." He paused. "I believe we should focus instead on two things: firstly, trusting that the current administration has seen to it that justice has prevailed, and secondly, placing our efforts into capturing the real traitor and murderer, the rat Peter Pettigrew. That will be all for today."

He gave a nod and exited the dais.

A smattering of applause followed in his wake. Remus let the crowd drift into a mass before he sneaked out from the pot plant and started to make his way to the floo.

Albus appeared so quickly in front of him that Remus almost charged into him. "Remus! How delightful to see you here!"

"Albus." Remus smiled politely and caught his breath. "How are you?"

"Fine, my dear boy." Albus said, waving away the question even as he cast a privacy bubble. "I didn't realise you'd been invited…"

"I wasn't," Remus hastened to correct that idea, "I heard about it though and…well, I couldn't not be here." He winced at his ungrammatical statement.

"Of course you couldn't," Albus agreed, "and it is a remarkable turnaround by Cornelius," for the first time ever Remus heard Albus sound somewhat bewildered, "that has to be seen and heard to be believed. I assume though that you were interviewed?"

"Under the usual oath of confidentiality." Remus confirmed smoothly. "I doubt the Ministry will let anyone but Harry's name be released."

"Possibly not," Albus demurred.

"Talking of Harry, I should write to him and let him know. I know he was interviewed so he's probably champing at the bit to know the result." Remus said brightly and somewhat mischievously.

"Let me handle that, dear boy," Albus said quickly, "Harry is currently away with the Dursleys due to a family emergency and they won't appreciate owl posts in the presence of other muggles."

"I'm sure you know best." Remus said dryly, silently celebrating that their cover story for the Dursleys departure from Privet Drive had worked.

Albus smiled, apparently satisfied with Remus's compliance. "I don't suppose you know where Sirius is? I'd be happy to collect him and let him know he can return."

"Somewhere abroad but I don't know the exact location." Remus replied promptly. Which was the truth; he had no idea where the plane was at that exact moment.

"Ah." Albus didn't seem that upset and Remus knew Albus was weighing searching out Sirius and convincing him that he knew best where Harry was concerned, with waiting until Sirius surfaced. "Well, perhaps with all the foreign press Cornelius has arranged he will be in touch sooner rather than later."

Remus inclined his head.

Albus suddenly turned to his left and Remus saw Alastor Moody gesturing at Albus to take down the bubble. Albus did so quickly.

"Albus." Alastor growled.

"Alastor!" Albus greeted him warmly. "It's good to see you. May I introduce the outgoing Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts with the incoming? Remus, you remember Alastor Moody?"

"Pleased to meet you again," Remus said automatically, "it's been some time."

"A long time." Alastor regarded him stiffly before relaxing and taking his hand. "Are you free to go over the details of what you covered in class and where you think the students are at with me?"

"I can't today and my new job keeps me busy," Remus replied, "but I could spare a lunch, say, the day after tomorrow, one o'clock at The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade?"

"Agreed." Alastor said.

"It's good to hear you found something so quickly despite how things ended at Hogwarts." Albus said warmly. "I'm certain Severus didn't mean…"

"Albus," Remus cut across him sharply, "Severus has never acted without knowing exactly what he means to do." He took a breath as Albus blinked in shock at Remus daring to speak out. "I will admit I deserved to lose my position after forgetting my Wolfsbane, but one can only hope that ousting me from Hogwarts is enough vengeance for him. As it stands, I can assure you that Sirius, when he does return, will not take kindly to Severus's treatment of Harry – and please don't deny it – Severus's unprofessional behaviour is common knowledge among the students and staff, and frankly, Severus will deserve everything Sirius will do to him and I hope I get to watch." He turned to Alastor. "I look forward to our lunch."

"As do I," replied Alastor dryly.

"Good day, Albus." Remus said politely. He sidestepped his old Headmaster and strode towards the floo, feeling liberated.

o-O-o

Sirius struggled with juggling the backpack, Harry's backpack, the documentation the muggle customs wanted, and Harry who was fast asleep. They were meant to be disembarking.

"Here, let me help you," Cheryl, the elderly woman who'd sat across the aisle from them in the plane, reached over and took Harry's backpack before the hovering air stewardess could intervene, "Basil, take the other bag."

Her husband smiled at Sirius. "You might as well give it to me otherwise she'll just punish us both."

Sirius gave away the bag and adjusted his hold on Harry as they made their way off the plane and down a sterile corridor. "It's very kind of you both."

"Nonsense." Cheryl stroked a hand over Harry's head. "He's a lovely boy."

Five year old Harry had charmed the pants off every woman in the first class section where they'd been seated. He had been polite and adorable. He'd loved the children's movie they'd played, had loved the food, and had taken great enjoyment in the children's play-pack that the stewardess had given them a few minutes into the flight. In truth, Sirius had enjoyed the play-pack too and watching Harry enjoy it; it had felt like something they'd both missed out on had been returned to them. There was also a plush soft teddy bear wearing the airlines colours that Harry hadn't let go of when he'd fallen asleep. Apparently being five was tiring – which made sense because taking care of a five year old was exhausting.

Before he knew it, Cheryl and Basil were helping Sirius through customs and into baggage where Harry woke up. They finally separated as they walked into arrivals – Cheryl and Basil being greeted by their daughter – while Sirius caught sight of a sign for his alias.

He pushed the trolley holding their luggage and walked Harry over carefully, ensuring his body was between him and the middle-aged bald man holding up the placard. "The Valley Clinic?"

"Indeed." The driver's blue eyes twinkled. "And you must be our new client," his gaze flickered to Harry, "or should I say clients?"

Sirius automatically tensed.

The driver's gaze returned to him with a twinkle in the depths. "Your Uncle Alphard was quite the character. What was his motto again…something about being up to no good?"

Sirius relaxed slightly at the mention of his uncle and his trademark saying that Sirius had stolen for the Marauders. "Sorry, it's been a long trip."

"Yes, travel by plane is tiring I'm lead to believe. Call me Mick." The driver subtly pushed Sirius aside and took ownership of the trolley.

They walked out into the windy city of Chicago and Sirius was glad he'd thought to put on his jacket. He paused and crouched down beside Harry. "Cold?"

Harry nodded, ducking his head shyly. Sirius helped zip up the jacket Harry wore and took Harry's hand as they caught up with the waiting Mick. The car was a luxury sedan. Mick wasn't surprised to see Sirius take the back seat with Harry. Sirius helped Harry into the seatbelt and ensured it was secure.

"The Valley is a good three hour journey." Mick said.

Sirius entranced Harry with the 'who can spot the most red cars' game by telling him Lily had made him play it when they'd gone muggle travelling. When Harry got tired and grumpy, Mick pointed out the water and food for them stored in a cooler. Harry was asleep again as soon as he'd eaten.

Sirius resisted the urge to pull him out of the seatbelt and into his lap. He settled for stroking a hand through Harry's hair. Five year old Harry was happy to hold Sirius's hand or be held by him for a cuddle. But the potion would run out shortly and they'd be back to their usual ages and Sirius didn't want to be. He wanted the years back; he wanted his godson to have his childhood and he wanted to watch Harry take all the important milestone steps just as Sirius had sometimes dreamed in Azkaban. He took deep breath after deep breath to centre himself again.

He also recognised that thirteen year old Harry was in some ways much more challenging to deal with; harder to get to know. He'd thanked Remus profusely for helping with Harry the night before Thirteen year old Harry, almost fourteen, was right on the precipice that separated the child from the man; he needed the love of a parent, the security of one, but he would rebel quickly at being restricted by one even for his own protection. Sirius knew they'd have to navigate some compromises between Sirius's need to protect Harry and Harry's need to assert his independence.

The car pulled into off the highway and into the countryside. Sirius watched carefully, alert to anything suspicious. A set of gates seemed to appear from nowhere and Mick drove through them and into a beautiful estate of lush green grass, leafy woodland and perfect blue skies just as his Uncle Alphard had described. Sirius knew Alphard had been fascinated by the history and the time bubble magic.

The Valley belonged to a tribe of Native American wizards. It had been originally believed that the time bubble had been created as a response to the invading European armies; men went into the Valley and returned a week later as old men or didn't return at all. But Alphard had learned from the tribe elders that the time bubble had always been there and the tribe had settled within it to safeguard it, eventually being able to overcome the temporal effects themselves through amulets that kept them temporally in synch with the outside world.

Ultimately they had specialised in healing magic and welcomed others of all faiths and backgrounds who wanted to do the same. The Valley had become known as a place where if someone was badly injured or diseased they could seek treatment, spending days healing but only losing a week in normal time. As the world advanced, the Valley became an exclusive healing clinic that specialised in difficult cases and catering to people with money to spare.

They pulled up in front of a tall white building with a glass front. Sirius woke Harry and Mick swiftly escorted them inside to the waiting healer.

He bowed in front of the grey-haired Native American man. "Healer Blackhawk."

Blackhawk's gaze raked over Sirius. "Lord Black, I will reverse the de-aging potion on you and your charge with your permission."

Sirius nodded quickly. Blackhawk quietly radiated power in the same Dumbledore did. He felt the wash of magic and his skin rippled uncomfortably for a moment before it resettled. Beside him he felt Harry morph back into his teenage state, clothes transfiguring along with him.

Blackhawk smiled kindly at Sirius. "Your uncle was a good man and I very much enjoyed our time together. I knew then you would one day seek our help."

"Thank you for welcoming us." Sirius said, uncertain what else to say.

The healer turned his attention to Harry. "It is good to meet you, Harry Potter." He said solemnly. "We have long expected you."

Sirius frowned at Blackhawk's greeting and moved closer to his godson. Harry didn't object and he smiled uncertainly at the healer.

"Uh, hello?" Harry said politely, fidgeted with the backpack he held.

"You understand you are now within the temporal bubble?" Blackhawk informed them briskly. "However much time you spend here be it five minutes or five months, a week will have transpired in the outside world when you leave."

Sirius nodded along with Harry. "We understand."

"Good," Blackhawk led them through the reception area and through a door which opened up into a wide courtyard. Sirius was a little wary at the lack of any other people.

Blackhawk saw him looking around and smiled. "In the clinic, you will see and hear no-one but those assigned to your care and no-one else will see you and hear you."

"Wow." Harry said, impressed as Sirius was.

"You are entitled to your privacy, Mister Potter."

"Thank you." Harry was sincere and his words heartfelt.

"Yes, thank you." Sirius echoed because he was pleased at the protection of Harry's identity.

Harry grinned quickly at Sirius in a shared moment of satisfaction.

Blackhawk led them into the building to their right and into a warm and friendly room; a sitting area was off to the left, and a table set out with food to the right. "This is my consulting room. Please both of you take a seat and have some refreshments; you have had a long journey. There is a bathroom if you wish to freshen up."

He left them to it and they made short work of the sandwiches and juice. Sirius urged Harry into cleaning up and then made use of the bathroom himself. He felt grimy. He wanted a shower and bed. He made do and went back into the room just as Blackhawk rejoined them with a woman who reminded him of McGonagall and was introduced as Doctor Helen Jordan.

They sat on sofas facing each other; the healers on one side, Sirius and Harry on the other.

Blackhawk gestured at Sirius. "We will discuss your treatment afterwards, Lord Black. I would like to first discuss your ward's."

"Shouldn't there, uh, be scans first?" Harry asked perplexed. He instinctively shifted closer to Sirius.

Sirius placed a hand on his shoulder, reassuring him. "I have to admit to the same question."

"All the scans were performed passively during the time you've already spent in this room." Jordan said kindly.

"Saves time," quipped Sirius, a little disturbed that they'd been monitored and assessed without his knowledge.

Blackhawk returned his gaze to Sirius. "It is normally our practice to discuss treatment with the child present if that's OK with you."

Sirius could almost feel Harry bristling at being called a child. "Harry's a young man rather than a child, I think." He looked at his godson. "Are you OK with staying?"

"I'll stay." Harry said immediately.

They both turned back to Blackhawk with expectant looks.

"We'll start with the minor and work our way up to the major." Blackhawk explained. He indicated that Jordan should take over.

Sirius felt Harry tensing under his hand but he didn't remove it. He kept it there, a silent sign that he was there for Harry.

"Mister Potter…" Jordan began.

"Harry, please." Harry interrupted.

She smiled gently. "Harry. You have some malnutrition and physical weakness caused by poor diet. We can easily fix this with potions and a better diet going forward. We also incorporate muggle techniques in our healing hence why I'm a Doctor as well as a Healer. We want to build up your physical fitness so there'll be an exercise programme for you to do. It'll get you in tip top shape for Quidditch. How does that sound so far?"

"OK." Harry said warily and Sirius knew that he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. He was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Jordan smiled kindly. "We also believe that it would a good idea for you to see a mind healer and learn some defensive mind magic."

Sirius had to hand it to them; Harry would have protested at the words 'mind healer' but for that last dangling carrot.

"Defensive mind magic?" Harry asked eagerly.

"An art called Occlumency." Jordan said. "It helps to keep your secrets and your mind safe. It would offer another layer of protection against Dementors."

"Brilliant." Harry proclaimed with relief. He shared a glance with Sirius, an acknowledgement that Harry would be learning something they had already discussed.

Sirius squeezed his shoulder a touch as Jordan glanced at Blackhawk.

"There is also something our scans found we need to discuss with you to determine a path forward." Blackhawk said solemnly.

Harry tensed straight back up and Sirius's eyes narrowed on Blackhawk.

"I do not know if you are aware but your father and mother invoked a spell that placed a protective barrier around you." Blackhawk began.

"Yes, that is…I was…attacked in my first year and the Headmaster said my mother's love protected me." Harry said quietly. "Is that what you mean?"

"In part," Blackhawk agreed, "the spell is powered by your father's – your – family magic so he must have called it forth and sent it to your mother somehow."

Sirius's eyes widened. Family magic was used to bind oaths and judge the breaking of them. It was an additional power source but only for the Head of House – it had been the reason why James had been able to ensure he and Lily survived three encounters with Voldemort. How had James convinced the magic to power a spell Lily had cast?

"However," Blackhawk continued, "the spell itself works only if a mother sacrifices her own life for her child and her love for you was the reason she could make that sacrifice."

Sirius watched anxiously as Harry considered Blackhawk's description, Harry's hands twisting anxiously in his lap.

"When the Dementors…I hear them; Dad telling her to take me and run, and Mum begging Voldemort to leave me and kill her instead." Harry said softly. "He told her to stand aside but she wouldn't…"

Sirius's heart just about broke. "Of course she wouldn't," he said gently, "she loved you very much." He pulled him into a half-hug, and was surprised when Harry didn't resist the comfort.

"Your family magic must be very powerful," Jordan offered, "because the magic invoked is incredibly complex. All around you is a magical barrier. The one who tried to kill you would never be able to touch you."

"He couldn't," Harry admitted ruefully, his eyes downcast, "a couple of years ago Voldemort possessed someone who attacked me and I think…I think my protection killed him…the man even though the Headmaster said it was the possession that did it."

"Possession is a tricky business," Blackhawk jumped in before Sirius could, "it is likely that Albus Dumbledore was correct that this host would not have survived no matter that your protection did what it was meant to do and saved you."

"Think of it this way, Harry," Sirius said, ignoring the look of alarm that Jordan wore with Harry's claim that Voldemort had possessed someone, "you're Hogwarts and your folks surrounded you with a Forbidden Forest to protect you. Just because the Forest did its job and kept someone from harming you, it doesn't make it your fault that they came to harm. Understand? It was not your fault."

Harry drew in a deep breath and nodded shakily. Sirius wondered if it was the first time he'd talked about his experience and glanced over at Jordan who nodded in understanding; it would be addressed in Harry's treatment.

Sirius turned his attention back to Blackhawk. "You're concerned about the protection in some way?"

"No, not at all," Jordan hurried to reassure him. "The protection actually increases his natural healing abilities and helps his magic."

"What we wished to discussed is the crack in the protection." Blackhawk explained, his eyes shifting to Harry's forehead.

Harry lifted up his fringe and fingered his scar. Sirius was beginning to regret giving Harry the option to stay.

"Exactly," Blackhawk said approvingly. "This is where Voldemort struck you with the Killing Curse, yes? Unfortunately, nothing can stop the Killing Curse except dodging it, or a heavy object thrown into its path, or a huge wave of raw magic that throws it off course. Most wizards do not have the power required for the latter two defences."

"The curse came into contact with the barrier, and where it impacted it heated up the barrier and created your scar. Because you were scared and hurt, we think you must have sent out a huge wave of accidental magic which combined with the protection pushed the curse back towards Voldemort and destroyed his body." Jordan continued.

Sirius rubbed Harry's back to sooth him as his godson shifted restlessly, agitated by the discussion.

"So what's the problem with my scar?" Harry asked bluntly, wanting to get to the point. "Can you get rid of it?"

"We have detected a dark residue of magic around your scar with the signature of your enemy." Blackhawk admitted.

"It's OK, Harry." Sirius kept his arm around Harry who had flinched and glared at Blackhawk who looked back serenely. "You can rid of him of this residue?" He had a horrible suspicion of what it was exactly but Harry did not need to know that he could be carrying around a part of Voldemort's soul.

Blackhawk inclined his head. "We will need to drain his magical core to a low level to pry the residue free. Once it is gone then we can clean the scar with healing and restore his magic. However, there is the consideration that it provides a connection to the enemy." He paused. "I believe if your enemy is weak the connection is dormant but perhaps you would feel pain around your scar in your enemy's presence?"

Harry nodded swiftly.

"If your enemy were to grow stronger, the connection may expand and provide you with visions of your enemy's movements." Blackhawk said. "It could provide an advantage. It is also an area of vulnerability because just as you see him, he may see you."

Sirius felt Harry tremble against him and shifted so he was facing Harry fully, his hands over Harry's. "Harry, look at me."

Harry lifted his eyes slowly until they met Sirius's.

"I said we would discuss important things before making a decision, didn't I? What do you honestly want to do?" Sirius asked simply.

"Get rid of it." Harry blurted out and Sirius felt a rush of relief. "I don't…I don't want any kind of connection to him but…"

"No buts." Sirius said firmly. "We're in complete agreement." He squeezed Harry's hands and despite wanting to pull Harry into a hug regardless of their audience, he knew the thirteen year old boy would hate it if he did. Sirius moved back to his previous position, but put his arm around his godson's shoulders. "We'll do the procedure to cleanse his scar."

Blackhawk nodded and Sirius could see the approval in the old wizard's eyes.

"There is one other additional problem we have and that is a childhood binding on Harry's magical core." Jordan added.

Sirius frowned. "James placed one when he was about four months old, I think. Lily didn't want to but he was displaying a lot of magic, doing spontaneous transfigurations actually, and James eventually convinced her that if they didn't Harry might harm himself or them accidentally."

Harry perked up at the story of his babyhood but he was too pale and Sirius could see the fear in his eyes – the connection business scared him and Sirius couldn't blame him, it was scary.

"The Healer who oversaw it said that the binding would fade around the time Harry turned ten." Sirius added, confused.

"That binding has indeed faded." Jordan replied. "No, there is a second binding which was performed when he was fifteen months old. It restricts the power he can consciously access."

"This binding has ensured the dark residue would not grow stronger than the child." Blackhawk explained. "It has the magical signature of Albus Dumbledore."

Dumbledore. Sirius gritted his teeth and tried to control his rising fury. Remus had been wrong, he realised. Dumbledore didn't think Harry was average and had nothing to do with getting rid of Voldemort. No, Dumbledore had known Harry had power but the meddling old coot had found the soul fragment and rather than getting rid of it, he had bound Harry's core, presumably because Dumbledore had wanted the advantage of the connection. Sirius felt his control slipping and wrestled it back. Harry, he reminded himself; Harry needed him to be calm.

"But it needs to be removed," Blackhawk continued, "so we propose to remove the binding once the cleansing is complete."

"Agreed." Sirius said quickly.

"We'll assess any power issues after the binding is taken away." Jordan said.

Blackhawk regarded both Harry and Sirius thoughtfully. "You must be exhausted from your journey. Perhaps we should discuss your treatment tomorrow, Lord Black."

"It's Sirius," Sirius answered, "and yes; resting and settling in sounds like a good idea." He gave Harry a reassuring smile as they got to their feet.

Everything was going to be OK. They'd get rid of the dark stain of Voldemort and get Harry his power back, get him healthy.

And then Sirius was going to think of a suitable way to totally destroy Albus Dumbledore.

Chapter Text

SIRIUS BLACK: OUR FORGOTTEN HERO , Rita Skeeter

With yesterday's shocking news that Sirius Black is innocent, we at the Daily Prophet have returned to the beginning to find out who the real Sirius Black is and what might have motivated those in power to incarcerate an innocent man.

Black was the eldest son of Orion and Walburga Black, the first Black in history to be sorted at Hogwarts into Gryffindor. There, he made friends with James Potter, a distant cousin through Dorea Black. He and Potter were considered inseparable throughout their school days. Head of Gryffindor Minerva McGonagall recalls that 'it was as though they shared the same brain.'

At the age of sixteen, Black left his family after a disagreement over their open support of You-Know-Who and was given sanctuary by the Potters, a family that had always stood for the Light. Another friend of the Potters, Amos Diggory, notes 'Black was Potter's brother in all but blood.'

After graduating overall top of his class, Black joined the Hit Wizards, partnering with Potter during training. Ex-Senior Auror Alastor Moody, his training instructor, remembers 'Black was a great Hit Wizard; the best. There was nobody better at taking down Death Eaters.' Indeed, Black was so good, he was promoted quickly and is the officer of record for eighteen Death Eater executions in battle.

In his personal life, Black was linked with several witches. Polly Bell remembers fondly; "After James and Lily wed, Lily went on a bit of a match-making exercise for Black trying to get him to settle down. I think he went on the dates to make her happy – he'd stood by James as his best man you see.'" Black had a bit of a reputation as a rake but the ladies we spoke to recalled a perfect gentleman.

In late 1980, Black was captured by Death Eaters while undercover abroad. His rescue was shrouded in secrecy (although ten of the executions mentioned above are listed around the same time) and he was badly injured. He recuperated with the Potters and after the birth of their son, Harry, was named as godfather. Healer Clarence Abby told the Prophet that Black was actually present at the birth and it was he who handed his godson to the proud mother and father; 'He doted on the child, anyone could see it."

It is on this latter point that one wonders if Black's swift exile to Azkaban following the events of October 31 st 1981 was less to do with his guilt and more to do with determining the future of the Boy Who Lived. With Black removed from the equation, the orphaned Harry was placed in the muggle world, and strangely, Black's sacrifices during the war, his long stand against You-Know-Who, and his deep friendship with the Potters were all swept under the carpet.

Rumours abound that now that Black has been declared innocent he will sue for the custody of Harry Potter and return him fully to our world. We at the Prophet wish him every success and welcome our forgotten hero home.

Remus wondered if he should feel slightly nauseous at the outpouring of simpering as he folded the paper and tossed it to the side. Brian's press strategy was going well though and the seeds had been planted for the announcement of Harry's guardianship. He wondered if Albus had felt sick reading the Prophet that morning. He hoped so.

He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. He really had to get over his anger at Albus. He did owe the old wizard for providing him with a magical education, and Albus was a great wizard who was deserving of his respect.

Except in the matter of Harry and Sirius.

He wasn't sure that he'd ever be able to forgive Albus for the Dursleys, and for not checking whether Sirius had received a trial and condemning him to twelve years of hell.

Yes, Remus thought dryly, he was doing really well at getting over his anger at Albus. He glanced at the clock and pulled the Potter file back towards him.

He'd fired the Financial Manager earlier that afternoon and put Poon in charge. The good news was that the main bulk of the estate had gone into lockdown; monies were supplied to the various caretakers of the properties for maintenance but nothing substantial. The investment portfolio though had been left to rot from what Remus could gather. A lot of money had been lost. The outlook wasn't too bad – Harry was still wealthy – but if it had been left until Harry had reached seventeen, Remus believed Harry's estate would have been halved in value. Kipbold had been as unimpressed as Remus when he had explained the reasons behind the termination.

He put the Potter file aside and started to go through the mail that had arrived. It had been almost a week since Sirius had informed the Black family members that there was a new Lord Black. They had been told to reply back care of Gringotts and Remus had collected the mail while he'd been there. Most of the distant relatives already had a Head of House in a good position to serve them, such as the Weasleys, and so Sirius had ignored those for when his identity would be announced. But Remus had been impressed at how he'd tracked down other relatives who were not so lucky, or who had been blasted from the tree.

"Dear Lord Black – or should that be Cousin?

Thanks for the recent letter to touch base and see what the Hitchens clan is up to in Canada. There's just me and my sister Fiona now.

Fi married last year to a woman called Ola; they're both happy and thinking of adopting a baby.

I'm married to a beautiful woman myself – Joanne. We have three rugrats – Amy, and twins Billy and Ray. Amy is twelve and attends a special school for the gifted in Vancouver – we're very proud of her. Billy and Ray are still in kindergarten but are great kids.

We'd love to stay in touch – Jo's thrilled at the idea we're related to an English Lord!

Cheers,

Rob Hitchens"

The marriage of Isla Black to a muggle man called Hitchens had started the line from the Black perspective but it hadn't produced a magical offspring as far as Sirius could tell. Rob Hitchins, Isla's descendent, was a muggle working for a consultancy firm but it hadn't stopped Sirius from sending his 'are you OK?' letter. As Sirius pointed out, his mother was probably rolling in her grave. Remus read over the letter again and noted the phrasing around the girl's schooling. It was the usual cover story for magic. Sirius would want to investigate more.

"Sirius,

You old dog you can't fool me! The news of your innocence just reached me via international law enforcement channels. I'm glad you're the Lord and I expect you'll redecorate the whole House.

Australia is great – Uncle Alphard was right about that – you really should have come with me! I'm a respectable Senior Auror here in Sydney these days, married Anna, a muggleborn, two years ago and she just gave birth to my firstborn Jason.

My sister Emile is still in France, married a pureblood bastard, and gave birth to one – let's say no more about that. I should warn you that she may approach you for a rapprochement.

My younger half-sister Suzie is a squib like old departed Dad and looks after the Evil Step-Mother who is still alive more's the pity and living at the old place just outside Paris. No hubby on the horizon but Suzie's a good girl.

Yeah, we should probably arrange a call to discuss matters – now you've pointed it out to me I wouldn't want someone like Malfoy getting hold of anything if you were to unexpectedly die either. Give me a shout when you're available.

Simeon Black."

Remus laughed out loud and set the letter aside for Sirius to read. He knew Simeon, Marius Black's son, was Sirius's choice to become regent of the House of Black in the event of his untimely death – separate arrangements would be made in respect of Harry's guardianship and the House of Potter, but Simeon would effectively take financial and political control until Harry, Sirius's legally declared heir, came of age. It sounded like Simeon and Sirius were fairly similar. Sirius had admitted that they were about the same age and Alphard had introduced them when Sirius was eight. Simeon and he had apparently been on-off pen-pals until Simeon had left France just after Sirius had graduated from Hogwarts.

"Lord Black,

My thanks for your recent announcement and enquiry.

I do not require the assistance of the House of Black. My great-nephew, Cletus Polt, will assume the House of Burke on his majority.

Your cousin, Beatrice."

Remus grimaced Beatrice Burke was a hundred and two years old, set in her ways and considered a harridan. Sirius hadn't known about the great-nephew or Remus was sure he'd have skipped telling her.

"My Lord Black,

Thank you for your recent letter. My situation is comfortable. My husband Theodore and I take great joy in our daughter, Nymphadora. We have no immediate need for assistance.

We would be delighted to attend a Family Meeting at your convenience.

Your cousin, Andromeda"

Remus knew Sirius would be pleased with that as he wanted to bring the Tonks back into the family. He picked up the final letter.

"My Dear Lord Black,

I offer thanks and appreciation for your recent announcement and enquiry.

My marriage to Lucius is successful and our partnership influential in British politics. You will find us a boon in navigating current waters. We have increased the Black wealth endowed to us. Our son, Draco, is at Hogwarts and performs well in most subjects, excelling at Potions and winning the role of seeker for his house team. You will find him a delightful addition to the Black family. We have no immediate need for assistance but welcome the return of the protection and patronage of the House of Black.

We are at your service and will be delighted to attend a Family Meeting at your convenience.

Your cousin, Narcissa."

Remus stuck his tongue out childishly at the letter. He clipped his notes to each letter and filed them away for Sirius to review when he got back.

He checked the clock, drank down his tea and quickly made his way to the floo in the reception room, summoning his briefcase along the way. He'd almost forgotten the interview he was due to perform. He flooed through to the Leaky Cauldron and took a key from Tom. It led to a private sitting room just off the main area. Remus checked the room thoroughly and put up a privacy charm.

The knock came almost immediately and Remus called for the applicant to enter. Penelope Clearwater walked in and stopped in surprise at the sight of Remus.

"Please take a seat, Miss Clearwater." Remus motioned at the chair across from him.

"Professor," Penelope said, "I didn't realise you would be interviewing me. Professor Flitwick didn't mention it when he informed me of the opportunity."

Remus studied her nervousness with a regretful sigh. "If you're too anxious about interviewing with a werewolf, Miss Clearwater, you're probably not right for this job as it involves working with me."

"Oh no, that's not it," Penelope apologised immediately, "I'm so sorry! I'm just…" her hand flailed weakly.

"Nervous?" suggested Remus dryly.

"Yes," Penelope said, "I've had plenty of interviews but I just don't know why I don't get the job and it's made me…well, shall you just give me the bad news now?"

She looked totally miserable and thanks to Filius, Remus understood why. Penelope had been a prefect, aced her NEWTs by all accounts and yet she'd been turned down for position after position – Remus assumed because she was muggleborn. Filius had heard from Albus about Remus's good fortune in securing a new position and had sent a note asking if Remus knew if there was any work suitable for Penelope.

"Take a seat, Miss Clearwater." Remus said with more authority and was pleased when she hurried to the chair and sat down, placing her bag on the floor.

She straightened her tidy navy robes. "Thank you, Professor, I mean, Mister Lupin."

"Did Professor Flitwick tell you what the opportunity was?" Remus asked hoping Filius had shared that much with the girl.

"A secretarial position." Penelope said. It was obvious she was attempting to sound excited about something she thought was dreadfully dull.

"A little bit more than that." Remus said. "What I'm going to tell you needs to remain confidential whether you take the position or not."

She nodded hurriedly.

"I'm the steward to an Ancient and Noble House, meaning I look after the financials and the estate management. The Lord has just taken over the Head of House duties and will be assuming a seat in the Wizengamot which will mean meetings and social events. We need an executive assistant to deal with the scheduling, organising the events we hold, corresponding with quite senior figures, taking minutes, and generally dealing with all the things that we won't necessarily have time to deal with. All of which I'm sure you're more than capable of handling given your academic expertise." He paused. "What was the first position you applied for?"

"An administrator role in the Department of Magical Transportation." Penelope said. "I had hoped to begin a career in the Ministry."

"An admirable goal," Remus said. "What this opportunity would give you is the political exposure, contacts and sponsorship you need to get into the Ministry as a muggleborn."

Penelope's eyebrows shot up at the blunt truth. "You mean I didn't get a position because of…but that's discrimination and…" she stopped abruptly as she recalled who she was complaining to and her hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, I'm so…"

"No apologies necessary," Remus waved her off, "the truth is we're both discriminated against – myself officially under law and you unofficially under tradition. The Ministry prefers positions are appointed to purebloods first."

"I think Mister Weasley tried to warn me." Penelope admitted ruefully. She took a breath and fixed Remus with a determined look. "I'm happy to take the position if you'll have me."

"Good," Remus said, "when can you start?"

"Tomorrow." Penelope offered.

"You'll need to come to the house. Shall we say ten o'clock?" Remus gestured with his wand over a slip of parchment. She frowned as she took hold of it.

"My steward Remus Lupin invites you to 12 Grimmauld Place"

"The Fidelius charm?" Penelope asked excitedly.

"He's quite protective of his privacy. The parchment will be blank for anyone but you." Remus said dryly. "I'll explain everything tomorrow. You should be prepared to take an employment oath and we'll go over your duties and salary then." He got to his feet.

Penelope got to hers, stuck out her hand and offered a bright smile. "Thank you for the opportunity, Mister Lupin."

"Call me Remus. We will be colleagues." Remus offered, shaking her hand.

"Oh, well then you must call me Penelope." She said, letting go and picking up her bag. "Thanks again, Remus." She bit her lip. "Lordy, that was weird."

"Think how I felt when I called my old Head of House Minerva for the first time." Remus commiserated cheerfully and laughed at her horrified expression as she realised he meant Professor McGonagall. "I'll see you tomorrow."

He waited until she was gone before he took down the privacy charm, grinning to himself all the while. A muggleborn assistant for Lord Black. Sirius's ancestors would be disgusted at letting a muggleborn have such a prestigious position.

And Sirius was going to be delighted.

o-O-o

"We're losing him!"

Sirius felt his heart stutter in his chest but he refused to be removed from his place by Harry's side as the healers bustled around him, trying to save his godson.

Neither he nor Harry had slept well in the cabin they'd been appointed the night before. It was a great cabin; it had two bedrooms, a shower room, a large den and a small kitchenette. There was even a private pool attached. But they hadn't been able to appreciate it fully after the news about Harry's scar.

Sirius had gotten up half-way through the night to find Harry sat in front of the fire in the den. He'd changed into Padfoot and offered doggy comfort, feeling that Harry would pretend he was fine to a worried and panicking godfather but might open up to his alter ego. As Harry had petted him and slowly started confiding in Padfoot about his fears over the treatment, over the residue and the connection, Sirius figured he'd made the right call.

The morning though had seen Harry scared but resolute; Sirius had never been so proud of him. Harry has asked him tentatively if he would stay with him during the procedures and Sirius had immediately reassured him that he would be there every step of the way.

He was not going to be moved. His hand tightened around Harry's.

His godson had been given a potion that rendered him unconscious. A metal bracelet had been placed on one wrist, draining Harry's magic away from him. A balding middle-aged Healer called Darcy was perched at Harry's head with strange aura tracing goggles adorning his face, a magical wand fashioned like a muggle scalpel in his hand, prying the dark form of the foreign soul-piece away from Harry's scar.

Everything had been going well until the dark blob caught on the end of the medical wand had begun to fight back, additional tendrils snaking out towards Harry faster than Darcy could cauterize them.

Harry had begun to thrash violently. Jordan and another female healer, Gargou, had stepped into hold him down. And now…

Harry had stopped breathing!

Blackhawk stepped up and waved his wand furiously over Harry's form; breathing apparatus appeared over Harry's mouth and nostrils, sending oxygen into his body.

Sirius could breathe again too; his heart pounded loudly in his chest.

"We need to drain his magic more! This bastard is fighting tooth and nail here!" Darcy snapped, his blue eyes flashing imperiously at Blackhawk.

"If we drain anymore of the magical core, we'll kill the boy!" Jordan argued.

"She is right." Blackhawk said. "We did not anticipate the soul piece being so strong; it must have fed a great deal on the boy's magic despite the binding."

Gargou snapped her fingers, her dark eyes darting towards Blackhawk. "We need to give Potter power without giving the soul piece any!"

"How?" Darcy demanded even as he severed another tendril that tried to make its way from the dark shape at the end of the wand back to Harry. There were several tendrils still attached, clinging with all their might to the scar.

"The only magic that answers to the boy alone would be his family magic." Blackhawk stated swiftly. He looked over Harry's prone form to Sirius. "Can you call it through the godfather oath?"

Sirius had no idea – he'd never heard of family magic being called that way – but he nodded sharply. "I can try." He cleared his throat, brought Harry's hand to rest against his heart and placed his own remaining hand over Harry's thin, naked chest. "I, Sirius Orion Black, godfather to Harry James Potter in heart, in magic, in oath. This son of the House of Potter has need of you – familius magicus protectus!"

Suddenly, a golden mist sprang up from Harry's skin and formed a fierce griffin who gave a wild cry.

The griffin looked towards Sirius and somehow Sirius knew what it wanted…what he had to do…

"I, Sirius Orion Black, Head of the House of Black, call forth the magic of the House of Black – familius magicus protectus!"

The silver snake of the House of Black poured out of the House ring. For a long moment, snake and griffin looked at each other before the snake dived into the griffin, merging with it.

The griffin doubled in size and roared.

"Dear Merlin!" Jordan gasped.

Darcy's brow ran with sweat as he lifted his eyes momentarily to the frightening sight of the griffin – he had continued his work throughout the calling, focused on trying to remove all the tendrils of evil from Harry. The griffin roared again and dived for Harry's scar, finally sending Darcy scuttling back, losing the dark soul on the end of his wand in the process.

But the griffin was suddenly there; one claw drove into the boy's head and emerged with the last of the tendrils while the other caught the dark soul fragment in its talons.

For a second, there was silence and then the dark form screamed as the talons shredded it to nothing.

The griffin gave a satisfied roar and settled back to sit on Harry's chest. The silver snake of the House of Black slowly reformed beside the griffin and the two totems bowed to one another before the snake disappeared. The griffin shape shimmered and destabilised, returning to a golden mist that sank back into Harry's skin.

James hadn't sent the magic to Lily, realised Sirius half-hysterically. He'd sent it to Harry! And somehow as a baby, perhaps because of the sheer terror of that moment with Voldemort and the trauma of seeing his mother killed in front of him, Harry had used the magic and helped power his mother's spell so much so that his family magic had become part of the blood protection Lily had given him. No wonder Voldemort couldn't touch him; not only was there the blood ward itself but it was merged with the purest Light magic of the House of Potter.

Blackhawk tapped the metal bracelet and Harry's magic began to return to him. Sirius dropped a kiss on Harry's palm, rubbed his thumb over the kid's knuckles.

"Almost done, Harry." Sirius whispered soothingly to the unconscious boy.

Darcy had swapped to a normal wand and was busily magically cleansing the freely bleeding scar on Harry's forehead, Gargou stood poised with salve and bandages to move in when he'd finished. Jordan banished the apparatus, satisfied that Harry was breathing on his own again.

The bracelet fell away, signalling that Harry's magic was returned and Blackhawk moved immediately, his wand weaving over Harry's form in a delicate pattern to remove the binding that had been placed on him.

Harry started to glow with each swish of the wand and Sirius raised anxious eyes to Blackhawk. Blackhawk's face grew grave but he continued to work and Harry glowed brighter with each swish.

"Healers! Move back!" Blackhawk ordered as the light became blinding.

Darcy, Gargou and Jordan hurried to obey.

Another swish…

There was a flash like a camera which made Sirius blink…

A rush of pure power slapped into him…backlash from the binding coming free…

He threw himself over Harry without a second thought, protecting his godson…

And silence.

Sirius looked up and saw Blackhawk picking himself up off the floor. He limped back to Harry and began a diagnostic while the other healers returned to their former positions. Sirius felt Harry's racing heartbeat under his palm and slowly eased back to stand beside him again.

Blackhawk began another set of wand movements. "I am effectively bandaging Harry's magical core in healing magic; it is wounded after the removal of such a powerful binding."

Sirius nodded, relieved. Darcy moved back and Gargou smeared salve into Harry's forehead before she picked up her wand and had the bandage wrap itself around Harry's head.

Jordan brought over three vials, spelling the contents straight into Harry's system. She caught Sirius's worried gaze and smiled reassuringly. "One potion was a nutrient and strengthening potion to help his body recover. One was a pain potion and the other was a sleeping potion. He needs to remain calm and still while his core heals."

"We will wake him tomorrow." Blackhawk said, finally stepping away. "Remarkable."

"I'll say," Darcy agreed, "I've never seen any as powerful as that soul fragment." He sighed. "Evil things. Haven't seen one since I returned from service in Korea."

"I've never seen family magic work that way." Gargou said, sending a questioning look towards Sirius.

"Me either." He said, stroking Harry's sweat soaked hair away from his bandaged scar. Family magic wasn't supposed to act with sentience the way the griffin had; it wasn't supposed to combine with another's family magic to assist it the way the snake had. He had no clue how it had happened, if it had something to do with what Harry had accidentally done to incorporate the magic into his protection; Sirius didn't care in truth, he was only thankful it had worked.

"I have often thought that what we know about magic is far overshadowed by what we do not." Blackhawk said wisely.

They left him then, and Sirius sat by Harry's bedside and held onto his godson's hand, content to watch Harry take breath after beautiful breath. Sirius felt like he'd lost a good decade of his life and he figured as soon as he got to a mirror he'd discover every single hair had turned grey.

The worst was over, he reminded himself. Harry was safe and on the road to recovery. Sirius still had no intention of moving until Harry woke up though. He was vaguely aware of the passing of time – as Jordan came by and spelled more pain potion into Harry and checked his vital signs, as the shadows crept from one side of the room to the other.

It was late when Blackhawk entered the room and checked on Harry with a grace that spoke of his years of practice; Sirius ignored him for the most part.

"We should discuss your treatment." Blackhawk said when he was done. "We delayed it because of the urgency in dealing with your godson but you are also here as our client."

"I'm not leaving Harry." Sirius replied automatically.

"I would not ask such a thing of you." Blackhawk swept his wand around the room and a table replete with a light dinner appeared at the end of the bed. He motioned at it. "You must remain strong if you are to take care of your godson."

Sirius accepted the blatant manipulation with a sigh. He rubbed his thumb over Harry's knuckles one last time, stood and dropped a kiss lightly on Harry's bandaged forehead. "I'll be right at the foot of your bed, Harry." He walked over and dropped into a chair.

He massaged his forehead and looked tiredly at the food in front of him; chicken broth of some kind with fresh bread. He picked up the roll and tore a piece off to nibble on while he picked up the spoon half-heartedly. He realised belatedly Blackhawk was weaving a privacy charm so that they could talk without disturbing Harry but would still be alerted if he so much as twitched.

"Thank you," Sirius said and he knew the thanks were for more than the charm.

Blackhawk inclined his head and sat down. He began to eat and they concentrated on the food until the broth was gone. Steamed fish, greens and rice followed it.

Sirius declined a platter of fruit when it appeared, instead settling for strong black coffee. They rarely drank the beverage in the British wizarding world; tea was preferred, pumpkin juice as a soft drink. He'd forgotten how much he liked it. Maybe he could introduce it properly, Sirius considered; it would be a good investment. His eyes flickered to Harry checking on him – his godson hadn't moved.

"You love him very much." Blackhawk said.

"Yes." Sirius replied without pretence.

Blackhawk hummed. "And yet you know so little about him."

Sirius's gaze snapped to Blackhawk. He swallowed the first retort that came to mind. "Do you have children, Healer Blackhawk?"

"Seven." Blackhawk answered. "And I have been blessed with twenty grandchildren and three great-grandchildren."

"Congratulations," Sirius said dryly, "now imagine due to your own stupidity you lost one when he was but a baby. For years you don't see him but you think about him when you can. And then, you find him, only he's thirteen, not quite grown up but not quite a child anymore either, and no; you don't know him." He held Blackhawk's gaze. "But do you still love him?"

The old wizard inclined his head conceding the point. "You consider him blood?"

"Yes." It was another answer that Sirius gave without hesitation. "He's actually a cousin though distant but James, his father, was also my brother in spirit, in heart, in magic." He could see the old terms registering with Blackhawk and wondered idly if that was why the Black magic had been able to assist the Potter magic; Harry's blood held both after all.

Sirius let his mind drift back to Harry. "I was with Harry's mother, Lily, when she went into labour, and stayed with her through most of the childbirth while our other friends went to find James who'd gone for a meeting at Gringotts. He only got back ten minutes before Harry made his appearance and Lily refused to let me leave. I got to hold Harry first. I was the one that handed him to James and Lily."

"You say you lost him through stupidity?" Blackhawk asked.

Sirius huffed. "I trusted the wrong person to see to his safety. And I thought my letting him go was temporary, just until I caught Peter, the one who betrayed them."

And he wouldn't make that mistake again. He shifted position and took a sip of coffee. He kept his gaze on Harry.

"Harry and I…we don't know each other, I know that. And he doesn't consciously remember loving me so I know if he were to consider the matter, he would believe he doesn't yet, but I think he believes he could love me and wants to love me. I know he loves the idea of me, someone who loves him and who will be there for him, but he doesn't trust that I do and I will yet." He tilted his head. "I won some ground by getting him away from Lily's sister and her family; by keeping my word and ensuring he could come live with me instead."

"For a man whose mind is shrouded in clouds, you see remarkably clearly." Blackhawk said finally.

"The Dementors did a number on me." It was a statement.

"Your mindscape is badly torn." Blackhawk acknowledged. "You require a great deal of mind healing. Your Occlumency has helped you regain some measure of control but you require additional support to regain the rest."

Sirius nodded slowly.

"I would thank you for the report you provided to Doctor Jordan of Harry's childhood. It will help her avoid some pitfalls in his mind healing." Blackhawk paused. "I don't suppose you have one for your own."

Sirius's free hand clenched into a fist and he forced himself to take a breath. "I'm afraid no-one investigated my childhood." There was a keep-out message in his tone and he wasn't surprised when Blackhawk backed off.

"Your body also requires healing." Blackhawk continued. "In that, you and your godson are remarkably similar. You both suffer with malnutrition and physical weakness. I believe it would be best for much of your treatment in this regard to be together." His eyes twinkled. "It will aid in your getting to know each other."

Sirius felt his lips twitch, reluctant amusement swelling at the comment.

"We should speak of Albus Dumbledore." Blackhawk said finally. "You have a lot of anger towards him about the binding on Harry."

"I have a lot of anger towards him full stop." Sirius admitted with frank honesty. "He was primarily responsible for Harry ending up in the custody of the Dursleys. He failed to check on him and failed to ensure Harry was safe with them. He's used Harry since in regards to Voldemort." He gave a sigh. "And I'm not exactly thrilled that he left me to rot in Azkaban without a trial or a visit when I worked as part of his Order against Voldemort." He motioned with his cup. "The binding is just the latest item on my list of things to be angry at Dumbledore for."

Blackhawk nodded slowly in understanding. "The problem with great men is that everyone looks to them to know everything, and quite often they themselves fall into the trap of believing that they do. I believe it so of Albus's actions in regards to the soul anchor and binding. I don't believe he knew how to solve the problem of the soul piece without killing Harry, and thus believing there was no solution, he did the binding to keep the remnant weak."

"Do you know him?" Sirius asked a little rudely.

"We are acquaintances not friends." Blackhawk said. "We met when I toured Europe some years ago." He picked up his water. "Albus is a true master of transfiguration and potions. He made a fascinating dinner companion, and is somewhat useful as a correspondent when we require an expert opinion on spells in order to heal damage such as your uncle's, but we have little else in common. I have dedicated my life to healing just as the rest of the people of the Valley; we learn more and more every day; we learn from the muggles as much as we do from other healers around the world."

Sirius appreciated Blackhawk's honesty. "My apologies for my abruptness." He murmured. "Perhaps you're right and he didn't know how to deal with it. I just…I worry about his motives."

"Consider this," Blackhawk said, "that Halloween night, Albus had reason to believe that this soul hook within Harry was the only anchor to life that Voldemort had. He could have killed the child, believing that to do so would eliminate Voldemort as a threat."

Sirius frowned, his blood running cold at the thought. Merlin, it could have happened too because Dumbledore hadn't known about the other horcruxes at that point.

"Instead, he chose to keep the child alive." Blackhawk said. "However, I admit it is confusing that he has never sought to find a solution in the years since although he may have done with other healers who may also not have known a solution."

"I don't think he did." Sirius said. "We think there may be a prophecy involved."

Blackhawk frowned heavily. "Such things should always be treated with caution. I should know."

Sirius looked at him with interest. "Are you a Seer?"

"Not truly." Blackhawk said eventually. "I always See my clients but that is the extent of my gift. I Saw the image of you and Harry arriving when your uncle shook my hand in farewell. Of course, I thought you would be twenty-seven and Harry would be five when you arrived; when the time passed and you did not come…I believed my Sight had failed for the first time." He smiled ruefully. "I didn't take a de-aging potion into account." He motioned at Sirius. "And so you see why visions and prophecies require careful handling. It is all too easy to discover that what you think they show or mean is something else entirely."

Sirius nodded slowly, his attention shifting again to the boy in the bed. "I just want to keep Harry safe."

"Then we must get you fit enough to face the challenge." Blackhawk stood up.

Sirius followed, stretching to get the kinks out of his back.

"Your other form will be more comfortable for sleeping, I feel." Blackhawk smiled. "Be warned that my colleague takes a dim view of dog hair." He vanished the table and left.

It only took a moment for Sirius to shift into Padfoot. He jumped up on the bed and sidled up to nudge Harry's hand with his cold nose.

So, maybe he wouldn't kill Dumbledore, Sirius mused, mulling over Blackhawk's words; Dumbledore had kept Harry alive and maybe the binding had been to help not hurt so…maybe Sirius would only maim him a little. He closed his eyes and let the warmth of Harry beside him, the sound of Harry's wonderful breathing, lull him to sleep.

Chapter Text

June 27th 1994

The Three Broomsticks brought back a lot of memories of various Hogsmeade weekends as a student and a few as a Professor. Remus smiled happily as Rosmerta winked at him from the bar and pointed him towards a table at the back.

Moody was waiting for him, back to the wall and at a seat which afforded him a complete view of the rest of the tavern. It was a beautifully defensive position. Remus shook Moody's outstretched hand and subsided into the opposite chair.

"Thanks for meeting with me," Moody said briskly, "I really have no idea why I agreed to the job so anything you can tell me about how to survive it would be appreciated."

"It's not a problem." Remus said amused. "We need to be finished by three though as I'm meeting Minerva then."

He noticed the discarded paper on the table with a half-smile.

Brian's press offensive had continued that morning with the exclusive story of Sirius's escape from Azkaban all to save his godson from the traitor Pettigrew. There had been more quotes from various important people suggesting that such an act surely should be rewarded with guardianship. Fudge had gone on record as saying that he was in support of a wizarding guardian for Harry Potter. The paper was also full of various sightings of Sirius from France to the Caribbean as the question of Sirius's whereabouts vexed the press and the public.

"Have to admit Cutter's doing a good job for Black." Moody said noticing the direction of Remus's glance. "Although I suspect you already know that."

"I couldn't possibly comment." Remus said as Rosmerta came over and took their orders for lunch.

Moody waited until the innkeeper was well away from them before he erected a privacy bubble. "You know I know you know more than you can say. I won't ask you about Black's whereabouts – I don't deserve to know since I was one of the idiots who dropped the ball where he was concerned – but I would appreciate knowing the kid is safe and away from the muggles."

Remus regarded him, faintly stunned. He cleared his throat. "Harry is safe and away from the Dursleys."

"Good." Moody took down the privacy bubble with a swish of his wand. "Now, about this bloody school business…"

It was a good lunch. The food was excellent, and Moody was entertaining and frighteningly good at deconstructing Remus's old lesson plans into real life stories. He made meticulous notes of the students and Remus could see that he already had a copy of the final exam results.

Moody was appalled at Albus's choices of DADA instructor before Remus calling Lockhart 'a slimy fraud' and Quirrell 'a blithering idiot.' Remus also took it upon himself to inform Moody of the events of Harry's first and second year. Moody was about as impressed with what had happened as Remus was.

"What were they thinking?" Moody grumbled as Remus finished up the story of the basilisk. "Anyone with an ounce of common sense would have known it was a basilisk after the ghost got hit."

"Beats me." Remus agreed amiably.

"The lad's got a penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time." Moody said thoughtfully.

"Or the right place at the right time." Remus pointed out.

"No, I think my version is more apt." Moody argued.

Remus laughed. "It probably is at that."

Moody suddenly looked towards the front of the inn and gave a snort. "Heads up. Albus has entered the building."

Remus turned and found an annoyed looking Minerva marching up to him with Albus walking serenely behind her. "Minerva."

"Remus." Minerva glared at Albus. "I apologise but when I mentioned I was meeting you, Albus insisted on coming along."

"Albus." Remus greeted him politely. He felt a little nervous; he had taken the Headmaster to task at their last encounter.

Albus smiled at him. "Remus, forgive the intrusion but I wished to apologise for the other day. You are quite correct and I promise I will caution Severus before the next school year."

Minerva harrumphed. "As if that has ever done any good."

"Minerva…" Albus began.

"I have been telling you for years that his behaviour as a professor is unacceptable and you assure me you talk with him but then he carries on regardless." Minerva argued fiercely, her Scots brogue thickening with her anger.

Albus looked completely taken aback at her outburst and Remus fought the urge to applaud.

"What did Severus do now?" Remus asked, getting to the heart of the matter as he saw Moody erecting another privacy charm. It wasn't like Minerva to be so indiscreet about a colleague.

Minerva grimaced. "I don't wish to say, Remus." But her eyes fell to the copy of the Prophet and Remus guessed that Severus had said something about Sirius.

"I see." Remus could hear his inner wolf growling and breathed in deeply. "I expect Sirius would be rather unsurprised at Severus's attitude." He glanced at Albus. "I'm sure you'll agree, Albus, that if Severus were to make any derogatory remarks to Harry about Sirius that he would be acting very unprofessionally."

"It seems I will be having a rather long conversation with Severus." Albus conceded with a sigh. "Have you heard from Sirius yet, Remus?"

"Not since you and I last talked, Albus." Remus said truthfully. "Have you sent word to Harry?"

"Alas, he and the Dursleys have not yet returned to their home." Albus informed him with what looked like sincere regret.

Remus pushed himself out of the chair. "Alastor, it was good to see you." They shook hands and Moody thanked him again as he undid the privacy charm he'd put up. "Minerva, we should leave or the goblins will get upset at our tardiness."

"A meeting with goblins?" Albus's eyes twinkled. "It sounds very mysterious."

"It's a will reading, Albus," Minerva snapped, "and I'll thank you not to hold us up any longer."

"Albus." Remus said by way of farewell and offered Minerva his arm. She took it and they headed over to the floo. As he followed her into the flames, he could hear Moody in the background…

"What the hell is this I hear about a bloody basilisk?"

Remus fell out the other end, laughing. Minerva fixed him with a glare that had him sobering swiftly.

"Apologies," Remus said, "I overheard Alastor berating Albus about the business with the basilisk just as I flooed."

Minerva sniffed. "We were very fortunate that all of the students were lucky enough to survive the whole affair."

"You won't get any argument from me." Remus concurred.

They made their way into Diagon Alley and down the street to Gringotts. They were shown into a back room and Remus was unsurprised to see Brian, Liam Arkam, Amelia Bones, and Kipbold waiting for them, along with Augusta Longbottom and Andromeda Tonks.

Everyone exchanged minor greetings before Arkam, a blond portly man with a moustache, got on with the business.

"I thank you all for coming at such short notice and apologise for the lack of details in your invitation beyond that this was a reading of a will and you had been named as beneficiaries or were required to be here." Liam began pompously. "We are here to read the joint will of James and Lily Potter."

Remus wasn't surprised but he heard Minerva's sharp intake of breath.

"I thought it was missing?" Minerva asked.

"Clearly, Minerva, it has been found." Augusta said crisply.

Liam cleared his throat. "You're here to represent Frank, Alice and Neville Longbottom, Madame Longbottom?"

"Yes." Augusta said sharply.

"I am here to represent Sirius Black." Brian pre-empted Liam's form question of his presence – Remus knew the two solicitors were already aware of each other's roles in the proceedings but Brian gained three sharp looks from Andromeda, Augusta and Minerva.

"Remus Lupin?" Liam cast his gaze over Remus.

"Representing myself." Remus replied easily.

"Andromeda Tonks also representing myself." Andromeda spoke up before Liam could ask her.

"And obviously Professor Minerva McGonagall is here representing herself and who I recognise." Liam smiled at her.

"I should hope so, Mister Arkam. I was your teacher for seven years." Minerva retorted.

"Quite," Liam replied hurriedly, "I also thank Amelia Bones who has agreed to act as the executor given the extraordinary circumstances."

"Which are?" asked Augusta.

"A copy of the will was provided by the new Lord Black to the Ministry as part of the special investigation into the matter of Sirius Black." Amelia explained. "I can't say anything more because of confidentiality."

Again there were surprised looks.

"Very well." Augusta huffed. "Shall we get on with it?"

Liam cleared his throat again. "Quite," he pulled the parchment to him, "I'll skip the legalese and summarise the bequests if that is OK with you all?"

Everybody nodded.

"Remus Lupin is left the sum of one hundred thousand galleons and the house at Dithery Cliff. Do you accept this?"

"Yes." Remus said, a lump forming in his throat. He imagined James and Lily had wanted to ensure that he always had a home and money to live, knowing as they did how hard it was for him to gain employment as a werewolf.

"Minerva McGonagall is placed in charge of the Lily Potter Scholarship Trust which should be used to provide one free place to a muggleborn student every year including tuition for their seven years of study, school supplies and a modest spending allowance to be set at her discretion. Funds are to be taken from the Potter vault, set aside in a separate vault for the Trust and receipts provided to the Potter Steward via Gringotts. Should she relinquish her position, she should recommend a replacement. Do you accept this duty?"

"I do." Minerva said and Remus could see the glint of tears in her eyes.

"Now to the rest," Liam said briskly, "starting with Mister Black. Sirius Black is left the sum of one hundred thousand galleons and the share of the flat 2A London Street owned by James Potter. Does Mister Black accept this?"

"On his behalf, yes." Brian replied.

"Neville Longbottom is left ten thousand galleons from his Uncle James and Aunt Lily. The funds are to be used at the discretion of his parents, Frank and Alice Longbottom, or his named legal guardian until he is of age. Madame Longbottom, do you agree to the bequest?"

"Yes." Augusta's starchy exterior was shaken.

Remus remembered that the Longbottoms, although an Ancient and Noble family, were rumoured to have suffered financially over the years since Frank and Alice had been attacked.

"There is a bequest to Lily Potter's sister which is being handled through muggle solicitors, and one bequest that has been denied by the executor as the named individual Peter Pettigrew has been found complicit in the deaths of the Potters. The remainder of the estate is bequeathed to their only son." Liam noted, glancing at Amelia. "All that is left is the appointment of a legal guardian for Harry James Potter, the Potters' son, assuming responsibility for his care and upbringing, and assuming regency of the House of Potter until he comes of age. Frank and Alice Longbottom are named as first in line with provision made for the guardianship to pass to Sirius Black should they refuse or be unable to assume responsibility, and additional provision made for it to pass to Minerva McGonagall should Mister Black decline or be unable to assume responsibility, or Andromeda Tonks should Professor McGonagall decline or be unable to assume responsibility."

The three women looked suitably shocked and Remus schooled himself to appear the same.

"For the record, I confirm that Frank and Alice are in no position to assume guardianship." Augusta said tersely.

"Brian?" Liam inquired.

Brian cleared his throat. "My client Sirius Black will assume guardianship."

Liam nodded and looked over at Amelia. "I assume as custody is currently held by muggles the Ministry will review the matter?"

Amelia sighed. "The Ministry has already reviewed the situation and has agreed guardianship of Harry Potter should follow the legal wishes of his late parents and therefore is awarded to Sirius Black." She glared at everyone in the room. "Please do not share this until such time as the information is made public."

Everyone nodded.

"And that concludes our business." Liam said brightly. "Please see Kipbold for your vault keys."

Augusta retrieved her key and swept out before anyone could say anything to her. Remus exchanged a polite nod of acknowledgement with Brian and Amelia before he got his key and waited for Minerva.

Andromeda paused beside him as she left. "It's been a long time, Remus."

"Too long," Remus agreed, "how are you and Ted?"

"Good." Andromeda said. "Pleased to hear the news about Sirius and feeling entirely guilty for thinking that he would ever…"

"Me too." Remus said hurriedly.

Andromeda looked at him intently. "Have you heard from him?"

"He's getting medical treatment in line with the conditions set by the Ministry for him to take custody." Remus offered.

She nodded. "Tell him he's welcome to come over whenever he gets back. Well, I'd best be off. Take care of yourself, Remus."

She left just as Minerva appeared and Remus fell into step beside her as they exited Gringotts and made their way to the Leaky. He noticed his companion was silent – too silent.

Remus cleared his throat and discreetly raised a privacy bubble. "Are you alright, Minerva?"

"No, I don't think I am." Minerva said quietly. She looked every single one of her years. "I was with Albus the night he – we – left Harry in the muggle world and to think…I knew they were the worst kind, but I accepted Albus's decision and I haven't questioned it since despite… it's obvious the muggles haven't taken the best care of Harry. I failed James, Remus. We weren't close after Dorea died, and he and Lily left Hogwarts, but that's no excuse."

He placed a hand on her arm. "There was no way for you to know if they hadn't informed you, Minerva, and it's clear from your reaction that they didn't. But if you feel you need to make some kind of amends here, I would suggest that you don't tell Albus that Sirius has guardianship until it goes public like Amelia requested."

Minerva regarded him sternly for a long moment before her shoulders straightened. "You have my word, Remus." She turned and left before he could say anything more.

o-O-o

Time Bubble: July 9th 1994

Harry was having the best summer of his life.

They'd been at the Valley for two weeks, and although Harry had time travelled with the time turner he still had a difficult time getting his head around the idea that however long they stayed at the clinic, only a week would pass in the outside world. He'd decided to forget that oddity and simply enjoy his stay as much as he could.

The first day had been scary. The whole thing about the residue in his scar had been beyond frightening but it had all been dealt with very quickly. He couldn't remember the procedures to cleanse his scar as he had thankfully been knocked out for the whole thing. He had been restricted to bed for a few days after mainly because they'd needed his magical core to settle. What had been enormously comforting was that Sirius hadn't moved from his side the whole time except for a few bathroom breaks.

It had soothed some lingering worry inside Harry that Sirius didn't really mean it when he'd said he'd be there for him; that despite everything Sirius had done to make it possible for Harry to live with him, Sirius wouldn't really want him once he got to know Harry. But it was hard to argue about how much Sirius cared about him when his godfather spent all of his time looking after him and keeping his spirits up while he recuperated.

They'd mainly shared stories about Hogwarts during Harry's bed stay. It was the most common ground they had. Sirius admitted that Remus had already told him some of Harry's experiences but he wanted to hear about them from Harry. Harry had been a little reticent but once he'd started to talk he'd found himself happily reminiscing about his first year adventures.

He began with Hagrid taking him to Diagon Alley and Sirius had quizzed him over what Hagrid had and hadn't told him about the wizarding world. He got the impression that Sirius liked Hagrid but wasn't impressed that Hagrid had explained so little. Which surprised him as Sirius, on the whole, was very non-judgemental – he'd understood Harry's immediate use of the invisibility cloak when he'd received it and he'd mostly looked relieved about Harry surviving the troll.

It had also been a relief to Harry to tell someone about the events with Quirrell. Sirius had listened intently to Harry's tale. He'd also placed a hand on Harry's arm when he got to the confrontation with Quirrell and didn't let go as Harry haltingly recalled everything. Sirius had reassured him again that it wasn't Harry's fault Quirrell had died, noting that Harry had acted in self-defence. He also explained about possessions and how they worked, including the fact that they were almost always fatal to the host body; that Ginny had survived her possession seemed something of a miracle. The discussion had made Harry feel better. He hadn't actually realised that he'd still been so upset about what had happened with Quirrell. He'd kind of bundled it all up and shoved it to the back of his mind.

Harry had been beyond ecstatic when Sirius had reciprocated, telling Harry all about Sirius's first year at Hogwarts which luckily also included many stories of his father, and even some about his mother. He'd smiled when Sirius had told him he and James had agreed to be friends after sitting in the same compartment on the train, but had been dismayed when Sirius admitted that they'd made a bad impression on Lily during the same trip because they'd had an immediate enmity with Snape – who had been her friend! He'd also been dismayed by Sirius's admission that, although they'd disliked Snape because they could tell he'd used dark magic (something his mother had probably not known), he and James had also been rather snobbish and full of themselves.

But he'd laughed at Sirius's recounting of how he'd begged the hat for Gryffindor – knowing James would be placed there – and at all the pranks they'd played through the school year. He'd enjoyed Sirius's tale of how they'd eventually included Remus, who they'd quickly realised was simply brilliant, and had slowly worked out he was a werewolf but hadn't wanted to say anything in case it upset him. Sirius avoided talking about Wormtail and Harry couldn't blame him.

They'd repeated the story-telling the next day with their second years. Sirius hadn't flinched at all over the fact that Harry could talk to snakes and Harry had been thrilled at Sirius's continuing unwavering acceptance of him. Again, it had helped to talk about the fight with the basilisk. Sirius had teased him over being a knight in shining armour.

Sirius confessed in an overly sad fashion that his second year hadn't been all that exciting in comparison. Mostly, they'd finally broached Remus's affliction with him and tried to work out a way to help him – Sirius eventually stumbling onto the idea of becoming an animagus. He recounted how Harry's father had also tried to become friends with his mother again, but how her continuing friendship with Snape had kept them at odds. He'd confessed with more than a little chagrin that although Snape could give as good as he got, he and James had probably crossed the line from pranking to bullying a few times where their nemesis was concerned, and so it wasn't any wonder Lily thought them both prats.

Harry was glad Sirius had been so honest with him but it disturbed him that his Dad and Sirius could bully someone – even Snape. It explained a lot about Snape's attitude towards Harry. Then he remembered how Snape had accused Sirius of trying to kill him and asked Sirius about that.

"You have to understand, Harry, that by sixth year, us Marauders and Snape were mortal enemies. He'd thrown in his lot with the Death Eater crowd the year before and dropped his friendship with your mother." Sirius began. "You remember my telling you I'd run away that summer? Well, Snape caught me one day and hinted that he knew more than the official story of my parents disowning me. He hinted that he'd tell the whole school." He shifted on the bed and shame entered his eyes. "I panicked a bit about whether he did know anything about my family situation, I guess, and told him that he knew nothing. He then said he knew everything about Remus and his monthly trips to the Whomping Willow, and would know more if he followed him. So I dared him to press the knot on the Willow and do it if he was man enough."

Harry frowned. "But that sounds like he knew Remus was a werewolf."

"I think he had a strong suspicion." Sirius agreed. "In fact, I made the dare because I thought that he already knew and I didn't think for a moment he'd be stupid enough to go looking for a werewolf." He sighed and rubbed at his beard for a moment. "I didn't tell your Dad or Remus about it either for that reason. I didn't think there was any reason to be worried."

"Only Snape went looking."

"I think he drugged our pumpkin juice that night because Peter went straight to sleep and I found it hard to stay awake. Your Dad had sensibly stuck to water so he was fine and bloody annoyed with us for snoozing. When I realised we'd been potioned, I worked out Snape must be going after Remus – I figured Snape was going to try and kill him! So I sent James to save Remus while I got an antidote to the potion." He sighed. "I ran after them as quick as I could and luckily your Dad had already got there and was hauling Snape's arse out of the tunnel. Just as I ran up to help him, Dumbledore appeared and marched us all to his office. He let James go pretty quick. Snape, he made promise not to tell people about Remus while we were students; said something about the fact that that was his punishment and then something vague about how it wasn't too late."

"And you?"

"Banned from Hogsmeade weekends for the rest of the year, and the Quidditch team. And I had detention for the rest of the Winter term." Sirius explained. "Wasn't as bad as the two months of silence and the ban from joining them at the next full moon that I got from Remus."

"He stopped talking to you?" Harry had never considered that the friends must have had issues just like him, Ron and Hermione with the Firebolt.

"If Snape had found him, if Snape hadn't killed him and he'd killed Snape, or even just attacked him, Remus would have been executed." Sirius said gravely. "My dare put his life at risk. He was quite right not to talk with me. I understood it even if it was a horrible two months." He gestured at Harry. "Your Dad forgave me after a day or so. He was mostly annoyed because Lily had been warming up to us but because the rumour around the school was that it was a prank that had gone wrong and we'd almost killed Snape, she was giving your Dad the cold shoulder. That, and your Dad said I should have told them about the dare when I did it, and he was right. Peter stayed on the fence pretty much, which should have clued us in for what happened later come to think about it."

"But Remus forgave you, right?"

"He did when your Dad intervened and pointed out that Snape had probably contrived the whole thing – both provoking me and going to the tunnel. He said Snape had probably hoped he'd get Remus executed and me expelled or in prison." Sirius grimaced. "But I don't think Moony ever truly trusted me after that. It probably was one of the reasons why he considered me the spy and why he believed I was guilty." He shifted position again. "And maybe because I felt that distance he'd put between us, I was more inclined to think the worst of him too."

"You're OK now though?" Harry questioned, a little afraid that they weren't.

"We are," Sirius smiled, "I think mostly we're just pleased that we have each other as a friend again and what's past is past."

"Shame Snape doesn't feel that way." Harry commented.

"No, he knows how to hold a grudge." Sirius said. "Truthfully, so do I; I don't like him. I know I won't be apologising to him anytime soon – I'd rather pull my own teeth out first."

Harry chuckled at that.

Sirius poked his leg through the blankets. "The dare was a mistake though and I regret it but I'm not going to pretend to you that I'm perfect and I don't expect you to be either. I can be a little reckless at times. I can maybe be too cruel and ruthless if I'm crossed. And I have a habit of acting before I think. Everybody has flaws."

Harry flushed but he was comforted by the words nevertheless. It helped that Sirius didn't expect him to be perfect – he could just be himself. "I think I have the same flaw," he said, "acting before thinking? And I have a bit of a temper sometimes. Hermione says I brood."

"Well," Sirius said, "we can work on improving ourselves together, but we should always keep in mind that it's OK not to be perfect."

In his heart, Harry forgave Sirius the whole affair with Snape quite quickly. Harry had to admit his own dislike of Snape was well-rooted especially since Snape was so unfair to him – had been unfair to him from the moment Harry had arrived at Hogwarts. It just seemed a shame to Harry that someone who had been such good friends with his mother was so bitter towards Harry himself even if he understood why more after all of his discussions with Sirius.

The following day, they had moved onto Harry's third year and although Sirius had witnessed everything from a distance, he still wanted to hear all about it. Sirius in return had shared his third year stories which revolved mostly around the Marauders' continuing efforts to help Remus, more pranks, and Harry's Dad still trying to build a friendship with his Mum – and still failing badly.

Harry had been sad as they moved back to the cabin that they'd ran out of school years to trade. Sirius had proposed that they made it a tradition that the first day of the summer holiday would be spent with Harry telling Sirius all about his school year and Sirius would tell him about the equivalent year of his own. It warmed Harry that they had plans for the future – that they had started a tradition.

The days since had settled into a routine: mornings began with a healthy breakfast, and the exercise routines that Doctor Jordan had assigned them both; an eclectic mix of yoga, tai chi, weights and jogging. They had a light lunch usually in the cabin. They split up in the afternoons for the mind healing sessions, Sirius's were longer because of the damage done by the Dementors, and Harry's were a mix of mind healing, Occlumency and art therapy.

The Occlumency sessions were a tad boring since it was mostly meditation to sort through his memories and to build a defence around his mind. Talking about the memories was the worst part – Harry didn't really want to talk about any of his life under the cupboard or his previous summers with the Dursleys. Healer Fay didn't pressure him but she made it clear that dealing with his memories was an important part of his treatment. He had started to accept her reassurance that he wasn't being judged about any of it, but he still didn't want to talk about it. The art therapy was better. Harry had liked rediscovering painting as a hobby; he'd enjoyed it at primary school and he thought it was a shame Hogwarts didn't offer that kind of course. He vaguely remembered Stonewall offered an arts subject.

Harry enjoyed the late afternoons more. Sirius had offered to teach him to swim in the attached pool and they spent an hour in the water before eating dinner by the poolside. The evenings were spent playing cards – Sirius had taught Harry poker and promptly regretted it – or board games – Sirius insisted on being the dog in Wizard Monopoly. Sirius always told a story about Harry's babyhood or something about his Dad or his Mum.

It was simply the best summer of Harry's life.

Except for the fact that Harry couldn't do any magic or fly until they checked his magical core again but that was what they were going to do that morning.

Blackhawk greeted them warmly as Sirius and Harry were shown into a large treatment room by Jordan. Harry grinned back at the old wizard. Blackhawk had joined them for dinner a couple of times and Harry had been enthralled by his stories of healing. He was actually thinking it might be something that he would want to do in the future. Maybe. He'd kind of considered becoming a teacher when he'd thought about life after the Dursleys before he'd known about Hogwarts, but that had mainly been because they were practically the only other adults he'd seen outside of the Dursleys.

"Now, we are going to repeat the tests we did before your procedures." Blackhawk informed him briskly. He motioned to a bulls-eye target set at the end of the room. "You will cast the Stupefy spell at the target." He indicated a book on the table. "Wingardium Leviosa to levitate this book a metre above the desk. And finally, you will produce a patronus."

Harry nodded. He only had a vague recollection of the tests the first time around. He seemed to remember the target produced a number which equated to the power used. Sirius patted his arm – a silent good luck.

Harry faced the target eagerly and raised his wand. "Stupefy!"

The red light shot across the room and slammed into the target, sending it rocking back into the wall.

Harry stared at it in shock; there was a huge hole in the centre of the crumpled target. The number that appeared in the air above it was meaningless to Harry but Blackhawk was looking at it with a wide-eyed surprise that disconcerted Harry. "I'm sorry," Harry began urgently, "about the target."

Blackhawk waved his apology away. "You have done nothing wrong, Harry. Do not worry." He exchanged a look with Sirius though that clearly indicated to Harry that something was wrong.

"Try the book, Harry." Sirius encouraged.

Harry swallowed hard and faced the desk. He aimed his wand and with a swish and a flick, said the spell out loud. The book shot up into the air and Harry had a hard time yanking it back before it hit the ceiling.

"Something's wrong, isn't it?" Harry asked as Blackhawk's expression grew more concerned.

"Not so much wrong as unusual." Blackhawk assured him calmly. "Lower the book and cast your patronus, Harry."

Harry set the book down with an audible thump. He forced himself to focus so he could cast the patronus; he aimed his wand at the empty space beside him. "Expecto Patronum!"

The stag leaped out of his wand and clattered onto the tiled floor. The luminescent animal tossed its antlers and pawed the ground, leaving scuff marks behind.

Sirius approached carefully; he reached out a hand and patted the stag's nose. "Hello Prongs." He said awed. The patronus was not only corporeal, it was solid. He smoothed a hand down a flank and Harry could see the fine hair of the stag's coat brush through Sirius's fingers.

The stag blew a huffy breath through its nose. It looked to Harry for instructions.

Harry cleared his throat. "It's OK, you can go."

It transformed into a glowy mist before disappearing altogether.

"Beautiful." Blackhawk said, almost reverentially.

"Thank you." Harry said automatically. "What's wrong with me?" He asked bluntly, fear churning in his gut.

"Nothing's wrong with you, Harry." Sirius said firmly. "But your power levels are off the wall. I have never seen a solid patronus – not even from Dumbledore. That binding was obviously keeping a lot of your magic locked up. We're going to need to work on you gaining some control over it."

"I agree," said Blackhawk serenely, "your magic is stable but you are unused to having so much of it at your disposal. You will need to retrain otherwise you might have instances of quite dangerous accidental magic."

Harry's gaze went unwilling to the damaged target on the other side of the room. If that had been a person…

Sirius nudged Harry's arm. "It's going to be OK, Harry. We'll work on your magic in the evenings."

Blackhawk nodded. "As your stay here will need to be extended, if you wish I will arrange access for you to the town; you can floo there from the clinic here. We do not wish for you to get cabin fever as you recover."

"That would be appreciated." Sirius replied.

"I would also like to invite you both to my home for dinner." Blackhawk's eyes twinkled. "I also have a granddaughter and a grandson your age I can introduce to you, Harry? I thought perhaps you might like to spend time with people your own age."

Harry's mood brightened. "That would be great." He smiled sheepishly. "I kind of miss my friends."

"Of course you do." Sirius said. "Thank you, Healer Blackhawk."

