Fleamont Potter stumbled. One moment he was staring at his wife’s tear-streaked face as she stepped away from him holding the empty potions vial, and the next, he was falling out of bed. He raised himself on his elbows and looked around wildly.
He was in a dark, still room that he nevertheless recognized, when he looked at the star-covered ceiling, as one of the secure bedrooms in Potter Place. This was the bedroom where Sirius had slept when James had him over. It was also one of the most-defended ones, and apparently, judging by the lack of dust, house-elves had been taking care of it.
But why would I wonder about the lack of dust? It’s only been a few hours since I went to sleep...
Fleamont swallowed, and the taste on his tongue told him otherwise. Asphodel. He ought to know that taste, considering the number of experimental potions he’d brewed that used it as an ingredient.
She gave me the Draught of Living Death. She must have ordered the house-elves to take care of me and—the dragonpox!
Fleamont jerked up his shirt and stared. His skin looked perfectly normal, without even a trace of the scarring that the occasional living victim of the dragonpox had. Fleamont swallowed noisily again, tasting something that was probably the wormwood, and worked himself upright, hanging onto the bedpost for balance.
But why give me that? Why not give me some experimental cure? Why did the potion work?
Fleamont closed his eyes, striving to remember what he knew of potions theory about the Draught of Living Death. His brain churned sluggishly along, thoughts moving that hadn’t moved, he knew, in what must be years. He had read something about the Draught of Living Death once, something purely theoretical that a brewer had said...
No, not a brewer, a book. A book from the second shelf of the bookcase just to the left of the door in the Potter family library. Fleamont didn’t have the lightning-sharp memory for things he heard that his dear Euphemia did, but once he read something, he never forgot it. His memories turned like pages.
“Some have speculated that the Draught of Living Death, if the asphodel were increased nearly to the point of poison, would be able to enable a strong wizard to endure and outwait any threat. The potion itself, dedicated to making a complete non-threat of the imbiber, is also dedicated to preservation. The asphodel, potent factor as it is, would have to be transformed into something other than poison, and it is likely that, given the potion’s other properties, it would become a great preserver...”
Fleamont felt tears form in his eyes. Euphemia didn’t experiment with potions nearly as often as Fleamont did, but she had come up with a solution. The dragonpox burned through a body’s defenses too fast for the wizard’s magic to keep up. But if the Draught of Living Death slowed things down enough...
It wouldn’t keep his body in exactly the same state it was when he went to sleep, dragonpox and all. It would slow it down greatly instead, quenching the fire of the pox until it flickered too low to light itself back again.
“Tell me you took it, too, dearest,” Fleamont whispered as he opened the door and staggered through it. The house-elves must have exercised his muscles while he slept; it was the only reason that the slowness the potion induced wouldn’t have atrophied them. “Let me find you.”
He made his way directly to the solarium at the top of the house, a great peaked-roof room dominated by its crystal skylight. He threw open the door and stepped into the middle of it, gaze seeking and finding the Potter family tree.
It stood beneath the skylight, made of branches of thin, tensile gold braided around and into the living wood, a wonder both mechanical and organic. Every bough thinned out into shining twigs that glowed a brilliant, rich yellow for living members of that part of the family and a soft silver-grey for dead ones.
Fleamont’s eyes locked on his own branch. The twig next to his was silver. The twig sprouting from their joined ones was silver, and so, too, the one coiled gently against his child’s with a diamond-jeweled braid.
Fleamont dropped to his knees. Euphemia was dead. James and Lily were dead. His breathing sounded too noisy in his ears. His head spun and swirled. He knew from past experience that he was about to fall unconscious.
A flame of gold.
Fleamont lifted his head, staring. A tiny golden bauble, fruit-shaped, not yet twig-shaped, which came with adulthood, clung to the ends of James and Lily’s joined twigs.
Fleamont made his trembling way to the tree and turned the fruit. On the side in glassy letters were the words Harry Potter.
His grandson was still alive.
Fleamont hesitated as he stood in front of the little, frankly shack-like house. Honestly, this was ridiculous.
But everything had seemed ridiculous since he woke from his sleep a month ago and started research into what had happened while he slept. People believing that a one-year-old had defeated a Dark Lord. Harry being given the title of the Boy-Who-Died. Harry vanishing from the wizarding world.
Sirius was in prison for betraying his boy. Remus Lupin had also vanished. Peter Pettigrew was dead. Fleamont hadn’t yet dared approach someone in power, Minister Bagnold or Dumbledore or anyone else, because they would immediately try to involve him in legalities and ask him over and over again how he was alive. Potters never revealed their Potions secrets until they were ready to patent them. Fleamont would conceal how his darling had kept him alive, for now.
He hadn’t even needed to visit Gringotts, thanks to his paranoid ancestors and the large amount of Galleons they’d stored in the cellars of Potter Place. No one was required to know he was alive to answer his owl-orders under a false name.
The only living person he could think of who would have a vested interest in both helping him and keeping his existence from the authorities was the childhood friend Lily had spoken of with such sadness in her last year.
Fleamont stepped forwards. The tingle of extremely paranoid wards passed over him, and he paused and let them. He knew a large number of them were based on intent. Others would be testing his blood, looking at his face for illusions, and feeling him out for Dark Arts or a prepared trap-artifact.
Whatever they found, their master was intrigued enough to let the tingle die and then step out of his house. He looked at Fleamont without apparent recognition. Fleamont wasn’t surprised. His face hadn’t been in the papers much for the last fifty years; his successes with potions had come when he was still young.
This man was tall, thin, clad in all black, and had a face so sour that it would be a wonder if he could drink milk without curdling it. He had his wand lightly gripped in his hand. “What do you want?”
“I am searching for my grandson,” Fleamont said. Snape only sneered. Fleamont went on determinedly. “I know that you once had a special connection to Lily Evans, and that means that you might want to participate in helping rescue her child from what I assume are horrible conditions, if those tales of her family were true, and restoring him to his grandfather.”
Snape froze, except for his wand hand, which started to tremble. Then he said, “This is impossible. The child and James Potter’s parents are dead.”
“I did have the dragonpox,” Fleamont confirmed quietly. “My wife brewed a special variant of the Draught of Living Death to save me. I have evidence that Harry is alive.” He took a deep breath. “I know that you hold the position of Potions master at Hogwarts. I’m prepared to give you the secret of how she kept me alive if you help me without alerting your employer.”
That got him a second, detailed examination from black eyes before Snape flung open the door of his hovel. “Inside.”
Fleamont could only be grateful.
“You are not the man I expected.”
They had been sipping highly inferior tea for ten minutes when Snape said that. Fleamont was relieved that he had broken the silence, at least. He had thought Snape might have decided to throw him out.
He put his teacup down on the table in front of him and fixed his gaze on Snape. “I know that my son didn’t treat you well. I know you had some kind of rupture in your friendship with Lily. That’s why I’m prepared to offer payment. I won’t depend on a long-ago connection when you have every reason to despise me.”
For a moment, Snape’s nostrils flared. Then he said quietly, harshly, “Your son made my life a hell.”
Fleamont only nodded. “I would apologize for that, but I don’t think you want apologies from any Potter. I acknowledge it, instead.”
Snape was silent. Fleamont didn’t know what he was thinking; he was usually good at reading people, but Snape exceeded his skill. Then he abruptly asked, “What proof do you have that Harry Potter is still alive?”
Fleamont held back his relief, and pulled the prepared Pensieve he’d carried in a magical extendable bag. “There are two memories in here. One is of my father explaining to me what the Potter family tree does—how it distinguishes between dead and living members. The second one is what I saw when I woke from my own coma.”
Snape’s eyes sharpened at the word “coma,” and Fleamont wondered if perhaps he had figured out how part of the dragonpox cure worked. But he nodded and placed his head under the surface of the memories. Fleamont sat back and stared around the hovel while he was busy.
Dirt, dust, gloom everywhere. Fleamont thought that someone teaching at Hogwarts could afford better, but then again, this was the man’s summer home, where he spent little time. And if Lily was right and she had been Snape’s only friend…
Then this might be a true reflection of his soul.
Fleamont turned back as Snape lifted his head. His face was so pale that he looked as if he might faint. Fleamont watched sharply, but didn’t move forwards to rescue him. He knew it wouldn’t be welcomed.
Snape cleared his throat with a quiet rasp. “You—you have no reason to doubt the tree? There is no way it can be fooled?”
Fleamont shook his head. “If anyone had known what to look for, they could have told I was still alive, even. I’m sure that was what reassured Euphemia that her cure had worked before she died.” The last words were difficult for him to keep steady, but he managed. He had no interest in revealing his pain to Snape. “My grandson is alive. The people who would have the best interest in helping me locate him are dead, gone, in prison, or would entangle me in legal difficulties and might oppose me. Will you help me search?”
Snape narrowed his eyes. “I want access to one of the Potters potions journals in addition to the formula for the dragonpox cure.”
“Done,” Fleamont said without hesitation. He would give Snape one of his own journals. His hair potion had substantially increased the Potter fortune, but it wasn’t as wonderful or esoteric as some of the other discoveries that his ancestors had made.
Snape stared into his cup of tea for a moment. Then he said, “Albus told me the boy had died.” His fingers curled around the cup, and a whirl of magic traveled past Fleamont, enough to ruffle the ancient curtains on the windows. “He told me that every trace of Lily was gone from the world.”
He looked up, and his dark eyes were full of a fathomless rage.
“I owe him for that.”
“How did you know that her sister’s married name was Dursley?”
Snape glanced at Fleamont as he adjusted the hang of his cloak. They both wore an illusion that made their clothes appear to be Muggle ones of appropriate function and form to anyone non-magical who glanced at them, a complicated charm that had made a strange expression appear on Snape’s face when Fleamont cast it. “I listened to what Lily said long after she told me I was no longer welcome in her life.”
Fleamont nodded in silence. He might not approve of Snape doing that to his daughter-in-law, but the truth was, he was glad he had now.
He turned his attention back to the utterly plain Muggle house in front of them. It was—strange. The place was strict, regimented, utterly unmagical, but Fleamont could still feel a swirl of something traveling past him. He would have expected Dumbledore to set wards on the house, if he was really the one who had brought Harry here, but these weren’t any wards he had felt before.
In a few minutes, you’ll see your grandson. The grandson you never got the chance to meet.
Fleamont swallowed. He would have rubbed his hands on his robes, but he didn’t want to make such a gesture in front of Snape. Instead, he walked steadily towards the house, Snape trailing after him. They had both agreed that Fleamont would have more of a chance of being welcomed by wards that might depend on family relationship.
The swirl of power concentrated in front of them as they stepped past the garden hedge in front of the house (which of course looked like all the others). Fleamont caught his breath as it suddenly focused on him, and reached out a hand before he thought about it.
“Lily?” he breathed. That was his daughter-in-law’s magic. He would have known it in an undersea trench.
The power swayed back and forth as if examining him, and then vanished. Snape made a soft, hoarse noise next to him.
For the moment, Fleamont ignored his ally, speeding his steps towards the house instead. Blood wards, based on mother’s love. But Fleamont had felt wards like that before, and should have recognized them at once. Something had weakened them.
Fleamont was horribly afraid that it wasn’t simply being attached to a Muggle house.
He pushed open the front door of the house and stared around for a second. Then he saw the Muggle woman standing with her hands clutching her heart in the middle of what appeared to be a neat kitchen, though one crowded with unfamiliar Muggle appliances.
“Where is Harry?” Fleamont demanded.
Her mouth opened. “You’re—”
“You were about to says freaks, weren’t you, Tuney?” Snape shouldered his way in behind Fleamont, regarding the woman with a kind of twisted glee in his face. “Go on, say it. I did so miss giving you the chance.”
“You—you nasty little boy!”
“Not so little, now, Tuney.” Snape moved towards her, and Fleamont decided to stay out of it once he saw how the man was walking. Besides, he had to search for his grandson. “You’re going to tell me where Lily’s child is.”
“That old man said we shouldn’t.”
Fleamont felt his mouth fall open and stay like that as Snape tore through the Muggle woman’s mind. He had been about to caution Snape against performing magic on a Muggle, but he saw now why the man hadn’t worried. He was skilled enough in that obscure branch of mind magic to perform it without a wand, with simple eye contact.
Snape pulled back in what was seconds and felt like minutes to say, “She is going to die.”
“Your grandson is in the cupboard under the stairs, Potter.” Snape glanced at him, and there was a beast’s look. free-ranging and sadistic, gleaming in his eyes. Something broke inside him when Lily died, Fleamont thought. And now something had broken loose. “She’s starved him. She’s swung frying pans at his head. She’s called him a freak, and kept magic from him, and encouraged her son to beat him up, and told him his parents were worthless drunks.”
Fleamont drew himself up. He would commit murder himself if Snape wasn’t here. He could feel the edges of the Potter rage creeping along his soul. “Don’t kill her child.”
“I didn’t intend to.”
Snape turned back to Petunia, and there were screams and thick sounds a second later. Fleamont called up a Silencing Bubble around his head and ears, and ran towards the cupboard. The Silencing Bubble traveled with him, and would prevent Harry, when he held him in his arms, from hearing what was going on, as well.
The cupboard door was locked, but opened to the touch of his wand and an, “Alohomora.” In the tiny, cramped space beneath the stairs, a little boy stared at him, so frightened that Fleamont wanted to turn back and join Snape.
But he was here for his grandson, not vengeance. He held out his hand. “Harry, do you want to come with me? I’m your grandfather, Fleamont Potter.” His eyes were darting over Harry in the meantime. Hair like James’s, eyes like Lily’s, and a terror that was all his own.
“My grandparents are dead.”
Fleamont had never heard his grandson’s voice in one moment, and in the next, he would have died to protect the source of it. He swallowed, shook his head, and said, “No, Harry. Your mother’s parents are dead, yes. I’m sorry I only met them once. But I’m alive. Please. Come with me. I’m your father’s father, and I woke up a month ago from a sleep that should have killed me, and I can do magic, like you, and—I’m very lonely.”
When he got to know Harry better, Fleamont was sure it was the last plea that did it. Harry was compassionate enough not to leave anyone alone who said something like that. He crouched forwards slowly to the front of the cupboard, and held out his hand.
Fleamont scooped him up—he was so light, so desperately easy to carry—and held Harry close, held him there against his chest, within the Silencing Bubble, so that Harry couldn’t hear his aunt being slaughtered. He never knew which one of them started crying first.