Blackhawk smiled warmly. "Call me Noshi, Sirius." He motioned at them. "I will leave you for tonight and will see you both tomorrow."

Harry waited until the old wizard had departed before he slumped against the desk and sighed heavily. "I'm sorry." He gestured at his godfather. "It's my fault you're stuck here."

"Firstly, there's no need to apologize; it's not your fault someone bound your magic." Sirius replied. "And secondly, I get to spend more time with you helping you relearn magic. That's not a bad thing in my book."

He felt a little reassured but still…"I'm sure you have important things you have to do back home though."

"Nothing is more important than you." Sirius said immediately.

Harry blushed; happy and bewildered at the sincere statement.

"Come here." Sirius held open his arms.

Harry moved into the hug with only minor reluctance – a roll of his eyes, and mostly that was for show – he was a teenage boy; he wasn't supposed to want hugs. But his mind healer thought they were good for him and he secretly enjoyed the comfort of being hugged. Sirius was great at hugs. His godfather seemed to instinctively know how to hug him; secure but not suffocating, comforting but without babyish words of nonsense like Petunia gave Dudley, and Sirius had a sixth sense about when to step back before Harry started to feel embarrassed.

Like right then.

Sirius patted his back quickly and eased away, although he clasped Harry's shoulders and looked him in the eye. "I don't want you to worry about this. You're a powerful wizard; we just need to work through your lessons again. OK?"

"OK," Harry mumbled, nodding. "It's just…" he bit his lip as he tried to figure out a way to tell Sirius that he wasn't that good a student. "I don't want to disappoint you."

"Why would you think you're going to disappoint me?" Sirius asked, surprise written all over his face.

Harry could feel his cheeks heating with shame. "I'm…I'm not like my Mum and Dad. I'm not as smart as they were."

Sirius sat on the desk and patted the space beside him, indicating Harry should join him. "Why do think you're not as smart as your parents?"

Harry ducked his head. "Well, I'm not. I mean, you said they were top of their classes like…like Hermione, and I'm…I'm not, well, except in Defence Against the Dark Arts."

"Hmmm." Sirius looked at him closely. "Look, your Dad was one of those annoying people who could get good marks without trying very hard. He just had this intuition about magic. It used to drive Remus bonkers because we would never see him working but then in class he'd produce a perfectly conjured bouquet of flowers or make a fork dance the can-can."

Harry smiled at the image.

"Your Mum had an affinity for Charms and Potions but she worked hard to get the marks she did. She spent a lot of time in the library and a lot of time practicing. Remus was like that although he had no affinity for Potions at all. He knew the theory backwards but every time he got in front of a cauldron, it'd melt." Sirius said. "I probably fell somewhere in between – Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts came easy to me but I had to work at the rest."

Harry listened carefully, hearing the underlying message in Sirius's words: good marks and class positions took work and if he didn't put the work in – well, he'd end up where he was: average in all but the one subject that came naturally to him.

"But class positions aren't everything." Sirius continued. "Do you try your best?"

He didn't want to lie but he didn't want to admit the truth either. He squirmed under Sirius's scrutiny. "Sometimes." He admitted.

"Which means sometimes you don't." Sirius pointed out with brutally honest logic that reminded Harry of Hermione. "Why do you only sometimes try your best?"

"I don't know," Harry replied automatically, shifting again as he really considered Sirius's question.

He thought back over his schooling. He'd loved his primary school when he'd first attended; it had been an escape from his meagre existence at Privet Drive. But then Dudley had started chasing away anyone who wanted to be friends with him and his relatives had never praised his marks and had simply never accepted him being better than Dudley. In the end he'd decided not to draw attention to himself by remaining average in class, but secretly went over the lessons in his cupboard at night. He'd looked forward to Stonewall as a means of starting afresh, and he vaguely recalled that his plan had been to do well so he could escape Privet Drive when he was sixteen and get a job. But then there had been Hogwarts and…

And Harry had intended to do well the summer before he'd started. He'd stayed up late reading his books and he'd tried, hadn't he, those first few weeks of school? But…it had been harder than he'd expected between the quills and the wizarding ways of doing things and Snape. Ron had never been interested in studying, openly disparaging of Hermione's cleverness back then, and Harry hadn't wanted to rock the boat with his new friend by going to the library or showing what knowledge and aptitude he did have. Thankfully, Hermione had forced them into studying once they'd properly made friends with her after the troll and Harry remembered that he had gotten good marks that first year: exceeds expectations and a couple of outstandings which had more than made up for the acceptable he'd scraped in Potions and History of Magic.

Second year had been a nightmare between hearing voices in the wall and being shunned for being the Heir of Slytherin; he hadn't wanted to stand out. There had been no exams that year but he thought he would have passed. And he had passed third year – mostly acceptables with a couple of exceeds expectations and the outstanding in DADA. But thinking it over, he slowly realised that he'd let Ron set the tone again since Hermione had been busy or they hadn't been speaking to her. Not that he could blame Ron – Harry figured Sirius would expect him to take responsibility for his own studying – and hadn't he already decided that he was going to be a little more independent from Ron in the coming year, drop Divination and take something else?

He looked up from his meanderings and met Sirius's patient waiting gaze.

"I guess I haven't wanted to stand out too much or…or upset Ron." He confessed miserably. "He thinks studying is boring and…"

"And you go along with it because he's your friend." Sirius completed. He nodded. "I can understand that. Peer pressure is a hard thing to resist. I only joined the Quidditch team because of your Dad."

"Really?"

"Yep," Sirius said, "I didn't want to play and while I could fly half-way decently, I didn't enjoy it. But your Dad wanted company and I was his best mate so…I ended up as a Beater until I got banned and then I took advantage and refused to go back on the team the next year." He flapped his hand. "Anyway, back to you. What do you think you should do?"

"Decide things for myself," Harry replied promptly, "I'd kind of already realised that after last year."

Sirius looked at him inquisitively.

"I hate Divination!" Harry exclaimed. "Trelawney's always predicting my death and…and I hate it. I only took it because…well, you know. I was thinking of asking Professor McGonagall if I could transfer to Runes or Arithmancy."

"I'll talk with her. There shouldn't be a problem if we get you up to speed before Hogwarts starts." Sirius replied. "Which do you think would suit you best?"

Harry thought for a long moment, weighing both subjects in his head. "I think Runes. I don't really enjoy theory stuff as much as I do practice and I get the idea from what Hermione has said in the past that there are lots of practical applications for Runes but Arithmancy is more about theory."

"You're right. Runes it is then and you're in luck because I did Runes and we can start your tutoring while we're here and take advantage of the time bubble." Sirius poked Harry's arm lightly. "I promise you that I won't be disappointed in any of our lessons so long as you try your best."

"OK, I promise." Harry said quickly, resolving right there and then that he would keep his promise and put the work in.

"I also expect that when you return you try your best at Hogwarts too." Sirius continued.

Harry nodded, trying to ignore the twisting sensation in his gut at Sirius's comment. He'd never had someone take an interest in his marks before – if the Dursleys hadn't cared about his marks at primary school, they'd cared even less about his marks at Hogwarts – and he was embarrassed anew at his past performance.

"I'm proud of you, Harry." Sirius said, surprising Harry into looking at him again. "You've thought everything through and made some good decisions about your future. It's like we said when we talked about our flaws, remember? We're not perfect but we'll work on the things we know we need to improve. And I will never be disappointed in you so long as you always try your best."

"I will." Harry promised again. He wouldn't let Sirius down.

Chapter Text

June 30th 1994

The first weeks of summer had been odd, Albus considered as he adjusted the sleeves of his lime green robes. The glittery pink stripes that edged the garment in a random pattern made Albus smile as he put on his glasses and determined he was ready to head for breakfast in the Great Hall.

Oddity wasn't a bad thing, Albus mused whimsically; he'd had odd days where things had gone wonderfully well – like finding the chamber pot room and losing it again – because losing it was just as wonderful as finding it. And most odd things did have an explanation if one was inclined to look past the oddity.

So, although some might have thought it odd that Alastor Moody had suddenly taken an interest in checking on the wards around young Harry, Albus believed it had been precipitated by his own request to Alastor to take up the DADA teaching position. That had led to a nostalgic discussion about the old days, and Sirius Black still being at large (Albus had forgotten that Alastor had arrested Sirius but he had forgotten so much more than he remembered that it didn't really worry him), and from there it had been a short hop, skip and a jump to the Potters and Harry and the wards…

It wasn't at all odd that Alastor had paid no attention to Albus's reassurance that all was well and Sirius was not a threat; Alastor was Alastor which meant paranoid and not inclined to take anybody else's word, not even Albus's. It was a marvellously successful worldview for an Auror and had its uses. Indeed, Albus had fully expected Alastor to do what he had done in tracking down Harry and checking on the wards. Albus had congratulated himself with a lemon drop after Arabella's report that she had seen Alastor and that he had reported the wards were fine. Of course Alastor's visit had probably coincided with Harry's interview about Sirius come to think of it. Arabella's report had mentioned a woman that in hindsight met Amelia Bones's description.

Her second report though had been most odd; the gossip that the Dursleys had taken Harry with them to wherever they had gone because of whatever family emergency had transpired. But Albus wanted to take it as a sign that the Dursleys were finally treating Harry as part of their family so he did. Perhaps the explanation could be found in the events of the previous summer when they had caused Harry to run away from home. Perhaps they had realised that their treatment of the boy was unacceptable and turned over a new leaf. So, yes; it was odd but odd could be good – the chamber pot room was such an example.

But there was odd and there was odd. And it had been odd that out of nowhere Cornelius had decided to allow Amelia Bones to investigate Sirius's past alleged crimes and events at Hogwarts at the end of the school year. It wasn't odd that Amelia had done a sterling job and exonerated Sirius – she had been a wonderfully bright student if Albus remembered correctly.

Of course there was an explanation for Cornelius's about turn: it appeared that a new and surprising patron had appeared on the scene. Albus had spies – contacts – everywhere and his contacts had managed to scrounge up the interesting fact that there was a new Lord Black. Oh, it was all being kept very hush-hush but Albus had confirmed that someone had taken ownership of the Black Manor in London as whoever it was had consigned all the portraits to sleep and so Phineas Nigellus Black was stuck in the one at Hogwarts.

Again, a new Lord Black wasn't odd so much as odd. Not that there was one as there were plenty cousins all of whom had more or less equal claim to the family magic but it was a surprise as Sirius was the blood heir. And while Albus just couldn't see Sirius taking up the mantle with the depth of derision he held for his family name and heritage, the whole thing was very odd in the timing.

There again, thought Albus as he navigated the corridors and stairs with ease, Sirius had been in the news constantly following his escape. Media attention may have prompted one cousin to assume the Lordship and make a plea on his cousin's behalf. Or maybe Sirius had fled to this cousin and made a deal: Sirius giving up all claim to the Lordship in exchange for getting him exonerated and perhaps a job for a friend? It would explain Remus Lupin's immediate success in finding alternative employment. No matter…Albus was sure all would be revealed in time.

So, Albus wasn't alarmed by a new Lord Black appearing on the scene. The Black family had been powerful and traditionally Dark but the old alliances were broken and Albus couldn't see someone like Lucius Malfoy simply accepting an usurper in his dealings with the Ministry. And if this was a Lord Black that had taken the position at Sirius's behest then Albus wasn't overly worried as he doubted Sirius would have approached someone truly Dark. No, there was no need to assume a political threat until more was known about this Lord Black's agenda.

The more immediate wrinkle was Sirius himself.

In hindsight Albus wondered if it wouldn't have been better to have pushed Cornelius for a trial the night Sirius had been locked up in Hogwarts. Albus could have offered his personal protection and insisted on due process under the auspice of his Chief Warlock authority. From there he could have controlled the issue of Harry's custody – using the debt Sirius would owe him to convince him that the boy remained with the Dursleys. But Albus had decided at the time that he couldn't take the risk; Sirius as a fugitive made it easier for Albus to keep Harry safe, and so he had determined to simply allow Harry to help Sirius escape – after all, Sirius was innocent and didn't deserve to be incarcerated or Kissed. Albus regretted more than he could say not visiting the boy in Azkaban and not ensuring there was a trial – the chaos of the end of the war and his own grief at the various losses were poor excuses for his inattention in that regard despite being the truth of why he hadn't.

However, Sirius was now exonerated; he was free to try for custody of Harry and, from the press over the past week, the wizarding world was eager to give it to him. Albus had lost a great deal of leverage because he'd had nothing to do with securing Sirius his freedom. It wasn't a disaster – the good news was that Sirius remained abroad, whereabouts unknown, and Harry was safely away with the Dursleys. If there was a move to award Sirius custody, Albus was certain that he could advise a long period of convalescence for Sirius after his ordeal in Azkaban before any access to Harry was allowed.

And beyond that… he had confidence in his own ability to persuade Sirius to his point of view that Harry was safest at the Dursleys. After all, Sirius had acquiesced to that view on the fateful night of the Potters' deaths when Albus had arranged for Hagrid to collect Harry from the wreckage of the Potters' home. Although possibly, Albus mused, back then Sirius had thought the plan to hide Harry with the Dursleys was a temporary one – and it had been until Albus had discovered the blood protection Harry carried. Maybe he would have to give up the secret that Harry's blood carried within it his mother's sacrifice; that it was renewed under the blood wards she had left around her sister's home and imbued back into those very same wards by Harry residing within them. The advantage it gave far outweighed any other consideration.

Like the boy being raised by people who loved him.

It was deeply unfortunate that the Dursleys hadn't accepted Harry; hadn't loved him. Albus had hoped Minerva had been wrong about the kind of people they were but Arabella's first report to him only a few months after leaving baby Harry with them had left him with little doubt she'd been perfectly correct in her concerns. Albus had felt a twinge of conscience about removing the Potters' will from their solicitors at that point but by then the poor Longbottoms were no longer viable contenders to look after young Harry, Sirius was in prison, and Minerva…well, he was certain she would agree him which made the Tonks' claim moot.

And the Dursleys had looked after Harry; housed him, clothed him in a fashion, fed him poorly perhaps but enough, and through their example of how not to behave, Harry had grown into quite a splendid young boy.

No, Harry's home life wasn't ideal but it was sufficient and more importantly, the blood protection Harry carried was maintained which was the important thing; it had already saved his life once more. Sirius would understand the necessity of leaving Harry with the Dursleys when Albus explained it. He was certain of it.

Albus entered the Great Hall in good spirits then. The holiday seating was out: one long table in the centre of the hall. He sat down in his usual chair which had been placed in the middle of the right hand side.

Minerva had chosen to sit opposite him rather than beside him, (she still hadn't forgiven him for barging in on her meeting with Remus at the beginning of the week, and for not yet having his promised discussion with Severus), but Filius was on his left as normal and Severus had taken the seat to his right. Pomona Sprout was across from the Potions Professor, rounding out the Heads of the Hogwarts Houses, while Poppy Pomfrey sat opposite Filius. Hagrid was at one end of the table, Argus Filch at the other. The rest of the staff had already been released from their duties and had departed for their holidays – or in the case of Sybill Trelawney retired to quarters.

Albus let their conversation – a mix of glee at the absence of students, irritation at the end of year bureaucracy and paperwork, and anticipation of their holiday plans – drift over him as he tucked into a bowl of porridge with warm honey. Instead he focused on the vexing problem of Tom Riddle. He was confident that defeating him was still achievable.

He had spent years suspecting that Tom hadn't died the night he had attacked the Potters, based on his discovery of a vile soul fragment of the evil wizard within Harry when he had examined him in the Hogwarts' infirmary. It had horrified Albus and the staff with him – Hagrid who had brought Harry to Hogwarts, and Poppy, who had been administering healing. Albus had no idea how to remove it and had settled for binding Harry's magic to ensure the fragment was kept weak. Then he'd erased Hagrid's and Poppy's memories of Harry being there and what they had learned: he couldn't risk news of the soul fragment – or indeed the blood protection which he'd also discovered – leaking out to the general public. He'd sent Hagrid off with the child to Privet Drive on the motorcycle, beating him there easily, and allowing Hagrid to think he'd come directly from Godric's Hollow.

It had been easy enough to think up a plan to confirm his suspicions once and for all when he had finally tracked down rumours of a wraith in Albania. The Philosopher's stone provided a tasty bait in the trap and Harry beginning his schooling provided a second temptation to draw in Tom. He hadn't quite planned for Quirrell to be possessed – the poor boy – even if he had suggested Albania as a possible venue for Quirrell to gain some practical DADA experience, and in his defence Albus had tried very hard to find a solution that would leave Quirrell alive once the wraith was exorcised. And initially everything had gone well; Tom through Quirrell had come to the school. Then Quirrell had let a troll into the school and, according to Severus, tried to kill Harry during his Quidditch match. After that, Albus had sent for the Mirror of Erised to place an additional protection on the stone, one he hoped would keep Tom trapped until Albus could face him.

But Albus had underestimated Quirrell's, or rather Tom's, sneakiness, and Harry's sense of responsibility. Tricked out of Hogwarts, (he suspected a strong Confundus and compulsion spell on the parchment which had called for his presence at the Ministry and for him to travel by broomstick of all things), Albus had arrived back just in time to realise Quirrell-Voldemort had gone after the stone and Harry had gone after him. In some ways, Albus believed the confrontation between the two was fated because of the prophecy Sybill Trelawney had given to him – the prophecy that had led Tom into attacking the Potters in the first place; that nothing he could have done would have prevented it. But that hadn't lessened his guilt when he had found Harry slipping into unconsciousness, his mother's protection having saved him once again (although Albus had also felt a moment's vindication in his decision to leave Harry with the Dursleys). Tom's wraith had fled rather than face Albus.

It was as he watched over young Harry in the hospital wing that Albus realised he'd grown fond of the boy, and he was consumed by sorrow because he couldn't think of any way for Tom to be eliminated without Harry dying because of the soul fragment. Albus had resolved to wait. Tom remained a wraith and powerless: there was no rush. He had decided that Harry should have as much of a childhood, as much of a life, as possible before the ultimate confrontation.

He hadn't planned on Harry facing another shade of Tom in his second year. The Chamber of Secrets fiasco had been exactly that – a fiasco. Not that Albus would admit it to anyone. He had been unable to pinpoint the Chamber's location; unable to think of an effective strategy to defeat the basilisk without allowing it to roam the school; unable to tell who was possessed and therefore he couldn't take the risk of closing the school and allowing the possessed individual to disappear…and Lucius Malfoy's political manoeuvrings hadn't helped matters.

In the end, the entire awful affair had been horrendously valuable in terms of intelligence because it had revealed the diary. Tom had created a horcrux to anchor him to the land of the living, probably more than one, and likely the partial fragment that had ended up in Harry had been a mistake or an accident caused by the instability in Tom's soul. It gave Albus a new avenue for investigation and narrowed the field on how Tom might regain a form. There were rituals of restoration…one in particular called for the use of the blood of an enemy. If Harry's was used then Harry would have an anchor to life, although it would open up the soul connection between them fully. But Albus couldn't count on it. He had to assume that there would be no advantage and that Harry's death was inevitable.

Time was of the essence, Albus mused. The prophecy Harry had overheard at the end of term seemed to indicate that Tom would regain his form sooner rather than later. That was problematic. Albus had only just started investigating the issue of the horcruxes and they would need to be destroyed before a final showdown between Harry and Tom could take place. Certainly his plans for the summer had taken on a new urgency.

He sighed and started on the plate of sausage, eggs, beans and toast. He finally tuned back into the discussion…

"Personally, I don't think we need a bullying policy." Pomona said firmly. "Just because the muggles have issues doesn't mean we do."

"Bullying does take place within these hallowed corridors," rejoined Severus silkily, "no matter how unpleasant you may find the topic."

"Perhaps then it would be prudent of us to set a good example and refrain from bullying students ourselves before we ask the same behaviour of the students." Minerva snapped at Severus who raised an eyebrow at her.

"Bullies are a part of school life and a part of life." Filius interjected. "I was bullied but I learned how to deal with it and make my own way."

"Not everyone has your fortitude, Filius." Poppy countered. "There are some young children who come into the infirmary week after week having been hexed and nothing is done! It's not acceptable."

"Well, if they don't report who did it to a staff member, what can be done?" Pomona asked.

"And they won't," Severus pointed out, "telling tales is against the unwritten rules of the school-yard."

"Well, I happen to think a bullying policy that encourages children to come forward with a promise of anonymity and confidentiality coupled with a supportive teaching staff who don't simply pat them on the head and say 'well, I was bullied and I turned out alright; buck up, old chap' would be beneficial." Poppy said strongly.

"What do you think, Albus?" Filius asked. "Are you for or against?"

"I don't see any need to implement something additional to our normal policy." Albus said firmly.

Poppy snorted loudly. "What policy?"

A rush of wings had everyone at the table looking up as the mail delivery arrived. Albus accepted the Daily Prophet from a tawny owl in exchange for some sausage. The headline had him choking on his juice.

SIRIUS BLACK AWARDED CUSTODY OF THE BOY WHO LIVED! Rita Skeeter

The Ministry of Magic have announced their decision to revoke custody of the Boy Who Lived from his muggle relations and to place him with the newly exonerated Sirius Black. Calls for this very action have multiplied since Black was cleared of all charges related to the deaths of his good friends and the muggles who died in his confrontation with wanted Death Eater at large, Peter Pettigrew.

Minister Fudge noted in the press announcement of the decision that it had been made after a copy of the Potters' missing will was handed over to authorities. "It is clear that the wishes of James and Lily Potter were to place their only child in the safekeeping of long term family friends, two of whom had been named as the child's godparents."

It is understood by this Prophet reporter that Frank and Alice Longbottom were the first choice of guardians for young Harry, a well-respected couple from an Ancient and Noble House in a stable marriage with a child of their own. Sources suggest that they had begun a search for the will in the days before they were attacked with the intent to challenge the placement of Harry with the muggles by Albus Dumbledore. They are currently residents of the long term spell damage ward at St Mungo's and unable to take custody. Augusta Longbottom commented, "The Longbottoms and the Potters have long been allies and it is regretful that my son and his wife were unable to assume guardianship as the Potters wished." Alice Longbottom nee Kerrigan also enjoyed a close friendship with Lily Potter nee Evans at Hogwarts, each choosing the other as godmother for their sons who were born only a day apart.

Of course, Sirius Black was named as godfather to young Harry and was therefore the immediate second choice, despite being young and single. His solicitor, Brian Cutter of Cutter, Glock and Baron gave us this statement: "My client Sirius Black is delighted at the decision of the Ministry and looks forward to fully introducing his godson to the wizarding world beyond Hogwarts. He is currently abroad and undergoing medical treatment in line with conditions set by the Ministry. He'd like to thank Minister Fudge for expediting the decision on behalf of himself and Harry so they may spend part of the summer together before Harry resumes his schooling."

Black's upbringing as an Heir to an Ancient and Noble House also prepares him for his new duty as Regent of the House of Potter. The current proxy for the House of Potter is Elmer Samson, appointed by the Chief Warlock in the absence of a Regent as per WIzengamot rules. Mister Samson, a former Order of Merlin recipient, was unavailable for comment.

We at the Prophet wish Harry much happiness with his new guardian.

This was a disaster, Albus thought sadly.

"Fabulous," drawled Severus beside him, "if the brat wasn't already spoiled…"

"Enough!" Minerva interrupted sharply, banging her hand down on the table with so much force the plates rattled and the cutlery jumped. "I have had enough of your derogatory comments and snide remarks about Harry Potter. You are entitled to your opinion on Black – although I despise your daily commentary about him, Merlin knows the two of you have quite a history between you and you are both adults – but belittling and bad-mouthing a boy, a student no less, who has done nothing," her eyes flashed when Severus would have interrupted, "nothing," she stressed, "to incur such abuse beyond being James Potter's son, is entirely unacceptable behaviour for a teacher within these walls. You will speak respectfully of him as you would insist he speak of you!"

"Now, Minerva…" Albus said hurriedly.

"Don't Minerva me!" Minerva glared at him across the table. "Too long have I looked away from less than acceptable behaviour but no more!" She gave an angry huff. "Poppy is quite right; we do have a problem with bullying and why? Because we condone such behaviour by inaction; because we do not open our eyes and see what is under our very big noses." She threw down her napkin and departed before anyone could say anything.

The rest of the table was silent, unnerved by the confrontation between their colleagues.

"Well," Albus cleared his throat, "perhaps Minerva is correct. We should all pay more attention and speak out against any signs of bullying especially in light of our planned visitors to Hogwarts this coming year." He turned to Severus who looked faintly stunned. "Severus, would you join me in my office, please?"

Albus didn't wait for Severus's agreement but immediately rose from the table and glided away, fully expecting Severus to follow him which he did. He waited until he was settled behind his desk before he waved Severus into a visitor's chair.

"Headmaster, you cannot…" Severus began.

Albus raised his hand and stopped him before he could get any further. "Severus, I more than anyone know your history with Sirius Black." He said. "I know you provoked him into daring you, knowing full well what awaited you at the end of the tunnel, and I know you hated James Potter for saving you because you had hoped to kill Remus Lupin and get Black expelled. Did they bully you? Yes, but in later years you started just as many of the skirmishes between you as they did. This is the truth of your history and I told you at the time that I knew all that had transpired."

Severus blinked at him.

"I do not expect you to befriend Sirius Black nor do I expect you to suddenly proclaim a positive view of the man, but I do expect you to realise that your reactions to the news over the past week have alienated Minerva, who is distressed at the thought that an innocent man, a former Gryffindor student of hers no less, spent the better part of twelve years in Azkaban, and who finds you glorying in that same fact so openly and wishing that he had been Kissed, distasteful in the extreme. I do expect you to address that misstep on your part and mend your working relationship."

"Perhaps I have been less than discreet in my comments," allowed Severus, adjusting his robes.

"You have made a similar mistake in regards to Harry." Albus noted coolly. "Minerva's point was well made and I have allowed your attitude towards him to continue for far too long. I had hoped that you would come to see for yourself that Harry is not his father and has many of Lily's qualities; that his life has not been easy or spoiled, and certainly he will face much hardship in the future given what we know must come to pass. While I trust your commitment to helping him defeat Voldemort, your enmity towards Harry will not serve us in achieving that goal. Don't think I don't know that Minerva had to step in as Deputy and adjudicate Harry's mark in Potions at the end of last year. It is not acceptable professional behaviour and you will stop, Severus."

Severus flinched from the criticism and sat back. "You and I both know it is not that easy. If Sybill's latest prediction was correct then even now Pettigrew helps the Dark Lord rise again. If I am to regain my position as a spy…"

"You will say that I have ordered you to be civil to the boy." Albus interrupted him. "It is even the truth, Severus, so it should suffice. Civility will not harm our plans."

He repressed his smile at Severus's scowl and picked up the newspaper.

"This, on the other hand, may derail things significantly." Albus sighed and leaned back. "Has Lucius mentioned a new Lord Black?"

"We haven't spoken since just after Black's escape and the topic of conversation revolved around that debacle." Severus said, hiding his surprise too slowly for Albus not to see it. "I can make contact, see what he knows."

"Please do." Albus said gratefully.

Severus regarded him thoughtfully. "You believe a new Lord Black is responsible for Black's good fortune with the Ministry?"

"It is a theory." Albus said mildly. "But if there is and he is…" he spread his hands wide, "we need to know more before determining friend or foe."

Severus got to his feet. "With your permission, Headmaster?"

Albus dismissed him with the advice that Minerva preferred chocolate covered apologies. He settled back and considered his options.

The only good thing was Harry remained away from Privet Drive with the Dursleys and therefore hidden. Albus could go to the Ministry and protest the guardianship but that would expose the level of his interest in Harry and provoke questions he did not want to answer. No; it was best to deal with Sirius directly and come to some agreement before Sirius returned to take actual custody of Harry.

Which meant approaching Remus Lupin or Brian Cutter, the solicitor mentioned in the Prophet, for information on Sirius's whereabouts.

Both were difficult but Albus perhaps had a little more leverage with Remus – the former Professor did owe him for allowing him to come to Hogwarts as a student and for employing him for a year. He picked up some parchment and began a letter.

o-O-o

Time Bubble: August 9th 1994

Harry heard the crunch of footsteps coming up the mountain path and hurriedly wiped his eyes with the backs of his hands. He wasn't surprised that someone had followed him – he had run off abruptly in the middle of his mind healing session – but he really, really, wanted to be alone. As much as he'd hated his life with the Dursleys, he'd sometimes enjoyed the solitude they'd effectively gifted him with his many chores and general dislike of his presence, and he rarely had that kind of solitude at the clinic between the treatments, lessons, and living with Sirius.

It seemed stupid to resent the lack of solitude when he'd gained so much more – someone who did seem to care about him, love him even. Sirius had been nothing but endlessly patient with Harry during the past month. Harry's magic was under control again and he knew he'd learned more than the first time through his lessons at Hogwarts, they'd even begun some fourth year material. Then there was the duelling Sirius had added to the curriculum which was just wicked and Harry had quickly fallen in love with Runes too. Sirius was as a good a teacher as Remus.

It hadn't all been work though; Blackhawk – or Noshi as he insisted on being called – had introduced him to his grandchildren as promised. Kimi was fourteen and enjoyed Quidditch – she reminded him of the Gryffindor Chaser girls. Huritt was fifteen, quiet and studious but he had a wicked sense of humour. They were both loads of fun and they spent every Saturday afternoon flying or playing games or exploring the hiking trails with Harry. Neither of them seemed overawed by his whole Boy Who Lived thing and he hoped he had made two new friends. Still, he missed Hermione and Ron. He missed being able to write to them and to hear their replies. Healer Fay had suggested he write a journal of his time at the clinic to give to them when he returned. He'd felt a bit stupid the first couple of times but it did help. He figured Hermione would read it but he doubted Ron would be interested.

He began to realise that although he'd heard the crunch of steps, no-one had actually approached him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the familiar animagus form of his godfather sitting by the pathway with a rucksack at his paws, obviously guarding him but otherwise leaving him alone with his thoughts. He felt a surge of affection and cleared his throat.

"It's OK, Padfoot," Harry said softly, "you can come sit with me."

Padfoot responded eagerly, picking up the rucksack in his mouth and jogging up to Harry quickly and dropping the rucksack at his feet. He pushed his head against Harry's chest and Harry patted the Grim. "I'm sorry, Padfoot, but I think I need to talk with Sirius."

Padfoot hustled back a bit and transformed. Harry reached out for a hug and Sirius immediately gathered him up. It didn't occur to Harry that it was the first time he had eschewed the dog for the man, or that it was the first hug that he had initiated – he just savoured the security of knowing Sirius cared about him.

Sirius ruffled his hair. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No?" Harry murmured. He sighed and shuffled back from his godfather. "I didn't blow anything up, did I?"

"Nope," Sirius assured him, snagging the rucksack and opening it to get to a water bottle he handed to Harry, "you controlled yourself wonderfully and nothing blew up. Well, maybe a small ornament, but Healer Fay said it was hideous and deserved to die."

Harry grimaced but given how powerful his magic truly was, an ornament blowing up was minor. He sipped his water and stared out at the view of the Valley. He could see for miles. "Did Healer Fay tell you…"

"No," Sirius opened another water bottle and took a large gulp. He gestured with it. "All your mind healing sessions are confidential, Harry."

He sighed and rubbed his nose as he considered how to tell Sirius what he had realised. "I was telling her about overhearing the Professors talk about you in Hogsmeade." He shifted on the uncomfortable ground and plucked at a blade of glass. "I don't know why I didn't put it together before but Hagrid met you at Godric's Hollow and took me because he had orders from Dumbledore. He was the one who left me with my aunt, wasn't he? Dumbledore, I mean. But Hagrid too! He delivered me like a parcel! WHY?"

A sharp gust of wind around them had Sirius placing a hand on his arm.

"Take a breath, Harry."

Harry could feel his magic straining to get loose as his emotions tumbled out of control, and he hurriedly did as Sirius asked. He closed his eyes and did his breathing exercises, wrestling his emotions back and slowly nudging his magic back into dormancy.

"I'll tell you what I know." Sirius promised. "Hagrid was already there when I got to your parents' house. I was a mess as soon as…as soon as I saw your Dad." Tears shone in his eyes. "I took you from Hagrid for a while – you were crying and bloody and I tried to heal you. But Hagrid told me that he had orders to get you to Dumbledore so that they could take you to your aunt's." He collected himself. "I protested quite vehemently but Hagrid wouldn't be moved; he had his orders. Then I made a decision which is the biggest regret of my life, Harry, and I let Hagrid take you."

Harry bit his lower lip but held Sirius's gaze.

"I knew you see that your Mum had placed wards around your aunt's place to protect her from the Death Eaters – your aunt was clueless about them – hadn't talked to your Mum in ages. But on the face of it, stowing you with her for a little while until all the immediate fervour died down seemed like a good idea." Sirius motioned again with his bottle. "And admittedly I was pleased I would be free to go after Peter. I was very stupid and should have insisted on going with Hagrid and looking after you myself."

"I'm not mad at you, Sirius," Harry reassured him, "I mean I was a little bit at the end of term but you've more than…what I mean is…"

"I'm making up for it now?" Sirius suggested as Harry struggled to put his feelings and thoughts into words.

"Yes." Harry confirmed with a sigh of relief.

"Good." Sirius said. "Anyway, you were meant to go to the Longbottoms according to the will. Alice Longbottom is your godmother and was your Mum's best friend. Frank was a couple of years older and like an older brother to your Dad. They were married, happy, and had Neville. James and Lily figured they would be the best guardians for you and I couldn't disagree with them. Back then, I was a young single male with only occasional baby-sitting experience. Don't get me wrong – if I hadn't ended up in Azkaban I would have happily raised you but they were the better choice."

"What happened to them?" Harry asked, curious. "Neville never talks about them and I know he was raised with his Gran."

"They were attacked a couple of weeks after you got rid of Voldemort. My cousin Bella, her husband, his brother and Barty Crouch Junior tortured them into insanity. They're in St Mungo's."

Poor Neville, thought Harry. He wondered what was worse; losing his parents or what had happened to Neville's – either way they'd both lost the opportunity to be raised by their Mum and Dad.

"From what I can gather from Remus, the Longbottoms were going to challenge for custody before they got attacked. Dumbledore told them your aunt had taken guardianship and they knew that wasn't what was in the will." Sirius said. "Only no-one could find a copy as mine was in my vault and you need a Potter to open the Potter vault. With no will, legally you would have been placed with the Dursleys anyway as your aunt is your closest living relative."

Harry sighed again. "So Professor Dumbledore just did what would have happened anyway?"

"Pretty much." Sirius said.

He let that fact sink into him. "Do you…did he know about…about how it was for me with them?"

Sirius grimaced. "I think he suspected you didn't have the best life there, Harry, but do I think he knew the detail of it? I don't know; only he can tell you for certain."

"It's just…" Harry tore some grass from the ground and let it fall through his fingers. "I thought he cared about me. But if he cared about me, wouldn't he have checked up on me? Made sure I wasn't living in the cupboard? I just…I don't understand." His previous anger and hurt rolled through him again and while he focused on keeping hold of his magic again, he missed Sirius's angry glower at the mention of the cupboard.

"You're right that someone should have checked up on you. It's the job of the Wizarding Orphan Office. Only for your safety, I assume, Dumbledore didn't record your placement with your aunt with the Ministry." Sirius explained. "Now, Dumbledore should have checked up on you himself but he'd promised your aunt minimal dealings with the wizarding world. Remus thinks Dumbledore also kept other people away from you, friends of James and Lily like Remus and Hagrid, so no-one could lead Death Eaters to your door." He shrugged. "In this case, I think there was inaction because he cared about you – do you see?"

Harry nodded.

"However, don't take my understanding for what he did as agreement with what he did – or didn't do rather." Sirius continued. "He could have made different choices. He could have just turned up once a year on your birthday, for instance, to check on you – or he could have sent Remus who can easily pass for a muggle and who would have given you a link to your Mum and Dad. Or he could have installed a monitoring charm that told him how your relatives treated you – your Mum used to use one with babysitters – fair frightened the life out of me the first time she recounted everything I'd done when I sat for you. As it stood, he left your relatives unchecked and obviously they believed they could get away with treating you…not exactly as they should have."

Harry considered everything Sirius had said. "It's like the chessboard, isn't it? That Remus did?" He poked at his laces. "This is one of the decisions you didn't like?"

"Yes," Sirius agreed, "exactly like the chessboard." He shifted position, moving into a cross-legged lotus position from their yoga exercises. "The thing about actions – or non-actions but let's stick with actions for the time being, is that an action on it its own only tells you part of the story."

Harry looked at him dubiously. It sounded like it was heading towards another politics lesson. Sirius sprang one on him every week.

The first one had been the layout of wizarding government. That had actually been interesting. The DMLE sounded very cool made up the Auror Force, the Hit Wizard Force (for hunting down dangerous criminals), and the Prosecution Service (which sounded very similar to muggle courts dealing with who could be prosecuted and taking the cases to court).

The Department of Mysteries, on the other hand, sounded like something Hermione would prefer since Sirius had told him the bulk of it was a magical research department. There was also a small Magical Forensics Department that handled magical reversals, obliviations and investigations into weird or violent crimes which sounded slightly more interesting, and the Magical Intelligence Department (MI7) sounded very interesting as it was basically about spying. What was very cool was that everyone in the DOM was called an Unspeakable and the work was highly confidential.

Sirius had explained that both the DMLE and the DOM were part of the Ministry of Magic, but the rest of the Ministry had what he called Legislative powers. The individual departments determined the government policy, created laws and worked to get them passed – same as the muggles, and liaised with the DMLE on enforcement. The Minister was voted in on the basis of his or her known political agenda. It all sounded very boring to Harry but at least he finally understood what Arthur Weasley did and why the Ministry had attracted someone like Percy.

The last part of the government was the Wizengamot, the magical equivalent of Parliament or at least the House of Lords and about as interesting. Unfortunately, Sirius had pointed out to him that he had no choice but to get somewhat interested because the Potters had a seat in the Wizengamot, and whether he sat in it himself (unlikely) or gave his proxy to someone (which his Regent would have until he was of age anyway), he should have an opinion.

The second political lesson Sirius had ambushed him with was actually even more about the Wizengamot – namely the set-up. The history of the Wizengamot was deeply boring and not even Sirius's animated puppets could make it less so. Harry had written as much as he remembered in his journal for Hermione though.

The Wizengamot had three purposes: forming government (by which they meant voting the Minister in or out and approving budgets), passing laws (which was obvious), and effectively being the judge and jury for crimes. The DMLEs Prosecution Service dealt with minor crimes and misdemeanours so only major crimes usually went before the Wizengamot (primarily use of the Unforgivables but also murder and violent assault in general).

There were fifty formal seats of which thirty had been held by the original Ancient and Noble Houses who had been part of the Wizard's Council although only twenty-two Ancient and Noble Houses remained sitting as eight had been sold on or given away after line extinction. Another thirteen seats were held by Order of Merlin First Class recipients, and five seats were held by the Minister, the Head of the DMLE, the Head of the DOM and two other Ministry appointees.

A formal seat was owned by a family and usually occupied by the Head of House or a named proxy. If a seat was empty because the Head of House was underage and there was no legal proxy named, the Chief Warlock, who presided over the Wizengamot and ensured it kept to protocol, had the authority to name one. That had happened in Harry's case and he was kind of disturbed that some unknown person was voting on laws in the name of his family without Harry knowing anything about it.

If a family line ended, the seat was 'returned to the floor.' All members of the Wizengamot could nominate a new family to take over the seat; the members voted on the nominations and the winner awarded the seat. Buying and selling seats had been made illegal as had using them to cover debts (the Weasleys had in the past lost their seat for that reason). As it was rare for the pureblooded original owners of the seats to nominate outside of their social circle, the only muggleborns who had seats had achieved entry as Order of Merlin recipients.

The third lesson had enlightened him to political agendas. Sirius had effectively created an animated drawing of a fictional Wizengamot of ten people debating a fictional law which wanted to make Dark chocolate the only chocolate available…

"See," Sirius said waving at the parchment where a rather disturbing caricature of Lucius Malfoy appeared, "Malfoy wants the law because he thinks Dark is the purest form of chocolate." An animated cartoon of Dumbledore appeared. "He opposes the law because he prefers White chocolate – light and full of milky goodness. And there's me; I oppose the law because I prefer Milk which is the best of both worlds and frankly the most popular kind." He pointed at Harry who was dismayed as a shy animated version of him waved from the parchment. "Those are our agendas: what's yours?"

"Milk," Harry replied immediately, "I don't like Dark chocolate because it's too bitter and white chocolate makes me feel sick. So I guess I oppose the law too."

The animation had then turned to political alliances. Since the animated Malfoy wanted the law to pass: he, Dumbledore and Sirius didn't; all of them needed to find others to help their point of view win. Sirius had added an animated Goyle and Nott: all were known Dark chocolate lovers and likely to side with Malfoy before he added an animated Bones and Longbottom; known White chocolate supporters, and Milk chocolate supporters, Greengrass and Abbott.

"Who wins now?" Sirius asked.

"Us," Harry said confidently, "there are more people who like other kinds of chocolate than Dark."

"Correct. If all the White and Milk chocolate supporters got together, they would defeat the Dark chocolate law by a vote of three for and seven against." Sirius agreed. "But the Dark chocolate people know this so they've amended the proposed law so Dark and Milk chocolate are OK but White chocolate will be outlawed."

"Well, that's not fair." Harry said.

"Why not?"

"Because it still discriminates against the people who like White chocolate."

"So, you're still opposed?"

Harry nodded.

"Excellent, so am I." Sirius agreed happily. "Now we have to convince Greengrass and Abbott."

Sirius had encouraged the animated Harry to talk with the animated Greengrass and Abbott with the result that Abbott bought his argument about equality; Greengrass didn't. The law was defeated but only just (six to four). It had almost been fun.

Almost.

It had also been hard work and Sirius had ended the lesson by indicating there was a lot more to alliances than simply agreeing on one particular issue. He'd pointed out that if animated Harry had offered animated Greengrass support for something Greengrass wanted, he might have convinced Greengrass too.

So, political lessons were sometimes fun, sometimes not, but always informative and even if Harry didn't want to know (he was so having a proxy for the rest of his life), Sirius was quite firm that he had to learn. Harry figured Hermione was going to love his journal. He hurriedly dragged his mind back to what he believed was going to be the latest lesson.

Actions and the action itself only telling part of the story.

"Let's look at one of your actions." Sirius declared cheerfully.

Harry grimaced. "Do we have to?"

"We have to," Sirius confirmed with a grin, "after all, you know all of the story about your own actions."

He guessed that made sense. "So what action are we looking at?"

Sirius looked at him thoughtfully. "How about your action in protecting the stone in your first year? What motivated you to protect it?"

He blinked at his godfather. "Because Voldemort would have gotten it otherwise."

Sirius hummed. "So you wanted to ensure he failed in his objective."

Harry shook his head. "I mean, yes, but more like…it wasn't so much me making sure he failed as much as it was about making sure I didn't fail to stop him."

"And why was that important to you?"

"Because…" Harry paused, unsure of his answer, and thought about it. "Well," he began again, "some of it was the Boy Who Lived stuff. I mean, I figured everyone expected me to stop him because I did before, you know? And I guess I kind of thought I had to because I was the one who'd stopped him before too. So that was part of it but I also wanted to stop him because of Mum and Dad, because he killed them and it wasn't right that he got to come back and they didn't. And because it was the right thing to do." He added. "Wasn't it? I knew he was going after the stone, I couldn't just let him get it."

"Yes, it was the right thing to do." Sirius said softly. "Although I would have preferred it if you hadn't risked your life." He poked Harry in the ankle. "But do you see how complicated your motivations were for protecting the stone? Multiple reasons and not all of them obvious or apparent."

Harry nodded.

"And the lesson is…" Sirius prompted.

"People will have reasons for their actions and that they could be many reasons and not all of them will be out there for you to see." Harry supplied. "So, the Headmaster leaving me with my aunt and not checking up on me…you said he did it to protect me but there could be other reasons?"

"Exactly." Sirius beamed at him. "And you always need to question why someone does something or wants to do something. What's the benefit to them? What's the benefit to you? Look at what Remus and I did with Minister Fudge. He initiated the investigation on the promise of a new more powerful political ally. He figured if he gave Lord Black the investigation then Lord Black would look favourably upon him, which means he stays as Minister for longer, and he gets power and money."

Harry sighed. "Doesn't anyone do anything just because it's the right thing?"

"Hardly anyone." Sirius hesitated and ploughed on. "I could say that I got custody of you just because it was the right thing to do – and it was, I mean is – but that's not the only reason. I made it happen because selfishly I want to be part of your life because I love you. And I wanted custody so I could have more say in protecting you. And because I promised your Mum and Dad and I wanted to keep my promise. See?"

He did see and he had to admit that all of Sirius's reasons were good ones and benefitted him in the end. He nodded at his godfather.

"Now, here's the second half of the lesson: what reason do you think Dumbledore thought you had for protecting the stone?" asked Sirius.

The question stumped Harry for a moment because he'd never considered what Dumbledore had thought. "I guess he thought I'd done it because I wanted to stop Voldemort because of my parents."

Maybe.

Sirius hummed again. "That's probably about on target. What about Snape? What do you think he thought?"

That was easy. "That I did it because I wanted the attention or the adventure of it." He rolled his eyes expressively.

"And the rest of the school?" Sirius prompted.

"Probably it was a mix," Harry said, "hopefully my friends knew my reasons pretty well but others probably believed the same as Dumbledore or Snape, I guess."

"People are always going to judge you on your actions." Sirius explained bluntly. "And they may not take your word for it that you did X because of Y because they may not like you or trust you. On the other hand, someone may not take your word for it that you did X because of Y even if they do like you and trust you. That's human nature, unfortunately."

"It's so complicated!" Harry exclaimed.

Sirius ruffled his hair. "Here endeth the lesson. But I want you to think back through some of your relationships with others and consider motivations, OK?"

"Homework," Harry complained, "great."

But he wasn't complaining really and as Sirius helped him to his feet so they could walk back down the mountain to the cabin, he felt better about everything with Dumbledore. He didn't agree with Dumbledore's decision about leaving him with the Dursleys and not checking on him, but he could respect Dumbledore's reasons had probably been to protect him. But he wouldn't just blindly trust that Dumbledore held all the answers or that he always did things for the right reasons. Not anymore.

Chapter Text

Hiking up the path to Hogwarts. He was annoyed that he was going to have to talk to Albus. And he was doubly annoyed that he owed Sirius five galleons.

"When it gets out about my guardianship of Harry, Dumbledore will come after you for where I am." Sirius said sagely.

"I don't think he will." Remus countered. "He won't have any reason to think we're in that close contact or that we've reconnected enough for you to inform you."

"Bollocks, Moony." Sirius pointed at him. "You're my closest friend! I bet you five galleons that he'll write you a wonderful letter asking you to meet with him as a favour to your old Headmaster, and when you go along to his office, he'll use the fact that he allowed you to attend Hogwarts and gave you a job for year to try and weasel the information out of you." He paused. "It's lucky he can't read your mind."

"So I'll tell him I don't know." Remus replied.

"No," Sirius said grinning, "we should prank him."

Remus sighed. This wasn't going to end well.

And bugger it all, Sirius had been right!

Remus muttered angrily to himself as he entered the castle and began the long walk to Dumbledore's office. He stood in front of the gargoyle and looked at it menacingly.

"I'm here at the Headmaster's request."

The gargoyle moved aside. Remus continued up the stairs and Dumbledore called for him to enter. Remus had seen the inside of the Headmaster's office twice during his time as a student – once to go over the terms of his stay because of his lycanthropy (he'd been eleven and scared to death) and once when Dumbledore had quizzed him about how much he knew about Sirius taunting Snape into the tunnel on the night of the full moon (nothing and it took him months to forgive Sirius for almost letting Remus eat someone, even Snape).

Remus took the offered chair, but declined the candy and tea with the excuse of another meeting to follow. He went straight on the offensive. "What can I do for you, Albus? Brilliant news about Sirius and Harry, isn't it?"

"Yes, indeed." Albus smiled at him, eyes twinkling although the smile was faintly forced. "Actually, it was on that very subject that I wanted to make a plea for assistance."

"Oh?" Remus crossed his legs and tried to look helpful.

"I wanted to talk with Sirius before he returns from abroad about Harry." Albus explained. "There are things of which Sirius may be unaware that he needs to know." He continued seriously. "I fear Voldemort will soon rise again with Mister Pettigrew's help and his attention will undoubtedly turn to Harry – the boy who banished him for so many years."

"I agree." Remus said carefully. This was definitely more than either he or Sirius had thought Albus would share with them. "Harry would be a target if Voldemort came back to power."

"You always were a good student, Remus," Albus said, dropping the 'remember who allowed you to be one' hint that Remus had been waiting for, "and an even better teacher if I may say so. You understand that Harry will need every advantage in the coming dark days." And there was the 'remember who gave you a job' hint. "So you will agree Sirius and I need to talk?"

"I understand why you wish to talk with him, Albus, but I'm not sure why it can't wait until Sirius gets back and takes custody of Harry." Remus said. "According to the newspaper, he is currently undergoing treatment."

"Yes, I'm so glad he didn't decide to fight the Ministry on that," Albus said, "but I do feel it would be best for Harry that we talk before Sirius comes back to Britain, and I believe you know where Sirius is."

"If I did know, Albus, it would be a confidence given to me by a friend." Remus pointed out. "And I'm still not convinced it can't wait." He could hear Sirius's voice reminding him not to make it easy on the old wizard.

"I understand and while I wouldn't normally press you to betray the confidence of a friend, I think you know me well enough to know that I would never make such a request if it was not a matter of the utmost importance, dear boy." Albus said. "I wish I could explain more but I feel it only fair to inform Sirius first as it must be his decision if anyone else should be told."

Remus considered Albus for a long moment before sighing – not so dramatically that it would be obvious but enough to signal a surrender. He withdrew a parchment from the inside pocket of his robes, Sirius had prepared it before he went away, and handed it to Albus.

Albus happily took the parchment and read it.

"Remus!

Hope you've heard the excellent news – I have Harry! Well, not yet but soon. Off to get myself sorted out! I've found a wonderful little clinic in Thailand. Will be in touch when I get back.

Sirius"

"Thank you, Remus." Albus said warmly and passed the parchment back.

"If Sirius asks…" Remus began.

Albus nodded at him. "I'll be sure to be mysterious about my sources."

Remus got to his feet as he tucked the parchment back into his robes and decided some additional teasing wouldn't go amiss. "I assume you've seen Harry. How did he take the news? I'm sure he must be delighted."

"Ah," Albus's twinkle faltered for a moment, "Harry and the Dursleys remain away. I'm sure they'll return soon and I will inform him then."

Right. And by then Albus no doubt hoped to talk Sirius out of taking custody. Remus felt any lingering regret at Sirius's prank disappear.

Remus swallowed the retort that sprang to his lips and managed a smile instead. "Well, I must be off."

Albus gave a benign answering smile of his own. "Thank you again, Remus."

"Yes, remember I was never here, Albus."

Remus departed before Albus could say another word and hurried down the stairs and back into the main part of the castle. He headed for Gryffindor tower where his next appointment was waiting. When he had received Albus's thinly veiled summons he had decided to combine it with meeting up with Minerva. She had sent some suggestions for the scholarship to Brian and Brian had forwarded them to Remus as the steward of the House of Potter. He was also concerned after her reaction at the will reading and he hoped his news would alleviate some of the pain and guilt she'd felt. He tapped lightly on her office door and opened it at her summons.

"Remus," Minerva smiled at him briefly, "I take it your business with Albus is complete?" She moved over to a hat stand and pulled on a warm cloak of deep blue. She placed her hat on her head and adjusted it.

"All done." Remus confirmed, looking enviously at an expensive box of chocolates that sat on her desk. He took a piece of parchment from his pocket and handed it to her.

"My steward Remus Lupin invites you to 12 Grimmauld Place."

Minerva looked up from the paper and considered him intently. "Fidelius?"

"One of two." Remus confirmed. "The floo address is Black Manor. Shall we?"

She nodded sharply and headed to the floo. She tapped it with her wand and the fire erupted. Remus went first, taking a pinch of floo powder and stating the address firmly. Minerva stepped through a moment after he arrived.

She glanced around the room and breathed in sharply at the crest on the wall. "The House of Black?" She snapped her gaze to Remus inquisitively.

"Sirius assumed the Head of House to secure his freedom." Remus explained. "I'll explain more when we reach out next destination." He handed her a second piece of parchment.

"Remus Lupin invites you to Griffin House, Potter Lane"

A smile flittered over Minerva's stern features.

"We thought the name was apt as the house is owned by three Gryffindors and we named the lane ourselves in memory of James and Lily." Remus explained. "The floo address is Prongs. It will only be accessible through this floo."

Minerva nodded again. They repeated their trip through the floo and Remus shut it down as soon as Minerva was through.

He watched as she took a long around the sunny hallway with its wide wooden door leading to the outside and large window showing the open space in front of the house leading to a path that led out to a forest. The hallway itself was painted a warm cream, with natural dark wood flooring, a set of hooks on the wall by the door, an umbrella stand and a sturdy wooden table that would act as a dumping ground for keys and assorted minutiae. A wide wooden staircase led up to the upper floors.

There was a faint pop and the house elf arrived. "May Dobby be taking the cloak and hat of Harry Potter's Professor McGoggles?" He beamed up at her.

She raised an eyebrow but gave up her robe and hat. "Thank you."

"And you Harry Potter's Mooey?" Remus sighed and let the house elf divest him of his outer robe too, the house elf hanging it on a hook. "Tea in the sun room, please, Dobby."

The excited house elf nodded and popped away.

"An unusual elf." Minerva commented.

"Harry freed him from the Malfoys apparently. He turned up out of the blue just as Sirius and I agreed we needed to find an elf for here to help look after Harry. He's a free elf – we're paying him a galleon a month. It tickles Sirius no end." Remus shook his head. "Dobby's incredibly loyal to Harry and protective of him which is the main thing." He smiled happily at her. "Welcome to Harry's new home. Shall I give you a tour? I'd appreciate a female point of view."

"I'd be delighted." Minerva said, smiling.

They went upstairs first. The attic room with its sloping roof and adjoining en-suite bathroom was Remus's – the sign on the door said Moony. A large room on the floor below with a shower room was Sirius's and he too had a sign with his Marauder name.

Minerva's fingers trailed over the sign on the door opposite Sirius's that proclaimed 'Pronglet' and walked inside. She nodded in approval at the warm chocolate colour that predominated on the furnishings, linen and curtains with cream and gold accents. The room wasn't overly large but had the basics of a wardrobe, chest of drawers, bedside table, reading chair and bed. A bookcase filled with Harry's school books, a desk and chair for study were set under the large window to the right that looked out onto the back garden and the countryside beyond. Hedwig snoozed happily on her owl perch beside the desk. There was a small shower-room to the left complete with toilet and sink.

"We've set it up as similar to the room he has at Black Manor but he can charm the colours here to something he prefers once he arrives." Remus explained. "Sirius wants him to have some say in making the room his."

"An excellent idea," Minerva agreed. She waved her wand turning the chocolate to Gryffindor red. "I believe Harry will find the familiarity comforting for his first night."

Remus grinned and ushered her out and down the stairs, briefly showed her the two guest bedrooms before they ended up back in the hallway. There was a large comfortable living room to the front of the house that Minerva exclaimed over. With Remus's permission she conjured a tartan throw for the sofa and some cushions for the chairs. She picked up the photos of the Marauders, Lily and Harry on the mantelpiece, smiling wistfully at all of them before following Remus through into a study filled with bookcases and two desks on opposite walls. The study overlooked the back garden and had doors out to a small patio area.

Remus picked up a file and a book from his desk, and they walked back to the hallway, through another formal reception room where Minerva did the same finishing touches, and into the dining room. It led to the large kitchen where Remus took Minerva down the steps into the basement which had been set up for magical practice. He finally stopped the tour at the large sun room at the back of the house where a table was already laid out with afternoon tea waiting for them.

Remus pulled out Minerva's chair and got her settled before taking his own seat. "So what do you think?"

"It's lovely." Minerva said sincerely. "I believe Harry will be very happy here with you both, Remus." She accepted his silent offer of tea – picking up the teapot – and waited until he had poured her a cup before continuing. "You'll forgive me for noting that I don't believe that this amount of work was possible in just the few days since Sirius was awarded custody."

"No, indeed." Remus filled her in on Sirius assuming his position as the Head of the House of Black; their plan to get Sirius's name cleared; the Ministry's discovery of Harry Potter's muggle life; the immediate awarding of custody to Sirius, and the agreement for the news to leak slowly to the public.

"Quite honestly, we thought we would have another week of wrangling with Fudge about the custody," Remus passed her the plate of warm scones, "but apparently Amelia Bones was horrified by the muggles and pushed for Harry's immediate removal from them."

Minerva sliced her scone open. "I should have listened to my first instinct about those muggles. I don't know why I let Albus talk me into leaving Harry with them. I'd only just found out about Lily and James but that is no excuse for walking away as I did."

"We all walked away, Minerva." Remus pointed out. "Sirius walked away when he handed Harry to Hagrid – something I know haunts him. Hagrid walked away believing as you did that Albus knew best. I held on as long as I could but even I walked away in the end because I had to live my own life. You're not alone in making that mistake. We all trusted Albus to take care of Harry."

Minerva nodded, accepting the comfort as she bit into her scone.

Remus buttered his own scone before he continued. "If the will had emerged sooner, things would have been different, I'm sure."

"Perhaps," Minerva wiped her fingers on a napkin, "although I find myself wondering if I wouldn't have allowed Albus to convince me that Harry was safer with the muggles." She shook her head. "I certainly allowed him to convince me that talking with Harry about his family was inappropriate, but then I do try not to show favouritism at the school."

"So no favouritism except in matters of Quidditch?" Remus teased. "You did make Harry the youngest seeker for a hundred years."

"That was not favouritism," Minerva retorted primly, "it was desperation not to continue losing to Slytherin!"

Remus chuckled.

"I have come to realise with Harry that I have erred badly." Minerva confessed. "I could have arranged to meet him during the Christmas or Easter break and offered him some knowledge of his family. Hagrid said that the muggles had told him next to nothing and while I contributed photos for the album he made…I should have done more."

"I didn't tell Harry about knowing James when I met him either." Remus sympathised. "It's difficult as a professor to communicate that kind of personal information to a student. I didn't realise until I was a teacher just how difficult."

Minerva picked up her cup. "Well, I have decided to request a meeting with Harry once Sirius returns and takes custody of him."

"I'm sure he'll agree but actually Sirius already has custody of Harry." Remus smiled at her shock.

"But Albus…"

"Thinks Harry is away with his relatives." Remus nodded briskly. "Just as Sirius intended. He took Harry with him to a clinic for treatment. Harry was badly affected by the Dementors during the school year and beyond that…Sirius was unhappy that Harry was, well, small for his age, shall we say? He wanted Harry to get fully checked out."

"A wise and responsible decision." Minerva agreed, blinking back her surprise.

"I'm hoping it's given them some time to bond." Remus said.

"I should have realised when I saw Harry's owl in his room." Minerva fixed him with a stare. "Albus will not be happy when he finds out you kept this from him."

"He'll be even unhappier when he realises that Sirius isn't in Thailand." Remus admitted cheerfully.

"Do I want to know, Mister Lupin?" Minerva questioned with mock sternness.

Remus felt like a student under her gaze again and squirmed. "Sirius guessed Albus would want to speak with him once the guardianship came out and that he would prevail upon me to provide an answer."

Minerva pursed her lips. "You've sent Albus to Thailand?"

"Sirius and Harry will return tomorrow. I expect an adoption ceremony will soon follow," Remus said, "and any opportunity to interfere with the guardianship will be gone."

"That your trust in Albus has eroded so much that you've taken these measures…" Minerva sighed unhappily.

She was still torn, Remus mused; torn between her respect for and loyalty to Albus and her own awakening realisation that Albus's decisions in regards to Harry were not always for the best – and the part she had played in allowing those decisions to stand despite her own reservations.

"You also have to remember that Sirius holds Albus somewhat responsible for his wrongful imprisonment." Remus said softly. "Sirius hasn't spoken to me much about it but I think he was very hurt that he didn't merit even a visit from the leader of the Order to confirm his guilt, not to mention Albus's abrogation of his responsibility as Chief Warlock to ensure that Sirius had a trial."

Minerva sighed heavily. "I cannot blame you or Sirius." She said quietly. "Just as I cannot deny that Albus would interfere if he could." She frowned. "I will not tell Albus you have sent him on a wild nargle chase, Remus, but only because I believe Harry will be much happier here than with those awful muggles."

"Thank you, Minerva." Remus said. "There was something else Sirius wanted me to talk to you about if the will was read ahead of him returning. You know you were on the list of potential guardians? Sirius was hoping you would accept being named as Harry's guardian in the event something happens to him."

"But you…" Minerva's cup clattered back into its saucer.

"Cannot for obvious reasons unless the law regarding werewolves changes." Remus said somewhat pained by the admission. "I believe Sirius has included a clause that specifies you have to allow me access to Harry and keep me on as steward to the House of Potter." He picked up his own cup and took a fortifying sip. "Sirius wanted to honour James and Lily's wishes in following the order of guardianship they laid out. But if you refuse he has others in mind."

Minerva shook herself slightly. "I would be honoured." She smiled at him. "And I have no objection to the clause regarding yourself, Remus. Indeed, such a tragedy occur, I would be grateful for your help."

"I'll confirm the details with Brian then." Remus smiled at her gratefully. "Speaking of Brian, I guess we should cover the changes to the scholarship that you wanted to make?"

"Of course, you're the steward." Minerva realised out loud. She shook herself and smiled at Remus fondly. "You deserve the position, Remus, although what society is going to think of Sirius holding both the House of Black and the regency of the House of Potter…"

"It will certainly be interesting." Remus flipped open the folder and took out a piece of parchment. "Firstly, the change you wish to make to name an unpaid deputy for the scholarship to assist in the selection of the student and oversee anything should you be unavailable…neither Brian nor I have any problems with that. Do you have someone in mind?"

"I was thinking of Filius. He adored Lily when she was a student and he's always had a soft spot for muggleborn children." Minerva said. "He actually made the other suggestion."

"Filius should be fine. The only person I would have seriously objected to is Severus." Remus explained. "Although he was friends with Lily…his treatment of Harry prohibits it."

"I agree with you," Minerva said, "Albus has spoken with Severus but we shall see. The proof is in the casting after all."

"The other suggestion – Filius's was it? – it's an admirable sentiment wanting to either offer the scholarship in retrospect to a deserving muggleborn student from each year since 'eighty-two when the scholarship should have gone into effect, or two students going forward for the next twelve years." Remus said. "Unfortunately, legally, Brian says we can't do it under the terms of the current scholarship. That said, as steward of the House of Potter, I can agree to the equivalent amount of funds for something we'll call the Lily Potter Muggleborn Award. You can award it annually going forward for the next twelve years or in retrospect for twelve deserving recipients, one from each year since 'eighty-two."

"I think the latter would be most appropriate and ensure there is no conflict going forward." Minerva said. "I suggest in fairness we award it to the highest NEWT scoring muggleborn student from the 'eighty-two to 'eighty-three academic year until this past academic year."

"I can agree to that." Remus said. "If you can provide me with the list of recipients, I'll have Brian draw up the legal papers to cover the award and its rules." He considered that Penelope would probably be a recipient; the young assistant was busily tackling the library at Black Manor and loving every minute of it.

"Thank you." Minerva said. "I'd also like Harry to get involved with the scholarship. I would like his input into the selection criteria and he should at least review the possible recipients on parchment and give his opinion before the candidate is chosen. After he's graduated perhaps he could even come along to the interviews if he wished."

"An excellent idea," Remus agreed, "Sirius wants to give some small duties to Harry to start him learning how to be a Head of House. This would work well."

"I confess that Sirius is displaying a maturity about his guardianship that takes me aback, Remus." Minerva set down her cup and looked around the pleasant sun room. "This is going to be a wonderful home for Harry."

"We're going to try our best." Remus said. He closed the folder on the scholarship and tapped the book he had grabbed. "Minerva, there is something else I need your help on. This book contains a spell that Lily performed on Harry just before she died – in fact the sacrifice of her death to save him triggered the spell. We think it was partially responsible for helping Harry survive the Killing Curse. There's a second ritual to…maintain the protection that I've marked. I'd like a second opinion."

It was a simple enough in theory, on the assumption of a blood adoption it involved female witches in the adoptive family blessing the renewal of the protection with a simple ritual – it didn't seem to call for them to die thankfully – but he'd feel better if someone else cast their eye over it in case they found something he'd missed.

Minerva's eyebrows were almost at her hairline. "I'd be happy to take a look, Remus." She examined his face intently. "You intend to do it if it's possible?"

"Sirius will do everything and anything needed to protect Harry, Minerva." Remus said simply. "Anything." He paused as he held her gaze. "And so will I. I won't walk away again."

Her expression shifted to determination and she nodded slowly. "Neither will I, Remus, neither will I."

o-O-o

Time Bubble: August 31st 1994

Harry shrieked as Huritt dragged him back under the water and Kimi squirted a water gun at her cousin. The sight of his godson playing with such carefree abandon made Sirius smile so much that his face ached.

"It is a happy sight." Noshi said beside him.

They were ostensibly keeping an eye on the kids playing in the pool from the safety of the cabin's deck. It was a leaving party for Harry and Sirius – mostly for Harry – as they were heading home the next day.

Sirius tilted his pumpkin juice in the direction of the pool. "It is. I should thank you for introducing them. Harry's made two great friends."

"After the events of Monday I am surprised you are thanking me." Noshi said with a rueful smile.

Monday.

Monday when Harry had gone to Huritt's for dinner and somehow all three kids had ended up soused on muggle beer. A drunk Harry didn't have control of his magic and it was a wonder that the damage to Huritt's house had been localised to the teen's bedroom. Luckily, Huritt and Kimi had also emerged unscathed. Huritt's parents had been warned by the house wards and managed to get Harry sobered up, back to the clinic and into isolation overnight before anything else had happened.

Sirius had run the gamut of emotions that night – concerned at the news Harry was in isolation, angry that Harry had been irresponsible in getting drunk, relieved beyond anything he was fine, a little amused in truth that Harry was being a typical teenager, and more than a little anxious at the realisation he was going to have to man up, be a parent and punish him.

"How did Huritt get hold of the beer anyway?" Sirius asked. Quiet, sensible Huritt would have been the last person he'd have picked to break the rules. But then Remus had been the same way – in hindsight, he should have known.

"His older brother gave it to him on learning that Huritt's relationship with his girlfriend had ended." Noshi sighed. "He advised Huritt to drown his sorrows. Their mother is not best pleased with either of them. I had to intercede to allow Huritt to come to this farewell meal."

"Thank you." Sirius murmured. "I can appreciate her point of view. Harry and I had a long talk about his punishment…but I couldn't take today away from him for a first offence."

"First offence?" Noshi said, eyes twinkling with amusement.

"Charlus Potter's punishment system. I figure James would have used it on Harry and Harry would respect it knowing it was his grandfather's system." Sirius explained. "For minor stuff, there were three stages of punishment. First offence: you did something you know or suspected was wrong but probably didn't anticipate the consequences. Second offence: you repeated something you know was wrong and were aware of the consequences. Third offence: you're a repeat offender and clearly don't care about the consequences. Then, there was the major stuff which was considered a capital offence if you did it – things that were not allowed under any circumstances, rules that couldn't be broken such as hurting someone unless in self-defence, deliberately destroying property in anger…that kind of thing."

"And punishment increases on the severity of the offence?" Noshi nodded. "It's a good system."

"I also followed Healer Fay's advice and asked Harry what he thought his punishments should be for each offence." Sirius took a sip of his juice. "She was right that he responded well to that. He knows exactly what he'll get now and has agreed to it. For Monday, he lost his flying privileges and was grounded for a week, and his friends ban, because he didn't do it alone, has only been revoked today for extraordinary circumstances."

"A fair punishment." Noshi commented. "I am glad Healer Fay advised you well."

"She also told me it was a good sign that he's comfortable enough to test our relationship with bad behaviour." Sirius commented wryly. "It's not exactly the way I wanted proof that he'd settled."

Noshi gave a short laugh. "But she is right; that he feels secure enough to test your boundaries is encouraging."

"I hate having to punish him," Sirius admitted, "I feel like a complete fraud after everything I did as a teenager. I can't wait until he's an adult and I don't have to do it anymore."

"I was also pleased when my children became fully adult but then I realised I had also lost the ability to punish them when they were being stupid." Noshi commented. "You cannot win as a parent."

"I guess not." Sirius said laughing. He sobered a little, gaze drifting back to Harry who had gotten hold of the water pistol and had started shooting a shrieking Kimi. "I am also very thankful we found out that he had this problem with alcohol here and not at home."

"You will need to be certain that he understands the dangers." Noshi agreed. "Until he is older and the control of his magic is as second nature to him…and even then I am not sure I would not recommend he partake of any alcohol with the power he has."

"He's a good kid on the whole so I don't think there'll be an issue." Sirius said. "But I will talk to him again."

"And what of you, Sirius?" Noshi asked. "Are you ready to go home?"

"In some ways, no." Sirius admitted with a long sigh. "Here feels safe and secure – we're hidden from the world. Whereas there's a lot of work to do to get Harry protected properly when I go back; a lot of political fencing that I'll need to do. I'm not looking forward to that part."

"And the other part?"

"Our new home should be ready which I can't wait to see," Sirius said, "and I want to get Harry settled and for us to enjoy living as a family before he heads back to Hogwarts."

"You would prefer it if he didn't go." Noshi surmised, observing Sirius's grimace.

"He's been in danger every year he's attended. Last year was partially my fault so I share some of the blame for that but…" Sirius sighed. "I'd prefer to home school him and know that he's safe but as Moony would point out to me, what I'd really prefer is to wrap Harry totally in cotton wool and hide him away from the whole world for the rest of his life which is unrealistic. So…he has friends at Hogwarts; he loves it there. I won't stop him from attending."

Noshi patted his shoulder. "It is a wise man that does not try to stop the stampeding buffalo."

Sirius smiled at the saying and nodded.

"You have a clean bill of health, Sirius. Your mind is mended once more; your body strong." Noshi said firmly. "If you and Harry continue as you are, I believe you will both find much happiness and love in your lives."

"I hope so." Sirius said fervently. Especially as there was something he needed to discuss with Harry…

The party broke up after dinner and Sirius watched Harry say goodbye to his friends with nostalgic sympathy and some amusement when Kimi kissed Harry on the cheek and Harry blushed in response.

"You'll write." Sirius commented after the door was closed and Harry collapsed into a chair in front of the fire.

"I know but it's not the same."

Harry had a small whine in his voice. It was a sign of how much he loved the kid that he thought it adorable rather than annoying, Sirius mused fondly.

"We can visit next year," Sirius said, poking the fire, "or they could visit us."

"Yeah?" Harry perked up at the idea. "That would be cool."

Sirius raised his eyebrows; Harry's accent and words had taken on an American twang but he figured it would fade once they got back to Britain. "We'll see how your letter writing goes. If you're still in contact with them by Easter, I'll write to Noshi and see what can be arranged."

A visit by Kimi and Huritt to Britain would be possible but Sirius wanted to make sure it was safe for them before inviting them. If Peter had found Voldemort…

"So." Sirius put the poker down and stood up. He cleared his throat as nerves curdled in his belly. "There's something important that I need to ask you before we leave."

Harry's gaze met his and he could see a hint of uncertainty flicker in the teen's eyes.

"I love you, Harry, and I would very much like to adopt you." Sirius said quickly. "If you would like me to."

Harry stared at him for a long moment. Suddenly, he launched himself across the space between them and tackled Sirius into a hug.

Sirius rocked back a little before righting them both, holding Harry tightly. He could feel Harry shaking and rubbed his back soothingly. "I take it that's a yes?"

Harry nodded but didn't speak and Sirius let him get his emotions under control. Harry finally pulled away and swiped a hand under his glasses swiftly. "Yes," his voice broke on the word and Sirius stifled the urge to shush him and hug the hell out of him again seeing Harry's determination to speak, "I would like that, to be adopted."

Sirius hugged him, he couldn't stop himself, his own set of tears catching against the back of his throat and stinging the back of his eyes. Eventually they both stepped back and wiped their faces sheepishly.

"Well, we're a pair, aren't we?" Sirius said and he could see the flush of delight in Harry's eyes at the statement. He nudged him over to the sofa and sat down. "So, I'm assuming you don't know about the adoption ritual?"

Harry frowned and shook his head. "What is it?"

"It falls under family magic. It's quite simple really. I prick my finger, put some blood in a ritual bowl and swear an oath that I take you to be my son. You do the same only you swear an oath that you take me to be your father." Sirius continued. "Legally, it has no meaning and we still have to file papers with the WOO for the legal side of things, but from a magical perspective you'd be my son."

"So I become a Black instead of a Potter?" Harry asked confusion in his green eyes. "Does that mean I stop being the Potter heir or…"

"No, no." Sirius said firmly. "You will always be your Dad's heir in all respects – your Mum's too. They made you so you're theirs – always. This just magically adds me to the list of parents. As for your name…" he gestured at Harry, "you could be Harry James Potter, Lord Potter-Black or Lord Harry James Potter-Black or Harry James Black, Lord Potter-Black. It's entirely up to you. Having said that…Potter, well, it's…it's your Dad's name and I respect that. I don't need you to take mine. Truthfully, I think you're always going to be known as Harry Potter to our world whether you do a name change or not."

"I don't know," Harry said, "I mean I think you're right that even if I change my name people will still call me Harry Potter but I like the idea of not being that Harry Potter."

"Well, there's plenty of time to think about it." Sirius patted Harry's arm. "Any other questions?"

Harry scratched his forehead, along the line of his faint scar, and bit his lip. "What happens if you have other kids?"

Sirius thought that was highly unlikely although it was something his own mind healer had tried to get him to consider. His upbringing just hadn't allowed for him to consider relationships and marriage as anything other than political manoeuvrings, but then later, James and Lily had spoiled him into wanting the same thing they'd had – a real love and partnership. But he knew he struggled with emotional intimacy and that didn't bode well for the latter kind of relationship, and he didn't see a political need to marry to have to put up with the former.

"If I do get married and have children, I would still consider you my firstborn." Sirius replied to Harry. "I do consider you my firstborn."

"But…isn't it unfair if I inherit your things if you have kids of your own? Shouldn't they get everything?" Harry pressed.

Sirius smiled. "It isn't unfair because you are one of my children. If I have other children, then yes, there'll be bequests to them too from a monetary and property perspective, but I would still want you to inherit as my Heir." He made a dismissive gesture. "Look, if after my death, you wanted to name a child of mine Heir to the House of Black so they would inherit on your death, you could do. Or you could name your eldest son as Heir to both the Houses, or name one child Heir to the House of Potter and another Heir to the House of Black. Really, all this is very hypothetical given all these other children, yours and mine, are imaginary at this point."

"I guess," Harry agreed vaguely.

"The other reason why I would prefer you as the next Head of the House of Black is political." Sirius admitted. "If the House is going to build a different reputation then it has to be led by wizards who are loyal to the Light. So if a Potter, you, led the House that would help to turn our reputation around. And I doubt you're going to have issues with the heir ritual; you're a powerful wizard and the family magic loves power."

Harry nodded in understanding. "You wanted to do the inheritance ritual for my Potter magic once we got back anyway didn't you?" They'd talked about it in the last politics lesson.

Sirius grinned at him. "Yes, and we'll definitely do your Potter inheritance ritual first. The Black magic is Dark in origin and I want you protected by the Light magic of the Potters. We'll have to organise some witnesses for the adoption ritual which will take a few days."

Harry nodded and half-way through yawned widely.