“You know that Albus will be looking for you.”
Fleamont kept his attention on the wards he was weaving painstakingly around the whole of the grand receiving hall of Potter Place. “He doesn’t know I’m alive. He’ll take at least a while to find me and Harry. And by the time Harry goes to Hogwarts, I’ll have protected him.”
“Blood protection, building on the kind that his mother left to guard him.” Fleamont stopped for a moment and leaned against the wall, and not only in exhaustion. The wards drained magic from him directly into the stone, and it began to softly hum and glow with strength. Now the walls would stand no matter what force was brought to bear on them. “It’ll make sure that no one can so much as touch him without his permission, and prevent certain kinds of magic from affecting him at all.”
Snape was silent for some time, staring at the converted bed in the corner where Harry rested. He was so small that Fleamont had thought about using a child’s cot, but Harry had said he wasn’t a baby. “I didn’t know that her child had survived.”
Fleamont nodded. “You thought she was all gone from the world.”
“The way I snapped…”
Fleamont only shook his head. “I would have killed them, too. Just more slowly.” Snape had left traps for the uncle, embedded in the walls, before they Apparated away. They would only act when their child was out of the house, and wouldn’t touch him at all. “But it means that you can’t go back to Hogwarts, doesn’t it?”
Snape nodded slowly. “There are too many ways that Albus has to trace my magic.”
“You’re welcome to stay here under the wards, if you’d like,” Fleamont offered. “You helped me get my grandson back, and I owe you a debt.”
Snape made a long, considering noise. Then he shook his head. “I’ll take the potions recipe and journal you promised me, and then leave. I was teaching at Hogwarts under the impression that Voldemort might return someday and I’d have to be a spy when he did. I had nothing else left to live for. I was trying to redeem myself.”
“I have rather fucked over my redemption.”
Fleamont Summoned the notes he’d taken on Euphemia’s version of the Draught of Living Death and the journal he’d promised Snape. “Here’s your payment. I hope that you live a longer and happier life elsewhere than you would here.”
Snape was silent for a moment, turning over the book and parchment in his hands, instead of leaving right away as Fleamont had thought he might. “Could I—return and see the child?” he asked in a low voice.
“A few times a year, perhaps,” Fleamont said after due consideration. “Send me lots of advance notice, or the wards will kill you.”
Snape nodded and then went to stand over the bed and stare down at Harry. Fleamont didn’t interrupt his private farewell, but returned his attention to reinforcing the wards.
By the time Fleamont stood up and moved over to check on his grandson again, Snape was gone. Fleamont sat down by the bed and stroked the soft ball of Harry’s messy hair.
“No one is going to hurt you again,” he whispered. “I swear by blood and stone.”
Fleamont smiled as he crouched down next to Harry on the path that led up to the front door of Potter Place. Harry had tried out “Grandfather” and “Grandpa” and even “Fleamont,” and then settled on “Grand.”
Fleamont didn’t mind. James had called his Euphemia’s relatives names he made up, too. And if Fleamont wanted to cast his memory back an embarrassing number of years, he could remember calling a particular great-aunt who delighted him with her sweets and her hugs “Maewae” for no apparent reason.
“Look at the snake!”
It wasn’t a snake. It was a worm. Fleamont laughed a little. What fascinated him more than the mistake was that Harry didn’t seem to be afraid of it. “It’s a worm, Harry. But what would you do if you found a real snake?”
“Talk to it!”
“Talk to it?” Fleamont blinked. He’d expected maybe “keep it as a pet,” because Harry was going to fit right into Gryffindor and would never do something so babyish as show fear of a snake, but talking to it?
“Sure! I talked with snakes at the bad place all the time.” Harry refused to call the Dursleys’ house anything but the “bad place,” and Fleamont wasn’t actually much in the mood to discourage him. “It’s easy. I just think of a snake and then I say—”
The next words that emerged from his mouth were in a hiss. Fleamont stared at him. James had been pretty good at imitating animal noises, but he knew right away that Harry hadn’t inherited that talent.
This was Parseltongue, pure and simple.
“See?” Harry looked up with a proud smile which wilted when he saw the expression on Fleamont’s face. “Grand?” He was already tucking his elbows and legs in as if he was going to run, his eyes huge.
Damn those Muggles and the mark they left on Harry. Fleamont scooped Harry up and held him against him. “You’re not going to get punished, Harry. I promise. No matter what the Muggles might have told you.”
“But you looked—you looked like you were about to say the word ‘freak’ or something.”
I have to control my expressions better. Spending a month alone while he tried to figure out where Harry was hadn’t been any better for Fleamont than spending that month with Muggles had been for Harry. He sighed and tightened his arms around Harry. “I promise,” he whispered while a lark rose and sang nearby, “I’m never going to be angry at you for doing your magic, Harry. I was startled, that’s all.”
“Because that’s called Parseltongue, the ability to speak to snakes,” Fleamont explained carefully. “It’s a very rare gift. But it is a gift, Harry. I never want you to think it isn’t.”
“All right.” Harry looked at him with big, puzzled eyes, and Fleamont wasn’t surprised by the next question. “There are people who don’t think it’s a gift?”
Fleamont tightened his hold on his grandson. “There are some. But you don’t have to listen to them. Did you listen to Muggles who told you that you were a freak?”
“Sometimes. But not all the time.”
Fleamont nodded. “I know how hard it is not to listen to them. But you don’t need to listen to people who flinch when they hear Parseltongue, all right? You can say whatever you want in it. You can do whatever you want.”
Harry settled down slowly against him. Fleamont knew Harry still didn’t completely believe him, but he got better with each day that passed where he wasn’t starved or punished or pushed into a cupboard. (Those times when he looked into his grandson’s eyes, Fleamont had less than zero regret about Snape’s decision to kill them, or his own decision to let Snape do it).
“I can do whatever I want,” Harry repeated.
“Because you’re my grandson. And a Potter. And I love you.”
Harry beamed up at him. Fleamont happily accepted the boy’s hug, and tried not to let his eyes linger on that damnable scar in the center of his forehead.
No Potter in living memory had ever been a Parselmouth, and it was the kind of gift that usually only carried down by blood. Fleamont knew what he would be spending his time researching this weekend.
Fleamont straightened up slowly. He wanted to keep on hunching with his head pressed to his knees and his arms wrapped around it, but he knew how frightening it must be for Harry to see his grandfather that way. “Come in, Harry.” He managed a smile and a little nonchalant leaning back in his chair, to show that everything was normal.
Harry, though, wasn’t the sort of spoiled or ignorant child who could be fooled by that pretense. He made slow steps into the big study—Fleamont thought it was because it was immaculate, like most of the Muggles’ house—and carefully reached out and put his hand on Fleamont’s arm. “What is it?”
Fleamont helplessly gathered the boy close, his head bowed. He knew now why Voldemort had seemed to disintegrate that night, and why Dumbledore might have chosen to hide the boy away instead of telling people he’d survived—not that Fleamont would ever appreciate or applaud that decision.
Horcruxes. Magical gifts could pass along with shards of soul. Most of the cases in the Potter library were animals who had suddenly begun to display human-like intelligence, cravings, or behavior in the wake of being made into a Horcrux. It wasn’t unknown, only rare and desperately dangerous.