"Bed." Sirius declared. "We have an early start again tomorrow." He enjoyed the brief hug Harry gave him and watched him head off to his room with a giddy joy; Harry had said yes to the adoption. He did a happy little dance around the fireplace before banking the fire and heading to his own bed.

The morning dawned bright and early, Harry complained good-naturedly at taking the de-aging potion again and as soon as five year old Harry made an appearance, he was just as adorably cute as ever – and wanted his stuffed bear back.

Sirius watched with amusement as he turned Healer Fay and Doctor Jordan to mush. He shook his head as Harry hugged Noshi goodbye holding onto the bear all the while. If only he had a camera, thought Sirius, the blackmail opportunities were immense.

Harry clambered into the waiting car where a grinning Mick waited to drive them to the airport. Sirius turned to the healers to say his own goodbyes.

"Don't forget to keep up with your exercise." Doctor Jordan nagged as she accepted his hug.

Healer Fay, a young brunette, surreptitiously wiped her eyes. "I'm going to miss Harry. Make sure he does his Occlumency exercises and if you need advice…"

"Thank you." Sirius said truly grateful.

"I believe my colleagues have covered everything." Noshi held out his hand and Sirius shook it warmly.

Noshi froze and his eyes took on a distant look before refocusing on Sirius with a gravity in them that turned Sirius's stomach.

"What?" demanded Sirius as the old wizard released his hand.

"You will bring Harry to me again." Noshi said with a deep sigh. "He will face a great evil and you will bring him here to heal."

Sirius shivered, a cold dread stealing over him. "When?"

Noshi shrugged apologetically. "Perhaps a year, maybe more." He grimaced. "I cannot be certain."

Sirius nodded sharply, remembering how they had talked of Sight and prophecy. "Thank you for everything."

"Goodbye, my friend." Noshi said.

He made his way to the car and coaxed Harry into his seatbelt. But as the car pulled away from the clinic and made its way down the driveway, Sirius couldn't help but want to turn back to the safety of the place.

He glanced over at Harry who grinned at him.

Bugger the vision Noshi had Seen. Sirius smiled back at his godson and brushed a hand over Harry's head.

Sirius would keep Harry safe; he'd keep him safe no matter what.

Chapter Text

Part 4: Building Team Pronglet (The Ganging up on Dumbledore Prank)

July 4th 1994

Augusta Longbottom was a formidable woman. Scary was the word Remus had used when he'd wished Sirius well as Sirius had headed out of Griffin House that morning. Harry had just laughed at him and told him to convey his greetings to Neville. He smiled as he remembered the homely scene of lunch. He and Harry had been thrilled to be reunited with Remus and even more thrilled to hear how Remus had sent Dumbledore off to Thailand.

Sirius was certain that Augusta was keeping him waiting in her parlour just to see him squirm. He smoothed his formal black robe with its neat column of tiny black buttons that ran from the high stiff collar to his waist and had taken forever to do up. The crests of the House of Black and House of Potter decorated the front right breast. His robes opened up at his waist, angling away to give him freedom to move and he had opted for muggle black leather trousers underneath – expensive but serviceable and very protective as he knew from riding his motorbike. Expensive dragon-hide boots completed the outfit. He fidgeted with the wide cuffs of his robes which provided easy access to his wand.

Harry had done the inheritance ritual for the House of Potter that morning at Gringotts. The family magic had immediately formed into the approving gold griffin totem and the Head of House ring had leaped onto Harry's finger. It had granted Harry access into the Potter vault and had removed some of the effects of the Death Fidelius so they could access Potter family assets. Harry had been thrilled at getting to look at some of his heritage and had pounced on his father's old school trunk. Sirius had a suspicion that Harry was after James's animagus journals.

A noise from just outside the doorway had Sirius rising, just in time for Augusta to enter. Her grey hair was tightly bound in a high bun; her aged face stern and foreboding. She wore formal robes in a deep purple decorated with the House of Longbottom crest. They were high necked but narrow cuffed and looked more uncomfortable than his own.

He bowed and took her outstretched hand, dropping a kiss onto her knuckles before rising and meeting her eyes firmly. He definitely needed his Gryffindor courage, Sirius considered with a silent laugh.

"Madame Longbottom, thank you for agreeing to meet with me." Sirius said sincerely.

Augusta motioned for him to sit and took the seat opposite, her eyes running over the two crests on his robe and the ring on his finger with sharp realisation. "May I offer you some refreshment, Lord Black?"

"Only if you wish to partake yourself." Sirius replied, following the formal dance of pleasantries.

Augusta rang a small silver bell and a house elf popped in. "Some tea and biscuits for myself and my guest." The elf disappeared and a moment later a tea tray appeared on the small table between them. For a few minutes all that was exchanged was how Sirius liked his tea.

"Forgive me for speaking plainly but I'm surprised at the ring." Augusta said as they settled back, each holding a matching china teacup. "There are rumours circulating of a new Lord Black but the general opinion is that it isn't you."

"A situation which suits me for the time being," Sirius admitted, "I'd like to have my ducks in a row before the formal announcement at Thursday's Wizengamot." He took a sip of his tea and set it aside. "I would appreciate your discretion until that time."

She inclined her head. "I find myself needing to clarify; are you here for the House of Potter or the House of Black?"

"I would like us to speak first regarding business between the House of Potter and House of Longbottom. But afterwards, I would appreciate the Regent of the House of Longbottom granting an audience to the Head of the House of Black."

"Granted." Augusta said tersely. "So, to business?"

"Lord Potter sends his regards to you and the Heir to the House of Longbottom. He has only recently become aware of his heritage and the alliance that used to exist between the Houses." Sirius said formally. "We seek a renewal of that alliance."

Augusta's pale eyes sparked with interest. "Well, that answers a number of questions. I suppose Dumbledore didn't tell the boy of his responsibilities?"

Sirius nodded. "In fairness, it wasn't his legal responsibility to do so although some could argue it would fall under his Chief Warlock duties." He said diplomatically. He held his tongue that one of the other Ancient and Noble families could have stepped in – such as the Longbottoms who'd had such a strong alliance with the Potters in the past.

"What agenda will the House of Potter assume under its new Lord?"

"Respect of wizarding culture and tradition," Sirius began, "but equality for all wizards and witches including those with a dual heritage or condition such as lycanthropy. He would seek better relationships with magical races, a common sense approach to the control of magical creatures, and an improved relationship with the muggle government."

"That sounds remarkably like Charlus Potter's old agenda." Augusta said slowly. "Just even more ambitious."

Sirius allowed himself a small smile. "Harry reminds me of Charlus. He's a remarkable young man."

"This is truly his agenda?" Augusta probed.

"He's had something of a crash course in politics but this is his agenda." Sirius confirmed. He'd been proud of Harry after their last lesson which had been to determine Harry's point of view on certain critical political points. Harry was very much an egalitarian with a strong sense of justice.

"Well, our agendas mesh although the devil is always in the detail." Augusta frowned. "I assume the equality statement is a rejection of pureblood supremacy but why equality for all wizards and witches? Why differentiate?"

"Harry feels witches should have equal rights with wizards. As it stands, most of the Wizengamot seats, the Ancient and Noble Houses in particular, all follow a patriarchal inheritance rule: the eldest male of the line inherits; females only inherit when there isn't a male candidate. Harry believes that it should be the eldest child thus witches would have equal rights to inherit." Sirius shifted. "Family magic will accept a female so there shouldn't be an issue."

Augusta gave a small smile. "I remember conversations with Dorea and Minerva in my youth where we said very much the same thing. This notion of dual heritage and conditions – what's that about?"

"Our steward Remus Lupin is infected with lycanthropy. Harry has seen the discrimination against him and disagrees with it. From his perspective, Remus is still foremost a wizard and should receive help to aid him in controlling the lycanthropy through Wolfsbane rather than being shunned."

"An interesting perspective and one Frank would have agreed with. I believe he knew Lupin." Augusta commented.

"Yes, through James." Sirius said. "We also talked a little about the discrimination against those wizards and witches with Veela inheritance or giant or goblin in their family make-up. Harry sees this as just another expression of the same pureblood supremacy bias against half-bloods and muggleborns."

"I can't disagree with that either." Augusta murmured. She tapped her fingers lightly against the arm of her chair. "What of the rest of his agenda?"

"Harry believes that we should attempt better relationships with other magical races such as giants, centaurs, house elves and goblins especially those races which interact with wizards on a regular basis. But he recognises the need for good but caring control of dragons, hippogriffs and other magical creatures. He believes the current administration often gets magical races and creatures mixed up. He also believes that a better relationship with the muggle government would be beneficial in upholding the Statute of Secrecy."

"For a crash course in politics, he's done well. His agenda dovetails with ours." Augusta said after a long moment of consideration. "So, in principle the House of Longbottom will be happy to renew our alliance. What are the terms?"

"Formally, the same terms as the Houses have pledged before; mutual aid and support for common goals. I would appreciate your assistance in repairing the other Potter alliances that have been allowed to go dormant since 'eighty-one." Sirius replied immediately, happy that he'd gotten to the 'in principle' discussion so early. "Informally, Harry would like your permission to foster a closer relationship with Neville – perhaps by having Neville join him for some of his lessons this summer? Harry didn't realise until I was awarded guardianship that Alice was his godmother nor that James and Lily were Neville's godparents."

"You know Albus Dumbledore has a lot to answer for with that young man." Augusta sighed.

"I couldn't agree with you more." Sirius said fervently.

Augusta regarded him thoughtfully. "Will the House of Potter not seek an alliance with the Chief Warlock?"

"The House of Potter will stand for itself." Sirius stated unequivocally. "The last alliance was uneven at best, and subjugated the House of Potter to Dumbledore's agenda at worst. I think some of that was our youth; James was very loyal and used to Dumbledore being in a position of authority over him as Headmaster and leader of the Order – we all were."

"Yes," Augusta agreed with a heavy sigh, "Frank was similarly affected."

"However, I'm aware that the Chief Warlock is mostly supportive of the House of Potter's agenda. I won't in principle disregard a possible alliance approach if one is made, but as Regent I won't approve an alliance without further oaths from the Chief Warlock that ensure the House of Potter's independence."

Augusta considered him for a long enough moment that Sirius had to struggle not to fidget. "I can see why Arcturus left you as his Heir. As much as I might have despised his agenda, his skill in navigating the political arena was immense; you seem to have inherited it."

The words took Sirius's breath away; he was unsure if he'd been complimented or insulted.

"The House of Longbottom finds your terms acceptable." She drew her wand and tapped the coffee table. A ritual bowl appeared with a small knife. She slashed her finger and let a couple of drops of blood fall. "I, Augusta Beatrice Longbottom, swear as Regent that the House of Longbottom renews its pledge of alliance to give mutual aid and support to the House of Potter. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

Sirius took the knife she offered and allowed his blood to mingle with hers. "I, Sirius Orion Black, swear as Regent that the House of Potter renews its pledge of alliance to give mutual aid and support to the House of Longbottom. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

The bowl flashed; a gold griffin and bear appeared briefly before disappearing again.

Augusta gave a small sigh. "Well, that's done. I'll expect a schedule of lessons so I can select which Neville will attend."

"Agreed. As part of our formal agreement, there are things that I need to brief you on immediately." Sirius said, picking up his tea. He explained about Voldemort still being alive in some form, about the horcruxes in very vague terms, and finally, the events at Hogwarts with Peter's escape and the prophecy Harry had heard.

"What's the plan to deal with this?" Augusta said. There was anger in her eyes and a rush of red across her cheeks. She was furious.

"I'll be informing the authorities tomorrow – we're not really sure how much Dumbledore has shared with the DMLE and the DOM. Then we'll work with them to eliminate the things that keep Voldemort alive." Sirius paused. "We believe there may be another prophecy at work – one involving Harry and Voldemort."

Augusta winced. "There is." She sighed and looked every year of her age for a second. "Frank told me about it before they went into hiding. It could have been Neville, you see."

"We surmised as much." Sirius noted.

"The prophecy was given by Sybill Trelawney to Albus Dumbledore during her job interview, the year the boys were born." Augusta shared. "It spoke of a baby with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord, born as the seventh month died to parents who had thrice defied the Dark Lord. Frank said there was more to it but that was all I was told." She looked at him sharply. "I would venture that Albus believes it refers to your godson rather than my grandson as he once informed me that the danger to my family was over as though that were comfort for what happened to Frank and Alice."

Sirius held his tongue. He needed to cover the LeStranges when he spoke with Augusta as the Head of the House of Black.

Augusta frowned. "Well, at least, we know and have a plan." She settled back in her chair although her back was ramrod straight. "Thank you for this information."

"Thank you for sharing what you know of the prophecy." Sirius said. "It'll make it easier for Harry and I to track down in the DOM." He clasped his hands together. "My final piece of business on behalf of the House of Potter is to extend an invitation to yourself and the Heir to the House of Longbottom to attend Lord Potter's adoption into the House of Black the day after tomorrow."

Augusta's eyebrows rose in surprise. She pressed her lips together. "This seems like an opportune moment for us to move to the audience I granted you earlier, Lord Black."

Sirius nodded. "Yes." He took a deep breath. "My House has wronged yours. Bellatrix LeStrange is my cousin; Rodolphus is my cousin's husband. The House of Black has primacy in their marriage contract; their line falls under mine. I cannot take back what they did but I wish to offer restitution."

A muscle twitched along her jawline and her gaze turned steely. "And what would the House of Black offer as restitution to the House of Longbottom for the loss of its Lord and Lady, for the damage to its Heir?"

"On Wednesday, I will hold a family meeting. In absentia, I will name them all oathbreakers to the House of Black in their act of taking the Dark Mark and call upon the family magic to render Judgement. They will lose their magic." He stopped for a moment to let Augusta absorb his words.

"Judgement." Augusta repeated. "It's been a long while since I've seen family magic invoked in such a way."

"I will also dissolve the marriage contract between the House of Black and the House of LeStrange and seize the LeStrange vault in compensation. The heirlooms and artefacts will be retained but all else will be given over to the House of Longbottom to cover the healing expenses pertaining to Frank and Alice. Bella will then be cast out of the House of Black."

She gave a sharp nod of acknowledgement.

"I also propose to assume financial responsibility for the Heir of Longbottom's education. I will provide a scholarship vault to that end to cover the forthcoming years including a Mastery if Neville wishes to pursue one. The House of Longbottom will be reimbursed for the last three years." Sirius continued.

Augusta's lips thinned as she pressed them tightly together. "I accept the House of Black's restitution."

"As of this morning, the House of Black is formerly allied with the House of Potter." Sirius said quietly. He and Harry had exchanged oaths after Harry's inheritance ritual. "One day I hope that we will be able to ally with the House of Longbottom."

"One day," Augusta agreed, "but not today. We will, however, be honoured to attend the adoption in support of Lord Potter."

She got to her feet and Sirius knew the audience was over. He got to his feet and bowed.

"Our elf will show you back to the floo." Augusta said, holding out her hand as the elf popped in. "Thank you for coming."

"Thank you for having me." Sirius returned, kissing her knuckles in farewell. He breathed a sigh of relief as Augusta swept from the room.

He followed the elf out and checked the time. He was right on schedule: it was almost time for dinner with the Grangers.

o-O-o

Hedwig barked as Harry banked sharply on his broom and surveyed the house and grounds again. His new home was great – warm and welcoming. It wasn't as formal Black Manor which was a relief and he loved the sign with 'Pronglet' on the door of his bedroom; the photos on the mantelpiece of his Mum and Dad, the Marauders (without Peter) and a few snapshots of him, Sirius and Remus. Dobby had been a huge surprise, but so long as the elf wasn't actively trying to save Harry's life, he was a good elf, and he couldn't do enough for Harry.

It was odd though not having chores to do. But Sirius had indicated that once the week was over Harry would be getting culture and etiquette lessons to go along with the magical and political lessons he already did, and Sirius had made it clear that he expected Harry to start to perform duties associated with the House of Potter. So Harry would be going with Remus to follow-up on some of the Potter properties, and be actively involved with the scholarship set up in his mother's name. The good news was that Sirius hoped to offer the lessons where appropriate to some of Harry's friends so he wouldn't face it all alone. Harry had queried the ability to use magic as he was underage but Sirius had told him they'd apply for an exception on medical grounds, and besides, the Ministry would never trace magic performed under the Fidelius.

Hedwig flew around him and he wasn't surprised when he saw Reg join her. The resplendent black owl for the House of Black was rather taken with Hedwig who ignored him. Dobby had constructed an owlery next to Remus's attic room for the three owls in the house but Hedwig preferred her perch in Harry's room. Harry mused that it was useful having different owls for different purposes – Hooter was very non-descript – and he understood the need for secrecy.

He thought it was hilarious that Dumbledore was apparently in Thailand trying to track down Sirius. He would feel sorry for Dumbledore but he suspected that if his Headmaster knew where Harry was, he would try and send him back to the Dursleys. Sirius and Remus were determined that it wasn't going to happen.

Harry frowned as he pushed the broom into flight again. He was looking forward to seeing Hermione and Ron. He already missed Kimi and Huritt – he couldn't wait to tell Hermione and Ron about them – but he had to wait for normal time to catch up with the time he'd spent in the bubble before he could write to them.

A shout from below caught his attention and he looked down. He waved to Remus who had come out of the back door and was gesturing that his time was up. He ignored the faint tug of disappointment and dived to the ground; Hedwig and Reg following him.

Remus looked a little pale when Harry dismounted. "Do you have to dive so fast?"

"I dive faster during Quidditch." Harry pointed out.

"Don't remind me," Remus retorted, ruffling his hair as he nudged him inside, "I'm likely to have a heart attack watching one of your games."

Harry grinned at him. Remus and Sirius had told him of their plan to attend his matches and he couldn't help feel a warm glow that they would.

"Shower and change into muggle clothes. Don't forget you have dinner with the Grangers." Remus instructed.

"Thanks for organising it, Remus." Harry said sincerely. Remus had set up a lot of things in the week that he and Sirius had been gone in real time.

Remus smiled at him and pushed him in the direction of the narrow back stairs in the kitchen that led to the upper floors. Harry had to admit as he ran up them and entered his room that the time difference was still a little disconcerting. He and Sirius had been in the Valley for two months while a week had passed for Remus. It was bizarre to think that the summer holiday was still only just nearly two weeks old with most of July and August still stretched out ahead of them.

Harry dumped his dirty clothing into the linen basket in the bathroom and climbed into the shower running it nice and hot. He loved his new room and he had his own bathroom! No sharing with the Dursleys! He luxuriated in the hot water, knowing he could spend the time under the spray and wouldn't be chased out.

Well, not immediately. He was fairly certain Remus or Sirius, or worse Dobby, would yank him out if he was going to be late for dinner. The thought spurred him into action and he set about washing off the sweat and dirt from his flight.

Harry knew the next few days were going to be busy. Sirius had explained that they had a lot of political alliances to fix and protection to put in place before Dumbledore returned to chair the session of the Wizengamot where Sirius would take his place as Lord Black and Regent of the House of Potter. Harry considered that as he stopped the water and grabbed a warm fluffy towel to dry off. Part of their preparations had been Harry performing the Potter inheritance ritual that morning and allying formally with the House of Black. The ritual had been fascinating.

They'd gone to Gringotts early to avoid the crowds and been shown to a private room. The goblins had brought in the ritual bowl but Sirius insisted they use his knife. The cut across his palm had been momentarily painful but no big deal. The feel of his family magic though – that had been such a rush – and the gold griffin that had appeared had been majestic as it bowed to him. Sirius had explained that family magic was usually used to bind oaths and in extreme circumstances for Judgement.

The oaths taken by Ancient and Noble Houses were governed by the family magic. Oaths in general, Sirius had informed him, were not worth very much; they were mainly another way of forming a verbal contract, and like most verbal contracts they were unenforceable in law. However, if someone took a ritual oath with an Ancient and Noble House they became subject to its family magic and if they broke oath, the magic could be called upon by the Head of the House to judge them. Unsurprisingly, most members of Ancient and Noble Houses took it as a matter of honour to uphold the oaths they made. Harry liked the idea of the oaths. He had felt proud making his own oath as Head of House and making the alliance with Sirius.

It had changed his view of the politics lessons a bit. He realised that he really did need to know about the kind of stuff Sirius had been teaching him. Moreover he wanted to be included in deciding who to ally with; what his House stood for. He'd been thrilled when Sirius had told him his agenda sounded very much like his grandfather's and he was looking forward to assuming some of his duties.

The scholarship sounded brilliant – something his Mum had wanted to give back to Hogwarts and he was excited at being involved in selecting who would get it. He was a little nervous about working with Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick on it but Remus had pointed out that both Professors had known Harry's parents well and might take the opportunity to tell him some stories. He'd wondered briefly out loud why they hadn't told him while he was at Hogwarts but Remus had explained that it was difficult because the Professors weren't supposed to have favourites or have personal relationships with their students. Remus had even had to promise Dumbledore not to tell Harry how friendly he had been with Harry's father.

Harry stopped in front of his wardrobe and sighed. He loved that Sirius and Remus had gone to so much trouble to buy him new wizarding and muggle clothes but the sheer volume and variety always threw him. He picked out an emerald t-shirt that he'd worn a lot in the States and a new pair of black denim jeans. He finished his outfit with a black and grey sweater jacket and black trainers. He slipped his new pair of gold wire-framed glasses on his face and futilely tried to do something with his hair before he gave it up as a lost cause.

He picked up his journal and a book he'd bought Hermione at the airport as a present, and exited his room just in time to meet Sirius coming out of his. His godfather wore a white t-shirt over a pair of blue denim jeans and a smart black leather blazer. His dark hair was tied back in a ponytail with a no-nonsense black band. He carried a black leather satchel and he opened it up so Harry could pop the journal and present inside.

"Looking good." Sirius said, taking in Harry in one glance. "I've noticed you like that t-shirt." His grey eyes took on a hint of mischief. "It wouldn't have anything to do with Kimi telling you that it brought out the green in your eyes?"

Harry made a non-committal noise and refused to blush. "You said smart but casual, right?" And what was that – smart but casual? As though someone could base an outfit on such a vague description.

"Indeed I did." Sirius nudged him towards the stairs.

"How did it go today?" Harry asked eagerly.

"The House of Potter is once again allied with the House of Longbottom. They're attending the adoption." He made a small grimace, his face contorting for a moment into an unhappy frown. "She's accepted the restitution the House of Black has offered but won't consider an alliance right now."

"You expected that though." Harry pointed out.

"I did." Sirius said. "Elmer Samson sends his regards and appreciation of your thanks for his service as your former proxy."

Harry pulled a face at that. He'd understood the need for the nicety but he and Sirius had looked over Samson's record and been distinctly unimpressed. Samson had voted for a number of laws that Sirius had confirmed Harry's father and grandfather would never have supported including the werewolf laws that so discriminated against Remus. Harry took the last two stairs at a leap to avoid talking more about Samson.

Remus came out of the living room into the hallway just as Harry landed in the hallway. "No jumping." He chided him, and then sighed as he realised Sirius had copied Harry.

Harry hid his smile. "Are you sure you don't want to come, Remus? I'm sure Hermione wouldn't mind."

"Thank you, Harry, but I have other plans." Remus said with a smile. "Give Hermione my best though."

Harry grinned at him. Sirius pushed him towards the floo. They made their way to Black Manor before taking the floo to Hermione's house which had been connected just for the night. Harry stumbled out into a normal muggle house not unlike the one he'd been raised in but with an indefinable welcoming feel that Privet Drive lacked.

"Harry!" Harry just had enough time to stand properly before Hermione launched herself at him, hugging him hard. "It's so good to see you! I was so surprised when Professor Lupin wrote to my parents and asked if it would be OK for you and Sirius to come over. Have you been reading the Prophet? They've been talking about Sirius all of last week and this week and everyone's wondering when they're going to see you and Sirius and…"

"Breathe, Hermione!" Harry ordered, laughing.

She stumbled back and smiled at him. Her hair was its usual bushy self, a mass of brown that seemed bigger than her although he noticed absently that Hermione was growing more and more into it as time went on. She was just as cute as Kimi, Harry realised with surprise, as he took in her denim skirt and summery top – so much more flattering than the school robes.

"You look nice." Hermione said shyly and he belatedly realised that she had performed a review of him while he had been doing a review of her.

"You too." Harry said. He turned around just as Sirius stepped out.

Sirius smirked at Harry and waved his wand over him. Soot vanished from Harry and Hermione. "We need to add floo lessons to your schedule."

"I can't wait till we learn how to apparate." Harry said. He looked at his godfather hopefully. "I don't suppose…"

"No, I am a responsible adult and you will be learning to apparate in your sixth year and not a moment before." Sirius said primly.

Hermione gave a quiet laugh beside Harry. "It's good to see you again, Mister Black."

"Sirius, please." Sirius replied, taking Hermione's outstretched hand and dropping a kiss on her knuckles. "Or Padfoot, if you'd prefer."

A throat being cleared by the door had them all turning to look at an older and amused looking version of Hermione.

"Mum," Hermione waved her hand at Harry and Sirius, "this is Harry and Sirius Black. This is my Mum."

"Hermione's Mum otherwise known as Miriam Granger." She crossed the room and stuck her hand out in a no-nonsense way that reminded Harry of Hermione herself.

"Mrs Granger." Harry followed Sirius's example with Hermione and kissed the back of her knuckles, surprising the older woman.

Sirius did the same. "Please call me Sirius."

"And I'm Miriam." Miriam's gaze raked over them both. "Well, it's good to have you both here. Come through. It's a nice day so Wallace thought any excuse for a barbeque." She led them through a narrow corridor and into a large family kitchen which opened up onto a wide patio and substantial garden.

There was another round of introductions. Sirius accepted a beer from a cool box to the side of where Wallace had set up the smoking grill, and Harry stuck with unsweetened lemonade on the picnic table which was also laden with summer salads. The drink was tart but refreshing and he'd learned his lesson about alcohol.

Miriam coaxed her husband away from the grill and they all adjourned to the table.

"I have to admit that I was a little surprised when we got the request for a meeting, Sirius." Miriam smiled at him warmly. "According to that magical newspaper Hermione gets, everyone thinks you're abroad?"

"Deliberate misdirection on the part of myself and my advisors." Sirius confirmed. He nudged Harry's shoulder with his own. "We wanted to make sure my getting custody of this one went off without a hitch. Unfortunately there are too many people out there who would have loved to have interfered since Harry is famous in the wizarding world, and after the events surrounding me..." he gave a shrug.

"Understandable." Wallace said. "And, congratulations."

"Thank you." Harry said, beaming at Sirius again.

"I believe you had something to talk to us about?" Miriam prompted. "Professor Lupin was quite vague but he mentioned something about a life debt? Hermione has already done some research and she tells us that they're quite important in the wizarding world."

Harry was unsurprised. He turned to Hermione. "So what did you find out?"

"Well, just what Mum said really." Hermione admitted with some chagrin. "There wasn't a great deal of information in the books I have and I haven't had time to get to Diagon Alley to find something more relevant."

"Maybe I should explain more?" Sirius offered easily.

Everyone nodded and Harry was amused to realise that all three Grangers had identical looks of fascination, curiosity and anticipation. Hermione was almost vibrating in her seat opposite him.

"Historically, life debts had much more importance than they do now." Sirius began. "It used to be that if one wizard saved the life of another that the rescued wizard would have to remain beside their rescuer until they had returned the favour. That went out of fashion around the time the Ancient and Noble Houses were formed."

Harry shifted, a tad bored because he'd heard it before.

"It then became a matter of honour for the Houses." Sirius explained. "If a member of one House saved the member of another, it created a political debt between them that could only be satisfied with an alliance or an exchange of money or property of some sort – usually negotiated dependent on the relative value of the person saved. If you saved the youngest daughter, for instance, that would be viewed differently than saving the Heir to the House or the Head of House. The former might be offered in marriage, for instance, but the latter might determine a House alliance."

"It all sounds very Victorian or do I mean Edwardian?" Miriam commented. "Austen-ish anyway."

Sirius smiled at her. "If you mean old-fashioned, you'd be right. It is even for the wizarding world."

"What about if you weren't from a House?" Hermione jumped in enthusiastically. "What happens then?"

"Ah, well. If a member of a House saved the life of an ordinary wizard or witch then the ordinary wizard or witch would become beholden to them to a degree and would pay off the debt by working on the estates of the House or performing other services for the House." Sirius said. "Equally, if it was the other way around, the House became responsible for the ordinary wizard or witch and would ensure employment and safety – they gained the protection and sanctuary of a House."

"Is it a magical bond?" Hermione immediately moved to her next question.

"No," Sirius laughed, "magical bonds of any kind are very rare and the most common are between wizards, or witches, and their familiars. There are twin bonds but beyond that – no. An oath might be taken as part of the life debt payment." He motioned with his beer bottle. "Equally if an oath was already in existence, incurring a life debt may make the person involved more inclined to keep that oath. But as I've said to Harry, only oaths to Ancient and Noble Houses can be enforced through magic – and that's usually a Judgement after the oath has already been broken. Oaths in general are nothing more than verbal contracts."

All three Grangers went to ask a question and all stopped abruptly and looked at each other to decide which was going to get the chance to ask their question.

Sirius and Harry exchanged smiles at the silent Granger communication going on in front of them.

Both parents looked at their daughter expectantly and Hermione sat back with a quiet huff as she acknowledged she'd already had the opportunity to ask two questions. Wallace waved a hand at his wife.

Miriam smiled. "You said this was the fashion but no longer?"

"Life debts aren't usually acknowledged these days and if they are, usually at the insistence of the older generation, then it's a token gesture – a favour or money." Sirius said. "However, the Houses follow the tradition between themselves as it's a matter of honour."

"Now my question," Wallace said, raising his own beer, "what does a life debt have to do with Hermione?"

"Your daughter, along with Harry, saved my life." Sirius answered simply.

Miriam and Wallace glanced at their daughter who was turning cherry red under the attention.

"I assume because she gave evidence to aid your acquittal?" Miriam asked perplexed.

Sirius raised an eyebrow at Hermione in a silent question of 'have you told them?' and received a brief shake of a head in response. Harry threw her an apologetic look – they hadn't meant to get her in trouble.

"On the night I was captured at Hogwarts," Sirius said firmly, "the Headmaster gave Hermione and Harry permission to help me escape. They used a magical device to help get them to the right place, found transportation for me and got me out of the office where I was locked up. If it hadn't been for them I would have forfeited my soul to a Dementor."

"And why is this the first we're hearing about it if you had the Headmaster's permission?" asked Wallace, staring pointedly at his daughter.

"The device," Harry jumped in, "the magical device we used – Hermione wasn't supposed to tell anyone else about it. Sirius and I only got told because of the Headmaster's permission to use it."

Hermione shot him a grateful look and nodded at her parents. "And I didn't want to worry you." She admitted honestly. "I mean, this year has been relatively quiet and normal really compared to first and second year and…"

"Hermione," Miriam interrupted sternly.

Hermione grimaced, her eyes downcast. "Sorry, Mum."

"We're not angry with you," Miriam cast a look at Harry and Sirius, and Harry got the distinct impression that she regretted the conversation was taking place in front of them, "but I am disappointed that you felt you couldn't tell us not even in general terms."

"I feel I should apologise," Sirius began.

"Please don't," Wallace said immediately, "I dare say Hermione's reticence is in part our fault as we may have indicated to her that we weren't happy with the amount of danger this school of hers seems to place her in every year. Did you know somebody let a troll into the school in her first year which almost killed her? And then she was in a magical coma the year after?" He huffed out a breath at Hermione's dejected face. "We discussed not sending her back for her third year which is why I think someone was reluctant to tell us what happened."

Harry was alarmed at that. Hermione had almost been withdrawn? And what now that they knew she'd been in danger again? "It's all my fault." He blurted out.

"Nonsense," Miriam said briskly, "from what Hermione said, you saved her from the troll and were playing your broomstick sport when Hermione ended up in the coma. You're a young boy, Harry; it's not your fault these events took place. You've been a good friend to Hermione and you are one of the reasons why we decided to let her continue at Hogwarts."

"Uh, well, she's been a good friend to me too." Harry said, a little taken aback at the heartfelt praise. He felt Sirius's hand on his shoulder and settled again.

"I tell you whose fault it is," Wallace added, "that Headmaster of yours. What is he thinking allowing a troll and things that cause comas to get inside a school with children? And, you'll forgive me, Sirius?"

Sirius nodded enthusiastically.

"But what was he playing at sending two kids to rescue you? Why couldn't he have done it?"

"An excellent question." Sirius agreed fervently.

"The Headmaster is a great wizard and a…" Hermione defended Dumbledore passionately and Harry knew that before his time at the clinic with Sirius, he might have been eagerly waiting for his turn to do the same.

"And a senile old man by the sound of it." Wallace interjected, cutting off his daughter's words.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," Miriam said, "but I agree with your father. If I ever meet this Headmaster of yours believe me I will have more than a few questions for him."

"I feel exactly the same way." Sirius said.

There was a moment between the adults that had Hermione and Harry doing a mutual eye-roll while their guardians' gazes were occupied elsewhere.

Miriam cleared her throat and turned to her daughter. "That said, we're very proud of you, Hermione, for helping to save Sirius's life and see justice get done."

"Very proud." Wallace repeated gruffly.

Hermione's eyes shone brightly and her mother gave a one-armed hug, squeezing her tightly until the threat of tears went away. Harry fidgeted awkwardly with his glass of lemonade unsure what to do.

"So," said Wallace brightly, "you owe Hermione a life debt?"

"Yes," Sirius said, enthusiastically returning to the original subject, "and I would like to honour it."

Miriam and Wallace exchanged another wry look.

"Honour it how exactly?" Miriam asked briskly. Her arm remained around her daughter. Her eyes twinkled suddenly. "If you'd like to offer Harry as a potential bridegroom I'd have no problems with that."

"Mum!" Hermione yelped, going a bright red.

Harry figured his own cheeks were a similar colour from the heat he could feel. He didn't even look at Sirius because he knew Sirius would just tease him if he did. In some ways, he knew it was a compliment but in others – it was mortifying. Hermione was his friend and it wasn't that he didn't realise she was a girl, it was just…she was his friend and why would she be interested in him, he concluded with a fair amount of confusion.

"I would offer him," Sirius began mischievously.

Harry glared at him.

"But Harry will have to choose his own wife." Sirius winked at him. "His Dad did a fair job with his Mum so I think he'll choose wisely. Of course, his Dad also chose the smartest witch of his generation."

There was a ripple of chuckles around the table from Miriam and Wallace at the unsubtle implication that Sirius would be quite happy if Harry did choose Hermione, and Harry smiled apologetically, mouthing a 'sorry' at her. She returned his smile with a shy one of her own.

"Are marriage contracts usual in the wizarding world?" Miriam asked.

"Betrothal contracts are not used anymore, and there was a ruling that effectively declared any old outstanding ones to be null and void just after the war with Grindelwald. Match-making still happens to a degree where families may agree an introduction and an intended arrangement. However, contracts to protect assets and agree terms especially for Ancient and Noble Houses are usual." Sirius said. "Remus tells me that there's something similar in the muggle world?"

"Pre-nuptial agreements." Miriam supplied. "They're only usually done by the very rich though."

"Well, if we can't get Hermione married off," Wallace said, with a smirk in Hermione's direction, "what are you proposing exactly?"

"I'd like to offer her the sponsorship of the House of Black." Sirius said. "There are three reasons. Firstly, because you don't have magic, you're quite restricted in what you can do as parents to protect her in the wizarding world, either physically or legally. In fact under our legal system, you have very few rights. Sponsorship by an Ancient and Noble House means that Hermione would get the same protection as any daughter of my house. While Hermione is at school, it means that the House of Black could act in loco parentis. If Hermione ended up in the hospital wing for an extended period of time, I or my steward could visit and provide a conduit for news."

The Grangers exchanged a look of surprised pleasure.

"We can see the benefits of that," Wallace said, "especially after Hermione's second year."

Miriam nodded. "It was torture getting an owl from Professor McGonagall to say that Hermione was in the infirmary but not be able to see how she was." She patted her daughter's hand. "That's why we seriously considered removing you, sweetheart."

"I'm sorry." Hermione said sadly. "I can't even imagine. It must have been awful."

"Well, sponsorship would help going forward." Sirius said before they all got side-tracked again. "Secondly, I would assume financial responsibility for Hermione's education." He brushed aside their first murmurs of protest. "Don't worry, I'm very rich."

Hermione's parents exchanged a silent look.

"I can't say we wouldn't appreciate the financial boon of not having to pay for the tuition." Miriam said. "We can afford it but there's always something else we could use the money for – holidays or I've been wanting to remodel the kitchen, and then there's always the attic conversion we've been thinking of doing or buying a place in France…"

"The third reason?" said Wallace loudly.

Sirius coughed to hide a chuckle. "It will open up opportunities for Hermione after Hogwarts. A lot of muggleborns find it difficult to secure high paid employment in the wizarding world. It's difficult for them. Magical schooling separates them from the muggle world so they can't go back easily and yet the innate prejudices of the wizarding world mean that they face an uphill battle if they want a career in the top-flight: the Ministry or St Mungo's or apprenticing to some of the Masters of our world."

The Grangers were frowning.

"Remus says it's similar to the muggle world where the government for a time only took people from Oxford and Thingymebridge?" Sirius offered a little uncertainly.

"Or even getting into Oxford and Cambridge to begin with," Hermione suggested sagely. She brushed her fringe out of her eyes. "I knew we'd have to choose electives for third year so I started researching career options at the end of second year. I read some of the alumni records that are available in the library and realised the problem then. It's one of the reasons why I took everything I could."

"Why didn't you say something?" Harry blurted out, a little upset to realise that it was something that had evidently bothered his friend enough to send her to the library but he hadn't known.

"Well it was the end of the year, and it's not something that either you or Ron have to worry about, really." Hermione replied, blushing again.

"I take it sponsorship will help Hermione attain the career she wants?" Wallace asked.

Sirius nodded. "It'll open doors and people won't dismiss her out of hand."

"But isn't it cheating?" Hermione asked worriedly. "I mean, I would prefer to get something on my own merits."

"And you will," Sirius said firmly, "nobody will offer you anything just because you have sponsorship. It's a bit like having Hogwarts as your school. It gives you an advantage but you'll still have to do the hard work to obtain good grades and the extracurricular stuff that will help you."

"So we've heard about the benefits of scholarship, what is actually involved?" Miriam asked.

"An oath." Sirius replied promptly. He set his beer down and reached into his satchel, pulling out a sheaf of parchments Remus had prepared. "The full details are in there. Primarily we do a ritual where the sponsor puts a drop of blood into a bowl and Hermione puts a drop of hers, and they each swear an oath; one to do the sponsoring and Hermione to accept."

Miriam took the parchments before Hermione could make a grab for them. "We'll read these over carefully."

"I should also tell you that it's not appropriate for me to be Hermione's sponsor as I'm a single male." Sirius said. "I'll be asking my cousin Andromeda to take the role. She's married to a muggleborn wizard called Ted and they have a daughter who has just left Hogwarts to start at the Auror academy. If you agree I would like you to meet her ahead of the ritual. If there are any issues, we'll work something else out but Andy's a great witch and I don't think you'll have any problems with her." He paused. "There is a small problem with timing as we have an additional favour to ask of you."

"For me, really." Harry inserted quickly.

"Anything," Hermione said immediately and promptly blushed at the arching eyebrows of her mother.

"Sirius is going to adopt me the day after tomorrow," Harry told her proudly.

Hermione bounced out of her chair, around the table and hugged him. She let go of him and beamed at Sirius and at Harry. "That's wonderful! Oh, I'm so pleased for you, Harry."

"Yes, congratulations again." Miriam said, watching Hermione carefully.

Sirius picked up his beer and ruffled Harry's hair. "Thank you. We were hoping to do all the rituals on the same day and combine it with a blessing ritual of the protection Harry's mother gave him before she died."

"That's a very good idea," Hermione agreed, darting another anxious look towards her parents.

Harry assumed she hadn't exactly told them about Voldemort either. He couldn't blame her.

"How will it work?" Hermione asked enthusiastically seating herself next to Harry and almost leaning over him to look at Sirius.

Harry inched back a little.

Sirius smirked at him. "Well, the ritual is runic based. Each female member of the House of Black will prick their finger and draw a specific protection rune on Harry's forehead renewing the blessing of his mother."

"So if I take the sponsorship ritual, I'll be a daughter of the House and could take part?" Hermione surmised quickly.

"Yes," Sirius held up his hand, "but only if your parents agree. After some research, we realised the protection spell will eventually erode if Harry doesn't live periodically with his aunt. As that's not going to happen going forward, we think this ritual will acknowledge the adoption and mean Harry will only have to live with a member of the Black family."

"That's so clever." Hermione looked admiringly at Sirius.

"It was Remus's idea." Harry said. His former Professor had put a lot of work into researching the spells and understanding their complexity.

Sirius coughed. "Yes, it was." He waved towards the parchment. "Remus thought you would appreciate the details." He returned his gaze to Miriam and Wallace. "If you consent to the sponsorship before Wednesday, then it would be great to have Hermione involved as she out of all the female members of the House will be the only one to actually have an actual existing relationship with Harry and that will strengthen the spell. But if you would like more time to make a decision, we'll understand and can still do the sponsorship ritual another time."

"We'll look over the information." Miriam promised.

"I'll send Hedwig tomorrow." Harry promised. "She'll have your formal invite to the adoption ceremony."

"You can let us know by reply." Sirius added.

"Good." Wallace stated. He motioned towards the grill. "Well, if that's the business over and done with, we should throw the meat on."

Sirius perked up and followed Wallace over to the smoking apparatus.

Miriam rolled her eyes at the men before she gathered up the parchment and got to her feet. "I have some finishing touches to put on dessert."

Hermione made a move to join her but was waved back into her seat.

"Stay and keep your friend company, Hermione." Miriam winked at them both and departed.

Hermione offered Harry another shy smile. "Sorry about all…that before. They've been teasing me all Summer about whether I'll get a boyfriend next year just because I was complaining about Parvati and Lavender going on about dates in Hogsmeade."

Harry frowned. He hadn't thought about Hermione dating anyone. The thought disturbed him and he wasn't sure why. Maybe he was just worried she'd stop being his friend, Harry mused, which was silly because Hermione wouldn't drop him for a boyfriend any more than he would drop her if he got a girlfriend.

He truly hadn't thought about dating and girls himself beyond noticing sometimes that some of his classmates were getting pretty and cute – like he'd done with Hermione when he'd arrived or with Kimi at the clinic. He'd ignored Dean and Seamus when they'd mentioned girls they fancied and Ron had never brought up the topic. But then Harry had never really taken part in the boyfriend-girlfriend stuff before. In primary school when his classmates had been playing at it more than anything, nobody had approached him because of Dudley – and Dudley had been kicked in the privates the one and only time he'd tried to play kiss-chase with a girl (it was one of Harry's favourite memories).

He'd actually been pleased when he'd started Hogwarts that boyfriend and girlfriend stuff didn't seem to be a thing in the wizarding world – possibly because it was slightly old-fashioned compared to the muggle world. He guessed he was going to have to think about it more in the coming year. It was fairly common knowledge around the school that most people started dating in fourth year. A few of the third years had already begun because Hogsmeade provided a date venue – he hadn't totally escaped the gossip that filled the Gryffindor common room or the whispers in the classrooms.

Great, he thought morosely; how was he supposed to go about dating girls?

Hermione patted his hand, obviously reading his expression correctly. "Don't worry about it, Harry." She smiled at him. "I wouldn't be surprised if there was a queue of girls lined up when you are ready to ask someone."

"Really?" Harry looked at her doubtfully. "Who would want to date me?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "Only most of the girls in our year, and probably a lot in the others too. You're considered quite the catch and I can imagine the publicity from the summer is going to just increase your fanciability."

"Is that even a word?" Harry teased before he grimaced again. "Anyway, from what you're saying, most of the girls want to go out with the Boy Who Lived, not me."

He could see Hermione open her mouth to protest but she closed it again abruptly.

"I guess you might be right about that." She admitted softly. "But as someone who knows you you, I think they'll be happy once they get to know you, and if you don't date them, how are they going to get to know, you know, you?"

"Maybe." Harry said uncertain she was right. "I was thinking it might be good to make some new friends next year. You and Ron are great and my best friends and that's not going to change," he hastened to assure her, "but it just occurred to me that I don't have a lot of other friends."

"You probably have more than me. What about the Quidditch team," Hermione said, "and Neville, Dean and Seamus?"

"The Quidditch team are great and Fred and George, maybe, are friends, but Oliver was, well, Oliver; the girls are older than me." Harry said. "As for the guys in my dorm…I guess I'm about as close to Dean and Seamus as you are to Parvati and Lavender. We're mates but not friends."

Hermione nodded in acknowledgement.

"Neville…" Harry smiled, "I'm hoping to get to know Neville better this summer. He's going to join me for some lessons. Our mothers were best friends at school. His Mum was my godmother and my Mum was his."

"Oh, wow." Hermione said. Her eyes narrowed. "What lessons are you doing?"

Harry brightened and gave her the headlines; wizarding etiquette and culture, politics and estate management, runes and magic.

"But what about the underage…"

"Medical exception." Harry grimaced. "Sirius got custody of me the night before they announced his being innocent. We've been away at a healing clinic this past week."

He explained the time bubble at the clinic, and his treatment and power issues. He picked up Sirius's bag and took out the journal and the wrapped present.

"Because of the amount of time we were there, one of the healers suggested I write to you and Ron in a kind of journal as though I was sending you letters. I put all my politics lessons in there too since I figured you'd want to know about it." He handed her the journal and the gift. "I picked the present up at the airport. It's a book on American magic thought you might like it but it's OK if you don't."

"Harry!" Hermione said delighted. "Thank you! You didn't need to get me anything! The journal would have been enough." She was already holding onto it tightly. Her front teeth sank into her lower lip. "Do you think Sirius will let me join you and Neville for your lessons?"

Harry nodded. "If your parents are OK with it." He glanced toward Wallace and Sirius to make sure they were engaged in a discussion and lowered his voice. "I take it you didn't tell them everything about Voldemort and what happened with the stone?"

Hermione nodded. "They kind of freaked out at Christmas about the troll so…no." She sighed. "I doubt I would have told them about the basilisk but obviously they found out from the school I was petrified and I pretended it was no big deal so they wouldn't worry." She made an unhappy face. "I had no idea it was so bad for them."

He moved to put his hand over her arm. "You couldn't have known and if it helps any, Sirius freaked out about everything when he found out too."

There was a shared moment of solidarity between them.

"Well, that helps explain why he said what he did about the Headmaster." Hermione noted with a hint of disapproval. "I thought he'd be more grateful to him…"

"Hermione, your parents were right." Harry interrupted fiercely. "Dumbledore could have saved him himself. He's Chief Warlock – he could have placed Sirius in his protective custody and overruled Fudge but he didn't!"

Hermione's mouth opened and closed again. Her shock was written all over her face. "But surely…" she searched Harry's eyes for something, anything to explain it, "but why didn't he then?"

"Me." Harry said succinctly. He took a breath to keep his temper under control. "Dumbledore was the one who left me with the Dursleys, Hermione. We think he was trying to make sure I went back there and didn't have somewhere else to go."

"But that's awful!" Hermione exclaimed. "How could he leave you with those terrible people and…oh, this is just too much!"

"Sirius thinks it has to do with this spell that my Mum did and some wards she put up at my aunt's." Harry admitted. "He thinks Dumbledore was trying to protect me."

She looked furious for a second before her face froze into mute horror.

"What?" Harry asked.

Hermione sighed heavily and leaned closer to him, lowering her voice. "You don't think…he was Chief Warlock when Sirius was imprisoned and he should have made sure Sirius got a trial. Do you…"

Harry was already shaking his head. "Sirius doesn't think it was deliberate. He says Dumbledore should have checked but that he's pretty sure from the conversation they had in the office when Sirius was captured that Dumbledore honestly thought he was guilty." He shrugged. "It doesn't matter. Dumbledore's in Thailand and by the time he gets back I'll be adopted and he won't have a say in it anymore."

"It's just so…unbelievable! He's always seemed so…good and kind and great." Hermione said miserably. "He's Albus Dumbledore! He's not supposed…"

"To make mistakes?" Harry said quietly. "Sirius says nobody is perfect."

"I guess not." Hermione said with a huff. She sighed and changed the subject. "Ron sent a letter with Errol. He's invited us to the Quidditch World Cup. My Mum and Dad are thinking about that too although I'm not really sure I want to go. Have you talked with him yet?"

Harry shook his head. "We've only been back a couple of days and we've been settling into our new house. We're supposed to be seeing them tomorrow evening to give them an invite to the adoption – Ron and his parents, I mean."

She bit her lip again. "You're not inviting Ginny?"

Her question took him aback. He hadn't really had much contact with Ginny over the past year although they'd exchanged small talk in the common room and sat together occasionally at meals. He'd tried to pay her some attention since the previous year had been so horrible for her but he felt awkward around her. He still half-expected her to fall into her butter dish if he was honest. "If I invite Ginny then I have to invite Fred and George, and…I don't really have an issue with it but Sirius wanted to keep it small."

"Would it be so bad?" Hermione asked. "It's just…Ginny and I chatted a bit at the end of the year and she wants to get to know you better. If we want to make more friends like you were saying before – and I actually think that's a good suggestion – we should try and get to know more people. Ginny might be a good place to start."

Harry sighed and confessed the real reason. "Yeah, but I think Ginny has a…"

"Crush on you?" Hermione nodded. "Of course she does."

"Then why…"

"Because, Harry, she wants to get past it and become your friend." Hermione said. "I know it's awkward but the Boy Who Lived was her childhood hero and you saved her life so of course she has a massive crush on you. It's quite a lot for her to get past."

"I helped save your life and you didn't get a crush on me." Harry pointed out, proud of his logic.

Hermione blushed and looked a tad guilty; Harry stared at her speechless as he realised the implication.

"Look, that was me. Obviously I was mature enough not to get a crush on you." Hermione's cheeks reddened even more as she blatantly lied and she made a hand wave as though to dismiss the entire thing. "Ginny…I think all she really wants is a chance to get past her crush and get to know you."

"I'm not promising anything," Harry said deciding they should drop the subject quickly rather than dwell on the fact that Hermione had once had a crush on him, "but I'll talk with Sirius about inviting all the Weasleys."

Hermione smiled at him brightly. "Thank you, Harry." She frowned suddenly. "You know I owe you a life debt for the troll – and Merlin! I owe Ron too!"

"I don't think so," Harry said, "from what Sirius told me you can't owe someone a life debt if they were responsible for placing you in danger in the first place and Ron was the reason why you were in the bathroom." He waved his hand. "As for me, if you ever did owe me anything, you've saved my life since, and besides…saving Sirius paid it back tenfold, Hermione."

Her eyes took on a mischievous glint. "I tell you what; just to make sure there are no debts between us, I'll run interference for you if Ginny gets too crushy."

"That isn't funny!" Harry exclaimed hotly, although he wasn't truly mad at her teasing.

"It's a little funny," Hermione retorted, "and besides you should be happy someone likes you." Her face fell. "I don't think I'm going to have a queue of boys lining up to ask me to Hogsmeade."

Harry felt the same disturbed lurch in his belly as he had earlier but his need to reassure her trounced it. Unfortunately he had no idea how to reassure her and settled for squeezing her arm absently. She smiled at him in appreciation though so maybe it had been the right thing to do.

The sound of a throat being cleared at the head of the table had them both looking up sharply.

Sirius smirked at Harry. His gaze fell pointedly to where Harry was still holding onto Hermione's arm. Harry blushed bright red and let go.

"Your Dad wanted your help." Sirius told Hermione.

She sighed and headed over to the grill. Sirius sat down and grinned at Harry.

"Don't," Harry warned him briskly, "or I'll tell Remus about the time Healer Fay was over when we were swimming and you lost your…"

"We swore we would never speak of that." Sirius reminded him quickly.

He stared at his godfather.

"Fine, no teasing about how cosy you and Hermione were looking." Sirius promised in a grumbling tone.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief and sat up straighter as Hermione returned with a plate of piled high with burgers, steaks and chops.

"I hope you're hungry." Miriam said with a laugh as she and Wallace rejoined them.

The topic of conversation turned to questions over how comfortable Sirius seemed in the muggle world and Harry sat back, content to listen to tales of how his Mum had made sure the Marauders could handle muggle things. He glanced at Hermione and felt his stomach flip-flop again. He was hungry, Harry thought determinedly; that was probably all it was.

Chapter Text

Sirius paced nervously in the reception room. There was a lot riding on the outcome of the meetings he was about to hold. If things didn't work out as he and Remus hoped…

They would deal with it, Sirius thought briskly. There was always the Obliviate spell.

He heard the approaching cheery voice of Penelope and move hastily smoothed his formal robes as she and Remus entered.

Penelope smiled at him brightly. "Very smart, Lord Black."

"How many times do I have to tell you; it's Sirius." He complained at her good-naturedly.

"Not during working hours." Penelope reprimanded him as she brushed imaginary lint from his shoulders. "You have an image to convey."

Remus smirked at him and handed him a black canvas bag. "Here's the pensieve and the memories." He patted his arm. "You'll be fine, Padfoot. It's only Fudge."

"Right," Sirius said, "and whose idea was that it that I should be the one to tell him and not Brian as we originally agreed?"

"Brian's." Penelope and Remus chorused together.

Sirius glared at the two of them.

"Look, I think Brian's right; Fudge will probably take the news of you being Lord Black better if you tell him yourself." Remus said. "According to Brian, he's all agog at the request of a one-to-one meeting with you on the subject of Lord Black ahead of the Lord Black meet-and-greet session later this afternoon with Directors Bones and Croaker here at the Manor. You'll be fine."

"If I get thrown back into Azkaban, I'm blaming you." Sirius stated dryly.

Penelope cleared her throat. "You should get going, Lord Black. You don't want to be late; the Minister is expecting you."

Sirius turned to Remus and opened his mouth…

"Yes, I'll go back to Griffin House and check on Harry later. I'm sure he and Minerva are getting along fine though." Remus ushered him towards the floo.

Sirius harrumphed, took a deep breath and tossed some power into the fire. "Minister's Office!"

He stepped out into Fudge's private domain and straightened immediately, staring at the two Aurors flanking the Minister with suspicion.

Fudge immediately got a clue about Sirius's discomfort and gestured back at the Aurors. "Oh, they're here just a precaution in case someone else stepped out."

Sirius moderated his tone to something vaguely diplomatic. "If the Aurors would like to check me for glamours or polyjuice they're certainly welcome to do so, Minister."

Fudge waved the Aurors forward. "Shacklebolt! Dawlish!"

"Apologies, Mister Black." Shacklebolt said formally. "We won't be more than a moment." He lifted his wand and did an intricate gesture to start the identification spell that Sirius knew well; it was mandatory Auror training – as was Dawlish's position. He'd stayed back to cover Shacklebolt.

Dawlish he knew from his Auror days; a miserable git who Sirius had half-suspected of being a Death Eater. Shacklebolt…Shacklebolt…

"Kingsley Shacklebolt?" Sirius asked. "I seem to remember you were at the academy after I completed my Hit Wizard training."

"That's right, Mister Black." Kingsley smiled at him politely. "You held most of the records we were trying to beat." He turned to the Minister. "He is Sirius Black, Minister."

"May we ask what's in the bag?" Dawlish asked roughly before his partner could ask for them to be dismissed.

Sirius raised an eyebrow. "A present for the Minister for his sterling effort to uphold justice."

Fudge broke into another pleased smile and almost clapped his hands together in delight. He made a wavy hand gesture at the Aurors. "Please leave us, gentlemen."

The Aurors left – Dawlish with obvious reluctance.

"Sirius! May I call you Sirius? You must call me Cornelius." Fudge charged forward as soon as the office door closed behind the Aurors and held out his pudgy hand. "Welcome to the Ministry."

Sirius shook hands. "Sirius is fine, Minister." He requested permission to raise a privacy bubble and Fudge – Cornelius smiled ruefully.

"Brian does the same thing." Cornelius said amused as he indicated for Sirius to go ahead. "This is the safest office in Britain!"

"I'm afraid I attended the Alastor Moody School of Constant Vigilance, Minister." Sirius said. He waved his great-grandfather's wand around and nodded happily when the privacy spell took and the office was secured.

"You've probably guessed the reason for this meeting already, Cornelius, so I won't keep you in suspense," Sirius began as he placed the canvas bag on the Minister's desk, "Brian said he suspected you'd worked it out when he mentioned how quickly I was able to respond to the query about custody when he had initially written to Lord Black."

"Well, I…" Cornelius looked fairly bemused as he took his seat.

"Obviously you realised then that I was and, indeed, am Lord Black." Sirius announced briskly, ignoring blithely the different shades of red that Cornelius was turning. He mentally took away the concealment spell on his ring and waggled it at the Minister. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate your discretion in keeping my secret to date and supporting my guardianship of Harry. I am in your debt." He pulled out the brand new pensieve from the bag and set it down in front of Cornelius. "I hope you accept this as a small token of my thanks and appreciation."

Cornelius's eyes dropped to the magical artefact and gasped.

"It's top of the line; newest model." Sirius stated as he took a seat. "As you know many countries have provided pensieves for their Ministers for years and it's criminal that the Wizengamot hasn't authorised budget for you to have one yet."

"Criminal, yes." Cornelius touched it reverently. "I can't tell you how envious the American Ambassador is going to be the next time he comes round. This is much better than the one in his office." He sat back suddenly and gazed at Sirius.

This was the pivotal moment, Sirius mused. Cornelius knew that Sirius probably knew that Cornelius hadn't guessed at all but Cornelius had two choices; to throw his toys out of the pram or to graciously allow them both to pretend that he had guessed, save face and continue to develop a relationship with Lord Black. Sirius also knew that Cornelius had to be considering the fact that not only was Sirius Lord Black but he was also the Potter Regent – his eyes had already skated over the crests on his robes twice.

Cornelius cleared his throat. "I have to confess that while I did suspect as Brian surmised, I didn't actually know for certain that you were Lord Black, uh, Lord Black."

"I thought we agreed it was Sirius." Sirius said smoothly. He was surprised at Cornelius's admission but it was a good ploy – a half-truth but not an all-out lie; something that allowed Cornelius to save face, but acknowledged the truth at the same time.

Cornelius smiled widely at him. "Sirius it is."

"My new assistant calls me Lord Black and I keep looking for my grandfather." Sirius joked, trying to remember all the lessons at political glad-handing that his father and mother had literally beaten into him.

"I remember when my parents found a tutor for me before Hogwarts and Professor Lichen called me Mister Fudge for the first time. I thought he was referring to my father and wouldn't answer him." Cornelius replied with good humour. "I received a fair few raps on the knuckles for that."

"Harry finds being Lord Potter quite strange but then nobody has ever told him about his House responsibilities until this Summer."

"Oh?" Cornelius frowned. "I mean, I'm not surprised at the muggles because what would they know about it but surely Albus…"

Sirius shook his head. "I'm afraid not." He didn't have to pretend the heavy grimace that he made. "Harry has been left entirely too uninformed about his place in our world, not just the Boy Who Lived nonsense, but the House of Potter, his family, his heritage…" he sighed, "I've been told that his teachers were made to promise not to tell him about his mother and father."

"That is terrible." Cornelius commiserated. "I've had concerns about how Albus has been handling things at Hogwarts for a number of years now, but his hold on the school is absolute."

"Speaking of concerns," Sirius said, turning the conversation to what he was really there for, "I did have an ulterior motive for getting you the pensieve." He reached back into the canvas bag and extracted three vials filled with silvery fluid. "With your permission, I'd like to show you some copies of Harry's memories from his time at Hogwarts. I'm not certain how much you know already – how much information Albus has shared – but I believe it's important for you to see them. However, I must have an oath that you will keep this information confidential."

Cornelius nodded slowly. "I'm intrigued so I'll agree." He picked up his wand. "I, Cornelius Ambrose Fudge, swear to the House of Black to keep the contents of this meeting confidential." There was a flash of light from the tip of his wand and Sirius was satisfied.

He motioned for Sirius to fill the pensieve and they dived into the basin. The memory begun with Harry and his friends approaching the Cerberus and went from there.

"What is this exactly?" Cornelius asked a tad impatiently. "Some kind of student obstacle course for their first year DADA exam? I can understand your concern; the dog is a bit much."

"I'm afraid it's nothing as benign as an obstacle course," Sirius replied, "this is a set of traps created by the Hogwarts Professors to protect Flamel's Philosopher's stone, or at least that's what they're supposed to be protecting. Somebody has already gotten past them and Harry and his friends are trying to stop the potential thief." He pointed Cornelius back at the action.

They watched silently for the most part although Cornelius muttered a 'oh good show' as Harry caught the key. As Harry faced Quirrell and Voldemort, Cornelius paled considerably (Sirius had thrown up so the Minister was actually doing better than he had done at that stage). He was shaking by the time Sirius led him out of the memory – just after Harry's discussion with Dumbledore in the infirmary (Sirius had been livid when he'd seen it for the first time – Remus had stuck him to a chair until he'd cooled down enough to agree that trying to find Dumbledore in Thailand to hex him was a bad idea).

"Firewhiskey?" prompted Sirius gently.

Cornelius pointed at a cabinet and Sirius retrieved the alcohol and poured him a generous amount. He resumed his seat and waited for Cornelius to speak.

"I assume there's no hoping that the memory has been tampered with or that this isn't an elaborate fantasy of young Harry's?" Cornelius said eventually, his hands wrapped tightly around his whiskey glass.

"It's my intention to show the memory to Amelia Bones and Wilbert Croaker later. I'm sure they can both vouch for the authenticity." Sirius said firmly. "I'm certain it can be independently verified for that matter if necessary."

"No, no, just…" Cornelius took a gulp of his drink and slumped back in his chair, "I can't believe that You-Know-Who is still out there! He was supposed to be dead! How could Albus not tell anyone?"

"In part to protect the wizarding world, I suspect." Sirius replied. "From what I've heard, the days following the downfall of Voldemort back in 'eighty-one were chaotic with some Death Eaters walking free because of lack of evidence. Had they known for certain their leader was still around, I assume they would have continued their reign of terror and helped him find a body. I can appreciate why Albus may have kept it quiet back then."

Cornelius sighed as he absorbed the truth of Sirius's words.

"And it's also probable that Albus didn't know for certain." Sirius said. "My steward and I are convinced that Albus constructed the entire thing with the stone as a trap to prove Voldemort was alive using both the stone and Harry as bait."

"Well, he should have told me then!" Cornelius stated angrily.

Sirius gazed back at him calmly. "Perhaps he would have, Cornelius, but your closest advisor since Harry returned to the wizarding world has been Lucius Malfoy."

"What's Lucius got to do with it?" Cornelius asked evidently honestly bewildered.

"Lucius is one of those Death Eaters who walked free." Sirius replied. He held up a hand when Cornelius went to argue. "I've investigated the matter thoroughly, Cornelius. He's married to my cousin and tomorrow will be subjected to our family magic. As you can imagine I wanted to be very sure of my facts."

Cornelius's eyes widened dramatically. "Yes, I can imagine. But I still can't believe Lucius would…I mean, I know about the Imperius, of course, but he assured me that he simply agreed with You-Know-Who's wider political agenda and the whole thing got blown out of all proportion."

"I will agree that he was under the Imperius the day he got caught in the Ministry; Moody was the one who diagnosed him so I have some confidence in that." Sirius stated. "I'll even accept that there was no additional physical evidence of wrongdoing apart from the Dark Mark he had. His wand was clean at the time. However, I can unequivocally say as someone who went undercover with Death Eaters that you can't get the Dark Mark if you're under the Imperius; you have to be a willing recipient. There's also an initiation – a murder of an innocent. Now perhaps Lucius only performed such an act at his initiation and beyond that his political influence and position at the Ministry were more of a benefit to Voldemort than having Lucius out raising terror. But the main point holds: Lucius was a Death Eater."

Cornelius downed his glass of Firewhiskey and poured himself another.

"Now, I doubt he knows for certain that Voldemort is back but I think he must have his suspicions. His political advice and agenda are in line with Voldemort's; he's sponsored and voted for laws and motions that would benefit Voldemort if he returned. The DMLE and DOM budgets have been massively reduced; certain members of our population such as werewolves and other magical races have been disenfranchised and would probably not give us aid now. Would Lucius rejoin him if Voldemort gained a body? I don't know." Sirius said. "His answer will certainly determine his fate tomorrow."

"I should have him arrested!" Cornelius said passionately. "All this time and he's been using me!"

"Lucius is a consummate politician, Cornelius. Whether he's trying to get power to assist Voldemort in usurping the government or simply trying to get power for himself as part of the existing government, of course he was going to befriend the most powerful man in the Ministry and work to become his chief confidante and advisor; to get his own agenda pushed before all others and convince you of its merits." Sirius pointed out briskly. "But, legally, he's done nothing wrong: nothing is provable about his Death Eater activities. I suggest you leave him to me to deal with and simply disassociate yourself. Nobody will be surprised that you distance yourself since it's well known among WIzengamot members that the House of Black holds primacy over the House of Malfoy."

Cornelius breathed in deeply and nodded. "You're right, of course. I will leave it in your capable hands, and distance myself from the man."

"I would also suggest if I may that you should also consider distancing yourself from those who rely and seek out his advice or agree fervently with his agenda." Sirius advised. "Your Senior Undersecretary seems to be a capable woman but perhaps it's time to reward that with an ambassadorship to a South American country?"

For a moment Sirius thought Cornelius was going to defend her but he finally sighed regretfully. "She is wonderfully capable but you're quite right." He smiled benignly. "Perhaps it is time for her to move on."

Sirius picked up the second vial. "Talking of moving on, are you ready for the next memory?"

He wasn't surprised when Cornelius downed his drink again before allowing Sirius to take him back into the pensieve. Harry's encounter with the shade of Tom Riddle and the basilisk was horrifying (Sirius had wanted to close his eyes the entire time he'd watched it) but informative.

Luckily Cornelius wasn't as pale and shaky when he came out but rather determined looking. Perhaps, Sirius considered wryly, learning Voldemort was still out there and Lucius had conned him was the worst news; everything else was manageable.

"Tell me that the diary was the only thing that could bring him back like that." Cornelius said harshly.

"I can't." Sirius said. He and Remus had agreed that the word 'horcrux' would never be shared although Croaker would probably know even if he wasn't explicitly told. "My brother Regulus was a Death Eater but he came to realise Voldemort didn't have any respect for purebloods and so turned on him and sent me a letter telling me all about these objects. Unfortunately I only received his letter once I became Lord Black. There are other objects like the diary. We'll need to work together to track the others down and destroy them."

"Of course." Cornelius agreed.

"Our theory is that these objects may have helped Voldemort escape death in 'eighty-one, if we get rid of these…" Sirius sighed. "We can trap him again and get rid of him for good. However there is an immediate concern." He led Cornelius back into the third memory – Trelawney's prediction of Pettigrew helping Voldemort to rise again.

"Well, this certainly adds some urgency to the matter." Cornelius said anxiously as soon as they left the pensieve. He shakily poured himself another glass of Firewhiskey. "We're just not prepared! I thought he was dead! How was I to know and…"

"Cornelius!" Sirius barked at the Minister. "Pull yourself together! Of course, you couldn't know! The public isn't going to blame you for acting like a peacetime Minister for the last few years when they believed the same thing. But they will judge you on what you do now!"

Cornelius made an effort and calmed down.

"Believe me when I say that this is my top priority." Sirius said firmly. "Voldemort has an unhealthy fascination with Harry. I will do everything in my power to make sure Harry is safe from that monster. As of now you have the considerable influence and wealth of the House of Black and the House of Potter backing the Ministry, Cornelius, in ensuring we rid ourselves of Voldemort for good."

He wasn't surprised when Cornelius brightened considerably.

"Obviously we need to bring Amelia Bones and Wilbert Croaker into this." Sirius said. "But I'd like us to present a joint plan to them. I've outlined one with my steward with your permission I'll take you through it now."

Cornelius nodded absently. "What about Albus? Do you see a role for him?"

Sirius grimaced and sank back in his chair. "My first inclination was to try and do it without him. He led the Light the last time and we almost lost. It was only because Voldemort was trounced by the Potters somehow that we gained a victory." He had no intention of telling Cornelius exactly how much power Harry had or about the spell Lily had used. He sighed. "He's also kept information secret and while I agree with some of his reasons, I disagree with some of his decisions. By all reports, you two were close when you first took office. He could have shared his suspicions about Voldemort to you then – warned you about Lucius. There are also decisions about Harry that I have issues with."

"But," prompted Cornelius, "I'm assuming there is a but?"

"But as my steward has pointed out to me, Albus is a powerful and knowledgeable wizard. If we can utilise him we should." Sirius said. "As my steward has always been the more sensible and level headed of the two of us, I value his opinion."

"For what it's worth, I agree with your steward." Cornelius said. "Like you I'm not happy Albus hasn't shared information of vital importance, but he is the only wizard that could face Voldemort and expect to survive the fight – perhaps with the exception of young Harry who obviously has survived a number of encounters." He paused. "With that last thought and everything else you've said in mind, I agree Albus shouldn't be the banner under which we fight this time."

Sirius caught the gleam in Cornelius's eye. "I appreciate that people will fight under the banner of the Boy Who Lived, however, I don't want Harry exploited in the press. It will only serve to focus Voldemort's attention on him even more and that's unacceptable to me." He paused. "Behind the scenes, I have no issues with Harry's status as the Boy Who Lived being used to persuade the reluctant into the political alliances we'll need."

"Perhaps then we focus on ensuring what press there is continues to be positive?" Cornelius suggested. "The press are likely to print stories about Harry regardless especially since, well, I really shouldn't say anything but I'm sure you won't tell – the Tri-Wizard Tournament is being revived and will be held at Hogwarts this year. Harry won't be old enough to participate but the press will be allowed access to Hogwarts for the first time since he began his time there and, well…you can see the attraction for the journalists."

Sirius thought the whole tournament thing sounded like a very bad idea but he doubted it was something he could change. Cornelius was also right; the press would go after Harry regardless of whether Sirius tried to keep them away or not. It was better to try and control their public image than allow a free for all. "Some press then but everything is approved by me through Brian as we did this last week."

"Agreed." Cornelius smiled at him. "It's marvellous how well we work together. Shall we cover the rest of the plan?"

Sirius bit down on his snarky retort and pulled out a parchment from the bag. He didn't need to like Cornelius to work with him, Sirius reminded himself, and it was time to get to work.

o-O-o

It was weird seeing one of his Professors during the summer, Harry mused ruefully as he showed Professor McGonagall down to the basement.

It was shielded so the rest of the muggle house could function as normal. Harry didn't really understand it but knew electricity didn't work well around magic and that the basement and the kitchen were the only rooms in the house that were magic-proofed – the basement so they had a practice room and the kitchen because it was Dobby's domain. Apparently, Dobby switched the electricity off room by room when he cleaned the house.

Harry had questioned why Remus and Sirius had bought a muggle house and it had come down to two things: one, making Harry comfortable and they knew he was more familiar with a muggle home and two, because living in a muggle area helped keep Harry safe as wizards often found navigating the muggle world difficult.

The fact that they had muggle technology was great. They'd had a movie night with Star Wars and Harry had shocked Remus and Sirius by inviting Dobby too. The house elf had been glued to the entire film his thin arms wrapped around a bowl of popcorn. Additionally, after a few days of living with Sirius and Remus – Marauders – he was also very appreciative that they had to keep the magic to a minimum. They both had quite an evil sense of humour and Harry was certain that at some point he'd be a target.

Professor McGonagall cleared her throat, recapturing his attention. She had set her carpet bag on the side table and was apparently waiting on him.

He flushed. "Sorry, Professor."

To his surprise she smiled at him. "Outside of school, you may call me Aunt Minerva like your father did, if I may call you Harry. What do you think?"

Harry was stunned and settled for nodding his head. He gestured at her and forced the words out of his mouth. "My Dad called you Aunt Minerva?"

"Yes," Professor McGonagall said briskly as she began to unload the bag with small objects that Harry recognised from their Transfiguration lessons, "although when James got older and cheekier he called me Aunt Minnie. I was good friends with your Grandmother Potter – we were at school together."

"Remus said you might tell me some stories?" Harry asked hopefully.

She paused and turned to him with an apologetic look. "I owe you an apology, Harry. I should have approached you before now and offered to tell you about your family. I have no excuse."

"That's OK," Harry said awkwardly, "Remus explained there's a line you have to stick to as a professor where relationships with students are concerned."

She nodded sharply. "I also owe you a second apology for allowing the Headmaster to leave you with the Dursleys against my better judgement."

Harry was speechless again. He'd never expected her to apologise for that. "Professor…I mean, Aunt Minerva, it's fine, really. Sirius explained why the Headmaster left me there and I understand. I mean, I was mad about it but…" he shrugged. He just wanted to forget he had ever lived with the Dursleys.

Her gaze rested on him for a long moment. "Well, Sirius and Remus seem to be taking very good care of you."

Harry smiled at her. "They're brilliant."

Her lips twitched visibly. "Well, shall we do some Transfiguration first? Then we can go over the scholarship details. And we can end with afternoon tea and some stories about your mother and father."

"OK." Harry agreed happily.

"Now, Sirius has explained to me that you had a binding and that you've been working with constrained powers for the last three years. He said that you've worked hard at the healing clinic after the binding was lifted to bring your magic back under control but you still require practice." She handed him a matchstick. "When you're ready, Harry."

He released his wand from its holster and set the matchstick on the table. A wave of a wand later and it was a perfect needle.

"Excellent." Professor McGonagall stated brightly. "If we were in school I would be awarding you points. Let's continue."

They worked for over an hour moving from the first year syllabus to the second and then to the third. The one-to-one tuition helped Harry relax around her more as she helped correct his wand movements to make the transfiguration easier or explained something about the theory that he hadn't understood. Slowly, he started to get used to calling her Aunt Minerva, but it was still a conscious exercise and he figured it would be sometime before he called her anything but Professor McGonagall in his head.

She stopped him after he had successfully completed the exam again.

"We should leave it there for today." Professor McGonagall said sternly. "How do you feel?"

"A little tired." Harry admitted.

"Most wizards your age would be exhausted, Harry." She assured him, beginning to pack everything away. "Clearly your power levels are as impressive as Sirius told me. I rather thought he was playing a prank on me." She shook her head. "You were quite a powerful baby come to think of it." She smiled at him. "You should consider becoming an animagus; I seem to recall you have a natural gift for it."

"I do?" Harry asked, surprised.

"Yes," Professor McGonagall said dryly, "you turned yourself into a miniature version of Sirius's form when you were three or four months old. Your father flooed me almost immediately. I'm not sure if he was more disturbed by the fact that you'd changed into a puppy rather than a young stag, or changed at all. I think it was the reason why he placed a binding on you."

Harry's mouth fell open and he snapped it closed again. "You knew? You knew that Sirius was an animagus? And my Dad?"

"And Mister Pettigrew, yes." Professor McGonagall nodded. "The summer after your father's third year I was visiting Dorea, your grandmother, when your father managed to transfigure his hand into a hoof. He couldn't undo it. I came across him luckily and reversed it. I also worked out quite quickly that he and his friends had taken an Unbreakable Vow not to tell anyone what they were doing – which was very foolish." She must have caught Harry's confusion because she paused in her packing up. "Has anyone explained Vows to you?"

"Are they the same as oaths?" Harry asked.

"Very different. Oaths are only enforceable if sworn to family magic, but Vows are a promise to magic itself. If someone asks you to take an Unbreakable Vow and you agree, if you fail to keep the Vow, you will lose your magic and quite possibly die from the shock." Professor McGonagall said.

Harry frowned. "Why would anyone take one?"

"To prove themselves worthy or because they owe a debt of some kind or because they're not in a position where they can refuse." Professor McGonagall answered. "In the case of your father and his friends, I suspect it had more to do with helping another friend keep a secret. I suspected that they'd realised Remus was a werewolf and that an animagus could spend time with him on a full moon without threat of being turned into a werewolf themselves."

"And you didn't stop them?" Harry asked, curious. He handed her a tea-cup and she changed it back into a rock.

"I might have inadvertently forced them into breaking the Vow if I'd confronted them directly so, no." Professor McGonagall confirmed. "I did, however, tell your father that he could come to me for any advice or help on any transfiguration problem without fear of reprisal which he did over the next year or so. And when they all successfully completed the animagus transformation and joined Remus on the full moons, I would keep watch in my cat form to ensure if they ran into difficulties I was nearby to assist." She stopped and looked over at him gaping at her. "You're no doubt shocked I didn't take points and award them detention."

"Well, you did take all those points from us when we were first years and you caught us out after curfew." Harry pointed out.

"I'd already taken points from Slytherin's Mister Malfoy for the same reason." She pointed out. "It would have been favouritism not to take points from each of you just because you were in my House."

"I guess," sighed Harry, although he knew Snape in her position would have simply let his House members go with a detention.

"And while I realised after speaking with Hagrid that your rule-breaking was done in the same spirit of friendship that motivated your father's full moon affairs, at the time I thought you were playing a prank on Mister Malfoy." Professor McGonagall admitted with chagrin. "Which is also why I ignored your warning about the stone, I'm afraid. To some extent I was as guilty as others in seeing your father in you rather than you for yourself back then."

"You mean like Snape, I mean, Professor Snape?" Harry asked as she closed up the bag and motioned for them to go back up the stairs.

"And others." Professor McGonagall said firmly.

Their conversation paused while they focused on the steps and Harry went over her admission in his head with a frown. As soon as they were seated at the table in the sunroom and provided with refreshments by Dobby he blurted out his question.

"How come you didn't realise the Weasleys' pet rat was Peter if you knew he was animagus?"

Her eyebrows shot upwards. "The thought never occurred to me." She admitted ruefully.

"Not even when the rat lived for years and years?" Harry questioned, inching forward in his seat to lean on the table.

"I assumed the Weasleys were doing what most parents do when a short-lived animal is a pet." Professor McGonagall said.

Harry looked at her bemused.

"Buy a similar looking animal and pass it off as the same creature." She explained with a small smile. "I got a pet fish called Bubbles when I was five. I loved watching Bubbles swim around in her fish-bowl. My mother told me later in life that there were actually twenty different Bubbles until I was the one who found her dead one morning rather than my parents."

"Oh." Harry suddenly remembered the goldfish Dudley had won one year at the town fair. It had died rather quickly and his Aunt Petunia had replaced it with an identical looking goldfish. Obviously Dudley had gotten bored soon after and when that one had died, it hadn't been replaced.

"I'm not sure I would have recognised Mister Pettigrew even close-up," Professor McGonagall continued, "I watched from a considerable distance during the full moons as canines and felines don't mix too well in my experience."

Harry stifled a chuckle at the thought of Sirius and Remus chasing their former teacher in her cat form.

"And truthfully I thought Mister Pettigrew was dead. The idea that a rat could be him didn't enter my mind." Professor McGonagall said. "Just as it didn't enter my mind that Sirius could use his animagus form to escape from Azkaban as he told me this morning. I believed that the presence of the Dementors would have made transforming impossible."

"Is that why you didn't tell the Headmaster that Sirius could be getting into Hogwarts as Padfoot?" Harry asked, curious.

Her eyes widened. "I assumed the Headmaster knew. He did find your father and Sirius outside the Willow one full moon in their sixth year in an altercation with Severus."

Harry shook his head. "Sirius told me they were all in their human forms when the Headmaster showed up."

Professor McGonagall looked disconcerted. "Well, I'm still certain he knows." She took a sip of her pumpkin juice. "Shall we discuss the scholarship?"

Harry nodded and she reached into her bag and pulled out a folder filled with parchment.

"Now firstly how much do you know about how Hogwarts assigns places to muggleborns?" Professor McGonagall asked.

"Not much." Harry said truthfully. Hermione probably knew; it was probably in Hogwarts: A History. "Actually, I'm not sure how Hogwarts assigns places generally."

"Well, it's a long story," Professor McGonagall enthused, "originally, the Founders made Hogwarts open to all. It was the first school of its kind. Unfortunately as you know there was a falling out over whether muggleborns would be welcome or not. Eventually, it was accepted that all magical children would be welcome and the Founders simply asked for donations from the families – as much as they could afford, if anything."

She picked up a chocolate digestive, dunked it in her tea, and ate it quickly before it disintegrated.

"Then our population grew and Hogwarts began to struggle financially despite the donations because of the sheer numbers." She cleared her throat. "Eventually, in order to keep the Ministry from assuming control and to retain independence, the Headmaster at the time made standard tuition fees mandatory with scholarships available for a small number of places. The Ministry had to settle for setting up an alternative school for those unable to afford Hogwarts. This all took place in the last century."

"So, there's a State school? Like a muggle comprehensive?" Harry asked, wondering why no-one had ever mentioned it before.

"There are seven now," Professor McGonagall said with a small smile, "Belfast, London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester, Durham, and Edinburgh." She listed quickly. "Most have an average year intake of around sixty to eighty pupils although the Irish and Welsh schools are much, much smaller. They don't board but students either floo or portkey in on a daily basis. They're quite good although they have to follow a Ministry approved syllabus. Some of our teaching staff came to us having previously worked at one. Professor Babbling taught at the Edinburgh Academy before she came to Hogwarts, and both Professor Flitwick and Professor Vector taught at King's Magic School in London." She paused and continued. "And obviously, home schooling is still chosen by many wizarding families."

"So why didn't I end up at one of the State schools?" Harry asked.

She smiled at him again. "We have wandered from the point, haven't we? But luckily your question brings it back into focus once more. Generally, we have no upper limit of how many children we can take. Your class is somewhat small but it was a terrible year in the war when you were born and we lost entire families." She shook herself briskly. "To answer your question, Hogwarts has a list – usually parents apply for their child to be placed upon it when they're born. Your parents did that for you. Your father's parents did that for him. Most members of the Wizengamot will send their children to Hogwarts as will most senior members of the Ministry."

Harry vaguely remembered that Vernon had done the same for Dudley with Smeltings. He nodded slowly in understanding.

"Now, the Founders – Helga Hufflepuff to be exact – enchanted a book that lists all magical births within the United Kingdom. It resides somewhere in Hogwarts but nobody really knows where – not even the Headmaster." Professor McGonagall sipped her tea. "What does happen is that a month before every child's eleventh birthday, a Hogwarts notification is produced and delivered to the Headmaster's desk so he can send a letter of acceptance. These days they automatically get transferred to me."

"But not everybody goes to Hogwarts." Harry said confused.

"Exactly." Professor McGonagall said looking pleased for some reason. "I have a house elf who helps me and she checks to see whether or not the student is on our acceptance list. If they're on the list, the usual letter is sent which she signs in my name. If they're not on the list but have magical parents, the notification is forwarded to the parents so they can arrange their child's education. But it's the latter category that we're most interested in for your mother's scholarship; those without magical parents."

Professor McGonagall paused to refill her cup and Harry snagged a chocolate digestive from the plate, thinking about what she'd said to him so far. In hindsight, it had been stupid to think that his Hogwarts class were all the magical children of his age in the country, Harry thought a little chagrined.

"All muggleborn notifications are set aside for my action." Professor McGonagall said. "All muggleborns are provisionally accepted at Hogwarts subject to whether they can pay the tuition. The Headmaster and the Heads of the Houses are usually the only people authorised to perform visitations although occasionally another member of staff is authorised if no-one else is available. We deliver the letter personally, reassure the parents to the existence of magic and determine their decision. If they cannot afford the fees, we offer them the opportunity to attend a Ministry school and, if they say yes to that, we send the child's name onto the nearest school so they can make the necessary arrangements by mail. They usually send a letter with a portkey and instructions on what supplies the children will need and where to purchase them."

"What if they refuse to attend?" Harry asked.

"Ah, well, there is no such thing as home schooling for muggleborns as they don't know any tutors." Professor McGonagall sighed, her expression turning to one of sadness. "If the parents do not want their child to attend magical school at all, we bind the child's magic and obliviate the family to the nature of the visit. They say goodbye to us believing that we came to discuss their child attending our school but they've decided against it – and that's it. We have to protect the Statute of Secrecy."

Harry nodded in understanding.

"Now there are some Hogwarts scholarships already available," Professor McGonagall said, "one is for orphans and another is to assist families with multiple children."

Harry wondered idly if the Weasleys had received some help from that scholarship before he flushed – reminding himself it wasn't any of his business how his best mate's family afforded Hogwarts. Although the other scholarship might account for how Tom Riddle had been able to attend Hogwarts since he'd grown up in a muggle orphanage without any money, Harry mused.

"What I propose is this: if a muggleborn family cannot afford the tuition and opts to send their child to the Ministry school, we will give them the option of applying for your mother's Hogwarts scholarship." McGonagall glanced at him. "Is this acceptable to you?"

"Yes." Harry said quickly. "You're giving them the option of not applying?"

McGonagall nodded. "Some parents will prefer not to send their children away to school regardless – that's one of the most popular reasons I get from muggles for turning down Hogwarts even when the parents can afford tuition, and others may see it as charity and refuse it." She motioned with her cup. "Those who accept will be told that a decision will be taken on 1st August which is really the latest we can take it. If they receive notification they will have been awarded the scholarship, if they do not they should proceed with the placement at the Ministry school."

"OK, so what about this year?" Harry questioned.

"I have already sent the families that opted for the Ministry school because of financial concerns a letter asking for them to confirm whether they wished to be considered to notify me by simply writing yes on the parchment letter." She looked immensely pleased with herself. "There are fourteen who have said yes. Now what we must do is decide what the criteria will be for choosing the recipient."

The discussion that followed was spirited and Harry was pleased when his new 'aunt' encouraged him to put his own ideas forward. She challenged him on some of the suggestions. He'd argued that they should test for intelligence – his mother had been smart so it made sense to him that the recipient of her scholarship should be smart. Professor McGonagall had wondered how they would test for such a thing and Harry pointed her at the primary school tests.

They'd both agreed any superficial things such as hair colour or eye colour should not be considered but Professor McGonagall had argued quite fiercely for witches to be considered ahead of wizards. Harry had no issues with that once it came down to the final candidates if there was a close decision that had to be made – but he didn't want gender to factor until then; yes, his Mum had been a witch but the scholarship was for all muggleborn children. He'd been gobsmacked when the Professor had backed down and agreed.

They'd finally come up with a points system: families who had greater financial need would get more points; primary school tests with better results gained more points; then there would be the assessment of the Professor at the interview with the family for general attitude – politeness and what Professor McGonagall called 'a good disposition' and what Harry deemed 'not Dudley or Draco-like.' Gender would be used to make the final call if a boy and a girl ended up within one or two points of each other.

Harry dithered over whether to suggest the last thing but in the end he gathered his Gryffindor courage and blurted it out. "What about their…their home situation?"

Professor McGonagall paused in raising the cup to her lips and looked at him sharply. "What do you mean, Harry?"

"I mean…" he took another deep breath, "what if their family is like the Dursleys? I don't mean that they hate magic because I think those types will already have said no to the entire thing probably but…what if you can tell at the interview that they're not…that they maybe don't love…but I guess…" he stumbled over his words, "I mean, I wasn't theirs so they didn't have to love me and…" he stopped mortified.

He stared down at his empty pumpkin juice.

Professor McGonagall reached over hesitantly and put her hand over his. "It wasn't you, Harry. The Dursleys would have treated anyone who didn't comply with their narrow world view the way they treated you – and they were absolutely wrong to do so. They were…they are the worst sort of muggles – of people."

He glanced up at her and wasn't surprised to see her face set in stern lines but her eyes were warm and fierce.

"I can also tell you that it does happen between parents and children too. Sometimes parents don't love their children appropriately or like them very much. In the worst instances, there is neglect and abuse. But there is a large grey area where rather than outright abuse, there is disinterest or, for want of a better term, coldness. These cases are harder to spot but we come across them from time to time." She paused. "I believe you want us to put all these…these disadvantaged children ahead of those with comfortable family situations? To help remove them from the home to at least give them respite?"

"And to give them a home." Harry said awkward under her kind gaze. "Hogwarts is really the first home I can remember."

She nodded slowly as though absorbing his words. "I see no issues with your suggestion. We will award points again – a larger number to those children we feel would benefit from a separation from their home environment." She pressed her lips together. "I have reported cases of evident abuse in the past to the muggle authorities but perhaps I should also report these additional cases too."

Harry nodded, relieved she'd agreed and understood what he'd meant.

"I'll go back through the notes of the interviews for this prior year, Harry. Some of the families with children in these situations may not have responded to my letter so I will pay them a personal visit." She promised.

Harry felt a lot better after hearing that.

"Well, I think we have a very workable set of criteria." Professor McGonagall said. "Is there anything else you want to add?"

He shook his head.

"We should take a break." She declared briskly. "I could do with stretching my legs and I'm sure you could do with some exercise." She motioned towards the outside where the sun was shining. "How about we take a walk outside and I'll tell you about when I gave your mother her Hogwarts letter?"

Harry grinned at her and quickly accepted her offer. "Sounds great," he hesitated and ploughed on, "Aunt Minerva."

She smiled understandingly at him. "And Harry?"

He looked at her inquisitively.

"I swear on my magic that you will never return to the Dursleys." Her eyes flashed with a fierce protectiveness that shocked him. "Do you understand?"

He could only nod at her as he realised she was waiting for some kind of a reply.

"Good." She rose from her seat, stretched in an absent minded way that reminded him of a cat and gestured for him to join her.

He scooted out of his chair.

"Now, your grandmother Marigold was the one who answered the door," she began…and Harry listened intently, eager to hear about his mother and his grandparents; eager to learn about his family.

Chapter Text

Almost two hours of working with Cornelius had reaffirmed Sirius's belief that he didn't like the man. But, and there was a but, he had come to have an appreciation for Cornelius's shark-like predatory instincts about politics. Cornelius knew every single member of the Wizengamot; he knew their position on the key policies and what they would and would not accept; he knew dirt on most of them, and the ones he didn't were the ones who were best at hiding it or who were far too boring to have dirt. He also had a keen sense of the power of the press and how to spin a story.

More to the point, Cornelius wasn't stupid. Not about politics and media spin. Not about the threat of Voldemort to his position, to the Ministry. He was scared and more than a bit of a coward (Sirius doubted Cornelius would ever be able to face Voldemort with any kind of dignity) and he was lazy on the details of the execution (Sirius had an unfortunate feeling that was how the awful Umbridge woman had made herself invaluable) but Cornelius wasn't stupid.

No, Cornelius's main flaw was that he operated from a strange default that doing nothing, maintaining a status quo, meant that he would remain the Minister of Magic. Conversely, when convinced that he would definitely lose his position if he didn't do something, Cornelius had a remarkable sense of self-preservation. It explained why their gambit at clearing Sirius's name and getting Harry away from the Dursleys had worked so well.

Sirius was glad that he'd thought to make Cornelius watch Harry's memories first before ever tackling the subject of Voldemort with him. He had a sneaking suspicion that the Minister would have preferred to have stuck his head in the sand like an ostrich but having witnessed absolute proof that Voldemort lived in some form and would try to regain a body, and having a political patron who would not tolerate inaction, Cornelius had had no choice but realise if something wasn't done, his days as Minister were numbered. The Minister was therefore doing his best to safeguard his own arse but Sirius didn't really mind that as it meant Cornelius actually doing his job.

In fact, Sirius had eased off the back-up plan he and Remus had mulled over of 'replace Fudge with someone competent' because it turned out Cornelius was competent in his milieu of politics and as a bonus feature was easily malleable once it was understood what he wanted (to remain Minister of Magic) and how to gain his interest (assure him that Sirius would make sure Cornelius would always be Minister of Magic if only he could do this tiny thing for Sirius in assisting him in getting rid of Voldemort and revolutionising their society).

He and Remus had underestimated Cornelius, Sirius realised, as he stepped back into Black Manor and watched as Cornelius came through the floo, his eyes wide as he took in the impressive Black crest. It was a valuable lesson to learn and one that they needed to take note of, Sirius mused. They couldn't afford to underestimate anyone if they were going to have a chance at defeating Voldemort and keeping Harry safe.

It was a lesson they should have already learned with Peter, Sirius considered tiredly.

They'd underestimated Peter when they'd confronted him at Hogwarts and he'd escaped. OK, there had been extenuating circumstances (Moony and the full moon, and Dementors!) but they'd underestimated him nevertheless. In hindsight they'd also underestimated him back when he'd betrayed them. They'd never considered Peter talented enough to be the spy; to be devious enough despite his being as much of a Marauder as any of them – Merlin, Peter had spied as a Marauder for them on their targets in the run up to some of the major pranks. They'd known Peter was smart enough when he wanted to be, he was just very, very lazy. The comments that Minerva had made at times to Peter during their school days had been very sharp and pointed, and all amounted to the same thing: could do better.

But the Marauders had fallen into the habit of thinking him less smart than the rest of them just because he'd languished in the middle of the class positions whereas the rest of them had excelled; because after school Peter had headed for a lowly entry position in the Ministry in some obscure department to do with flying carpets. And because of that blindness, Peter had betrayed them comprehensively; had sold Lily and James out to Voldemort; had set up Sirius; had hidden in plain sight for years as the Weasleys' pet rat. There was no doubt Peter was a coward and a traitor, a snivelling piece of excrement Sirius wanted to wipe off the face of the Earth, but he was sneaky and smarter than they had thought. It would be wise, Sirius thought, to sit down and seriously consider what Peter was likely to have done already to find his Master.

Sirius led Cornelius through to the front parlour where they were due to meet with Amelia Bones and Wilbert Croaker.

Penelope came and knocked on the door. "Welcome back, Lord Black. Shall I arrange for some refreshments for your meeting?"

"That would be great, but if you wouldn't mind coming in for a moment, Penelope." Sirius motioned for her to enter fully. "Cornelius, this is Penelope Clearwater, my Executive Secretary. Penelope, the Minister."

Cornelius shook Penelope's hand and offered her a warm smile. "Lovely to meet you, Miss Clearwater. I don't believe I'm familiar with your name…"

"Penelope's a muggleborn." Sirius said simply. "Top of her Hogwarts class; very smart. She eventually wants to work for the Ministry but we convinced her to help me out in the meantime."

"Well, once you're ready to make a move, you'll have to come and see me." Cornelius said smoothly.

Penelope beamed at the Minister. "Thank you, sir." She looked to Sirius who nodded his dismissal and she headed out of the room.

Kreacher popped in a moment later with the refreshments and disappeared again. By the time Sirius had finished pouring Cornelius some tea and himself a cup of very strong black coffee, Penelope was back, escorting the remaining visitors from the reception room to the parlour.

Wilbert Croaker grinned widely as he shook his hand and waved the invitation, with the location written so they could access the house, at Sirius with the other. "Lord Black! A Fidelius charm! I haven't seen one in operation since the Longbottoms! Is it part of the wards or did you set it up separately? And did you set it up or was it part of…"

"Bertie!" Amelia said sharply. She inched around her DOM counterpart and held her hand out to Sirius who shook it rather than kissing it. She seemed glad of the propriety he showed since they were meeting in her official capacity. "Lord Black, I assume?"

Sirius smiled at her. "I see Cornelius wasn't the only one who suspected the truth."

Amelia's eyes widened but she got the message quickly enough to play along with the delusion Cornelius had suspected. "Indeed," she huffed and nodded a hello at the Minister, "Cornelius."

"Amelia."

"Bertie." Cornelius greeted him with a handshake. "It's good to see you can climb out of the depths of the DOM. You never attend my meetings."

"Well, a new Lord Black sounded interesting unlike the latest persecution of some hapless magical creature your Senior Undersecretary wants to pursue." Bertie said simply. He sat down in one of the comfortable chairs and accepted a cup of tea. His grey robes suited his rounded stature and wild white hair. He wasn't as old as Dumbledore but Sirius knew the man had been at Hogwarts with his own grandfather. His piercing blue eyes gave away his intelligence and Sirius reminded himself not to underestimate the Head of the Unspeakables.

Amelia took the seat next to Bertie and accepted a glass of pumpkin juice. "I have to admit to some curiosity as to why you've brought us together. I assume you're not just meeting us to introduce yourself in your formal position, Lord Black?"

"It's Sirius, please," Sirius said as Penelope departed the room and closed the door, "and no, I've asked to meet you both to discuss something of importance." He gestured with his wand and revealed a pensieve on the coffee table. It was the same model and make as the one he had given Cornelius. He fingered the memory vials in his pocket. "I have some memories to share with you. I've already shared them with the Minister."

"These memories are intelligence vital to our national security." Cornelius said pompously. "You are both under confidentiality oaths in regards to your positions and you must treat this information as top secret."

Bertie and Amelia exchanged a look but Sirius was pleased when they both nodded. He poured the first vial into the pensieve and they all dived in.

Sirius couldn't bear to watch events a third time and he kept his eyes on Amelia and Bertie watching their reaction to Harry's encounter with Voldemort at the end of his first year. Amelia looked furious when they exited; Bertie quietly contemplative.

Bertie held up his hand before any of them could speak and they all deferred to him as the elder. "Let us watch all the memories you have to share and then discuss."

Sirius nodded his agreement and they quickly made their way through the other two memories.

Amelia sank back in her chair, white with rage and shock. She set her pumpkin juice aside and asked for something stronger. Sirius had Kreacher bring them all a Firewhiskey.

"Well, let's get the facts on the table." Bertie said authoritatively. "You-Know-Who is still out there thanks to items such as that diary. He seeks a body to return to power, and there is a prophecy that states he will rise again with the help of his servant."

"I take it the servant is Pettigrew?" Amelia questioned gruffly.

"We think so." Sirius said.

"Why hasn't Dumbledore said anything and what the hell has he been doing in that school?" Amelia erupted. "Quirrell's death was reported as an accident! And Dumbledore claimed the situation with the basilisk was under control!" She glared at Cornelius. "Why you arrested Rubeus Hagrid back then is beyond my understanding."

Cornelius flushed. "He was heavily suspected of opening the Chamber of Secrets during the first incident way back, Amelia, and his arrest warrant was ordered and signed off by your Head Auror. I merely went along to witness justice being done. Obviously we now know who did it."

"We should arrange for Hagrid's record to be cleared and an apology from the Ministry wouldn't go amiss," Sirius jumped in before Amelia could continue arguing, "but frankly, I think we have more important things to focus on as an immediate priority."

"We have a plan." Cornelius said swiftly. He nodded at Sirius who produced the parchment they had been working on in Cornelius's office.

"There are three prongs of attack." Sirius rolled the parchment out on the table and directed the others' attention to it. "Firstly, there's Operation Tag The Death Eater. We need to watch all those known Death Eaters that walked. Voldemort will want his followers back. He and Peter are bound to make contact with them eventually."

"That's a job for the Aurors." Amelia said immediately.

"Our thoughts exactly, Amelia." Cornelius said. "We thought a special investigation unit?"

"We will need to make sure the Aurors serving in it are not unmarked Death Eaters." Sirius said firmly.

"Obviously," Amelia snapped, "and I will expect Vows."

"My department might be able to help with this too." Bertie said. "I have an Unspeakable in the intelligence department who was a spy during the last war. We're aware of which of the Aurors and Hit Wizards are suspect along with two members of my own department and another dozen throughout the Ministry."

"You've left them in place? Why have you never told me?" Amelia asked, furious.

"Because there was no proof." Bertie said. "All I have is the word of my own spy and unsubstantiated hearsay of these individuals' political leanings. But I would suspect all these well-placed Death Eaters is the reason why Albus has never told us his suspicions and shared with us what has happened with Harry Potter in the last few years." He gestured towards the pensieve.

"Well, let's work up a list of targets." Amelia said. "I'd like your spy back on the job too if possible."

"I'll speak with him." Bertie promised. He sighed and tapped the parchment. "Your second prong of attack, Operation Treasure Hunt. You think there are more of these objects similar to the diary?"

"We know of six in total. Harry destroyed the diary but there are five others." Sirius said.

"Seven being the magical number." Bertie shook his head. "Merlin, Riddle was truly insane. I assume these objects are what I think they are? That a murder must be committed to create one?"

Sirius nodded curtly.

"The Unspeakables have studied these…objects in the past. They discovered one in Egypt and another in Africa. Once the Unspeakables at the time had learned all they could, the objects were destroyed. There are only two methods of disposal – a large furnace with high temperature fire reminiscent of Fiendfyre will be sufficient or dissolution in a highly erosive acid such as basilisk venom. The hunt and disposal should be undertaken by my department." Bertie said solemnly.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Voldemort had protections around those that haven't been retrieved." Sirius commented.

"My department can handle it. We have several good curse-breakers and spell specialists." Bertie said.

"As neither of you are actually saying what these objects are, can I assume that they are indeed unspeakable?" Amelia said with an amused smirk.

Sirius felt his lips twitch and smiled a thank you at her for lightening the moment. "They are that."

"They are Evil most foul." Bertie concurred. "We will need independent witnesses to testify that the objects are destroyed by us. I will not have claims that we kept one for study – there is no need and I will not risk the safety of the wizarding population."

"I suggest Sirius in his capacity of Lord Black acts as one witness," Cornelius said, nodding his agreement, "and perhaps we can do the rest of the honours?"

"I don't disagree but we're getting ahead of ourselves," Sirius pointed out, "we do need to find these objects first."

Bertie nodded. "I'll put a team together. Again, I will make a vow of loyalty and confidentiality to be mandatory."

"Well, the last prong belongs to Sirius and I," Cornelius said firmly, "and that is Operation Power Play."

Sirius refrained from rolling his eyes at the name Cornelius had come up with. "Cornelius and I will work on pushing through some new laws to make it harder for Voldemort to gain control."

"So effectively shutting down his finances and getting us better relationships with those he would ally with?" Amelia deduced.

Bertie raised his eyebrows. "That won't be easy with the current Wizengamot."

Sirius smirked. "The current Wizengamot is about to find itself with a new Lord Black who is also the Potter Regent."

"Lucius will be muzzled, one way or another." Cornelius said briskly. "The old Pureblood alliance will find itself adrift from current opinion. I think many of those families will not want to ally with Voldemort when they realise the truth about his origins. Some of them may find themselves eager to remain neutral at least and…"

"And we can see that clearly you and Sirius will have the political machinations under control." Amelia cut in. "Well, I think we've covered everything so…"

"Not everything." Bertie said firmly. He turned to Sirius. "There is another prong that we have not discussed: your ward, Harry Potter."

Sirius found himself pinned by Bertie's perceptive gaze. "My godson is not up for discussion."

"I can understand why you wouldn't want him to be but I'm afraid he must be." Bertie countered. "There is no doubt after seeing these memories that Voldemort has an unhealthy interest in him; that there is a connection. If I was running Amelia's tag team, I'd be watching young Harry because Voldemort will make a move on the boy. There are two rituals he could use to create a body that involve the use of an enemy and I would think Harry would be his target. Even if he doesn't use him in a ritual, I cannot see Voldemort allowing the existence of a boy who almost killed him, who has so defied him, to continue. I think you know this too."

Sirius resisted the urge to order everyone out of the house; to run to Griffin House, snatch up Harry and run far away. Instead he forced himself to reply to Bertie. "I'm not denying that I know Harry will be a target but I don't want Harry involved. He's not even officially fourteen yet. He's had to face Voldemort too many times as it is. We're the adults here; this should be our job."

"Hear, hear." Amelia said softly. "Sirius is right, Bertie. Harry may be the Boy Who Lived but the key word is boy. This isn't his fight."

Bertie sighed. "There is a prophecy which sits on a shelf in the DOM labelled with both the Dark Lord's name and Harry Potter's."

The second confirmation of the prophecy had Sirius flinching and turning away, pacing restlessly to the fireplace and back again.

"We know." Sirius admitted. "My steward and I compared notes on why James and Lily went into hiding and we realised it was probably a prophecy. Madame Longbottom confirmed it when we renewed the Potter-Longbottom alliance yesterday."

"Albus never told you?" Bertie asked surprised. "The prophecy was told to him by Sybill Trelawney the year Harry was born. Neville Longbottom was the other candidate but ultimately it was Harry who fitted the bill."

"You know the exact prophecy?" Cornelius asked, speaking up for the first time since Bertie had raised the topic of Harry.

"No," Bertie said, glancing back at Sirius, "but we can guess the contents since it was hearing the beginning of this prophecy that compelled Riddle into attacking the Potters. I believe he hoped to eliminate a prophesised threat."

"Harry." Cornelius surmised. He looked over at Sirius. "We should know the exact contents of the prophecy."

"I had intended to track it down," Sirius admitted, "but let me make one thing clear right now: even if this prophecy says Harry is a threat to Voldemort, it will still make no difference. I will protect Harry as much as possible and I will proceed with or without your help with the plan."

Cornelius's eyes opened wide in surprise. "Oh no, I wasn't suggesting we abandon our plan. No, no. I always believed prophecies are a waste of paper – I never did get the point of Divination." He made a dismissive gesture with one hand. "Whole load of hooey if you ask me…but we should know what the prophecy says to understand what You-Know-Who knows."

"I believe Sirius here needs to know," Bertie corrected, "and his ward if that's his decision but the rest of us don't need to know." He spread his hands out wide in a conciliatory gesture. "We don't actually know how much of the prophecy Voldemort knows. My spy believed Voldemort's intelligence about the prophecy was sketchy at best and learned from a Death Eater eavesdropping on Dumbledore and Trelawney's meeting."

"I agree with Bertie." Amelia said firmly. "As much as I abhor that Dumbledore hasn't shared vital information, the reality is that we should keep certain things on a need-to-know basis even among the four of us who I guess form a War Council of sorts. The exact nature of unspeakable objects at the heart of the Treasure Hunt prong is obviously one need-to-know piece of information; the prophecy is another. There may be political manoeuvrings that are best left between yourself and Lord Black, Cornelius."

Cornelius didn't look pleased but he nodded. "Very well." He turned to Sirius. "May I offer you additional protection for Harry?"

"Thank you but no." Sirius replied politely. "I believe the best way to protect Harry outside of Hogwarts is to ensure as few people as possible know and have access to his location and plans ahead of time."

"And inside Hogwarts?" Amelia asked, pointing at the pensieve. "I don't know about you but I will definitely be following up with Dumbledore on a number of issues after seeing those memories and I would think you'll do the same."

"And you'd be right. Harry loves Hogwarts and I won't keep him from attending," Sirius confirmed, "but by the same token, I'm going to need some reassurances from Dumbledore about Harry's safety within the school."

"Is Harry here?" Cornelius asked looking up towards the ceiling.

"No," Sirius said sharply, "I'll be using this as a base of operations for the Wizengamot, so: no. Our home is elsewhere."

"It sounds as though you have the boy's safety well in hand, in which case, may I suggest that you owl me a time for us to arrange for you to hear the prophecy at the DOM? Once you learn the exact contents, you may wish to revise your plans and I'm sure the Minister will all offer any assistance you may need." Bertie suggested.

"Absolutely." Cornelius agreed obsequiously.

Sirius nodded his agreement, hoping that the prophecy contents wouldn't change anything he'd already arranged with Harry.

"We should also agree what we're going to do about Albus." Bertie said, looking around the room and catching everybody's eye. "He is the Chief Warlock. From an official point of view, if this is a War Council, he should be part of these discussions." He motioned at Amelia who had grimaced. "I don't deny he's kept secrets but we could use his knowledge and expertise going forward."

"Sirius and I came to the same conclusion." Cornelius said.

Sirius sighed and turned to the folder Penelope had placed on a side table in anticipation of the meeting. He extracted the three parchments and handed one to each of his visitors.

Amelia's eyes widened as she read the invitation. "You're adopting Harry tomorrow?"

"Yes," Sirius confirmed, "and you're all invited…"

"I'd be delighted!" Cornelius said brightly. He looked chuffed to bits and Sirius knew he was doing an internal dance of glee that he would be present at such a prestigious event.

"As will I." Bertie said with a smile. "It is a long time since I saw family magic in action. May I ask what this has to do with Albus?"

"You want to ensure that Albus can do nothing to challenge your guardianship before he is brought into the Council." Amelia stated, motioning with the parchment she held. "If the official Ministry witnesses are us, it will be difficult for him to argue it isn't valid."

"Yes," Sirius confirmed baldly, "with tomorrow's adoption ritual, I aim to ensure that he won't be able to challenge my guardianship of Harry. Look," he sighed heavily, "Dumbledore already knows the things I've shown you. I have no doubt that he has some grand plan in mind for defeating Voldemort – and I'm certain that plan involves Harry. What he needs to understand is that he no longer has a say in what happens to Harry outside of his schooling at Hogwarts and that there are others now with a plan." He paused. "I like our plan. I think our plan is sensible and will work. I believe it is best for Albus Dumbledore to realise these things and help us but I'm not blind to the fact that unless we have all our ducks in a row, he will find some way of convincing everybody he knows best."

"You may be right," Bertie began.

"Maybe?" scoffed Cornelius stabbing a finger in Bertie's direction. "He's perfectly right and you know it! Albus always believes he knows best. I'm prepared to admit that some of the time he does, although perhaps if he shared more than 'but it's for the greater good' it would be easier to accept his reasoning. But he's made mistakes as the past couple of weeks have clearly shown. He was partially responsible for a man not getting a trial and because of that he left a child, who vanquished the most terrible Dark Wizard of our time, with abusive and neglectful muggles who hated magic! He's almost gotten the boy killed twice looking at those memories! No, I agree Albus should be a part of our Council but Sirius is quite right: Albus also needs to understand that he will not be leading the fight and we do not always have to submit to his way of doing things."

Amelia was quietly nodding and Bertie looked at her questioningly.

"You too, Amelia?"

"I have a lot of respect for Albus Dumbledore," Amelia said firmly, "but I cannot deny Cornelius's point or Sirius's: Dumbledore has made mistakes here especially with Harry. It seems likely to me given Dumbledore's actions to date," she waved a hand towards the pensieve again, "that he'll place Harry at the centre of any plan. I agree with Sirius that we should not accept any plan that relies upon a thirteen year old boy."

"Albus may have placed Harry in such a position because of the prophecy." Bertie pointed out.

"Well, he can bloody well unplace him!" Sirius retorted fiercely.

Amelia pinned Bertie with a frank stare. "Apart from the fact that for the first time I find myself in complete agreement with Cornelius in that I also believe prophecies are a load of hooey, do you honestly believe we would be better served placing the defeat of an evil like Voldemort on the shoulders of a young inexperienced and partially trained wizard, and sitting around twiddling our thumbs as Dumbledore seems to be doing, rather than the plan we've come up?" She pointed at the parchment on the table.

"No," Bertie sighed, inclining his head, "and I happen to agree that it would be best for us to present Albus with a fait accompli. However, I do believe the prophecy has some merit just as I believe the third memory we witnessed with the prophecy of the servant helping his master has some merit. We may try to keep Harry safe and out of the fight but prophecies have a way of coming true despite our best intentions."

"Perhaps," Sirius allowed, "and I will say that I am ensuring Harry is tutored as much as possible so he has a fighting chance if the worst comes to the worst. I will do as much as possible to ensure that he has every advantage when he faces him. However, I will not have the assumption made that it must be Harry who defeats Voldemort."

Bertie nodded. "Fair enough."

"I do have one concern, Sirius," Amelia said, waving her invitation at him, "the adoption? You've only spent just over a week with Harry as your ward. I know you want to shut down any avenue Dumbledore has to challenge you but I'm not convinced it's a good idea to push it through so fast."

"And I would agree with you if I had spent just over a week with Harry." He held up a hand before she could argue. "You remember that you insisted on my getting medical treatment?"

She nodded warily. "You took Harry with you for a week's treatment in a clinic abroad."

"Yes," Sirius said, "we went to the Valley clinic. It exists in a time bubble. A week passes on the outside and months can pass inside. Harry and I spent two months there together."

Bertie's expression brightened again. "With Noshi Blackhawk? How is he?"

"He's good. Very good and an excellent healer. Harry and I are both back to full health now." Sirius leaned against the mantelpiece and turned back to Amelia. "Maybe the adoption is fast but it's something we both want."

"Then I'll represent the WOO tomorrow and see that the legal papers are sorted at the same time." Amelia offered. "I assume Brian will be attending?"

"He is." Sirius acknowledged.

"Excellent!" Cornelius exclaimed, clapping his hands. "Now, Sirius will be attending Thursday's session of the Wizengamot and afterwards I believe it would be prudent to meet with Albus and inform him of the plans."

"Why don't we do that Friday morning?" Sirius suggested. "I think I should probably meet with him alone after the session itself."

"Suits me." Amelia said and Bertie nodded in agreement.

"Very well." Cornelius agreed. "Shall we meet weekly for a progress report?"

"We should meet here as we know it is a safe and secure location." Amelia said. "If that's alright with you, Sirius?"

"Fine with me." Sirius said.

They wrapped up the details and Sirius escorted them back to the floo. Cornelius left first, followed by Bertie, leaving Sirius with Amelia.

"I should thank you for all you've done." Sirius said feeling a tad awkward. "I wouldn't be here if you hadn't cleared my name."

Amelia gave an understanding smile. She reached into her robes and brought out a wand box. "I meant to give this to you when I arrived but…here." She handed him the box with a nod of ceremony. "I thought this should be returned to you."

Sirius took the box and opened it swiftly, breathing out sharply at the sight of his old wand. He clutched it to him, the warm familiarity of it rushing through his veins like quicksilver. "Thank you!"

Amelia smiled at him. "You can thank me by looking after Harry." She paused. "I take it the clinic you were at was good for him?"

"For both of us," Sirius repeated, not wanting to give away just how much Harry had required healing.

She nodded though, compassion and understanding lighting her eyes. She said a goodbye which he hastily returned before she tossed her floo powder into the fire. "Ministry of Magic!"

She was gone a moment later leaving Sirius alone in the reception room. He sighed heavily and rubbed his forehead tiredly even as he held his returned wand with glee. The plan was in motion but there was still a lot to do.

o-O-o

"I thought you wanted to wait until the adoption ritual before Harry claimed the Black Heir ring?" Remus questioned Sirius as he positioned Harry in front of his desk in Black Manor.

Harry stared down at the waiting ritual bowl and small knife with a mixture of trepidation and eagerness. He wanted to do the Heir ritual but he had to admit that Sirius's comments about the magic being very Dark in origin worried him.

"I was but I've had a rethink." Sirius said brightly. "Cornelius and I both agree it's best to keep Lucius around but neutered – although that's subject to what Lucius admits to tomorrow – but we also think he'll try and stab us in the back at the first opportunity so…I want to make sure the Heir stuff is all done before tomorrow's family meeting so Lucius has no opportunity to interfere with that."

Remus sighed and nodded. "Should I leave?"

"No, you'll be fine as you're a recognised steward." Sirius assured him. He went to stand beside Harry. "You remember what I told you?"

"I remember." Harry said. "You'll proclaim me Heir; I'll accept, and then the magic tests me."

"Right."

"Not to be a killjoy but that test could take some time and we are expected at the Weasleys." Remus pointed out as he took position on the other side of Harry.

"You're expected at the Weasleys – Harry and I are unexpected guests accompanying you!" He waggled his eyebrows and Harry hid a smile. They'd decided on the subterfuge because the Weasleys seemed very respectful of Dumbledore. They didn't think the Weasleys knew that Dumbledore was in Thailand and why, but Sirius wasn't taking any chances.

"Thank you." Remus said dryly. "So it's only me who'll hear the sharp edge of Molly Weasley's tongue."

"We have plenty of time before we go to the Weasleys." Sirius contradicted. He waved his hand dismissively. "Besides, if this goes anything like his Potter inheritance ritual, we'll be out of here in thirty seconds flat." He grinned at Harry who rolled his eyes at his godfather.

"OK, let's get on with it." Remus ordered.

"Familius magicus." Sirius picked up his wand and tapped the ritual bowl. Silver sparkles erupted from the bowl; he cut his palm, allowing the blood to drip into the hollow. "I, Sirius Orion Black, Head of the House of Black name Harry James Potter, Head of the House of Potter as Heir to the House of Black, by blood, by magic, by law, and by this oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

Harry took the ritual knife and repressed the nerves that were running rampant in his belly. He sliced his palm with a grimace and let the blood drop into the bowl with Sirius's. "I, Harry James Potter, Head of the House of Potter, accept the duties of Heir to the House of Black, by blood, by magic, by law and by this my oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

The Black magic rose up sharply and surrounded Harry in a silver mist. He could feel it pressing against him, testing him. It was so different to the Potter magic which had been warm and welcoming; the Black magic was cold and icy in comparison. But he remained firm in the centre of the silver tempest. He wanted this to work for Sirius because he owed his godfather more than words could say for getting him away from the Dursleys and giving him a home, for loving him.

Abruptly the magic left and settled above the ritual bowl in the shape of a silver snake. Harry felt the ring settle on his finger.

Harry didn't think; he just opened his mouth. "Hello."

The snake rose up, its hood flaring. "A speaker."

"Yes." Harry said. "Have you had a speaker before?"

"Only one other speaker has come before you, youngling." The snake rippled and twisted.

"Sirius told me you were a snake but I didn't realise I would be able to speak to you." Harry said, fascinated by the snake.

"You are a speaker and so we can understand each other. Know this, Heir of Black, Lord of Potter: you are of our blood and magic, youngling. We will do all that we can to protect you just as the griffin of Potter." The snake shifted, glancing towards Sirius who Harry realised belatedly was looking on with concern. "We reunited you once before and always will again when called; remember that, youngling."

The snake vanished without another word and Harry caught his breath as he felt his skin tingle coldly for a long moment as though the Black magic was seeping into him.

"Harry?" Sirius placed a hand carefully on Harry's shoulder.

Harry looked up at him and smiled. "I'm fine. The snake said it would protect me like the griffin."

"Ah." Sirius didn't look any less concerned and Harry wondered why.

"That's good, isn't it?" Harry questioned warily.

Sirius and Remus exchanged a look over Harry's head.

"What?" demanded Harry, annoyed.

"It's just surprising." Sirius said finally. "Family magic isn't supposed to work the way it does for you. I've never heard of the totems being so…" he whirled his hand about his head, "interactive? Talkative? Cooperative? Protective? All of the above?"

"Oh." Harry frowned. "Well, the snake did say it hadn't had the chance to talk with a speaker in a long while and I would guess the other totems don't have a way of speaking?"

"That's a good point." Remus said. "And at least we know you still have your parseltongue ability. I had wondered if the cleansing of your scar might have, uh, taken it away."

Harry nodded slowly. He'd wondered the same thing. "I guess I'm stuck with it."

"I know it isn't the most popular ability to have, Harry," Sirius comforted him, "but it could prove to be useful in the future."

"Only if I plan on becoming a snake handler." Harry joked, his tension easing again with the evidence that it didn't matter to Sirius and Remus that he was a parselmouth.

"Funny." Remus nudged him, caught sight of the clock and blanched. "We should leave."

Sirius rolled his eyes but carefully cleaned the bowl and knife before locking them away. Remus hurried them out of the study and towards the floo. Remus went first to warn the Weasleys of the additions to the visit and Sirius had Harry go next.

Harry stumbled out of the floo into the Burrow and gave quiet thanks that he hadn't ended up flat on his face. He moved out of the way to allow Sirius room to walk through and was immediately gathered into a hug by Molly Weasley.

"Harry!" She beamed at him as she stepped back and Harry took the opportunity to step away and stand beside a grinning Ron. "It's so good to see you! And don't you look well? You're still a bit skinny though but no matter; we can feed you up tonight!"

"We weren't expecting dinner," Remus said quickly, "and we wouldn't want to put you out."

"Nonsense!" Molly chided him. "It's only another couple of mouths to feed."

Sirius stepped through with elegant precision and Harry could see Molly stiffen a tad.

"Apologies," Sirius said, "I had a small delay on the other side." He offered his hand to Molly and she reached out to take his, surprise widening her eyes when he turned her hand over deftly and kissed her knuckles. "Madame Weasley."

Arthur, who had been standing off to the side, a half-read Daily Prophet tucked under his arm, moved forward. His eyes quickly caught on the crests on Sirius's robes and the ring he wore. "Lord Black."

"Mister Weasley." Sirius shook hands solemnly. "Please call me Sirius."

"Blimey," Ron muttered under his breath at Harry, "this is all a bit serious." He elbowed Harry and snickered. "Serious! Get it!"

Molly shot her youngest son a look that shouted 'behave!'

"It's Arthur and Molly." Arthur answered in reply to Sirius's earlier request. He waved around the rest of his brood which included an older looking Weasley that Harry hadn't seen before. "My eldest, Bill; Percy; the twins, Fred and George; you know Ron, of course, and finally; Ginny. We're just missing Charlie."

They all gave small waves or muttered hellos.

"Well, this is an unexpected pleasure!" Molly said brightly. "It's so good of Professor Lupin to bring you both!"

"Please; it's Remus." Remus said quickly. "I've only just broken Harry out of the habit of calling me Professor."

He had too, Harry mused, smiling back at him.

"I'm afraid the subterfuge is my fault." Sirius said smoothly apologising for their unexpected arrival. "Not many people know Harry's already in my custody and we're keeping a low profile at the moment until we can make the formal announcements at the Wizengamot."

Arthur nodded understandingly. "May we congratulate you both on the guardianship?"

Molly looked desperate to say something but she held her tongue.

"Thank you." Harry said proudly.

Sirius ruffled his hair and smiled at him affectionately. "We're both very pleased." He sobered a little and motioned at Arthur. "The reason for the visit is there's a bit of business between our various Houses that we should discuss. May we make use of your dining table?"

"Of course," Arthur's gaze sharpened on Sirius's.

Molly waved her hands in a shooing motion. "All of you children go and play outside!"

Sirius placed a hand on Harry's arm to prevent his leaving and cleared his throat. "Harry will be staying, Molly, as both Head of the House of Potter and Heir to the House of Black, he has to be present."

The want to protest was written across Molly's face as prominently as her freckles but she nodded sharply conceding in the face of Sirius invoking the House positions.

"And as this involves a service Ron has performed for both our Houses, you may wish for him to stay." Sirius continued undaunted. "But that is of course at your discretion…" his gaze moved from Molly, "Arthur."

Molly's head snapped around to her husband's with frantic speed. "Arthur, dear…"

"Ron can stay," Arthur said firmly, "and Bill…"

His eldest son paused in his bid for the exit.

"You should stay as my Heir." Arthur gestured toward the table with a succinct head move.

It was odd and awkward, Harry thought, as Arthur ushered Sirius, Remus and Harry into seats on one side of the table, grabbing Ron before he could sit next to Harry. The three Weasley males sat opposite and Molly plonked herself down next to Arthur. From the looks exchanged between Arthur and Molly, Harry surmised Molly wasn't supposed to attend but was insisting on being part of the proceedings.

Arthur gave in with a sigh. "I have to admit to being surprised," he said to Sirius, "it's been a long time since the Weasleys were openly acknowledged as an Ancient and Noble House."

Sirius shrugged easily. "There's more to House honour than the trappings, Arthur." He gestured at the thinning red-head across the table. "You may regain your seat in time if not your title but that's for discussion another day."

Arthur's eyebrows rose up his forehead. "And today's discussion?"

"Well, the first bit of business is Harry's." Sirius nudged him gently.

Harry cleared his throat nervously. "Mister Weasley, you and your family have been very kind to me since I came back to the wizarding world and Ron was my first friend of my own age so…" he took a deep breath, "as, um, Head of the House of Potter, I would be honoured if you'd consider an alliance between the House of Weasley and the House of Potter."

Ron, who had blushed bright red at Harry's pronouncement of their friendship, beamed at him. Evidently he knew enough about the traditions to know that an alliance was something of immense importance, and to have a House of the status of the Potters request an alliance was a significant honour especially in light of the House of Weasley's relatively low status. Bill also looked pleased if mildly surprised.

Molly looked astounded and she darted a look at her equally stunned husband.

"That's…" Arthur started again and cleared his throat, "that's a lovely thought, Harry, but…"

Harry's heart sank.

Sirius cut in. "We thought the terms should be an alliance of friendship between the Houses, Arthur."

Because the Weasleys weren't in a political or financial position to agree an alliance of mutual aid and support having lost their Wizengamot seat years before. Harry believed there wasn't really a difference in the intent of the alliance just the wording.

Arthur's face brightened. "Friendship?" He looked from Harry to Sirius and back again. "Lord Potter, I would be honoured to accept such an alliance. How could I not?"

Ron and Harry grinned at each other. Harry felt Sirius not-so-subtly nudge him again.

"Thank you, Mister Weasley."

"I think it's probably time to start calling me Arthur, Harry." He said with a smile. He frowned suddenly. "I'm afraid I don't think I have our ritual bowl on hand. It's probably somewhere in the family vault."

"We can complete the alliance ritual another time," Sirius said agreeably, "your word is certainly enough until we can perform it."

Molly smiled at Harry. "That's a lovely thing you've just done for our family, Harry. Thank you."

Harry blushed.

"Our second piece of business," Sirius said rescuing him, "involves the House of Black. I hope in time that we will also agree an alliance of friendship but clearly we need to get to know each other a lot better before then."

Arthur nodded. "Agreed."

"For now the bit of business we have involves a debt of honour between us." Sirius said. "I did get, uh, rather enthusiastic when I went after the rat at Hogwarts, and Ron here did end up getting accidentally injured…"

Harry watched warily as Molly's expression took on a note of anger. He wondered whether Ron had told her about getting his leg injured or about the night Sirius had ambushed him.

"According to my solicitor, you were easily within your rights to have me charged with assault." Sirius concluded, keeping his remarks addressed to Arthur. "If you had I would still be on the run…"

Remus coughed.

"Or back in Azkaban," allowed Sirius, "and Harry would still be at the Dursleys."

Harry was pleased to see that mollified Ron's mother a little.

"In gratitude for your act of kindness and to honour the debt between us, I would like to assume financial responsibility for Ron's education up to and including a Mastery if he wishes to pursue one. His tuition fees, his school supplies and a small allowance to be agreed with yourselves would be included." Sirius said.

"Woah." Ron muttered, his eyes wide.

Remus plucked a parchment from the pocket in his robes and handed it to Arthur. "All the details are stated here, Arthur."

"Well, we couldn't possibly…" Molly began.

"Molly." Arthur's firm use of her name had Molly subsiding. He handed the parchment to Bill. "It's a generous offer but you understand that it isn't necessary, I hope? My decision was made in the same spirit of friendship that is at the heart of the new alliance between the Houses of Potter and Weasley."

Sirius smiled. "Granted, but I'm afraid my House honour demands I repay you, Arthur. I won't take no for an answer."

Ron was almost beside him, squirming on the chair beside Bill. He looked anxiously from his father to Sirius and back. Harry could guess at his friend's feelings: Ron was hopeful that the time of always ending up with second-hand clothes and books and everything was at an end. Harry could relate.

Arthur sighed. He gestured at his eldest son. "What's your view here, Bill?"

Bill set the parchment down on the table. He had a serious expression on his amiable face. The earring he wore glinted in the late evening sunlight streaming through the window. "Everything seems to be in order from a legal point of view." He said. "It's a generous offer but in order for me to know if it satisfies the debt, I'll need to know what exactly happened and how Ron got injured?"

"It's a fair question." Sirius said, stopping Arthur from dismissing his son's query. "Let's see, I guess you know the background context of me being innocent, Peter being the traitor hiding out disguised as your family's pet rat?"

Bill nodded.

"Well, I guess there are two incidents. The first one I merely scared Ron by breaking into the dorm and trying to get to the rat there. And the second one, I ambushed him on the Hogwarts grounds while he was carrying the rat and dragged him into a tunnel to the Shrieking Shack, accidentally breaking his leg in the process."

"You broke my son's leg?" Molly yelled loudly.

Arthur turned to her with a fierce expression. "Molly."

Molly glared at her husband and sat back with an angry huff.

"I was right as rain the next day, honest, Mum." Ron said tentatively.

"Well," Bill said, with a smile in Ron's direction, "I give my blessing to the proposal. I think as Sirius interrupted Ron's education this last year, paying for his future education is an acceptable payment." He paused. "But in fairness to the House of Black I think we should only agree on the basis of Ron maintaining Acceptable grades."

Ron grimaced.

"I agree." Arthur said. He looked at his youngest son. "We don't expect Outstandings across the board, but if you fail anything, we shouldn't expect Lord Black to continue paying for you."

Bill added the addendum and handed the contract back to Remus to review. Remus nodded at Sirius.

Sirius conjured a quill and signed the parchment, passing both over to Arthur so he could do the same.

"Yes!" Ron said gleefully.

"Remember this agreement is dependent on you getting good grades, Ron." Arthur said.

Molly nodded her agreement, her eyes narrowing on Sirius again. "At the same time, I'm not sure money can make up for harming a child." She said frostily.

Harry inched closer to Sirius, hearing the anger in Molly's voice.

"I agree with you," Sirius said simply, surprising everyone at the table, "although in my defence I wasn't quite sane at the time. Twelve years in Azkaban as an innocent man took its toll."

Molly had the grace to look discomforted but the glint in her eye told Harry she hadn't completely given up the fight. "And you're sane now? After only a week of healing?"

"Molly!" Arthur protested, his face burning as brightly red as his hair.

"Harry and I spent some time at the Valley clinic in the States." Sirius informed briskly. "As you may know it's located in a time bubble. We spent about two months there in the week we were gone in normal time."

Molly opened her mouth to speak again.

"However, that's beside the point," Sirius said before she could speak, "regardless of my questionable sanity, I know what I would do to anyone who broke Harry's leg even accidentally so yes, I agree with you that monetary compensation can't make up for what I did. And knowing that, I assure you the scholarship isn't an apology for that act; it's a thank you for not pressing legal charges so I could take guardianship of my godson."

Arthur placed a hand on Molly's arm. "I'm grateful that you can appreciate my wife's point of view. As Ron doesn't seem to hold a grudge and it was him that was harmed, I suggest we put it in the past and move on." His gaze rested on his wife's intently.

Molly gave a huff and nodded.

Sirius inclined his head. "Thank you."

"Ron," Arthur said, turning in his chair to face his son, "there's some additional business that I have with the House of Potter that you don't need to stay for, son. You can go and join your brothers and sister outside."

Ron looked as though he wanted to protest but he threw Harry a vaguely apologetic look and pushed his chair away from the table, swiftly departing the house.

Harry looked at Arthur confused, wondering what other business they could have to discuss.

"Harry," Arthur sighed and rubbed at his forehead, "I had discussed this previously with the Headmaster as at the time there was no regent or steward assigned to represent you but now you've claimed your ring and have Sirius and Remus here to advise you…"

"You wish to discuss the life debt your daughter owes Harry." Remus concluded.

Sirius raised an eyebrow questioningly at Remus as Harry shifted uncomfortably at Arthur's nod of agreement.

"It wasn't that hard to deduce, Padfoot." Remus defended quietly.

Harry knew from his discussions with Sirius about the life debt Sirius owed Hermione and himself that he couldn't say he didn't care about the life debt – he didn't but it wasn't good form to dismiss it as it was like saying he didn't care that he'd saved Ginny's life which was untrue.

"What life debt?" asked Bill, frowning at his father.

Arthur sighed and quickly explained about Ginny's possession, the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets and the diary.

"Why didn't anybody tell me?" Bill asked, horror written clearly in his blue eyes.

Molly glared at him. "You were the one who chose to work abroad as a curse-breaker, William…"

"You spent most of last summer with me, Mum, I'm sure there was a chance to tell me." Bill rejoined. "No wonder Ginny spent so much time quizzing me about possessions!"

"Clearly," Arthur broke in as Molly bristled angrily beside him, "we should discuss this more in private after our guests have left but in the meantime, we do have the life debt to settle."

Sirius cleared his throat. "What did you propose to Albus Dumbledore when you spoke with him?"

Arthur shook his head. "It wasn't so much a proposal as a discussion. I did tentatively suggest that we'd be happy for Harry consider the Burrow a second home and to have him during the Summer instead of his going back to his relatives in the muggle world."

Harry could guess where the discussion was going.

"Let me guess; he shot down the suggestion." Sirius said sarcastically enough to get another disapproving frown from Molly.

"Albus thought Harry was too young to deal with responsibilities such as life debts…" Arthur replied mildly and Molly muttered her agreement, "and that Harry was safest at his muggle relatives."

Harry flushed in embarrassment and anger. He felt Sirius's hand on his shoulder but he stared at the table and took a deep breath; he really didn't want to lose control of his magic.

"Well, that was then and this is now," said Remus soothingly. "Obviously your first suggestion, while a wonderful idea at the time, is no longer needed given recent events."

"And I'm afraid that is where we come unstuck." Arthur admitted. "Ginny…Ginny is our only daughter and frankly one that was very much wanted. She holds a great deal of value in our eyes. A place in our family would have been equal to that value and paid the debt she incurred, but I'm not entirely certain what else I have to offer beyond the land that comes with the Burrow or my sworn service to the House of Potter."

Molly shifted in her seat, worrying her lower lip as she folded her arms. Harry knew that they could demand the service of Ginny herself – it was her who owed the debt. He had no idea what he was supposed to say.

"Or the sworn service of your Heir." Sirius said with a thoughtful expression, staring at Bill.

Bill sat up straighter although a hint of worry lurked in his eyes. "If that's what is required, I will fulfil the debt on behalf of Ginny."

Harry tapped Sirius on the arm hurriedly and gestured towards the living area. "Can we speak for a moment?"

Sirius nodded. "If you'll excuse us, we'll be just a moment."

The House of Potter representatives made their way to the front of the sofa and Remus erected a privacy bubble.

"What are you doing?" Harry demanded immediately. "Ron says Bill loves his job! I can't take that away from him."

"Of course not." Sirius assured him. "And there are details to be worked out but it would be very useful to have a Goblin trained curse-breaker for our little treasure hunt."

Remus nodded sagely. "It also gives us someone of our own in Croaker's team. Bertie won't be able to refuse because of the life debt angle."

Harry frowned. "OK, so it might be useful but it's not exactly fair of us to drag him away from his own job. What happens when the treasure hunt is over?"

"I should be able to get something arranged at Gringotts – a leave of absence to fulfil a family debt for the period of the treasure hunt, something like that." Sirius assured Harry.

"Or how about an exchange of knowledge as part of the treasure hunt?" Remus suggested. "Bill spends the time learning from the Unspeakables; the Unspeakables get some Goblin knowledge. The vows he'll have to take will be difficult but not impossible…" he trailed off as he noticed both Sirius and Harry staring at him. "It's a thought."

Sirius looked at him sceptically. "I can't see either the Goblins or Croaker going for it."

"Well, we won't know until we've sat all parties down to discuss the matter." Remus said. "I suggest we get Bill's tentative agreement subject to something being arranged with Gringotts about his ongoing employment." He hesitated for a moment. "You know thinking about it…do you believe that given a choice Bill will turn down hunting and destroying other objects like the diary that hurt his sister anyway?"

"No," Harry answered immediately, "not if he's anything like Ron."

They all turned back to glance at the dining table and saw the curious expressions on the faces of the waiting Weasleys.

"OK, new plan," declared Sirius, "we tell Bill about the treasure hunt subject to an oath of confidentiality. We'll offer to help make an arrangement with Gringotts and if that doesn't happen, once the treasure hunt is over, we'll set Bill up in a new curse-breaking business funded by Potter and Black."

Harry nodded slowly. "OK."

They both looked at Remus.

"I agree." Remus confirmed. He took down the privacy bubble and made their way back to the table.

Sirius waited until they were all seated. "Let me start by saying that we are all agreed that if we go with a service arrangement for the life debt that we will do our utmost to ensure the impact to Bill's career is minimal." He began.

Harry was pleased when Bill's eyes brightened with relief as did Arthur's.

"Exactly how we'll do that we don't know as yet but I'm sure it'll involve a discussion with Gringotts. What can you say about your employment contract?" Sirius asked.

Bill motioned across the table. "Not much as you would guess with it being a Gringotts' contract. I can tell you that I signed on for ten years, that Mastery in Runic Warding is part of the deal and I got that two years ago, and that there are penalties for non-completion. Beyond that…there are the usual oaths that Gringotts requires of its employees."

"Hmmm." Sirius said. "So you have five years to go and the penalties are financial?"

Bill nodded.

Molly cleared her throat. "If this is the only way to honour the life debt the Goblins would understand that wouldn't they?"

And Harry realised from the hope in Molly's eyes that service to the House of Potter would mean Bill would be doing something less dangerous and would return to England.

"They'd probably not press the oath-breaking penalty as a life debt would take higher precedence," Bill informed her, "but they would certainly enact the financial penalties." He sighed. "I could afford it with what I have saved…"

Harry stirred uneasily in his chair and looked at Sirius beseechingly.

"Any penalties would be covered by the House of Potter," Sirius said, catching on immediately, "but we will try and arrange a leave of absence so the penalties aren't incurred at all. If you have to leave Gringotts, we'll also ensure your career continues as you wish."

Bill's eyes widened in pleased surprise even as his mother's face fell with the assurance that Bill would continue with his wanted profession. Harry guessed Ron's brother had worried that service meant the end of his career.

"In fact, the reason why I thought of you rather than your father to honour the life debt is that the House of Potter has a project where your talents as a curse-breaker would be useful." Sirius continued. "We will need a vow of confidentiality before I say anything more and assurances that you practice Occlumency."

"Well, I never…" Molly protested.

Arthur shot her another pleading look and she subsided. "My Occlumency is not…good." He admitted. "If I wore my Head of House ring I would be protected but I've never seen a need to wear it and it's in the vault."

"I'm Goblin trained." Bill said. "They don't start teaching you anything of import until you can do Occlumency." He smiled at Harry. "They like to know their secrets will remain secret."

"Why don't Bill and I head to another room and I'll inform him of the project?" Sirius suggested. "If you're happy for only Bill to be privy to the details of the service we require and whether it will satisfy the debt on behalf of the House of Weasley, Arthur?"

Arthur frowned but nodded. "Well, as it mostly will affect Bill…I'll leave the decision to my Heir then."

Sirius smiled widely. "Bill, if you could lead the way?"

Bill got up and motioned for Sirius to follow him up the stairs. Harry deduced they were going to use a bedroom.

"Well, I'll start dinner." Molly said brightly, getting up. "You will all stay, Remus?"

"I'm afraid not, Molly." Remus said politely. "Thank you very much for the invitation, but we're expected home for dinner and Dobby will be anxious if we don't show. Another time, perhaps."

Molly frowned heavily but nodded. She headed over to the stove and began banging pots and pans as she assembled them.

Arthur cleared his throat, ostensibly ignoring his wife. "Harry, has Ron mentioned the Quidditch World Cup?"

Harry gave a smile and a nod. "He said you hoped to get tickets."

"There's still some finagling to do but we're almost set on that score. You're more than welcome to come with us." Arthur said warmly. "We're going to camp there the night before and after so it'll be a real trip."

"Sirius said he'd talk to you about it." Harry promised. "It sounds like fun."

"So far it's just been a lot of work." Arthur said with a smile. "I've had my colleagues at the Department of Magical Games and Sports complaining at me every lunch hour."

"Is your Department involved in the preparation?" Remus asked, jumping into the conversation when Harry floundered unsure what to say.

"Yes, the pitch site is very close to muggles so we're having to double check everything." Arthur admitted. "Why Bagman decided that place was a good idea…well, I shouldn't criticise really. His assistant Bertha Jorkins was supposed to be back from her holiday and helping by now but she's still away."

"Bertha?" Remus repeated. "I haven't heard that name in years."

Harry sent him an inquiringly look.

"She was a few years ahead of us at school." Remus explained. "Nice girl but a bit of a gossip and rather flaky."

It sounded like Lavender Brown, Harry mused idly.

"That's Bertha." Arthur said. "Ludo's convinced she's just forgotten her return date but I'm not sure she's that dippy."

Molly snorted from her position at the stove. "Bertha is that dippy, Arthur. She'd forget her own head if it wasn't screwed on."

Harry laughed at the comment and Arthur winked and whispered that Molly could be right.

Footsteps on the stairs had them all turning back. Bill looked thunderous while Sirius looked calm. They retook their seats. Molly hurried back, evidently determined not to be left out of the discussion.

"Bill?" inquired Arthur tentatively.

Harry had a feeling he knew why Bill was so angry; the fact that there were objects like the one that had hurt Ginny lying about…it was horrible and terrifying.

"I'll gladly perform the service requested for the House of Potter. We have agreed that I will join the project they have in mind in exchange for a salary matching my Gringotts pay and accommodation in London where I'll be based." Bill said tersely. "We're also agreed that the House of Potter will do its best to ensure my career doesn't suffer. We'll try and organise a leave of absence but if Gringotts won't allow that, I'll leave. Sirius has agreed with me that we'll split the penalties fifty-fifty." He held up a hand before anyone could argue. "For the record, the importance of the project is such that I'd do it if there was no life debt involved hence the penalty agreement, but as the House of Potter is insistent…"

"And we are." Sirius added firmly.

"There we go." Bill said. He looked at his father who nodded in return.

"I trust you, William." Arthur said proudly.

"Then I agree as the Heir of the House of Weasley that the House of Potter shall have my service until the task we have discussed is complete to honour the life debt between Ginevra Molly Weasley and Lord Harry James Potter."

Sirius nudged Harry. "You need to accept."

"I accept on behalf of the House of Potter," Harry said quickly, knowing he was probably breaking a number of protocol rules.

Molly gave a small clap and beamed at her eldest son. "Oh, it'll be so good to have you back! And really, Harry, you don't need to include accommodation, Bill will stay here."

Harry wondered if Bill was really as horrified as he looked.

Sirius cleared his throat. "As the Potter Regent, I'm going to have to insist as a point of honour, Molly. Service for the House has always included accommodation and board, and frankly, we have a lot of properties standing vacant. It would be doing us a favour to have one of them occupied and looked after."

Molly opened her mouth to argue and Arthur jumped in before she could.

"Thank you, Sirius, Harry," Arthur said quickly, "a young man of Bill's age needs his own space." He patted his son's shoulder.

Bill gave a relieved smile and glanced over at Sirius. "I'll arrange a meeting with my bosses at Gringotts for next week." He turned to his father who wore a faintly guilty air. "Don't think for a moment I took this under duress, Dad. I'm more than happy to help with the project Sirius has told me about. If there was no debt and I'd found out about it, I would have quit my job and volunteered."

His parents were stunned by the admission.

"Well," Sirius said brightly, "one further bit of business is this." He plucked a sheet of parchment from his robes and gave it to Arthur. "Your family's invitation to join us for a blessing ritual tomorrow. I know it's short notice but we hope you can make it." He turned to Harry. "Why don't you head outside and spend some time with Ron while Remus and I discuss arrangements with Arthur and Molly? We're done with the official business."

Harry nodded, smiled at the Weasleys and made his escape. Ron was hovering just outside the back door – evidently waiting for him – and he quickly dragged him away from the house to the bottom of the garden. They sat down and Harry frowned at the dampness under his palms.

"Did I hear right?" Ron asked excitedly. "Is Bill going to work for you?"

"Well, for Sirius, really," Harry pointed out. "But, yeah."

Ron grinned at him. "That's great! Bill's really cool! Not like Percy at all!"

Harry smiled at Ron and wished he had a brother or a sister. He pushed away the note of jealousy and focused on his friend.

"I heard you talking about the Quidditch Cup," Ron said, "you are going to come aren't you? It's going to be brilliant."

"Maybe," Harry prevaricated, "I think Sirius will say yes but he has a lot of lessons planned for me this Summer so…" he gave a shrug. He wanted to attend but he had to admit there was a large part of him that didn't want to spend time away from his godfather.

"Lessons?" Ron said outraged. "What lessons?"

"Stuff to do with my being Head of House; etiquette and culture and stuff." Harry said, leaning back and staring up at the sky.

"Blimey," Ron winced, "rather you than me."

Harry took a deep breath. "I'm, uh, also taking Runes. Professor McGonagall agreed that I could drop Divination and take an entry test."

Ron stared at Harry as though he'd grown two heads. "But…but that means I'll be on my own! You're abandoning me!"

"I'm sorry but I can't take another year with Trelawney predicting my death every week!" Harry retorted. "Besides, you're not on your own, the other guys will still be there, Ron," he pointed out, "and if you want, you could do the same and come with me to Runes? Sirius won't mind you joining the lessons."

"Nah," Ron shook his head, "I'm good." He shook his head. "I can't believe you're learning all this other stuff though."

"I need to know it," Harry said, with a touch of annoyance, "I didn't realise there was all these traditions and forms of protocol and everything. I have to learn it as the Head of the House."

"Well, as long as you don't turn into Malfoy." Ron said with a strange glint in his eye that told Harry that on one level Ron was deadly serious.

Harry gave a bit of a forced laugh and reassured him that was highly unlikely. He wasn't surprised when Ron turned the conversation to Quidditch. He gave a quiet sigh of relief as he listened, pleased with Ron's relatively easy acceptance of his new position and his decision about Runes. Sure, there had been a tense moment but they had gotten past it.

Harry ignored a lingering flicker of worry that Ron would have issues with Harry gaining a little independence and focused on Ron's rant about the Cannon's new signings.

Chapter Text

The polite knock at the door to the formal parlour had Sirius pausing mid-sentence with a muttered apology to Miriam Granger and calling out for Penelope to enter.

Her blonde hair was braided into some complicated female thing Sirius had never worked out and she was dressed in formal robes bearing the Black and Potter crests. She smiled cheerfully. "The Tonks' and the Malfoys are both awaiting your presence in your study, Lord Black."

"Right." Sirius grimaced.

It had already been a long morning in some respects; he'd performed the Judgement ritual on the LeStranges in anticipation of the family meeting as soon as he had flooed to Black Manor that morning. He had discussed it with Harry the night before and his godson had been appropriately attentive, understanding the gravity of the decisions that Sirius had made. It would serve as his politics lesson for the week. Sirius wouldn't allow him to witness the ritual though or take part as the Heir as he had known the likelihood of the LeStranges surviving Judgement was small and he didn't want Harry involved with what was in reality an execution.

Harry and Remus had instead collected the Grangers in anticipation of meeting the Tonks' once Sirius had accepted them back into the House of Black. Miriam and Wallace wore good quality if plain muggle clothing while Hermione had formal dress robes in a deep mauve colour that suited her colouring. Minerva had since arrived too and had been delighted to be reintroduced to Hermione's parents, presenting them with a long wished for apology about the various school incidents that helped smooth everything over. They had all settled in the formal parlour for morning tea.

"Show time." Remus pointed out briskly with a grin that Sirius remembered from their Marauder days.

"Good luck." Harry said with a cheeky grin all of his own. Sirius had learned the subtle differences that separated Harry's features and expressions from James's or even Lily's.

Sirius gave him a wink, set his tea down and got to his feet. He headed out of the door and down the corridor. If it hadn't been for the Malfoys he would have had Harry with him as his Heir but he'd talked it over with him and they'd decided it was too risky. Draco and Harry were likely to set each other off and Sirius didn't trust Lucius not to try and murder Harry in front of him no matter what protections the Manor had for its Heir.

He stopped in front of the study door and took a deep breath. He opened the door, strode into the room and closed the door behind him with a sharp bang that caught the attention of his waiting cousins and their families.

He was amused to note that they were politely ignoring each other in the seating area; the Tonks' sat to the far right and the Malfoys closer to the door. Sirius ignored Narcissa's paling face and Lucius's dark look to walk forward and stand in front of his desk.

"Hello, members of the House of Black." Sirius said formally. "Thank you for answering the summons to the family meeting." Andy and Ted gave tentative smiles while their daughter grinned at him happily; the Malfoys were a mix of disinterest (Draco), horror (Narcissa) and glowering anger (Lucius).

"You're Lord Black?" Lucius questioned furiously.

Sirius held up his hand and displayed the ring. "And you're a prat and now we've established that perhaps we can get to business." He heard a badly hidden snicker from Nymphadora Tonks.

Draco bristled. "Father, are you…"

Narcissa put a hand on his arm and silenced him with a look. "My apologies, Lord Black, my husband and son are simply surprised. We had believed the new Lord Black came from the line of Marius Black."

He could see the wheels turning in her eyes as she recalculated what was going to happen.

"Simeon?" Sirius offered with a toothy smile. "Well, in that case you'll be pleased to know that in the event of my unfortunate demise Simeon will take on the mantle of Regent of the House of Black until my Heir is of age. Simeon sends his apologies but he will be in the country later in the summer and will meet up with you all then. He and I have, via correspondence, discussed our new agenda, the decisions that I've made and will make today and are in agreement."

The shocked looks on their faces was priceless.

"Well, that deals with one of my announcements." Sirius said jauntily. "Let's see, second announcement: Lord Harry James Potter is my confirmed Heir by blood, by magic, by oath and by law. He wears the ring. He sends his apologies but he is hosting our other guests for today's later events."

Draco was instantly outraged; his nostrils were flaring, cheeks bright red. Sirius wondered if he was about to see someone combust without the use of flammables. He'd have to show Harry the memory later in a pensieve, Sirius mused.

"By blood?" Narcissa challenged haughtily.

Sirius raised an eyebrow. "I thought you of all people with your love of genealogy would have remembered that Harry's grandmother was a Black, Narcissa, Dorea Black to be exact." He smiled again. "I'm also going to be adopting him later today. Frankly, the family magic loves him. You remember the totem is a snake? Apparently it can talk to Harry; they get on like a house on fire."

Lucius's lips thinned to almost nothing as did Narcissa's.

Sirius began to pace. "Now, to other business. I did think about telling you what our new political agenda will be," he said gesticulating vaguely, "but I decided actions speak louder than words. So…" he stopped and regarded them solemnly. "I have been reviewing our family's actions. Let me start with the LeStranges. Our motto was and is 'Toujours Pur' – Always Pure. It wasn't always about blood no matter what my mad mother might have thought; it was always about the House of Black remaining pure to itself, to its own ideals; never sullied by subjugating themselves to others." He saw Lucius shift on the stuffed sofa the Malfoys were sitting upon. "The House of LeStrange is not here at this family meeting because they did not follow the motto of the House of Black."

"Why would they?" Draco piped up, crossing his arms with an irritated huff. "They're the House of LeStrange."

Sirius glanced at Narcissa who was turning a lovely shade of red. "Well, well, well. You haven't informed your son of the primacy rule between the Houses?"

"Primacy? Why should that matter here?" Draco spoke before his mother could and she turned to him swiftly.

"Be quiet, Draco." Narcissa ordered. "You are not to say another word."

Sirius didn't miss how Draco glanced at his father who gave a sharp nod to follow the order before subsiding.

"Perhaps you should explain about primacy, Narcissa, as clearly your son's education is lacking." Sirius said mildly.

Narcissa glared at him. "He knows that primacy denotes the rank of a House in relation to another."

"But you apparently have failed to inform him that the Ancient and Noble House of Black has primacy over the House of LeStrange, which after all is simply an upstart pureblood Belgian family that immigrated to England during the nineteenth century." Sirius smiled again, all teeth and no humour. "Rodolphus LeStrange petitioned to marry into the House of Black. He got Bellatrix. The marriage contract is quite clear: the House of Black has primacy. LeStrange was contracted to honour that primacy." His eyes flashed angrily. "He failed when he took the Mark of Voldemort."

The room flinched at the name.

"He failed when he allowed Bella to take the Mark of Voldemort." Sirius continued blithely. "And he failed when he allowed his brother to take the Mark. On this single issue alone I would have cause to declare them all oath-breakers but additionally, Bella never produced the two children as contracted and now never will."