Harry was a living Horcrux. The books seemed to indicate there was no way to get rid of a shard of soul, short of killing the being that bore it.
But Fleamont didn’t accept that. He was a Potter. He was a Potions genius. He could come up with solutions like this to trickier problems.
He was going to save the little boy who looked up at him with big green eyes and smiled and called him “Grand” and giggled when the house-elves handed him strawberries for his porridge. Fleamont was hardly about to accept less.
Fleamont stared at the grey walls looming in front of him as the boat sailed closer to the island. This wasn’t the brightest idea he’d ever had, despite the illusions that protected his face and wand. He reassured himself, again, that no one except Snape had any idea he was even alive, and Snape’s own crimes against the Muggles would keep him from speaking out.
And it wasn’t like Albus could organize an overt search for Harry. He had to keep it discreet since he’d told everyone Harry was dead.
That doesn’t make this a brilliant idea, all the same, Fleamont thought, as he stepped carefully out on the crunchy, stony shore of Azkaban Island.
The Auror who had brought him glanced sharply at him when Fleamont hesitated. “You wanted a look at the traitor? Then come this way.”
Fleamont nodded and followed him. Apparently the Aurors took bribes to bring people to see certain famous—or notorious—prisoners. The visitors could taunt or spit on or kick those prisoners, as long as they didn’t leave visible injuries that had to be explained to the prison wardens. And as long as they didn’t crumple in the presence of Dementors, Fleamont supposed.
Fleamont had come to see Sirius Black. He had studied the reports of events from that night, and he thought there was a chance—a small one—that the man was innocent. If he was, then Fleamont intended to free him and have Sirius help him search for the real culprit, who might likewise have a chance of being alive.
If Sirius was guilty, then he was still going to help Fleamont. Just not the way he might prefer to.
They wound further and further into the bowels of the prison, and Fleamont kept up a stoic face when Dementors sailed by. They were tolerable when they weren’t specifically interested in you. At least, the mental disciplines he had learned from books in the Potter library when he was young helped them feel that way.
“There’s the bastard.”
Fleamont halted in front of the man and stared. Sirius was tattered. That was the only word Fleamont could think of, and it didn’t just come from his ragged clothes. His hair hung in clumps around his head, his skin seemed to be flaking off, and even his nails looked as if they were peeling. He turned and looked at Fleamont without a trace of recognition.
Fleamont swallowed. This is the boy Euphemia and I took in. This is James’s best friend.
“No Dark Mark?” he asked, pretending to disappointment, as he glanced at Sirius’s left arm where it had slid out of his sleeve.
The Auror snorted. “You don’t know that much about his trial, did you? Several people testified that You-Know-Who didn’t Mark all his followers. The super-secret and important ones, he didn’t. It doesn’t prove anything. Black is still a Death Eater.”
Fleamont bared his teeth before he could stop himself. It was true that Voldemort hadn’t Marked all his followers, but what the Auror had said was exactly the wrong way around. Only the truly trusted ones received the Mark, and the others had to prove themselves worthy of it.
Then again, given that the information on the Marks had come from the mouth of Lucius Malfoy, Fleamont thought the Ministry had deeper problems.
“You’ll leave me alone to do what I need to do?” Fleamont glanced at the Auror.
He received a dark smile in return. “As far as I’m concerned, the bastard deserves it for betraying his best friends,” the Auror said, and then turned and walked away up the corridor with loud, obvious sounds.
Fleamont took a deep breath and looked back at Sirius. The man was focusing on him now, but he didn’t seem curious or interested about why someone would come here to visit him. He only stared and picked at his nails, stared and picked.
Fleamont took a deep breath and lifted his wand. The spell he had come to cast did qualify as a curse, but he never would have done it if he didn’t think that Sirius would prefer to have his name cleared if he was innocent.
No, Fleamont, be honest. You never would have done this if Harry wasn’t a Horcrux. But as it is, anything can be justified.
The spell rolled slowly, sluggishly over the cell, making great ripples pass through the darkened air. Fleamont clutched his wand and stood tensely, his eyes locked on Sirius. The man was paying him a little more attention now, but he still didn’t seem to think that anyone would be here to do something besides gape.
Then he abruptly threw back his head and screamed.
Fleamont winced. The spell had taken Sirius right back to that dreadful night, and he would speak and react as though the memory was the reality. He watched Sirius spring to his feet and reach out, clawing at the air.
Fleamont braced himself. He had known he would have to listen to at least part of his son and daughter-in-law’s deaths when he chose this spell. He locked away the memories of James’s laughter and Lily’s sweet eyes and watched.
“Peter! Where—” Sirius spun around and sank to his knees. “Harry,” he whispered. “Harry lived. I don’t know how, but he’s alive.”
Fleamont’s fingers tightened on his wand until he almost wanted it to splinter. That proved that there might be another reason Sirius had gone straight to Azkaban without a trial. Dumbledore had told everyone he could find that Harry had died with his parents. Someone who knew otherwise had to be silenced.
I might be attributing ulterior motives to someone innocent, though. There’s no sign yet that Sirius himself is innocent.
Then the first dry sob broke free, and Fleamont knew.
He listened as Sirius keened and cursed the name of Peter Pettigrew, and blamed himself, the kind of ranting that had probably fooled the Aurors. But if they had listened long enough, they would have known that Sirius blamed himself for the suggestion to switch Secret-Keepers. Sirius leaped to his feet and charged at the far wall of his cell as if he would run after Pettigrew there, too, ranting that he would find the rat and murder him.
Fleamont waved his wand and broke the spell. Sirius stood where he was, trembling, then pivoted around and stared at him with more liveliness in his face than before.
“Who are you?” he demanded in a harsh whisper.
“Someone you knew, once,” Fleamont said, and broke the illusion above his eyes, enough to reveal how much they were like James’s. Sirius reeled back against the wall of the cell. Fleamont replaced the illusion and hushed him as best as he could. “If you want to get out of here and come with me, for fuck’s sake be quiet.”
Sirius nodded and said nothing, only watching as Fleamont examined the enchantment on the bars. He smiled a moment later. The spells were too powerful to attack directly, but they were anchored in the metal of the bars themselves. Destroy the bars, and they would also break.
He pulled one of the potions vials he’d brought from his pocket and carefully dribbled the powerful acid around the base of the nearest two bars. A soft hiss later, and they were pitted and bubbling. Fleamont had to use the potion three more times before he could yank the bars free, but that didn’t matter. No guards were coming, since he hadn’t actually used magic to break the bars.
Sirius moved towards him, walking as if in a dream. Then he cowered and whimpered. Fleamont felt the cold a moment later, and faced the Dementors that were coming towards him along the corridor.
There was no time for subtlety now. Fleamont concentrated on the memory of Harry calling him “Grand’ for the first time, and whipped his wand forwards. “Expecto Patronum!”
His hedgehog blossomed into being and rolled towards the Dementors in a spiky ball. They promptly halted, and Fleamont moved slowly down the corridor, tugging Sirius with him. Sirius wouldn’t stop whimpering, so Fleamont had to Stun him and drape another illusion over him before they went past the guards.
But at last they were on the boat that would take them from Azkaban back to the mainland, and Fleamont could breathe.