He wet his lips and took a deep breath. "Additionally, the House of LeStrange dishonoured our family name and brought our House into disrepute by their attack on the Ancient and Noble House of Longbottom. They created a debt of honour between our Houses. This morning, I summoned the family magic for Judgement against the House of LeStrange."

He saw shock register around the room.

"Having forewarned the Warden at Azkaban, he confirmed post the ritual that all three no longer have their magic." Sirius stated grimly. "Rodolphus and his brother died within an hour."

"Bella?" Andromeda spoke up for the first time. "Do we know…"

"Without magic but stable. Well, I say stable, nuttier than a fruitcake but alive." Sirius informed her gently. Of course, he doubted Bella would remain alive for long. Azkaban was hard enough when a body had magic to sustain it against the harsh conditions there; without magic…

The Malfoys were exchanging concerned looks.

Sirius ignored them. "Before the LeStranges died, I declared the marriage contract broken and seized their vault for the repayment of the dowry. As restitution, all monetary assets from the vault have been turned over to the House of Longbottom. The House of Black has also assumed financial responsibility for the education of the Longbottom Heir."

Draco made to speak and his mother glared at him.

"As a final act, I have cast Bella out of the House of Black. She is to be given no sanctuary or aid. Any provided to her will be assumed to be breaking oath with the House of Black." Sirius said. "It shouldn't really be a problem as Bella is locked up but just so we're clear."

Andromeda and Narcissa nodded. Lucius was looking wonderfully uncomfortable.

"Andy," Sirius turned to his oldest cousin, "you never did have a head for politics but what do you make of my actions so far in relation to our new agenda?"

Andromeda tossed her brown hair back over one shoulder and regarded him with familiar grey eyes. "Well, from the appointments of your potential Regent and your Heir, you're clearly ditching the pureblood and prejudiced mantra of the House of Black. Lord Potter is a halfblood. Simeon is a pureblood but he is also the son of a squib if I recall correctly. And I'm fairly certain, the young woman who showed us in here from the floo is a muggleborn."

Sirius grinned at her. "She is."

"You're upholding the tradition and honour of the House of Black in stating that our House bows to no-one including You-Know-Who." She continued. "That the family magic found in favour of your ruling backs up the truth that it is an oath-breaker to have been Marked by him." Her eyes flitted to her brother-in-law sat across from her before returning to Sirius. "You've made restitution to a Light family – not too surprising given that the Potters and the Longbottoms have been allied for years and not to make restitution would make things awkward given you're also the Regent of the House of Potter. But the Longbottoms and the Potters also stand for respect for wizarding culture and tradition, so it could also be a move to position the House of Black for our own alliance."

Sirius nodded. He waved at Narcissa. "Anything to add, cousin?"

Narcissa threw a superior look at her older sister. "What you did with the family magic to Bella and the LeStranges…it shows you're ruthless and you won't stand for the House to be placed lower than any other. What you did to secure the position as the Head of the House of Black, to clear your name and gain guardianship over the Boy Who Lived was cunning. These are traits that the House of Black has been known for and feared as a result." She tilted her blonde head. "They are not traits that Albus Dumbledore would champion. I'd say you're repositioning us in neutral territory rather than allying us with the Light."

"I have allied us with the House of Potter." Sirius stated calmly. "But you're quite right that Albus Dumbledore is unlikely to appreciate my actions so far as Lord Black."

Narcissa's eyes gleamed with sudden comprehension but she didn't speak further.

"He would approve of my next action though." Sirius pointed out, turning back to Andromeda. "Andy, I wish to reinstate you to the House of Black, welcome your husband and your daughter. Is this something that you would wish for?"

Andromeda glanced at Ted, her husband, and nodded. "We've discussed it, and as it is you, I would agree but only with the reassurance that Nymphadora will not face an arranged marriage."

"That's a fair point." Sirius said, noting how his cousin had winced at the full version of her name. "You have my word: no arranged marriages. But," he held up his hand before she could protest, "I will insist on a marriage contract to protect our assets and honour."

"I can live with that, Mum." Nymphadora said. "Could we also make it a condition that everyone calls me Tonks?"

"It'll have to be your full name for the oaths." Sirius pointed out with a grin. "But, Cousin Nymphie, I'm sure you'll remember what I used to call you."

Her hair cycled from brown to red then purple before settling into black.

Sirius took out his wand and swept it over the desk. The Black ritual bowl and knife appeared. He ushered Andromeda up to the front.

"Familius magicus." Sirius intoned and tapped the bowl. Silver mist erupted to swirl in the hollow of the vessel once again. He cut his palm. "I, Sirius Orion Black, Head of the House of Black, declare Andromeda Ursula Tonks reinstated as a daughter of the House of Black by blood, by magic, and by this oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

He could see Draco's open curiosity and knew it was possibly the first time he'd seen family magic in action as the Malfoys did not have any.

Andromeda cut her palm with a grimace. "I, Andromeda Ursula Tonks, daughter of the House of Black, accept my reinstatement and the duties that it entails, by blood, by magic and by this oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

She motioned for her husband to take her place.

Sirius smiled warmly and held out his uncut hand for Ted to shake. "Welcome to the mad house, Ted."

Ted smiled warmly. His rotund belly and appearance gave him a jolly air. "No middle name for me. Parents didn't see the need for it."

Sirius nodded and held his still dripping palm over the bowl. "I, Sirius Orion Black, Head of the House of Black, declare Theodore Tonks a son of the House of Black by law, by magic, and by this oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

Ted took the knife from his wife. "I, Theodore Tonks, son of the Tonks family, son of the House of Black, accept my place and the duties that it entails, by law, by magic and by this oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

Nymphadora exchanged places with her father.

"I, Sirius Orion Black, Head of the House of Black, declare Nymphadora Janet Tonks a daughter of the House of Black by blood, by magic, and by this oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be." Sirius said again.

"I, Nymphadora Janet Tonks, daughter of the Tonks family, daughter of the House of Black, accept my place and the duties that it entails, by blood, by magic and by this oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

The magic swirled upwards then, swarming over the Tonks family for a long moment before settling back into the bowl in the familiar totem. The snake bowed to Sirius and disappeared.

"Excellent," Sirius said, waving his wand again so the ritual bowl and knife vanished and two envelopes took their place, "I have some gifts."

The three new members of the House of Black smiled while the Malfoys glowered in the background.

"Firstly, Andy and Ted, here is the details of your new vault at Gringotts. You've received the dowry that would have been bestowed had the family agreed to the match at the time. There is also the deed for the Summer property in Spain which I know was always Andy's favourite. It is entailed to the House of Black though and will return to me or my Heir on your death but it is yours for the rest of your lives." Sirius handed over the envelope. "You'll need to speak to Remus about arranging a portkey and the state of the property."

Andromeda took it and, in a surprise move, hugged Sirius. He patted her back awkwardly as she sniffed and held back tears.

"Thank you." She said releasing him.

Sirius cleared his throat and picked up the last envelope. "Nym…Tonks," he corrected as she glared at him, "a trust vault has been set-up for you. Its value is equivalent to that should you have been recognised as a Black from birth. You're in paid employment as an Auror trainee now rather than continuing your education so there will be no additional funds. However, you should find this is a nice nest-egg."

Tonks hugged him too and took her envelope with a grin. "Thank you. You were always my favourite cousin when I was a kid."

Sirius didn't point out that until his incarceration he'd been the only cousin who had visited them when Tonks had been small. He turned to Andromeda. "A couple of things, Andy; firstly, I'd like you to teach our Heir about wizarding etiquette. He's lived among muggles and Dumbledore hasn't seen to this part of his education it seems."

"I'd be honoured." Andromeda said.

"Excellent," Sirius said, relieved that he wouldn't have to do it, "secondly; I owe a life debt to a Miss Hermione Granger. She's a muggleborn witch, very smart and Harry's best friend."

He ignored the ruckus in the background as Draco snorted and Narcissa berated him.

"I've agreed with her parents that the House of Black will sponsor her…"

"What?" Draco shouted, standing up. "I've heard enough, Mother, Father! If the House of Black wants to ruin itself with muggleborns and halfbloods let it! We Malfoys don't need them and are better…"

Sirius raised an eyebrow as Narcissa silenced her son while Lucius dragged him back down to the sofa and placed him in a body bind. Their faces were aflame and he knew that they knew that Draco's little outburst was going to cost them.

"As I was saying," Sirius continued returning his attention to Andromeda, "I've agreed the House of Black will sponsor her to repay the life debt. Obviously I'm not appropriate…"

"So you would like me to perform the duty?" Andromeda nodded. "I'd be happy to but we should probably meet before the ritual."

"They're waiting for you in the formal parlour with Harry. Remus is also there and will brief you on another ritual we'll be performing this afternoon." Sirius tapped an ornament on his desk and there was a brief knock on the door before it opened to reveal Penelope again. "Penelope, here, will show you the way. I'll see you after my discussion with cousin Narcissa."

Andromeda and Tonks smiled at him, Ted nodded and they all left. The door closed with a dull thud in their wake.

Sirius turned back to the Malfoys. Lucius was almost white with fear. Sirius knew he knew that Sirius knew he wore the Mark and given what had happened to the LeStranges, Lucius couldn't expect any other treatment. Narcissa was pale but rallying. He would bet every last galleon he had that she was trying to think of a way to wriggle out of the mess her husband and her son had created by their behaviour and turn it to their advantage. Draco continued to look mutinous but there was also fear flickering in his eyes, a questioning anxiety about why his parents were so cowed and why they hadn't fought back, hadn't attacked Sirius.

He moved to stand before them again and folded his arms. "So, Narcissa, do you want to list all the ways the House of Malfoy has broken oath with the House of Black or shall I?"

Narcissa got to her feet. "What do you intend for us?" She asked bluntly.

Sirius tilted his head. "That's a good question. Here's another; what can you offer me that would entice me to keep you alive?"

Draco's eyes widened dramatically.

"Yes, Draco," Sirius said, "I see you're starting to see the gravity of your situation but let me clarify it for you completely."

"Sirius, please; he's a child." Narcissa said hurriedly.

"You should have thought about that before you brought him in here unprepared. You know the protections this house and this room in particular offer me. If you attempted to draw your wand on me, you'd be dead within a second. He's lucky that the defensive magic didn't take issue with his insults. Let's see how he does without the silencing charm now that he knows." Sirius said brusquely.

He turned back to Draco, who had paled at the realisation that Sirius was magically protected as the Head of the House of Black, and waved his hand cancelling all magic in the room except his own.

"The House of Malfoy which left France for England during their Revolution petitioned to join the Ancient and Noble House of Black. The House of Black agreed on several conditions, one of which was that the House of Malfoy honoured the primacy of the House of Black," Sirius pointed at Draco, "that included ensuring that any child knew their place in the pecking order and didn't stoop to insulting the Head of the House of Black as you just did."

Draco flushed red but he'd apparently learned enough to remain silent of his own accord.

"It also included not being branded with the Mark of a halfblood bastard like Voldemort." Sirius snarled, turning to Lucius.

Lucius's eyes widened fractionally. "The Dark Lord is the Heir to Slytherin." He blurted out.

"Through his mother who was a Gaunt, a witch with little more power than a squib," Sirius agreed, reciting the research Remus had done, "but his father was a muggle who abandoned both of them. Or did it not occur to you to look up the genealogy of Tom Riddle? How does it feel to know that you've been bowing and kissing the robes of the son of a muggle? You who would place blood purity as the thing to be valued above all others."

The shock adorning Lucius's face was hilarious.

"Who's Tom Riddle?" asked Draco unable to help himself.

"He's otherwise known as Voldemort." Sirius replied absently and missed Draco's appalled look of horror. "And really, Lucius? Is this your defence for taking the Mark? That it's OK because he was the heir to Slytherin?" His tone was scathing. "The House of Black will not be subjugated to anyone, not even Merlin himself if he turns up. Loyalty to the House comes before all others."

"Sirius," Narcissa said hurriedly, "you can hardly blame Lucius – he simply followed the rest of our family. Your father and mother both took the Mark as did mine. Regulus took the Mark. The LeStranges took the Mark. Everyone took the Mark. Your grandfather didn't expressly forbid it."

"Did you take the Mark?" Sirius asked pointedly looking at her arm.

Narcissa sniffed and rolled her sleeve up to reveal pale creamy skin. He cast a spell for glamours but it came back negative and she looked at him triumphantly.

"Don't go celebrating all at once, Narcissa." Sirius warned her. "You may not wear the Mark but you clearly failed at teaching your son to respect the House of Black primacy."

Lucius stood up for the first time. "That was my fault." He said. "Narcissa bowed to my wishes that I see to Draco's education."

"And Narcissa should have invoked primacy." Sirius countered heatedly, understanding that Lucius was taking the blame in the hopes of salvaging his wife and his son from the mess he had created; a wife and a son whom he expected would get revenge for him somewhere down the line. "She was the Black."

"With respect, Sirius, who was I to turn to if Lucius objected?" Narcissa said defensively. "My father was dead, Mother took herself off to France, and your grandfather locked himself into the country estate and refused all visitors and owls. There was no agreed Heir upon his death. The House of Black has been disrepair and without guidance for years. Primacy seemed moot at the time I acquiesced on the issue of education."

"Do you fear your husband that much that you felt you would need to seek the intervention of the House of Black if you insisted on overseeing your child's education?" Sirius asked.

"I do not fear Lucius," Narcissa retorted, "I did insist on Hogwarts and Lucius did follow me in that regard so I would have stood my ground if I thought it necessary. I did not. The House of Malfoy was gaining prominence unlike the House of Black that was floundering. It was against the contract, yes, but at the time it seemed a sensible decision. Even you must see that."

"So Lucius has been a good husband then?" Sirius asked as though the answer didn't matter to him.

He could see Draco look bewildered at his father's continuing silence.

"Lucius has been an acceptable husband under the terms of our contract," Narcissa said, without looking at either her husband or her son, "he has always treated me with respect if not affection. We perhaps have not made the love match I hoped for on my wedding day but the only complaint that I have is that we only had the one child as contracted. I would have liked more children. However, I know that we both love our one son very much, Sirius, and are united in ensuring his safety and protection."

"Hmmm." Sirius paced a few steps and back again. "Take a seat." He ordered.

He perched on the front of his desk as Lucius and Narcissa sat back down either side of Draco.

"Draco, I'm going to start with you." Sirius said. "I have two issues with you; one is the issue of primacy. You've been brought up to be loyal to another House before the House of Black and that's a problem for me. However, I recognise that this isn't your fault."

Narcissa gave a relieved huff of breath as she placed a hand on Draco's shoulder.

"The second issue I have is that you have issues with my Heir and his friends, specifically Hermione Granger who after today will be a daughter of this House." Sirius said seriously. "For his part, Harry has said he is willing to agree a truce. I'm not sure after your behaviour today that you would keep it."

Draco looked down unable to hold Sirius's gaze and Sirius knew he'd guessed correctly; Draco would break any truce because he didn't want to declare one.

"So, what to do with you?" Sirius murmured. "I could claim you for the House of Black, deny you any communication with your parents, and send you abroad to be educated."

Narcissa looked as alarmed as Draco at that suggestion.

"I could bind your magic and send you to live in one of our properties as a squib." Sirius continued, knowing he was scaring Draco and hoping it would work to keep him in line in the future. "Or I could ask you to take an Unbreakable Vow of loyalty to the House of Black and leave it at that."

Draco glanced up at the sudden offer of hope.

"Narcissa," Sirius moved on, giving Draco time to mull over the options, "I find that you've broken your oath by allowing the primacy of the House of Black to be disregarded by your husband and your son. However in mitigation I will agree that you were left without guidance. As you haven't taken the Mark, in many respects I could consider your transgression minor. As with Draco, I am therefore uncertain as to what I shall do with you. I could cast you out. I could summon Judgement and see what the family magic makes of your actions – whether it would accept the mitigation you offer. I could ask you to take an Unbreakable Vow."

He let her stew over his words as he shifted his attention to the final member of the Malfoys.

"Lucius, I find that you've broken your oath by allowing the primacy of the House of Black to be disregarded by your son, by ignoring the primacy of your wife within your relationship in regards to your son's education and the number of children she bore, by taking the Mark of Voldemort and subjugating yourself to the will of Voldemort." Sirius said. "If that were the extent of your crimes you might be in the same boat as your wife and child but I know the truth of how a Death Eater qualifies for that Mark."

Draco sent a questioning look towards his father which Lucius ignored. Sirius didn't.

"Has he never told you, Draco?" Sirius asked.

"Sirius, please…" Narcissa tried to intervene again.

"To gain the Mark in the service of Voldemort requires a blood sacrifice – a murder." Sirius stated firmly.

Draco actually did look horrified as he stared at his father. "You…you murdered someone?"

"It was a war, Draco. People died." Lucius said coldly, his hand twisting atop the cane he held. "Do you think people just believed Lord Black here was a mass murderer without prior reason? He killed twenty-three of the Dark Lord's supporters himself. I killed once in the service of the Dark Lord and did not kill again. He has more blood on his hands."

"I think my official count was eighteen actually." Sirius corrected with a humourless smile. "Twenty if you count the LeStranges."

Draco was aghast.

"However, the difference between you and I, Lucius," Sirius continued unperturbed, "is that every Death Eater life I took, I took in defence of my life or others as a Hit Wizard. You, on the other hand, took the life of an innocent who wasn't even part of the fight. You targeted someone based on their blood status, tortured and killed them, and so like the LeStranges you have brought dishonour to the House of Black."

"There is no dishonour it was only a muggle!" Lucius retorted. He flushed red then white as he realised he'd admitted to murder.

Draco looked relieved that it was a muggle as he'd clearly been brought up to believe that wizards were better and muggles were no more than cattle, but his expression changed to abashment at Sirius's hard look.

"A life is a life, Malfoy." Sirius said with icy anger.

"I didn't have a choice!" Lucius shot back.

Sirius glared at him. "Are you really going to try that idiotic Imperius defence on me?"

Lucius glared right back at him. "I was under the Imperius curse when I was captured at the Ministry the day after the Dark Lord was vanquished."

"But not when you killed the muggle." Sirius pointed out ruthlessly.

"I might as well have been!" Lucius protested. "I was taken by my father and my father-in-law! I was surrounded by friends and business associates. I had about as much choice in the matter as someone under the Imperius! After the muggle, I claimed that if I was to truly exploit my position with the Ministry and the Wizengamot to the Dark Lord's benefit, my wand had to remain clean of Dark magic. I won't deny that I agreed with his politics and his agenda but I wanted nothing to do with the killing."

"There were other choices, Lucius," Sirius said, "and I'm not sure I believe that the muggle was your one and only. I'm not sure you were that clean."

"We don't all have your Gryffindor courage, Sirius!" Narcissa spoke up fiercely. "Where were we supposed to go for help? The Great Albus Dumbledore?"

Her words were a sneer and on one level Sirius knew she was right. The war had offered two sides and each was very unwelcoming to the other, fanatical in being as different as possible from each other. He had no idea how the neutral families had held out pulled between them.

"We would have ended up like Severus: a slave to two masters." Narcissa continued unabated.

Her words had her son's mouth dropping open in surprise. Sirius wondered what had surprised him – that Severus had been a double agent or that Narcissa had expressed the view that service to the Dark Lord was the equivalent of slavery. Evidently much of Draco's worldview was taking a battering.

"Look, Sirius," Narcissa took a deep breath, calming herself, "you asked what we could offer to entice you to keep us alive and to that I say that I meant every word in our letter of reply to the announcement that there was a Lord Black. We have political connections and wealth to aid and support the House of Black." She smoothed the fall of her robes. "The two Houses you've mentioned to date are Light, egalitarian about blood status but with a history of respect for wizarding tradition. I believe you will probably make headway in gaining a number of neutral families by showing an independence from Dumbledore. Many of the old Black alliances will not resume though; they are committed to a pureblood agenda as you know. However, we could provide the bridge for mutual areas of agreement and use our wealth to support that. You need us alive to do that."

Sirius admired her spunk and political insight. She had always had a flair for it. And she was right; it was the reason why Cornelius and he had agreed that it would be better to have Lucius remain in the game rather than take him out.

"Your argument is sound, Narcissa," Sirius said, "but I think knowing I didn't hesitate to kill off the LeStranges and Lucius will bring most of the old alliances to heel. My reputation as a mass murderer may come in very handy, don't you think? And for those that don't bow to the threat…well, Cornelius turns out to be quite the player; the amount of dirt he had on everyone was truly impressive." He held her gaze coldly. "What else do you have for me?"

There was a tense silence as Narcissa looked away unable to argue with him.

"I have something else that I will willingly provide if you can guarantee that the House of Black will never be subjugated to the will of Dumbledore." Lucius sneered the last name but otherwise his tone was civil if a touch tentative.

Sirius examined Lucius's expression and found it surprisingly sincere. "I won't allow the Ancient and Noble House of Black or Potter to be subjugated to the House of Dumbledore."

"And you would take a Vow to that?" Lucius pressed.

"I would." Sirius answered candidly.

Lucius nodded slowly. His hands tightened atop the cane as he debated internally for another moment before sighing and conceding. "I believe the Dark Lord is alive."

Narcissa's head snapped around to her husband so fast Sirius figured she would have whiplash. "What?!" She looked torn between anger and terror.

"Why do you think that?" Sirius asked, refusing to show that he already knew.

"I won't say anything further until I have an assurance that you won't kill me." Lucius said firmly. "My offer is information about the Dark Lord and espionage if required when he returns."

Sirius considered his reply for a long moment. "You talk as though I should want this information and your spying service but I don't see why. Dumbledore is the leader of the Light. I'm sure if Voldepants is still alive and will return, he'll lead the fight again. My priority will be to protect Harry and I'll take him abroad rather than have that monster try for him again."

It was a bluff but he figured Lucius would fall for it. After all, Lucius had no idea how much Sirius already knew.

"If you truly wish to protect the boy then you'll listen to my information." Lucius retorted. He shifted on the sofa. "There is a prophecy, one that labels Potter as the vanquisher of the Dark Lord. They are fated to fight, Black."

"What?!" It was Draco's turn to splutter with shock.

Lucius's chin came up sharply. "This is only some of the information I could give you but I won't say another word until we come to an agreement."

Sirius simply smiled. "I already know about the prophecy, Lucius."

Lucius looked momentarily startled. "Then you know that you will need someone in Voldemort's camp when he returns, and he will return."

"Sirius," Narcissa spoke up again, "I do not wish to have anything to do with the Dark Lord and request the protection of the House of Black for myself and my son. We will happily take Vows."

"Narcissa…" Lucius began.

"I will not go through it again, Lucius." Narcissa snapped. "The Dark Lord is a madman bent on the destruction of everyone who isn't him! Regulus saw the truth and he paid with his life for it! I will not have the same happen to Draco!"

Draco watched his two parents argue with an open mouth; obviously it wasn't a typical event.

Sirius made his decision and harrumphed to regain their attention. "Narcissa, Draco: you will take an Unbreakable Vow of loyalty to the House of Black."

Narcissa tried to hide her relief but it played across her face regardless.

"I assume, Draco, that you know of the penalty of breaking the Vow?" Sirius asked brusquely.

Draco nodded quickly.

"Good." Sirius turned back to Lucius. "I'll be honest with you, Lucius; my first thought was to simply kill you as restitution for the life you took. However, my advisors inform me that you have value politically, pretty much using the same argument as your wife. On the other hand, I don't trust you and Narcissa would make an excellent Regent for the House of Malfoy."

Lucius paled but he kept his gaze on Sirius.

He pushed off the desk and rocked back on his heels. "So what to do with you?" He waited a beat before he laid out the offer. "You have to pay for the life you took. So for that crime, you will donate a million galleons to the Ministry for a new Department – the Department of Muggle Affairs." He held up a hand when Narcissa would have interrupted. "I, or rather my steward, will assume responsibility of your vaults and investments for the next three years. You will not protest this in any way and you will be thankful that I haven't had you thrown in Azkaban."

"Sirius…" Narcissa said hurriedly while Draco gaped worriedly.

"Don't worry, Narcissa, I don't intend to impose spending limits per se," Sirius said, his eyes flickering to her son where he did intend to set boundaries, "I'm aware that you need to project a certain image. But every transaction will need authorisation from me. You can all spend Friday morning with Remus at Gringotts transferring everything to him and agreeing standard payments and funds. You may pretend to everyone else that you are simply choosing to use Remus as your steward."

Narcissa nodded her agreement and stared pointedly at Lucius who did the same with reluctance.

"If you refrain from killing or assaulting anyone by the time my Heir comes of age, and if you have made yourself useful, I may return your financial assets to you, Lucius." Sirius said.

"Very well." Lucius agreed stiffly.

Sirius clapped his hands together. "Good. You will also, like your wife and son, take an Unbreakable Vow of loyalty to the House of Black. After which, Lucius, I will put you under familius magicus veritus while you give me the information you offered." It was a type of truth spell, compelling any family member to reply to the Head of the House with honesty. "If I hear anything in your answers that I dislike, you will face Judgement."

Lucius scowled and nodded.

"Vows then." Sirius drew his wand and tapped the desk. A sheet of parchment appeared. "Here are some I prepared earlier." He handed them over to Narcissa.

She raised one perfectly arched eyebrow at him. "These are very specific."

"You're free to refuse and I'll choose another option for you." Sirius said.

All three Malfoys squirmed under his hard gaze but nodded. Sirius tapped the ornament on his desk with his wand again. After a few tense moments, there was a sharp knock on the door and Remus entered the room.

He took in the sight of the huddled Malfoys and smiled at Sirius, his eyes gleaming with amusement. "Vows?"

"If you could act as Bonder?" Sirius requested with a nod.

Remus drew his wand. "Mrs Malfoy, perhaps it would be best if you went first to demonstrate the process to Draco. If you could stand beside Sirius and join hands please."

Narcissa rose from the sofa, smoothed her blue robes and glided over to Sirius's side. He held out his hand to her and she clasped it gently.

Remus placed his wand on their joined hands.

"Will you Narcissa Druella Malfoy be loyal to the House of Black, placing duty to the House above all others, keeping the secrets of the House of Black unless authorised and working to ensure its success?" Sirius began.

"I will." She replied.

A thin stream of fire shot out from the wand and bound their hands together.

"And will you be loyal to me, Sirius Orion Black, the Head of the House of Black, keeping my secrets unless authorised and following my orders?" Sirius continued.

Narcissa nodded. "I will."

Another stream joined the first.

"And will you be loyal to the Heir to the House of Black, Lord Harry James Potter, Head of the House of Potter, protecting him, keeping his secrets unless authorised to speak of them, and following his orders in the absence of mine?"

"I will." Narcissa replied.

The bond was joined by a third stream of flame.

"I, Remus John Lupin, swear as your Bonder that I have witnessed the Vow undertaken between you." Remus intoned. "So have you sworn; so mote it be." He gently hit their joined hands with his wand and the bond of flame disappeared.

Sirius released his cousin and she returned to the sofa. "Draco."

Draco looked at both his parents questioningly as though asking if they were serious about going through with it. They gave him sharp nods in return. He got to his feet and shakily took Sirius's hand. He repeated the same vows in regards to the House of Black and Sirius but Sirius changed the vow in respect to Harry, understanding that too much enmity existed between his godson and Draco for a Vow of loyalty to work especially with Draco's young age.

"And will you remain neutral in your dealings with the Heir to the House of Black, Lord Harry James Potter, Head of the House of Potter, never attacking him unless in defence, keeping his secrets unless authorised to speak of them, and following his orders in the absence of mine in respect to the House of Black?"

Draco looked as though he'd swallowed a lemon but he nodded and made the vow. Once Remus had confirmed the vow, Draco made his way back to the sofa where his mother smoothed a hand through his hair in comfort.

Lucius took his place and willingly made the same vows as Narcissa. As soon as the bond disappeared, Sirius drew his wand and pointed it at Lucius.

"Familius magicus veritus."

Immediately, Lucius was surrounded by the silver mist of the Black family magic.

"Why did you join Voldemort?" Sirius asked tersely.

Lucius struggled for a moment against the magic but he eventually sighed. "I agreed with his plan to create a pureblood ruling elite and he was the heir to Slytherin."

"Why did you take his Mark?" Sirius continued, wanting to check how honest Lucius had been with him previously.

"My father and father-in-law took me before the Dark Lord to be Marked. They considered it an honour."

Sirius's eyebrows rose. "Did you want to be Marked?"

"Yes and no." Lucius looked furious as the words forced their way out of his mouth. "I believed it to be an honour but had no wish to perform the initiation rite of killing someone to earn it."

"You've admitted you killed a muggle. What other crimes did you perform in the service of your Dark Lord?"

"I gave him refuge, kept Dark items for him banned by the Ministry, bribed Ministry and Wizengamot officials on his behalf and attempted to steal a prophecy orb from the Department of Mysteries." He battled against the magic once more before giving way. "I tortured muggles captured by the Dark Lord when ordered and other Death Eaters for failures."

He could live with Lucius torturing Death Eaters, Sirius mused, but the muggle torture – which he had expected – was going to cost Lucius another chunk of galleons. He moved onto the next question. "What do you know of the prophecy involving Voldemort and Harry Potter?"

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches, born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…" Lucius intoned. "This much was overheard by Severus Snape and told to the Dark Lord immediately after its pronouncement by Sybil Trelawney to Albus Dumbledore."

Sirius stiffened. Snape had been the Death Eater to overhear the prophecy! He exchanged a furious and concerned look with Remus who looked like he wouldn't need to be a werewolf to kill Snape.

"The Dark Lord did not initially believe the prophecy and I do not know what changed his mind. I suspect that when reports from a spy within Dumbledore's ranks informed him that the Potter child displayed magic on a regular basis, despite a childhood binding, he determined to remove the threat." Lucius continued.

"Wormtail." Sirius snarled, finding another target for his anger. He turned and paced away, collecting himself again and ignoring Draco's wide eyes and Remus's growl. "You said you believed Voldmort was still alive; explain."

"I initially believed as others that he was dead," Lucius explained, "but Draco informed me of a strange wraith drinking unicorn blood in the Forest during his first year which raised my suspicions. Then, there was a report that Quirrell had died and Draco told me that Potter had been in the infirmary for days. I began then to suspect that he was still alive and working to return to power." He paused. "In addition, my Mark has grown darker within the last few days. It is a sign that he gains strength."

"Do you want him to return?" Sirius questioned harshly.

"No!" Lucius snarled. "I've worked hard to undo the damage to my reputation and my House from the last war! I have power and influence now. I make the laws and have been successful where he failed in promoting a pureblood agenda. Why would I want to allow someone else to benefit from my work especially now I know the truth of his origins?"

Sirius nodded. "If I don't offer you another choice and he returns as you say, what will happen?"

"There will be no choice." Lucius stated grimly. "He will expect us to return to his side. He will demand it and he will kill any who disobey." He glowered defiantly at Sirius. "He will control us as surely as though he had us under the Imperius curse…" he paused momentarily, "unless there is another choice."

Sirius threw a look at Remus who nodded gravely. It was something to work with, at least; Lucius didn't want to give up his own position. He was the Top Dog – or he had been until Sirius had reinstated the House of Black – still would be within his own alliances. But Voldemort would take that away and make him a servant again. Lucius didn't want to bow down before someone else. Which meant Sirius had to be careful; if he humiliated the man too much, he'd turn on Sirius and Harry regardless of the Vow – there were always ways and means of working within Vows. But Sirius could use Lucius's desire for power to help protect Harry just as he was using Cornelius's desire to remain Minister of Magic.

"Tell me about Tom Riddle's diary, Lucius." Sirius said, returning to perch against his desk again, his arms folded.

Remus moved to sit beside him.

Lucius was once again attempting to fight the magic that swarmed over him but he hefted another sigh eventually and gave in once more. "One night the Dark Lord called together myself, Bella and Regulus. He told us that we were his most loyal and favoured followers; all of us members of the House of Black, the only House whose knowledge of the Dark Arts was equal to his own."

Sirius snorted at that. The House of Black collectively had probably forgotten more Dark magic than Voldemort had ever learned.

"We were to be rewarded. He sent myself and Regulus to the outer chamber. Bella exited holding some kind of cup but I was summoned before I could get a good look at it." Lucius continued. "He gave me a diary and told me to guard it well. He told me to send in Regulus and ordered Bella and I to leave; we followed the order. I placed the diary in a safe location in Malfoy Manor and I know Bella placed the cup in her vault."

Sirius waited impatiently as Lucius caught his breath, disturbed at hearing what must have been the initial event that had led to Regulus's death.

"After I realised the Dark Lord might still be alive, I removed the diary from its hiding place and opened it. The pages were blank. I felt a compulsion to write and I introduced myself. The diary responded. It ordered me to tell it what had happened since I had been given the diary. It proclaimed to be an echo of the Dark Lord and held the key to returning him to life. It instructed me to give it to my son who attended Hogwarts so it could get close to Potter. I convinced it that it would be better to give it to another instead."

Remus's eyes flashed and for a worrying second Sirius thought he might actually punch Lucius.

Draco was open-mouthed again, shock rippling across his pointy features.

"You gave the diary to Ginny Weasley." Sirius commented. "Why beyond that she was expendable in your eyes?"

"Primarily because I was compelled. Secondly, her father was trying to get legislation through that I disagreed with; the political embarrassment of his only daughter being found in possession of a Dark object would likely derail it. Thirdly, I knew through Draco that the Weasleys were close to Potter." Lucius said. "And lastly, I believed it likely that her overbearing mother would find the cursed thing before it ever made it to Hogwarts or that she herself would hand it to her father."

"You intended for it to be found?" Remus asked surprised.

Sirius hurriedly repeated Remus's question knowing unless he asked the veritus magic would not compel the truth.

"Yes," Lucius said sharply, "Draco attends Hogwarts. I had no wish for him to be hurt. I tried to get Dumbledore replaced when it was clear that he wasn't doing enough to stop the monster the Dark Lord had set loose."

Sirius and Remus exchanged a look of surprise.

"Are you sincere in your Vow?" Sirius asked as the final question.

"Yes." Lucius glared at Sirius. "I will not follow that bumbling old fool but I will follow the House of Black, even one headed by you and Potter, rather than the Dark Lord if it means I keep my magic and my life is spared."

Honesty was a beautiful thing, Sirius thought as he registered Lucius's selfish motivations. He cancelled the veritus with a wave of his wand and Lucius sagged as though tired.

Sirius pondered his words carefully.

"My first order, Lucius, is that you will make restitution to the House of Weasley. I will approach them on your behalf with an offer to assume financial responsibility for Ginny Weasley's remaining education up to and including a Mastery, and pay any medical bills associated with healing the possession of the diary." Sirius said firmly. "I will request this is a private restitution rather than a public one given the sensitive nature of what occurred; I doubt Arthur Weasley will argue. That will protect your political reputation. Similarly, the one and a half million galleon donation for the new Department in restitution for the death of the muggle and torture of others will be through me, protecting you from the fallout of donating to a cause that would horrify your alliances."

Lucius bowed his head in relief.

"My second order to all three of you is that you will do nothing willingly to harm me, my Heir, the associates and the allies of the House of Black." Sirius glanced toward Draco. "I gave you some leeway in your Vow in regards Harry because you're young and stupid."

Draco flushed.

"But realise this is an order; under the terms of the Vow that means you follow it or lose your life. You therefore cannot harm Harry or Hermione with this order. You cannot call them names or taunt them as that constitutes bullying behaviour that harms them. Do you understand?"

Draco nodded rapidly.

"You will tell your Slytherin cohorts that you have been instructed by your parents to follow my orders in this matter in order to ingratiate yourself with me in the hopes of one day changing my mind as to who should be my Heir." Sirius said firmly. "That will protect you from any fallout at school from your changed behaviour."

"Thank you, Sirius." Narcissa said.

"Draco," Sirius continued, "you are young and could yet learn a different path. If you are loyal to the House of Black, you will be rewarded. You saw the generous gifts that I gave to your cousin and aunt. If at the end of the year, you have performed well, I will give you a reward. Do you understand?"

Draco darted a look at his parents and nodded swiftly to Sirius.

Sirius turned to Narcissa. "Is there an arrangement for your son?"

"With the House of Parkinson." Lucius answered. "The decision was mine not Narcissa's."

"Then the arrangement is annulled." Sirius said firmly. "The House of Black will let its children choose their own partner."

Draco's face lit up and Sirius figured he hadn't wanted the arrangement. It was a small boon but perhaps it was enough to help Draco realise that there were benefits of being in the House of Black.

"You will all keep what was discussed between us today a secret only to be discussed with those in the room and my Heir – Malfoy, you have leave to discuss the dissolution of the marriage arrangement with the House of Parkinson. Finally, your main order is this: you will help me and my Heir defeat Voldemort otherwise known as Tom Riddle by assisting whenever I ask in the plan that I have in motion." Sirius declared fiercely. "Understood?"

"Understood." Lucius had regained some of his usual arrogance. His eyes narrowed on Sirius. "You were already aware that he was alive."

"Since I heard about how Harry sent his wraith packing again at the end of his first year, yes." Sirius said. "But he will try and get a body, and try and regain power. We're going to stop him."

"We will do everything we can to assist you." Narcissa said.

"Good. Narcissa; you will take part in a blessing ritual this afternoon for Harry." Sirius said.

"Of course, my Lord Black." Narcissa bowed her head.

Sirius regarded them with an intent expression. "I am giving you this one chance: work with me, help me protect Harry and you will be rewarded. Cross me, harm Harry in any way and I will end you."

He examined their faces with satisfaction as they registered his final words, turned and tapped the ornament. Penelope knocked softly on the door before opening it.

"Please escort the Malfoys to one of the guest rooms on the first floor, Penelope, so they can freshen up before lunch." Sirius requested.

The Malfoys got to their feet; Narcissa curtseyed and Draco awkwardly followed his father in bowing his head briefly before they left. The door closed behind them and Sirius let out a slow breath, rolling his shoulders to ease the tension that had gathered there.

Remus gave a small cough. "You OK, Padfoot?"

"I feel dirty." Sirius admitted. "I feel like I'll take a million showers and will never be clean again."

"Well, we have made a deal with the Devil." Remus murmured. "But politically this will be easier. Lucius is the key to at least neutralising the pureblood supremacists within the Wizengamot. If he died, even with Narcissa as a Regent, they would likely choose some other leader who would make things much more difficult."

He sighed. "I'm not looking forward to telling Harry about the prophecy and Snape."

"Do you think it's wise to tell him?" Remus demanded. "They already have a difficult relationship."

"I don't know," Sirius said, "I don't want him blindsided with information that others are holding secret like a Sword of Damocles over his head, Moony." He sighed. "We'll discuss it with Minerva but not today; today should be about the adoption and the blessing ritual."

"I won't argue with that." Remus said in heartfelt agreement. He peered at Sirius. "Something else is bothering you."

"You mean apart from the fact that Lucius has just confirmed old Voldie is on his way back to getting a body and we really need to work out where Peter went and what he's likely to be doing?"

Remus simply gave him a look that said 'you don't fool me.'

Sirius grimaced and looked away from his friend. "Malfoy gleefully pointed out why so many people were quick to believe I was a mass murderer by reminding me of how many people I killed during the war."

"In self-defence." Remus pointed out.

"I don't even remember killing ten of them, Remus!" Sirius retorted.

"You were captured when you were undercover, tortured, and you were half-dead when recovered." Remus said dryly. "The evidence for self-defence was rather overwhelming."

"And what about the LeStranges?" Sirius said before he could help himself. "I knew calling Judgement through the family magic would probably kill them. Bella probably won't be alive this time next week."

"Yes, you did know," Remus acknowledged, "and that you feel…regret makes you the good guy."

"That's the problem, Moony," Sirius confessed, "I don't feel regret. I feel…relieved that they won't be around anymore to hurt anyone else, or to help Voldemort when he comes back – if we can't stop it. A part of me still thinks I should have just done the same to Lucius."

Remus placed a hand on his shoulder. "You did what you did to protect Harry. I'm not going to tell you that doing it was the wrong thing to do." He squeezed Sirius's shoulder. "I'll never tell you that protecting Harry is the wrong thing to do, and Sirius; I'd kill to protect him too."

Sirius nodded slowly, letting Remus's words wash away the doubts that had plagued him.

"Come on, we should get back. Hermione was in the middle of a discussion with Andromeda about ritual magic and its place within wizarding culture when I got your signal and Harry looked terrified at being left alone with them." Remus said cheeringly. "We should go rescue him."

Yes. That's what it all came down to in the end. Rescuing Harry.

And Sirius could do that.

Chapter Text

Lunch had been brilliant in one respect and awkward in another, Harry mused.

Sirius had taken the top of the table with Harry on his right-hand side; Andromeda Tonks to his left. Her husband sat next to her, Tonks next to him, and then the Malfoys; Draco, Narcissa and Lucius. Hermione sat next to Harry, her father next to her, followed by her mother, then Remus and Penelope with Professor McGonagall – his Aunt Minerva at the table end.

Harry ignored the looks Draco kept shooting him and focused instead on enjoying the light meal and hearing stories from Andy about Sirius and his Dad as young school boys. Sirius kept butting into her reminiscences, ostensibly correcting her but with a wink and a smile that told Harry that he was joking and teasing. Andy took it in good humour and Harry found himself liking the older witch more and more as the lunch went on; she had a good sense of humour, a quiet intelligence, and a warm personality that had made it easy to talk to her.

The Grangers loved the Tonks' and the two families had quickly bonded. As a muggleborn Ted had a lot of common experiences to share with Hermione and he was quickly able to relate wizarding terms to understandable muggle concepts. Ted was a Healer in a small clinic on the outskirts of London; he had compared it to being a GP – a family doctor – while those Healers in St Mungo's were the equivalent of muggle hospital consultants and doctors. Hermione had been very interested, confessing her early childhood ambition had been to be a family GP. Harry was also interested after his time with Noshi, and Ted had been keen to hear all about the Valley clinic.

If the conversation at the top of the table had flowed, Harry couldn't help notice the more stilted atmosphere at the bottom where the Malfoys resided along with Remus, Penelope and his Aunt Minerva. He caught faint hints that Tonks had tried to engage her cousin, Draco, in a conversation about Quidditch, Remus, Penelope and Narcissa were debating ritual magic, and Lucius and Minerva were discussing Hogwarts. But it was clear that they were all uncomfortable to varying degrees with their dining companions. Harry had thanked Merlin that apparently there was a protocol they were following and the Malfoys couldn't claim they'd been slighted.

But lunch was over and they were all making their way to the formal parlour to greet the additional guests joining them for the various rituals. Harry entered at Sirius's side. He'd been coached in the protocol for this that morning and it had all the makings of being a half-hour of sheer hell, Harry decided, as they walked in and immediately became the focus of attention.

"Madame Longbottom," Sirius kissed her knuckles, performed the introduction of Harry with flawless aplomb, and Harry quickly took her hand and gave his thanks for her attending.

Augusta Longbottom gave a stern nod of approval and motioned to her left where Neville stood awkwardly in formal robes with the crest of Longbottom on his breast. Harry shook hands with his dorm mate and realised Neville wore his Heir ring.

"It's good to see you, Neville." Harry said warmly as Sirius carried on with the introductions to Augusta. "You're joining me for the culture and politics lessons, right?"

"Right, and estate management." Neville smiled back at him. "Gran thought it would be good for me and for us to get to know each other better. I didn't realise your parents were my godparents."

"I had no idea your Mum was my godmother either." Harry admitted. Sirius nudged his shoulder gently and Harry grimaced. "We'll catch up later, Neville."

Neville beamed happily at him and Harry allowed Sirius to direct him to Arthur, Molly, Bill and Ron. Arthur had decided the rest of the Weasleys had no need to be present although they had all been invited. Ron glared at the Malfoys.

Sirius stepped in smoothly, pretending nothing was amiss. "Arthur, Molly. Lovely to see you, Bill and Ronald again. You obviously know Harry."

Molly broke away from glowering at Lucius Malfoy and smiled at Harry as he took her hand to kiss. "Oh, don't you look smart, Harry."

Bill winked at Harry, easing the tension, as Harry made his way down the line of Weasleys.

Ron was dressed in what were clearly his school robes. He leaned in when Harry took his hand. "What is Malfoy doing here?"

"Cousins." Harry said succinctly. "We're kind of stuck with them."

Ron didn't look happy and Harry thanked Merlin when Sirius moved them on again.

"Minister Fudge, I believe you've met my godson Harry before?" Sirius said, with a sly smile in Harry's direction.

"Yes, indeed." Cornelius smiled at him brightly. "You're looking very well, Harry. Obviously being with your godfather suits you."

"Thank you," Harry said politely, "and for coming today to be a witness. And for helping to clear Sirius."

Cornelius waved a hand. "My pleasure, Harry. I'm only sorry I didn't listen when we met at Hogwarts, I'm afraid I took far too much note of your Professor Snape. I can promise it won't happen again."

"Thank you, sir." Harry responded formally.

"Cornelius, please." Cornelius said, still smiling.

Sirius stepped in to Harry's relief and a moment later they stood in front of Amelia Bones.

"Good to see you again, Harry." Amelia said as he kissed her knuckles.

"You too," he gave her a genuine smile, "thank you for coming and for everything you and Auror Moody did for Sirius."

Amelia merely smiled at him and allowed Sirius to do the rest of the introductions so they could greet Wilbert Croaker.

"I'm glad to finally meet you. Call me Bertie." He gave a friendly smile to Harry.

Harry smiled back, liking the older man instantly. "Thank you for attending the adoption. My friend Hermione will probably have a hundred questions for you. She's really smart."

"That's a good trait to look for in a woman, Harry," Bertie teased, "glad to see you starting early."

Harry felt his cheeks heating up and was grateful again when Sirius intervened to introduce the Tonks' to the Head of the Unspeakables.

The final two attendees were Brian Cutter and Mary Baron, their solicitors. Harry had already met them both before after he and Sirius had returned from the States and their greetings were performed swiftly.

Sirius led them all back through to his study which had been changed by Kreacher. All the furniture had been cleared out and replaced with rows of comfortably padded but straight-backed chairs facing the mantel-piece with its ornate rendering of the crest of the House of Black. Just in front of the fireplace, a pedestal had been set-up with the ritual bowl and knife.

The guests made their way to their seats as did Harry. He sat at the front with Remus on one side and Minerva on the other. He glanced over his shoulders at the Grangers just behind him. He gave Hermione an encouraging smile as she was nervously chewing her lip.

Sirius cleared his throat and everyone became quiet. "Thank you, friends and family, for attending today. We actually have three rituals to do. The first is a sponsor ritual between Hermione Granger and Andromeda Tonks. The second will be the adoption ritual between myself and Harry. And lastly, we will do a blessing ritual for Harry." He smiled at the gathering. "So, let's begin: Hermione, Andy?"

Hermione walked out to the front and Harry felt a rush of pride. He was really grateful that Sirius had come up with such a brilliant way of saying thank you to Hermione for helping to save his life.

Sirius gave Hermione a warm smile and directed her to stand on the left of the pedestal facing Andromeda who stood on the right. Sirius moved to stand behind it and tapped the ritual bowl invoking the family magic which erupted in its usual silver swirl.

"I, Sirius Orion Black, Head of the House of Black, invoke our magic to witness the repayment of a life debt between the House of Black and Hermione Jean Granger. In gratitude for her part in saving my life, I bid Andromeda Ursula Tonks, daughter of the House of Black, sponsor Hermione Jean Granger within the House of Black by blood, by magic and by oath, providing her with the protection and sanctuary of the House of Black."

Harry held his breath in the reverent silence as Sirius nodded at Andromeda.

Andromeda picked up the knife and carefully sliced her palm, allowing a few drops of blood to fall into the bowl. "I, Andromeda Ursula Tonks, daughter of the House of Black, swear to sponsor Hermione Jean Granger in the wizarding world; to provide her with knowledge, with tools, with love; to protect and give her sanctuary. I undertake this solemn duty by blood, by magic and by this oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

She passed the knife to Hermione who threw Sirius a quick look to check it was OK for her to go ahead. At his nod, she sliced her palm with a grimace and allowed the blood to trickle into the bowl.

"I, Hermione Jean Granger," her voice shook a little, "am honoured to accept the sponsorship offered to me by the House of Black. I swear to consider Andromeda Ursula Tonks, daughter of the House of Black to be my wizarding guardian, accepting her tutelage and wisdom. I accept my place as a daughter of the House of Black and the duties that it entails, by blood, by magic and by this oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

Andromeda held out her cut hand and Hermione took it so their clasped hands were positioned over the bowl. The family magic rose up forming its snake totem and wrapped itself around their wrists so they were bound together. The snake hissed over their hands.

"I accept this bond." The snake said.

Harry smiled at the totem but held back from speaking to it, knowing he was the only one who had understood what it said.

Sirius grinned at the two women. "I have witnessed this bonding between you and declare Hermione Jean Granger a daughter of the House of Black." He said formally. "So have I sworn; so mote it be." He tapped the bowl and the magic vanished.

Andromeda turned Hermione's palm face upwards and healed it quickly before doing the same to her own as the room erupted in pleased applause.

Harry looked around as he clapped enthusiastically. Tonks was grinning ear to ear, her hair cycling through a variety of colours. Draco looked subdued but he was clapping politely along with his parents. Arthur and Molly both looked delighted while Ron looked…angry? Harry frowned and wondered what the problem was. He turned back to see Hermione walking back towards him. He grinned at her and she smiled shyly back at him.

"OK," Sirius said loudly, regaining everyone's attention, "Harry, if you'd like to come up, and Remus, who as an old friend of James and Lily, will stand as the magical witness." He smiled at their guests. "I would just like to remind everyone that Harry is a parselmouth and as you've already witnessed the Black family totem is a snake. Needless to say the totem is over the moon at having someone to talk with after years of silence so if you hear an exchange between them, please don't worry or panic or assume that Harry's being turned into a Dark wizard."

Harry had mixed feelings about Sirius's openness but he guessed it was better to be up front then have someone yell something horrible in the middle of their adoption ritual.

Remus took Sirius's position behind the pedestal facing out at the audience while Sirius moved to where Andromeda had stood; Harry in Hermione's place. Harry noted the bowl and knife looked pristinely clean and realised Sirius must have handled that while his attention had been elsewhere after Hermione's ritual.

Sirius winked at him, Remus smiled, and Harry remembered to breathe.

"Ready?" Sirius asked quietly.

Harry nodded.

They both tapped the ritual bowl at the same time and called their family magic. Gold and silver sparkles swirled into the air.

"I, Sirius Orion Black, Head of the House of Black, invoke the magic of the House of Black to witness our adoption of Harry James Potter, Head of the House of Potter, Heir to the House of Black, by blood, by magic, and by oath."

"I, Harry James Potter, Head of the House of Potter, invoke the magic of the House of Potter to witness my adoption by Sirius Orion Black, Head of the House of Black, son of the House of Potter, by blood, by magic, and by oath."

There was a surprised murmur as the audience remembered that Sirius had been given sanctuary within the Potter family; that unusually both family magics would come into play with the adoption.

"I, Remus John Lupin, steward of the House of Black, steward of the House of Potter, brother by magic, by spirit, by heart to James Charlus Potter and Lily Elizabeth Potter, stand witness to this adoption."

Sirius picked up the knife and cut his palm, dripping the blood into the bowl. "I, Sirius Orion Black, son of the House of Black, son of the House of Potter, brother by blood, by spirit, by heart to James Charlus Potter and Lily Elizabeth Potter, invite Harry James Potter, Head of the House of Potter, Heir to the House of Black, to be my son by blood, by magic, by law; my son by blood, by spirit, by heart; my son by blood, by will, and by oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

Harry wasn't keen on slicing his palm open but he did it with the faintest of frowns and his blood fell from his palm to join Sirius's within the bowl. "I, Harry James Potter, son of the House of Potter, son of the House of Black, son by blood, by spirit, by heart to James Charlus Potter and Lily Elizabeth Potter, accept Sirius Orion Black, Head of the House of Black, son of the House of Potter, as my father by blood, by magic, by law; my father by blood, by spirit, by heart; my father by blood, by will, and by oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

They joined hands and the magic responded immediately; the snake bound them as it had Andromeda and Hermione but it waited until the griffin flew up from the bowl and rested atop their hands and gave a fierce cry before it hissed.

"The griffin and I welcome this bond, youngling." The snake said.

"Thank you." Harry replied. He looked up into Sirius's inquisitive eyes. "The griffin and the snake welcome our bond."

Sirius grinned. "Thank you." He said to the totems.

Remus smiled happily at the two of them. "I have witnessed this bonding between you and know it to be true. Sirius Orion Black you are now the father of Harry James Potter by blood, by magic and by this oath." He said formally. "So have I sworn; so mote it be."

Harry and Sirius raised their wands and tapped the bowl together. With a final cry and a hiss goodbye the totems disappeared once more.

Applause filled the room again. Harry looked out at the sea of faces. Neville gave him two thumbs up; Hermione was clapping hard enough to hurt her hands, and Ron…still looked less than chuffed. Harry shook away the thought. Maybe Ron was just uncomfortable with the pomp and ceremony.

His attention snapped back to his palm as Sirius carefully healed it. Sirius squeezed his hand gently before letting go.

"OK there, Harry?" Sirius asked quietly.

Harry nodded.

"You ready for the next bit?" Sirius asked, again keeping his voice low.

"I think so," Harry smiled warmly, "Padfoot."

They'd agreed the night before that 'Dad' had too much association with James for both of them to be comfortable with Harry calling Sirius that; instead Harry would call Sirius his Marauder nickname as a way of acknowledging the change in their relationship.

"Pronglet." Sirius's eyes sparkled at Harry proudly.

Remus couldn't contain himself any longer. He cleared his throat and clapped his hands in delight. With a single mischievous look Harry knew what Sirius wanted them to do. They both pounced on him in unison, gathering the three of them into a brief group hug.

Sirius clapped Remus's shoulder and raised his voice. "Thank you, Moony."

He quietened the room again and Remus returned to his seat.

"Lastly, we have a blessing ritual for a child's protection by their new adopted family." Sirius explained. "It's based on Witch magic so I will stand witness but not take part."

It wasn't the full story about the protection spell but as Sirius and Remus had argued they didn't want too many people realising the exact spell Harry's mother had performed as then they could find a way to undo it. Harry thought it was a sensible precaution given the presence of Malfoy in the room.

"Will the ladies of the House of Black and Minerva McGonagall please step forward?" Sirius requested briskly.

Harry found himself facing Minerva over the ritual bowl. She relaxed her stern visage to give him a small smile and he smiled back.

"Harry, you'll need to take the lead on this one." Sirius said softly.

He took a deep breath and calmed his magic before tapping the bowl. Silver and gold erupted in the bowl

"I, Harry James Potter, Head of the House of Potter, Heir of the House of Black invoke the magic of the House of Potter and the House of Black to witness this blessing."

A gasp went up by someone as whoever it was caught onto the fact that Harry could summon both family magics.

"I, Sirius Orion Black, Head of the House of Black, son of the House of Potter, father to Harry James Potter, Head of the House of Potter, Heir of the House of Black, stand witness to this blessing of my son."

Sirius handed Harry the ritual knife.

Harry drew it over his palm again, knowing that they had to do it afresh for the magic to work. He frantically tried to remember the ritual words, knowing the form of them changed in the old spell. "I, Harry of the House of Potter and the House of Black, son of Lily of the House of Potter, give my blood willingly in this blessing." He placed the knife down beside the bowl.

Sirius drew a small vial of blood and a velvet pouch from the pocket of his robes and handed them to Minerva.

"I, Minerva of the Clan McGonagall, stand in the place of Lily of the House of the Potter, mother by blood of Harry of the House of Potter and the House of Black." She withdrew a gold locket from the velvet bag and held it over the ritual bowl. "This locket is the symbol of Lily, given to her mother by blood, Marigold of the family Evans, in celebration of motherhood."

Harry took hold of the locket with his hand, the chain rubbing painfully against the cut and sending fresh blood running down his palm. He knew he had to remain with his hand holding the locket for the rest of the ritual.

Minerva continued. "I stand in the place of Petunia of the family Dursley, sister by blood to Lily, aunt by blood to Harry and who gives her blood freely in this blessing."

Harry knew Remus had spent hours convincing his aunt to give up the blood and the locket. He watched as Minerva tipped out the vial into the ritual bowl and set it aside. She clasped her right hand atop Harry's over the bowl, holding the locket with him. She dipped a finger into the bowl with her other, reached across the space and drew a rune of protection on his forehead.

"I recognise the willing sacrifice of Lily of the House of Potter in protection of her son. In the place of Lily and Petunia, I welcome his new family by blood, the House of Black, and invite them to anchor this blessing by blood, magic and oath." She smiled at him. "So have I sworn; so mote it be."

Minerva stepped aside and walked around him to place a hand on Harry's right shoulder, looking over towards the remaining women.

Andromeda was up next. She gave a brilliant smile and picked up the ritual knife, quickly making a cut. "I, Andromeda, Elder of the House of Black, welcome Harry of the House of Potter and the House of Black. I stand now in the place of Lily of the House of Potter," she placed her cut hand over Harry's and the locket, dipped her finger and traced the rune on his forehead, "I renew her blessing by blood, by magic and by this oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

She let go and walked to stand behind him, placing her hand on his left shoulder.

Harry tried not to flinch when Narcissa stepped up and neatly cut her palm open.

"I, Narcissa, Mother of the House of Black, welcome Harry of the House of Potter and the House of Black. I stand now in the place of Lily of the House of Potter," she wrapped her hand around Harry's hand gently as she coated a finger with her other and drew the rune, "I renew her blessing by blood, by magic and by this oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

She walked swiftly away to take her position behind him.

Tonks was next and she winked broadly at Harry as she went through the familiar motions. "I, Nymphadora, Maiden of the House of Black, welcome Harry of the House of Potter and the House of Black. I stand now in the place of Lily of the House of Potter," she took hold of his hand and made the rune on his forehead, "I renew her blessing by blood, by magic and by this oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

Hermione was last, stepping up as Tonks placed her hand on Harry's shoulder with her mother and aunt. Harry grinned at Hermione in relief.

She carefully cut her palm and let the blood mingle with the others in the bowl. "I, Hermione, daughter of the House of Black, daughter of the family Granger, welcome Harry of the House of Potter and the House of Black, my friend by magic, by spirit, by heart. I stand now in the place of Lily of the House of Potter," her hand clasped his and he squeezed it comfortingly as he felt her tremble; she made the rune carefully, keeping her other hand steady, "I renew her blessing by blood, by magic, by willing sacrifice; by blood, by spirit, by heart; by blood, by will, and by oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

Harry's eyes widened as the magic flared brilliantly between them, a fountain of silver and gold that swirled around the two of them until they formed solid shapes either side of Hermione; a huge gold griffin stood on her right, and a massive silver snake on her left.

She looked at him with wide scared eyes and he kept tight hold of her hand as he darted a look towards Sirius and then at Remus but they both looked as stunned as everyone else.

The griffin morphed suddenly into the shape of a misty golden woman, a woman he had only seen in pictures – his mother! She shifted forward and placed her hand over his and Hermione's.

"Mum." Harry whispered, tears springing to his eyes.

Sirius stood beside him, frozen at the sight of the spirit of his dead friend.

"I, the spirit of Lily of the House of Potter called forth by my son, proclaim my blessing of love and protection is renewed by the House of Black." Lily said softly. "By blood, by magic, by oath."

She stepped up and kissed his forehead. Warmth and love flowed through him, almost making him dizzy. It was like the best hug ever. She smiled at Harry before she moved away to stand behind Hermione's right shoulder.

Harry drank in the sight of her and only vaguely realised that the snake was also shifting shape into a woman. He dragged his gaze away from his mother to look at her but he didn't recognise her all; she was beautiful, long flowing hair and dressed in an old fashioned robe.

She moved to stand next to Hermione on her left, reached out her hand and placed it over Harry's and Hermione's. Her gentle gaze met Harry's across the ritual bowl.

"I, the spirit of Morgana of the line of Le Fey, called forth by the magic of this son of Black, judge thee Harry, child of Merlin, of the House of Potter and the House of Black. Thou have been blessed with love but cursed with loss; thou will stand betwixt the light and the dark; thou will yet perish or master Death." The spirit smiled sadly at him. "This I See, my child; but thou has spirit to arm thee, and heart to spur thee, and this gift of my blessing to shield thee. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

She kept hold of his hand as she glided forward and placed a kiss over his forehead. It was icy and cold but he felt a rush of powerful magic through his veins.

She moved away. As soon as her hand met Hermione's left shoulder, the spirits of Morgana and his mother – his mother! She couldn't leave him! – fell in a shower of magic back into the forms of the totems.

There was silence in the room.

Harry was breathing heavily and his eyes met Hermione's shocked gaze. She gently extracted her hand from his and stepped around to take her place at his left shoulder, leaving the griffin and snake behind. Harry swayed and the hands on his shoulders steadied him.

Sirius made a small movement, catching Harry's attention. "I have witnessed this blessing and know it to be true by blood, by magic and by this oath." He said shakily. "So have I sworn; so mote it be."

Harry raised his wand. He glanced at the snake which bowed its head before he stared at the griffin desperately wanting to see his mother again; the griffin gave a heartfelt cry as though it too wanted the same as Harry. Sirius cleared his throat and Harry knew he had to end the ritual. He tapped the bowl. The totems dissipated into a cloud of light and then disappeared.

"Merlin's bloody balls!" Someone said in the background.

Harry's frantic gaze met Sirius's and as Sirius took a step towards him, Harry felt darkness beckon him and he fell into it gratefully.

o-O-o

Sirius caught Harry before he hit the floor; adrenaline surging through him. "Harry!" He felt his panic start to escalate as he remained unresponsive. He lowered him down to the floor and searched Harry's neck for a pulse. There was a strong beat against his fingers and he gave a shaky breath.

Ted was suddenly beside him waving his wand in a familiar diagnostic pattern. "Magical exhaustion." He said crisply. "He'll be fine; he just needs bed rest."

"Which when you consider he managed to call forth the spirit of Morgana Le Fey isn't too surprising." Bertie said beside Ted, peering over his shoulder at Harry. He straightened up. "By my authority, this magical event is deemed need-to-know. Everybody here will take a Vow or be obliviated."

An outbreak of protests erupted but Sirius ignored them as Remus finally pushed his way through to them. Sirius placed Harry's arm around his neck and lifted him into his arms, staggering as he got up from the floor with Remus's help. "Remus, can you work on the Vow with Bertie, please."

"I'll help." Amelia offered immediately, understanding the need for confidentiality.

"Is Harry going to be OK?" Molly asked worriedly, hurrying over as Sirius started for the door.

"He'll be fine." Sirius said quickly. "Minerva…can you come with me?"

Molly immediately moved to his side. "I'll be happy to…"

"I'm sorry, Molly, but the house is under Fidelius and I'm not the Secret Keeper. Minerva is already aware of where it is." Sirius said, adjusting his hold on Harry as he shifted away from Molly's outstretched arms that had reached for Harry. "Thank you for your concern though." He walked out with Minerva just behind him.

"You're taking him home?" Minerva asked as soon as she closed the door behind them.

Sirius nodded. He sealed the doorway with a thought. No-one would be able to leave until Sirius returned and let them out. "He's safest there. I'm going to need you to watch him, please, while I sort this out."

"Of course." Minerva said, summoning her bag and outer robe that had been left in a closet in the hallway.

They flooed through to Griffin House and Sirius took the stairs swiftly.

Dobby popped in as Sirius laid Harry down on the bed. "Harry Potter is injured!"

"Magically exhausted, Dobby." Sirius carefully untangled the locket from Harry's hand and placed it on the bedside table.

Minerva immediately healed the wound on Harry's palm while Sirius vanished Harry's clothing with a wave of his wand, leaving him in his underwear. He levitated him under the covers with Dobby and Minerva's help. He traced a hand over Harry's forehead. Lily – Lily! – and Morgana's blessing had cleaned away the blood rune that had been drawn over and over.

He hovered; he wanted nothing more than to stay with Harry, with his son.

"It's alright, Sirius." Minerva said briskly. "I'll watch over him. You return and make sure nobody can tell anyone about what just happened. The sooner you go, the sooner you can come back and have my Vow."

Sirius pushed a hand through his hair and nodded. He dropped a kiss of his own on Harry's forehead and got off the bed. He made his way back to Black Manor with his mind was swimming with what he had witnessed – Lily! – and he wasn't certain that he could make sense of it. The power of Harry's magic had summoned the most notorious witch in the history of the wizarding world – who had blessed him and called him a child of Merlin! And the totems – the totems had formed both spirits…

He found himself suddenly in front of his study door, breathing heavily. He could hear the cacophony of voices within the room and took a breath, gathering his poise and authority. He cancelled the seal with a wave of his hand and marched in, closing the door behind him. He was quite surprised at the orderly scene in front of him.

There was a group consisting of Brian, Remus, Augusta, Bertie, Amelia and Cornelius, all gathered around the pedestal scribbling on a piece of parchment as they agreed the Vow to be taken.

Hermione spotted Sirius and hurried over, trailed by Ron. "Harry?"

"In bed." Sirius said succinctly. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Are you sure you're OK?"

She nodded, her bushy hair flying everywhere. "It was just incredible and a little scary; the feel of the magic was…" she blushed, "I was just worried that I'd messed up the blessing because I thought I must have messed it up and…"

"Hermione!" barked Ron. "It wasn't your magic that summoned the Dark Witch."

Sirius's eyebrows shot up at the implied insult to Harry.

"Ron," Hermione's eyes gleamed fiercely, "Morgana Le Fey was not a Dark Witch. It's a common misconception based on the patriarchal and chauvinistic myths and legends around Merlin which glorify him and make her, the woman, out to be the villain of the piece when she simply stood for a different religious ideology. In fact, many believe that Rowena Ravenclaw followed the same religious belief and she was well known to be a Light witch so I don't see…"

"Indeed, Rowena was a Priestess in the old way." Narcissa interrupted. She had glided up beside them without anyone noticing; Hermione jumped visibly. "It is documented in older versions of Hogwarts: A History."

Sirius could see Ron fighting not to say something insulting and decided to remove his cousin from the youngster's presence.

"If you'll excuse us," he said politely, taking Narcissa's elbow and leading her back to where Lucius and Draco stood away from everyone else in the room. "I take it you wished to speak to me?"

"We wish permission to tell others of the agenda of the House of Black. Specifically, the decisions and announcements you made to us today will be shared with others in our alliance ahead of the Wizengamot session tomorrow." Narcissa said.

Sirius noted absently that Lucius was deferring to his wife; clearly he had gotten the message about the primacy. "You have my authorisation."

Narcissa hesitated for a moment and then forged ahead. "We also wish permission to mention that we have witnessed the power of the Boy Who Lived."

Sirius stiffened and glared at her. Draco's half-disgusted expression, on the other hand, amused Sirius no end.

"Something unspecific but along the lines that I having witnessed his power for myself now believe he did defeat the Dark Lord should suffice," Lucius said, "for the purposes of swaying my allies to the Boy Who Lived. We won't, of course, discuss the details."

Sirius met Lucius's cold gaze and read the truth in his hard eyes; Lucius did believe it now. Not surprisingly; Ron had put it rather inelegantly but Harry's magic had summoned the spirit of the most powerful witch of all time.

"You have my authorisation." Sirius repeated, knowing that if he took away the Dark Lord's political allies half the battle was won. He sighed. "You're already covered by the Vows you took this morning but you can stay and take this additional one or leave."

"We will take our leave." Narcissa said, her hand falling to Draco's shoulder. "My Lord Black." She curtseyed; her husband and son bowed their heads and Sirius escorted them to the door where Kreacher appeared to take them to the floo.

Sirius shook his head and made his way to Andy and her family. "Like dear Cousin Narcissa and her family, you're covered by your oaths to the family magic. If you wish to leave, you may do so."

Ted looked surprised and Andromeda shook her head. "I can stand on behalf of the House of Black for the Vow for some people, speed things up."

"Thank you." Sirius said truly grateful for her assistance.

"I won't ask how powerful he is, Sirius," Andromeda said quietly, "but that was incredible. I felt the magic flow through him. It was unlike anything I've ever felt."

Sirius nodded tiredly. "He's…just a kid though, Andy. I would never have agreed to the blessing ritual if…"

"I think everyone knows that, Sirius." Andromeda comforted him. She nodded towards the front of them room. "I think they have a Vow they can work with."

Sirius made his way to the front and Remus handed him the parchment.

"Harry?" asked Remus.

"Asleep; Minerva's watching over him." Sirius answered quickly. He read the Vow. 'Will you [insert name] keep the blessing of the ritual by Lily Potter's spirit secret? Will you keep the blessing of Harry Potter by Morgana Le Fey and the words she spoke secret?' He nodded. "OK, let's get on with it."

Molly coughed and caught his attention. "I'm sorry but I'm still not really comfortable with the children undertaking this kind of Vow. They are too young to accept the responsibility."

"Mrs Weasley, we have been through this already," Bertie beat Sirius to the punch, "children as young as twelve have taken the Vow before and lived enormously long and fruitful lives because they understood that to break the Vow will mean serious consequences. If you are unwilling to trust that your child can keep the Vow, then we will need your permission to obliviate him."

"Mum!" The uproar from Ron was immediate.

"I'm not sure that you have the authority…"

"And as we've already established: I do." Bertie said forcefully, suddenly looking like the very powerful wizard he was rather than an eccentric old man. "As Head of the DOM I can declare any magical event to be need-to-know. I have issued that declaration for the blessing ritual."

"And he has my support as Minister of Magic." Cornelius added, puffing up with responsibility.

"And mine as the Head of the DMLE." Amelia confirmed grimly.

Arthur sighed and placed a hand on his wife's arm. "I share your concern, Molly, but as Bertie has said we've already been through this and I think Ron and the others of his age here are aware of how serious it is to keep a Vow."

Molly subsided again into a chair with a huff.

"Madame Longbottom?" Sirius said. "Would you be willing to go first? Remus will act as our Bonder."

"Of course." Augusta said.

"Andy, can you perform the Vow for the Weasleys, please? Bertie, if you could be Bonder?" Sirius requested as Augusta took her place beside him.

For the next half an hour, there was a stream of Vow taking that blurred in Sirius's mind until the last was done. He had escorted people out as each family or individual had completed the Vow and they were free to leave. The adult Grangers, being muggles, in the end had to be obliviated of witnessing the spirits although they were left with their memory intact otherwise; Hermione was able to take the Vow. Finally, there was only Sirius, Remus and Bertie left. They'd encouraged Penelope to head out.

"I should take the Vow too." Remus argued.

"You're under oath to both the House of Black and the House of Potter," Sirius pointed out exasperatedly, "and not to mention you'd die before you'd betray any of our secrets to anyone ever."

Bertie looked on amused.

Remus sighed. "Director Croaker?"

"I would normally insist on it, but I agree with Lord Black," Bertie said, "you are covered by the oaths just as the Tonks' and the Malfoys." He paused. "And you would never betray the secret to anyone."

"We should get back home," Sirius said urgently, worried about Harry, "Minerva's waiting for us."

"Sirius, if I could have a word?" Bertie said with enough authority that Sirius knew it was a demand rather than a request however it had been phrased.

"Remus, can you…"

"Head back." Remus nodded. "I want to check on Harry myself. I can't help feeling this was my fault."

"Your research and calculations looked impeccable, Mister Lupin," Bertie assured him, "and I doubt very much for any other wizard, their magic would have been powerful enough to call forth spirits in such a way."

Remus sighed. "Perhaps you're right."

"It wasn't your fault, Moony." Sirius comforted him. "Now, go on and check on my son."

Remus's eyes gleamed with a brief flash of happiness as he recalled the earlier and less tumultuous adoption ritual. He patted Sirius on the arm as he passed – a silent message that it wasn't Sirius's fault either.

Bertie waited until the study door was closed before he turned back to Sirius. "There's something you should see. Do you have the pensieve handy?"

Sirius frowned and called for Kreacher. A moment later the pensieve was on the pedestal and Bertie was filling it with a silvery strand.

Falling into Bertie's memory was disconcerting especially when he found himself in the past and the old War Office of the Ministry. It was quite a gathering, Sirius realised; old Barty Crouch Senior, Millicent Bagnold, Dumbledore, a less scarred Moody, a young female Auror who Sirius recognised as Annette Kelp, Charlus Potter, James and a heavily pregnant Lily.

Sirius blinked back tears at the sight of his friends. He knew immediately what they were gathered to discuss: him. He tensed as he understood where he was right at that moment in the past – in the hands of Death Eaters.

"Croaker?" Crouch asked sharply. "News?"

"Our intelligence sources have nothing. Wherever they've taken Black…it's masked to our magic." Bertie replied all-business. "What exactly happened?"

"That's what I would like to know and have been trying to find out for far too long." Charlus said forcefully.

"Lord Potter," Bagnold said crisply, "you are here as a courtesy nothing more."

Charlus's eyes narrowed on the Minister. "And you are here because I helped to vote you in. Keep in mind, I can vote you out."

"And I would help him."

The sound of his grandfather's voice had Sirius whipping around.

Arcturus Black stood framed in the doorway; immaculate robes adorned with the Black crest fell from his shoulders to the floor in a sweep of black; his greying hair was tied back in a similar style to Charlus; the Black ring glinted in the dim light.

He entered the room as though uncaring of the glowers and stares. "I understand my grandson is missing?"

Bagnold straightened up sharply. "Who told you?"

"Probably a Death Eater." Moody snarled.

Arcturus merely smiled at him darkly. "Somebody will tell me what has happened to my grandson and what is being done to retrieve him or I will call for a full Wizengamot session and vote this entire administration incompetent."

Sirius had to admit his grandfather had always had style.

"And I would help him." Charlus said tersely, folding his arms and staring at his rival.

Charlus on the other hand had always had integrity. Sirius missed him badly.

Arcturus inclined his head. "Potter."

"Black."

The two elder statesmen turned to glare in unison at Bagnold.

"Gentlemen, I'm sure this can be quickly resolved." Dumbledore said smoothly. "Young Miss Kelp was just about to give us her report of events; she was unconscious in St Mungo's until one hour ago. She may be able to shed some light on what has happened to our missing friend."

Kelp straightened into a position that Sirius remembered from boot-camp. "I was sent to work with Hit Wizard Black undercover two months ago. I posed as his girlfriend. Two nights ago, at a party, we came across a muggle smuggling operation where the women were being sold as sex slaves to Death Eaters on the continent. I believed we should perform our duty and protect them. Hit Wizard Black ordered me not to intervene citing it would blow our cover and that we should wait and report it so a rescue mission could be mounted by others. I disregarded that order believing Black did not want to intervene because he did not want to save muggles."

Ah, yes. Sirius remembered how the halfblood Kelp had spent every moment of the assignment questioning his orders because of his name; suspicious of his family history and not believing he was on the side of the Light.

"At midnight I entered the room where the muggles were being kept without Black to release them." She paused. "I inadvertently set off an alarm. I was, uh, duelling two guards when Hit Wizard Black turned up and took out one guard. I stunned the other guard but not before Hit Wizard Black had been hit by some kind of spell. He was alive but unconscious when I checked him. I rescued the muggles and as I could hear more guards approaching, I used my emergency portkey to travel directly to St Mungo's with the muggles and was hit by a hex rendering me unconscious just as the portkey activated."

Sirius snorted. He had requested several times for Kelp to be replaced in the belief that she was prejudiced against him and wouldn't follow his orders in a critical situation, and he'd been proven right.

"Let me get this straight," Moody snarled before anyone else could speak, "you disregarded a direct order from a senior officer, who by the way was following protocol and correct in his assessment, took it upon yourself to mount a half-arsed rescue mission forcing him into assisting you to save your goddamn life and then you left him behind, unconscious and defenceless? You screwed months of undercover work and you screwed Black's cover!"

"Sorry," older Bertie muttered beside him, "I should have started the memory later. Still, you'll get a kick out of what happens next."

Kelp stiffened. "With respect, sir, I believe Black is a Death Eater and…"

Lily moved faster than Sirius believed possible given her pregnancy and punched her. "You miserable bitch! Sirius would never be a Death Eater! You just don't like him because he's a Black!"

"Lils," James pulled her away, "calm down! It's not good for the baby for you to get upset!" He led her away to a chair.

"Charlus, I can see why your daughter-in-law is called the smartest witch of her generation." Arcturus's icy stare landed on Kelp. "You will be charged with the endangerment of the Black heir."

"See!" Kelp spluttered, pointing a shaking finger at Arcturus, "he admits it!"

"Lord Black has simply confirmed that Sirius is the blood heir to the House of Black, something that everyone here was already well aware of, you foolish girl!" Bagnold snapped.

"Sirius is also a son of the House of Potter and he is no Death Eater." Charlus stressed. "He has spent every moment of this war fighting for the Light! You will be charged."

Kelp flushed bright red. "I saved those muggles!"

"And condemned the best Hit Wizard in the whole damn team!" Moody growled.

"Now, now, perhaps we shouldn't be too hasty," Dumbledore intervened, "Miss Kelp may have misjudged the situation and Mister Black's character but surely we cannot afford for any able-bodied Auror to be dismissed in these grave times."

"I agree." Crouch stated.

"Of course, you do," James said sarcastically, "exactly how many times has Sirius asked for this woman to be removed from his team? I bet he's done it every report. He'd know she was prejudiced against him and he'd request the transfer rather than risk the mission. Only you suspect him just as much as she does, so you disregarded his requests and kept her on the job probably to 'keep an eye on him.'" He stabbed a finger towards Crouch. "I hold you responsible for this!"

"You seem to have forgotten that I'm your boss, Potter!" Crouch said coldly.

"And you seem to have forgotten that you're talking to the Heir of an Ancient and Noble House!" snapped Charlus.

"The girl will be charged," Arcturus stated firmly, "remove her from my presence."

Moody grumbled under his breath. "Come on, Kelp. Let's get you to a holding cell and a healer for that shiner." He swung around to wink at Lily as he marched Kelp out. "Excellent right hook, Mrs Potter."

Lily blushed.

"It was a very good right hook," Sirius commented, blinking back new tears at the sight of his old friends defending him. "She punched me once."

"That doesn't surprise me." Bertie said dryly. "It all descends into a bit of a shouting match now."

It did. Bagnold and Crouch were arguing they didn't have the resources to track Sirius down; James was arguing with them that they did along with his grandfather and Charlus who both were offering to fund European wide searches for him as he'd been captured in Romania. Younger Bertie was trying to calm everyone down along with Dumbledore. It was mayhem.

"Enough!" Lily cried out.

Silence descended as they all turned to the pregnant woman.

"This isn't helping to find Sirius and we have to find him!" Lily burst into tears which she wiped away angrily. "He's been in their hands all this time; it'll be a wonder if he isn't dead and…"

James started over to her but magic was stirring – the air thick with it.

"…and we need to get him back, we need to…" Lily's robes were swirling around her, her hair flying as magic whirled like tornado with her at the centre.

"Lily!" James cried out, his face a picture of panic.

Sirius felt his own panic rise. What was going on?!

Suddenly, she stiffened and her hand snapped out, palm face downwards, directing the magic that swarmed over her, down her arm and through her palm to fall in two separate streams of gold and silver that gave form to two very familiar family totems.

Arcturus jerked, offended that the Black family magic had been stolen by a muggleborn woman – even one who had married into another Ancient and Noble House.

"No, Arcturus!" Charlus reached out and prevented Sirius's Grandfather from drawing his wand. "I don't think it's Lily that's summoned them!"

Sirius's eyes widened as he turned again to look at his dear friend.

She looked formidable; red hair streaming backwards, her robes billowing and her green eyes alight with magic.

"Mummy upset! Mummy wants Padfoot now!" Lily said in a childish voice. "Go get Padfoot!"

The griffin and the snake looked at her and looked at each other. The griffin stooped and the snake wrapped itself around it; the griffin took wing, flying around the room once before surging to the outer wall and disappearing.

Sirius tore his eyes away from the sight of the totems being commanded in such a way.

James took a hesitant step towards his wife. "Lily?"

"That's not Lily, James," Young Bertie commented warily.

"Indeed not," Dumbledore agreed, his eyes twinkling, "to whom are we speaking?"

"Daddy calls me Pronglet." The voice said cheerfully. "Mummy calls me Harry."

"The baby?" asked Arcturus in disbelief. "It's the baby?"

"It has both Black and Potter blood." Charlus said shakily. "That must be how it summoned both our family magics."

Young Bertie turned to look at Lily with open curiosity. "Incredible."

"There is no doubt that the child will be a powerful wizard if its unborn spirit can manifest in such a way." Dumbledore agreed.

"Pronglet?"

James looked calm but Sirius could tell his old friend was worried out of his mind.

"Pronglet, is Mummy OK?" James asked.

Lily's head nodded sharply before her eyes widened dramatically. "Uh-oh."

"Uh-oh?" James paled.

"Mummy called me Harry James Potter. Mummy mad at Harry." Her lips trembled as her eyes filled with tears.

"Well, you did take over Mummy's body, Harry," James said reasonably with a shaky laugh.

"I'm sure Mummy understands that you only wanted to help." Charlus added warmly. "But you will need to give Mummy her body back now and return the Potter family magic to me."

"Your Grandfather Potter is quite right, young Harry," Arcturus added, "you'll need to give the Black family magic back to me, your Grandfather Black. It's quite dangerous for you."

Lily – or rather Harry – pouted.

"I'm sure, young Harry, you will get both back in time." Arcturus said with a smile.

Sirius gaped at his grandfather.

"In fact I give you my oath, Harry James Potter, Heir of the House of Potter, Heir to the House of Black that the Black family magic will one day be yours to command." Arcturus promised.

"And I give you my oath Harry James Potter, Heir of the House of Potter, Heir to the House of Black that the Potter family magic will one day be yours to command." Charlus said formally.

"Merlin!" Sirius breathed out in shock. "They both named Harry as an Heir back then?! Before his birth even?"

Bertie nodded beside him as his younger version continued to watch. "I believe they both meant for Harry to follow after you and James but yes, they couldn't deny what was rightfully his; what he had successfully summoned."

"Magic back now." A finger pointed to the centre of the room.

The griffin flashed in and deposited a form wrapped in a silver snake which slithered away to reveal Sirius; naked, half-dead and bloody.

Lily's eyes rolled up and she swooned. James caught her before she hit the floor.

"He's injured!" Arcturus said waving his wand over Sirius. "We have to get him to St Mungo's!"

"Lily needs a healer too!" James called out.

"And I am declaring this a need-to-know event under my authority as Head of the DOM." Younger Bertie stated forcefully.

They dropped out of the memory and back into Sirius's study.

"Albus made a portkey and everyone was whisked away to St Mungo's. You healed but couldn't remember anything except being captured and tortured; Charlus died not long after, and we had a war to contend with. I had…not forgotten, but hadn't thought of it for some time." Bertie sighed heavily and sat down in a nearby chair.

Sirius paced back and forth trying to make sense of what he had seen in the memory; what he had seen in the blessing ritual. He stopped. "He called the family magic to him when he was an unborn child and it obeyed?!" He shook his head, closed his eyes briefly and reopened them with a fierce protectiveness turning the grey dark and foreboding. "Did everyone in the room take a Vow not to disclose what had happened?"

"No," Bertie said, "Arcturus and Charlus in a surprise move teamed up and immediately used their family magics to obliviate everyone except James and Lily. They also left me because both of them agreed that someone else outside of the families should have the memory of what had happened and I had been quick to declare the event need-to-know. I have wondered since your exoneration whether the obliviation caused Albus, Bagnold and Crouch to distrust you more, especially after the place where the Death Eaters had kept you was discovered and the men there found dead without any explanation of how you achieved it when tortured so badly. I assume that the family magics that retrieved you enacted justice upon discovering you harmed."

Sirius sighed. He guessed it was possible but it was all magic through the wand.

Bertie gazed at Sirius resolutely. "Your ward…your son has an amazing affinity for family magic, a powerful connection. It's almost like he has a familiar bond with the totems." He said. "It is fascinating."

"If you think I'm going to let you experiment on him…" snarled Sirius.

"No," Bertie held up a hand in supplication, "I didn't mean that, he is a child and shouldn't be subjected to experiments I agree, but you have to admit, on an intellectual level, it is fascinating."

"You sound like Remus." Sirius said dryly.

Bertie smiled. "I take that as a compliment. If it weren't for the werewolf laws I would look at stealing him away from you."

"He wouldn't leave Harry either way." Sirius said confidently.

"No, I guess not." Bertie said. "My reason for showing you this memory is to give you fair warning that now Harry is a position where he is the recognised Heir of the House of Black and he has control of the House of Potter's magic that there may be more instances of this type of thing occurring."

"Bugger!" Sirius swore.

Bertie nodded.

Sirius paced again, considering his options. In some ways Harry having the kind of affinity with the family magics was a good thing. It would protect him that much was clear. On the other hand, it gave away just how powerful and unique Harry was. And they didn't understand enough about what was going on, about Harry's strange relationships with the totems; whether ultimately it would be harmful for him.

"We're coming in next week to look at the prophecy in detail," Sirius began, "I think it might be a good idea for us to explore Harry's affinity with the totems with you. We need to know more if we're to protect him properly."

"I suggest you do the prophecy next week and I'll get some research started in the meantime." Bertie said. "I'd like to have a theoretical basis on which to start posing questions."

Sirius nodded his agreement. "Thank you, Bertie."

"I'll let you get to your son." Bertie said.

Sirius walked Bertie out to the floo. He called Kreacher briefly, thanking him for his work that day and arranging the clean-up of the study. Sirius finally flooed back to Griffin House. He made his way to Harry's room and wasn't surprised to see both Remus and Minerva grouped around Harry's bed with Dobby sat protectively at the end of the bed and Hedwig on the headboard.

He conjured up a chair of his own and picked up Harry's limp hand. "How is he?"

"Sleeping peacefully." Minerva said dryly.

Sirius smoothed Harry's fringe back from his forehead. His scar was faded; a thin sharp zig-zagging line was all that remained – one that Noshi had assured him would fade away completely in time. He traced it lovingly before he sat back tiredly.

Dobby popped away and back again with a mug of hot chocolate.

Sirius took it gratefully and fortified himself with a sip before he began telling them about Bertie and the memory.

"Well, I'll do some research too." Remus said. "It won't hurt to have a second viewpoint."

"Thank you, Moony." Sirius said.

"I will discreetly check out the Hogwarts library tomorrow while Albus is out at the Wizengamot." Minerva offered. She smiled sympathetically. "I believe Lord Black is going to have a busy day."

Sirius grimaced and took a big sip of his chocolate; he let the warmth comfort him.

"Well, I should leave you to it." Minerva said, getting to her feet. "Shall we do the Vow now or do you want me to come back early tomorrow?"

"It's OK, Minerva." Sirius said. "We trust you not to tell anyone; no Vow."

Minerva looked momentarily shocked before she gave a brief nod. "You'd better not tell that to Bertie. Try to get some rest, Sirius." She gently tucked Harry's blanket closer and departed the room.

Dobby popped off after her, presumably seeing to dinner. Sirius couldn't think about eating something – not when Harry was lying unconscious.

"This isn't how I thought we'd spend this evening." Sirius said sadly.

"We can celebrate when he wakes up." Remus motioned towards Harry. "I know looking at him it's hard to feel like celebrating anything but today was a good day, Padfoot. He's your son and nobody can interfere with that. Brian was going straight to the WOO with Amelia to register the adoption. And…despite the unusualness of what happened in the blessing ritual, it was successful. He's protected and that protection is now anchored by Black blood and, uh, the blessing of Morgana Le Fey."

"I know." Sirius said, picking up Harry's hand again. "I just…I want to protect him, Remus, and…"

"You are protecting him." Remus said firmly. "He'll be right as rain after a couple of days, well except for the very probable mortification at passing out in front of everyone."

Sirius gave a weak chuckle. "Thank you, Moony."

"I'll go check what Dobby's cooking up and get started on that research." Remus said pushing out of the chair. "You'll be OK here?"

Sirius nodded. "I'm just going to stay and watch over Harry."

For a moment it looked as though Remus was going to say something but he turned and walked away, leaving Sirius with Harry. Hedwig gave a hoot, launching off the headboard to glide across the room to her perch.

Sirius stroked a thumb over Harry's knuckles, remembering how he'd done the same thing at the clinic after the scar cleansing; how strangely the family magic totems had acted then. His mind drifted to the fragment of the prophecy Lucius had told him. "The one with the power…" Was the power Harry's strange connection with the family magics? As he watched him sleep, Sirius promised his son that he would do everything he could to find out.

Chapter Text

"Thank you for inviting me to breakfast and indulging my curiosity."

Lucius patted his mouth with a napkin and looked over at Severus Snape coolly. "Your curiosity or Dumbledore's?"

There was a hint of amusement on Severus's dark eyes. "In truth, his, of course. What possible reason would I have to care whether there's a new Lord Black?" He sneered before his sallow face grew contemplative. "It did give me…a needed excuse to see you."

Lucius tossed his napkin down and picked up the finer cup filled to the brim with the best coffee money could buy. "The Mark is getting stronger."

"Yes." Severus said simply.

"Shall we dispense with the usual song and dance?" Lucius asked bluntly.

Severus blinked, as much surprise as the Slytherin Head ever allowed himself to show. "Dispense by all means, Lucius."

"He's not dead." Lucius stated.

"No," Severus agreed, "Dumbledore has been aware for some time that he is not. He lives as a wraith, out of body, but alive."

"Quirrell?" asked Lucius careful to make this tone careless.

"I believe the Dark Lord possessed him although I did not know it at the time." Severus admitted.

"Potter drove him away again." Lucius commented dryly. He took a sip of his coffee, enjoying the bitter aromatic flavour that danced over his tongue and the sour expression on Severus's face.

"I assume the diary was a way for him to return?" Severus countered. "Dumbledore refused to share anything about it with me."

Lucius nodded. He didn't share that it wasn't the only trinket; Severus didn't need to know that and certainly it was something Lucius didn't want getting back to the Dark Lord that could be traced to him. "Potter stopped that attempt too." He said in reply.

Severus's left eye twitched and Lucius hid his amusement by focusing on his coffee. Potter was Severus's weakness, as much a thorn under Severus's skin as the boy's father had been. Really, it was too easy.

"And now the Mark is darkening." Lucius returned to the original trigger for the discussion. "Obviously, the Dark Lord gains strength."

"Pettigrew escaped at Hogwarts." Severus informed him. "Dumbledore believes he will have sought out the Dark Lord to protect him from the wrath of the rest of the Marauders. It is the rat who will assist the Dark Lord in returning to power."

Lucius allowed himself a small grimace. Pettigrew had been the Dark Lord's ace in the hole, one kept completely secret; that the cowardly boy had been a Death Eater…the mind boggled.

"You have a meeting organised with the others?" asked Severus slyly.

"A meeting of my allies is not unusual ahead of a Wizengamot session." Lucius demurred.

"What strategy will be discussed?" Severus requested.

Lucius drained his cup and set it down. "Tell me, Severus, if the Dark Lord shows up tomorrow, what will he expect of those that followed him before?"

Severus made a careful motion with his hand. "That we will serve him."

"Yes," Lucius agreed mildly, "he will expect that we will throw ourselves upon his mercy; to be forgiven for not seeking him out and helping him return to power earlier; for believing a mere baby had destroyed him utterly when he bragged that he was immortal."

"If he shows up returned to strength then it will be the height of foolishness not to beg for his mercy." Severus pointed out. "He never suffered failure or disobedience lightly."

"He is a powerful wizard." Lucius looked at Severus keenly. "So tell me, Severus, what should our strategy be?"

"Mitigation of our apparent betrayal. A very public show of support of some kind," Severus surmised, "a spot of muggle-baiting, perhaps? The Quidditch World Cup would lend itself quite well as a stage."

"Wouldn't it?" Lucius mused. "And indeed until yesterday that was my thought."

Severus's dark eyes narrowed on him. "The Black family meeting."

"The House of Black has invoked its primacy." Lucius stated. "It will not serve anyone. It will especially not serve a halfblood bastard of a muggle."

Severus blinked again. "You don't intend to serve the Dark Lord?"

Lucius raised an eyebrow in silent reproach while quietly taking note of the fact that Severus was already aware of the Dark Lord's less than impressive origins. "All I will say is this: after seeing the magic invoked in the rituals yesterday, I serve the House of Black willingly and will watch it crush its enemies." He smiled evilly.

Severus took a sip of his juice and Lucius knew he was trying to process the new world order. "I see." He smoothed his robes. "One can assume it will not ally with him then as in the past."

"You can reassure your Headmaster of that much." Lucius allowed. He glanced at the clock and rose from his chair with elegant grace. "You will see yourself out, Severus?"

"I will." Severus said. "Thank you for an enlightening conversation."

"Severus," Lucius paused for a moment, contemplating the advice he was about to give the other man whether it served Lucius to give Severus such a warning, "the truth of Lord Black will be revealed at the Wizengamot but he was raised Slytherin and you should keep that in mind."

Severus blinked and Lucius departed in the knowledge that Severus had received the message. He liked Severus, not that he would ever admit it to the man himself. Severus was deeply intelligent; a Slytherin capable of cunning and stratagems that left nobody any the wiser to his true position. Lucius knew he had been seduced by his friends Avery and MacNair into supporting the Dark Lord and the Dark Lord himself had wanted Severus for his potions knowledge; it had elevated him in the ranks despite his blood status. Severus was also a man who spied for both sides and convinced both his masters that they had his true allegiance. Lucius rather suspected Severus's true allegiance lay elsewhere but Potter was his weakness and Potter would be his downfall if Severus did not choose another path.

He made his way to his study and waited patiently for the influx of his allies. In no time at all, Lucius found himself sat at the large conference table in the room just off the study.

It was a simple room in comparison to the grandeur of the rest of the Manor. Dark green walls were complemented by cream accents; the furniture was polished cherry wood; the chairs upholstered in the same green colour as the walls. He cleared his throat and looked around the table as everyone fell silent.

There were very familiar faces seated around the table: Wilkes, Gibbon, Nott, and Selwyn were all Lords from Ancient and Noble Houses. Crabbe, Goyle, Avery, Jugson and Parkinson held Wizengamot formal seats but were minor Houses. Yaxley, Rowle, MacNair and Travers worked for the Ministry. Of the Dark Lord's favourites who were not residing in Azkaban, only Dolohov and the Carrows were missing as they were abroad – and Snape, of course, who was ostensibly a spy.

"Thank you for attending this gathering on short notice." Lucius said. For the second time in a day he decided that he would dispense with the usual verbal thrust and parry that came with dealing with a group of mostly Slytherin graduates. "I will not waste time; we have two items on our agenda. The new Lord Black and the changes to the Mark of the Dark Lord we wear."

Avery seemed to wilt visibly with the mention of the Dark Lord and Lucius wasn't the only one sending him a contemptuous glance.

"I believe it would be beneficial to speak of the former first before we come to a decision on the latter." Lucius said firmly.

Selwyn's plucked eyebrows rose. "What could possibly be more important than anything to do with the Dark Lord?"

"Indulge me." Lucius said in a tone of cold steel that told everyone in the room it was an order not a request. He had long ago taken the reins of leadership from the so-called Lords in the group and he would not allow them to take it back.

He leaned back in his chair. It was going to be a nightmare to work within the parameters of the Vow and convey the message required. "Yesterday, my wife and I attended the Black family meeting."

"Is it the squib's son as we had thought?" Wilkes sneered, his gruff features turning stony.

"Lord Black is the rightful heir by blood, magic and law." Lucius stated.

A few frowned as they worked through the meaning of his announcement.

"But that would mean Sirius Black is the…" Gibbon stumbled to a halt, his eyes wide.

A rippled of shock ran around the gathering.

"You remember of course how many of us Sirius Black killed when he was a Hit Wizard, I trust?" Lucius posed the question idly. "Yesterday, he called Judgement on the LeStranges and the body count went up by two. Bellatrix will no doubt be dead before the week is out, as it is she is stripped of her magic, her name and the LeStrange fortune has been seized to pay reparations to the House of Longbottom."

"Dear Merlin!" Avery breathed out in horror.

"I only escaped a similar fate by the skin of my teeth," Lucius conceded, "as Lord Black believes to be Marked is to have betrayed the purity of the House of Black."

"The House of Black supported the Dark Lord!" snapped Selwyn.

"Arcturus was never Marked." Lucius pointed out calmly. "He never indicated support or censure. The fact is that he evidently kept Sirius as Heir – one presumes because he was the only Black in the line not Marked. So I would suggest your argument is void, Stewart."

"It is disappointing for a House with the pedigree of Black to fall into the snare of the old fool Dumbledore…" Wilkes began.

"Oh, Lord Black has no intention of the House being subjugated to the will of Dumbledore any more than he intends it being subjugated to the will of the Dark Lord." Lucius let his lips curve in a humourless arc as there was another wave of mutterings and shock.

"He will take a neutral stance?" Gibbon had too much apparent hope for the Slytherin he was supposed to be.

"Politically, I believe Lord Black means to own the centre," Lucius said, gesturing for them to halt their questions, "his agenda is one of egalitarianism." He allowed himself to sneer genuinely at that. "But he insisted in all other respects on following tradition and protocol."

"You forget though that he may not have a choice but to ally with Dumbledore should the Dark Lord return," Nott spoke up, "Black was awarded custody of the Boy Who Lived."

"He may have been awarded it but Dumbledore will never allow him to take custody." Jugson stated with a hard laugh.

"Lord Black already has taken custody." Lucius said simply. "Potter has claimed his Head of House ring. Black is confirmed as the Potter Regent. Potter was announced as the Heir of Black."

Another round of shock rushed through the gathering.

"He outmanoeuvred Dumbledore and took control of the boy?!" Selwyn laughed in delight, banging a fist on the arm of his chair. "Now that is outstanding! Arcturus will be laughing himself silly in the afterlife!"

"So Black now controls both the holdings of the House of Black and the House of Potter." Nott said quietly. It silenced the rest of the room as they started to contemplate Nott's statement.

"The Potter alliance will reform on the Light side," Parkinson said with certainty, "and most of the neutrals will go over if they're given another option besides allying with Dumbledore."

"Merlin's teeth!" Gibbon stuttered out. "Never mind owning the centre, Black will own the Wizengamot!"

"We may need to make concessions certainly but I believe there is a great deal of room in which to manoeuvre with Black's respect for tradition." Lucius allowed, tapping his fingers gently against the table top.

"Well, bugger it!" Travers finally made his presence known. He stabbed a meaty finger toward Lucius. "I say we wait until the Dark Lord comes back and let him sort out Black and Potter. Once he's back in power, we can do what we want."

Lucius looked over at Travers coolly. "Do you believe the Dark Lord will simply let us do what we want? If the Dark Lord returns and wins, we will all do what he wants."

"You say that like it's a bad thing, Lucius." Wilkes noted, his dark eyes gleaming malevolently.

"Why did we follow the Dark Lord, Norman?" Lucius asked politely. "Because he espoused a pureblood agenda and promised us a place of power at his side? Because he was the Heir of Slytherin? Because he was to be feared as a Dark wizard with knowledge of the Arts beyond most of us and had the power to kill us if we did not?"

Everyone stirred uncomfortably.

"Let me take each argument singularly. Yes, he espoused a pureblood agenda but how many purebloods in our ranks did the Dark Lord kill simply because he was angry at them for some misdemeanour?" Lucius saw the question hit home. "How many purebloods were held under the Cruciatus curse for the same reason? How many died in skirmishes and raids due to the war he waged?"

"On both sides," Nott added with his usual quiet assurance, "blood traitors they may have been but we lost a number of families because we were ordered to eliminate them."

"It is interesting, is it not," Lucius added, "how we managed to secure most of the agenda we wanted in the days after the war without bloodshed?"

"You make a good point but to what end?" Selwyn said bluntly.

"I'm older and perhaps wiser," Lucius said, "I question the decisions made back then in a way that I didn't in my youth."

Travers looked at him with a glower. "You are heading down a traitorous path."

"I admit," Lucius said calmly, "that I would never have questioned the past in such a way except I have recently learned that the Dark Lord is not a pureblood."

The outcry was immediate.

"Lies!" It was Travers again that spoke out. "Traitorous lies!" He yelled at him. "The Dark Lord is the Heir to Slytherin!"

Lucius simply raised an eyebrow. "I did not claim he wasn't. He is indeed the Heir. Tom Marvolo Riddle was born of Merope Gaunt, descendent of Slytherin. His father, however, was a mere muggle who disowned both Merope and his son. The Dark Lord is no pureblood."

"What makes you think this Riddle fellow is our Lord?" Avery's voice quavered.

"I was given a possession of the Dark Lord's which bore his name and Black filled me in on the rest." Lucius said candidly.

"Well, Black lied to you! He has filled your head with a story!" Travers insisted.

Selwyn was the one who shook his head sadly. "No, Lucius tells the truth. The Dark Lord hid his secret well. I only discovered it when my niece investigated the Heir of Slytherin nonsense at Hogwarts a year or so ago and found Riddle's name and history in an old genealogy book in my family library."

"You also forget, Travers, that some of us are old enough to have known Tom Riddle." Nott said with authority. "Lucius is quite correct."

"Why didn't you say something?" Wilkes demanded.

Nott raised one dark eyebrow. "Those of us aware of the Dark Lord's true name swore never to reveal it. I'm rather surprised that Selwyn's niece and Black found anything; I thought the records had been destroyed."

Most of the gathering looked appalled to realise they had followed a halfblood in a war of his making that had decimated so many purebloods. Travers looked belligerent.

"And so we come to the final reason why we would follow him; his magical power and knowledge." Lucius stated. "His knowledge of the Dark Arts is certainly extensive and vast." He motioned with his hand. "But it is not equal to the House of Black. He courted all of us associated with the House so fiercely because he wanted that knowledge."

"But he is unequalled in power!" Travers pointed out. "You cannot deny that!"

Lucius smiled cruelly. "As much as we all don't want to admit it, he was bested by a baby; a baby that has grown into a powerful young wizard."

"Pah!" Wilkes said. "The Boy Who Lived is a myth of Dumbledore's making!"

Lucius inclined his head. "I believed the same but yesterday I saw his power. Croaker was present and declared the event need-to-know."

Another wave of muttering swept around the table.

"The Potter boy is truly that powerful?" Selwyn looked at him sceptically. "The reports coming out of Hogwarts suggest an average child."

"Academically, perhaps," Parkinson countered, "but there are rumours that abound of his adventures. A troll? The whole mystery over what actually happened Quirrell? A basilisk? Dementors? How many of these tales have we heard from our children and dismissed assuming childish exaggeration or more myth-building by Dumbledore?"

"I can confirm that those incidents occurred." Lucius murmured.

"Well, something doesn't add up." Nott observed. "On one hand we have a child who is average and yet who apparently can take on Dark creatures and come out the victor."

"He could be hiding his power – that would explain the average performance." Gibbon suggested brightly.

"That's a Slytherin trait and the boy's a Gryffindor!" Wilkes countered.

"There may be a reason for his hiding his abilities within his upbringing." Yaxley interjected. He lifted a hand from the table. "Bones kept the Black investigation close to her chest but checking it out since – she visited Potter at his muggle residence and the next day had Potter's guardianship changed to Black."

"Abuse?" Gibbon looked horrified.

Yaxley nodded slowly. "I believe so. There is a detailed report filed with the WOO but it is under seal."

"Muggles!" Wilkes said darkly. "Why the old fool thought placing a wizarding child with muggles was a good idea is beyond me!"

Lucius refrained from pointing out the many meetings in the days just after the Dark Lord's defeat where they had discussed tracking down and killing the boy only to be stumped on how to navigate the muggle world.

Nott motioned at Lucius. "You say you saw his power yesterday? Can you give any details?"

"I cannot due to a Vow," Lucius said with frankness knowing they would assume he meant one authorised by the Head of the DOM, "but it was…incredible."

"So the boy's powerful, I fail to see what this has to do with anything!" Jugson stated impatiently.

"You cannot see why we would wish to know these things before we begin discussing the possible return of the Dark Lord?" Selwyn replied before Lucius could. "Are you an idiot, Jugson?"

Lucius was amused to see MacNair, Crabbe and Goyle flush alongside Jugson; evidently they had all been thinking the same thing.

"From what Lucius has said, we now have an independent and powerful House of Black to contend with along with the resurrection of the House of Potter." Nott summarised. "Both of which are under the control – directly or indirectly – of Sirius Black who, despite being a blood traitor is in every way as mean a son-of-a-snake as every Lord Black before him. He's already shown ruthlessness in disposing of the LeStranges and cunning in his obtaining the guardianship of the Potter boy."

"In other words, make him an enemy at your peril." Selwyn nodded in agreement.

"The bad news is that if the Dark Lord returns, the House of Black will consider him and by extension his followers as an enemy." Parkinson chipped in. "However, the good news for us is that Lord Black doesn't seem inclined to bow down to Dumbledore as he did as a youth."

"No, the bad news for us is that if the House of Black stands against the Dark Lord and leads the fight instead of Dumbledore this time, the current Lord Black has no compunction about killing everyone who may threaten his charge." Nott contradicted. "A charge who evidently has the power to defeat the Dark Lord himself."

Selwyn coughed. "So last time there was the Dark Lord or Dumbledore; this time there will be the Dark Lord, Dumbledore or the House of Black – a third option that wasn't available in the last war."

Wilkes snorted.

"You're talking of betraying the Dark Lord!" Travers insisted.

"We are talking of how best to preserve and further our agenda." Lucius replied easily.

"By abandoning our Dark Lord!"

Nott smiled blandly. "The only one to suggest such a thing has been you, Travers." He motioned towards Lucius. "I believe we were merely drawing a picture of how the landscape is now and how different it is from when we all took the Dark Lord's Mark."

Which meant Nott was on board and understood: they had another choice than following the Dark Lord.

Lucius gave him a cautious nod.

"I agree." Parkinson said.

"As do I." Selwyn confirmed.

Wilkes nodded and rapped his knuckles on the table. "Agreed."

Gibbon hurriedly nodded. While Crabbe and Goyle exchanged a look before mumbling their own agreements.

Avery simply looked bewildered, sensing that there was a way forward that had been agreed but not understanding what it was. Not for the first time Lucius wondered how he had ever been sorted into Slytherin. The others were frowning but Yaxley caught Lucius's eye and gave a small inclination of his head in acknowledgement.

"Speaking of the Dark Lord's Mark…" Lucius redirected the conversation.

"You've spoken with Snape?" Wilkes asked bluntly.

"Yes," Lucius nodded, "he has confirmed that Dumbledore believes the Dark Lord to be a wraith; that Peter Pettigrew has likely sought out the Dark Lord for protection against Black and is working to restore him to a body."

"Is Pettigrew capable?" wondered Avery. "I don't recall him being anything special for all he was part of Potter's little entourage."

Lucius thought that was the kettle calling the pot but he refrained from saying anything.

"Perhaps we should search him out and offer to help?" Travers suggested.

"An excellent idea," Lucius commented, "if you wish to incur the wrath of the Dark Lord." He raised an eyebrow as Travers grew purple in the face with anger. "Surely, you cannot have forgotten that every mission by the Dark Lord was a test for the individual assigned to lead it?" He flicked non-existent lint from his robes. "The punishment for someone interfering in someone else's mission especially one which was planned by the Dark Lord himself was quite brutal."

There were more than a few nods.

"So we wait?" demanded Travers. "What if Pettigrew falters?"

"Then we will discuss the matter again," Selwyn said firmly, "but Lucius is quite correct; unless Pettigrew approaches us on behalf of the Dark Lord, we must assume his lack of contact has been ordered by the Dark Lord."

"But Pettigrew will be garnering favour while we appear to have abandoned him," complained Jugson.

Lucius raised an eyebrow. "And how long will that favour last? Just how useful is Pettigrew to the Dark Lord? He's a wanted man; a fugitive with a price on his head. And Merlin help him if Black gets to him first."

Jugson seemed mollified.

"But…but our Lord will be angry with us!" cried Avery almost wringing his hands in despair.

"For not realising that he was still alive? For not seeking him out as Pettigrew has done?" Lucius nodded slowly and carefully. "Perhaps. However, he cannot kill or maim us all when he returns if he wishes to regain the advantage that was lost when he…disappeared."

"We should do more. If we cannot help Pettigrew directly then why don't we show the Dark Lord that we are still loyal?" Travers pressed.

"Yes!" Avery declared. "Splendid idea!"

Lucius didn't allow the smile to cross his lips. "What do you suggest?"

Travers looked at him steadily. "The World Cup is set near muggles. It wouldn't be hard to do a spot of muggle-baiting in our old uniforms."

"Count me in." MacNair drawled. "I haven't killed a muggle in ages."

Lucius had always believed MacNair was an amoral sociopath. He didn't even believe MacNair cared anything about the agenda just so long as he got to kill and torture.

"I'm happy to volunteer too." Rowle said.

"Any other volunteers?" Lucius asked.

"You won't volunteer yourself, Lucius?" Travers sneered.

Lucius held his hard gaze with one of his own. "I have no doubt that Black will attend the cup final with Potter and that I will be called upon to attend as family. I believe it is in our best interests for me to ingratiate myself and my son with the House of Black." He waited a beat. "There is no point losing a valuable source of intelligence and wealth, after all."

The others accepted his position.

"Besides, Travers, I'm sure you will do well in leading this effort," Lucius flattered him while deriding him at the same time, "and will not require me."

"What about the rest of you?" Travers asked bluntly. "Who else will take part and show their loyalty to the Dark Lord?"

Selwyn glared at him. "Watch your tone, Travers! He is not back yet and you are reliant on our sponsorship and support within the Ministry or have you forgotten?"

Travers started to go purple again.

"Too many of us will provoke too much notice." Nott contributed. "A small strike team is best. It will be written off by Fudge as bad form but not serious. However, we can all honestly say to the Dark Lord if asked that we supported you all in your efforts."

"Although no doubt he will favour those who did take part." Lucius slid in slyly.

"I shall go!" Avery immediately volunteered.

Jugson also rose to the bait beautifully. "I will go too. Five should be enough, eh, Travers?"

Travers nodded unhappily.

"Then if we are in agreement, let us adjourn." Lucius said. "Some of us need to prepare for the Wizengamot session." He smiled. "I believe when Dumbledore finds out who Lord Black is there will be quite a floor show."

That provoked a few titters of laughter and they filed out obediently, Lucius catching Parkinson and asking him to remain a moment.

"Dinner on Friday, Lucius?" Nott offered before he stepped out.

Lucius inclined his head. "I'll owl the arrangements." Yes, Nott – older than most of them, very intelligent and cunning – was a superb ally. He had always regretted Draco not cultivating more of a friendship with young Nott.

Parkinson looked at him expectantly. "I assume this is about the arrangement?"

"Black has ordered it dropped. He's stated that all the children will have the right to choose their own spouses." Lucius confirmed. "My deepest apologies, Charles."

"It's a shame but not unexpected after what I heard today." Parkinson's dark eyes met his. "I'll tell Pansy or rather I'll tell her mother to tell her. Girls, you know!"

Lucius smiled tightly, thanked Parkinson for being so understanding (and wondered what that would cost him in future) and saw him to the floo. He returned to the breakfast room and sat down next to his wife who was eating a late breakfast of Eggs Benedict.

"Results?" asked Narcissa, sipping her tea.

"Most are with us; they don't wish to lose power to a halfblood who would just as soon as kill them as have them as a follower." Lucius said candidly. He paused. "Travers will be a problem."

"Your plan?"

"I'm certain Lord Black will be grateful for intelligence of any suspected Death Eater activity." Lucius said. "He, no doubt, will pass such information to the relevant authorities." He sighed. "Someone will have to get Avery out of it though; his vote is too easily obtained for it to be wasted by him being thrown into Azkaban."

Narcissa hummed.

"How is Draco this morning?" Lucius had expected to see his son at the table.

"How do you think he is?" Narcissa parried back. "He is currently throwing his toys out of the pram. I expect him to move onto stamping his feet by lunch time. By dinner, he will be convinced you can fix everything."

If Lucius were any other man he would fear the sharp edge to her tone.

"I will speak to him when I return from the Wizengamot." Lucius said stiffly.

Narcissa glanced up from her tea and sighed. "It is as much my fault as yours, Lucius. Sirius was right in that I should have insisted on taking the lead with his education. We have spoiled him and now our owls have come home to roost."

"Your plan?" Lucius asked.

"I will re-educate him over the rest of the Summer in politics and etiquette for a member of the House of Black." Narcissa said. "I may coordinate with Andy as she performs the etiquette lessons for Potter. It would do our son good to be exposed to dealing with the boy neutrally before he is tested at Hogwarts although it may well be August before we can attempt such a test."

Lucius narrowed his eyes. "I believed we had agreed you would not resume a relationship with your sister."

"No; you told me that I wasn't to speak to her some years ago, Lucius," Narcissa said coldly, "and while I understood your reasoning, it is now moot. Sirius will expect a level of reconciliation." She arched an eyebrow at him. "Sirius will also trust her more than us and Andy will be a useful source of information."

"Very well." Lucius conceded the point, too aware that if he ordered her not to proceed she could now seek the protection of her House.

"Remus Lupin has owled. We have a meeting scheduled at Gringotts with Kipbold tomorrow." Narcissa said. "If you give me a letter of authorisation, I will handle it. Remus and I had a civil relationship at Hogwarts."

"It surprises me given how close you were to Severus," Lucius said a little irked by her presumption.

Her gaze was cool and told him he had disappointed her. "I was attempting to save you the humiliation of the punishment Sirius laid out for you. Lupin is a gentleman and will not humiliate me. However, if you wish to go through our household expenditure line item by line item with a werewolf, I will withdraw my offer."

Lucius felt his cheeks heat although his gaze remained level. "My apologies. I will write you the letter of authorisation." He cleared his throat. "I did give Severus a warning about the House of Black this morning."

"It will be disregarded as soon as he learns that Sirius is Lord Black." Narcissa said bluntly. "Severus is wonderfully intelligent until the name Potter, Black or Lupin is mentioned. He is clearly blinded by his hatred of the father since he cannot see the boy correctly."

"Maybe but some of today's discussion revolved around the possibility that Potter has been purposefully average at Hogwarts." Lucius raised a hand. "The muggles might have abused him."

Narcissa's eyes flashed. "There will be a reckoning if I know Sirius." She shook her head. "The power the boy has at his disposal…I could feel it running through him when I touched him during the ritual…that such a child should have been left with muggles…" She shook her head.

"Nott has invited himself to dinner on Friday so we can strategize." Lucius said. "I'd like you to attend."

"Of course." Narcissa said evenly.

Lucius noted the time and grasped his cane as he got to his feet. "Are you ready to leave? We should make our way to the Wizengamot. I have no wish to miss any of today."

Narcissa rose from the table. "I will meet you at the floo."

He watched her go with a frown before making his way to the floo. When his father had petitioned for a marriage to the House of Black, it had been Andromeda they had both had in mind. Unfortunately, Andromeda had run off with the mudblood and Narcissa had been offered as a substitute. She was beautiful, intelligent and a true Black; he appreciated her cunning and political acumen. He felt some affection for her as the mother of his heir but he didn't love her. When the House of Black had ceased to be the power it had been, Lucius had taken advantage and asserted his authority. Now though…

He knew Narcissa could crush him. A word from her to Sirius and he would be stripped of his magic and cast out. He didn't like the new power dynamic but Lucius was pragmatic. Narcissa had spoken up in his defence during the family meeting; she was helping him navigate terms with her cousin. It seemed she was content if not happy to remain married to him.

Perhaps though, Lucius considered, he should acquiesce to her want for more children. He had not been to her bed for many years but Narcissa had always wanted a daughter and pregnancy would curtail her activities and make her more cautious. The sound of her footsteps approaching had him smoothing his expression. He would discuss it with her in a few days to avert any suspicion, Lucius determined as he indicated for her to precede him.

Yes, a pregnancy would ensure Narcissa remained in her place. He might have to follow the House of Black thanks to the Vow and the primacy agreement, but in his own home, he was the Lord and Master.

o-O-o

Sirius watched Harry scoop up the last of his cereal and took the bowl from him, setting it aside on the bedside table as Harry slumped back on his pillows. He still looked exhausted. He had woken up that morning but he'd been shaky when Sirius had helped him to the bathroom and back. The food seemed to have sated him and he looked sleepy again.

"You just need to rest." Sirius said, as much to reassure himself as Harry.

"Hmmm-hmmm." Harry said. "Don't worry; I'm just going to sleep for the rest of the day."

Sirius ruffled his hair. "OK, back under the covers."

Harry rolled his eyes but obediently snuggled down. "You should go get ready. You'll be late."

"So I'm late." Sirius shrugged it off. "It's considered fashionable."

"Not at the Wizengamot and you have an appointment with Brian and Arthur first." Remus said from the doorway.

Sirius nodded. He had owled Brian the night before to confirm the outcome of the discussion with Lucius Malfoy and to set up the various sanctions. He wasn't looking forward to telling Arthur about Lucius's involvement with the diary but he had agreed to do it.

"Go and get changed. I'll keep watch on Harry." Remus urged.

Harry frowned. "I wish I could go."

"You can watch the memory later." Sirius promised him. "Just rest, OK? No more summoning ancient spirits."

"I wish…" Harry's voice trailed away and Sirius supplied the rest: that Harry wished he could summon the spirit of Lily again.

"I know, Pronglet," Sirius said gently, "I like to think it was her way of saying she approved."

Harry's face brightened. "Yeah. Me too, Padfoot."

Sirius leaned down and dropped a kiss on Harry's forehead. "I'll be back before you know it." He walked away and Remus entered to take his place.

Thirty minutes later, Sirius was washed, dressed and ready for action. He wore his formal robes with the crests of Black and Potter on his breast; he went with the leather trousers underneath for ease of movement and to make a statement: he was a maverick, someone they couldn't put in a box. His own wand, newly returned to him, was holstered and he had secreted his great-grandfather's in a second holster on his other arm.

He peeked into Harry's room before he left. Harry was out; fast asleep. Remus looked up from the book he was reading and walked over to the doorway.

"Ready?" He asked quietly.

"As I'll ever be." Sirius responded in the same low tone. "I have my mirror so if anything happens…"

"I will contact you." Remus assured him. He patted Sirius on the shoulder. "Now, go be a Marauder, Padfoot, and get up to no good."

Sirius smirked a little and left before he could convince himself it was necessary for him to stay beside Harry.

He flooed to Black Manor first and then onto Brian's office.

Brian greeted him with a brisk handshake. "I should thank you for inviting me to one of the most wonderful events of my life. It's rare that you get to see that kind of magic."

"Me too." Arthur said in agreement as he offered his hand. "It was very special."

"It was all Harry." Sirius said roughly. He pointed at Arthur's finger. "You're wearing your ring?"

"Yes, well, with all the vows and oaths and alliance discussions, I thought it best to start wearing it again." Arthur's expression sobered. "How is Harry?"

"Recovering. He woke up this morning but went straight back to sleep after some breakfast. I, uh, didn't really want to leave him." Sirius admitted ruefully.

"Molly will be pleased to hear he's OK. She's been worried all night." Arthur said. "She's very fond of him – we both are."

Brian ushered them into seats and signalled for Sirius to begin. He set out what had happened at the Black family meeting and Malfoy's confession in straight language. When he was finished Arthur went as red as his hair. Gone was the affable, easy-going man and his place was an irate protective father. It took Brian pointing out the futility of trying to bring Lucius to justice – he would after all simply claim he was compelled – before Arthur would listen to the idea of restitution. He refused the educational fund on the basis that he didn't want Malfoy having anything to do with Ginny and instead accepted a political donation to his department. He left to walk and clear his head before the Wizengamot with the advice that telling Molly might not be the way to go as much as a Howler to Malfoy might have been amusing.

Sirius and Brian went over everything else quickly; confirming that all the correct procedures had been followed and documents filed before they flooed directly to the Minister's office.

"Brian! Sirius!" Cornelius smiled hugely at him. He was decked out in his Wizengamot robes and Sirius wondered idly who had thought lilac would be a good colour to represent the Ministry.

"Cornelius." Sirius nodded at him. "All set?"

"Absolutely," Cornelius said brightly, "and I have to say this place is abuzz this morning!"

"The news leaked out then." Sirius said, his lips twitching in amusement.

"Everyone is expecting the new Lord Black." Cornelius confirmed. "Albus is in the building and made a comment indicating that he knew that it was expected that Lord Black would take his seat. The old Potter alliance came together. I think Madame Longbottom has briefed that side. On the other side, I believe Lucius briefed the most important in his alliance this morning. They didn't arrive together because that would be too obvious but Selwyn, Wilkes and Gibbon have all hinted they know of something that will happen."

He grinned happily and Sirius was once again reminded that Cornelius was in his element.

"Good to know," commented Sirius neutrally.

Cornelius clapped his hands almost giddy with glee. "Shall we make our way to the Chamber?"

"Lead the way." Sirius said, noting to himself that Cornelius had yet to ask about Harry. He tried to remember as Cornelius chattered on beside him the format of what would happen, the protocol to be followed, but he soon lost track of his thought as he realised Cornelius had unusually understated the level of excitement within the Ministry corridors.

Everyone seemed to be huddled in groups and gossiping. His presence beside Cornelius raised some eyebrows but nobody seemed to cotton onto the fact that he was Lord Black. It amused him no end as they finally got to their destination.

The Wizengamot chamber was a beautiful piece of architecture. A domed circular room deep under the Ministry of Magic meant to provide a hint of King Arthur's infamous round table. The rows formed five tiers; the upper tier was the public gallery, open to all, and was a first come first served arrangement; there were no chairs simply standing room. The fourth tier was reserved for press, Ministry officials, family and retainers of the Wizengamot members with a bench provided for sitting. The third tier, with its chairs of silver upholstery, was for the newest members of the Wizengamot, the minor houses and Order of Merlin recipients; the second tier was reserved for the Ancient and Noble Houses who had gold upholstery; the final small lowest tier was on the floor and held the Chief Warlock's gold seat on the right alongside the scribe and the Wizengamot clerk who both had no voting rights; five similarly plain Ministry seats sat on the left.

Sirius nodded to Cornelius and broke away heading for the family tier where he and Brian would sit until called. He did, however, stop to say hello to Augusta who asked after Harry and gave him an invitation to a dinner for the weekend for the both of them; a dinner that Sirius knew would involve all of the old Potter alliance.

He and Lucius exchanged a nod as Sirius found Narcissa and Andromeda sat together at the end of the row, each saving a space beside them in the otherwise packed fourth tier; all the Ministry heads were in attendance including Arthur who gave him a wave. Sirius kissed both his cousins lightly on their knuckles and was aware of the stir that swept out from them at the gesture. He was sure the reconciliation of the House of Black had not been missed. He glanced up and found the public tier heaving with people.

Brian took the seat next to Narcissa and Sirius sat at the end of the row as Dumbledore entered the room.

Their eyes caught.

Dumbledore's widened slightly and he gave a nod to Sirius in acknowledgement. Sirius nodded back. He knew that as soon as the session ended, he and Dumbledore would have to talk. Dumbledore's gaze travelled down the row and his eyes widened again at the sight of the Black cousins sat together. As the clerk caught his attention, Dumbledore belatedly realised everyone was waiting on him to take his seat and start the proceedings.

"Seal the doors!" He ordered as he took his place.

"Seal the doors!" The Auror in charge of security repeated and the gathering quietened as the loud thud of the doors closing resounded in the chamber.

"The July Session of the Wizengamot is called to order!" Dumbledore intoned.

The clerk, Albert Dullard, rose and cleared his throat. "First order of business is any alterations to the membership of the Wizengamot! Our magic has registered that the Ancient and Noble House of Black has a new Head of House. Lord Black will approach and take the oath."

It felt like for a second everyone held their breath as they looked around the room for the much anticipated Lord Black.

Sirius stood and strode down the stairs to the floor of the chamber. He ignored the open mouths, the astounded and horrified expressions, the supportive looks from Amelia, Cornelius and Bertie, and stood opposite Dumbledore. Their eyes met again for the second time.

Dumbledore looked gobsmacked.

Sirius held up his wand for the oath, his Head of House ring visible.

Dumbledore continued to stare at him.

Sirius raised an eyebrow.

Dumbledore continued to stare at him.

Someone coughed in the tense silence.

Dullard cleared his throat and finally arrested Dumbledore's attention. "Chief Warlock, are you well? Is there a problem?"

"My apologies," Dumbledore said, turning back to Sirius, "this is just such a surprise, my boy. Where were we?"

"My oath, Chief Warlock." Sirius said calmly. His heart was racing though as he wondered if Dumbledore would try and prevent his taking the seat.

Dumbledore nodded though. He gathered his composure. "I, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Chief Warlock witness the calling of Sirius Orion Black to take the Seat of the House of Black by blood, by law and by oath."

"I, Sirius Orion Black, Head of the House of Black, swear to act with honour and fairness in the name of justice, law and magic, and accept the Seat of the House of Black by blood, by law and by oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

"I confirm your oath is valid, Lord Black." Dumbledore smiled warmly at Sirius. "Welcome to the Wizengamot." He lowered his voice to reach Sirius alone. "Perhaps we can talk later?"

"Later." Sirius agreed. He didn't move from the centre of the circle.

Dullard peered at him through thick round glasses. "Please take your seat, Lord Black."

"If you call the next change in membership, you'll see why I should stay here." Sirius said politely.

Dumbledore's eyebrows rose but he nodded at Dullard's questioning look to whether he should continue or not.

"Our magic has registered that the Ancient and Noble House of Potter has a new Head of House. Harry James Potter is not yet of age and a Regent has been assigned in accordance with the will of James Charlus Potter, formerly Lord Potter." Dullard announced.

Sirius watched Dumbledore try unsuccessfully to hide his dismay at the realisation that Harry was no longer with the Dursleys; that he must be in Sirius's custody for him to have claimed the ring.

"Elmer Samson is released from his duty with thanks; Lord Black will stand and take the oath as the Potter Regent."

Sirius was barely aware of another loud outbreak of noise. He stood up as Dumbledore regrouped again to call for order.

Dumbledore looked up at Sirius and he could see the disappointment in the old wizard's eyes as he started to realise Sirius had never been in Thailand. "As Chief Warlock, I do have a point of order. It is usual for wills appointing regents to be validated by the Chief Warlock."

Cornelius stood up in reply. "A copy of the will is here for your perusal, Chief Warlock. You have been abroad these last few days which is why you have not yet seen it."

Dumbledore took the proffered document and glanced at it. Sirius got the impression that he had seen it before and he clamped down on his ire.

Dumbledore handed the will back. "Has it been confirmed that Frank and Alice Longbottom have refused guardianship?"

Sirius realised that Dumbledore was trying to prevent the proxy appointment and perhaps the guardianship on a technicality. He opened his mouth to say something but Augusta was on her feet so fast that Sirius thought if he'd blinked he would have missed her moving.

"Do not be absurd, Chief Warlock! Their claim to the guardianship was ceded by me as their representative under the condition that they were unable to perform their duty." She practically snarled the words at Dumbledore. "As per the will, the guardianship claim passed to Lord Black."

Amelia rose to her feet. "As executor of record, I can confirm the guardianship was awarded and executed in accordance with law as Madame Longbottom claims." She said dryly.

"Harry's guardianship is complicated due to his muggle relations having legal guardianship in their world." Dumbledore argued, rallying again.

"Lord Potter's muggle relations signed over their guardianship to Lord Black believing it was better for him to be raised by wizards." Amelia corrected. "All the relevant paperwork has been filed with the WOO, Chief Warlock."

"Very well. I find the will and assumption of proxy valid." Dumbledore conceded and handed back the copy of the will. "We shall proceed with the oath." He turned to look at Sirius once again and Sirius noted that defeat was already giving way to calculation in the old wizard's eyes. "I, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Chief Warlock witness the calling of Sirius Orion Black to assume the role of Regent for the House of Potter by law and by oath."

"I, Sirius Orion Black, Head of the House of Black, son of the House of Potter,"

A rush of whispers stirred in the background as people recalled he had been given sanctuary by the House of Potter.

"…swear to act with honour and fairness in the name of justice and magic, and accept the role of Regent for the House of Potter by law and by oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

Above them the empty Potter seat glowed gold.

"I confirm your oath is valid, Lord Black." Dumbledore stated quietly. "Please take your seat."

Sirius bowed his head to the Chief Warlock. He knew he cut an imposing figure as he took the stairs two at a time and walked to the empty Black seat. All of the Ancient and Noble Houses had risen to their feet as a mark of respect. He looked at each in turn acknowledging their gesture and when he sat, the Ancient and Noble Houses sat together as one.

It was a surprisingly comfortable seat and there was a part of Sirius that was awed by the tradition and the spectacle of what had just happened. He took advantage of the outbreak of chatter to catch his breath.

"There is a change to the Ministry appointees!" Dullard said loudly, silencing everyone. "The Minister of Magic is called forth."

Cornelius rose from his seat and took the central floor. "It was with great delight I promoted Senior Undersecretary Dolores Umbridge yesterday morning to be our new Ambassador to Guyana. As can be seen by the empty chair beside me her promotion and new position unfortunately leave an opening in the Ministry appointees to the Wizengamot." He smiled and looked around the chamber. "I call forth Arthur Septimus Weasley to take the open Ministry Seat."

There was a shocked silence for a moment before the Chamber erupted into chaos much to Sirius's amusement. It was, he thought, almost as good as a prank.

"Order!" Dumbledore yelled. "Order!" Everyone stopped talking under his quelling look.

Sirius watched as Arthur made his way down from the fourth tier. Arthur wore a slightly stunned expression but there was no doubting his sincerity as he took his oath. Immediately, his Ministry robes transformed into formal Wizengamot versions as he took his seat in between Bertie Croaker and Rufus Scrimgeour.

"Next order of business!" Dullard announced briskly. "House notices pertaining to the Wizengamot!" He sighed as though anticipating what would happen next. "The floor is ceded to Lord Black!"

Sirius hid his grin as he got to his feet again; he did love alphabetical ordering. "I have several notices as you can imagine but I'll try to keep them brief." He paused mostly for effect. "It is my utmost pleasure that the House of Black announces the adoption of Lord Harry James Potter by Lord Sirius Orion Black."

Chaos reigned.

Dumbledore was once again open-mouthed with astonishment and it took him a long moment before he could restore order. The old wizard pinned Sirius with a hard glare. "Who stands as witness to the adoption for the Wizengamot?"

"I do." Augusta rose to her feet again, scowling down at the Chief Warlock.

"I do." Lucius said, getting to his feet.

The chamber broke into more muttering; the House of Longbottom and the House of Malfoy represented the two poles of the political spectrum.

"And for the Ministry?" questioned Dumbledore.

Four of the five Ministry representatives rose across the floor from the old wizard. Sirius hid another smile as Dumbledore registered just how completely he had been kept out of the loop.

Dumbledore frowned. "I must as an interested party to Harry's health and well-being enquire whether the adoption was precipitous? He has only known Sirius for a brief period of time."

Amelia bristled and held up a hand before anyone else could speak. "The day after being awarded custody, Lord Black immediately took Lord Potter to The Village Clinic in the States. As you are aware, Chief Warlock, the clinic is encased in a time bubble and therefore while only a week passes outside the bubble, those receiving treatment within the clinic may spend many days and weeks there. I believe Lord Black and Lord Potter spent almost two months together." She took a breath. "Additionally, from what I have observed, there is no one who places a greater priority on Lord Potter's well-being than Lord Black. Their interaction at the adoption was a delight to behold."

"Very well." Dumbledore glanced up at Sirius and inclined his head. "Congratulations, my boy. The adoption notice is so recognised. I only wish I could have been a witness myself."

The witnesses retook their seats.

"My second notice," Sirius continued, "is to announce that Lord Harry James Potter has been accepted by blood, by law and by magic as the Heir of the House of Black."

This time the chamber reaction was more muted, the news probably expected with the announcement of the adoption.

"One moment, Sirius, my boy," Dumbledore declared, "surely there is a concern that this will ultimately lead to the line extinction of the House of Potter?"

"On my death, Lord Potter will become Harry James Potter, Lord Potter-Black. He has agreed at that time the lines will have different Heirs on the assumption they are accepted by blood and magic." Sirius said firmly. "Hence both the House of Black and the House of Potter are assured continuance."

"But…"

Tiberius Ogden, an old Potter ally, banged his cane and got to his feet. "Chief Warlock! The Head of an Ancient and Noble House, heck any House, can designate who he wants as his Heir! Unless you wish to challenge that notion, which I would say would be the height of tomfoolery, I suggest we move on!"

"Well said, Lord Ogden." Nott stated loudly.

Most mouths dropped open in shock as for the second time representatives of opposing politics stood in agreement with each other.

Dumbledore sighed and conceded. "The Heir notice is so recognised."

Sirius nodded briskly. "My third notice is to register that Simeon Marius Black will be appointed as Regent to the House of Black in the event of my untimely demise."

There was a scattering of whispers and Dumbledore frowned again.

"And what of the House of Potter, Sirius?" He asked.

"Protocol would have me cover the House of Potter when called as proxy for that House." Sirius noted. "These are only notices pertaining to the House of Black."

"He's quite correct, Chief Warlock." Dullard spoke up. "I have a slot for the House of Potter noted on the order of business."

Dumbledore mumbled the recognition of the regent registration and Sirius launched into his fourth notice – Andromeda's reinstatement along with her family. Sirius finished that one to find Dumbledore beaming at him like a loon as he recognised the notice formally. Clearly reinstating Andy had met with the Chief Warlock's approval.

"My fifth notice," Sirius paused, "is to announce that the House of Black declared the House of LeStrange oath-breakers for accepting the Mark of Voldemort…"

Everyone flinched except Dumbledore who grew pensive as Sirius declared they had been subjected to Judgement and the restitution offered to the House of Longbottom. When he concluded there was total silence in contrast with the noise that had followed his previous notices.

Augusta stood proudly. "The House of Longbottom has accepted the restitution offered and the apology of the House of Black."

Dumbledore looked shocked. "Sirius, I feel I must protest to the use of Judgement…"

"Why?" Augusta was on her feet again instantly. "Do you suggest that my son and daughter-in-law are not worthy of such justice?"

"My dear Augusta," Dumbledore tried to calm her, "my point is that justice has already been served by the tribunal of the Wizengamot…"

"Which did not include those who had lost someone to the LeStranges!" Griselda Marchbanks stood up. "While a conflict of interest was to be avoided, those that were left to render justice did a piss poor job of considering the feelings of the victims and the survivors of their brutality!"

"The Lady Marchbanks is reminded that such language is…" Dullard began pompously.

"Yes, yes, censure me for language and forget to tell the Chief Warlock that he should be referring to people by their titles as a show of respect unless there has been a change of protocol which means I can start calling him Albus!" Marchbanks snapped.

Dullard flushed bright red and Dumbledore looked abashed.

"And once again," Wilkes spoke up, "I'd like to know if the Chief Warlock is challenging the right of the Ancient and Noble Houses to practice their family magic? Judgement is harsh but it is an acceptable way to deal with oath-breaking!"

"Exactly," Ogden agreed, "and Chief Warlock, if the LeStranges truly didn't deserve to be stripped of their magic, the family magic wouldn't have done it! Clearly magic thought justice hadn't been served simply by throwing those miserable wretches into Azkaban!" He glowered at Dumbledore. "Frankly, Albus, you question Lord Black's notices one more time in the manner you have done so to date in this session and I will take insult on his behalf!"

For a second, Dumbledore's expression was a mix of anger and embarrassment but it smoothed into a diplomatic mask.

"I apologise if I have caused offence," he said, "the notice of oath-breaking, marriage annulment and out-casting is so recognised."

Everybody but Sirius resumed their seats. Sirius moved onto the life debt arrangement with the Grangers announcing to all that Hermione Jean Granger was sponsored and considered a daughter of the House of Black.

Dumbledore ignored the outbreak of noise and whisperings about that to confirm the notice.

"I'm also pleased to announce a new alliance between the House of Black and the House of Potter. We now stand together." Sirius's lips twisted wryly. "As Potter Regent, I confirm the alliance between the Houses and echo that we now stand together."

A rush of whispers swarmed the Chamber again as Dumbledore recognised the alliance.

"My final notice as Lord Black for today," Sirius said easily, "is to reaffirm the agreement between the House of Black and the House of Malfoy."

Lucius stood briefly. "The House of Malfoy also reaffirms our agreement." He inclined his head in Sirius's direction.

"You'll be happy to know, I'm done." Sirius said. He sat down and let the chamber murmur about what the Black notices revealed.

Dullard gathered himself, looked at the order of business and blanched. "The floor is ceded to Mister Malfoy as proxy for the House of LeStrange."

Lucius held his cane lightly as he got to his feet. "The House of LeStrange announces the death of Rodolphus and Rabastan LeStrange as confirmed by the Warden of Azkaban yesterday."

Silence once again met the announcement. It didn't take a genius to put together the stripping of their magic and the harshness of Azkaban and come up with cause and effect to their deaths. Sirius was not unaware that he was being regarded with no small amount of horror by some in the chamber.

Dumbledore sighed heavily. "The death notice is so registered."

Lucius lifted his cane. "As the marriage between the House of Black and the House of LeStrange was dissolved and the union bore no Heir, I declare line extinction. The LeStrange seat returns to the floor."

"So noted." Dumbledore said. "Nominations for the seat should be submitted to the clerk in advance of the August session of the Wizengamot when nominees will be presented and the seat voted upon."

Again a flurry of excited voices had to be shouted into order. It had been a long time since a seat had become vacant.

Dullard rose again. "The floor is ceded to Madame Longbottom."

Augusta stood up and smoothed her robes. "The first notice is to announce that Neville Frances Longbottom has been accepted by blood, by law and by magic as the Heir of the House of Longbottom."

Dumbledore regained his twinkle as he recognised the notice.

"My second notice is to announce the renewal of the ancient alliance between the House of Longbottom and the House of Potter. We once again stand together." Augusta proclaimed proudly.

Sirius got to his feet. "As Potter Regent, I confirm the renewal of the ancient alliance between the Houses and echo that we once again stand together."

"The alliance is so recognised," murmured Dumbledore.

Sirius's eyes narrowed as he sat down; was that a hint of alarm or worry in the old wizard's features?

Augusta sat and Dullard sprang up. "The floor is ceded to Lord Black as proxy for the House of Potter."

Sirius pushed himself out of his very comfortable seat once more. "My first notice is to register that Minerva Elaine McGonagall will be appointed as Regent to the House of Potter in the event of my untimely demise while Lord Potter remains a minor, as requested by the will of James and Lily Potter."

Dumbledore nodded and didn't argue; he recognised the notice as per protocol.

"The second notice is to announce the formation of an alliance of friendship between the House of Potter and the House of Weasley." Sirius nodded his head to a pleased Arthur who stood up and confirmed the alliance.

Sirius sat down again, pleased with the way the notices had gone. Once he and Bill Weasley came to an arrangement with Gringotts the life debt could be announced and settled too.

A brief recess was called and Sirius was pleased when Lord Bones – another old Potter ally – turned in his chair to talk with him about renewing the alliance. It prevented any further approaches especially that of Dumbledore's.

Legislative business then took precedence for a while; a new law governing transport regulations for portkeys was voted down as it attempted to restrict the rights of Heads of Houses to create and maintain portkeys to their own properties; a law that should have been presented regarding the rights of werewolves was withdrawn by the Minister for revision with apologies to the Wizengamot; revisions constituting some minor amendments to the European treaty on the Statute of Secrecy passed easily enough.

A lunch recess was called. Sirius ducked out for a bathroom break and to talk with Remus – Harry had woken briefly, eaten some soup and gone back to sleep. He caught up with Augusta who pulled him into the separate dining room available to Wizengamot members and watched amused as both Bertie and Amelia ambushed Dumbledore on the other side of the room to prevent him from approaching Sirius.

The afternoon session of the Wizengamot shifted to the Ministerial budget review. Additional funding was approved for security at the Quidditch World Cup but only just. Sirius took note of who had voted against it with interest. He was sure Amelia had made the same observations.

Cornelius wound up for his final item. "Recently, I found to my dismayed surprise that the muggles world has advanced sharply in inventions, something they call technology, and in producing medicine and weapons thanks to something called science."

He looked around the chamber as whispers broke out.

"There are machines in the sky that can take pictures of our world; machines that can communicate these pictures instantaneously to all muggles with a push of the button on something called computers." He said gravely. "There are reports of weapons based on biological information. Imagine a disease that could target wizards alone! I fear for the safety of the Statute of Secrecy and our population unless something is done!"

Wilkes raised his wand and was recognised. "Surely you exaggerate? I remain confident that we retain the advantage."

"The muggles are muggles; nothing special." Jugson declared as he was recognised.

A wand went up and was recognised; it was a witch called Alison Bunting; a muggleborn witch who had been awarded the Order of Merlin for saving a group of children in the last war. "As someone who actually spends time in the muggle world, I don't share your confidence, Lord Wilkes, or your view, Mister Jugson. The wizarding world may hold some advantages but what use is obliviation when the incident is recorded on a machine and played back like a wizarding picture in full technicolour glory?"

Sirius could see some people frowning in confusion at her words.

"I share Minister Fudge's concern and support his raising this issue." Bunting concluded.

Nott was next. "I am concerned that our Secrecy could be affected or that they are developing weapons for which we would have no knowledge to counter. If there is a threat, we would be idiots to stick our heads in the sand and ignore it until it was too late."

Another muggleborn Order of Merlin recipient stood up. "I'm not so concerned with the threat as the possibility that while the muggles advance we remain stagnant. There is much to be said for tradition but we would do well to take some of the muggle ideas and invigorate the wizarding world!"

That caused a small outcry of protest.

Griselda got to her feet. "The sad truth is that I agree with the Minister in that our knowledge is out of date. The Hogwarts curriculum hasn't been updated in some time."

Sirius ducked his head to hide his reaction to Dumbledore's sour look at the criticism.

"Whether or not there are things we could incorporate from the muggles into our lives or whether or not they constitute a threat, we cannot make any assessments in a vacuum."

"Well said, Lady Marchbanks," Cornelius said smoothly, "and indeed a muggleborn witch who I met recently informed me that the Muggle Studies elective at Hogwarts is decades out of date. Arthur, perhaps you have something to add as the Head of the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts?"

Arthur got his feet. "It is certainly true that my office sees an increasing number of things we don't recognise and don't have a reference for. We struggle because we don't understand the technology and science upon which the muggle devices are based and therefore we don't always understand the way magic interacts with them. I, for one, would appreciate a move to increase our knowledge."

Bertie Croaker raised his wand and the chamber grew silent; it was rare the Head of the DOM spoke up during the Wizengamot sessions. "The DOM has observed the advancements of the muggles and is glad to see the Ministry tackling the issue. At the moment our world only has an annual meet-and-greet between the Minister and the muggle Prime Minister which doesn't cover a sharing of knowledge. If we are to truly protect ourselves we need a better relationship with those tasked with assisting us to keep the Statute of Secrecy."

His words had an effect. Sirius could see that some of the dismissive expressions from before grow serious and contemplative.

Ogden got to his feet and motioned at Fudge. "What exactly are you proposing, Minister?"

"A Committee to Determine The Need for A Permanent Muggle Affairs Department that would oversee the relationship with the muggle authorities, compile knowledge on muggle technology and science, and work with the DOM and DMLE to prepare countermeasures and legislation as required." Cornelius said promptly. "I would suggest five members of the Wizengamot, Arthur as the Ministry legislative representative to Chair, and either Director Bones and Director Croaker or their named representatives."

Greengrass was recognised. "Even if we agree in theory, from a financial perspective, I don't see that we have the budget without levying a tax either on the populace as a whole or on wizarding businesses."

That certainly caused some grumbling.

"I am not prepared to support such a levy!" Avery complained. "Not to find out more about muggles!"

Lucius was recognised and Sirius knew it would be strange if he didn't contribute to the debate. "While I agree that the whole idea that muggles could be a threat is somewhat fanciful, I also respect Director Croaker's viewpoint and that of the Minister's and therefore support the concept of the proposal. However, I am not in support of awarding additional budget. Perhaps the current budget of the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts office should be used?"

Sirius held up his wand and Dumbledore hesitated for a moment but recognised him. He got to his feet. "I support Minister Fudge's proposal. Our traditions are important but the need for us to re-examine our relationship and knowledge of the muggle world is urgent." He looked around the chamber. "The late Lady Potter made me very aware of the advancements that had been made prior to her death. My son, Lord Potter, has many tales of living in the muggle world which have amazed and horrified me in equal measure as they have revealed many things that from a wizarding perspective I would constitute a threat as well as many things where I wonder why we haven't explored a wizarding alternative."

The audience was attentive; their interest immediately caught by the mention of Harry.

"However, I would agree with Lord Greengrass's assessment of the Ministry budget. It is clear to me after my own perusal that the level of funding for the Ministry is at a critical and unsustainable level going forward. Do we wish to levy harsh taxes on the populace and our businesses? No, but there is a realistic cost of government that is being ignored. How do we expect to have advancements in magic when we cut the DOM's budget to the marrow?" Sirius gestured towards Amelia. "How do we expect to enforce our laws and keep our populace safe from the potential rise of another Dark Lord when we don't provide budget for recruitment and training to replace our retiring and injured Aurors? When we can only agree the bare minimum of funding for security for an international event that will bring thousands to our country?"

The chamber was hanging on his every word.

"The budget issues go beyond this proposal but to deal with that first; as the Head of the House of Black, I am authorising a personal donation of one and a half million galleons into the Ministry vault ring-fenced for the Committee proposed by Minister Fudge. Once the Committee reports on the Need for a Department, any funds remaining will go to set-up and implementation."

A rush of noise filled the chamber.

Dumbledore held up his hand. "Lord Black, I…that is a generous offer; are you certain?"

"Absolutely." Sirius didn't look at Malfoy for fear he'd burst out laughing since it was his money. "Additionally, Chief Warlock, the House of Black is donating a half million galleons for the DMLE and the DOM to be shared equally between them."

Ogden stood up. "I will match that donation for the DOM and the DMLE, Lord Black."

Greengrass stood up. "As will I."

Nott stood up. "I will donate the same again to round the numbers up to one million for each."

Dumbledore blinked. "Well, this is a surprising day. It is remarkable to see such support from such disparate parts of our political spectrum. Thank you gentlemen." He looked over to Cornelius. "I trust this is acceptable?"

"More than," Cornelius said, smiling in delight, "I'm sure Director Bones and Director Croaker will be able to put the additional funds to good use. I will bring a revised budget to the August session." He cleared his throat. "May we move to the vote for the proposed Committee now the funding for it has been sorted?"

The vote went swimmingly, passed with only a few votes to the negative, and it was the last order of business for the day.

Sirius let himself be ushered out and into a waiting press melee by Cornelius. He knew it was needed but he hated it.

"Daily Prophet! Rita Skeeter!" Rita grinned at him. "How is Harry enjoying his new guardianship situation?"

"I believe Harry's view can be determined from his agreement to the adoption we announced." Sirius said bluntly.

"He couldn't come with you today?" Rita pressed.

Sirius smiled tightly. "Harry's safety is paramount. As much as we would have both liked him to attend, we knew today would draw a great deal of attention and thought it best he remain at home."

"Lord Black!" Another reporter grabbed his attention. "Any comment on the miscarriage of justice that saw you incarcerated in Azkaban?"

"I am disappointed that the Ministry I worked for failed to provide me with my basic legal and human rights," Sirius said, recalling the prepared statements Brian and Remus had made him learn, "but I am grateful to the current administration for correcting the injustice, particularly the efforts of the Minister and Director Bones."

Cornelius puffed up beside him.

"Your political agenda seems to contradict the reputation of the House of Black, what do you say to that?" Another reporter yelled.

"That I am my own man as my family discovered when I was the first Black sorted to Gryffindor." Sirius answered.

"Do you deny your actions led to the death of the LeStranges?" Someone else shouted.

Sirius pinned the seedy looking journalist with a hard stare that silenced the crowd. "The LeStranges tortured two very wonderful people, who were also my friends, into insanity. They as good as murdered them and certainly deprived a child of his parents as though they had. The LeStranges brought dishonour to the House of Black and were stripped of their magic. I have no regrets." He held up a hand. "One more question?"

"How do you feel about taking over Harry's guardianship?" Rita got in before her rivals could.

Sirius smiled genuinely. "I'm honoured to finally be allowed to do the job that his parents tasked me to do as Harry's godfather. Nothing is more important to me than Harry. I will do everything in my power to protect him and ensure he has a happy life." He held up a hand. "If you'll excuse me, I must leave you in the very capable hands of the Minister. Thank you."

He headed for an open floo and wasn't surprised when he saw Dumbledore waiting.

It was past time for them to talk.

Chapter Text

The atmosphere was thick enough to cut with a knife.

Albus glanced around the comfortable study with wonder. He had never been to London Black Manor before. Arcturus had preferred the Black country estate, not that Albus had been there often either given their differing politics and alliances but there had always been an invitation to the Black New Year Ball before Arcturus had gone into seclusion. His gaze landed finally on the young wizard sat behind his desk. Sirius surprisingly radiated a sense of belonging, rightness and authority for all that he had decried his family and heritage in the past.

Albus sat on the other side, contemplating his options and what to do. There were two critical items Albus had to address with Sirius; one was to return Harry to the Dursleys as soon as possible because of the blood protection and the other was to regain some favour with the man who now held Harry's guardianship. He wasn't foolish enough to think it was going to be easy. Evidently, Sirius had been very busy since he had flown away on the hippogriff – he had somehow broken the compulsion Albus had placed upon him for his safety, assumed the Lordship and manipulated events from there to gain custody of his godson. On one level, Albus admired what he'd done; Sirius had gotten Cornelius to do his job, the Ministry to award him guardianship and he'd sent Albus on the proverbial wild nargle chase to keep him away from England while Sirius made his first alliances and they completed the adoption. The love that had prompted Sirius into taking on the mantle of the Black family history he had literally run away from must be great and powerful indeed, Albus mused silently, and it would make Albus's task that much more difficult, all the more so for where they were.

There had been a brief heated discussion on where to meet but Sirius had gotten his way. He had bluntly told Albus that he didn't trust him not to try something but the protections in Black Manor had enough of a reputation that he knew Albus would understand the consequences of trying something within the confines of the Black home. Albus had conceded the location as unimportant but sat within the study he could admit to himself that he was almost intimidated by the magic he could feel around him.

A house elf had popped in and out with refreshments, and Dumbledore picked up his tea, smiling a little at the lemon biscuits that accompanied it. He needed to take the first step towards reconciliation, Albus decided, and cleared his throat.

"Firstly, Sirius, let me begin by apologising to you for my part in the miscarriage of justice that you suffered." Albus began sincerely. He was truly horrified that his inaction had led to Sirius's suffering as an innocent man. "The days following the defeat of Voldemort were chaotic but I confess that when the dust settled I realised I could not remember a trial for you. I believed you guilty as you had been the Secret Keeper and determined if there had not been a trial, it was not worth the pain of dragging up memories that one would cause. I let my anger and grief for James and Lily blind me to doing the right thing. I am very sorry, my boy."

"And your reason for sending two kids to save me at Hogwarts rather than providing me with the protection of the Chief Warlock?" Sirius countered. He leaned back in his chair, regarding Albus almost impassively.

"Ah, well, there I have no excuse."

Albus could see that he'd taken Sirius by surprise in the slight flare of his nostrils; the widening of his eyes.