Fleamont blinked at Sirius. They’d spent a lot of time in the past two days discussing things, for the short stretches of time that Sirius could stay awake before he passed out in exhaustion and when he wasn’t busy devouring all the food Fleamont’s house-elves could cook. Sirius had taken the existence of Harry in stride, Fleamont’s survival, and even the fact that they would need to fight the Headmaster Sirius had spent years looking up to as a leader.
But it seemed he was rendered speechless mostly by the fact that Fleamont believed in his innocence and that Peter Pettigrew was the real criminal.
“Yes.” Fleamont pushed another steaming cup of tea towards Sirius. They were sitting in the sun-splashed kitchen of Potter Place, with drawings of flowers on the walls that Euphemia had done. Fleamont missed her more than ever when he looked at them. Harry was still asleep. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“I—I tried to tell them right after they’d arrested me and when they were still yelling at me about betraying Lily and James. They didn’t listen.” Sirius stared into his tea and then slurped down most of the cup.
“They probably thought you were just trying to cast blame on the dead.” Fleamont knuckled sleep out of his eyes. “Now. Listen. Do you think that you could tell me enough about Pettigrew and his Animagus form to let me find him? There are potions that will track someone if you have a clear enough mental picture of them, but I have no idea what his rat form looks like.”
“Yes.” Sirius stared at him, or mostly through him, the way he had since Fleamont had pulled him out of Azkaban. “What are you going to do when you’ve caught him?”
Fleamont met his eyes, and waited until he was sure Sirius was actually seeing the Potters’ kitchen instead of the ghosts of his past. “I’m going to sacrifice him in a blood ritual that will get rid of the Horcrux inside Harry and let me construct inviolable protections for Harry by the time he has to venture outside the wards.”
Sirius opened his mouth and left it open. Fleamont sipped his tea and waited. There was every chance that Sirius wouldn’t agree to let him do this, in which case Fleamont was going to lie.
It had to be done. Fleamont wouldn’t tolerate a threat to his grandson existing, whether that was Pettigrew or the Horcrux.
“You—you’re pretty different than I thought you were, Mr. Potter,” Sirius muttered, wiping at his mouth.
Fleamont sighed. Sirius utterly refused to address him by his first name. Then again, since for Sirius time had largely frozen when he went to Azkaban, Fleamont supposed that made sense. “But you’ll help?”
Sirius swallowed air and then cackled viciously, a sound that Fleamont remembered hearing several times the summer after they’d all but adopted him. “Yes. Merlin, yes. I’ve wanted to kill Peter since I figured out what he did.” He hesitated. “It does mean that I can’t be declared innocent, though, right? Since we’re going to kill the man we’d need to turn in to prove me innocent.”
“Memories are useful,” Fleamont said. “We don’t need his testimony if we have your memories of the switch in Secret-Keepers taking place. And we can produce his body. The corpse showing up fresh years after you were supposed to have blown it to pieces is going to be a form of proof they can’t ignore.”
Sirius scratched the shaggy stubble on his neck, frowning. “What are you going to sacrifice in the ritual if not his body?”
“His soul,” Fleamont said, and turned around to smile at Harry as he finally stumbled into the kitchen, yawning. “Good morning, Harry. What would you like to eat?”
Thank you again for all the reviews! While this is the last chapter of “Fruit of the Golden Tree,” I hope to write more of this story in the future.
Fleamont Apparated into place outside the Weasley home, and stood studying it for a moment. He reckoned it was a clever place, sort of, for Pettigrew to have gone to ground. No one was going to look at the Weasleys and suspect them of sheltering a fugitive Death Eater.
But rational thought was being eaten by the slow, intense rage that moved slowly through Fleamont. He clenched his hand around his wand and moved towards the house, tugged by the potion he had ingested along with Sirius’s memories of Pettigrew’s Animagus form. Inside that house lay the man who had betrayed his son and his daughter-in-law. Inside that house was the reason Sirius had been in Azkaban.
Inside that house was a threat to his grandson.
Fleamont covered himself with a Disillusionment Charm as he walked through the weak protections around the house, regretting, yet again, that he’d allowed James to lend their Cloak to Dumbledore. Fleamont couldn’t claim it yet without revealing his own severe liveliness for a corpse. Getting it back would have to wait, no matter how useful it would have been for missions like this.
He moved slowly into the kitchen, the insistent tugging of the potion getting worse. As he looked around, he noticed the towering stacks of crockery, and narrowed his eyes. No one was here right now, but she might come back any second.
He turned and rapidly walked towards the stairs.
The tug led him to the half-closed door of a bedroom. Fleamont peered around it and saw a ginger-haired boy a few years older than his Harry tucked firmly into bed, a pillow almost covering his head. A rat dozed in a cage on the table next to the bed. From here, Fleamont couldn’t see if the rat was missing a toe, but he was convinced it was. The image of the rat matched the one in Sirius’s memories perfectly.
Fleamont raised his wand and Disillusioned the cage, then Summoned it. The boy in the bed never noticed, particularly as Fleamont Silenced Pettigrew before he could start squealing in alarm.
Fleamont held the cage towards his face. Pettigrew was trembling, his attention fixed on Fleamont even though he couldn’t see him. Of course, a rat’s sense of smell wouldn’t be fooled by the charm.
“Hello, traitor,” Fleamont said softly.
He got Pettigrew home to Potter Place without more than a few tiresome adventures where Pettigrew tried to escape. Finally he Stunned the creature and dumped him out of the cage when he got him into the entrance hall of Potter Place.
Sirius came out of the nursery, holding Harry’s hand. “There,” he said, bending down so that his mouth was near Harry’s face, “is the dirty rat who betrayed your mum and dad.”
“Is he a man?” Harry looked doubtful about that, but not disbelieving as he would have a week ago, before he had witnessed Sirius’s transformation for the first time. It heartened Fleamont to know that his grandson was adapting well to the world that should have been his all along.
“Yes, he is.” Sirius turned to Fleamont, eyes bright enough that Fleamont almost expected his tongue to loll out. “Can I turn him back? Can I?”
Fleamont laughed. “If you want.”
Sirius had found a wand that suited him in the Potters’ old armory, an oak and unicorn hair one that had belonged to Fleamont’s great-grandmother. He waved it now, murmuring the Animagus reversal charm.
The sprawled rat turned into a sprawled man, no handsomer than in Sirius’s memories. Sirius lowered his wand and trembled for a moment.
“You want to hurt him, Padfoot?” Harry pressed back against Sirius for a moment.
“Yes, I do, pup.” Sirius sighed and put his wand away. “But we’re going to leave that up to your Grand.”
Fleamont nodded as Harry met his eyes. His grandson was kind and loving, qualities that Fleamont had every intention of preserving. On the other hand, he wasn’t going to hide the nature of what he did to protect Harry from the boy, either. “I’m going to make sure that he can never hurt you again. And we’re going to stop other people from hurting you, too.”
“Oh.” Harry considered it for a moment, and then grabbed Sirius’s arm. Sirius obligingly held it higher so Harry could use it as a swing, a few of the Azkaban lines easing from his face. “So I can watch?”
“You’ll need to watch some of it,” Fleamont said, and his eyes quietly met Sirius’s.
“You’re going to use a potion? Well, of course you are.”