"Mea culpa as the Romans used to say. Once again in your regard, I did what was easy than what was right." Albus said.

"Why?" asked Sirius baldly.

"Several reasons," Albus prevaricated, taking a sip of his tea, "but I think you know the main one."

"The compulsion charm rather gave it away." Sirius pointed out dryly.

Albus winced. He had known from their discussion on where to hold their talk that Sirius was likely aware of the compulsion Albus had placed on him at Hogwarts and he was honestly embarrassed by it. "I believed it was for the best given Cornelius's determination to have you Kissed. Rather you were abroad and safe, dear boy, than close and…"

"Near to Harry." Sirius interrupted. He picked up his own tea and took a large gulp as though he required fortification.

"I was going to say dead." Albus corrected gently despite Sirius being right in that ensuring distance between the two had been one of Albus's other reasons. "Harry would have been devastated if something had happened to you."

"Forgive me if I think your motivation wasn't quite as pure as you make it out to be. If you'd added a destination to your compulsion, no doubt I'd still be a fugitive," Sirius retorted, "and I'm not certain you've ever made a decision for Harry that took into account his happiness."

His eyebrows shot up that. "Every decision I have made in regards to Harry has been to keep him safe."

"Safe is not the same as happy." Sirius argued fiercely and Albus conceded to himself that the other man had a point. "And I think we have very different definitions of safe."

That…rankled. He felt the first stirrings of annoyance. He frowned at the younger wizard. "I have to admit, Sirius," he said quietly, "that I'm surprised at the level of your animosity." He paused. "I had hoped you would extend to me the same forgiveness and chance for redemption that I showed you after your foolish dare to Severus."

Sirius looked at him with disbelief. Albus was suddenly aware of the anger in Sirius's grey eyes. It was like a potion simmering in a cauldron; one wrong ingredient and the whole thing would explode.

"Seriously? You're going to equate an idiotic dare made by school kid, a dare provoked by Snivellus in the first place and which was probably a set up to get Remus killed and me expelled – something I'm sure you were aware of at the time, with failing your duty as Chief Warlock and incarcerating an innocent man for twelve years? And not only failing once but twice when you decided not to protect me at Hogwarts? And let's not forget the highly illegal compulsion charm you placed on me."

Albus blushed, seeing the inequality of the comparison he'd made too late, and realising he'd erred once again in believing Sirius hadn't known that Albus had known Severus had set up the incident in question.

Sirius waved a hand to forestall Albus launching his defence. "But let's say quid pro quo that your forgiveness of my impetuous youth and decision not to expel me wipes out your part in my Azkaban torment and subsequent continuance as a fugitive even when you knew I was innocent…"

His tone was scathing and Albus winced again.

"…and it wouldn't make any difference to my level of animosity because I am not mad on my behalf so much as I am mad on Harry's." Sirius stabbed a finger in his direction.

Well, at least, Albus considered wryly, they'd gotten to the heart of the matter.

"There is no greater love than a parent for a child." Albus commented, his usual calm and good humour returning with the reason for Sirius's anger. "I assure you once again that I have always acted in Harry's best interests."

He ignored the voice in his head pointing out that he had used the boy as bait for Voldemort in his first year because yes, that had happened, but Albus had learned from it and he hadn't used the boy since. For a long moment, he thought Sirius might hex him but the new Head of the House of Black gave an angry huff and sat back.

"You know I think you actually believe that."

The reply disconcerted Albus.

"You really don't see what you've done wrong, do you?" Sirius gesticulated at him. "You don't see your mistakes as mistakes but as perfectly fine decisions."

Sirius was quite correct and, with the exception of the business with the stone, Albus couldn't see that he had made any major mistakes with the boy; Harry had been kept safe. But he realised that he wasn't going to get very far on the subject of Harry without addressing the mistakes Sirius believed Albus had made with Harry.

"I am willing to explain my actions if it will heal this rift between us, Sirius; for Harry's sake." Albus offered eagerly.

Sirius nodded slowly. "Well, let's start with the first decision: why did you decide to send Harry to his aunt's that night in 'eighty-one?"

It was the perfect opening to explain the blood protection, Albus thought happily.

"Initially, the thought came from one of my last conversations with Lily," Albus admitted, "she joked that if they ran out of safe places to hide, as a last resort there was always her sister's house where she had placed blood wards. She confessed that she'd known they were considered borderline illegal, but she'd lost her parents and despite the fact that she and her sister hadn't spoken in some time, she wanted to do everything in her power to protect her."

He picked up his tea and sipped it.

"The night of the tragedy, my monitoring spells at Godric's Hollow told me Harry was still alive. So my idea when I sent Hagrid to recover Harry was simply to hide him with his muggle relations providing some breathing space in the wizarding world to make sense of what had happened before long term decisions were made." Albus explained. "I thought, you see, that there had to be not one but two spies in the Order because of the information that had leaked out. I believed you were the Secret Keeper and had betrayed them fulfilling one role but I could not be certain of the second. It was imperative that Harry was placed beyond the reach of anyone in the Order. The only people I knew for certain were absolutely trustworthy at that point were Minerva, Poppy and Hagrid."

"I don't disagree with your reasoning yet," Sirius commented, "in fact, I agreed with it at the time bar the stuff on the spy side because I knew it was Pettigrew. You thought there were two spies; you didn't account for your spy being an animagus who could sneak into the meetings where he was excluded. If I hadn't been thrown straight to Azkaban, or if you had visited me or ensured that I'd had a trial, you would have found that out."

Albus frowned but he couldn't deny Sirius's charge. "I have admitted that was a mistake."

"Yes, equivalent to my school day misdemeanour daring Snape." Sirius waved a hand as Albus bristled at the intentional poke for his earlier faux pas. "Let's continue; I know you changed your mind and decided to leave Harry there for the long term by the evening of November 1st. Why?"

"While Hagrid brought Harry to Hogwarts, I tracked down Petunia Dursley and examined the blood wards on her home. Lily was always an impressively bright witch and they were outstanding wards. I added a few more to cover the general neighbourhood." Albus recounted. "Then I returned to Hogwarts and made my way to the infirmary where Harry was in the care of Poppy. Poppy had some unusual readings." He considered the best way to frame the information and decided the most straight-forward would gain him points with Sirius. "Harry was – is – protected by a blood protection ward merged with his very skin."

Sirius didn't react.

Albus searched his expression and made an uncomfortable realisation. "You already knew."

"Harry has talked about his adventures," Sirius said quietly.

That was not good.

"…and when Remus and I theorised about how Harry had survived, Remus informed me that he had discussed such a spell with Lily." Sirius continued, shocking Albus from his rumination of how he was going to do damage control.

"Remus had…" Albus repeated with a splutter. He set his tea-cup down with a shaking hand. "Does he know the exact spell? Which reference book she used?"

"Yes as it happens." Sirius said. "I'm sure he would have told you had you informed him about the blood protection back then."

Another dig and Albus couldn't help but wince at the knowledge that he had missed out on such vital information because he had suspected Remus of being the other spy and hadn't confided in him. Of course in hindsight it was easy to see that Lily might have discussed the spell with someone and the obvious person in that circle would have been Remus given his leaning toward academia.

"But back to you," Sirius said, "you found the blood protection ward and…?" He gestured for Albus to continue.

"And came to the conclusion that Lily had obviously meant for Harry to reside with her sister; the blood ward around Harry and around the house provide him with an unparalleled level of protection. While he can call Privet Drive home, his blood maintains the ward around the house and imbues it with the same lethal nature of the ward around his skin. Voldemort cannot touch him there. But in addition to that, the presence of someone with his mother's blood within the house ward anchors the one around his skin." Albus said eagerly.

Surely now Sirius would see the need for Harry to return there. But there was no look of horror at having taken Harry away from such protection or dismay at possibly losing the protection that Harry carried.

Albus frowned. "If you have talked with Harry about his adventures then you surely realise the blood protection has saved his life twice; once that night when Voldemort attacked, and once when Harry confronted his spirit when it possessed Quirrell."

"I do realise it, Headmaster, and you've confirmed the why of it pretty much for the reasons I and Remus suspected. I'm not sure how you jumped from Lily saying her sister was a last resort and she hadn't spoken to her in years, to believing she meant for Harry to go there," Sirius said. "and we'll come back to the protection no doubt in good time, but right now I'd rather discuss why you left Harry with the Dursleys without any oversight since Minerva warned you that they were the worst kind of muggles."

It was an insightful question. Albus sighed. "I didn't leave him without any oversight; Arabella Figg was soon stationed in the neighbourhood to keep watch once I was certain that she was not the spy. But I believed when Petunia took him in that she had put aside her differences with Lily and committed herself to looking after him regardless of the issues between she and Lily."

"Firstly, I know stationing anybody was Remus's idea," Sirius commented, "and secondly, did Figg ever enter the Dursley residence? Did she check out his bedroom? Investigate his living conditions? Were the Dursleys aware that they were being watched?"

"I had promised Petunia minimal contact and I did not see the need to inform her." Albus said defensively. "Arabella it is true was never able to get inside the house but she baby-sat for Harry albeit on an occasional basis in her own home."

"And she never reported any concerns about how the Dursleys treated him?" Sirius probed.

It was clear the issue Sirius was highlighting and Albus thought it best to tackle it head-on.

"She expressed a concern that the Dursleys might not love Harry as they did their own child following her first baby-sitting experience but she assured me he was fed and clothed. She never raised the matter again and I believed Harry was doing well from the odd photo she sent." Albus sighed. "I realise such an unloving environment isn't ideal but he arrived at Hogwarts a normal child, eager to learn magic, and I believe the Dursleys for all their faults have raised an admirable boy."

Sirius shook his head. "Unbelievable." He held up a hand before Albus could continue to defend the Dursleys and his hands-off position. He opened a desk drawer and pulled out a sheaf of bound parchment. He tossed it on the desk in front of Albus. "That is a report about Harry's home environment compiled by Amelia Bones and Alastor Moody from the visit they made to Harry to interview him about the incident involving me at Hogwarts."

Albus frowned as he warily took in the parchment.

"It's the reason why I was given immediate custody of Harry." Sirius continued in the same hard unrelenting tone. "They didn't deem his home environment unloving, Headmaster, they deemed it abusive." He gestured at the report. "I haven't read it because I prefer to have Harry confide in me of his own accord, but from what little he has confided in me, I have to say I agree with the conclusions of the report." He glared at Albus. "He slept in a cupboard under the stairs until they received his first Hogwarts letter which was addressed there!"

The information stunned Albus. Surely Petunia wouldn't have done that to a child? Surely there had been some mistake…

"He received nothing but second hand clothes and practically no birthday or Christmas presents – if he received something it was a mocking item to instil in him he wasn't worthy of actual presents." Sirius continued. "I know from what Remus found out that Harry was locked up in his bedroom the Summer after his first year and starved! I took Harry with me when I went off to get the healing the Ministry ordered and you know what they found for Harry? Malnutrition and stunted growth. I wonder how that happened."

"I don't know what to say." Albus said dejectedly. Because what could he say? He had missed abuse – actual abuse! Certainly Poppy had told him about the malnutrition but he had dismissed it as the usual childish fussy eating habits he saw with many students – it was the reason why the Hogwarts food was laced with mild nutrient potions. He wanted to say that Harry had exaggerated his claims as Albus had assumed had happened with the story the Weasley twins had told their parents and Remus, but the official report compiled by an Auror that Albus himself trusted and the Head of the DMLE made a mockery of that want.

"You could have told the Dursleys in your letter that minimal contact included a yearly visit by you or Minerva if not Remus. You could have informed them that they were being watched by someone stationed in the neighbourhood. You could have paid more attention to Harry's health and his living situation when he entered Hogwarts."

Sirius berated him and Albus let him because he deserved every word. He ran over the reasons he had given for staying away and couldn't find an acceptable one. He wondered why Arabella hadn't informed him of the abuse – had she too been blind to it?

"Do you know that when we were coming out of the Shrieking Shack, before we got attacked by the Dementors, I asked Harry if he wanted to live with me then? And he said yes. Straight away." Sirius gestured impatiently at Albus. "No hesitation. What child does that? What must happen in a child's home that he believes he would be better off living with a complete stranger?!"

"You may scold me all you wish," Albus said tiredly, feeling every year of his age, "I shall not stop you. It appears that you are correct; I have made a mistake – mistakes in Harry's regard. I thought I was doing the right thing…"

Sirius regarded him with a hard look but he subsided, slumping back in his chair again. "Well, he won't go back there again."

Albus revived a little as a jolt of alarm ran through him. "He must!" He blurted out without thinking and regretted the words as soon as they passed his lips as Sirius straightened and regarded him with pure contempt.

"He will NEVER return to the Dursleys!" Sirius blazed.

"I realise that changes will need to be made," Albus said hurriedly, "but the value of the blood protection is vital now more than ever! I'll talk to the Dursleys obviously and warn them against any abusive behaviour, and perhaps you can stay with Harry to chaperone them and…"

"Are you INSANE?" Sirius rose to his feet and Albus could feel the house magic respond, crackling around him as it rose to meet its Master's anger. He marched away from Albus to a window and took some deep breaths.

Albus remained silent, understanding that Sirius was calming himself and his magic; it would be insane to disturb him.

"You don't send a child back into an abusive home for any reason." Sirius said forcefully, once he'd gotten his magic under control. "Forcing a child to be in the presence of people who hate him openly even with a chaperone…do you really think that does no harm? Merlin, you're supposed to be an educator of children!" He looked over his shoulder and glowered at Albus. "You intend to repeat your mistake, Headmaster? Put the supposed value of your all important blood protection ahead of Harry having a warm and loving environment to nurture him?"

The words were sharply mocking and Albus sighed. "The blood protection is important if Harry is to survive when Voldemort returns. I am…deeply sorry that Harry has suffered to secure his protection but he owes his life to it."

"Yes," Sirius said, turning around and folding his arms over his chest, "let's talk about why he had to be saved by the blood protection again at the end of his first year, shall we?"

Albus blushed, knowing it was his fault. He raised a hand in weary acceptance. "I accept that I made mistakes that year with Harry and the situation with Quirrell and Voldemort. I believed the measures I had taken would guarantee Harry's safety but I admit I underestimated both him and Voldemort."

Sirius walked back to his desk and sat down. "I understand as an educator you prefer to allow children to express themselves and only step in when they go too far; to learn their lesson by getting their hands burned a little in the fire so they realise its hot; to have the opportunity and freedom to learn life lessons on their own."

He had no idea where Sirius was going with his sudden change in subject but Albus assumed it was nowhere good for Albus.

"So I get why you allowed Harry and his friends to investigate the mystery. I'm sure they weren't the only ones; declaring something a no-go area to children is like waving a red flag to a bull." The dryness of his tone was somehow even more chiding than his anger. "I know James and I would have been up to the third floor corridor in a flash."

Sirius pointed at Albus. "But to encourage their curiosity when you knew the danger – when you were responsible for the danger was beyond the pale. You set a trap for a Dark Lord in a school full of children, Headmaster." He said coldly. "You used my son, James's and Lily's son, as bait and he ended up in no less than four life-threatening situations. You allowed a man possessed by Voldemort to teach. You placed dangerous creatures within the school – within the school! You failed to fulfil your duty of care ten times over."

Albus couldn't argue with him. He nodded despondently. "It was not one of my better moments, Sirius, and believe me when I say I learned from it. I would not do the same again."

"Well, the second year disaster when Harry was almost killed by a basilisk wasn't your fault, I give you that," Sirius said.

Dear Merlin; the boy really had talked of his adventures. Albus sighed heavily.

"But you didn't do much to ensure the safety of the school either. What were you thinking allowing the school to remain open when there was a basilisk roaming the corridors?"

"I could not locate the Chamber to deal with the basilisk and there was no information on who was being possessed." Albus defended himself briskly. "If I had merely closed the school, neither issue would have been resolved and the problem would just have reoccurred once the students returned. I confess that I did overlook Myrtle quite badly as a source of information but alas, I assumed her place of death was meaningless as a clue."

Sirius nodded. "OK, I can accept that although there were other additional precautions you could have taken; hiring some more roosters once the first lot were killed, for instance. But then there's the whole matter of allowing Harry to be mostly ostracized for being a parselmouth." He held up a hand. "I know it goes with your theory of education; children need to learn to handle rejection and not always being liked but you fail to realise that not stepping in condones the poor behaviour of prejudiced children being mean to another child. Just as never stepping into stop bullying behaviour allows it to continue and punishes the child being bullied."

"We have recently realised this and have agreed a new bullying policy." Albus rejoined, ignoring that his agreement had been grudging and given only after Minerva's sharp words on the subject.

"Does that include stopping the staff bullying the students too?" Sirius remarked crisply.

"You're referring to Severus." Albus said with a sigh. "I have talked with him about his behaviour with Harry."

Sirius harrumphed.

Albus decided he had been on the defensive too long. "Shall we discuss why Harry was in danger last year?"

Sirius gave a small laugh. "Oh, I accept my part and I'll even admit that I know you were forced to take the Dementors as guards under severe protest since Cornelius already confessed all to me, but you still didn't ward the passageways into the school; didn't think to leave an alarm on the Shrieking Shack; didn't think to specifically alarm Gryffindor tower. I got into the dorm! If I'd really been after killing Harry, I would have succeeded!"

The criticism hurt and Albus could see in hindsight that he should have done those things – it just hadn't occurred to him as he had been confident his security measures were sufficient. "Perhaps there needs to be a security review." He murmured. "I believed the usual wards would inform me if you entered the school which they failed to do."

"I have come this close," Sirius held up his forefinger and thumb showing a distance of less than an inch, "to finding Harry a different school."

Albus's eyes widened with horror. The financial impact if Harry withdrew would be tremendous as others would follow in his wake; the damage to Hogwarts' reputation would be immense; and, sentimentally, Albus wanted Harry himself to simply attend and enjoy Hogwarts as Albus had done, as James and Lily had done.

"However," Sirius said, "Harry loves Hogwarts. So he stays and I will be taking the Black seat on the Board of Governors." He looked over at Albus and for the first time the fire that had been in his eyes had disappeared. "A security review seems to be a good idea especially since you're opening up the school to the Tri-Wizard Tournament."

"I would appreciate your help," Albus said immediately, "and perhaps I can convince Amelia to put some of the new funds at her disposal towards the tournament." He smiled at Sirius proudly. "That was well done today, my boy, very well done indeed."

He could admit that Sirius had played the Wizengamot like a harp; just like Arcturus. The House of Black had always wielded immense wealth and power in pursuit of its political goals. He could even admit that he agreed with most of the decisions Sirius seemed to have made: that he had taken a position that placed the House of Black staunchly against the Dark Lord was fantastic news but his actions in regards to the LeStranges was worryingly ruthless. Everybody deserved a chance for redemption.

Sirius waved away the praise. "We've meandered from the point."

"Yes, we have." Albus admitted. "I concede that Harry going back to the Dursleys would be difficult for him but I don't see any other way to maintain the blood protection. Measures can be taken to ensure Harry had minimal contact with them, but I'm sorry, Sirius, I must insist he return there."

Sirius's eyes fired up again. "You just don't listen, do you? Firstly, you mustn't insist anything. You don't have the authority under any of your many positions to tell me to do anything in regards to MY son; I am his blood, legal and magical guardian NOT you! You are nothing more than his Headmaster and, if you ever get your head out of your arse, a possible friend and ally."

Albus blinked at the caustic tone and harsh language. "There's no need for that, my boy."

"I think there's every reason because you don't seem to understand that: Harry. Will. Never. Go. Back. To. The. Dursleys." He punctuated each word by stabbing his finger onto his desk.

"The blood protection…"

"The Dursleys are no longer at Privet Drive." Sirius cut him off harshly.

Albus froze and examined the younger wizard's intent expression. "What did you do?"

"I gave them a new house with new wards. Petunia was ecstatic about living in her dream town and without Harry." Sirius sat back, looking unconcerned.

"But the blood wards…"

"Will fail very shortly." Sirius pointed out. "With nobody of Lily's blood residing there."

Albus closed his eyes. "Then the blood protection…"

"Is fine." Sirius said.

Albus snapped his eyes open in shock.

"Remus tracked down the spell he and Lily had discussed. It mentioned that the blood protection would erode without an anchor of blood within a home. Luckily, Remus found an adoption blessing within the same text." Sirius explained. "We did the ritual yesterday as it has to be performed by the women of the House. Harry's blood protection is anchored by Black blood now."

"And you couldn't have told me this before?" Albus asked, genuinely irritated at how Sirius had allowed him to believe the blood protection was in danger and gone.

"No." Sirius wagged a finger at him. "I was interested to know if you'd put Harry's best interests first and whether you'd be willing to listen to someone else's view."

"Ah." Albus felt a rush of chagrin and reached for a lemon biscuit in the absence of his comforting muggle sweets. "I rather failed your test, I fear."

"I wouldn't say you'd get a Troll…" Sirius said dryly.

"Just a Dreadful." Albus sighed and munched his biscuit. He wasn't sure how he could patch things up. He'd been so certain that he knew best. On one hand, he was despondent at losing control of the situation and yet, on the other, he admired Sirius's and Remus's ingenuity. They had achieved both securing Harry a happy home where he was loved and the maintenance of the blood protection; something Albus had failed to do.

"If I was your Professor, I would say that you need to stop believing that you're the only one with the answers, share your problems with others and listen to them, and most importantly; acknowledge that there are more important things in raising a child than simply keeping him alive." Sirius said crisply.

Sirius got back to his feet and walked over to the mantelpiece where he looked at the crest of the House of Black for a long moment, leaving Albus to consider his words of advice. Albus took a drink of tea to wash down the biscuit.

"So how is your search for the horcruxes going?" Sirius asked suddenly.

His tea went down the wrong way and Albus coughed violently in danger of choking for a long moment. He took a breath to recover and Sirius passed him a conjured glass of water. Albus drank deeply and sighed with relief as the soreness in his throat eased.

Sirius returned to his seat. "Anything you would like to share?"

Albus stared at him and wondered just how much Sirius knew. Did he know about the horcrux within Harry – he had mentioned that they'd attended a healing clinic…or was his knowledge restricted to the diary that Harry would have described in telling all about his second year adventure with the basilisk? He recalled that the discussion about the blood protection had been a test and he had failed. This was his second chance, Albus realised. If he did not give full disclosure here…

"I believe I have much to share and not all of it good news." Albus offered gravely. "You know of the diary, I presume?"

Sirius gave a slow nod. He propped his head up with one hand, his elbow resting on the table. His Head of House ring glinted at Albus.

"As soon as I saw it I knew what it was. Such a vile act; a vile trick to flee from death, indeed." Albus said, with renewed disgust at what Tom had done. "I'm not certain but I think the diary was an accident created by the death of Myrtle as Tom called the basilisk forth from the Chamber when he was a student at Hogwarts. He poured much of his personality between its pages and when he killed her, the damage to his soul caused it to fracture and a piece sheared away and became one with the diary." He sighed heavily. "Whether Tom's interest in horcruxes predated that incident or whether he had already started to learn of them…I rather believe when he realised that the diary had been turned into more than a journal when it wrote back to him, it prompted his curiosity and led him to a conversation with Horace."

"Old Slughorn?" Sirius grimaced. "Sluggy would have had access to a lot of Dark knowledge through his network. If he didn't know about horcruxes, I'm sure he would have known someone who did to point Tom at."

"And I fear he did." Albus said. "I tracked Horace down last summer but he refused outright to admit to any discussion. His entire demeanour was one of heavy guilt." He sipped his tea. "I believe once Tom had confirmed what the diary was, he stopped writing into it, possibly around the middle of his sixth year. But no doubt Tom made others – he would not have stopped at one. Three may have been his initial goal…seven is more likely. He had an obsession with the number. How many he made before his confrontation with Harry that night…"

Good Merlin, the prophecy! Another piece of vital information he had kept to himself for so long…was he meant to give that up too? Maybe he could offer what was already known by Tom…

His eyes sharpened on Sirius. "Tom believed, you see, that Harry was the one prophesised to vanquish him. The Death Eater who overheard and reported it to him only heard the first part of the prophecy but it was enough to identify Harry and young Neville as possible candidates; it was why I encouraged both families into hiding."

Sirius nodded. "You know the full prophecy?"

"I do but I would not want to burden Harry with the full weight of it at his age." Albus admitted frankly.

For a long moment, Albus thought Sirius was going to press him further and there was a worrying shimmer of rage that flickered across Sirius's face before it faded into an expressionless mask that simply made Albus more anxious.

"So you don't have any idea of the number of horcruxes Voldemort made before he was made a wraith?" Sirius returned to the topic of horcruxes much to Albus's relief.

"My intention this Summer is to start reviewing Tom's life and backtracking to see when and where he could have made them." Albus admitted.

Sirius nodded almost absently. He opened another desk drawer and another piece of parchment drifted out to hover in front of Albus. He took it and thanked Merlin he'd put his tea down. Regulus Black had just made his job much easier!

"Well, this is splendid!" Albus said, delighted. "I can make some guesses as to the items and locations using this list and…"

"The DOM is going to form a team to track them down and destroy them." Sirius said dryly.

Albus looked up in alarm. "You…you told Bertie about the horcruxes?"

"Bertie, Cornelius and Amelia in general terms; I called them objects that kept Voldemort from dying." Sirius confirmed to Albus's horror. "Bertie understood what I meant obviously; the DOM has researched horcruxes before and they know how to dispose of them. As I said, he's going to put a small team together. Bill Weasley will join it to provide his curse-breaking skills in repayment of his sister's life debt to Harry and to give me an inside man. He also knows the full picture; he's come across them in Egypt."

His plans unravelled before Albus's eyes. That Sirius could risk the information from leaking in such a way…

"All the team will be under vows; all capable of Occlumency." Sirius said as though he'd read Albus's mind. "We're calling it Operation Treasure Hunt."

Albus placed the parchment down and regarded Sirius with disappointment. "Nevertheless, the likelihood of this hunt getting back to Voldemort has increased substantially. We could have kept this between us and hunted them down ourselves."

"And how long would that take us?" asked Sirius pointedly. "I want this done quickly before Voldemort regains a body and is operating at full strength. Yes, there's a risk, but this is the DOM's specialty. They're trained for this." He paused. "Just as the DMLE is now on alert that Voldemort didn't die and may be attempting a comeback. They're going to start tracking the known Death Eaters that walked for lack of evidence."

"The Wizengamot today," Albus realised, his mind racing, "you and Cornelius were laying the foundation to undermine Tom's political power."

"And financial." Sirius said.

Albus nodded slowly because he could already see how Sirius would use the power of the House of Black and the House of Potter to control the Ministry and the Wizengamot and reshape the wizarding world – all for the protection of the boy Sirius loved as a son. "Remarkable." He had always believed love was the power Tom knew not.

"There's a War Council," Sirius said, "and you're invited to be part of it. Everyone is agreed your help and advice would be welcome. Penelope will send you the details of the meeting times."

"I would be delighted to assist." Albus said.

He could still backtrack through Tom's life but it seemed he would not do so alone. He remembered Sirius's chiding comments after the blood protection discussion and mused that it might not be a bad thing although he still worried about so much vital information being so widely known.

Albus sighed heavily. "The next piece of information I have for you, I suggest you do not share with anyone." He held Sirius's curious gaze determinedly. "The night Tom attacked Harry I believe he created another accidental horcrux – within Harry." He gestured across the desk. "I bound Harry's core to prevent the remnant becoming powerful and assuming control of the child. It does restrict the conscious amount of power Harry can access although he is capable of overcoming that as his mastering of the Patronus charm demonstrates." He searched for the right words and found none. "To defeat Tom, I'm afraid Harry must also die."

"Harry had the horcrux removed at the healing clinic although he believes he simply had his scar cleansed of Dark magic. They removed your binding afterwards and we've been practicing bringing his magic under control." Sirius told him bluntly. "If you want confirmation you can write to Noshi Blackhawk."

The news that Harry was cleansed of Tom's darkness, that he would not need to die, rushed through Albus, and stole his breath; Harry could live, grow old. He felt his emotions surge; an enormous wave of relief followed immediately by an almost oppressive amount of guilt. Why had it never occurred to him to seek the counsel of someone like Noshi?

"You must think me a monster." Albus thought out loud, blinking back tears of remorse.

"Noshi told me you could have killed Harry that Halloween's night and you didn't so no, I don't think you're a monster." Sirius said calmly. "I'm not happy with you. You could have sought help and advice if not immediately at the time, certainly in the years since and especially before Harry got to school."

And there it was again; Sirius's painful lesson that Albus share information and listen to others. He could have approached Noshi; he knew the man was a good soul and a consummate healer who took issues of confidentiality seriously. He shook his head. "You are right to be angry with me. I have made many mistakes. All I can offer as mitigation is that I believed I was protecting him and that I do care for him tremendously."

Sirius sighed and sat back, looking at Albus pensively. "I'm angry at you, Albus."

The use of his given name didn't go unnoticed by Albus; it was the first time since they had talked that Sirius had consented to use it. He felt a stirring of hope.

"If Harry had been inclined to pursue a prosecution against the Dursleys, and if it wouldn't have completely destabilised our society which considers you a moral icon, I would have encouraged him to bring charges against you too for child endangerment and neglect." Sirius informed him briskly.

Albus flinched sharply.

"You have three important positions in our society, but you have made serious errors of judgement both as Chief Warlock and as Headmaster of Hogwarts." Sirius continued. "Any other person would have resigned following the disclosure that they had failed to give an innocent man a trial yet both you, and Crouch for that matter, have wriggled out of it, placing the blame on Bagnold who is dead and can't defend herself."

Another flinch; he couldn't deny it.

Sirius motioned at Albus. "Your decisions as Headmaster, certainly for Harry's first year if not his second, should also have led to dismissal." He pinned Albus with a hard grey stare. "Again, a noble man would have resigned." He sat back. "Yet, I can't deny that if Voldemort is attempting to rise again, if you were not Headmaster, he'd consider Hogwarts as vulnerable and so I can't demand you to do the noble thing in repayment for all the crap you've put Harry through."

Albus breathed out a little.

"And I'm mostly not the injured party." Sirius continued. "Harry believes you care about him and I…I have attempted to maintain that impression while trying to explain your actions or inaction when he's questioned it – such as your decision not to look in on him after you placed him with the Dursleys. In truth, I rather think he's already forgiven you. Personally I think he's too forgiving because of the self-esteem issues that living with the Dursleys have left him with. But he has too few people in his life who he believes genuinely care for him and I won't deny him any one of those people."

"I will offer him an unreserved apology." Albus said quickly.

Sirius nodded. "Understand this, Albus; Harry is mine to protect now. You're done making decisions about his home, his life and his future. I don't believe that prophecies are written in stone. I will do everything I can to remove Voldemort from existence so Harry doesn't have to face him again. You get in the way of that and I don't care how powerful you are, you and I will come to blows."

Albus bristled slightly at the tone but he knew Sirius meant every word of it and was quite capable of carrying out his threat. Albus was the more powerful wizard but Sirius had shown a sneakiness that had completely overturned all of Albus's plans within the space of a mere month. "I promise to work with you, Sirius, and I promise to do better in sharing and listening to others."

Sirius harrumphed and there was a definite air of 'I'll believe it when I see it' as he got to his feet. "I have to get back to Harry and I think we're done for today." He gestured at the report still on the desk while placing the parchment on the horcruxes back in his desk. "That's your copy."

Albus stifled the urge to ask to see Harry, his want to know where Harry was so that he could monitor him. He picked up the report and let Sirius walk him to the floo. They exchanged brief words of goodbye before Albus entered the flames.

He walked out of the fireplace and into his office at Hogwarts; Fawkes trilled a comforting welcome. He placed the report on his desk, his fingers tracing over it thoughtfully. He wondered if he dared read it, and knew that he would. He had been a Gryffindor once and it was only right that he learn of the consequences of his decision. He glanced over to the set of monitoring instruments and waved his wand to shut down all but the one that kept track of Harry's life force.

He wandered over to the window to look over the grounds, letting the soothing familiarity of the school ease him. His plans were smashed to smithereens, Albus considered with wry amusement. Unsurprisingly when dealing with the Marauders, for he had no doubt that Remus had played his part in the scheme and would continue to do so. The group had been the best of their generation with the exception of Pettigrew who had been inclined to laziness – and their generation had been exceptional; Severus, Lily, Alice – so many wonderful witches and wizards.

It was easy to see the bare bones of Sirius's plan from the events at the Wizengamot; he intended to shut down Tom's second grab for power before it began. The DOM would deal with the horcruxes, the DMLE with the Death Eaters, and the Ministry and Wizengamot would reshape the political and financial landscape and make it unfriendly to Tom, less of a breeding ground for followers which would make recruitment more difficult for him. It was a good plan despite Albus's concerns that it involved too many people knowing critical information.

But Albus felt almost adrift – he no longer held the rudder but was reduced to a passenger in the boat. Oh, he had no doubt he would contribute – especially to the horcrux hunt and to the politics (he did have some sway on the Light side) – and no doubt his expertise would be valued but…he sighed heavily.

He felt so old.

Useless.

Fawkes trilled and swooped over from his perch to sit on Albus's shoulder. Albus stroked his friend's head gently, grateful for Fawke's unwavering support.

Sirius's plan also kept Harry well away from the fight, Albus mused idly, or at least tried to keep Harry away from the fight. But Albus thought Sirius was wrong about the prophecy. He hadn't been a fan of Divination himself before witnessing Sybill's declaration and could understand Sirius's point of view but ultimately it didn't matter because Tom believed the prophecy. So, no; Albus had no doubt that Harry would have face to Tom in battle again.

But, Harry no longer had to be the one to die; Albus didn't need to shape the boy so he would sacrifice his own life. He didn't need to hope beyond hope that Tom would seek to use Harry's blood in creating a body and thus provide an anchor so Harry had an impossible chance to survive death; a long shot if ever there was one. The relief of that made his knees tremble. It had been the part of the plan that Albus had hated; had always hated. To know that he didn't have to groom the boy in such a way, that such a stain would not be added to those already on his soul – ArianaGellert – was a weight off his shoulders.

He pursed his lips.

The problem was that if Harry was not to die in battle he would need to fight Tom and match him if not beat him. Nothing Albus had previously planned involved that scenario. Harry was a gifted DADA student – natural – but beyond that Albus hadn't seen the need to offer additional training or education. In fact Albus would have denied Harry such a thing if he'd asked because when Harry discovered he needed to die, that Albus hadn't given him any training to survive would underscore how much Albus believed that Harry needed to die. That Harry lacked confidence in his own worth because of the Dursleys would have just made convincing him easier albeit Albus hadn't planned it that way and he honestly hadn't realised that they'd been anything other than unloving.

Albus sighed.

Severus had informed him that the Dark Mark was growing stronger. Harry would no doubt meet Tom sooner rather than later. And Harry needed training – probably more than Sirius would allow if he knew the reason for it. But wasn't Harry's core unbound? Albus remembered how powerful Harry had been as a mere babe – everybody in the Order had heard James boast of Harry turning into a puppy at four months. Harry was a powerful wizard and he would need someone who understood that power – who was just as powerful – someone like Albus.

He smiled.

He would do all he could to train Harry to fight Tom and he could do it all in the guise of helping Harry control his power so Sirius didn't worry that he was forcing the issue of Harry fighting Tom. He felt a touch of satisfaction fill him. He nudged Fawkes who flew back to his perch, and hurried back to his desk to start making plans for Harry's education but he stopped short at the sight of the report.

The front parchment with its seal of the Ministry stared up at him. Within was the truth of what Harry had suffered because of the decisions Albus had made. But he needed read it; he needed to understand the damage to Harry's confidence and what would need to be done to correct that.

Albus sat down at his desk, gathered his courage and opened the report.

"Oh, Harry…my poor boy."

Chapter Text

Severus Snape prided himself that his behaviour was the epitome of everything Slytherin. He might only be a halfblood but he comported himself with the pureblood manners instilled in him by his mother and the cunning that dealing with his bigoted and intolerant muggle father had required. Even his obvious less than Slytherin behaviour – openly deriding the Gryffindors and specifically the Boy Who Lived, maintaining a stern deportment – all were a choice designed for a Slytherin purpose. However, sitting in front of the wireless listening to the early evening news report of the Wizengamot session, Severus's calm Slytherin mask was completely destroyed – his only boon that he was alone with no-one to witness his lack of composure (wide eyes, gaping mouth, pale face broken only by the slashes of red rage upon his cheeks) as he absorbed the shocking news.

Sirius Black was Lord Black. Black! Potter was Lord Potter, had been adopted by Black, and was now the Heir of the House of Black. The Longbottom and Potter alliance was restored. It was blow after blow as the inane commentator waffled on about how handsome Black had looked in leather pants and wasn't it a shame that Potter hadn't accompanied him.

He waved his wand with a gesture that rather looked like the muggle equivalent of giving someone the finger (his father had been a rather coarse man), and shut the infernal machine up. The news had left him more than a little horrified as he remembered Lucius's hints that morning.

Severus snorted as he paced the small living area in his quarters at Hogwarts. If Black had called Judgement and stripped the LeStranges of their magic for wearing the Dark Mark he could understand why Lucius had bowed to Black. The Head of the House of Malfoy was nothing if not a survivor, a true Slytherin able to talk his way out of every sticky situation. It would be galling for Lucius to have to conform to the will of Sirius Black but he would do it if it meant keeping his magic.

And there had been the interesting slip of information that Lucius knew of the Dark Lord's origins; clearly Lucius found them lacking. Severus had been told the truth by Albus once he had been taken on as a spy and found it more than a little amusing that the purebloods that so prostrated themselves at the feet of the Dark Lord had no idea that his origins were closer to Severus's than their own.

Severus's brief smile faded. Lucius was now aligned with Black – and Potter! –and would work with him against the Dark Lord that much was clear even if the message had been coached in formal language that would give Lucius leeway with the Dark Lord should Severus ever mention it to him. Not that he would. Severus was proud of the fact that his own allegiances were well obscured. The former Death Eaters believed he was their spy among the Light and Albus believed he was his spy among the Dark. Truthfully, Severus only had one allegiance…

Lily Elizabeth Evans.

He walked over to the small liquor cabinet and poured himself a small finger of oak-matured twenty year old Scotch. Raised in the muggle world he had a preference for it rather than the dratted Ogden's that the wizarding world favoured. He downed the glass in one go, savouring the peaty taste.

Lily had been his only friend as a child; the only one to see past a strange lank-haired, hook-nosed sallow youth and acknowledge the intelligent if serious boy inside. He had gloried in being able to introduce her to the wizarding world and revelled in her innocent affection for him.

All that had come tumbling down because of Hogwarts. In many ways he regretted ever setting foot in the school. Perhaps if they hadn't been separated by the House divides, if he had been home-schooled as his late mother had wanted and avoided the influence of those who would willingly serve the Dark Lord…

But he had long accepted that it was his own fault their friendship had come to an end.

In the Summer before their fifth year he had asked her to pretend not to be friends with him anymore because he was under pressure from the rest of Slytherin House to conform to their prejudices, and with the rising influence of the Dark Lord, Severus was under no illusions that he would suffer if he didn't. Lily had been sympathetic and had agreed. But he could tell as the school year progressed and he didn't shield her from the comments of his friends but agreed with them, as he stood aside and watched as the Slytherin girls tripped her with hexes and did nothing (although Lily fought back quite splendidly), that her patience and understanding were eroding. They disappeared entirely when he called a mudblood.

Shame heated his cheeks to burning once again as the memory flooded back; James Potter turning him upside down to humiliate him and Lily defending Severus only for Severus to deny her so harshly…and he hadn't meant it. He had never thought of her that way.

But the damage had been done and when he'd tried to apologise to her, she had told him that she had had enough. He had made his choice perfectly clear and she would thank him to stay away from her. He'd left her alone at Hogwarts believing they had the Summer to mend fences but instead he'd had the Summer to stew over his mistake further when Lily had pointedly refused to come to the door of her muggle home and had instructed her sister to turn him away, something which Petunia had done with relish.

In his anger, he had blamed the Marauders for the loss of Lily. He had spent the rest of the Summer plotting. When he'd returned to Hogwarts he'd overheard Regulus Black talking with his friend Mathias Flint about his brother running away from home because their mother had finally flipped and beaten Black half to death. It was the perfect bait for his lure. He had easily provoked Black into telling him about the Whomping Willow and on the night of the full moon he had made his move to kill the werewolf and have Black expelled leaving Potter alone and vulnerable.

Only he had miscalculated, assuming Lupin's meek mild manner would carry over to his werewolf personality when it didn't; that Lupin in his werewolf form would be an easy target. The werewolf he had glimpsed had been angry and fierce and scared him half to death. When Potter had turned up and saved him, Severus had actually been grateful and so angry at being grateful that he could have obliterated half of Hogsmeade. And then to rub salt in the wound, Albus bloody Dumbledore had seen right through him, warned him against further action against the werewolf, and had refused to punish the Gryffindors harshly; a few detentions and a ban from Quidditch for Black and nothing, nothing for Potter and Lupin.

Worse was to come though at the end of his Sixth year when Lily had caved into Potter's pursuit of her and agreed to date him!

Severus had gone to the Dark Lord willingly after that, taking the Mark that Summer and killing some poor muggle man that had already been tortured half to death by Mulciber Senior and who hadn't even defended himself as Severus had levelled his wand at him and pretended it was his father. The killing hadn't bothered him at the time – he had after all plotted to kill Lupin (as far as Severus was concerned werewolves were creatures that should be put down as soon as they were discovered no matter what anyone – Dumbledore – said) – but he had come to regret it as an older and wiser man, understanding the sin that stained his soul better.

In retrospect he was thankful, the Dark Lord had appreciated Severus's talent with potions and so he had been excused the usual revelry and muggle baiting. In his stupidity, he had decried not being able to attend, believing he was missing out on truly serving the Dark Lord. Then he had heard the beginning of a prophecy. He'd run, run, to the Dark Lord with it…

Severus bowed and kissed the hem of the Dark Lord's robes. "My Lord, I have something I must tell you but I believe it would be best to do so in confidence."

The Dark Lord stared at him with hard red eyes and Severus felt a pain deep in his head. He flinched as it left abruptly. The Dark Lord dismissed everyone from the room.

"Now rise and tell me, Severus, what did you overhear?" The Dark Lord asked smoothly.

Severus got to his feet and bowed his head respectfully. "Dumbledore was interviewing a woman for the position of Divination and she gave him a prophecy… 'the one to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born as the seventh month dies…born to those who have thrice defied him…'," he paused and caught his breath, "unfortunately, I didn't hear anything more before I was ushered out by the barman."

"I see." The Dark Lord rose and circled Severus silently.

Severus swallowed hard. Hadn't he done his duty? Wasn't his Lord pleased with him?

"Do you believe in prophecies, my dear Severus?" The Dark Lord asked suddenly.

He had to swallow against a surge of fear before he could answer. "Honestly, no, my Lord."

"Then why such haste in bringing me this news?"

The inference that Severus believed that someone would be born that could defeat his Lord slid into Severus's mind like a sharp knife. He thought furiously.

"I merely wished to warn you that the old fool Dumbledore had heard such a thing and may believe it." Severus hurried out, bowing his head again.

The Dark Lord laughed harshly. "It would be the first time. He and I both have never put stock in the vagaries of tea leaves and dull predictions of cards." He whirled away back to his throne, his robes billowing out before he sat. "Still, there may be those who will believe and it would be better to keep this…drivel in mind." His red eyes met Severus's again. "You have done well, Severus. You will be rewarded in time."

Some months later, Severus had read the St Mungo's birth announcements and realised that one of the babies born at the end of July was Lily's child. Severus had tried to put it to the back of his mind, to tell himself the child was also the spawn of James Potter and he didn't care what happened to it, to Lily. He had worried though knowing the depravities that the rest of the Death Eaters engaged in; the cruelty the Dark Lord was capable of employing against his enemies. Then Severus had been called alone to dine with the Dark Lord; a tremendous honour…

"You have seen the birth announcements, I trust, Severus?" The Dark Lord asked once the meal was over.

"I have, my Lord." Severus admitted and he knew two babies could fulfil the conditions in the prophecy; both sets of parents had defied his Lord; both children born at the end of July.

"I have been told that Dumbledore visits the families regularly." The Dark Lord sneered. "Obviously he has succumbed finally to senility to place his hopes in such a flimsy thing as a prophecy."

"He is desperate, my Lord." Severus replied sincerely. "Your side wins more ground every day."

"Yes," the Dark Lord muttered, "desperate, and desperate men do desperate things." He conjured two glasses of cognac and handed one to Severus. "I believe Dumbledore will try and use one of these infants against me. I need a spy to determine which he will use." He swirled the liquid around the glass and pinned Severus with unrelenting red eyes. "You were once friends with the wife of the blood traitor Potter?"

"To my shame, we grew up in the same neighbourhood." Severus knew it was folly to lie to the man.

"You are aware that Dumbledore knows that it was you who overheard the prophecy?" The Dark Lord smiled menacingly as Severus had nodded jerkily. "There will soon be a vacancy for the position of Potions Professor at Hogwarts. You will apply for the job and at the interview request sanctuary within the walls of Hogwarts having felt remorse for placing the son of your old childhood friend at risk after informing me of the prophecy. You will tell the old fool that you have changed your mind about serving me."

"My Lord…" Severus stuttered. "He will know! I cannot…"

"You will, Severus." The Dark Lord said bluntly. "You will train with Bellatrix in the art of Occlumency between now and your meeting with Dumbledore. It will hide your thoughts and true allegiance from him. You will take your place in his band of blood traitors and inform me of everything but especially anything to do with the prophecy."

He had agreed – what else could he do?

It had turned out to be his salvation.

Occlumency had been difficult but working through his memories with Bellatrix laughing derisively at his upbringing and his friendship with Lily had seeded doubts in his own mind about whether he had chosen the right path. And by the time he had attended his interview and wept crocodile tears on Dumbledore's robes about regretting his choices, he had in truth been wavering and thankful that his Occlumency was good enough that he could keep both Dumbledore and the Dark Lord from knowing what was really going on in his head.

Dumbledore's request for him to be a spy had been approved by the Dark Lord who had laughed when Severus had reported to him.

"Let him think you are his," the Dark Lord smiled, "but you and I know you will always be mine."

The Dark Mark had ached for days after that; the Dark Lord's subtle reminder of who Severus had sworn his life to serving.

And as the months had passed and Severus spent more time with Dumbledore, with the rest of the Hogwarts staff and away from the Death Eaters; as he had seen the crushed faces of children who lost their parents and families to the Dark Lord's thirst for power and blood, he had become less enthralled with his own Death Eater identity.

He had instead embraced his spy role. The spying had come naturally to him and he had quickly realised he occupied a position of power within both camps. He decided which raids to share; who was saved and who was lost to an extent. He controlled vital information – not all of it but some of it. He secretly gloried in his position.

But the events of Halloween in 'eighty-one had shattered his delusion (and it was a delusion, he could see it with hindsight); the Dark Lord had summoned him and informed him of his plan to attack the Potters as he needed a child to fulfil a ritual and why not one prophecised to defeat him? Severus had almost panicked, but he had kept his head and asked for Lily as a reward in the hopes of saving her – her husband and child were of no consequence but Lily…

He should have known she would die trying to save her son. He should have known the Dark Lord would not choose to stun her when he could kill her.

The harsh reality was that he had led the Dark Lord to the Potters, to Lily. He had signed their death warrants by informing the Dark Lord of the prophecy. In the aftermath, Dumbledore had guilted him into promising to help her son. Severus hated that he had made the promise in his weakness. It served its purpose in solidifying for Dumbledore that Severus worked for the Light but Potter wasn't the reason; his promise wasn't the reason.

The Dark Lord had killed Lily and for that he would pay; Severus had always been Lily's despite the fact that she had only briefly been his, and he would avenge her death by making certain the Dark Lord went to his. Protecting Potter was necessary for that to happen; that was the only reason he protected the boy.

Severus poured another glass of whiskey.

The truth was that he would always want to trade the Brat Who Lived for the Mother Who Died; Harry Potter for Lily Evans. That Lily would hate him if he did, would hex him to the end of the Earth and back for thinking such a thing…he sighed heavily. He couldn't stop himself from hating the child who Lily had died to save, believing deep down that if Harry Potter had never existed, never been born, Lily would never have been targeted, would never have died.

His hate was only exacerbated by the fact that Harry Potter was a miniature James (except for Lily's eyes staring out at him accusingly); entirely too Gryffindorish; entirely too arrogant without regard for the rules or authority; entirely too…too…

Thin.

And small.

Severus rolled his eyes expressively and pinched the bridge of his nose. He would not think consider that the Headmaster was right in his statement that Potter was not spoiled. Of course, Black would soon rectify that, Severus thought darkly.

A pop alerted him to the presence of a house elf.

"What?"

"The Headmaster is requesting Headsies of Houses come directly to his office."

"Very well." Severus put down his whiskey glass with a thunk, cast a brief mouth-freshening charm and strode out of his quarters. No doubt the old fool wanted to talk about Black's Lordship.

Black was going to be insufferable. Severus snorted. What did he mean 'was going to be'? Black already was insufferable; always had been.

He was the last to arrive and he slid into the remaining chair by a grumpy looking Poppy. A brief glance at his other colleagues confirmed they were all disgruntled at being called so peremptorily.

Albus appeared oblivious to their irritation; he sat sedately behind his desk with a bulky sheaf of parchments in front of him.

"Thank you for coming and on short notice," Albus said. "I called you together for two reasons but both are related, and are to do with Harry Potter."

"If this is an announcement that Sirius Black is also Lord Black," Filius interrupted, "I think we're all aware – the wireless has been filled with news of little else."

"In a way it is and in another, not at all." Albus held up one wrinkled and aged spotted hand. "Let me explain. I met with Sirius this afternoon after the Wizengamot session. As you have no doubt heard, he has already taken custody of Harry Potter." His expression fell suddenly and Severus felt a twinge of concern at how old Albus looked. "The reason why he was given immediate custody was because of this document." He tapped the parchment. "It is a report compiled by Amelia Bones and Alastor Moody about Harry's home environment with his aunt and uncle. It concludes that the environment was abusive and recommended Harry's immediate removal from it."

"My word!" Filius muttered in shock.

Minerva bristled angrily beside Filius. "I told you!" She snapped at Albus, her Scottish brogue thick with anger. "I told you when you left him there that they were the worst kind of muggles! But did you listen to me?! No!"

Severus was taken aback at her ferocity.

"He didn't listen to me either!" Poppy all but snarled. "Every year I've reported the boy is malnourished and suffering the signs of physical neglect and care; that he has stunted growth and health issues; and every year, Albus, you've waved me away with what were obviously empty assurances!"

Albus didn't defend himself. "You may berate me all you wish, Minerva, Poppy. I regret that I did not listen to you as I should have done in my belief that I knew best. I erred badly."

If the topic had been anything other than Potter, Severus would be amused at Albus's self-pitying guilt. The Headmaster only had himself to blame for the hurts done to his Golden Boy; Albus had been the one to place him and the one to cavarlierly dismiss the signs of abuse.

Pomona cleared her throat. "What specifically did his relatives do to Mister Potter?"

"In general terms, most of the abuse was verbal. He was never called by his name but rather 'Freak' or 'Boy' or some other derogatory term. He was regularly told he was a burden. Physically, he was set to chores above his age range and inappropriately dangerous for a child to attempt. He received slaps and hits with various implements at an early age but apparently learned how to duck and avoid them by the age of six."

"It explains his talent as a Seeker," commented Severus snidely.

Minerva glared at him.

"Continue, please, Albus." Pomona said briskly. "If we are to know how to help the child we must know of what damage has been done just as always in these cases."

"He was denied food on a regular basis and underfed as a matter of course. Beyond that…his cousin bullied him badly, injuring him severely on two documented occasions although his magic usually healed him. Materially, he was neglected; second hand clothes, no toys or books were given to him beyond the bare minimum required for his school work, no meaningful presents. He slept in a cupboard under the stairs until the age of eleven when he was given the smallest room in the house." Albus sighed heavily. "Possibly that was because of the arrival of his first Hogwarts letter. The abuse also diminished somewhat after he was collected by Hagrid although each Summer there have been…reoccurences in some form."

"My word!" Filius said again. "How could they!"

"They could because they had no reason to think that they couldn't!" Minerva said heatedly. "You never once checked up on him, Albus! Not once! You kept all of us with any tie to his parents away from him for his own safety and look! He wasn't safe at all!"

"Arabella Figg was stationed nearby and meant to keep an eye on him and I have talked with her via floo since reading the report wondering how she could have missed this." Albus said defensively. "Unfortunately, we had a miscommunication and she believed I was aware of the full extent of his treatment at the hands of his relatives whereas I believed they were perhaps unloving toward him but otherwise tolerant and certainly not abusive!"

"Does it matter?" asked Severus, impatiently. He flicked some lint off his robes. "So the boy was abused. I fail to see why that merits special treatment…"

"It merits the same treatment as all abused children in this school! We always discuss the best approach to take with an abused child!" Pomona remonstrated with him sharply. "You forget the majority of those come into my House!"

She was right; most of the abused sorted into Hufflepuff where they received the affection and friendship they yearned for; the security and stability their magic required to settle down. However those abused children who retained some spirit usually sorted into Slytherin as cunning and sneakiness were both required in the retention of that spirit.

Severus refused to think of Potter sympathetically or to pity him. Many were abused worse than Potter and his own childhood hadn't been a picnic. No, Potter might have reasons for some of his more irritating traits, including his lack of respect for authority, but he was still a detestable brat.

"And the rest usually come into mine!" Severus retorted. "My point is why are we having this discussion now in the middle of the holidays when it should be scheduled for the start of year preparation when we discuss all such cases!"

"Perhaps if I was allowed to finish, you would all discover the reason, Severus." Albus said tersely.

Everyone, not just Severus, squirmed under the rebuke.

"Firstly, I agree with Severus that deciding what the educational approach to Harry should be discussed in our usual meeting ahead of the term's start," Albus said crisply, "however, there are medical concerns that need to be addressed immediately. Realising there had been abuse, Sirius took Harry to The Valley Clinic in the States. They have corrected much of the physical consequences and I believe have dealt with some of the emotional issues. They also released a binding that I had placed on Harry's magic related to his scar. Harry has had a substantial increase in power and will need to relearn control before the school starts."

"I'll owl and offer my services for Charms." Filius said immediately.

"I'm already engaged for Transfiguration." Minerva informed Albus frostily.

Albus's eyebrows rose. "I see. I did wonder with the Potter announcements whether you were aware that Sirius was Lord Black and of events generally. I had hoped you would have confided in me."

Minerva harrumphed. "I had hoped that you had used a modicum of sense in placing Harry. It seems we've both lived to be disappointed."

Severus exchanged an unsettled look with Pomona at the chilly glare between the Head and his Deputy.

"Albus," Poppy was the one to break the tension, "I assume you wish me to write to the clinic and get a full accounting of his medical records?"

"Yes, Poppy. Harry's Healer was Noshi Blackhawk; Sirius has given us permission to approach him." Albus agreed. He shifted position and folded his hands on top of the parchment. "The second reason why I called you together is that Sirius raised concerns over the standards and safety here at the school to the point where he informed me he had considered withdrawing Harry."

Severus snorted. "If he wants to withdraw the brat, let him!"

"Severus, don't be absurd!" Filius replied before Albus could. "Apart from the severe damage to our reputation such an event would incur, where Potter goes, many would follow! We'd be lucky to have a school left!"

"And therein lies the heart of the issue." Albus said. "I would like your ideas and thoughts on how we can improve things. I have already decided to invite our new DADA Professor, Alastor Moody, to move in for the rest of the Summer and do a full security review of the school's wards and grounds."

"Well, that's a start." Pomona said, adjusting her robes. "Personally, I'd like something to be done about Binns!"

"His and a number of other subjects don't perform well at OWL level and should be audited." Minerva agreed. "Divination should be dropped and Muggle Studies needs a complete overhaul."

"I am in agreement." Filius said. "I'd also add that Potions is another area of concern. Many of my students employ tutors in the Summer to make up for deficits in their understanding."

Severus glowered at him. "It is not my fault most of them are dunderheads who can't understand the first thing to do with potions!"

"Perhaps if you taught rather than simply bullied them it would help!" Minerva snapped back.

"And perhaps…"

"Enough!" shouted Albus. "We are not here to criticise each other's teaching styles." He took a deep breath. "If there are no more ideas?"

They all shook their heads.

"Then thank you for your time. Please come to me with other suggestions as they occur to you." Albus said briskly. "Severus, if you could remain behind, please."

The others trooped out although Minerva remained behind briefly and waited until it was the three of them.

"Did you know, Albus, that I was considered as a potential guardian by Lily and James?" Minerva asked bluntly.

Albus sighed and nodded gravely. "I did not think to bring it your attention, Minerva, because the will was missing and your claim was weak. And while you did caution me against the Dursleys, you did agree with me before we departed that it was for the best to leave him there."

And for the first time Severus could remember, Minerva looked truly devastated. "To my everlasting shame, I did, Albus, and I will never forgive myself." She swept out before Albus could reply.

For a long moment there was silence and Albus looked as though his thoughts were far away. Severus cleared his throat.

"Ah, Severus, my apologies for my wool-gathering." Albus said, seemingly shaking off whatever had distracted him. "I need to inform you that Sirius is well aware of the prophecy and of the reality of Voldemort's imminent resurrection."

"You informed him?" Severus spluttered, losing his cool for the second time that day.

"He was aware of the latter and I believe in hindsight knew or suspected the former as he didn't press me about it." Albus said. "Sirius has a plan to defeat Voldemort and I have agreed we will work with him."

Severus felt his lip curling up in disgust.

"Additionally, it is more important than ever for you to be civil to Harry," Albus continued, "otherwise I have no doubt Sirius will call for an end to your tenure here or withdraw Harry."

Of course he was to be civil to the brat; it didn't matter how cheeky and disrespectful the brat was to him.

"I implore you to put the enmity with Sirius in the past…"

Of course he was simply to forgive and forget being bullied and thrown to a werewolf by Black; it didn't matter that Black had tried to murder him.

"For the sake of Lily's memory…"

"Do not use her name in this!" Severus snapped, surging out of his chair and striding to the window. He looked unseeingly at the grounds beyond unknowing that Albus had done much the same earlier that day.

Albus remained silent and Severus was glad of that as he brought his tumbling emotions back under control.

"Lucius reported that the House of Black was strong again. He will stand with the House of Black." Severus reported calmly. "Clearly whatever else is uncertain, Black's abhorrence of the Dark Lord and his known ruthlessness will help decimate the Dark Lord's support among purebloods. He will work to end the Dark Lord once and for all."

"Agreed." Albus said softly.

"What is also certain is that Black will protect Potter," he paused for effect, "even from you."

He could see from the reflection in the window that Albus flushed with embarrassment.

"You need not worry, Headmaster," Severus sniped tersely, "I will continue to keep my promise and help protect Potter to defeat the Dark Lord since Black and I share those goals. But. Do not expect anything further and do not ask me again."

"Thank you, Severus."

"If that is all?" He asked with a hint of his usual sneer.

Albus hesitated but he nodded his head.

Severus left the room quickly. There was still a good half a bottle of Scotch left in his room and he intended to drink it all.

o-O-o

Harry surfaced from his dozing at the sound of Sirius's voice greeting Remus. He didn't open his eyes immediately, too warm and fuzzy and tired to think about leaving the cocoon of blankets even for his godfather – Padfoot, he reminded himself – and despite the fact that he wanted to know how things had gone.

He could hear Sirius conjure up another chair and drag it close to the bed, the small knock as Sirius sat down and bumped the bed; Remus's low drawl as he confirmed Harry was sleeping just as he'd been sleeping every other time Sirius had checked. Harry felt Sirius's hand in his hair and revelled at the comforting touch – the knowledge that someone loved him. He was about to open his eyes when…

"Well, don't keep me in suspense! What happened?" Remus demanded in a quiet voice that was obviously meant not to wake Harry.

Harry kept his eyes shut. He didn't think Sirius would say anything he wouldn't tell Harry anyway but there was always the possibility. He'd learned with the Dursleys that they'd often talk more freely when they'd forgotten he was in the room. Not that Sirius and Remus were anything like the Dursleys – and Harry felt a rush of gratitude that he'd gotten so lucky; that Sirius had rescued him with Remus's help. He dragged his attention back to the present and tuned in.

"…you should have seen his face, it was a picture!" Sirius sounded very amused. "Dullard had to ask him if he was alright before he gave me the oath."

"And when Albus realised you'd taken custody of Harry?"

"Things got a bit sticky – he insisted on seeing the will. I think he was going to attempt to say that the proxy and guardianship couldn't pass to me because Frank and Alice couldn't decline in person. Augusta was furious."

"I can imagine."

"Then he kept questioning me about the notices – the adoption which Amelia stood up for and told him where to go, Harry being the heir to the House of Black went down like a lead balloon with him but he got told off by Tiberius Ogden of all people, and he got really snippy over the LeStranges."

"I'm surprised Augusta didn't tear him limb from limb." Remus murmured.

"Oh, I think if she could have done, she would." Sirius said. "Anyway, she was up on her feet yelling at him, then Griselda Marchbanks – who I may have to kiss simply for saying that the tribunals did a piss poor job of justice, then…Bartholomew Wilkes told him off for challenging the use of family magic – and then old Tiberius told Albus he was going to take insult on my behalf if he didn't stop questioning me! It was a beautiful moment."

"Arthur got the Ministry seat?" Remus asked.

"He did." Sirus confirmed. "That was another beautiful moment. The whole place was in an uproar. I think Cornelius almost pee'd his pants with glee."

Harry heard the shift of material as Sirius moved position.

"The best news ever though is that Umbridge is now somewhere in the jungles of Guyana." Sirius said cheerfully.

"Couldn't happen to a nicer toad." Remus replied in the same tone.

Harry was hard pressed not to join in when they snickered like naughty school-children.

"And the budgetary stuff?" Remus prompted as they sobered.

Sirius shifted again and Harry almost started as he picked up Harry's hand. "Better than we expected. Ogden, Nott and Greengrass matched my donation to the DOM and DMLE."

"That's…"

"Astonishing I know. If it's a signal they'll all ally in some way or at the very least stay neutral…it bodes well." Sirius said smugly.

"And the DMLE and the DOM get much needed funding."

"It also means that Lucius must have done some good in briefing his side as much as I hate to admit it." Sirius acknowledged. "Obviously Augusta was brilliant on the opposing side. Harry and I will be having dinner with the entire old Potter alliance on Saturday at the Longbottoms'. Richard Bones all but said 'tell me when we can do the oath' during the break."

"Harry will be pleased to see Neville. He sent him a plant as a get-well present." Remus said. "He signed it 'your godbrother, Neville.'"

Harry wanted to roll his eyes at Remus's amused tone. He personally was secretly really happy that Neville wanted to be his godbrother; had embraced the idea that their mothers were their respective godmothers as much as Harry had. They hadn't had the closest friendship ever at Hogwarts and Harry blamed himself for that. So he fully intended to send a thank you note back to Neville signing it 'your godbrother, Harry.'

"You know Frank used to do the same with James because Dorea was his godmother." Sirius commented and Harry could hear the smile in his voice.

"Minerva was James's, wasn't she?"

"Yep." Sirius yawned.

There was a brief lull and Harry was considering informing the pair of them that he was awake when Remus cleared his throat.

"I assume you spoke with Albus after?"

"Oh, yes." Sirius said dryly. "We talked."

"And?"

"And I was only tempted to use the house magic to incinerate him once." Sirius said in the same dry tone.

"I take it he wanted Harry to go back to the Dursleys?"

"Wouldn't take no for an answer until I pointed out the blood protection is now anchored by Black blood." Sirius said.

Harry was disappointed. He'd expected the Headmaster to bring up the Dursleys but he'd hoped deep down that Sirius and Remus would be proven wrong about him insisting on it.

"He did say steps would be taken, that Harry would have minimal contact with them, and I could even go along too to make sure they treated him right but…" Sirius sighed. "He cares for Harry, I can see that, it's just his focus isn't in the right place."

Well, that was slightly better.

"Maybe some of it is his age." Remus offered.

"You think he's going senile?"

Harry almost snorted a laugh.

"I mean his generation has a very different take on what is acceptable in raising a child." Remus said, taking on the tone that Harry knew meant Padfoot was going to get lectured. "Historically, children, especially in the working classes, were expected to earn their keep, to contribute with difficult chores from a young age, to be grateful and respectful to their parents for food, clothing of any kind, and shelter. If they received praise and love beyond that…they were lucky but it wasn't a big thing. Really it's only this century that mind healers have emphasised that love and reward is an important component in raising a child to be a happy contributing member of society."

"I'm not sure I agree with you, Remus," Sirius said firmly, "I think Albus knows full well to raise a child in an unloving environment is not good for the child. He admitted he'd sacrificed Harry's happiness on the altar of the blood protection, although he didn't know quite how bad it was for Harry there."

It was Remus's turn to sigh. "You know a part of me misses the days when I used to blindly accept Albus as the greatest wizard of our time, all knowing and all powerful."

"Well, there's nothing worse than finding your idol has feet of clay." Sirius commented. "It's only natural even when you realise the truth that they're human to search for reasons and excuses for why they've done certain things that maintain the image of a hero."

"You never did recover from finding out Elton John wasn't a wizard."

"Funny."

"I'm right that Albus wasn't your hero though, aren't I?" Remus asked idly.

Harry listened with interest wondering who Sirius had looked up to as an idol.

"You are," Sirius said, "I was raised a Black, remember? We weren't brought up to worship at the altar of the Great Albus Dumbledore, Defeater of Grindelwald. No, Uncle Alphard was my hero; he thumbed his nose at the whole pureblood thing, looked in on all the unwanted relatives, he was the epitome of cool, and he didn't abandon me after I ran off. Then he went and got himself killed."

"That wasn't exactly his fault." Remus pointed out.

"Of course it was." Sirius said. "Idiot walked straight into an ambush with a pack of Death Eaters."

"I take it they were trying to recruit him."

"Voldemort wanted every Black for his collection." Sirius murmured. "I think my grandfather made some kind of deal that he'd join Voldie if he managed to convince everyone in the family to be Marked."

"But he had to know you would never…" Remus stopped abruptly in realisation. "Oh. Well, if he did that was kind of devious of him, wasn't it?"

It was very clever of Sirius's grandfather, Harry mused silently. Because he'd known Sirius would never be Marked, he'd be safe from having to submit to the deal.

"Yes, the rest of us had to deal with the bloody plonker while he got to stay safe behind the walls of the Black country estate."

"Yes, the defences there are rather lethal."

Sirius coughed. "I did apologise for not warning you."

"You're bloody lucky I wasn't incinerated." Remus said.

"I did give you the password to shut the wards down." Sirius said defensively.

"After I called you on the communication mirror and demanded it," Remus pointed out, "while dodging a barrage of silver javelin curses, I might add."

"I apologised!" Sirius retorted.

Harry wanted badly to smile at their banter but he shifted instead, drawing their attention to him and they both muttered admonishments for the other to lower their voice so they wouldn't wake him.

"So what was the outcome with Albus in the end?" Remus asked.

"We agreed that he'd help; he's going to be part of the War Council and he had some thoughts about the treasure hunt. You should have seen him when I faced him with that." Sirius said. "He wants to apologise to Harry about everything so that's something."

That made Harry feel better about his Headmaster and the whole thing with the Dursleys. He was right; Professor Dumbledore did care about him.

"Are you going to let him?" asked Remus dryly.

"Of course," Sirius replied, "if Harry decides that he wants to receive an apology."

Emotions bombarded Harry. There was a strong wave of affection and love, maybe, for Padfoot for being so willing to do something because he loved Harry. But that was followed by a curious mix of annoyance at his Headmaster that he'd been human and made mistakes at all, and a shameful need to move past the revelations of how Dumbledore had placed him with the Dursleys and hadn't checked on him, and confirm that the Headmaster truly cared about him – that it hadn't been an act.

And the latter was just stupid, a small voice inside Harry's head whispered that sounded remarkably like Healer Fay. Why was it so important that the Headmaster cared for him? He had other people in his life, other adults, who really cared about him; Padfoot and Moony – Aunt Minerva. If he was going to forgive the Headmaster then shouldn't it be because it was the right thing to do if it was a genuine apology not just because Harry wanted the man to continue liking him?

Confusing, mused Harry, it was all too confusing. He shifted again under the covers as his body responded to his mind's restless thoughts.

Sirius's thumb rubbed over his knuckles as though to calm him and it did surprisingly enough. He let his eyes drift open and found Sirius looking back at him with a warm smile.

"Hello Sleepyhead." Sirius greeted him. "How are you feeling?"

"Groggy." Harry said.

Remus cleared his throat on the other side of the bed. "I'll leave you to catch Harry up, Sirius. There's a book in the library at the Manor I want to get before dinner." He ruffled Harry's bedhead hair with a smile and walked out.

"Want the bathroom?" Sirius asked bluntly.

Harry nodded. "A shower, I think." He felt grimy.

"Let's see how you do when you get on your feet." Sirius said. He let go of Harry's hand and pulled back the covers.

Harry gingerly swung his legs around and set his feet on the floor. He took Sirius's offered hand and pulled himself up. A slight rush of dizziness pulled at him but he kept his head up and everything steadied. It was much better than the other times he'd tried it that day.

"OK." Harry said.

Sirius walked him over to the en-suite and Harry exchanged Sirius's arm for a wall.

"I'll be fine." Harry said.

"Five minutes." Sirius said. "Don't linger and if you need me, yell, even if you're naked; understand?"

Harry felt his face redden but he managed a brief nod. He used the facilities and had a quick shower mindful of the time limit. He managed to wash his hair, soap and rinse his body haphazardly. He stepped out and wrapped a towel around himself, grateful when he walked out and Sirius was immediately there to help him over to the bed. Sirius had gotten a clean pair of pyjamas ready for him and it looked like the bed had been changed. Sirius ducked momentarily into the bathroom to set it to rights and gave him some privacy to change. Harry pulled on the pyjamas and climbed back under the fresh duvet with a sigh.

Sirius called Dobby and a tray appeared for Harry; chicken broth with dumplings, a glass of milk and a slice of chocolate cake. Another tray appeared for Sirius who glared at the milk.

Harry hid a smile and tucked into his dinner. He had demolished the broth and was just starting the chocolate cake when Sirius cleared his throat.

"So how much did you hear?" Sirius asked.

"All of it pretty much." Harry said, honestly. "Did you really almost incinerate Professor Dumbledore?"

"I got mad and the house magic reacted." Sirius admitted just as honestly. "But we worked it out and as you heard; he's keen to apologise to you." He held Harry's gaze. "I really do believe he didn't know how bad it was for you there. He was quite upset when I explained."

Harry nodded slowly and took advantage of eating his cake to avoid responding. He wasn't certain what he felt about an apology and forgiving the Headmaster anymore.

"You alright?" probed Sirius gently.

"Just…" Harry poked his cake. "I guess I was thinking about whether I wanted to forgive Professor Dumbledore."

Sirius raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

Harry took a deep breath and met Sirius's eyes. "I was thinking I wanted to forgive him because I wanted him to still like me but that's stupid, isn't it? I should hear his apology and then forgive him if I think he means it."

"Well, I wouldn't say it was stupid so much as human." Sirius said gently. "Everybody wants to be liked and nobody really likes confrontations or rejection. But you're right in that if somebody has wronged you, you should forgive them only if they're genuinely sorry not for any other reason – and if they're a true friend then they'll be genuinely sorry."

Harry nodded. "Will you arrange something with Professor Dumbledore then?"

Sirius nodded. "For next week."

"And you're OK with me giving him a second chance?" Harry checked, remembering Sirius's words to Remus.

"I am and I'm very proud that you've thought about your reasons for doing so." Sirius reassured him. "And second chances are a good thing sometimes."

"Like with the Malfoys?" Harry asked dryly. The Malfoys had been a topic of much discussion when they'd gone over their strategy for the family meeting. Harry had been all for treating them the same as the LeStranges.

"Well, that's not so much a second chance as delayed judgement." Sirius grinned. "Old Lucy seems to have realised it. Some of his prominent supporters were actually quite helpful today."

"I still don't like it. I doubt he's genuinely sorry."

"Possibly not but we need him – at least until old Voldepants is gone for good." Sirius smirked mischievously. "Then we'll go with the plan of dropping him and your Uncle Vernon naked in Diagon Alley with 'guilty' tattooed all over them. Maybe we'll even handcuff them together."

Harry couldn't help laughing at the mental image. "Can I just say eww?"

A yawn took him by surprise and a moment later he was divested of his tray and encouraged to snuggle back down under his duvet.

"Are you staying with me?" Harry asked sleepily as Sirius retook his seat.

"Where else would I go?" Sirius remarked with a smile. "Go to sleep, Pronglet."

Harry smiled back, had a momentary thought that it was nice to have Sirius, someone who cared about him, because Aunt Petunia would never have stayed, and in the next instant was fast asleep.

Chapter Text

Book II: A Marauder's Plan (Intermediate Pranks)

Part 5: Educating Pronglet (The Knowledge is Power Prank)

July 29 th 1994

The past month had gone by in a whirlwind, Sirius mused, as he headed to Black Manor for the War Council.

The War Council met every Monday morning at eight sharp and every Friday evening at six; Mondays were generally for planning; Fridays for reporting. It was a simple, elegant system that Penelope had suggested and which everyone had adopted post haste. Sirius was the undisputed Chair despite Albus's inclusion. The first meeting had included an interesting power wrangle with Albus subtly trying to direct the group and their activities, but since Cornelius, Amelia and Bertie had all looked to Sirius for the final say on everything Albus had said, Albus had eventually conceded that Sirius was in charge and there had been no further struggles.

Still, Sirius had been glad Albus had left a week beforehand for the ICW Conference. Merlin knew Albus had apologised, quite fulsomely, to both Sirius and Harry at the meeting Sirius had arranged at Harry's request which had taken place at Black Manor (and there had even been dinner with the Tonks' and Minerva in attendance), but while they had a truce in terms of their working relationship, Sirius refused to let his guard down around the old wizard.

Remus had warmed up slightly to Albus after receiving an apology of his own for Albus keeping Remus away from Harry because he'd remained suspicious that Remus was a spy, but he too was wary and Sirius doubted that Remus would ever view Albus with the same starry-eyed hero worship that he'd had at Hogwarts and the early days of the Order.

Harry had also forgiven Albus although Sirius was relieved that Harry had come to the conclusion that he should forgive him because Albus was sorry, not because Harry didn't want to lose Albus as someone who he thought cared about him. Harry was also more assertive as had been proven at their Dinner of Humble Pie as Sirius had dubbed it…

"Harry, my boy," Albus shifted in his seat across from Harry and smiled at the young wizard, "I understand that you're practicing your magic to gain control of your powers."

"Yes, Professor." Harry nodded. "I tend to accidentally overpower my spells if I'm not careful or thinking when I cast."

"Perhaps I may help you?" offered Albus eagerly. "I wasn't a half-bad Transfiguration teacher before I became Headmaster."

Sirius swallowed the urge to protest and waited to see how Harry would react.

A small frown appeared on Harry's face, reminiscent of the frown Lily used to wear when the Marauder's did something that she didn't approve of particularly. "Thank you, sir, but Professor McGonagall is already helping me with Transfiguration."

"As I informed you, Albus." Minerva said frostily.

"Ah, yes, I just thought I might have something else to contribute." Albus tried another benevolent smile at his Deputy and was met with a furious glare.

"And what," Minerva's Scottish accent increased with her ire, "do you think you could contribute that I cannot? Are you suggesting my capability as a Transfiguration teacher is inadequate?"

Sirius coughed into a napkin to hide the laugh that bubbled up as Albus scrambled to offer an apology and assurance of his absolute confidence in her skills.