Fleamont smiled at Sirius as he scattered drops of the potion on the sleeping Pettigrew lying in the center of the enormous rune of sacrifice. Then he put down that empty vial and pulled out another that he would use to fill in the outer lines of the rune. “Potters have been Potions geniuses for hundreds of years, Sirius. And this is the best way to do it, besides.”
“What’s that smell?” Sirius abruptly backed up, his hand clamped over his nose. The lines of the rune around Pettigrew, inscribed in the floor of the Potter’s ritual room, were beginning to glow a dull green, the color of the Killing Curse.
“The smell of the bodies that he’s left in his wake,” Fleamont said, and finished filling the lines of the rune. He broke this potions vial, flinging it against the far wall. Shards of glass fell to the floor, but Fleamont ignored that. He knew from the protections he had set up that none of them would get anywhere near Harry. “The smell of his soul. It’s rotting in his body.”
“A soul can’t literally rot…”
“But symbolism and associations are important in a ritual like this,” Fleamont said, and gave one more glance at Harry, asleep on a small bed. It had taken only a tiny portion of an altered Calming Draught to put him out. Being underweight was responsible for that, more than the fact that he was a child.
Fleamont closed his eyes and summoned his memories. Lily had been demure the first time he met her, but only until she looked up, met his eyes, and realized that he wasn’t going to be a stuffy father-in-law. Then her eyes had laughed to match his own.
They were closed now, closed forever. Because of Pettigrew.
His James. His bright, laughing, clever son. His spirit that no one could dampen or put out (much to Euphemia’s despair when none of the punishments they tried when he was a child worked). His magic leaping and sparking around him in copper fire the first time he picked up his wand.
But his magic had burned out and his spirit had been dampened forever. Because of Pettigrew.
Sirius in Azkaban, mourning what he believed was the death of everyone he was connected to. The years he had suffered, and believed he was never getting out.
Because of Pettigrew.
Even Snape’s broken soul weighed in the balance, and the lies the wizarding world had believed.
But most of all Harry. Who never would have lived in a cupboard if not for Pettigrew, or been called freak, or had to grow up thinking his whole family had abandoned him and magic wasn’t real.
Fleamont opened his eyes. He heard Sirius take a long step back from him, but he didn’t care. He had eyes for nothing but Pettigrew and the glowing rune of sacrifice in front of him. The smaller rune around Harry’s bed glowed and pulsed in return, not green but blue, the color of spring skies.
That was the sign that the rite was going to work. Fleamont had used no potion on that rune. It was responding to his true desire.
“I command,” Fleamont said, his voice rolling through the room, “that the Horcrux be taken from my grandson and be put into Peter Pettigrew.”
The room fractured in his sight, as something like black lightning crackled down the middle of it. Fleamont saw a glimpse of the abyss waiting to take him if he failed. The powers summoned by this ritual would turn on him with as much delight as they would devour Pettigrew, should he falter.
This was where most people did falter. They balked at the thought of sacrificing someone else’s soul, and so, lost their own.
Fleamont didn’t care. His hatred roared in an answering flame, the Potter rage rising up around him. It wasn’t known in the wizarding world, not like the Black madness. But that was because it didn’t leave behind the twisted shells of tortured enemies that the Blacks tended to favor. It obliterated its enemies.
Fleamont distantly heard the scraping and the panting as Sirius pressed himself against the wall, further and further away. He ignored it. If Sirius was upset enough by this that he chose to leave, that was indeed his choice, but it meant he would lose his memories before he did.
Harry would not be harmed.
The rage and the hatred and the desire lashed across the space between Pettigrew and Harry, and for a second, the air turned to coruscating fire, red and black. Harry screamed, even though he never awoke. Pettigrew lifted into the air, floating perhaps a foot above the rune of sacrifice.
On his head, lightning inscribed a scar. Black blood burst out of it and scored his face. Something far away screamed and screamed and screamed, a distant, unending sound of pain.
Voldemort. Fleamont felt no pity for him, either. He moved forwards a step, until he was standing directly next to Pettigrew and looking down at him.
“I give up his soul for the good of my grandson, Harry Potter.”
Sirius swore aloud as the fire spoke. The noise was like someone speaking through a throat clogged with blood and meat. “Name the terms of the bargain.”
Fleamont looked up into the fire, and again knew the eyes of the abyss were looking back at him. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except Harry’s safety. “Inviolable protection for my grandson. A version of the Potter wards around him at all times, bound to his skin, so that he cannot be harmed by any force, magical, physical, or spiritual, that would not be able to harm him behind our wards.”
“In return, you grant us—”
“The soul of this man, Peter Pettigrew.”
The voice laughed, and Fleamont heard Sirius throw up. He didn’t care. He stood and watched, and something too primal to be a hand reached out the fire and straight for Pettigrew. In seconds, he was gone, but another scream of pain joined the one that lingered in the distance.
“Done. And for the sake of the appetizer, one gift more.”
Fleamont turned his head in time to see the protection settle softly around Harry, the same blue color as the rune glowing underneath his bed. It twined into his being and settled there, the glow fading. Not even Harry’s skin would feel different to the touch, Fleamont knew. But the protections would be there.
Something else formed outside the rune, near Harry’s feet. Fleamont stared. It looked like a leopard, but in reverse, with a black coat and golden spots glowing all across it. It lay down in silence and stretched out like a shadow.
The fire vanished. The screams ended. The rune of sacrifice lay in a messy, unreadable burst of green on the floor.
“You s-sacrificed…” Sirius’s voice was unsteady.
“Yes.” Fleamont walked towards his grandson. The leopard raised its head and showed its teeth in silence. Fleamont ignored that and reached out to put a hand on Harry’s forehead. His skin was entirely smooth beneath Fleamont’s fingers, with no trace of a scar.
“I don’t understand. I know about those rituals. It shouldn’t have worked. The voice shouldn’t have added anything.”
“Most of the time,” Fleamont murmured, as he waved his wand to end the light pouring from the rune and picked up Harry, “those rituals don’t work because the people who made them hesitate. They don’t really hate someone enough to sacrifice their soul. They think they want what they’re bargaining for, but they hold back, and the power eats them instead.”
“I hated Pettigrew enough to summon a power that would eat his soul. I loved my grandson enough to bargain for protection like this. What’s done is done, Sirius.”
Sirius swallowed noisily and came forwards to stand next to Fleamont. The leopard tracked their movements in silence, but didn’t move. “And that thing? What did the voice mean by an appetizer?”
“The shard of Voldemort’s soul that I gave it as well,” Fleamont said absently, running his hand over Harry’s face. No, he didn’t have a fever. It was only the lingering residual heat from the ritual. “As for this thing, it’s here to protect Harry.”
“So—no one’s going to touch him.”
Sirius was silent long enough that Fleamont glanced at him, wondering if he would have to Obliviate him after all. Sirius said, “I could never do what you did,” and Fleamont’s free hand tightened on his wand.
Fleamont nodded, and let his wand go, and carried Harry to bed. He had to admit, he felt even more secure, when he shut the door of the nursery that night, for the monster that lay under Harry’s bed, watching for other monsters.
“This is really going to be the day, Grand? This is the day?”
Fleamont grinned down at Harry and adjusted the collar of his pale blue child’s robes. Harry liked wearing them, saying they were a lot more comfortable than Muggle clothing. Given that he had worn his cousin’s castoffs in his aunt’s house, Fleamont wasn’t sure that that opinion would hold true for every single Muggle garment, but he loved Harry’s love for his heritage.
“Yes. It is. Do you think you can act like a big boy when we go to Diagon Alley?”
“Yeah!” Harry tilted his head back and strutted around for a minute, so like James at six that Fleamont’s eyes clouded for a second. But he reminded himself that, even though James was dead, Harry was alive, and he was going to live to be much older than his father. “Diagon Alley! We’re coming, Diagon Alley!”
He ran out of the nursery into the sitting room where the Floo-connected fireplace waited. Fleamont rolled his eyes and followed. Between his legs and along the wall flowed the leopard-thing that Harry had insisted on naming Monster.
“That thing is going to give us away,” said Sirius gloomily as he flung his own cloak on and bounded down the stairs after Harry.
“No, I’m sure that Monster is perfectly capable of being invisible in open sunlight,” Fleamont disagreed calmly. Sirius made a face at him. He kept trying to call the leopard-thing Softpaws or some other Marauder-friendly name, but Monster never answered to it.
Then again, Monster doesn’t answer to any of us, Fleamont reflected, and smiled again as he came into the sitting room. Harry was leaping and spinning in place, his own small cloak floating behind him, and Sirius was pretending to pick up the bowl of Floo powder and then pretending to put it back. Harry’s giggle filled the room.
Fleamont didn’t think it was his imagination that Harry’s giggle was more frequent and lighter since the Horcrux had been devoured.
“Let’s go,” Fleamont said, and retrieved the Floo powder, mentally braced for the reaction they were going to stir when they appeared. “The Leaky Cauldron!”
Sirius grinned at Fleamont over his shoulder as he led the way. They had sent Pettigrew’s body to the Ministry a fortnight ago, accompanied by a vial of Sirius’s memories of the day when he had suggested the Secret-Keeper switch to James, and the day when they’d actually performed the switch. Fudge had tried to destroy them, but Fleamont had prepared for that and put contingency spells on both the corpse and the vials of memories. The minute Fudge had raised his wand against them, they’d vanished and reappeared in Potter Place.
Fleamont had found a more accommodating audience in Amelia Bones, and, surprisingly, Rufus Scrimgeour. Then again, the new Head Auror seemed to relish anything that made Bartemius Crouch, Sr., look bad. Apparently the man had refused to promote Scrimgeour for far too long.
The upshot was that Sirius was now officially a free man, although they’d held a posthumous trial for Pettigrew and issued an apology and pardon to Sirius in his stubborn absence. Today was the first time that any of them were venturing out of Potter Place in public.
The Floo glowed around them, and Fleamont kept a hand on Harry’s shoulder the whole way through, to make sure they couldn’t be separated. They stepped out into the middle of the Leaky Cauldron, where the gaping people who surrounded Sirius quickly turned their attention to Fleamont and Harry.
“Who is that?” more than one person exclaimed. Fleamont rolled his eyes. It seemed keeping his face out of the papers since he was younger had worked even better than he’d expected.
“Fleamont Potter!” That was a woman Fleamont would have recognized if he was an Inferius, spinning away from the bar and staring at him with her mouth open further than Fleamont had ever seen it go. She reached up to move the beak of the vulture mounted on her hat out of the way. “But you’re dead.”
“Pretty lively for a corpse. Hello, Augusta.” Fleamont gripped Harry’s shoulder harder, as other people leaped from the “Potter” at the end of his name to conclusions about who the small boy accompanying had to be. Harry gulped a little, but lifted his chin and reached down to pat a gloomy clump by his feet that had to be Monster’s current guise.
People poured towards them. Fleamont readied his wand, but he was pretty sure he wouldn’t need it, and he was proved right a moment later.
The first person reached out to touch Harry’s hair, probably to brush it back and see the scar that didn’t exist any longer, but which Dumbledore claimed to have seen on Harry’s forehead before he was “buried.” But the woman wound up reeling back with a cry as the floor at her feet rose up and coalesced into a shadow shape of a maw with jagged teeth.
The other people in the Leaky Cauldron fell silent, staring. The ones who had been moving towards Harry stopped all at once, some of them in the middle of a step, so that they fell over.
The maw didn’t bite the woman who had been reaching to touch Harry. It just loomed there, and loomed some more, and finally when she fainted it shut and Monster wavered back into blurriness near Harry’s face.
The silence that followed that was broken by Harry’s soft giggle. He looked up at Fleamont and said, as if confessing a great secret, “Monster won’t let them touch me, Grand.”
“No, he won’t,” Fleamont said, although he was privately unsure if the leopard-thing was actually a he or not. He smiled genially at the people in the pub and led Harry and Sirius towards the bricks that would let them out into Diagon Alley. “But he is a good lesson.” Over his shoulder, he added, “Don’t touch my grandson without permission. Spread the word. Have a lovely day.”
Sirius waited to start laughing until they were in the Alley, at least, but then he leaned against the bricks and wheezed and clutched his sides and pounded the wall and in general acted as though that particular trick was much funnier than it was. Fleamont rolled his eyes but smiled when Harry began to giggle along with Sirius, jumping up and down the way he had before they left. “You are ridiculous,” Fleamont told Sirius.
“Then we’re ridiculous together!” Sirius flung his arm around Harry and picked him up. “Come on, pup. Let’s see the Alley together, the way your parents intended.”
James and Lily would have loved to be here, Fleamont thought, but he forced himself to put the thought aside as he followed Sirius and Harry (and the darting line of darkness that was Monster) down Diagon Alley. Yes, they would have loved to be here. But since they couldn’t be, the least Fleamont could do was rejoice in their place as Harry reclaimed part of his heritage.
It actually took several hours in the Alley for someone to contact Dumbledore, or maybe for Dumbledore to hear the news. Fleamont was mildly impressed.
They were having ices at Fortescue’s when Dumbledore walked towards them, smiling with a gentle, quizzical air that Fleamont remembered well. He made sure that he was sitting between Harry and Dumbledore, that his wand was within reach, and that Monster lay stretched out near his feet before he stood. “Good afternoon, Albus.”
Dumbledore sighed gently at him. “You never told me that you survived, Fleamont.”
“It was an experimental cure, and it only recently returned me to full health.” Fleamont shrugged. “Then again, you seem to have a fondness for declaring living Potters dead. I didn’t see the point in contacting you.”
“I did what I thought was best.”
“I’m glad to see that you’ve at least learned to add I thought in front of that phrase.”
Dumbledore lowered his head a little, as though preparing to receive a blow on the mouth. “There were Death Eaters looking for vengeance. I thought it best if they could not know that Harry was even alive to seek vengeance on.”
Fleamont shook his head slowly. “And there were no wards that you could set up to protect him, of course. You couldn’t take him to Hogwarts. You couldn’t give him to the Longbottoms. You couldn’t let my distant cousins adopt him. You couldn’t listen to Sirius’s story and figure out that he was innocent. You couldn’t do anything but what you did.”
Dumbledore considered in silence, his eyes on Harry. Harry was ignoring the man and continuing to eat his chocolate ice while chattering away to Sirius. Sirius was trying half-heartedly not to get Harry to talk with his mouth full, a task that wasn’t helped by the way he kept looking at Dumbledore.