Harry cleared his throat in the awkward silence. "It's nice of you to offer, sir, but as you yourself have just said, Professor McGonagall is more than capable of covering my Transfiguration lessons."

"Well, it's not so much the subject matter as the power issue that I was offering to assist with as I have more experience in that area. I had extra lessons in Transfiguration to learn control when I was young as it lends itself to forcing power moderation, above and beyond what is usually taught." Albus explained hurriedly. "It was these techniques that I thought it may be beneficial to pass along."

"Then why didn't you say so?" asked Minerva irritably.

Albus took a deep breath and seemed to gather his composure once more. "So, may I offer you my assistance, Harry."

Harry shot Sirius a look, clearly asking for guidance, and Sirius gave a small nod; it was OK with him.

"Thank you, sir," Harry said, "if you could come along to my lessons with Professor McGonagall I think that would be best so she can continue teaching me once you've shown us the techniques you mention."

And Sirius had to hide his face in his napkin again at Albus's crestfallen expression and Minerva's triumphant smile. That Harry would not agree to lessons alone with the Headmaster had made Sirius very proud.

Minerva had continued to be frosty to Albus in the weeks since and so too had Andy, during the dinner and in every subsequent meeting. Perhaps, Sirius considered wryly, it was a female thing; maternal instincts had been aroused and Merlin help a wizard facing a witch defending her child. He'd also wondered whether it was something to do with the blessing ritual; all the women who had taken part had effectively been acting in the stead of Lily; had witnessed Harry's mother in spirit form confirming the blessing that protected her child – a protection that she had sacrificed her life willingly to give him. Perhaps it had created something of a bond on a magical level above and beyond the blessing itself.

Bertie, Minerva and Remus had formed a small sub-group trying to research and understand Harry's affinity with family magic and looking closer at the blessing ritual. Nothing concrete had been established beyond tentative understanding of the history of family magic. They had managed to track down many origin stories but the only aspect most agreed upon was that it had something to do with Merlin; Merlin had either gifted the magic or it was Merlin's own magic passed down to those he considered his magical heirs…it might at least explain why the spirit of Morgana had named Harry a child of Merlin. It was all very interesting but to Sirius's mind, all very useless.

Albus didn't know a thing about the research as it wasn't part of the Official Plan with the War Council. There were two other things that were also kept out of the War Council; firstly, Harry's knowledge of the prophecy, and secondly, Harry's education.

The latter was going well. Andy's etiquette lessons, which were also attended by Hermione, took place every Saturday and always ended in a large family dinner at Black Manor with the Tonks' and the Grangers included alongside Remus, Minerva, Bill and Penelope. The Malfoys had a standing invitation to attend as they were family, but Narcissa had written to Sirius and requested that they be excused until she was convinced Draco could handle meeting Harry with the required neutrality of his Vow; Sirius had agreed and in truth nobody missed them.

Every Wednesday afternoon, Sirius gave a politics lesson to Harry, Hermione and Neville. They'd started having some mock debates and discussions about various laws. Sirius also gave them research to do on the members of the Wizengamot opening the library for their use. Neville was a fountain of knowledge and his confidence grew as he helped Harry and Hermione understand the various different alliances.

Neville's confidence was also improving thanks to the estate management classes he attended with Harry and Remus every Wednesday morning. The two young men had been assigned a property each from their respective estates. They were nominally responsible for the property under Remus's watchful eye. There had been trips to view the properties and to meet the elves and wizarding tenants; lessons on business, financials and book-keeping. But both Neville and Harry embraced the challenge and Remus was very proud of both his students. More importantly, Sirius could see the beginnings of an enduring friendship between Neville and Harry that pleased him no end.

Sirius had also charmed Augusta into buying Neville a new wand after realising he was using Frank's, and she had agreed that Neville should attend Harry's magic lessons to gain control of his new wand before they went back to Hogwarts. Sirius had wrangled the exemption with Madame Hopkirk and every Tuesday Neville attended Harry's lessons on DADA, Charms and Transfiguration. Having realised just how poor their knowledge of Potions was, Sirius had also hired a tutor to teach the boys the basics. Hermione came over on Monday mornings for their Potions tutorials as did Susan Bones who had also joined at her parents' request.

Sirius knew it had been a disappointment to Harry that Ron had expressed very little interest in attending any of the lessons but Molly and Arthur had acquiesced to their children joining in some of the activities that fell under Harry's wizarding culture lessons. The visit to the Welsh Wizarding Reserve of Magical Creatures with everyone in attendance had been the biggest success, closely followed by a visit to a Broom Racing match. Harry had been entranced by the latter having never realised that such a sport existed as it wasn't as popular in Britain as Quidditch. Neville, Susan, Harry and Hermione had enjoyed a trip to a Wizarding theatre and admitted the wizarding effects added something to the tale of Merlin and the Two Dragons.

Other outings weren't quite so well-received.

Hermione had enjoyed a second trip to the theatre to see Magical Dances from Around the World but Harry had hated every minute as had Sirius. Hermione had also enjoyed the British Wizarding Museum more than Harry although he'd admitted it was interesting seeing other history besides Goblin Rebellions; he had however been mortified at the Harry Potter display. But whether Harry had enjoyed or hated the experience, his eyes were opening to the truth that there was more to the wizarding world than simply Hogwarts and Diagon Alley – as Sirius had pointed out to him, there was usually a magical equivalent for many muggle things.

And it wouldn't stop until Harry was back at Hogwarts; Sirius knew Andy wanted to take the kids to a painting exhibition; he himself had bought tickets for the British Duelling Finals; Remus wanted a trip to Stonehenge so he could do a history lesson; Augusta was insisting everyone attend the Charity Tea Dance in aid of Saint Mungo's at the beginning of August…

Between his lessons, the outings and the alliance dinners, Harry was being kept wonderfully busy. He was thriving under the attention. The good health their time in the clinic had bestowed upon Harry had been built upon by Dobby's nutritionally balanced meals, Harry's training, and more importantly, being surrounded by people who loved and cared about him even if one of them was Albus Dumbledore.

It was just as well because hearing the prophecy had been a very big shock to Harry.

They'd heard the full prophecy with a quick and discreet visit to the DOM organised by Bertie, with Remus along for moral support. They had listened to the whole thing and all of them had been white faced by the end of it…

"I think I already knew." Harry said, placing the orb back on the shelf. "He's just too interested in me."

Sirius couldn't help noticing that Harry's hand was trembling; he was feeling fairly shaky himself. As Harry had said; they'd known but knowing and knowing were too different things. He wrapped his arms around Harry and dropped a kiss on the top of his head, ignoring a shocked looking Remus and a grave looking Bertie to focus on Harry. "I know it's scary but I don't care what it says; we're going to do everything we can to make sure you don't have to fight him, Harry. I promise."

"What if I do have to fight him again?" Harry countered, pressing closer. "How can I beat him?"

Sirius couldn't answer because of the fearful lump in his throat and he threw Remus a glance that screamed 'help!'

Remus, who had gone white as a sheet when they'd heard the prophecy, rallied in the face of Harry's and Sirius's distress. "Well, it does say that you'll have a power that Voldemort doesn't know about. We should probably try and research what that is…"

"It could be your family magic." Bertie inserted brightly. "There is definitely an unusual affinity there, and while Slytherin is a Noble House, it isn't an Ancient and Noble House."

"And we'll train you." Sirius added, recovering his composure. "Everything we know including all the dirty tricks." He rubbed Harry's back comfortingly. "If the worst comes to the worst, we'll make sure you're prepared, Harry."

And so they'd increased Harry's DADA training beyond his Tuesday control lessons: if Harry ever ended up facing Voldemort again (which Sirius would try his damned best to make sure didn't happen) he was going to need to be able to survive the experience.

There had been a lot of discussion between Remus, Minerva and himself, over whether to tell Harry about Snape's role in telling the prophecy to Voldemort. Remus and Minerva weren't certain Harry was ready from an emotional point of view to handle such news and then face Snape with equanimity at Hogwarts. Sirius had conceded the point but he hated keeping secrets from Harry and so he had insisted they offered Harry the choice.

He and Remus had sat Harry down one Friday afternoon at Black Manor (where the magic would contain any loss of control on Harry's part if he did decide to know) and told him that they knew the identity of the Death Eater who had informed Voldemort of the prophecy, that it was someone Harry would have to interact with in future, and so did he feel he could handle the information? Harry had shown great maturity and declined, acknowledging that he would never be able to be in the same room as the person who had prompted Voldemort into attacking him and his parents just as he would never be able to stand the sight of Wormtail for the same reason. Sirius understood how he felt – it was all he could do to stop himself marching down to Hogwarts and hexing Snape himself.

Albus had surprisingly taken aboard much of Sirius's criticism about safety. Moody had moved into Hogwarts early to do a full security review and he'd taken to the job like a duck to water. Sirius knew Harry would be disappointed some of the passageways were now warded but Sirius was pleased that nobody could get through them without it being detected. But it wasn't just security that was changing at Hogwarts.

Binns had finally been convinced to move on and so History of Magic was undergoing something of a major revision. Muggle Studies had a new tutor, Alison Bunting, while Charity Burbage had been quietly transferred to help out with the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Department while Arthur handled the new Muggle Affairs Committee.

Three old courses had been revived and added as weekend electives. Duelling, magical military strategy, and healing were all an hour long and open to fourth year students. Harry had expressed interest in all three and Sirius had encouraged him to take them and see what they were like. He could always drop them if he didn't enjoy them. Minerva complained about the extra work the changes were causing but confided that she was very happy to see the school being somewhat reinvigorated.

Sirius rather suspected the new courses were Albus sneakily trying to train Harry for a final battle with Voldemort but he decided to let Albus think he was doing it under Sirius's nose and getting away with it for the time being. Sirius didn't really have an objection to Harry learning something that could help him survive if he had to face Voldemort again, he just objected to Albus assuming the prophecy had to happen and placing the burden of killing a Dark Lord on the shoulders of a teenage boy. Sirius still believed the adults around Harry should do everything in their power to take care of the problem first.

Which led him to that Friday's War Council.

He stepped out of the floo and into Black Manor. He wasn't surprised when Penelope appeared. She looked smart in her blue robes with the crests of the House of Black and the House of Potter adorning them. She was turning into a treasure. She and Bill Weasley were the only other people beside Minerva who had access to Griffin House as Sirius and Remus had occasionally had to request one of them look after Harry – Harry might protest that he didn't need babysitting but Sirius felt better knowing someone else was in the house in case of an emergency than simply Dobby.

"Afternoon, Penelope." Sirius said.

She fell into step as he headed towards the study. "You have five new invitations." She said cheerfully. "Lord Rickett invited you to tea; I've set the meeting up for next Tuesday. Lord Nott invited you to discuss the August session agenda."

"Are you sure he's not planning to murder me?" Sirius joked, wondering why Nott wanted to see him alone. It could be the first parry ahead of an alliance discussion, he mused. Lucius had sent word that most of the Ancient and Noble Houses in his alliance had understood the new political landscape – Nott foremost among them.

Penelope smiled. "I've scheduled the meeting for Monday morning as the session will take place on Thursday." She opened the door to the study. "Mister Crammington had a business proposition to put to you and so I've forwarded that to Remus to deal with. Lord Greengrass issued an invitation for you and Harry to dine; I've put the date in your diary. And finally, Lady Abbott invited you and Harry to Sunday lunch second week in August with her family and the Bones'." She took a breath. "I thought I should check that one with you as I know you usually like to keep Sundays just for you and Harry."

Sirius nodded. "Thank her for the invite and write back saying that if she can switch lunch to Saturday we would be delighted but we have plans for Sunday." He held up a hand. "As soon as you've done that, you should get going." He smiled at her. "I recall you have a date with Percy."

Penelope blushed but nodded, her blonde hair almost coming free of its bun. "He's taking me to see that Merlin play."

"It was very good." Sirius agreed. He was glad her relationship was going well as there had been a rocky patch just after the adoption when Percy had said something stupid (from what Sirius could make out something along the lines that her job should have gone to a pureblood) but they had worked it out. "Have a good night."

Penelope smiled and wished him the same before she headed off to her own desk in the corner of the library.

It wasn't long before Amelia arrived. She was always the most punctual. They had a few minutes to chat about the Abbott's invitation with Amelia suggesting the changed date would be no problem for her and her younger brother (otherwise known as Lord Bones) and his family. Bertie arrived next with Albus and Cornelius arriving together after attending a debriefing of the ICW Conference.

As soon as the refreshments were served and everyone was comfortably seated in the sitting area of the study, Sirius cleared his throat.

"Cornelius, why don't you go first?" Sirius suggested.

Cornelius puffed up proudly as though going first was some signal of importance. "Operation Power Play is going well." He beamed. "As of Tuesday, I believe the old Potter alliance has been confirmed?"

Sirius nodded. "We couldn't have done it without Augusta but the alliance of eight – nine including the House of Black – Ancient Houses and eight minor is re-established and on board with the coming legislative changes specifically the Muggle Affairs Committee and the revision of the budget."

"Oh that's excellent news!" Albus exclaimed.

"I don't believe I've seen Augusta so lively for many a year." Bertie commented dryly.

"The muggleborn Order of Merlin recipients will also be approached for a sounding out session at the August session." Cornelius said. "After a difficult month, Lucius has retained his control of the pureblood alliance which is somewhat good news for us. I've been approached tentatively by Lord Gibbon to see if my support for Lord Black could be swayed."

"The least powerful of the group." Amelia commented. "Panicking perhaps?"

"I think so." Cornelius agreed.

"Well, that would make sense since Nott just invited me to discuss August's session with him." Sirius said, easing back in his chair and steepling his fingers. "He's the first of the old Black alliance to do so – outside of family, of course."

"They're feeling you out." Cornelius grinned and clapped his hands. "And so soon! That's excellent news!"

"Well, I think the reason for that may not be so excellent." Albus said gravely. "The Dark Mark caused twinges of pain for my spy this week."

Why Albus had to keep calling Snape 'my spy' when they all knew who it was…Sirius sighed and let it go.

"My spy has noted the same." Bertie said. "Our tests on the Mark believe it is a sign of proximity; Riddle has returned to our shores."

"There's been no sighting of Pettigrew through magical transportation but since he can sneak onto muggle transportation easily enough in his animagus form…it could be possible. Of course, that's assuming that they're travelling together and that Pettigrew has helped him to regain some strength to return." Amelia said briskly. "Riddle could have decided to travel ahead or on his own somehow."

They all nodded in acknowledgement that she made good points.

"Which just makes our work more imperative." Sirius said. "Cornelius, I believe we have good news on the neutrals?"

"Yes, indeed. Lord Greengrass has met with me twice to discuss the revised budget and each time has made comments to feel out the political agenda around the House of Black. I believe we've been invited to dine?"

Sirius nodded. "As much as they hate to admit it, Greengrass controls that bloc. If we secure it…"

"We'll have a strong Wizengamot." Cornelius ended with a smug smile. "The other main item for us to discuss today is that the nominations are in for the empty seat: the House of Abbott is nominating Diggory, the House of Zeller is nominating the House of Baron, the House of Doge is nominating the House of Weasley, and the House of Wilkes is nominating the House of Yaxley."

"Yaxley is on our DE list?" Sirius questioned.

"He wasn't Marked in 'eighty-one but he was a known supporter according to both spies." Amelia said. "He's tagged."

"Arthur is going to refuse the nomination." Cornelius said. "He's happy with the Ministry seat."

"Elphias is very traditional. Whenever a seat returns to the floor he always nominates one of the Ancient and Noble Houses that lost their seat in the past." Albus motioned with his tea-cup. "Last time it was Crouch but that was just after the war and the business with his son torturing the Longbottoms so obviously failed and…"

"And no doubt he would have nominated old Barty again if it wouldn't be political suicide with the circumstances around Lord Black's illegal incarceration being so well known." Bertie commented.

"Which leaves Diggory and Baron." Cornelius said. "Either would be good for us; Gideon Baron is neutral in his politics – egalitarian but a traditionalist. During his career, he represented the Goldstein and the Davies families. Diggory, of course, works for the Department of the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. A good man if a little pompous…"

Sirius tried not to choke on his coffee at Cornelius calling someone else pompous.

"He has quite restrictive views on controlling magical creatures which may not be in line to the policies we want to make further down the line." Cornelius finished.

"I think Amos could be convinced in due time." Albus said.

Which meant Albus wanted Diggory.

"Where does the Potter alliance stand on this if Leonard is making the nomination?" Amelia asked interested.

"Leonard and Amos are old friends, hence the nomination." Sirius replied crisply. "The alliance is agreed that a house seat should be a free vote; we all decide individually after all which houses to ally with."

"I take it that the Potter and Black votes will be going to Baron then?" inquired Albus smoothly.

"The Potter vote will be discussed with Harry," Sirius said firmly, and probably would go to Baron as Harry would not be impressed with Diggory's record on magical creatures, "and since Diggory is on the invite list for the Longbottoms' party tomorrow I wouldn't be surprised if Harry and I receive a pitch."

"More than likely knowing Amos." Amelia said with a laugh.

"It is bad form to bring politics to a children's birthday party." Cornelius tsked.

Sirius refused to look at the man in case he burst out laughing because if Cornelius had the chance to attend, Sirius had no doubt Cornelius would be politicking his way through the guests in a heartbeat. "Moving on," he said firmly, "is there anything else, Cornelius?"

"The new Werewolf Law is being drafted. Arthur seems to have a new lease of life with the Muggle Committee." Cornelius commented almost absently as he rifled through his mind for the latest updates. "But no; nothing else."

"Amelia?" Sirius asked.

"Operation Tag is fully up and running." Amelia said. "The last team member is Cambridge; Hit Wizard, muggleborn, two years of experience and one of Alastor's protégés. That brings the team to five, six including Rufus; so three Hit Wizards, two Aurors and the Head Auror to lead."

"And all were not involved at the time of the last war?" Albus checked. He'd missed the last session and so had missed the information.

Amelia shifted impatiently, restless at having to repeat herself. "Rufus obviously was. The two Aurors, Brooks and Wood, joined in the wake of the war – 'eighty-two and 'eighty-five respectively. Brooks was a muggleborn who lost an older brother who was an Auror; Wood is a pureblood but lost his father in a DE attack on Diagon Alley. They're experienced. Ambrey who is a halfblood joined the Hit Wizards around the same time for similar reasons – she was orphaned by a DE attack and raised by her grandmother. Chambers joined five years ago. He's a muggleborn. All are accomplished Occlumens. All took immediate Vows that they weren't Death Eaters, would never be Death Eaters and would never ally with Voldemort and, or Tom Riddle."

"Sounds like a good team," Sirius said, noting with amusement that Albus had the faint air of a man who knew he'd irritated a woman but couldn't work out how.

"They're very good." Amelia confirmed. "Everyone listed as a DE by our various spies has now been tagged. Under special confidential warrants, we have their mail and flooes monitored. We've placed minor monitoring charms near to their properties – enough that we should pick up if someone apparates in front of their wards. We've also managed to activate traces on the wands of those who have visited the Ministry – it won't pick up anything but Unforgiveables but it's better than nothing."

"And how's the cover story going down?" Sirius asked with a smirk. Officially the team had been pulled together to find Peter Pettigrew – thus it was dubbed the Rat Squad by the rest of the DMLE.

"Brilliantly." Amelia replied wryly. "Everybody appreciates the need to capture Pettigrew; the Department is in good spirits that actual law enforcement officers are being used and not Dementors. Rufus has played it up with the rest of the Aurors saying it'll be a thousand galleons to any Auror who beats the Rat Squad to the arrest; Keith Poole has done the same with the Hit Wizards."

"Have they actually made any progress on that score?" Cornelius asked.

"Some," Amelia said, "working with muggle law enforcement we've managed to find a picture of Pettigrew at a major port around the time a muggle cargo ship was due to leave for the Balkans. That was a few days after Peter escaped at Hogwarts. Since Albus has indicated Voldemort's last known hideout before Quirrell was Albania, I think we can assume he was headed there." She picked up her quill. "I'm going to get them to check again for the last week to see if he came back the same way."

"And what about the tip of something planned for the World Cup?" Albus's eyes twinkled.

"Well, we know from three separate sources now that something is planned." Amelia said, making the point that it wasn't just Albus who had brought the information to the table. "We have the names of those involved and the surveillance team is on it. However, while I'm keen not to have muggles tortured and killed at the World Cup, I think we need to let them proceed and make our move when they act."

"But…" said Cornelius, panicking.

"If we act ahead of them committing the crime, we can get them on conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack but frankly, it'll give our surveillance and spies away." Amelia said firmly. "The timing will be the key thing; once they make their move, the Aurors will move in straightaway."

Sirius nodded absently. He had initially agreed to Arthur's invitation but had insisted he'd get tickets for himself and Remus to join them. They would need to discuss arrangements again, he mused. He wasn't keen on staying overnight if there was going to be a Death Eater attack – even one that the Aurors knew about and would stop as soon as it started hopefully.

"If we time it right," Sirius said, "it will look like a triumph of our law enforcement over the pitiful remnants of a vanquished Dark Lord. Publically we can establish ourselves early on as taking a tough stance against this type of activity, saying we won't stand for a revival of it."

Cornelius snapped his fingers. "We can certainly work that angle with the press." His eyes gleamed with glee and Sirius exchanged a knowing look with Amelia.

"Well, that's me done." Amelia said.

"Last but not least, Bertie." Sirius said.

Bertie cleared his throat. "For Albus's benefit my team is also complete. Lawrence Appleby is a halfblood, a contemporary of mine. He served in MI7 for a time during the last war. He lost his only child to a DE attack in Hogsmeade. He's leading the research side. Caroline Braithwaite is a muggleborn, joined us ten years ago straight out of Manchester Magical Academy. She actually ranked top of her year in NEWT scores and is a likely recipient of the Lily Potter Muggleborn Award. She has a joint Mastery in Charms and Arithmancy. She has been with MI7 to date but is looking to move and sees this as a good transition." He took a sip of his drink. "As you already know, Albus, Bill Weasley is our final member. He's an excellent curse-breaker. I'm hoping to steal him away from the Goblins for good once he's finished his service to the House of Potter."

The meeting with Gringotts to give Bill a leave of absence had gone better than Sirius had anticipated. They had insisted on a penalty but it was much less than what could have been incurred and Bill was worth every knut.

"A fine team," commented Albus. "I remember Deborah Appleby's death; it was a tragedy."

"What happened to her?" Amelia asked.

"She was torn to pieces by Greyback." Sirius said tersely.

It was a hard reminder of what they were all fighting to prevent reoccur.

"We should put Greyback on our tag team list." Amelia said. "He was never Marked but he was certainly quick to ally with Voldemort. The problem is finding him."

"Good idea." Sirius said. He thought for a moment, debating with himself furiously before sighing. "I can get Remus to feel out his werewolf contacts; see if we can't track him down."

"In terms of progress; we have compiled all available research on these types of objects. Reassured that we wouldn't alert Riddle if we destroyed one, we have gone ahead and destroyed the two obtained by Lord Black, the locket and the cup which was found in the inventory of the LeStrange vault. Lord Black stood witness as did Amelia and Cornelius as they were burned within a high temperature furnace." Bertie said. "As young Mister Potter handled the diary, we are left with two objects we have clues for and one that we do not."

"It's remarkable progress in such a short time." Albus said brightly.

"And only achieved through the knowledge gained from Lord Black's brother about the locket and the cup." Bertie pointed out. "However, we have made good investigative progress in the last week cross-referencing that letter with your timeline of Riddle's history, Albus."

He stood up and unshrunk a board he set out with three sections.

"Item number one: unknown." Bertie began, tapping the first section which began to fill with information. "We believe that this item wasn't created at the time Regulus Black found out about the objects. We're fairly certain Riddle was waiting for the moment of his ultimate triumph to create the sixth and last one. We think Albus's defeat," he motioned with his wand in the vague direction of the other wizard, "or Bagnold's assassination would have been the original targets for the moment of triumph he wanted. But he changed his mind. We know he knew there was a prophecy for well over a year but didn't act on it…"

"Tom really didn't believe in Divination. I was quite surprised when the intelligence came that he intended to act." Albus admitted quietly.

"Lawrence came across an old magical theory involving Halloween and the sacrifice of innocent blood – a babe." Bertie said. "It is said to make the object created in the ritual indestructible."

"Sickening." Cornelius commented, looking faintly green.

"But hence why he moved against Harry that night." Sirius said grimly.

Bertie nodded. "We believe he took something with him to Godric's Hollow. However, his attempt went badly wrong, so we believe the object wasn't created."

"Excellent logic." Albus complimented Bertie but his blue eyes had lost their twinkle.

Sirius wondered whether Voldemort had accidentally made Harry indestructible by making him a horcrux…if he had the cleansing of the scar would probably not have worked, Sirius assured himself, and after all, Harry hadn't been sacrificed ultimately so the conditions of indestructibility hadn't been met.

"So, we're only looking for two others?" asked Amelia.

"Well, I'd like Bill and Caro to go to Godric's Hollow and check it out to be certain." Bertie said. "But I believe so."

"That can be arranged." Albus said.

Sirius sighed inwardly. Evidently being in charge at the ICW Conference had led to a resurgence of Albus's control issues.

Bertie simply looked to Sirius.

"Yes," Sirius said, "sounds like a good idea." Even if Harry had ended up as the unknown horcrux, they should check to ensure there wasn't another one; both James and Lily had died that night. He darted a glance at Albus. "Are there any special wards around the place that you need to arrange to take down?"

Albus shook his head. "Ah, no. I left an alarm ward specifically for Tom but otherwise the wards were erected by the DOM."

"Excellent." Bertie said. "So working backwards through Albus's timeline, we're onto item two: the Ravenclaw object." He paused and took a drink of his tea. "More research has narrowed it down to two possible things; the missing Ravenclaw diadem and Ravenclaw's eagle pendant that she wore at her wedding. Both were lost but we think the diadem was likely Riddle's target: the wearer was said to be gifted infinite knowledge."

"Tom would certainly have wanted it." Albus agreed. He set his empty tea-cup down and reached into his robes, pulling out a bag of sweets.

"The diadem has many myths and legends surrounding it. However, one that caught Bill's eye was the story of Helena, Ravenclaw's daughter, taking the diadem and running off to Albania." Bertie said with a small smile.

Albus smiled back serenely. "Yes, Tom does seem to like that country, doesn't he?"

"Forgive me, but didn't my brother's letter say the object was in Hogwarts?" Sirius questioned.

"According to Albus, Tom had just returned from Albania when he interviewed for the DADA position." Bertie explained.

"You think he hid something during the time he was interviewed?" Albus's eyes lost their twinkle again as he contemplated that Voldemort had succeeded in secreting a dark object into the school under his nose.

"Don't the wards pick up Dark artefacts?" asked Amelia briskly.

"No," Albus confessed, "the Founders placed no such ward around Hogwarts and…undoubtedly even if I could find three other wizards or witches of equal power to place one myself, there are many historical artefacts within Hogwarts that could be deemed Dark by the Ministry's definition such as the statue that guards the Headmaster's office."

"So we have one of his objects just lying around Hogwarts waiting for some poor unsuspecting child to pick it up?" Cornelius asked, appalled.

"I doubt Tom would have been so foolish as to place it somewhere easily accessed by others." Albus pointed out.

Sirius raised an eyebrow. "Well, there is one obvious place."

"The Chamber of Secrets?" Albus's eyes twinkled again. "Indeed, but we would need a parselmouth to enter."

"Fawkes can't just take us in?" questioned Sirius.

"Unfortunately, no." Albus said disgruntled. "I tried it with Fawkes as soon as everyone went home for the Summer that year, if for no other reason than to recover the basilisk corpse. Alas, we bounced off some ward. Fawkes was not amused."

Amelia gave Albus a hard look and Sirius figured he knew why.

"Then, how did he get into the Chamber when young Harry was fighting the basilisk?" Cornelius blurted out the question that was bothering Sirius.

"Perhaps Harry's presence within the Chamber?" Albus stroked his beard. "It is quite the puzzle."

"So you need Harry to open the Chamber." Sirius concluded bluntly.

Albus nodded. "I haven't requested it of him myself because of the trauma he faced in fighting the basilisk."

"I'll talk with him." Sirius said. "He wants to help and this might be a good way of involving him in a relatively safe way since the treasure team, Remus and I – and I'm sure you will be accompanying him." He raised an eyebrow. "Unless you think there's another basilisk down there?"

"Perhaps a rooster would be a good thing to take with us." Bertie mused.

"OK, so we have a plan for the Ravenclaw item." Sirius concluded. "Anything on the Head of House ring?"

"From Albus's memories of his time in Hogwarts, Riddle had the ring from his sixth year." Bertie said, tapping the board again so information flowed into a third section. "We think he was released from the muggle orphanage at sixteen and expected to find his own way."

"And he went in search of his origins." Sirius surmised. "I know I would."

"What he found were the Riddles and the only remaining Gaunt in Little Hangleton." Albus explained. "The Riddles were supposedly murdered by Morfin Gaunt, Tom's uncle. He died in Azkaban some years later. I rather think Tom murdered his muggle grandparents and father, and framed his uncle."

Sirius couldn't help a twinge of sympathy for old Morfin but from the research he'd read, Morfin had been a complete bastard who had deserved Azkaban for a number of things even if he had been ultimately imprisoned for something he hadn't done.

"We have no way of knowing if the ring was anything other than a ring at this point but as he was wearing it, I think it's safe to say it was just a ring." Bertie said. "However, he was not wearing the ring when he returned to Hogwarts for his interview for the DADA position."

"Do we think he left it at Hogwarts too?" Amelia asked.

"No." Albus shook his head. "Too many eggs in one basket."

Bertie nodded and clearly considered his words before speaking. "Caro has found out that Riddle Manor and the land upon which the Gaunts' home resides are now owned by a Thomas Salazar according to muggle records."

Albus looked shocked. "Really?"

"He'd want to own what they denied him." Sirius said unceremoniously. "You think the ring could be there?"

"Maybe – it has personal associations for him." Bertie said.

"I am not certain," Albus said, "I rather think Tom would not choose to go back there. It gives too much away of his origins."

"We should investigate if nothing else." Amelia countered.

"And there are two issues here; one is the ring itself and the second is that this could be a likely bolthole for Riddle if he is back in the country." Bertie said.

"The second falls more under the Rat squad." Amelia nodded briskly. "We'll do passive surveillance. If he does use the Manor we'll know about it."

"Which is an excellent idea but do we search for the ring before or after?" Bertie asked directly. "If we search for the ring and remove it, he'll know we're onto his objects. If we leave it in place, we risk him escaping death again if captured."

There were pros and cons either way, Sirius mused.

"Thoughts?" asked Sirius, waving at Cornelius to go first.

"My vote is to leave it in place." Cornelius said. "We can't risk him knowing about the rest of the treasure hunt."

"Amelia?" Sirius prompted.

"I agree with Cornelius."

Cornelius looked as surprised as Amelia that she had agreed with him.

"As do I." Albus chipped in. "I would suggest that apart from the passive surveillance we leave the ring and Tom alone should he go there until the Ravenclaw object has been found and we've confirmed there is no object at Godric's Hollow. If captured, we would then only have the ring to deal with."

"In which case I would suggest if Riddle isn't already in residence, we locate it first so we can move on it rapidly when we do the capture." Bertie said.

They all looked at Sirius for a decision.

Sirius considered the options. Merlin but he could do with Remus in the room. "Three plans," he said finally, "plan A; we scout the Manor and Gaunt place this weekend, see if they're occupied, see if the ring is there and what the situation is. If the ring is there, we take it, leave a transfigured copy, rebuild any traps and exit, leaving the passive surveillance in place. A switch is risky, I grant you, but if he sees the traps are in place, I doubt he'll investigate further until he regains full strength."

"Oh," Amelia grinned, "sneaky."

"Quite brilliant, my boy." Albus exclaimed.

"And plan B?" asked Bertie dryly.

"Well, if the ring isn't there and they are; passive surveillance until we get the objects sorted unless it looks like old Voldie is going to regain his body." Sirius said. "And plan C assumes neither is there, in which case we set up passive surveillance in case he shows up."

"Neatly done, Sirius." Cornelius said.

Sirius nodded. "We need to move on this quickly if we believe Riddle could be headed there."

"We'll send the teams first thing in the morning." Amelia said after a quick and silent exchange with Bertie.

"Anything else?" Sirius asked.

They all shook their heads.

"Albus, if you could stay a moment? I'll see the rest of you to the floo." Sirius escorted the others out and quickly returned to his study. The old wizard had moved to peer out of the window into the back garden. "More tea, Albus?"

"No, my boy, thank you." Albus turned around. "You're going to berate me about attempting to recover the basilisk."

"By law, the basilisk belongs to Harry as he killed the beast." Sirius said, sitting on the edge of his desk and folding his arms over his chest. "I'm fairly certain that Amelia suspects that you were planning to swindle him out of his rightful reward and it was your intent that kept you out of the Chamber."

"And you?" Albus enquired, placing his hands behind his back.

Sirius cocked an eyebrow at him. "I'm sure you would have given Harry something, possibly commensurate with whatever damages you were planning to give to those petrified. But something is not the same as all which is what he should get under law."

Albus nodded slowly and once again looked his age. "It was not…sporting of me, I know, but I am aware that Harry will inherit a large amount of money. With a diminished student population in these last few years because of the war at the time of their birth…the Hogwarts' budget would have benefited tremendously from an infusion of funds."

Sirius refrained from arguing with him that due to Albus placing Harry with muggles the Potter estate had been left to rot and, if not for the adoption and change in guardianship, while Harry wouldn't have been destitute when he came of age, he certainly wouldn't have inherited what he should have. Luckily, Remus was turning it around.

"I will talk to Harry about the basilisk," Sirius said firmly, "and I think Albus you'll find that he'll make a fair and equitable decision and Hogwarts will get something."

Albus inclined his head.

"How did the Conference go?" asked Sirius, motioning towards the door.

"The Conference was the same as always, a lot of talking, not much listening or agreeing." Albus said as they walked out. "Unfortunately Rita's articles haven't served to express the opinions I shared with the Conference in a positive light."

"Well, that's Rita for you." Sirius said unsympathetically. He rather agreed with Skeeter that the views Albus had expressed were rather old-fashioned and out of date. But he didn't like the reporter even if Cornelius's insistence on maintaining a good press for Harry and Sirius meant that he had to deal with her. So far she had been supportive in print but Sirius knew the headlines would change in an instant if she believed she had a good story.

"I'll see you tomorrow at the Longbottoms' party?" Sirius checked as they said goodbye at the floo.

"I'm afraid not, my boy. I'll be travelling first thing to France for a final meeting on the Tri-Wizard Tournament and will be gone until the Wizengamot session on Thursday." Albus said a goodbye and disappeared in a flash of green flames.

Sirius took a moment to check in with Kreacher before he headed home.

Home.

It was definitely what the house in Hampshire had become. He, Remus, Harry and Dobby had settled in wonderfully together. Minerva came round most evenings and Remus had jokingly suggested that they should just invite her to move in. She had become a maternal figure to Harry – more of a grandmother than a mother or the 'Aunt Minerva' persona she'd been to James, Sirius mused, but a maternal figure nonetheless. Which was good because Harry did need some feminine influence in his life, and a positive role model to replace Petunia's horrendous example. Andromeda had stepped in as a favourite Aunt; Tonks into a big sister role.

The only wrinkle was Molly Weasley.

On the one hand, Sirius appreciated everything Molly had done for Harry in the three years since she'd helped Harry find the platform for the Hogwarts Express; she had been kind to a lost child, knitted him Christmas presents just because he was her son's friend and Ron had mentioned he didn't think Harry expected many gifts. She'd welcomed Harry into her home and helped feed him up after he had been starved the Summer before his second year, and she and her family had met up with Harry in Diagon Alley just before his third year, breaking days of his being on his own.

But Molly seemed to assume that because of those actions, she had called dibs on providing Harry with any kind of parental influence. They generally had dinner at the Weasleys once a week and each time she was disparaging of Andy's etiquette lessons, uncomplimentary about Tonks' influence, and had even started questioning Minerva's steady presence. She didn't hide the fact that she didn't believe Sirius had made one right parenting decision. Her jealousy was understandable; she'd cast herself into the role of Harry's substitute mother (and Sirius suspected the hand of Dumbledore although Molly with her undeniably big heart had probably been all too willing to fuss over a neglected child no doubt) and she was now usurped. Sirius had some sympathy and he knew that Harry cared for her enormously; perhaps when Molly realised that, her jealousy would ebb away. However, her other behaviour was driving him nuts.

According to Molly, only Molly knew what was best for Harry. She complained over the lessons suggesting Harry didn't need to know about etiquette, financial management and politics at such a young age and deserved a holiday. She made out Harry still needed feeding up and looking after despite him being healthy and well-fed. She hinted heavily that she should have complete access to Griffin House despite Sirius's concerns over security. She'd asked on every occasion they met that Harry be allowed to stay at the Burrow after the World Cup until the children left for school, despite Harry declining originally with the statement that as much as he appreciated the offer, he wanted to spend as much time as he could with Sirius.

The most aggravating event though had happened mid-July when Molly had summarily announced at dinner that Harry would be at the Burrow for his birthday. It was a major presumption and placed both Sirius and Harry in an awkward position at her dining table. Luckily Arthur had stepped in to turn Molly's announcement into an offer of a venue. Sirius had accepted as the Burrow was a more cheerful environment for a teenager's party than Black Manor, and he had no intention of opening Griffin House up to so many people. But Molly had been displeased when Sirius had informed her that others had already been invited and so there would be more than her own brood.

She meant well and she genuinely cared for Harry but it was all beginning to grate on Sirius. He believed he and Moony were doing a bloody good job with Harry. As Moony had pointed out eventually things were going to come to a head and Sirius would blow up at her unless he did something to derail where the current train of behaviour was heading. And if Sirius didn't blow up at her, Harry was certain to; Remus had pointed out Harry was beginning to take note of Molly's attitude towards Sirius. Maybe a quiet word with Arthur would suffice…

He stepped out of the floo at Griffin House and breathed in deeply. The scent of freshly baked bread and delicious roast chicken filled the sun-lit hallway. Sirius went in search of Harry, said a passing hello to Remus who had his head stuck in a book in the study, and found his son outside curled up underneath a tree reading James's animagus journal.

Remus's July transformation had been hard on them all. Remus had insisted that he go to Grimmauld Place because he didn't want to endanger Harry. Harry had insisted Remus could stay at home but had dropped the subject when he had seen how resolute Remus was about it. Sirius hadn't want to leave either of them alone and felt torn between his desire to be there for Remus like the old days, and his duty to be a parent to Harry. In the end it had been Harry who had suggested Minerva stay overnight with him at Griffin House, freeing Sirius to be with Remus.

Sirius sank down to sit beside Harry and nudged his shoulder. "Hey."

Harry looked up and grinned at him. "Did you really go around Hogwarts with a tail for a week?"

"Yes," Sirius admitted ruefully, "until your Dad gave up his deal with Minnie and she fixed it for me no questions asked."

Harry nodded slowly. "I'm hoping she'll make the same deal for me."

"Are you now?" murmured Sirius. "And what makes you think I'm going to give you permission to train as an animagus?"

Harry's cheeks reddened but he gave a small cheeky smile and raised the book. "Because you know I could do it in secret and get stuck with a tail for a week."

"You're going to be a monkey." Sirius proclaimed dramatically, reaching out to ruffle Harry's hair, "and a cheeky one at that."

"Please, Padfoot?"

Oh Merlin; those pleading emerald eyes! Sirius sighed. It was much more difficult to say no to them every time Harry used them. It would be hypocritical to deny him the opportunity as both James and Sirius had done it when they'd been Harry's age. But it terrified Sirius as a parent to think of Harry in an animagus form running around a dangerous forest with a werewolf – to the point where he couldn't believe he'd been so stupid as a teenager to take the risk.

Sirius took a calming breath; they wouldn't be running around a forest, they'd be in a room with Moony, who with the Wolfsbane potion was fully aware of his faculties. It would also take Harry some time to master his form so the likelihood of cosy scenes of animals snoozing together would be another couple of years away. And…being an animagus would give Harry some form of protection from werewolves in general. It was a useful skill to have and if they kept it unregistered and secret, it could be damned useful if Harry was in a tight spot.

"You have to get Minnie to agree so she can help fix you if you go wrong," he began, "and promise that you won't try anything without supervision."

Harry nodded eagerly.

"We'll start on it as soon as Minnie's approval is gained then." Sirius agreed, wondering how he was going to tell Remus without him going ballistic.

And speak of the Devil…Remus wandered out of the house. Sirius got to his feet and held out his hand to pull Harry to his to meet him. They'd have dinner, chat about the meeting Sirius had attended and settle in for the night with some kind of game or movie…but best of all, they'd be together. It was perfect.

Chapter Text

Bill Weasley knocked briskly on the front door to the Burrow before he walked in, calling a cheery hello as he did. His father was already at the head of the breakfast table, the twins on one side of the table whispering furiously; Percy was on the other, a sleepy looking Ginny beside him, and beside her…Charlie grinned and stood up to hug Bill in a brotherly manly fashion as their mother bustled in from the kitchen.

"Bill!" His mother's face lit up with surprise. "I wasn't expecting you until lunch! Here, sit and have some breakfast."

"Don't mind if I do." Bill said, sliding into the chair beside Fred opposite Charlie. He snagged a plate and loaded it with the full Monty; sausages, bacon, eggs, baked beans, fried tomatoes and mushrooms…and two pieces of toast loaded with butter.

"Ginny," Molly nudged her as she set down another platter, "go wake your brother!"

Ginny cast a 'why me' look at Bill who winked at her. She sighed, got to her feet and made her way up the stairs.

"Hungry?" Charlie asked Bill, amused at the amount of food on his plate.

"Starving," Bill said, waving a fork at his brother, "sorry I wasn't here last night; I met up with some of the old Hogwarts' crowd to catch-up. How was your portkey?"

"I hate the international ones." Charlie admitted, helping himself to a second helping of bacon. "Too much spinning."

"I know," Bill said with feeling, "you'd think they'd have worked the kinks out by now."

"Apparently there's European legislation stopping all improvements." Percy chimed in. "The restrictions they're putting on British law are ridiculous."

"Well, if you don't like the travel perhaps you should consider staying here, Charlie." Molly slid into her chair and gestured for the teapot to pour her a mug as the serving spoons began to fill her plate. "I'm sure if you spoke with Amos he would be able to find you a position in his department."

"I'm happy working at the reserve, Mum." Charlie said calmly. He met Bill's amused gaze and rolled his eyes.

"Nonsense, just look at you! You've been injured!" She pointed a knife at the shiny skin on his forearm.

"Burns are part of the job." Charlie said good-naturedly. "I knew that when I signed on."

"'Sides," Fred waggled his eyebrows, "everyone knows…"

"…scars are sexy!" George grinned.

Bill tried not to choke as a chuckle bubbled up at his mother's disapproving expression.

"How much longer before you get your Mastery?" Arthur asked, placing the Prophet down beside him.

Charlie shrugged. "Probably next year. I have the practical credits but I need to sit the theory exams."

Molly cleared her throat. "Well, I still say you should consider a job at the Ministry."

Bill kept his gaze on his plate. He had to hand it to his mother; she never gave up.

"Just look at how well Percy's done!" Molly beamed at him. "And your father!"

"I meant to say congrats on the new positions last night, Dad." Charlie admitted with a little chagrin. "It's good to see they're finally recognising you!"

"I think Sirius might have had something to do with it." Arthur said humbly.

Molly harrumphed. "It was the Minister who appointed you to the Wizengamot seat and the Committee, Arthur."

"Well, even if Lord Black recommended you, Dad, it's still a credit to you." Charlie commented diplomatically.

His father dropped the subject rather than argue about it but Bill knew and he knew his father knew that Fudge had been influenced by Sirius.

Bill couldn't understand his mother's antipathy toward Sirius – well, he could but he could see it was all going to end in tears if she wasn't careful. She had a valid complaint that he'd hurt Ron but there were extenuating circumstances and that incident alone shouldn't have led her to the conclusion that Sirius couldn't be trusted to raise Harry, which was clearly what she did believe if anyone paid attention to her comments. But she was becoming increasingly obvious and Bill had seen a small frown on Harry's face the last time she'd made a dig about something Sirius had decided over the regular weekly dinner. If she ended up making Harry choose, Bill didn't think she'd like the result because it was very obvious the kid adored his adoptive father.

And who could blame him, mused Bill as he chewed enthusiastically on a spicy pork sausage. From what he'd gleaned from the twins and Ron, Harry had been neglected and unloved by his previous guardians. Sirius had broken out of jail to protect him, and then had gone to some trouble to secure guardianship of Harry to give him a better life. There was no doubt in Bill's mind that Harry considered Sirius his hero. Maybe his mother had done a few things to fuss over Harry since he became Ron's friend but Bill figured knitting him a Christmas jumper just couldn't compete with Sirius giving him a proper home and a loving parent.

Ginny returned to the table and a moment later a half-bedraggled Ron slumped into the remaining chair beside George; he nodded absently at his brothers.

"It's so nice to have the whole family under one roof again." Molly proclaimed, smiling warmly at them all. "We're going to have such a wonderful day and…"

Bill winced and raised his toast to interrupt his mother. "Sorry, Mum, but the reason I'm here now is because I've been called in."

"Called in where?" She asked, confused.

"Work." Bill said succinctly. "Croaker sent me an owl last night."

"But our day…" Molly protested. "Surely you can floo call Harry and ask him to give you the day off?"

"My immediate boss is Croaker," Bill pointed out patiently, "and I'm not going to run to Harry or Sirius and ask for special favours."

"Hmnpf." Molly said, setting her mug down with a thump. "It's probably Sirius's fault that you have to work today." She sighed. "What work could you possibly be doing on a Saturday?"

"My work's confidential, Mum." Bill reminded her. "And it's not exactly a nine-to-five job." He could feel the sharp edge of his encroaching irritation in his words and took a deep breath. Since Sirius had arranged his leave of absence and he'd taken the oath of service, his mother hadn't stopped pestering him about his work. He deliberately turned to Percy so he could change the subject. "How was the play? You were going last night, right?"

"Penelope enjoyed it," Percy said, "although some people remarked it was quite blasphemous having Merlin talk to the dragons. The illusions were very good though."

"Who wants to go and see a silly old play?" asked Ron grumpily.

"I wouldn't mind." Ginny remarked. "I wish I could have gone with Harry and the others when he went."

"You're not old enough to go to the theatre." Molly stated firmly.

Bill glanced over at Charlie and sent him a sympathetic look; he was going to have to put up with the family shenanigans while Bill was escaping.

"You know if you want to arrange a night with your mates in London, you can always crash at my place." Bill said, offering his brother a respite.

He loved the flat on London Street; two bedrooms, a good sized living room, decent bathroom, and a kitchenette. It was a great little pad. Sirius had confided that he'd bought it with Harry's father when they'd left school. James's portion had been left to Sirius but Sirius had turned the deed of the property over to Harry as an adoption present. Bill was honoured they'd entrusted it to him and he was loving having his own place. In Egypt they'd had to share tents or apartments, it was always close quarters, and the less said about the Burrow the better as much as he loved his childhood home. He had a sneaking suspicion that providing him with the ability to move out of the Burrow was another black mark against Sirius in his mother's eyes.

Charlie's eyes brightened with relief at having an escape route. "Thanks! I'll take you up on that!"

"You will not!" Molly remonstrated. "Bill, Harry didn't give you that apartment for you to take advantage of him and have a succession of unpaying guests!"

"No, he gave me it to look after as part of our service arrangement and it was made very clear that the second bedroom was a guest room for use by my guests. If Charlie wants to stay the night or a week or the entire time he's in England, he's welcome." Bill said brusquely, fed up.

"Well, I might spend the occasional night, but Mum's cooking is better than yours." Charlie winked at him as he tried to ease the tension again.

Their mother softened immediately with the compliment. "Oh, Charlie!"

"If he's not going to take you up on it, I might." Percy said. He cast a look at the twins. "It's very hard to get peace and quiet here to focus on my work."

"Do you think…" Fred began.

"…he might be blaming us, brother?" George completed.

Bill bit his lip and tried not to laugh at Percy's put upon pout. "Percy, you're more than welcome to come and stay a couple of nights if you need to get some work done. But if you want to move in full time though, Mum's right; I probably will have to arrange for you to pay some kind of rent to Harry."

"A couple of nights when I have reports to do would be perfect especially now Mister Crouch is off sick." Percy said immediately.

"Barty's sick?" Arthur looked up, concerned.

Percy nodded. "Since Tuesday with wizard's flu. He sent me work assignments by owl."

Arthur grimaced. "I'm not surprised he caught something with all the stress he's been under from the press and the World Cup and the…" he caught himself and blushed. "He's probably just a bit run down. He was looking peaky when I saw him last."

"Maybe I should pop over with a casserole." Molly suggested, compassionately.

"I would leave it, Molly," Arthur said firmly, "that elf of Barty's is very protective and probably won't let you anywhere near him."

"OK then, Percy," Bill said, dragging the conversation back on track, "you know the floo address so make yourself at home when you need to use the flat." He figured Percy was saving up for his own place.

"Does that apply to us too?" asked Fred mischievously.

"No, it does not." Molly said before Bill could reply. "Anyone underage will be staying here at all times."

He supposed that was fair enough and tried not to resent the implication that his mother didn't trust him to look after his siblings.

"If you're working will you make it to the Longbottoms' party?" His father asked, changing the subject.

"I don't know." Bill said. "It depends on how it goes."

Ron snorted. "I wish I didn't have to go."

"What's the problem?" asked Charlie. "Good food, a bit of dancing, cute girls…" He winked at Bill as he said the last.

"Charlie!" exclaimed their mother on cue.

Bill dropped his gaze from his brother so he wouldn't laugh out loud.

"Your brother's far too young to be thinking of girls and dating." Molly said firmly.

The older brothers all exchanged a wry look. Bill had been caught in a broom closet in his fourth year; Charlie had started dating in his third – as had Percy although he'd kept it quiet. Fred and George simply shared a grin and said nothing but Bill assumed they'd also discovered girls by Ron's age.

"We have to dress up!" Ron said hotly around a mouthful of food.

Bill could understand that complaint. He hated dress robes.

"There is nothing wrong with dressing up occasionally." Molly remonstrated. "It will be lovely."

"Have you seen my dress robes?" asked Ron pointedly. "I'm not wearing them!"

"What's wrong with Ron's dress robes?" Bill asked Fred in a side whisper as their mother informed Ron he would go naked if he didn't put them on.

"Imagine we played a prank on them already and you'll have a good idea of what Ron's robes look like right now." Fred whispered back.

Ah.

"I don't understand why you had to get me second hand robes!" complained Ron furiously. "Sirius gave me some money!"

Charlie's eyes widened at that and Bill grimaced; his mother was not going to appreciate Sirius's name being thrown in her face.

"That money is for your education, young man!" Molly shot back at Ron. "It's not for frivolities."

"Your mother's right, Ron." Arthur chimed in. "We can't use the educational fund for dress robes."

"I'm going to look stupid." Ron mumbled miserably.

Bill exchanged a look with Charlie who gave a small nod. Charlie would have to go out and buy some dress robes so he could get some for Ron at the same time. Both of them were earning; they could cover the cost as a combined early birthday-Christmas present.

He mopped up the last of his egg and drank down his juice. He should get going, Bill thought, glancing at his watch. "Dad, can I have a quick word? House business." He saw Charlie's eyebrows go up at that and realised he was going to have to bring his brother up to date with events.

Arthur motioned to the back of the house. "Why don't we take this to my shed?"

Bill got up and dropped a kiss on the top of his mother's head. He did love her despite her overprotectiveness. "Thanks for breakfast, Mum."

He followed his father out and Bill waited until he'd closed the door of the shed before putting up a privacy bubble.

"You need to speak with Mum." Bill said bluntly.

His father sighed and took his glasses off to pinch the brow of his nose. "It's not that easy with your Mum, Bill, you know that."

"What I know is that she's risking our alliance of friendship with the House of Potter because she dislikes Harry's adoptive father." Bill replied briskly. "Harry loves Sirius. He's starting to notice Mum's attitude and he won't stand for it if he thinks she's insulting Sirius. There'll be a huge row, Harry will choose Sirius, and you'll be forced to discipline Mum for being in breach of oath and bringing discord between the two Houses. While I doubt either Harry or Sirius would embarrass us publically or politically with an alliance dissolution, we can't allow it to happen."

"I know." Arthur admitted quietly. "It's just…I think she's just feeling displaced with Harry. We both decided to treat him as one of our own because it was obvious he wasn't cared for, and in your Mum's eyes, Sirius has taken her child away from her."

Bill sighed heavily. "Dad, he was never hers, and if you two had truly wanted to treat him as one of your own, why didn't you make more of an effort to get him away from his previous situation?"

"We tried," Arthur retorted, a flash of anger creeping into his voice, "after the Chamber, I tried when I spoke with Professor Dumbledore about the life debt but he was insistent that the muggle place was safest for Harry and I let his judgement overrule my own. Your Mum talked with him too with the same result." He slumped against the workbench and folded his arms. "To be truthful, I think part of your Mum's problem with Sirius is that he managed to do what we couldn't."

That was unfortunate and there was a thick layer of guilt in his father's voice. Bill repressed the urge to sigh again. "At least you tried and Harry obviously appreciates what you and Mum did do. But speaking as your Heir who is also in the service of the House of Potter, Mum needs to back off Sirius and you need to tell her that before this party tonight and definitely before tomorrow and Harry's birthday bash."

Arthur nodded wearily. "What about your service, Bill? Are you enjoying it?"

"I am," Bill said, "I mean, it's mainly been research so far, but we put a theory to Croaker yesterday and hopefully getting called in means we got permission to go ahead and check it out."

"Be careful." Arthur said.

Bill embraced his father tightly. "Good luck with Mum." Somehow Bill thought his father had the more dangerous job of the two of them. He hurried out of the shed and beyond the wards before apparating straight to the Ministry.

He just made it to the conference room in the DOM on time, sneaking in and taking a seat by Caro only a moment before Croaker, Bones and Scrimgeour arrived.

Caro shot him a look and Bill gave her a wink in response. They'd bonded over their shared love of curse-breaking and while Caro hadn't been able to say much about her MI7 experience, she and Bill had managed to trade a few stories. She was fascinated by his tales of Egypt and he had found her stories of adventures in undisclosed places equally as interesting.

A briefing folder appeared before Bill and he opened it to check that most of it was the information he and Lawrence had put together. He glanced around the rest of the room and realised that the five sat on the other side of the conference table were probably the Rat Squad.

Bones cleared her throat. "OK, so brief introductions and then we'll start." She pointed at the nearest person which was Bill.

Bill gave a small wave. "Bill Weasley but I'm pretty sure the hair gave it away."

Everyone chuckled and the introductions went quickly. Croaker stepped into give the briefing, sketching out for the purpose of the Treasure Team in vague terms for the Rat Squad, the background to Little Hangleton and why they thought one might be there. Bill felt his adrenaline start to flow as the anticipation built; they'd gotten the permission – he could taste it.

Bones took centre stage, a formidable presence in her no-nonsense blue robes, her hair tied back in a serviceable bun and her posture parade ground perfect. "OK, listen up. These plans were proposed by Lord Black and agreed by the War Council last night."

"In one hour, Wood, Chambers and Ambrey are to go scout the Manor; Brooks and Cambridge the Gaunt cottage." Bones said. "If Riddle and Pettigrew are there, set up passive monitoring and retreat."

"If they're not there, then Caro and Bill will go in to look for the object we think Riddle has secreted there." Croaker added. "Lawrence, you'll remain here at base for any information they need on the fly."

Lawrence nodded, his long grey hair covering his face.

"While the Treasure Team work to find their target, the Rat Squad will keep look-out." Bones said. "If Riddle and Pettigrew turn up, set up the monitoring and retreat."

"Ma'am, why are we retreating?" Ambrey asked bluntly, her Mediterranean looks of dark hair and eyes with olive complexion looked exotic in the sterile conference room. "Shouldn't we capture them both?"

"We need the treasure before we can tackle Riddle. If they make their way to Little Hangleton, we'll know where they are and can move on them at a moment's notice." Bones explained briskly. "If the Treasure Team find the target, they'll retrieve it and put in a duplicate, re-establish the traps and depart. Rat Squad will set up monitoring in case Riddle finds his way there. Any other questions?"

There was silence.

"Well, one final thing from me then," Croaker said with a smile, "it's come to the attention of Lord Black that incentives have been offered outside of these teams for finding the rat. Lord Black sent me a note this morning saying he wants to make the playing field fair so…if you find the rat, the Rat Squad gets a thousand galleons each. Treasure Team – you'll be getting a thousand galleons each for every item you bring in."

"Let's get to it." Bones ordered.

They separated outside the room with Caro taking Bill down to the Unspeakables' locker room. He changed into a more generic muggle outfit of denim jeans, checked shirt and a windbreaker anorak. He exchanged his dragon-hide boots for hiking boots. He settled for tying his long hair back with a strip of leather and replacing his fang ear-ring with a silver stud that couldn't get caught on anything. His curse-breaking tools went into a small back-pack.

Caro had changed into a similar outfit; jeans, shirt and jacket with sensible boots and a back-pack. Her blonde hair was tied back into a plait. They looked like a couple on a hiking trip and that was going to be their cover if they ran into muggles.

They met up with Lawrence in the research room they had been using.

Lawrence smiled at them. "Communication mirrors; one is tuned to me, the other to Brooks, the other to Wood. If you run into problems, call." He picked up two silver rings. "Your emergency portkeys; you'll end up in the DOM employee reception. You'd best be going. Good hunting."

Bill nodded. He and Caro headed across to the DMLE and met up with the Rat Squad. They'd all changed into non-distinct muggle clothing too although he could see badges on the waistband of their jeans that designated them law enforcement and probably acted as their portkeys.

"Ready?" asked Bones crisply. "Then, good luck."

Brooks held up a walking stick and they all grasped it. "Tally-ho." He said with a grin, his dark eyes flashing.

The world spun away from them and Bill focused on the whirlwind of portkey travel so he could bend his legs at the right moment and land on his feet. When the world righted, they were in a deserted piece of forestry, and Cambridge was on the ground.

Chambers, a cheerful dark-haired Hufflepuff if Bill remembered rightly, reached down and helped him to his feet. "Up you come, Darren."

"Bugger." Cambridge grimaced and brushed off his clothes. "I hate portkeys." He adjusted his glasses and peered out with pale blue eyes at the countryside. "We're just outside the Manor?"

"Yep," Wood said, the faint hint of a Scots accent tinging the word, "according to our co-ordinates, Manor is about a mile up ahead to the left at the top of the hill and the Gaunt cottage is a good mile away to the right."

"How do you Treasure guys want to do this?" Brooks asked bluntly. "One of you comes with each Rat team or are you sticking together?"

Caro and Bill exchanged a look.

"Sticking together." Caro said crisply.

"We'll do the cottage first." Bill said. "It'll be quickest to search and if it's not there then we'll tackle the Manor."

"Fair enough." Brooks said. "Ambrey, Chambers; with me. Malcolm…stay in touch."

"Likewise, Keith." Wood replied.

Each group went their separate way. The walk provided them with an opportunity to get to know each other better. Wood was mostly very proud of his cousin Oliver who had ended up in the Puddlemere team and admitted he'd thought of Quidditch himself as a career before he'd applied for the Aurors. Cambridge reminded Bill of Charlie; easy-going – he'd told everyone to call him Darren within minutes –but very sharp. He hadn't gone to Hogwarts but the school in Birmingham which led them into an interesting discussion of the differences between the Ministry sponsored schools and Hogwarts.

Wood's communication mirror buzzed and they stopped to take the call. Bill cast a notice-me-not charm around them while Caro took care of the muggle repellent.

"Brooks, here." The Auror's pale face filled the screen. "We're at the Manor and have performed a passive perimeter charm. We've got one muggle on the premises. Any ideas?"

"It's probably the gardener-caretaker, Frances Archibald Bryce." Caro informed them. "His name was mentioned in the muggle records we managed to get hold of."

"He was employed by the Riddles originally, accused of their murder by the muggle authorities but let go for lack of evidence. The new owner kept him on." Bill added.

"We'll keep watch here for the rat and the snake." Brooks said. "Brooks, out."

They set off again and through the trees a small ramshackle building finally appeared.

"Merlin, it's a hovel." Darren said disgusted.

Bill was already casting and placed a hand on Darren's arm when he went to move forward. "Easy. There's a ward here."

Wood also had his wand out and he frowned as he performed the perimeter scan. "There's a nest of snakes near to the house; common adders. But, no rat and no Riddle." He nodded at Bill and Caro. "Darren and I will keep watch. You do your thing." He took out his communication mirror and briefly updated Brooks.

"The ward is a standard proximity trigger." Bill said crisply. "We walk through it, we'll trigger something – probably none lethal but scary enough to keep the muggles out."

"Makes sense," Caro said, "anyone stupid enough to want to look at the place gets scared away." She frowned. "Probably the snakes will attack."

Bill nodded. Snakes were a good choice; muggles tended to fear the hell out of them and they had bad connotations in the wizarding world.

"Options?" Bill asked, already sorting through his back-pack for a tool that would neutralize the ward.

"Well, we don't want to dismantle it or Riddle will know we've been. Under or through with the temporary neutralizer?" Caro muttered. "Through would be quicker."

"I agree." He tossed the cone-shaped device toward the house; there was a flash of green as the ward was momentarily neutralized and both Bill and Caro took an immediate step forward.

They waited.

"Snakes are remaining where they are." Bill confirmed with a quick spell.

"I'll take point," Caro said briskly, "you watch my back."

"And a lovely rear it is too, Caro." Bill said with a grin as he picked up the neutralizer. It had another two charges left.

"Oy! Watch it, Weasley!" Caro said with a smirk. "I can do things with this wand that you wouldn't believe."

"Promises, promises." Bill responded absently, even as he ran a series of spells that would warn him if anything magical triggered, if any dark creatures came into the vicinity, and if the outer ward was triggered.

They made it up to the house.

An adder slithered from where it had been sleeping in the shade by the steps and into the nearby undergrowth.

They stared at the tarnished silver knocker in the shape of a snake on the front door.

"Delightful," remarked Caro dryly, casting a series of scanning spells, "we've got another proximity ward all around this house; it's…well-hidden but there. There's a specific one in full view on the front door, but as you can see the magic gives a wonky reading." She smiled though. "All these wards…someone might think he was hiding something."

Bill nodded with a satisfied smile of his own; they'd definitely found something Riddle wanted hidden. "You know anyone who has managed to get by the snakes would leap for the steps. People usually attempt the front door first to gain entry."

"I'm thinking that's a bad idea." Caro pointed at the snake knocker. "Want to bet it comes alive?"

"Nope." Bill said. "I was trained by Gringotts; I value my gold." He waved his wand at the house walls. "So, anyone sensible would go through a window."

"And get another nasty surprise probably inside the house by whatever's triggered by the wall ward." Caro murmured. "We could throw a neutralizer through a window, it'd shatter the glass but we can repair it afterwards; dive inside."

"This would be simpler if we didn't have to leave everything in place." Bill sighed. Without the restriction they could have overpowered the house ward and gone in.

"Where's your sense of fun, Weasley?" Caro teased.

Bill hefted the neutralizer and pointed at the window on the left. "Ready?" He threw it with good aim and it smashed through the dirty glass, a green ripple flowing over the walls. He banished the rest of the glass as he and Caro ran full tilt and threw themselves through the open hole.

The landing was hard.

The breath got knocked out of him as he landed on the hard wooden floor. He sat up and rotated his shoulder gingerly. He was pretty sure it was going to bruise.

"Bloody hell!" Caro swore roundly. She scrambled into a sitting position and cradled her right wrist.

Bill ignored her in favour of checking out their situation, casting a spell to alert him to any dark magic in the area. "You OK?"

"Wrist is broken. I should have used my animagus form and flown in." Caro said succinctly.

A low hiss came from the shadows.

Bill sent out a perimeter charm. "OK, so we have another snake, a big one, and it's enchanted against spells. We'd need a bloody powerful vanishing spell to get rid of it." He took hold of Caro's arm and pulled her to her feet. "It's on the move; we need to get out of here. Accio neutralizer!"

He tossed it back through the window but there was no ripple as he pushed Caro towards the open window. Caro hastily and awkwardly clambered back out and Bill followed her not a moment too soon as not one but three snakes appeared in the shaft of sunlight, their bodies moving with speed over the wooden floor, their upper bodies rising, mouths open and hissing.

Bill fell out onto the grass with another huff of breath. He could see movement coming out of the bushes and heard Caro repairing the window as he scrambled to his feet.

"Run, you idiot!" Caro snapped as she made for the outer ward.

"Accio neutralizer!" Bill yelled and grabbed it mid-air as he swerved to avoid the snapping jaws of one snake and jumped over another. Bill tossed the neutralizer to Darren who fumbled and dropped it and Bill had a second to realise there was no green ripple. As he cleared the ward, he heard Wood shout to keep running.

Five minutes of breathless stampeding through the forest later and Wood shouted again.

"OK! OK!" Wood brought them to a stumbling halt. "We lost them."

"Bloody snakes!" Darren gasped, bending over and trying to catch his breath.

"What did the pair of you do?" Wood demanded.

"Nothing!" snapped Caro furiously, her cheeks pink with temper along with the flush of exertion. "We followed the protocols! The snakes shouldn't have attacked."

Bill caught his breath. "Something is definitely hidden there." He motioned back towards the Gaunt place. "I got a reading on a box under the floorboards just before the snakes came out of the woodwork."

"The proximity trigger wasn't linked with the snakes inside the house." Caro said, wincing in pain. "Something else set them off."

"We need to review in a pensieve and come back for a second go." Bill said. "You need treatment."

Wood pointed at them. "You two portkey back to base. I'll update Brooks and let Lawrence know you're on way back."

Bill nodded briskly. There was no reason for the Treasure Team to stay. Wood and Cambridge would have to go back and set up the passive monitoring if they hadn't already done it. He looked over at Caro and on her signal tapped his ring and gave the activation code.

They reappeared in the DOM's reception area for its employees.

"I'm going to head to the infirmary." Caro said crisply. "You go ahead and debrief Croaker."

He made for the research room and found Croaker, Bones and Lawrence waiting for him with a pensieve. Bill immediately withdrew his memory and they all dived in.

It didn't take long to watch and when they emerged, Caro was in the room waiting for them.

"Nasty." Bones said shuddering.

Croaker nodded. "What are your thoughts, Bill, having rewatched it?"

"The neutralizer was useless when we exited which means it took another hit after going through the outer ward on the house walls." Bill replied, leaning against the central workbench and folding his arms.

"The inner wall and the floor must also have been warded." Caro agreed.

Bill rubbed his forehead thoughtfully. "The floor one probably triggered the snake - there was definitely only one but reviewing it, there was some kind of increased fear sensation and there must have been an illusion to multiple it."

"What do you think, Bertie?" Bones asked.

"Ingenious and deadly." Croaker agreed. "What I would expect from Riddle. Outside is obviously aimed to keep the muggles away primarily. We didn't have neutralizers in the days when Riddle set the wards up and I would guess the wall wards trigger anti-apparition and anti-portkey travel inside, making the window the only exit. The snake inside along with a fear compulsion and an illusion spell probably triggered by a ward on the floor…wizards go back through the window triggering the snakes outside…"

"They were definitely triggered by our exit." Caro agreed tersely.

"The door…I would bet anything that door has a parseltongue ward on it. He would want to go through it after all." Lawrence said.

"So there's probably a parseltongue password that lets you in and deactivates the house triggers." Bill mused out loud.

"You need to be as powerful as Albus Dumbledore to bring all wards down and deal with the snakes to get to the ring without that password." Croaker said.

"Albus is out of the country until Thursday." Bones said.

Bill gestured. "With our plan, we can deal with the outer ward and the house wall wards with neutralizers but we have no way of dealing with the snake. Even if we levitated someone over the floor, they have to touch the floorboard to get to the ring."

"And, isn't it kind of moot to leave everything in place?" Caro argued. "All Riddle has to do is walk on over and have a chat with the snakes about any recent activity."

"We can obliviate the snakes; they're not the problem." Bill concluded. "We just need someone who can talk to snakes and hopefully get us through the front door."

They all looked at each other.

"He's never going to allow it." Bones said crisply.

Croaker frowned and motioned at Bill. "We'll go talk with him."

Bill grimaced. He really wasn't looking forward to telling Sirius that they needed Harry to get the ring.

Chapter Text

"Sirius, what's your gut reaction?" Remus sat forward, almost falling off the sofa in the living room of Griffin House where they'd congregated to listen to why Bertie and Bill had requested an urgent meeting with Sirius that lunch-time.

They had thought it might be to confirm that they'd been successful in tracking down another item like the diary but Sirius had arrived back with a very grim expression and shot that theory down. Well, shot it down in part because they had found an item; they just couldn't get to it without a parselmouth – without Harry. They wanted Harry to go along with the Treasure Team and help out.

Harry looked eagerly at Sirius hoping he'd say yes. He understood Sirius wanting him to stay safe but he wanted to help as much as he could. The prophecy worried him. When he'd listened to it, he'd realised he'd known the gist of it already since Voldemort was so fixated on him. But it was scary to think it might come down to him against a very powerful wizard even if his own power and skills had improved tenfold.

He knew Sirius was doing everything he could with the DMLE and the DOM to ensure Harry didn't have to face Voldemort but Harry hated being kept out of it, especially having to rely on others. He hadn't really had anyone to rely on before Ron and Hermione. Even then, with the basilisk and the stone, it had ultimately come down to him against Voldemort. Certainly Harry hadn't had adults to rely on in his life. He knew he had Sirius, Remus and others now but it was hard to simply sit back and let them take care of it; to trust that they would.

He hated feeling so…constrained, unable to help, frustrated at not being allowed to help. But this…this was something he could do – and it was pretty much the same as helping with the Chamber of Secrets which Sirius had already said he could do.

Sirius sent Harry a faint look of apology and defiance from his standing position by the mantelpiece. "To say no."

"But why? I'm helping with the Chamber!" Harry protested immediately.

"Because this isn't the Chamber, Harry." Sirius retorted. "This is a house set up with a series of traps that have already managed to get the better of two very good curse-breakers."

"Because they don't speak parseltongue." Harry shot back.

"Why the urgency?" asked Remus, stepping in before the exchange of words became too heated.

Sirius sighed and motioned vaguely. "Like I said last night, we think Voldemort is back in the country and this might be a bolthole for him. We have no idea when he could turn up; the quicker we deal with the ring, the better."

"Otherwise if we capture him, we lose time while we get the ring." Remus nodded. "And the only person with the power who could get the ring without running into problems is Albus?"

"Croaker believes Dumbledore could probably overpower the wards and deal with the snakes without too much trouble but even then it would probably still take him at least a couple of hours. But he's not sure Albus could do it without leaving a trace behind." Sirius said. "Bill estimates they could bring down the wards in a day between him and Caro but they're still left with the problem of the enchanted snake. One could keep it busy while the other went for the ring. But either way whether the Treasure Team or Albus as Bill says they have no idea if there are any other surprises under the floorboard."

"So we don't know if waiting for Albus will mean we can go ahead with getting the ring as per the original plan, and if we wait until we've captured Voldemort, we take the risk of him escaping while we spend hours dealing with the ring." Remus sighed and folded his arms as he considered the problem.

"It's a big risk." Sirius said. "Because rather than just dealing with him, we have to capture, hold him and hope he doesn't get a clue about why we haven't immediately beheaded him. That's why I agreed for them to move today on the ring and to leave it as though it was never touched so he doesn't suspect while we get the other item we're missing…"

"Yes, yes, the whole leaving everything in place so Voldemort doesn't suspect a thing if he does turn up is ingenious, Padfoot." Remus murmured.

He pursed his lips and when Harry went to say something Remus held up a hand.

"We have three options: one, we defer dealing with the ring until after we have Voldemort captured. We would hopefully have the other remaining item in hand, hopefully he wouldn't suspect, hopefully he wouldn't get free." Remus expanded. "It's a big risk and if the worst case scenario is he escapes while we're dealing with the ring and realises we're aware of the horcruxes leading him to explore other types of immortality and us back at the beginning."

Sirius grimaced. "Exactly why I authorised this mission in the first place."

"Right," Remus stressed, "so we go to our second option; we wait for Albus to return and wait to see if he can get to the ring and leave things in place so Voldemort doesn't suspect. Risks, Harry?"

Harry jumped a little at the question but quickly thought through them. "Well, Voldemort might get to Little Hangleton before the Headmaster comes back."

"And?" prompted Remus.

"And the Headmaster may not be able to do it without disturbing things especially the snakes." Harry said after a second.

"So, we end up either being forced into option one anyway," Remus said, turning back to Sirius, "or returning to option three – Harry helps."

"And the risk is that Harry gets injured or worse!" Sirius retorted and glanced across at Harry, an apology in his eyes that Harry ignored.

"Bill could get injured! Or you!" Harry argued. "What's the difference?"

"You're…"

"Underage, I know," Harry rejoined, "but who in the room has fought Voldemort and survived?" He stuck is hand up. "Who has fought a basilisk and survived?" He kept his hand up and glared at Sirius. "It should be me who does this according to the prophecy!"

"I admit that you've had to face a lot at a very young age, Harry," Sirius replied fiercely, "but you're not on your own anymore and the entire reason why we came up with the plan in the first place was so you don't have to go through these kind of things again – prophecy or no prophecy!"

"The plan wasn't my idea and I can protect myself!" exclaimed Harry hotly. He felt his magic stirring and took a shaky breath, trying to hold onto it and his temper.

"Not…"

"Sirius!" Remus interrupted before Sirius could finish his sentence. "Yelling at each other won't help resolve this." He pointed at Harry. "Why don't you head upstairs and start getting ready for Neville's party?"

In other words they wanted to talk without Harry in the room. He scowled but he scrambled off the sofa and left the room, giving into the urge to bang the door closed on his way out. He stood still for a moment in the hallway, arrested by the deep sense of hurt that filled him. Why did Sirius think he couldn't handle it? He'd handled everything just fine before Sirius adopted him. Did Sirius think he was stupid? Didn't he trust him?

Harry felt the sting of tears and blinked them back rapidly. It was then he realised he could hear voices and that neither Sirius nor Remus had thought to put up a privacy charm…

"…and yes, thank you, Remus, I know yelling at him wasn't going to help!" Sirius snapped.

"Sirius, what is going on in your head?" Remus demanded, speaking more angrily than Harry could remember him speaking before.

"What is so wrong with wanting to protect my son?!" Sirius retorted heatedly. "I don't care that he wants to do this – and Merlin's balls, I don't think he does want to, I think he thinks we all think he should want to because of the bloody prophecy! He shouldn't feel that way, Remus! He's a day shy of fourteen and we're talking about sending him into a dangerous situation where he could be hurt or killed and…" there was a sharp gasp.

Harry took a step toward the door in concern, his fingers lightly grazing the wood.

"Sirius, sit down! Here, take a breath!" Remus encouraged, his tone soothing with a hint of worry. "And another."

There was a long silence and Harry worried if Sirius was OK, guilt worming into his belly at having yelled at him.

"Sorry." Sirius muttered so quietly Harry had to strain to hear it.

"You're the one who had the panic attack." Remus said. "I can understand involving Harry scares the pants off of you, Sirius; it scares me too."

"It's not just that." Sirius protested weakly.

Remus sighed loud enough for the sound to travel through the door. Harry leaned against it, miserable at making his brand new father have a panic attack about him and trying to ignore the taunting voice in his head that warned him Sirius wouldn't love him anymore, would send him back to the Dursleys because Harry was too much trouble to keep around.

"Neither you nor Harry h