“There are things you do not know about the situation.”
“Did you ever intend to tell anyone?”
“I did intend for Harry to attend Hogwarts,” Dumbledore said. “I would have made it clear who he was, and that he had defeated Voldemort. When he was eleven, then Hogwarts’s wards and the devotion of the whole wizarding world would have protected him. But he had to remain hidden and safe. He was safe with the Dursleys.”
Fleamont smiled, and rather enjoyed the way Dumbledore looked at him when he did. He could go ahead and tell the truth now. Dumbledore had no power to hurt his boy. “He wasn’t safe. He was starved and locked in a cupboard.”
“I meant safe from Death Eaters.”
“You tend to define words differently than I would. Trust me when I say that my definitions are the ones that matter now.”
“And is one of those words murder, Fleamont?” Dumbledore’s eyes sparked with the righteous anger that Fleamont had expected to see first thing. Maybe Dumbledore had wanted to wait and see how the situation played out before he expressed it. “You killed Harry’s aunt and uncle!”
“You can try bringing me up on charges, if you want. You’ll have the lack of evidence to contend with first, next the fact that you lied to the wizarding world at large and hid Harry with people who didn’t have a legal right to him, and finally the fact that they were abusive to a magical child. There are still people on the Wizengamot who take a dim view of that.”
“Are you so bloody determined to think of all Muggles as innocent and harmless that you would deny it was abuse, Albus?”
Fleamont reined his temper back in before it could really explode, much though he didn’t enjoy that. Honestly, he had nothing to worry about. He would be able to say under Veritaserum that he hadn’t committed murder, and his protections meant Dumbledore couldn’t touch Harry in any way.
“They didn’t deserve to be murdered for it!”
“Really?” Sirius asked, his voice as quick as a rasp. “So they deserved the fair trial I never got?”
“I am sorry about that, Sirius. But I heard you saying that you were guilty, and I only took you at your word.”
“No one ever questioned me deeply enough,” Sirius said, his voice near a growl. Harry looked up at him and put a hand on his arm. Sirius’s voice got softer, which Fleamont was glad of. Dumbledore would never be able to touch Harry physically, legally, or magically, but he shouldn’t cause Harry a moment’s emotional distress, either. “Hell, they didn’t question me at all. They relied on Lucius Malfoy and other Death Eaters.”
“They said they had seen you at the meetings.”
“And you never considered that they were saying that to spare their own necks, Albus? Not once.”
“I had to consider—”
“Well, you made the wrong decisions and the wrong considerations,” Fleamont interrupted. He saw no reason for the conversation to continue when it would only cause distress to Sirius, and through him, to Harry. “Harry is my grandson, which means he belongs with me, and he has protection in case any Death Eaters come after him. Come on, Harry. You can finish the ice at home.”
Harry yawned. “All right, Grand.” He picked up the small bowl. Fleamont caught Fortescue’s eye and laid some Galleons on the table to pay for the bowl. The man waved him off, beaming.
“I’m afraid that I must insist,” Dumbledore said, and reached out to touch Harry’s arm.
Monster didn’t rear up this time, perhaps because he knew there was no need. Instead, a spark flared and knocked Dumbledore back three feet before his fingers could come to rest. Dumbledore stared in total shock, even his multicolored robes seeming to droop.
“I don’t think I want you to touch me,” Harry told him, and walked over to take Fleamont’s hand.
“For you to—you did—”
Dumbledore was actually stuttering. Fleamont smiled. One of his private dreams had come true, then. “Yes. I gave him the most powerful protection possible. And the reason you might have hidden him—because I don’t believe it was from Death Eaters with vengeance on their minds—is gone.”
“You cannot have…”
“Just because you don’t know how or would never do it does not mean that it can’t be accomplished, Albus.”
Dumbledore fell back from them both as Fleamont led Sirius and Harry up the alley to the Apparition point. His eyes were dark with fear. Fleamont smiled a little. Dumbledore might not have knowledge of the kind of ritual that could remove a Horcrux from a living being. But Fleamont thought the fear probably came from the fact that he did, and that he never would have made such a sacrifice, himself.
But Albus Dumbledore’s fears and beliefs no longer mattered.
“I don’t know. He’s still the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot.”
“He can’t touch Harry.” Fleamont didn’t look up from studying the Potions book in front of him. He thought it was low-level enough for Harry, but he wanted to remove a few of the Darker potions from it. Harry would grow up to learn about reality, but they could do it slowly, without Fleamont having to dump it on his head all at once. “Legally, he has no claim. And I meant what I said about the Wizengamot not being pleased with him if he tries.”
“You can actually use blood purists?”
“Of course.” Fleamont gave Sirius an edged smile as he set that book aside and moved on to the next one, a wizarding history book. He touched on his memory of the things in it, then shook his head. He would have to find another one after all, probably a children’s edition. “I’m a pure-blood. Dumbledore is a half-blood, and one who’s done a lot of things that irritated them. Of course they’ll side with me over him.”
“I don’t know if I should be scared of you or not.”
“Be grateful to me for rescuing you from prison,” Fleamont suggested, and Summoned a few more books from the shelves. “That’s all I need.”
“Yes, of course. What I really need is Harry, and the chance to restore my family.”
“Grand!” Harry ran into the room, and this time there was a real snake in his hands, a softly grey one. Sirius jumped with a shout. Harry ignored him. “Listen, listen!”
He hissed out a stream of Parseltongue that made Sirius blanch. Fleamont watched Sirius’s eyes dart to Harry’s unscarred forehead, but he didn’t flinch, himself. He knew he had utterly got rid of the Horcrux; the power he had summoned would not have granted Harry Monster if there hadn’t been that extra bit of Voldemort’s soul to devour.
“I suppose that he just has it naturally,” he murmured to Sirius when Sirius turned to him, and then crouched down in front of Harry. “Now, is that a snake you found in the garden, or that you found by going outside the wards?”
Harry hung his head. Fleamont just waited. He knew Harry was afraid of being punished, the way he had been with the Muggles, but on the other hand, he had been bold enough to defy a rule in the first place. That showed, honestly, excellent progress.
Harry finally muttered, “Outside the wards.”
Fleamont nodded. “You do have your own protections with you, Harry.” He glanced towards the door of the library, where the blur that was Monster waited. “But I’m going to ask you to tell me when you want to go outside the wards. And because you found this snake there, you can’t keep it as a pet. We’re going to let it go.”
Harry looked up. “That’s—it?”
“That’s it,” Fleamont said, and held out his arms. Harry flung himself into them. Fleamont held him gently. He ignored the snake writhing in confusion next to him. It was an ordinary grass snake, not venomous.
“I love you, Grand,” Harry whispered.
“I love you, Harry,” Fleamont said, and held on. Harry wasn’t wriggling to be let down yet, the way an ordinary little boy would have been. Those Muggles had damaged him.
But Fleamont was right here. He was going to help Harry learn to be that ordinary little boy again, in the world of magic that had been so nearly stolen from him. He was going to connect him with his heritage. He was going to let Harry play with his godfather, and Severus Snape if he came back, and maybe Augusta’s little grandson, and Remus Lupin if they could ever find him.
He wasn’t going anywhere.